Let the Brexit blame game begin

LONDON — Boris Johnson asked EU leaders to help him out on Brexit, and they told him: You’re on your own, pal.

The prime minister fist-bumped the air and lauded the “blistering timetable” proposed by Angela Merkel to find an alternative to the Brexit backstop on Wednesday as the two held a joint press conference in Berlin. He was pleased as punch with what he clearly saw as a win, telling reporters: “I’m more than happy with that.”

“I see possibilities, shaping the future relationship, to address this point,” Merkel had said before the pair sat down to dinner. “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years,” she added. “We can maybe find it in the next 30 days.”

Much of the British press had a field day. “30 days to do a deal,” screeched the front page of the Daily Express. “30 days to ditch the backstop,” cried the Daily Telegraph. The Sun could hardly contain itself, with: “Can we do it? Ja, we can!”

But just hours after Merkel appeared to set the deadline, Downing Street became less excitable. “It’s not a literal deadline and wasn’t intended that way,” an official told POLITICO. “We are of course working at pace for a deal but only if the backstop is abolished.”

Those who felt Theresa May did not do enough to carve out the backstop may be happy, but the “alternative arrangements” plan is unlikely to fly with the EU.

The official was right that the deadline was not literal. “It is not about 30 days,” Merkel said at a news conference in The Hague on Thursday. “The 30 days were meant as an example to highlight the fact that we need to achieve it in a short time because Britain had said they want to leave the European Union on October 31.”

Merkel appears to have set Johnson a near-impossible task. The German chancellor made clear it was up to the U.K. to come up with a permanent solution that would remove the need for a backstop but offered no hint that the Withdrawal Agreement could be reopened. It would mean Johnson coming up with a long-term fix to the border problem that could be written into the Political Declaration on the future relationship.

Rather than opening a window of opportunity, she offered Johnson a rope on which to hang himself if the U.K. ends up leaving without a deal.

“What she was saying was: We are where we have always been,” said Anand Menon, director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, who sees the words from Merkel as part of a blame-game strategy.

Emmanuel Macron took the stage with Boris Johnson in Paris saying that without a workable proposal the backstop is a ‘British political problem’ | Christophe Petit Tesson/AFP via Getty Images

“I’m sure they have thought this through in terms of what strategy is most effective for blame avoidance,” he explained. “And this is the way that the European Union can make it sound like they are being reasonable.”

The approach was cemented Thursday when French President Emmanuel Macron took the stage with Johnson in Paris. Macron said that without a workable proposal on the backstop, “it’s a British political problem and then it’s not negotiation that can solve it, it’s a political choice that the prime minister will have to make, not up to us.”

He added: “I’ll be very clear, in the next month we won’t find a new Withdrawal Agreement that will be very different from what we have.”

Johnson will not be looking very far for a proposal. He cited a blueprint drawn up by the so-called Alternative Arrangements Commission, a group of mainly Conservative MPs which penned a document claiming an alternative system could be in place in three years. It suggested “special economic zones” around the Northern Irish border that would be exempt from normal regulatory requirements. It also proposed using trusted trader schemes and said the Republic of Ireland should align with the U.K. on food safety regulations.

His support for the plan will rally some in the domestic audience. One Cabinet minister said: “The PM has managed to get alternative arrangements on the agenda now and the difference with this administration is that they will actually table them for discussion.”

Boris Johnson has a major challenge on his hands to meet his promise of Brexit by the end of October.

Those who felt Theresa May did not do enough to carve out the backstop may be happy. But the “alternative arrangements” plan is unlikely to fly with the EU, and would still need a longer transition period of up to three years.

Whether or not a deadline of 30 days exists, Johnson has precious little time to get anything agreed. EU leaders will be looking towards the European Council summit starting on October 17 as the key date to rubber stamp something new. They will need some time before that to thrash out any new proposals and come up with a legal framework, which could explain why Macron wanted “visibility” in the next month.

And then there is the U.K. parliament. Any deal will have to be voted on in the Commons and then be laid out in a bill to implement the details into U.K. law. That bill would include transition issues and the divorce settlement — touch-paper issues for some MPs. Then it will have to pass through the Lords, which the government has no control over.

“In terms of the legislative challenge, it would be remarkable if a bill of the complexity of the ‘withdrawal agreement bill’ were to be pushed through in (even) a month to six weeks, let alone a fortnight,” one legislative expert said via text message. As a best case scenario, they predicted a technical extension to cover the legislation or a desperate rush to meet the October 31 deadline, probably with a reduced or cancelled conference recess.

