May eyes progress on future relationship to sell Brexit deal

Changing leader won’t make negotiations easier, says embattled UK prime minister.

Theresa May said Sunday that she would seek further concessions from Brussels on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU after Brexit, but that she would not reopen talks on the controversial backstop arrangement.

Despite serious opposition from her party to the text setting out the U.K.’s departure from the EU and a series of government resignations last week, May stood behind the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement in an interview with Sky’s Ridge on Sunday show.

The interview is part of a government push to sell the deal to MPs and the country which has included a rare radio phone-in appearance by the prime minister Friday morning and soft interview with the Daily Mail about how she is dealing personally with the pressure.

In the Ridge interview, she emphasized that what is still up for negotiation is the future relationship between the EU and the U.K. beyond the Brexit transition period, a seven-page outline of which was published Wednesday.

“We won’t agree the leaving part until we’ve got what we want in the future relationship,” May said, revealing she planned to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels this week.

The prime minister could face a leadership challenge as early as next week.

“Getting that future relationship right is necessary. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” she said.

But while critics of her deal differ on what they view as an optimal future relationship with the EU, it is the backstop arrangement that is causing unease in her party as well as outright hostility. The backstop is intended as an insurance option that would kick in once the stand-still transition period comes to an end.

Under its provisions, the U.K. would remain in a Single Customs Territory with the EU, applying the bloc’s quota and tariff regime. Most controversially, the backstop can only be terminated if both sides agree — giving the EU an effective veto.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, May’s former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the prime minister should reopen negotiations on the withdrawal text rather than be “blackmailed and bullied,” raising particular concerns over the fact the U.K. is unable to withdraw from the backstop unilaterally.

Anti-Brexit campaigners in London | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

But May emphasized that the backstop was only an “insurance policy.”

“What we’re talking about is a backstop that we never intend to use, [and] it’s not the only option on the table,” she said.

“The backstop can only ever be temporary. Under the legal arrangements of the EU they cannot enter into a permanent relationship on the terms of this backstop,” she said.

“The thing that’s going to make a difference to people’s lives is the future relationship,” she said, adding: “It’s in the national interest to get that deal right.”

The prime minister could face a leadership challenge as early as next week amid widespread dissatisfaction in her party about the deal she presented to Cabinet Wednesday.

When asked if she knew whether enough Tory MPs had submitted a request to trigger a confidence vote in her leadership among Conservative party members, she said: “As far as I know, no.”

What I said was we couldn’t stop it because we don’t have the votes in parliament to do so” — Jeremy Corbyn

“A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations easier and it isn’t going to make the parliamentary arithmetic any easier,” she said, referring to the fact that the Conservative party doesn’t have a majority in the U.K. House of Commons.

May declined to describe how the government would respond if it loses the parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal, stating “we’re not at that point” yet.

However, she said she was determined to “deliver what people in the country voted for,” and criticized a lack of clarity from other political parties on their stance to the Brexit deal, stating that opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn “hasn’t even fully read it.”

Interviewed on the same program, Corbyn said the government should accept it would not win the backing of MPs for the deal and that it should go back to Brussels and negotiate to stay in a customs union with the EU.

Dominic Raab said the prime minister should reopen negotiations on the withdrawal text | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

“We’re saying now to the government you’ve haven’t got a majority in parliament for this. You don’t have majority support in the country. You have to go back and do something better,” he said.

Corbyn was also questioned on his stance on a second national vote on Brexit, having previously come under fire for saying in an interview with Der Spiegel that “Brexit can’t be stopped.”

He qualified that position by saying: “What I said was we couldn’t stop it because we don’t have the votes in parliament to do so.”

Asked if there should be a second referendum, he said, “I don’t think that’s an option we’re going to get given.” But pressed again he added, “I think it’s an option for the future but it’s not an option for today. If you had a referendum today what’s it going to be on? What’s the question going to be?”

He added that he didn’t know how he would vote in such a hypothetical referendum.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Withdrawal Agreement … has lots of flaws within it. But more fundamentally there is no clarity whatsoever about the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU. So the House of Commons is going to be asked to effectively endorse a blindfold Brexit.”


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ERG publish Your Right To Know – the case against the Government’s Brexit deal

Four days after the release of the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the European Research Group (ERG) of eurosceptic Conservative MPs today publishes a concise guide making the case against the putative deal. In Your Right to Know, the group – chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg – seeks to put […]

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Four days after the release of the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the European Research Group (ERG) of eurosceptic Conservative MPs today publishes a concise guide making the case against the putative deal.

