Theresa May: Cross-party talks to resume

Talks between the government and Labour on Brexit will resume later as MPs return to Westminster following the Easter break.

Cabinet ministers will meet senior opposition figures in an attempt to solve the impasse by finding a deal that could win the support of MPs.

But some Tory MPs are angry the talks with Labour are even taking place.

Leading backbencher Nigel Evans called on Theresa May to step down as prime minister “as soon as possible”.

The joint executive secretary of the back bench 1922 Committee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The only way we’re going to break this impasse properly is if we have fresh leadership of the Conservative Party.

If there was an announcement today by the prime minister then of course we could start the process straight away.”

His comments came after it emerged that Mrs May faces a no-confidence challenge, from Tory campaigners.

More than 70 local association chiefs have called for an extraordinary general meeting to discuss her leadership and a non-binding vote is to be held at the National Conservative Convention EGM.

Under party rules, MPs cannot call another no-confidence vote until December 2019.

However, if the grass-roots vote showed a lack of confidence – it could put pressure on the 1922 Committee to find a way of forcibly removing the PM from office.

Mrs May is due to chair a cabinet meeting in the morning, and her de facto deputy, David Lidington, will attend the talks with Labour later.

Senior members of the 1922 committee will meet in the afternoon.

Ribble Valley MP Mr Evans said there were “severe problems” over Brexit and he hoped Mrs May “does accept the fact the call for her resignation now is growing into a clamour”.

Earlier, Mr Evans, told the BBC Mrs May “had been reaching out to the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, when she should have been reaching out to the people”.

In separate news, Change UK will launch its European election campaign in Bristol, while Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party will unveil its candidates in London.

The UK has been given an extension to the Brexit process until 31 October, This means the UK is likely to hold European Parliament elections on 23 May.

Merkel ‘highly qualified’ for top EU job, says Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker | Aris Oikonomou

The German chancellor is ‘a lovable work of art,’ said the Commission president.

Angela Merkel would be “highly qualified” for a senior EU position once she steps down as chancellor, Jean-Claude Juncker said, referring to the German leader as “a lovable work of art.”

In an interview with the German Funke Media Group, the European Commission president, whose own term of office comes to an end in the fall, said he “cannot imagine” that Merkel would “disappear without trace.”

“She is not only a respected person but also a lovable work of art,” Juncker said.

But the Commission president was less complimentary about French President Emmanuel Macron over his refusal to back the Spitzenkandidat (or “lead candidate”) system for choosing the next Commission president. Juncker said he was a “great supporter” of the system, which was used for the first time, during his own appointment.

“One reason for the crisis of political credibility is precisely the fact that what is promised before the election is not what is done after,” he said.

“The Liberals, to whom Emmanuel Macron belongs, have failed to put up a lead candidate and have therefore nominated nine candidates,” said Juncker. “I can already tell you one thing: There will not be nine Liberal Commission presidents.”

Juncker’s European People’s Party looks set to win the most seats in the European Parliament, putting its Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber, in pole position to be Juncker’s successor.

On Brexit, Juncker said that there remained the risk that the U.K. would leave the bloc without a deal, despite the decision by EU leaders last week to extend the Article 50 deadline until October 31.

“Nobody knows how Brexit will end. This is creating great uncertainty. There is still a fear that there will be a hard Brexit without any withdrawal treaty arrangements,” he said, adding that Brexit would “stifle growth.”

“I hope that the British will make use of this time and not waste it again,” Juncker added.

Asked if he thought it “absurd” for Britain to participate in the European Parliament election, he said that if the U.K. is still an EU member on election day then the EU treaty would apply and so the election must be held. “We cannot punish the citizens just because the British have not managed to leave by the agreed date,” he said.

And on the security of the EU-wide poll more generally, the Commission president said he was concerned about attempts to influence the outcome.

“I can see an attempt to rig the European Parliament elections,” he said. “This comes from several quarters, and not only from outside the EU. States within the EU are also seeking to direct the will of voters in a particular direction with fake news.”

A new Brexiteer PM’s impossible promises could land us with no-deal Brexit, says former EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers

I think it’s the other side who could truncate this process and decide that no-deal is the right solution’.

The UK’s former EU ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, warned that a future Brexiteer Prime Minister could bring about a no-deal Brexit through impossible promises, despite the prospect being repeatedly ruled out by MPs in a series of votes in the Commons.

Sir Ivan resigned from his post as Permanent Representative to the EU before the end of his tenure in 2017 and has since issued a series of warnings about the Brexit process.

The former top civil servant told the BBC’s Newsnlight programme that European leaders are aware of the potential damage to the negotiations should a more “fervent” Brexiteer take control for the second stage.

‘A robust and bellicose position with Brussels’

Sir Ivan Rogers said a no-deal could be triggered by the EU. (Photo: BBC

He said: “I think the danger that we face – and I think people are acutely conscious of this incidentally in Brussels and Strasburg and Paris and Berlin – is that if we were to have a Conservative leadership election, might we have a sort of 2019 version of the syndrome I described in 2016.”

The process of appealing to the party base, which is, after all, more fervently eurosceptic than many of the parliamentarians and may well want a more true believer Brexiteer as their leader, will see various candidates give pledges as to the future direction of the Brexit talks on what they would do in phase two, that will essentially wreck any prospect of phase two succeeding.

So for example, if people were to give commitments saying, you know, ‘when I’m in power if you give me if you give me this job, I will reopen the withdrawal agreement, indicate that we can’t possibly accept the backstop and take a much more robust and bellicose position with Brussels’.

“Well, that leads fairly inexorably, I think, to a breakdown of the talks.”

Theresa May has said she would resign as Prime Minister if her deal is approved by the House of Commons that has rejected it on three occasions this year.

Sir Ivan, who said he left his post with the feeling that he did not have a “receptive audience” in Theresa May’s Government, also poured cold water on the idea that MPs have taken no-deal off the table by signalling in a number of votes that they do not wish for it to happen.

He said: “Well, it can happen because the other side can decide to pull the plug on these talks, and say, ‘we’re giving you a couple of extensions, you haven’t used the time, nothing has really happened, we’re aborting this process’. You’ve already seen the pressures coming above all from Paris, but Paris wasn’t alone in saying this at the April council.”

The UK was granted an extension to Brexit until 31 October after EU leaders rejected Theresa May’s proposals for an extension until June. Sir Ivan said that calls for the UK to be shown the door could gain greater support if no progress is made by then.

“If we’re cycling through this, again, six months down the track. I think there’ll be more appetite in the European Union to say ‘this is all a massive diversion from the agenda that we need to be pursuing.’ Brexit does not figure very high up on people’s list of the strategic agenda for the European Union.”

‘Truncate this process’

He said that the EU could decide to “abort” the process and then force the UK to sign up to many of the contentious aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement, such as the Irish backstop and the so-called “divorce” payment of £39bn.

He said the EU could think: “We will just tell them that no trade negotiations start until we’ve been through that loop and let’s see what happens then.”

“I think it’s the other side who could truncate this process and decide that no deal is the right solution.”

Brexit: Second poll shows Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party on course for European election victory

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is heading for a stunning victory in upcoming European elections, according to a second opinion poll in as many days.

The YouGov survey for The Times put the party launched by the former Ukip leader last week on 23 per cent, a point in front of Labour and five ahead of the Tories, and appeared to confirm the result of a, shock poll published on Wednesday.

Jeremy Corbyn has been urged, to back a fresh Brexit referendum unequivocally within weeks to prevent Mr Farage surging to victory.

Britain’s former ambassador to Brussels has warned Tory leadership contenders who promise to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement if they take over from Theresa May will “wreck any prospect” of getting a future trade deal.

Sir Ivan Rogers, who stood down from his role in January 2017, told BBC Two’s Newsnight last night: “If various candidates make pledges as to the future direction of the Brexit talks, what they would do in phase two, that will essentially wreck any prospect of phase two succeeding.

“So if people were to give commitments, saying ‘when I’m in power, if you give me this job, I will reopen the Withdrawal Agreement’, and indicate we can’t possibly accept the backstop and take a much more robust and bellicose position with Brussels – well, that leads fairly inexorably to a breakdown of the talks.”

He said he was a “little bit surprised” the UK was not further down the exit process and suggested the public still do not know what the public know about Brexit.

The government must “bring the country behind one version of Brexit in the next two to three years – otherwise we’re going to re-fight this civil war for the next generation,” he added.

One vote Nigel Farage can count in next month’s EU election is that of George Galloway.

The former Respect Party leader and Bradford West MP tweeted that he would supporting the Brexit Party “for one-time only” as he wants to secure the UK’s departure from the EU.

Galloway and Farage have teamed before up to campaign for Brexit, ahead of the 2016 referendum.

At the time, Galloway insisted, they were “not pals” but “allies in one cause. Like Churchill and Stalin”.

