Ready to say ‘I do’? Boris Johnson and Irish PM Leo Varadkar hold make-or-break Brexit talks at luxury Cheshire wedding venue with just HOURS to go until deadline for getting a deal
- Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar are holding make-or-break talks at lunchtime
- The EU has set tomorrow as deadline for getting agreement in time for summit
- Blame game is already in full swing after a senior MEP branded PM a ‘traitor’
In a crucial moment, the PM and the Irish Taoiseach are meeting face-to-face in Cheshire to try and find a way through the deadlock.
The media has been shut out of the event – at luxury wedding venue Thornton Manor in the Wirral -in a bid to maximise the chances of a breakthrough.
Posting pictures of himself with Mr Johnson, Mr Varadkar said: ‘Looking forward to a detailed discussion to see if we can make any progress.’
But hopes are not high on either side, with the Irish backstop still a major dividing line and rhetoric escalating dramatically.
The EU has set tomorrow as the deadline for an outline agreement to be reached in time for a summit next week.
Mr Johnson has insisted he is still ‘cautiously, cautiously optimistic’ despite the deepening gloom.
However, the blame game is already in full swing. The European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt launched an extraordinary attack on Mr Johnson last night, branding him a ‘traitor’.
Posting pictures of himself with Boris Johnson this afternoon, Leo Varadkar said: ‘Looking forward to a detailed discussion to see if we can make any progress.’
Mr Johnson has insisted he is still ‘cautiously, cautiously optimistic’ about getting a deal despite the deepening gloom
The talks between the leaders at a luxury wedding venue in Cheshire are expected to last several hours
Boris Johnson (right in Downing Street today) is meeting Leo Varadkar (left) for crunch talks in Cheshire later
The media has been shut out of the event – at Thornton Manor in the Wirral (pictured) -in a bid to maximise the chances of a breakthrough
He accused the Prime Minister of attempting to orchestrate a ‘blame game’, saying that he was ‘the real traitor’ of his countrymen. Last night European Council chief Donald Tusk twisted the knife by mocking the ‘permanent parliamentary crisis’ in the UK.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also struck a downbeat tone in a speech to the European Parliament, telling MEPs that as it stands ‘we’re not really in a position where we’re able to find an agreement’.
Technical talks on Mr Johnson’s proposed alternative for the backstop – which involves Northern Ireland staying aligned to EU regulations – seem to have stalled completely. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is meeting Michel Barnier in Brussels later, but they are said to be ‘taking stock’ rather than seeking major movement.
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Today: Boris Johnson holds talks with Leo Varadkar.
Tomorrow: EU’s deadline for having a deal in place ready for next week’s summit.
October 14: Parliament is due to return for the Queen’s Speech.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels, but Mr Johnson now seems certain to boycott the event in protest at the bloc’s intransigence.
October 19: If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal.
Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will only let Mr Johnson trigger an election after an extension has been secured.
If there is a deal, it will start being rushed through Parliament immediately.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU.
November/December: An election looks inevitable.
Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng insisted this morning there is still a ‘good chance’ to get a deal.
‘I think that we want a spirited compromise. We want to be able to make sure that the backstop has been taken away,’ he said.
He later added: ‘The reason the Prime Minister is meeting Leo Varadkar isn’t simply to have a social conversation, they are seriously focused on trying to resolve this issue and trying to get a deal on which basis we can leave the EU.’
A Government source admitted that today’s summit was critical to the prospects of any kind of Brexit deal before next week’s crunch EU meeting of leaders.
The source said: ‘It is a private meeting to allow both leaders and their teams to have detailed discussions. The Varadkar meeting is probably the last chance for a breakthrough but it doesn’t look too hopeful.
‘The EU seems to be floating potential ideas that we have already rejected, but maybe the fact they are floating ideas at all means there is a space to start talking.
‘If that’s the start of a conversation and they are willing to come our way then great. But we have made our compromises.’
European politicians made clear yesterday that a Brexit extension will be only be granted to pave the way for an election or referendum.
European Parliament president David Sassoli said he had discussed the issue with Speaker John Bercow in London.
