British and European officials are discussing the possibility of extending Article 50 amid fears a Brexit deal will not be completed by March 29, the Telegraph can reveal. Three separate EU sources confirmed that UK officials had been “putting out feelers” and “testing the waters” on an Article 50 extension, even as the Government said it had no intention of asking to extend the negotiating period. The discreet diplomatic contacts, described by one source as officials “just doing their homework”, emerged as a minister broke ranks for the first time to raise the possibility of extending the talks.
Theresa May’s efforts to win over her Brexit critics appear not to have swayed opinion, with many Tory MPs still vowing to vote against her deal. The Prime Minister held a drinks reception for Tory MPs in Downing Street on Monday night, but speaking afterwards, many said they had not changed their minds. Answering a question from ITV News as he left the meeting, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said there “was no attempt to persuade anybody and I don’t really think things have really changed”. MPs are expected to vote on Mrs May’s deal on Tuesday, January 15, following several days of debate in the Commons which will begin on Wednesday.
THERESA May has warned she could cancel MPs’ recess and force them to sit at weekends as the Prime Minister ramps up plans to get her Brexit deal through by March 29. The Tory leader will hold a meeting with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Chief Whip Julian Smith to decide whether to cancel February’s parliamentary recess as she battles to get her deal signed before the nation leaves the EU. The meeting is one of a series being organised by Theresa May, who is also hosting drinks receptions for Tory MPs on Monday and Wednesday as part of a charm offensive to win support for the Brexit deal. It comes as it emerged the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ will take place on January 15.
Pro-Brexit MPs have written to the BBC demanding that the they reign in loaded terms such as ‘cliff edge’ when discussing exiting the UK without a deal. In a letter signed by Brexiteers including Theresa Villiers, Steve Baker, Sir Bill Cash, Sammy Wilson and Nadine Dorries, they say: “We write to express concern about the BBC’s use of the terms such as ‘cliff edge’ and ‘crashing out’ to describe a departure from the EU on WTO terms.” They ask BBC Director General Lord Hall that “less partisan” language is used, such as “leaving on WTO terms” and request that action is taken on it.
Theresa May faces battles on two fronts as she scrambles to secure support for her Brexit plans ahead of a critical vote next week. It emerged on Monday that despite Ms May’s push for more substantial concessions to win over Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, Brussels will offer little more than a letter with additional non-binding assurances over British concerns. In London she also needs to head off a cross-party attempt on Tuesday to bind the government’s hands over tax policy in the event that her government heads for a no-deal Brexit. On the first day back in the commons after Christmas, Brexit speculation over Ms May’s next steps intensified, with aides continuing a push to garner support for her proposals from Conservative rebels, some of who were invited to another meeting at No 10.
Theresa May faces a new headache tonight after Labour looked set to back a Parliamentary bid to block a No Deal Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s party is to support a Commons amendment, tabled by Yvette Cooper, that its supporters believe could block taxation powers unless a no-deal Brexit is taken off the table. No 10 has been holding urgent talks with Conservative whips and the Treasury after at least seven Tory rebels, led by former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, signed the amendment. And more are expected to follow. Senior MPs Nicholas Soames, Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles and Sarah Wollaston are among those backing a parliamentary guerilla war to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal.
BRUSSELS is condemning Theresa May’s Brexit deal to failure by refusing to help her pass it – and will only offer a set of LETTERS restating its position ahead of the Commons vote. The news came as Theresa May insisted there has been “movement” from the EU since she cancelled the Brexit vote last month in the face of huge opposition. Eurocrats are mulling an exchange of mail spelling out the border solution in Northern Ireland would only be temporary after Brexit, to be replaced by a trade deal as soon as possible. But they fear the documents, which would just rehash pledges already issued by EU leaders last month, won’t be enough to win over eurosceptic MPs.
EU chiefs are poised to offer Theresa May a pledge of their intention to conclude trade talks with the UK by the end of 2021 in a fresh attempt to break the Brexit deadlock, it emerged last night. Whitehall officials expect an “exchange of letters” between Westminster and Brussels in the coming days that will set the deadline for the next round of negotiations in the hope of allaying MPs fears about the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. They hope that an explicit signal that a full trade deal can be concluded by the end of the UK’s transition out of EU will demonstrate that the controversial “backstop” mechanism never be used.
Brussels is preparing to offer Theresa May modest concessions ahead of next week’s crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal – but UK officials are already ‘testing the waters’ on extending the Article 50 deadline out of fears it will fail. Sources in London and Brussels said the two sides were hopeful of reaching an agreement on a new document in which the EU would pledge to reach a comprehensive trade deal with the UK by 2021. Allies of Mrs May believe this would prevent the need for the UK to ever enter the controversial Irish backstop, which critics fear could leave Britain trapped in a customs union indefinitely.
