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Jeremy Hunt: Comparing EU to USSR has helped Brexit negotiations

11 hours 27 minutes ago
Jeremy Hunt
Mr Hunt has suggested his remarks about the EU has led to a breakthrough in the relationship.

Jeremy Hunt has suggested his controversial comparison between the EU and the Soviet Union eased the logjam in Brexit negotiations.

The Foreign Secretary said Brussels had taken a "much more constructive approach" to talks since he made the jibe in his Conservative conference speech earlier this month.

Mr Hunt sparked a wave of anger from diplomatic and military figures when he compared the EU to a Soviet prison and said the UK was being “punished” for trying to leave.

But questioned about the comments on the BBC Today programme this morning, he hinted that his remarks may have helped secure a future deal with the bloc.

He said: “It was a very passionate argument that said the EU was set up to defend our freedoms against totalitarianism, so it was not appropriate for a club of free nations to take the attitude that someone that leaves should be punished.

“My point was that it wasn’t appropriate to take those tactics and say that someone who leaves has to be punished."

He added: “However, I have to say that in the period since that speech we have had a very different approach from the EU, a much more constructive approach that has led to the situation we are in now where all but one or two issues have been resolved.

“And that is why I think we can be hopeful that we will eventually get the deal that we need.”

Mr Hunt had come under fire from political and diplomatic figures from around the EU and the UK after telling Conservative delegates in Birmingham others “prisoners” would attempt to leave the bloc if it pressed ahead with hard-headed negotiating tactics.

"What happened to the confidence and ideals of the European dream? The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving,” he said.

"The lesson from history is clear: if you turn the EU club into a prison, the desire to get out won’t diminish it will grow and we won’t be the only prisoner that will want to escape."

His comments prompted Latvia’s ambassador to the UK to point out that the USSR “killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Latvia's inhabitants”, before defending the EU as having brought the country “prosperity, equality, growth, respect”.

Meanwhile ex-Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Ricketts branded the claim “rubbish unworthy of a British Foreign Secretary” while his successor Sir Simon Fraser called it a “shocking failure of judgement”.


Cabinet minister breaks ranks to warn Theresa May against extending Brexit transition period

14 hours 40 minutes ago
David Mundell
David Mundell is opposed to a further extension of the Common Fisheries Policy.

A Cabinet minister has warned Theresa May against extending the Brexit transition period if it means forcing the UK to abide by EU fishing rules for longer.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell made his concerns clear to the Prime Minister after she floated the idea at this week's EU summit.

Mr Mundell is the first member of Mrs May's top team to break ranks after she said she was open to the idea of extending the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

However, sources close to the Cabinet minister rejected reports that he had threatened to resign.

"David would want reassurances that any extension to the transition period would not delay departure from the Common Fisheries Policy," said one.

Leaving the CFP was the main driver of support for Brexit among the Scottish fishing community, who said it restricted their ability to make a living.

The existing transition period, which runs out on 31 December, 2020, commits the UK to sticking to EU rules - including the CFP - in exchange for continued membership of the customs union and single market.

Mr Mundell's intervention came as Mrs May was assailed by critics on all wings of the Tory party, with some saying it made a challenge to her leadership all-but inevitable.

Former minister Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: "I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion -  people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation."

Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the Prime Minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose party props up the Prime Minister's minority government, said: "An extended transition period means the United Kingdom continues to pay but have no say in Brussels. Such an extension would cost the United Kingdom billions of pounds, yet our fundamental problem with the EU proposal remains."

Speaking at an EU Council summit in Brussels yesterday, Mrs May refused to rule out extending the transition period, although she insisted she did not believe it was likely to happen.

She said: "If there is a gap between the end of the implementation period, which as I’ve said has been set at December 2020, and the introduction of the future relationship - if there is a period of months, and I think we would only be talking about a matter months - when there is that gap, it’s ensuring that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."


DUP reject moves to extend Brexit transition period in fresh blow for Theresa May

1 day 3 hours ago
Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds outside 10 Downing Street.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has rejected calls for the post-Brexit transition period to be extended, claiming it would cost the UK billions and not break the Irish border deadlock.

His comments came just hours after Theresa May - who relies on the Irish unionist party to prop up her minority government - gave her tentative backing for the idea.

At the moment, the so-called "implementation phase" of the UK's withdrawal from the EU - during which Britain will remain subject to the bloc's rules and laws - is due to run until the end of 2020

But the Prime Minister said the plan to extend the deadline by "a matter of months" had emerged during discussions at the EU Council summit in Brussels.

At a press conference this evening, Mrs May refused to rule out the move although she insisted she did not believe it was likely to happen.

She said: "If there is a gap between the end of the implementation period, which as I’ve said has been set at December 2020, and the introduction of the future relationship - if there is a period of months, and I think we would only be talking about a matter months - when there is that gap, it’s ensuring that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."

But in a statement, Nigel Dodds made clear his party was vehemently opposed to such a move.

He said: "An extension of the transition period offers does nothing significant on the key issue of the unacceptable EU backstop proposals.  

"An extended transition period means the United Kingdom continues to pay but have no say in Brussels. Such an extension would cost the United Kingdom billions of pounds, yet our fundamental problem with the EU proposal remains. 

"The DUP wants a Brexit deal that works for our nearest neighbours in the European Union but which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the precious union. The backstop as proposed by the EU would undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

"I am glad that it is not just unionists in Northern Ireland who recognise the dangers of the EU proposals on the backstop to the Union. Such a backstop is unacceptable to many others from right across the United Kingdom."

His comments came after Tory MPs on all wings of the party also rejected extending the transition period.

Former minister Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: "I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion -  people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation."

Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the Prime Minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous."


Downing Street has consistently said that the UK is not "proposing" extending the transition period, but that was contradicted by EU Council president Donald Tusk.

He said: "Let me recall that in her Florence speech in September 2017 Prime Minister May proposed a transition period of around two years and the EU accepted this proposal unanimously. Therefore if the UK decided that an extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal I’m sure the leaders would be ready to consider it positively."

