UK PM May Calls Russia ‘chief Threat’ Amid Abysmal Domestic Ratings

May addressed MPs in the Commons today to defend her Brexit divorce deal 

  • PM is scrambling to save the deal after Davis played down Irish border pledge

  • Irish PM Leo Varadkar had previously insisted commitments were 'bullet proof'

  • The Brexit Secretary tried to soothe concerns today by clarifying comments 

  • By Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline and James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline

    Published: 04:05 EST, 11 December 2017 | Updated: 16:51 EST, 11 December 2017

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    Theresa May was lashed for offering a Brexit deal that is 'unravelling quicker than a hand-knitted Christmas jumper' today as she defended her agreement with Brussels.

    Labour's Lords leader Baroness Angela Smith tonight said Brexit Secretary David Davis being forced onto the airwaves to clear up remarks he made yesterday was a bad sign for the deal's future.

    The Prime Minister is fighting to keep her draft agreement afloat long enough for EU leaders to certify sufficient progress has been made on the divorce and start trade talks. 

    Mr Davis risked derailing the agreement when he said it was not binding - but Dublin and Brussels reacted calmly to the apparent cracks in the consensus. 

    Mrs May was bolstered in the Commons this afternoon as Tory MPs put on a rare show of unity in support of the deal - just days after renewed rumours she could be ousted.

    Backbencher Philip Davies made an isolated attack on Mrs May to protest Britain agreeing a divorce bill of up to £39billion.

    But as Iain Duncan Smith and Anna Soubry united across the Tories' internal ideological divide, Mrs May was cheered as she said no money would be paid without a UK-EU trade deal.  

    Labour's Lords leader Baroness Angela Smith (pictured in the Lords tonight) said Brexit Secretary David Davis being forced onto the airwaves to clear up remarks he made yesterday was a bad sign

    Labour's Lords leader Baroness Angela Smith (pictured in the Lords tonight) said Brexit Secretary David Davis being forced onto the airwaves to clear up remarks he made yesterday was a bad sign

    Mrs May insisted the £39billion divorce bill showed the UK was taking 'responsibility' and meant the taxpayer would soon see 'significant savings' that could be pumped back into key public services

    David Davis and Boris Johnson were in the Commons to hear the PM's statement today 

    David Davis and Boris Johnson were in the Commons to hear the PM's statement today 

    Responding to the statement in the Lords tonight, Lady Smith said while businesses needed certainty the Brexit Secretary was 'all over the place and hardly a safe pair of hands'.

    In response to a repeat of the Prime Minister's statement on the negotiations, she urged Mrs May to 'read the riot act to squabbling, inconsistent ministers'.

    Calling for clarity from the Government, Lady Smith said: 'There is a real fear this seems to be unravelling quicker than a hand-knitted Christmas jumper.' 

    The Brexit Secretary was embarrassingly sent out this morning to correct his comments - promising that Britain would stand by the arrangements and they were 'more than legally enforceable'.

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    The climbdown appears to have defused the row for the time being, with Irish PM Leo Varadkar - who previously insisted the agreement is 'bullet proof' - saying he was 'very happy with the clarification'.

    The government is desperate to paper over the cracks at least until after a crucial EU summit later this week, when the bloc's leaders will decide whether to approve the start of trade talks. 

    Amid fears that the deal has already tied us into 'soft' Brexit, Mrs May told the House that powers over 'borders, money and laws' would be reclaimed.

    She was given the benefit of the doubt by many Tory MPs concerned about derailing the Brexit process altogether, but some still voiced significant misgivings about the divorce deal and trade commitments.

    The Prime Minister defended her controversial Brexit divorce agreement in the Commons yesterday (pictured)

    Amid fears that the deal has already tied us into 'soft' Brexit, Theresa May told the Commons today that powers over 'borders, money and laws' would be reclaimed

    Conservative backbencher Philip Davies told Mrs May: 'She said there had been give and take in this negotiation and she is absolutely right - we are giving the EU tens of billions of pounds and they are taking it.'

    Conservative backbencher Philip Davies told Mrs May: 'She said there had been give and take in this negotiation and she is absolutely right - we are giving the EU tens of billions of pounds and they are taking it.'

    As a temporary Tory peace broke out, ex minister Ms Soubry demanded Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcome the 'major step forward' after labelling his response in the Commons as 'pitiful', adding she was confused over his view on the agreement.

    Tory former cabinet minister Ken Clarke, another pro-EU MP, was cheered by colleagues after he congratulated the Prime Minister for her 'triumph' last week.

    HOW THE IRISH BORDER ISSUE COULD WRECK THE DEAL 

    What is 'full alignment'?