Johnson has a major challenge on his hands to meet his promise of Brexit by the end of October. And EU leaders have made sure the challenge is all his.

This insight is from POLITICO‘s Brexit Files newsletter, a daily afternoon digest of the best coverage and analysis of Britain’s decision to leave the EU available to Brexit Pro subscribers. Sign up here.

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Boris Johnson appeals directly to Donald Tusk to scrap Brexit backstop

LONDON — Boris Johnson appealed to European Council President Donald Tusk directly on Monday, asking that Brussels consider a solution for the Irish border that doesn’t involve the so-called Brexit backstop.

In a letter to Tusk, effectively an attempt to open Brexit negotiations, the prime minister said the U.K. could legislate to ensure no infrastructure on the border and urged the EU to do the same.

He also said the two sides should discuss so-called “alternative arrangements” for policing the border, and promised to make other “commitments” in case the measures are not ready by the final departure date.

Johnson made the appeal ahead of meetings this week with EU leaders, as well as the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. He has vowed to take the U.K. out of the bloc deal or no deal by October 31.

He has also insisted the backstop — a plan to ensure the Northern Irish border remains open after a no-deal Brexit — must be removed from the Brexit deal Theresa May struck with EU leaders.

In his letter to Tusk, Johnson said: “The changes we seek relate primarily to the backstop. The problems with the backstop run much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons.”

Johnson argued the backstop was inconsistent with U.K. sovereignty and its planned future outside the EU, and could weaken the “delicate balance” of the Northern Irish peace deal.

“The government will not put in place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” he wrote. “We would be happy to accept a legally binding commitment to this effect and hope that the EU would do likewise.”

He also said the backstop should be replaced with alternative arrangements, proposals for which include technological solutions such as trusted trader schemes, “as far as possible” before the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.

“I also recognise there will need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period,” Johnson wrote. “We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at what commitments might help, consistent with the principles set out in this letter.”

Brussels has repeatedly said it will not reopen May’s Withdrawal Agreement, and said technology won’t be able to replace the backstop.

On Wednesday, Johnson will travel to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before heading to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, followed by the G7 summit over the weekend.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated on which days Johnson would meet Merkel and Macron.

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Jeremy Corbyn seeks help to block no-deal Brexit

LONDON — U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn launched a plea Wednesday, urging fellow opposition parties to back his bid to seize power from Boris Johnson and block a no-deal Brexit, but faced immediate attacks from his would-be allies.

In a letter to party bosses and other senior backbench MPs, Corbyn said he would “seek the confidence of the House [of Commons] for a strictly time-limited temporary government.”

He promised to secure an extension to the Article 50 Brexit process and call an election, in which Labour would campaign for a second referendum with an option of staying in the EU.

But his continued refusal to fully support overturning the 2016 referendum results altogether drew the ire of the party leaders he wrote to.

Prime Minister Johnson has vowed to take the U.K. out of the EU, deal or no deal, by October 31 and has refused to rule out ripping up constitutional norms to do so.

Anti-Brexit parties are reportedly set to meet on Thursday to discuss how to maximize their support across the country.

MPs have been mulling routes to block him, including the option of defeating his administration in a vote of confidence and then forming a cross-party government of national unity.

Corbyn wrote to the Westminster leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, which are all supportive of a second EU referendum, urging them to back him as a temporary premier after a vote of no confidence.

He also wrote to Tory backbenchers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles and Caroline Spelman, who have been plotting to block a no-deal departure.

The Labour leader said their priority “should be to work together in parliament to prevent a deeply damaging no-deal being imposed on the country, denying voters the final say.”

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said Corbyn is “not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons” | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“This government has no mandate for no-deal, and the 2016 EU referendum provided no mandate for no-deal. I therefore intend to table a vote of no confidence at the earliest opportunity when we can be confident of success,” Corbyn wrote.

But Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said Corbyn is “not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons for this task.”

“I would expect there are people in his own party and indeed the necessary Conservative backbenchers who would be unwilling to support him. It is a nonsense,” she added.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he would work with the Labour leader but said the party “needs to get off the fence on Brexit.”

Liz Saville Roberts, the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, welcomed the proposal of a national unity government but blasted Corbyn for committing to a general election first over a second Brexit referendum.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he would work with the Labour leader | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“His approach seems to be driven by the fact that Labour know their current frontbench cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons,” she said in a statement.

She was echoed by Green MP Caroline Lucas, who said “the proposal from the Labour leader does not guarantee that the people are given the final say on Brexit.”

“Holding a general election before a People’s Vote is the wrong way around,” Lucas added.