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the "prolongation of the transition period probably will happen".

He added: "It’s a good idea. It’s not the best idea the two of us had but I think this is giving us some room to prepare the future relation in the best way possible."


ANALYSIS: Has the DUP's support for Brexit left them gambling with the Union?

1 day 8 hours ago
Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds
Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds are strong supporters of Brexit.

The DUP's backing for Brexit has seen them backed into a constitutional corner, says Andrew McQuillan.

It may be something of a stretch to suggest that the DUP’s anger over the question of a hybrid backstop is a slow coming to terms with the existential threat Brexit poses to the Union which defines every fibre of its political being. Nigel Dodds' realisation that leaving the EU has turned into a “battle for the Union” might be welcome had it not come at a minute to midnight.

History will judge how wise it was for the DUP to embrace the Conservatives, not only on Brexit but on confidence and supply. This after all, is a party which has a track record in treating its unionist credentials with expediency; it delivered the Anglo-Irish Agreement and one of its Secretaries of State said the Government had no “selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”. As in the past, it is not a stretch to assume that an English Prime Minister would sacrifice Northern Ireland for an easier life.

Yet it has still come as a surprise to some in Westminster how this uniquely thrawn group have reacted to such a proposal; threats not to support the Budget and thereby undermine the confidence and supply deal have been dismissed by some as bluffing or the result of some inherent intransigence. It is more existential than that, something missed not only would it seem by some of the UK negotiating party but the EU as well.

This week will provide some of the most challenging days faced by the unionist body politic since the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. The trauma of that period – when the British Government gave its Irish counterpart a consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland for the first time – scarred unionist trust of Westminster. It even moved one unionist MP to say it would have been better for his children “if they had never looked at the Union flag, thought that they were British or put their trust in the House of Commons than spending the rest of their lives knowing that they are now some sort of semi-British citizen”.

What is being broached now, in 2018, goes beyond the semi-citizen status. Should the UK Government accept that Northern Ireland must forever be in full regulatory and customs alignment with the EU and arguably a step removed from the internal UK market, it would be a profound breaking of the ties which bind Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

This goes beyond FTAs, ERGs and BRINOs and the associated alphabet soup that has sprung up since June 2016, it is about instinctive emotion.

There is of course an element of self-preservation to this. After years of bandying the slogan “Standing Strong for Northern Ireland” for all to see, to somehow be viewed as handmaidens to such a calamity would result in DUP canvassers getting a tough time on the streets of North Belfast, East Antrim and East Londonderry.

Those in the party with long memories will remember that its path to domination was eased by deploying a bruising narrative of betrayal against David Trimble for signing the Good Friday Agreement; given that was a success for unionism, goodness knows what response would greet Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds should this come to pass.

Outwith the confines of party politics, one must also consider its impact on not just unionism but wider Northern Irish society. Much valid concern has been expressed about the impact of a hard border on dissident republicanism, yet how will the murkier reaches of loyalism react should they perceive the Union to be under threat once again? The resetting of unionist attitudes to their pre-1998 standpoint would appear to be a consequence of Brexit.

None of this wailing and gnashing of teeth provides an answer as to how the DUP extricate themselves from this. Unlike in 1985, other parts of the UK are taking an interest in their predicament; Ruth Davidson and David Mundell’s threats to resign while not coming out of any sense of “hands across the water” unionism show that the DUP are not without allies this time round.

Yet on strategy, not much seems to be different; back then, unionists threatened to disrupt the Government as much as they could. MPs resigned from their seats, councils suffered walkouts and Ian Paisley hollered about a female Conservative Prime Minister “betraying” Northern Ireland. 33 years on we already have the betrayal narrative – against Dublin, Brussels and perfidious Albion – developing while some on the unionist fringes have mooted protests.

That failed then and it is a struggle to see how it will work now. It is simply a question of numbers; faced with a European Union in full solidarity with one of its member states and a Government on the cusp of agreeing to something which will leave Northern Ireland bound to different regulation, the Unionists are, to borrow a Republican riff, “themselves alone” with only the most ideological members of the ERG for company.

Beyond pulling the rug from under the Government or performing a volte face on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, options are limited. However, it didn’t need to be this way; Nigel Dodds wrote in the Telegraph that the DUP “don’t gamble with the Union”. Some would say their decisions in 2016 and since contest that statement.

* Andrew McQuillan works in public affairs and writes extensively on Northern Ireland


Theresa May sparks fury after confirming Brexit transition could be extended by a ‘matter of months’

1 day 10 hours ago
Theresa May
Mrs May has sparked a furious row within her party

Theresa May has prompted fury from her own party after saying she would consider extending the UK's Brexit transition period by a “matter of months”.

Mrs May said the extension would give UK and EU negotiators more time to find a solution to the Irish border issue, but insisted she still believed a deal on the future relationship would be in place before December 2020.

Speaking ahead of a second day of talks with EU leaders in Brussels, the Prime Minister said: “On the withdrawal agreement there are issues remaining around the backstop.”

“Earlier in the year we forward a proposal as to how to deal with this issue. A further idea that has emerged, and it is an idea at this stage, it to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months. And it would only be for a matter of months.”

She added: “But the point is this is not expected to be used because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020. I am clear that it is possible to do that and that is what we are working for. In those circumstances there will be no need for any proposal of this sort.”

But the move was met with fury from all sides of her party, with one former minister saying Conservative colleagues were now "close to despair" at the state of the negotiations.

Tory MP Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: "I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion -  people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation because there is a fear that both the government and the European Union are trying to run out the clock."

He added: “That they’re trying to leave this so late that they can then credibly say there is no alternative but a no deal Brexit and most people agree that would be chaos. Now that is not an acceptable way for a leader of a government to behave.”

Meanwhile, Leave-supporting MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the prime minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous.”

