The five things you need to know on Friday, February 3…
1) A BRIDGE TOO FAR?
Theresa May joins her EU colleagues in Malta today for a quick sit-rep on her success in getting Donald Trump to back Nato ‘100%’. She then flies out and let’s the 27 nations get on with their own thing. Welcome to the future folks. On the Today programme, deputy Swedish PM Margot Wallstrom didn't sound too keen on Brexit, saying the UK must 'take the consequences' of its decision.
Still, May is keen on acting as a ‘bridge’ between the US and the EU. Our heft as a nuclear power, a permanent UN Security Council member, a provider of defence spending and intelligence expertise means she has a strong case. No.10 sources say that already the Nordics and Baltics have passed on thanks for getting the 100% Trump backing for Nato.
But some in Europe are already pushing back at the notion that they need the UK to act as a go-between with the White House. In fact, they don’t look keen at all on building any bridges with Trumpton, as Washington must surely be dubbed sooner or later. The Guardian has a cross-party letter from the European Parliament to the European Commission, urging the blocking of Trump’s pick for EU ambassador, Ted Malloch. Malloch’s "outrageous malevolence" towards "the values that define" the EU was the reason. Sadly, we may not get to hear May’s view on all this, as no press conference is planned.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon reminded both Washington and Brussels that the real enemy was Russia, not least given its cyberattacks and post-truth propaganda campaigns. Fallon’s speech last night suggesting Putin was targeting the German elections was significant indeed. As for Trump, unconfirmed reports in the States claim the White House turned off recording equipment during his hour-long call to Putin last weekend. If true (and surely it can't be?), that would be an extraordinary breach of protocol. The source seems to be a Turkish journalist, so make of that what you will.
Still, No10 and the Foreign Office are quietly pleased that the US is showing it won’t be pushed over by the Ruskies. At her first security council session, Trump’s new UN ambassador Nikki Haley (one to watch, people) yesterday read the riot act to Moscow over its ‘aggressive actions’ in Ukraine - and said sanctions would remain as long as Crimea was annexed. Just as May had insisted in the Oval Office.
2) PAPER TIGERS
The Government’s White Paper on Brexit got a few people excited yesterday because it had a typo suggesting we would all get 14 weeks’ paid holiday in the nirvana that is post-EU Britain. As it happens, the most interesting thing in the entire document was a hint that there could be a "phased process of implementation" of immigration curbs.
It also suggested for the first time that there will be individual Commons votes on migration and trade: “We expect to bring forward separate bills on immigration and customs [arrangements]”. In the Commons, David Davis tried to calm a Tory rebellion on EU citizens’ rights, saying “I will not be throwing people out of Britain.”
But the heat and noise centred mainly on Labour’s own agonies over Brexit, not least John Mann’s scathing attack on Diane Abbott for not turning up to vote on Wednesday. As I pointed out in the WZ yesterday, Abbott’s team said she had a severe migraine. But Mann told the BBC: “We have some very, very ill people who turned up to parliament to vote yesterday who are so sick they cannot carry on with their work as MPs.”
Mann was referring to Grahame Morris and Ronnie Campbell, both of whom are being treated for cancer. Campbell tells the Sun he had travelled down from his north east constituency in order to vote. “I had a big operation just after New Year, I am getting over it and came back to work this week. I saw Diane Abbott in the tearoom before the vote - I held the door open for her.”
The Guardian points out that just before the vote Abbott told friends she had received thousands of letters from constituents asking her to vote against article 50 - and told friends she understood that shadow cabinet ministers could not rebel and stay in position. The Times has confirmed the New Statesman intel that 7,000 Labour members have this week quit in protest at Corbyn’s backing for Article 50.
The Mirror reports that Corbyn is thinking of offering Ed Miliband the Shadow Business brief if Clive Lewis quits next week over Article 50. Progress has published a new pamphlet on ‘The Corbynite Ideology’, an attempt to grapple with Jez’s philosophy. It argues that Corbyn’s instincts for open borders and a closed shop economy are exactly the opposite of what Brexit voters want: tighter borders as well as free trade.
3) OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH
Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite weathervane for his party’s progress - council by-elections - spun both ways last night. In Rotherham in Yorkshire, Labour lost one seat heavily to the Lib Dems, but won one council seat from UKIP. In Brinsworth and Catliffe ward, the yellow peril came from fourth to win with a massive 50% increase in their vote, while Labour plunged by 26% to second. Proof that the Lib Dems are not just a threat to Labour in the South.
