• Varadkar comments cast doubt on Brexit backstop – Leo Varadkar has suggested Ireland would seek to maintain an open border with the UK even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, in comments seemingly at odds with his campaign to include contentious backstop provisions in Britain’s exit treaty. Eurosceptics said the Irish prime minister’s comments showed the backstop — the most controversial element of Britain’s withdrawal treaty — would not be needed if the UK did not deviate from the EU’s customs and regulatory regime. The backstop, which seeks to prevent a hard border between the two countries, has become the focus of opposition within the UK parliament. But Mr Varadkar said on Thursday Dublin would seek to ensure no hard border, even without a deal. In such circumstances the exit treaty would not take force and there would consequently be no backstop. “If the UK crashed out of the EU at the end of March, they would still be aligned on customs and regulations,” Mr Varadkar said at a pre-Christmas press conference. “So the problem would only arise if they decided in some way to change their customs and regulations. That’s where it could get difficult.” (FT)
  • Labour and Tory MPs strengthen efforts to prevent no-deal Brexit – Senior Labour and Conservative MPs are to ramp up efforts to block any possibility of a no-deal Brexit ahead of the vote on Theresa May’s deal, with a plan to mandate the prime minister to extend or cancel article 50 if the prospect of crashing out looms. Efforts were kick-started on Thursday by a cross-party group of prominent MPs led by Yvette Cooper, who tabled a new amendment to the finance bill that would only allow a no-deal exit if MPs voted to proceed with one. Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, said the risks to the UK’s economy and security were “far too high and it would be irresponsible to allow it to happen”. The MP said she believed there was no majority in parliament for a no-deal Brexit. “But if the government won’t rule it out, then parliament needs to find opportunities to stop the country reaching the cliff edge by accident – starting with the finance bill in the first week back, then looking at every other legislative opportunity too,” she said. (The Guardian)
  • Andrea Leadsom and Amber Rudd suggest rival Brexit ‘Plan Bs’ – Cabinet colleagues Andrea Leadsom and Amber Rudd have set out rival plans if Theresa May can’t get her Brexit deal through Parliament. The two ministers stressed that their top priority was securing Parliamentary backing for the prime minister’s deal. But Ms Rudd said a referendum was a “plausible” way forward if MPs were deadlocked. Mrs Leadsom said a new referendum would be “unacceptable” and argued instead for a “managed no deal”. Downing Street dismissed both suggestions. Asked if a second referendum was plausible if Parliament remains gridlocked, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “No.” Mrs May had “been very clear on the dangers of calling a second referendum” and Amber Rudd had been “clear” that the priority was to get the prime minister’s deal through Parliament, he added. (BBC)
  • Bank cuts growth forecast amid Brexit worries – The Bank of England has cut its UK growth forecast and warned a lack of Brexit clarity is hitting the economy. The Bank said uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU had “intensified considerably” over the past month. Against a backdrop of weaker global growth, the Monetary Policy Committee voted unanimously to keep interest rates at 0.75%. It said the economy was likely to grow by 0.2% in the final quarter of 2018, down from an earlier forecast of 0.3%. That follows growth of 0.6% in the previous quarter. The Bank expects slower economic growth to continue into 2019. (BBC)
  • Ireland calls no-deal Brexit plan a ‘damage limitation exercise’ – Security in Ireland would be “seriously impacted” by a no-deal Brexit because of sudden changes to arrangements with the UK over crime, the Irish government has warned. It also said Ireland would “suffer considerably” from the “adverse economic and social impact” a no-deal Brexit would have on the UK. “The Irish government would work with the British government, as a member of the EU27 but also as a neighbour and close friend, to seek to minimise the economic and social disruption,” it said in a 131-page document outlining contingency plans that was released in Dublin on Wednesday. “However, we are under no illusions as to the difficulties that would arise or the challenges involved in addressing them.” Ireland would also be affected by “exceptional swings” in the value of sterling, which would have difficult consequences for trade, the finance minister said. Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said: “There is no such thing as a contingency plan that will maintain the status quo … this is a damage limitation exercise.” Please see the Contingency Action Plan here. (The Guardian)