Softer Brexit 1) Will May pursue it with other parties – and risk splitting her own?

“Cabinet divisions over whether Theresa May should soften her Brexit deal to attract Labour support burst into the open yesterday. David Gauke, the justice secretary, broke ranks to urge the prime minister not to be “boxed in” by her red lines. Brexiteer cabinet ministers, however, want Mrs May to offer Tory rebels a way back next week with a vote to limit the length of the backstop and promise to secure a Canada-style trade deal… After the confidence vote Mr Gauke was joined by Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary, who said that “nothing is off the table”. Pressed on whether the government could back a permanent customs union, Ms Rudd said: “Everything has to be on the table because the priority is to find a negotiated settlement so we can leave the European Union.” Asked if that would split the Tory party, she said: “I certainly hope not. I don’t think it would.”… Other cabinet ministers believe that Mrs May should harden her stance with Brussels and present a non-binding plan B motion on Monday that would enable her to prove to Brussels that there is a workable majority for a deal if they give ground. The ministers, understood to include Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Liz Truss, acknowledge that Mrs May has to offer cross-party talks but believe a Brexit deal is only possible with Tory and DUP votes.” – The Times

  • Leavers fear the Government will pursue a softer deal – The Sun
  • May refuses to rule out staying in the customs union… – Daily Telegraph
  • …but then she does – The Guardian
  • Remainer Lords will hijack Trade Bill – The Sun


  • Prime Minister faces fresh calls to sack Chief Whip – The Sun
  • Tory rebels split six ways – The Times
  • EU indicates it could accept a delay – FT
  • Duncan Smith predicts movement from Brussels – Daily Express
  • Gove has signed ‘obituary’ with attack on Brexiteers – Daily Telegraph
  • Cameron admits he regrets ‘chaos’ – The Sun
  • DUP would be ‘open’ to time-limited backstop – News Letter


  • May’s deal is dead, and so is no deal – Nick Timothy, Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Decision time for Javid and Hunt?

Softer Brexit 2) Hammond tells business leaders that No Deal is off the table

Philip Hammond told business leaders that the “threat” of a no-deal Brexit could be taken “off the table” within days and potentially lead to Article 50 “rescinded”, a leaked recording of a conference call reveals. The Chancellor set out how a backbench Bill could effectively be used to stop any prospect of no deal. He suggested that ministers may even back the plan when asked for an “assurance” by the head of Tesco that the Government would not oppose the motion. He claimed next week’s Bill, which could force the Government to extend Article 50, was likely to win support and act as the “ultimate backstop” against a no-deal Brexit, as a “large majority in the Commons is opposed to no deal under any circumstances”. A recording of the call, passed to The Daily Telegraph, recounts how the Chancellor, Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, spent nearly an hour talking to the leaders of 330 leading firms. They included the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, Tesco and BP, all of whom warned against no deal. The disclosure reveals the close nature of the relationship between the Treasury and some of Britain’s biggest businesses, and how they appear to be working in tandem to block a hard Brexit. It will also add to suspicions that Mr Hammond has been orchestrating attempts to soften Brexit.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Dozens of business leaders call for a second referendum – The Times
  • Full transcript of the Chancellor’s phone call – Daily Telegraph
  • Business fears ‘catastrophic’ no deal – The Times
  • Dover bosses insist the lorries will keep rolling – The Sun


  • Irish watchdog urges UK auditors to prepare for no-deal departure – FT
  • SNP guilty of ‘crooked politics’ over second vote – Daily Telegraph
  • Ireland accused of ‘hiding truth’ about border checks – The Times
  • Irish border admissions caught on tape – News Letter


  • Forget the Remainers’ forecasts, we don’t need a deal to trade – Roger Bootle, Daily Telegraph
  • What business leaders said, perhaps – Matthew Vincent, FT
  • Breathtaking ignorance of rent-a-quote MPs – Jenni Russell, The Times


  • Call which shows Parliament could commit a great betrayal – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Garvan Walshe’s column: The defeat of May’s deal was a consequence of half a decade of negotiation failure

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Ici Londres – If the EU won’t delete the backstop, then ready yourselves for No Deal, argues Hannan

Softer Brexit 3) Sebastian Payne: May will now pivot towards it

“Although a no-deal exit on March 29 remains the default outcome, it is ultimately unlikely to happen. Faced with that prospect, diehard Tory Remainers, such as former attorney-general Dominic Grieve, could well abstain in a future confidence motion to bring down the May government. Such a move would wound or destroy their political careers, but enough Remainers feel strongly enough that they would act to avoid a calamitous no-deal scenario. But pursuing a softer Brexit risks ripping apart the Conservative party. For many Brexit-supporting MPs, the prospect of striking free trade deals is one of the most enticing opportunities of leaving the EU. Remaining in the customs union makes that impossible. Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg will not tolerate this, nor would much of the party’s membership. If Brexit goes in this direction, a political realignment on the right of British politics, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century, becomes a very real possibility. Mrs May is facing a huge choice. Does she decide to put country before party by pursuing a softer Brexit that can pass through parliament but break the Tories? Or does she prioritise the political party she joined as a teenager and has poured her life’s work into and take a stance that harms the country? The high drama we have seen in Westminster this week may, in fact, only just be starting.” – FT

