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UK can cancel Brexit decision, top EU court rules

3 hours 12 minutes ago
Brexit protest flag
The ruling is a boost for campaigners wanting to stop Brexit.

The UK can unilaterally reverse its decision to leave the European Union, the bloc's top court has ruled.

In a major judgment that will be seen as a boost to anti-Brexit campaigners, the European Court of Justice said that EU member states were “free to revoke unilaterally” Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which kicks off the two-year process of leaving.

The ruling follows a case brought by a cross-party coalition of Scottish politicians and Remain-supporting campaigners, including the SNP’s Joanna Cherry and Labour MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler.

The court said: “In today’s judgment, the Full Court has ruled that, when a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification.”

It added: “That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force or, if not such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, and any possible extension, has not expired.”

The ECJ said revoking Article 50 could only be done “following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements” - effectively signalling that MPs can stop the Brexit process they voted to trigger in 2016.

“This unequivocal and unconditional decision must be communicated in writing to the European Council,” it added.

The ruling - which comes just a day before MPs vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU - was quickly pounced on by politicians pushing for Britain to stay in the bloc.

The SNP's Joanna Cherry said: "I’m delighted that we now know definitively that there is an option to stay in the EU. The UK government has ignored Scotland’s vote to remain and all compromises suggested by the Scottish Government.  

"They also fought us every inch of the way in this case, so it’s a particularly sweet irony that Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts have provided this lifeline to the UK parliament at this moment of crisis."

Ms Stihler, the Labour MEP for Scotland, said: "This historic ruling paves the way for the disastrous Brexit process to be brought to a halt. We now know, beyond any doubt, that Westminster can revoke its withdrawal from the European Union.

"This has been a lengthy and expensive legal process, but the result proves that it was worthwhile. When MPs vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, they now know they can ultimately choose to stop Brexit and keep the best deal we currently have as a full member of the EU."

The Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said: "The ECJ has made clear that the UK can stop Brexit unilaterally. 

“The Government can therefore prevent a chaotic no-deal. For the sake of people's livelihoods, the Prime Minister must end the uncertainty and rule out a no-deal.”

GOVE: RULING DOESN'T ALTER REFERENDUM OUTCOME

But leading Cabinet Brexiteer Michael Gove said the ruling would not "alter the outcome" of Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

The Environment Secretary told Radio 4's Today programme: "We voted very clearly - 17.4 million people sent a very clear message that we want to leave the European Union, and that also means leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

"So this case is all very well but it doesn’t alter the outcome of the vote or the clear intention of the Government that we leave on March 29th. 

"And the most effective way of leaving is to support the deal the Prime Minister has."

Matt Foster

DUP 'could back Labour plot to topple Theresa May if Brexit deal falls'

5 hours 17 minutes ago
Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds
The DUP have continued to pledge their support for the Government despite disagreements over the Brexit deal

The DUP could back a bid by Labour to bring down Theresa May if she fails to get her Brexit deal through the Commons, it has been reported.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the two parties have held talks on whether a censure motion against the Prime Minister should be tabled if, as expected, she suffers defeat in tomorrow night's meaningful vote.

The paper said Labour insiders hope a move against Theresa May personally rather than a motion of no-confidence in her government as a whole is more likely to garner support from Tory MPs who want to oust her.

A source close to the Labour leadership: “It’s fair to say that we’ve been having discussions with the DUP about what is to come after the vote.

“That is certainly an option. There is a feeling amongst some that the time of maximum danger for her is immediately after the vote on Tuesday.

“But there are differences of opinion, tactical considerations to take into account. There are other who think we shouldn’t just rush ahead because we can.”

Senior Labour MPs, including Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, had suggested that a vote of confidence in the government was “inevitable” should it fail to get backing from MPs for its Brexit plan, but pulled back after the DUP vowed to vote against the motion.

Last week, the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson said his party would refuse to back the Brexit deal in Tuesday’s vote but that there would be "no cause to bring the Government down on that basis".

But he warned that his party reserved the right to withdraw their support if "the Prime Minister or the Government continues to try and pursue the same route set out in this agreement".

A DUP source refused to deny meetings with Labour had taken place, but added that the party was focussed on “defeating” the Northern Ireland backstop by voting down Mrs May's deal.

“That is where all of our efforts are, everything else is secondary to that," they said.

“It is not in our interests to dictate who should be the leader of the Conservative Party and we are not going to insert ourselves into that debate.”

john.johnston_25922

Theresa May under pressure to postpone Brexit vote as humiliating defeat looms

5 hours 21 minutes ago
EU and UK flags
MPs are due to vote on the Brexit deal tomorrow night.

Theresa May will make a final decision today on whether to cancel tomorrow night's Commons vote on her Brexit deal after being warned she faces a humiliating defeat if it goes ahead.

Government chief whip Julian Smith is understood to be urging the Prime Minister to postponse the vote after concluding that victory for the Government is now impossible.

Several Cabinet minister have also told Mrs May that there is no prospect of winning the vote, and that the defeat could be so emphatic that it could sweep her from office.

Suspicions that it could be delayed increased last night after the embattled PM held talks with both EU Council president Donald Tusk and Irish Toaiseach Leo Varadkar.

A spokesperson for the Irish government said: "They discussed the current situation on Brexit, including the planned vote in Westminster on Tuesday."

One Cabinet minister told PoliticsHome that the chances of the vote being pulled at the 11th hour were "low", but it has not been ruled out.

Speaking yesterday, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told the Andrew Marr Show: "The vote is on Tuesday. That is what we're focused on."

Ironically, Mrs May could be spared from the humiliation of a three-figure defeat if MPs back an earlier amendment in the name  of Labour MP Hilary Benn which would effectively kill her deal and rule out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Were that to be passed, the size of the rebellion on the so-called meaningful vote would be massively reduced - although the Prime Minister's plans would lie in tatters.

It is also unclear whether, if Mrs May decides to pull the vote, MPs would then need to approve a change to the Commons business planned for Tuesday.

One Westminster insider said: "To be certain, I think they’d need to do a statement, business statement AND have a vote to pull the vote."

Kevin Schofield

John Redwood: Spend the £39bn Brexit bill at home to boost UK economy

11 hours 45 minutes ago
If the UK follows a wise economic policy after leaving, we can be better off out than in, writes John Redwood
If the UK follows a wise economic policy after leaving, we can be better off out than in, writes John Redwood

Rather than listening to scare stories, let’s focus on the money, the freedoms and the opportunities a no-deal Brexit can bring, says John Redwood

The prime minister has offered us a withdrawal agreement, not a deal. It looks likely that the Commons will vote this down. It is costly, one-sided, and offers no guarantees for our future partnership with the EU.

Why would the EU be more willing to offer preferential trade terms and other benefits once we have agreed to part with a large sum of money and accept its rules and laws for at least another 21 months, when it has previously not been prepared to do so?

If parliament passes no new Brexit legislation, we will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 with no withdrawal agreement, in accordance with the Article 50 letter we sent and the EU Withdrawal Act.

This means that, from 30 March next year, the UK will be an independent, self-governing democracy again. We will not owe any money to the EU, so we can spend all the money we save on our own priorities here at home.

The Lords committee on the legal position made this clear, and alternative pessimistic advice within the government is unlikely to have convincing arguments to pay the EU £39bn after we have left. The governing law must be the treaties which, under Article 50, make no provision for continuing payments. What’s more, much of the £39bn payment is for the extra period we effectively stay as members under the withdrawal agreement, which we will not be doing if we leave in March 2019.

