U.K. official plays down the chances of a revised deal being agreed in time for next week after Chancellor Philip Hammond suggests it could be put to Parliament in days May is trying to prevent ministers rebelling against her next week Sterling weakens, and volatility jumps
The U.K. seems to agree with the EU side’s gloomy portrayal of Thursday’s Brexit negotiations. There appears to have been very little progress and the two teams will meet again next week.
The talks between Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator were “productive,” according to a U.K. government spokesman.
“They discussed the positions of both sides and agreed to focus on what we can do to conclude a successful deal as soon as possible,” he said in a statement. They agreed that “talks should now continue urgently at a technical level,” the spokesman said. The trio will discuss matters again early next week.
The U.K. government’s position is still that the Withdrawal Agreement — struck between the two sides in November — should be reopened. That’s something the EU has consistently rejected.
Theresa May wrote to the three Tory MPs who defected from the party on Wednesday and rejected their claim that it has been taken over by a right wing anti-EU membership. “I do not accept the picture you paint of our Party,” she wrote. “We are the moderate, open hearted Conservative Party.”
Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston said in their letter of resignation that hardline “entryists” are “subsuming” the party. It had happened “much as the hard left has been allowed to consume and terminally underline the Labour Party,” they wrote.
“I was sorry to read, and do not accept, the parallel you draw with the way Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left have warped a once-proud Labour Party and allowed the poison of anti-Semitism to go unchecked,” May replied.
May met with former Education Secretary Justine Greening and former Justice Minister Phillip Lee on Thursday, according to an official. The meetings are significant because it suggests the premier is taking seriously the risk that more lawmakers will quit her Conservative Party after three defected on Wednesday.
Heidi Allen, one of Wednesday’s defectors, suggested both Greening and Lee might follow suit. Both figure prominently in media speculation about which Tories might quit to sit in the newly-formed Independent Group of three former Tories and eight MPs who left Labour earlier in the week.
Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston said there had been little outreach from the leadership in the run-up to their resignations, which they blamed on May being in hock to the Brexiteer wing of her party.
A meeting between Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels broke up without a deal, an EU official said.
Further meetings will be held next week, according to the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were private. The meeting was part of an ongoing process of negotiations, they said.
The U.K. Department for International Trade has confirmed what Business secretary Greg Clark let slip earlier in the week: it won’t be able to roll over the trade deal with Japan that it benefits from through its EU membership in time for Brexit.
Customs arrangements with Turkey, Andorra and San Marino also won’t be rolled over by March 29, and a trade deal with Algeria is “unlikely” to be ready in time, according to the document. Engagement is “ongoing” to roll over more than 20 other sets of trading arrangements, including the European Economic Area countries, Canada and South Korea.
May’s team is worried about the potential for about 30 members of the government to rebel against her in a vote next week on Brexit, according to an official familiar with the matter.
The prime minister will meet some of the potential rebels on Monday to try to stave off the rebellion, the official said. Her de facto deputy, David Lidington, is also being used as a conduit.
The concern is that on Feb. 27 junior ministers could support the so-called Cooper-Letwin proposal — a cross-party move to force May to take the no-deal scenario off the table.
Read more: May Could Be Forced to Fire Ministers Over Brexit Rebellion
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, met with EU Brexit Secretary Michel Barnier in Brussels on Thursday. As he left — about the same time as Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox walked in — he said Barnier had suggested his Brexit strategy would be more “credible” than May’s.Much of the meeting seemed devoted to the threat of “no deal” and Corbyn, flanked by Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer and Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, said May’s “running down the clock” approach is “instilling fear.”
“The threat of no-deal has exercised people throughout the EU and that was conveyed to us in no uncertain terms,” Corbyn told reporters.
Corbyn doesn’t have any role in the Brexit negotiations with the EU, but May might have to rely on votes from his party if Conservatives continue to reject her deal.
Trade Secretary Liam Fox said Britain’s ability to unilaterally agree on trade deals after Brexit will offset the loss of economies of scale offered by being a member of the EU.
He gave the example of a data agreement being held up because just four of the EU’s 28 member states objected. He also rejected the suggestion by Labour lawmaker Geraint Davies that Britain is an economic “dwarf.”
“Economies of scale have a role in trade agreements but so has the ability to agree those deals and ratify them,” Fox told the House of Commons. “We’re the fifth biggest economy in the world and I find it ridiculous we’re being told we’re some kind of economic minnow,” he said. “We’re more than able to negotiate strong agreements around the world.”
A meeting late Wednesday between May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was thin on detail, according to two European officials. No new proposals or requests were put on the table, they said.
Juncker had sounded upbeat and in a hurry to get a deal done in a joint statement with May last night. But this morning he sounded gloomier. Not only does he have “Brexit fatigue,” but he’s “not very optimistic” when it comes to avoiding a no-deal limbo scenario.
Still, Barclay and Cox are expected to arrive with detailed proposals on fixing the backstop on Thursday.
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom told lawmakers in Parliament that the government is sticking to its plan to hold either a vote on a new Brexit agreement or to allow lawmakers to vote on the way ahead next week.
May will make a statement on Tuesday, followed by a vote on Wednesday. If no new deal has been secured, then lawmakers will vote on a general Brexit motion, which they will be able to amend.
Leadsom said she’ll make another statement on proceedings “if necessary.” That suggests timings could change if progress is made in Brussels, where negotiators are seeking changes to the Brexit deal.
“If the government has not secured a majority in this house in favor of a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration, the government will make a statement on Tuesday Feb. 26, and table an amendable motion relating to the statement and a minister will move that motion on Wednesday Feb. 27, thereby enabling the house to vote on it and any amendments to it on that day,” Leadsom said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a conference in Brussels on Thursday morning that he has “something like Brexit fatigue.”
“Brexit is deconstruction; it’s not construction,” said Juncker , who met with Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday. Brexit is “a disaster.”
Speaking to BBC radio, Hammond said a “small hardcore” of pro-Brexit Tories won’t compromise for the sake of getting a deal. But he insisted the Conservative Party hasn’t been taken over by the euroskeptics in the European Research Group. That was a key charge of the three Tories who quit the party on Wednesday, saying they no longer recognized what the Conservatives stood for.
Hammond said there were positive signs coming from the Brussels that the EU is moving its position, and giving ground on the backstop. It is “significant” that the EU is now promising “guarantees” to the U.K. that the contentious backstop will be temporary, the Chancellor said.
Philip Hammond issued another veiled threat to quit the government if the U.K. ends up hurtling into a no-deal Brexit. But he said there’s a chance that the Commons will be able to have another so-called “meaningful vote” on the deal as early as next week.
“There may be an opportunity to bring a vote back to the House of Commons” next week, Hammond told BBC News. “But that will depend on progress that’s made over the next few days.” He said a no-deal Brexit would be an “extremely bad outcome” and “we must do everything we can to avert that.”
Hammond said he will stay in government for as long as he can influence the outcome to stop a no-deal Brexit. He’s previously failed to rule out resigning over the issue. DM
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