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Civil service chief slams ‘sniping’ against Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins

3 hours 54 minutes ago
Mark Sedwill
Sir Mark Sedwill said civil servants were 'doing our duty'.

Britain’s top civil servant has rallied to the defence of Theresa May's under-fire Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins.

In a highly unusual public intervention, acting Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said those launching anonymous attacks on the Prime Minister's EU adviser “should be ashamed of themselves”.

Mr Robbins has increasingly attracted the ire of Brexiteers, who see him as a key driving force behind the Prime Minister’s controversial Chequers Brexit plan.

In a Times article published this weekend, the top adviser was referred to as “secretive”, “cliquey” and “not a team player” - while the paper cited Tory MPs as blaming him for an “establishment plot” to thwart Brexit.

But, hitting back in a rare public letter to The Times, Sir Mark praised his colleague’s “extraordinary dedication and professionalism”.

“However, the anonymous sources on whose sniping it also draws should be ashamed of themselves, especially in a week when another senior civil servant reported having been threatened because of comments about Brexit implementation,” he said.

Sir Mark's intervention comes after the boss of HM Revenue and Customs revealed that police were investigating a string of death threats made against him after he warned about the potential cost of Brexit plans.

The acting Cabinet secretary added: "This has to stop. Civil servants have always trusted that our fellow citizens, whatever their views, know that we are doing our duty to implement the decisions of the governments they elect."

Sir Mark - who is stepping into the shoes of Sir Jeremy Heywood while the cabinet secretary undergoes treatment for cancer - is seen as a highly-trusted aide by the Prime Minister, having previously served as her top official at the Home Office. ​

Under the civil service code, officials must have ministerial sign-off for any contact with the media.

Matt Foster

No-deal Brexit 'closer than ever' warns Donald Tusk

18 hours 9 minutes ago
Donald Tusk
The EU Council president gave the warning ahead of a crunch Brexit summit later this week

A no-deal Brexit is “closer than ever”, EU Council president Donald Tusk has warned.

In a gloomy assessment of the state of the negotiations, he said the European Commission was stepping up its preparations for the UK crashing out without an withdrawal agreement in place.

His comments, in a letter to all EU leaders ahead of a crunch Brussels summit this week, came as talks remain deadlocked over the Irish border issue.

Mr Tusk said progress in the talks since the last summit in Salzburg have “proven to be more complicated than some may have expected”.

But he called on the leaders to “not give up” despite the current impasse.

He said: “We should remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides.

“But at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before.”

He added: “The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides.

“This is what our state of mind should be at this stage. As someone rightly said: 'It always seems impossible until it's done.' Let us not give up.”

Mr Tusk also confirmed that Mrs May will address the 27 other EU leaders on Wednesday evening to give her assessment of the current state of the negotiations.

She will then leave while they hold talks of their own over dinner.

john.johnston_25922

Theresa May sparks fresh Tory backlash by refusing to put deadline on 'temporary' EU customs deal

19 hours 27 minutes ago
EU flag
Theresa May said a Brexit deal could still be 'weeks' away.

Theresa May has sparked a fresh row with Tory MPs by repeatedly failing to put a deadline on a "temporary" customs deals aimed at avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

The Prime Minister also admitted that any Brexit deal could still be "weeks" away, meaning the negotiations are likely to go down to the wire.

Mrs May has proposed that any so-called "backstop" arrangement would see the whole of the UK remaining in the EU customs union until a permanent arrangement can be found to ensure a frictionless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

In response, the EU has said that in any event, Northern Ireland must remain in the customs union and parts of the single market - something the Prime Minister dubbed "a backstop to the backstop".

Tory eurosceptics have demanded that Mrs May insists on a end date for the UK-wide backstop be inserted in any withdrawal agreement she strikes with Brussels.

But after making a statement to MPs this afternoon, she refused repeated attempts by her own MPs to get her to give them that assurance.

Simon Clarke, the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "So far today my Right Honourable Friend has failed to reasure the House that we will definitely be able to leave the backstop by 31 December, 2020."

Mrs May replied: "I have been clear that one of thr areas where we are continuing to discuss with the European Union ... is this issue of the temporary nature of the backstop and ensuring that we have the means to ensure that backstop is temporary were it ever to come in place."

Earlier, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had also urged the Prime Minister to put a deadline on the backstop.

He said: "Can the Prime Minister confirm that the very latest deadline that this country will take back control of our tariff schedules in Geneva and vary those tariffs independently of Brussels in order to do free trade deals will be the 31 December, 2021. If that isn't the deadline, could she say what it is?"

But Mrs May refused to commit to a deadline, saying only that she "expects" that to be the end date.

"One of the issues we are discussing with the European Union is how we do reflect the temporary nature of the backstop," she said. "I continue to believe what we should all be doing is working to ensure that the backstop never comes into place."

In her statement, Mrs May also punctured any hopes of a breakthrough at this week's EU Council summit in Brussels.

Despite insisting that negotiators from both sides had made "real progress in recent weeks", she conceded that they remain far apart on the issue of the Irish backstop.

She said: "The EU says there is not time to work out the detail of this UK-wide solution in the next few weeks. 

"So even with the progress we have made, the EU still requires a 'backstop to the backstop' – effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy.

"And they want this to be the Northern Ireland-only solution that they had previously proposed. We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom."

TUSK

It also emerged tonight that EU Council president Donald Tusk has invited Mrs May to address a meeting of the heads of the other 27 member states on Wednesday evening too give them her assessment of the Brexit talks.

In a letter to EU leaders, he urged them not to give up hope of getting a withdrawal agreement, even though the chances of no-deal "is more likely than ever before".

He said: "As you remember from Salzburg, we wished for maximum progress and results that would lead to a deal in October. As things stand today, it has proven to be more complicated than some may have expected. We should nevertheless remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides.

"But at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before. Like the UK, the Commission has started such preparations, and will give us an update during the meeting.

"But let me be absolutely clear. The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides. This is what our state of mind should be at this stage. As someone rightly said: 'It always seems impossible until it's done.' Let us not give up."

kevin.schofield

Theresa May to update MPs on Brexit talks progress following fresh Irish border stalemate

1 day 1 hour ago
Theresa May
Theresa May will update the House of Commons this afternoon

Theresa May is to update MPs on the deadlocked Brexit negotiations amid claims that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is “probably inevitable”.

In an unusual move, the Prime Minister will make a statement to the Commons just 24 hours after hopes of a breakthrough in the talks were raised and then dashed.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab flew to Brussels for urgent face-to-face talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, but returned soon afterwards when the pair failed to achieve agreement over the so-called "backstop" arrangement to keep the Irish border open.

