1. VOTE FAIRLY, VOTE OFTEN?
For Theresa May, the most satisfying bit of today’s Donald Trump interview with Piers Morgan is probably the line where the President breaches protocol and tells us what the Queen thinks of Brexit right now: “She said it’s a very – and she’s right – it’s a very complex problem. I think nobody had any idea how complex that was going to be … Everyone thought it was going to be, ‘Oh it’s simple, we join or don’t join, or let’s see what happens’.”
A very complex problem often requires a complex solution, and May’s Chequers deal certainly is that. She and her team think that while it’s not perfect it is at least better than the alternatives. It was Winston Churchill who once said “democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. And it’s perfectly apt that May - herself seen by many of her MPs as the least worst kind of Tory leader on offer right now – is proposing a ‘third way’ Brexit. Even the Sun today says “at this point her plan is the best one going”.
Still, she faces growing claims that both sides are increasingly unhappy. One former Cabinet minister told me yesterday they had actually read every word of the White Paper (it took five hours, including note-making): “I now think even middle of the road Remainers, who don’t mind Leaving, will struggle with this proposal. Because it’s unworkable. Or rather only workable by giving up too much control.” Jacob Rees-Mogg and his crew are set to flex their muscles on tonight’s Trade Bill amendments, and with Labour deciding not to back them their numbers may be boosted by the lack of any fear that the Government will be defeated. The real issue is whether the Brexiteer backbenchers have the balls to oppose third reading. Then there really would be chaos (but if it looked like that, surely the whips would postpone it?)
Into all this mess there’s a new complication. Six months after she was effectively sacked, Justine Greening has proved revenge is a dish best served cold, calling in the Times for a second referendum on the Brexit deal. She told the Today programme that May’s plan was “a genuine clever attempt at a compromise but it won’t work…it’s the worst of both worlds” and she couldn’t vote for it. She said other Tories backed her referendum plan, and Dominic Grieve has in the past refused to rule it out. Tom Watson again signally refused to rule it out either this morning. Some voters will be furious that they’re being asked to vote again and again until they get the ‘right’ result and many non-aligned MPs are queasy about the damage it will do to trust in politics as a whole.
Greening’s plan involves three options: Chequers Brexit, no deal Brexit, or no Brexit at all. It reminds me of the three-point plan that Cameron rejected on Scottish independence (devo max, independence, status quo) but which some Tories say would have killed the SNP’s surge stone dead. By creating three options you split the opposition to the status quo, and reduce the chances of the most radical option. Greening is even suggesting a second preference voting system that would increase the hopes of a compromise. Brexiteers will say her plans would mean an unfair, rigged vote, not a real choice.
But just imagine if Jeremy Corbyn backed the Greening plan, buying off his Leaver MPs with a promise to curb EU migration if the UK voted to stay in? A second referendum would also increase the chances of May being forced to call a new general election too, if her Chequers option lost. A poll that leads to another poll would be tempting indeed for the Opposition. Though Brenda from Bristol may actually go out and buy a sawn-off shotgun.
2. BORIS YELL SIN
Boris is back, or rather he’s back in the Daily Telegraph. I’m not quite sure the paper has got their money’s worth judging on today’s effort, in which the former Foreign Secretary has some vague lines about using the 2016 referendum result to “rediscover the spirit of dynamism” of the Victorian age and “go back out into the world in a way that we had perhaps forgotten”. Brexit itself is seen by some as ‘a Boris Johnson column that went wrong’, but is the right man to give the Right of the Tory party what it wants? Few think so, though he does have a group of avid admirers in Parliament.
Boris’s most significant calculation is when to make his Commons ‘resignation’ speech, and what to say in it. Doubters want a substantive statement on his own Brexit alternative. If he just yells at the PM, criticising her deal rather than offering a serious proposal himself, that could be the biggest sin of all in the eyes of fellow Brexiteers. Some think he may duck Parliament, preferring the cosier confines of a think tank speech, where he can attract as many TV cameras as possible, in the hope of recapturing a bit of the media circus that used to dog his every move. Will Trump’s backing prove counter-productive? Ex Trump aide Steve Bannon this weekend suggested Boris should knife May now: “It is like Donald Trump … people dismissed him…Now is the moment. If Boris Johnson looks at this … There comes an inflection point, the Chequers deal was an inflection point.” Mind you, Bannon thinks ‘Tommy Robinson’ should be freed. MPs tell us it’s time for Boris to ‘put up’ or shut up. Or will he wait until his most wonderful time of the year - party conference?
David Davis is expected to do the more traditional thing and make his resignation speech on the backbenches today. He’s played a much cannier game than Johnson, resigning first, setting out his principled objections, allowing the leak of his original plans and highlighting the influence of the Cabinet Office’s Olly Robbins. Of course if DD and BJ had quit together they could have triggered a wider walkout. There were conflicting accounts in the Mail on Sunday as to whether such a plan was ever a runner. Davis’s resignation has already had an impact in that May has suggested her Chequers deal has a ‘set of outcomes that are non-negotiable’, ie she may not make further concessions to Brussels. Yet in trapping her in a place that Labour nor Tory Remainers can tolerate, has Davis sown the seeds of her downfall?
