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Ahead of the ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, Prime Minister Theresa May will today warn that Parliament is more likely to block the UK’s exit from the EU than allow it to withdraw without a deal. Speaking at a factory in the Midlands, May will say, “As we have seen over the last few weeks, there are some in Westminster who would wish to delay or even stop Brexit and who will use every device available to them to do so.” She will also tell MPs, “People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm. We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.”
Elsewhere, May wrote in the Sunday Express that the Brexit vote “is the biggest and most important decision that any MP of our generation will be asked to make. So they must decide what really matters,” adding that rejecting her Brexit deal would “be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy. So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Friday, “If this deal is rejected, ultimately what we may end up with is not a different type of Brexit but Brexit paralysis. And Brexit paralysis ultimately could lead to no Brexit.” This comes as Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that “the uncertainty in terms of what will happen in the House [of Commons] has increased,” adding, “So those on the Brexiteer side seeking ideological purity with a deal are risking Brexit, because there is a growing risk that events could unfold in ways that mean they are leaving the door ajar to ways that increase the risk to Brexit.”
Separately, May is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons today, focusing on new assurances from the EU about the Irish backstop. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk are due to issue a joint letter stressing that the Irish backstop is not the EU’s preferred solution to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and that it is not an attempt to “annex” Northern Ireland, RTÉ News reports. In exchange, the UK would issue a letter stating it is committed to avoiding implementing the backstop. Juncker said on Friday that there could be “clarifications” of the Withdrawal Agreement, but no renegotiation.
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The EU is preparing for the UK to request an extension of Article 50 if the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by Parliament, the Guardian reports. The paper quotes an EU official as saying, “Should the Prime Minister [Theresa May] survive and inform us that she needs more time to win round Parliament to a deal, a technical extension up to July will be offered.”
This comes as Cabinet ministers told the Evening Standard that Brexit is likely to be delayed beyond 29 March, as the legislative timetable would not be enough in order to pass the necessary bills to prepare for withdrawal. A senior official is quoted as saying, “The legislative timetable is now very very tight indeed. Certainly, if there was defeat on Tuesday and it took some time before it got resolved, it’s hard to see how we can get all the legislation through by March 29.”
Meanwhile, Business Secretary Greg Clark told German newspaper Die Welt, “I hope that our colleagues in Europe will also reassure skeptics in the UK that the Irish backstop is not intended to be a perpetual arrangement,” adding, “I hope that over the next few days the Cabinet and the Prime Minister will be able to provide assurance that won’t be the case.”
Separately, German Minister of State for Europe at the Foreign Office, Michael Roth, yesterday said that the UK government cannot unilaterally exit the backstop, since this it would be “an obligation under international law.” Roth also stated that an extension of the negotiation period beyond March 29 is possible, but it would raise “complicated questions, such as British participation in the European elections” in May.
Conservative MP Nick Boles has said that a number of rebel MPs will table a bill tonight giving the Prime Minister three weeks to set out her Brexit ‘plan B’ if the deal is defeated in tomorrow’s vote. If this fails, then the Liaison Committee, which is made up of the chairs of parliamentary Select Committees, would propose a new plan to put to a vote in the Commons. This comes as Boles also accused the Government of “gross dereliction of duty” in failure to find a compromise position with Labour, saying, “Any sustainable Brexit deal is going to require a cross-party solution.” However, the chair of the Liaison Committee, Sarah Wollaston, has said, “None of this has come from the Liaison Committee or been discussed with me as its chair.”
Elsewhere, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told Sky News yesterday there was no “void” in Government over Brexit, adding, “The Government’s coming forward with a proposal for the nation, to Parliament, which says, this is what we think is the best compromise deal that enables us to leave. It does so in a way that recognises that the nation is pretty divided on this issue.” This came after the Sunday Times reported about different cross-party groups of MPs planning to change parliamentary rules in order to make motions proposed by backbenchers take precedence over Government business motions, if the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected. This would allow MPs to bring forward legislation suspending Article 50 or making it illegal to leave the EU without a deal.
Separately, Buzzfeed reports that Conservative MP Andrew Murrison will table a new amendment today, which will require support for the deal to be “subject to a legal codicil being added to the Withdrawal Agreement Treaty which specifies that the backstop solution shall expire on 31 December 2022.” In addition, a cross-party group of MPs from the Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives and Scottish National Party will today publish two draft bills designed to pave the way for a second referendum.
Meanwhile, in a letter to Conservative MPs seen by the Daily Telegraph, 12 former Conservative ministers including Boris Johnston, David Davis and Dominic Raab are calling to vote against Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal and leave the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.