Reports this morning say talks broke down after the EU demanded what UK officials have branded a “backstop to the backstop” – which would see the original proposal, that was rejected by the UK, back on the table.

Mrs May has said the backstop, which effectively maintains customs union membership until a permanent solution is found, should apply to the whole of the UK and be time-limited.

However the Press Association reported that the EU is insisting it should only apply to Northern Ireland, an arrangement which the Prime Minister has said is "unacceptable" and has been rejected by the DUP, who she relies upon for her Commons majority.

Following the latest breakdown in talks between both sides, the Northern Irish unionists' MP Sammy Wilson said that a no-deal Brexit was “probably inevitable”.

He told the Belfast Newsletter: "Given the way in which the EU has behaved and the corner they’ve put Theresa May into, there’s no deal which I can see at present which will command a majority in the House of Commons...

“I think that anybody looking at it objectively would say that what is on offer from the EU is a far worse deal than a no deal, and therefore she’d be mad to be railroaded into accepting it.

Speaking this morning, the Prime Minister's spokesman said she had decided to address Parliament directly "to provide an update to MPs" on the latest state of play.

He added: "We have made real progress in a number of key areas, however there remain a number of unresolved issues relating the backstop.

"The EU and the UK are both clear that they want to secure a good deal and that’s what both sides are working towards. We remain confident of getting a deal because it is in the interests of both the UK and the European Union."

However, the spokesman went on: "The EU continues to insist on the possibility of a customs border down the Irish Sea.

"This is something that Parliament has already unanimously rejected and is not acceptable to the Prime Minister.”

"We need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say the backstop is a temporary solution. We are not going to be stuck indefinitely in a single customs territory unable to do independent trade deals.”

Nicholas Mairs

Nigel Dodds: The DUP is not bluffing over threat to bring down power pact with Theresa May over Brexit

1 day 6 hours ago
Nigel Dodds
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has spoken out on the backstop issue

The DUP is not bluffing in its threat to break the confidence and supply deal keeping Theresa May in power, Nigel Dodds has insisted.

The party's Westminster leader said he had been “crystal clear” with the Conservatives that “one part of the UK cannot be left behind” after Brexit.

His comments were a reference to EU plans to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union and large parts of the single market - effectively creating a regulatory trade border down the Irish Sea - to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Dodds' warning comes as the Prime Minister struggles to agree a way forward that would ensure the Northern Irish border remains open, with last-ditch talks with the EU failing to secure a breakthrough last night.

Mrs May wants to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union temporarily with the bloc in case a new arrangement to protect the border is not in place by the Brexit date of March next year.

The DUP - whose 10 MPs prop the PM up in her minority government - has already threatened to vote down the upcoming Budget if she agrees to an arrangement which treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

Some have accused the party of bluffing, insisting there is no way they would trigger a general election which could usher in a Jeremy Corbyn government.

Breaking cover on the issue today, Mr Dodds said the confidence and supply deal was “based on a common understanding that we would leave (the EU) as one nation”.

“We will not be party to the abandonment of fundamental principles and harm to the Union to be codified forever in a Withdrawal Agreement,” he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

“We could not support such a proposition. Bluff? We don't gamble with the Union.”

It comes amid mounting pressure from the Conservative ranks to ensure any backstop arrangement that keeps the whole UK in the customs union comes with a strict end date.

Pro-Brexit Tories fear the UK could end up tied to the bloc indefinitely if a clear cut-off point is not written into the agreement.

Three top ministers thought to be on the verge of quitting over the issue - Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt - are reportedly due to meet tonight to strategise over takeaway pizza.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - who himself resigned from the frontbench over the PM’s Chequers plan - urged Mrs May to ditch the backstop proposals altogether.

“In presuming to change the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom, the EU is treating us with naked contempt,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

It comes after reports Tory MPs were rallying behind ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis over a possible bid to challenge Mrs May, who urged ministers to “exert their collective authority” over the issue.

And Scottish Secretary David Mundell, along with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson suggested they could resign over a backstop that cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK.

Elsewhere, Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has urged the Government to publish its plans for the Northern Irish backstop.

emilio.casalicchio

No-deal Brexit looms as Theresa May pulls plug on agreement amid fears of Cabinet revolt

1 day 6 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May wants to secure a deal by a crunch EU summit on Wednesday

Last-ditch Brexit talks failed to secure a breakthrough last night after Theresa May decided she could not get a proposed deal past her Cabinet.

In a surprise move, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab dashed to Brussels for face-to-face talks with with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after officials on both sides agreed a tenative deal.

But their meeting broke up after just an hour after it became clear both sides were still far apart on the so-called "backstop" arrangement to maintain an open border in Ireland.

According to the Telegraph, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on any deal over fears her Cabinet would not accept any agreement which left the UK tied to the EU's customs union indefinitely.

Mrs May is facing the prospect of Cabinet resignations this week unless any deal includes a specific end date for any such arrangement.

She also faces pressure from the DUP - whose 10 MPs prop her up in government - not to agree a deal that could create a new regulatory border down the Irish Sea.

In a joint statement last night, the Department for Exiting the European Union and Number 10 all-but ruled out reaching a deal at a crunch EU summit later this week.

"In the last few days UK and EU negotiators have made real progress in a number of key areas," they said. "However there remain a number of unresolved issues relating to the backstop.  

"The UK is still committed to making progress at the October European Council.”

Senior civil servants have urged the Government to begin implementing the no-deal contingency plans such as the stockpiling of medicines by the end of the month in case talks fall apart, according to the Times.

Mr Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open, including the backstop to avoid a hard border.”

emilio.casalicchio

Ruth Davidson could quit as Scottish Tory leader over Brexit deal row

2 days 4 hours ago
Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson at the Tory conference in Birmingham.

Ruth Davidson could resign as the leader of the Scottish Tories in a bitter row over Theresa May's Brexit strategy, it has emerged.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell has also warned the Prime Minister that he could quit the Cabinet if she signs up to any deal which increases customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Both of them believe that any such arrangements could bolster the case for Scottish independence as the UK government would be agreeing to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the country.

PoliticsHome has learned that Ms Davidson - who has recently gone on maternity leave ahead of the birth of her first child - and Mr Mundell have written to the Prime Minister setting out their concerns.

The resignation of Ms Davidson would be a huge blow for Mrs May, as she has led a Tory revival north of the Border. It would also be a boost for the SNP, who have seen some of their supporters switch to the Scottish Conservatives.

Mrs May is already facing the threat of resignations from Cabinet Brexiteers such as Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey, while former Brexit Secretary David Davis has today urged other ministers to revolt.

