The Prime Minister was in an optimistic mood as she walked into the European Council building, in Brussels, for crunch talks. The Prime Minister hopes to strike a deal with the European Union in the coming days and weeks but admitted it would not be easy.
‘What we’ve seen is that we’ve solved most of the issues in the withdrawal agreement,’ she said. ‘There is still the question of the Northern Irish backstop … by working intensively and closely, we can achieve that deal. ‘Now is the time to make it happen.’ The EU has demanded a ‘backstop’ to ensure there are no customs posts or other controls along the currently invisible border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Mrs May is hoping to convince EU member nations her plans for a friendly divorce are workable despite previously being told by them to go back to the drawing board. She met with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the EU Commission, and European Council President Donald Tusk, earlier today.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she still believed it was possible to conclude a ‘good and sustainable’ agreement but stressed Germany also is preparing for the risk of a no-deal departure.
Theresa May has sought to reassure worried Tory MPs by insisting that the UK will not be permanently “trapped” in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
|Kevin Schofield,PoiliticsHome|AIWA! NO!|The Prime Minister is facing the threat of Cabinet resignations over fears that a “backstop” arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border will effectively keep the UK locked into the bloc’s trading regime forever.
Tory minister warns on Brexit customs backstop end date
Theresa May: My backstop Brexit proposal is ‘unpalatable’
Theresa May facing threat of Cabinet resignations over Brexit customs plan
It is also understood that Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are considering their positions on the frontbench over the row.
In an attempt to calm tensions in the Conservative ranks, a Downing Street spokeswoman insisted any backstop deal would be “temporary”.
However, she stopped short of saying that any agreement will continue a specific date for when it will come to an end.
She said: “When we published our plans in June for a UK-wide customs backstop, we were absolutely clear that the arrangement would be temporary and only in place until our future economic relationship was ready. Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.
“The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal that would trap the UK in a backstop permanently.”
Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has risked a fresh Cabinet row by suggestion that a backstop arrangement is inevitable, despite Downing Street insisting it remains unlikely.
Speaking to Bloomberg, he said: “We are not going to remain in anything indefinitely, we are very clear this has to be a temporary period. But it is true that there needs to be a period probably following the transition period that we’ve negotiated before we enter into our long-term partnership, just because of the time it will take to implement the systems required.
“It is very important to us that business doesn’t have to make two sets of changes. That there will effectively be continuity from the current set up through the transition period into any temporary period and then a single set of changes when we move into our long-term new economic partnership with the European Union.”
Theresa May has sought to reassure worried Tory MPs by insisting that the UK will not be permanently “trapped” in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
|CRIMSON TAZVINZWA|AIWA! NO!|Theresa May will on Thursday ask her Brexit “war Cabinet” to agree a backstop plan that would keep Britain in a customs union with Brussels until a permanent trade deal can be agreed.
British and EU negotiators are understood to have agreed in principle to an all-UK backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland that would remove the final major obstacle blocking a withdrawal agreement.
Boris Johnson said the deal would turn the UK into a “permanent EU colony” and the DUP angrily threatened to break its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives and potentially bring down the Government if the Prime Minister goes through with the plan, which it described as a “sell out”.
Exclusive: Senior figures in the party say it is the ‘only credible way’ she could stay in post if her Chequers plans fail.
Joe Watts, Political Editor|@JoeWatts_|AIWA! NO|Conservative Brexiteers are giving Theresa May an ultimatum, that if her negotiating strategy fails she must accept plans for a Canada-style trade deal or face a leadership challenge.
Senior figures say it would be impossible for her to try to further negotiate on her Chequers proposals if they are rejected by parliament or the EU.
Instead, she would be told only full acceptance of the kind of arrangement put forward by Boris Johnson, David Davis, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others would allow her to avoid a Tory vote of no confidence.
The prime minister will meet her full cabinet on Tuesday and is expected to present further tweaks to her proposals relating to future customs arrangements and EU regulation in a bid to secure a deal with Brussels.
There is also increasing speculation that Ms May could try to stay on in her job, either to renegotiate if initial talks fail to bear fruit, or to fully deliver Brexit if a deal is reached.
