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Whitehall on standby for 24/7 working in 'critical three months' after no-deal Brexit

10 hours 13 minutes ago
Whitehall

The Government's entire no-deal Brexit operation could become overwhelmed during a “critical three-month phase”, a leaked official document has warned.

The leaked Cabinet Office paper on 'Operation Yellowhammer', seen by The Guardian, says that government departments will have to tackle most problems themselves.

It warns that “the… structure will quickly fall if too many decisions are unnecessarily escalated to the top levels that could have reasonably been dealt with internally".

It also reportedly includes a flow chart outlining the type of fast-paced day required by those working in Whitehall in the face of a no-deal Brexit.

A day would start with “situation reports” at 7am. Meetings and assessments would continue until 5.30am the next day.

The document tells government departments that they could be working constantly for an extended period of time.

“Under the planning assumptions it is assumed that the command, control and coordination arrangements might last, during the critical phase, for a minimum of 12 weeks and might require 24/7 working for all involved departments and agencies," it says.

"Some impacts may be felt for up to 24 weeks."

It reportedly identifies 12 areas as high-risk, including transport, healthcare services, and food and water supplies.

Critical decisions will be taken by the European Union exit and trade (preparedness) subcommittee, which is chaired by the Prime Minister.

"The committee will be available to take an overview of the situation and make any relevant decisions including on the following areas but not limited to legislation, identifying funding opportunities, allocation of national level resources (such as military, law enforcement or civil service resources, direction of government bodies and relaxation of regulations required at the ministerial level," the document explains.

A government spokesperson said: "As a responsible government we have been planning and continue to prepare for all eventualities, and that includes managing the impacts of a no-deal Brexit if they arise."

Separately, the Cabinet Office is expected to hold a string of resilience forums around the country to flag issues with more senior local figures.

These include warning of any spikes in community tensions, hate crime, panic buying, protests and demonstrations.

The Department of Health has also issued a 60-question form to every clinic and hopsital in England and Wales, which would have to be filled and sent to senior officials every day.

While some sources have reportedly criticised the level of no-deal planning, the government said: "We have taken action to ensure that local leaders have access to additional resources and support, should they require it. This includes pledging over £58m to assist their Brexit preparations."

Matt Foster

Boris Johnson 'reminds Theresa May of her promise to quit' as Brexit pressure mounts

10 hours 28 minutes ago
Conservative MP Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson held two meetings with the Prime Minister this week.

Boris Johnson reportedly reminded Theresa May of her promise to quit as Prime Minister during two meetings in Downing Street this week.

The Telegraph reports that the former foreign secretary met with the Prime Minister on Friday and one other occasion this week.

He is said to have reminded her of her of the committment she made to Conservative MPs following her failure to win a majority in 2017’s snap General Election.

Then, Mrs May told her party colleagues that she would remain as PM only "as long as you want me".

Mr Johnson is also said to have this week asked the Prime Minister how her approach to Brexit will change, with the Prime Minister reportedly displaying no intention of quitting.

However, The Times reports that Number 10 sources have indicated that discussions about a timetable for her departure are underway.

Mrs May is under increasing pressure to quit amid speculation that her proposed Brexit deal will be rejected by MPs for a third time next week, if it is voted on at all.

At least one previously supportive Cabinet minister now reportedly wants Mars May to make way, while a number of other MPs have indicated to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative Party's backbench 1922 Committee, that they would like her replaced.

However, they cannot force a vote of no confidence in her, as she won one less than a year ago.

Matt Foster

Theresa May's deputy David Lidington 'held talks with opposition' on plan to let MPs vote on Brexit alternatives

10 hours 40 minutes ago
David Lidington

The Prime Minister’s de facto deputy David Lidington held talks with opposition leaders about holding a series of votes in Parliament on alternative Brexit plans, it has emerged.

An opposition source told the Times:  "He was keen to discuss whether there should be indicative ballots [when MPs can vote for each alternative they like] or exhaustive ballots [where each round narrows the choice until one option is ultimately selected].”

His conversations with opposition figures go further than what Number 10 has previously indicated would happen if Mrs May's day is defeated.

Downing Street has said publicly only that it would “facilitate a process... to consider the potential ways forward” if parliament rejects the Prime Minister's proposed Brexit plan for a third time next week.

Cabinet minister Greg Clark on Friday said ministers would hand Parliament "the means to come to a view on the options available" if it again fails to back Mrs May's deal.

But Brexiteers have already expressed their anger about the possibility of such ballots, fearing it could lead to a softer Brexit.

Such votes could still take place even if the government itself does not decide to call them.

Senior MPs Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles put down a motion - to be voted on on Monday - that is likely to force such an exercise.

Former Cabinet Office Minister Sir Oliver Letwin helped develop the plan with Mr Boles.

He told The Times: "We believe that we have the numbers to pass the amendment on Monday and thereby guarantee indicative votes on Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, those who support a so-called 'Common Market 2.0' plan - that would see Britain stay in the single market and enter a customs arrangement with the EU - are waiting to hear if Labour will back their proposals.

Matt Foster

‘Brexit is killing me!’: EU debate weighs heavily on MPs

18 hours 7 minutes ago
Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said this week he had "never felt this level of tension"
Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said this week he had "never felt this level of tension"

MPs are under increasing pressure to come to a collective view on Brexit. As the debate wears on and the impasse remains, the stress is beginning to take its toll on some of our elected politicians. Sebastian Whale reports

It was at Baker Street station that I knew something was wrong. I felt a wave of nausea and began sweating profusely. I was about to pass out. A concerned passenger kindly gave up their seat.

I don’t know for certain what happened on my morning commute, but one theory doing the rounds was that I was tired and a bit stressed. Not that I felt under any undue pressure; but like many others who work in Westminster, there is no doubt I had felt fatigued by recent events.

The brief and minor episode got me thinking, just what impact is the Brexit debate having on our elected politicians? Amid myriad pressures – both internal and external to Parliament – how are MPs dealing with the copious amounts of stress that must, surely, be weighing heavily upon them?

---

It turns out I am not alone. During the votes on extending Article 50, Pat McFadden, MP for Wolverhampton South East, was rumoured to have fallen ill. It was the third highly consequential evening on Brexit, after the second meaningful vote and divisions on no deal. One Labour MP tells me it was the worst week in parliament since the death of Jo Cox in June 2016. McFadden, himself a former Europe minister, doesn’t want what took place that Thursday evening to be overhyped. “Honestly, I was a little dizzy. I just needed a glass of water. It was nothing,” he explains.

The Labour MP’s stoicism aside, politicians of all parties have been feeling the heat. Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the DUP, told me in an interview last week that MPs were finding the Brexit debate “mentally and emotionally draining”. “These are very big decisions. For all the criticisms of MPs, these decisions are weighing on them very heavily,” he said.

