‘Trump with better hair’: how Obama White House saw Boris Johnson

The former chairwoman was taken aback by asserts he was anti-British ahead of pre-Brexit referendum visit, a memoir says

The Obama White House viewed Boris Johnson as a British version of Donald Trump” with better hair”, according to a forthcoming memoir by a former top presidential adviser.

In the World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and speechwriter for the former president, describes eight years of domestic and foreign policy construction, culminating in the shock of Trump’s victory in November 2016.

In the book, due to be published on 5 June, Rhodes recounts a” hastily arranged” journey to London in April 2016 aimed at bolstering the then “ministers “, David Cameron, and argue the lawsuit for remaining in the EU, two months before the UK referendum on Brexit.

” It was unusual to coordinate so closely with a foreign government, but the Brits were different, and Brexit would be calamitous, a crucial piece of the post-world war two order drifting off into the sea ,” Rhodes recalls.

Obama agreed to fly to London after Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn , now ambassador to Paris, emailed Rhodes appealing for a presidential visit, pointing out that the polls were finely balanced and Obama had an approval rating in the UK of over 70%.

As part of his contribution to the campaign, Obama published a pro-Remain commentary in the Daily Telegraph to coincide with his arrival. But Johnson, who was then mayor of London, published an resisting commentary in the Sun, saying that Obama had had a bust of Winston Churchill removed from the Oval Office, and attributing the move to” the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral disfavor of the British Empire- of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender “.

Johnson’s comments were denounced by Labour legislators as” dog-whistle racism” and the mayor was derided by Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, as,” unreliable and idle about the facts “. According to Rhodes’ account, Obama was also taken aback by the racial connotations of the two attacks from Johnson, who three months later would become foreign secretary, in the wake of the Brexit victory.

“Really?” the president is quoted as saying and being read Johnson’s comments.” The black guy doesn’t like the British ?”

When Rhodes suggested to Obama that his critics were” more subtle back home “, the president replied:” Not actually … Boris is their Trump “.

” With better hair ,” Rhodes added.

At a joint press conference with Cameron during the three-day visit, Obama went out of his way to refute Johnson’s claims about the Churchill bust, pointing out it had been moved to the entrance of his private White House study, known as the Treaty Room, a place where he saw it every day.

” I love the guy ,” Obama told. Churchill’s place in the Oval Office was taken by a likeness of Martin Luther King.

In the course of the same press conference, Obama used to say if the UK left the EU, it would be” at the back of the queue” when it came to negotiating a new trade agreement with the US. According to Rhodes, the phrase had been used by a British official in an earlier private meeting in Downing Street, and Obama had repeated it publicly at Cameron’s specific petition.

Rhodes recalls that Cameron’s aides were” congratulating each other” on Obama’s intervention, and hoped that it would be enough to” inch them over the finish line “.

Brexit leaders afterwards claimed Obama’s visit to London backfired and helped them win the June 2016 referendum due to a backlash against foreign meddling in British politics.

Johnson insisted he had no regrets about raising Obama’s Kenyan ancestry and rejected Obama’s claim that the UK would be at the back of the queue for a US trade deal as “absurd”.

The Trump administration has given mixed signals over where the UK would stand in negotiating a post-Brexit trade pact. Trump himself has suggested the UK had a duty to take second place to the EU, while the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin has said the UK would be” at the front of the line “.

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Customs union U-turn by May could provoke Brexiter cabinet revolt

Treasury committee chair Nicky Morgan calls for pacify and tells sabre-rattling is unhelpful

Theresa May could face a cabinet uprising on a customs union as peers prepare to inflict more defeats on the governmental forces over the EU withdrawal bill in a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe.

Amid Brexiter threats of a leadership challenge, the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, told party rebels should be careful what they wished for.

” This sabre-rattling is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit segment of the party and is deeply unhelpful ,” she told.

Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been put off after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

Q& A

Brexit phrasebook: what is the customs union?

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EU members( plus Turkey, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino) trade without customs duties, taxes or tariffs between themselves, and charge the same tariffs on importations from outside the EU. Customs union members cannot negotiate their own trade bargains outside the EU, which is why leaving it- while hopefully negotiating a bespoke arranging- has been one of the government’s Brexit goals. See our full Brexit phrasebook .

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That has led to speculation that May is preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016.

Reports over the weekend suggested a “wargaming” exercising into the consequences of a concession showed that not even resulting Brexiters such as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, would resign.

But a source close to Gove reiterated his opponent:” Michael believes regarding the referendum result means taking back control of trade policy. He fully supports the prime minister’s position that this entails leaving the customs union .”

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Nicky Morgan said hysteria and leadership supposition were not in Britain’s interest. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/ PA

Although the loss of other pledges in negotiations have been reluctantly accepted, such as the promise to reclaim control over fishing quotas from March 2019, accepting continued membership of a customs union would be of a different and much larger scale.

Downing Street sources dismissed the idea.” The stance remains very clear: we don’t think staying in a customs union is the right thing to do and it isn’t government policy to do so ,” a spokesperson said.

Any customs union makes it effectively impossible to negotiate free trade deals with other countries- one of the government’s key ambitions and a central justification for leaving the EU.

