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Blow for Theresa May as Andrea Leadsom refuses to confirm backing for revised Brexit deal

3 hours 39 minutes ago
andrea leadsom
Ms Leadsom previously said she was “seriously considering” running for the Tory leadership.

Andrea Leadsom has dealt a blow to Theresa May as she refused to confirm she will vote for the Withdrawal Agreement next month.

The Cabinet minister backed the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal in its previous three bids, but speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she said she would only support it "so long as it continues to be leaving the European Union".

Ms Leadsom, who previously said she was “seriously considering” running for the Tory leadership, also said leaving the bloc was the “most important thing” - even meant a no-deal exit.

The comments come as Cabinet is due to meet this morning to discuss Mrs May’s “bold new offer” of a revised Withdrawal Agreement Bill that could accept some of Labour’s Brexit demands on workers' rights and a customs union.

Asked whether she would back the flagship Brexit law, Ms Leadsom said: "Absolutely key for me is that it does deliver Brexit. I will back something that remains Brexit."

And the Commons leader added: "I continue to support the Prime Minister to get her Withdrawal Agreement Bill through. It is leaving the EU and so long as it continues to be leaving the European Union I continue to support it.

"What I do think is for any negotiation to succeed you have to be prepared to walk away, and in addition the legal default position is that on 31 October the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal.

"I would like us to have a deal I think it’s very important that we do, but if we get to the end of October and it's not possible to get a deal, leaving the EU is the most important thing of all."

MPs are expected to vote on the withdrawal agreement deal in early June, and Mrs May has agreed to set out plans to stand down within weeks regardless of whether the Commons approves her Brexit deal or not.

Anahita.Hossein-Pour_159579

Philip Hammond blasts Boris Johnson as he warns no-deal Brexit would 'hijack' referendum result

7 hours 39 minutes ago
Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond
The Chancellor accused those pushing for no-deal of wanting to 'hijack the result of the referendum' in 2016.

Boris Johnson and his fellow Tory leadership contenders have no mandate to pursue a no-deal Brexit if they become Prime Minister, according to Philip Hammond.

In a major intervention in the Conservative leadership race, the Chancellor will argue that leaving the European Union without an agreement would represent a "hijacking" of the 2016 referendum result that would "knowingly" put the economy at risk.

And he will tell MPs they now face the "real risk" of a new Prime Minister "abandoning" efforts to leave the bloc with a deal.

The intervention will be seen as a clear warning to Tory leadership hopefuls including Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey who have in the past pushed for a no-deal exit from the bloc.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss - another who is pondering a leadership bid - have also said the UK should be prepared to leave without a deal if necessary.

In a speech to the CBI business group on Tuesday evening, the Chancellor will warn: "On the populist Right, there are those who claim the only outcome that counts as a truly legitimate Brexit is to leave with no deal.

"Let me remind them – the 2016 Leave campaign was clear that we would leave with a deal.

"So to advocate for no deal is to hijack the result of the referendum, and in doing so, knowingly to inflict damage on our economy and living standards, because all the preparation in the world will not avoid the consequences of no deal."

Mr Hammond will meanwhile urge MPs to get behind Theresa May's Brexit deal in next month's fresh Commons vote, warning that a failure to do so risks handing the Brexit process over to a leader actively pushing a no-deal outcome - and putting the future of the UK at risk.

"If we do not resolve this issue in the next few weeks, there is a real risk of a new Prime Minister abandoning the search for a deal, and shifting towards seeking a damaging no-deal exit as a matter of policy... in order to protect an ideological position which ignores the reality of Britain’s economic interests and the value of our Union," he will say.

His stark intervention comes after Conservative MPs determined to avoid a no-deal declared war on the "intolerant" hardcore Brexiteer wing of their party.

The newly-formed ‘One Nation Conservatives’ group said they would fight against any candidate who might usher in a no-deal departure from the EU.

Digital minister Margot James told a gathering in Parliament: "There are candidates who will go out of their way to make sure the country doesn’t leave without a deal and that is what we need to ensure we get out of this leadership contest."

'BOLD NEW OFFER'

The warnings came as Theresa May prepared to ask her Cabinet to accept some of Labour's Brexit demands following weeks of ill-fated talks aimed at trying to strike a deal with the Opposition.

The Prime Minster has promised a "bold new offer" when MPs vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in early June, despite talks between the Government and Labour breaking down.

The Times reports that Mrs May will warn the Cabinet they could have to accept a temporary customs union with the EU and grant concessions on workers' rights in order to secure enough votes to pass the deal.

But the move risks angering avowed Brexiteers in the Cabinet including Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom, with one source telling the paper that the Government was on standby for resignations.

The Cabinet will also discuss stepping stepping the Government's work on "frictionless" trade at the Northern Ireland border, a move designed to win over Eurosceptics who have long opposed the deal over its Irish backstop provision.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Lord Heseltine suspended by Conservatives after declaring he will vote Lib Dem

17 hours 15 minutes ago
Michael Heseltine
Lord Heseltine addresses a People's Vote rally.

Lord Heseltine has been suspended by the Conservatives for revealing he will vote Lib Dem in this week's European election.

The former deputy Prime Minister was told he was having the Tory whip removed in the House of Lords as a result of his remarks.

Writing in The Sunday Times, the Conservative grandee - a vocal advocate for a ssecond EU referendum - said his party had become "infected with the virus of extremism".

He added: "The reason for my experiment with the Lib Dems is, of course, the Government's position on Brexit.

"I cannot, with a clear conscience, vote for my party when it is myopically focused on forcing through the biggest act of economic self-harm ever undertaken by a democratic government."

But he refused to countenance quitting the Conservatives, adding: "I have no intention of being forced out - or resigning from - a party that has been such an important part of my life.

"I will remain a member of my local association and, unless told otherwise, will continue to take the Conservative whip in the Lords."

A Conservative spokesman said Lord Heseltine's comments were "not compatible with taking the Tory whip".

