Johnson no-show lets Xavier Bettel play to the gallery

LUXEMBOURG CITY — In the end the Incredible Hulk shied away from fewer than 100 protesters.

Rather than face heckling from a small but boisterous crowd of demonstrators, Boris Johnson skipped a planned outdoor press conference with his Luxembourg counterpart Xavier Bettel on Monday, leaving his host to deliver a grandstanding lecture on how Brexit had been pursued for Tory party advantage but with no plan for how to deliver it.

On Sunday, the British prime minister had compared Britain (and by extension himself) to the Incredible Hulk, breaking free of the EU (“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets“).

But after being loudly booed and jeered by anti-Brexit protesters on his way into the meeting with Bettel, Johnson’s aides appear to have decided that the spectacle of a joint press conference in the courtyard of the Luxembourg’s prime minister office punctuated by heckles from just a few feet away would not have been a good look.

“We need written proposals and the time is ticking — so stop speaking,” Bettel implored Johnson at one point.

In the event, the alternative was worse.

Standing in front of a British flag, Bettel gestured several times at the empty podium next to him, noting mischievously that he had hoped to thank Johnson for their exchange of views. In brief remarks, he lambasted the U.K. prime minister for not putting forward a concrete alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement in writing. He also lashed out at the Tories for falsely promising that Brexit would be easy to accomplish, voiced unwavering support for Ireland, and demanded Brexit supporters stop blaming the EU for the mess they have made.

“We need written proposals and the time is ticking — so stop speaking,” Bettel implored Johnson at one point. “Act!”

At another point, in perhaps his sharpest rebuke, Bettel accused Johnson and the Tories of seeking partisan advantage.

“You cannot hold a future hostage for party political gain,” Bettel said, adding later: “This Brexit is not my choice, it has been a decision from the [Tory] party. It was a decision from David Cameron to do it. They decide. They decide.”

“I deeply regret it but don’t put the blame on us because now they don’t know how to get out of this,” he said then paused dramatically for a moment, a mischievous grin on his face, before adding “situation they put themselves in. It’s not my choice.”

Luxembourg PM, Xavier Bettel rejected a proposal that the post-Brexit transition period could be extended by one or two years | Joshua Sammer/Getty Images

It was a remarkable performance on many levels, not least because the dressing down of the British leader for mishandling Brexit came not from one of the EU’s great powers, the president of France or the chancellor of Germany, but from the prime minister of tiny Luxembourg. And it showed not only just how deep anger now runs among the EU27 but also how fiercely united they remain in loyalty to Ireland and the so-called backstop provision to protect the Irish border that Johnson on Monday continued to insist must be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.

The press conference itself was delayed by protestors who shouted “stop Brexit” and held signs saying declaring “Brexit is just not funny” and “Stop this madness.” A sound-system blasted Beethoven’s ninth symphony (the EU anthem) as well as the Rolling Stones’ “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction.”

After Johnson’s no-show, Downing Street officials said they had suggested holding the press conference elsewhere, but that the hosts declined, insisting it take place outside in view of the watching public.

Speaking to Sky News shortly after the meeting, Johnson explained his decision, saying: “Clearly going to be a lot of noise and our points might have been drowned out,” adding that he didn’t think “it would have been fair” on the Luxembourg prime minister if he had taken part in the press conference.

To cheers from the crowd, Bettel did not mince his words about what he regarded as the source of the Brexit “mess.”

The effect was that Bettel was gifted a media platform to air the EU’s grievances, with no comeback from Johnson. And his solo press conference vastly overshadowed the main purpose of Johnson’s visit: a lunch meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is a former Luxembourg prime minister.

Bettel’s evident frustration with what he said was the failure of the U.K. to submit workable proposals to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop stood in sharp contrast to Johnson’s own stated optimism that there is “a good chance of a deal” but it was “not necessarily in the bag.”

To cheers from the crowd, Bettel did not mince his words about what he regarded as the source of the Brexit “mess.”

He stressed that the first priority for the EU “is the preservation of the single market” along with a “deal that protects the Good Friday Agreement and avoids hard border on the Irish island at all costs.”

Gesturing at times towards the empty podium next to him, Bettel said that the U.K. had not offered any “concrete proposals” to solve the Northern Ireland border problem. “The only solution that is currently on the table and meets all these criteria is the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said — referring to the deal struck with Theresa May’s government.

Boris Johnson said he didn’t think “it would have been fair” on the Luxembourg PM if he had taken part in the press conference  | Joshua Sammer/Getty Images

“There are no changes, there are no concrete proposals for the moment on the table and I won’t give an agreement to ideas, we need written proposals and the time is ticking. So stop speaking but act if you want that we are able to discuss about different proposals,” he said. Johnson said in his Sky interview that “papers had been shared” with EU negotiators in the last two weeks.

The Luxembourg PM also said he had asked Johnson if he would consider a second referendum to get out of the political impasse in the U.K., but his British counterpart had told him he would not.

Bettel also rejected a proposal that the post-Brexit transition period could be extended by one or two years: “The fact is that our citizens want to have a certainty … if we say [an extension] is for one year or two years and this time will be needed to find new decisions, this is a nightmare.”

He was also asked about Johnson’s determination to pursue Brexit on October 31, apparently in contravention of a law passed last week forcing him to apply for an extension to Article 50. “This wouldn’t happen in Luxembourg” was Bettel’s response.

HYPOTHETICAL SECOND BREXIT REFERENDUM POLL OF POLLS

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UK Lib Dems pledge to stop Brexit if they come to power

Britain’s Liberal Democrats toughened their anti-Brexit stance today, adopting a pledge to stop the U.K. from leaving the EU if they come to power in the next general election.

Party members at a conference voted to approve the new policy, which says the Lib Dems will campaign to revoke Britain’s notification to the EU that it plans to leave the bloc — if there is a general election before a new referendum is held.

“First and foremost, the Liberal Democrats are calling for a people’s vote to stop Brexit. But if a general election comes first, we will take on the tired old parties with an unambiguous stop Brexit message,” the party said in a statement.

Polls suggest it’s highly unlikely the Lib Dems would win a majority in a forthcoming general election. The party’s support is at around 18 percent, behind the Conservatives on 33 percent and Labour on 25 percent. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson also today ruled out the possibility of joining a coalition with Labour, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “is not going to be put into No. 10 with Liberal Democrat votes.”

However, the new policy hardens the Lib Dems’ position as the most strongly opposed to Brexit among U.K. mainstream parties. That may help attract voters who opted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

Though the next U.K. general election is not scheduled until 2022, a snap election is widely expected due to an impasse in parliament over Brexit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take the country out of the EU, deal or no deal, on October 31. His push to call an early election failed twice in parliament last week as his opponents say they want to ensure a no-deal Brexit is off the table before holding a vote.

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Lib Dem newbies get ready to meet the family

LONDON — Stealing MPs from your opponents is great for party morale but isn’t as easy as it looks — just ask the Lib Dems.

Since the 2016 referendum, the Brexit debate has split Britain’s two main parties, rupturing long-standing loyalties and aligning previous opponents. But for this realignment to stick over the longer term, new recruits must find more common ground with their newfound political friends than simply their views on the European Union.

In Westminster, MPs for the U.K.’s pro-EU, centrist party are in buoyant mood. Since the last election in 2017, they have swelled their parliamentary ranks from 12 to 17 MPs as disillusioned former opponents backed their unapologetic anti-Brexit pitch.

For all the cheers and jubilant press releases, party chiefs must now navigate the delicate task of integration while trying not to alienate loyal party members who often harbor deep-seated tribal animosity toward recent converts. Get this wrong and the boost in parliament could quickly turn sour.

Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems’ young new leader, has now pledged to revoke Article 50 — the formal notice to the EU of the U.K.’s intention to leave the bloc — if her party wins a majority.

In an effort to ease such problems, the Lib Dem leadership is making newcomers earn their stripes. They have made no promises defectors can be candidates for the party at the next election and the new MPs are being schooled in its complex policy-making rules ahead of the party’s annual conference, which begins in Bournemouth this weekend.

In truth, the Lib Dem’s modest representation in the House of Commons means there is limited scope for cushy offers of plum jobs that might be possible for either of the two main parties. “[My defection to the Lib Dems] wasn’t a career move,” former Tory Philip Lee, who is the party’s newest recruit said. “I didn’t have any promises of anything.”

“I think humility is very important, and I am not going to seek to impose myself or to run before I can walk,” Luciana Berger, a former Labour MP who joined the party earlier this month told POLITICO.

Home for Remainers

The perfect storm of the referendum vote to leave the European Union and its division of the two main parties, along with Labour’s anti-Semitism scandal, has prompted closer ties and fostered cross-party working in ways that were rare in Britain’s two-party system pre-2016.

The party has also been the beneficiary of a failed effort to create a new pro-European political party — Change UK, which barely registered in the polls during May’s European elections — leaving the Liberal Democrats alone on the Remain side of the Brexit debate.

Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems’ young new leader, has now pledged to revoke Article 50 | Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

This has helped swell the party’s membership numbers and electoral support, which had been badly damaged after the party entered into a five-year coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems’ young new leader, has now pledged to revoke Article 50 — the formal notice to the EU of the U.K.’s intention to leave the bloc — if her party wins a majority, in a further pitch to Remain supporters.

There were elated scenes in the House of Commons after the party’s most recent recruit, former Tory MP Phillip Lee, walked across the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. The attention-grabbing stunt deprived Prime Minister Boris Johnson of his one-vote majority even as he was making a statement to MPs from the dispatch box.

One of us?

But for all the party’s “love-bombing” of its new MPs, as Berger put it, the leadership is anxious not to alienate existing members. In particular it does not want to rock the boat in seats where a defecting MP may run into competition with long-serving candidates for selection to contest a seat.

Defectors do not always live happily in their new political home, as the Lib Dems have found previously.

Helen Thompson, the existing Liberal Democrat candidate in pro-Remain Streatham, the south London seat where defector Chuka Umunna was elected as the Labour MP in 2017, said the party had been “good at keeping us informed and listening to our views and trying to understand how it would go down with local activists.”

Umunna was not always a friend of the Liberal Democrats. In 2017, he called the party the “enablers” of Tory austerity. “Working people will not forget or forgive the damage they did in government,” he once said, one of many phrases now regularly quoted back at him.

