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May faces ticking clock as EU leaders reject her calls for compromise…

“The European Union will push negotiations to the brink of no-deal, having rejected Theresa May’s pleas for change to the withdrawal agreement yesterday. The prime minister’s requests for “legally binding changes to the terms” of the Irish backstop were rebuffed repeatedly after she held talks in Brussels with Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and other senior EU officials. “Still no breakthrough in sight. Talks will continue,” Mr Tusk, the president of the European Council, said. According to officials Mrs May suggested three options for changing the backstop: a time limit on its operation, which is her preferred choice; alternative arrangements, including the use of technology to avoid a hard border in Ireland; and a unilateral exit clause. By dismissing Mrs May’s emphasis on the backstop, the EU hopes to drive the Commons towards Labour proposals for a permanent customs union.” – The Times

  • Prime Minister accused of talking talks ‘down to the wire’ – Daily Telegraph
  • London and Brussels to reopen talks to break impasse – FT
  • Tusk backs Corbyn’s plan – Daily Mail
  • May to guarantee that UK matches EU on workers’ rights – The Sun

Ministers:

  • Hammond says public will have ‘to hold their nerve’ – The Times
  • Mundell fails to confirm that Brexit will occur on March 29 – The Scotsman
  • Health minister hints he’d resign to vote against no-deal – PoliticsHome

More:

  • ‘Project After’: Tories’ secret plan for no-deal revealed – Daily Telegraph
  • Davis blasts Tusk for ‘hell’ jibe – The Sun
  • Lack of trade defences for no-deal exit alarms MPs – FT
  • EU admit they would ‘give some ground’ for fishing access – The Sun
  • French firms start to panic about ‘nightmare scenario’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Lord Forsyth tears into SNP over Brexit stance – Daily Express

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: May – “I am going to deliver Brexit, I’m going to deliver it on time”

…as she meets Varadkar for backstop talks…

Theresa May is to hold talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar today as she continues her shuttle-diplomacy to try to break the deadlock in the Brexit negotiations. After spending Thursday in talks in Brussels, the Prime Minister flies to Dublin in an effort to resolve the dispute over the Irish backstop which remains the main stumbling block to an agreement. Ahead of her meeting with the Taoiseach over dinner, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will hold talks in the Irish capital with his Irish counterpart, Seamus Woulfe. Mr Cox has been leading work within Whitehall on providing either a time limit on the backstop or giving the UK an exit mechanism from it. Both proposals have received a dusty response from Dublin, which insists the backstop cannot be time limited if it is to provide an effective “insurance policy” against the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.” – Daily Telegraph

  • US congressman warn UK over Irish border – FT
  • Wilson plays down suggestions of DUP rift – News Letter

Comment:

  • May can betray Ulster, betray her people, or leave without a deal – Andrew Lilico, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Trimble raises over £10,000 for legal challenge to the backstop

…and Corbyn hints at support for second vote to quell rebellion

“Jeremy Corbyn was fighting last night to reassure his MPs that he could still back a second referendum after some said that they would leave the party rather than help to deliver an EU divorce deal. Mr Corbyn’s shift on Wednesday night towards a softer Brexit deal led to a backlash from MPs, including Owen Smith, a former member of the shadow cabinet. He said that he and “lots of other people” were now considering their position… Yesterday one of the frontbench Brexit team ran into trouble with Mr Corbyn’s office over his interpretation of the Labour leader’s letter. Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich & Woolwich, tweeted that Labour could still support a second referendum if Theresa May rejected Mr Corbyn’s compromise offer… The leader’s office resisted this, saying it was not Mr Corbyn’s view but later adopted a more emollient tone. Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, denied that Labour had abandoned its conference policy and Mr Corbyn’s office later messaged MPs with the same claim.” – The Times

  • Second referendum ignored in letter setting out position… – The Sun
  • …and Labour denies it’s the next step – The Guardian
  • Leader’s shift heightens Labour tensions – FT
  • How has Corbyn modified his position? – The Times

More:

  • MPs who back Tory Brexit face ‘moment of reckoning’ – The Guardian
  • ‘People’s Vote’ in disarray as rogue Labour MP tables referendum amendment – The Sun
  • Poll warns that Labour could lose more votes over Brexit than Iraq – The Sun