Some claim that leaving without a withdrawal agreement will be a bad course of action. They invite us to believe planes will not fly the day after we leave, yet the continental airlines are busy selling tickets for April 2019.

They say we might run out of pharmaceuticals. I have been assured by the government there are no plans to delay the movement of drugs at our ports, and there have been no reported notifications from continental suppliers to the NHS that they intend to stop selling to us.

They say there could be big delays to food imports, to take account of new inspection procedures at the docks. Again, there is no immediate need to put in any such delaying checks. There are plenty of checks already in the system.

Others think France will mount some kind of economic blockade of the UK. This sounds like a slur on the French. The port of Calais has said it wants to keep UK business. It will be well aware that exporters could switch to Belgian and Dutch ports, and from ro-ro to container if necessary. It is difficult to know by what legal powers continental ports would delay traffic and why they would wish to do so.

Out of the EU, the UK will be free to set her own tariff schedule as a full member of the World Trade Organisation. I would want the government to set tariffs lower than the current EU external tariff we have to apply to all non-EU trade. It would be a good idea to take all tariffs off imported manufacturing components, for example, to lower the costs of making things in the UK. We could lower or remove tariffs on food we cannot grow for ourselves, and have lower average tariffs on temperate food.

The aim of economic policy should be to give the UK a boost from the money saved and the freedoms returned by Brexit. If we spent the £39bn here at home over a two-to three-year period, that would provide a 2% boost to our GDP, and would be most welcome in our public services.

Sebastian Whale

Boris Johnson says he will take personal responsibility if people lose jobs under a no-deal Brexit

23 hours 26 minutes ago
Boris Johnson
The former foreign secretary refused to rule out running against Theresa May in a Tory leadership contest.

Top Brexiteer Boris Johnson has said he will "of course" take responsibility if workers are laid off in the event Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.

In an impassioned intervention, the former foreign secretary told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that he felt a "deep sense of personal responsibility" for Brexit - and refused to rule out challenging Theresa May for the top job.

While Mr Johnson said he did not "want no-deal" - which ministers have warned could cause major disruption to supply chains and put jobs in peril - he said he would be prepared to stand by its consequences.

Asked whether he would take personal responsibility for job losses should the UK leave without a deal, he said: "Of course I will. 

"And do not underestimate the deep sense of personal responsibility I feel for Brexit, and for everything that has happened. Do not underestimate how much I care about this."

'WE CAN DO BETTER'

The former Cabinet heavyweight has repeatedly urged the Government to step up its planning for Britain leaving the bloc without an agreement.

And he has insisted that Britain could force Brussels to ditch the proposals for a Northern Ireland backstop that have enraged Conservative Brexiteers.

But Mrs May has stated that the European Union will not accept a deal that does not include the back-up plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson said he believed it would be "relatively simple" to strike a deal without the backstop, saying: "We can do much, much better than this."

And he called on MPs to vote down Mrs May's deal in this week's crucial House of Commons vote in order to give her "a powerful mandate to change that backstop".

"This is where the deals are done," he said. "Nothing is over until it's over."

Mr Johnson added: "Let me put it this way: if the Prime Minister is able to go back to Brussels next week, this week, and say 'I'm afraid that the Irish backstop solution that you have come up with is very unpopular, not just with the country but also with the House of Commons', and if the House of Commons gives, as I think it will, a powerful mandate to change that backstop... then I think... they will listen. 

"Because what they want is the best possible deal with the UK, a deal that keeps their goods and services flowing on either side of the channel. And neither side wants to go out with a no-deal Brexit."

His comments came after Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay flatly denied reports that Mrs May is preparing to postpone this week's Commons vote in favour of heading to Brussels to demand last-minute changes.

'POLITICAL GOSSIP'

Elsewhere in his interview, Mr Johnson said it was "nonsense" to suggest he was putting his own political ambitions above the national interest by attacking Mrs May's deal.

But he pointedly refused to rule out running against her in a Conservative  leadership contest.  

Asked to give an "absolute, categorical reassurance" that he would not stand against Mrs May, the leading Brexiteer would only say: "I will give you an absolute, categorical promise that I will continue to advocate what I think is the most sensible plan... I'm going to offer you the most sensible plan to get out of this mess."

He also dismissed claims he has been approaching Tory MPs with an offer of jobs in a government he might lead. 

"I can tell you - that's nonsense," he said. "But if you want to reduce this debate to personalities and political gossip then that's obviously open to you. 

"But I think, actually, what people want to hear, is how do we get out of the mess of the backstop."

Matt Foster

Brexit Secretary denies Theresa May could shelve Commons vote for last-ditch talks with Brussels

1 day ago
Stephen Barclay
Stephen Barclay also refused to shut down claims MPs could be forced to stay in Westminster over Christmas if they reject Mrs May's Brexit deal.

Theresa May will not head back to Brussels to demand changes to her EU deal or delay this week's crunch Commons vote to stave off a defeat, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has insisted.

Amid reports the Prime Minister could mount a last-ditch effort to get Brussels to tweak the agreement, potentially postponing this week’s vote by MPs, Stephen Barclay said: "The vote is going ahead.”

According to the Sunday Times, Mrs May has been persuaded by aides and ministers to reopen talks and seek changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop element of the agreement.

The paper said an announcement could come on Monday, just a day before Mrs May endures a crucial Commons vote she is widely expected to lose.

She faces a widespread rebellion by her own MPs, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party whose support she relies on. 

But Mr Barclay pushed back at claims Mrs May would seek fresh talks in a bid to stave off a Commons bruising.

Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr whether the Prime Minister would head to Brussels either this week or next week to try to tweak the deal, he said: “No.”

The Brexit Secretary added: “The vote is on Tuesday. That is what we're focused on. 

“I mean, the Prime Minister will go to the December [EU] Council on Thursday as has always been the case. But that has a full agenda. 

“But the vote is on Tuesday - that is what we are focused on.”

Elsewhere the top Cabinet minister - who took on the job following the dramatic resignation of his predecessor Dominic Raab - urged MPs to vote for a deal that “delivers” on the 2016 Brexit vote and said Mrs May could “absolutely” stay on as Prime Minister after a Commons defeat.

But Mr Barclay refused to hose down speculation that MPs could be forced to stay in Westminster over Christmas to hear ministers set out their plans if Mrs May’s deal is killed off.

The Brexit Secretary added: “Now, there's a process that would then follow in terms of the Government would need to come back within 21 days, calendar days, with a statement.

There'd be then a further seven days, sitting days, in terms of bringing forward a motion. So there's a process that would follow.”

Asked whether that could include Parliament sitting on Christmas Day, Mr Barclay said: "I saw those stories - but the point that you're alluding to is if the deal doesn't go through we will enter uncharted waters and a period of uncertainty.”

Matt Foster

Key Jeremy Corbyn ally says Labour ready to form minority government 'on Wednesday morning'

1 day ago
Jon Trickett
Jon Trickett said Labour was ready to form a minority government

Labour is ready to form a minority government this week should Theresa May’s Brexit deal be voted down by MPs, a party frontbencher has said.

Jon Trickett said the opposition would be prepared to “reset” the direction of negotiations on leaving the EU should the Prime Minister fail to win the backing of the Commons at Tuesday’s meaningful vote.