Thompson acknowledged that for longer term activists “it has been a bit of an adjustment to think of him as one of us,” but for many new members who joined the party recently “pretty much everybody sees it as a huge win for us really to have him join.”

“On Brexit he has had the same views as us, pretty much since after the referendum,” she said.

Umunna will not now stand in his old Streatham constituency and will instead try to take the flagship Tory seat of The Cities of London & Westminster.

The Lib Dems will hope that opening their doors to outsiders from other parties will prove the key to shifting the Brexit debate.

Berger said she was waiting to be formally chosen as a candidate by the local party, and would have to pass a test before being selected.

Beyond Brexit

While the new MPs are united with leader Jo Swinson in their opposition to Brexit, skeptics question if they share much more beyond that.

Lee says joining any political party is a “compromise” and that Brexit was the “major precipitant” in his decision to cross the floor, but points to climate change and health as other areas where he agrees with his new colleagues.

However, his defection prompted a number of LGBT Liberal Democrat members to announce they were leaving the party because of his views on gay rights and HIV-positive migrants.

Lee abstained in a 2013 House of Commons vote on same-sex marriage and tried to amend the Immigration Bill in 2014 to make immigrants demonstrate they are clear of HIV and Hepatitis B before entering the U.K.

Phillip Lee says joining any political party is a “compromise” and that Brexit was the “major precipitant” in his decision to cross the floor | Leon Neal/Getty Images

Berger says she is joining a social democratic party. “That which led me to join the Labour Party — around equality for all, anti-racism against all, social justice — are Liberal Democrat party values too,” she said.

She thinks she has a “lot to contribute in various areas,” particularly in public health, mental health and climate change, all portfolios she held while in senior positions for the Labour party.

Berger and former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston were put through a crash course in the complex process of Liberal Democrat policy making on Tuesday but Berger insists she won’t be “jumping the gun.”

And before crossing the political divide she also had an extensive interview with the Lib Dem chief whip. “It was a proper discussion, it wasn’t a cursory check. Lots of policy [was discussed],” she said.

Trouble ahead

Defectors do not always live happily in their new political home, as the Lib Dems have found previously. They scored a publicity victory ahead of the 2017 general election when Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel joined the party from the Conservatives, saying she would consider standing for parliament for her new political family.

But nearly two years later she jumped ship again, this time to the new pro-EU party, Change UK, who she represented in the last European election.

The UK Independence Party has also had trouble hanging on to new recruits. Douglas Carswell, who left the Tories to join the anti-EU party under Nigel Farage, left the party three years later after a string of very public disagreements with the leadership.

Douglas Carswell, who left the Tories to join the UKIP, left the party three years later | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Gawain Towler, then Farage’s spokesman and now head of communications at the Brexit Party, said that despite Carswell being “a nightmare at times” his defection was a strategic win for UKIP.

“It was worth it because it was that — our Euro results, and the fact that we had those two defections — that forced Cameron’s hand to give us the referendum in the first place,” he said.

The Lib Dems will hope that opening their doors to outsiders from other parties will prove the key to shifting the Brexit debate in the other direction.

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

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UK offers Brexit mini-deals to side-step Brussels

The U.K. government is trying to bypass Brexit negotiations with the European Commission by proposing so-called mini deals to national capitals directly, diplomats say.

Many EU27 capitals have been approached by London with offers of deals or bilateral arrangements that would ameliorate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on both sides, according to two diplomats. The move has infuriated Commission officials, including EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who are concerned that a patchwork of partial deals could be more beneficial to the U.K. than the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s government last year.

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department for Exiting the EU said it is “untrue” the U.K. is trying to bypass talks with the Commission.

At a meeting of Brexit EU27 officials last week, almost “all delegations mentioned that they were being approached by the U.K. on several issues,” said one of the diplomats. These included topics such as data protection, plus social security benefits and health entitlements of British citizens living in other parts of the EU.

Germany is among the countries approached by London with an offer of a mini deal on social issues, three EU27 diplomats say. “It’s a sign of British desperation” said one of the diplomats.

“I see it as a clear attempt by the British side to go to countries and give them something they care about, such as citizen rights, to create goodwill and also weaken the EU’s common line that London must first ratify the Withdrawal Agreement before negotiations about future relations and trade can begin,” said Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the German Chamber of Commerce.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told POLITICO his country has already come to an agreement with the U.K. that would come into effect if there is no deal. He said this is not a secret mini deal but “an agreement with the U.K. about voting rights, so Luxembourgers can vote for local elections in Great Britain, that maybe not change the result at the end but at least they have civil rights in the U.K. and that was important for that, I signed that with [British Brexit] Secretary [Stephen] Barclay.”

A Czech diplomat said no such a deal or any offer had been made by Johnson’s government to Prague.

The representative of the Commission at a meeting of Brexit officials last week noted approvingly that member countries are resisting offers of side deals from London. “Whatever the U.K. is offering has no solid legal basis,” according to one of the diplomats.

At a separate meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday last week, Barnier warned against an apparent attempt at divide and rule by the U.K. He said it is important that putting in place contingency measures for no deal should not lead to a slew of uncoordinated mini deals that could end up being more advantageous to the U.K. than the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexit experts in the Council who are part of the EU’s Article 50 Working Group have been asked by the group’s presidency to report by Wednesday on offers made by Boris Johnson’s government, setting out in which sector an offer exists; to what goal; and whether any deal has been done. The answers will not be disclosed but will be discussed in a seminar to coordinate the bloc’s response, an EU official said.

So far though, London doesn’t appear to be having much luck. “They came to offer a mini deal, but they had not much to offer,” said one EU diplomat, “They couldn’t offer us to open a manufacturing plant that gives jobs, because they have no manufacturing. They couldn’t offer us defense, because we have NATO. They couldn’t offer money because their GDP is big but no so big. They could only offer to open one more bank branch.”

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department for Exiting the European Union said: “This story is untrue and seems to conflate two separate strands of work.”

The spokesperson said that the U.K. is seeking changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and to that end, lead negotiator David Frost is in talks this week with the Commission’s Task Force 50 in Brussels while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay spoke to EU negotiator Michel Barnier by phone last week.

“Secondly, we are speaking to Member States about key bilateral arrangements in areas such as Citizens Rights to ensure we are ready to leave on 31 October, whatever the circumstances,” the spokesperson added.

Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.
This story has been updated.

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

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Simon Fawthrop: The letter requesting a Brexit delay was sent by carrier pigeon and arrived too late? What a shame.

Simon Fawthrop is a councillor for Petts Wood and Knoll Ward in Bromley.

When I read the Surrender Bill promoted by Hilary Benn and continuity Remain, I noticed that the Bill didn’t specify how the letter has to be sent to Brussels. Nor does it specify what would happen if the EU does not get the letter by 31st October. The Bill only specifies that the letter has to be written, not that it has to get there or how it would get there. I also note that the Bill does not specify that any copies of the letter have to be made.

My assumption is that if the EU doesn’t get the letter by 31st October, the default remains that the UK leaves on 31st October. I’m sure ConservativeHome’s readers will no doubt be able to check this.

So I have set about looking at options as to how to send the letter so that it doesn’t reach the EU by 31st October. My first thought was that the Prime Minister could send the letter by carrier pigeon, but it occurred to me that it might be intercepted – and that is the last thing we want to happen, so that would be far to risky.

So my thoughts turned to how to ensure the security of the letter. This meant that it would have to be hand delivered, after all it is such an important document. So I suggest that on the 19th October we set a trusted person off with the letter (only one copy to be made) to walk to Brussels, I think they could reasonably walk ten miles a day (and certainly no more)  and maybe cover 30 miles when they take the ferry to Calais (but they’d need a two day rest after such an arduous journey), but just to be sure the letter stays on British soil as long as possible I think they should really go via the Channel Islands, adding another  100+ miles to the 240-mile journey.

The person with the letter would have to be incognito, as we wouldn’t want them intercepted or attacked. They should also be given instructions that if they are attacked or intercepted they must immediately destroy the letter, in which case as the identity of the messenger would have been breached, another new and trusted messenger would have to start the whole process again. Now, knowing the Remainers, they will undoubtedly get up to some shenanigans, possibly by trying some sort of court case.

If a court case ensued then the trusted person with the letter would of course have to be immediately brought back to the UK to prove that a letter has been sent. Again, if the identity of the messenger is revealed that would compromise them and a new messenger would have to be assigned. One of the conditions of revealing the letter, which will be marked Top Secret, is that no copies can be made of the document.

Anyhow, my calculations show that under these conditions the letter will not get there until at least 9th November, which would be a great shame for the proponents of the Surrender Bill.

It also means the Prime Minister does not have to break the law. I think technically he could write the letter and then not send it, which would also be in keeping with the law, but just in case he should send it by the slowest method possible and by the least direct route.

In doing so, he would be literally following the letter of the law. This is my plea to the Government: play these Remainers at their own game, and bend every rule to suit the policy to leave on 31st October.

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MPs deny Johnson his October Brexit election — again

LONDON — Opposition MPs once again thwarted Boris Johnson’s attempts to force an early general election before Brexit, voting down his plans for the second time in the space of a week.

A government motion calling for a ballot, which would have taken place in mid-October, was defeated because it fell short of the two-thirds majority required to call an early election: 293 voted in favor and 46 against.

“Once again, the opposition think they know better,” Johnson said.

Opposition parties joined forces last week to block Johnson’s plans, fearful he could take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal on October 31 were he to win a majority in the election. They have since said they will not back a national vote until no deal is taken off the table — for now — by legislation forced through by them, in alliance with rebel Conservatives, last week.

The legislation, known as the Benn Act, requires Johnson to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process, delaying Brexit until January 2020 if no agreement with Brussels is in place by October 19. Opposition MPs want to see this extension come into force before backing an election.

Johnson mocked opposition parties ahead of the vote, accusing them of “preposterous cowardice” for avoiding an election. “The only possible explanation is that they fear we will win it,” he said, and claimed they were trying to “protect the British people from the consequences of their own democratic decisions.”

Johnson insisted again that he will not ask for a Brexit delay. It remains to be seen whether Johnson would indeed refuse to do so, even if he risked breaking the law.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted an election but was “not prepared to risk inflicting” what he called “the disaster of no deal” on the country.

