- Chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins warned May that customs backstop was “bad outcome”
- Robbins: Backstop ‘uncomfortable for both sides’
- May: I’ll still have a job in two weeks
- Boris Johnson: “We can do so much better than this deal”
- Labour threatens no confidence motion if May loses Brexit vote
- Telegraph View: Now is the time for total Brexit clarity
The Attorney General confirmed that Britain will not be able to cancel the Irish backstop clause without approval from the EU on Monday, as he gave legal advice to MPs on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
“There is no unilateral right to terminate this arrangement,” Geoffrey Cox told the House of Commons, as one MP called out: “It’s a trap.”
However, the Attorney General said he did not believe the backstop would be a permanent measure, provided both the UK and EU found a better solution.
He added that the Brexit deal allows for the “necessary time and legal means” for the Brexit process to unfold in a “peaceful and orderly way”.
“The divorce and separation of nations from long and intimate unions, just as of human beings, stirs high emotion and calls for wisdom and forbearance,” he said.
It came as Theresa May’s chief Brexit aide sought to reassure Brexiteer MPs on Monday as he claimed the Irish backstop clause was “uncomfortable for both sides” and that EU leaders hoped to allow trade that was “as frictionless as possible” as part of a future deal.
Olly Robbins told Parliament’s Brexit committee that the backstop clause was a “necessity” that could not be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.
“It is an uncomfortable position for both sides and the reality … is that there is not a withdrawal agreement without a backstop,” he said.
“That reflects also, as I’ve said to this committee before, ministers’ commitments to Northern Ireland and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, rather than being something imposed upon us.
“So, it is a necessity and a slightly uncomfortable necessity for both sides.”
However, Brexiteer MPs such as Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg were unconvinced, and warned that the backstop played directly into the hands of the EU.
Attorney General: Some areas of EU law will still apply
The Attorney General is now talking about the extent to which EU rules and the EU court will apply after Brexit.
He says that some areas of “Union law” – referring to EU law – would continue to apply, in particular EU case law.
However, if there were a dispute about the Withdrawal Agreement, the issue would be referred to a Joint Committee, also known as an arbitration panel.
He says Brexit calls for “wisdom and forbearance, calm and measured evalutation by the house” of the terms of withdrawal.
Attorney General confirms UK cannot unilaterally quit backstop
There is no unilateral right to terminate this arrangement,” says the Attorney General as one MP shouts “it’s a trap!”
He stresses that the backstop would apply under international law even if the Brexit talks break down at a later stage.
Attorney General: Backstop is temporary
The Attorney General says he believes the deal should not be voted down by MPs.
“If this agreement is to pass this house, as I strongly believe it should, I do not believe it can or should pass under any misapprehension as to the legal matters on which that judgement should be based.”
He adds that no Attorney General can provide answers to every single legal question put forward by MPs.
He then explains that he will focus on the Irish backstop as this is the area of most interest for MPs.
He says that the backstop will apply unless the UK and EU find a superior alternative in future trade talks, as laid out by the Political Declaration.
“It is expressly agreed not to establish a permanent relationship but be temporary,” he says.
Geoffrey Cox addresses Brexit legal issues
Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, is issuing a statement to “inform the debate” on the Brexit vote in the Commons.
My statement today is complemented by a detailed legal comm provided for the purpose of the debate and published this morning.
That legal commentary has been produced with my oversight and approval.
May: We can do a trade deal with America
Theresa May is speaking about her achievements at the G20 summit in the House of Commons.
“I came with the clear message that Britain is open for business and that we are looking forward to future trade agreements,” she says.
“Once we leave the EU we can and we will strike ambitious trade deals.”
She says she told Donald Trump, the US president, that the UK “can indeed do a a trade deal” with America after leaving the European Union.
Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, told her he was “looking forward” to the UK being able to open talks formally on joining the TPP.
She adds that ‘no deal’ funding for government departments will be allocated within the next few days.
Barclay rules out Norway-style Plan B
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock asks if the Prime Minister has a moral obligation to have a Plan B.
