Closed Brexit: Theresa May to seek further concessions from EU – as it happened


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Good afternoon, UK prime minister Theresa May is expected to make a statement at 3.30pm to confirm that a crucial vote by parliament to approve the Brexit deal will be delayed. The move marks an embarrassing retreat in the face of heavy opposition and weekend criticism over the terms of the deal, which MPs were widely expected to vote against.

Spotted: Olly Robbins at ECHQ

More intrigue just in from our Brussels bureau chief Alex Barker, who has spotted Olly Robbins, Theresa May’s chief adviser on Europe, walking into the Berlaymont, which is the European Commission’s HQ.

Sterling falls
The pound has fallen in reaction to the uncertainty that this delay has caused. Sterling has fallen to around its lowest levels since June 2017, down 0.7 per cent to $1.26, according to Michael Hunter, the FT’s markets correspondent. Investors in UK assets have moved into the relative safety of government debt, pushing yields lower, with benchmark 10-year gilts down 4.5 basis points to 1.225 per cent.

May and Leadsom to address parliament this afternoon
Theresa May is expected to give a statement to the House of Commons at 3.30pm explaining her decision to pull the vote and how she intends to find a way past the political impasse in the coming days, says the FT’s George Parker. Alongside Mrs May, Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, will make a separate statement formally postponing Tuesday’s vote and setting out how the government plans to proceed.

Historic humiliation
David Lammy, a Europhile Labour MP, describes the situation as a “historic humiliation” for Mrs May, writes Jim Pickard

After two years of negotiations with the EU, she is not even prepared to let MPs vote on her deal,” said Mr Lammy, a member of the “Best for Britain” group.

This is recognition of what has been clear for months: there is no majority for her miserable Brexit deal in Parliament.

Mr Lammy also believes the decision makes it unlikely that any form of Brexit could command a majority in the House of Commons.

Corbyn reacts
We now have a statement from opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) who says:

We have known for at least two weeks that Theresa May’s worst of all worlds deal was going to be rejected by Parliament because it is damaging for Britain.

Instead, she ploughed ahead when she should have gone back to Brussels to renegotiate or called an election so the public could elect a new government that could do so.

We don’t have a functioning government. While Theresa May continues to botch Brexit, our public services are at breaking point and our communities suffer from dire under-investment.

How should Labour respond?
One Labour MP told the FT’s Henry Mance:

If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I’d put in a motion of no confidence now. The Opposition should press home the advantage. To all intents and purposes, we have no government.”

EU: We will not renegotiate
A European Commission spokeswoman was clear that there would be no new Brexit deal, talking ahead of the postponement of the vote.

As president Juncker said, this deal is the best and the only deal possible. We will not renegotiate

UK stocks react

There were some revealing moves on UK equities markets as investors measure the implications of the uncertainty, our markets reporter Michael Hunter writes.

Shares of British companies that make their revenues abroad rose at a brisk pace, as the pressure on the pound made UK exports more competitive and flattered income earned overseas when repatriated into sterling. Pearson, the textbook publisher active in US markets, rose 1.8 per cent. Imperial Brands, the cigarette maker with global reach, added over 3 per cent. Compass Group, the world’s biggest contract caterer, was up 0.9 per cent.

Randgold Resources, the gold miner, made the best single gain on the FTSE 100, up 3.3 per cent. Such gains helped the main London stock index rise overall — by 0.4 per cent. The gain stood out against a fall of 0.7 per cent for the Europe-wide Stoxx 600, although it was limited by stocks more dependent on the domestic economy.

Barratt Developments, the housebuilder, fell 2.6 per cent. Marks and Spencer, the high street bellwether, fell 1.6 per cent.

The mid-cap FTSE 250, constituents of which earn the bulk of their revenue at home, fell 0.9 per cent to levels last seen in December 2016.

May ‘heading back to Brussels’

The Prime Minister is heading back to the EU negotiating table, according to one of her ministers.

Brexit secretary statement on ECJ ruling
Ahead of the vote delay, the European Court of Justice this morning ruled that the UK can revoke Brexit without the permission of the other 27 EU members. Stephen Barclay, Brexit secretary, will make a Commons statement this afternoon in response to the ECJ ruling

What is the backstop? And how did we get here? A recap:

Confused? Don’t worry. For a useful recap of the history of Brexit negotiations since the 2016 vote, and a great explanation of the Irish “backstop” that has outraged Eurosceptics and Northern Irish unionists, read this
by our Whitehall editor James Blitz and political editor George Parker.