In Your Right to Know, the group – chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg – seeks to put the case against what Theresa May has agreed with the EU in plain English – and BrexitCentral is exclusively publishing the full text of the 7-page document.

The publication identifies five key areas of concern over the draft Agreement:

  1. The UK would hand over £39 billion of taxpayers’ money with nothing guaranteed in return
  2. The UK would remain a ‘rule taker’ over large areas of EU law
  3. It would lock us in a Customs Union without the ability to leave
  4. It would creates internal borders within the UK, undermining the integrity of the Union
  5. The European Court of Justice would remain in control of the agreement and large areas of EU law directly effective in the UK

The ERG conclude:

“The combination of these measures means the United Kingdom will have not left the European Union but will instead be ‘half in and half out’. This will mean that we will become a ‘vassal state’ many of whose laws will have been created abroad and over which we have no influence. This is completely against the spirit of the 2017 referendum in which 17.4 million UK citizens voted to leave the European Union.”

You can read the document for yourself below or by clicking here to read it as a pdf.

Your-Right-to-Know

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Dominic Raab: Restart Brexit talks and say UK won’t be ‘bullied’

Former Brexit secretary says without changes to the deal, Britain should walk away with a ‘clean break.’

Britain should reopen Brexit negotiations with the EU and show that it will not be “blackmailed and bullied,” former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said today in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Raab delivered a devastating critique of Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiating strategy — one that, until he quit the post on Thursday, he had spent four months implementing.

The prime minister could face a leadership challenge as early as next week amid widespread dissatisfaction in her party about the deal she presented to Cabinet on Wednesday. Raab is a prime contender to stand, alongside fellow Brexiteer and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

“If we cannot close this deal on reasonable terms we need to be very honest with the country that we will not be bribed and blackmailed or bullied and we will walk away,” said Raab. “I think there is one thing that is missing and that is political will and resolve. I am not sure that message has ever landed.”

“I don’t think we should look like we’re afraid of our own shadow. We need to be going out there and grasping opportunities,” he said.

He said the final straw was hearing news that the EU intended the backstop customs arrangement, which was negotiated to prevent the need for a border in Northern Ireland, to form the basis of the U.K.’s eventual economic relationship with the bloc. POLITICO was first to report that Tuesday night.

Asked if someone on the U.K. side had prevented him from knowing earlier he said, “Yep.” When asked who, he said: “I don’t know. I’ve asked how this change was made and who licensed it and there’s not been a clear answer.”

Raab says London should go back to the negotiating table and demand the U.K. is given a mechanism for withdrawing from the backstop unilaterally. Under the current deal both sides must agree, giving Brussels an effective veto.

If the other side refuse to renegotiate, Raab says Britain should walk away with a “clean break.” At that point he advocates publishing plans to cut taxes and stimulate the economy.

“This isn’t Dunkirk. The short-term risks of disruption can be managed,” he said, referring to the rushed evacuation of British servicemen from wartime France in 1940. “They can’t be eliminated. We need to be honest about that. But far better that than to allow a pretty controlling and manipulative relationship with the EU to become abusive.”

Raab came under fire this month for saying he “hadn’t quite understood” the U.K. reliance on the Dover-Calais trade route.

Raab suggested to the Sunday Times that without the backstop terms, the deal would be acceptable to Brexiteers. “The frustrating thing is we got close to a deal which would have been acceptable,” he says. “It’s clear that we cannot now exit the backstop without the EU exercising a veto and that could be years and years down the line. It’s the worst of all worlds.”


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Brexit, the Irish border and deceitful politics in Dublin and Brussels

Neutrality towards the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan to lock the UK into an EU customs union is crumbling. Two Cabinet ministers have resigned, with other senior and junior resignations coming in. Already Chequers, the ‘half in, half out’ scheme, had provoked the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, with voters polling two to one against the […]

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Neutrality towards the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan to lock the UK into an EU customs union is crumbling. Two Cabinet ministers have resigned, with other senior and junior resignations coming in. Already Chequers, the ‘half in, half out’ scheme, had provoked the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, with voters polling two to one against the plan and many MPs opposing it.

