May must produce new 'concrete proposals' if she wants breakthrough in Brexit talks, EU says - as it happened

Last modified: 04: 48 PM GMT+0

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen

Afternoon summary

  • Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, has said that the UK must produce new “concrete proposals” if it wants to see a breakthrough in the Brexit talks. (See 5.39pm.) He spoke out after Theresa May shored up her position on Brexit, quashing speculation about ministers resigning this week, at a three-hour cabinet meeting where ministers backed her refusal to agree to EU demands on the Irish backstop. (See 1.41pm.) But the cabinet meeting did not agree new policy, or take any decisions. Afterwards Jenny Chapman, the shadow Brexit minister, said:

With two days until a crucial EU summit, it is simply extraordinary that the cabinet can’t agree what its plan for Brexit is. If the cabinet can’t make a decision on Brexit, then what’s on earth is the point of it? Theresa May is in office, not in power.

That’s all from for today.

Comments are due to close about 6pm. Thanks for your contributions.


78 MPs, peers and MEPS sign letter asking Met police to continue investigation into Vote Leave

Some 78 MPs, peers and MEPs have signed a letter to the director of intelligence at the National Crime Agency and the commander of specialist crime at the Metropolitan police asking them to continue criminal investigations into Vote Leave. The letter has been coordinate by the Green MEP Molly Scott Cato and the Labour MP Ben Bradshaw. Scott Cato said:

In a statement Scott Cato said:

Legal impunity for politicians is what we expect from a banana republic, not a modern democracy. With several cabinet ministers having been on the Vote Leave campaign committee, this is clearly a politically sensitive inquiry. But all the more important that it should be carried out urgently and with no hint of political bias.

The voting public needs reassurance that those who break the law will face justice. But this is more than just prosecuting illegal activity, it is necessary to reassure citizens that nobody is above the law and that our legal framework protects our democracy.

The letter was prompted by a report by openDemocracy saying that “political sensitivities” had contributed to the Met’s decision to stall an investigation. The openDemocracy report said:

Following inquiries by openDemocracy, the Met revealed it has yet to start any formal investigation, and has remained effectively stalled for months in “assessing evidence”. Pushed on why there has been no progress, or no formal case logged, a Scotland Yard spokesman admitted there were issues and “political sensitivities” that had to be taken into account. The Yard spokesman later added that the political issues related to “any allegation or referral relating to an election, and much else besides.”

In July the Electoral Commission announced it was fining Vote Leave and reporting it to the police because it broke electoral law on spending in the EU referendum campaign.

The Met has said that, after the Electoral Commission made two referrals to it about leave campaigns, 900 documents were subsequently handed over in September for consideration. That evidence is still being assessed, it said.


A robot has appeared before the Common education committee to tell MPs about the role of technology in classrooms, the Press Association reports. Pepper’s evidence on Tuesday was the first time a robot has answered questions at a committee. The robot is part of an international research project developing the world’s first culturally aware robots aimed at assisting with care for older people.

Introducing itself to the committee, Pepper bowed before saying:

Good morning, chair. Thank you for inviting me to give evidence today. My name is Pepper and I am a resident robot at Middlesex University.

As the Press Association reports, asked what role humans have in the fourth industrial revolution. Pepper replied:

Robots will have an important role to play, but we will always need the soft skills that are unique to humans to sense, make and drive value from technology. As technologies fuse and are used in ways that were not envisaged before, a new way of thinking is needed by tomorrow’s workers.

We will need people who can spot ideas and think across traditional sector divides to drive value from technological innovation.

Standing as it gave evidence, Pepper’s arms and head moved while it gave pre-programmed answers to questions which had sent in advance.

Pepper the robot giving evidence to the Commons education committee.
Pepper the robot giving evidence to the Commons education committee. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

Responding to Donald Tusk’s call for new “concrete proposals” from Theresa May (see 3.09pm), the prime minister’s spokesman said:

The PM set out her position on where she thinks the negotiations are yesterday. Donald Tusk has set out his views today. The prime minister looks forward to having a face-to-face discussion with him in Brussels tomorrow.


When speaking to reporters Donald Tusk, the European council president, also called for new thinking on the Irish backstop issue. He said:

We need something very creative, while at the same time to protect our values and to protect [the] single market, and [at] the same time to fully respect the UK’s sovereignty. To me it is clear, the goal must be clear for all of us, but for this maybe we need a new method of thinking.