But a meaningful vote on remaining in the customs union is likely over the next several months. At least 10 Tory backbenchers have signed an amendment to the trade and customs bill supporting continued membership.

Morgan is one of the 12 select committee chairs who are backing that policy in a potentially difficult debate in the Commons on Thursday on customs union membership. She said it would be an opportunity for a calm debate about current realities of leaving the customs union based on the evidence that select committees were hearing as they investigated its potential impact.

” If every time we debate these issues or pass suggested amendment all we end up with is this hysteria and leadership speculation, that is not in Britain’s interest ,” she said.

” The majority of the party would not entertain a leadership contest at the moment and those who want to … should think very carefully if they actually want to intervene in the negotiations in the way a leadership tournament would .”

In the House of Lords, the government is braced for more defeats as peers begin a second week of elections on the EU withdrawal bill on Monday. Last week, 24 Tory peers backed the customs union amendment.

The most difficult vote on Monday is likely to be on the EU charter of fundamental rights. The government virtually lost a vote in the Commons on a similar amendment, which seeks to incorporate the charter into the legislation. It is one of the few major aspects of EU law that has been left out.

The government argues that the rights it protects are already covered by UK law, but it also says the charter offer improved protection than is needed. Campaigners fear that means the government will seek to dilute the rights.

Peter Goldsmith, who as Tony Blair’s us attorney general was involved in drafting the charter, said it was only be exempted from the withdrawal bill because of an ideologically driven hatred of the EU.

The government is vulnerable on such issues, with Tory rebels such as the former attorney general Dominic Grieve merely falling their opposition when the bill passed its earlier stages after ministers pledged to publish a review for the human rights conferred by the charter and set about their view.

The published review eventually amounted to an extended criticism of the EU charter.

In remarks that indicate Grieve may yet result a rebellion in the Commons, he said it would be unacceptable for rights to be left unprotected while waiting for the government to come forward with new legislation to make up for the loss of EU law.

” I want to see how the governmental forces reacts ,” he told.” I understand that in the longer term we need a new system, but it’s a mistake not to leave the protections intact for now .”

The equalities and human rights commission insists the charter is essential to safeguard individual rights effectively and adapt to changing circumstances. The charter includes a general right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity , none of which are properly protected by existing UK law.

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US says it has proof Syria carried out Douma gas attack

White House and state department say with very high confidence that regime was responsible

The US has said it has proof that the Syrian regime carried out a chemical weapon attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday, rejecting a Russian assert that it had been staged by British intelligence.

Both the White House and state department announced on Friday that the US had” a high level of confidence” about the regime’s culpability for the use of poison gas in Douma.

The declaration marked a transformation from a statement by the defence secretary, James Mattis, on Thursday, that the US was still looking at the evidence. But the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, told the security council that the Trump administration had still not decided on a military response.

The UK denounced as” a blatant lie” Russian claims that the country’s intelligence services were responsible for staging” the fake chemical weapons assault” in Douma, as a pretext for launching a wider military assault on the Syrian regime forces.

Moscow has hitherto said there was no traces of any chemical assault in Douma. Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW) are due to visit the scene on Saturday. However, France, UK and the US have said their own proof already points to Damascus.

Western diplomats would not rule in military action while the OPCW is on the ground, but said their capitals would try to avoid a situation in which inspectors could be vulnerable to harm or being taken hostage.

Asked about the Russian accusation against the UK, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders said:” Our intelligence tells us otherwise … We have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible “.

The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, told:” We can say that the Syrian government was behind this attack … We know there are only certain countries, like Syria, that have delivery mechanisms and have those types of weapons .”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said he had obtained documentary evidence showing that” special services of a country, which is now seeking to be in the first ranks of the Russophobic campaign, were involved in this staged event “. The UK Foreign Office said the claims were preposterous.

Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to London, told reporters the UK-funded Syrian civil defence forces, the White Helmets, were responsible for staging fake chemical attacks by the Syrian army in an attempt to mislead the world. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian defence ministry spokesman, went further saying:” We have … evidence that proves Britain was directly involved in organising this provocation .”

He said Russia had proof that London put pressure on the White Helmets to stage the attack. The White Helmets is a humanitarian organisation made up of 3,400 volunteers who rescue civilians from the rubble after airstrikes.

Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, described the claims as” grotesque, bizarre and a blatant lie “. She added:” I want to country categorically … that Britain has no participation and would never have any participation in the use of a chemical weapon .”

A Foreign Office spokesperson told:” Russia has wielded its UN security council veto six days since February 2017 to shield the Assad regime from scrutiny for its use of chemical weapons. These accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no assault ever happened.

The accusations plunged the two countries’ intelligence agencies into yet more conflict, and came as the first each member of a UN weapons inspectors fact-finding mission arrived in Damascus to see whether evidence remained to prove a chemical weapons assault had passed, as photograph, blood samples and accounts from witness have shown. The inspectors are expected to be given access to Douma on Saturday.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, insisted labour inspectors from the OPCW must be given full and unfettered access to witnesses and houses.

Russia, in conjunction with the forces of the Syrian chairperson, Bashar-al Assad, is in charge of the Douma area.