But this week’s formal 585-page draft deal goes further. The UK would have no say over many of the laws under which it is governed. It would also be locked into a customs union (‘single customs territory’) with the EU under the Single Market rule book, potentially forever. With no legally binding exit day, no means agreed to end the backstop written into the treaty, Britain, as Ireland’s Sunday Business Post claimed last weekend, is in reality ‘on track to stay in the customs union forever because it will not be able to achieve a better deal with the EU’.

Although it is alleged that only such a route would preserve a soft Irish border, the claim is no more than a pretext, a political fraud in which the leaders of both Ireland and the UK have been complicit with the EU. In fact, the EU has made clear from the start that reducing the UK and its economy to the EU’s ‘level playing field’ and so to subservience is the long-term aim.

The Prime Minister came to accept the long-term advice of her chief negotiators that economic ‘alignment’ with the EU and remaining in a quasi-customs union was a must. EU demands to uphold the soft Irish border have turned out to be a very useful whitewash for the breach of promises involved in accepting such an arrangement. Now that the political battle is to the fore, such deceit should be revealed for what it is. Whether there is or is not to be a deal, no one believes with any seriousness that there can be a return to a hard border in Ireland when Britain leaves the EU.

Not only has the UK made clear it will not instigate one, but international trade has moved on to technological borders, advocated not only by the WTO but by the EU, and proposed by the UK for the Irish border as far back as 2017. In fact the militarised 1970s borders, the barbed wired, sentry posts, police checks and shootings have been consigned to the films of the Soviet era – or the footage of the 20th century Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Militant IRA, of which Sinn Fein was the political arm in those days, used bombs, booby traps and bullets in guerrilla warfare to reach the goal of an ‘all Ireland’ republic, while equally militant Loyalists took to the gun to prevent it. Then the state and its police force were thought by many moderate nationalists to be a vehicle of repression. Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement followed, as did the outbreaks of violence and repression and over time the negotiation, ‘agreements’, stalled talks with interventions from both UK and Dublin governments.

The 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, which recognised Northern Ireland’s status could only change by the ballot box, proposed a power sharing executive, to which nine years later the Reverend Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, the two totemic symbols of orange and green militancy and the apartheid of their communities, signed up. By then, Paisley’s DUP and Adams’ Sinn Fein were the biggest parties in the elected Assembly.

Adams agreed to end the military ‘campaign’ in 2005, calling instead for peaceful means to establish Ireland’s unity and calling on the IRA to dump arms. He sealed the deal by camping his Sinn Fein tanks on the lawns of Dublin’s parliament, Dail Eireann, to which he was elected in 2011. Having positioned Sinn Fein to be ‘the only All Ireland Party’ and a socialist republican anti-imperialist party, it now has 23 seats in the Irish Dail to (the nationalist) Fianna Fail’s 44, while Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael won 50 seats.

Sinn Fein therefore is a potential rival in the political battle being played out with Brussels to win Ireland’s voters. Fine Gael aims at the elites and metropolitan classes and younger voters with their unquestioning europhile sentiment. Sinn Fein aims at the anti-establishment and those left behind in Varadkar’s new Ireland in rural or inner-city Fianna Fail and Labour strongholds.

Varadkar, modernising and europhile, is pitched against Adams’ successor Mary Lou McDonald, a radical, republican former MEP. Both are ready to play whatever it takes to win on EU terms, even if in the process they destroy their country’s close economic, social and historical ties to the UK.

Instead of falling in with the ploys of Brussels to manacle the UK economy and prevent a true Brexit, Britain’s leaders should respect their own voters. In that way they will also help the stability of their neighbouring island, the victim of a misleading EU campaign accommodated by Dublin’s warring leaders.

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Stephen Barclay appointed new UK Brexit secretary

He replaces Dominic Raab, who quit Thursday.

LONDON — Stephen Barclay has been appointed Brexit secretary, the U.K. government announced Friday.

The former health minister replaces Dominic Raab, who quit Thursday in opposition to Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal.


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Amber Rudd returns to UK Cabinet as work and pensions secretary

Former home secretary replaces Esther McVey, who quit over Brexit deal.

LONDON — Amber Rudd was appointed as the U.K. government’s work and pensions secretary on Friday, the BBC reported.

Downing Street wouldn’t confirm Rudd’s appointment.

She returns to Theresa May’s Cabinet after being forced to resign as home secretary in April. Rudd admitted she had “inadvertently misled” MPs over targets for removing illegal immigrants.

Rudd, a prominent Remain campaigner in the Brexit referendum of 2016, is a close ally of the prime minister.