The vote against an early election was the last act of the current parliament, which has been suspended early by the queen at the request of Johnson’s government. MPs will not convene again until October 14, when a queen’s speech will be held to open a new session of parliament.

An election is still considered highly likely following parliament’s return, but due to the required length of an election campaign cannot now take place till November.

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Brussels can’t help but extend the Brexit horror show

The U.K. will almost certainly get another Brexit extension — but don’t ask the EU to admit it.

In the meantime, officials in Brussels and other EU27 capitals will spend a few more weeks watching in horror — or, in some cases, with twisted pleasure — as British politicians tear each other apart in London.

Boris Johnson says he would rather end up “dead in a ditch” than do it, but a law that will reach the statute book Monday night will compel the U.K. prime minister to request an extension beyond Brexit’s current Halloween date, provided his aides don’t find a way around it. (Those in Brussels fearing no-deal are more worried about Johnson defying the law than an EU27 leader vetoing an extension request.)

If Johnson surrenders to the law (rather than the police), he won’t necessarily need to come to Brussels in person: A written request, delivered by Ambassador Tim Barrow, just like the original Article 50 letter, might serve just as well, EU insiders said. But despite extreme frustration in the EU capital and across the EU27 with the Brexit mess in London, they have too much at stake to push the U.K. over the no-deal cliff.

Officially, the EU line on Brexit remains a strictly factual one: The 27 heads of state and government will consider an extension request if one is submitted by the British prime minister. The European Commission’s chief spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, has also reiterated the EU’s long-standing position (unchanged since before the first two Brexit extension requests) that any delay must be for “a good reason.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Lorraine O’Sullivan/AFP via Getty Images

Publicly, some EU27 ministers are talking tough, warning as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did recently, that the bloc is furious and unwilling to grant the U.K. a reprieve from the October 31 cliff edge — absent substantial new developments.

“In the current circumstances, it’s ‘no,'” Le Drian told French media over the weekend. “We’re not going to go through this every three months.”

He added: “They have to tell us what they want.”

His words were echoed by Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel. “For the moment, I have just one deal on the table,” Bettel told POLITICO of the Withdrawal Agreement that has been rejected by the House of Commons three times.

“I don’t know why we should have a new delay, why we should have a new deal, this deal is the best possible deal. If there’s reason [for a delay] I’ll accept, but I still have no reason, I still have no clue what they want.”

In Brussels, such threats are viewed as both a genuine expression of current EU27 sentiment — they are thoroughly fed up with Britain and its national mess — and also as perfectly accurate. They want the U.K. to provide some substantive reason for a delay, though that doesn’t seems difficult given that a national election within weeks or months is now regarded as inevitable.

At the same time, such threats are viewed as strategically useful, serving to counter the long-running conspiracy theory among Brexit supporters that somehow the EU is in cahoots with Remain forces in the U.K., working to thwart Britain’s departure altogether.

But privately, senior officials acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to imagine that the EU27 would force a no-deal scenario by denying an extension request.

“I don’t believe that if the U.K. asks for an extension we’ll say no” — EU27 diplomat

Such a move, they concede, would make the EU and the 27 capitals responsible, at least in the public’s mind, for the acute economic harm expected as a result of no deal, no matter the many months of insisting that London and London alone would be to blame for a no-deal outcome.

On a more practical level, rejecting an extension request would force the new European Commission to take office on November 1 effectively in a state of emergency. While Commission officials insist the EU is as ready as possible for a disorderly no-deal departure, with extensive legal and financial contingency plans, they also readily admit it is impossible to fully prepare for such an unprecedented event, and that readiness varies among the 27 remaining EU countries.

“I don’t believe that if the U.K. asks for an extension we’ll say no,” one EU27 diplomat said. “The length of the extension and the purpose is another issue.”

A senior EU official with a role in the deliberations said there is nothing for the EU27 to gain by forcing the U.K. out without an agreement. “No deal is not a good prospect for the Continent either,” the official said.

But the senior official conceded that there is virtually nothing the 27 could do but watch the political horror show in London, and wait. “Buy popcorn,” was the official’s wry advice.

Anything could happen

Given the volatility of the political situation in the U.K., and the sheer unpredictability of what will happen between now and the October 31 deadline, officials cautioned that it is impossible to rule out any scenario.

An anti-Brexit protester inflates helium balloons with the EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London | Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

But in interviews, EU officials and diplomats expressed greater concern that Johnson would try to defy the House of Commons and refuse to request an extension than any real doubt about the ultimate willingness of EU27 heads of state and government to grant an extension.

Several officials pointed to public comments by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove raising doubt about whether Johnson would abide by a law requiring him to seek an extension.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in an appearance with Johnson in Dublin, stressed that it is futile for anyone to think no deal would provide any sort of escape from the web of complex issues surrounding Brexit.

“There is no such thing as a clean break,” Varadkar said, offering a preview of what would certainly be a pillar of his argument to fellow leaders in favor of granting an extension.

May had requested an extension only until June 30 while Council President Donald Tusk and some other leaders had endorsed a much longer extension.

“We just enter a new phase,” Varadkar said. “If there is no deal, I believe that’s possible, it will cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike. We will have to get back to the negotiating table. When we do, the first and only items on the agenda will be citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border.”

The Brexit coordinator in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, spoke out over the weekend in support of Le Drian’s tough line against granting an extension without some sign of major progress from the British side.

Several EU officials said that the deepening political crisis in London offers proof that French President Emmanuel Macron was correct to oppose a longer extension when the European Council voted in April to postpone the cliff-edge date to October 31. That was the second extension granted by the Council to then Prime Minister Theresa May, having postponed previously from the original March 29 deadline for the U.K.’s departure.

May had requested an extension only until June 30 while Council President Donald Tusk and some other leaders had endorsed a much longer extension, of perhaps a year or more.

“The French stand is getting more and more traction,” an aide to Verhofstadt said. “They start to see that Macron was right when, at the last summit, he did not want to grant an unconditional extension to the U.K. and wanted to finish the business. An extension is impossible unless there is fundamental change, and not under the current circumstances. The EU has a deal and the deal is on the table.”

Guy Verhofstadt and Donald Tusk | Virginia Mayo/AFP via Getty Images

Still, a second EU diplomat said that the view in Paris is a bit more textured than recent public pronouncements suggest and that the Elysée would be open to a brief extension, perhaps up to two months, in order to let the U.K. hold a national election and create conditions for a final Brexit agreement by the time EU27 leaders hold their December summit.

“In this moment, Paris is calling the shots; Germany will follow the consensus,” the second diplomat said. “But Paris’ position is more nuanced than it seems.”

“Just a few weeks,” the diplomat added, predicting what Macron would accept. “The deal has to be done at December’s Council.”

While the consensus view in the EU is that Brexit is a disaster for all concerned, there is also a sense that the U.K.’s political problems — including May’s resignation — and the continuing deadlock in Westminster have made clear that quitting the bloc is a mistake that no other EU country will want to replicate.

But even if a deal is theoretically possible, the window for getting it agreed, and then through ratification in the U.K. and European parliaments, is closing fast — not to mention that the political deadlock in Westminster seems worse than ever.

“They are just totally stuck,” the senior EU official said. “Is there a majority in the House of Commons for anything at this stage?”

Maïa de La Baume contributed reporting. 

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test 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 told to ‘come up with a Plan B’ and warned of ‘dangerous precedent’ by David Lidington

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been told to “come up with a plan B” with regards to Brexit, by David Lidington, a former cabinet minister under Theresa May.

Mr Lidington told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would set a “dangerous precedent” if he ignored an incoming law compelling him to seek an Article 50 deadline extension from Brussels if no agreement is in place by 19 October. The proposed law is expected to receive royal assent on Monday.

“I understand why the PM is opposed to this [Brexit delay],” Mr Lidington said. “Having talked to him – it is no secret I have differences with him on European policy – I was persuaded that he was serious about getting a deal.

“He basically said to me, please give me until the European Council to really get in there and negotiate that deal and come back to Parliament. My decision was I would give him that opportunity to get that deal.

“It is such a fundamental principle that we are governed by the rule of law that I hope no party would question it.

Read more:

Johnson tells Tory members he will break the law rather than extend Article 50

“Defying any particular law sets a really dangerous precedent.”

Mr Johnson wrote to Tory members on Friday evening, telling them: “They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.”

He also told reporters asking whether he would write to EU leaders for more time: “I will not. I don’t want a delay.”

Direct Rule?

David Lidington arrives at 10 Downing Street on 18 June 2019 (AFP/Getty Images)
Former Cabinet member David Lidington (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

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True Blue Tories in swing seat Richmond turned off by the Brexit purge

Mr Lidington also suggested on the show that Northern Ireland would require “some kind of direct rule” ahead of Brexit. He said: “There will have to be some kind of direct rule and, I think, it’s important that the Government gets that sorted and in place, before the end of October, that deadline.

“At the moment, the Northern Ireland civil service has no power to do things like give emergency support to farmers or food producers whose supply chains into the Irish Republic could be completely killed by a no-deal exit.

“All of a sudden their customers south of the border would say: ‘Sorry you haven’t got the certification. It’s no longer an EU product, I can’t legally buy this from you anymore’.

“The civil service of Northern Ireland does not have any power to help in those circumstances or to take other emergency measures that would be needed in the event of no deal.

“I think it would be unconscionable to leave any part of the United Kingdom without proper governance in the circumstances of that kind of crisis and for Northern Ireland, in particular, where the politics is fragile, the case is stronger than anywhere else to get this sorted in advance.”

Northern Ireland’s parliament, based at Stormont, has been without an executive for more than two years and during that time Parliament has had to pass some key legislation for Northern Ireland.

EU collaboration with ‘Rebel Alliance’

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Boris Johnson ‘held hostage’ as Jeremy Corbyn and all opposition leaders unite

Senior MPs who opposed a no-deal Brexit sought out assurances from the EU that their proposed three-month delay would be granted, it was revealed on Saturday.

The Guardian reports that European leaders were contacted by MPs in the so-called ‘Rebel Alliance‘ before the bill was passed. The bill compels Boris Johnson to ask for an extension should a deal not be in place by 19 October, postponing the deadline until the end of January 2020.

