- Theresa May has identified what she described as “three key changes” that she claimed that she would be making to her Brexit policy. She did so as she delivered a statement to MPs - something she was obliged to do under the EU Withdrawal Act following the defeat of her plan in the Common last week. (See 5.01pm.) Critics said the changes she identified were ones she has promised before, and that she was not offering MPs anything particularly new, or anything with obvious potential to break the parliamentary deadlock.
- The government is to waive the planned fee for EU nationals living in the UK to apply for settled status after Brexit, May has said.
- Peers have defeated the government in the Lords by voting to hold up proceedings on the trade bill until ministers give parliament more details on how international trade agreements will be struck and scrutinised after Brexit. (See 5.11pm.) Commenting on the vote, Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now said:
We’re absolutely delighted that parliament has started to assert its power over this awful bill. The government should never have introduced a trade bill that failed to give proper powers to parliament to scrutinise, debate and discuss Britain’s post-Brexit trade deals – given the vast changes that could be made to our food standards and public services in such deals.
- The British government would have no say over new trade deals if it was in a customs union with the European Union, a former head of the World Trade Organization has said.
That’s all from me for tonight.
Thanks for the comments.
Here is Labour’s Stella Creasy on the government’s decision to scrap the charge for EU nationals applying for settled status.
At the end of last week, in an interview with the Times (paywall), the defence minister Tobias Ellwood said the government should delay Brexit if it cannot get its deal through parliament by 29 March. Leaving with no agreement would “be an act of self harm with profound economic, security and reputational, consequences for the UK at the very time threats are increasing and diversifying,” he told the paper.
Today he is tweeting about banana cake to make the same point.
May’s statement is now over. John Bercow, the speaker, says 107 backbenchers were able to ask a question.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams asks what May thinks about the idea of using citizens’ assemblies to come up with a compromise plan on Brexit.
May says, as the government goes forward, the government will be looking at what methods can be used to ensure that people’s voices are heard.
(The reference to “going forward” implies that this is an idea that she might consider after Brexit, as the government negotiates the UK-EU trade deal, rather than something that she would use to resolve the current Brexit impasse.)
May's statement - Verdict from Twitter commentariat
This is what journalists and commentators are saying about Theresa May’s statement.
From the Guardian’s Paul Johnson
From the BBC’s Andrew Neil
From the Guardian’s Heather Stewart
From the Spectator’s James Forsyth
From the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour
From the BBC’s Nick Robinson
From the Evening Standard’s Nicholas Cecil
From the Sun’s Steve Hawkes
From the BBC’s Norman Smith
Labour’s Paul Farrelly asks May why she has been unable to say this afternoon if she will implement the result if MPs vote for an amendment next week proposing an alternative Brexit approach.
May says the people gave the government an instruction in the referendum. She wants MPs to vote for a deal implementing it.
Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s external affairs and culture secretary, has attacked Theresa May for continuing with plans to require EU citizens to register to stay after Brexit.
Hyslop said it was welcome the UK government had finally bowed to pressure and scrapped the £65 registration fee for EU citizens who wanted to stay, but added that it should never have been introduced. She said:
This does not change the fact that EU citizens should not be asked to apply simply to retain the rights that they already have to live, work and study in Scotland. This has caused real anxiety for EU citizens in Scotland, who contribute so much to our economy and society.
Fees charged as part of the pilot scheme introduced today by the UK government should be dropped immediately.
Business groups express concern about lack of progress towards Brexit deal
Business groups have expressed alarm that parliament does not seem to be getting any closer to agreeing a Brexit deal.
This is from Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director general.
While the government’s move to consult more widely is welcome, as is the commitment to scrap the settled status charge for EU citizens, the fundamentals have not changed.
Parliament remains in deadlock while the slope to a cliff edge steepens.
The government should accept that no-deal in March 2019 must be off the table.
Politicians on both sides of the Commons need to step back from their increasingly entrenched positions ... There must be a new cross-party approach, where leaders compromise and find a path that safeguards the economy.
And this is from Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors.
The stasis continues. The prime minister’s statement was correct to the extent that Parliament does have to come together over a plan if no deal is to be avoided. There is lots of talk of ‘taking no deal off the table’, but the law is clear that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March, with or without a withdrawal agreement. Two-thirds of our members say that leaving without a deal would be negative for their businesses and nearly 80% made clear they don’t want to see it happen. We desperately need politicians to get serious about finding a way forward.
In response to a question from the Tory Charlie Elphicke, May says those MPs trying to use parliamentary procedure to frustrated Brexit need to “think very carefully” about what they are doing, because the public does not want to see Brexit stopped.
Government defeated in Lords as peers vote to hold up trade bill until ministers reveal more about post-Brexit plans
The government has been defeated in the Lords over its plans for post-Brexit trade deals. As the Press Association reports, in a highly unusual move peers voted by 243 to 208, majority 35, to block the trade bill’s report stage until they get fuller details of the plans. The move - branded a “tactic of obstruction” by the government - has no impact on the four days of committee stage debate on the bill starting today. But it will mean the measure’s subsequent report stage will not start until the government has complied with Labour’s demand to give parliament more details on how international trade agreements will be struck and scrutinised after Brexit.
