Henry Newman: Bercow has demonstrated he will do anything to frustrate Brexit. So it’s time for MPs to smell the coffee.

Critics of the deal need to compromise and accept the actual choices on offer. Refusal to do so risks an outcome far worse, or no Brexit at all.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

At a time when all politics is in flux, and it sometimes seems that literally anything could happen, there are still some certainties. One is that the personal vanity of the Speaker knows few bounds. Yesterday he demonstrated this.

In a statement, John Bercow raised the pressure on the Government and suggested that he would use his own judgement to determine whether Theresa May’s Brexit deal could be put a third time to Parliament or not. He drew on a rule in Erskine May – the House of Commons procedure manual – which says that a motion cannot be repeatedly introduced if it has previously been rejected by MPs.

Bercow was skewered by Mark Francois who pointed out that the rule also applies to amendments, and so, according to the same logic, the Speaker ought not to allow further divisions on a second referendum (which has previously been voted down by the Commons), nor indeed on a customs union, the Single Market and so on. Francois is correct. Erskine May actually reads: “a motion or amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during the same session may not be brought forward again during the same session”.

But substance isn’t really the issue here. Bercow has huge prerogative powers. He can apply these powers inconsistently and there’s little anyone can do. His intention is to put himself front of centre of the national (and international) Brexit drama, even if it means turning a political crisis into a constitutional crisis. Incredibly, the Speaker’s intervention was celebrated by some Eurosceptics.

Brexiteer MPs need to wake up and smell the coffee. The options have fundamentally narrowed. As I have warned before, the Speaker is no ally of Brexit, let alone a hard Brexit or a No Deal. He is willing to do whatever is necessary – either bending procedure and convention, or sticking rigorously to it – so as to frustrate the Government’s attempt to deliver Brexit. This matters because in a hung Parliament the Speaker takes on huge powers. The Government has almost no working majority. Its ability to deliver any decent Brexit is profoundly at risk.

And yet there are far too many Conservative MPs who still don’t seem to recognise that May’s Brexit deal is the hardest Brexit now on offer. The danger with these MPs continuing to withhold their support, is that they will ensure we either lose Brexit altogether or more likely end up with a far softer form of it.

If you don’t like the regulatory alignment of the backstop, just wait till you see what wide-ranging alignment the Single Market or a so-called Common Market 2.0 would mean (as well as little ability to control free movement). If you think we might get stuck in a customs union via the backstop, I’d disagree with you, but suggest you imagine what it would mean to have a permanent customs union amended on top of the deal. Surely, it’s better to have a path out a customs union however uncertain rather than no path out?

In two days time Theresa May will go to Brussels to beg the EU to grant an extension to Article 50. This is a profound national humiliation and an abject failure of her Brexit plan. Many sides of the Conservative Party share blame here – the Government for its lamentable Brexit strategy, Remain-minded ministers who abstained on key votes, and backbench Brexiteer MPs who refuse to accept any reasonable compromise, even as options shift.

Boris Johnson’s suggestion that the Prime Minister should use the European Council meeting to secure further changes to the backstop is fanciful. The ERG argument has long been that No Deal had to be kept on the table so as to secure further concessions. If you accept that, then you should also accept that according to that reasoning, now that Parliament has taken No Deal off the table, the EU will be unlikely to concede further.

Some Eurosceptics seem convinced that we will leave anyway on 29th March because that’s the current law. Unfortunately, that won’t be true if the Prime Minister agrees an extension in Brussels. At that point our international law position will be that we will still be members of the EU. Anyway, it seems likely that a majority would be easily found to approve a statutory instrument to change the exit date – it would not be debated or capable of being amended.

Other Eurosceptics see a long extension as a possible path to No Deal. This is far-fetched. What is far more likely is that Parliament will impose a softer Brexit than the Prime Minister’s deal over the next few days or weeks. That would be a much worse outcome.

An extension may offer a route to a snap election. But that would mean May leading the party into another contest on a manifesto centred on her deal – surely the very thing her critics would abhor. She would either win, in which case it would be her deal. Or she could lose – in which case losing Brexit would be the least of our worries.

One senior backbench Eurosceptic seems to believe that in a future leadership contest any deal would be cast aside. According to this argument, it doesn’t matter if the Commons agrees Norway Plus – a future leader will reject it. But if you believe that a deal can be ditched after it’s signed, then why not sign the current deal which is obviously a better deal than Norway Plus (and if you got stuck in the backstop you could then junk it then)? The only answer is ambition.

Over the last few days, more and more erstwhile critics are coming around to the deal. ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace writes that we have reached the point where MPs should vote for it. We have also seen Lord Trimble and Lord Bew arguing that the changes secured at Strasbourg have provided them with sufficient reassurance to now back the deal – for more on that, see a piece by Professor Guglielmo Verdirame QC on the Vienna Convention and the backstop. Former Party leader Lord Howard has endorsed the deal, while Lord Lamont said that “to assert as some Eurosceptics do that it is preferable to remain in the EU than to accept Mrs May’s deal is absurd”.

There’s precious little time left. Critics of the deal need to compromise and accept the actual choices on offer now. They may not agree with me that the deal is better than many are willing to admit, but they ought to see that it’s far preferable to either a permanent customs union or a Common Market 2.0 (as Norway Plus has been re-branded). It’s also worth going back again to the substance of the actual detail. Too often critics seem not to recognise that even in a worst-case scenario, the backstop, we would be free of EU regulations in most areas and under no obligation to agree new EU rules on goods and agriculture anywhere in the UK. We also now know that the EU cannot use the backstop as a ‘trap’ to force us to make further concessions.

If the DUP move to back the deal then Conservative critics of it, on both sides of the argument, Leave and Remain, should accept the need for compromise for the sake of the country, as well as the Conservative Party. If there’s clear support in the Commons, May should be able to reintroduce her deal one further time, probably after this week’s European Council. MPs will have one more chance to deliver Brexit. If they don’t take it, Bercow will try to ensure that there may not be another.