In what appeared to be a pre-emptive response to the appeal from Corbyn, Johnson earlier on Wednesday accused him of wanting to “cancel the referendum and argue about Brexit for years.”

He said on Twitter: “I am committed to leading our country forward and getting Britain out of the EU by October 31.”

A Downing Street spokesman said there is a “clear” choice: “Either Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, who will overrule the referendum and wreck the economy, or Boris Johnson as prime minister, who will respect the referendum and deliver more money for the NHS and more police on our streets.

“This government believes the people are the masters and votes should be respected, Jeremy Corbyn believes that the people are the servants and politicians can cancel public votes they don’t like.”

Anti-Brexit parties are reportedly set to meet on Thursday to discuss how to maximize their support across the country.

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Nancy Pelosi says no UK-US trade deal if Brexit risks Irish peace

LONDON — Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, warned Boris Johnson and Donald Trump that Congress will block any trade deal between the U.K. and U.S. that threatens peace in Northern Ireland.

According to a statement from her office, Pelosi said Brexit “cannot be allowed to imperil” the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of conflict.

British Prime Minister Johnson has demanded the EU scrap the backstop plan to keep the Northern Irish border open, which was negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May. But Brussels has refused to budge, increasing the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and border checks.

Pelosi, a Democrat, issued her warning after U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said during a visit to the U.K. on Tuesday that Britain would be at the “front of the trade queue” with Washington after Brexit.

She said in a statement: “Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, especially now, as the first generation born into the hope of Good Friday 21 years ago comes into adulthood. We cannot go back.”

She added: “If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress.

“The peace of the Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be fiercely defended on a bicameral and bipartisan basis in the United States Congress.”

It comes after senior members of Congress vowed to block any trade deal between the U.K. and U.S. that jeopardizes the 1998 pact.

Bolton also said during his U.K. visit that the Trump administration would “enthusiastically” support a no-deal Brexit.

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UK MPs rewarded for failure with post-election payouts

LONDON — British MPs worried — in some cases almost certain — that they will lose their seat in a general election have an incentive to stand anyway: lots of cash.

With the major parties on a war footing for an election that could come as soon as the day after October 31 — when Boris Johnson has promised the U.K. will leave the EU, “do or die” — a host of lawmakers face an uncertain future. But the humiliation of losing their seat could be soothed by a redundancy payment that’s double the statutory payout given to members of the public who lose their jobs.

While there’s no suggestion that any MPs are standing just to get the money, the choice facing them is clear: Quit before the election and get nothing; or stand, and if they fail to get reelected, get a check. It’s been called a “perverse incentive” to contest elections.

Frank Field, who resigned from the Labour Party last year after almost 40 years as the MP for Birkenhead in the northwest of England, announced earlier this month that he would stand at the next general election.

The 77-year-old chair of the work and pensions select committee has formed a new party, Birkenhead Social Justice, to fight a seat that had a Labour majority in 2017 of more than 25,000 votes.

“At a time when distrust in politics is running high, it seems odd that defeated MPs can get double the maximum redundancy available to ordinary voters” — Willie Sullivan, senior director at the Electoral Reform Society

If the people of Birkenhead choose the new Labour candidate over Field, he would get a £31,500 “loss of office” payment, plus up to two months of his MP salary (worth £13,244) for the time spent winding up his office and any other administrative tasks needed to be done.

With the political climate being so volatile, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (a House of Commons watchdog that makes the redundancy payments) could be writing a number of checks.

IPSA rules say that MPs who have served for at least two years and lose their seats get double the statutory redundancy pay that members of the public get, as well as the two-month salary allowance, plus winding-up expenses for staff or removal costs.

Statutory redundancy is calculated based on age and the number of years a person has held a job, up to a certain limit. Field’s payout would be the maximum possible for an MP.

Change UK leader Anna Soubry is one of several politicians who are in line for redundancy payments in the event that they fail to win reelection | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Willie Sullivan, a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society, a pressure group, said it is right that MPs put out of a job are compensated like any other public servant, “particularly if we want to see more diversity in politics.”

He added: “However, while there is no evidence the current situation is being abused, clearly it will need to be reassessed if there is a perverse incentive for MPs to always re-stand even if they do not wish to win.”

“At a time when distrust in politics is running high, it seems odd that defeated MPs can get double the maximum redundancy available to ordinary voters. There are many reasons people feel disenchanted, including a feeling of ‘one rule for us, another for them.’”

Independents’ fears

Independent MPs might seem at risk — for having left a party and for being away from the election machines of the Tories and Labour — but they could still hold on.

