16.00 It feels like a good time to take a look at the latest numbers among Conservative MPs. As previously stated, we’ll publish our confirmed list starting on Monday, once there is more clear evidence, but The Spectator and Guido Fawkes have been updating the lists they published a few days ago. Both have recorded a rise in MPs backing Remain, because quite a few reserved judgement (officially, at least) until the deal was published.
In the Cabinet, there are five for Leave and 17 for Remain. Among more junior Ministers, there are two confirmed for Leave, 21 for Remain and 38 who are yet to say (as we reported the other day, Leave-minded ministers are apparently planning an announcement of some sort on Monday). The two publications differ more when it comes to the backbenches – Guido claims that in total of 144 Tory MPs back Leave and 116 support Remain, while The Speccie records totals of 70 for Leave and 90 for Remain.
Seventy is the new floor for the eventual total of Conservative Leave MPs, which is already higher than many expected, but if the top estimate of 144 is anything close to true that would be both remarkable and a serious thumbs down for the renegotiation. In fact, it would represent a majority of the Conservative backbenches. Both tallies suggest that there’s a notably difference between views at the top of the Government and in the wider Parliamentary Conservative Party.
In other news, friends of Gove are casting doubt on Downing Street’s line that his decision to break ranks is to be expected because he has backed Brexit “for decades”. Apparently that isn’t the case, and they have chapter and verse from his past articles to prove it. The reason this claim is contentious is two-fold: first, it’s used by Cameron and Osborne to imply that the Justice Secretary doesn’t specifically disapprove of the renegotiation, and second, it’s a way of pressuring Boris, by suggesting that a decision made this weekend on the basis of the facts wouldn’t be an acceptable one. The fact that Gove allies are mounting this defence hints at the ongoing battle to win over the Mayor.
That’s all from us on this liveblog – thank you for following what’s been a fascinating and historic day. The game’s afoot!
Naturally, most of the focus so far has been on Conservatives – and particularly Cabinet ministers – backing Brexit. But it’s important to note the state of play on the Labour side, too.
Gisela Stuart, a widely respected Eurosceptic with great knowledge of the issues, has confirmed her support for Leave:
“I am being asked to exercise my once in a generation chance to either endorse a relationship and an institution that shows a deep inability to reform or to say this won’t do – we can do better. I will vote leave.”
So has Frank Field:
“The Government has failed to secure the key renegotiation requirement, namely, that we should regain control of our borders. I shall therefore be campaigning to leave the EU.”
Both are strong voices and welcome additions to the Leave side. More specifically, they could prove to be very important in the ongoing race for designation as the official Leave campaign. As I understand it, neither has formally endorsed either Vote Leave or Grassroots Out yet. GO’s decision to headline George Galloway at their rally last night could well play badly with these far more moderate voices.
The other people worth watching are the leaders of other EU member states. As Cameron tries to talk up the deal at home, so they may do the same for their own domestic audiences – but while he wants to argue this gives the British a great settlement, they want to say the opposite. That could provide some useful attack lines for Leave campaigners – already, President Hollande has said that the deal offers Britain very little: “no exemption from single market rules, no Treaty change is foreseen, no UK veto over Eurozone”.
14.00 Hello, Mark Wallace here, taking over the live blog for a few hours. After the initial announcements, we’re hearing a bit more from the ministers backing Leave about their reasons. Notably, they strike a positive tone about life outside the EU. Here’s Andrea Leadsom:
“What does it mean for us if we leave the EU? For me, it is about reclaiming our position as an island trading nation that has always had partners in every corner of the globe – from our historic links with Commonwealth nations to our friends across the Atlantic and to the emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region. The EU’s instincts are too often corporatist, protectionist and anti-competitive. Ours are pro-trade, pro-competition and outward-looking. We must not tie ourselves to a single market, but seek all the global opportunities that would be open to us if once again we were able to negotiate our own trade agreements.”
Leadsom is particularly important in terms of persuading other junior ministers and Conservative MPs – as we pointed out on Thursday, she is a co-founder of Fresh Start, which was set up to press for EU reform and which counts many of the 2010 intake and the Government’s younger members among its ranks.
