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MPs yesterday voted for a bill tabled by Labour MP Yvette Cooper which would mandate Prime Minister Theresa May to seek an extension of Article 50, by 312 votes in favour and 311 against – a majority of one. The bill, which would also allow Parliament to mandate the length of the extension sought by the Prime Minister, will be considered by the House of Lords today, and will need their approval before it becomes law. MPs also agreed without division that any future amendments to the ‘exit day’ in domestic law would not automatically be subject to a vote in Parliament. Changing the ‘exit day’ would ensure domestic law remains in line with EU law in the event of a further extension of Article 50.
Earlier, MPs voted on an amendment to yesterday’s Business motion by Labour MP and Brexit Committee Chair Hilary Benn, which sought to allow time on Monday 8 April for more ‘indicative votes’ on Brexit options. The vote resulted in a tie, 310 votes for and 310 votes against. The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, cast his deciding vote against the amendment.
This came after Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday held talks to break the Brexit impasse. After the talks, a Number 10 spokesman said, “Today’s talks were constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close. We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security.” A Labour Party spokesman said, “We have had constructive exploratory discussions about how to break the Brexit deadlock. We have agreed a programme of work between our teams to explore the scope for agreement.” Talks will continue today.
Elsewhere, speaking on ITV’s Peston show last night, Chancellor Philip Hammond said that there was now a “credible case” for a confirmatory referendum on the Brexit deal. He also said, “In any extension we get from the EU, we [must] have an absolute clarity that as soon as we have done the deal, we are able to bring that extension to an end”, adding, “So it’s less about the nominal length of time of the extension, and more about the mechanism for bringing it to an end once the deal is done … Our expectation is that we would have a right to terminate.”
Moreover, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told the BBC that if a customs union was the only way for the UK to withdraw from the EU, he would agree to it, suggesting that the UK could leave any customs union at a future date. Cox said, “If we decided, in some considerable years time that we wanted to review our membership of any such customs union if we signed it – and I’m not saying we will – that’s a matter for negotiation and discussion,” adding, “There’s nothing to stop us removing ourselves from that arrangement, so we can’t look at these things as permanent straitjackets upon this country.”
This came after Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay spoke before the Commons Exiting the European Union Committee, saying that the choice for MPs was “between either not having Brexit… [or] what is referred to as a softer Brexit,” adding, “Ultimately, if that is where the numbers of the House of Commons go, then the Government, in order to bring this to a resolution in the national interest, would accept what the House voted for.” Barclay also said that a potential second referendum would take 12 months to fully organise, meaning a level of uncertainty that would have a “chilling” effect on business.
Separately, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said in a letter to the Labour Party that any deal agreed by Parliament “must be subject to a confirmatory public vote, and yes, the other option on the ballot must be Remain.”
Elsewhere, the DUP Chief Whip, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said a customs union “might be a temporary staging post” towards a longer-term objective.
Meanwhile, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said that a risk of a No Deal Brexit has become “alarmingly high”, adding, “We’re in a situation where the expressed will of parliament is for some form of deal, so to put it in the double negative: parliament is against no deal. The government, as expressed by the prime minister, is against no deal, the European Union is against no deal, and yet it is a possibility – it is the default option.”
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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday said in a statement to the European Parliament, “If the United Kingdom is in a position to approve the Withdrawal Agreement with a sustainable majority by 12 April, the European Union should be prepared to accept a delay until 22 May,” adding, “But 12 April is the ultimate deadline for the approval of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons. If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible. After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European Parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.” He also said that a No Deal Brexit “at midnight on the 12 April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want. But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the European Union is ready.”
Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz yesterday said, “There is, from the current point of view, absolutely no reason for an extension since the chaos in Britain has not changed. There is no Plan B capable of being supported by a majority in the British lower house of Parliament.”
Separately, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the European Council was “open” to an extension, but that the EU27 “don’t want that to be a licence for further indecision.” This comes as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said earlier that the UK “will look for a short extension next week, and I think Ireland will support that… It is very unlikely that there will be any crash out at the end of next week with the Prime Minister [Theresa May] looking for an extension with a plan to go with that.”
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will travel to Dublin today to meet Varadkar, and she will also hold discussions with people from Northern Ireland.
EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici yesterday presented the EU’s customs preparations for a potential No Deal Brexit scenario, explaining, “The EU customs code would apply to all goods arriving from the UK… We have to ensure full application of the EU customs code as soon as the UK leaves.” He added, “If there is a No Deal scenario, new customs controls would have to be introduced…That does not mean we would systematically check every single … lorry … We would be controlling (checking) goods on the basis of risk analysis.”
Commenting on the issue of the Irish border, Moscovici said that in a No Deal scenario, “Both the EU and the UK would face numerous challenges. They would need to protect their respective markets, public health, consumer safety and legitimate businesses, and carry out the necessary checks, in the least disruptive manner possible – and as much as possible, away from the border.” He also explained, “What matters is how these checks take place and that we ensure the customs code applies everywhere in the EU. Whatever happens, we have been clear since the start that the Good Friday Agreement will continue to apply in all circumstances. The United Kingdom will remain a co-guarantor of that agreement and is expected to uphold it in spirit and in letter.”
Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it would be challenging to protect both the Good Friday Agreement and the EU single market in a No Deal scenario. He explained, “We know some things can be done remotely, the collection of tariffs for example…Customs duties can be collected as other taxes are, either online or into tax offices,” adding, “When it comes to animal checks, it’s much more difficult. Animal checks can only possibly be done physically by vets and it’s our view that those should take place at ports, that the island of Ireland should be treated as a whole when it comes to SPS [sanitary and phyto-sanitary], but that would require the cooperation of the UK.”
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Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris yesterday resigned from his position as a junior Brexit minister, with responsibility for coordinating No Deal preparations. Heaton-Harris suggested his job had been made “irrelevant” by the Prime Minister’s unwillingness to leave without a deal. Earlier, Conservative MP Nigel Adams also resigned from his post as a junior Wales Minister in protest of Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to cooperate with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit. In his resignation later, Adams said, “you and your Cabinet have decided that a deal – cooked up with a Marxist who has never once in his political life put British interests first – is better than no deal. I profoundly disagree with this approach and I have therefore decided that I must reluctantly tender my resignation.”
Yesterday the European Commission decided to initiate an infringement procedure regarding the new disciplinary regime for judges in Poland. The Commission said in a letter that the regime does not offer sufficient guarantees to protect judges from political control, which is required by the European Court of Justice. Furthermore, the regime allows for judges to be subject to disciplinary proceedings for the content of their judicial decisions, which the Commission finds unacceptable. The Polish government now has two months to reply to the Letter of Formal Notice.
Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said, “The functioning of the EU as a whole depends on the rule of law in all member states… Now is the time to reflect together with all institutions, Member States, different authorities and stakeholders on how to defend and bolster the rule of law in the Union.” He also issued a warning to the Romanian government, saying, “I want to warn against any governmental action that would disrupt the Romanian judicial system, by creating a systemic de facto impunity for office-holders who were sentenced for corruption…Such a move will compel the Commission to act swiftly.”
Elsewhere, EU officials have warned that there is a need for further regulation of systemic financial actors and that they are a potential risk to financial stability in the EU. The danger lay primarily in poor transparency, a lack of monitoring and in the sector’s increasing size and complexity.
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