May to “offer” bilateral treaty to Ireland to avoid backstop and hard border…

“… The revelations came as the prime minister’s plan B to salvage her Brexit deal can be disclosed. She wants to offer a bilateral treaty to Ireland that would remove the hated “backstop” from the EU withdrawal treaty and prevent a hard border by other means. Aides think that would “decontaminate” her deal so it could be supported by the DUP and Tory Eurosceptics. Her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, has told two cabinet ministers that if it falters, the prime minister might have to offer to stand down in the month of May in a bid to drum up more support for her deal. With her future hanging by a thread, a senior civil servant warned last night: “The government could collapse. She has nowhere left to go.” May will tomorrow table a “neutral motion” and give both a written and an oral statement to the Commons about her next moves.” – The Sunday Times

…As she sides with Smith and Lewis, over Barwell…

“May will this week outline plans — including an attempt to turn the Irish backstop, opposed by Brexiteers, into a standalone treaty with Ireland unconnected with Brexit — designed to win over her Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) allies and the hard Brexiteers of the European Research Group under Jacob Rees-Mogg. In so doing she has sided with her party chairman Brandon Lewis and her chief whip Julian Smith against her closest aide, chief of staff Gavin Barwell, who was encouraging May to edge towards permanent membership of a customs union in order to drum up support from Labour MPs. A cabinet minister said: “Gavin would like to be able to find a way to get more opposition support.” Lewis and Smith have warned that this course of action would destroy the Tory party. Insiders say Barwell and May have been at “loggerheads” and Barwell’s deputy JoJo Penn, in turn, is at “daggers drawn” with the chief whip. A senior Tory said: “It’s Julian against Gavin. Julian is telling her, ‘You’re going to split the party if you go with this.’ Gavin is saying, ‘You’re going to need something else. If parliament votes for a customs union, that gives you a way out.’ ” An MP who recently witnessed a stand-off between Barwell and Smith in a Commons corridor, said: “It was not a pleasant conversation. They were like a couple of stags facing each other.”” – The Sunday Times 

>Today: ToryDiary: The independent MPs who could hold May’s fate in their hands

…And EU diplomats claim she made “unchanged” demands to European leaders after losing vote…

“After Mrs May lost the Meaningful Vote on Tuesday, Tory MP’s who previously voted against her agreement rallied against Jeremy Corbyn and helped her to defeat his motion of No Confidence by 325 to 306 votes. EU ambassadors agreed that Mrs May should go back to the drawing board completely and seek a cross-party agreement in the UK before returning to Brussels for new talks. Three days of cross-party meetings ensued, in which the Mr Corbyn refused to meet with the Prime Minister until “no deal” had been taken “off the table”, with Labour believing a permanent customs union is the best approach to a new deal. But news reports claim Mrs May left EU leaders dumbfounded through a series of phone calls – by demanding the same Brexit deal as the one voted down by her own cabinet on Tuesday. Senior EU sources claim Mrs May’s stance was “greeted with incredulity” after she held a phone call with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday night – and reportedly made no changes to her demands. A source told the Daily Telegraph: “It was the same old story – the same set of demands – all unchanged despite the defeat.”” – Sunday Express

…Meanwhile, alternative plans surface, including Clerk of Bills’ “secret plot” with Grieve to suspend Article 50

“Theresa May’s government is facing meltdown today as The Sunday Times reveals how a senior House of Commons official helped rebel MPs who are plotting to derail Brexit. Leaked emails obtained by this newspaper show that Dominic Grieve, the former attorney-general, has been in secret communications with Colin Lee, the clerk of bills, with the explicit intention of suspending Britain’s departure from the European Union. Lee drew up three versions of the plan for Grieve — each of which would overturn centuries of parliamentary precedent — and then swore him to secrecy. MPs will tomorrow unveil their plan to hijack the agenda of the Commons to suspend article 50, the mechanism by which the UK is leaving the EU.” – The Sunday Times

