Morning Briefing: Burning UK business - Cooper's 'fantastic' amendment - hard border or backstop
A string of bad news yesterday shows the immense damage Brexit is already doing to our country. P&O announced that its fleet of cross-Channel ferries will re-register under the Cypriot flag. Sony said it would move its European HQ from London to Amsterdam to avoid Brexit disruption. Dixons Carphone and Pets at Home are stockpiling supplies because they fear chaos at the ports.
And James Dyson, yes Dyson the Brexiter pin-up whom Boris Johnson adored because he campaigned for the UK to quit the EU, is shifting his company headquarters to Singapore. The firm says it’s nothing to do with Brexit. It’s just “future proofing” its business. Pull the other one.
This was a predictable reaction by firms to the government's reckless delay tactics as Theresa May tries to run the clock down and bounce MPs into backing her miserable deal. The prime minister is sitting by watching this corporate arson, like Nero fiddling when Rome burnt.
Fortunately, enough MPs both in the opposition and her own party are likely to stand up to her and put out the fire. A string of amendments to the government’s non-existent Plan B - especially killer ones from Dominic Grieve and Yvette Cooper - should do the job. But much damage has already been done - and cannot be repaired.
As the horror of what the hardliners propose becomes clear, a big bastion of the business community is finally swinging into action. The Financial Times has a powerful leader entitled: “If Parliament cannot resolve Brexit, a new referendum is needed.”
While pointing to the risks of a new vote being divisive, the column points out that "leaving the EU under a version of Mrs May’s agreement will be divisive in any case". It highlights several reasons: "Arguments about the terms of departure will persist; purist Brexiters are spinning a new narrative of vassalage. Those who backed Leave primarily as a huge protest vote are likely to find “taking back control” worsens rather than improves their lot — fostering no less a sense of resentment and betrayal. Future governments must find imaginative new approaches to helping Britain’s left-behinds, in either case."
Since MPs are unlikely to agree on any form of Brexit, the FT line is likely soon to become a clear call for a new referendum. Like so many others, it will become obvious that a People's Vote is the only way forward.
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Labour keen on ‘fantastic’ no-deal amendment
John McDonnell and other Labour figures have spoken in favour of an amendment, tabled by Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper, which would allow MPs to take back control of the Brexit process. The amendment requires the government to delay Brexit if no deal had been found by February 26. McDonnell told BBC Newsnight that Labour was “highly likely” to back the amendment. Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey called it “fantastic”. If Labour MPs are whipped to back the Cooper amendment then it would only need about 15 Tory rebel MPs to pass - and eight have already signed it.
If Labour is keen to wrest control over Brexit from May's vacillating government, then another amendment - tabled by Conservative Dominic Grieve - should also win its support. This allows MPs' business takes precedence every Tuesday until March 29, giving parliamentarians space to discuss the complexities of Brexit. Ultimately, this should allow them to scrutinise the other Brexit options, and arrive at the decision that none is as good as our current deal in the EU, none fulfil the promises of the referendum, and it's time to break the logjam and hand the final decision back to the people.
Quote of the Day
“We’re putting forward our deal, which we think will work. We also want Parliament to have the option, if necessary, of a public vote.”
John McDonnell on Newsnight, very clearly saying that if Labour's permanent customs union proposal can't win support in Parliament then the next step is backing a People's Vote.
Tweet of the Day
High-stakes chicken in Cabinet
Meanwhile, a high-stakes game of chicken is unfolding within Theresa May’s Cabinet. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has demanded a free vote for Tory MPs on amendments blocking "no deal", and suggested up to 40 government ministers might be willing to resign over the issue. Yesterday a Number 10 spokesperson signalled, though not explicitly, that Conservatives would be whipped and one minister claimed the hardcore of ministers opposed to no-deal was only around five, the The Times reports..
It all points to growing tensions at the top of the Conservative party. If MPs are whipped, will there be the resignations Rudd warned? Will the prime minister ever buckle to this or similar later demands? May's Brexit proposal has suffered a massive defeat in Parliament already, but now her Cabinet looks hopefully fractured too. Time to look around for a genuine Plan B and stop the time wasting.
Video of the Day
WATCH: Dominic Grieve explains why he thinks a People’s Vote is necessary: "Despite two and a half years of trying to see a silver lining in this particular crowd, I think Brexit remains the biggest historic mistake the UK has made."
No deal: Hard border or backstop
European leaders have made it very clear that, if we crash out of the EU with no deal, there are two options for Northern Ireland’s frontier: a hard border or a backstop. The EU Commission’s top spokesperson told journalists yesterday it was “pretty obvious you will have a hard border” in a no-deal scenario. Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar had a different view, insisting the UK and Ireland had a commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. He said a new bilateral agreement would have to be struck to ensure “full alignment” on customs between both countries. Since Ireland’s customs rules are the EU’s, that’s the backstop by any other name - precisely what Brexiters advocating “no deal” loathe. The likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg must say what they want: a hard border trashing the Good Friday Agreement or being locked in a backstop following EU rules without a say?
Graphic of the Day
Labour MP Jo Stevens' take on James Dyson moving his firms' head office to Singapore.
More Brexit news…
Top Brexit comment
Editorial: If parliament cannot resolve Brexit, a new referendum is needed (FT £)
Rosie McKenna: Rewriting the Good Friday Agreement should not be an option (Metro)
Rafael Behr: We’ll never see a cross-party deal on Brexit: tribalism runs too deep (Guardian)
Today, Wednesday 23rd January
|09.30||ONS: Public accounts|
|09.30||ONS: Trade stats|
|10.00||Geoffrey Cox evidence to the justice committee|
Prime Minister's Questions
Stephen Barclay evidence to Lords EU committee
Tomorrow, Thursday 24th January
|09.30||ONS: Family spending in 2018|
|AM||Theresa May meeting trade union leaders in Downing Street|
|09.30||Brexit questions in Commons|
|11.00||European statutory instruments committee will publish its verdict of proposed negative instruments put forward by the Government|