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Prime Minister, Theresa May, will travel to Berlin and Paris today for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. The meetings come ahead of tomorrow’s emergency EU Summit to discuss May’s request for an Article 50 extension until 30 June. May held telephone calls with other EU leaders yesterday, including European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Council President, Donald Tusk. Speaking in Luxembourg yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Prime Minister was “leaving no stone unturned” in trying to get the Brexit deal “over the line.”
Meanwhile, the Government will continue talks with the Labour party today as Ministers led by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington are expected to meet the Labour delegation led by Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary. Speaking last night, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “The exchanges with the Government have been serious, but our shadow cabinet expressed frustration that the Prime Minister has not yet moved off her red lines so we can reach a compromise,” adding, “The key issues that we must see real movement on to secure an agreement are a customs union with the EU, alignment with the single market and full dynamic alignment of workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer standards.” The Daily Telegraph reports that the Government is reluctant to commit to a customs union with the EU, while advocating for an approach that would deliver the same benefits. According to the newspaper, May is also considering giving MPs a vote on whether to hold a a a second referendum on the Withdrawal Agreement in order to break the deadlock in talks.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary David Gauke told Sky News this morning that it was not the intention of the Prime Minister to hold a “confirmatory referendum” on the Brexit deal, but that it was “highly likely” that an amendment calling for one would be tabled.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 received royal assent last night, placing a legal obligation on the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50. MPs will today vote on an amendable Government motion tabled under the terms of the Act “seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.”
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The Government yesterday tabled an order enabling the UK to hold European Parliament elections on 23 May if the UK is still in the EU at that time. A Cabinet Office spokesman said, “It remains the Government’s intention to leave the EU with a deal and pass the necessary legislation before 22 May, so that we do not need to participate in European parliamentary elections,” adding, “The Day of Poll Order provides returning officers with a date to hold potential European Parliamentary elections, but it does not make these elections inevitable as leaving the EU before the date of election automatically removes our obligation to take part.”
This comes as Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington sent a letter yesterday to the Electoral Commission, the Wales Electoral Coordination Board and the Scottish Elections Management Board urging them to make preparations for EU elections. In the letter he said, “Whilst the Government still intends to leave the European Union before the next European Parliamentary elections, and if we leave the EU before the elections then the requirement to run a poll will fall away, we will continue to follow legal requirements and obligations as they become necessary,” adding, “This will enable Returning Officers to undertake their obligations under existing law.”
Separately, a new Hanbury poll for Politico, suggests that the Conservative party has less trust than the Labour Party amongst voters on core issues such as Brexit, crime, housing and health. However, Theresa May is regarded by voters as a better choice of a leader than Jeremy Corbyn, according to the poll.
BuzzFeed News reports that EU27 ambassadors will today discuss two proposals for a further Article 50 extension: a delay until 22 May if the UK Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of this week, or a nine-twelve month extension if the deal is not ratified. A proposal for a termination clause to the extension, which could be triggered by both the UK and the EU, will also be discussed at the meeting.
Elsewhere, Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, yesterday wrote it is “crucial to know when and on what basis UK will ratify the Withdrawal Agreement,” adding, “A positive decision hinges also on assurances from UK on sincere cooperation.”
According to The Times, in case of a longer delay EU27 leaders would expect the UK to provide an assurance in a form of a letter that it will vote with the majority of other member states when it comes to decisions relating to the future of the EU. EU leaders will also reportedly make clear that any future UK Prime Minister will not be able to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement during the extension.
Meanwhile; Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will tomorrow host a meeting of leaders of countries most affected by Brexit, including Germany, Spain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Denmark. The Guardian reports that leaders plan to coordinate their positions on Article 50 extension ahead of the full European Council summit held tomorrow evening.
This comes as Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell yesterday said that a one year Brexit extension would be “feasible,’” adding, however, that this is not what Prime Minister Theresa May requested last Friday. He said, “According to her last letter, Mrs. May asked for a few more days to try to reach an agreement in the negotiations with [Labour Leader Jeremy] Corbyn…That would be the best solution. It would give us all a break, but if that were not the case, other solutions would have to be considered.” Romanian Foreign Minister, Teodor Melescanu, and Finnish Foreign Minister, Timo Soini said they would back an extension of Article 50.