Ben Bradley, the Conservative MP for Mansfield, says that Brexiteers have ended up in therapy and on medication for stress. “For a lot of us, particularly those of us that are in very marginal seats, this decision and period decides both the long-term of the country and decides whether I have any hope in hell of still having a job at the end of it,” he says as we sit down for a coffee in Portcullis House.

Bradley, who voted Remain but represents a heavily leave-voting constituency, spent the weekend talking to colleagues about the expected third meaningful vote, instead of playing with his two children. “It was a total waste of my time anyway,” he laments. “The more you get on through it, the more you realise that as an individual there is very little you can do about it… There’s a kind of helplessness which is very difficult to explain because constituents very much feel that it’s all in my hands.”

Bradley voted against the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement at the first time of asking. But he changed his mind for the second vote, having decided it could be the only way to achieve Brexit on the 29th March. “Last week was miserable because of that,” he says. “[I got a] hell of a lot of stick.”

People who Bradley has known for a long time have turned against him. “All of a sudden, you’re one of those awful politicians in Westminster.”

Over the last two months, the stress has manifested itself in physical symptoms. “I’m reluctant to moan about it because it’s the same in lots of other jobs. But the weight of this decision is massive.” Bradley is getting heartburn “all the time”, has blotches on his face and has high blood pressure. “I’m at the doctors most days having my blood pressure checked now. It’s amazing; if I come off the TV and I’ve been talking about Brexit, I go straight to the doctors and have my blood pressure done. It’s like 160/120 or something ridiculous. If I talk to the kids for five minutes and have it done again, it’s fine.”

“Brexit is killing me!” he jokes. “But that’s where we are.”

MPs’ motives are in doubt in a way “that hasn’t always been the case”, Bradley says. “It’s difficult to deal with, because you’re a person at the end of the day, right?”

There is, of course, a personal element to it as well. The 29-year-old has a young family to care for. “It’s one of those where if we don’t do this, I absolutely guarantee you there’s no point in me delivering a leaflet at the next election. That’s me done. That’s high stakes on a national and a personal level,” he says.

“Then it strains relationships. You end up going home and you rant about Brexit and you’re having that conversation. My wife’s like, ‘I don’t want to hear it, go and put the kids in the bath’. So, it’s hard.”

Bradley, who came into politics wanting to speak out on education, says there is support in Parliament for people in need. “I’m lucky enough that I’ve got a group of colleagues to be able to sit and rant with. Not everybody does. There is a counselling service and stuff like that which I know quite a few colleagues use. I haven’t done that yet, but it’s been recommended to me. So, there are avenues and support,” he says.

A total of 85 MPs sought assistance through the parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service in 2018, up from 64 the previous year, according to data obtained from a freedom of information request lodged by PoliticsHome. The top five reasons MPs sought support were skin disorders, ear, nose and throat problems, musculoskeletal issues, blood pressure and respiratory disorders.

---

Under pressure are Labour MPs from leave-voting constituencies. While sometimes Remainers at heart, they are wrestling with the desires of their constituents, the positions of their parties and their own personal views, all of which do not often overlap.

Melanie Onn, the MP for Great Grimsby, is one such person. I asked how she was getting on back in February. “Awful,” the shadow housing minister replied. “I defy anybody to say that going through this process is fun and something that they’re delighted to relish the challenge in.”

Onn, whose constituency had one of the largest votes for Leave at the referendum, outlined her thought process. “It constantly makes me think about well, what is my role as an MP? Am I part of the Labour party and so I always vote with the Labour party? Am I here as a parliamentarian to represent my constituency only? If that’s the case, why am I in the party?

“If I’m leaning towards voting with the Government on an issue – not necessarily Brexit – what does that mean in terms of how that representative or delegate role plays out in the long-term? So, yes, a lot goes around in my head on a regular basis. It’s really hard trying to think what the best thing is to do.”

MPs like Onn, Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell are the type of Labour politicians Theresa May will need to win over to get her deal across the line at a third meaningful vote. The PM’s statement in Downing St, in which she appeared to pit parliament against the public, prompted backbencher Wes Streeting to claim that she would have to accept her share of responsibility if any harm comes to MPs. Downing St rejected the suggestion. Speaking in Brussels, the PM said: “Last night I expressed my frustration. I know that MPs are frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do. I hope we can all agree, we are now at the moment of decision.”

McFadden argues the PM’s “tone on parliament” is the story of the day, not MPs’ wellbeing. “Why has the Prime Minister of the country got nothing good to say about parliamentary democracy?” he asks.

Before May’s statement, Lindsay Hoyle, the deputy speaker, advised MPs to share taxis when they leave Parliament due to concerns about their safety. He also revealed that police across the country had been notified of the situation.

“Personally, I have never felt this level of tension during my time in the House and I am aware that other colleagues feel the same,” Hoyle wrote to MPs.

---

The Brexit debate has heavily strained relationships within the major political parties. Often this has played out in public. Occasionally, private conversations have been leaked to the media.

Antoinette Sandbach, the pro-EU MP for Eddisbury, left a Conservative WhatsApp group chat after a row with her colleague Michael Fabricant over Brexit, who asked her: “If you’ve been drinking again, best not to be on social media – even this one. OK?”

Commenting on the remark, Sandbach tells me: “It’s completely unfounded, totally untrue, made without any basis whatsoever.” The backbencher has lodged a formal complaint with the Conservative party.

“He has apologised to me, but he hasn’t apologised for making that comment and he hasn’t retracted it. Frankly, his explanation was that he wanted to shut down debate on Brexit, but you don’t do that by smearing your colleagues.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “Our complaints process is private and confidential.” Fabricant was approached for comment.

Sandbach is another MP under some pressure. Leave.EU is targeting her Cheshire seat and she is a regular recipient of hate mail. “It’s another thing I have to deal with. I have to report it to the police and we have to establish how much of a threat it is. It’s not very nice,” she says.

“I didn’t want to get elected to parliament to spend two years obsessing about Europe. When I was elected originally in 2015, we had a very clear programme of government, we had a clear aim. The whole atmosphere in parliament has changed. I didn’t sleep last night because I was worrying about what was going to happen. I’m genuinely trying to do the best for my constituents and what I believe to be in their best interests.”

---

Is politics good for your mental health, I asked Jackie Doyle-Price, the mental health minister last year. “No!” she replied. “I always say that being a Member of Parliament is the best job in the world and the worst at the same time. But like anything else, you have to find your own tools for being resilient, you need to look after yourselves. There’s a lot of camaraderie over there, which is nice.”