Here is how the article explains the backstop:

In December 2017, Mrs May signed a formal agreement with the EU guaranteeing that there would never be a physical border across the island of Ireland after Brexit.

The prime minister knew that if she failed to agree to this insurance policy — the so-called backstop— the entire Brexit negotiation would stall dangerously. But the final compromise, hammered out in the withdrawal treaty Mrs May agreed with the EU last month, has incensed Brexiters more than anything else.

According to the backstop, the whole of the UK would have to be in a customs union arrangement with the EU to help maintain an invisible border across Ireland — until a comprehensive trade treaty was finally agreed. Brexiters denounce the measure as a “trap” that could last indefinitely and which the UK is prevented from leaving unilaterally.

Ireland rejects Brexit renegotiation
Leo Varadkar has ruled out reopening Theresa May’s Brexit treaty as the UK prime minister abruptly postponed a key House of Commons vote scheduled for Tuesday, writes Arthur Beesley in Dublin. Ireland’s prime minister said he was open to statements of clarification but he insisted that “no statement of clarification” could change the substance of the treaty or contradict its text.

The withdrawal agreement including the Irish backstop is the only agreement on the table. It took over a year and a half to negotiate. It has the support of 28 governments and it’s not possible to reopen any aspect of that agreement without reopening all aspects of it.

SNP: “An act of pathetic cowardice”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said any delay to the vote would be an “unforgivable dereliction of duty”, according to Mure Dickie in Edinburgh, and adding on Twitter that the SNP would support a motion of no confidence if lodged by Labour “to give people the chance to stop Brexit in another vote”.

This is a watershed moment and an act of pathetic cowardice by a Tory government which has run out of road and is now collapsing into utter chaos. The UK Government should now get out of the way and allow others to take charge

Eurosceptics tell May to go back to Brussels
Steve Baker, a leading Eurosceptic Tory and senior figure in the European Research Group, called on Mrs May to go back to Brussels and demand a better deal, writes Jim Pickard.
He urged the prime minister to scrap the “dreaded backstop” or at least seek a right to leave it unilaterally. The MP said the UK should hold back the £39bn earmarked for the divorce agreement and “use it to negotiate a Canada-style trade deal with the EU”.

Parliament should have been allowed to voice its concerns about the proposed withdrawal agreement. Without a clear rejection of the terms by MPs, the prime minister has kicked the can down the road and the EU is very unlikely to renegotiate

Investors in UK assets buy up government bonds

Money managers and other buyers of British assets have been snapping up the debt issued by the UK government, as illustrated in the chart below, showing yields on the securities falling as demand rises. This is not exactly an endorsement of the strength and stability of the government, but likely more a switch out of shares, which suffer when investors’ appetite for risk weakens.

The yields on 10-year gilts, which are the benchmark for the UK government bond market, fell almost 5 basis points to 1.221 per cent, their lowest level since July.

Brexiters question vote withdrawal

The FT’s Sebastian Payne says that not all MPs think it will be in Mrs May’s power to pull the vote if the programme motion, which determines the business of the house, needs to be amended via a vote. And if there is not a majority for her Brexit deal, there is unlikely to be a majority to change the motion.

James Duddridge, a member of the Brexit-supporting European Research Group, tweeted:

The PM does not get to pull a vote. The House will have to vote to pull a vote. I will oppose. We need to see this deal off once and for all.

Brexit-backing MPs will be carefully studying their copies of Erskine May – the bible of parliamentary procedure – to see if they can block the government’s attempts to cancel the vote and defeat the prime minister.

May back to Brussels

The FT’s George Parker has the latest on what Theresa May will say in her 3.30pm announcement about the delay of the vote. Mrs May is expected to tell MPs that she has listened to their concerns, and intends to travel to Brussels to try to renegotiate the terms of the Irish backstop.

‘More than £150bn’ of trade is at stake

Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston and a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the EU, writes in the FT that more than £150bn of trade with the EU is under threat from the government’s inability to negotiate our future relationship with the bloc. Read more here

May to seek new backstop reassurance from Brussels

The FT’s editorial director Robert Shrimsley writes:

Just talking to one official who tells me that Mrs May’s statement at 3.30pm will not be a gamechanger but is “substantial-ish”. I take this to mean she has had sufficient assurances that she will not be made to look ridiculous going, like Oliver Twist, to Brussels to ask for more.

