Morning Briefing: Brexit deal pulled under pressure - Flint cuts lonely figure - damage already being done
Theresa May’s credibility as a negotiator has just taken another big knock. After her top Brexit official virtually agreed the text of our withdrawal agreement over the weekend, her Brexit secretary rushed to Brussels yesterday and said the government couldn’t sign up to it after all.
There are now no more talks planned before this week’s summit. It’s not even clear that the prime minister will address the other leaders on Wednesday night as originally envisaged. What would she say? Meanwhile the other countries are now considering using a special Brexit summit on November 17/18 to prepare for the breakdown of talks rather than to clinch a deal.
May’s negotiations are in such a mess because her miserable proposal - to keep the whole country in a customs union indefinitely while keeping Northern Ireland in parts of the single market too - is being attacked from all sides.
Patriotic pro-Europeans don’t like the idea of following the EU’s rules without a say on them while pulling Great Britain out of the single market and having a different regime for Northern Ireland. It would undermine our power, prosperity and peace. Labour is twisting the knife by asking the government to publish the detail of what it is proposing.
But the prime minister’s immediate problem is the Cabinet. Several ministers - especially Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey - are close to resigning. If it was only these three, the prime minister might be able to shrug off the rebellion. But Chris Grayling and Liam Fox and maybe even Dominic Raab will join the trio this evening to plot their next move in Leadsom’s office in the House of Commons, according to The Times.
These ministers want an end date for the government’s proposal to stay in the customs union. The problem is that this is a central part of May’s version of the so-called Irish backstop, which is supposed to avoid a land border in Ireland in all circumstances - and the EU says the backstop can’t have an end date.
As if that’s not bad enough, the prime minister now has a Scottish rebellion to contend with. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and David Mundell, the Scotland secretary, have written her a letter saying they would not accept Northern Ireland being treated differently than the rest of the UK in any Brexit deal. They are worried that, if Northern Ireland stays in parts of the single market, the Scottish National Party could argue that Scotland should too - and that would start to undermine Scotland’s union with England.
There are 13 Scottish Tory MPs. May can’t afford to lose their support. Nor can she risk a rebellion by pro-union English Tories, such as Hugo Swire, who warned at the weekend: "I won't vote for anything that weakens Northern Ireland within the Union.”
And then, of course, there are the continuing complaints about the backstop from the DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up the government and who are warning that their threat to vote against the government is not a bluff. Meanwhile, the Tory Brextremists outside the Cabinet such as David Davis and Boris Johnson are getting increasingly apoplectic.
It’s far from clear how the prime minister will deal with this almighty mess. But, once she has figured out what to do, the only sensible course of action will be to ask the people whether they agree in a People's Vote.
Video of the day
WATCH: As new facts come to light, people who backed Leave in 2016 are now backing a People's Vote on the Brexit deal.
Quote of the day
“We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists.”
Excerpt from a letter to the prime minister from Ruth Davidson, Conservative leader in Scotland, and Scotland secretary David Mundell.
Flint cuts lonely figure backing ‘reasonable’ May deal
As her own party turns against her, there was a glimmer of hope for Theresa May on Sunday as Labour MP Caroline Flint told Sky she would support a “reasonable” Brexit deal in Parliament. But the prime minister’s attempts to woo other Labour MPs aren’t getting anywhere. Other MPs in the spotlight have rejected the idea, including Chris Bryant, Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves. The choice between May’s deal and no-deal chaos is a false one. As Reeves wrote in a Guardian last week, the much better option is a People’s Vote.
Tweet of the day
David Lammy is right, we still have a choice not to accept a bad deal: it’s called a People’s Vote.
Brexit in any form will damage country
Any form of Brexit will damage the UK, and much of that pain is already unfolding. Look at the NHS, which faces a shortfall of 20,000 nurses as the number of EU recruits dropped 87% on last year. Now 64% of doctors and nurses think the NHS will be worse off thanks to Brexit, according to a new YouGov poll, with just 7% predicting an improvement.
Elsewhere, construction is being hit by the longest decline in lending since 2011, with investors fearing a Brexit downturn, reports the FT. And the UK’s economic growth over the next three years has been downgraded by EY, even if we agree terms with the EU. That means less money than we would have had to spend on public services.
Nobody in 2016 voted for a struggling health service, a lagging economy or fewer houses being built.
Extending transition will be miserable, costly and won’t solve Ireland
The planned 21-month Brexit transition period won’t be long enough to settle our future relationship with the EU after we leave. A one-year extension was therefore being floated by the government over the weekend - partly as a desperate ploy to stop the DUP pulling the plug on the government and partly to avoid a cliff-edge in December 2020.
But it will achieve neither goal, as I wrote for InFacts. There’s little likelihood that a deal could eventually be done that avoids checks in the Irish Sea. And, in any case, an extra year won’t be long enough. Meanwhile, for every extra year of transition, we would be following EU rules without a vote on them and paying for the privilege too. Is that what people voted for in 2016?
Video of the day 2
WATCH: Find all this Brexit buffoonery draining? Try watching the hilarious FFS Awards once a week!
More Brexit news…
Matthew d’Ancona: Theresa May’s reward for a Brexit deal? Political annihilation (Guardian)
Editorial: Brexit delusions: diminishing Britain’s standing (Guardian)
Today, Monday 15th October
|-||Scottish government to publish alternative Brexit plan|
|-||Open Europe report on no-deal Brexit|
Expert evidence on Brexit impact on Scotland to Scotland affairs committee
|16:00||Defra officials give evidence on Brexit to public accounts committee|
Today, Tuesday 16th October
|09:30||ONS: Labour market statistics published|
|14:15||Expert evidence on Brexit impact on Wales to Welsh affairs committee|