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Philip Hammond urges next Tory leader to consider new referendum to break Brexit deadlock

10 hours 9 minutes ago
Philip Hammond
The Chancellor's warning will be seen as squarely aimed at Tory frontrunner Boris Johnson.

Philip Hammond is set to urge the next Prime Minister to consider holding a second referendum in a bid to break the deadlock over Brexit.

In a frank intervention, the Chancellor will call on whoever succeeds Theresa May to "explore other democratic mechanisms" to end the Parliamentary gridlock.

And he will reiterate his view that MPs will torpedo any attempt by the next Conservative to go for a no-deal Brexit - a move which he says risks the break-up of the United Kingdom as well as economic catastrophe.

His comments will be seen as squarely aimed at Tory frontrunner Boris Johnson, who has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union "deal or no deal" on 31 October.

Mr Hammond will tell an audience of bankers and journalists at Mansion House that he "cannot imagine a Conservative and Unionist-led Government, actively pursuing" a no-deal Brexit.

"I will not concede the very ground we stand on," he will warn.

"I will fight, and fight again, to remake the case for pragmatism and, yes, for compromise in our politics – to ensure an outcome that protects the Union and the prosperity of the United Kingdom."

The Chancellor will say that no Tory hopeful can escape a string of "immutable truths" over the next few months, including unchanging Parliamentary arithmetic, the European Union's refusal to reopen talks, and the work needed to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

He will add: "It may be that I’m wrong, and a new leader will persuade Parliament to accept the deal it has already rejected.

"Or that the European Union does a 180-degree U-turn and re-opens the Withdrawal Agreement.

"But if I’m not, if the deal the current PM has negotiated is, in fact, the best deal possible; and Parliament continues to reject both it and no deal, then the question to the candidates is not 'What is your plan?'; but 'What is your plan B?'."


Urging the Conservative candidates to "be honest with the public", Mr Hammond will call on the next Prime Minister to "address the difficult trade-offs inherent in delivering Brexit" - and say Britain "cannot allow ourselves to be forced to choose between our democracy and our prosperity".

In a clear hint that a second referendum may be needed, he will say: "If the new Prime Minister cannot end the deadlock in Parliament, then he will have to explore other democratic mechanisms to break the impasse.

"Because if he fails, his job will be on the line – and so, too, will the jobs and prosperity of millions of our fellow citizens."

Elsewhere the Chancellor will warn that the £26 billion set aside by the Treasury for a Brexit "deal dividend" at the Spring Statement would be wiped out under a no-deal Brexit - an outcome he says would leave the economy "permanently smaller".

"So, there is a choice: either we leave with no-deal or we preserve our future fiscal space – we cannot do both," he will say.

Mr Hammond has been increasingly vocal about the potential impacts of no-deal Brexit in recent months. In May he warned that leaving the EU without and agreement would represent a "hijacking" of the 2016 referendum result that would "knowingly" put the economy at risk.

And he has written to every Tory leadership candidate to urge them to publicly commit to he Government's existing budget rules, which vow to keep national debt falling every year and maintain the deficit at 2% of GDP through to 2021-22.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Labour MPs warn Jeremy Corbyn backing second referendum would be 'toxic' for party

23 hours 51 minutes ago
Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn campaigning during the 2016 referendum.

Labour MPs in Leave-backing areas have warned Jeremy Corbyn that backing a second EU referendum would be "toxic" for the party.

The comments came as the Shadow Cabinet once again put off a final decision on what Labour's Brexit policy should be.

Instead, Mr Corbyn said he wanted to hear the views of Labour MPs, trade unions and the general public before reaching a conclusion.

It was reported on Wednesday that Labour would wholeheartedly campaign for a second referendum on any Brexit deal passed by the Commons.

But in an open letter, the 26 MPs - including some frontbenchers - urged Mr Corbyn to reject that that idea and instead back any deal brought forward by the Government ahead of the 31 October Brexit deadline.

They said: "A commitment to a second referendum would be toxic to our bedrock Labour voters, driving a wedge between them and our party, jeopardising our role as a party of the whole nation, and giving the populist right an even greater platform in our heartlands.

"Labour has a vital role to play fighting for a Brexit for the many, not the few. But this is a battle best fought in stage two, after the UK has left.

"Rejecting any Brexit in the hope of securing a perfect deal risks the worst outcome - a no deal Brexit. This would further alienate many who backed Labour in 2017.

"We urge the party to put the national interest first, to back a deal before 31 October."

Speaking at the Shadow Cabinet meeting, Mr Corbyn repeated Labour's position that it respects the result of the 2016 referendum.

But he added: "I have already made the case, on the media and in Dublin, that it is now right to demand that any deal is put to a public vote. That is in line with our conference policy which agreed a public vote would be an option.

"A ballot paper would need to contain real choices for both leave and remain voters. This will of course depend on Parliament.

"I want to hear your views, I will be hearing trade union views next week, and then I want to set out our views to the public."

In a speech earlier this week, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson went much further by saying the party must campaign for Remain in any future referendum.

Further highlighting the party's splits on Europe, Rachel Maskell MP, of the 'Love Socialism Hate Brexit' group, said Labour must make its position clear before Theresa May's successor - widely expected to be Boris Johnson - is in Downing Street next month.

She said: "By late July, we will have an extreme right wing Tory Prime Minister, pursuing a hard Brexit that will wreck our communities and undermine our rights.

"As a party, we need to present a clear alternative to transform Britain and Europe, and we need to be energetic and enthusiastic about promoting it.

"Only a radical Labour message can keep us in Europe, and only by opposing Brexit can we be true to our values and set out a radical vision to transform the country. Our position must be crystal clear before Boris Johnson walks into Number 10."

Kevin Schofield

Nigel Farage says no-deal Brexit election pact with Boris Johnson would win a 'massive majority'

1 day 10 hours ago
Nigel Farage
The Brexit Party leader said "of course" he could work with Mr Johnson on a no-deal ticket.

Nigel Farage has opened the door to an election pact with Boris Johnson as he said there was a "deal to be done" with the Conservatives over a hard Brexit.

The Brexit Party leader said he could throw his support behind Mr Johnson if he had the "guts" to call an election aimed at taking the UK out of the European Union without a deal.

Mr Farage - whose newly-formed party came first in last month's European elections - has claimed in recent days that he has been approached by Conservative Party donors interested in forming an electoral pact.

But the former Ukip leader went further at a Telegraph Live event on Tuesday night, saying he would "of course" work with a new Conservative leader committed to a no-deal Brexit.

Asked whether he could form a pact with the Tories if Mr Johnson wins the party's leadership race, Mr Farage said: "If he has the guts to be prepared to be voted down by Parliament, to call an election on a clean Brexit, then I would suggest that... logically there is a deal that could be done, and in those circumstances Boris would come back with a massive, massive majority."

The Brexit Party leader added: "If he is prepared to be voted down and go to a general election on that ticket then with the support of people like me he would win a massive, thumping majority...

"If he was prepared to do that of course I’d want to work with them, of course I’d do that."

The Brexit Party - which is committed to taking the UK out of the European Union without a deal - gained 29 MEPs at last month's EU-wide elections, hoovering up 31% of the vote.

The Conservatives meanwhile slumped to fifth place, losing 15 MEPs and taking just 9% of votes cast.

