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WATCH Labour's Tom Watson clashes with Alastair Campbell over 'crazy' Brexit stance

21 hours 25 minutes ago
Tom Watson and Alastair Campbell
The Labour deputy leader clashed with the party's former top spin doctor.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson today traded blows with the party's former communications chief over its stance on Brexit, telling Alastair Campbell: "You no longer decide Labour party policy".

The pair went head-to-head on ITV's Peston On Sunday, with the former spin doctor for Tony Blair blasting the current Labour leadership for leaving the door open to backing Theresa May's final Brexit deal.

Mr Campbell, who now edits the anti-Brexit New European newspaper, said "none" of Labour's tests for a "jobs-first" Brexit looked set to be met by the deal Mrs May will bring to Parliament.

"I think the Labour Party should actually follow the logic of that through now and start campaigning clearly in saying that the Brexit deal that she's bringing back - there's no way that Labour can support it if those tests are to mean anything," he said.

But Mr Watson shot back, saying the former director of communications for Number 10 used to be a "sort of party communications officer", and insisting: "We have to listen to the whole of the British people on this, Alastair.

"And we've got to make sure that we honour them by saying we're coming out of the EU."

However, Mr Campbell said that position meant Labour could end up backing the Government on Brexit "whatever the costs, whatever the consequences".

"That is crazy," he fumed.

That comment prompted a withering put-down from Labour's deputy leader, who told Mr Campbell: "What I'm saying is you no longer decide Labour party policy. I'm sorry about that. I know you'd like to."

Mr Watson also took a jibe at Mr Campbell's current job, saying: "I know they don't pay you a lot of money as editor of the New European. You know, you probably want George Osborne's job [as editor of the Evening Standard] as a former person who used to be involved in politics."

The ex-Labour communications supremo replied: "I'm happy where I am. But what I'm not happy with is where you're pretending you're doing something different if you're basically in the same position whatever happens."

The on-air spat came amid a heated row in Labour over the party's stance on a so-called Norway-style Brexit.

Senior Labour figures have given mixed signals on whether the party could lend its support to continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), a move that would effectively keep Britain in the Single Market.

Some of the party's MPs believe backing EEA membership provides the best chance of softening the economic impacts of Brexit.

Pressed on the party's stance today, Mr Watson said: "We haven't decided our whipping arrangements yet - that will be decided at a future Shadow Cabinet.

"But we've been pretty clear that the sort of model that applies to Norway, yes it has some benefits, but it also has some disbenefits not least that it makes sure, there's no reform of workers movements across Europe."

Matt Foster

Pro-Brexit Tories sound alarm over cash pot for EU elections 'madness'

1 day 1 hour ago
Brexit
European Research Group chair Jacob Rees Mogg has expressed fears

Senior pro-Brexit Conservatives have raised fears of a plot to keep the UK in the EU after it emerged Whitehall has set aside a pile of cash for European Parliament elections.

Electoral watchdogs were handed an £829,000 budget for “activities relating to a European Parliamentary election in 2019" - despite the fact Britain is supposed to have quit the bloc by then.

The Electoral Commission said the fund was a “precautionary measure” in case Brexit runs into trouble.

But prominent Brexit supporters have sounded the alarm over the “complete madness” and called for the flagship EU Withdrawal Bill to be rushed through parliament.

Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph: “It raises the question – are they planning for us not leaving the European Union?

“Are they ignoring what Theresa May has said and deliberately still believing that we won’t have left the EU?”

He added: “It is complete madness to earmark money to spend on an election that the Prime Minister has already said we will not fight unless you are working to make sure the UK stays in the EU in which you are working against the British people.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the European Research Group, said: “It is important the Withdrawal Bill is passed soon because this will provide the necessary clarity that the European elections are not taking place.”  

The European Parliament vote is set to take place between 23 May and 26 May next year. The UK is due to quit the EU on 19 March 2019.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “A provision in our budget was made so that the commission has the necessary funds to deliver our functions at a European parliamentary election, in the unlikely event that they do go ahead.”

They added: “We do not anticipate spending any money, pending the UK Government repealing the necessary legislation.”

emilio.casalicchio

Brexiteers up in arms over plan to boost NHS with tax hike instead of EU savings

1 day 1 hour ago
Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart during the EU referendum campaign
Prominent Leave campaigners including Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart claimed there would be a post-Brexit dividend for the health service.

Furious Brexiteers have lashed out at suggestions extra cash for the NHS will have to come from tax rises instead of money clawed back from the European Union after Britain's departure.

During the EU referendum campaign, Brexiteers claimed the NHS could be in line for a £350m-a-week cash boost after Brexit - money they said would come from no longer having to pay into the bloc's budget.

Theresa May is currently putting the finishing touches on a planned NHS spending boost that may go some way to fulfilling that pledge in time for the next election.

But there are growing signs that the boost will be funded through tax hikes rather than the Brexiteers' claimed savings.

The suggestion has already sparked fury from leading Brexit campaigners.

Former Cabinet minister Priti Patel - who was sacked by Mrs May earlier this year - told The Sun on Sunday: “The PM said she would guarantee that when we take back control of our money, it would be spent on domestic priorities, including the NHS. That should be the priority.”

Another source told the paper: “It’s as if the PM wants to honour the referendum pledge but make us pay for it.

"There’s a growing feeling [Chancellor] Philip Hammond is determined not to reward promises made in the Brexit campaign.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is said to be pushing for a 4% annual rise in NHS spending, but Mr Hammond is reportedly holding out and refusing to commit to anything above a five-year settlement at around 3% per year.

Since 2010, NHS spending has risen by just 1.4% a year - far below the longer-term average rise of 3.7%.