On current plans, the UK's transition period - in which the Britain's relationship with the EU will remain broadly the same as it is now - is due to run expire on December 31 2020.

The row over its possible extension burst into the open despite the best efforts of Conservative party bosses, who pleaded with Tory backbenchers for “cool, calm heads”.

In a briefing sent to all Tory MPs by Conservative HQ, they said: "This is the time for cool, calm heads to prevail with a clear-eyed focus on the few remaining but critical issues that are still to be agreed."

Richard Tice, co-chair of the pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave group also slammed the move, saying: “The original transition was an unnecessary trap created by our weak civil servants who cannot be trusted as they don’t want us to leave. It should be cancelled not extended. It is increasingly clear the PM doesn’t want to leave either.

“Any transition period gives the EU zero incentive to negotiate anything and gives Brussels the power to force whatever they want onto the UK without us being able to do anything about it. It’s downright dangerous"


In a fresh sign of pressure on the Prime Minister, former Foreign Secretaty Boris Johnson and ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis teamed up to warn Mrs May that her Brexit plans were becoming "less popular with the public than the poll tax”.

In their first joint intervention since quitting the cabinet over the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit, the pair wrote: “The Chequers Plan is flawed for reasons that are well known. It does not deliver what the country voted for and it means that the UK will remain bound to EU rules even though we would have no say over them."

The letter - shared with the Telegraph - is also signed by prominent backbenchers, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and influential Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

They urge the Prime Minister to “reset” the negotiations with Brussels, adding: “We urge you not to engage in a show of resistance and a choreographed argument followed by surrender and collapse into some version of the backstop and Chequers.”



Dominic Raab: MPs will get straight ‘deal or no deal’ vote on Brexit agreement

1 day 14 hours ago
Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab has written to the Commons’ procedure committee

A Commons vote on Theresa May's Brexit agreement must be a straight 'deal or no deal' choice, Dominic Raab has said.

The Brexit Secretary said MPs must make an “unequivocal decision” whenever the so-called "meaningful vote" takes place.

His comments, in a letter to the Commons procedure committee, are a blow for anti-Brexit MPs who have called for a second referendum option to be included in any vote.

Downing Street has reportedly told the BBC that the Commons motion on any final Brexit deal would be amendable but it was unclear whether it could be voted on before after the vote on the deal.

In his letter, Mr Raab said: “Once the deal is presented to parliament, the procedure through which it is voted upon must allow for an unequivocal decision, and one which is clear to the British public.”

“Anything other than a straightforward approval of the deal will bring with it huge uncertainty for business, consumers and citizens.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: “Labour doesn’t accept that the choice facing Parliament will be between whatever deal Theresa May cobbles together or no deal.

“That is not a meaningful vote and ministers can’t be allowed to silence parliament. MPs must be given the opportunity to scrutinise, consider and, where appropriate, amend any resolution the government puts forward.

“She clearly doesn’t think she can win a straight vote in parliament without fixing the rules.”

Tory veteran Ken Clarke told the BBC’s Newsnight that the Government they had already lost the argument on having an unamendable vote, when it caved in to pressure from former Attorney General Dominic Grieve earlier in the withdrawal agreement process.

“This is the latest silly tactic, which they won’t get away with,” he said. “What we can’t have is this ’take-it-or-leave it, this is the best we’ve got, you take this or it’s no deal and chaos’.

“It’s just avoiding proper Parliamentary scrutiny and debate. Parliament is going to probably want to give some detailed instructions for the government and temper its approval with conditions.”

Former Conservative minister Nicky Morgan said the move "appears to be an attempt by the executive to frustrate our sovereign Parliament", while colleague Anna Soubry called for MPs "to stand up to this outrage".

Nicholas Mairs

WATCH: Theresa May insists Chequers Brexit plan is not 'dead' ahead of Brussels summit

2 days 6 hours ago
Prime Minister's Questions
Mrs May faced a griling from Labour's Jeremy Corbyn - and her own allies.

Theresa May has insisted that her Brexit plan is not "dead" as she prepared to head to Brussels amid deadlocked talks with the EU.

The Prime Minister had been hoping to put the finishing touches on a withdrawal agreement with the EU at a two-day summit that gets underway today.

But negotiations have stalled over plans to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Seizing on the impasse at today's Prime Minister's Questions, Jeremy Corbyn accused Mrs May of "not once" mentioning her Chequers Brexit proposal - which has been roundly criticised by Eurosceptics and attacked by the EU - in recent statements.

The Labour leader asked: "Given the Prime Minister did not once mention Chequers - either in her conference speech or her statement to Parliament on Monday, does this mean the Chequers plan is now dead?"

Shooting back, Mrs May said: "He asked me if the Chequers plan was dead. The answer is no."



Mr Corbyn also pounced on reports that a string of senior Cabinet ministers met on Monday night to discuss concerns with Mrs May's Brexit strategy over pizza in the House of Commons.

Pointing out that two Cabinet ministers had refused to fully endorse Mrs May's Chequers plan in recent days, the Labour leader jibed: "Maybe she could share a pizza with them and then see if that can sort it out."


The Prime Minister meanwhile faced tough questions from her own backbenches, with leading Brexiteer and former minister Steve Baker urging her to make two "reasonable and practical" demands talks with the EU.

"First, the EU may not break apart the Union of the United Kingdom, and second that after we have left the European Union, the EU may not direct how we regulate our economy and govern ourselves," he said.

Mrs May said she had been "very clear" that her vision of Brexit meant "taking decisions here in the United Kingdom", as well as "taking controls of our laws", borders and money.

She also repeated her warning that the UK would "not accept any proposals which would effectively break up the United Kingdom", amid concerns about Brussels' proposed backstop to keep Northern Ireland in the EU's customs union after the rest of Britain leaves.

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has threatened to vote against this month's Budget and paralyse the government's domestic agenda unless Mrs May rules out such an arrangement.