Mr Johnson told Tory MPs earlier this month that the party faced "extinction" unless it delivered Brexit and put Mr Farage "back in his box".

And he said: "There is a very real choice between getting Brexit done and the potential extinction of this great party - but I believe I can take on Farage and win back the voters being won over by him."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Brexit Secretary urges EU to ring-fence citizens’ rights even under no-deal

1 day 23 hours ago
Stephen Barclay
Stephen Barclay has written to Michel Barnier a second time over plans to ring-fence citizens' rights

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has urged Michel Barnier to work together to ring-fence citizens’ rights even if there is a no-deal Brexit.

In a letter to the EU’s chief negotiator he says the UK is committed to passing a Withdrawal Agreement, but that both sides should make plans for “all scenarios”.

It is the second time he has written to his counterpart on this subject, after the Government agreed to adopt an amendment by Tory MP Alberto Costa to push for a guarantee on rights for UK citizens’ living in the EU and vice versa, whatever the outcome of the negotiations.

But Mr Barnier had previously dismissed the idea in his reply to the first letter, saying efforts should only be put into ratifying the deal, adding: “We should not be distracted from this essential objective.”

Rejecting the idea just to focus on citizens’ rights, he said it would be difficult to “carve out” the protections for expats without “the risk of unequal treatment of certain categories of citizen”.

And Mr Barclay has also come under fire from Mr Costa, whose parents are Italian citizens but have lived in the UK for 50 years, who said the Cabinet minister needed to do more than simply write two letters to Brussels.

He tabled an Urgent Question in the Commons today, and said: “It is inconceivable that a British Government—let alone a Conservative Government—could allow the rights of British nationals working, living or studying in the EU to vaporise overnight on 31 October.

“However, we find ourselves in a deeply unpalatable position in which our fellow citizens, and EU nationals resident in this country, have had their rights wrongly placed on the negotiating table.”

He called on the Government to set up a task force and “meet urgently with Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and other stakeholders in the EU to convey the unanimous will of this House”.


Mr Barclay's letter to Mr Barnier said they have both met with campaign groups British in Europe and the3Million, adding: “I am sure you agree that they make a persuasive case on the need to provide certainty to citizens in all scenarios.”

He added: “They are clear that this offers the greatest protection to UK national in the EU and to EU citizens in the UK, particularly in ay areas such as healthcare and pensions.”

He praised the EU for pushing the remaining 27 countries to outline protections for UK citizens in a no-deal situation, but said “there remain gaps in a number of areas and in a number of member states”.

He concluded: “I agree that our joint efforts should remain focused on making sure that we reach an agreement in order to secure an orderly departure for both the UK and the EU.

“However, I suggest that together our officials continue to work on how we best protect citizens’ rights in all scenarios.”

Speaking in the Commons the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Brexit, Tom Brake, hit out at the Tory leadership hopefuls who will not rule out leaving without a deal.

He said: “I find it hard to contain my anger at the charlatans and snake oil salesmen who will again tonight, on television, be claiming that no deal presents no difficulties; it might present no difficulties for them.”

A spokesman for the3Million told PoliticsHome: The letter shows that the UK Government has understood the need to safeguard our citizens' rights in case of no deal under the Article 50 procedure.

“The EU must act now, so we can get on with our lives and stop being the bargaining chips of the Brexit negotiations.”


Nigel Farage milkshake attacker pleads guilty to assault and criminal damage

2 days 4 hours ago
Nigel Farage with milkshake on his jacket
Nigel Farage pictured in Newcastle shortly after milkshake was thrown over him

A man has pleaded guilty to common assault and criminal damage after he threw a milkshake at Nigel Farage in Newcastle last month.

Paul Crowther was filmed walking up to and lobbing the banana and salted caramel drink at the Brexit Party leader as he campaigned in the city on 20 May, ahead of the EU elections.

The 32-year-old was promptly arrested and later charged by Northumbria Police.

According to the Independent, he told journalists immediately following the incident: “It’s a right of protest against people like him.

“The bile and the racism he spouts out in this country is far more damaging than a bit of milkshake to his front.”

A Gofundme page entitled "Get Paul Crowther his milkshake money back" was later set up and raised £1,705.

It came after other pro-Brexit figures including former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson and Ukip candidate Carl Benjamin were targeted in separate incidents.

Mr Farage later blamed the trend on anti-Brexit protesters, who he said had been emboldened by politicians who had failed to lead the UK out of the EU on time.

“Sadly some Remainers have become radicalised, to the extent that normal campaigning is becoming impossible,” he said in a tweet.

“For a civilised democracy to work you need the losers’ consent, politicians not accepting the referendum result have led us to this.”

Mr Crowther appeared at North Tyneside Magistrates Court on Tuesday, where he admitted the charges, which included criminal damage in relation to a microphone.

District Judge Bernard Begley said he will not be jailed, but must carry out unpaid work.

He adjourned sentence while the defendant was interviewed by the Probation Service.

Nicholas Mairs

Tom Watson says he fears ‘the Labour party is leaving me’ amid push for party to back second referendum

3 days 1 hour ago
Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn
Relations are strained between Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn.

Tom Watson has said he fears "Labour is leaving me" as he called on the party to campaign for Remain in a second EU referendum.

Labour's deputy leader also warned that the party would pay a "very high electoral price" if it did not commit to overturn Brexit.

Mr Watson has sought to pile pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to change the party's current policy, which is to push for a general election but also promise a referendum on any Brexit deal voted for by MPs.

Asked by the BBC if he consider quitting Labour if he fails, he said: "The Labour party is in me. I've been I've been a member since my 15th birthday, the first day I could join.

"I'm never gonna leave the Labour party. I mean sometimes I wonder whether the Labour party is leaving me. But no - I love the Labour Party, I love its members, and what I'm gonna do is campaign for the issues that I feel very strongly about and in politics you win some, you lose some."

In response to Mr Watson' speech, Labour chairman Ian Lavery tweeted his opposition to any attempts to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum.

He said: "Brexit has turned this country into a toxic nation. However ignoring the 17.4m Leave voters isn’t politically smart nor indeed particularly democratic. Is it?"

Mr Watson acknowledged Labiour “certainly might lose some votes” if they change position, but he added: “There will be a very high electoral price to pay if Labour doesn't have a clear position whether it's for Remain or for Leave.”

He added: “We don't question people's motive. My motive is that it is the best interest of the country, best interest of millions of Labour supporters and workers. So please question my motive.

“You may disagree with me fundamentally and I respect that. I think for the Labour party having knocked on doors up and down the country in the local and European elections, having spoken to many thousands of Labour voters, many of whom are lifelong Labour party members who told me they were voting for the parties at the election because of the lack of clarity on our position.

“I think the electorally smart thing to do is to listen to our members.”


Mr Watson said he had “no doubt” Labour’s position will change at the party's conference in September, but said he feared “by then it will be too late”.

“Look I'm not I'm not saying this is the only way through”, he added. “It's my view it's the likely way through.

"You know I've been in politics a long time, I've been in Parliament nearly 20 years, I've never seen such low morale I've never seen such division and I think on current parliamentary arithmetic no matter how hard people try, and they have tried, we’re just not going to find a solution, a deal, a compromise, that enjoys a majority in the House of Commons - not just in triggering the legislation but in the whole of the process.