Mr Barclay says the Government is only concentrating on getting Mrs May’s deal through parliament.
He adds that a Norway-style relationship would not deliver on the referendum result.
Meanwhile, Sun reporter Matt Dathan spots an embarrassing error in Mr Barclay’s remarks about when we leave the EU.
Barclay: No deal or no Brexit if May’s deal is voted down
Steve Barclay refuses to say whether there would be a second vote if the first vote in the Commons fails.
He says if the vote fails then there will be no deal or no Brexit.
He also admits it will be “challenging” to get the deal through Parliament.
However, is widely believed in both Westminster and Brussels that the Prime Minister will try to hold a second vote if the first fails.
Government Brexit advice confirms no time limit on backstop
The Irish backstop would continue to apply “unless and until it is superseded” by a subsequent agreement, according to the Government’s Brexit legal advice.
An extract reads:
The main provisions of the Protocol come into force from the end of the implementation period (31 December 2020 – see Article 185 of the Agreement) in the event that a subsequent agreement is not in place by then, and the Protocol will continue to apply unless and until it is superseded, in whole in or part, by a subsequent agreement establishing alternative arrangements (Article 1(4), and the fifth recital in the preamble).
UK faces more payments if transition is extended
As the Brexiteers clash with the Government in the Committee hall, the Government’s Brexit legal advice – or at least some extracts of it – are emerging.
The UK faces making additional payments to Brussels if the Brexit transition period is extended, the Government’s Brexit legal advice says.
The advice says that discussions on any extension would involve “reaching further agreement on the UK’s financial contribution”.
It adds: “During any extended implementation period, the UK would not be within EU budget arrangements, and would not be a Member State for the purposes of Union programmes and activities committed under the next Multi-annual Financial Framework.
“So the Joint Committee would decide on an appropriate financial contribution, taking into account that the UK would not be receiving receipts as a Member State participating in the Union programmes and activities committed under the next Multi-annual Financial Framework.
“In addition, since the UK would not be part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) during this extended period, it would be necessary to make provision for the UK to be able to make agricultural support payments which are exempt from EU state aid rules, but which ensure a level playing field.”
Rees-Mogg clashes with Barclay over tariffs
Jacob Rees-Mogg points out, citing the Withdrawal Agreement, that under the terms of the backstop the UK will be obliged to accept EU tariffs without having a say in them.
There is a long pause before a slightly flustered Mr Barclay responds: I don’t accept that at all.
“OK, but you don’t seem to know about it, which is a bit of a problem,” is Mr Rees-Mogg’s icy response.
Fact check: Mr Rees-Mogg is correct. The UK will have to follow EU tariffs if the backstop is activated and applies to the whole of the UK.
Robbins: Extending transition avoids some negative aspects of backstop
Jacob Rees-Mogg asks Mr Robbins to confirm the Telegraph confirming that he believes the backstop would be a negative outcome for the UK.
He says he won’t comment on the story, but adds:
It is certainly true that if UK entered into an extension to the implementation period, some of the negative consequences of being in the backstop would not apply.
The backstop is definitely an uncomfortable outcome for both sides.
Robbins: EU’s initial demands were a bit extravagant
Olly Robbins says he wishes to “amplify” the fact that the political declaration is not legally binding, but adds that is nearly unprecedented for a political declaration to be reference in a treaty.
This means the commitment to act in good faith on the political declaration is, he says, internationally enforceable.
Mr Robbins says that in March the EU published a very long list of conditions which had to be met if the UK wished to sign a free trade deal.
“Some of those frankly were a bit extravagant,” he says, adding that the conditions have now been pared down to be more realistic.
Barclay: EU does not have veto on backstop
Mr Barclay is asked whether it is the case that the UK cannot unilaterally leave the backstop.
It would be a question for the Joint Committee and Arbitration Process. The point about that is the idea the EU has some sort of veto on that process is not correct because there are requirements to act on good faith.
He adds that, perhaps to the surprise of some in Westminster, the backstop is not particularly popular among EU member states either.
Some in Europe have criticised the backstop because they feel Mr Robbins has got an advantage..that the Prime Minister has got an advantage.