In a reminder of the pressure Mrs May faces, DUP MP Nigel Dodds warned her that it would be "very, very difficult" for MPs to back a "legally binding" withdrawal agreement "without having pretty clear assurances and some precision about the details of the future trading relationship".

Mrs May vowed that MPs would be given "sufficient detail about the future relationship in all its aspects" when it comes to the crunch Commons vote on any deal she strikes with the EU.

She told Mr Dodds: "The trading relationship which he refers to is important to our future security relationship, both internal security and external security and other issues are also of importance. It is also important to me that there is a linkage in that future relationship and the withdrawal agreement."

The clash came after Ireland's foreign minister revealed that the EU would be willing to extend the UK's current Brexit transition period - due to run from March next year until the end of 2020 - in a bid to break the impasse over the Northern Ireland border and mitigate the need for the controversial backstop option to kick in.

Simon Coveney told the BBC: "The EU side is willing to allow more time in the transition period to agree an alternative solution to the backstop.

"What [EU chief negotiator] Michel Barnier is now suggesting is: let’s ensure the backstop is never likely to be used by creating the space and time for the UK and the EU to be able to negotiate UK-wide customs arrangements."

Matt Foster

Boost for Brexiteers as Donald Trump ready to start trade talks ‘as soon as’ UK leaves EU

2 days 9 hours ago
Theresa May and Donald Trump
Donald Trump's trade envoy said he was ready to start trade talks 'as soon as' Brexit happens.

The United States is ready to start talks on a trade deal “as soon as” Britain leaves the EU, Donald Trump's trade envoy has declared.

Brexiteers have long seen a major free trade deal with the US as a key prize of leaving the EU.

In a boost for eurosceptics, the US President has notified Congress that he intends to begin negotiations on an "ambitious" tie-up immediately after Britain quits the bloc.

The confirmation came in a letter to Republican senators from US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, who said:  "We intend to initiate negotiations with the United Kingdom as soon as it is ready after it exits from the European Union on March 29, 2019."

The announcement follows months of preliminary talks between the US and Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, which Mr Lighthizer said had involved "laying the groundwork" for a free trade deal..

He added: "The United States and the United Kingdom are the first and fifth largest economies in the world, respectively, and maintain a broad and deep trade and investment relationship.

"An ambitious trade agreement between our two countries could further expand this relationship by removing existing goods and services tariff and non-tariff barriers and by developing cutting edge obligations for emerging sectors where US and UK innovators and entrepreneurs are most competitive."

The move was welcomed by the UK government, with a spokesperson saying talks to "boost trade and investment ties" had already been "positive".

They added: "The Government is taking steps to ensure we are ready to begin negotiations including through consulting the British public on their views on what a Free Trade Agreement should look like."

The move is likely to pile further pressure on Theresa May to shelve her Chequers Brexit plan, which Eurosceptics fear will hobble the UK's ability to strike independent trade deals.

Earlier this year, President Trump was forced to row back on a claim that the Prime Minister's plan would "kill" hopes of a deal between the two countries.

Critics of Brexit meanwhile pounced on the letter, warning that any tie-up between the UK and the US could lead to a shredding of existing environmental and consumer protections.

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, speaking for the Best for Britain campaign, said: "With this letter the American government have fired the starting gun on their chlorine chicken trade deal.

"British supermarkets could be flooded with chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef and pork laced with drugs.

"This trade deal could be a disaster for the UK and shred our animal welfare and consumer protections."

Matt Foster

EU willing to extend post-Brexit transition period in bid to end deadlock, says Irish Deputy PM

2 days 9 hours ago
EU flag
The transition period is due to last until the end of 2020.

The EU is willing to extend the post-Brexit transition period in an attempt to break the deadlock which has seen negotiations grind to a halt, the Irish deputy Prime Minister has said.

In a move likely to anger Brexiteers, Simon Coveney said the move could buy more time to find a solution to the Irish border issue.

Theresa May has said she cannot sign up to any deal which would leave Northern Ireland in the customs union and large parts of the single market.

However, Brussels has so far rejected the Prime Minister's proposal of keeping the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU temporarily while a way is found to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The transition period - or "implementation period" - during which the UK is obliged to stick to the EU's rules, is due to run until the end of 2020.

But the Financial Times reported this morning that Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, was willing to extend it by 12 months if the current impasse in the talks continue.

Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Coveney said: "The EU side is willing to allow more time in the transition period to agree an alternative solution to the backstop.

"What Michel Barnier is now suggesting is: let’s ensure the backstop is never likely to be used by creating the space and time for the UK and the EU to be able to negotiate UK-wide customs arrangements."

However, he also stressed that the UK cannot renege on its commitments to keeping an open Irish border.

He said: "This is like if you take out fire insurance on your home. It’s there to reassure people there is a fallback position if all else fails."

A Downing Street spokesman insisted they were "not calling for an extension of the implementation period", but would not say whether they would accept one if it was offered.

Former Brexit minister and leading eurosceptic Steve Baker told PoliticsHome: "We need facts at this time, not running commentary on rumour."

The latest development came as Mrs May prepares to address the other 27 EU leaders at a summit in Brussels this evening.


Philip Hammond sparks fury with claim UK could pay £36bn Brexit divorce bill without trade deal

2 days 13 hours ago
Philip Hammond
The Chancellor was branded 'cavalier' by Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Philip Hammond has been accused of reigniting "Project Fear" as he warned ministers Britain will still face a hefty Brexit divorce bill if it fails to secure a trade deal with the EU.

According to the Telegraph, the Chancellor told Cabinet colleagues that the UK would still be obliged to pay the majority of the overall £39bn bill without an agreement on trade.

The comments - based on legal advice given to the Treasury - stand in stark contrast to claims by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab that the UK will "not pay the terms of the financial settlement" with Brussels if a deal cannot be reached.

Mr Hammond is reported to have told colleagues that Britain would still be on the hook for between £30bn and £36bn of the overall amount because it would be unlikely to win an international legal battle with the EU.

