Tag Archives: Brexit

Brexit

Brexit amendments: The MPs trying to change Theresa May’s course”:


MPs are trying to influence the Brexit process in a number of ways, as Theresa May continues her bid to get the EU to change the deal.

The prime minister has asked MPs to approve a motion on Thursday simply acknowledging that process is ongoing and restating their support for the approach.

Several MPs tabled amendments setting out alternative plans and Commons Speaker John Bercow has selected three to be put to a Commons vote.

Even if they won the backing of a majority of MPs, the proposals would not be binding on the government. However, they could put pressure on Mrs May to change course.

She has adopted proposals from two successful backbench amendments tabled in January.

One asked her to seek alternatives to the “backstop”, which aims to prevent the return of customs checkpoints on the Irish border in the event that no trade deal has come into force. The other rejected leaving the EU without a formal exit deal.

The selected proposals are below. Use our guide to Brexit jargon or follow the links for further explanation.

Labour frontbench amendment

Jeremy Corbyn
AP

Requires the government to either give MPs a vote on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on future UK-EU relations by 27 February, or make a statement saying there is no longer an agreement in principle with Brussels and so allow MPs to vote on – and amend – its planned next steps.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s amendments are considered unlikely to receive the necessary backing from Conservative backbenchers to succeed.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has tabled a bid to change the wording of this amendment to delay the Brexit date to allow for a referendum on the deal, with the option to remain in the EU.

SNP amendment

PA

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, centre, tabled the amendment on behalf of his party

Seeks to postpone the Brexit date by at least three months.

This has the backing of Liberal Democrats, as well as the SNP contingent.

Conservative backbencher Anna Soubry’s amendment

Anna Soubry with Labour's Chris Leslie, left and Chuka Umunna
Anna Soubry’s amendment has the backing of Labour MPs including Chris Leslie, left, and Chuka Umunna, right

Instructs the government to publish within seven days “the most recent official briefing document relating to business and trade on the implications of a no-deal Brexit presented to cabinet”.

This has the backing of some mostly Remain-supporting Labour and Conservative backbenchers.

Does the government motion face defeat?

The government may well fight off these attempts to amend its motion.

But even if it does, it is not guaranteed to win the subsequent vote. Some Conservative Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) have indicated they will refuse to back the government.

They are angry because the motion not only supports the view backed by a majority of MPs last month that the government should seek an alternative to the “backstop”, but also a separate move to stop Brexit happening without a formal deal, which the Commons supported at the same time.

Most MPs want to avoid a no-deal scenario, fearing chaos at ports and disruption to business. However, some Brexiteers have played down that prospect, arguing it is an example of “Project Fear”, and say the no-deal option offers leverage in negotiations with Brussels.

MPs to debate next steps, Brexit:


MPs are to debate and vote on the next steps in the Brexit process later, as Theresa May continues to try to get a deal through Parliament.

A series of amendments – designed to change the direction of Brexit – will be considered in the debate, which is expected to be a routine procedure.

But BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the PM could be facing another defeat.

Some Tory Brexiteers are refusing to back the government, she said.

No 10 insists Mrs May still plans to hold a vote on a deal as soon as possible but Labour has accused her of “running down the clock” in an effort to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal.

The prime minister has asked MPs to approve a motion simply acknowledging that the process was ongoing and restating their support for the approach.

But several MPs have tabled amendments – which set out alternative plans – including one from Labour that would force the government to come back to Parliament by the end of the month to hold a substantive Commons vote on its Brexit plan.

Another, from the SNP, calls on the government to pass a law leading to the Brexit process being halted.

Commons Speaker John Bercow is yet to decide which of these will actually be considered by MPs.

However, influential Brexiteers from the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers are angry at being asked to support the PM’s motion.

This is because it combines the view backed by a majority of MPs last month that the government should seek an alternative to the “backstop” with a separate move to stop Brexit happening without a formal deal.

The backstop aims to prevent the return of customs checkpoints on the Irish border in the event that no trade deal comes into force.

The group’s deputy chairman, Mark Francois, told the BBC: “We cannot vote for this as it is currently configured because it rules out no deal and removes our negotiating leverage in Brussels.”

He said members had “pleaded” with Downing Street to change the wording, which he said goes back on what the prime minister has previously told MPs.