Robbins: Backstop does not cover services
Mr Benn asks Steve Barclay: if the backstop kicks in, can British broadcasters still broadcast to EU member states without a licence?
Mr Robbins steps in to respond. He says the backstop does not cover services – just goods:
The Irish protocol only relates to aspects of EU law required to avoid a border in Northern Ireland, it says nothing about services. If the backstop applied in the absence of any agreement there would be no services relationship.
Olly Robbins: Backstop ‘uncomfortable’ for both sides
Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said the backstop is an “uncomfortable” solution for both sides.
It is “not the future relationship the EU or the UK wants to have for each other. It’s an uncomfortable position for both sides,” he says.
“There is no presumption in the backstop of fluid trade [between the UK and EU]. The text says the degree of regulatory cooperation will be a factor in how both sides set their systems and controls,” he adds.
Mr Robbins says the Government “vociferously” put forward the case for having frictionless trade in the future relationship.
Barclay: It’s this deal, no deal or no Brexit
Steve Barclay adds:
If we don’t support the deal secured by the Prime Minister…if we don’t we risk significant uncertainty. That could be no deal or no Brexit.
We will move into uncharted waters and significant uncertainty.
Asked if he supports no deal, Mr Barclay says the Government is “preparing” for no deal.
“This is the only deal,” he repeats, pointing out that it has wide support from businesses.
“We are preparing for [all outcomes],” he adds.
Mr Benn then moves on to questions for Olly Robbins.
Barclay: We have not ruled in a deal
The Committee is discussing the Government’s refusal to publish the legal advice in full. Mr Benn asks why the Government is continuing to withhold the information despite Parliament’s request for it.
“It’s a very well established approach that legal advice is not published,” Mr Barclay says.
He is then asked why the Government hasn’t ruled out ‘no deal.’
Mr Barclay responds that it’s more the case that the Government ‘has not ruled in’ a deal.
Steve Barclay grilled by Brexit committee
Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, is being grilled by the Exiting the European Union Committee.
Mr Barclay is asked what exactly his role his, considering the divorce stage of the Brexit talks have effectively concluded.
He says he is mostly leading the domestic side of Brexit, such as planning for what happens after a meaningful vote.
Hilary Benn, the Committee chairman, asks if he will be negotiating directly with Mr Barnier. Mr Barclay does not answer the question.
Asa Bennett: Theresa May keeps giving MPs reasons to vote against her Brexit deal
Read Asa Bennett’s take on the deal here, which argues that Mrs May’s effort to promote the deal to the public will only backfire.
Mrs May will have hoped her affable chat on the This Morning sofa would have helped convince MPs watching daytime TV in their offices to support her deal. But any of those who yearn for a change of leadership, be they on the Tory or Opposition benches, will take her remarks as an incentive to vote against her deal. Given how many MPs are already poised to oppose Mrs May’s deal, as we estimate below, she has managed to stiffen her opponents’ resolve.
PM’s spokesman: Brexit vote will definitely be on December 11
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman has just finished his daily morning briefing with journalists. Political correspondent Jack Maidment has the details:
- The spokesman confirmed that MPs will only be given a “full reasoned position statement” rather than the full Brexit deal legal advice and that the statement will be published at 2pm. Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, will be answering questions on it in the Commons from about 5pm and you can expect it to be a fiery session. The fact the Government is sticking to its guns by only offering a summary of the legal advice means MPs will almost certainly pursue contempt of Parliament proceedings against ministers.
- The spokesman cleared up any confusion over whether the PM would call a second referendum. He said: “There is not going to be a second referendum.”
- He also said the meaningful vote on December 11 will go ahead as rumours continue to swirl that it could be pulled. Asked if there were any circumstances in which the vote would not go ahead, he said: “No. The vote is going to take place.
EU declines to comment on populist uprising
Spain’s Andalucia region has seen the far-right Vox party win 12 seats, in a sign that the populist uprising in Europe is far from over.
But the European Commission was tight-lipped on the subject.
“We never comment on regional elections in any of our member states. We are happy with the way European democracy is able to address all these issues,” a spokesman said.
