Nigel Farage has quit Ukip after 25 years, saying the party he led to its greatest election successes was now unrecognisable because of the “fixation” with the anti-Muslim policies of its leader, Gerard Batten.
Farage, who took Ukip to third place by number of votes in the 2015 election and significantly shaped the ground for the Brexit referendum, said he was dismayed by Batten’s policies and his decision to appoint the far-right campaigner Tommy Robinson as an adviser.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Farage condemned Batten’s decision to throw Ukip’s support behind an anti-Brexit demonstration in London on Sunday organised by Robinson and his associates, saying it was likely to “inspire violence and thuggish behaviour”.
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A photograph published at the weekend by The Sunday Telegraph showed a planning meeting for a march and rally scheduled to take place this Sunday, just two days before MPs vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal - the most important parliamentary vote of modern times.
In the photo, Tommy Robinson can be seen seated beside Gerard Batten. Next to Robinson is a man called Daniel Thompson, a convicted armed kidnapper. There are other pretty unsavoury-looking characters dotted around the room. These are the people organising the ‘Brexit’ march that is now advertised on the Ukip website. My heart sinks as I reflect on the idea that they may be seen by some as representative of the cause for which I have campaigned for so much of my adult life.
Theresa May has suffered three Brexit defeats in the Commons as she set out to sell her EU deal to sceptical MPs.
Ministers will be forced to publish the government's full legal advice on the deal after MPs found them in contempt of Parliament for issuing a summary.
And MPs backed a motion giving the Commons a direct say in what happens if her deal is rejected next Tuesday.
Mrs May said MPs had a duty to deliver on the 2016 Brexit vote and the deal on offer was an "honourable compromise".
Addressing the Commons at the start of a five-day debate on her proposed Brexit agreement, Mrs May said Brexit divisions had become "corrosive" to UK politics and the public believed the issue had "gone on long enough" and must be resolved.
MPs will decide whether to reject the terms of the UK's withdrawal and future relations with the EU on Tuesday 11 December.
Legal advice on the Brexit deal, published reluctantly on Wednesday after MPs found the government in contempt of parliament, warns the terms of the Irish backstop could trap the UK in “protracted and repeated rounds of negotiations” in the years ahead.
The legal status of the arrangements for preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland – and in particular, the UK’s ability to extricate itself – are at the heart of the bitter political row about whether MPs should accept the prime minister’s deal.
In a six-page document finally released on Wednesday, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, concedes, as he did in parliament on Monday, that the UK could be trapped “indefinitely” in the backstop.
He stresses that the protocol setting out the backstop would “endure”, even if negotiations between the two sides broke down. “In international law, the protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding arrangements took its place,” the document says.
Without a legal exit route, unless both sides agree a satisfactory arrangement is in place that makes the backstop unnecessary, he says the UK would have to rely on the arrangement being political uncomfortable for the EU – because it gives the UK market access without accepting single market rules in full.
But he warns that disputes about whether the UK should be able to exit could become intractable.
“In the absence of a right of termination, there is a legal risk that the United Kingdom might become subject to protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations,” it concludes.
“This risk must be weighed against the political and economic imperative on both sides to reach an agreement that constitutes a politically stable and permanent basis for their future relationship. This is a political decision for the government.”
The details of the advice are likely to inflame the concerns of pro-Brexit MPs who fear the temporary arrangements enshrined in the backstop could become permanent.
Cox finds that the “review mechanism”, painted by Downing Street as a negotiating victory, “adds little, other than procedurally, to the international law position to which the protocol is already subject”.
The former chief whip Mark Harper on Tuesday became the latest senior Tory to say his party should reject the deal – and in particular, should repudiate the backstop.
The government was forced to publish the legal advice after being found in contempt of parliament in a pair of historic votes on Tuesday.
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Norwegian MP says it is not in Norway’s interest for UK to use trade agreement
Norway Plus, the increasingly touted cross-party plan for the UK to leave the EU, but join Norway in a free trade trade area inside the EU single market, has been rejected by senior Norwegian politicians and business as “neither in Norway nor the UK’s interest”. The UK would need Norway’s permission to join its EFTA club.
The rejection is a blow to an influential cross-party group led by the Tory MP Nick Boles with private cabinet support that is looking for a Plan B if, as expected, Theresa May’s deal is rejected by MPs next Tuesday.
Norway Plus was also condemned on Friday by David Miliband, the former Labour foreign secretary, and Jo Johnson, the former Conservative universities minister, as throwing away a key advantage of current membership “in the form of our vote, voice and veto around the table”.