Separately, former German European Commissioner, Günter Verheugen, said, “Brussels has taught us a lesson in how not to deal with a member state that wants to leave. The problem is not on the British side. The problem is on the EU side.” He explained, “We’re not losing a member state, we’re losing the weight of 20 member states. We therefore have an interest that we remain the closest possible allies” and added the UK should be allowed some form of co-decision on trade policy. He also called for the “unblocking [of] this process” as “the best solution for both sides.”
During a visit to Dublin yesterday, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU would agree to modify the Political Declaration on future relations very quickly in order to include a UK-EU customs union. He said that the Political Declaration “provides for a range of outcomes, including a customs union. We are ready to make this clearer if it helps and this work can be done extremely quickly.” In a press conference following meetings with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Barnier also warned, “If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, let me be very, very clear. We would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as for citizens’ rights and the financial settlement.”
Meanwhile, Varadkar said, “The EU has always said that should the UK want to change its red lines, we would be prepared to amend the Political Declaration on the future relationship,” adding, “From Ireland’s perspective, we are open to extending the [Brexit] deadline to allow time for these discussions [in the UK Parliament] to run their course and come to a conclusion.” Coveney explained that Ireland was open to both a short and longer extension to Article 50, explaining, “Ireland is of course willing to give the [Brexit] process more time, but we, like many other EU member states, will want to see a plan to go with that to show that there is a proposed way of finding a majority support in Westminster for a way forward.” Responding to Varadkar’s and Barnier’s comments, the DUP MEP Diane Dodds said their “warm words about hard borders & peace process ring hollow when compared to their obsession with a backstop which would be offensive to unionists and fundamentally undermine [the] integrity of UK”
Elsewhere, European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, yesterday presented the Commission’s contingency plan for the agri-food sector in a potential No Deal Brexit scenario. Hogan said, “I anticipate a mix of measures designed to suit particular circumstances and products. A mix of some or all of public intervention, private storage aid, withdrawal schemes and targeted aid will form the package of support,” adding, “In addition to these measures, we are also looking at state aid rules, in which case it will be for the Member States to provide support.” He also urged Prime Minister Theresa May to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU in order to protect cross-border trade on the island of Ireland, adding, “Despite the madness of Brexit I still believe common sense might prevail…No Deal makes no sense. There’s too much at stake.”
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The Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald, and vice president, Michelle O’Neill, held talks at Westminster yesterday with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. They also separately met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, and MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Speaking before the meetings, McDonald said a customs union with the EU “probably makes sense for Britain” but added that a customs union “alone does not solve the problem for the north of Ireland – we need alignment also with the single market.”
McDonald also said that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has “proven not to have a very deep appreciation of Irish politics or the dynamic of Irish politics.”
The European Commission yesterday published its first set of guidelines for the ethical development of Artificial Intelligence, warning that algorithms must not discriminate on grounds of age, race or gender. The guidelines consist of seven principles that aim at creating “trustworthy” Artificial Intelligence programs. EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy, Mariya Gabriel, said, “AI is developing at an exponential pace.We don’t want to stop innovation but the added value of the EU approach is that we are making it a people-focused process. People are in charge.”
In an article for the Telegraph, Open Europe’s Stephen Booth argues that Prime Minister Theresa May had “little choice but to reach out to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to break the Brexit deadlock.” He notes that “for all the clashes and government defeats in the House of Commons, the reality is that very little of substance appears to separate May and Corbyn’s view of what would constitute an acceptable Brexit” adding, “both leaders appear to share an aversion to accepting the free movement of people that would very likely be an EU condition for a ‘softer’ form of Brexit, akin to UK membership of the Single Market.” Booth writes that a cross-party deal could find a Parliamentary majority, “but this would rely on enough Conservative MPs keeping their heads and Labour’s ability to whip its MPs. The obvious option would be for May and Corbyn to agree to let Parliament decide if the deal should be put to another referendum.” He concludes, “Corbyn might be reluctant to take responsibility for Brexit but, so far, he’s been equally reluctant to assume responsibility for leading a ‘Remain’ party.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Henry Newman discussed the latest Brexit developments on the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Brexit Podcast on Sunday. He said it was unlikely that the UK “won’t get an extension [to Article 50] from the EU,” also arguing, “The Prime Minister’s [Brexit] deal gives us a huge amount more than most of its critics would possible acknowledge.”