NO 'LARGE SUMS' FOR POLICE OR TROOPS

The row over the controversial £350m came as Mr Hammond was said to have warned cabinet colleagues that any extra money for the NHS will have to come at the expense of a cash boost for the police or military.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid told police chiefs this week that he would "prioritise police funding in the spending review next year", while Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson warned that an under-funded military could lead to nuclear armageddon.

But a source close to the Chancellor told The Sunday Times: “If we make a decision to make health spending our top priority, people have to be clear that there won’t be large sums of money for much else."

They added: “There are demands for the police and defence, but ministers will have to accept we won’t be able to do everything.”

Matt Foster

Bank of England braced for ‘disorderly Brexit,’ says Mark Carney

3 days 3 hours ago
Mark Carney
Bank of England governor Mark Carney gave a speeach to the Society of Professional Economists in London last night

The Bank of England is ready to step in to prevent an economic slump if Britain is plunged into a “disorderly Brexit,” Mark Carney has said.

Speaking at an event yesterday, the bank’s governor said he would be prepared to cut interest rates or halt planned rises in order to offset any negative effects of leaving the EU.

Mr Carney also warned that as Britain adopted new trading arrangements with the bloc, weaker income growth would probably "accompany that adjustment".

The intervention comes after a new report suggested that Theresa May may have to extend the Brexit transition period to establish new customs arrangements.

According to the Exiting the European Union Committee, the UK may be forced to stay in a customs union with the EU beyond 2020 because of the “highly unsatisfactory” lack of progress made on the issue so far.

This follows the Government's admission that EU Withdrawal Bill won’t return to the Commons for at least another fortnight, following a bruising 15 defeats in the Lords.

The Bank of England Governor has previously warned of the negative impact Brexit uncertainty could have on the UK economy.

And in a key speech to the Society of Professional Economists in London he signalled his intention to respond to any negative consequences in “whatever form it takes”.

Mr Carney indicated that this could include lowering interest rates even if that meant the bank deviating from its 2% inflation target.  

He said: “Observers know from our track record that, in exceptional circumstances, we are willing to tolerate some deviation of inflation from target for a limited period of time.”

“We have the tools we need,” he added. “We will be prudent, not passive.

“We will respond to any change in the outlook in these exceptional circumstances to bring inflation sustainably back to target while supporting jobs and activity, consistent with our remit.”

Elizabeth.Bates_30914

Theresa May 'will have to extend Brexit transition' amid customs chaos, say MPs

3 days 20 hours ago
Prime Minister Theresa May
Mrs May's Cabinet is engaged in a bitter row over future trade ties with the EU.

Theresa May will “in all likelihood” have to keep Britain in the customs union beyond 2020, a powerful cross-party group of MPs has warned.

A new report by the Exiting the European Union Committee says that the Prime Minister will likely have to stay in the tariff-free trading arrangement with Brussels because of a “highly unsatisfactory” lack of progress on plans for future customs ties.

Such a move would enrage Brexiteers in Mrs May’s own party, who have already heaped scorn on her plan for a close ‘customs partnership’ with the EU after Brexit.

But Committee chair Hillary Benn said: “We are rapidly running out of time to get new trade and customs arrangements in place.

“Given that ministers are indicating that neither of the two options being discussed are likely to be ready by December 2020, when the transition period ends, the UK will in all likelihood have to remain in a customs union with the EU until alternative arrangements can be put in place.”

The report lambasts ministers for failing to agree or “set out in detail” their plans for future trading arrangements with the EU nearly two years on from the Brexit referendum.

And the Committee - made up of both Remain and Leave-backing MPs - urges more haste from the Government on plans to maintain “frictionless trade” on the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border, calling on Mrs May to spell out exactly how her alternative to the EU’s rejected customs “backstop” plan will work.

“It is clear that the EU is expecting clarification from ministers by the time of the European Council meeting in June about how the backstop will work,” Mr Benn said.

“The Government needs to come forward with its proposals as soon as possible to demonstrate how an open border, with no checks and no infrastructure, can be maintained.”

However, the group of MPs backs Mrs May’s decision to reject Brussels’ own solution for the Northern Ireland border, warning that the EU’s version of the backstop “would undermine the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom by effectively drawing an economic border in the Irish Sea”.

2019 EXIT 'A FANTASY'

The report also highlights “welcome” progress by both the EU and UK on guaranteeing the rights of citizens living abroad after Britan leaves the bloc, but it warns that some still face “uncertainty” about their status.

Anti-Brexit campaigners were quick to seize on the committee's findings, with Lib Dem MP Tom Brake of the Best for Britain group saying it put paid to claims of a straightforward exit from the EU.

"What this report makes clear is that Brexit by March 2019 was a fantasy, Brexit by December 2020 is unachievable and actual Brexit might not be delivered until 2023,” he said.

"Brexit is proving costlier, more complicated and more disruptive than anyone had thought. That is why people are entitled to a final say on the deal."

SNP Europe spokesperson Peter Grant fumed: "The UK government has it in its power to clear up almost all of this uncertainty with a single statement.

"They must now accept that leaving the EU does not mean leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. They should abandon their blind dogmatic opposition, and confirm that we will stay in the Single Market and Customs Union after we have left the EU – that is the only sensible path to protect jobs and prosperity.”

The report landed on ministers’ desks as a row erupted over fresh delays to the government’s flagship Brexit Bill.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed that the legislation - which was amended 15 times in the House of Lords - will not be considered by MPs when they return from the Whitsun mini-recess.

Matt Foster

Former Vote Leave boss Dominic Cummings attacks Theresa May’s ‘train wreck’ Brexit strategy

4 days 1 hour ago
Theresa May
Dominic Cummings said power in Downing Street is "systemically dysfunctional"

Former Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings has blasted Theresa May’s “botched” Brexit strategy and called on the Tories to remove her as Prime Minister.