Nigel Farage says he is being “slightly cautious” about his new party’s favourable polling, although he believes “the public are warming to us”.

In interview with the Daily Express, he said: “There’s great grassroots support, large numbers of people joining, grassroots donations and all of it feels very exciting.

“I think we will be announcing a few more candidates next week.

“People want a fresh, positive vision. They are tired of career politicians endlessly threatening them, sounding miserable and not believing in the country.”

That attack on “career politicians”, of course, comes from some who has been an MEP since 1999 and has stood for election to UK parliament seven times.

With Nigel Farage seemingly on track for victory in 23 May’s European elections, worried Labour backbenchers are piling renewed pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to come in support of a second referendum.

MPs warned Labour risked “leeching support to other parties” unless it sent a pro-Europe message “loud and clear”.

Brexit: Second poll shows Nigel Farage's Brexit Party on course for European election victory

Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has the full story: 

Jeremy Corbyn told to commit to Brexit vote or let Farage snatch shock European elections victory.

Fearful backbenchers urge Labour leader to shift his stance in manifesto after poll shows former Ukip leader on course to triumph with new Brexit Party.

A second opinion poll in as many days as indicated that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is heading for victory in European elections. 

The YouGov poll for The Times found the former Ukip leader’s new group had surged ahead of Labour and the Tories since it was launched last week.

Brexit Party are leading on 23%, with Labour on 22% and the Conservatives heading for a crushing defeat on 17%. Last week the same poll put Farage’s party on 15%, with Labour on 24% and the Tories on 16%.

Much of the support for Farage’s party seems to have been drawn from Ukip, who languish in seventh place on 6%

The latest poll appears to confirm the findings of another YouGov survey, released yesterday, which put the Brexit Party on the lead in 27%.

Jeremy Corbyn told to commit to Brexit vote or let Farage snatch shock European elections victory

Senior Labour MP’s say Jeremy Corbyn must back a fresh Brexit referendum unequivocally within weeks or Nigel Farage will snatch a shock European elections victory.

Worried backbenchers piled pressure on the Labour leader to shift his stance before the 23 May poll, after the former Ukip Labour was revealed to be on course to triumph, at the head of his new Brexit Party.

A survey gave Mr Farage’s party a healthy five-point lead at 27 per cent of the vote, leaving both Labour (22 per cent) and the Conservatives  (15 per cent) trailing in his wake.

It came as the, Liberal Democrats accused other anti-Brexit parties of boosting their opponents by refusing pleas to fight on a joint ticket.

Labour supporters of a Final Say referendum seized on evidence that Mr Corbyn was heading for a further disastrous slump if his manifesto backed forcing through a Brexit deal in alliance with Theresa May.

A customs union deal – the aim of the current cross-party talks – would see Labour dip to just 15 per cent, according to the poll of 1,855 adults by YouGov, handing the Brexit Party a 10-point win.

But undiluted support for a further public vote would lift Labour to 23 per cent, with Mr Farage’s outfit only three points ahead.

Owen Smith, a former Labour leadership contender, told The Independent: “It’s very clear that Labour is losing support among our voters because the leadership has refused to give unambiguous support to a people’s vote on Brexit.

“We should never forget that the majority of Labour supporters voted Remain in 2016 and if we want to beat the Brexit parties we have to honour their views.”

Stephen Doughty , a former shadow minister, echoed the fear, saying: “We must put a public vote on Brexit at the core of our European manifesto.

“Pro-European voters who in all other respects support Labour need to see that message loud and clear. Otherwise we risk leeching support to other parties – which can only benefit Farage and his forces.”

Sir Vince Cable the Liberal Democrat leader, also said it “would be a game-changer” if Labour came out clearly to campaign to stay in the EU.

But he admitted: “I find it difficult to see they could do that given that Jeremy Corbyn has said repeatedly he is there to deliver Brexit, but it certainly would change the nature of the argument.”

Mr Farage’s surge follows the burst of publicity the Brexit Party received at its campaign launch last week, when Annunziata Rees-Mogg – the sister of the leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, was unveiled as a candidate.

It also heightened Tory fears that their party is heading for a crushing defeat, which would trigger fresh calls for the prime minister to quit.

Justine Greening the former Conservative education secretary, hinted she would quit if that resulted in her party adopting a harder Brexit position.

“It’s certainly a challenging time I think for me to be in the Conservative Party,” she said. “For me it was about three things: opportunity, a strong economy and well-managed public finances.

“And clearly I think if we become the Brexit party, that really goes against those three core tenets of what I think being a Conservative Party member is all about.”

Sir Vince lashed out at the Independent Group, for rejecting his pleas to stand joint candidates on 23 May, to boost the number of MEPs demanding a second referendum.

He revealed his party had proposed fighting together – a move that one election expert has predicted could deliver an extra six seats in Brussels.

Frustrated campaigners for a Final Say public vote also believe a unified campaign would have excited voters and delivered an even greater reward.

“It would be better, I think, from the point of view of the supporters of British membership of the EU if we were fighting together under the same banner,” Sir Vince said.

“Certainly that’s something we would like to have seen, but that wasn’t possible, we didn’t get a positive reaction to that, so we are going on our own.”

Change UK, the new party name for the Independent Group, has said it wants “no alliance and no pacts, but to be a new party standing on its own”, a stance echoed by the Green Party.

The YouGov poll put the Greens top among the pro-Remain parties on 10 per cent, ahead of the Liberal Democrats (9 per cent) and Change UK (6 per cent).

Brexit: High-tech solution to avoid hard Northern Ireland border ‘decade away’, leaked Home Office document says

‘The challenges of this work cannot be underestimated’, warns memo in blow to Brexiteer hopes of replacing backstop.

Any hi-tech solution to the problem of how to keep the Northern Ireland border open after Brexit is at least ten years away, a leaked Home Office document has said.

The memo said the cost and complexity of using new technology to remove the need for border checks meant “the challenges of this work cannot be underestimated”.

The finding will come as a blow to Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, who have repeatedly insisted that technology could be used to keep the border open in the event of a no-deal Brexit removing the need for the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

The memo, seen by Sky News, was drawn up by the Home Office’s Policy Unit and sent to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Treasury. It says there could be a possible technological solution but that it would come with a huge array of difficulties.

The solution would involve companies uploading data on goods and using blockchain technology, sensors and automated collection to pay tariffs. 

The memo said: “If all these technologies are brought together this could allow a seamless collection and analysis of the data needed. It would also provide the ability to target interventions away from the border itself.”

But it also warned of a series of practical problems in introducing the technology, including cost, time and complexity. 

It said: “The challenges of this work cannot be underestimated… No government worldwide currently controls different customs arrangements with no physical infrastructure present at the border.”

Warning that the technology would take over a decade to introduce, the document said: “Current realisation for a similar technological solution in the UK is 2030.”

The memo also highlighted the cost and difficulty of implementing such a project and questioned whether the government would be able to deliver it.

Opposing protesters flock to parliament on would be date of Brexit

1/30Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters attend a rally in Parliament Square after the final leg of the “March to Leave” in London

It said: “Any future system must operate with 28 government agencies and a myriad of interconnected existing and planned IT systems. There is currently no budget for either a pilot or the programme itself. And it will be expensive. 

“This suite of technology would need to operate on both sides of the border; as such it would require agreement and commitment from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and possibly the EU too. It is a big and complex project, with possibly tight deadlines.

“Government does not have the strongest track record on delivery of large tech projects.”

The question of how to keep the Northern Ireland border open after Brexit has been at the heart of the row over Britain’s EU withdrawal in recent months.

The EU insisted on the backstop, which would see the UK temporarily enter into a customs union with the EU if no other deal is agreed, to ensure there was not a return to a hard border even if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal.

29/30A jogger gestures rudely at a Brexit supporter outside of the Houses of ParliamentAFP/Getty
30/30A Brexit supporter outside the Houses of Parliament

But Eurosceptics say the policy would see the UK tied to EU tariffs and rules indefinitely and therefore unable to strike new trade deals with other countries.

The government and the EU have agreed to look at “alternative arrangements”, such as new technology, that could be introduced to remove the need for the backstop to come into effect. 

Local Conservative party chairs are plotting to bring down Theresa May Local Conservative party chairs are plotting to bring down Theresa May

Brexit news: Theresa May facing no-confidence vote as grassroots Tories plot to oust PM

Theresa May could face an unprecedented no-confidence vote among grassroots Tories as local party chairman look to trigger a little-known process that could be “devastating to her authority”.

Party chairs have been circulating a petition that is on course to force the National Conservative Convention to hold an extraordinary general meeting where the vote could be held, according to the daily BBC Newslight.

The plot is being driven by growing “frustration and anger” over the prime minister’sBrexit  strategy, and comes as talks between Ms May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn continue to stall.

