Cabinet to discuss merits of “definitive votes” on Brexit options

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, will chair a meeting of the Cabinet this morning, where ministers are expected to consider the merits of holding “definitive votes” on different Brexit outcomes. The Cabinet is also expected to discuss details of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and consider whether the Government should accept the Labour Party’s demands on the environment and workers’ rights. A Downing Street spokesman yesterday did not give further details of when the Bill would be published. 

This comes as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will give a speech later today at the CBI where he is expected to say that “there is a real risk of a new prime minister abandoning the search for a deal, and shifting towards seeking a damaging No Deal exit as a matter of policy.” Meanwhile, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said this morning, “if we get to the end of October and it’s not possible to get a deal, leaving the EU is the most important thing.” 

Elsewhere, the “One Nation Caucus” of moderate Conservative MPs, chaired by Nicky Morgan, met yesterday evening to discuss the direction of the party after May steps down. The group is expected to produce a list of demands for any future leadership candidate. One of the members of the group, Damian Green, told the BBC yesterday that the group agreed that “it would [be] massively better for this country to have a [Brexit] deal, so we don’t see No Deal as a good option for this country.”

This comes as the former Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, said that the next leader of the Conservatives must be a “Brexiteer who believes in Brexit,” and announced she would be prepared to lead the UK out of the EU without a Brexit deal.

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Cabinet to discuss merits of “definitive votes” on Brexit options

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, will chair a meeting of the Cabinet this morning, where ministers are expected to consider the merits of holding “definitive votes” on different Brexit outcomes. The Cabinet is also expected to discuss details of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and consider whether the Government should accept the Labour Party's demands on the environment and workers' rights. A Downing Street spokesman yesterday did not give further details of when the Bill would be published.  This comes as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will give a speech later today at the CBI where he is expected to say that "there is a real risk of a new prime minister abandoning the search for a deal, and shifting towards seeking a damaging No Deal exit as a matter of policy." Meanwhile, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said this morning, "if we get to the end of October and it's not possible to get a deal, leaving the EU is the most important thing."  Elsewhere, the “One Nation Caucus” of moderate Conservative MPs, chaired by Nicky Morgan, met yesterday evening to discuss the direction of the party after May steps down. The group is expected to produce a list of demands for any future leadership candidate. One of the members of the group, Damian Green, told the BBC yesterday that the group agreed that "it would [be] massively better for this country to have a [Brexit] deal, so we don't see No Deal as a good option for this country." This comes as the former Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, said that the next leader of the Conservatives must be a "Brexiteer who believes in Brexit," and announced she would be prepared to lead the UK out of the EU without a Brexit deal.

Sources: Reuters, Telegraph, BBC, Steve Hawkes - Twitter, Politico - London Playbook, Daily Mail, The Times I, The Times II

  • Barnier says EU has offered "all options to the UK"

    The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in a press conference in Cyprus yesterday, “We have offered all options to the United Kingdom, from the single market to the customs union or a free trade agreement. We are now waiting for clarity from the United Kingdom. In the meantime, we keep preparing for a No Deal. This is not, and will not be, the EU’s choice. It is for the UK to take its responsibilities.” He added, “Ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement is the only way to secure a transition period” that would give the UK “time to sort out its negotiation positions” and both sides time to “figure out what specific arrangements are necessary in relation to the Northern Irish border on top of the overall EU/UK relationship.”

    Barnier also commented on Turkey’s recent illegal operations within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, saying, “The EU stands clearly behind Cyprus and expects Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of the EU member-states”, and expressing his “grave concern over Turkey’s announced intention to carry out drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.”

    Sources: Guardian, Kathimerini English edition

  • Nicola Sturgeon: Free movement of goods and people "vital" for Scottish economy

    Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said, “The free movement of goods and people across Europe is vital for Scotland’s economic success. But those benefits that we all enjoy are plunged into peril by Brexit,” adding, “Blocking Scotland from trading freely with the European Union post-Brexit will be catastrophic to businesses here.” 

    Elsewhere, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Scottish National Party have moved “from soft independence to hard independence,” because “they will now leave the British pound, they will leave the UK currency union. “

    Elsewhere, the interim leader of Change UK, Heidi Allen, said yesterday that the party might exist in a “slightly different” format at the time of the next General Election, depending when that takes place. Appearing on the Radio 4’s Today programme, yesterday, Allen said, “I see a modern world of coalition where it isn’t just about two big parties, I think the whole way Parliament operates in Westminster needs a damn good shake up and I want to be part of that.”

    Sources: Guardian, Politics Home

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David Shiels: What to look for in Ulster’s fiercely competitive European election

Ultimately, they may reveal less about Brexit and more about the longer-term trends in Northern Ireland’s political landscape.

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

The political parties in Northern Ireland have been launching their campaigns for the European elections this week as the region prepares to go to the polls again on 23 May.

With three seats available to Northern Ireland as a single constituency, representation in the European Parliament has always been highly prized. Having an MEP elected gives the parties an international profile. After topping the poll in the first direct elections in 1979, Rev. Ian Paisley, the founder of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), declared that he was now the “leader of Ulster.”

For Sinn Fein, who claimed the top spot in 2009, winning a seat at the European level confirmed their position as the dominant Nationalist party while enhancing their ‘all-Ireland’ credentials. The European Parliament is an important alternative to Westminster, where Sinn Fein MPs abstain from taking their seats.

