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George Osborne has said that MPs are being asked “to deliver something impossible” in leaving the EU without damaging Britain, calling for a long delay in the Brexit process. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme before the People’s Vote demonstration, where hundreds of thousands of people will march through central London on Saturday, the former chancellor said: “If you ask politicians to deliver something impossible don’t be surprised if they cannot. “As it happens, if I was a hard Brexiteer … I’d just get out and rip the plaster off and endure the pain, but it’s a lot of pain and a big shock. The best outcome now would be a long delay, and it’s not the worst thing in the world to ask people to vote for some MEPs, and certainly better than stockpiling medicine and turning Kent into a car park. More than 4 million sign Brexit petition to revoke article 50 Read more “So I think the best outcome is a long delay where we rethink how we deliver on the referendum result and we try and find a majority for a compromise Brexit agreement and possibly have a second referendum.” Osborne was asked about calling Theresa May a “dead woman walking”, to which he said: “After that election she called [in 2017] … I never thought she could recover authority and I said it at the moment.” The education minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “If parliament decides to vote down the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement, then I think it would be political meltdown and parliament would have failed.” Zahawi also said he was not prepared to tell his constituents that the UK would take part in the EU elections. “Each and every one of us will have to ask ourselves the question: ‘Am I prepared to go back to my constituents and say we’re not leaving the EU, we’re going to go for a much longer extension, and we’re going to take part in the European elections?’ I’m not prepared to do that. I don’t think the prime minister is prepared to do that.” The comments came as hundreds of thousands of people head to London on Saturday to march on parliament calling for the public to be given a final say on Brexit. Protesters will travel from all over the UK and further afield for the People’s Vote campaign’s Put it to the People march, after a similar rally in October drew crowds of 700,000. The march will move from Park Lane to Parliament Square from midday, followed by a rally in front of parliament. Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, is expected to tell crowds that he believes the only way to resolve the current impasse is “for people themselves to sign it off”.
An online petition calling for the UK government to revoke article 50 and remain in the EU has reached more than 4m signatures, becoming the most popular to be submitted to the Parliament website. The petition, which was started in late February by “frustrated remainer” Margaret Georgiadou, has gained momentum very quickly, and has now reached just over 4m supporters, adding 2.5m signatures in less than 24 hours. Brexit: hundreds of thousands expected to march for people's vote – live updates Read more It gathered momentum shortly after the prime minister appealed to the British people to back her in her standoff with MPs from all parties. The number of signatures continued to rise on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to gather in central London to march for a “people’s vote” on Brexit, asking for the public to be given the power to make the final decision. On Thursday, the parliamentary petitions website crashed several times as so many people were trying to access it at the same time. The error message “bad gateway”, which displayed when the website was overwhelmed, even started trending on Twitter. Conspiracy theories also appeared from both sides, with some saying the site’s troubles were a plot to prevent further signatures. Others claimed that a small proportion of signatures from overseas IP addresses – including one from North Korea – meant the petition had been “hijacked by bots”. In fact, 96% of the signatures were from the UK. The House of Commons petitions committee said: “Anyone who is a UK resident or a British citizen can sign a petition.
The government has conceded it is likely to hold the third meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week, following intense pressure from MPs for more clarity on the next steps after the extension of the departure date. In an often difficult appearance in the House of Commons, the Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng initially rebuffed questions on when the vote might take place, saying the timetable would be outlined soon. Kwarteng responded: “The government fully intends to have a meaningful vote next week.” The secondary legislation needed to change the departure date would also be tabled next week, he said, but declined to give any further details on timings, adding: “On this Friday I’m not going to say the exact hour and time of when the meaningful vote will take place.” Separately, No 10 said the EU’s agreement to extend article 50 was contingent on holding the vote next week. “The consideration is to hold it when we believe we have a realistic prospect of success,” May’s spokesman said. “My understanding of last night is that the extension to 22 May was contingent on winning the vote next week.” May will meet cabinet ministers in Downing Street and spend the weekend working at Chequers, her country retreat. “But we have made a decision – voting down her deal twice, by historic margins,” he told MPs. “It’s just that it’s a decision the prime minister is clearly incapable of accepting. It is her intransigence, her pandering to the hardliners in her party, and her refusal to compromise that has brought us to this point.” He asked Kwarteng to say when the third meaningful vote would happen, as well as how the government would comply with the ruling by the Speaker, John Bercow, that a new vote will only be allowed under Commons procedures if it is a notably different proposal. He added: “Ministers have constantly told us that responsible governments prepare for all eventualities. Asked by Labour’s Karen Buck if the government still planned to seek a consensus way forward if May’s plan fell again, he replied: “I think that if the meaningful vote is voted down then it would be reasonable to have a wide debate in the house to find what the house would tolerate and how it sees things going forward.”