Opposition parties have agreed to block a general election until a Brexit extension has been agreed.

More Brexit:

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Boris Johnson tells Conservative members he will break the law rather than extend Article 50

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote to Tory members Friday evening pledging to break the law that will require him to seek an extension of Article 50, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Johnson has few remaining options after leaders of the opposition refused to agree to a snap general election until a Brexit delay has been obtained.

The “rebel alliance”, including Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, have pledged to block a no-deal Brexit, and will not support the government in a second vote on Monday designed to trigger an early election.

Mr Johnson said: “They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.”

Read more:

Boris Johnson ‘held hostage’ as Jeremy Corbyn and all opposition leaders unite

The Prime Minister revealed earlier on Friday he would not consider seeking another deadline extension from Brussels because the incoming law – which is expected to receive royal assent on Monday – compels him to if no agreement is in place by 19 October.

“I will not. I don’t want a delay,” he added.

If Mr Johnson does not carry out the will of Parliament, he could face legal proceedings. The Telegraph reports that if a judge then ordered him to obey Parliament, he risks being held in contempt and possibly jailed if he refused.

As Parliament is scheduled to be suspended by next Thursday at the latest, it seems unlikely the Prime Minister will be successful in forcing an election before 31 October unless he resigns.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leads a bull around a pen near Aberdeen on 6 September 2019 (Photo: Andrew Milligan – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Brexit Martyr?

Read more:

Sir Nicholas Soames labels Jacob Rees-Mogg an ‘absolute fraud’

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith encouraged the Prime Minister to break the law, claiming he would be seen as a Brexit “martyr” if judges decided to put him in jail for breaching Parliament’s terms.

Mr Duncan Smith said: “This is about Parliament versus the people. Boris Johnson is on the side of the people, who voted to leave the EU.

“The people are sovereign because they elect Parliament. But Parliament wants to stop the will of the people.”

However, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, who was involved in the rebel talks, said her party intends to hold Mr Johnson to account.

“We need to make sure that we get past 31 October, and an extension to Article 50. We have an opportunity to bring down Boris, to break Boris, and to bring down Brexit – and we must take that,” she said.

No more dither and delay

Former Justice Secretary David Gauke said Boris Johnson must comply with the law (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

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Boris Johnson says ‘powers of persuasion’ will be enough to solve Brexit impasse

The progression of Hilary Benn’s backbench bill now means Mr Johnson is legally obliged to request an extension to Article 50, if he hasn’t secured a Brexit deal or received MPs’ approval to leave the EU with no deal, by 19 October.

Speaking in Scotland on Friday, the Prime Minister said he would not ask for any delay. Whilst visiting a farm near Banchory, Aberdeenshire, where he met a prize bull called Keene, he said: “We’ve spent a long time trying to sort of fudge this thing and I think the British public really want us to get out. They don’t want more dither and delay.”

He added he would secure a new deal at the EU summit on 17 October “by powers of persuasion”.

However, Tory rebel David Gauke, who lost the party whip this week for supporting Benn’s bill, said Mr Johnson had minimal options.

Gauke said: “During both the leadership election and subsequently, he has just boxed himself in, again and again and again. Just this week he is now saying there are no circumstances in which he will seek an extension. But if the law requires him to seek an extension, he either has to comply with the law, or resign. Surely he must comply with the law?”

Cross-party group formed

Mr Johnson’s letter follows a chaotic week in which he suspended 21 Tory MPs, his younger brother Jo Johnson resigned and more senior Tories announced their retirement.

He claimed he promised to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

However with his hopes of a no-deal Brexit seemingly disintegrating, the Prime Minister faces pressure to achieve a renegotiated deal with Brussels. On Friday the cross-party group “MPs for a deal” was launched, including Labour’s Stephen Kinnock and Caroline Flint, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, and former Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart.

In a joint statement “MPs for a deal” said: “Even at the eleventh hour it’s not too late to agree a deal to ensure an orderly exit from the European Union.

“The media focus has been on the short extension proposed by the Benn bill. However, we believe that Boris Johnson’s response to the bill should be to ensure he secures a deal with the EU27.”

MPs have lined up a legal team and are willing to go to court to enforce the legislation requiring Mr Johnson ask for an extension.

More Brexit:

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Opposition parties agree to block October Brexit election

LONDON — U.K. opposition MPs agreed that Boris Johnson must bring into force a Brexit extension before they will back a general election.

The decision means that Johnson will not win the two-thirds backing for an election that he needs when he brings the issue to a vote for a second time in parliament on Monday. The first attempt to secure backing for an election failed on Wednesday.

Figures from Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru said a conference call between opposition parties on Friday morning ended with agreement that Johnson must be made to bring into effect legislation that forces him to seek a delay to Brexit if he has no agreement with the EU in place by mid-October.

Labour said MPs discussed “advancing efforts to prevent no-deal Brexit” and to hold an election “once that is secured.”

If there was an election in mid-October, as Johnson wants, it remains a possibility that if he wins a majority, he could override the Brexit extension legislation and take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal on October 31.

The opposition parties now look set to withhold support for an election until after October 19, the day on which, according to the no-deal blocking legislation, Johnson must seek an extension from the EU until January 2020. All the parties insist they still want an election, but their decision means that a national poll now looks unlikely to be held until November at the earliest. Under the U.K.’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act, once a two-thirds majority backs it, an election must be held 25 working days after the dissolution of parliament.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford told the BBC: “He should actually withdraw this motion on Monday because it’s going nowhere.”

A Liberal Democrat official said: “There was agreement around the table that Boris can’t be allowed to cut and run. Everybody got to the point that there should be no election until there is a guarantee of Article 50 being extended … Therefore come Monday the government will lose on their vote for a general election and I don’t expect there to be a general election before October 31.”

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts told the BBC that in October MPs’ “duty … is to be [in parliament] to hold him to account and to make sure that he abides by that law.”

Parliament will be suspended from next week until October 14.

Johnson, who insists he will not ask for a delay to Brexit from the EU (on Thursday he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch”) now must decide whether to abide by the law or seek an election through other means. His options are narrow and he has refused to say whether he would sooner resign than delay Brexit — a course of action which could lead to an election if no alternative government can be formed.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

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Boris Johnson inches closer to a Brexit election gamble

LONDON — British MPs may have refused to back an election at first time of asking — but for Boris Johnson all roads lead to the ballot box.

The prime minister who on Monday said he did not want an election is now out and proud and demanding one on October 15. Opposition parties want one too — but not quite yet.

Several more days of parliamentary game-playing lie ahead, but with his majority now shot to pieces by defections and his own sacking of 21 Conservative MPs who voted against him Tuesday, Johnson is out of options.

Whereas his predecessor Theresa May endured repeated humiliations in search of a compromise, Johnson’s combative attempt to force a resolution has so far left him with a bloody nose. After losing key votes which saw MPs launch a bid to change the law in order to force the prime minister to ask Brussels for a Brexit delay, Johnson risks being unable to deliver on his promise to quit the EU by the end of October without a high-stakes move.

Downing Street has calculated that an election on a Brexit “do or die” ticket will regain a House of Commons majority and enable the prime minister to take the U.K. out of the European Union on whatever terms he wants, including no deal if necessary. They are confident they will get their vote, even if the precise parliamentary route still looks tenuous.

“If parliament is unwilling to put Brexit through an election is the only way to do it … [but if he loses] we will find a way to deliver on what the British people want, which is to deliver Brexit by October 31,” a No. 10 spokesman said.

Johnson, who like David Cameron and Theresa May before him wants to settled the EU question once and for all, could still be remembered as the prime minister who — by gambling it all at the ballot box — lost Brexit.

It’s a high-risk strategy with no guarantees. Any election could result in a majority government determined to take the U.K. out of the EU on October 31 with or without a deal; it could produce a government determined to hold a second referendum, potentially keeping the U.K. in the EU after all. Or it could mean yet more deadlock.

What is certain is that the campaign would be defined from first to last by Brexit and the deep divisions it has opened up in British society. As one of its key actors, Nigel Farage, told emboldened supporters at a rally Wednesday night — far from the debates of Westminster — that the old British party system has become “old hat.”

“We are now Leavers or Remainers — they are the divisions in British politics,” he said.

Election sooner or later 

As expected, MPs on Wednesday rejected Johnson’s first attempt at calling an early election, which he is now openly backing after parliament initiated legislation that would force him to delay Brexit if he has not secured a deal by October 19.

A two-thirds majority is needed in the House of Commons for an early election and the opposition Labour Party will not give their backing until a legal change blocking a no-deal Brexit has gone through, leader Jeremy Corbyn said Wednesday.

Opposition MPs — who have done nothing to hide their contempt for Johnson during two dramatic first days of the new parliamentary term — do not trust him not to fix the date of the election for after the current Brexit date, thereby dragging the U.K. out of the EU with no deal, despite Johnson’s insistence he would go to the polls two weeks before Britain is scheduled to leave. “I have absolutely no faith in anything the current prime minister says,” the Labour MP Jess Phillips said in one of Wednesday’s most impassioned speeches in the House of Commons.

Corbyn’s team is clear he wants an election as soon as no-deal Brexit is taken off the table. Whether that happens this week depends on whether a government attempt to filibuster in the second chamber, the House of Lords, succeeds. Some in Labour are pushing for the party to hold out for longer, until after the Brexit extension mandating a delay until January 2020 has come into force. But one way or another Johnson indicated he would ask Corbyn again soon, calling on Labour to “reflect on what I think is the unsustainability of this position overnight and in the course of the next few days.”

Farage factor 

The key “wildcard” looming over any early election is Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, according to one Johnson-supporting former Cabinet minister.

Farage could yet prove Johnson’s best friend or his worst enemy.

At a rally in Doncaster, in the north of England, on Wednesday night — held as MPs were debating Johnson’s election motion — Farage said he believed an election was inching closer, and laid out what must be a tempting offer for the prime minister, predicting a “massive, massive majority” for a Conservative-Brexit Party pact — but only if Johnson were to commit to a no-deal Brexit as “the only way.”

He heaped praise on Johnson for “having the guts” to sack the 21 Conservative no-deal rebels, to rapturous applause from supporters.

