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Theresa May issues unity plea to Tory MPs and warns 'history will judge us' if Brexit is botched

2 hours 51 minutes ago
Theresa May
Theresa May issued the plea to her troops amid deadlock in Parliament

Theresa May has urged her warring Tory MPs to unite and warned them “history will judge us all” if the party makes a mess of Brexit.

In a letter to the 317 Conservative representatives in Parliament, she called on critics of her deal with the EU to “sacrifice if necessary our own personal preferences” in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.

She made the plea as she scrambled to secure tweaks to her Brexit deal that the Commons can support, amid deadlock over the controversial backstop plan to keep the Northern Ireland border open.

Mrs May was sent back to the negotiating table in Brussels when the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration she struck with the EU were comprehensively rejected by MPs last month.

The divisions in the Tory party were again laid bare on Thursday when pro-Brexit Tory rebels inflicted a fresh Commons defeat on the Government over a row about a meaningless Commons motion.

A vote on a tweaked deal, or on the next steps if no concessions are secured, is now planned for 27 February - but Mrs May issued a desperate plea to her MPs to compromise.

“History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process,” she warned.

“I do not underestimate how deeply or how sincerely colleagues hold the views which they do on this important issue - or that we are all motivated by a common desire to do what is best for our country, even if we disagree on the means of doing so.

“But I believe that a failure to make the compromises necessary to reach and take through Parliament a withdrawal agreement which delivers on the result of the referendum will let down the people who sent us to represent them and risk the bright future that they all deserve.”

Mrs May said she will meet European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker next week and speak to every EU leader in the coming days.

The backstop would see the UK remain closely tied to EU trade rules if no agreement is in place by the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of December 2021.

Critics argue it could see the UK subject to EU rules indefinitely and could lead to the breakup of the UK.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes he thinks are needed to the backstop in a speech on Tuesday, while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will hold talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier tomorrow.

But the Sunday Times said Steve Baker - the deputy chair of the European Research Group of hardcore pro-Brexit Tory MPs - told his allies continued negotiations on the backstop were a “complete waste of time”.


Boost for Theresa May as Donald Trump boasts of 'very substantial' post-Brexit trade

1 day 16 hours ago
Theresa May and Donald Trump
The US President has previously caused trouble the Prime Minister with his Brexit musing.

Theresa May has been handed a boost by Donald Trump as the US President promised to "very, very substantially" increase trade with the UK after Brexit.

The American commander-in-chief, who has previously taken potshots at the agreement the Prime Minister thrashed out with the EU, said ties between the two countries would be "strengthened further" after the UK leaves the bloc.

His comments came as the US and UK struck a deal to preserve some £12.8bn worth of trade links once Britain leaves the EU.

The new agreement will keep in place “all relevant aspects” of the United States’ current trade deal with the European Union after Brexit, with ministers boasting that the pharmaceuticals, technology and telecoms sectors will be the biggest beneficiaries of the pact.

Speaking outside the White House as the agreement was signed off, President Trump dropped a hint that the US was likely to ramp up its trade ties with Britain post-Brexit.

"You know all of the situation with respect to Brexit and the complexity and the problems," he told reporters.

"But we have a very good trading relationship with the UK and that's just been strengthened further.

"So with the UK we're continuing our trade and we are going to actually be increasing it very substantially as time goes by.

"We expect that the UK will be very, very substantially increased as it relates to trade with the United States. The relationship there also is very good."

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox - who this week came under fire after it emerged that Britain has yet to sign a wave of promised post-Brexit trade deals - said the move would let British firms "keep trading as freely as they do today".

The Cabinet minister said: "Our top priority is ensuring continuity for businesses as we leave the European Union and we are signing other agreements in the days and weeks ahead.

"We look forward to sitting down at the negotiating table with the Americans after we leave the European Union to strike an ambitious new free trade agreement."

President Trump's warm words about trade with the UK are a far cry from his last high-profile public comments on Brexit, when he said Mrs May's deal with Brussels "sounds like a great deal for the EU".

"I think we have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade," he said back in November.

"Because, you know, right now if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us and that wouldn’t be a good thing."

The US commander-in-chief also caused alarm in the Government last year, when he told the Sun that the Prime Minister had "probably killed" any hopes of a free trade deal between the two countries by ignoring his advice to go for a clean break with the EU.

Matt Foster

Dominic Grieve warns a dozen ministers could quit over no-deal Brexit amid Tory civil war

1 day 21 hours ago
Dominic Grieve
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

A dozen ministers could resign unless Theresa May rules out a no-deal Brexit by the end of this month, Dominic Grieve has claimed.

The former attorney general said they would include as many as six members of the Cabinet as the fragile Tory truce over Brexit collapsed.

Mrs May has pledged to give MPs another vote on Brexit on 27 February, when they will have the option of backing an attempt by Labour MP Yvette Cooper to extend the Article 50 process to give the Government more time to agree a deal.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that the Government is prepared to quit the EU on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement in place. 

Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Grieve said he knew of ministers who were willing to stand down in order to back the Cooper amendment.

He said: "I'm always hesitant to speak on behalf of colleagues, but I think we are talking of up half a dozen [in Cabinet]. My understanding is that many of them have made representations directly to the Prime Minister indicating their concern and telling the Prime Minister that if by the end of February there is no deal that has been got through the Commons, we ought to extend.

"If the Prime Minister refuses to do that, I think they face a very difficult choice because unless we as a Parliament and as the House of Commons start to work together to take the necessary steps to prevent no-deal happening, no-deal could just occur. It could all be so chaotic, it might just happen by accident.

"My view is that if they feel she is not taking those steps, I think they are going to have to resign."

In a fresh sign of the civil war over Europe raging within the Conservative Party, government ministers openly criticised hardline Brexiteers who rebelled on Thursday night to condemn the Prime Minister to another defeat.

In response to a tweet from former Brexit Secretary David Davis claiming the UK could leave the EU without a deal, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said: "No. We won’t. We are not leaving without a deal. If you want to leave, you’d better agree one. In the next fortnight would help."

And speaking at a security conference in Munich, another Foreign Office minister, Alan Duncan, also took aim at his colleagues in the Brexiteer European Research Group and called on them to get behind the Prime Minister.

He said: "Back her, back her, back her - otherwise we are all doomed. The ERG needs to realise that our reputation abroad is in free fall because of their actions.

"It’s the art of the possible, it’s not as if she blocking some fantastic alternative. She can only do what the circumstances allow."