Eleven candidates are contesting these elections, including candidates from the five “main” parties currently represented in the Stormont Assembly, several smaller parties, and independents. Unlike in Great Britain, the European elections in Northern Ireland take place using Single Transferable Vote (STV), with voters ranking candidates in order of preference. Two sitting MEPs are defending their seats – Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson and the DUP’s Diane Dodds – while Jim Nicholson, the incumbent Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MEP, is standing down.

A recent Lucid Talk poll for The Times put Sinn Fein in the lead with 24.6% of first preference votes, followed by the DUP on 18.2%. With these two parties likely to retain the first and second seats, there is expected to be intense competition for the third seat.

As in all elections in Northern Ireland, the results will be scrutinised for what they say about the balance between Unionism and Nationalism. The election will also be a test of opinion on Brexit and the backstop. As Sinn Fein puts it, the elections are “an opportunity to send a message loud and clear that the people of the north reject Brexit.” Victory in the third seat for an anti-Brexit candidate would be a symbolic defeat for Unionism at a time when all the Unionist parties are campaigning to respect the result of the referendum.

In 2014, the Unionists won just over 50% of the first preference votes – 52.6% if the votes of UKIP, the Conservatives and the now-defunct NI21 party are taken into account – but if their share falls significantly below 50% it could lead to renewed calls for a border poll.

Partly because the stakes are so high, the internal battle for votes and preferences will be fierce. With greater competition on the Unionist side, the DUP will need to demonstrate that its Brexit stance retains the confidence of the Unionist electorate. Part of their strategy will be to appeal to Northern Ireland’s Leave voters.

Following her confirmation as the party’s candidate, the MEP Diane Dodds described the election as “an opportunity for those who want the 2016 referendum result to be respected to ‘tell them again’.” The party’s campaign will be pushed in a pro-Brexit direction by the electoral challenge from Jim Allister, a staunch Brexiteer whose slogan is “out means out.” The TUV leader is himself a former DUP MEP who left the party in protest at its decision to enter power-sharing with Sinn Fein.

All of this creates problems for the UUP, which must compete for votes and transfers from pro-Brexit Unionists, while also trying to appeal to pro-Remain opinion. The UUP candidate, Danny Kennedy, was a Remain voter who appears to be pitching himself as a pragmatic candidate, highlighting that he is a border Unionist and opposes a No Deal Brexit. That said, the party may struggle to get this message across when competing voices are more emphatically pro-Brexit or pro-Remain.

On the Remain side of the debate, there are the two main Nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, as well as the Alliance Party, the Greens and two independents. Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, is hoping to “take back John Hume’s seat,” a message reminding voters of the party’s strong history of pro-Europeanism – Hume being the former party leader and long-term MEP. As with the UUP on the Unionist side, the SDLP has struggled with its message in recent years, but the party’s strong anti-Brexit message may give it a clearer mission in this election.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party is also thought to be in with a good chance at taking the third seat. The party’s performance in the recent local elections has given it some momentum and its candidate (and party leader) Naomi Long is thought to be particularly ‘transfer friendly’ – someone who can attract second and third preferences from Nationalist voters in a way that the UUP cannot. With the Unionist parties focused on the existential nature of the Brexit question, Long stresses that opposition to Brexit – or support for the backstop – does not necessarily equate to opposition to the Union with Great Britain.

Significantly, the fact that Sinn Fein has urged its supporters to give their second and further preferences to other Remain parties lends some credibility to her efforts to move beyond the ‘green and orange’ labels traditionally associated with Northern Ireland politics.

Finally, the performance of the smaller parties and the two independent candidates may well make a difference, especially in an election when first preference tallies as well as transfers are important. The Conservative candidate will struggle to get a hearing but he may take some first preferences from Unionist parties, and UKIP are also fielding a candidate (UKIP did better than the Conservatives last time around). Meanwhile the Greens, who enjoyed success at the local elections recently, will be using the European poll as a means of establishing a stronger support base across both communities.

What does all this mean for Brexit and for Northern Ireland? In the end, the results of the European elections will have to be treated with caution. As in the rest of the UK, voters may use the election to register a protest against the establishment parties. The elections are also taking place when talks are ongoing to restore the power-sharing Executive. It is possible that the Remain majority in Northern Ireland could assert itself, but the Unionist parties could equally become entrenched in their pro-Brexit / anti-backstop message.

A good election for the DUP may not be good for Unionism. Decline in support for either the DUP or Sinn Fein may be masked by the result in the third seat. Ultimately, the elections may reveal less about Brexit and more about the longer-term trends in Northern Ireland’s political landscape.

New polls show Brexit Party support increasing in European and Westminster elections

A new opinion poll for the European elections in the UK on 23 May has put the Brexit Party in first place, outperforming the combined total for the Conservatives and Labour. The Opinium survey for the Observer showed the Brexit party on 34%, with Labour in second place on 21%, the Liberal Democrats in third place on 12% and the Conservatives in fourth place on 11%. The poll also showed the Green Party in fifth place on 8%, UKIP and the Scottish National Party (SNP) on 4% each and Change UK: The Independent Group on 3%. Meanwhile, a new poll by YouGov for The Times sets the Brexit Party in the lead for the European elections with 34%, followed by the Labour Party with 16%. The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party follows with 15% and 11% respectively. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party comes fifth, polling at 10%.

Elsewhere, a Com Res poll for Brexit Express for Westminster voting intentions put the Labour Party in the lead on 27%, the Brexit Party in second place on 20% and the Conservatives in third place with 19%. The Liberal Democrats were on 14%, Change UK, 7%, Greens, 5%, and UKIP and the SNP on 3% each.

