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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 6 August, 2020
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MPS HAVE VOTED, once again, to rejected the Brexit deal, despite last-minute measures announced last night by Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker.

Although the loss was significantly less than the first Meaningful Vote (a 149-vote loss, as opposed to 230), it’s still being described as a “thumping” defeat.

After advice from attorney general Geoffrey Cox was published this morning, it significantly reduced the chances of May’s deal being passed in the House of Commons.

Here are the main points from today:

Good afternoon and welcome to the latest in our long-running series of Brexit liveblogs. 

The latest development as you join us: 

So yes, it doesn’t look like the new assurances will be enough for the ERG, which is made up of senior Brexiteers like Steve Baker and Jacob Rees Mogg.

They’ve described the new legal changes as representing “faint and remote prospects of escaping” from the backstop.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is on his way to the US and won’t be able to keep track of what’s going on for the next eight hours or so.

Our political correspondent Christina Finn, who happens to be on the same flight, says the plane is not WiFi enabled so he’ll be in the dark till 9pm.

Varadkar, of course, put his St Patrick’s travel plans on hold yesterday so ministers could hold a cabinet meeting to keep on top of Brexit developments.

The Taoiseach was out speaking to the press earlier:

It looks like a no from the DUP. 

We’re awaiting an official statement. 

As we await that DUP statement, let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves that this happened: 

boll Source: Jon Snow/Twitter

As an indication of where the DUP stand now, its deputy leader Nigel Dodds said this to the House of Commons earlier:

“…The backstop is the bottom line; provided there is no bad faith NI and The UK NI could be trapped [in the backstop].”

 

Dodds is a barrister, it should be noted.

An unexpected round of friendly fire.

Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers has said that the party is concerned after Cox’s legal advice, and has said that the backstop is weaker than it was before.

Fine Gael’s Noel Rock is calling on the party to clarify its support for the EU and Irish government’s Brexit position.

Leo Varadkar won’t be happy with that pot-shot, which is very typical of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s relationship since the Confidence and Supply Agreement was extended until the Brexit storm has passed…

Chances are though, he won’t hear about it for a while. The Taoiseach is on a flight to the US at the moment, for a meeting with President Donald Trump as is part of the St Patrick’s Day tradition.

Remember that line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Here’s the last we heard from the Taoiseach on the Brexit vote tonight:

Speaking of the Taoiseach, Simon Coveney will be answering questions in the Dáil on his behalf in a few moments. 

Dáil Source: Oireachtas

Stay tuned.

This is handy.

Brexit map Source: Bloomberg

Bloomberg has this handy little map of options if political correspondents’ predictions come to pass and Theresa May’s deal fails to pass tonight.

What happens if a no deal is accepted, or if an extension is rejected though… Hmm.

Meanwhile, the very pro-Brexit Leave.EU account is doing an interesting bit of sums (project maths, is it?)

Something else interesting: Leave.EU would disappear in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to the Guardian

Theresa May is speaking to the House of Commons, and by “speaking”, I mean barely. 

Her voice is very croaky. 

Brexit worn Source: House of Commons

“She might have lost her voice,” one MP tells her, “but if we were to abandon Brexit, 17.4 million people will have lost their voice.”

Cheers, etc.

Simon Conveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney tells the Dáil that the backstop assurances given last night aims to “eliminate doubts and fears however unreal they may have been” that the EU is trying to trap the UK in a customs deal. 

We want to ensure first of all, that the backstop is never used, but if it is used that it would be temporary.

He says that there are timelines in place in the new assurance published last night, and if the EU acts “in bad faith”, the backstop can be suspended.

MMartin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin says that essentially that “we are arguing about how temporary something that we all agree should be temporary should be”.

He asks does the Irish government support an extension to Article 50, which the government does, but would obviously prefer a deal to be done.

Five minutes after the DUP sent out their statement indicating that not only would they not vote for Theresa May’s deal tonight, but vote against it, the SDLP sends out a much more optimistic press release:

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has welcomed the progress made by the European Commission and the British Government to produce a deal.

The SDLP is hopeful that the deal will pass through the House of Commons this evening. Mr Eastwood added that seeing this deal through Parliament is in the best interests of all our people.

The MLA for Foyle commented:

“We welcome the progress the European commission and the British Government have made on the withdrawal agreement.

“The SDLP welcomes the continued protection for the Backstop and the recommitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

“We are hopeful that the deal passes tonight to ensure exiting without a deal is avoided.”

When asked if the Irish Attorney General’s advice has changed, Tánaiste Simon Coveney says that the backstop and the Withdrawal Agreement haven’t changed. What was provided were assurances around the intentions of the EU in future Brexit negotiations.

“Their is a timeline of a year to consider alternative arrangements seriously,” he says, adding that if alternative arrangements can avoid a hard border, then they will be considered.

