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Prime Minister Theresa May today begins a two-week campaign promoting her Brexit deal around the UK, starting with a visit to Wales and Northern Ireland. The campaign comes before a parliamentary vote on the deal, which will take place on Tuesday 11 December. In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, May said, “There is a choice which MPs will have to make. We can back this deal, deliver on the vote of the referendum and move on to building a brighter future of opportunity and prosperity for all our people. Or this House can choose to reject this deal and go back to square one.” She added, “No one knows what will happen if this deal doesn’t pass. It would open the door to more division and more uncertainty, with all the risks that will entail.” Responding to criticism of the backstop proposal in the Withdrawal Agreement, May said, “There is no deal that comes without a backstop, and without a backstop there is no deal.”
Elsewhere, May said in an interview with The Sun, “I am going to be going out and round the country. I am going to be talking to people. I am going to be explaining why I think this deal is the right deal for the UK,” also confirming that she would be ready to debate the deal with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Downing Street has provisionally scheduled the televised debate for December 9.
Meanwhile, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell yesterday held a meeting with Labour MPs to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. May and Barwell also met with more than 120 business leaders to discuss the Brexit deal. The Prime Minister told business chiefs, “Taken together, the Withdrawal Agreement and the broad terms of our new relationship, should provide your businesses with the reassurance and certainty that I know is so important to you.”
This comes amidst reports that several Cabinet ministers are considering a softer approach to Brexit in the event that May’s deal does not pass through Parliament. According to the Times, four Cabinet ministers recently had meetings to discuss the possibility of giving their support to a ‘Norway Plus’ deal, where the UK would be kept in the single market and a customs union with the EU. Separately, BuzzFeed News reports that senior officials in Downing Street have already “priced in” losing the meaningful vote on December 11, and believe that they would still have a chance of winning a second vote if the first is lost by a margin of under 100 MPs.
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US President Donald Trump yesterday said that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal could damage future trade between the UK and the US. Speaking outside the White House, Trump said that May’s deal “Sounds like a great deal for the EU,” adding, “If you look at the deal [the UK] may not be able to trade with us, and that wouldn’t be a good thing. I don’t think that the prime minister meant that and hopefully she’ll be able to do something about that.” A Downing Street spokesman said that under the political declaration on future relations agreed with the EU, “We will have an independent trade policy so that the UK can sign trade deals with countries around the world – including with the US.”
Elsewhere, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Withdrawal Agreement means the UK can negotiate trade deals during the transition period, adding, “I think it was always going to be challenging to do a deal with the United States. The United States is a tough negotiator, President Trump’s always said very plainly ‘I put America first’. Well, I’d expect the British Prime Minister to put British interests first, but it’s going to be a very tough negotiation.”
Separately, former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said this morning, “[Trump] is the President of the United States, and if he says it’s going to be difficult, then it certainly looks like it’s going to be difficult. This is not a good deal and we need a better deal.” He added, “If it’s possible to get a better deal, to send the negotiators back to Brussels for two or three months, to postpone the actual leaving date for two or three months, I still think that in the long term that would be in the best interest of the country. We have to get this right.”
Responding to suggestions by French President Emmanuel Macron regarding the need for guarantees on EU access to British waters before the end of the transition period, Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday told the House of Commons, “If the backstop is exercised we will be outside the Common Fisheries Policy and it will be the UK that will determine which boats have access to UK waters.” This comes after a Downing Street spokesman said, “If the EU were not willing to engage in a genuine negotiation to replace the backstop with the future relationship or alternative arrangements, for example if it had closed its mind from the outset to the UK position on fisheries, that would put it in breach of its duty of good faith under the agreement, and we can refer this to independent arbitration.” The arbitration panel would have the power to fine members in breach of the agreement.
The Daily Telegraph
The Director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Northern Ireland, Angela McGowan, has told the BBC that Northern Irish firms “simply cannot cope” in the event of a No Deal Brexit. McGowan added that “no country in the world will want to invest in Northern Ireland if it is thrown out of Europe” without access to EU markets. This comes after the Northern Ireland CBI and other business leaders from the province met with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement. DUP leader Arlene Foster said that it was “a very useful meeting.”
