Brexit: May’s appeal to nation backfires as MPs accuse her of stoking hate

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Brexit: May’s appeal to nation backfires as MPs accuse her of stoking hate – Politics live” was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Thursday 21st March 2019 11.18 UTC

And here is my colleague Alex Hern’s story on the e-petition website crashing after a petitioner’s call to revoke article 50.

Updated

Here are some of the celebrities who have been encouraging people on Twitter to sign the e-petition calling for article 50 to be revoked. (See 10.22am.)

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former envoy to the EU, thinks Donald Tusk’s offer of an extension on condition that MPs approve the Brexit deal next week should help Theresa May. Speaking in Dublin last night, Rogers said:

That’s not unhelpful to her because in a sense it amplifies the message she’s been trying to give to people which is ‘it really is my way or the abyss, look at what Donald was saying’.

However May’s requested extension raises the risk of no deal, he warned.

I’ve always thought the markets and the UK commentariat have underestimated the risks of no deal. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is a very serious chance that we end up with no deal in the summer because … we’ve run out of road, both sides have to a degree miscalculated the reaction from the other side, and we end up there because there’s nowhere else to go.

Rogers was talking to reporters after addressing the Institute of International and European Affairs.

Kent county council has activated no-deal plans to keep its roads, hospitals and schools open, as the government considers pulling the trigger on national contingency measures involving 30 central departments and 5,000 staff, my colleagues Lisa O’Carroll and Denis Campbell report.

Merkel says UK will get short article 50 extension if MPs back Brexit deal

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has backed what Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said yesterday about the EU being willing to give the UK a short article 50 extension conditional on MPs voting for the withdrawal agreement next week. Addressing the German parliament before today’s summit, she said:

[There was a request from Theresa May] to delay the exit date to June 30. The leaders of the EU 27 will intensively discuss this request. In principal, we can meet this request if we have a positive vote in the British parliament next week about the exit document.

But Merkel also said there would be a debate about whether a short extension would last until the end of June (just before the new European parliament meets), as May has proposed, or until 23 May (when the European elections start), as the European commission prefers. Merkel said:

With regard to the date of June 30, we have to take into consideration that we have European elections in May. This means the future and legality of the European election must be respected. But we can surely talk positively about a short extension.

Angela Merkel addressing the German parliament this morning.
Angela Merkel addressing the German parliament this morning. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

A petition on the government’s e-petition website calling for article 50 to be revoked is has attracted more than 675,000 signatures, and it is getting hundreds more by the minute. At one point earlier today the site crashed, which may or may not have been related to the volume of traffic it was attracting.

E-petitions which get more than 100,000 signatures get debated in parliament. But the debates take place in Westminster Hall, the annex debating chamber, and MPs do not vote on the proposal, so it would be a mistake to think that an e-petition like this will have much influence on MPs.

Also, e-petitions are a poor guide to public opinion. The What UK Thinks website tracks Brexit opinion in great detail and, as this chart shows, although remain have been opening up a bigger lead over leave recently, the shift in opinion has not been dramatic.

Public opinion on remain v leave
Public opinion on remain v leave Photograph: What UK Thinks

Here is Robert Harris, the novelist, veteran political commentator and Neville Chamberlain expert, on Theresa May’s address to the nation last night.

Sir Oliver Letwin, the Conservative former cabinet minister who is involved in efforts to find a cross-party alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, told the Today programme this morning that there was probably a majority for a Norway plus approach.

Stressing the need for parliament to find a consensus, he said:

I believe, for example, that we will probably on that day be able to get a cross-party majority in favour of what is sometimes called Norway plus and sometimes called Common Market 2.0 which is an arrangement where we remain in the single market and we have a customs arrangement with the EU and that has not yet been tested.

Hunt criticised after claiming MPs in hung parliaments have different responsibilities

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, was given the main 8.10 slot on the Today programme this morning. Here are the main points from his interview.

  • Hunt defended what Theresa May said in her Number 10 statement last night (see 9.12am), saying she was “reflecting the fact that people at home are getting very frustrated that the process is going on and on and on.”
  • He claimed that MPs’ responsibilities in a hung parliament were not the same as in a parliament where the government has a majority. This was the point May was making in her speech last night, he argued. He explained:

But, underneath, what she was really saying is that, in a hung parliament, MPs have a different responsibility. In a normal parliament, where a government has a majority, where it can gets its business done with the majority it has, then MPs debate, criticise, do their normal things, come on the Today programme and so on.

In a hung parliament MPs actually have to make decisions because governments cannot decide things on their own. And we don’t have those very often in our history. But she was really making the point that all of us as MPs, whether backbenchers or opposition MPs, have a special responsibility, because a decision cannot happen without parliament giving it approval.

This is a novel constitutional argument, and not one that we’ve heard from any minister since the general election in 2017. It is also hypocritical, because the government has repeatedly whipped its MPs to vote down attempts by MPs like Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn to create a process that would allow MPs to take the initiative in selecting a Brexit alternative. Labour’s Chris Bryant makes roughly the same point here.

