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The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, yesterday said in a statement that the Government could not hold a third meaningful vote unless there was a “substantial change” to the Brexit deal, adding that it was not possible to “resubmit to the House [of Commons] the same proposition or substantially the same proposition.” Bercow explained that the proposition needs to be “fundamentally different, [not] in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance,” adding that meaningful change would “in all likelihood” have to be agreed by the EU, and, “A change in opinion about something does not in itself constitute a change of the offer.”
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay this morning said the Speaker had “raised the bar with his ruling yesterday,” and the matter would be discussed at Cabinet this morning. Barclay said the Government would “need to see a shift from Parliamentarians in terms of support” before bringing back a vote to the House of Commons, adding, “We’ve seen from the European Union that they themselves see, for example, clarity on any extension as a material issue for the House to consider.”
Prior to Bercow’s announcement, a Downing Street spokesperson said that if the Brexit deal is agreed by Parliament this week, Prime Minister Theresa May “will be able to ask for a short, technical extension,” adding, “If we are unable to win a meaningful vote this week then the Prime Minister will have to seek a longer extension, which would involve taking part in the European parliamentary elections.”
According to the Guardian, EU officials have suggested changing the date of the UK’s departure from the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement through a legal statement at the European Council summit this week. A three-month period Brexit extension is considered as an option in order to convince the Speaker that the Brexit deal has changed. The Sun reports that May is now expected to formally request a long extension to Article 50, with an escape clause which would allow the UK to leave the EU as soon as possible if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by Parliament in the coming weeks.
Separately, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government would hold another vote once it feels “comfortable that [it] will have the numbers” necessary to pass the deal. After meeting EU27 foreign ministers, Hunt wrote that there was “general curiosity and concern about Brexit votes in Parliament,” adding, “Like us though they want it resolved and fear Brexit paralysis.”
This comes as the Government continues to hold talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs. The Guardian quotes DUP sources as saying that there is unlikely to be an agreement this week. 20 members of the ERG have reportedly threatened to go on “vote strike” if Theresa May decides to delay Brexit by a year. May has also reportedly told Conservative MPs that she will replace Olly Robbins as the UK’s chief negotiator if the Brexit deal is passed by MPs. One Conservative MP told the Evening Standard that the move was an attempt to win more support for the deal, but that it would not succeed, saying, “What colleagues want is to see a change at the very top… That means a new Prime Minister.”
Meanwhile, a ComRes survey for the Daily Telegraph suggests that 38% of the public think Theresa May is right to try a third time to get the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, while 39% disagree. 40% would be happy “in principle” to see a delay to Brexit beyond March 29, while another 40% disagree. The poll also suggests that just 11% trust MPs to “do the right thing by the country” over Brexit.
Appearing on BBC News this morning, Open Europe’s Henry Newman said, “We are now in a situation which Theresa May has been warning about: if her deal isn’t passed by Parliament this would lead to some sort of mess… People need to compromise and recognise that this is the safest path out of the EU.”
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A senior EU diplomat reportedly said that the EU could approve a Brexit extension request as late as one hour before the midnight deadline on March 29, according to the Daily Telegraph. The diplomat added, “Everybody would prefer to have clarity as soon as possible on this because there will be a lot of consequences,” also stating, “The final decision on Article 50 extension would not necessarily be made at the [European Council March] summit.” The Times reports that the EU would be ready to decide upon how long the extension should be “within hours of midnight” on March 29 in a special legal procedure, if the EU27 leaders agree to do so at this week’s summit.
This comes as a Conservative minister told ITV News yesterday that the Cabinet expects the EU to grant a 9-month extension to Article 50, saying, “The nine months would be a maximum; if we ratified the Withdrawal Agreement at any point before the end of nine months, we could leave the EU much sooner.”
Meanwhile, asked about extending Brexit beyond the European elections in May, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas yesterday said, “The longer the time is pushed back, the more difficult it becomes.” He added, “Before we get to a hard Brexit, it is worthwhile having another go rather than just arguing about what a hard Brexit means, namely a lot of disadvantages for both sides.”
