That’s all from us for the evening (barring any further late developments, of course). Here’s a quick summary of that late-breaking story: Labour accused the government of failing to countenance meaningful changes to the Brexit deal as talks between the two parties broke up on Friday.
Jeremy Corbyn had sought major commitments on issues such as workers’ rights and wanted them enshrined in law. But there was an accusation of no “real change or compromise” on the government’s part.
Number 10 countered that it was, in fact, ready to negotiate on the political declaration – the portion of Theresa May’s deal that sets out the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU and said the prime minister was prepared to continue the talks.
For a summary of the day’s earlier events, see 4:46pm.
And, if you’d like to read yet more, my colleague Heather Stewart has the full story:
Number 10 rejects Labour's accusation of failure to compromise
After Labour said Downing Street had refused to consider meaningful changes to the deal during talks between the government and the opposition this week (see: 5.37pm), a spokesman for the prime minister has said:
We have made serious proposals in talks this week and are prepared to pursue changes to the political declaration in order to deliver a deal that is acceptable to both sides.
We are ready to hold further detailed discussions this weekend in order to seek any such changes in the run up to European Council on Wednesday. The government is determined to work constructively to deliver the Brexit people voted for, and avoid participation in the European Parliamentary elections.
That seems to contradict indications from Labour sources, who had suggested that material changes to the political declaration – a key component of any deal Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, might be persuaded to back – had not been forthcoming.
The Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, has demanded that the prime minister react to Labour’s denunciation by calling a second referendum and putting her deal to the public.
The beer and sandwiches approach the prime minister took appears to have failed. Brexit is a national embarrassment and needs to be put out of its misery.
There is a clear way for the PM to get her deal through parliament and that is by putting it to the people with the option to stay in the EU.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will visit Dublin on Monday for talks with the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar.
A spokesman for the Taoiseach confirmed that Barnier and his team would travel to the Irish capital in advance of Wednesday’s emergency EU summit in Brussels.
This is part of his frequent visits to EU27 capitals. The aim is to take stock of developments in London as well as the ongoing planning for a possible no-deal scenario.
Barnier will also meet with the Irish foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, and the finance minister, Paschal Donohue.
Nick Boles, the former Tory MP who quit the party in response to what he felt was its intransigence over Brexit, has expressed incredulity at the news that the talks have reached an impasse:
In light of Labour’s statement, the SNP’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has poured more criticism on the prime minister’s latest attempts to broker a workable Brexit deal:
The pound is losing ground on the foreign exchanges this afternoon amid signs that much of the progress made on Brexit this week looks destined to unravel.
Sterling briefly dropped below $1.30 against the dollar after Labour said it was disappointed Theresa May had not offered “real change or compromise” over her plan to leave the EU in talks with the opposition party.
The prime minister requesting an extension to the article 50 process this morning barely registered on the currency markets earlier today but signs of the EU’s reluctance to agree and France’s firm opposition appear to have dented the pound. Sterling is currently about 0.5% down against the dollar at $1.30, having been almost as high as $1.32 on Thursday morning. Against the euro, the pound has lost 0.4% on the day to trade at about €1.16.
The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, has told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme there was “quite a lot of life” left in the process of talks with Labour.
I know that there are going to be tensions. In truth the positions of the two parties are very, very close and where there’s good will it should be possible to get this done and get it done relatively quickly.
He insisted that “of course we are prepared to compromise” on the political declaration.
It’s understood that Labour has been pushing for changes to be made to the political declaration, with the government adopting the five key commitments Jeremy Corbyn set out in a letter to the prime minister in February – and for those to be enshrined in law. Those commitments were:
- A “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union”, including a say in future trade deals.
- Close alignment with the single market, underpinned by “shared institutions”.
- “Dynamic alignment on rights and protections”, so that UK standards do not fall behind those of the EU.
- Clear commitments on future UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes.
- Unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements, such as use of the European arrest warrant.
