POLITICS
16/12/2018 13:33 GMT | Updated 16/12/2018 22:38 GMT

Sunday Shows Round-Up: Tory Manoeuvres And Second Brexit Referendum Rumours

"Of course MPs are talking about what on earth we are going to do."

Between Tory backbenchers trying to topple Theresa May and the prime minister pulling the long-awaited vote on her Brexit deal, this week in Westminster has been a rollercoaster. 

As ministers took to the airwaves on Sunday morning, with just one week of parliament left before Christmas, here is where we stand: 

  • Theresa May has returned from Brussels bruised and empty-handed after a failed last-ditch bid to secure changes to her Brexit deal 

  • Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt fancies a “crack” at being prime minister and says the UK would “flourish” without a deal

  • Home Secretary Sajid Javid is launching a plan to cut EU immigration by 80% post-Brexit, in a sign that he too is making a tilt at the Tory leadership

  • In remain land, backbench Labour MPs have been in talks with Tories over backing a second referendum 

  • Independent MP and Brexiteer Frank Field is calling on party leaders to back a debate in parliament that would see MPs choose between six options on the EU

  • Theresa May is not for turning as she accuses Tony Blair of “an insult to the office he once held” by demanding she back a so-called people’s vote

  • Several reports suggest that Labour could table a vote of no-confidence in the government this week which could trigger a general election

So, let’s take one potential political explosion at a time .... 

Is A Second Referendum Happening? 

Education Secretary Damian Hinds was the minister who drew the short straw as he was the first from the cabinet to face questions.

As the PM’s defacto deputy PM David Lidington denied reports he and others were discussing a re-run with Labour MPs, Hinds insisted to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that a second referendum would be “divisive”. 

Hinds also said there was not a majority for a Canada-style free trade deal or a soft Brexit or “Norway plus”, adding that the only way forward was to back the PM. 

When asked if May’s deal could still be passed, Trade Secretary Liam Fox insisted it was “recovering” but was “not perfect”, and called again for EU leaders to intervene on the Northern Irish backstop. 

With the EU rejecting her and Tory Brexiteers joining the DUP to pledge they would vote down May’s deal, what options does the PM have left? 

Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, whose party is demanding a permanent customs union deal and a “strong” single market relationship, said MPs may still “coalesce” around a deal. 

But crucially, she underlined her party’s policy that if it cannot secure a general election, backing a second referendum remains an option for Jeremy Corbyn. 

“In an extreme situation if [a deal] is not possible I share the position that our party has set out that we have to keep all options on the table,” she said. 

“And that we wouldn’t rule out a people’s vote at some point.”

Tory MP Jo Johnson, meanwhile, firmed up reports that ministers were in conversations over a second referendum. 

“Of course MPs are talking about what on earth we are going to do,” he told Ridge, adding that group included members of the cabinet.

The former transport minister, who backs a re-run, said May was now “running the clock” and must put her deal to parliament as soon as possible so MPs could thrash out an alternative. 

Many Labour MPs, who have Brexit-voting constituencies, are sceptical, however. 

One of the foremost campaigners for a “people’s vote” in the Labour Party, Chuka Umunna, said not enough MPs back the move ... yet. 

“I’m honest enough to say, look, do we have the numbers for a people’s vote on this Brexit mess right now in the House of Commons? No, we don’t,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.  

But once May’s deal is rejected and other Brexit options fail, a majority will emerge, he said. 

SNP MPs in Westminster will back a second referendum, Nicola Sturgeon said. 

“Remain should be on the ballot paper,” the First Minister told Ridge.  

But, make no mistake, Tory Brexiteers on the backbenchers and in May’s cabinet will oppose the move. 

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “If there is another referendum, people like me will immediately be demanding a best of three.” 

He went on to tell BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show said the government would also struggle to face down SNP calls for a second independence referendum. 

Will Labour Table A No-Confidence Motion? 

Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow frontbench refer repeatedly to Labour policy on Brexit agreed at its party conference. 

It says that the party must oppose a Tory Brexit and then aim to secure a general election. If they fail in that bid “all options remain on the table”. 

So, when will they make their move and attempt to trigger a general election? 

Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said this was being reviewed “on a daily basis” and should only be put forward when it had a chance of securing support. 

Shadow Local Government Secretary Andrew Gwynne said the priority was to force May to let MPs vote on the deal before Christmas, which, if defeated, would offer Labour a path to a no-confidence vote. 

Asked by Marr if the government was safe until Christmas, Gwynne said: “The clock is ticking. The point here is this government is continuing to attempt to govern as though it has a majority, and this is Theresa May’s problem.” 

The SNP would support a no-confidence and Sturgeon believes it is “possible [it] could succeed”. 

“This is a government that is weak and unstable and is becoming more weak and unstable with every day that passes,” she said. 

The FM added that there was “another merit” to the motion in that it would clarify Labour’s Brexit position. 

“Labour’s position right now is that it won’t back a second EU referendum until it has tried and failed to trigger a general election but if it won’t try to trigger a general election then we are in this catch 22 position and it seems to me Labour is as much a barrier to making progress on Brexit as the Tories are,” she said.  

Could There Be A Free Vote On Brexit Options? 

Former minister Frank Field is calling for parliament to be given the opportunity to “rank its preferences” for potential alternatives to the Government’s Brexit deal.

He said the options should include: 

  • A reformed Northern Irish backstop

  • No deal

  • Extending Article 50

  • A Norway-style deal

  • Canada-style relationship

  • A new referendum.

The result would not bind the government but could steer the PM, says Field.

The education secretary hinted to BBC Five Live’s Jon Pienaar that options could be tested in parliament. 

He said: “I think there is a value in, sort of, flushing out, what these various different options are that as I say some people support very strongly but don’t have a majority in favour of them.”

Fox also appeared to be open to the idea.

“That’s not something we have considered,” he told Marr. “I have to say, personally, I wouldn’t have a huge problem with Parliament as a whole having a say on what the options were.”

What Else Happened? 

Pro-second referendum MP Jo Johnson was asked if he and his brother the former Foreign Secretary would have an awkward Christmas lunch together because of their rival positions on Brexit. 

They are “united as a family right now in dismay at the deal on the table”, said Johnson. 

The education secretary defended a Tory decision to restore the whip for Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke just in time for the no-confidence vote in May’s leadership. 

Griffiths was suspended after he sent 2,000 sexual texts to barmaid Imogen Treharne and a friend in just 21 days, weeks after the birth of his first child.

Elphicke was suspended from the Conservative party in 2017 and was interviewed under caution by police in March after allegations of sex offences. He denies claims of any ’criminal wrongdoing”.

Elphicke remains under police investigation. 

Asked if he was proud of his party’s decision, Hinds replied: “Those two colleagues were elected as Conservative MPs and they are there to represent their constituents. 

“I think it is right that in the confidence vote that they should have been able to be part of that vote as their constituents expect.”  

Brexit-backing Labour MP Kate Hoey accused the Irish government of colluding with the EU.  

She said NI would be “left behind” if the Northern Irish backstop came into force and it would hasten a united Ireland. 

“This is not acceptable. This is just another way of driving Northern Ireland out of the UK,” she said. “I do genuinely find it very dangerous.” 

Nicola Sturgeon has hit out at European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for being “pretty distasteful”. 

This comes after Juncker was accused of being a sexist after footage emerged of him ruffling a woman’s hair. 

Others have criticised him saying May was “kissing” him after a misunderstanding over language had been resolved. 

Oh and the Andrew Marr Show put out this clip rounding up the craziness that was 2018. 

No politics shows next Sunday - or at least none planned for the moment. 

Merry Christmas!