Brexit Bulletin: The Plot to Stop It

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The plot to stop Brexit is gaining strength, and the European Union is helping.

Tim Ross and Kitty Donaldson report today how the campaign for a second referendum is finally getting organized. And it’s getting good access to EU officials, giving campaigners useful intelligence on the Brexit process.

Chuka Umunna, a slick 39-year-old Labour member of Parliament, is leading the effort to bring together a ragtag of anti-Brexit groups. Well-known politicians, activists and professional campaigners gather each week at a secret location in London where they try to figure out how to engineer a referendum that would give Britons a chance to rethink.

While EU officials know they must tread lightly to avoid appearing to meddle in British affairs, they are meeting with the campaigners and providing helpful insights into the process. On March 6, a day before the EU published its draft plan for how it would approach the next phase of Brexit talks, Umunna already knew some details of what the document would say. The text would make clear that if the U.K. changes its mind on its negotiating red lines, the EU would change its position, too.

That’s become known as the “evolution clause” and is seen as an attempt to nudge the U.K. toward changing its stance and opting for a closer post-Brexit relationship than the one Prime Minister Theresa May is heading for.

Since the start of the year, European leaders have lined up to tell Britain that it is free to change its mind. And while the EU continues to take a hard line in negotiations, Umunna says that officials have made clear privately that they would agree to pause the Brexit process to allow time for a new referendum, or, perhaps another election, if necessary. “If a crisis is precipitated and there were a general election, or a new national poll, we would be granted the time to do that,” he says.

Brexit Latest

Leaders Meet | Theresa May went to Brussels for the leaders’ summit and urged them to work with her to create a “new dynamic in talks, to work together to explore workable solutions.” She hailed the transition deal, after leaders dined on pan-fried scallops with artichokes and seaweed coulis, rack of lamb and iced lemon parfait. Brexit was overshadowed by other news, mainly U.S. tariffs and Russia – follow our unfolding coverage of that story – but is due to be back on the agenda on Friday when EU leaders will sign off on the negotiating guidelines and the transition deal.

De La Rue’s Blues | Shares of British passport maker De La Rue Plc got whacked after the company confirmed it had lost the contract to make the new blue passports that have become a symbol of post-Brexit Britain. Worth remembering is that the U.K. didn’t have to leave the EU to get its beloved blue passports back.

October Deadline | Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he’d prefer to wait until October to get a good deal on the Irish border than get “any deal” in June. October is the deadline the European Commission is working towards to get the overall withdrawal treaty agreed.

Daiwa’s Man in Frankfurt  | Daiwa Securities Group will name Manabu Takahashi to lead the securities firm’s business in the EU after Brexit, Takahiko Hyuga reports. Japan’s second-largest brokerage selected Takahashi – who currently heads its Geneva branch – as the chief executive for its new Frankfurt operation, according to people familiar with the matter.

Poland Pleased | Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland is satisfied with the outcome of Brexit talks so far. “We’ve met our goals,” he said in Brussels. A traditional U.K. ally, Poland’s priority was securing the rights of Poles in Britain and it’s not too worried about trade. It’s also quite keen to pick up any financial services business that might have to leave London as a result of the split.

On the Markets | The Bank of England held rates but signaled that investors have it right when it comes to the likelihood of an interest-rate hike in May. The pound strengthened 0.03 percent to $1.4124 early on Friday. 

And Finally...

The Liberal Democrats had an unfortunate start to the EU summit. They issued a triumphant press release saying leader Vince Cable had secured a joint statement from eight liberal EU prime ministers backing his bid for a second referendum. Within hours the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe denied they had done any such thing.

They supported Cable and his party, but no statement was issued, and in any case they were there as party leaders and not as prime ministers. 

But to be fair, at least one of those present, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, was pretty supportive: “If some way or another the U.K. would decide to change its position it will be highly welcome I think by every one of the liberal prime ministers and my impression is of almost everybody in the European Union.” 

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