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Feb 5, 2019

Brexit latest news: Theresa May rules out scrapping backstop ahead of showdown talks with Jean-Claude Juncker

Jack Maidment, Political Correspondent 5 February 2019 • 5:52pm



Theresa May has ruled out scrapping the backstop but insisted the “insurance policy” will have to change if MPs are to back her Brexit deal.
Speaking in Belfast, the Prime Minister said she would not be asking the House of Commons to accept a Withdrawal Agreement “that does not contain” the backstop.
It is the first time Mrs May has explicitly said the controversial protocol would not be removed in comments which are likely to anger hardline Brexiteers and appear to narrow her options for breaking the impasse with the EU.
Mrs May is due to meet with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, on Thursday for showdown talks as she tries to salvage her deal.
Ruling out removing the backstop potentially means there are now just two options available to her which could be capable of securing the support of a majority of MPs for her deal.
The first would be adding a backstop expiry date to the Withdrawal Agreement and the second would be a unilateral backstop exit mechanism for the UK.
Asked how she intended to persuade people to accept a Brexit deal that does not contain a backstop, Mrs May replied: "I am not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that does not contain that insurance policy for the future.
"What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop.
"It is in that vein, in that light, that we are working with politicians across Westminster of course, across the House of Commons, but also we will be working with others... to find a way that enables us to maintain our commitments that we have set very clearly for no hard border.
"But to do it in a way that provides a Withdrawal Agreement and a political declaration for the future that can command support across the House of Commons and therefore that we will be able to ratify with the European Union such that we leave on the 29th of March with a deal."
MPs voted last week to say they would only back Mrs May's Brexit deal if the backstop was replaced by "alternative arrangements".
Brussels has long maintained that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened and that the backstop contained within it cannot be changed.
"While the commission's position is clear, we are waiting to see what the Prime Minister has to say," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday morning.
Mrs May is expected to meet with Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, and other political parties in Northern Ireland on Wednesday before then heading to Brussels on Thursday.
It came as Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, insisted “there is still time” to find a solution to the Brexit impasse as she said it should be “humanly possible” to resolve the backstop issue.
Speaking at an economic conference in Tokyo, Ms Merkel said: "From a political point of view, there is still time. That should be used, used by all sides.
“But for this it would be very important to know what exactly the British side envisages in terms of its relationship with the EU."
Ms Merkel said the “special” problem remained the Irish border and the backstop agreement but added: "It should be humanly possible to find a solution to such a precise problem.
“But this depends... on the kind of trade deal that we forge with each other.”

World Cup boost for UK and Ireland

A joint UK and Ireland bid to host the football World Cup would help strengthen relations across the Irish Sea post-Brexit, the Prime Minister has said.
Theresa May described the "tantalising" prospect of hosting the 2030 tournament as she outlined ways to bolster the bilateral relationship with the Irish Republic when the UK leaves the EU.
Diplomatic ties between London and Dublin, which have improved markedly in recent decades, have been put under renewed strain during the Brexit process.
On a visit to Belfast on Tuesday, Mrs May said people on both islands "yearned" for a "close and trusting" relationship.
Mrs May said recent joint UK and Irish commemorations to mark the sacrifices of the First World War demonstrated the strength of the bilateral links.
"Today those ties of family and friendship between our countries are more important than they have ever been," she added.

'I implore you from the bowels of Christ' 

Deputy political editor Steven Swinford has some colourful insight into the May loyalists' attempts to win over MPs.
New:
Hearing Geoffrey Cox, in an attempt to win support for his 'joint interpretative instrument' solution to the backstop, told one member of the ERG that he implored them 'from the bowels of Christ' to back it.
Does not sound like ERG are convinced...
— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) February 5, 2019

Theresa May rules out deleting backstop from Withdrawal Agreement

The Prime Minister has just answered questions from members of the press.
She was asked how she intends to persuade people to accept a Brexit deal that does not contain the backstop.
She replied: "I am not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that does not contain that insurance policy for the future.
"What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop and it is in that vain, in that light, that we are working with politicians across Westminster of course, across the House of Commons, but also we will be working with others, with the Irish government and with the EU, to find a way that enables us to maintain  our commitments that we have set very clearly for no hard border but to do it in a way that provides a Withdrawal Agreement and a political declaration for the future that can command support across the House of Commons and therefore that we will be able to ratify with the European Union such that we leave on the 29th of March with a deal."