But that more is likely to be considerably less than meaningful treaty amendments. MPs think we are more likely to be looking at words of reassurance on the backstop, perhaps a side statement, but nothing that will carry the full legal force on limiting its terms which Brexiters have demanded.

The challenge for her is to get enough to allow Brexiters to climb down without losing too much face and allow waverers to clamber back on board. Many are beginning to realise that they are now at risk of losing everything. The problem is that her margins are just too tight and it may just be too late to salvage her deal.

DUP unhappy about delay to Brexit vote

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party – whose MPs have propped up Theresa May since the Conservative party only won enough votes in the 2017 election to form a minority government – is unhappy about Tuesday’s Brexit deal vote being deferred.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader at Westminster, has issued this statement:

This vote has been pulled because it would have been overwhelmingly defeated.

Deferring the vote is only of any use if the government is prepared to go to Brussels and insist on necessary changes to the withdrawal agreement.

Few people accepted this was the best deal available and the prime minister’s actions today prove that.

To recap, before the vote on the UK’s EU withdrawal deal was delayed, dozens of Conservative MPs were also expected to rebel, resulting in a defeat for the prime minister.

What to expect in the Commons this afternoon

The decision to delay the vote on the UK’s deal to exit the EU comes on day four of a five-day debate in parliament on Theresa May’s plan. This has meant a hasty change to the schedule and it is still unclear exactly how things are going to play out in the House of Commons later. What we do know is that the prime minister will address MPs at 3.30pm to explain her thinking and is then expected to take questions. This could take up to two hours. After that the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, is expected to inform MPs how the parliamentary timetable will change. After that we expect Stephen Barclay, who only took over as Brexit secretary in mid-November, to make a statement about this morning’s ruling by the European Court of Justice that the UK could unilaterally reverse its plans to leave the EU.

EU pledges support for Ireland
Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit co-ordinator for the European Parliament, has tweeted that the EU will “never let the Irish down”.

Commons timetable

Further to the post on what to expect this afternoon, this is the envisaged timetable courtesy of the House of Commons Twitter account

For those of you who access Twitter here’s the timetable:

DUP: Irish backstop must go

Democratic Unionist party leader Arlene Foster has tweeted that she has just finished a call with Mrs May – who will address the British parliament in half an hour – and told her to scrap the Irish backstop

How does the government delay the vote

One more bit of parliamentary procedure that has had people wondering in Westminster is how Downing Street plans to delay the vote, which was scheduled for Tuesday evening at 7pm at the end of the five-day debate. It is worth noting that the last person to speak in that debate is Michael Gove, the environment secretary and one of the leaders of the Leave campaign. He has however proven more loyal than most Brexiters in recent weeks to Theresa May and only this morning said he would not use his time slot at the debate to filibuster the vote. Bear in mind he was speaking before Downing Street did a U-turn on its insistence it would not pull the vote.

Assuming Gove sticks to his promise then there are two other methods the government can use. The source for this is the House of Commons Twitter feed.

1) A minister could defer a motion when it’s called at the start of business today or tomorrow

2) Government could move a motion during the debate “That the debate be now adjourned”; this could be debated and voted on

It remains unclear whether MPs will have to vote on option 1, which we assume could happen as early as this evening at 6:30pm when the fourth day of debate is now scheduled to resume

The House of Commons tweet is here:

Our legal commentator David Allen Green has written about the impact of this morning’s ECJ judgment, and why it is so significant. “This decision means there is a legally available third option to exiting on the basis of the withdrawal agreement or with no withdrawal agreement at all,” he says.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has just spoken to Mrs May:

Sterling remains lower
As Mrs May begins to speak, an update on the markets from our reporter Dave Shellock:

The pound trimmed an early fall against the dollar to stand 0.7 per cent lower at $1.2642, having touched $1.2607, its lowest since June 2017. The euro was up 1 per cent at £0.9023. The 10-year UK gilt yield was 5 basis points lower at 1.22 per cent, with the two-year yield down 3bp at 0.71 per cent. The FTSE 100 share index, which had earlier found some support from sterling’s drop, was down 0.3 per cent at 6,755.

