Morning Briefing: May given backstop figleaf - bad deal, full stop - time to talk extensions
Despite the spectacle of an eleventh-hour flight to Strasbourg, and a triumphant announcement of “legally binding” changes to the Northern Ireland backstop, the prime minister has little more than a figleaf to conceal just how far the government is from meeting the demands of MPs. They must vote the deal down tonight.
The latest wording comes nowhere close to what the Brexiters want: either a time limit or unilateral escape mechanism for the backstop. And it’s not even what Theresa May promised.
Back in January May told MPs she wanted “a significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement”. Last night, Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed that the new arrangement only “complements” the Withdrawal Agreement without reopening it. These are still just "reassurances" and "clarifications", though now in a legal form. And the joint statement on the future relationship is of no huge significance because that document - like the Political Declaration - is not legally binding.
Indeed, the spectacle of the government having to publish its own unilateral spin policy - with an interpretation of the deal that the EU cannot endorse - shows just how ludicrous this saga has become. And even then the government can only go as far as saying the change “reduces the risk” the UK could be held in the Northern Ireland backstop “indefinitely”.
However, the deal being voted on today is bad for more reasons than just the backstop - as I’ve outlined below.
The question is whether May’s figleaf has given Brexiters enough of a ladder to climb down and back her in Parliament. That's unclear: Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “clearly a step in the right direction”, while Steve Baker is still warning of “entrapment” in the backstop.
The verdict of pro-Brexit attorney general Geoffrey Cox, expected today, could have some influence. But considering Brexiters have previously called the deal “rancid” and warned of “vassaldom” for the UK, it would be staggering if this were enough to win them over.
May's last-minute dash to Strasbourg and eleventh-hour agreement could even backfire. MPs will not appreciate being bounced into accepting a half-in half-out Brexit that pleases no one. They should reject the deal, step back from the cliff edge and seek real clarity about our future.
It’s a pity so much time has been wasted and so much effort spent to achieve so little. Now is the time for MPs to step it up a gear and really try and break the deadlock in Parliament. It will soon become clear that the only way to do that is with a People’s Vote.
Tweet of the Day
Stephen Doughty MP reveals the government motion to be voted on today to approve May’s Brexit deal.
It’s a bad deal, full stop
Brexiters regard this as a bad deal because of the backstop. Everyone else knows this is a bad deal, full stop. That’s why MPs must vote it down once again.
May’s deal will leave us poorer. It ends the frictionless trade with the EU upon which so much of our manufacturing and farming relies. It does very little for services industries - a whopping 80% of our economy. It will leave us following EU rules in many areas without a say at the decision-making table. Cooperation on crime, security, defence, the environment and science will all suffer - indeed there’s no clarity on any of it yet. The deal means years more uncertainty as politicians try to make sense of a policy which makes no sense for the UK.
Now we know the real costs of Brexit and that the promises of the last referendum are being broken, it is only fair for the people to demand a real say on any final deal.
Video of the Day
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Time to talk about extensions
Looking forward to Thursday, MPs could have an opportunity to extend the Article 50 deadline. The EU is already putting its cards on the table and preparing for an extension of up to a year, The Times reports. Top EU official Martin Selmayr told ambassadors yesterday that “six weeks won’t fix anything”. He made some astute technical points about upcoming EU elections, followed by the formation of a new EU Parliament and Commission, which will be a distraction from the Brexit process. It will be these considerations that MPs must turn their attention to if, as seems likely, May’s deal is voted down today and a no-deal Brexit is rejected tomorrow.
Graphic of the Day
Quote of the Day
“This is the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments that have emerged from the Land of Hope and Glory set now masquerading as the authentic standard-bearers of British patriotism. It’s utter bollocks.”
Former Australian PM Kevin Rudd puts forward some strident views on why the Commonwealth is no EU substitute for Brexit Britain. For more reasoned insight, his full Guardian column is well worth a read.
Video of the Day 2
Young people and students from across the UK know that the only way forward is to Put It To The People. That's why thousands of us will be descending on London on 23rd March to demand a People's Vote.
UK looks the other way on AI (Politico)
Top Brexit comment
Jonathan Freedland: Once again, Theresa May tries to claim victory – but the EU has conceded next to nothing (Guardian)
Hugo Dixon: If MPs can vote twice on deal, why can’t people vote once? (InFacts)
Polly Toynbee: Even if Theresa May’s rotten deal scrapes through, Brexit will fester for a generation (Guardian)
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.
Today, Tuesday 12th March
|-||Attorney general Geoffrey Cox expected to give verdict on "legally binding" changes to Brexit deal|
|-||Second 'meaningful vote' on government's Brexit deal|
|09.30||ONS statistics on production, services, GDP, trade, construction|
|10.15||Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell at Commons Scottish affairs committee|
Tomorrow, Wednesday 13th March
|-||MPs vote on no-deal Brexit (pending result of 2nd meaningful Vote)|
|09.50||Immigration minister Caroline Nokes at Lords EU home affairs Committee|
|10.00||Expert evidence on trade in services to International Trade Committee|
|12.00||Prime Ministers Questions|
|12.30||Spring statement by chancellor|
|14.30||Westminster Hall debate: Fishing and leaving the EU|