Much more calm and considered in Dáil Éireann when compared to the goings-on in the House of Commons simultaneously…

Tánaiste

Tánaiste warns that TDs must be careful not to “contribute negatively to a fair deal being passed in Westminster”.

I think we need to deal with the facts instead of spinning anything here.

“It may be the case that alternative arrangements develop and are put forward and will be accepted,” Coveney says, adding that they have always been in favour of alternative arrangements, “if they do the job”.

He says that just because alternative arrangements haven’t yet been accepted by the EU, doesn’t mean they can’t be found; it’s more a case that they don’t successfully avoid a hard border, he says.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin responds by saying that Westminster would never give Ireland’s parliament such consideration, and the Tánaiste should not curtail Dáil debates.

Here’s a fun one.

After the DUP’s announcement that they wouldn’t support Theresa May’s Brexit deal, a few “Ulster Says No” references have been made, including this one from BBC News reporter Mark Simpson (since deleted).

Ulster says no Source: Twitter

The response is from Chris Donoghue, who posted “Ulster overwhelmingly says yes”, along with a picture of a poll that appeared in the Irish Times that found 67% of Northern Irish citizens want to stay in the single market and customs union to avoid a border.

Ahh lovely.

May has been trying to placate her unruly Tory party and House of Commons ahead of the crucial vote in a few hours’ time. She hasn’t been very successful.

Brexit Source: PA Wire/PA Images

She just said this to the House of Commons:

“Let us demonstrate what the House can do when it comes together, let us demonstrate what politics is for, let’s demonstrate that democracy comes before party, faction or politician.”

(That didn’t go down well.)

“The time has come to act on the Brexit vote, the time has come to back this deal.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stands and tells her quite pointedly: “Nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement has changed, not one word has changed.”

Speaking of placating in parliament… Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley apologised again for comments she made when she said that killings by British military and police during the Troubles “were not crimes”. 

She told the House of Commons this yesterday:

“In response to an oral question on 6 March I made inaccurate comments regarding the actions of soldiers during the Troubles.

“It is right that I address these remarks to the House today and correct the record.

What I said was wrong, it was deeply insensitive to the families who lost loved ones in incidents involving the security forces.

I have apologised unreservedly for the offence and hurt that my words caused.

Today I repeat that apology, both to the families and to members of this House.

The language that I used was wrong.

JRMogg Source: Sky News

Jacob Rees Mogg has told Sky News that he hasn’t quite made his mind up how he will vote tonight. 

Rees Mogg has said that an abstention isn’t possible, but added cryptically that if Theresa May’s deal is voted down, then the whole Brexit process could be under threat and the UK might not leave at all. That would be the only argument in favour of voting for it, he says.

The ERG are to meet this afternoon to discuss the risk to Brexit if they vote down the deal. Is that a “serious risk or is that a phantom? My current view is that it is basically a phantom and it’s safe to vote against this deal”.

He said it was “slightly eccentric” to rule out a no-deal Brexit in tomorrow’s vote, “as MPs had voted twice for a fixed leaving date”, so they can’t completely rule out a no-deal.

The Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford has used Ireland debating Scotland’s baby box proposal last month as an example of the benefits of being in the EU.

That’s the Seanad to you, sir.

I cannot contenance why we would leave those shared values behind… When we poke and jabber at each other in truth, this is painful.

“The historic achievement of the European project unravelling… for what? This battle began in the Tory party, and there it should have stayed.”

The SNP are voting against Theresa May’s deal, by the way.

Sammy Wilson

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson is speaking to Sky News (with the soothing tones of Jacob Rees Mogg in the background).

“We’re going to vote against the government on this,” he said, meaning 10 DUP MPs will definitely be voting no (there had been some speculation that they would abstain).

His take on an extension: 

Why would the UK government want to send a signal by putting members up for election, and why would the EU put up with it when the UK is intent in leaving?

So what does he want to change about May’s deal?

“We are not held in the EU until such time that the EU feels it has squeezed a deal out of us. This withdrawal agreement is about trapping Britain into a halfway house where we’re subjected to EU laws.”

“We would be subjected to this treaty unless the EU released us”, he said, adding that “no self-respecting country would enter such an agreement”.

Some predictions from the experts: Betfair.

An Article 50 extension is 83% likely, and the UK to leave on 29 March is at 15%.

It’s not only the Tory party that’s split on Brexit: voters are too. 

When asked whether MPs should vote for or against Theresa May’s deal tonight, 43% said they should vote against the deal, and 41% said they should vote for it.

Polls sky

Closer than the races at Cheltenham

In response to the unveiling of the British Attorney General’s advice today, the sterling plummeted.

Wires service AFP said:

“In reaction, the pound slid to as low as $1.3005 from $1.3143 just before Cox published his advice. The euro jumped to 86.55 pence from 85.75 pence.