And here’s an extract from Gove’s statement, in which he also lays out a positive case for Leave:
“By leaving the EU we can take control. Indeed we can show the rest of Europe the way to flourish. Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative to the path the EU is going down. We can show leadership. Like the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back, we can become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.”
It’s telling that there seem to be more than a few MPs who have been converted to Leave by the paucity of the renegotiation. I just spoke to one backbencher, very much on the left of the Party, who began this process strongly arguing that the Prime Minister would secure a good deal, and has ended it feeling the deal is so poor as to be “insulting”. He’s contacting Boris this afternoon to urge him to back Leave.
Notably, as with James Cleverly’s tweet above, there’s very little animosity among Tory Leavers towards Cameron (despite the desperation of some sections of the media to find evidence of a re-run of the 1990s). He has, after all, delivered the referendum which he promised – people are rightly keen to ensure that the Party comes together again after a hard-fought but civil disagreement on the Remain/Leave question. Grayling also makes this point in a piece we published a few minutes ago:
“…the country which we govern will expect us to take a careful, considered and mature approach to the debate that lies ahead. It will not thank us if we let the strength of our views damage the otherwise good relationships in our Party. We can disagree with colleagues and still be friends during and after the referendum campaign.”
One footnote: some Eurosceptics dismissed the idea of trying a renegotiation, but I suspect in practice the visible failure of the EU to even consider anything like fundamental change will prove to be a strong recruiting sergeant for the Leave campaign.
13.00 The Prime Minister has emerged from Number 10 and confirmed two things: that the Cabinet has agreed to recommend that Britain stay inside a “reformed” EU; and that the date of the referendum will be held on June 23. Despite saying that “I will never say that our country can’t survive outside of Europe, we can achieve great things”, the Guardian describes his speech as a broadly negative one, “heavy on warnings of the risks to leaving the EU.”
Meanwhile the Cabinet continue to declare. The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has confirmed that Chris Grayling will be campaigning for ‘Leave’, and Vote Leave have tweeted a picture of him alongside Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith, John Whittingdale, and Theresa Villiers at their HQ.
This will help Vote Leave as they compete with the ‘GO Movement’, backed by Grassroots Out and Leave.EU, for designation as the official ‘Leave’ campaign by the Electoral Commission. However Arron Banks, who is bankrolling the latter outfit, maintains that Vote Leave lacks the cross-party support to win the designation, amounting to merely a “fully fledged Tory front”.
Andrea Leadsom, the Minister of State for Energy, has also declared for Leave - her Fresh Start group has been described by James Forsyth as “the outrider for the renegotiation in the last Parliament”. On the other side Justine Greening and Jeremy Wright, the Attorney General, are voting Remain.
12.00 We’re still waiting for the end of Cabinet, but in the mean time there’s been some little coverage of Labour’s reaction. Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term Eurosceptic who backed down on the issue to appease his party, confirmed that Labour would campaign for In in the manner of a hostage video. However he took time to dismiss the Prime Ministers precious deal as “irrelevant to problems most Britons face”, lending credence to suggestions he may be trying to undermine the ‘Remain’ cause.
He has also announced that Labour MPs can run for both sides, and Frank Field has declared on his website that Cameron’s failure to secure meaningful border control means that he will be campaigning for Brexit. He writes:
“…the Government so lacked ability that it couldn’t even achieve the minimal reform programme it cobbled together. Holding the referendum in June was clearly more important than winning major reforms. The Government has failed to secure the key renegotiation requirement, namely, that we should regain control of our borders. I shall therefore be campaigning to leave the EU.”
11.00 A boost for David Cameron this morning as two of the Cabinet’s ‘big beasts’, who had been down as swing votes, come out for Remain. The BBC reports that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has backed the Prime Minister’s deal despite her long-standing and very public concerns about immigration. Meanwhile James Forsyth and the Spectator claim that Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, also intends to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
After losing Michael Gove to the ‘Leave’ cause yesterday evening, these high-profile loyalists will have come as a great relief to Number 10 and suggest that there won’t be any great haemorrhaging of Cabinet support in the aftermath of an underwhelming negotiation. Each will also be very useful in countering a potential ‘Leave’ narrative: Javid will be able to take on a business-focused, ‘Britain in the world’ strategy whilst May could be potent in countering a UKIP-inspired, migration-focused effort.