John Bercow has told friends that he intends to stand down as speaker next summer, the BBC is reporting. Bercow has not said anything publicly about this, and the new report just confirms stories that were around earlier in this summer (like this one, in the Times) saying that, instead of standing down this year as he promised when first elected, he would stay on until 2019 so that he can be in post for the key Brexit votes.

Tusk says May needs to be 'creative' to break Brexit impasse

The BBC’s Gavin Lee has posted on Twitter another quote from Donald Tusk.

  • Tusk, the president of the European council, says Theresa May needs to come up with a “creative” proposal to break the Brexit impasse.

#Brexit analogy of the week, from Donald #Tusk to the BBC : The Irish question looks like “a new version of the #GordianKnot” and that he “can’t see a new version of Alexander the Great. It’s not so easy to find this kind of creative leader.” He says 😮

Full quote :

— Gavin Lee (@GavinLeeBBC) October 16, 2018

Tusk says UK must produce new 'concrete proposals' if May wants breakthrough in Brexit talks

Turning back to Brexit, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, has been speaking to journalists in Brussels. He has issued a challenge to Theresa May. He said:

Unfortunately the report on the state of the negotiations that I got from Michel Barnier today, as well as yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, gives me no grounds for optimism before tomorrow’s European council on Brexit.

As I see it, the only source of hope for a deal for now is the goodwill and determination on both sides.

However, for a breakthrough to take place, besides goodwill we need new facts.

Tomorrow I am going to ask Prime Minister May whether she has concrete proposals on how to break the impasse. Only such proposals can determine if a breakthrough is possible.

While working on a Brexit deal, we also need to make sure that we are prepared in case an agreement is not possible or in case it is rejected. Therefore tomorrow the leaders will discuss how to step up our preparations for a no deal scenario.

But, as I have already stressed, the fact that we are preparing for a no deal scenario must not under any circumstances lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible for all sides.

And here are the key news lines.

  • Tusk said that without new “concrete proposals” from the UK, there will be no breakthrough in the Brexit talks.
  • He said the EU would discuss intensifying its no deal Brexit planning at this week’s summit.
  • There are “no grounds for optimism” on Brexit ahead of this week’s EU summit, he said. He said he was saying so on the basis of the update that he got from Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, as well as what he saw of the Commons debate on Brexit yesterday.

Sir Edward Leigh, a Conserative, says the speaker should be protected from political pressure. Can Leadsom guarantee that the executive will not try to pressurise the speaker at the House of Commons commission meeting on Monday.

Leadsom says the commission will consider the Cox reports.

Labour’s Ben Bradshaw says some of the contributions from Tory MPs are motivated by hostility towards John Bercow. He cannot speak back. At the time of Brexit, we need a speaker who will stand up for the House, he says.

Leadsom says the Commons should not have to rely on a single individual to do a good job as speaker.

Andrew Murrison, a Conservative, says this must not become a witch hunt. Action must be taken, but appropriate action. MPs could be educated in how to behave, and how to manage their anger, he says.

Leadsom says the review that led to the new grievance procedure did propose offering training to offending MPs as part of the solution.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips says she is not here to defend anyone, “including you Mr Speaker”. She says she has spoken to many of the victims. She suggests that James Duddridge (see 2.18pm) has not. She says he’s “neither right nor honourable”.

She says she thinks there are 12 MPs walking around who bully staff who will be allowed to continue.

John Bercow intervenes. He says all MPs are honourable.

Leadsom says, if Phillips knows of 12 bullying MP, she should report them.


Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, asks Leadsom to explicitly back calls for historic allegations against MPs to be investigated.

Leadsom says the Cox report recommendations will be fully taken into account when the new grievance procedures are reviewed.

Leadsom suggests Commons standards watchdog should be asked to investigate historic allegations against Bercow

Sir Paul Beresford, the Conservative MP, asks if it would be appropriate for the parliamentary commissioner for standards to consider the allegations against some MPs that triggered the Cox report. And would it be sensible for the standards committee to review the rule saying investigations can only go back seven years.

Leadsom says those are good suggestions and the House of Commons commission should consider them on Monday.

  • Leadsom suggests the House of Commons commission should consider getting the Commons standards watchdog to investigate John Bercow, and other MPs.

Earlier this year the Commons standards committee, that oversees investigations by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, said that the allegations against Bercow should not be investigated because of the seven-year time limit.

