May Dashes for Last-Minute Talks to Save Her Deal: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) --

Theresa May is on her way to Strasbourg for last-minute talks with the European Union, and signs were building that a deal could be in reach. On Tuesday, she’s due to put her Brexit deal to Parliament for a historic vote. The pound rose.

Follow our live blog as developments unfold.

Key Developments:

  • May will talk to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
  • Two Tory Brexiteers, speaking privately, sound more upbeat about voting for May’s deal
  • Irish PM delays trip to U.S. amid Brexit talks
  • U.K. chief whip has been meeting Brexiteer lawmakers

What’s Changed Since Sunday? (7:15 p.m.)

May told the EU on Sunday night that she couldn’t accept the latest offer. So what’s changed?

The agreement is made up of three documents -- a joint text that interprets the controversial divorce deal, a U.K.-only text, and then the political declaration on future ties.

The joint text hasn’t changed since Sunday night, when May rejected it, according to two people familiar with the situation on the EU side. But the focus is now on the U.K.’s own statement, which British officials are drafting with the tacit approval of the EU. This is where the wiggle room may be.

Brexiteers Are Hoping to Shift Position (7 p.m.)

One of the pro-Brexit Conservatives who went to see Chief Whip Julian Smith earlier -- a person who last week was talking about a huge defeat for May tomorrow -- said that the mood in Parliament is now to get the deal done.

The Tory politician, who asked not to be named, warned that they hadn’t seen a final text of a deal yet, and that it would depend what May brought back. But the person also acknowledged that the decision is partly a political one.

Another euro-skeptic Tory, Nigel Mills, agreed. “I hope she does get something we can all support,” Mills said in an interview. “If we possibly can vote for it, that would be by far the best way forward. But a bad deal is still a bad deal and the deal does have to change. It needs to be a codpiece and not just a fig leaf.”

Varadkar Delays U.S. Trip Amid Brexit Talks (6:40 p.m.)

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has delayed a trip to the U.S. for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Irish media reported. Government ministers are set to meet shortly, as progress in Brexit talks has been made faster than expected, state broadcaster RTE said, without citing anyone.

Could the Brexiteers Vote for May’s Deal? (6:15 p.m.)

After their meeting (see 5 p.m.) with Conservative Chief Whip Julian Smith in his parliamentary office, three members of the Tory pro-Brexit European Research Group caucus appeared more upbeat.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the group said they had primed veteran Tory MP Bill Cash and his legal assistants to work through the night to examine any concessions May secures from her Strasbourg meeting.

The lawmaker referenced Conservative Party unity, and said it was not inconceivable May could win the vote on her deal in Parliament on Tuesday. Before that, though, the ERG will hold a meeting to decide how it will vote.

Talks Focused on Interpretative Document (6:10 p.m.)

Talks are still centered on the idea of a joint document that interprets the Brexit withdrawal agreement, according to two people familiar with the European side. There will also be a tweaked political declaration on future ties, and the U.K.’s own declaration.

One EU official said May’s decision to come to Strasbourg was more about her winning Cabinet support than because of a new breakthrough in negotiations.

Another EU official said May’s trip is in response to the EU threat that if Tuesday’s Parliament vote was on a hypothetical motion rather than the deal itself, it would be treated in Brussels as sealing a no-deal exit.

EU member states haven’t seen any of the documents -- and are quite annoyed, especially if Juncker and May agree on them today and they’re unveiled to the U.K. Parliament without having been shown to national governments.

May Heads to Strasbourg for Juncker Talks (5:15 p.m.)

May is heading to Strasbourg to talk to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about Brexit, her office said. A person familiar with the matter said the trip doesn’t mean there’s a deal.

Brexiteers Meet Chief Whip (5 p.m.)

Brexit purists in the European Research Group have just met with the chief whip, Julian Smith, according three members of their group.

Brexit Statement Could Be as Late as 10 p.m. (4:35 p.m.)