Labour’s Peter Kyle refers to what May said in her opening statement about how a second referendum would undermine social cohesion. (See 5.01pm.) But only a small number of people would react like that, he says. When did the Conservative party stop standing up to fascists and start giving in to them instead?
May says that remark is beneath Kyle.
She says throughout her political career she has seen other countries hold second referendums when leaders did not like the result. She has always opposed that, she suggests. She says leaders should accept the results for referendums.
Theresa May's statement to MPs - Summary and analysis
Here are the main points from Theresa May’s opening statement. It contained more substance that many of her Brexit statements have done (not that that’s saying much), but it did not quite amount to the wholly new approach she seemed to promise at the start.
- May claimed that she has changed her approach to Brexit in response to last week’s defeat. At the start of her speech she said:
Mr Speaker, turning to Brexit, following last week’s vote it is clear that the government’s approach had to change. And it has.
Most commentators think that, in reality, May has not particularly acknowledged the need to change, and that any change she is implementing is incremental. (Eg, see 1.02pm.) She seemed to confirm this at the end of her statement when she summed up the three main changes she is planning.
My sense so far is that three key changes are needed.
First, we will be more flexible, open and inclusive in the future in how we engage parliament in our approach to negotiating our future partnership with the European Union.
Second, we will embed the strongest possible protections on workers’ rights and the environment.
And third, we will work to identify how we can ensure that our commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland and Ireland can be delivered in a way that commands the support of this House, and the European Union.
Of these proposals, the first two are ones that May has already made in the Commons before (although she fleshed them out in a bit more detail today). And the third proposal is exactly what she was saying before Christmas.
- She announced that the government is abolishing the £65 fee for EU nationals applying for settled status.
And having listened to concerns from members – and organisations like the “The 3 Million” group - I can confirm today that when we roll out the scheme in full on 30th March, the government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. And anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed. More details about how this will work will be made available in due course.
Of course, it was May’s government that introduced the fee in the first place. Even the Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg argued that it was impossible to justify. (See 10.49am.) And so perhaps this U-turn was inevitable. When Rees-Mogg is making you look illiberal, you are in real trouble ...
- She said that she wanted “a wide range of voices”, from inside parliament and outside, to contribute to Brexit policy when the UK-EU trade deal is being negotiated. She said this should include select committees, the devolved authorities, elected representatives from Northern Ireland, representatives from the English regions, businesses, civil society and unions. She said:
The political declaration will provide the basis for developing our detailed negotiating mandate for the future.
And this new phase of negotiations will be different in a number of ways. It will cover a far broader range of issues in greater depth, and so will require us to build a negotiating team that draws on the widest expertise available – from trade negotiators to security experts and specialists in data and financial services.
And as we develop our mandate across each of these areas I want to provide reassurance to the House.
Given the breadth of the negotiations we will seek input from a wide range of voices from outside government.
She also said that consulting select committees at this stage of the process could involve the government giving evidence to them in private, so that MPs could be kept informed without the negotiating position being undermined.
- She said the government would consider legislating if necessary to implement the John Mann amendment on workers’ rights. She said:
I will ensure that we provide parliament with a guarantee that not only will we not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment but we will ensure this country leads the way.
To that end [Greg Clark, the business secretary] indicated the government’s support for the proposed amendment to the meaningful vote put down by [John Mann]– including that parliament should be able to consider any changes made by the EU in these areas in future.
[Clark] others will work with members across the House, businesses and trade unions, to develop proposals that give effect to this amendment, including looking at legislation where necessary.
In practice, the Mann amendment would amount to little more than a nudge in the direction of the government having to agree to match any new EU measures strengthening workers’ rights, and so the significance of this is limited.
- She restated her opposition to a second referendum - but also claimed that a majority of MPs were also opposed. And she implied that holding one could trigger disorder. She said:
I fear a second referendum would set a difficult precedent that could have significant implications for how we handle referendums in this country - not least, strengthening the hand of those campaigning to break up our United Kingdom.
It would require an extension of article 50. We would very likely have to return a new set of MEPs to the European Parliament in May.
And I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy ...
I know there are members who have already indicated that they wish to test the support of the House for this path.
I do not believe there is a majority for a second referendum.
And if I am right, then just as the government is having to think again about its approach going forwards, then so too do those members who believe this is the answer.
It is hard to be sure, but this sounded a bit like May saying she would be happy if an MP tabled an amendment forcing a vote on this next week, because she was reasonably confident it would be defeated.
- She claimed that the EU would not allow article 50 to be extended unless the UK had a plan for approving a deal - meaning the only way to avoid a no-deal Brexit would be to revoke article 50. And that would be unacceptable, because it would cancel Brexit, she said.
- She said the cross-party talks on Brexit were still ongoing.
- She said that she would provide a further update to MPs on Brexit at the start of the debate in the Commons on Tuesday next week.
Labour’s Pat McFadden asks if May is implacably opposed to holding a general election.
May says she has made it clear she does not think an election is in the national interest “at this time”.
