1. NEVER KNOWINGLY UNDERSOLD
The PM chairs a special Cabinet meeting today on the latest Brexit preparations, with ‘no deal’ set to be discussed in all its forms. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is due to publish up to 30 more ‘technical notices’ on how the nation can brace itself for the possible eventuality of us dropping out of the EU on World Trade Organisation terms and tariffs. Politico’s Annabelle Dickson has a scoop on a leaked draft list of 22 areas covered by the notices, from driving licenses to passports.
DExEU seem to have got their act together on the media planning front, with a piece from Raab in the Telegraph saying it’s ‘nonsense’ to suggest we would run out of food under no-deal. He’s toured the breakfast TV and radio studios with a bit of retail politics, confirming the Sun story that Vodafone has agreed to continue to keep UK mobile phones free of roaming charges post-Brexit. But karate black belt Raab couldn’t resist a combative move on the retail front. As John Lewis reported a dramatic drop in profits and linked it to Brexit, Raab told the BBC: “I think there will be some temptation from businesses that are not doing so well to blame Brexit and I think that is a mistake.” Both Leavers and Remainers are never knowingly undersold (JLewis’ famous slogan) in the frenzied Brexit debate, but was it wise to take on the very symbol of Middle England?
Still, Raab’s biggest gambit that will please Leaver backbenchers is ramping up the threat of not paying our full ‘divorce’ bill in the event of a collapse in negotiations with Brussels. May gave a strong hint of this in PMQs yesterday, but Raab now has a new mantra that Tory MPs will repeat for many months: “no deal without the whole deal”. This is a Union-Jacked version of the EU’s own “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Its main aim seems to be a reminder to Michel Barnier that Tory MPs may not pass a withdrawal agreement without specific, firm pledges in an accompanying future framework statement.
Allies of the PM have been remarkably sanguine about reports of leadership rumblings at Tuesday night’s 50-strong meeting of European Research Group, not least as they believe the dissent didn’t go beyond the usual suspects. No.10 will also be heartened by the ‘moderate fightback’ that took place last night in the Commons. We report how 80 MPs attended a Tory Reform Group meeting, with Nicky Morgan declaring it was time to “stand up against the louder voices” of the Right and to reassure One Nation Tory voters in marginal seats (Morgan holds once-Labour Loughborough). “When you are too shrill, too ideologically-driven then you lose those voters,” she said.
2. VISA EASER
Diane Abbott has a big speech (and Q&A) this morning on how Labour would handle migration post-Brexit and there’s much to chew over. The key new policy is a pledge to offer visas to “anyone with specified bona fide skills” and to ditch “fake” immigration targets. The Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott will commit to major reform of the visa system that seeks to turn the Tory 100k target and argument on its head: instead of capping migration arbitrarily, ask employers what their needs are and then hand out visas accordingly. The new ‘integrated work visa’ will be “available to all those we need to come here, whether it is doctors, or scientists, or care workers”.
Note the use of the word ‘need’. That will please those on the Labour benches who think that fears of migration undercutting wages was a real driver of the Leave vote among their constituents. Yet the overall policy is aimed at showing a Corbyn government would welcome overseas workers wherever possible. With the Government still to work out its own policy, it’s possible Abbott could have outflanked ministers with a scheme that may end up becoming a Home Office reality, if Brexiteers accept it.
Of course, the debate about immigration often comes down to striking the right tone. I’m told a telling line in Abbott’s speech will call for ‘the right to family life’, and she will unveil a string of measures aimed at ending discrimination against visa holders and their spouses. She will pledge to end “exorbitant” fees of migrant visas – and underline how the Windrush scandal was fuelled by “numerical targets” under the ‘hostile environment’ policy. Sajid Javid has already shrewdly ordered a review of visa fees and knows that this is a huge issue among BAME communities – with the Tories needing more of their votes in key seats.
Bang on cue, former Home Office civil servant Sir David Normington has told the Today programme this morning that the Government’s target to get net migration down to the ‘tens of thousands’ has been “discredited”. May stuck rigidly to defending the target even after David Cameron and George Osborne (who handed it to her in 2010 don’t forget) for years. Will she finally admit defeat soon, and use Brexit as a chance to accept a smarter system for our work needs?
3. PASS OVER
The House of Commons has launched an investigation into claims that Jeremy Corbyn’s office broke strict rules on Parliamentary security. The move was announced after HuffPost revealed on Tuesday that his Private Secretary Iram Awan had been working in the Palace of Westminster without required security clearance. Awan routinely turned up for work at his Commons office for more than nine months despite failing to gain a Parliamentary pass, using a visitor’s pass instead.
The FT revealed yesterday that another key adviser, Unite’s Andrew Murray, has also not had a Parliamentary pass approved despite applying a year ago. In a sign of that this whole affair could turn into a war of words between Corbyn allies and the Commons authorities, a friend of Murray’s told me yesterday: “Andrew considers this a petty attempt to disrupt the working of the Leader’s office.” Another pointed out that Murray, a former Communist, had been granted access to Parliament in the 1980s when he worked for the Morning Star.
It’s worth pointing out that there are significant differences between Awan’s and Murray’s cases, not least that the Unite man worked part time and has rarely been seen in the Leader’s office for many months. There are unanswered questions as to whether Awan had access to the Parliamentary intranet, something only passholders are allowed. I understand that his Private Secretary will now spend more time working outside Parliament but will attend occasional meetings as a visitor. Corbyn’s office yesterday raised their concerns with the authorities about delays in getting key staff security passes.
A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn yesterday told us that while the party did not comment on “staffing matters” (he said it seven times), it was aware “of all the rules in relation to parliamentary passes”. “We deal with them every day, we are aware of the procedures and respect them,” he said. Yesterday’s investigation was launched after Tory MP Leo Doherty wrote to the Serjeant-at-Arms to demand a probe. Tory Party chairman Brandon Lewis told the Daily Mail last night: “This clear breach of security not only puts Parliament at risk, it also raises serious questions about Jeremy Corbyn’s judgment and integrity.” But the Commons authorities, as I pointed out yesterday, have questions to answer themselves over why security staff did not pick up the practice of using a visitor pass for work.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Everyone needs a break. So just watch these babies laughing at dogs. Enjoy.
4. SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM
Theresa May put ‘modern slavery’ on the British political map as Home Secretary and on her recent trip to Nigeria declared “the UK is a world leader in making it an international mission to end this heinous crime”. But we report today that Labour has accused her of “foot dragging” over appointing a new anti-slavery tsar after it emerged the key independent post will sit vacant for half-a-year. Kevin Hyland, who was appointed by May four years ago, resigned as the UK’s first anti-slavery tsar on May 4, complaining his independence from the Government “felt somewhat discretionary”. After the social mobility commission delays, here’s another.
5. KEEP CALM AND CARRIE ON
HuffPost has published an open letter signed by 70 women working in Westminster, protesting at the “misogynist” treatment of Carrie Symonds by some in the media. Symonds, an ex-Tory communications director, has been linked to former foreign secretary Boris Johnson after it was announced he and his wife are to divorce. The signatories of the letter include sports minister Tracey Crouch, MPs Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Stella Creasy and feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez. They say have been left “disturbed and shocked” by the media coverage surrounding the 30-year-old.
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