1. ‘I AM NOT A QUITTER’
This morning’s Waugh Zone is by Ned Simons. Paul is in China.
A defiant Theresa May has warned rebellious Tory MPs that she is “not a quitter” and signalled she will fight the next general election as party leader. Speaking to reporters on her trip to China, the prime minister also also shrugged off claims that she was a “tortoise” on delivering radical policies “I have never tried to compare myself to any animal, or bird or car,” she said.
Paul, who is with the PM for the three-day trip, reports this morning on the scene onboard the plane as journalists grilled May about her future:
“It was PMQs, but not as you know it. As her RAF Voyager jet cruised at an altitude of 35,000 ft, Theresa May was standing at the plane’s bar, taking queries from a hungry press pack. A pile of black digital voice recorders and smartphones gathered before her like winking beetles, the Prime Minister gave a brief summary of the plans for her three-day trip to China.
“But after the obligatory initial questions about trade and foreign relations with Beijing, the floodgates opened for the only issue many hacks wanted answers on: her leadership of the Tory party, or lack of it.
“With her plainclothes security officers and phalanx of nervous media advisers looking on, more than two dozen reporters proceeded to grill May about her troubles back home. Some of us stood on the business class seats to get a better view. Others strained their necks to hear her words above the aircraft’s hum.”
Back in London, PMQs at lunchtime today will be David Lidington versus Emily Thornberry.
2. ANOTHER BREXIT VOTE
Later today Labour will force a binding Commons vote requiring the government to publish in full the leaked analysis papers which said the UK economy would suffer in any Brexit scenario examined.
It comes after Tory justice minister Philip Lee last night suggested the government should re-think Brexit in light of the study. “If these figures turn out to be anywhere near right, there would be a serious question over whether a government could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging,” he tweeted.
Brexit minister Steve Baker dismissed demands that the study be published as it would damage the government’s negotiations with Brussels. He also said everyone should calm down as economic forecasts produced by the civil service are “always wrong” anyway. Before going on to remind MPs that the studies, which he said were wrong, actually showed the economy would grow under all Brexit scenarios. Keep up everyone. Baker is in tune with his boss of course. David Davis, remember, last month said he did not believe economic forecasts because “they’ve all been proven wrong”.
Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service was not too pleased with Baker. “Civil servants are serving the government of the day and they need the support of that government,” he told The Guardian. Remainer Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach was also unimpressed. “Some people want to rubbish experts,” she told Sky News. “But some of us rather value their opinions.”
The excitement over the leak yesterday drew some attention away from the House of Lords, where peers began debating the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. Perhaps the most pointed intervention was from Lord Bridges, a former Brexit minister, who said all that would be agreed by October would be “meaningless waffle”. It is by then we are expecting to discover the shape of the future trading relationship the UK will have with the EU. “The implementation period will not be a bridge to a clear destination. It will be a gang plank into thin air,” he added. Lord Butler, the former Cabinet secretary, told peers Brexit “strikes a dagger to my soul”.
But Conservative peer and House of Cards author Lord Dobbs reprimanded peers for trying to “duck and dive and dilly-dally” over Brexit. MPs and the press, he warned, were waiting with “sharpened knives” to ”slit our veins” should the unelected House attempt to sabotage the Bill. Lord Willoughby, mocked Remain campaign forecasts of economic doom that were as “accurate as a cross-eyed javelin thrower”. The hereditary Ukip peer added: “We decided that we did not wish to be part of a supranational regime run by a European Commission priesthood that we did not elect and cannot get rid of.” The Lords will pick up the debate again today.
Len McCluskey meanwhile has said Labour MPs must vote against whatever deal Theresa May brings back from Brussels. The Unite chief told the Resolution Foundation yesterday his “personal hope and belief” was that this would force the prime minister to resign and force a general election in 2019. And he warned pro-EU Labour MPs not to “fail” the left-wing cause by voting in favour of a soft-Brexit deal which would keep May in power. Asked what he thought would happen at the vote, Sir Kier Starmer told BBC Radio 4’s Today progrmame: “I’m not predicting anything anymore.”
3. EXTREMIST MAKEOVER
Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address last night. As my HuffPost colleagues in Washington D.C report it was competently delivered and — for him — relatively inoffensive. It was deemed by some pundits it to be a presidential moment, representative of yet another pivot to the center. But Nick Baumann, Amanda Terkel, and Jessica Schulberg add:
“One speech does not erase Trump’s record. The speech’s banality — its embrace of optimism and platitude — is a mask. Do not be fooled: Political extremism, divisive rhetoric and bizarre behavior have characterised the first year of Trump’s presidency and underlie many of the harmless-sounding proposals he talked about Tuesday night.
“The mood in the chamber ― at least on the GOP side ― resembled a monster truck rally. Republicans said they loved the speech. They enthusiastically cheered the many applause lines. They hooted. They hollered. They chanted ‘U-S-A,’ with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pumping his fist to the rhythm of the cheer and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) holding up a red ‘Make America great again’ hat.
“But on the Democratic side, many sat when Trump entered the chamber. Many others spent a considerable amount of time on their phones as the speech became the third-longest State of the Union ever delivered, at one hour, 20 minutes and 34 seconds. Democrats hissed during some of Trump’s claims. One line that will likely stick in memory will be his assertion that ‘a single immigrant’ could bring in ‘virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives’ through family reunification.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
I don’t really need a reason to highlight this timeless mashup of Donald Trump saying “China” a lot. But Theresa May is in China and Trump gave a speech. So I have a reason. China.
4. CAN THIS CARRIE ON?
It seems fitting that today Carrie Gracie, the BBC journalist who quit her job as the broadcaster’s China editor over equal pay, gives evidence to the Commons culture committee. She will be followed by director general Tony Hall. The pair will face a grilling after an audit of the broadcaster found “no evidence of gender bias in pay decision-making” but warned of sizeable salary gap between lower-profile broadcasters.
Eleanor Brandford, a former BBC Scotland health correspondent, writes for HuffPost today on why she quit the corporation over equal pay. “I would ride my bike to a press conference if it would save the BBC a taxi fare. I felt my salary was appropriate for a publicly-funded body. Yet others were getting paid more for doing the same, and I was the sole breadwinner for my family,” she writes.
5. NHS CONFIDENTIAL
HuffPost’s Kate Forrester has got hold of a copy of the letter sent by the Commons health committee to NHS Digital chief executive Sarah Wilkinson to demand the health service stops passing patients’ data to Home Office immigration enforcers.
An investigation by the committee revealed dying migrants are too scared to see a doctor in case they are deported, thanks to a ‘memorandum of understanding’ on information sharing between the health service and the government. It allows Home Office officials to request confidential patient data to assist in investigations into potential illegal immigrants, but MPs say it amounts to a breach of trust. Immigration minister Caroline Noakes told the committee it was important for the Home Office to use “a range of measures” to identify people breaking the law.
Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly returned to the NHS at PMQs in recent weeks, as the health service deals with sever winter pressures. Ahead of today’s clash between Lidington and Thornberry, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth will roll out a five point plan for an “innovative” NHS.
Writing for HuffPost today, Ashworth says: “We must also respond to the reality that the very nature of ill-health is fundamentally changing too, with a relative shift away from acute illness, towards chronic conditions, multi-morbidities, cognitive impairments and long-term frailty. No longer should we consider the health service as a sickness service concerned with relieving the suffering of infectious disease but we must genuinely think of it as an actual health service supporting people to live with chronic disease such as, for example, diabetes or arthritis that have become a permanent feature of life.”