May's Brexit deal lives: Northern Irish kingmakers report 'good' talks with government

LONDON (Reuters) – The Northern Irish party that is crucial to Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of getting her twice-defeated Brexit deal through parliament said it had good talks with British ministers on Friday but differences remained over the Irish border.

The United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union has sown chaos throughout May’s premiership and the Brexit finale is still uncertain. Options include a long delay, exiting with May’s deal, leaving without a deal or even another referendum.

May has essentially handed Brexit supporters an ultimatum – ratify her deal by Wednesday or face a long delay to Brexit that would open up the possibility that Britain never even leaves.

To succeed, she must win over dozens of Brexit-supporting rebels in her own Conservative Party and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has 10 lawmakers in parliament.

“We have had good discussions today. Those discussions will continue,” DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said after talks with government ministers in London.

“We want to get a deal. There has been progress made,” he told reporters. “We don’t want to leave without a deal but a lot will depend in terms of what the government can do on providing those guarantees that are necessary.”

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He said the British government was “very focused” on addressing the issue of the Irish backstop, an insurance policy that sets out what happens to the Irish border after Brexit.

Aimed at avoiding post-Brexit controls on the border between the UK province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, the backstop has been a constant sticking point as May tries to push her deal through. Many Brexiteers and the DUP are concerned it will trap the United Kingdom in the EU’s orbit indefinitely, and have sought guarantees it will not.

The DUP said Dodds was returning to Northern Ireland on Friday evening. He would be in phone contact with the government over the weekend and return to London for more talks on Monday.

After three dramatic days in parliament this week, lawmakers voted on Thursday to have the government ask the EU for a delay beyond the date Britain is scheduled to leave – March 29.

MINIMIZE DELAY

May says she wants to minimize any delay in leaving the EU to just three months, but to achieve that she will need parliament to back her deal at the third time of asking early next week, possibly Tuesday.

Her deal, an attempt to keep close relations with the EU while leaving the bloc’s formal structures, was defeated by 230 votes in parliament on Jan. 15 and by 149 votes on March 12.

She needs 75 lawmakers to change their vote. If she can swing the DUP behind her, along with several dozen hardliners in her own party, she will be getting close to the numbers she needs. A handful of Conservatives are unlikely ever to be satisfied but she may draw in a small number of opposition Labour lawmakers.

“There will be Conservatives who vote against it come what may, that’s why in order for it to pass three things have to happen: she has to get the DUP on board, she has to persuade as many as possible of the 75 (Brexiteer) Conservatives to vote for it, and she will almost certainly need more Labour MPs,” said John Whittingdale, a Conservative lawmaker and member of the pro-Brexit faction.

“If she can deliver those three things then it might scrape through, but it’s a hell of a big mountain to climb.”

ORDERLY FASHION

May’s de-facto deputy, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, said he hoped the United Kingdom would leave in an orderly fashion but if May’s deal was not approved then a long extension was on the cards.

“I hope that MPs (lawmakers) of all parties will be over this weekend reflecting on the way forward,” Lidington told BBC radio, adding the legal default was still that Britain would leave on March 29, unless something else is agreed.

EU leaders will consider pressing Britain to delay Brexit by at least a year to find a way out of the domestic maelstrom.

Britons voted to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum. However Brexit comes about, opponents of the divorce worry that it will divide the West as it grapples with the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

Supporters of Brexit say that while it may bring some short-term instability, in the longer term Britain will thrive if it moves away from what they cast as a doomed experiment in European integration that is falling behind global powers such as the United States and China.

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Risk of no-deal Brexit recedes further, some banks say

(Reuters) – The risk that Britain will leave the European Union without an agreement on March 29 has receded further this week, some banks and asset managers say, citing the UK parliament’s resounding vote to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

At the end of January, banks informally canvassed by Reuters for their forecasts saw the “no-deal exit” probability as low but rising. Some of those banks have since revised down that risk.

Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another crushing defeat in parliament for her EU divorce deal this week. Since then, lawmakers have passed a non-binding motion ruling out a no-deal exit, and will now vote to seek to delay Britain’s departure beyond the March 29 deadline.

That expectation has helped sterling strengthen to nine-month highs against the dollar and 22-month peaks against the euro.

For an interactive version of the chart below, click here tmsnrt.rs/2Ey1n4s:

Below are the views from a selection of investment banks and asset managers:

DEUTSCHE BANK

Has left the probability of a no-deal Brexit at 10 percent. It sees a 10 percent chance of an early election, down from 20 percent earlier.

GOLDMAN SACHS

Has cut the probability of no-deal Brexit to 5 percent and sees a 35 percent probability that Britain will not leave. Raised the probability of May’s Brexit deal eventually being agreed to 60 percent.

BNP PARIBAS

Sees the chance of no-deal Brexit at 20 percent. It assigns a 15 percent probability to Brexit being revoked and a 65 percent probability for a deal being passed.

STANDARD CHARTERED

Maintains its view of a 20 percent chance of no-deal Brexit.