“And in those circumstances the Labour Party was right; you either resolve it at a general election where a new government can come into place, you can end up with a working majority although of course you might end up with more stasis, or you can have a very clear agreed process to make the agreement around a people's vote.”


Dominic Raab warns Tories are 'toast' if they miss October Brexit deadline

4 days 4 hours ago
Dominic Raab
The former Brexit Secretary said there was already a sense of "outrage" among voters that Brexit had not been delivered yet.

The Conservative party will be "toast" if the Government fails to take Britain out of the European Union by 31 October, leadership hopeful Dominic Raab has warned.

The former Brexit Secretary - who won the backing of 27 MPs in the first ballot on who should succeed Theresa May - urged his party to "wake up" following a torrid set of election results in the wake of two delays to Britain's EU exit.

The party placed behind the newly-formed Brexit Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour in last month's European elections, and also placed behind Nigel Farage's new outfit in the recent Peterborough by-election.

Speaking to Sky News' Sophy Ridge, Mr Raab warned about the "corrosion of public trust" now facing the Conservatives.

"The Tory party will be toast unless we’re out by the end of October," he said.

Mr Raab added: "People need to wake up to this. We’ve seen from the Peterborough by-election, we’ve seen from the European elections - not just the frustration, the outrage... the scandal that people feel that we haven't kept our promise on Brexit."

And he warned: "I certainly think the Conservatives cannot win an election unless we've delivered Brexit."

The ex-Brexit Seretary's warning came as fellow candidate Jeremy Hunt - who placed second to Boris Johnson in this week's Tory leadership ballot - refused to rule out a further delay to Brexit if he wins the race.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Hunt said that while it was "not impossible" to leave the EU before 31 October, it would be "difficult" to hit that deadline.

He said: "I'm not committing to a 31 October hard-stop, at-any-cost because I don't think you can make that guarantee.

"And if you do make that guarantee and if you go with the wrong approach... then you are committing us to nothing other than a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit."

Meanwhile Mr Raab also sought to defend a widely-criticised vow to prorogue Parliament as part of a a last-ditch effort to avoid MPs stopping a no-deal Brexit in October.

The idea was branded "ridiculous" by Cabinet minister Amber Rudd on Sunday.

But the former Brexit Secretary said: "I don’t think it was something we would want to do and I think it is very unlikely.

"But what is really scandalous is the way people have been trying to sabotage the will of the people and break their promises left, right and centre to get us out of the EU."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

WATCH: Jeremy Hunt refuses to commit to Brexit by end of 2019 as he blasts 'at-any-cost' Boris Johnson

4 days 4 hours ago
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt
Mr Hunt (right) sought to contrast himself with the "hard-stop, at-any-cost" Brexit plan offered by Mr Johnson (left).

Jeremy Hunt has refused to commit to leaving the European Union by the end of the year if he becomes prime minister - as he accused Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson of an "at-any-cost" approach to Brexit.

The Foreign Secretary - who came second to Mr Johnson in the first Conservative ballot of MPs - said he would not commit to a "31 October hard-stop-at-any-cost" Brexit if he wins the race to succeed Theresa May.

But he refused to put a timeframe on any further Brexit delay, saying no candidate could "sensibly answer" the question of how long might be needed to secure changes to the deal struck with the EU.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Hunt said that while it was "not impossible" to leave the EU before 31 October, it would be "difficult" to hit that deadline.

He said: "I'm not committing to a 31 October hard-stop, at-any-cost because I don't think you can make that guarantee.

"And if you do make that guarantee and if you go with the wrong approach... then you are committing us to nothing other than a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit."



The Foreign Secretary was asked whether he could definitively commit to Britain being out of the EU by the end of 2019.

He said:  "Look - a wise Prime Minister makes choices on the basis of the choices that are actually in front of them.

"Now, by the time we actually get to 31 October we may have Parliament having changed the law, in particular ways. We may have a new European Commission. We may have made very good progress in the negotiations...

"I've been very clear... If there is no prospect of getting a deal that can get through Parliament on 31st October then I will be prepared to leave without a deal.

"Because in the end the risk of no Brexit, the democratic risk is far worse than the risk of no-deal... But if there is a prospect of a deal then - how can anyone sensibly answer that question when you don't know the context? And I'm not going to sit here and make promises."

And he added: "You can't answer that question until you know the choices you face.

"You're asking me to predict what the world will look like on 31 October. And you must know... that that is a ridiculous thing to ask a prime minister or somebody who wants to be prime minister to decide when you don't know what choices there are."

However, Mr Hunt said it would be "completely unacceptable" for Britain to still be in the EU in time for the next general election, which is currently scheduled for 2022.

And in a dig at his rival Mr Johnson, who has pledged to leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October, the Foreign Secretary vowed that he would not "create a set of circumstances that makes it all-but impossible to get a deal".


Mr Hunt also denied that his own approach to Brexit - aiming to once again push the European Union for changes to the backstop plan to avoid a hard between Ireland and Northern Ireland - represented a repeat of Theresa May's doomed attempts to pass an EU deal.

"Continuity is not the same as loyalty," he said.

"I am proud to have been loyal to two Prime Ministers... And with my background as a negotiator I have profound issues with Theresa May's approach, which I argued privately in Cabinet.

"I did not think that we should be trying to persuade Parliament to accept the backstop. But of course she made that decision and I supported that loyalty. This is a different approach.

"This is saying we have to change the backstop and we have to leave the European Union if we possibly can in an orderly way. And I believe that I'm the person who can do that."

The intervention came before the first televised head-to-head debate between every Tory leadership candidate except Boris Johnson, who is ducking the Sunday night Channel 4 showdown.

Mr Hunt scooped up the support of 43 MPs in Tory ballot to choose a new leader, while Mr Johnson led the pack with 114 votes.

A second ballot will take place on Tuesday, with hopefuls needing the support of 33 MPs to avoid being eliminated.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

EU negotiators 'expect Boris Johnson to break Brexit pledge' if he becomes PM

5 days 8 hours ago
Senior EU officials reportedly believe the UK will have to seek an extension on Brexit regardless of who replaces Theresa May as Prime Minister.

European Union negotiators reportedly expect to see Boris Johnson as the next Prime Minister - but think he will U-turn on his promise to take the UK out of the EU by October 31.

According to The Times and the Daily Mail, Brussels figures believe that whoever wins the Conservative leadership race will agree to an extension to the UK’s departure from the EU.

EU planning is based on the assumption that the risk of a no confidence vote by MPs means Mr Johnson will not force through a no-deal exit if efforts to renegotiate Theresa May's Brexit deal flounder, the Daily Mail reporrts.

Meanwhile The Times reports that senior officials, including those in contact with UK counterparts, believe Mr Johnson will “give a serious try to getting a new deal”, as he has pledged, but that this will require an extension.

Timetabling issues are widely expected to mean that formal negotiations will not reopen until October, leaving just a few weeks for Theresa May’s replacement to draw up a new deal or seek to push back the deadline. 

A senior official told The Times: “Even the boldest prime minister for a no-deal will have to demonstrate he has had one serious try and that means an extension.

“Johnson will want to last more than ten days in power so will need to try getting it over the line. He, or whoever it is, will not be able to hide the need for an extension.”

Meanwhile a senior source told the Mail that some in Brussels believe Mr Johnson will try to sell an amended version of the outgoing PM’s deal.

“A lot of people are scared about Boris, but I don't think he is the worst of all. 