“A senior ERG source says they haven’t decided whether to abstain or vote against, but they won’t back the government,” said BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

Most MPs want to avoid a no-deal scenario, fearing chaos at ports and disruption to business. But some Brexiteers have played down that prospect, arguing it is an example of “Project Fear”.

MPs rejected the deal negotiated with the EU by a historic margin in January and the prime minister says she is seeking legally-binding changes to the controversial “backstop” – the “insurance policy” aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 29 March, whether or not a deal has been approved by the Commons.

Presentational grey line

Could Brexit cause a Labour split?

By BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

You’ll be used to people in my kind of job saying things like, “these are critical days”.

And hands up, on many of the occasions when a big move is predicted, a damp squib often comes along to squelch the expectation.

What I’m about to say may well be a repetition of that familiar phenomenon. But I’m not the only person in Westminster this week to be wondering whether after many, many, many months of private conversations where this possibility was discussed, in the next couple of weeks, maybe even in the next couple of days, something that actually is critical is going to start happening.

Read more

What happens next?

The prime minister has promised to return to the Commons on 26 February with a further statement – triggering another debate and votes the following day – if a deal has not been secured by that date.

If a deal is agreed, MPs will have a second “meaningful vote”, more than a month after Mrs May’s deal was rejected in the first one.

Mrs May told MPs on Tuesday she was discussing a number of options with the EU to secure legally binding changes to the backstop, including replacing it with “alternative arrangements”, putting a time limit on how long it can stay in place, or a unilateral exit clause so the UK can leave it at a time of its choosing.

The EU has continued to say it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

On Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that “no news is not always good news”, saying the EU was “still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London”.

The prime minister has also said she will lift the requirement for a 21-day period before any vote to approve an international treaty, which means she could delay the final Brexit vote until days before the UK is due to leave the EU.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned on Tuesday that time was running short for the ratification of a deal under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.

The Act requires 21 sitting days before the ratification of any international treaty, to allow MPs to study the agreement.

But Mrs May responded: “In this instance MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote.”

If there was not time for normal procedures, the government would amend the law around Brexit to allow it to be ratified more quickly.

Brexit: MPs to debate next steps
Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

Prime Minister’s Questions: The key bits and the verdict”:


Theresa May went head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. Here’s what happened.

Jeremy Corbyn threw the prime minister a Brexit curveball at this session.

Most observers were expecting the PM to get a grilling over reported comments by her chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins – but the Labour leader went after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling instead.

He focused all six of his questions on the “fiasco” of the Seaborne Freight contract.

The ferry company with “no ships and no trading history” has had its contract to provide services in the event of a no-deal Brexit cancelled.

Mr Corbyn said this was symbolic of the government’s “costly, shambolic and evasive” handling of Brexit. “What went wrong?,” he asked the prime minister.

PM says there was “due diligence” over its ferry plan, but Jeremy Corbyn is “impressed” she can “keep a straight face”.

Mrs May said 90% of the ferry contracts awarded in case of a no-deal Brexit scenario, went to DFDS and Brittany Ferries.

“Due diligence was carried out on all of these contracts,” she told the Labour leader.

The transport secretary had told MPs the decision to award a contract to Seaborne Freight “had no cost to the taxpayer”, said Mr Corbyn, but the National Audit Office found that £800,000 had been spent on external consultants to assess the bid. Could the prime minister “correct the record”?

Mrs May said Mr Corbyn was “late to the party” because she had been asked about this yesterday by the SNP. “Labour following the SNP, well whatever next,” sniped the PM before repeating her line about “proper due diligence”.

Mr Corbyn said Freedom of Information requests showed Chris Grayling had “bypassed” the rules which allow normal scrutiny of a deal.

Mrs May said the Seaborne Freight contract had been handed out following individual assessments by consultants, and no money had been paid to Seaborne Freight.

It was “entirely right and proper” to make sure that the government was preparing for any no-deal Brexit, she added.

Mr Corbyn said taxpayers were facing a £1m legal bill for contesting Eurotunnel’s court case against the government over its “secretive and flawed” no-deal transport contracts process.

Not only that, he told MPs, Thanet Council, in Kent, was facing a £2m budget deficit as a result of the Seaborne Freight debacle. Could the PM offer “cast iron guarantees” that the people of Thanet would not be hit with this bill?

