15 January 2019

Meaningful vote on Withdrawal Agreement to take place today

The House of Commons will this evening vote on the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement motion and the amendments selected by the Speaker, John Bercow. Speaking to MPs yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May urged critics of her Brexit deal to give it a “second look,” adding, “It is not perfect but when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: ‘Did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the EU, did we safeguard our economy, security or union or did we let the British people down?” She also addressed Conservative MPs yesterday night at the backbench 1922 Committee. The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said that “We were promised the ‘easiest trade deal in history’, yet we have seen a divided government deliver a botched withdrawal deal.” He added, “It’s clear if the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected tomorrow, it’s time for a General Election.” Corbyn separately told his MPs that a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister was “coming soon” after the meaningful vote.

Earlier, speaking to reporters after her speech in Stoke-on-Trent, May said, “We’re leaving on 29 March, I’ve been clear I don’t believe we should be extending Article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum.” She also warned that in a No Deal Brexit scenario, “We would have no implementation period, no security cooperation, no guarantees for UK citizens overseas, no certainty for businesses and workers… and changes to everyday life in Northern Ireland that would put the future of our union at risk,” adding “And with no Brexit … we would risk a subversion of the democratic process.”

This comes as the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, exchanged letters with May yesterday over the operation of the Backstop Protocol. In their letter to May, Tusk and Juncker said that the provisions of the Protocol “Do not affect or supersede the provisions of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement” and “do not alter in any way the arrangements under Strand II of the 1998 Agreement in particular.” May told the House of Commons that the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, confirmed that the Presidents’ conclusions “would have legal force in international law.” In response to the letters, however, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said that “Nothing has changed,” adding “Everything the Attorney General said in his legal advice regarding the backstop, still stands.”

Elsewhere, the Government was heavily defeated in a symbolic vote in the House of Lords yesterday, after Peers voted 321 to 152 against the Withdrawal Agreement. The motion, which carries no legal weight, expressed “regret” that the deal would “damage the future economic prosperity, internal security and global influence” of the UK, while also opposing a No Deal Brexit.

Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar told BBC World Service Newsday this morning, “A likely pathway [after the vote] is further adjustments from the EU.” She added, “The amendments [to the Withdrawal Agreement motion] will be “indicative in and of themselves,” adding, “The Government will be looking for where is a majority in the House of Commons…The Prime Minister could then say to the EU ‘this is where there is a majority in the Parliament’.” Shankar is also quoted in Danish Daily Information saying many MPs opposed to the deal hope that by voting down the deal so close to exit date, “The bigger the chances that their [preferred] Brexit plan will succeed.”

Source: Financial Times BBC News I Guardian I Guardian II Twitter - Lisa O'Carroll HM Government Jeremy Corbyn: Twitter House of Commons: Hansard BBC News II Open Europe: SoundCloud Danish Daily Information

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Gareth Johnson resigns as Government Whip

Conservative Party Whip Gareth Johnson resigned from the Government yesterday saying, “I cannot, in all conscience, support the Government’s position when it is clear this [Brexit] deal is detrimental to our nation’s interests.” In his resignation letter, Johnson added, “The [Irish] ‘backstop’, contained in the agreement, gives our country no clear, unilateral path out of the European Union and ensures we will be fettered in our ability to negotiate trade deals with other nations in future.” Johnson also said the deal “prevents us from taking back control and leaves us perpetually constrained by the European Union.”

Elsewhere, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told an audience at the Centre for Policy Studies yesterday, “The fundamental way we can get changes in the Withdrawal Agreement is to vote down the current bad terms,” and go back to negotiate further concessions. Raab added, “If we can’t get a deal, we’d leave on WTO terms even if only transitionally,” adding “[a World Trade Organisation] won’t be a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the independent MP Frank Field will support the Withdrawal Agreement in today’s vote. Field said that “I now fear there will be no Brexit unless we go with this deal,” adding, “That would be treachery to the British voters.”

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Irish Deputy PM: Ireland has to hold its nerve

Ahead of MPs ‘meaningful vote’ today on the UK-EU Brexit deal, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Minister Simon Coveney said, “This is a time where Ireland has to hold its nerve,” stressing that Ireland would “need to stay close to the British government and EU partners.” Coveney also argued that “Now is not the time to focus on plan B.”

Elsewhere, an agriculture spokesperson for Fianna Fail, the confidence-and-supply partners of the Irish government, has criticised Ireland’s No Deal planning for agrifood trade.

Separately, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has asked his Cabinet to plan for a No Deal Brexit scenario by preparing an emergency law which ministers will sign off today. Belgian newspaper L’Echo quotes sources as saying that the law needs “to allow for a transition as flexible as possible.”

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Merkel proposes China-EU 2020 Summit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed a China-European Union summit to take place during Germany’s EU presidency in the second half of 2020. According to EU diplomats, the summit would include leaders of EU countries and officials from Brussels and Beijing. Hubert Lienhard, head of the German parliamentary Asia-Pacific committee, said that “Germany should make China an important theme of its EU council presidency in 2020.”

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Dominic Walsh: Questions to put to opponents of the Brexit deal

In a new blog, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh puts fifteen questions to parliamentary opponents of the Brexit deal. He writes, “MPs from across the spectrum of Brexit opinion have queued up to denounce the deal. However, criticising the deal is not a substitute for a workable alternative.” Walsh goes on to ask five questions of each of the following groups: the Labour leadership; advocates of a second referendum; and anti-Deal Conservative Brexiteers. Some examples of the questions include:

For the Labour leadership: “Do you accept the need for a backstop?”

For second referendum supporters: “What [question] should be on the ballot paper?”

For anti-deal Conservative Brexiteers: “ If post-Brexit trade deals are so important, why are you so relaxed about trading on WTO terms with our largest market?

Elsewhere, in a new blog, Open Europe’s David Shiels looks at the Government’s recent paper on Northern Ireland and the exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the European Council and Commission Presidents on the Northern Ireland backstop. He writes that “As expected, the [Northern Ireland] paper focuses on unilateral measures on the part of the UK and stops short of seeking any changes to the text of the Withdrawal Agreement itself  – though it is also important in terms of identifying areas that can be built upon with the EU, in the event that further side agreements can be reached.” He adds, “More than anything, the reactions in Northern Ireland show that Unionist and Nationalist understandings of Brexit and the backstop remain as far apart as ever. It is incumbent on the British Government to try to explain its position to both sides, seeking a consensus in Northern Ireland.”