Kevin Schofield

Brexit stream of consciousness: the inner turmoil of a Remain voting MP from a Leave constituency

1 day 21 hours ago
Melanie Onn is a minister in the shadow housing team
Melanie Onn is a minister in the shadow housing team

We expect politicians to make decisions of great magnitude without complaint. But we would do well to acknowledge the task at hand for many MPs across the House, writes Sebastian Whale

“I suspect that people would anticipate, given we’ve talked about March being the date that we leave, that to renege on that would be something very difficult to get their head around.”

I first sensed that Melanie Onn would not support pushing back Article 50 when I visited her in Grimsby over the summer. I was in north east Lincolnshire for a feature on whether the local fishing industry was in line for a post-Brexit renaissance.

The constituency voted overwhelmingly (70%) for Leave at the referendum, and Onn sensed Grimbarians would not stomach postponing the exit date. “I think that they would smell a rat, yes.”

On 29 January, Onn was one of 10 Labour MPs to abstain on the Cooper amendment, which would have seen Article 50 delayed to allow more time to prevent a no deal Brexit. Fellow frontbenchers Gloria De Piero and Tracy Brabin also abstained, along with Judith Cummins, Yvonne Fovargue, Mike Kane, Emma Lewell-Buck, Jim McMahon, Ruth Smeeth and John Spellar.

For a time in the mid-20th century, Grimsby was the world’s largest fishing port. It served hundreds of trawlers returning from the North Sea. Its decline, for some, has become emblematic for what Britain has lost and stands to gain from life outside the European Union.

Onn, who became an MP in 2015, voted and campaigned for Remain. The experience was chastening, and the frontbencher knew she was fighting a losing battle. “I didn’t convince as many people as I ought to have done,” she said introspectively over a coffee last August.

But it became clear from my time in Grimsby that many businesses harbour concerns about no deal Brexit. The fish processing industry, which arose out of the ashes of the port’s former glory, is heavily reliant on the supply of fish from Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands (the sector imports 90% of the fish and seafood it processes). Hold-ups in the supply chain could, naturally, have a material effect on products. I was told that one major provider could be forced to stop supplying fresh fish to supermarkets if margins are pushed too high.

Onn, too, was deeply conflicted. While she understood that her constituents would not want to see the March 29 deadline pushed back, she feared the consequence of leaving the EU empty-handed. Businesses told her the impact on the local economy "could be immense". “For people in Grimsby, if the economy tanks, that means there is less money to spend on all of the public services that have already been squeezed over the last few years," she told me.

I caught up with Onn this week for an interview on homelessness for The House, as part of a wider issue focussing on Britain’s rough sleeping crisis. The week before we met, Onn received abuse from pro-EU campaigners (one called for her to be “gunned down) following her votes in the Commons. It was her first encounter with the Remainer ultras – she had been more accustomed to receiving “challenging communications” from a “Leave perspective”.

Onn, despite being a Labour frontbencher, is one MP being courted by the Government ahead of a second meaningful vote. She has held meetings with ministers regarding securing further safeguards on workers’ rights.

That’s not to say Onn has been won over. The anguish she was suffering last summer has only become more acute. I asked her how she was getting on.

“Awful,” she replied. “I defy anybody to say that going through this process is fun and something that they’re delighted to relish the challenge in. It is really difficult to think about long-term best interests – or even short-term best interests – for people who are absolutely adamant that they have got a course of action that they want me to follow.”

I sat quietly while Onn outlined the ruminations going through her head.

“It constantly makes me think about well, what is my role as an MP? Am I part of the Labour party and so I always vote with the Labour party? Am I here as a parliamentarian to represent my constituency only? If that’s the case, why am I in the party?

“If I’m leaning towards voting with the Government on an issue – not necessarily Brexit – what does that mean in terms of how that representative or delegate role plays out in the long-term? So, yes, a lot goes around in my head on a regular basis. It’s really hard trying to think what the best thing is to do.”

Making decisions of great magnitude is how MPs earn their keep. We expect them to carry out the task without complaint or falter.

But with many variables at hand and the consequences so far reaching, we should not downplay the unprecedented decision facing all elected representatives. Like others, Onn is trying to ascertain what the best course of action is for her constituents, while simultaneously seeking to represent their views and that of her party. Often, these contrasting positions do not overlap.

MPs like Onn know that no decision they make will please everyone. In the current climate, any course of action will likely incur vitriol and abuse.

How MPs vote on Brexit will follow them around for the rest of their parliamentary careers; at various points looking ill-advised or prescient. We would do well to acknowledge the challenge at hand.

The full interview with Melanie Onn will be out on Monday 18 February.

Sebastian Whale

Jeremy Corbyn suffers major rebellion as Labour MPs back bid to delay Brexit

2 days 4 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Remain during the EU referendum.

Deep splits within the Labour party over Brexit erupted once again as MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn to back an extension to Article 50.

A total of 41 Labour MPs ignored their party whips to vote for an unsuccessful SNP attempt to delay Brexit past 29 March.

The rebellion is the latest sign of the tensions within the party over their leader's approach to Britain's exit from the European Union.

It came amid mounting speculation that some Labour MPs are preparing to quit the party over their frustrations at Mr Corbyn's Brexit stance, as well as his attempts to tackle anti-Semitism among its membership.

The rebels included noted Corbyn critics Mike Gapes, Ian Murray, Luciana Berger and Chris Leslie.

Mr Leslie, who was Shadow Chancellor when Ed Miliband was Labour leader, made clear his frustation at Labour's refusal to back a second referendum during Thursday's Brexit debate in the Commons.

He said: "The idea that the Labour party is not together and arguing against this disaster is for me entirely heartbreaking. 

"I certainly feel that we are being played for fools by the leadership of the Labour party on this particular issue because by now we should have reached the option of a public vote with the option of remaining in the European Union and no one can explain to me seriously why we are not at that partuclar stage right now."

The rebellion came just hours after Labour frontbencher Clive Lewis warned that the party could suffer the same fate as the Lib Dems if it fails to stop a "Tory Brexit".

He said: "We actually understand what needs to happen to bring our country together. But my fear is this: we saw what the Tories did to the Liberal Democrats. Everyone knows what to expect from a Tory government. They're rotters. Most people understand that. We don't expect much different. But if you look at what they did to the Liberal Democrats... [who] let's be honest, tried to ameliorate, soften what the Tories were doing on austerity - they failed miserably.

"It didn't do them any good. They were utterly, comprehensively destroyed by the British public. They are not forgiven because they were facilitating austerity - they facilitated the Tories doing that. And my fear is that what we are now doing is we are helping to facilitate a Tory Brexit.

“And the ramification for our party, I think, will be severe."


Meanwhile, former Labour minister Caroline Flint has taken aim at her party colleague Yvette Cooper's attempts to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

A bill tabled by Ms Cooper and Tory MP Oliver Letwin would allow Parliament to take over the Brexit process if no deal is reached by the end of February.