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has endangered MPs, undermined parliamentary democracy, and wasted billions of pounds, according to Labour politician Pat McFadden.

Writing in The Independent, the MP for Wolverhampton South Eastsays his party leader Jeremy Corbyn must now answer “the call of leadership” by taking “co-ownership” of a Brexit deal or insisting on a second referendum.

Opinion: May’s Brexit strategy has put MPs in danger and wasted billions – Britain deserves a real leader, It should not be left to backbench MPs to defend Parliamentary democracy when the leader of our country undermines it and legitimises its rejection.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has has said it would “be better” if Remain-supporting political parties were “fighting together under the same banner” in the forthcoming European elections.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today this morning, Sir Vince acknowledged there was “not a great deal” of difference between his party’s message to the electorate and that of new party Change UK – The Independent Group, which will stand on a pro-EU platform calling for a second referendum.

He added:  “So, there’s a variety of different parties offering the same message, something which is possible under the proportional voting system that we have.

“It’s not crazy, I mean it would be better, I think, from the point of view of the supporters of British membership of the EU if we were fighting together under the same banner, and certainly that’s something we would like to have seen, but that wasn’t possible, we didn’t get a positive reaction to that, so we are going on our own.”

A grassroots no-confidence vote would put “massive pressure” on the prime minister resign, according to John Strafford, chair of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.

“It does not force the issue but would be quite devastating to her authority,” he told the Telegraph.

However, it is worth considering just how much authority Theresa May has left.

Mark Wallace, writing for ConservativeHome, notes that a no-confidence vote “would be another embarrassment for the prime minister, but she has ridden out many embarrassments before”.

Theresa May could face an unprecedented no-confidence vote among grassroots Tories as local party chairman look to trigger a little-known process that could be “devastating to her authority”.

Party chairs have been circulating a petition that could force the National Conservative Convention – the most senior body of the Tories’ voluntary wing – to hold an extraordinary general meeting where the vote could be held.

If the petition attracts more than 65 signatures, the party is obliged to hold the meeting. According to the daily,

between 40 and 50 chairs have already signed it and that figure could hit the threshold as early as next week.

Dinah Glover, the London East area chairman started the petition, told the newspaper: “There is a lot of frustration and anger within the party – this is a route that we have to demonstrate those feelings so we can encourage MPs to make those feelings known.

“What we need is a new leader who can break the impasse, who passionately believes that Britain has a bright Brexit future.”

Kosovo president says EU will ‘lose a lot of substance’ after Brexit as he eyes membership

“For us in, Kosovo, we would like to see Britain in the European Union  – definitely the EU cannot be the same without Britain,” says Hashim Thaci, the country’s president. “We cannot continue to pretend that nothing has changed, nothing is happening, this is a very, very big thing.”

He stresses: “Without Britain, the European Union will lose a lot of substance. It is not a good situation, for the EU or for us in Kosovo.”

The president was speaking about these troubled times from the viewpoint of his part of the continent. He is on a rocky road to ensuring that there is not a return to the Balkan wars – a conflict of death, atrocities, mass rapes and ethnic cleansing. The violence shocked Europe, which thought such savage strife was stuff of the past.

Now the former adversaries, Serbia and Kosovo, are being urged by the west to draw a line under a simmering feud that has threatened to reignite.

The leaders of the two states – Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic – both viewed in the past as fiercely unbending nationalists, have held talks, most recently at the annual Munich Security Conference. Another round of negotiations is expected to be held in the near future.

Serbia tells citizens to avoid travel to UK because of ‘major chaos’

There is a general agreement from both sides that membership of the European Union is pivotal to achieving long-term peace and, in the case of Kosovo, joining Nato too.

“The circumstances we face in Kosovo, the only future, the only way forward, is membership of the European Union, there is no doubt about that,” maintained Thaci during a visit to London.

“As Kosovo we will do all our duties, tasks, to deserve to be a Nato member and an EU member. We want eventually to see open borders within the EU, with Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, everywhere in the region. Regarding Nato, I think we are talking about a five to 10 year time frame, or perhaps even less, to join.”

Sitting in the breakfast room of a hotel in Kensington, Thaci looks relaxed and urbane in a white and blue checked shirt and jeans. He was in combat fatigues the first time I met him, 20 years ago, drained and pale after a difficult military operation by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which he led at the time.

Britain will always remain a partner for Kosovo, whether it is a member or not. It was a key contributor to freedom and independence of Kosovo

Hashim Thaci, president of Kosovo

It was a time of ferocious fighting in Kosovo, and Nato bombing of Serbia, amid bitter recriminations between Russia and the west.

Nato’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) headed by British Major General Mike Jackson, went into Kosovo, while Moscow sent in their own military contingent. Both sides were racing to secure the airport in the capital, Pristina, and the strategic advantage that went with it.

There was a tense standoff, which I and other journalists witnessed in an evening of stormy rain, during which Jackson refused the order from his superior, the American General Wesley Clark, to block the runway to the Russians. Jackson’s response is now part of the history of the conflict: “I am not going to start the Third World War for you.”

Serbia threatens military action after Kosovo votes to create army

Jackson had his way and a potentially incendiary confrontation was averted after the dispute reached the White House and Downing Street. They backed the British General over Clark, who was the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (Saceur).

The Russians landed their flights, their troops went on a few symbolic joint patrols with Nato troops, and then withdrew. General Sir Mike Jackson went on to become the head of the British Army.

Thaci had dinner with Jackson a few evenings before our meeting. “It was good to catch up and talk about old times – but also what’s going on now,” he says.

“Britain will always remain a partner for Kosovo, whether it is a member or not. It was a key contributor to freedom and independence of Kosovo and we will always be grateful for this.”

The Balkan wars led to bitter divisions within Europe, with countries taking sides as Yugoslavia was dismembered: one example of the acrimony was that early German recognition of Croatian independence was widely portrayed as payback for the support given to Germany by the Ustashe during the Second World War.

Sceptics have been saying that Trump would not care about the Balkans. In fact he has been very attentive, very supportive

Hashim Thaci

A number of EU member states – Greece, Spain, Romania and Cyprus – have yet to recognise Kosovar independence. Thaci says: “There is disunity among some EU members on some things as we know, and there is disunity over Kosovo as well. International unity would really help with the dialogue we need to achieve an agreement (with Serbia). No doubt it would speed up the process.”

Donald Trump has, rather unexpectedly, taken an interest in the issue, urging both sides to continue negotiating. “Sceptics have been saying that Trump would not care about the Balkans,” says Thaci. “In fact he has been very attentive, very supportive, but really he was following the policies of other presidents over Kosovo and the Balkans, Bush senior and junior, Clinton and Obama. Trump has sent two letters in two months, both to me and President Vucic of Serbia, with a very clear message to reach an agreement this year.”

While Thaci was leading the KLA in Kosovo, and Nato warplanes were over Serbia, Vucic was minister for information in the government of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, railing against what he saw as victimisation of the Serbs by the west. He was also consumed by what the regime saw as “treachery within”, bringing in the draconian “Vucic law” to muzzle opposition media.

Vucic is now viewed as a man the west can do business with and has been credited with reforming Serbian politics. He is facing some internal opposition, but was seen, for a long time, as the power-broker in his country. He remains the most influential politician.Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says Albanians ‘didn’t want to compromise’ over Kosovo army

I recall a dinner Vucic, then deputy prime minister, hosted six years ago in Belgrade for a small group of journalists on a day the Serbian government fell.

He made a series of calls on his mobile phone in between courses, and, highly impressively in our view, had formed a new coalition administration by the end of the meal.

“Mr Vucic definitely has changed, mainly because he has gone through difficult times because of his own mistakes,” says Thaci. “The regime he belonged to once was evil, a regime that did a lot of harm not only to Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia, but even to Serbia itself.” 

“In 1998 and ’99, Vucic and I were in opposition. We won, he lost. Nevertheless, he is a legitimate leader, in Kosovo and Serbia, leaders that were voted by the citizens. We have all changed in a positive way, we’ve had to evolve. Now we don’t speak of war and conflict but speak of how to reach peace. There have been recent demonstrations in Serbia, and there is a danger they might scare Vucic away from reaching an agreement, but we hope not. Unfortunately, there will always be those who are opposed to peace.

“Vucic is a very difficult person to negotiate with, to have dialogue with. But I did not choose him as my counterpart, he didn’t choose me as his own counterpart, it’s the reality of these two sovereign countries.”

Will those killed by Nato in Varvarin 19 years ago ever get justice?

Thaci faces his own problems. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, set up in the Hague in 2017, is investigating allegations of war crimes against a number of senior figures in the KLA, including the Kosovar president.

Thaci insists he has nothing to fear. “As always, we will not run away, we will not shy away, we will face it and I am convinced we will overcome it with dignity and integrity,” he says.

