POLITICS
24/05/2018 08:59 BST

The Waugh Zone Thursday May 24, 2018

The five things you need to know about politics today

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Today’s Waugh Zone is written by Owen Bennett.

1. NICE TO SEE EU AGAIN

If any Tory MPs thought they could sneak off early on their summer holidays this year (taking advantage of the lack of a referendum or election to worry about for the first time since 2013), they were set straight last night.

Chief Whip Julian Smith told a meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee the EU Withdrawal Bill will be coming back to the Commons soon after MPs return from the upcoming half-term break.

The Bill has undergone a transformation a la Sandy from Grease since it left the Commons in January. It returns from the Lords with all sorts of new piercings and tattoos, but, as Smith made clear last night, those claiming ‘EEA 4EVA’ and ‘Customs Unions Rule!’ will be lasered off – no matter how painful.

I’ve crunched the numbers on this before, and reckon that once a few Labour leavers are discounted, just 13 Tory MPs need to walk through the opposition lobby to defeat the Government.

That of course also assumes Labour would try to defeat the Government on some amendments. Corbyn’s opposition to the EEA is well known, meaning that the Government might have more breathing space than it appears thanks to Labour’s Brexit position.

2. BORDER FARCE

The head of HMRC, Jon Thompson, is an absolute dream for journalists. I’m seriously considering starting a petition for him to give daily appearances before select committees, such is his ability to deliver news.

Speaking before the Treasury Committee yesterday, Thompson was asked to estimate how much the maximum facilitation (‘max fac’) customs systems would cost businesses a year after Brexit.

Thompson decided to show his working out as he gave the answer, totting up the sum aloud as MPs on the committee looked on. “I’ve started to lose count now at the number of billions,” said Labour’s Rushanara Ali.

Thompson, with the air of a dodgy car mechanic, eventually reached the figure of between £17billion and £20billion in extra paperwork and other issues.

That figure seemed to shock even Brexiteer MPs. John Redwood told the BBC “if it is going to cost this much it is the wrong system”, while a leading member of the ERG looked genuinely pale at the notion of putting that much extra burden on businesses when I spoke to them outside the 1922 meeting last night.

Just as worrying as the cost was the claim that any new customs model could take three to five years to implement – meaning the UK would be leaving its transition period without anything to transition to.

The Times is reporting this morning Downing Street wants the transition period covering customs and trade to be extended until 2023. The proposal has yet to be made to Brussels, but it would certainly risk a huge row with Tory Brexiteers. But seeing as they failed to act over the divorce bill, the continuing of ECJ jurisdiction for another 21 months after Brexit, the UK being a ‘vassal state’ during the transition period, maybe May thinks their bark is worse than their bite.

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3. CONSISTENT CORBYN

One way to solve the Irish border is just to get rid of it completely – and not in a fantastical “let’s make it invisible way”.

Reunification of the island of Ireland has long been a totem of the left of UK politics, and a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn yesterday reaffirmed the Labour leader’s long held views in that area: “Over the years [Corbyn] made his position clear that a majority of those people across the whole island of Ireland wanted to see that outcome — a united Ireland.”

The Telegraph splash on the comments today, which come ahead of Corbyn’s first official visit to Belfast since becoming Labour leader.

Despite the dramatic headlines, it is hardly surprising that a man who famously hasn’t changed his views in 30 years, hasn’t changed his views.

Another area of seismic reform Corbyn backs is abolition of the House of Lords. Indeed, as Paul Waugh revealed yesterday, all new Labour peers, including the three announced on the eve of the Royal wedding, must commit to voting in favour of the second chambers abolition should the opportunity arise.

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch as At The Races presenter Hayley Moore catches a loose horse. Incredible.

4. HEALTH CHEQUE

Away from Brexit (I know, it feels nice doesn’t it?), and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated the health service will need a spending increase of 3.3% every year for the next decade and a half if it is to continue to keep providing the level of service it does today.

That works out as a tax increase per household of £2,000 over the next 15 years.

The report conclude that with the UK’s older population growing rapidly, along with the numbers suffering chronic health problems, and a growing pay and drugs bill, demands on the health service will only increase.

The study claims that to make even moderate improvements to the NHS, annual rises of nearer 4% would be required in the medium term, and 5% in the short term, to make a dent in waiting times and under-funding in mental health. 

Added to this, the cost of adult social care - which local councils say is already at crisis point - is also set to creep up, taking the total cost of health spending to between 2% and 3% of the national income.

NHS Confederation chief Niall Dickson said the report made clear that if the UK wants a high-quality health service “we will have to pay for it”.

Of course, this report assumes Boris doesn’t deliver that £350million a week extra funding after Brexit - which I think is a shameful lack of faith in the Foreign Secretary.

5. KOREA CHANGE 

That Nobel Peace Prize might be getting a little bit further from Donald Trump’s grasp this morning. According to Choe Son Hui, a North Korean Foreign Minister, the much hyped meeting between the US President and Kim Jong UN could be scrapped…and replaced by nuclear war.

According to North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency, Choe said: “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”

Her comments came after US Vice President Mike Pence said earlier in the week North Korea could go the same way as Libya if it doesn’t halt its weapons programme.

Of course, Pyonyang fears it will go the same way as Libya if it does give up its weapons. After all, Colonel Gadaffi was overthrown by Western-backed rebels once he had agreed to stop producing weapons of mass destruction.

Yet despite the predictably fiery rhetoric from both sides, CNN is reporting that preparations for the meeting are going ahead.

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