He said: "As a result, the Chief Whip in the House of Lords has informed Lord Heseltine that he will have the Conservative whip suspended. This will be reviewed if he is willing to support Conservative candidates at future elections."

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs had called for the former Cabinet minister to be suspended for his remarks.

Andrew Bridgen told the BBC: "There really is no place for someone with his views in the Conservative Party."

But veteran Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames said the suspension was "a really stupid, bovine thing to do".

Kevin Schofield

Esther McVey says next Tory leader must 'believe in Brexit'

22 hours 54 minutes ago
Esther McVey
Esther McVey launches her 'Blue Collar Conservatism' group.

Theresa May's successor as Prime Minister must "believe in Brexit" and be prepared to take the UK out of the EU without a deal, according to Esther McVey.

The former Cabinet minister appeared to take a swipe at leadership rivals who backed Remain in the referendum as she launched her 'Blue Collar Conservatism' group.

Ms McVey was the first Tory MP to officially throw her hat into the ring to succeed Mrs May, who has vowed to stand down regardless of whether or not the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is backed by MPs next month.

The Tatton MP, who campaigned for Leave in 2016, said there can be no more "backsliding" on Brexit and insisted the UK must leave on the 31 October deadline with or without a deal.

Asked whether Mrs May's successor must back Brexit, she said: "It has to be a Brexiteer I believe, because it has to be someone who believes in Brexit and delivers on our manifesto."

Pressed on whether the likes of Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid - who both voted Remain but now say they back Brexit - would be good enough, she replied: "It has to be a Brexiteer who believes in Brexit. However they voted they can tell you, but it has to be somebody who believes and has the passion to drive it forward."

The former Work and Pensions Secretary, who resigned last year in protest at the Prime Minister's Brexit deal, added: "We know that people want Brexit delivered and that's essential and what is also key is that on 31 October, we will be out.

"No more backsliding - even if it means we're out without a deal, we will be out."

Ms McVey also ruled out an electoral pact with Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, which is currently well ahead of the Tories in the polls.

She said: "We are the Conservative Party. We will be aiming to get a Conservative majority. If we deliver Brexit, then there won't need to be a Brexit Party."

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith was among a number of the party's MPs who attended the Blue Collar Conservatism launch.

Treasury minister John Glen, former frontbencher Rob Halfon, and backbenchers Eddie Hughes, Ben Bradley and Scott Mann were also there as Ms McVey said the Tories should be "the party of working people".

She said: "A majority of those voters voted to leave the EU and on this we have broken their trust. To win that trust back we must not only deliver what was promised, but be prepared to have a radical Conservative agenda to show we are on their side."

Ms McVey said a Tory government should slash taxes and boost apprenticeships while also investing in public services in the same way the last Labour government did.

Kevin Schofield

WATCH: Nigel Farage attacks ‘radicalised’ Remain supporters after being hit by milkshake on EU elections campaign trail

23 hours ago
Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage's milkshake-splattered suit jacket after he was targeted by a protester

Nigel Farage has lashed out at "radicalised" Remain supporters after he was hit by a milkshake while campaigning ahead of the EU elections.

A man threw the banana and salted caramel drink at the Brexit Party leader as he walked around the centre of Newcastle.

The frustrated former Ukip chief was promptly led away by security officials, and was filmed saying: “A complete failure. You could have spotted that a mile away.”

Mr Farage was then followed and heckled by onlookers, while the man who appeared to launch the drink was escorted away by a police officer.

The incident makes Mr Farage the latest victim of the milkshake protest against pro-Brexit figures, which was sparked after former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson was hit in Bury.

Mr Robinson, who is standing to be an independent MEP, was also splashed a day later in Warrington, while Ukip's Carl Benjamin has fallen victim to the act on several occasions.

Mr Farage blamed the incident in Newcastle on anti-Brexit protesters, who he said had been emboldened by politicians who had failed to lead the UK out of the EU on time.

Reports attributed the act to protester Paul Crowther, who afterwards spoke to journalists while he stood hand-cuffed.

According to the Independent, the 32-year-old said of Mr Farage: “It’s a right of protest against people like him.

“The bile and the racism he spouts out in this country is far more damaging than a bit of milkshake to his front.”

He added: “I do not regret it. It was worth it.”

Mr Farage, whose party currently leads the polls ahead of Thursday’s vote, sparked criticism in 2017 when he said he would “be forced to don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines” if Brexit was not delivered.

Nicholas Mairs

Gordon Brown demands probe into funding of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party

1 day 6 hours ago
Gordon Brown
The Labour former Prime Minister has written to the Electoral Commission.

Gordon Brown has called on Britain's electoral watchdog to investigate whether the newly-formed Brexit Party has left itself open to "dirty" donations.

The former Prime Minister has written to the Electoral Commission demanding that the watchdog examines whether the website used by Nigel Farage's new outfit opens the door to "underhand campaign finance".

The Guardian reports that the Labour heavyweight will use a speech in Glasgow on Monday to take direct aim at Mr Farage, whose party is ahead in the polls as this week's European elections loom.

The Brexit Party's website allows anybody to hand over donations of between £5 and £500 with just a PayPal account, rather than requiring detailed personal information from those giving money.

Under electoral law, only donations above £500 have to be declared to the Commission.

Mr Brown is expected to warn: "Nigel Farage says this election is about democracy.

"Democracy is fatally undermined if unexplained, unreported and thus undeclared and perhaps under the counter and underhand campaign finance – from whom and from where we do not know – is being used to influence the very elections that are at the heart of our democratic system."

He will add: "Now Mr Farage heads a new Brexit Party, which is making questionable claims about the true source of its funding at a time when the Electoral Commission has warned of the dangers of multiple, small, anonymous donations being a cover for dirty money."

That warning was echoed by Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who said: "Some at the NCA [National Crime Agency] and at the Electoral Commission have to wake up. We’re facing a real threat to our democracy."

