Brexit: Theresa May accused of ‘cowardice’

Prime Minister Theresa May has been accused of “cowardice” and caving into the demands of hard-line Brexiteers.

It followed the government decision on Monday to agree to a legal guarantee that there will be no post-Brexit customs border in the Irish Sea.

The SDLP and Alliance said there is now a real danger of the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal.

However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said the move would preserve peace.

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The proposers of “New Clause 37” – an amendment to the Customs Bill – argued that it would prevent a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

On Monday night, MPs approved the clause without going to a vote, but two other amendments tabled by Tory Brexiteers scraped through by just three votes in the Commons.

Media caption’The Good Friday Agreement has been thrown around willy nilly’
New Clause 37 directly contradicts the EU’s legal draft of the so-called “Irish backstop”, which suggested Northern Ireland should be treated as part of the European Union’s customs territory.

That legal version of the backstop has already been rejected by Mrs May. However, the prime minister has said she will abide by the principles of a protocol on a future backstop which it negotiated with Brussels in December.

The amendment was backed by both the DUP and the pro-Brexit Conservative European Research Group or ERG.

East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he could not understand the “furore” surrounding the vote and that he was pleased that there was no opposition to the amendment ruling out a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Wilson said he hoped the vote would sent a message to Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier and that it would negate the backstop which he described as a “surrender to the Irish Republic and the EU”.

However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused Mrs May of cowardice, saying that ruling out the backstop will “effectively drive us to a ‘no deal’ Brexit and probably a hard border in Ireland”.

“That is not acceptable to democratic Ireland,” he added.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg wanted to rule out an Irish Sea border in law

Alliance Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry said Parliament had “undermined the interests of Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement”.

“The backstop does not cut off Northern Ireland from the Great Britain market, rather allowing us to more easily be part of both the UK and EU economies,” he added.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said that her party had never argued for a border in the Irish Sea and never argued for Brexit.

“Brexit is of the making of the Brexiteers. What we need to ensure is that there is no hardening of the border on our island,” she said.

“The simple way out of this is for Britain to remain within the single market, and remain within the customs union. That’s the answer.”

The amendment was proposed by a number of well known pro-Brexit MPs, including the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, Labour’s Kate Hoey and the former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson.

The DUP is due to meet the government later this week to discuss the Brexit plan.

John Campbell, BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

The amendments which the prime minister is accepting to the Customs Bill have implications for her room to manoeuvre on the backstop.

The EU backstop proposal said Northern Ireland should remain in the customs union: the amendment would explicitly prevent that.

The prime minster has already rejected Northern Ireland in the customs union so it may be no big deal on that issue.

But the EU backstop also proposed that EU law on VAT should also continue to apply in Northern Ireland.

One of the amendments would also explicitly prevent this.

This could be a problem, as the UK outside the EU VAT system could mean that VAT processes have to happen at the border.

The UK government’s position in regard to ongoing participation in the EU VAT area has never been clear.

At a push, it might still be open for an arrangement where Northern Ireland remains in the single market for goods as that is not dealt with in the amendments.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 and Parliament is considering a number of new laws needed to prepare for this and for life after the end of a proposed transition period.

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story

Brexit: Chequers plan not dead, insists Liam Fox

Theresa May’s Brexit plan is “not dead”, a senior minister has insisted despite concessions made to Tory MPs to avoid a Commons defeat on trade.

The government scraped home by three votes on two occasions after agreeing to Brexiteers’ demands to change the wording of the Customs Bill.

Liam Fox said it did not change policy as the amendments had been “cut and pasted” from the PM’s Chequers plan.

He also warned pro-European Tories against “refighting the referendum”.

The international trade secretary told the BBC that feelings were running high but calls from some Tories to stay in a customs union, which will be voted on later, would send completely the wrong message to the EU.

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Brexit: All you need to know
The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 but has yet to agree how its final relationship with the bloc will work.

The government, which does not have a Commons majority, has been under pressure from MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate.

The government twice survived by just three votes on Monday after a backlash from pro-EU Tories who accused the prime minister of “caving in” to the party’s Eurosceptic MPs.

Fresh test ahead in Commons
Ministers accepted a series of demands from Brexiteers who are unhappy at the PM’s Chequers blueprint for future relations with the EU, believing it keeps the UK too closely tied to the bloc.