The EU has handed Theresa May two weeks’ grace to devise an alternative Brexit plan if her deal falls next week after the prime minister failed to convince the bloc that she was capable of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. After a marathon late-night session of talks, the EU’s leaders ripped up May’s proposals and a new Brexit timeline was pushed on the prime minister to avoid the cliff-edge deadline of 29 March – next Friday. Under the deal agreed by May, Britain will now stay a member state until 12 April if the withdrawal agreement is rejected by MPs at the third time of asking. The UK government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking article 50.” Asked how long an extension could be on offer, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “Until the very end.” The French president, Emmanuel Macron, told reporters as he left the summit that the EU had acted to protect its interests in response to a “vacuum” in Westminster. Evasive even by her standards.” When leaders asked May what she was going to do if her deal was voted down, an official added that the prime minister replied that she was following her plan A of getting it through. The European Council takes note of the letter of Prime Minister Theresa May of 20 March 2019. In response, the European Council approves the Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration agreed between the European Commission and the government of the United Kingdom in Strasbourg on 11 March 2019. The European Council agrees to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until 12 April 2019 and expects the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council. It was then put to May by Tusk shortly after 11pm Brussels time after eight hours of talks, with and without the prime minister.
The Conservative party’s second biggest donor has called for a government of national unity to be formed as soon as possible to solve the Brexit crisis. John Griffin, the taxi tycoon who has given £4m to the Tories over the last six years, said the party should reach out to MPs from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party if it is to emerge from EU negotiations with a successful deal. It follows similar demands from fellow Tories including Nicky Morgan and Sir Nicholas Soames. Other Conservative donors have threatened to withhold funds unless it solves the current political crisis, it emerged on Thursday. Griffin, founder of the cab firm Addison Lee, told the Guardian that Theresa May’s government should use a new team and adopt a different negotiating strategy with the EU. Morgan, the treasury select committee chair, told MPs in December that the Commons should come together to stop a no-deal scenario. A national unity government was first formed during the Napoleonic Wars in 1806 and last occurred in 1931. Soames has previously mooted the idea of a national unity government, telling Channel 4 News: “I must say, if I had my way, we would have a national government to deal with this. It is the most serious problem this country has faced since the war.” It emerged on Thursday that donations to the Conservatives are drying up as backers unhappy with splits over Brexit refuse to fund the party. All said they were unsure whether to give cash to the party at present.
Tusk says EU will only give the UK a short article 50 extension if MPs pass the Brexit deal. In the Commons Barclay says Labour has not said what length extension it wants. Streeting says the same cannot be said for Barclay, who urged MPs to back the government motion last week proposing an article 50 extension only to vote against it himself. (@Peston) Senior minister tells me PM is making statement to nation tonight. Hmmm In Brussels some EU officials are now saying that EU leaders will not even take a decision about extending article 50 tomorrow - because Theresa May sent her letter too late. (@DanielBoffey) Senior EU diplomats expect Donald Tusk when he speaks in 20 minutes to say that the late delivery of Theresa May's letter makes it impossible to make a decision tomorrow at the summit. (@nick_gutteridge) Senior EU diplomat: May's letter has arrived 'too late' for EU leaders to make a decision on an Article 50 extension at tomorrow's summit. “No decision will be taken by France before the European council,” a source in Macron’s office said. The French foreign minister has said categorically that Paris could say no to May’s request for an extension if the prime minister does not set out a clear plan for the withdrawal agreement to be ratified by parliament. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, will make a statement about Brexit later, at 4pm UK time.
While a Brexit extension is a near-certainty, the official departure date is still 29 March. While British officials remain involved in discussions, the UK will hang back on strategic questions about how the EU should approach China. A government spokesperson said: “The UK will continue to take a full part in discussions at the [Foreign Affairs Council], focusing on those issues that matter most to the UK and EU.” Other day-to-day EU business provides a jarring contrast with the government’s Brexit strategy: one of Theresa May’s last acts as an EU leader will be to sign a routine communique on strengthening the single market – the one she insists Britain must leave. “A politician’s life is always uncertain, you never know if you are going to come back for the next mandate.” MEPs who back the government also acknowledge the uncertainty. He was speaking last month before May suffered a second humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal. British MEPs have been told to clear their offices by 29 March, as their passes will stop working soon after. “It’s uncertain, it’s unnerving that we still don’t have an answer,” one assistant said. I will be fighting this thing until the very end.” He was speaking last month, after voting on the future of the common agricultural policy – and dismissed the suggestion this is a waste of time for a British MEP. The UK continues to speak out on crises or short-term business, whether that is the war in Yemen, or the EU’s 2018 budget. Officials are now thinking hard about how to preserve British influence, when there is no British voice or vote in the room.
