The price May is paying for survival is powerlessness

She yesterday achieved the outcome most likely to prop her up – at least for the time being. But Cooper, Letwin and Bercow are waiting in the wings.

Theresa May succeeded yesterday in achieving her aim.  Of the three Brexit outcomes that could have emerged from the EU summit, she has gained the one most likely to meet her core objective – survival as Prime Minister, at least for the moment.  There is not enough time to hold a leadership election before April 12, the deadline now agreed if her deal hasn’t passed the Commons by then.  And there is no sure alternative means of finding a replacement.  A short extension best suits her abiding preoccupation: to hang on.

Of the other two possible outcomes, a long extension would have opened up the time and space for a leadership challenge.  No Deal might have kept her in office for the time being, since the response from her Ministers and Conservative could have been: all hands to the pumps.  But it might not have done – since it would also have created that space and time.  Furthermore, it could have sparked Ministerial resignations, defections to the Independent Group, and a perilous confidence vote.

In a strange kind of way, one can’t help admiring May’s ducking and diving, her evasions, her twists and turns, her deflections, her gnomic silences – the sheer inventiveness and tenacity with which she hangs on. Sometimes, she has threatened no Brexit.  At other times, such as earlier this week, she has threatened No Deal.  On Wednesday, she hurled a bucketful of verbal paraffin over just about every other MP in the House – including her own Parliamentary Party.  Late yesterday, she sought to sponge the oil from their hair and enraged faces, offering words as close to an apology as she is probably capable of speaking.

She has promised that Britain would leave the EU on March 29 over a hundred times.  She has led Tory MPs into the lobbies to vote in principle not to do so.  She has U-turned on a general election in 2017, transition migration, transition extension, putting her deal to the Commons in December, a regulatory border in the Irish Sea: we cannot bear to replicate the list in full.  Her latest about-turn, characteristically implied rather than asserted, is that we may now participate in this spring’s European elections, after all.

So evasive have been her dealings, so profuse her positions, that she was bound sooner or later to stumble across one that would work.  So it proved yesterday.  Like the majority of Conservative MPs, like the National Convention, and like the local Associations which have lined up behind the last, we have always argued that one has to be prepared to walk away from a negotiation to get a result.  The threat of No Deal should always remain on the table.

We believe that May was bluffing when she hinted earlier this week that she was prepared to countenance Britain leaving the EU with No Deal on the date still written into law.  In her elliptical way, she has pushed the idea at pro-Brexit Ministers.  She did the same to EU27 leaders yesterday.  Some of them may not have believed her.  But she seems to have sowed enough doubt to get them collectively to back off.  Emmanuel Macron didn’t veto extension.  (Neither, please note, did Viktor Orban or Matteo Salvini.)

How much more would have been achieved had she played that card at the right time and place – in other words, right at the start of the negotiation!  If Philip Hammond had been moved in the botched 2018 shuffle, as we urged just before it took place.  If a Minister for No Deal had been appointed then (ditto).  If preparations had been ramped up.  That lost chance is a tragedy with a double edge.  For May has not only threatened No Deal late in the day, but is unlikely to be able to do so again.

This is because her tactical win is wrapped in a strategic defeat.  As we write, an extension motion will presumably pass the Commons, perhaps with predominate Labour support.  But her deal is in no position to do so at a third attempt, assuming that the Speaker allows it to be put in the first place.  If it can’t win next week, it won’t be put: that surely is the logic of setting a new deadline, if it doesn’t pass, to April 12.  On paper, the option of No Deal will still exist then.  In practice, it is likely soon to be suffocated.

For with little likelihood of the deal passing; with infuriated Remainers, distrustful Leavers, an alienated Whips Office, and a Chairman of the 1922 Committe who has reportedly told May to go, she is Prime Minister In Name Only.  Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin are ready for a third bite of the cherry.  Their bid to take over the negotiation, in effect, failed in January by 23 votes.  A revived push at it from Hilary Benn fell last week by only two. It is very hard to believe that it will not be successful in some form a third time. The motion to revive it is already tabled.

The Speaker will ensure that it gets a fair wind. (His latest commitment to precedent is to revolutionise S024 motions – or so it appears.) The Second Referendum lobby is dropping its pretence of wanting a further vote, and is gradually revealing what has been its real aim all along: revocation.  Letwin/Cooper are more likely to steer MPs towards Customs Union membership and perhaps Single Market membership, too.  The House may not have settled on either by April 12.  But the Commons would then surely vote for another extension.

On second and final thoughts, we apologise for offering certainties, or seeming to.  Anything could happen yet.  Pro-Remain Ministers could quit.  So could Leave Ministers.  The ERG could go on strike, and refuse to vote.  The Whips’ Office could give up any attempt to stop them. Leadership candidates are raising money, announcing teams.  No Deal could somehow slip through the cracks.  But the drift is unmistakable.  May endures.  But the price she is paying for survival is powerlessness.

Iain Dale: Zombie May and her Zombie Cabinet

Leadsom seems to be the only one with lead in her pencil. All she needs now is to grow big fat hairy balls.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Another astonishing week in Brexitland. But I suspect we’ve seen nothing compared to what is to come over the next seven days.

Sadly, we have a political leadership which is wholly unfit to be described that way. We have a Prime Minister who deludes herself that she is showing leadership when in fact she is doing the opposite.

She chairs a Cabinet, but refuses to give it any idea of what she believes, or where she wants to take the country. And we have a Cabinet that is so devoid of bollocks that it allows her to do what she likes without fear of consequence. And she lets them do it. It’s a Zombie Cabinet, led by a Zombie Prime Minister.

