1. BYE-EU TRAVESTY?
Theresa May is hosting French President Emmanuel Macron at the British military academy in Sandhurst today, returning the favour after he welcomed her to Paris last year. Beyond the smiles for the cameras, hacks will be looking for tensions and splits as we usher in another chapter in the love-hate relationship between our two countries. I remember attending a rather awkward summit between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac at Lancaster House in 2003, after fierce rows over Iraq and ahead of plans to mark the 100th anniversary of the ‘entente cordiale’. One Blair adviser said at the time that “Tony has this odd respect for Chirac…It’s an S&M thing”. Indeed, both men announced Anglo-French military cooperation while stressing closer European defence capability would not undermine Nato. Plus ca change.
Of course one thing that definitely is changing is our membership of the EU. May’s decision to pay an extra £44m to maintain border security in Calais sounds like a classic compromise. Moreover it seems a microcosm of what will happen after Brexit: we pay a bit more (sometimes a lot more) to keep the best bits of our current arrangements, with mutual self-interest (the French don’t really want to shift UK passport control back to Dover and neither do we) the real factor.
Still, some Eurosceptics think it’s a travesty to hand over more money. Iain Duncan Smith is warning against ‘bungs’, and the Mail, Sun, Telegraph and Express are all unhappy about us giving France more cash, taking more child migrants and getting just the Bayeux Tapestry on loan in return. The Sun has a spoof Bye-EU Tapestry that has delighted Leavers but upset some Remainers (who point out it depicts decapitated Europeans as a finale). Former Cabinet minister Justine Greening rose from her ‘naughty corner’ seat yesterday to warn that young, pro-EU constituents in her London constituency may one day want to ‘undo’ Brexit. The Tories are already claiming that’s exactly what Labour signalled it wanted to do by opposing the Third Reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill last night.
International Trade Minister Greg Hands (a former Remainer but now committed ‘best-from-Brexit’ advocate) has talked to HuffPost Germany about how EU citizens currently in the UK will secure full rights thanks to the PM’s Brussels deal last month. Hands, whose wife is German and children are bilingual, also reveals how his nine-year-old son wept on being told the result of the 2016 EU referendum (he feared his parents would have to separate). With the Sandhurst press conference due later, let’s see if Macron wipes a tear, even a crocodile one, at the prospect of the UK quitting the EU. More likely is a gallic shrug and a twinkle in the banker-turned-President’s eye at the prospect of Paris grabbing some City of London jobs.
2. CHAIRMEN NAO
The shockwaves of Carillion’s collapse continue to reverberate around Whitehall. Today’s National Audit Office (NAO) report into wider PFIs is aptly timed, showing how the taxpayer will be handing over £199bn to private firms well into the 2040s. The most arresting findings are a group of schools that could cost 40% more than Government borrowing, and one hospital could cost 70% more. There’s a real dig too at the Treasury for failing to devise a new ‘value for money’ indicator for PFIs since its last measure was dumped amid heavy criticism by the Treasury Select Committee in 2014.
At least one toxic political row has been nipped in the bud after the Insolvency Service stopped all bonuses and severance payments for former bosses of the construction company. Just as importantly it said more than 90% of private firms employing Carillion want the work to continue and will keep paying their staff. Unions such as the GMB have said the Government response has been ‘inept’.
Business Secretary Greg Clark met banks yesterday to seek assurances about future support. Yet one area that remains in question is whether and how the banks will chase suppliers for Carillion’s liabilities and invoices. The company’s Early Payment Facility appears to be have been drafted as a ‘reverse factoring’ scheme that put it in the driving seat rather than smaller suppliers. That’s complex but worth more scrutiny.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling finally broke his silence on Carillion on ITVNews last night and made the mistake of smiling reflexively throughout. He has Transport Questions in the Commons this morning and East Coast mainline is bound to crop up again. Plus questions as to why new ministerial responsibilities released yesterday showed there’ll be no ‘minister for buses’ to match Labour’s shadow post.
3. BEN NOVICE
Tory MP Ben Bradley’s online past continues to haunt him. After BuzzFeed’s scoop that he joked about vasectomies for the jobless, the Times reveals he said after London riots in 2011 he suggested “police brutality should be encouraged”. The Mirror reveals he backed a council relocating benefits claimants miles from their homes. BuzzFeed says he claimed public sector workers should quit if unhappy about pay.
The newly-appointed Conservative vice-chairman has apologised and No.10 said the PM would keep him in post. A Downing St spokesman said “I think he was 22 at the time he made them and has, himself, said he believes his work and the start of his career in politics has demonstrated to him why those views are wrong”. Other new intake MPs (like Labour’s Jared O’Mara) have found their previous unsavoury views exposed thanks to social media. Young people wouldn’t be human if they didn’t make mistakes, though in the past they wouldn’t invade their own privacy through social media as is common today. The key factors are how recent the remarks were, how extreme and how they make amends.
As for another Ben - Big Ben - the Government are finally expected to announce a date for the ‘Restoration and Renewal’ of Parliament debate in Business Questions today. Two motions were tabled late last night, one would defer a decision until 2022, the other create an Olympics-style delivery body with options on action. Both will be seen as kicking this very large can down the road yet again.
Meanwhile, in other under-the-radar trouble for Mrs May, the Press Association yesterday got hold of a leaked copy of the new Westminster boundaries for Northern Ireland. The shock new plans show a DUP seat will be axed (though the party could more easily take independent MP Sylvia Hermon’s seat). With lots of Tory MPs against the boundary changes (due to be approved later this year don’t forget), surely any upset for the DUP would ensure the review is again delayed – maybe indefinitely.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
The biggest cheer in PMQs was reserved for Tory backbencher Sir Desmond Swayne, as he tapped Ken Clarke on the shoulder and talked about questions that ‘keep me awake at night’. Watch again how he nodded off during a Clarke speech on Brexit.
4. THE BOLTONS
UKIP leader Henry Bolton said on Monday that he had ended ‘the romantic side’ of his relationship with Jo Marney. Last night, our Owen Bennett saw him kissing his ‘ex’ girlfriend as they had an intimate dinner in the National Liberal Club. Bolton told us (hear the recording HERE) that Marney’s racist text messages had been ‘doctored’. He said the pair of them were simply ‘coordinating’, which is a great new euphemism. The Times has a snap of them both on the Tube and in an interview with the Telegraph says their relationship was “fast and furious…the feelings are there”. Last night Bolton posted on Facebook claims that “an organised coup and insurgency against my leadership . . . has begun”. Let’s see if he lasts the weekend and the happy couple can reunite.
5. LORD GEORGE HONOURS MISSED
Theresa May’s new list of peerages is yet to be published but one person who definitely won’t be on it is George Osborne, the Sun reports. Despite lots of previous Chancellors being offered seats in the Lords the PM has not approached Osborne or considered it. The paper points out only three ex-Chancellors have failed to go on to the Upper House in the last 50 years (Major and Brown made clear they didn’t want one, Ken Clarke’s still an MP). Friends say Osborne has ‘never asked’ nor seeks a peerage. A No.10 source jibed he was “much missed, but is clearly managing to fill his time in a number of other ways”