Commenting on the Observer opinion poll, Open Europe’s Henry Newman said, “If you add together the Brexit Party vote, the UKIP vote and the Tory vote, you’ve already got basically half of the vote share. If you added in some of the Labour vote, which at least is facing half-way towards Leave, you’ve got a lot of the electorate who are still very strongly backing Brexit, which runs completely counter to the narrative that people are changing their mind.”

Meanwhile, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, the Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said, “there’s a complete breakdown of trust between the people in this country and our politicians,” adding that if his party won the European elections, “I’m going to demand that Brexit Party MEPs become part of a Government negotiating team.” Farage also said there would be “no manifestos from the Brexit Party,” but that the party’s policy was to “leave with a clean break Brexit.”

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New polls show Brexit Party support increasing in European and Westminster elections

A new opinion poll for the European elections in the UK on 23 May has put the Brexit Party in first place, outperforming the combined total for the Conservatives and Labour. The Opinium survey for the Observer showed the Brexit party on 34%, with Labour in second place on 21%, the Liberal Democrats in third place on 12% and the Conservatives in fourth place on 11%. The poll also showed the Green Party in fifth place on 8%, UKIP and the Scottish National Party (SNP) on 4% each and Change UK: The Independent Group on 3%. Meanwhile, a new poll by YouGov for The Times sets the Brexit Party in the lead for the European elections with 34%, followed by the Labour Party with 16%. The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party follows with 15% and 11% respectively. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party comes fifth, polling at 10%. Elsewhere, a Com Res poll for Brexit Express for Westminster voting intentions put the Labour Party in the lead on 27%, the Brexit Party in second place on 20% and the Conservatives in third place with 19%. The Liberal Democrats were on 14%, Change UK, 7%, Greens, 5%, and UKIP and the SNP on 3% each. Commenting on the Observer opinion poll, Open Europe’s Henry Newman said, “If you add together the Brexit Party vote, the UKIP vote and the Tory vote, you’ve already got basically half of the vote share. If you added in some of the Labour vote, which at least is facing half-way towards Leave, you’ve got a lot of the electorate who are still very strongly backing Brexit, which runs completely counter to the narrative that people are changing their mind.” Meanwhile, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, the Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said, “there’s a complete breakdown of trust between the people in this country and our politicians,” adding that if his party won the European elections, “I’m going to demand that Brexit Party MEPs become part of a Government negotiating team.” Farage also said there would be “no manifestos from the Brexit Party,” but that the party’s policy was to “leave with a clean break Brexit.”

Sources: The Guardian, ComRes, Henry Newman, BBC - Andrew Marr Show, The Times, Reuters

  • Education Secretary says some people see the European elections as "a second referendum"

    Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said that the Conservatives “don’t actually want MEPs to be having to take their seats,” adding, “Our plan is very, very clear. We should have left the European Union already.” Hinds described the European elections as the “ultimate protest vote opportunity,” and “for some people it is a second referendum.” This comes as former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to cross-party talks. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Williamson said that May “is now seen by many in the Conservative Party as negotiating with the enemy,” and predicted that a cross-party deal could end up with the support of “less than half the Conservative MPs.”

    Elsewhere, the Labour MP and Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, told Sky News that people in the UK are “angry that the referendum result has not been delivered on by an incompetent government and there is the protest that is being signalled by those [opinion poll figures.” Asked if the “Labour position is that we should leave the EU,” Gardiner said, “That’s what we’ve been trying to do with these negotiations with the Government, that’s why we’re there.” He added that while Labour supported a customs union and maintaining workplace rights and protections, “it’s important that as a country we respect the promises that we made and the democratic decision of the people.”

    Sources: BBC - Andrew Marr Show, Mail on Sunday, Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday

  • Keir Starmer says up to 150 Labour MPs would not back a deal without a referendum

    The Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, has said that “probably 120 if not 150” Labour MPs would not vote for a cross-party Brexit deal that did not include a confirmatory vote or second referendum. In an interview with the Guardian, Starmer said it would be “very difficult” to find a Parliamentary majority for any deal and claimed there was a “considerable distance” between the Government and the Labour party as the cross-party talks continued. Starmer also said it was “wrong in principle” to continue talks “exploring each other’s positions,” adding that it was necessary to make an assessment on the future of the talks “in the coming days.”

    Meanwhile, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, told the BBC he was “annoyed” about leaks on the progress of the talks, adding, “It doesn’t inspire confidence when half way through a conversation someone breaks the rules.” This comes as Prisons Minister, Robert Buckland, said a General Election “would probably have to happen” if Parliament was faced with a choice between No Deal and a revocation of Article 50.

    Elsewhere, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, told LBC yesterday that she had met the minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, adding that a second referendum on membership of the EU is a possibility the “Government has considered in terms of how that could be done.” This comes as Chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, told BBC Radio 4 on Saturday that the Committee had asked Prime Minister Theresa May to provide “clarity” regarding her future plans, adding that she “offered to come and meet with the executive.” Brady also said, “It would be strange for that not to result in a clear understanding [of when May will leave] at the end of the meeting.”

    Speaking on BBC Sunday Politics Northern Ireland, Open Europe’s Henry Newman said, “It is very difficult to see exactly how a [cross-party] deal can be done. On substantive policy there is actually very little difference between either side…As long as the Labour Party are talking about both leaving the European Union and leaving the Single Market, we’re really arguing over a very narrow strip of land. In terms of the politics, it’s much harder.”