“I am personally very proud that I was one of the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. There will always be voices that try to denigrate Kosovo or accuse Kosovo, smear Kosovo and me personally. But this doesn’t mean that I have any hesitation on what’s our way forward and how we should proceed forward. I believe in justice. What we should not allow to happen is for the history to be rewritten.”

Of course the biggest hurdle is the past. But I think now really is our turn to reach a peace agreement

Hashim Thaci

The Kosovar president accuses the international community of double standards: “We still didn’t even see trials, convictions for the genocide in Serbia carried out in Kosovo. And for us, it is a matter of concern, this silence of the international community towards these crimes. We have had as many as 15,000 civilians killed. Up to 20,000, it’s estimated, victims of sexual violence. There were around 200 massacres against civilians in Kosovo, all around Kosovo. International justice has failed to convict those responsible for these crimes.”

But Thaci is also very aware of the burden of history in the Balkans.

“Of course the biggest hurdle is the past, ” he says. “But if we look now broadly at the region, in particular after the recent agreement between Macedonia and Greece, the main issue, I think now really is our turn, Kosovo and Serbia, to reach a peace agreement. After all, dialogue has no alternative. It’s the only solution.”

He adds: “Those of us who fought in the war need to think of a peaceful new future for the coming generations, that is important for us and for Europe.”

European voters urged to mobilise behind child climate activists

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg holds back tears at a European Parliament committee where she warned that time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg holds back tears at a European Parliament committee where she warned that time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming (AFP Photo/FREDERICK FLORIN.

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) – Sweden’s teenage activist Greta Thunberg choked backed tears on Tuesday as she warned of climate disaster and urged Europeans to vote in next month’s elections to press for decisive action on cutting greenhouse gases.

In a speech to a packed committee of the European Parliament, Thunberg, 16, warned time is running out to stop the ravages of global warming.

“I want you to panic, I want you to act as if the house was on fire,” Thunberg told the environment committee of the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.

Citing scientific reports endorsed by the United Nations and holding back her tears, she warned of accelerating disasters like mass species extinction, erosion of top soil, deforestation, air pollution, loss of insects and the acidification of oceans.

She received a warm round of applause before composing herself and continuing her speech.

“You need to listen to us, we who cannot vote,” Thunberg said, referring to the tens of thousands of students taking to the streets worldwide to fight climate change.

“You need to vote for us, for your children and grandchildren,” she said. “In this election, you vote for the future living conditions for human kind.”

Voters in EU countries will elect on May 23-26 a new European Parliament, which will also play a role in chosing the head of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

– ‘Hijacked for political ends’ –

During a visit to Brussels in February, Thunberg urged the European Union to double its ambition for greenhouse gas cuts, upping its target from 40 percent to 80 percent by 2030.

Under the 2015 Paris climate deal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the 28-nation EU has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990.

EU officials are now talking of increasing the figure to 45 percent.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has said warming is on track toward an unliveable 3C or 4C rise, and avoiding global chaos will require a major transformation.

Thunberg has inspired tens of thousands of children worldwide to boycott classes to draw attention to climate change.

Around 100 young people marched Tuesday through the streets of Strasbourg to the parliament building to press for urgent action against climate change.

Francoise Grossetete, a French member of the European Parliament, said she would skip the committee hearing because she strongly objected to Thunberg’s alarmist stand that in her view is anti-economic growth.

Thunberg has become “the symbol of this just environmental cause that is hijacked for political ends” by environmental lobbies, said Grosssete, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party.

The Swede hit global headlines with her speech in December at a UN climate meeting in Poland and has received support from climate activists.

EU president Donald Tusk says Brexit can be stopped: ‘We cannot give into fatalism’

The president of the European Council has warned opponents of BREXIT not to “give in to fatalism” and accept Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Speaking in the European Parliament on Tuesday Donald Tusk said Europe and Britain needed “dreams and dreamers” to keep the idea of a united Europe alive and the UK in the EU.

“During the European Council one of the leaders warned us not to be dreamers and that we shouldn’t think that Brexit can be reversed,” Mr Tusk told MEPs in Strasbourg.

“I didn’t respond at the time. But today in front of you I would like to say at this rather difficult moment in our history, that we need the dreamers and dreams. We cannot give into fatalism. At least, I will not stop dreaming about a better and united Europe.”

Mr Tusk says he accepts the result of the EU referendum and that the decision on whether to leave is for the British people; but he has made no secret of the fact he would rather see the UK stay in the bloc.

EU president Donald Tusk says Brexit can be stopped: 'We cannot give into fatalism'

EU leaders last Wednesday agreed to give Britain a long extension of Brexit until 31 October, after Theresa May requested a longer deadline to pass her deal. Mr Tusk defended the length of the extension, which he pushed for – in part because it would give time the UK to “rethink Brexit”.

“In my view it has a few advantages. Only a long extension ensures that all options remain on the table, such as ratification of the current withdrawal agreement, or extra time to rethink Brexit, if that were the risk of the British people,” he said.

“Second, it allows the EU to focus on other priorities that are at least as important, such as trade with the US or the new EU leadership.

“I know that some have expressed fear that the UK might want to disrupt the EU’s functioning during this time. But the EU did not give in to such scaremongering… in fact, since the very beginning of the Brexit process the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU member state. So we have no reason to believe that this should change.

Opposing protesters flock to parliament on would be date of Brexit

1/30Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters attend a rally in Parliament Square after the final leg of the “March to Leave” in London
The protest march which started on March 16 in Sunderland, north east England, finished on what was the original date for Brexit to happen before the recent extension
8/30A Brexit supporter sips a can of Stella in protests outside of the Houses
9/30Dedicated anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray and likewise pro-Brexit campaigner Joseph Afrane go head to head near the Houses of Parliament
10/30A pro-Brexit marching band in Parliament Square
11/30Remain supporters wave EU flags from a bus in Parliament Square
13/30A Brexit supporter protests outside parliament
14/30A Brexit supporter protests outside of the Houses of ParliamentGetty
15/30Brexit supporters protest outside of the Houses of Parliament
17/30The March to Leave nears the Houses of Parliament
18/30A Brexit protester holds a sign outside parliamentEPA
19/30Brexit supporters carry the coffin of democracy
21/30Brexit supporters take part in the March to Leave protest in London
22/30Brexit supporters protest outside parliamentAFP/Getty
23/30A Brexit supporter holds a sign outside the Houses of Parliament
24/30A man holds satirical paintings of politicians
25/30An pro-Brexit float on the March to Leave march in LondonReuters
26/30Far-right activist Tommy Robinson addresses protesters outside the Houses of Parliament

“Third, the flexible extension delays the possibly of a no-deal Brexit by six months. Thanks to this millions of people and businesses have gained at least some certainty in this unstable time.”

But Mr Tusk’s Commission counterpart Jean-Claude Juncker struck a less optimistic tone.

“If the UK has not ratified the withdrawal agreement by [31 October] then there will be a hard Brexit, which we would like to avoid. Of course the UK can request to revoke Article 50 – that is something that’s been made very clear. But that is not my working hypothesis, and it’s not my working hypothesis either that beyond the 31 October we will see another extension.”

Both leaders stressed their preference not to speak about Brexit for a few months. Mr Juncker told MEPs: ”We are on a Brexit break, we are focusing on the very many other issues for our union. With that in mind I want to be very brief.

“We have made sure that we do not need to discuss Brexit every other week and have given the United Kingdom the time and space to find a way out of the impasse.”

As it stands, the UK is likely to take part in European elections

Brexit: Jeremy Hunt says ‘absolute priority’ to avoid European polls

It is an “absolute priority” for the government to leave the EU by 23 May to avoid having to take part in European elections, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The foreign secretary said the public would find it “hugely disappointing” to be asked to send MEPs to Brussels.

Asked if it could be a disaster for the Tories, he told the BBC “in terms of polling it certainly looks that way”.

Some local Tory activists have signalled they will not campaign and regard the polls as a “distraction”.

Downing Street said that in order to avoid the need for elections, legislation implementing the Brexit withdrawal deal would have to be passed by Parliament by 22 May.

Last week, the EU agreed a new Brexit deadline of 31 October.

Talks between the government and Labour are set to continue over the Easter parliamentary recess in the hope of finding an agreement that will be acceptable to MPs.

A series of working groups in key areas, such as environmental standards, security and workers’ rights, have been set up to try and find common ground.

Speaking on a visit to Japan, Mr Hunt said the talks with Labour had been “more constructive than people thought” but “we don’t know if they are going to work”.

If they did not lead anywhere, he suggested the government may “need to find a way to rebuild the DUP-Conservative coalition”, which has come under real strain from Brexit.

‘Brexit mire’

The Democratic Unionists are supposed to support the government in key parliamentary votes to give it a majority in the House of Commons.

