Morning Briefing: Labour at the march? - delay is in the air - infighting for years
The Labour party is getting ever closer to backing a People’s Vote. Deputy leader Tom Watson insisted in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that his party is “moving in that direction”. He even suggested that he and his colleagues might even be on the Put It To The People march on March 23.
Meanwhile Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow trade secretary and erstwhile critic of a new referendum, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “The closer we get to no deal, the more important that safety net of a second referendum becomes.” Shadow chancellor John McDonnell went even further on John Pienaar’s BBC Radio 5 show, saying the party needed to “start to think about moving towards a public vote”.
McDonnell recognised the growing determination to “block a no deal, and to block a bad deal” - meaning Theresa May’s deal. MPs are drawing up plans to achieve the first of these, at least in the short term, by forcing an extension of Article 50 (more below). But, with politicians at stalemate, neither goal can be properly realised without putting the final decision on Brexit back to the people. That’s why we need a People’s Vote - and Labour’s backing will be crucial for getting one through Parliament.
Quote of the Day
“If Theresa May can’t find it within herself to meet our red lines, closer economic union, then obviously our conference policy says that the next stage would be in favour of a people’s vote. So if we get to that point, then yes, I will be on the march.”
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show
Video of the Day
Extension plan must be crystal clear
There are now just 32 days until the UK is due to leave the EU, and all anyone’s talking about is delay. Theresa May has no one to blame for this but herself.
The prime minister claims that leaving with a deal on March 29 is still “within our grasp”. But her reckless tactic of endlessly kicking the can towards the Brexit cliff edge, in an attempt to scare MPs into backing her deal, means that in reality the whole process has run out of time.
Not that May had many other tactics to pursue. Trying to fulfill the promises made in the 2016 referendum is an impossible task, because those promises were contradictory. As a result, May’s deal is far worse than the one we have inside the EU today. It would leave us poorer, following many EU rules without a say, and with worse access to the EU’s single market and making it harder to cooperate on everything from security to science.
Yet May kicks the can still. She announced this weekend that another “meaningful vote” on her deal might now not take place until March 12 - just 17 days before we’re set to leave.
It’s not like the two weeks between then and now will be filled with fruitful talks with the EU either. Donald Tusk told May in Egypt yesterday that the bloc won’t give any concessions unless she can prove her deal has Parliament’s backing - something that has been very much beyond the prime minister's grasp for some time now.
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The focus at the moment is on more Brexit votes this Wednesday. The name of the game is getting an extension to the Article 50 deadline, to avoid a no-deal cliff edge. There are several plans out there, with an amendment by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Oliver Letwin the frontrunner. This would give MPs the chance to vote for an extension if there was still no deal by March 13 (and yes, it’s no coincidence that May has set her own deadline at March 12).
Three Cabinet ministers, writing in the Daily Mail, have piled pressure on May by threatening to back the Cooper-Letwin amendment. Other ministers are urging the prime minister to give ground on an extension and avoid a Cabinet meltdown.
Another proposal has also popped up over the weekend, with moderate Tories led by Andrew Percy and Simon Hart calling for a “strictly time-limited” extension to May 23. The problem with this is that it would not be legally binding and would allow for more can kicking.
That’s not good enough for UK businesses, with firms of all sizes shifting operations abroad. As one small business owner told the FT: “You can’t wake up on 30 March and find that you have no business.”
An even bolder strategy is emerging in Brussels, reports the Guardian. EU officials are considering a lengthy extension to 2021, thus avoiding a “rolling cliff-edge” caused by many mini extensions, and making the need for an Irish border “backstop” obsolete. But the chances of getting such a mammoth delay past British MPs is tiny.
Many different sides in this incredibly complicated debate are now behind an extension of some kind. But the question is: an extension to what? There’s no sign that MPs can break this logjam, no matter how many more months they’re given. The only way forward now is to put Brexit back to the people.
Tweet of the Day
Student Pride UK has come out in support of a People’s Vote because they want to put the Brexit deal to the people.
Political infighting will continue for years after Brexit
Brexit-related political turmoil is spreading through the parties and the prime minister has dismissed calls on her to quit after the local elections in May - if we've left the EU by then. But the real issue about a blindfold Brexit is not who is up or down in the Westminster village but how much damage the years of uncertainty will bring to jobs and our economy.
The fact that the jostling over the prime minister’s job has begun even before Brexit has happened does not bode well for the smooth sailing of future negotiations with the EU. Uncertainty about the prime minister's job means confusion on the EU side about who it will actually be striking a deal with. EU hesitation will prolong the general Brexit uncertainty as we won't know what - if any - future relationship with the EU can be agreed. And that is bad for businesses and people's jobs, trapped in an underperforming economy which doesn't know where it's heading. The only way to avoid many tortuous years of confusion is to put Brexit back to the people, with an option to stay in the EU.
Top Brexit comment
Editorial: Anti-climaxes are the new norm in British politics, but the PM is still running out of time (Telegraph)
Matthew d’Ancona: There is now a force to disrupt Brexit. MPs, it’s time to act (Guardian)
Aditya Chakrabortty: If Labour aids a Tory Brexit it will be destroyed by what follows (Guardian)
Today, Monday 25th February
|-||Theresa May at EU-Arab League summit in Sharm El-Sheikh|
|14.30||Home Office questions in Commons|
Tomorrow, Tuesday 26th February
|10.00||Mark Carney in front of Treasury committee|