1. FIRENZE DETAIL?
So, the big day has finally arrived. Amid the Renaissance splendour of Florence, Theresa May will be hoping her Brexit speech has enough detail to break the current logjam in EU talks. The big prize, and only real test, is whether the EU27 think she’s reassured them enough to move from mere divorce talks to parallel trade negotiations in October.
The overnight trail was unsurprisingly thin, urging EU leaders to be ‘creative’ and share a ‘profound sense of responsibility to make this change work’. Yet the key phrases will be about no EU country losing out financially, a signal that the UK will pay 20bn euros until 2020, and a time-limited transition period of about two years. Many in Europe say this is the bare minimum, and the real issue is more expensive long-term debts and obligations. Philip Hammond’s PPS Kwasi Kwarteng said last night: “We will pay until the end of that budget process [to 2020] and not a penny more.” Not a penny more, really?
The Times has some forensic detail, saying May will offer ‘regulatory parity’ during the transition, a move that will mean the UK effectively adopting EU directives even after Exit Day in March 2019. But Brexiteers like Boris will be happy that May will say we won’t be ‘rule-takers’ after the transition. The Sun reveals something more worrying for Leave voters: that EU migants will still be free to come into Britain during the transition period.
That, plus any divorce bill, may upset people like the bloke on Question Time last night who said: “Is this what we voted for? We voted to leave without paying money. We voted to leave Europe with no exit fee because we joined with no entrance fee and we were not told the truth when we joined.”
As for rights of EU nationals here in the UK, I’m told David Davis is determined there will be no fingerprinting or biometrics (he’s a civil liberties Tory after all) and will offer a pathway to citizenship that will please Brussels. Their rights will likely be overseen by European and British judges, and crucially written into the final withdrawal treaty and UK law.
May’s allies think she has proved she is quietly effective on policy substance (her speech hasn’t changed much at all through the week), while Boris has been loudly ineffective. On the politics, rather than policy, Boris has undoubtedly reminded everyone of his role. But some around May think the two-year transition is also a way of extending her own political lifetime, letting her oversee the process with a handover to a new leader in early 2021. That would allow enough time for her successor to prepare for a general election in 2022, while giving the ‘next generation’ of possible Tory leaders time to build their profile. Let’s see if the older guard of Boris, DD and others, agree to extend her probation. Once Brexit actually happens, they decide May has trashed the Tory brand enough and more time is needed to repair it.
May speaks in the Santa Maria Novella church around 2.15pm UK time. I’ll have a WaughZone special with full analysis this evening.
2. YES HE KHAN
So, Sadiq Khan will after all get to speak at Labour’s conference. In the summer, we reported that the London Mayor and Andy Burnham were facing the chop from the Brighton speaker list, a stance confirmed by this week’s NEC on Tuesday. But in a crafty counter-move, the conference arrangements committee on Wednesday used its ‘moderate majority’ (4-3) to get a quick show-of-hands to let Khan speak. The Indy and the Standard broke it jointly, and a raft of Labour MPs called for the Mayor to get a slot.
One MP tells me the problem is that the conference will now be even more London-centric than ever, with all five senior Shadow Cabinet ministers from the capital (Corbyn, Abbott, Starmer, Thornberry, McDonnell). A senior Labour source told HuffPost that the leadership was “exploring the possibility of a rotating mayoral slot” for conferences, a hint that Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram will get the nod at next year’s gathering in his home town and Andy Burnham could get the following year. “The issue was never about personalities but giving delegates more time to debate,” the source said.
Corbyn has told BBC London: “Sadiq is speaking. I’m delighted to say he is and I’m looking forward to listening to him.” He denied being “bounced” into the decision. “There was a discussion and suggestions were made, agreements were reached.” JC has also given the Guardian an interview, in which he says Labour is “now the mainstream” and says he’s ready for a snap general election with another tour of marginals. Still, one insider points out to me that with the departure of veteran elections chief Patrick Heneghan “we’re nowhere near ready for a general election”, even if one was called.
