ERG Brokering Brexit Party Stand Down Terms with Downing Street

Guido understands despite Farage’s public offer of an electoral pact being rejected by Boris, behind the scenes the ERG is trying to broker an understanding. Farage told an ERG MP yesterday he would be “looking very closely” at the Tory manifesto, as the pair discussed the ERG’s demands that Boris makes an explicit commitment to keep ‘No Deal’ on the table during the future relationship negotiations. This morning Andrew Bridgen spoke with Downing Street and CCHQ, Farage’s hint that he would stand down candidates if the ERG’s demands were met was reportedly “well-received”. Is Farage looking to dig out of his hole?

Several ERG MPs also met with Boris this morning in CCHQ, where Tory candidates and MPs were taking photos with the PM for election literature. The ERG want the Tory manifesto to include an explicit reference that the aim of the next phase of negotiations with the EU is for a simple FTA and that if no agreement is made by the end of 2020, Britain will leave on WTO terms. Last week The Times reported that Boris will remove the threat of ‘No Deal’ from the Conservative manifesto, however, several ERG MPs have told Guido this would be akin to “surrender”. Steve Baker tells Guido: Having condemned the Surrender Act it would totally bizarre to enter FTA negotiations and rule out leaving with No Deal.”

Downing Street seems to agree, this morning the PM’s spokesman categorically ruled out extending the transition beyond 2020, “the government will not be extending the transition period”. Which means there will be a year to hammer out and finalise a free trade agreement. Easily doable given the UK-EU’s existing total regulatory alignment…

Rees-Mogg: I Won’t Back the Deal Unless the DUP are on Board

Theresa May’s promise to step down last night if the deal passes looks to have unlocked substantially more support for the deal – a clear majority of the ERG have now come over including big beasts Boris and IDS – although a hard core of around 20-30 diggers-in remains. They are “still looking for a ditch in which to die”, in the words of one MP there…

May’s biggest hurdle now is the DUP, who put out a fresh statement last night confirming they still could not support the deal, before Nigel Dodds brutally put down any suggestion that they could abstain instead of voting against it:

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has now been branded everything from “traitor” to “eurofederalist” after saying it’s May’s deal or no Brexit on Monday, reiterated his position on Peston last night that he will still vote against the deal unless the DUP are on board. However, he does suggest how domestic law could be used to address the DUP’s concerns. Will it be enough? We’ll find out soon enough…

UPDATE: It’s still a no from the DUP according to Laura Kuenssberg “For avoidance of doubt, DUP will vote against agreement tomorrow, party source says”

 

Rees-Mogg: ERG Will Only Vote For Deal if Brexit Itself is Threatened

ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg has told Kay Burley that the ERG haven’t yet decided which way to vote on the new meaningful vote this evening. JRM says the ERG will be meeting at 5pm to discuss whether the threat of no Brexit is real or “phantom”. Only if Brexit is at risk altogether will they consider voting for what is still a “bad deal”…

ERG Splits On Latest Brexit Vote Overblown

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:

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Rees-Mogg Hints at Brexit Compromise if Backstop Goes

Jacob Rees-Mogg has dropped some strong hints that he may be prepared to soften his stance on Theresa May’s Brexit deal if the backstop is taken out. The ERG Chairman told a packed Bruges Group event that “as long as the backstop is there, I will not vote for the deal,” but added that “there is hope that there could be reformation of this deal to make it more acceptable.” The Moggster added that he felt things were “going our way” with EU splits beginning to open up with Poland and, significantly, Ireland, while insisting that he was not going soft:

“I like reading the papers that I’ve become a soft touch. I do whatever my children tell me. And they’re all staunch Eurosceptics.”

This could prove to be a smart move from the ERG, by flat-out opposing any form of the deal they risked condemning themselves to irrelevance, particularly if Yvette Cooper succeeds in ramming a juggernaut through the constitution next week. By focusing their demands on the more realistic target of the backstop they could see momentum swing back their way – even if the backstop is not removed altogether, legally binding changes are looking more feasible than before. As Rees-Mogg wrote himself on Sunday, “Even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all”…

UPDATE: Boris has also hinted at a possible compromise if the deal changes, saying on the way past out of Number 10 that “if we negotiate with conviction… we can secure the changes that we need”…

