1. THE LEGAL HAS LANDED
One of the most fascinating things about the recent Brexit debate in Cabinet meetings has been the growing influence of new Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. After his star turn at the party conference, this is a Brexiteer who has even sparked suggestions that he would be the perfect caretaker Tory leader if May steps aside. Yet some suspicious backbenchers fear the AG is being used by No.10 to sell an unpalatable deal. As well liked as Cox is, they guess that someone who has got his first taste of ministerial office at the age of 58 is unlikely to quit. And yesterday, the man with the voice of Mufasa didn’t so much roar as purr quietly for the PM.
Cox gave Theresa May invaluable cover as he calmly set out the scenarios of different solutions to the Northern Ireland problem, one source says. Crucially, he claimed that a ‘revision’ clause in the Brexit agreement would not give the EU a veto, and that a rival plan for unilateral withdrawal risked delays that could lead to ‘no deal’. No wonder the PM allowed him to lead the discussion. Still, Whitehall sources say the mechanism for the revision clause is ‘fabulously complicated’, and it’s far from clear that Michel Barnier or the Irish will buy it. One minister told me swiftly after Cabinet yesterday that Friday had been pencilled in for a special Cabinet meeting. If the complicated solution is ready for then, it could be game on. The lack of an end date could however be unacceptable to some backbenchers.
Michael Gove is meanwhile pushing for the Attorney General’s full legal advice on any Brexit deal to be presented to Cabinet, rather than a summary. And this morning the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson told the Today programme that his party wanted that advice made public so that all MPs could scrutinise it before the ‘meaningful vote’. It seems the DUP have been given a promise they can see the advice privately, so you can bet Labour will demand at least the same treatment. Full publication, as with the Iraq war AG’s advice, is highly unlikely.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer is in Brussels today to warn that Labour is unlikely to back a ‘blind Brexit’ that is unclear about and postpones key decisions on our future relationship with the EU. The Guardian has a nice preview, but it underlines that Labour can tap into Tory Brexiteer worries about May’s deal. One key development yesterday was Whitehall sources revealing that the plan was to get the Cabinet to pin down the Withdrawal Agreement first and then sort the ‘future framework’ quickly afterwards. Both bits would be ‘the deal’ presented to MPs. Yet the European Research Group is still very worried indeed that the ‘future framework’ will give away our 39bn quid in return for fudge that could be interpreted as modelling our trade on Canada, Norway or neither.
2. GRID LOCKED
The Commons is in recess, which means there is no PMQs. So, sadly, Jeremy Corbyn won’t be able to ask Theresa May about the leaked draft of the Government’s PR plan for Brexit that stunned Westminster last night. HuffPost UK, along with the BBC and the Times (we thought we had it exclusively, dang), was passed the controversial document that suggests a No.10 and DExEU media ‘grid’ for the next few weeks.
We published the full, unadulterated version last night, which includes the word ‘barf’ after the name of Mark Littlewood, the head of the IEA free market think tank. Littlewood was one of the many third parties that the Government is clearly relying on to help sell May’s final deal, with Anand Menon (of UK in A Changing EU), Henry Newman (of Open Europe) and a string of business chiefs also namechecked. The clear aim is to get things all wrapped up well before Christmas, as Government sources confirmed to us yesterday.
There were more than a few hints to suggest this was a PR plan scribbled down during a very recent No.10 and DExEU ‘wargaming’ exercise, which is precisely why No.10 cannot deny that some of the content has indeed been discussed. The daily ‘themes’ of the economy, immigration, Northern Ireland, NHS ‘money’, laws, farming, ’global Britain’ and the benefits to the North and Scotland, certainly sounded plausible. It was telling too that a full nine days were set out between the presentation of the deal to MPs and the final vote. What was missing was an explicit date for a November EU summit, but EU27 agreement was clearly implied.
The document misspelled the name of the Irish PM Leo Varadkar and had the wonderfully clunky line about a plan to get ‘lots of world leaders e.g Japanese PM to tweet support for the deal’. A No.10 spokesman told us: “The misspelling and childish language in this document should be enough to make clear it doesn’t represent the Government’s thinking.” Which of course sparked an avalanche of responses that it must be genuine. My favourite was this GCSE comparison by ITV’s Rachel Bradley.
