Theresa May is going to give a statement to MPs about Brexit this afternoon. As the Guardian reports in its overnight story, she is going to ask the Commons to her another fortnight’s grace to keep pushing for changes to the Irish backstop. Or, as May herself will put it, according to an extract from her statement released by Number 10 in advance, she will urge MPs to told their nerve. She will say:
The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House has required and deliver Brexit on time.
By getting the changes we need to the backstop; by protecting and enhancing workers’ rights and environmental protections; and by enhancing the role of parliament in the next phase of negotiations I believe we can reach a deal that this House can support.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, repeated this line when she was interviewed on the Today programme this morning. But much more interesting was what she said about the sort of concession on the backstop that might be acceptable to the UK government. Two weeks ago, in the “next steps” debate in the Commons after her Brexit deal was rejected by MPs, May said that she wanted “legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement”, involving the “re-opening” of that agreement. To many Brexiters in the party, the “re-opening the withdrawal agreement” part of that demand was crucial; they were not happy with the idea that it might just be reinterpreted by an addendum (something the EU has hinted it would consider).
But this morning Leadsom, who is one of the most prominent Brexiters in the cabinet, suggested that re-drafting the text of the withdrawal agreement was no longer a red line. Here is the crucial exchange in her interview with Today’s Mishal Husain.
MH: Are you still holding out, you personally holding out, for changes to the withdrawal agreement?
AL: You know, the point is to ensure that the UK cannot be held in a backstop permanently. How it’s achieved is not something to be purist about.
MH: So, as far as you are concerned then, words that are added to the political declaration would be good enough for you?
AL: I would not speculate on what exactly the outcome needs to be.
MH: But you have not said that you are wedded to changes to the withdrawal agreement.
AL: I’m wedded to delivering what parliament has said they would support, and that is some either unilateral means, or alternative arrangements, for the UK to not be held in the backstop permanently.
I will post more from the interview shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Theresa May chairs cabinet.
10am: The Commons home affairs committee takes evidence on the settled status scheme from the3million, which represents EU nationals in the UK, NHS Employers and the Rights of Women campaign.
11.30am: Greg Clark, the business secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
After 12.30pm: May makes a statement to MPs about Brexit.
Also today David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, and Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, are meeting MEPs in Strasbourg. And Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, is meeting his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris.
As usual, I will also be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, but I expect to be focusing mostly on Brexit and May’s statement to MPs. I plan to post a summary when I finish, at around 6pm.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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