British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble.
The leader of Scotland’s Jewish community is demanding that the UK Labour party take action against antisemitism in its party’s ranks.
Ephraim Borowski, the director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, told The Scotsman, “If Labour wants to be taken seriously as the party of equality, then the time for antisemitism denial must be over.”
Labour has been wracked by antisemitism scandals since far-left MP Jeremy Corbyn won control of the party in 2015, with Corbyn himself implicated in several of them.
Citing a “pattern of antisemitism” in Labour, Borowski said, “Once can be a mis-speak, twice can even be a coincidence but repetition over and again is a pattern from which you can draw inferences. It is very saddening to see that, but it’s a fact.”
Some 500 students, staff and community members gathered at the University of Essex on Thursday in a show of solidarity against antisemitism, after…
He cited the definition of “institutional racism” contained in the Macpherson Report, an inquiry into the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and said the situation in the Labour party currently met that definition.
The report said institutional racism was “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin.”
“Labour could mark the anniversary of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry by looking at the definition of institutional racism, and seeing for themselves the ‘prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and stereotyping’ of Jewish people that is alive and well in the party,” Borowski said.
Borowski pointed to statements by Scottish Labour councilors Jim Sheridan and Mary Bain Lockhart. Sheridan said he had no “respect and empathy” for Jews because of their opposition to Labour antisemitism. Lockhart claimed the Mossad was conspiring to prevent a Labour electoral victory.
Borowski also mentioned Jewish MP Luciana Berger, who split from Labour to form the Independent Group partly due to antisemitism within the party.
“We’re getting these conspiracy theories again and again from Labour people,” Borowski said. “We saw that when MP Ruth George claimed that Luciana Berger and the Independent Group were financed by Israel. We saw that in the words by Councillor Lockhart about Mossad. Sheridan and Lockhart might have had their knuckles rapped, but nothing ever really happens. The Jewish community is looking for real action.”
He also asserted that the Scottish Labour party had essentially ignored the issue.
“Last year they said they wanted advice and assistance on how to handle antisemitism in Scotland, but despite Sheridan and Lockhart no one has been in touch and nothing has happened,” he said.
Net migration from non-EU countries to the UK rose by 261,000 people last year – the highest level since 2004 – Britain’s Office for National Statistics has said. Migration from EU states fell to a low since 2009. “Different patterns for EU and non-EU migration have emerged since mid-2016, when the EU referendum vote took place,” the ONS said. Reducing immigration was a key promise of pro-Brexit politicians.
With scarcely a month left until the date Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, the monetary czars at the top of the world’s central banks are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that a ‘hard’, no-deal Brexit now seems to be the most likely outcome. Given Parliament’s recent, overwhelming rejection of Theresa May’s long-negotiated Brexit deal, and the clock rapidly running down on any hope for renegotiation, it looks like the type of Brexit looming on the horizon will be verging on a central banker’s worst nightmare: an abrupt disruption to existing institutions, with all the economic uncertainty that entails, rather than the slow, politically-managed transition period May and others were hoping for.
As the formerly remote prospect of a no-deal Brexit draws ever closer, central banks around the world have begun laying out their plans to shield their respective economies from the turmoil many mainstream analysts are expecting. Little wonder that many of these contingency plans centre around the most important, and most dangerous, policy tool in the central banker’s arsenal: their ability to inflate the money supply and keep interest rates artificially low.
In the UK itself, monetary policymakers at the Bank of England have indicated that a no-deal Brexit could lead to a reversal of the Bank’s current gradual normalization of interest rates. After having dropped the important ‘Bank rate’ of interest to the historic low of 0.25% in the aftermath of the June 2016 Brexit referendum, the Bank of England has subsequently raised it again twice, to its current level of 0.75%, by far its highest since the official end of the Great Recession in 2009. However, Gertjan Vlieghe, a member of the Bank’s rate-setting monetary policy committee, recently announced that “in the case of a no-deal scenario I judge that an easing or an extended pause in monetary policy is more likely to be the appropriate policy response than a tightening”. Money markets seem to be even more unambiguous in their expectations, predicting no possibility of a rise in interest rates until at least May 2020.
The story coming out of the Federal Reserve has been much the same. Thanks to the relatively strong recovery in the US economy over the past two years, the Fed has been able to raise interest rates much more quickly than central banks in most other countries. After three rate hikes in 2017 and another four in 2018, the Fed Funds Rate now sits at 2.5%, up from the effective zero rate of 0.25% it maintained between 2008-2015. However, the confidence at the Fed which has allowed this welcome trend seems now to be quaking, due to a range of factors including both Brexit and the Chinese economic slowdown. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell recently made his strongest statement yet against continuing the process of interest rate normalization, arguing that “the case for raising rates has weakened”, and revealing that the Federal Open Market Committee had agreed to take a “patient” approach to future rate hikes. Although the Fed had previously indicated the likelihood of two more rate hikes in 2019, futures markets have reacted to Powell’s speech by predicting no further tightening, and even a slight chance of another fall in interest rates over the next year.
