Jo Johnson Resigns From Government Over Brexit

Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Transport, has resigned from the Government over Brexit, calling for a second referendum. He said that it wouldn’t be a second vote, but a vote on whether to accept whatever deal is achieved.

Johnson said in a statement:

“Brexit has divided the country. It has divided political parties. And it has divided families too. Although I voted Remain, I have desperately wanted the Government, in which I have been proud to serve, to make a success of Brexit: to reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too. At times, I believed this was possible. That’s why I voted to start the Article 50 process and for two years have backed the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure the best deal for the country. But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.

Indeed, the choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all. The first option is the one the Government is proposing: an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business. The second option is a “no deal” Brexit that I know as a Transport Minister will inflict untold damage on our nation. To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis. My constituents in Orpington deserve better than this from their Government.

What is now being proposed won’t be anything like what was promised two years ago.

Hopes for “the easiest trade deal in history” have proved to be delusions. Contrary to promises, there is in fact no deal at all on our future trading relationship with the EU which the government can present to the country. Still less anything that offers the “exact same benefits” as the Single Market, as David Davis promised, or the “precise guarantees of frictionless trade” that the Prime Minister assured us would be available. All that is now being finalised is the agreement to pay the EU tens of billions of pounds. All that may be on offer on trade is the potential for an agreement to stay in a temporary customs arrangement while we discuss the possibility of an EU trade deal that all experience shows will take many years to negotiate.

Even if we eventually secure a customs arrangement for trade in goods, it will be bad news for the service sector — for firms in finance, in IT, in communications and digital technology. Maintaining access to EU markets for goods is important, but we are fundamentally a services economy. Many in Orpington, for example, are among the two million Britons employed in financial services, commuting into the centre of London to jobs of all kinds in the City. Countries across the world go to great lengths to attract financial and professional services jobs from our shores. An agreement that sharply reduces access to EU markets for financial services — or leaves us vulnerable to regulatory change over which we will have no influence — will hurt my constituents and damage one of our most successful sectors.

While we wait to negotiate trading terms, the rules of the game will be set solely by the EU. Britain will lose its seat at the table and its ability to amend or vote down rules it opposes. Instead of Britain “taking back control”, we will cede control to other European countries. This democratic deficit inherent in the Prime Minister’s proposal is a travesty of Brexit. When we were told Brexit meant taking back powers for Parliament, no one told my constituents this meant the French parliament and the German parliament, not our own. In these circumstances, we must ask what we are achieving. William Hague once described the goal of Conservative policy as being “in Europe, but not run by Europe”. The government’s proposals will see us out of Europe, yet run by Europe, bound by rules which we will have lost a hand in shaping.

Worse still, there is no real clarity about how this situation will ever end. The proposed Withdrawal Agreement parks many of the biggest issues about our future relationship with Europe into a boundless transitionary period. This is a con on the British people: there is no evidence that the kind of Brexit that we’ve failed to negotiate while we are still members can be magically agreed once the UK has lost its seat at the table. The leverage we have as a full member of the EU will have gone. We will be in a far worse negotiating position than we are today. And we will have still failed to resolve the fundamental questions that are ramping up uncertainties for businesses and stopping them investing for the future.

My brother Boris, who led the leave campaign, is as unhappy with the Government’s proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were “substantially worse than staying in the EU”. On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.

The argument that the government will present for the Withdrawal Agreement ‘deal’ is not that it is better for Britain than our current membership. The Prime Minister knows that she cannot honestly make the claim that the deal is an improvement on Britain’s current arrangements with the EU and, to her credit, refuses to do so. The only case she can try to make is that it is better than the alternative of leaving the EU with no deal at all.