I put the same question to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, a few months later. “Um, politics is a highly stressed occupation, but it’s also one where you have a sense of mission and a sense of duty and is very gregarious. Those three things are definitely good for your mental health, but some of the stresses and strains are a challenge.”

MPs might not garner a whole deal of sympathy. At the end of the day, they put themselves forward to take on public service and are well remunerated for doing so. The Brexit impasse, arguably brought about in part due to parliament’s inability to come to a collective view, is having implications well beyond Westminster. The truth is, though, that how MPs vote on Brexit will follow them around for the rest of their parliamentary careers; at various points looking ill-advised or prescient.

We expect politicians to make decisions of great magnitude without complaint. But we would do well to acknowledge the challenge at hand.   

Sebastian Whale

Theresa May tells MPs she might not hold third Brexit vote if not enough support for her deal

20 hours 9 minutes ago
Theresa May
The Prime Minister wrote directly to MPs just days after pointing the finger at them for the Brexit delay.

Theresa May has told MPs that she may not bring her Brexit deal back to them for a third vote next week if there is not enough support for it.

In a direct letter to MPs after EU leaders agreed to a short Brexit delay, the Prime Minister said: "If it appears that there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before 12 April."

And she sought to dampen down a row with MPs by making clear her "respect" for what they do - just days after appearing to blame them for the current deadlock.

The move comes after Brussels threw the Prime Minister a lifeline by agreeing to delay Brexit up to 22 May if MPs get behind her agreement.

But if the blueprint is rejected for a third time, the EU made clear Britain would only have until 12 April to set out its plans or leave without a deal.

Mrs May said MPs now faced four options - but warned that one of them, revoking Article 50 to cancel Brexit, would "betray the result of the referendum".

Others, she said, included leaving without a deal on 12 April, although the Prime Minister noted that MPs had "previously said this is not something it will support".

The third option laid out by Mrs May is to ask for another Article 50 extension - a move she pointed out would "involve holding European Parliament elections".

Finally, she added: "If it appears that there is sufficient support and the Speaker permits it, we can bring the deal back next week and if it is approved we can leave on 22 May."

The letter came hours after the DUP - who Mrs May relies on for her Commons majority - signalled it would again vote against her Brexit deal at any third attempt, and blasted the Prime Minister for a "disappointing and inexcusable" failure to stand up to EU leaders.

Mrs May also used the letter to try to defuse tensions which were ratcheted up earlier this week when she appeared to use a Downing Street statement to blame MPs for the delay to Brexit.

Striking a notably softer tone, the Prime Minister said: "I expressed my frustration with our failure to take a decision, but I know that many of you are frustrated too.

"You have a difficult job to do and it was not my intention to make it any more difficult. People on all sides of the debate hold passionate views and I respect those differences.

"I would like to thank all of those colleagues that have supported the deal so far and also those that have taken the time to meet me to discuss their concerns.

"I hope we can all agree that we are now at the moment of decision. If you would like to speak to me over the coming days as Parliament prepares to take momentous decisions, please contact my office."

Cabinet minister Greg Clark earlier made clear that the Commons would be allowed to vote on alternatives to Mrs May's deal if they vote it down at a third attempt - a move that has already caused anger among Brexiteers, who have accused the Prime Minister of ceding control to Remain-supporting members of the Government.

Matt Foster

Labour's Tom Watson says he will vote for Theresa May's Brexit deal if she agrees to second referendum

1 day ago
Tom Watson
The Labour deputy leader will address

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson will tell Theresa May he is prepared to vote for her Brexit deal if she agrees to allow a second EU referendum.

In a major intervention, the party's deputy leader will tell a rally demanding a so-called People's Vote on Saturday that he is prepared to help the embattled Prime Minister get her agreement through the House of Commons - but only if she lets "the people have a vote on it too".

Mr Watson - who organisers said would take "centre stage" at the 'Put It To The People' rally this weekend - will tell second referendum supporters he is "proud to be marching" alongside them.

But his comments come just hours after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made clear that he would be staying away from Saturday's protest for fear of "alienating Brexit supporters".

Addressing the rally on Saturday, Mr Watson will talk up a public vote on Brexit as "the only way to resolve" Britain's EU deadlock.

The Labour deputy will tell supporters: "Brexit is currently stuck in the pipework of Parliament, with MPs split, completely unable to agree or find a way forward. The current impasse is not working for people who voted to leave or people who voted to stay.

"I really don’t think Parliament will be able to resolve this.

"That’s why I’ve come to the reluctant view that the only way to resolve this and have legitimacy in the eyes of the public is for the people themselves to sign it off. It can only bring closure if we're all involved in making the decision.

"It can only begin to bring the country back together again if we all have a final say – and then live with the result.

"So, I have an explicit message for Theresa May: I will vote for your deal or a revised deal you can agree with my party.

"I will help you get it over the line to prevent a disastrous no deal exit. But I can only vote for your deal - or any deal - if you let the people have a vote on it too."

MCDONNELL: RALLY WILL 'ALIENATE' BREXIT VOTERS

But Mr McDonnell made clear that he would be staying away from the protest, and told Channel 4 News the rally "might alienate some of the people who are strong Leavers who I want to bring on board".

The Labour frontbencher added: "What I don't want to do at this stage is alienate either side but actually try and see whether or not we can actually get a compromise that will hold."

Nevertheless, a string of Labour MPs from across the party's ideological factions will join the second referendum push on Saturday, with London mayor Sadiq Khan also set to address the march.

Key parliamentary supporters of Jeremy Corbyn including shadow minister Clive Lewis, former shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor and Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle will join a so-called 'Left Bloc' at the rally, while centre-left MPs including Jess Philips and David Lammy will also be taking part.

Tory grandee Lord Heseltine and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are also due to address the march, which will work its way from London’s Park Lane to Parliament Square.

Labour agreed a resolution at its conference last year which committed the party to campaigning for a fresh public vote on Brexit if it could not secure a general election.

But PoliticsHome revealed earlier this week that Mr Corbyn faces the prospect fresh resignations from his top team if he orders MPs to support a backbench bid to secure a so-called ‘People’s Vote’.

Labour backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson are preparing to lay an amendment next week that seeking a fresh public vote in which the choice would be between a Brexit deal and staying in the EU.

But the Labour leader could face a similar exodus of shadow ministers if he whips MPs to support the Kyle-Wilson amendment.

One MP told PoliticsHome: “I campaigned in the general election for a softer Brexit and I reassured voters we would honour the referendum.

“I would be going back on my word if I voted for this amendment - there would be a sense of betrayal.”

Another MP meanwhile said they would challenge Mr Corbyn to sack them.