The European Central Bank has, predictably enough, reacted to the threat of a no-deal Brexit by calling forincreased integration of EU capital markets and further “deepening” of the Economic and Monetary Union and the Single Market “beyond its financial dimension”. They have also called for their “macroprudential toolkit to be expanded to address potential risks around … liquidity”, i.e. for greater powers to create new money and inject it into the financial system. Consequently, markets have slashed back their previous bets on an upcoming ECB rates hike, and there has even been speculation that the ECB might start a new round of stimulus spending via cheap bank loans.
Japan has also recently signalled that it may begin injecting more stimulus, while Australia and Sweden have indicated that they might rethink their previous plans to raise rates in the coming months.
Having lived through the past decade of artificially low interest rates and monetary expansion by central banks, it hardly comes as a surprise that those same policies should be resorted to in response to the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. Indeed, it would be easy to simply shrug ones shoulders and attribute these announcements to nothing more than the fact that, as the famous Mark Twain quote goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.
However, as reflexive and blindly pragmatic as these policy responses may sometimes seem, it is important to remember that they are built on their own intellectual foundation in mainstream economic theory, and therefore cannot be effectively tackled other than on that same level of ideas.
The problem with central banks’ repeated recourse to easy monetary policy is not, fundamentally, that it’s the same solution they always seem to point to in times of crisis. The problem with that policy is that it systematically underestimates and overlooks the damages which result from the financial system’s inflation of the money supply through the creation of fiduciary media, usually enabled and coordinated by central banks. This sort of artificial inflation of the money supply not only diminishes the purchasing power of the currency over time, it also results in a redistribution of purchasing power from ordinary citizens to those close to the financial system and the state. Perhaps most importantly, central banks’ insistence on maintaining artificially low interest rates has been shown, by the Austrian Business Cycle Theory of Ludwig von Mises, to be the key cause of cyclical economic crises.
Only through widespread education in these ideas of sound, Austrian economics, will it be possible to shift the monetary orthodoxy away from its present preference for artificially low interest rates, and perhaps eventually disrupt the current, seemingly perpetual cycle of crises and inflationism.
(GUA) Labour leader tells MPs party will back another vote as last resort to stop Tory deal
Jeremy Corbyn has finally thrown his party’s weight behind a second EU referendum, backing moves for a fresh poll with remain on the ballot paper if Labour should fail to get its own version of a Brexit deal passed this week.
The decision to give the party’s backing to a second referendum follows a concerted push by the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, and the deputy leader, Tom Watson, who fear any further delay could have led to more defections to the breakaway Independent Group (TIG), whose members all back a second referendum.
Although the move has delighted MPs who are backing the People’s Vote campaign, Corbyn is likely to face determined opposition from dozens of MPs in leave seats if the party whips to back a second referendum, including a significant number of frontbenchers.
The former shadow minister Lucy Powell said she believed at least 25 MPs would vote against any whip to back a second referendum, meaning that it would face an uphill struggle to pass the Commons without significant Conservative support.
A private briefing sent to Labour MPs on Monday night and seen by the Guardian makes it clear that Labour’s policy would be to include remain as an option in any future referendum.
“We’ve always said that any referendum would need to have a credible leave option and remain,” the briefing said. “Obviously at this stage that is yet to be decided and would have to be agreed by parliament.”
The briefing also makes it clear that the party would not support no deal being included on the ballot paper. “There’s no majority for a no-deal outcome and Labour would not countenance supporting no deal as an option,” the briefing says. “What we are calling for is a referendum to confirm a Brexit deal, not to proceed to no deal.”
The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, indicated on Monday evening that both she and Corbyn would campaign for remain if there were a future public vote.
“We would have a referendum on whatever deal it is that may or may not pass through parliament and we would be saying to people: ‘Do you want this, or do you want to remain?’” she told Channel 4 News.
Thornberry said she “would certainly be campaigning for us to remain” in those circumstances and, when asked if Corbyn shared that view, she added: “If it’s a choice between a disastrous Tory Brexit or no deal, and remaining, then that is what we will have to do.”
The redrawing of Labour’s objectives is likely to stem any fresh flood of resignations to TIG, whose members include the former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie as well as the ex-Tory MP Anna Soubry, all key figures in the People’s Vote movement.
Corbyn told MPs the party would back a fresh poll as a final resort in order to stop “a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country”.
Speaking to MPs on Monday night, a week after seven MPs who backed a referendum quit the party, Corbyn said Labour would first table its own version of a Brexit deal, including a permanent customs union.
That amendment is set to be tabled to the government’s Brexit motion on Wednesday, when Labour will also whip to back another amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper and the Tory Oliver Letwin, which would legislate for a delay to the UK’s exit date in order to avoid no deal.