Certainly, I know from my own work at the Department of Transport the potential chaos that will follow a “no deal” Brexit. It will cause disruption, delay and deep damage to our economy. There are real questions about how we will be able to guarantee access to fresh food and medicine if the crucial Dover-Calais trade route is clogged up. The government may have to take control of prioritising which lorries and which goods are allowed in and out of the country, an extraordinary and surely unworkable intervention for a government in an advanced capitalist economy. The prospect of Kent becoming the Lorry Park of England is very real in a no deal scenario. Orpington residents bordering Kent face disruption from plans to use the nearby M26, connecting the M25 to the M20, as an additional queuing area for heavy goods vehicles backed up all the way from the channel ports. This prospect alone would be a resigning matter for me as a constituency MP, but it is just a facet of a far greater problem facing the nation.

Yet for all its challenges and for all the real pain it would cause us as we adapt to new barriers to trade with our biggest market, we can ultimately survive these difficulties. I believe it would be a grave mistake for the government to ram through this deal by once again unleashing Project Fear. A “no deal” outcome of this sort may well be better than the never ending purgatory the Prime Minister is offering the country. But my message to my brother and to all Leave campaigners is that inflicting such serious economic and political harm on the country will leave an indelible impression of incompetence in the minds of the public. It cannot be what you wanted nor did the 2016 referendum provide any mandate for it.

Given that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be so far from what was once promised, the democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say. This would not be about re-running the 2016 referendum, but about asking people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union.

To those who say that is an affront to democracy given the 2016 result, I ask this. Is it more democratic to rely on a three year old vote based on what an idealised Brexit might offer, or to have a vote based on what we know it does actually entail?

A majority of Orpington voters chose to leave the EU in 2016 and many of the close friends I have there, among them hard-working local Conservative Party members, are passionately pro-Brexit. I respect their position. But I know from meetings I have had with local members that many are as dismayed as me by the course of negotiations and about the actual choice now on offer. Two and a half years on, the practical Brexit options are now clear and the public should be asked to choose between the different paths facing our country: we will all have different positions on that choice, but I think many in my local party, in the Orpington constituency and around the country would welcome having the last word on the Government’s Brexit proposals.

Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War. My loyalty to my party is undimmed. I have never rebelled on any issue before now. But my duty to my constituents and our great nation has forced me to act. I have today written to the Prime Minister asking her to accept my resignation from the Government. It is now my intention to vote against this Withdrawal Agreement. I reject this false choice between the PM’s deal and “no deal” chaos. On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it.

To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy”.

Sir John Major Calls for Parliament to have Free Vote on the Brexit Deal

Sir John Major, the Prime Minister from 1990 until 1997, has called for MPs to be offered a free vote on the final Brexit deal. The former Conservative leader said that he feared that the country would be economically worse off and that the poorest regions may be hit the worst.

Major said:

“Our own Government has assessed our post-Brexit position upon three separate criteria: that we stay in the Single Market; or reach a trade deal with Europe; or fail to do so. Each option shows us to be worse off: and disastrously so with no trade deal at all. And the poorest regions will be hurt the most.

If, as negotiations proceed, this analysis appears to be correct, that cannot be brushed aside. I know of no precedent for any Government enacting a policy that will make both our country and our people poorer. Once that is apparent, the Government must change course”.

Referring to the current economic situation he added:

“The UK has been at the very top of European growth. We are now the laggard at the bottom. We have become the slowest of the world’s big economies, even before we surrender the familiar advantages of the Single Market”.

Talking about a solution to the division, Major added:

“It is already agreed that Parliament must pass legislation giving effect to the deal. A “meaningful vote” has been promised. This must be a decisive vote, in which Parliament can accept or reject the final outcome; or send the negotiators back to seek improvements; or order a referendum. That is what Parliamentary sovereignty means.

But, to minimise divisions in our country – and between and within the political parties – I believe the Government should take a brave and bold decision. They should invite Parliament to accept or reject the final outcome on a free vote”.

Labour Leader Confirms the Party Now Back Membership of Customs Union

Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, has confirmed in a speech made today at Coventry University that the Labour Party will back the UK’s membership of a customs union. The decision means that the Conservative Party may now struggle to get their legislation through the House of Commons due to a number of MPs who support remaining in the union.

Corbyn said:

“During the transition period, Labour would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market. That means we would abide by the existing rules of both. That is so the government, businesses and workers only have to make one adjustment, from the current situation to the final terms”.