But they have refused to support the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement over concerns with the controversial Irish backstop, which aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Jeremy Hunt meets Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe
The foreign secretary said Japan would remain a close economic partner whatever happened with Brexit

Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that continuing Brexit “paralysis” would be “highly damaging” to the UK’s global standing and international trading partners “are worried that we will become submerged in the mire of Brexit indecision”.

While Japan and other major foreign investors were keen for the UK to “make up its mind” about Brexit, he suggested they would continue to keep faith with the UK even if it left without a deal.

“(Japan) has signed a deal with the EU and, in a no-deal situation, we hope that would roll over and apply for us, although no-deal, I think, is looking much less likely,” he said.

“I think they are very keen to protect their trading relationship with the UK, but I think they are also wanting to talk to us about other things.”

However, in February, the government released a statement saying it would not be able to replicate the EU’s free trade deal with Japan after Brexit.

And Japan has not agreed to continuing existing trade terms in the event of no deal.

Leadership talk

Mr Hunt downplayed talk of an imminent Conservative leadership contest, saying it would be a “sidetrack” from Brexit.

The foreign secretary, along with his predecessor Boris Johnson, are among a long list of potential candidates touted to succeed Mrs May when she stands down.

Asked whether the next leader could be someone, like himself, who campaigned to remain in the EU, Mr Hunt replied: “There is one very big difference between me and Boris, which is that I am foreign secretary and I have a very big job to do to try and get this deal over the line and that has to be my focus.

“I think that what matters is we have a cabinet that believes in Brexit.”

On the first day of his trip to Japan, Mr Hunt met the country’s prime minister Shinzo Abe and other political leaders.

He also took some time out of his political schedule to talk to pupils in a school in Tokyo. Mr Hunt is a fluent Japanese speaker, having taught English as a foreign language in Japan in his 20s.

What happens next?

Flowchart on next steps after extension

Tiger Woods’ celebrates Masters’ win with his children – but not ex-wife Elin

TIGER WOODS’ sensational win at this year’s Master’s saw the legendary golfer break down in a flood of emotion as his children rushed to his side, but where was their mother, Woods’ ex-wife Elin Nordegren?

Both of Woods’ kids, 10-year-old Charlie and 11-year-old daughter Sam, were from his previous marriage with the former model from Sweden. Having his kids there to see him win a major for the first time in their lifetime clearly was extra special to the 43-year-old as he broke into tears on seeing them. Woods and Ms Nordegren divorced in August 2010, with court papers saying their relationship was “irretrievably broken”, which is likely to be the heartbreaking reason the model was absent on Sunday.

In a book published in 2017, called Unprecedented: The Masters and Me, Woods reflected on the behaviour that cost him his marriage.

Woods said: “Elin and I were so much in love when we married in 2004.

“But I betrayed her.

“My dishonesty and selfishness caused her intense pain.

Tiger Woods and ex wife Elin Nordegren’s children celebrate their father’s Masters success (
Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods divorced in 2010 

“Elin and I tried to repair the damage I had done, but we couldn’t.

“My regret will last a lifetime.”

Ms Nordegren reportedly received over $100 million (£76million) in the divorce settlement.

Woods spent the next several years plagued by injuries and recovering from surgeries until he was arrested in 2017 when police found him passed out behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz while it was stopped with its engine running in Florida.

Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods walking on the fairway 

A mugshot showed him with bleary eyes and dishevelled hair, and tests showed he had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system.

But, the legendary golfer’s comeback has enthralled the world with congratulations coming from the great and the good.

Barack Obama tweeted: “Congratulations, Tiger!

“To come back and win the Masters after all the highs and lows is a testament to excellence, grit, and determination.”

Brexit live: Theresa May is facing defeat in the EU elections

Brexit: Mrs, May’s election CRISIS – Tories face OBLITERATION in EU vote as anger grows

THERESA May is facing a bruising EU Election with the Tories suffering a battering in the vote, according to the latest polls.

YouGov’s poll on April 10 to 11 – the first since Brexit was exteneded up until October 31 – shows Labour a clear leader with 24 percent of the public’s backing. The Conservatives are in second place at 16 percent, said the poll of 1,843 people. That is a steep drop from the 2017 general election.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which was officially launched on Friday, is third with 15 percent backing, and UKIP is on 14 percent.

Another new party, Change UK, which includes Chuka Umunna among its number, are on seven percent. The Liberal Democrats are on eight percent, the same as the Greens, while the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru are both on six percent.

Talks between the Government and Labour are set to continue over the Easter parliamentary recess in the hope of finding a Brexit agreement that will be acceptable to MPs.

The EU has insisted the terms of the UK’s withdrawal, rejected three times by MPs, cannot be renegotiated – but there is scope to strengthen the political declaration, a document setting out the parameters of the UK’s future relations with the EU, ahead of the new Brexit deadline.

10.15am update: May’s leadership rivals try to DODGE Brexit demanding she SORTS crisis before quitting if she can’t get her Brexit deal through Parliament.

Supporters of Cabinet contenders for the Number 10 hot seat made clear in private they do not want a leadership challenge before the first stage of Brexit is resolved, even if cross-party talks with Labour fail to yield positive results, sources told The Times.

They fear a summer leadership challenge before Theresa May can get her Brexit deal thorough Parliament would provide Brexiteer rivals Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab with vital momentum, both of whom have pledged to re-open talks with Brussels.

The Prime Minister has come under huge pressure following her decision to accept a deadline of October 31 from Brussels to extend the Article 50 process and to begin talks with Jeremy Corbyn as she desperately looks for ways to build support for her Brexit deal.

Mrs May has vowed to quit once this first stage of negotiations is complete, but one source backing a Cabinet rival told The Times their candidate would be “perfectly happy” for her to remain in office until December when, under the Tory leadership rules, she can next face a confidence vote.

The source said: “We want a contest after the first stage of Brexit has been sorted so we can talk about other things. Most leading contenders do not want an early challenge, even if that means waiting and supporting the Prime Minister until December.”

Brexit: Theresa May has been urged to remain as Prime Minister until later this year

10.00am update: Eight out of ten finance leaders expect environment to be worse after Brexit

UK businesses are expecting the long-term environment to decline as a result of the UK exiting the EU.

Deloitte warned that worries over the long-term impact of Brexit are mounting, with more than half of finance bosses in the UK expecting to halt recruitment and spending.

The accountancy firm’s latest survey interviewed 89 chief financial officers (CFOs), including 48 representing FTSE 100 companies and smaller firms on the FTSE 250.

Only found 13 percent of those surveyed were optimistc about the future of ther company.

More than half – 53% – also expect to reduce hiring staff because of Brexit.

A timeline explaining what could happen next in Brexit.

9.30am update: UK house prices are rising as buyers “bored” waiting for Brexit re-ignite the market

House prices rised 1.1 percent – or £3,447 – in the month to April 6, meaning the average price is now £305,449. But despite the spring bounce in April the figure is still 0.1% lower than a year ago.

Rightmove said the uncertain political backdrop continues to hold back the market, with new seller asking prices, the number of properties coming to market and the number of sales agreed all below this time last year.

Rightmove director Miles Shipside said: “The rise in new seller asking prices reflects growing activity as the market builds momentum, egged on by the arrival of Easter.“

Some sectors of the market and some parts of the country have strong buyer demand and a lack of suitable supply.

“However, on average, properties are still coming to the market at slightly lower prices than a year ago.

“It’s one of the most price-sensitive markets that we’ve seen for years, with buyers understandably looking for value or for homes with extra quality and appeal that suit their needs.”

Brexit live: UK house prices will rise as buys and sellers are “bored by brexit” (Image: GETTY)

9.25am: Nigel Evans warns May’will plead for another Brexit EXTENSION’

The Brexiteer MP warned the Prime Minister will return to Brussels “cap in hand” in October to demand the European Union agree to yet another Brexit extension.

Theresa May last week sparked the fury across the country after she agreed to a new Brexit extension until October 31 despite pledging not to sign up the country to stay inside the European Union past June 30.

Tory MP Nigel Evans reacted furiously to the news, predicting the Prime Minister will ask for a further delay to Brexit before the new deadline is due to expire in the Autumn.

Speaking to LBC, Mr Evans said: “We’re still in the European Union and the can has been kicked down the road towards Halloween.

“I can see us on October 30, Theresa May going back to Brussels, cap in hand yet again, asking ‘can we stay until March 2020?’ The whole thing is absolutely preposterous.

“She went to Brussels, basically cap in hand but her hands tied behind her back at the same time. Brussels saw all of this, they saw the weakness of Theresa May.”

Brexit: Mrs May has extended Article 50 to October – to the fury of Brexiteer Tory MPs.

9.05am update: Rees-Mogg launches attack on ‘foolish’ Lammy after he compares Brexiteers to NAZIS

Jacob Rees-Mogg has lashed out at David Lammy after the Labour MP compared the Brexit-backing European Research Group to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.

compared the Brexit-backing European Research Group to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.