Mrs May said Department of Transport officials were “in discussions” with Thanet council. The ferry contracts were about safeguarding medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, she added.

Mr Corbyn said the prime minister should follow the advice of the House and take no deal off the table and “negotiate seriously with the EU”.

He broadened out his attack on Chris Grayling, for “ignoring warnings” about drones at airports, ignoring warnings about the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion, overseeing the “disastrous” new rail time tables, and rail fare increases.

And now, said Mr Corbyn, Mr Grayling was in charge of a “vital aspect of Brexit planning”. “How on earth” could the prime minister have any confidence in him?

Mrs May replied that rail investment was at its highest since the Victorian era and that was 20% higher every year on average than under Labour.

She had clearly come armed with attack lines for Mr Corbyn over his Brexit strategy, so she unloaded them all as their exchange came to an end, accusing the Labour leader of “ambiguity” and “playing politics” and of failing to say whether he wanted Brexit, or a second referendum.

People no longer say he is a “conviction politician”, she concluded.

What else came up?

The SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford said that with 44 days to go until Brexit, Mrs May must stop “playing fast and loose” with the economy.

Ian Blackford says the PM has “come to the end of the road” and he calls for an extension to Article 50

Conservative backbencher Henry Smith gave the prime minister a chance to rebut the reported comments by Olly Robbins, who was overheard in a Brussels bar saying the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

Conservative MP George Freeman, a former adviser to Mrs May, asked whether those who had brought the system into disrepute “like Philip Green” should be stripped of their honour. Mrs May says there was an independent forfeiture committee.

Labour MP Rosie Cooper asked Theresa May about a Conservative election promise to keep the provision for those 75 and older.

Theresa May told Rosie Cooper: “We want and expect the BBC to continue free TV licences”

Stop and search, when carried out the right way, is an “effective tool for our police forces”, Theresa May told Conservative MP Gareth Thomas, adding that officers must these powers “lawfully”.

Theresa May says stop and search, when carried out the right way, is an “effective tool for our police forces”

Labour’s Steve McCabe reminded the PM of her call to end rip-off energy prices, telling her 2.5 million people were now in fuel poverty.

Steve McCabe reminds the PM of her call to end to rip-off energy prices

And finally, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May shared their memories of England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup final, as they paid tribute to legendary goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who died this week.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May tell MPs they are both old enough to remember the 1966 World Cup

The Verdict

Here is BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D’Arcy’s take

Both the main players at PMQs had one of their better days, proving, I suppose, that it’s not a zero-sum game, where one of them must do badly for the other to do well.

Jeremy Corbyn continued Labour’s recent targetting of the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, with a series of detailed questions about the Seabourne Ferries saga.

It was an old school piece of PMQs questioning, building up an attack over a series of questions, which saw the PM digging into her file for the pre-scripted answers.

She, in turn, was at her most effective when she counter-attacked on Labour’s policy ambiguity over Brexit, with a particularly wounding line that Jeremy Corbyn was losing his reputation as a conviction politician.

It was also notable that the Conservative benches were rather muted during the attacks on their transport secretary. Perhaps the accumulated weight of the railway timetables saga, the Gatwick drones and even his policies as justice secretary have depressed backbench support? So maybe the attack was a tactical success for Mr Corbyn, but was it also a strategic missed opportunity?

Brexiteer Tories rather tiptoed around the reported remarks of the PM’s Brexit advisor, Olly Robbins, overheard in a Brussels bar. But the twin suggestions attributed to him, of a postponement of Brexit day and of the Northern Ireland backstop being a “bridge” to a post-Brexit customs union with the EU, cause them deep alarm.

Mr Corbyn did not seek to deepen it further, even though it would have been quite easy to segue from Grayling to Robbins, and it was left to the SNP’s Ian Blackford and later the Conservative Henry Smith, to target the alleged bar-room indiscretion.

The PM’s elegant prepared response: “What someone said to someone else, overheard by someone else…in a bar” was eventually deployed in answer to Mr Smith, but was probably drafted with Mr Corbyn in mind.

The other big PMQs player, John Bercow, had a quiet time. His rebukes were genial, even jovial, and no-one was bruised by them. He even indulged a few spurious points of order at the end, although I’m not sure how grateful Ian Blackford will have been for his colleague Mharie Black’s complaint that when her leader rose to ask his question, lots of MPs immediately got up and left the Chamber.