Comment:

  • Labour cannot paper over its cracks for long – Philip Collins, The Times
  • Corbyn’s letter brings his Party even closer to splitting – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph
  • Treating EU negotiations like a car dealership must stop – Chi Onwurah, Times Red Box
  • Labour’s customs union idea might just work – Alan Beattie, FT
  • Opposition MPs must not be fooled by May’s promises – Faiza Shaheen, The Guardian
  • Labour’s poisoned apple would kill the spirit of Brexit – Jack Doyle, Daily Mail

Editorial:

  • This makes a deal with the EU more likely – The Times
  • MPs must think carefully about voting down legal concessions – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: Ten reasons why the second referendum campaign is in disarray

>Yesterday: Left Watch: Corbyn’s Brexit tightrope gets ever thinner, and the wind is getting up

Fraser Nelson: The EU needs the Brexit process to look agonising

This is the strange world of Tusk’s inferno, and it’s worth exploring. In another, more logical world, a deal would have been done on the spot on Thursday. The Dutch are dreading a no-deal Brexit, Calais port authorities are already seeing customers making alternative plans and the Irish are fretting about medicines imported through Britain. With a bit of goodwill, agreement could be reached with a single phone call and millions of minds put at ease. So if Tusk’s objective is to agree a deal, his behaviour this week has been unfathomable. But to Tusk, and to others in Brussels, there is far more at stake. There is more to Brexit than just a deal with Britain. The European Union is concerned about its survival, and is keen that other countries do not follow Britain out of the door. For understandable reasons (and ones that Brexiteers are wrong to downplay) Brussels needs the Brexit process to looks agonising. If Britain was able to agree a deal without much pain, then a few other nation states might get similar ideas.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Tusk’s tirade show his contempt for leave-voting Brits – Quentin Letts, The Sun
  • Forget new trade deals, the UK is struggling to keep what it has – Sam Lowe, The Guardian
  • The delusion of ‘Singapore on Thames’ – Martin Wolf, FT
  • Politics and business are addicted to bungs – Ed Conway, The Times

>Yesterday:

Gauke unveils new legal aid boost

“A review into the impact of massive cuts to legal aid has resulted in an extra £6.5m to help people who cannot afford a lawyer, including a proposal to place legal advisers in doctors’ surgeries. David Gauke, justice secretary, said the money comprised £1.5m to help people representing themselves in court – known as litigants in person – and up to £5m of investment in new ways of offering legal support. Some lawyers criticised the extra funding as inadequate given the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act, which came into force in April 2013. Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, which represents barristers, said he was “disappointed” and called the extra money a “drop in the ocean given the impact Laspo has had on restricting individuals’ access to justice”.” – FT

  • Ministry of Justice accused of trying to sneak through a ‘death tax’ – Daily Mail

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: Replace Hammond with Gove, promote Mordaunt, bring back Raab

Truss urges Tories to take on the NIMBYs…

“Homeowners who block local development to protect property prices must be challenged by the government, the chief secretary to the Treasury has said. Liz Truss described them as “the worst vested interest we’ve got” and said that the Conservatives must loosen planning laws to extend the party’s appeal. The shortage of affordable housing for young people was key to Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with younger voters at the last election, Ms Truss said as she called for changes to increase housebuilding and bring down prices. Speaking to the Resolution Foundation think tank in London, she urged her party to adopt a popular free market agenda in the chancellor’s spending review this year. Ms Truss is closely involved in the review and will set the budgets of Whitehall departments for the next three years.” – The Times

  • Tory promises on housebuilding need changes to planning laws, NAO claims – Daily Telegraph
  • A million more young adults live with their parents than 20 years ago – The Sun
  • Ministers refuse to relax fracking rules as public opposition hardens – The Times

Comment:

  • Local communities’ legitimate concerns must be heard – Tom Fyans, Times Red Box

>Yesterday: John Myers in Local Government: Allow local people to take back control of building design

