Brexit news – live: Theresa May ‘bribe’ to push deal through parliament rejected by Labour MPs

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Labour MPs from Leave-backing areas have dismissed Theresa May‘s Brexit “Brexit bribe” of £1.6bn for run down towns, saying their “vote is not for sale”.

It comes as the prime minister revealed the money will be allocated over a six-year period using a needs-based formula, with the North West getting £281m and the West Midlands receiving £212m.

Critics said the money was being used to win support for her Brexit deal in the Commons, but a string of MPs poured scorn on the plans and one described it as an “extraordinary pathetic amount of money”.



A tranche of UQs have been announced and two urgent statements – bumping the Financial Services Bill clash off the list.

 


Ministers are under fire for postponing a bid to bring transparency to tax havens over fears the government faced a Commons defeat.

At the eleventh-hour, the Financial Services Bill was pulled from debate in the Commons before a vote, after backbench MPs tabled a bid to force areas under UK jurisdiction to be more open about who owns assets held there.

 ​Here’s our write-up of the growing row:


Downing Street confirmed that attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay will return to Brussels on Tuesday to continue their efforts to secure legally-binding changes to backstop arrangements designed to keep the Irish border open.

But Ms May’s spokesman declined to discuss reports that Mr Cox has dropped attempts to secure a time limit for the backstop or a unilateral exit mechanism, telling reporters: “We are now at a particularly critical stage in these negotiations. I’m not going to get into specifics.”

The spokesman said the UK was “definitely making progress” after discussions spanning the past two weeks with the European Commission, he said.

But he added: “There definitely remains more work to be done.”


Under-fire transport secretary Chris Grayling has gone global​ – with a rather critical piece in the New York Times, accusing him of “becoming a byword for haplessness in a golden age of political blundering in Britain”.


An interesting new row is developing over the Financial Services Bill, which the government has to pass by March 29 to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

 

It was due in the Commons this afternoon, but it appears to have been pulled, as ministers were afraid of an embarrassing defeat led by Labour grandee Dame Margaret Hodge and Tory ex-minister Andrew Mitchell, which would create transparency in British tax havens.

 

 

From Dame Margaret:

 


Our Europe correspondent Jon Stone has heard from Brussels that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is meeting Stephen Barclay and Geoffrey Cox tomorrow.

 

 

All eyes are on Cox at the moment, who is engaged in crucial behind-the-scenes talks to try to break the Brexit impasse. He is trying to find a way to solve the impasse over the divisive Irish backstop. If he can get some kind of concession, Tory Brexiteers have indicated they may back Theresa May’s deal next week.

 

Our chief political commentator John Rentoul has written a column on why Cox is central to the outcome of Brexit.

 


One year on from the Salisbury novichok poisoning, Theresa May has hailed today as an “important milestone” for the city as it emerges from the “shadow” cast by the chemical attack that led to international condemnation and the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK. 

 

Unfortunately for the prime minister, Downing Street’s official Twitter feed has paid tribute to the “beautiful, welcoming English city” of Salisbury with a picture of a Bath. The tweet now appears to have been deleted. 

 

 

 


Editorial: Support for Theresa May’s deal is still a vote for a misplaced principle

Are the hardline Brexiteers softening their stance? Certainly there have been indications in that direction.

Last week Jacob Rees-Mogg hinted he was prepared to be more flexible over demands the infamous Irish backstop be amended. Now a group of lawyers within the hardline, pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) have set out three tests that a new agreement regarding the backstop would have to meet to win their support.

While the demands are hardly unfamiliar – especially regarding the need to ensure that the backstop can only be temporary – the group, led by Sir Bill Cash, have suggested they are not wedded to any particular mechanism by which all this can be achieved. 


Interesting (and odd) story in The Times newspaper this morning – it carries the claim that the chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss refers to herself in the third person as “the Truss”.

 

She is yet to address the claim, but it comes after  reports the home secretary Sajid Javid referred to himself as “the Saj” – a charge he later denied. 


Another Labour MP – Chris Bryant – reacts to the PM’s fund for left behind towns. Fair to say he’s not totally on board.

 


Senior Tory Brexiteer says he is ready to back Theresa May’s deal

Theresa May has received a major boost after an influential Tory backbencher said he was ready to back her Brexit plan.

Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, previously voted against the prime minister’s deal in January but said he was likely to support a revised version.

The influential MP urged his colleagues to “pull together behind the prime minister” when her deal returns to the Commons.


Labour voters in party’s heartlands back fresh Brexit referendum, poll finds

Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to support a fresh Brexit referendum enjoys the overwhelming backing of Labour voters in Leave-voting areas, new research has found.

Only 21 per cent of those in the north and the midlands who voted Labour at the last election said they opposed the dramatic policy shift – a figure dwarfed by the 66 per cent in favour.

In a further boost for Mr Corbyn, 35 per cent said it made them feel more favourable towards Labour, compared with just 14 per cent who said it made them feel less positive.

Peter Kellner, former president of YouGov, said the survey scotched “the myth” that the Labour leader would pay a heavy price for the move, pointing out that Labour voters in Leave areas now back Remain by a margin of more than three to one.


In other news, a man has been charged with assault after Jeremy Corbyn was attacked with an egg during a visit to a north London mosque.

 

More here:

 


Here is some reaction from Labour MPs on Theresa May’s £1.6bn fund for left behind towns. Critics say the money has been made available in a bid by Downing Street to win support for the prime minister’s deal from MPs representing Leave seats across the country. But that bid has not gone down too well…

 


Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the £1.6bn fund, the communities secretary James Brokenshire rejected the money, which will be made available over a six-year period, was a “bribe”. 

 

He said: “This funding is there regardless of the outcome, but obviously we want to see a deal happening, we believe that is what is in the best interests of our country.

“But there is no constitutionality in that sense, this funding is there to see that towns grow and that we are actually looking at what we need to do, which is seeing those areas really prospering and following through on what the prime minister has really believed in, that sense of leaving no part of our UK behind and how this will help support that.”


Responding to the prime minister’s £1.6bn fund, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said:  “This towns fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.

 

“The reason our towns are struggling is because of a decade of cuts, including to council funding and a failure to invest in businesses and our communities.

 

“Labour pledged in 2017 that we will establish a network of regional development banks that will be dedicated to delivering the finance that our small businesses co-operatives and innovative projects need across the whole country. No Brexit bribery, stable investment where it’s most needed.”

 


  

MPs urge government to end benefits freeze early to stop ‘destitution’

The government should lift 200,000 people out of poverty by ending its controversial benefits freeze a year earlier than planned, an influential committee of MPs has said.

The Commons work and pensions committee urged ministers to use an expected budget surplus to scrap the policy this year, rather than next year as expected.

The MPs want Philip Hammond, the chancellor, to announce the change in his spring statement later this month, saying it is needed to prevent further “destitution”.

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