But a Brexit Party spokesperson said: "Rigorous checks are carried out on all donations over the declarable threshold to ensure that they are admissible in accordance with electoral law."

In a statement, the Electoral Commission said: “The Brexit Party, like all registered political parties, has to comply with laws that require any donation it accepts of over £500 to be from a permissible source.

"It is also subject to rules for reporting donations, loans, campaign spending and end-of-year accounts.

“These rules are in place to ensure fairness and transparency of all political party finance.

"As part of our active oversight and regulation of these rules, we talk regularly to parties, including the Brexit Party, about ensuring they have robust systems in place so that they comply with the law.

"If we see evidence to suggest the rules have been broken, we will consider it in line with our enforcement policy."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Nigel Farage tells Boris Johnson to drop support for Theresa May's Brexit deal to secure election pact

1 day 7 hours ago
Nigel Farage
Mr Farage's new Brexit Party is surging in the polls ahead of the European elections.

Nigel Farage has urged Boris Johnson to ditch his backing for Theresa May's EU deal in exchange for an election tie-up between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party.

The former Ukip leader, whose new party is currently well ahead in the polls for Thursday's European elections, said he had a "real problem" with the Tory leadership hopeful's decision to vote for the Prime Minister's deal in March.

Mr Farage has previously held out the prospect of an electoral pact with any new Conservative leader who backs leaving the European Union without a deal.

Asked by The Telegraph whether the next Tory leader would have to ditch support for the current Withdrawal Agreement to win his party's backing, Mr Farage said: "Of course. Absolutely.

"If a new Conservative leader said ‘we are leaving on WTO terms on Hallowe’en Day’ then that would be a great step in the right direction but would they actually stick to it? How could we trust them? That is the problem.

"Everyone keeps shouting Boris’s name at me - Boris voted for the Withdrawal Agreement despite everything he had written in your newspaper. I have got a real problem with that. A real problem with that. So we will see."

He added: "Boris talked about vassalage, talked about slave state, talked about May's treaty in more colourful language than I would use and then votes for it. So what does he really believe?"

Mr Johnson - who resigned from the Government last year over Mrs May's Brexit policy - has repeatedly criticised the agreement struck between the UK and the EU, describing it as a "suicide vest around the British constitution".

He twice voted against the deal when it was put before MPs, but then switched sides at the third vote after reaching the "sad conclusion" that it represented the only way to ensure Brexit happens.

The Conservative leadership favourite said at the time: "I have been and remain intensely critical of the deal. But we have a choice to make now, and that means choosing between options that actually exist I have come to the sad conclusion that neither this government nor this parliament is willing to leave with no deal."

The latest intervention from the Brexit Party leader comes after reports that Mr Johnson - who last week confirmed his intention to run for the Tory leadership - would reject any tie-up with Mr Farage in favour of going it alone.

A friend told The Sun: "He's categorically ruled out doing any deal with Nigel Farage.

"Boris is the only leadership candidate who can see off both him and hard-left Mr Corbyn."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

EU won't reopen Brexit talks with new Prime Minister, Irish deputy PM warns Tory leadership rivals

1 day 7 hours ago
Brexit
MPs will vote again on Theresa May's deal in early June.

Tory leadership contenders have been warned that the European Union will not offer any renegotiation of Theresa May's Brexit deal once she stands down as Prime Minister.

Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney told broadcaster RTÉ that "the personality might change but the facts don't".

And he hit out at "impossible" Conservative MPs for their treatment of "decent person" Mrs May.

The Prime Minister told senior Tory MPs last week that she would stand aside within weeks following a Commons vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

The EU has repeatedly stated in recent months that the deal thrashed out by Mrs May over the past two years will not be reopened, although some Brexiteers argue that stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit in October will force the bloc to come back to the negotiating table.

But Mr Coveney said: "The EU has said very clearly that the Withdrawal Agreement has been negotiated over two-and-a-half years, it was agreed with the British government and the British Cabinet and it's not up for renegotiation, even if there is a new British Prime Minister."

Taking direct aim at Conservative MPs, the Irish deputy prime minister added: "They have tried to dumb this debate down into a simplistic argument whereby it's Britain versus the EU, as opposed to two friends tying to navigate through the complexity of a very, very difficult agreement."

The Tánaiste meanwhile warned that ongoing gridlock at Westminster could see Britain head for a no-deal exit from the European Union on October 31, and made clear that the EU would ramp up its own contingency planning to prepare for that outcome.

"The danger of course, is that the British system will simply not be able to deal with this issue and even though there's a majority in Westminster that want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and that is why over the summer months we will continue to focus significant efforts and financial resources on contingency planning to prepare for that worst case scenario," Mr Coveney said.

BORIS VS HUNT?

The intervention came as former Tory chairman Grant Shapps predicted that the crowded field of Conservative leadership hopefuls would eventually be whittled down to ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his successor Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Shapps told the BBC's Westminster Hour that there were "10 serious candidates" for the top job, with Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson likely to be joined in the race by ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

"You’ll notice I didn’t mention Sajid Javid in there," he added.

"I think his role as Home Secretary has essentially kept him very busy and may mean that he hasn’t been able to sit down and speak to as many colleagues as some of these other contenders.

"Whittled down I guess something like a Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson final two for the members would be the sort of thing I could imagine."

The Tory ex-chairman said he believed Conservative members would ultimately "go for a Leaver" - warning that the party's preference for a Brexiteer would leave a "a question mark" over former Vote Leave campaigner Michael Gove "because he’s stuck so closely alongside Theresa May".

Speaking on the same programme, Conservative MP Vicky Ford signalled her support for Mr Hunt, praising him as someone able to address "big global challenges".

She said: "I see him to be very competent, very capable and one of the first jobs of a new leader and the prime minister will be to sort out the relationship with Europe and we need to have someone who is seen as competent on the international stage, and goodness if he can sort out what’s happened in Yemen with so much energy in that situation, someone who’s brave enough to take on big global challenges, is what I would like to see.”

