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Several Cabinet ministers are calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to delay Parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal, which is due to take place on December 11, The Times reports. Ministers including Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Home Secretary Saijd Javid have reportedly argue that while the Government should be making efforts to avoid defeat, the option of cancelling the vote should remain open. The paper adds that Downing Street has approached some MPs to offer them a place on a new cross-party committee to help direct future Brexit negotiations. This comes as May refused to rule out the idea of postponing the vote during an interview with BBC Radio 4 this morning.
Elsewhere, Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Westminster leader, said that the DUP would support the Government in a confidence motion if it is defeated in the meaningful vote, saying it would be “illogical then to turn around the next day and say ‘let’s vote the government out’.” Speaking on the ITV’s Peston show, Dodds confirmed that his party would vote against the Withdrawal Agreement, adding “Even before we get to the point of calling a General Election, what I would say to the Government — and any Conservative MPs who may be thinking of voting for this — is even if this vote squeaks through, how do they think they get the Withdrawal Bill through after that?”
Elsewhere, EU27 diplomats have suggested that the EU could clarify or tweak the Brexit deal if Theresa May loses the first vote in the House of Commons. Reuters quotes an EU diplomat as saying, “Much will depend on the numbers. If she is short of 15, 30 or 40 votes, we could think of a gesture to let her try again.” Another official added, “We could look at doing something cosmetic, relatively quickly. First, we would have to hear from May, see what they want…And if she falls short of a hundred votes, it’s probably not doable.”
Meanwhile, EU sources have suggested that EU27 leaders would be prepared to extend the Article 50 negotiations if the deal is rejected by Parliament, the Daily Telegraph reports. May will travel to Brussels for a European Council summit on December 13, when EU leaders would be ready to postpone Brexit if it helps avoiding a No Deal scenario.
Open Europe’s Henry Newman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, “The EU is determined to make a deal… If there are tweaks that they can make, they might be prepared to listen favourably to that,” adding, “The UK could seek an interpretative declaration that said if the EU did not negotiate in good faith… [The UK] would consider it a material breach of the treaty, allowing it to suspend the operation of the backstop.”
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The Government yesterday published Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice to the Cabinet on the implications of the agreement on the Irish backstop. In a letter to Cabinet Ministers on 13 November, Cox argued, “The current drafting of the Protocol [backstop]… does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK wide customs union without a subsequent agreement.” On the proposed review mechanism, Cox wrote, “It is difficult to think of a circumstance when the option to use the review mechanism might arise other than, as the Protocol already provides, on the conclusion of a subsequent agreement.” He adds, “The implication of Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market for goods, while Great Britain is not, is that for regulatory purposes Great Britain is essentially treated as a third country by Northern Ireland for goods passing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.” However, Cox also argued that the backstop is “by no means a comfortable resting place in law for the EU,” as there is “some doubt as to whether the proposed Protocol is consistent with EU law.”
In a statement yesterday, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said that the Attorney General’s advice shows the backstop would mean “Erecting internal economic and trade barriers within the United Kingdom,” adding that this would be “Totally unacceptable and economically mad.” They also expressed concern that “It is possible that the [Great Britain-specific] elements of the customs union could fall away leaving only Northern Ireland in the EU customs territory as the minimum necessary.” The statement concludes, “The backstop is totally unacceptable to Unionists throughout the United Kingdom and it must be defeated and arrangements renegotiated that uphold the commitments which the Prime Minister and her government has [made] in the House of Commons.”
Elsewhere, Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee Sir Bill Cash said the UK government should produce the legal advice they received “regarding the whole Withdrawal Agreement”, and not just on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the Prime Minister yesterday proposed a “parliamentary lock” to the backstop, which would give MPs the ability to vote on whether it should be implemented. The proposal is reportedly an attempt to win over Conservative MPs opposed to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. However, Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Conservative European Research Group, described the proposals as “silly.” This comes as the Prime Minister suggested on Radio 4 this morning that she could give MPs a vote on extending the transition period as an alternative to entering the backstop.
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Opening the second day of the Commons debate on the Brexit deal, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said yesterday that a No Deal Brexit would “mean an immediate and probably indefinite loss of some security capability which, despite our best efforts, would likely cause some operational disruption when we leave.” Javid added, “No matter how effectively we prepare for a No Deal, setting aside the [police and law enforcement] capabilities we have developed with our EU partners will have consequences.” He also said that freedom of movement would end if there was a deal or No Deal.
Meanwhile, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said regarding the Brexit deal, “In order to achieve a seamless transition on a range of security, policing and justice needs and to have the current level of cooperation [we] would require a new security treaty between the UK and the EU – yet there’s no expressed aim to move towards that in the exit documents.”