"I’ve said all along that a second referendum isn’t the way to go as my constituents expect us to deliver Brexit.

"But I love my frontbench position and will have to be pushed out of it - I won’t be jumping."

Matt Foster

Fresh Brexit blow for Theresa May as DUP signals it will reject her deal again

1 day ago
Nigel Dodds is the deputy leader of the DUP
Nigel Dodds accused Theresa May of a "disappointing and inexcusable" failure to challenge the EU.

Theresa May's hopes of getting her Brexit deal through the House of Commons at a third attempt have been dealt a major blow after the DUP accused the Prime Minister of being "far too willing to capitulate" to the European Union.

In a scathing attack, the unionist party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds accused Mrs May of a "disappointing and inexcusable" failure to stand up to EU leaders.

The comments - which come after Mrs May was forced to ask EU leaders for a Brexit delay - are highly significant because the Prime Minister relies on the DUP for her Commons majority.

A sizable chunk of Conservative Brexiteers would also be willing to switch to backing her twice-rejected agreement in the Commons if the DUP jumped on board.

But Mr Dodds said: "The Prime Minister missed an opportunity at the EU Council to put forward proposals which could have improved the prospects of an acceptable Withdrawal Agreement and help unite the country.

"That failure is all the more disappointing and inexcusable given the clear divisions and arguments which became evident amongst EU member states when faced with outcomes they don’t like.

"As we have always said, negotiations with the EU inevitably go down to the wire and the Government has been far too willing to capitulate before securing the necessary changes which would get an agreement through the House of Commons."

Continuing the furious broadside, Mr Dodds - who has already struck a hardline stance in recent days in an interview with The House magazine - said the Government had "consistently settled for inferior compromises when they didn’t need to".

And he insisted Mrs May should have continued to negotiate with the EU to press for changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

The DUP has repeatedly made clear its objections to the backstop, which would seek to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping the UK tied to key EU customs and single market rules if no alternative plan can be drawn up.

The party fears that the backstop would leave Northern Ireland operating under a different regulatory regime to the rest of the UK.

'LECTURES'

Mr Dodds also used his statement on Friday to lambast Mrs May over a speech on Wednesday in which she sought to pin the blame for a Brexit delay on MPs.

"Lectures by the Prime Minister putting the blame on others cannot disguise the responsibility her government bears for the current debacle and the fact that her agreement has been twice overwhelmingly rejected in Parliament," the DUP's deputy leader said.

"The Prime Minister has now agreed with the EU to kick the can down the road for another two weeks and humiliatingly revoke her oft-stated pledge that the UK would leave the EU on 29th March.

"Nothing has changed as far as the Withdrawal Agreement is concerned. Nothing fundamentally turns on the formal ratification of documents which the Attorney General has already said do not change the risk of the U.K. being trapped in the backstop.

"The DUP has been very clear throughout that we want a deal which delivers on the referendum result and which works for all parts of the U.K. and for the EU as well.

"But it must be a deal that protects the Union. That remains our abiding principle. We will not accept any deal which poses a long term risk to the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom."

The row came as Cabinet minister Greg Clark confirmed that MPs will be given a vote on a string of Brexit alternatives if they reject Theresa May's deal for a third time - a move that has already caused fury among some Conservative Brexiteers.

Matt Foster

Brexiteer fury as Government confirms MPs to get vote on alternatives if they reject Theresa May's deal

1 day 1 hour ago
Theresa May
The Prime Minister is facing the prospect of a fresh defeat if she puts her Brexit deal back to MPs for a third time.

Eurosceptic Tories have erupted in anger as Cabinet minister Greg Clark confirmed MPs will be given a vote on a string of Brexit alternatives if they reject Theresa May's deal for a third time.

Amid reports of a seven-way series of so-called 'indicative votes' on everything from a second referendum to a no-deal exit, the Business Secretary confirmed ministers would hand Parliament "the means to come to a view on the options available" if it again fails to back Mrs May's deal.

But one furious Brexiteer minister told PoliticsHome: "The Remainers have control."

Sky News reported on Friday that Number 10 was actively drawing up plans to hold a Commons vote on seven different Brexit outcomes.

They include revoking Article 50 altogether, holding a second referendum, backing Mrs May's deal, passing her deal combined with customs union membership and single market access, a free-trade agreement, or a no-deal departure from the EU.

The move follows growing demands from some backbenchers for the Commons to seize control of the deadlocked Brexit process.

Confirming the plan, Mr Clark told the BBC that ministers would offer MPs the chance to express their view on alternative options if they refuse to get behind the Prime Minister's ill-fated agreement.

"If it doesn't get past, it doesn't enjoy the support of Parliament, then the Government will facilitate... the ability of parliament to express a majority of what it would approve," he said.

"And so I think that's the right step."

Pointing to earlier comments from Mrs May's de facto deputy David Lidington - who had promised to "allow the house to seek a majority on the way forward" - Mr Clark said: "Every minister when they speak at the despatch box, speaks on behalf of the Gopvernment.

"And so the commitment that he made was that the Government would provide parliament with the means to come to a view on the options avialable."

And he made clear that the Government would offer MPs its own version of indicative votes rather than adopting a cross-party bid to secure the initiative.

"The commitment that the Govenrment has made seems, to me, very clear, that the Government will provide that," he said.

"So there's no reason why the Government should be forced to do something that it is committed to do anyway, which I think is the right thing."

However, it remains unclear precisely what options MPs will be asked to vote on, as well as how the Government will respond to the preferences expresed by MPs.

'APPALLING

The move has already triggered an angry backlash from Brexiteers, with one normally-loyal minister telling PoliticsHome: "There are no words left to explain this. Just appalling. And with no consultation. No words left."

And they warned: "The Remainers have control."

Backbench Tories also rounded on the Prime Minister, with Mark Francois, a senior member of the European Research Group of MPs telling Sky News: "If the Government is going to allow unwhipped votes on indicative votes, if there is no government position on any of those issues about the future of our country, then there isn't really a government."

Fellow Brexiteer Marcus Fysh said the plan was "the most ludicrous, childish and unrealistic idea I have ever seen".

And Cabinet minister Liz Truss made her objection to the proposal known on Twitter.

 

 

Their comments came after Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng dropped a major hint that Tory MPs would not be ordered to vote in any particular way during such an exercise, and just hours after Brussels handed Mrs May a Brexit lifeline by offering a brief extension to the UK’s scheduled exit from the bloc.

After marathon talks on Thuesday, EU leaders agreed to delay Brexit up to the 22 May – but only if MPs back Mrs May’s deal.

If the blueprint is rejected for a third time, Britain will have until 12 April to set out its plans or leave without a deal.

