A VITAL breakthrough was made by Theresa May’s Brexit committee last night as MPs divided on the future of the UK outside of the EU came to an agreement on the Government’s negotiating position, it has been reported. The Prime Minister’s top team have been deadlocked over the last few months with bitter infighting among Tory ranks about how close the UK’s relationship to Brussels should be. Multiple sources reported in the media have claimed that a compromise agreement has now been struck after the Prime Minster “played a blinder”. The Brexit sub committee met for eight hours at Chequers where the senior members of the cabinet thrashed out the plans for the future relationship with the EU. Boris Johnson and Remoaner Philip Hammond are believed to have been most at odds prior to the meeting, with the Chancellor having previously suggested that the UK should remain as closely aligned to the EU as possible after Brexit.
The Cabinet’s Brexiteers were claiming victory last night after “divergence won” during an eight-hour session at Chequers to agree the form of Brexit the Government wants to achieve. Theresa May is understood to have satisfied Leave campaigners including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove that the UK will have sufficient freedom to move away from EU rules and regulations after Brexit. One source said Philip Hammond, the Chancellor and former Remain campaigner, appeared “shocked” by the consensus, which reportedly allowed for more divergence than he had wanted. Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had “played a blinder” and managed to keep both sides together.
Theresa May and 11 senior ministers have been thrashing out the UK’s approach to Brexit in an eight-hour discussion at the PM’s country retreat. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said everyone is said to have left Chequers happy implying “baby steps forwards not a huge breakthrough”. The PM will set out the position in a speech next week, after a discussion by the full cabinet. There have been clear differences between ministers over the way forward. But Laura Kuenssberg said she had been told the prime minister had “played a blinder” and persuaded Brexiteers to shift their position. However, a cabinet Brexiteer source had said “divergence has won the day” with mutual recognition between the UK and EU on goods in future, rather than the UK being forced to stick to EU rules.
A crunch Cabinet meeting at Chequers has ended after a marathon eight hours of Brexit discussions. The Prime Minister had dragged 11 of her senior ministers to her official country retreat in Buckinghamshire for an away day on Thursday. Theresa May hoped the talks would forge an agreement between her Cabinet’s Brexiteers and Remainers on the UK’s approach to the next stage of negotiations. The discussions of the Brexit sub-committee, Mrs May’s so-called Brexit “war Cabinet”, focussed on the automotive sector, agriculture and digital trade. Business Secretary Greg Clark, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox led the Cabinet discussions in their respective areas of responsibility.
Pro-remain Tories were threatening a fresh Commons rebellion as Theresa May ended a marathon meeting of her Brexit war cabinet on Thursday night. The eight-hour meeting at Chequers was called to agree solid positions on EU withdrawal ahead of a fresh round of talks with the bloc, but it was unclear if there was a major breakthrough. Squabbling ministers could be the least of the Prime Minister’s woes, however, as it was discovered Conservative backbenchers were plotting to challenge May in Parliament over keeping a customs union with the EU. Remainer rebel Anna Soubry revealed on Twitter she had cross-party support for a new amendment to the Government’s trade bill which would mandate the UK to form a customs union with Brussels after Brexit.
Theresa May faced a new threat tonight after MPs vowed to force Britain to stay in an EU customs union after Brexit. The move was proposed in an amendment to the Trade Bill by Tory rebel Anna Soubry. Crucially Ms Soubry said she had support from other Remain-backing Tory MPs. That means if Labour backed it, MPs could pass the amendment in a humiliating Commons defeat for the Prime Minister. Labour, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn will give a key speech on Brexit policy this Monday, has not yet said what amendments it will back. But tonight Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry confirmed the party wants a customs union that is “pretty much like” what exists now. Critics say that would ban Britain from signing its own trade deals with countries outside the EU. Ms Thornberry suggested Britain could get round the problem by negotiating “in partnership” with the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn could use a key Brexit speech on Monday to pave the way for Labour to inflict a Commons defeat on the government, by backing a rebel Tory amendment seeking to keep Britain in “a customs union”. With Theresa May expected to unveil her vision for departure from the EU next week, following eight hours of talks with key ministers at the prime minister’s Chequers country retreat, she now faces the prospect of Labour sabotaging the carefully choreographed process. In what will be a closely watched speech, Corbyn is expected to signal that Labour is prepared to back the UK staying in a customs union with the EU. The party has said for some months that customs union membership is a “viable” outcome but a series of interventions from shadow cabinet members in recent days, including Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell on Thursday, have suggested Labour is edging towards making it the preferred result.