(But, as Sunder Katwala of British Future points out, Cameron and May could be embarrassed when the latest set of migration figures come out only a month before polling day.)
Beyond the direct implications for the referendum campaign, how does this bear on their leadership prospects? One of the reasons May had been so often talked about as a potential leader for ‘Leave’ is that it would give her a constituency, which she has not otherwise cultivated, in the event of a leadership challenge. Meanwhile Javid’s toeing the line will have preserved the possibility of his inheriting the Chancellorship should George Osborne become leader. Have both simply decided to settle for being major Cabinet ministers in the Cameron/Osborne era?
Of course, all this simply redoubles the pressure on Boris. With these two having backed off, the leadership of the ‘Leave’ campaign – and the undivided affection of the bulk of the Tory grassroots – is there for the taking. But without the safety in numbers offered by more widespread Leave support, will the Mayor fear being left out in the cold in the event that Remain win?
10.00 Good morning, this is Henry Hill taking up the reins of our live blog as we move into the aftermath of Cameron’s negotiation marathon. We’ve provided a fairly comprehensive sample of the national newspaper coverage in this morning’s newslinks, and the overall tone of the coverage isn’t promising for the Prime Minister.
He has his supporters, most obviously the Guardian. He has also benefited from the fact that most of the newspapers have chosen to report the story fairly straight – perhaps as a consequence of how late in the day the final deal was actually settled. Downing Street will also be pleased to note that the Sun, despite it’s usual vociferous Euroscepticism, has chosen for it’s front page a sideshow story about two EU officials having sex in the toilets.
But. The tone of the editorials was anything but enthusiastic: the Daily Mail described the Prime Minister as ‘on the ropes’; the Times complained of “thin gruel” (£); and the Daily Telegraph claimed that his difficulties yesterday highlighted how “arcane, sclerotic, and arrogant” the EU has become.
As for the commentators, Matthew d’Ancona thinks the Tory leader has done a pretty good job. Peter Oborne believes he’s signing his “political death warrant”. James Forsyth highlights in the Sun how catastrophic it would be for Cameron, and the ‘Remain’ cause, if Boris followed Gove into the Brexit lobby – but Michael White of the Guardian still thinks the Mayor will bottle it. Meanwhile Andrew Grice warns in the Independent that the Prime Minister’s failure to produce the expected, stage-managed ‘rabbit’ in the closing stages of the negotiations was a “fatal misjudgement” which will leave him “exposed”.
- The spin has begun before the deal is even published. The Prime Minister has tweeted that he has negotiated a deal to give the UK “special status” in the UK. How can that be without the Treaty change needed to deliver it? Agreement arrives conveniently timed for the ten o’clock news.
- Nick Watt has tweeted: “Goodnight to second referendum: special UK deal will ‘cease to exist’ if UK votes to leave EU”.
- Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech Prime Minister, has said that the deal is a “decent compromise”.
- A smattering of Conservative MPs are out on Twitter supporting the deal – but not many yet and they are, as is the case with vocal opponents, pretty much the usual names: Richard Benyon, Alistair Burt, Neil Carmichael, Damian Collins, Ben Howlett, Margot James, Bob Neil, Julian Smith and Anna Soubry. David Macintosh is surely more representative: “Pleased the PM has secured a deal in Brussels,” he tweets. “I shall read the details carefully over the coming weeks and then decide how I intend to vote”.
- We will provide full analysis of the deal tomorrow morning, and end where we began. For an account on how the Prime Minister’s post-election renegotiation plans have been watered down, see Mark Wallace’s piece of yesterday here, and for a checklist of how they have been whittled down over a longer period see mine here. The Telegraph is reporting that Cameron “was forced to make significant concessions as he agreed to delay plans to curb child benefit payments for migrants after more than 30 hours of discussions. After furious protests from Eastern European leaders he agreed to delay curbs on child benefits for migrants for four years until 2020. He also agreed a seven year “emergency brake” on migrant benefits, having initially pushed for 13.”