A Scottish Tory insider acknowledged that the Prime Minster was "walking the fine line of recognising Northern Ireland's unique position and landing a deal", but insisted that Ms Davidson and Mr Mundell's walkout threat was real.

They said: "Not putting a new border down the Irish Sea has been the Scottish party's red line from the start.

"If anyone thinks Ruth and David care more about the Tory party than the United Kingdom, they are kidding themselves. They are not the threatening or flouncing types, but this is an article of faith."

Mrs May is facing mounting pressure ahead of a crunch EU Council summit in Brussels later this week.

Before then, she will make a final attempt to sell her plans at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Failure to do so could spark a wave of resignations which could end up sweeping her from office.

kevin.schofield

David Davis calls for Cabinet rebellion over Theresa May's Brexit plan

2 days 5 hours ago
David Davis
David Davis quit the Cabinet over Theresa May's Brexit strategy.

David Davis has called on Cabinet ministers to rise up against Theresa May's Brexit blueprint as the Prime Minister prepares for a week which could make or break her premiership.

The former Brexit Secretary said it was time for Mrs May's most senior ministers "to exert their collective authority" ahead of a crunch EU summit in Brussels.

His comments, in an article for The Sunday Times, come amid mounting speculation that Cabinet Brexiteers Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are all considering resigning.

Mr Davis also launched another bitter attack on the Brexit strategy agreed by the Cabinet he was part of at Chequers in July.

In particular, he took aim at suggestions the Prime Minister could sign up to a deal which does not include a date for the UK's departure from a "temporary" customs arrangement with the EU which is designed to provide time to solve the Irish border issue.

He said: "It seems entirely probable that this policy would lead to us being trapped in the customs union for the foreseeable future. It is a bad policy, but it could be rendered tolerable if it were clear that the decision to leave the customs union rested with the UK government alone, that it would be explicitly temporary and that we would leave well before the next election. Dominic Raab is entirely right to insist on this.

"If we do not do this, the policy would destroy any chance of striking new trade deals with the rest of the world. Trade deals are by far the biggest economic upside for Brexit. This ill-conceived proposal is already undermining the confidence of prospective trade partners."

Mr Davis - who resigned from the Cabinet over the Chequers plan - insisted Mrs May still has time to ditch it and negotiate a Canada-style free trade deal with the EU.

But he said that if she is unwilling to do so, the Cabinet should take matters into its own hands.

The Tory MP - who is thought to be plotting to replace the Prime Minister on a temporary basis while the Brexit negotiations are concluded - said: "The Cabinet committee that governs EU negotiations has barely met since July. Instead, the decisions seem to have been taken by an ad hoc group. Other Cabinet members have been excluded from the decisions and, in some cases, even the briefings.

"This is one of the most fundamental decisions that government has taken in modern times. It is time for Cabinet members to exert their collective authority. This week the authority of our constitution is on the line."

The Sunday Times also reports that Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson have also warned that they will resign if any Brexit deal imposes extra customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, claiming it could give a boost to the Scottish independence campaign.

A source close to Mr Mundell said: "Our red lines are well known."

Meanwhile, Mr Davis is also one of 63 Tory euroscpetics, which also includes former Cabinet members Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel, who have signed a letter to the Sunday Telegraph warning that the Prime Minister's proposals could see voters "lose faith in our democracy".

kevin.schofield

Labour sister party backs 'People's Vote' on Brexit deal in challenge to Jeremy Corbyn

2 days 18 hours ago
EU and UK flags

A party which is affiliated to Labour has called for a referendum to be held on the final Brexit deal.

In a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, the Co-operative Party - which has 38 MPs who sit with Labour in the Commons - also called for the UK to stay in the single market and a customs union with the EU.

The move, agreed at the party's conference in Bristol, is also a blow for Theresa May as it means their MPs are virtually certain to vote against any deal she brings to Parliament later this year.

Labour has stopped short of backing another EU referendum, arguing instead that there should be a general election if Mrs May's deal is rejected by the Commons.

But one of six motions on Brexit passed overwhelmingly at the Coperative Party conference says: "The terms of any Brexit deal were not known at the time of the referendum in 2016. Once the negotiations are concluded, there should be a public vote on whether or not we should leave the EU on the terms proposed."

Another calls for "continued UK membership of, and access to, the single market through the European Economic Area agreement".

Co-operative Party chair Gareth Thomas MP said: "Members of the Co-operative Party have today voted to put the British people back at the heart of the Brexit process, by backing a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal.  Our party is also been clear that no deal is not an option.  

"As we work towards building a Britain where wealth and power are shared, it is vital that Brexit does not lead Britain down a path of greater inequality, insecurity and isolation. Instead we need a Britain with co-operative values of democracy, equality and solidarity at its heart. This is what is at stake."

Eloise Todd, head of the Best For Britain campaign, which is calling for another referendum, said: "It’s great news that the Co-op Party official position is to back putting the final decision on EU membership to the people.

"The party includes key MPs from across the Labour party, and echoes the position Labour set out at its conference at the end of September: if an election is not possible then Labour and Co-op MPs are open to a people’s vote on the Brexit deal to give their members, voters and citizens the right to choose between the Government deal and our current EU terms.

"We call on the Prime Minister to listen to the growing number of people and organisations who are saying the people should be in the driving seat."

kevin.schofield

UK 'prepares list of Saudi sanctions' over disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

3 days 5 hours ago
Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi Arabia has come under pressure over claims Khashoggi was tortured and murdered

UK officials are drawing up a list of potential sanctions against Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it has been claimed.

The Foreign Office is said to be drafting a list of sanctions in case Theresa May invokes the “Magnitsky amendment”, which was passed by Parliament earlier this year.

That allows the Government to impose sanctions on officials from countries accused of human rights violations.

Mr Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago.

Turkish sources claim he was murdered inside the building, but Saudi officials deniy the allegation and insist he left the building soon after arriving.

Asked by The Independent to confirm or deny drawing up a list of sanctions, a Foreign Office spokesman said it had “nothing to add”.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said previously: “Across the world, people who long thought themselves as Saudi’s friends are saying this is a very, very serious matter.

“If these allegations are true there would be serious consequences.”

But a source told the paper: “Initially this was a position-paper scenario, now it is definitely being looked at as a real possibility.”

Saudi Arabia has come under increasing pressure over claims Mr Khashoggi was tortured and murdered inside his own nation’s Istanbul consulate earlier this month.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) confirmed on Friday that Riyadh had formed a joint team with Turkey to “uncover the circumstances of the disappearance” of Mr Khashoggi.