Fox: “It is time to deliver”

“Sometimes you are so involved with the detail of something you can’t see what is important. When a Question Time audience seemed to cheer the prospect of ‘no deal’, they were reminding Westminster of something too many are missing. When MPs voted to hold the referendum, they made a contract with voters. They said “you make the decision and we will abide by it”. They confirmed it at the election when 80% of those elected promised to honour the result with Conservatives committed to leaving the customs union and the single market. It is time to deliver. The government believes that the best Brexit is delivered by negotiating a deal with the European Union so that we honour the outcome of the referendum while ensuring the least disruption to both sides as we do so.” – Sunday Telegraph


Corbyn “is poised” to back proposal for extension in case of no deal…

“Jeremy Corbyn is poised to back a plan to block a no-deal Brexit as pressure builds within Labour and the trade unions for a delay to Britain’s EU departure. It is understood that the leader and his shadow cabinet team are preparing to support a proposal that would force Theresa May to request an extension to Britain’s EU membership should no Brexit deal be agreed by early March. The plan would need the endorsement of the Labour frontbench to have a chance of being passed when the next round of critical votes takes place next week. While no final decision has been taken, senior figures said the move was in line with Corbyn’s demand that May take a no-deal Brexit “off the table”. The deliberations come with the Brexit options narrowing for Labour’s leadership amid an internal battle over whether it should back a second referendum. Having tried and failed to secure an election, figures in the party say the choice is now between a Norway-style soft Brexit, which would effectively have to include free-movement rules, and another public vote.” – Observer


  • Here’s what they should do – Dave Prentis, Observer


>Today: Steven Edginton in Comment: The BBC’s Question Time last week. Abbott was the victim of her own rudeness – not of racism. As I saw at first-hand.

…And Scottish sector leaders echo Major in calling for Brexit “pause”

“Leaders in the business, trades union, charity and higher education sectors are behind calls to pause what promises to be the biggest economic change in the UK in over 70 years. Their call, which is echoed by the SNP, Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Greens, comes as the Prime Minister plans to unveil her Brexit “plan B” to MPs tomorrow. Under the terms of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, two years after Theresa May invoked the so-called Article 50 which sets a time limit on negotiations. However, with Parliament rejecting the withdrawal plan presented by Theresa May, the prospect of the UK coming out of the 28-member bloc without a deal grows by the day.” – Herald

More Parliament 

Sinn Fein MP criticises suspected car bomb explosion outside Londonderry court

“The PSNI in Londonderry have warned people to stay away from the city’s courthouse after an apparent car bomb explosion. The PSNI sent out the warning via social media, telling people to stay away from Bishop Street Within while they investigate the suspected explosion. They also posted a photograph of what appears to be a vehicle on fire. A PSNI statement said: “We would ask for patience and co-operation of the public and the business community as we carry out our initial investigations.” Sinn Fein MLA, Elisha McCallion condemned the incident. The Foyle MP said: “This incident has shocked the local community. In particular, there are many elderly residents who live in the area who have been alarmed by this incident.” – News Letter 

Beatings and killings in Zimbabwe as regime tries to block news

“Hundreds of people, including children as young as 10, have been killed or beaten in Zimbabwe in recent days in a crackdown the regime has tried to hide by shutting down the internet and deporting foreign journalists. The violence comes as the country’s president heads to the economic summit in Davos by private jet tomorrow to brush shoulders with the rich and powerful in his quest for international recognition and investment in his bankrupt nation. Last week civil society groups, led by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, wrote to the EU accusing President Emmerson Mnangagwa of using “murder of unarmed civilians as a tool to retain power”.” – The Sunday Times

News in Brief

  • Don’t expect a customs union – James Forsyth, Spectator
  • Can “community wealth building” help Hartlepool? – Anoosh Chakelian, New Statesman
  • On the shutdown – Jonathan Blitzer, New Yorker
  • Is cosmopsychism just a mental idea? – Philip Goff, Aeon