The prominent Brexiteer and chair of ERG said he felt sorry for the Labour MP following his controversial comments which made him “look foolish”.

In a blistering attack, Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Lammy’s comments were “unbalanced” and would “damage his reputation”.

He tweeted: “I feel sorry for Mr Lammy, comparing a Parliamentary ginger group with an organisation and creed that killed six million Jewish people makes him look foolish and his comments unbalanced.

“It damages his reputation.”

Brexit: Mr Rees-Mogg said he felt “sorry” for David Lammy following his shock comments

8.53am update: Cross-party brexit talks are “more constructive” than people think

Jeremy hunt has said talks between Mrs May’s Government and the Labour Party to agree to a plan are more constructive than people think,

Mr Hunt told BBC Radio: “Talks we are having with Labour are detailed and I think more constructive than people have thought.

“They are more detailed and more constructive than people had been expecting on both sides. But we don’t know if they are going to work.”

Meetings between ministers and their opposite numbers from Labour are due to continue this week, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said on Sunday – but it has not been confirmed if the talks will resume today. 

8.30am update: Hammond mocked Tory peers for engaging in “suicide pact”

Philip Hammond mocked prominent Tory peers for engaging in a “suicide pact” during failed bids to beat Theresa May to the Tory leadership.

Brexit: Mr Hunt said that cross-party talks had been “constructive”

The Daily Telegraph reported Mr Hammond used a speech in the US on Friday to say Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson had formed an “unintended suicide pact” in the 2016 leadership contest.

The Chancellor said that Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom had effectively “knifed herself” during the race to become Prime Minister, according to the newspaper.

Mrs May is facing calls to quit and trigger a new leadership contest, with ex-cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith saying she should stand down as early as next month.

Mr Johnson hit back at David Lammy after the Labour MP defended comparing some Tory peers to the Nazis.

The remarks came as Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, Mrs May’s defacto deputy, said talks with Labour on trying to end the deadlock would continue over the Easter parliamentary recess. But discussions are not expected to resume on Monday, according to Labour sources.

Referring to the leadership battle, the newspaper reported Mr Hammond as saying: “If you remember last time this happened in 2016, Gove and Johnson knifed each other in an unintended suicide pact.

Brexit: Mrs, May's election CRISIS - Tories face OBLITERATION in EU vote as anger grows
Brexit: Hammond mocked Tory peers for engaging in a “suicide pact” over failed leadership bids

“Which left just Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. And then Andrea Leadsom knifed herself in a private suicide pact and Theresa May inherited the prime ministership without anybody casting a single vote.”

8.20am update: Hunt to tell Japan business leaders UK is focused on avoiding no deal

Jeremy Hunt is using a visit to Japan to tell business leaders that the UK is focused on avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

Following withdrawal from the EU being delayed until October 31, Mr Hunt will stress on Monday that Britain is seeking “tariff-free frictionless trade” with the bloc.

As well as meeting Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Hunt is also visiting a Tokyo high school to help teach English.

The Foreign Secretary will “update them on EU exit developments, and reassure them that UK Government is focused on avoiding a no-deal Brexit and on agreeing a deal which that will ensure tariff-free frictionless trade between the EU and the UK”.

Mr Hunt, who has previously worked in Japan, intends to promote English as the “language of opportunity” on the trip.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Hunt said: “I’m privileged to be able to visit Japan as Foreign Secretary and see how that shared culture is inspiring the next generation. The UK has always been an outward-looking global power. That cannot change after Brexit. I look forward to our relationship with Japan getting even closer in the years after we leave the EU.”

Mr Lidington said the talks would continue over the Easter break

Brexit: Cross-party talks ‘testing ideas’ says Lidington

The government and Labour are “testing out” each other’s ideas as they try to resolve the Brexit deadlock, cabinet minister David Lidington has said.

He told the BBC they had a “fair bit in common” over future customs objectives but further compromise was needed.

While there was no deadline, he said the sides would “take stock” in 10 days and the process could not drag out.

But former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the process was a “recipe for disaster” for his party.

He called for Prime Minister Theresa May to make way for a new Conservative leader next month – but Mr Lidington insisted changing PM would “not change the arithmetic in Parliament”.

Talks between the government and Labour are set to continue over the Easter parliamentary recess in the hope of finding a Brexit agreement that will be acceptable to MPs.

A series of working groups in key areas, such as environmental standards, security and workers’ rights, have been set up to try and find common ground.

The EU has insisted the terms of the UK’s withdrawal, rejected three times by MPs, cannot be renegotiated – but there is scope to strengthen the political declaration, a document setting out the parameters of the UK’s future relations with the EU, ahead of the new Brexit deadline of 31 October.

Mr Lidington, who is regarded as Mrs May’s de facto deputy, said he had not set a deadline for the talks to produce a result but the public wanted Parliament to resolve their differences quickly.

“I don’t think the question can be allowed to drag out for much longer,” he said.

Asked whether the government could drop its opposition to a customs union with the EU, as demanded by Labour, Mr Lidington said both sides had well-known “public positions”.

Customs ‘mechanism’

He suggested the two sides were considering whether there was a “mechanism” to deliver the benefits of a customs union, such as tariff and quota-free trade with the EU, while also enabling the UK to have an independent trade policy and input into EU agreements affecting the UK.

“What we have found in terms of objectives… there is fair bit that both parties would have in common,” he said. “If we are going to find an agreement there needs to be movement on both sides.

“I don’t want to compromise what is at the moment a space where we are testing with the opposition, and they are testing with us, particular ways in which we could move forward.”

But Mr Duncan Smith warned against his party embracing Labour’s Brexit policy, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that he had “real concerns with some of my colleagues going out lauding Jeremy Corbyn”.

“We need to be very clear in the course of this that we don’t end up letting Jeremy Corbyn dictate to us that we stay in a customs union, or we have some kind of second referendum, or stay aligned with the European single market – all of that given to us by Jeremy Corbyn is a recipe for disaster.”

He said there was real grassroots anger at the prospect of the Conservatives having to fight European elections at the end of May and the prime minister should leave Downing Street this summer irrespective of whether the withdrawal agreement had not been approved or not.

“She said she would go as and when the agreement was ratified, which was looking at around about May, June. I think those dates still stand,” he said.

But Labour’s shadow transport Secretary Andy McDonald said the talks would “count for nothing” if the Conservatives changed leader and a hard Brexiteer took over from Mrs May.

Referendum warning

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has been warned Labour will “haemorrhage” votes in the EU election unless the party explicitly backs a further referendum.

MEP Richard Corbett, leader of the party in the EU Parliament, told the Observer Labour risked losing out to parties committed to a public vote.

“If Labour does not re-confirm its support for a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal in its manifesto, then it will haemorrhage votes to parties who do have a clear message,” he said.

“If on the other hand we do offer clarity and a confirmatory ballot we could do very well.”

Labour’s current policy is to keep all options on the table – including pressing for a further EU referendum.

Labour MP David Lammy told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the current “rows would continue” unless the public had the final say on the issue.

Several members of the shadow cabinet and many backbenchers, particularly in Leave-supporting areas, are opposed to the idea.

What happens next?

Flowchart on next steps after extension

Dirtiest Tory leadership battle begins amid war over Brexit – with Conservative Party’s future at stake

While Westminster has been fixated on Theresa May’s battle with Brussels over her Brexit a deal, a battle already being billed as the dirtiest of a generation is playing out away from public view in Parliament.

At stake is the future of both Britain’s future outside of the European Union – and the Conservative Party as a major electoral force.

Up to a dozen senior Tory MPs are actively mulling whether to mount leadership campaigns, to replace Mrs May when she quits – as expected – later this year.

One MP says: “Everybody is trying to gauge what support they have got.” Another MP says: “It is early days – this is a slippery electorate… It is not as though there is a runaway favourite.”

And given the wide open nature of the field, it is hardly a surprise the teams are drawing up “war books” about one another according to one adviser, shining a light on controversial historic articles, details of alleged sexual peccadilloes and unsavoury claims about their partners.

One adviser said that “without a doubt” the campaigning in the upcoming Tory leadership campaign will be the dirtiest for decades. “The biggest feature in Westminster is people looking for dirt on other people

“They are all at it [war books]. Everyone is going on about the war books, who has got what. It is already quite a nasty campaign.

“The main focus at the minute is how you can take people down – it is not a battle of ideas yet. It is people trying to knee cap each other.”

The battle for votes in the tearooms and corridors is already fully underway. While none of the leadership teams will confirm numbers Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, is seen in the “unenviable position” of being the early front runner with one observer saying he has pledges of between 70 and 80 Tory MPs.

Both Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, and Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, are said to have won the unofficial backing of 40 MPs.

Further behind is Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, who is sitting on a “core support of 25 MPs without having to work” rising to – according to his cheerleaders – as many as 70 MPs, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG chairman.