Elsewhere, there were interesting responses to well placed questions from Tories Robert Halfon (on school exclusions) and George Freeman (Sir Philip Greene’s knighthood) and to Labour’s Chris Evans (on suicide and self harm images on social media) with the PM keen to demonstrate that her government is not so fixated on Brexit that it can’t deal with other issues.

Brexit: Sturgeon steps up no-deal planning”:



The Scottish government has stepped up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit as it again called on Theresa May to rule out the possibility.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she still believes no deal can be avoided.

But she said her government had a duty to plan for the possibility as best it could.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March, but MPs have so far refused to back the deal agreed by the prime minister and the EU.

ITV News has said that one of its reporters overheard the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, saying in a Brussels bar that the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

Mrs May has played down reports that she could force MPs to choose between backing her deal or accepting a delay to EU withdrawal.

The prime minister told the Commons that people should not rely on “what someone said to someone else, as overheard by someone else, in a bar”.

She insisted that the government still intends to leave the EU on 29 March with a deal in place – but Downing Street has stressed that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit “remains on the table”, saying it is an “eventuality we wish to avoid, but one we continue to plan for”.

Nicola Sturgeon at Scottish cabinet meeting
Ms Sturgeon chaired a meeting of the Scottish government’s cabinet in Glasgow

The UK government argues that the best way to avoid no deal is for MPs to back the prime minister’s proposals, which it says are “the best deal available for jobs and the economy across the whole of the UK, allowing us to honour the referendum and realise the opportunities of Brexit.”

Speaking after a meeting of the Scottish cabinet in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that Mrs May was attempting to “run down the clock” in an attempt to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal “at the very, very last minute”.

She added: “The prime minister can only get away with that if the House of Commons allows her to get away with that, and the longer it does the more complicit it will become in the disaster that eventually unfolds”.

Theresa May says she would need "some time" to hold further talks with the EU
Theresa May says she would need “some time” to hold further talks with the EU

Scotland’s chief economist warned that a no-deal Brexit would lead to a “major dislocation” to the country’s economy in his latestState of the Economy report , which was published on Wednesday morning.

Gary Gillespie said disruptions to logistics, supply, trade, investment, migration and market confidence could cause a “significant structural change in the economy”.

‘Reckless and negligent’

Ms Sturgeon said it was “reckless and negligent” for the UK government to refuse to rule out no-deal, adding: “But we appear to be dealing with a UK government that’s prepared to act recklessly and negligently.

“Therefore as of today we have stepped up our no-deal planning. We don’t think it should be inevitable, we’ll do everything in our power to help rule that out.

“But we would not be doing our job properly if we didn’t properly plan as best we can, because not all of the consequences will be able to be mitigated.”

MPs rejected the deal negotiated between the UK and the EU by a historic margin in January, and the prime minister saying she is now seeking legally-binding changes to the controversial “backstop” – the “insurance policy” aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

In her BBC Scotland interview, Ms Sturgeon also repeated that she would set out her thinking on the timing of a second independence referendum in the “coming weeks”.

When asked whether she believes Scotland will be independent in the next few years, she replied: “I’m not going to put a precise timescale on it, but I do hope and believe that Scotland will become independent.

“I hope that’s within the next few years because I think it becomes more and more urgent that we are in charge of the big decisions that shape our future and shape our destiny.”

Recent Posts

Corbyn: PM ‘playing chicken with people’s livelihoods’


Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn says the “country facing biggest crisis in a generation” and Ms May is “recklessly running down the clock”. The prime minister has “more excuses and more delays”, he adds. The Labour leader asks what progress Mrs May has made on alternative arrangements and if she set those arrangement before the House. Jemery Corbyn accuses the prime minister of “playing” with jobs and industries, adding that the Nissan decision may be the “thin end of a very long wedge”.

He adds that the Leader of the House says a meaningful vote will be on 21 March, days before Brexit, and asks if this is not the case when will the meaning vote be.

Mr Corbyn says the prime minister is “playing chicken with people’s livelihoods”.

Theresa May promises meaningful vote after more talks with EU


Theresa May has promised MPs a final, decisive vote on her Brexit deal – but not until she has secured changes to the Irish backstop clause.
Speaking in the Commons, the PM said she had a “mandate” to seek changes to the backstop as MPs had voted for it.
“We now need some time to complete that process”, she added.
If no agreement is reached by 26 February, then MPs will get more non-binding votes on Brexit options the following day.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused her of “running down the clock” in an effort to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal, and asked when MPs would get a final, “meaningful” vote on her deal.