Theresa May vows never to compromise on Northern Ireland's 'integral place' in UK

The Prime Minister says "I understand what a hard border would mean" for the island of Ireland both in terms of people's daily life but also for trade.
She vows never to compromise on protecting Northern Ireland's "integral place" within the United Kingdom and says there will be no new regulatory barriers put up without the sign off of Stormont.
Mrs May says it is "more important than ever" that all voices are heard in Northern Ireland as she announces she will tomorrow meet with members of every political party for Brexit talks.
She says the UK Government will not allow the return of a hard border and adds: "I will not let that happen."
The Prime Minister is also stressing the importance of the UK/Ireland relationship which she describes as "deeper than with any of the other" 27 EU countries.

Theresa May reiterates need for legal changes to Brexit backstop

Speaking in Belfast, the Prime Minister says the UK has "come a long way" over the last two and half years towards finding a post-Brexit solution to ensuring there is not a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mrs Mays says she wants to "reaffirm her commitment" to avoiding a hard border and to the Good Friday Agreement.
Mrs May says her commitment to unionism will "never change" and the United Kingdom "I stand for is an open and tolerant" collection of nations.
The Prime Minister says she "accepted the need for an insurance policy" to protect against a hard border and that was why she agreed to the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mrs May says she "fought hard" to persuade MPs to support her original deal but now accepted that it needed to change.
She says she can only get a Brexit deal through Parliament if "legal changes" are made to her deal.

Nick Clegg summoned by MPs to give evidence on social media abuse

Two pieces of news relating to two former heavyweight members of the House of Commons this lunch time:

1. Tony Blair 

The Labour former prime minister "spent most of the time looking out the window" during meetings with Scottish government leaders, a peer has claimed.
Giving evidence to Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee on the relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments, Lord Wallace said the alleged daydreaming occurred during Joint Ministerial Committees (JMCs).
The Liberal Democrat peer, who was Scotland's deputy first minister from Scottish devolution until 2005, with short spells as interim first minister, said: "The Joint Ministerial Committee as it were at the top level of Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, First Minister, Deputy First Minister.
"I remember meeting in Edinburgh, in Cardiff and by the time it came to the third meeting in Downing Street, I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that Tony Blair spent most of the time looking out the window."

2. Nick Clegg 

The former deputy prime minister who is now a senior Facebook executive has been summoned to give evidence to a parliamentary committee about abuse of MPs on social media.
Sir Nick, who was appointed the social media platform's head of global affairs in October, will be quizzed by the Joint Human Rights Committee over concerns that online abuse is inhibiting MPs' ability to serve their constituents and undermining the effective functioning of democracy.
The committee of MPs and peers has also invited Twitter to send a representative to a hearing in Westminster, expected in March.
In a letter to Sir Nick, the committee's chairwoman Harriet Harman said members had been "disturbed" to hear evidence from MPs about "significant" levels of abuse, threats and intimidation they receive on social media.

Downing Street confirms Thursday talks with EU

Christopher Hope, the Telegraph's chief political correspondent, has been at the morning lobby briefing with Number 10 and was given a run down of today's Cabinet meeting.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Cabinet agreed that it was positive that for the first time Parliament had indicated that it could support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to changes to the backstop and that it had reiterated its commitment to both avoiding a hard border and leaving the EU with a deal.
“The Prime Minister said that our objective now is to secure a legally-binding way of guaranteeing we cannot be trapped indefinitely in the backstop.
“To achieve this we have launched urgent pieces of work examining alternative arrangements to the backstop and considering legal changes that could provide a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit to the backstop.
“The PM said the discussions with the EU will not be easy but Parliament has sent a clear message that a change to the backstop is the only way to get a deal approved.
“The PM added that last week showed that a second referendum does not have the support of the House. She said that while Labour did not whip for the Brady amendment Jeremy Corbyn said he also has concerns about the backstop, so this is an issue that needs to be resolved not just for our [Conservative] colleagues and the DUP but for MPs across the House.”
The spokesman added that there was no discussion, apart from a brief mention, of the UK delaying its exit from the EU.
He said: “If there was any at all it was reiterating the determination to leave on March 29th. It only came up very fleetingly.”
The spokesman also confirmed that Gavin Barwell, Mrs May’s chief of staff, went to Brussels yesterday for talks “with EU politicians”.
He confirmed that Mrs May will go to Brussels on Thursday for talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU President.
Mrs May is expected to travel alone to Brussels without any ministers from her team, The Telegraph understands.

Theresa May set for Thursday morning meeting in Brussels

The Prime Minister's crunch meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday is expected to take place at 11am Brussels' time.
It is also thought Mrs May will meet separately with Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, although that is yet to be confirmed.

EU: Backstop a 'central piece' of Brexit deal 

Asked if Theresa May would present an alternative to the backstop at her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: "Let's see how the meeting develops on Thursday."
He added the backstop was a "central piece" of the Withdrawal Agreement and of "fundamental importance" to addressing the issues around the Irish border.