“Politics is changing: An audience in Doncaster clapped Boris Johnson, it’s remarkable!” Farage observed of the crowd in resolutely Labour-voting Doncaster.

If, however, Johnson continues to pursue a deal with the EU — still his public position — Farage has pledged to stand candidates in “every single seat in the country” against him. While Farage — and many Tory MPs — think the Brexit Party could be as damaging to the Labour vote in Leave-voting areas as it is to the Tory vote, the outcome of the European election, where May’s Conservatives fell to fifth place, with Farage topping the poll, looms very large in Johnson’s thinking.

Swinson to the left of me, Farage to the right

But joining with Farage by going hard for no deal is not a fail-safe election strategy for the prime minister.

Doing so could drive potential Conservative voters worried about the impact of no deal into the hands of other parties.

The pro-Remain Liberal Democrats, who are eyeing some key marginal Conservative seats in the south-west of England and elsewhere, are especially bullish, after improved poll performances in May’s local elections and then a second-placed finish behind the Brexit Party in the European election the same month.

The arrival of new leader Jo Swinson has coincided with a membership surge of more than 35,000 since the local elections, and millions of pounds of new funding pledged to party coffers, a Lib Dem official said. The party has gained three MPs in as many months through defections from Labour and the Conservatives, and represents a serious threat to Johnson’s majority.

For pollster Joe Twyman, director of Deltapoll, the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems would be “two sides of the same coin” for Johnson in a battle defined by Brexit.

“The threat to Boris Johnson and the Conservatives is that if he goes too far in one direction or the other on Brexit it alienates voters on the other side … An election is such a gamble because there is no obvious way to please enough of the people enough of the time.”

Labour hopes for 2017 repeat

Labour, lagging well behind the Tories in the polls, also has reason to be nervous about an election. Nevertheless, party officials remain confident that, as in 2017, a campaign focused on policy priorities other than Brexit would enable them to win votes by highlighting years of Conservative austerity, a redistribution of wealth from top earners, and promises of higher funding for public services.

“Ultimately it will be a choice between Boris and [senior adviser Dominic] Cummings with their elitism and total disregard for public services, which stands against everything Leave voters expressed, or Labour Party with a strong detailed manifesto,” one Labour official said.

Johnson’s spending priorities — more money for police, schools, the NHS and social care — set out by Chancellor Sajid Javid in a spending round on Wednesday — is a very deliberate attempt to nix Labour’s case.

The Conservative vote is also extremely vulnerable in Scotland. YouGov polling this week predicted Johnson could lose 10 of the party’s 13 seats north of the border, with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party set to gain from concern about no deal in a country that voted 62 to 38 to Remain in 2016.

“There are certain areas of the country that are Remain-leaning. London, Scotland, large metropolitan cities, university towns …  If the Conservatives don’t pick up enough of those seats it’s really difficult to see where the majority comes from,” Twyman said.

Crucially Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats all back a second referendum on Brexit. If an election is held in October, by the new year the U.K. could be gearing up for such a vote.

Or, if just a few key marginal seats go in a different direction, by then the U.K. could have left the EU, with or without a deal.

For Johnson and for the U.K., it is the ultimate roll of the dice.

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Interview. McLoughlin – Hunt’s former campaign Chairman, lifelong One Nation Tory – backs Johnson’s suspensions

Sir Patrick McLoughlin has defended the Prime Minister’s right to withdraw the whip from Tory MPs who refused last night to support the Government.

McLoughlin, who chaired Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign and is the only person ever to have served both as Conservative Party Chairman and as Chief Whip, said “Leadership is about making some very tough decisions” and Tory MPs cannot “just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue”.

He said with deep emotion during this interview, carried out yesterday morning so before last night’s Government defeat, that “I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing”.

He added that what is happening to One Nation Toryism is “terrible”, and the party must not become a Brexit party, but in order “not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

McLoughlin defended David Cameron against the charge that calling the referendum was just a way to fix the problems of  the Conservative Party. He pointed out that Tony Blair and Jack Straw had previously raised the idea of a referendum, the Liberal Democrats had committed themselves to one in their 2010 manifesto, and Labour as well as the Conservatives voted for the referendum which was actually held.

ConHome: “You are the only person to have been both Chief Whip and Party Chairman?”

McLoughlin: “I think I probably am. I don’t think anybody else has been punished like that.”

ConHome: “What’s your view of the Government’s proposal to withdraw the whip from those who don’t support it today?”

McLoughlin: “I regret very much that it’s come to this. But the truth is that if the Prime Minister decides something is a matter of confidence, having just got the overwhelming endorsement from his party to lead it, then I think he has the right to do that.

“Leadership is about making some very tough decisions. I think this is a very tough decision and I wish it wasn’t necessary.

“So I don’t come to it with a sort of ‘Yes, let’s do this, bring it on.’ It’s very much a regret, and it’s very much with sorrow, because some of the people we’re talking about have been good, loyal Conservatives.

“But I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing. That is part of the problem.”

ConHome: “Friends of ours like Alistair Burt make the point that ‘we’ve been through the lobbies three times to support this deal, and there are all these characters who haven’t, including the Cabinet ministers who abstained on key votes and helped to bring about the deterioration in discipline.’

“They’ve got a point, haven’t they?”

McLoughlin: “Yes they have got a point. I won’t publicly go, but there are some people who I find absolutely staggering, what they’re calling for.

“But the job for the Prime Minister is not necessarily to look at individuals. And sometimes life is tough. But he is taking the position that we promised…

“All these people voted to implement Article 50. And, you know, we’ve had a six-month delay which cost us very dear. They’re now talking about another three-month delay.

“Well I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next three months that’s not happened in the last six months.

“And I just think we’ve got to move on from this. I’m sorry we’re leaving the European Union. I still remain sorry we’re leaving the European Union.

“But we gave the people a chance in the referendum. And I just would like to say one other thing as well.

“Everybody says the reason David Cameron did this was to try to a) thwart Farage and b) to reunite the Conservative Party.

“It is just worth remembering that in 2010 the Liberal Democrats had an In/Out referendum in their manifesto, and when we actually moved to the referendum the referendum was supported by the Labour Party as well as by the Conservative Party.

“It was never just in my view a ‘try and fix the Tory Party’ scenario.”

ConHome: “When the whip’s removed, the tradition is you remove it on a vote of confidence, and without trying to peer too far into the future, if the Government loses, do you expect the PM to go immediately for a general election if he can, or wait for Second Reading, or wait for the Lords to get its teeth into the Bill, or what?”

McLoughlin: “Well ‘I don’t know’ is the answer to that.”

ConHome: “I’m just trying to establish if it’s really a vote of confidence or not, even if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act…”

McLoughlin: “Well I think the Prime Minister can say I regard this as a vote of confidence in my leadership, and that’s what he’s doing.

“It is not in the technical sense of the word a motion of confidence, as required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

“But it is a motion of confidence, because the Prime Minister says ‘I regard this as a motion of confidence’.”

ConHome: “I mean presumably without encouraging you to speak up for the deselection of endless numbers of Conservative MPs, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander here.

“And if he comes back with a deal, and it’s opposed by some Conservative MPs, he would be entitled to remove the whip from them, would he not?”

McLoughlin: “One step at a time. We’re dealing with today at the moment, and tomorrow will be a different day. The logic of that, which is what your article basically says today, is that would be the case.

“I think one’s got to be always cautious about using these things, and I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into it, and I hope they’ve considered all the consequences.

“Because as I say I very much regret it has come to this. But I also don’t think we can just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue, which we seem to have done, some people say for the last three years, actually it’s been more like the last four years, following the 2015 election when the referendum was first promised.”

ConHome: “If a very senior member of the party is reselected by their association, as the former Chancellor was last night, but they vote against the Government today, they could be finding that reselection vote is in vain, could they not?”

McLoughlin: “That’s my understanding, but I know Philip Hammond seems to have a different view.”

ConHome: “Is there going to be a general election this year, and if so, when?”

McLoughlin: “I think it’s looking very likely there will be a general election, and I only know from what everybody is saying, October 14th, a Monday, which would enable the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the [European] Council that weekend.”

ConHome: “Though that’s not been said on the record.”

McLoughlin: “The only thing I know about this election, unlike the last election, is what I’m reading in the newspapers.”

ConHome: “Just as a former Chief Whip who’s used to watching the Opposition the whole time, what do you think the Labour Party’s going to do if it comes to a general election vote?

“Because part of the point of having an election before October 31st, if there is one, is Labour can’t say ‘We’re not voting for this, because if we do there’ll be a no deal Brexit’. That excuse has been removed from them, so they’re going to have to vote for this.”

McLoughlin: “I would have thought so. I don’t understand this new nuance that somehow we should wait until after 31st October.

“Because if there was an election on 14th October, then that allows for the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the European Council on the 17th.”

ConHome: “And if the election comes before Brexit, presumably the Brexit Party will stand as many candidates as they can, arguing you can’t trust the Tories.”

McLoughlin: “Well look, all that we can do, if the Brexit Party stand in every seat, which they may well do, they may take some votes.

“But it’s a bit like at the last general election, when everybody thought the UKIP vote would come to the Conservatives. It didn’t wholeheartedly come to the Conservatives, it was quite mixed, and in some areas it did, you know the Mansfields and the places like that.

“I remember talking to you after that election, pointing out we’d won some seats that we haven’t won for 70 years.

“So look, this next election will not be like the 2017 election and it won’t be like the 2015 election. No elections are. They’re all individual entities, fought very much as things are then.

“And this will be a very quick election. The 2017 election was too long.”

ConHome: “How comfortable do you feel about where the party is now?

“If there’s an election, going in on a manifesto that’s pro-Brexit, possibly, actually, with a reasonably good relationship with the Brexit Party, Leave voters might find this prospectus attractive, but there would be tremendous problems with former Remain voters, London, the south.

“You’ve been a One Nation Tory all your working life, and you’re seeing that bit of the Tory coalition in peril.”

McLoughlin: “It’s terrible. It is not a nice scenario. I’m not doing any of this with glee.

“But I also think that governments have to govern, and you know, that’s what we said in the referendum, what we would do, and I don’t think we can rejudge that.

“I famously used that line at the Cabinet meeting, which David Cameron’s used since, saying I’ve always wanted to live in Utopia – the only trouble is I’d wake up and find the European Union was still there.

