1. REBEL YELLS
It’s PMQs day again and with John Bercow in Glasgow for predecessor Michael Martin’s funeral (the first time he’s missed a PMQs in 9 years), it will be interesting to see how deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle handles proceedings. Will he keep it down to the intended 30 minutes? With talk still swirling about Bercow’s future, it’s quite an audition. There’s no shortage of topics and Jeremy Corbyn may want to keep up the pressure on Windrush (see below), the day’s vote on media regulation or even on Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
What may unite both Corbyn and Theresa May is a reluctance to tackle the vexed issue of Brexit, particularly as both leaders suffered major backbench rebellions in the House of Lords last night. Last night saw the number of Government defeats on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill rise to 14, with amendments on continued membership of EU regulatory bodies, the removal of a fixed ‘Exit Date’ and curbs on statutory instruments passed with decent majorities. Yet the really big one, and the biggest surprise, was the 247-218 vote to make membership of the EEA a ‘negotiating objective’ of the Government. In order words, Lords voted to force the PM to stay in the EU single market.
Some 83 Labour peers rebelled against their whips’ instruction to abstain (see the full list here). That’s nearly half of their backbenchers in the Lords who wanted to encourage their colleagues in the Commons to join them. Peter Mandelson and Neil Kinnock were out in force, with Kinnock claiming that a majority of Labour MPs agree with EEA membership (though obviously that’s not enough to win a vote). With 17 Tory rebels joining in last night, George Osborne reminded Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis that they’d led the opposition to the Coalition’s plans to elect peers.
Mandating membership of the EEA seems a step too far for Corbyn, but a vote on membership of ‘a’ customs union is where he really could cause trouble. The danger of last night is the Government whips could now try to group the EEA and customs votes together in the Commons to peel of wavering Tory rebels. Following Boris Johnson’s ‘crazy’ outburst, Dominic Grieve yesterday said ‘overwhelming numbers’ of MPs want frictionless trade. He seemed to be telling May that if she put her ‘customs partnership’ to Parliament, she could defeat the Brexiteers. Yet May has shown little appetite for confronting the hardcore 60-strong European Research Group. The Times reports Boris is daring May to sack him for being outspoken. She could call his bluff by simply sticking with the current options, though with some tweaks.
The real problem is that both of May’s customs options look unworkable, untweakable or at least far from ready by 2021. As academic Anand Menon explains in the Indy, anything that unites Brussels and the hardline Brexiteers looks doomed. In her Mansion House speech, May talked about ‘hard facts’, yet the hardest fact is that to keep her party together she may have to opt for some kind of border checks (however hi-tech), with all the implications for lost trade and difficulties with Ireland they involve. So far, her Remainer MPs and Remainer Cabinet ministers have not scared her anywhere near as much as the Brexiteers. Who she fears most will probably determine the shape of Brexit. And her own future.
2. PHYLL-ING A VACANCY
At least one of the most pro-EU MPs in the Commons won’t be around to see out the Parliamentary battle over Brexit. Heidi Alexander’s decision to become Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor of transport (first revealed by the Guardian) has certainly sparked a swift race to fill the vacant seat of Lewisham East and its massive 21,000 majority. Senior party sources tell me they’d like to see Labour’s first ever all-woman, all-BAME shortlist for the coming by-election.
And as I reported last night, the emerging favourite is Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, known as ‘Lady Phyll’ to her friends. Currently equalities officer for the PCS trade union, she co-founded UK Black Pride in 2005 and is liked and respected across the party. She’s unafraid of standing up for her beliefs, and rejected an MBE in the honours list in 2016 on the grounds that “LGBTQI people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws… that were put in place by British imperialists”. She is due to declare her candidacy formally later today. She’s given me her first interview: “I’m not some person who has been groomed or mollycoddled into becoming an MP. I am the grass roots.”
The NEC officers have yet to decide on the exact process, but what’s striking to me is just how swiftly and efficiently Lady Phyll’s candidacy is being backed by very senior figures. As with Jennie Formby’s appointment as general secretary, once the leader’s office makes up its mind these days, things happen. Last night’s sacking of Debbie Abrahams underlined that.
And we may see a similar resolve from the top on anti-semitism next. Defeated Barnet councillor Adam Langleben met John McDonnell last night and the Shadow Chancellor told him he would call out conspiracy theory websites that propagated ‘fake news’, particularly on anti-semitism. McDonnell said he firmly believed the issue was to blame for the party’s losses not just in Barnet but in Haringey, Bury and other places with big Jewish populations. He said he and Corbyn would visit Barnet too. Meanwhile, I can reveal this little known fact: McDonnell played a crucial role in suspending Jackie Walker after HuffPost’s exclusive video of her. Within 20 minutes of him meeting Jewish activists at the party conference in 2016, her fate was sealed as word went out to the left: her time was up.
3. FIRST, LAST, EVERYTHING
Trump’s ‘America First’ approach may well have the ironic consequence that it leaves the US in last place when it comes to global influence. The President’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal (check out our explainer of that deal HERE) has prompted the UK, France and Germany to actually increase their engagement with China, Russia and Iran in a desperate bid to avoid chaos.
Of course, Iran’s ballistic missile programme worries London, Berlin and Paris as much as Trump’s White House. But without a Plan B, there is a danger that hardliners in Teheran could make things even worse. And as with climate change, where China is now assuming a global leadership role as Trump rejects the Paris deal, the current President has arguably done more to undermine the United States on the world stage than any of its enemies.
Boris Johnson is set to tell MPs today what possible next steps are open to the non-US West. Given this is Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite subject, he could point out that no amount of pleading by the Foreign Secretary or the PM herself had any impact on Trump. The fact that he informed Macron before May of his decision is another slight that doesn’t help her ahead of the President’s trip to the UK in July.
Meanwhile, in this era of ‘fake news’, watch this video which shows that Trump’s announcement on Iran saw him make one false claim after another, every 83 seconds.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch four-year-old Maverick load a real rifle like a pro, at an NRA convention.
4. HANDFUL OF DUST
Windrush may have dropped out of the headlines, but it hasn’t gone away. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes yesterday told the Home Affairs Committee she did not know of any wrongful deportations. Within minutes the Immigration Enforcement chief Hugh Ind said he knew of a ‘handful’ of cases of deportations. It emerged that the Home Office is now probing 8,000 cases of mistreatment. Yes, 8,000.
It was a brutal session, with the minister and two officials unable to offer even basic answers to simple questions about the system. Amber Rudd’s departure and Sajid Javid’s arrival haven’t changed the sheer lack of detail on such a hugely important issue. Javid says he’s going to sort it, but it clearly will take longer than everyone thinks.
5. NUTS IN MAY
As if things aren’t bad enough for Millennials, here’s yet more proof of them getting the short end of the stick on housing. Our Owen Bennett reports that a legal loophole allowing landlords to charge outgoing tenants for petty acts such as leaving a jar of peanut butter in a cupboard could be exploited further under Government plans.
Shelter is concerned the plan to ban letting fees will drive landlords to squeeze money out of tenants with increasingly harsh punishments for relatively minor acts. The charity has revealed to HuffPost UK one tenant was charged £3 after a jar of peanut butter was left in a cupboard after they moved out of their rented home.
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