This Parliamentary farce reveals how much our political class has been infantilised

I expected a Leave victory to be a profound shock and challenge to politicians. They have struggled to adapt even more than I anticipated.

I expected a Leave victory to come as a severe shock, and a fundamental psychological as well as political challenge, to many people in Westminster. The prospect of millions of voters bluntly intruding on an echo chamber, to overturn what some had assumed to be a permanent consensus so obviously correct that it was mad to even question it, was never going to be easy.

So I never thought that accepting the outcome, adapting to it, implementing it and then moving beyond it would be simple or brief, particularly for the MPs who would have to actually put it into practice. It would produce grief, and rage, and at worst those emotions would be made flesh in abuse targeted at voters and attempts to obstruct Brexit. Even at best, we would still have to go through a discomforting period in which we discovered the degree to which the Parliamentary establishment had been infantilised by years of giving away Westminster’s powers.

Even I did not anticipate the severity of the problems which a Leave vote would expose, however. Just look at the state Parliament is in.

A Speaker who ignores the conventions of the House when it suits him, then refuses arbitrarily to table amendments he dislikes. Ministers who disobey three-line whips, but expect to retain office. A Secretary of State summing up in favour of a motion, then voting against it. A Prime Minister who promises the House and the nation something more than 50 times then proposes the opposite. A Commons that votes to trigger a timed and definite Article 50 process, then spends much of the period in question bemoaning the possibility of its own decision coming to pass. A House of Lords which disregards its constitutional limits to prioritise its own desires. Politicians who vote to hold a referendum, then pledge to honour its outcome, only to campaign ardently to run it all again – and who then won’t vote to do so when their own proposal comes before the Commons. The term “meaningful vote” being coined, then applied to votes which can be – and are – ignored and run repeatedly.

And that’s just the last few weeks. The wider picture of Parliamentary politics is little better. The Government’s mishandling of the EU negotiations, the Opposition’s endlessly shifting view of what it supposedly wants to happen, radical independents striking out for more democracy while refusing to hold by-elections, Eurosceptics blundering from one strategic mis-step to another…

All the while, the citizens who combined to deliver the biggest vote for anything in our nation’s history are left wondering why it is so hard simply to keep a promise.

They might, as some have suggested, take their votes elsewhere, potentially even to troubling and extreme opportunists, but the real tragedy is that many may simply give up voting. It breaks my heart to think of the people on whose doors I knocked, who told me there was no point voting – that politicians would never listen, and would never allow the electorate to get what they wanted rather than what MPs believed they needed. I argued that voting counted in our country, that if enough people voted then Westminster would have to listen. And yet now, years later, many MPs are still doing their level best to avoid doing so, and others who at least want to keep their promises are nonetheless failing to get the job done.

The more desperately politicians thrash and kick, and twist and bend, in the desperate hope of getting what they want, and damn honour, voters or consequences, the more harm they do to the fabric and reputation of our democracy. Some cannot see that, which is bad enough, but some surely can and do not care, which is far worse.

The continuity Remain response to this, of course, is that we should cancel Brexit. That due to the damage threatened by their insistence that they must get what they want at all costs, they should…get what they want. How much easier, they argue, to simply creep back under the EU’s wing, where all these troubling questions and shameful shortfalls would never have to be considered again.

That isn’t a serious or viable answer. Ignoring problems does not make them go away, it simply allows them to fester out of sight. Anyone who saw the rise of anti-politics in the decade preceding the referendum, and then the outcome of the referendum result itself, should realise that stripping Westminster of responsibilities has deepened rather than banished popular dissatisfaction with sub-par Members of Parliament. The more you treat people – MPs included – like children, the more they will act childishly..

The Leave vote was the first true increase in responsibility for British Parliamentarians in at least 40 years. It has proved to be a bigger shock to their system than many people expected, and many of our politicians – and the structures around them – have struggled to adapt to it. I suspect that few people, beyond perhaps Dominic Cummings, had realised how far things had declined.

None of this amounts to a case against democratic self-government. If anything, it shows the consequences of releasing a political class from many of the demands and challenges of proper responsibility and accountability. If you started a diet and a workout regime, but found out you weighed more and were more out of shape than you had thought, that wouldn’t be a reason to give up – it would be a reason to knuckle down and work harder. If our politics is struggling to adapt, we must find out why, and set it right.

The 24 Labour MPs who voted for a second referendum – and the 17 who voted against.

The Opposition, which instructed its MPs to abstain, split three ways on the question.

It’s a double-split again for Labour on the second referendum amendment today, with a total of 41 MPs rebelling against the instruction to abstain: 24 for the amendment and 17 against. One MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, registered an abstention by voting in both lobbies.

Here are those who voted for a second referendum:

  • Tonia Antoniazzi
  • Ann Clwyd
  • Neil Coyle
  • Stella Creasy
  • Janet Daby
  • Geraint Davies
  • Rosie Duffield
  • Paul Farrelly
  • John Grogan
  • Meg Hillier

 

  • Ged Killen
  • David Lammy
  • Siobhain McDonagh
  • Anna McMorrin
  • Ian Murray
  • Albert Owen
  • Tulip Siddiq
  • Owen Smith
  • Alex Sobel
  • Jo Stevens

 

  • Gareth Thomas
  • Catherine West
  • Martin Whitfield
  • Daniel Zeichner

And here are the 17 who voted against a second referendum:

 

  • Kevin Barron
  • Ronnie Campbell
  • Rosie Cooper
  • Caroline Flint
  • Yvonne Fovargue
  • Kate Hoey
  • Helen Jones
  • Kevan Jones
  • Emma Lewell-Buck
  • Justin Madders

 

  • John Mann
  • Stephanie Peacock
  • Ruth Smeeth
  • Gareth Snell
  • John Spellar
  • Graham Stringer
  • Derek Twigg

We have a Commons vote on a second referendum. It goes down in flames by 334 – 85.