Exactly the same proportion of voters believe there should be a second referendum on Brexit as think the UK should leave the EU without a deal, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer. The survey shows the country split down the middle, with 43% supporting a delay to Brexit in order to hold a second public vote and 43% believing the UK should simply quit without any agreement with Brussels. If a second referendum were held with the options of accepting Theresa May’s deal or remaining in the EU on the ballot paper, 46% said they would back remain, against 36% who would vote to leave on the terms of the prime minister’s proposal. The poll comes after a dramatic week of voting in parliament when the prime minister’s deal was rejected for a second time, by 149 votes. MPs also voted to rule out no-deal and to extend article 50 by at least three months. Despite the government’s troubles over Brexit, and cabinet splits on the issue, the Conservatives (on 38%) hold a four-point lead over Labour (34%) with the Liberal Democrats and Ukip both on 8%. May’s ratings on her handling of Brexit remain dire (-30%, when the proportion who disapprove of her handling of it – 56% – is subtracted from the proportion who approve – 26%). Chaotic scenes as Nigel Farage's Brexit march sets off for London Read more The poll shows that if the UK is still a member of the EU on 23 May, more British people would find voting in the European elections unacceptable (43%) than would be relaxed about the idea (38%). If the UK were to elect a new batch of MEPs, 13% say they would not vote, 19% would vote for Labour, 19% for the Tories and 11% for Ukip. This has fallen slightly and is now an 11-point lead.
There were chaotic scenes as a march led by Nigel Farage left Sunderland to protest against perceived attempts to betray the will of the people over Brexit. Marchers chanted “we’re marching for our freedom” and some described Farage as a great statesman and a fantastic leader. “If you see what has been happening in parliament this week, we may well not be leaving the EU. If politicians think they can walk all over us, then we’re going to march back and tell them they can’t. The march’s website states: “It is now clear the Westminster elite are preparing to betray the will of the people over Brexit. To counter this, Leave Means Leave are undertaking a peaceful protest to demonstrate the depth and breadth of popular discontent with the way Brexit has been handled.” Marchers gathered in the rain from the early morning for the first leg, which will take them 20 miles to Hartlepool. As Farage arrived he was met by a large group of reporters and TV crews. A row soon broke out with counter-protesters who turned up carrying red love hearts with messages including “we love workers’ rights” and “we love to have a say”. One set off blue and yellow flares , the colours of the EU, as protesters chanted “exit Brexit”. Read more Barry Lockey, who arrived in Sunderland carrying a flag with the message “Get Britain out: Time to leave the EU”, said that the event was about supporting democracy.
Any delay to the UK leaving the EU could cost the government tens of millions in extra payments to keep its no-deal ferry contracts in place. Conservatives tell MEPs to consider election bid if Brexit deal fails Read more It seems unlikely the contracts will now be realised after MPs voted to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to article 50, which would delay Brexit beyond 29 March. According to the Financial Times, the cost of the delay could reach £28m. Brittany Ferries, which has contracts worth £46.6m under the deal, said the terms “included fair and proportionate compensation in a deal scenario, taking account of the significant preparatory work and concomitant costs incurred”. It said the firm had already “incurred a series of direct costs and resource commitments”, including hiring new staff and changing more than 20,000 bookings, and “the new schedule cannot now be changed, even as an extension to article 50 seems likely”. 'I feel frustrated': the Brexit view from Edinburgh and Hastings Read more The contracts are intended to ensure imports of medicines and other vital supplies to the UK continue in the event of a no-deal Brexit causing chaos on the short Dover-Calais and Channel tunnel routes. A National Audit Office memorandum in February noted the potential problems caused by a delay to the article 50 process. “If the date of the UK’s exit from the EU changes, and there is still the possibility of a no-deal EU exit, the department will need to decide how it wishes to proceed with the contracts,” the NAO said in February. “There is no provision for the start date to be delayed, but the department may seek to negotiate this with the operators.” A Department for Transport spokesman said: “As the prime minister has made clear, the legal default in UK and EU law remains that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed. “Leaving with a deal is still our priority, but as a responsible government it is only right that we push on with contingency measures, that will ensure critical goods such as medicines can continue to enter the UK.”