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The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has published her reply to the Leader of Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, following their meeting last week. Writing to Corbyn yesterday, May said that they agreed that “the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum.” In respect of the Irish backstop, May said she would like the two parties to have discussions about the “exact nature” of the “alternative arrangements” that could command support in Parliament, while she also said the Government would give Parliament “a bigger say in the mandate for the next phase of the negotiations.” The Prime Minister said the existing Political Declaration “explicitly provides for the benefits of a Customs Union” while also recognising “the development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU.” May added that while her Government “does not support automatically following EU rules” in the areas of workers’ rights and environmental protections after Brexit, she was “prepared to commit to asking Parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards in these areas.”
Meanwhile, the House of Commons will this week debate and vote on a Government motion on the next steps in the Brexit negotiations. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, James Brokenshire, said, “The government will commit that if the meaningful vote, in other words the deal coming back, has not happened by the 27th February, then we would allow a further motion votable in parliament to take place.”
This comes as the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said that Labour would put down an amendment seeking to put a “hard stop” to the negotiations, compelling the Government to bring forward the second meaningful vote before 26 February. Starmer told the Sunday Times that the Government was “pretending to make progress while actually running the clock down,” adding, “Labour can’t allow that to happen.”
Elsewhere, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today to discuss possible changes to the Brexit deal.
BBC Spectator Sunday Times
The Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that “If Theresa May can back the demands that Jeremy Corbyn set out” in his letter to the Prime Minister, the Government “is essentially backing our deal.” Asked if Labour would vote through the deal in these circumstances, Ashworth said, “If that is what is on the table then we will because that is the logic in our position but we believe that that position will command support in Parliament, we believe it can bring a very divided country together and we think the European Union would be prepared to renegotiate on that basis.”
This comes as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, said it was “incredibly important” for the UK to have an independent trade policy after Brexit. Also speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Truss said she did not think the Government could command support in the House of Commons if it pursued a Customs Union with the EU in the longer term, adding “I absolutely do not think that should be our policy.”
Elsewhere, The Observer reports that a cross-party group of MPs is working on a plan that could see them vote for or abstain on the Government’s Brexit deal, subject to it being put to a referendum. The plan is being advanced by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson and would take the form of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. It is thought to have the support of Conservative Remainers, such as Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry.
Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday I
Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday II
Writing in Ireland’s Sunday Independent, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Chief Whip, has said it is time to “calm things down” and “focus on our common ground” in order to deliver a solution to Brexit and the Irish border question. Donaldson said the DUP believed that a “pragmatic approach” could deliver an outcome on customs and trade “that does not fundamentally undermine the EU single market or the UK single market.” He added that a No Deal outcome would have “significant implications for the short to medium-term economic stability and prosperity of both parts of this island,” adding, “If an ‘orange and green’ divide over the backstop results in No Deal then it will further damage relationships on the island and undermine the prospects for restoring the political institutions [in Northern Ireland].” Donaldson said the so-called Malthouse compromise was worthy of “serious consideration” but the DUP would not be prescriptive about what the solutions to the backstop impasse may be.
This comes as three Conservative MPs who are backing the “Malthouse compromise,” Nicky Morgan, Iain Duncan Smith, and Owen Paterson have written that the “monumental problems” with the backstop “will not be overcome with a few cursory tweaks.”
Elsewhere, the former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that a No Deal Brexit would “potentially be devastating” for the peace process in Northern Ireland, adding “it is contrary to the Good Friday Agreement and it will cause an enormous fissure within the United Kingdom.”
Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday
A new study by economists has claimed that 100,000 jobs in Germany could be at risk from a No Deal Brexit. The study was conducted by economists at the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) and the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. Oliver Holtemöller, co-author of the study, said “The employment effects of a hard Brexit would be noticeable above all at the automobile locations,” particularly in the regions of Wolfburg and lower Bavaria. The study also claims that over 600,000 people globally could be effected by a No Deal Brexit. Die Welt emphasised that Malta and Ireland will be the two Eurozone countries most affected by Brexit.
Separately, Carolyn Fairburn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, told Sky News yesterday that the “parliamentary logjam” has increased the chances of a No Deal Brexit, adding, “We really are in the emergency zone of Brexit now.”
The UK and Switzerland will today formally sign a trade continuity agreement which will remove the prospect of additional tariffs and duties on goods in bilateral trade after Brexit, regardless of whether the UK agrees a withdrawal deal with the EU. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said, “Not only will this help to support jobs throughout the UK but it will also be a solid foundation for us to build an even stronger trading relationship with Switzerland as we leave the EU.”
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) today, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson will say that the UK has its “greatest opportunity” to redefine its position in global affairs post-Brexit. He will argue that the UK must stand up to those who “flout international law” and that it must be prepared to use “hard power to support our interests,” or else risk being seen as a “paper tiger.” Williamson will also outline the government’s “significant investment” in cybersecurity.
In a new blog for CapX, Open Europe’s Stephen Booth writes that the “next two weeks will be immensely important in the multi-dimensional standoff that Brexit has become.” As Parliament votes this week, Brussels will be watching closely in judging how much it will move on the backstop. “The EU continues to suggest it is open to changes to the Political Declaration on the Future Partnership rather than to the Withdrawal Agreement, despite MPs’ instruction that the backstop is the problem. This may be semantics. Is adding a new protocol or mini-treaty on the backstop “reopening” the Withdrawal Agreement, or not?” He adds that without a new agreement, “loyalist Conservative backbench MPs who are backing the PM’s deal and who are opposed to No Deal will face a test of nerve,” adding “if the Government and the EU detect no appetite whatsoever amongst Brexiteers for any negotiable compromise on the backstop, a softer Brexit becomes ever more likely?”
Meanwhile, in an article for the Telegraph, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe looks at the diplomatic row between France and Italy. “The new Italian government is far from blameless in the ongoing tensions, but what would improve the situation,” Cleppe says, is for French President Emmanuel Macron to “recognise that his grand dreams for further EU centralisation aren’t shared by much of the electorate in his own country – let alone outside of it.”