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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday said he was “not very optimistic” about the prospect of avoiding a No Deal Brexit, adding that this scenario “would have terrible economic and social consequences, both in Britain and on the Continent, and so [his] efforts orient in a way that the worst can be avoided.” He told the European Economic and Social Committee, “We are not there, because in the British Parliament there is, every time they are voting, a majority against something, there is never a majority in favour of something.”
This comes as Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the risk of No Deal “has increased,” adding that the EU was ready to work with the UK if it puts forward proposals on how to “improve” the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Separately, the Telegraph reports that Prime Minister Theresa May has received a letter from 100 moderate Conservative MPs saying, “The reputation for competence of both the [Conservative] party and the Government depends on our ability to deliver an orderly exit [from the EU],” adding, “Numerous members of our group have alerted us to their intention (should rejection of the deal look likely) to get behind amendments that are planned in the name of Oliver Letwin and others and which will have the twin effect of taking No Deal off the table and delaying Brexit.” The Financial Times reports that Eurosceptic Conservative MPs have said that the Government would not be able to rely on them to vote for Government legislation if May delayed the Brexit departure date.
Meanwhile, following a meeting with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “The threat of No Deal is something that has deeply exercised people throughout the European Union,” adding, “That was conveyed to us in no uncertain terms during the meetings. That is why we are determined to get No Deal off the table.” Corbyn also said that the discussions included Labour’s alternative Brexit proposals, which include a customs union with the EU, adding, “We are strongly of the belief that these proposals are credible – and that has been confirmed by our meetings today – and that they could be negotiated.” Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who was also in Brussels yesterday, said May was trying to “run down the clock with the intention to put a binary choice to Parliament: a deal versus No Deal,” adding, “My discussions in Brussels confirm to me that this appears to be the position.”
Separately, Conservative MP and former Education Secretary Justine Greening told BBC Radio 4 she would leave the party if it “crashed us out of the European Union” without a deal. This comes as former Attorney General Dominic Grieve also said on Wednesday that he would leave the party if the Government decided to implement a No Deal Brexit. The Guardian reports that as many as 25 members of the Government would be ready to resign if the Prime Minister did not commit to ruling out No Deal.
Elsewhere, MP Sarah Wollaston, who resigned from the Conservative Party to join the Independent Group, said, “A third of the Cabinet, I’m pretty clear, would walk if they were looking at a No Deal Brexit.”
Theresa May will meet several EU leaders at the EU-Arab League summit in Egypt this weekend.
The Times The Daily Telegraph The Guardian The Financial Times I The Financial Times II Guardian
Ian Austin, the MP for Dudley North, today became the ninth Labour MP to quit the party this week, citing “a culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance.” However, he does not currently have plans to join his eight former colleagues in the Independent Group, telling his local newspaper the Dudley Express & Star, “I think the Labour Party is broken and clearly things have to change but that’s not what today is about, and I’ve not talked to them about [sitting with them].” Unlike the eight Labour MPs who have joined the Independent Group, Austin is against a second Brexit referendum, and was one of only three Labour MPs to vote for the Brexit deal last month.
Dudley Express and Star
The Department for International Trade yesterday published a document outlining the progress of rolling over existing trade deals the UK is party to via EU membership, saying it will not be able to transition the Japan and Turkey trade agreements before 29 March 2019. The Department said, “While a number of these continuity agreements are likely to be concluded by exit day, it is the duty of Government to produce a highly-cautious list of those that may not be in place in order that businesses and individuals ensure that they are prepared for every eventuality.” The document also said the EU-Algeria Association Agreement was “unlikely” to be rolled over in time.
Department for International Trade
The Daily Telegraph
The EU will insist that the UK settles its financial obligations and agrees to a backstop in any post-No Deal negotiations, the Financial Times reports. A senior EU figure told the paper that if the UK leaves without a deal, “The Brits will be back to the negotiating table within weeks. We will say, yes, by all means let’s discuss the future. First, here is the backstop and the financial settlement.” According to European Commission contingency plans, the UK must confirm by 18 April whether it will pay around €7 billion of net contributions to the EU budget for 2019. It will also attempt to preserve fishing rights to UK waters for Member States. However, other EU negotiators are reportedly unconvinced that such demands will be realistic in a No Deal scenario. A senior official overseeing Brexit for an EU government said, “How exactly is British politics going to turn around after No Deal and agree to the backstop that was the cause of them crashing out?”