“I think Boris can sell things back home that Theresa May probably couldn't.

“If people really brief Boris and talk him through the implications of No Deal, I think he will really think twice.”

Five of the remaining six contenders for the Tory leadership have not ruled out pursuing a no-deal Brexit.

Commons votes have consistently indicated that MPs are overwhelmingly against pursuing such a path, although moves to block it off have failed.

Mr Johnson’s current main rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has countenanced the idea but has warned it could lead to a confidence vote and a possible election.

Mr Johnson has refused to rule out suspending parliament to force through a no-deal exit, but Commons speaker John Bercow is widely expected to try and block any attempt to bypass MPs on the issue.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Philip Hammond in swipe at Boris Johnson as he says he would not serve in no-deal Brexit Cabinet

6 days 4 hours ago
Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond
Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond.

Philip Hammond has taken a veiled swipe at Conservative leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson, as he confirmed he would “not be able to serve” under a Prime Minister pushing for Britain to leave the EU without a deal.

Arriving at a summit of European finance ministers in Luxembourg, the Chancellor also hit out at Mr Johnson's suggestion that the UK could withhold the £39bn due as part of the Brexit divorce bill if he becomes Tory leader.

Asked whether he could serve in a Cabinet led by Boris Johnson, Mr Hammond said: “I don’t think this is about personalities, it’s about policies.

“Before I could serve in any government I would want to look at the policies that the Prime Minister was setting out.

“I would not be able to serve in any government that had as its policy leaving the European Union without a deal.”

Mr Johnson - who this week won the backing of 114 Conservative MPs in the party’s first leadership ballot - has vowed to take the UK out of the EU “deal or no deal” at the end of October if he becomes Prime Minister.

“It is only by preparing for and raising awareness of no-deal that we can ensure that we do not resort to that option,” he said at his campaign launch this week.

The former Foreign Secretary has also suggested that he could withhold Britain’s £39bn divorce payment from the EU unless the bloc agrees to reopen the withdrawal agreement and renegotiate the Brexit deal thrashed out by Theresa May.

But Mr Hammond warned: “We’ve always said that the UK is a country which honours its obligations.”

And the Chancellor added: “At least part of the sum which was agreed to be paid is part of our obligations under the existing [EU budget] so I would not recommend any of my colleagues to threaten to withhold payments which are part of an existing obligation that the UK has.”

Mr Johnson’s claim that he could use the £39bn to extract concessions from the EU has already been given a frosty reception by Emmanuel Macron.

A source close to the French president said this week: "Not honouring your payment obligations is a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known.”

Meanwhile the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the plan would ”not only hurt the UK's credibility as an international partner” but “contradicts what almost every lawyer in the UK thinks about it”.

Mr Hammond’s latest intervention came after he urged Tory leadership candidates to public commit to the Government’s existing budget rules or risk the party’s "hard-won" reputation for fiscal competence.

In an open letter, he wrote: "If we do not commit to getting our debt down after a nine-year run of uninterrupted economic growth, how can we demonstrate a dividing line between the fiscal responsibility of our party and the reckless promises of John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn?”

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

John Major: Plan to shut down Parliament to force through Brexit is 'gold-plated hypocrisy'

6 days 10 hours ago
John Major
Sir John Major hit out at Tory leadership hopefuls considering "proroguing" Parliament

John Major has accused Tory leadership contenders threatening to shut down Parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit of "gold-plated hypocrisy". 

The former Prime Minister said the idea of "proroguing" - which has been floated by Dominic Raab as a way of ensuring Brexit happens on 31 October - was "fundamentally unconstitutional".

Boris Johnson, the frontrunner in the race to take over Theresa May next month, has also stopped short of using the extraordinary measure.

Speaking at Chatham House, Sir John said: “I don’t think anybody who proposes that, or even let it flit through their mind for a second, has any understanding of what Parliament is about, what sovereignty is about, what leadership is about, or what the UK is about and the sooner the House of Commons stamps on the idea absolutely, comprehensibly and forever, the better.”

He said Britain was entering “very dangerous territory” if candidates for PM were considering the option on the basis that Parliament "may take a different view from a particular faction in the House of Commons".

The Tory grandee added: “When you look back at British history, you cannot image Disraeli, Gladstone, Churchill or Thatcher, even in their most difficult period, saying ‘let us put Parliament aside while I carry through this difficult policy’…

“It is fundamentally unconstitutional … and to hear that argument come from the people who in the Brexit debate talked about parliamentary sovereignty being at stake, it is not just fundamentally distasteful, it is hypocrisy on a gold-plated standard.”

Mr Johnson insisted that the UK would be out of the EU by the deadline "deal or no deal" when he launched his pitch to be the next Tory leader on Wednesday.

But asked if he believed the next Prime Minister could carry out Brexit by that deadline, Sir John: "Those people who are suggesting that it can be done have their fingers crossed behind their back, whistling gently into the wind and hoping for some miracle where it might be possible.”

His intervention came on the same day that leadership hopeful Rory Stewart said that he would hold his own session of Parliament outside Westminster to "bring down" any Tory government which attempted to block MPs from the Brexit process.

When asked about Mr Johnson specifically, he told Sky News: “I guarantee you, if he were to try, I and every other member of Parliament will sit across the road in Methodist Central Hall and we will hold our own session of Parliament and we will bring him down,” he said.

“Because you do not, ever, lock the doors of Parliament in this country or indeed in any other country with any respect in the world.”

Meanwhile Ken Clarke, a key figure in Sir John’s Cabinet in the 1990s, suggested he could quit the party if any Tory Prime Minister tried to shut down Parliament.

He told the BBC: "The party would leave me, I think. For 60 years I’ve been a mainstream Conservative, it’s been a broad party but my own views have coincided with the broad body of what I thought were extremely good Conservative policies…

"I will always regard myself as a conservative but there’s a limit to the factions of the Conservative Party that I’m prepared to be associated with."

Nicholas Mairs

‘It’s deadly serious’: The War on the BBC

6 days 16 hours ago
The BBC has come under fire from across the political spectrum since the EU referendum in 2016
The BBC has faced criticism from across the political divide

Over the past three years, the BBC has faced accusations of bias from all sides of the Brexit and political debate. Does this mean the corporation is doing something right? Or is bashing the Beeb simply more politically useful now? Sebastian Whale investigates

In the early afternoon of Sunday 12 May 2019, Nigel Farage, still feeling agitated, went on Twitter. “We are not just fighting the political class, but the BBC too,” he told his more than 1.3 million followers. Earlier, he had called the BBC the “enemy”.

The Brexit party leader had just appeared on The Andrew Marr show, the BBC’s flagship Sunday political programme. Midway through the European election campaign, he had been pressed by Marr on his past views on gun control and foreigners with HIV accessing the NHS. “What is wrong with the BBC?” Farage responded, waving his arms in an exasperated fashion. “This is absolutely ludicrous. I’ve never in my life seen a more ridiculous interview than this.” His subsequent post on social media, which received 10,000 retweets, included a clip of the exchange.

Watching on was Richard Corbett, the leader of the Labour party in the European Parliament, who was incredulous that Farage had recently appeared on both Marr and BBC Question Time. After accusing the BBC of “blatant bias”, he tweeted: “Who in the BBC is deciding to give such favourable treatment and priceless pre-election publicity to him?” Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former head of communications and a member of the People’s Vote campaign, responded, “someone very high up in the Beeb is very very pro Farage [sic]”.

