PM facing growing crisis
May defiant as critics circle and Gove rejects Brexit job
Theresa May issued a message of defiance to her Brexit critics, insisting that she would “see this through” despite moves by backbenchers to oust her from Downing Street.
However, she suffered a new setback when prominent Leave advocate Michael Gove refused the offer to become Brexit Secretary following Dominic Raab’s resignation.
The Prime Minister, speaking after a day of drama which saws four ministers leave the government, compared herself to her cricketing hero, telling reporters: “What do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.
“I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people. Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones.
“As PM my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, that does that by ending free movement … ensuring we are not sending vast annual sums to the EU any longer, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but also protects jobs and protects people’s livelihoods, protects our security, protects the union of the United Kingdom.
“I believe this is a deal which does deliver that, which is in the national interest and am I going to see this through? Yes.”
Her comments followed a move by leading Brexit campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg to submit a letter calling for a no-confidence vote in Mrs May.
That came after Brexit Secretary Mr Raab and Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, resigned saying they could not support the Prime Minister’s agreement with the EU.
Mr Raab quit, stating that he could not in “good conscience” back the deal. His decision (see his letter to Mrs May below) threw the Brexit process into further doubt and put more question marks over the future of the Prime Minister who emerged from five hours of Cabinet talks on Wednesday to say there had been a ‘collective’ agreement.
Sterling initially rose on progress in reaching a deal, but fell after Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara became the first Cabinet member to quit on Thursday morning. Junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman, and parliamentary private secretaries Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Ranil Jayawardena also stepped down.
Mr Vara resigned as a junior Northern Ireland minister “with much sadness and regret” saying the agreement left the UK in a “half-way house”.
The pound and shares in housebuilders and banks fell sharply. Royal Bank of Scotland was 9% lower with 7% falls for Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments.
Sterling fell 1.7% against the dollar and 1.9% against the euro though it ticked up slightly this morning (0.18%) to trade at $1.28. The FTSE 100 index barely moved, but the FTSE 250, which is more reflective of UK-focused firms, fell 1.6%. Capita was the biggest faller in the FTSE 250, down14%, with Countryside Properties down 9%.
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has stated categorically that he will not be resigning.
Mrs May emerged from a marathon five-hour Cabinet meeting in Downing Street to say “with my head and my heart” that her deal was the best one for the UK – and the only alternatives were no deal, or no Brexit.
Her ministers had taken a “collective” decision to press ahead with finalising the deal in Brussels, which she will bring to parliament for approval.
It was clear, however, there had been significant dissent with reports that up to 11 ministers had declared their dissatisfaction with the 585-page so-called “divorce deal” that paves the way for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
In heated exchanges in the Commons this morning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn led those ready to tear into the document, describing it as “half-baked”.
“The Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration represent a huge and damaging failure and I will comment on both in turn,” he said.
“After two years of bungled negotiations, the government has produced a botched deal that breaches the Prime Minister’s own red lines and does not meet our six tests.
“The government is in chaos. Their deal risks leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say.
“When even the Brexit Secretary who, theoretically at least, negotiated the deal says “I cannot support the proposed deal”, what faith does that give anyone else in this place or in the country?
“The government simply cannot put to parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit Secretary and his predecessor have rejected.”
It was confirmed this morning that EU leaders will meet on 25 November to finalise terms for Britain’s withdrawal. President of the European Council, Donald Tusk reiterated his dismay at the UK’s decision to leave, saying: “Of course I don’t share the prime minister’s enthusiasm about Brexit as such [as] since the very beginning we have had no doubt that Brexit is a lose-lose situation and our negotiations are about damage control.”
Amid talk of a vote of no confidence in her premiership, Mrs May admitted on the steps of Downing St last night: “There will be difficult days ahead, this deal will come under intense scrutiny and that is entirely as it should be and entirely understandable.”.
Scottish Conservatives, including the Scottish secretary, Mr Mundell, sought assurances over fishing rights.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and UK Business Secretary Greg Clark convened a conference call with business leaders, to brief them on the details.
What has been agreed?
The withdrawal agreement covers so-called “divorce” issues. It includes a commitment to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and Britons in the EU to continue living, working and studying.
There is also a planned 21-month transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, and a “financial settlement” from the UK, thought to be between £35bn and £39bn.
The most contentious part of the negotiations has been the “backstop”, which aims to guarantee that physical checks will not be reintroduced at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, whatever long-term arrangements are agreed further down the line.
Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive Karen Betts, said: “Our industry has consistently called for clarity over what that UK’s new relationship with the EU will look like in practice, particularly on the continued protection of geographical indications, customs procedures and future trade policy.
“The provisions set out in the Withdrawal Agreement provide us with a credible foundation on which to build in the next phase of the negotiations, during which a number of critical issues remain to be resolved.
“A no-deal Brexit would cause the Scotch Whisky industry considerable difficulties and would force cost and complexity into production, distribution and exporting. The Withdrawal Agreement is a compromise, but it is a positive step towards much needed business certainty.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “After 20 months of debate, this agreement by Cabinet is progress. It moves the UK one step away from the nightmare precipice of no deal and the harm it would cause to communities across the country.
“Securing a transition period has long been firms’ top priority and every day that passes without one means lost investment and jobs, hitting the most vulnerable hardest. Time is now up. This deal is a compromise, including for business, but it offers that essential transitional period as a step back from the cliff-edge.