3. SUE, GRABBIT, RUN
Theresa May yesterday exquisitely exposed just how bonkers and inexperienced Donald Trump is, as she finally revealed to the world his amazing ‘suggestion’ for a breakthrough on Brexit. “He told me I should sue the EU,” she told Andrew Marr. “Not go into negotiations – sue them. Actually, no, we’re going into negotiations with them.” Some of us speculated Trump’s secret plan was to refuse to pay our Brexit bills (you can imagine him saying “grab ’em by the money, Theresa”), but this was just totally left field, as the Americans say. Equally left field could be Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin today. There is no fixed agenda and they have 90 minutes on their own (just interpreters), which is quite a lot longer than the PM got one-on-one at Chequers.
As I wrote on Friday in my verdict on the May/Trump presser, we should all be grateful to The Donald for at least exposing the truth about raw American power and self-interest. Obama was just as keen on getting Nato to pay its way, but Trump just did it more bluntly. On Crimea, British military types and some MPs privately say Moscow’s annexation was inevitable and irreversible. When Trump says the EU is a “foe” on trade, he’s just saying what many US politicians (and many EU politicians) think. And for all May’s talk of an ‘ambitious’ UK-US trade deal, he’s right to say there won’t be one if she sticks closely to EU rules.
What does worry many in Brussels is that Putin would also love to see the EU break up. Moscow may still be a nuclear superpower, but it’s a pygmy compared to the economic superpower of the EU, and knows it. As for nukes, as Trump calls them, I was most struck on Friday by his remarks on proliferation. His words didn’t get much play, but were in some respects the most fascinating of all his ramblings. “If we can do something to substantially reduce them, I mean, ideally get rid of them, maybe that’s a dream…Don’t forget, we’re not the only ones that have nukes. And it would be a slow process. But for the world, it would be us and it would be others would have to come along simultaneously, obviously.” Renewing existing treaties would be a start, but could Trump tempt Putin into saving billions by dramatically cutting both their arsenals? Now that really would be left field. (Meanwhile, the New York Times cites claims that a ‘privatised spinoff’ of the Russian intelligence agencies may have carried out the Skripal poisoning. Isn’t that possibility Jeremy Corbyn once floated?)
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this American kid in find a neat way to get on a horse.
4. HOME RUN
Well, football did come home after all. Yes the World Cup was won again by France, the birthplace of the competition (thanks to Jules Rimet). President Macron’s celebrations were something to behold. Pussy Riot’s protest at the lack of democracy in Russia was exactly the kind of thing Trump could bond with Putin over. In the Parliamentary Lobby, we’ve had our own month-long extravaganza as (nearly) everyone battled to win our fiendishly difficult World Cup predictor league.
Congrats go to ex-No10 spinner and Sun man Craig Woodhouse for coming first, ex-No10 spinner Lizzie Loudon for coming second and Edward Ellam (son of ex-No10 spinner…there’s a pattern here…Mike Ellam). MPs and hacks and spads had their own mini-battles to see who could come higher (Paul Harrison was the best No10 staffer, Rich Simcox the best Labour staffer, Sadiq Khan won the mayoral battle with Andy Burnham)
Sports minister Tracey Crouch was pipped out of the prizes into 5th. I’m delighted to say she will be handing out the gongs tonight in Moncrieff’s Bar at 6pm. As it happens, Tracey has let me reveal that she had a fantastic treble bet before the tournament that involved Harry Kane being top scorer and England reaching the quarters. Last night, her tenner stake won her quite a lot more. Meanwhile, in a neat Transport for London stunt, Southgate tube has been renamed Gareth Southgate tube for 48 hours.
5. INTERNAL AFFAIRS
The narrative that the May era is turning into a copy of the Major era (a Tory PM with a wafer thin majority, harried by Eurosceptics) now has an added similarity: low level sleaze. Business minister (whose wife only gave birth to their first child just three months ago) Andrew Griffiths quit last night after the Sunday Mirror revealed he sent 2,000 explicit texts to two barmaids. Many around Jeremy Corbyn remember his unusual fury at one PMQs heckle by then whip Griffiths, when he yelled that the Labour leader was so elderly he needed care home help.
As for sex harassment and bullying by MPs more broadly, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told Westminster Hour that the new behaviour code will extend all the way up to the Speaker’s office. She also wants “advice and guidance” for “people who have historical pre-existing allegations”, though admitted actual investigations into such claims were “difficult” to get “proper evidence”.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph says an internal inquiry into Amber Rudd’s resignation has found she was let down by senior civil servants who failed to tell her about targets to remove illegal migrants. Valuable ammo for the PM, should she wish to bring Rudd back into government.
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