He added:

“Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union as the Brexit Secretary, David Davis promised in the House of Commons, with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections.

We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland”.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director General of the CBI, welcomed the decision and said that it “put jobs and living standards first by remaining in a close economic relationship with the EU”. Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, criticised the Labour leader and said “Labour’s confused policy would be bad for jobs and wages, it would leave us unable to sign up to comprehensive free trade deals, and it doesn’t respect the result of the referendum”.

Donald Tusk Calls UK’s Vision of Brexit as “Pure Illusion”

Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has reacted to news that the Cabinet has reached agreement on Brexit by suggesting that the plans are “pure illusion”. Replying to a journalist’s question Tusk said that based on the reports of the Cabinet’s meeting he added that there was no chance of “cherry picking” its future relationship with the EU.

Tusk said:

“I am glad the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position. However if the media reports are correct I am afraid the UK position today is based on pure illusion”.

He added:

“From the very start it has been a set principle of the EU27 that there cannot be any cherrypicking of single market à la carte. This will continue to be a key principle, I have no doubt”.

A meeting of the British inner Cabinet to discuss the Brexit situation has been reported in the media by attendees to have reached a decision on “managed divergence”.

Boris Johnson Makes Controversial Speech on Brexit

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has launched an attack on the European Union in a keynote speech on Brexit. Johnson criticised the negative manner in which Brexit was being cast and said that it could be a “national success”.

Johnson said in the speech:

“If we get the right deal on aviation and on visa-free travel – both of which are in our mutual interest – this expansion of UK tourism will continue, not just beyond the EU, but within the EU itself; and we will continue to go on cheapo flights to stag parties in ancient cities where we will, I’m sure, receive a warm welcome and meet interesting people, fall in love, struggle amiably to learn the European languages – knowledge of which, by the way, has suffered a paradoxical decline during our membership of the EU”.

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union, said in a statement:

“This speech underlined the Government’s real intentions; a Brexit of deregulation, where rights and protections are casually cast aside and where the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union are ignored. Nobody will be fooled or reassured by the Foreign Secretary’s empty rhetoric. His insistence on deregulating our economy is the opposite of what businesses and trade unions want to hear. Instead of building the consensus we need, the Government’s approach will only further divide the country and put jobs, rights and living standards at risk”.

Tom Brake, the Brexit spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said:

“If this speech was supposed to offer an olive branch to Remainers, Boris must have picked up the other version. A clear majority of Remain and Leave voters oppose the damaging hard Brexit Boris so vigorously advocates. They do not want job cuts triggered by tougher trading conditions with our largest export market or life-threatening uncertainty at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Boris’s antipathy towards the common rules and standards which apply within the EU, and to trade within the EU, is in stark contrast to Brexiters head-long rush to adopt common standards with the US which would require the UK to accept chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-fed beef, GMO products and potentially open up the NHS to US private health companies.

If Boris is seeking to establish himself as the standard bearer of liberalism, he should dump plans to come out of the Single Market and Customs Union and campaign to stay in the world’s largest free trade area. He could also bolster his liberal credentials by giving people a vote on the deal and an exit from Brexit”.

UK Loses European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency as Result of Brexit

The European Union has confirmed that due to Brexit a number of agencies will be leaving London. These include the European Banking Authority, which will move to Paris and the European Medicines Agency which will move to Amsterdam.

A spokeperson for the European Commission said in a statement:

“The European Commission welcomes today’s agreement at the General Affairs Council (Article 50 format) to move the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) to Amsterdam and Paris, respectively. Both Agencies are currently located in London.

The relocation of these two Agencies is a direct consequence – and the first visible result – of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, as notified to the European Council on 29 March 2017. The EMA and the EBA are two key regulatory Agencies for the EU’s Single Market, and are essential for the authorisation of medicines and for bank regulation. They must continue to function smoothly and without disruption beyond March 2019″.