At another highly charged session of the UN security council on Friday, Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia repeated the claim that the two attacks was staged. Hayley, his American counterpart, said she was ” in awe” that Nebenzia could make such asserts “with a straight face”.

Pressed outside the UN chamber on when the US would decide whether to launch a military ten-strike, Haley said:” You don’t hurry-up decisions like this .” She added that if there was haste,” you make a mistake “.

On Thursday Trump called Theresa May, the UK prime minister, and the two agreed” it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not run unchallenged “. But the US delay in taking action appears to be caused by divisions between the White House and Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, on the viable targets that could be struck in an effort to wipe out Syria’s alleged chemical weapons stores and factories.

The hesitation in Washington devoted Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, a chance to consult with Vladimir Putin to see whether they can construct a compromise that will avoid a military attack but still satisfy western demands that Russia stops protecting Assad’s breaches of the chemical weapons conventions.

Macron, who on Thursday said he had proof of use of chemical weapons by Syrian regime- also called for dialogue with Russia.

But the glimmer of hope for diplomacy came alongside continued planning for a military assault. Britain’s military chiefs have been working on a range of scenarios over the last few days. The focuss of an attack would be on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons research and storage facilities.

Other targets under consideration by the Ministry of Defence, working in coordination with the US and France, include Syrian command and control centres as well as airbases, airliners and helicopters.

An attack on Assad’s presidential palace in the hills above Damascus has been ruled out as a step too far. May will be challenged by MPs to spell out her military schemes on Monday, if no weekend assault has been launched.

The planners are anxious to avoid destroying Russian equipment or killing Russian personnels based in Syria, potentially eliciting a reaction from Moscow. They insist weapons and intelligence are better than in the 1991 Iraq war in which the Amiriyah bomb shelter was made killing more than 400 civilians, or the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

A spokesperson for the French defense ministry, chiming with MoD partners, told Macron had specified there would be no targeting of Russians in Syria and the focus would be on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons capabilities.

A prime target is the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, west of Damascus, which the US has claimed have engaged in the preparation of chemical weapons.

Targets could include airbases where the chemical weapons are alleged to have been stored, as well as aircraft which have allegedly been used attacks.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an expert who led the UK and Nato chemical weapons reply squads, said it was highly unlikely that an attack on Syrian chemical facilities risked spreading the poison.

” The best style to destroy chemical weapons is to blow them up ,” he said.

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US-Russia tensions build as Moscow hits back at Trump’s Twitter threat

Trump tells Russia to get ready for US missiles fired at Syria which Russia has vowed to shoot down

The US and Russia went significantly closer to a direct clash over Syria on Wednesday when Donald Trump fired off an incendiary tweet that told Moscow to “get ready” for incoming US weapons, which the Russian military has vowed to shoot down.

A standoff over a poison gas attack on a rebel-held suburbium of Damascus on Saturday has since spiraled into the most dangerous confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers since the high levels of the cold war, driven by Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising backing for the Assad regime in Damascus and the volatility of the US president.

” Russia vows to shoot down any and all weapons fired at Syria ,” the US president tweeted.” Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and’ smart !’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it !”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called for calm.

” We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy ,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax.” We support serious approaches. We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation .”

Despite the president’s menacing tweet, both the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, suggested a decision on military action was still pending.

” All alternatives are on the table and a final decision hasn’t been made ,” Sanders told.

Mattis said the US was ” still assessing intelligence” on Saturday’s attack on Douma, before attending a White House meeting of military and intelligence chiefs chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence.

In anticipation of an attack, Syrian aircrafts had been flown to three Russian airbases and senior Syrian government officials had been moved to safe house in Damascus, according to sources in Turkey.

A US naval battlegroup- including the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, and largely likely a cruise missile submarine, USS Georgia- was in place in the eastern Mediterranean on Wednesday night.

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White House fights to explain Trump’s Russia missile tweet- video

France has a missile ship, the Aquitaine, in the eastern Mediterranean and Rafale fighters armed with cruise missiles in Jordan and Abu Dhabi. President Emmanuel Macron has declared that proven Syrian regime responsibility for chemical weapons use would traverse a red line for France.

In London, Theresa May summoned her cabinet for an emergency session on Thursday to discuss the next steps, after warning that the Douma attack,” could not go unchallenged “~ ATAGEND.

MPs are not due to return to Westminster from their Easter recess until next week; but the “ministers ” is under pressure to decide whether the UK will join coordinated military action.

Speaking on Wednesday, May pointed the thumb at the Assad government, and promised to ensure that those responsible were “held to account”. The employ of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged ,” she said.

” We’re rapidly reaching an understanding of what happened on the ground. All the clues are that the Syrian regime was responsible .”

It is not entirely clear what triggered Trump’s 7am tweet, but it came after news reports quoted the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warning that Russian forces-out in Syria would intercept any incoming US rockets, and return fire at their source, likely to entail US airliners or ships.

Russian air defence did not try to shoot down US Tomahawk cruise missiles the last hour Trump ordered punitive ten-strikes following a chemical weapons attack attributed to the Assad regime.

But the Russian chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, alerted last month that the next time could be different, and that Russia would use air defence and other weapons if its forces in Syria were threatened.