It comes as the Mrs May faces an uphill struggle to get her agreement signed off, with scores of Tories and almost all opposition MPs against it.

The Shadow Cabinet Office Minister told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that while Labour was pushing for a fresh election, a forming a new administration in the next few days could prove “necessary”.

“An election allows us to refresh the mandate, have a conversation with the wider population and come back to parliament, probably with some new MPs and different points of view and take the argument at that stage, so our preferred option very, very strongly is to refresh the parliament,” he said.

But he added: "Though we are ready to form a minority government should that be necessary and it could happen on Wednesday morning and to begin to reset the negotiation and take the country forward in a much better direction."

Mr Trickett said it was not possible to “guess in advance” what would happen following the vote, but he acknowledged that the Prime Minister was still best placed to shape the direction.

“Mrs May still holds most of the cards as to what happens after the vote.

"Though I think time really is running out for her and if you can tell me whether she’ll still be Prime Minister by Tuesday evening then I can say what exactly we’ll do next, so there are a number of scenarios,” he added.

Elsewhere Mr Trickett warned that a second EU referendum – which the party voted at its conference to maintain as an option – would not necessarily end the parliamentary “gridlock”. 

Watch the exchange below:

 

 

Nicholas Mairs

Nigel Farage mulls new pro-Brexit party amid Ukip chaos over Tommy Robinson

1 day 3 hours ago
Nigel Farage
Mr Farage said a new pro-Brexit party 'could stun everybody'.

Nigel Farage has hinted that he could set up a new pro-Brexit political party following a string of high-profile exits from Ukip.

The party's ex-leader quit Ukip this week over the appointment of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson - whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - as an adviser to the leadership on rape gangs and prison reform. 

Mr Robinson will today lead a pro-Brexit march through the streets of London organised by Ukip, with Labour's John McDonnell branding the group "far-right extremists dressing up in suits and pretending to be respectable".

Amid the ongoing disarray in Ukip's ranks, Mr Farage is reportedly holding talks with David Canzini, an aide to Conservative elections guru Sir Lynton Crosby, about a fresh campaign aimed at tapping into public anger with Theresa May's Brexit deal.

He told the Sunday Times: "If you say to the Great British public, ‘We’re not actually leaving after March 29, we’ve pushed it on for another year, or two years,’ then I think the attitude of half the country towards the political class will be sulphurous," he said.

"In those circumstances a pro-Brexit political party, without people like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon in it, could stun everybody with its first couple of polling results."

The former Ukip chief became embroiled in a war of words with the party's current leader Gerard Batten this week, prompting Mr Batten to quit the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy alliance in the EU Parliament.

It came after Mr Farage - who quit the party earlier this week - told PoliticsHome Mr Batten was "Ukip's Corbyn" and said he would damage the group through his links with Mr Robinson.

Struggling to get your head around the latest Ukip drama? PoliticsHome spoke to all the major players for an in-depth look at the state of the party

Matt Foster

Ministers ‘ready to back second EU referendum' if Theresa May loses Commons Brexit vote

1 day 4 hours ago
Tobias Ellwood and Theresa May
Tobias Ellwood said the “sell-by date” on the 2016 vote to quit the European Union was about to expire

Three ministers are reportedly on the verge of supporting a second EU referendum if Theresa May fails to get her Brexit deal through the Commons this week.

The Prime Minister faces an uphill struggle to get her agreement signed off through the meaningful vote, with dozens of Tories and almost all opposition MPs against it.

The Sunday Times says a minister has already decided to quit and back a new referendum if the Prime Minister loses - and is one of three ready to back a fresh public vote.

Meanwhile at least two Brexit-backing ministers and two members of the whip's office are said on the verge of resigning.

The paper quotes defence minister Tobias Ellwood as saying that the “sell-by date” on the 2016 vote to quit the European Union was about to expire, in a major hint he could back a second referendum.

The Bournemouth East MP told the paper that he would back the PM’s deal, as it was his “democratic duty” to his leave-supporting constituents.

Meanwhile The Observer reports that Cabinet ministers are deeply divided on whether to push for a new referendum.

A Cabinet source told the paper that Mrs May was "so committed to her deal" and that "a second referendum could now be the only way of getting it".

They added: "The polls have been remarkably stable for a while, but there does seem to be some kind of movement [to Remain], and that could well develop in the coming days and weeks."

Another senior Tory backing a second referendum said: "There are people in the cabinet who back a second referendum, but they are riding several horses so they don’t have to quit."

It is reported that some of the PM’s top team have been sounding out the levels of support for a so-called 'people’s vote' among MPs, while civil servants have been wargaming the format it could take.

Mrs May’s deputy, David Lidington, and the justice secretary, David Gauke, have held talks with Labour MPs to see whether there is a Commons majority for a second vote or a Norway-style deal inside the single market.

The Sunday Times reports that officials are drawing up two potential versions of a new vote, including one with was a choice between Mrs May’s deal and remaining inside the EU, and another where voters are asked whether, in the event of a leave win, should Britain take the existing deal or quit without an agreement.

'JUDGEMENT AND WILL'

The revelations come ahead of a cross-party rally in favour of a second referendum in London later today, with former deputy PM Lord Heseltine, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, Tory backbencher Anna Soubry, Labour MP Luciana Berger and the Greens Caroline Lucas among those taking part.

Lord Heseltine said ahead of the event: "No one can predict the events of next week. Every news bulletin, every headline, every leak tells us of a government that has lost control. 

"These are the first promising signs that a growing number of members of the House of Commons are prepared to assert the authority and sovereignty of that place.

"Our country’s future depends on their judgement and will.  They must act in the national interest.  

"Their conclusions must be put back to the people for their endorsement."

Nicholas Mairs

Theresa May 'plotting last-ditch trip to Brussels' as defeat on her Brexit deal looms

1 day 4 hours ago
Theresa May
The Prime Minister is braced for a major Commons defeat next week.

Theresa May could delay this week’s crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal and head to Brussels to demand last-minute changes, it has emerged.

According to the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister has been convinced by aides that she needs a Margaret Thatcher-style “handbag moment” with European leaders to stave off a hefty defeat and get her warring party to fall in line behind the agreement.

Mrs May is facing the prospect of scores of her own MPs voting against the deal, with the DUP - who the Prime Minister relies on for a Commons majority - also vowing to reject it on Tuesday.

But the paper reports that the PM could announce as early as Monday that she is returning to Brussels to try to demand changes to the beleaguered agreement, which last night triggered yet another government resignation.

One cabinet minister said: "People in No 10 think she needs to have a ‘handbag moment’ where she says: ‘Up with this I will not put.’"

In a fresh blow for the Prime Minister, Will Quince - the Brexit-supporting parliamentary aide to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson - announced he was quitting in opposition to the deal’s Northern Ireland backstop, which will kick in if the UK and EU cannot find a way to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Colchester MP warned that the proposal, which Britain cannot quit unilaterally, would leave the UK “tied to the negotiating table for years”.

“I do not want to be explaining to my constituents why Brexit is still not over and we are still obeying EU rules in the early 2020s or beyond,” he said in a scathing editorial for the Sunday Telegraph.

“Unless and until this is amended, the Withdrawal Agreement cannot receive my support. How can we realistically expect to secure a good deal under such circumstances, with such a power imbalance?”

