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Merkel hopeful of Brexit deal after May's pleas - politics live

Thanks for following the blog today and for all your comments. Here is a summary of the day’s events:

  • Emmanuel Macron, has accused Brexiters of “bluffing” on a no-deal scenario. The French president said Theresa May had never mentioned such a possibility.
  • Macron also said “a lot still needs to be done” before phase 2 talks - which will address trade and the transition to Brexit - begin. “We haven’t even got half way there yet,” he said. Earlier, it was confirmed that EU leaders have agreed to start internal discussions on their approach to the second phase.
  • The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said reports of a deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated and insisted there has been progress.
  • Theresa May said negotiators are going through how much Britain owes the EU in financial contributions line by line.
  • The former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, told BBC Radio 4’s Today no deal would be “disastrous for the county”.
  • Mandelson also said Labour was in a strong position electorally but warned Jeremy Corbyn of the dangers of playing only to his base.
  • The Labour MP Clive Lewis has “unreservedly” apologised after video emerged of him telling someone to “get on your knees bitch” at a fringe event at last month’s party conference. His comments, which appeared to be made in jest and aimed at a man, attracted widespread condemnation from politicians on all sides including prominent women in the Labour party.

Here is the Guardian story on Macron’s comments accusing Brexiters of trying to “bluff” the EU into softening its negotiating stance.

The SNP’s Mhairi Black has been talking in the Commons about Harvey Weinstein and the treatment of women more broadly, particularly in parliament. Her comments suggest that some MPs are stuck in the dark ages.

She said:

The Weinstein stuff shows you that when you get this culture of untouchable power that you can’t ask questions of, it shows you what goes on behind the scenes. That’s exactly what we’ve got in Westminster, so the more we can chip away at that the better it is for everybody.

I’ve never been sexually assaulted or anything like that, but in terms of the sexism and the condescending attitudes, oh God yes.

The first week I was down, one of the first conversations I had with with one of the Tory old guard. I’d asked when the summer holidays were and he said ‘I think you’ll find it’s called recess darling’. And I said ‘No I think you’ll find I’m called Mhairi sweetheart’. So I had to have loads of run-ins like that, some of them a lot uglier than that.

Yesterday, I had the first I’ve had in ages, when someone I’m on a committee with walked by and he’s always very mannerly and said ‘It’s quite rich of you to have a go at Douglas Ross [Tory MP who skipped universal credit vote to referee] for not being here, when you’ve not been here’. And I said ‘There’s a difference between being unwell and being at a football match.’ Had I been a guy not a chance in hell he’s have said that to me, but that’s the world they live in.

There’s plenty of creeps in politics but I steer well clear of them. Quite often I see conversations where I’m going: ‘see if I was her I’d have lamped him by now’ because there are guys in that place that are totally self- entitled. It’s a power thing. Even the way they speak, their body language, is awful. During debates some guys only take interventions from guys.

Regarding the #metoo campaign, she said:

Even on my personal Facebook, stories are coming up, and it’s ‘My God, I didn’t know that had happened’. It’s brilliant that women are coming forward and I’m sick to the back teeth especially of other women saying ‘you should have said something long ago’. Don’t dare put that on folk. The exact reason that they’re speaking out now is to make sure that the next generation don’t have to feel the way they did. I think it’s really harrowing reading through it.


Taking another detour from Brussels, Labour MP Clive Lewis has “unreservedly” apologised after video emerged of him telling someone to “get on your knees bitch” at a fringe event at last month’s party conference.

His language attracted widespread condemnation from politicians on all sides including prominent women in the Labour party, among them Harriet Harman, Jess Phillips and Stella Creasy.

A Labour party spokeswoman also denounced the comments, although other panellists at the Novara media-hosted event said Lewis’s words had been mischaracterised.

Guardian columnist Dawn Foster tweeted: “For context, I’m stood next to Clive in this video – he said it to a male audience member in jest, not me.”


