May and Juncker clash over ‘nebulous’ comment

The UK prime minister said EU leaders were willing to continue talking about further ‘assurances’ for MPs.

Theresa May clashed with Jean-Claude Juncker in a “robust” exchange in the European Council chamber, as tempers frayed at a summit that did little to boost May’s hopes of selling her Brexit deal to MPs at home.

The U.K. prime minister acknowledged that she and Juncker had shared a difficult conversation, which was caught on camera. It followed a press conference late on Thursday evening at which the European Commission president appeared to describe her demands for more assurances on the Irish backstop as “nebulous and imprecise.”

May, speaking before departing the summit for London, admitted it had been a “robust discussion” but that Juncker had clarified he was only speaking about the “general debate” around Brexit, not about her or her approach.

However, the incident summed up a difficult summit for the U.K. prime minister who was disappointed in her hopes of securing genuinely new, legal commitments from the EU that the backstop insurance policy for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland was unlikely to be needed and would not be permanent if it ever was.

Although she hailed Thursday’s EU27 summit conclusions as a “welcome” step forward, and insisted there were further discussions to follow in the coming days and weeks, May will recognize that the commitments made go no further than the EU’s already stated position on the backstop.

Indeed, a draft text seen by POLITICO Wednesday, which said the EU stood ready to provide further assurances, was watered down. However, May was undeterred, saying that more work could be done to reassure MPs before she brings her deal back to the House of Commons before January 21.

“There is work still to do and we will be holding talks in the coming days about how to obtain the further assurances that the U.K. parliament needs in order to be able to approve the deal,” she said.

In a week in which she pulled a vote on her Brexit deal for fear of overwhelming defeat, then saw off a confidence vote from within her own party, May admitted the situation was “never going to be easy” but insisted she had been “crystal clear” with the EU about her demands.

With the clock ticking down to the U.K.’s March 29, 2019 exit date, May said her government would be “talking further about no deal preparations” in the coming days and weeks. A deal is her preferred option and she insists the one she has negotiated can get through parliament, where there is also a majority for blocking a no-deal outcome. But May herself has warned of an “accidental no-deal” if she cannot sell her plan at home.

Her political rivals at home seized on the summit outcome. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, called on her to hold the vote next week to allow parliament to “take back control” of the Brexit process from her.

“The last 24 hours have confirmed that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water,” Corbyn said. “The prime minister has utterly failed in her attempts to deliver any meaningful changes to her botched deal.”


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The Prime Minister’s three key arguments for her survival are fundamentally flawed

And her message amounts to warning that the alternatives wouldn’t work, so we might as well plod on as we are. It’s not very convincing.

The Prime Minister’s statement in Downing Street this morning presented three central arguments against MPs voting that they have no confidence in her leadership.

Unfortunately, each of the three suffers from some fundamental flaws:

1. “A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21st of January legal deadline”

There are two reasons to think that this simply isn’t correct.

For a start, the House of Commons itself has publicly stated that the deadline is no longer 21st January, but 28th March. And, it must be said, that just because May has said she would abide by a January deadline, that doesn’t mean she actually would – she said she would hold a vote on her deal this week, but she hasn’t, so evidently her diary is flexible. Either way, it’s a soft ‘deadline’ at best.

Also, there is no good reason why even a contested leadership election couldn’t take place swiftly even if May’s claimed deadline was correct. The timetable for the process is set by the 1922 Committee, in consultation with the Party Board, and they have the power to accelerate or delay the timetable as they see fit. The ’22 has already acted swiftly in holding the confidence ballot today, apparently to the dismay of some MPs who hoped they would have more time, which shows they are willing and able. What’s more, the Conservative Party has recently centralised all of its membership databases, so it would be quicker than last time (2005) to hold a ballot of members, too – potentially including some use of online voting, as in the London Mayoral selection contest.

2. “The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement…so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50”

The blunt fact is that her negotiation – and now her renegotiation of her negotiation – is dead. It’s dubious as to whether she is really in any position to tell others what they can or cannot achieve, given her analysis of the process has foundered so badly.

