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Sunday shows round-up: Brexit manoeuvres under scrutiny

20 January 2019

5:09 PM

20 January 2019

5:09 PM

Liam Fox – Remain MPs are trying to ‘steal Brexit’

With the government in severe difficulties after a week which saw Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement rejected by the largest margin in Parliamentary history, politicians are now exploring how to break the deadlock before the UK officially leaves the EU on 29th March. Speaking to Andrew Marr, the International Trade Secretary condemned parliamentarians hoping to take advantage of the current stalemate to try and hinder or reverse the referendum result:

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LF: You’ve got a Leave population and a Remain Parliament. Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit process, because Parliament said to the people of this country, ‘We will make a contract with you, you will make the decision and we will honour it’. What we’re now getting are some of those who were always absolutely opposed to the result of referendum, trying to hijack Brexit and, in effect, steal the result from the people.

Fox described the political consequences of ignoring the vote as ‘astronomical’. He highlighted the Northern Irish backstop as an issue where ‘we need to look to find some compromise’, stressing that neither the UK nor the Irish government wishes to see a ‘hard border’. Fox was less keen on a compromise which would see the UK remain in the EU customs union, arguing that would mean ‘you can’t have an independent trade policy’, and therefore the government ‘couldn’t deliver on one of the key elements of Brexit’. He insisted that the UK’s future trade agreements were now ‘well in train’, with one signed on Friday and another to be signed next week, but stressed that foreign governments still needed to ‘put the preparations in for no deal’ as a precaution.

Sir Keir Starmer – Chances of no backstop are ‘very very slim’

The Shadow Brexit Secretary has said that he foresees the controversial backstop arrangement as a highly likely outcome of any Brexit deal. If Labour found itself in a position to renegotiate the UK’s withdrawal agreement, Sir Keir conceded that it would, in all probability, remain a part of any deal:

AM: Does your deal require a backstop or not?

KS: I think at this stage any deal probably does require a backstop, and we’ve got to recognise that.

AM: John McDonnell said it didn’t.

KS: There are problems with this backstop, there are risks that are real. But I think because we’re at this stage of the exercise, nearly two years in, the chance now of a deal that doesn’t have a backstop are very, very slim and we’d have to accept that and proceed from there.

Starmer expressed frustration at Theresa May for being ‘doggedly stuck to [her] red lines’ and argued that ‘she is the block’ to securing a deal. He added ‘I think it’s inevitable that Article 50 will have to be extended [because] I don’t think we can get what needs to be done in the next 68 days’. He also suggested that a ‘public vote’ was necessary to ensure against a ‘no deal’ scenario. In this hypothetical vote, Starmer told Marr that he would ‘campaign for in and I will vote for in [the EU]’. In the absence of this, he confirmed that he wished to see a ‘permanent customs union and close single market deal’.

Nicky Morgan – ‘It’s a strange sort of coup…’

The Chair of the Treasury Select Committee and prominent Remain supporter Nicky Morgan has defended the right of Parliament to try and set the agenda in the House of Commons as a result of the current impasse. The so-called ‘cloakroom plot’ would see MPs vote to change the current rules in order to allow motions from backbenchers to take precedence over government business. Sophy Ridge asked her if this was the right road to go down:

SR: For some people this must sound a bit like a coup. Is it?

NM: I think it’s a strange sort of coup that starts with a whole bunch of democratically elected Members of Parliament… It is unprecedented for backbenchers business to take precedence over government business but it is very much confined to one particular issue – Brexit – and it is to my immense regret that unfortunately Brexit appears to be the only thing that we’re able to discuss at the moment… So no, I think to describe it as a coup is overblown!

Morgan argued that ‘there is no majority in Parliament for a no deal outcome’ and echoed Keir Starmer’s call for Article 50 to be extended. She confirmed that she was working ‘with a cross-party group of MPs’ on a bill to do this if an agreement could not be achieved by the end of February. Morgan said that her preferred option would be a ‘Common Market 2.0′ deal, which would see the UK remain a member of the single market but with ways to apply for there to be control’ on immigration.

Dominic Raab – Cloakroom plot ‘extraordinary and undemocratic’

However, the former Brexit Secretary has conveyed his disappointment at the ‘cloakroom plot’ and instead made clear his desire for Parliament to get a move on with the process:

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DR: We have seen some of the shenanigans over the weekend, an attempt to try and allow a super-minority… of MPs, to set the agenda in Parliament. I think that would be an extraordinary and undemocratic thing to do. I think as a reality check on this, it is very difficult to do some of these colourful ideas that are being floated around, and of course on the Remain side they are split… I think whether people voted Leave or Remain they want to have this done, they want us to move on, talk about the economy, public services. We won’t be able to do that until we have delivered Brexit so that’s what we should all go for.

Raab was optimistic about leaving the EU with no deal. He conceded that there were short term risks such as ‘friction at the border’, but argued that they were ‘manageable’. As a counterpoint, he said ‘I think as an independent third country, we’d actually return to the  negotiations reasonably swiftly and have stronger negotiating leverage’. Raab also denied that he was considering running for the leadership of the Conservative party after Theresa May steps down, and told Ridge ‘I want to support this Prime Minister in getting Brexit over the line’.

David Lammy – Labour party could split without second referendum

And finally, the high profile Remain supporting MP David Lammy has suggested to Ridge that Labour could see a splinter party emerge over Brexit, and that the only way to avoid this happening would be to manoeuvre Jeremy Corbyn behind a referendum on the withdrawal agreement (when one is finally agreed):

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DL: Let me say this, Sophy, there is a small group in our party who are so frustrated, who have so much grievance, the fear is that they are going to go off and form another party. I personally reject that but the danger is, just like 1983, a new party built around basically a relationship with Europe, keeps the Labour party out of power for a generation. I don’t want to see that.

Lammy referred to the hypothetical referendum as ‘an open goal’, but said that Jeremy Corbyn was currently ‘hitting the crossbar’. He argued that there was ‘no point in continuing with votes of no confidence’, as these were likely to fail, and that his way was the best chance to ‘unite the Labour party’.

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