1. RUDD-ER-LESS SHIP
With news of the historic Korean summit breaking overnight, Amber Rudd will be mightily relieved that another big story has come along to distract the media from her woes over Windrush and the EU customs union. It’s hard to overstate just what a mess the Home Secretary was in yesterday over immigration, telling the Commons she would scrap removals targets that she had the day before said did not exist. Even MPs on her own side were wondering whether things were so bad that a resignation was looming.
To cap it all, she then went to the Press Gallery lunch and when asked directly for her view on the customs union replied: “I’m not going to be drawn on that. We still have a few discussions to be had in a really positive, consensual and easy way among some of my cabinet colleagues in order to arrive at a final position.” And asked how she’d vote if she were a backbencher. she said: “I’m committed to the government’s position, which to some extent we are still working on.” Neither was the PM’s ‘red line’ that the UK is definitely not going to have any kind of customs union with the EU after Brexit. Amid clear concern in No.10, she was forced to tweet a ‘clarification’, but one that merely said we would be leaving ‘the’ customs union.
Some think it was a slip of the tongue and she clearly meant the ‘end-state’ UK-EU trade deal was what was still being ‘worked on’. Yet the Times has sources suggesting she let slip her true thoughts, a kind of in-el-vino-veritas amid all the lunchtime O’Boozes. One ally says ‘I think Amber has decided to throw caution to the wind’. Still, a minister told me that he thought Rudd’s string of blunders of late were the result of the constant fire-fighting she’d been engaged in for the past fortnight: “She’s knackered and it shows”. That’s not a great recommendation for someone tipped as a possible Prime Minister.
Last night, Osborne protege Matt Hancock struggled on Question Time as he was asked ‘would staying in the customs union still deliver Brexit?’ ‘Brexit means leaving the EU…erm…’ (Speaking of which, ex Labour adviser Theo Bertram has another nice Twitter thread about how politicians should behave on BBCQT) But there’s a much bigger issue here: just what does it take to get a Cabinet minister to resign in May’s government? Being misleading about porn is a sackable offence, but endangering a British citizen in Iran is not. A lack of candour about trips to Israel gets you the bullet, but ruining the lives of the Windrush generation doesn’t. It’s all a reminder that May’s next reshuffle is her very last throw of the dice. Which is why that change of her top team may not happen for quite some time yet.
2. DON ROAMIN’
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has made an historic trip, meeting the South Korean president in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. It’s proof that diplomacy can change years of antagonism dramatically and quickly, but the chances of Donald Trump somehow shaking hands with his critics in the UK is much less likely. Yes, Friday July 13 is the date for the US President’s ‘working visit’, the White House announced.
After his love-in this week with Emmanuel Macron, including some very strange hand-holding, it’s obvious that Trump is more excited about meeting the Queen than Theresa May. And so there’s talk about the venues not being No.10 but Windsor Castle, Chequers and GCHQ – all of them more difficult to pack with protestors than Parliament Square. There was even talk of him making a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland (his mother is from Lewis) and meeting the Queen at Balmoral, well away from any demos, but he may not have time.
Woody Johnson, US ambassador to the UK, this morning appeared on LBC to predict that Trump will still get a full state visit in 2019. “That state visit will be put off a little bit, maybe next year he will do that.” But Johnson also suggested that the President would indeed visit London itself: “He will definitely be coming to London…he’s very thick-skinned”. What’s for sure is that the protestors will now try their damnedest to make sure they’re seen and heard and there’ll be a game of cat and mouse about just where he’ll be.
We report that within an hour of the announcement 28,000 people had signed up to a Facebook event plotting a mass protest. There may still be a 21-bum salute as part of the #showyourrumptotrump campaign to get Brits to moon their displeasure. Labour politicians will turn up wherever the demos take place, with David Lammy and Sadiq Khan likely to be in the forefront. What is unclear is whether Trump will meet Jeremy Corbyn, and what Corbyn will do if given an invitation.
