The Waugh Zone Friday February 18, 2019

The five things you need to know about politics today
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This morning’s Waugh Zone is from Ned Simons. Paul is stockpiling puns but will return soon.

Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker, Anne Coffey have all resigned from the Labour Party.

A few minutes ago the Labour split which has been somehow imminent for a very long time, finally happened. Under the banner of ‘The Independent Group’, the MPs spoke at a packed press conference at County Hall over the river from parliament.

Berger said Labour had been consumed by a culture of “bullying, bigotry and intimidation”. Leslie hit out at Corbyn’s Brexit position and said the party had now been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”. Gapes said Corbyn would “threaten our security” were he ever to become prime minister.

Speaking last, Umunna, invited other MPs from all parties to join the new gang. “It is time we dumped this country’s old fashioned politics and created an alternative that does justice to who we are today,” he said.

In a joint statement the seven MPs said:

“Our primary duty as Members of Parliament is to put the best interests of our constituents and our country first. Yet like so many others, we believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country. Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interests. As an Independent Group we aim to recognise the value of healthy debate, show tolerance towards different opinions and seek to reach across outdated divides and build consensus to tackle Britain’s problems.”

Jeremy Corbyn, asked on his doorstep about the impending breakaway this morning told reporters: “Good morning, how nice it is to see you all here.” In a statement after the announcement, the Labour leader said he was “disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945”.

As MPs loyal to Corbyn circulated a loyalty pledge online yesterday, John McDonnell said he did not see “any need for anybody to split from the party”. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, the shadow chancellor warned it “would be like the 1980s” when the creation of the SDP “installed Mrs Thatcher in power”.

Margaret Beckett, a one-time Labour interim-leader, warned a split would be a “big mistake”. And Caroline Flint last week told HuffPost that Labour MPs considering quitting the party would be “responsible for ensuring Tory governments”.

Len McCluskey meanwhile, was a tad blunter. He told 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “If you are going to leave, for God’s sake get on with it and stop pestering us through the media and through the TV, and let the rest of us fight for a better Britain or stay and help us.” Now they have.

Jeremy Hunt is in Brussels for the start of a tour of four European capitals to discuss Brexit. Arriving at the meeting of EU foreign ministers this morning he called for “trust and vision” on both sides of the negotiations. “There is a way through, we know how we can get a majority in Parliament,” he claimed, boldly.

Hunt tweeted this morning ahead of his trip: “It’s going to be busy.” Which is more than we can say for parliament. It was supposed to be Commons recess this week but the government cancelled it due to the “urgent” fact that we are leaving the EU in a matter of weeks. But with a revised deal not yet agreed, there is little for MPs to do other than stew. Those who are there at least.

Theresa May will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the coming days. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will also hold talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier today.

Over the weekend, Jeremy Wright admitted the PM might not try to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to secure changes to the backstop - something the EU has repeatedly ruled out. The culture secretary said it was the “objective” of amending the fallback position that mattered not the “mechanism”.

David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, denied this morning the visits by ministers to Brussels were essentially pointless given the EU has so far refused to budge. “They are a lot more than courtesy calls,” Lidington told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is due to make a speech tomorrow on Brexit. Lidington said it would set out how the backstop “cannot be used to trap the UK indefinitely”.

Today the focus is on Labour. But of course it is not just Corbyn’s party that is split. Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood has said the PM should hold a free vote by the end of this month on taking a no-deal Brexit off the table. He told Pienaar’s Politics there were “many ministers” who felt the same. And The Daily Telegraph reports this morning that moderate Conservatives, including Sir Alan Duncan and Sarah Wollaston, are facing deselection battles in their constituencies from hardline Brexiteers.

Aware from Westminster politics, runaway schoolgirl Shamima Begum has claimed she was “just a housewife” when she left Britain to join Islamic State (IS) in Syria and does not regret her decision. Begum, who has given birth to a baby boy, accepted she may have made a mistake. But told Sky News: “I don’t regret it because it’s changed me as a person. It’s made me stronger, tougher, you know. I married my husband, I wouldn’t have found someone like him back in the UK. I had my kids, I did have a good time there. It’s just that then things got harder and I couldn’t take it any more and I had to leave.” The teenager was one of three schoolgirls, along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, from Bethnal Green Academy who left the UK to travel to Syria in February 2015.

Fresh from reportedly upsetting the Chinese, and the Treasury, with a bellicose speech last week, Gavin Williamson jumped into a freezing cold hole in the Arctic Circle.

Tributes have been paid to veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn following his death at the age of 84. The MP for Newport West died on Sunday after representing his constituency for more than three decades. Corbyn described him as an “independent thinker”. First Minister of Wales and Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford said Flynn was a “giant of the Welsh Labour movement”. Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said: “Very sorry to hear of Paul Flynn’s passing. My thoughts & prayers are with his family.

Social media platforms should comply with a compulsory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to tackle harmful or illegal content on their sites, a Commons committee has demanded. In a major report, MPs warned that democracy is at risk from the “malicious and relentless” targeting of citizens with disinformation and adverts from unidentifiable sources, as they called for reform to electoral communication laws.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said ethics guidelines are needed to set out what is and what is not acceptable on social media, including harmful and illegal content that has been referred to the platforms by users or identified by the companies. If tech companies fail to meet their obligations under the code, then an independent regulator should be able to launch legal proceedings against them and have the power to issue large fines, the MPs said.

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Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Paul Waugh(paul.waugh@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com), Rachel Wearmouth (rachel.wearmouth@huffpost.com) and Jasmin Gray (jasmin.gray@huffpost.com) and Arj Singh (arj.singh@huffpost.com)

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