Her speech in Number Ten on Wednesday evening was one of the most embarrassing of her premiership, and there have been a fair few to rival it for that particular accolade. It achieved the exact opposite of what she presumably wanted. At times, she even channelled Donald Trump, which was never going to end well.

By trying to pitch the people against Parliament, she did something very dangerous – something I cannot remember any other prime minister doing. The fact that she had already done it that day in Prime Minister’s Questions, and then repeated it seven hours later, made it even worse.

She also achieved something else unique. She alienated many of the MPs she needs to win over to get her third “meaningful vote” through Parliament next week. These include Labour MPs and members of the ERG. It takes a lot to bind those two groups together, but Theresa May achieved it.

I do not understand how that speech ever came to be made. Did none of her advisers raise a hand, and point out the dangers of taking the approach she did?

But in the end, the buck stops with the Prime Minister – she is after all responsible for what comes out of her mouth – but speeches like that go through multiple drafts, and are run past a whole raft of people. Yet no one seemed alert to the downsides and dangers of what she was about to say. Quite incredible.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve copped quite lot of criticism for saying that I think May’s leadership has run its course, but I’ve got broad shoulders and people are free to say what they like. Margaret Thatcher inspired me to join the Conservative Party when I was 16. I devoted a large part of my life to promoting the Conservative cause in one form or another. It was my dream to be a Conservative MP, and although I never achieved that aim, I still continued to be an activist for the party until I joined LBC, when it became inappropriate to continue with party political activities.

I believed May was the right choice to succeed David Cameron, to take us to Brexit and conduct negotiations with the EU. I was wrong on both counts. As I said on Any Questions last Friday, this is the most calamitous British government since Lord North lost America. Hyperbole maybe – but not much of an exaggeration, surely.

Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it, she said. Ad nauseum. We will leave on March 29th, she said. Ad nauseum. We’ll be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, she said. Ad nauseum.

Well, Theresa May’s form of Brexit does not mean Brexit. At the time of writing, we won’t be leaving on March 29th. If her deal goes through we won’t be fully leaving the Single Market or the Customs Union. It’s all going terribly well, isn’t it?

– – – – – – – – – –

Up until now, I have always thought that were there to be a general election, the Conservatives would win a majority. No longer.

The prospect of a Corbyn government is nearer now than at any time during the last three and a half years. It won’t be that he gets many more votes than he did last time. It will be because Conservative voters stay at home and sit on their hands.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the local elections. Labour’s polling apparently shows that they are not going to do well because people now see them now as the party that backs Remain, and Labour Brexiteers are deserting. We’ll see.

– – – – – – – – – –

Back to the Cabinet. Last week, I wrote in my diary about its supine nature. They’ve been at it again.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet met to discuss what to do about extending Article 50. The Prime Minister asked each of her ministers to give their views on whether we should request a short or a long extension. I’m told that once they have all finished, she said: “Thanks for your comments,” and moved the discussion on to something else.

Not a single one of them apparently raised a hand, and said: “Excuse me, Prime Minister, we’ve given our view, what’s yours?” It was then briefed out that she would be writing to Donald Tusk asking for both a short extension which could be turned into a long one if necessary. The next morning, her entire cabinet was taken by surprise when it emerged she was only asking for a short extension.

This is not Cabinet Government in any meaningful sense. But, given the Prime Minister’s weak political position, it is truly astonishing that the Cabinet continues to allow her to get away with it. Andrea Leadsom seems to be the only one of them with any lead in her pencil at the moment (don’t let that image pollute your mind). Perhaps she will be the one with the big fat hairy balls to tell the Prime Minister, “Enough, and no more”.

Given parliamentary arithmetic, I fear May’s deal is the only vehicle for getting out the EU

So, we finally come back to the starting point, back to square one. Parliament now faces the very same choice that the electorate faced when they placed a cross on a voting paper nearly three years ago, way back in 2016: Leave or Remain. There is nowhere for MPs left to hide. All prevarications, deviations […]

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So, we finally come back to the starting point, back to square one. Parliament now faces the very same choice that the electorate faced when they placed a cross on a voting paper nearly three years ago, way back in 2016: Leave or Remain.

There is nowhere for MPs left to hide. All prevarications, deviations and diversions have failed: a second referendum comprehensively defeated; a Norway 2.0 type deal, EFTA membership and a customs union all thrown out; every attempt to derail Brexit decisively rejected. Also rejected is a no-deal departure. Bit by bit, Brexit has been stripped back to its bare bones much like a tree stripped of its branches and its bark right down to its core, its fundamental element; Brexit stripped to its beautiful simplicity: Leave or Remain.

The attempt by Speaker Bercow to prevent the Government bringing a ‘substantially same’ deal back to the Commons will make little difference. It is not the big spanner in the works that many Remainers hope it is; it will only delay a third meaningful vote to within a day or two from the default departure date which will only bring the stark choice facing MPs sharply into focus.

Theresa May’s deal may or may not be the disaster that the European Research Group say it is, but it remains the only vehicle through which the UK could leave the EU on or soon after 29th March. A delay beyond 30th June would be a betrayal for it makes no Brexit the only possible outcome. The option of voting against the deal because it’s not good enough is a kamikaze option: it serves no purpose other than keeping some MPs’ hands clean and their conscience pure.

The argument that being so close to 29th March, and that rejecting May’s deal at a third meaningful vote will leave no time for the necessary primary legislation to prevent the UK leaving without a deal, is far-fetched and reckless. In normal times, such restraints may prove effective; but we are not living in normal times. Given the will, and there is indeed a strong will among MPs, to stop a no-deal Brexit, Parliament will conjure up special emergency procedures to ensure the UK will not leave without a deal and the Speaker of the House will be more than willing to help.

