1. CRAZY FOR EU
Parliament is back and so too is Brexit. The Cabinet meets at 9.30am and, after a headline-grabbing intervention by Boris Johnson, the vexed issue of the UK’s customs links with the EU will be the elephant in the room (Brexit is not formally on the agenda however). The Foreign Secretary has tried to demolish the option of a ‘customs partnership’, declaring to the Daily Mail: “That’s not taking back control of your trade policy, it’s not taking back control of your laws, it’s not taking back control of your borders and it’s actually not taking back control of your money either, because tariffs would get paid centrally back to Brussels.”
Given that Theresa May has been determined to keep this option on the table, it reads like a real challenge to her authority. But is it? Boris has undoubtedly once again reminded the PM (and fellow Brexiteers) he’s a force to be reckoned with, yet it only matters if he’s prepared to actually quit should May stick with the most controversial bits of the plan. Given No.10’s talk of an ‘evolving’ solution and more ‘work’ being done on the options, is this just a game played in the knowledge that the plan will be refined in a compromise that unites the Cabinet? Still, time is running out to find yet another (even more complex) solution. Some Remainer ministers want the PM to call Boris’ bluff and put the plan to full Cabinet, where they have a clear majority. Nicky Morgan yesterday referred to some hardline Brexiteers as ‘toddlers’. No.10 will have a tricky few hours today telling us who’s in charge of the nursery.
Meanwhile, the House of Lords is set to offer a further reminder today of just how much influence it can have on Brexit, with the prospect of two more possible defeats today on the final day of Report Stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Both amendment 93 on EU agencies and amendment 95 on removing a fixed ‘Exit Day’ have crucial cross-party and crossbench support.
But Labour’s own splits will be evident too, as a group of up to 50 of its peers prepare to back an amendment on future membership of the EEA (European Economic Area) or so-called ‘Norway option’. Led by Labour’s Waheed Alli and backed by Tory Baroness Verma and crossbencher Lord Bilimoria, amendments 110A and 112B are set to be voted on around 9pm. Jeremy Corbyn has instructed his troops to abstain and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer is far from pleased at the rebels’ disruption. Pro-EU Labour moderates point out figures on the Left like union boss Manuel Cortes (he blogged for us HERE) back the EEA idea. All sides are pointing to last week’s local elections for some kind of Brexit read-across. Yet that’s far from clear: Labour could lose key seats if it repels its Leave voters, but win others if it attracts Remainers.
2. BARNET BACKLASH
Labour’s problems over anti-semitism continue to play out. Four days after Barnet went back to Tory control, there’s still no word from Jeremy Corbyn on why the party’s number one London target ended up with a Conservative majority of 12. John McDonnell made a significant intervention on the Marr Show this weekend, declaring “anti-semitism certainly had its effect, there’s no doubt about it in Barnet itself”.
That sounded like a deliberate move to distance the party leadership from some social media claims over the weekend that sought to play down the significance of the anti-semitism. Some have suggested Barnet was lost because of other factors (ranging from housing changes that removed Labour voters to even claims the party wasn’t very good locally). Some (including the leftwing site Skwawkbox) had pointed to increases in Labour’s vote in two wards outside London with Jewish populations and claimed BBC had been biased. But here was McDonnell showing solidarity with Barnet Labour.
In fact, in a blog for HuffPost UK today, defeated councillor Adam Langleben reveals that he will be personally meeting the Shadow Chancellor tonight to discuss the issue. Langleben, who has received a torrent of Twitter abuse since he urged Corbyn to go to Barnet to apologise, tweeted that Skwawkbox was trolling him. “To his credit, John McDonnell… messaged me and asked for a meeting to discuss this issue and the wider issue of Labour antisemitism and its impact on Barnet,” writes. He tells us he will urge McDonnell and the leadership to distance themselves from “fake news, conspiracy theory websites”. Curiously, the leader’s office have still not yet sorted a meeting with Barnet Labour group leader Barry Rawlings.
