EU signals new “cautious optimism” and the chance of a deal “breakthrough”…

“EU diplomats are primed for accelerated Brexit talks this week and expect some British proposals on the Irish border that could help to unlock the UK’s exit deal, even as agreement on the future EU relationship remains elusive. Senior diplomats said there was a mood of “cautious optimism” on Friday evening after members of Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s team briefed them on “signals” that the UK was ready to come forward with a new Irish border plan. The new proposal could revive talks that have been stalled for nearly four months. “People feel there is now a window of opportunity opening up,” said one EU negotiator. “This window will not get any wider, so people on both sides feel now is the moment to get a breakthrough.”” – The Sunday Times

  • They will offer May “supercharged free trade deal”, but no frictionless trade – Sunday Telegraph
  • Tusk says deal could be sorted this year – Sunday Express
  • Meanwhile, Juncker complains about British press – The Sun on Sunday
  • And Macron woos British-based carmakers – Observer

>Today: ToryDiary: Canadians v Norwegians. How the Cabinet lines up on alternatives to Chequers

…As May steps up “no deal” planning

“Theresa May has ordered officials to step up crisis planning for a “no deal” Brexit. The PM wants measures in place to keep Britain moving if she returns empty-handed from crunch EU talks. Ministers have identified eight worst case scenarios which could arise if we crash out without an agreement. They include drug, fuel and energy shortages, collapse of the pound and house prices and businesses relocating. But last night Brexiteers claimed Downing Street was “in a state of panic” over the likely failure of her Chequers plan. They dismissed warnings of chaos as “Project Fear reborn for the umpteenth time”. A senior No 10 official has hosted informal dinners with Eurosceptic MP in a bid to get them behind the blueprint, The Sun on Sunday can reveal. Guests were warned of “an absolute car crash” if Britain leaves without a deal on March 29.” – The Sun on Sunday

Rees-Mogg, Duncan Smith, and other Brexiters back “impasse solution” of stationing EU officials at UK ports

“Leading Brexiteers have backed a package of concessions to help unlock a Canada-style trade deal with Brussels. Senior members of the Conservatives’ 60-strong European Research Group (ERG) have told The Telegraph they would support EU officials being stationed at UK ports after Brexit to break the impasse with Brussels. The MPs, including Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG chairman, also suggest that they would support the Government enforcing EU rules on goods exported to the bloc by firms in this country. Brexiteers regard both proposals as a significant concession to help avoid a “hard” border with Northern Ireland, while paving the way for a much looser relationship with the EU than under the “common rulebook” envisaged by Theresa May’s Chequers plan.” – Sunday Telegraph

>Today: Jason Reed in Comment: The DUP’s threats are in vain. May doesn’t need them any more

Duncan Smith: This is the way forward: there is no need for a backstop

“… A clear and detailed paper by former Northern Ireland Secretaries Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers, along with David Davis and Lord Trimble, showed that there is no need for a hard border or a backstop. We also need to reassure the EU that their regulatory standards can be upheld and enforced. We can do so by conducting regulatory and customs checks together in a way that respects the single market, by building on systems already in place at the Channel Ports. The UK has long had arrangements with France under the Le Touquet Treaty where passports are checked by French officers at Dover and UK officers in Calais. Why? To ensure that border controls are frictionless and avoid delays. These juxtaposed controls and information sharing have been hugely successful in speeding transport, catching crooks and preventing illegal immigrants sneaking into the UK.” – Sunday Telegraph


  • We mustn’t pay the divorce bill yet. May needs to stick to red lines – The Sun on Sunday

ERG threatens to “vote down budget” if May doesn’t toughen Brexit stance

“Members of the European Research Group (ERG) threatened to vote down Government legislation last night, after claims the Prime Minister will use Labour MPs to push her Chequers plan through the Commons. At the annual Conservative Party Conference last week, all 18 cabinet ministers gave their backing for May to reach a deal and MPs would then up approving it. Yesterday however, Veteran Eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin told a WhatsApp group of Tory MPs if Mrs May failed to deliver an EU deal they saw acceptable, Brexiteers could defy No.10 on other key votes. He wrote: “Make no mistake. “A soft/non-Brexit pushed by the Conservative establishment but put through with Labour support will look like we are abandoning our supporters and remove any sense of obligation among Conservative Brexit-supporting MPs to continue to support the Government.”” – Sunday Express

SNP could back double referendum rerun

“The Scottish National party could support a second referendum on Brexit if there were guarantees Scotland could also hold another vote on independence, its Westminster leader has said. Ian Blackford said the SNP wanted clear assurances that if a majority of Scottish voters again chose to remain in the EU but the opposite happened in the rest of the UK, then Scotland would not be forced to accept the result. Speaking on the eve of the SNP’s annual conference in Glasgow, Blackford said the party would not countenance a repeat the 2016 EU referendum, when Scotland voted heavily to remain but had to face leaving the EU with the rest of the UK. He said it would be “very, very difficult” for those campaigning for a fresh Brexit vote to deny Scotland a second independence referendum under those circumstances.” – Observer