    In last week's Brexit deal, Theresa May agreed to keep the UK in 'full alignment' with the EU on issues relevant to Northern Ireland. 

    Remainers seized upon the language to say it meant Britain would be closely tied to Brussels, but ministers insist it does not mean Britain will be tied directly to the single market and customs union. 

    David Davis said it meant Britain will meet the same 'outcomes' – but not do it 'by just copying what the EU does'.

    What is 'divergence'?

    Brexiteers warn it would be a disaster to tie Britain too closely to the EU's rules. 

    They want to allow for maximum 'divergence' – distance from the EU – so Britain can negotiate better trade deals with non-EU countries. 

    However, managing the border between the North and South of Ireland becomes more difficult the more the UK diverges from EU rules. 

    For example, if Britain did a US trade deal to allow chlorine-washed chicken into the UK, how can you prevent the chicken being sold into the European market?

    What happens next?

    Cabinet ministers will consider next week what the UK wants the 'end state' of relations with the EU to look like – that is, how much divergence they will seek.

    In theory, the more distance Britain seeks, the more restrictive its trade deal could be. 

    The Cabinet's crunch meeting is next Tuesday – expect Remainers to call for less divergence and Brexiteers for more freedom.

    Iain Duncan Smith, a prominent Brexiteer and former Tory leader, joined Mr Clarke in congratulating Mrs May on 'driving through an improved agreement'.

    Shipley MP Mr Davies pointed out that Mrs May's mantra that 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed' implied there was no legal obligation to pay a divorce bill.

    'Can the PM explain why she is paying tens of billions of pounds to the EU that are not legally due when she is continuing with a policy of austerity at home?' he said. Many of my constituents simply do not understand why this money comes from.'

    Mrs May also had to deny a suggestion from another Tory, Mike Wood, that the UK could face 'punishment payments' in future.  

    Mrs May said she had never pretended Brexit would be an 'easy process'.

    'It has required give and take for the UK and the EU to move forward together. And that is what we have done,' she said. 

    She insisted that the settlement on a divorce bill of around £39billion represented the UK acting 'responsibly'.

    It will mean that soon the government will be sending less to Brussels and would have 'more money to spend on our priorities at home' - such as housing, schools and the NHS. 

    The PM also warned that the payment would be 'off the table' if a trade agreement with the EU was not reached.

    Sealing the divorce deal was 'good news for people who voted Leave and Remain' as there would be a 'smooth and orderly' withdrawal from the bloc. 

    Mrs May said she was now focused on securing a 'partnership between the European Union and a sovereign United Kingdom that has taken control of its borders, money and laws once again'. 

    Last week – after a frenetic 24 hours of diplomacy – Mrs May concluded her agreement with European Commission negotiators on the rights of EU nationals, the divorce settlement and Northern Ireland.

    It included a provision that there will be 'full alignment' between the UK and EU on key trade rules.

    The clause was essential to winning Irish support, but sparked fury in the DUP - whose 10 MPs are propping Mrs May up in power.

    They humiliatingly torpedoed the PM's first attempt to seal the deal on Monday, even though she was already in Brussels about to make a statement with Mr Juncker.

    After days of frantic work, a new clause was included spelling out that any alignment would apply to the UK as a whole rather than just Northern Ireland.

    However, Mr Davis risked reopening the bitter dispute yesterday as he moved to calm concerns that the commitment meant the whole UK would 'cut and paste' rules from Brussels. 

    Mr Davis was sent out today to calm a burgeoning row with Ireland over his claim the divorce deal was not 'legally binding'

    Mr Davis was sent out today to calm a burgeoning row with Ireland over his claim the divorce deal was not 'legally binding'

    Michael Gove was among the ministers at Downing Street today for the Cabinet meeting

    Michael Gove was among the ministers at Downing Street today for the Cabinet meeting

    Leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who has been pushing for a softer break from the EU, was also at the Cabinet meeting today

    Leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who has been pushing for a softer break from the EU, were also at the Cabinet meeting today 

    He said the deal on Ireland was 'much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing', and Britain would be allowed to change its rules as long as they resulted in similar outcomes. 

    The Irish government's chief whip, Joe McHugh, said last night: 'We will as a government, a sovereign government in Ireland, be holding the UK to account, as will the EU.'

    And Ireland's deputy PM Simon Coveney said the UK had made a 'clear and positive commitment'.

    'Art.46 of Fridays agreed text re Ireland/NI: 'The commitments and the principles...are made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.' - clear and positive commitment from UK Govt,' he posted on Twitter. 

    Mr Davis claimed today that his words had been 'completely twisted'. 

    He told LBC Radio: 'What I actually said yesterday in terms was we want to protect the peace process, want to protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit for them, and I said this was a statement of intent which was much more than just legally enforceable. 

