The five things you need to know on Wednesday September 9, 2015...
1) DRONE ALONE
The killings of the three Brit ISIL terrorists are just the start, it seems. As Michael Fallon made clear yesterday, the ‘kill list’ is wider (and we had various sources pointing to a total of 10 and Jihadi John being on it).
Yet Britain’s ‘new departure’ (copyright D Cameron) of targeting British nationals on foreign soil with RAF drones is continuing to cause unease among the Opposition, legal groups but also among some Tories. While many Conservatives are determined to root out the terrorists, some believe that Parliament has to have a proper role in determining a major shift in policy like that unveiled by the PM this week.
No.10 made clear to us yesterday that he reserved the right to take executive action as he did at the National Security Council (‘some months ago’ was the original decision - soon after the general election in May). One former Lib Dem aide tells the Guardian it would not have happened under Nick Clegg: “The hawks have been let loose and are trying to test the boundaries of what is possible".
And there is indeed a feeling among some supporters of the PM that given that Tony Blair introduced the fetters of a new convention of insisting Parliament had to be consulted on wider military intervention, individually targeted precision strikes - and operational decisions - should not be caught by the need for MPs’ approval.
Yet Tories like Crispin Blunt, the new FAC chairman, believes there should be a committee inquiry into the new policy. The PM would prefer any such scrutiny to come from the Intelligence and Security Committee (which isn’t quite a usual Parliamentary committee of course) as it can meet spooks in private.
The ISC should have been appointed before recess but I understand one reason for delay was there’s been a few problems with the PM apparently promising the chairman job to several people at once: Sir Alan Duncan, Dominic Grieve (did he issue a warning about legality of drones this week cos he didn’t get the top job?) and Keith Simpson. In theory the committee chooses its own chairman but in practice it has to be agreed by No.10. Sir Alan may have got the top job, one source suggests.
The Order paper this morning confirms they are all members, plus Mark Field, and Labour’s trio of Gisela Stuart, George Howarth and Fiona MacTaggart. Note too that Angus Robertson of the SNP has been appointed. Some in Government were very wary about putting Robertson on the committee but felt they had no choice. Given he wants an ISC inquiry into drones, one will surely now happen. Jeremy Corbyn feels this is an illegal policy, so watch for more of that too.
Philip Hammond is before the Foreign Affairs Committee at 2.30pm to discuss ‘foreign policy developments in September 2015’. That will include not just Iran but drones I guess.
2) HOLDING THE REIGNS
The PM will lead tributes to Her Majesty from 11.30am today in a special session to mark her becoming (this afternoon) the longest reigning British monarch. Half an hour later, one of the shortest reigns of any Labour leader will near its end as Harriet Harman conducts her final PMQs.
Expect some praise from David Cameron for her too, although No10 still has to decide whether to hold off from really going for Jeremy Corbyn for fear of toppling him early. ‘We should fatten up the Turkey for Christmas’ ie 2020, is one view of some Cameron allies.
Lots of Labour MPs are gearing up for what they see as the inevitable, though the Guardian reports that eight shadow ministers are poised to quit should Corbyn win. Chris Leslie and Emma Reynolds repeat their reasons, but one unnamed shadow minister is more graphic: simply “mopping up or making excuses” for Mr Corbyn’s views “is not sustainable”. “There will be others that join in, but I think we should wait and watch. If you join in, you lose your own credibility and you legitimise him,” they said.
Yet there are others who believe that the negativity fails to grasp the sea-change of recent weeks and the possibility that the Corbynistas could revive the party rather than kill it. Only a fraction of the new members are hard left, they believe. Tom Baldwin, EdM’s former adviser, put his finger on it when he said on Daily Politics “Modernisers and mainstream Labour party supporters should begin to work within the system to recognise they are many and sign up more people so next time they win”
3) JUNCKER MENTALITY
Jean-Claude Juncker started his big speech on EU migrant quotas at 8am and it’s clear he sees the migrant crisis as a test of his leadership (watch for his wider vision on non-refugee matters) as much as of the EU itself. The very idea of ‘mandatory’ quotas for refugees is possibly your average Tory Eurosceptic’s (and UKIP voter’s) worst nightmare.
The solidarity of the bloc has been sorely tested in recent weeks but with Germany and France and also Poland and Spain shifting their positions towards agreement, its unity may hold. There will be exemptions for states that worry they need flexibility for fresh migrant surges but ‘no free pass’ and anyone opting out will have to pay hard cash to the others. A bigger scheme for automatic quotas in future is even likely.
At 1pm UK time there will be a press conference on the detailed quota plans with EC First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and the Commissioner responsible for migration issues Dimitris Avramopoulos.
As for refugees, Adam Holloway caused a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday for his ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’ approach to the issue. While seen as a maverick even by his own side, his wider point about the blurred lines between migrants and refugees echoes the view of several Tories (‘once out of danger in a country like Turkey, why should they be allowed to migrate to richer states?’ is a question many pose). Still, will any MP point out the Queen’s first speech as a teenager was all about welcoming refugees...?
The PM’s Eurosceptic problems aren’t going away either. Steve Baker tells the FT that Cameron must use the Tory conference to announce ministers will be allowed to campaign for ‘Out’ after his renegotiation ends.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this Tory press officer suffer from a Crick-ed neck as C4News’s Michael Crick discovers them infiltrating last night’s Jeremy Corbyn rally.
4) SHE’S GOT MALE
Hillary Clinton didn’t quite say ‘I did not have textual relations with that server’ but her apology on ABC news for her private email system sounded ever so much like the male of the Clinton partnership.
It’s a textbook case of how not to deal with questions about your integrity, believing that a beltway story pushed by your enemies can’t somehow bleed into a wider perception of shiftiness and dishonesty. In fact, the whole row reminds me of the Wikileaks saga: the leak itself seems of more interest than the content of the leaks. Just how many really interesting/important revelations have there been, other than a few mildly embarassing remarks to and from friends?
Still, only recently, Hillary was saying she would not apologise, but overnight she uttered the words “that was a mistake, I take responsibility...” Its brevity will fuel the impression of dissembling but her supporters will hope this draws a line under the row about her operating emails on a separate server when she was Secretary of State.
5) SCHOOLS OUT FOR SUMMER
Nicky Morgan is before the Education Select at 9.30am today and she’s underscoring her reputation for pragmatic solutions to bread-and-butter problems faced by parents. Following pressure from campaigners (and MPs, Stephen Hammond had an adjournment debate on Monday), the DfE has said ‘summer babies’ are to get a legal right to delay their education for upto a year.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said admissions rules would be changed so children born between 1 April and 31 August would be allowed to go into reception a year later if their parents felt they were not ready for school. Not everyone is convinced that there’s enough evidence that the delay will improve attainment (though the IFS has done an interesting report warning it could affect GCSEs), but at least it shows the Government is listening.
ONES TO WATCH
Paula Radcliffe was very upset at the DCMS Select yesterday linking former medallists in the London marathon to doping allegations. Jesse Norman defended his committee on Today.
The Indy splashes on an exclusive on a mass resignation by magistrates over the new punitive court fees system introduced by the Government.
The Sun seizes on Leicester De Montfort Hall's decision to rename its Christmas pantomime Snow White & Her Seven Friends, in order to avoiding offending dwarves. Warwick Davies finds it patronising.
Chris Grayling talks EVEL at Procedure Committee at 3.45pm.
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