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Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday won a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party by 200 to 117 votes, preventing another party confidence vote for at least a year. After the result, May said, “Whilst I am grateful for that support, a significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me and I have listened to what they said. Following this ballot, we must get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country.” To deliver Brexit, May urged “politicians on all sides coming together and acting in the national interest.” Regarding the European Council Summit today, she said, “I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that members will have on that issue [the Northern Ireland backstop].”
Addressing the 1922 Committee prior to the confidence vote yesterday, May reportedly said that she did not expect to lead the Conservative Party at the next General Election. According to Conservative Party Vice-Chairman James Cleverly, May “recognised a lot of colleagues were uncomfortable about her leading us into the next election.”
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Nicky Morgan told ITV’s Peston show last night, “[May is] going to have to appeal to MPs on all sides of the house. She has to realise there are some on our backbenches who are irreconcilable to either having any deal or having anything like the deal that’s on the table.” Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, also speaking to the programme, said that “This has gone beyond all party politics, this is about the future of the country.” Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News this morning that May should tell the EU that “if you want a deal you’d better damn well step up to the plate.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Henry Newman told CNBC, “There are some signs coming out of the European Union that they might be looking to do things outside of the actual deal, maybe alongside it, side letters, agreements that could help with the interpretation … that might help [Theresa May] when she comes back to the Commons.”
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The draft conclusions of the European Council summit starting today in Brussels are expected to state that the Brexit deal “is not open for renegotiation,” adding that the EU “intends to proceed with [the Withdrawal Agreement’s] ratification,” Politico reports. They will also reportedly say that the Irish backstop “is not a desirable outcome” and is “only intended as an insurance policy” to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May heads to meet with EU27 leaders.
Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday told the German parliament, “We have no intention of changing the exit agreement…That is the common position of the member states.”
In response to the Conservative party no confidence vote in Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership, EU diplomats said that an “agreement on an extension of the negotiation period after 29 March 2019 is far from certain,” despite the likelihood of holding “a special summit in January to assess the Brexit situation.” They added that the “difficult mess” in Westminster had increased the risk of No Deal. A spokesman for the European Commission said “The Commission won’t comment on internal politics of UK, let alone on the internal processes of the Conservative party, but President [of the European Commission Jean-Claude] Juncker has many times expressed his support for Prime Minister May and her role in managing this difficult process.” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz yesterday wrote, “Glad about the outcome of tonight’s vote in the UK,” adding that he was “Looking forward to seeing Theresa May tomorrow at the [European Council] in Brussels. Our shared goal is to avoid a No Deal scenario.”
Meanwhile, the Conference of Presidents of the groups of the European Parliament stated that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open to renegotiation, since it is “fair and balanced and the only deal possible, given EU principles, current UK red lines and the commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement.” The body also clarified that “without a backstop it would not give its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday, “We [EU27] have no intention of changing the Brexit agreement…That is the common position of the member states.”
Separately, in a letter to the EU leaders ahead of the European Council Summit, which begins today, EU Council President Donald Tusk announced his intention that the EU27 would “listen to the UK Prime Minister’s assessment, and later… discuss the matter and adopt relevant conclusions.” He added, “As time is running out, we will also discuss the state of preparations for a No Deal scenario.” This comes as Germany has announced a series of measures to mitigate the impact of a No Deal Brexit, including allowing UK financial institutions the ability to operate in Germany until 2020.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox yesterday said it would be “very difficult to support the [Brexit] deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop,” adding, “I don’t think it will get through [Parliament] – I’m not even sure the Cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.” Meanwhile, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said, “The UK needs a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop, but we can give the Irish Government assurances that we would put in place specific measures to guarantee no return to a hard border.” This comes as former Brexit Secretaries Dominic Raab and David Davis, as well as Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, yesterday launched a plan for “better Brexit Deal” to remove the customs union component from the backstop.
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe told BBC World TV yesterday, “There certainly still is enough time to renegotiate the proposed deal. People like Dominic Raab do not want to ditch the whole agreement. Time also isn’t the real problem. It’s how to compromise.”
Separately, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday called on the Prime Minister to put her deal before MPs for a vote, and accused her of being “contemptuous of this Parliament.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that he believed that ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement was “still possible,” and told the Irish Parliament that he and other EU leaders would be looking at “what assurances we can give the United Kingdom Parliament that might assist it” in that process. Varadkar said that these assurances “cannot mean a change in the substance of that agreement, including the substance of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.” He also urged Sinn Féin to take their seats in Westminster and vote for the Withdrawal Agreement.
Elsewhere, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that his party’s confidence and supply arrangement with the Irish Government would continue until early 2020, ruling out a General Election next year. In a speech to the Irish Parliament yesterday Martin said that it was necessary to avoid an election because “these are not normal times and Ireland is immediately confronted with one of the biggest threats in many decades… The available evidence is that Ireland is nowhere near ready for a No Deal scenario.”
The Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Adam Marshall, yesterday said that businesses were watching political events in the UK “with utter dismay,” adding, “Our firms are worried, investors around the world are baffled and disappointed, and markets are showing serious strain as this political saga goes on and on.”
Elsewhere, the Director General of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Stephen Martin, yesterday warned, “The last thing businesses needed today was even more uncertainty – and yet politics has managed to deliver on that once again. Many business leaders, along with the rest of the country, will be tearing their hair out at the state of Westminster politics at the moment.”
The European Parliament approved the EU-Japan Economic Partnership in a vote yesterday by 474-156. This comes after Japan’s Parliament approved the deal on Saturday, paving the way for the agreement to enter into force on 1 February 2019. The EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement, “Our economic partnership with Japan – the biggest trade zone ever negotiated – is now very close to becoming a reality.” President of the European Commission, Jean Claude-Juncker, said, “I praise the European Parliament for today’s vote that reinforces Europe’s unequivocal message: together with close partners and friends like Japan we will continue to defend open, win-win and rules-based trade.” MEPs also approved the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement, which deepens cooperation between the two on issues such as foreign policy, security, energy and climate change.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki yesterday won a confidence motion in his Law and Justice (PiS) Party government by 231 to 181 votes. Asking the Parliament to confirm the Government’s mandate ahead of the European Council summit, Morawiecki said, “It’s been three years since PiS came to power … and we have seen a decisive change in how economic and social policy is viewed in Poland,” adding, “I think we’ll be able to continue beyond our term, but I also need to confirm our majority now.” He also told MPs, “We have a historic chance to catch up with the wealth levels of Spain and Italy. We can do it if Law and Justice remains in power.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte yesterday offered to reduce Italy’s deficit target to 2.04% of output in 2019. The proposal is a significant concession to the European Commission, which has been in conflict with Italy over its budget. Conte said, “We are not betraying the trust of Italians and we respect the commitments made with the measures which have the most impact.”