The former Michael Gove adviser, seen by many as having masterminded the campaign to quit the EU, said civil servants had made “no real preparations” in the process so far.

He claimed mandarins were largely pro-EU and set on “maintenance of this broken system and keeping Britain as closely tied to the EU as possible”.

“Whitehall's real preparations are for the continuation of EU law and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice," he wrote in an open letter to Tory MPs and donors.

“The expectation is that MPs will end up accepting the terrible agreement as voting it down would be to invite chaos.

“In short, the state has made no preparations to leave and plans to make no preparations to leave even after leaving.”

He also hit out at ministers for failing to build the necessary infrastructure needed to manage trade as a “third country”, given the Government’s stated position is to quit the single market, customs union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

“Having botched it, it could have partially recovered its blunder by starting to do it afterwards. No such action has been taken,” he adds.

“Downing Street, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet have made no such preparations and there is no intention of starting.”

He also claimed that the “wiring of power in Downing Street is systemically dysfunctional” and that the Tories’ best hope was to “mitigate the train wreck” by ousting the PM or face the risk of a Jeremy Corbyn government.

He said the party should use the summer 2019 to autumn 2021 period to “change the political landscape”, which he says is “incompatible with the continuation of the May-Hammond brand of stagnation punctuated by rubbish crisis management”.

“If you go into the 2022 campaign after five years of this and the contest is Tory promises versus Corbyn promises, you will be maximising the odds of Corbyn as prime minister,” he adds.

Nicholas Mairs

Britain hits out at Brussels with 'strong objections' over Galileo satellite exclusion

4 days 2 hours ago
Images
Technicians mount a circular antenna onto a satellite assembled for Galileo

The UK has reportedly made clear its ‘strong objection’ to being shut out of the Galileo satellite programme after Brexit, as fresh splits emerge in the EU over the move.

British officials have written to Brussels claiming that excluding the UK would go against the phase-one withdrawal deal agreed by both sides in December.

They add the move would cost the bloc an extra €1bn (£876m) without their continuing involvement, with the Government ready to recoup costs invested in the programme so far.

In a letter, they say wider post-Brexit security co-operation would be compromised were Britain denied access to the Public Regulated Service (PRS) – a crucial navigation and timing signal used by government and military users – after March 2019.

A document seen by the BBC and handed to EU officials during Brexit talks this week says that excluding British industry in security-related areas also risks delays of up to three years.

"It will not be straightforward to effectively fulfil all Galileo security work elsewhere," it says.

"The UK therefore has a strong objection to its ongoing exclusion from security-related discussions and exchanges pertaining to the post-2019 development of Galileo and the PRS, which serves to limit UK assurance in the programme and discourage UK industrial participation.

"Current EU restrictions on UK participation will have implications for the ceiling placed on future UK-EU security cooperation."

Elsewhere The Times reports that the decision has sparked division in Brussels – with France, backed by Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Baltic states at odds with a German-backed bid to limit the UK’s involvement.

The EU has so far argued that Britain cannot immediately have access to the programme because the PRS is for EU member states only.

However French officials are said to be concerned that the group, led by Martin Selmayr, the commission’s most top civil servant, are exceeding their remit.

“It is not acceptable that security is sacrificed to a clique that wants to use Brexit as what they call a ‘pedagogical exercise’ in showing the benefits of EU membership and the cost of leaving,” a European diplomat told the paper.

“Germany particularly is taken with this idea. Other countries with greater security interests, like France or Spain, are more pragmatic.”

Nicholas Mairs

Jeremy Corbyn urges 'spirit of Good Friday Agreement' revival as Brexit looms

4 days 2 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn is on a two-day trip to Northern Ireland

Jeremy Corbyn will today call for the "spirit of the Good Friday Agreement" to be revived to protect peace in Northern Ireland after Brexit and get Stormont back up and running.

On a visit to Belfast on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the historic accord, the Labour leader will urge the Northern Irish parties, as well as Westminster, Ireland and Brussels, to play their part.

He will recommend the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - set up under the Good Friday Agreement - is reconvened to break the deadlock in Stormont.

And he will vow that Labour will never vote for a Brexit deal that could lead to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Corbyn's visit to Northern Ireland is his first since becoming Labour leader in 2015 and follows confirmation from his spokesman that he still supports a united Ireland.

DUP MP Ian Paisley has called on him to “condemn all IRA violence” before he speaks at Queen's University - where 29-year-old law lecturer Edgar Graham was killed by the terror group in 1983.

Mr Corbyn will say: “Look back at the sacrifice and courage shown at all levels of society that paved the way for something that had once seemed impossible. That was the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

“We all need that spirit again - Stormont and Westminster parties, the British and Irish Governments, business and unions, UK and EU negotiators - if we want to secure 20 more years of peace and greater prosperity for the many not the few.”

Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive has been on hold since January 2017 when the agreement broke down over a botched renewable heat scheme.

Mr Corbyn will argue: “If the current stalemate in Stormont cannot be sorted out in Belfast, I call on the UK government to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

"We must step up to find a creative solution, in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, that avoids a return to direct Westminster rule and lays the ground for further progress for all communities.”

And on Brexit he will say: “Labour will not support any Brexit deal that includes the return of a hard border to this island. But we are also clear there must be no border created in the Irish Sea either…

“Opposition to the idea of bringing back a hard border to this land isn’t just about avoiding paperwork or tariffs, important though that is, it’s about deep rooted cultural and community ties.

"An open border is a symbol of peace, two communities living and working together after years of conflict, communities who no longer feel that their traditions are under threat.”

Conservative chair Brandon Lewis said: “Labour are only interested in frustrating Brexit rather than making it a success for the whole United Kingdom. 