May confirms vote delayed

Prime Minister Theresa May is on her feet and is immediately greeted by jeers as she insists there has been widespread support for her deal and suggesting that only the Northern Irish backstop proved to be an insurmountable hurdle. Mrs May says she recognises the opposition to the deal meant the vote would have led to a big defeat for her government and confirms she is delaying the vote. She admitted that the deal “would be rejected by a significant margin”.

She says the people of Northern Ireland do not want a return to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. She says she recognises that despite all the assurance she gave the backstop plan that would have locked the UK into a customers union “indefinitely” would not win enough support.

May: I’ll return to Brussels for backstop amendments

Theresa May promises to return to Brussels and seek “additional reassurances” on the Northern Irish backstop, seeking emergency talks with the EU about changes to backstop. She insists that there can be no deal without an Irish backstop.

She then asks MPs: “Does this House want to deliver Brexit?” She says they must realise that compromise is “needed on both sides” of the debate.

May warns on second referendum

Theresa May urges honesty from all MPs and warns those who are working towards a second referendum to “remember this risks dividing the country again”.

She cautions that those who want to remain in the single market would have to accept free movement of people, which she says would not be in line with the result of the Brexit referendum. The “vast majority accept the result of the referendum and want to leave with a deal”, she adds, thanking those in her party and some in Labour for supporting her deal.

She finishes by urging the House to help her “get this deal over the line”.

Corbyn in no-confidence threat to May

Can the prime minister confirm that the deal is not off the table but will be re-presented with a few assurances, asks opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Bringing back the same deal will not change the fundamental objections to it, he says. It’s a bad deal that damages the economy and would make Britain worse off, he says.

If the prime minister cannot be clear that she can renegotiate a deal, then she must make way, says Mr Corbyn, adding that it seems not only possible but necessary that the House should debate the negotiating mandate that the prime minister takes to Brussels.

Mr Corbyn accuses Mrs May of trying to save her deal, and says that if she does not take on board the fundamental changes needed to the deal, then she should “make way for those who can”.

In response, Mrs May reiterates her assertion that MPs must decide whether they wish to deliver Brexit. If so, the deal that’s on the table is the deal that does so while best protecting jobs.

A procedural interlude

The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, is making a scathing statement about the government’s decision to pull the vote after the debate had started. Mr Bercow describes it as deeply discourteous. There are two ways of stopping the vote: the first is for a minister to move at the start of the debate that the vote should be adjourned; he would accept such a motion, which gives MPs a chance to express their views. The alternative is for the government to decline to move the vote, which means MPs are given no chance to express a view on whether the debate should continue. Allowing the House to have a say on this matter would be the right and obvious course to take.

Speaker of the House going through options how to delay vote

John Bercow is going through the various procedural instruments open to the government to delay the vote. He urges government to allow MPs to have a “say on the matter”, ie not to use any filibustering tactic.

Sterling falls below $1.26

Our markets reporter Dave Shellock reports that markets are seeing a fresh wave of selling of sterling:

The pound is now below $1.26 – down 1.4 per cent at $1.2552, lowest since April 2017, while the Euro is up 1.6 per cent at £0.9075, he reports. The 10-year UK gilt yield is 6 basis points lower at 1.21 per cent, with the two-year yield down 4bp at 0.70 per cent. The FTSE 100 share index, which had earlier found some support from sterling’s drop, is down 0.5 per cent at 6,743 – but still outperforming its continental European and US peers.

A touch of realism from the longest-serving MP?

Ken Clarke, the former Tory chancellor and arch-Remainer, has warned MPs that the EU will not entertain more talks aimed at exploring exactly what deal the House of Commons will accept, such as the unilateral right to end the Northern Irish backstop.

Mrs May replies that she believes no other deal would likely win support of the House anyway.

Business disappointed by delay

We are starting to see some reaction from the business world to Mrs May’s statement. Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said:

This is yet another blow for companies desperate for clarity. Investment plans have been paused for two and a half years. Unless a deal is agreed quickly, the country risks sliding towards a national crisis.

Pound drops further on vote delay
Here’s sterling’s reaction to the political developments – well below $1.26 to its lowest since April 2017:

No-confidence vote?

Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has told the House he would support Labour if it called a no-confidence vote as Theresa May and the government have clearly lost all credibility. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has so far remained coy on what he plans to do in terms of challenging Mrs May’s authority.