3. BRUSSELS DOUBTS
With Amber Rudd helpfully keeping the customs union in the headlines, the FT splashes on a warning from Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, quashing claims that the EU has more to lose than Britain if it cuts off the City of London from full market access. Barnier told a financial industry conference in Sofia that claims by Bank of England governor Mark Carney and other UK officials that “the EU desperately needs the City of London” were false.
And the border wars continue. The Sun reports yet more trouble for the Government’s ‘bespoke’ customs proposals. It says that ministers blew £680k on a ‘sci fi’ Irish border plan, having drafted in consultancy firm McKinsey & Company to assess the “commercial feasibility” of its scheme. One EU diplomat tells the paper the idea is a “fantasy” and the UK’s obsession with it repeatedly put talks on the border “back to square one”. The Cabinet Brexit sub-committee will next week discuss the issue and the Guardian reports Brexiteers will push the PM to dump the ‘hybrid’ idea of the UK collective EU tariffs on Brussels’ behalf. “The hybrid model is the unicorn model,” one senior Leaver said.
If you want a clue as to how complex any solution will be, SkyNews’s Dublin correspondent Darren McCaffrey reveals that a new mapping exercise showing Ireland has 208 border crossings – compared to 137 between the ENTIRE European Union and countries that border it to the east.
Nicky Morgan and Yvette Cooper’s cross-party customs union motion was passed unopposed in the Commons yesterday, but it was the speeches that mattered more. And two Tory backbenchers who did not rebel last December made ominous noises. Ed Vaizey said: “If it is in the interests of our economy to be in a customs union, it should be able to do so without being accused of betraying Brexit”. George Freeman added that his constituents liked that Margaret Thatcher had taken the UK into the Single Market, but didn’t want to be in the EU.
You catch up on all things Brexity with our Owen’s weekly Brexit Briefing HERE.
4. WEMBLEY STAY-DIUM
The possible sale of Wembley to American football billionaire Shahid Khan (known as ‘the Tache with the Cash’) has unsurprisingly sparked a major tabloid backlash. The real political issue is that the stadium wouldn’t ever have been rebuilt without public funds - Sport England gave £78 million, DCMS £18 million and the Greater London Authority £16 million. Many at the time had doubts but it was seen as worth it to replace the frankly awful old Wembley with a modern alternative. There are undoubted upsides to the £900m offer from Khan, not least plans by the Football Assocation to plough lots of the cash into grassroots football and get more England games played outside London. But ministers will be nervous.
Last night, Jeremy Corbyn (a genuine football fan, unlike some party leaders who support AstonHamChelsea) was pictured in the crowd at Arsenal for their Europa League match. If he comes out strongly against the sale as party policy, it could well be another touch of populism that gets him invaluable press in the red tops. There’s another populist football cause that could take off too: safe standing in grounds. A petition this week reached the 100,000 signatures required for MPs to debate it. Former No10 aide Alan Sendorek blogs for HuffPost today, urging Sports Minister Tracey Crouch to reconsider the idea.
5. PROTECT AND SERVE
It’s a Friday but the Commons is sitting for Private Members’ Bills and Labour’s Chris Bryant has his Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill up first today. He’s amended it to include protection from not just physical but sexual assaults. As horrifying it is to think the public would actually do this to 999 staff, the scale of the problem is much bigger than anyone thought. The GMB union, which has led the way on the issue, has done a Freedom of Information Act survey and found reported sexual assaults on ambulance staff have increased by 211 per cent over five years – that’s 688 since 2012/13.
Today, we reveal a new GMB survey showing that 39% of ambulance staff have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder during their service – that’s twice as high as it is for soldiers returning from active duty. Ambulance staff report suffering from PTSD and other mental health conditions as a result of assaults while helping the public. Punched, kicked in the face, fingers broken, slapped by drunken relatives, the cases are shocking indeed. The ‘Protect the Protectors Bill’, as it’s known, is one step towards toughening up sentences for those found guilty.
Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out folks. Listen to us chinwag about Amber Rudd’s future, the Customs Union, Labour’s anti-semitism row and the appalling case of a homeless family forced to live in a budget hotel room for two years. Oh, and there’s a quiz on statues of famous people near Parliament. To listen on iTunes click HERE, on Audioboom click HERE.
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