Theresa May to visit Brussels on Thursday

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, will meet Mrs May on Thursday, an EU spokesman said.
"While the commission's position is clear, we are waiting to see what the prime minister has to say," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.
The spokesman said Mrs May would come to the commission's Berlaymont headquarters a day after Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's talks on Wednesday with EU leaders.

People's Vote campaigners: Backstop or no backstop, Brexit deal still bad news for Northern Ireland

Anna McMorrin, a Labour MP and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said that regardless of the backstop, Theresa May's deal was "still bad news for Northern Ireland".
“Backstop or no backstop, the deal will deepen divides in Northern Ireland. Today whether a resident of Northern Ireland holds an Irish or a British passport makes no difference to their rights and their status.
"That is the very foundational principle of the Good Friday Agreement. Backstop or no backstop that will change after Brexit.
“Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and all the polling shows that opposition to leaving the EU has only grown. Yet the voice of those in Northern Ireland who oppose Brexit goes unheard in our Parliament and so the majority of citizens of Northern Ireland are left unrepresented on this crucial matter.
“Instead of playing another round of fantasy Brexit, the Prime Minister should hand this decision back to the public in a People’s Vote.”

Liam Fox 'planning to cut import tariffs to zero in no-deal Brexit' 

The International Trade Secretary is reportedly working on a no-deal contingency plan which would see tariffs on all imports to the UK cut to zero.
The Huffington Post website said Dr Fox is contemplating using ministerial powers to make a last minute change to the Trade Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, which would allow the Government to make sweeping changes to the tariff schedule if inflation increased dramatically after a disorderly Brexit.
The plan has sparked fears in the manufacturing industry that the UK market could be flooded with cheap foreign goods.
Perhaps most interestingly a spokesman for Dr Fox apparently did not shoot the story down, saying: “No decision has been taken and the Government is currently considering all options in the event of a no-deal with the EU.”

Chris Grayling: Brussels to blame if no Brexit deal agreed

The Transport Secretary told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview that the EU would have to "take responsibility" if the UK leaves the bloc without an agreement.
“We have taken to our parliament the deal reached in November and our parliament has said no,” he said.
“We want to work with the EU to reach a deal but if they are not prepared to do that – they will have to take responsibility that we are heading towards a no-deal exit.
“If they are not willing to compromise, if they’re not willing to work with us to find common ground – it will be down to them if there is no deal.”
Mr Grayling also discussed Nissan's U-turn and dismissed suggestions Article 50 could be extended.
You can read the interview in full here.

DExEU runs up £45,000 bill for printing Withdrawal Agreement

The Department for Exiting the European Union printed some 1,300 copies of the Withdrawal Agreement at an overall cost of £45,637.
Each document runs to almost 600 pages and, according to the BBC, which obtained the figures using Freedom of Information laws, many of them remain uncollected in Parliament.
Theresa May is currently trying to change the Withdrawal Agreement which will mean the document will likely have to be reprinted in its entirety if and when the time comes for MPs to vote on a new version.
DExEU said the cost included "secure deliver and handling of the document".

Angela Merkel: Still time to fix Brexit deal

The German Chancellor is in Japan on an official visit and she has told an economic conference in Tokyo that there is still time to find a way forward on Brexit.
She said: "From a political point of view, there is still time.
"That should be used, used by all sides. But for this it would be very important to know what exactly the British side envisages in terms of its relationship with the EU."
Acknowledging that the tight timeframe was difficult for businesses desperate for certainty given "just-in-time" production systems, Ms Merkel said the "special" problem was the Irish border and the backstop agreement.
"It should be humanly possible to find a solution to such a precise problem. But this depends ... on the kind of trade deal that we forge with each other," she said.

Arlene Foster: Backstop would lead to break up of United Kingdom

The DUP leader is due to meet with Theresa May in the coming days when she is expected to reiterate her party's opposition to the backstop.
Ms Foster said that if the backstop issue is resolved then her party would back the Prime Minister's Brexit deal.
But she would not be drawn on what solution to the backstop would be acceptable to her when she spoke to the BBC's Today programme this morning.
Removing the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement, inserting an expiry date or creating a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK have all been floated as potential solutions.
But Ms Foster said: "I think it is for the Prime Minister obviously to negotiate in relation to these matters. I am not certainly going to get caught up in the semantics of all of that this morning.
"I think Brussels has been asking for a clear ask from the United Kingdom Government and they now have that clear ask.
"They have known all along that the backstop causes great difficulties, particularly for those of us who are unionists in Northern Ireland."
Ms Foster said the backstop as currently designed ultimately risked the break up of the United Kingdom.
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader  Credit: Yui Mok/PA
She said: "The current backstop as I have said all along is toxic to those of us living in Northern Ireland and indeed for unionists across the United Kingdom because it would cause the break up of the United Kingdom into the medium and longer term and I think that is something that people are very concerned about."
Ms Foster said creating a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was not an acceptable price for avoiding a hard border.
She said: "We cannot have a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to replace a border on the island of Ireland.
"That just would be madness for the economy of Northern Ireland."
She also said the DUP would support the Prime Minister's deal if the backstop issue was resolved.
“We have been very clear on all occasions that if the backstop is dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement then despite the fact that we may have misgivings around other parts of the Withdrawal Agreement we will support the Prime Minister because we do want Brexit to happen in an orderly and sustained fashion,” she said.