Joe Twyman, co-founder and director at Datapoll, pointed to research showing that “old, tribal loyalties to parties are not what they once were thanks to Brexit,” with more people ready to vote along Leave/Remain lines.

“That could mean that in certain circumstances, MPs who have switched to become independents could hold on depending on the constituency profile and indeed their own position,” he said.

“In normal circumstances you would expect an independent candidate to get absolutely nowhere at a general election” — Joe Twyman, co-founder and director at Datapoll 

Twyman said that Field — a pro-Brexit candidate in a pro-Brexit constituency he has represented since 1979 — “stands a very good chance of holding on.”

“Frank Field is the obvious example because he’s been in so long and his margin of victory [in 2017] was so large,” he added. “For the other candidates it’s more difficult.”

Other new independents are yet to confirm whether they will stand again.

Ex-Labour MPs Ian Austin (Dudley North), Ivan Lewis (Bury South) and Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) are in line for redundancy payments worth £21,500, £26,800 and £23,000 respectively, plus the two months of salary, if an election comes before the end of the year.

Their former colleagues Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree), Gavin Shuker (Luton South) and John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) are all in line for £9,400.

Meanwhile, ex-Tory MP Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) has racked up a £5,800 redundancy pot, while Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) has amassed £14,200.

Former Change UK then independent MP Sarah Wollaston joined the Lib Dems this week, but is highly unlikely to win her Totnes seat back. She would be due £14,200 in redundancy payments if she stands in the seat and loses.

Elsewhere, the MPs that make up the Independent Group for Change — the successor to Change UK, which performed dismally at the European Parliament election in May — are also facing possible defeat.

Former Labour MPs Mike Gapes (Ilford South) and Ann Coffey (Stockport) are in line for the maximum £31,500 loss-of-office payment if they stand in their existing seats and lose.

Change leader and ex-Tory Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) has built up a £14,200 redundancy pot, while former Labour MPs Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) and Joan Ryan (Enfield) have £12,600 and £6,300 waiting in the IPSA bank.

“In normal circumstances you would expect an independent candidate to get absolutely nowhere at a general election,” Twyman said. “Independents usually get about 100 votes and nobody pays very much attention to them.”

But, he added: “Obviously this is a different case because in a lot of instances what we are looking at are sitting MPs who are then running as independents or indeed as groups of independents or as minority parties and all that sort of thing.

“Even then you would expect them to have very little chance in normal circumstances, but these are far from normal circumstances.”

This article has been updated to reflect Sarah Wollaston’s new party affiliation.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Court case against Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit plans to begin September 6

A court is set to decide whether British Prime Minister Boris Johnson can suspend parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit just days before an expected showdown with MPs.

The case brought by more than 70 MPs and peers was scheduled by a judge this morning for September 6. Downing Street is poised for a House of Commons challenge to its Brexit plans just three days later, on September 9.

Boris Johnson has vowed to take the U.K. out of the EU, deal or no deal, by the current Brexit deadline of October 31. He has refused to rule out suspending parliament to stop MPs using constitutional tactics to block his plans.

An initial hearing for the case took place at the Court of Session in Edinburgh this morning. The judge, Lord Docherty, scheduled the “substantive hearing” for the first week of September.

Lawyer Jo Maugham from campaign group the Good Law Project, which coordinated the petition, branded Johnson “The Charlatan” as he confirmed the new date on Twitter.

Labour MP Ian Murray, who was one of the parliamentarians who signed the petition against Johnson, told POLITICO: “The courts are there to enhance our democracy by giving the public the ability to hold the government to account.

“It’s great progress to have a full hearing in September before the PM can consider closing down parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who also backed the petition, tweeted: “Litigation can’t stop Brexit or make [Scottish] independence happen but it can be used to make sure that right wing politicians like Johnson don’t try to subvert democracy. There’s no mandate for no-deal Brexit & in Scotland no mandate for any Brexit.”

Parliament is gearing up for a showdown on September 9 because the government must publish a report on the ongoing political stalemate in Northern Ireland on September 4 and hold a debate in the Commons five days later, which could be hijacked by anti-no deal MPs to try and force a Brexit extension.

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Former UK Parliament constitutional advisor warns legal loophole could lead to no-deal Brexit

LONDON — Boris Johnson could shut down parliament after a vote of no confidence to prevent MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit, a former House of Commons clerk has warned.

Lord Lisvane, who served as the most senior constitutional advisor to the House between 2011 and 2014, was scathing about the reported plans by Johnson to ignore a vote of no-confidence and delay an election until after the Brexit date. He said that while it would be possible to suspend the Commons through a “Sittings of the House Motion” to force a no-deal departure from the EU, the tactic would be an “open subversion” of the laws governing parliamentary terms, and “constitutionally destructive.”