Labour’s Ben Bradshaw asks May if her first loyalty is to the national interest or the party interest.
May says everything she is doing in the national interest.
Anna Soubry, the Tory pro-European, says: “This just isn’t good enough.” May is turning the UK “into a laughing stock”, she says. She says May promised before Christmas to sort out the backstop. “The truth is, nothing has changed.”
May says she did get fresh assurances from the EU over Christmas. But they did not go far enough, she says.
Frank Field, the independent MP who is tabling an amendment calling for a series of indicative votes, asks May to back this proposal.
May says she is still discussing Brexit with MPs. She says the motion being debated next week will be amendable.
Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, asks May to rule out extending article 50. He says that would give certainty to business.
May says she hopes she can reassure him, by saying the UK will be leaving on 29 March. But she does not firmly rule out extending article 50.
- May refused to firmly rule out extending article 50.
Hilary Benn, the Labour chair of the Commons Brexit committee, says May’s door may be open, but her mind is closed. She is ruling out rejecting no deal, and ruling out a customs union. He urges her to accept the plan in the committee’s report (pdf) last week for MPs to get indicative votes.
May says Benn is wrong to think that MPs can easily rule out a no-deal Brexit. The way to do that is to back a deal, she says.
Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader at Westminster, thanks May for the meetings she has held, and her recognition that changes to the backstop need to be made. Is May serious about getting changes through the Commons, with the necessary changes to the backstop?
May says she wants to find the best way to resolve these issues that will command the support of MPs.
Boris Johnson, the Brexiter former foreign secretary, asks May to confirm that she will seek legally binding changes to the text of the withdrawal agreement when she goes back to the EU.
May says she is listening to what MPs propose on this. There are a number of options, she says. She will look to see what would command the support of the house.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper challenges May to hold votes on her red lines, such as staying out of the customs union.
May says there will be a debate next week, and MPs will be able to table amendments.
Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, says the MoD put 3,500 troops on standby for a no-deal Brexit at the end of last week. What would their rules of engagement be if they have to deal with disturbances?
May says the plan would be to use these troops to replace others, for example on guard duty.
Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, asks if May would implement a customs union if MPs voted for it.
May says she wants to listen to MPs’ views, but that it is also important to implement the referendum result. (May thinks staying in the customs union would not implement that, because the UK would not be able to strike its own trade deals.)
- May signals she remains opposed to keeping the UK in the customs union.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says May is still sticking to her pre-conditions. She should take a no-deal Brexit off the table, he says.
Ken Clarke, the pro-Europe Tory, says there were probably more remainers voting against May last week than Brexiters.
May is responding to Corbyn.
She says he said ‘no more phoney talks’. But it would be nice to have some talks with him, she says.
She says Corbyn wants to rule out a no-deal Brexit. But she wants to talk to MPs about what is needed to ensure there is a deal.
She says the £4.2bn being spent by the government is not all for a no-deal Brexit. Some of that needs to be spent if the UK is leaving with a deal, she says.
Jeremy Corbyn is responding to May.
He says May is still in denial about the extent of her defeat last week.
He says her cross-party talks are a “sham”.
He welcomes the news that the proposed fee for EU nationals applying for settled status will be abolished.
He says May is going back to the EU to get concessions on the Irish backstop. What is the difference between a concession and a legal assurance? He says May tried this before Christmas. “This really does feel like Groundhog Day.”
He says Philip Hammond, the chancellor, told business that a no-deal Brexit would be ruled out. But he is spending £4bn preparing for it, Corbyn says.
He asks May to confirm that, if the Commons passes an amendment ruling out no deal, she will honour that.
He says Labour will set out plans for a customs union with the EU, a strong single market deal, and no race to the bottom on workers’ rights.
Labour will also back amendments ruling out a no-deal Brexit. And it will consider the case for a people’s vote, he says.
May says £65 fee for EU nationals applying for settled status to be abolished
May says the government wants to accept the John Mann amendment guaranteeing workers’ rights after Brexit. It will consider legislating for this.
Turning to EU nationals, May says the government will not charge the proposed fee for EU nationals who apply for settled status so they can stay in the UK. It was to be £65 for adults and £32.50 for under-16s.
- May says £65 fee for EU nationals applying for settled status to be abolished.
May says she wants MPs to have more say on future UK-EU trade deal
May says she wants to harness the views of MPs about what they want to see in the agreement on the future UK-EU treaty.
- May says she wants MPs to have more say on future UK-EU trade deal.
She says MPs think they have not been consulted enough.
MPs have used humble addresses to get hold of government documents.
She says, in future, minister will brief select committees in confidence so that what they say does not undermine the government’s negotiating position.
She says she wants to get more input from the devolved administrations, and from business.
May says she wants MPs to clarify what they want on backstop
May says there are four other issues. On these, there could be some progress, she says.
On the backstop, May says she will not reopen the Good Friday agreement.
She says she wants to find out what MPs are demanding on the backstop. Then she will take that demand back to the EU, she says.
- May says she wants MPs to clarify what they want on the backstop.
May says she expects MPs to reject calls for second referendum
Second, says May, some MPs have argued for a second referendum.
