With next week’s Brexit motion edging closer, MPs from across the Commons are tabling amendments to the proposals. The one that is attracting the most attention concerns speculation that up to 40 members of the government will resign if Conservative MPs are banned from voting for a plan to block no deal. The Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, has demanded that all Tories are allowed a free vote and Theresa May will come under increasing pressure to permit it and prevent mutiny.
However, government sources have said they would be ‘very surprised’ if the Prime Minister allows a free vote. This line of thought is worrying and only becomes more so when we consider that the EU has confirmed that a no-deal Brexit would mean a hard Irish border. Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief spokesman said that it was ‘pretty obvious’ that if no deal was agreed, a border infrastructure would be necessary. He said that the likely enforcement of border checks could not be avoided.
The Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, warned MPs that extending Article 50 was an ‘oversimplification’ and that there was no guarantee that the EU would agree to it. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Barclay said “From the EU point of view, they have been very clear that they don’t want an extension with no purpose and so we come back to the issue as to what it is MPs are for and just what they are against.” The comments came following an amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper that could force ministers to seek an extension of article 50 if there was no deal.
On the economic data front, there was some positive news in the UK, as average earnings figures showed that wages grew at their fastest rate in a decade in the three months to November. Excluding bonuses and adjusting for inflation, there was a real terms pay increase of 1.1%. Unemployment also unexpectedly fell to just 4% in the same period, which is the lowest level since the 1970s. Following the release, sterling nudged above $1.29 and made some gains against the euro too.
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