It follows a Conservative conference that ended on a positive note as the prime minister sought to refocus her party on domestic policy, but the agenda was always going to shift back to Brexit with another critical European summit days away.
A senior Conservative figure told The Independent: “The prime minister has three potential courses of action if her deal is voted down by parliament or rejected in Brussels.
“In that case she may be tempted to try to return to the negotiating table and develop Chequers with further concessions, or alternatively go down the route of joining the EEA. Neither of those are going to be acceptable to the party if Chequers has already been rejected.
“If she does try to go there, colleagues are going to push back hard and given what would represent the collapse of her strategy, it will be her whole leadership in question.”
The individual explained that Ms May would only be allowed to avoid some kind of challenge if she agrees to pursuing the kind of Canada-style free trade deal that European Council president Donald Tusk said is on offer this week.
The Conservative MP said: “If she undertakes to secure that deal, it would be the only credible way she could possibly stay in the job at that point.”
Ahead of Ms May’s conference speech, Conservative MP James Duddridge revealed he had sent a letter to the chairman of the Conservative 1922 backbench committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a leadership contest.
Under Conservative Party rules, the 1922 chair must call a no-confidence vote of the parliamentary party in the prime minister if he receives 48 letters from MPs. It is not known how many have been submitted up to now.
A Conservative backbencher confirmed the view that Ms May would have to pursue a Canada-style free trade deal or face a challenge if Chequers falls.
He said: “Of course she would. If her entire negotiating strategy falls apart how can she possibly keep trying to negotiate on it.
“Delivering a free trade deal as the only option left that could get through parliament after the death of Chequers, is the only thing she might stay on to do. Even then it would be in the face of calls to quit.”
A member of the cabinet told The Independent that it would not be unexpected for sections of the party to clash with the prime minister if Chequers fails.
“If you’re pursuing a strategy and the strategy is a failure, then people are going to ask the individual who advocated it and led it to take responsibility for the outcome,” the frontbencher said.
“It’s also true that if Chequers or whatever it ends up being called doesn’t work, then it’s hard to see what else other than a free trade deal will get through, either in Brussels or London.”
The Independent reported last week how Ms May is preparing to tweak her approach to make it more saleable to the EU, accepting a customs arrangement more closely aligned to Brussels than previously thought and accepting more European regulation in future.
Parliament’s return on Tuesday gives her the first opportunity to gauge cabinet support, with several members known to be more inclined towards a Canada style-free trade deal.
Some ministers said ahead of conference that they were even pushing for the word “Chequers” to be removed from the government’s discourse on Brexit, with Ms May then not saying it in her keynote speech.
Johnson devoted his conference appearance to attacking Ms May’s plans, branding them a “cheat” and saying there is still time to adopt a Canada-style arrangement.
Advocates say it is the only way the UK can gain enough freedom from EU regulation and customs to sign effective free trade deals, but Downing Street argues it would mean splitting the UK, because Brussels has suggested it would necessitate Northern Ireland staying inside an EU customs union to keep open the border with the Republic – an argument Brexiteers reject.
On Thursday, Mr Tusk said a Canada-style deal had always been on offer “from the very beginning”, increasing pressure on Ms May to change tack ahead of the summit in mid-October.
Looking beyond Brexit, Ms May has said she is in post for the “long term”, though since the botched 2017 election there has been an understanding inside and outside Downing Street that after withdrawal her leadership would come into question.
More recently, however, some MPs say they have detected signs that she thinks she really can stay on after Brexit.
One senior backbencher told The Independent: “There’s a real fear she is beginning to think she should stay, that she doesn’t want her time to be defined by Brexit.
“But frankly, that is the only reason she is in the job. To take one for the team and then allow someone else to come in with a vision.”
TOM PETERKI (THE SCOTSMAN)AIWA! NO!//Scotland’s North Sea sector can take advantage of the “vast opportunities” offered by oil and gas exploration in Africa, one of Theresa May’s trade commissioners has said.
Scotland’s North Sea sector can take advantage of the “vast opportunities” offered by oil and gas exploration in Africa, one of Theresa May’s trade commissioners has said.
Emma Wade-Smith, newly appointed HM Trade Commissioner for Africa, says exporting Scottish energy expertise will be key trade strategy in the post-Brexit era.