While attacks on Auntie Beeb are nothing new, the corporation is facing broadsides from across the political spectrum. “You sort of expected it from Farage and the right because they’ve always had an ideological interest in destroying the BBC because a lot of them don’t believe in it. That’s fine, it’s fair enough – it’s what they think,” says a BBC source. “But when you have the rest of them on the other side becoming as conspiracy-theory minded and hysterical, it’s alarming. We’re just getting it from everybody and this stuff might be getting some traction with people. It’s deadly serious.”

So, if all sides are taking issue, does that illustrate that the BBC must, therefore, be doing something right in its pursuit of impartiality? Are the attacks – their nature, purpose and cut through – something we haven’t seen before? And how can the corporation defend itself without putting itself at risk of more accusations of bias?

I’ve spoken to senior figures from inside the BBC and the major political parties to try and answer these questions.


Returning from relative obscurity after quitting frontline politics in 2016, Farage’s new party is a more professional beast. Promising the end of “mister nice guy”, it seemed he had acquired a few skills from his new friend, Donald Trump, on how to deal with media outlets you deem to be hostile – denigrate them.

The Farage interview on Marr split opinion. A Brexit party source describes it as “idiotic” and “Class A silliness”. Tory MP John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, has “quite a lot of sympathy” with the former Ukip man over the “irrelevant” questioning. “He was entitled to complain,” he tells me. Others quickly defended Marr’s right to ask tough questions of a man whose party was leading in the polls. A senior BBC source says: “Some said we shouldn’t platform him – we don’t platform people, we interview them.”

Though Farage has long attacked the BBC, a Brexit party official claims the pivot to a more combative approach is of the corporation’s own making. “We’ve tried to be reasonable and that doesn’t work. So, this time we thought well, alright, let’s try going at them a bit.”

An official close to Farage argues it took for the former Ukip man to call Herman Van Rompuy a “damp rag” back in 2010 before the media paid him any interest. “He makes one speech taking the piss and suddenly he’s a global phenomenon. Now, that is learnt behaviour, and where we learnt from was the media’s response. ‘Don’t be serious, don’t be respectful, we don’t give a shit if you do that’... Well, if that’s what the press is going to report, that’s what we’re going to have to provide.”

The Brexit party won last month’s European elections, securing 29 seats and 31.6% of the vote. Sources in the party argue that the BBC’s approach since then has improved, with Brexit MEPs featuring on BBC political shows. When asked how the party would interact with the BBC going forward, a senior figure said, “depends how they behave”. “We’re no great fans. You’ve got to remember, our problem with the BBC isn’t just news coverage. Its light entertainment is universally Remain... The news is actually the best bit, which given how one-sided the news can be is an astonishing thing.”

A senior BBC source casts doubt on Farage gaining much traction with the public if he pushes to abandon the licence fee (a move he threatened in the week after the Marr interview). “No more Strictly, no more Bodyguard, no more Line of Duty, no more of all these things that most people regard as being pretty fantastic things about their culture and country. I think he’ll run out of road at the end if he tries to do that. The BBC has got to start making that argument, fighting back,” they say.


Criticism of the BBC is by no means the preserve of the Eurosceptic right. According to Today programme presenter Nick Robinson, David Cameron once threatened to “close down” the BBC. The left has also become more vocal following the election of Jeremy Corbyn, as have Remain voters in the wake of the EU referendum.

One figure to continually go after the Beeb is Labour peer Andrew Adonis, whose transformation from straight-laced infrastructure tsar to anti-establishment Remainer caught many unawares. The former minister, who uses the moniker “Brexit Broadcasting Corporation”, has accused the organisation of being largely responsible for Brexit and Farage’s political success.

A BBC journalist tells me that prominent campaigners often privately praise the BBC for doing its job while admitting that publicly saying the opposite suits their cause. The BBC has become the repository for many people’s Brexit angst, another source tells me. “The Remain side, they lost, and they’re pissed off. And so, they obviously can attack the winning side, and they do, and that’s fair enough. But they want something else to blame,” they say, adding that Remainers probably “assumed even though we’re supposed to be impartial, we might be on their side”. “Of course, the others think we did and do our bit for Remain.”

Rarely have people paid as much attention to the composition of BBC panels. Studious observers will comment on the number of voices from their side of the political debate. Political blog Guido Fawkes reported that 72 % of guests on Question Time, Politics Live and Any Questions between September and October last year supported Remain. Whittingdale, a Brexiter, notes it is “exceptionally difficult” for the Beeb to navigate this tightrope, but says the corporation might need to adapt going forward.

“I do think the BBC perhaps needs to have further thought about it on the basis that – it’s not their fault – but this argument [Brexit] is going to go on for a very long time. The strength of opinion on both sides – people get very angry. On the one hand, you’ve got a lot of Brexit supporters who think the BBC is clearly biased and very unbalanced, then you’ve got Andrew Adonis on the other side who calls it the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation, on what possible basis I have no idea.”

A senior BBC source says that Remain and Leave voices have an expectation of balance that is based “in a world that’s forever 23 June 2016”. “Actually, you can’t do that because it’s a nuanced thing,” they add, pointing to myriad of different views on how to approach Brexit. “To have stuck to 2016 would have been completely failing the audience and would have meant you just had those extremes.”

Katy Searle has been the head of BBC Westminster and editor of political newsgathering since before the Scottish referendum. She tells me that all editors make “sensible and carefully monitored decisions on how you cast programmes”, based on considerations such as political leanings, Brexit inclinations and gender balance.

Like with Farage, the BBC can often come under flak for its choice of guests, including Ben Shapiro, the American conservative political commentator, who appeared on Politics Live last month. But multiple sources reject the notion of the BBC platforming any guest, which would imply that they had space to deliver their views without being held to account. Shapiro walked out of the interview with Andrew Neil due to his line of questioning.


The election of Jeremy Corbyn brought with it more open censure of the BBC from the left. The veteran left-winger has been critical of the BBC’s coverage of his leadership, and the party has had many run-ins with the corporation. Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, who had to have security protection at last year’s Labour party conference, has been a particular target for many of his supporters.

Speaking to Vice News in 2016, Corbyn claimed the BBC was “obsessed” with damaging his leadership. “There is not one story on any election anywhere in the UK that the BBC will not spin into a problem for me,” he said.

In March last year, the BBC strongly denied accusations that Newsnight had altered an image of Corbyn wearing a hat during a debate on the Salisbury nerve agent attack. The row revealed many of the tensions that had built up between the BBC and the left. Guardian journalist Owen Jones accused Newsnight of seeking to portray Corbyn as a “Soviet stooge”.

Labour, like the Brexit party, is particularly critical of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which a party source describes as “out of date” and “elitist”. While keen to stress that the BBC is not a “monolith”, but instead comprised of numerous teams and programmes at both a regional and national level, the Labour leadership believe they get a fairer ride from ITV and Sky than the BBC “as a whole” (though there has been an increase in coverage of Labour policy announcements recently, a source says).

One Labour source questions how much broadcasters are led by the direction set by national newspapers. “The transmission network of highly-partisan attacks from billionaire-owned right-wing newspapers into the general broadcast bloodstream, that’s a constant concern for us.”