A glimpse of a rethink was detected when Jacob Rees-Mogg asked the Attorney General if a different Parliament could unilaterally withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement. The reply was clear and unequivocal, a sovereign nation can unilaterally withdraw from a treaty if it no longer meets its national interest. Other eminent lawyers may disagree as lawyers invariably do, but what is not in doubt is that untrammelled powers are bestowed upon countries once they become sovereign. This may be the start of a softening of the ERG’s approach to the deal. An all-or-nothing stance is the strategy of the desperate and the defeated. But the British people are neither desperate nor defeated. They know this deal is not so much an end but a start, a new start for Britain. What is done today can be undone tomorrow and what we agree to today can be changed tomorrow as the balance of forces tilts in our favour once we are out of the EU.

Sovereignty will bring to an end the chess game we’ve been engaged in with the EU and with all the pieces back into place, we’ll embark on a new match. The electorate has been steadfast in its determination to leave the EU, and so must their representatives in Parliament, especially those who campaigned to Leave and those who were the official leaders of the Leave campaign. They must make certain that the result of the referendum is honoured and that the UK leaves the EU.

The support of the DUP is important but no decisive. More decisive is the attitude of Labour, for the deal will not pass the Commons without support from Labour. Labour has as much responsibility as the Tories to facilitate Brexit, both its individual MPs and the party leadership – and Jeremy Corbyn has the greatest responsibility of all.

So far, Corbyn has managed to ensure that when it mattered, Labour did nothing to derail Brexit. No doubt an amendment promoting an alternative basis for a deal with the EU and another calling for an affirmative public vote on May’s deal if Parliament were to agree it will be put forward. But once these amendments are defeated – as they are bound to be – Labour will have to consider its attitude towards the deal itself, the only deal on the table. It is at that point that the Labour leadership must assert its authority, stand by its promise to respect the result of the EU referendum and ensure it goes through; there is no other honourable position for the Labour Party to take if it is to keep faith with its supporters and the country at large. Enough Labour MPs, whipped or otherwise, will support it or abstain to ensure its safe passage.

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Anthony Speaight: Six reasons why we are now less likely to be trapped in the backstop

Whilst it remains the case that the Protocol could conceivably remain in force indefinitely, that scenario has become more theoretical than it was previously.

Anthony Speaight QC is Chairman of Research for the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

To some UK eyes, what was so unattractive about the Northern Ireland Protocol, as originally agreed, was that it could appear to envisage that, whatever the future trading relationship between the EU and Britain, the permanent future of Northern Ireland was in both a single market and customs union with the EU.

The status of the UK was dealt with separately from that of Northern Ireland in Articles 6(1) and 6(2) respectively. Article 1(3) stated that the arrangements of the Protocol were “necessary”, rather than merely desirable, and that such necessity related not only to the avoidance of a hard border, but also inter alia to the conditions for North-South cooperation and the protection of the Belfast Agreement “in all its dimensions”.

Bearing in mind that the EU had not been a party to the Belfast Agreement, and that that Agreement contains no prohibition of customs posts or the like at the border, this created the impression in some that the UK was now agreeing to the EU undertaking a new role almost as guarantor of Ireland’s interests. It was such features, as much as the absence of a unilateral right of withdrawal or end date, which contributed to the concern that the EU or Ireland or both had no real interest in seeking technological or other solutions to avoid a hard border, and that the UK was acquiescing in the consequence of Northern Ireland being permanently in a seamless trading relationship with Ireland.

The joint drafts issued on 11 March went a long way to remove those concerns by six features:-

  • The recital to the Joint Instrument identifies only the absence of a hard border as the required characteristic of the arrangements which would replace the backstop. This weakens the impact of the vague aims of Article 1(3), and, therefore, the scope for the EU or Ireland at a future date to assert that the Protocol is about anything wider than the avoidance of a hard border.
  • Paragraph 5 of the Joint Instrument strengthens the impression of temporariness of the Protocol by introducing a new date, namely a year from the date of UK’s withdrawal, for the conclusion of negotiations of a replacement. If the Withdrawal Agreement is now ratified, that will be considerably earlier than the date mentioned in the Protocol, namely 31 December 2020.
  • Not only is the target date for the conclusions of replacement negotiations thus advanced, but it ceases to coincide with the end date of the implementation period. This emphasises that the agreement of the replacement need not be contingent on the agreement of the future trading relationship. That is significant, and must seriously diminish the scope for the EU or Ireland to claim at a future date that the Protocol envisaged Northern Ireland permanently remaining in a single market and customs union with the EU.
  • The Joint Instrument makes specific mention of study of technological measures for avoiding a hard border. Paragraph 7 commits the parties to the study of inter alia technologies. This is the approach which the UK has been advocating all along. The EU’s response to date has created the concern that it would never look seriously at technologies. There had been no mention of border technologies in the original Withdrawal Agreement or Protocol and it will now be impossible for the EU to escape from detailed study of such.
  • A further feature of reassurance to the UK is that such study of technologies is stated in paragraph 6 of the Joint Political Statement to cover not only existing but also “emerging” technologies meaning the EU will no longer be able to bat back this topic with the refrain that no adequate technology is yet in use anywhere in the world.
  • The Joint Instrument in paragraph 10 explicitly recognises that a replacement arrangement will not be “required to replicate its provisions in any respect”. That must finally knock on the head the scope for the EU or Ireland in future to claim that the Protocol always envisaged Northern Ireland permanently remaining in a single market and customs union with the EU.

