14 March 2019

MPs vote to reject No Deal Brexit

The House of Commons last night voted against leaving the European Union without a deal by 321 votes to 278 – a majority of 43. Despite its initial promise of a free vote, the Government decided to whip its MPs to vote against the amended motion. This came after an earlier amendment, tabled by Conservative MP Caroline Spelman, was passed by 312 to 308. The original Government motion had “declined to approve” leaving with No Deal on the 29th March, while noting that No Deal remained the legal default. The Spelman amendment, ultimately moved by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, removed the references to the 29th March and No Deal as the legal default. The amended motion therefore rejected No Deal in any circumstances. 17 Conservatives defied a three-line whip to vote for the amended motion, while 29 – including 4 Cabinet ministers – abstained. The ministers who abstained were reportedly given permission to do so by a Government aide, and have been allowed to keep their jobs. Sarah Newton, a junior minister in the Department of Work and Pensions, voted for the motion, and has resigned.

MPs also voted on another amendment, based on the so-called “Malthouse Compromise,” tabled by Conservative MP Damian Green and supported by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). It called on the Government to seek a short extension followed by a “standstill” agreement with the EU until December 2021. The amendment, which was a free vote for Conservative MPs, was rejected by 374 to 164 votes.

Responding to last night’s votes, the EU’s Deputy Chief Negotiator, Sabine Weyand, said that MPs voting against No Deal was “like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way.”

Prime Minister Theresa May will today bring forward a motion on delaying Brexit which would “set out the fundamental choice facing this house”. If MPs agreed a deal, she said the Government would request a “short, technical extension” to Article 50. However, May said that without an agreed deal there would be a “much longer extension” that would require the UK to take part in European Parliament elections, adding, “I do not think that would be the right outcome.”

Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Sky News this morning, “The problem with the Prime Minister’s approach is that she hasn’t come to parliament and sought a compromise… What we are saying to (Chancellor) Philip Hammond is ‘you and other MPs in your party are looking for a compromise join us now in working through that compromise.’” He added, “Jeremy Corbyn has already met those [Conservative] MPs who are looking at the Norway model. Our own proposals are most probably the bedrock of a compromise that can be achieved because they got quite a warm response from Brussels.”

Elsewhere, regarding the amended motion that won the support of Parliament yesterday, Hammond said, “No Deal on the 29 March is off the table. The problem with so called amendment A which Yvette Cooper moved last night, that the House of Commons collectively stamping its foot and saying ‘no No Deal’ doesn’t actually answer the question how do we deliver this outcome because the default in our legislation is No Deal… You can’t just say ‘we don’t want No Deal’ without saying whether you are going to achieve that by having a deal or by having no Brexit.” He added, “It is clear that the Prime Minister has to find a consensus around something and if isn’t the Prime Minister’s deal, I think it is likely to be something which is much less to the taste of those on the hard Brexit wing of my party.” Hammond earlier called for a cross-party compromise on Brexit in his Spring Statement, saying that MPs have “a solemn duty in the days ahead to put aside our differences and seek a compromise.” He also added that No Deal would mean significant disruption in the short and medium term, including “higher unemployment, lower wages, higher prices in the shops. That is not what people voted for.”

Discussing the votes on Sky News yesterday, Open Europe’s Henry Newman said, “The Government is being boxed in…It is now difficult for the Government to maintain the view of the House supports anything than not having No Deal.” Earlier, he said on BBC 2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that a version of the current deal can come back to Parliament a third time. He also told BBC Politics Live, “The DUP are worried about legislation being applied to Northern Ireland without their consent… It is a legitimate concern, but it is within the gift of this Government to resolve.”

Source: BBC The Guardian I House of Commons BBC The Guardian II The Guardian III The Guardian IV BBC Radio Open Europe

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EU chief Brexit negotiator says “risk of No Deal has never been higher”

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday said in a speech to the European Parliament, “We are at a critical point. The risk of No Deal has never been higher. That is the risk of an exit – even by accident – by the UK from the EU in a disorderly fashion.” Regarding a possible extension to Article 50, Barnier said, “What will their [UK] choice be, what will be the line they will take? That is the question we need a clear answer to now. That is the question that has to be answered before a decision on a possible further extension.” He also added, “There will be no further interpretation/additions” on the current deal.”

