Michael Tomlinson: The Prime Minister must stick to her word. We must vote this evening to leave the EU on March 29

Why has she recently begun to assert that we may never leave at all? It is an odd about-turn, given that her leadership is predicated upon “Brexit means Brexit”.

Michael Tomlinson is MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole.

After last night’s vote, and as we contemplate what happens next, it is worth reflecting on the winning phrase that the Prime Minister kept repeating as she ran for leadership back in 2016. It ws of course “Brexit means Brexit”, and it worked. In particular, it sent reassuring signals to Brexiteers like me, who needed to hear that our leader understood the result of the referendum – that she “got it”.

On winning the leadership, Theresa May’s statement on the steps of Downing Street outlined the burning injustices that she wanted to tackle. A compassionate agenda that Conservatives can unite around. She was right to highlight those issues then, and that agenda is just as relevant today.

However, the Prime Minister has but one central task for her premiership. It is the one that she seemed to embrace so readily in the early days, and the one she articulated so clearly at Lancaster House. Her mission is to follow through on her promise and deliver Brexit.

Why, then, has she more recently began to assert that we may never leave at all? It is an odd about-turn, given that her leadership is predicated upon “Brexit means Brexit”. When did this change to mean that there may be no Brexit? That would be a political failure of catastrophic proportions, which the Prime Minister should not articulate, and which we will not countenance.

And yet that is the curious threat that has been uttered repeatedly in recent days to try to encourage Brexiteers like me to back her proposal. Last night, that did not work. As a result we are faced with two further key Brexit questions.

First, an extension of Article 50.

The Prime Minister has said at the despatch box more than a hundred times that we are leaving on the March 29th. Now, there would have been a perfectly reasonable argument for a short extension in order to pass any necessary legislation. But no-one who actually wants to leave should argue for an indefinite extension, and for no stated purpose. Delay will not help. It will give certainty neither to our constituents nor our businesses. Nor will it heal the divisions in the country. It will simply serve to prolong the agony.

The Prime Minister must stick to her word and stick to the 29th March, deal or no deal.

Which brings me to the second point. There is no such thing as “no deal”. On this occasion, although it is so obvious that we should be more positive, I don’t just mean that we should use my positive phrase a “Clean Global Brexit”. I mean something more fundamental. There is no such thing as a “no deal”, because we already have numerous deals secured.

These have not been announced or trumpeted with anywhere near sufficient fanfare. It is almost as if they have been sneaked out by politicians too embarrassed to admit their existence or efficacy.

Here are but a very few examples.

  • If we leave without a deal, UK citizens in Spain will continue living there, as now.
  • Further, our financial services have been granted temporary permissions by the EU.
  • And guess what? Flights from the UK will continue flying into and over the EU.
  • Then there is agreement for visa free travel.
  • And again we have agreement for hauliers.
  • The UK’s nuclear sector is now entirely No Deal ready.

And on it goes.

The Governor of the Bank of England is no natural optimist when it comes to the benefits of Brexit. But even he has recently reassessed our prospects for leaving without a deal. I do not pretend that it will be a walk in the park. And in the eyes of some people, we will never be fully ready. Politicians often need the wisdom of Solomon, and perhaps the following from Ecclesiastes 11 will help: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

My point is this. We already have deals in place. Scaremongering that we will crash out and fall off the edge of a cliff into an economic Armageddon will not work. We were warned about that before and the people of this great country of ours considered it, and voted leave despite these dire predictions.

As we eagerly await the next round of Brexit debates, and as we contemplate our votes later on, the Prime Minister must be reminded that Brexit really does mean Brexit, and that we leave on the 29th March.

Police: Three bombs found near London airports, rail station

Discoveries made at Heathrow and London City airports, as well Waterloo station.

Counter-terrorism police are investigating three bombs found Tuesday near two London airports as well as a rail station.

London’s Metropolitan Police said “three suspicious packages” were discovered near Waterloo rail station as well as Heathrow and London City airports, and are investigating them as if they are linked.