Downing Street has refused to rule out the prospect of Johnson ignoring a no-confidence vote aimed at stopping a no-deal Brexit.

Under the Fixed-term Parliament Act (FTPA), MPs would have 14 days after a no-confidence vote to pass a vote of confidence either in the existing government or a newly formed one, otherwise a general election would be triggered.

It means a prospective successor to the prime minister would need to have formed a government at the request of the Queen before a second confidence vote is held.

MPs who want to prevent a no-deal Brexit have been discussing whether a cross-party government of national unity could be formed to seize power and block a no-deal departure from the EU by extending the Article 50 negotiating period.

But Lord Lisvane said the idea would bring the Queen “uncomfortably close to the political mechanics.”

“Involvement of the Monarch in this way must be avoided,” he wrote in an explanation to POLITICO. “What would be infinitely preferable would be for there to have been a motion … which demonstrates that an alternative grouping can command the confidence of the House.” If such a motion passed, the Queen could then “confidently” ask the leader of that group to form a new government.

But he warned that the government could also move a “Sittings of the House Motion” in an effort to keep the House from sitting and passing a motion in support of a new government.

“To do so would be an open subversion of the (admittedly unsatisfactory) FTPA process, and would be open to fierce (and justified) criticism on the grounds that it would prevent the House of Commons coming to a view which might be supportive an alternative PM,” Lord Lisvane said.

The peer argued an amendment MPs tacked on to the Northern Ireland Bill, which requires the Commons to debate regularly as long as Stormont is not reformed, would do little or nothing to solve the issue.

A separate constitutional expert, who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity, said any attempt to stop MPs sitting during the 14 days would “imply the Government thinks there is someone else who could command the confidence of the Commons.”

The expert said this would amount to a “constitutional crisis” in which “the most basic of democratic norms” was being violated, pushing MPs to find an “extra-parliamentary” way to communicate that they want to install a specific new prime minister.

The expert said one way to avoid the issue could be to amend the original motion of no-confidence, spelling out who should take over as a successor prime minister.

Such a move would not come under the FTPA and would not trigger the 14 day countdown to an election, but would force Johnson to resign under constitutional convention, they argued.

Tactical election delay

Lord Lisvane said a tactical delay “would be extraordinarily contentious, and would be open to the strongest criticism on the grounds that (1) it was an abuse of the power conferred by the FTPA and (2) that it brought The Queen into that contention.”

He added: “In constitutional terms both would be highly undesirable and constitutionally destructive.”

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Scotland would vote for independence from UK, poll finds

Voters in Scotland would vote for independence from the United Kingdom, a new poll has suggested.

The survey by Michael Ashcroft for Holyrood magazine is the first since March 2017 showing support among Scots for breaking up the union.

Of the 1,019 voters polled, 46 percent said they would vote for independence and 43 percent said they would vote against. When those who said they did not know or would not vote are excluded, the result swings to 52 percent versus 48 percent in favour of secession.

The results serve a major boost to Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, but are a blow for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Scotland last week, and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.

Sturgeon hailed the “phenomenal” poll, adding: “A broken Westminster system means Scotland is being dragged towards a no deal Brexit, regardless of the heavy price we’ll pay for lost jobs and lower living standards.

“That project is being led by Boris Johnson — a prime minister Scotland didn’t elect and who has no mandate to tear Scotland out of Europe with all the damage that will entail.”

She added: “It would be a democratic outrage for any Tory government to deny that, and this poll shows such an anti-democratic position is completely unsustainable.”

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU at the 2016 referendum on Brexit, while a POLITICO-Hanbury poll last month found Johnson is toxic among Scottish voters.

Ashcroft, a former Conservative Party chairman who did not support Johnson for the leadership, said on the ConservativeHome website: “In the wake of [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week I polled Scots to measure support for a second independence referendum and to gauge opinion on independence itself.”

He added: “I found a small majority in favor of a new vote — and the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years.”

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Theresa May’s big golden goodbyes bill

To see an interactive table about the payouts during Theresa May’s premiership, view this article in your browser

LONDON — British taxpayers paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds in golden goodbyes during the chaotic Theresa May premiership —including to Boris Johnson and many of his new top team.

Almost £850,000 was paid out to ministers who quit their jobs, were fired or who lost their seats at the 2017 snap general election, along with their numerous advisers.