But in a fresh blow for the Prime Minister, the DUP - who Mrs May relies on for her Commons majority - signalled it would again vote against her Brexit deal at any third attempt.

“The prime minister missed an opportunity at the EU Council to put forward proposals which could have improved the prospects of an acceptable withdrawal agreement and help unite the country," the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said.

"That failure is all the more disappointing and inexcusable given the clear divisions and arguments which became evident amongst EU member states when faced with outcomes they don’t like."

Matt Foster

Brexit minister says Tory MPs could get free vote on alternatives if they vote down Theresa May's EU deal again

1 day 6 hours ago
Brexit
MPs have already twice rejected Theresa May's EU deal.

Tory MPs could be given a free vote on alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit plan if they fail to back her deal at the next attempt, a minister has suggested.

Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said it would be “surprising” if party bosses tried to compel MPs to vote in a particular way if they once again reject the Prime Minister’s EU agreement.

And he refused to rule out Government support for a cross-party attempt to give MPs a say over the Brexit process - saying ministers “would have to look at alternatives” if the Commons votes down the Prime Minister’s deal.

MPs from across the political divide have launched a fresh attempt to set aside Commons business next Wednesday for a series of so-called “indicative votes” if the House rejects the PM's deal a third time.

The bid to seize control of the Brexit process is being led by Conservative grandee Sir Oliver Letwin, and also has the backing of leading Remain-supporter Dominic Grieve, plus top Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.

Tory MP Vicky Ford pressed Mr Kwarteng on the proposal in the Commons on Friday morning.

"I know that many members of this House want to deliver on the referendum in an orderly manner and I will support the withdrawal agreement when it comes back to the House as the best way to do that,” she said.

“But if it does not go through and then there are indicative votes, will they be free votes so that everybody outside this chamber can truly see that we are acting in a way to try and find the best way forward though the circumstances are difficult?"

Responding for the Government, Mr Kwarteng said: "Obviously if the House is being asked to decide a way forward it would be surprising if those votes were not free votes.

“But again, she will understand... that that ultimate decision is a matter for the [government] business managers and will be taken as and when the debate will take place."

Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn – who has long been pushing for indicative votes on a host of outcomes including a no-deal Brexit, a Norway-style softer Brexit and a second referendum – meanwhile urged the Government to actively back the cross-party bid to stop Britain continuing “to hurtle towards the edge of a cliff”.

Mr Kwarteng – who repeatedly refused to name a date for any third vote on Mrs May’s deal – said the Government’s focus was on securing “the deal on the table”.

But he said: “We want to pass the meaningful vote and then we want to introduce the Withdrawal Bill. Now if the meaningful vote doesn't get through we will have to look at alternatives."

SEVEN-OPTION VOTE?

Sky News on Friday cited a senior minister who said plans were being drawn up to allow indicative votes to go ahead and "find a solution" to the Commons deadlock.

According to the broadcaster, MPs could be asked to vote on revoking Article 50, holding a second referendum, backing Mrs May's deal, backing her deal plus customs union membership and single market access, a free-trade agreement, or a no-deal departure from the EU.

Pressed on the story, a government source pointed to earlier comments by Theresa May's de facto deputy David Lidington, who said on March 14 that if Mrs May's vote again fell again, the Government "would facilitate a process in the two weeks after the March European council to allow the house to seek a majority on the way forward".

But Conservative Brexiteer Mark Francois heaped scorn on the idea of MPs being given a free hand on a batch of EU options.

"I've been an MP for 18 years and I've never seen a shambles like this in all my life," he said.

The report came just hours after Brussels handed Mrs May a Brexit lifeline by offering a brief extension to the UK’s scheduled exit from the bloc.

After marathon talks, EU leaders agreed to delay Brexit up to the 22 May – but only if MPs back Mrs May’s deal.

If the blueprint is rejected for a third time, Britain will have until 12 April to set out its plans or leave without a deal.

Matt Foster

Armed forces launch MoD bunker team to plan deployments in case of no-deal Brexit

1 day 10 hours ago
Ministry of Defence
The Ministry of Defence's Main Building in London's Whitehall

Britain’s armed forces have set up a team in a nuclear-proof bunker underneath the Ministry of Defence as part of preparations for a no-deal Brexit, officials have said.

Around 3,500 troops are being held “at readiness” to help with contingency plans if the UK crashes out of the European Union next month without an agreement.

Sky News says troops will be ready to be deployed at a day's notice from Monday, to take on roles such as helping to transport food, fuel and other goods into and around Britain.

The UK had been due to quit the EU next Friday, however last night Theresa May won an unconditional extension that could see the country remain in the bloc until 12 April.

The preparations, which officials point out are part of wider government planning - are being run under the banner of ‘Operation Redfold’.

The mission is the military part of cross-Whitehall preparations for a no-deal exit, known as Operation Yellowhammer.

A MoD spokesman said: “We are always willing to support wider government planning for any scenario, and we have committed to holding 3,500 troops at readiness to aid contingency plans.

“We will consider any requests from other government departments if they feel defence capability could contribute to their no-deal planning.”

Nicholas Mairs

Top Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady 'told Theresa May MPs want her to quit’ over Brexit

1 day 11 hours ago
Graham Brady
Graham Brady (centre) following December's vote of no-confidence in the PM

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative1922 committee, has reportedly told Theresa May that MPs want her to stand down over her handling of Brexit.

The party’s most senior backbencher is said to have visited the Prime Minister at Downing Street on Monday, where he told her that the number of colleagues calling for her to go was growing.

The Daily Telegraph says the Altrincham and Sale West MP broke the news in a "neutral" manner after he was "bombarded with text messages" by Tories calling for her to be confronted.

However the latest calls come amid anger from MPs on both sides of the Brexit split, with the paper saying Mrs May has faced growing and direct challenges to her authority over the past fortnight.

It adds that hours before the last meaningful vote on her deal – which was crushed by a margin of 149 votes – Mrs May was confronted by a group of 15 whips.

A source told the paper there was "a lot of anger," with one openly calling on her to go.

Meanwhile, Nigel Evans, executive secretary of the 1922 committee and a eurosceptic, is said to have told the Prime Minister on Wednesday: "It's not that people don't believe what you say, it's that people don't believe you can deliver."

Another Tory MP apparently told the Prime Minister at the meeting in her Parliamentary office: "If it goes to the next stage, there is a feeling that you shouldn't be part of it."

Sir Graham was thrown into the limelight as chair of the powerful committee last December when he received the required 48 letters from Tory MPs to trigger a no-confidence vote in Mrs May.

The vote, which was subsequently lost, means the party cannot bring forward the formal process to oust her from the role until the end of the year.

