The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, has revealed in his legal advice to the House of Commons today the there are no new legal requirements or safeguards against the Irish backstop keeping the UK locked into a customs union with the EU.
In case you missed it on @skynews a moment ago, here’s the story of the pound (vs €) since Mon. Up, up, up and then down very sharply following the AG’s legal opinion. Back to where it started, with a bump pic.twitter.com/VP2zSilLBk— Ed Conway (@EdConwaySky) March 12, 2019
The response was a fall in Sterling of two cents against the US Dollar, while the gold price shot up to a high of £996 following the admission that the agreement was in principle rather than an official guarantee. There were hints last night that the legal reinforcement was merely a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ rather than anything binding, and indeed, Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists that the new add-on for the Irish backstop “complements the withdrawal agreement without reopening it”.
The Prime Minister went to Strasbourg late last night for last minute talks, with the Pound rising from $1.29 to $1.31 in response to the news that Theresa May and Stephen Barclay might secure a new guarantee. The price of gold fell as low as £974.95 per ounce following the announcement by No10 Downing Street that reassurances had been granted, and the morning headlines in the national newspapers were positive about the PM’s last minute mission.
Speaking on behalf of the EU, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said after the talks had concluded: “In politics sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with that second chance that counts. There will be no third chance."
👀 The ‘new’ Withdrawal Agreement’ is half the size of the ‘old’ one! Not a single word in it has changed...but they’ve pathetically altered the pagination to make it look different. The perfect symbol of Theresa May’s contrick Brexit Brexit. pic.twitter.com/rtKB3HBsdu— Owen Smith (@OwenSmith_MP) March 12, 2019
Labour MP Owen Smith took to Twitter to criticise the ‘amended’ Withdrawal Agreement, while his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, told the Commons today: "Since her Brexit deal was so overwhelmingly rejected, the prime minister has recklessly run down the clock, failed to effectively negotiate with the EU and refused to find common ground for a deal Parliament could support".
Several MPs who previously voted against May’s deal have said they will support it this time round, on the basis that they would rather a bad deal than no deal at all, but news outlets are reporting that the DUP and the ERG will both actively vote against the deal, adding to the expectations that the PM will be defeated once again. Some MPs including Conservative veteran Charles Walker have suggested that the UK needs another general election – in the stead of a second referendum – to provide direction on how the country should proceed.
Here we go. Tory grandee Charles Walker demands PM calls a general election if she loses Meaningful Vote tonight: “She has to get a new mandate for the sake of the country. Needs must when the devil drives. We cannot go on trying to govern like this” #WATO— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) March 12, 2019
There was a slight bit of good economic news published today, with the UK economy showing 0.5% growth in January – higher than the maximum 0.4% predicted and growth made without an increase in output, meaning it wasn’t Brexit stockpiling providing fluke figures.
Tonight’s vote will take place after 7pm. If the Prime Minister is defeated again then the current plan is to hold a vote tomorrow to decide whether to allow a No Deal to occur. The majority of MPs already voted against such an event – albeit unofficially – but an official ruling in the Commons would push the House to a final vote on Thursday to decide whether to extend Article 50 or not.
The potential for tactics here is that the Prime Minister and Brexit supporters will vote to extend Article 50 in the event of the previous two votes, while opposing MPs will vote against the extension in the hope that the only option left is to cancel Brexit and remain. This has been noted by the Prime Minister and there are rumours that tomorrow’s potential vote on No Deal could be withdrawn, with Parliament instead skipping to the extension vote.
Should the Prime Minister lose by a small margin then an extension and a third meaningful vote seem the most likely options, with a deadline of May 23 being bandied around by the EU in order to avoid the European parliamentary elections. A larger defeat could put the PM in an untenable position and force her resignation however, which in turn could result in a general election instead of a second referendum in order to settle the Brexit debate once and for all.