Theresa May has been accused of “running scared” of a Commons vote on whether the UK should stay in the EU customs union, after the clash was shelved. The showdown on one of the key Brexit disputes has been delayed until at least April, The Independent has learned, as the Government contemplates a possible defeat. The Prime Minister is believed to be determined not to risk such a show of weakness until after next month’s crucial European Council meeting, which is meant to agree the transitional deal she is seeking. Chris Leslie MP, a Labour MP backing the amendment, said: “It looks like the Government is running scared from a vote on the customs union, because they’re terrified they’ll lose. “MPs from across all parties have the national interest at heart in wanting to ensure we don’t crash out of the customs union, damaging trade with our largest partner and putting jobs in this country at risk.” Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke, two prominent pro-EU Conservative MPs, are leading a Tory rebellion to keep Britain “in a customs union in the EU in the same terms as existed before exit day”.
EU citizens who arrive in Britain during the post-Brexit transition period will be allowed to stay permanently under a U-turn planned by Theresa May. Three weeks ago the prime minister caused surprise by saying that those arriving after March 29 next year should not have the same rights as those who came before. The Times has learnt that Downing Street is now examining proposals to make a unilateral promise to EU citizens that they can remain if they arrive before the end of the transition period. Such a period was due to last until the end of 2020 but this week the government was accused of preparing the ground for an open-ended transition.
The UK will lose its rebate from the EU at end of 2020 if it seeks to extend the Brexit transition beyond then, the Guardian has learned. The loss of the rebate, which to some has been a symbol of British influence in Europe since Margaret Thatcher demanded “our money back”, is expected to fuel Tory Brexiters’ demands to keep the transition period as short as possible. The rebate on the UK payments to the EU budget is worth £4.5bn a year on average. The money is never sent to Brussels, one aspect of the misleading claim on the leave campaign bus. A senior EU source said the rebate would go if the UK sought to extend the transition beyond 2020. That is because the UK is required to contribute to EU coffers during the transition period, but by 2021 Brussels is expected to have revised its budget without the UK.
Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will rise by up to £5bn if Theresa May seeks a longer transition period than Brussels wants, a commons inquiry has been told. A government minister did not dispute the figure, which was put to him by the chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. “This is something which, like the Roald Dahl Tales of The Unexpected, has suddenly appeared,” said Sir Bill Cash, the committee’s Conservative chair. The transition period was beginning to look “as long as a piece of string”, Sir Bill told Robin Walker, the Brexit minister, and Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU. In reply, Sir Tim acknowledged that the Government’s estimate of the financial settlement – between £35bn and £39bn – was based on the transition concluding at the end of 2020. Guidelines issued by No 10 yesterday hinted that the transition could be longer, while repeating the aim for it to be “around two years” from Brexit Day, in March 2019 – therefore, extending into at least 2021.
BRITISH drivers could be left unable to drive, hire cars or take out insurance on the continent after Brexit because EU chiefs will no longer recognise UK driving licences, the European Commission has hinted. The proposed change would affect millions of Britons who travel to Europe every year and is likely to cause outrage among motorists. Slides released by the European Commission setting out its negotiating position warn the mutual recognition of licences will be axed if an appropriate Brexit deal is not reached. They say that, should the UK exit the internal market for road transport, “all current EU law-based rights, obligations and benefits cease”. And they make clear it will mean the end of “mutual recognition of driving licences, vehicle registration documents and certificates of professional competence for drivers.”
It was the perfect coup. Until recently, no one imagined that Martin Selmayr had any ambitions to run the European Union civil service – or that such a job could be used as a political power base. When he was named as Eurocrat-in-chief, two days ago, his enemies were astonished. He had not been on any shortlist; they had no time to organise against him. But the most ambitious man in Brussels – nicknamed “Rasputin,” “the monster” and worse – will soon be in charge of the whole machine with its 32,000 staff. As one EU official put it: “he takes all the power – completely.”