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South since 2015, is a former BBC journalist. He also fears that cuts have led to an over-reliance on the narrative established by newspapers. “When you reduce resources in the BBC, it means that the BBC becomes ever increasingly dependent on having the agenda set by what is now a very narrowly owned press media.” BBC journalists point out how often papers carry stories or interviews first reported by the corporation.

Compared to recent party leaders, Corbyn has been more forthright with his views on the BBC. One BBC journalist notes that while Ed Miliband would call out abuse of journalists, his successor has often had more of a “willingness” and perhaps motivation “to go along with it”. Searle, who fields calls from political parties (more often than not with complaints) from 6am sometimes through to 11 at night, says senior political figures have always been outspoken about the BBC.

Branding the corporation “opaque”, Lewis wants licence fee payers to have more of a say over “the editorial decisions the BBC makes”, and for the Beeb to become “more democratically accountable” to its staff and the public. Questioning senior BBC executives’ decision to sign up to George Osborne’s funding cuts, he says: “Sometimes it really felt that it was lions led by donkeys. The journalists were doing the best that they could... It was turkeys voting for Christmas. Management were summoned by government and they actually made the cuts before they went into the office with them.” On Tuesday, the BBC announced it was ending free TV licences for over-75s (only those who claim pension credit will eligible from June 2020), allowing the organisation to avoid £500m in cuts.

Lewis, who is a supporter of a second EU referendum, says people want to have oversight over how editorial decisions are reached. “If the editorial policies are transparent and you know that executives aren’t being summoned into the government and told this is how it’s going to go, if the funding of the BBC is transparent… then people can have more confidence and faith in the editorial decisions that are being made,” he argues. In August, Corbyn called for BBC directors to be elected.

A senior BBC journalist insists, “no one from the BBC would shy away from being accountable” and says the BBC “could make editorial decisions more transparent”. “There is a case for being more responsive,” they add.


Social media, which has become a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about the organisation’s political leanings, has given new life to attacks against the BBC. Recent political appointments have only added to this frenzy.

Prominent BBC journalist Robbie Gibb became Director of Communication at No 10 after the 2017 election. The former head of live political programmes at the BBC joined Sir Craig Oliver, who worked as David Cameron’s top spinner, in moving from Auntie Beeb to working for a Conservative prime minister.

Lewis says there are “concerns” about senior BBC figures and “where they’ve ended up”. “There’s a disproportionate number of them that end up in the Conservative party machine,” he says. Whittingdale disagrees, however, arguing that what people do after leaving the BBC is “entirely up to them”. “I have much more problem with, for instance, BBC employees expressing highly political views. I have made several complaints about that,” he tells me, revealing that he has raised concerns over Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker’s conduct on Twitter. He has also taken issue with Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis’ Twitter feed.

Lewis also harbours concerns about the lack of diversity among the “broad thrust” of people who end up in top jobs in the BBC. “It’s little wonder that you have a limited number and faith in confidence in that top team if they all tend to be relatively affluent, white male backgrounds,” he says. “BBC diversity – and I don’t just mean black and ethnic minority diversity – but diversity in terms of class and background is quite narrow.”

Commenting on members of the lobby – the group of journalists that work in Westminster – joining the Government, a Labour source said: “You turn it around and think we could have a general election soon and we are going to get in, how many people that work in the lobby can you imagine working in our administration? That’s a broader problem with the unspoken both political and almost cultural biases within political journalism as a whole.”

Social media makes it harder for the BBC to defend itself against false accusations, which can reach many users across different platforms. “There is a casualisation of making links that don’t exist,” a senior journalist tells me of theories that do the rounds. This is the new dynamic the BBC is dealing with. “Shooting the messenger is a 1,000-year-old strategy.” These days, the major difference is that the message is “disseminated online”, they add.

Katy Searle explains: “The noise on social media has got louder since the referendum result and then increasingly in the last three years. There has been a huge amount of criticism. That can be quite difficult because it is hard to make a decision about how you engage with that.”

The BBC has taken to rebutting false tweets via accounts such as the BBC News Press Team and BBC Politics. The calculation over whether to get involved is complex, however. A senior BBC source says: “It’s really hard because we are serious about impartiality. We do not want to be dragged into the political debate, but if we start refuting stuff and arguing the toss then quite quickly you end up being pulled into it even more than we are.”

Searle says: “If you engage with it the danger is particularly on social media that it gets more currency… It has a butterfly effect; more and more people see it. As a corporation, what we do is try and, again, think about when it’s right to get involved and we tend to do it through the press office rather than individuals.”

One senior source says that the current rhetoric towards the BBC is the most hostile it has been for more than 15 years. “The only period that was comparable was around the Iraq War. That was incredibly personal and passionate and vicious. But we didn’t have Twitter then.”

Searle argues that the pressure on the BBC has remained constant since the EU referendum, rather than go through any recent spike. That said, with journalists across the pond often being berated as a result of the media approach adopted by the US president, Searle believes political leaders should act to preserve journalists’ rights to ask the tough questions.

“Political parties need to respect the role of the media. Mostly they do,” she says. “I just think it’s important that if that happens, then we talk or we have a conversation in the background and have conversations about lowering that temperature because most if not all politicians expect and respect an independent media in this country.”

When asked if they would like political leaders to call out abuse, a senior BBC source says: “There’s probably a yearning out there for some kind of coming together. That has to be decided upon by the next prime minister. Whether that’ll take hold or whether that will work in the circumstances, it would be hard to know. It would be nice to have some civility back.” 

Sebastian Whale

WATCH: Sajid Javid says Boris Johnson is 'yesterday's news' in bid to be next Tory leader

1 week ago
Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid launching his Tory leadership campaign.

Sajid Javid has accused Boris Johnson of being “yesterday’s news” as he launched his bid to become the next Prime Minister.

The Home Secretary launched a blistering attack on his Tory leadership rival as he branded himself the “change candidate” the Tory party and the country needs in charge.

Mr Javid said "Westminster insiders" like the former Foreign Secretary would fail to win back a new generation of voters who have deserted the Conservatives.

And he insisted he was the only leadership hopeful with "a credible and honest plan for delivering Brexit by the end of October".

"I think I’m the change candidate,” Mr Javid said. "Boris Johnson is yesterday’s news in that he’s been around for a while. He’s achieved a lot and he’s still got a big role to play.

"But I think if we are trying to connect with the next generation and move forward as a country then I think it’s time for the next generation with a bold new agenda and what I can do in terms of the policy is I can articulate those policies."



The frontbencher, currently trailing behind Mr Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove in the race to succeed Theresa May, said that as the child of immigrants who grew up living above his parents' shop in Bristol, he has the ability to "connect with 90% of the population of our country".

In a further veiled swipe at Eton-educated Mr Johnson, Mr Javid said the next Prime Minister should not be one of the "same old insiders with the same old school ties, but a new generation with a new agenda".

Mr Javid, who earlier in the race signed a “clean campaign” pledge also took aim at “born to rule” Conservatives leadership candidates. 

He said: “The problem with much of the Westminster elite, in all parties, is that they have always been insiders, never had to fight like the rest of us just to get their foot in the door.

"Life dealt them a good hand, and they played it – and I can’t blame them for that.

"But it wasn’t being born to rule, or having connections, that got me where I am today – it was hard work, public services, and my family."