Read James Badcock’s report on the elections here.
The real reason behind the Brexit debate row
Mrs May joked in her interview with This Morning that she disagreed with Mr Corbyn over what time and channel it should be broadcast on because neither of them wanted to miss their favourite TV programmes.
Mrs May says she doesn’t want to debate on ITV because she would miss Strictly Come Dancing.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn apparently does not wan to miss ITV’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
Battle lines drawn. Corbyn doesn’t want to miss I’m a Celebrity on ITV at 9pm. May doesn’t want to miss Strictly on BBC One at 7.15pm. I now await think pieces on what this tells us about The State of British Politics Today https://t.co/x4JqpX8KUg
— Raphael Hogarth (@Raphael_Hogarth) December 3, 2018
May: I will still be PM in two weeks time
Mrs May adds: ”I will still have a job in two weeks time, my job is making sure we do what the public asked us to, leave the EU but in a good way for them.”
She confirms that she is “keen” to debate the Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn but does not confirm which channel the debate will be on.
Mr Corbyn has been pushing for the debate to run on ITV, rather than the BBC.
The debate is due to be held on Sunday – two days before the Commons vote.
May: There will not be a second referendum
Mrs May says “this is an important moment in our history” which will “deliver what people voted for, to leave the EU.”
She then rules out a second referendum.
I don’t think…people are talking about a second vote when he haven’t delivered on the first vote.
We asked people to vote, we said, please decide whether we should leave or remain, people voted to leave.
This is the deal. This isn’t, ‘oh well let’s spend another six months’ and [we will] come back with something different.
The message has been very clear: this is the deal. This has taken 18 months of negotiation. The future bit, there is still some negotiation to do.
There has been a lot of controversy about the leaving bit but what will deliver is the future.
Asked whether she will resign if the vote fails, Mrs May simply replies:
If the vote doesn’t come through Government has to come back with the next step but I am focused on getting that vote through. When it actually comes to it, it’s a key moment about [whether] we want to ensure we leave the European Union.
May speaks on ITV’ This Morning
Theresa May is making a surprise appearance on ITV’s This Morning, where she is being grilled by Philip Schofield. She says:
We need to hold our nerve…it’s been a tough negotiation.
Asked if she has only come on the programme to try and persuade voters – a This Morning poll found only 14 per cent support the Brexit deal – she adds:
What’s important is what people think about this is important. In my constituency I was switching on the Christmas tree lights and a woman came up to me and said ‘when you say you want to get this done, you are speaking for me.’
The overwhelming message I get is people want us to get on with it.
Ex-minister calls for Brexit legal advice to be published
Sam Gyimah, a former science minister, has called on the Government to publish in full its legal advice on the Irish backstop, which sources say paints a gloomy picture of the chances of the UK having a fully independent trade policy after Brexit.
Levelling with the public and parliament on Brexit is key to restoring trust in politics, healing divisions and unifying the country behind any preferred outcome, which is why the Attorney General’s legal advice should be published in full before next weeks historic vote.
— Sam Gyimah MP (@SamGyimah) December 3, 2018
You can read Mr Gyimah’s article for the Telegraph explaining why he resigned here.
Having surrendered our voice, our vote and our veto, we will have to rely on the “best endeavours” of the EU to strike a final agreement that works in our national interest. As minister with the responsibility for space technology I have seen first-hand the EU stack the deck against us time and time again, even while the ink was drying on the transition deal. Galileo is a clarion call that it will be “EU first”, and to think otherwise – whether you are a leaver or remainer – is, at best, incredibly naive.
Brexit plan ‘clipping wings’ of UK workers
David Lammy, the Labour MP, says Mrs May’s plan to end free movement will “clip the wings” of Britons who wish to work in EU countries after Brexit.
This is because post-Brexit immigration rules will be reciprocal: the EU will be no more generous in its offer than what is proposed by the Prime Minister which at this stage is an end to free movement and some very strict rules about jobseeking abroad.
In other words, any benefits of ending free movement in the UK will be counterbalanced by a loss in job opportunities for UK citizens in the EU.