She says this would undermine trust in politics. Article 50 would have to be extended. And she says holding a second vote could undermine social cohesion.
May says some MPs want to test support for this in the Commons. She says she does not think there will be support for it.
- May says she expects MPs to reject calls for a second referendum.
May says six issues have come up.
First, MPs are concerned about the UK leaving the EU with no deal. The right way to address this is by approving a deal, she says.
The alternative would be revoking article 50, which would mean staying in.
She says the other alternative would be to extend article 50. But this would not rule out no deal - only extend the decision point. And the EU would not agree to extend article 50 just to give the UK more time.
So this option would involve cancelling Brexit, she says.
- May restates her opposition to extending article 50.
Turning to Brexit, May says it was clear from last week’s vote that the government’s approach to Brexit had to change. “And it has.”
She says she has had meetings with opposition leaders about Brexit, apart from with Jeremy Corbyn.
She says she regrets Corbyn has not taken part in the talks. She hopes he will change his mind.
Theresa May is making her statement now.
She starts by condemning the car bomb attack in Derry at the weekend.
She says MPs want to ensure we never go back to the violence of the past.
This is from Craig Oliver, who used to be David Cameron’s communications chief, commenting on what Donald Tusk said about claiming he would never need to hold the referendum he promised. (See 2.17pm.)
Oliver is right to say that Cameron repeatedly said in 2015 that he would insist on there being a referendum if he was prime minister after the election, even if he was leading a coalition government. But it is not clear from what the BBC had said about their Donald Tusk interview when Tusk’s conversation with Cameron on this is supposed to have happened. It could have been well before the 2015 campaign.
Theresa May's Commons statement
Theresa May is about to make her Commons statement about what she will do next following the defeat of her Brexit plan last week.
On the World at One Stephen Crabb, the Conservative former cabinet minister, said some of his Brexiter colleagues were being “deeply, deeply irresponsible” because they were making people think a no-deal Brexit would be acceptable.
When you go outside London, as I was at the weekend, you hear people in the street saying: ‘We just need to leave without a deal, let’s just get out without a deal’. And I think we’re in quite dangerous territory as a country where, certainly a chunk of my party, or a wing of my party, is fomenting that kind of opinion. It is deeply, deeply irresponsible.
He also described the European Research Group, which represents Brexiter Tories, as “almost a party within a party”. He explained:
They organise themselves extremely effectively. They have their own leadership. They say publicly they have their own whips. They whip their members to vote in a certain way. They have their own briefing material. They rely on their own social media networks. So they are a well-established group, almost a party within a party.
This is from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
On settled status, abolishing the fee would be a win for Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter, on the basis of what he was saying about it this morning. (See 10.49am.)
Hollande urged Cameron in 2015 to break his election promise to hold EU referendum
Here are some more excerpts from the BBC’s ‘Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil’ documentary, the first episode of which goes out a week today.
- Donald Tusk, the European council president, recalls telling David Cameron that EU leaders did not want to offer radical change as part of his renegotiation.
I told him bluntly come on David, get real. I know that all prime ministers are promising to help you, but believe me the truth is that no-one has an appetite for revolution in Europe only because of your stupid referendum. If you try to force us, to hurry us, you will lose everything. And for the first time I saw something close to fear in his eyes. He finally realised what a challenge he was facing.
- Tusk recalls Cameron calling him after the referendum result.
David Cameron called me and he informed me that he’s ready to resign. I said, ‘Yes David, it would be very difficult even to imagine that a prime minister who was the leader of remain’s campaign would be just two days later a prime minister negotiating Brexit.’ It was like his day of reckoning was coming, reckoning for his biggest mistake in his life.”
- William Hague, foreign secretary when Cameron promised a referendum, recalls arguing in favour. “This was coming. Either we had to lead that or be the victims of it,” Hague tells the programme. But George Osborne, the then chancellor, urged Cameron not to make the promise, saying a referendum could be a “disaster for Britain”.
- Francois Hollande, the former French president, recalls urging Cameron in September 2015 to break his manifesto promise to hold a referendum. He made the argument when staying overnight at Chequers, and he told the programme:
Nothing obliged him to hold the referendum when he did. This would not be the first time that a commitment made at an election had not been kept afterwards, but he wanted to show he could negotiate successfully with Europeans.
- Donald Tusk, the European council president, has claimed that David Cameron told him he thought he would never have to hold the referendum he promised because the Lib Dems would block it. In an interview for a BBC documentary, ‘Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil’, the first episode of which goes out a week today, Tusk said:
I asked David Cameron, ‘Why did you decide on this referendum, this – it’s so dangerous, so even stupid, you know,’ and he told me – and I was really amazed and even shocked – that the only reason was his own party. [He told me] he felt really safe, because he thought at the same time that there’s no risk of a referendum, because his coalition partner, the Liberals, would block this idea of a referendum. But then, surprisingly, he won and there was no coalition partner. So paradoxically David Cameron became the real victim of his own victory.
- A no-deal Brexit and a sharper slowdown in China are the biggest risks to growth in the global economy in 2019, the International Monetary Fund has warned in its latest economic outlook.