On a visit to Scotland to promote trade links, Wade-Smith said the industry developed in Aberdeen should capitalise on the burgeoning oil and gas development in Africa which is creating a market worth billions of pounds.
Wade-Smith’s trip to Scotland follows May’s recent trade mission to South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria to promote global trade after Brexit.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Wade-Smith said Africa was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, creating opportunities for Scottish business.
She said Scottish expertise should be harnessed to help countries like Senegal and Mauritania, who are starting out on oil and gas oil production.
It could also be used in countries like Angola and Nigeria where oil exploration is well-established.
Emma Wade-Smith Retweeted Department for International Trade
As Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Africa I know Africa is alive with business opportunities. My Africa Trade is here to help UK companies interested in doing business in Africa. DM me or email DITAfricaTrade@mobile.trade.gov.uk for more #UKAfricatrade
Emma Wade-Smith added,
Department for International TradeVerified account@tradegovuk
Today @LiamFox appoints @EWadeSmith as the new HM Trade Commissioner for Africa where she will champion British trade & investment across the continent. Here’s what she has to say about the role
2:42 AM – 20 Jun 2018
“There is a huge amount of expertise and experience clearly in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen,” she said. “So it is how do we take that to support countries across Africa in their own efforts to build an oil and gas capability? Also how do we use that experience and technological innovation to help African countries avoid some of the potential pitfalls of creating that domestic capability?”
She added: “There are vast opportunities for Scottish companies across the entire industry and supply chain to grow their businesses.”
Scottish expertise includes drillers, fitters and those involved with training. It also includes a host of supply chain enterprises which provide items such as equipment and clothing for an industry that has been hit by the falling oil price in recent years.”
Oil & Gas UK upstream policy director Mike Tholen said: “Embracing the opportunities available in the international export market could unlock an additional £150 million in the revenue of supply chain companies. It shows why industry, government and the regulator must put their shoulder to the wheel in pursuit of Vision 2035.”
Leading French journalist Marion Van Renterghem meets Tony Blair, one of Remain’s Don Quixotes suddenly realising their task might not be as futile as it first seemed.
AIWA! NO!//From my side of the Channel, I initially saw you Remainers as some tribe of Don Quixotes, at war with windmills, assigning yourselves a quite impossible mission: to bring your compatriots back to wisdom.
Yet as time goes by, it seems that Quixotism might turn into something more achievable. The lies behind Leave are blowing up, the nation’s mood is changing, the move for a People’s Vote is growing. And you, Remainers, have become like little mosquitos, tormenting the government, creating a constant, inescapable noise which is giving ministers sleepless nights.
As a spectator, I am fascinated to witness such a spectacle: the officers who set the course are leaving the ship one after another (Farage has become a radio entertainer, David Davis and Boris Johnson have resigned, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others have cynically transferred their investments out of Brexitland); the captain herself, Theresa May, remains on the bridge – but hardly in control. And yet the ship carries on.
The UK today reminds me of the Fellini film E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On). In it, the ocean liner Gloria N sinks and the passengers evacuate by singing opera arias, after having triggered the First World War. As I watch, I’m amused. As a European, I’m bemused. And scared. Because your story is ours.
But there are mutineers on board the UK’s ship, and in recent months, I have been meeting with many of them: brilliant debaters emerging out of nowhere like Femi Oluwole; previously unknown voices like Gina Miller; older hands putting all their energy to shift opinion, like Nick Clegg, Andrew Adonis, Peter Mandelson… and Tony Blair.
In Paris, Brussels and London, I’ve been meeting regularly with your former prime minister – the most intelligent and reformist politician you have had in recent times, and the man you hate the most.
At one meeting, he stares at me like a martian and dissolves into laughter when I tell him that Europe’s misfortune – Brexit – stemmed from the fact that Britain did not lose the Second World War. I insist: the arrogance of you British and your current teenage crisis over ‘independence’ results from the fact that you were able to stand up to Hitler. “You, the British, look down on Europe because it was defeated, while you weren’t,” I tell him. “As a result, you live under the delusion that the EU isn’t of any use to you, except possibly to facilitate your business affairs.”