BERENBERG

Has cut risk of no-deal exit to 15 percent. It also raised the probability of the UK staying in the EU to 25 percent.

ING BANK

The probability of no-deal exit is unchanged at 20 percent.

MUFG

Still sees a 10 percent chance of a no-deal Brexit but reckons the probability of another referendum has increased to 15 percent.

NORDEA

Has cut the chance of no-deal Brexit to 10 percent, compared to 20 percent last month and 25-30 percent before that. It puts chance of a second referendum at 35 percent.

BMO

An outlier in that it sees 53 percent odds of no-deal exit. The probability of an extension that leads to new election or another referendum is put at 12 percent.

AMUNDI

Europe’s largest asset manager at the end of February saw a 20 percent probability of no-deal Brexit, and a 40 percent chance of a “prolonged extension” to the March 29 deadline. It did not provide updated forecasts.

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UK's Hammond says possible EU will insist on long Brexit delay

LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Philip Hammond said the European Union might insist on a long delay to Brexit if the UK government requests an extension to the process.

On Wednesday, Britain’s parliament rejected leaving the EU without a deal, further weakening Prime Minister Theresa May and paving the way for a vote that could delay Brexit until at least the end of June.

“This is not in our control and the European Union is signaling that only if we have a deal is it likely to be willing to grant a short technical extension to get the legislation through,” Hammond told Sky News on Thursday.

“If we don’t have a deal, and if we’re still discussing among ourselves what is the right way to go forward, then it’s quite possible that the EU may insist on a significantly longer period,” he said.

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Britain heads into Brexit unknown as parliament votes on no-deal exit

LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers were on Wednesday set to stave off the threat of a no-deal exit from the European Union on March 29 but the second defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce treaty has left the country heading into the Brexit unknown.

After two-and-a-half years of tortuous divorce negotiations with the EU and two failed attempts to get her exit deal ratified by parliament, May said she would vote against a no-deal exit that investors fear would spook financial markets, dislocate supply chains and damage the world’s fifth largest economy.

Lawmakers will vote shortly after 1900 GMT (3 p.m. ET) on a government motion which states that parliament rejects leaving the EU without a deal on March 29 but notes that leaving without a deal remains the legal default unless a deal is agreed.

While the motion has no legal force and ultimately does not prevent a no-deal exit, if lawmakers support it as expected then they will get a vote on Thursday on whether to delay Brexit, probably by months.

Finance minister Philip Hammond said he could free billions of pounds for extra public spending or tax cuts if parliament spared Britain the shock of leaving the world’s biggest trading bloc without an agreement to smooth the transition.

“Leaving with no deal would mean significant disruption in the short and medium term and a smaller, less prosperous economy in the long term, than if we leave with a deal,” Hammond told parliament.

Sterling was unmoved during Hammond’s speech, holding its earlier gains on the back of hopes that lawmakers will vote against a no-deal Brexit.

After lawmakers crushed her deal for a second time on Tuesday, May said it was still the best option for leaving in an orderly fashion.

“I want to leave the European Union with a good deal, I believe we have a good deal,” she told parliament. May said the government would not instruct her Conservative Party’s lawmakers how to vote.

Lawmakers have submitted alternative proposals, including a plan for a “managed” no-deal exit, which could also be voted upon on Tuesday.

As the United Kingdom’s three-year Brexit crisis spins toward its finale, diplomats and investors see four main options: a delay, May’s deal passing at the last minute, an accidental no-deal exit or another referendum.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “We have not given up the goal of an orderly exit (for Britain) but yesterday’s events mean the options have become narrower.”

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BREXIT DELAY?

If Britain does seek a delay, all the bloc’s other 27 members must agree to it.

The EU would prefer a short extension, with the deadline of EU-wide parliamentary elections due May 24-26. It is unclear how such a short extension could solve the Brexit impasse in London.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc would need to know why Britain wanted to extend talks and it was up to London to find a way out of the deadlock.

“If the UK still wants to leave the EU in an orderly manner, this treaty is – and will remain – the only treaty possible,” Barnier told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

As Brexit uncertainty spills into foreign exchange, stock and bond markets across the world, investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are offering different probabilities on the outcomes.

“We continue to see a 55 percent chance that a close variant of the prime minister’s Brexit deal is eventually ratified, after a three-month extension of Article 50,” Goldman said. Its best guess was that a reversal of Brexit had a 35 percent probability and a no-deal Brexit a 10 percent probability.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said no-deal remained preferable to staying in the EU.

“If you pushed me to the end point where it’s a choice between no deal and no Brexit … I think no deal is going to be very disruptive for the economy and I think no deal also has serious questions for the union,” he told BBC radio.

“But I think no Brexit is catastrophic for our democracy. Between those very unpleasant choices, I think no Brexit is the bigger risk.”

The EU said there could be no more negotiations with London on the divorce terms.

Britons voted by 52-48 percent in 2016 to leave the bloc, a decision that has split the main political parties and exposed deep rifts in British society.

Many fear Brexit will divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China, leaving Britain economically weaker and with its security capabilities depleted.