But in Dinnington ward, Team Corbyn beat Paul Nuttall’s party, a result that capped a bad day for UKIP’s leader. Nuttall faces a police investigation after Channel 4 News found he was not actually living at the address he claimed as a candidate for the Stoke-on-Trent by-election. The Kippers are nonchalant, thinking it’s all a storm in a teacup, but it wasn’t a good look to pose for Guido on a mattress on the floor of his flat. It brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘carpet-bagger’.
George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank has declared that schools in the region need ‘urgent attention’. Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner points out Osborne was in charge of cuts to budgets, teacher shortages and a lack of places. And today Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis has a Private Members’ Bill aiming to restore child poverty targets and measures. Lots of Labour MPs are in Stoke campaigning today, and the bill is 3rd on the Order Paper, so it will get only about an hour of time. But Jarvis’s child poverty video certainly didn’t go unnoticed in Corbyn’s office.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch a woman on BBC Question Time reveal she switched from Remain to Leave because she went to the supermarket and found a ‘straight’ banana. I am. Not. Making. This. Up.
4) EATING YOUR GREENS
The Waitrose-going classes were mocked last week when it emerged that aubergines and courgettes were in short supply because of the disastrous snow-hit Spanish harvests. Today, the Mail splashes on the news that humble broccoli and iceberg lettuce is now being rationed by Morrisons (three per customer) and even Tesco. Bananas are one thing, but you threaten our brassicas and it’s snow joke.
Speaking of green stuff, No.10 has denied tensions between Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and the PM over speculation that he could eat away at the Green Belt in his housing White Paper next week. Some Government sources have indicated May has made plain the last thing she needs right now is a Tory revolt in her heartlands. But later today, we will report on another rebellion brewing.
And continuing the green theme, the Telegraph reports that a scrappage scheme for diesel cars could be introduced within months as part of plan to cut air pollution. Officials at the Department of Transport and Defra are working on a plan to offer a cashback or discount on low-emission cars if people trade in their polluting diesels. Chris Grayling’s hint on this on Today yesterday was notable, and the Tel says he suggested the scrappage plan was a runner at a private meeting earlier this month.
5) TRUMP UBER ALLIES
Overnight, the hot news among anti-Trumpers was that they’d forced the CEO of taxi service Uber to quit the President’s ‘advisory council’. Travis Kalanick was already facing a serious consumer revolt thanks to the #DeleteUber campaign that claimed his firm was profiting from cabbies on strike at JFK airport in protest at the travel ban. Links to the Prez had made it worse - and threatened business.
In a company memo (obtained by HuffPost US), Kalanick made plain he was now distancing himself from the President: ”Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that”. SpaceX and Tesla chief Elon Musk, another critic of the immigration policy, still remains on the advisory council.
Meanwhile, the impact of the crackdown continues to be felt. A former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was detained at Washington Dulles airport for an hour - because he had once been to Iran. Bondevik, whose passport made clear he had been PM, said: "That should be enough for them to understand that I don't represent any problem or threat to this country and [to] let me go immediately, but they didn't."
In other news, US military officials are briefing that Trump approved a botched covert raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen, without enough backup or intelligence. It seems unfair to blame the President for going ahead with a plan drafted by others, but what is more damaging is that he was not in the situation room for his very first military operation. Some suggest the Prez was in his pyjamas. Trump aides blamed his ‘fatigue’ for being snippy with the Australian PM last week, so it’s no wonder Donald’s stamina is being questioned.
Oh, and thanks to the brilliant Mike Allen (ex-Politico, now Axios), we learn that Trump likes to hire women who ‘dress like a woman’ - and expects men to wear suits in bold colours, with wide ties, preferably Armani. His chief strategist Steve Bannon is exempt from the dress code. Of course he is.
Shadow housing minister Andy Slaughter is one of the 13 Labour frontbenchers who rebelled on the Article 50 vote. He talks to our CommonsPeople podcast about why he’s still in post - for now. We also cover what it’s like being in the same room as Donald Trump. And there’s an ace quiz on which Trump protest signs are from which parts of the UK. Listen HERE.
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