  • Nobody’s expecting Sturgeon to set out a timeline for IndyRef2 – Iain Macwhirter, Herald

>Today: ToryDiary: Scottish Labour may yet do Britain a service… by sparing it Corbyn

May: Here’s why Labour voters should think about supporting me

“I want the Conservatives to be a party for the whole country. I believe that the principles that guide us – security for families and the country, freedom under the rule of law and opportunity for everyone – can unite our people and help build a better future for our country. That responsibility also rests on our shoulders because of what has happened to Labour over the past few years. Millions of people who have supported Labour all their lives are appalled by what has happened to a once-great party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Antisemitism has grown, the party’s response to threats to our country’s security has become equivocal, and moderate Labour MPs have become targets for deselection and harassment. These are all alien to Labour’s best traditions. I want voters who may previously have thought of themselves as Labour supporters to look at my government afresh. They will find a decent, moderate and patriotic programme that is worthy of their support.” – Observer

  • Ministers are plotting to remove May next spring. Four would resign to “force her out” – The Sunday Times
  • Osborne to “back” Javid by naming him top of greatest Londoners –The Sunday Times

Tensions between May and Hammond ahead of budget after her “end of austerity” claims

“Theresa May’s pledge to end austerity has ramped up tensions with Philip Hammond’s Treasury – with allies of the Chancellor complaining that they were ‘railroaded into it’ to ensure that she enjoyed a successful party conference. The Prime Minister used the Birmingham gathering to announce a boom in council house building and a freeze in fuel duty, heralding the end of the swingeing public spending cuts introduced by David Cameron in 2010. She said that austerity would come to an end in next year’s spending review, when Mr Hammond will set out the spending targets for Government departments. Mrs May’s move pleased party activists keen to neutralise the electoral threat of Jeremy Corbyn – but has left Mr Hammond struggling to balance the books for this month’s Budget.” – Mail on Sunday

  • And Ellwood calls for tax to be refunded on “Tommy” figures – Sunday Telegraph


Home Office to announce “lifting of restrictions” on medical cannabis within fortnight

“Medical cannabis will be available on prescription in the UK within a month, The Telegraph can reveal. The Home Office will announce the “rescheduling” of cannabis-derived medicines in Parliament, lifting restrictions which mean that until now it has only been allowed in the most exceptional circumstances. Under the new rules, those suffering chronic pain, severe epilepsy or nausea as a result of chemotherapy could be prescribed the drug by specialist doctors, this newspaper understands. An announcement is expected in Parliament within a fortnight – allowing the drug to be legally prescribed within a matter of weeks.” – Sunday Telegraph

Gove suggests opening up domestic dumps for people to find useful items

“Michael Gove has a plan to boost post-Brexit Britain — open the nation’s waste dumps for business. The environment secretary wants all council waste sites to let people pick over reject appliances, old TVs and half-used paint cans to find things they can use. If some find the idea Dickensian, they could be right. Gove is a fan of Charles Dickens one of whose books, Our Mutual Friend, is about a family who become rich by sifting rubbish for valuables. Gove said he wanted a change in the law on domestic dumps so that people could recover others’ cast-offs. “We must reduce the amount of material we waste,” he told a meeting.” – The Sunday Times

Cabinet majority now think greenbelt land should be freed up for housing

“A majority of Theresa May’s Cabinet want the Prime Minister to relax green belt restrictions to help tackle the housing crisis, The Telegraph has been told. Senior ministers believe Mrs May’s current policies will fail to build the homes Britain needs, insisting she must consider more radical measures such as liberalising planning laws. One claimed that a majority of the Cabinet now support a relaxation of rules governing the green belt, “if done carefully”. Addressing historic concerns about the groundswell of Conservative opposition to such a move, the cabinet minister said that, as a result of the housing crisis, “the mood has changed”.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • The public agree we need to build more. But they’re not convinced it should happen on the greenbelt – Robert Colvile, Sunday Telegraph

More Conservatives

Kavanaugh is confirmed

“The US Senate has voted to confirm judge Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court, handing Donald Trump a major victory and America a bench expected to tilt to the right for the next generation. The vote was almost a foregone conclusion after the dominant Republican party secured majority support during a procedural vote on Friday amid crackling tension, furious protests and high drama on Capitol Hill. But the final vote was still a monumental development in a sharply divided America. It came down to stark political loyalties in the face of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh from his past, which brought up current questions about his honesty, temperament and partisanship during testimony. Kavanaugh has strongly denied all allegations of such misconduct. Votes fell almost entirely along party lines and the nomination passed narrowly, 50-48, one of the closest votes in the history of the court. The vote was interrupted at least four times by protesters in the gallery.” – Observer


News in Brief

  • After Kavanaugh – Nicky Woolf, New Statesman
  • And on to the midterms – Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New Yorker 
  • We mustn’t forget the horrors of slavery – Dawn Butler, Independent
  • Over half of the world is now middle class – Oliver Wiseman, CapX