TORIES WARNED OF CORBYN 'RISK'

In a last-ditch plea to convince her party to get behind her, Mrs May warned MPs that failing to back her deal risked ushering Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.

She told the Mail on Sunday that voting down her deal would leave the UK “in uncharted waters”, adding: “It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit."

"We have a leader of the Opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a General Election, no matter what the cost to the country… I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take."

But the Prime Minister's deal on Sunday drew fresh criticism from a powerful cross-party group of MPs.

A new report from the Exiting the European Union Committee, published just days before the crucial Commons vote, brands the agreement a "huge step into the unknown".

It says the draft political declaration setting out Britain's future ties with Brussels is "neither detailed nor substantive".

And committee chair and Hilary Benn said Mrs May had "refused to face up to the hard choices confronting us".

The senior Labour MP added: "The political declaration falls far short of the 'detailed and substantive' document promised by former secretaries of state and by the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

"It does not give the British people or our businesses the clarity and the certainty they need about our future trading relationship with the EU in five or 10 years' time."

Matt Foster

Health Secretary warns drug firms to stockpile for six-month disruption under no-deal Brexit

2 days 1 hour ago
Kent
The Health Secretary warned of disruption at the UK border.

A no-deal Brexit could lead to six months of chaos at UK borders affecting critical medical supplies, according to a letter from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The Cabinet minister has written to pharmaceutical firms asking them to prepare for Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

He said: "Although we cannot know exactly what each member state will do with respect to checks on the EU border, the cross-Government planning assumptions have been revised so we can prepare for the potential impacts that the imposition of third country controls by member states could have.

"These impacts are likely to be felt mostly on the short straits crossings into Dover and Folkestone, where the frequent and closed loop nature of these mean that both exports and imports would be affected.” 

“The revised cross-Government planning assumptions show that there will be significantly reduced access across the short straits, for up to six months."

But Tory Brexiter Andrew Bridgen dismissed the warnings, telling the BBC that it was "Project Fear on steroids".

He said: "It's the last throw of the dice from the prime minister who is desperate to get MPs to vote for her withdrawal agreement."

The letter was published after documents leaked to the Times revealed that ministers could order pharmacists to adjust patients’ prescriptions without contacting their GP to try and avoid extreme shortages in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

The Government would reportedly use controversial 'Henry VIII'-powers so that ministers could enact a “serious shortage protocol”.

The leaked document said that the plans “could be issued in case of a serious national shortage and would enable community pharmacists and other dispensers to dispense in accordance with the protocol rather than the prescription without contacting the GP”.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “The BMA believes that Brexit will have a severe impact on the supply of medicines and the overall delivery of healthcare in the UK and we should have far more time to adequately consider the Government’s proposals for change.”

Labour described the move as an “astonishing power grab”.

Matt Foster

Liam Fox ally threatens to quit over Theresa May's Brexit deal

2 days 1 hour ago
Brexit
Mrs May faces a crunch Commons vote on Tuesday.

A key ally of International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has threatened to quit the government unless changes are made to the backstop proposal in Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Mike Wood, Conservative MP for Dudley South and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dr Fox, told the Guardian that he will leave his role if the deal is defeated as expected on Tuesday and Mrs May is then unable to secure better terms from Brussels. 

Mr Wood met with the Prime Minister last week alongside other colleagues to express their concerns.

He said: “What I have indicated to the prime minister is that, while I support most of the deal, I have some big issues with the backstop. If some of those aren’t addressed then I don’t think I will be able to support it.”

“Clearly the ministerial code says that if I can’t support, I would have to resign.

"I am very much hoping that there are enough changes and reassurances by Tuesday for me to vote with the government,” he added

71% of Mr Wodd's constituency voted to leave in 2016.

He explained that he wants “some mechanism to be in place so that we either don’t go into the backstop provisions, or if we go into it we have a clear way of getting out again".

He added: "This could be achieved in a number of different ways so I will obviously look at the proposals as they are on Tuesday before I decide whether to go.”

Mr Wood told the Guardian that a “clear majority” of his fellow parliamentary private secretaries would vote with the Government in Tuesday’s crunch vote.

Matt Foster

Tory members say Theresa May must go if she loses Brexit vote

2 days 2 hours ago
Theresa May
The survey is a blow for the Prime Minister ahead of next week's crunch vote.

Nearly two in every three Conservative Party members think Theresa May should quit as Prime Minister if she loses the Commons vote on her Brexit deal next week.

The findings come in a survey by the grassroots website ConservativeHome and the Times.

This number has increased from the nearly 50% who wanted her to quit when the question was asked early this month.

The survey also finds that opposition from grassroots members to Mrs May’s Brexit deal has also increased, with 71.5% of party members now wanting MPs to vote against it on Tuesday, up from 68%.

Just 26% of those surveyed do not want MPs to vote against it, down from 30%.

The website suggests that this might indicate anger at Conservative Party resources being used to try and get backing for the deal by distributing supportive materials.

Over 50% of respondents backed a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, with under a quarter supporting renegotiating with Brussels.

Just 16% backed Mrs May’s proposals.

The poll comes as leading eurosceptics including former Brexit Secretary David Davis and ex-International Development Secretary prepare to address party members today.

Mrs. Patel will tell the party faithful: “This deal doesn’t deliver for the country, it doesn’t deliver for Leave voters and it certainly doesn’t deliver for Conservative Party members.”

Matt Foster

Cabinet 'tells Theresa May she will have to quit' if Brexit deal defeated

2 days 2 hours ago
Theresa May
The Prime Minister is under intense pressure over her deal with the EU.

Cabinet ministers have reportedly told Theresa May that she will have to quit if she loses the vote on her proposed Brexit deal on Tuesday and is then unable to negotiate better terms.

According to the Telegraph, Theresa May's top ministers confronted her on Thursday over her plan B for a Commons defeat, with one telling the paper the Prime Minister “will fall” if she does not fundamentally alter the deal with Brussels.

Ministers are said to believe that there is a “zero” per cent chance that the deal will pass the House of Commons, while the paper also reports that three middle-ranking Brexiteer ministers are considering quitting ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Mrs May's agreement has been publicly criticised by over 100 Conservative MPs as well as the DUP, who Mrs May relies on for her Parliamentary majority.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith also piled the pressure onto the PM, warning Mrs May and her Cabinet that they cannot “brazen it out” if they lose Tuesday’s vote. 

The leading Brexiteer said: “How the PM responds after the vote matters more than anything else she has done. I believe that if the response is we’ve lost but we will do this all over again it will become a leadership issue.”

“I don’t want it to be,” he added. “If she and the Cabinet decide to brazen it out and simply say anything under [a defeat of] 200 is not as big as you think then that would be a disaster.”

His sentiments were echoed by another of Mrs May’s predecessors as Tory leader, Lord Michael Howard.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the PM "will have very difficult decisions to make about her future and the future of our country" after Tuesday’s vote.

The Times also reports on a cross-party plot to get rid of Mrs May if her deal falls.

According to the paper, Labour will ask MPs to signal their opposition to the Prime Minister with a vote expressing no confidence in her ability to do the job.

A similar censure motion was used to try and embarrass Transport Secretary Chris Grayling earlier this year over disruption to rail services, and the opposition has reportedly begun approaching Conservative and DUP MPs in a bid to get their support.