Each is tailoring his or her offering to MPs who have to whittle the field down to just two candidates to go in front of the membership.

Mr Hunt – who is in Japan this weekend on official business when he will demonstrate his linguistic skills by teaching English to Japanese students – is emphasising a “compassionate Conservatism”, saying the Tories must show they are not just a “money, money, money party” but have a “social mission” as well.

But his rivals are already describing him as the “establishment candidate” who is likely to pick up the support of Number 10. Plenty of observers say this could damage his chances among MPs furious about the Brexit talks.

Mr Javid, an arch-Thatcherite, has been trying to convince MPs to back him by emphasising his social justice credentials, built around the importance of the family at a dinner held by the Social Justice Coalition in the Commons last Monday, coupled with his experience of four big Cabinet jobs.

Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson have both reportedly addressed the same dinner some weeks earlier. One friend of Mr Javid said the Home Secretary had “aced it and Jeremy Hunt was uninspiring”.

MPs who back Mr Raab, whose anti-EU credentials cannot be questioned, stress his support for the core Tory values of helping others to get on through determination and hard-work, while building a fairer society.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s team are hanging his appeal on his popularity outside of the M25 – pointing out how former Labour leader Tony Blair said a fortnight ago that he was the Tory politician who could beat Jeremy Corbyn.

One supporting MP said: “He can deliver us Brexit and a victory. Boris is that person. He is the sort of person you can turn to in a crisis. When we get him to the members, he is going to win.”

Other outsiders in the leadership race are more forthcoming in their policy plans, perhaps in a bid to attract attention.

Last week Matt Hancock, the rising star Health Secretary, raised eyebrows by calling for a return to modern-day patriotism with an appeal to Tories “to sound like we actually like living in this country”.

That came after Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, last weekend called for party members to be given votes on policy motions at the annual party conference, while also questioning the spiralling costs of the HS2 scheme

The large number of possible candidates – Michael Gove, the Environment secretary, is considering running, while James Cleverly and former chief whip Mark Harper are mulling standing – means talk soon turns to a Tory version of the online dating app Tinder where MPs have to swipe Left or swipe Right to find their ideal running mate.

Mr Johnson is already understood to be eyeing up an alliance with Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions secretary, who can bring with her other Remain-supporting MPs. Donors are said to be keen on the union of the two socially-liberal Conservatives.

However sources close to Ms Rudd made clear she has not decided who to back, but she will not back any candidate who has considered leaving the EU without a deal to be “a viable option” – and may conceivably run herself.

Ms Rudd has formed the “One Nation” group of MPs within the Tory party in part to ensure MPs could back a leader who will develop “a plan for domestic issues” to take the party beyond Brexit.

Mr Hunt is rumoured to have offered the position of foreign secretary to either Penny Mordaunt, the International Development secretary, or Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee.

A source close to Mr Hunt denied he had offered jobs to leadership rivals.  The source said: “He hasn’t offered any jobs to anyone, and it’s not his style to stoop to this kind of briefing against colleagues.” He added that Mr Hunt had been well received at the social justice dinner.

All the frontrunners are lining up advisers. Mr Javid has signed up Matthew Elliott, the former chief executive of Vote Leave, while former Tory MP James Wharton is backing Mr Johnson.

Mr Raab is being supported by Paul Stephenson, another well-respected former Vote Leave executive, while Mr Gove, who has still not been forgiven by many Brexiteers for pulling out of Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2016, is being advised by Henry Newman, a former aide who runs the Open Europe thinktank.

Mel Stride, a Treasury minister who is backing Mr Gove, has shown MPs pie charts purporting to show that he would have broad support across the country. One MP claimed Mr Stride had said the data showed that Mr Gove was the only candidate who could beat Mr Johnson.

Part of the problem is that Mrs May has only committed to leaving once the Withdrawal Agreement is passed – which could happen anytime between now and at least October – making it hard for MPs to know when to start campaigning formally.

One adviser says: “It is a phoney war at the moment – no one knows when it is going to start or how long it is going to be.

“So everyone is unsure about the pace of when to attack things. It is like being in a horse rate and not knowing where the finishing line is or when the start is.”

What is clear is that the Tory party cannot choose a leader who cannot win an election against an Opposition leader like Jeremy Corbyn.

One Brexit-supporting Conservative MP says: “This is existential. Getting this next choice right is absolutely fundamental to our chances of forming the next Government. More importantly it is very likely to be fundamental to our chances of delivering Brexit.”

Brexit: Warning over Labour’s referendum stance

Jeremy Corbyn has been warned Labour will “haemorrhage” votes in the EU election unless the party explicitly backs a further referendum.

MEP Richard Corbett, leader of the party in the EU Parliament, told the Observer Labour risked losing out to parties committed to a public vote.

If Labour offered “clarity” on a public vote, it would do “very well”, he said.

Labour’s current policy is to keep all options on the table – including pressing for a further EU referendum.

It has said it would support a public vote to avoid a “hard Tory Brexit” but several senior figures have expressed concern that a referendum demand would be dropped if the party agreed a Brexit compromise with Tory ministers.

Yorkshire and the Humber MEP Mr Corbett told the paper: “If Labour does not re-confirm its support for a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal in its manifesto, then it will haemorrhage votes to parties who do have a clear message.

“If on the other hand we do offer clarity and a confirmatory ballot we could do very well.”

Mr Corbyn has also come under pressure from the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who accused him of “wasting time” and avoiding a commitment to a second vote.

And former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett told the Observer Labour should give a “clear and simple” message on a confirmatory second referendum.

However, others in the shadow cabinet and many backbenchers, particularly in Leave-supporting areas, are opposed to the idea.

Meanwhile, talks between senior Labour figures and the government continue over reaching a Brexit deal acceptable to Parliament.

On Saturday, No 10 said ministers would meet Labour for “urgent work” to strike a deal in time to avoid EU elections.

A Downing Street source said: “If we can keep up the pace of negotiations, we can get a deal over the line and avoid participating in the European Parliamentary elections.”

Richard Corbett MEP
Richard Corbett said Labour could profit from holding a public vote on any Brexit deal

After talks on Friday the shadow chancellor John McDonnell said discussions with cabinet ministers David Lidington and Michael Gove had so far been “positive” and “constructive”.

Parties began gearing up to fight the European elections on 23 May after Theresa May and the EU agreed to postpone Brexit until 31 October.

However, the UK can leave earlier – and avoid the polls – if her withdrawal agreement is approved by Parliament in time.

Some senior figures within Labour – including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer – are said to be pressing for a confirmatory ballot to be tied to any cross-party Brexit deal.

Mrs May has consistently ruled out the possibility of a further referendum and many Conservatives would strongly resist the prospect, described last week by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom as “appalling”

Despite Mr Corbett’s warning, and more headlines on Sunday related to anti-Semitism within Labour, reports suggest Mr Corbyn could be in a position to form a government in the event of a snap general election.

And the Sunday Telegraph said analysis by polling organisation Electoral Calculus suggested the Tories could lose 59 seats at a general election, leaving Labour as the biggest party in the Commons.

What happens next?

Flowchart on next steps after extension

Hammond: Brexit deadlock leaves little room for key issues

It is time to get Brexit “off the table” so that Britain can focus on other issues, the chancellor has said.

Philip Hammond told the BBC that getting a deal done soon would release the “bandwidth” needed to take key economic decisions facing the country.

He called the UK’s involvement in May’s European elections “pointless” and hoped a deal would be done before then.

Mr Hammond was speaking in Washington, where he is attending World Bank and IMF meetings.

The chancellor said talking to the Labour Party about finding a way forward to resolve the Parliamentary impasse was not his “preferred route”.

But it offered a new way forward to achieve a Brexit deal, after which he could concentrate on issues such spending and “where our economy is going over the next few years”.

“I would like us to spend more of our bandwidth focused on growing our economy,” he told the BBC’s economics correspondent Don silas. “Until a deal is done we cannot make decisions about the spending review.”

All will be forgotten’

If a deal on leaving the EU cannot be agreed by the end of May, the UK is committed to fighting the European elections.

“Clearly nobody wants to fight the European elections. It feels like a pointless exercise, and the only way we can avoid that is by getting a deal agreed and done quickly.

“If we can do that by 22 May, we can avoid fighting the European parliamentary elections.

“In any case, we want to ensure any British MEPs that are elected never have to take their seats in the European Parliament by ensuring this is all done well before the new European Parliament convenes,” he said.

The chancellor is in Washington at the World Bank and IMF spring meetings.

He rejected suggestions that the handling of Brexit negotiations was being seen overseas as a national humiliation.

“Britain is known as a bastion of democracy, and how we manage a challenging and complex issue like this is of huge interest,” he said.

“In a year’s time, when this is behind us and people are focussed on other things, all this will be forgotten.”

