Theresa May begins five day debate

Theresa May will desperately bid to push through her Brexit deal this week

Theresa May has begun five days of debate over her Brexit deal in an attempt to sell it to MPs in Westminster in what is being called the ‘meaningful vote’.

The prime minister will spend eight hours per day fielding questions arguing that her Brexit deal delivers on her commitments to end free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. MPs are set to cast their final votes next Tuesday evening.

The Importance of the Deal

The future for Theresa May and the UK government are resting of the outcome of the vote. If MPs reject the deal, it is likely that there will be a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and the current government. With 100 conservatives saying they intend to vote against the deal, the odds are currently stacked against Theresa May.
Opposition MPs have said that they would also trigger a second EU referendum if the deal collapses.

Dr Marc Geddes, lecturer in British politics from the University of Edinburgh, said that the majority of MPs are unsatisfied with the way that May is handling the deal: “the Brexit vote, we have been repeatedly told, was all about ‘taking back control’ and returning sovereignty to Parliament. For the government to then ignore the will of Parliament is why so many MPs are angry.”

Potential outcome

The outcome of the next few days of debate is uncertain. It is unlikely that Theresa May will gain the majority vote, but where will that leave parliament? Geddes believes that “it partly depends by how much May loses.

If it is a significant chunk of the House of Commons, then there are question marks over her authority as prime minister – though I think it is unlikely that she will either resign or be pushed out by losing the [majority vote] motion.” There are other possibilities, however. Article 50 could be extended, or perhaps there will be another Brexit referendum. There could also be a no-confidence vote in Theresa May or even a confidence vote in HM Government.

What will happen next?

At this stage, what will happen after the next five days of Theresa May’s debate and after the vote is cast next week is uncertain, but updates will come throughout today and we will keep you updated with the latest.

Click here to see news on the Brexit deal as it happens.

Brexit bill powers curbed by MSPs at Holyrood

In a series of meetings held by the Finance Committee at the Scottish Parliament, MSPs have been debating amendments to the Westminster EU Withdrawal Bill amongst dispute over devolved powers in a post-Brexit political landscape.

There is potential that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Theresa May could come to an agreement over powers between the two governments.

The finance committee will meet again at Holyrood tonight. Credit: Wikipedia.

Both the Scottish and Welsh governments are both currently considering measures in case they do not give their consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. Both find themselves in disagreement with the UK Government over how powers will be divided after Brexit.

The issue is that UK ministers wish to have the final say in 24 key areas of power, whilst the devolved governments want a detailed consultation over such changes.

Holyrood has put forward it’s own alternative to the Westminster Bill in order to avoid concerns of a ‘power grab’ by the UK Government.

Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell said the bill “can be improved”, and said he would “consider all suggestions”.

Around 230 possible amendments are being considered, with a majority of them having been rejected so far. It is known that 20 amendments have been voted through, with potentially more this evening as the Finance Committee will meet again tonight at Holyrood.

Poor Brexit negotiations could cause the British public their money and their holiday

UK is set to leave the European Union on the 29th of March next year.
As the monumental date draws closer, British holiday-makers, who have booked airtravel in and out the EU after this date, are being urged to contact their travel agents and flight providers.

Today, consumer think-tank, Which? has publicly called on all British airlines to clearly communicate whether or not refunds will be offered to customers who book flights before they are grounded.

Ryanair Boss Michael O’Leary has repeatedly advised the British public that flights to and from the EU may be brought to a halt after Prime Minister Theresa May signs her name to the final documents as part of Article 50.

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Ryanair Boss Michael O’Leary Image Credit: Press Association

Mr O’Leary is worried that Mrs May and her government must establish an aviation deal with the existing members of the European countries as part of Brexit negotiations.

O’Leary has been a long-term critic of Theresa May. In Skynews interview in September last year, he accused the PM of:

“Faffing around with India, Brussels is where trade deals need to be done”

Despite the very real fear that flights will be cancelled, TUI, Jet2 and On the Beach have not offered any reassurance that cancelled flights will be reimbursed.