…and tells ministers to stop trying to dictate people’s diets

“Politicians and quangos should stop “virtue signalling” by telling people how much pizza and alcohol they can have, a Cabinet minister has said. Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said there is an “increasing quangocracy” which is making “pronouncements” on things like portion sizes. She said: “[Voters] resent being told how big their pizza should be or how much alcohol they should drink per week. At the moment we have got an increasing quangocracy that does seem to be prepared to say those things. I think what we should focus on is intervening … to make sure people are capable of making their own decisions, rather than micro-managing their lives.” Asked if Matt Hancock was the Cabinet’s biggest “nanny”, Ms Truss replied that she had eaten a fry-up with the Health Secretary earlier this week, adding: “He did have a black pudding. I think that’s a promising sight.”” – Daily Telegraph

The rise of Javid

“Javid holds Britain’s archetypal establishment job; he oversees the country’s secrets and its borders. When Theresa May’s stricken premiership finally ends, the 49-year-old is viewed as one of the favourites to succeed her. He is a multimillionaire who took a steep pay cut from his job at Deutsche Bank to go into politics, yet the man hoping to walk through the door of Number 10 has a surprising confession to make. “It would probably sound strange sitting here as home secretary that you sometimes feel a little bit like an outsider, but I guess it is a bit like that still.” Javid, who barely needs to open a door himself these days, spent most of his young life having them slammed in his face. Behind the smooth exterior is a politician who grew up on a Bristol street once dubbed by a newspaper “the most dangerous street in Britain”.” – FT

  • Fury as knife deaths hit 70-year high – The Sun
  • Windrush fund helped just one person by end of 2018 – The Guardian

Jewish MP faces no-confidence vote

“Luciana Berger faces a no-confidence motion from her local Labour Party for criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the party’s antisemitism crisis. The Jewish Chronicle reported that Ms Berger, a prominent Jewish MP, was facing the censure motion in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency on February 17. The motion accuses her of “continually using the media to criticise the man we all want to be prime minister”. Ms Berger has been an outspoken critic of the party’s failure to deal with antisemitism in its ranks and has said that the party’s “disgusting” antisemitism was “going unchecked”… Such motions from local party organisations do not mean that the MP is automatically deselected but it suggests that battles lie ahead.” – The Times

MPs face new ‘cheat-proof’ expenses system

“Parliamentary watchdogs are launching a ‘cheat proof’ expenses system for MPs – ten years after the pay scandal erupted. The Sun can reveal that IPSA has written to MPs informing them that Westminster will finally catch up with the modern world and go digital from April. MPs and their teams will be told to scan receipts and send them over the web. Insiders claim the move will save watchdogs up to £1million a year in admin costs. But sources added it will make it easier for IPSA to verify MPs spending – and challenge it – far more quickly. One told The Sun: “It’s about spotting problems before they happen. It allows for quicker, earlier checking and verification.”… The guidance also alerts MPs that any money they owe IPSA from rejected expenses “will not be written off” – and any debtors could be named and shamed if Freedom of Information requests come in.” – The Sun

Charity CEO forced to step down over historical praise for UKIP

“The chief executive of Women’s Aid, Katie Ghose, is stepping down from the domestic abuse charity after complaints from black and minority ethnic women’s refuges about her public praise for Ukip. London Black Women’s Project wrote to Women’s Aid this month calling on the charity to remove Ghose from her post after video footage was circulated on Twitter showing her praising Ukip’s “passion for a new way of doing politics”, referring to Douglas Carswell as “an outstanding MP” and lauding Nigel Farage. Several other groups also expressed anger at Ghose’s comments, made at the Ukip annual conference in September 2015 when she was the chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, demanding that Women’s Aid take action because they considered her views on race made her “untenable as a CEO of Women’s Aid”.” – The Guardian

News in Brief:

  • The Brexit prisoner’s dilemma – Tom McTague, Politico
  • Why hard Brexiteers are sticking to their guns – Ryan Bourne, CapX
  • Has President Macron finally blown his fuse? – Maggie Pagano, Reaction
  • Who does Nicola Sturgeon think she is? – Stephen Daisley, The Spectator
  • Why it would be madness to stay in a customs union – Alastair Macmillan, Brexit Central

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