Matt Foster

WATCH: Dominic Raab heaps pressure on Theresa May over Brexit backstop plans

3 days 20 hours ago
Dominic Raab
Mr Raab said that any backstop deal must "time-limited" if it was to be supported by his party

Dominic Raab has heaped pressure on Theresa May to set out precisely how long the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

The Brexit Secretary said that any deal which included such an arrangement must be "short" and "time-limited" - further than Downing Street was prepared to go just hours before.

The Prime Minister is facing the threat of Cabinet resignations over fears that a so-called "backstop" customs arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border will effectively keep the UK locked into the bloc's trading regime forever.

Speaking to ITV, Mr Raab said: “It would have to be finite, it would have to be short, and it would have to be, I think, time limited in order for it to be supported here.

“What we cannot do is see the UK locked-in via the backdoor to a customs union arrangement that would leave us in an indefinite limbo. That would not be leaving the EU.”

 

 

Brussels has said it wants Northern Ireland to stay in the EU customs union as a way of maintaining an open border with the Republic of Ireland, but that has been rejected by the UK over fears it would create a new frontier in the Irish Sea.

Mrs May has proposed keeping the whole of the UK in a customs union, but only until a trade deal can be thrashed out.

In a briefing for journalists this morning, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister refused to say whether an end date would be put on any backstop agreement, something Brexiteer Tory MPs have demanded.

She said: "When we published our plans in June for a UK-wide customs backstop, we were absolutely clear that the arrangement would be temporary and only in place until our future economic relationship was ready. Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.

"The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal that would trap the UK in a backstop permanently."

Former Tory minister Guto Bebb, of the pro-EU People's Vote campaign, said: "The hard reality is that the Prime Minister is being forced to negotiate with Jacob Rees-Mogg and his allies in her Cabinet even more intensively than with the EU27. And that is why the ‘promise gap’ between what voters were told Brexit would mean and what is actually being delivered is growing wider all the time.

"The only Brexit deal that can now be delivered will be a bad Brexit deal. Bad for business, bad for public services and bad for young people, who will have to endure many more years more of complex Brexit negotiations, and then live with the consequences."

john.johnston_25922

Northern Ireland at risk of electricity black-outs under a no-deal Brexit, ministers warn

3 days 21 hours ago
Belfast
Northern Ireland could face black-outs under a no-deal Brexit, the government has warned

A no-deal Brexit could result in electricity blackouts across Northern Ireland, the Government has warned.

Ministers say that the UK electricity market, which is currently “coupled” with those in the EU to allow cross-border flows, will become detached if Britain crashes out without an agreement.

The revelation comes amid a fresh raft of technical notices issued by the Government into how Britain would cope under a no-deal scenario.

The Government says while measures have been taken to ensure supply continues in Great Britain, Northern Ireland could be hit because it operates a single market with the Republic of Ireland, governed through EU legislation.

UK ministers say they are “keen to work with” Irish ministers and the European Commission to try and agree the continuation of the Single Electricity Market will continue in any scenario.

However they add that contingency planning is underway to try and establish a separate Northern Ireland market and that “fall-back arrangements” to keep power flowing over the Great Britain-Northern Ireland interconnector may be needed.

“If such an agreement cannot be reached, there is a risk that the Single Electricity Market will be unable to continue, and the Northern Ireland market would become separated from that of Ireland,” the document states.

"Separate Ireland and Northern Ireland markets will be less efficient, with potential effects for producers and consumers on both sides of the border."

It added that the Government or the province’s regulator will look to ensure “adequate generation capacity is in place as far as possible” with a procurement process which relies on both existing generation and investment in new generation.

Elsewhere among the 29 new documents is a warning that British consumers could lose protections when buying goods and services from the EU and added that enforcing UK court judgements in consumer rights cases would become “more difficult”.

"As the UK will no longer be a Member State, there may be an impact on the extent to which UK consumers are protected when buying goods and services in the remaining Member States," the document states.

"UK consumers will also no longer be able to use the UK courts effectively to seek redress from EU based traders, and if a UK court does make a judgement, the enforcement of that judgement will be more difficult as we will no longer be part of the EU."

'BARELY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE'

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said of the notices: “The Government’s no deal planning won’t reassure anyone.

“Ministers have barely scratched the surface of what would need to be done in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

“Despite all the so-called no deal planning, the Government has yet to admit that a no deal would require a raft of substantial legislation to be rushed through Parliament, crucial stop gap agreements with the EU on matters relating to Northern Ireland and security, and the recruitment of thousands of custom officials. None of this is going to be done or ready by March 2019.”

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Tony Lloyd, said access to the European market was key to “keeping prices low for consumers and ensuring security of supply for Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector”.

“For months now, the Labour Party has asked the Government to outline their plans for the future of the Single Electricity Market,” he said.

“How can the Government expect to attract and retain investment in Northern Ireland when they refuse to take the challenges ahead seriously?”

"The alternative to the SEM is retaining Northern Irelands outdated and environmentally damaging coal power stations.

Liberal Democrat MP and campaigner for pro-EU group Best for Britain Layla Moran said: “Layla Moran MP said: "Warnings of 34% bill increases and blackouts today were expunged and be replaced by 'effects' on consumers.

“But the truth, albeit hidden by civil service anodyne language is clear; a no deal Brexit could spark blackouts in Northern Ireland and higher bills for everyone else.

“We get so much from our power from Europe and this could be put at risk because of the government's mishandling.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said of the notices: "We have now published over 100 technical notices, giving individuals, businesses, public bodies and NGOs information and guidance in the unlikely event of no deal. 

“Securing a good deal with our EU partners remains our top priority. But, if the EU doesn't match the ambition and pragmatism we've showed, we have the plans in place to avoid, mitigate or manage the risk of no deal - and make a success of Brexit. "

Nicholas Mairs

Theresa May tells angry Tory MPs: I will not trap UK in permanent customs union with EU after Brexit

4 days ago
EU and UK flags
Theresa May is fighting a major rebellion in the Tory ranks over Brexit.

Theresa May has sought to reassure worried Tory MPs by insisting that the UK will not be permanently "trapped" in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

The Prime Minister is facing the threat of Cabinet resignations over fears that a "backstop" arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border will effectively keep the UK locked into the bloc's trading regime forever.

Senior ministers, including Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, expressed their concerns directly to Mrs May at a mini-Cabinet meeting on Thursday evening.

It is also understood that Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are considering their positions on the frontbench over the row.

In an attempt to calm tensions in the Conservative ranks, a Downing Street spokeswoman insisted any backstop deal would be "temporary".

