7 January 2019

May confirms ‘meaningful vote’ to take place next week

Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday confirmed that parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal would be held next week, on either 14 or 15 January. She said that ahead of the vote the government would set out “measures in three areas” in order to provide MPs assurance on the Irish backstop. These would include “measures…specific for Northern Ireland,” a “greater role for parliament” in the next stage of negotiations with the EU, and “further assurances from the European Union.” She also warned of “unchartered territory” if MPs reject the agreement, and dismissed suggestions of extending the Article 50 period to allow more time.

Elsewhere, The Times also reports that May will ask the EU to agree a 2021 deadline for the future relationship to be concluded, in order to convince MPs that the UK would not be held indefinitely in the Irish backstop. This comes after The Times last week reported that the EU may provide assurances over the Irish backstop in the week ahead of the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. These could include clarifications from the EU that the backstop is “not the desired outcome” or will “only [last] for a short period.”

Meanwhile, in an interview last month, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would be prepared to begin work on the future UK-EU relationship “the very next day” if MPs pass the Withdrawal Agreement.

Separately, a recent poll of Conservative Party members found that 59% of members surveyed opposed the draft Brexit deal. Results also showed that 63% of members would be happy to leave without a deal, while only 22% would be unhappy.

Open Europe’s Henry Newman yesterday told LBC radio, “It’s almost certain that [the Brexit deal] will not pass in January, but in some respect that is already priced in. [Theresa] May’s deal is the only deal and a version of it will be put back to the Commons at some later date,” adding, “The key moment will not be what happens in the next ten days, because that vote will not pass the Commons…It will be whether Labour shift their position to back a second referendum and whether enough [MPs] begin to change their views about the deal.” Separately, Newman told Sky News this morning the Prime Minister “will lose the vote and will have to go back to Brussels and ask for a bit more…She is looking at getting some clarifications, particularly around the [Irish] backstop…If she can get that, she will be in a much better position.”

Source: BBC transcript: The Andrew Marr Show The Times The Times The Times Die Welt

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A general election would be "the quickest way" to a second referendum, says shadow trade secretary

Labour’s shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, yesterday said that if the Prime Minister failed to pass her deal through parliament, the Labour party would call for a general election, which he said would be “the quickest way” to a second referendum. He also said that if an incoming Labour government renegotiated a deal with the EU, “At that stage it makes sense to go to the country… That is the time when we would then say to people now make your decision on what we have managed to conclude.” Gardiner also said that under Labour’s proposal for a permanent customs union with the EU, the UK and EU would “jointly decide” on trade deals, adding that the UK should not be “forced into a trade agreement, potentially with America, which was detrimental to our interests.”

This comes after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last week said that the Prime Minister should attempt to renegotiate her Brexit deal with the EU if parliament votes it down next week. Corbyn said that Labour will “vote against having no deal, we’ll vote against Theresa May’s deal; at that point she should go back to Brussels and say, ‘This is not acceptable to Britain’ and renegotiate a customs union.”

Elsewhere, a poll published last week suggested that 72% of Labour Party members back a second referendum on Brexit. A separate YouGov poll published yesterday also found that public support for the Labour party (34%) remained six points behind the Conservatives (40%). Results suggest Labour support could fall to 26% if the party supports the Prime Minister’s deal.

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The Sunday Times: New amendment could prevent the government using emergency No Deal powers

The Sunday Times reports that Labour MP Yvette Cooper has tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill which would prevent the government from using emergency No Deal powers if it attempts to pursue a No Deal Brexit without the support of MPs. The amendment would only allow ministers to use No Deal powers if MPs vote for the Brexit deal, if the government secures an extension of Article 50, or if MPs support leaving the EU without a deal. Cooper also said MPs would be “looking to table similar safeguards to all government legislation.” Two members of the Prime Minister’s team said the amendment would lead to “total paralysis” in government. The amendment is supported by a number of select committee leaders including Nicky Morgan and Frank Field.

Elsewhere, 209 MPs from various parties have signed a letter urging the Prime Minister to rule out the prospect of a No Deal exit. The letter, organised by Conservative MP Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Jack Dromey, argues, “Leaving the EU without a deal would cause unnecessary damage.” 22 Conservative MPs have signed the letter.

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Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove warn against No Deal Brexit

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Environment Secretary Michael Gove both issued warnings against a No Deal Brexit last week. On Wednesday, Hunt said that a No Deal Brexit “would cause disruption that could last some time,” adding that it is “not something that any government should willingly wish on its people.” On Thursday, Gove warned that farmers and food producers would face “considerable turbulence” in the event of No Deal, saying that it was a “grim and inescapable fact” that beef and lamb exports could face export tariffs of 40% if the UK traded with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

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Varadkar: EU clarifications on the Irish backstop “cannot go against” the Brexit deal

Speaking last week, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “We are happy to offer reassurances and guarantees to the UK [about the Irish backstop],” but stressed that “clarifications, understandings, guarantees, explanations cannot go against the spirit, or render inoperable, part of the Withdrawal Agreement.” This came after Varadkar spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “brainstorm a bit as to what we could do to assist Prime Minister [Theresa] May” in securing support for her deal in parliament. He said both leaders agreed to “stand by” the withdrawal deal. Meanwhile, German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas will visit Dublin tomorrow to hold Brexit talks with Varadkar. The Guardian quotes EU sources as saying that the meeting will not address reopening negotiations on the agreement.