Speaker John Bercow just told members of Parliament the government’s planned Brexit statement could come late this evening. Though it’s scheduled to be the third of the day, it won’t necessarily come immediately after the second is finished; he will try to ensure it comes before 10 p.m., he said.

May Said to Be Still Considering Strasbourg Trip (4:10 p.m.)

May is still considering whether to go to Strasbourg for Brexit talks later on Monday and will decide within the hour, according to a person familiar with the U.K. side.

She’ll go if it’s deemed helpful for talks, the person said, and will take advice shortly. Talks have not yet produced enough for Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to change his legal advice on the deal, the person said. That’s the aim of this last phase of negotiations -- to reach an agreement that allows Cox to change his view of the risks of the Irish border backstop.

Corbyn Slams Absent May Over Brexit ‘Chaos’ (3:50 p.m.)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted to force May to answer questions on Brexit in the House of Commons -- but she sent a lowly government official in her place.

Robin Walker, junior Brexit minister, confirmed Parliament will have its vote on Tuesday, and pointed out he couldn’t discuss “ongoing” negotiations in detail.

Corbyn wasn’t impressed and accused the government of presiding over “chaos.” May’s office could not say who would be answering the question in Parliament 20 minutes before it took place, with the premier possibly -- or possibly not -- going to Strasbourg to meet Juncker, Corbyn said.

“Time and time again, this prime minister has failed to negotiate, failed to compromise and delayed and delayed and delayed,” Corbyn said. "She’s simply, as we have often said, running down the clock.”

Ministers Insist May Honors Vote Commitments (3:15 p.m.)

One of the ministers who was instrumental in persuading May to agree to this week’s votes (on her deal, a no-deal and on extending Article 50) said privately she must go ahead with them -- and various members of the group have made that point to the prime minister’s office on Monday.

May Said to Have Rejected EU Offer on Sunday (2:54 p.m.)

May called European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the weekend to tell him the EU’s latest offer wouldn’t win the approval of the Cabinet, according to two people familiar with the situation. Some on the EU side thought a deal was in reach.

Meanwhile, the EU side is worried by reports that May could scrap the vote on the deal scheduled for Tuesday and instead propose a vague motion on what Parliament would like Brexit to mean, people familiar with the matter said. If May does that, it will be impossible to negotiate, and would be considered a vote for no-deal, they said.

At an ambassadors’ meeting on Monday, the mood was gloomy and negotiators said talks were increasingly confrontational, according to two of the people. Ambassadors even discussed the prospect of dealing with a new U.K. government.

Still, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney’s announcement (1:45 p.m.) that May is headed to Strasbourg on Monday night has caught many EU officials by surprise.

The U.K. says no travel plans are confirmed.

Labour Wants to Force No-Deal Vote (2:05 p.m.)

Regardless of whether May goes ahead with the meaningful vote tomorrow, Parliament will act to take no deal off the table, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said in an interview on Monday.

“We’ll be trying to force her then to at least have a vote on no-deal. So if we can get that off the table, that would be an achievement -- but we’ll see. It’s like shifting sands at the moment,” he said. “This is just incompetence on a scale we’ve never seen before.”

Labour was considering using a “humble address,” the same device it used last year to get Brexit economic-impact studies released -- to retrieve the latest information on the negotiations, he said.

Meanwhile the the party is still looking to back an amendment put forward by Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle as the mechanism to deliver a second referendum. They’re redrafting it so that it doesn’t specifically refer to May’s deal, according to McDonnell, with the idea that if Parliament does agree a deal, it’s then put to the public for confirmation.

Coveney: May Heading to Strasbourg for Talks (1:45 p.m.)

May is expected to go to Strasbourg tonight to “try to finalize an agreement,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told reporters in Dublin.

It’s worth noting that neither the U.K. government nor the EU has confirmed this. But in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that “very decisive talks” were held over the weekend and that the EU had made a “very important offer” to the U.K. on Brexit. The proposals could provide a lot more legal clarity on backstop within framework of exit deal, she said.

