Live: UK Parliament debates Theresa May’s latest Brexit plan

Live: UK Parliament debates Theresa May's latest Brexit plan

The embattled prime minister’s latest proposal would require parliament to vote on whether to hold a new public referendum over Brexit. #FoxNewsLive #FoxNews

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Deal reached for Northern Ireland power-sharing talks

Locked gates at Stormont in Belfast

An agreement has been reached to establish a new round of talks involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, the UK and Irish prime ministers, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar, have said in a joint statement.

The public clamour for political progress following the killing of the journalist Lyra McKee encouraged both governments to launch a fresh attempt to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland, they said in a statement released on Friday afternoon.

“In coming together with other political leaders in St Anne’s Cathedral to pay tribute to Lyra McKee, we gave expression to the clear will and determination of all of the people of these islands to reject violence and to support peace and a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland,” the statement said.

“We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress. We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership.”

The new process would involve all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish governments, it said.

“The aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement – the NI executive, assembly and north-south ministerial council – so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future.”

The Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley and the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney were due to unveil details at a joint press conference in Belfast later on Friday.

The announcement comes a week after the killing of McKee, which has sparked widespread calls to end the political impasse that has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government for more than 800 days.

Bradley and Coveney will ask political parties to resume talks at Stormont, the site of the mothballed assembly, “as soon as possible” after local elections on 2 May, according to the statement from May and Varadkar.

Theprime minister and taoiseach, who both attended McKee’s funeral in Belfast on Wednesday, also agreed that there should be a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference to consider east-west relations,…

Huawei leak highlights collapse of discipline in May’s cabinet

Theresa May

Leaks from deep within Theresa May’s bitterly divided administration have become widespread and common: as one despairing official remarked recently, “this government is a sieve”.

But the revelation of the highly sensitive news that ministers have decided to set aside cybersecurity concerns and involve the Chinese firm Huawei in the creation of Britain’s 5G network is regarded by many as a leak too far.

The decision was taken at the national security council, on which ministers sit alongside officials and members of the security services. The secrecy of its discussions has never before been breached.

A full-scale inquiry is now expected to be launched, but a slew of other briefings and counter-briefings from private meetings in recent weeks and months has not just gone unpunished but become almost unremarkable.

There are several, allied reasons for this pervasive culture of briefing and counter-briefing, which means multiple competing accounts of cabinet meetings are available shortly after ministers walk out of Downing Street.

One is simply the ready availability of instant electronic communication – a string of WhatsApp messages is a lot quicker and more straightforward than the old-fashioned gossip over lunch or in a Westminster bar (though that still happens too, of course).

Another is the historic significance of the issues at stake and the lack of trust on both sides of the Brexit debate, which means all the key players want to ensure their point is heard even if they lost the argument in the room.

There has been a complete breakdown of discipline. Theresa May long ago…

Sturgeon outlines new Scottish independence referendum plans

Nicola Sturgeon speaks in the Scottish parliament

Nicola Sturgeon is to introduce new legislation to stage a second Scottish independence referendum, claiming that one must be held by May 2021.

The first minister said Brexit would have such a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s economy and Westminster’s approach to it had been so chaotic that Scottish voters must have the option to choose independence.

In a long-awaited statement to the Scottish parliament on her plans, Sturgeon said the proposed legislation would set out how a new referendum would be held if Holyrood was granted the powers to stage one.

On Tuesday, No 10 made clear that Theresa May would never authorise such a vote as prime minister. May said “now is not the time” when Sturgeon first called for such powers in March 2017.

Sturgeon first announced she wanted new legislation for a second referendum in June 2016, immediately after the UK voted to leave the EU.

She said Westminster’s decision to press on with Brexit, despite an overwhelming remain vote in Scotland, was proof the current system of devolution was broken.

Sturgeon stopped short of declaring a referendum would definitely be held, naming a date for one or repeating her call for the powers to hold one – evasions which will infuriate hardline independence campaigners.

“Brexit has exposed a deep democratic deficit at the heart of how Scotland is governed. And, whatever our different views on independence, it should persuade all of us that we need a more solid foundation on which to build our future as a country,” she told MSPs.

“With all of our assets and talents, Scotland should be a thriving and driving force…

What are the major threats to Theresa May’s leadership?