However, she stopped short of saying that any agreement will continue a specific date for when it will come to an end.

She said: "When we published our plans in June for a UK-wide customs backstop, we were absolutely clear that the arrangement would be temporary and only in place until our future economic relationship was ready. Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.

"The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal that would trap the UK in a backstop permanently."

HAMMOND

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has risked a fresh Cabinet row by suggestion that a backstop arrangement is inevitable, despite Downing Street insisting it remains unlikely.

Speaking to Bloomberg, he said: "We are not going to remain in anything indefinitely, we are very clear this has to be a temporary period. But it is true that there needs to be a period probably following the transition period that we’ve negotiated before we enter into our long-term partnership, just because of the time it will take to implement the systems required.

"It is very important to us that business doesn’t have to make two sets of changes. That there will effectively be continuity from the current set up through the transition period into any temporary period and then a single set of changes when we move into our long-term new economic partnership with the European Union."

kevin.schofield

Tory-DUP tensions erupt over call for Theresa May to be dumped as Prime Minister

4 days 6 hours ago
Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson has suggested Theresa May should be replaced.

Tensions between the Conservatives and DUP burst into the open following suggestions that Theresa May could be replaced as Tory leader.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, said the Prime Minister could lose her job if his party carries out its threat not to support the Budget amid concerns over her Brexit strategy.

The DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up Mrs May's minority government, have said they could break their electoral pact with the Tories if any deal she does with Brussels leads to a border in the Irish Sea.

Asked by Sky News what could happen if his party votes against the Budget, Mr Wilson said: "That may lead to a different leader.

"But that's not a question for us, we're not members of the Conservative Party.

"That's up to the Conservative Party to decide whether there is someone else who can heal those wounds and take the party in a different direction, which would ensure that the agreement could stay in place."

But that prompted a backlash from former Conservative minister Nick Boles, who said his party's MPs "respond no better to threats than proud Ulster men or women do".

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster hinted that Cabinet ministers should be willing to quit their jobs over Brexit.

Speaking after meeting with senior officials in Brussels, she described the EU's plan of keeping Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc as "not the best of both worlds - that is the worst of one world".

She added: "The Prime Minister is a unionist. Many of her Cabinet colleagues have assured me of their unionism.

"Therefore, they could not in good conscience recommend a deal which places a trade barrier on United Kingdom businesses moving goods from one part of the Kingdom to another."

kevin.schofield

Theresa May facing threat of Cabinet resignations over Brexit customs plan

4 days 7 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May is under intense pressure to get a Brexit deal.

Theresa May faced a backlash from key members of her Cabinet over plans to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU indefinitely after Brexit.

Liam Fox, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab were among those who spoke out against the move at a heated meeting of senior ministers in Downing Street last night.

Speculation is also mounting that Brexiteer Cabinet members Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey, who were not invited to the meeting, are considering their positions over the row.

Brussels has said it wants Northern Ireland to stay in the EU customs union as a way of maintaining an open border with the Republic of Ireland, but that has been rejected by the UK over fears it would create a new frontier in the Irish Sea.

Mrs May has proposed keeping the whole of the UK in a customs union, but only for a time-limited period while a trade deal can be thrashed out.

At last night's meeting, the Prime Minister told her colleagues the EU is demanding that any such arrangement be time-limited, sparking a backlash from many of those round the table.

Government chief whip Julian Smith was later forced to appeal for Cabinet unity.

He said: "The Prime Minister and the Government are conducting a complex negotiation that is going well and we should be backing the Prime Minister, supporting her as everybody is."

Ms McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, yesterday refused to say she backed Mrs May's Brexit plan.

She would only say: "I am completely supportive of the Prime Minister, as she well knows. What I won't do is give speculation into what is going forward."

Her comments echoed those of Penny Mordaunt, who also refused to give the Prime Minister's blueprint her support earlier this week.

The latest row comes just days before Mrs May heads to Brussels for a crucial EU summit at which she hopes to agree a Brexit deal.

However, she admitted to Northern Irish journalists that the talks are likely to extend to a specially-convened meeting of EU leaders in November.

kevin.schofield

HMRC chief Jon Thompson reveals he received death threats over Brexit customs warning

4 days 21 hours ago
HMRC boss Jon Thompson
The HMRC chief said it had become "really really difficult" for officials to speak truth to power.

The head of HMRC received death threats after warning that a key customs plan backed by Brexiteers would cost firms £20bn a year, it has emerged.

Jon Thompson said police have launched an investigation into the sinister development, which happened after he gave evidence to a committee of MPs.

He told the Treasury Select Committee in May that the so-called "maximum facilitation" customs arrangement, which would rely on technological checks to maintain an open border in Ireland, would cost companies £350m a week.

Speaking at an event hosted by the the Institute for Government today, he said the first he knew his comments had caused a row was when his son texted to say he was trending on Twitter.

He said: "We have had to literally change how I travel and what my personal security is. We have had two death threats investigated by the Metropolitan Police for speaking truth unto power about Brexit."

Nicky Morgan - chair of the Treasury Committee to which Mr Thomspon gave the warning - told PoliticsHome it was "appalling that a public servant should be threatened for doing his job".

She added: "I am sure Mr Thompson considered what he said very carefully. As someone who has also been threatened it is deeply concerning that this is what Brexit seems to have done to public life."

Fellow committee member Wes Streeting, a Labour MP, meanwhile told this site the threats were "chilling".

"To see a public servant subjected to death threats for giving evidence to our committee in good faith is an affront to our democracy," he said.

Mr Streeting added: "It’s chilling. It’s time for decent people on all sides of the Brexit debate to unite against the poisonous elements on the fringes who seek to intimidate and threaten public figures.

"Newspaper editors also need to take a long hard look at themselves before publishing headlines and editorials demonising politicians, judges and civil servants as 'enemies of the people' and 'traitors' simply for offering their views.”

And Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake, speaking on behalf of the Best for Britain campaign, said: "The Brexit vote uncovered an ugly under-belly in British society - people who denounce as traitors those who don't support their Brexit views or set out the financial consequences of Brexit.

The MP warned: "Britain has a deserved reputation as a tolerant nation. The Brexit vote should not jeopardise this."

The HMRC chief had told PoliticsHome's sister site Civil Service World that he "didn't anticipate" the scale of the backlash to his warning.

"You know you’re in a [significant] moment because the question is a very powerful one and the answer is very stark,” he said.

"The first I knew it was significant was when my 28-year-old son text me with, ‘you’re trending on Twitter’. [I thought] 'oh, is that a good thing? I don’t know'."