Bernard Jenkin MP
Bernard Jenkin MP Photograph: Richard Gardner/REX Shutterstock

Senior Tory Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin has warned the prime minister she should not sign up to a deal at any price, suggesting that failure to strike a deal would not be as bad as feared.

He told BBC News: “The cost of paying tariffs on our exports to the EU would be less than half our annual net contribution. It is cheaper to pay for access to the single market by paying the tariffs than for us to be continuing to pay our subscription as a member of the EU.

“We are pulling out halfway through a budget process. It is only reasonable that we should consider helping the EU out as we leave the EU and withdraw our contributions but if this becomes much more expensive than envisaged it is simply not worth it.”

Henry Newman, director of the Open Europe thinktank, believes those casting doubt about the progress of the Brexit talks are wrong. He writes for Comment is Free:

Despite publicly saying that sufficient progress is not made, the European commission is privately telling politicians from EU member states that only “technical issues” remain to be resolved before settling on EU citizens’ rights.

Meanwhile several of Open Europe’s contacts at the London embassies of EU member states have confirmed to us that they are pleased with developments in the talks. One embassy is even sending the message back to their capital that the UK had moved about as far as it could at this stage of the talks and there is a danger of backing the prime minister into a corner – precisely what May herself is now saying.


Reaction to the prime minister’s comments in Brussels is starting to come in.

The Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said:

The prime minister cannot say one thing in Brussels and another in Britain. She needs to face down the right-wing Brexiteers in her party in order to guarantee the talks actually move forward.

Above all, she still needs to protect citizens’ rights to ensure they are not a casualty of a no deal Brexit, and the European Union must also do more to make this happen.

Allie Renison, the head of EU and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, warned that “rigidity will cost both sides dearly” in the talks:

No one should treat this as a simple game of brinkmanship; the livelihoods of too many businesses and employees are at stake.

We hope EU member states will use the next two months to work constructively with the European commission and the UK, so that discussion on our future relationship and interim arrangements in particular starts before the end of the year.

Finally, while we know there is a risk of all parties failing to reach a deal, it is important that this does not become an overriding fixation for the UK.

Beyond the Brexit talks, the US president, Donald Trump, has been criticised for erroneously linking a rise in recorded crime in England and Wales - which he referred to as the United Kingdom - and the “spread of radical Islamic terror”.

Labour’s deputy leader was among those to chastise Trump.

Some more on Macron’s comments: asked by a journalist if he took “seriously the threat of no deal, raised by some Conservatives”, the French president said: “There is one negotiator on the British side under the political authority of Theresa May. At no moment has Theresa May ever raised a ‘no deal’ as an option.”

He added that, if there were “noises, bluff, false information by secondary actors or spectators to this discussion or in the media” in the UK, it was just part and parcel of it. But he stressed the option of “no deal” had not been formally put on the table.

In no case is it part of the discussions. The discussions are going forward. They are going forward at a better pace these past few weeks. But the objective of all the negotiators is to get to an agreement on the first phase.

If there’s no agreement on the first phase, there can’t be a moving on to the second phase. And it’s principally the UK that has something to lose by that, given its very strong dependence on the European Union and its engagements taken as part of the European Union.

Asked to put a figure on the divorce bill, Macron said: “It’s not up to me to put a figure on the remaining amount — it’s up to Michel Barnier to lead the detail on that — but it’s substantial.”

The Confederation of British Industry’s director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, says the warm words” at the European council summit are welcome and praised the prime minister for her Florence speech. “But, for firms across Europe, warm words are not enough”.

She called for firms to be given more stability.

A transition deal by year end is top of the list. We urge the EU to put people before process and take a pragmatic approach to recognising sufficient progress. And the UK must continue to seek to unblock discussions. Where agreement is within touching distance, make the final step.