She replaces Esther McVey, who resigned Thursday in protest at May’s Brexit deal.


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PM May refuses to say DUP will back her Brexit deal in parliament

Theresa May held her nerve in a half-hour radio phone-in with the British public.

Prime Minister Theresa May refused to confirm whether her Northern Ireland backers, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), will vote for the draft Brexit deal she is due to bring to parliament next month.

The DUP’s 10 MPs prop up the minority Conservative government in the House of Commons, but the party’s leader Arlene Foster has dismissed May’s Brexit draft as a “capitulation.”

“Well, we will see how every member of parliament is going to vote,” May said on LBC radio, when asked if the DUP would back her. “When this vote comes back every individual member of parliament will decide how they vote.”

During a 30-minute phone-in show, May also dodged the question of whether Tory MPs would be given a free vote on the deal, rather than being whipped into backing it, and she declined to comment on whether Cabinet Brexiter Michael Gove had been offered, and turned down, the vacant Brexit secretary role.

“He’s been doing a great job,” May said.

The prime minister — who faces a seemingly monumental challenge to get her deal through parliament, with Labour, the DUP, Liberal Democrats and numbers of both Remainers and Brexiters in her own party likely to reject it — remained resolute on the phone-in, where some callers accused her of failure and said she should stand down.

The final caller compared May to former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in having “appeased that foreign [EU] power,” but May reaffirmed that her deal was the best option for the country and there were areas in the negotiations where the EU had “given in to us” after the U.K. “held out.”

When quizzed about the controversial Irish backstop arrangement, however, May conceded: “I have some of those concerns myself.”

Ellen, a British woman living in Spain, called in to ask what would happen to U.K. citizens in the EU if May’s deal failed. May said she “would expect” EU countries to protect the rights of British citizens abroad just as she said EU citizens’ rights would be protected in the U.K.

Julie, who said she is disabled, called to ask for assurances that she would still be able to get the medicine she needs if the U.K. crashes out of the EU with no deal. May replied that the government was “looking at the relationship we have with the European Medicines Agency,” and went on to say that this is a “personal” issue for her, too, as she relies on insulin produced in Denmark to manage her type-1 diabetes.


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Rolls Royce to continue stockpiling parts for no-deal Brexit

‘I do have to be able to guarantee that we can continue doing our business’ after Brexit, CEO Warren East says.

Rolls Royce will push ahead with its contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit despite the draft withdrawal deal agreed by U.K. and EU negotiators Wednesday being a “step in the right direction,” the company’s chief said Friday.

“Any deal is better than no deal, giving us a framework for how we’re going to work in the future,” Rolls Royce CEO Warren East told BBC radio’s Today Program this morning.

But there’s still “a lot of water to run under the bridge,” East said, so his company will continue stockpiling parts as “this agreement is only a draft.”

East added: “I do have to be able to guarantee that we can continue doing our business after the 29th of March next year.”


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4 steps to UK’s Brexit future

Theresa May’s draft deal sets out the steps to a future UK-EU relationship

It may not feel like it after a bruising few days, but Theresa May is one step closer to a Brexit deal. However, there’s still a long way to go before she can run through a field of wheat in celebration.

Here’s the path to the U.K.’s eventual future relationship with the EU in (a maximum of) 4 stages.

What’s next in Britain’s Brexit drama

Three scenarios for the unpredictable days ahead in London.

LONDON — What a #(%(&@ mess — and no easy way out of it. 

That’s one indisputable conclusion to draw about British politics after a day like Thursday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who won support for her exit the EU from Brussels a day before, saw multiple resignations her top team and an imminent challenge to her leadership with a very public attack from leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg and a vocal string of his supporters.

For all the uncertainty about the future outlook, the scenarios for the coming weeks are easier to sketch out, if not to predict. Here they are in particular order:

1. May clings on

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

Brexiteers have long threatened to challenge May. Now that she has put a draft deal on the table, they have come out of hiding.

Should the hardliners fail to round up the 48 letters needed under Conservative party rules to trigger a vote of no confidence, it’d be a huge embarrassment to the Brexiteer cause, undermining their claims of having the support of 80 MPs in parliament. While there is no time limit dictating when the letters need to be submitted, in reality Brexiteers probably only have a few days capitalize on the crisis caused by May’s draft plan.