The warning was immediately pounced on by leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers.

The MP said the Chancellor's stance was "simply wrong".

And he added: "It's a cavalier approach to taxpayers' money. I didn't realise the ending of austerity meant drowning the European Union in cash.

"The Treasury is so mired in Project Fear it wants to search out the weakest legal arguments for the most expensive outcome for the British taxpayer."

But a source close to Mr Hammond insisted the Chancellor was not being "a Remoaner" and said his stance on how much to pay the EU was "hardening".


The fresh row over the divorce bill came as Theresa May prepares to head to Brussels amid fading hopes of a breakthrough in stalled Brexit talks.

Britain had been hoping EU leaders would use the two-day European Council summit to recommend a special November meeting to seal a deal.

While the Prime Minister will still address the EU27 leaders before they hold dinner, the two sides remain deadlocked over plans to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In a bid to break the impasse, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has reportedly said he would be open to extending the Brexit transition period - due to expire in December 2020 - by a year.

According to the Financial Times, the EU could grant an extension if the UK accepts a "two-tier" backstop solution on the Northern Ireland border.

"The extension is an example of how we could be flexible to help the British side if they want it," a diplomat told the paper.

A similar plan was reportedly backed by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox at a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

According to the Times, Dr Fox urged the Prime Minister to extend the Brexit transition period by a "few more months" in a bid to break the deadlock with Brussels.

Such a move would buy more time for a trade deal to be signed off, averting the need for the EU's backstop arrangement to kick in.

In a fresh sign of the pressure Mrs May is under to reject the EU's backstop plan, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is said to have warned the Cabinet that the proposal would see Northern Ireland being “torn out of the UK” and leave Britain with "no leverage in future talks".

Matt Foster

John Major: Brexiteers will never be forgotten or forgiven

3 days 1 hour ago
John Major
John Major is a long-standing critic of Brexit.

Sir John Major has said that Brexiteers "will never be forgotten nor forgiven" as he warned that leaving the European Union could also lead to the break-up of the UK.

The former Tory Prime Minister said those who urged the country to vote Leave in the 2016 referendum "will have much to answer for" if people end up "weaker and poorer".

Sir John - whose time in Dowining Street was dogged by battles with his eurosceptic backbenchers - spoke out ahead of a crunch EU summit as fears of a no-deal Brexit continue to grow.

Delivering a lecture at the Foreign Office, he said: "I have made no false promises about Brexit that I must pretend can still be honoured, even though, in my heart, I know they cannot.

"I am free to say absolutely and precisely what I believe about Brexit. And it is this: I understand the motives of those who voted to leave the European Union: it can – as I well know – be very frustrating.

"Nonetheless, after weighing its frustrations and opportunities, there is no doubt in my own mind that our decision is a colossal misjudgement that will diminish both the UK and the EU.

"It will damage our national and personal wealth, and may seriously hamper our future security. It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom. It will most definitely limit the prospects of our young.

"And – once this becomes clear – I believe those who promised what will never be delivered will have much to answer for. They persuaded a deceived population to vote to be weaker and poorer.

"That will never be forgotten – nor forgiven."

Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "John Major is right. The snake oil salesmen of Boris and Gove, the duo who sold the country a pup, will never be forgiven. People trusted them and they betrayed that trust and Boris just stormed out when it got difficult. He is now off in a huff to ruffle his hair in a corner.

"John Major is correct, the public are being taken a ride for a few people's ideological dream. This is the biggest disaster to befall Britain since Suez."

Labour MEP Catherine Stihler said: "Generations to come will never forgive those responsible for this Brexit chaos.

"Sir John Major has rightly pointed out the threat to jobs and our economy, and the fact that Brexit will take away opportunities from young people in Scotland and across the UK. It is deeply upsetting that some politicians are prepared to sacrifice the next generation like this.

"It would also be unforgiveable to sacrifice the union between the four nations of the UK, but that is what the Tories risk doing by pursuing a hard Brexit."


Sir John's comments came as EU Council president Donald Tusk all-but gave up on the Brexit deadlock being broken at a crucial summit in Brussels this week.

He also called on Theresa May to come up with "concrete proposals" for solving the Irish border issue, the main sticking point between the two sides.

Earlier, the Prime Minister had pleaded with her Cabinet not to split as she insisted a deal was still possible.

She told them: "I am convinced that if we as a government stand together and stand firm we can achieve this."


Donald Tusk demands 'concrete proposals' from Theresa May to break Brexit deadlock

3 days 3 hours ago
Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk painted a gloomy picture of the Brexit state of play.

Donald Tusk has demanded Theresa May produce "concrete proposals" on how to solve the Irish border row as he wrote off the chances of a Brexit deal being agreed at a crunch EU summit this week.

The EU Council president said there were "no grounds for optimism" ahead of the get-together, which kicks off in Brussels on Wednesday evening.

His comments were a further blow for Theresa May, who earlier urged her Cabinet not to split as she tries to secure a withdrawal agreement.

Mr Tusk, who on Tuesday said the chances of a no-deal Brexit were "closer than ever", said: "Unfortunately the report on the state of the negotiations that I got from Michel Barnier today, as well as yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, gives me no grounds for optimism before tomorrow’s European council on Brexit.

"As I see it, the only source of hope for a deal for now is the goodwill and determination on both sides. However, for a breakthrough to take place, besides goodwill we need new facts.

"Tomorrow I am going to ask Prime Minister May whether she has concrete proposals on how to break the impasse. Only such proposals can determine if a breakthrough is possible."

Mr Tusk, who said the EU was now stepping up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit, added: "The problem is clear. It is still the Irish question and the problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"It looks like a new version of the Gordian knot. Unfortunately, I can't see a new version of Alexander the Great."

The EU Council chief also raised doubts that an emergency Brexit summit mooted for November, at which a deal would be finalised, would even happen.

That raised the possibility of the negotiations continuing until the next scheduled summit in December - just three months before the UK is meant to leave the EU.