No wonder: there’s fundamental division among the move’s backers at having today’s vote at all. Labour abstains.

Trouble and strife among Second Referendum supporters today.

Labour MPs are divided about the party’s newish pro-second poll policy.

The campaign’s backers knew they’d lose heavily.

So they wanted the Independent Group and the Liberal Democrats and others not to move their pro-Second Referendum amendment…

…which that alliance duly did.  They have no stake in anything that might help Labour out.

Hence the crushing majority against a Second Referendum.

But we get into extension, the campaign will surely be back in greater numbers.

 

The eight amendments tabled ahead of tonight’s debate on extending Article 50

There’s a Conservative/Labour/Democratic Unionist push to rule out a second referendum and Benn leads the charge for Cooper/Letwin.

Taken from today’s Order Paper.

The motion

That this House:

(1) notes the resolutions of the House of 12 and 13 March, and accordingly agrees that the Government will seek to agree with the European Union an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3);

(2) agrees that, if the House has passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1) (b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 20 March 2019, then the Government will seek to agree with the European Union a one-off extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) for a period ending on 30 June 2019 for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation; and

(3) notes that, if the House has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 20 March 2019, then it is highly likely that the European Council at its meeting the following day would require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length, and that any extension beyond 30 June 2019 would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.

Amendment (a): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “notes that the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons all voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister’s deal; recognises that the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament voted convincingly in favour of a People’s Vote; further notes that this House rejected the UK’s leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a future relationship framework; and therefore calls on the
Government to honour the respective will of each Parliament by seeking to extend the time under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union until 2021, or until the future relationship has been negotiated, and by holding a binding referendum at the end of that period on either accepting the Withdrawal Agreement or retaining membership of the European Union.”.

  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Liz Saville Roberts
  • Hywel Williams
  • Ben Lake

Amendment (c): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “calls on the Government to bring forward urgently the legislation necessary to require the Prime Minister to revoke before 29 March 2019 the UK’s notice of intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.”.

  • Angus Brendan MacNeil
  • Mr Kenneth Clarke
  • Keith Vaz
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Pete Wishart
  • Drew Hendry

Other signatories:

  • Labour: Geraint Davies; Anne McMorrin; Jo Stevens; Catherine West; Barry Sheerman; Ged Killen; Martin Whitfield; and Hugh Gaffney.
  • Scottish National Party: Douglas Chapman; Patricia Gibson; Hannah Bardell; Stuart C McDonald; Stewart Malcolm McDonald; Gavin Newlands; Chris Stephens; Carol Monaghan, Stewart Hosie; Dr Philippa Whitford; Joanna Cherry; Martyn Day; John McNally; Ronnie Cowan; Martin Docherty-Hughes; and Chris Law
  • Plaid Cymru: Ben Lake; Hywel Williams; Liz Saville Roberts

Amendment (d): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “calls on the Government to negotiate an extension to Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union of sufficient length so as to facilitate a referendum on whether to exit the European Union under the terms of the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement or to stay in membership of the European Union and all necessary associated measures.”.

  • Tom Brake
  • Sir Vince Cable
  • Jo Swinson
  • Mr Alistair Carmichael
  • Wera Hobhouse
  • Sir Edward Davey

Other signatories:

  • Liberal Democrat: Tim Farron; Christine Jardine; Norman Lamb; Layla Moran; and Jamie Stone.

Amendment (f): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add, “calls on the Government to agree with the European Council an extension to the negotiating period under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to provide time for a public vote on the UK’s relationship with the EU including the option to remain; believes that throughout an extension period the option for this House to unilaterally revoke notice to withdraw under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union must remain on the table; recognises the resolutions of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly on 5 March 2019 to oppose the UK Government’s exit deal and agree that a no deal outcome to the current negotiations on EU withdrawal would be completely unacceptable on 29 March 2019, or at any time; believes Scotland must not be taken out of the European Union against its will, and that this can best be avoided by the people of Scotland exercising their sovereign right to choose their own constitutional future as a full, equal, sovereign, independent Member State of the European Union.”.

  • Ian Blackford
  • Kirsty Blackman
  • Liz Saville Roberts
  • Peter Grant
  • Stephen Gethins
  • Patrick Grady

Other signatories:

  • Scottish National Party: Stewart Hosie; Pete Wishart; Angus Brendan MacNeil; Deidre Brock; Alan Brown; Stewart Malcolm McDonald; Mhairi Black; Dr Lisa Cameron; Martyn Day; Marion Fellows; Patricia Gibson; Chris Law; Carol Monaghan; Gavin Newlands; Joanna Cherry; Tommy Sheppard; Martin Docherty-Hughes; Douglas Chapman; Drew Hendry; Brendan O’Hara; Angela Crawley; Stuart C McDonald; John McNally; Ronnoe Cowan; Alison Thewliss; Neil Gray; Hannah Bardell; Chris Stephens; Dr Philippa Whitford; and David Linden.
  • Plaid Cymru: Hywel Williams; Jonathan Edwards; and Ben Lake.

Amendment (h): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “instructs the Prime Minister to request an extension to the Article 50 period at the European Council in March 2019 sufficient for the purposes of legislating for and conducting a public vote in which the people of the United Kingdom may give their consent for either leaving the European Union on terms to be determined by Parliament or retaining the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.”.

