The five things you need to know on Monday September 5, 2016…
1) THE IMM-MAY-GRATION GAME
The hot news from China is that Theresa May has cast doubt on the idea of introducing a points-based immigration system – a system advocated by many of her Cabinet colleagues during the EU referendum campaign. The PM’s words were on the plane to reporters on her way out to the G20, but this was not a case of her sitting back, kicking off her heels and being indiscreet over a glass of in-flight fizz.
It was in fact all part of her default-setting as the longest serving Home Secretary of modern times. “You really don’t want to ask a former Home Secretary about the intricacies of a points-based system…” she told hacks, before referring to its complexities and the fact it wasn’t a ‘silver bullet’.
Does this necessarily conflict with the Cabinet’s decision last week that Brexit “must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe”? Well, that word ‘controls’ is elastic, for a start. And when May says ‘Brexit means Brexit’ she’s really only sending the message that the UK will definitely no longer be a member of the EU (unlike Owen Smith, for example).
Crucially, she also wants maximum flexibility over what Brexit will look like. What’s notable is that Eurosceps are not kicking off over they points-based remarks, with Bernard Jenkin telling Westminster Hour she was right to ‘reduce expectations’ about how quickly migration control could be delivered. Some on the Right have long criticised the points-based idea as overly bureaucratic (the fact that Yvette Cooper backed a version of it has not endeared it to Mrs May either). It may well be May is pointing to EU nationals having to get work and travel visas, though the details are unclear.
It wasn’t an easy start to the summit for May, with Obama stressing his priorities are a trans-pacific and US-EU trade deal before any UK-US deal. There was a lovely moment in the presser where the Mail’s Jason Groves asked the Prez if he regretted making his ‘back of the queue’ threat, “or are you really going to punish us for taking a democratic decision?” Obama said “That's quite an editorial question…” Quick as a flash, and to laughter, Groves explained, deadpan: “I work for the Daily Mail”.
With the Japanese also setting out their own worries about Brexit, there was some good news from the Australian PM that he wanted a swift bilateral trade deal (though trade with Australia isn’t quite in the same league as some others). The real contrast is between May’s warning on Marr that it won’t be ‘plain sailing’, and David Davis’ overnight statement that “Brexit isn't about making the best of a bad job. It is about seizing the huge and exciting opportunities that will flow from a new place for Britain in the world”. DD has his big Parliamentary moment today with a Commons statement on his summer work on Brexit.
Meanwhile a new ComRes poll for BBC 5 Live has found that while 9/10 Leavers were optimistic about Brexit, upto 43% of young people have thought about emigrating.
2) NUCLEAR FISHIN’
The big question for May’s premiership is whether she can avoid the fate of another previous incumbent who was feted for their performance in a big department before realising No10 is a different ballgame: yes, one Gordon Brown. Like Gordo, May loves a bit of micromanagement. And just as GB tried to turn the G20 into being all about the economy, May was stressing this G20 should take on more duties on the security and counter-terrorism front.
Security is certainly the big theme on the vexed decision about Hinkley Point’s planned new nuclear reactor. No.10 makes clear a decision is coming at the end of the month, which makes for an interesting bilateral with China’s President Xi this morning. The Chinese are famously sticklers for protocol so the fact that this one-on-one meeting will come after the G20 finishes may suggest to some we are already in the ‘sin bin’ over Hinkley.
But May didn’t exactly quash the talk awash in Whitehall that our spooks have deep misgivings about letting the Chinese anywhere near sensitive installations like nuclear power plants. In her presser yesterday, she was asked directly if she was getting the National Security Council to assess the security implications, and replied: “I’ll be looking at ALL the evidence around this issue. The way I work is that I don’t just take an instant decision; I actually look at the evidence, take the advice, consider it properly, and then come to a decision..” Will Emily Thornberry point out to DD today that that’s exactly what May did during the referendum campaign – and came out on the side of Remain…?
Osborne’s ‘golden era’ of new relations with the Chinese may well sour if Hickley is off (and some MPs point out the plans for a Chinese role in a new Essex nuke plant are just as contentious). When asked on the plane directly if she “trusts” the Chinese Government, the PM simply replied: “Of course we have a relationship with them”. Of course, relationships and trust don’t always go together.
