Britain could go to the polls on the anniversary of D-Day as Downing Street considers plans to cement Theresa May in power.
No 10 strategists have discussed a scenario under which the Prime Minister would delay the Article 50 Brexit process beyond the end of March, win Commons support for her deal in April – and then go to the country in the following weeks on the back of her success.
The first Thursday in June – the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe from the Nazis – is one option on the table.
In a major boost for Mrs May’s Brexit strategy last night, a new poll showed the Tories have opened up a seven-point lead over Labour in the past two weeks. The Opinium survey put the Tories on 41 per cent – up four percentage points – and Labour down six to 34.
ELECTION CLUE? The Tories have increased their spending on advertisements, including this one highlighting their £20 billion spending promise to the NHS
It comes as the Tory Party’s HQ has moved on to a ‘war footing’ by block-booking printing plants and hiking its spending on digital advertising.
Suspicions among nervous Tory MPs that Mrs May might be considering another Election – nearly two years after the 2017 fiasco cost the party its Commons majority – were heightened last week by the leak of Government plans to allocate funds to the constituencies of Labour MPs as a ‘bribe’. One said: ‘That smells of an attempt to butter up the wider electorate.’
In December, Mrs May fought off an attempt to oust her by vowing that a new leader would take the party into the next scheduled Election in 2022. But some of her allies regard an Election this year as the only way to guarantee Mrs May – and themselves – more than a few months in Downing Street after Brexit.
A snap poll would allow Mrs May to ‘renew her public mandate’ as she prepared to negotiate the direction of the future relationship with the European Union.
Javid tells EU: Hands off expats in Spain
Expats should not be charged for living abroad after Brexit, the Home Secretary has told European leaders.
Sajid Javid is urging officials in Brussels to ensure that ‘settled status fees’ are not introduced for the 1.3 million Britons living on the Continent.
He made the plea after Theresa May scrapped a planned £65 fee for EU citizens who want to remain in the UK.
Sources have told The Mail on Sunday that Mr Javid wrote on Friday to Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit co-ordinator in the European Parliament, and Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, calling for Britons abroad to be given peace of mind.
He is understood to have told them that UK nationals living in the EU ‘deserve the same certainty and reassurance that we have given their counterparts living here’, pointing out the ‘valuable contribution’ that expats make to Europe.
Mr Javid asked Mr Verhofstadt to ‘press’ EU countries for a guarantee that there will be no cost for Britons living abroad and said that ensuring expats do not have to pay a settlement fee would give the message ‘loud and clear’ that they are welcome to stay.
Mr Verhofstadt, who is in favour of fees being scrapped, said last week: ‘The decision of Theresa May to waive settled status fees was a welcome one. It’s time for the EU27 to show the same spirit and reciprocate.’
EU ambassadors agreed on Friday that British citizens travelling to the border check-free Schengen area after Brexit would be allowed to do so without visas.
The Mail on Sunday understands that senior staff at Tory HQ have been briefed on plans to deal with deselection attempts by members of some MPs ahead of a General Election. Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) has vowed to step in to stop any MP that backed Mrs May’s deal from being deselected by their local association, but party chairman Brandon Lewis pointedly refused to make a similar commitment to help MPs who rebelled to vote her deal down.
At a briefing for aides at CCHQ on Friday, Mr Lewis also revealed the party was set to triple its spending on online advertising in the coming weeks to promote the party’s NHS policy, which they believe to be a major vote winner. Tory bosses insist that the slick advert using real TV news footage was part of their local election campaign – but they are spending far more than the other parties.
Mr Lewis warned the gathering of Government special advisers and spin doctors that Cabinet infighting by their bosses was harming his fundraising efforts – and insisted to the allies of Mrs May’s leadership rivals that she remained popular with the party membership.
He said the party had raised nearly £2 million in small donations from members as a direct result of the failed bid to oust the Prime Minister. His gushing praise of Mrs May’s personal strength led many present to believe she could be preparing to go back on her promise to quit before the next Election.
Some of Mrs May’s team are hopeful the ‘political weather’ will improve in the immediate aftermath of Britain leaving the EU, with a window of opportunity for the party to capitalise on a ‘Brexit honeymoon’.
But one Minister said the prospect of another Election was a bid by ‘second-rate staff desperate to keep their jobs’. And one ally of the Prime Minister described the idea of going to the country as ‘utter madness’ that would split both parties.
They fear that some in No 10 believe a General Election would be the only way for Mrs May to avoid being ousted by Brexiteers who do not want her to be in charge of the next phase of negotiations with the EU over a new free trade deal.
The Fixed Term Parliament Act is designed to stop Prime Ministers calling snap polls, but No 10 believe Jeremy Corbyn has been so vocal in his demands for a fresh ballot, that even if some Tories voted against going to the country, they still have the two thirds of MPs required to trigger an Election.