- Parliament is unlikely to have a second binding vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal until February, Downing Street has said, playing down the significance of the motion that will be voted on next week.
- Downing Street has refused to back business minister Richard Harrington’s claim that a no-deal Brexit would be “an absolute disaster”. (See 12.04pm.)
- Cross-party Brexit talks between the government and backbench MPs have resumed despite May’s insistence that her first priority is to reach out to hardline Tory Brexiters and the Democratic Unionist party over the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
- Members of the EU27 have expressed their frustration with May while rejecting a game-changing renegotiation of the Irish backstop and calling for a convincing ‘plan B’ that could win round parliament to a Brexit deal. As Daniel Boffey reports, arriving in Brussels for a meeting on Monday, EU27 foreign ministers expressed varying degrees of openness to making changes to the withdrawal agreement, but were sceptical of being able to offer anywhere near enough for May to secure the support of rebel MPs.
- Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has signalled that the EU would be willing to change the political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship to help May get her deal through parliament. In an interview with RTE’s Tony Connelly, he appeared to rule out any changes to the backstop, saying the withdrawal agreement was the best deal possible. But he indicated that the EU was willing to be flexible on the political declaration. Connelly has summed up the interview in a Twitter thread starting here.
And here are some of his tweets.
- The Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who is leading a backbench effort to rule out a no-deal Brexit, has argued that much of the government, including Theresa May, privately want this to happen, and are relying on parliament to take action.
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading Tory Brexiter, has strongly criticised the government plan to make EU nationals living in the UK pay £65 for settled status giving them the right to remain. (See 10.49am.)
- Work has begun at the Calais Eurotunnel exit for a new border inspection post for horses and other large animals as part of a £20m no-deal contingency plan.
- Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, has welcomed new sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russians blamed for the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury. As the Press Association reports, Hunt said the decision to place travel bans and asset freezes on nine people delivered on the UK’s pledge to take “tough action against the reckless and irresponsible activities of the Russian military intelligence organisation”.
- Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, has said Fiona Bruce was “clearly repeating Tory propaganda” and rejected the BBC’s apology after the Question Time host misstated Labour’s position in the polls.
- Conservative Chief Whip Julian Smith must resign if he is privately blocking proposals to allow MPs on maternity leave to vote by proxy, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson has said. As the Press Association reports, the Times reports that Smith is trying to “obstruct” a change in the voting system as he attempts to win support in the Commons for May’s Brexit deal. Swinson said:
Julian Smith had to apologise for cheating my constituents out of their voice, by asking an MP to break our pair while I nursed my two-week-old baby. If he is blocking proxy voting in private, it makes an absolute mockery of his public apology and he should resign.
Downing Street says May supported introducing proxy voting in the Commons for MPs on maternity leave, but that it was important to make sure the change was introduced properly.
Thornberry suggests Labour may not commit to backing second referendum until UK 'about to hit wall of no deal'
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, has suggested that Labour may not commit itself to backing a second referendum on Brexit until the UK is “about to hit the wall of no deal”. Speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire, she was asked about claims that Labour is delaying the moment when it has to back a second referendum for as long as possible. She replied:
We are going through these different options as has been set out by our party policy. So we go for a general election. We are now at the stage of trying to look at all options that may be on the table, so we are trying to say to [Theresa May], ‘Look you need to have a customs deal, we have to be part of a customs union, you have to stop blackmailing us on no deal. There are certain things you absolutely have to do.’ We have been saying that.
Then, if we end up where we are absolutely about to hit the wall of no deal, then of course we will try anything we can to make sure that we protect our country.
Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, has ruled out bilateral talks on Brexit with the DUP and any other political party in the UK. She said the negotiations were between the European Union and the UK. Speaking on Morning Ireland about reports claiming the UK government is considering how a UK-Ireland treaty could resolve the backstop issue, she said:
What we can’t do and won’t do, because we have not throughout this entire process, is engage in any kind of bilateral negotiations with the DUP or any other political party in the North or the UK.
She also ruled out changing the Good Friday agreement, saying:
It is not negotiable for us and I really doubt any parties in the south or north or those in the UK would agree to it.
We have 94% of the people here who voted overwhelmingly to support the Good Friday agreement and it was over 70% in the north.
To suggest that after only 20 years we would try to amend it or change it, it’s not something that we would consider and not something I think the prime minister would consider.
Everything we are hearing is speculation and until the prime minister actually brings forward her motion, all of this is speculation.
May would prefer no-deal Brexit to no Brexit, says George Osborne
George Osborne, the Conservative former chancellor, thinks Theresa May would rather have a no-deal Brexit than no Brexit. He now edits the Evening Standard, and, in an “editor’s reply” slot in the paper today, he says he thinks that would be May’s preference because, when it comes to the crunch, she will put party first. He says:
As it happens, however, I understand why [Jeremy] Corbyn doesn’t want to enter talks with Theresa May. It’s all been a short-lived Downing Street stunt. The prime minister all but confirmed that on the call to the cabinet last night that was leaked.
