Morning Briefing: Time to take no-deal off table - thin gruel in Brussels - tortuous talks ahead
Next week MPs will have the chance to take the prospect of a chaotic no-deal Brexit off the table. It’s clear the prime minister won’t do it by herself. May is sticking with her desperate strategy of running down the clock, in a desperate bid to force MPs to back her terrible deal at the eleventh-hour. But with just 36 days until we’re scheduled to leave the EU, and with dire warnings stacking up, time must be called on the government’s reckless tactics.
The main pressure on May is from a band of up to 20 government ministers, including four in her Cabinet, who have repeatedly warned that they are willing to vote against the government on an amendment tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which would remove the threat of leaving with no deal on March 29.
There are plenty of no-deal warnings around. Many fear a hard border in Ireland might be unavoidable. Retailers are warning of 40% tariffs being slapped on food and drink, pushing prices up for shoppers. And a dispute with Spain over Gibraltar is holding up no-deal contingency plans to let Brits travel visa-free to the EU after March 29 - rather than having to apply for a £52 visa (more below).
Why is the prime minister dedicated to keeping these miserable possibilities alive? Because she thinks it’s the best leverage she has in talks that are basically going nowhere (see below). She has inherited an impossible task from the Leave campaigners of 2016: upholding promises made to voters which simply cannot be kept, because those promises are contradictory.
May is therefore clinging to last-ditch tactics for want of anything better. MPs can stop her holding the country to ransom in a bid to push through her bad deal - a deal that would make the UK poorer and leave politicians still arguing over Brexit for years to come.
But simply taking no deal off the table won’t be enough to break the political deadlock over Brexit. There is no majority for any of the Brexit options in Parliament. The only way forward is to give the final decision back to voters. And that’s exactly what we will be urging MPs to do at the “Put It To The People” march in London on March 23.
Quote of the Day
“We cannot easily find an alternative to imports through Calais where there are frequent ferry sailings and the Channel tunnel. The volumes of fresh produce imported through there are enormous, for example at peak periods there are approximately 130 lorries a day passing through with just citrus fruits.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, explains Brexit issues for fresh produce retailers.
Video of the Day
WATCH: If you buy a house and the survey shows it is full of cracks, you wouldn't have to proceed.
Rupa Huq MP explains why it's only fair to go back to the public in a People’s Vote.
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Thin gruel on the menu in Brussels
Another joint statement by Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker provided pretty thin gruel yesterday. Discussions will continue around “alternative arrangements” to the Irish border backstop and “appropriate legal assurance” that it would be of a temporary nature. But there was no shift on the fundamental demands of hard Brexiters in May’s party - a time limit or a unilateral escape clause.
But there has been a shift away from any suggestion that the Withdrawal Agreement itself might be reopened. Instead attorney general Geoffrey Cox is drawing up a separate legal codicil for a unilateral exit mechanism with a 12-month notice period once it's triggered, the Telegraph understands. It’s doubtful that either the EU or Brexit hardliners will accept this.
The next big public moment for May will come at an international summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Sunday. But little is expected to emerge there either. With the clock nearly run down, it’s clear that a Brexit deal acceptable to all sides is an illusion. The only way to end this damaging farce is by putting the final decision on Brexit back to the people.
It's clear that the only way forward is a People's Vote. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the campaign. Sign up to volunteer today.
Yesterday three Conservative MPs left the party and went to sit with the new Independent Group of MPs in the Commons. While we respect reasons given by both Labour and Conservative MPs to resign from their parties in recent days, the People’s Vote campaign is a broad coalition supported by MPs from almost every party and we are never going to be associated with any one political grouping.
Although, of course, we will continue to work with the MPs who have left, we will also work with many more MPs who have remained behind in both parties as support continues to grow in Parliament for a People’s Vote. Indeed, we are actively speaking to a number of frontbenchers from the Conservative, as well as the Labour Party, and we’re encouraged by assurances they have given to us in private about what they will do if or when Brexit options have been exhausted.
We believe that many Conservative, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, Green, Plaid Cymru and Independent MPs will join hundreds of thousands of their voters on the streets of London on March 23, in calling for any final deal to be put to the people.
Tweet of the Day
The government aren’t offering any clarity about Brexit, and the clock is ticking. This isn’t good for the NHS or for business.
Tortuous talks ahead
Here’s a great example of how tortuous negotiations on our post-Brexit future could become after we leave the EU. The EU’s no-deal contingency plans to add the UK to a list of countries with visa-free travel cannot be signed off. Why? Because the European Council, in particular Spain, and the European Parliament can’t agree on whether Gibraltar should be described as a colony or not.
It’s a point of semantics with little bearing on the substance of the issue - essentially whether Brits should have to apply for a £52 visa if the UK crashes out without a deal. But that’s how all the different interests will act in talks on our future relationship with the EU. And thanks to the incredibly vague “Political Declaration” in the government’s Brexit deal, each side - be it the Spanish government, French farmers, Scottish fishers, German car makers or London bankers - will have lots of scope to lobby for their interests. If we leave the EU with this deal, we’re looking at years of Brexit distraction ahead.
What's your reason?
WATCH: "This Brexit will bring tough times upon the younger generation and people of colour." Raza will be marching at the Put it to the People March to demand a People’s Vote. If you want to join him sign up HERE.
EU agency cannot break lease over Brexit (Politico)
Top Brexit comment
David Hannay: When it comes to security, UK is safer in EU (InFacts)
Tom Dolphin: I’m an NHS consultant and I am deeply worried about the effects Brexit will have on our health service (NHS Against Brexit)
Today, Thursday 21st February
|-||Jeremy Corbyn expected to visit Brussels for talks with Guy Verhofstadt|
|09.30||Public sector finances|
|09.30||Defra questions in Commons|
Tomorrow, Friday 22nd February
|09.30||ONS: Overseas travel and tourism figures|