Therefore, whilst it remains the case that the Protocol could conceivably remain in force indefinitely, that scenario has become more theoretical than it was previously. In practice, that scenario will arise only if intensive work with a genuine focus on the possibilities of every kind of technology, including those which are not yet in force anywhere in the world, fails to demonstrate a way to avoid a hard border.

Although the EU may be regarded as adept at finding legal technicalities of assistance to its political objectives, it remains a mature and responsible player in the realm of international agreements. The EU would be unlikely to countenance the reputational damage of being seen to resile from its commitments in the six features identified above.

Nick Hargrave: What’s needed now to get us out of this mess. First, a new leader. Next, a general election.

To be able to move on and focus attention on the things we really came into politics to do, the candidates must first articulate an honest vision of our new relationship with the European Union.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

I am so bored of the debate on Brexit that I want to scream. I am frustrated at its stultifying circularity, concerned about how it steals oxygen from other pressing priorities – and angry that it is dividing my party. I just want it be done, implemented – and for the country to move on. Apart from the real obsessives, I suspect this sentiment is true for most people in the Conservative family. It’s certainly true, as all evidence suggests, in the wider country.

Against this backdrop, it is tempting to suggest that – should the Withdrawal Agreement eventually pass and the current Prime Minister move to departure – we get swiftly back onto the domestic agenda in the next leadership contest. That we move on. I sympathise with the sentiment. Indeed, I have argued it before myself. But while this would certainly be uplifting for the country, not to mention convenient for the candidates involved, I have now come to the reluctant conclusion that we are going to have to bang on about Europe for a short while longer.

It is important to do this if our party has any hope of closure in the long-run. To be able to move on and focus proper attention on the things we really came into politics to do, the candidates must first articulate an honest and platitude free vision of our new relationship with the European Union. And critically, I believe the winner must then seek a mandate from the country in a general election shortly after.

The current Political Declaration, that outlines our proposed future relationship with Europe, does not win many awards for specificity. It is not a legal text. As George Bridges has perhaps articulated best, we have not yet made the strategic decision about the sort of country we want to be after we leave the European Union. Whether we prioritise trade with our nearest and largest commercial bloc, or whether we prioritise Parliamentary sovereignty.

Following the visceral reaction to the Chequers plan (once a term of abuse, but now barely muttered), the urgent crowded out the important as attention focussed on the Withdrawal Agreement. But with all the best will in the world, it will not be possible to gloss over these arguments once future trade negotiations begin. Trade negotiations themselves are boring and technical. What will be front page news is the internal disagreements within the Conservative tribe that have been parked, but not decisively settled.

Many of those who voted Leave see control of trade policy as essential for leaving the European Union to be a success. Others from both sides of the original referendum divide see frictionless trade with the EU as essential to manufacturing jobs and dealing with the Northern Irish border. The Political Declaration envisages the use of “all available facilitative arrangements and technologies, in full respect of their legal orders and ensuring that customs authorities are able to protect the Parties’ respective financial interests and enforce public policies”. It is highly questionable whether any of this will be practical, negotiable or legal. This is why people care so much about the arcane backstop and our ability to countenance a similar “no deal” situation in a couple of years’ time.

Similarly, on immigration policy you can expect plenty of interpretation down the road. It will be interesting to see whether the EU wishes to invoke the sentiment of Chequers about a “mobility framework” that was eventually watered down in the Political Declaration.

Trade deals beyond the EU are worth considering briefly, too. It is uncontroversial to talk rhetorically about getting out into the world and signing new free trade deals with other countries. Irrespective of whether this is commensurate with our expectations of goods trade with the EU, the trade-offs involved for independent market access with tiger economies such as China and India will be significantly bumpier in reality.

These are just a few of  the salient points that are going to occupy debate amongst Conservatives in the next couple of years. A substantial reason why we have got into the current state of affairs on the Withdrawal Agreement is that this Prime Minister was not honest about the inevitable trade-offs soon enough. Early statements of intent at the Conservative Party conference in 2016 and Lancaster House in January 2017 did not match with reality.

What is more the ‘Brexit election’ of June 2017 was anything but. As someone who sat in Conservative Campaign Headquarters during that miserable experience, I remember how we sloganised day after day about the negotiations but proactively avoided any serious discussion on the campaign trail about specifics. The manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union – a paragraph in an 88 page document that was overwhelmingly and famously about domestic policy – was not a serious exploration of practical reality. The entire section on leaving the European Union was a couple of pages. If we had won a majority then one, could have shrugged and said ‘so what’? – but we did not even manage to do this. Labour, even more paralysed by fear over the impact of Brexit on their voting coalition, were no better.

So the current state of affairs stems from a lack of honesty and a lack of a mandate. Next time, it must be different. We can only do this if candidates for Conservative Leader are rigorously interrogated by independent sources about the practical effects of their plans for the future relationship when they put themselves forward to party members. And similarly, in an election campaign, on the basis of a detailed manifesto, from which no can possibly argue that the Prime Minister lacks a mandate to proceed.

The Conservative Party might of course lose such an election if we confront this head-on. We might split. But acting bravely in the national interest while preventing these things is what marks out a leader from a pretender. There will also plainly need to be some attention focussed on core domestic priorities in the scenario I have outlined; it does not have to be purely black and white.

But what is certain is that the path ahead does not bode well if we pretend what lies ahead isn’t there; allowing the chaos of recent months to creep and compound itself once again as a repressed impulse. It will lead to similar results.

How to watch tonight’s Brexit votes like a pro

MPs are seeking to take control of the Brexit process from Theresa May’s government.

LONDON — It’s another hugely important day in Brexit, with MPs set to vote on whether to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period until June 30 or potentially beyond.