She will never make the move needed to win over substantial cross-party support for a Brexit deal, because it would further rupture the Conservatives.
I predict that when the crunch comes she’ll put her party first, and that means she would favour a no-deal Brexit before no Brexit. Of course, parliament may well overrule her — as we’ll see this week.
Here is more from the BBC’s Adam Fleming on what the Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, has said about being willing to see the backstop limited to five years. (See 12.21pm.)
And this is from the Polish Press Agency’s Jakub Krupa.
Earlier I quoted the ICM polling in today’s Guardian suggesting that a no-deal Brexit is the most popular of various Brexit outcomes with the public. (See 9.15am.)
The Labour MP Chris Bryant says he knows some people think a no-deal Brexit means staying in the EU.
This Sky News Twitter poll seems to back that up.
UPDATE: YouGov’s Anthony Wells says, in its polls at least, people don’t think a no-deal Brexit means staying in the EU.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg (here) and ITV’s Robert Peston (here) have both written blogs trying to sum up the state of play at Westminster. They are both finding it hard to conceal a sense of despair about the process.
Here is an extract from Kuenssberg’s article.
On the face of it, there is nothing remotely surprising about Theresa May telling her Cabinet colleagues last night that she wants to have another go at trying to sort out the backstop.
The political implication of that is that she still thinks it is better at this stage for her to pursue a strategy that might just about conceivably see, in the end after a lot more wrangling, a version of her deal squeak through the House of Commons with support from her own MPs and having kissed and made up with the DUP.
Right now that seems a long way off of course, and it might prove impossible.
But the view at the top of government is that, on balance, this is the better choice. There are plenty of MPs and some in government on the other side of this argument who think it is not much short of insane to keep going with a strategy that has been so roundly kicked out by the Commons. You hear a lot of quoting of Einstein, who claimed the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. (Although as so often there is a row over whether he actually said that at all.)
And here is an extract from Peston’s.
This new leg of potentially pointless process starts this afternoon, when the PM will spell out her revised route to a deal in the form of a motion, that will then be amended by backbenchers.
There will then be votes on the amendments – the important ones probably having the effect of coercing the PM to endeavour to rule out a no-deal Brexit – on Tuesday week, 29 January.
An acceleration of talks with the EU will follow, and another “meaningful” (or potentially “meaningless”) vote on a tweaked version of the PMs Brexit plan in mid February.
By which point we will be a month from the due date for exiting the EU, and if parliament were to reject her deal we may be no nearer knowing how and even whether we are actually leaving the EU.
“The world is laughing at us” a minister said to me. “And for some reason the PM doesn’t seem bothered”.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, has criticised the response of the BBC to the complaints made about how she was treated on Question Time last week.
Work has begun at the Calais Eurotunnel exit for a new border inspection post for horses and other large animals as part of a £20m no-deal contingency plan, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.
Poland proposes putting five-year time limit on backstop
These are from the BBC’s Adam Fleming and Katya Adler.
Downing Street lobby briefing - Snap summary
I’m just back from the Downing Street briefing. A good rule from lobby is that, the longer a briefing is, the less informative is. That’s because reporters keep asking questions in the forlorn hope that they might actually learn something. Today’s was a longish briefing, and not enormously enlightening, but there were some clues.
- No 10 is not ruling out Theresa May saying that the EU withdrawal agreement will have to be renegotiated. When the prime minister’s spokesman was asked if he could rule out Theresa May saying this in her statement to MPs this afternoon, he said he did not want to pre-empt her statement. But he said it was clear to May from her cross-party talks on Brexit that a significant number of MPs have concerns about the backstop. (At this point some reporters suggested this was obvious some time ago.)
- The spokesman played down the significance of next Tuesday’s debate and vote on what should happen next. The government is tabling a motion in neutral terms, and MPs are expected to table amendments. But the spokesman stressed that this would not be the second “meaningful vote” - the vote on a motion approving a Brexit deal required under law for the withdrawal agreement to be ratified. The spokesman would not be drawn on when that vote might take place, but he hinted it might be after next Tuesday (29 January). He said that any votes on amendments on 29 January would allow the Commons to express its political will, but that they would not be legally binding.
- The spokesman said that cross-party talks on Brexit are still going on. David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, is meeting groups of MPs today, including Labour MPs. And May’s offer to meet Jeremy Corbyn is still open, the spokesman said.
- Downing Street refused to back business minister Richard Harrington’s claim that a no-deal Brexit would be “an absolute disaster”. (See 9.04am.) Asked about this, the spokesman said that the PM was trying to avoid a no-deal Brexit, that there would be “disruption” if the UK did leave the EU without a deal, but that it was putting in place mitigations to reduce that disruption.
- The spokesman denied reports that the government was proposing to amend the Good Friday agreement as one solution to the backstop problem. And, asked if the government was interested in a bilateral treaty with Ireland as a solution, he said that was “not something we are looking at”.
This is from Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economics minister. He seems to be suggesting that Theresa May is abusing EU patience, putting party politics ahead of the national interest.
I’m off to the Number 10 lobby briefing now. I will post again after 11.30am.