Reassurances by the EU to help Theresa May get her Brexit deal through parliament could be limited to a non-binding exchange of letters, under plans being considered by the European Commission. Such a limited move – which would not include any actual changes to the agreement – would be highly unlikely to convince Tory MPs to back the plan, which looks set to be rejected by a large margin when it comes before the Commons next week. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker are expected to speak on the phone this week to discuss the state of play, as the formal Commons debate kicks off ahead of the vote next week. But the EU has once again ruled out even meeting with UK negotiators to discuss any actual changes to the agreement, with a spokesperson telling reporters in Brussels on Monday: “There won’t be any meeting as such, because negotiations have been completed.”
IRELAND is blocking Theresa May’s desperate plea to EU leaders to save her Brexit deal, offering her just a vague exchange of letters instead. In an eleventh hour gamble, the PM has urged the 27 nations’ bosses to set a concrete date for a future trade relationship to begin. The request is a compromise bid with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has refused to give any end date for the unpopular Irish backstop that would keep the UK in a customs union until a trade deal is agreed. No10 want the new relationship to kick in by January 2022, meaning any backstop would only last 12 months.
Britain will set out additional proposals for Northern Ireland and giving parliament a bigger role as the government seeks more assurances from the European Union on her Brexit deal, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday. “I’ve been speaking to European leaders in the intervening period, speaking to colleagues. I’ll be continuing with that,” May said. “In the coming days, what we’ll set out is not just about the EU but also about what we can do domestically. “We will be setting out measures which will be specific to Northern Ireland, we’ll be setting out proposals for a greater role for parliament … and we are continuing to work on further assurances, further undertakings from the European Union in relation to the concern that has been expressed by parliamentarians.”
Theresa May will today be urged to “play hardball” with the EU by giving MPs a vote on her deal with the proviso that they would get to decide later on whether to enter the Irish backstop. Cabinet ministers will appeal to the prime minister not to give opponents the chance to reject the divorce deal entirely when the Commons finally votes next week. Instead Mrs May should offer MPs the chance to support the deal subject to the condition that parliament would have to approve the UK entering the backstop, a commitment to mirror EU rules and customs and so ensure no hard border in Ireland in the event of a failure to secure a trade deal.
Germany’s Eurosceptic, anti-mass migration AFD (Alternative for Germany) are mulling their country’s exit from the European Union in what could be a game-changer in European politics. At the end of 2018 the party consulted its members on their future policy platform, with 80% of respondents declaring that leaving the EU should be considered and that it “should be included as a final option in the election program”, Die Welt report. A ‘Dexit’ is being discussed, with the AFD mulling the idea of calling for a dramatic reform of the EU by 2024, or a German exit from the bloc. The AFD’s Program Commission has stated: “If our fundamental reform approaches in the existing system of the EU can not be realized within one legislative period, we consider a withdrawal of Germany or an orderly dissolution of the EU and the establishment of a new European economic and interest community for necessary.”
England’s biggest teaching union has accused the government of breaking its promise to provide a modest cash boost to every school in England, claiming figures reveal that nearly 5,000 schools have received no extra funds or have even had their funding cut. In the wake of mounting concern among teachers and parents about a school budget crisis, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, told MPs last year that a new national funding formula would guarantee each school “at least a small cash increase”, a pledge repeated by the prime minister in the Commons last May. The National Education Union argued the offer was inadequate given the scale of the school funding squeeze, but its analysis of recent government figures subsequently revealed that 4,819 schools had either received no extra funds or had had their budget cut.
Three miles from yesterday’s NHS launch, a £500million hospital lies empty and unused. The 13-storey building houses top-of-the range scanners and other medical equipment – and was meant to have been finished two years ago. However work ground to a halt last January following a botched private finance initiative deal with the now collapsed company Carillion. Although a new construction firm has been appointed, the Liverpool hospital is not likely to be finished until next year. Now managers at its trust are having to employ 18 staff to turn the 4,000 taps on and off regularly in a bid to prevent the build-up of deadly legionella bacteria. And warranties on its brand new equipment are rapidly expiring.
NHS leaders are preparing to risk a backlash by relaxing long-established key treatment waiting time targets, including hospitals’ duty to deal with A&E patients within four hours. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, admitted it was considering changing the system under which 95% of A&E arrivals were meant to be seen and admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours. The shake-up could see people with only minor ailments, such as a sprain, forced to wait longer, while priority is given to those with more serious conditions. Theresa May also hinted at a new approach to targets at the launch of the NHS long-term plan when she said that doctors needed to decide what were “the right standards for the future”.
