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May Aims for `Significant’ Meeting With Juncker

Anti-Brexit Demonstrations Continue As Dealmaking Efforts ResumeAnti-Brexit Demonstrations Continue As Dealmaking Efforts Resume
Anti-Brexit activist Steve Bray shouts at a car thought to be carrying a government minister on Abingdon Street outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England, on February 18, 2019. Efforts to forge new agreement over the controversial Irish border issue resume today between the UK and EU as British Prime Minister Theresa May continues to seek concessions from Brussels on the so-called backstop provision to the text of the withdrawal agreement.NurPhoto NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.K. and European officials are working on a new legal text for the Irish border backstop. One official said a meeting between Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday will be “significant,” with an agreed draft potentially ready by Thursday.

Key Developments:

May’s spokesman says premier will have “significant” meeting with Juncker, though Juncker says he’s not expecting major developments Honda confirms closure of Swindon plan in 2021; Business Secretary Greg Clark says decision ‘devastating’ Clark also warns trade deals with Japan and South Korea won’t be ready before Brexit Labour’s John McDonnell calls on leadership to listen to defectors

Juncker Not Expecting Breakthrough on Wednesday

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he isn’t expecting huge results from his meeting with May in Brussels on Wednesday evening.

“There isn’t enough movement for me to be able to expect this to be a discussion with a concrete outcome,” he said in Stuttgart, Germany. “I don’t know what Mrs. May will communicate to me tomorrow.”

He added that he’s still unsure what the U.K. wants.

In a later televised panel in the same city, he expressed frustration at the state of the talks and cited the complexity of ensuring an orderly divorce in areas such as passenger flights and pet transport.

“I’m losing my time with this Brexit,” Juncker said, though he added he expects the meeting on Wednesday with May to be “friendly.”

Corbyn Says Determined to Unify Party

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he’s “determined” to unify his party and regrets the departures yesterday of seven lawmakers who quit citing his leadership on Brexit, antisemitism and a culture of bullying.

“Leading the party means you’ve got to take people with you and I’m determined to do that,” Corbyn told executives and journalists at the annual conference of the MakeUK manufacturing lobby group. He said he’s always prepared to discuss policy with different party members.

Honda Decision Sparks Brexit Proxy War

In Parliament, the debate on Honda’s decision to close its plant in Swindon quickly became a proxy for the broader debate on leaving the EU. Brexit-backers focused on the company’s official position that it was concentrating production in Japan due to global trends in the industry. Pro-EU politicians criticized the uncertainty facing industry over Brexit.

Business Secretary Greg Clark attempted to tread a middle line, but pointed out frequently that a no-deal Brexit would be a “hammer blow,” and called on Parliament to get the government’s deal ratified. He also said Japanese companies had been clear that Brexit was an “additional worry” when considering whether to stay invested in the U.K.

Just before Clark spoke in Parliament, Theresa May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters that no Cabinet ministers had linked Honda’s decision to Brexit during Tuesday morning’s meeting of her top team.

McDonnell Says Labour Must Listen to Defectors

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he agreed with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, who warned on Monday that more MPs could quit over Corbyn’s leadership. He said the party’s leadership — including himself — need to start listening to critics.

“We need a mammoth, massive listening exercise,” McDonnell, a longstanding Corbyn ally, told a TV crew earlier. “If there’s issues that we have to address, we will address them. If it’s about the style of leadership, we will address that. If it’s about policy, we will listen to that as well.”

May-Juncker Meeting Will Be ‘Significant’

The U.K. Government sees May’s Wednesday meeting with Juncker in Brussels as a “significant” part of her plan to get legally binding changes to the so-called backstop plan for the Irish border, the prime minister’s spokesman said.

Separately, a British official revealed that May has spoken to 25 of the 27 EU leaders about her plans to change the backstop.

Wednesday’s talks with Juncker will be a “stock-take” of the progress the two sides have made, with an agreed legal text potentially ready as soon as Thursday, said the person, who asked not to be named. Thursday is also when Attorney General Geoffrey Cox may set out his legal position on changing the backstop.

May wants to give members of Parliament a binding vote on the deal itself early next week, before Feb. 27, the official said. That’s when MPs opposed to a no-deal divorce will have their chance to take the Brexit process out of May’s hands.

Minister Sees Parliament Taking Control of Brexit

Business Minister Richard Harrington just voiced what many ministers have opined privately: that May risks losing control of the Brexit process if she can’t get her deal through Parliament. He started off on message, saying, “I think that the prime minister’s deal will get through.’’

Then he countenanced the alternative.

“But if it doesn’t get through, before then Parliament will have taken over control,’’ Harrington told the MakeUK manufacturers’ conference. “We’ll have a small extension to Article 50 and Parliament will then decide on the alternatives. So I believe that will become the Plan B.”

Harrington then knocked on the head the suggestion that the split that hit the opposition Labour Party on Monday might spread to the Conservatives. He said moderates had lost the battle in Labour, but that the Conservative Party is in a different state. “We do not have extremes in the way that the Labour Party has.” He said he intended to win the battle and stay in the party.