  • Dr Sarah Wollaston
  • Dr Philippa Whitford
  • Joanna Cherry
  • Tom Brake
  • Neil Coyle
  • Liz Saville Roberts

Other signatories:

  • Labour: Geraint Davies;
  • Liberal Democrat: Sir Vince Cable; Mr Alistair Carmichael; Sir Edward Davey; Tim Farron; Wera Hobhouse; Christine Jardine; Norman Lamb; Layla Moran; Jamie Stone; and Jo Swinson.
  • The Independent Group: Mr Chris Leslie; Anna Soubry; Mike Gapes; Heidi Allen; Luciana Berger; Ann Coffey; Joan Ryan; Angela Smith; Mr Gavin Shuker; and Chuka Umunna.
  • Plaid Cymru: Jonathan Edwards; Ben Lake; Hywel Williams.

Amendment (g): Line 2, leave out from “13 March” to end and add “and therefore instructs the Government to seek to agree with the European Union an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) to 22 May 2019 for the specific purpose of replacing the UK negotiating team.”.

  • Christopher Chope

Amendment (e): Leave out paragraphs (2) and (3) and add: “(2) notes that this House has decisively rejected the Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship laid before the House and the proposition that the UK should leave the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship; and (3) therefore instructs the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50 in order to avoid exiting the EU on 29 March without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship; and to provide parliamentary time for this House to find a majority for a different approach.”.

  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Keir Starmer
  • Emily Thornberry
  • John McDonnell
  • Valerie Vaz
  • Mr Nicholas Brown

Amendment (b): At end, add “(4) believes that the result of the 2016 EU referendum should be respected and that a second EU referendum would be divisive and expensive, and therefore should not take place.”.

  • Lee Rowley
  • Nigel Dodds
  • Gareth Snell
  • Caroline Flint
  • George Eustice
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan

Other signatories:

  • Conservative: Mr Simon Clarke; Andrea Jenkyns; Mr David Jones; Sir William Cash; Derek Thomas; Robert Halfon; Mr Richard Bacon; Mr Philip Dunne; Sir Robert Syms; Sir Mike Penning; Mr Charles Walker; Sir David Amess; Fiona Bruce; Richard Drax; Henry Smith; Mr William Wragg; Bob Stewart; Will Quince; Chris Green; Nigel Mills; Mr John Whittingdale; Martin Vickers; Greg Hands; Julia Lopez; Andrew Lewer; Grant Shapps; Ms Nadine Dorries; Adam Holloway; Andrew Rosindell; Bill Wiggin; Mr Philip Hollobone; Scott Mann; Adam Afriyie; Mr Steve Baker; Crispin Blunt; Bob Blackman; Mr Peter Bone; Sir Graham Brady; Andrew Bridgen; Conor Burns; Rehman Chishti; Robert Courts; Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown; Tracey Crouch; David TC Davies; Steve Double; James Duddridge; Mr Iain Duncan Smith; Charlie Elphicke; Mr Mark Francois; Mr Marcus Fysh; Zac Goldsmith; James Gray; Mr Mark Harper; Sir John Hayes; Eddie Hughes; Mr Ranil Jayawardena; Sir Bernard Jenkin; Boris Johnson; Gareth Johnson; Daniel Kaczynski; John Lamont; Mr Jonathan Lord; Tim Loughton; Esther McVey; Mark Menzies; Mrs Sheryll Murray; Neil Paris; Priti Patel; Mark Pritchard; Tom Pursglove; Dominic Raab; Mr Laurence Robertson; Ross Thomson; Michael Tomlinson; Craig Tracey; Mr Shailesh Vara; Theresa Villiers; Julian Sturdy; Craig Mackinlay; Michael Fabricant; Mr Owen Paterson; Suella Braverman; and Sir Christopher Chope.
  • Labour: Kate Hoey; John Mann; Rosie Cooper; Mr Ronnie Campbell; Mike Hill; Graham Stringer; Grahame Morris; Mr Dennis Skinner; Sir Kevin Barron;
  • Democratic Unionist: Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson; Sammy Wilson; Mr Gregory Campbell, Paul Girvan; Jim Shannon; Ian Paisley; Emma Little Pengelly; Gavin Robinson; and David Simpson.
  • Independent: Frank Field; and Kelvin Hopkins.

Henry Hill: Hunt squares off with Sturgeon over prospect of second independence referendum

Also: Tory MPs lead the charge against prosecutions of ex-servicemen who served in Ulster; Ulster Unionist leader savages DUP; and more.

Hunt squares off with Sturgeon over independence vote

It looks as if there may be a fresh confrontation between the British and Scottish governments over the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Yesterday the Scotsman reported that Nicola Sturgeon has said she intends exercise an apparent mandate she has to hold so-called ‘indyref two’ in response to the chaos engulfing Westminster over Brexit.

But the constitution as a policy area is reserved to London, and earlier this week Jeremy Hunt made it very clear that the Prime Minister has not changed her mind about refusing permission to hold another vote. According to the Daily Express, he said: “The answer of course would be no for the very simple reason that we think the Scottish Government should be focusing on the concerns of Scottish voters.”

This prompted fresh disarray in the ranks of the SNP after the First Minister was forced to slap down her deputy, Keith Brown, for suggesting that the Scottish Government might organise an illegal plebiscite without Westminster’s authorisation. For the moment the Nationalists have confined themselves to tabling a pro-independence amendment to Tuesday’s vote.

Another SNP politician was forced to apologise this week after branding Scottish Conservative MPs “traitors” for not backing the Nationalists over Brexit.

In a further blow to Sturgeon’s ambitions, a poll this week suggests a hardening of attitudes on the unionist side: one in three Scots reportedly believe that there should now never be another referendum on independence.

Tory MPs attack prospect of Bloody Sunday prosecutions

MPs have criticised the Government as prosecutors prepare to reveal whether charges will be laid against a number of ex-servicemen over the events of Bloody Sunday almost 50 years ago.

They claim that allowing prosecutions to be brought against Army veterans would be “shameful”, according to the Times, raising concerns about the ability to try the men fairly half a century on from the events in question.