  • Hunt claimed that, if MPs did not vote for May’s deal next week, the alternatives could be revoking article 50, or a second referendum. He explained:

If we are in the same situation this time next week then only a very limited list of things could happen: parliament could vote to revoke article 50, which is cancelling the Brexit process – I think that’s highly unlikely …

There could be an EU emergency summit to offer us an extension and we don’t know what the length will be and it could have some very onerous conditions – they could say, for example, ‘We’ll give you an extension if you have a second referendum’.

Again, I think it’s very unlikely parliament would vote for that. And then we have no-deal as the legal default on Friday.

So the choice that we have now is one of resolving this issue or extreme unpredictability.

  • He claimed that May had been tested more than any PM in living memory. He said:

Let’s not forget the extraordinary pressure that she is personally under, and I think she does feel a sense of frustration.

Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme
Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme Photograph: BBC

Labour defends Corbyn’s decision to walk out of PM’s cross-party Brexit talks after Chuka Umunna invited

Labour has scrambled to rectify any damage done by reports that Jeremy Corbyn walked out of a meeting with the prime minister at Downing Street because Chuka Umunna, the leader of The Independent Group and a former party MP, was also attending it.

Barry Gardiner, the shadow secretary of state for international trade, told the Today programme that Corbyn had already held a “20-minute, one-on-one” conversation with Theresa May and that the meeting the Labour leader left was actually with David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister.

He also said that participants in the meeting Corbyn missed later said that the prime minister had refused to cede any ground on her red lines.

Gardiner defended Corbyn’s walkout by questioning the legitimacy of the Independent Group. Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said:

Political parties have transparency about their funding arrangements. The Independent Group does not. My understanding is that they were there not for that meeting originally.

They were there for a meeting with David Lidington and because No 10 didn’t get its meetings sorted out they happened to be in the same room, it was chaos.

It is not about the process it is about the substance. The people who came out of that meeting said ‘this meeting was simply for show, this meeting was simply so she could pretend that she was listening.’ She did not listen, she has not changed her red lines, she is not willing to compromise.

Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons yesterday.
Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons yesterday. Photograph: Parliamentary Recording Unit Handout/EPA

Updated

On the Today programme this morning Romano Prodi, the former European commission president and former Italian PM, said he thought EU leaders would agree to a longer article 50 extension. He explained:

I still think that there will be more time … there will be some compromise in order to get more time because really the common will against a hard Brexit is real.

May’s appeal to nation over Brexit backfires as MPs accuse her of stoking hate

Theresa May travels to Brussels today to formally request an extension to article 50 that would delay Brexit behind Friday next week, when the UK was supposed to leave the EU. British prime ministers have often had difficult encounters with their EU counterparts over the years, but it is hard to think of one more demeaning for the PM, or one where the power gap between the UK and the EU27 has been wider. “Humiliating” is an adjective frequently overused in political reporting, but today it is the prefect description.

As if that was not bad enough, May seems to have hamstrung her own, slender chances of getting parliament to agree a deal next week by giving an evening address to the nation in which she blamed MPs for the Brexit deadlock. You can read the full text here, and it will make quite a good case study for the Guardian’s ongoing study of the new populism. “I am on your side,” May declared, as she framed the crisis as a clash between MPs and the people. Parliament was to blame because it “has done everything possible to avoid making a choice”, claimed May, apparently oblivious to the charge that she herself is an Olympic-grade procrastinator.

Unsurprisingly, the speech has infuriated MPs. My colleagues Heather Stewart and Jessica Elgot have some of their reaction here.

And here is more.

From Labour’s David Lammy

From Labour’s Jess Phillips

More worryingly for May, her speech was also denounced by Lisa Nandy, one of the relatively few Labour MPs who (until last night, at least) had sounded open to the prospect of being persuaded to vote for May’s deal.

Some Conservatives are unhappy too. This is what the former minister, Sam Gyimah, a remain-voter who is opposed to May’s deal, told the Today programme:

I think democracy loses when a prime minister who set herself against the House of Commons and then blames MPs for doing their job.

And this is particularly worrying given she knows MPs are receiving hate mail in their inboxes. Some MPs are receiving death threats.

And Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says May was inadvertently making the case for a second referendum.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Jeremy Corbyn holds talks in Brussels with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Martin Selmayr, the European commission’s secretary general.

12.30pm (UK time): EU leaders start arriving for the EU summit.

After 6pm: Donald Tusk, the European council president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, are due to hold a press conference after the discussion about Brexit. Theresa May is expected to hold one too.

You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments BTL but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply ATL, although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

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Theresa May making her Brexit statement in Number 10 last night.
Theresa May making her Brexit statement in Number 10 last night. Photograph: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/POOL/EPA

Updated

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