The Telegraph also reports that Mrs May sparked fresh fury following her late-night speech in Downing Street on Wednesday, in which she appeared to pin the blame for the Brexit delay on MPs.

Chief Whip Julian Smith is understood to have branded the comments "appalling” and warned it could alienate Labour MPs who might have backed her Brexit deal.

The PM is expected to press for a third vote on her agreement, if ministers believe they stand a chance of winning it, before 12 April - the new deadline set by the EU on which Britain is due to quit the bloc if it has not backed the deal.

Nicholas Mairs

EU snubs Theresa May by only offering Brexit delay until 22 May - if MPs back her deal

2 days ago
Theresa May
Theresa May is greeted by EU leaders.

EU bosses have rejected Theresa May's attempt to delay Brexit until 30 June.

In a fresh snub for the Prime Minister, the EU Council summit in Brussels decided to approve her request for an Article 50 extension - but only until 22 May.

They said a longer delay is impossible because the UK has ruled out taking part in the European Parliament elections that week.

Mrs May has also been warned that the delay is wholly dependent on MPs finally passing her Brexit deal when they vote on it for a third time next week.

Summit conclusions published by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday afternoon said: "The European Council commits to agreeing, before 29 March 2019, to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week.

"Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date."

In her letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk requesting an extension until 30 June, Mrs May had said the Government needed that time to pass the necessary legislation to implement the deal.

Earlier, French president Emmanuel Macron had warned that the UK was heading for a no-deal Brexit if Mrs May's deal is not passed next week.

He said: "In the case of a negative vote in the British parliament, we will be going to a no-deal. We all know that. It is absolutely essential to be clear in these days and these moments, because it is a matter of the good functioning of the EU.

"We cannot have what I would call an excessive extension which would harm our capacity to [make a] decision and to act.”

Msr Macron added: "The exit process has taken two years of negotiation. It cannot be renegotiated."

Kevin Schofield

ANALYSIS Theresa May has alienated MPs again - but it could be worth it in the grand scheme of Brexit

2 days 1 hour ago
Theresa May
Theresa May addressed the nation last night

Theresa May has made an art of alienating MPs.

The Prime Minister is frequently criticised for failing to listen, for going back on her word and for her string of political strategy blunders.

Last night she dropped another clanger as she addressed the nation direct from Downing Street and landed her parliamentary colleagues right in it on Brexit.

She accused MPs of doing “everything possible to avoid making a choice” and insisted to Brits: “I am on your side.”

The comments sparked outrage from MPs - who accused her of making them a greater target for pro-Brexit activists than they already are. One told PoliticsHome it was “a licence for every right-wing scumbag in the country to go after MPs”.

With little else to focus on as the nation waits on the next move from Brussels, the blame game row has dominated the news agenda. Labour MP Lisa Nandy had made moves towards throwing her support behind the Brexit deal, but said she had changed her mind since the PM's statement.

Even Commons Speaker John Bercow weighed in, telling members in the Commons: “None of you is a traitor.”

But Downing Street is unlikely to care. The aim of the address last night was to appeal to the voting public to pile pressure on their MPs to vote for the deal next week and get Brexit done.

The PM also wanted a chance to explain to the nation why the UK is now seeking an extension, amid concerns Brits might not have understood after months of promises there would be no delay.

In any case, the PM is right. MPs have been refusing to play ball in efforts to drag the Government closer to their Brexit visions - many of which are fantastical non-starters. Her constant refrain that voting for the deal is the best way to avoid no-deal has the unpalatable quality of being true.

Downing Street will sense that the public knows that - and that MPs would be foolish to change their votes next week based on a little political cut and thrust from May.

Some fighting talk to get the rebels into line might just be what the country needs in the grander scheme of Brexit.

emilio.casalicchio

Emmanuel Macron says UK will quit EU with no deal if MPs reject Theresa May plan next week

2 days 3 hours ago
Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron arriving at the European Council summit in Brussels

Britain will crash out of the EU without a deal next week if MPs reject the Brexit deal secured by Theresa May a third time, Emmanuel Macron has warned.

The French president said if there is a "negative vote" when the Prime Minister brings her blueprint back to Parliament, "we will be going to a no-deal”.

He made the comments as he arrived at the European Council summit in Brussels, where EU leaders will decide whether to offer the UK a conditional Brexit delay.

The Prime Minister has requested a pause to the end of June - but European Council chief Donald Tusk said an offer up to 23 May would be likely as long as MPs approve the deal on the table.

Mrs May is expected to bring her deal back to the Commons for a third time next week, after MPs rejected it by 240 votes in January and 149 earlier this month.

Mr Macron said he was open to a short technical extension to the 29 March exit date “in the case of a positive vote”.

“In the case of a negative vote in the British parliament, we will be going to a no-deal. We all know that,” he added.

“It is absolutely essential to be clear in these days and these moments, because it is a matter of the good functioning of the EU.

“We cannot have what I would call an excessive extension which would harm our capacity to [make a] decision and to act.”

And he insisted: “The exit process has taken two years of negotiation. It cannot be renegotiated.”

Meanwhile, Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said: “If next week we are not able to find agreement in the House of Commons we are going in the direction of no deal.”

And Latvian prime minister Krisjanis Karins said the UK would have to quit with no deal or cancel Brexit altogether if MPs reject the agreement again next week.

Arriving at the summit herself today, Mrs May told reporters: “As I said yesterday, this delay is a matter of personal regret to me.

“But a short extension would give parliament the time to make a final choice that delivers on the result of the referendum.”

emilio.casalicchio

Top business and trade union groups unite in call for Theresa May to change course on Brexit

2 days 3 hours ago
Carolyn Fairbairn and Frances O'Grady
Carolyn Fairbairn and Frances O'Grady

The heads of Britain’s top business and trade union groups have issued a joint call for Theresa May to change course on Brexit and avoid crashing out of the EU with no deal.

Carolyn Fairbairn from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Frances O’Grady from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) wrote to the Prime Minister demanding a meeting to discuss the "national emergency" facing the country.

The duo said the tens of thousands of businesses and several million union members they represent “are not ready” for the prospect of the UK crashing out of the bloc.

They made the plea as French president Emmanuel Macron warned the UK would be on course for a no-deal Brexit if MPs reject the PM's deal a third time next week.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on 29 March, with or without an agreement, unless Mrs May can persuade the EU to grant an extension to Article 50 at the two-day European Council summit, which begins today.

In their letter to the PM, the CBI and TUC leaders said: “Our country is facing a national emergency. Decisions of recent days have caused the risk of no deal to soar.

“Firms and communities across the UK are not ready for this outcome. The shock to our economy would be felt by generations to come.”

“We ask you to take three steps to protect the jobs, rights and livelihoods of ordinary working people.”