But speaking to HuffPost UK, former Europe minister Ms Flint said it was a "Trojan horse" for those who want to stop the UK's departure from the EU.

She said: "At its most benign I think it’s a clever way to sit on the fence. It doesn’t have anything in it about what a deal should look like, it doesn’t have anything in it in terms of being against a second referendum, it’s all process.

“At its most worrying I think it is a Trojan horse. I think the mechanisms that she is putting into this allows those people who already aren’t interested in any deal and want a second referendum, to further frustrate and add in amendments and add in times."

Kevin Schofield

Theresa May says her latest Commons defeat makes no-deal Brexit 'more likely'

2 days 4 hours ago
Theresa May
A grim-faced Theresa May leaves the House of Commons after Thursday's vote.

A no-deal Brexit has been made more likely by the Government's latest defeat on Brexit, Theresa May has warned.

The Prime Minister pointed the finger at Jeremy Corbyn despite the fact that a major Tory rebellion led to the 303 to 258 vote loss in the Commons.

Members of the hardline European Research Group of Conservative MPs abstained abstained on a government motion endorsing “the approach to leaving the EU” backed by the Commons on 29 January.

They claimed that appeared to endorse MPs' vote that night to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

Thursday night's vote was the 11th time the Prime Minister has been defeated by the Commons over her approach to Brexit, and threw her attempts to re-negotiate a deal with Brussels into chaos.

In a statement afterwards, a spokesman for Number 10 chose to blame Labour for the latest defeat, and insisted it would not alter the Government's attempts to seek changes to the Irish backstop.

He said: "Jeremy Corbyn yet again put partisan considerations ahead of the national interest – and yet again, by voting against the Government’s motion, he is in effect voting to make no deal more likely.

"While we didn’t secure the support of the Commons this evening, the Prime Minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no deal off the table at this stage.

"The motion on 29 January remains the only one the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want – and that is legally binding changes to address concerns about the backstop. The Government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on 29 March."

But Mr Corbyn said the vote had shown there was "no majority for the Prime Minister's course of action".

He told MPs: "This can’t go on. The Government can’t keep ignoring Parliament or ploughing on towards the 29 March without a coherent plan.

"The Prime Minister needs to admit that her strategy has failed, shift her red lines and come back with a proposal that can truly command majority support in Parliament."

Kevin Schofield

Ministers must boost spending to ‘cushion the blow of Brexit' on poorest, charities warn

2 days 5 hours ago
A run down part of Yorkshire
A boy on his bike in a run-down area of Goldthorpe, Yorkshire

Ministers must take “urgent steps” to protect the poorest people in Britain from any possible financial hit after Brexit, major charities have warned.

In an open letter to MPs, a coalition of campaign groups said the “economic uncertainty” and cost of living hikes that could result from leaving the EU at a time when 14 million are already living in poverty risked “pushing more people into hardship”.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Shelter, Trussell Trust and Barnardos are among those urging ministers to up their contingency planning, especially in the case of a no-deal exit.

It comes as ministers continue to push the EU for concessions on the controversial Irish backstop - which seeks to keep an open border on the island of Ireland in the event an alternative is not hammered out.

Fears are growing that without a deal the Commons can support the UK could crash out with nothing on 29 March.

The charities said Chancellor Philip Hammond must end the freeze on working-age benefits and tax credits that has been in place since 2016 at next month’s Spring Statement.

They cited Bank of England figures showing that maintaining the freeze could see families, often with children, losing out on £220 per year, with the impact even more “severe” if the UK quits the EU without a deal.

They also ramped up pressure on ministers to end the five-week wait for first-time Universal Credit recipients, days after Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd admitted that there was a link between the controversial policy and rising foodbank use.

And they called for an emergency stimulus package to help the poorest areas that could be especially hurt by any disruption in trade with Europe under a no-deal Brexit.

The open letter states: “As organisations who speak with and support families up and down the country every day, we know that many people are already facing impossible situations such as struggling to pay their rent or put food on the table for their children.

“As a country that believes in protecting each other from harm, this is not an acceptable situation.

“There is widespread agreement that some level of economic and social disruption will follow Brexit at least in the short term and worst of all under a ‘no deal’ scenario. Low income families will be worst affected, having already endured years of benefit cuts and freezes.

“The public services they rely upon are also under pressure due to the consequences of rising poverty. We need a new deal for low-income families to cushion the blow and this has prompted us to write to you."

Nicholas Mairs

EXCL Government minister tells Brexiteer Tory MPs to join Nigel Farage's new party

2 days 14 hours ago
Richard Harrington
Richard Harrington is a junior business minister.

A government minister has accused Tory Brexiteers of "treachery" and called on them to join Nigel Farage's new anti-EU party.

Richard Harrington said members of the hardline European Research Group who celebrated defeating Theresa May's Brexit deal last month were "not Conservatives" and should quit.

The business minister also said he was "very disappointed" that the Prime Minister was still refusing to rule out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

And he dismissed the so-called "Malthouse Compromise", which Mrs May is considering as a potential way of breaking the Brexit deadlock, as "fanciful nonsense".

Mr Harrington's comments, in an interview with The House magazine, came as the ERG tonight rebelled against the Government to inflict another Brexit defeat on Mrs May.

Last month, ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg was criticised when it emerged he had held a champagne party at his home when the Government's Brexit deal was defeated by a record-breaking 230 votes.

Mr Harrington - who has vowed to quit his job if the Government ends up pursuing a no-deal Brexit - said he and other pro-Remain ministers were prepared to give the Prime Minister until the end of the month to reach an agreement with Brussels.

He said: "If we all resigned what would then happen? If I were in the ERG, it would give me a lot of pleasure to see us resign. But we can’t give in to a minority of a minority, which is what the ERG are.

"The Prime Minister has done a pretty good job of standing up to them up till now, but they were drinking champagne to celebrate her losing her deal and I regard that as being treachery.

"I read that Nigel Farage is setting up a new party called Brexit and if I were them I’d be looking at that, because that seems to reflect their views more than the Conservative Party does. They should read carefully what that party's got to offer because in my view, they’re not Conservatives."

Mr Harrington added: "There are people who are very solid and stringent in their views and if I were them I would be looking at a party that seems designed for them - Nigel Farage’s party."


Criticising Theresa May's handling of the Brexit talks, the minister said: "I’m very disappointed because two weeks ago we were told that the Prime Minister would be coming back to the House of Commons within two weeks and there would be a statement and an amendable vote after that. I took that, as one who is very concerned about the effects of not ruling out a hard Brexit, to mean we would have a deal or outline deal to discuss and the option of looking at that.

