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The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has urged MPs to “think about the national interest” ahead of the vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on 11 December. Asked about whether the Withdrawal Agreement’s backstop threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom, May said, “We already have regulatory differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland on some issues, and that does not threaten the union of the United Kingdom.” The Prime Minister’s comments came during visits to both Wales and Northern Ireland to promote the Brexit deal. However, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, said that the Prime Minister’s visit to Northern Ireland was “a waste of time,” as Parliament will not back the deal as it currently stands.
Separately, the Times reports that some Eurosceptic Conservative MPs may support the Withdrawal Agreement if Theresa May promises to resign as Prime Minister after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March. A source told the paper, “We know that the future relationship is not binding. This means she is the problem, not the deal per se, since it leaves plenty of flexibility for a successor to organise technical solutions for the Irish border and move towards Canada.”
Elsewhere, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has said, “This is a binary choice: do you accept the deal that is on the table or do you reject the deal that is on the table?” Lidington rejected suggestions that May should debate the Brexit deal with leaders of all the other parties in an upcoming television debate, saying that she will only face the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. This comes as May yesterday said, “Of course I am going to be debating in the House of Commons with all parties on the issue of the Brexit deal. Jeremy Corbyn and I are leaders of parties that cover [almost] 90% of all MPs in the House of Commons.” She added, “This is a really important moment for our country. I have a clear deal that I believe is in the interests of the UK and I think it is right for people to hear what Jeremy Corbyn’s views are as [people] have been a little uncertain recently about exactly where he stands.”
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During her visit to Scotland today, Prime Minister Theresa May will say the Brexit deal will give the UK “full sovereign control over our waters,” arguing that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy had “tragically failed Scotland’s coastal communities.” She will also say the deal is “good for Scottish employers and…will protect jobs.” This comes as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed the government was preparing to use Scotland’s fishing sector as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations on the future relationship.
Bloomberg reports that the Government will allow MPs to introduce potential amendments to its motion on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration during the ‘meaningful vote’ debate, according to an unnamed official. Such amendments could include changing the Brexit deal negotiated with the EU or calling for another Brexit referendum.
Separately, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh is quoted in a Brexit feature piece by Spanish broadcaster RTVE. Walsh told RTVE that many of the alternatives to the Brexit deal, such as a renegotiation, a general election, or a second referendum, would involve “extending Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and finding the legal mechanisms to do so.” He adds that a general election, though unlikely, is more likely than a second referendum. “I do not imagine any Conservative Government holding a second referendum, nor the Labour Party,” he explains, adding that supporters of a second referendum “are not capable of agreement” on what question should be on the ballot paper.
In a new report, the House of Commons Public Accounts select committee warns about severe disruption at UK ports in the event of a No Deal Brexit scenario, adding, “There is a real risk that the Department for Transport will not be ready in the event of the UK departing the EU without a negotiated deal, and this risk is increasing as time runs out to deliver what is needed.” Commenting on the Government’s plans for traffic management in the South East, the report said, “The slow progress and poor communication around work to avoid this through schemes such as Project Brock concerns us. The lack of detailed information provided to businesses to help them prepare and the secrecy surrounding discussions through the use of non-disclosure agreements is hampering businesses’ ability to plan,” adding, “Even if a deal is agreed, the department faces a challenging workload during the proposed transition period.” A spokesman for the Department of Transport said, “We disagree with the committee’s conclusions which are not accurate and we are both disappointed and surprised that they have failed to reflect the evidence set out in the NAO’s (National Audit Office) report, which found that the department has made a determined effort in its preparations and achieved a great deal.”
HM Treasury is due to publish economic analysis on the long-term effects of Brexit on the UK, with its forecasts covering a range of different scenarios. According to the Telegraph, the analysis will show that under a Chequers-style agreement the UK’s GDP would be between 1 and 2 per cent lower over 15 years than if the UK had remained in the EU, whereas under a No Deal Brexit GDP would be 7.6 per cent lower over the same period than under EU membership. This would be the equivalent of £150 billion.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has described the Withdrawal Agreement as the “best plan available.” He told BBC Breakfast that a No Deal Brexit would “create impediments to trade,” adding, “If the only consideration was the economy then the analysis shows clearly that remaining in the European Union would be a better outcome for the economy but not by much,” compared to the Government’s deal. He added, “What the Prime Minister’s deal does is absolutely minimises [the costs of leaving], and reduces to an absolute minimum the economic impact of leaving the EU, while delivering the political benefits, in terms of being able to do third-country trade deals, having control of our fishing waters, and the many other issues that will be delivered politically.” Dominic Raab, the former Brexit Secretary, said that there was a “credibility gap” with Treasury-led forecasts and “it looks like a rehash of Project Fear.”
The Bank of England will also publish assessments of the economic impact of Brexit today.
Elsewhere, Philip Hammond has stated that the government will only be publishing a summary of the legal advice it received on the backstop proposal, rather than the full legal text.
The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, said last night that a second referendum “might be an option we [Labour] seize upon,” adding for the first time that Remain should be an option on the ballot paper. Speaking at a Guardian live event, he added, “We can’t have ‘No Deal’ on the ballot paper. There’s an overwhelming majority in parliament against that happening, because of the damage.” McDonnell said that he would vote Remain again in a second referendum. He also said that as Parliament votes on the Brexit deal, Labour “will be calling for a general election” and preparing to put down a motion of no confidence in the Government.
Separately, senior Labour sources have told the Guardian that the party leadership will not join the growing support in Westminster for a so-called ‘Norway-plus deal,’ which would involve single market membership and a customs union with the EU. The proposal is being promoted by Conservative backbencher Nick Boles, and has also attracted interest from the Scottish National Party.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has heard a claim by a cross-party group of Scottish MPs and MEPs arguing that the UK can unilaterally withdraw Article 50 without the consent of the other 27 EU member states. Aidan O’Neill QC, argued that it was “fundamental” to EU treaties that a member state should possess this right. However, the European Council chief lawyer, Hubert Legal, said that allowing unilateral withdrawal from Article 50 could lead to “disaster,” adding, “The main victim could be the European project altogether.” The UK government has argued that the case is purely “hypothetical” as it does not intend to cancel the Article 50 process. According to EU Observer, there is no clear date for a decision to be handed down by the ECJ, meaning that it may not appear until after the UK parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal on 11 December.