While all effort and goodwill must go into securing the new partnership, firms across the EU have no choice but to prepare for all outcomes, including ‘no deal’. Larger firms are already well advanced in their plans and the CBI will now support its small and medium sized members to do the same. Inevitably, as these plans are implemented there is a cost to communities, from Berlin to Brighton.

Both sides must put the shared interests of UK and EU citizens first by providing a roadmap for the future, with transition agreed by Christmas so the shape of the final deal can be discussed early next year.


Macron accuses the UK of 'bluffing' over 'no deal' option

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has given a press conference at the European council summit. He acknowledged the positive signals coming out of the European council summit on the Brexit negotiations. But he said:

And Macron insisted that, even if some in Britain say it would be possible to walk away from the EU without any deal, May never mentioned the possibility. Macron called speculation about that option “bluffing”.



Here are the morning’s main developments:

  • The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said reports of a deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated and insisted there has been progress.
  • EU leaders have agreed to start internal discussions on their approach to the “second phase” - talks on trade and the transition to Brexit.
  • Theresa May said negotiators are going through how much Britain owes the EU in financial contributions line by line.
  • The former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, told BBC Radio 4’s Today no deal would be “disastrous for the county”.
  • Mandelson also said Labour was in a strong position electorally but warned Jeremy Corbyn of the dangers of playing only to his base.


Tusk said:

My impression is that the reports of the deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated. While progress has not been sufficient, it doesn’t mean there has been no progress at all.

The negotiations go on and we will continue to approach them positively and constructively. I hope that we will be able to move to the second phase of our talks in December...

I want to be the positive motivator for the next five or six weeks because our ambition is to achieve this, the final of the first phase in December. And for this we need also, maybe, more positive narrative ...

What was my feeling today, also during my meeting before our session, my tete-a-tete with Prime Minister Theresa May, I feel that, for sure, both sides present only goodwill, and this is why I, maybe, in my rhetoric, I’m, maybe, a little bit more optimistic than Michel Barnier, but we are also in a different role.

Michel Barnier is responsible for the negotiations, I am more responsible, first of all for our unity, but also for a good atmosphere and positive mood. This is the only difference.

And here is Juncker

The press conference has concluded but here is Tusk in optimistic mood:

Juncker says no-one from Britain has explained to him what a “no deal” looks like and he says no-one explained to the British people what Brexit would look like.

Asked about European Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michele Barnier’s use of the expression “deadlock” last week, Tusk says this is not the best moment to discuss “rhetoric”. He wants to be positive, he says.

Both sides present only goodwill, he insists, although he concedes that he is maybe more optimistic

The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, makes a reference to the British press being “superficial”. He jokes - I think - that he might have used the expression “deadlock” four times instead of three. He adds:

I want to have a fair deal with Britain.

Juncker said he would “hate no deal”.


Tusk said he hopes to move into the second phase of Brexit talks in December. He said Theresa May’s Florence speech had given the talks some momentum.

'Deadlock exaggerated' - Tusk

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk is speaking in Brussels now. He says reports of a deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated and insists there has been progress.


Video of the prime minister’s press conference can now be viewed online:

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, has responded to Iain Duncan Smith’s defence of Universal Credit on this morning’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

In particular, she has attacked his claim that 60% of people going on to Universal Credit were carrying debts accrued as a result of problems with the tax credit regime.

Those struggling to keep their heads above water on the government’s disastrous Universal Credit full service won’t appreciate a history lesson from the man responsible for much of this mess.

The former work and pensions secretary’s claims have been disproved by the DWP’s own statistics, which show that half of those in rent arrears under Universal Credit went into arrears after staring their claim.

I would also like to gently remind him that Labour’s tax credits improved the lives of millions of families, making work pay and helping to lift over a million children out of poverty, rather than exacerbating the problem as the emaciated Universal Credit system is predicted to do.