The NHS has said it will save half a million lives over the next decade by tackling killer diseases with earlier treatment, healthy living improvements, and technology to remove waits and assist diagnosis. NHS England has said measures in its long term plan, due to be published on Monday, will prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and cases of dementia over the next decade. But experts said the NHS will fall well short of its goals unless it first addresses crises of staffing, social care, and demand that mean waiting times for A&E, planned treatment and cancer have not been hit in Theresa May’s tenure. Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the plans – announced amid the busiest time of year for hospitals – give no insight into how the “eternal winter in the NHS” will be addressed.
Millions of patients will use Skype for hospital appointments in a “wholesale transformation of the NHS” intended to reduce face-to-face consultations by a third and save billions of pounds. Digital appointments with consultants will become the norm under a plan for the future of the health service revealed yesterday. Thirty million hospital visits a year will be avoided by use of Skype calls, smartphones and other ways to talk to a doctor. Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, has promised to end the “outdated and unsustainable” model of hospital appointments that has persisted for 70 years. He argues that online efficiencies would help to close a funding gap and deliver pledges to improve GP care and outcomes for cancer, mental health and heart disease.
Tens of millions of NHS appointments are to be carried out by video-link instead of face to face. Health chiefs believe up to a third of the 90million outpatient consultations each year do not require a hospital visit. They hope to save time and money by switching these over to Skype-style video services on smartphones or computers. Patients will be encouraged to have online appointments with specialist doctors and manage long-term illnesses themselves. However, GPs have warned that some symptoms can be spotted only by direct contact. And Baroness Altmann, former director- general of Saga, said the scheme could be ‘devastating’ for the elderly, who are less computer savvy.
Ukip will hold a new leadership election later this year, at which Gerard Batten is likely to face a challenge from senior members unhappy at the far-right direction in which he is taking the party and his close links to the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson. A meeting of the party’s national executive on Sunday agreed that Batten, who took over last April with an initial one-year brief to stabilise Ukip, will stay on in the post until after May’s local elections, after which a full leadership contest will be held. A party spokesman, who confirmed the plan, said it was not yet known whether Batten, 64, would stand again. During his tenure a string of senior party members, among them Nigel Farage, have quit in protest at his anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies. It is understood Batten has agreed to a plan in which he would formally resign as leader then remain an interim capacity until after the local elections on 2 May.
Drones will be banned from within three miles of airports in new laws prompted by the disruption that left 140,000 people stranded at Gatwick last month. Airports will also be permitted to use anti-drone technology to jam rogue devices and even bring them down by force. Such devices, whose use is restricted at present to the police and the army, will be tested and then licensed by the Home Office for use by operators of vital infrastructure. A document said that anti-drone devices could include net guns, missiles and “electronic effectors” — jammers that can interfere with signals and keep drones out of controlled airspace.
Airport staff could be given powers to shoot down drones with shotguns or ‘net bazookas’ under laws to prevent a repeat of the recent chaos at Gatwick. Drone operators will also be banned from flying within three miles (5km) of an airport, compared with the current 0.6 miles, and the maximum height for their devices is set to be lowered from 400ft. Under plans unveiled by ministers last night, police would also be able to force operators to land drones flown illegally near airports and prisons.
Police will be given new powers to tackle the illegal use of drones, the government has announced. The area around airports where drones are banned from flying will also be extended, and from 30 November operators of drones between 250g and 20kg will need to be registered. Labour said action on drones should have been taken years ago. Last month flights from Gatwick were suspended for more than 36 hours after drones were reported over the airfield. The plans follow a consultation into the use of drones which began in July.
A convoy of 89 lorries has tested the government’s plan to combat delays at Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Yesterday’s rehearsal was part of Operation Brock, the code name for the scheme to manage traffic flows. It began at 8am when lorries left the disused airport at Manston, Kent, and drove to the Port of Dover. They set off on a second run at 11am. The trial was supposed to have included 100 to 150 vehicles to test the roads around Dover, where 10,000 lorries travel on a busy day. The convoy also tested whether the airfield could be used as a park for HGVs.
This was not so much Project Fear as Project Oh Dear. Contingency plans for a No Deal lorry log-jam at Dover were being road-tested – quite literally – on the approaches to our busiest Channel port yesterday. Half the expected trucks failed to appear while many of the participating hauliers dismissed it as ‘a joke’. The exercise achieved a rare outbreak of harmony between prominent Remainers and Brexiteers, with both sides condemning it as ‘a waste of time’.