May is expected to make a last-ditch attempt to avoid a serious cabinet rebellion over that amendment this week. The Guardian reported last weekthat at least four cabinet ministers and almost a dozen junior ministers and many others on the government payroll were ready to rebel and vote for the measure.
The prime minister’s most likely option is a pledge to let MPs vote on delaying Brexit if the withdrawal deal does not pass by 12 March, though Cooper and Letwin’s backers have suggested they will reject that approach.
Party sources said Labour would not introduce or back any amendment for a second referendum this week, but see the crunch point at the next opportunity – likely to be the next meaningful vote on the Brexit deal that May has promised to hold by 12 March.
It is highly unlikely Labour’s amendment on its own Brexit deal will pass on Wednesday, making it almost inevitable the party will move to back another referendum.
Corbyn told MPs that Labour “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. “One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.
“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”
Yet recriminations came from leave-supporting Labour MPs almost immediately in the private meeting on Monday night. John Mann, a Brexit supporter, said the decision to back a second referendum would cost Labour in the Midlands and the north. “The price will stop you being prime minister,” he told the meeting.
Outside the meeting, the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said he had “deep reservations” about the possibility of a second referendum and suggested it would not pass the House of Commons.
“I think it would be deeply divisive. It has a corrosive impact on the sovereignty of parliament and it is not clear to me still what should be on the ballot paper,” he said.
It is understood that about a dozen shadow ministers could consider their positions if Labour whips MPs to back a second referendum.
Those who vocally oppose a second referendum include the shadow justice minister Gloria de Piero, the shadow housing minister Melanie Onn and shadow education minister Tracy Brabin as well as backbenchers including Caroline Flint, Gareth Snell and Lisa Nandy.
Seventeen Labour MPs, including eight shadow ministers, voted against or abstained on Cooper’s previous amendment to extend article 50 last month.
Future Labour support for a second referendum could come in the form of backing for a proposed amendment to the meaningful vote proposed by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson.
That proposal would approve May’s deal subject to a fresh referendum, though senior Labour officials are thought to be uneasy about backing any amendment that endorses the Tory Brexit deal.
Jeremy Corbyn must change to save “the soul of the Labour Party”, his deputy Tom Watson has declared.
In an outspoken interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Labour’s deputy leader urged Mr Corbyn to shake up his top team and said party reforms designed to tackle anti-Semitic abuse had “not been adequate”.
He also pushed back at fellow frontbencher Emily Thornberry’s calls to “crush” the MPs who quit Labour this week to form a breakaway group – and said he “might well” join an upcoming march for a second referendum vote on Brexit.
Mr Corbyn was hit by the resignation of nine MPs this week, with eight of them going on to form a separate Independent Group in the House of Commons.
Each MP accused the Labour leadership of failing to get to grips with anti-semitism, while those from the Independent Group also hit out at Labour’s position on Brexit.
Mr Watson told the BBC that the loss of nine colleagues had been a “real blow” to he party – which now needed to change “very, very rapidly”.
Asked whether that meant Mr Corbyn himself needed to change, Mr Watson said: “Of course Jeremy needs to understand that, if we’re going to be in Number 10 he needs to change the Labour Party…
“Firstly, we’ve got to eradicate anti-semitism, anti-jewish racism in all its forms.
“This week I’ve had 50 complaints of anti-semitism from my parliamentary colleagues that I’ve shared with Jeremy and for us to address that now, I think he needs to take a personal lead on examining those cases and, if necessary, recommending to our NEC what has to be done.”
He added: “I’m saying for us to hold this party together, things have got to change.
‘There’s almost a sort of crisis for the soul of the Labour Party now and that means that everyone that cares about our future, whatever tradition they represent, has to find it within themselves to work more closely together.”
FORMBY REFORMS ‘NOT ADEQUATE’
Labour has said tackling anti-semitism in the party is the “number one priority” of its recently-appointed general secretary Jennie Formby.
Since last summer, the party has brought in a new in-house counsel to deal with anti-semitism; beefed up the size of its team dealing with investigations and disputes; and set up new panels on its National Executive Committee “to enable cases to be heard more quickly”.
But Mr Watson said those changes had not succeeded.
“I think the situation is so grave now that he [Jeremy Corbyn] understands he needs to make a personal intervention,” he said.
“You know we appointed a new general secretary who made it her priority to deal with it. Very patently the Jennie Formby reforms have not been adequate.
“They have not succeeded. And therefore it requires another sort of push to try and make sure that, as [Shadow Chancellor] John McDonnell says, one case of anti-semitism in our Labour Party is unacceptable and we need a zero-tolerance approach to that.”
‘DIAL DOWN THE RHETORIC’
Elsewhere in his interview, the deputy leader repeated his call for Mr Corbyn to shake-up his shadow cabinet to better represent the “different ideas and traditions” of the Labour Party.
And, in a direct challenge to the leader, Mr Watson declared that he was willing to set up his own group inside the party to give a voice to “social democratic” ideas which he argued were being sidelined by the current set-up.
