1. TRUMP STAKES
Donald Trump is in Poland, ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders in neighbouring Germany tomorrow. All eyes will of course be on Trump’s reaction to Vladmir Putin when they meet for the first time, yet Theresa May’s handling of the President is bound to come under scrutiny too here.
The White House revealed last night that May and Trump would hold a bilateral meeting at the summit in Hamburg. Given that the PM was the first foreign leader to visit Washington after his inauguration (the famous hand-holding meeting), and has so far not joined others in direct criticism of him, it will be scrutinised for any change in stance.
May refused to join others in condemning Trump’s refusal to sign the Paris climate change accord, simply saying she was ‘disappointed’. And a Government official initially suggested to us yesterday that the issue was not among those she would raise with the President in their one-on-one. Later, the line was that she would be “stressing that the UK remains fully committed to the Paris agreement. She will say that we don’t see any need for renegotiation – we support the Paris agreement because it delivers.”
On Radio 4 this morning, Boris Johnson didn’t just hold Trump’s tiny hands, he positively snogged him (a bit like that famous We Are Europe graffito in Bristol last year, see above). First Boris accused Today’s John Humphrys of ‘straining for false equivalence’ between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, when it was put to him both were dangerously unpredictable. But he also praised the Prez’s Tweets for “engaging” more people in politics, saying he “has gripped the imagination of people around the world” (no, really). “I certainly wouldn’t be allowed to tweet like him, much as I would like to”. The Foreign Secretary also suggested the UK was helping to ‘mitigate’ the White House on issues like Iran and climate change.
Trump will have to work hard to mend fences with host Angela Merkel, having said ‘the Germans are really bad’ because they import too many cars to the US. A fierce critic of globalisation, Trump probably agrees with May’s infamous line in her party conference speech attacking ‘citizens of nowhere’. But Vince Cable tells the New Statesman that line “could have been taken out of Mein Kampf”. Is the Lib Dem leader-in-waiting turning into Ken Livingstone? He has a Press Gallery lunch on Tuesday, where his views on Hitler may, just may, crop up again.
2. BREXIT EXIT?
Newsnight’s Nick Watt had quite an arresting line last night. “I am beginning to hear talk in some quarters that Brexit may not actually happen.” Wait, what? He went on to say that ‘one Leave supporter’ believes a stalling economy plus market fears of a Corbyn government could stall the process. Watt also said ‘a person familiar with the Brexit process’ (in London or Brussels, we weren’t sure) had told him ‘there’s a strong chance that it may not actually happen’.
Well, new Brexit minister Steve Baker certainly thinks it will happen and yesterday sent a warning that he wouldn’t even tolerate any hint of the UK having to join the European Economic Area. He told the World at One that “It’s like putting blood in the water to even talk about the EEA …we don’t want to be a rule-taker.” But the Express has a great line that David Cameron is ringing MPs to back the EEA model. “Cameron has been in touch with a number of backbenchers this week, trying to persuade them that the country should go for the Norway option.”
The 1922 Committee last night had one of its more cheerful meetings for weeks, even though David Davis couldn’t make it as planned. Boris Johnson today summed up the sense of unity off the back of PMQs, praising May’s “unbelievable grace and steel” of the past few weeks. “There’s no vacancy for that post, nor is there going to be for a very long time,” he said. His gameplan is clear - get 2019 out of the way before any leadership race – and given his own reduced popularity that’s understandable. Whether it’s sustainable to keep May in post for more than a few months, or whether DD disagrees, is unclear.
The backwash continues from the FT’s report of the Treasury drafting a paper challenging the International Trade department to prove its trade deals will compensate for lost trade from quitting the customs union. The Sun reports DiT sources saying they have had no such request. Liam Fox has his departmental questions in the Commons this morning.
3. BERGER’S WAYS OF SEEEING
I reported last week on how Momentum activists were quietly winning key posts in local Labour parties across the country, as well as the crucial delegates needed ahead of party conference. It emerged last night that the latest near ‘clean sweep’ for Momentum came in Luciana Berger’s own CLP in Liverpool Wavertree.
What really sparked reaction was a quote from newly-elected CLP officer Roy Bentham. “Luciana needs to get on board quite quickly now”, he said, adding the MP would have to consult her members before any future moves like her vote for military action in Syria or her vote of no confidence in Corbyn last year. In a statement, Berger praised the hard work of local members and “a revitalised national party under Jeremy Corbyn”. Fellow MP Jess Phillips tweeted “obey or else is shameful”. But Matt Zarb-Cousin, Corbyn’s former press secretary and still a telling barometer of the way the leadership thinks, tweeted: “Amazed that, in 2017, some believe the activists who give up their time and money for Labour shouldn’t be given a say in who represents them.”
And Corbyn’s stance on reselection rules appears to have shifted since his 2015 assurance that “I do not support any changes to Labour’s rules to make it easier to deselect sitting Labour MP”. Yesterday, a senior party figure told us “there’s no doubt there will be changes” to Labour democracy, adding “Jeremy hasn’t taken a position” on rule changes being pushed by Momentum and being looked at by party chair Ian Lavery.
Meanwhile, I’ve learned JC has rewarded loyal supporters in his leadership team with key posts on union liaison and stakeholder liaison (see my story for details). Marsha-Jane Thompson has been given a role on his campaign team and Ben Sellars is being drafted in for social media. “The Left is more in control than ever before,” one source says.
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4. STRAIGHT AS A DIE
Months after his first landslide, Tony Blair famously told us all “I think most people who have dealt with me think I am a pretty straight sort of guy, and I am”. Back then, that helped abate the row over Bernie Ecclestone’s notorious £1m donation to Labour. But fast forward 20 years, and it’s still the Blair defence on Iraq: I never lied or deceived anyone – and I “think” others agree.
And the best line in Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with Sir John Chilcot, on the first anniversary of the publication of his Iraq Inquiry report, features the s-word. “Any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her. I don’t believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.”
Having covered this inquiry (and Hutton and Butler) myself in great detail, Chilcot’s ‘Blair wasn’t straight’ line seems the main new quote today. But note that he also stresses that Blair didn’t “depart from the truth” about the case for war. He says instead he relied on beliefs rather than facts and was “emotionally truthful”. In other words, he had convinced himself and thought he should convince the nation.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has revealed the Lord Chief Justice was yesterday in court to rule on a previously unreported High Court challenge to the legal ban on trying to prosecute Blair for war crimes. The Attorney General argues Blair has immunity from prosecution and the crime of military “aggression” does not exist in UK law. The case will probably end up in the Supreme Court. One to watch out for.
5. WASPI-SH RESPONSE
The ‘Waspi women’ who are set to lose out on pension payments are a formidable bunch, and new pensions minister Guy Opperman found that to his cost yesterday. Usually well-liked by all sides, Opperman made the error of saying in a packed Westminster Hall debate that the Government was helping older women by extending “apprenticeship opportunities” for the over-45s.
As the Sun reports, the minister faced a swift backlash offline and online. In the chamber, Labour and SNP MPs shouted “Shame on You!” and pension campaigners accused the government of trying to push “Grannyships”. Some two million women born in the 1950s face having to work six years longer because of changes to their pension rights, so it’s no wonder many were angry.
Barbara Paton Smith wrote: “I’m 62, can I be a bricklayer?” Another pensioner Sue Hodgkins added: ’Perhaps I could have an apprenticeship as a hairdresser in modern salon at the age of 64? I don’t think so.” And SNP MP Mhairi Black claimed one OAP had committed suicide after the election “because she could not face what was going to happen to her”.
Peter Heaton-Jones, the new parliamentary secretary to Pensions Secretary David Gauke, was one of 37 Tory MPs who expressed support for the Waspi cause before the election. But what really caught the eye was DUP MP Sammy Wilson saying his party would use its “influence, however minimal or maximum”, to push the government into changing the policy. Labour complained bitterly that yesterday’s debate should have been in the main chamber, but since the hung Parliament, ministers have so far refused to grant any Opposition day debates. That’s one for Commons leader Andrea Leadsom today I suspect. Especially as a new report on care homes finds many pensioners face unsafe treatment.