In Depth

Brexit: Theresa May says ‘trust me’ to deliver

PM appeals to the public for ‘help’ in bid to break Brexit deadlock

29 March
Brexit: Theresa May embarks on ‘one year to go’ tour of UK

With exactly a year to go until Brexit day, Theresa May today embarks on a whistle-stop tour of the UK to sell her positive vision for a post-EU future.

Downing Street says the Prime Minister’s message to the people in each of the UK’s four nations will be one of unity.

“In other words, these days the PM is speaking to Remainers as well as Brexiteers… though note her anniversary op-ed is still placed in the Daily Mail,” says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.

In her article, May writes: “Today, I’m travelling to all four nations of the UK, visiting businesses and talking to people about how – together – we can deliver a Brexit that works for every part of our precious union.

“I am determined that as we leave the EU, and in the years ahead, we will strengthen the bonds that unite us…If we put aside our differences and all pull in the same direction we can deliver a Brexit that works for everyone.”

It is “not quite a victory lap, but No. 10 is feeling pretty chipper going into the Easter recess”, says The Times’s Matt Chorley.

The Government is pointing to its success in settling the Brexit divorce agreement, as well as a transition deal. However, Chorley points out that those wins have come as a result of numerous concessions from the UK.

Brexit Secretary David Davis predicted that the exit timetable would be the “big row of the summer”, before “caving in and agreeing to settle the divorce bill first”, Chorley says. “Then there was Boris Johnson telling Brussels to ‘go whistle’ in its demands for divorce payments, before agreeing to pay £50bn, possibly more, possibly forever.”

And with “obstacles like an elusive agreement on managing the border with Ireland, and tough talks on trade still ahead, the route to Britain's final exit still looks, in many respects, far less predictable”, adds the BBC’s John Pienaar.

Despite the “one year to go” fanfare, many commentators agree that it may be a while yet before the UK is truly out of the EU. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox recently declined to rule out an extension to the transition arrangement, currently due to end on 31 December 2020.

“A lot of Brexitologists do think an extension will eventually be necessary,” says The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow.

The Institute of Directors this week spoke of the need for an “adjustment period” after the transition. “The politicians won’t want to talk about it,” The Daily Telegraph’s Europe editor Peter Foster wrote recently, “but the reality is that a ‘post-transition, transition’ is almost inevitable.”

28 March

Brits may lose right to emergency healthcare abroad after Brexit, peers warn

Britons may lose access to emergency healthcare when travelling in Europe after Brexit, according to a parliamentary analysis published today. 

The Lords EU Committee report calls on the Government to clarify whether the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme will be valid after Britain leaves the bloc.

The card entitles all EU citizens to emergency state-provided medical treatment within the EU country they are visiting. The reciprocal healthcare arrangements also apply to non-EU states Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

“In the absence of an agreement on future relations that covers this topic, the rights to reciprocal healthcare currently enjoyed by 27 million UK citizens, thanks to the EHIC, will cease after Brexit,” according to the report.

Although the Government says it aims to continue with the scheme, peers argue this is incompatible with its pledge to end freedom of movement.

“While we applaud the spirit underlying the Government’s ambition to maintain reciprocal healthcare arrangements, including the EHIC, post-Brexit, it is difficult to square this with ending freedom of movement of people from the EU,” said committee chair Lord Jay of Ewelme.

He added: “Clarity from the Government will enable UK and EU citizens, the NHS, and insurance providers, to plan for the post-Brexit future.”

The Daily Telegraph reports that that the knock-on effect to insurance costs “could be significant” in the event that the EHIC becomes unavailable for British citizens.

“Insurers would have to take into consideration that they would be footing the bill for all medical treatment, rather than having a proportion dealt with through the EHIC system,” the newspaper says.  

27 March

Brexit: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie says Vote Leave ‘cheating’ may have swung EU referendum

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie has told MPs he believes the vote to leave the EU could have been different “had there been no cheating”.

Giving evidence to Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee, the firm’s former data analyst said it was “completely reasonable” to conclude the Remain campaign could have won the 2016 vote.

In documents and statements provided to the committee Wylie along with fellow whistleblower Shahmir Sanni “strongly suggest” that a donation of nearly £680,000 made by Vote Leave to a youth Brexit organisation called BeLeave was actually used for the benefit of the campaign.

Aggregate IQ (AIQ), a Canadian data firm which Wylie labelled a “shell company” of Cambridge Analytica, is believed to have been the main beneficiary of the donation.

