POLITICS

The Waugh Zone Monday June 19, 2017

The five things you need to know about politics today.

19/06/2017 09:38 BST

1. THE LONG GOODBYE

David Davis has set off for the start of the Brexit talks and he’s in bullish mood. An official UK government press release last night had a line that shrugged off talk from the Continent of us somehow going back on last year’s EU referendum decision: “Despite European leaders’ attempts to leave open the possibility of the U.K. remaining in the EU, Mr. Davis will make it clear that he is determined to achieve a Brexit deal that works for the whole of the U.K.”

But as the EU negotiatior Michel Barnier gets set to battle it out, Brussels is just as bullish. “Clearly the Brits are not ready yet and it’s a pity,” a senior Commission official tells Politico. “Everybody has sympathy for [May] now because she put herself in an impossible situation … Where she is now, nobody can help her … It’s just hell.”

A lot of people have been over-interpreting Philip Hammond’s remarks on Marr, when he said “no deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain”. Just as importantly, he added this: “But there is a possible worse outcome and that is a deal that is deliberately structured to punish us, to suck the lifeblood out of our economy over a period of time”. In fact, one Cabinet minister tells me Hammond was in fact restating May’s own stance, but just putting it more effectively.

What’s certainly true is that Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark are pushing hard in Cabinet for a “business and jobs first Brexit”, as well as a “sensible” transitional period. Their hand is helped by the CBI and others writing to express their concerns. Yes, we will leave the single market and customs union, but will we get the frictionless trade we still want without agreeing to some free movement? Well, one minister tells me the “dynamics” will change over time and mutual self-interest will be the real driver to “elegant” compromises that few can yet see.

And yesterday one possible option was floated by German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel. He told Welt am Sonntag that some form of freedom of movement would have to be agreed, but on the vexed issue of the ECJ there could be “a joint court that is staffed by Europeans and Britons which in principle follows the decisions of the European Court of Justice”. There’s a long way to go but if we also stump up cash for access to the single market and replicate the customs union in a bespoke deal, a way through the Brexit thicket may emerge.  

Michael Gove was on the Today prog not budging one iota from a year ago, stating he still wanted to “take back control of our laws and our borders”. “There will be those who attempt to paint the skies dark,” he said. As for his Vote Leave vow to get us cheaper food under Brexit, he was equally resolute: “I think we can have cheaper and higher quality food”. Yes, he wants to have his high welfare-standards cake and eat it.

 

2. GRENFELL SILENCE

At 11am, there will be a minute’s silence for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. The police said last night that the death toll of 58 is set to rise further, and later today they will give us an update. New photos released yesterday of the gutted flats dominate many front pages, and the unimaginable horror that the blaze unleashed.

Theresa May has a heck of a busy day. As well as chairing Cobra on Finsbury Park, she is due to chair the Grenfell Tower Recovery Taskforce (then meet the new Irish PM at 2pm). The fact that the PM is personally chairing the meeting says everything about how seriously is taking the issue after last week’s heavy criticism. The first £500 cash payments (out of a £5,000 minimum relief payment) will be paid at the Westway centre and local post office to families who lost their homes.

Kensington and Chelsea council has been sidelined both by Whitehall, which has been taking control of the relief effort, and by a wider London councils response. The Grenfell Fire Response Team run by Southwark chief executive in conjunction with the British Red Cross (yes a charity) put out a damning statement: “The initial [council] response was simply not good enough on the ground. People are angry, and rightfully so.”

The controversy over the cladding on the tower continues. Chancellor Philip Hammond said yesterday that the type of cladding appeared to breach the law. The Department for Communities and Local Government said cladding with a plastic core was “non-compliant with Building Regulations guidance”. Yet John Cowley, whose company supplied cladding panels for Grenfell, said the Chancellor was wrong: “Reynobond PE not banned in UK…Current building regulations allow its use in both low-rise and high-rise structures.”

Labour’s David Lammy and Andrew Gwynne have attacked Kensington council for stockpiling £274m of usable reserves following years of underspending. Jeremy Corbyn went further on Peston with his call to requisition empty wealthy properties in West London, saying residents could even “occupy” the properties. Gwynne meanwhile distanced himself from Clive Lewis’s tweet “burn neoliberalism, not people”. “”We need to be measured in our approach,” Gwynne said.

 

3. VAN ATTACK

Britain has woken once again to yet more news of death and destruction, this time in the shape of a white van mowing down Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park, north London. One person is dead, a further ten people were injured as they left the Muslim Welfare House on Seven Sisters Road, after midnight prayers during Ramadan.

Theresa May, who will chair an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee, said police are treating the incident “as a potential terrorist attack” and the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command is investigating. It’s claimed the attacker, a 48-year-old white man, shouted he wanted “to kill all Muslims” and that he “did my bit”. Sky News reports the Muslim Welfare House imam prevented the assailant from being attacked by angry locals. He was detained by the public before being arrested by the cops. The Met’s deputy assistant commissioner praised the restraint of those involved. Michael Gove just said the imam “displayed exemplary restraint and compassion”.