Sajid Javid attempts to defend his “sick Asian paedophiles” tweet before expressing dismay at the racist bullying which still exists in our schools. The two are connected. Xenophobic language from politicians can lead to violence on the playground. #r4today
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) December 3, 2018
Immigration plans ‘very unlikely’ to be published before Commons vote
Here’s the latest Westminster intrigue from political correspondent Harry Yorke:
Sajid Javid has admitted the Government’s post-Brexit immigration plans are “very unlikely” to be published before the crucial vote on Theresa May’s deal next week.
The Home Secretary has warned backbench MPs that the white paper, which was supposed to be unveiled ahead of the crunch vote, is now likely to be delayed amid claims that he is at “loggerheads” with the Prime Minister.
According to The Sun, Mr Javid and Mrs May have been rowing over how fast to transition to the new system, which will prioritise highly-skilled migrants over low-skilled workers.
Mr Javid is said to want to keep the current system intact beyond the Brexit transition period to minimise disruption to British businesses, whilst Mrs May wants to introduce restrictions as soon as possible.
The delay is likely to anger Tory MPs, many of whom argue that reclaiming control of the UK’s borders is a key priority of Leave voters and one of the main factors underpinning the referendum result.
Asked about the Government’s immigration plans this morning, Mr Javid insisted that it would deliver a system based on “high skills” but conceded it was “very unlikely to be published before the vote.”
“It’s the biggest change in our immigration system in over four decades, it’s significant change,” he told the Today programme.
“So it’s important that we work on the details, that we listen to businesses and others and we get the details right.
“We will create an immigration system that is based on skills and not on the nationality of people, so it’s based on this country’s needs.”
Mr Javid also insisted that the plans would fulfil the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledge to bring about a “complete end to freedom of movement”.
He added that salary levels would “clearly” be an indicator in future assessments, as would “skills levels”.
“We want to set the salary, at whichever threshold we decide, in a way that pulls up domestic wages, but it also allows us to bring in the people that we need,” he added.
With more than 100 Tory MPs publicly indicating they will vote down Mrs May’s deal, Mr Javid also denied reports that next week’s vote could be pulled to avoid a significant defeat.
In the event that deal is rejected, he also dismissed suggestions that he could replace Mrs May as Prime Minister, adding that he would not “get into hypotheticals”.
“All our energy, and that’s the Cabinet or ministers – anyone in Government – should be pushing to help this deal get through,” he continued.
“That’s the only thing I’m thinking of, that’s all I think my Cabinet colleagues are focused on, taking more time to explain this deal, what it is and what it isn’t.”
Backstop is ‘barrier to trade deals’
The Brexit Central website has obtained a copy of House of Commons legal analysis which more or less confirms fears that the Irish backstop would prevent the UK from having a fully independent trade policy.
The note – marked ‘not for general distribution’ and obtained by BrexitCentral – is dated 26th November and states that the UK-EU customs union which would come into effect if the backstop is triggered “would be a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries”.
It’s worth pointing out that the backstop can only apply to Northern Ireland if the Government chooses, which would leave Great Britain free to set its own tariffs and strike deals. But this risks undermining the constitutional integrity of the UK.
Commons vote could be delayed
The Sun reports that the Whips are considering pulling the Brexit vote in Parliament at the last minute, with Theresa May instead heading to Brussels to renegotiate the deal.
The crunch vote is due to be held on December 11, but could be called off two days earlier with Mrs May then trying to extract fresh concessions from the EU.
A vote would then be scheduled in the last week before Christmas, potentially scuppering the holidays of hundreds of MPs.
There is one big flaw to this plan. The EU has already said the deal cannot be renegotiated, and it is even less likely to do so if the deal hasn’t even gone before the Commons.
‘Norway-plus will satisfy most of our goals’
Nick Boles, Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford, has written an Oped in today’s Telegraph pushing forward his plan for a “Norway-plus” deal he claims would win cross-party support.