According to POLITICO analysis of departmental figures, 40 ministers who departed government were paid at least £361,463 during the tumultuous three years May was in power.

That includes eight secretaries of state such as Boris Johnson (now the prime minister), Dominic Raab (now foreign secretary) and Esther McVey (now a minister of state), who all resigned in protest last year over Brexit.

In total, 18 ministers who were eligible for severance pay quit or were sacked over the government’s approach to Brexit, leading to payouts totalling £164,300. Meanwhile, four members of the House of Lords who served as ministers resigned, getting more than £71,000 between them.

The Cabinet Office paid out almost £310,000 to 14 special advisers in the 2017-2018 financial year alone.

Johnson and Raab got almost £17,000 each, a quarter of their annual salary, as did Damian Green, May’s de facto deputy, who was sacked in December 2017 over “inaccurate and misleading statements” about porn on his computer, and Amber Rudd, who resigned in April last year over the Windrush scandal.

Priti Patel, who was sacked in November 2017 after holding secret meetings with Israeli officials while on holiday, also took home the payout (Patel was made home secretary by Johnson), as did Justine Greening, who refused to be moved from the education brief in a Cabinet reshuffle in January 2018.

The overall number is likely to be higher, as Gavin Williamson, who was sacked as defense secretary over a security breach row in May, and Andrea Leadsom, who quit as Commons leader over Brexit the same month, are also entitled to the cash, but reports confirming whether or not they took it are yet to be published.

Many of those who departed during the past three years have now returned to government after Johnson became prime minister — and Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jo Platt urged them to pay the cash back.

“Rarely has failure been so richly rewarded as it was in Theresa May’s government,” she told POLITICO. “In no other walk of life would people be rewarded for breaking the rules, resigning for personal ambition or getting sacked for incompetence and repeated failure.

“The fact that so many of these people are back in the Cabinet less than a year after receiving handsome payouts stinks. It’s one rule for the Tories and another for everyone else. Every one of these ministers should pay back every penny they took from the public purse.”

Other notable payouts include almost £5,500 for Andrew Griffiths, after he quit as a business minister in July last year over a sexting storm, as well as the same amount for Kris Hopkins and Rob Wilson, and almost £8,000 for Ben Gummer, after they lost their seats at the 2017 election.

May oversaw the highest number of ministerial resignations outside of a reshuffle since at least 1979, according to the Institute for Government.

She will have added to the bill with the first reshuffle after she took office in 2016, while many of her last appointments were eligible for payouts when they were sacked by Johnson when he took office last week. The Mirror estimates the severance bill for his reshuffle could be about £260,000.

Elsewhere, almost £500,000 was paid out to ministerial advisers who lost their jobs at the same time as their bosses during the May era.

Andrea Leadsom is entitled to the cash, but reports confirming whether or not she took it are yet to be published | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

That includes a £30,000 payout to David Frost, who served as an aide to Johnson while he was foreign secretary and got a new job as chief EU negotiator after Johnson won the keys to No. 10.

The Cabinet Office paid out almost £310,000 to 14 special advisers in the 2017-2018 financial year alone.

Ministers over the age of 65 are entitled to a quarter of their annual salary tax free when they depart government, as long as they do not get another ministerial post within three weeks.

Advisers in their first year of service usually get three months of their pay, then another month for each year of service up to a maximum of six months — but they can be forced to pay some back if they are reappointed.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Severance payments for ministers are set out in law and for special advisers are a contractual entitlement.

“The special adviser contract sets out when they are payable, including when their minister leaves office and when there is a general election. If a special adviser is re-employed following either event their severance payment must be repaid.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Boris Johnson promises ‘impartiality’ in talks to restore Northern Ireland government

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted he can be an honest broker in talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, despite the Conservative Party’s close ties to the Democratic Unionist Party.

The new prime minister said today there would be “complete impartiality” as he prepared to hold talks with the five main parties in the devolved nation, which has had no government for two and a half years.

He made the comments after he dined with senior DUP figures Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson Tuesday night.

Johnson’s government in Westminster is propped up by the 10 Northern Irish unionist MPs in a confidence-and-supply arrangement. That means the Tory government, which has a majority of three in the House of Commons, depends on the DUP to ratify any Brexit deal Johnson manages to strike with the EU.

The Northern Irish party has insisted that the controversial backstop plan to avoid a hard Irish border — by keeping the U.K. bound to EU customs rules and Northern Ireland tied to some single market rules — must be scrapped, and has welcomed the PM’s similar hard-line stance on the issue.

