1. WAB EXPERIMENT
As the main political parties gear up for the Euro elections that few of them wanted, creative confusion abounds on the twin questions of Theresa May’s future and Brexit’s future. And, more than ever, those questions, and that confusion, are inextricably linked.
On the next steps on Brexit, committee chairman Sir Graham Brady seemed convinced yesterday that May had given him some kind of signal that she would publish the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) “before the European elections take place and hopefully in the much nearer future than that”. Such a move would certainly be big news, but had Brady fallen prey to obfuscation by May? It wouldn’t be the first time someone left No10 thinking the PM had promised one thing, only to discover they meant something else.
David Gauke, asked if a vote could be held before the Euros, told the Today programme: “We want it to bring it back as quickly as we can, but we obviously want it to succeed. If we are in a position whereby we can win a vote…” No.10 has also made clear it will only consider tabling the legislation if it has a ‘stable majority’ backed up by some kind of deal with Corbyn. In a nutshell: no Lab, no WAB.
And after last night’s latest talks with the opposition, the mood music from the two sides was again markedly different. While a government spokesman said more meetings would take place, Labour sources stressed how patience was now running thin. Corbyn’s spokesman had pointed out “these talks are not an indefinite process”, and he could well pull the plug on the whole thing in coming days. It’s nearly six weeks now since the talks process started and there has been no real progress on the big issues.
If the talks do finally collapse next week, that would possibly calm restless Tory backbenches relieved that Lab-Con ‘deal’ idea was over. We could then see her switch to the ‘Plan B’ (copyright, No.10) of a new series of Commons votes on alternatives to her deal. Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of the options would get a majority. Given her desperation for a ‘win’, a Brady amendment-style ‘alternative arrangements’ option could buy her a bit more time. But an increasing number of her own side are wondering ‘time for what?’
2. IMMOVABLE OBJECT
As for her own future, May is now getting used to the slings and arrows of outraged Brexiteers. For the second time in a matter of weeks, she was asked in PMQs by one of her own backbenchers (Andrea Jenkyns this time not Bill Cash) to resign, but shrugged the question off as if she were swatting a mosquito.
Johnny Mercer’s decision to go on strike (and his claims on Today that whips had tried to smear him to vote for the PM) just added to the wider sense of a zombie government with discipline breaking down all over. Yet even under pressure from Brady to ‘clarify’ her departure timetable from No.10, the PM remains Sphynx-like in her refusal to give more clues, apart from agreeing to meet the 1922 Committee’s executive (not its full membership, note) next week. Some Tory MPs think May will only be removed by men white coats (the ’WAB rats?) rather than men in grey suits, and hope ministers will take up the mantle.
George Osborne yesterday stepped things up with two interviews (one on Peston, one on SkyNews) in which he said rule changes by the ’22 were irrelevant. He told Peston: “To ask the party to change its leadership rules to get rid of her is not a healthy thing, and there’s actually a responsibility on the Cabinet and the rest of the party to say ‘enough is enough’.” To Sky’s Beth Rigby, he said: “It’s within their hands, you can’t say it’s beyond my control if you’re a member of the Cabinet.”
As May keeps pointing out, a change of leader won’t change the Parliamentary arithmetic. David Gauke this morning said the party should not ‘rush’ into a leadership contest. Yet the Tory race is certainly underway and there’s a wider battle to keep Johnson and Raab out of the top two and away from the rank and file membership.
Gauke and Amber Rudd have speeches today calling for a moderate, modern Conservativism. Both these close allies benefit from the fact that they are not running themselves for the top job. As it happens, they may end up in a different battle - to be the next Chancellor (Gauke told me at a WaughZoneLive in 2017 his dream job was to run the Treasury, not No.10; Rudd is also tipped as the first female Chancellor).
3. CAMPAIGN OFFENSIVE
Jeremy Corbyn has his party’s Euro campaign launch in Medway this morning and will unveil his manifesto, along with his calibrated, qualified pledge on the ‘option’ of a ‘public vote’. But the Tory party looks like it may not even have a manifesto at all for the elections. The Mail’s Jason Groves quotes one source asking ‘what would we put in it?’.
After PMQs, a No.10 political spokesman yesterday tried to put a brave face on the party’s Euro campaign. ”We are up and running. The message is there’s only one party that can deliver Brexit.” But there was much laughter as one Lobby hack then asked: “Which party is that then?”
And you just can’t get away from Nigel Farage in these elections. Tom Watson last night held the second meeting of his Future Britain Group (50 MPs, 30 peers attended) in Commons committee room 6. And after a YouGov polling presentation by Marcus Roberts (the man who recently advised Sanchez ahead of his Spanish election victory), Watson’s main pitch was that Labour had to treat the Euros as a battle against Farage and ‘the far right’ like ‘Tommy Robinson’.
The Greens had a successful launch yesterday with the admirably clear slogan of ‘for Europe, against climate change’. Today, the Lib Dems launch their own manifesto. And as Stephen Bush wrote eloquently yesterday, the real problem now is for Change UK. Before the local elections, the rookie party’s strategy of not allying to the Lib Dems looked risky. After Cable’s stunning successes, it’s clear the grassroots depth of the yellow peril cannot be ignored. Will Chuka and co finally change tack and sort an alliance for the Peterborough by-election or even Euros, at this late stage?
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch grown men go nuts as Spurs pull off a RoyOfTheRovers-style comeback to get into the Champion’s League final. Glenn Hoddle does indeed look like he’s falling off a ladder.
4. IRON MIKE
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed a Trump-style ability to ruffle feathers yesterday. Not only did he have a pop at Corbyn over Venezuela (and Corbyn had a pop back), he taunted Theresa May that ‘the Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher would never think of giving Communists like the Chinese a foothold in the UK’s telecoms networks. Gavin Williamson, who in PMQs sat in the place where Geoffrey Howe launched his devastating attack on Thatcher, must have enjoyed that a lot.
What I found interesting was not just Pompeo’s veiled threat that the US would pull out of operations if the Huawei 5G move went ahead. More striking was his confidence it wouldn’t happen. Jeremy Hunt, a sceptic of the idea, seemed to cut him slack too. And the ‘i’ reports that ministers are ‘reconsidering’ the decision, not least as culture secretary Jeremy Wright told MPs “I don’t exclude the possibility that there will be some delay.”
5. ARCHIE, HARRY’S SON
The wall-to-wall coverage of the Royal Baby at least had one upside: the image of a multi-racial family gathering to coo over the arrival of little Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. Our Nadine White writes on why the photo was a landmark moment. As for the birth itself, the presence of the hat on the baby suggests it may have had a ventouse delivery (which leaves a temporary but unphotogenic mark on the head).
Meghan had reportedly wanted to give birth at home. But with the Mail revealing she travelled secretly down the M4 from Windsor to the Portland in London, my own best guess is that because she was overdue, the medical advice was that she should be induced in hospital. Here endeth the midwifery notes.
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