The five things you need to know on Wednesday February 3, 2016…
1) POO STICKS?
After PMQs, David Cameron makes his Commons statement on his EU deal and he’s braced for buckets of manure to be lobbed his way by some backbenchers. Speaker Bercow will probably punish the PM’s refusal to turn up yesterday with yet another detention-style, 90 minute (or 2 hour?) marathon session.
Steve Baker caught the headlines with his ‘poo’ jibe yesterday. I’m not sure why is ‘poo’ was deemed Parliamentary language but ‘turd’ - the original line is ‘you can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter’ - isn’t. No matter, the leading backbench Euroscep summed up the main case of many of the PM’s critics: that this not the great deal Cameron claims.
Downing Street believes that the poo won’t stick. Government whips will of course be lining up supportive MPs and No.10 believes the majority of ‘mainstream Eurorealists’ will back Cameron today, just as they expect the majority of Tory voters to be swung by the PM’s powers of persuasion.
There’s acres of coverage in the papers of the actual Tusk draft deal and I’ve done my own 6 Things We Learned from yesterday’s text HERE.
Theresa May’s decision last night to signal the Tusk draft was ‘the basis for a deal’ is a big boost to the In camp, not least as crime, national security and immigration will be central to Cameron’s campaign (especially the first two).
Boris is holding out, as his quotes to LBC yesterday proved, demanding ‘much, much more’ from Brussels. Maybe he’ll get a stronger red card deal, but he’s been playing the dance of the seven veils for so long now with the Eurosceps he may feel a backlash of his own if he jumps for Remain. Note that Boris’s dad Stanley today launches Environmentalists for Europe.
IDS, Grayling, Whitto and Villiers are left as full Cabinet ‘outers’. Grayling made a token grumble yesterday about being unfairly gagged for the next two weeks, but Cameron was at his most forthright (the Times reports he slapped down Graylo by saying ‘we don't want you tying yourself up in knots’ for the next two weeks).
IDS wasn’t remotely happy at not being consulted over the ‘local rates’ child benefit deal, which could cause an administrative headache for his department. The phasing in of tax credits to migrants (possibly as early as within two years) is another bureaucratic hell awaiting Whitehall. The emergency brake could take 18 months to actually kick in rather than the day after a referendum.
But some around the PM believe this is all detail that few will notice or get excited about. National security and economic security, and the fear of a leap into the dark, will be the main messages.
No10 is sanguine about the way the papers have hammered the PM today (only the FT offers positive support). And as I said yesterday, some officials expect the papers won’t risk being on the losing side in the referendum - and on the wrong side of their readers - by actively advocating a Leave vote.
Still, the most telling criticism of the PM comes from the Telegraph. It points out that Harold Wilson declared ahead of the 1975 referendum that he would not "pretend that we got everything we wanted" but that he'd secured "big and significant improvements". Cameron yesterday presented the draft as a major victory (even re-writing the Tory manifesto at one point), when in fact he should have acknowledged he’d had to give ground in some areas. The voters don’t mind politicians who admit they’ve not got everything they wanted, but they do resent being spun to.
Ah well, at least some of the loons back the PM. Sander Loones, Belgian politician and vice chairman of the New Flemish Alliance, gave Cameron his support on the Today prog.
2) LABOUR’S TAXING TIMES
Can Jeremy Corbyn today exploit Tory tensions on Europe? In many ways it’s an open goal for a leader with a light touch to simply quote various backbenchers - and newspapers - at the PM. But as we all know, open goals at PMQs and in Commons statements are often missed.
Some in Labour suggest Corbyn’s own deep antipathy to a ‘bosses’ Europe’ hampers him (and one of Hilary Benn’s early achievements in the Corbyn leadership was to get him to sign up unequivocally to the In campaign). Corbyn allies believe his ‘scepticism’ on the EU gives him space to attack Cameron.
Meanwhile, Labour has an Opposition day debate on corporate tax avoidance and last night the Government put down an amendment defending its corner. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell may want to pounce on the FT’s report of a quote by French finance minister Michel Sapin. He said HMRC’s Google settlement “seems more the product of a negotiation than the application of the law”. Ouch. There’s a double ouch from Ruth Davidson, the Scots Tory leader, who said yesterday of the Google deal “It doesn't feel fair. And in our hearts, I think we all know it isn't fair”. A gift for Corbyn at PMQs?
As for wider Labour party politics, Tom Watson repeated to the Shadow Cabinet yesterday his warning that disunity at Westminster was hurting the party on the doorstep in Scotland and in England. Jon Ashworth last night used a Progress speech to urge ‘moderates’ to dump their Blairite/Brownite, EdM/DavidM divisions and do some hard thinking about policy as they had in 1964 and 1997. He had this jibe at the Corbynistas too though: "Frankly there was nothing Red Tory about the last Labour government or the last Labour opposition.”
3) CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
The IFS report into Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit reforms is a mixed bag for the Government. On the one hand it says the scheme ‘strengthens incentives’ to work (and then only ‘slightly’). But on the other it says single parents and households where both parents work will lose out.
The IFS says most of the £12bn welfare cuts ordered by the Treasury have landed squarely at the door of the Uni Credit, especially after Osborne was forced to dump his tax credits cuts. But it stresses the new system will be easier to understand.
Still, word in Whitehall is that like other departments the DWP is effectively going into a period of silence for the EU referendum campaign.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this shark eat another shark in an aquarium in South Korea. Looks like Strangers Bar on a Wednesday night.
4) TAKING THE MICHAEL
Polls show that voters aren’t as exercised about the EU itself as much as the European Court of Human Rights, with claims that it’s to blame for the UK being unable to kick out terror suspects like Abu Qatada.
But is there further evidence that the Government is again more concerned with perception rather than substance? And has Michael Gove dumped another bit of Chris Grayling’s programme?
While all the EU hoopla was going on, the Justice Secretary told a Lords select committee that the UK was “not planning to derogate absolutely from any of the [ECHR] rights”. Some Tories may think that’s finally killed all the hints that the Government held in reserve a move to pull out of the ECHR completely. A consultation will come ‘soon’ but it sounds like it won’t be ready for the EU referendum - and won’t be the weapon some Tory MPs had hoped for.
The last Tory manifesto pledged to “break the formal link between the British courts and the European Court of Human Rights and make our own supreme court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK”. The MoJ insists nothing has changed but the FT suggests Gove is now focused on the “bad name” that human rights laws have in the eyes of the British public: that sounds a bit like Charlie Falconer. The Sun focuses more on Gove’s plan for ‘derogations’ for British troops harried by ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers.
5) EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY
Some Tory MPs (and many Labour MPs) were shocked but not surprised yesterday when the Government quietly revived its Sunday trading plans in the Enterprise Bill’s Second Reading. Ministers abandoned a previous attempt on a previous bill in November after a revolt led by Tory David Burrowes, the SNP and Labour.
So why has Sajid Javid gone for it now? Word is that he and George Osborne have decided they can take on the rebels and win, especially as this is a discretionary power open to only those areas that want it. Yet it seems like a needless distraction that allows Labour to both accuse the Government of trying to bury bad news (on the day of the EU frenzy) and ignore genuine concerns of religious groups and unions.
Burrowes won’t back down and has a neat quote in the Sun: “Maggie Thatcher tried and failed to do this in 1984 with a big majority. David Cameron will fail with a small one.” Edward Leigh (a staunch Catholic) has told PolHome he won’t buckle either. But maybe Javid is less flexible than Greg Clark, who dumped the idea from his own bill last year.
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