Conservative MPs named include Richard Benyon, himself a former officer, and Leo Docherty, who this morning penned a piece for the Times Red Box setting out his objections. He argued that: “if a prosecution goes ahead it will be motivated not by new evidence, new testimony or anything else that would lead to a more meaningful trial but by nationalist sentiment in the legal system in Northern Ireland that seeks political retribution above all else.”

He also, inevitably, highlighted the contrast between the treatment of ex-servicemen and the so-called “comfort letters” – de facto pardons – issued to known IRA terrorists, one of which collapsed the trial of the Hyde Park bomber.

All of this come as Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, announced earlier this week that new protections being introduced to protect soldiers would come (“sadly”) too late to shield veterans who served in Northern Ireland. However, the Sun reports his making combative comments about the need to focus on the “future” of Ulster.

Elsewhere, John McDonnell conceded that his past support of the IRA’s terror campaign may have helped to fuel sectarian violence.

Scottish Labour avoids split by equivocating on Brexit re-run

After last week’s public row over the apparent censoring of ‘People’s Vote’ campaigners, this week Labour appear to have managed to avoid a full-on confrontation over their Brexit policy.

The party formally backed a second referendum at their conference this week but without giving much indication that they are amount to stage a serious push for one, according to the Financial Times.

In this Scottish Labour, which is apparently “largely autonomous” on policy even when it comes to reserved issues, seems to be taking its lead from Jeremy Corbyn, who is himself formally committed to pursuing another vote but doesn’t seem to be letting it trouble him overmuch.

Ulster Unionist leader launches stinging attack on DUP

Robin Swann, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, made any prospect of unionist unity seem rather distant this week as he opened up on the Democratic Unionists, according to the News Letter.

Speaking at the UUP’s annual general general meeting in Belfast, the MLA accused his party’s dominant rivals of neglecting their duties towards good governance in Northern Ireland and gerrymandering local government boundaries, adding:

“At the party conference in October past, I said that there was a battle to save the Union from the DUP. I cannot say my view has changed. With the DUP at the helm, pro-Union politics lies in the gutter.”

Meanwhile Sam McBride reported that Karen Bradley’s conduct in the House of Commons had stripped the last “fig leaf” away from the reality of un-scrutinised civil service rule in the Province.

He wrote that the Northern Irish Secretary is consistently using fast-track procedures to pass Northern Irish business through the House with minimal time for scrutiny. This is putatively to give the devolved institutions as much time as possible to get back on their feet and take the decisions themselves, but given the complete lack of activity on that front it looks increasingly like a ruse to allow Bradley to avoid scrutiny which she appears ill-equipped to withstand.

All of this come as the Irish Independent reports the Prime Minister ‘threatening’ direct rule for Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal exit. Given that the DUP have been calling for it for over a year, it isn’t much of a threat.

Nicky Morgan: Five questions for MPs this week. But whatever their answers, they should vote for the Withdrawal Agreement.

We can bring the withdrawal phase to a close. And can then get on with thinking about how to, and who should, negotiate the future relationship.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

It feels as if this will be a momentous week for Parliament and for the Government and therefore for the whole of the UK. I still maintain that most people simply want us to ‘get on with Brexit’, and would much rather MPs and Ministers spend more time discussing the issues they really care about.

At this early stage of the week, it seems we will have three key votes – although if the draft Withdrawal Agreement is approved on Tuesday, then subsequent planned votes on No Deal (on Wednesday) and, if the Commons votes against No Deal, on extending Article 50 (on Thursday) won’t be needed. And it would be better if we didn’t have to have them – which is one of the reasons I will support the Withdrawal Agreement.

How should this week’s votes be approached? I’d like to suggest that all Conservative MPs should ask ourselves the following five questions.

1. Does how I vote respect the result of the referendum?

Apart from Ken Clarke, we all voted to trigger Article 50. Which presumably means that we all accepted, or at least were reconciled, to delivering the referendum result. So anything we do this week should get us a step closer to the UK leaving the EU – not make that less likely to happen. The Withdrawal Agreement does just that. Extending Article 50 would not – although a short technical extension to allow the necessary withdrawal legislation to be passed is understandable.

2. Does how I vote provide more certainty for businesses and individuals and stability for the country?

A Withdrawal Agreement which leads to the UK exiting the EU in an orderly manner on 29th March is the best way to enhance the stability of the Government and the country. It would also stop talk of No Deal. And it would enable businesses and EU citizens living here, as well as many UK citizens in the EU, to know where they stand for the transition period.

Stopping a No Deal Brexit on March 29th might well be welcomed by businesses, individuals and the markets. But such a decision would be temporary, because it is simply not possible to prevent No Deal in all circumstances. There are two sides to every negotiation, and ultimately they do not have to each a deal.

Extending Article 50 by a short period of time might stop a disorderly Brexit in only a few days’ time, but a short three-month extension with no purpose would be next to useless. It would provide no more certainty to businesses and individuals. If the Government decides by Thursday that it wants an extension, it will have to say how long Ministers want to last, and what they will do with it.

Would the Government’s red lines be dramatically changed to pivot towards “Common Market 2.0” (accepting in the course of so doing that such a plan would likely to split the Conservative Party)?  Would it be used to prepare further for No Deal being in place at the end of the extension period?  Would it perhaps be used to explore Malthouse Plan B, and to negotiate alternative arrangements to the backstop?

If Ministers can’t answer those questions, then I suspect that an extension is in doubt. And even if it is approved and requested, would it be agreed by the EU and, if so, what conditions would they impose?

3. Does how I vote help the Government or help those who don’t support it?

Any actions which make the Government look less stable and united are damaging in the short and long term. Ministers voting in different lobbies on No Deal or Article 50 extension will look terrible. We should try not to get to that stage – which means approving the Withdrawal Agreement. And those in talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party should be clear about its motivations. In no way does Labour want to help the Government. For the party, the socialist revolution is more likely to flourish amidst the chaos of a split Government.

