Business expresses fury at UK failure to roll over EU trade deals (FT): Confidential briefing hears government cannot guarantee rollover of most current EU FTAs. The DIT told 30 business representatives on Wednesday that, while trade agreements with Switzerland, Israel and some African nations would be wrapped up before Brexit, there was no certainty that other deals Brussels has with countries around the world could be rolled over or duplicated in time. The UK has argued that provisions in its draft withdrawal agreement with the EU say that Britain should continue to enjoy the benefits as well as the obligations of trade deals with third parties during the post-Brexit transition period. Brussels has also said that, under the terms of the deal, it will “notify” other countries that Britain should continue to be treated as if it is still an EU member state during the transition. However, it is up to individual countries outside the EU to agree to this approach.
Liam Fox says zero tariffs a ‘possibility’ in no-deal Brexit (FT): Liam Fox said on Wednesday there was a “possibility” the UK government might cut tariffs to zero to help keep trade flowing if there was a no-deal Brexit. But the International Trade Secretary insisted the move would have to be a collective government decision — and that he personally had always been against full tariff liberalisation because of the impact it would have on sectors of the UK economy. Senior cabinet ministers are meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their policy on tariffs under a no-deal scenario. It is understood that the cabinet subcommittee, which includes figures such as Mr Fox and chancellor Philip Hammond, will consider four scenarios — ranging from total liberalisation to WTO terms to a “pick and mix” approach. Ministers are expected to choose the last scenario, which would involve zero tariffs on imports in some sectors — but not in others.
May departs Northern Ireland no closer to backstop deal (Guardian): Theresa May has failed to rally Northern Ireland support behind her quest for a Brexit deal, as nationalist and unionist parties further entrenched their positions for and against the backstop as she ended a two-day visit to Belfast. The Ulster Unionist party (UUP) urged the prime minister to introduce direct rule government for Northern Ireland if no Brexit deal can be agreed – anathema to republicans. Sinn Féin, which supports the backstop, issued a harsh rebuff to May, saying she lacked credibility and was hostage to the DUP support at Westminster. It called for a referendum on Irish unity. May is scheduled to visit Dublin on Friday for what are likely to be tense talks with the Irish government.
Labour: only ‘sensible’ option to delay Brexit by extending article 50 (Guardian): Labour has urged the government to either delay Brexit, embrace a customs union or let MPs decide a way forward, during a prime minister’s questions fronted by stand-ins for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. With May holding talks in Northern Ireland, David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and de facto deputy prime minister, appeared in her place. Standing in for Corbyn was Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary. After questioning Lidington about when MPs would next get a meaningful vote on any Brexit plan, Thornberry said it appeared this would happen only if and when May secured concessions on the backstop from the EU.
Not opposing Brexit could lose Labour 45 seats, says leaked report (Guardian): A trade union affiliated with the Labour party has claimed that Jeremy Corbyn’s party could lose an additional 45 seats in a snap election if it fails to take an anti-Brexit position, in a leaked report. The report, drawn up by the transport union TSSA and including extensive polling, was sent to the leftwing pressure group Momentum. It appears to be an attempt to pile pressure on the Labour leader over Brexit. says that the party’s supporters view Brexit as a “Tory project”. It adds that four-fifths of them believe the current deal will hurt the British economy and 91.4% of Labour voters do not trust the government to deliver a good Brexit for people such as them. The report concludes: “If there is an election in 2019, Labour will get a lower share of the vote in every seat in the country if it has a pro-Brexit policy than if it has an anti-Brexit position.”
Pro-second vote MPs hold their fire until after May’s Brussels trip (Guardian): The Lib Dem leader, Sir Vince Cable, has sent a message to activists, explaining “there is still everything to play for”, and “the People’s Vote is alive and well” – but his party does not plan to table a referendum amendment yet. Campaigners believe that, with less than 50 days to go until exit day on 29 March, they would still fall short of commanding a majority among MPs if they attempted to force the issue of a referendum now. Instead, they plan to wait and see what if any changes to the backstop the prime minister manages to secure from her diplomatic offensive in Dublin and Brussels.