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Norway’s arrangement with the EU works for us because we respect its laws and freedoms – not like Brexiters
Unless the UK is willing to subjugate to the rules and regulations from the European Union, the Norway option is not really on the table. Norway’s relationship with the UK has warmed considerably since our king Harald Hardrada failed to invade England in 1066 and lost the battle of Stamford Bridge. But our status with the EU is complicated.
Norway was one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) together with the UK in 1960. Efta was established more or less to serve as an alternative trade bloc for those European states unable or unwilling to join the then European Economic Community (EEC), later to become the European Union. Both the UK and Norway applied to join the EEC twice in the years that followed, but the French president, Charles de Gaulle, doubted the political will of the UK to join the community, thus blocking not only the UK, but all applicant countries. We could of course blame the UK; but like you, we’d rather blame the French.
When the UK finally joined the common market in 1973, the Norwegian people had already rejected it in a referendum the year before. This was before the Single European Act of 1986 clarified how the common market could advance to create a frictionless, unified market incorporating the “four freedoms”: movement of goods, services, people and money. By the time this framework was finalised, most Efta countries had become full members of the EU. They saw the benefits of being a part of the decision-making process on the inside, rather than just having to accept the rules and regulations to access the market from the outside.
We chose to integrate as deeply in to the single market as possible through the European Economic Area agreement, the Norway option. It allows us frictionless access to the single market because we comply to the EU’s rules and regulations, but leaves us outside the decision-making process.
This is the primary reason why the EEA agreement, or the Norway option, really is not an option for the UK. We are fully integrated into the single market by accepting the rules and regulations from Brussels to harmonise our products and services to EU standards. Not only does this provide frictionless access to our most important market, it also saves us the bureaucratic effort of developing new regulations.
This is not without controversy, but for the most part we welcome updated regulations protecting our citizens’ rights and levelling the playing field as regards trade. The UK’s Brexit supporters want to develop their own legislation.
Secondly, compliance with EU legislation for EEA countries is ensured through the body of the Efta surveillance authority and the Efta court. This corresponds to the European court of justice, which ensures the enforcement of the said rules and regulations, enabling right to triumph over might. We believe this protects our citizens’ rights and our companies against unfair competition. Brexiters reject the ECJ.
In addition, we accept the four freedoms, including free movement of workers. This has for the most part boosted the Norwegian economy and provided both skilled and unskilled labour to industries and services in need. Many in the UK want to regulate this migration.
Lastly, Efta is still a trade block. We already have 28 trade agreements with 39 countries outside the EU. It seems incredible that the UK would prefer to enter 28 trade agreements, putting the interest of the 38,000 citizens of Liechtenstein ahead of the 66 million citizens in the United Kingdom.
More importantly to me, I do not believe it is in Norway’s interest to invite the UK into the Efta bloc. It would certainly upset the balance within Efta – and thus our relationship with the EU. Further, the EEA agreement presupposes a consensus between the countries to harmonise with the same EU laws and regulations the UK wants to veto. These are the laws and regulations we rely on to have frictionless access to our most important market. A veto from one country affects the other countries: letting the UK join Efta and the EEC agreement to veto parts of it could undermine the agreement for all of us.
The UK seems to be considering joining our Efta family as a temporary solution – Norway for now – until it gets a better deal. It really surprises me that anyone would think Norwegians would find that appealing. It would be like inviting the rowdy uncle to a Christmas party, spiking the drinks and hoping that things go well. They would not.
Norway will, of course, be looking for a long-term partnership with the UK after the divorce from the EU, but we’re not interested in being the rebound girl while you look for better options.
With the exit deal set for a resounding rejection and an abject lack of leadership, it’s finally time to give the voters a say
The choice facing MPs on Tuesday – whether to approve the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU negotiated by the prime minister – is the most important postwar decision parliament has confronted. It will irrevocably shape our nation’s future, Britain’s status and influence in the world, our economic competitiveness and the rights of future generations to live, study and work across a continent.
Theresa May’s lose-lose deal looks to be heading for resounding rejection. But there is a risk this will plunge the country into constitutional chaos: a government suspended in place by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but unable to offer constructive leadership.
The way out of any such mess lies in the hands of May herself. She must resist the inevitable calls to resign in the wake of a big defeat: to walk away would be a monumental dereliction of duty. Instead, she must lead the country towards the only way out of this gridlock: she must put the deal she has negotiated to the people. The case – and support – for a referendum on Britain’s exit deal has only grown stronger since the Observer first articulated it nearly two years ago. The 2016 referendum result did not create some immutable “will of the people”, a blank cheque for politicians to take Britain out of the EU any which way, regardless of the implications or the cost. The only detailed mandate it provided existed in the fantasies of the leave campaigns: that we could seize back control in a 21st-century, interconnected world, in doing so making ourselves richer and freeing up cash for public services, all the while preserving the sanctity of the union.