MPs will begin voting at 5 p.m. local time and Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow selected four amendments for voting. The amendments would be non-binding but one, put down by Labour MP Hilary Benn and others, would set in train a parliamentary process that could lead to legally binding decisions.

Here’s what MPs will be voting on:

The government’s motion 

The motion sets out two scenarios for extending the Article 50 negotiation period. In the first, the House of Commons approves the prime minister’s deal by Wednesday March 20. She then goes to the European Council summit the following day requesting an extension until June 30 simply to get technical Brexit legislation through parliament. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested an alternative end-date for an extension of May 23, so this could be a matter for debate at European Council.

May is expected to bring her deal back for a third meaningful vote on Monday or Tuesday next week to try and make this happen.

The second scenario deals with no approval for her deal by March 20. In that case, May will still go to the European Council seeking the extension. But the motion also notes that the EU would be “highly likely” to require a “clear purpose” for an extension, and that any extension beyond June 30 “would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.”

The latter element, simply stating the legal position that British MEPs will need to sit in the new European Parliament if the U.K. is a member when it is formed, appears to be aimed at spooking Brexiteers into voting for May’s deal to prevent such a scenario.

The government’s motion will be voted on after the amendments, so it might therefore not be put to MPs in its current form.

The Benn Amendment (i)

This has been put forward by the group of senior MPs, including Labour’s Yvette Cooper, Tory Oliver Letwin and Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn, who have been at the forefront of efforts to allow the House of Commons to wrest control of the Brexit process from Theresa May. It accepts an extension until June 30, but seeks a cast-iron guarantee of parliamentary time for backbenchers to put forward a motion on the way forward. Under the terms of the amendment this motion would be put forward on Wednesday next week.

It is likely that the MPs spearheading the process would then use the motion to establish a process of indicative votes — probably during the week commencing March 25. If it passes, would that be sufficient justification for the EU27 to grant an extension?

European Council President Donald Tusk | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

This morning European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he would urge leaders “to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its #Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.” So maybe.

In his opening statement in the debate on the motion, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington appeared to try and spike the Benn amendment by making his own pledge of a House of Commons process to find a way forward if, by next week’s European Council, May’s deal has not been agreed.

In such a scenario, he said, the government would for two weeks after the summit “consult through usual channels with other parties and we would work to provide a process by which the House could form a majority on how to take things forward.” Which sounds a lot like indicative votes.

The Wollaston Amendment (h)

Put forward by Independent Group MP Sarah Wollaston and other backers of a second referendum, this amendment will give the House of Commons a clear cut opportunity to vote on whether to hold a so-called People’s Vote. Brexiteers were furious that a rival amendment, seeking to rule out a second referendum, was not selected by Bercow.

However, the amendment appeared to be doomed after Labour said they would not support it. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said that “today is about extending Article 50 and moving on from there.” This followed a statement from the People’s Vote campaign, which also indicated that they did not think today was the right moment to call for a second vote. Could this be because there clearly isn’t a majority in the House of Commons for it yet?

The Bryant Amendment (j)

This one, put forward by Labour MP Chris Bryant, is a bit of a curveball, but could prove hugely significant. It makes the argument that under the terms of Erskine May, the parliamentary rule book, governments should not bring forward the same motion again and again in the same parliamentary session. The amendment calls for Theresa May not to bring forward her Brexit deal for a third meaningful vote (now known in Whitehall as MV3).

Expectations are that May will try to bring MV3 before the House of Commons before the European Council, probably on Tuesday next week. If the Benn Amendment passes, taking over the parliamentary timetable on Wednesday, that would be her last chance before the Brussels summit.

The Labour Amendment (e)

The final amendment on the order paper is Labour’s frontbench amendment which simply asks for an extension as an opportunity to find a majority way forward. Voting on that will likely proceed along party lines and so it probably won’t pass.

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 for a complimentary trial.

Read this next: Donald Tusk floats long Brexit extension — for UK’s sake

Brexiteers were right on Tuesday to reject a deal that would leave Brussels in control

As the dust settles after another hugely important night in Westminster, there are some who have sadly sought to issue recriminations about those Brexit-supporting MPs – 75 Conservatives and the 10 DUP – who did not support the Withdrawal Agreement. I am one of those MPs, and I think it’s really important to make something […]

The post Brexiteers were right on Tuesday to reject a deal that would leave Brussels in control appeared first on BrexitCentral.

As the dust settles after another hugely important night in Westminster, there are some who have sadly sought to issue recriminations about those Brexit-supporting MPs – 75 Conservatives and the 10 DUP – who did not support the Withdrawal Agreement.

I am one of those MPs, and I think it’s really important to make something clear. The proposed Withdrawal Agreement that has twice been put before Parliament (and twice rejected by historic margins) is not merely a ‘bad deal’, it is simply not Brexit.

I don’t think many in Westminster are more passionate about delivering Brexit than I am. But Brexit meant one thing above all others: taking back control. The deal that was on offer to us on Tuesday – with its wholly unnecessary ‘Backstop’ – was not, even on the most generous reading, ‘taking back control’.

It would have handed Brussels 100% control of our trade and customs policy and precluded the UK’s right to sign trade deals with the rest of the world. Worse, when the EU signed a trade agreement with another country (for example, China), we would have been compelled to make all the concessions agreed to by the EU, but China would only have needed to offer its concessions to the EU 27, not to the UK. In other words, we would have become the EU’s expendable bargaining chip in negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Agreement would have stripped Northern Ireland of the ability to control and decide its own constitutional status – a right enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. Northern Ireland would have been treated separately to the rest of the UK, and become a rule-taker in areas such as goods, agricultural products and VAT. As confirmed by HMRC, this regulatory divergence would have required the introduction of paperwork for those who wanted to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. This went against express promises made by the Government that such a thing would never happen.