“I would prefer a reshuffle,” he said.
“But if there isn’t one I think I’d need to give a platform for my colleagues who want their ideas to be listened to by the current Shadow Cabinet… It hasn’t got form yet, because I’m reacting to events like everyone else and I didn’t know that colleagues were going to break away last Monday. So give me a bit of time. But my central point is: that social democratic voice has to be heard.”
The deputy leader also took aim at fellow frontbencher Emily Thornberry, after she told a rally of Labour supporters that the party should “crush” MPs who had left the fold.
“It was our manifesto and our leader that gave them the huge majorities that they now have in their seats – those seats they have betrayed by their actions,” she told a rally in Broxtowe.
But Mr Watson said: “I think it’s incumbent on all of us to sort of dial down the rhetoric, to try and understand the reasons that people feel they’re leaving the main political parties, to try and bring the country back together that is divided by Brexit.”
PEOPLE’S VOTE HINT
The Labour leadership is also facing pressure from some MPs to swing the party behind a second referendum on Brexit, with reports that more could be prepared to resign if Mr Corbyn does not back a backbench bid for a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ expected next week.
The party agreed a motion at its annual conference last year which says: “if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.
But some in the party fear that backing a referendum vote could see Labour shed support among Leave voters.
Mr Watson told the BBC he “might well” attend an upcoming rally for a second referendum.
“If Theresa May can’t find it within herself to meet our red lines, closer economic union, then obviously our conference policy says that the next stage would be in favour of a people’s vote,” he said.
“So if we get to to that point then, yes, I will be on the march.”
But he refused to be drawn on whether Labour would come out in favour of a second referendum in the Commons this week, saying: “We’re heading in that direction but there’s still more play in the days ahead.
If Britain leaves the EU without a deal next month, Europe’s Brexit negotiators will not end talks but reset their clocks to April 18, when the UK must decide if it will pay towards the EU 2019 budget.
There is a phrase that has a lot of currency among Labour members of parliament in Britain who hate the direction their party has taken under Jeremy Corbyn. They say they will “stay and fight”. The vow is sometimes taken in private, sometimes declared on social media alongside a plea for others to do the same. It has become so familiar that its meaning is rarely interrogated.
But what is this fight? Who is it against? What does victory look like? The answers are not comfortable for the stayers. The enemy is the elected leader of their party and he enjoys the overwhelming support of its members. Corbyn’s position is so unassailable that his would-be assailants hardly dare to criticise him. They grumble about Labour’s position on Brexit and agitate for the endorsement of a second referendum. They express horror at the way anti-Semitism has eaten into the party like gangrene and demand surgical intervention. But in public, the dissenters avoid pointing blame squarely at the leader or even at individuals in his entourage.
In other words, the fight is against the way Labour is going, but not explicitly against the people who are taking it there. It is for a change of leadership — in theory — but only once the incumbent steps down, whenever that may be. Until this week, the best defence of that position was the absence of alternatives. Then seven Labour MPs quit to set up an “independent group” in parliament. The schismatic group might not look electorally viable, their plan might be ramshackle, their agenda obscure — but the fact they have taken action exposes the passivity of the remaining anti-Corbyn rump. It also flushes out tricky questions about what Labour is really for.
Those who find such questions uncomfortable hide behind the image of a “broad church”. This is another boilerplate phrase whose meaning wilts under scrutiny. When does a church become so broad that its congregants no longer profess the same faith? For Labour, that challenge goes beyond the present rows over Brexit and anti-Semitism. It drills into deep ideological faultlines.
Corbyn’s party has no leftmost boundary. There is no form of radical socialism that it deems taboo. It welcomes people who wave hammer and sickle flags, whether they are unaware of atrocities committed under that banner or simply relaxed about them. It is not controversial in the Labour leader’s office to see the fall of the Berlin Wall as a sad event. Corbyn’s inner circle includes former senior Communist party members and Stalinists.
A lot more than seven Labour MPs think Britain would be badly governed by such people and that the levers of state power — the army, police and security services — must never come under their hands.
The usual defence against charges that the party has been captured by extremists is to wave the 2017 election manifesto. It pledges nothing more sinister than a spot of light renationalisation, which is meant to prove that the whole project would look centrist by the standards of continental Europe. If it seems ultra-left it is only because former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher sent Britain hurtling off to the Right. Many Labour moderates suspect the trajectory is to a darker place, and it is more than a hunch. Their view is based on Corbyn’s past associations, familiarity with the tactics of the hard left at local party level and the invective of online trolls. But that is thin evidence in the court of members’ opinion. The leader’s testimony as a mild-mannered peacenik is more persuasive. So the question of what Corbynism really means has been parked. The model could be anywhere between Venezuelan socialism and Swedish social democracy. It can sound revolutionary for whipping up passions at a rally and reasonable for reassuring swing voters. It wants to abolish capitalism at the demo but only to reform it on the doorstep.