- And meanwhile, Grassroots Out has demonstrated why it is unfit to gain designation as the Official Leave campaign. Its special guest at its rally is George Galloway. Jon Craig of Sky reports that half the audience has walked out. Who are these clowns?
- Kuenssberg has tweeted that she is hearing that a Cabinet meeting will be called for 9am tomorrow.
- Mates tweets that “under compromise Cameron will be able to claim victory by extending ‘emergency brake’ from four to seven years” but that he “has had to back down on child benefits, conceding transitional period till 2020 for existing claimants with children abroad”. Remember: the emergency brake was originally a brake on migration altogether, not on benefit access. And on benefit access what was proposed was originally a complete bar to the benefits in question, not a gradually accumulating one.
- So it may be that an agreement is finally in sight.
- Latest scheduled time for the elusive summit dinner, which will probably agree a deal, is in an hour or so’s time. It will mark the first time the 28 EU leaders have sat down together.
- Reaction to the Gove decision to back Brexit – tweeted by Laura Kuensserg – rages on. I called Gove for Brexit on this blog earlier today, along with the five other Cabinet Ministers usually named.
- The Grassroots Out rally in London has begun and you can follow the livestream
- . Speakers listed are: Peter Bone, Bill Cash, David Davis, Nigel Farage, John Foreman, Kate Hoey, Ruth Lea and Tom Pursglove.
- I gather that Davis is not supporting Grassroots Out’s bid for designation as the official Leave Campaign for the referendum – simply because he’s not supporting any bid by anyone.
- No announcement of a dinner yet – and dinner would probably mean a deal agreed…
- …(So Angela Merkel has popped for some chips).
- Robert Fico, Slovakia’s Prime Minister, has said that he believes the summit is close to a compromise…
- …But Tomas Prouza, the Czech Europe Minister, has tweeted that the British approach to negotiation is “unorthodox”, which is clearly something of a euphemism.
- Cameron has had meetings with Tusk, Merkel and Beata Szydlo, Poland’s Prime Minister.
- A Grassroots Out rally will take place in London this evening – Mark Wallace will be reporting.
- If there is an agreement, Hillary Benn and Alan Johnson will address Labour MPs on Monday.
- Greece, which is reported to have no objection in principle to Cameron’s proposals, is threatening to veto a deal if borders are closed to it.
- And news from Blighty: according to Sam Coates of the Times, Damian McBride is coming back – to work for Emily Thornberry.
5.30pm Paul Goodman back blogging on this site. Jokes have been doing the rounds all among the lobby and on Twitter about the postponement of the “English breakfast” this morning that was meant to see the deal finalised – think “dog’s breakfast”, and you will get the flavour. It became an English lunch, then an English tea…and is now an English dinner.
But the moment when EU leaders will probably mark the occasion when an agreement will be clinched – that’s the point of getting them all together – although one cannot be sure. One report says that Cameron will hold out for getting the deal set in a “legally binding” agreement.
What is certain is that there will be no Cabinet meeting today. At the earliest, one will be called tomorrow morning, at which a sleep-deprived Prime Minister will brief his colleagues and free them to campaign on either side. Some of the pro-Brexit Ministers named in our live blog earlier today are already planning their media grid.
I named Michael Gove among them, and wrote a few days ago about how his Outist convictions were likely to trump his friendship with the Prime Minister – citing the history of him setting them out. Over at Coffee House, James Forsyth writes that Downing Street is now resigned to losing him.
The Justice Secretary’s decision is important less because of the standing he has among voters than with his colleagues. The putting of principle above friendship, backed by his formidable intellect, will have an effect on them. In particular, it will put Boris Johnson, now being targetted by Outist advertising on this site and elsewhere, on the spot.
4.30 pm There was a brief flurry of excitement earlier when the British started briefing the press, but they only did that to let everybody know that there remained points of contention and negotiations were ongoing. Apparently negotiators are now confident that the deal can be finalised at a “working dinner” at 8pm this evening, but the Prime Minister has directly confirmed that plans for a Cabinet meeting today have been shelved. ITV’s Europe editor reports that the condition of the talks has been described as “critical” and that leaders have been asked to book hotels.
