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Writing in The Daily Telegraph this weekend, Prime Minister Theresa May said, “When I return to Brussels I will be battling for Britain and Northern Ireland…to agree a pragmatic solution that delivers the Brexit the British people voted for, while ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.” She rejected the suggestion that seeking “alternative arrangements” to the existing backstop would undermine the Good Friday Agreement, arguing “the EU has already accepted the principle of “alternative arrangements” superseding the backstop.” She also stressed that some MPs were prepared to support “the current backstop if there was a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism,” noting that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “also believes the potential indefinite nature of the backstop is an issue that needs to be addressed with Brussels.”
Elsewhere, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney writes in The Sunday Times, “The EU will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and there will be no withdrawal agreement without the backstop. However, the EU is prepared to look again at the political declaration to make it more ambitious in terms of the future relationship, if the UK so wishes.” He also argues, “The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop…Yet there are no credible alternative arrangements, put forward by anyone, that achieve the shared goal of the UK and EU to avoid a hard border.” Coveney ruled out a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism to the backstop, arguing these would make the guarantee of no hard border “redundant.”
Separately, Home Secretary Sajid Javid this weekend argued “alternative arrangements” to the existing backstop can be achieved “with a bit of goodwill on the EU side.” Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, he said, “[UK Border Force have] shown me quite clearly you can have no hard border on the island of Ireland and you can use existing technology. It’s perfectly possible.” Javid also said, “I’m absolutely confident that we will continue to be one of the safest countries in the world, even in a no deal scenario.”
This comes as Downing Street announced last night that an official government working group has been set up to explore the so-called ‘Malthouse compromise,’ the plan to renegotiate the backstop put forward last week by a group of Conservative Leavers and Remainers. The working group will be chaired by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, and its members will include former Remain-supporting Conservatives Damian Green and Nicky Morgan, as well as Brexiteers Steve Baker, Owen Paterson and Marcus Fysh. It will meet for the first time in the Cabinet Office today.
However, Steve Baker, who is the deputy chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), has warned that Brexiteers have “grave misgivings about the whole [withdrawal] agreement,” not just the backstop.
The Daily Telegraph The Sunday Times BBC The Andrew Marr Show: transcript Financial Times Politico London Playbook
According to leaked papers seen by The Times, the impact of a No Deal Brexit could “overwhelm” Whitehall. According to the document, the government will prioritise “welfare, health, transport and security of UK citizens at home and abroad, and the economic stability of the UK” in a No Deal scenario. A number of emergency operations centres are also being established to manage No Deal impacts. These will go live on 18 March.
Elsewhere, Business Secretary Greg Clark has expressed concerns about a No Deal exit, saying, “We will regret it for ever if we put in place restrictions and frustrations and impediments [to trade and business].” Clark also said, “Our reputation as being a pragmatic, dependable place in which to do business, in which parliament was able to provide a confidence that people would have to make investments, has been one of our strongest assets…I don’t think it’s right to say that [international businesses have] lost confidence in the UK…but they are concerned.”
Speaking last Friday, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox suggested a technical extension to Article 50 would be “in everyone’s interest” if the UK had reached an agreement with the EU and needed additional time to pass legislation to implement it. Fox also called for compromise from the EU, arguing, “Italy is now officially in recession. We’ve seen the weakness in the German economy, in the French economy. This is not a good time to introduce further unnecessary instability into that European economy.”
According to The Sunday Times, a group of Labour MPs are considering sitting as independents if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn fails to back a second referendum by the 14 February Brexit vote. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that Labour MPs are frustrated at the party’s “constructive ambiguity” on Brexit, including the leadership’s failure to discipline shadow ministers who did not support last week’s amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper MP.
Elsewhere, Labour MP Lisa Nandy writes in an opinion piece, “I, and many others, have concluded that passing the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement is the only way through this mess. This would usher in an orderly transition — but only if we can negotiate a trade deal that allows us to remain in a customs union with access to the EU single market and the rigorous employment standards and environmental regulations that it implies.” She adds, “There is a majority in parliament for this kind of soft-landing Brexit, but there will be no progress without hard choices.”
This comes amid reports that an “unholy alliance” of May’s allies, a member of the shadow cabinet, the trade unions and some Labour MPs are working together to pass a deal in the House of Commons.
The Sunday Times also reports that Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill is lobbying the Prime Minister to call a general election in June.
The Sunday Times
The EU has announced that, under a No Deal Brexit, it will give airline groups a seven-month adjustment period to comply with EU ownership requirements in order to retain full flying rights within the EU. Ryanair and EasyJet have said they have contingency plans to ensure 50% of their stakeholders are EU nationals. Airline group IAG, which owns British Airways, have said they are “confident” they will comply with EU requirements. This comes after Spain, France, Finland and Poland called on the European Commission to offer more generous arrangements to prevent disruption to transport under a No Deal exit.
Japanese carmaker Nissan has confirmed it will build the new X-Trail model in Japan. It had previously planned to produce the cars at its Sunderland plant. Commenting on its decision, Nissan said “the environment for the car industry in Europe has changed dramatically” and noted that it could “reduce upfront investment costs” by concentrating production in Japan. Nissan’s Europe chairman, Gianluca de Ficchy said, “While we have taken this decision for business reasons, the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future.”
In a piece for Politico Open Europe’s Henry Newman writes three current observations regarding Brexit, he said “although MPs are desperate to avoid no deal, they do not want to stop Brexit altogether and are wary of being seen to obstruct it. A short delay may be required but that only postpones the same decisions.” Also arguing that, “the huge media attention given to the so-called People’s Vote second referendum campaign bears little relation to their actual strength in parliament.” Newman also emphasised that “MPs have a wide range of views on our post-Brexit future, but no majority has emerged for a softer form of Brexit. Instead, parliament agrees that the current divorce deal is acceptable — other than a concern about the backstop.”