“This Government remains resolute in our commitments to Northern Ireland, including upholding the Belfast Agreement.

“Labour on the other hand, say one thing in public but then in private say the Brexit risks to the Belfast Agreement were being played up."

'ANTI-DEMOCRATIC VIEWS'

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn came under pressure from the DUP to "condemn all IRA violence" ahead of his visit.

Amid pressure over his past sympathies last year, Mr Corbyn said he believed the IRA were terrorists and its bombing campaign during the Troubles was wrong.

Asked if the Labour leader still supported a united Ireland, his spokesman said: "His view is on the record but in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the new constitutional settlement in the north of Ireland the process by which such a thing could take place is clear and Jeremy supports that.

"It's a matter for the people of Northern Ireland and for the island of Ireland and it's something that can come about by the process laid out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"He over the years made his position clear that the majority of those people across the whole island of Ireland wanted to see that outcome - a united Ireland - but in the context of the Good Friday Agreement that can only come about through that constitutional process that's laid out in the Good Friday Agreement and Jeremy fully supports that."

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson fumed: “He is taking a view that is contrary to that held by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and I suspect in the Irish Republic as well.

“People in Northern Ireland do not want to hear his anti-democratic views about defying the will of the people to break up the Union.

"They want to hear whether he has changed his views on his support for people who brought death and misery to Northern Ireland.”

emilio.casalicchio

HMRC boss: Brexiteer customs plan could cost UK firms £20bn a year

4 days 16 hours ago
UK and EU flags
The UK contribution to Brussels in 2016 was about £13bn

The customs plan preferred by pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers could cost businesses up to £20bn a year, the chief executive of HMRC has said.

Jon Thompson said the so-called 'maximum faciliation' proposal - which utilizes technology not yet in existence - could take three years to set up and cost firms more than £350m per week.

The figure would dwarf the UK contribution to Brussels in 2016 of £13bn.

He also said that the Prime Minister’s preferred 'custom partnership' option - which would see the UK collecting tariffs for Brussels - could be cost neutral for firms but take five years to set up.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Treasury Select Committee, he said businesses would be hit in the pocket mainly by the need to fill out customs declaration forms.

Mr Thomson said that could amount to about £13bn when the forms required on both sides of the border are taken into account. 

And he said further costs around so-called rules of origin requirements could run to “several billions of pounds more”.

“You need to think about the highly streamlined customs arrangement costing businesses somewhere in the late teens of billions to operate," he said.

“So somewhere between £17bn to £20bn. It is that sort of order. The primary driver here is the customs declarations.”

Mr Thompson meanwhile said the customs partnership option, described by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as "crazy", could cost £700m to set up.

He noted that the system could arguably be cost-neutral for businesses once running - but could cost them up to £3.4bn a year.

The proposal would see the UK collecting tariffs on imports at the EU rate then reimbursing firms if the goods are sold only in the UK and at lower tariffs.

'SPECULATION'

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the suggestion the maximum facilitation option could cost firms £20bn was “speculation”.

"The Prime Minister has asked for work too be done on both customs models. That work is ongoing and therefore any speculation about implementation is just that," they said.

Labour MP Jo Stevens, speaking on behalf of anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said the maximum facilitation option could “blow up” the economy. 

"This shocking evidence from the chief taxman today shows that Brexiteers don’t care about the carnage it will cause to the economy," she fumed.

"This will hurt businesses up and down the country and threaten jobs."

'RIDICULOUS IDEA'

Meanwhile, Labour backbencher and campaigner for a second Brexit referendum Stephen Doughty said the Government was "pursuing a path they know will make the whole country poorer".

“The admission by UK’s most senior customs official that the Brextremist’s fantasy ‘Max-Fac’ option could cost British businesses up to £20bn should finally put this ridiculous idea to bed," he said.

“Businesses are growing increasingly restive over the Government’s ideological insistence on wrenching the UK out of the customs union and the single market, as they know it will be a bombshell of bureaucracy for British businesses and will cost jobs.

“With the costs of Brexit mounting up, it is clearer than ever that we need a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.”

john.johnston_25922

Boris Johnson calls for his own plane to promote post-Brexit Britain

5 days 2 hours ago
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson is currently visiting South America

Boris Johnson has said he needs his own plane as Foreign Secretary in order to boost Britain’s post-Brexit trade prospects.

Speaking in Argentina, the Foreign Secretary said he and other Cabinet ministers needed another aircraft as the Prime Minister’s £10m Voyager was rarely available.

Mr Johnson, who travelled to his South American five-day visit on commercial flights, said the new plane could be used by Cabinet ministers on Brexit business.

And he added that while the British public would not necessarily back “some luxurious new plane”, it need not be “exorbitantly expensive”.

“But if there’s a way of [getting a plane] that is not exorbitantly expensive then yes I think we probably do need something,” he told the visiting press.

“What I will say about the Voyager, I think it’s great, but it seems to be very difficult to get hold of. It never seems to be available. I don’t know who uses it, but it never seems to be available.

The Foreign Secretary added that it was “striking” such a plane did not yet exist and suggested that it could be a different colour.

He added: “And also, why does it have to be grey? The taxpayers won’t want us to have some luxurious new plane.

“But I certainly think it’s striking that we don’t seem to have access to such a thing at the moment.”

Commons Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan hit out at her Conservative colleague’s suggestion, while criticising the infamous figure on the side of the Vote Leave bus on post-Brexit health spending.

“This must surely be a late April Fool’s story,” she told the Sun.

“How much does a new plane and fuel eat into Boris’s famous £350m a week for the NHS?"

Labour MP Wes Streeting told the paper: “The idea that when the Government is cutting police and school budgets that they’d throw taxpayers’ money away on something like this is outrageous - but it tells you that Boris Johnson is only ever thinking about Boris Johnson.”