On the home front, James Forsyth of the Spectator has tweeted that Cameron’s inner circle are apparently “resigned” to losing Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, to the ‘Leave’ campaign. Paul Goodman set out earlier this week the truly important aspect of such a decision: will Gove’s loyalty to the Prime Minister leave him a silent partner in the Out cause, or will he be fully engaged?
3.30pm Europhile Tories have suffered something of a PR embarrassment this afternoon. Laura Keunssberg, the BBC’s political editor, has got hold of the text of a letter being circulated by Conservatives for Reform in Europe, a group headed by Nick Herbert. Despite their support for the Prime Minister being officially conditional on his coming back from Brussels with something worthwhile, apparently 60 have put their names to a very supportive statement before the terms are even known, describing their so doing as the “pragmatic approach”. It opens:
“As Conservative activists who deliver leaflets, knock on doors, fundraise, hold office in the Party and represent our party in public elections, we fully support the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated which helps the UK secure a unique status in a reformed Europe.”
Meanwhile in Brussels, a resolution looks no closer – indeed, some journalists are heading home. Not only has the “English Breakfast” now an English dinner (time yet to be confirmed), but Tomas Prouza, Czech European secretary, has tweeted that he is “more and more perplexed by the British approach of non-negotiation”. Does that mean Cameron is stonewalling… or just not asking for much?
2.30pm Good afternoon, Henry Hill here – taking over the live blog until this evening. It seems that the primary bone of contention in the last hour has been between Poland and the UK on welfare access. Several eastern states apparently fear that any agreement struck today could be used by other EU nations to curb benefits to their citizens in turn..
Details of a plan to cap child benefit for those sending it abroad to a level appropriate to where the child resides are unclear, but according to Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia, some countries are seeking compensation for such indexation.
Meanwhile, the Greeks are reportedly threatening to block the detail entirely unless they can extract an EU open borders agreement from the assembled members – even whilst Austria announces an extension of its own (illegal under EU law) border control policy.
Jokes about the continual delay of the planned “English Breakfast” to seal the deal are ongoing. Fico has said that rumours that the EU leaders may end up negotiating in the early hours of the morning are “not serious”.
1.30pm Dalia Grybauskaite is the marvellously indiscreet President of Lithuania – as a former EU Commissioner, she also knows exactly how the Brussels machine works. I can’t imagine the Prime Minister being too pleased with her reference to his “battle for Britain” being a “face saving exercise”. It isn’t the first time she’s pulled back the curtain to reveal the deceptive mechanics of these summits – she recently predicted of the talks that “I think everybody will have their own drama and then we’ll agree.”
The current proceedings are a good illustration of the reasons why the EU is in such a mess. Disagreements are hyped up solely in order to allow the participants to pose as victors when even the most miniscule agreement is finally signed. Bruno Waterfield of The Times delivers a good explanation of the process here - the national leaders are shut away, deprived of sleep, until one side buckles and gives in. It is a pretty poor way of deciding the futures of millions of people.
Meanwhile, what was going to be English breakfast for the assembled leaders has now been pushed back to 3.30pm, becoming a “late English lunch”. Whatever one of those is.
Good afternoon – Mark Wallace here, taking over from Paul for a couple of hours. The traditional EU summit process of trying to bore the participants into submission still grinds on in Brussels, which is causing a bit of uncertainty for Leave campaigners planning their response. As Ian Silvera mentions in the above tweet, the Grassroots Out campaign have a rally planned in Westminster tonight – from which I’ll be reporting – and had hinted they might be unveiling a Cabinet Minister. Obviously if there’s still no official deal by that point, the choreography gets a bit trickier.
Meanwhile, Will Quince has published a statement on his decision to vote Leave. The full text is here, but some notable highlights include:
- His rationale, which is one of an open-minded observer alienated by the failure of the renegotiation: “…the renegotiation has lasted a full nine months. But I’m afraid, in that time, the Prime Minister has just not been able to secure the changes we promised. I think it speaks volumes that, in the biggest renegotiation Britain has ever attempted with the EU, back by a democratic mandate from the British people, EU leaders have been unwilling to even grant Britain these relatively modest concessions.”