“But I also respect the right of the Prime Minister to say, ‘We’ve fought an election, that election was on leaving on the 31st October, I’m determined to deliver that.'”

ConHome: “How do you think he’s doing? As Jeremy Hunt’s former campaign chairman.”

McLoughlin: “I think he’s doing very well. He’s trying not only to address the Brexit issue, but he’s also trying to address the other issues that needed addressing anyway.

“Such as education funding and also what he’s saying about the Health Service and other issues.

“So I think what you see in Boris is someone who does actually want to move on to the other agendas as well, and perhaps he feels we’re being sucked into one issue and one issue alone.

“I said a few months ago the Conservative Party must not become a Brexit party. I definitely believe that. But for us not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

ConHome: “That suggests you think under the previous regime all collective discipline by the end had completely broken down.”

McLoughlin: “I wouldn’t say all discipline. I almost think, looking at this now in hindsight, and with the benefit of hindsight, I almost think we had to go through that to get where we are.

“And don’t forget, Theresa May became Prime Minister because everybody else faded away. That’s how she became Prime Minister. And I think she carried out the job with incredible dignity, and I will never criticise Theresa, because I think she was trying to do an incredibly difficult job.”

ConHome: “How is she now? I saw you talking to her yesterday.”

McLoughlin: “I saw her briefly yesterday. She seemed fine. I think when you consider for nine years she’d either been Home Secretary or Prime Minister, with all the constraints that has on life, I look at Philip and I look at Theresa and I think they are people who are of the Conservative Party, were the Conservative Party, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for her.”

ConHome: “You’ve already touched on David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum. It was in fact disastrous, would you say?”

McLoughlin: “No, because I think again, that is something we probably needed to do… Blair was the first person to start talking about referendums, Blair and Straw.

“So this isn’t something that DC woke up one morning and thought, ‘This’ll sort everything out.’ It rarely does.”

ConHome: “You are going to stand again, aren’t you?”

McLoughlin: “I very much hope to stand again.”

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Hilary Benn publishes his Bill to delay Brexit again as Government threatens an election if MPs back it

Today the House of Commons returns from its nearly six-week summer recess (where were the petitions, protests and howls of outrage about that?) and we can expect parliamentary fireworks later today as Remainer MPs embark on their latest attempt to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Yesterday afternoon Hilary Benn published the text of his European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill, launched with the support of a cross-party group including former Cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and David Gauke. We expect Speaker Bercow to grant an emergency ‘Standing Order No. 24’ debate today and allow a vote on an amendment to a bland motion that, if passed, would allow MPs to seize control of the Commons Order Paper to provide time to try and ram the Bill through the Commons in a day later this week.

(A note on timing: these shenanigans won’t begin in the House of Commons until considerably later this afternoon – and it could even be early evening. The parliamentary day opens at 2.30pm with Dominic Raab making his Despatch Box debut as Foreign Secretary with an hour of Foreign Office questions. After that at 3.30pm – before we get into the emergency Standing Order No. 24 debate – there will be a statement from Boris Johnson on Brexit and the G7 summit, which will surely go on for a couple of hours. And there could be other ministerial statements covering issues that have arisen over the recess too.)

Benn’s Bill states that unless a deal is reached with the EU or Parliament approves a no-deal Brexit by October 19th, the Government would be required to write to the EU seeking an extension to the Article 50 period until January 31st 2020 – a further Brexit delay that would take us to a few months shy of four years since the referendum.

The Bill codifies the exact wording of the letter that the Prime Minister would need to send to the EU with the proviso that if the European Council agrees to an extension to 31st January 2020, the Prime Minister would immediately have to accept that extension. Extraordinarily, it goes on to state that if the European Council agreed an extension to any other unspecified date, at any point in the dim and distant future, the Prime Minister would have to accept it within two days (unless the House of Commons rejected it, and it’s unclear what would happen then).

As Zac Goldsmith – now a minister in the Johnson Government – tweeted last night: “This isn’t about creating a thoughtful delay; it is about stopping Brexit”. And lest we forget, most of those claiming to be against No Deal also opposed Theresa May’s horrific deal – because they don’t want a deal at all, because they don’t want Brexit.

There are several commentaries on the proposal I’ve seen that are worth a look: Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh notes here that the Bill would not actually take No Deal off the table (as some also erroneously claimed the Cooper-Letwin Bill did earlier in the year), but merely kick the can down the road a little further.

And Robert Craig, a lecturer in Public Law at the LSE, highlights here a potentially important but somewhat complicated issue relating to the exercise of prerogative power in respect of the procedure known as Queen’s Consent (totally separate from Royal Assent), which might provide an avenue for the Government to stop it in its tracks.

However, not long after details of the Bill began to emerge late yesterday afternoon, Boris Johnson emerged from Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting to deliver a message directly to the nation about his efforts to strike a new, better deal with the EU:

“If there is one thing that can hold us back in these talks it is the sense in Brussels that MPs may find some way to cancel the referendum – or that tomorrow MPs will vote, with Jeremy Corbyn, for yet another pointless delay… If they do, they will plainly chop the legs out from under the UK position and make any further negotiation absolutely impossible. And so I say, to show our friends in Brussels that we are united in our purpose, MPs should vote with the Government against Corbyn’s pointless delay. I want everybody to know – there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay.

“We are leaving on 31st October, no ifs or buts. We will not accept any attempt to go back on our promises or scrub that referendum. Armed and fortified with that conviction I believe we will get a deal at that crucial summit in October: a deal that Parliament will certainly be able to scrutinise – and in the meantime let our negotiators get on with their work without that sword of Damocles over their necks. And without an election, which I don’t want and you don’t want.”

You can read the full text of his statement here or watch it on our YouTube channel here.

Yet for all Johnson’s insistence that he doesn’t want to go the polls, speculation about an imminent election reached fever pitch yesterday. And last night, a senior Government source said that if MPs do back today’s cross-party move to seize control of Commons business, he would seek a general election on October 14th – a move which would require the support of two-thirds of MPs under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA).

The Government source said MPs would face a “simple choice” today and that the vote would be treated as though it were a vote of no confidence, with any Conservative MP voting against the Government having the party whip removed from them. The source continued:

“If they vote tomorrow to wreck the negotiation process, to go against giving Britain the ability to negotiate a deal, then they’ll also have to reflect on what comes next… If MPs were to vote tomorrow to take control of the Order Paper, so destroying the Government’s negotiating position, to make it impossible for the UK to negotiate a deal with Brussels, then the vote would then move to an FTPA vote, which I would expect to bring about a general election.”

“I think if you were to have any chance of securing a deal, which the PM has been very clear that he wants… you would want to have that election on October 14th so that you can go to European Council [on October 17th] and secure a deal.”

Yet last night there was increasing confusion over whether Opposition MPs would actually vote for a motion to call a general election if one were put to the House of Commons. Having been bleating for yonks about wanting to “go back to the people” and after all that outrage about there being an “unelected Prime Minister” and a “coup”, senior Labour figures seriously appeared to be suggesting that they would not want an immediate general election after all. Extraordinary times.

Moreover, if an election takes place before Brexit has taken place, with Johnson’s Conservatives standing on a platform of still pursuing a deal with the EU, there is the not inconsiderable headache of the Brexit Party challenging them in every seat across the country, as a spokesman reminded us yesterday:

“Nigel Farage has made clear that the Brexit Party would put country before party if Boris Johnson commits to an unambiguous, no-deal Brexit. We can make Boris a hero in that situation. A non-aggression pact Leave Alliance would deliver a very significant majority for this position. If Johnson brings back a re-hashed version of May’s Non-Withdrawal Treaty, just without the dreaded backstop, it’s not Brexit and we will oppose his candidates in every seat, denying the Tories hope of victory. Partnership is the best way to deliver what 17.4 million voted for.”

We really are in high stakes territory. And if anyone claims they can predict exactly what’s going to happen next, I would caution against believing them.

– – –

The above is an edited version of Jonathan Isaby’s BrexitCentral Daily Briefing, an email which is sent out every morning. To subscribe for free, click here.

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What’s next as Brexit showdown hits House of Commons

LONDON — Boris Johnson wants to take the U.K. out of the European Union — deal or no deal — on October 31. A large number of U.K. lawmakers stand in his way.

After years of posturing and weeks of positioning, British MPs are preparing to make their move Tuesday. The British prime minister is poised to counter-attack on Wednesday.

This battle is the latest chapter in an ideological standoff that predates the June 2016 referendum as Britain wrestles with itself to define what kind of country it wants to be after breaking with its Continental neighbors. Whereas Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was determined to navigate the storm without splitting the Conservative Party, Britain’s new prime minister seems hell-bent on pushing to breaking point those who disagree with his belief that the electorate will not forgive the Tories if they fail to deliver Brexit in October.

Here is POLITICO’s guide to how events in Westminster could play out in the coming days.

Change the law to force a delay

MPs opposed to quitting the EU without a deal have put forward legislation to force the prime minister to ask for a three-month extension to negotiations if a deal is not agreed between the EU and the U.K. by October’s European Council.

MPs will on Tuesday apply to take control of the schedule of the House of Commons — usually set by the government — in a bid to turn the proposals in the private member’s bill into law.

Hilary Benn, a senior Labour MP and one of those behind the plan, said it “gave the government time either to reach a new agreement with the European Union at the European Council meeting next month, or to seek parliament’s specific consent to leave the EU without a deal.”

If neither condition has been met by October 19, the prime minister must send a letter to the president of the European Council requesting an extension to negotiations until January 31, 2020.

The prime minister would then be forced to immediately accept an extension until January 31, 2020 if the Council agrees to one or, should the Council propose a different date, accept that period within two days unless this plan is rejected by the House of Commons.

Former Tory Ministers Alistair Burt, Philip Hammond and David Gauke have all put their names to the bill, demonstrating there is cross-party support — but is there enough?

Do they have the numbers?

If the bill is to become law, there needs to be a majority of MPs willing to support it. That will rely on Conservatives defying party whips, and threats of deselection.

Downing Street upped the ante Monday night, threatening rebellious Tory MPs with a general election on October 14 if they attempt to change the law to prevent the U.K. from leaving the European Union without a deal.