"We’re now told it would be in two weeks’ time, so from my point of view, being very conscious of the damage that not ruling out a hard Brexit is having on business and industry, I’m obviously concerned that it’s going to drag on for another two weeks.

"What concerns me more is there is now talk that there won’t be a final decision until the next EU Council on the 21 March which, as far as business is concerned, is completely unacceptable."


The Malthouse Compromise, which has been drawn up by Remain and Leave-backing Tory MPs and suggests using technology to maintain an open border in Ireland, is being discussed by a special working group set up by Downing Street to come up with options for breaking the impasse.

But Mr Harrington said: "t's basically regurgitated Canada Plus, which we know is not at all suited to our close relationship with the European Union, plus a bit of glorified number plate recognition kit, which they've got there anyway. I think it's just fanciful nonsense."

Kevin Schofield

Richard Harrington: “In my view, the ERG are not Conservatives”

2 days 15 hours ago
Jacob Rees-Mogg is chair of the European Research Group
Jacob Rees-Mogg is chair of the European Research Group

Businesses are in ‘despair’ at the prospect of a hard Brexit, BEIS minister Richard Harrington warns. The Tory MP tells Kevin Schofield why he’s urging the prime minister to take no-deal off the table and end the uncertainty

In normal times, it would be highly unusual for a minister to be openly critical of the government while sitting in a room with a journalist and a tape recorder. But these are pretty far from normal times.

So when Richard Harrington is asked what he makes of Theresa May’s decision to essentially kick the Brexit can down the road for another fortnight, he is refreshingly candid in his reply.

“I’m very disappointed because we were told that the prime minister would be coming back to the House of Commons and there would be a statement and an amendable vote after that,” he says. “I took that, as someone who is very concerned about the effects of not ruling out a hard Brexit, to mean we would have a deal or outline deal to discuss and the option of looking at that.

“We’re now told it will be in another two weeks’ time so, being very conscious of the damage that not ruling out a hard Brexit is having on business and industry, I’m concerned that it’s going to drag on.

“What concerns me most is there is now talk that there won’t be a final decision until the next EU Council on 21 March which, as far as business is concerned, is completely unacceptable.”

As far as Harrington is concerned, his job is very simple. As minister for business and industry, he must communicate to No 10 the frustrations of firms across the country about the current state of play on Brexit. They are, he says, in “despair” at the ongoing deadlock and the government’s refusal to confirm that, come what may, the UK will not leave the EU without a deal in place.

Anyone who doubts that the impasse is having a negative impact on the economy need only look at the GDP figures, Harrington says. They show that economic growth in the UK slowed to just 0.2% in the final three months of 2018, while business investment continues to fall across the board.

“It’s completely linked to Brexit uncertainty, because everything else is positive – low interest rates, availability of credit and so on,” he says. “When I look at the companies in my sector, for example automotive, aerospace and the creative industries, every company is either postponing decisions or moving business abroad and I’m very concerned about it.

“I recently met with a big chemicals company who were very clear that they were looking at relocating jobs to other countries where they have exactly the same facilities, making exactly the same product but they can be certain they have full access to the European Union and they don’t have the kind of regulative problems they’ll have with Britain becoming a third country.

“I feel it’s my job to articulate the frustrations that business has. I meet the representative bodies every Wednesday morning and they express their fears about the damage that failing to rule out a hard Brexit does. I feel it’s my job to bring that to the prime minister’s attention and I’m very disappointed that she’s not in a position to rule it out now.”

Harrington has been very clear that he will resign if a no-deal Brexit becomes official government policy, and admitted he is currently considering his position. But he fears that vacating the pitch will simply embolden the hard Brexiteers in the Tory backbench European Research Group (ERG). “The question for me is not whether I stay in the job or not, it is whether, given that I feel passionately about the interests of business and industry – which is what it says on my business card – where can I make the most influence?” he points out.

“I would much rather act collectively with other like-minded ministers, not to force the government to do something that it doesn’t want to do, but to show the leadership that the views they receive from the ERG are a minority view and they’re not the majority of the Conservative party, let alone of parliament.”

Harrington adds: “If we all resigned, what would then happen? If I were in the ERG, it would give me a lot of pleasure to see us resign. But we can’t give in to a minority of a minority, which is what the ERG is.

“The prime minister has done a pretty good job of standing up to the ERG until now, but they were drinking champagne to celebrate her losing her deal and I regard that as being treachery.

“I read that Nigel Farage is setting up a new party called Brexit and if I were them I’d be looking at that, because that seems to reflect their views more than the Conservative party. In my view, they’re not Conservatives.

“There are people who are very solid and stringent in their views and if I were them I would be looking at a party that seems designed for them – Nigel Farage’s party.”

The solution to the deadlock, in Harrington’s opinion, is not to be found in another referendum. Instead, he favours the Norway plus, or “common market 2.0” option suggested by the likes of Nick Boles and Robert Halfon. He also says a permanent customs union with the EU should not be ruled out, something else which fills the ERG with dread. “I hope the prime minister realises that by refusing to rule out a hard Brexit she’s forcing us into a position we don’t want to be in. Because we’d much rather support her deal or a variation of it and move on. But if we can’t support that, it would have to be a customs union or something like it,” he says.

“My priority would be leaving on 29 March with a deal. If the only way of achieving that is with a customs union, a Norway plus-type arrangement, so be it.”

Such is the strange nature of British politics in 2019, Harrington could not guarantee that he would still be in his job by the time this interview is published. But if he is, businesses can be sure that their concerns are not going unheard in government. 

Sebastian Whale

Humiliation for Theresa May as MPs inflict fresh Brexit defeat following Tory rebellion

2 days 16 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May has suffered a series of humbling Commons defeats.

Theresa May has been dealt another huge blow after a rebellion by Tory eurosceptics saw her defeated again over Brexit.

In yet another humiliation for the embattled Prime Minister, the House of Commons voted 303 to 258 against a government motion on her strategy for leaving the European Union.

Members of the hardline European Research Group abstained on the motion, which endorsed “the approach to leaving the EU” backed by the Commons on 29 January.

In a vote that that night, MPs backed calls to replace the Irish backstop with "alternative arrangements", but they also said a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out.

The ERG demaded that the wording of the motion be changed to make clear that leaving the EU without a deal remained on the table, but the Government refused.

Although the motion was non-binding and the vote has no practical effect, it is still a huge blow for the Prime Minister as she tries to win concessions from the EU on the Brexit deal.

Earlier, a spokesman for Mrs May had made a last-ditch plea for Tory MPs to rally behind her in order to "send another clear message to Brussels".

Instead, she will have to continue negotiations with EU chiefs with fresh doubt cast on what type of Brexit deal MPs may actually support.

