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Prime Minister Theresa May is set to face a no-confidence challenge from the Conservative Party grassroots within weeks, after over 70 local association chairpersons signed a petition which would force an ‘Extraordinary General Meeting’ (EGM) of the Conservative Party’s National Convention. The petition reads, “We no longer feel that Mrs May is the right person to continue as prime minister to lead us forward in the [Brexit] negotiations. We therefore, with great reluctance, ask that she considers her position and resigns, to allow the Conservative Party to choose another leader, and the country to move forward and negotiate our exit from the EU.” The vote at the EGM will be non-binding, but activists told the Telegraph the move would “add weight to moves by the 1922 Committee to change their procedure, to allow for a further [binding] confidence vote in the Prime Minister by [Conservative] MPs.”
Meanwhile, a survey of Conservative Party members for ConservativeHome found that 62% were planning to vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party if European Parliament elections go ahead next month, while a separate poll by Survation found that 40% of Conservative councillors plan to do the same. This comes as Conservative councillors in Derbyshire are refusing to campaign for the party in European Parliament elections, in protest at the Government’s handling of Brexit.
Elsewhere, the Sunday Times reports that the Chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, is set to tell May this week that 70% of Conservative MPs now want her to step down. Sir Graham will today chair a meeting of the 1922 Committee executive. The Telegraph reports that the meeting is expected to agree that the minimum period between confidence votes in a leader should be cut from 12 months to six, which would mean May could be challenged from June 12. The proposal would reportedly require 30% of Conservative MPs – currently 92 – to write a letter to Brady to force an early confidence vote, rather than the 15% required under the current rules. This comes as a survey of over 1,000 party members for ConservativeHome found that 32% would back former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as the next Conservative leader, with the former Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, in second place at 15%.
Parliament returns from recess today, and cross-party talks between the Conservatives and Labour on Brexit are due to resume.
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The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, has urged his party to fully back a second referendum in order to counter the electoral threat of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. In an op-ed for the Observer on Sunday, Watson wrote, “Labour won’t defeat Farage by being mealy-mouthed and sounding as if we half agree with him… We won’t win if we sit on the fence about the most crucial issue that has faced our country for a generation.” He adds, “The very least that Leavers and Remainers deserve is a final say – a confirmatory referendum – on any deal. They deserve a Labour Party that offers clarity on this issue.”
This comes after a letter authored by the Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Gloria de Piero was circulated on Friday, urging Labour not to insist on a referendum in negotiations with the Government. They wrote that a second referendum would be “divisive” rather than “decisive,” adding that insisting on one could end up “torpedoing” talks with the Government.
The Sun reports that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has asked officials to look again at the “Malthouse Compromise” plan for the Irish border, which would see the backstop replaced by “alternative arrangements.” This comes as a group of Brexiteers led by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith are urging May to use the Article 50 extension period to adopt the plan. Duncan Smith said, “Alternative arrangements are the only arrangements that will ever work on the Irish border.” He added, “What has been utterly revealing in all the discussions we’ve had with civil servants and the EU Commission is they know that the practical arrangements to implement the backstop simply do not work.”
Elsewhere, the Conservative MP and Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Nicky Morgan, has written in ConservativeHome that the debate on alternative arrangements “has almost nothing to do with technology,” but revolves around the interpretation of the commitments to avoid a hard border contained in the December 2017 EU-UK Joint Report. She added, “If it could be understood to mean the absence of physical infrastructure on the border and no customs formalities at the border, then the problem becomes soluble, potentially in a way which avoids the need for the backstop, as long as various derogations from existing regulations and systems can be agreed.”
The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, warned on Sunday that the European Parliament could end up with “50 disruptive and resentful UK MEPs” if the UK takes part in next month’s election.
Elsewhere, Change UK, the new party made up of ex-Labour and ex-Conservative MPs and formerly known as the Independent Group, will today unveil its list of candidates for the European Parliament elections. The party’s interim leader, former Conservative MP Heidi Allen, challenged the other parties to a TV debate and said Change UK was now “the natural home of the Remain alliance.”
Around 90% of new jobs created since the 2016 referendum have been filled by UK workers, the Employment Minister Alok Sharma said on Sunday. Sharma said, “While EU nationals accounted for almost half of the UK’s growth in employment between 2014 and 2016, since 2016 that has fallen to 5%. Yet since the referendum there have been over one million more people in work in the UK, up to a record 32.7 million in February 2019. Employers are clearly already adjusting to lower immigration from the EU, and it is UK workers who have filled in the gaps – accounting for around nine in ten of new people in work since 2016, compared to half of the people entering work in the two years before.”
Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience, has won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide. With over 90% of ballots counted from Sunday’s run-off vote, Zelensky had won 73% of votes cast, with incumbent President Petro Poroshenko trailing on 24%. Zelensky pledged to “reboot” peace talks with pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in the east of the country.
European leaders congratulated Zelensky on Monday, but also encouraged further reforms in Ukraine. In a joint letter, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk said, “As President of Ukraine, you can count on the EU’s strong support to Ukraine’s reform path, including consolidating the rule of law, fighting corruption, maintaining macro-financial stability and pursuing the essential reform of the energy sector.”
The first round of the presidential election in North Macedonia this weekend produced a very close result on a low turn-out, with just 0.6% separating the two leading candidates. Stevo Pendarovski, who is backed by the governing centre-left party and supports the country’s recent name change deal with Greece, won 42.85% of the vote. Gordana Siljanovski, who is backed by the conservative opposition and opposes the name change deal, came second with 42.24%. The candidate championing the interests of the country’s Albanian minority, Blerim Reka, came third with 11% of the vote and was eliminated. Speaking on Sunday, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev appealed to voters to back Pendarovski in the second round on 5 May.
Following the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the French Government will call for an EU “cooperation mechanism” where countries pool resources and knowledge to protect “European heritage.” French EU Affairs Minister Amélie de Montchalin said on Sunday that President Macron will invite EU culture and European ministers to Paris on May 3 to discuss how such a mechanism would work.
The European People’s Party (EPP) candidate for President of the European Commission, Manfred Weber, has called for a global treaty banning disposable plastics, as part of his 12-point plan for EU reform. In comments to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Weber said the current EU ban on single-use plastics was not enough, adding, “If we do not fight worldwide very quickly against littering the seas, the next generation will have immense problems.” Weber’s other campaign proposals include 5 million new jobs for young people across Europe, and bolstering the European Border and Coast Guard with at least 10,000 more guards by 2022.
Elsewhere, current European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Saturday that Angela Merkel would be “highly qualified” for a senior EU position once she steps down as German Chancellor.
Separately, one of the two co-candidates for the post of European Commission President from the European Left Party, Nico Cué, told Politico in an interview that the group supports the introduction of minimum wages across the EU, although he added that this should “reflect the different cost of life in Europe.” He also called for common European norms on unemployment benefits, health care and education, explaining, “We’ve had rules for the common monetary zone, and we also need a certain number of social norms.” Commenting on the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system to elect the European Commission President, Cué said, “In our times, with Brexit, with the rise of the extreme right, not choosing the Commission President among the Spitzenkandidaten would… be a bad signal to voters.”
EU banks are expected to announce a third consecutive quarter of declining investment banking revenues, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley, with quarterly revenues forecasted to decline by 24%. Morgan Stanley’s Magdalena Stoklosa said, “We are not talking about a couple of percentage points off earnings here, we are talking about business models under threat.”