    Sources: Guardian, BBC - John Pienaar I, BBC - John Pienaar II, BBC Sunday Politics - Northern Ireland, LBC, BBC

  • Tony Blair claims Labour’s Brexit stance has “pleased no one”

    The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has criticised the Labour Party’s policy on Brexit, saying that the party’s ambiguity on the question has “pleased no one” and “let down the country.” Writing in the Observer, Blair said that “many Labour supporters are genuinely conflicted about voting Labour,” but that for the moment “every vote against the Brexit extremism is important.” Blair confirmed that he would vote Labour but urged Remain voters who think they could not support Labour to vote for one of the “unequivocal Remain parties” instead.

    Meanwhile, speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Blair claimed that it was a “fundamental strategic fallacy” of both main parties to believe that “there’s a compromised form of Brexit that will satisfy and bring together both sides.” He predicted that the Brexit Party could outperform its current position in the opinion polls but claimed that a No Deal Brexit would lead to a “silent revolution in this country as well.”

    Elsewhere, speaking at an event in London, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the divisions in the country over Brexit “are now so deep and so pervasive that it could take a generation for us to reconcile these differences.”

    Sources: Guardian I , Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Guardian II

  • President Macron's La République En Marche hosts gathering of centrist parties in Strasbourg

    French President Emmanuel Macron’s party En Marche hosted a meeting in Strasbourg on Saturday with other centrist political parties from around Europe. The parties plan to form a new group in the European Parliament with a centrist, liberal agenda.

    Meanwhile, a new YouGov poll carried out in eight European countries (Germany, Poland, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, and France) reveals that 61% of respondents believe the EU is a “a good thing” for their countries, with 35% saying that they wish more powers were transferred from member states to EU institutions. 28% think the EU should give some powers back to member states, while 19% consider the balance between competences “ideal.”

    Elsewhere, in a piece for The Article, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze argues,”the unity of the EU27 declared at Sibiu will be put to a number of serious tests in the coming months.” Separately, in an article for Reaction, Open Europe’s Zoe Alipranti argues, “the Sibiu summit exemplifies how the EU project is being defined by stalled momentum, caused largely by a continued fracturing into smaller blocs.”

    Sources: Politico, Le Figaro

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What next for Brexit?

As the UK’s participation in the European elections is confirmed, Open Europe’s David Shiels looks at the timescale for ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement and identifies the possible flashpoints ahead

The post What next for Brexit? appeared first on Open Europe.

What next for Brexit?

As the UK’s participation in the European elections is confirmed, Open Europe’s David Shiels looks at the timescale for ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement and identifies the possible flashpoints ahead

The post What next for Brexit? appeared first on Open Europe.

New poll puts Brexit Party in lead for European Parliament elections

A new poll by YouGov puts the new Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage in first place for the European Parliament elections, which are due to go ahead in the UK on 23 May if the Withdrawal Agreement has not been ratified. The poll, conducted between 14 and 16 April in Great Britain, shows the Brexit Party leading with 27%, followed by Labour with 22% and the Conservative Party in third place with 15%. The Green Party was on 10%, Liberal Democrats, 9%, UKIP, 7%, Change UK, 6% and the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru together on 4%. 

Meanwhile, a separate YouGov poll for The Times also puts the Brexit Party in the lead on 23%, Labour on 22%, the Conservatives on 17%, the Greens on 10% and Liberal Democrats on 9%. Change UK was on 8% and UKIP, 6%. The poll was carried out between 16 and 17 April. 

The Daily Shakeup will be back on Tuesday, April 23. In the meantime, the Open Europe team wishes Happy Easter holidays to all of our subscribers!   

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New poll puts Brexit Party in lead for European Parliament elections

A new poll by YouGov puts the new Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage in first place for the European Parliament elections, which are due to go ahead in the UK on 23 May if the Withdrawal Agreement has not been ratified. The poll, conducted between 14 and 16 April in Great Britain, shows the Brexit Party leading with 27%, followed by Labour with 22% and the Conservative Party in third place with 15%. The Green Party was on 10%, Liberal Democrats, 9%, UKIP, 7%, Change UK, 6% and the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru together on 4%.  Meanwhile, a separate YouGov poll for The Times also puts the Brexit Party in the lead on 23%, Labour on 22%, the Conservatives on 17%, the Greens on 10% and Liberal Democrats on 9%. Change UK was on 8% and UKIP, 6%. The poll was carried out between 16 and 17 April.  The Daily Shakeup will be back on Tuesday, April 23. In the meantime, the Open Europe team wishes Happy Easter holidays to all of our subscribers!   

Sources: YouGov, The Times

  • Senior UK Official: Technological solution for Irish border "would take years to implement"

    The Director General for Border Co-ordination at HM Revenue and Customs, Karen Wheeler, said, “There is no technology solution which would mean that you could do customs controls and processes and not have a hard [Irish] border…If there was, trust me, we would have found it.” She told businesses in a speech this week that there are technologies which can assist with automated customs processing or tracking goods, adding, “Many of them would take years to implement and there is no border in the world which has a full package of all of these technologies.”

    This comes as the European Commission’s Secretary General Martin Selmayr told ARTE broadcaster, “Let’s be very clear – if there is no Withdrawal Agreement there will be a hard border” on the island of Ireland. 

    Sources: Belfast Telegraph, BBC News

  • Germany reduces 2019 growth forecast to 0.5%

    The German government has lowered its growth forecast for 2019 to just 0.5%. German Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier said yesterday that this was a “a wake-up call” for the German economy, adding that politicians needed to think about how they could stimulate growth.

