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Brexit news: Ukip candidate refuses to apologise to Labour MP over rape tweet as pro-Leave party launches EU election campaign

Latest updates as Corbyn urged to back second referendum to avoid defeat in EU vote

Chris Baynes,Samuel Osborne
Thursday 18 April 2019 18:00
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'The only thing that can save us is Nigel Farage', jokes Guy Verhofstadt

A Ukip election candidate has refused to apologise for sending a rape tweet to Labour’s Jess Phillips, as the anti-EU party kicked off its European election campaign at a chaotic event.

Carl Benjamin claimed he was justified in being ”a giant dick” to the MP.

He complained she had been a “bitch” before he sent her a message saying: “I wouldn’t even rape you.”

Ukip leader Gerard Batten earlier stormed out of an interview after being challenged over his defence of the tweet.

His party faces being eclipsed by its former leader in next month’s EU vote, with polls showing Nigel Farage‘s Brexit Party is on course for victory.

Official figures show consumers have continued to ignore concerns about Brexit to send retail sales surging in March

Sales were up 1.1 per cent on February, well above expectations of a fall of 0.3 per cent, driven by food and non-store retailing, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

However all retailers except department stores and household goods stores saw an increase in sales in the three months to March 2019 compared with the previous quarter.

Department stores were the only store type to suffer a decrease in sales – of 0.3 per cent - when compared with last March.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent's updates on the latest news on Brexit and UK politics.

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 08:37
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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%.

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 08:44
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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".

Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has the full story: 

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 08:58
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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.

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 09:11
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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".

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 09:20
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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.

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 09:35
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The UK should use the next few months to "cool down and rethink" its decision to leave the EU, according a candidate in the running to be the European Commission's next president.

Frans Timmermans, the socialist contender to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker, said delaying Brexit until October had given the country to opportunity to "look at the issue again".

The Dutchman, who is currently the commission's vice-president, said: "I absolutely hope that the UK might stay in the EU.

"I hope this period of extension will be used for Britain to calm down and rethink things a bit, perhaps for politicians to be more responsible with the promises they make, and then look at the issue again later this year.

"Who knows what might change in the meantime?"

Timmermans was expressing a sentiment shared by some in the EU, notably the chairman of EU leaders, Donald Tusk, that Britain could still change its mind and stay in the EU.

The comments came during a television debate on France 24 with his main rival, Manfred Weber of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), who is favourite to succeed Juncker in May.

The EU political group with most seats in the European Parliament expects its candidate for commission president to land the job, although the decision formally lies with EU leaders.

Latest polls - which assume UK participation in the elections - show the EPP winning 178 seats and the socialists getting 144 seats. 

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 10:12
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Here's a visual breakdown of YouGov's latest EU election poll, showing Nigel Farage's Brexit Party leading the way:

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 10:32
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It is not just EU migrants in the UK who are facing Brexit upheaval, as demonstrated by this opinion piece by Emma Lawrence - a British expat told she must leave France within a month: 

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 10:51
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Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has visited the Irish border near Londonderry this morning.

She was greeted by a group of local anti-Brexit protesters, who held a banner and a fake customs sign to illustrate queues at the border.

The Democrat politician said: "We believe that Brexit should be just an aberration in this discussion as we continue to build and strengthen our peace that was generated by the Good Friday accord."

She said the US had a vested interest in peace in Northern Ireland which was sealed by the 1998 agreement.

"We have said that we are guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement because we believe it is fair to both sides, that is why they agreed to it," she added.

Yesterday Pelosi, who is visiting the the British isles as part of a delegation of US members of congress, told Irish parliament in Dublin there would be "no chance of a UK-US trade agreement" if Brexit lead to a hard border in Ireland.

Nancy Pelosi stands at a mock customs checkpoint manned by a member of the Border Communities Against Brexit group (picture: Getty) 

Chris Baynes18 April 2019 11:14

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