“More clarity on the final relationship is needed, and uncertainty remains high, but this is an important step forward.
“Transition and the backstop are not the intended permanent solutions for either side, but should pave the way for more work on the future deal. This must secure frictionless trade, ambitious access for our world-beating services, and a say over future rules.
“The UK has had many months of discussion and division. A long journey still lies ahead but now is the time for decisions. And the first decision is to avoid no deal.”
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Businesses will recognise the huge efforts made by the Prime Minister and across government to reach this milestone.
“With people’s livelihoods and the future prospects for many companies in the balance, this is not the time for snap judgments. Businesses will be looking carefully and deliberately at the real-world implications of this agreement over the coming days, and expect their elected representatives to do the same.
“After two and half years of uncertainty, this may be end of the beginning — but not yet the beginning of the end. Our firms need clarity and precision on the specific terms of trade they will face in future, many of which are still to be agreed. The avoidance of sudden or multiple changes to trading conditions is crucial to business investment and confidence.
“Our priority will be to assess the implications of these proposals, working closely with Chamber business communities across the UK.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, said: “With ministers falling like dominos, it’s clear the Prime Minister lacks the confidence of her cabinet – and has no hope of commanding a majority in parliament for her bad Brexit deal.
“Dominic Raab is the second Brexit Secretary to resign in just four months. The Tory government is now consumed by chaos and lacks any authority whatsoever.
“This is becoming a real leadership crisis for the Prime Minister. In these circumstances it is more important than ever that we are not faced with a false choice between a bad deal and no deal.
“Now is the time to get realistic and sensible options back on the table such as remaining in the Single Market – the only credible compromise for which the SNP has consistently made the case.”
Jon Trickett MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, responding to the resignation of the Brexit Secretary, said:
“The Government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit Secretary has refused to back the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unravelled before our eyes.
“This is the twentieth Minister to resign from Theresa May’s Government in her two year premiership. Theresa May has no authority left and is clearly incapable of delivering a Brexit deal that commands even the support of her Cabinet – let alone Parliament and the people of our country.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader and Shadow Scotland Secretary Lesley Laird said: “It is farcical that the Brexit Secretary has resigned because the Prime Minister’s deal undermines the integrity of the UK, while the Scottish Tories stay silent. So much for standing up for Scotland’s place in the UK.
“Ruth Davidson and David Mundell threatened to resign if the integrity of the UK was put at risk – and it appears Theresa May has simply ignored them. It’s clear this Tory government is a threat to the future of the UK.
“If David Mundell had a back bone then he would resign with immediate effect.
“We were promised that the Scottish Tories would be a strong block who would work in Scotland’s interests – what an absolute fallacy that has proven to be, they have been outmanoeuvred from the minute they arrived in London.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “This Conservative Government is in total chaos. The veneer of unity in the cabinet will not secure unity in the country, parliament or even their own party.
“This deal will not satisfy anyone regardless of whether they voted leave or remain. Instead Brexit will hurt the pockets of ordinary people and leave the UK weakened.
“Theresa May has a chance to steer the UK away from the cliff edge. She should call a People’s Vote and give the public the power to choose what happens next.”
Scotland for a People’s Vote – which is campaigning for a UK-wide referendum on the deal with the option to remain in the EU – said that the “credible alternative to this half-baked deal is a People’s Vote”.
Spokesman John Edward said: “This half-baked deal would be bad for Scotland and our vital interests.
“The UK would be relegated to being a rule taker from Brussels rather than a rule maker in Europe, which would be vastly worse than the benefits Scotland has as an integral part of the EU.
“For example, access to European markets would be dependent on granting access to European fishing fleets, so the promises made to the fishing industry would be rendered null and void.
“The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has said that anything less than the fulfilment of the prime minister’s promises to the fishing industry “makes ‘no deal’ a more attractive option”, which is hardly a ringing endorsement.
“A choice between this deal and no deal is no choice at all.
“The only credible alternative to this half-baked deal is a People’s Vote – as supported by the Scottish Parliament last week – which is a democratic opportunity for Scotland’s wish to stay in Europe to be respected.
“Tonight and over the coming days, MPs must ask themselves: is this better than the deal we’ve already got inside the EU? If they cannot look their constituents in the eye and say it is, they must vote this deal down and then hand the final decision back to the people.”
Dominic Raab’s letter
Dear prime minister,
It has been an honour to serve in your government as justice minister, housing minister and Brexit secretary.
I regret to say that, following the cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign.
I understand why you have chosen to pursue the deal with the EU on the terms proposed, and I respect the different views held in good faith by all of our colleagues.
For my part, I cannot support the proposed deal for two reasons.
First I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Second, I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit. The terms of the backstop amount to a hybrid of the EU customs union and single market obligations.
No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.
That arrangement is now also taken as the starting point for negotiating the Future Economic Partnership.
If we accept that, it will severely prejudice the second phase of negotiations against the UK.
Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election.
This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust.
I appreciate that you disagree with my judgement on these issues, I have weighed very carefully the alternative courses of action which the government could take, on which I have previously advised.
Ultimately, you deserve a Brexit secretary who can make the case for the deal you are pursuing with conviction. I am only sorry, in good conscience, that I cannot.
My respect for you, and the fortitude you have shown in difficult times, remains undimmed.