    This comes as the European Union has released a list of the US products it could hit with new tariffs, as part of a dispute over subsidies given to aircraft maker Boeing. The list covers $20bn of imports into Europe each year and hundreds of different items, ranging from dried fruit to ketchup, fish, tobacco, handbags and suitcases. 

     

    Sources: FT, DW, Guardian, Sky News

  • Horizon Europe programme to initiate in January 2021

    A majority vote in the European Commission yesterday guaranteed that the Horizon Europe programme will be fully operational by January 2021. Horizon Europe is a €100 billion research and innovation programme that will replace the Horizon 2020 initiative and continue until 2027. European Commissioner Carlos Moedas said, “From the left to the right to the middle, every one of you converged to this agreement and to the fact that we can really change the lives of scientists and researchers, and our children’s future.”

    Sources: Carlos Moedas, The Progressives, European Commission

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Even after the extension, Brexit options remain the same

Open Europe’s David Shiels discusses Brexit developments on RTE News Prime Time programme on 11 April.

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Even after the extension, Brexit options remain the same

Open Europe's David Shiels discusses Brexit developments on RTE News Prime Time programme on 11 April.

The post Even after the extension, Brexit options remain the same appeared first on Open Europe.

David Shiels: European Parliamentary elections would pose problems for the main parties. But especially for the Conservatives.

New polling for Open Europe shows that the Tories have special reason to be wary of this consequence of a long extension.

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

The prospect of participating in European Parliamentary elections was never going to be an attractive one for the Conservative Party. Having repeatedly promised that the UK would leave the EU by March 29, the Prime Minister herself has said that participating in such elections would be suboptimal. Wherever the blame lies for the Brexit delay, it will be hard for the party to campaign for votes in an election they said should not happen. Leaving Brexit aside, voters have traditionally used the European elections as an opportunity to punish the incumbent Government. In 2014, the Tories came third and, though UKIP is no longer the force it was then, there are new challenger parties which might tempt voters this time around.

A new poll opinion for Open Europe conducted by Hanbury Strategy suggests the Conservative Party has reason to be wary about participating in the European Parliament (EP) elections. Of those questioned, 23 per cent said they would vote Conservative compared with 37.8 per cent for Labour and 8.1 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. UKIP and the Greens polled 7.5 per cent and four per cent respectively. The SNP were on 4.1 per cent. As for the two newcomer parties, the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage polled 10.3 per cent and Change UK / The Independent Group polled 4.1 per cent. The polling only gives vote share for Great Britain. (The elections in Northern Ireland will be significant given the prominence the border has assumed in the Brexit debates).

These figures come with some health warnings. It is not yet certain that the UK will participate in the European Parliamentary elections, so voters may not yet be focussing on the question. Both main parties could lose out in an election campaign, but Labour could have something to gain. There could be a tactical advantage for Labour in prolonging the cross-party talks and putting the Tories through the ordeal of more elections.

There are, however, several other points worth drawing out from Open Europe’s polling which are important from the Conservative Party’s point of view. First of all, Tory voters seem to be less loyal to the party when it comes to the European elections. This is perhaps not surprising, given that one Conservative MP hinted that she would not be campaigning for the party in the elections if they took place. Of those who say they would vote Conservative at a general election, only 76.5 per cent said they would vote for the party in the European elections. This compares to 91.5 per cent of Labour voters in a general election who say they would also vote for the party in the European Parliamentary elections. Labour also seemed to be more strongly supported by Remain voters than the Conservatives were by Leave voters, since 30 per cent of Leavers questioned said they would back the Conservatives in the European elections, while 47.7 per cent of Remainers said they would back Labour.

However, when the question was put slightly differently, 23 per cent of Conservative voters in a general election said they would be “very likely” to vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party at the EP elections, compared to 14.7 per cent of Labour voters who said they would be “very likely” to support Change UK / The Independent Group, which has taken a strongly pro-Remain position.

Another important point to note is that Labour has a strong lead over the Conservatives in all age groups apart from those over 55. Indeed, the voting intention for the European elections show that the Conservatives are only marginally ahead of Labour in the 55-64 age category (24.1 per cent compared to 23.3 per cent) and it is only in the 65+ category that the party is significantly ahead (33.6 per cent compared to 19.7 per cent). It is also in these age categories that support for the Brexit Party is strongest, though Change UK and UKIP have more varied levels of support. These findings are consistent with the trend found by Onward’s recent report into generational voting patterns, which suggests that the divide between older and younger voters is greater than ever.

The big factor in any European Parliament election is turnout, which has been traditionally much lower in the UK than for General Elections. Here again the Conservatives may be at a slight disadvantage, since Remain voters seem more motivated to vote in the European elections: 37.8 per cent of Leave voters said they were 10/10 likely to vote, compared to 46.9 per cent of Remain voters. Older voters showed stronger views on the turnout question, with the highest percentage saying they were most likely to vote and also the highest percentage of those least likely to vote.

Overall, the picture for the Conservative Party looks worse in the European elections than it does for the general election. If they go ahead, these elections will offer voters a chance to register a protest against the incumbent Government and also send a strong signal about Brexit, whichever way they are inclined on the matter. The proportional system with a regional closed list benefits the challenger parties and gives them an opportunity to establish an electoral foothold in British politics.