“The packages — all A4-sized white postal bags containing yellow Jiffy bags — have been assessed by specialist officers to be small improvised explosive devices,” police said.

The first device was found just before 10 a.m. at a site near Heathrow Airport. The package burned once opened by staff at the Compass Center office block outside the terminal building, according to police.

At 11.40 a.m., British Transport Police were called to investigate another package found in the mail room at Waterloo station. At 12.10 p.m., police responded to another call at the City Aviation House outside London City airport.

Local metro services to London City Airport were affected by the investigation, but the police insisted that all trains and planes were running on schedule. No injuries have been reported.


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Iain Mansfield: We have nothing to fear from No Deal

It would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash.

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

One constant on our journey to leave the EU is that the predictions of Project Fear have repeatedly failed to come true. Despite the predictions of the Treasury, there was no immediate recession, “immediate and profound economic shock”, ten per cent drop in house prices or ‘’Punishment Budget’ as a consequence of the vote to Leave. Instead we’ve seen a growing economy, the highest ever level of employment, growing wages, falling inflation and an £11.8bn increase in exports in 2018.

The new bogeyman is No Deal. The summer of 2018 saw repeated stories of planes being grounded in the event of No Deal, only for, entirely predictably, the EU to make provision in December for flights to continue for twelve months to allow alternative measures to be put in place. More recently, claims that our trade to other countries would grind to a halt are being refuted by the regular drumbeat of mutual recognition agreements signed by the Department of International Trade, including one last week with our largest non-EU trade partner, the USA. I do not say that there will be no short-term impact in the event of No Deal, but it will be vastly less than is being suggested.

In my 2014 prize-winning paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs, I explicitly considered the possibility of No Deal. No Deal was not the preferred outcome – I would have preferred a Free Trade Agreement, outside both the Single Market and Customs Union, similar to the position set out by Vote Leave in June 2016. It was, however, always a potential outcome, and it was important to consider how to put in place policies to make a success of it. In this article, I set out a high-level set of policies for making a success of No Deal, drawing on that paper and ongoing developments in the four years since.

Making a success of a Managed No Deal

Citizen’s RightsThe welfare of both UK and EU citizens is of the highest priority. As the Prime Minister has already announced, all EU citizens living in the UK should continue to be able to do so, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. Many EU countries have already put in place equivalent arrangements for UK citizens and similar commitments should be sought from those that have yet to do so.

Visas and Migration: The UK should put in place visa-free arrangements for short-term tourist and business travel, covering up to 90 days in any 180 day period, mirroring the scheme already announced by the EU. Immigration rules for EU nationals should be brought in to line with those for non-EU nationals, ending the current discriminatory arrangements. There should be no cap on the number of EU students, but students arriving after March 2019 should not receive government-funded loans and should pay fees at international rates.

‘Divorce bill’: In the event of No Deal, it is self-evident that no money should be paid to the EU.

Trade and tariffsThe UK should abide by WTO rules and impose the same tariffs on EU importe that are currently faced by imports from outside the EU. Notwithstanding the theoretical positive economic case for unilaterally removing tariff barriers, it is important that shutting the UK out of EU markets is not a cost-free decision for continental business, in order to build the environment for a future deal once the political climate has altered.

Due to the UK’s trade deficit with the EU, estimates suggest we stand to collect up to an extra £13 billion a year from tariffs, while the EU would gain only £5 billion. Some of these funds should be used to help industries most impacted by EU trade barriers adjust and find new markets, in a strictly time-limited and tapering way to prevent them fostering inefficiency and rent-seeking behaviour. The rest should be reinvested into infrastructure and other competitiveness-enhancing investments.

Within six months of leaving, the UK should draw up a list of goods on which the EU has imposed unnecessarily high tariffs. This should prioritise consumer goods that the UK produces little of itself – from oranges to textiles – to directly reduce the cost of living without harming jobs.