Which? did note that Thomas Cook have amended their terms and conditions to stipulate that no refunds will be given if changes to aviation markets cause flights to be cancelled.

The public have been worried for weeks regarding the reliability of tourism companies and their approach to Brexit. One Twitter using the name ChicoMioLoco tweeted:

Ryanair Boss Michael O’Leary has repeatedly advised the British public that flights to and from the EU may be brought to a halt after Prime Minister Theresa May signs her name to the final documents as part of Article 50.
Mr O’Leary is worried that Mrs May and her government must establish an aviation deal with the existing members of the European countries as part of Brexit negotiations.

Consumer think-tank, Which? has publicly called on all British airlines to clearly communicate whether or not refunds will be offered to customers who book flights before they are grounded.

Tourism Management student Samantha Long believes that although flights will not be cancelled, it is very likely that flights will change routes which will cause disruptions.
Her fellow-student, Tessa Campbell believes Brexit could cause the holiday-makers emotional stress as well as financial. She states that crowds and extra delays are probable while waiting in customs at EU airports.

Tessa also stated:
“Communication isn’t flowing’ between tourism companies and the public”.

However Tessa believes travel angencies are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because “UK government isn’t giving much away” to help them.
Tessa, along with a large number of UK citizens, thinks that “they should be as transparent as possible” in order not to implicate British holiday-makers who wish to visit EU destinations.

Comment: The Tories are supporting the DUP’s agenda not Northern Ireland’s Peace Process

The DUP have received a £410 million allocation for Northern Ireland Assembly budget from the Conservative Party, despite Stormont not sat since snap local elections in March 2017.

Stormont’s debates chambers have been silent for over 12 months, the DUP are a party not in power at home but solely making decisions for Northern Ireland. It adds to a growing list of decisions and Brexit stance shifts by Theresa May’s Government, pointing to a willingness to do whatever necessary to keep the DUP content and themselves in power.

Peace Bridge: Derry. Credit: Aoibhinn O’Doherty

A hard border will be disastrous for Northern Ireland, The European Union is doing everything it can to stop a disintegration of the peace progress in Brexit negotiations whilst Britain does everything in its’ power to keep the DUP’s support. Allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and customs union, having the hard border along the Irish sea is a huge conceit by the EU. It shows a desire to show leniency on Britain’s hard stance for the better of peace in Ireland. Theresa May and the rightwing press in Britain are outraged by Europe’s “demands,” misunderstanding who is really unrealistically demanding.

The disadvantages of a border are clear; trade, immigration and economic support will be brought to a standstill in Northern Ireland. Derry sits along the border, NI’s second city, every day hundreds commute to and from the city across the border. An economic blackspot, for decades it has benefited from European money and incentives for cross-community projects, local business, start-ups and trade. A ‘Peace Bridge’ links the still-segregated sides of Derry’s Foyle river, paid for and devised by the EU.

The Foyle Constituency voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe, the advantages of having an elected member in the EU was clear to Foyle’s constituents, due to the work of the cities’ John Hume in spreading Europe’s peaceful philosophy.

It was on the morning of June’s General Election’s result and formation of a coalition government with the DUP, Hume came to mind. It was Hume’s fight for civil rights and ultimate vision of peace throughout the darkest days of the Troubles that saw an end to the bloodshed. The Good Friday Agreement and the design of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing Assembly was the result of secret negotiations between Sinn Fein, The DUP, Westminster and the Dáil. Forging relationships between Nationalism and Loyalism, Britain and Ireland, Hume’s lifelong commitment to equality and peace seen him receive the Noble Peace Prize in 1998.

It was not without outside support that peace was achieved. Hume was an MEP and sat in the EU’s Strasbourg Parliament. He addressed the Parliament following his Noble award, it was the speech I came across on the morning of June 26.

