The five things you need to know on Wednesday June 29, 2016…
1) IRRESISTIBLE DIVORCE, IMMOVABLE PROJECT
The cold, hard reality of Brexit was more obvious than ever last night as David Cameron bade farewell to his last ever EU summit.
The PM had two key messages. First, he couldn’t resist telling his fellow leaders that it was actually their fault because they failed to give him more concessions on migration and freedom of movement. But second, he told his domestic audience that it was impossible to keep all of the benefits of EU membership and none of the costs.
Of course EU leaders - who had been told by Cameron over dinner in December ‘I’ll win this, I’m a winner’ - weren’t that impressed at being told it was their fault. And back home, much of his own party believes that the conflict between his two messages proves the logic of Brexit. There are real limits to variable geometry, and multi-speed Europes, after all.
The immovable project of being a full EU member has now triggered the UK’s irresistible divorce from it. Even Angela Merkel, whose office had flirted with the idea of a rethink, had to send out a clear message that there was no half way house. Mark Rutte, said that the UK had “collapsed politically, constitutionally and economically”. And he was one of Dave’s few mates. With their own club at risk of break up, ‘pour encourager les autres’ never seemed more apt.
Jean-Claude Juncker (along with Martin Schulz) was a Brexiters’ dream yesterday as he goaded the UK into triggering Article 50 (the device needed to legally start the divorce proceedings proper). If the referendum was a decree nisi, the EU wants the decree absolute, asap.
“Married or divorced, but not something in between”, said Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel, on the nature of the UK’s new relationship. “We are not on Facebook, with ‘It’s complicated’ as a status”.
2) SNAPPY SNAPS
Cameron last night said referred to the next Tory leader as “he OR she”, and he wasn’t just being politically correct. Given the breakneck speed of the Tory leadership race - with nominations opened today and closing at noon tomorrow - Theresa May is looking like the main ‘stop Boris’ candidate (though Crabb-Javid are trying to make it more interesting).
And the most important signal coming out of Team Bozza and Team Theresa seems to be that a snap general election is now receding. Sources close to Boris have told the Guardian that he believes the result of last week’s EU vote was sufficient for him to begin negotiating terms of exit from the bloc without a fresh mandate.
May’s team were even less keen on a snap election, and given her natural caution (and cynics will say her lack of connection with the public so far) that’s no surprise. We report how many Tory MPs from the 2015 intake have urged all the candidates to avoid an Autumn election, to avoid further ‘chaos’.
And yet there is still some Tory support for a snap election, not least because of the state of the Labour party and the looming boundary changes worrying some backbenchers. Some Boris fans think he could win a landslide if Corbyn clings on. And even if Corbyn is replaced by a very pro-EU leader, Labour risks losing lots of seats to UKIP in the north, while the Tories clean up everywhere else (and this is the fear of many Labour MPs).
There is also a danger that a new, ‘unelected’ Prime Minister risks further dividing a divided and (in some parts) angry nation. And all those Tory attacks on Gordon Brown for bottling the 2007 snap election would be used against them. I still have my ’Bottler Brown’ bottle of CCHQ ale on my desk. The Boris v Theresa show is being fought out by proxies in the papers, with the Sun clearly behind Bozza and the Daily Mail appearing to back May. As the Mail points out, Boris has never stood at the despatch box, so a snap election may be needed to legitimise his premiership.
Hopes of a deal between Boris and May have faded too. The Sun reports that the former London Mayor was left in a room on his own for 40 minutes after the Home Secretary snubbed a planned meeting in the Cabinet Office on Monday. The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh also depicts Boris holding what looks like ‘The Vow’, to implement all his promises.
Boris is building an impressively wide coaltion, from socially liberal MPs like Nicholas Soames, through to other Remainers like Liz Truss (and even Amber Rudd, one rumour claims, but after her attacks that’s very difficult) to hardened operators like Sir Lynton Crosby. Sam Coates of the Times had a corker yesterday, revealing that some Leavers’ wanted to clarify Boris’s Telegraph column (that reduced migration wasn’t a biggie) because it was written too quickly, when he was tired. That proves he wants to keep the Right on board. But it also proves that Brexit itself sometimes feels like a column that went wrong.
3) EAGLE EYES
It’s going to be a very strange PMQs at noon today. Some Labour MPs are calling for a boycott, to have a sea of green benches behind Corbyn that proves his loss of Parliamentary authority. Others think that would be an own goal and prefer to be seen pointedly asking better questions than their leader, while silent when he speaks.
