1. CENSOR CENSURE?
Not surprisingly, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement dominated the news agenda yesterday, but political life continued under the radar. And in our list of 10 Things Buried By The Royal Wedding, one of the main items is the Government’s decision to effectively censor its own Brexit impact assessment handed over to Parliament last night.
I’ve written before that the actual document consists of a single lever-arch file of several hundred pages (in paper form only, not online, curiously). And a heavily amended version of that file was given to the Brexit Select Committee, to comply with a formal request from the Commons. One man’s ‘redaction’ is another’s ‘edited highlights’, but Davis stresses he has given MPs a censored version to protect commercial information and the Government’s negotiating position in talks with Brussels. One sympathetic MP tells me DD still looks pretty relaxed and appears like “a whistling milkman” as he tours the Commons tea room.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer is warning that any censorship may be a ‘contempt of Parliament’ because it fails to comply with a binding motion insisting the document be handed over in full. He has the backing not just of the SNP but also Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Guardian claims. Labour committee member Seema Malhotra said it “must be given the full analyses and nothing less”. The Brexit committee meets at 9.30am this morning to decide its next steps, but chairman Hilary Benn will want to maintain a fragile cross-party approach – and Commons Clerks may not want to get involved in the contempt claims. Government aides point out that Davis’s letter to MPs was leaked to the Mirror last night, a move that “doesn’t bode well for the security of information passed to the committee”. One DExEU source tells me Starmer is “an opportunist zealot” and voters just want to get on with Brexit and “are tired of Parliamentary parlour games”.
As the PM gathers her Cabinet for its weekly meeting, you can’t escape Brexit. Eurosceptics, who think the impact assessment row is a storm in a Parliamentary teacup (some even hint the secret studies show some sectors will do well out of Brexit), were cheered by the new Bank of England study released at 7am that showed our biggest banks are strong enough to cope with even a ‘disorderly’ exit from the EU. The FT reports May is being told by the EU she will need new legislation to continue Brussels powers during a two-year transition period, a key opening for mischief by hardline Brexiteers. The OECD has its latest economic outlook report at 10am and Chancellor Philip Hammond takes Treasury questions in the Commons at 11.30am.
2. RIGGING HELL
Another one of our 10 things buried by the Budget is an unprecedented move by the Government to restrict MPs’ ability to amend the Finance Bill itself. We report HERE that Labour has accused May of ‘rigging Parliament’ with a rare procedural device, normally used only straight after or just before general elections, to limit debate and alternative tax plans in a Budget.
It’s all very technical, involving Ways and Means resolutions and ‘amendments of the law’ resolutions, but the upshot may be that Tory rebels can’t ally themselves with the DUP or Labour and others to force through tax changes. Perhaps burned by the ‘tampon tax’ and solar panels rebellions under Osborne, Philip Hammond is wary of chatter that the DUP could ally with Eurosceptics to force through a Vote Leave pledge to abolish VAT on domestic fuel after Brexit.
Shadow Chief Secretary Peter Dowd points out this latest Parliamentary trickery follows the Tory “stitch up” of standing committees and its new policy of effectively ignoring opposition day motions. With a wafer-thin majority, it seems ministers are taking no chances. The Treasury insists this is ‘a practical modernisation’ move and won’t reduce debate. But that’s Labour’s point: debate is one thing, allowing votes that produce alternative policy is another entirely. Hammond has a chance to explain himself this morning.
3. LOTTERY THICKET
The Social Mobility Commission has published its latest State of the Nation report, including its first ‘league table’ of the best and worst areas in the country for poorer kids to get on in life. We highlight how English small towns are at the bottom of that league, and how a ‘postcode lottery’ means social mobility can’t be boiled down to north-south or rich-poor divide. One example is that while Kensington and Chelsea has awful housing, its state schools are among the best in the land for getting kids on free school meals into university.
Alan Milburn, who chairs the independent body, told the Today programme that “London increasingly feels like a separate country from the rest of the nation”, while post-industrial, coast and some rural towns suffer. A lack of high quality teaching seems to be a big driver, along with a lack of central government cash. Milburn added this kicker: “The Government seems so consumed by Brexit that it doesn’t have the headspace…for putting words into action”. Education Secretary Justine Greening points to the educational success of some areas, but admits more needs to be done.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a motorcyclist trying to escape the cops in Canada. Shot on a go-pro camera from the daredevil rider’s helmet, the footage has only just been released – and has gone viral.
4. SELLING CORBYN
Investment bank Morgan Stanley has warned investors that the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister is “a bigger risk than Brexit” for business. The firm’s European equity team suggests that another general election towards the end of 2018 is likely once Theresa May’s realises she can’t get a Brexit deal to satisfy her party. The nationalisation of key industries, higher taxes and a shift in spending priorities towards low-income households under Corbyn’s leadership could damage valuations of UK companies, the US bank warned. Some in Team Jez have long forecast the Government will collapse. And some of them may even agree that big business will have to start paying more if he wins. For many in Momentum, being attacked by bankers won’t be seen as a negative.
Speaking of Momentum, the Evening Standard and Manchester Evening News have both in recent weeks reported on deselections (or failed reselections to be more accurate) of several ‘centrist’ Labour councilors in Haringey and Manchester. Today, the Times says Leeds’ city council leader is this week facing a similar battle and quotes moderate pressure group organiser Matt Pound attacking “the orchestrated purge”. The Left is certainly on the march, though some in the party are more surprised the deselections have been so small in number overall. Meanwhile, we report new details of how Unite the union’s unprecedented text message campaign powered the election of Scottish Labour’s new pro-Corbyn leader, Richard Leonard.
5. STILL DYING
Jeremy Hunt will use a speech this morning to announce new plans to ensure an independent investigation into every still birth (or birth with ‘life changing injuries’) in England. Hunt’s new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will lead the probes, though coroners may look into full-term still births. The number of such deaths has halved since 1993, but much more can be done to prevent those that still happen, Hunt says.
But the Health Secretary has questions of his own to answer. The Guardian reports on a new study by doctors and academics that reveals 80% of full-term stillbirths and deaths of babies during childbirth could be prevented if mothers received better care and UK maternity units were better staffed. Midwife shortages and lack of staffing often lay behind the poor monitoring of heartbeats of unborn babies. As with last week’s reports about the winter mortality rates of the elderly due to failed flu jabs, there are times when politics really is a matter of life and death.