HuffPost’s Paul Waugh has more on John Bercow’s mimicking skills.

James Duddridge: problem is MPs who 'belittle, mimic and mock' others -and Bercow was guilty.
Constantly amazes me that every single time (no matter how serious the issue) the Speaker calls the Father of the House to speak he says 'Mr Kenneth Claaaaaaark' as if it was hilarious

— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) October 16, 2018

Labour’s Sir Kevin Barron says there should be no limits on how far back in the past investigations can go.

Leadsom says when the working group looked at this, it considered this issue. But the group also took the view that it would be difficult to judge MPs for things that happened in the past against rules drawn up now. She says they took external advice that backed this up. And, the further back you went, the more problematic that became.

Andrew Bridgen, another Conservative, asks how those how are part of the problem can be considered to be part of the solution.

Leadsom says the House of Commons commission will consider this when it meets on Monday.

James Duddridge, a Conservative who has criticised Bercow before, reads out sections from the Cox report referring to MPs mimicking staff and belittling them. The report does not say who was doing this. But Duddridge ends his question by asking what can be done to stop Mr Speaker engaging in this behaviour.

(Bercow is known to be a particularly good mimic.)

UPDATE: Here is a more direct quote.

Wow. @JamesDuddridge: "This is a disturbing report which identifies a number of unacceptable behaviours... taunting, mocking, mimicking, deliberately belittling in front of other members..belittling someone's junior can we encourage Mr Speaker to stop this behaviour?

— Ross Kempsell (@rosskempsell) October 16, 2018


Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the Commons, is responding for Labour.

(Her brother, Keith Vaz, is one of the MPs who has been accused of bullying Commons staff. He denies the allegations.)

Vaz does not mention her brother, but she backs the Cox report and calls for a panel made up of Commons staff members to review how the new grievance procedure is operating.

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, says the Cox report says the Commons leadership has tolerated this behaviour. It calls for a culture change. That requires a change in the Commons management. So how can staff be reassured that action will be taken? The Commons should lead by example.

She says the report is clear that there needs to be a complete change, “including you, Mr Speaker”.

John Bercow does not comment.

Leadsom says it is vital that MPs change the culture of parliament.

The Labour MP John Mann tabled the urgent question. He is speaking now.

He says paragraph 30 of the Cox report refers to a culture that is as embedded as it is shocking.

The report also says it is well known there are serial offenders in parliament.

He asks if the Cox recommendations will be implemented. And will Labour and all opposition parties back the report’s recommendations?

Leadsom says, as leader of the Commons, she will do all she can to stamp out all forms of bullying and harassment.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, is speaking now.

She says it is vital that the House leadership responds properly to the allegations in the Laura Cox report.

She says the new independent grievance procedure has been up and running since July. She says it will cover House staff (ie, people who work for the Commons, and not just those who work for individual MPs) and will cover historic allegations.

She says she has been clear that this must be the start of the process.

There will be reviews of how the system is working, she says.

And she says the House of Commons commission will meet on Monday to discuss the Cox report.

Bercow calls for independent body to be set up to consider bullying and harassment complaints about MPs

John Bercow, the Commons speaker, is making a statement.

He says he has read the Laura Cox report and concluded that a body independent of parliament must be set up to consider allegations against MPs. It should decide how far back it wants to go when considering which complaints it will hear, he says.

He says independence and transparency are the best guarantors of a process that will be fair and command confidence.

  • Bercow calls for independent body to be set up to consider bullying and harassment complaints about MPs.

Bercow himself is one of the MPs alleged to have bullied staff, although he has denied the complaints levelled against him.

Barnier says he hopes Brexit deal will be achieve 'in the coming weeks'

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said that he hopes the UK and the EU will reach a Brexit deal “in the coming weeks”.

His press spokesman has posted this clip of Barnier speaking in French.

.@MichelBarnier #GAC50: We worked a lot w/ #UK over past weeks & days to find a comprehensive deal [...] We are not there yet. Several open issues remain, incl. #Ireland. More time needed. We are going to take the time, calmly & seriously, to reach this deal over the next weeks

— Daniel Ferrie (@DanielFerrie) October 16, 2018

And this is what the Association Press news agency has filed on his comments.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, says a deal with Britain might not come before November after talks hit an impasse over the weekend.

Speaking on the eve of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Barnier said several issues needed to be dealt with, including the future of the border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

“We are not there yet,” he said.

More time is needed, he said, to agree an “overall accord.”

“We will use that time, calmly, with serious intent to find the overall deal in the coming weeks.”

Barnier’s comments have more or less put paid to any prospect of a decisive breakthrough at this week’s summit.

Since the Brexit discussions began over 18 months ago, this October’s summit had been earmarked as the most likely date for any agreement given the need to get necessary parliamentary approvals before Britain officially leaves the EU next March.

Here is the BBC political editor’s take on the Brexit cabinet.

Sounds like no one pushed for a decision, so no pushed for a confrontation over what to do if the EU doesn't budge + there was this appeal to Cabinet from PM -
“I am convinced that if we stand together and stand firm we will achieve this“ - that is a BIG if

— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) October 16, 2018

May shores up her position by winning backing of cabinet over Brexit fight with EU on Irish backstop

I’m just back from the Number 10 lobby briefing and, from what Downing Street is saying, it is clear that Theresa May has quashed any prospect of ministers resigning over her Brexit strategy - at least for now. It is important to remember that, only a few days ago, there was a lot of speculation about some cabinet ministers resigning this week over her strategy. But, according to the prime minister’s spokesman, no one raised the prospect of resigning during the three-hour meeting and ministers backed her over her two key objections to the EU’s plans for an Irish backstop.

    • May wins the backing of her cabinet over her fight with the EU over the Irish backstop. In other words, they are backing what she said on this in her Commons statement yesterday. That does not mean they are backing her entire Brexit strategy. Some of them still have considerable doubts about the Chequers plan.

This is what the prime minister’s spokesman said about the cabinet meeting.

[May] said we have made progress on a huge number of issues in the negotiations but there remain sticking points in two key areas. The PM said it is not possible for her or any UK prime minister to sign up to an agreement that would lead to a customs border down the Irish Sea. She said we also need to ensure that we do not have a situation where the UK can be kept indefinitely in the backstop against our will ...

The cabinet strongly supported the prime minister over the importance of maintaining the integrity of the union. The cabinet also agreed that we must be able to ensure that we cannot be kept in the backstop arrangement indefinitely.

The PM said there will no doubt be challenging moments ahead. That is in the nature of negotiations. She said she is committed to securing a Brexit that delivers on the referendum result, safeguards jobs and security and which preserves our union.

The spokesman also gave reporters a direct quote from what May told her cabinet. She said:

I’m convinced that if we as a government stand together and stand firm we can achieve this.

  • May tells cabinet they can get a Brexit deal if they “stand together”.

The spokesman also admitted it was not a decision-making cabinet.

I will post more from the briefing soon.

UPDATE: The cabinet may be backing Theresa May over her fight with the EU over the Irish backstop - as set out in her statement to MPs yesterday - but that does not mean they are backing her entire Brexit strategy. I’ve added a line in the post above just to make that clear.


EU's priority in Brexit talks is to 'limit damage as far as possible', says commission vice president

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European commission, and Gernot Blümel, the Austrian Europe minister, held a press briefing after the EU general affairs council meeting in Strasbourg today. (Austria holds the presidency of the EU.) They both stressed that the priority of the EU in the Brexit process now was to limit damage as far as possible.

In response to one question on this Timmermans said:

We are in the middle of a very, very delicate process. The only thing I can assure you is that everyone is doing their utmost to try and do as little harm as possible and to try and find a solution for the issues that have not been solved yet.

And he later said:

What we decide will have huge importance, not just for the United Kingdom but for the EU as a whole. So in these negotiations we will be negotiating right up to the end line. And it is not clear whether it is going to work or not. That’s perfectly normal. That is what you always experience, I’ve always seen in important negotiations. And we’ll see on Wednesday evening ... how to take it from there.

But what I can say is, on the commission’s part, we have very much grasped the fact we have to limit any damage as far as possible in this situation for everyone. There will be damage. That’s unavoidable. We are not going to come out of this better than we went into it. It would be much better if no member state wished to leave.

But given that this is a fact of life, we have to ensure that all do their utmost to limit damage as far as possible.

Frans Timmermans
Frans Timmermans Photograph: EU

And Blümel said much the same. He said:

I would say that talking about success [in the Brexit talks] is putting it wrongly. We just have to limit the damage as far as possible.

Gernot Blümel
Gernot Blümel Photograph: EU

I’m off to the lobby briefing now. I will post again at around 1.30pm.

Adrian O’Neill, the Irish ambassador to the UK, has accused the British government of “backsliding” to some extent on the Irish backstop issue, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.

1/ Irish ambassador to the UK accuses Theresa May of "backsliding" on her firm commitment last December to include a backstop solution in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Told British Academy it was "very concerning" to hear some say a backstop was not necessary.

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) October 16, 2018

2/ Adrian O'Neill said it was a "self-serving argument" of Brexiters to say Backstop was "an irrelevant distraction
hindering the achievement of a clean break Brexit and
frustrating the achievement of the grand vision of a
free-trading Global Britain"

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) October 16, 2018

3/" Such arguments are of course entirely self-serving –
intended to minimise or entirely dismiss the need for a
robust solution to the border problem."

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) October 16, 2018

Asked by Telegraph if he thought the UK was moving further and further away from December report, O'Neill said": "There seems to be some degree of backsliding on this".

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) October 16, 2018

Irish ambassador: "Unlikely that in the course of the next 48 hours we are going to be able to turn this around and go ‘voila, the draft withdrawal agreement can be signed off.” at British Academy this morning

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) October 16, 2018

Irish ambassador says the most "benign" outcome of the EU council this week is that Theresa May gives a speech that will give the "EU 27 a better understanding of her position and that would lead to renewed impetus in negotiations".

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) October 16, 2018

The Press Association has filed more quotes from what Michael Roth, the German Europe minister, said to reporters as he arrived at the general affairs council in Luxembourg this morning. (See 9.46am.) Referring to Brexit, he described the situation as “very serious”. He said:

The situation is very serious. It is no game. We have taken a short pause for breath. All involved must now look into whether the compromises made have been sufficient.

For us, it is clear, we want a fair deal with the GB, but it must be a deal that preserves the integrity of the single market.

While the UK was demanding “flexibility” from Brussels, the EU was limited in its room for manoeuvre because of the need to keep the Irish border open, Roth said. As the Press Association reports, Roth said that Germany had taken the “painful” step of beginning preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit because “we are in a situation where we cannot exclude anything.”

Roth also made it clear that Berlin is aware of the problems Theresa May could face in getting any deal through parliament. He said:

I have the impression that it is difficult to secure the appropriate parliamentary majority in Great Britain.

The British side needs support. Without a clear vote in the European parliament and without a clear vote in the British parliament, it won’t succeed in the end.

Roth said that a no deal Brexit was the “worst case” scenario, but added that an orderly withdrawal did not represent the “best case”, as it would still cause big problems for all involved. He added:

We can’t change the fact that Brexit remains a lose-lose situation for both sides.

Sky’s Beth Rigby has been waiting for the lengthy Brexit cabinet meeting to end.

Still outside No 10: cabinet due to end at midday (although Clarke & Perry left early). That’s a stonking two and a half hours. Told by one source not to expect any resignations today......

— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) October 16, 2018

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, the trade union representing senior civil servants, has criticised Labour’s Emily Thornberry for defending John Bercow over the Commons’s record on bullying and sexual harassment. (See 10.54am.) He has posted this on Twitter.

Completely disingenuous from @EmilyThornberry. Just last month, you were speaking at the TUC 150th Anniversary dinner about workers' rights. Now you're happy to ignore Dame Laura Cox's urgent calls and put party politics before people. Which side are you on?

— Dave Penman (@FDAGenSec) October 16, 2018

Leading Tory Brexiter proposes keeping UK in customs union for up to 5 years after Brexit

In a column in the Sun Nick Timothy, who as Theresa May’s co-chief of staff until the general election played a big role in persuading May to adopt a hard Brexit strategy in the autumn of 2016 (one that she is now trying to reverse), criticises May’s Chequers plan and urges her to discover her inner Boudicca. He says:

“We need the PM to discover her inner Boudicca,” a friend said as we discussed Brexit recently ...

Whatever the details, my friend was right. It is time for Theresa May to call on her deepest reserves of defiance and stand up to the European Union ...

Many years ago, The Sun advised us to say “up yours, Delors” to a meddling European commissioner. Today, the PM needs to find her inner Boudicca and say: “On your way, Barnier.”

We know what we want, and it is time to get it. Britain has had enough of being pushed around.

One wonders if the “friend” was the commissioning editor at the Sun.

Although this jingoism makes the headline, it also provides cover for another passage in the column in which Timothy floats the idea of the UK remaining in the customs union for up to five years to allow time for new customs procedures - ones that May thinks will allow the UK to maintain frictionless trade with the EU once the UK is out of the customs union - to be developed. He says:

The PM needs to tell the EU to get stuffed. And she must go back to the drawing board. She must replace Chequers with an ambitious, Canada Plus, free trade agreement between the UK and the EU. She must insist that the Northern Irish solution lies with technology and policy that avoid checks at the border. And she must tear up the backstop.

One alternative, still a compromise for Brexiteers like me, is to agree that the UK will remain inside the customs union for a period of up to five years while the appropriate systems are put into place.

Critics will say the EU will never agree. But if they cannot accept a trade deal consistent with their principles and which respects the integrity of their single market, we know they seek only a damaging deal for Britain, or no deal at all.

This plan would in some respects be like extending the transition period for an extra three years.


There are three urgent questions today. The John Mann bullying one comes third, which means it won’t start until after 1.30pm. Before that there are UQ’s on universal credit and clinical waste incineration.

The Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen has said that John Bercow should resign. He told the Press Association:

I believe that for the reputation and well-being of parliament and those who work here, he and others in senior positions of responsibility should consider their positions.

The Labour MP John Mann has been granted an urgent question on Commons bullying, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports.

BREAKING John Mann's urgent question granted on House of Commons bullying report today. Will MPs line up to tell Speaker John Bercow to quit?

— Christopher Hope (@christopherhope) October 16, 2018

Labour's Emily Thornberry says Bercow should stay as speaker

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, has just told Sky’s All Out Politics, that, like Angela Eagle (see 10.24am), she does not think John Bercow should be forced out because of the bullying/harassment revelations. Asked about this, Thornberry said:

I think this is absolutely not the time to be changing speaker. We don’t know, for example, with regard to Brexit, what is going to happen, whether there’s going to be, technically, an amendable motion or not, whether it’s going to be the speaker’s discretion whether it is. We do need to have all hands to the deck at the moment.

Asked if she was happy to see Bercow stay even though there have been allegations about him bullying staff, Thornberry said that was not her experience of the speaker. She said she had been told by the speaker’s chaplain, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, that the description of Bercow as a bully was not one she recognised. She said that people that she knows well work with Bercow on a daily basis and view him as a fine speaker. And she praised him for pushing through reforms to the House of Commons in the face of resistance from some in parliament.

Bercow has denied the allegations about him being a bully. Yesterday’s report did not consider specific allegations against individuals, but it did say that people in positions of responsibility at the Commons should consider their position.

Thornberry is one of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet, and it is probably fair to assume that what she says reflects the views of the Labour leadership (although I’ve asked Jeremy Corbyn’s office to confirm this, and they have not replied yet.)

Conventionally what happens to the speaker is a matter for MPs to decide as individuals, not a party political matter. But parliament doesn’t quite work like that and, on an issue like this, there is usually a party line, even it’s unofficial. Michael Martin’s fate as speaker was decided when Gordon Brown, the then prime minister, decided he would no longer support him.

But the Labour front bench seems to be backing Bercow, and the government front bench seems to be supporting him too. Yesterday No 10 fended off questions about the bullying report by saying it was considering it carefully and that the future of a speaker was a matter for the House, not the government.

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry Photograph: Sky News

Labour MP says Bercow should stay as speaker because of possible 'constitutional crisis' generated by Brexit

Overnight this morning we have had a select committee chair and and outgoing committee chair call for John Bercow’s resignation over the report about bullying and harassment at Westminster. (See 9.03am.)

On Twitter this morning at least two Labour MPs have come out defending Bercow.

This is from Barry Sheerman.

Shabby attack on John Bercow @thetimes sad to see Kevin Barron siding with far right Brexiteers & their vile campaign against our Speaker.

— Barry Sheerman (@BarrySheerman) October 16, 2018

And this is from Angela Eagle.

For the record I am not asking a UQ on bullying and I do not think the proximity of a constitutional crisis caused by Brexit is the time to be trying to change the Speaker- that way lies utter chaos

— Angela Eagle (@angelaeagle) October 16, 2018

By constitutional crisis, Eagle is referring to the possibility of the Commons voting down any Brexit deal secured by Theresa May.

In those circumstances MPs would vote on what should happen next. But quite how those votes would be arranged, and what amendments would be allowed, is not clear. MPs like Eagle want Bercow to stay in post because he has established a reputation as a speaker who would, as far as possible, interpret the rules in such a way as to benefit the legislature not the executive.

More from the Guardian’s Brussels bureau chief Daniel Boffey. On the basis of an EU briefing, he thinks Theresa May should get ready to hear some hard truths in Brussels this week.

Gloomy by EU official. If all gone well Sun, a joint political declaration would have been on table at the leaders dinner. "Since there is no agreement on the Irish backstop there will not be an outline of joint pol dec on table on Wed will not change before Wed"

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

Theresa May will address the 27 EU leaders on the third floor of the Europa, before the rest of them move on to their dinner on Wednesday evening. There is zero suggestion that anything Theresa May says will turn the dial, and lead to a political response by the 27.

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

Asked whether Donald Tusk would be concerned not to disrespect Theresa May, after the Salzburg fiasco, an EU official says that "telling the truth" is not being disrespectful. Fear that the PM might hear some more hard truths this week.

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

EU official on whether this remains the moment of truth summit: "Clearly we are not in the place we wanted to be in Octm so from that perspective that truth is... we have clarity actually... More clarity now than in Sept in Salzburg"...

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

.. "what we have found out in the process leading to this meeting on wed is that it is not going to be so easy to find a deal between the EU and the UK", the Eu official adds.

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

On Theresa May's domestic volatility, and whether this will play into EU response. Official says that they held back from a "brutal and early" knock back on Chequers.. But while choreography can be led by politics, substance cannot. A message will be sent on the Irish backstop.

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

There has been nothing since Raab visit. The hope had been an agreement on Monday... and that progress has proven illusory..

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

Basic pay jumped by 3.1% per year in the three months to August, the fastest rate since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, my colleague Graeme Wearden reports. He has more on this and on the unemployment figures (it remains at 4% - a 43-year low) on his business live blog.

Earlier, at 9.32am, I attributed some quotes to Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister. Actually the speaker, and the person in the photograph, was Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Latvian foreign affairs minister. I’m not sure whether that was my mistake, or whether there was an error in the caption on the European council live feed, but I’m happy to correct that. Thanks to LostinBruges in the comments BTL for pointing that out.

Germany urges May to 'be constructive' in Brexit talks, saying EU has limited room for manoeuvre

Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, was asked by the BBC as he arrived at the general affairs council meeting in Luxembourg if he had a message for Theresa May. He delivered a short reply in English:

Take responsibility and be constructive.

Roth also spent much longer responding to questions in German. According to Reuters, he said that Berlin was aware that May had difficulties in getting a parliamentary majority but that the EU had limited room for manoeuvre to go any further towards the British position on avoiding a hard border for Northern Ireland.

Michael Roth, the German Europe minister
Michael Roth, the German Europe minister Photograph: EU

Donald Tusk, president of the European council, tweeted this this morning.

Meeting with @MichelBarnier at critical moment of #brexit talks. To reiterate EU27’s full support for his work. And to prepare for our #EUCO discussion Wednesday evening.

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 16, 2018

EU leaders will decide on Wednesday night whether or not to schedule a Brexit summit for November, my colleague Daniel Boffey reports.

EU official says that leaders will decide on a November summit at a dinner o Wednesday night after hearing from the PM, and being briefed by @MichelBarnier - but Jean Claude Juncker will also brief on the state of no deal preparations.

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

Senior EU official on Sunday's visit by @DominicRaab: "I think that was clear on Sunday afternoon, that we what we got from Michel Barnier, who met Pres tusk today in the morning, that the spirit of talks on Sunday were not promising any progress before the summit this Wednesday"

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

"A November summit is not a given", the EU official adds.

— Daniel Boffey (@DanielBoffey) October 16, 2018

Arriving at the EU general affairs council meeting in Luxembourg, Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Latvian foreign affairs minister, said he still thought the prospects of there being a Brexit deal were 50/50. He told reporters:

A couple of months ago when I was meeting Jeremy Hunt I said that it’s 50/50. I still believe it’s 50/50, and there is a need for some good compromise that should be made.

I understand the British government has its difficulties, but I also believe that the EU is united at 27, and this is in our interest to preserve union first.

What is going to be [the] outcome I don’t know. But, I also believe that even if in this week’s debate we are not going to have any kind of deal, there is still time, there is still possibility to get a deal.