Asked Wednesday morning if he could be impartial in the efforts to get Stormont back up and running, Johnson told journalists: “It’s all there in the Good Friday Agreement. We believe in complete impartiality and that is what we are going to observe.”

He added: “People in Northern Ireland have been without a government, without Stormont, for two years and six months. So my prime focus this morning is to do everything I can to help that get up and running again because I think that’s profoundly in the interests of the people here, all the citizens here, in Northern Ireland.”

Power sharing at Stormont broke down in January 2017 over disagreements about a botched green energy plan, giving official status to the Northern Irish language and equal rights for same sex couples, among other things.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, DUP leader Foster said the backstop is the “continuing and fundamental flaw” within the Withdrawal Agreement.

“We very much hope that our new prime minister will deal with the issue, he will get across to those in Europe, and particularly in Dublin, the fact that they cannot break up the U.K. because essentially that’s what the backstop was doing.”

Asked on the BBC about her meeting with Johnson last night, Foster said they talked about the need for a Brexit deal and that “Dublin and indeed Brussels needed to dial back on the rhetoric and be a willing partner to find a deal, not just for the United Kingdom but for Republic of Ireland and the whole of Europe.”

Brussels and Dublin have insisted the backstop mechanism is necessary and have refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

This has made a no-deal exit more likely, the DUP’s Chief Whip Donaldson told the BBC. “I think given the response of the Irish government in particular, who I believe are key to this issue of addressing U.K. concerns about the backstop, I think the prospect of a no deal is significant.”

Johnson is meeting the leaders of the DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party on the last leg of his tour of the U.K. nations today.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Anti-Brexit parties test alliance in Welsh by-election

LONDON — U.K. campaigners who want a second referendum to stop Brexit think they have discovered a strategy to break through the Remain ceiling: helping each other win elections.

At the European Parliament vote in May, hardcore anti-Brexit parties won more support overall than those backing a no-deal Brexit. The Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish National Party, Change UK and Plaid Cymru (a Welsh pro-independence party) won 40.4 percent of the vote versus 34.9 percent for the Brexit Party and UKIP. The Brexit Party was the clear single winner, however, romping home with 29 seats.

Now the Remain parties have a cunning plan: stop fighting among themselves. They will test drive it at Thursday’s Welsh by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire, which was triggered when sitting Conservative MP Chris Davies was convicted for expenses fraud. Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Independent Group for Change (formerly Change UK) all agreed not to stand to give the Lib Dems an unhindered shot at the seat.

They hope this “Remain Alliance” will change the political landscape by carving up seats across the U.K. to maximize the chances of the party best-placed to win and avoid fragmenting the Remain vote.

“This is a response to what we should have done in the European Parliament elections,” said Heidi Allen, a former Conservative MP, now an independent, who is trying to broker a wider pact. “Thank God we might have another opportunity in a general election.”

“In this particular time, in this particular contest, I think that the case in favor of standing down was pretty compelling” — Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader

Welsh Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds, who is running in Brecon and Radnorshire, told POLITICO from the campaign trail in Llanwrtyd Wells that it is a “very courageous” move by the other parties. “But I guess the most important thing is the symbolism of it — that it’s about grown-up, adult politics.”

The “grown-up” approach appears to be paying off. A constituency poll by Number Cruncher Politics earlier this month put the Lib Dems on 43 percent, the Conservatives on 28 percent and the Brexit Party on 20 percent. If accurate, it would be an impressive result in a seat that voted by 51.9 percent to leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum, according to an analysis by Chris Hanretty, a politics professor at Royal Holloway University. In the by-election, the pro-Brexit vote is looking larger overall but the Remain parties are cutting through the middle.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said it’s a tough decision not to stand because “the nature of party politics and party competition is that loyalty runs very deep among members and supporters.” But he added: “In this particular time, in this particular contest, I think that the case in favor of standing down was pretty compelling.”

Previous results in Brecon and Radnorshire — where the Lib Dems have scored previous wins and are the clear challengers to the Conservatives — made it a fairly obvious choice: At the general election in 2017, Plaid Cymru won 3.4 percent and the Greens didn’t even stand. The Tories’ decision to stand by Davies despite the scandal made their support, already split by the Brexit Party, even more vulnerable.

‘Prepared to lose my seat’

Allen, who launched the “Unite to Remain” group to coordinate a wider tie-up, said the Brecon model should be used “in as many seats as we can” at the next general election. The specter of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage forming a Brexit alliance, or of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn, is “really focusing minds” among Remain supporters, she said.

