The five things you need to know on Thursday January 14, 2016…
1) GRAY-LINGUA FRANCA
The Cabinet Brexit starting gun has been fired by none other than Chris Grayling. Yes the man dubbed ‘Greything’ (by even some of his own side) has made a little bit of history by signalling he will vote for the UK to quit the EU unless there’s serious change in our relations with Brussels.
Writing for the Telegraph, he comes as close as is possible for a Cabinet minister to say he’s heading for the Brexit door, without getting fired. “I am someone who believes that simply staying in the EU with our current terms of membership unchanged would be disastrous for Britain,” he writes.
Eurosceptics are delighted with Grayling’s boldness, (though his critics say he has little to lose as he’s expected to be ousted in the next reshuffle anyway) and the question is just whether IDS and others will now follow suit.
Don’t forget that the post of Leader of the Commons is pretty senior role in constitutional terms. And expect a bigger audience than usual for his Business Statement this morning. Chris Bryant says “it looks pretty awful for Grayling to keep his taxpayer funded Ministerial car, staff and salary now he openly admits he has no faith in the PM’s ability to get a good deal for the country.”
As it happens, William Hague gave an interview to ITV News’s new pol ed Robert Peston last night in which he warned of ‘devastating’ consequences for the UK if it quit the EU this year, adding there was a real risk of Scotland voting for independence.
The Times reports that Euroscep MPs think Sajid Javid will call for Brexit in the campaign, with “licence to dissent” to help Mr Osborne to win back backbench support after the referendum. Is there an even more cunning plan, to put up Javid as a leadership contender to keep Boris off the ballot?
Boris’s intentions remain the real threat to Osborne. Referring to claims that he’d said before Christmas that ‘I’m not an Outer’, allies of Bojo told me yesterday to treat them with ‘scepticism’ (which is kinda apt). “Instinctively he wants to stay in a reformed EU, but if we can’t get what we want, as he’s said, he can see a great future outside,” one said. I understand Boris does not want to ‘lead’ the Brexit campaign purely because he believes business leaders will make the best case. But we all know he’d effectively become the political figurehead if he did back Brexit.
In the FT, John Redwood has an ominous warning of pressure for a second referendum should there be a Remain vote. “Things will be more difficult. Soon the government could find it has to negotiate a treaty on deeper political union. Then it will face a choice: veto the treaty or fight the second referendum, which would then be mandated under UK law.”
Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs has paid Nick Clegg a cool £22,500 for a speech and presentation on the EU. He also got a nice wad of £22k for two hours work for PepsiCo in New York, so it seems his going rate is £10k per hour. Which I work out is an hourly rate 1,389 times the national minimum wage.
Anorak alert: The Commons will later debate the Public Admin Select Committee report on the UK’s appointments to the Council of Europe.
2) KEN: NO NAGASAKI
Ken Livingstone dropped a little political explosion of his own last night, telling Newsnight that he wanted to fasttrack the Trident bit of Labour’s defence review and finish it within a couple of months. "We will desperately try and do it as rapidly as possible. So we will focus on the Trident issue ahead of the rest of the defence review ... With a bit of luck that can be done in eight to 10 week.”
Stephen Bush says Emily Thornberry is set to produce a defence policy document in "the next couple of days”, so the unilateralists are clearly seizing their moment in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle victory on defence.
The speed of the Trident review is obviously aimed at getting a new position in place before any maingate Commons vote on renewal (which some suggest could come as early as March). It also suggests, as Jon Ashworth made clear yesterday, that a free vote for Labour MPs is now ‘inevitable’. Given party policy is actually to renew Trident, a free vote would help Corbyn assert his own position.
Corbyn’s plan for an online consultation of members on Trident looks like it will happen sooner rather than later. But Dan Jarvis had a warning in the Statesman that online polls could only be one part of the process and with Unite standing firm it’s hard to see how conference will change policy. Note Jarvis also called for the publication of the party’s official inquiry into why Ed MIliband lost, this is becoming a totemic issue for ‘moderates’.
There’s good news for Corbyn in the Guardian splash though. Its survey of officers and members in more than 100 constituencies found lots of backing for the leader. The new membership figures are just as interesting jumping to 388,407 on 10 January. Some 13,860 have left since the general election (lower than Mandelson’s 30k figure). The increase in membership is continuing, with just under 1,000 having joined since Christmas Eve.
But there's less good news in the shape of former PLP chairman Lord Soley, who remembers Corbyn strategy and comms chief Seumas Milne from his days in his local Hammersmith party in the 1980s: "He was oversympathetic to autocratic regimes and undersympathetic to countries with the rule of law and democracy,” he tells the FT. “That is the worst aspect of the hard left.”
3) TERROR STRIKE
The Jakarta gun and bomb attacks is a moving story, with at least six people dead after the terror strikes on a shopping centre close to UN offices. Police are still in a gun battle and Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for calm but condemned the "act of terror”.
Nine suspected Islamic State terrorists were arrested in December with documents outlining a plan to “do a concert” in Jakara, but early this morning the head of Indonesia’s intelligence agency that there were ‘no indications’ as yet that it was “ISIS related”.
As it happens, the Met Police is set to announce today that hundreds of extra armed officers will be trained to help counter the threat of a terrorist attack in London.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch one of our best British exports, James Corden, do his car karaoke with Adele.
4) SNOOPER TROOPER
The Sun, Mail and FT all feature on their front page the European Court of Justice ruling that employers can have full access to personal messages sent from company computers and smartphones.
Big Brother Watch, which has found a new lease of life of late under Renate Samson (a former David Davis staffer), is on the case. As it happens, another DD fan, Shami Chakrabarti today announced she’s stepping down from Liberty after 12 years in the hotseat.
Meanwhile, Theresa May revealed to MPs and peers yesterday that coffee shops running Wi-Fi networks may have to store internet data under her new Investigatory Powers bill. Small-scale networks such as those in cafes, libraries and universities could find themselves targeted under the legislation and forced to hand over customers’ confidential personal data tracking their web use.
Having agreed to the draft bill process, May (as well as the Business Managers) is playing hardball. She rejected ‘sunset clause’ requests but more importantly she’s giving the draft bill committee just two and a half months to scrutinise the 300 page bill. Well, I guess if you can have a Trident review in 8 weeks….
5) VIZ: STUDENT GRANT
Today the death knell will sound for maintenance grants for students. But the historic event will occur in Committee Room 9 on a Commons corridor, rather than in the full glare of publicity of a vote and debate on the floor of the House.
The Delegate Legislation Committee meets at 11.30am to approve the statutory instrument known as Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No. 1951). Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield raised this at PMQs yesterday because the change will force half a million poorer students to rely on loans instead of grants.
The move, first unveiled by George Osborne last July, has upset MPs not just because of its substance but also the way in which secondary legislation is being used. The Lords is looking at ways it can tackle the SI. Former NUS president and now Labour MP Wes Streeting has blogged for HuffPost on the ‘scandalous’ decision and how it will leave the poorest students with the highest debts.
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