Matt Foster

Cabinet minister Amber Rudd backs 'Norway Plus' if Theresa May's Brexit deal is defeated

2 days 2 hours ago
Amber Rudd
Amber Rudd is the Work and Pensions Secretary.

Amber Rudd has become the first Cabinet minister to publicly back the so-called 'Norway-plus' model if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is defeated in the Hosue of Commons on Tuesday. 

In an interview with the Times, the recently appointed Work and Pensions Secretary said that the model - which involves staying in the European Economic Area (EEA) - “seems plausible not just in terms of the country but in terms of where the MPs are”.

However, Ms Rudd conceded that “nobody knows if it can be done”.

Dismissing concerns this would allow continued freedom of movement, something many Brexiteers oppose, she said: “Freedom of movement is really yesterday’s question — we are down to a six-year low for net migration from the EU. It was a record high at the referendum”.

Ms Rudd also reiterated her backing for the Prime Minister and the Brexit deal she is proposing, describing herself as “a huge, genuine admirer” of Mrs May.

However, she expressed some frustration with her boss, adding: “I’m always trying to find out what the PM wants to do and she is not always forthcoming about what that is.”

The Works and Pensions Secretary also refused to rule out the possibility that Mrs May will have to resign if she suffers a heavy defeat on Tuesday.

She would only say that we are in “uncharted territory really,” adding that she was “very committed to her handling it and the cabinet is as well”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning, Ms Rudd again reiterated her support for Mrs May’s plan saying it was “the best option” and “desirable”.

And while she said a Norway-style agreement was “plausible", she said the Prime Minister's deal was “the one I want to get through", warning: "If we don’t get it though, anything could happen." 

Elsewhere in her Times interview, Ms Rudd had strong words for the Brexiteers who quit the Cabinet over Mrs May's  deal, saying that male colleagues seem to “seem to flounce out quite a lot”.

Slamming those that want a no-deal Brexit, she said: “The people who want the hard Brexit think it is worth the pain in order to have something better further on and I think a lot of us — perhaps it is more a women’s thing, we think more about the monthly budget, minimising risk — are less seduced by the idea of breaking it all up to remake it more beautifully.”

Matt Foster

Jeremy Corbyn blasts 'neoliberal' EU as he calls for a socialist Europe

2 days 17 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour leader vowed to work with European progressive parties "for the many, not the few"

Jeremy Corbyn has blamed the "failed neoliberal policies" of the EU for the 2016 Brexit vote, as he vowed to push for "a different kind of Europe" after the UK leaves the bloc.

Speaking at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists in Portugal, the Labour leader hit out at the continent's "political establishment" and warned EU leaders that a "business as usual approach" could end up fuelling the far-right.

"If the European political establishment carries on with business as usual, the fake populists of the far right will fill the vacuum," he said.

"We have to recognise that EU support for austerity and failed neoliberal policies have caused serious hardship for working people across Europe, damaged the credibility of European social democratic parties, and played a significant role in the vote for Brexit. 

"European socialists have to fight for a different kind of Europe."

The Labour leader campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU on a "remain and reform" ticket in 2016. However, he has been a longstanding critic of the bloc and its institutions.

Mr Corbyn told fellow European politicians that Labour would "respect" the Brexit vote, which he also blamed on falling real wages and a spike in child poverty.

And he vowed to build fresh alliances post-Brexit to bring about a left-wing agenda across the continent.      

He said: "Our prize is a new progressive economic consensus that secures shared prosperity built on a powerful public realm. 

"We must build a new Europe, inside and outside the institutions of the EU, that really does work for the many, not the few."

BETTER BREXIT DEAL 'PERFECTLY POSSIBLE'

The Labour leader's visit to Lisbon comes ahead of next week's crunch Commons vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

In his address to the congress, Mr Corbyn said Labour’s own pitch to negotiate a "better deal" was "both desirable and perfectly possible".

"Further negotiations are a small price to pay to get a solution that works for us all," he said.

"We are confident that Labour’s alternative plan could command a majority in the British parliament, bring our country together and unlock the negotiations for our future relationship with the EU."

The party is calling for a "new, comprehensive customs union" with the European Union as well as seeking access to the EU’s single market to allow "frictionless trade" and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. 

Mrs May and EU leaders have, however, insisted that her deal is the only one on the table.

The Labour leader also gave his first reaction to the collapse of plans for a one-on-one televised debate between himself and Mrs May, after Downing Street, the opposition and broadcasters failed to agree on a format.

He said: "I was looking forward to a head-to-head debate with Theresa May on her botched Brexit deal, to shine a light on what it would mean for our country, and lay out Labour's alternative plan.

"But unfortunately, when it came to it, as in the general election last year, when it came to it the Prime Minister backed off and refused the head to head debate on offer. 

"Given that her botched deal would have a major impact on our country’s future and our relationship with Europe, this is the very last time for Theresa May to dodge scrutiny."

Matt Foster

Liberal Democrats slammed by People's Vote campaign over 'deeply unhelpful' Brexit referendum bid

2 days 22 hours ago
Brexit protest flag
A Lib Dem source said the party would 'continue to work with campaigners and MPs from other parties to secure a people’s vote'.

Fresh splits have emerged in the campaign for a second Brexit referendum as a Liberal Democrat bid for another poll was branded “deeply unhelpful” by the People’s Vote group.

The campaign group accused Sir Vince Cable’s party of "political point scoring" after the Lib Dems tabled an amendment to Theresa May’s Brexit deal instructing ministers "to take all necessary steps to prepare for a People’s Vote".

Meanwhile the separate Best for Britain organisation - which also backs a second public vote - urged the Lib Dems to shelve the amendment altogether.

The party's move comes just days before the crunch Commons vote on Mrs May’s deal, in which she is widely expected to face a hefty defeat.

Explaining the decision to table an amendment, Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said: “Whilst we have heard warm words from Labour MPs, including the shadow chancellor, Labour seem unlikely to support a final say despite it being popular with their voters and members.

“However, if Labour MPs and others who are concerned about the country’s future want to join us, Liberal Democrats would welcome their support.

“The Conservative government have brought a deal back that nobody wanted nor voted for. If Theresa May thinks the country is with her she must put it to the test by offering a people’s vote with an option to remain in the EU.”

Party insiders said the move was designed to ensure that the Lib Dems fulfilled a longstanding pledge to push for a public vote and give people "the final say on Brexit".

It comes amid signs that other amendments aimed at securing a referendum are likely to be shelved until after the predicted defeat for Mrs May’s deal.

But the bid drew swift condemnation from the People’s Vote campaign group, which instead wants to wait until Mrs May’s deal is rejected in the Commons to ensure “maximum support” for a second referendum in parliament. 

It is understood that campaign chiefs believe MPs will be more likely to rally behind a second vote if Mrs May’s deal falls and the country faces the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal.

A spokesperson for the group said: “The amendment by the Liberal Democrats is deeply unhelpful at this stage and does not have cross-party support or the backing of the People’s Vote campaign.”

They added: “The focus and strategy of our campaign has always been first to get the Government’s Brexit deal rejected by Parliament on Tuesday and then pave the way for a people’s vote when it has maximum support in the House of Commons.

“This amendment is more about political point scoring than following a strategy and it would be deeply unfair for the Liberal Democrats to use this amendment against other supporters of the People’s Vote campaign who are united behind efforts to get the deal rejected and then secure the British public the final say they deserve.”