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday in a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, “We have not given up the goal of an orderly exit [for the UK] but yesterday’s events mean the options have become narrower.” When asked about the possibility of an extension Merkel replied, “Only after these [votes in the UK parliament] can we, the EU27, look on a profound basis on how we go forward.” This comes as French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said, “If the British want a new postponement, that could be a technical delay to put in place the exit arrangements…It cannot be to renegotiate an agreement that we have negotiated for many months and which we have said was not up for renegotiation.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the EU27 are likely to demand a longer Article 50 extension in order to solve the Brexit impasse. A senior EU source is quoted as saying, “The Withdrawal Agreement is dead…We don’t see how you get over a defeat of 149 in six to eight weeks. The problem is too fundamental to overcome by just tinkering with changes to the Irish border backstop.” European Council President Donald Tusk has said, “During my consultations ahead of [next week’s European Council summit], I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”

Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe told Al Jazeera English, “The more concessions the EU attach to the request from the UK to extend [Article 50], the more complicated it will be to agree on an extension,” adding, “We need flexibility as it’s in the interests of both sides that we get to a deal.” He was also quoted by RFI English, saying, “Neither side is properly prepared for a No Deal scenario. Just look at the range of agreements that would need to be reached in order to protect aviation and finance…Therefore the most likely scenario is that an extension be agreed.”

Separately, speaking on TRT World News, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze said, “The EU27 will demand clarity about the reasons why an extension is needed,” adding, “It’s unlikely that one member state will veto an extension as they do not want to be seen as the ones responsible for a No Deal scenario, but there are nuanced positions on which conditions are needed to agree to an extension.”

Source: The Guardian I The Guardian II Reuters Financial Times The Daily Telegraph Twitter Open Europe I Open Europe II

Irish Deputy PM: UK No Deal tariff schedule would be "very damaging" to the Irish economy

The Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Simon Coveney, has warned of the negative effect on the Irish economy of the UK Government’s No Deal tariff schedule, which was published yesterday. Speaking in the Irish Parliament, Coveney said that in the event of a No Deal Brexit, “Undoubtedly any tariff being imposed on agricultural product between the UK and Ireland will be very damaging and we will need to respond to that appropriately.” He said that the Irish Government was having discussions with the EU on the possibility of receiving financial support, adding, “The pressure is in London. That is where the crisis is emanating from and that is where we need to see solutions emerge from.”

Source: Belfast Telegraph

Henry Newman: Why the revised deal’s changes to the backstop are significant – and offer Britain a route out

Writing for ConservativeHome, Open Europe’s Henry Newman argues, “Critics of the Prime Minister’s deal understandably felt they had far too little time to consider the legal implications of the changes secured at Strasbourg. Those changes were less than many MPs had hoped to see. The EU has refused to move to a proper time limit or a clear unilateral exit mechanism,” adding, “But just because Brussels wouldn’t move all the way, doesn’t mean that what they offered wasn’t significant. Key EU member states strongly resisted the Commission’s move to make the commitments offered in a letter exchange back in January fully legally-binding. They did so because they knew that they strengthened the UK position.” He concludes, “Where we have landed is with a package of legally-binding guarantees agreed at Strasbourg which substantially shift the UK’s position regarding the backstop. Neither the EU or the UK side now have quite what they want – both positions are sub-optimal.  But many of the legal risks for the UK have been substantially reduced, although not entirely eliminated.”

Elsewhere, in a piece for Prospect, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar discusses the next steps in Brexit process, after May’s Brexit deal was defeated on 12 March. She says, “There are simply not the numbers in parliament to force the government to pursue the No Deal outcome” and that “MPs are very likely to vote tomorrow for the government to request an extension to Article 50, to allow the UK more time to find a path through this parliamentary deadlock.” She explains, “An extension cannot in of itself resolve the UK’s impasse” and “If MPs prefer an “orderly exit” over No Deal and no Brexit, they will eventually have to vote positively in favour of a deal.” She concludes, “The agreement is a difficult compromise for the UK, but aspects of it are uncomfortable to the EU too. When it comes back, MPs will have to consider whether they can live with it in order to deliver a smooth exit and move on to discussing the future.”

Separately, a new Open Europe blog presents an overview of EU27 and European press reactions to the defeat of the Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday.