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1) The Brexiteers Get A Win
Parliament was positively crackling with tension this week as the Tory civil war over Brexit cranked up another notch. At times it was hard to know where to look as skirmishes seemed to break out all over the estate.
Anna Soubry delivered the speech of the week (sorry Boris) as she tore into the Hard Brexiteers in her own party on Monday. Soubry – and other pro-EU Tories – were furious Theresa May accepted an amendment to the customs Bill which they believe goes against a key part of the Chequers Agreement.
The amendment would stop the UK collecting EU tariffs on goods unless EU countries reciprocate. Anti-Brexiteers fear this will scupper talks with Brussels as the EU will not accept such a deal, which will effectively mean having to install new customs systems on its borders.
Soubry was furious: “The only reason that the government has accepted these amendments is because it is frightened of somewhere in the region of 40 members of parliament - the hard, no deal Brexiteers, who should have been seen off a long time ago and should be seen off.”
She also blasted “ideologically driven” colleagues with a “gold-plated pension and inherited wealth” for backing Brexit to the detriment of people’s jobs.
When it came to the vote, the Government narrowly won by 305 votes to 302.
While Defence Minister Guto Bebb quit his post in order to vote against the amendment, Lib Dem duo Sir Vince Cable and Tim Farron didn’t even bother to turn up.
Sir Vince was at a meeting off the parliamentary estate, while Farron was taking part in a debate on…you guessed it, gay sex.
2) Is That A Rulebook You’re Throwing Out The Window, Or Your Career?
Having lost the fight on Monday, pro-EU Tories were determined to force through their own amendment on Tuesday which really would have scuppered the Chequers Agreement.
The change to the Trade Bill would have seen May having to negotiate keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU, if no other deal could be struck by January.
The Government defeated the amendment with a majority of just six – with the final result being 307 to 301.
Prior to the vote, the Tory whips had been very busy. Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher told MPs that if the amendment passed, the Government would pull the Bill and trigger a General Election (not sure how under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but there we are).
But the real focus of attention is on the actions of Chief Whip Julian Smith. Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson, who is off on maternity leave, noticed after the vote that Brandon Lewis, the Tory MP paired with her and therefore who shouldn’t have voted, indeed did.
Swinson was furious, and on Twitter accused the Tories of “cheating” as she asked May: “How low will your government swoop?”.
Smith and Lewis both claimed it was an error, but that story seemed to unravel over the next few days. Other Tory MPs who were paired told The Times they too were asked to break the convention.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reported that, according to Tory sources, Smith considered breaking the pairing arrangement, decided against it, then accidentally did break it in the case of Lewis.
Is that clear? No, of course it’s not, because it’s a dog-ate-my-homework excuse. May is backing her chief whip for now, but those of you who open this email on a Friday or Saturday may already know the outcome to this drama.
Some MPs who will be pleased all the attention is on Julian Smith are the four Labour MPs who voted with the Tories on Tuesday - five if you count Kelvin Hopkins who is sitting as an independent while currently suspended from the party.
If that group had voted the other way, the Tories would have lost and an election would have been on its way.
Labour activists in the seats of the four - particularly Kate Hoey’s Remain-heavy constituency of Vauxhall - are furious, with talks of deselection in the air.
3) Boris Johnson Got To Be Centre Of Attention. Again.
It was the most anticipated speech in the Commons since, well, David Davis’s intervention from the backbenches on Monday.
While Davis focused on the technical aspects of the Customs Bill, Boris Johnson used his resignation speech on Wednesday to try to inject some emotion and fire into the Brexit debate – as if that’s what it had been lacking.
“It is not too late to save Brexit. We have time in the negotiations. We have changed tack once, and we can change again,” said the former Foreign Secretary, with his supporters nodding sagely around him.
The main thrust of the speech was the Prime Minister should return to her Lancaster House principles of completely leaving the Single Market and ending all jurisdiction of the ECJ, “not the miserable permanent limbo of Chequers and not the democratic disaster of “ongoing harmonisation” with no way out and no say for the UK.”
It got exactly reception you would expect from exactly the people you would expect to give it. Jacob Rees-Mogg dubbed it “the speech of a statesman”, while Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer described it as the “usual self serving hot air from Johnson.”
May was not in the Chamber to hear the speech, and she was also absent when former Brexit Minister Steve Baker made a much more worrying intervention.
As the Prime Minister was lapping up applause from Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee – and also reveling in Middlesbrough South MP Simon Clarke telling her in front of the gathering he was withdrawing his vote of no confidence letter – Baker was planting a ticking bomb under her Brexit plan.
He claimed that as the SNP and Labour would vote down May’s deal for partisan reasons, it would come to Tory MPs as to whether the agreement gets through Parliament.
Baker claimed those who think there are just 40 MPs he could call on to vote against the deal “are out by a factor, not a fraction.”
4) Meanwhile Over In Brussels...
It is easy to forget, but there is actually another side in these negotiations – the EU. Dominic Raab took his first trip to Brussels today since being appointed Brexit Secretary to meet with his opposite number, Michel Barnier.
After the Ant-and-Dec like symmetry of Davis and Barnier, who sometimes seemed to get on so well they could finish each others…sandwiches, Raab v Barnier is a different proposition.
The former Housing Minister does have the air of looking slightly more digital than his analogue opponent, but then the photos had the feel of Barnier welcoming a new junior partner to his law firm.
There was the usual exchange of gifts, with Barnier handing over a biography of Nelson Mandela, while Raab presented a copy of the essay ‘The Hedgehog and The Fox’ by Isaiah Berlin.
With the pleasantries out of the way, Raab was clear he wanted to crack on with the talks.
“I came out today to discuss the detailed proposals in our White Paper and I am looking forward to, with renewed energy, vigour and vim, looking at the details of this,” he said.
While Raab was trying to strike an upbeat note, the EU was preparing for a more disastrous scenario. A 16-page document was released by the European Commission calling on the EU27 and businesses to step-up preparations for ‘no deal’.
One of the most worrying warnings is that UK citizens may require a visa to visit EU countries. More Project Fear? Or is that the harsh reality of ‘no deal’?
5) Are We Actually Prepared For ANYTHING At All?
The EU might be stepping up preparations for ‘no deal’, but the UK seems to be some way off getting ready to deliver the deal it actually wants.
Appearing in front of the Liaison Committee this week – made up of the chairs from Parliament’s Select Committees – Theresa May was asked about customs systems preparations.
She admitted that her preferred customs system might not be completely ready by the time the transition period comes to an end, saying: “The majority of what is required for this facilitated customs arrangement will definitely - as we have indicated - be in place by December 2020. There is a question as to the speed with which the repayment mechanism would be in place. So far the suggestion is that could take longer to be put into place. That has yet to be finally determined.”
May also revealed that in next two months around 70 “technical notices” will be sent to “UK citizens and businesses” advising what needs to be done in the case of ‘no deal’.
Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…
At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.
John Mills on why it looks like we might not leave the EU - and that’s a lamentable outcome for the UK
Chuchu Nwegu on why Justine Greening’s student constituents support her call for a second referendum
Paddy Ashdown asks what now if no Brexit outcome can reach a Commons majority
Georgina Wright and Matt Bevington ask what Britain’s role in the world will look like after Brexit