This article titled “Blair: majority soon in parliament for new Brexit referendum – Politics live” was written by Frances Perraudin (now) and Ben Quinn (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 14th December 2018 17.23 Asia/Kolkata
The Mirror is reporting that Westminster bridge has been blocked by pro-Brexit protesters wearing yellow vests. The Metropolitan Police confirmed they were aware of the protest and said there had not been any arrests.
Transport for London tweeted: “Buses serving routes via Westminster Bridge Road may be delayed because of a demonstration which is blocking the road.”
This from David Phinnemore, a professor of European Politics at Queen’s university in Belfast, provides a useful analysis on how “the Irish question” came to dominate the Brexit process.
Here is that footage of May and Juncker in a “frosty exchange”.
There’s a lot of speculation on Twitter about what they might be saying to each other. Is anyone any good at lip reading?
It’s Frances Perraudin here, taking over from Ben Quinn for a few hours.
Tony Blair has started speaking at a People’s Vote event at the Royal Academy in London. The Tony Blair Institute twitter account is tweeting extracts of the speech.
He told the Today programme this morning that there would soon be a majority in parliament for a second referendum.
Only one obstacle is preventing May from winning Tory backing for her Brexit deal, writes Paul Goodman in a piece on the influential Conservative Home website, in which he imagines that the backstop was radically amended so that a “unilateral exit” mechanism was included.
For now, however, he concludes:
Her deal and the backstop march together in step. And admittedly, even with a right to unilateral exit, this government would be unlikely to exercise it if no deal waited on the other side of the door.
Nonetheless, that exit would be there – which, ultimately, is what matters. We’ve said before that Brexit isn’t a still photo, but a moving film – or should be. Where Britain will be on day one isn’t where we will be in year ten. The backstop freezes that film and prevents it from playing. Provide a sure means of escape from it, and the film begins to roll. And May’s deal thus becomes acceptable.
Unfortunately, there is vanishingly little prospect of that. The backstop lies between her and success like a hollow in the path of a runner. It is so narrow as almost to be leapable. But it plunges many, many miles deep.
The DUP leader is on Twitter with a “we told you so” statement aimed squarely at the prime minister.
You had almost forgotten about the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), hadn’t you? Its leader, Arlene Foster, has been talking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, and it looks like May really has an uphill struggle to get the party back on board in terms of providing any parliamentary support.
Despite the pictures of May remonstrating with Juncker, No 10 tried to sound a diplomatic tone this morning, arguing there was still time for the “dust to settle” and that there was a range of briefings emerging from EU leaders and officials.
The prime minister is due to give a press conference at lunchtime to respond to last night’s EU rebuff.
Here’s a clip of Theresa May and Jean Claude Juncker having what appears to be a less than cordial exchange this morning before the opening of the summit’s latest session. It’s really set tongues wagging in Brussels.
Here’s the Irish taoiseach speaking on his arrival this morning in Brussels, via a tweet from Sky’s Mark Stone (that sound you might hear in the background is the grinding of Conservative MPs’ teeth):
In other non-Brexit news (yes, it exists), Politics Home reports that the former head of the House of Commons standards and privileges committee “angrily confronted” Jeremy Corbyn after Labour blocked the appointment of its own MP Jess Phillips to the watchdog.
PoliticsHome reported last month that the Birmingham Yardley MP had been nominated by Labour to take a seat on the committee, with the appointment even appearing on the House of Commons order paper on 19 November.
Kevin Barron, who stepped down as chair of the committee this year, was said to have raised the issue with Labour’s chief whip, Nick Brown, at the party’s weekly meeting of MPs on Tuesday night, which Corbyn also attended.
Fresh from his spat with fellow members of England’s 1986 World Cup squad, BBC Sport host Gary Lineker has now been criticised by his colleague Jonathan Agnew for expressing his political views on Twitter.
The former England football captain, who hosts the BBC’s flagship Match of the Day programme, has been outspoken in his political opinions, in particular his opposition to Brexit, which he regularly tweets about. Lineker also appeared at a rally in London campaigning for a second referendum in November.
Today’s bilateral between May and Macron – which is still going on – is particularly key given that France is one of the countries pushing hard against the prime minister’s idea of having a 12-month time limit on any Irish backstop.
