1. BLUE/ORANGE MONDAY
Theresa May is set to make yet another Monday Commons statement on Brexit, as she tries once more to get Parliamentary backing for her troubled plans. Despite the shattering 230-vote defeat, it’s Groundhog Week as the PM almost carries on regardless. And apart from a brief flurry of perfunctory contacts with senior Labour MPs and trade union leaders, May’s focus is firmly on winning blue and orange votes, not red ones.
According to those on yesterday’s Cabinet conference call, the target is winning round those 118 Tories and 10 DUP MPs who rejected her plan last week. It was already obvious from the decision to send out Liam Fox on Marr that May wants to lovebomb the Brexiteers in her own party and her Northern Irish allies. When a new ministerial statement is published today ahead of the Commons event, it may not contain a detailed ‘Plan B’, as such, and more a set of signals on next steps to amend that vexed Irish ‘backstop’. “It’ll be more about the process than any new plan,” one Cabinet minster tells me.
As I wrote last week, the strategy appears to be to (somehow) get a Commons majority for an exit mechanism or time-limit on the backstop, aided (somehow) by a technical border solution, and then present it to Brussels. The gamble is that the EU will (somehow) give way because it wants a smooth exit. That’s a lot of ‘somehows’. May will today try to blame Jeremy Corbyn for the lack of consensus, but given that her new priority is not to split the Tory party with a customs union, he can easily throw back at her the claim that she was putting ‘the national interest’ first.
Some in Cabinet dearly hoped that this would be the week when May finally confronted the hardcore of Brexiteers in her party, went for Labour support and dared Johnson and Davis and Rees-Mogg to do their worst. That looks like a forlorn hope, at least right now. The DUP, having been burned by the backstop idea in December 2017, are in a very strong position. And Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group knows its own self-discipline has paid off. They will also be wary of being duped by promises from No.10. Many Leaver MPs are remarkably sanguine right now, happy to run the clock down to Exit Day, confident that Parliament faces too many procedural hurdles to block no-deal.
As for Labour, some MPs will wonder whether Keir Starmer is slowly cutting back his famous ‘six tests’ to get the party in a position to either work with the government on a ‘soft Brexit’ - or go all out for a second referendum. Yesterday on Marr he said a ‘backstop’ was now unavoidable, and also suggested any deal would no longer have. to meet the ‘exact same benefits’ test he had demanded. Expect the PM to pick up on those today in the Commons. But watch most of all for the interventions of Nigel Dodds and Jacob Rees-Mogg. They may be supportive of May, without letting her off the hook.
2. NO, AFTER YOU
The Guardian has a startling ICM poll today showing that the most popular Brexit option is no-deal (28%). The next most popular is starting the process of holding a second referendum (24%). And in many ways, May’s refusal to set out a detailed Plan B appears to be part of her strategy to tell Parliament: fine, you come up with something else then. In return, Parliament is keen to grab the timetable for itself before making any decision on alternative plans. Today, Yvette Cooper and Dominic Grieve have amendments that seek to do very unusual things, but both are driven by that desire to ‘take back control’ of the process.
Cooper’s amendment is an updated version of the Nick Boles plan, giving time for a bill to delay the legal Brexit timetable. The bill would state that if there is no deal in place before the end of February, ministers must put a binding motion before parliament to seek an extension of article 50 until the end of 2019. Grieve has a different and potentially more controversial plan. He wants to give Parliament the right to stage a series of ‘indicative’ votes on Brexit alternatives, to find a Commons majority. But to get there, he wants business to be decided by a motion put forward by a minority of 300 MPs from at least five parties, including 10 Tories, to be debated as the first item for MPs in the Commons.
No.10 is highly critical of both moves, but saves particular ire for the Grieve amendment, with some May allies seeing it is a piece of ‘constitutional vandalism’. As for Labour, their support will be crucial for any success, but the party is still reserving its position. It’s still unclear how either the Cooper or Grieve plans (which require legislation) would get the Parliamentary time needed. Corbyn has insisted no-deal must be ruled out and MPs should have a meaningful vote, but the party is wary of any precedent that could tie its own hands as a minority government in future. Keir Starmer told Marr yesterday that if May doesn’t change tack, “other options will be tested, one way or another”. I half expected him to break into the Blondie song (“I’m gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya”. Cooper told Today she had discussed her plan with some in the Shadow Cabinet.
Meanwhile, as I said last week, backers of both the Norway-plus and People’s Vote options think. they can succeed if they are seen as the ‘last resort’. But on a new vote, Grieve in the Guardian today raises what looks like even his own limit on radicalism. “We have to be clear that for parliament to enact a bill for a referendum [it] would require a money resolution which would require further constitutional changes of immense significance, which I cannot see being feasible and not without serious risk of undermining our constitution.” There is another Parliamentary move today to stop no-deal: an early day motion (as we revealed on Friday) tabled by Corbyn and backed by other party leaders.
3. LOSING IT
It’s hard to believe some times but there is to more life, and politics than Brexit. HuffPost today launches a new series on how austerity affects local communities. ‘What’s It Like To Lose Your…’ starts with a leisure centre in Shadsworth, Blackburn. Our northern reporter Aasma Day tells the story of how the closure affects social cohesion, crime, obesity. In two years, more than 105 swimming pools have closed across England.
On paper, closing some facilities is seen as a brute fact of financial life, if income is not enough to exceed spending. But in our series we explore how these small changes at a local level link up to paint a national portrait – from the closures of community libraries, or the centralisation of medical services, to the disappearance of affordable leisure facilities and post offices. As local authorities find themselves picking off the “low-hanging fruit”, we are examining what it means to the people who are now losing out.
In Blackburn, for families who are struggling to make ends meet, the prospect of forking out for buses, or spending extra time travelling further afield is an extra pressure. “Unfortunately, [it will] make the difference between taking part in exercise and sports, and not.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Liam Fox tell Andrew Marr that Parliament does not have the right “to hijack Brexit and in effect, steal the vote from the people”.
4. ABUSIVE RELATIONS
Something else that has been neglected, indeed delayed (according to campaigners), by the Parliamentary impasse over Brexit is the Domestic Abuse Bill. Today finally sees its publication and the aim is to for the first time create a legal definition of domestic abuse, to include economic abuse and control. It will also ban abusers from cross-examining victims in family courts. As well as the obvious social hell, government figures show this is an expensive crime: domestic abuse cost society £66bn in 2016/17.
5. CHINA CRISIS
It sounds positively booming compared to Western countries, but China’s newly released growth rate of 6.6% is sounding alarm bells around the globe. It’s the slowest rate in nearly 30 years, believed to be caused by a range of factors including a government crackdown on risky debt and the growing trade war with the US. From Apple sales to LandRover jobs in the UK, we all catch a cold when China sneezes. And many economists have long doubted the veracity of Beijing’s figures, believing the rate could be half the official one.
Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. For the first time, we recorded it the fabled Lobby Room. Also for the first time, it’s hosted by our new dep pol ed Arj Singh. Liaison Committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston (aka ‘the alternative Prime Minister’ under Nick Boles’ original bill) joins us to chat about Brexit options and take part in our weekly quiz. Click HERE to listen on audioboom and below for iTunes.
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