He stops laughing and admits: “The British tend to forget the importance of their European heritage. They wanted to join the Economic Community in 1973 only, and they didn’t understand that they should have been a founding member in 1951 or 1957. This would have changed everything.”
He adds: “My vision of Europe has always been political as much as economic. We signed the European Social Charter and I personally laid the foundations for a European defence policy in 2000. Europe must not be only a market, but a broader project that takes into account the social dimension of the market.” The trouble is, even then, he was one of the only Britons to think so.
Years of criticism have given Blair the expression of a Hamlet haunted by some spectre. His hair has whitened, the forehead has darkened. Yet his courtesy and cheerfulness seem to have resisted all the blows.
Even in France, politicians of the left are careful not to mention his name publicly, even though some keep on having meetings with him and envy his exceptional career in power: elected three times for his visionary reforms in the NHS and education and for his humanitarian interventions in international crises.
When campaigning against the Conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2007, socialist Ségolène Royal was blamed by her own party for praising Blair’s policy. Sarkozy himself was more open about their friendship, and said recently that he and Blair might work on some projects together. Emmanuel Macron, when a candidate for the French presidency, said that he was not ashamed to be compared to Blair – he didn’t insist too much, however, knowing this statement would act like a scarecrow to his voters on the left.
Anglo Saxon politicians can’t easily provide a simple template for French ones, who traditionally tend to celebrate the role of the state in the economy. Blair will always be considered a man of the right by the French left – just as he has come to be seen on the British left, since Corbyn shifted it further to the extreme.
Then there is Iraq. His burden, the tragic mistake that has thrown him into hell. His deep motivation for following George W Bush in his Baghdad mission remains a mystery. Was it strategic loyalty to the Atlantic alliance, as he himself explained? Or a kind of a religious revelation? A journalist told me he was present for a telephone conversation in January 2001 in which Bill Clinton urged his friend Blair to be “as close to Bush” as he had been to himself.
According to a YouGov poll earlier this year, only 17% of Britons have a favourable image of Blair. The most smiling of all prime ministers has learned to live with this hostility. “I can’t prevent people from hating me nor can I force them to listen to me,” he says quietly. “But they can’t prevent me from speaking out what I believe in.”
One of the main reasons – apart from Iraq – why Blair irritates you British so much might be that, in one crucial respect, he is so different to you: he is viscerally European.
By European, I mean supporting a community of political, ethical and social values – not only a single market, for one’s own interest. In that sense, Blair is the first genuine European to have occupied Number 10 since Churchill, even if – paradoxically – he is blamed on my side of the Channel for being too British and not European enough. Wasn’t he the strongest supporter to the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and the man who favoured intra-European immigration, both of which have contributed to today’s populism?
“The context was different,” he answers. “In 2004, the economy was booming. If I had been in power for the last ten years, I would have hardened the rules on immigration. It remains desirable and necessary for the economy, but we must hear the anxiety it arouses and regulate it. As for enlargement, can you imagine the eastern countries left behind, with the emergence of Russian nationalism? They would have been more vulnerable, and so would we.”
He pauses, looks for words by looking up to the ceiling and concludes: “The irony is that the single market and the enlargement are British initiatives – Thatcher, then Major, then me. The Brexiters now blame Brussels for what Great Britain wanted and supported… They want to ‘take back control’, but I can’t remember one single law imposed by Brussels that I would have been forced to apply. They want a ‘global Britain’ whereas only the European Union can be global, facing the three economic giants – USA, China, India.”
A silence again, eyes to the ceiling, then: “There are two irreconcilable groups among the Brexiters – those who are scared of globalisation and those who are scared of a too socialist Europe. If Brexit takes place, this coalition will burst.”
He adds: “The government wants to believe that this is a negotiation with the EU, but it is not. Either we stay close to the EU, then we wonder why there would be any reason to leave, or we leave the EU, then we accept to lose the benefits of the single market. There is no alternative.” The inevitable restoration of some sort of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic that Brexit will bring – an issue particularly pertinent for Blair, as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement – is, he says, a “metaphor of the impasse”.