Kurtz: no Brexit renegotiation

Sebastian Kurz, Austrian chancellor, has told the FT’s Ben Hall and Ralph Atkins:

There will definitely be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. We had long negotiations for more than one year. Theresa May and Michel Barnier agreed on a deal to avoid a no-deal Brexit and now it’s time to decide to support this deal or not to support it. But all those who do not support it have to know that then a no-deal scenario will occur, and this will damage the British economy.”

DUP: May’s remarks ‘not credible’

Nigel Dodds, Democratic Unionist party Westminster leader, says Theresa May’s comments are not credible. The government is in an impossible position. The withdrawal agreement is unacceptable to this House and she knows that she would have been overwhelmingly defeated in the vote, he says. Please start listening and come back with changes to the withdrawal agreement, he says.

May’s red lines are the problem
Hilary Benn, chairman of the Brexit select committee, said Mrs May needs to be upfront that it was her red lines that led to the backstop. He asks whether cancelling the vote merely postpones the inevitable.

Grieve: go back to the public

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney-general and a prominent Tory Remainer, says that Brexit highlights the fact that far from recovering sovereignty, Britain is about to part with it. Surely we should go back to the public and ask them what they want and offer them the alternative of remaining in the EU, he says.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon accuses Mrs May of timewasting:

Vote could be delayed till after Christmas

The FT’s political leader writer Sebastian Payne has these immediate thoughts:

The meaningful vote is off. Theresa May’s Brexit deal will not be put before MPs tomorrow evening – or possibly even this side of Christmas. The prime minister put in a good effort to persuade MPs that hers is the only deal on offer and if the Commons wishes to honour the referendum result, it should back it. But nothing she said will assuage the weighty concerns her Conservative colleagues still have about the deal.

Mrs May confirmed that she is not seeking to re-open talks with the EU on the legally-binding withdrawal agreement. Instead she is looking for clarifications and assurances on the Irish border backstop – the bete noire of Brexiters. Much like the last-minute row over Gibraltar in the final stage of the negotiations, the best she can hope for are extra words about what has already been agreed. For hardline Eurosceptics, it is difficult to see how this will pass muster. They want big changes when none are available.

Once again Mrs May is in a bind and came out fighting. She warned that going against her prospective deal risks a chaotic Brexit or no Brexit at all. But trust is so low in the prime minister that it is unlikely to convince MPs. Some Tories are mulling over whether to file letters of confidence as she appears to have reached the end of the line. The only substantive change that could help her in the Commons is to add a time limit to the backstop. The EU insists that is not going to happen. And so the stalemate continues. The clock continues to tick down to March 29 2019. MPs should note that every passing day without a deal in law makes a chaotic no-deal exit more likely. That is the only fact Mrs May can still rely on.

May again dismisses second referendum call

Amid ongoing calls from Remain MPs for a second referendum, the prime minister reminds MPs that the UK does not have a history of referenda and tells them that when they have been held the government of the day had always taken the view it would abide by the result.

Plaid Cymru would support no-confidence vote

Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP, says her party will support Labour if it calls a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

Sterling hit

Sterling is off the bottom against the dollar, reports our markets reporter Dave Shellock – it is down 1.5 per cent at $1.2532, after hitting $1.2508 – but still at its lowest since April 2017. The euro is up 1.5 per cent at £0.9067. The gilts rally is picking up steam, with the 10-year yield now down 10 basis points at 1.17 per cent and the two-year down 8bp at 0.66 per cent. The FTSE 100 is down 0.8 per cent at 6,724 as a global equity sell-off gathers pace.

May: we will not revoke Article 50

Theresa May says the government will not be using the ruling by the European Court of Justice this morning that the UK could withdraw Article 50 and remain in the EU because it would not be in line with the result of the Brexit referendum.

Vote deadline by March?

The House of Commons’ Twitter account has been discussing the procedural issues that the suspension of the vote has thrown up. It says that Mrs May’s deadline for holding a vote is now March 28 – the day before the UK leaves the EU:

Our political correspondent Laura Hughes adds:

Indefinite nature of the backstop

The prime minister insists her talks with Brussels will be focused on trying to get the Northern Irish backstop changed. She seems confident that will remove the main parliamentary opposition to her deal. She confirms she will do this by seeking “assurances” from Brussels not by re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement.