Those are not pillars supporting the same roof of a broad church. They are rival conceptions of what a government is for. Only in opposition can the cracks be painted over with gooey red gloss from the tin marked “Labour values”. This is the stuff that non-Corbynites reach for when they want to indicate their belonging to an institution that no longer belongs to them. Its raw material is moral certainty that progress and social justice are the exclusive property of the left, represented uniquely by Labour. It follows that any government sporting Labour branding is better than any alternative.
That view has been borne out often enough by appalling Conservative administrations, but it breeds ethical complacency. It implies that the merit in any idea — or person — can be dismissed simply by applying the label “Tory”. That is also a device for enforcing party discipline. Fear of ostracism keeps many unhappy moderates feigning loyalty to the church of Corbyn. (But excommunication is no threat to those who have renounced the faith.)
There is another flaw in the axiom that Left is always good. It invites the conclusion that lefter must be even better and leftest the very best. It is a formula for romanticising dangerously extreme politics. Seven former Labour MPs this week refused to indulge that trend any longer. Their decision has been mourned as tragic by some former colleagues and denounced as wicked by others, which is always the response of believers to apostasy. But the split is just the expression of a banal truth: parties cannot be infinitely broad. People with incompatible views on politics, economics and history cannot all be right about what Labour represents. It is ridiculous to campaign for your party while dreading the prospect of its leader becoming prime minister. It is possible to stay with Corbyn or fight Corbynism, but not both.
Three pro-EU cabinet ministers have issued a blunt warning to Tory Brexiteers that Parliament will prevent them forcing a “disastrous” no-deal break with the EU.
Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke said Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) will only have themselves to blame if Britain’s departure from the EU is delayed.
Their comments are likely to be seen as a thinly veiled warning that they could defy Theresa May to back moves by MPs to prevent a no-deal Brexit in next week’s crunch Commons vote.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted Britain will leave on March 29 as planned.
But writing in the Daily Mail, the ministers said it was clear a majority of MPs would support an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process rather than see no-deal.
They said leaving without an agreement in place with Brussels would weaken national security, “severely” damage the economy, and risk the break-up of the United Kingdom.
“If there is no breakthrough in the coming week, the balance of opinion in Parliament is clear – that it would be better to seek to extend Article 50 and delay our date of departure rather than crash out of the European Union on March 29,” they said.
“It is time that many of our Conservative party colleagues in the ERG recognise that Parliament will stop a disastrous no-deal Brexit on March 29.
“If that happens, they will have no-one to blame but themselves for delaying Brexit.”
They also praised the Prime Minister’s “resiliance” and accused Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg of brushing aside the consequences of Brexit.
The letter added: “A No Deal Brexit will mean that those whose lives straddle the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border will become much more complicated.”
Moderate Conservative MPs are among a group of 100 Leavers and Remainers who have already written to Chief Whip Julian Smith to warn they are ready to vote for a delay Brexit if the “intransigence” of hard-line Brexiteers means Mrs May’s deal is again rejected by the House.
Andrew Percy, one of the leaders of the Brexit Delivery Group, said “dozens” of his colleagues would be prepared to rebel in order to block the UK leaving the European Union without a deal.
In comments apparently aimed at the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteers, Mr Percy warned they risked the prospect of Brexit not happening at all unless they compromised and backed a deal.
“Some of my colleagues have got to recognise that the game they have thus far been playing with regards to this whole process is not going to end well for them and could potentially end with the delaying of, perhaps even no Brexit – which some of us have spent a lot of our parliamentary and political careers campaigning for,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
On Wednesday, the Commons is expected to consider an amendment tabled by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Letwin enabling the House to extend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no deal by mid-March.
A similar amendment was defeated by MPs last month, but there is speculation that enough Tory rebels, alarmed that there is still no-deal in place, could be prepared to back it this time round for it to pass.
Labour ‘moving towards People’s Vote’ says McDonnell
Talks with Brussels are due to resume next week as ministers continue to seek legally binding changes to the Northern Ireland backstop that will enable Mrs May to finally get the withdrawal agreement through the Commons.
MPs in the ERG have warned they will again vote against the deal if they are not satisfied with the changes.
Downing Street has said if there is no deal by Tuesday, the PM will make another statement to the House and table an amendable motion to be debated and voted on the following day.
Before that Mrs May will attend the two-day EU-League of Arab States summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh starting on Sunday.
She is expected to hold one-to-one meetings in the margins of the main conference with key EU figures including European Council president Donald Tusk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Irish premier Leo Varadkar.
No 10 has played down the prospect of a breakthrough, and there is speculation that Mrs May will say she intends to come back to the House again in two weeks time when she addresses MPs on Tuesday.
However it is unclear whether that will be enough to stave off a revolt by MPs alarmed at the prospect of no-deal – including potential ministerial resignations.
The latest development came at the end of an extraordinary week which saw eight Labour MPs and three Tories quit their parties to form a new Independent Group in the Commons supporting a second referendum.