    Ireland's deputy PM Simon Coveney said the UK had made a 'clear and positive commitment'

    Ireland's deputy PM Simon Coveney said the UK had made a 'clear and positive commitment'

    'Of course it's legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement but even if that didn't happen for some reason, if something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless invisible border with Ireland.'

    But DUP MP Ian Paisley gloated that Mr Davis had been right first time and Mr Varadkar had been 'done over'.

    'Frankly, whatever efforts are made to characterise this week Leo Varadkar was done over by the EU, the UK and the DUP,' he said. 

    The EU commission said the 'joint report' setting out the agreement was not yet 'legally binding' as a Withdrawal Treaty had not been ratified.

    'Formally speaking, the joint report is not legally binding,' the European Commission's chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.

    'But we see the joint report of Michel Barnier and David Davis as a deal between gentlemen and it is the clear understanding that it is fully backed and endorsed by the UK government.' 

    Theresa May, pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker last Monday, will strike an upbeat note about the next phase of talks with Brussels on trade and other issues

    Theresa May, pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker last Monday, will strike an upbeat note about the next phase of talks with Brussels on trade and other issues

    Irish PM Leo Varadkar (pictured left in Dublin last week) has insisted the divorce deal is 'bullet proof' But David Davis (pictured on the BBC's Andrew Marr show with Labour's Keir Starmer yesterday) suggested it was merely a 'statement of intent'

    Irish PM Leo Varadkar (pictured left in Dublin last week) has insisted the divorce deal is 'bullet proof'. But David Davis (pictured right on the BBC's Andrew Marr show with Labour's Keir Starmer yesterday) suggested it was merely a 'statement of intent'

    The Brexit Secretary, left with the Prime Minister, also moved to calm fears of Brexiteers concerned by a section of the agreement which said Britain would have ‘full alignment’ with the EU on regulations and standards that had an impact on Northern Ireland

    The Brexit Secretary, left with the Prime Minister, also moved to calm fears of Brexiteers concerned by a section of the agreement which said Britain would have 'full alignment' with the EU on regulations and standards that had an impact on Northern Ireland

    Mrs May underlined the position on the Irish border, telling the Commons that the government 'remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border'. 

    'Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements,' she said.

    I DON'T HAVE TO BE CLEVER TO NEGOTIATE BREXIT, SAYS DAVIS

    David Davis has said being 'clever' is not necessary to negotiate Brexit. 

    He said the main qualification for his job was staying calm.

    But he admitted that had been tested as he and the PM fought to get a compromise last week.

    Mr Davis said: 'What's the requirement of my job? I don't have to be very clever, I don't have to know that much, I do just have to be calm. 

    'And that did test the calmness a bit, a little bit. 

    'But we had to pick another day and we looked at Wednesday but Wednesday wasn't long enough for the DUP to sort themselves out so we made it Thursday, Friday morning.' 

    'The United Kingdom's intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. 

    'Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. 

    'In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the allisland economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.'

    Downing Street said the Cabinet congratulated Mrs May and Mr Davis at the weekly meeting today.

    The PM told the gathering members of the public in her constituency over the weekend had expressed satisfaction that 'we're on our way'.

    The Cabinet held a 30-minute discussion on the terms of the deal, but no ministers voiced reservations, according to No10. 

    In a statement to MPs today, Mrs May will confront doubters who suggested we wouldn't get past phase one of the talks. She will also seek to unify Brexiteers and Remainers in her Cabinet. 

    In his interview today, Mr Davis gave an insight into the tensions of last week, as the DUP collapsed the first attempt to get a deal.

    The PM (pictured on the plane en route to Brussels early Friday morning) will gather her Cabinet today as she seeks to quell fears that the divorce package has tied us into 'soft' Brexit

    The PM (pictured on the plane en route to Brussels early Friday morning) will gather her Cabinet today as she seeks to quell fears that the divorce package has tied us into 'soft' Brexit

    He said the main qualification for his job was staying calm, but that had been tested as he and the PM fought to get a compromise.

    Mr Davis said: 'What's the requirement of my job? I don't have to be very clever, I don't have to know that much, I do just have to be calm. 

    'And that did test the calmness a bit, a little bit. 

    'But we had to pick another day and we looked at Wednesday but Wednesday wasn't long enough for the DUP to sort themselves out so we made it Thursday, Friday morning.' 

    Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that while Mrs May's agreement was 'not ideal' it was an improvement in the state of the negotiations.

    However he said the deal was a draft that 'simply gets us through the first round'.

    Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the leading Brexiteer said: 'Most importantly, though, all this can be torn up tomorrow, because 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'.