Government to pay law firm £800,000 for Brexit legal advice over potential Eurotunnel row

The Government has awarded an £800,000 contract to a law firm for advice in case Eurotunnel takes legal action over the impact of Brexit.
Lawyers at Slaughter and May will provide support to the Department for Transport (DfT) in the "highly likely" event that Eurotunnel pursues litigation.
In January, Eurotunnel, part of the Getlink group, accused the Government of "distortionary and anti-competitive" behaviour over the award of contracts worth more than £100 million to provide additional cross-Channel capacity in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling defended giving a contract worth almost £14 million to Seaborne Freight - a firm with no ships.
Getlink chief executive Jacques Gounon wrote to Mr Grayling to voice "serious concern" about the decision to award contracts to three ferry companies.
Mr Gounon said Getlink "reserve all our rights to challenge such a measure both in the UK and France".
He argued that Eurotunnel's Le Shuttle service was the "most efficient way" to supply vital goods to the UK and would remain so even if new border procedures were introduced after Brexit.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary Credit: Toby Melville/Reuters
A description of the contract awarded to Slaughter and May on a Government website says it is "to obtain an external legal resource to provide advice and assistance to DfT on the Cross-Channel Rail Services".
But the BBC said the wording had been changed and had previously said that Getlink had "expressed concern that their business may be disturbed or interfered with... and that this will in turn hit their profits".
It added: "It is highly likely that they would seek to protect their business and profits through litigation against the department."
A spokesman for the DfT said the Government routinely sought legal advice.
He added: "This multi-annual contract is to provide advice on a wide range of areas relating to the Channel Tunnel and EU exit."
Seaborne aims to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate in Kent to the Belgian port of Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer. Eurotunnel declined to comment.

Sir Keir Starmer opens door to free movement of workers after Brexit

The shadow Brexit secretary was on the BBC's Newsnight programme last night and he suggested he would be happy with free movement of workers after the UK has left the European Union.
Sir Keir was asked if he could live with the idea of a “Norway Plus” Brexit in which you would not have free movement of citizens but you would have free movement of workers.
He replied: “Well, that would have to be explored, and the precise, detail of this, but before I was shadow Brexit secretary, I was shadow immigration secretary and I went round the country talking about immigration.
"From these discussions, although there are obviously different views, I think most people would agree that if somebody is coming to do a job and it needs to be done and it has been advertised locally beforehand with nobody able to do it, then most people say ‘I would accept that’.
Sir Keir Starmer Credit: David Young/PA
“Most people say that if this is about family reunification, if you are coming to join your family, that is something I can accept.
“And most people I think would say, if somebody wants to come here to study, and is genuine, then of course please come and study. In fact, let’s celebrate that.
“So I actually think we get stuck on the freedom of movement discussion too early without saying ‘well, what does a principled, effective and fair immigration policy look like?’
“Now I am not setting one out here, I’m just saying that needs to be the debate and when we get into that debate, we may find we can make better progress than we think.”

Lord Trimble accuses EU and UK of 'breaking promise' to protect Belfast Agreement

The former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has accused the EU and UK of breaking promises made in the Good Friday Agreement as he confirmed he is exploring legal action over the terms of the Brexit deal.
Lord Trimble, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the agreement, is working on the plans to challenge the deal in the High Court in London.
He told the BBC: "In the agreement, both British and Irish governments undertook to support the agreement and what they have done, both of them, they have broken that promise."
Lord Trimble also accused the EU of a "raid" on the Belfast Agreement.
He said: "What Brussels is worried about is that Ireland could become a backdoor whereby goods that don't meet their regulatory standards come in.
"That can be solved by putting ion place undertakings on businessmen to ensure goods coming in have the requisite regulatory provisions.
"That is where Brussels has a good case. What it doesn't have a good case for is having this raid on the Belfast Agreement's provisions and to hold out for something that is going to do serious damage to Northern Ireland and indeed to Northern Ireland's place inside the United Kingdom which is always going to be a huge problem for us."

Source: The Telegraph

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