Monday 3rd December 2018 - People's Vote

Monday 3rd December 2018

Morning Briefing: What is government hiding? - Labour gears up - highest support to stay in EU

What is the government hiding in its legal advice on the Brexit deal? Well, that’s no big mystery. A bit of scrutiny of the deal’s text, backed up by leaks to the press, gives you all you need to know.

The problem is the so-called “backstop trap”. This means that if the backstop in the withdrawal part of the deal is triggered, then we’re effectively stuck in a bare-bones customs union and following many EU rules without a say on them, until we sign a new trade deal with the EU. But that could take years. And even then, the second part of the deal - outlining our future relationship with the EU - suggests any future deal would look a lot like the backstop arrangement anyway.

This is a “bad outcome” for the UK, Theresa May’s top Brexit adviser Olly Robbins told the prime minister, according to a letter leaked to the Telegraph. Not only is there no legal “guarantee” that we will be able to break off from the backstop, it would mean “regulatory controls needed somewhere between (Great Britain) and (Northern Ireland), serious and visible frictions and process (for trade) between (Great Britain) and the EU, and no security co-operation.”


Labour has accused the government of being in contempt of Parliament, after MPs unanimously demanded the publication of the legal advice last month but were only offered a “position statement”. As shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told Sky News yesterday: “The journalist and the editor of the Sunday Times know more about this legal advice than I do.”

But the government is digging in, sending attorney general Geoffrey Cox - who drafted the advice - out to field questions from MPs today.

There’s some bigger-picture stuff at play here too. Any vote on whether the government is in contempt of Parliament will look a bit like a dry run for the “meaningful vote” on May’s deal, scheduled for next Tuesday. Expect those Tories loyal to the PM to back the government, but those against the deal - Boris Johnson, for instance - to demand the advice be published.

A clearer idea of how big a rebellion May might expect on her deal could shape government decisions in the near future. The Sun today even ran a story suggesting the meaningful vote may be pulled entirely, with the prime minister returning to Brussels to try and get more concessions - thus being able to claim she did her damnedest to get the best deal.

But Theresa May isn’t the problem. The problem is that a “good” Brexit deal is fundamentally impossible. As miserable as the backstop would be for the UK as a whole, it is an essential insurance policy to maintain the Good Friday Agreement. Any Brexiter claiming they can strike a deal without the backstop is being utterly irresponsible with the hard-won peace on the island of Ireland.

And yet there is one option that would avoid a hard border in Ireland without turning the UK into a powerless rule-taker. MPs can push for a People’s Vote, asking the public if they want this dire Brexit after all.

Tweet of the Day

Chuka Umunna is spot on. Unless the government miraculously finds support for their botched Brexit deal, a People’s Vote is clearly the best option to break the deadlock.


Labour to “move quickly through the gears” to People’s Vote

A powerful group inside Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet are insisting Labour get ready to campaign for a People’s Vote, reports the Observer. Keir Starmer told a shadow cabinet meeting last week they must “move quickly through the gears” to call a no-confidence vote in the government immediately if, as expected, the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint is defeated on December 11. It was made clear at the same meeting that Labour should then be ready to take up the option of backing a public vote if there is no viable alternative.

Whether Theresa May would survive a no-confidence vote is more unclear than ever, with the DUP prepared to abandon their support for the prime minister, according to the Times. But no confidence in May doesn’t necessarily mean a general election. Conservatives will try their hardest to avoid that, whatever ructions emerge in the party. And that’s why Labour’s increasingly positive language about a People’s Vote is so important.

Quote of the day

“I don’t actually think that this prime minister will move to a no-deal situation. She knows the risks. She’s very serious about counter-terrorism and security. I don’t think, when she stands up if she loses this vote, that she’s likely to say: ‘I’m now going to take the country off the cliff. I’m going to go for the no-deal scenario.’”

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer calls Theresa May’s bluff on her “my deal or no deal” tactics

Audio of the Day

LISTEN: Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South: “It should be for the people to determine the future.”


Poll: biggest support yet for staying in EU

A new YouGov survey published today shows public support for staying in the EU is at the highest level seen by the polling firm since the 2016 referendum. The poll of 1,655 people conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week shows support for staying in is now at 55% compared with 45% for leaving the EU (once “don’t knows” are excluded). The lead lengthens further to 14 points – 57% to 43% - when people are asked if they want to “accept the government’s deal to leave the EU” - or stay.

No wonder the Brexiters seem agitated about a People’s Vote. Andrea Leadsom told the Express it would be “a gross betrayal of our democracy”. Meanwhile Michael Gove sent a message via the BBC to his fellow Brexiters yesterday that there’s a risk of “no Brexit at all” if they don’t back the prime minister’s deal. Their comments are revealing. How can a democratic vote be a betrayal of democracy? “One vote, one time” is a tactic favoured by dictators. What they’re really frightened of, as the latest poll shows, is that the will of the people has turned against Brexit.


Gove wrong on rebate

Michael Gove made another clanger over the weekend, by suggesting the UK would lose its EU budget rebate, negotiated by Margaret Thatcher, if it tried to withdraw Article 50 and stay in the bloc. But under EU rules, all members - and the UK is still a member - has a veto over these kinds of matters. As France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau made clear earlier this year, if we decide to stay we keep all our current rights and privileges. The People’s Vote campaign has called on the environment secretary to publicly correct his mistake.

Video of the Day

WATCH: For a lighter take on last week's news, Georgie Harris presents the FFS Awards. Gongs go to Gavin Barwell and Jacob Rees-Mogg... yet again!!

More Brexit news…

UK manufacturers stockpile goods ahead of Brexit (Guardian)

Hard Brexit will make UK 'easy' for illegal migrants, says French MP (BBC)

Whitehall’s revolving door means bad government (FT £)

Channel 4 plots Boris Johnson v Tony Blair on Brexit (Sunday Times £)

Top Brexit comment

Dominic Grieve: Not taking back, but losing control: why I cannot vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal (Times £)

Hugo Dixon: Sam Gyimah shows unhappy Tories way out of their trap (InFacts)

Editorial: Parliament’s Brexit debate: time to choose (Guardian)

Jane Merrick: Faith in journalism has become the first casualty of Brexit (Times £)

Looking forward…

Today, Monday 3rd December

- Attorney General's statement on government legal advice on May's deal
13.30 Stephen Barclay's first session at Brexit committee
14.30 Home Office questions in Commons

Tomorrow, Tuesday 4th December

  Meaningful vote debate - day 1
09.30 ONS: Foreign direct investment involving UK companies
09.15 Mark Carney gives evidence to the Treasury committee on the UK’s economic relationship with the EU