May Warns Tories Not to Undermine Her Mission: Brexit Update

Alex Morales, Thomas Penny and Tim Ross
May Warns Tories Not to Undermine Her Mission: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May is warning pro-Brexit Conservatives not to undermine her efforts to re-negotiate her deal by rebelling against her in a vote in Parliament on Thursday. May is asking the Commons to endorse her strategy of seeking legally binding changes to the Irish border backstop during talks with the European Union.

Key Developments:

May’s team warn euroskeptics not to scupper her re-negotiation (10:55 a.m.)Labour will oppose May’s motion and back Soubry rebel amendment (3:21 p.m.)Speaker Bercow selects three amendments for debate (12:30 p.m.)Vlieghe says Brexit vote has cost U.K. about 800 million pounds a week since the referendum (10 a.m.)

May’s Motion Might Not Get Voted On (4:30 p.m.)

With Labour and a number of Tory rebels planning to vote for Soubry’s rebel amendment, it’s possible that the main motion itself won’t come to a vote at all.

That’s because Soubry’s amendment essentially replaces the wording of May’s original motion endorsing the prime minister’s approach to Brexit. If Soubry’s amendment passes, the wording of May’s motion will not be put to a separate vote.

What would this mean? On the face of it, May will have been defeated -- and she’ll be expected to publish the dire warnings of a no-deal Brexit. But she will also have escaped the more damaging defeat -- on her strategy to renegotiate the Brexit deal.

May Spoke to Merkel on Brexit Backstop (4:01 p.m.)

May had a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss Brexit, according to the prime minister’s spokeswoman Alison Donnelly. May also spoke to the leaders of Austria, Portugal and Sweden. All agreed that they want the U.K. to leave the EU with a deal, Donnelly told reporters in London.

May wants MPs to back her main motion, to send “another clear message” to Brussels that the U.K. requires legally binding changes to be made to the Irish border backstop, Donnelly said.

Feb. 27 Shaping up as Parliament’s High Noon (3:45 p.m.)

MPs opposed to a no-deal divorce clearly see Feb. 27 as the crucial date for Parliament to seize control of proceedings. That’s when Labour’s Yvette Cooper will push her plan to give May a two-week window to either persuade MPs to endorse no-deal or delay Brexit.

Oliver Letwin -- a former minister who’s often moderated between Tory factions -- said his "terrifying" conclusion is that May is prepared to “head for the exit door without a deal." The only way to stop it is for the Commons to take over and "on Feb. 27 there is no place to hide," he said.

Cooper called on the government to "show some responsibility" and support her bill. "It’s as if we’re all just standing around admiring the finery of the emperor’s new clothes but the emperor is running around stark naked and everyone is laughing at us,” she said.

Labour Backs Soubry and Opposes May’s Motion (3:21 p.m.)

Labour will support former Tory Business Minister Anna Soubry’s amendment demanding the government publishes its impact analysis of the damage a no-deal Brexit will do. According to an official familiar with the matter, the party’s MPs will be ordered to vote alongside Soubry later. This gives Soubry’s plan a fighting chance of defeating the government.

As previously reported (see 12:50 p.m.) Labour is also going to oppose May’s main motion endorsing her approach to Brexit talks, assuming it hasn’t been significantly altered, the person said.

Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is planning a trip to Brussels next week for talks with EU officials, potentially including the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, another person said.

Soubry Demands ‘stark’ No-Deal Analysis (2:25 p.m.)

Former Business Minister Anna Soubry urged lawmakers to back her amendment demanding publication of the government’s most recent analysis of the economic implications of a no-deal Brexit.

The papers "in stark terms identify the very real dangers to our economy -- to trade and business," she said. “These are papers I would suggest of national importance."

Soubry said it’s "shameful" that Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay addressed the concerns of Brexiteers, and not of those who oppose a no-deal Brexit, saying her party is "in hock" to the ERG. "He stood and he tossed out red meat to keep them on board," she said.

