The five things you need to know on Friday, October 14…
1) GREAT BRITISH CAKE-OFF
Donald Tusk seems such a mild-mannered bloke, the kind who bent over backwards to be friendly to David Cameron and his attempts to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU. That’s all ancient history now (it was in fact ancient history within minutes of ‘the deal’), and the EU council president has made plain how deluded he thinks some Brits really are.
In his speech in Brussels, Tusk mocked claims that the UK could have its cake and eat it on full single market access and migration curbs. “To all who believe in it, I propose a simple experiment. Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate. The brutal truth is that Brexit will be a loss for all of us. There will be no cakes on the table. For anyone. There will be only salt and vinegar."
To be fair, Tusk is only saying what many ‘soft Brexiteers’ used to say when they were Remainers: it’s impossible to have both full access and serious cuts in freedom of movement. At least the ‘hard Brexiters’ get that. Theresa May probably does too, but the 64 billion euro question is still whether she thinks a drop in trade is a price worth paying for cuts in migration.
As for the future existence of the UK itself, May is facing a fresh threat from Nicola Sturgeon with her plans for a new independence referendum. "Scotland does have the right to ask itself again [if it wants independence]," she told the Today programme.
Some in Government think Sturgeon is bluffing just to appease her party conference and that she won’t risk calling for a second No vote unless the polls really shift. But as Dave found out to his cost, calling your critics’ bluff is not always a good idea. And there are some around Theresa May who believe that she simply won't agree to a new referendum, and certainly not before 2020.
Sturgeon told Today it was 'totally inconceivable' that Westminster would deny a second referendum and that May had been careful not to rule one out. But if Brexit proves rocky, Tory MPs say the last message May will want to send to global markets is further instability of splitting up the UK.
2) NIA DEPTH EXPERIENCE
Nia Griffith, the new Shadow Defence Secretary, has said something that appeared to get her predecessor sacked from the job: that renewing Trident is Labour policy and will remain Labour policy. “We can’t be shilly-shallying about, a decision has been taken, that decision was actually taken back in 2007 and as I say that is an issue which we as a party have consistently voted to keep as our policy,” she told British Forces Broadcasting.
Like Clive Lewis, who had that infamous autocue moment at Labour conference, Griffith has a unilateralist pedigree. She even joined Corbyn in voting against Trident renewal earlier this year (while Lewis abstained). But her words suggest not perhaps a challenge to the leader but more that the leadership accepts this issue is indeed settled (not least given strong Unite and GMB union opposition to changing policy). Multilateral disarmament is to be the new focus, as revisiting Trident policy risks entering even political deeper waters than those the nuclear subs patrol round the clock.
A former school teacher (she got a modern languages first from Oxford), Griffith would be the first to admit she lacks experience in defence matters. And until last night she was in fact the only member of the shadow defence team, as Corbyn’s unfinished symphony of a reshuffle continued. Wayne David was finally appointed as her deputy, along with six other new shadow appointments. Another former teacher, David at least was PPS to former Defence Minister Adam Ingram.
David, like other members of the shadow frontbench team such as Paula Sherriff and Sharon Hodgson (who posed for a pic with Jezza on Monday), will have to wipe from his memory his previous criticism of JC. We have a handy list of some of the disobliging things Corbyn’s new shadow team said about him this summer.
I still count 37 unfilled shadow frontbench vacancies, by the way. Meanwhile, Team Corbyn are slowly getting the hang of this leadership lark. Making Rosie Winterton JC’s new ‘envoy’ to sister Labour parties across Europe was a smart idea. But as one Shadow Cabinet minister put it to me: “Imagine if they’d had the wit to announce that the same day they sacked her? It would have allowed her some dignity and them to prove they wanted to unite the party.” Multilateralism, it has its merits...
3) LOOK, GODDARD
The Times has done some impressive, ground-breaking work in exposing child abuse scandals across the country. Today, it splashes on allegations of misconduct, including alleged racist remarks, by Dame Lowell Goddard, the former chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
What makes the story all the more potent are claims that Whitehall officials close to Theresa May were accused of covering up the allegations, including suggestions that her ‘aggressive and abusive conduct’ at times reduced the inquiry’s operation to “near paralysis”.
The judge denies all the allegations in the Times. The claims include suggestions that she said that Britain had so many paedophiles “because it has so many Asian men”; that she voiced shock at the size of the country’s ethnic minority population; and allegedly complained of having to travel 50 miles from London to see a white face.
It’s all a bit difficult for the PM, not least as some local authorities have in recent years been accused of not properly investigating child sex abuse because of ‘politically correct’ fears of being seen to single out racial groups.
Goddard’s lawyers issued a vehement denial that their client had made any racially derogatory remarks or displayed rage. They said she was “always of the opinion that the inquiry must properly acknowledge people’s ethnicity and otherwise employ race and gender-neutral language at all times”. In a statement she said she “will not engage with those conducting this vicious campaign”.
In the Telegraph, Lord Bramall, the former chief of the defence staff, says he has received an apology from the Metropolitan Police over its investigation of historical child abuse allegations against him. The Met is under pressure to publish all its papers on the case.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
In case you missed it, watch Michael Heseltine talk about the “brilliant” Three Brexiteers.
4) FREE MASON’S MEETING
Paul Mason has repeatedly said he has no interest in becoming Jeremy Corbyn’s new comms chief and given the Sun’s story on him today that’s probably a smart move. The paper has been passed phone footage of the former BBC and Channel 4 journo saying Corbyn “doesn’t appeal to the mainstream working class vote”. Speaking freely, he adds that “It’s to do with a cultural thing about London. Corbyn goes to England on a bike and cycles round. Working class people go to a leader. He has no cultural references to the way they live”.
In his chat with a visiting Spanish MP in Liverpool for the party conference, Mason talked up Clive Lewis as a possible successor because he was ‘somebody with a big ego who would shout’, even though he was ‘to the right of Corbyn’. On Twitter, Mason urged Liverpudlians to ‘redouble their boycott of this scab newspaper’, adding ‘I support Corbyn 100%’. He didn’t add ‘for now’.
Progress’s Richard Angell has contrasted Mason’s criticism of Jez with his calls for deselection of MPs who, er, criticise Jez.
5) MISS THE PHARMACIST
Pharmacy closures is one of those under-the-radar stories that can get neglected because it’s not a ‘sexy’ subject. But the Government plans to slash funding, and potentially close hundreds of local chemists, were worrying enough to prompt a two-million strong petition this year. Campaigners hoped for another quiet May U-turn when new health minister David Mowat announced a pause in the plans in September, but the BBC today suggests the cuts will indeed go ahead in six weeks’ time.
Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, told the Today programme that the changes are “madness” and will throw the health service into "chaos", as more people would be forced to turn to GPs instead of pharmacists. Meanwhile the Times reports the NHS 111 phoneline is to tell people to go to their chemist to relieve pressure on their GPs. That’s joined up government for you. Former Labour MP Claire Ward, who now heads the lobby group Pharmacy Voice, told Today the cuts would have a 'huge impact' on an already overstretched NHS.
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