Zasypkin’s reported statements appear more sweeping, suggesting any incoming assault would trigger reprisal- whether or not there were Russian casualties.

Vladimir Frolov, a foreign affairs analyst in Moscow, told the Protector that he believed the ambassador’s remarks were mistranslated, and noted that the Russian envoy had referred immediately to Moscow’s stated policy.

But with tensions rising, he said, he believed Putin are able to step in to restate Moscow’s policy.

” I suppose up to now they thought it would be good to keep the US in doubt about the real Russian reaction, but Trump has raised the stakes today ,” Frolov said.

The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, claimed that a US missile salvo could be used to destroy evidence of the gas attack, which Moscow asserts was staged. On Wednesday the Russian army said it was going to send military police into Douma to safeguard the site.

Their deployment seemed part of a plan proposed by Moscow to bring an expert from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW) to the site of the reported assault. Western officials have warned that any Russian effort to control the visit could turn the inspection into a new flashpoint, rather than a potentialway out of the looming crisis.

Syria’s other main backer, Iran- which has signficant ground forces in the country- could also retaliate if its troops are hit on a fraught battlefield crisscrossed by tense rivalries between outside powers.

” It is hard to think of a more risky situation ,” told Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control advocacy group.” You have the US assaulting from the air against ground forces intermingled with Iranians and Russians. The chances of the US killing Russians or Iranians are quite high. Their reaction is unknown but it is certainly not going to be understanding .”

Less than an hour after advising Russia to “get ready”, Trump appeared to strike a less aggressive tone in a second tweet.

” Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this ,” he wrote.” Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race ?”

But there appeared little room for compromise between the two sides on the central question: the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The UN’s World Health Organisation, based in Geneva, said on Wednesday that it had received reports that 500 patients had been admitted to hospital with symptoms of a chemical assault.

But the Russian foreign ministry doubled down on its claim that no chemical attack resulted, saying at a briefing:” This is a total misrepresentation on a global scale .”

” Damascus has neither the motive to employ chemical weapons nor the chemical weapons themselves ,” Zakharova, the ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman, said.” There is no proof of their utilize by Damascus .”

The latest bellicose tone from the White House, and pressure from the military not to give Russia time to prepare its air defenses inside Syria, raises questions about whether the US will wait for a British parliamentary endorsement for action.

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Keir Starmer: We cannot allow Labour to break apart over Brexit

The shadow Brexit secretary has a tough mission: to keep 259 MPs singing from the same songsheet

A year and five days before the UK is due to leave the European Union, Keir Starmeris confronting a series of uncomfortable truths. He never wanted Brexit to happen and still doesn’t- but he accepts there is nothing he or anyone else can do to stop it. Asked if the impending violate with our 27 EU partners is now inevitable, the shadow Brexit secretary is clear.” Article 50 was triggered a year ago ,” he tells.” It expires in 52 weeks and a few days, and I don’t think there is any realistic prospect of it being revoked. Therefore we will be leaving the EU in March 2019.”

So there it is. The man in charge of the Brexit policy of a pro-European opposition party that could soon be in government, that campaigned for Remain, and two-thirds of whose advocates backed staying in the European Union on referendum day, holds out no hope of reversing the decision. He takes no pleasure in saying so.” I campaigned be left in the EU. I voted to stay in the EU and I was very disappointed by the outcome. And if there was another election I would vote to remain in .”

But he doesn’t think there will be a second referendum , nor does he seem to believe there should be one. Starmer may regret deeply what will come to pass on 29 March next year, but he feels equally strongly that what must be is necessary.” Having asked the electorate for a opinion by way of the referendum, we have to respect the result ,” he tells.” If you find yourself in a position you would rather was not there, you have to make it run. We have to do that for the current generation and for future generations .”

Many Labour MPs and advocates will be dismayed to hear him talk this style and he knows that.” Is it difficult? Of course it’s difficult ,” he tells.” Almost everybody in the Labour party has a view on Brexit. But virtually no( two) people have the same view. They all give me their sentiments all of the time in text, in emails, in one-to- one conversations, in groups .”

From the top to bottom of Labour there are differences of view. Jeremy Corbyn may inspire young people but he is a Eurosceptic at odds on Brexit with much of the youthful mass membership that is his powerbase. The left is split within its own ranks. Most of the unions that fund Labour are in favour of staying in the single market, but Corbyn seems implacably resisted. Wherever Starmertreads, there are competing demands he has to try to satisfy.” You have got the basic maths that show that, broadly speaking, two-thirds of our[ Labour] voters voted to remain and one-third voted to leave. You have then got the flipside of that when you get to the constituency representation, which is the other way round.

” Two-thirds of our MPs are in Leave seats and one-third are in Remain seats, and MPs quite rightly feel strongly that they should be trying to put across the views of those they have been elected by. That unavoidably means there are different positions .”

It is not just the Leavers versus the Remainers.” There is also the matter of how close people think we should be to the EU[ after Brexit ]. There are different opinions in the different groupings in the Labour party .”

The only thing he can do, he says, is try to keep the party together by managing the multiplicity of opinions. His objective is to prevent Labour splitting on Brexit as the Tories have for decades over Europe.” My view has been informed by my strong belief that we really cannot let the Labour party to divide and break up on this issue. We have got to hold the party together, and of course that entails there are huge challenges .”