The MPs, who all back a further EU referendum, are not launching a new political party – they will sit in Parliament as the Independent Group.
But Chuka Umunna said they had “taken the first step” and urged other Labour MPs – and members of other parties – to join them in “building a new politics”.
“It is time we dumped this country’s old-fashioned politics and created an alternative that does justice to who we are today and gives this country a politics fit for the here and now – the 21st Century,” he said at a launch event in central London.
He said there would be “no merger” with the Liberal Democrats, who have 11 MPs, and the group wanted to “build a new alternative”.
Chris Leslie said the seven would have their first formal meeting “in a few days” time to “assign roles and responsibilities”.
The group rejected comparisons with the SDP – which broke away from the Labour Party in the early 1980s but eventually merged with the Liberal Party – saying it was a different era and they would not be contesting by-elections.
In a founding statement on its website, the group sets out its approach to the economy, public services and security, as well as Brexit, saying its aim was to “pursue policies that are evidence-based, rather than led by ideology”.
Could more MPs defect to new group?
By BBC Political Correspondent Iain Watson
After months of debate behind closed doors, seven Labour MPs have gone – each with their own tipping point. For Luciana Berger, anti-Semitism, bullying and intimidation was central; for Chris Leslie “Brexit was the tipping point”.
It was clearly a painful decision for Mike Gapes – emotion etched on his face.
Defections to the Independent Group are likely to increase – but it will need to attract some of those beyond Labour to become a proper “centre party”.
Two more MPs were undecided about whether to be at the launch, one of them was 90% but clearly not 100% there.
And more still may be persuaded to go unless they see a more robust response to anti-Semitism.
But what’s interesting is who wasn’t, as well as who was, on stage.
Strong supporters of the Blair/Brown governments such as Peter Kyle and Ben Bradshaw are staying to fight their corner on Brexit and it’s likely in the short term the numbers who do go will be small.
This is no simple centrists v left, or indeed, ultra left split.
However, the reaction of left-wing activists to today’s drama could be crucial.
If they feel fired up to de-select those who share the politics of the defectors but who have no intention of leaving Labour, the splinter could yet become a more sizeable split.
Each of the seven took turns to explain their personal reasons for quitting the party.
Ms Berger said: “I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation. I look forward to a future serving with colleagues who respect each other.”
Chris Leslie said Labour under Mr Corbyn had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”.
Mike Gapes said: “I am sickened that Labour is now perceived by many as a racist, anti-Semitic party.”
He added that it was “increasingly clear that prominent figures in the Corbyn Labour leadership do not want to stop Brexit”.
Ms Berger initially introduced herself as “the Labour Party MP”, before correcting herself and saying: “I am the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree.”Skip Twitter post by @bbclaurak
In a statement, Mr Corbyn said: “I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.
“Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few – redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change.
“The Conservative government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible plan.”
Laura Parker, national coordinator of grassroots Labour campaign Momentum, said the seven MPs wanted to “take us back to the politics of the past” and the “Blair years programme of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of the banks”.
“They offer no concrete solutions, no new ideas and have no support amongst the public,” she added.
Senior Labour figures, including former leader Ed Miliband and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, expressed their dismay at the split, with Mr Khan saying on Facebook that the seven MPs were friends of his but he would not be joining their new group and it was a “desperately sad day”.Skip Twitter post by @Ed_Miliband
Pro-Brexit Labour MP Graham Stringer accused the seven defectors of being “dishonest” about their motives, telling BBC News it had been “clear for some time” that “their agenda is not to change Labour Party policy” but to “set up a new party and leave”.
Dave Prentis, leader of the Unison trade union, said the split was “terrible news” for working people because “split parties don’t win elections” – a message echoed by GMB leader Tim Roache.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the split was “not unexpected, or unwelcome” and his party was open to “working with like-minded groups and individuals in order to give the people the final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU”.
Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis said the resignations had confirmed that Labour “has become the Jeremy Corbyn Party – failing to take action on everything from tackling anti-Jewish racism to keeping our country safe”.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, whose new Brexit Party launched earlier this year, tweeted: “This moment may not look very exciting but it is the beginning of something bigger in British politics – realignment.”
Australia, New Zealand, and the US have already banned Huawei from supplying equipment for their future fifth generation mobile broadband networks, while Canada is reviewing whether the company’s products present a serious security threat.
Most of the UK’s mobile companies – Vodafone, EE and Three – have been working with Huawei on developing their 5G networks.
They are awaiting on a government review, due in March or April, that will decide whether they can use Huawei technology.
As first reported by the Financial Times, the conclusion by the National Cyber Security Centre – part of the intelligence agency GCHQ – will feed into the review.
The decision has not yet been made public, but the security agency said in a statement it had “a unique oversight and understanding of Huawei engineering and cyber security”.