There was initial anger among some locals that the attack wasn’t being treated as terrorism, and a backlash too at an early MailOnline headline wrongly claiming it took place “outside hate cleric Abu Hamza’s former mosque in London’s Finsbury Park”. That was seen as “victim-blaming”, not least as far-right activist Tommy Robinson tweeted that “the mosque where the attack happened tonight has a long history of creating terrorists & radical jihadists & promoting hate & segregation”.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency and this morning he’s already met local Muslim leaders, the Islington Council leader and Met Police on the ground. He will attend prayers at the mosque later today. This is obviously a fast-moving situation, but we had HuffPostUK reporters on the scene swiftly. Read our latest story HERE

 

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch what happens when a guy decides to take a selfie while go-karting. Slo-mo pain.

 

4. DD FOR ME?

Less than two days before her first (and probably last) Queen’s Speech, Theresa May still has no deal with the DUP to ensure voting for it. No10 sources insist they never put a deadline on any agreement. It shows what masters of brinkmanship the Ulster party are, or just how demanding their demands are. Or both.  Let’s not forget how challenging the next few days, months and years will be. As ex whip Ann Taylor told me last week, May is facing a combination of Maastricht-style knife-edge votes (trying to keep her split party happy) with 1970s-style minority government (prone to the slightest change in numbers through by-elections or party strops).

It didn’t take long after Grenfell, but mutterings among Tory MPs about a party leadership change gathered pace at the weekend. The only snag is that neither of the two main contenders, David Davis and Boris Johnson, look like they want the top job – yet. This morning, the Telegraph splashes its front page with a report that allies of Bojo saying that DD would be the best ‘interim’ leader, a ‘perfect tonic’ to challenge Corbyn. Davis certainly has more reach across the party in that he appeals to some ‘pragmatic’ Remainers, is not tainted with the Vote Leave £350m NHS claim, and is actually leading on Brexit talks. Some MPs also whisper that Boris would be as ill-prepared as May when it comes to reacting to things like Grenfell Tower. ‘Serious times require a serious leader’ is the message. Michael Gove told Today that he “absolutely” expected May to stay in post until Brexit takes place in 2019 at least.

Boris was meanwhile snapped in a Kent pub with Michael Fallon on Saturday night, sparking suggestions they’d been plotting about the leadership. Nothing to see hear, say Team Boris, as he often weekends at Chevening, his official residence near Fallon’s constituency. “It was pretty jovial – they were discussing cricket,” one onlooker tells the Tel.  That doesn’t preclude talk about bowling a May-den over, does it?

Philip Hammond yesterday underlined how weak the PM is, pointing out her “mistake” of not giving him or the economy a more prominent role in the election campaign. “He’s right,” one Cabinet minister tells me. “We failed to talk about one of our most important strengths. It’s one of the reasons we had a campaign that went so badly wrong.”

There is one stat that will focus all Tory minds this morning and it’s the latest GMB/Survation (yes, they got the election right) poll putting Labour now on 44% to the Tories’ 41%.  “No one in my constituency wants another general election right now,” one minister tells me. Curiously, that could point to a swift Tory leadership race. The longer it takes to replace May, the greater the likelihood the public will say they don’t want another unelected PM, and greater the appetite for a fresh election - among the voters, if not Tory MPs.

 

5. DEAF CON ONE

There’s so much news around at the moment that stories that would normally lead the bulletins naturally get relegated. But yesterday’s remarks by Philip Hammond about the Government’s austerity plans could have long-term impact on all of us.

Put to him by Andrew Marr that the general policy on austerity would have to change (not least because the DUP don’t like welfare and pensioner cuts), he replied: “Well we’ll look at all these things. Obviously we’re not deaf. We heard a message last week in the general election…I understand that people are weary after years of hard work to rebuild the economy…people are weary of the long slog”.

Yet, as ever with Hammond, it’s worth reading the caveat and it was this “but we have to live within our means…And more borrowing, which seems to be Jeremy Corbyn’s answer, is not the solution”. Of course one of Hammond’s first acts as Chancellor was to give himself wriggle room in the finances by dumping Osborne’s deficit-wipeout deadlines.

But if public spending is to rise (or at least not to be cut as much), and borrowing isn’t going up overall, then taxes will have to rise.  There are suggestions that he could end up raising taxes on the wealthiest in his autumn Budget. That would ironically be the kind of thing May’s former Rasputin, Nick Timothy, could cheer. It would also be yet more proof of the Tories edging nearer to Labour, at least in some ways.

 

SUNDAY SHOWS ROUND-UP

 

Had a lie-in? Enjoyed the sunshine? Our Owen Bennett watched all the Sunday politics shows so you didn’t have to.  Click HERE to catch up on what you missed (complete with short video clips).

 
 
 

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