Industrial StrategyIn contrast to Project Fear’s claims, EY’s 2018 UK Attractiveness Survey – an annual examination of the performance and perceptions of the UK as an investment destination – confirmed that the UK remains the number one destination for inward investment in Europe, with the number of investment projects up six per cent from the year before. Though Brexit has had an impact, it is small: 79 per cent of businesses say that they’ve increased or not changed their plans to invest since the Brexit vote, with only eight per cent saying they are likely to relocate assets within the next three years.

The UK should capitalise on this investor confidence. With full freedom to set our own regulatory affairs, the UK should rapidly seek to reform business regulation in areas where the EU has imposed unnecessary bureaucracy, particularly in sectors where this has directly targeted UK competitiveness. Existing labour rights and environmental standards should be maintained.

Broader measures to promote business investment should also be brought forward. A step-wise lowering of corporation tax to 15 per cent by 2022, an enhancement of R&D tax credits, the creation of special export zones and increased transport infrastructure, particularly in the Midlands and North, are all ideas that should be considered for fast-track implementation.            

UK-Ireland land border: No physical barriers should be erected on the Irish border. Importers bringing goods across the border should be required to register and pay tariffs on any imports using an online portal, with compliance enforced via spot-checks on industrial and commercial facilities and an enhancement of the existing cross-border arrangements used to combat smuggling. The success of this system should be reviewed 12 months after exit, ideally in partnership with the Republic of Ireland, and limited border checks introduced only if both parties agree it is necessary.

Individuals should be allowed to move freely across the island of Ireland, with eligibility for work, residency and benefits checked only when a person applied for such. A generous allowance for transport of goods for personal consumption should be put in place.

Existing controls would remain in place at airports and ports to monitor travel between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.

If the Republic of Ireland chooses to erect physical barriers on the border, that would be its decision, not the UK’s.

Future EU Relations: The UK should not seek to immediately negotiate a trade deal with the  EU. After the acrimony of the current negotiations, this would be unlikely to lead to a positive outcome. Instead, the UK should increase business certainty by clearly pursuing an economic path that lies outside the EU.

The year immediately following exit should be used to regularise agreements in essential areas, such as air travel, which will initially be covered by emergency arrangements. These should largely be technical affairs modelled on the EU’s and UK’s arrangements with third parties. It may also be possible to negotiate entry into stand-alone, uncontroversial, programmes such as those on scientific cooperation.

It is likely that in three to five years’ time the political situation may have calmed sufficiently to seek to negotiate a stand-alone trade agreement. This should be modelled on the Canada Free Trade Agreement and would take as its status quo the No Deal arrangements, in order to avoid unreasonable expectations on either side.

We have nothing to fear from No Deal

I am not a No Deal fanatic. Last year on this site I advocated support for Chequers, and I still believe that, if the backstop is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, the deal would be worth signing. We must not, however, accept a deal at any cost. To succeed in any negotiation, one must be prepared to walk away – and the actions of MPs who have effectively announced that they will take any deal, however bad, have undoubtedly hamstrung our negotiations.

The Conservative Manifesto set it out clearly: No Deal is better than a bad deal. I continue to hope that a compromise will be found, and that the EU will agree to remove or place a time-limit on the backstop. However, rather than accept a deal which yokes us indefinitely to the EU, we should embrace a future outside. No Deal would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash. Britain’s fundamental economic strengths, competitiveness and international relationships, supported by an appropriate set of domestic policies, mean it is abundantly clear that we can have a positive economic future in this scenario.

EU capitals agree to visa-free Schengen access for Brits

If approved, post-Brexit Brits would be able to travel visa-free across the Schengen area for 90 days in any 180-day period.

EU ambassadors want to allow British citizens entering the Schengen travel area post-Brexit to stay for up to 90 days without a visa, the Council said Friday.

The allotted 90 days can be taken in any 180-day period, the Council said, and adds the U.K. to a list of countries that already includes Australia, Canada and Brazil.