Mrs May's Cabinet spent two-and-a-half hours debating Brexit this morning, but the meeting broke up without any decisions being made on the Government's position.

She told them: "I am convinced that if we as a government stand together and stand firm we can achieve this."

Her spokesman said: "The Prime Minister said there will no doubt be challenging moments ahead, that is in the nature of challenging negotiations. She said she is committed to ensuring a Brexit that delivers on the referendum result, safeguards jobs and security and which preserves our Union."


Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, of the Best for Britain campaign group, said: "No deal will be catastrophic for the UK and yet the Prime Minister continues to prioritise the ideology of Conservative Brexiteers over a pragmatic solution to the question of the Irish Border. The Government today has been dealt a Brexit blow by Tusk.

"With the Government now postponing legislation because they fear defeat, it is clear that they have run out of ideas on how to move the country forward.  It is high time the Prime Minister called a people’s vote or a general election, so that the public can ensure the economy doesn’t hurtle over a cliff edge."


Self-employed numbers waver in face of Brexit fears and hostile regulations, IPSE warns

3 days 6 hours ago

IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) has warned that the drop of 94,000 in the number of self-employed in the UK could be caused by Brexit fears, as well as punitive government measures like the changes to IR35 tax law.    

ONS figures out today show that, while there is the good news that overall unemployment has continued to fall slightly, self-employment has also dropped by 94,000. Although there are still approximately 4.8 million self-employed in the UK (15% of the workforce), the fall should concern government and industry.  

Jordan Marshall, IPSE’s Policy Development Manager, comments: “The 94,000 drop in the number of self-employed shows that they are facing increasingly choppy waters.

“Freelancers are the Brexit canary in the coalmine – the first to feel the impact as industries hold back on investment and hiring because of the growing uncertainty about our future relationship with the EU.

“Changes to IR35 are also hitting the self-employed – forcing many to leave contracts or even retire. As they have been belatedly pressured to doing on Universal Credit, government would be wise to think again about plans to roll out damaging changes in the private sector.”


Theresa May pleads with her Cabinet not to split over Brexit

3 days 6 hours ago
Theresa May
Downing Street says Mrs May's Cabinet had 'strongly supported the Prime Minister'.

Theresa May has issued a desperate plea to her Cabinet not to split as she tries to agree a Brexit deal with the EU.

The Prime Minister's top team spent two-and-a-half hours discussing the ongoing deadlock ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels.

In a sign of their deep disagreements over the issue, no decisions were taken on what the Government's negotiating position should be.

However, the Cabinet did back Mrs May's insistence that any Brexit deal should not lead to the break up of the UK or leave the country in a "backstop" customs union with the EU indefinitely.

Mrs May said: "I am convinced that if we as a government stand together and stand firm we can achieve this."

Despite speculation that a string of ministers could be poised to resign at today's meeting, Mrs May's spokesperson said none had threatened to quit or discussed leaving at this morning's gathering.

"We got a very clear message this morning of a Cabinet which is determined to secure a deal," the spokesperson said.

The meeting came after two-thirds of Mrs May's Cabinet met over pizza to debate how to block her Brexit plans.

A total of eight top ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Environment Secretary Michael Gove met in Commons leader Andrea Leadsom's office on Monday night.

Also attending the clandestine gathering were International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Treasury Secretary Liz Truss, and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

According to Number 10, Mrs May used this morning's full Cabinet meeting to talk up the "huge progress" made in Brexit negotiations so far - while acknowledging that "sticking points" remained over avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.

"The Prime Minister said it is not possible for her or any UK Prime Minister to sign up to an agreement that would lead to a customs border down the Irish Sea," the spokesperson said.

"She said we also need to ensure that we do not have a situation where the UK would be kept indefinitely in the backstop against our will."

They added: "Cabinet strongly supported the Prime Minister over the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Union. Cabinet also agreed that we must be able to ensure we cannot be kept in the challenging backstop arrangement indefinitely.

"The Prime Minister said there will no doubt be challenging moments ahead, that is in the nature of challenging negotiations. She said she is committed to ensuring a Brexit that delivers on the referendum result, safeguards jobs and security and which preserves our Union."

But Labour tore into the Prime Minister following the gathering of top ministers, accusing Mrs May of being "in office, not in power".

Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said: "With two days until a crucial EU summit, it is simply extraordinary that the Cabinet can’t agree what its plan for Brexit is. If the Cabinet can’t make a decision on Brexit, then what’s on earth is the point of it?"

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign added: "The Prime Minister made a plea for unity but many of the Brexiters around the cabinet table are creating mayhem.

"The Prime Minister cannot sign off on her bad deal because of the luddites in the ERG. They are the political wing of the flat earth society."


The marathon Cabinet meeting comes ahead of tomorrow's crucial gathering of EU leaders, at which it was hoped a significant breakthrough on Brexit would be reached.

However, the two sides remain deadlocked over plans to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Both the UK and EU are trying to avoid new physical checks or infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republican, but they split over a "backstop" solution that would kick in if no permanent fix can be found.

The EU has proposed keeping Northern Ireland in the bloc's customs union and parts of the single market indefinitely, but Mrs May has warned that would threaten the "integrity of our United Kingdom" and is instead pushing a "temporary" UK-wide customs union with the EU.

In a fresh sign that a deal remains elusive, Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney today became the first senior EU figure to say there will not be a Brexit deal at this week's summit.

Emerging from talks in Luxembourg with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Coveney told the Evening Echo: "We shouldn’t be in any way panicked. I never expected agreement to happen this week. I felt it will take until November to get done. Let’s hold our nerve now and continue negotiation."

Matt Foster

Civil service chief slams ‘sniping’ against Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins

3 days 11 hours ago
Mark Sedwill
Sir Mark Sedwill said civil servants were 'doing our duty'.

Britain’s top civil servant has rallied to the defence of Theresa May's under-fire Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins.