Nothing better illustrates the delusional nature of the promises leavers made to voters than May’s deal. This isn’t some poorly negotiated version of Brexit: it is the best deal she could have achieved given her misconceived red line to end freedom of movement of people while safeguarding peace in Northern Ireland. It embodies the inevitable price for limiting immigration from the rest of the EU (which our ageing population structure anyway dictates we should be encouraging): Britain becoming a rule taker, forfeiting the influential role it has played in shaping EU law, and at great economic cost, to the tune of tens of billions a year. This is the reality that Brexit entails, and voters deserve a say on whether it’s what they want.
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Given the abject lack of political leadership in Westminster, the people have a right to accept or reject May’s deal. Responsible politicians who care about the national interest will then have the fight of their life to persuade voters that to settle for May’s deal would be to sleepwalk into an act of national self-harm.
The likely scenarios around Tuesday’s vote and what each could mean for the PM
Theresa May is facing the reckoning of her premiership on Tuesday, when she is expected to put her negotiated Brexit deal in front of her mutinous MPs. Here’s what could happen in that fraught 24 hours.
The government loses the vote by more than 100 MPs
The numbers who say they will vote against the prime minister’s deal are going up rather than down. Over the weekend a handful more have added to the tally, including the former chief whip Andrew Mitchell and the ministerial aide Will Quince.
That would be more than half of all Conservative backbenchers – those not on the government payroll. Such a defeat would be unprecedented in recent political times and a sign that Tory whips had little effect.
Faced with such a defeat, May would need to decide whether to resign or pledge to seek changes from Brussels. Under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act, she would need to make a statement to the Commons within 21 days – although in practice it would probably take place the following day. Labour may also decide this is the moment to attempt a vote of no confidence in the government or Tory MPs could trigger a confidence vote in May.
The government loses by about 30 to 50 MPs
It is hard to see the prime minister managing to reduce the number of Tory rebels below this number. It is roughly the number of MPs who have either signed no-confidence letters in May’s leadership or resigned from the government to vote against the deal. It would still represent a staggering defeat, but the numbers that have vowed to vote against her deal are so vast that reducing it by half begins to look like an achievement.
Under those circumstances, May might be able to keep her job and pledge to seek some cosmetic changes in Brussels or some additional written assurances – or offer some concessions to Labour. It is possible then that she may survive long enough to put the deal again to parliament, perhaps with the hope of additional Labour support. That in turn could also lead to Brexiters forcing a vote of no confidence in May.
The government wins the vote in parliament
Highly unlikely, but still technically a possibility. Downing Street remains insistent that this is plan A and there is no plan B beyond it. One of the tactics whips have used to convince MPs is to insist this is the final decision day and that only chaos lies beyond it.
Other possibilities include a surprise new amendment or written guarantee on some aspects of the backstop from Brussels that assuages Tory fears. That seems extraordinarily far-fetched at this stage in the game.
Even if May wins the vote, she is not out of the woods. Brexiters have threatened to amend and block the legislation needed to enact the withdrawal agreement and the DUP has said its confidence and supply arrangement with the government will be over if the deal passes.
The rally was ostensibly organised to demand that Theresa May abandon her proposed EU withdrawal deal and, instead, walk away from Europe without any agreement. “Brexit means exit,” was the chant of choice for the day. “WTO Rules!” demanded one sign.
But, more than that, it seems, it was an apparent attempt to unite the whole of the extreme right behind Ukip under leader Gerard Batten and Robinson, his newly appointed adviser.
Alongside Union Jacks, flags for Generation Identity – a pan-European white nationalist group – Britain First and For Britain were everywhere. The British National Party tweeted from the event. Several signs and banners openly advocated violence.
I actually feel sorry for PM May, who initially opposed leaving the EU but who as PM is soldiering on.
I increasingly wonder what effect this may have on the attitudes of the UK population … as they view the not so friendly treatment they are getting from their old friends and allies in the union.
But perhaps the decisive help for May does not come from diplomats or politicians but from judges. It is no coincidence that one day before the vote in London the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg will decide (today) on the hitherto completely theoretical question of whether the British could withdraw their resignation unilaterally. As it looks, the judges' answer is yes.
The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU
Such a revocation, decided in accordance with its own national constitutional requirements, would have the effect that the United Kingdom remains in the EU under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State