Nicholas Mairs

Brexit backstop row: EU pours cold water on Theresa May’s plan for 'time limited' customs ties

5 days 2 hours ago
Theresa May
A Brussels source said the controversial proposal backed by ministers 'can’t be time limited or it’s not a backstop'

The European Union looks set to reject Theresa May’s plan for a “time limited” extension of Britain’s customs ties with Brussels, dealing a fresh blow to her plans to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Conservative Brexiteers have already slammed the so-called “backstop” proposal, which would keep the UK aligned with the EU’s customs union for a limited time while a longer-term solution on customs is drawn up. Leading eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg last night warned that it would reduce Britain to a “vassal state”.

Mrs May has insisted that the plan, which was signed off by the Prime Minister's Brexit 'war cabinet' last week, is a last resort and will apply only "in a very limited set of circumstances for a limited time".

But a Brussels source told The Independent that the withdrawal agreement signed off by Britain and the EU in December committed Britain to a backstop "unless and until" a permanent solution was found in Northern Ireland, rejecting plans for a specified end date.

An EU source said: "It will apply for as long as there is no credible alternative. It can’t be time limited or it’s not a backstop."

The UK has already rejected Brussels' own proposition for a backstop, which would apply just to Northern Ireland rather than the whole United Kingdom.

Mrs May has previously said that keeping continued customs alignment with Northern Ireland threatens "the break-up of the UK’s internal market" - a position which would be unacceptable to the DUP on whose Parliamentary support the Prime Minister relies.

A Government spokesperson told The Independent: "The fallback solution put forward by the EU is not acceptable, and that’s why we will be bringing forward our own proposal. We want to make progress as soon as possible."

CUSTOMS ROW A 'HAND-BRAKE ON ECONOMY'

The withering Brussels verdict came as Chancellor Philip Hammond was scolded by business chiefs for a lack of progress on a customs deal with the EU.

Speaking at the annual dinner of the CBI business lobby group, outgoing president Paul Dreschler warned that the drawn-out process was serving as a "hand-brake on our economy that can and must be released".

He urged ministers to opt for "plan A" and "choose to stay in a customs union with the EU, unless and until a better alternative can be found".

But Mr Hammond insisted that the Government shared the same aims as business.

He said: "I have listened to the four customs tests you have set out tonight, and we share your aspirations to minimise frictions and burden, to avoid new barriers in Ireland, and to grow British exports. But we do not agree that staying in the customs union is necessary to deliver them."

The Chancellor admitted that both long-term customs proposals under consideration by ministers were still “works in progress”, but he told the CBI the Government was "confident" it could "develop a solution that will allow us to move forward while meeting your concerns".

Matt Foster

Jacob Rees-Mogg blasts 'weak' Theresa May - and suggests she doesn't want to leave the EU

5 days 15 hours ago
Jacob Rees-Mogg
PA

Jacob Rees-Mogg has launched an outspoken attack on Theresa May over Brexit, accusing the Prime Minister of “preparing for failure” and suggesting she may not be committed to leaving the European Union.

The influential Conservative Eurosceptic has been among the loudest voices to condemn a 'backstop' option agreed by Mrs May’s Brexit war cabinet last week which would potentially prolong elements of the customs union long after the Brexit transition period expires at the end of 2020 in a bid to solve the Northern Ireland border issue.

In a full-blooded attack on the Prime Minister, the Tory backbencher said that would reduce Britain to a “vassal state”.

Speaking on his Moggcast podcast for the ConservativeHome website, he said: "Inevitably it is disconcerting when the Government says one thing and then agrees to do another.

"In terms of these negotiations, particularly as they're led by someone who backed Remain, trust is very important. And it's very important that the Government maintains faith with those who voted leave.”

Mr Rees-Mogg added: "I fear we're getting to the point where you wonder whether the Government really wants to leave at all... I'm deeply concerned that the Government is not only not backing its avowed policy at the moment, it's deliberately undermining it.”

The Tory MP - who chairs the powerful European Research Group of Brexiteer Tories - accused ministers of “preparing for failure two and a half years before the point at which they ought to be ready”.

And he predicted that the Government was preparing to “kow-tow” before the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier by siding with the backstop option.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I think it's a sign of abject weakness.... You've got to judge people ultimately by their actions rather than their words. Fine words are well known for not buttering parsnips, and we are not getting our parsnips buttered at the moment.”

But the Prime Minister's spokesman dismissed Mr Rees-Mogg's criticisms this evening.

He said: "You can see what's been achieved in the Brexit talks so far. We're making progress on securing a future relationship with the EU that will be in our interests and the interests of the EU."

Speaking during a visit in Cheshire yesterday, Mrs May also insisted that the backstop option remained a last resort for the UK - which has already rejected Brussels’ own proposals on the grounds that they will require Northern Ireland to stay in the regulatory orbit of the EU.

“The European Commission between December and March outlined their backstop solution," Mrs May said.

“That was unacceptable to the UK government. I think it will be unacceptable to any UK government because it effectively put a border down the Irish Sea.

“So, what we are proposing is an alternative backstop proposal. But nobody wants this to be the solution that is achieved.”

It is Mr Rees-Mogg's second attack on the Prime Minister in just 24 hours. On Tuesday afternoon he described Mrs May's flagship target of reducing net migration to less than 100,000 as "idiotic".

Matt Foster

Pro-EU campaigners say 'Brexit wet dream has hit reality' after Theresa May climbdown on atomic body

6 days 17 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May today said she wanted Britain to “fully associate” itself to the Euratom project and will “willingly” pay to do so

Theresa May has been accused of a major U-turn after she said Britain is ready to continue paying to remain part of a key nuclear safety body after Brexit.

