Theresa May’s £1billion fund to regenerate towns in pro-Brexit areas was today blasted as ‘bobbins’ by Labour MPs she is accused of trying to ‘bribe’ to back her Brexit deal.
Up to 35 rebels are said to be queasy about the possibility of a second EU referendum as Mrs May tries to woo them and others ahead of next week’s make-or-break vote.
Mrs May has set out plans to funnel nearly £1billion into ‘left-behind’ towns – with most cash going to the North and Midlands – and will pledge to beef up workers’ rights as part of a package designed to persuade Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal.
But potential targets have said that their votes ‘can’t be bought’ – and claim that the cash injection is far less than the amount the Tories have cut from public spending since 2010.
Speaking today Labour MP for Redcar, Anna Turley, whose region would receive an extra £105million over six years, said: ‘It really is bobbins compared to what we have had taken away from a whole raft of public services’.
Birmingham MP Jess Phillips tweeted: ‘I tell you what she can keep her money, what I want is for her to spend just one day in my office, just one day with the public. I just want them to get it’.
Theresa May, pictured speaking to two-year-old Scarlett Ward in Salisbury today, is fighting for votes to get her deal through and could get the backing of up to 35 Labour MPs keen to avoid a second referendum
Mrs May, pictured with local MP John Glen today, is offering a new £1bn fund to rejuvenate towns – but critics have called it a bribe
The new £1billion fund favours the Midlands and the North where more people voted to leave the European Union
As the PM scrambles for votes to secure her fragile EU deal, it emerged today:
- Labour MPs insist they won’t be bribed into voting for Tory Brexit with £1billion cash fund aimed at towns were the majority voted to leave the EU in 2016;
- Attorney General Geoffrey Cox denies that he has ‘admitted defeat’ on his plans to secure an end date to Irish backstop, calling reports ‘misunderstood fag ends’;
- Chancellor Philip Hammond is poised to promise a ‘Brexit dividend’ if MPs back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and avoid no deal;
Mrs May’s chances of winning the vote on March 12 looks increasingly precarious today – and she will need to convince Brexiteers in her own party, the DUP and Labour rebels to change their minds.
Labour MP John Mann claims there are 70 colleagues who are opposed to a second referendum and up to 35 may vote for the PM’s deal
Last night it was claimed that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has ‘admitted defeat’ on his plans to secure an end date to Irish backstop.
He denied this today saying a report in the Daily Telegraph was based on ‘misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts’.
But refusing to be drawn further he said: ‘Complex and detailed negotiations cannot be conducted in public’.
Cox will return to Brussels with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay for more negotiations tomorrow.
Labour Leave-supporter John Mann says that a group of rebel MPs willing to vote with the PM in the Commons has increased from a handful of MPs to approaching 35.
Mr Mann, who represents Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, believes that 70 of his colleagues are opposed to holding another referendum – and ‘possibly half as many’ may back the Tory deal with Brussels.
He told The Sun: ‘The choice facing us all is either to deliver Brexit as we promised or to vote for a second referendum. When the deal comes before Parliament again, the clear choice will be the deal or a second referendum’.
Labour MPs have said the Prime Minister can ‘keep her money’ and said the money being offered is a bribe
The Prime Minister walks with Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury, and Tricia Glass, Deputy Head Guide at Salisbury Cathedral, as she visited the historic city one year since the nerve agent attack by the Russians on Sergei Skripal
Mrs May was accused of ‘bribery’ today after setting out plans to funnel nearly £1billion to ‘left-behind’ towns in the North and Midlands as part of a package of ‘bribes’ designed to persuade Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal.
A further £600million will be made available for towns across the country to bid for.
Wigan’s Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who has said her vote is ‘not for sale’, tweeted today: ‘This Stronger Towns announcement just keeps getting worse. To put it in context in Wigan alone we’ve had cuts of £134million since 2010 with more in the pipeline’.
But Don Valley MP and former Labour minister Caroline Flint, who has urged Jeremy Corbyn to allow Labour MPs to have a free vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, was more receptive.
‘I have long argued that the voices and concerns of our smaller towns need to be heard’, she said.
‘Too many funding pots are hoovered up by cities or massive infrastructure projects.
‘The Stronger Towns Fund isn’t enough but it is a step forward.’
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is said to have admitted defeat on getting the EU to agree a firm end date to the Irish backstop
The Prime Minister will unveil details of the new £1billion Stronger Towns Fund as she launches intensive efforts to woo Labour MPs in pro-Brexit seats.
Is a ‘Brexit deal dividend’ on the way?
The Chancellor could be poised to increase public spending as part of a ‘Brexit deal dividend’ if MPs back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
Philip Hammond has reportedly pledged to plough billions of pounds into the public purse if a no deal Brexit is averted.
In last year’s October budget, he said some of the £15.4bn set aside may have to be used in the event of no deal.
But buoyed by strong tax revenue, the Treasury could be given more room to increase public spending later this year, the Financial Times reported.
Treasury officials told the paper there will be no changes to spending or tax in next week’s Spring Statement, which will be announced in the midst of a series of Brexit votes.
In October 2018, the Chancellor said there would have to be a new Budget outlined if Britain left the EU without a deal.
He told Sky News: ‘We would need to look at a different strategy and frankly we’d need to have a new Budget that set out a different strategy for the future.’
The proposals will see £1billion allocated directly to towns in England. Details of the towns involved were not available last night, but 90 per cent of the cash is being allocated to areas in the North and Midlands.
The decision over the £1.6billion fund follows weeks of talks between ministers and backbench Labour MPs unhappy at their party’s attempts to frustrate Brexit.
She will also use a speech on Wednesday to set out plans to improve workers’ rights in what is already being seen as another pitch to rebels.