The Council said its decision was based on an assumption of reciprocity by British authorities for EU country nationals heading to the U.K. for a short stay, and warned that visa requirements would quickly be imposed should that not be the case.

“In the event that the United Kingdom introduces a visa requirement for nationals of at least one member state in the future, the existing reciprocity mechanism would apply and the three institutions and the member states would commit to act without delay in applying the mechanism,” the Council said in a statement.

Should the deal be approved, under the original proposal from the European Commission visa-free access would also apply to Britons visiting Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, in addition to EU countries Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus — which are not yet members of the Schengen zone.

Ireland, which is not in the Schengen zone, has a bilateral arrangement on cross-border travel with the U.K.

The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee unanimously backed the proposal to allow visa-free access earlier this week, and will now work out the final text of the deal with the Council.


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France triggers €50M ‘hard Brexit’ contingency plan

Contingency plan sees investment in ports and airports, and measures to defend French fishing industry.

France is to invest 50 million euros to help its ports and airports cope in the event of a hard Brexit, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Thursday.

The planned spending is part of a hard-Brexit contingency strategy that will also see France “defend the interests of French fishermen,” Philippe told a press conference following ministerial meetings earlier Thursday.

“The plan consists of legislative measures which aim to ensure that the rights of French citizens and businesses are protected,” the prime minister said.

“Today, we proposed that the National Assembly and the Senate adopt a habilitation law which will come into effect this week […] five orders that will provide us with a legal framework that responds to the challenges of a no-deal Brexit will be presented to the council of ministers and published in the next three weeks.”

Philippe highlighted the French government’s responsibility to ensure the “least possible impact” if Britain exits the European Union without a deal on March 29.

Planning across the EU for a potential no-deal Brexit has been ramped up after U.K. MPs heavily rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal Tuesday.


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Heathrow airport grounds planes after drone sighting

Hundreds of flights were canceled at London’s Gatwick airport last month.

London Heathrow airport halted departures for a short period Tuesday evening in response to a drone sighting.

The airport said it was working closely with London police “to prevent any threat to operational safety,” and said it had grounded planes as a precautionary measure.

After resuming operations, the airport said it would “continue to monitor” the situation and remained in contact with the police and air traffic control.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at London’s Gatwick airport last month during the busy Christmas period because of drone sightings.

The U.K.’s Department for Transport proposed new legislation Monday to give more authority to police in dealing with rogue drones, and expand the restricted airspace around airports from a 1 kilometer radius to a 5 kilometer radius.

This article has been updated.


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How Britain ruined transport

Planes, trains and automobiles — the Brits can’t do any of them well.

Just a week into the new year and British transport policy resembles a drunk businessman making his way home from the office party — bashing into things and picking up the occasional serious injury but still wearing a paper hat and insisting he’s having a good time.

Exhibit A: During the Brexit campaign, the phrase “we have plans in place to ensure you can continue to travel abroad” was not written on the side of a bus.

Yet that’s exactly what the U.K.’s Department for Transport tweeted out late last week in a bid to, er, reassure the public that everything’s going to be just fine even if the country crashes out of the EU with no deal (spoiler alert: it probably isn’t).

But if you do want to leave the U.K., how should you go about it?  Here are a few options and their downsides:

By car

It might be a touch busy getting to a port after Brexit.

On Monday morning, a live test was carried out of an emergency system to prevent congestion in Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The plan is to use Manston airport (which is no longer an airport) as a truck park for thousands of vehicles, to make sure roads around Dover’s port don’t clog up if custom checks come in.

The disused airfield was recently converted to act as a holding base for heavy goods vehicles. The port itself cannot expand any further so the airfield, which is 20 miles away, is conceived as a spill-over area for waiting traffic.

Lorries are held in a simulated traffic jam on the way to Dover | Leon Neal/Getty Images

When the Department for International Trade tweeted in 2016 that “France needs high quality, innovative British jams,” this probably wasn’t what they had in mind.