DUP: We’d “Rather Be Shafted By Labour” Than Accept Backstop

Tory MPs turned out in force for last night’s weekly ERG meeting, with around 80 MPs in attendance as well as notable guests including Chief Whip Julian Smith and May’s Deputy Chief of Staff, JoJo Penn. Jacob Rees-Mogg informed the ERG of the outcome of his and Steve Baker’s earlier meeting with Nigel Dodds, where Dodds made clear that the DUP would support the Government in any confidence motion if the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected. If the Withdrawal Agreement went through their support was far from certain…

Also in attendance were DUP MPs Sammy Wilson – who was “cheered to the rafters” by Tory MPs – and Ian Paisley Jr, who made the point directly to Julian Smith’s face that while the DUP had been very happy working with the Tories, they would “rather be shafted by Labour” than accept the backstop. As Dodds pointed out later on Peston, you don’t need a General Election to bring down a government:

Smith himself addressed the meeting later on, while he didn’t get a hostile reception from the ERG, his points were all shot down in the detail. Smith suggested that some tinkering was possible but gave an impression of a government that was reluctant to ask EU member states for any further changes. The overall message remained clear: it’s the PM’s deal or nothing, the Government has no other plans. And they wonder why the EU has been able to play them like a fiddle from start to finish…

Rees-Mogg Responds Positively to May’s Brexit Speech

ERG Chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg has issued a response to the Prime Minister’s statement in Downing Street. Read it in full here:

“Salzburg was a failure even though European leaders had been briefed about Chequers before it was agreed by the Cabinet. It indicates that the EU is not acting in good faith. This makes the Prime Minister’s task harder and she is right to remind them that no deal is better than a bad deal.

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DUP Welcome ERG’s New Irish Border Plan

The DUP have put out a statement welcoming the ERG’s new paper on the Irish border. Westminster Leader Nigel Dodds said it was a “positive and timely development” while also hitting out at those who “have used the border issue, and the political process in Northern Ireland more generally, to try to mould Brexit to their way of thinking or to thwart it altogether”.

“The paper published by the European Research Group today is a positive and timely development.

“The paper makes clear that, in the event of a free trade deal being negotiated with the EU, there are sensible practical measures which can ensure there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

“It therefore accurately reflects the fact that the border issue is no impediment to the negotiation by the UK of a comprehensive trade deal with the EU. This a position we have consistently articulated.

“For too long some have used the border issue, and the political process in Northern Ireland more generally, to try to mould Brexit to their way of thinking or to thwart it altogether. That should stop

“We will continue to work closely with the Government and other colleagues in the House of Commons to ensure the best deal is secured for the country as a whole and for Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.”

Guido understands that the DUP has decided to take a more vocal stance on Brexit after growing unhappy about the way their position has been bandied about as something of a political football in internal Tory arguments over Chequers. Many senior figures within the party are more sympathetic to Mogg than May on Brexit. The DUP’s 10 votes are crucial to May’s majority…

Full Text of ERG’s Proposal for Northern Ireland Border

Guido brings you the ERG’s comprehensive analysis of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At the table presenting the analysis are an ex-First Minister, 2 former Northern Ireland Secretaries and the former Brexit Secretary. ERG trying to show they mean business with their border question fix. Read it in full here:

Brexiteers in the ERG have published their eagerly awaited alternative solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border, after the full house of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker turned out to the World Trade Deal launch by Economists For Free Trade yesterday. This is starting to look like a coordinated push…

Brexiteers are emphasising that this proposal is based on existing EU procedures and precedents and claim that it directly addresses the EU’s concerns over the border, rather than simply reheating old ideas.

The proposals include a Common Biosecurity Zone on the island of Ireland with the UK and EU agreeing to maintain equivalence on agricultural regulations to obviate the need for food and animal health (SPS) checks on the border, which account for a major proportion of the physical inspections currently required on non-EU imports. Regulatory compliance on non-agricultural goods would be enforced by pro-active trading standards inspections at the point of sale, assisted by data-sharing and co-operation between authorities on both sides of the border.

Larger companies would use existing technologies including trusted trader schemes to declare goods crossing the border, while for small companies, goods declarations would be incorporated into existing systems for VAT returns, which all companies trading across the border already have to complete. Origin declarations would be simplified through the existing Registered Exporter (REX) scheme.

The Irish border issue has been cited as one of the main justifications for the Chequers plan. Does the Brexiteers’ alternative give them enough ammunition to chuck it?

Tory ERG MPs Remind May of Her Commitment to Take Back Control of Laws and Trade

Good letter from the ERG Tory MPs reminding Theresa May of her Lancaster House commitment to take back control of laws and trade. Brexit means full regulatory autonomy and the freedom to start talks on trade deals with other countries immediately…

Letter via @faisalislam

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