Theresa May, U.K. prime minister. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

May Steps Up No-Deal Planning as Key Vote Nears: Brexit Update

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Parliament returns with just 12 weeks to go until Britain leaves the European Union, and Prime Minister Theresa May faces a major battle to secure politicians’ backing for her Brexit deal.

Key Developments:

  • May sets up Cabinet committee to prepare for no-deal Brexit
  • Date for parliamentary vote on her deal will be decided on Wednesday
  • U.K. still seeking "assurances" from EU on the most toxic part of the agreement
  • Barclay confirms Parliament to vote on deal next week

Barclay: Meaningful Vote to Take Place Next Week (4:15 p.m.)

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told lawmakers in the House of Commons the meaningful vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal will take place next week. Asked by Labour lawmaker Chris Leslie if he could guarantee the vote will go ahead, he replied with the single word “yes.”

He also said the government would have “more to say” on assurances from the EU over the so-called Irish backstop in the coming days.

Barclay: No Intention to Extend Article 50 (4 p.m)

Barclay told lawmakers in the House of Commons that “it’s this government’s intention not to extend Article 50.”

He pointed out that doing so couldn’t be used as a “tactical device” and said it would create complications, including what to do about European Parliament elections scheduled for May.

Digital Minister Margot James earlier said a delay could be a possibility if lawmakers cannot agree to back the deal. “We have very little time left,” she told the BBC. “We might have to extend Article 50, but I think it’s very unlikely Parliament will actually stare down the barrel of that particular gun.”

Speaking to reporters in London, May’s spokesman James Slack said the prime minister and her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, are expected to discuss Brexit when they meet on Thursday.

May Talks Up the Brexit Dividend (12:50 p.m.)

May has been in Liverpool, trying to talk about something other than Brexit. The plan for how the National Health Service copes with the pressures of an aging population and increased treatment costs probably matters more to voters than Brexit, but it was impossible to change the subject for long. May said in her speech that leaving the EU means more money is available for the NHS.

This is not what her officials tell her: the forecasts are for economic growth to slow after Brexit, meaning there will be less money to go round. But the prime minister stuck to her guns.

It highlighted again the difficulty she faces with Brexit: May’s Conservative Party doesn’t like to hear that things might get worse on leaving the EU, so she can’t say so, even if that’s what she’s being told.

On the question of whether she’ll get her deal through Parliament, she repeated that she’s looking for “further assurances” from the EU to deal with her party’s concerns.

A U.K. official said earlier that she wants a guarantee on when the post-Brexit trade deal will come into effect. The idea is to reduce the likelihood of the so-called Irish backstop ever being used. The government is also considering giving Parliament more power over the backstop -- the widely loathed part of the divorce deal that aims to prevent a hard border emerging on the island of Ireland.

EU: ‘Closely’ Watching U.K. Developments (11:55 a.m.)

There’s little sign the European Union is preparing to offer May anything substantial to help her sell the agreement to Parliament.

“The deal that is on the table is the best and the only deal possible,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in Brussels, adding that the bloc is “closely” watching Brexit developments in the U.K. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker plans to speak to May again this week.

“This deal will not be renegotiated,” Schinas said.

New Committee for No-Deal Preparations (11:50 a.m.)

May is setting up a new Cabinet committee of 21 ministers focused on no-deal planning to be chaired by the prime minister, her spokesman James Slack told reporters in London. Its remit will be contingency plans as well as “engagement” with the EU on no-deal planning.

Meanwhile the date for the parliamentary vote on May’s Brexit deal will be set on Wednesday via a business motion in Parliament, Slack said. May herself has said it will be around Jan. 15.

Slack also updated reporters on May’s calls with EU leaders over the Christmas break. She spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez over the holiday, as well as the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk. The aim is to get get assurances that the so-called Irish backstop won’t go on indefinitely, he said.

Slack was also asked if Parliament will have to work through weekends and holidays to get Brexit legislation passed in time for exit day on March 29. “We will do whatever is required to deliver that,” he replied.

German-Irish Brexit Talks Intensify (11:10 a.m.)

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will travel to Dublin on Tuesday to address a gathering of Irish diplomats, returning an earlier visit by his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney. It’s the latest intensification of German-Irish contacts as Westminster prepares to vote on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke for 40 minutes by phone on Thursday at the German leader’s request. A day later, Varadkar addressed members of Bavaria’s ruling Christian Social Union party, and told reporters afterward he shares with Merkel a “strong desire” to aid May as she faces defeat in next week’s vote. He added the caveat, though, that they’d do what they could “within reason.”


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