On the other hand, there could be confusion on both the Remain and Leave side as the new parties compete for attention and send conflicting messages, resulting in greater fragmentation – and the regional list system could produce some quirky results. Change UK has an opportunity to take some of Labour’s Remain support, but may struggle with brand identity, establishing that it is an anti-Brexit party. As for the two main parties, the Conservatives stand at an obvious disadvantage going into the elections, but there are risks for Labour too. Labour has more to lose by having its divisions forced into the open, and clearly risks losing support of Remainers unless it delivers another referendum. The Conservatives’ pro-Brexit credentials will be challenged, while they could also lose support from Remainers. Squeezed on both sides, the party will need to find a message that is about delivering Brexit in a pragmatic and sensible way.

May to meet Macron and Merkel as Government continues talks with Labour

Prime Minister, Theresa May, will travel to Berlin and Paris today for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. The meetings come ahead of tomorrow’s emergency EU Summit to discuss May’s request for an Article 50 extension until 30 June. May held telephone calls with other EU leaders yesterday, including European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Council President, Donald Tusk. Speaking in Luxembourg yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Prime Minister was “leaving no stone unturned” in trying to get the Brexit deal “over the line.”

Meanwhile, the Government will continue talks with the Labour party today as Ministers led by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington are expected to meet the Labour delegation led by Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary. Speaking last night, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “The exchanges with the Government have been serious, but our shadow cabinet expressed frustration that the Prime Minister has not yet moved off her red lines so we can reach a compromise,” adding, “The key issues that we must see real movement on to secure an agreement are a customs union with the EU, alignment with the single market and full dynamic alignment of workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer standards.” The Daily Telegraph reports that the Government is reluctant to commit to a customs union with the EU, while advocating for an approach that would deliver the same benefits. According to the newspaper, May is also considering giving MPs a vote on whether to hold a a a second referendum on the Withdrawal Agreement in order to break the deadlock in talks.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary David Gauke told Sky News this morning that it was not the intention of the Prime Minister to hold a “confirmatory referendum” on the Brexit deal, but that it was “highly likely” that an amendment calling for one would be tabled.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 received royal assent last night, placing a legal obligation on the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50. MPs will today vote on an amendable Government motion tabled under the terms of the Act “seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.”

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May to meet Macron and Merkel as Government continues talks with Labour

Prime Minister, Theresa May, will travel to Berlin and Paris today for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. The meetings come ahead of tomorrow's emergency EU Summit to discuss May's request for an Article 50 extension until 30 June. May held telephone calls with other EU leaders yesterday, including European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Council President, Donald Tusk. Speaking in Luxembourg yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Prime Minister was "leaving no stone unturned" in trying to get the Brexit deal "over the line." Meanwhile, the Government will continue talks with the Labour party today as Ministers led by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington are expected to meet the Labour delegation led by Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary. Speaking last night, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, "The exchanges with the Government have been serious, but our shadow cabinet expressed frustration that the Prime Minister has not yet moved off her red lines so we can reach a compromise," adding, "The key issues that we must see real movement on to secure an agreement are a customs union with the EU, alignment with the single market and full dynamic alignment of workers' rights, environmental protections and consumer standards." The Daily Telegraph reports that the Government is reluctant to commit to a customs union with the EU, while advocating for an approach that would deliver the same benefits. According to the newspaper, May is also considering giving MPs a vote on whether to hold a a a second referendum on the Withdrawal Agreement in order to break the deadlock in talks. Meanwhile, Justice Secretary David Gauke told Sky News this morning that it was not the intention of the Prime Minister to hold a "confirmatory referendum" on the Brexit deal, but that it was "highly likely" that an amendment calling for one would be tabled. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 received royal assent last night, placing a legal obligation on the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50. MPs will today vote on an amendable Government motion tabled under the terms of the Act "seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019."

Sources: ITV, The Independent, House of Commons, Politico, Telegraph, Sky News

  • Lidington calls for preparations for European Parliament elections

    The Government yesterday tabled an order enabling the UK to hold European Parliament elections on 23 May if the UK is still in the EU at that time. A Cabinet Office spokesman said, “It remains the Government’s intention to leave the EU with a deal and pass the necessary legislation before 22 May, so that we do not need to participate in European parliamentary elections,” adding, “The Day of Poll Order provides returning officers with a date to hold potential European Parliamentary elections, but it does not make these elections inevitable as leaving the EU before the date of election automatically removes our obligation to take part.”

    This comes as Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington sent a letter yesterday to the Electoral Commission, the Wales Electoral Coordination Board and the Scottish Elections Management Board urging them to make preparations for EU elections. In the letter he said, “Whilst the Government still intends to leave the European Union before the next European Parliamentary elections, and if we leave the EU before the elections then the requirement to run a poll will fall away, we will continue to follow legal requirements and obligations as they become necessary,” adding, “This will enable Returning Officers to undertake their obligations under existing law.”

    Separately, a new Hanbury poll for Politico, suggests that the Conservative party has less trust than the Labour Party amongst voters on core issues such as Brexit, crime, housing and health. However, Theresa May is regarded by voters as a better choice of a leader than Jeremy Corbyn, according to the poll.

    Sources: HM Government, ITV, Politico

  • EU27 ambassadors to assess two Brexit delay options

    BuzzFeed News reports that EU27 ambassadors will today discuss two proposals for a further Article 50 extension: a delay until 22 May if the UK Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of this week, or a nine-twelve month extension if the deal is not ratified. A proposal for a termination clause to the extension, which could be triggered by both the UK and the EU, will also be discussed at the meeting.

    Elsewhere, Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, yesterday wrote it is “crucial to know when and on what basis UK will ratify the Withdrawal Agreement,” adding, “A positive decision hinges also on assurances from UK on sincere cooperation.”

