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Downing Street has insisted that the Prime Minister is determined to stick to her Brexit “principles” in cross-party talks, including rejecting a customs union and a second referendum. Her spokesman said that while conversations would be approached “in a constructive spirit,” Theresa May’s “principles” remain in place because “she believes [they] honour the result of the referendum.” On the specific issue of a customs union, he said, “The PM is absolutely clear on the importance of having an independent trade policy in order to honour the result of the referendum.” Asked to identify areas where compromise might be possible, May’s spokesman suggested there could be stronger guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental protections.
Elsewhere, in a speech in Hastings, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reiterated that he would only speak to the Prime Minister if she rules out No Deal. Corbyn claimed May was pursuing “phoney talks” designed to “run down the clock” and force MPs to back her “botched deal.” Corbyn also wrote a letter to all Labour MPs should “refrain” from talks with the Government until No Deal is “taken off the table.”
Speaking to Global News Canada on Wednesday, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh said, “It’s very difficult to see how the deal gets through if Labour continues to oppose it.” He added, “Labour have big decisions to make. Do they back a second referendum, or do they manoeuvre themselves into a position where they start negotiating with the Government on the Brexit deal?”
Meanwhile, speaking after talks with the Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, the senior Labour backbenchers Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper – who both chair select committees – also said the Government “has to rule out No Deal,” adding that the Prime Minister “needs to change her red lines.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also told the government, “Rule out No Deal, be prepared to extend [Article] 50 and agree to at least consider another referendum – then we’ll talk.” Similarly, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, said after a meeting with Theresa May, “Taking No Deal off the table is essential in the short term.” The Green party MP, Caroline Lucas, said that the Prime Minister had been in “listening mode” during their talks, but added, “She still thinks it’s going to be possible to tweak this deal sufficiently to get the 230 MPs that voted against it to swing behind it – I remain pretty sceptical about that.”
Separately, the senior Conservative Brexiteers David Davis, Mark Francois, Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, John Whittingdale and Steve Baker also met the Prime Minister for talks yesterday. Whittingdale later described the meeting as “constructive,” adding, “An agreement that can command support of almost all Conservative and DUP MPs is still possible.”
Open Europe’s Henry Newman appeared on TalkRADIO yesterday saying that Theresa May “is in a difficult position where she will have to keep introducing her deal until she can convince people to climb down.”
Meanwhile, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom has announced that the Prime Minister will make a statement next Monday about her Brexit ‘plan B’, and will table a motion. The debate will then be held on Tuesday 29 January.
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The Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, yesterday said that guaranteeing that removing a No Deal Brexit scenario would be a “an incompetent thing to do,” adding, the “Government has to continue to prepare for all eventualities including No Deal. It is not possible to remove No Deal from the table and still abide by the will of the people as expressed at the referendum.” This comes after Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, told business leaders earlier this week that a No Deal Brexit could be taken “off the table” by Parliament. Responding to reports of Hammond’s statements, Cabinet minister is quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying, “If we don’t get agreement, the law says we leave on March 29. Even if we do it is extremely unwise to do so. I think the Government can have only one stated policy. It is not to take No Deal off the table. We can’t have rogue elements trying to bounce the rest of the Government into a policy they have not agreed.”
Separately, the Daily Telegraph also reports that a delegation of five junior ministers has warned the Prime Minister that they, along with several other ministers, were prepared to resign from the Government in order to vote for amendments to the Government’s motion which would prevent a No Deal Brexit. A minister is quoted as saying, “I think that the Prime Minister will come under a lot of pressure to give ministers a free vote on [amendments which block a No Deal Brexit]… She would be wise to do that because she doesn’t really want people to resign, and there are definitely people who would resign over it.”
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A YouGov voting intention poll published yesterday found that 36% of voters thought Theresa May would make the best Prime Minister, compared with only 20% who favoured Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 41% said they were not sure. They also found that 39% of the electorate would vote for the Conservative party compared with 34% who would vote for Labour. The same polling found that in a new referendum, 46% would vote to remain in the EU and 38% would vote to leave.