The website Political Betting has this chart from BetData, showing an increase in betting on the likelihood of a second referendum. Odds of a vote taking place before the end of 2019 are at an all-time high, according to BetData:

Businesses worry over delay

More disappointment from business over the prospect of further delays and uncertainty. Stephen Martin, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said the announcement “will be viewed by most as another extension of the frustration and uncertainty”.

While we wish the Government well in their attempts to seek further assurances about the backstop, the clock is ticking and one of the only things we know for certain is that our exit date has been written into UK law for next March. The concern among businesses is clear, with two-thirds of our members saying a no-deal Brexit would be negative for their organisation.

Justine Greening is asking about the House of Commons’ statement that the requirement to have a vote by January 21 has been superseded; Mrs May says she does not accept that. The January 21 date has been set in legislation.

What will Brussels do?

Theresa May is sticking to the line that she will go back to Brussels to seek “assurances” from the EU27 on the Northern Irish backstop rather than reopen the withdrawal agreement.

This is most likely to take the form of some kind of “clarification”. Last week the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, Alex Barker, explained what that would involve in the event of Mrs May’s deal being voted down by parliament:

This is the first resort for negotiators. Clarifications could address specific political concerns without changing the draft agreement. Reassurances can be given through side letters, supplementary protocols, or unilateral declarations on future intentions. Used judiciously, such “clarifications” have saved countless deals in Brussels, and indeed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

What could it change?

The options are almost limitless. Both sides could provide more assurances that the provision Brexiters loathe — the backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border with Ireland — is intended to be temporary. Such promises would not involve revising the exit treaty backstop, which establishes a UK-EU customs union and keeps Northern Ireland in the bloc’s single market for goods until and unless an alternative is agreed.

Brexiters could be told that work will start on “technological” border solutions — their favoured approach for dealing with the Irish dilemma.

Concessions could be offered in side letters to the Democratic Unionist party to temper its hostility to the backstop and stop its MPs withdrawing support for Theresa May’s minority government.

The deal could also be made more attractive to MPs from the opposition Labour party through statements on protections for workers, or other social rights.

Could it be agreed?

One EU official described such declarations as “the easy stuff”. But that is because such tweaks are largely cosmetic. They may only be useful in Westminster if a majority is not far off and one group of MPs is looking for an excuse to switch sides.

Sterling is staging a minor scale-back now, clawing its way upwards to $1.255, having hit a low of $1.2502 as Mrs May was speaking – the lowest level since April 2017.

Theresa May speech summary so far
- There was widespread and deep concern in parliament that would mean that the deal would be rejected by a significant margin, forcing the government to delay the vote
- No date yet for the new vote, which needs to take place before the end of March
- There is no deal available that does not include the Irish backstop
- May will travel to Brussels to secure concessions and reassure backstop cannot be in place indefinitely to address key parliamentary concerns
- Warnings that a second referendum risks dividing the country again, while no deal would cause significant economic damage
- EU leaders say that no Brexit renegotiation is possible
- Opposition leaders attack the delay; Liberal Democrats and SNP call for vote of no confidence

The European Research Group – pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who had previously threatened Mrs May with a leadership contest – is reportedly meeting at 6pm, according to the Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman.

No clarity over new vote timing

The FT’s political correspondent Laura Hughes reports that the normal Tuesday cabinet meeting could be cancelled, adding that Andrea Leadsom this morning called on the PM to give ministers a clearer idea on when the vote would be rescheduled – but it wasn’t forthcoming.

May has ‘humiliated’ the UK

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, has accused the PM of “humiliating” the UK by going back to Brussels to try get some kind of wording around the Northern Irish backstop.

The DUP is meant to support the minority Tory government, but is so angered by Theresa May’s deal that it has turned on the prime minister. Worth remembering that Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the Brexit referendum.

Businesses plan for no-deal
Sarah Gordon, the FT’s business editor, says businesses have not taken the delay well. One FTSE 100 chief executive told her that business would ignore the political turmoil, and “just get on with planning a no deal”.
“That’s now the norm,” he said. “You’d have to be stupid at this point to do anything different.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, told her that the current political turmoil was now have serious economic impact. “We really worry that the economy and jobs will suffer,” said Ms Fairbairn. “What we know is that the vast majority of firms which have put in place contingency plans for a no deal will implement them by the end of the year.”
Ms Fairbairn said today’s vote deferral meant business had to plan for a no deal. “This must involve government support and planning,” she said.
But one FTSE 100 chairman said Theresa May must believe there was some “leeway in Europe” to have delayed tomorrow’s vote. Unlike at previous stages of this autumn’s political drama, Number 10 had not asked business leaders to be briefed by the prime minister at Downing Street or by phone.
He said Number 10 still wanted businesses to speak out in favour of the current deal on the table. “If I hear one more person telling me ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good’ I don’t know what I will do,” he said. “But they still want business to confirm that this [deal] is better than a leadership election or a general election.”
But he said business “and everyone else” was irrelevant compared to the will of the House of Commons at this stage.