Remainer MPs must NOT vote for a snap election, warns ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond
Remainer MPs should not vote for a snap election even if there is a Brexit extension because it will ‘not solve the problem’, Philip Hammond warned today.
The former chancellor gave Boris Johnson another headache as he urged the government to bow to EU demands to stay in the customs union.
Mr Hammond said Brexiteers should admit there were ‘very limited benefits’ to be had from striking trade deals outside the bloc.
The intervention by Mr Hammond, who was expelled from the Tories along with 20 other MPs after backing a rebel law against No Deal, came as another ex-Cabinet minister called on the EU to give ground.
Jeremy Hunt said Brussels was making a ‘catastrophic miscalculation’ by assuming an election or referendum will lead to a softer UK stance on Brexit.
Mr Johnson is desperately scrambling to find a way to break the deadlock with the EU as the clock runs down towards a crunch summit.
He told the European Parliament: ‘I had a fruitful discussion with Speaker Bercow in which I set out my view that any request for an extension should allow the British people to give their views in a referendum or an election.’
French Europe minister Amélie de Montchalin had the same message. ‘If there are new elections or a referendum, if there is a political shift leading us to believe we could have a different dialogue from the one we have today, then an extension can be discussed,’ she said.
EU sources yesterday suggested Brussels could be ready to table a new offer on the backstop which would effectively put a time limit on it in a last-ditch bid to salvage the talks.
The offer, currently being ‘parked’, involves giving the Northern Ireland assembly a vote on leaving the backstop, which would see the province remain in the customs union and single market.
EU sources said it formed a key plank for ‘unlocking’ a deal.
However, they stressed it would require the UK first accepting Northern Ireland has to remain in the bloc’s customs union until the moment Stormont votes to leave it – unlikely to be before 2025.
Yesterday Mr Varadkar suggested in the Irish parliament that Dublin was open to the plan.
But it was immediately shot down by the Democratic Unionist Party and Brexiteer MPs.
Downing Street is thought to be vehemently opposed to the idea as it would involve Northern Ireland remaining in the EU’s customs territory.
Mr Varadkar arrived at Liverpool airport for the talks with the Prime Minister earlier today
Guy Verhofstadt, pictured in the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday, today claimed that Boris Johnson was a ‘traitor’ to the UK
From a Rooney circus to a political confrontation – the luxury wedding venue where two leaders will go face-to-face
The luxury wedding venue chosen for Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar’s Brexit talks was the location for Coleen Rooney’s circus-themed 21st birthday party.
Wag Mrs Rooney, who caused an online sensation this week after alleging Rebekah Vardy’s Instagram account was the source of leaked stories about her in the media, hosted the glamorous party at Thornton Manor in 2007.
The venue is a Grade II listed building that was once the home of the soap magnate William Hesketh Lever in the village of Thornton Hough on the Wirral.
Thornton Manor, which hails itself as a ‘truly unique’ wedding venue that ‘exudes historic enchantment and charm’, is the setting of a political showdown this week between two men talking about a separation and a union of a different kind.
But it is not the first event relating to a significant milestone and involving familiar faces that has taken place here.
Back on March 31 2007, stilt walkers dressed as swans and jugglers in sailor suits greeted guests as they arrived to celebrate the 21st birthday of Rooney, then the fiancee of footballer Wayne Rooney who she went on to marry.
A giant marquee and mini funfair were erected in the garden of the 100-acre estate, and around 50 fans gathered outside hoping to catch a glimpse of celebrity guests.
Among those arriving in a fleet of black Audis were football stars Harry Kewell, Rio Ferdinand, John O’Shea, and Peter Crouch with his now wife Abbey Clancy.
Guests danced to Otis Redding’s Dock Of The Bay and Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.
There was likely to be less of a party atmosphere on Thursday afternoon as Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar arrived for their eleventh-hour rendezvous.
‘Let’s have that election!’ Jeremy Corbyn tees up poll showdown within WEEKS as he says the country should vote once Brexit is delayed – but he faces mass rebellion by up to 100 of his own Remainer MPs who want a referendum first
Jeremy Corbyn is facing a huge revolt by his own MPs today after he delivered his clearest sign yet that he is willing to back a snap election in November.