To top it all, the UK would have been unable to leave this humiliating state of affairs without the EU’s permission – a situation completely unprecedented in international law. Far from taking back control, the Agreement would have diminished our country to a state of unending ‘vassalage’. This was the bottom line of the Attorney General’s damning legal advice – an opinion echoed by many prominent international lawyers, including Professor Phillipe Sands, Martin Howe QC, and Lord Anderson QC.

It was surprising, therefore, to hear the accusation that those of us repudiating such an agreement were ‘risking losing Brexit altogether’, and will somehow be held responsible if the Government, Parliament and EU subsequently conspired to keep us in the EU.

We need to be crystal clear: the only people who would be responsible for ‘no Brexit’ would be those who vote to take no deal off the table, or to extend – for no good reason – Article 50. The vast-majority of Parliament voted to trigger Article 50 in full knowledge of its significance: that we would – in both domestic and international law – be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 with or without a deal. They also stood of manifestos reiterating the same promise.

If some individuals now regret those decisions, so be it – but they ought to look the electorate in the eye and admit that, rather than hunting around for Brexiteers onto whom to deflect the blame. As the final acts of this drama unfold, I will vote for a good deal, if one can be secured, for the Malthouse Compromise, if this can be delivered, and if needs be for leaving without a deal. But I will not let down my conscience, my constituents or my country by voting for a deal that doesn’t deliver Brexit at all.

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Theresa May: Why the Commons should vote for this improved Brexit deal today

We have secured legally-binding changes which address MPs’ concerns about the need to protect the UK from being stuck in the backstop against its will.

Theresa May is Prime Minister and is MP for Maidenhead.

When MPs pass through the lobbies of the House of Commons this evening, the fundamental choice they will face is whether or not to implement the decision of the British people who voted for Brexit.

I know that many ConservativeHome readers have had concerns about some of the detail of the agreement which was reached between the United Kingdom and the EU at the end of last year. But the deal that MPs will be voting on tonight is an improved Brexit deal containing crucial hard won changes.

Since the original deal was rejected in January, I have met MPs from all sides of the House. I have listened to their concerns – and I have taken those concerns to the EU, the biggest of which was that we may become trapped in the so-called backstop indefinitely. I have held more than 40 conversations with my fellow EU leaders on the telephone and in person. Along with the Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary, I have fought hard and explored every idea and avenue to secure the changes which Parliament requested.

Last night, following a face to face meeting with Jean Claude Juncker, I was able to announce that we have secured legally-binding changes which address MPs’ concerns about the need to protect the UK from being stuck in the backstop against its will.

First, there is now a legally-binding joint instrument — with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement – which will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. If they do, it can be challenged through arbitration and if they are found to be in breach the UK can ultimately suspend the backstop.

It also includes a legally binding commitment that both sides will work to have alternative arrangements in place to replace the backstop by December 2020, so that it never needs to be used. Furthermore, it confirms that whatever replaces the backstop doesn’t need to replicate it.

And it entrenches in legally-binding form the commitments made in the exchange of letters with Presidents Tusk and Juncker in January.

Second, alongside this new joint instrument, the United Kingdom Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop comes into use and it does not prove possible to negotiate a subsequent agreement, it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that could ultimately dis-apply the backstop.

Third, the UK and the EU have made a joint statement in relation to the Political Declaration.

It sets out a number of commitments to enhance and expedite the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship. This includes beginning the work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements immediately. There will be a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements from the very start of the next phase of negotiations. It will consider facilitations and technologies – both those currently ready and emerging.

The UK’s position will be informed by the three domestic groups announced last week – for technical experts, MPs, and business and trade unions. I would urge MPs now to study these changes in detail in advance of the Meaningful Vote.

Back the improved deal and we are out of the EU. We will take back control. We will regain control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. For the first time in decades, we will be in control of our borders – ending free movement. The days of making vast annual payments to the EU will be over.

We will be outside of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries policy — once again becoming an independent coastal state and bringing an end to the hardship inflicted upon our fishermen.

Crucially, we will have our own independent trade policy, outside of the Customs Union and able to sign ambitious deals with friends old and new.

Reject the deal, however, and we do not know what the consequences may be. We would face delay and spend months going over the same arguments again and again. We may leave without the protections for jobs and security which the deal provides. We may never leave at all.  None of those outcomes is attractive – and they run contrary to the message that I have heard time and again from people and businesses up and down the country that what they want is for MPs to get on with the job of delivering Brexit.

Now is the time to come together, bring an end to the uncertainty and get this deal done. Tonight, there is a chance to take a decisive step towards delivering on the result of the referendum and setting this country on course for a brighter future. I urge all my colleagues to take that step – and vote for this improved Brexit deal.

The Brexit experience shows we cannot blindly trust civil servant negotiators to deliver referendum pledges

There is a strand of thinking right now that Brexiteers should plump for May’s Deal regardless of whatever escape clause paperwork might yet come back in Geoffrey Cox’s suitcase. The premise carries a fundamental flaw. Let’s leave to one side the range of problems that are left in the Withdrawal Agreement even if the Irish/Northern […]

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There is a strand of thinking right now that Brexiteers should plump for May’s Deal regardless of whatever escape clause paperwork might yet come back in Geoffrey Cox’s suitcase. The premise carries a fundamental flaw.

Let’s leave to one side the range of problems that are left in the Withdrawal Agreement even if the Irish/Northern Irish backstop is fixed. The infamous £39 billion. The surrender of assets, except the stuff that’s radioactive. The complete loss of control over fisheries management, risking the prospect of a ‘final clear out sale’. The locking of the UK into the ECHR, despite previous Conservative pledges to develop human rights law domestically (as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada somehow manage to do).