Boris Johnson warned in a speech outside 10 Downing Street that such a bill would make negotiations “absolutely impossible.”

While the prime minister insisted he did not want to call a general election, senior officials later said that if it loses the vote on Tuesday, the government would push for one on October 14.

A person close to the rebels said that while the numbers would be “quite tight,” they were “quietly confident” they had enough support in the House of Commons, despite the election threat.

Former Justice Secretary David Gauke had earlier told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that he would be prepared to lose his job to block no deal. “I have to put what I consider to be the national interest first,” he said.

Back to the people

If enough Tory rebels defy the government and allow parliament to take control of the schedule of the House of Commons — the first step in their bid to turn the plan to bind the prime minister’s hands — the U.K. government will make its own counter-move to trigger an election.

Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, passed in 2011 after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government, British prime ministers are no longer able to unilaterally ask the queen to dissolve parliament and trigger an election. The prime minister must first secure backing for the poll from two-thirds of the MPs in the House of Commons.

The government will put forward a motion requesting an early election if MPs do manage to start the process of legislating for an extension. This will be published in readiness on Tuesday and voted on the following day.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated on Monday he was likely to back the move, saying the U.K. “needs” a general election, which makes it seem likely any bid to hold an election would pass the House of Commons.

Election blocked

An unlikely, but possible, scenario is that Johnson does not secure the two-thirds support he needs for an election at this point.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday warned a pre-Brexit election would be an “elephant trap” for the Labour Party.

Tory MPs threatened with deselection and some rebel Labour MPs could block an election, but would be unlikely to succeed if both the Conservative and Labour Party leadership were whipping in favor of the move.

Is there time?

But even if the prime minister is unsuccessful in his bid to call a general election, it remains uncertain whether the plan to pass a bill forcing an extension would have enough time to move through both houses of parliament and receive royal assent before Johnson suspends parliament for a month. That’s a lot of legislative hoops to get through before next Monday, named by the government as the earliest possible date for suspension to begin.

“It’s possible, but it’s extremely tight,” the Institute for Government’s Hannah White told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “It’s easier in the Commons than it is in the Lords. In the Commons you can do what’s called programming legislation, which means you set out exactly how long there is to debate each stage.”

The Lords is less certain. “The Lords’ procedure is much more flexible and there’s been discussion about whether members of the House of Lords might try to prolong debate in order to prevent the legislation receiving royal assent before prorogation,” White said.

Ignore the law?

If the rebels manage to overcome all of these hurdles and get a new law onto the statute books, could Johnson simply ignore it?

In his statement in Downing Street Monday, Johnson said there would be “no circumstances” under which he would request a Brexit delay from Brussels.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted earlier Monday that “every government adheres to the law,” but a government official explained that the prime minister’s reaction would depend on exactly what the legislation said.

“This lot do have a lot of form for bringing forward legislation which is defective,” the official said. “You cannot say we will abide by anything that they put forward as it may well be impossible.”

Parliament traditionally defers to the executive on matters of foreign policy but, like much in the British system, the letter of the law is very much open to interpretation. Could parliament ask EU leaders directly for an extension rather than relying on Johnson to make the request?

“Lawyers would argue for a million years over that. Put five lawyers in a room and you get five answers,” the official said.

The figure close to the rebels said the reason MPs felt they had to act now is because they believe they may have to take the government to court in this scenario — a move which could take at least three weeks. If they had waited until Johnson had a chance to renegotiate with the EU, they could risk running out of time and crashing out without a deal.

Whoever comes out on top, time is in short supply.

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The recalcitrant Remainers propose a Brexit delay because they can’t agree on anything else

I can’t help admiring the way Recalcitrant Remainers – apart from lunatics and other Liberals – have managed to disguise their desire to stop Brexit.

For two years of parliamentary tactics and fear creation, they’ve held Brexit up rather than killed it – but defenestrated poor old Theresa who attempted to accommodate them.

Now, as departure date nears, their attack is on a “no deal” Brexit, rather than any Brexit at all. This is done to weaken a Brexit government by depriving it of its weapon of last resort and encourage the EU to argue that a deal which can’t pass Parliament can’t be changed.

Next there’s the claim that they’re not defeating Brexit but defending democracy by bringing Guardian readers onto the streets to demonstrate against a “coup”, a “dictatorship” and the emasculation of Parliament. This provided a useful opportunity for Owen Jones to harangue Waitrose customers about the joys of socialism, for Momentum to fraternise with the liberal elite and for others to build their upper body strength by waving EU flags (not to mention the bonanza for flag importers).

Sadly the hysteria didn’t help. People welcome a Prime Minister who’s doing something at last. They don’t like Parliament, the politicians who live there or the messing about that’s gone on there on behalf of an EU they don’t particularly like either.

The fourth and final tactic is tripping Boris up in Parliament with the help of Remainer Bercow. But how? They disagree about the tactics. Not a vote of confidence: if it were carried the Queen would be obliged to send for Corbyn. They can’t legally ban “no deal” if the EU forces one on us. They can’t demand a referendum, as there’s nothing to vote on. They can’t demand an election. Labour in its present state would lose.

So it’s a field day for lawyers, quibblers and parliamentary pedants who have narrowed things down to an extension of Article 50. That’s the preference of the EU because it’s so difficult for the hydra to get agreement on anything else. Which is why they’ve suggested that through their British allies.

The public will not be happy with kicking the can down the road for longer, nor will the vested interests calling for an urgent decision. It won’t budge an inflexible EU but it will force Boris into an election to capitalise on its obduracy.

That election will be difficult to predict because the electorate is split four ways: Brexit versus Remain and Labour versus Tory. The Tory vote will be split with the Brexit Party and Labour’s with the alienated people and regions which would normally support it. The Tory-Brexit split may be easier to fix than Labour’s long-term loss. Which leaves only one thing clear: the end result won’t be a resurgence of respect for Parliament, politicians or the British political system. Parties can be patched up, respect can’t.

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Boris Johnson says he won’t ask for Brexit extension

LONDON — Boris Johnson said Monday there would be “no circumstances” under which he would request a Brexit delay from Brussels, warning MPs attempting to prevent the U.K. from leaving with no deal that they would “plainly chop the legs out from under the U.K. [negotiating] position.”

Delivering a statement outside No. 10 Downing Street, the U.K. prime minister said: “If there is one thing that can hold us back in these talks it is the sense in Brussels that MPs may find some way to cancel the referendum or that tomorrow MPs will vote with Jeremy Corbyn to get another pointless delay.”

The move, designed to put pressure on Tory MPs not to vote against their own government, came after a cross-party group of MPs published a draft bill which would to force the prime minister to request a three-month extension to Brexit negotiations if a deal is not agreed between the EU and the U.K. by October’s European Council.

While Johnson warned that, if passed, this bill would make negotiations “absolutely impossible,” he insisted he did not want to call an election. “I don’t want an election. You don’t want an election. Let’s get on with the people’s agenda,” he said.

However, he failed to explain what he would do should such bill be passed by MPs, leaving open the implication that he would attempt to call an election, despite his reluctance to do so.

In order to call an election, British prime ministers must first secure backing for the poll from MPs. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated on Monday he was likely to back the move, saying the U.K. “needs” a general election.

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UK MPs publish plan to prevent no-deal Brexit

LONDON — A cross-party group of British MPs today published a draft bill which would force the prime minister to request a three-month extension to Brexit negotiations if a deal is not agreed between the EU and the U.K. by October’s European Council.

Labour MP Hilary Benn tweeted a copy of the proposed legislation, which is supported by MPs from across the political spectrum, including former Tory ministers Alistair Burt, Philip Hammond and David Gauke.

On Tuesday MPs will apply to take control of the schedule of the House of Commons — which is usually set by the government — in a bid to turn the private member’s bill into law.

Benn said the bill “gave the government time either to reach a new agreement with the European Union at the European Council meeting next month or to seek parliament’s specific consent to leave the EU without a deal.”

If neither condition has been met by October 19, the prime minister must send a letter to the President of the European Council requesting an extension to negotiations until 31 January 2020, Benn added.

Benn also set out two further requirements on the government, namely that the prime minister must immediately accept an extension to January 31, 2020 if the Council agrees to one and also that should the Council propose a different date, then the prime minister must accept that extension period within two days unless this plan is rejected by the House of Commons.

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Macron’s masterplan for Trump, the universe and everything

PARIS — Another G7 summit blown apart by Donald Trump? Not on Emmanuel Macron’s watch.

Last year’s gathering of G7 leaders ended in chaos after Trump abruptly announced via Twitter that he would not support the just-agreed summit communiqué, apparently out of anger over comments made by the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The French president is determined not to let his American counterpart steal the show this year in the beach town of Biarritz in southwest  France so he has come up with a cunning plan: There will be no communiqué.

But that doesn’t mean Macron lacks ambition when it comes to the summit, which will run from Saturday to Monday.

As Macron expounded in a two-and-a-half-hour briefing for reporters on Wednesday night, he views the gathering as a key moment in his drive to save what he sees as an endangered multilateral liberal world order.

He will have his work cut out, and not just when it comes to trying to keep Trump and the other leaders even vaguely on the same page. The summit takes place at a time of multiple crises around the world.

Trump is engaged in feuds on multiple fronts — from a trade war with China to a bizarre battle with Denmark over the idea of buying Greenland. New U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is immersed in battles at home and abroad over Brexit. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will likely attend the summit after his government collapsed. Angela Merkel is facing a weakening German economy.

And that’s without even getting into the deep international disagreements over issues as diverse as Iran and climate change.

In his marathon briefing, Macron declared that France has a “particular responsibility” in a pivotal reshaping of the global liberal order. Otherwise, “Europe is at risk of fading … and losing its sovereignty,” or worse — “becoming vassals.”

Here are some of the key points in Macron’s strategy for handling the G7.

Trump containment

Though Macron conceded he and the U.S. president “don’t think the same thing about the global order, we don’t have the same objectives,” (which are pretty fundamental disagreements), he highlighted that “President Trump hasn’t been to any country as often as he has been to France. The G7 will be his fourth visit since the beginning of my term, [this] is useful to coordinate things because otherwise, divergences grow.”

