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Chancellor Philip Hammond said yesterday, “If parliament can’t resolve it [the Brexit impasse], then parliament will have to decide how we remit it back to the people — whether it is in the form of a general election or a referendum,” adding, “I am not sure that a general election can resolve the question for the simple reason that both the main political parties are divided on the issue . . . it isn’t clear to me what the manifesto position of each of the major parties would be and how we would resolve the internal disagreements within the two main parties.” He also said, “Theresa May leaving the office of prime minister does not change the parliamentary arithmetic, it does not change our negotiating position with the European Union, so the candidates for that office have to explain what they would do differently and how they would break the impasse.”
Meanwhile, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said, “The EU has made clear that the withdrawal agreement itself isn’t up for renegotiation, but that doesn’t meant that the Brexit package can’t change,” adding, “The EU has always said it will try to accommodate the UK if they want to change the future relationship political declaration and change the level of ambition that they want as regards the future relationship between the UK and the EU.”
Elsewhere, a new survey of Westminster voting intention by YouGov puts the Liberal Democrats in the lead at 24%, followed by the Brexit Party at 22%. Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Labour are tied on 19%, followed by the Greens at 8%. According to the poll, 41% of 2016 Remain voters would vote Liberal Democrat, while 46% of 2016 Leave voters would vote for the Brexit Party.
Separately, Conservative MP Mark Harper announced yesterday that he would be the twelfth MP to enter the Conservative leadership race. The former Chief Whip told the Daily Telegraph that if elected, he would not rule out seeking an extension to Article 50 beyond 31 October if this would help secure changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Elsewhere, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, announced yesterday that she would run for the leadership of her party when current leader Sir Vince Cable steps down on 23 July. She is the second Liberal Democrat MP to announce a bid for the leadership, after former Energy Secretary Sir Ed Davey.
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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has said that the talks aimed at restoring the power-sharing Executive in Belfast should enter a “very intensive period of talks at leadership level” to address outstanding issues. Bradley, who was speaking after meeting the cross-party working groups yesterday, said she was “positive that there is the right attitude” on the part of the political parties but added there were “significant challenges that still remain.” This comes as Ireland’s deputy Prime Minister, Simon Coveney, said that the “stakes were high” in the negotiations, adding, “If we go into the summer without a deal, there is a lot of uncertainty.”
Elsewhere, the Home Secretary and Conservative leadership contender, Sajid Javid, met business leaders in Belfast yesterday “to discuss how our skills-based future immigration system will boost the [Northern Ireland] economy [and] give us full control of our borders.” Javid also met the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, for talks about the Immigration Bill. Meanwhile, Javid also said that 750,000 EU nationals have applied to stay in the UK after Brexit.
Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn, has written a letter warning that a No Deal Brexit will cause long-term damage to competitiveness. She writes, “Firms large and small are clear that leaving the EU with a deal is the best way forward. Short-term disruption and long-term damage to British competitiveness will be severe if we leave without one,” adding, “The vast majority of firms can never be prepared for No Deal, particularly our SME [small and medium-sized enterprises] members who cannot afford complex and costly contingency plans.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, yesterday suggested that Hungarian ruling party Fidesz would not join the European Alliance of People’s and Nations, a new Eurosceptic group in the European Parliament established by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Gulyas said, “We respect the Italian deputy prime minister and the Italian government and the result, which made the Northern League Italy’s strongest party after the European Parliament election,” adding, “Nonetheless, I see not much chance for a co-operation on a party level or in a joint parliamentary group.”Fidesz is currently a member of the centre-right European People’s Party but has recently been suspended. Meanwhile, Salvini yesterday told reporters that Italy will not be holding early elections.
The head of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, Norbert Rottgen, said yesterday, “If there were no reason for another extension [to Article 50] then I would say even the German position, that we give time, has come to a close because a reason for extension has to be required.” Rottgen, a senior MP in Germany’s governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), added, “If for example it [the article 50 extension] is asked because Britain has decided to go for another referendum or snap election and they are going to happen then in respect of democratic reasons it would be accepted.”
Separately, Austrian court justice Brigitte Bierlein was yesterday named to become the first female Austrian chancellor, tasked with forming a caretaker government until September’s snap election. This comes after the previous Austrian government led by Sebastian Kurz was ousted in a no confidence vote this Monday.