Separately, polling conducted by market research company FocalData on behalf of campaign group Best for Britain, who back a second referendum, yesterday found that 91.5% of Conservative-held constituencies would support a second referendum if Parliament is unable to agree on a Brexit deal.
Elsewhere, Politico reports that the Government believes a second referendum could take a year to organise, according to a leaked Cabinet Office document. The document states that it could take several months for the necessary legislation to be passed, in addition to an official campaigning period of ten weeks. A Downing Street spokesperson said that the document was “illustrative only. Our position is that there will be no second referendum.”
The Daily Telegraph
According to leaked analysis from the Department of International Trade reported in the Financial Times, the UK has failed to roll over most of the EU’s trade deals with third countries in preparation for Brexit. One government official who had seen the analysis said, “Almost none of them are ready to go now and none will be ready to go by March.” The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Adam Marshall, has said, “Businesses need reassurance that progress is being made to maintain the terms of trade that they currently enjoy in many countries around the world.”
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe yesterday announced that the French government would begin enacting its plans for a No Deal Brexit, warning that the possibility of the UK leaving without a deal was becoming “less and less improbable.” These include passing legislation granting British citizens in France a 12-month grace period to obtain necessary residency documents, although this is contingent on the UK offering reciprocal guarantees to EU citizens. Elsewhere, plans would also allow UK businesses set up in France in regulated sectors to continue operating. On the issue of road transport, the government intends to authorise hauliers based in the UK to continue operating in France immediately after No Deal. In financial services, emergency legislation would permit certain operations to continue “despite the UK’s loss of the financial services passport.” The government is also bringing forward legislation to “allow continued transfer of defence equipment between France and the UK” in the absence of an EU framework. Philippe also announced that he would unlock emergency investment funds of around €50 million “in the coming days” in order to adapt infrastructure at ports and airports to prepare for a No Deal scenario.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, and deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, held a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street yesterday on the future of the Brexit negotiations. Speaking afterwards, Foster said that she would not give a “running commentary” on the talks, but added “Everybody knows what our issue is in relation to the current withdrawal agreement and it is around the toxicity of the backstop that is currently there.”
Elsewhere, the DUP MP Jim Shannon told the Belfast Newsletter that the party had “considered” supporting the Withdrawal Agreement if the backstop was time-limited. He said that “if the time-scale was one year, or perhaps even two, certainly within this term of government, I think we would certainly look at that as an option.”
Elsewhere, senior sources in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) told The Times that the party would support a softer Brexit deal where the whole of the UK would remain in a customs union with the EU. This would mark a divergence of positions between the DUP and many Conservative Brexiteers who staunchly oppose keeping the UK in the customs union.
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The European Parliament’s legal service has advised that the UK would not necessarily have to take part in May’s European Parliament elections if it wished to extend Article 50 beyond July 2019. A copy of the advice seen by the Financial Times states, “The possibility for the European Parliament to be validly constituted following the 2019 elections would not be affected by a potential failure by the UK to organise elections.” The new European Parliament will be put together on 2 July. If the UK does not take part in the elections, it would have no seats in the new assembly. The other member states would have the same number of MEPs as now, and the chamber would only be reorganised after the UK had left. However, the Financial Times reports that EU diplomats and officials remain sceptical that the UK could be a member state without holding elections, which one said would “run the risk of an EU institution being constituted improperly.”
Separately, Leszek Miller, the Prime Minister of Poland between 2001 and 2004, has said that the EU should not grant the UK an extension to its exit date from the EU under Article 50 if an extension was requested. Miller said that this would teach the UK “an important lesson” about the dangers of leaving the EU.
The Daily Telegraph
The European Parliament yesterday endorsed draft rules to suspend EU budget payments to member states judged to be undermining the rule of law in their countries. 397 MEPs supported the proposal and 158 opposed it. Finnish centre-right MEP, Petri Sarvamaa, who co-authored the parliament’s proposals, said, that “Without the rule of law, the European Union loses its credibility in the eyes of the citizens and in the eyes of the world,” adding, “Taxpayers’ money has to be respected and spent according to the same rules and principles in all member states.”
The draft rules were first introduced by the European Commission in its long-term EU budget plans and will be implemented if they receive the backing of EU member states.