No commitment to those changes has been forthcoming, it’s understood.
Moreover, Sky’s Faisal Islam has this report:
Labour accuse government of failure to compromise over Brexit
As talks over a unified approach to Brexit come to a close, Labour are accusing the government of having refused to engage in meaningful negotiation over the terms of the exit deal. A party spokeswoman has said:
We are disappointed that the government has not offered real change or compromise.
We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in Parliament and bring the country together.
A source suggests that Labour do not see this as the end of the talks; rather that the ball is now firmly in the government’s court.
- EU ministers have said that a letter from Theresa May requesting a further Brexit delay, through the mechanism of an article 50 extension, is too vague to justify it being offered. In a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European council, May said the UK would like to delay Brexit until 30 June. (See 10.10am.) She specified that date even though, when she asked for an extension until 30 June last month, EU leaders refused, and set 12 April - next Friday - as the deadline if MPs failed to vote for the withdrawal deal. At the time the EU also said that, if the UK wanted a further extension beyond 12 April, May would have to explain “a way forward”. In her letter today May said that she hoped to agree a compromise with Labour and that, if that failed, she might use indicative votes in the Commons to find a way forward. Using similar language, the French, German and Dutch governments all complained that this did not provide enough clarity about how the UK might resolve its Brexit deadlock. (See 2.52pm, 3.43pm, 3.52pm, and 4pm.)
- France has reiterated its opposition to Britain being granted any further Brexit extension if it does not have a concrete plan with clear support in the Commons, saying that without that Britain must be deemed to have chosen to leave the EU without a deal.
- Talks between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May will break down if Labourinsists on putting any compromise deal to a confirmatory referendum, government sources have said.
- The EU has confirmed it wants a short-term arrangement with the UK on fishing quotas in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
- More generous tax relief means the government is providing more in-work cash support to Britain’s richest households than poor families are receiving, according to a left-leaning thinktank. As Larry Elliott reports, a study by the Fabian Society said nearly half the savings made in welfare payments in recent years had gone on increases in the tax-free personal allowance, rather than being used for deficit reduction. The thinktank accused the government of increasing inequality by stealth and called for a five-year freeze on tax-free allowances to “rescue social security”.
- MPs have welcomed news that the government is considering personally fining social media executives deemed to have failed to meet their duty of care to users, with one calling the decision a “massive step forward in making companies actually liable” for activity on their platforms.
- Both the main political parties suffered losses in the Newport West byelection as voters expressed anger, frustration and mistrust because of the Brexit crisis.
That’s all from me for today.
Thanks for the comments.
These are from my colleague Jennifer Rankin on what EU ambassadors think about a further article 50 extension.
According to Reuters, Norbert Roettgen, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, said Theresa May’s request for an article 50 extension until 30 June made no sense and was motivated by “domestic tactical manoeuvring”.
Reuters has more on the French government’s response to Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk. A source close to President Macron told the agency that France was not ready to accept an extension of article 50 unless the UK presented a clear plan for the future and added: “We’re not there today.”
And Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, told reporters in Bucharest:
If we are not able to understand the reason why the UK is asking for an extension, we cannot give a positive answer.
German foreign minister says UK has 'many questions still to clarify' despite May's letter to Tusk
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has also said that Theresa May needs to explain more about how she will get a Brexit plan through parliament before the EU can justify another article 50 extension. Echoing what the Dutch PM Mark Rutte said (see 3.43pm), Maas told reporters at the meeting of G7 foreign minsters in Dinard in France:
It is a difficult situation. There are, I think, many questions still to clarify in London ...
We will come together with our European colleagues at the next council meeting and come to an opinion over the question of an extension and how long such an extension should be.
Maas said protecting the legitimacy of the European elections would be a priority. He said:
The European elections are an important point in time and it is very important that they proceed in an orderly fashion. Therefore, we need great legal security and we should not endanger the legitimacy of the EU elections.
May's letter to Tusk does not provide enough 'clarity' about UK plans, says Dutch PM
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told journalists at a press conference in the Netherlands today that Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk “doesn’t answer” the EU’s key questions. He explained:
The plan was that the British would explain what they wanted from the EU. A letter was sent today which, as far as I am concerned, doesn’t answer this request [from the EU for more information]. I hope it will be possible to give the answers to these questions.
Rutte said the letter had “no full plan, there was only part of a plan”. He went on:
We hope London will provide more clarity before Wednesday ...
The ball is not here in the Netherlands, or in Paris or Berlin. The ball really is in London.
For the record, this is what the EU said in its summit conclusions in March about what would need to happen for the UK to get another extension beyond 12 April.
If the withdrawal agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week [ie, 29 March], the European council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European council.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative backbencher and chair of the European Research Group, which represents up to 80 Tories pushing for a harder Brexit, told the World at One that Theresa May was abandoning the Conservative party by moving towards a softer Brexit. Asked if he had been rejected by the prime minister, Rees-Mogg said:
If that’s right, the prime minister is cutting herself off not from me but 70% of Conservative voters, according to opinion polls, and an even higher percentage of Conservative members.
It doesn’t seem to be very clever politics to alienate the bulk of your party to keep happy a few people who have never accepted the referendum result, and have spent their lifetime committed to the European project.
If that’s true it’s not that I am being abandoned, it’s that the Conservative party is being abandoned.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has said that by requesting an article 50 extension just until 30 June, Theresa May is creating “potentially another cliff edge” in the process. Sturgeon told the BBC:
The sensible thing to do, in my view, and it seems as if this might be the EU’s view as well, is to have a longer extension to allow time for this issue to go back to the people in another referendum rather than continue to have these short-term cliff edges.
The first priority, of course, must be to avoid a no-deal exit at the end of next week - but beyond that, give some time and space now for some sensible ways forward to be found.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has said that Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk today does not answer some of the EU’s key questions, AFP’s Danny Kemp reports.
And here is my colleague Jon Henley’s full story about the French government’s hardline stance on the conditions that would have to be met for the UK to get another article 50 extension.
DUP says May's latest request for article 50 extension is 'unsurprising but unsatisfactory'
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has criticised Theresa May’s decision to request a further article 50 extension until 30 June. In a statement, Foster said it was a mistake to rule out no-deal and that the government should not be “subcontracting the UK’s future to Jeremy Corbyn”.
Here is the statement in full.
The prime minister’s latest plea to Brussels for an extension to article 50 is unsurprising but unsatisfactory. It should not have been like this. Exiting the EU has become chaotic because of intransigence in Brussels and ineffectiveness in London.
The United Kingdom fighting European elections almost three years after a clear majority voted to leave the EU sums up the disorganised and slapdash approach taken to negotiations by the prime minister.
We want a sensible deal which protects the union and respects the referendum result but it was foolish strategically in the negotiations to limit the UK’s leverage by removing ‘no deal’ from the table.
The prime minister should not waste any extension by subcontracting the UK’s future to Jeremy Corbyn. This time should be used to get a better deal which works for every part of the United Kingdom so the entire nation can leave the European Union together.
Although Foster says “subcontracting the UK’s future to Jeremy Corbyn” (ie, the talks with Labour aimed at finding a Brexit compromise) is a waste of time, today’s statement from the French Europe minister (see 2.52pm) implies it is essential. The French government wants to know that there is “credible political backing” for any plan presented by Theresa May at the summit on Wednesday. That clearly implies cross-party support. Any strategy solely reliant on Conservative votes would be viewed by the EU as likely to fail.
May will need clear plan with 'credible political backing' to justify article 50 extension, says Paris
France has reiterated its opposition to Britain being granted any further Brexit extension if it does not have a concrete plan with clear support in the Commons, saying that without one Britain must be deemed to have chosen to leave the EU without a deal.
France’s minister for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, said in a statement: “The European council took a clear decision on 21 March … Another extension requires the UK to put forward a plan with clear and credible political backing.” The council would then define the necessary conditions attached to that extension, she said.
“[I]n the absence of such a plan, we would have to acknowledge that the UK chose to leave the EU in a disorderly manner.”
De Montchalin said Paris had “read with interest Theresa May’s letter to President Tusk. As the prime minister rightly wrote, the current impasse is not in the best interest of either the UK nor the EU. It cannot be allowed to continue.”
Nick Brown, the Labour chief whip, went into the Cabinet Office earlier for an update on the government/Labour Brexit negotiations.
But he was not very forthcoming. This is from the BBC’s Tom Barton.
And this is what the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said about May’s letter to Tusk.
This is yet another desperate move from a failing prime minister.
The EU has been clear that we must have a clear purpose for any extension.
The Conservative government must ask for an extension of article 50 in order to hold a people’s vote. This will be acceptable to the EU and give the people the chance to either vote for her deal or stay in the EU, and help us to get out of this mess once and for all.
And this is from Plaid Cymru’s Brexit spokesman, Hywel Williams, on Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk. He said:
When will the prime minister realise? She is boxed in and the only way out is to put it back to the people.
The EU has been clear all along, extension requires a reason. It has become evident that an extension to allow for a people’s vote is the easiest, most logical and democratically legitimate way out of this mess.
Labour must stop propping up the prime minister and her awful deal. Whether Brexit is red, blue or a mixture of the two, jobs, rights and opportunities will be lost.
The only way we can stop this mess is a referendum that gives people the option to remain, now we know what Brexit really means.
The Tory Brexiter John Redwood has restated his opposition to any further extension of article 50.
What happened when Merkel met people living near the Irish border
Angela Merkel gave the clear impression that the EU would continue to support Ireland when she met cross-border communities in private yesterday before her meeting with Leo Varadkar, according to one of those present.
The German chancellor met representatives from the farming and health sectors as well as family members of victims of the Troubles.
“It was a very powerful and passionate presentation being made about the anxiety over the potential consequences of a hard Brexit. She said she understood the concerns over the Good Friday agreement because of her own experiences,” said the guest, who is not involved in politics.
Merkel also mentioned “the importance of the British identity” in Northern Ireland. “I thought that was very notable,” the guest added. “It showed she understands the issue about identity … and that the conundrum over the border isn’t just about tariffs.”
Merkel, who was born in Hamburg but brought up in east Germany, told reporters after her summit with the Irish taoiseach of the “moving” stories of those she had met, including those who had lived through the Troubles. Among those she met was Patricia McBride, the former victims commissioner.
At the news conference after her meeting with Varadkar, Merkel said:
For 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall.
One of those chosen to meet the chancellor said: “It sounds really cliched, but she listened, she took notes and she engaged with what people were telling her. She reiterated very clearly the EU support for Ireland. You didn’t get the impression that they were going to hang Ireland out to dry.
“She was very reassuring. She mentioned the need for patience” in the context of not rushing into an arrangement for the sake of ending the Brexit crisis. But she told guests “she could not make any promises because so much depended on what the UK government asked for”.
Newport West byelection - A roundup of the best analysis
Here is a roundup of some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the Newport West byelection result. (See 11.27am.)
This is from Prof Sir John Curtice, the psephologist who masterminds the exit polls used by broadcasters at general election. It is what he told the BBC’s Politics Live programme earlier.
No byelection should be interpreted too closely on its own. What’s interesting about the pattern in Newport West is that it is consistent with the expectations one might have had, given what the national opinion polls have been saying recently, which is a decline in the combined level of support for Conservative and Labour, with Ukip back to roughly the level that they were before the 2017 elections.
[The swing from Labour to the Tories] frankly ... is irrelevant. Both parties are down, and both parties are losing ground in the wake of the Brexit saga. The Conservatives are particularly clearly losing their support amongst their leave voters, and it is going towards Ukip. Newport West is consistent with that story in the polls.
Equally, the Labour party is losing ground, probably more amongst its remain supporters. There were four parties in Newport West fighting on a pro-second-referendum, reverse-the-result position: the Liberal Democrats, Plaid, the so-called Renew party and the Greens. Collectively their vote was up by 11 percentage points.
I don’t think it tells us anything about whether or not people want a referendum, but certainly it indicates how potentially parties on that side of the spectrum are also beginning to be able to gain ground.
This from David Cowling, the former head of political research at the BBC (sent in an email to the Guardian).
I’m afraid I am unable to subscribe to the view that the Newport West byelection was a matter of little consequence, was “a good hold” for Labour; and in the words of Jeremy Corbyn “sends a clear message that the people of Newport and Wales are fed up of austerity ... and shows support for Labour’s alternative”.
Words do and should matter.
If you have a moment, pause and reflect on the political apocalypse that has engulfed the Conservative party during this byelection campaign and then contemplate with me the fact that the result of the vote was a 2.4% swing from Labour to the Conservatives.
This swing was hardly a rally of support for the Conservatives: it was the product of the fall in Conservative support since the 2017 general election (-8%) being smaller than the fall in Labour support (-12.7%). The decline in Conservative support I understand (as I also understand the Conservative candidate’s relief after the count that his party had not been entirely wiped out); but what am I, or anyone else, to make of the greater drop in Labour’s support? Surely Mr Corbyn cannot be correct: the result cannot “show support for Labour’s alternative” if it represents a 24% loss in Labour’s share of the vote since the 2017 general election?
Low turnout is no real explanation of Labour’s performance this time: the Manchester Central byelection [in November 2012] saw Labour’s share increase by 16.4% on a turnout of 18.2%; the Middlesbrough byelection [also in November 2012] saw an increase of 14.6% in Labour’s share with a turnout of 25.9%; and on that same day in the Croydon North byelection on a turnout of 26.4%, Labour’s share went up 8.7%.
Either we are living through some of the most extraordinary events in British politics in a lifetime, or we are not. If we are, then surely the events must have some impact on elections (unless we feel that only Westminster is consumed by the firestorm and everywhere outside London exists in a blissful state of bucolic ignorance)? Newport West was a two-horse race in the midst of all these extraordinary events (with no history of past strength for either Plaid or the Lib Dems). That the Conservatives took a drubbing surprises no one; but why did Labour take a bigger one?
This is an extract from Stephen Bush’s analysis for the New Statesman.
So a comfortable hold for Labour, but the interesting story is what has happened to the vote share of both of the big two: they’re both down at the expense of the smaller parties ...
It could be a sign that the two-party polarisation of the 2017 election is not the new reality of British politics but a brief detour along the United Kingdom’s long journey to multi-party politics.
And these are from Sky’s Lewis Goodall. He posted a Twitter thread on Newport West starting here.
And here are his conclusions.
With Theresa May confirming that, for the moment at least, the European parliamentary elections are going ahead, Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, has said that he will stand for his new Brexit party. He told Sky News:
I’ll be leading the Brexit party into those European elections as it now looks certain they will happen.
Am I happy about it? No I’m not - actually I’ve got many other things in my life I’d like to do. I thought we’d won the Brexit battle but I’m not going to, after 25 years of endeavour, watch British politicians roll us over.
This is the fightback and they’re going to be very surprised by what they get.
Jeremy Corbyn has been speaking at the Pill Mill leisure centre in Newport West to celebrate Ruth Jones’s byelection win.
On Brexit he said:
We are putting forward an agenda which is about maintaining our market relationship with Europe and, above all, defending our rights and regulations which are so important to underpin the basics of employment standards in this country. Those are things we are absolutely insisting on. It’s the job of the Labour party to unite people whether they voted leave or remain.
But the focus of the byelection campaign for Labour has been the impact of austerity in south Wales. Corbyn said that when he visited on the campaign trail last week he met a tired man on his way out to do his second job. Corbyn said:
He didn’t want two jobs, he didn’t want to be working that way. It was the only way he could keep his family together, a wonderful man doing his best for his family. That is modern Britain – universal credit impoverishing people.
The government claims there is more people in work than ever. Many of those are on insecure work, low pay, two jobs just to try to make ends meet. It’s got to change. That’s why the fundamentals of Ruth’s campaign were opposition to austerity and opposition to the cuts that have been made in so many areas.
This result showed the Labour party united in condemning this government for its austerity, condemning this government for the poverty of people in Newport West who are trying to get by on universal credit.
UK could end up having 'no choice' but to accept long article 50 extension, says Hunt
Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, has said that the UK may end up having “no choice” but to accept a long article 50 extension. Speaking to the BBC, he said:
It’s obviously not optimal to have any extension at all and we have a plan to leave the EU and deliver on the referendum result which we put before parliament a number of times.
We still hope to leave the EU in the next couple of months, that’s our ambition, we don’t have a majority in parliament, and that means that we have to have these discussions with Jeremy Corbyn to see if there is enough common ground to do that.
Asked if he could accept a long extension, Hunt said:
If we can’t find a way through with parliament, then we have no choice.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s lead Brexit spokesman, has always been quite hostile to the idea of the UK being granted a long article 50 extension. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s tweet this morning (see 10.30am) seems to be making him even more convinced that letting the UK stay for the rest of 2019 would be a mistake.
Brexit talks are continuing between the government and Labour, No 10 has said, but they involve phone calls and smaller meetings rather than “full teams sitting down with each other”.
At the regular briefing, Theresa May’s spokesman gave very few details, saying the talks could continue into the weekend.
It’s an ongoing process, we’re taking one discussion at a time. We continue to focus on trying to reach a joint outcome that we can put to the European council.
May is in her constituency today, and will be at the Chequers country retreat at the weekend. At the moment there is no plans for visitors, and her spokesman said Jeremy Corbyn was not expected to come.
The People’s Vote campaign, which is calling for a second referendum on Brexit, has also criticised Theresa May’s decision to request another article 50 extension. It has released this statement from the Labour former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett.
The good news is that the prime minister has accepted there has to be an extension to the Brexit deadline. The bad news is that yet again she has chosen the worst option and done so for the worst reason – just to keep her failed strategy and her Brexit deal alive.
She is asking for the same cut-off date for an article 50 extension that was rejected before by the European council. She is trying to browbeat parliament into backing a withdrawal agreement on Brexit which would lock in the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU without any decision on our eventual destination. She is taking both the British people and EU leaders for fools because we all know this is just another time-buying, can-kicking effort to hold her bitterly divided party together.
Most ludicrously of all, Theresa May - who has been saying that holding European parliamentary elections would somehow be an affront to democracy – is now setting in motion plans for such a campaign while insisting it is her intention to pull the plug on them the day before the public would vote. This is not only absurd but further depressing evidence of the extent to which she has lost control and the UK is losing its reputation for sensible and mature government.
The Labour leader of Newport city council, Debbie Wilcox, said the Newport West byelection had been an election campaign like no other.
I’ve been an elected representative in Newport for 15 years. This election has been like no other. You feel the political turmoil on the street and when you’re knocking on doors. We live in such extraordinary times. In normal times we would have been looking at a comfortable win here but this time it’s been so different. I think that is a recognition that people are really feeling: ‘A plague on both their houses.’ It’s very difficult to get positive messages out. People who know me in my ward have said: ‘Debbie, I can’t be bothered.’ We unfortunately have to deal with the bite back from national politics. It’s like a topsy-turvy world.
Asked about the talks between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, Wilcox said:
It should have happened two years ago. She should have offered that to him a long time ago.
There were creditable showings from some of the smaller parties.