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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday confirmed the party would vote against the Government’s Brexit deal, adding, “We will table a motion of no confidence in the Government at a time of our choosing, but it’s going to be soon, don’t worry about it.” He also told BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that if Labour won a future general election, it would ask to extend the Article 50 negotiations, saying, “I’d rather get a negotiated [Brexit] deal now, if we can, to stop the danger of a No Deal exit from the EU on 29 March – which would be catastrophic for industry, catastrophic for trade and the long-term effects of that would be huge.”
Elsewhere, the Observer reports that Labour MPs have been told to prepare for the party tabling the no confidence motion within hours after Parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’, if MPs reject the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. A Shadow Cabinet Minister told the Mirror that Labour could call for no confidence votes over and over until they get the desired result.
This comes as the Sunday Telegraph reports that a number of Cabinet ministers are urging the Prime Minister to engage in talks with Labour MPs to negotiate a deal with a permanent customs union with the EU, with a Conservative party source quoted as saying, “A growing number of the Cabinet now think the only feasible option is to tack towards a softer Brexit involving a permanent customs union, in order to get a deal through with Labour votes. [Work and Pensions Secretary] Amber [Rudd], [Justice Secretary] David [Gauke], [Business Secretary] Greg Clark and others have made noises along those lines.”
Separately, writing for the Observer, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he will launch a campaign for another Brexit referendum if Parliament rejects the deal, saying, “If a [general] election is not immediately called, I will step up my campaign for a public vote – with the option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper.”
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Writing in the Sunday Independent, Chief Economist of the Institute of International and European Affairs, Dan O’Brien, argues, “The prospect of a no-deal exit in 75 days remains the most likely outcome in my view,” adding, “Many politicians, people and organisations simply do not believe that it would be so bad, and that even includes some internationally focused businesses.” O’Brien writes that there should be more planning for a No Deal Brexit in Ireland, noting that “it is perfectly possible that the Irish economy could suffer a much bigger hit than Britain in the event of No Deal.” He adds that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “took a huge risk in November 2017 by putting the backstop on the negotiating table,” concluding, “If he has to back down to avoid a No Deal outcome and its huge consequences for the people of this country, that is what he should do.”
The parliament of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Friday approved the deal agreed with Greece in June, which requires FYROM to change its name to North Macedonia. The name change was a condition demanded by Greece for Macedonia to begin the process of accession to the EU and to NATO. The agreement still needs to be ratified by the Greek parliament, with parliamentary debate due to begin tomorrow.
In response to the Macedonian vote, Greece’s Defence Minister Panos Kammenos yesterday announced his Independent Greeks party would leave the government coalition formed with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party, as they oppose the deal. Meanwhile, Tsipras said he would request a confidence vote in parliament.
The German right-wing and anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) party yesterday decided that it will campaign for Germany’s withdrawal from the EU if “[their] fundamental reform initiatives for the existing EU system are not realised within a suitable amount of time.”
Elsewhere, French right-wing National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen launched the party’s campaign for the European Parliamentary elections. She said, “In the context of the healthy popular revolt of the yellow vests, this election offers a chance to end this crisis born…of an incompetent President [Emmanuel Macron] whose behaviour is disturbing.”
In a piece for Conservative Home, Open Europe’s Stephen Booth writes, “This week Richard Dearlove, former MI6 head, and Charles Guthrie, former chief of defence staff, have written to Conservative Associations warning that the Brexit deal will ‘threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways’ and bind the UK into ‘new sets of EU controlled relationships'” Booth argues that warnings such as these are “either misplaced or implausible.” He continues, “At the root of concerns about the proposed deal seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says. It is true that, during the transition period, the UK will be bound by EU foreign and defence policy decisions. The UK may be consulted on a case by case basis, but we will no longer have a formal role in shaping these decisions or be able to lead any resulting operations. However, crucially, throughout the transition period, the UK can refuse to apply EU decisions for ‘vital and stated reasons of national policy’ – we have a de jure veto.” He adds that “it is unclear what alternative, if any, form of cooperation with the EU the authors of these warnings would find acceptable.” He concludes, “There are many valid reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. My judgement is that, on balance, it is worth supporting. But the concerns raised by Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie don’t stand up to scrutiny.”
Elsewhere, in an article for The Economist, Open Europe’s Henry Newman argues that a second referendum on the UK’s relationship with the European Union “would be far from simple and, in many respects, it is profoundly problematic.” He continues, “Those backing a new referendum justify it by arguing that the details of Brexit are now clearer. It is true that terms like ‘customs union’ have entered Britain’s political lexicon. But a quick glance at the current Brexit debate on all sides suggests that there is still plenty of misunderstanding.” He also notes that there is disagreement over what the question would be, and over who would get to vote. He concludes, “Above all a second referendum would be profoundly divisive, exacerbating the culture wars which have opened up in Britain. It would turn the clock back but also risk turning people against politics and politicians altogether… There’s now a chance to move on. The prime minister’s deal is no one’s first choice, but it’s a reasonable compromise. Britain needs to put the question of leaving behind it.”