He added: "I didn’t realise it would result in that, but I think it is absolutely incumbent on us to stick to the fundamental principles of the civil service, which is to give ministers the best advice that we can, and in a democracy minsters make the decisions.

"If what we are going to do is back away from that, for whatever reason, I don’t think that’s right. For me that is about personal integrity, and sometimes it is really really difficult – and it is tough with ministers – but it is the right thing to do."

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: "It is completely unacceptable for death threats to be made against anybody."

Matt Foster

EXCL Brexteers are trying to join the Tories to deselect pro-EU MPs, former Cabinet minister warns

4 days 21 hours ago
Nicky Morgan said it was “undoubtedly true” that people are seeking to gain membership of the Tory party with a view to ousting prominent Remain MPs
Nicky Morgan said it was “undoubtedly true” that people are seeking to gain membership of the Tory party with a view to ousting prominent Remain MPs

Brexiteers are trying to infiltrate the Conservative party in a bid to deselect pro-Remain MPs, Nicky Morgan has claimed.

The former Cabinet minister said it was “undoubtedly true” that people are seeking to gain membership of the Tory party with a view to ousting prominent pro-EU MPs from Parliament.

Speaking to The House magazine, Ms Morgan said party chair Brandon Lewis and CCHQ have “taken a stand” thanks to pressure from MPs “at risk” who have been prepared to “call this our very, very publicly”.

“There are undoubtedly people joining. What we’re finding is that Jeremy Corbyn is the greatest recruiting sergeant. A lot of people are joining more because of fear of a Labour government than for any other reason,” she said.

“But look, it’s undoubtedly true there are people trying to get into the party who would like nothing more than to deselect Conservatives like me.

“The good news is that actually there are lots of Conservatives – lots of people came up to me last week at our conference – who have said this is something that they would absolutely abhor.”

Her comments come after Sarah Wollaston, the pro-Remain MP for Totnes, urged the Tories to protect themselves against a 1930s-style “extreme takeover” after a pro-Brexit colleague called for her to be deselected.

The Health Committee chair told PoliticsHome it would be a “wake-up call” for the Tories if a “small number of entryists” managed to oust her from her Totnes seat. But she added: “Bring it on.”

She was responding to pro-Brexit MP Conor Burns, who called for an activist fined for breaching electoral campaign rules to replace Ms Wollaston in her Devon constituency.

‘IDEOLOGY TRUMPS EVERYTHING’

Meanwhile, Ms Morgan also railed against reports that Brexiteers could vote against the Budget in protest over the Government’s policy towards leaving the EU.

“Well, I’m afraid nothing surprises me. We’ve seen this over the years, motions in the Cameron government, threats to vote down the Queen’s speech or to amend it and all the rest of it. Again, it all goes to ‘ideology trumps everything’, which is not the way that the rest of the Conservative party sees it.”

She continued: “This is the problem I’m afraid with some of our hardest Brexiteers, which is it’s all about an ideology. That’s what makes me so angry about some of them who are perfectly – they are business people themselves, they understand how the economy works, they know the risks that we’re running…

“And yet, they put Brexit above everything else and their form of Brexit to the extent where they are willing to risk the Conservative party’s economic reputation. That’s where they’ll find an awful lot of members of the Conservative party and parliamentary party, they will push back on that.”

Ms Morgan also said it was “definitely possible” for the Tories to reunite in the future – but it must require comprise and “people have got to want to stay”.

“I knew right from July 2016 that Brexit would be about compromises. We can see the Government has finally got there, but the question is going to be whether the really hard Brexiteers are prepared to compromise,” she added.

Sebastian Whale

EXCL MPs demand Bank of England produce 'frank' analysis of Brexit before crunch Commons vote

4 days 22 hours ago
Mark Carney is Governor of the Bank of England
Mark Carney is Governor of the Bank of England

Senior MPs have called on the Bank of England to carry out "full and frank" analysis of the impact of Brexit before the Commons votes on Theresa May's final deal, it has emerged.

Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan has today written to Mark Carney calling on the central bank to spell out what leaving the EU will mean for "the economy, monetary policy and financial stability".

In a bid to ensure MPs go into the meaningful vote with their “eyes wide open”, the Tory former minister has asked the Bank of England Governor and the Financial Conduct Authority to analyse any deal Theresa May strikes with the EU as well as the impact of leaving the bloc without an agreement.

She has also asked them to set out what will happen to the UK economy if Britain fails to secure a trade agreement at the end of the two-year Brexit transition period.

The House magazine can reveal that Ms Morgan has demanded that the analysis is produced “in good time” before MPs are asked to vote on any deal the Prime Minister strikes with Brussels.

In her letter to Mr Carney, seen by The House, committee chair Ms Morgan wrote: “I am sure the Bank under your leadership will not demur from providing a full and frank assessment of the consequences of leaving the EU, under different scenarios, for the economy, monetary policy and financial stability.

“Accordingly, the committee does not intend to dictate how this work is presented; but I would note that a complete analysis of the economic effects, and the implications for monetary policy, may warrant alternative sets of forecasts for each scenario, and an assessment of the impact on prices in different parts of the CPI basket.”

And Ms Morgan has asked Mr Carney to provide public clarity on the briefing he gave to the Cabinet in September that said house prices would fall by a third in a no-deal scenario.

“Parliament must be provided with a full and frank assessment of the consequences of implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and future relationship with the EU before it comes to vote. Without such analysis, any vote cannot be considered meaningful,” Ms Morgan said.

“When negotiations between the Government and the European Commission have concluded, the Committee has asked the Bank and the FCA to publish its analysis in good time before any Parliamentary votes on the Withdrawal Agreement and future relationship.

“The Bank and the FCA should provide analysis of any deal agreed, and of a ‘no deal’ scenario, in the event of a breakdown in negotiations or a parliamentary vote against the Withdrawal Agreement. They should also consider providing analysis for the scenario in which the UK leaves the EU with no trade agreement at the end of a transition period.

“This analysis will ensure that Parliament’s decisions are based on the best possible evidence.”

The House also understands that the committee has appointed Prof Sir Stephen Nickell, a former member of the OBR spending watchdog's Budget Responsibility Committee, as a specialist adviser to work on its Brexit inquiry and scrutinise the Government’s projections.

‘EYES WIDE OPEN’

Speaking to The House magazine, Ms Morgan added: “We don’t know how much time we’re going to have after a deal is finalised before there’s a parliamentary vote.

“This is a critical decision that is going to define the UK’s place in the world for decades to come. This is a major change in our foreign policy and economic policy.

“The reason I don’t support a second referendum is I think it should be 650 representatives who have been elected who make the final decisions.

