he EU finally indicated it was ready to start talks on a post-Brexit trade deal this evening.
After weeks of stalemate, the president of the European Council hinted at a breakthrough following talks with Theresa May.
Donald Tusk suggested it was ‘possible’ talks on trade could begin at a crunch summit of EU leaders in Brussels next month.
But he warned of a ‘huge challenge’ ahead – and set the Prime Minister a new deadline of ten days for progress on ‘all issues’ before trade negotiations start.
It comes after Mrs May secured agreement from her Cabinet this week to increase the Government’s offer on the Brexit ‘divorce bill’.
The EU had insisted talks on trade could not begin until its leaders were satisfied ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on this issue – as well as on citizens’ rights and the Northern Irish border.
Brussels is demanding Britain continues to contribute a scheme promoting bear breeding in the Pyrenees.
The scheme was contained in the small print of a £90billion divorce demand which UK negotiators spent this week debunking.
But the new details that emerged today will reinforce Brexit supporters belief that the UK team was right to stand its ground.
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The people you thought were gone from British politics are back. Mandelson, Hain, Kinnock, Patten and Heseltine — these blasts from the past are now at the forefront of attempts to thwart the will of the people in the House of Lords.
Their views are stuck in the 1990s, when only a brave few dared question our EU membership and its grabbing of more and more powers.
The Great British Public have spoken – with more people voting for Brexit than have voted for any political party in any General Election. Brexit is the future of this country; the majority must not let these political has-beens stand in the way.
Yesterday, the House of Lords once again debated the Article 50 Bill – the law which will allow the Government to start the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. They passed an amendment by a majority of 98 requiring Parliament to be given a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal.
This is the second element of the House of Lords’ delaying tactics. But on a positive note, it resulted in the sacking of Lord Heseltine from his role as an adviser to the Government.
Last Wednesday, the Lords implemented their first delaying tactic. They did this by passing an amendment to give EU citizens the right to remain in the UK post-Brexit. There is nothing egregious in this amendment per se, but underneath the motivation is clear – to try and delay Brexit.
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The Lords have been discussing amendments to the Brexit Bill this afternoon, after approving one about European migrants last week. The Government’s problems may not be over. Peers rejected the Liberal Democrats’ attempt to set in law a requirement that there would have to be a second referendum, but another proposal may soon be approved.
This amendment would give the Lords and the Commons a “meaningful” vote on the Brexit deal and would give them the chance to stop Mrs May from walking away from the EU without a deal, a proposal which has concerned ministers. Yesterday the Prime Minister warned that Conservative peers who force the Government into giving Parliament a meaningful vote on Brexit will “incentivise” the European Union to offer Britain a “bad deal”.
If they succeed, the Brexit Bill’s problems will not end on returning to the House of Commons. More than 20 MPs, led by former ministers Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, will be prepared to defy the Government and back the early Parliamentary vote. It may all be avoided if the Lords rejects the amendment though. You can follow the debate on our liveblog, and know the result of the vote as soon as it is announced (which should be imminent).
No matter what happens, the Lords will hope to have had a meaningful debate this afternoon.
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Another week, another Brexit row in Parliament. Last week, it was over the House of Lords’ insistence that ministers guarantee the residency rights of EU nationals before triggering Article 50. This week it’s whether Parliament should have a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal before Britain agrees that deal. Of the two issues, this week’s is more serious, and more revealing.
Serious, because there appears to at least some chance of a real Government defeat. Assuming the Lords back the “meaningful vote” amendment to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, it’s possible that enough Conservative MPs will rebel next week to back that amendment. Hence No 10’s pre-emptive strike, warning giving Parliament the chance to reject a proposed deal would give the EU an “incentive” to offer a bad deal, in the hope that Parliament would then reject it and maintain EU membership, at least until a new one was agreed, or perhaps in perpetuity.
Telling, because that warning gives some interesting clues about how solid No 10 believes support for Brexit really is. Right now, Brexit has the irresistible momentum of an express train at full speed. Hence the Commons’ easy passage of the Brexit bill. But in a couple of years’ time, after the hard pounding of talks in Brussels? The converts in No 10 appear to have been infected by the fears of some Brexiteers that their victory is fragile and reversible, that a country that today strongly backs Brexit could be persuaded to think again. Mrs May is currently supreme, but she takes nothing for granted.
That warning also tells us something else about Mrs May’s Brexit thinking: she doesn’t share the true Brexit believers’ conviction that even leaving the EU without a deal and relying on basic WTO rules is preferable to continued membership. Believers such as Daniel Hannan have argued that while they’d prefer a deal, Britain should not fear a WTO Brexit. Doesn’t today’s warning over the Brexit Bill amount to No 10 tacitly admitting that Parliament (and perhaps, the British public) wouldn’t share that confidence, and thus would not back a Government that rejected a bad deal from Brussels and walk out of the EU empty-handed.
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Theresa May went up to Glasgow today to reassure Scottish Conservatives of her intention to keep the Union safe as part of the Brexit process. The Prime Minister insisted that Scotland and England would not “drift apart” under her watch, and used her half-hour address to set out a detailed case for the “enduring” economic, security and social benefits to the Union. Her unerring focus on the Union did make it sound like Downing Street is preparing for Mrs Sturgeon to demand the power to stage a second independence referendum, most likely when the SNP gather for their Spring Conference in a fortnight.
Mrs May’s speech came after Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, told the Telegraph that the Unionists would win another vote by an even larger margin but hinted that Mrs May would not allow a rerun of the 2014 vote until after Brexit. The Prime Minister went after the SNP as well, declaring that there was “no economic case” for Scottish independence”.
The Tories’ punchiness has impressed Tom Harris, who has written today about how “it is the Scottish Conservatives, not the Labour Party, to whom those who still cherish the Union are turning.” Ruth Davidson is one of the few politicians happy to challenge the SNP to a “ square go”, he says. “She seems to have boundless energy and a thick skin. She’s going to need both in the next few years.”
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