So far, Brussels has insisted that it will not re-open with legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement, which contains the backstop plan to maintain an open border in Ireland.

Mrs May has said she will return to the Commons by 27 February with either a deal or, if not, a fresh vote so MPs can consider various options on how to proceed.

Meanwhile, splits in the Labour party over Brexit also re-surfaced after around 40 of their MPs rebelled against the whip to vote for an SNP attempt to extend Article 50. However, it was defeated by 315 to 93.

Speaking after the result of the vote was announced, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Tonight’s vote shows there is no majority for the Prime Minister’s curse of action in dealing with Brexit.

"Yet again her Government has been defeated. The Government cannot keep on ignoring parliament or ploughing on towards the 29 March without a coherent plan.

"She cannot keeping on running down the clock and hoping that something will turn up that will save her day and save her face."

Kevin Schofield

Labour will be 'destroyed' like Lib Dems if it ushers in Tory Brexit, frontbencher Clive Lewis warns

2 days 20 hours ago
Clive Lewis
Clive Lewis is a shadow Treasury minister.

Labour risks being “utterly, comprehensively destroyed” like the Liberal Democrats if Jeremy Corbyn ushers in a “Tory Brexit”, frontbencher Clive Lewis has warned.

The shadow Treasury minister said it was “not the job of the Labour Party” to help the Conservatives take Britain out of the EU, as Mr Corbyn’s top team continues to hold talks with Theresa May in a bid to break the parliamentary deadlock over her Brexit deal.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto committed the party to delivering Brexit, with Mr Corbyn saying they could back the Prime Minister’s beleaguered deal if she gives in to his demands for a permanent customs union.

But in outspoken comments, Mr Lewis said Labour was now sending “mixed messages” on Brexit - and he warned that the party could suffer a similar fate to the Lib Dems, who lost scores of their MPs at the 2015 election after five years of coalition government with the Conservatives.

The Norwich MP said: “We actually understand what needs to happen to bring our country together.

“But my fear is this: we saw what the Tories did to the Liberal Democrats. Everyone knows what to expect from a Tory government. They're rotters. Most people understand that. We don't expect much different. But if you look at what they did to the Liberal Democrats... [who] let's be honest, tried to ameliorate, soften what the Tories were doing on austerity - they failed miserably.

"It didn't do them any good. They were utterly, comprehensively destroyed by the British public. They are not forgiven because they were facilitating austerity - they facilitated the Tories doing that. And my fear is that what we are now doing is we are helping to facilitate a Tory Brexit.

“And the ramification for our party, I think, will be severe.”

The Labour frontbencher, who dramatically quit as a shadow minister over Brexit in 2017 before being welcomed back into the fold last year, said a future Conservative Party leader would try to make Labour share the blame if Britain's exit from the EU ended in "disaster".

Mr Lewis warned: “Just like the Liberal Democrats, when Theresa May has walked off somewhere, gone and put her trotters up after she has delivered her Brexit, and a new Tory leader comes in, he will say: 'she was a disaster for this country, she betrayed this country, but so too did the leader of the opposition. He was part of this sorry debacle and I'm now going to move forward to try and resolve this situation in the best way I can.’

"I'll tell you what: the Tory rightwing and the mainstream media will get behind that narrative and it is us, the Labour Party, who will pick up a lot of the flak for what happens.

“People understand that Labour didn't ask for this. People understand that Labour didn't want. But we're now sending these mixed messages out there. That is truly dangerous."


Mr Lewis's shock intervention came as left-leaning Labour MPs lined up to attack Brexit at a ‘Love Socialism, Hate Brexit’ event in Parliament.

Shadow business minister Chi Onwurah said Leave voters had “won the right to be heard” in 2017 and said she “admired” the work of Mr Corbyn and Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer to try and deliver a left-wing Brexit.

But she warned: “Brexit will deliver a low-wage, low-skilled economy for the vast majority. We can’t negotiate good deals for our country without the solidarity of the European Union and the European socialist movement.”

Shadow transport minister Matt Rodda said that while he “wholeheartedly” backed Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s Brexit policy, leaving the EU posed a threat to “social solidarity” and could fuel the far-right.

And Paul Sweeney - a frontbencher in Labour’s shadow Scotland team - urged the party to keep Britain in the EU in order to shape the future of the bloc. He warned: "This is all a game to keep the Conservative Party in government… We cannot be fooled by it."


The group - which also includes left-wing backbenchers Lloyd Russell Moyle, Rachael Maskell and Rosie Duffield - is calling on the Labour leadership to swing behind a second referendum. Labour's official policy is to keep "all options" on the table if it cannot secure a general election over Brexit, "including campaigning for a public vote".

The Guardian reported today that as many as 10 shadow ministers could resign if the Labour leader continues to resist pressure to support a so-called People's Vote.

PoliticsHome has also been told that a number of backbench Labour MPs could resign the party whip over the same issue.

But Mr Russell-Moyle kicked off the meeting on a “progressive” future for Britain in the EU by warning: "The reality is that if that vision includes setting up another party, well, leave the room.

“If that vision includes just bitching about the Labour Party or the leadership, well you can leave the room. Because that is not what is actually welcome here. That is not what will help the debate around Europe."

Matt Foster

Theresa May makes last-ditch plea for Tory unity as she faces humiliating Brexit defeat

2 days 22 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May has run out of time to alter the motion that has sparked anger among her backbenchers

Theresa May has begged her backbenchers to unite behind her as pro-Brexit Tory rebels prepared to inflict an embarrassing defeat on the Government.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the Commons needed to "send a clear message to Brussels" by supporting a government motion in a vote tonight.

Members of the hardline European Research Group have threatened to rebel, claiming the motion - which endorses “the approach to leaving the EU” backed by the Commons on 29 January - appears to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

In a vote that that night, MPs backed calls to replace the Irish backstop plan with “alternative arrangements” - but they also said a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out.

ERG representatives warned Tory chief whip Julian Smith that unless the wording of the motion was changed, they would vote against the Government.

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “It’s important that MPs support the Prime Minister in order to send another clear message to Brussels on the need to address Parliament’s concerns about the backstop so we can leave with a deal on time on 29 March.”

He added: “It’s not our intention to leave without a deal and we are working hard to secure a deal, but the legal default position is that we will leave on 29 March.

“Yesterday, in response to a question about whether no-deal remains on the table, I said ‘yes’.”

An ERG source told PoliticsHome the Government was “creating an unnecessary fight” and demanded Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay offers assurances when he opens the debate this afternoon.

They added: “I don’t think we are in the same lobby as the Government tonight unless they say something in the next few hours.”