Amelia Womack, the deputy leader for the Green party, stood in her home city, and assessed the mood thus:
There are some people that are angry but I would say most people feel lost. They no longer have political homes they feel comfortable in. They are looking for opportunities outside the two-party system. I think that feeling of not having a clear political home is one of the most interesting parts of this campaign.
June Davies, who stood for the pro-Europe party Renew, said:
People have been welcoming on the doorstep because we don’t have the baggage others have. People are losing faith in local, regional and national politics. We have been able to talk about the real issues – austerity, schools, working families. I don’t think the average voter really believes that politicians are working for them. It’s been an interesting minefield to wade through.
Labour wins Newport West byelection with reduced majority
Labour has held on to the Newport West parliamentary seat in a byelection fought against the backdrop of Brexit chaos during which all parties said they had heard anger, frustration and mistrust on the doorstep, my colleague Steven Morris reports.
Here are the results in full, from the Press Association
Ruth Jones (Lab) 9,308 (39.58%, -12.73%)
Matthew Evans (C) 7,357 (31.29%, -8.00%)
Neil Hamilton (UKIP) 2,023 (8.60%, +6.07%)
Jonathan T Clark (PC) 1,185 (5.04%, +2.56%)
Ryan Jones (LD) 1,088 (4.63%, +2.38%)
Amelia Womack (Green) 924 (3.93%, +2.79%)
June Davies (Renew) 879 (3.74%)
Richard Suchorzewski (Assembly) 205 (0.87%)
Ian McLean (Soc Dem) 202 (0.86%)
Phillip Taylor (DVP) 185 (0.79%)
Hugh Nicklin (FBM) 159 (0.68%)
Lab maj 1,951 (8.30%)
2.36% swing Lab to C
Here is some more comment on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s tweet.
From Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy Conservative chairman:
From Christian Odendahl, the chief economist at the Centre for European Reform:
May's decision to request short Brexit delay shows she's putting party before country, says SNP
And this is from the Scottish National party’s Europe spokesman, Stephen Gethins, on Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk. He said:
More than three years on from the EU referendum and the prime minister’s approach is still dictated by can-kicking and chaos.
Theresa May continues to ignore Scotland and her proposal to seek a further short extension to June 30th 2019 - which the EU has already previously rejected – demonstrates beyond doubt she is putting the interests of her fractured Tory party above all else.
It is clear that with the UK parliament unable to reach a consensus – coupled with everything we now know on the damaging impact Brexit will have on the UK economy, jobs and living standards – it must now be the priority that the issue is brought back to the people in a fresh second EU referendum, with the option to remain [in the EU] on the ballot paper.
May's letter to Tusk shows she is 'at odds with reality', says Green MP Caroline Lucas
This is from the Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Here is Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, on how the EU is likely to respond to Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk.
If UK has to stay in EU for another year, it should become obstructive, says Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group, which represents hardline Brexiter Tory MPs, says if the UK does have to accept a long article 50 extension, the UK should become obstructive.
That has prompted this response from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minster.
And Sky’s Faisal Islam suggests Rees-Mogg may be trying to encourage Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who is seen as the EU leader most sceptical about granting another extension, to veto the “flextension” proposal.
May's letter to Tusk - Summary and analysis
One of Theresa May’s defining characteristics is stubbornness. She does not give up easily. After her Brexit deal was rejected by parliament by a record number of votes, instead of adopting a new approach, she just tried a second and third time to get substantially the same deal through parliament (failing decisively both times). And last month, when it was obvious that the UK would not be able to leave the EU on 29 March as planned, she wrote to Donald Tusk, the European council president, requesting an extension of article 50 until 30 June. That request was rejected, but today, despite the UK being in an even weaker negotiating position than it was three weeks ago, she has made exactly the same request again.
So, one thing today’s letter confirms is that flexibility is not one of May’s virtues. But there is more to the letter than that. Here is what it tells us.