A pro-EU campaign group said the apparent climbdown showed the “ideological wet dream” of Brexit supporters had “run slap bang into hard cold reality”.

In a speech laying out the future UK approach to sciences, the Prime Minister said she wanted Britain to “fully associate” itself to the Euratom project and will “willingly” pay to do so.

It marks an about-turn from last year when ministers were insisting the UK should quit the atomic regulatory body after Brexit because they saw it as too closely tied to the European Court of Justice.

And it is a step further from March this year when the PM said in her landmark Mansion House speech that she only wanted “close association” with the body.

In her speech at the Jodrell Bank observatory in Manchester today, the Prime Minister said: "The United Kingdom would like the option to fully associate ourselves with the excellence-based European science and innovation programmes – including the successor to Horizon 2020 and Euratom R&T.

"It is in the mutual interest of the UK and the EU that we should do so. Of course such an association would involve an appropriate UK financial contribution, which we would willingly make."

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran - speaking on behalf of the Best for Britain campaign - welcomed the change of course, which will add to a bill worth billions for the UK to stick with a number of EU science bodies.

“What this shows is the Government's Brexit plans have hit the rocks and that Jacob Rees Mogg's ideological wet dream has run slap bang unto hard cold reality,” she said.

"To be a part of projects like this you have to be a part of the European Court of Justice. "Neither the public nor even the nuclear industry knew this was on the ballot paper.

"It’s not just nuclear safety and access to research that’s at stake. If we suspend, or even better cancel, exit from Euratom, we will have taken a step on the road to cancelling Brexit entirely."

In March the Office for Budget Responsibility said the UK bill for continued participation in EU science and education projects like Erasmus, Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 would be £2bn a year.

emilio.casalicchio

Boris Johnson says Theresa May will be 'true to her promises' amid Brexit customs backstop row

1 week ago
Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said he is "convinced" that Theresa May will be "true to her promises of a Brexit deal", amid a furious Conservative Party row over Britain's future customs ties with the European Union.

Leading Brexiteers reacted with outrage last week when Mrs May's Brexit war cabinet threw its weight behind plans for a 'backstop' on the Northern Ireland border issue which would potentially prolong elements of the customs union long after the Brexit transition period expires in 2020.

In carefully-worded remarks, the Foreign Secretary - who spoke out against the backstop option at last week's crunch meeting - said: “Brexiteers fearing betrayal over the customs backstop must understand that the PM has been very clear that it is not an outcome we desire; we want a deal with the EU and she will deliver it.”

The backstop proposal - which has not yet received the blessing of the EU - would be triggered if a solution to the Irish border problem cannot be found before the end of the two-year transition period.

But prominent Tory eurosceptics have warned that the plan could leave the door open to continued customs union membership, an outcome Brexiteers believe will undermine Britain's trade policy after it leaves the EU. Jacob Rees-Mogg last week likened the backstop to a state of "perpetual purgatory".

Mr Johnson - speaking at the start of a five-day visit to Latin America - urged his backbench colleagues to give Mrs May the "time and space" to strike a deal with Brussels.

"I’m convinced that the Prime Minister will be true to her promises of a Brexit deal - that sees Britain come out of the customs union and single market, have borders as frictionless as possible, reject ECJ [European Court of Justice] interference, controls immigration and free to conduct unhindered free trade deals across the world," he said.

“We must now give the Prime Minister time and space to negotiate this Brexit vision.”

Mr Johnson's latest intervention came as a senior Tory backbencher teamed up with the Democratic Unionist Party's Brexit spokesman to lash out at those expressing concern about the impacts of leaving the EU on peace in Northern Ireland.

Writing in The Telegraph, former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and the DUP's Sammy Wilson said the future of the Good Friday agreement should be left "solely, democratically and peacefully to the people of Northern Ireland".

They added: "Unionists have every right to expect what’s actually in the Agreement is honoured, rather than fantasies about it being cynically and recklessly exploited by Remainers."

Matt Foster

Barry Gardiner suggests he wanted to ‘advance thinking’ with 'Good Friday Agreement played up in Brexit' claim

1 week ago
Barry Gardiner
His comments come after separate claims made in Brussels

Barry Gardiner has defended his claim that Brexit risks to the Good Friday Agreement were being "played up" for economic reasons as an attempt to further thinking on the Irish border.

The Shadow International Trade Secretary said private conversations were necessary in political negotiations, and that “sticking by the line” meant issues could never advance.

It comes after he was recorded controversially telling a thinktank session in Brussels that the Irish government had an “economic interest” in exaggerating the importance of a tariff-free, frictionless border to keep violence at bay.

“I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

The Labour frontbencher released a statement just days later saying he was "deeply sorry" for suggesting the accord - which won peace in Northern Ireland - was now out of date.

Asked today whether he stood by the remarks, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. “Sometimes you have conversations in private, and the reason they’re held in private is because you can advance thinking…

“If all you ever do is stick by the given line you’re never actually advancing, because you’d never discuss anything with people. That’s the reason for holding things in private.”

Elsewhere the Labour frontbencher insisted he did not “rubbish” Labour policy, following a separate recording in which he said one of the party's "six tests" on Brexit was "b******s".

In an outspoken attack he said there was no way the UK could enjoy "the exact same benefits" as it does as a member of the customs union and single market after it leaves the EU.

When pressed on the issue this morning, he added: “Our position is that we will hold [the Government] to account to what they promised the British people, which is that they will secure the exact same benefits outside of the EU as they did inside of the EU.”

Nicholas Mairs

Theresa May to table fresh Brexit customs proposals in bid to break Irish deadlock

1 week 3 days ago
Theresa May
Theresa May is battling to save the Brexit negotiations from collapse.