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Cabinet minister insists Theresa May could still get Labour to back Brexit deal after talks collapse

1 day 23 hours ago
Rory Stewart
The International Development secretary said Labour and the Tories were just "half an inch apart" on Brexit.

The Government is still in the "territory" of a Brexit deal with "sensible, moderate" Labour MPs despite the collapse of cross-party talks, Cabinet minister Rory Stewart has insisted.

The International Development Secretary said the two sides were "about half an inch apart", just days after Jeremy Corbyn pulled the plug on talks with a blast at the "increasing weakness and instability" of Theresa May's government.

The embattled Prime Minister - who has promised to quit within weeks - on Sunday pledged to make a "bold new offer" to MPs to get behind her deal, although she stopped short of setting out any details of that plan.

There is speculation that the move could include fresh protections for workers' rights or further movement on a customs union, Labour's central demand in the talks.

Mr Stewart told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that ministers should keep reaching out to Labour MPs who might be willing to back the Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it comes to a Commons vote in June.

"The Labour and Conservative positions are about half an inch apart,” he said.

And the frontbencher said he did not "believe there’s anything that Jeremy Corbyn or we want that’s that far apart".

He added: "We’re in the territory of a deal, and in the territory of a deal where we need to focus is parliament.

"And particularly getting Labour votes across. Now, maybe not Jeremy Corbyn’s vote, but there are many other moderate, sensible Labour MPs that we should get across."

The comments came after Mr Corbyn said Labour would look "very carefully" at any pledge by Theresa May to offer to protect workers' rights after Brexit.

But he warned that the party would not hand the Prime Minister a "blank cheque" for her proposals.

Mr Corbyn said: "If a bill comes up which entrenches workers' rights in law obviously we'd look at it very carefully."

But he warned: "All that's been offered so far is to say they would accept the rights as there are from the European Union at the present time and Parliament would have the opportunity to align itself with them in the future."

On the broader Withdrawal Agreement Bill - the legislation needed to make Brexit happen which MPs will vote on in the first week of June - the Labour leader said he had yet to hear anything which "leads me to believe it is fundamentally any different from the previous bill that has been put forward so as of now we are not supporting it".

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Labour chairman Ian Lavery blasts Shadow Cabinet colleagues for talking up 'confirmatory ballot' on Brexit

2 days ago
Ian Lavery
Mr Lavery has been among Labour's sharpest critics of a second Brexit referendum.

Labour chairman Ian Lavery has hit out at second referendum campaigners - including his own Shadow Cabinet colleagues - for using the term "confirmatory ballot".

Mr Lavery said the phrase, which has been used by fellow Labour frontbenchers Tom Watson and Sir Keir Starmer in recent weeks, was an attempt to call a second vote on Brexit "something it isn't".

Sir Keir, among the leading advocates for a second referendum in Labour's top team, last week warned that it was "impossible" to see how any deal could pass the Commons without including a so-called "confirmatory vote".

Tom Watson, the party's deputy leader, meanwhile said a Brexit deal "ought to be subject to the lock of a confirmatory vote" to get through Parliament.

The party's MPs were also whipped to back a Commons amendment from backbenchers Pete Kyle and Phil Wilson back in March which called for a "confirmation ballot" on any EU deal.

But Mr Lavery told the Financial Times he was "not sure" why the term was now being used by other senior Labour figures, and said the party leaders had never endorsed the use of the phrase "confirmatory ballot".

He meanwhile told The Independent: "I’m not sure where the term confirmatory ballot has come from.

“I’m not saying it is trying to hoodwink people, but it is trying to appease people, trying to flower it, trying to be something it isn’t. It’s a second referendum."

And he said: "We have never – at the NEC [National Executive Committee], the shadow cabinet – we have never ever discussed the term confirmatory ballot."

Mr Lavery - who earlier this year defied a three-line whip and voted against a second referendum - also warned that full Labour support for a fresh public vote would amount to an act of "self-harm".

But Mr Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove who co-authored March's amendment on a fresh public vote, hit back, telling the Independent: “It certainly isn’t a good look for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party to suggest the public are too stupid to answer the question ‘is this deal good enough for you and your family?’.”

Mr Wilson meanwhile said: "It’s party policy that it should be called a confirmatory ballot."

And the Sedgefield MP added: "Whatever the deal, it will ask the people, three years after the referendum, whether they want to confirm that deal and go ahead with it."

Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday said it would be "reasonable to have a public vote" on any Labour-backed EU deal that gets through Parliament.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Jeremy Corbyn says freedom of movement would be 'open for negotiation' if Labour led Brexit talks

2 days 1 hour ago
Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour leader also said he would not give any government plan on workers' rights a "blank cheque".

Labour's pledge to end free movement of people after Brexit would be "open for negotiation" if the party took charge of EU talks, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The ability to live and work freely between European Union member states is a key principle of the bloc, and Labour's 2017 election manifesto said: "Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union."

But the Labour leader told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that any Brexit negotiations led by his party would seek to recognise the need for "a great deal of movement of workers" in sectors including agriculture and education.

Asked whether his party was "staunchly against" EU free movement, Mr Corbyn said: "Our manifesto said that the European system would obviously not apply if you're not in the European Union.

"But I quite clearly recognise there has to be a lot of movement of workers... Ask any company in manufacturing or any other sector how much they need and rely on workers from Europe and indeed the other way around."

And he added: "It would be open for negotiation, the level of movement of people between Europe and this country if we were a non-member of the EU."

Asked directly whether Labour would keep free movement after Brexit, Mr Corbyn replied: "What I was saying is we would ensure that there would be an ability to move from country to country... particularly where there's a need for a workforce to achieve that."

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has previously hinted at a softening of Labour's stance on EU immigration, telling the BBC's Newnsight in February that the UK should not get "stuck on" ending free movement after Brexit.

'NO BLANK CHEQUE' FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS PLAN

Elsewhere in his Andrew Marr interview, Mr Corbyn - who last week ditched cross-party Brexit talks with the Government and accused ministers of failing to shift from their negotiating red lines - said Labour would look "very carefully" at any pledge by Theresa May to try and protect workers' rights after Brexit.