    According to The Times, in case of a longer delay EU27 leaders would expect the UK to provide an assurance in a form of a letter that it will vote with the majority of other member states when it comes to decisions relating to the future of the EU. EU leaders will also reportedly make clear that any future UK Prime Minister will not be able to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement during the extension.

    Meanwhile; Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will tomorrow host a meeting of leaders of countries most affected by Brexit, including Germany, Spain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Denmark. The Guardian reports that leaders plan to coordinate their positions on Article 50 extension ahead of the full European Council summit held tomorrow evening.

    This comes as Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell yesterday said that a one year Brexit extension would be “feasible,’” adding, however, that this is not what Prime Minister Theresa May requested last Friday. He said, “According to her last letter, Mrs. May asked for a few more days to try to reach an agreement in the negotiations with [Labour Leader Jeremy] Corbyn…That would be the best solution. It would give us all a break, but if that were not the case, other solutions would have to be considered.” Romanian Foreign Minister, Teodor Melescanu, and Finnish Foreign Minister, Timo Soini said they would back an extension of Article 50.

    Separately, former German European Commissioner, Günter Verheugen, said, “Brussels has taught us a lesson in how not to deal with a member state that wants to leave. The problem is not on the British side. The problem is on the EU side.” He explained, “We’re not losing a member state, we’re losing the weight of 20 member states. We therefore have an interest that we remain the closest possible allies” and added the UK should be allowed some form of co-decision on trade policy. He also called for the “unblocking [of] this process” as “the best solution for both sides.”

    Sources: Buzzfeed, Telegraph, Guardian I, The Times, Guardian II

  • Michel Barnier: EU ready to amend political declaration "extremely quickly" to include customs union

    During a visit to Dublin yesterday, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU would agree to modify the Political Declaration on future relations very quickly in order to include a UK-EU customs union. He said that the Political Declaration “provides for a range of outcomes, including a customs union. We are ready to make this clearer if it helps and this work can be done extremely quickly.” In a press conference following meetings with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Barnier also warned, “If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, let me be very, very clear. We would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as for citizens’ rights and the financial settlement.”

    Meanwhile, Varadkar said, “The EU has always said that should the UK want to change its red lines, we would be prepared to amend the Political Declaration on the future relationship,” adding, “From Ireland’s perspective, we are open to extending the [Brexit] deadline to allow time for these discussions [in the UK Parliament] to run their course and come to a conclusion.” Coveney explained that Ireland was open to both a short and longer extension to Article 50, explaining, “Ireland is of course willing to give the [Brexit] process more time, but we, like many other EU member states, will want to see a plan to go with that to show that there is a proposed way of finding a majority support in Westminster for a way forward.” Responding to Varadkar’s and Barnier’s comments, the DUP MEP Diane Dodds said their “warm words about hard borders & peace process ring hollow when compared to their obsession with a backstop which would be offensive to unionists and fundamentally undermine [the] integrity of UK”

    Elsewhere, European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, yesterday presented the Commission’s contingency plan for the agri-food sector in a potential No Deal Brexit scenario. Hogan said, “I anticipate a mix of measures designed to suit particular circumstances and products. A mix of some or all of public intervention, private storage aid, withdrawal schemes and targeted aid will form the package of support,” adding, “In addition to these measures, we are also looking at state aid rules, in which case it will be for the Member States to provide support.” He also urged Prime Minister Theresa May to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU in order to protect cross-border trade on the island of Ireland, adding, “Despite the madness of Brexit I still believe common sense might prevail…No Deal makes no sense. There’s too much at stake.”

    Sources: BBC Politics, Guardian, Sky News, BBC News, European Commission, Telegraph, Mark Devenport - Twitter

  • Sinn Féin hold talks with Government and Labour at Westminster

    The Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald, and vice president, Michelle O’Neill, held talks at Westminster yesterday with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. They also separately met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, and MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

    Speaking before the meetings, McDonald said a customs union with the EU “probably makes sense for Britain” but added that a customs union “alone does not solve the problem for the north of Ireland – we need alignment also with the single market.”

    McDonald also said that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has “proven not to have a very deep appreciation of Irish politics or the dynamic of Irish politics.”

    Source: Irish Examiner

  • EU unveils set of ethical guidelines on Artificial Intelligence

    The European Commission yesterday published its first set of guidelines for the ethical development of Artificial Intelligence, warning that algorithms must not discriminate on grounds of age, race or gender. The guidelines consist of seven principles that aim at creating “trustworthy” Artificial Intelligence programs. EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy, Mariya Gabriel, said, “AI is developing at an exponential pace.We don’t want to stop innovation but the added value of the EU approach is that we are making it a people-focused process. People are in charge.”

    Source: FT

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House of Commons to continue “indicative votes” process today

The House of Commons will resume the process of holding “indicative votes” today as MPs consider a number of Brexit outcomes and options for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Eight proposals have been tabled by MPs. They are a Customs Union; No Deal; “Common Market 2.0”; two separate proposals relating to a second referendum; a Norway-style Brexit; a unilateral exit from the backstop; and a “Parliamentary Supremacy” motion which seeks to prevent No Deal, if necessary by revoking Article 50. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will select which options will be voted on before the debate begins. This comes as MPs voted against the Withdrawal Agreement by 344 votes to 286 (a majority of 58) on Friday 29 March, the date on which the UK was originally scheduled to leave the EU. After the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk called for a European Council summit on 10 April to discuss Brexit.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said if the Commons voted in favour of a Customs Union, the Prime Minister would “need to look very closely at that.” Gauke said it would not be sustainable for the Government to “ignore” Parliament’s will, adding that a No Deal Brexit would be “very, very bad news indeed” and would cause “major disruption in the short term.”  Meanwhile Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, told the Telegraph that the option of a customs union was “not going to come without strings attached…People who sign up to the customs union are basically signing up to single market as well. And that leaves us mostly in the European Union – it certainly does not give us control of our own laws.” This comes as The Sunday Times reports that more than 170 Conservative MPs including Government Ministers had signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to pursue a No Deal Brexit rather than accept a softer Brexit, while six Cabinet Ministers are prepared to resign if the Government opts for No Deal.