Supporters say it allows Britain to control immigration and take advantage of global trade opportunities, while keeping close links to the EU.

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Ireland disappointed at Brexit vote outcome

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s foreign minister said he was disappointed at Britain’s parliament voting down a Brexit deal on Monday.

“The predictions were consistent enough over the last few days that this would be a heavy defeat,” Simon Coveney told the BBC.

“We now need to be patient and calm to allow this process in Westminster to take its course.”

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UK lawmakers table 'managed no-deal' plans before Wednesday vote

LONDON (Reuters) – A group of UK lawmakers set out plans on Tuesday to test whether parliament wants to implement an exit plan that would see Brexit delayed and mitigate the consequence of leaving without a deal by seeking ‘standstill arrangements’ with the EU.

The so-called amendment could be voted upon on Wednesday when lawmakers discuss whether Britain’s parliament should approve leaving the European Union without a deal.

It called for Brexit to be delayed until 1059 GMT on May 22, and for the government to offer to pay Brussels to strike standstill agreements with the EU lasting until no later than the end of 2021.

The group of lawmakers included leading Conservative eurosceptic Steve Baker, Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds and pro-EU Conservative Nicky Morgan, indicating a wide base of support.

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‘I didn’t sleep much because of Mrs May’: Juncker mocks PM over Brexit

‘I didn’t sleep much because of Mrs May last night’: Juncker mocks PM with poor taste joke about their late-night Brexit discussions

  • European Commission president made the smutty remark to MEPs in Strasbourg
  • It came hours after he had appeared alongside Theresa May in the French city
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EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made a bad-taste smutty innuendo about Theresa May as he addressed MEPs today, hours after had agreed changes to her Brexit deal.

The unpopular Luxemburger politician joked that ‘I didn’t sleep much last night because of Mrs May’ in a morning event at the European Parliament.

Mr Juncker, known for his many faux pas and missteps while in the top Commission role, appeared alongside Mrs May in Strasbourg last night.

He warned that their agreement – which looks certain to fail – was MPs ‘last chance’ to pass a deal, and said there will be no further changes, a warning he repeated today.

Jean-Claude Juncker made the bad-taste remark while addressing MEPs this morning


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Theresa May looked tired as she left Downing Street this morning to beg her MPs to vote for her deal, warning them that Britain may never leave the EU if they refuse to back her tonight

Speaking alongside Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini at the European Parliament in the French city this morning, Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs: ‘I’ll let you into a secret. I didn’t sleep much last night because of Mrs May, but long enough to be able to dream of Slovakia.’

Mr Juncker added: ‘We reached an agreement last night with the British Government on the terms of Brexit, and I said yesterday evening – or anyway during the night – that it was a second chance, but there wouldn’t be a third chance.

‘I would therefore like British MPs to support the measures, which are both British and European and which have taken form in agreed texts, an agreement at EU level.’

Theresa May looked tired as she left Downing Street this morning to beg her MPs to vote for her deal in a lunchtime meeting, warning them that Britain may never leave the EU if they refuse to back her tonight.

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UK 'not impressed by Barnier's tweets' on Irish backstop: government source

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain was “not impressed” by proposals from the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying the bloc was ready to give Britain the unilateral right to leave the customs union, a British government source said on Friday.

Barnier added in a series of tweets that Britain would still need to honor its commitment to preserve a border free of controls between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland – something that in previous negotiations led to proposals to place a customs border “in the Irish Sea” between the island of Britain and its province.

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EPP's Weber: it's up to Orban what political family he wants to be in

WARSAW (Reuters) – European People’s Party (EPP) group leader Manfred Weber said on Friday that it is up to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to decide on the political grouping he wants to be in.

Earlier in Friday Orban said that his ruling nationalist Fidesz party may drop out of the center-right EPP amid a row over his government’s anti-Brussels media campaign.

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UK government loses House of Lords vote calling for EU customs union

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s House of Lords passed an amendment on Wednesday calling for the government to negotiate a customs union with the European Union, giving Prime Minister Theresa May a potential new headache in her Brexit plans.

The upper parliamentary chamber backed a cross-party amendment to a trade bill, calling for the government to take all steps to enable the United Kingdom to participate in a new EU customs union after it leaves the bloc.

May has ruled out any such union which would be an anathema to eurosceptic lawmakers in her Conservative Party, although the idea has the support of some pro-EU Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party.

The Trade Bill, which focuses on transposing outside countries’ trade deals with the EU into bilateral deals with Britain, is due to be passed before Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.

The Lords’ amendment can be overturned by parliament’s elected House of Commons but it means lawmakers could now have a vote on the issue and boost the hopes of those who want a Brexit which sees Britain still closely aligned to the EU.

May’s divorce deal was overwhelmingly rejected by lawmakers in January and she has promised to bring back a revised version by March 12, although talks at securing changes have made no headway according to EU officials.

If her treaty is rejected again, lawmakers will then be given the chance to vote for a no-deal Brexit and for extending the date of the divorce.

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