1. POP CORN TIME
Theresa May has a Commons statement on the EU summit this afternoon. Every word uttered by the PM, and her backbench MPs, will be pored over for hints in the looming Chequers battle over just what kind of Brexit the Cabinet wants – and that the Tory party will bear. Jacob Rees-Mogg has sounded his own battle cry in the Telegraph, warning May not to follow the example of Tory PM Robert Peel, who defied his own party over the Corn Laws (that restricted free trade) and “left the Conservatives out of office for 28 years”. Rees-Mogg hints darkly that May will face a rebellion if on Brexit she ‘fails to deliver what she has said she would’.
With the Sunday Times reporting that as many as 20 MPs are plotting against May, maybe Rees-Mogg was spooked by the ConservativeHome poll this weekend that found he had plunged to fourth choice of members to be next Tory leader. Sajid Javid topped the poll, Michael Gove was second, ‘other’ was third. This morning, ConHome has a new poll showing that in any run-off, Gove would trounce Boris Johnson by 56% to 25%. Gove was so furious last week that his customs concerns were being downplayed that he tore up a whole page (yes a whole page) of a report on it. Will he be squared off by Friday or will it be popcorn time for a big Cabinet walkout?
Remainers are pushing back too. Rees-Mogg’s ominous warning to the PM prompted a fierce (and public) backlash from Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, who tweeted: “Enough. Just tired of this endless threat and counter threat. Why don’t we want the best for the U.K. than for our own ideological cliques? And there are others in this negotiation as far as I’m aware?” The ‘others in the negotiation’ are of course the EU and it’s difficult to see how they will budge on key issues like customs and trade. The Times reports that Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins has told ministers there’s no chance of a bespoke EU-UK trade deal. Ministers left a meeting with him thinking ‘we were even more screwed than we were before’.
The BBC reports May will use this Friday’s Chequers summit of the Cabinet to table a new customs plan that basically aligns the UK to many EU rules on goods, if not on services. It’s late in the day for a brand new plan but the pitch rolling in coming days could hold the Cabinet together. The real problem is that even if May can get her warring factions united, Brussels says you just can’t divide goods from services so easily. Will we end up with some ‘bridge’ to the future instead, with key issues postponed yet again? And if so, will the UK have to look again at extending its Brexit transition period, beyond the December 2020 deadline already set?
In an interview with HuffPost, Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom (don’t rule her out of any leadership bid, folks) tells us that date is “not a magical figure, a magical date. It’s just what has been agreed with the EU. I personally think it should be long enough. That’s my view. It’s fine as it is. We don’t need for any particular reason to extend it.” Yet there was an important hint of flexibility. “But I think it remains under review. As all sides make very clear, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” On Sky News Business Secretary Greg Clark also refused to rule out a longer transition, saying: ” There are things that need to be put in place - computer systems, posts at the border. What we need to assess is how long it would reasonably take to put in practice, and it seems to me that any reasonable person would have to be guided by the facts and the evidence.” Will sweet reason and evidence prevail on Friday? May’s more pressing task is to allow all sides to project the outcome as a ‘victory’. And the EU’s own task is whether it allows May to save face too - by not rejecting her White Paper outright.
2. BRUM SPEAKS, WE LISTEN
As part of our mission to get beyond the London ‘bubble’, our entire newsroom has moved to Birmingham this week. The HuffPost Listens project will be hearing from local people about what matters most to them, and we have created a permanent West Midlands correspondent who starts this week (we have similar plans for Manchester later this year). Today, we have a YouGov poll showing that nearly half of people living in Birmingham feel “badly” represented by the national media – and that they don’t trust Westminster (or their local city council, interestingly) to stand up for their interests.
Housing is one of the biggest issues locally and we report on how single mothers in the city are disproportionately hit, with many now counted as ‘hidden homeless’. Some are reduced to ‘sofa surfing’ and even sleeping on trains to cope. We also report on a project that is transforming the lives of teenagers forced to sleep rough on the streets. Thanks to ‘supported lodging’ schemes and the amazing work youth homelessness charity, St Basils, youngsters have been found jobs at Rolls Royce and in the army, after an early life of chaos.