Jacob Rees-Mogg's LBC phone-in - Summary
There were some interesting lines in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s LBC phone-in, beyond his surprise approval of a Guardian article. (See 9.15am.) Here are the main points.
- Rees-Mogg said he was strongly opposed to the government scheme requiring EU nationals living in the UK to pay £65 for settled status to stay in the country. The scheme is now open. Asked about it, Rees-Mogg said that he was “against it” and that he agreed with people who felt this was not what Brexiters voted for. He explained:
We are saying to people who’ve been living her legally, who had had all the right papers to be here, that they must have a new paper for which they must pay. They should have it free in the same way as a birth certificate is free.
I feel very strongly about this. I think the tone of the debate on EU nationals here has been very wrong. Any of our listeners, EU nationals that are living here, in my view we should be really honoured that they came to this country. They came here legally. They have contributed to our society. They were very hard. And very often they have send money back to their families at home. It’s a conservative and noble thing to do. It’s family-based, very often, it’s hard-work based and it’s entrepreneurial. And to say to them, because we’ve changed our relationship with the European Union, that their lives should be changed is to my mind unfair. We should have said, in June 2016, that they could all stay ... and the £65 charge should, in my view, be waived. It’s unreasonable.
- He defended Jeremy Corbyn’s decision not to participate in Theresa May’s cross-party Brexit talks. He said:
In defence of Jeremy Corbyn, the job of the opposition is to oppose, not to make the life of the government easy. And it is not unreasonable of him to say, ‘Well, actually no, you’re responsible, you won the election, if you don’t want to to do it, if you want me to help you, I’ll take over as prime minister, thank you very much.’
So I think Theresa May was right to ask him. And he was not unreasonable to refuse - possibly politically naive to refuse, but not unreasonable.
But Rees-Mogg also said Corbyn might have gained more politically by attending the talks, and then criticising May afterwards for being too dogmatic. He explained:
The greatest political advantage for [Corbyn] would have been to go in for talks, and then come and say, ‘This was a complete waste of time because ...’ Whereas I think saying no, and setting the pre-condition, then makes Jeremy Corbyn looks inflexible and dogmatic and does not help his opposition.
Ironically Rees-Mogg’s argument is almost exactly the same as one made by Tony Blair in an interview in the Times (paywall) on Saturday. Talking about what Corbyn should have done, Blair said:
Why wouldn’t you go in the door, come out on the steps of Downing Street and say, ‘I have had a conversation with her and I’m afraid she doesn’t understand how to resolve this and I do’.
- Rees-Mogg said he thought a no-deal Brexit was now the most likely outcome. Asked what he expected to happen, he said:
I think, if you were to rank them, the most likely is no deal. The second most likely is a redone deal. Third is delay. And fourth, a long way behind is not leaving at all.
Asked about the chances of there being a “people’s vote”, he said he saw that as a “losers’ vote” and thought the proposal had got “remarkably little support”.
- Rees-Mogg said he was still a fan of John Bercow, the speaker, despite Bercow deciding to reinterpret Commons rules two weeks ago in a way that angered Brexiters. Rees-Mogg explained:
I think [Bercow] came to the wrong decision, but I don’t think he came to the wrong decision for the wrong reason. I think he came to it for the right reason.
- Rees-Mogg said he would like to see the Conservative party reunite with parts of Ukip. Asked if Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, should be allowed to join the Conservative party, he said:
If the Conservative party could reunite with the reasonable elements of Ukip that would be very good news and Nigel would be part of that.
Rees-Mogg said that admitting Farage be “much easier now than it would have been when he was still a member of Ukip”, because of Ukip’s new links with Tommy Robinson. He went on:
It may be a little bit early, though personally I hold Nigel in the highest regard and think he was one of the people who was instrumental in delivering Brexit ... but perhaps a little bit more purdah is required.
London needs to say what it wants on Brexit, says German foreign minister
In Brussels, arriving for the EU foreign affairs council, the German foreign affairs minister Heiko Maas said EU ministers need to hear what the UK wants. He told reporters:
We are all quite keen to see what we will hear from London today.
It is about time. We know what London doesn’t want, now we must at last find out what they want and what there is a majority in parliament for, so we can sit down with our colleagues from London and talk about how we avoid a hard Brexit, a Brexit without an agreement.
It appears that everyone wants that, so it must be possible.
Asked if he had confidence in Theresa May, Maas replied: “Of course”. But asked whether it was now “too late”, he said: “I don’t really know.” He went on:
It is important that the outcome is not a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, because as we saw this weekend, nerves are on edge there.
Europe is a peace project and Europe cannot do anything which leads to conflicts breaking out again in a part of Europe where they have long since been laid to rest.
It’s a very sensitive issue and therefore it’s an issue which in the discussions to come I cannot imagine there will be much change.
The Today programme also had an interview with Sir Stephen Laws, who is now a senior research fellow at the Policy Exchange thinktank, but who until 2012 was the government’s first parliamentary counsel (ie, the official in charge of drafting parliamentary legislation). He was asked about the Dominic Grieve proposal to change parliamentary rules to enable backbenchers to table legislation against the wishes of the executive. Laws said this could be very damaging because it could lead to the Queen being dragged into party politics. In a statement released by Policy Exchange Laws said:
If the speaker chose to allow this rule to be dispensed with or ignored, that could have unpredictable, and potentially horrific, constitutional consequences.