Looking to the future, the parliamentary timetable sees the House of Commons sitting for two more weeks before the Christmas break. Parliament’s last day of business in 2018 is listed for December 20, and business resumes in the new year on January 7. The House then sits for another two weeks before the deadline to hold the vote, which is January 21.

Labour MPs call for vote of no confidence

More than 40 Labour MPs and a number of high-profile Labour peers have sent a letter to party leader Jeremy Corbyn, urging him to call of vote of no confidence in Theresa May today and then move for a second referendum.

For those who can’t access Twitter, the tweet (which includes a copy of the letter and its signatories) reads thus:

Following today’s farcical events by the Government, I have written with dozens of colleagues to ask Jeremy Corbyn to press a vote of no confidence this week and then go immediately for a @peoplesvote_uk

Labour biding its time on no confidence vote

The FT’s Laura Hughes has this statement from a Labour party spokesperson on the timing of any no-confidence vote. Looks like they are waiting for Mrs May to return from Brussels:

We will put down a motion of no confidence when we judge it most likely to be successful.

It is clear to us that Theresa May will not renegotiate the deal when she goes to Brussels, and will only be asking for reassurances from EU leaders.

When she brings the same deal back to the House of Commons without significant changes, others across the House will be faced with that reality.

At that point, she will have decisively and unquestionably lost the confidence of Parliament on the most important issue facing the country, and Parliament will be more likely to bring about the general election our country needs to end this damaging deadlock.”

The FT’s Jim Pickard says that Mr Corbyn’s team is resisting calling for a vote of no-confidence as this would force Labour into a politically fraught position of backing a second referendum

Mr Corbyn, a long-standing Eurosceptic, is among influential members of the shadow cabinet who are far from enthusiastic about adopting that stance. They fear that if Labour campaigned for “Remain” it would alienate many of its 3m voters who backed Leave in the 2016 EU referendum.

By contrast, there are scores of Labour MPs who have been pushing hard for a second referendum, arguing that the public deserves a chance to vote on Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement.

Labour MPs expressed anger that Mr Corbyn appeared loathe to trigger any such move against Mrs May yet. “He knows if it fails, he will have to move to a People’s Vote,” said one. “And he doesn’t want that. He prefers the fantasy that he could negotiate something better while letting them implode.”

Tusk rejects Brexit renegotiation

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said in a tweet that EU leaders will discuss Brexit on Thursday at a meeting but “will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification”. As time is running out, he added, the meeting will also discuss preparedness for a no-deal scenario.

Analysts worried about sterling

Analysts at Nomura say that “we are at an absolute low of Brexit politics so it’s natural to see GBP at the lows once again”.

Nomura’s Jordan Rochester:

Usually I look through the negative noise and see that 1) a deal is at hand it’s just a matter of negotiating parliament and 2) parliament will do what it can to avoid a no deal so 3) the downside from the lows is limited. But alas I can’t in good conscience find any reason to focus on silver linings today instead.

It’s encouraging to see GBP bouncing off the lows, but there are a lot of hurdles to go through before we can be optimistic in the short term once again.

The handling of this vote has not gone well, it’s clear that unless there is a big change in the red lines of Brexit that not much will change in talks with the EU. We may just end up with the same difficult vote just taking place a few days/weeks later with their reasons for voting down the deal being found elsewhere.

Everyone hates the backstop, says Boris Johnson

The former foreign secretary, leader of the Leave campaign, and prime ministerial wannabee, Boris Johnson, has taken to Twitter to remind everyone what he wrote in his weekly column for the Daily Telegraph, in which he claims no-one, including the rest of the EU hate the backstop, so just scrap it.