Don’t forget that the new Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street is joining me for a WaughZone Live special event in Birmingham this Thursday, as part of our HuffPost Listens project to boost the voice of Britain beyond the London ‘bubble’. We have moved our entire newsroom to Birmingham’s Bullring for the week and are creating a permanent West Midlands correspondent. Apply for tickets to the event, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. HOME HEALTH
Birmingham-born NHS chief executive Simon Stevens may have more money, but he’s still capable of giving the Government some headaches, not least on Brexit. The former Blair adviser used his Marr interview to reveal that “extensive” planning was going on to help the NHS cope with a medicines shortage if there was a ‘no deal’ Brexit. More broadly, the outgoing NAO chief Amyas Morse is clearly demob happy, telling the Guardian that the PM the increased cash for the NHS is not enough, and more is needed to tackle the care crisis. Stevens and other NHS bigwigs give evidence on funding this afternoon to the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee.
In case you missed it, the NHS is 70 years old this week. There was a big demo on Saturday in London and yesterday Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth gave rousing speeches in Tredegar, home of NHS founder Nye Bevan. Speaking of Bevan, how many of you knew that he was not just minister for health but housing too – as the same time? The reason was that slum housing was seen as a health hazard. Ashworth and Shadow Housing Minister John Healey blog for HuffPost today on Labour’s plans for Healthy Home Zones, in the West Midlands and elsewhere, and to create a new ‘national housing and health czar’.
On the housing front, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has his first big speech today (and a Written Ministerial Statement) and has already trailed a plan to improve the Tory pitch to ‘Generation Rent’. He plans to give tenants a minimum three-year contract, and landlords have already reacted furiously. Labour says the proposals do nothing about capping rents, but Shelter has welcomed the plan as ‘an important step forward’. Will Brokenshire go further and beef up protections from eviction?
4. ANDRES HE CAN
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka ‘AMLO’) has claimed victory in Mexico’s presidential election as projections point to a huge 53% share of the vote. He has grey hair, he’s left-wing and he’s spent a lifetime battling for what he believes in. No wonder Lopez Obrador will be seen here as Mexico’s very own Jeremy Corbyn (in fact he counts the Labour leader among his friends). What’s stunning is the way he’s smashed the country’s political system, having launched a new party only 4 years ago. On Saturday Corbyn (who has a Mexican wife Laura) tweeted in Spanish that he hoped that in the election “democracy, justice and human rights will prevail”. Today he tweeted his congrats.
Yet what’s most fascinating about AMLO is his brand of progressive nationalism. Like Corbyn’s criticism of TTIP, he actually thinks free trade deals are far from perfect, and may not weep if Trump dumps NAFTA (the free trade area between the US, Canada and Mexico). On immigration too, he could come to a deal with the US President without rolling over to all his demands. As for Trump, American news site AXIOS has a huge scoop this morning that he has drafted a bill, titled the “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act”. It would tear up WTO rules, allow him to raise tariffs at will and to negotiate one-on-one with any country. It would also terrify global stock markets already worried about trade wars. One Congress source describes the bill as ‘insane’. On FoxNews, Trump added a Brexity touch too: “The European Union is possibly as bad as China, just smaller. It is terrible what they do to us.”
5. OUTSTANDING ISSUES
Former Education minister David Laws often caused Michael Gove problems when they worked together during the Coalition and today the ex Lib Dem MP is ruffling Tory feathers once more. His target is the statistic trotted out by the Department for Education (and the PM and many others) that 1.8m more pupils in England attend “good or outstanding” schools now than in 2010.
Laws says the claim is ‘misleading’ and it “is simply impossible for this statistic to bear the weight that ministers want to place on it”. His Education Policy Institute think tank discovered that 578,000 of the increase is accounted for by an absolute increase in pupil numbers and schools they attend. A further 579,000 attend schools which have not been inspected since 2010, including 309,000 which switched to academies.
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