But he warned that the party would not hand the Prime Minister a "blank cheque".

Mrs May has promised to present MPs with the "bold new offer" when her EU deal comes up for a fourth vote in June, although she has declined to give any details on what that might involve.

Mr Corbyn said: "If a bill comes up which entrenches workers' rights in law obviously we'd look at it very carefully."

But he said: "All that's been offered so far is to say they would accept the rights as there are from the European Union at the present time and Parliament would have the opportunity to align itself with them in the future...

"We would obviously look at it very carefully in Parliament and we would obviously reserve our right to either amend it or oppose it depending on what's in it."

And he added: "I can't give it a blank cheque."

'CHALLENGE AUSTERITY'

Mr Corbyn also rejected a characterisation of his party's EU elections platform as 'Vote Labour, Get Brexit', and said he believed it would be "reasonable to have a public vote" on any Labour-backed EU deal that gets through Parliament.

He said: "I think what would be a fair assessment would be to say 'vote Labour, challenge austerity and guarantee living standards for the future, not a no-deal exit from the European Union which is all that is being offered by the Tory right and in a sense by the Tory Party.'"

On a second referendum he said: "What we fought the [2017] general election on was to respect the result of the referendum - and that we've done -  to try to get a deal which guarantees trade and relations with Europe in the future, and if we can get that through Parliament, the proposals we put, then I think it would be reasonable to have a public vote to decide on that in the future."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Fresh Remainer split as Lib Dems reject Change UK call to revoke Article 50

2 days 1 hour ago
Chuka Umunna
Chuka Umunna has called for the revocation of Article 50

A fresh split has opened up between pro-EU Change UK and the Liberal Democrats as Chuka Umunna called for campaigners to revoke Article 50 instead of pushing for a second Brexit referendum.

The Change UK spokesperson claimed there was not enough time for a second referendum to be held before the UK's October exit date as he called for the Brexit process to be stopped in order to avoid the "national emergency" of a no-deal exit.

But Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said revoking Article 50 would not be the "best outcome" and insisted a so-called 'People's Vote' could still be organised before the current October deadline for Britain's exit.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, Mr Umunna said he had decided to back the controversial plans after the Prime Minister announced she would be bringing back her withdrawal agreement for a Commons vote in early June.

He said: "There are two very important things that have happened.

First of all, at the beginning of these European election campaigns, we had time to provide for a People's Vote on what happens on Brexit, which would take at least five to six months.

"We now no longer have the time to do that by the 31st of October when we are due to crash out.

"So we need to stop the clock to allow that to happen."

But Mr Umunna batted away claims that halting the Brexit process would disregard the votes of people who backed leaving the EU in 2016, and said there was "no mandate" for quitting the bloc without a deal.

He added: "What you see now is contenders for the Conservative Party leadership falling over themselves to say they will take us out come what may in October.

"So faced with that, no-deal and revocation, you have got to revoke."

CABLE: REVOKE 'UNSATISFACTORY'

But in signs of a growing split between Remain-backing groups, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince said the revoke option was "unsatisfactory" and should only be considered closer to the UK's exit date.

"If we get to October and there hasn't been any resolution of the issue then we may come to that. But it's not the best outcome," he said.

"It wouldn't be outrageous but it would be unsatisfactory."

Instead, he called for Mrs May to include a promise to hold a confirmatory referendum as part of her withdrawal agreement plans in order to win support from MPs.

"The Government is going to bring the withdrawal bill before parliament and what we have said is that if they attach a confirmatory referendum to it we will support it.

"I think it is quite likely we will get the referendum we are fighting for so we can argue for stopping Brexit.

"We talked to the Government about the practicalities and it can be done before October."

And he added: "We got into this mess as a result of having a referendum in the first place and that is the only satisfactory way of getting out of it."

CABLE: COALITION 'STRONG AND STABLE'

Meanwhile, Mr Cable took the opportunity ahead of the European elections to defend his party's record as part of the Conservative-led Coalition government which drove through sweeping public sector cuts.

"I think now people look back, they see that period as one of strong and stable government after the financial disaster and we've had three years of chaos since under the Conservatives," he said.

"I think a lot of people are now reappraising that period and we act as a massive restraint on the Tories over things like public expenditure. It could have been a lot worse as we now know it is."
 

john.johnston_25922

Gerard Batten says staying on as Ukip leader 'untenable' if he loses seat in European elections

2 days 3 hours ago
Gerard Batten
Gerard Batten said losing his seat could make his leadership "untenable"

Ukip leader Gerard Batten has said place as leader would become "untenable" if he loses his seat in the European elections.

The Ukip boss said he was waiting to see the outcome of the EU-wide vote before deciding on his future with the party, but admitted it would difficult to stay on as leader if he lost his London MEP seat.

Speaking to Sky's Sophie Ridge, Mr Batten dismissed recent polling showing support for his party sitting on 3% saying: "The poll I will believe will be the one on Thursday".

Instead, he said backing for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party - which is currently leading the polls - was being "bigged up" because the group did not present a "domestic threat" after the European elections.

He added: "Much of this is designed to be a self-fufilling prophecy. I don't actually believe the polls."

But he admitted that his own tenure as leader could be at risk if he fails to retain his seat later this week.

"I think if I lost my seat in London it would be untenable for me to continue as leader.

"But I won't make a decision on what I am going to do until after the European elections," he said.

"I am getting a lot of people from within the party, overwhelming saying to me that whatever the result is they want me to continue."

The party announced earlier this year that it would hold a leadership contest in the wake of the European elections, but Mr Batten has so far refused to confirm whether he would stand.

He added: "I will base my decision on the outcome of the European elections and how I feel afterwards."

CARL BENJAMIN ROW

Meanwhile, Mr Batten dismissed rape comments made by controversial Ukip candidate Carl Benjamin about Labour MP Jess Philips as a "very bad taste joke".