The former prime minister was among the first to articulate calls for what is now called a People’s Vote. “We have the right to reconsider the issue once the deal between London and Brussels is known,” he told me, back in November 17. “It would not be a second referendum, but a new one, given the situation itself is all new. Brexit as it now looks like has nothing to do with what people have voted for. Until March 29 2019, it is not too late.” Back then, it was a fringe view. Not any more, if the polls are correct.
As a strong European myself, I couldn’t understand why you Remainers didn’t take the opportunity, at the last general election, to vote for one of the two only pro-European, UK parties you have: the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Instead, you showed a Pavlovian link to the two-party system, and then blamed Jeremy Corbyn for his persistent silence on Brexit, despite his notorious, long-standing anti-European credentials.
Blair insists he voted Labour in June 2017 and pretends not to have given up hope that Labour will play the role of a centrist party – “but that looks increasingly unlikely,” he admits. As we would say in France, by the time Labour comes back to the centre hens will have teeth.
So does a new, centrist party remain a possibility for the UK? “The paradox,” Blair answers, “is that a majority of people would vote for a centrist policy – a strong market economy together with a liberal society, justice and mobility not for the few but for the many – while both the two main parties can only be taken over from outside the centre. That is why they both are disappointing and deceitful.” What happened in France with Emmanuel Macron, who broke through with a new political party, En Marche, by blowing up the old ones, can hardly be replicated in the UK’s parliamentary system. But old French politicians thought the same regarding French politics. And all laughed at Macron when he launched his attempt. So perhaps, with Brexit, it should be worth a try in the UK.
The countdown is running in the UK, and across Europe, towards March 29, 2019. Whatever the outcome will be, the anger that caused Brexit remains. As in all European countries, British society is cut in half. In my meetings with politicians from different parts of Europe in recent months, I have never heard such uncertainty. In such uncertainty, as regards Brexit and the possibility of a second referendum, Blair can find some optimism – or pessimism, depending on how you look at it. “Everything is possible,” he says
Marion Van Renterghem is a reporter-at-large and a writer. This article has been partly adapted from a piece published in Vanity Fair France online
ANALYSIS by LUKE LYTHGOE |Crashing out of the EU with no deal is terrible. But the prime minister’s plan to turn us into a rule-taker is miserable. We can do better: cancel Brexit entirely.The latest stage in Theresa May’s battle with Boris Johnson – over the Irish “backstop” – is, as Nick Clegg told the BBC today, an “insult to the intelligence of British voters”. It ignores a perfectly good solution: if we stay in the EU, there don’t have to be customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or in the Irish Sea.Because the prime minister has failed to come up with a workable solution, the EU has devised its own compromise aimed at “de-dramatising” frontier controls between the EU and Northern Ireland. This would trust UK officials – rather than the EU’s – to carry out checks on goods moving from British ports to Northern Ireland, deploying technology such as tracking with barcodes and signing companies up to “trusted trader” schemes, according to the FT.
Petition: We, The People, demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal.
But this is still in effect a customs border in the Irish Sea, with a different regime between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – albeit with checks happening in firms’ warehouses, at ports or on ferries. That’s exactly what the DUP, which props up May’s government, says it cannot abide. It’ll take quite the feat of de-dramatisation to convince it.
Meanwhile, Johnson is right to attack the prime minister’s Chequers proposal for turning us into rule-takers. He says in the Telegraph that this would be the “first time since 1066 our leaders were deliberately acquiescing in foreign rule”. This won’t just bother the former foreign secretary. It will stick in the craw of patriotic pro-Europeans too.
However, Johnson’s assertion that naive Brexiters such as himself were “taken in” by the December deal on Ireland, which he agreed to as a cabinet minister, is a bit rich. It looks more like he wasn’t on top of the detail.
The other problem Johnson has is that his own “solution” – which involves checking goods away from the border – will not work. May was right when she told the BBC: “You don’t solve the issue of no hard border by having a hard border 20km inside Ireland.” That’s still a hard border, with physical customs infrastructure – exactly what everyone has been trying to avoid to maintain Irish peace.
Given the bankruptcy of what hardline Brexiters have to offer, May says it’s either her deal or no deal. But of course there is a third way. Give the decision back to the UK public. If they don’t want to choose between either being rule-taker or jeopardising peace in Ireland, they should be given the chance to say so.