Elsewhere, Varadkar has signalled that Ireland would request emergency “state-aid clearance” from the EU in the event of a No Deal Brexit, to allow the Irish government to “support businesses and potentially farmers as well who are adversely affected by Brexit.” However, he played down expectations of an EU “compensation fund”, saying, “It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Italian or Bulgarian or Slovakian taxpayers to compensate us for a decision made by people in the UK.”

Separately, an opinion piece in the Irish Times notes, “The fundamental premise of the Irish Government’s approach has been that the British authorities will either swallow the backstop or cancel Brexit altogether to avoid the chaos of a no-deal Brexit… The current approach of the Irish Government may come off but it may not. There are very large political and legal obstacles in the way of either desired outcome.”

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The Irish backstop makes Withdrawal Agreement "toxic", says DUP deputy leader

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday said that the Irish backstop “remains the poison which makes any vote for the Withdrawal Agreement toxic.” He also said that the “fundamental problems which make this deal a bad deal appear not to have changed.” Dodds argued that “the responsibility for this lies primarily with the EU.”

This comes after the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said last week there was “no way” the DUP would back the Brexit deal, adding that he was “more alarmed” than ever about what the deal would mean to Northern Ireland. Wilson also said that Northern Ireland businesses should be “totally relaxed” by the prospect of a No Deal Brexit.

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UK reaches Brexit deals with EEA countries and Switzerland

The UK last month concluded a Separation Agreement with the three EEA/EFTA countries – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – to protect citizens’ rights and resolve other issues arising from Brexit. The UK government has said the deal “largely mirrors” the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement. The UK also reached a Citizens’ Rights Agreement with Switzerland.

Separately, in December, the UK government and Swiss Federal Council approved a deal to transition existing trade arrangements, allowing “continuity for businesses and consumers as we leave the EU.” The Department for International Trade said, “The agreement replicates the existing EU-Switzerland arrangements as far as possible and will come into effect as soon as the implementation period ends in January 2021, or on 29 March 2019 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.”

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Angela Merkel: Germany to assume "more responsibility" in the world in 2019

In her New Year’s address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged that Germany would seek to “take on more responsibility” at an international level in 2019. She said that this would include an increase in spending on foreign aid and defence, as well as Germany taking up a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Merkel also sought to defend the principle of international co-operation, which she implied had “come under pressure,” in part due to worsening US-German relations.

Elsewhere, an opinion piece in Le Figaro last week warned that the “disruptive politics” of US President Donald Trump, and the worsening of transatlantic relations, have “deprived Europe of its greatest ally at a critical moment,” meaning that the continent would be less able to deal with internal and external threats. It concluded that Europe would need to find “the energy to take its defence into its own hands, to become more powerful, and to compensate for the weakening of the transatlantic alliance.”

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EU Budget Commission says member states would have to increase EU contributions under a No Deal Brexit

Günther Oettinger, the EU Budget Commissioner, said in December that EU member states would have to increase contributions towards to the EU Budget under a No Deal Brexit scenario where the UK did not pay the financial settlement. Oettinger suggested Germany’s extra payment would be equivalent to “the mid-three digit range” of hundreds of millions of euros.

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Romania takes over the EU Council Presidency

Romania has taken over leadership of the EU Council for the first six months of 2019. It will lead the EU Council during a number of key events, including the UK’s exit from the bloc, the European parliamentary elections, and negotiations on the next EU multiannual budget framework. This is the first time Romania has taken up the Presidency, and Romania’s Europe Minister stressed, “We would like to be the honest broker: representing the east, representing the west, representing the north and the south.” However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said, “Romania is well-prepared at technical level, but has not yet fully understood what it means to preside over EU countries.”

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Henry Newman: At some point Labour MPs will have to make a choice on Brexit

In a piece for the Times Red Box, Open Europe’s Henry Newman writes that while senior party figures have suggested that Labour could “renegotiate the Brexit deal,” the EU has repeatedly stressed that “it won’t re-negotiate, won’t re-open the deal and won’t extend Article 50 other than for a general election or a referendum.” He argues, “Labour’s entire Brexit policy rests on six tests which their own shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, rightly described as ‘bollocks’. The idea that you could get the ‘exact same benefits’ from Brexit as membership is fundamentally mendacious.” He continues, “The only safe way to guarantee an orderly Brexit is to back the deal that has actually been agreed by the EU. Minor tweaks are possible, perhaps to secure greater protections for workers and environmental rights. Major changes are not on offer.” He concludes, “At some point soon Labour MPs will have to make a choice on Brexit. There are only three real paths available: leave the EU with no deal, leave the EU with Theresa May’s deal (perhaps with a few tweaks), or don’t leave the EU. That’s it — any other option is fantasy.”