Mrs May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell is believed to have come up with the Labour ‘bribe’ plan – not just to secure vital MPs’ Brexit votes, but to create goodwill towards the Government in deprived communities, including former mining villages, which still harbour resentments towards the Tories over Margaret Thatcher’s industrial policies. A source said: ‘The cash for coal bribe was Gavin’s idea. He watches a lot of The West Wing. No one has told him that he is not [fictional US President] Jed Bartlett’.
A Downing Street spokesman denied there were any plans to hold a General Election.
….as Williamson invokes Dunkirk spirit: I will order the Navy to replace Channel ferries
The Royal Navy could be pressed into action to ferry vital supplies across the Channel in the event of a No Deal Brexit, Government sources have told The Mail on Sunday.
According to a secret contingency planning document which was circulating around Whitehall last week, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has failed to increase the ferry capacity between the UK and France by the 20 per cent required to ‘avoid a threat to life and limb’.
Mr Grayling signed £108 million of contracts in December with new ferry companies in an attempt to ease the pressure on Dover if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and the main ports are too gridlocked for enough food, water and medical supplies to get through to the UK.
Sir Kenneth Branagh in the film Dunkirk about the evacuation of Allied forces in 1940
But the document states that his ferry contracts have only increased capacity by 8 per cent.
A Government source said: ‘Its not enough. We are particularly worried about radioactive isotopes for cancer treatments, which have a short half-life’.
It is understood that Mr Williamson, whose offer to provide military contingency planners to Mr Grayling was turned down last July, has said that he can provide whatever ships can be spared by the Navy to help Mr Grayling.
The MoD has four Point class roll-on/roll-off sealift ships available for use as substitute ferries – but only one is currently in UK waters. The others are in the Suez, the Mediterranean and the Falklands. Mr Williamson has also placed 3,000 military personnel on standby.
Earlier this year, Mr Grayling defended giving a ferry contract worth almost £14 million to Seaborne Freight, despite it never having run a Channel service. The firm was accused of copying part of its website from a takeaway firm’s.
Mr Grayling says that the plan would ‘take a little bit of pressure off the Channel ports in order to make sure that we can get essential supplies for organisations like the NHS into the country’ if there were jams at the ports in Kent.
He said: ‘I remain quite optimistic now that the flow of traffic through the Channel ports will carry on relatively normally even in a No Deal Brexit. But people would expect us to be ready’.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that he can provide whatever ships can be spared by the Navy to help Transport Secretary Chris Grayling prepare for No Deal
It comes as a senior Foreign Office source has described a mood of ‘disbelief and desperation’ in Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s department over Brexit preparations.
The source said: ‘There is a perception that because Ministers can’t travel and the PM is not really interested in world affairs, the UK is disappearing off the world stage… If only we had some clear guidance to work towards or a clear objective. But that is absolutely lacking.’
A Transport Department spokesman said: ‘The Government remains focused on securing an agreement with the EU, however it is only sensible that we prepare for all possible outcomes.’
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, from the pro-EU Best For Britain group, said: ‘Chris Grayling cannot run a bath let alone make sure our vital transport infrastructure routes. He’s completely out of his depth.’
May to Baltics: Help me like I’ve helped you
Theresa May is to appeal to the Baltic states where British troops are stationed in a bid to break the Brexit ‘backstop’ deadlock.
Around 900 troops are based in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
Now Downing Street hopes to convince these EU states to ‘break cover’ and urge Brussels to reopen the divorce agreement terms.
Last week Poland came close to demanding that meaningful talks recommence – to the fury of EU purists in France and Germany. Now behind-the-scenes appeals to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are planned for the coming days.
Theresa May is to appeal to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where 900 British troops are stationed as a bulwark against Russia, in a bid to break the Brexit ‘backstop’ deadlock
But the strategy risks a furious backlash if it is interpreted as Britain threatening to pull troops out, leaving Europe’s eastern border to the mercy of a Kremlin attack.
The push comes as hopes the Netherlands will be a key ally in the UK’s attempt to dilute the controversial ‘backstop’ have faded – with Mrs May’s team believing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is positioning to be the next President of the EU Council and so less inclined to help a departing member state.
However EU unity was stretched on Friday when Spain’s Foreign Minister hinted at new talks and yesterday the EU’s central bank issued a stark warning that a No Deal would hurt the Eurozone.
No 10 has accepted it is the UK’s responsibility to come up with detailed proposals on overcoming the backstop impasse – and will only ‘dip a toe’ into direct contact with Brussels this week.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister will spend the next 11 days ‘shoring up’ the number of Labour rebels who voted with Mrs May or abstained against Brexit-blocking measures ahead of a fresh showdown on Valentine’s Day. MPs hellbent on delaying or stopping Brexit will resurrect their efforts to block a No Deal and seize control of the Commons agenda.
But Mrs May is delighted at the collapse of the push for a second referendum. Last night she said: ‘This week the leaders of the campaign had the chance to put their plan before the Commons. But they recognised there is no majority in this Parliament to hold another vote. Indeed, I believe there never will be.’