POLITICS

The Waugh Zone Thursday October 12, 2017

The Five Things You Need To Know About Politics Today.

12/10/2017 09:13 | Updated 12 October 2017

1. THE BITTEREST PHIL

David Davis and Michel Barnier resume hostilities/pleasantries in Brussels today at 11am, when they are due to hold their latest joint press conference on progress on Brexit talks.  With an increasing focus back in Britain on preparations for a ‘no deal’ outcome, we may find out if that tactic has worked or backfired.

What was really extraordinary yesterday was the way Theresa May appeared to publicly smack down her Chancellor over his reluctance to spend hard cash on a hard Brexit prep.  Hammond had told the Treasury Select Committee that he would only authorise such spending at the very last moment, because every pound spent on a hard border was “a pound that we can’t spend on the NHS or social care or education or deficit reduction”. Yet in PMQs, the PM seemed to be much firmer, cheering her Brexiteers with talk of spending whatever was necessary.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg was first to reveal yesterday that this came off the back of a spat at Cabinet on Tuesday, when there was tense exchange over ‘no deal’ preparations. I’m told that Michael Gove certainly made a pointed intervention, though with a politesse that avoided a full-blown ‘row’. (Robert Peston reveals how he tried to ‘bounce’ the PM, backed by Chris Grayling). What’s fascinating is the way Gove is being deployed by May to reassure the more Euroscep MPs that all is well. He was the minister chosen to attend the backbench 1922 last night, just as he was the one defending the PM last Friday from the Shapps attack.

Theresa May looked rather irritated by Heidi Alexander’s claim she was ‘running scared’ of her party’s ‘right wing’ (watch those papers fly). And on paper, May and Hammond said exactly the same thing yesterday: that ‘no deal’ spending would be made “when necessary”. But some in No.10 want to remind Hammond who’s really in charge. Their frustration really stems from the fact that the Cabinet is actually pretty united on the fundamentals of Brexit: Hammond got his way on a transition and replicated EU rules, the Brexiteers got their way in limiting the transition to not much more than two years and a pledge to leave the single market and to ‘control’ migration.

Still, the Brexiteers’ disdain for Hammond is unmistakeable and many think he’s still an embittered Remainer who should be put in Osborne’s deep freeze. The Mail calls him ‘treacherous’ today. Business minister Claire Perry (seen as an Osborneite who once compared Leavers to ‘jihadis’) told the Today programme that was “unhelpful language…despite what the Daily Mail says we are unified as a government”. The crunch will come in December. Brexiteers say that if the EU still refuses to budge on trade, May should pull out of the talks altogether. Donald Tusk also said everyone would have to think again if there was no progress by Christmas.  It’s a reminder once again that some in Brussels and some Leavers agree on one thing: the hard logic is that there really is no middle way, that there’s either ‘hard Brexit’ or no Brexit at all. 

 

2. REAL DEAL

Some MPs fear that all this talk of a ‘no deal’ outcome could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yesterday after PMQs, senior Labour sources stepped up the pressure, making clear Jeremy Corbyn would get his troops to vote against the Government if May returned from Brussels empty-handed and tried to offer a WTO-only future. Labour would vote to forced May to go back into talks, and would probably win the backing of Tory rebel Remainers.

And on just what will happen in Parliament, Politico has a fascinating report of an event with John Bercow last night. The Speaker said that Brexiteers’ idea that all MPs had “an absolute responsibility” to vote through Brexit was “an opinion, rather than a constitutional fact”. Sounding as if he backed Labour’s approach, he added: “My sense is there will be a lot of people in {arliament who will want to be able to vote on the deal… There will be some members of parliament who say ‘I want to be able at the end of all this if I’m not satisfied, to say No, to try to persuade other members of parliament to say No, and to hope that No might delay Brexit or prevent Brexit.’ Do they have a right to argue that point of view? They absolutely do.”  Speaking of which, we have an extract from Nick Clegg’s new book, in which he urges Remainers to take “inspiration” from Nigel Farage and his “sheer bloody-minded refusal to give up”.