On the question of “extending or rescinding Article 50”, this peculiar threat goes back to a question we have asked repeatedly of the Government, but which has yet to be answered. May has promised she would do no such thing, and that the UK “will leave…on 29th March 2019”. No other Conservative minister or potential leader has said they would do any such thing either – and it is hard to see any leadership candidate being elected on such a promise. And yet those around her – and now the Prime Minister herself – keep predicting that an alternative Conservative government “would” delay or cancel Brexit. If they wouldn’t do it themselves, and the alternatives say they wouldn’t either, whom is it that they are claiming would?

3. “A leadership election would not change…the parliamentary arithmetic”

This is obviously true, in its most basic sense. But it is not a reason to keep the Prime Minister in office. She has lost, fatally, under that parliamentary arithmetic – that is why she was not even able to put her proposals to a vote in the House of Commons yesterday. There is no sign of her being able to remedy that failure, or to present a convincing case of how she might try to do so. Yes, a different Prime Minister would face the same arithmetic, but they would at least have the opportunity to seek to manage it differently, from a fresh start.

If this is Downing Street’s best case for May to hold on, it is not a very convincing one. It was also notable, watching her at that podium, that there wasn’t really much of an attempt to make a positive argument for continuing her premiership – the unifying theme of the three arguments above is merely that the alternative wouldn’t work, so we might as well carry on as we are. That seems unlikely to light a fire in many hearts.

Theresa May’s Brexit desperation tour

The EU wants to help, says Council President Donald Tusk, ‘the question is how.’

Nothing in The Hague. Nothing in Berlin. Nothing in Brussels. At each stop, Theresa May came up empty.

On the day she had hoped the House of Commons would vote to ratify her Brexit deal, the U.K. prime minister instead scrambled to meet EU leaders after postponing the vote to avoid certain defeat.

But her counterparts on the Continent had nothing to offer her except warm words, sympathy and “clarifications” — certainly nothing that would immediately change the minds of her skeptical backbenchers or ease her awful political predicament.

First at breakfast with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, then with German Chancellor Angela Merkel — where, adding insult to injury, May was briefly locked in her car — and finally at the European institutions with Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, May was told the deal cannot be renegotiated.

Ahead of the Juncker meeting, May spoke of a “shared determination” to get the Brexit deal ratified. But at best, EU leaders are willing to offer some reassurance that a “backstop” provision to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland is not intended to be used — ever — and even if it becomes necessary, the EU will not use it to trap the U.K.

One difficulty for Brussels is to know what they can realistically offer that will move the dial in London — beyond dismantling the Irish backstop that they see as essential.

MPs in Westminster are concerned that because the U.K. would not be able to exit the customs and regulatory arrangement unilaterally, Brussels might use it as leverage to get a better outcome on trade or fishing access in talks to come on the deal encompassing the U.K.’s eventual economic relationship with the bloc.

“We don’t want the backstop to be used and if it is we want to be certain that it is only temporary,” May said in Brussels, “And it is those assurances that I will be seeking from fellow leaders over the coming days.”

EU leaders are happy to make political assurances but they are not willing to reopen the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, which was completed in November after 16 months of talks. Juncker summed up the bloc’s position in an early morning speech to the European Parliament: “There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation.”

What EU officials have in mind is far less fundamental. At a meeting of EU ambassadors Wednesday to discuss Brexit, Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, secretary-general of the Council, will simply provide further details on the discussion that EU27 leaders will have on Brexit Thursday — the first day of a regular European Council summit.

May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin | Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

No amendments or new documents will be put on the table, said a EU official. All that is expected from the Wednesday ambassadors’ meeting is for member countries to ask for clarifications on the texts already agreed. The EU’s deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand will also be there to respond to questions.

If MPs in London who are skeptical of the deal hope that there is a backroom operation at work in Brussels to redraft the Withdrawal Agreement, they are very wide of the mark, diplomats say.

After stopping back in London for her regular weekly appearance in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions, May’s European tour resumes on Wednesday with a stop in Dublin to see Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. Then she’s back in Brussels for the summit on Thursday.

Varadkar noted Tuesday that, in accordance with a ruling by the European Court of Justice, May could unilaterally stop or delay the Brexit process. Indeed, that option is one of the few obvious escape routes given that more than 100 British MPs have stated their opposition to May’s Brexit plan, and no substantive changes to it are in store. But May has repeatedly vowed she will not countenance a delay or cancellation of Brexit.