HuffPost UK reported last night that the Government’s motion on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may not be put to a vote if MPs first back a cross-party amendment tabled by Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Brexit Committee. The Benn amendment, which is backed by Conservative MPs Dominic Grieve and Sarah Wollaston as well as leading opposition MPs, would reject both the Government’s deal and a No Deal Brexit. If the amendment passes, Parliament will have rejected the deal ahead of the meaningful vote itself. Senior Conservative sources have suggested that a defeat on the Benn amendment would be much smaller than one on the meaningful vote, and would therefore give the Government some breathing space. An MP told HuffPost, “No one seems to have spotted the PM can avoid a huge defeat if the Benn amendment passes. If his amendment is approved, the Government’s motion automatically falls. Yes, it would be bad, but not as much of a disaster for the party if nearly a hundred colleagues vote against.”
Separately, HuffPost also reports that Downing Street has invited a select group of senior MPs to private briefings on “the impact of No Deal” today, held at the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.
Former Chief Whip of the Conservative Party Mark Harper announced that he will vote the Brexit deal in the Commons vote this Tuesday, marking his first Commons rebellion in thirteen years as an MP. Harper wrote in The Telegraph that the Cabinet’s proposals “Threaten the integrity of our country, keep us trapped indefinitely in a customs union and leave us in a weak negotiating position for our future relationship.” He added, “Brexit should be an opportunity for our country to spread its wings, not have them clipped. That is why, regretfully, I am unable to vote for the Cabinet’s proposals.”
Elsewhere, speaking to the Commons Treasury Committee, Chancellor Philip Hammond said, “I have come to the conclusion that the future success of our country depends on us executing the instruction of the British people in the referendum, leaving the European Union. But doing so in a way that minimises the impact on our economy, and maximises the opportunity we have in the future so that we can come together as a nation.”
This comes as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said, “I think that there is, as I have written recently, a real danger that the House of Commons, which has a natural Remain majority, may attempt to steal Brexit from the British people, which I think would be a democratic affront.”
Meanwhile, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed that it will issue a ruling on the unilateral reversibility of Article 50 on December 10.
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Former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee Andrew Sentance said yesterday, “The Bank has not been careful enough to distance its comments from the Government. When I was on the committee, the independence of the Bank meant that we should be trying to keep our distance from the political debate.” Sentance called the Bank’s worst-case Brexit scenario “pretty extreme,” adding that the Bank’s independence “doesn’t seem as strong as it was in its first ten to fifteen years.” Meanwhile, in notes published yesterday, the Bank said it would decrease lenders’ capital requirements to give a £250bn boost to lending after Brexit.
Separately, the IHS Markit/CIPS Services Purchasing Managers’ Index reached a 28-month low, the second lowest level since the financial crisis.
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The European Commission proposed a new temporary measure on Tuesday on asylum policy, where by EU member states would assist asylum seekers voluntarily, while agreement is reached on the reform of the Dublin regulation. The regulation obligates refugees to claim asylum in the first EU country they enter. European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said, “Whilst the changes to the Dublin regulation continue to be finalised, we would put in place temporary arrangements, they could serve as a bridge until the new Dublin regulation becomes applicable,” adding, “We need to have some kind of safety net in order to be sure, guaranteeing member states don’t lose the support they require and I believe that we can achieve a timely and well-balanced agreement.” This comes as EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers are meeting today in Brussels.
Elsewhere, the European Commission yesterday published a recommendation “on the international role of the euro in the field of energy” in order to promote “a wider use of the euro in this strategic sector” and strengthen the “international role of the euro for the EU and the international financial system.” European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, said, “A wider use of the euro in the global economy yields important potential for better protecting European citizens and companies against external shocks and making the international finance and monetary system more resilient. Progress on the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is therefore not only needed to promote growth and stability at home, it is also an important project to underpin our European autonomy in a globalised world.”
Writing for Dutch foreign policy think tank Clingendael Institute, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe looks at the possible adjustments the EU could make to increase UK parliamentary support for the deal, if MPs vote down the Brexit deal on Tuesday. He notes that “scrapping the EU’s veto over the UK regaining trade powers” could be the way forward, as “following European policy without being able to control it” already constitutes “a big UK concession.” He adds, “The EU and Ireland only possess a theoretical ‘veto’ over this anyway, although it does risk causing a damaging No Deal Brexit. Especially for Ireland this would be a drama, both economically as for the peace process in Northern Ireland, but also for the Netherlands and Belgium it is something that should be avoided absolutely.”
He further mentions “the remaining elements that may cause customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain” as well as “the role of the ECJ” concerns, noting that “the EU is currently also trying to impose a model on Switzerland whereby its own top Court serves as the arbiter, but the Swiss are refusing so far.” He suggests that “if the EU is unable to agree an arbitration system that isn’t controlled by the ECJ, it’s better to not foresee any arbiter at all, as is already the case in EU-Swiss relations. Parts of the Brexit Treaty are exempt from arbitration already anyway.”