The dress rehearsal was meant to demonstrate how Operation Brock (named either after a badger or terrifying mixed martial artist and wrestler Brock Lesnar) would work in practice.

The DfT wanted 150 truckers to participate, but U.K. media reported that little more than half that number actually showed up, despite the offer of hundreds of pounds in reimbursement from the government. The Mirror reported the trial cost upward of £50,000 in fees to drivers that did take part.

Truck traffic through Dover peaks at a daily 10,000 vehicles during busy periods in the buildup to Christmas, so critics argue the Manston trial provides little indication of how to deal with congestion caused by a no-deal Brexit.

Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association which represents British freight transporters, tweeted that the tests are “too little too late” and “should have been done 9 months ago and repeatedly stress tested.”

By ferry

At least those taking part in the Manston trial owned trucks.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling — whom the Guardian recently described as “a man you’d supervise if you saw him attempting to use scissors” — was last week forced to defend awarding a contract to operate ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit to a company with no experience of running a ferry service.

“I make no apologies for supporting a new British business,” Grayling told BBC Radio 4’s Today program, adding it is a “tightly drawn-up contract that requires them to deliver.”

Chris Grayling, the embattled British transport secretary | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The company in question, Seaborne Freight, might well deliver — but it could be pizzas.

The terms and conditions on the website of Seaborne, which was awarded a £13.8 million contract to operate a freight service between the ports of Ramsgate in the U.K. and Ostend in Belgium, appeared to be intended for a food delivery firm.

“It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order,” read part of the text on the company’s website.

Even with airports open, there’s no guarantee it’ll be easy to fly out of the U.K. after a no-deal Brexit.

Another section appeared ready to crack down on prank pizza orders, warning that “users are prohibited from making false orders through our website” and that Seaborne “reserves the right to seek compensation through legal action for any losses incurred as the result of hoax delivery requests and will prosecute to the full extent of the law.”

Grayling said the company has been “looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants,” and said he thinks Seaborne Freight is “on track to be able to run ferries in April.” He didn’t specify which year.

By plane

The fallout continues from Gatwick Airport, the second-busiest in Britain, being brought to a standstill by drones just before Christmas.

Paul Gait, a window fitter who along with his partner was falsely, and very publicly, accused of being behind the drone disruption, said at the weekend that “Christmas was s**t” (presumably as a result of the media attention, not having to talk to your relatives).

The naming and shaming of Gait and his partner Elaine Kirk was part of a shambolic police and airport operation after two drones were sighted flying over the airport — resulting in about 1,000 flights affecting 140,000 passengers being canceled or diverted over three days.

Passengers sit with their luggage during the rogue drone delay at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 | Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

Even now, several weeks after the incident and with Gatwick back to normal (i.e., awful), we’re none the wiser as to what actually happened. The head of Sussex police, Giles York, told the BBC he is “absolutely certain” there was a drone or drones, after other, unnamed officers suggested there might not have been.

Even with airports open, there’s no guarantee it’ll be easy to fly out of the U.K. after a no-deal Brexit.

The European Commission proposed in December a set of no-deal contingency plans, which if approved by the EU27, would allow direct flights between the EU and the U.K. for a period of 12 months after March 30. So yes, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, you will — pending EU27 and European Parliament approval of the Commission’s no-deal plans — be able to fly from the EU to the U.K. and the other way round.

The Commission is keen to point out, however, that this is a “bare-bones” agreement, and not only is it less than what the U.K. already has, it is also temporary. British airlines will lose the right to operate intra-EU flights. They will also lose the right to operate flights from the U.K. to the EU and then on to another destination — London-Madrid-Buenos Aires, say.

By train

It happens every year, as regular as clockwork. Not a British train arriving on time but the uproar at rail prices going up.

At the turn of the year, rail fares increased by an average of almost 3 percent in Scotland and 3.1 percent in England and Wales.