One difficulty for Brussels is to know what they can realistically offer that will move the dial in London — beyond dismantling the backstop that they see as an essential safeguard for peace at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A senior EU official noted that the British parliament appeared to be paralyzed with no viable majority for any potential path forward — not for May’s deal; not for withdrawing the Article 50 notification; not for crashing out with no deal; not for a second referendum.

EU exasperation with Brexit is becoming more vocal.

“Actually I don’t see a majority on anything, that’s the problem,” the official said. “All options available do not rally a majority.”

After his meeting with May, Tusk tweeted that “the EU27 wants to help. The question is how.”

An EU diplomat asked, “If leaders were to give her a declaration [on some aspect of the withdrawal deal] now or in the future, can she guarantee it passes in parliament? Or will we end up paying twice?”

“Nothing bar a no-deal will ever be enough for Boris [Johnson] and co. Nothing bar EU membership will be good enough for Jo [Johnson] and co. And nothing bar a Labour government will be enough for Jeremy [Corbyn],” said the diplomat, laying out the seemingly unbridgeable differences between Brexiteers like the former foreign secretary, Remainers like his brother who resigned from the government last month, and the leader of the opposition.

Meanwhile, EU exasperation with Brexit is becoming more vocal. Manfred Weber, the German MEP who heads the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, said in a speech in Strasbourg Tuesday that he believed enough time had been spent on the EU’s departure and he wanted to focus on the bloc’s future instead.

“We are negotiating now for one and a half years on the Brexit treaty,” Weber said, making no effort to hide his frustration. “We negotiated more among the different British camps than between the EU and Great Britain. And then we have a final agreement on the table accepted by the British government and also accepted by 27 EU governments. And now? And now we see again a reopening, a try of renegotiating the whole thing. I think we lost already too much time discussing Brexit.”

“We don’t play this game,” he said.

Leo Varadkar: UK has ‘option’ to stop or delay Brexit

The Irish prime minister said he did not believe there was a majority in the UK for a no-deal Brexit.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the British government has the “option” of revoking its notification to leave the EU or extending the negotiation period in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Varadkar is the first EU leader to refer directly to the European Court of Justice verdict Monday which ruled that the U.K. can withdraw its Article 50 notification without the permission of other EU countries.

“The option is there to revoke Article 50. The option is there to extend Article 50,” said the Irish prime minister, the FT reported.

Referring to the deadlock in the House of Commons and lack of support for the deal agreed between London and Brussels, he said: “While there may not be a majority for anything, or at least any deal at the moment in the House of Commons, I do believe there is a majority that the U.K. should not be plunged into a no-deal scenario and it is their hands at any point in time to take the threat of no deal off the table.”

Separately, former Prime Minister John Major called for Theresa May to stop the clock on the two-year Article 50 period.

“Whether you’re a Remainer or a Leaver, no one can welcome chaos,” Major told members of the Institute of International and European Affairs, according to the Independent.

“The clock for the moment must be stopped. We need time for reflection,” he said.


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Nicola Sturgeon demands end to Theresa May’s Brexit ‘shambles’

Scottish first minister calls for end to ‘posturing’ from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Theresa May’s Brexit “shambles cannot go on” and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn should move a no-confidence motion in the prime minister, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Tuesday.

“If the time is not right now” for a confidence motion, “then when will the time be right?” Sturgeon said on the BBC’s Today program.

“Whatever Theresa May might be saying now, this delay I don’t think is going to change anything in any fundamental way,” Sturgeon said. “She’s trying to run down the clock hoping to get to a point where people have to back her because there’s no alternative [to her Brexit deal] and parliament cannot allow her to get away with that.”

Asked why her Scottish National Party hadn’t put forward a censure motion against the prime minister given Labour was refusing to push for an official motion of no confidence because it wanted to instead push for a general election, Sturgeon said she wanted to take a more “meaningful” path. “But if Labour wouldn’t do that … then of course we’ll consider all options.”

She continued: “I actually want real action happening now, not just posturing. I want to see a confidence motion that preferably brings this sorry excuse for a government down, but [if it doesn’t] at least clears the way for Labour to get behind another [Brexit referendum] vote. Because I think if Labour does that, then there will be a majority in the House of Commons for another vote.”