“Overnight, following news of May’s hard-won EU concessions, sterling had struck a three-week peak at $1.3289, while the euro leapt to 84.76 pence per euro – a level last seen in May 2017.”

“Sterling took a nosedive on the back of the Cox statement,” said ThinkMarkets analyst Naeem Aslam.

It was his opinion which matters the most, now that he has made it clear that the recent deal has no weight, the door is wide open for the sterling to move lower.

There’s a special franticness in the House of Commons today, as we all know.

But this, from the Telegraph’s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope, is brilliant.

Parliament is in ferment. In the past half an hour I have managed to interrupt two groups of four of five Tory MPs who were anxiously discussing what on earth is going to happen next.

The tension was only broken when Michael Gove walked up to us and said: “Anyone want a polo?”

Dominic Grieve, who is a barrister and firmly against Brexit, said this in the House of Commons just now:

I would be utterly utterly going against my instincts and my judgements if I were to facilitate a process of further self mutilation for our country, which is what I believe we are currently embarked upon. 

“We should pause, we should reflect,” he says.

Sinn Féin has just sent out a press release with these quotes from Michelle O’Neill (emphasis ours): 

“The EU has shown considerable patience and a willingness to facilitate a Brexit agreement that enables Britain to leave the EU without creating a hard border in Ireland, or undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

“The way to achieve that is through the Withdrawal Agreement and the ‘backstop’ contained within it. There can be no deviation or diminution from that position.

“The business community, the farming community, the Civil Service, educationalists and trade unionists have all warned in recent weeks about the dire consequences of a No Deal crash on our economy.

“The DUP continues to ignore these warnings, just as they ignore the fact that the majority of people in the north voted against Brexit in the first place.

This blinkered strategy is reckless in the extreme. It is driving us all towards a no-deal crash that would be catastrophic.

At this critical time the DUP have a choice to make. It is time to put people’s jobs, livelihoods and peace first before selfish party political interests.

Did we mention, there’s general election talk in the air? 

Tory Brexiteers in the ERG are meeting now to discuss the deal, the vote and … the nature of reality? 

Sky News is projecting that May will lose tonight by 100 votes. 

EU negotiator Michel Barnier has been watching proceedings in the House of Commons.

He’s not impressed by their understanding of what Brexit would mean.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has just told RTÉ that he believes there is still time to get the assurances the DUP needs on the backstop. There are 17 days to go until 29 March.

“The main concern is that Northern Ireland becomes increasingly separate from its biggest market in Great Britain,” Donaldson said.

He said that the DUP’s viewpoint is shared by all unionists:

“We don’t intend to speak for the majority in Northern Ireland, but we do speak for the majority of unionists,” he said.

When asked whether they were concerned about losing their position in government by voting down Theresa May’s deal over the backstop, Donaldson said that they would be prepared to fight an election.

If there’s a general election, so be it.

So Mary Lou McDonald has been on CNN.

Talking – not entirely about Brexit, but – about Irish unity. 

“Brexit or no Brexit, we will pursue Irish unity,” she says.

Five minutes before the second Meaningful Vote, 10 Downing Street has sent out a release celebrating 30 years of the World Wide Web – ironically on a day where the Internet isn’t being very kind to the UK government, or parliament.

World Wide Web

Here we go they’re off to vote. 

Voting Source: Sky News

As a rough guide, the quicker they’re back, the more likely it is that it’s a close vote. If it takes them ages to return to their seats, that indicates that most MPs are voting one way (against Theresa May’s deal, in this case).

Although, in the half hour before the vote, former Brexit Secretary David Davis said that he would vote for May’s deal. Also, this:

HOC

Results are in:

391 MPs have voted against the deal, and 242 have voted in favour of it.

This is an issue of great importance, Theresa May says.

There will be a free vote on the subsequent votes tomorrow on whether there will be a no-deal Brexit, adding that she personally “struggled with this choice”.

If the House votes to leave without a deal, the government will carry that out. If they vote against, it, there will be a vote on an extension on Thursday. 

She adds that voting for a no-deal or an extension doesn’t solve the problems we face.

Deal or no deal Source: House of Commons

She says that if the House of Commons votes for an extension, it will have questions to answer, and lists some of them.

Among the questions that she asks are: “Do we want to hold a second referendum”, which is met with a great cheer.

The defeat of 149 votes is significantly less than the historic 230-vote loss that the draft Withdrawal Agreement suffered in January.

But it’s not low enough to warrant a third Meaningful Vote: commentators had mused earlier that it would need a loss of around 50 votes to tempt Theresa May to hold the vote again.

For those interested, here’s Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons after her Brexit deal was defeated:

Tonight, we will table a motion for debate tomorrow to test whether the House supports leaving the European Union without a deal on 29 March.