Theresa May is to publish fresh proposals for avoiding a hard border in Ireland in a last-ditch attempt to break the Brexit deadlock.

The Prime Minister told EU chiefs, as well as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that the so-called "backstop" plans will be produced within the next fortnight.

The proposals - which would only be implemented if no withdrawal agreement can be reached - would keep Britain in a customs union with the EU beyond the post-Brexit transition period, which ends on 31 December, 2020.

It emerged on Wednesday night that the plan had been agreed at this week's meeting of Mrs May's Brexit war Cabinet, despite opposition from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The Prime Minister has previously dismissed the EU's own backstop plans, which would effectively have kept Britain in the customs union and single market, as "unacceptable".

Following talks with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council president Donald Tusk in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Thursday, a Downing Street spokesman said: "The PM said the UK would be shortly putting forward its own backstop proposal in relation to customs."

On separate talks with Leo Varadkar, the spokesman said: "They agreed on their shared commitment to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and on the need to continue talks on the way forward."

Speaking afterwards, Mr Varadkar said: "I said to the Prime Minister that any move that helped to align all of the EU and the UK in terms of customs into the future would be beneficial.

"It would help solve some of the problems related to the border but not all of them. It would certainly help us continue to trade between Britain and Ireland much as we do now."

He added: "The Prime Minister gave me an insight into some new thinking the UK government as in relation to customs. Obviously, we'll see how that develops. We haven't been able to get any detail on that yet, but certainly any move on customs that brings the UK closer to the EU is to be welcomed.

"But I very much emphasised that resolving the issue of avoiding a hard border requires more than just customs."

However, Mrs May is already facing a backlash from Brexiteers on the Conservative backbenches.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "We have gone from a clear end point, to an extension, to a proposed further extension with no end point.

"The horizon seems to be unreachable. The bottom of the rainbow seems to be unattainable. People voted to leave, they did not vote for a perpetual purgatory."

kevin.schofield

Theresa May mocked as it emerges EU Withdrawal Bill may not be passed by the summer

1 week 3 days ago
Theresa May
Mrs May told reporters the UK "will be leaving the customs union"

Theresa May has been accused of "kicking the can down the road" after it emerged her flagship Brexit bill may not even be passed in time for the summer.

House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed to MPs that the EU Withdrawal Bill will not be considered by MPs again until after the upcoming week-long Whitsun recess.

But Downing Street also refused to confirm that the landmark legislation - which will transfer European law onto the UK statute book on day one of Brexit - will be passed before the Commons rises for the summer at the end of July.

If that were to happen, ministers would then face a race against time for the Bill to be law before October, when the Prime Minister hopes to agree her final Brexit deal with Brussels.

Peers have passed 15 amedments to the bill, leaving the Government with a massive headache as it tries to persuade the Commons to overturn the changes.

Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman told PoliticsHome: "Theresa May’s flagship Brexit legislation has gone from being the Great Repeal Bill to the Great Delayed Bill.

"It is frankly embarrassing that nearly two years since the referendum ministers have failed to pass a single piece of Brexit legislation and are now kicking the can further down the road on crucial Commons votes.

"Theresa May needs to face down the extreme Brexiteers in her party and start putting the national interest first."

Labour MP Alison McGovern, of the People's Vote campaign calling for a second EU referendum, said: "Theresa May is becoming so expert at kicking the can down the road on Brexit that it’s a surprise Jürgen Klopp isn't taking her to Kiev.

"The Prime Minister cannot keep ducking the difficult issues she has created for herself with her ludicrous Brexit policy: at some point she will have to face the music.

"With the Government’s approach to Brexit descending increasingly into chaos, it only strengthens the need for clarity, and therefore the argument in favour of a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal."

TRANSITION

Meanwhile, Mrs May has denied reports of a government climbdown over the customs union, after ministers threw their weight behind a plan that could see Britain keep close ties with Brussels long after the Brexit transition period expires.

It was reported this morning that the Prime Minister's Brexit 'war Cabinet' of top ministers had signed off on a new 'backstop' plan to avoid a hard Irish border should the UK fail to agree a solution on customs in time for the end of the Brexit transition period in 2021.

Top UK officials have said getting customs systems in place for Brexit could take up to 2023.

According to the Telegraph, the fresh UK back-up plan was approved despite strong objections from key Cabinet Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Speaking as she arrived at the EU western Balkans summit this morning, Mrs May pushed back at suggestions from reporters that the plan represented a "climbdown" on proposals to leave the EU's customs union.

"No, we are not [climbing down]," she said. "The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union, we are leaving the European Union. Of course, we will be negotiating future customs arrangements with the European Union and I have set three objectives; the government has three objectives in those.

"We need to be able to have our own independent trade policy, we want as frictionless a border between the UK and the EU so that trade can continue. And we want to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."

The reported backstop option has already won the support of a key ally of Mrs May, with ex-deputy Prime Minister Damian Green saying getting UK customs arrangements right would be worth the wait.

 

 

But the plans have been given a frostry reception by key eurosceptics, with Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg warning they could leave the UK in "perpetual purgatory".

A Downing Street spokeswoman insisted there would be no extension to the transition period and added: "Once the implementation period is over we will sign and implemet our own trade deals."

However, she stopped short of saying that the UK would immeduately be able set a different external trade tariff from the EU.

Matt Foster

Jacob Rees-Mogg warns of 'perpetual Brexit purgatory' as ministers agree EU customs ties could last beyond 2021

1 week 4 days ago
jacob rees-mogg
"The horizon seems to be unreachable. The bottom of the rainbow seems to be unattainable."

Ministers have agreed to tell the EU that Britain is willing to stay in the customs union after 2021 - teeing up a fresh clash with Conservative eurosceptics.