“I think with that a very important offer has been made to Britain and now it’s up to Britain to respond to these offers,” she said.

Haskel: Deal May Not End Economic Uncertainty (1:40 p.m.)

Bank of England policy maker Jonathan Haskel warned that the U.K. may not see a material pickup in investment growth even if the government secures an exit deal with the European Union this month.

Haskel, in his first speech since joining the Monetary Policy Committee last September, also said Brexit is to blame for a majority of the U.K.’s recent substandard investment performance.

May Holds Another Call With EU’s Juncker (12:40 p.m.)

May spoke again to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, her spokesman James Slack has just told reporters. Talks are continuing, he said. The pair also spoke on Sunday night.

Labour’s Cooper: May Must Change Course (11:45 a.m.)

Responding to speculation that May could pull or even abstain in Tuesday’s vote on her Brexit deal, Labour MP Yvette Cooper said doing so would be a “derogation of duty” and called on the prime minister to change her approach.

Cooper said May had allowed the pro-Brexit Conservative caucus to “hijack the government and hijack the country,” and that the main obstacle to getting a deal through Parliament was not the so-called Irish backstop, but rather May’s failure to build a consensus and her avoidance of clarity on the future.

On Twitter, Conservative lawmaker Nick Boles -- who is pushing for a softer Brexit and has worked with Cooper on cross-party amendments in the past -- said May will “forfeit the confidence of the House of Commons” if she doesn’t keep her commitments to hold a vote on her deal, and then on no-deal and extending Article 50, this week.

Govt Still Weighing Whether to Put Deal to Vote (11:35 a.m.)

May’s team is still weighing up whether to put her Brexit deal to a vote on Tuesday, as it considers other options, according to a person familiar with the situation. One option is for the government to put forward an aspirational motion setting out a deal Parliament would be prepared to support.

Labour Would Whip MPs to Back Referendum (11:30 a.m.)

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said in a speech in London the party would whip its lawmakers to support a second referendum when the the party submits an amendment on the issue -- though he also said he’d respect those who decided not to vote with the party.

EU: No Further May-Juncker Meetings Scheduled (11:15 a.m.)

There are no further meetings planned at a political level between the EU and the U.K., European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels, though the two sides will remain in close contact this week. May and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker took stock of the progress of technical negotiations during their call over the weekend, he said.

“We remain open and willing to meet with U.K. negotiators at any time,” he said. “We are committed to ratifying this deal before March 29. It’s now for the House of Commons to take an important set of decisions this week.”

Gove: ‘We Didn’t Vote to Leave Without a Deal’ (11 a.m.)

Writing in the Daily Mail, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said May’s Brexit deal delivers on the two “most resonant demands” from voters to take back control of U.K. borders and money. The 2016 referendum, he said, didn’t deliver a mandate for a no-deal Brexit.

“We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead,” Gove said. “During that campaign, we said we should do a deal with the EU and be part of the network of free-trade deals that covers all Europe, from Iceland to Turkey. Leaving without a deal on March 29 would not honor that commitment. It would undoubtedly cause economic turbulence. Almost everyone in this debate accepts that.”

‘Too Late’ for U.K. to Tell EU What It Wants (10:35 a.m.)

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar struck a hardline tone in his comments to reporters in Dublin on Monday. Varadkar, who met with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier over the weekend, said he’s heard the suggestion May might cancel this week’s vote on her Brexit deal, and instead hold a new vote to show the EU what Parliament will back.

“It’s far too late for U.K. to tell the EU what they want,” he said.

On the idea of delaying Brexit, the Irish leader seemed to hint he favored a longer extension to Article 50. “Nobody across the EU wants a ‘rolling cliff edge,”’ he said.

Labour Could Call No-Confidence Vote in Govt (10:20 a.m.)

Speaking on Bloomberg TV, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said his party could call a vote of no-confidence vote in the government if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down on Tuesday.

“We’ll keep that on the table. We may do,” McDonnell said when asked about a confidence vote. “It’s chaos in government.”


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