BBC business correspondent Rob Young said the National Cyber Security Centre’s conclusion “will carry weight”, but said the review could still rule against Huawei.
In an interview, Huawei’s cyber security chief John Suffolk told the BBC: “We are probably the most open and transparent organisation in the world. We are probably the most poked and prodded organisation too.”
The former UK chief information officer added: “We don’t say ‘believe us’ we say ‘come and check for yourself’, come and do your own testing and come and do your own verification.
“The more people looking, the more people touching, they can provide their own assurance without listening to what Huawei has to say.”
Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent
If anybody knows just how Huawei works and the threat it might pose to the UK’s security, it is the National Cyber Security Centre.
This arm of GCHQ has been in charge of an annual examination of the Chinese telecoms giant’s equipment, and expressed concerns in its most recent report – not about secret backdoors, but sloppy cyber-security practices.
The NCSC has also been giving advice to UK mobile operators as they order the equipment for the rollout of their 5G networks later this year.
They feel they have been given the same cautious nod the agency appears to have given the government’s Supply Chain Review: keep Huawei out of the core of your 5G networks, but you are OK to use its equipment at phone masts as part of the mix of suppliers.
Australia and New Zealand have taken a very different view by taking a far harder line against Huawei.
That isn’t because they know something about the Chinese firm which the NCSC has missed.
Their decisions were probably based on an assessment of the political as well as security risk of ignoring the urging from the US to shut Huawei out.
And whatever the NCSC’s advice, similar factors will determine the UK government’s final decision.
A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is leading the review into the future of the telecoms industry, said its analysis was “ongoing”.
“No decisions have been taken and any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate,” they said in a statement.
Asked whether the findings changed her country’s stance towards Huawei, the prime minister of New Zealand – which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network that includes the UK – said her government would conduct its own assessment.
Jacinda Ardern told reporters: “It is fair to say Five Eyes, of course, share information, but we make our own independent decisions.”
Last year, BT confirmed that it was removing Huawei’s equipment from the EE core network that it owns.
The network provides a communication system being developed for the UK’s emergency services.
(IrishTimes) Some Brexiteers wanted to vote against the government but agreed to abstain
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused British prime minister of “running down the clock” after her Brexit plan B was defeated in the House of Commons. Video: UK Parliament TV
Minutes before the end of Thursday’s Brexit debate, Conservative Remainer Anna Soubry was leaning across the back of the front bench in energetic conversation with Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay.
Moments later, they left the chamber together to negotiate the terms for her to withdraw an amendment that would have obliged the government to publish civil service advice about the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit.
Under a curiosity of parliamentary procedure, if Ms Soubry’s amendment was passed, the government’s main Brexit motion would have fallen without being put to a vote. By withdrawing it, she left the government open to a defeat and exposed the hardline Conservative Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) as the authors of it.
Mr Barclay opened the debate four hours earlier with an attempt to reassure the Brexiteers about the meaning of the motion endorsing the approach to Brexit voted for on January 29th. That day, MPs backed Graham Brady’s amendment offering support for Theresa May’s Brexit deal on condition that the Northern Ireland backstop would be replaced by alternative arrangements to ensure that the Border remains open.
But they also voted for a non-binding amendment tabled by Conservative Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey which opposed a no-deal Brexit. Former Brexit secretary David Davis wanted an assurance that Britain would leave the EU on March 29th, deal or no deal.
“I am very happy to give . . . that assurance. The cabinet’s position on no deal has been agreed,” Mr Barclay said.
“The Prime Minister has repeated her commitment to the timescale on numerous occasions, including again in her statement this week.”
The Brexit secretary’s statement angered Remainers on both sides of the house and former Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke said the government was pandering to the ERG, which he described as “a kind of breakaway party within a party — a bit like Momentum, really — with a leader and a chief whip”.
Labour view on backstop
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the prime minister had failed to secure any of the changes to the Northern Ireland backstop she was seeking. In answer to a question from North Down Independent MP Sylvia Hermon, Sir Keir confirmed that Labour now accepted and supported the backstop.
“Although we have concerns about the backstop, we do accept that there must be a backstop, it is inevitable and that, therefore, notwithstanding those concerns, we support a backstop. That is very important,” he said.
Former Conservative minister Oliver Letwin described the exchanges between the government and Brexiteer backbenchers as “fascinating and rather horrifying” driving him to the conclusion that the prime minister was prepared to leave the EU without a deal.
Mr Letwin said the only way to prevent this “terrifying” course was for MPs on February 27th to back an amendment that would allow them to take control of the Brexit process away from the government.
“Mostly, our country has operated on the principle that its great work is done by governments, and that we in this House have the extraordinary privilege of observing, informing, scrutinising and checking, but do not have to take the ultimate responsibility for those crucial decisions that those of us who have served in Cabinets and in National Security Councils have, from time to time, had to take about what this country does. On 27 and 28 February, if we come to debate that Bill, and in succeeding weeks and months, as we have to legislate for the policy of this country in relation to the EU, all of us in this House will suddenly have to take the awesome responsibility of playing our part in trying to find a way through that enables our fellow citizens to have a secure and prosperous future,” he said.