A spokesperson for Best for Britain meanwhile said: "We have spoken to the Liberal Democrats this morning about their amendment. We are grateful to them for their role as early pioneers of a people's vote and their record of working cross party to advance this aim. We hope they will continue to do this in these final, vital weeks and withdraw their amendment."

'LED THE FIGHT'

But a Lib Dem source told PoliticsHome: "The Liberal Democrats have led the fight for the people to have the final say on Brexit from the start.

"At every stage we have sought to promote a people’s vote and give parliament the option to support us.

"We will continue to work with campaigners and MPs from other parties to secure a people’s vote and the option to remain in the EU."

Matt Foster

John McDonnell in row with Unite boss Len McCluskey over second Brexit referendum

2 days 23 hours ago
McDonnell
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in Glasgow today

John McDonnell has opened up a row with Unite boss Len McCluskey over whether Labour should back a second referendum on Brexit.

The Shadow Chancellor outright rejected claims by the union leader that Labour members would see support for another vote as a betrayal, and said he would back Remain in a fresh run.

Mr McDonnell insisted putting the question back to the people was “inevitable” if MPs cannot agree on Brexit and a general election is out of the question.

He made the comments just days after Mr McCluskey - who is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn and the biggest donor to the Labour party - issued his warning to MPs.

One of those present told The Guardian: “Len spoke about tackling people’s concerns about immigration and the exploitation of immigrant labour.

“He said there would be a sense of betrayal among the members if we went for a second referendum.”

But asked during a visit to Glasgow today whether he agreed with the Unite boss, Mr McDonnell said: “No.”

He added: “I think if we get to a situation where we’d tried everything… we need a general election. Because we can then change the team that will then do the negotiations.

“If we can’t do that, well, I think people will recognise we have no other option but to consider another public vote and people will respect us for doing our best to implement the spirit of the referendum.”

It comes as a split emerged between Unite and fellow top union the GMB over the issue of a second vote.

In a briefing note to Labour MPs, the union - which pours millions of pounds a year into the party's coffers - said: "Should an early general election not be possible, GMB calls on all MPs to support giving the public the final say on the proposed Brexit deal. ​​

“If Theresa May is so confident about her deal then she should not be afraid to put it to the public.”

In further evidence of how the referendum issue has split the trade union movement, TSSA boss Manuel Cortes also reiterated his support for another vote.

emilio.casalicchio

DUP and Tory rebels reject Theresa May's attempt at Brexit deal compromise

3 days 5 hours ago
EU and UK flags
Theresa May is currently on course for a heavy defeat on her Brexit deal.

An attempt by Theresa May to win over opponents of her Brexit deal by giving MPs a say on whether the UK enters the Northern Ireland backstop has been rejected by her critics.

Former minister Hugo Swire last night tabled an amendment, understood to be with Downing Street's backing, effectively putting a one-year time limit on the arrangement, which is designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The move is designed to allay concerns expressed by Tory Brexiteers and the DUP - who Mrs May relies on to prop up her government - that the UK could remain in the backstop indefinitely while negotiations on a long-term trade deal with the EU take place.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster quickly made clear that it was not enough for her 10 MPs to support the Prime Minister in next Tuesday's crucial Commons vote on the Brexit deal.

She tweeted: "Domestic legislative tinkering won’t cut it. The legally binding international Withdrawal Treaty would remain fundamentally flawed as evidenced by the Attorney General’s legal advice."

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, a leading rebel, said: "Giving Parliament the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea is desperate and will persuade very few."

One senior Tory Brexiteer told PoliticsHome that the amendment would only succeeding in winning over rebels "if it is seems like it has real effect".

The row came as Mrs May continued to come under pressure from senior Tories to delay next week's vote amid concerns that the Government is on course for a crushing defeat.

Several Cabinet ministers urged the Prime Minister to consider a delay during emergency talks in Number 10 yesterday.

Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, also said a delay should be considered to allow more time for Mrs May to wring more concessions out of Brussels.

He told Sky News: "I don’t think there is any point in ploughing ahead and losing the vote heavily. What I would like is to have the reassurance that’s necessary that will answer the concerns that colleagues have, but if that reassurance isn’t available by Tuesday then I think it is perfectly sensible to delay for a few days."

Meanwhile, 30 ministers will carry out a series of visits across the UK today as part of efforts to persuade the public to support the Brexit deal.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will visit engineering companies in Peterborough and Donnington, Chancellor Philip Hammond will visit a school in Chertsey and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, will visit a local butchers in East Anglia.

Mrs May said: "We have delivered a deal that honours the vote of the British people.

"I’ve been speaking to factory workers in Scotland, farmers in Wales and people right across the country, answering their questions about the deal and our future. Overwhelmingly, the message I’ve heard is that people want us to get on with it. And that’s why it’s important that ministers are out speaking with communities across the UK today about how the deal works for them."

Kevin Schofield

LONG READ: How Ukip became the party of Tommy Robinson

3 days 14 hours ago
Ukip
Nigel Farage, Gerard Batten and Tommy Robinson

Senior Ukip figures have been fleeing the party since Gerard Batten took the reins in February 2018. His focus on Islam and his embrace of controversial far-right activist Tommy Robinson have opened up a deep split in the anti-EU outfit, but has also attracted new members and seen a boost in party finances. Could the move keep Ukip locked out of the mainstream forever? Or could it bring alt-right groups in Britain out from the underground? And how did we get here in the first place?

In the summer of 2017, two Ukip figures met at a cafe near Liverpool Street station. Henry Bolton - a virtually unknown leadership candidate - wanted to ask party veteran Gerard Batten to support his bid for the top job. But Batten refused. The MEP said he could not throw his weight behind Bolton because he had tried to oust anti-Islam candidate Anne Marie Waters from the race. The controversial activist, long linked to far right EDL founder Tommy Robinson, had caused waves in the party with her own bid to stand. Bolton had tried to stop her from taking part, arguing she was exempt under party rules. And his attempts to hold Waters back had cost him the support of Batten, an influential party figure who had been one of the founders of Ukip back in 1993. According to Bolton, Gerard Batten admitted he agreed with Waters that the west was “at war with Islam”.

In the end, Bolton won the race and Waters came second. But after a tumultuous few months, the stars aligned for Batten and he himself took the top job. Suddenly, he was in charge of the biggest challenger party on the right of British politics. And to many Ukip figures and other observers, he began using the party machine built up over years campaigning against the EU - but by then in turmoil following the vote for Brexit - to wage that war against Islam.

The shift in direction under Batten and his embrace over recent months of Tommy Robinson sparked an exodus of senior figures from Ukip. But it has also attracted hordes of new members that have put it back on a safer financial footing - the kind who rally to Robinson on Facebook, YouTube and at angry street demonstrations. The kind Nigel Farage sought to rid the party of some years ago. One of those demonstrations will take place in London this weekend. The ‘Brexit Betrayal Rally’ is expected to attract thousands of Leave voters from across the nation on Sunday, with Batten and Robinson the stars of the show. It was the final straw for Farage, the former Ukip leader who helped the party win 4 million votes at the 2015 election and effectively made Brexit happen. Farage this week followed others out the Ukip exit door in despair that the party appears to be turning into a “religious crusade” of far-right extremists against Islam.