Japan, Korea Trade Deals Not Ready by March

Business Secretary Greg Clark was asked after his speech what proportion of the free trade agreements Britain currently benefits from through its EU membership are ready to be rolled over on March 29, Britain’s scheduled departure date from the bloc. Two of the most important ones won’t be ready, he replied.

“Unfortunately not all of the FTAs — and I might mention the Japan and Korean ones that are important — are expected to be concluded in time,” Clark said. “That is one of the reasons why I think it is so important that we should not leave without a deal.”

It’s worth noting that Trade Secretary Liam Fox once said the 40 deals Britain wants to roll over would be ready to go by a minute past midnight on March 30.

Clark: Industry Faces ‘Unacceptable’ Uncertainty

Business Secretary Greg Clark said it’s not acceptable to wait until the last minute to strike a Brexit deal, pointing out that a freighter left the U.K. for Japan on Monday with no certainty on what terms of trade it faces when it arrives after Brexit day on March 29.

A no-deal Brexit would be a “disaster,” he told the MakeUK manufacturers’ conference in London on Tuesday, promising that the goal of frictionless trade was still “front and center.”

“I know how important it is to you that we should find an early resolution for what our relationship with the rest of the European Union is going to be,” Clark said. “It needs to be brought to a conclusion and without further delay.”

Slovenia ‘Tired’ of Brexit Uncertainty

“We would be very satisfied if the solution would come as soon as possible, because we are a little bit tired with these Brexit negotiations and this uncertainty that is taking place,” Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec said at a press conference in Helsinki on Tuesday.

EU Says It Won’t Reopen Withdrawal Agreement

As May’s officials step up their efforts to secure a compromise on the backstop, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas reiterated that the bloc was not prepared to reopen the withdrawal agreement.

“We cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause,” he told reporters in Brussels. “Further talks will be held this week to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the U.K. Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council.”

It means the focus is very much on Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s talks with the EU, and whether they can yield legal wording that can appease both sides on the backstop — and British members of Parliament.

Read more: Brexit Negotiators Said to Draft New Text as Deadline Looms

May to Meet EU’s Juncker Wednesday Evening

Theresa May will return to Brussels on Wednesday for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The meeting will begin at 6.30 p.m. Brussels time, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.

Gove Pledges to Protect Farmers in No-Deal

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said a no-deal Brexit would carry “significant” costs to the economy and EU tariffs on products imported from Britain would hurt farmers “dramatically.”

“We have been clear that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use the tools we have at our disposal — tariffs, quotas, and legislation — to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage,” Gove said at the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham on Tuesday.

Gove’s comments reflect concern in the industry about the impact of export tariffs under a no-deal Brexit that could effectively lock farmers out of EU markets. If the U.K. lowers import duties to stem food inflation, that could also mean more competition in the domestic market. He said the government would announce tariffs that would apply in the case of a no-deal Brexit “shortly.”

“It will not be the case that we will have zero-rate tariffs on food products,” he said. “There will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production.”

Brexit ‘Pantomime’ Needs to End: MakeUK Chief

Frustration at the Brexit standoff is clear among members of the U.K.’s main manufacturing lobby group, MakeUK, in London for their annual conference In his opening remarks, Chief Executive Officer Stephen Phipson said politicians need to form a “clear view’’ of the way forward so manufacturers can have the confidence to invest.

“The pantomime needs to end and we need clarity as quickly as possible,’’ Phipson said. “We need to stop this messing around in Parliament.’’

Where skills normally dominate industrial concerns, for now, sorting Brexit is the main worry, Phipson said. He said a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for manufacturers, and their priorities include a long transition period, access to skilled workers, no friction at the border and close alignment with EU regulations.

Callanan: U.K., EU Had ‘Productive’ Talks

Brexit Minister Martin Callanan said teams from the U.K. and the European Union had “productive discussions” in Brussels on Monday.

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to seek the “reassurances that Parliament needs that Britain cannot be trapped indefinitely in the backstop,” Callanan told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday as he arrived for a meeting of EU ministers.

“We’ve been very clear: We want a deal,” Callanan said. “But we need to find something that is acceptable to our Parliament.”

Umunna: Some Tories Also Thinking of Quitting

Chuka Umunna, who quit the Labour Party on Monday to form an independent caucus in Parliament, told BBC Radio some MPs from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party are also considering quitting to join the group.

“There’s clearly not only a lot of Labour MPs wrestling with their consciences, but also Conservatives who’ve become demoralized by the UKIPization of their party and their position on Europe,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re inviting anybody who shares our values to join us.”

The breakaway group is the first major sign of a parliamentary realignment triggered by Britain’s political crisis. If more Labour MPs follow, and especially if some Conservatives jump ship, it will make getting a Brexit deal through Parliament increasingly more complicated for May.

Read more: A Split and a Death That Could Shift Labour’s Approach to Brexit

Earlier:

Brexit Negotiators Said to Draft New Text as Deadline Looms Brexit Bulletin: Split and Divide U.K.’s Gove Pledges to Protect Farmers in a No-Deal Brexit Honda to Shut U.K. Factory in Latest Blow as Brexit Looms