For those who can’t access Twitter, this is what he says:

We are told that the EU does not even like the backstop. Well, if the EU doesn’t like it, and the UK government doesn’t like it, and the British people don’t like it, why on earth is it there? Let us get rid of it and move on

Ivory instead of Brexit

Andrea Leadsom has just announced what will replace the vote in tomorrow’s parliamentary scheduling. MPs will instead consider the Lords’ amendments to the Ivory Bill and debate fuel poverty, Mrs Leadsom said. Meanwhile after facing three hours of questions from MPs, Mrs May has left the front bench.

EU offers little room for maneuver

A spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk said that contacts were underway with the UK “on how it wants to proceed” as well as with other EU leaders. The precise timing of EU leaders’ Brexit discussion on Thursday remains to be determined, the spokesman said, underlining that “there will be no renegotiation of the 25 November agreement”.

Jim Brunsden, the FT’s EU Correspondent, says that Tusk’s statement underlines that the EU is not prepared to reopen the Brexit deal in any way.

The EU Council president is clear: nothing can be renegotiated.

This means that, in practice, that all the EU can offer Ms May is some interpretative language on how it does not intend to lock the UK permanently into the “backstop” solution for Northern Ireland, and on how it hopes the backstop can be avoided entirely.

But the fact of the matter is that the backstop stays in the withdrawal agreement as a last resort, and will be used if needed to avoid a hard Irish border.

No new date for Brexit deal vote as yet

Mrs Leadsom gave no indication of the timing for the postponed withdrawal agreement vote. Quite a few pundits are suggesting that the vote won’t now be held till January. The House of Commons is due to take a break for Christmas on 20 December and return on 7 January.

Deadline for Brexit vote still unclear

On the previously-mentioned question of Parliamentary procedure – when the House of Commons’ Twitter account suggested that a vote on the withdrawal agreement may not now be required by January 21 – that may not be the case. The same Twitter account has just updated its assertion, saying:

The question of whether, and when, MPs vote is shaping up to be a hotly contested issue. The next few days could become bogged down in arcane Parliamentary procedure and legal wrangling.

EU members to stand firm over backstop

The FT’s Arthur Beesley in Dublin says that Ireland has no appetite for reopening the backstop provisions in the treaty. He reports that a senior party ally of Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, said that “politically too much has been invested in it from Ireland’s perspective [to backtrack now]”.

“The government’s plan is hold your line and see what happens. There is no other plan. It’s very much the ball is in the British court as to what they want to do.”

Although Mr Varadkar is open to a statement of clarification on the backstop, he insists such clarification should not reopen the text of the treaty itself or change its substance.

“I have no difficulty with statements that clarify what’s in the withdrawal agreement but no statement of clarification can contradict what’s in the withdrawal agreement,” the taoiseach said on Monday.

A senior European diplomat involved in Brexit talks also told Arthur said Brussels was unlikely to change its stance on the backstop. “I don’t think anyone expects there to be any substantial change or any meaningful change on the EU side.”

The diplomat questioned whether Mrs May’s critics would accept “reassurances” on the backstop that fell short of reworking the treaty, which Brussels is not willing to do.

“There could be a change to the future relationship document; an exchange of letters; a joint statement. The key is that these would be of a legally lower standard than the agreement itself,” the diplomat said. “Her critics will charge that this will not be of the same legal standing.”

A rotten, humiliating day for the government

The European Research Group of about 60 eurosceptic Tory MPs finished its meeting a while ago and afterwards Jacob Rees-Mogg, its leader, issued a warning to the prime minister that she will need more than just assurances from the EU27 to win them over. Theresa May earlier said she would go to Brussels to seek “assurances” on the Northern Irish backstop but pushed back against trying to re-open the Brexit deal. Likewise, the EU27 have stated clearly they are prepared to “facilitate UK ratification” but will not renegotiate.

Rees-Mogg told the FT’s Laura Hughes and other assembled journalists: “Anything that is not physically in the treaty is ‘junior law’, so if the prime minister comes back with a statement, warm words, it’s completely irrelevant because the treaty outranks it,” adding: “Unless it’s an amendment to the treaty, it’s pointless.”

He added that pulling the planned vote on Tuesday was as bad as the government having suffered a heavy defeat in the Commons. “This is a failure of the prime minister’s policy” he said. “It is very personally identified with her.”

He echoed the sentiments of quite a number of MPs earlier in the Commons from all parties. “I think that this is a rotten day for the government”, he said, adding: “And it is a humiliating day.”

And on that note we are going to end our live coverage with still no clarity over how the UK government intends to deliver Brexit.