But he also underlined that he is ‘ready’ to support the PM’s call for an election as soon as a Brexit extension is in place – saying he is ‘champing at the bit’ for voters to get their say.
The stance paves the way for an election at the end of next month, with Thursday, November 28 considered the most likely date.
However, Remainers are preparing an all-out bid to force a referendum to cancel Brexit first, with Labour backbenchers warning that Mr Corbyn is a ‘liability’ and an election will not resolve the issue.
There are claims up to 100 MPs could defy the whip to block a motion triggering a ballot – which requires support from two-thirds of the Commons.
Mr Johnson is desperately scrambling to find a way to break the deadlock with the EU as the clock runs down towards a crunch summit next week.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured giving his speech today) will accuse Boris Johnson of ‘using the Queen’ to deliver a pre-election party political broadcast
But hopes of an agreement look almost dead, and a Remainer law will kick in on October 19 obliging him to beg the EU for a delay to the Halloween exit date.
The Commons is being summoned for a special sitting that day, with Mr Johnson likely to make a big show of demanding that MPs allow him to go through with No Deal.
However, the expectation is that the government will eventually have to abide by the legislation and request an extension.
Mr Johnson has already failed two times to force an early general election, which requires backing from two-thirds of the Commons.
Mr Corbyn will signal in Northampton later that he could order MPs to vote in favour at a third attempt.
However, it is far from clear that all his MPs will follow his lead.
One shadow cabinet source told MailOnline the election would become a ‘big issue’ for the party and there is widespread support for an ‘actual confirmatory ballot’.
‘What happens if an election results in another hung parliament? (Theresa) May held an election to resolve Brexit,’ they said.
‘Tory moderates don’t want a winter general election from what we can tell.’
Mr Corbyn was accompanied at the speech today by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott
MPs said a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party recently had been ‘unanimous’ in saying there should be a referendum before an election.
One senior backbencher told MailOnline they believed Mr Corbyn would retreat in the face of massive internal opposition, including from shadow cabinet figures such as Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer.
‘The idea of a confirmatory ballot is gathering support. As a matter of principle it should be sort Brexit first, general election second,’ the MP said.
Mr Corbyn’s plans for the country
In his speech in Northampton today, Mr Corbyn set out plans to:
- ‘Immediately legislate’ to hold a second referendum if the party wins the next election
- Scrap the current £9,000-per-year university tuition fees
- Bring England in to line with Scotland, Wales an Northern Ireland by making medical prescriptions free
- End the controversial Universal Credit system of benefits
- Build one million ‘affordable homes’ over the next 10 years
- Introduce extra funding for local authorities whi have experienced cuts in recent years
- Take a 51 per cent public stake in wind farms to help coastal communities and tackle climate change
- Raise the minimum wage rise to £10 an hour for all workers aged 16 and over
Another Remain-backing MP said they believed the 22 former Tories will be the key to whether there is a shift towards a second referendum.
The MP, who has spoken to a number of the former Tory rebels, believes they are moving towards backing a referendum at least in part because they have no incentive to back a general election.
If most of those 21 MPs were to back a referendum the thinking is that could then prompt Jeremy Corbyn to shift Labour’s position.
The MP told MailOnline: ‘If you add them to the rest of us there is a little gap in the clouds for the plane to fly through.
‘They wanted a deal, they don’t particularly want to Remain, but they definitely fear and hate No Deal.’
On how MPs could force a vote on holding a second referendum, the MP said: ‘If the government table any motion at all they are all amendable. Now we are in a period where MPs are not just reactive but proactive so there are all sorts of opportunities.’
Tory outcasts such as ex-Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin have called for a referendum to be held first.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond added his weight to the argument this morning, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t think an election solves our problem here. I would not support an election at the moment.
‘Ironically, a few weeks ago we were being asked to give assurances that we wouldn’t vote against the Government in a vote of no confidence and now we’re being asked to vote to turn the Government out.’
He said a confirmatory referendum ‘is not my preferred option’, but did not rule one out.