Hammond’s Brexit ‘dividend’ claim rejected as UK economy stalls,”


Philip Hammond’s claim that Britain can reap an economic dividend from Theresa May’s Brexit

deal has been flatly rejected by MPs, as official figures confirmed the UK has suffered its worst year for GDP growth since 2012.

In a highly critical report, the Treasury select committee warned that the chancellor’s claims of a “deal dividend” if Britain avoided a no-deal exit lacked credibility.

The criticism came after data on Monday showed the economy grew by just 0.2% in the final three months of 2018, down from 0.6% in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter figures contained signs of an even sharper slowdown, with the economy posting a decline of 0.4% in December amid signs that Brexit uncertainty is taking hold.

For 2018 as a whole, GDP growth slipped to its lowest since 2012, at 1.4%, down from 1.8% in 2017.

Nicky Morgan MP, the Conservative chair of the committee, said 

Hammond’s “dividend” claim, at the Conservative party conference last year, had already been undermined by the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR had told the committee the dividend was not an economic boost so much as “avoiding something really very bad” in the form of a no-deal departure.

“The OBR already assumes an orderly Brexit, so there won’t be a ‘deal dividend’ beyond the forecast just by avoiding no-deal. Business confidence may improve with increased certainty, but it’s not credible to describe this as a dividend,” said Morgan.

The OBR has made a smooth departure from the EU a key part of its forecasts, which prompted the Treasury committee to state there is no evidence of an economic boost from supporting the deal over and above those central estimates.

Hammond has repeatedly suggested that, should parliament throw its weight behind Theresa May’s Brexit plan, it would generate a dual economic boost for the country by lifting the fog of uncertainty blocking businesses investment, while also allowing him to spend public funds held in reserve for a no-deal scenario.

Reacting to Morgan’s comments, Treasury insiders dismissed the suggestion that Britain would not see a deal dividend from MPs supporting the prime minister’s Brexit plan, as it would give firms more clarity about the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

“The chancellor has been clear that when we agree a good deal we will harvest a deal dividend. This is because businesses will have the certainty they need to invest, grow and create jobs which will improve the public finances,” the source said.

Most economists believe that Britain agreeing a Brexit deal with Brussels would help to give firms clarity for the future, potentially unleashing projects that have been put on hold due to the uncertainty.

Amit Kara, the head of UK macroeconomics research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: “It could be a dividend as all we’re saying is we’re moving from an acute phase of uncertainty to remaining within the EU for at least the next two years.”

He added: “The dividend is just because of the mess at the moment.”

The committee’s intervention undermines one of Theresa May’s key arguments to persuade MPs to back her withdrawal agreement with less than 50 days to go before Brexit. It also comes as the British economy shows increasing signs of stress as the deadline for the article 50 process looms ever closer, causing more business to put their plans to invest in Britain on hold.

Growth figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that business investment in the final three months of 2018 declined sharply. Corporate spending tumbled for the fourth successive quarter – falling by 1.4% in the final quarter of 2018 alone – for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.

Companies have intensified their contingency planning to cope with the possibility of a disruptive Brexit. Car manufacturers are stockpiling parts, banks have moved employees to Ireland and continental Europe and two Japanese electronics firms, Panasonic and Sony, have moved their EU headquarters to mainland Europe.

Labour and trade unions called on the prime minister to remove no-deal Brexit as an option in order to shore up confidence in Britain, something which May has so far refused to do in negotiations with Brussels.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “The prime minister’s failure to rule out a no-deal Brexit is harming confidence in the economy and holding back growth. With our manufacturing sector in recession, the prime minister must act now to remove the threat of crashing out.”

GDP growth in December plunged into reverse, with a broad-based slump across each of the key sectors for the economy. The manufacturing sector, which makes up about a tenth of the economy, fell into recession, with six months of negative growth in the longest negative run since September 2008 to February 2009, the depths of the financial crisis.

The monthly decline GDP of 0.4% helped drag down quarter-on-quarter GDP growth to a rate of 0.2% in the three months to the end of the year, slightly below the Bank of England’s expectations and down from a rate of 0.6% in the third quarter.

