1. DON’T BE SO DRAFT
It’s a big day in Parliament for Brexit, with David Davis taking DexEU Questions from 9.30am and later the gargantuan EU (Withdrawal) Bill starts its second reading.
Theresa May and DD knew that the next couple of years (until ‘exit day’ in 2019) is going to be a rough ride, and the past couple of days has proved that in spades. The leak of the Home Office’s migration crackdown plan has had its desired effect, allowing Cabinet ministers to set out their worries. The Telegraph splashes on Home Secretary Amber Rudd expressing “reservations” about the migrant curbs drafted by her own department (yes, you read that right). The paper adds quasi-DPM Damian Green is worried too, though Green was on the Today programme saying it was “nonsense” that he had misgivings as he hadn’t seen the report. He did however say it was just “one draft” and it was definitely not Government policy. Yet.
The Times says Philip Hammond has pleaded with the PM not to impose the clampdown immediately after Brexit day, but it seems May is digging in on some bits of the Home Office plan. Philip Hammond’s big strategic victory this summer was to get Cabinet approval for a transition plan, but that may be worthless to business if free movement is not in the plan.
The FT splashes on the SkyNews scoop that company bosses are refusing to sign up to a Downing Street letter backing the Government on Brexit. Ruth Davidson has told the New Statesman that her big fear about quitting the EU is that “if there’s a short-term economic hit, we don’t bounce back from it”.
As for the leak to the Guardian, the question is always who benefits? Our Kate Forrester has done a fascinating feature on just how political leaking works. There’s a lovely story about Peter Mandelson raising a quizzical eyebrow at one Labour colleague who was furious, absolutely furious that private info could have got out.
2. LABOUR MOVEMENT
As I pointed out yesterday, there has been a notably restrained response from Labour to the leaked Brexit migrant plans. Jeremy Corbyn opted to duck the issue at PMQs (leaving the SNP to take up the mantle) and it seems that’s mainly because the party is torn over its current stance on EU free movement.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and his team yesterday had a meeting with more than 30 Labour MPs who are worried about being whipped on the second reading. As well as a hardcore of half a dozen ‘Labour Leavers’, scores more backbenchers in Leave-voting areas fear they will get a kicking if they oppose the bill. And it’s worth mentioning here just how canny the Tories with the title of the legislation. Although it is no longer the ‘Repeal Bill’, calling it the ‘EU Withdrawal Bill’ still makes it sound as though anyone who opposes it is opposing Brexit.
But in an interview with the FT, Starmer sounds more pro-EU than ever before, even suggesting permanently staying in a customs union - even if it precludes non-EU trade deals —“is a viable end option”. And I report today that there’s an even bigger battle ahead at party conference over moves to get Labour to keep EU free movement even after Brexit.
The Labour Campaign for Free Movement has the backing of lots of CLPs and some unions for an emergency motion that would change the party’s manifesto pledge that free movement will end after 2019. Backed by an alliance of left and right, it shares the Diane Abbott view that migrants should not be scapegoated for austerity. And Abbott, not Starmer, is the lead Shadow Minister on this issue. “The biggest row at conference will probably be over free movement, not internal selection rules,” one NEC source tells me. So far, Corbyn is holding the compromise of ‘managed migration’, but let’s see later this month.
The key could be statistics and hard evidence. There is little or no evidence that migrants in and of themselves lead to lower wages. And Vince Cable revealed yesterday that May had “suppressed” nine papers in Coalition that proved migration did not impact on jobs or wages. He’s going to write to the PM to ask for them to be published. “I saw the research as well, the effects were greatest at the bottom end of the pay scale…” Damian Green said this morning. Maybe an FoI could show us what the research really said.
Starmer told Today that everyone, including his party, should wait until the independent Migration Advisory Committee, had done its review of the impact of migrants on jobs. That sounded like a further hint that Labour policy could shift on free movement. Few noticed it on Sunday, but Starmer told Andrew Marr the Government had a ‘zero chance’ of getting a new migration policy ready for Brexit day, as the MAC review reports so late (autumn 2018). It feels like keeping free movement may be Labour’s default option in a transition period at least.
3. TIME LORDS
As the trench warfare starts on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, some of the first shots fired will be over the programme motion that determines just how much time is allocated to debate. Government whips were in full spin mode yesterday, with one source telling the Indy it would be “generous” to grant five days at committee stage for a bill of this length, and that the Article 50 Bill had only three days. The actual programme motion was published late last night and it gives eight days for debate. But Labour is pointing out that this is paltry for such a huge, historic bill. The European Communities Act had 22 days in committee, the Maastricht bill had 23. Labour is hoping for some ‘constitutional Tories’ to at least get the number up through backbench amendments on Monday.
But Labour is not hopeful that the Remainer Tories will mobilise in any serious numbers when the crunch comes on the committee stage amendments on the substance of the bill, and moves to curb sweeping executive powers. The PM’s conciliatory tone to Anna Soubry in PMQs was clear, and the Times Diary reports May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell was spotted on Tuesday night trying to charm her in an Indian restaurant over “a plate of tikkas”. Few in Labour believe Dominic Grieve won’t roll over eventually too.
The Lords want more time too. House of Lords Constitution Committee is not happy that the PM yesterday “misquoted” its own report on the Repeal Bill. Its chair Ann Taylor, herself a formidable former Labour Chief Whip, says the committee wants “tougher parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms” and warns “our key recommendations have been ignored”.
4. PHIL’S SPECTRE
Last night’s meeting of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee was addressed by Philip Hammond. ‘The Undertaker’ Chancellor conjured up the spectre of Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, warning “If you want to see what a Corbyn Britain would look like, then get on a plane to Caracas”.
Hammond asked every Tory MP to come up with ideas for the Budget on how to appeal to the under-30s. In what was nearly a Macmillan-style ‘you’ve never had it so good’ moment, he told MPs their own concerns over mortgages and pension were a thing of the past but young people had no such comforts.
Hammond also delivered “barbed” criticism of how Theresa May ran the General Election, quipping the economy was only mentioned “on the rare occasions I was allowed to go out talk in the campaign.”
Another Tory not seen at all in the election was David Cameron, of course, and our Owen Bennett reports on how the ex-PM turned up for the 1922 Committee. He told them he had a new shed and had taken up smoking again. Dave also made a gag at Boris’s expense, but Bojo missed it - he arrived in the Committee Room just as Cameron finished speaking.
5. MEAL DEAL
It’s the TUC conference next week and there’s a new TUC/GQR poll showing the scale of the wages crisis facing British workers means one in eight are skipping meals to get by.
General secretary Frances O’Grady has done a round of interviews and she tells us Donald Trump will face huge-scale protests organised by the five-million-member TUC if he takes up Theresa May’s invite to visit the UK. On Trump, she told HuffPost UK: “I think Charlottesville has had a big impact on lots of people everywhere. It hit me during the one-minute silence for the anti-fascist protester, Heather Hayer.”
The TUC is hoping the Tories lift the public sector pay cap, and O’Grady said many union-supported measures in the Labour manifesto had polled as highly popular with Tory voters. “Regardless of where people stood politically, everybody recognised that Labour’s manifesto was the real star of that election campaign,” she said.
Meanwhile, nurses weren’t happy at May’s leaden-footed display in PMQs, as she appeared to dismiss their pay demands as “this, that and the other”. We talked to protesting nurses in Parliament Square.