The Leader of the House will shortly make an emergency business statement confirming the change to tomorrow’s business.

This is an issue of grave importance for the future of our country. Just like the referendum, there are strongly held and equally legitimate views on both sides.

“For that reason, I can confirm that this will be a free vote on this side of the House.

“I have personally struggled with this choice as I am sure many other Honourable Members will. I am passionate about delivering the result of the referendum. But I equally passionately believe that the best way to do that is to leave in an orderly way with a deal and I still believe there is a majority in the House for that course of action.

“And I am conscious also of my duties as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the potential damage to the Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance.”

Here’s the motion that MPs will vote on tomorrow.

That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework on the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.

Very interesting analysis here:

 

And equally entertainingly, where the blame lies for how they voted:

Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds again. He’s telling Sky News that the backstop would leave Northern Ireland “hostage” to the EU, “leaving Northern Ireland behind” while the UK strikes new trade deals up with other countries.

The best way to get a good deal is to keep no-deal on the table… [if the threat of a no-deal is gone] you’re bound to be offered terms that are less favourable.

Secretary-General of the EU Commission and right-hand man to Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Selmayr, retweeted this.

Meanwhile, a panel on Sky News said that the UK needs to be careful not to assume the EU will grant an extension. Senior German MEP Elmar Brok says that there’s a split among the EU 27 member states on whether to grant the UK an extension.

Micheál Martin, who decided to extend Fianna Fáil’s support for the Fine Gael minority government until the Brexit crisis had abated, said this in reaction to tonight’s vote:

Sammy Wilson has a message for the Prime Minister. 

“Respect the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK and you will have a deal.”

I think the issue is that no one is exactly sure what the UK wants…

This video from LBC’s James O’Brien is getting praise for his analysis of how we got here.

“I think we’re all back to that one thing that has been underpinning this whole mess since the very beginning…

“… this portrayal of the European Union as an enemy of our interests, as an institution that would deliberately seek to hurt or damage us, for no other reason than the pleasure of hurting and/or damaging us.”

“I don’t know what’s next.”

MEP Philippe Lamberts has been speaking to Sky News, and hasn’t held back in his despair at the Brexit options left: “A series of negative majority does not produce a positive majority.”

The EU can’t “suppress” the Good Friday Agreement, he says. A solution could be found if Ireland were to leave the EU “which is ludicrous”, or if the EU was happy to leave it’s border with Northern Ireland open, which would impact the Single Market he says, an option which he also calls “ludicrous”. 

“We are not going to shoot ourselves in the two feet and cut off our two arms just to please some extremist Tory MPs, sorry, that’s not how the EU works.”

When asked whether the EU would grant the UK an extension, Lamberts said emphatically: 

“Only if there’s a serious game plan, but without a plan why should we grant you an extension, it makes no sense.”

This isn’t just an event for political correspondents and Brexit spectators: businesses are watching the House of Commons movements very closely.

The Irish Exporters Association released this statement, just minutes after Theresa May’s deal was voted down:

“The Irish business community has already undertaken large strides to prepare for all potential no-deal Brexit implications, including the full application of customs and VAT requirements, tariffs, phytosanitary and other regulatory requirements.

“With potentially only limited time left, businesses exporting and importing goods to and from Ireland and/or transiting through the UK must now prepare for all Brexit eventualities, including the very real possibility of a no-deal.”

Minutes after, Ibec sent something similar in:

Ibec CEO Danny McCoy said: “The risk of a ‘no deal’ has already cost Irish business millions and still there is no clarity. A long delay is now required for the UK to find a political consensus on a sensible way forward and remove the risk of a ‘no deal’ cliff edge.”

EGYPT-SHARM EL-SHEIKH-LAS-EU SUMMIT Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

A spokesman for Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said he regretted tonight’s result, but warned that from Brussels’ viewpoint “it is difficult to see what more we can do”.

“With only 17 days left to 29 March, today’s vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit,” the spokesman said.

That jarrs quite a bit with the DUP’s earlier statements that there is still time to get the assurances needed from the EU to pass this deal.

That’s it from tonight’s Liveblog, folks.

We’ll leave you this word from Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, whose party’s seven MPs abstained from voting tonight, in line with their policy of abstentionism.

“The scenes tonight show the absolute disregard for the people of Ireland, for our rights, our economy and the Good Friday Agreement that is at the heart of the Tory Brexit agenda.

“Sinn Féin and the majority of parties across this island, know there is no good or sensible Brexit.

“A crash-out Brexit would be unthinkable for the peace process, jobs, trade and to the loss of people’s rights and quality of life, particularly in border communities.

“There is now a need to intensify planning for a no-deal crash with an imperative to ensure no return to a hard border, protections of our agreements and safeguarding the rights of citizens.”

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