As if to make the point for him, on the day we speak his shadow cabinet colleague Owen Smith is sacked by Corbyn for telling Labour must back staying in the single market and a second referendum- both of which are against current party policy.

So devoted this constant internal tug-of-war, what kind of Brexit does Starmer himself want? And what does he believe is deliverable after March next year, and then after the transition period ends in December 2020?

If everyone can finesse an argument it is Starmer. He left a stellar career in statute which ensure him scale the heights of that profession to become director of public prosecutions before entering parliament in 2010. But while his legal past is an asset in many ways, it has caused some in his party to accuse him of being too much the lawyer, too little the brave politician dedicating a lead. He is charged by some with preferring public policies that amount to no more than” constructive ambiguity” merely to keep peace in his party.

Naturally, he strongly contests that position and says that, step by step, a Labour Brexit plan is taking shape that is increasingly bold and distinct. It is one, adds Starmer, that backs close post-Brexit links with the EU and so situateds Labour well apart from the hard-Brexit Tories. He has already dragged Corbyn, the darknes chancellor John McDonnell, and the darknes trade secretary Barry Gardiner round to the view that Labour should back remaining in a customs union with the EUpost-Brexit. It is the only style to resolve the problem of the Irish border, he says. In a speech tomorrow he will announce plans to rally cross-party subsistence behind an amendment to the withdrawal bill which would enshrine into statute a commitment to avoid any form of hard border.

Quick guide

Labour’s evolving stance on a customs union

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How has the Labour position shifted ?

Labour’s 2017 manifesto said simply that the party wanted to retain” the benefits of the single market and the customs union”, and did not say the UK should stay in either. In recent months, however, a series of senior Labour figures have argued for the UK to be in ” a ” customs union post-Brexit.

What’s the difference between ” a ” customs union and “the” customs union ?

Labour tells the latter is the existing arrangement, which ends when we leave the EU, and that “a” union could retain the bulk of the benefits without too tying the UK to regulations built in Brussels. Critics, mainly in the governmental forces, argue that this could be seen as Labour’s own version of an unrealistic” cake and eat it” approach.

Why has Labour’s position moved ?

Corbyn has never seemed that keen on the customs union, but he has faced pressure both from each member of his squad- the darknes Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has played a key role- and the fact that the majority of Labour members support customs union and single marketplace membership. There is also the incentive that Labour could defeat the governmental forces in the Commons by voting with Tory rebels on an amendment to back the customs union.

Photograph: Jeff Overs/ BBC/ PA

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But no sooner had he delivered on the customs union commitment a few weeks ago than Starmer faced a bombardment of demands from the large pro-EU wing of the parliamentary Labour party to go a big step further and support maintaining the UK in the single market, too. Corbyn and McDonnell will not wear that, as evidenced by the summary dismissal of Smith on Friday night. Plenty of pro-single market Labour MPs tell Starmer could honour the referendum result( and take the UK out) while remaining in the single market by joining the European Free Trade Association, like Norway. He rejects that route, saying that what suits Norway would not suit the UK.” Why would any country want to borrow the model that another country has that suits their economy and their interests ?” he asks.

Instead he is clear that he wants a “bespoke” UK deal with the EU.” We need no persuading of the benefits of the single market and customs union. That is why our manifesto was to maintain the added benefit of both. That is not a throwaway commitment. We want the added benefit of both to be hardwired into the final agreement ,” he tells. This sounds at first like having your cake and eating it. Starmer knows as well as anyone that full access to the single market, with all its benefits, would require the UK to agree to EU free-movement regulations, opposition to which was the main reason millions of Labour voters backed Brexit.

So what is he thinking? He hints at a possible arranging, a potential region for compromise, under which the UK could, under a Labour government, gratify the EU at least halfway on free movement by giving its citizens preferential words for coming to the UK to work, over those from non-EU states. Again, he suggests advance is possible only if the party can be held together.” What we are focused on is what is needed for our economy and our communities- in other words a principled, humane and effective approach[ to free movement ], not an approach- like the government’s- that simply says we should maintain to some number .”

Over the next few months there will be plenty of flashpoints on Brexit that will expose Labour’s divisions and tensions, as well as Tory ones, and Starmer will be in the middle of them all. Some time after Easter the House of Lords is likely to back amendments calling for the UK to remain in the single market. What will Labour then do when these are voted on in the Commons? Will it whip its MPs to strike them out of the withdrawal bill, or back them?

Starmer ducks the issues to, saying it depends what the amendments actually tell. It is a nightmare issue for a man who, many colleagues believe, would love to be able to back staying in the single marketplace if only his leader would allow it.

But at the same day he regulations nothing out. Starmer seems unfazed by the near impossibility of his undertaking. But he does bear the scars of trying to honour the referendum outcome while forging a policy that would keep the UK as close as possible to the EU after it leaves.

The most exhausting part of the whole process, he tells, was over the decision Labour made last year to back triggering article 50- the process that set the country on course for the Brexit he never wanted.