“The European Union is the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution. The philosophy of the European Union and the peace of Europe is the philosophy of our [Good Friday] agreement.” Hume bellowed.

In no uncertain terms, Hume owes peace to Europe, every meticulous detail of NI’s new government was based on what followed the ashes and rubble of the Second World War. Hume understood The European Union and the philosophy it represented, respect for difference and sitting down together to work toward a common goal. 

With the threat of a no deal Brexit and a hard border, Theresa May is holding Northern Ireland’s peace process to ransom. The Good Friday Agreement brought an end to hundreds of years of intolerance to religion and culture. Britain, along with the Irish Republic, Europe and the two diametrically opposed parties of Republicanism and Unionism agreed to an equal footing. Britain accepted a responsibility to acknowledge and work with Nationalism in Ireland, for the first time Unionism had an opposition.

With the formation of a coalition with the DUP in June, Theresa May compromised Britain’s promise to Northern Ireland and have put peace in jeopardy. As we edge closer and closer to leaving Europe, with negotiations in existence but not progressing, it is becoming clear that May and her negotiator Michel Barnier are far more interested in supporting the DUP and its’ opposition to the North of Ireland remaining in the customs union and single market. It seems obvious to me, as it does Europe’s negotiators, the Conservatives are only intent on keeping their minority government in power through the DUP and not honouring their commitment to peace in Ireland.   

Leaked Brexit documents could affect UK’s access to single market

A leaked document regarding the UK’s exit from the European Union suggests access to the single market may be restricted.

The obtained leak – in a draft section of the UK and EU’s withdrawal agreement – states that during the post-Brexit phase the EU wants the power to restrict the UK’s market access and suspend “certain benefits”.

Meetings are taking place today to decide the Uk’s future with Brexit. Image: Pixaby

Theresa May will meet with her senior ministers today as she chairs the first of two discussions to clarify the UK’s position.

Nicola Sturgeon – who will not be involved in the meeting at Downing Street – has demanded discussions with the administrators associated with the Brexit negotiations.

Scotland’s First Minister has written personally to Theresa May ahead of the crucial meetings to say the Scottish Government should be able to have a say in the influence of the exit objectives from the EU.

The leaked documents have led to politicians on both leave and remain sides to advise Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, to take a cold hard Brexit deal.

Sturgeon wants the Scottish Government to have a say. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Last month the Scottish Government released in its own analysis that a hard deal could leave the Scottish economy £12.7 billion worse of a year – leaving the SNP leader to take action.

Holyrood’s Brexit minister Michael Russell will meet in Dublin today to discuss the Irish border.

If the EU obtains the power to restrict the UK’s access to the single market during the transition period, it will begin on 29 March 2019, when the UK leaves the EU and will end on 31 December 2020.

DUP leader blasts Irish PM over Brexit

The Irish prime minister is being “reckless” as Brexit talks enter a “critical phase”, says Arlene Foster.

Speaking after meeting Theresa May at Downing Street today, the Democratic Unionist Party leader said Leo Varadkar “should know better” than to “play around” with Northern Ireland as talks continue.

Arlene Foster has been the DUP leader since 2015. Photograph: Google

Dublin has said any deal which involves a hard border with Northern Ireland should not be taken into consideration.

Meanwhile the European Union has said Northern Ireland would have to stay in the customs union where there to be no hard border.

The prime minister has said that the outcome could not be accepted by the UK government as it would effectively create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

Mrs Foster said she recognised Brexit was a “big shock” for the Republic of Ireland – “and they are trying to process all of that”.

“But they certainly shouldn’t be using Northern Ireland to get the maximum deal for their citizens.”

Negotiations between Britain and the EU have yet to reach an agreement as to how the Irish border will remain open for goods to be transferred freely if the UK leaves the customs union.

The Conservatives – who are supported in government by the DUP – are today pushing for the negotiations to move onto the trade agreement, which they claim is linked with the Irish issue.

