U.K. and European officials are working on new legal text for the contentious Irish border backstop. But time is running out for Theresa May to unite Parliament behind her deal, amid rumors that more politicians could split away from both main political parties.
- Honda confirms closure of Swindon plan in 2021; Business Secretary Greg Clark says decision ‘devastating’
- May to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday evening
- Newly independent MP Chuka Umunna says some Conservatives considering quitting their party, after he and six others left Labour on Monday
Minister Sees Parliament Taking Control of Brexit (12:35 p.m.)
Business Minister Richard Harrington just voiced what many ministers have opined privately: that May risks losing control of the Brexit process if she can’t get her deal through Parliament. He started off on message, saying, “I think that the prime minister’s deal will get through.’’
Then he countenanced the alternative.
“But if it doesn’t get through, before then Parliament will have taken over control,’’ Harrington said. “We’ll have a small extension to Article 50 and Parliament will then decide on the alternatives. So I believe that will become the Plan B.”
Harrington then knocked on the head the suggestion that the split that hit the opposition Labour Party on Monday might spread to the Conservatives. He said moderates had lost the battle in Labour, but that the Conservative Party is in a different state. “We do not have extremes in the way that the Labour Party has.” He said he intended to win the battle and stay in the party.
Japan, Korea Trade Deals Not Ready by March (12:35 p.m.)
Business Secretary Greg Clark was asked after his speech what proportion of the free trade agreements Britain currently benefits from through its EU membership are ready to be rolled over on March 29, Britain’s scheduled departure date from the bloc. Two of the most important ones won’t be ready, he replied.
“Unfortunately not all of the FTAs—and I might mention the Japan and Korean ones that are important—are expected to be concluded in time,” Clark said. “That is one of the reasons why I think it is so important that we should not leave without a deal.”
It’s worth noting that Trade Secretary Liam Fox once said the 40 deals Britain wants to roll over would be ready to go by a minute past midnight on March 30.
Clark: Industry Faces ‘Unacceptable’ Uncertainty (12:25 p.m.)
Business Secretary Greg Clark said it’s not acceptable to wait until the last minute to strike a Brexit deal, pointing out that a freighter left the U.K. for Japan on Monday with no certainty on what terms of trade it faces when it arrives after Brexit day on March 29.
A no-deal Brexit would be a “disaster,” he told the MakeUK manufacturers’ conference in London on Tuesday, promising that the goal of frictionless trade was still “front and center.”
“I know how important it is to you that we should find an early resolution for what our relationship with the rest of the European Union is going to be,” Clark said. “It needs to be brought to a conclusion and without further delay.”
Slovenia ‘Tired’ of Brexit Uncertainty (12:10 p.m.)
“We would be very satisfied if the solution would come as soon as possible, because we are a little bit tired with these Brexit negotiations and this uncertainty that is taking place,” Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec said at a press conference in Helsinki on Tuesday.
EU Says It Won’t Reopen Withdrawal Agreement (11:55 a.m.)
As May’s officials step up their efforts to secure a compromise on the backstop, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas reiterated that the bloc was not prepared to reopen the withdrawal agreement.
“We cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause,” he told reporters in Brussels. “Further talks will be held this week to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the U.K. Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council.”
It means the focus is very much on Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s talks with the EU, and whether they can yield legal wording that can appease both sides on the backstop—and British members of Parliament.
May to Meet EU’s Juncker Wednesday Evening (11:45 a.m.)
Theresa May will return to Brussels on Wednesday for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The meeting will begin at 6.30 p.m. Brussels time, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.
Gove Pledges to Protect Farmers in No-Deal (11:10 a.m.)
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said a no-deal Brexit would carry “significant” costs to the economy and EU tariffs on products imported from Britain would hurt farmers “dramatically.”
“We have been clear that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use the tools we have at our disposal—tariffs, quotas and legislation—to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage,” Gove said at the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham on Tuesday.
Gove’s comments reflect concern in the industry about the impact of export tariffs under a no-deal Brexit that could effectively lock farmers out of EU markets. If the U.K. lowers import duties to stem food inflation, that could also mean more competition in the domestic market. He said the government would announce tariffs that would apply in the case of a no-deal Brexit “shortly.”
“It will not be the case that we will have zero-rate tariffs on food products,” he said. “There will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production.”
Brexit ‘Pantomime’ Needs to End: MakeUK Chief (9:30 a.m.)
Frustration at the Brexit standoff is clear among members of the U.K.’s main manufacturing lobby group, MakeUK, in London for their annual conference In his opening remarks, Chief Executive Officer Stephen Phipson said politicians need to form a “clear view’’ of the way forward so manufacturers can have the confidence to invest.
“The pantomime needs to end and we need clarity as quickly as possible,’’ Phipson said. “We need to stop this messing around in Parliament.’’
Where skills normally dominate industrial concerns, for now, sorting Brexit is the main worry, Phipson said. He said a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for manufacturers, and their priorities include a long transition period, access to skilled waters, no friction at the border and close alignment with EU regulations.
Callanan: U.K., EU Had ‘Productive’ Talks (9:10 a.m.)
Brexit Minister Martin Callanan said teams from the U.K. and the European Union had “productive discussions” in Brussels on Monday.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to seek the “reassurances that Parliament needs that Britain cannot be trapped indefinitely in the backstop,” Callanan told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday as he arrived for a meeting of EU ministers.
“We’ve been very clear: We want a deal,” Callanan said. “But we need to find something that is acceptable to our Parliament.”
Umunna: Some Tories Also Thinking of Quitting (9 a.m.)
Chuka Umunna, who quit the Labour Party on Monday to form an independent caucus in Parliament, told BBC Radio some MPs from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party are also considering quitting to join the group.
“There’s clearly not only a lot of Labour MPs wrestling with their consciences, but also Conservatives who’ve become demoralized by the UKIPization of their party and their position on Europe,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re inviting anybody who shares our values to join us.”
The breakaway group is the first major sign of a parliamentary realignment triggered by Britain’s political crisis. If more Labour MPs follow, and especially if some Conservatives jump ship, it will make getting a Brexit deal through Parliament increasingly more complicated for May.