Khan, who made clear his differences with Corbyn last year, may just get a short three-minute slot like all other delegates. But he is also pushing hard to keep EU freedom of movement, the looming conference issue, and will join TSSA leader Manuel Cortes and others at a rally on Sunday. Another pro-migration campaigner, Clive Lewis tells The House magazine, Corbyn could have won the election if he’d backed a ‘progressive alliance’ with the Greens and others. Let’s see if he punches a wall if he doesn’t get his way this year.
3. BEAT SURRENDER
One of the most striking features of the June general election was the way the longest serving Home Secretary of modern times could become PM and still ‘lose’ on the issue of counter-terrorism and policing. But in the wake of the Manchester and London attacks, it was Labour’s message about police cuts that hit home with many voters.
Central to that message was the salami-slicing of force budgets that decimated neighbourhood and beat policing, removing the crucial eyes and ears needed to pick up intelligence and work with communities to prevent terrorism. Today, with the near-miss of Parsons Green very much in everyone’s minds, the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council says the UK’s counter-terrorism effort is putting an unsustainable strain on policing..
Chief Constable Sara Thornton said resources were being diverted from mainstream policing in England and Wales, leading to backlogs in control rooms and slower response times. “This puts extra strain on an already-stretched service,” she added. In a blogpost (that’s modern policing folks), she warns the policing bit of the counter-terror budget will fall by 7.2% over the next three years.
The Home Office says it is “sensitive to the pressures on police forces across the country…We are engaging with them on the demands they are currently facing”. But with the Chancellor already having to find billions to fill his various black holes and fund a public sector pay rise, will May surrender in her long ‘do more with less’ battle with the cops and authorise the cash she’s previously refused? The Times reports the Treasury as a £10bn windfall from lower borrowing, but it use it?
4. HOIST BY HIS OWN DOTARD
In a gift to comedians everywhere, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has declared that Donald Trump is “a mentally deranged dotard”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary tweeted that the number of online searches for the word ‘dotard’ were ‘as high as a kite’ last night. It trended on Twitter too.
And many discovered that the word, used twice by Kim, is in fact a Shakespearean insult (it’s used in the Merchant of Venice and King Lear) that means someone in their dotage or senility. It wasn’t long before American wags were saying it all proved that the North Korean leader had used an English dictionary at least one more time than Trump.
Still, in the final analysis, two tub-thumping leaders raising the temperature over possible nuclear war (Kim warned he would tame Trump ‘with fire’) is not exactly funny for the rest of us. On Question Time, Sir Vince Cable suggested that the international community should talk to Kim Jong Un directly. Maybe a Shakespeare seminar would provide the perfect forum.
5. NEIN, NEIN, NEIN CALL
Steffen Kampeter, the chief executive of the German employers’ federation, is the latest big figure to dispel the idea that somehow his country’s carmakers will pressure Angela Merkel, and the EU, into giving the UK a favourable trade deal. In an interview with the BBC, he said everyone wants a ‘quick and clean’ deal but the precondition was EU single market unity not British demands.
“It’s a myth that only economic interests are driving the German position going into the EU Councils. This seems to be a type of myth-leading strategies from those who have supported the Brexit decision,” he said. And with Merkel set to win Sunday’s national election, I know that senior members of the Cabinet are equally clear-sighted about what she can and cannot do for the UK.
Having learned from David Cameron’s false hope that Mutti would deliver a plan to help his Remain campaign, one insider tells me: “Merkel is not the cavalry coming over the hill to rescue us. But she won’t want to punish us either.” And that’s exactly the message I heard in Berlin last week as German economist Clemen Fuest told HuffPost: “In Germany Brexit will primarily hit an industry which is very well off, the car industry. They can adjust to Brexit.” He also pointed out that the devaluation of the pound counterbalanced any rising trade costs post-Brexit. He added that behind the scenes, Merkel would however probably ensure Guy Verhofstadt and his ilk did not secure a ‘punitive’ Brexit.
Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. Hear us chew the fat ahead of the Florence speech about the Boris/Theresa axis, Labour’s freedom of movement conundrum, whither the LibDems and scoops on PIP and probation. Oh, and the quiz is about which Foreign Secretaries have had shorter tenures than Boris. Listen on Android/audioboom HERE, and on iPhones/iTunes HERE.