UPDATE: I’ve corrected this post, because earlier I wrongly said the person speaking was Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister, not Rinkēvičs. (See 9.55am.)

Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Latvian foreign affairs minister
Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Latvian foreign affairs minister Photograph: EU


PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield says cabinet ministers were told to arrive early for this morning’s cabinet meeting to give them time to read Brexit documents.

Ministers have been told to turn up 45 minutes early for this morning's Cabinet so they can read up on the latest Brexit documents, I'm told. Bit early after a night on the pizza.

— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) October 16, 2018

Sky News doorstepped two of the Brexiter cabinet ministers at last night’s “pizza summit”. Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons who organised last night’s meeting, was asked if she would be telling the PM to change course. Leadsom replied:

The prime minister is doing a very, very complicated job and I’m fully supporting her in getting that done

Asked if she expected Theresa May to implement Leadsom’s vision of Brexit, Leadsom replied:

I sincerely hope so and I’m supporting her to get that done.

Andrea Leadsom
Andrea Leadsom Photograph: Sky News

And Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, said the whole cabinet wanted the best deal for the country. She said:

We’re all doing our jobs and we’re trying to get the best deal for this country, and that’s it. We’re approaching the end of the negotiations and this is going to be a difficult time. But the whole cabinet is digging in to get the best deal for this country.

Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt Photograph: Sky News


Theresa May chairs Brexit cabinet as EU says no deal 'more likely than ever before'

Theresa May is chairing a cabinet this morning where ministers will consider the Brexit negotiations and the deadlock between the two sides. For some around the table it will be their second major discussion on this within 24 hours because they attended last night’s “pizza summit”, an informal meeting of the Brexiter caucus organised by Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons. Cabinet colleagues have discussions with each other all the time,” said No 10 yesterday, playing down the significance of the gathering. But it is highly unusual for the cabinet to split into factions that organise like this so openly in such a way as to challenge, or at least constrain, the prime minister.

As a reminder of what’s at stake, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, released his invitation letter to EU leaders ahead of this week’s EU summit. In it he said the prospect of a no deal Brexit was “more likely than ever before”. He said:

The European Council will start on Wednesday evening with a debate on Brexit. I have invited Prime Minister May to address the EU27, giving the UK government’s assessment of the negotiations. Later at 27, we will decide on how to take the negotiations forward, on the basis of a recommendation by our chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. As you remember from Salzburg, we wished for maximum progress and results that would lead to a deal in October. As things stand today, it has proven to be more complicated than some may have expected. We should nevertheless remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides. But at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before. Like the UK, the commission has started such preparations, and will give us an update during the meeting. But let me be absolutely clear. The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides. This is what our state of mind should be at this stage. As someone rightly said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Let us not give up.

In another development this morning Maria Miller, the chair of the women and equalities committee, said that John Bercow should resign as Commons speaker in the light of the damning report published yesterday saying the Commons authorities have tolerated widespread bullying and sexual harassment of staff working in the building. Miller told the Today programme:

The report is incredibly powerful and clear that what is the root problem here is that the bullying and harassment is coming right from the top. We have outstanding allegations directly against the speaker who will be one of the people who will be considering this report and it cannot be right that the very people who are being criticised so heavily in an independent report are those who are going to be deciding how it is taken forward.

Sir Kevin Barron, who is standing down as chair of the Commons standards committee, has also said Bercow should go. Writing in the Times, Barron said:

The change in culture has to come from the top, and unfortunately I no longer believe that the speaker, John Bercow, is the correct person to provide that leadership, so he should step down.

As the Spectator’s James Forsyth pointed out yesterday, the two stories - Brexit and Bercow - are linked.

John Bercow’s job is being saved by the belief that in the event of the government and the EU not reaching a deal, he’s the Speaker who’d enable the Commons to have the biggest say on what’d happen next

— James Forsyth (@JGForsyth) October 15, 2018

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Theresa May chairs cabinet.

9.30am: Unemployment figures are published.

9.30am: The Home Office publishes hate crime statistics.

10am: A robot gives evidence to the Commons education committee as part of its inquiry into the fourth industrial revolution.

11.30am: Greg Clark, the business secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

12.45pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.

EU foreign affairs ministers are also attending the general affairs council meeting in Luxembourg. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, will update them on the Brexit talks.

As usual, I will also be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another when I finish, after 5pm.

Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments BTL but normally I find it impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer direct questions, although sometimes I miss them or don’t have time.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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