GERMAN influence is rising within the EU after Martin Selmayr was appointed to the post of secretary-general of the European Commission, meaning the country now holds the position in three of the bloc’s most powerful institutions. Mr Selmayr will switch his role as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff to be Brussels’ top civil servant when he moves to his new post on March 1, replacing the retiring Alexander Italianer. A vehement opponent of the UK leaving the EU, Mr Selmayr was accused of being the source who leaked damaging details about a dinner between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, with the anonymous insider claiming Mrs May had “begged” for help with moving negotiations forwards.
The Brexit trade plan Theresa May is trying to convince her divided Cabinet to rally behind on Thursday would likely be rejected out-of-hand by the EU, according to documents released by the EU ahead of the meeting. The Prime Minister has taken her squabbling ministers to her official country residence in the Chilterns, where, David Davis joked, they would have to be “locked in a room” to agree on what sort of trade relationship they want with the EU. Ms May is understood to be trying to convince her colleagues – who are divided between hard Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and more pro-European figures like Philip Hammond – to back a “three baskets” plan. Under “three baskets” the UK would look at existing regulations and decide whether it wanted to keep them the same as now, whether it would want to modify its regulations but to achieve the same goals, or whether it wanted to completely break with the EU in certain areas. But slides drawn up by the European Commission’s negotiators and shown to the council, released just hours before Ms May’s meeting, say the approach is unacceptable.
Police and prosecutors were criticised yesterday after the collapse of a trial of a man accused of allowing his young daughter to undergo female genital mutilation. The judge said that the “deeply troubling” case had been based on medical evidence that was “wholly inconclusive”. Judge Julian Lambert directed the jury at Bristol crown court to find the defendant not guilty after a medical expert for the Crown could not confirm whether the procedure had even been carried out. The judge said that the prosecution had relied almost entirely on an admission allegedly made to a campaigner, whose evidence was inconsistent, while Avon and Somerset police had presented no evidence as to how or when any mutilation had taken place.
Universities were divided over the nationwide lecturers’ strike last night after 15 vice-chancellors publicly broke ranks and called for peace talks. Tens of thousands of academics walked out yesterday in unprecedented industrial action that disrupted institutions across the country, with lectures and seminars cancelled and work left unmarked. The strike over pension cuts continues today, with lecturers not returning to work until Thursday next week, followed by a further nine days over two weeks and plans to extend the action until June. The pension reforms have been instigated by the vice-chancellors. However, the heads of universities including Durham, Newcastle and Kent have called on their negotiators to restart talks in the hope of finding a compromise.
Handwritten NHS prescriptions must end, the health secretary will say today as a report concludes that errors involving dispensed medicines kill up to 22,300 patients a year. NHS staff make 237 million drugs errors every year, more than a quarter of which injure patients and cost up to £1.6 billion, a study ordered by the government has found. Jeremy Hunt intends to stop the “appalling levels of harm and death” that result from doctors prescribing the wrong dose, pharmacists handing out the wrong medicine and nurses mixing up patients. He has set a five-year target to halve harm from drug mistakes. About one in 12 prescriptions is thought to contain an error.
Jeremy Hunt is ordering an NHS crackdown on errors in dispensing drugs to patients, which research shows could be contributing to as many as 22,000 people dying every year. The health and social care secretary says mistakes involving medication, both in the NHS and globally, are “causing appalling levels of harm and death that are totally avoidable”. In a speech on patient safety on Friday he will outline new measures to reduce errors that researchers from York, Manchester and Sheffield universities say cause 712 deaths a year in England and may be implicated in between 1,700 and 22,303 others. Patients can suffer harm or die when they are given the wrong drug or the wrong dose, and also from their prescription taking an hour more to be dispensed than it should, they found. About 270m drug errors happen every year, though three-quarters result in no harm to patients, according to the findings, which were commissioned by the government. Under Hunt’s plans hospitals will be able to access prescribing data collected by an admitted patient’s GP to see if drugs they have been taking have led to them being admitted to hospital. Initially that will involve only patients being treated for gastro-intestinal bleeding, which can cause harm or death.