“Those threats, and what it means about the kind of country we may become and the path we would set ourselves on, are so terrifying that it is making some of us prepared to behave in ways that we never would have considered before,” said Allen, who is writing to the smaller parties to drive discussion of a national strategy. She has also commissioned an analysis of seats to consider who should be stepping down where.

“It won’t be every seat,” she told POLITICO, “it will be somewhere between 100 and 200 seats where we can really make a difference and return more Remain, progressive, moderate MPs if we stand down and there is just one candidate.”

Analysis by political strategist James Kanagasooriam for Sky News show “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” found a “Remain Alliance” has the potential to win between 66 and 154 seats at a general election. Kanagasooriam told the show two-thirds of the 66-seat estimate is Conservative-held, but that much of the vote share would come from Labour voters in middle England.

There is a financial incentive, too: Small parties could save money, or spend it more effectively, by focusing on seats where they have a fighting chance, rather than fielding candidates across the country.

Allen, who argues that as “an independent who has no skin in the game” she can help broker such a deal, accepts that she could become a casualty of the process in her constituency of South Cambridgeshire.

Heidi Allen launched the “Unite to Remain” group to coordinate a wider tie-up | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

“I am fully prepared to lose my seat,” she said. “I haven’t had a burning desire to be an MP all my life. I’ve ended up becoming an MP at an extraordinary time and I absolutely see myself as a tool. If I can help and be useful and create something that benefits the country then brilliant — that is all I’m focused on.”

As Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts, put it: “If [a wider ‘Remain Alliance’] doesn’t happen in future I think history will look very unkindly upon us for having been divided in our own party interests as opposed to putting the political demands first.”

Time-limited option

New Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is positive about the pact being extended, saying that while the campaign for a second referendum on Brexit has made progress, “arithmetic matters” in the House of Commons when it comes to actually stopping the U.K. withdrawal from the EU.

“We need to be very mature about the threat that we face with Boris Johnson coming in as prime minister, with the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party … and that does mean some difficult decisions being taken by parties acting and cooperating in the national interest,” she told POLITICO.

To avoid bias toward the Lib Dems, the largest of the allied parties with the greatest nationwide clout, Swinson said a “degree of reciprocation” will be needed. Allen agreed: “It can’t be all about the Lib Dems.”

Jo Swinson, the new leader of the Lib Dems | Leon Neal/Getty Images

But the goodwill only goes so far: Saville Roberts was enthusiastic about the suggestion the Lib Dems could “donate” some of their questions in the Commons to other parties that helped win a particular seat, but Swinson poured cold water on the proposal, arguing that one MP does not necessarily mean “masses more questions.”

In Brecon and Radnorshire, meanwhile, Plaid Cymru’s Saville Roberts and Price — while agreeing not to contest the seat — have not actively campaigned for the Lib Dems’ Jane Dodds, though Plaid Cymru and Green members have been helping out on the ground.

And while Allen’s ambitions for the Remain Alliance extend to enabling “a government of national unity” after the next election, the parties themselves are more focused on securing a referendum. “You are talking about something which is very focused and very specific and probably quite time-limited,” said Swinson.

Breaking the grip

Not every anti-Brexit party is fully signed up to the Remain Alliance agenda. Change UK’s successor, the Independent Group for Change, agreed not to contest Brecon and Radnorshire but believes the priority should blocking a no-deal Brexit through the current parliamentary makeup, argues its MP, Chris Leslie.

“Superficially, I can see the attraction of having long conversations about the possibility of an immediate general election, but I just don’t think it’s the priority at the moment,” said Leslie, who has no time for Allen since she split off from Change UK alongside Sarah Wollaston, Chuka Umunna and other MPs.

A general election is unlikely and “might not actually be very desirable at all” in terms of stopping Brexit before October 31, said Leslie, whose group performed dismally at the European Parliament ballot and would likely suffer a fatal blow if a general election were held soon.

Liz Saville Roberts is Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster | Leon Neal/Getty Images

Umunna, who left Labour for the Independents before joining the Lib Dems, sees Brecon and Radnorshire as “a pilot” project, but draws lessons from the 1980s alliance between the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party, saying: “If you aren’t focused and target ruthlessly where you seek to be successful, then you can end up in the situation that the Alliance there found themselves in, where they came second in over 300 seats.”

Still, Plaid Cymru’s Saville Roberts sees a chance that the Welsh by-election this week, if successful for the Remain Alliance, could help “break the grip” of two-party politics and allow U.K. voters to make choices based on issues rather than tribalism.

“This was specifically for Brecon and Radnorshire,” she said. “And it has opened doors that have opened corridors and to further doors in future and we shall see where they go.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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