And in a further jibe at his former Cabinet colleague, he said: "I believe now more than ever that this moment, as we face challenges unlike any we have faced before, calls for a new kind of leadership with a new kind of leader.

"A leader is not just for Christmas, or just for Brexit. We can’t risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort-zone choice."

Earlier, Mr Johnson had launched his own leadership campaign with a vow to keep speaking his mind even if it landed him in trouble.

The gaffe-probe former London mayor was embroiled in a row last year after claiming Muslim women wearing burkas look like "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

But he said: "I think it is vital that we as politicians remember that one of the reasons why the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed is because we are muffling and veiling our language. We don't speak as we find and cover it up in bureaucratic language when what they want to hear is what we really think.

"And if sometimes in the course of trying to get across what I genuinely think I use phrases and language that have caused offence then of course I'm sorry for the offence I've caused but I will continue to speak as directly as I can."

Kevin Schofield

Opposition parties fail in bid to block no-deal Brexit after Labour rebellion

1 week ago
EU and UK flags
MPs' attempt to halt a no-deal has been voted down narrowly

A Labour rebellion has scuppered an attempt by opposition parties to block a no-deal Brexit by seizing control of the Commons agenda.

A motion calling for MPs to take control of the parliamentary timetable later this month was defeated by 309 votes to 298.

Eight Labour MPs voted against their own party whip - enough to hand the Government a crucial victory.

They were Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer.

Ten Tory MPs - Guto Bebb, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Philip Lee, Oliver Letwin, Antoinette Sandbach and Caroline Spelman - voted with the opposition.

Under the Labour-led plan, MPs would have taken over the parliamentary timetable on 25 June with the aim of introducing legislation outlawing a no-deal Brexit.

The opposition parties also wanted to make it impossible for the next Prime Minister to shut down Parliament until 1 November - known as proroguing - in order to prevent MPs from blocking no-deal.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw took aim at Labour MPs who failed to back the proposal.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the narrow defeat was “disappointing”.

But he added: "This is just the start, not the end of our efforts to block no deal. Labour stands ready to use whatever mechanism it can to protect jobs, the economy and communities from the disastrous consequences of a no deal Brexit.

“Any Tory leadership candidate should know that Parliament will continue to fight against no deal.”

Conservative MP and supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, Guto Bebb, said: “A no deal Brexit would be an unrivalled disaster for this country.

“It's shocking that candidates seeking to be the next Prime Minister are pushing such a damaging future by gagging elected politicians.

“This may not have worked, but it does highlight the urgent need for Parliamentarians from across the House to work together to prevent a deeply undemocratic attempt to force through Brexit.”

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Ed Davey said: “This isn't America - we don't do shutdowns just because one side hasn't got what they wanted.

“Internationalist MPs right across the House now need to work together to fight these deeply anti-democratic attempts to force through no deal Brexit against Parliament and the country's wishes."

Nicholas Mairs

Philip Hammond warns Tory leadership rivals it is 'impossible' to leave EU on 31 October

1 week 1 day ago
Philip Hammond
Philip Hammond has said Boris Johnson's vow to leave the EU on 31 October is 'impossible'.

Leaving the European Union by 31 October will be "impossible", Philip Hammond has claimed.

The Chancellor warned the contenders to be the next Conservative leader - including frontrunner Boris Johnson - they should not "box themselves into a corner" by insisting Brexit will definitely happen by that date.

Mr Johnson has said that if he becomes Prime Minister, the UK will leave the EU on Hallowe'en "deal or no deal".

But speaking at an event hosted by Bloomberg, Mr Hammond said there was no chance of that happening because Parliament would block it.

He said: "I think it’s not sensible for candidates to box themselves into a corner on this. Parliament will not allow a no-deal exit from the EU and our experience has suggested it may not be that easy to secure a deal in Parliament.”

The Chancellor added: "Parliament will no doubt be very interested to hear what the new Prime Minister has to say but in my mind Parliament is not going to change its decision that it will not license a no-deal exit.

"So I think it will be very difficult, in fact I think it will be impossible to do this by 31 October and I don’t think it will be in our national interest to drive toward this cliff edge."

Meanwhile, the Chancellor also warned the leadership candidates not to make unfunded spending commitments, such as Mr Johnson’s pledge to cut taxes for high earners.

He said: "Be mindful of the fact that so long as no deal is a risk, we need to retain a war chest to protect our economy from the immediate shock of a no-deal Brexit . Until no deal is definitely off the table, we need to retain that firepower.

"I would caution any leadership contenders in going beyond committing the headroom we know we already have and starting to move into the realms of unfunded spending or tax cutting commitments.

"It is simply not the case, as some people have asserted, that tax cuts pay for themselves."

At his leadership launch, Mr Johnson again insisted that the UK "must leave the EU on 31 October".

He added: "I am not aiming for a no-deal outcome, I don’t think we can end up with any such thing. But it is only responsible to prepare vigorously and seriously."

Kevin Schofield

Brexit Party at ‘high risk’ of taking ‘impermissible’ donations, warns elections watchdog

1 week 1 day ago
Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage's Brexit Party won the most votes of all UK parties last month's EU elections

The Brexit Party is at "high risk" of accepting illegal donations from overseas, Britain’s elections watchdog has warned.

The Electoral Commission said the online fundraising structure used by Nigel Farage's new party meant there was a “high and on-going risk” of them accepting cash which broke the rules.

The party, which has only been going for a few months, won last month's European elections by hoovering up support from voters fed up at the Government's failure to deliver Brexit.

Officials from the Electoral Commission carried out a probe after concerns were raised that the party could be accepting donations from abroad.

In a report published on Wednesday, the watchdog said: "We have concluded that the fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to a high and on-going risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations.

"We have made recommendations that will, if implemented by the party, achieve and maintain robust procedures for receiving funds and help it comply with its legal requirements.

Louise Edwards, the Electoral Commission's director of regulation, said: “It is legitimate for any political party or campaigner to adopt a fundraising strategy that focuses on raising small sums.

“Our visit to the Brexit Party has enabled us to make specific recommendations to the party that will support it to meet its legal responsibilities when it comes to receiving funds.

“Should it fail to meet those responsibilities, this will be considered in line with our Enforcement Policy.”

The commission said parties should request as much information as possible from people offering funds online, to ensure that all payments are from "a permissible source".

A spokesman for the Brexit Party said: "The Electoral Commission have confirmed that our method of fundraising is legitimate and has been adopted by other political parties and campaigners.

"They haven’t found any examples of infringement of Electoral Commission rules."

Nicholas Mairs

EXCL Sir Keir Starmer calls for Labour to back Remain in new EU referendum

1 week 1 day ago
Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer says Labour should back Remain in a second referendum.

Sir Keir Starmer has admitted he is pushing for Labour to support Remain in any second EU referendum.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said there were "discussions" going on between senior Labour figures in a bid to thrash out a clear position on the issue.

Labour bosses are split on whether or not to wholeheartedly back another referendum as a way of breaking the Brexit deadlock.

In the wake of the European elections, when Labour came third behind the Brexit Party and Lib Dems, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said the party's candidates had been let down by the party hierarchy's refusal to explicitly support a so-called "people's vote".

She said: "We should have said quite simply that any deal that comes out of this government should be put to a confirmatory referendum and that Remain should be on the ballot paper and that Labour would campaign to Remain."

But Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that Labour is still pushing for a general election first, with a referendum on whatever Brexit deal is passed by Parliament also an option.

Speaking in an online webinar on Wednesday, Sir Keir broke ranks with his leader by saying Labour must back staying in the EU.

He said: "In the aftermath of the local elections and particularly the EU elections, there are many in the Labour party who feel we need to be very clear about a second referendum and about making the case for Remain.

"That's certainly what I'm advocating, discussions are going on at the moment, I hope we can resolve it pretty soon, and that will be a material step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned."

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, of the People's Vote campaign, said: "Keir Starmer is spot on - it's far past time for Labour to fully embrace the policy of a people's vote and to start campaigning vigorously to secure this outcome. It's very encouraging to hear him support this outcome so clearly. 

"The European elections were a real wake-up call - we are haemorrhaging support to parties that are unequivocal in their support for a People's Vote. We must listen to our voters and respond. And with the Tory leadership campaign descending into a horror-show of who can offer the most destructive vision of Brexit, it's the only way to prevent a destructive outcome for our country. 

"Labour's ambiguous position on Brexit is no longer viable - it's not right for the country or for our party. The only way to deliver a stable and lasting settlement to the Brexit question is to give the public the final say."

Kevin Schofield

Labour to lead cross-party bid to rule out no-deal Brexit by seizing Commons agenda

1 week 2 days ago
Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer said MPs "cannot be bystanders" as some Tory leadership hopefuls consider railing a no-deal brexit through

Labour is to lead a cross-party bid to rule out a no-deal Brexit by seizing control of the Commons agenda.

Under the plan, MPs would be given the chance to introduce legislation on 25 June which would rule out the possibility of quitting the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place.

The Commons will vote on the move - which also has the backing of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Tory MP Oliver Letwin - on Wednesday.

Britain is currently scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October, and the question of whether a no-deal Brexit should happen has dominated the Tory leadership race.

Matt Hancock has insisted Parliament would block such an outcome, while others have refused to rule out shutting Parliament down altogether to ensure it happens.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “The debate on Brexit in the Tory leadership contest has descended into the disturbing, the ludicrous and the reckless.

“None of the likely candidates for the top job has a credible plan for how to break the deadlock before the end of October.

"Instead, we have witnessed candidates openly advocating a damaging no deal Brexit and even proposing dragging the Queen into politics by asking her to shut down Parliament to achieve this.

“MPs cannot be bystanders while the next Tory Prime Minister tries to crash the UK out of the European Union without a deal and without the consent of the British people.

"That’s why we are taking this latest measure to end the uncertainty and protect communities across the country. 

“My challenge to MPs who disagree either with a no deal Brexit or proroguing Parliament is to back this motion and act in the national interest.”

MPs say the 25 June date would allow them enough time to kick off the process ahead of the announcement of the new Tory leader and PM, expected in late July, and in advance of the summer recess.

Senior Tory figures, including Theresa May, Philip Hammond and leadership hopeful Matt Hancock have each spoken out against forcing a no-deal exit against the wishes of Parliament.

Nicholas Mairs

Andrea Leadsom insists it is 'not possible' for Parliament to block no-deal Brexit

1 week 2 days ago
Andrea Leadsom
Andrea Leadsom said MPs would not be able to block a no-deal exit.

Tory leadership contender Andrea Leadsom has insisted it is "not possible" for Parliament to block a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking at her campaign launch, the former Commons Leader said MPs would not be able to halt a hard Brexit, despite claims to the contrary by rival candidate Matt Hancock.

Ms Leadsom, who resigned from the Cabinet over Mrs May's Brexit deal, said leaving the bloc by 31 October was a "hard red line" as she pledged to negotiate a "managed exit" with Brussels.

The Brexiteer MP's plans include securing a "temporary free trade agreement" with EU leaders as well as introducing new legislation on citizen's rights, air traffic agreements and the future security relationship.

But she committed to delivering Brexit by 31 October "in all circumstances" even if MPs rejected her plan.

"I will be honest with the country and say in all circumstances we are leaving the European Union on the 31 October this year," she said.

"Our country and our party cannot afford any more indecisiveness, what I would say is that my managed exit offer sensible measures that sensible politicians both her in Parliament and in the European Union, will, in my opinion, agree to.

"So, I don't think we need to have the choice between no Brexit and no deal, I think a managed exit is the way forward, and it is something I pledge to deliver.

She added: "Having been leader of the Commons over the past two years, it is quite clear to me that there are prodecural ways that Parliament, in the past, has been able to require an extension to Article 50. That would not be the case in the situtation of a managed exit...

"I do not think that Parliament has the ability to prevent us from leaving at the end of October, which is the legal default position."

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Mr Hancock hit out at candidates who had promised to deliver a deal or no-deal exit by Halloween, claiming Parliament would move to block any cliff edge departure.

"We need to solve Brexit and we cannot do it by threatening no-deal," he told the BBC.

"Parliament will not allow a no-deal Brexit to happen."

But Ms Leadsom insisted the current legal status of the Brexit process would make it impossible for MPs to delay the UK's exit.

She said: "I do not believe it is possible for Parliament to prevent a no-deal exit. It is the legal default position and with a Government whose policy is to leave at the end of October in all circumstances, my view is that putting forward sensible measures that Parliament would agree to and which I believe the EU would also find very sensible, that have already been agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement, I think we will have success."


WATCH: Major boost for Jeremy Hunt as Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt backs him to be next Tory leader

1 week 3 days ago
Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt has announced that she is supporting Jeremy Hunt in his bid to become the next Tory leader and Prime Minister.

The Defence Secretary, who had considered putting herself forward for the top job, became the second Cabinet minister to throw their weight behind Mr Hunt, after Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd also said she was backing him.

The endorsement marks a major boost for the Foreign Secretary ahead of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove launching their campaigns, with Ms Mordaunt the most senior Cabinet minister to have backed leaving the EU in 2016.

Ms Mordaunt, who was unveiled at the launch of Mr Hunt's leadership campaign, said she “trusted” him on Brexit, having worked alongside him in Cabinet.

“It’s true he has credibility from all sides but he also took a side,” she said.

“He fought for a deal but he also knew that we have to leave no-deal on the table to secure a good deal.”

She added: "The next leader of the Conservative Party has one hell of a shift - they have to deliver Brexit, swiftly and well, restore faith in Cabinet, Parliament, in government and our politics, grip the challenges of our times."

Ms Mordaunt said Mr Hunt had “the experience, the values, and a plan to deliver this”.

Mr Hunt, meanwhile, suggested he was unwilling to match Mr Johnson's commitment to taking the UK out of the EU by 31 October regardless of whether a deal had been agreed.

He said that MPs would not sign off a no-deal exit from the bloc, prompting a general election that the Conservatives would “lose badly”, given they had not delivered Brexit.

Citing the recent Tory defeats at the hands of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party at the EU elections and Labour at the Peterborough by-election, he said: "If we fight an election before delivering Brexit, we will be annihilated. 

“Squeezed by the Brexit Party on the right and the Lib Dems on the left we simply allow Labour through the middle.

“And if that happened nationally it would be the end of Brexit. Because whatever else a Labour government did - and I worry about all of it - it would never deliver Brexit.

“So we need to get real. We are facing a constitutional crisis. Our new Prime Minister will still preside over a hung Parliament."

Nicholas Mairs
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47