Well, Theresa May doesn’t have to worry any longer about the prospect of being absent from Moscow for an England-France World Cup final. And ahead of Donald Trump’s lunchtime arrival in the UK, she has one eye on his subsequent summit with Vladimir Putin, gently warning the US President not to let Russia split the West. She told last night’s Nato summit that it must work together “to raise the cost of malign behaviour whenever it occurs” and project “unity and strength” in the face of Russian provocation.
Fresh from Nato’s second day of talks, Trump touches down on the tarmac in Blighty (not allowed to tell you where, it’s a secret) at 12.30pm. His trip has been designed deliberately to avoid the expected mass protests, and you can’t get further away from the crowds than the huge grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, where he and Melania will attend a black tie dinner with British and American businesses. There’s a chance for demonstrators to have more impact when the President tries to sleep overnight at the US ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park. A ‘Keep Trump Awake’ protest is planned.
We were briefed extensively by No.10 yesterday on the Trump trip. One thing that leapt out was the weirdly ‘private’ element of the trip when he goes visiting his golf courses over two days in Scotland. When he arrives at Prestwick airport, he’ll be greeted by Scottish Secretary David Mundell but that’s the end point of government involvement. He won’t be seeing Nicola Sturgeon at all. Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and the Scottish Greens have joined forces to demand that the Edinburgh government rule out any use of the publicly-owned Prestwick during his visit.
Something that jumped out from the briefing was the fact that Trump himself will be attending a joint US-UK special forces demonstration tomorrow morning, miles away from London. But the First Lady will at the same time be in the capital, for an event with Philip May, veterans and schoolchildren. So, as the ‘Trump Baby’ balloon takes off, the President will be watching boys’ toys while his wife could well be the one running the gauntlet of the protests. Not a great look, not that Trump cares. There’s an Urgent Question in the Commons this morning on policing of the visit.
HuffPost is of course a transatlantic partnership itself and we this morning have a joint US-UK piece on whether the ‘special relationship’ can withstand the Trump era, with the view from New York and from London (ie me). I’ll have a longer read up tonight on how Trump operates, but in the meantime it’s worth pondering this quote from former National Security Adviser Sir Peter Ricketts, on why UK can’t become totally dependent on Washington even after Brexit. Referring to Trump’s closeness to Emmanuel Macron, he says: “This is not monogamous on the American side, so it doesn’t need to be on the British side.”
2. KNIGHTS IN WHITE, SAT IN
Just 260 days to go until we quit the EU, we finally today get to see the Government’s detailed plans for Brexit today. The Tory knights of the realm, Sir Bill Cash and Sir Bernard Jenkin, once dismissed by David Cameron as ‘the Bills and the Bernards’ (before he lost the EU referendum), are expected to be among a phalanx of Eurosceptics out in force as new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab publishes the long-awaited White Paper plan.
Though no actual sit-ins are expected in the Commons, the backbench Brexiteers’ guerrilla warfare is certainly being talked up by the European Research Group (ERG). Yesterday, the Leavers fired their first shots in protest at May’s ‘compromise’ plans on customs, courts and trade. Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg they tabled a string of amendments to the Trade Bill due next week, all aimed at killing off key parts of the Chequers package agreed by Cabinet last Friday. The backbenchers view themselves not as guerrillas, but more as white knights protecting the honour and integrity of the Leave vote and as such are all the more dangerous. They’re furious at the idea of May relying on Labour support, yet know their only chance of victory is their own unholy alliance with Corbyn’s crew (who also think the Chequers plan could undermine the nation, for entirely different reasons).
Is it a containable rebellion? Well, Raab himself was on the Today programme, stressing: “When people read the detail there will be quite a lot of reassurance there.” Raab was canny enough to talk up the end to free movement, and preparations for ‘no deal’ (“anything is possible”). He also said that “as someone who’s got a Brazilian wife” he wants an end to “discrimination” against non-EU citizens at the UK border. Yet when pressed if that meant EU citizens would not get special treatment, he replied that was “subject to negotiation”. Add in claims (by Charles Moore in the Spectator but denied by No.10) that May told ministers she couldn’t deviate from her plans because they’d already been signed off by Angela Merkel, and you can see why there’s trouble ahead. We’ll find out in Business Questions at 10.30am if the Trade Bill has been delayed to allow time to mend fences.
But Raab, who will ring Michel Barnier for the first time today, sounded like he had a stick as well as a carrot for his fellow Brexiteers though. He pointed out the Government won every single vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill despite threats from Remainer rebels. Raab said that “for all this talk of riots” by backbenchers, people will look to Tory MPs “to do the responsible thing…if not they too will be held to account”. That sounded like the kind of steel a future leader needs.
3. PRESSING PAUSE
A new poll puts Labour two points ahead of the Tories (Corbyn was six behind recently), so Cabinet divisions on Brexit may well have fuelled public disillusionment with May’s government overall. And it’s another potential Tory leader, Sajid Javid, who is today trying to repair his party’s image, this time on the Windrush scandal.
The Home Secretary has announced a three-month pause to “pro-active data sharing” between government departments to prevent members of the Windrush generation getting caught up in policies aimed at curbing illegal immigration. And for all Raab’s talk of ending free movement, is there wriggle room on the 100,000 net migration target? When asked earlier this week at a meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee if the target was “a massive chain around your neck” that he wanted to “ditch”, Javid replied “next question”.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
A reminder of that glorious moment last night when everything seemed possible and England fans at Hyde Park reacted to Trippier’s wonderful goal.
4. DONTCHA WANT ME BABY
The day after Facebook got a kicking, Labour is on the ropes over its own use of data. The party bought data on more than 1 million new and expectant mothers and their children from a leading baby club ahead of the 2017 general election. Yesterday, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued a notice of intent to fine Emma’s Diary £140,000 for the breach. The company describes itself as “one of the UK’s leading baby clubs for mums-to-be, providing expert advice on every aspect of pregnancy and childcare” and claims to be “the most widely circulated mother-and-baby publication”, distributing 870,000 copies each year. It said it denied some of the ICO’s allegations. But it’s not a great look for Labour.
5. MARDY GRAS
Labour is committed to banning foie gras if it comes to power, and only recently Michael Gove expressed a similar hope that the pate (made from livers of force fed geese and ducks) could be phased out on animal welfare grounds. Yet the Sun picks up on Gove’s admission to the Commons Environmental Audit committee yesterday that Brussels, and Paris, would get mardy with the idea of a ban. “It may be the case that the French government on behalf of its farmers that any free trade agreement between Britain and the EU that imposed restrictions on foie gras would be one which it could live with.” More proof that the trade deal could be something else the Brexiters find hard to swallow.
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