While the slowdown mirrors a loss of momentum in the world economy, including a deterioration in the eurozone, most analysts believe that unique challenges from Brexit have further hindered UK growth.

Ben Brettell, a senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “There’s little doubt Brexit uncertainty is responsible for the disappointing numbers, though concerns over global trade will also have played a part.”

The committee also warned that Hammond’s deficit reduction target – to eliminate the gap between government spending and income by the early part of the next decade – now lacked credibility. Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal is expected to come with significant negative consequences for the public finances, with potential for the deficit to widen.

Hammond opted at the last budget to raise public spending, with a £20bn a year increase for the NHS by 2023-24, without making significant tax increases to balance the books.

Referring to that decision, the committee said: “The government’s fiscal objective has no credibility and should be replaced.”

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Brexit: Theresa May responds to Jeremy Corbyn’s letter”:


Theresa May has responded to Jeremy Corbyn’s letter setting out his five demands for a Brexit deal.

The prime minister queried his call for the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU – but welcomed more talks with Labour on a Brexit agreement.

Mrs May wants the two parties to discuss how “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop – a commitment to avoid a hard border – could work.

Brexit: Donald Tusk’s planned outburst’:

She did not reject any of his conditions outright in her reply.

The letter from Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn

Writing her response to his letter of last Wednesday, Mrs May told the Labour leader: “It is good to see that we agree that the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum.”

Brexit: UK still safe in no-deal scenario, says Javid’.

This is despite Mr Corbyn repeatedly saying there should be a general election if Mrs May cannot get a deal through Parliament. He has also faced pressure from some of his MPs to push for another public vote on Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn

However, BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said it appears there are some potential stumbling blocks to a deal.

Labour has asked for “a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union” with the EU, with the same external tariff. It would give the UK a say on any future trade deals that the EU may strike.

Mrs May does not agree, and wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

Brexit: Will MPs find agreement in their plans?

The existing Political Declaration, setting out the goals for the future relationship between the UK and the EU, “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union – no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors and no checks on rules of origin”, Mrs May told Mr Corbyn.

It also recognises the development of the UK’s independent trade policy, she added.

Mrs May said securing frictionless trade for goods was “one of our key negotiating objectives”.

She added: “The fundamental negotiating challenge here is the EU’s position that completely frictionless trade is only possible if the UK stays in the single market.

“This would mean accepting free movement, which Labour’s 2017 General Election manifesto made clear you do not support.”

Labour also wants the UK to stay in step with the EU if workers’ rights improve in Europe.

While the prime minister says existing rights will be protected, there will be no automatic upgrade in line with the EU. Instead, Parliament would be asked if it wanted to follow suit each time.

The letter concludes with Mrs May saying she looked forward to the two parties meeting “as soon as possible”.

Labour is yet to respond to the letter.

Brexit: More votes promised as Labour says May running down the clock


Housing and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire on securing “seamless border” in Ireland

MPs will get another chance to vote on Brexit this month – even if Theresa May has not been able to negotiate a deal by then.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire admitted it might not be the final, decisive vote on the PM’s deal that Labour and some Tories are demanding.

The prime minister needs to get a deal approved by Parliament by 29 March to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Labour has accused her of “cynically” running down the clock.

Instead of a “meaningful” vote on the prime minister’s deal with the EU, MPs could be given another series of non-binding votes on possible Brexit alternatives by 27 February, with the final vote on whether to approve or reject the deal delayed until the following month.

On Wednesday, Mrs May will ask MPs for more time to get legally-binding changes to the controversial Northern Irish backstop, which she believes will be enough to secure a majority in Parliament for her deal.

But the following day, Labour will attempt to force the government to hold the final, “meaningful vote” on Mrs May’s Brexit deal by 26 February.

Mr Brokenshire refused to commit to this date in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying there could be more votes on amendments to the proposed deal instead.

“If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then Parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” said Mr Brokenshire.

“I think that gives that sense of timetable, clarity and purpose on what we are doing with the EU – taking that work forward and our determination to get a deal – but equally knowing that role that Parliament very firmly has.”

He also ruled out removing the Irish backstop from the government’s deal with the EU, as some Conservative MPs are demanding.