Mr Benjamin had tweeted to Ms Phillips in 2016: "I wouldn't even rape you."

But Mr Batten said: "He has another existence as a commentator and a comedian on the internet

"I don't condone that. I rang him up and made my views very clear to him and he won't be doing something like that again."

Repeatedly pressed on whether Ms Phillips deserved the abuse, the Ukip leader said "no".

But he added: "I don't really think it is an important issue compared to the real issue which is; why are we in an election which shouldn't be being held

"Really, the fate of the counry is at stake. Are we going to leave the European Union or not?"

john.johnston_25922

Tory grandee Michael Heseltine vows to vote for Liberal Democrats in European elections

2 days 5 hours ago
Michael Heseltine
Lord Heseltine is a vocal supporter of a second referendum on Brexit.

Tory heavyweight Lord Heseltine has vowed to vote against the Conservatives in the European elections over their stance on Brexit.

The former deputy Prime Minister said he would be voting against the Conservatives for the first time because of the "poison" of Brexit, and revealed that he will instead vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Heseltine, who has been a vocal advocate for a so-called 'People's Vote' on the issue, endorsed the pro-Remain party as he blamed the Tories for becoming "infected with the virus of extremism".

Writing in The Sunday Times, the former deputy prime minister added: "The reason for my experiment with the Lib Dems is, of course, the Government's position on Brexit.

"I cannot, with a clear conscience, vote for my party when it is myopically focused on forcing through the biggest act of economic self-harm ever undertaken by a democratic government."

But he refused to countenance quitting the party, adding: "I have no intention of being forced out - or resigning from - a party that has been such an important part of my life.

"I will remain a member of my local association and, unless told otherwise, will continue to take the Conservative whip in the Lords."

Lord Heseltine's comments were echoed by ex-Prime Minister John Major, who told the paper that the need for a moderate Tory party was "greater than ever".

"The middle ground of politics is empty," he added.

The endorsement of the pro-Remain Liberal Democracts comes on the back of a successful local election campaign earlier this month which saw the party gain 703 seats, with leader Sur Vince Cable saying every vote for his party was a "vote for stopping Brexit."

A fresh poll meanwhile shows that the Lib Dems are outpolling the Tories ahead of Thursday's EU-wide vote.

The latest Opinium poll for the Observer puts Nigel Farage's Brexit Party on 34%, with Labour in second place on 20%, the Liberal Democrats on 15% and the Tories on 12%.

'RESUSCITATION'

Labour MPs have also expressed concern that the party's position on Brexit is fuelling support for Sir Vince's party.

One senior Labour source told The Observer: "If the consequences of Labour's Brexit position and this European election is to essentially detoxify the Lib Dems, then that's a real problem."

Meanwhile, Shadow Treasury Minister Clive Lewis said the party's Brexit position had given the Lib Dems the "political equivalent of a resuscitation".

He warned: "The Liberal Democrats were flatlining, rightly tainted with their association with austerity and the Tory government.

"Ultimately, the position we've taken on a confirmatory vote means that lifelong Labour voters are seeing the European elections as a kind of EU referendum part two - to send a message to the two main parties."

john.johnston_25922

Amber Rudd's new Tory group in bid to block leadership candidates who back no-deal Brexit

2 days 5 hours ago
Amber Rudd
The new One Nation Caucus is being led by Ms Rudd alongside veteran backbencher Sir Nicholas Soames and ex-Cabinet ministers Damian Green and Nicky Morgan.

A new group of pro-Remain Conservatives is set to try and block any Tory leadership candidate who backs a no-deal Brexit, it has emerged.

The One Nation Caucus, which is being spearheaded by Cabinet minister Amber Rudd, will reportedly issue a manifesto-style "declaration of values" on Monday that it hopes will shape the election of a new Tory leader once Theresa May steps down.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the new group will take aim at Conservative leadership hopefuls, including Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, who back a no-deal exit from the European Union, a move which is also being touted by the new Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage.

A source told the paper that the new 60-strong Conservative caucus would work to "stop any leadership candidate who endorses a 'Nigel Farage no-deal Brexit' which would damage the economy and make it harder to release public funds".

Ms Rudd, one of those in Cabinet being talked up as a potential leadership contender, meanwhile warned that the "old consensus of fact-based debate is slipping away from us".

The Work and Pensions Secretary said: "Instead extremist politics is dividing the country and bringing forward simple answers to complex questions.

"These forces deal in emotion, rather than facts. Extremism, on the left and right, are now the pincer movement against those of us who want a pragmatic, compassionate centre right government."

Ms Rudd will lead the new group alongside ex-Cabinet minsters Damian Green and Nicky Morgan, as well as Conservative grandee Sir Nicholas Soames.

Sir Nicholas urged the party not to "succumb to the comfort blanket of populism".

The Sunday Telegraph also reports that Chancellor Philip Hammond will this week make an intervention in the Conservative leadership race and warn candidates against spreading the "ideology of easy answers", as he criticises "blank cheque" tax-and-spending promises in a speech to the CBI business lobby group.

Up to 20 Conservative MPs are thought to be mulling leadership bids, including Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

A poll of Tory members released by The Times this weekend put Boris Johnson, the ex-foreign secretary, on 39% support among Conservative party members, streets ahead of nearest rival and fellow Brexiteer Dominic Raab on 13%.

The poll showed that in a head-to-head contest, Mr Johnson leads Mr Raab 59% to 41%.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Theresa May promises 'bold offer' in last-ditch bid to win support for Brexit deal

2 days 6 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May's intervention came as a fresh poll put the Brexit Party on course for an EU elections triumph.

Theresa May has promised to make MPs a "bold offer" in a last-ditch effort to get them to back her Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister said she would "not be simply asking MPs to think again" about the same deal they have rejected three times when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes up for a vote next month.

