Downing Street will be heaving a sigh of relief this morning as it becomes clear that half the battle over a deal is over, with Brexit stalwarts who voted against May’s deal all three times coming out batting for the Government over Boris’ New Deal. It looks possible that there is a majority in Parliament for Boris’ new proposal, which sets the UK on a credible path to a divergent Canada-style future relationship, a complete contrast to May’s plans of close alignment. The next (harder) step is for the EU to be pragmatic and come on board too, and close this messy chapter in politics…
Steve Baker on Boris’s New Brexit Deal:
“fair and reasonable”
“It’s on the table, there’s no point denying it…”
Last night’s Brexit votes were notable less for what they were than the way Tory MPs voted on them. The Government ultimately accepted the new Cooper Amendment F which recommitted them to the timetable for a vote on delaying Brexit that May first offered on Tuesday, imposing a poorly organised three-line whip in favour of the amendment which led to chaos in the voting lobbies. Chris Grayling was spotted in the wrong lobby and the Prime Minister reportedly even had to ask a whip which way to vote…
Despite the confusion, over 100 Tory MPs directly defied the three-line whip to abstain or even vote against the amendment, not a remotely trivial number in itself. However the most interesting subplot that emerged was the split between the 88 MPs who abstained, and the 20 MPs who directly voted against it, including Esther McVey and Bill Cash. Could this be the start of the split between the hard core who will never vote for May’s deal under any circumstances and the group who could come round to it if enough concessions are secured by Geoffrey Cox? Even more significantly, does this signify the minimum number of Tory MPs who would vote for May’s removal in a vote of no confidence if she were to extend Article 50?
ERG sources have played down the significance of the split, the ERG were naturally opposed to the amendment but beyond that were not particularly fussed about whether to vote against it or simply to abstain, given its ultimate lack of significance. Guido also understands that reports of splits emerging between Boris and Rees-Mogg on the one hand and Steve Baker on the other have been much overblown – while Jacob did hint at a slight softening of his position on full-on treaty change to the backstop yesterday, sources close to the three have categorically dismissed reports of any splits emerging between them. Everything still hinges on what, if anything, Cox can bring back from Brussels…
The 20 MPs who voted against the Cooper amendment outright were:
May’s official response to Corbyn’s soft Brexit offer has not done anything to calm the nerves of jittery Tory MPs, with May adopting a surprisingly conciliatory tone and offering only a lukewarm defence of the benefits of leaving the customs union. May opens the door to offering further commitments on following future EU laws and even says she is happy to “explore” Corbyn’s call to adopt “shared institutions and obligations” of the single market. May again signalling that she would sooner do a deal with the devil than allow ‘no deal’ to happen…
Steve Baker has sarcastically responded “It’s a good thing Corbyn does not realise the PM is already heading into what amounts to the EU Customs Union, or he would have to ask for more unachievable goals”. For a long time May and Corbyn’s positions have been differentiated more by rhetoric than substance, now they really are heading for ever closer union…
Top Tories gave their reaction to last night’s votes on Newsnight – Graham Brady insisted that it was the Commons that had given May a mandate, not himself. A forceful Steve Baker told people to “wake up to the reality” that “that backstop is not getting through the House of Commons, not ever.” Boris reiterated that his support for May’s deal was conditional on the backstop being removed and replaced with alternative arrangements.
Liz Truss added that yesterday’s results were a “significant way forward” that showed that “there is a majority for the PM’s deal plus some changes to the backstop.” The EU have already launched a media blitz to insist it’s not possible but behind the scenes they have no choice but to digest the significance of the result…
“I think it’s been a very positive day… What today has shown is there is a majority for the prime minister’s deal plus some changes to the backstop,” says Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, adding that it is "a significant way forward”@trussliz | #newsnight pic.twitter.com/RhLYz5fr9p
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) January 29, 2019
Meanwhile on Planet Anna Soubry, it was all “deeply concerning” as she saw her party “drifting over to the right”. Cheer up…
“We’ve had pitiful leadership… people are not putting their country first and foremost… I despair of what is happening to our country” – Conservative MP Anna Soubry tells our political editor Nicholas Watt@Anna_Soubry | @nicholaswatt | #newsnight pic.twitter.com/wt8kQaghQI
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) January 29, 2019
In an unexpected development late last night, reports began to leak out of a secret compromise hammered out between Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker and Remainers including Nicky Morgan and Stephen Hammond. Even Remain-leaning Government ministers Robert Buckland and Kit Malthouse are on board, with Baker crediting Malthouse for bringing the warring factions together as he confirmed the reports which somehow managed to remain secret until last night. Remarkable given the range of people involved…
According to the messages sent to Tory MPs by Nicky Morgan last night, The ‘Malthouse Compromise’ would’:
- Replace the backstop with the alternative protocol from the ‘Better Deal’ report launched last month, which would be “acceptable indefinitely”.
