Morning Briefing: Running down the clock to what? - business's 'weary horror' - May won't give rights lock
Theresa May’s Brexit tactic is clear: run down the clock and force MPs into backing the government’s unpopular deal. She denies this is the case, claiming she wanted Brexit “sorted before Christmas”. But it’s hard to ignore two years of the prime minister’s time wasting, which I break down in this article for InFacts.
The evidence for May’s can-kicking strategy was strong yesterday. Pro-Brexit minister Andrea Leadsom kicked off with an interview on the BBC’s Today programme, opening up the possibility that MPs would be asked to vote at a moment of peak jeopardy. Then during the prime minister’s statement to the Commons - itself a request for MPs to give her more time - May suggested the normal 21 days Parliament needed to consider a new international treaty could be fast forwarded in the case of Brexit, allowing for a last-minute decision.
The final moment came from an overheard comment by May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, in a Brussels bar. An ITV journalist heard Robbins say MPs had to believe that “if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one”. This opens an interesting question: what is May running down the clock to? A choice between her deal and no-deal chaos, or her deal and a lengthy extension of Brexit.
Either way, MPs don’t have to let May hang this choice over them. To poach a phrase from the prime minister, they should hold their nerve.
Votes in Parliament on Valentine’s Day are already looking like a bit of a non-event. But May was forced into giving important ground yesterday when she guaranteed another amendable motion at the end of February - except in the unlikely scenario the government’s deal passes by then.
MPs are already making plans to take control of the Brexit process from of our time-wasting premier. A new cross-party plan, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tories Oliver Letwin and Caroline Spelman, would table an amendment guaranteeing parliamentary time for a bill to give MPs a vote between no deal and an extension to Article 50.
There are still plenty of ways for MPs to avoid being bounced into a bad deal. And make no mistake, the government’s proposal is bad. It’s not just the backstop, which Brexiters make so much noise about. The deal would also leave us poorer. We would follow many EU rules without a say at the top table. And it would mean years of uncertainty as we try to work out our future relationship with our closest neighbours. It’s a blindfold Brexit which ditches the good deal we currently have with the EU and replaces it with a vague, unknown future.
MPs and the people of this country don’t have to swallow this or any other bad Brexit. That’s why our elected representatives in Parliament must back a People’s Vote.
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Business’s ‘weary horror’
While it’s not clear what Theresa May is running down the clock to, it is clear that business will hurt because of it. British business is angry. Business leaders reacted with “weary horror”, the FT reports, after the prime minister told them yesterday that extending the Article 50 period would serve no purpose. For business, it would be an essential sign that we’re not cruising towards a no-deal crash out. The British Chamber of Commerce meanwhile has demanded the PM answers 20 questions on where Brexit is heading. And Ford, which employs 13,000 staff in the UK, has told May that it is stepping up preparations to move operations abroad, reports the Times. Businesses need certainty if they are to thrive in the UK. May’s reckless tactics don’t provide that, but neither does the government’s vague blindfold Brexit and the years of political infighting and uncertainty it would unleash.
Quote of the Day
“There is a very real risk that a lack of clear, actionable information from government will leave firms, their people and their communities hung out to dry.
“Even those companies trying their hardest to get ready are still in the dark on important matters from contracts through to customs. Many others, who took the decision to wait for the political process to conclude before acting, would face sudden and costly adjustments if a deal is not reached.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce.
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‘Bottom of the cage’
None of the bad business news stops Brexiters’ relentless campaign of spin and disinformation. Take the pro-hard-Brexit Daily Telegraph front page this morning which claimed Mark Carney had “swapped fear for hope” on Brexit. The paper was reporting a speech by the Bank of England governor at the FT in which he posed Brexit as an “acid test” for the future of global trade. Carney said Brexit “could go quite badly” and compared it to a canary in a coal mine, saying: “The bird may be towards the bottom of the cage, but it is still fluttering.” If Brexiters think this counts as “hope”, then their vision of the future is more disturbing than anyone originally imagined.
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May won’t give rights lock
Pro-Brexit Labour MPs have laid out their demands for the protection of rights after Brexit. This includes a bill providing a “regression lock” which would mean the UK never falls behind the EU on things like workers’ rights and environmental protections. The conditions emerged in a meeting between May and Labour MPs thought to be wavering over whether to support the government’s deal, including John Mann, Caroline Flint and Gareth Snell. But what they want is not what the prime minister is offering. May has only said she is “prepared to commit to asking Parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards in these areas”. That leaves it up to the Parliament of the day to decide whether the UK matches any improvement in rights adopted by the EU. That’s fine if future MPs prize these issues, but it’s no guarantee against hard-right, pro-deregulation politicians denying new rights to citizens in the future and the UK falling behind. As bribes to back the government’s deal go, it’s not one Labour MPs should accept.
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Top Brexit comment
Hugo Dixon: Corbyn plan needs its day in Commons – so he can move on (InFacts)
Nic Connor: I’m a bumpkin Brexiteer, but I fear no deal would destroy British farming (Times £)
Rafael Behr: Deal or no deal, both Labour and the Tories will split over Brexit (Guardian)
Today, Wednesday 13th February
|09.30||ONS: consumer price inflation|
|10.30||Former Irish PM Bertie Ahern at Commons Brexit committee|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
Tomorrow, Thursday 14th February
|Debate and votes on amendable motion on Brexit|
|09.30||Chris Grayling takes transport questions in Commons|