A grim-sounding No 10 official tried to remain upbeat in briefings, according to the Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh.
“There’s plenty to discuss,” said the official.
The Labour party is floating proposals today to break up the big four accounting firms.
The party has commissioned a report which also proposes capping the firms’ share of the audit market at 50% of the largest listed companies.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who has tweeted a link to the report,- told the FT: “A lack of openness, transparency and accountability [in the accounting industry] means nobody ever seems to be punished for their transgressions.”
Parliament’s Twitter account tweets a reminder of today’s historic significance:
Theresa May is now meeting the french president, Emmanuel Macron, according to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
Meanwhile, the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, appears to be continuing to shore up support for Ireland’s position:
Arriving for the second day of the summit, the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, said he does not expect a special Brexit summit in January to agree a way forward. He said they now need the British parliament to back the deal agreed with May.
We need a positive vote from the British parliament, not a summit. We want a vote. We need a vote from the British Parliament to continue.
We very much hope this will be a positive vote. We count on that.
The Czech minister for Europe, Ales Chmelar, said the meeting last night had not been bad but that “nobody knew beforehand what would be the solution”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today:
I know there was in the room a strong willingness to offer something, but at the same time it would put, most probably, into question the backstop for Ireland.
It was almost an impossible situation and technically speaking there was not an easy way out.
The Croatian prime minister has just arrived for today’s summit discussions, saying “the ball is in the UK’s court”.
Sounds like there might be a few contenders to do something about that, namely warring members of England’s 1986 World Cup football squad.
After Theresa May survived a vote of no confidence by Conservative MPs on Wednesday, several members of the side that reached the quarter-finals in Mexico offered their thoughts on social media. They revealed “a divide as great as the one in the England defence when Diego Maradona dribbled straight through it”, the Guardian reported on Thursday.
Goalkeeper Peter Shilton and midfielder Peter Reid found themselves particularly at odds. “Have been so impressed with @Jacob_Rees_Mogg@Conservatives @itvnews with interviews in the last few days”, Shilton wrote on Twitter. “He really knows what he is talking about and puts it across in a calm and calculated manner!”
Shilton has now picked up the gauntlet it seems:
Tony Blair: majority soon in parliament for new referendum
Tony Blair has made a fresh pitch this morning for a new referendum on Brexit, predicting there will be a majority soon in parliament for such a poll.
Apppearing on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme before a speech in which he will say that Europe will be “significantly weaker” at a time of global geopolitical competition from China and other countries, the former prime minister sketched out how he believed the EU could lay the ground for a new referendum.
There would be a trade-off, particularly on one of the pillars of the European project – freedom of movement, he said.
“I think it would be sensible and right if Europe responded with a series of measures that allowed people in Britain to feel that they were being listened to,” said Blair, arguing that European leaders may be willing to be flexible on the issue if they know a new referendum was on the way.
But what would he say to someone who voted leave in the last referendum?
His answer was twofold. First of all, “ardent Brexiteers” didn’t support May’s deal, so it was not clear what form of Brexit the country wanted.
Secondly, after months of negotiations the situation was a mess. How could it be undemocratic to go back to the people in light of this?
“It’s clear that people did not vote for crashing out of the EU without a deal,” said Blair.
“It’s perfectly possible for [Theresa May] to become the facilitator and say there are various options. If we cannot have a parliamentary majority for any of those options then it becomes logical to say to the British people: ‘Parliament is gridlocked and parliament cannot decide.’”
Asked if he been hearing things privately from European power brokers, Blair said: “I have no doubt whatsoever that if Europe’s leaders thought that Britain was prepared to think again, they would do everything possible to accommodate that”.
European leaders didn’t wake up in the morning thinking about Brexit, he added, not least someone like Emmanuel Macron, who is facing daily protests on the streets of France.
However, he argued that those who took a step back and thought about the broad sweep of history would know it was a “critical mistake” to pull Britain and the British economy out of Europe at the current time.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has weighed in this morning with her conclusion on last night’s events in Brussels:
Back in the UK, Conservative civil war continues. The Times reports that the Conservative party is facing an irrevocable split over Brexit. It says:
Some MPs from the European Research Group (ERG), a Brexiteer faction, were said to be threatening to go “on strike” until there was a change of leader.