Or for that matter, the worrying issue of the ‘Rioters’ Clause’, Article 18 of the backstop. This trip wire allows the Commission to suspend any part of the deal where the UK or Northern Ireland gain a competitive advantage. It also operates as the one area where the UK could unilaterally pull out of the backstop, but only if there is mass civil unrest – a fate which the clause itself correspondingly increases over time. Alarmingly, it remains off the general radar.

Let’s assume that we have resolved to abandon these issues and others beside, write them off and put faith in what may prove to be a legal post-it. What then? I would suggest we ought to pay more thought right now to the prospects of delivery. Without this, going for a WTO plus bilaterals, including the Contingency Measures that the Commission and individual member states have already signed up to, would make more sense.

At some point the UK will seek to move away from the backstop. The objective will be to seek a fresh trading arrangement, one that accommodates the EU’s genuine need to ensure that products enter the EU market that are compliant with EU rules – and, it should be added though it rarely is, applies conversely as well in the interests of the UK consumer. Let’s not forget after all that tasty Findus horse lasagne. But the incentive will be for the negotiators to deliver something convenient and easy, closer to the model of a customs and regulatory union applied to all of the UK rather than just to those exporting.

Frankly, the events of the last couple of years should demonstrate that Brexiteers cannot afford to put blind faith in their negotiators, current or potential. Even if the backstop is magically delivered, the delivery of a meaningful Brexit itself remains at high risk. One is left reflecting on whether, had the UK model and approach been copied in Riga and Tallinn in 1991, the Baltic States would today still be part of Russia.

It would be grossly unjust to sweepingly place everyone in the civil service on the same charge sheet. There are many inspiring, professional, bright, competent and visionary people amongst its ranks. But the toll of forty years of membership of the EU system has, inevitably, had an impact on the general systemic psychology of Whitehall. George Eustice’s resignation letter contained a notable statement that DEFRA “more than any other government department, has embraced the opportunities posed by our exit from the EU.” My own experience over the years has shown very mixed levels of open-mindedness towards EU matters across departments, with officials dealing with Fisheries indeed proving rather more keen to address core treaty failings than counterparts for instance in the Foreign Office (no doubt because they were the ones always left holding the wrong end of the policy toilet brush).

Caveats noted, one cannot though ignore the issue of core affiliation amongst top management. Tony Connelly, in his book Brexit and Ireland, recalled the first conflab of the leading civil servants of both countries after the referendum; “‘It’s fair to say that on the other side, most of the people in the room wouldn’t have been happy with the [Brexit] situation,’ recalls one Irish secretary general. ‘So there was a degree of remorse and regret on their side, and equally on our side.’” I can well believe it: I have a letter beside me from as far back as 1998, from an official in the European Union Department of the FCO stating that “we should not ignore or deny the benefits which the European Union brings and which are too often downplayed.”

The same discussion with the Irish “involved a lot of talk” about the UK potentially wanting to stay in the Customs Union. The detail should also alert us to the wider and perennial risk of what happens with civil servants left devoid of clear direction or firm grip: the prospect of dropping policy on ministers’ laps if they don’t work it out themselves. And sometimes even if they do: I recall one former minister at the Home Office telling of a particular policy that he had been presented with, which on asking around with predecessors turned out to be something they had binned but which mandarins had pushed quietly, and repeatedly, back on the agenda for their successors.

We might also consider the proven back history to policy drift involving two of the four negotiating pillars in play, on Justice and Home Affairs and on Defence. The ratio of the Danes using their opt outs in JHA compared to us runs to around 17:1, and they have even walked away from Europol while still EU members. By contrast, when the ECJ was given direct competence over JHA matters under the Stockholm Process, the UK Government signed straight back up to a third of the agreements despite open and vocal backbench Conservative opposition. Meanwhile, as Veterans for Britain has documented, MoD policy towards signing up to, signing off, or sidling away from EU Defence initiatives can only be described as haphazard and, one suspects, dependent on which minister is in the chair on the day. None of this bodes well for guaranteeing a robust and truly intergovernmental form of end deal.

I do not wish to exaggerate the extent to which our form of government is run as a Technocratic Synarchy; a number of political diaries over the years suggest this is determined by the character and resolution of a given minister. What this ought to alert us to, however, is the risk arising from running a process of negotiation around a Political Declaration that remains as ill-defined as Mr Messy, and which senior Commission negotiator Stefaan De Rynck recently acknowledged could deliver an end set of terms that ranged anywhere from an FTA to a combo Customs Union and Regulatory Union.

If one does accept the Transitional Agreement as the route, delivering a final deal that honours the Brexit vote will depend entirely on the quality of leadership and management operating within the Cabinet Office, and even then it runs at very great risk, because of the nature of the task that is being undertaken. One is taken back to the Westwell Report, that reflected upon the limits of the civil service in Margaret Thatcher’s day;

“The Civil Service is a much more formidable obstacle to national recovery than the trades unions. It is difficult for 90 Ministers and a handful of advisers to shape history, in the face of three or four thousand senior civil servants who see it as their job to defend the status quo”

Or again to Norman Straus’s Number 10 Policy Unit paper back in 1981, reflecting on the formation of the top echelons;

“Their lifetime in the Civil Service, and the qualities of obedience, caution, don’t make trouble, observe precedent, which got them to the top are the definitive disqualifications for being able to reform the systems and handle a period of turbulent national change.”