“But they’ve got to be informed and they’ve got to be briefed and they’ve got to know that they’ve got access to the numbers and to advice and everything else. I see our role in the Treasury Select Committee is to make sure that they get that.”

Brexiteers who are sceptical of Treasury and Bank of England forecasts are likely to be angered by the news.

Last month, ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg branded Mr Carney a "wailing banshee" whose warnings about Brexit cannot be taken seriously.

TREASURY

In a separate letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond, Ms Morgan requested that Treasury officials be allowed to engage with Prof Nickell as part of his work advising on the economic impact of the withdrawal agreement.

In July, MPs asked the Treasury to set out the impact of a Brexit deal on national income, income per head, household incomes, employment, exports and imports, the exchange rate and labour productivity, alongside a distributional analysis on the effect on households in each of 10 income bands.

Sebastian Whale

WATCH: Tory MP in angry clash with Chris Grayling over no-deal Brexit plan to turn M26 into 'parking lot'

5 days ago
Traffic on a UK motorway.
Tom Tugendhat said he had been assured no-deal Brexit works 'were not planned' for the motorway near his constituency.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has come under fire from a Conservative backbencher over plans to turn a motorway in his constituency into a “parking lot” if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.

In an angry Commons exchange, Tom Tugendhat revealed he only found out the work was taking place just hours before it began - having previously been assured it would not.

It was reported earlier this year that the motorway could be used as a holding area for lorries if delays build at Calais and Dover under a no-deal Brexit. Experts have warned that such a scenario would require a string of new checks at the UK border and could lead to major disruption for goods crossing the Channel.

Speaking at Transport Questions in the Commons, Tonbridge and Malling MP Mr Tugendhat said: “Will the Speaker agree with me that’s it’s come to a pretty pass when a member finds out that works have begun on a motorway to turn that motorway into a parking lot without consultation either with the local community or indeed with surrounding members?”

He added: “The M26 works started last night. I wrote to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in April asking whether or not this would happen.

“I was assured that works were not planned. And only yesterday was it confirmed to me that Highways England had said that that is exactly what is planned despite having told me the reverse only a week earlier.

“Would the Speaker agree with me and would he urge my Rt Hon Friend to explain to this House how this planning permission has been granted with no consultation?”

Mr Grayling said he was “very happy” to meet the Tory backbencher to “discuss” concerns about the Kent constituency.

But he insisted: “I have to say that I do not expect any of the contingencies that we have in place for a no-deal Brexit to be needed.”

Ministers have repeatedly said that they are working to avoid leaving the European Union without a deal. But the Road Haulage Association, which represents road transport operators, has said the implications of a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” and could turn Kent into “the UK’s biggest lorry park”.

Matt Foster

Nicky Morgan: “MPs have got to go into that final meaningful vote with their eyes wide open”

5 days 1 hour ago
Nicky Morgan
Nicky Morgan is chair of the Treasury Select Committee

Despite the hostilities of the past two years, Nicky Morgan believes it is “definitely possible” for the disparate wings of the Conservative party to unite – so long as MPs follows the Prime Minister’s lead in reaching for a compromise. And as she commissions analysis on the impact of Brexit, the Treasury Select Committee chair wants MPs to go into the meaningful vote with “their eyes wide open”. She talks to Sebastian Whale

Nicky Morgan grabbed her phone and searched for Sam Gyimah’s number upon reading the Conservative party conference special of The House. Rather than expressing her admiration for such an exquisitely cultivated magazine, the Loughborough MP wanted to congratulate her colleague on his punchy intervention.

The article in question saw Gyimah, the Universities Minister, warn that the Conservatives have “lost their way”. The Tories, he wrote, must reclaim their ‘party of business’ moniker – or risk suffering defeat to Jeremy Corbyn at the next election.

Many have felt compelled to speak out ever since Boris Johnson’s “f*** business” remark came careering into view earlier this year. Gyimah’s piece, which makes more than a passing reference to said comments, resonated with Morgan. “It was an important message to get across,” she wrote to the minister.

We meet on the first day back at Parliament since the conference recess. Morgan, who was an active figure on the fringes once more, believes that the Conservatives must be “critical friends to business”. “We are on businesses’ side, we are on the side of entrepreneurs, wealth creators and job creators. But that then gives us leverage to say to them, ‘hang on, this is not right’,” she tells me in her Portcullis House office.

“For the first year or so of this government’s life, businesses report that they found it very difficult to get their voices heard.”

Morgan has made she sure she has not suffered a similar fate since departing the Cabinet in July 2016. The former Education Secretary has found new life as chair of the Treasury Select Committee and vocal backbencher. A copy of the Daily Telegraph still stands proudly on the walls of her parliamentary abode. Far from shying away from her status as a supposed ‘Brexit mutineer’, the controversial front-page acts as a motivator for Morgan – a reminder of the “extraordinary times we live in” as she told me last year.

Previously talked up as a leadership contender, the Brexit debate has markedly changed the course of Morgan’s political career. As she said in Birmingham this month: “I think my position over the last two and a half years rules me out of being party leader ever.”

Her feelings of alienation came during the first iteration of Theresa May’s government and the approach it took to the negotiations. Wounded after losing ministerial jobs and galvanised to stop the march towards what they deemed to be a damaging hard Brexit, Morgan, Anna Soubry and others formed an unexpected new edition of the Tory Awkward Squad.

But in July of this year, Morgan saw light at the end of the tunnel. Up until then, the government was doing a “very good impression” of not listening to business, she argues. The Prime Minister’s plans for Brexit, casually referred to as Chequers, included plans to keep Britain in the single market for goods – a point of departure for a host of Brexiteer MPs (and a couple of Cabinet ministers to boot) but a positive signal for Morgan’s brigade.

“Chequers is a good basis,” she says, arguing that it recognises the need for integrated supply chains across Europe. However, its “silence” on the services sector is cause for concern. “Undoubtedly, it absolutely did unlock the negotiations, although obviously, Salzburg was very disappointing. But it did help to break some of the logjam.”

Morgan though wants the PM to gravitate more towards her position. “I’m Norway!” she declares, before confirming: “I’m not a Eurovision song contest entry”. “The Norway option would be a sensible place for us to end up. Access to the single market via EFTA, of which the UK is a founder member, and also you have to have alongside that a customs union in order to deal with the Northern Irish border issue,” she says. “We wait to see what happens in terms of the next eight weeks or so.”

Her rhetoric suggests Morgan is keeping an eye on what the Prime Minister returns with later this year. And her committee is determined to ensure that MPs are well briefed of the options on the table.