4. Does my vote make a second referendum or a general election more likely?

I’ve previously set out for this site my firm view that a second referendum is a very bad idea, and risks undermining the belief that, if the British people vote, the result will be honoured. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved, and we enter No Deal and Article 50 extension votes with amendable motions, then we will undoubtedly enter the realm of amendments calling for indicative votes on options that will include a second referendum. I believe that most Conservative MPs want to try to move forward – not re-live the last three years over again. In a similar vein I have yet to meet a Conservative MP, activist or supporter who wants an early election.

5. Is my vote more about what I think than about what is right for the country?

Lee Rowley gave an excellent speech in the Brexit debate held on 27th February. As he said very powerfully “It’s not about you” – i.e: Brexit is not about our own personal views. MPs are representatives – are we really hearing and representing the country at the moment, or have we convinced ourselves that our own views on Brexit matter more?

Where’s the compromising and the leadership we should be showing by focusing on the bigger picture, not what is going on inside our heads and hearts? If delivering Brexit and maintaining a Conservative Government is your broader goal, then voting for the Withdrawal Agreement, however imperfect, is the only course of action that makes that more likely than less likely.

– – – – – – – – – –

Brexit doesn’t begin or end this week. But we can bring the withdrawal phase to a close. And we can then get on with thinking about how to, and who should, negotiate the future relationship. The choice between responsible Government or chaos is in our hands. The country will not forgive the Conservatives if we opt for chaos.

WATCH: Starmer says three-month extension would be ‘doable’

“But the most important thing, I think, is: what we’re going to use this period for.”

Next week’s Brexit votes could yet result in the general election nobody wants

May is so weak even her command of the payroll vote is slipping. If her Government loses control of European policy, can it really remain in office?

That the Prime Minister used her big set-piece speech on Brexit to publicly enjoin the EU to give her the concessions she needs for next week’s vote probably says all we need to know about how she thinks that’s going to go.

If she loses the second meaningful vote (‘MVII’), Theresa May’s stated intention is to proceed fairly swiftly to two other votes: one on whether or not MPs are prepared to endorse a no-deal exit, and one on extending Article 50.

As our editor wrote yesterday, at this point it looks as if any hope of whipping the Government’s notional majority for or against either is long since passed. Either course of action would provoke a fresh slew of resignations – or from Remainers, perhaps, open defiance whilst daring her to sack them – and swell the ranks of blooded rebels yet further.

This last possibility suggests not just that the power of the whip but that of the payroll vote, usually any government’s praetorian guard, has all but disintegrated – and that’s before any further attempt by Oliver Letwin and his co-conspirators to formally wrest control of the negotiations from the executive entirely.

It’s a position of quite extraordinary weakness perhaps unprecedented in British political history, whose proper functioning would previously forced MPs to make a decision about backing or dismissing the Government. Harold Wilson had to play a similar party-management game over Europe, but never was his position as fraught as this.

Shorn of the usual burden of directing the troops, May still has to cast a vote personally. Will she vote for for a no-deal exit, putting her money behind the rhetoric she has employed ever since becoming Prime Minister? Can she vote for extension, knowing as she surely must the price that Brussels will likely exact for it?

There is some talk that May might yet try to win an 11th-hour vote on her deal – MVIII! – but there is currently a real possibility that by that point the process will be, whether de jure or merely de facto, out of her hands. Which raises the question of whether or not she and her remaining Brexiteer ministers would be prepared to remain in office (but not in power) whilst the most important policy decisions this country has made for decades are taken by a parallel executive which will be accountable to nobody.

Of course a general election, which is the obvious and proper resolution to such a total collapse in relations between parliament and the executive, is itself undesirable for all sorts of reasons, not least for Conservatives the prospect of May leading them into it. But it would be foolish, at this point, to entirely rule one out.

“Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too.” May’s Brexit speech – full text

“Let’s do what is necessary for MPs to back the deal on Tuesday. Because if MPs reject the deal, nothing is certain. It would be at a moment of crisis.”

“Thank you Matthew for that introduction and thank you to Ørsted for hosting us today.

Your work in off-shore wind does not just provide skilled jobs here in Grimsby, it makes a direct contribution to the UK’s efforts to reduce our carbon emissions and protect our environment.

Achieving the economic benefits of the global shift to sustainable green growth is one of the four Grand Challenges in our Modern Industrial Strategy.

The UK is the world-leader in offshore wind, and yesterday we launched our Offshore Wind Sector Deal to build on that success.

As an international company investing in the UK, Ørsted is making a major contribution to that success and I am delighted to be with you today.

Next week, Members of Parliament in Westminster face a crucial choice. Whether to back the Brexit deal – or to reject it.

Back it and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it and no one knows what will happen.

We may not leave the EU for many months. We may leave without the protections that the deal provides. We may never leave at all.

The only certainty would be ongoing uncertainty. Months more spent arguing about Brexit, when we could be focusing on improving our NHS, our schools and our communities.

It will be for the 630-odd MPs at Westminster who will be voting next week to take this decision.

But they will take it on your behalf – and on behalf of tens of millions of people across the UK. Parliament gave the decision to leave or remain in the European Union to you. Thirty-three and a half million people took part in the referendum – the biggest turnout for a generation.

The result was close, but it was clear.

If it had gone the other way, we would be staying in. But the decision was to leave – and that is what we must do.

As Prime Minister, my job has been to negotiate the very best deal I could.And I believe that is precisely what the Government has done – working with the EU team led by Michel Barnier.

Discussions have at times been difficult and robust but we have both worked in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation to get a good deal over the line.

I have made a lot of speeches about that deal over the last few months. Most of them have been in the House of Commons. On Tuesday I will be making another one, when I open the debate ahead of the vote.

