One of my favourite journalists, Jack Blanchard of Politico.co.uk writes a daily summary of the political news, called the London Playbook
Here he shows his love of the horror genre, with the excuse being the impending Brexit Halloween deadline
Good Thursday morning from Brussels, where the European Council summit finally broke up just a few hours ago.
FFS: Brexit Day is now six and a half months away. Unless it gets brought forward … Or gets delayed again. I think maybe we’ll just abandon the whole countdown thing now.
LAST NIGHT IN BRUSSELS
HALLOWEEN: Brexit Day has been delayed until October 31 after an epic nine-hour summit here in Brussels. In the early hours of this morning EU27 leaders finally hammered out a compromise deal to extend the Article 50 process for a further six and a half months, so removing the cliff edge which had been looming tomorrow night. The extension to Halloween is longer than the three months requested by Theresa May and pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron; but shorter than the 12 months favored by other EU leaders. It can still be cut short at any time, if the U.K. parliament manages to ratify a Brexit deal. Full POLITICO story here.
Night of the Living Dead: The decision follows another of those sprawling late-night meetings so beloved here in Brussels, with leaders finally emerging bleary-eyed shortly after 2.30 a.m. At that point European Council President Donald Tusk took to the stage to deliver a friendly but blunt “message to our British friends.” Addressing the U.K. directly, he said: “This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it’s still enough to find the best possible solution. Please do not waste this time.” Good luck with that.
Scream: Anyone hoping Britain will actually be leaving the EU at 11 p.m. on Halloween may yet be disappointed. Pressed by the BBC’s Chris Morris at the presser, Tusk did not deny a further extension would be granted if Britain is still not ready to leave in October. “Our wish and hope is the U.K. will be ready with a final solution at the end of October — but I’m too old to exclude another scenario,” Tusk admitted. “Still, everything is possible.”
The Vanishing: Tusk went further when briefing Polish press later (h/t Jakub Krupa), admitting his “personal” hope was that the latest delay could see Britain abandon Brexit altogether. “Maybe we can avoid the U.K. leaving the EU,” Tusk said. “This is obviously not my role — but it’s my personal, quiet dream.” Others were less convinced. Dutch PM Mark Rutte said: “At the end of October we are six months down the road, so it will be increasingly difficult to grant extensions.” You can already see the next big row taking shape.
Get Out: In her own late-night press conference, Theresa May insisted she was still hopeful of getting a Brexit deal through parliament before May 22 — so allowing the government to cancel the European Parliament election and leave the EU June 1. “I continue to believe we need to leave the EU, with a deal, as soon as possible,” the PM said. “Vitally, the EU have agreed the extension can be terminated when the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified … The choices we now face are stark, and the timetable is clear. We must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach a consensus.” Not many here in Brussels believe she can do it.
Don’t Look Now: May refused to accept she should apologize for yet another delay to Brexit, and instead blamed MPs back in Westminster for failing to pass her deal. “Over the last three months I have voted three times to leave the EU,” she told the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves. “If sufficient members of parliament had voted with me in January, we would have left by now.”
Silence of the Lamb: Having made her case for an extension at the start of the session, May spent the rest of the summit waiting quietly at her ambassador’s residence while EU27 leaders hammered out Britain’s fate. This at least meant she got to swerve the bleak-sounding summit dinner of warm scallop salad followed by loin of cod. Ugh. Instead the PM tucked in to a very British supper of roast fillet of lamb with mint sauce.
Psycho: U.S. President Donald Trump took it upon himself to wade into the drama this morning, expressing sympathy for the way Britain has been treated. “Too bad that the European Union is being so tough on the United Kingdom and Brexit,” he tweeted. “The E.U. is likewise a brutal trading partner with the United States, which will change. Sometimes in life you have to let people breathe before it all comes back to bite you!” Nope, me neither.
Hellraiser: Most EU27 leaders were ready to approve Donald Tusk’s suggestion of a long extension last night, but the summit’s enfant terrible Emmanuel Macron had other ideas. He irritated many around the table — not least Angela Merkel — by digging his heels in and demanding a very short extension, and with swingeing conditions imposed on Britain. “Tonight’s summit was not about the U.K. but about France,” one diplomat complained to the Telegraph’s Peter Foster. Faced with near-universal opposition, Macron got only some of what he wanted. A compromise extension of six months was agreed — but the EU will not have the power to cut it short, and there will be no added conditions for Britain beyond the need to hold the MEP election next month.
The Brexorcist: Fascinatingly, Macron cast himself as the Brexiteers’ ally after the summit, as he accused EU27 leaders who favored a longer delay of trying to stop Brexit altogether. “The majority position was to give a very long extension, but in my view it wasn’t logical — and above all it was neither good for us nor for the British people,” he said. “There were temptations to go very far in granting deadlines, and in my view it wasn’t about respecting the vote of the British people but rather getting them locked into membership.” A dinner invitation from the Rees-Moggs cannot be far away.
Misery: Rumors swirled all night of a row between Macron and Merkel and Macron and Jean-Claude Juncker, and afterwards the European Commission president was dismissive of French fears that Britain may become a disruptive presence. “We had heard voices coming from Britain that Britain wants to be a very difficult partner of the others,” Juncker said. “This is nothing new!” He insisted “the possibilities for Britain to block decisions is very, very limited,” because most resolutions could be dealt with by qualified majority voting. Officials added that the EU27 will continue to meet without Britain to strike agreements on key issues.
The Wicker Man: Juncker’s performance at the presser this morning was disappointingly professional, given he’d been at dinner for several hours and it was well past 2 a.m. So you’ll just have to satisfy yourselves with this video of him in Rwanda earlier this week, almost setting fire to a bunch of dignitaries while at a ceremony to commemorate the war dead. Admit it — you’ll miss him when he’s gone.
