Morning Briefing: UK needs a decision on extension - 'no deal' plans primed - Corbyn's soft-Brexit jigsaw
Theresa May will not be asking for a “long extension” to the Brexit deadline, that’s the breaking news from a Number 10 source this morning. There’s still no news on what the prime minister will be asking for. In seeking a short extension she seems to have buckled to pressure from Tory Brexiters, following a heated Cabinet yesterday. But it’s bad news for the country, with a short extension offering no reassurance or clarity on our immediate future.
If she asks for a short extension from the EU, it is far from clear that the prime minister will get one. By her own admission, the EU is “highly likely” to want a “clear purpose for any extension” if no the government’s Brexit deal hasn’t been approved by Parliament. That was literally the motion May asked MPs to vote on last Thursday, which also implied a short extension could only work if the deal passed.
Now we have no approved deal and - as yet - no clear purpose for extension. If the UK takes something this vague to Brussels tomorrow, then there’s a big risk of either a cock up, whereby extension is rejected and we plunge off the no-deal cliff edge next week, or a stitch up, with the other 27 EU countries imposing terms in their own interests because the UK has brought none of its own ideas.
If whatever offer May makes is as vague as it's shaping up to be, it won’t wash with the EU. They want to know “the purpose and outcome of an extension” and to make sure “we are not back in the same situation as today”, according to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s spokesperson. A purposeless short extension would not achieve that.
In a private meeting with ministers, however, Barnier revealed that a longer extension would need either a change to the government’s red lines, a general election or a referendum, The Times reports.
The Number 10 source this morning insisted that the people are “fed up with Parliament’s failure to take a decision”. But the same applies to our prevaricating prime minister, many times over. She’s at it again now. She won’t make a decision because she’s spooked by Brexiters in her Cabinet warning of the “end of the Conservative Party” and invoking the “last days of Rome”. But it is the prime minister’s crippling indecision which is the biggest threat to her party and her country.
There is a way to secure the kind of time delay we need to free ourselves from this all-consuming Brexit mess: by deciding to put the final decision on Brexit back to the people. Huge crowds will be on the streets of London on Saturday to demand that politicians do just that. Join us!
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Primed for no-deal fallout
The recklessness of this government’s indecision was laid bare by the revelation yesterday that “Operation Yellowhammer” - the contingency plan for a no-deal crash out - will be fully enacted by March 25 if no new exit date with the EU has been agreed. That’s next Monday.
What’s more worrying is that the news is still full of stories about how we’re not ready for “no deal”. Less than half the “trusted trader” schemes which allow companies to fast-track goods through customs have been approved since 2016, the BBC has learned. That spells chaos at our borders. A trade deal is close to being rolled over with Canada, The Times reports, but dozens more - including with South Korea and Mexico - are set to collapse on March 29. That means chaos for our exporters. The UK is set to lose £1 trillion in financial assets as spooked banks and investors move money out of the country.
All this could be avoided if only ministers could call a truce on political infighting for a moment and agree a sensible plan. It’s a tragic betrayal of the British people if that doesn’t happen.
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Young people across the country are behind a People's Vote. They'll be at the march on Saturday, will you?
Corbyn struggles with soft-Brexit jigsaw
Jeremy Corbyn spent yesterday trying to patch together a cross-party coalition around his idea for a softer Brexit. It’s proving slow progress. He reportedly urged SNP, Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru and Green leaders to “engage constructively” in finding a “parliamentary majority for a close economic relationship with the EU”. The collective response was that there is no Brexit proposal which is as good for jobs, rights and the environment as the deal we have now in the EU, and Labour would do better by fully embracing that idea instead.
A separate meeting with advocates of a Norway-style Brexit - including Conservatives Nick Boles and Oliver Letwin, and Labour backbenchers Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell - involved “positive and detailed discussions”, but nothing concrete. Notably there have not been any meetings with MPs from The Independent Group, many of whom broke away from Corbyn’s party last month.
Finding a majority for a soft Brexit among all these disparate groups looks fairly impossible. It will certainly waste a lot more time the UK doesn’t have. In any case, to force options like “Norway plus” or "a customs union” through Parliament without putting them to the people would neither be democratic nor help heal the deep divisions in our country and our politics that the Brexit debate has exposed. Any such proposal would have to go to the people for approval.
Quote of the Day
“There is no such thing as a good Brexit, whether it is a Labour or Conservative version of it. Jobs, public services and the environment will suffer. Remaining in the EU is the best deal on offer and with time running out, Labour must now deliver on their promises so that we can avoid a catastrophic Brexit.”
Joint statement from SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens following cross-party meeting with Jeremy Corbyn.
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Top Brexit comment
Hugo Dixon: PM like rabbit frozen in headlights over extra time (InFacts)
Daniel Finkelstein: Getting rid of Theresa May solves nothing (Times)
Aditya Chakrabortty: Britain’s real democratic crisis? The broken link between voters and MPs (Guardian)
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Today, Wednesday 20th March
|09.30||ONS: consumer price inflation|
|09.30||ONS: house prices index|
|09.30||Northern Ireland political parties give evidence to Commons NI Committee on Backstop|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
|13.30||Michael Gove evidence to environment audit committee on draft environmental bill|
Tomorrow, Tuesday 19th March
|-||European Council summit|
|09.30||ONS: public sector finances|
|09.30||ONS: retail sales|
|14.30||European Council summit discusses Brexit (press conference expected 18.00)|