Rees-Mogg: Thursday’s Motion Not Important (1:55 p.m.)

The anti-EU European Research Group of Tory MPs is still keeping its cards close to its chest on how its members will vote. The group’s leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told BBC TV that Thursday’s motion "does not really matter," and he will convey that message to his members.

But he wouldn’t say what course of action he’ll recommend, saying he will tell his ERG colleagues first. ITV’s Paul Brand tweeted that Rees-Mogg had told him "it’s highly unlikely people will be voting against this motion." That still doesn’t rule out abstentions.

Starmer Says Action Needed to Avert No Deal (1:30 p.m.)

Keir Starmer, Labour Brexit spokesman, said Parliament needs to “take further action” if it wants to avoid a no-deal split from the EU. May will wait until late March to "put the same deal back to this house as a binary choice: ‘my deal or no deal‘,” he said. "That is not holding your nerve, it’s reckless."

Labour’s amendment -- setting a deadline for a vote on Feb. 27 -- would ensure "there is a hard stop to running down the clock," he said. He also backed a bill proposed by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper which would seek a delay to Brexit if there isn’t an agreement by March 13.

Starmer edged closer to backing a repeat referendum, in line with Labour’s policy, which says the party should seek a general election then consider options including a close economic relationship with the EU or a people’s vote. "There must come a point where the options are clarified and reduced and then voted on and it needs to be done before the end of March,” he said.

Barclay Angers Tories Opposed to No-Deal (12:55 p.m.)

Tories who want to stop a no-deal Brexit voiced their anger at Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay. They accused him of not respecting the vote in Parliament on Jan. 29 that declared the Commons opposes leaving the EU without a deal.

Barclay -- who is a euroskeptic -- made clear that a no-deal Brexit remains on the table because it’s the legal default if no agreement is reached by March 29.

“The government can’t simply just pick and choose which votes it wants to support,” former Education Secretary Justine Greening said. Fellow Tory Caroline Spelman, who tabled the amendment ruling out no deal last month, demanded the minister give “equal respect” both to her plan and to May’s effort to renegotiate the Irish border backstop. It would be “contemptuous of this House” if Barclay failed to do so, Spelman said.

Labour Planning to Make Trouble for May (12:50 p.m.)

The opposition Labour Party is aiming to do all it can to make life difficult for May this evening, according to people familiar with the matter. The party will probably vote against May’s main motion to maximize the chances of defeating her and show up Conservative divisions.

Labour is also expected to support an amendment proposed by Tory backbencher Anna Soubry, which would “instruct” the government to publish its latest analysis on the economic effects of a no-deal split.

If enough Tory lawmakers join Labour in the voting lobbies, May would have seven days to release the analysis.

Parliament to Debate Brexit Economic Data, Delay (12:30 p.m.)

Speaker John Bercow has announced the amendments Parliament will be debating today. They are, in order:

a) Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to force May to come back to Parliament by Feb. 27 if she doesn’t have a deal (she has already said she will)i) The Scottish National Party’s attempt to force an extension of Brexit talkse) Conservative MP Anna Soubry’s attempt to force the government to publish its most recent briefing on the economic impact of Brexit

Voting starts at 5 p.m. If all these are rejected, Parliament will get to the unamended motion at around 6 p.m., and that’s when Tory MPs will have to decide whether to rebel (see 9:40 a.m.).

Recess Still Canceled But Parliament Has Little to Do (12 p.m.)

Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has announced the business for next week. Parliament was supposed to be in recess, but that was canceled because of the urgency of preparing for Brexit.

However, as there isn’t a deal to discuss, the chamber will be looking over 11 statutory instruments -- pieces of regulation that don’t usually get a great deal of scrutiny -- and then holding general debates on topics including serious violence and anti-Semitism. It’s not difficult to find members of Parliament who aren’t planning to turn up next week.

May Doesn’t Plan to Change Thursday’s Motion (11:45 a.m.)