He said ministers were exploring a possible time-limit to the backstop, or a legal mechanism allowing the UK to exit the backstop without the agreement of the EU, but he insisted some kind of “insurance policy” was needed to keep the Irish border free-flowing.

But Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, says he believes the prime minister is “pretending to make progress” on the Irish backstop issue.

He says what she actually intends to do is return to Parliament after the 21/22 March European Council summit the week before Brexit and offer MPs a “binary choice” – her deal or no deal.

“We can’t allow that to happen,” Sir Keir told The Sunday Times.

“There needs to be a day when Parliament says that’s it, enough is enough.”

‘Completely irresponsible’

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said delaying the final vote on the Brexit deal was “worse than irresponsible” and he “would not be surprised if [Theresa May] faces a massive rebellion by Conservative MPs”.

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who like Sir Vince has campaigned for another EU referendum, called for ministers who were “serious” about preventing a no-deal Brexit to resign and vote against the government.

Fellow Conservative MP Heidi Allen also called for ministerial resignations, saying it was “completely irresponsible” for the government to keep delaying the final Brexit vote.

Labour is proposing its own Brexit plan, which would involve the UK staying in a customs union with the EU, which they say could get the backing of a majority of MPs.

The government has not ruled out supporting this – and has promised a formal response to it and further talks with Labour – but they say it would prevent the UK from making its own trade deals after Brexit.

Theresa May and her husband Philip arrive for a church service on Sunday
Theresa May and her husband Philip arriving at a church service on Sunday

There are fewer than 50 days until Brexit. The law is already in place which means the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

Mrs May’s Brexit deal – which she spent months negotiating and had agreed with the EU – covers the terms of the UK’s divorce and the framework of future relations.

But it was rejected by the UK Parliament and if it is not approved by Brexit day, the default position would be a no-deal Brexit.

Last month, Parliament voted in favour of an amendment that supported most of the PM’s deal but called for backstop which is a last-resort option to prevent a hard border in Ireland – to be replaced with “alternative arrangements”. The prime minister is now in talks with Brussels to seek these changes to the backstop.

A number of government ministers will also be meeting their counterparts across the continent this week, in order to underline Mrs May’s determination to achieve a deal.

Critics of the backstop in Mrs May’s current deal say they could tie the UK to EU rules indefinitely or mean Northern Ireland ends up under a different system to the rest of the UK.

But the Irish government and the EU have repeatedly rejected calls for changes.

Other options likely to be debated by MPs on Thursday include extending Article 50 the legal mechanism taking the UK out of the EU on 29 March, to allow more time to reach an agreement with Brussels.

Brexit: May to make plea to MPs for time to change deal


The prime minister is to urge MPs to give her more time to secure changes to her Brexit deal.

Theresa May is expected to pledge in the Commons this week that MPs will get another say on Brexit if she cannot recommend a revised plan this month.

Meanwhile, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the Sunday Times that Labour plans to force another vote on her deal anyway.

He said the move was necessary to stop Mrs May “running down the clock”.

With 47 days until the UK is due to leave the European Union, some ministers have considered resigning so they could support backbench proposals to force the government to delay Brexit.

But Downing Street aims to reassure them by promising another vote where they can put forward alternative options, if a new deal has not been struck by 27 February.

Mrs May has been seeking legally binding changes to the plans for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

‘Pretending to make progress’

Critics of the current plans say they could tie the UK to EU rules indefinitely or mean Northern Ireland ends up under a different system to the rest of the UK.

But the Irish government and the EU have repeatedly rejected calls for changes.

If Mrs May does not succeed by the end of the month, MPs will be told they can put forward alternatives such as extending the deadline for the UK’s departure from the European Union from 29 March.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of “pretending to make progress” over issues such as the Irish border.

He said that Mrs May intends to return to Parliament after the 21-22 March European summit – with just one week before Brexit – and offer MPs a choice between her deal and a no-deal Brexit.

“We can’t allow that to happen. There needs to be a day when Parliament says ‘that’s it, enough is enough’,” Sir Keir said.

Sir Keir called the prime minister’s approach “reckless” and “blinkered”, blaming “tunnel vision” for the defeat of her Brexit deal by a record 230 votes in January.

Labour intends to put forward an amendment that will require the prime minister to hold a new vote on her deal by 26 February.

He said: “We have got to put a hard stop into this running down the clock. And that’s what we want to do this week.”