The pledge comes in spite of Labour pulling the plug on long-running talks with the Government aimed at thrashing out changes to the Brexit deal.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Mrs May defended the ill-fated discussions with Jeremy Corbyn, saying she had done the "serious thing" and insisting that the Government now had "a much clearer understanding of what it will take to get a deal over the line".

She said the two sides had been "able to find common ground" on a host of issues including "on rights and protections for workers and the environment, and on security" - but argued that Labour remained "split" on whether or not to include plans for a second referendum in the bill.

And she promised: "When the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before MPs, it will represent a new, bold offer to MPs across the House of Commons, with an improved package of measures that I believe can win new support."

'FRESH PAIRS OF EYES'

Although Mrs May's latest article does not spell out what the "bold" plan entails, she makes clear that the Cabinet will consider the proposals next week.

Cabinet, she said, would "also consider whether holding votes in parliament to test support for possible solutions would be a useful prelude to MPs considering the legislation".

"But whatever the outcome of any votes, I will not be simply asking MPs to think again," Mrs May added.

"Instead I will ask them to look at a new and improved deal with fresh pairs of eyes - and to give it their support."

The Mail on Sunday meanwhile reports that the Prime Minister will make a speech in a Leave-supporting constituency ahead of Thursday's European elections urging MPs to back her.

The latest Opinium poll for the Observer has the Conservatives languishing behind Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party, Labour, and the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats ahead of the EU vote.

The poll puts the Brexit Party on 34%, with Labour in second place on 20%, the Liberal Democrats on 15% and the Tories on 12%.

BARCLAY: NO-DEAL PLANNING WILL MOVE 'AT PACE'

Mrs May's latest intervention intervention came as Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay warned that the Government would have to again ramp up planning for a no-deal exit from the European Union if MPs vote against the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

He told Sky News' Sophy Ridge: "Members of Parliament do need to face facts, and if the deal were not to go through then there are only two alternatives - you either leave with a no-deal or you revoke.

"If parliament won't back a deal, I do think we need to bring forward our preparations to mitigate no-deal, because we will need to use the additional time we have, and we need to move at pace to do so."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Nigel Farage says Scotland cannot be independent while still in the EU

3 days 6 hours ago
Nigel Farage
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the Scottish First Minister's claims were 'dishonest'.

Nigel Farage branded Nicola Sturgeon's bid for an independent Scotland inside the EU as “the most dishonest political discourse anywhere in the world” as he took his European elections campaign north of the border.

Ms Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, has long campaigned against Brexit and held out the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence as a way to spare the country leaving the EU.

But, Speaking at a rally in Edinburgh, the Brexit Party leader said: "Our politics is full of deception because here in Scotland we have the extraordinary situation where Nicola Sturgeon talks about independence.

"She says that separating from the United Kingdom but staying part of the European Union means that Scotland will be independent.

"It is, I think, the most dishonest political discourse I've ever seen anywhere in the world.

"You cannot be independent if you're governed from the European Court of Justice. You cannot be independent if you're in the EU's customs union and single market. You cannot be independent if you're governed by Monsieur Barnier and Mr Juncker."

The ex-Ukip leader leader made a direct plea for SNP voters to back his new organisation, saying those who were "genuinely a nationalist" should "lend your vote to the Brexit party."

He added: "Let’s get out of the EU and then have an honest debate about independence."

Mr Farage had earlier told the media: "The impression that’s often given by Nicola Sturgeon is that almost everybody in Scotland thinks the European Union is a fantastic idea, when the reality is that 30% of her own voters, because they are actually genuinely nationalists, voted to leave the EU."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

ANALYSIS: As the cross-party Brexit talks end, the blame game between the Tories and Labour begins

3 days 23 hours ago
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn

After Jeremy Corbyn finally put the cross-party Brexit talks out of their misery today, the blame game between the Conservatives and Labour ramped up.

Sources from both camps argued the other was too split over key issues to forge a workable deal, despite the party leaders insisting the discussions had been productive in some areas.

One Shadow Cabinet source told PoliticsHome that a Government leak during the process had damaged credibility, while a letter signed by Tory leadership hopefuls containing a thinly-veiled threat to unpick any agreement was the final nail in the coffin.

Six weeks have passed since the party leaders first got together to bash heads, including days of working groups looking at specific issues like workers' rights and environmental protections. The talks were first convened as a last resort for the Prime Minister, after she was defeated for a third time on her Brexit deal on 29 March. With a rump of Tory rebels still refusing to play ball and vote for the agreement, the PM figures the only way to get the deal passed was with Labour votes.

But critics who pointed out that any attempt at a compromise between the warring party leaders would be fruitless turned out to be correct. Donald Tusk told the UK no to waste its Brexit extension up to 31 October - but it appears the party leaders have done just that.

The main sticking point in the talks was the customs union, while the question of a second EU referendum hung over the proceedings like a bad smell. Labour wanted the Government to sign up to its plan of a full customs union with the EU, which Theresa May would not countenance, arguing it would leave the UK unable to strike free trade deals around the world. The Government argued that its own customs plan would provide the same benefits as the Labour proposal, but to no avail.

In his letter pulling the plug, Jeremy Corbyn said splits in the Government over the customs issue had made negotiations harder, with reports appearing in the press that International Trade Secretary Liam Fox would not countenance a full customs union with the bloc (indeed, it would leave him redundant). Other Cabinet ministers such as Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss also went public with warnings about signing up to a customs union.

“I think there was never any intention to move on a customs union,” a Shadow Cabinet source said. “I think what really made life difficult was that they were arguing on their side between themselves.”

According to the Government, it was confusion over the Labour second referendum position that was harming the process. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer warned at the start of this week that any cross-party deal with the Tories would be voted down by 150 Labour members if it did not include a pledge for a referendum. His warning, of course, was aimed more at Jeremy Corbyn than it was at the Prime Minister.

A government source said: “It is clear and has been for the duration that there are fundamental splits in Labour, particularly on the subject of a second referendum, which breaks down to the choice of whether to honour the referendum or to hold a second referendum in order to reverse it.” A spokesman for Theresa May added: “It is clear that in relation to the opposition, they had significant issues in relation to a second referendum and that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t been able to make more progress.”