Labour Warns of No Deal Over Brexit

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, has warned that the Government is heading for no deal with the EU over Brexit. Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, said though that he felt that a deal could be reached with enough political will.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Thornberry said:

“I think what we may be seeing is the Europeans trying to make it clear that it is not their fault that there are these difficulties – the intransigence does not come from their side, it comes from Theresa May’s side. And in the end I think the reality is the intransigence is on Theresa May’s side, because she doesn’t have the strength or the authority to be able to control her backbenchers, let alone her cabinet. And I think we are heading for no deal, and I think that that is a serious threat to Britain and it is not in Britain’s interests for that to happen”.

Fox said on Peston on Sunday when asked if he regretted saying that a trade deal would be easy:

“No I don’t. The point I was making was that it is unique because, as I said, in most trade deals you’re trying to reduce a distance but in the European Union trading agreement we are already at the point where we have no tariffs and we have complete regulatory equivalence. That has never happened before. I don’t think they are difficult in terms of the trade law or the trade negotiations themselves. The difficulty is the politics”.

Peter Mandelson Warns of “National Humiliation” if Brexit Ends in No Deal

Peter Mandelson, the former Labour First Secretary of State, has warned of the dangers of not reaching an agreement with the EU on Brexit. Without a deal he warned of a “national humiliation” if the country had to fall back on WTO trading rules.

David Davis, the Secretary of State for Brexit, had said that there would be no deal, but both Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, warned against such a situation. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme Mandelson said:

“If we were to trade on WTO rules it would wipe out all the rights to trade we currently have in the European Union, it would wipe out all of the preferential access that our goods and services currently enjoy as they are traded in the European Union and this is our largest export market. We would be fighting at the border and it would be a considerably more bureaucratic border as well, jostling for access to the single market with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the rest of the world without our current rights and preferential access. It would be an economic disaster for Britain and a national humiliation. In my view, both the Chancellor and the Home Secretary are right to say that this is unthinkable”.

British Government Supports Move to Parliamentary Democracy in Armenia

Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has welcomed the move towards parliamentary democracy in Armenia. The country was a former Soviet republic which became independent in 1991 when the USSR collapsed.

The country is aiming to move towards a western European style of democracy and is part of a project to become closer to the European Union. Duncan will speak at the National Assembly in Armenia, but said before his visit to the country:

“My first visit to Armenia is an opportunity for me to celebrate the UK’s support to Armenia in its consolidation as a democratic, resilient and prosperous country. Over the 25 years since we established diplomatic relations, co-operation has flourished across a range of spheres – including political, commercial, educational and cultural.

We believe there are further opportunities to deepen our co-operation. I look forward to meeting President Sargsyan, Prime Minister Karapetyan, Foreign Minister Nalbandian and other high level officials in Armenia. I will outline the UK’s readiness to support Armenia’s efforts to embed democracy, good governance and human rights and explore ways to boost trade between our two countries”.

Prime Minister Meets with Donald Tusk, the European Council President

Theresa May, the Prime Minister, yesterday met with Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. The pair discussed the Brexit situation, including how to deal with the future border in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said:

“The Prime Minister began by re-stating her wish for a bold and unique new economic partnership with the EU, based on a joint commitment to free trade and high standards.

Returning to the theme of her speech in Florence last week, the PM said the UK and the EU should be imaginative and creative about the way this new relationship is established. The PM said she was optimistic about a joint future which benefits both the EU and the UK.

President Tusk welcomed the PM’s speech, which he described as constructive in progressing talks between the UK and the 27 member states.

The PM and President Tusk welcomed the good progress that had been made on citizens’ rights in the talks so far, and restated their commitment to finding a positive solution to the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The PM also stressed the importance of agreeing a period of implementation once Britain leaves the EU in March 2019. She said this would build a bridge to that new relationship that ensures the process is smooth and orderly and creates as much certainty as possible for everyone.

At the end of the meeting, the PM said her Florence speech had been intended to create momentum in the ongoing talks. She said it was important for EU negotiators to now respond in the same spirit”.

Donald Tusk issued a statement on Twitter saying:

“Today I’d say there is no “sufficient progress” yet. But cautiously optimistic about @Theresa_May constructive, more realistic #Brexit tone”.