Critics point to behaviour by Batten over the years that betray his level of concern about Islamic ways of life. He has promoted the work of Islam-critic Geert Wilders and argued western culture is at risk of being “destroyed” by Islamic fundamentalism. He commissioned a proposed code of conduct for Muslims in 2006 and argued Ukip should adopt its use as a policy. He has described the religion as a “death cult” and said he would support a ban on building new mosques - apparently after being spooked about plans for one close to his east London home. For many, the evidence is clear.

“It's become an ideological obsession for him,” Suzanne Evans, a former Ukip deputy chair who quit the party this week, tells PoliticsHome. “He hates Islam and he hates any manifestation of it... He's absolutely obsessed with Tommy Robinson and an anti-Islam agenda.” One source said: “Anyone who has ever met him is aware that he is a complete obsessive on the subject. He talks about Islam and Brexit and nothing else.” A senior figure who recently quit the party said Batten had always tried to speak out about Islam under Farage, but the ex-leader had “quite rightly kept him locked in a cage for a couple of decades”. A current senior member pondered whether Batten felt particularly threatened because he lives in an area of London with a high Muslim population. It was also noted that Batten’s wife Frances Cayaban is from the Philippines, a country regularly hit by Islamist terror attacks.

Batten rejects the charge he harbours an obsession. “I am obsessed with Brexit,” he argues. “I have spent 25 years fighting for it. I am not obsessed with Islam.” He insists he would not talk about it if interviewers never brought it up. He explains that he refused to back Henry Bolton in the leadership race because he thought the attempts to “scupper” Anne Marie Waters smacked of foul play. He agrees with “a lot” of what Waters says, but argues a Waters-led Ukip would have been “a disaster because she has only got one subject she goes on about and that is not what Ukip is about”. Batten also insists he does not believe the west is at war with Islam and never said that to Bolton, although he warns: “We are becoming increasingly Islamified because we're seeing an increasing influence over our society by Islamic ideology. And I don't want to live under any totalitarian ideology. I want to be a free Englishman in my own country, governed by our own constitution and our own laws. I don't want to live under Fascism, Communism or Islam. They are to my mind totalitarian ideologies and I don't want to live under them, thank you very much.”

***

The Ukip trajectory since the party shook the political system at the 2015 general election and effectively secured Brexit is stark. A series of calamitous mis-steps, as well as political circumstance, has seen it shed support among the general public and descend into a laughing stock. The first leadership race after Farage stood down in the wake of the 2016 referendum included a punch-up between two MEPs and saw Diane James clinch the top job - a role she held onto for 18 days before quitting. Her successor Paul Nuttall was caught falsely claiming to have played football professionally for Tranmere Rovers and peddling incorrect or suspect claims about his links to the Hillsborough disaster. He went on to lose a by-election in Stoke-on-Trent - one of the strongest pro-Brexit areas in the country - and eventually stood down after Ukip sunk from four million votes nationwide to 600,000 in the 2017 snap election, handing Clacton to the Tories in the process. Nuttall was followed by Henry Bolton - an ex-army officer who appeared almost normal until he suddenly left his wife for new girlfriend Jo Marney, a model 30 years his junior who was later suspended by the party for allegedly sending racist texts. Bolton refused calls to quit, and after a month of intense infighting, during which a string of senior figures left in disgust, he was deposed by the NEC and replaced by Batten, who took over as an interim leader.

A number of Ukip figures say the party was so ground down by internal warring by that point that it was vulnerable. It was claimed that Paul Nuttall had allowed things to get out of hand in the wake of the referendum by failing to hold onto the unity the Brexit issue had inspired and give more direction. Bolton argues various factions “started to express themselves [under Nuttall] and there was no effort from the centre to pull it together”. He describes the shift as a “universe expanding and galaxies becoming further and further away”. Nuttall declined to comment when approached by PoliticsHome. To make matters worse, the showing by Anne Marie Waters in the leadership race that Bolton won highlighted the strength of feeling in the party against Islam. Bolton argues that the issues she raised, such as grooming gangs and immigration, had a “gravitational pull” towards them for Batten and like-minded Ukip figures. Meanwhile, Farage himself had spent the previous couple of years driving a wedge through Ukip with his support for US presidential candidate - and later president - Donald Trump. A key part of the Trump strategy had been to court the same anti-immigrant footsoldiers who dote on Tommy Robinson. His Muslim ban policy and his interview with InfoWars conspiracist Alex Jones were straight out of the Robinson playbook. Indeed, former Trump right-hand-man Steve Bannon himself believes the west is locked in a war with the Islamic faith. Numerous Ukip figures - most vocally its MEPs - were increasingly dismayed as Farage effectively became the UK spokesman for the Trump campaign and then his British defender-in-chief as the rollercoaster presidency got into swing.

By the time Batten took over Ukip, the different factions of the party had “war fatigue,” according to MEP Bill Etheridge, who quit in October. Etheridge and fellow libertarians like Ben Walker and Trixy Sanderson - known as the Indigo Group - burned themselves out bidding for influence against figures on the "communitarian" wing like Patrick O’Flynn, Suzanne Evans and Lisa Duffy. On the fringes, the socially conservative Support for Families group and the Ukip-LGBT group were likewise forever at odds. “It was an ongoing battle and I think we sort of fought each other to a standstill,” Etheridge tells PoliticsHome. “And as we were doing it, Gerard’s hardman, nationalist approach... trumped it all. Now both of those main wings of the party have ended up packing up and leaving it to the nationalists.”

Henry Bolton argues Batten and his allies were manoeuvring to take over long before he was deposed, hoping to turn Ukip into an anti-Islamic party. He says the NEC had been “courting” the Ukip veteran and that Batten thought the issue should become central to party policy and have its own spokesperson - all of which Batten denies.

In January 2018, Batten organised a meeting between then-leader Bolton and a number of veterans groups at the Union Jack Club in Waterloo. He also invited members of the Football Lads Alliance, the far-right movement that the Premier League has warned pushes an anti-Muslim agenda. The FLA were “pretty feisty” at the meeting, Bolton recalls. “For them it was about Islam - it was about the takeover of our culture and so on.” Batten had made contact with the FLA during the previous year and met them in December. He thought it was time he introduced them to Bolton. But the Ukip leader was late to the meeting because the story about his new girlfriend was just about to break and he was taking calls from Sunday paper journalists. He also had to leave early to go to a Ukip dinner. But Batten encouraged members of the FLA - which later split and re-branded as the Democratic Football Lads Alliance - to join Ukip and endorse its recruitment drive, and he later marched with them at an anti-Muslim rally at which he said the Prophet Muhammad was “a warlord who took many sex slaves”.

A month after the Union Jack Club meeting, Batten was the interim boss of the party and Bolton was out of Ukip altogether - later to form his own Our Nation party. In April this year, Batten was elected unopposed as the official Ukip leader in a process some argue was rigged in his favour. Others accept he had done a good job on the party finances and members were willing to give him a long-term shot at the top job. Soon after he cemented his position, long-standing MEPs James Carver and William Dartmouth left the party - the latter accusing Batten of “hijacking” Ukip to campaign against Islam. The crunch point for Bill Etheridge came at the Ukip annual conference in September, when Batten unveiled an interim manifesto with plans to set up Muslim-only jails. Etheridge, a committed libertarian, was equally appalled by big-state proposals in the document such as nationalising the railways - which fit with the anti-Thatcherite worldview Batten has long held.