While the debate was going on in the chamber, Conservative Brexiteers in the ERG were meeting to agree their strategy. Some wanted to vote against the government but they agreed to abstain and the government was defeated by 45 votes.
The prime minister left the chamber before the vote was announced and when Jeremy Corbyn taunted the Brexit secretary asking him if he would like to respond to the result, Mr Barclay simply shook his head.
The prime minister can delay a meaningful vote, but not for long
A fortnight ago parliament unequivocally told the government that it should return to Brussels and reopen negotiations over the manner in which Britain is to leave the European Union. By a narrow majority, MPs signalled that they would be prepared to pass the withdrawal agreement already negotiated by the prime minister if changes were made to the Irish backstop. It is an open question whether this is achievable at all, but it is deeply unlikely to be achievable by Thursday.
Valentine’s Day, even so, is the next parliamentary Brexit flashpoint. Yet again, it will be a day of high drama and uncertain implication, with a debate having been promised by Theresa May mainly as a strategy for avoiding losing control at the last one. EU officials since have offered occasional warm words, along with occasional cold words about very warm places, but no obvious progress has been made. Rather than a “meaningful vote”, Mrs May plans a “neutral motion” on Thursday, which allows debate but carries no legal force. Her fear will be of amendments, forcing either a delay to Brexit, or a softer Brexit than her party will stand.
Once again, Mrs May wishes for more time. The shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, voiced his fear yesterday that the prime minister’s plan is to “run down the clock”, denying parliament a truly meaningful vote until after the European summit of March 21. This would be barely a week before the UK’s exit from the EU. By this point, without movement from Europe, parliament would effectively have a choice between the prime minister’s deal that it has rejected already, or no deal at all. Parliament, the PM hopes, would blink.
This is a risky strategy. In their last bout of meaningless meaningfulness a fortnight ago, parliament did indeed vote by a slim majority to reject a no-deal Brexit in principle, but the vote was non-binding and best regarded as aspirational. It may also be the EU’s strategy, with Angela Merkel reportedly suggesting at the time that people needed “to look into the abyss before a deal is done at five to midnight”. Yet going right to the wire without a deal is in neither Britain’s interests, nor the EU’s. Alongside the dismay that uncertainty will cause to businesses, such steely brinkmanship augurs ill for any future relationship.
According to reports, Mrs May hopes to defer any binding parliamentary vote until February 27. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Sir Keir suggested that Labour would propose an amendment this week that would compel the government to hold one by that date. By then, the prime minister would have had a month in which to seek renegotiation over the Irish backstop. After two years of fog, Labour’s own position on Brexit came into focus last week, with a clear preference for a permanent customs union. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has already said that the promise of such a customs union is the only thing likely to make the EU reopen the subject of the backstop.
This, rather than a no-deal Brexit, is the real likely alternative to Mrs May’s deal, and her own party’s Brexit hardliners should know it. The prime minister still maintains that she can make her own deal sweeter by finding a route towards legally binding changes to the backstop that will win them over. Parliament can afford to wait another fortnight to find out if she is right. There is no particular reason why it should wait any longer.
Agreement signed between the FCA and Esma covers cooperation and exchanges of information in event of ‘worst case scenario’
The European Union and UK’s market watchdogs have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that asset managers can continue operating smoothly in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
The agreement signed between the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the European Securities and Markets Authority (Esma) covers cooperation and exchanges of information in the event that the UK leaves the EU – scheduled for March 29 – without the necessary deals in place.
Esma said on Friday that the MoU would allow it to continue to meet its mandate regarding investor protection, orderly markets and financial stability in the EU. The EU markets watchdog also said it had it had also reached agreement with the FCA on sharing information to allow cross-border asset management activities to continue if Britain leaves the bloc with no deal.
More than 90% of EU assets under management make use of ‘delegation’ rules which allow a fund registered in one country to outsource its asset management to another country.
Most European funds are registered in Dublin or Luxembourg, but a lot of asset management takes place globally, with the majority ‘delegated’ to London. UK-based asset managers currently enjoy ‘passporting’ rights as part of the EU single market allowing them to sell services across the EU without regulatory barriers.
The European fund and asset management association (Efama) said the announcement has been met with a sigh of relief by asset managers on both sides of the Channel as it removes a great deal of legal uncertainty in their preparation for the worst-case scenario of a no-deal Brexit.
Efama’s director general Tanguy van de Werve said: “This is a very important step that Efama has been calling for many months, as it will help avoid disruptions in the provision of asset management activities.
“Ensuring that delegation continues to be authorised as it is today is of paramount importance to the asset management industry. It brings comfort to the industry in their Brexit contingency planning but, most importantly, it ensures that EU investors will continue to access world leading expertise in the management of their savings.”