Theresa May's Brexit 'war Cabinet' this week signed off on a new 'backstop' plan to avoid a hard Irish border should the UK not have customs infrastructure in place in time for the end of the Brexit transition period in 2021.

Ministers have previously rejected EU proposals for a backstop amid demands from Brussels for continued regulatory ties.

But Mrs May's Brexit sub-committee has now agreed to stay tied to the customs union beyond the transition period if no other solution to the Northern Ireland question can be found, according to the Telegraph.

The paper says the plan was approved despite objections from Brexit-backing cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who eventually relented.

The plan has already drawn strong criticism from backbench Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the powerful European Research Group of eurosceptics.

He told the paper that the move risked creating a fallback option that was "more attractive than a permanent deal".

Mr Rees-Mogg added: "We have gone from a clear end point, to an extension, to a proposed further extension with no end point.

"The horizon seems to be unreachable. The bottom of the rainbow seems to be unattainable. People voted to leave, they did not vote for a perpetual purgatory."

According to The Times, the backstop option would see the UK continue to collect the EU's common external tariff on behalf of Brussels - a proposal that has previously incensed eurosceptics.

But Downing Street sources insisted there was no plan to remain in a customs union in the future, and that this week's discussion had been focused squarely on the fallback option.

It comes after Mrs May reportedly confronted Mr Rees-Mogg during a Downing Street meeting over post-Brexit customs options earlier in the week and "slapped him down very hard".

emilio.casalicchio

MPs vote down Labour bid to force Government to publish secret custom deal plans

1 week 4 days ago
EU FLAGS

Labour has failed in a bid to force the Government to publish secret documents on their plans for a customs deal with the EU after Brexit.

MPs voted 301 to 269 against the Labour motion to force the publication of Cabinet documents relating to post-Brexit customs plans.

Conservative MPs had been ordered by party whips to vote against the move.

Labour had used a so-called humble address, an arcane parliamentary convention, to try and force the Government to release the documents after Labour previously used the tactic to secure the publication of the 58 Brexit impact papers.

The attempted ambush came after Theresa May's Brexit war Cabinet once again failed to reach an agreement on what type of trading arrangement they want with the EU in the future.

The 11-strong group of senior ministers met for around an hour and a half, and heard presentations from David Lidington and David Davis on the two options under consideration, a customs partnership and so-called "maximum facilitation".

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union Paul Blomfield said that the motion gave the House an opportunity to sort out the “total mess” of the UK’s customs arrangement.

“This is frankly a desperate state of affairs, we are two years on from the referendum, five months away from the deadline on the withdrawal deal, and the Government still can’t agree on the most basic of issues in relation to Brexit, our future customs arrangement.

“Each week we see a new attempt, and each week we see it fail.

“Cabinet, war cabinet and two sub-committees of warring factions. Well yesterday we saw at least some agreement. An agreement to kick the ball down the road for another month. To publish a white paper on the Government’s negotiation position, but without any agreement on what will be in it.”

He added: “Parliament has a deep responsibility to stand up for the people that we represent, and we need access to the information to do that.”

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said that Labour’s motion could undermine Cabinet’s ability to have frank and unconstrained discussions when making decisions.

“You cannot have honest open discussion in Cabinet or Cabinet committee if people know that at any time, their views could be made public by means of a resolution of the House.

“Officials must be able to give frank advice in confidence to Ministers. And that includes those memoranda and other papers provided to Cabinet committees by some of the senior officials in the civil service.”

He added: “The candour of everybody involved, whether Ministers of officials, would be affected if they thought the content of their discussions would be disclosed prematurely. Frankly, if details of discussions were routinely made public then Ministers would feel inhibited from being frank and candid with one another.

“As a result the quality of debate underlying collective decision making would decline significantly.

“That is not in the interest of any Government of any political party, and it is not in the interest of our constitutional democracy.”

john.johnston_25922

Fresh blow for Theresa May as EU Withdrawal Bill suffers its fifteenth defeat in the Lords

1 week 4 days ago
Flag
Peers inflicted a fifteenth defeat on the Government's landmark Brexit bill

The Lords have inflicted yet another humiliating defeat on the Government today – this time on post-Brexit environmental protections.   

Peers voted 294-244 in favour of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill designed to enshrine European environmental protections in UK law.

The proposals – tabled by crossbencher Lord Krebs with cross-party support – would see the creation of new body with tough powers to enforce EU environmental standards in Britain.

The latest defeat, taking the total on the Bill to fifteen, comes amid a backlash over the Government’s plans for a new green watchdog, dubbed “toothless” by Labour’s shadow environment minister, Baroness Jones, when they were released earlier this month.

Speaking today, Lord Krebs said: “We were promised a world class watchdog, and not just to protect but to enhance standards. In proposing a bill that clearly weakens protections it has fallen very short of expectations…

“The Government’s proposals open the door to weaker environment protection after Brexit day.”  

The Green party’s Baroness Jones, who backed Brexit, said that without the protections it would be “a disaster from an environmental point of view”.

However, Tory peer Lord Framlingham, lashed out at his Upper Chamber colleagues, saying many of the amendments to the EU Withdrawal that had been passed had “simply been an attempt to wreck the Bill and thwart the will of the people”.

Former Tory environment secretary, Lord Deben – who also backed the amendment - hit back, saying: “We are running entirely with public opinion on this, the public wants proper protection.”

The landmark Brexit legislation will now return to the Commons, where the Prime Minister is expected to face tough battles against her own backbenchers on customs arrangements, the Northern Irish border and parliamentary scrutiny, among other issues.       

Government whips are expecting the amendments to endure two rounds of so-called 'Ping Pong' before the Bill is finally passed, with the process possibly even stretching beyond the Whitsun recess.

Elizabeth.Bates_30914
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47