In a highly unusual public intervention, acting Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said those launching anonymous attacks on the Prime Minister's EU adviser “should be ashamed of themselves”.

Mr Robbins has increasingly attracted the ire of Brexiteers, who see him as a key driving force behind the Prime Minister’s controversial Chequers Brexit plan.

In a Times article published this weekend, the top adviser was referred to as “secretive”, “cliquey” and “not a team player” - while the paper cited Tory MPs as blaming him for an “establishment plot” to thwart Brexit.

But, hitting back in a rare public letter to The Times, Sir Mark praised his colleague’s “extraordinary dedication and professionalism”.

“However, the anonymous sources on whose sniping it also draws should be ashamed of themselves, especially in a week when another senior civil servant reported having been threatened because of comments about Brexit implementation,” he said.

Sir Mark's intervention comes after the boss of HM Revenue and Customs revealed that police were investigating a string of death threats made against him after he warned about the potential cost of Brexit plans.

The acting Cabinet secretary added: "This has to stop. Civil servants have always trusted that our fellow citizens, whatever their views, know that we are doing our duty to implement the decisions of the governments they elect."

Sir Mark - who is stepping into the shoes of Sir Jeremy Heywood while the cabinet secretary undergoes treatment for cancer - is seen as a highly-trusted aide by the Prime Minister, having previously served as her top official at the Home Office. ​

Under the civil service code, officials must have ministerial sign-off for any contact with the media.

Matt Foster

No-deal Brexit 'closer than ever' warns Donald Tusk

4 days 1 hour ago
Donald Tusk
The EU Council president gave the warning ahead of a crunch Brexit summit later this week

A no-deal Brexit is “closer than ever”, EU Council president Donald Tusk has warned.

In a gloomy assessment of the state of the negotiations, he said the European Commission was stepping up its preparations for the UK crashing out without an withdrawal agreement in place.

His comments, in a letter to all EU leaders ahead of a crunch Brussels summit this week, came as talks remain deadlocked over the Irish border issue.

Mr Tusk said progress in the talks since the last summit in Salzburg have “proven to be more complicated than some may have expected”.

But he called on the leaders to “not give up” despite the current impasse.

He said: “We should remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides.

“But at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before.”

He added: “The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides.

“This is what our state of mind should be at this stage. As someone rightly said: 'It always seems impossible until it's done.' Let us not give up.”

Mr Tusk also confirmed that Mrs May will address the 27 other EU leaders on Wednesday evening to give her assessment of the current state of the negotiations.

She will then leave while they hold talks of their own over dinner.


Theresa May sparks fresh Tory backlash by refusing to put deadline on 'temporary' EU customs deal

4 days 2 hours ago
EU flag
Theresa May said a Brexit deal could still be 'weeks' away.

Theresa May has sparked a fresh row with Tory MPs by repeatedly failing to put a deadline on a "temporary" customs deals aimed at avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

The Prime Minister also admitted that any Brexit deal could still be "weeks" away, meaning the negotiations are likely to go down to the wire.

Mrs May has proposed that any so-called "backstop" arrangement would see the whole of the UK remaining in the EU customs union until a permanent arrangement can be found to ensure a frictionless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

In response, the EU has said that in any event, Northern Ireland must remain in the customs union and parts of the single market - something the Prime Minister dubbed "a backstop to the backstop".

Tory eurosceptics have demanded that Mrs May insists on a end date for the UK-wide backstop be inserted in any withdrawal agreement she strikes with Brussels.

But after making a statement to MPs this afternoon, she refused repeated attempts by her own MPs to get her to give them that assurance.

Simon Clarke, the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "So far today my Right Honourable Friend has failed to reasure the House that we will definitely be able to leave the backstop by 31 December, 2020."

Mrs May replied: "I have been clear that one of thr areas where we are continuing to discuss with the European Union ... is this issue of the temporary nature of the backstop and ensuring that we have the means to ensure that backstop is temporary were it ever to come in place."

Earlier, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had also urged the Prime Minister to put a deadline on the backstop.

He said: "Can the Prime Minister confirm that the very latest deadline that this country will take back control of our tariff schedules in Geneva and vary those tariffs independently of Brussels in order to do free trade deals will be the 31 December, 2021. If that isn't the deadline, could she say what it is?"

But Mrs May refused to commit to a deadline, saying only that she "expects" that to be the end date.

"One of the issues we are discussing with the European Union is how we do reflect the temporary nature of the backstop," she said. "I continue to believe what we should all be doing is working to ensure that the backstop never comes into place."

In her statement, Mrs May also punctured any hopes of a breakthrough at this week's EU Council summit in Brussels.

Despite insisting that negotiators from both sides had made "real progress in recent weeks", she conceded that they remain far apart on the issue of the Irish backstop.

She said: "The EU says there is not time to work out the detail of this UK-wide solution in the next few weeks. 

"So even with the progress we have made, the EU still requires a 'backstop to the backstop' – effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy.

"And they want this to be the Northern Ireland-only solution that they had previously proposed. We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom."


It also emerged tonight that EU Council president Donald Tusk has invited Mrs May to address a meeting of the heads of the other 27 member states on Wednesday evening too give them her assessment of the Brexit talks.

In a letter to EU leaders, he urged them not to give up hope of getting a withdrawal agreement, even though the chances of no-deal "is more likely than ever before".

He said: "As you remember from Salzburg, we wished for maximum progress and results that would lead to a deal in October. As things stand today, it has proven to be more complicated than some may have expected. We should nevertheless remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides.

"But at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before. Like the UK, the Commission has started such preparations, and will give us an update during the meeting.

"But let me be absolutely clear. The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides. This is what our state of mind should be at this stage. As someone rightly said: 'It always seems impossible until it's done.' Let us not give up."


Theresa May to update MPs on Brexit talks progress following fresh Irish border stalemate

4 days 8 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May will update the House of Commons this afternoon

Theresa May is to update MPs on the deadlocked Brexit negotiations amid claims that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is “probably inevitable”.