But this angered MPs from the party’s pro-EU wing who refused to back the new amendments, saying they would undermine the UK’s recently-announced negotiating position.

By 305 votes to 302 – with 14 Tories rebelling – MPs backed an amendment that prevents the UK from collecting taxes on behalf of the EU, unless the rest of the EU does the same for the UK.

Applying EU tariffs to products destined for the EU is part of Mrs May’s plan to avoid friction at UK borders after Brexit.

Another amendment, to ensure the UK is out of the EU’s VAT regime, was backed by 303 to 300, with a Tory rebellion of 11. Three Labour MPs voted with the government. Current and past Lib Dem leaders Sir Vince Cable and Tim Farron – who want to stop Brexit – did not vote.

MPs will carry on debating Brexit on Tuesday when the Trade Bill comes to the Commons.

It gives the government the power to build new trade relationships around the world after the UK leaves the EU, and MPs who support staying in the EU’s customs union are seeking to change its wording.

‘Strong feelings’ on both sides

Media captionAnna Soubry criticised colleagues who have a “gold-plated pension” and support Brexit
Tory MP and Remainer Heidi Allen said she wished the prime minister had “faced down the amendments.”

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What was agreed at Chequers wasn’t perfect to us, wasn’t perfect to Leavers either, but I think the prime minister had worked exceptionally hard to find a decent first pitch to put to the EU and move forward from that.

“We were all set [on the Remain side] to drop all our amendments and back it, then suddenly we had these rather extreme last minute manoeuvres, which seem to us to deviate the prime minister from her plan and we weren’t prepared to do that.”

But Mr Fox said the amendments “did not differ very much” from the government’s agreed position. Asked if the Chequers plan was dead, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today “I don’t think so”.

“The wording in the white paper was that the UK and the EU should together agree a mechanism for the remittance of relevant tariff revenue,” he said.

“As far as I could see the amendment looked like a bit of a cut and paste from the white paper.”

He said the government could “not please everybody” and there had to be compromises but Brexit had been backed by 17.4 million people in a referendum and legislation implementing that decision approved by MPs.

“I do not understand why people thinks this lacks democratic legitimacy. It is very clear where it comes from.”

Little room for manoeuvre
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

It looks a mess because it is a mess. It’s getting harder and harder for the prime minister to get things through Parliament – and while calls for a second referendum are widely rejected, that sentiment could change if this kind of gridlock continues.

The PM has spent the last two years trying to compromise. She has a divided party and no majority. There are no easy choices.

But the divisions in the Tory party are daily reducing her room for manoeuvre. In a debate about principle, the problem for some is that compromise is a dirty word.

Read Laura’s blog

Who rebelled?
The Conservative rebels on Monday were the long-time pro-EU MP Ken Clarke, Heidi Allen, Guto Bebb, Richard Benyon, Jonathan Djanogly, Dominic Grieve, Stephen Hammond, Philip Lee, Nicky Morgan, Robert Neill, Mark Pawsey, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston.

The three Labour MPs who rebelled against their party whip by voting with the government were Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer – all of whom are pro-Brexit.

Former Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins who now sits as an independent also supported the government on one of the amendments.

How has the EU reacted?
BBC Europe editor, Katya Adler said the one priority the EU has is making sure it gets a deal, rather than a “cliff edge” Brexit.

She told Today: “They are following all the ins and outs, and all the turbulence, in UK politics extremely carefully.

“[But] they are wondering if the prime minister – or anyone who could or might take over from her – would even have the political strength to get a deal agreed here in Brussels, then passed by parliament back home.

“All my EU sources say they want to engage constructively with the whitepaper and avoid giving the impression that it is dead on arrival. But importantly, as everyone knows, time for negotiation is running short. They want to complete the withdrawal agreement.”

With many thanks to: BBC England for the original story.




Vote Leave: Brexit campaign ‘broke electoral law’ in referendum

Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and referred to the police after an Electoral Commission probe said it broke electoral law.

The investigation found “significant evidence of joint working” between the group and another organisation – BeLeave – leading to it exceeding its spending limit by almost £500,000.

Vote Leave also returned an “incomplete and inaccurate spending report”, with almost £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending, the watchdog said.

BeLeave founder Darren Grimes has also been fined and referred to the police for breaking the group’s spending limit by more than £665,000 and wrongly reporting the spending as his own.

Veterans for Britain were also found to have inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave and has been fined £250.