But all eyes will be on Angela Eagle. Will she go for it straight after PMQs, to deliver the coup de grace and tell him she’s challenging him for the leadership? The whips are set to quit almost en masse and Tom Watson still has a role here too. Some think he still could stand as interim leader if Corbyn steps aside. Trade union bosses may well give JC one last chance to quit with dignity, but he’s in no mood to go. There’s even talk of Andy Burnham being urged to change his mind.
I can reveal that two former chairs of the PLP - Clive Soley and Dave Watts - have now formally written to Corbyn to urge him to step down for the good of the party.
One critic told me “Jeremy doesn’t want to go on. But he’s now being held hostage by Seumas and McDonnell”. Well, so far Corbyn himself seems dug in. As I reported last night, if he wins a second mandate there are plans to radically change Labour’s rules to strip MPs of their current leadership rights and put members fully in charge of the process. Mandatory re-selection, recall, are all real prospects and it’s no wonder given how impossible it would be to carry on with the current Parliamentary impasse.
Many Labour MPs are hoping that Corbyn’s own words - to his strategy and comms chief Seumas Milne during a farcical Shad Cab photocall - may prove president. "Seumas, I'm not sure this is a good idea either…”
In a sign of the coming battles, we reported how Eagle's own local party wanted her to show confidence in Corbyn. Several CLPs are actually now holding votes on Corbyn and Battersea (once a marginal) voted against him last night. And there's word this morning that Welsh Labour HQ staff have been told to stay at home on Friday because of fears for their safety, after Momentum announced a demo outside.
As I tweeted yesterday, the Ministers of Crown Act 1937 gives the Speaker power to choose the official leader of Opposition if there is uncertainty over who it is. Strangely enough, the SNP’s Angus Robertson (who often asks better PMQs than Corbyn) is floating the idea of him becoming LOTO (leader of the opposition) because he has more support with this 56 MPs than Corbyn does with the 40 who backed him on the ‘no confidence’ motion yesterday.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch the surreal scene as young Londoners sing ‘EU’ to the tune of ‘Hey Jude’, outside Parliament
4) CRABB SANDWICH
“This isn’t about Boris Johnson. This is about Stephen Crabb and how he and his team will implement this Brexit decision.” Those were the words of Sajid Javid on the Today prog as he tried to pitch hard for his own candidate for the Tory leadership.
Crabb certainly has an impressive pitch, a genuine working class Tory with a Christian compassion at the heart of his politics, allied to a steely resolve (as seen in his early clashes with George Osborne at the DWP, resisting further cuts in the benefits budget).
The young Work and Pensions Secretary has written a Telegraph piece in which he pledges ‘optimism and pragmatism’. And unity. ‘One Nation’ politics may even catch the public need for healing, a post-EU country that tries to look after its poor while sharing fairly the proceeds of growth from its buccaneering businesses overseas.
His real problem is he’s way behind in the rubber chicken circuit stakes (the Tory association meetings up and down the country), where May and even Nicky Morgan have been taking the lead. And Boris hasn’t needed any rubber chicken dinners: he’s so popular in the grassroots he just has to sneeze and his hanky will be auctioned for thousands of pounds at a fundraiser.
What will further split the Crabb vote is if his close friend Nicky Morgan does indeed run (and on Today she didn’t rule it out).
5) SOUBRY SNACKS
There is a real danger that those who voted in their millions for Leave are now being ignored amid the noise and heat that followed in the angry backlash of the Remainers. If ever there was a silent majority, this is it. The cycle may change soon, not least as the reality sinks in that this is for good.
If both Boris and Theresa (and Crabb?) opt against a snap general election, Remainers can kiss goodbye their distant hopes of overturning the result before Article 50 is triggered.
But the noise of the backlash was felt in Parliament last night as the pro-EU demo moved from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square and then the small patch of grass that is Abingdon Green (below the broadcasters’ Brexit event tents).
The video above gives a flavour of it. But Anna Soubry turned into the accidental hero of this youth movement. Having been on the broadcasters’ balcony, she then went down to address the crowd and was tearful herself as she said her elderly mother and twentysomething daughters ‘wept’ at the result.
Soubry was unclear whether the result could be overturned. And then added this: “I’m so sorry because I don’t know what the solution is to it….I know some of you will think this is pathetic, you should write to your MP tell them how you feel.” Yes, that’s how little ammo the Remainers have left.
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