Countdown to Brexit: 10 days - Today is the day to trigger all no-deal contingency plans

Yesterday’s debates and “indicative votes” on 4 of the options to explore the possibility of an alternative to the Prime Minister’s Brexit ‘deal’ were not ‘legally binding’ – but there was no majority for any of the options in any event. 

So, no consensus on a way forward – and Tory MP, Nick Boles, who was behind one of the proposals – resigning from the Conservative Party in frustration.  A no-deal Brexit is increasingly likely – and a there are reports of a briefing to Ministers warning of the impact that a no-deal Brexit on 12 April will have across the nation.

After the votes were announced, Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, told MPs that if they wanted to secure a further delay from the EU, the government must put forward a "credible proposition".

We covered the details of the options, impacts and results in yesterday’s post:

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As Brexit continues to absorb all the oxygen in the political room - leaving no time or energy for Parliament to work on other vital topics, a protest group said they wanted to "draw politicians' attention" to the climate crisis.

Proceedings were interrupted from the public gallery as a group called ‘Extinction Rebellion’ put on a show of behinds to “call attention to the 'elephant in the room' — Climate and Ecological Crisis."

Two of the activists wore grey body paint and elephant masks – other topless protesters had slogans such as "For all life" and "Stop wasting time" painted on their bodies.  The glass screen between the gallery and the Commons is sound-proofed - so the protesters' shouting would have been hard for MPs to hear.  There was, however, enough energy left on the floor for MPs to include puns in their speeches as the police removed the protesters.

Today, Theresa May is holding a marathon five-hour Cabinet Meeting in Downing Street, no-deal preparations are ramping up in the UK and EU.

Whilst this was in progress, a cross-party group of MPs has put forward a bill that would - if it is accepted and could complete a passage through the constitutional process in time – legally stop a no-deal Brexit occurring next week.

The bill would require the Prime Minister to ask for an extension of Article 50 - which requests the EU allow the UK to leave the bloc - beyond the current “exit date” of 12 April.  Labour MP Yvette Cooper has presented the bill in the Commons, for debate on Wednesday.  Cooper said the UK was "in a very dangerous situation" and MPs "have a responsibility to make sure we don't end up with a catastrophic no deal".

We posted an insight on the implications of a delay to the Brexit date:

A delay to Brexit is ‘technically’ possible – but it’s complex and may not be granted - even if the UK did request it

 If the difficulties needed underlining, the European Commission's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said this morning that a no-deal Brexit is now more likely – noting that a ‘long’ extension to the UK's ‘exit date’ had: "significant risks for the EU" and a "strong justification would be needed".

Tory MP, Sir Oliver Letwin - who supports Ms Cooper's bill - said: "This is a last-ditch attempt to prevent our country being exposed to the risks inherent in a no-deal exit.  We realise this is difficult.  But it is definitely worth trying."

Since taking control of scheduling debates from Government last week, MPs have been “attempting to squeeze into just a couple of days a process that really should have been happening for the last two years - a process of trying to build a consensus around the best way forward,” according to Cooper.

Last month, MPs voted against leaving the EU without a deal, but it was ‘not legally-binding’.  A ‘motion’ along the same lines was one of eight put forward for consideration in yesterday’s second indicative vote day – but not one of the four chosen by the Speaker for debate and vote.

Speaking to the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Barnier said, this morning, that "things are somewhat hanging on the decisions of the House of Commons," – reminding them that the deal was negotiated with the UK "not against the UK.  No-deal was never our desire or intended scenario but the EU 27 is now prepared.  It becomes day after day more likely."

"There is only one treaty available - this one," he said, waving the Withdrawal Agreement.

A stark choice is looming as the Daily Mail reports a leaked 14-page briefing to Government from the UK’s chief civil servant, Sir Mark Sedwill, in which he models the outcome of a no-deal Brexit on April 12.

In summary:

  • 10% rise in food prices;

  • Government under “enormous pressure to bail out companies on the brink”;

  • UK by a recession - and sterling’s depreciation “more harmful” than in 2008;

  • hampering the ability of police and security services to keep Britain safe;

  • re-imposition of direct rule by London over Northern Ireland;

If verified, it is a remarkable letter for a Cabinet Secretary to send.  We can envisage a couple of potential reasons:

  • No-deal – by accident or design - is increasingly likely.  Time is running out to avert a no-deal – and the civil service has a duty to make the Ministers aware of the bigger picture.  “Ministers are too rarely presented with a cross Whitehall assessment of what no-deal means, as opposed to their individual departmental story,” according to the Institute for Government.

  • Senior civil servants are all too well aware that the Brexit saga will one day be the focus of a major public inquiry.  Sir Mark’s letter means that he is placing his formal advice on no-deal to Government ‘on the record’.

Sir Mark and Theresa May are known to have a “very close working relationship” as the UK enters a critical few days.  Ministers have to decide whether to pursue May’s deal, a second referendum, an election or a no-deal Brexit.

The Daily Mail reports that the letter was sent to “every member of the Cabinet last week” – as they had asked for an assessment to “ensure they were complying with their duty to govern in the national interest.”

 Sir Mark also serves as the Government's National Security Adviser and reinforces the Brexit Partners earlier insight posting that a no-deal would affect the UK security services as it forfeits access to criminal justice levers.  There are “no mitigation measures would give the UK the same security capabilities as our current ones.”

Sedwill concludes that no-deal may lead to the break-up of the UK as the stability of the Union would be dislocated.  Northern Ireland would face severe consequences, particularly as the lack of devolved government would require direct rule from London.

More reinforcement came from co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament, and member of the Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, told the BBC’s ‘World at One’ that “British politicians were wrong if they thought the EU could not accept a no-deal Brexit.”

“Nicola Sturgeon this morning, told the Scottish Parliament that their Easter holidays – scheduled for next week – will be cancelled if the UK is faces a no-deal Brexit.

We reported that business and government across Europe were called to arms and requested to trigger their no-deal Brexit contingency plans by the European Commission on Sunday.

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Photo: Twitter Feed from James Heappey, MP - live as it happened…