As a Remain voter representing a constituency where a majority voted to Leave, I have three simple goals. To honour the referendum result by ensuring the UK leaves the EU next spring. To avoid the chaos of leaving with no deal. And to leave in a way that does not harm our economy or further divide our country.
Norway-plus meets all of these goals. It has two other important advantages. The EU would be willing to agree to it. And, in the right circumstances, a cross-party majority of MPs would be willing to vote for it. No other Plan B can make this boast.
Brexit legal advice Q&A
Confused about all this talk of customs deals and legal traps? Here’s everything you need to know in a simple Q&A by Steve Swinford.
What is the legal advice?
Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, has drawn up secret legal advice which warns that the UK could be trapped “indefinitely” in a Customs Union after Brexit.
During negotiations with the EU, the UK accepted the need for a “customs backstop” which will kick in if the Irish border issue cannot be resolved.
Under the backstop, the UK will remain in a Customs Union with the EU for an unspecified period. Mr Cox’s legal advice triggered a Cabinet revolt and contributed to the resignation of two Cabinet ministers last month.
How can the UK end the backstop?
The Prime Minister abandoned plans to secure a “unilateral” right to exit the backstop during negotiations with the EU after being met with resistance by Brussels.
She instead agreed that the backstop would come to an end when a deal is struck on the future relationship.
The EU withdrawal bill states that both sides must show “best endeavours” – equivalent to good faith – towards securing a future agreement.
If Brussels proves obstructive, the UK is able to make a formal request to the joint committee to bring the backstop to an end.
What is the issue?
The Government has secretly concluded that the term ‘best endeavours’ is not legally enforceable.
In a letter to the Prime Minister Olly Robbins, her chief Brexit adviser, said it does not place the EU under any direct legal “obligation”.
As a result, the EU is entitled to ignore any ruling based on “best endeavours”, meaning the UK could be trapped in the EU indefinitely.
What does the Government say?
Ministers argue that the EU will be as keen as the UK to end the backstop. They also claim the UK will enjoy a ‘competitive’ advantage, as the backstop will give the UK access to the Customs Union while being able to control free movement.
Will the legal advice be published?
No. The Government will instead publish a “position” statement summarising the advice while not setting it out in detail. It claims the advice is privileged.
What are MPs saying about it?
MPs on all sides of the house have accused the Government of contempt of Parliament, which could ultimately lead to a minister being suspended.
They argue Mrs May is being hypocritical, highlighting the fact she previously described the Labour Government’s refusal to share the Iraq War advice with MPs as a breach of the ministerial code.
It’s a Brexit knockout
Here’s our cartoonist Patrick Blower’s take on the Brexit chaos, echoing Saturday night’s heavyweight world title bout between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder which ended in a draw. Notice Jeremy Cornyn in the far corner.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit recipe
Those who say that it’s impossible to get a better deal from the EU than Theresa May’s deal – that the EU has rules as immutable as those of the Medes and the Persians – have obviously never seen the horse trading and back room compromises that characterise every EU summit 1/4
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 2, 2018
What is different about this negotiation is one simple fact: the EU believed that despite her ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’ rhetoric, Theresa May was desperate for a deal at any price 2/4
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 2, 2018
Once those with whom you are negotiating believe that, then it simply becomes a matter of how long they want to make their Christmas list 3/4
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 2, 2018
Once the EU realises that they have overplayed their hand & Parliament won’t wear this shameful surrender, they will be faced with a choice: do a proper & equitable deal or split without a deal – a prospect that they don’t relish, not least as they lose all leverage over us 4/4
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 2, 2018
Nicola Sturgeon urges MPs to reject Brexit deal
Scotland’s First Minister is visiting London to urge MPs to reject the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and secure an extension to Article 50 to avoid a no-deal withdrawal.
Nicola Sturgeon will speak to opposition parties on Monday about working together to vote down the EU Withdrawal Agreement in the crunch parliamentary vote on December 11.
She will campaign for the two-year period for leaving the EU triggered by Article 50 to be extended to give Parliament time to find an alternative way forward.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said he expects an amendment to suspend the Article 50 EU withdrawal process to be brought forward in the Commons in the coming days.
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