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the sister party of the Labour Party, has appealed to Labour MPs to support the Brexit deal. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said, “We don’t think there is a good Brexit but… let’s try and limit the damage to our communities and our businesses and our society here, that’s what the backstop does… I would appeal to people across the water who have a vote in two weeks’ time, particularly people in the Labour Party who have a very keen interest in supporting our peace process… we need your help, we need your protection, we need you to vote for this deal.”
Separately, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday urged the Sinn Féin party to take up their seats in Westminster ahead of the parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. Varadkar said, “Generally people who get involved in politics get involved because they want to make a difference and use the democratic process to get good outcomes for citizens.” He added, “If they are not willing to take up their seats because they feel they can’t, because they got elected on the basis of abstentionism, they do have the option now of resigning their seats and allowing the people in those constituencies decide whether or not they want to have a say when this vote comes to Westminster.”
This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May will visit today Belfast to meet the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) as well as members of Sinn Féin and other leading parties in order to discuss the Brexit deal.
UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday told the House of Commons, “Let’s make it absolutely clear: Britain is not going to be participating in a European army. The cornerstone of our defence in the United Kingdom on continental Europe and the North Atlantic is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and not the European Union.” This comes after earlier this month French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a “true, European army.” Responding to claims that the Withdrawal Agreement would make the UK defence sector uncompetitive, Williamson said, “We’re making sure we keep the freedom and independence that we need to have in terms of defence procurement. We’ll want to see if there are other options in terms of having some access to some programmes within the European Union, and, if that works for Britain, we’ll consider that.”
The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, yesterday told MEPs that the “basic steps” to completing the EU’s monetary union “need to be taken now.” He outlined three key priorities, including improving policy coordination, creating a fiscal instrument to absorb economic shocks, and completing the banking union and the capital markets union. Draghi also warned about persisting divergences between Eastern and Western states, saying, “If there is no credible prospect of lower-income countries catching up soon, there is a risk that people living in those countries begin questioning the very benefits of membership of the EU or the currency union.”
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) will today vote on the UK’s rejoining the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement, which gives access to bidding on government procurement contracts in all member states of the treaty, after it leaves the EU, or after the Brexit transition period, if it comes into force. Every member nation has a veto over the UK’s future membership.
In an article for the Conservative Home website, Open Europe’s Henry Newman argues that “Without changes [May’s deal] seems certain to fail in the Commons.” In light of this, he proposes a change to the backstop called a “Stormont lock,” or “a mechanism for consulting the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, the institutions of the 1998 Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement, about new regulatory barriers within the UK.” He adds, ” The purpose would be to create a mechanism to question new EU acts – it would specifically address the flow of new rules, not the stock. It would only apply if the UK was in the backstop, and if the Assembly was restored.” He continues, “In future, if the backstop was in place, there might be areas where it made sense for Northern Ireland to choose to diverge from Great Britain, and instead align with EU rules covering the rest of the island of Ireland… What is not acceptable is for new rules and regulations to be imposed over the heads of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives without an ability to say no. That’s not devolution, and it’s not democratic.” He concludes, “the deal could put at risk the principle of consent which was at the heart of the Belfast Agreement – precisely the agreement that the EU was claiming to be so concerned to protect by creating the backstop in the first place. A Stormont lock would go some way to addressing these concerns.”
Elsewhere, in a new blog, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze, Zoe Alipranti and Pieter Cleppe look at how the European press reacted to the approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration by the UK and the EU27 during a special European Council summit on November 25. They write that given the pressure for the deal to pass in the UK House of Commons and the unwillingness of European leaders to renegotiate it, “Most comments in the European press note that Sunday’s summit was just a first step, and that the difficult path of ratification and negotiations on the future relationship still lies ahead.”