Theresa May

Theresa May returns from the Easter recess facing pressure from all quarters of her party to consider her position as prime minister – but secure in the knowledge that there remains very little they can do to force her to go. Here’s a look at the pressure points on her.

The cabinet

Most Tory MPs believe the only way to force May from office would be for a mass delegation of cabinet ministers to tell her that her time is up. For now, that seems unlikely – Tory cabinet ministers who have an eye on the leadership are less keen to see a contest before the first phase of Brexit has been delivered.

Cabinet ministers are also unlikely to act as a bloc, with remainers and leavers in the cabinet showing no sign of acting together. Should May decide to agree some form of closer customs arrangement as a means of getting Labour to back the deal, then it could prompt some cabinet walkouts, such as the international trade secretary, Liam Fox. However, even two or three resignations are unlikely to persuade May to step down.

Tory backbenchers

For now, May is protected from a binding challenge to her leadership by a party rule that means she has a year’s grace after winning a vote of no confidence in December. The 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers could change the rules to allow a challenge sooner – a move which could convince the prime minister to go of her own accord.

Opinion is split on the committee. Nigel Evans, the committee’s joint executive secretary, said the process for selecting a new leader “can’t start soon enough” but others are known to be more cautious.

The committee, which will meet and vote on Tuesday, could decide to scrap…

Labour says Theresa May unwilling to offer key Brexit concessions

Labour shadow cabinet members leave the Cabinet Office after meeting with government officials over Brexit.

Labour has accused Theresa May of failing to offer any substantive changes to her Brexit deal in cross-party talks, as Downing Street’s hopes of a breakthrough in time to avoid taking part in European parliamentary elections waned.

Brexit talks resumed on Tuesday between a team of ministers and shadow ministers. But Labour sources said the government team again appeared unwilling to countenance changes to the political declaration, which sets out the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Instead, ministers offered alternative ways of giving reassurance about the issues Labour has raised, such as on environmental standards and workers’ rights, including through redrafting the withdrawal act implementation bill (WAB) and tweaking separate planned government bills.

Downing Street continues to insist that it hopes to secure parliamentary ratification of a Brexit deal in time to avoid the UK having to participate in next month’s European parliament elections.

The government has been considering tabling the WAB as a way of breaking the Brexit deadlock, but Labour has rejected the idea. “There’s a sequence; you have got to start with a different deal,” said a source.

After the talks, which involved the cabinet ministers David Lidington and Steve Barclay and their Labour shadows, Jeremy Corbyn blamed the government’s refusal to compromise on central issues such as membership of a customs union for the failure to make significant progress.

“We’ll continue putting our case but quite honestly there’s got to be change in the government’s approach. They cannot keep on just regurgitating what has already been emphatically rejected three times by parliament, there’s got to be a change,” Corbyn said. “We have a window of opportunity to bring about that change so I hope the government recognises that.”

However, Downing Street sought to blame a lack of urgency on Labour’s side for the impasse. May’s spokesman said she had told her cabinet on Tuesday morning that talks with Labour had been “serious but had also been difficult in some areas such as in relation to the timetable of the negotiations”.

A No 10 source said the root of the tension was a feeling that Labour was prepared to drag…

Tory MP Chris Davies could face byelection after fake expenses claim

Christopher Davies

The Conservative MP Christopher Davies has been found guilty of submitting fake expenses invoices for £700 of landscape photographs to decorate his office, meaning he could be kicked out of parliament under the recall process.

The MP for Brecon and Radnorshire was not jailed, but was fined £1,500 and given 50 hours of community service at Southwark crown court.

Davies has not been suspended by the Conservative party but he will now face a recall petition to see whether his constituents want to force him to face a byelection.

A petition is opened when any MP is convicted of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims and a byelection is triggered if this is signed by at least 10% of the local electorate.

Davies was told he had committed two very serious offences that were absolutely intended to deceive, when he appeared before magistrates last month to admit two charges of attempting to provide false or misleading information for an allowance claim.

In sentencing the MP, Mr Justice Edis said: “It seems shocking that when confronted with a simple accounting problem, you thought to forge documents. That is an extraordinary thing for a man with your position and your background to do.”