Under the plan those MPs would fail to vote on some legislation, to prove that Mrs May cannot command a majority in the Commons.
The divisions are no less acute within her own cabinet, it seems. The Telegraph reports that May’s attempts to salvage her Brexit deal are “phoney” and unlikely to succeed, cabinet ministers have said privately.
The paper casts this as a “renewed push” by remainers for a second referendum.
Despite publicly supporting the prime minister, ministers believe the prime minister has been left significantly “weakened” by the vote of confidence in which 117 MPs called for her to go.
A good explanation of where things are at – and some rather pointed criticism of Theresa May – can be found in this thread by Ole Ryborg, the EU correspondent in Brussels for Danish Radio and Television.
It contains quotes from the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who recalls when Danes and Irish voters opposed EU treaties in previous referendums, adding: “In both countries someone took the responsibility on them to decide what to do.”
The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent also has this account of one of Theresa May’s responses during last night’s discussions:
Eurozone reform will be the first item on the agenda when the EU’s leaders gather again this morning at the European Council summit, reports the Guardian’s Brussels bureau chief, Dan Boffey, who adds:
But they won’t be able to avoid questions about what went wrong for Theresa May last night. The prime minister had made an impassioned appeal to the 27 heads of state and government before their dinner.
She had called for them to put faith in her one last time to get a Brexit deal through parliament.
To “get the deal over the line”, May told them, she needed a legal document with a target of getting out of the Irish backstop within 12 months if it was brought into force. The initial plan among the EU27 had been to offer some warm words, but also cruciall promised to reflect on that specific request.
Over dinner, largely led by the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, a chunk of the warm words were removed from their official statement, known as European council conclusions. And the promise to react to the prime minister’s request disappeared.
Some EU diplomats suggest the bloc has had enough. They don’t believe the prime minister has a plan that could get her deal through parliament. The European commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, described the debate in the UK as “nebulous”, in his late-night press conference.
But he left the door open by asking for clarifications. May will be speaking later, and the pressure will be on. Again.
EU leaders are due to start arriving for the second day of the summit in Brussels for a session which starts in around an hour.
There’s going to be a press conference by the European council president, Donald Tusk, and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as one by May. Timings are hazy at the moment but they’re expected shortly after lunchtime.
The job of flying the flag for Theresa May’s tattered attempts to seek changes to the Brexit withdrawal deal has fallen this morning to her de factor deputy, David Lidington.
Gamely, he has just told the BBC’s Today Programme that last night was a “welcome first step”, with the removal of any doubt about the intentions of the other EU states to negotiate a free-trade deal with the UK speedily.
“They have made clear that they don’t want the backstop used,” he added, in reference to the mechanism designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, but which critics say could keep the UK tied to EU rules indefinitely and curb its ability to strike trade deals.
He added that there was more work to be done and the prime minister would be “getting on with it” in the days – he started to say weeks but appeared to check himself – ahead.
Good morning and welcome to the Guardian’s politics live blog. I’m Ben Quinn and, as usual, we’ll be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web.
Theresa May will be returning to the UK later today to face the continued wrath of Tory backbenchers, 117 of whom opposed her in a vote of confidence on Wednesday, after EU leaders delivered a devastating knockback to her in Brussels last night.
The prime minister had appealed to them to hold “nothing in reserve” and work with her to salvage her Brexit deal by putting a 12-month limit on the unpopular Irish backstop.
But it was opposed by Ireland, France, Sweden, Spain and Belgium, who voiced doubts that the prime minister would be able to sell the technical concession to hostile MPs in Westminster.
One of the key quotes seems to have been this one from the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker:
Our UK friends need to say what they want, rather than asking what we want. We would like in a few weeks for our UK friends to set out their expectations because this debate is sometimes nebulous and imprecise and I would like clarifications.
The prime minister remains in Brussels, where she will officially be discussing migration issues with EU leaders, as British diplomats do what they can on the sidelines to lobby in support of the extra concessions which May needs so badly to placate her party.
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