‘Refused to cooperate’
Bob Posner, from the Electoral Commission, said: “The Electoral Commission has followed the evidence and conducted a thorough investigation into spending and campaigning carried out by Vote Leave and BeLeave.

“We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.”

He added: “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.

“Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”

Vote Leave was the officially designated campaign group for Leave in the UK’s referendum in 2016 into whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union.

The result of the referendum was 51.9% for Leave and 48.1% for Remain. The UK is due to officially leave the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 29 March, 2019.

‘Motivated by political agenda’
A Vote Leave spokesman said: “The Electoral Commission’s report contains a number of false accusations and incorrect assertions that are wholly inaccurate and do not stand up to scrutiny.

“It is astonishing that nobody from Vote Leave has been interviewed by the commission in the production of this report, nor indeed at any point in the past two years. Yet the commission has interviewed the so-called ‘whistleblowers’ who have no knowledge of how Vote Leave operated and whose credibility has been seriously called into question.

“Vote Leave has provided evidence to the Electoral Commission proving there was no wrongdoing. And yet despite clear evidence of wrongdoing by the Remain campaign, the commission has chosen to ignore this and refused to launch an investigation.

“All this suggests that the supposedly impartial commission is motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts.

“The commission has failed to follow due process, and in doing so has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories.

“We will consider the options available to us, but are confident that these findings will be overturned.”

With many thanks to: BBC England for the original story

Brexit White Paper: What it means for the North of Ireland

A free trade zone for goods is at the heart of the proposals
According to the government, the need to ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is central to the “big idea” contained in the latest Brexit White Paper – the development of a free trade area for goods.

The White Paper expresses the hope that if the EU agree to this proposition it will mean any legal text which the UK agrees in the future in order to underpin the Irish ‘backstop’ solution will not have to be used.

Some Brexiteers challenge this assertion, insisting that technology could have been used to overcome the problems posed by the border and minister should never have agreed to the “backstop” back in December.

Repeating that argument, Jacob Rees Mogg told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the prospect of a “hard border” is a complete “red herring”.

If a “no deal” Brexit remains a possibility, the recent revelation by the Financial Times that barges could be stationed in the Irish Sea to keep the lights on in Northern Ireland sounds far fetched.

But it does graphically illustrate the range of concerns that must be addressed over the coming months in order to avoid widespread disruption.

Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption
Jacob Rees-Mogg believes the white paper is ‘Not what the British people voted for’
On energy, the latest White Paper recommits the government to preserve the Single Electricity Market in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It also contains a slightly surprising requirement for a new British-Irish deal to keep the trains running across the border.

It says “the UK and relevant Member States have a common interest in ensuring that cross-border rail services, the Channel Tunnel and the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise line, continue without disruption”.

Also on transport, in a section dealing with road hauliers, passenger operators and private motoring, the document says “the UK will ensure that there is no requirement in any scenario for new permits for transport services between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

The White Paper repeats previous commitments to the UK delivering its part of a future EU Peace funding programme, and looks forward to “a security partnership with the EU, including Ireland, that will allow the Police Service of Northern Ireland to continue to tackle security threats, including the severe threat from dissident republicans, and serious and organised crime.”

There’s an expression of hope that a future extradition system will build on any arrangements agreed for operating the European Arrest Warrant during a transitional Brexit period.

There’s also a reference to the government commitments under the Good Friday Agreement to ensure the Irish language TV channel TG4 can be seen across Northern Ireland.

On the recognition of professional qualifications between people in the UK and the EU after Brexit the White Paper acknowledges “this is particularly relevant for the healthcare, education and veterinary/agri-food sectors in the context in the context of North-South cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

The White Paper makes clear that the UK is leaving both the EU Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. But it underlines the fact that in relation to animal health the island of Ireland is already different in a number of important ways.

The government blueprint says the proposal for the UK and EU to maintain a common rule book on agri-food products “would remove the need to undertake additional regulatory checks at the border – avoiding the need for any physical infrastructure, such as Border Inspection Posts, at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

The document notes that “Northern Ireland and Ireland form a single epidemiological unit.

The UK is fully committed to ensuring that the Northern Ireland Executive and North South Ministerial Council can, through agreement, continue to pursue specific initiatives, such as the All Ireland Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.”