- May is not willingly going to embrace a year-long flexible extension to article 50, with the UK having the right to leave the EU earlier if parliament approves the withdrawal agreement. As my colleague Daniel Boffey was reporting overnight, this option - dubbed a “flextension” - is currently Tusk’s preferred option. In an interview with the BBC for the Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast, Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, said that if MPs could not agree on a deal soon, the PM would have to accept an extension that was “likely to be a long one, by which I mean longer than just a few weeks or months”. So No 10 knows a year-long extension is becoming inevitable. But, instead of accepting that, May has tabled an alternative offer that she must know is extremely likely to be rejected. That will be because she needs cover with Brexiter Tories; if she does end up having to agree to a long extension, she cannot be seen to agree to that without having put up a fight.
- May does not try to address the EU’s concerns about a 30 June extension, suggesting that her offer may not be a serious one. May does not want the UK to take part in the European elections on 23 May, and there is an argument that it would be acceptable for the UK not to take part provided it was out of the EU before the new parliament convened on 2 July. That would make an extension until 30 June acceptable. However, some senior EU figures were worried the UK might not take part in the elections, but then revoke article 50 in June - plunging the EU institutions into legal chaos (because the UK would be a member without representation in the parliament). If May really wanted the EU to agree to 30 June, she would have addressed this point in her letter. She doesn’t.
- May explains the process she is engaged in with Labour to try to find a compromise - but with a few new clues as to her thinking. Part of what is in the letter repeats what May said in her statement from No 10 on Tuesday after the seven-hour cabinet meeting about what to do next. May said if she and Corbyn could not agree on a compromise solution, the government and Labour would agree “a number of options for the future relationship that we could put to the house in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue”. In today’s letter that has become “a small number of clear options” (my italics), suggesting indicative votes on perhaps just three choices?
- May insists the government will only sign up to this sort of binding indicative votes process if Labour agrees to be bound by it too. May also made this point in her speech on Tuesday, but today she is more explicit. She says:
The government stands ready to abide by the decision of the house, if the opposition will commit to doing the same.
In saying this, May is using her letter to put pressure on the opposition, implying Corbyn will be partly to blame if there is no agreement. This marks a departure from May’s letter to Tusk last month, which barely mentioned the opposition.
- May stresses her willingness to “compromise” and her determination to resolve this crisis quickly. She also explains in some detail how she has been holding talks with Labour. This will be welcome by EU leaders, some of whom have been urging the UK to adopt a cross-party approach for some time, but they may legitimately wonder why May has left it so late.
- May confirms the UK will now prepare for European elections - while hoping to agree a Brexit deal before 22 May that would allow them to be cancelled. This marks a change from her letter three weeks ago, in which she implied that the UK would not contest those elections, without making a firm commitment. Today she says:
The United Kingdom accepts the European council’s view that if the United Kingdom were still a member state of the European Union on 23 May 2019, it would be under a legal obligation to hold the elections. The government is therefore undertaking the lawful and responsible preparations for this contingency, including by making the order that sets the date of the poll ...
The government will want to agree a timetable for ratification that allows the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union before 23 May 2019 and therefore cancel the European parliament elections, but will continue to make responsible preparations to hold the elections should this not prove possible.
This means parties are going to have to select candidates and start campaigning for an election that may never happen. As well as being a potential colossal waste of money, it will be rather surreal.
The current deadline for a no-deal Brexit is a week today, yet Theresa May has not even scheduled another vote on her deal, and neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords is sitting. But, away from parliament, there are important developments happening.
- May has written to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, formally asking for another article 50 extension - but only until 30 June. The letter has just been released by No 10. Here it is.
I will post more on the letter in a moment. And we will get a No 10 lobby briefing at 11am when we should learn more.
- The government and Labour are holding a third day of talks designed to establish whether May and Jeremy Corbyn can unite around a compromise Brexit plan. David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, is leading the government team, and Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is leading the Labour team.
As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, although I expect to be focusing mostly on Brexit. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another when I wrap up.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. 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.
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