In an unusual move, the Prime Minister will make a statement to the Commons just 24 hours after hopes of a breakthrough in the talks were raised and then dashed.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab flew to Brussels for urgent face-to-face talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, but returned soon afterwards when the pair failed to achieve agreement over the so-called "backstop" arrangement to keep the Irish border open.

Reports this morning say talks broke down after the EU demanded what UK officials have branded a “backstop to the backstop” – which would see the original proposal, that was rejected by the UK, back on the table.

Mrs May has said the backstop, which effectively maintains customs union membership until a permanent solution is found, should apply to the whole of the UK and be time-limited.

However the Press Association reported that the EU is insisting it should only apply to Northern Ireland, an arrangement which the Prime Minister has said is "unacceptable" and has been rejected by the DUP, who she relies upon for her Commons majority.

Following the latest breakdown in talks between both sides, the Northern Irish unionists' MP Sammy Wilson said that a no-deal Brexit was “probably inevitable”.

He told the Belfast Newsletter: "Given the way in which the EU has behaved and the corner they’ve put Theresa May into, there’s no deal which I can see at present which will command a majority in the House of Commons...

“I think that anybody looking at it objectively would say that what is on offer from the EU is a far worse deal than a no deal, and therefore she’d be mad to be railroaded into accepting it.

Speaking this morning, the Prime Minister's spokesman said she had decided to address Parliament directly "to provide an update to MPs" on the latest state of play.

He added: "We have made real progress in a number of key areas, however there remain a number of unresolved issues relating the backstop.

"The EU and the UK are both clear that they want to secure a good deal and that’s what both sides are working towards. We remain confident of getting a deal because it is in the interests of both the UK and the European Union."

However, the spokesman went on: "The EU continues to insist on the possibility of a customs border down the Irish Sea.

"This is something that Parliament has already unanimously rejected and is not acceptable to the Prime Minister.”

"We need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say the backstop is a temporary solution. We are not going to be stuck indefinitely in a single customs territory unable to do independent trade deals.”

Nicholas Mairs

Nigel Dodds: The DUP is not bluffing over threat to bring down power pact with Theresa May over Brexit

4 days 13 hours ago
Nigel Dodds
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has spoken out on the backstop issue

The DUP is not bluffing in its threat to break the confidence and supply deal keeping Theresa May in power, Nigel Dodds has insisted.

The party's Westminster leader said he had been “crystal clear” with the Conservatives that “one part of the UK cannot be left behind” after Brexit.

His comments were a reference to EU plans to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union and large parts of the single market - effectively creating a regulatory trade border down the Irish Sea - to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Dodds' warning comes as the Prime Minister struggles to agree a way forward that would ensure the Northern Irish border remains open, with last-ditch talks with the EU failing to secure a breakthrough last night.

Mrs May wants to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union temporarily with the bloc in case a new arrangement to protect the border is not in place by the Brexit date of March next year.

The DUP - whose 10 MPs prop the PM up in her minority government - has already threatened to vote down the upcoming Budget if she agrees to an arrangement which treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

Some have accused the party of bluffing, insisting there is no way they would trigger a general election which could usher in a Jeremy Corbyn government.

Breaking cover on the issue today, Mr Dodds said the confidence and supply deal was “based on a common understanding that we would leave (the EU) as one nation”.

“We will not be party to the abandonment of fundamental principles and harm to the Union to be codified forever in a Withdrawal Agreement,” he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph.

“We could not support such a proposition. Bluff? We don't gamble with the Union.”

It comes amid mounting pressure from the Conservative ranks to ensure any backstop arrangement that keeps the whole UK in the customs union comes with a strict end date.

Pro-Brexit Tories fear the UK could end up tied to the bloc indefinitely if a clear cut-off point is not written into the agreement.

Three top ministers thought to be on the verge of quitting over the issue - Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt - are reportedly due to meet tonight to strategise over takeaway pizza.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - who himself resigned from the frontbench over the PM’s Chequers plan - urged Mrs May to ditch the backstop proposals altogether.

“In presuming to change the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom, the EU is treating us with naked contempt,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

It comes after reports Tory MPs were rallying behind ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis over a possible bid to challenge Mrs May, who urged ministers to “exert their collective authority” over the issue.

And Scottish Secretary David Mundell, along with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson suggested they could resign over a backstop that cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK.

Elsewhere, Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has urged the Government to publish its plans for the Northern Irish backstop.


No-deal Brexit looms as Theresa May pulls plug on agreement amid fears of Cabinet revolt

4 days 14 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May wants to secure a deal by a crunch EU summit on Wednesday

Last-ditch Brexit talks failed to secure a breakthrough last night after Theresa May decided she could not get a proposed deal past her Cabinet.

In a surprise move, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab dashed to Brussels for face-to-face talks with with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after officials on both sides agreed a tenative deal.

But their meeting broke up after just an hour after it became clear both sides were still far apart on the so-called "backstop" arrangement to maintain an open border in Ireland.

According to the Telegraph, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on any deal over fears her Cabinet would not accept any agreement which left the UK tied to the EU's customs union indefinitely.

Mrs May is facing the prospect of Cabinet resignations this week unless any deal includes a specific end date for any such arrangement.

She also faces pressure from the DUP - whose 10 MPs prop her up in government - not to agree a deal that could create a new regulatory border down the Irish Sea.

In a joint statement last night, the Department for Exiting the European Union and Number 10 all-but ruled out reaching a deal at a crunch EU summit later this week.

"In the last few days UK and EU negotiators have made real progress in a number of key areas," they said. "However there remain a number of unresolved issues relating to the backstop.  

"The UK is still committed to making progress at the October European Council.”

Senior civil servants have urged the Government to begin implementing the no-deal contingency plans such as the stockpiling of medicines by the end of the month in case talks fall apart, according to the Times.

Mr Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open, including the backstop to avoid a hard border.”

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