But it was the growing love-in with Tommy Robinson that tipped other senior figures over the edge, including Nigel Farage. Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon - is an English Defence League founder and former BNP member. He has spent years campaigning against Islam and amassed a large online following on social media, most recently with videos for alt-right Canadian outfit ‘Rebel Media’. Robinson boasts a string of convictions for various violent incidents, alongside one for trying to enter the US illegally and a count of mortgage fraud. Batten says he was taken with Robinson when he agreed to be interviewed by him in April. The Ukip boss was moved to support the activist the following month when he was jailed for live-streaming outside the Huddersfield grooming trial despite reporting restrictions imposed by the judge. Robinson was later freed after an appeal bid was accepted, and the case is due to be decided by the Attorney General. On the day of his release, Robinson walked straight out of court and into the House of Lords where he had lunch with Batten and Ukip peer Lord Pearson - sparking outrage in Westminster.

But the real rows began when Batten raised the question of admitting Robinson as a Ukip member by allowing a special exception for him under party rules. The discussion prompted an angry response from Farage, who at the time said Ukip was being put in danger. “He thinks Robinson is a massively popular figure in the country,” Farage tells PoliticsHome. “He thinks Robinson epitomises the anti-media establishment that Ukip is all about and that having him on board is going to bring huge numbers of people, voters and supporters to the party.” He adds, however: “My view is it will just put a glass ceiling on the thing and [Robinson] and the people he attracts will turn Ukip into the BNP.”

The issue of whether Robinson should become a member was eventually kicked into the long-grass by the ruling Ukip National Executive Committee in September this year. Batten has accepted that to grant him access would require a party-wide referendum. But Ukip bosses were taken by surprise in November when Batten suddenly appointed Robinson as his political advisor on rape gangs and prisons.

Patrick O’Flynn, a former Ukip big beast who had tried and failed to persuade Batten that cosying up to Robinson was not the way to get good media coverage, quit the party, citing what he called the “growing fixation” with the far-right firebrand. But Batten stands firm over why the party could use Robinson to mobilise over the Brexit issue. “They want me to talk about Brexit, which I've been doing for 25 years, but I've got Tommy Robinson to talk about it now,” he tells PoliticsHome. “On the [Brexit Betrayal Rally] platform on Sunday the only subject that we'll be discussing is Brexit and the different aspects of national life that are going to be affected if we don't leave the European Union: farming, fishing, integration, all the rest of it. What Tommy Robinson brings to that is he's got access to a million people on Facebook and this week he sent out emails to 300,000 people asking them to come to that rally.” He adds: “[Tommy Robinson] is trying to help us get more people to support and join Ukip because he believes in the same things that we do... or similar things.”

But not everybody who remains in Ukip is signed up to the pro-Tommy agenda. In a last-ditch bid, a motion of no confidence to oust Batten was debated and voted on by the NEC earlier this month. Organisers of the motion thought they had rallied the nine figures required for a majority. Critics of Batten were pointing to a survey of Ukip members that showed the Islam issue way down the list of priorities compared to others - with Brexit, of course, at number one. But when the moment came, with Batten watching colleagues as he cast his own vote, just three NEC members backed the no-confidence motion.

The moment Batten secured his position was the final nail in the coffin for Suzanne Evans, the former deputy chair who penned the 2015 Ukip manifesto. “It has been a Momentum style takeover at a grassroots level,” she explains, pointing to the pro-Jeremy Corbyn group that has all-but seized every lever of power in the Labour party. “It's been totally infiltrated now. I don't think there's any way back for it.” Farage - who followed Evans out just days later - also sees a parallel with the left-wing takeover of the Labour party. “This is Ukip’s Corbyn,” he says. “This is somebody who sat on our backbenches for a quarter of a century, disagreed with almost every single policy the party ever put forward, has never been promoted by any leaders, and suddenly he takes the party over.” Farage says the rally on Sunday will “damage Ukip” and give an “appalling impression” of what Brexit is. “I could be completely wrong,” he says. “It may be full of blue rinses from Godalming who pay beautifully and bring their sandwiches with them. But I don’t think so somehow.” Batten argues Farage quit the party to position himself for the next MEP elections in case Brexit never happens. Sources say the pair have a mutual dislike and have not spoken a civil word for years.

***

Ukip now faces a waiting game to find out whether the shift under Batten will continue to boost its fortunes or lead it to a barrier between the fringes and the mainstream. Batten presses home that the party was “about to drop dead” before he revived it with a flood of new members and a financial bounce-back. “When I took over in February, the membership was falling through the floor,” he says. “We were losing 800 people a month. I've put on 8,000 new members since I took over. We're now up to 26,000 members. We've got people joining every day.” Pointing to the new-found finances, he adds: “You can't fight a war unless you have got weapons and you need money to buy weapons.”

But critics argue the new Ukip members Batten is attracting are worthless compared to the millions of potential votes thrown away through association with Robinson and the adoption of his anti-Islam agenda. One says Batten is chasing “low-hanging fruit”. They add: “He’s going after the few hundred you might get from associating with Tommy Robinson instead of going after the thousands you might get from all political directions who support Brexit.” There are also worries about the party being engulfed by the Islam and Robinson issues when it should be on top of the EU withdrawal. Farage argues: “All Ukip had to do was bide its time and wait for the next political opportunity. And here we are: we have an incredible opportunity. Millions of Tory and Labour voters are feeling furious - not just disenfranchised but furious. And this is the space into which Ukip should have stepped back in. It should be riding high in the polls, but instead it’s obsessing about Tommy Robinson and organising street protests.” Another source says: “This is a golden opportunity for Ukip and we’re busy talking about Tommy Robinson. It’s criminal.”

Many of those who have departed the party in recent weeks find themselves plagued by the idea that Batten is positioning Robinson to take over as Ukip leader. Suzanne Evans says: “I hope to God it doesn’t turn into a party led by Tommy Robinson, but my worry is that is what Gerard is grooming him for.” Henry Bolton adds: “I don’t think politics needs that.” But Batten insists seeing Robinson take over is not part of his strategy. “The trouble with politics is everybody's got a conspiracy theory and most of them are rubbish,” he says. He argues potential Ukip leaders need a better “track record of loyalty” to the party - including membership for at least five years, experience fighting several elections and time serving in an official capacity. He adds: “I don't think Tommy Robinson is cut out for the leadership of the party anyway. That's not what he does. He's more of a maverick.”

Whether or not Tommy Robinson becomes the leader of Ukip, the party is clearly on a course it has no plans to turn back from any time soon. Bill Etheridge says Batten is “unstoppable” once he gets an idea into his mind and grabs it with both hands. “You can point out to Gerard that he’s walking into an absolute storm but if he believes it’s the right thing to do he will carry on,” he argues. “He would have happily walked over the top of the trenches into a hail of machine gun bullets - and he would probably expect them to bounce off him.”

Batten effectively agrees. “We've got to hold our nerve,” he says. “We have got to do some bold things. Because you can only move forward by taking bold action in politics. That is what I've done and I will stand by the results.”

UPDATE: Since this article was published, former Ukip leader Paul Nuttall quit the party. So did Ukip Scotland leader David Coburn, Welsh MEP Nathan Gill and London Assembly member Peter Whittle. Also: Gerard Batten quit the EFDD group in the European Parliament over the attacks from Nigel Farage. 

emilio.casalicchio
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47