As for PR plans, one minister (an ex Remainer, by the way) told me yesterday that May’s entire Brexit problem with the DUP stemmed from the way she was rolled over last December by the EU to back its backstop idea. “She was so desperate to have a ‘good news story’ for Christmas that she threw away our leverage on this fundamental point,” they said. “We’ve been paying for it ever since.”
3. THE DISUNITED STATES
The overnight news is in on the US mid-term elections. The main takeaway is the Democrats have won back the House of Representatives, but Trump has still managed to help the Republicans increase their hold on the Senate. You can never read much into a President’s future popularity based on midterms, but a Trump re-election in 2020 is a distinct possibility. HuffPost here and in the US naturally has the very latest.
Impeachment is firmly off the agenda as the Senate lacks a Democrat majority, let alone the two thirds numbers needed. However, the good news for the Democrats is that control of the lower House means they will now be able to press for publication of Trump’s tax returns and investigate conflicts of interest. More broadly, their success in the suburbs will worry the Republicans, as will the rising Hispanic and youth vote seen last night.
America’s politicians are slowly looking more like the electorate too, with a record number of women having contested seats. Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her race for a House seat in New York - becoming, at 29, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Colorado voters elected Jared Polis, making him the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States. Two Native American women - Democrat Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids - won their congressional races, making history as the first female indigenous candidates heading to the House of Representatives. Democrats Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota both won their races for House seats, becoming the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress.
Yet wherever Trump campaigned (rather shrewdly in Senate seats), he managed to help the Republicans win or hold on. He tweeted this morning that only five times in the past century has a sitting President actually gained Senate seats in the midterms, quoting one commentator hailing ‘Trump is the magic man’. Yes, the margins were very tight in Texas and Florida but a win is a win. The Democrats can take heart that voters were more interested in protecting Obama’s healthcare reforms (a bit like Gordon Brown’s tax credits, they’re very difficult to unpick because of the huge number of losers that would result) than in Trump’s boasts about the economy. And in a lesson for British politicians, it seems voters were more worried about their stagnant wages than impressive headline numbers about jobs and growth.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
In case you missed it, check out this llama taking a cab ride in Peru. Cos, well, why not?
4. YOU’RE NICKED
Another possible PMQs target for Corbyn would have been police cuts and the Commons gaffe made by policing minister Nick Hurd yesterday. Challenged on the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) warning that a new £420m bill forces will be obliged to pay into the police pension scheme would see 10,000 fewer officers on the streets, Hurd lashed out. “I think the number is exaggerated – which is not unusual for the police,” he said.
Cue outrage from Labour’s Louise Haigh, who declared it showed the ‘absolute contempt’ the Government had for the police. Remember, this is the NPCC the minister was attacking, not the Police Federation. Home Office minister Victoria Atkins yesterday also tried to decouple the spike in knife crime from numbers of cops. A 16-year-old boy became the 250th person to stabbed to death this year. We report today on a new BMJ report on how children are most at risk walking home from school.
5. BEYOND SCRUTON-Y
A fresh anti-semitism row has broken out after revelations by The RedRoar website that newly-appointed housing czar Roger Scruton had described Jews in Budapest as part of a ‘Soros empire’. Scruton names Hungary’s notoriously nationalist PM Viktor Orban as a longtime friend. The Ministry of Housing said ‘due diligence’ had been done on the appointment, adding “Professor Sir Roger Scruton, as a long-standing public intellectual, has strong views on a number of issues.” It has also emerged Scruton believes homosexuals have an ‘obsession with the young’. Strong views is one way of putting it. Labour chair Ian Lavery tells us the Tories should be condemning Orban not appearing to endorse him and ‘his allies’.
Yet as the Guardian reports, worries about anti-semitic opinions expressed by author Roald Dahl were enough for the Royal Mint to block plans to celebrate his life with a commemorative coin in 2014. “Associated with anti-semitism” is how one minute, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, described the children’s author. And he told the New Statesman before he died: “I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”
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