“I recognize the pressure Theresa May is under,” Sturgeon said. “I spoke to her yesterday and you can hear that in her voice. “That said, she’s brought a lot of it on herself.”


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Brexit: What happens next?

No deal, no Brexit or a general election are all still possible outcomes.

LONDON —  Theresa May has bought herself more time to win round MPs skeptical about her Brexit deal by delaying a key vote in the House of Commons — but all outcomes are still on the table.

May conceded in her statement to the House of Commons Monday that the deal would, as it stands, be rejected by a “significant margin.”

Opposition parties are against the deal; over a hundred Conservative MPs — both Leavers and Remainers — also oppose it; the Democratic Unionist Party that props up Theresa May’s government is against.

In favor: the rest of the Conservatives’ 315 MPs and, possibly, a low number of Labour MPs fiercely committed to delivering Brexit for Leave voters in their constituencies. Not enough to win.

The prime minister will now seek “further assurances” from EU leaders about the controversial Northern Ireland backstop — the element of the deal that is designed to avoid a hard border but which many MPs cannot stomach. Assuming Tory MPs do not move to depose her in the meantime, leading to a leadership contest, she will eventually have to bring the deal back to the Commons for a vote.

Here’s how things might go, according to some key players who will shape the process:

Blocking no-deal Brexit

One key thing to note in this process is the Labour Party holds many of the cards.

It is they, with their 257 MPs, who will make or break any effort by parliament to force the government down one or other path.

Although May has portrayed a vote against her deal as a vote for no deal, Starmer says the first priority is to prevent the U.K. crashing out of the EU.

“No deal is not an option. Labour will not countenance no deal — and nor would many of the prime minister’s own MPs,” he has said.

He will be joined in these efforts by other opposition parties — the Scottish National Party, with 35 MPs, the centrist Liberal Democrats with 12, Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru with four and the one Green MP.

SNP Leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in Westminster last month attempting to forge a united front between the opposition parties. They cannot agree on a single route forward, but they do agree on blocking no deal. A significant number of Conservative MPs are also dead set against such an outcome.

It looks likely that there is a majority in the House of Commons against no-deal, and the legislature showed last week — when it successfully voted the government in contempt of parliament over its refusal to publish its Brexit legal advice — that it can enforce its will.

Rethink under pressure

Global market reaction to an eventual rejection of May’s deal would likely be dramatic. May’s statement delaying the vote itself prompted a fall in the value of the pound and European stocks.

Under this kind of pressure MPs may feel inclined to amend the deal on the table rather than reach for more chaotic options, such as a general election or a second referendum. Former Treasury official Rupert Harrison has dubbed this the “TARP” scenario — a reference to the U.S. bank bailout plan in 2008 that was initially rejected by Congress, causing a market shock that persuaded lawmakers to back an amended version at a second attempt.

Such a scenario opens the possibility of parliament seeking to force the government into a renegotiation.

Depending on which of the many possible amendments secure majority support, May could be sent back to Brussels again seeking the kind of softer Brexit demanded by opposition parties and some Tory MPs, like Nick Boles, who argues for a Norway-style model.

How the EU would respond to such renegotiation requests is difficult to predict — and the countdown clock will not have stopped ticking.

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

But if May were to return from a renegotiation with much the same deal, with the pound crashing and opinion polls suggesting the public is crying out for a deal one way or another — perhaps the views of those currently opposed would change and MPs would back the prime minister’s Brexit agreement on the second attempt.

More time

A renegotiation may require more time. The legally enshrined Brexit date is already just four months away. One means by which parliament could block (or at least delay) a no-deal exit is by demanding May ask for the negotiating period to be extended.

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said such an extension would be “absolutely essential” if May’s deal is voted down, to allow time for a new course to be set.

Extension would require a U-turn from May, who has ruled it out. It would also need unanimous approval from EU27 countries.

Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform think tank said he thinks the upper limit of any extension could be “mid-May” because of the upcoming European Parliament election, but in extremis the EU could be flexible.

“Britain’s seats in the European Parliament have already been reallocated and it would be legally complicated to keep the U.K. in the EU beyond the elections,” Grant wrote in a blog for the CER. “But if the EU really wanted to prolong British membership by several months, there could be ways around the European Parliament problem; for example, the U.K. could appoint MPs as MEPs on an interim basis.”