Ian Lavery, the chair of the Labour party, called on the Tories to discipline Davies. “It’s shocking that the Conservative party has still failed to take action against Christopher Davies, over a month after he admitted stealing from the public purse,” he said.

“MPs getting away with this kind of self-serving, dishonest behaviour turns people off politics. Theresa May has continued to rely on his vote for her botched Brexit deal, when she should have kicked him out of her party immediately.

“Christopher Davies has shown he is not fit to sit in parliament. The prime minister should…

Theresa May could put off Queen’s speech amid Brexit turmoil

The Queen

Theresa May could put off the Queen’s speech until later this year, with government sources saying there were no immediate plans to bring one forward while parliament had not yet approved a Brexit deal.

May had been widely expected to schedule a Queen’s speech setting out the government’s legislative agenda within weeks, because she announced a two-year parliamentary session in mid-June 2017.

However, some within the government believe May is prepared to ignore demands for a programme of new laws, even though parliament has run out of business to discuss apart from Brexit legislation, which is currently stalled.

A Downing Street source said it would not be fair to say the Queen’s Speech was being delayed, because no official date had been set for one. “There’s no obligation to have one at a fixed point and there’s no immediate plans to bring forward a Queen’s speech,” the source said.

There is usually one Queen’s speech each year, and it has taken place in May or June in recent years, but Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, announced a two-year session after the last election in order to “build the broadest possible consensus for our Brexit plans”.

There are several reasons why May might shy away from a Queen’s speech, but the most pressing is that she may not have the votes to get it through parliament given the opposition to her Brexit deal among hardline Tory Eurosceptics,…

Downing Street under pressure to close down Labour talks on Brexit

Theresa May in Brussels on 11 April.

No 10 is feeling the pressure to pull the plug on Brexit talks with Labour and move to an alternative plan, amid warnings that the opposition is in no hurry for a deal before the European elections.

With talks deadlocked and no sign that the government moving on its red lines, neither the Conservatives or Labour want to appear responsible for the breakdown in discussions.

However, government sources acknowledge Theresa May is under much greater time pressure than Labour, which has little incentive to do a deal before the European and local elections that are likely to result in the Conservatives suffering heavy losses to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

Ministers and their opposition counterparts are taking part in working groups on some issues this week, but there will be no discussion before Easter on the big issues of a customs union or a confirmatory referendum, making it easy for Labour to reject the prime minister’s overtures so far.

The government’s alternative plan is for MPs to thrash out an acceptable version of May’s deal through a series of votes or by amending the withdrawal bill, but experts said there was barely enough time to do this in the five weeks before the European elections.

Nikki da Costa, formerly the legislative affairs director in No 10, suggested getting the withdrawal bill passed by 22 May would “require a level of legislative aggression from government not seen in this parliament”.

There…

Brexit talks ‘will stall unless May shifts on customs union’

Theresa May

Talks between Labour and the government are unlikely to advance much further in the coming week unless Theresa May moves on her red lines over a future customs union, sources close to the talks have suggested.

David Lidington, who is leading the government’s talks with Labour, said a compromise would have to be reached but played down suggestions that a government shift was imminent and added that Labour would also have to move.

Labour has suggested the ball is in the government’s court and, while the opposition will engage on other topics including workers’ rights and security, the key question on customs arrangements remains unresolved. “She needs to take a political decision to move off her red lines – or not,” one source said.

Lidington said both sides had common ground on future customs arrangements but refused to say whether the government was prepared to agree to Jeremy Corbyn’s central demand for a common external tariff policy with the EU.

“We think it is possible to get the benefits of a customs union but still have the flexibility for the UK to pursue an independent trade policy on top of that with other countries outside the EU. Labour has a different approach,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “If we are going to reach an agreement there is going to have to be movement on both sides.”

The government has said three working groups will be established next week: security talks between the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, and his opposite number, Keir Starmer; environmental protections with Michael Gove and his shadow, Sue Hayman; and consumers’ and workers’ rights between the business secretary, Greg Clark, and his shadow, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Sources suggested the chancellor, Philip Hammond, could meet the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. And a meeting between party chiefs when MPs return to Westminster is being planned to assess the progress that had been made.

Lidington said the two sides “would hope to take stock of where we are as soon as parliament gets back after Easter recess but I don’t think this question can be allowed to drag out”.

He said there was “no date ringed in…