Regardless, the admission by Mr Duncan Smith that there are high levels of debt under Universal Credit is surely enough for him to back our calls for a pause and fix. A call supported by the House of Commons in a unanimous vote.

Yet more on the presentational issues associated with Theresa May’s appearance in Brussels:

It has been speculated that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron’s decision to walk to the summit chamber with Theresa May yesterday was intended as a public show of support for her and an attempt to avoid the emergence of more damaging images that appear to cast the prime minister as a lonely figure in Brussels.

Some are still left wondering if her team has quite mastered the optics, however.

Perhaps this is more the shot they were hoping for:

The British prime minister, Theresa May, meets the European council president, Donald Tusk.
The British prime minister, Theresa May, meets the European council president, Donald Tusk. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AFP/Getty Images


The final question from journalists is on Catalonia. What advice does May have for the region’s leadership?

May sidesteps that, saying she has spoken to the Spanish prime minister and the country’s law and constitution must be respected. The Spanish courts had ruled Catalonia’s independence referendum unconstitutional prior to it being held.

May is asked when she will be able to put a number on it.

She says it will “come as part of the final agreement”, without putting a date on it.

The prime minister is asked if the bill could go as high as €60bn.

She responds that she has been very clear in saying the government will go through the financial contribution proposals “line by line”.

The next question refers to the December talks: is May willing to give further detail in order to get talks moving?

The prime minister rather sidesteps the question, saying she is “positive and optimistic about where we can get to”.

May is asked about the money to be paid by the UK - has the quantity increased? She says nothing has changed from her Florence speech.


On Brexit, May says the EU and UK “share the same objective” of protecting the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.

May says the Belfast agreement must be at the heart of the approach, that the peace process must not be affected and that there must be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Theresa May is opening her delayed press conference. She says she looks forward to working with the EU in the future.

The EU leaders also discussed foreign policy, May says, adding that they reiterate their “firm commitment” to the Iran nuclear deal. She also condemns North Korea and specifically names China as a nation that must help deal with the issue.

EU27 to begin internal trade talk deliberations

As mentioned earlier - now confirmed - EU leaders have agreed to start internal discussions on their approach to the “second phase” - talks on trade and the transition to Brexit. This does not mean that such talks between the UK and EU27 are set to start, however.

But the move does pave the way for the possible start of formal talks on the future EU/UK trade relationship in December.


Theresa May’s press conference, which was due to start about 15 minutes ago, is likely to get going closer to 10.30am, we’re told.

The former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is floating around the European Council, saying Theresa May’s efforts are “absolutely dismal” and she should not have signed up to talking simply about three red-line issues - EU citizens, Northern Ireland and money - before going on to discuss trade.

But he held out some hope there could be a breakthrough, courtesy of the German chancellor Angela Merkel, who he said was under pressure from domestic industry. “Merkel could be the peace broker. She is the only hope,” he said.

A Commons committee will examine how prepared the government is for a “no deal” exit from the European Union.

The Treasury select committee will hear from Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former ambassador to the European Union, who has described a no deal Brexit as “nuts”.

The committee, which is led by the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, will consider transitional arrangements and the long-term economic relationship between the UK and EU as part of its inquiry. Morgan, a Conservative MP and a prominent Remain supporter, said:

The progress and outcome of the Brexit negotiations will have profound implications for the economy and public finances. The committee will consider the short-term risks to an orderly withdrawal, and the shape of the long-term economic relationship.

Firms and individuals need certainty about the situation after March 2019. The priority of the inquiry, therefore, will be to consider the negotiation, design and governance of transitional arrangements.

Sir Ivan, who quit his Brussels post in January citing “muddled thinking” about Brexit, will give evidence on October 25 along with legal experts Professor Sir Alan Dashwood QC and Professor Catherine Barnard.

The Department for Exiting the EU has responded to reports that the minister in charge, David Davis, is planning to present a “no-deal” plan to the cabinet, saying:

It is in everyone’s interests to secure a good deal for both sides. We think that is by far and away the most likely outcome, but we have a duty to plan for the alternative.