The European Court of Justice ruled on Monday that the U.K.’s declaration under Article 50 to leave the EU can be withdrawn unilaterally, without the permission of other EU countries. But the judgement says that it must be an “unequivocal and unconditional decision” — in other words a genuine change of heart about Brexit, rather than a way of playing for more time.

Another election

Importantly, Labour’s preferred outcome following a rejection of May’s deal is a general election.

Starmer lists a vote of no confidence in the government as one option to prevent no deal. If the government lost such a vote by a simple majority, and no new administration could be formed by other parties in 14 days, an election would have to take place.

However, there is a big block to this route: Conservative MPs and the DUP.

The DUP has ruled out turning against May in a confidence vote, so long as her deal — with its Irish backstop — has been rejected. It’s the backstop they want to get rid off, not May.

And while many Conservatives may be preparing to vote against May’s deal, few are willing to bring down their own government and trigger a chain of events that could end with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister — and some of them losing their jobs.

Second referendum

Another option, and one view favorably by the SNP and other smaller opposition parties, is a second referendum.

Grieve believes 10 to 15 of his Conservative colleagues could also back such a plan (several are already publicly supporting the option) and that a larger group could be persuaded if parliament is in a state of deadlock after rejecting May’s deal.

He said May’s deal looks like “an extraordinarily third-rate outcome which leaves us significantly disadvantaged compared to remaining in the EU.”

“I’m not prepared to just let it go through on the basis that I’m going to make the decision and tell the public this is what we’ve decided — I won’t do that. I want a referendum on it,” he said.

One obstacle is agreeing the question.

Justine Greening favors putting leaving without a deal on the ballot as a third option | Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

Grieve’s preferred referendum question would be a choice between May’s deal and remaining in the EU. Another option would be to put leaving without a deal on the ballot paper as a third option, something favored by another Tory advocate of a second referendum, Justine Greening.

Ultimately, of course, it does not matter how many Conservative MPs might back a second referendum if Labour do not.

The party has not ruled it out if they fail to force an election, and both leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have said the option remains on the table. However, close Corbyn ally Jon Trickett, the party’s Shadow Cabinet Minister, speaking to Sky News last week, portrayed a referendum as an option for the party only when all others had been attempted.

Tom McTague contributed reporting to this article.


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UK can withdraw Brexit notification, ECJ rules

The result will provide a boost to campaigners for a second vote on EU membership.

The European Court of Justice ruled Monday that the U.K. can unilaterally withdraw its notification to leave the European Union without the permission of other EU countries.

The ruling in the case — which was brought by a group of Scottish politicians — will provide a boost to campaigners for a second referendum in the U.K. who want to put a stop to Brexit. If Britain can decide to withdraw its Article 50 notification, they argue, that would be one way to provide the time needed to hold a referendum on the divorce deal agreed between Theresa May’s government and Brussels.

Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National Party MP and one of the petitioners in the case, tweeted that it was “a huge victory for Scottish parliamentarians and Scottish courts.”

Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project who brought the case, which was funded by public donations, described the legal victory as “arguably the most important case in modern domestic legal history.”

“The 2016 referendum — during which both Leave and the regulator broke the law — would shame a banana republic,” he said, “But all the courts can do is open the door to Remaining. It is up to MPs to … find the moral courage to put the country’s interests before private ambition.”

MPs will vote on whether to ratify that deal Tuesday evening, but May’s government is widely expected to lose the vote — potentially by a wide margin.

EU diplomats have expressed concern about how the Article 50 ruling might be used in future by other countries. Ahead of the judgement they said they feared that submitting and then withdrawing an Article 50 notification might be used as a negotiating tactic to extract concessions from other EU members on opt outs from EU programs or rebates from the budget.

One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said allowed unilateral withdrawal would be “madness,” saying it “could made it easier for a member state to play with [article 50], for example to get opt outs [from EU programs].”

9 December 2018 – today’s press release

ECJ ruling expected to make clear it is the deal or remain Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake has called on Theresa May to “stop scaremongering about a no-deal Brexit” ahead of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on whether the UK can halt Brexit by unilaterally revoking Article 50. The ECJ ruling on […]

ECJ ruling expected to make clear it is the deal or remain

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake has called on Theresa May to “stop scaremongering about a no-deal Brexit” ahead of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on whether the UK can halt Brexit by unilaterally revoking Article 50.