Pro-Brexit Tory MP Lee Rowley said: “We are all genuinely scratching our heads this morning asking what on earth they are doing.”

A Government source said Mr Barclay will be "addressing their concerns" when opens the debate.

The no-deal motion at the end of January, tabled by Tory former minister Caroline Spelman, said it “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship”.

The other motion that passed was tabled by Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady and called for the hated Irish backstop part of the Brexit deal "to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.

Neither amendment has legal weight but they tell the Government what MPs want and indicate what kind of deal would eventually pass the House.


Brexit amendments EXPLAINED: Everything MPs are set to vote on tonight

2 days 23 hours ago
MPs are set for a fresh round of crunch votes tonight

Yet another night of crunch votes on Brexit looms and MPs have been scrambling to get their favourite options on the agenda. John Bercow has chosen three amendments for votes alongside the central government motion.

Theresa May - The Motion - Nothing has changed

The motion tabled by the PM could prove to be the story of the evening after hardline Tory Brexiteers threatened to vote against it. It was supposed to be a so-called 'neutral' motion - which would usually mean accepting that the Commons had discussed a matter without voting in favour or against anything. But instead the motion "reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019" - on which date the Brady amendment to scrap the backstop was voted through as well as the Spelman amendment to delay Article 50. 

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs are up in arms about the prospect of having to vote for something that supports a delay to the Brexit process and have threatened to vote against the motion, which could spell a humiliating defeat for ministers on an issue which was meant to be uncontentious. ERG deputy chair Steve Baker has already tweeted sounding like he could back down - but has noted that a decision will not be made until later.

Update: The following three amendments have been selected for votes by Speaker John Bercow

Jeremy Corbyn - Amendment A - Force another meaningful vote by the end of February

The official opposition amendment is a bid to force the PM to offer another ‘meaningful vote’ on her deal by 27 February. But it says if the UK and EU cannot reach a deal the Government must promise a further amendable motion on how it plans to proceed. The amendment is not far off what the Government has promised anyway - and official opposition motions rarely win the day.

The Lib Dems have tacked their own amendment onto that which would extend Article 50 for the purpose of holding a fresh EU referendum (of course).

Amendment E - Anna Soubry - publish no-deal assessments

The pro-EU Tory MP has won support from dozens of MPs for her bid to force the Government to publish its most recent assessment on the implications of no-deal for business and trade. The amendment has the biggest following of all those tabled and has cross party support.

Amendment I - Ian Blackford - Extend Article 50

The SNP Westminster leader has gathered colleagues alongside Lib Dems calling for an extension of Article 50 of at least three months.

Update: The following seven amendments were tabled by MPs but not selected for votes

Amendment B - Roger Godsiff -Second Brexit referendum

Labour MP and Leave voter Roger Godsiff has made a surprise move calling for a second EU referendum. Under his plan the ballot paper would offer three choices: accepting the final agreement between Brussels and London, quitting without a deal or remaining in the EU.

The referendum would use the alternative voting system which allows voters to state a preference, and if one gets a 50% majority it wins. If none get a 50% majority the one with the least support is eliminated and second preferences for the other two are added to their totals to find which has a majority.

The amendment has only one signatory: Godsiff himself. And it is not backed by the People’s Vote campaign he has been a supporter of since November.

Amendment C - Ken Clarke - Ballot for indicative Brexit votes

The Tory former chancellor wants MPs to be given the chance to gauge support for a range of Brexit options. Those could include a Norway-style Brexit, leaving with no deal, a second referendum and others. MPs would be handed a ballot paper with the list of options they can vote for in order of preference. Each proposal would need the support of at least 50 MPs to get onto the ballot paper.

The amendment has some cross-party support from the likes of Harriet Harman and Liz Saville Roberts.

Amendment D - Angus MacNeil - Stop Brexit

The SNP firebrand wants Article 50 to be completely revoked. His bid has been backed by a number of his SNP colleagues as well as Tory MP Ken Clarke and Labour MP Janet Daby.

Amendment F - Sarah Wollaston - More indicative votes

The good doctor has tabled a bid for MPs to seize the Commons agenda for a single day on 26 February to hold a series of votes on the various Brexit options. Unlike the Ken Clarke bid for a paper ballot, MPs would have to debate and then troop through the lobbies over six options: the PM’s deal, changes to the backstop, a Canada-style trade deal, a Norway-style deal and another referendum.

If one is voted for the Government must pursue that plan. But if two or more or none are voted for a referendum would automatically be triggered.

Amendment G Jonathan Edwards - Extend Brexit and hold a referendum

Plaid MPs led by Jonathan Edwards have tabled an amendment noting that the Welsh and Scottish parliaments are not supportive of Brexit and calling for more time to process all the necessary legislation. But it also notes that time should be made for a fresh EU referendum either before Brexit or before the end of the transition period.

Amendment H - Geraint Davies - Close relationship with EU and a referendum

Labour MP Geraint Davies has put in a bid to demand an extension of Article 50 and plan for a close relationship with the EU including a customs union, all ratified in a second referendum.

Amendment J - Vince Cable - A second EU referendum

The Lib Dems have tabled this bid to have Article 50 extended if no deal is agreed by 27 February and to hold a referendum on whether to accept the PM’s deal or stay in the EU.


Labour frontbenchers in 'threat to quit' if Jeremy Corbyn fails to back second Brexit referendum push

3 days 3 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn
Some in Jeremy Corbyn's top team remain deeply sceptical about alienating Leave supporters with a second referendum.

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a raft of frontbench resignations unless he throws Labour's weight behind calls for a second EU referendum, it has emerged.

According to The Guardian, as many as 10 shadow ministers could resign if the Labour leader continues to resist pressure to support a so-called People's Vote.

Labour's official policy is to keep "all options" on the table if it cannot secure a general election over Brexit, "including campaigning for a public vote".

But several junior shadow ministers have told The Guardian that they will walk out if the Labour leader does not whip MPs to back a pro-referendum amendment when the Commons is given another Brexit vote on 27 February.

PoliticsHome has also been told that a number of backbench Labour MPs could resign the party whip over the same issue.

One critic, Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle, yesterday made clear his frustrations on Twitter.



Pro-Remain Labour MPs are increasingly frustrated at Mr Corbyn's decision to continue talks with the Government on a possible compromise Brexit deal, instead of throwing his weight behind another referendum.

Labour frontbenchers Sir Keir Starmer and Jon Trickett held "frank and serious" talks with Cabinet ministers Stephen Barclay and David Lidington yesterday about a possible way forward.

The party will today whip its MPs to back an amendment calling on the Government to bring back another meaningful vote on its Brexit deal by the end of the month.

On Wednesday night Len McCluskey, a key ally of Mr Corbyn, told ITV's Robert Peston that a second referendum "threatens the whole democratic fabric on which we operate".