But a source close to Keir Starmer shot back: “Number 10 might want to have a word with Fox, Hunt, [Andrea] Leadsom and Truss who all made ‘strident’ comments about doing a deal with Labour on a customs union. Ultimately, this is a Prime Minister that can’t govern and can’t deliver.”

Despite things going well on workers' rights - with the Government even discussing draft legislation to embed the Labour demands into law - and some promising talk on environmental protections, the differences eventually brought the discussions to a standstill.

The Shadow Cabinet source said there were two issues that prompted the final decision from Corbyn. The first was the leak to the Sunday Times in the first week of May laying out what the PM was prepared to compromise on. The move prompted a furious response from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who said he could no longer trust the other side. Senior Labour figures saw the incident as preparation to blame the opposition if it refused to sign up to the terms.

With talks already on the rocks, an open letter from senior Tories, many of them tipped as future leadership contenders, shook the Labour party. The letter - signed by the likes of Boris Johnson, Gavin Williamson and Dominc Raab - warned the PM she would split the party if she struck a customs union deal with her opponents, and added: “No leader can bind his or her successor, so the deal would likely be at best temporary, at worst illusory.”

With the PM effectively firing the starting gun on her departure yesterday, Labour found itself unsure whether anything it signed up to would have any meaning at all. Jeremy Corbyn said in his letter to May: “As you have been setting out your decision to stand down and Cabinet ministers are competing to succeed you, the position of the government has become ever more unstable and its authority eroded.”

At a campaign event in Bristol, the PM hit back: “We haven’t been able to overcome the fact that there isn’t a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or hold a second referendum which could reverse it.”

The blame game will no doubt continue, but the end of the talks brings the curtain down on one of the more bizarre - and ultimately pointless - episodes in the Brexit saga.

emilio.casalicchio

Former minister Philip Lee slams Tory 'entryism' as he faces confidence vote

4 days 7 hours ago
Philip Lee
Philip Lee quit the Government over Brexit.

A former minister has claimed the Conservatives are being infiltrated by right-wing Brexiteers after a vote of no confidence was called in him by local party members.

Dr Philip Lee accused opponents who only joined the Tories last year of trying to "intimidate" him in an attempt to force him to change his anti-Brexit views.

The Bracknell MP - who quit as justice minister last year over the Government's Brexit strategy - said the confidence vote, which will take place on 1 June, was "an unpleasant sideshow with zero practical effect".

The GP blamed the attempts to oust him on "entryism" by anti-EU campaigners who he said would ensure the Tories are never in power again unless they were stopped.

"I regret that this vote has been called - in reality it’s an unpleasant sideshow with zero practical effect because nothing happens as a result," he said. "I’m the Conservative MP for Bracknell now and I’ll still be the Conservative MP for Bracknell afterwards.

"It is part of a broader, coordinated campaign by wealthy individuals and organisations in this country and around the world to manipulate democracy for their own ends. For many months I have warned of this malign influence.

"Well-funded advertising campaigns have explicitly encouraged people to join the Conservative Party in order to get rid of elected Members of Parliament who do not share their narrow view on the type of Brexit this country should adopt.

“Such entryism has never been a feature of Conservative politics in this country. I’m sad that it appears we are vulnerable to the sort of public manipulation that I believe also influenced the outcome of the EU referendum.

“This entryism is helping to make sure that elements of the current membership are increasingly out of touch with the views of the electorate. And it is helping to create a climate of fear and intimidation. If these elements prevail, we can be sure that the public won’t choose a Conservative Government again.

“At its root, this meeting is an attempt to intimidate me and change my stance on the most important issue this country has faced for over 70 years."

Under Conservative Party rules, a special general meeting must be held if a petition is signed by 10% or 50 local association members, whichever is higher.

Resigning to back the campaign for a second referendum last year, Dr Lee said: "In my medical experience, if a course of treatment is not working, then I review it. I also have a duty to get my patient’s informed consent for that action."

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve - who also backs a second referendum - lost a vote of no confidence in him in March, while Nick Boles quit the Tories before facing one in his Grantham and Stamford constituency.

Kevin Schofield

Brexit talks between the Government and Labour set to collapse without a deal

4 days 8 hours ago
Labour negotiators
Labour's frontbench negotiating team outside the Cabinet Office.

Talks between the Government and Labour aimed at agreeing a joint approach to Brexit are set to break up without a deal, PoliticsHome understands.

The negotiations, which have been going on since the end of March, could break down as early as Friday.

Senior Labour sources said on Thursday that they were not going to walk away "imminently" - leaving the door open to the party pulling the plug at some point in the next few days.

If the talks do end without a deal, MPs are likely to be given a series of so-called "indicative votes" on different Brexit options in the hope of securing a Commons majority for one of them.

Numerous meetings have taken place between officials and senior frontbenchers on both sides over the past six weeks, but major differences remain.

In particular, the Government refused to agree to Labour's demand for a permanent post-Brexit customs union with the EU.

Theresa May has also rejected calls for a so-called "confirmatory ballot", effectively a second referendum, to be held on a final Brexit deal.

Labour negotiators had also insisted that any deal agreed with the Government - which they also wanted to contain guarantees on workers' rights and environmental standards - must contain provisions preventing a future Tory leader from being able to tear them up.

Meanwhile, BBC Newsnight's Nick Watt also reported that Tory whips believe a deal with Labour was not possible.

The chances of a deal diminished further when Theresa May announced that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be voted on my MPs in the first week of June regardless of whether an agreement with Labour has been reached.

Mrs May has also agreed to begin the countdown towards her departure from Downing Street following talks with senior Tory MPs.

The Prime Minister will sit down with Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, following the WAB vote.

A number of Tory MPs have already confirmed they will join the race to succeed Mrs May, including Boris Johnson and Esther McVey.

Kevin Schofield
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47