Wylie, “a self-described Eurosceptic” according to HuffPost, said he believed Vote Leave used AIQ as “a proxy money-laundering vehicle”.

Wylie told MPs: “Dom Cummings [the Vote Leave director] himself said they could not have won without Aggregate IQ. They spent 40% of their budget on AIQ...they are incredibly effective.

“I think it is completely reasonable to say there could have been a different outcome in the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating.”

He added: “When you are caught in the Olympics doping, there is not a debate on how much illegal drug you took. If you are caught cheating, you lose your medal.  Because if we allow cheating in our democratic process, and we allow this amount then what about next time, and what about the time after that?”

“This is a breach of the law. This is cheating, and the thing that’s really important to understand is that this is not some council race or a by-election. This is an irreversible change to the constitution of this country.”

“You should not win by cheating.”

Wylie “painted a picture of a company involved in illegal activity around the globe” says Business Insider as he addressed the committee.

Most notably Wylie said his predecessor at Cambridge Analytica, Dan Muresan, was poisoned after “a deal went sour” in Kenya.

“People suspected he was poisoned in his bedroom,” Wylie said, adding that Kenyan police had been “bribed not to enter his hotel room for 24 hours”.

Wylie’s testimony sparked furious reaction on Twitter with Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a firm remain supporter, saying his evidence casts doubt on the legitimacy of the EU referendum result

26 March

Brexit more important to Brits than keeping Northern Ireland in the UK

More Brits would prioritise leaving the European Union over keeping the United Kingdom intact, according to a new poll.

The survey, carried out by LBC and YouGov, reveals that 36% of people rate Brexit as more of a priority than keeping Northern Ireland in the UK (29%).

Of those who chose Brexit over Northern Ireland, 71% voted to leave in the EU referendum.

An “overwhelming majority” of Tory voters included in the poll would prioritise leaving the EU over maintaining a United Kingdom, LBC says.

The prospect of a united island of Ireland has grown ever since Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by a majority of 56% to 44% in the 2016 referendum, the broadcaster reports.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the Democratic Unionist Party’s chief whip, said it’s “for the people of Northern Ireland alone” to decide whether to remain part of the UK.

“Since the UK government, the Irish government and Brussels have all said that any Brexit agreement must fully recognise all of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, I really don’t think this is relevant,” he told LBC’s Nick Ferrari.

Under the deal that brought an end to decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, the UK government is legally obliged to hold a referendum on Irish reunification if polls show support for one.

A survey carried out in October found that a clear majority would opt for Northern Ireland staying in the UK, with 55% in favour of remaining and 33% against.

But if negotiations between London and the EU go badly and Northern Ireland ends up bearing the brunt of a tough Brexit, 46% of people say they would support joining the Republic.

26 March 

Brexit campaign accused of cheating before referendum

The official Vote Leave campaign broke rules on referendum spending and then tried to cover it up, a whistleblower has claimed.

Shahmir Sanni, who worked on the campaign, told The Observer that the people who ran Vote Leave, including some senior figures now working for Theresa May, flouted referendum spending rules and then tried to destroy evidence.

He supported his allegations with a mass of documents and files which have been passed to the Electoral Commission and the police.

Sanni’s central claim concerns a donation of £625,000 made in the final days of the campaign to an organisation called BeLeave, which shared offices with Vote Leave but was ostensibly an independent company.

Most of this money went to a Canadian data company called AggregateIQ, which has links with Cambridge Analytica, to harvest data and micro-target potential Leave voters in the run up to the vote.

“British electoral law prohibits co-ordination between different campaign organisations, which must all comply with spending limits,” says The Observer. “If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, they must have a shared cap on spending. Vote Leave strongly denies any such co-ordination.”

Sanni also claims that, after the Electoral Commission opened an investigation into the donation last March, Vote Leave’s operations director Victoria Woodcock deleted dozens of files from a drive Vote Leave shared with BeLeave to cover-up the links.

The files refered to Woodcock herself, campaign director Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave’s digital director, Henry de Zoete, Sanni says.

In a separate interview with Channel 4 News, Sanni said that “people have been lied to” and “Vote Leave cheated.”

Sanni said he still believed in Brexit. “But I don’t agree with losing what it means to be British in that process,” he said, “losing what it means to follow the rules, losing what it means to be quite literally a functioning democracy.”

Both Cummings and Boris Johnson, who led the Vote Leave campaign, have strongly denied they broke election spending rules.

The Foreign Secretary branded claims Vote Leave cheated “utterly ludicrous”, but HuffPost UK reports that Johnson “was not backed by his cabinet colleagues on Sunday”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said: “It’s really a matter if there’s any truth in it at all for the Electoral Commission to investigate. That’s for them, not a minister to decide.”