3) SHADOW BOXING
Monday night is usually Fight Night between the PLP and Jeremy Corbyn. Tonight, the PLP will discuss Clive Betts’ plan to bring back Shadow Cabinet elections (axed by Ed Miliband) as a way of healing the party after the leadership election. Corbyn and Owen Smith won’t be present as they will be at the Labour Womens Hustings at 7pm (where some in team Corbyn expect hostile questions as they believe Progress has a big role).
Several former Shadow Cabinet ministers are weighing up just whether to make a return once JC wins (and many assume he will). Some Corbyn supporters detected a note of conciliation from Keir Starmer, for example, on Sky yesterday (though Kerry McCarthy ruled it out on 5Live). Giving the PLP a vote on who should be in the Shad Cab is one way to deliver the unity Corbyn clearly wants. Some close to him are not opposed to the idea, but there are caveats.
First, the leader will be able to choose who gets which job, as used to be traditional, and the 50-50 gender split is politically very desirable. But secondly, Corbyn allies tell me they will want the NEC to look at expanding the Shad Cab election to beyond MPs and included members in a ballot too. “Should this just be one group of people in SW1A or should it be opened to the whole membership?” one asks.
Smith continued his campaign this morning with warnings that the Tories will push through deeper cuts post-Brexit. Corbyn laid out plans for a £300m US-style 'Advanced Research Agency' for energy science and climate change. Both wings of the party seem to agree on tax transparency these days. Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Chief Secretary, blogs for us on the topic and Caroline Flint explains why she’s tabled her amendment to the Finance Bill on country-by-country reporting. Watch for possible Tory rebels on this and other votes this week.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
In case you missed it, watch this glorious gif of Ed Balls’ dad-dancing on Strictly
4) VAZ WASHES WHITER
This summer, Keith Vaz told Jeremy Corbyn that “many regard the Chakrabarti Report as a whitewash”, pointing to the lack of figures and evidence not taken from Ken Livingstone. Today, Westminster is getting used to the idea that Vaz’s has been telling male escorts that he’s “a washing machine salesman called Jim”. (Vaz being Vaz, he apparently sold not any old washing machines but ‘industrial’ ones).
The Home Affairs Select Committee chairman was the subject of a classic tabloid story yesterday as the Sunday Mirror released footage of him paying for sex and offering to pay for drugs. At first he suggested he would step aside as chairman, but later issued a more considered statement that he would announce on Tuesday just what his next move would be.
Many people couldn’t give two hoots about Vaz’s private life, but the paper justifies its story on the grounds of a possible conflict of interest in that the Committee has been investigating prostitution as well as drugs. Peter Tatchell told Today that Vaz “he has not broken any laws and has a strong record of supporting gay rights…and decriminalisation of sex work” and cannot be accused of hypocrisy. Andrew Marr during his paper review yesterday added “I cannot see much hypocrisy”.
Vaz was one of just three incumbent select committee chairs to face re-election last year and saw off a challenge from Fiona McTaggart. While his fellow committee members may not want to be seen kicking him while he’s down, they may not (in Vaz’s own words) want ‘any distraction’ from the committee’s important work. Reports in to anti-semitism and FGM are due in coming days.
Vaz's political allegiances in the leadership have sometimes confused colleagues. He came out for Owen Smith at a campaign event. But at a key NEC meeting this year he said he'd nominate Corbyn to get on the ballot, saying 'if my leader asks me to support him, I will'.
5) NHS PRIORITIES
Junior doctors are facing a fresh warning that that their strike plans may be a step too far. The GMC, which oversees disciplinary action, sounds more hardball than Jeremy Hunt, stating that it will act to protect patients.
Niall Dickson, who used to be the BBC’s health reporter but has since gone through a range of health think tank jobs and is now chief exec of the watchdog, cited the 1983 Medical Act and said doctors could face sanctions if “their behaviour has fallen consistently or seriously below the standards required”. “Where we are presented with evidence that a doctor’s actions may have directly led to a patient or patients coming to significant harm, we would be obliged to investigate and if necessary take appropriate action.”
The Times, meanwhile, has a neat story adding up all the payouts to NHS bosses since 2010. Almost £2 billion has been paid to NHS managers in redundancy settlements. More than 3,000 health bosses have been given payouts of more than £100,000, with almost 500 paid above £200,000. Yes, you read that right.
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