Last night Mrs May’s cabinet agreed to offer to pay more as the UK leaves Europe. But No. 10 said no formal offer will be made until the talks move on to trade.

In support of the government, Mrs Foster said it was crucial to move on to the second phase now because the trade arrangement is linked to the border situation.

After the election in June, the DUP pledged to support the prime minister’s minority government on the Brexit issue.


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Britain to offer more money in bid to further Brexit talks

In an effort to accelerate talks over a new trade deal with the EU, the UK cabinet has agreed that Britain will offer more money to the EU as Brexit talks continue.

It is believed that such an offer could be as high as £40 billion pounds – double the £20 billion that was offered by the Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence last September.

The European Parliament. Source: Flickr

This was decided yesterday in a meeting of the prime minister’s new Brexit-subcommittee, not long after the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier stated that the EU would not concede over trading laws and regulations.

Whilst the negotiation teams of both the UK and the EU have been meeting each month since March, progress has been slow, with the ‘divorce bill’ proving to be a key point of disagreement for both sides. The EU has been reluctant to begin trade talks without receiving financial assurances by the UK.

One area that the UK Government has found challenging to manage is placating those Conservative MPs that feel offering and giving the EU more money would be undesirable. Some such as Nigel Evans MP feel that it would be like a ‘’ransom payment.’’

Talks on a future trade relationship with the UK will be held by EU leaders on the 14th and 15th of December. One key point that the EU has maintained throughout the negotiations is that the UK must uphold its financial commitments in any final withdrawal bill.

Even the £40 billion offer would still fall short of some estimates of the UK’s financial responsibilities to the EU over the course of its membership. The EU wants the UK to maintain its payments into the EU budget up to 2020, as well as covering its commitments to ongoing EU programs such as aid and pensions.

The UK has until this Friday to potentially increase that offer of £40 billion pounds, suggested Michel Barnier in talks earlier this month. It looks set to determine the success or not of the crunch European Council Summit due to take place in December.


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Nicola Sturgeon to meet Theresa May in Downing Street

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon is to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May in Number 10 on Tuesday. This is the first face to face meeting the two leaders have had since March of this year.

 

The Prime Minister indicated earlier in the year that she wanted to hold discussions with Sturgeon over their government’s political deadlock regarding Brexit.

Theresa May and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meet in a hotel in Glasgow, Scotland, March 27, 2017.
Source: Reuters

 

It is likely that following cross-party talks about sexual harassment in both Westminister and Holyrood in previous weeks, the two leaders will discuss the current state of sexual harassment in politics.

 

The meeting comes on the same day that amendments to the European Withdrawl Bill are being considered by MPs, fueling further friction between Conservative backbenchers and Cabinet members.

 

The Scottish Government is refusing to table the bill for consent in Holyrood unless changes are made to halt a return of devolved powers to Westminster.

 

Sturgeon said in recent weeks, this is a ‘power grab’ by the Conservative Party. May responded by stating devolved regions would ‘gain significant powers’ in the bill.

 

Previous talks between top ministers in both Parliaments have failed in their bid to break this political deadlock. May and Sturgeon’s relationship has been fraught at times. Nicola Sturgeon revealed in a New Statesman interview her personal view of May’s current government;

 

“When you’ve got an insight into how rough and tough and, at times, downright unpleasant the trade of politics can be, it’s hard not to feel some personal sympathy. Her position must be pretty intolerable. It’s tempered, though, by the fact that nobody made her call an election and she did it for purely party-political interest.”

 

Whilst the Brexit Withdrawal will be top of both leaders agenda, neither party leader could avoid tackling the sexual harassment which is involving all parties in both parliaments. Tory Defense Secretary Micheal Fallon and SNP early years minister Mark McDonald both left their posts last week over allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.

 

Labour’s Brexit amendment set to divide party

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MPs will meet in Westminster today to discuss amendments to Article 50

The on-going Brexit saga is set to take another turn in Westminster later on today.

Amendments to article 50, which triggers Britain’s exit from the European Union, will be pushed forward by the pro-remain Labour party in parliament.

Shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry has proposed the amendments in order for the UK to get the “best deal” in a Brexit society. “We wanted to stay in the European Union, and we were pretty united around that,” said Thornberry. “But we lost. The country decided that we should leave the European Union. It was a very serious vote.”

“The question is how do we best fight for that? In our view we have to do as instructed and vote to leave the European Union, but actually the fight begins now.”

The Labour party are seemingly in a midst of disarray as leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed a three-line party whip ordering the party to support article 50, with a number of Labour MP’s such as shadow business secretary Clive Lewis, planning to rebel against the party line during Brexit negotiations.

Thornberry however will not defy the party whip and will tow the Labour party line in agreeing to Brexit, albeit with amendments put forward today.

It is unlikely that the amendments will pass, as around 90 MP’s will oppose the amendment, but said that the amended article 50 had to go through the House of Commons.

The Scottish National party are set to oppose article 50 and will vote against Labour’s amendments later today. The SNP have criticised the government for failing to properly negotiate with the devolved governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, both countries that voted to remain in the EU.

SNP MP Stephen Gethins argued strongly that Brexit would have a profound impact on Scotland’s economy. “Passing this bill and turning your back on our amendment would turn its back on the progress made and disrespect the devolution settlement,” according to Gethins. “I’d urge members to vote for our amendment, otherwise this is a backward and damaging step and it is an act of constitutional and economic sabotage.”

The Brexit debate has already begun to divide the Labour party. Those who voted remain have either gone with the new Labour mandate of accepting Brexit, or vow to defy the party whip.While Labour’s amendments are likely to be opposed in Westminster, there is a slight chance they will be passed and in turn will halt the governments exit from the EU. Brexit was widely rejected by mainstream media, only for the public to say otherwise in the polls.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, said two thirds of Labour MPs represented constituencies that voted to leave the EU, and one third where people voted to stay in.
“This is obviously a difficult decision,” he said.

“I wish the result had gone the other way. I campaigned passionately for that. But as democrats our party has to accept that result and it follows that the prime minister should not be blocked from starting the article 50 negotiations.”

UPDATE: Ian Murray, Scottish Labour’s only Member of Parliament has just confirmed that he will vote against Article 50, defying Labour’s amendment. In a statement on BBC Scotland, Murray he would be “standing up for [his constituency] in the Commons by voting against the triggering of Article 50”. The Edinburgh South MP stated he represented the constituency where 78% of constituents voted to remain in the EU and was one of the highest “remain” constituencies in the UK.

Brexit ‘disastrous’ for farming and food sectors

Rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing has called for the protection of access to markets for Scottish producers, with warnings that leaving the European Single Market would be “disastrous” for Scotland’s farming and food sectors.

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Ewing said: “The EU is Scotland’s biggest overseas regional food and drink market, with exports of food and drink work £2bn in 2015. We simply can’t ignore the disastrous impact that leaving the Single Market, and the 500 million people within it, could have on our food and drink sector.”

Current figures show food exports have increased more than 50%, employing 36,000 people, 19% of the Scottish manufacturing workforce.Food and drink manufacturing accounts for around 45% of Scotland’s full supply chain turnover and the number of people it employs, with over 800 businesses in the sector.

Ewing continued: “A ‘Hard Brexit’ would be devastating for Scottish agriculture and the many food companies which rely on Scottish produce. Potentially, they face both high tariffs of up to 50% and loss of subsidy support. It may also put at risk  the common regulatory frameworks which help maintain food safety, animal and plant health standards and guarantee access to EU markets and many other countries.”

Ewing expressed concerns about the impact on the labour market with almost 40% of people employed in the sector being foreign-born, with the majority from within the EU, saying; “Unlike the UK Government, we value the contribution that non-UK EU nationals bring to our economy and society, contributing to sustainable economic growth, mitigating the effects of demographic change and enriching our culture and communities.”

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