POLITICS
28/06/2018 09:11 BST | Updated 28/06/2018 09:53 BST

The Waugh Zone Thursday June 28, 2018

The five things you need to know about politics today.

1. THE VERY WURST BREXIT?

Theresa May heads to Brussels for the EU summit, with her accompanying aides and hacks all desperately trying to find the right TV screen to watch the England v Belgium World Cup match. But while the Germans choked on their bratwurst as they suffered a disastrous exit from the football competition yesterday, the focus for Tory Remainer ministers is whether the UK will crash out of the EU next year. Curiously, if England suffer a defeat at the hands of the Belgians tonight, it could make winning the cup easier as we would face a smoother draw. That’s possibly a metaphor for the Brexiteers: a temporary setback now is worth it in the long run. The FT reports Michael Gove told MPs this week to accept a status quo Brexit for business now, in the hope terms can be “improved” over time.

Little of substance on Brexit will get discussed at the summit, given the EU’s more pressing problems on migration. Yet their leaked draft communique criticises the incremental progress in talks so far and warns “member states and all stakeholders [aka business] to step up their work on preparedness at all levels for all outcomes [aka ‘no deal’]”. There are fresh reports that Brussels is looking at emergency plans to keep the Channel Tunnel open and financial services working if there’s no deal. As it happens, former No10 chief of staff Nick Timothy writes in the Telegraph that the Chancellor has “blocked meaningful no-deal planning”. He argues Cabinet Remainers are gifting the EU “the very worst” Brexit deal possible for Britain. The unresolved question is whether the worst deal for us is also the best deal for Germany and France and others driving the debate.

Will Angela Merkel’s troubles at home and abroad make her less likely to be helpful to the UK? The Sun reports that ahead of the Chequers AwayDay summit next week, ministers have been briefed by No.10 that the election of a Eurosceptic Italian government has driven Berlin, Paris and others into hardening their line on not giving the UK the best terms. “Italy has spooked them and made them more determined that no one is allowed to leave with a good deal,” a source says. Is it all just sabre-rattling on both sides though, given the mutual self-interest at play? One minister told me yesterday that Irish PM Leo Varadkar ‘is playing a dangerous game’, given the £43bn in trade with the UK that Ireland relies on. (Speaking of dangerous games, the Sun has spotted Labour MEP leader Richard Corbett suggesting he supports Belgium in the World Cup).

The real business comes next Friday at Chequers as the whole Cabinet discusses the planned White Paper that will finally set out the UK position. Little white smoke will emerge that night, but I’m told May is planning a Commons statement on Monday July 9. To give time to incorporate the conclusions of the Chequers discussion, the full paper will be possibly published a few days later, just before Donald Trump arrives. It’s going to be a hell of a week. One measure of the PM’s difficulties is that the more pro-Brexit language she uses, the more suspicious some of her MPs are that she’s trying to sell them a ‘soft’ exit. For now, everyone in Government is united in cheering on England (even the Scotland Office).

 

2. REVERSE FERRETS

As I mentioned yesterday, Tory backbenchers are increasingly weary of heavy whipping at a time when Cabinet ministers seem to be allowed to fight like ferrets in a sack. Backbench 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady is quoted in the Times appealing for unity: “it is essential that people get behind the prime minister and give her the space and the authority to deliver the right outcome for the country”. And the paper reveals Liz Truss was “spoken to” by No.10 about her attack on Michael Gove and others.

One source told me yesterday that the Truss speech was cleared by Downing Street in the usual way, but the blunder came when her ridicule of plastic straw bans – words not actually delivered - was mistakenly published on the Government website. Whoever was to blame, it looks like a mess. But the gentle reprimand for Truss came amid other signs No.10 was starting to instil more discipline. Brexiteer and Tory Welsh Assembly leader Andrew RT Davies, who accused Airbus of ‘hyperbole’, quit yesterday in what looked like a forced resignation.

George Osborne further angered Leavers yesterday when he used a CBI event to urge businesses “do speak out and make yourself heard”. Osborne is of course no longer Chancellor but Evening Standard Editor, and adviser to US finance firm BlackRock. And speaking of the revolving door from Government to the private sector, the Commons today has a cross-party motion on the watchdog ACOBA (Advisory Committee on Business Appointments). Labour’s Jon Trickett says a radical overhaul is needed.

 

3. REHAB REBOOT

Radical plans to give Labour members – rather than just councillors - the right to elect their local council group leader have certainly ignited an almighty row within the party. And a big battle is now going on behind the scenes over whether they are included in the ‘democracy review’ due to be published before conference. Newcastle City Council leader and NEC member for local government Nick Forbes speaks for many of his colleagues when he writes in the Guardian that the plans are ‘unworkable’, possibly illegal and could cost millions in balloting fees. He also warns it risks “endless infighting”.

It’s true that since the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, local government has been seen as one of the most durable redoubts for ‘centrist’ Labour politicians, many of whom say they have to be pragmatic as they are forced to make cuts imposed on them by Tory austerity. Attempts to replace the party’s national town hall leadership with a left candidate have failed. And while Haringey grabbed the headlines, and Manchester City Council also has deselection rows, so far, Momentum has not made the inroads some expected. Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman yesterday tried to calm the row, insisting nothing had been decided. But he did add that Corbyn had always wanted more democracy in the party.

Some around the leader don’t want a row, but they may have no choice as there’s definitely a new push on the issue, with some trade unions declaring the current system dysfunctional. Today, GMB’s Political Officer and council liaison chief Tom Warnett reignites the controversy, with a HuffPost blog on why “this is not a witch hunt…this is about accountability to our movement”. He quotes a member saying: “I voted for Jeremy to be Labour leader, but the council make so many decisions about our lives, why don’t we have a say in who leads that? We don’t even get asked.” Warnett attacks ‘union-busting’ Labour councils like Barking, and others that privatise services “without a second thought”. There’s also talk on the Left of a new system to choose council leaders through an electoral college of party members and union affiliates with possibly some consultation of councillors. Let’s see if the leadership wants this fight.

 

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch Culture Secretary Matt Hancock practice his moonwalking skills as he attends the opening of a Michael Jackson exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  Video courtesy of his former spad Jonathan Badyal.

 

4. STUDENT ALERT

Universities minister Sam Gyimah is at a student mental health summit in Bristol today. The choice of city is no coincidence as 12 students have died there since 2016, many of them confirmed as suicides. Gyimah will urge university chiefs to do much more to take a lead on wellbeing and back his plan for a new alert system, authorising their university to contact their parents in an emergency if they find themselves in a mental health crisis at some point during their studies.

There has been a big surge in reported numbers of students seeking counselling services in recent years. New ONS student suicide figures were released this week, showing that 95 youngsters took their own lives in the 12 months to July 2017. While it’s unclear if the numbers are rising, we owe it to the families and memory of each of those 95 young men and women to make student mental health a national crusade. Gyimah is at least making a start.

 

5. HI, STREET!

John Lewis Partnership has warned its half-year profits could be “close to zero” as the high street slump finally catches up with one of our best known shopping names. The 154-year-old group behind John Lewis and Waitrose (where the PM famously shops) said it could close five of the food stores and wants to grow by offering unique products and services instead.

One man who knows more than most about the business is former John Lewis managing director and now West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street. I’m delighted that Andy will be taking part in a WaughZone Live special event in Birmingham next Thursday, as part of our HuffPost Listens project to boost the voice of Britain beyond the London ‘bubble’. We are moving our entire newsroom to Birmingham’s Bullring for the week and creating a permanent West Midlands correspondent. Apply for tickets to the event, email: listentobirmingham@huffpost.com.

 
 

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