20/02/2018 09:01 GMT

The Waugh Zone Tuesday February 20, 2018

The five things you need to know about politics today.


In the 1970s, strike-hit, low-growth Britain was often dubbed “the sick man of Europe”. That phrase has fresh resonance today after an internal Brussels document suggested that a no-deal Brexit could actually expose British workers to more cancer-inducing chemicals. The ‘Level Playing Field’ memo set out the dire scenario that a low-tax, low-regulation UK would ditch EU rules on carcinogens in the workplace in a bid to undercut its European rivals.

One Government insider tells me such fears are based on ‘misunderstandings’ at best (and a ‘sick’ version of Project Fear at worst). That’s why David Davis will use his speech in Vienna to reassure everyone that Britain after March 2019 will not descend into a ‘Mad Max-style’ “dystopian fiction”. Children of the 1970s and 1980s like me will get the reference (and it got the speech top of the bulletins this morning), though I’m not sure younger folks are aware of Mel Gibson’s apocalyptic movie role. Still, on the issue of safety in the workplace, DD is keen on pointing out that the landmark 1974 Health and Safety At Work Act pre-dated the UK’s referendum on joining the European Community.

Yet in Davis’s speech there is also the makings of a deal with Brussels, if Brussels wants one. He says the UK and EU should be able to “trust” each other’s “regulations and the institutions that enforce them”. “Such mutual recognition will naturally require close, even-handed cooperation between these authorities and a common set of principles to guide them.” And he says he is “certain” that mutual self-interest will triumph.

As Parliament returns, Boris Johnson has Foreign Office questions and Liam Fox and Michael Gove also make Brexit-related speeches. But some Remainer ministers think DD’s words underline that he and other Leavers accept they’ve got to back a compromise. The FT’s George Parker reportsthat Theresa May plans to keep her Cabinet ministers at Chequers on Thursday as long as it takes – or “until they have outlined a Brexit plan that includes a high level of alignment between EU and UK rules”. Will Headmistress May force the Brexiteers to sit in detention until they write out 100 times on a blackboard ‘I accept close alignment now followed by possible divergence in the future’? I doubt it. But how the deal is spun, by all sides, may be the real story.



It looks like Jeremy Corbyn has decided enough is enough on the ‘commie spy’ allegations. His lawyers last night demanded the deletion of a tweet by Tory MP Ben Bradley that claimed he had “sold British secrets” in the Cold War. Within seconds of the legal threat, Tory vice chairman Bradley had indeed withdrawn the offending message.

Labour insiders told HuffPost that Security Minister Ben Wallace should also delete his own tweet, which had compared him to Cambridge spy Kim Philby.  Some in Team JC think that a serving minister in particular should not be spreading such insinuations, but so far Wallace has not retracted. The real problem for those pushing the spy claims is that while Corbyn may have had sympathies with fellow anti-capitalists around the globe, the idea that he had any ‘secrets’ to pass on (particularly about our security services) is difficult to conceive.

Yesterday, Theresa May scored an own goal on tuition fees, declaring “We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world” (a gift to Labour’s general election poster team). But she missed the open goal offered by the Sun, which asked whether Corbyn should ask for his Stasi files to be released. Instead, the PM said ‘all’ MPs had to be ‘open and transparent’. The Telegraph reports MPs plan to call Czech spy Jan Sarkocy to give evidence. Some in Labour think that will allow them to expose him as a fantasist.

Some in Labour are now seizing on the newspaper onslaught as proof that more regulation is needed to stop them spreading falsehoods. Tom Watson writes in the Indy that “Unfortunately for these newspapers, the years of slurs, of stretching the truth to breaking point, of completely one-sided reporting may be creeping up on them”. Watson didn’t quite mention fresh media regulation, but shadow minister Clive Lewis went for it yesterday, saying the “lies” about Corbyn and McDonnell showed it was time “Leveson 2 is enacted”.  Defenders of a free press will point out that the Labour leader’s legal threat to Bradley proved that British libel law is pretty strong as it is. But that won’t stop some around Corbyn to push now for fresh curbs.



The stalemate in Stormont is often met with a collective shrug by many in London. But as new Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley makes a Commons statement on it today, one issue that’s sure to surface is the growing suggestion among some Brexiteers that the Good Friday Agreement is no longer fit for purpose. Yesterday, Labour MP Kate Hoey became the latest to criticise the deal (Owen Patterson and Dan Hannan have already), telling HuffPost it was “not sustainable” given the impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein. “There is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement,” she said.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary (and staunchly pro-EU) Peter Hain swiftly denounced his colleague’s “reckless” remarks, claiming the views of “Brextremists” like Paterson, Hannan and Howey “show they are willing to sacrifice almost anything on the altar of a hard Brexit.” Much more of that anger will spill over into today’ Commons session. Meanwhile, the FT has a report today on how businesses in the province worry it will take “years” for a ‘smart border’ tech solution to be found.

Last night, Irish PM Leo Varadkar had what sounded like a particularly frosty phone call with Theresa May. He warned her that he did not want to see the imposition of direct rule from London, a prospect growing more likely by the day. Some insiders say the DUP and Sinn Fein were privately quite close to a deal recently but it hadn’t been squared fully with sceptics.  As Brexit talks loom, this key bit of the jigsaw hasn’t gone away, you know.



Watch this New York gun owner explain why he’s sawn his assault rifle in half after the latest mass shooting in the US.



The Oxfam scandal arrives in Westminster today as the International Development Select Committee grills current chief exec Mark Goldring and others. Let’s see if Goldring is more contrite than his weekend interview when he said the criticism was out of proportion (“What did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?”). He also faces claims he failed to act on a whistleblower case. Save the Children’s chief will be quizzed on the Brendan Cox allegations too, and DfID perm sec Matthew Rycroft will have to explain Oxfam’s 2011 events. Quite a session due, from 10.30am.

Of course, as the MPs do the grilling, Parliament itself has a far from spotless record on sexual harassment and sexism. Our new HuffPost survey lays bare the ‘boys’ club culture’ in Westminster. We report the anonymous testimony of 40 MPs in all parties. One said they’d heard colleagues say recently that a fellow female MP was “only promoted because she’s got tits”. Another said “In my very first week as an MP, one of the Lords asked me ‘which MP do you work for dear?’” When told who she was, he replied MPs were getting younger all the time. She was in her 40s.



Many in Labour are relieved that the party is expelling members accused of anti-semitism. Last night some of its biggest names supported the Jewish News ‘Night of Heroes’ Awards, with Gordon Brown and Ed Balls paying tribute to the finalists (who ranged from a teacher who saved a pupil’s life, to an Israeli doctor who set up a field hospital for injured Syrians and the parents of a teenager murdered at a Jerusalem gay pride parade). Former Islamist extremist Maajid Nawaz won the public vote as ‘communal ally of the year’. He said of his work: “I’m challenging the anti-Semite I used to be.”

Tony Blair presented former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks with a lifetime achievement award. But Blair, who said Israel is now ‘something like my second home’ (he just came back from his 190th visit since leaving office), had words for his own party. “I do not want to see Antisemitism rear its ugly head ever in this nation. Not in this country, not in our time, not in any space in our national life and certainly not in any political party.”


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