POLITICS

The Waugh Zone, Monday October 23, 2017

The five things you need to know about politics today.

23/10/2017 09:00 BST
HuffPost UK
JULIEN WARNAND via Getty Images

1. FAZCINATING DINNER CHAT 

When Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May met for a Brexit dinner in April, a rather unhelpful read-out was given to the German newspaper FAZ.

It claimed Juncker thought May was “living in another galaxy” and “deluding herself” over the Brexit negotiations – statements which prompted the UK Prime Minister to accuse the EU of using “threats” to undermine the election in her now infamous speech in Downing Street.

Six months on from that first dinner, and it’s de ja vu all over again. The Sunday edition of FAZ – the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung – published details of May’s dinner with Juncker last Monday.

Compared to six months ago, the article contains more sorrow than anger. Juncker is reported to be telling colleagues that May has “deep rings” under her eyes and is “drawn from the struggle with her own party.” She is “anxious, despondent and disheartened” and only manages to smile for the cameras.

The report claims May made “help” calls to Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, and the dinner with Juncker was arranged at “the last minute” – something which Downing Street denied when pressed on last week.

On the details of Brexit, the report makes clear that while May is keen to get the transition phase locked down, the EU is still very much focused on the money. Yet they can’t even agree amongst themselves how much Britain should pay. The EU Commission – headed by Juncker – is reportedly putting the bill at over 60billion, while the Donald Tusk-led European Council is holding out for 90billion.

Amongst all the talk about money, transitions and May’s tired eyes, there is a line in the piece which shows the EU are realising why they need to give the Prime Minister something to show for the negotiations. “Better to negotiate with a realistic May than with the dream dancer Johnson,” is the thinking, showing the Foreign Secretary’s recent interventions might actually be helping, not hindering, the PM.

When the article was published, May’s former advisor Nick Timothy was quick to lay the blame at the door of Juncker’s closest confident Martin Selmayr – a civil servant who is head of the EU Commission President’s cabinet.

“After constructive Council meeting, Selmayr does this. Reminder that some in Brussels want no deal or a punitive one,” Timothy tweeted.

May will be giving her own version of recent events with a statement in the Commons at 3.30pm.

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2. BUSINESSES ARE UNPHASED

Last week’s European Summit saw the EU27 give an inch on moving to trade talks, but there is a reminder today that the business world wanted to see a mile.

A letter co-authored by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the manufacturing trade body EEF, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses is urging David Davis to get the post-March 2019 transition phase agreed as soon as possible.

Seen by The Guardian, the letter reminds the Brexit Secretary that businesses “need agreement of transitional arrangements as soon as possible, as without urgent agreement many companies have serious decisions about investment and contingency plans to take at the start of 2018.”

It adds: “Failure to agree a transition period of at least two years could have wide-reaching and damaging consequences for investment and trade, as firms review their investment plans and business strategies.”

With the Goldman Sachs CEO tweeting last week he would be spending more time in Frankfurt after Brexit – presumably not just to enjoy the numerous historic cathedrals – the pressure is growing for the Government to give reassurances to business that the UK is not heading for a cliff-edge in 17 months time.

The EU’s mantra – which Davis has repeated on numerous occasions – that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ may well need to be challenged.

3. SPREAD-THIN PHIL

Away from Brexit, and domestic eyes are increasingly been drawn to Philip Hammond’s make-or-break Budget on November 22.

The under-fire Chancellor is having to walk the tightrope of appeasing those in his party who want to see the spending taps turned on, and those who still think the whole plumbing system has too many leaks.

Hammond – along with many other Cabinet ministers – has been in listening mode since Parliament returned after the summer, holding a series of meetings with backbenchers to listen to their ideas.

Earlier this month I reported how some were getting a ‘safety first’ message from Hammond, suggesting there would be no high-profile spending announcements, especially in light of the OBR dialing down its previous growth estimates.

After that report, there were briefings that Hammond would indeed push on with more spending.

It all gives the impression of Phil not quite knowing which formulas to use in his famous spreadsheets.

The Times is leading today with the story that Hammond is doomed to failure no matter what he does, with Brexiteer Tories looking to use his Budget as an excuse to oust him. Cabinet members are lining up to replace him, according to the report, with several using last week’s meeting in Downing Street as an audition to by the next Chancellor

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid tried to write his own Budget on the Andrew Marr show yesterday, saying “where we can sensibly borrow more to invest in infrastructure that leads to more housing being built, and take advantage of some of the record low interest rates, I think we should absolutely be considering it.”

The Sun are reporting today that Javid wants the Treasury to borrow £50billion to fund a house building programme.

On the Westminster Hour last night, backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg gave the opposite view, saying borrowing money to build houses is “tackling the wrong end of the problem”.

The Moggster believes it is the planning system which is stopping enough houses being built, describing it as “completely gummed up.”

Interestingly, Rees-Mogg – who you would assume would be a staunch defender of Britain’s green and pleasant land – suggested more building should take place on the green belt.

“I think the electorate is ahead of the politicians. They recognise that we have such a housing problem that building on green fields is extremely welcome and recognised as being necessary,” he said.

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

I’m sure this is somehow a metaphor for the recent General Election, with Theresa May as the goalkeeper...

4. WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN’S CENTRES?

If all politics is local, then Hammond would do well to listen to the concerns of Tory councillors as he plans his Budget. 

Nearly three quarters of Conservative councillors are worried about government funding cuts to children’s centres, a new poll has revealed.

The research, which saw 508 Tory local government representatives quizzed by charity Action for Children, showed 72% believe long-term funding for children’s services is a major concern for their council.

More than half say budget restrictions are making it harder for councils to meet their responsibilities towards children and young people, while 38% believe there is a “lack of clear direction and funding” from government.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Our findings show the growing fear that the government is failing in its pledge to give all children the best start in life.”

One Conservative council cabinet member who took part in the survey said the impact of further cuts would be “significant” and that their local authority had already been forced to scrap some family support services.

But campaigners hoping for a reversal to the trend which has seen 350 Sure Start centres closed since 2010 might not want to hold their breath. The Tory Government didn’t even step in to keep open the centre which David Cameron’s mother volunteered in. The Chieveley and Area Children’s Centre in Berkshire where Mary Cameron helped out was shut in 2016.

5. TIME ISN’T MONEY

An overwhelming majority of the British public would support a ban on unpaid internships, according to the Social Mobility Commission. 

A new poll of nearly 5,000 people shows 72% would back a change in the law preventing companies from exploiting unpaid interns – with 42% “strongly supporting” a ban.

The survey also reveals 80% of people want to see a clampdown on nepotism - with businesses being made to openly advertise internships and work experience opportunities, rather than organise them through informal networks.

Its results have been released ahead of a second reading of a private members’ bill in the House of Lords this week, which proposes a ban on unpaid work experience or internships lasting more than four weeks.

Social Mobility Commission chairman, former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, said: “Unpaid internships are a modern scandal which must end.

“Internships are the new rung on the career ladder. They have become a route to a good professional job. But access to them tends to depend on who, not what, you know, and young people from low-income backgrounds are excluded because they are unpaid.”

SUNDAY SHOWS ROUND-UP

Had a lie-in? Got a life? Catch up with the Sunday political shows you missed with our quick round-up HERE.

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