The Unite general secretary added: "I’m saying that in reality it is not the best option for our nation."

But one MP told the Financial Times that the next round of Brexit votes on 27 February could the "moment of truth" for a split.

"Everything depends on whether Corbyn honours our unanimously agreed policy on a people’s vote," they said.

Matt Foster

Dozens of former UK ambassadors back second EU referendum in bid to halt ‘Brexit fiasco’

3 days 4 hours ago
People's Vote
A rally in January calling for a People's Vote outside the Houses of Parliament

Dozens of former UK ambassadors and high commissioners have called on Theresa May to delay Brexit and consider the “powerful argument” for a second EU referendum.

In an open letter published by the People’s Vote campaign, 43 ex-diplomats said Britain’s exit from the bloc had “turned into a national crisis” and that the country could not forge a more beneficial relationship with the EU than it currently has.

The group added it would be "wrong" to leave with "no clarity" on the future relationship and if the Prime Minister’s deal made it through the Commons, it would mark the beginning of “year upon on year of negotiation and renegotiation”.

“It is clear that Brexit has turned into a national crisis. There is no possible deal that will be a sensible alternative to the privileged one we have today as members of the EU with a seat at the table, inside the Single Market and Customs Union but outside the Euro and Schengen," it says.

It comes as ministers continue their push for concessions on the controversial Irish backstop - which seeks to keep an open border in the event an alternative is not hammered out - in a last-ditch bid to get the withdrawal agreement through the Commons by 29 March.

Signatories to the letter include Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the former Permanent Representative to the EU and Ambassador to the US, and Lord John Kerr, the author of Article 50 – the mechanism used to trigger the exit process for a member state.

Others include Lord David Hannay, Permanent Representative to the European Economic Community under Margaret Thatcher’s government; and Sir Christopher Mallaby, who served as both ambassador to Germany and later France.

They add: “As former diplomats who have served around the world, we have a clear understanding of what contributes to Britain’s influence in the world.

“Our advice to Theresa May today is clear: we should not leave the EU when we have no clarity about our final destination. Instead we must use the mechanisms at our disposal, above all we must seek to extend the Article 50 negotiating period...”

“There is now, in addition to extending Article 50, a powerful argument to go back to the people and ask them whether they want the negotiated Brexit deal or would prefer to stay in the European Union.

“Our country’s national interest must always be paramount. The Brexit fiasco has already weakened the UK's standing in the world. We strongly advocate a change of direction before it is too late.”


Nicholas Mairs

Barry Gardiner rounds on ‘incompetent’ Liam Fox over failure to secure post-Brexit trade deals

3 days 19 hours ago
Barry Gardiner
Barry Gardiner said the Department of Trade had the "wrong priorities" when it came to signing new trade agreements

Barry Gardiner has branded Liam Fox “incompetent” over his failure to secure a raft of post-Brexit trade deals.

The International Trade Secretary had previously promised that his department would have 40 free trade agreements ready to sign “one minute after midnight” on the day the UK leaves the EU.

But a leaked document from his department, obtained by The Sun, showed that just six trade deals were close to completion, eight were “off-track” and another 19 were “significantly off-track”, just weeks ahead of the set 29 March exit date.

Demanding answers in an urgent question today, the Shadow Trade Secretary blasted Mr Fox for “grandstanding” on his ability to secure new deals, rather than focussing on securing continuity on deals already agreed via the UK's membership of the EU.

Mr Gardiner said: “Many in the business community feel that the Secretary of State has diverted too much of his department’s resources on entirely new free trade agreements, and so keen has he been to grandstand with the new that he has ignored the fundamental grinding work of securing what we already have.”

Only four deals have been fully completed - with Switzerland, Chile, the Faroe Islands and an Eastern and Southern African block.

But a deal with major trade partner Japan, as well as agreements with Algeria, Turkey and Moldova would not be deliverable on time, according to the internal analysis.

Mr Gardiner warned that some vessels which have already left the UK for overseas markets would be arriving in foreign ports after the UK’s exit date, with no idea of the tariff barriers they may face.

He added: “Increasingly, the Department for International Trade looks like it has inadequate resources, focussed on the wrong priorities, set by incompetent ministers.”

But Mr Fox hit back, saying he had dedicated "maximal resource" to ensuring existing trade deals were ready to rollover after the UK's exit from the EU by shifting staff away from working on new negotiations.

The Tory heavyweight also accused Labour of risking future trade prospects by refusing to back the Prime Minister's Brexit deal.

"If we want to ensure all our agreements rollover, then the best way to do so is to reach a deal with the European Union so they will apply one minute after midnight.

"I voted for that continuity? Did the honourable gentleman? Did his party?"


Labour split erupts over Brexit as Keir Starmer suggests general election plan no longer 'credible'

3 days 20 hours ago
Keir Starmer
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has been corrected by the Labour leadership

Labour splits on Brexit have been laid bare once more after Sir Keir Starmer appeared to suggest that pushing for a general election was no longer a “credible option” for the party to pursue.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said the party was now only pursuing two alternatives - a compromise deal based on proposals contained in a letter from Jeremy Corbyn to Theresa May last week, or a second referendum.

But he was slapped down by Jeremy Corbyn's office, which insisted pressing for an early election remained the party's "preferred option".

Under the policy agreed at Labour's conference, the party vowed to push for an election in the first instance, before pursuing other options, including a "public vote".

But on Radio Four's Today programme, Sir Keir said: "We said in September that if there wasn’t a general election then the option of a public vote had to be on the table.

"I have said in the last few weeks that in reality for the Labour party the only credible options now left are a close economic relationship - that’s the sort of relationship we spelt out in the letter to the Prime Minister last week - or a public vote."

When asked about the remarks, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: "The options are a general election, which remains our preferred option, some form of agreement along the lines Jeremy laid out in his letter to Theresa May, and failing that a public vote remains an option on the table.

“Keir agrees that a general election as laid out in our conference policy is our preferred option.”

Mr Corbyn wrote to Mrs May earlier this week to say Labour could back her on Brexit if she commits to a permanent customs union with the EU, among other demands.

Reports emerged on Monday that Sir Keir had fought for a line in the letter about backing a second EU referendum - but that his calls were ignored by the leader’s office.

Sir Keir refused to be drawn on the reports this morning. He told the Today programme: “I’m not going into the ins and outs of the drafting of the letter.”


Businesses warn Theresa May they are being 'hung out to dry' as no-deal Brexit looms

4 days 3 hours ago
Theresa May
The Prime Minister has been urged to shed more light on what a no-deal Brexit will look like for firms.