The leaders said Mrs May had to acknowledge the need to avoid a “reckless” no-deal exit was “paramount” and urged her to secure an Article 50 extension as well as changes to her deal to break the parliamentary deadlock.

The latter, they said, must be a solution that protects workers and the economy, maintains an open Irish border and is “negotiable with the EU”.

“A new approach is needed to secure this – whether through indicative votes or another mechanism for compromise,” they added.

And they said: “We cannot overstate the gravity of this crisis for firms and working people. We request an urgent meeting with you to discuss our concerns and hear your response.”

'GOING TO A NO DEAL'

The PM pledged yesterday to push for a “short extension” until 30 June, although European Council chief Donald Tusk has indicated a deadline of 23 May will be offered.

But Mr Tusk said the extension would only be granted if MPs back the Brexit deal they rejected by 149 votes earlier this month.

Arriving at the Council summit, French president Mr Macron warned: "In the case of a negative vote in the British parliament, we will be going to a no-deal. We all know that."

Nicholas Mairs

WATCH: John Bercow says MPs are 'not traitors' after Theresa May sparks Brexit delay row

2 days 5 hours ago
John Bercow
John Bercow said that the "duty of every Member of Parliament is to do what he or she thinks is right"

John Bercow today leapt to the defence of MPs as Theresa May faced a backlash after blaming them for the expected Brexit delay.

The Prime Minister was roundly criticised last night when she used a speech in Downing Street to accuse Parliament of doing "everything possible to avoid making a choice" on the UK's departure from the EU.

Directly addressing the public, she declared: "You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side."

Earlier in the day she said MPs had "indulged themselves on Europe for too long" as she pleaded for members to get behind her withdrawal agreement.

But Speaker John Bercow intervened in the Commons this morning to declare that all members are “doing their best” and that the duty of MPs is to “do what he or she thinks is right”.

The intervention followed a question from Labour’s Diana Johnson to leader of the House Andrea Leadom, in which she accused the Prime Minister of having “pitched” MPs against the public.

The Hull North MP cited a Facebook post calling her a “traitor” and saying her and two colleagues from neighbouring constituencies should be “shot and hanged”.

Mr Bercow responded: “None of you is a traitor, all of you are doing your best… the sole duty of every Member of Parliament is to do what he or she thinks is right."

“This should not be and I’m sure will not prove to be a matter of any controversy whatsoever. From the chair, let me say that I believe passionately in the institution of parliament in the rights of members of this House and in their commitment to their duty and I use the word duty in the singular advisedly.

“The sole duty of every Member of Parliament is to do what he or she thinks is right. There is nothing in my judgement to be added."

Watch the Speaker's comments below:

Elsewhere, former Tory minister Dominic Grieve told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that he had received a death threat only yesterday, as he too criticised the PM.

“I do get death threats,” he said. “One came in yesterday. [Mrs May] knows this, and earlier at Prime Minister’s Questions, she condemned the atmosphere of violence that seems to be creeping into some peoples discourse,

“And yet ultimately she used extremely aggressive language and as I say, she’s just wrong.”

The ex-Attorney General’s latest criticism came after he said Mrs May’s comments at the despatch box had left him “ashamed” of being a member of the Tory party.

A Downing Street spokesperson denied Mrs May’s comments were putting MPs at risk, however, adding: “I reject the suggestion there’s any connection or any link to that. The PM was setting out to the public the details of the extension and her own personal regrets on that front.”

They added that the PM "flatly rejects" any suggestion of a link between her words and threats aimed at MPs.

Nicholas Mairs

Theresa May compared to Donald Trump after blaming MPs for Brexit delay

2 days 12 hours ago
Theress May
The Prime Minister told voters: "I'm on your side."

Theresa May has been accused of acting like a Donald Trump "wannabe" after she sought to blame MPs for her request to delay Brexit.

The Prime Minister - who will head to Brussels on Thursday to press EU leaders for a three-month extension of Article 50 - used a late night Downing Street address to accuse Parliament of doing "everything possible to avoid making a choice" on Brexit.

Directly addressing the public, she declared: "You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side."

But the move triggered a furious backlash from MPs, with Labour's Lisa Nandy accusing the Prime Minister of seeking to cling to her job by deflecting blame.

"It was disgraceful, frankly, and the problem that we've got ourselves into now is that we've got her trying to bully and threaten Members of Parliament into voting for her deal by threatening us with no deal," the Wigan MP told ITV's Peston.

"We know that the European Union is likely to offer a long extension if we don't vote for the deal. Really what this is about is whether Theresa May can survive as Prime Minister."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry likened the Prime Minister to President Trump, telling the same show: "It is like she is some sort of Trump wannabe. It is not the way we do things... There is another way, and this is disgraceful."

Another Labour MP told PoliticsHome: "I thought her speech was a disgrace and a licence for every right-wing scumbag in the country to go after MPs. Unlike me, she’s never had to say to a bloke installing a panic button in the house 'needs to be a bit higher mate so the kids can’t reach it'."

Mrs May meanwhile faced fresh anger from both wings of her own party over the address, with Brexiteers and Remainers laying into the Prime Minister over her comments.

"Not leaving the EU next Friday is a political choice - and one entirely within the Prime Minister's gift," the former Conservative vice-chair for youth, Tom Pursglove MP said.

"We can leave on the March - on time, as planned, as promised. There is absolutely no need to delay. The ball is in her court."

Fellow Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns said: "As usual another statement saying very little."

Former minister Philip Lee, who quit the Government last year and is now pushing for a second Brexit referendum, blasted the Prime Minister's statement as "dreadful".

"I think we've had enemy of the people with judges, now we’re moving on to MPs, the Bank of England - I mean this is the fabric of our society."

'CONSENSUS'

The bitter row came as the Prime Minister prepared to travel to Brussels for a summit of EU leaders, where she will plead for an extension to Article 50.

European Council President Donald Tusk on Wednesday made clear that the UK would only be granted a Brexit delay if the House of Commons votes to back her deal.

With just eight days left before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU without a deal, Mrs May will chair a meeting of her fractious Cabinet before heading to the crunch European Council gathering.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will meanwhile hold his own Brussels talks with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, EU Commission boss Martin Selmayr and a string of other European leaders.

Ahead of the trip, the Labour leader - who walked out of cross-party talks on Wednesday night over the inclusion of Independent Group spokesperson Chuka Umunna - renewed his call for a "consensus".

He said: "Theresa May's botched deal has been overwhelming rejected twice by parliament. It should not be brought back for a third time of asking.

"Her government is in chaos, and she is arrogantly trying to bully Parliament to vote for the same bad deal.