If the challenge fails to materialize, that would be a major boost for the prime minister and her whips who are clinging to the hope that the threat of an impending crisis will force MPs to back her divorce agreement with Brussels for Britain to sign up to it.

A failure to trigger a leadership contest does not, however, prevent a parliamentary showdown for May — it delays it. One way or another, the prime minister needs a majority in the House of Commons to back her deal with Brussels before she can formally commit to it in Brussels.

2. May wins the backing of her party

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

Under Tory rules, May could not be challenged for a year after winning a vote of no confidence. The magic number she needs to survive is 159 — 50 percent of the party’s MPs, plus one.

While many Tory MPs argue in private that her position would be untenable should more than 100 MPs vote to remove her as leader, she would be under no formal obligation to step aside. Asked at Thursday’s press conference whether she would fight on even if she won by just one vote she said: “Am I going to see this through? Yes.”

For the prime minister, however, simply staying prime minister only solves part of her problem. Unless there’s a dramatic change in the political mood, she still doesn’t have the numbers to force her deal through parliament.

Privately, some ministers and Tory aides believe May could survive MPs voting down her deal, by sitting tight, allowing market turbulence and the prospect of a cliff-edge Brexit to focus minds to allow her to pass the deal on the second — or third, or fourth — attempt.

This path is fraught with danger, however. While there is a majority in the House of Commons opposed to the prime minister’s plan, she risks a second, but much more serious, motion of no confidence being tabled against her — this time against the government as a whole.

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

As long as Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party remains fiercely opposed to the prime minister’s agreement, the government no longer has a working majority in parliament and is at risk of losing such a vote of no confidence.

If the House of Commons declares it has no confidence in the government, other party leaders have 14 days to try to form a new administration. If that does not succeed, a general election must be held six weeks later. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn will fancy his chances but without an election he also lacks the numbers for an outright majority.

3. May loses backing of her party

Pool photo by Matt Dunham via Getty Images

If May loses a confidence vote on her leadership among her own MPs, a Conservative leadership contest follows.

Under the usual procedure, candidates require two MPs to back them (one a proposer, the other a seconder). If more than two candidates throw their hats into the ring, the field is whittled down by secret ballots of Conservative MPs held on Tuesdays and Thursdays until only two candidates remain. The wider party membership then votes after a campaign period which usually lasts a few weeks.

Because there are barely more than four months until the U.K.’s legal departure date, it is likely that either the Tory party would need to fast-track the process, or the government would need to request an extension to Brexit negotiations. It’s probably easier to bend Conservative party rules than it is to get a unanimous decision from the EU27 on an extension, so the former scenario seems more likely.

Tory MPs could agree, as they have done in the past, to unite behind a single candidate, obviating the need for a contest. But given the deep divisions in the parliamentary party, it’s hard to see who would command confidence as a unity candidate.

If no-deal looked likely (or was even favored by a new administration), the U.K. and EU would almost certainly try to agree several “mini-deals” to protect vital services.

Assuming the U.K. has a new Conservative leader and new prime minister within a few weeks, it would then be up to them how to proceed with Brussels.

Dominic Raab, the departing Brexit Secretary and certainly one leadership contender, told Sky News on Thursday he would want to see a renegotiation of the Northern Ireland backstop — the aspect of the deal he resigned over.

Tory leadership contests are unpredictable (in 2016 everyone thought Boris Johnson would win and in the end he didn’t even stand). But it’s probable the new prime minister would be more of a Brexit true-believer than Theresa May, given the Euroskeptic tendencies of the Conservative membership who make the final call.

But whether such a figure — be it Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Raab, or any other potential candidate — would have any chance of wrestling a meaningfully different deal out of Brussels looks doubtful. The EU has shown little appetite to shift red lines.

That would bring a no-deal Brexit back into play.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street

If no-deal looked likely (or was even favored by a new administration), the U.K. and EU would almost certainly try to agree several “mini-deals” to protect vital services like air travel over each other’s territory.

But such is the resistance to the idea of no-deal among most British MPs, that in this scenario, there would be a risk, as is the case if May manages to cling on, that the new prime minister would face a vote of no confidence by an alliance of opposition parties and pro-EU Conservative MPs, who would only need to muster a handful of votes to tip the balance and topple the government. Then we could be in general election territory.

Any prime minister is also under a legal obligation (under the EU Withdrawal Act) to lay a motion before MPs informing them that they plan to pursue a “no deal” Brexit. Right now, there is no chance a majority of MPs would back this.