  • Thanks to May’s bungling of Brexit, divisions over trade could split the Tories – Liam Halligan, Daily Telegraph
  • The Prime Minister has one last throw of the dice – Philip Stephens, FT
  • Tory Remainers have a duty not to destroy their party – Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph
  • It’s now or never, May must compromise on Brexit – Martin Kettle, The Guardian
  • Europe is in no fit state to handle the risks of its own brinkmanship – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Daily Telegraph
  • Unless we grab May’s deal, we won’t be leaving at all – Rod Liddle, The Sun
  • Only rupture with the EU will alter the failed status quo – Larry Elliott, The Guardian

>Today: Stewart Jackson in Comment: Don’t pivot to the Customs Union, Prime Minister – it could destroy the Conservative Party

Moment of unity as Tories rally to defeat no-confidence motion

“Theresa May was fighting last night to break the Brexit deadlock after Jeremy Corbyn rejected her offer of cross-party talks to reach a deal that would pass the Commons. The prime minister invited Mr Corbyn and the leaders of Westminster’s main opposition parties to talks at No 10 immediately after surviving the first no-confidence vote for more than a quarter of a century. She appealed to opposition MPs to work with her on a revised deal that was “negotiable” and would win the support of a majority of MPs. The Labour leader resisted the overture, however, insisting that Mrs May abandon a no-deal exit before the start of any “positive talks”. His spokesman later accused the prime minister of “blackmailing” the country with the threat of a chaotic departure. Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable, did attend Downing Street within hours of the invitation. Other leaders were expected to follow suit for what Mrs May’s allies promised would be substantive negotiations on a compromise deal over the coming days and through the weekend. In a statement last night Mrs May said she was “disappointed” that Mr Corbyn had chosen not to join the talks, adding: “Our door remains open.” No 10 softened its stance on the content of the discussions, opening the way to a substantially softer Brexit. Only a second referendum or the removal of a no-deal exit appeared to be off the table.” – The Times

  • Gove mounts blistering attack on the Labour leader – The Sun
  • The Prime Minister survives, but is snubbed by Corbyn over next steps – Daily Telegraph
  • Britain remains in deadlock – The Guardian
  • Hague says crisis could yet lead to a general election – FT
  • Polling shows voters opt for May, but even more don’t know – The Times
  • DUP confirmed as kingmakers – Daily Telegraph
  • Leaders rehearse election scripts in confidence debate – The Times
  • Support for politicians plummets as chaos reigns – Daily Express
  • I will never back Corbyn for Prime Minister, says Hermon – News Letter


  • Why an election may be the only way to save Brexit – Gisela Stuart, Daily Telegraph
  • Vote highlights new constitutional mess – Catherine Haddon, The Times


Watchdog prepares for second referendum

“Britain’s election watchdog is drawing up contingency plans to hold a second referendum and to participate in the forthcoming elections to the European parliament if Brexit is postponed. EU and UK officials are privately examining what might happen if an extension to Article 50 were agreed that lasted beyond the present European parliamentary session. A number of the UK’s 73 seats have been reallocated in anticipation of Brexit for the elections in May but the EU would be open to legal challenge if British voters were not represented in the parliament while the UK was still an EU member. If the government withdrew Article 50 before May the UK would also have to have representation in the parliament. A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission, which regulates UK elections and referendums, said they were taking all eventualities into account. “As part of our contingency planning, we are making certain preparations that will enable us to swiftly take the necessary action should circumstances change and these elections need to be held,” she said. “We maintain contingency plans to ensure that the commission has made all appropriate preparations to deliver a referendum should there be one.” The spokeswoman denied that any work had been done on potential questions for a referendum, adding that this would only happen once parliament had submitted its own form of words.” – The Times

  • Labour MPs tell their leader to support a ‘People’s Vote’… – The Times
  • …but others are opposed to one – Daily Express
  • MPs pre-empt leader as 71 declare support – The Guardian
  • Corbyn humiliated for ‘fence-sitting’ on Brexit – The Sun
  • ‘Guerrilla billboards’ give Brexit a pasting – The Times


  • Advocates of a ‘People’s Vote’ need to remember Corbyn’s Eurosceptic record – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph
  • Labour must pursue a better deal, not a second vote – Owen Jones, The Guardian
  • Corbyn’s clique are the old guard Brexiteers – David Aaronovitch, The Times

>Yesterday: Left Watch: On Brexit, Labour is working hard to remain absolutely, certainly, unequivocally… undecided