"After serious talks with senior MPs from across parliament, I believe it should be possible to agree a deal with the EU that secures a close economic relationship before the European parliament elections.

"I look forward to discussing this with European leaders today."

Matt Foster

EXCL Cross-party pressure on Sajid Javid to end call charges for EU citizens' post-Brexit rights hotline

2 days 20 hours ago
Sajid Javid
Home Secretary Sajid Javid

MPs from across the political divide have piled pressure on Sajid Javid to remove call charges from a hotline for EU citizens who want to stay in the UK after Brexit, PoliticsHome can reveal.

In a letter to the Home Secretary, Labour MPs and MEPs urged him to make the helpline for Settled Status applicants free to “ensure EU nationals are not at risk of being left in limbo”.

And Tory MP Alberto Costa said he would ask the Cabinet minister to scrap the charges.

PoliticsHome revealed earlier this week that more than 1 million EU citizens are set to be hit by the call charges when they seek help from the Settlement Resolution Centre

The Government has already been forced to end a £65 fee for the scheme, which will allow EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five years or more retain the same rights after Brexit.

Calls to the Home Office helpline are made to an 0300 number, which costs up to 10p a minute from landlines and between 3p to 40p a minute from mobiles.

During the second rollout phase of the Settled Status application scheme, more than a third of the 30,000 applicants called the number for help.

It means some 1.3 million EU nationals could be expected to call the hotline when the scheme is made available after 30 March for the full 3.7 million who are living in the UK.

In the letter to Mr Javid, which was also sent to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, Labour MEP Julie Ward said: “I am asking that the Settled Status Scheme Hotline immediately be made a freephone number for all callers.

“EU citizens had no vote in the 2016 referendum and they are now being charged to call a government helpline to ascertain if they are able to reside in the United Kingdom post Brexit.”

She added: “This is an issue of fairness and I implore that you make the hotline free to ensure that EU nationals are not at risk of being left in limbo due to a technicality or insufficient funds.

“This is a matter of urgency and I would request that you reply and rectify the issue with the immediacy that this issue deserves, given the timeframe of the application process.”

The letter was signed by eight MEPs - including Richard Corbett, the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. It was also signed by MPs Seema Malhotra, Stephen Doughty and Lloyd Russel-Moyle.

Meanwhile, Mr Costa told PoliticsHome: “It has only recently been brought to my attention that there may be excessive charges for people to call a necessary helpline

“I will raise it immediately with the Home Secretary and request that these charges are removed.”

The Lib Dems have also backed calls to make the hotline free, as has the pro-EU People’s Vote campaign and the 3 Million group, which represents the millions of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit.

'LOW COST'

A Home Office spokesperson said this week: "The EU Settlement Scheme makes it easy for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need.

"The online process is designed to be as straightforward as possible but anyone can call the 03 number for help. These low cost numbers are often part of inclusive minutes in mobile phone packages.

"There is also £9m of funding available to voluntary and community sector organisations to help us reach more vulnerable or at-risk EU citizens and their family members directly so no one gets left behind."

emilio.casalicchio

Theresa May tells voters 'I am on your side' as she begs MPs to back her Brexit deal

2 days 20 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May has insisted her Brexit deal is the only one on offer.

Theresa May has told voters she is "on their side" as she made a last-ditch bid to persuade MPs to back her Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister said her decision to seek a three-month delay to the UK's exit from the EU was "a matter of great personal regret" and insisted the withdrawal agreement she reached with Brussels was the best one on offer.

Addressing the country from Downing Street, she said the public has "had enough" of the political in-fighting which has left her Brexit strategy in tatters and the UK barely a week away fron leaving the bloc without a deal.

And rejecting calls from opposition parties for a second referendum, Mrs May said she remained "determined" to win Parliamentary backing for her deal in a third meaningful vote expected next week.

Her plea to voters came at the end of yet another punishing day for the Prime Minister, in which she was forced to back on her numerous pledges that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March as planned.

Instead, she has written to EU Council president Donald Tusk requesting an extension of the Article 50 process until 30 June. However, he has said a delay will only be possible if the Commons has backed her deal.

Mrs May said: "In March 2017 I triggered the Article 50 process for the UK to exit the EU and Parliament supported it overwhelmingly. Two years on, MPs have been unable to agree a way to implement the UK's withdrawal. As a result, we will now not leave on time with a deal on 29 March."

'SOAP OPERA'

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said a second referendum, as demanded by his party, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, was now the only way to break the impasse.

He said: "The Prime Minister says the public is tired of Brexit. If she wants to end the soap opera she has one clear way to do so: concede a People’s Vote.

"A short extension on the pretence her deal is acceptable to Parliament will achieve nothing. Liberal Democrats and the Remain movement will not be blackmailed into supporting the deal today, tomorrow or in June.

"Opposition parties stand ready to make a public vote happen and to ensure the people have the final say on her deal versus Remain."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The Prime Minister has shown tonight she is in complete denial about the scale of the crisis we are facing and unable to offer the leadership the country needs.

"To continue to bring back her damaging and twice rejected deal without significant changes, while threatening a no deal outcome ruled out by MPs, is unacceptable and reckless."

Kevin Schofield

WATCH: Dominic Grieve says he 'has never been more ashamed to be a Tory' in furious blast at Theresa May

3 days ago
Dominic Grieve
Dominic Grieve speaking in the Commons.

Dominic Grieve has said he has “never been more ashamed” to be a Conservative after Theresa May claimed that MPs are to blame for the Brexit stalemate.

In a scathing attack, the former Attorney General said watching Mrs May's barbs at the backbenches during Prime Minister's Questions was his "worst moment".

His comments, in an emergency Brexit debate, came after the Prime Minister confirmed that she had asked EU Council president Donald Tusk for an extension to Article 50 until 30 June.

Mrs May slammed MPs as having "indulged themselves on Europe for too long" as she called on MPs to finally back her withdrawal agreement.

She added that it was “time for this House to determine that it will deliver on Brexit for the British people”.

But Mr Grieve later told the Commons that he "could have wept" at his colleague "castigating the House".

"When the Prine Minister came to despatch box today at Prime Minister's Questions I confessed I think it was the worst moment I have experienced since I came into the House of Commons," he said.

"I have never felt more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative Party or to be asked to lent her support.

"She spent most of her time castigating the House for its misconduct and at no stage did she pause to consider whether it is in fact the way she is leading this Government which might be contributing to this situation."

Mr Grieve added that he had "great sympathy" for the PM in her position but added: "I have to say I could have wept. Wept to see her reduced to these straits and to the extent she was zig zagging all over the place rather than standing up for what the national interest must be."

Watch Mr Grieve's response to the Prime Minister below:

 

Nicholas Mairs
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47