1. BLUFF COVE
See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Politician gives interview, politician expands on his plans, politician allows public and party to make its mind up. Boris Johnson’s interview with the BBC last night allowed him to get across his priorities and messages while being scrutinised on just how credible each was. Laura Kuenssberg did an excellent job of trying to get round the obfuscations and pin down the contradictions.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the whole thing were these eight words: “You’re going to need some kind of agreement”. The ‘you’ was himself and the EU, and this was about his readiness to push for a bare-bones divorce contract - in order to then allow a transition period during which he will try to get a wider trade deal hammered out. Away from the blather about reopening a deal that the EU says it won’t reopen, this may be where all the real Brexit action is for a new Johnson premiership.
Some say that a ‘managed no-deal’ is a polite fiction to hide the brutal nature of quitting without formal agreements in key areas. Is Johnson effectively confirming his ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ approach to Brexit? Or is it just more cakeism, where he thinks he can quit the EU while somehow retain many current arrangements for a temporary period? Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin talked on Newsnight last night of “a basic interim trade deal struck before Oct 31, just on goods which can be done on a few sheets of paper under Gatt 24 arrangements”. Let’s see how the EU reacts to that idea.
Either way, instead of thinking Johnson is bluffing, the EU will have to quickly produce some more detail than it has to date on those ‘bare bones’ agreements. It will also have to decide how exactly it can protect its customs union and single market integrity if Johnson carries out his plan to leave the Irish border as it is. The £39bn divorce bill row could also get very ugly indeed.
We will hopefully get more answers on issues of substance when Johnson appears on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show this morning. That’s meant to be part of a ‘media blitz’, with the candidate later doing a high street walkabout and then a meeting with Tory members. Just how tightly controlled and stage-managed these events will be, and how much genuinely open media access there is, remains to be seen.
Speaking of which, the Guardian has a fascinating story that Johnson’s team tried to restrict media access to the Tory membership hustings events. Party chairman Brandon Lewis (no pal of Johnson’s) insisted there must be a livestream online and via broadcasters. In the Times, one ally of the ex-Mayor’s admits that the shift from the MPs’ stage of the race to the members’ stage has been botched: “The transition wasn’t managed well. That’s just a fact.”
2. ELECTION FEVER
In his interview, Johnson sounded pretty gung-ho about the chances of seeing off any vote of confidence at the hands of his own party’s Remainer rebels. Asked how he could stop parliament from blocking a no-deal exit, he said: “I think that MPs on both sides of the House also understand that they will face mortal retribution from the electorate unless we get on and do it.”
It’s true that there has been some inaccurate conflation of a no-deal blocking vote and a confidence vote. Tobias Ellwood’s ‘dozen’ Tory MPs was the number ready to do the former, not the latter. Last night, Dominic Grieve talked of “10, 15 without difficulty... and there might be more”, but again this seemed to be on a no-deal vote, not a no-confidence vote. The actual number of MPs ready to trigger a general election on this issue could be smaller than many think -only Ken Clarke has categorically said he is prepared to do so.
Still, don’t forget a snap election is actually part of the Johnson armoury for no-deal. And it’s increasingly clear that the choice for Tory members is between Hunt (definitely-no-election-but-you-may-have-to-wait-for-Brexit-to-get-sorted) and Johnson (possible snap-election-then-quick-
And it’s the possibility of a snap election that has prompted Labour’s general secretary to start the whole process of reselection of sitting MPs. They have just two weeks in which to say whether they want to stand again. Ed Miliband gave MPs a year’s notice, but Corbyn allies say urgency is needed given the Tory leadership change.
Already this morning Jim Fitzpatrick (who wants to back a Brexit deal) has announced via Twitter he won’t be standing. The issue was raised at last night’s Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting. As I write HERE, some moderates worry about the time and cost of the reselections and think it could trigger more defections. Others think that although a majority of MPs could now be triggered, only a handful will actually be deselected.
3. LABOUR PAINS
‘Astride of a grave, and a difficult birth’. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot often feels like the template for the very long gestation of Labour’s Brexit policy. Today, the shadow cabinet meets and we all wonder whether afterwards we will get the ‘white smoke’ that John McDonnell predicted yesterday.
Jeremy Corbyn consulted trade unions yesterday but they had differing views (not least Unite’s opposition to a people’s vote) and the meeting was inconclusive. Few of the unions seem to be actively pushing the ‘referendum-and-remain’ policy that Keir Starmer, John McDonnell and Tom Watson have backed in recent days.
It’s possible we could get a low-key, short written statement from Corbyn this evening, rather than some big bang speech. I’m told that the real significance may not be his words but the fact that he’s gone through a formal process of consultation and therefore his words (which could just repeat his post-Euros stance) will have more authority ahead of party conference. Let’s see.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Dominic Grieve tell Newsnight “country has to come before party”.
4. PRIVATE LIVES
Boris Johnson’s elevation to No.10 would mean two out of our past three prime ministers had been educated at Eton College. A new Sutton Trust/Commission on Social Mobility study has found that Britain’s most powerful people are five times more likely to have been privately educated than the general population.
5. NATASHA’S LAW
At least in one area of public policy, Brexit paralysis is not hindering real change. Michael Gove has confirmed a law protecting allergy sufferers will be introduced following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. The teenager died after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette. Under “Natasha’s law”, food businesses will have to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged food.
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