Grayling, that man again, said the fare increases “are higher than they should be because the unions demand — with threats of national rail strikes if they don’t get them — higher pay rises than anybody else.”

Commuters attempt to board a full Southwest Train carriage at Clapham Junction in London | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union described that reaction as “scandalous.”

The cost of an annual standard-class Liverpool to Manchester season ticket (a journey of 34 miles) is now £3,252, up from £3,152 in 2018, an increase of £100, according to figures from consumer organization Which? 

By bicycle

Even bikes aren’t immune to the transport woes.

Brompton, which makes upmarket folding bikes, has built up a £1 million stockpile of parts to guarantee that its London factory can keep working in case of a hard Brexit.

Will Butler-Adams, the firm’s CEO, said they have hired advisory firm Grant Thornton to help with “s**t hits the fan planning.” Although, to put things into perspective, £1 million of Brompton bike parts can probably fit inside a suitcase.

Rumors that Grayling is pushing for future British transport policy to be based on rubbish-looking film “Mortal Engines,” in which London is fitted with huge engines and wheels, enabling it to eat other cities for resources, were unconfirmed at the time of going to press.

Two arrested over Gatwick drone disruption

Draft drone bill delayed as civil servants focus on Brexit, the Times reports.

British police Saturday said they have detained two suspects following drone interference at Gatwick airport that let to partial shutdowns of the U.K.’s second-largest airport.

Sussex police said the arrests, made just after 10 p.m. Friday, form part of an “ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport.”

Authorities did not release further details on the two persons arrested.

Drone sightings Wednesday night saw severe disruption to the airport’s activities as flights were suspended for security reasons. Flights resumed Friday morning but were suspended again that afternoon, restarting around 7 p.m. Friday, police said.

The Times Saturday reported that U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling this year ditched plans for a draft bill to regulate drone use and develop technology to prevent them from being used near airports.

The outlet reported the legislation “had been due for publication in the spring, [but] was dropped amid pressures on the department, with civil servants diverted to work on Brexit.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association said Friday it “remains extremely concerned at the risk of a drone collision,” and had issued advice to pilots on how to respond to a drone sighting.

Gatwick airport said Saturday: “Our runway is open. Passengers are advised to check with their airline before travelling to the airport.”


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Gatwick reopens after airport implements anti-drone measures

Britain’s Gatwick airport reopened this morning after rogue drones prompted it to ground all flights since Wednesday night, disrupting the travel plans of 120,000 passengers. Just under 700 flights are expected to take off today and over 100 have been canceled, Gatwick Chief Operating Officer Chris Woodroofe told the BBC’s Today program. Woodroofe said 120,000 passengers who were due […]

Britain’s Gatwick airport reopened this morning after rogue drones prompted it to ground all flights since Wednesday night, disrupting the travel plans of 120,000 passengers.

Just under 700 flights are expected to take off today and over 100 have been canceled, Gatwick Chief Operating Officer Chris Woodroofe told the BBC’s Today program. Woodroofe said 120,000 passengers who were due to fly in or out of Gatwick had their flights delayed or canceled.

Woodroofe said the airport had put in place unspecified “additional mitigating measures,” provided by military and government agencies, which enabled it to reopen. He wouldn’t specify what the measures entailed or say whether the airport would be forced to shut down again if more drones were sighted.

The Gatwick chief said the airport had been working for a year to resolve the challenges posed by drones, but that more needed to be done to deal with such an “unprecedented event.”

“What the last 36 hours have demonstrated is that an awful lot more work has to be done both in the U.K. and internationally to address the risk of drones to airports,” Woodroofe said. “We need to work with both technology providers and government to address this risk.”

Woodroofe said police have not yet found those responsible for the rogue drones.

The Gatwick chief advised passengers to check with airlines to confirm whether their flights have been canceled before coming to the airport today.

WATCH: Grayling on the Gatwick drones shutdown. No suggestion this is a terrorist attack.

“This is a fairly large drone – a commercial-size drone that is clearly being operated deliberately.”