But a shadow cabinet minister, not normally a Corbyn loyalist, told MailOnline that those pushing for a second referendum were engaging in ‘wishful thinking’ and their plans were ‘fanciful’.
‘The facts on the ground in the end are we have a country with no government,’ they said. ‘You can share their concerns, but there never has been a majority for a second referendum in the House of Commons. The maths on that has not changed for 12 months.’
They added: ‘I can understand the wishful thinking, but we are in a mess, there has got to be a very clear route through this.
‘Our Parliament and our politics is paralysed at the most critical time when really big decisions are required, never mind about Brexit but on other fronts from a faltering economy to a flare-up in the Middle East with Turkey and Syria.
‘There is a lot of really big business as usual that the government is unable to cope with.’
In his speech in Northamptonshire today, Mr Corbyn again set out his plan for Labour to get into power, renegotiate a deal with the EU, and then hold a referendum between that package and Remain.
However, extraordinarily, he suggested he will not campaign for either side in the national vote.
‘Within three months of coming to power, a Labour government will secure a sensible deal, based on the terms we have long advocated and discussed with the EU, trade unions and businesses, including a new customs union, a close single market relationship and guarantees of rights and protections,’ he said.
‘Within six months of being elected we will put that deal to a public vote alongside remain.
‘And as prime minister I will carry out whatever the people decide.’
Mr Corbyn said the Queen’s Speech on Monday would be a ‘farce’.
‘This Government isn’t going to put any legislation before Parliament,’ he said.
‘It has a majority of minus 45, a 100 per cent record of defeat in the Commons and is seeking a general election which will end the parliamentary session the Queen is about to open.
‘Holding a Queen’s Speech before an election is a cynical stunt.
‘Johnson is using the Queen to deliver a pre-election party political broadcast for the Conservative Party.’
The Labour leader insisted the issue of a no-deal Brexit had to be sorted out before a general election because Mr Johnson could not be trusted.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘Prime Minister, we can’t trust you not to break the law because you’ve got form.
‘We can’t trust you not to use the period of an election campaign to drive our country off a no-deal cliff edge that will crash our economy, destroy jobs and industries, cause shortages of medicine and food and endanger peace in Northern Ireland.
The Labour leader is set to say that the country could not trust Boris Johnson ‘not to break the law’. Pictured: PM in Downing Street today
‘So it’s simple: obey the law, take No Deal off the table and then let’s have the election.
‘We’re ready and champing at the bit.
‘There’s only one reason it hasn’t happened yet – we can’t trust you.’
Mr Corbyn will lay out his alternative Queen’s Speech, calling it ‘the most radical of modern times’.
It would include a ‘final say Brexit referendum’, a £10-an-hour minimum wage, banning fracking, scrapping tuition fees, ending rough sleeping and free personal care and prescriptions.
Mr Corbyn’s speech is also set to say: ‘We might be just weeks away from the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour government.
‘And in that Queen’s Speech, Labour will put forward the most radical, hopeful, people-focused programme in modern times: a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild and transform our country.’
Mr Johnson was accused of dragging the Queen into politics over his bid to suspend Parliament.
The Prime Minister was heavily criticised after a Supreme Court ruling last month found there was no ‘reasonable justification’ for his advice to the monarch to prorogue Parliament for five weeks in the run-up to the State Opening.
Is the UK going to dodge a Brexit recession? The economy GREW over the summer driven by the television and film industry
Britain could avoid falling into recession ahead of Brexit after encouraging economic figures were released today.
UK GDP grew by 0.3 per cent between June and August compared with the previous three months, driven by a boom in television and film production, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The figure, a boost from growth of 0.1 per cent in the three months to July, came despite continued poor performance among manufacturers as the market attempts to prepare for Brexit.
The economy dipped by 0.1 per cent during the school holidays in August, following 0.4 per cent growth in July.
But quarterly figures are seen as less volatile and experts said the three-month data suggests the UK will eke out growth overall in the third quarter.
This would mean the UK avoids a technical recession, following the 0.2 per cent contraction in the second quarter, driven by the abandoned Brexit date of March 29.