Whether the big free trade area for goods idea will survive the scrutiny it will face from the EU, Brexiteers and even Donald Trump remains uncertain. However the numerous references in the White Paper to Northern Ireland emphasise the complexity of the problems the negotiators on both sides are grappling with.

With many thanks to: BBC England for the original story.

Brexit: March planned as Fox says PM not bluffing on no deal

Anti – Brexit campaigners are preparing to march to Parliament Square

Senior Cabinet ministers have insisted the UK is prepared to walk away from Brexit talks without a deal, on the second anniversary of the referendum.

Liam Fox said Theresa May was “not bluffing” over her threat to quit negotiations, while Boris Johnson called for a “full British Brexit”.

It comes as anti-Brexit campaigners, who want the public to have the final say on the UK’s departure, prepare to march in London later.

They say Brexit is “not a done deal”.

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People’s Vote – which wants a referendum on any exit deal – said people must make their “voices heard” about the “damage” of leaving next year without agreement.

Speakers at the demo will include actor Sir Tony Robinson and campaigner Gina Miller, who fought a successful legal battle last year to ensure the UK could not trigger talks on leaving without the approval of Parliament.

The UK voted to leave the EU by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1% in a referendum held on 23 June 2016.

Liam Fox says Theresa May is not bluffing over no-deal Brexit

The UK is due to leave on 29 March 2019, 46 years after it first joined the European Economic Community, the forerunner to the EU.

But the People’s Vote campaign says this should happen only if the withdrawal deal negotiated by Mrs May and the other 27 EU members is approved in another public vote.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC it was in the interests of both sides to have a deal – but it was “essential” the EU understood that the UK could walk away if the terms offered were not good enough.

“The prime minister has always said no deal is better than a bad deal,” Mr Fox said in an interview with the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, which was recorded on Wednesday – before Friday’s warning from Airbus that it might cease manufacturing in the UK in such a scenario.

“It is essential as we enter the next phase of the negotiations that the EU understands that and believes it… I think our negotiating partners would not be wise if they thought our PM was bluffing.”

‘Bog roll Brexit’
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis told the Daily Express the prime minister was going to get a “good deal” from Brussels and Brexit was going to be “fantastic”.

“The best option is leaving with a good deal but you’ve got to be able to walk away from the table,” he said,

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And writing in the Sun, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned the prime minister not to allow “bog roll Brexit” that is “soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long” – calling for a “full British Brexit” instead.

Mr Johnson said people “just want us to get on with it”.

Brexiteers Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis are optimistic about Brexit on the second anniversary of the referendum.

Labour said Mr Fox’s comments about a no-deal Brexit were the “height of irresponsibility”.

“The next time Liam Fox parrots the slogan no deal is better than a bad deal he should give some thought to the 14,000 people who work for Airbus, and the thousands of other people who have jobs dependent on trade with Europe,” said shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman.

Both the prime minister and Labour leader have rejected calls for another public vote, saying the will of the people expressed in the 2016 ballot was clear, although many Labour MPs now want another referendum.

Organisers of Saturday’s demo say people “from all walks of life” will be present, demonstrating the “growing popular demand” for another vote.

Beginning in Pall Mall and ending outside the Houses of Parliament, the protest is part of a “summer of action” by campaign groups designed to increase pressure on Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Femi Oluwole wants the Labour leader to back calls for a referendum on the final deal


By taking the UK out of the EU’s single market and customs union, they say the Conservative government “remains intent” on a so-called hard Brexit that will – they say – destroy jobs and damage public services.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, who will be at the march, told BBC Breakfast: “I think the public in general… do see there is a mess.”

He added: “We’ve only got a year to go. And I think for the big companies that employ hundreds of thousands of workers in the UK… they want some clarity about what the trading relationships will be and there is absolutely none whatever.”

But Conservative MP Peter Bone – who supports Brexit – said if there were a second vote, the leave campaign would win again.

“The vast, vast majority of people, whether they are Leavers or Remainers, just want us to get on and come out this dreadful European Union super-state,” he said.

“There were 17.4 million people that voted for leave and if there are a few thousand in London complaining about it – that doesn’t seem to really make much difference.”

The government is giving Parliament a vote on the final deal, if one is reached, in the autumn – but it remains unclear what will happen if they reject it.

With many thanks to: BBC England for the origional story.

