1. CARNEY BLARNEY
We hacks always get suspicious when No.10 tell us next to nothing about a Cabinet meeting, particularly a three-and-a-half-hour meeting about a no-deal Brexit. Those suspicions turned out to be well founded after it emerged that Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told ministers of the worst case scenarios, including a 35% crash in house prices over three years. Now, of course this is all about stress tests and not ‘forecasts’, but Carney surely knew what he was doing.
The Times’ Francis Elliott had the story, plus a fascinating vignette that Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom observed that a housing crash would hit older voters - many of them Leave voters - hardest. (Funnily enough, no one pointed out a housing crash would make homes more affordable for younger voters). The Sun says Matt Hancock and Sajid Javid asked Carney what action could be taken to mitigate the nightmare scenario, but of course the real answer from Theresa May is: back Chequers.
Meanwhile, No.10 was pretty robust in response to suggestions by the French Europe minister Natalie Loiseau that Eurostar trains could be stopped from entering France after Brexit if there was a chaotic no-deal outcome. “Come on, it’s in everybody’s interests for that not to happen,” the PM’s spokesman told us. And of course that’s precisely why many Tory MPs think there will probably be a string of bilateral deals with countries like France to sort such issues. Not so much no-deal, as lots of mini-deals, should EU27 talks collapse.
But to my ear, what was more interesting was the way Loiseau said that France didn’t want a ‘blindfold Brexit’ where key negotiating issues were deferred until the UK had left the EU in March and then started its ‘transition’ to full exit. She was firmly against a fudge that agreed the withdrawal terms but put the future relations in a vaguely worded statement. That’s something where Brexiteers would probably agree with her. Still, my money is on Barnier and May coming up with precisely that kind of fudge.
2. GENERATION GAME
George Freeman is one of the more thoughtful Tory backbenchers and his former role as the PM’s policy chief has given him a profile that many others lack. He’s also a former Remainer who now wants Brexit to work. So it’s no surprise that lots of people sat up and took notice when he told the Times event last night: “I think we need a new energy, a new direction, a new direction leader to take us forward… my advice would be to frame it in those terms, seal the deal for a new generation and hand the torch of responsibility on to them.”
Freeman didn’t back off on the Today programme this morning. He said “this winter there’s a danger in Parliament of a real crisis” if Tory MPs fail to back Chequers. He said they should “let the Prime Minister get Brexit over the line at the end of March” and then she could step aside - and trigger a leadership contest to find a successor who could work out what kind of Brexit the UK needed. He even suggested May should make her intentions clear as soon as she returns from Brussels with her withdrawal deal. Freeman said the Tory leadership candidates could emerge “during the spring” and a contest could be “done very quickly in a matter of months” over the summer. Note again that this is all predicated on separating out the withdrawal agreement from the ‘future framework’ deal on EU-UK trade.
Freeman’s new generation would obviously not include anyone like Michael Gove or Boris Johnson (it’s the Johnny Mercers, Tom Tugendhats, Penny Mordaunts, Dom Raabs many colleagues will suspect he was referring to). But after a quiet few days, Boris was back in the public eye last night as he gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC.
He didn’t back off his criticism of Chequers, talking about the UK being ‘sucked back by the tractor beam of Brussels’. And when asked which two things the May government could fix, he replied ‘social mobility’ and, wait for it, building a 24-hour hub airport “not in my constituency”. As ever with Boris, it’s always about him. Speaking of which, I have Boris-related news story to go live later tonight which has the merit of being wonderfully counter-intuitive.
3. CREATION MYTH
Mark Serwotka, the PCS union chief, has been caught on video at a TUC fringe event suggesting that Israel decided to ‘create’ the anti-semitism row that has plagued Labour. The Indy’s Ben Kentish got the scoop, with Serwotka saying: “Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’ll tell you what - one of the best forms of trying to hide from the atrocities that you are committing is to go on the offensive and to actually create a story that does not exist for people on this platform, the trade union movement or, I have to say, for the leader of the Labour party.”
Serwotka’s allies will probably claim that he was not saying Israel itself made up the allegations of anti-semitic abuse, but rather that it was exploiting them to ‘create’ a narrative of a systemic racism that he didn’t recognise among trade unionists or Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he is not just the PCS general secretary, he is as of two days ago the President of the TUC itself. And his critics believe his words are yet another example of the Left attempting to deny the extent or viciousness of the abuse suffered by Jews at the hands of some Labour members. HuffPost revealed in 2016 how Serwotka was allowed to rejoin Labour, having been barred from voting in the 2015 leadership election (he was expelled in the 1990s).
With uncanny timing, Labour peer Jon Mendelsohn had earlier told a Lords debate that the ‘non-Labour party Left’ had for years shown a denial of the seriousness of anti-semitism and they had now ‘entered en masse’ and caused current crisis. “It astounds me that it is a revelation no longer worthy of questioning that I too believe that the leader of my party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a perpetrator of anti-Semitism.” Meanwhile, despite being defended by Jon Lansman, activist Ewa Jasiewicz pulled out of the Momentum-backed World Transformed event after the controversy over her daubinng grafitti on a Warsaw Ghetto wall.
And finally, Labour backbencher Rosie Duffield has told the Guardian she’s considering her future as an MP after a few activists in her constituency conflated her opposition to anti-semitism with criticism of Corbyn. “Sometimes you have to ask yourself if positives outweigh negatives, and whether it is worth the effect it is having on my family,” she said. Corbyn has been privately supportive, but he should have done more publicly to back her, she says.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this dad give his daughter some back-to-school motivation advice.
4. BISH BASHED
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gets both barrels from the Mail for ‘hypocrisy’ as it details the Church of England’s multi-million pound investments in Amazon. At least two of the CofE’s cathedrals are also advertising zero-hours contract jobs, described by Welby at the TUC this week as the ‘reincarnation of an ancient evil’.
A string of Tory MPs have piled in with Ben Bradley declaring: “You would like to think the Archbishop could practise what he preaches, but apparently not. The Archbishop would like you to keep a gig economy delivery driver in a job by purchasing his book on Amazon.” The Church says its cash helps change from within (no, really). “As with other issues, we take the view that it is most effective to be in the room with these companies seeking change as a shareholder,” a spokesman said.
5. SAME-SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE
The BBC’s Simon McCoy is already an internet legend for his dry asides and yesterday he had another classic line after that mad RT interview with the Salisbury murderers: “Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who are very keen on steeples..” No.10 was unusually blunt in its condemnation of the “lies and blatant fabrications” in the interview.
We have a list of the ‘7 Totally Normal Things About RT’s Totally Normal Novichok Suspects Interview’, including hints they were closeted homosexuals on a tourist trip. In yet another extraordinary tweet, former British ambassador Craig Murray said: “Most likely interpretation of that is that they are a gay couple - not a good thing to admit in Russia, sadly - and that they are involved in the dodgy end of the bodybuilding supplements trade.”
Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. Hear us chinwag about the Tory Brexit splits, leadership plot talk, Labour’s immigration plans and of course Corbyn’s Commons security practices. Plus a quiz on cathedral spires. Listen HERE on audiboom for Android or click below for iTunes.
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