Brexit: Boris Johnson ‘wrong on no-deal polling claim’

Boris Johnson was wrong to claim there was polling evidence that a no-deal Brexit was the public’s preferred option, the press regulator has ruled.

Ipso ordered the Daily Telegraph to print a correction after finding the MP’s column was inaccurate.

The claim was made in a piece headlined “The British people won’t be scared into backing a woeful Brexit deal nobody voted for” in January.

The Telegraph had argued it was “clearly comically polemical”.

The column appeared a week before MPs rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal for the first time, by a historic margin. The Commons went on to reject the withdrawal agreement in a further two votes.

In his piece, prominent Brexiteer Mr Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary over Mrs May’s Brexit strategy last July, wrote: “Of all the options suggested by pollsters – staying in the EU, coming out on Theresa May’s terms, or coming out on World Trade terms – it is the last, the so-called no-deal option, that is gaining in popularity.

“In spite of – or perhaps because of – everything they have been told, it is this future that is by some margin preferred by the British public.”

According to Ipso, the newspaper argued that it was clearly an opinion piece and readers would understand that it was not invoking specific polling – and that the Conservative MP’s column was “clearly comically polemical” and would not be read as a “serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”.

‘Hyperbole and melodrama’

And it argued that various combinations of results in four polls reflected support for a no-deal scenario over Theresa May’s deal or remaining in the EU.

But following a complaint that it was inaccurate, Ipso said the article, published on 7 January, failed to provide accurate information with “a basis in fact” and ordered a correction to be printed.

In its ruling, Ipso said that while columnists were free to use “hyperbole, melodrama and humour”, they must take care “over the accuracy of any claims of fact”.

It said the Telegraph had not provided data to back up the claims and had “construed the polls as signalling support for a no deal, when in fact, this was the result of the publication either amalgamating several findings together or interpreting an option beyond what was set out by the poll, as being a finding in support of a no-deal Brexit”.

It found it was a “significant inaccuracy, because it misrepresented polling information” and upheld a complaint that it had breached clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Elizabeth McKenna's flower business relies on overnight shipments from Holland

Brexi: How the new delay has hit four businesses

It was an early-hour announcement that allowed many of the UK’s business owners to finally get a few hours of restful sleep.

In Brussels on Thursday, the EU granted the UK a six-month extension, thus eliminating the immediate threat of a no-deal Brexit.

But for companies that have been preparing for a sudden exit, it was no more than a temporary reprieve.

“It’s a bit of uncertainty that isn’t helpful,” says Andrew Graham. His 70-year-old company, Graham and Brown Wallpaper, has been stockpiling raw materials for months at its factory in Blackburn.

“Quite frankly, we could do with knowing where we’re going,” he told the BBC.

Andrew Graham
Andrew Graham’s wallpaper company had been stockpiling supplies

“An extension is better than a no deal, but actually we could do with getting the withdrawal deal through so that business can then plan for what it needs to do.”

‘Not insurmountable’

Joy Parkinson, who runs a Bury-based company selling natural beauty products, is more sanguine.

The Faith in Nature boss says Brexit is a hurdle, “but not insurmountable”.

“We’ve been buying additional stock of the lovely fragrances we buy in from Europe, to make sure we were covered if there were issues around ports and blockages,” she says.

We were anticipating that some of our partners in European markets might have wanted to buy extra stock,” Ms Parkinson explains, but that scenario never materialised.

“We’ve not overbought, so we’ve been fairly sensible and fairly pragmatic, we’ve not bought six months, 12 months of additional material, so we’ve managed the cash flow fairly pragmatically.”

Sloane's
Waitrose supplier Sloane’s had to absorb a rise in the cost of chocolate

Nottingham florist and former Apprentice contestant Elizabeth McKenna has felt the impact of Brexit uncertainty much more strongly.

Her business, and her industry, are part of a finely tuned supply chain.

“We order and buy our flowers from Holland online,” she explains. Orders need to be confirmed by 10:00 so as to meet auction deadlines in the Netherlands.

The flowers are then transported overnight via rail and ferries, and any delay could mean they arrive wilted or dead.

The initial Brexit date of 29 March, Ms McKenna explains, was just two days before her company’s busiest day of the year – Mother’s Day.

Brexi: How the new delay has hit four businesses
Cosmetics firm Faith In Nature expected its European customers to stock up in advance of Brexit

“That actually created an increase in commodity prices, because of the uncertainty with the exchange rate during that week which has directly affected profits within my industry.

“As far as trying to plan for what is going to happen with Brexit, we are a small industry… and we haven’t had enough information to plan.”

“Literally all that florists and people working at my level can do, as small independent businesses with 10 people, is wait and see what the government tells us.”

Ms McKenna says small business have only received one or two Brexit-related letters from the likes of HMRC,

“We’re essentially just saving money, cutting our costs where we can and are waiting to weather whatever is to come.”

Other business have already had to absorb large additional costs.

Sloane’s Hot Chocolate is made in a studio in Surrey – but sold in Waitrose, Harrods, and overseas to the US, Canada, Singapore, Dubai and Ireland.

It’s one of many small businesses for which a further Brexit extension isn’t merely a waiting period, but comes at a significant price.

Founder Brian Watt says the company’s suffering began the day after the referendum in 2016, when the pound dropped sharply against the dollar.

This led to a 20% increase in the cost of its main ingredient – chocolate. The company chose not to pass that on to customers, instead eating into its profit margins.

Then, with a no-deal looming, Sloane’s was told by one supplier that the price of their product would go up by 20% or 30%, forcing Mr Watt to stockpile.

“Whereas we would normally hold maybe one to two weeks supply of those items, we are now holding one to two months,” he told the BBC, “because we would find it very difficult to pass on 20 to 30% price increases to our customers.”

To help with the upfront costs of buying up supplies such as packaging, Sloane’s had to secure a large overdraft from a bank.

But Mr Watt is stoic in the face of many more months of uncertainty.

“We basically made the decision that we are just going to get on with running our business,” he says.

Nigel Farage: "No more Mr Nice Guy."

#European elections: Nigel Farage launches Brexit Party

Ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage has launched his new Brexit Party, saying he wants a “democratic revolution” in UK politics.

Speaking in Coventry, he said May’s expected European elections were the party’s “first step” but its “first task” was to “change politics”.

“I said that if I did come back into the political fray it would be no more Mr Nice Guy and I mean it,” he said.

But UKIP dismissed the Brexit Party as a “vehicle” for Mr Farage.

The launch comes after Prime Minister Theresa May agreed a Brexit delay to 31 October with the EU, with the option of leaving earlier if her withdrawal agreement is approved by Parliament.

This means the UK is likely to have to hold European Parliament elections on 23 May.

Mr Farage said the Brexit Party had an “impressive list” of 70 candidates for the elections. Among those revealed at the launch was Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of leading Conservative Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Mr Farage said: “This party is not here just to fight the European elections… this party is not just to express our anger – 23 May is the first step of the Brexit Party. We will change politics for good.”

He said he was “angry, but this is not a negative emotion, this is a positive emotion”.

The party had already received £750,000 online over 10 days, he said, made up of small donations of up to £500.

Annunziata Rees-Mogg
Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of leading Conservative Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, was revealed as a Brexit Party candidate

Ms Rees-Mogg said she had stuck with the Conservatives “through thick and thin”, but added: “We’ve got to rescue our democracy, we have got to show that the people of this country have a say in how we are run.”

Earlier, Mr Farage told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In terms of policy, there’s no difference (to UKIP), but in terms of personnel there is a vast difference.

“UKIP did struggle to get enough good people into it but unfortunately what it’s chosen to do is allow the far right to join it and take it over and I’m afraid the brand is now tarnished.”

He promised the Brexit Party would be “deeply intolerant of all intolerance” and would represent a cross-section of society.

When asked about former Brexit Party leader Catherine Blaiklock, who quit over what he said were “horrible and intolerant” comments on Twitter about Islam, he said she was “an administrator”.

He said: “I set the party up. She was the administrator that got it set up.”

UKIP leader Gerard Batten
UKIP leader Gerard Batten said the Brexit Party was “just a vehicle” for Nigel Farage

At the time, Ms Blaiklock apologised for her “out-of-character comments” which she said “fell well short of what is expected in any walk of life”.

UKIP leader Gerard Batten tweeted that Mr Farage’s suggestion that there was no difference in policy between UKIP and the Brexit Party was “a lie”.

He said: “UKIP has a manifesto and policies. Farage’s party is just a vehicle for him.”

He said the Brexit Party’s “only purpose is to re-elect him (Mr Farage)” and was a “Tory/Establishment safety valve”.

The Electoral Commission has issued European Parliamentary elections guidance for returning officers to advise them “on the rules should the elections go ahead” and to ensure they “have as much certainty as possible in developing contingency plans”.