Airbus prepares to move from Britain over Brexit fears

●Aerospace giant on brink of abandoning British investment

●Tens of thousands of manufacturing roles at risk over Brexit

●Government holding urgent talks with firm

An Airbus A380 Airplane leaves Heathrow. Here’s how to explain Airbus leaving to Leavers…

The company employs 14,000 people in Britain

The government was today in urgent talks with Airbus after the aerospace company said it was on the verge of pulling investment from Britain over Theresa May’s stalled Brexit negotiations.

In a move described by one senior Tory MP as a “wake up call”, Airbus, which generates £1.7 billion in tax revenues, warned it is preparing to abandon plans to build aircraft wings at its British plants and move production to China, the US or elsewhere in Europe.

It is making a series of investment decisions this summer because of worries that EU safety certifications will not apply from March next year and uncertainty over customs checks.

“In the absence of any clarity, we have to assume the worst-case scenario,” Tom Williams, the chief operating…

With many thanks to: The Timesand The Irish Times for the origional story

European Union
Theresa May
Conservative Party
Philip Hammond


Leave voters would rather lose the North of Ireland than give up the benefits of Brexit

This article was first published in the Telegraph

By Lord Ashcroft

It seems ironic, when we remember the sound and fury generated on both sides of the referendum campaign, that the biggest sticking point in the Brexit negotiations – the Irish border – is one that was hardly mentioned before the vote. As with so much in politics, how you see this conundrum depends on who you are and where you sit.

My latest research finds that for Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the practicality of customs checks is almost beside the point: any kind of border in an island that they see as one country is unthinkable. For them, avoiding a hard border eclipses any other potential goal of the Brexit negotiations.

But most Unionists in Northern Ireland, especially those who voted to leave the EU, believe the border issue is being deliberately exaggerated. Most think technology would make customs checks quick and easy, and do not believe a border must necessarily be a problem: as one North Antrim voter put it, “there are countries in the EU that have got a border with non-EU countries. Look and learn.” Avoiding a hard border came much lower on the Unionists’ Brexit priority list than ensuring the UK could negotiate its own trade deals and was no longer bound by EU rules.

This view is heartily shared by Leave voters in England, Scotland and Wales. Given the choice of leaving the customs union and avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, two thirds of them said they would rather leave the customs union.

But while Northern Ireland Unionists are determined that they should have the same deal as the rest of the UK, only one third of voters in Britain say it would be unacceptable for Northern Ireland to have a different EU status from the rest of the country; almost as many say this would be tolerable to get a workable deal.

There is more uncomfortable news for Unionists. A majority in Britain said Northern Ireland’s place in the UK was up to its people to decide – but if the province voted to leave, most said they wouldn’t mind either way. We also asked Leave voters in Britain whether they would leave the EU, or keep England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales together in the UK, if it were impossible to do both. Most, including more than seven in 10 Tory voters, said they would rather leave the EU.

Most people on both sides think the Brexit process is taking too long. Remainers largely blame politicians pushing for a hard Brexit, but Leave voters accuse those who want to prevent or soften our withdrawal, or the EU and European governments. While no-one envies Theresa May her task, leavers say they would see any extended “implementation period”, during which the UK continued to abide by Brussels rules, as an excuse for keeping us in the EU for as long as possible, rather than a genuine attempt to get our post-Brexit arrangements right.

Given these views – impatience with the process, determination for the UK to operate an independent trade policy, and the suspicion that Brexit opponents are deliberately throwing up hurdles – it is not hard to imagine how Leave voters would react if told the UK would not be taking back as much control as they hoped because of the Irish border, an issue they believe is being blown out of proportion.

Those who have pondered Brexit’s consequences for UK union have usually focused on the resentment felt in places where majorities voted to remain in the EU. There is certainly something in this. To many of the Remain voters we spoke to in Northern Ireland, their neighbour looked comparatively more modern and prosperous by the year. When we asked how people would vote in a referendum tomorrow, staying in the UK outpolled unification by just 49 per cent to 44 per cent. (Steady on, came the reply: a majority in the Republic said they were in favour of a united Ireland in principle, but it would not be practical or affordable for them in the next few years).

But there is another risk: that a question like the Irish border, which most Leave voters see as a relatively minor practical issue that could be resolved, should prevent the majority getting the Brexit they think they voted for.

Download the Full Report: ‘Brexit, the Border and the Union’

With many thanks to: Lord Ashcroft for the origional posting LORDASHCROFT.COM

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