Starmer was plainly tortured by that decision and it now seem to be haunt him with a year to go until exit day.” We are a pro-EU party, we campaigned be left in the EU. It was a difficult and draining day for all us of us .”

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Call for delayed Brexit day and longer transition splits MPs

Tories on select committee examining departure from EU issue minority report saying putting day of exit back would be a betrayal

Disagreement over Brexit has split the main parliamentary committee charged with scrutinising the UK’s departure from the EU after a majority of its members concluded that the working day of exit may have to be delayed.

The findings of a report out on Sunday by the all-party Brexit select committee also recommends that provision be made to extend the post-Brexit transition period beyond the expected period of 21 months to allow more period for administrative changes and for businesses to adapt. But in a sign of rising tension and division in parliament, a group of Tory MPs on the committee on Sunday denounces these central findings in their own” minority report”, saying that such delays would amount to a disloyalty of the will of the British people.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory member of the committee, told:” The majority report is the prospectus for the vassal country. It is a future not worthy of us as a country, and I am sure that Theresa May will rightly reject a report by the high priests of Remain .”

Before a crucial EU summit this week at which the cabinet of ministers hopes to secure at least an outline agreement on a transitional period, the official report says “little progress” has been constructed on key issues including the future of the Irish border. It casts serious doubt on whether all details of partnership agreements between the EU and UK can be agreed by a deadline defined for this autumn, to permit a deal to be put to the European and UK parliaments for acceptance before Brexit day on 29 March next year.

The committee says it may be necessary to extend the article 50 period beyond next March to ensure that discussions do not spill over into the transition phase.

On the possible need to extend the transition, it adds:” If a 21 -month transition/ implementation period is insufficient … the only prudent action would be for the government to seek a limited prolongation to avoid unnecessary disruption. It would, for example, be unacceptable for business to have to adapt their import and export processes twice .”

Hilary Benn, the committee’s Labour chair, said the lack of progress on Irish border issues was particularly worrying.” The government must now come forward with credible proposals as to how it can operate a’ frictionless perimeter’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, because at the moment the committee is not persuaded that this can be done at the same time as the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union.

” We know of no international border, other than the internal borders of the EU, that operates without checks and physical infrastructure. This is deeply concerning .”

But Tory vice-chair John Whittingdale said any pushing back of the timetable would” ignore the wishes of the people and would delay Brexit by an indefinite period “.

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said it was likely the UK would get an accord on the modalities of the transition at this week’s EU summit.” Merely one thing could prevent a bargain: if the British cannot convince Dublin they are making progress towards achieving a barrier-free Irish border, the Irish could veto a transition ,” he told.” But that seems unlikely .”

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EU leaders say UK can reverse Brexit decision if it wants to

Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker say door to EU remains open if Britain changes its mind on Brexit

Tony Blair confirms he is working to reverse Brexit

Former PM argues asserts make use of leave campaign now clearly untrue and so British voters deserve second referendum

Tony Blair has confirmed that he is trying to reverse Brexit, arguing that voters deserve a second referendum because the” PS350m per week for the NHS” promise has now been exposed as untrue.

In an interview with the BBC Radio 4′ s The World This Weekend on Sunday, the former prime minister said that what was happening to the “crumbling” NHS was a” national tragedy” and that it was now “very clear” that the Vote Leave promise about Brexit leading to higher NHS spending would not be honoured.

” When the facts change, I think people are entitled to change their mind ,” said Blair, who has always been a strong foe of Brexit but who has rarely been so explicit about being on a personal mission to stop it happening.

Asked if his purpose in its relationship with Brexit was to reverse it, Blair responded:” Yes, precisely so .”

He added:” My belief is that, in the end, when the country sees the choice of this new relationship, it will realise that it’s either going to be something that does profound damage to the country, or alternatively, having left the European Union, left the single marketplace, we will try and by some entails recreate the benefit of that in some new relationship, in which instance I think many people will think,’ What’s the point ?'”

Blair repudiated the argument that he was eluding the will of the people.” The will of the person or persons is not something immutable. People can change their mind if the circumstances change ,” he said.

Tony Blair:’ absolutely necessary’ Brexit doesn’t happen

He quoth NHS funding as an issue which could lead to people changing their stance on Brexit if given the chance to vote on it again.

” A plenty of people will have voted for Brexit on the basis that if you get out of Europe, all this fund is going to come back and we can expend it on the health service. And that was a very specific promise made by the Brexiteers ,” he said.

” It is now very clear I guess: one, that there is no extra money for the health service through Brexit and, secondly, we’re actually going to be paying less money to the health service , not more money, because growth is down and because we’ve also get this huge bill for the European Union.

” So when the facts change, I believe people are entitled to change their mind .”

Blair was referring to the slogan on the Vote Leave battlebus, which said the UK sent PS3 50 m per week to the EU which could be spent on the NHS instead. The claim was widely rejected as untrue because the figure took no account of the budget rebate, fund never sent to the EU in the first place, or the money returned in the form of EU spending in the UK.

The former Labour leader said he accepted some people would never change their intellect about Brexit.

” There are some people who believe that membership of the European Union is inconsistent with national sovereignty. I don’t agree, but they hold that view very, very strongly. Nothing is going to persuade them ,” he said.