Business are being "hung out to dry" by a lack of information from the Government on how they should cope with a no-deal Brexit, bosses have warned Theresa May.

The British Chambers of Commerce - an umbrella group for some 75,000 businesses - urged the Government to answer a string of "critical questions" they said remain unanswered on the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without an agreement.

The group pointed out that businesses trading between the UK and the EU still do not know what tariffs they might face under a no-deal Brexit with less than 50 days to go until the March 29 deadline.

The BCC also demanded answers on whether firms will be able to fly people and goods between the EU and UK under a no-deal; what inspection regimes could be in place for goods; whether they will have to pay mobile data roaming charges; and whether any existing EU trade agreements will be rolled over if Britain laves the bloc without an agreement.

The group meanwhile urged clarity on what regulatory regimes will oversee businesses if a no-deal exit happens - and whether staff overseas staff could face fresh visa restrictions if the UK quits without a deal.

BCC director general Adam Marshall warned: "In less than 50 days, UK firms could face the biggest change to their terms of trade in over a generation, without the information and clarity they need to navigate their forward course.

“There is a very real risk that a lack of clear, actionable information from government will leave firms, their people and their communities hung out to dry."

The business chief said companies were "still in the dark" on issues ranging "from contracts through to customs" - and warned that they were now shelving investment plans because of a lack of clarity from the Government.

"It is little wonder that many firms have been holding back on investment, stockpiling, and even opening offices and moving operations and jobs elsewhere," he said.

"The imperative remains to avoid a messy and disorderly exit on March 29th, but businesses need answers they can base decisions on, no matter the outcome. The lack of clear, precise answers is now causing real damage to many businesses, and to the wider economy."

The stark warning from the BCC comes just days after Chancellor Philip Hammond warned that Britain's economy was being “overshadowed” by Brexit.

New figures for 2018 showed that the British economy grew by just 1.4% over the year - the lowest annual rate of growth since 2012.

The Chancellor said: “It’s a solid performance from the economy when you took at what’s happening globally and in other competitor countries.

“But of course there is no doubt that our economy is being overshadowed by the uncertainty created by the Brexit process.

“The soon we can resolve that the better, and the quicker we can get back to more robust growth in the future.”

Matt Foster

Labour launches bid to stop Theresa May 'running down the clock' towards no-deal Brexit

4 days 3 hours ago
EU and UK flags
MPs are trying to stop Theresa May allowing the UK to quit the EU without a deal.

Labour has unveiled a fresh bid to stop Theresa May "running down the clock" in an attempt to force MPs into backing her Brexit deal.

Jeremy Corbyn tabled an amendment to the Prime Minister's Brexit plan which would force the Government to hold a fresh meaningful vote on her deal by the end of February.

MPs will vote on Labour's attempt on Thursday and the Labour leader said: "This amendment would stop the Government from running down the clock on the Brexit negotiations, hoping Members of Parliament can be blackmailed into supporting a botched deal.

"This is an act of gross irresponsibility. The Prime Minister is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry.

"This week Parliament should set a clear deadline for the Government to come forward with its revised deal or give MPs the chance to decide what happens next."

The move came as former Labour minister Yvette Cooper teamed up with senior Conservatives to demand a new legally-binding deadline of mid-March for any agreement to ratified.

Ms Cooper, who last month launched a doomed attempt to force the Government to extend Article 50 to avoid a no-deal Brexit, has joined forces with former Conservative minister Sir Oliver Letwin to draw up a new version of her plan.

If Mrs May has not secured a deal by February 26, Ms Cooper has said she will try to force a mid-March deadline for the Prime Minister to declare whether she is backing a no-deal Brexit or an extension to Article 50.

Ms Cooper said the proposal - which has already been backed by leading Conservative Remainer Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb and the SNP's Stewart Hosie - represented a "common sense safeguard" against the "increasing risk of drifting into No Deal by accident despite risks to security, manufacturing & medicines".

The Sun reports that senior Remain-backing Cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke are all preparing to swing behind the plan.

A Cabinet source told the paper: "February 27 is high noon. This is the line Amber, David and Greg are drawing in the sand, and they will make that clear closer to the time."


MPs will be given an update on the latest Brexit state of play on Thursday, with the Prime Minister urging them to "hold our nerve" and confirming that they will then be given a fresh vote on 27 February.

But Mrs May refused to rule out the possibility that she may not be able to return to the Commons with a new deal until March, as efforts to convince Brussels to agree changes to the backstop to plan to avoid an Irish hard border continue.

Matt Foster

Back Theresa May's deal or face lengthy Brexit delay, PM's top negotiator warns MPs

4 days 4 hours ago
Olly Robbins
Olly Robbins has long led the civil service side of talks with the EU.

Theresa May's chief Brexit negotiator has risked infuriating Conservative MPs after he was overheard claiming that Parliament will have to back the Prime Minister's deal or face a lengthy delay.

Mrs May has repeatedly insisted that the alternative to supporting her Brexit agreement is to leave the European Union without a deal.

But ITV News reports that Olly Robbins - the top civil servant advising the Prime Minister on Brexit - was overheard in a Brussels hotel bar saying that he expects MPs to be faced with the choice of either backing a tweaked version of Mrs May's deal or "a long" extension to talks with Brussels.

"The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension," the Brexit chief is reported to have said. "In the end they will probably just give us an extension."

The senior civil servant also shed light on Mrs May's strategy to secure fresh changes to the Northern Ireland backstop from the EU, which Brexiteers fear could leave the UK locked into a customs union with Brussels indefinitely.

In further comments likely to angry eurosceptics, Mr Robbins said the policy was originally intended as "a bridge" to a long-term relationship with the EU, rather than a "safety net" to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

"The big clash all along is the ‘safety net’," Mr Robbins said. "We agreed a bridge but it came out as a ‘safety net’."

Leading Conservative Brexiteer Steve Baker - who quit as a minister in objection to Mrs May's deal - said Mr Robbins was a "consummate civil servant" and so was "likely to be appalled by this story".

He added: "Officials advise. Ministers decide. What matters ultimately is the policy of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

"If the PM decides we are leaving on 29 March, deal or no deal, that will happen."

A spokesman for the European Reseach Group of Tory Brexiteers said: "Who’s in charge of this? Either the PM is and this is what she wants, or she isn’t and is just doing what the civil service tells her."

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage meanwhile fumed: "As I have said before, Olly Robbins represents the civil service fifth column in our country.

"He should be sacked immediately for a combination of treachery and incompetence."

A government spokesperson told ITV News: "We don’t propose to comment on alleged remarks from a private conversation.

"The government’s focus is on securing the improvements Parliament needs to pass a deal so we leave the EU on 29th March."

Matt Foster
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47