As expected, May and Tusk are meeting in Brussels.


Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary defends the Universal Credit rollout. Opponents have attacked it for pushing people into debt, among other things.

The way it was set to roll out is unique because, in the past when tax credit was rolled out, it was rolled out cross the country at one go. Nearly a million people got not money. And, since then, it’s been open to fraud and abuse. Some people say over £20bn has been lost through fraud and tax credits.

People still arrive in my surgery and many surgeries having huge debts at the end of the year because of tax credits.

All of this goes with Universal Credit. But the problem is that when they moved tax credits over... many of these people - 60% coming on to Universal Credit - carry debts and arrears already, directly as a result of those arrangement which are failing.

Iain Duncan Smith opens his Today programme interview by objecting to the connotations of the phrase ‘no deal’, saying it suggests a position with no trade rules. Instead, it is a case of “what deal”, he says, and World Trade Organisation rules, which would be used if no deal was reached, is a position with trade rules. But he clarifies: it is not a position he would want necessarily to see.

The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said Theresa May told Europe’s leaders she will not accept a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He commended her address at the summit and said her language on the issue had strengthened.

She specifically referenced the unique situation for both Ireland and Northern Ireland, which I think was very positive. She strengthened her language in relation to the border. She said the UK would not accept a physical border on the island of Ireland - again very positive language.

But Varadkar repeated his call for more detail on the border question.

The Leave-supporting former cabinet member, Iain Duncan Smith, is also due to give an interview to the same programme in about 15 minutes - check back for updates on that.

Referring to Labour’s electoral chances, Mandelson closes by saying the party is in a strong position. But he warns Jeremy Corbyn of the dangers of playing only to his base, saying he will win a significantly larger majority at the next general election if he appeals also to more “centrist” voters as well.

Asked if he backs a second referendum, Mandelson says he’s “not going that far this morning” and backs parliamentary sign-off on the Brexit deal. That, he says, is because he wants to “listen to the public”.

Mandelson suggests some facets of Brexit are only just coming to light now and talk of reversing course needs to wait. If, in time, the public takes a different view, then Labour should take a different view, he says.

Mandelson rejects the suggestion that Labour’s position is no clearer, saying the party wants to remain in the single market and customs union during a transition period. That, he says, would secure economic continuity.

But he acknowledges Labour wants to keep its options open beyond that to see what it could achieve from talks, should it be given the chance to hold them.

Mandelson suggests the UK government’s threats to walk away without a deal -like Leave campaign’s claims that one would be easy to achieve - are “ridiculous”.

He further suggests the EU27 don’t know who within the cabinet they are negotiating with because it is split between a hard and soft Brexit.

The former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, is giving an interview to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the Brexit negotiations.

He starts by saying no deal would be “disastrous for the county”.

The European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said he was not expecting a “miracle” at today’s talks of the kind that would clear the way for an immediate start of trade talks.

The EU27 leaders will consider the progress made in Brexit talks so far, Juncker said, adding: “I don’t think that there will be a miracle.”

Responding to May’s speech, he said: “We have some details but we don’t have all the details we need. But work is going on.”

The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, said both sides needed to stop “positioning” in the media, and start properly negotiating. She said:

It was not expected to have a success at this European council. We hope we will be able, and she will be able to have success in December.

[We need] from words to real deeds. And probably we all – not only the UK, us also – it is time go for real negotiations and and not just negotiating in the the media by rhetoric.

Usually, the first stage of a negotiation starts in the media. We try to position ourselves make nice rhetoric, to show up. Enter thoughts for internal politics, either in Britain or Europe

It is time to go straight to the table.

Asked if she agreed with Muscat that the speech was May’s best effort so far, she said: “If we talk about rhetorical abilities, maybe. But, in negotiations, you need concrete negotiation abilities. Not only rhetoric.”


