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Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday confirmed that the Government intends to “return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing January 7 and hold the vote the following week.” May also told the Commons, “I know there are a range of very strongly-held personal views on this issue across the House and I respect all of them. But expressing our personal views is not what we are here to do,” adding, “I know this is not everyone’s perfect deal. It is a compromise. But if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we risk leaving the EU with no deal.”
Meanwhile, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday tabled a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister, saying, “It is bad – unacceptable – that we should be waiting almost a month before we have a meaningful vote on the crucial issue facing the future of this country,” and demanding that the Government allocates time to debate the motion. He stopped short, however, of bringing a motion of no confidence in the Government under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA), which would require obligatory time for parliamentary debate. A Downing Street source is quoted by the Press Association saying, “We won’t allow time for what is a stunt. The FTPA applies if Labour wants to put down a motion under the terms of that.”
Elsewhere, May said that there were “no plans” to allow MPs to have a series of indicative votes on alternative scenarios in the event that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal does not pass in Parliament. This comes after Business Secretary Greg Clark yesterday morning said, “If [the vote on the Brexit deal] were not to be successful we do need to have an agreement, we can’t just have ongoing uncertainty, and I think Parliament should be invited to say what it would agree with.”
Separately, a Downing Street Spokesperson said yesterday that talks “at all levels” between the UK and the EU were continuing in order to further secure assurances over the Irish backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement. However, a European Commission spokesman said yesterday, “The deal that is on the table is the best and the only deal possible – we will not reopen it, it will not be renegotiated. As President Tusk said, the European Council has given the clarifications that were possible at this stage so no further meetings with the United Kingdom are foreseen.”
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Preparations for a No Deal Brexit are to be accelerated this week if the Cabinet today agrees to activate contingency planning, the Guardian reports. Under the preparations, up to £2bn will be allocated to government departments. This follows reports that a group of Cabinet ministers, led by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, have warned the Prime Minister that spending on No Deal planning “can’t [be] put off any longer.” Communities Secretary James Brokenshire told the BBC this morning, “I think it is right and proper that we maintain our work on preparing for a No Deal, however reluctantly,” adding, “There will clearly be consequences of a no deal in the short term. That’s why we have been doing a lot of work in relation to, for example, the Channel ports, why we have issued 106 technical notices now, why we are recruiting another 300 people for Border Force.”
Meanwhile, the umbrella group Universities UK has advised institutions to speed up their processing of funding and recruitment requests from students and staff from the EU27 before 29 March 2019 to mitigate the impact of a No Deal Brexit.
The EU will rule out a “Managed No Deal” if the UK fails to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, Bloomberg reports. According to one official familiar with the plans, the EU would put in place a minimum number of unilateral measures applicable in most cases until the end of 2019. A senior official said that “these measures will only be taken in the interests of the [EU] 27,” and would depend on reciprocal action from the UK. The European Commission will tomorrow publish No Deal contingency measures applicable to eight key areas, including, aviation, financial services, customs, road transport, climate policy, citizens’ rights, livestock and animal products, and personal data.
The UK and Switzerland yesterday signed an aviation agreement to ensure flights can operate between the two countries after the UK leaves the EU and the current EU-Switzerland aviation treaty. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, “The UK aviation sector is the biggest in Europe and will play an even more crucial role as we further develop as an outward looking global nation. These agreements will ensure Britain continues to prosper as we leave the EU and I’m confident the UK will reach a mutually beneficial deal [with the EU], whilst we continue to prepare for all eventualities.”
Government legal advice states that the UK will be legally obliged to take part in European Parliament elections if it extends Article 50 past the election day in May 2019, the Telegraph reports. The advice warns of a “high risk of a successful legal challenge” if the UK was still an EU member and did not take part in the elections, as doing so would breach its people’s rights as EU citizens. Ministers who have seen the advice argue that July 2nd, the start of the next five-year session of the European Parliament, is therefore the “hard” deadline for an extension of Article 50.
Separately, 53 senior business figures have written a letter urging Theresa May to put her deal to a referendum if she cannot persuade MPs to back it in January’s ‘meaningful vote.’
The Head of Public Division at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), David Bailey, said yesterday that recent proposed changes to the ONS’s statistical method for calculating student loan contributions to the budget deficit “will lead to the deficit being increased by approximately 0.6 percentage points of GDP a year, which equates to around £12 billion in the current year.” Previously the ONS treated student loans as lending rather than spending, but has decided to revise this assumption in light of the reduced likelihood that students would pay their loans back in full. The change will come into effect from autumn of 2019.
The Italian coalition Government has reached agreement on a budget in line with EU rules which will allow it to avoid fines imposed by Brussels, according to a spokeswoman of the Lega Nord party. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said that Italy had “found an agreement on further fiscal reductions that probably will be appreciated by the EU.” This comes after the Italian Government’s budget was initially rejected by the European Commission this October for breaking EU spending rules.
Open Europe’s Henry Newman has written for the Spectator Coffee House, arguing that reports of the death of May’s deal are greatly exaggerated, saying, “The penny seems to be dropping for a considerable number of Leavers.” He explains that “while it is right to look at the pitfalls (of May’s deal), we shouldn’t just focus on the negatives. And we need to consider what is actually realistic given the Parliamentary arithmetic and the concerns of Brussels.” He adds that “Downing Street have been very bad at selling their own deal, they failed really to define it at all when it was first launched. This meant the deal was defined by its critics and – in the public eye – by Cabinet resignations including that of a second Brexit Secretary.” He concludes that the chances of May’s deal passing are “underpriced” and with “if May can get a little more on the backstop, and offer some mechanism to engage a Stormont lock, we might nearly be there.”