In June, her committee asked Philip Hammond, Bank of England governor Mark Carney and Andrew Bailey, the CEO of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to provide analysis on Brexit. She reveals to The House that she has now tasked the FCA and the Bank of England to produce analysis on the impact to the economy of the PM’s deal and “measure it against a no deal scenario and potentially also an EEA scenario”. Her committee will also appoint a special adviser, former OBR member Prof Sir Stephen Nickell, so they can probe the government’s numbers.

“This is a critical decision that is going to define the UK’s place in the world for decades to come. This is a major change in our foreign policy and economic policy,” she says.

“The reason I don’t support a second referendum is I think it should be 650 representatives who have been elected who make the final decisions. But they’ve got to be informed and they’ve got to be briefed and they’ve got to know that they’ve got access to the numbers and to advice and everything else. The Treasury Select Committee’s role is to make sure that they get that.”

Given the players involved – the Treasury, the Bank of England and the FCA – isn’t their analysis likely to invoke eurosceptic backlash?

“We want to have a broad spectrum. In terms of people who give evidence, obviously, it will be the government, the regulator, the Bank of England. But in terms of views, there will be a spectrum.

“We recognise that there are going to be different views on this. But the important thing is that MPs go into that final meaningful vote with their eyes wide open.”

---

It speaks volumes about what’s at stake this autumn that the Budget is not the major political event in the calendar. And Philip Hammond has his work cut out ahead of 29 October, with the direction of travel on Brexit far from resolved.

His task was made even more demanding after May announced an end to austerity in her party conference speech. Morgan, speaking like a well-tuned minister from the Cameron-Osborne era, says “we would call it living within our means”. The idea that there will suddenly be no spending controls is for the birds, Morgan suggests. “But it is a change of emphasis,” she says.

“What we now need to see is, in a way, the second phase if you like of the Conservative party’s economic plans for being in government. The Prime Minister touched on some of that and the Chancellor did as well in their conference speeches. The Budget provides another opportunity for the next step of that.”

Morgan recognises Hammond’s “very difficult” challenge in delivering a Budget when a Brexit deal is yet to be secured. While she says it’s not her role to second guess the Chancellor, she believes there are some non-EU related issues he could address on areas such as student loans, household finances, and “being ready to intervene in markets that aren’t working for consumers”. Hammond could also set out a direction of travel and outline support for the economy and businesses “over what inevitably, in terms of leaving the EU, is going to be a bumpy period”, she adds.

“Businesses are having to stockpile supplies, potentially do things differently, even find new supply chains. They are calling for there to be some sort of financial business support or understanding. That’s the kind of thing that I think the Chancellor hopefully could set a tone for in terms of giving people confidence, even if he can’t say with any certainty what the final deal is going to look like.”

Morgan argues the Treasury could be the mechanism through which the Tories reclaim their one nation conservatism agenda, by tackling areas such as the poverty premium (where the poor pay more for essential services) and savings.

“The question is going to be, how do we find a national voice on these sorts of issues? The Labour conference a week before ours has definitely concentrated some minds in my party about how these are things that we need to be explicit about addressing.”

The Sunday Times reported that eurosceptic Conservative MPs could vote down the Budget in a show of strength against the government’s Brexit plans. What does Morgan make of the rumours?

“Well, I’m afraid nothing surprises me. We’ve seen this over the years, motions in the Cameron government, threats to vote down the Queen’s speech or to amend it and all the rest of it. Again, it all goes to ‘ideology trumps everything’, which is not the way that the rest of the Conservative party sees it,” she says.

“This is the problem I’m afraid with some of our hardest Brexiteers, which is it’s all about an ideology. That’s what makes me so angry about some of them who are… are business people themselves, they understand how the economy works, they know the risks that we’re running, and yet they put Brexit – and their form of Brexit – above everything else, to the extent where they are willing to risk the Conservative party’s economic reputation. They’ll find that an awful lot of members of the Conservative party and parliamentary party, they will push back on that.”

Successive chancellors have placed great weight on unemployment figures and growth as a measure of underlying economic strength. But amid persistent problems of productivity and wage growth, are they really the best health checks for an economy? Morgan, whose committee has conducted a range of inquiries from cryptocurrencies through to household finances, says unemployment numbers are a good way of measuring organisations’ appetite for hiring – but concedes her party has sometimes been “really good at hiding behind the stats and the numbers”.

“When we came in in 2010, there was a real job to be done to stabilise the economy, to get borrowing under control, to bring back balanced spending and everything else. But inevitably the economy is not a static thing and it will change, and the demographics are changing,” she continues.

“When we talk about productivity up here, actually we’ve got to kind of relate it back to everyday life and everyday experiences. So, when we’re talking about stats like unemployment numbers, we’ve got to then think actually, what are we saying to people for whom actually that hasn’t been their story? I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re in the political situation we are, why people wanted to give the establishment a jolly good kicking in 2016.

“My worry about Brexit… is what’s happening in Brexit is not necessarily going to address those issues or frustrations people voiced in 2016.”

Like many of her colleagues across the House, Morgan has received abuse for her stance on Brexit. Is she concerned by entryism and threats of deselections in the Conservative party?

“There are undoubtedly people joining. What we’re finding is that Jeremy Corbyn is the greatest recruiting sergeant. A lot of people are joining more because of fear of a Labour government than for any other reason,” she says.

“But look, it’s undoubtedly true there are people trying to get into the party who would like nothing more than to deselect Conservatives like me. The good news is that actually there are lots of Conservatives – lots of people came up to me last week at our conference – who have said this is something that they would absolutely abhor.”

Amid this febrile political environment, has she ever felt the fight wasn’t worth it?

“There are certainly days when you’ve had to report things to the police, the day when I had to potentially go to Walsall magistrates court to give evidence against somebody who wanted me dead, those are days when you think, ‘actually, this isn’t quite what I signed up for’,” she replies.

“Recess is a great opportunity to go and talk to lots of groups in the constituency. When I talk about my job, I remind myself of all the great interesting things and the challenges. Certainly, the select committee has been absolutely fantastic and it’s been great to have that as something to really focus on productively in the last year.”

For all the bad blood of recent times, Morgan believes it is “definitely possible” for the mutineers and the Brexit hardliners to reconcile after Brexit – but it will require some conciliation and a cooling of language.

“People have got to want to stay. It’s going to require compromise. Brexit has always been about compromise on all sides. Before I came into politics, I’m a lawyer negotiating M&A deals and all the rest of it. I knew right from July 2016 that Brexit would be about compromises. We can see the government has finally got there, but the question is going to be whether the really hard Brexiteers are prepared to compromise.”  

Sebastian Whale
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47