This is before we even get into the matter of delivering clearly enunciated policy that has been unanimously agreed. For an example, I invite you to reflect on the perfectly obscure yet enlightening example set out in Appendix L of the third volume of Churchill’s war memoirs. This relates over a couple of pages how an instruction reached at Cabinet level simply to deliver two tanks to Egypt went badly awry owing to a train of administrative circumstances, including a deceased brigadier, a dinner conversation, a distracted NCO, and an absence of grease. Churchill excuses the anecdote by saying, “I print these details to show how difficult it is to get things done even with much power, realised need, and willing helpers.”

No doubt due and wider balance will be restored across Whitehall simply with the passage of time, the advantage of hindsight, and the operation of fresh recruiting, training and promotions, though it will take some years to percolate into the cadre levitating into the Lords. But for the moment, our current administrative climate is not the best environment to be blindly entrusting people with delivering on referendum pledges. How much more so when you have a poorly-silhouetted exit door, and you aren’t even yet sure the key fits?

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I was told it straight in Brussels: the EU’s only alternative to the backstop is a customs union

Michel Barnier hinted at it on Friday night, but the Irish delegation told me straight in Brussels on Thursday: they will never agree a subsequent agreement or variation to the Withdrawal Agreement which replaces the backstop that is not a customs union. Whether that is for the whole UK, or Northern Ireland on its own […]

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Michel Barnier hinted at it on Friday night, but the Irish delegation told me straight in Brussels on Thursday: they will never agree a subsequent agreement or variation to the Withdrawal Agreement which replaces the backstop that is not a customs union. Whether that is for the whole UK, or Northern Ireland on its own with a full customs border in the Irish Sea, is up to us, according to Barnier. As Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous might have said: “Cheers. Thanks a lot”.

From our International Trade Select Committee meetings in Brussels last week, in particular with the UK and Irish delegations, a crystal clear picture emerged of where we are in the negotiations and what lies ahead if Parliament is so foolish as to approve the Government’s capitulation to the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement. It would absolutely not be taking back control of our money, borders and laws.

The only reason the EU would prefer the backstop to end is that it does not give them enough control. They want us to adopt all EU rules in social and employment law, for example, and to give them access to our fisheries – as well as placing our defence and security within the EU structures.

But no other agreement than a customs union will be granted to us by the EU, meaning they will also control our trading conditions and trading relations with third countries, both in terms of the levels of import tariffs we need to charge, which disadvantage our citizens and businesses, and access to other markets. And they could further encourage products for our market to be shipped through Rotterdam so that the EU either keeps the revenue from tariffs on our imports or gives third countries free access to UK markets without them having to offer it to us in return.

Moreover, the customs procedure required by the Withdrawal Agreement, for every single commercial consignment between Great Britain and the EU, and each one crossing a new internal border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland imposed under the backstop, was again admitted to be unworkable and needing to be changed because of its friction and inefficiency.

Not only does it create an obligation for antiquated “wet ink stamps” on physical certificates for 200 million consignments per annum to be provided and processed by UK customs officers and businesses, with much more cost and delay at and behind borders than the cheap and efficient normal electronic declaration procedures for customs; but it does not obviate the need for export and rule of origin declarations which proponents of a customs union wrongly think avoids them.

To cap it off, it was admitted that in order to make changes to this which the UK Government admits are necessary, the process that would have to be used would be a decision on any superseding law or regulation made by the Joint Committee, as established by the Withdrawal Agreement. Any change to these anti-trade measures would need – yes, you guessed it – the EU’s permission. That is in fact the permanent structure for our future relationship that is set up by the Withdrawal Agreement: a secretive decision-making body not subject to UK democratic scrutiny in which the EU has veto power and therefore full control.

I hesitate to use analogies when it comes to Brexit, as most are imperfect and inappropriate, but it seems to me that a decision to leave is not best implemented by giving power to a person who does not want you to leave, over conditions for your future interaction with them and others on a permanent basis. As we might advise someone in a somewhat coercive, controlling relationship, it is almost always best instead to make a clean break.

In this case we know that the groundwork has been put in place to manage a clean break in a way that is not damaging to either party. I am not someone who thinks the EU is a bad person, and this is evidence. A nine- to twelve-month transition has effectively been arranged by way of unilateral actions in respect of aviation, haulage permits, aerospace and vehicle certifications, agricultural product access, electricity interconnects, insurance recognition and a raft of other areas. And under the “Malthouse Compromise” proposals we would continue to offer constructive cooperation, money, citizens’ rights and zero tariff free trade. So there is in fact no such thing as “no deal” by not agreeing the dubious terms of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement.

There was a Commons majority for the Brady amendment requiring replacement of the backstop. The EU took offence that the Prime Minister whipped for it, perhaps realising that the terms she had been offered, some at her own ill-advised instigation, were unacceptable. But that is where the sustainable majority in the Commons is: for a normal, balanced relationship between parties who wish to be friends. So submissive and confused by the EU the Government may have been, that it failed to act on Parliament’s clear instruction to table Malthouse alternatives. However they are practical and available, not at all fanciful or futuristic (as some have tried to paint them) and do not “involve a significant number of derogations from EU law” as the Prime Minister perhaps mistakenly claimed.

Instead of this cycle of suspicion, aggression and talking past each other, the parties should seize the chance to talk about the practicalities in an informed and rational way so as to achieve a good negotiated agreement whether inside or outside the Article 50 notice period for leaving the EU. The “Malthouse Compromise” sets out a framework and coherent strategy to find mutual interest in which to get it done. We would be fools not to insist that this is the way forward rather than the inappropriate Withdrawal Agreement, which does not create a stable or satisfactory solution, notwithstanding that many have obviously put a lot of effort into trying to make that work, in both the UK and EU delegations.

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