” Then there are other people who, if you like, believe that the reason for being anti-Europe is that it’s too sclerotic and bureaucratic. And these are in many ways the people driving this Brexit thing intellectually. They are not going to be persuaded .”

But he said there was ” a significant group of people”, especially Labour voters, who backed Brexit because of economic and cultural worries. They could be persuaded to change their intellects if their concerns were addressed, he said.

Blair’s new policy institute, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, is developing policy ideas to address these concerns and Blair was dedicating the interview to promote a new report it has published supporting a new” land value tax “~ ATAGEND as a means of helping relating to the housing crisis.

Asked about rumours that he was backing the creation of a new party, Blair said that he was not and that he did not think that would be a good idea. He said he wanted Labour to be the party again for” proper, modern, progressive politics “.

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David Davis blames Germany and France for Brexit talks deadlock

Brexit secretary accuses two most powerful players in Europe of blocking UKs attempts to start trade negotiations

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, is seeking to drive a wedge between Germany and France, and the rest of the countries in the European Union, over the stalled negotiations to leave the bloc.

Speaking on Friday before an economic seminar in Berlin, Davis suggested the two most powerful countries in Europe were blocking the UK’s hopes, backed by other EU states, to start trade negotiations.” Many of them do want to move on ,” he told the BBC.

” They see it[ progressing to trade negotiations] as very important to them. Countries like Denmark, Holland, Italy, Spain and Poland, can see there are big, big benefits in the future deal that we are talking about ,” he said.” They have all got things to benefit from that. This is not a one-way street .”

Speaking a week after the EU’s chief negotiatior, Michel Barnier, defined the UK a two-week deadline to commit to a higher fiscal settlement, Davis said the UK and these other countries were looking to Germany and France to compromise on whether sufficient advance had been made to allow the talks to move to the next phase.

” Germany and France are the most powerful players on the European continent ,” he said.” So what they believe is very influential, sometimes decisively so. But it is a whole-of-Europe decision, it is a 27 -country decision.

” Always in international negotiations you want the other side to compromise. I want them to compromise- amaze, astonish. Nothing comes for nothing in this world.

” But so far in this negotiation we’ve made quite a lot of compromises, on the citizens’ rights front we’ve made all the running … we have been actually offering some quite creative compromises .”

Asked whether the EU wanted insure a commitment to a bigger divorce settlement, Davis said:” Of course they are saying that, but the other thing that is also clear is many of them do want to move on .”

He indicated the UK was willing to accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice in the first phase of any transition bargain.

” It will start under the regulations as they are now. Then ideally we’ll end up with a circumstance where we have another arbitration mechanism, but that’s for negotiation .”

Davis also signalled a willingness to drop a government amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would set a date for exiting the EU on the face of the legislation. He said:” It is a good idea because it is stating something which is clear government policy: that we will leave on 29 March 2019.

” Now how it’s done, what the form of it is, is being debated in the House … The whole of this bill is going to be debated through the House, and there are parts of it which will change as we go through, undoubtedly .”

Meanwhile, the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has called on the UK to give Ireland “more clarity” on its proposals for the Irish border after Brexit.

” We all want to move on to phase two of the Brexit negotiations but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that ,” Coveney said at a briefing in Dublin with the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, on Friday.

” We also have very serious issues in phase one, particularly around the border and the Good Friday agreement and the peace process, that need more clarity than we currently have .”

Coveney indicated the final negotiations over Britain’s exit and its implications for Ireland could take up to five years to work out.

Simon
Coveney( L) and Johnson hold a joint press conference in Dublin. Photograph: Paul Faith/ AFP/ Getty Images

Johnson, inducing his first visit to Ireland since becoming foreign secretary in July 2016, said no one in London or Dublin wanted to see a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

He said he recognised the” unique situations” of the border.

” We have to work together, and in order to resolve those issues and get onto right for our people it is necessary now to move on to the second stage of negotiations which entail so many of those questions .”

His trip to Dublin comes as Theresa May holds talks with her Irish equivalent, Leo Varadkar, on the sidelines of an EU summit in Sweden.

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UK government tensions rise after leak of Johnson-Gove letter to May

As Theresa May faces possible defeats on vital Brexit votes, ministers are aghast at a requirement for hard Brexit from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson

The tensions in Theresa May’s government have intensified ahead of this week’s vital votes on the Brexit bill, as pastors accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of sending an “Orwellian” set of secret demands to No 10.

As an increasingly weakened “ministers ” faces the possibility of parliamentary defeats on the bill, government colleagues have said they are aghast at the language used by the foreign secretary and the environment secretary in a joint private letter.

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A hard Brexit would take Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union and objective its obligations to respect the four liberties, attain big EU budget pays and accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ: what Brexiters mean by” taking back control” of Britain’s perimeters, laws and fund. It would mean a return of trade tariffs, depending on what( if any) FTA was agreed. See our full Brexit phrasebook .

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The leaked letter– a remarkable depict of unity from two ministers who infamously fell out during last year’s leadership campaign- appeared to be designed to push May decisively towards a hard Brexit and limit the influence of former remainers.