Elsewhere, Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said Labour had a “difficulty” with the proposal for Common Market 2.0 because “we would have to accept things as they currently are in relation to immigration.”

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House of Commons to continue “indicative votes” process today

The House of Commons will resume the process of holding "indicative votes" today as MPs consider a number of Brexit outcomes and options for the UK's future relationship with the EU. Eight proposals have been tabled by MPs. They are a Customs Union; No Deal; "Common Market 2.0”; two separate proposals relating to a second referendum; a Norway-style Brexit; a unilateral exit from the backstop; and a “Parliamentary Supremacy” motion which seeks to prevent No Deal, if necessary by revoking Article 50. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will select which options will be voted on before the debate begins. This comes as MPs voted against the Withdrawal Agreement by 344 votes to 286 (a majority of 58) on Friday 29 March, the date on which the UK was originally scheduled to leave the EU. After the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk called for a European Council summit on 10 April to discuss Brexit. Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said if the Commons voted in favour of a Customs Union, the Prime Minister would "need to look very closely at that." Gauke said it would not be sustainable for the Government to "ignore" Parliament's will, adding that a No Deal Brexit would be "very, very bad news indeed" and would cause "major disruption in the short term."  Meanwhile Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, told the Telegraph that the option of a customs union was “not going to come without strings attached...People who sign up to the customs union are basically signing up to single market as well. And that leaves us mostly in the European Union - it certainly does not give us control of our own laws." This comes as The Sunday Times reports that more than 170 Conservative MPs including Government Ministers had signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to pursue a No Deal Brexit rather than accept a softer Brexit, while six Cabinet Ministers are prepared to resign if the Government opts for No Deal. Elsewhere, Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said Labour had a “difficulty” with the proposal for Common Market 2.0 because “we would have to accept things as they currently are in relation to immigration.”

Sources: House of Commons, BBC, Sunday Times, The Times, Daily Telegraph

  • Labour’s deputy leader says a “people’s vote” is “the solution, not an option”

    The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, has said that a “people’s vote” or second referendum was “the solution, not an option” and the “way we can move the country on.” Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Watson said he thought it would be “inconceivable” that a Labour manifesto in a General Election would not include a referendum, adding that the party was on an “election footing.” Watson also said he expected a referendum should be between “the status quo or the new deal.”

    Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reports that the Prime Minister’s team is considering the possibility of a General Election if the Withdrawal Agreement is defeated for a fourth time this week. The Conservative Party’s deputy Chair, James Cleverly, told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the party was preparing for a General Election “in terms of sensible pragmatic planning” but the party was not “seeking” an Election.

    This comes as the Government Chief Whip, Julian Smith, told a BBC documentary that the “the government as a whole probably should have just been clearer” on the consequences of the 2017 General Election. “The Parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a kind of softer type of Brexit.”

    Sources: BBC I, Sunday Times, Sky News - Sophy Ridge on Sunday, BBC II

  • Ireland’s Europe Minister says a No Deal Brexit would make it “very difficult” to reconcile commitments to EU and to Good Friday Agreement

    Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, has said that Ireland would face a difficulty in reconciling its obligations to the EU and to upholding the Good Friday Agreement in the event of a No Deal Brexit. McEntee said that Ireland was having ongoing discussions about how to protect the single market and customs union and said “It is about making sure that our obligations to the EU are fulfilled and the obligations we have as co-guarantors of an international peace treaty are also upheld.” She added, “It is very difficult in the event of a No Deal to bring those two together. But we are absolutely determined to do that. We have always had the support of the EU and I don’t see that changing.” A Fianna Fáil spokesman said the Government should “start talking publicly about what may happen [in No Deal] and about what they’re doing to lessen the blow that may be there.”

    Elsewhere, the DUP’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds has said that he would “rather stay in the EU and remain rather than risk Northern Ireland’s position” through Brexit. Dodds said his party wanted to see Brexit delivered but “it can’t be at the risk of separating Northern Ireland out from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

    In an article for The Telegraph today, Dodds writes, “The Government should go to the EU and fight for the measures that would unite its MPs and us. The DUP has been clear throughout that we want a deal that works for all parts of the UK and for the EU. But it must be a deal that protects the Union.” This comes as the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said that DUP would continue to vote against the present Withdrawal Agreement adding, “Should [the prime minister] bring it back a thousand times we will vote against it because the implications for Northern Ireland are far, far too serious.”

    Sources: RTE, BBC I, BBC II, Daily Telegraph

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What does the DUP’s statement mean for Brexit?

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it will not support the Withdrawal Agreement. Open Europe’s David Shiels looks at the implications of the party’s statement.

The post What does the DUP’s statement mean for Brexit? appeared first on Open Europe.

What does the DUP’s statement mean for Brexit?

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it will not support the Withdrawal Agreement. Open Europe's David Shiels looks at the implications of the party's statement.

The post What does the DUP’s statement mean for Brexit? appeared first on Open Europe.