Separately, Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders said, “We are not against a [Brexit] extension in Belgium, but the problem is to do what?” Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser said the EU was ready to consider an extension, but “the ball at the moment is firmly in the UK side of the court.” Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevičius, regretted that there was “no vision, no clarity” from the UK on Brexit three days ahead of a crucial summit, adding that it was “really important for our UK colleagues to reset [the] mindset and to look for exit from this stalemate situation because it is really not good for all.” Moreover, asked about a Brexit extension, Swedish EU minister Hans Dahlgren said, “If there is a well-argued reason that the UK presents, then I don’t think anyone really wants to resist such a request.”
The Daily Telegraph
The UK yesterday secured a trade agreement with Norway and Iceland, which will allow trade to continue in the event of a No Deal Brexit. In a statement, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said that the agreement would be signed next week, and represented “one of the largest trade agreements we are party to as a result of our membership of the EU.”
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) yesterday changed their prospects for UK economic growth in 2019 to 1.2% from 1.3% and downgraded forecasts for 2020 from 1.5% to 1.3%, citing continued Brexit uncertainty and slower expected global economic growth as the main drivers of the changes. The BCC’s outlook also suggested that business investments will be down by 1% in 2019, which would be the weakest result since the financial crisis in 2009. BCC Director General Adam Marshall said, “A messy and disorderly exit from the EU would do real and lasting damage to the UK’s economic prospects,” adding, “Political inaction has already had economic consequences, with many firms hitting the brakes on investment and recruitment decisions. Worse still, some companies have moved investment and growth plans as part of their contingency preparations. Some of this investment may never come back to the UK.”
Elsewhere, financial market company CME Group has announced that they will be moving trading units from London to Amsterdam to avoid any potential negative effects of Brexit. Meanwhile, the pan-European share trading platform, Cboe Europe, will be moving their euro-denominated share trading from London to Amsterdam.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass yesterday announced that Germany and Belgium are “proposing a peer review mechanism” where EU countries would “assess each other on an annual basis” on the state of the rule of law. The mechanism will be “voluntary, but it should seek the participation of all EU member states.” According to Politico, the Belgo-German paper stipulates that a mechanism “would allow a substantive exchange of views on the way the rule of law is implemented, monitored, guaranteed and enhanced” and with the scope of the mechanism “including judicial independence, effective judicial protection and legal certainty.” The paper also notes that the proposed mechanism “would not allow for any sanctions against participating member states.”
Writing for ConservativeHome, Open Europe’s Henry Newman discusses the decision of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to rule out a third vote on the withdrawal agreement, unless there is a substantial change to it. Newman writes, “Substance isn’t really the issue here. Bercow has huge prerogative powers. He can apply these powers inconsistently and there’s little anyone can do. His intention is to put himself front of centre of the national (and international) Brexit drama, even if it means turning a political crisis into a constitutional crisis,” adding, “Many Conservative MPs who still don’t seem to recognise that May’s Brexit deal is the hardest Brexit now on offer. The danger with these MPs continuing to withhold their support, is that they will ensure we either lose Brexit altogether or more likely end up with a far softer form of it,” concluding that “There’s precious little time left. Critics of the deal need to compromise and accept the actual choices on offer now. They may not agree with me that the deal is better than many are willing to admit, but they ought to see that it’s far preferable to either a permanent customs union or a Common Market 2.0”
Elsewhere, in a new blog, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh explains that if the EU27 and the UK agree on an extension to Article 50, a No Deal Brexit on 29 March will no longer be the “legal default,” regardless of whether or not the exit date is changed in domestic law. He writes, “It is EU law, not domestic law, that creates the 29th March legal ‘cliff-edge.’ A failure to amend the exit date in domestic law would not lead to No Deal. Unlike the Withdrawal Agreement itself, the decision to extend does not need to be “ratified” domestically in the UK to have legal effect.” He also notes, “Although the decision on extension is likely to be thrashed out at this week’s European Council Summit on 21-22 March, a failure by the EU27 to sign it off at the Council would not necessarily lead to No Deal either. EU27 leaders will need to agree a common position at the Council Summit, but the extension itself can be signed off by the EU27 at any point before midnight on the 29th.”