May in 'listening' mode in effort to sweeten deal

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LONDON (Dec 6): Prime Minister Theresa May has five days to avoid a devastating defeat in Parliament over her Brexit deal.

Key developments

May is listening to colleagues and considering ideas to make the most controversial part of the deal — the Irish backstop — more palatable
Bernard Jenkin, a Tory Brexiteer, says May will lose the vote "possibly very heavily"
U.K. says EU citizens can stay, even if there’s no deal EU court will decide whether U.K. can unilaterally cancel Brexit on the eve of the key vote

Churchill’s grandson urges support for May’s deal (1:25 p.m.)

A powerful intervention in defense of May’s plan from the grandson of another Tory prime minister. 

Nicholas Soames, who is descended from Winston Churchill, says the deal on offer is a "golden prize" which manages to divorce the U.K. from the EU "with frankly minimum damage" to either side. Lawmakers would earn the "undying contempt" of the British people if they reject it, he said.

"I am truly sad beyond words that our wonderful country has reached this pass,” he said. “But I feel very strongly that we really must not reject this agreement and thus go back to square one, which would mean perhaps another deeply divisive and very unhappy referendum. In turn, that would mean the most damaging uncertainty economically.”

He closed by tapping his grandfather’s rhetoric, saying "Come, let us go forward together and settle this now."

Hammond says renegotiated deal a delusion (11:55 a.m.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond tells lawmakers who believe May can go back and renegotiate her deal with the EU that they are out of tune with reality.

“This deal is the best deal for leaving the EU that is available or is going to be available,” he says in the House of Commons. “The idea that there’s a better deal to be negotiated at the 11th hour is a delusion.”

A no-deal Brexit would leave Britain fractured and divided and be a “very, very bad outcome” for the country. Britain would be the only advanced economy trading on WTO terms, Hammond says. If these terms are “so fantastic,” he asks, “why do we need to negotiate free-trade deals?”

Blair says May’s deal is a ‘pointless’ Brexit (11:40 a.m.)

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said a second referendum on whether to leave the European Union will become the “only sensible way” out of the parliamentary gridlock he expects to follow the defeat of May’s Brexit deal next week.

“She believes the important thing is to do Brexit, even if we still remain tied to Europe’s rules,” Blair said, adding that the compromise nature of her deal makes it unpalatable to either side of the debate. “In my view if we do that type of Brexit, it’s effectively pointless.”

With May’s conservative party “highly unlikely” to go for a general election in the event the deal is voted down, Blair laid out a scenario in which various types of Brexit are then put forward by lawmakers — with only the rejection of a no-deal Brexit able to command a majority.

“The only way to resolve this is to go back to the people,” he said.

May is listening, and mulling ideas (11:30 a.m.)

May is talking to ministers and members of Parliament in the run-up to the vote on Dec 11, and is considering ways of making the Irish backstop more acceptable, her spokeswoman told reporters.

"She is currently talking to colleagues, and listening to them," said Alison Donnelly, May’s spokeswoman. "She is obviously aware that there is strength of feeling on this issue."

One of the ideas is to give Parliament a say over whether the U.K. should go into the backstop or extend the transition period instead. But there are also other ideas that could be more attractive to Brexit-backers, according to a government official, who declined to be named.

U.K. says EU citizens can stay if no deal (10:37 a.m.)

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay released a written statement guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens and their family members to “continue to work, study and access benefits and services on the same basis as now”, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Citizens affected — those who are resident in Britain before the end of March — will have until December 2020 to apply for a status under the plans, according to Barclay.

Barclay urged other EU governments to reciprocate for British citizens in their nations. He said where this doesn’t happen, “we will support U.K. nationals through this unlikely outcome”, with measures like bilateral healthcare arrangements.

Barnier tells U.K. politicians to back deal (10:30 a.m.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the vote in Parliament is now key. “This has serious implications for the future of the country,” he said. “We respect democratic and parliamentary debate within the U.K.,” he said, but added: “Everybody needs to do their bit, take on their responsibilities.”

He also offered them some reassurance on the bit they hate most — the Irish backstop. He said the bloc would do its utmost to avoid applying it and highlighted the option of using an extension of the transition period instead.

Brexiteer Jenkin predicts May will lose heavily (10:15 a.m.)

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin says May will lose the vote next week "possibly very heavily." But he says the next step isn’t a general election, which he reckons is "most unlikely." More probable is a change of leader, he told Bloomberg TV.

The DUP, May’s one-time Northern Irish allies, warned on Wednesday that while they wouldn’t vote for the Brexit deal, if the accord is thrown out by Parliament, then they would support the government in any subsequent confidence vote. That means that rather triggering an election they would support the government to go and have another crack at the negotiation.

EU Court to rule on Brexit case ahead of vote (9 a.m.)

The European Union’s highest court will decide Dec 10 — ahead of the key vote in the U.K. Parliament — on whether Britain should be allowed to reverse Brexit in a landmark ruling that could offer hope to those who want the country to stay in the bloc.

Specifically, the EU Court of Justice will issue a ruling in a case to clarify whether Article 50 can be unilaterally reversed and if not, what the U.K. must do. Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona of the Luxembourg-based court said in a non-binding opinion this week that the U.K. can reverse its notice, without conditions attached.

If the ruling follows that advice, it will embolden those fighting to reverse Brexit via a second referendum.

May offers Parliament role in Brexit backstop (8:30 a.m.)

May said she’s in talks to offer Parliament a say over whether to extend the Brexit transition period beyond Dec 2020 if needed, rather than enter into the so-called backstop arrangement designed to stop the implementation of a hard border in Ireland.

“The backstop is not automatic. If we do need to do it there’s a choice to be made,” May told BBC Radio 4. “I’m looking at the question of a role for Parliament in that choice.”

It’s part of an attempt to win support for her deal among lawmakers angry about the terms agreed with the European Union over the backstop, which could remain indefinitely after the U.K. quits the bloc. Parliament will vote on the deal on Dec 11.

As Bloomberg reported earlier, the idea she’s hit on is a so-called parliamentary "lock” that would mean lawmakers would need to give their consent before the most contentious part of the exit deal comes into force.

It’s effectively a veto for the House of Commons which could vote to stop the U.K. entering the Irish border backstop arrangement, a part of the deal loathed by pro-Brexit Tories, because it binds Britain to EU rules they want to escape.

Earlier:
May hunts for ‘lifeboat’ to stop Parliament sinking Brexit deal
May’s London banker fights to keep executives onside for Brexit

Coming up:
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay takes questions in Parliament at 9:30 a.m. 
Chancellor Philip Hammond opens the Brexit debate in the House of Commons later on.