- Extend the transition period for up to a year until the end of 2021 to give time for a smooth transition to a new relationship (Plan A).
- Include a “triple safety net” around exiting with no Withdrawal Agreement:
- Continue to offer ‘Plan A’
- Agree a standstill transition period with the UK paying its financial commitments
- Offer a “GATT 24 WTO-compliant standstill on trade with no tariffs, no quantitative restrictions and no new barriers for execution” to come into force at the end of 2021 if the future relationship has not been agreed by then
Morgan says that “this would allow time for both parties to prepare properly for WTO terms, but also provide a period in which the parties could obviate this outcome by negotiating a mutually beneficial future relationship”. EU citizens’ rights would be guaranteed in all circumstances.
The big question is how this plan relates to today’s Parliamentary action. There are no amendments specifically related to it for MPs or even the Government to get behind, but the broad coalition of support behind it makes it impossible to ignore. Guido understands that Downing Street is interested in the proposals but has concerns about technical aspects around SPS checks…
Brexiteers remain divided over whether to support Sir Graham Brady’s amendment on renegotiating the Irish backstop, despite Theresa May giving it her official backing last night. Liam Fox confirmed on Today that the Government would be seeking to reopen the legal text of the deal if the amendment passed, potentially reassuring Brexiteers that it is not simply going to be ‘Operation Figleaf Mk II’. Guido cannot see any good reason for Brexiteers not to support Brady’s amendment, it is compatible with the ‘Malthouse Compromise’ and the best chance of changing the worst aspect of May’s deal…
Various Tory factions have been setting out their stalls ahead of tonight’s confidence vote in the Prime Minister. The ERG’s Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker have said:
“Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward. But our Party will rightly not tolerate it. Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go.”
The unspoken fear is that If May wins today she will fight the next election – and Tories will be slaughtered. The DUP will not support the government if May leads it on the current course. So “Vote May, get Corbyn.”
Meanwhile, Anna Soubry has hit out… at the ERG itself, attacking them as:
“A rump of hard right, hard Brexiteers. They should have been booted out by previous leaders. They behave appallingly and only represent themselves and their warped ideology. They need to get a life but they don’t have lives because they’re obsessed with Europe.”
A bit rich from Soubry given that she’s rebelled vastly more times than Brexiteers over the last two years…
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker has renewed his call for MPs to submit letters of no confidence in the PM, telling Today that Conservative MPs need to realise that we “cannot go staggering forward any longer like this” and that it is Theresa May’s “duty now to go”. More letters have reportedly gone in since yesterday’s debacle but somehow they’re always around “5 letters short” of 48…
When pressed on who should replace her, Baker gave a shortlist of four Brexiteers – Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, David Davis and Boris Johnson – and called on them to decide between themselves who would be the chosen candidate. Good luck with that…
“There are four people who have resigned from the Cabinet – Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, David Davis and Boris Johnson – the four of them need to work out between them which one of them is going to be our candidate to unite the country, unite the party, and take us out of the EU successfully.”
Boris is certainly back in the frame after his weighty appearance setting out a clear plan for how to proceed on Marr on Sunday, while Tory MPs are the one constituency he has consistently struggled to win over, his enduring popularity with Tory members and the country as a whole is not something MPs can ignore. Raab is Boris’s most likely challenger – he has burnished his credentials with his principled resignation although he does not have the public recognition factor of Boris or DD. DD has been out of the spotlight of late, while McVey’s support may end up being crucial to one of the other candidates if she does not go for leader herself.