But Brexit does not belong to MPs in Parliament. It belongs to the whole country. It belongs to the people who voted for it and want to see it implemented, so we can all move on to a prosperous future. And that more prosperous future also belongs to those who voted against Brexit, and who expect politicians to make reasonable compromises to bring our country back together.

Everyone now wants to get it done. Move beyond the arguments, past the bitterness of the debate – and out of the EU as a united country, ready to make a success of the future.

That is why I have come here to speak to you today to explain why this debate is dragging on and what is at stake.

Because it was in places like Grimsby that the referendum was decided and where what is at stake can be seen most clearly of all. People here in North East Lincolnshire voted decisively to leave the European Union in 2016 – by a ratio of 7 to 3.

Everyone had their own reasons for voting. But having spent much of the past three years talking to people about Brexit – about their hopes, their aspirations and their fears too – some common themes emerge.

People wanted more control over the things that matter to them. And the Brexit deal before Parliament gives them that control.

Today, vast amounts of taxpayers’ money is paid to the EU – in 2017 we made a net contribution of over £8.9 billion. The deal stops that. Instead we will spend our money on our own priorities, like our long-term plan for our precious NHS.

Today, immigration between the UK and the EU is defined by free movement. People can move from one EU country to another without a job offer. They make a big contribution to our economy, our public services and our society. But it means our Government does not have control of how many people move to Britain every year.

The deal I have negotiated ends free movement and takes back control of our borders. We can then create an immigration system built around people’s skills, not the country they come from.

Today, the European Court of Justice has jurisdiction in the United Kingdom. The deal will end that. We will make our own laws and British judges will determine how they are applied.

Today, the terms of our international trade are decided by the EU. We cannot negotiate trade deals with other countries around the world – the EU does that on our behalf. The deal means we will take back control of our trade policy in our own interests.

Many of our farmers feel that the Common Agricultural Policy does not work for them; many in fishing communities feel the same about the Common Fisheries Policy. The deal takes us out of the CAP, so we can design our own support for farmers. The deal takes us out of the CFP, restoring full sovereign control of our waters – the biggest opportunity for our fishing industry for 40 years.

These are the changes people voted for. They were my priorities in the negotiations. And they are what the deal delivers.

But when people voted in the referendum, it was not just about our relationship with the EU. It was about much more than that. It was also a vote for real change in our own country. And it was a message to those in positions of power that for too many people working hard up and down the country, life was too hard.

It expressed a desire for positive change. Not just to take back control from Brussels, but to empower communities here in the UK. To create greater opportunity for the next generation.

And Grimsby is a place determined to build that better future. Like many towns it has its share of challenges. But it also has huge potential. And last year it became the first town in the UK to sign a Town Deal.

I want to congratulate everyone who worked so hard to land the deal, including both local MPs – Melanie Onn for Great Grimsby and Martin Vickers for Cleethorpes.

The deal represents a collaboration between local and central government, businesses and the wider community. It sets as its goal making the most of Grimsby’s assets. The UK’s busiest port by tonnage, ready to expand its operation after we leave the EU and strike new trade deals. Its location on the Humber ‘Energy Estuary’, ideally placed to consolidate its position as one of Europe’s leading centres for off-shore wind – with firms like Ørsted making a major contribution. And its maritime and fishing heritage, central both to Grimsby’s identity and its future.

The deal is a model for other towns to follow – and it has inspired the new £1.6 billion Stronger Towns Fund that we launched this week. That fund stands alongside the other support we are giving to local areas – over £9 billion of local growth funds, £3.4 billion for the Northern Powerhouse, £1.6 billion for the Midlands Engine – as a key part of our wider Modern Industrial Strategy.

The central aim of that strategy is to ensure that good jobs of the future are available in every community.

We are lucky as a country to have in London one of the world’s great cities. But it is no good all the growth in our economy and the opportunities that growth brings being concentrated in London and the South East. We need an economy that works for everyone, a country where everyone can be proud of their community and every community offers people the opportunity to get on in life.

That is the opportunity that awaits our country if we agree the Brexit deal. We can build the stronger communities that must be the real legacy of the vote to leave.

So the deal delivers on the priorities of those who voted to leave. And it also addresses the concerns of those who voted to remain.

By maintaining the close relationships between our police and security agencies, the deal means we can carry on working with our EU allies to keep people safe.

By reflecting the interests and serving the needs of Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland and England, the deal will keep our precious Union of four proud nations strong and united.

And maintaining that strength is crucial. More than ever before, we live in an interconnected world. One in which every country is affected by the decisions of its neighbours and partners across the globe.

That will not change after we leave the EU. And neither will the values that guide our actions as a responsible actor on the world stage.

We will be a strong voice on the UN Security Council and in NATO, the Commonwealth and the World Trade Organisation. We will be a leading military power, meeting our obligations to uphold global security.

And we will keep our promises to the world’s poorest people, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is in our national interest.

The deal also safeguards the protections that EU membership currently gives us and which people rightly value. That starts with the rights of all those from the EU who have moved here, contributed to our country, and built their lives in the UK.

We have also committed to protecting the rights and standards currently set at the EU level – from workers’ rights to environmental protections.

Brexit will not be a race to the bottom. In fact in most of these areas the UK has led the way, ahead of the EU. And this week we have said that if the EU expands workers’ rights, we will debate those measures in Parliament and decide if we want to follow suit.

Our ongoing commitment will start with the two directives that will come into force after we have left, and which the UK supports. But we will not tie ourselves in automatically to follow EU changes without Parliament having its say. That would mean weakening workers’ rights if the EU ever chose to do so. And it would not be taking back control.

The UK has led the way in the EU, and we will lead the way outside it. Leaving with the deal means workers’ rights will be protected.

And if they back the Brexit deal on Tuesday, MPs will give our whole economy a boost.