Doppelgänger: Speaking of hilarious viral content, Theresa May and Angela Merkel were in stitches looking at *something* on an iPad together before the summit began. After much online speculation of what they might be watching, officials revealed they had been laughing at this tweet showing them addressing their respective parliaments in more or less identical outfits yesterday.
Drag Me to Hell: Less amusingly for the PM, Brussels officials tell POLITICO that Britain will now be invited to what was meant to be the big post-Brexit EU summit in Sibiu, Romania, on May 9. Theresa May must be so looking forward to taking part in a big EU gathering celebrating “the future of Europe” … six weeks after we were meant to have left.
Cam’s Labyrinth: Another person cursing the latest Brexit delay will be David Cameron, who has apparently told the PM he will not release his now-completed memoirs until Britain is actually out of the EU. Today’s Daily Mail diary reports Cam had planned to start promoting the book this month following Brexit Day on March 29 … So much for that. “Now publication is on hold, with no date set for when the book will see the light of day,” the Mail’s Sebastian Shakespeare reports. And Cameron himself tells him: “I honestly don’t know when it’s coming out.” Back to the hut it is, then.
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DRIVING THE DAY
HOME TO FACE THE MUSIC: Theresa May heads back to Westminster this morning and will address the Commons around lunchtime for a post-summit debrief with MPs. Unlike yesterday’s surreal PMQs session, the prime minister can expect a proper Brexit grilling this time round as she sets out exactly what’s been agreed. We’ve seen this movie plenty of times before, and you all know the drill by now — repetitive tedium from May; confected outrage from Jeremy Corbyn and Ian Blackford; seething anger from the Tory backbenches; and lots and lots of John Bercow. Enjoy.
Firing squad: The anger aimed at May from her own backbenches will not be restricted to her signing off the six-month Article 50 extension. The PM’s aides have also now made clear she has no intention of stepping down as leader unless or until a Brexit deal is passed — which will infuriate colleagues who want her out of No. 10 within weeks. All the papers carry versions of the story, and you can read the Guardian’s here. In the Telegraph, Camilla Tominey reports some grassroots Tory members are now trying to gather thousands of signatures urging party bosses to change the rules which state leaders can only be challenged once every 12 months.
Finally, some good news: It’s official — the Brexit extension means Easter recess is on, and starts this afternoon. The House rises at 5 p.m. and will not return until Tuesday, April 23. Praise the Lord.
Not stopping for recess: The cross-party Brexit talks between the government and Labour, which resume today and are expected to continue into next week. The PM’s de-facto deputy David Lidington and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer will be leading today’s discussions, though will likely be joined by other senior figures from either side. Progress remains painfully slow, and there are real doubts on both sides over whether this is really going anywhere. “We’re not going to keep talking for the sake of it,” a No. 10 official insists, but any actual agreement looks a long way off.
Exhibit A: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told ITV’s Peston show last night that he does not expect a deal to be done in time to avoid the EU election next month. “The best thing for Britain if we are going to have legislation going through, [it] has got to be legislation that has been properly scrutinized, that is effective, that will stand the test of time,” McDonnell said. “I can’t see that being done quickly … If we could do it by June, fair enough — I can’t see it, because the government has put us in an impossible position.”
But with friends like these: Theresa May’s erstwhile ally, DUP leader Arlene Foster, is here in Brussels this morning and will hold talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Ominously for the PM, Foster will be joined by arch-Brexiteers Owen Paterson and Iain Duncan Smith. She sounded pretty unimpressed with May last night. “It is outrageous that almost three years after people voted to leave EU, we are facing another European election,” Foster said. “The PM should recognize the decision to leave the EU is not the problem — but rather the ham-fisted manner in which negotiations have taken place.”
Also in the Brexit diary: CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn addresses the Institute for Government on Brexit at 8.30 a.m. Here’s the livestream … And Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has his monthly question time in the Commons at 10.10 a.m.
Now read this: POLITICO’s Matei Rosca reports on how a London-based fintech firm went “jurisdiction shopping” to combat Brexit.
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TORY PARTY BEAUTY PARADE
HUNT WARNING: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was on Peston last night and made clear his opposition to a general election any time soon. “It would be absolutely catastrophic for us to face the people again in a general election if we have not delivered Brexit, which was our central promise at the last election,” Hunt said. But he also warned a new prime minister would be hamstrung by the current parliament. “No one has a majority in parliament to change laws,” he complained.
Off the rails: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss meanwhile uses an interview in today’s Spectator (not yet online) to suggest she may be up for scrapping HS2 — the sort of big ticket cut that might just endear a would-be-leader to the Tory grassroots. “That’s a matter for the zero-based capital review that I’ll be looking at very intently,” she says of the £50-billion rail project. Pressed on the wisdom of the whole scheme, she replied: “What really drives local economies is transport around counties, transport into cities. That’s what makes a difference to why a business decides to locate somewhere. We have to be rigorous about what infrastructure is going to maximize opportunities.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Bone to pick with you: Veteran backbencher Peter Bone revealed yesterday he is being courted by all the Tory leadership hopefuls — but that Boris Johnson has won his heart by offering him chocolate biscuits with his coffee. “Most Conservative MPs are being invited to coffee with a great number of the leadership contenders,” Bone revealed. “I’d go for Boris, but there are others who could do it. I think he has the qualities that the British people want.” Asked about the refreshments offered, Bone said: “There were two chocolate biscuits, to be fair — that’s what did it.”
One track mind: Meanwhile “Brexit Hard Man” Steve Baker tells Bloomberg he would support any of Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Dominic Raab or David Davis for the top job. Anyone spot a theme here?