1. HENRY VIII, I AM
The PM chairs Cabinet this morning, but it is David Davis who is in the driving seat today as he delivers his Commons statement on the Brexit talks around 3.30pm. In the long years when he was in and out of the Shadow Cabinet (and Cabinet), DD used to spend every summer yomping across northern England. He’s replaced that with the hard slog of a July and August negotiating with Brussels, and now wants to up the pace further with ‘rolling’ talks, not just once-a-month.
Of course, in his self-imposed exile under Cameron, Davis’s main concern was civil liberties and that’s precisely the area being targeted by Tory Remainers and Labour in the EU Withdrawal Bill. Labour will unsurprisingly vote against the Second Reading next week but with no Tory rebel support. The main action will come at committee stage after party conference season, when Conservative backbenchers and others plan to table “hundreds” of amendments. Dominic Grieve, the Remain rebels’ very own ‘two-brains’, is drafting amendments limiting the so-called Henry VIII powers that are being used by Davis to transfer EU rights without full Parliamentary scrutiny.
Davis is smart enough to relent a little, but knows that time is not on Parliament’s side to individually assess thousands of regulations. Labour’s Shadow leader in the Lords Angela Smith has told me the Henry VIII powers issue is the one that is likely to encounter most opposition, so I wonder if the Government will work with rather than against peers to get a compromise?
But in the Commons, Labour has a tricky task of its own. To avoid the whips’ charge of ‘backing Jeremy Corbyn’, Tory rebels want to vote for their own or other backbench amendments, not official Labour ones. Keir Starmer may have to swallow his irritation with Chuka Umunna from this summer (some felt Umunna’s single market amendment pretended to have official Labour backing when it didn’t) and work with backbenchers to maximise the chances of a Government defeat or retreat. Chris Leslie, who wants more time for the bill and wants to amend the programme motion, and others could be the preferred vehicle. The Labour Campaign for the Single Market has its launch event tonight, yet it’s the cross-party campaign that matters most.
2. REMAINDERED BUCKS
Money, as Davis has pointed out, is what worries the EU most in the short term. Brussels is loathe to unpick its own budget that runs to 2020 and if the UK exits without paying a fair chunk, disruption will follow. A figure of £15bn a year has been kicking around Whitehall for some time, but some Tory Brexiteers are not happy at all at such big bucks, especially if it looks like we’ll pay more outside the EU than in it.
That’s why some backbenchers are talking up the idea of a ‘no deal’ Brexit being actually not as catastrophic as some predict (I know we haven’t left yet, but Eurosceps delight in new manufacturing output figures off the back of a cheap pound and EU mini-boom). Keep an eye on them in the DD statement today - and on his response.
Guy Verhofstadt caused a flurry of speculation yesterday by saying May would make ‘an important intervention’ that would delay Brexit talks this month. No.10 sources say the PM does want to build on the position papers of the summer and will make a Big Speech setting out her latest thoughts, but no firm date or venue has been yet set. The return of her favourite speechwriter Chris Wilkins (he wrote her Lancaster House and Nasty Party speeches but left after the June election) is a sign she wants to think big.
The City’s envoy to Brussels Jeremy Browne is being helpful to May too, with an FT interview in which he argues the EU has ‘no clear vision’ for Brexit and is more divided than many assume. Browne rightly says the EU has yet to make up its mind whether it wants a chunk of the UK’s financial business to go to cities “complementary to London, or really to supplant it”. Dublin and Luxembourg would be the former option, Paris or Frankfurt, the latter. As a former Coalition Europe minister, Browne knows this terrain better than most. And he managed to allow the FT to get a new Brexit c-word - ’complementarity’ - in its copy today.
3. SITTING ON DEFENCE
South Korea has refused to rule out redeploying US tactical nuclear weapons on its territory for the first time since the 1990s. The country’s defence minister, Song Young-moo, said “all available military options” were being considered to address the growing threat from North Korea.
But for Labour, defence looks like it is not going to be a priority item at its annual party conference later this month. HuffPost UK revealed last month that Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan were not on the speaker list for the Brighton gathering Today we report that a string of Shadow Cabinet ministers – including Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith – will not be expected to speak from the platform either.
Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey and Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald are not expected to deliver speeches and they’ve been told it’s because the leadership wants more time given to rank and file delegates in debates. Current draft plans also fail to give speeches to Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor and others – including Shadow Secretaries for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. When Shadow Cabinet meets today, this issue will be discussed and ‘robust’ exchanges may occur.
One source says that in the year of North Korean nukes and Grenfell, it would be ‘odd’ not to hear from Griffith or Healey. Others counter that contemporary motions may indeed allow such ministers to have a short say, and that keynote speeches from Emily Thornberry and Andrew Gwynne will set out the party’s positions. (Sajid Javid is making a Grenfell statement in the Commons today). And be in no doubt, Jeremy Corbyn wants this to be a ‘delegates’ conference’, not a politicians’ one.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Jacob Rees-Mogg tell Daily Politics why he won’t be joining the Government, and joke that he may be offered ‘the papacy’ next.
4. MAY’S MIGHT CAP
The Sun’s scoop yesterday on the Government preparing to lift the public sector pay cap was well timed, given it will be one of the main issues of non-Brexit domestic policy in coming months. What was most striking was the reaction of No.10 and Philip Hammond, which was to very much refuse to deny the report. No.10 said the PM recognised workers’ ‘sacrifice’, Hammond said he wanted to be “fair to the people who deliver our vitally important public services” (and taxpayers). Chris Grayling told Today: “All of us want to see a situation where we can provide people with additional pay.”
The Evening Standard was first to get the extra detail that London’s nurses are set to be first in line for rises, as part of a regional approach. But trade unions have long opposed anything that smacks of undermining national pay bargaining and the Royal College of Nursing – normally not that militant - sounded very angry indeed yesterday, warning it would ballot for strikes unless ministers made up for lost pay in previous years.
Tory MP Maria Caulfield, who is a part-time nurse at the Marsden hospital, tells the Sun it was her “experience of working on the front line that has led me to supporting the Scrap the Cap campaign”. You can bet No.10 will push her hard on the airwaves once the deal is done.
5. OUT ON HER YEAR
We hacks love a bit of harball, firm prediction making from ‘big’ City firms about Brexit and anything else. PoliticsHome hit the jackpot yesterday by picking up a warning from bankers Morgan Stanley that May’s government would collapse by the summer of 2018.
The research note by Morgan Stanley say the Prime Minister’s fragile working majority and Labour’s surge in the polls will also contribute to her demise and trigger another election. They said they expect “enough concessions” to be made during Brexit talks to prop Mrs May up until the end of 2017, but do not consider her premiership sustainable much beyond that.
“We think the government survives in 2017, but falls in 2018…We expect the EU to offer a choice between a close relationship in which the UK can participate in the single market and customs union but will be bound by the EU rules of the game, and an arm’s length relationship in the UK, in which the UK achieves full sovereignty over borders, courts and laws, but does not participate in the single market and the customs union. We think this choice splits the Cabinet and the Conservative party and will lead to a loss of a vote of no confidence in parliament, triggering early elections.”
It’s a guess as good as any, and you can bet Corbyn and John McDonnell were licking their lips at even bankers predicting their own forecast of a fresh general election. The latest ConservativeHome survey of Tory members shows 60% want May to quit now or before 2022. However, not a single Tory minister or MP I’ve spoken to believes there will be an election before 2022. Why? Because no Tory strategist or leader will ever again risk believing in any opinion poll suggesting a big lead over Corbyn. They’ve been burned once, and won’t be again.