Baker is right that Brexiteers should unite around a candidate when the inevitable leadership contest comes – Remainer Cabinet ministers including Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are also on manoeuvres and the risk is real that Brexiteer infighting could lead to a repeat of the situation where a Remainer PM simply wins the race by default. Whether politicians are willing to put their egos to one side and back one of their main rivals is another matter…
Brexit hero Steve Baker took a moment out of his interview on BBC News this afternoon to let that Brexit protester know that Brexit is worth it. It’s worth watch…
Top tactician Steve Baker has told the ERG whatsapp chat that they have the numbers to force a vote of no confidence. It’s on…
UPDATE: “My count will be be inaccurate. It is a grave matter but I think we’re close.”
After a relatively quiet start, Theresa May’s “hell week” on Brexit is starting to hot up. ERG Vice-Chair Steve Baker has thrown down the gauntlet to the Government on Chequers, telling Today that “at least 40 MPs” would be prepared to vote against Chequers – after taking into account a major whipping operation from the Government. Baker is known for not exaggerating support, these numbers tally with Guido’s rolling spreadsheet of where MPs stand…
May’s Brexit position has come under further pressure following the intervention from former Chief Whip Mark Harper this morning. Harper, who backed Remain, dismisses the idea that the Government will be able to get Chequers through with Labour support and calls on May to pivot towards a Canada-style deal which he says she can “unite the party around”. Harper is the first Remain-supporting MP with Cabinet-level experience to back the ERG’s Brexit stance, Downing Street should be worried…
Meanwhile, DUP sources have rubbished suggestions that their position on a sea border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain has softened. Baker also turned his fire on May’s rumoured climbdown on the Irish backstop, which could see the UK agree to remain in the single market and customs union indefinitely until the EU decided that alternative arrangements were acceptable:
“If the backstop leaves the whole of the UK in the internal market of the EU together with the customs union indefinitely – because it seems like that the trigger to leave might be handed to the EU – if that were to be the backstop that would be so obviously unacceptable…”
Opposition is mounting from all sides and May hasn’t even made any further concessions yet. Where does she go from here?
Former Brexit minister and keen skydiver Steve Baker survived something far worse than a cliff edge drop over the weekend as his main parachute failed to open.
After the left steering toggle jammed, the former minister fell into “a fast spiral dive” and was forced to perform an emergency landing on a golf course.
Brexit metaphors in the comments, please.
An excellent, must-watch interview with Steve Baker in which he explains why Theresa May must change her Brexit policy, reveals how Downing Street blindsided Dexeu and expresses righteous anger at Number 10 briefing against Brexiters. Leave Tory MPs – especially those being offered career advancement – should watch and listen…[…] Read the rest
Jacob Rees-Mogg asks if it is true that “officials in the Treasury have deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than saying in the Customs Union were bad and that officials intended to use this to influence policy” pic.twitter.com/qUTKvAJFi0
— BrexitCentral (@BrexitCentral) February 1, 2018
The big row today is over whether the Centre for European Reform’s Charles Grant did or didn’t tell Steve Baker that the Treasury was deliberately trying to change Brexit policy and keep us in the customs union.[…] Read the rest
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) 8 December 2017
[…] Read the rest
The Prime Minister has made important decisions in the national interest so we can move ahead to a successful EU exit.
It is hard to exaggerate how annoyed senior Brexiters are by today’s Telegraph front page, which splashes on the faces of 15 Tory MPs and dubs them “the Brexit mutineers”. Prominent Leavers are tearing their hair out at how politically stupid this is and are at pains to make clear it doesn’t represent their views.[…] Read the rest
The government has just announced publicly for the first time that DExEU minister Steve Baker has been given responsibility for “contingency planning”. DExEU sources say he has held the brief since the start of his appointment but this is the first time it has been confirmed.[…] Read the rest
Asked if the government still believes no deal is better than a bad deal, Brexit minister Steve Baker sensibly replied:
“What we can’t do is accept some kind of punishment deal, and I certainly think that the environment in which the United Kingdom trades with the world, in the context of controlling our own tariffs, our own taxes, our own domestic regulation, is an environment of which we should not be afraid.”