Any final vote on Brexit is some way off, of course, but some backers of Liam Fox would not be unhappy with a WTO-tariffs future. Today, the International Trade Secretary has his Commons Questions at 9.30am before launching his new Board of Trade. However, the FT reveals a Greenpeace-backed FoI request showing that none of his 27 trade officials on a trip to Washington this summer had any experience of trade negotiations. “It seems the UK is as prepared as someone turning up for the Wimbledon final wielding a ping-pong bat,” Greenpeace says. Brexiteers could counter all that doom and gloom by pointing to another FT story showing that the number of start-ups in the UK has risen to a record high. The Today programme says Fox had been due to appear on the show but pulled out at 8pm last night. Expect him to be punchy during Commons Questions.

 

3. BUDGET FUDGE-IT

Philip Hammond is planning to deliver a “safety-first” budget with no fresh giveaways for younger voters, HuffPost UK has been told.  Party conference say some £2bn pledged for social housing and a freeze in tuition fees. But other moves, such as a possible restoration of maintenance grants, have been derailed by the shock OBR downgrade of growth.

Last month, the Chancellor urged his colleagues at the 1922 Committee to send him ideas on how to attract the millions of under-45s who shunned the Tories in the General Election. Of course the Budget process is still ongoing, but our Owen has been told Hammond has warned in private meetings with MPs – some of whom wanted radical action to help young people - that it’s unlikely there will be headline-grabbing announcements in November.

One MP says: “The truth of the Budget is that the OBR downgraded our productivity, and it’s going to be a safety-first Budget. He’s pretty determined to keep to the fiscal rules – that’s where we are on it.  Maybe now is the time to be cautious – the OBR put a kibosh on anything else.”

 

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch the hypnotic effect of a paper plane being chucked from a high-storey building.

 

4. LINES OF CREDIT

Jeremy Corbyn scored a direct hit yesterday in PMQs with his call for the PM to “show some humanity” over a Universal Credit helpline that charges up to 55p a minute for advice to some of the poorest in society.  It was a good example of lateral thinking, while seizing on a concrete problem.

In the press gallery huddle afterwards, No10 pointed out that there was an option for people to get a free ‘call back’ once they had rung the hotline. But our reporter rang the 0345 number and guess what? It took more than 12 minutes to get through (partly because of staff cuts, the PCS union says), and once through had racked up a call charge of more than £7. Universal Credit claimants without children and aged under 25 take home just £62.94 a week.

The hotline is free in (Labour-run) Wales, so why doesn’t David Gauke just go for the quick political and PR win and do the same for England? Liz Truss got into trouble yesterday for saying people should go to a Job Centre instead to get advice (there are fewer Job Centres open and it costs an expensive bus fare to get to those left). But senior Government sources tell me that ministers have looked at this and concluded that creating a free hotline would disincentivise people from going online to make their claims. They say the best route is to give claimants support that will help them be more independent generally in looking for work. Gauke has always said he’s refining and listening, but that clearly has its limits.

 

5. DUTY CALLS

The promised energy price cap bill is published today, a day after Ofgem warned that the PM’s plans couldn’t come into force before winter. It looks like the PM’s promise to cap bills for 12 million people on standard variable tariffs could happen, though later than thought.

Some environmentalists believe that making energy artificially cheaper in fact sends out the wrong message about energy use. Their opponents say green measures jack up bills. Today, the government publishes its Clean Growth Strategy, a plan that could have much bigger implications for us all than a price cap. The 50 new policies include more cash for offshore wind, but there’s also a big target to get more homes insulated.

Home insulation normally makes people’s eyes glaze over but it is a big part of our climate change targets. And what will make some sit up and listen is climate change minister Claire Perry revealing on Today that she was looking at radical plans to slash stamp duty on more efficient homes. “Yes it is and that would be one of the incentives to do it,” she said. “A home where insulation has been put in would attract a higher value…In order to meet our targets on carbon emissions, we are looking at a whole series of measures.”

 
 
 

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