It could raise a question whether the government would be entitled or might feel required to reassert its constitutional veto by advising the Queen not to grant royal assent to the bill.
How should the monarch react to such advice? The answer is not straightforward and the prospect of it needing to be considered in a real life political crisis is unthinkably awful.
It is a sacred duty of all UK politicians not to involve the monarch in politics. They have a constitutional responsibility to resolve difficulties between themselves in accordance with the rules, and so as not to call on the ultimate referee.
Laws has written more on this in this Policy Exchange briefing (pdf).
Mairead McGuinness, a Fine Gael MEP and vice president of the European Parliament, told the Today programme this morning that replacing the backstop with a new treaty between the UK and Ireland was “not an option”. Today’s Daily Telegraph claims that this is being considered by Number 10, although Downing Street is playing down the report.
Asked about it, McGuinness said:
Ireland is part of the European Union so the idea that one country of the 27 would have this particular arrangement with the United Kingdom, separate from what the EU does, really is not an option - I was quite surprised when I read the speculation yesterday.
There was a time in the past when there might have been, and indeed there was speculation ... that the United Kingdom expected one member state of the European Union perhaps to break ranks and therefore do bilateral deals and that has not happened and I don’t think it will in this case.
May is secretly hoping parliament rules out no-deal Brexit for her, Cooper suggests
The Labour MP Yvette Cooper was on the Today programme this morning, talking about her bill which is designed to ensure that, if the Commons does not pass a Brexit deal by the end of February, the government would have to seek an extension of article 50 until the end of 2019. She claimed that May would secretly welcome what she was doing. Cooper said:
I think [May] knows that she should rule out no deal in the national interest because it would be so damaging. She’s refusing to do so and I think she’s hoping that parliament will do this for her - that is not leadership.
On LBC Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP and chair of the European Research Group, which is pushing for a harder Brexit, has just quoted the Guardian approvingly (perhaps a first). He cited some polling quoted in today’s main Brexit story.
A poll by ICM conducted after last week’s government defeat and seen by the Guardian asked voters what should happen next.
The most popular option, backed by 28% of voters, was a no-deal Brexit. Demonstrating the divide in public opinion, the next most popular option, supported by 24% of the public, is to start the process of holding a second referendum.
In the representative online poll of 2,046 adults between 16–18 January, just 8% thought May should press ahead with trying to win support for her deal in parliament, while 11% thought she should call a general election.
Rees-Mogg said that the idea of voters favour a no-deal Brexit might be alarming to the Guardian, but that to many people there was nothing odd about this at all. When LBC’s Nick Ferrari put it to him that, outside London, people were far less worried about a no-deal Brexit than some Westminster politicians, Rees-Mogg agreed.
No-deal Brexit will be 'absolute disaster', says business minister
Richard Harrington, the business minister, has already said he will resign from the government if Theresa May opts for a not-deal Brexit. Other ministers, including some in cabinet, think that same, but Harrington has been the most explicit about this. And this morning, in an interview on the Today programme, he went further. He said a no-deal Brexit (something May has refused to rule out, and something which Tory Brexiters insist would be manageable, if not ideal) would be “an absolute disaster”. Asked what he thought about the prospect, he said:
You said, “Does [the prospect of no deal] bring shivers?” It does bring more than shivers, because I have examined in depth what might happen, I’m part of the government’s plans for Brexit. I’ve seen what may well happen with this cut-off date. Crashing out in my view ... is an absolute disaster. It’s not a road to a free trade agreement, it’s not a road to anything. It’s an absolute disaster for the country and it’s supported by a minority of a minority of people.
Harrington said he was not just worried about the tariffs that would be in place in the event of a no-deal Brexit. He was worried about the impact of friction at the border, particularly on the car industry, which is dependent on just-in-time supply chains. He said he was “afraid” of Jaguar and Mini closing in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Claiming that the UK would be able to manage trading with the EU on WTO terms was “fanciful nonsense”, he said. And he ended the interview saying:
It says on my business card “minister for business and industry”. I’m not prepared to sell business down the river for other people’s political dogma.
All of which is just a roundabout way of illustrating how, six days after Theresa May’s Brexit deal was voted down by a record majority of 230, the government is as split as ever about what should happen next.
May has to come to the Commons this afternoon to say what she will do next. As the Guardian overnight story reports, she is expected to reject calls to forge a cross-party consensus on Brexit, choosing instead to back new diplomatic efforts in Brussels to renegotiate the Irish backstop.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative Brexiter who chairs the European Research Group, hosts his LBC phone-in.
9am: Damian Hinds, the education secretary, gives a speech to the Education World Forum.
11am: Downing Street lobby briefing.
After 3.30pm: Theresa May gives her statement to MPs about what she will do next following the defeat of her Brexit plan in the Commons last week.
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, but I expect to be focusing mostly on Brexit. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another after the May statement is over, at around 6pm.
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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