This was echoed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

Politico says the scandal “looks set to dominate the political agenda going into the Easter weekend”.

Labour have called on the police to investigate the allegations, The Independent reports, while Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat’s Brexit spokesperson, said the allegations were “stunning”.

The claims could also spell trouble for the Prime Minister: her political secretary Stephen Parkinson, who worked for Vote Leave, is said to have publicly outed Sanni, with whom he had a relationship, as gay in a statement denying the allegations.

Sanni said this could put his friends and family in Pakistan in danger.  

19 March

UK and EU agree Brexit transition period and citizens' rights

The EU has agreed in principle that the UK will have a Brexit transition period lasting from March 2019 until December 2020.

Under the draft terms unveiled today, the UK “will have to abide by all EU rules until the end of the transition but will not have any say in deciding them”, says HuffPost.

In what the news website says “will be seen as a major climbdown by Theresa May”, EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period will enjoy the same rights as those who arrive before March 2019.

Leading backbench Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has previously said this would be “unconscionable”.

According to The Times’s Bruno Waterfield, the UK side is putting a brave face on the deal, talking up five achievements.

The news “has been welcomed in the City, where sterling has hit a one-month high against the dollar”, says The Guardian.

Announcing the agreement, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the new draft legal text marks a “decisive step”, but added that it was “not the end of the road”.

The post-Brexit rights of the 4.5 million EU citizens in the UK, and the 1.2 million UK citizens in the EU, are now clearer, but there is still a lot more work “needed to be done on important subjects including the Northern Ireland border”, says the BBC.

Barnier said that he and his opposite number, Brexit Secretary David Davis, “remain committed to December’s joint report in all of its aspects”. The EU and UK have agreed that the “backstop” - the full regulatory alignment option - “must form part of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement”, Barnier added.

This would mean “Northern Ireland staying in EU customs union and parts of single market if no other solution was found”, says the BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler, which was “something Theresa May said no UK PM could sign up to”.

The draft legal text also revealed that the UK will have the right to negotiate its own trade deals during the transition, but will only be able to implement them after the transition period ends.

The Financial Times reports that the final frantic negotiations over the weekend saw the UK “largely back down” on its demand for control over its own fishing quotas during the 20-month transition period. 

The UK has accepted that EU fishing boats will still get the same access to UK waters during the transition as they do now. 

But Politico’s  Jack Blanchard says one senior official in the UK team insists they are not unhappy with the outcome. The source told Politico that Britain “has at least won a guarantee to be consulted on the quotas during the transition period”.

 “How great the UK’s influence will be remains to be seen,” Blanchard says, adding that the perceived climbdown on fishing “has clearly unsettled Tories in Scotland”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that the transition deal appears to be a “massive sell-out” of her country’s fishing industry.

16 March

Gibraltar may 'rescind citizens' rights' over Spain veto

The government of Gibraltar has warned it may rescind the rights of Spanish and EU citizens to live and work on the Rock if Spain attempts to exclude it from a final Brexit deal.

Guidelines on Brexit negotiations issued last April state that any future trade deal struck between the UK and the EU will not automatically apply to the UK overseas territory. Gibraltar will need to strike a separate deal in advance with Spain, “effectively giving Madrid a veto”, The Guardian reports.

Gibraltar’s deputy chief minister, Joseph Garcia, is warning that Gibraltar would “challenge the legality of Spain’s effective veto”, and says Spain risks jeopardising citizens’ rights in the territory.

“We’ve taken advice from the most senior UK lawyers, and our advice is that the clause is illegal and our position is that if Spain exercises a veto under that clause, we will challenge it in court - whatever that may do to the whole of Brexit,” Garcia said.

Around 2,000 EU nationals live in Gibraltar, and thousands more cross the border from Spain every day to work there. Referring to these non-nationals, Garcia said: “We welcome them in Gibraltar, but if transition and withdrawal is not going to apply to us - and it includes chapters specifically on citizens’ rights and workers’ rights and frontier workers and what have you - then we would be free to do whatever we like on those elements as well.”

The dispute over the status of Gibraltar following the UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019 has been a growing concern in recent months, with the British and Spanish governments caught in an uneasy stalemate.

Garcia has said that he is “significantly more confident that Spain won’t force the territory into isolation” following recent conciliatory comments by Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish foreign affairs minister. Dastis's tone marks a “significant shift from his predecessor, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, who pressed Spanish claims over the territory”, says Bloomberg.

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