Hinds to lobby Treasury for multi-year education funds

“The education secretary, Damian Hinds, is to lobby the Treasury for a multi-year funding settlement for education in England similar to the 10-year package announced for the NHS, MPs were told. Hinds, appearing before parliament’s education select committee, said he would make a “a very compelling case” for more funding in this year’s spending review, agreeing that something similar to the recent NHS long-term plan was needed. The cabinet minister’s pledge came as he was put under pressure by his fellow Conservative MPs, with Robert Halfon, the committee’s chair, telling Hinds: “We’d like to see you get up with a 10-year plan and make sure that education gets the funding that it needs for the future. Is that likely to happen?” Hinds replied: “It will happen, I’ll be putting a strong case and, I think, a very compelling case for education.” William Wragg, the Conservative MP for Hazel Grove in Manchester, made an impassioned plea for Hinds to convince the Treasury to boost funding. He said: “Why is it that schools in my constituency, which have been some of the most poorly funded over decades, say to me they haven’t got enough revenue for what they need? When the chancellor, with a typical tin-eared phraseology of his, says that there is £400m for ‘little extras’ and capital funding, that is not well received by schools.”” – The Guardian

Lord Forsyth leads attack on Government over ‘stealth taxes’

“Brits are being ripped off by the Government hiking a raft of stealth taxes by the “unfair” Retail Price Index rate of inflation, peers have warned. The Lords Economic Affairs Committee said rail fares, student loan interest fees, road tax and beer and tobacco duty are rising by more than 1 per cent higher than they should be. This is because these taxes rise in line with the higher RPI rate of inflation, whereas the Government uses the lower CPI measure when setting the value of its pay-outs such as benefits. The report said this “error” was “untenable” and was creating clear “winners and losers”. The report said UK statistics watchdog must address this “flaw” or risk being in breach of its duties to safeguard the quality of official statistics. The report also said the UK Statistics Authority’s refusal to correct “error”. Committee boss Lord Forsyth said the inconsistency was “simply not fair”. He demanded the Government stop ripping off commuters, students, motorists and drinkers by agreeing on a single measure of inflation for both taxes and pay-outs. It is estimated the error – which has artificially increased the rate of RPI – has boosted holders of inflation-linked government bonds to the tune of around £1 billion more a year in interest. But it is costing commuters and students dear, as RPI is used to calculate annual increases in rail fares and student loan pricing.” – The Sun

  • Ministers criticised for ‘sneaking out’ pension announcement during Brexit drama – The Times

MPs demand restrictions on export of plastic waste

“The world must stop treating seas as a sewer and Britain should play its part by ending the export of plastic waste to countries that may dump it in the ocean, MPs say. Plastic makes up 70 per cent of litter in the ocean and the amount could treble within ten years unless urgent action is taken, according to a report by the Commons environmental audit committee. The committee urged Britain to push for a “Paris Agreement for the sea”, a reference to the international deal secured in 2015 to tackle global warming. Mary Creagh, the committee’s Labour chairwoman, said: “Our children deserve to experience the wonders of the ocean but climate change poses a triple whammy of threats from ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification, which are decimating marine life… The committee recommended a ban on exports of waste to countries with poor recycling infrastructure and urged ministers to publish plans for more domestic recycling facilities to be funded. The MPs also called for a ban on plastics that are difficult or impossible to recycle and said that ministers should bring forward the government’s target date of 2042 for achieving zero avoidable plastic waste.” – The Times

Sturgeon promises independence timetable in ‘weeks’

“Nicola Sturgeon has said Theresa May is “deluding herself” by trying to persist with her Brexit red lines, and suggested details of the timetable for a second Scottish independence referendum would be revealed within “weeks”. The First Minister was at Westminster to meet with SNP MPs, and said an extension of Article 50 and a People’s Vote were the only realistic options to break the Brexit deadlock. However, she added: “I’ll say more about the timing of a referendum in the next matter of weeks. I want to see the UK stay in the EU, I think that would be best for the whole of the UK… even when Scotland is independent, that serves our interests best as well. That’s why we’re backing the People’s Vote, the second EU referendum. But if that’s not possible, in terms of our wider interests, the chaos and the fiasco of the last couple of years have shown that the worst thing for Scotland is to be thirled to Westminster when it’s making such a mess of things. We’d be far better off in charge of our own affairs.” The First Minister spoke to the Prime Minister by telephone late on Tuesday, following the unprecedented Commons defeat of the government’s Brexit deal by a margin of 230 votes.” – The Scotsman

News in Brief:

  • Would Norway break the stalemate? What the polling tells us – Tim Bale, The Conversation
  • Fear and loathing define Labour’s Brexit struggle – Alan Lockey, CapX
  • Disastrous May has botched it every step of the way – Iain Martin, Reaction
  • Boles’s plan is certainly crazy. But it just might work – Nikki da Costa, The Spectator
  • Democracy is in danger as our political leaders seek to subvert the Leave vote – Sheila Lawlor, Brexit Central