Elsewhere, according to a Department for Transport report seen by the Financial Times, in case of No Deal the queue of passengers waiting for cross-Channel Eurostar trains at St. Pancras International station could reach up to 15,000 people due to increased police and border checks. The report explains that in the “worst-case scenario, with maximum [French police] checks on non-EU passengers (including UK citizens) and with no change to the staffing of [French police] booths or other mitigations in place, queues could reach up to 15,000 passengers on a busy day.” A DfT spokesperson responded, “We are confident that we will have agreements in place to ensure cross-channel rail services continue after Brexit,” adding, “We are working closely with industry to develop sensible contingency plans which ensure that the Eurostar and domestic rail services continue running.”
The Financial Times I
The Financial Times II
One of the founding members of the Independent Group of MPs, Gavin Shuker, suggested yesterday that the group could support the Government on a confidence and supply basis in exchange for a referendum on the Brexit deal. Shuker told HuffPost that when he was a Labour MP, he and several colleagues offered the Government “support to pass any deal you like on Brexit” if there was a “confirmatory referendum” afterwards, and that he had also been willing “to extend confidence and supply to your Government so it doesn’t fall over through the period of the referendum.” Shuker told HuffPost that this offer could still be on the table from the Independent Group in the future, saying, “it comes down to… doing the right thing by the country,” adding, “in those circumstances I think the national interest would be served by seeing a period of stability to get that referendum done.”
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday said the eight Labour MPs who quit the party this week should leave their seats and face by-elections. In a video message Corbyn argued, “It’s disappointing that some MPs have left our party to sit with disaffected [Conservative MPs],” adding, “These MPs now want to abandon the policies on which they were elected. So the decent and democratic thing for them to do is resign and put themselves up for election.”
Separately, the Times reports that Corbyn has been warned about dozens of MPs willing to resign from the party whip and join the Independent Group if the party leadership does not support a proposal by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which would give Labour support to the Government’s Brexit deal if it is approved by the public in a referendum.
Ireland’s deputy Prime Minister, Simon Coveney, yesterday told the Irish Parliament’s committee on the Good Friday Agreement that it is “nonsense” to suggest a No Deal Brexit could be handled easily. Commenting that there had been “confusing messages” about the possibility of WTO tariffs being applied in the context of No Deal, Coveney said such tariffs would have a “hugely significant” impact on the agri-food business, adding “we can’t allow it to happen and I don’t believe it will happen.” On the question of contingency plans for cross-border healthcare arrangements Coveney said, “we will have emergency legislation in place to ensure that cross-border healthcare provision can continue.” Coveney also told the Dail yesterday that the European Commission would “support and protect” vulnerable Irish industries such as beef in the event of a trade war with the UK.
This comes as the Irish Government is due to publish a major package of No Deal contingency legislation today, consisting of 16 different pieces of legislation.
A majority of European Union countries have endorsed a reform of EU copyright rules applying to internet giants on Wednesday. Under the plans, online platforms including Google and Facebook Inc will have to pay publishers for news snippets and filter out copyright-protected content. Dissenting countries Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland said in a joint statement, “We regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies.” The reform is yet to be approved by the European Parliament.
The leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, said that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán cannot “belong to the EPP and campaign against the EPP President of the Commission – that will not work,” adding that Orbán must “realise that he is currently getting further away from the EPP.” This comes as leader of the German Christian Democratic Union party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, also criticised Orbán, threatening to freeze bilateral consultations with Orbán’s ruling Fidesz. She said, “It is on the Hungarian side to prove that they still feel that they belong to the EPP.” Politico reports that Several EPP officials said the group has not yet made any decision to expel Fidesz, with one official saying they had “now placed the missile on the launchpad.”