The ECJ ruling on this case, which Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake and Labour MP Chris Leslie were parties to is expected to come at 8am tomorrow morning (10th Dec).

The Advocate General for the ECJ, Campos Sanchez-Bordona, told the ECJ last week that it should allow the UK to withdraw Article 50. The ECJ normally follows the advice of the Advocate General.

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said:

Liberal Democrats have campaigned for over two years for a People’s Vote, and that option is now very possible.

If the ECJ rules, as expected, it will make crystal clear that rejecting Theresa May’s deal will not result in a no-deal Brexit. The Prime Minister must therefore stop scaremongering about a no-deal.

The people deserve a final say on Brexit, including the option to remain in the EU. That is the best possible deal for jobs, the economy and the NHS. There is still time to deliver it, and it is up to MPs from all parties to make it happen!

How to get Brexit back on track when the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs

The current political turmoil and constitutional crisis has so many twists and turns that it makes House of Cards look pedestrian. Of course the real issue comes down to what happens when – rather than if – the proposed deal is voted down on tomorrow, 11th December (or even dropped). Here there is a clear […]

The post How to get Brexit back on track when the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The current political turmoil and constitutional crisis has so many twists and turns that it makes House of Cards look pedestrian.

Of course the real issue comes down to what happens when – rather than if – the proposed deal is voted down on tomorrow, 11th December (or even dropped).

Here there is a clear gap opening up between media reports and hard legal reality – what the actual effects are of the political manoeuvring of Dominic Grieve, Sir Keir Starmer and their merry conniving bands. There have been desperate media reports that ‘no deal’ is off the table, when it is actually remains the ‘default position’ as Andrea Leadsom told Radio 4 just last week.

Let’s assume Conservative MPs think there is enough turkey on Christmas menus not to be part of the required two-thirds majority needed to vote for a General Election, and that the EU have indeed ruled out any major renegotiation.

The bottom line is that the various options being desperately pushed by those who want ‘anything but a true Brexit’ are just not viable. There is:

  • ‘Norway Plus’ – even worse that the slavish EEA, which adds back membership of the customs union, thereby killing all future UK trade deals, and with no control of immigration, no say over EU laws, and large payments;
  • A ‘Second Referendum’ – with its totally confused offer: ‘tell us if this final 2,000-page deal is better than staying in the EU when we’ve already left. Oh, and by the way you will have to join the euro and lose the rebate’. Pointless too in that Leave is predicted to win again; or 
  • Extending Article 50 to allow more muddle time – which will either mess up the EU by landing the Brexit issue right in the middle of European Parliament elections in May or mess up all the groups, chairmanships and procedures of the European Parliament in the farcical situation of British MEPs being elected for a few months.

But all such amendments to the motion are not legally binding anyway – they can only be advisory. They might bring political pressure, but they do not have legal effect. As the Commons Chief Clerk, Sir David Natzler, confirmed: whatever MPs vote on by way of motion “has no statutory significance”, as they do not constitute “a vote on whether to accept or reject no deal.” That requires new legislation. The actual law – in the EU Withdrawal Act – states clearly that we will leave on 29th March 2019.

Given that reality, and bearing in mind how rash it is to try to indicate a way forward in this maelstrom, this is what I propose now as the best next steps:

1) Assuming the vote fails on 11th December, or is put off, I believe the Government should make a statement immediately saying that preparations for a ‘no deal’ option – better called a ‘Clean Global Brexit’ or ‘World Trade Deal’ – will go into SuperDrive. Sorry, but defer Christmas!

Where there’s a will, there’s a way: in the Falklands War, the Ministry of Defence managed to put together a task force of 100 ships in just 48 hours. We can manage this process, and thousands of civil servants have been on the case for years. Like the Millennium Bug, claims of Armageddon and planes falling out the sky gave way to nothing happening on 1st January 2000.