The broader issue here is just what happens in practical terms. General Secretary Jennie Formby is expected to toughen up the disciplinary process, but some Labour MPs suspect there is a wider attempt to blame her predecessor Iain McNicol for delays in anti-semitism cases. Emily Thornberry said on election night last week: “I don’t know why we’ve been dragging our feet but we have.” Some staff counter the delays were caused by NEC members refusing to refer cases for investigation, by some of the accused ‘lawyering up’ and by the leadership failing, until last month, to send a clear ‘not in my name’ message. Dawn Butler said last week: “It’s not a failure of the leadership, it’s a failure of the general secretary for not implementing it.” But Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth hit back: “It’s nothing to do with Iain McNicol, it’s a nonsense”. No prizes for guessing which view the leadership takes.
3. FOR FOX’S SAKE
As soon as Donald Trump became US President, the big fear among many was of the huge risk posed to world peace by having a quixotic, unpredictable, thin-skinned reality TV host in the White House. Trump keeps in touch with his base via Twitter and Fox News and overnight he tweeted that we will announce his decision on Iran’s nuclear deal today (expected around 7pm UK time). The President has called the Iran deal ‘insane’ (a view shared by his new national security adviser, necon John Bolton). So far, the talk is not of outright withdrawal from the deal but ‘partial withdrawal’. As with Trump’s steel tariffs, the hope is he will avoid the most hardline option.
And yet even a partial withdrawal is highly risky, depending on Iran’s reaction. The whole Iran deal proves that economic sanctions can indeed be as powerful as any military action, if shrewdly applied. In fact, for all the bluster about Trump’s belligerence sorting out North Korea, wiser heads suggest it was China’s agreement to new sanctions that really shifted Kim Jong Un.
Today’s announcement also shows flattery can (sometimes) get you nowhere with Trump. You may have missed it in the bank holiday sunshine but Boris Johnson had claimed on Sky that the President could be in line for a Nobel Peace prize if he ‘fixes’ Korea and Iran. However, the most surreal sight for Boris’ critics was him arguing on Fox & Friends for ‘sensible compromise’ on Iran. “Plan B does not seem, to me, to be particularly well developed at this stage,” our Foreign Secretary said. To Remainers, those words have a particularly ironic ring back home.
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Watch this angry cow chase a cop.
4. PROG ROCK
The collapse of the UKIP vote played out in interesting ways in last week’s local elections (in places like Cannock Chase, Bolton and Dudley, it looked bad for Labour, in other areas it was good news). Pollster Ian Warren has done a fascinating Twitter thread HERE of how it impacts on various Westminster constituencies. Yet what most worried some in Labour was the revival of the Lib Dems and the persistence of the Greens. Both parties were squeezed significantly in the last general election by Corbyn’s radicalism, but seem now to be on the up. And in the Guardian today, Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Jon Cruddas resurrect their idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ with smaller parties. Given antipathy with the Libs in Haringey, Hull and Sheffield, that may be wishful thinking.
North of the border, Labour also made some impressive gains in the 2017 general election. And it knows it has no hope of a Commons majority unless it can win back yet more SNP seats. Given that, will it have helped the Scottish Labour party or hindered it that Mhairi Black claims Corbyn told her privately he backed independence? Yes, the SNP MP made waves this weekend with her HuffPost interview in which she said the Labour leader had ‘sold his soul’ on not just independence but austerity too. Labour sources described Black’s allegation as ‘complete nonsense’, but the shockwaves are still being felt locally.
5. GENERATION GAME
Given that her entire snap election gamble blew up spectacularly over the ‘dementia tax’, Theresa May could be forgiven for being wary about anything that irritates pensioners in policy. But she and Jeremy Hunt know that they have to grasp the nettle of funding health and social care for our ageing population and today’s Intergenerational Commission (headed by David Willetts) offers some pointers for all the political parties.
The Commission’s idea of a £10k lump sum for Millennials to get on the housing ladder is what triggered most headlines. More interesting is a new £2.3bn NHS levy, funded by applying National Insurance Contributions to pensioners’ earnings and, at a lower rate, to the income of richer pensioners. It’s long been bizarre that pensioners who keep on working are excluded from paying NI. After 22 reports and two years’ work, few can dismiss the Commission’s findings. Now let’s see if Hunt’s own Green Paper, due next month, at least has the option of extending NI.
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