Brexiteer warnings about the wording of Thursday’s motion don’t seem to have concerned the prime minister. Her spokesman, James Slack, told reporters there are no plans to alter it. Moreover, he offered no guarantee May will even attend the debate, which will be opened by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and closed by his junior, Chris Heaton-Harris.

“It’s important that MPs support the prime minister today in order to send another clear message to Brussels on the need to address Parliament’s concerns about the backstop so that we can leave on time, with a deal, on March 29,” Slack said.

Slack offered words of solace to anti-EU Tories who fear endorsing the motion means ruling out a no-deal Brexit. He said that option remains on the table, and there are only two ways to take it off: to agree to a deal, or to revoke Article 50 -- which May isn’t prepared to do.

May Said to Warn MPs Over Thursday Vote (10:55 a.m.)

Theresa May’s team are urging members of Parliament to back the government in tonight’s vote or risk undermining her negotiating position in Brussels, according to a person familiar with her strategy.

If lawmakers from the anti-EU European Research Group fail to back her, they will jeopardize the premier’s attempts to satisfy their demand for a renegotiation of the Irish border backstop, the person said.

May won support from the ERG on January 29 by pledging to reopen talks on the backstop, which is intended to guarantee the Irish frontier stays open after Brexit. The group opposes it because members fear it would see the U.K. locked in an open-ended commitment to the bloc.

Vlieghe: Brexit Cost U.K. 800m Pounds a Week (10 a.m.)

In a speech in London, Bank of England policy maker Gertjan Vlieghe said the decision to leave the European Union has cost the U.K. about 2 percent of gross domestic product since June 2016 relative to a scenario without “significant domestic economic events.” That’s about 40 billion pounds ($51 billion) a year or about 800 million pounds a week in “bus units,” he said -- a not-so-subtle dig at Vote Leave’s infamous red campaign bus during the referendum.

Vlieghe also said a no-deal Brexit is more likely to require an easing than a tightening of monetary policy, the clearest view a policy maker has given of how the bank may react if the U.K. leaves the bloc without an agreement on March 29.

Baker: No-Deal Must Be Kept on Table (9:40 a.m.)

It didn’t take long for the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservatives to respond to Fox’s warning not to rebel (see 9:15 a.m.). Steve Baker said on Twitter that Tory lawmakers should avoid being associated with an motion that “seems to take no deal off the table.”

“Today’s storm in a teacup only arises because the government’s motion is not neutral,” Baker said. “This unnecessary carry on is wanted by no one.”

Baker also called Thursday’s votes “a distraction” from the key to reaching a Brexit deal Parliament can support: “Replacing the backstop with alternative arrangements.” He called on the government to adopt the so-called Malthouse Compromise in full.

Fox Warns Rebels: EU Will Be Watching (9:15 a.m.)

Trade Secretary Liam Fox said Thursday’s votes will send an important signal to the European Union over the level of support for Theresa May and her Brexit strategy in the House of Commons.

“It’s important we understand we are not an internal debating society in Parliament, what we say is looked at and listened to by those we’re negotiating with and they will be looking to see whether Parliament is showing consistency,’’ Fox told BBC Radio. “There’s a danger that we send the wrong signals.”

Fox said the EU is willing to “accommodate” the U.K.’s demands on the Irish border backstop, but the bloc needs to know Parliament will back any concessions she manages to win from Brussels.

“There’s a tendency to think that this is some kind of academic and ideological purity exercise,’’ he said. “This is about the raw politics of negotiation and it’s about sending signals about continuity and trustworthiness in negotiation.’’

Earlier:

May Faces Revolt From Euroskeptic Conservatives in Brexit VoteIn Brexit’s City of Spies, Eavesdroppers Are EverywhereParliament’s Next Brexit Vote: A Guide to What’s Happening‘Harmful’ No-Deal Brexit Would Erode Investment, CBI Chief Says

--With assistance from David Goodman, Jill Ward and Robert Hutton.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net;Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.