    PM ASKS EU CITIZENS TO STAY IN BRITAIN 

    Theresa May has urged more than three million European Union nationals living in Britain to stay in the country after Brexit. 

    In an open letter to EU citizens living in the UK today, the PM said she was 'delighted' their rights would be protected under the divorce deal.

    She said she was 'proud' they choose to live in the UK, adding in an open letter: 'I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make - enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life. 

    'I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay.' 

    'This is in effect an indicative text, whose purpose is to get us to the next phase of discussions.

    'That is when the shadow boxing of this past year will turn into real hard pounding. 

    'Of great importance will be our right to diverge from the EU on regulation, to follow rules we deem are in the best interest of the British people, and to have charge of our own trading policy. On these there will be heavy punches thrown. The important thing is, we now have space to have that debate.' 

    Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Mrs May 'cannot now be spooked by the extreme Brexiteers in her party'. 

    In an open letter to EU citizens living in the UK today, Mrs May urged more than three million European Union nationals living in Britain to stay in the country after Brexit.

    She said she was 'delighted' their rights would be protected under the divorce deal.

    She said she was 'proud' they choose to live in the UK, adding in an open letter: 'I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make - enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life. 

    'I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay.' 

    DAVIS VOWS TO GET A 'CANADA PLUS PLUS PLUS' DEAL WITH EU

    The Canada deal, formally known as the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement, is the EU’s most ambitious and comprehensive trade deal. Pictured: David Davis on the Andrew Marr show yesterday

    The Canada deal, formally known as the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement, is the EU's most ambitious and comprehensive trade deal. Pictured: David Davis on the Andrew Marr show yesterday

    David Davis yesterday described his ambition for Britain's trade deal with the EU as 'Canada plus plus plus'.

    The Canada deal, formally known as the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement, is the EU's most ambitious and comprehensive trade deal.

    It eradicated all tariffs on industrial goods and fishing, and more than 90 per cent of all agriculture tariffs. However, some products are not covered and others can be sold in only limited quantities.

    Ministers are confident of securing a tariff-free deal because of how much Britain buys from EU countries. Other notable advantages are that Canada doesn't pay into the European Union budget, nor is it required to accept free movement of EU workers.

    The deal took seven years to negotiate, but ministers argue Britain is beginning at a very different starting point where all our laws and rules are the same as those in Brussels.

    When the Brexit Secretary talks about 'plus plus plus', it is because he wants more than Canada in recognition of Britain's importance as an EU trading partner.

    LABOUR SAYS UK MUST ACCEPT 'EASY' MIGRATION AND PAY EU

    Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Sir Keir said Britain should ‘stay aligned’ to the EU after Brexit to preserve the benefits of the single market and customs union

    Appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Sir Keir said Britain should 'stay aligned' to the EU after Brexit to preserve the benefits of the single market and customs union

    Britain should accept 'easy migration' from Europe, swallow EU laws and carry on paying billions to Brussels after Brexit, Labour frontbencher Sir Keir Starmer suggested last night.

    After months of chaos and conflicting statements about the party's position, the Brexit spokesman suggested the concessions were the necessary price for a trade deal.

    He also refused to rule out offering voters a second referendum on whether Britain should leave at all.

    Sir Keir was immediately accused of trying to 'betray' voters by failing to honour the referendum result. Brexit Secretary David Davis said the Labour MP would 'take us back to square one' and fail to get back control of Britain's laws, borders and money.

    Mr Davis said: 'Keir Starmer could not have been clearer about what the consequences of Labour's chaotic approach to Brexit would be.

    'A Labour Brexit would mean billions of pounds going to the EU in perpetuity, the UK being forced to obey rules over which we have no say and zero control over our borders. 

    'A Labour Brexit would betray voters and leave this country in the worst possible position.'

    Appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Sir Keir said Britain should 'stay aligned' to the EU after Brexit to preserve the benefits of the single market and customs union.

    He indicated that the UK could mimic Norway's arrangement with the EU, which involves accepting single market rules and paying a contribution to EU coffers.

    The House of Commons library estimates that Norway pays, per capita, about 80 per cent of the UK's contribution. 

    That could leave Britain with an annual bill of about £8 billion. Sir Keir said staying close to the single market and customs union was necessary to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

    The Labour frontbencher said freedom of movement rules would 'have to be negotiated', but added: 'The end of free movement doesn't mean no movement.

    'Of course we would want people to come from the European Union to work here, we would want people who are here to go and work in the EU – the basis of that would have to be negotiated.'

    Asked if this would mean 'easy movement', if not free, he said: 'Yes, of course.'

    Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5166667/PM-meets-Cabinet-amid-fight-hold-EU-divorce-deal.html

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