And while Macron is aware that “with President Trump, when it’s a campaign promise, you can’t convince him otherwise,” as was the case with the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and waging a trade war with China, all of which have had destabilizing effects on Europe, he chose to focus on when they’ve “been able to achieve real things together.” As examples he cited convincing Trump not to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria and the U.S. president’s decision to carry out joint airstrikes in Syria in 2018 with the U.K. and France in response to a reported chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government.

No backing down on Brexit

Macron, who is having a working lunch with Johnson in Paris on Thursday, didn’t mince his words on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

“A hard Brexit … will be the responsibility of the British government,” he said.

“It was the British people who decided on Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” Macron continued.

He said a renegotiation of the Brexit deal to remove the Irish border backstop provision, as suggested this week by Johnson, “is not an option … because what Johnson suggests in the letter he sent … is to choose between the integrity of the European market and the respect of the Good Friday Agreement. We wouldn’t choose between these two.”

And as for the much-vaunted trade deal the U.K. would make with the U.S., Macron argued it will not compensate for the cost of Brexit, and would come at “the cost of a historic vassalization.”

“I don’t think it’s the will of the British people … to become the junior partner of the U.S.”

Russia rebuff

A day after the White House claimed Macron suggested that Trump invite Russia to the G7 next year, Macron rebuffed that claim.

He said major progress in the conflict in Ukraine would have to be found before Moscow could be welcomed back into the fold.

“It’s pertinent that, eventually, Russia be able to return to the G8 but … the indispensable preliminary condition … is that a solution be found, in connection with Ukraine, on the basis of the Minsk Agreement to resolve the issue,” he said.

He went further, in what could have been a dig at Trump, who has expressed support for reinstating Russia to the G8, apparently without conditions.

“I think saying that Russia can return to the table without any conditions is enacting the weakness of the G7,” he said. “It would be a strategic mistake and a profound injustice.”

Nevertheless, Macron said he is cautiously optimistic that conditions can be met to hold a summit in the coming weeks in Paris between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany to negotiate the end to the conflict in Ukraine.

“We can go forward on an exchange of prisoners, I had a long conversation with [Vladimir Putin] on this and he is ready, we can move forward on the Donbass [region], on demilitarization,” he said. “The [Russian and Ukrainian] presidents seem ready to go forward.”

Doubling down on tech tax

Macron said it was a “crazy” system that allows giant companies like Google or Facebook to avoid paying taxes in countries where they operate, giving them access to a “constant tax haven.”

But he stressed that the 3 percent digital tax he spearheaded —  adopted by nine other European countries after failing to get it adopted on the EU level — did not exclusively target American companies, but rather companies with a certain level of revenue.

The tax drew Trump’s ire, and prompted him to threaten to impose a 100 percent tax on French wine. But Macron pointed out that Trump’s treasury secretary had, along with other G7 finance ministers, signed on last month to the principle of tech companies being taxed in the countries where they make money.

Macron is standing firm on the issue, even if Trump says his European allies blame the French leader when they get criticized for the measure.

“That’s what President Trump told me last night — ‘they all say it’s you,'” Macron recalled. “OK, well I own it.”

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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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Former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston joins Lib Dems

Sarah Wollaston, a former U.K. Tory MP who quit the party to fight against a no-deal Brexit, joined the Liberal Democrats Wednesday.

Wollaston, who became the Lib Dems’ 14th MP, said in a statement she believed joining the party was the best way to represent her constituency of Totnes, which narrowly voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

The GP, who herself voted Remain but pledged to commit to delivering Brexit after the referendum, said her job had played a role in her decision.

“As a doctor for over twenty-four years, I try to base my decisions on evidence, and as that emerges, to be open to changing course,” Wollaston said. “As the economic facts unfolded, I found myself unable to support a version of Brexit with consequences that I know would hurt so many individuals, businesses, families and communities.”

Wollaston initially quit the Tories to join The Independent Group (now known as ChangeUK) in February, but left the group in June to become an independent. Wollaston said in her statement she would be more effective if she was a member of a party rather than continue on on her own.

“We are now entering the final weeks to prevent the dire consequences of the PM’s ‘do or die’ approach to Brexit,” she wrote. “Preventing that harm will take unprecedented cross-party working and my in-box has been full of messages urging me to be part of a Remain Alliance which I will be doing through joining the Liberal Democrats.”

Wollaston’s move came as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a formal offer to MPs from across the political divide on Wednesday to back his bid to seize power from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and block a no-deal Brexit. In a letter to the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, Greens and four senior Tory backbenchers, Corbyn urged them to back a no-confidence vote in the PM and support his caretaker government. He promised to then 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.

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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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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The queen’s big Brexit moment?

LONDON — Brexit is so divisive there might be only one way to get it sorted — call the queen!

No, not to send politicians to the Tower of London, but to resolve a potential standoff with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Dominic Cummings, the most senior official in Johnson’s new-look Downing Street, has reportedly told aides that his boss — who is determined to deliver Brexit by October 31 — would be prepared to defy a vote of no confidence from the House of Commons (should one be called and should it succeed when MPs return to work in September). Johnson would refuse to resign and instead hang on long enough to use his power to set the date of the next election — after Brexit day, according to a Times report Tuesday.

That has led to speculation that Queen Elizabeth II, the 93-year-old head of state, may have to play a part in the Brexit process.

If Johnson won’t go, the queen could in theory dismiss him, according to David Howarth, professor of law and public policy at the University of Cambridge and a former Liberal Democrat MP. It would be the first time a monarch has taken such a step since 1834, although it is highly unlikely, according to Howarth and other historians and constitutional experts.

Johnson’s government currently has a majority of one, and there is a band of Conservative rebels determined to stop him taking the U.K. out of the EU without a deal.

However, if Johnson lost a vote of confidence, refused to go, and another group in parliament was able to command a majority in the House of Commons — for, say, delaying Brexit and holding a general election — then the queen would have to invite the leader of said faction to form a government. If Johnson still refused to go, then the U.K. would be, in the words of one parliamentary expert, in “full-blown constitutional crisis” territory.

Such a scenario, while hypothetical for now, would place the queen at the uncomfortable center of one of the greatest political dramas to unfold in her 67-year reign.

The queen’s horror

Events after any confidence vote would play out under terms set down in U.K. law, in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act of 2011.

Under that law, if a government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, there are 14 days in which an alternative government must win a fresh confidence vote, or else a general election has to be called.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II welcomes newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson during an audience in Buckingham Palace, London on July 24, 2019 | Victoria Jones/AFP via Getty Images

Johnson’s government currently has a majority of one, and there is a band of Conservative rebels determined to stop him taking the U.K. out of the EU without a deal. With negotiations on a new deal seemingly dead in the water, such a dramatic situation is being war-gamed by Downing Street.

However, as Cummings has pointed out, the law says that it is the prime minister who must advise the queen when to hold the election. If no alternative government can be formed in the 14 allotted days, Johnson could suggest a date after October 31 and the queen would be obliged to set it.

It all adds up to a situation the monarch would much rather avoid, according to Robert Lacey, a royal historian and historical consultant on Netflix series “The Crown.”

“The queen has a horror of being dragged into politics, partly because it is in her very nature to be neutral and retiring, and also because she deeply believes that the constitutional monarchy should do all it can to remain above the fray,” Lacey told POLITICO.

“Therefore, in the event of the 14-day rule becoming applicable, I think she is highly likely to follow the 14 days and stick by that rule, because that is the rule and there is no other law telling her what she should or could do otherwise. If some other conflicting rule or precedent can be produced — or if the 14-day limit is exceeded — then she and her advisers might see things differently.

“Her Majesty has an experienced and very highly qualified team of legal and constitutional advisers to guide her on such matters,” Lacey added. “So this question should not be seen in terms of the queen making a personal decision — beyond the fact that her personal inclination is not to take risks, and also to follow the advice she develops with her team.”

A nightmare scenario for Buckingham Palace would be that a new would-be government wins the confidence of parliament, but Johnson still refuses to go.

Prime minister who?

If Johnson does lose a confidence vote, the person who would, in ordinary circumstances, try to form a new government would be opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who would be the one to call the vote in the first place.

However, it would be deeply uncomfortable for Tory rebels to back Corbyn, even if he was prepared to be only a caretaker prime minister, in power long enough to request an Article 50 extension from the EU and to call a general election.

Some MPs speculate that a unity candidate would instead be sought, with the names of Conservative veteran Ken Clarke and Labour Brexit committee chairman Hilary Benn being floated. But it would be very difficult to find such a figure who could command sufficient support from rival factions in parliament — hence Cummings’ confidence.

Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional expert and research professor at King’s College London, said the golden rule is that the queen is bound by the advice of her prime minister. “But, if he loses a vote of no confidence, the prime minister has lost the authority to offer advice,” he said.

“There are then two alternatives — either a general election or an alternative government which can win a vote of no confidence within 14 days. The Fixed Term Parliament Act is ambiguous, but it appears that there are a number of possibilities. The first is that Boris Johnson is able himself to form an alternative government able to gain the confidence of the Commons. The second — very unlikely — is that Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the opposition … can do so.

“The third — almost as unlikely — is that a ‘Government of National Unity’ under some other named individual can be formed. For the queen to ask that named individual to form a government would require … cast-iron evidence in the form of a written agreement by a majority of MPs that they would support that individual.”

A protester wears a mask of the queen at a rally organised by the pro-European People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum in Parliament Square, central London on March 23, 2019 | Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

A nightmare scenario for Buckingham Palace would be that a new would-be government wins the confidence of parliament, but Johnson still refuses to go.

Then, in the words of one expert on the constitution and parliamentary procedure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the U.K. would be in “full-blown constitutional crisis … as it potentially drags the queen in.”

In this scenario, the queen and her advisers might indeed be forced to weigh up whether to dismiss a prime minister for the first time in nearly 200 years. But this would be an extreme path for Johnson to take and his political enemies don’t believe he will force the matter.

Dominic Grieve, the Conservative MP and former attorney general who has been at the forefront of parliamentary efforts to block a no-deal Brexit, told POLITICO: “The people who are suggesting that Boris Johnson can cling on to office in the 14 days of a no-confidence motion, if there is in practice an alternative administration capable of being formed that commands the confidence of the House of Commons, are deluding themselves.”

Her Majesty will be hoping that he is right.

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

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