- His conclusion: “I will not be playing a role in the Leave campaign or campaigning in Colchester for a Leave vote. My number one priority remains my job as the MP for Colchester, working for local people. This is a matter that, ultimately, will be decided by the British people, not politicians. But many constituents have asked me which way I was voting and I wanted to let them know how I stood.” He won’t be the last MP to declare a position but not actually campaign. Still more may well campaign locally but refuse to do much on the national stage. It’s a reminder that while the range of opinion matters, so does the degree to which opinion can be converted into activism on the ground. This applies to both sides – I suspect, for example, that we’ll see quite a few Labour MPs quietly commit to vote Remain and then work hard to avoid having to discuss that decision with their constituents.
- Taavi Roivas, Estonia’s Prime Minister, is being helpful to Cameron: “We all, of course, pursue our national interests but we should also bear in mind that should Britain leave we all get nothing…As Prime Minister of Estonia, I am a firm supporter of reaching an agreement and getting David a deal that he can recommend for the British people to vote for.”
- Francois Hollande is not being so helpful: He wants “a financial regulation system which is valid in all parts of Europe, and that there should be no right of veto or prevention” so that the EU can “fight against speculation and fight against financial crises in the same way and with the same organisations everywhere”.
ConHome calls the following Cabinet Ministers for Brexit: Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale, plus Priti Patel (who has right to attend).
It’s all very quiet from Conservative MPs on Twitter, though George Freeman, who I expect to line up behind Remain, has a link to his piece on CapX about Brexit, Bremain and terms.
“I was here until 5am working through this. We have made some progress but there’s still no deal.
“I’ve said I will only do a deal if I can get what Britain needs. So I’m going to get back in there and do everything I can.”
- Will Quince has become the latest Conservative MP to declare for Brexit. You can find the Spectator and Guido’s lists of who’s for what via Mark Wallace here, where he explains that we will compile our own once Cameron gets his deal (if he does). Emma MacClarkin MEP is also reported to have come out for Leave.
Talks broke up at 5am and are due to resume now. To date, it’s been one-to-one meetings overnight after the initial opening session – in which, remember, the concerns of other EU leaders about the continent-wide immigration crisis have loomed larger than the British renegotiation.
One view is that Cameron has had a rougher ride from other EU leaders than he expected, and that agreement may not be reached at all. But the consensus seems to be that a deal will be done in the end: Laura Kuenssberg’s tweet above sums up this take.
None the less, the sticking points so far are said to be the emergency brake, restrictions on benefits (with Poland leading the objections), ever-closer union (Belgium is resistant to any proposals that might seem to water it down) and financial regulation (France is leading a fightback against proposed protections for non-Eurozone countries and the City of London).
If you want a cynical read on events, where better to go than Guido Fawkes? The site suggests, in common with many Brexit-backers, that the summit is a pantomine. Certainly, the usual pattern is for the Government – whichever party is in office – to spin a tale of British triumph over adversity. Amber Rudd was sent earlier on to Today to say that “a deal is out of reach at the moment”, and those words are consistent with a deliberate lowering of expectations. Yesterday, I set out what the choreography might look like.
One striking feature of the discussions so far, on which we lead our newslinks this morning, is that France and Belgium are pushing for any deal struck at this summit to be the last. In this way, they hope to head off any prospect of Britain voting to leave the EU…and the Government of the day then returning to the negotiating table to seek better terms of membership.
Readers will remember that this idea has been floated by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings of Vote Leave and, whatever you think of it, it’s worth noting that some European leaders want to head it off. The Times report says that Cameron is “believed to support [the French/Belgian proposal] as a way of convincing Eurosceptics that the deal on the table is the last and only offer”.
For a good account on how the Prime Minister’s post-election renegotiation plans have been watered down, see Mark Wallace’s piece of yesterday here, and for a checklist of how they have been whittled down over a longer period see mine here.