In spite of the unavoidable uncertainty of the Brexit process, our economy continues to do well, thanks to its underlying strengths. The employment rate is at a record high, the unemployment rate is at a 40 year low, borrowing this year is at a 17 year low, and debt is falling.

Just imagine how much more we could achieve with the certainty of a deal. Our energy would be focused on building our future relationship, forging new trade deals with the rest of the world, and tackling the other issues that matter to people. Businesses will invest and create more jobs. Money that would be spent guarding against the economic shock of a no deal exit could be put to better use – on the services people need and on growing our economy.

And the UK would send a message around the world – a giant ‘open for business’ sign to investors.

The democratic case for backing the deal is clear. And so is the economic case. It not only removes the risk of a no deal exit, it allows us to reap the enormous benefits of leaving with a deal.

I have set out why I believe MPs should back the deal next week. It takes back control of the issues people care about. It delivers the change that communities voted for. It protects the things we value. And it sets us on course for a prosperous future.

Next week Parliament will make its choice.

In January, MPs said no to the deal for a variety of reasons. Some wanted to stop Brexit altogether. Jeremy Corbyn opposed it because he wanted a General Election – and said he would vote against the deal without even reading it.

But others voted against it because they had genuine concerns – and they felt there was time for the Government to get changes to address them. The biggest concern was about the so-called Northern Ireland backstop.

The backstop is an insurance policy. It is there to guarantee that if we run out of time to agree our new relationship with the EU during the next phase of the negotiations it will not lead to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Like any insurance policy, no side ever wants to use it. It is part of the deal that the backstop cannot be permanent. And it is not in the EU’s interest for it to be permanent, because they fear this would give us a competitive advantage in the long-term.

But there are genuine concerns that there is no clear way out of the backstop if the future negotiations break down.

I have taken those concerns to Brussels. I have explained them to every single EU leader. And we have put forward serious, detailed proposals to address them.

The Government is in discussions with the EU right now, focused on getting the legal changes MPs have asked for.

As I have said before, this will not in any way alter our enduring commitment to the Belfast Agreement, and to avoiding a hard border, in all circumstances.

The Belfast Agreement was a landmark achievement for the UK Government, the Irish Government, and the political parties in Northern Ireland. It brought peace to our country after many years of tragedy. The people of Northern Ireland are our people and their security and well-being is our security and well-being.

But just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too.

We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.

European leaders tell me they worry that time is running out, and that we only have one chance to get it right.

My message to them is: now is the moment for us to act. We have worked hard together over two years on the deal. It is a comprehensive deal that provides for an orderly exit from the EU, and that sets a platform for an ambitious future relationship. It needs just one more push, to address the final specific concerns of our Parliament.

So let’s not hold back. Let’s do what is necessary for MPs to back the deal on Tuesday. Because if MPs reject the deal, nothing is certain.

It would be at a moment of crisis. MPs would immediately be faced with another choice.

Either we leave the EU with no deal on 29 March. I do not believe that would be the best outcome for the UK or the EU. Or we delay Brexit and carry on arguing about it, both amongst ourselves and with the EU. That’s not in our interests either.

More talking will not change the questions that need to be settled. And a delay risks creating new problems.

If we were simply asking for a bit more time to pass the legislation we need to implement Brexit once we have agreed the deal, a delay would be straightforward. But if it were a delay to give MPs even more time to decide what we are going to do, the EU might insist on new conditions that were not in our interest before they agreed to such an extension.

And that might lead to a form of Brexit that does not match up to what people voted for. It could mean no end to free movement. No ability to strike our own trade deals. No end to the big annual payments. No taking back control – which is what the British people voted for.

And a delay could lead to something else – a second Brexit referendum. The chances of that have increased since Jeremy Corbyn said he would back one.

It has become clear to me that Jeremy Corbyn is not really interested in finding a solution. Since we met to discuss a way forward for our country on 30 January, I have repeatedly offered him another meeting to follow it up. In return, after multiple requests from my office, he has offered just one hour over the last five weeks when our teams could meet.

And we now know why. Because despite his promise at the last election to deliver Brexit, he now supports holding a divisive second referendum that would take the UK right back to square one.

Not completing Brexit and getting on with all the other important issues people care about. Just yet more months and years arguing. If we go down that road, we might never leave the EU at all.

That would be a political failure. It would let down the more than 17 million people who voted to leave the EU and do profound damage to their faith in our democracy.

Some of the people who voted in the referendum did so for the first time in years. Why should they ever bother doing so again if their decision were over-turned without ever being implemented?

My message to those MPs who agree with me that we should not risk that is simple: the only certain way to avoid it is to back the deal the Government has secured with EU on Tuesday. Let’s get it done.

MPs face a historic choice next week. I am ready to take us out of the EU with a deal that is good for the UK. Ready to implement the decision of voters here in Grimsby and across the UK. And ready to get on with making a success of a new chapter for our country.

But I can only do that if Parliament supports the deal on Tuesday.

I need the support of those who, like me, voted remain but believe in honouring the result, and believe that leaving with a good deal is much better than leaving with no deal. And I need the support of those who voted to leave, but who accept that compromise is necessary if we are bring our country back together.

There may be some on both sides who are not prepared to back a negotiated deal with the EU. Some because they cannot accept leaving the EU at all; others because they cannot accept any compromise on their vision of Brexit.

I do not doubt the sincerity of their views – but I profoundly disagree with them. Ironically, both sides would find themselves in the same lobby come the vote next week, each voting the same way, but each hoping for the opposite result.

I hope that they will be in the minority.

The British people have already moved on. They are ready for this to be settled. By coming together as a Parliament, we can bring our country together. Boost our economy. Safeguard our security. Protect our Union. And take a decisive step toward the bright future that the British people voted for, and which you and our whole country deserve.

Let’s get it done.”