2) The UK should then go back to Brussels, not to renegotiate this current draft Withdrawal Agreement, but to agree a pared-down, bare bones emergency series of bilateral agreements covering only the essential ‘must haves’: aviation, customs, citizens’ rights, medical products, European Investment Bank assets etc. The beauty of this is that if one agreement falls, then the others are not lost. The DUP’s Arlene Foster has proposed bilaterals. These bilaterals could be agreed by Westminster and the EU by March, and would any sane MP or MEP dare to seek to derail any such vital preparation in these circumstances? They should hold all further Westminster business, such as the Immigration and Trade bills, that may be hijacked.

3) The UK should also formally advise the EU that it wishes to accept the offer made not once but three times by the EU: that of a SuperCanada/CETA+++ Free Trade Agreement with 100% tariff- and quota-free access to the EU Single Market plus comprehensive services (first offered by Donald Tusk on 7th March), and which we could start negotiating from the day we become a ‘third country’ – 30th March next year.

We can build on the three pages on trade in the more appealing draft Political Declaration, but drop all notion of a ‘Single Customs Territory’ – the UK must firmly leave the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market. We are in a unique position to negotiate an FTA fast – as all our laws are convergent at present and we don’t have to spend years wrangling over which tariffs to keep or get rid of, as others do.

4) Having initiated moves to agree a SuperCanada FTA, the UK and EU can now jointly notify the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that in the light of working to agree a comprehensive FTA and future Political Declaration, we are invoking Article 24 of GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).

This is important because Article 24 allows us to maintain the same tariff-free access to both our markets without breaching WTO discriminatory Most Favoured Nation (MFN) laws. Article 24 allows “an interim agreement leading to a formation of a free trade area” and allows “a reasonable length of time” – up to 10 years – to negotiate it.

So, we whilst we will need customs declarations under WTO, we will be able to maintain the same zero tariffs as now with the EU – the free trade area will remain. EU exporters to the UK would save £13 billion in tariffs (and our consumers too) and UK exporters £5 billion. We will also be free to lower tariffs for other trading partners as we wish – something specifically excluded in the Backstop. Nor should there be any Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) either under WTO agreements.

We can also enact the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement which recently came into force that obliges the EU27 to adopt measures like authorised economic operators (trusted traders), which are part of the solution for the Northern Ireland border issue along with electronic declarations and remote checks away from the border.

5) As a sign of Britain’s free trade intent, we can now immediately initiate full and unfettered negotiations with international trade partners such as the USA, China and India, without these deals being torpedoed by being tied into the EU Customs Union, Chequers or the Backstop. The picture would be clear at last, and not be delayed by unending years of transition. Similarly, we will seek to build on current work to ‘roll over’ the benefits and obligations of existing EU trade deals such as that with South Korea.

6) So, on 30th March the UK can be cleanly out of the European Union and back into the world, with an acceptable and managed World Trade Deal option in place, free of years more wrangling over transitional arrangements, cost demands, alternative models and heightened business uncertainty – and with negotiations underway for a closer SuperCanada trade deal. We can reallocate much of the £39 billion payment lost by the EU to compensate UK-based companies legally in terms of R&D, regional aid and transport infrastructure – helping to stimulate our economy.

Like an operation we know needs doing, let us get on with the surgery quickly and speed up the recovery process.

This is indeed a Clean Global Brexit. Brexit could be over in a few months, rather than drag on for years on end.

And, for all our sakes – both Remainer and Brexiteer – let’s just get it done.

The post How to get Brexit back on track when the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs appeared first on BrexitCentral.

EU top judge: UK can unilaterally withdraw Article 50

The European Court of Justice’s advocate general said the UK does not need approval of other EU countries to withdraw from Brexit.

The U.K. has the power to unilaterally revoke the notification of its intention to leave the EU before it quits on March 29, 2019, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general said Tuesday.

Article 50 of the EU treaty allows countries to U-turn on a decision leaving the bloc, “until such time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded, provided that the revocation has been decided upon in accordance with the Member State’s constitutional requirements, is formally notified to the European Council and does not involve an abusive practice,” Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona said in his opinion.

The top lawyer rejected the argument put forward by the European Commission and Council that Article 50 only allows a country to revoke its notification in the event of a unanimous decision of the European Council.

The opinion is not binding but gives an indication of how the EU’s top court may decide the case, which was brought forward at the request of members of Scottish parliament, MPs and MEPs and several courts.


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