The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is having an unexpected bilateral with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in the margins of the European council meeting in Brussels.

Arriving at the summit, the Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, described Theresa May’s speech the previous evening as her “best performance yet”. However, he said her appeal hadn’t “changed anything”.

I think it was quite a constructive speech that she delivered. She made her case in a very eloquent manner but I think it hasn’t really changed anything from before that. I think today’s assessment will be a fair assessment. It will be one where we show we want to be constructive about what we want next in Brexit. I don’t think it will contain the language that we have made sufficient progress.

To be honest, I think it was her best performance yet in the sense that it conveyed a warm candid and sincere appeal that she wants progress to be made that she has moved her position. I think that was appreciated.

Obviously, there are the problems that we all know. And I think the wording of today’s statement will show there is willingness on the EU side to move forward.

The Austrian chancellor, Christian Kern, said:

It is clear to see there is rhetorical progress but we need to come to conclusions because uncertainty is not good for the continent and economies. It is up the to the British government to propose something that is the basis for progress, that is important.


The EU27, those member states remaining after Brexit, are expected to declare that insufficient progress has been made in negotiations for trade talks to begin. Several leaders have made clear they want more clarity about how much the UK is willing to pay in its Brexit divorce bill.

But they are also expected to offer May a glimmer of hope by agreeing to start internal “scoping” work on their trade stance ahead of a possible green-light for the second phase of negotiations, dealing with trade and the transition to Brexit, at their next gathering on 14-15 December.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said the EU27 needed “more meat on the bone” of Britain’s exit payment, following May’s promise in a speech in Florence last month that the UK would honour financial commitments made as an EU member.

The offer was believed to amount to around €20bn (£18bn), while Brussels is understood to be seeking about three times as much.


May arrives for European council summit's final day

Good morning and welcome to today’s politics live blog, which opens with Theresa May arriving for the final day of talks with fellow EU leaders after her speech at a working dinner last night.

The prime minister did not speak to reporters as she walked into the building in Brussels but she was given a boost by her counterparts after pleading with them last night to “work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people”.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, gave an upbeat assessment of the Brexit talks, saying that she sees no reason why they should not succeed.

I have no doubt that if we are all in clear minds ... We are going to achieve a good outcome. As far as I am concerned, I don’t hear any reason to believe that we are not going to be successful.

Merkel said she was “highly motivated” to work on a new mandate for chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which might permit trade talks to begin in December. But she warned the second stage of talks would be “more complicated than the first”.

On the divorce issues dealt with in the first stage, there was “by and large general agreement” on the future status of the Irish border and “headway” was being made on expats’ rights after Brexit, Merkel said, though she added that May had made no specific new offer on Britain’s financial settlement.

The Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said May had delivered “her best performance yet” at Thursday evening’s dinner, but that her intervention had not “really changed anything”. He told Sky News:

It conveyed a warm, candid and sincere appeal that she wants progress to be made, that she has moved in her position. I think it was appreciated.

Muscat said problems remained in the Brexit process and that he did not expect the EU27 to clear the way for trade talks at this summit. But he said: “I think the wording in today’s conclusions will show that there is willingness on the EU side to move forward.”

Here’s a brief – but by no means exhaustive – preview of the morning’s action at the European council summit in Brussels:

  • May is expected to hold talks with the council’s president, Donald Tusk, before leaving early as the remaining 27 leaders discuss their assessment of progress on Brexit in her absence.
  • She will give a press conference at 10am (BST) and another with Jean-Claude Junker, the president of the European commission, and Barnier is due at 11.30am.
  • The former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, is due to give an interview to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme at 8.10am.


This article titled "Brexit: Emmanuel Macron accuses Brexiters of 'bluffing' on no-deal scenario - as it happened" was written by Haroon Siddique (now) and Kevin Rawlinson (earlier), for on Friday 20 October 2017 03.57pm


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