Today it was claimed the Attorney General admitted defeat in his attempts to secure a guaranteed exit from the Irish backstop.
Geoffrey Cox is said to have abandoned plans to agree a firm end date or provide for a unilateral British withdrawal from the emergency arrangements.
With the EU refusing to back down, Mr. Cox was now seeking an enhanced ‘arbitration mechanism’ instead, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The plan would create an ‘independent’ arbitration panel outside the EU’s institutions but Brussels has so far rejected the plans, it is claimed.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today: ‘We are now at a particularly critical stage in these negotiations and the Attorney General’s work is focused on securing legally binding changes to the backstop that can ensure that the EU cannot hold us in the backstop indefinitely.’
Asked how well the talks were going, he added: ‘We have definitely been making progress in our discussions with the EU over the past couple of weeks but there definitely remains more work to be done.
‘The Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary will in Brussels tomorrow continuing that work.’
Meanwhile Justice Minister Rory Stewart said hardline Eurosceptics are becoming ‘more pragmatic’ about Theresa May‘s deal.
The threat that Brexit could be delayed, softened or even halted was focusing minds among Eurosceptic MPs, he said.
‘I think there’s been a huge amount of movement,’ he told Sky News.
Justice minister Rory Stewart said the threat that Brexit could be delayed, softened or even halted was focusing minds among Eurosceptic MPs
‘I think people are becoming more pragmatic, they are recognising much more than they did in the past that there are a limited number of alternatives to this and that the alternatives are worse.’
A number of senior Eurosceptics have indicated they could back Mrs May’s deal, provided she is able to secure concessions on the controversial Irish backstop.
What are Tory Eurosceptics demanding to vote for the PM’s Brexit deal?
- Any concession on the Irish backstop must include a ‘clearly-worded, legally-binding’ clause which ‘unambiguously overrides’ the Withdrawal Agreement.
- The new tests demand the language in any concession ‘must go beyond simply re-emphasising/ re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop’ and lead to a change in Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s advice that it could ‘endure indefinitely’.
- Brexiteers also insist that the changes must demonstrate ‘a clear and unambiguous route out of the backstop if trade talks fail’.
Nigel Evans, secretary of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said Eurosceptics and the DUP would not accept ‘some wishy washy sticking plaster’.
But, writing in the Daily Mail, he said: ‘I will be looking very carefully at what (Attorney General) Geoffrey Cox brings back.
‘On my interpretation that it delivers what Theresa May said she was going to deliver, and on it having the backing of the DUP, I can see me edging towards pushing this deal over the line.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, warned that Remainer attempts to remove the possibility of No Deal had undermined Mrs May, but said Eurosceptic MPs could yet help reverse the defeat inflicted on her deal when it returns to the Commons.
He said: ‘When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the EU on March 29.’
Government sources are hoping that Mr Cox will achieve a breakthrough in Brussels by the end of this week that will allow him to change his legal advice that the backstop could ‘endure indefinitely’ ahead of an expected vote on March 12.
A source at the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs warned ministers not to try to ‘bounce’ them into backing any revised deal at the last minute, saying: ‘We want at least 48 hours’ notice. That is not an unreasonable amount of time and anything less would be treating Parliament with contempt.’
The ERG has set up a panel of Eurosceptic lawyers, led by Sir Bill Cash, to pass judgment on any concessions secured by Mr Cox.
Yesterday, the group set out three tests the changes must pass. These include a ‘clearly worded, legally-binding treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides’ the text of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The language ‘must go beyond simply re-emphasising/re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop’.
And the changes must demonstrate ‘a clear and unambiguous route out of the backstop if trade talks fail’.
Sabine Weyand, deputy to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, yesterday suggested the demands are ‘way beyond’ what is on offer.
But Tory MP Michael Tomlinson, who will sit on the new committee, said Eurosceptics had already compromised by accepting that the change did not necessarily have to be written into the text of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Theresa May’s office pays tribute to ‘beautiful, welcoming’ Salisbury a year on from novichok attack by posting a picture of Bath
Downing Street blamed ‘human error’ for a social media post about Theresa May‘s visit to Salisbury being illustrated by a picture of Bath.
A message on the Prime Minister’s official Twitter feed paid tribute to the ‘beautiful, welcoming’ Wiltshire city on the anniversary of the poison attack on former Russian double agent Sergei and Yulia Skripal on its streets.
But rather than a picture of the famous 123-metre spire of Salisbury Cathedral, the message was accompanied by a shot of St John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church 40 miles away in Bath.
‘I hope that moving forward Salisbury will once again be known for being a beautiful, welcoming English city and not for the events of 4 March 2018,’ said the PM in her message.
Journalist Matt Chorley spotted the error on Twitter. Downing Street put it down to ‘human error’ as the Prime Minister was shown around Salisbury
Prime Minister Theresa May waves at Scarlett Ward, 2, as she walks through Salisbury with local MP John Glen (right)
British Prime Minister Theresa May (R) walks with Nicholas Papadopulos (C), Dean of Salisbury and Tricia Glass, Deputy Head Guide at Salisbury Cathedral
The picture was hastily removed and replaced with a picture of the door of 10 Downing Street, but not before it was noticed by Times journalist Matt Chorley, a native of Somerset and former reporter on the Western Morning News.
‘That’s the trouble with these Westcountry cathedral cities, they all look the same,’ joked Mr Chorley.
Bath’s Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse said: ‘Whilst it’s always lovely to see a beautiful shot of Bath, I think No 10 may have got carried away with this time… plenty of nice shots of Salisbury to use!’
Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘This was human error. It was corrected as soon as anyone was made aware of it.
‘The Prime Minister is in Salisbury today and will be expressing her great admiration for the resilience which the community has shown in response to the attack a year ago.’
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