It complained of” insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of the government and insisted any transition period must stop in June 2021- a veiled attack on the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

They advised the prime minister to ensure each member of her top team fall behind their Brexit plans by” clarifying their intellects” and called for them to” internalise the logic “.

The leak drew a bitter replies from supporters of a soft Brexit, who suggested that May would be forced to either discipline the pair or further weaken her stance, which has already been tested by the recent resignations of Priti Patel and Michael Fallon and continuing pressure on Johnson and Damian Green.

One cabinet minister told the Guardian:” It is not surprising that they[ Gove and Johnson] would express their view. But what is surprising is that they would write this down and use this kind of speech in a letter to the prime minister.

” Some have described it as Orwellian, and it is. It is not helpful when people try and press their views in untransparent way .”

Another minister said:” I doubt they supposed this would ever come out. It stinks to high heaven. May will have to dress them down or appear weak .”

Another former cabinet minister said:” I can’t believe this has come out. This is exactly the various kinds of arm-twisting by Brexiters one expects to go on behind the scenes, but the fact that it is in the public and is being inflicted upon the prime minister is remarkable .”

Reports have also claimed that 40 Conservative MPs- eight short of the number required to force-out a leadership challenge- have joined a listing of Tory rebels who want May to resign.

The letter, disclosed in the Mail on Sunday, was marked” For your and Gavin’s eyes merely”, a reference to the PM’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell. It appears to show that Gove and Johnson, who led the Brexit campaign but divided when Gove withdrew his support for Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign to run himself, are again running as one.

The letter nations:” We are profoundly worried that in certain regions of government the present preparations are not proceeding with anything like sufficient energy.

” We have heard it argued by some that we cannot start preparations on the basis of’ No Deal’ because that would undermine our obligation of’ sincere cooperation’ with the EU. If taken seriously, that would leave us over a barrel in 2021.”

Michael
Michael Gove, left, and Boris Johnson hold a press conference the day after the EU referendum. Photograph: Mary Turner/ PA

Downing Street did not respond to questions asking whether pastors had expressed any concerns about the letter. A No 10 spokesperson said:” It is common- and indeed expected- practise under the administration to all colourings for cabinet ministers to offer advice and opinions to the PM .”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, further heightened fears over the prospect of a hard Brexit by saying that the bloc was depicting up contingency plans for the possible collapse of Britain’s departure talks.

May is already struggling with the EU withdrawal bill, which returns to the House of Commons on Tuesday. Labour is expected to join Tory rebels to inflict a series of injury defeats on the governmental forces. They will seek to give parliament a binding vote on the final divorce deal between Britain and the EU.

Sensing the government’s weakness, Keir Starmer, the darknes Brexit secretary, has written to May advising she does not have the authority to deliver a transitional bargain and prevent a” no bargain” Brexit because of extreme Brexiters in her cabinet and on her backbenches.

” Over recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that you are the only one who do not have the authority to deliver a transitional deal with Europe.

” I believe there is a sensible majority in the House of Commons for transitional arrangements that serve the national interest. That is why I am urging the government to adopt an agreement position on transition and to support our amendments in the Commons on Tuesday ,” he wrote.

One Labour amendment calls for the European court of justice( ECJ) to maintain some role in a transitional period post-Brexit. Speaking on Monday, Starmer said this was vital, given any such interim bargain would require some ECJ role.

He told BBC Radio 4′ s Today programme:” The problem with the withdrawal bill is that as it is drafted it extinguishes the role of the European court of justice. So at the very point that pretty much everybody is agreeing we need transitional arrangements, the bill incapacitates that from happening .”

Starmer said ” very many” Conservtive MPs backed this view:” At the moment, on the one hand you’ve got the government saying we know there’s going to have to be a bridge, and yet tomorrow, unless they vote with us, they’re going to vote down the means of actually building that bridge.

He also said that a no-deal scenario, where arrangements had not even been reached on areas such as EU citizens or the Northern Ireland border, was so dire that any government which reached that phase should consider resigning.

” I think that sort of deal is unthinkable ,” he said.” I don’t think a responsible government would allow us to come to that place .”

The EU is concerned that turmoil within the Conservatives could prevent the British side from making a clear financial commitment at a key Brussels summit in December, which could postpone advance until March.

Barnier, who last week gave the UK a two-week deadline to provide greater clarity on the financial settlement it was prepared to offer as part of the divorce deal, told France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper the failure of the talks was not his preferred option.

” But it’s a possibility ,” he said.” Everyone needs to plan for it, member states and business alike. We too are constructing technological preparations for it. On 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will become a third country .”

Member nations will decide at a summit on 14 and 15 December whether or not” sufficient progression” has been stimulated on the core separation issues- the divorce bill, the Irish perimeter and citizens’ rights- for negotiations to advance to the next stage.

” We want to reach an agreement[ with the UK] within the next 14 working days ,” Barnier said, so the summit’s draft conclusions can be circulated and approved in time.” Today, we are not there. The rendezvous will be postponed if progress is not sufficient .”

Conservative plotters against May claim they have 40 MPs backing a motion of” no confidence” against her. Rebel leaders told the Sunday Time that May has built the situation more dangerous because some MPs were now sending letters immediately to Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee.

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