1. DECLARATION TIME
It’s PMQs day again and Theresa May’s newly refreshed Cabinet will be out in force to support her on the frontbench. Jeremy Corbyn will surely try to exploit the resignations of Dominic Raab and Esther McVey (will either appear on the backbenches today?) He could also highlight the return of Amber Rudd, chucking Windrush and Universal Credit into the mix (though what would goad Tory backbenches more sharply would be a reference to her strong Remain credentials). For her part, May may not resist asking Corbyn why he missed a vote on his own amendment to the Finance Bill.
Last week, the PM road-tested the line that it was her deal or no deal or ‘no Brexit at all’. As she prepares to head off to Brussels for her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker we can expect more of that mantra. The meeting with the European Commission President is going to be a curious meeting (there’s no press conference after it) as it’s not technically a negotiation (that’s usually with Michel Barnier), but ‘part of’ the negotiating process. What it’s really about is the draft ‘political declaration’ on future UK-EU relations, expanded from its original six pages to a new 20-page version.
The UK’s wishlist for the declaration document was discussed by Cabinet ministers yesterday, and fresh wording on an alternative, ‘technological’ solution to the Northern Ireland border issue is a key demand. As SkyNews’ Beth Rigby reports, some ministers also want more ambitious phrasing on trade, though it’s far from clear the EU will agree. With France, Spain and some nations seeking to insert their own language, May’s task will be to come back and declare she stood firm on fishing, Gibraltar but also crucial future trade access.
On the Today programme, Rudd was very dismissive of any suggestion of more Cabinet resignations if the political declaration wasn’t entirely what they wanted: “I don’t think Cabinet colleagues are going to vote against this… if it doesn’t get through, the Brexiteers could lose their Brexit…this is the cake, it’s been baked.” Ah, cakeism, it’s back, but with a different recipe. Perhaps more importantly, Rudd seemed to go off message on the PM’s warning that MPs risk a ‘no deal’ outcome if they failed to back the deal. “It’s my view that Parliament, the House of Commons, will stop no deal. There isn’t a majority in the Commons to allow that to take place,” Rudd said. If Corbyn wanted a really choice quote for PMQs, that’s one to pick.
2. HOUSE KEEPING
Will May get her deal through the House? Rudd is famously more candid than most ministers and there was something else she said that really made my ears prick up this morning. “I think that what will happen is people will take a careful look over the abyss, MPs of all parties...and the likelihood is that despite what people say the Withdrawal Agreement will go through.”
That line ‘MPs of all parties’ sounded very much like a hint that the Government could rely on Labour votes to get its way, possibly on the ‘second go’ after an initial defeat. It was an echo Solicitor General Robert Buckland’s line yesterday (“It’s time for all parties, particularly the Labour party, to stand up, to step up to the plate”), but which lit up backbench Brexiteer WhatsApp groups.
So far the message isn’t working. Former Remainer Damian Collins confirmed he would vote against the current deal. And last night the DUP again proved it was determined to keep up the pressure, abstaining on all Finance Bill votes and forcing the Government to accept Labour and SNP amendments without a challenge. There’s a real possibility that all Commons votes on legislation from now until the ‘meaningful vote’ will be on a knife-edge or simply postponed. But while not being blasé about the DUP’s stance, May has clearly decided she’s beyond embarrassment on individual votes that don’t really matter.
Jacob Rees-Mogg was the one who sounded more embarrassed yesterday, as he admitted yet another failure to hit the 48 letters target needed for a no-confidence vote. Mogg was even forced to claim that unless she was toppled ‘now’, “the Prime Minister will lead the Conservatives into the next election”. Given that many MPs expect her to be replaced after Exit Day next March, that wasn’t a prediction shared by his colleagues. The ‘Dad’s Army’ ridicule that appeared everywhere showed Rees-Mogg’s fatal weakness for answering media questions (it was the huddle after his formal press conference where he couldn’t resist a joke about Captain Mainwaring). Maybe he, like Boris Johnson, just can’t ‘do serious’. The next few weeks will tell us who will have the last laugh.
3. ROUGH FIGURES
Hundreds of thousands of rough sleepers are not being recorded in official government data, meaning the true scale of the homeless crisis is vastly underreported, a HuffPost UK investigation has found. Our analysis of last year’s figures shows 33 of 326 local authorities in England recorded zero rough sleepers for 2017 – including the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, where street sleepers are visible throughout the year.
The problem is one of data collection. Council officers are only required to provide a ‘snapshot’ of one night’s rough sleepers anytime between October 1 and November 30. The Government argues that asking local authorities to supply annual figures would require a “multi-agency database” or counting the number of people sleeping rough on every night of the year, which is not practical. But councils say council or charity outreach services would already hold more robust data about patterns of street sleeping over the year than the official government figures.
With winter now beginning to bite, it’s an issue that matters, as funding and policy is often directly linked to the statistics. Barking and Dagenham leader Darren Rodwell tells us: “I’m very unequivocal that a one evening walkabout is not the true picture. I don’t think the data is working properly. This is not just about collecting data because we’re talking about human beings here. What we need is to provide services to people and at the moment we’re restricted from doing that.” We also report today on how capped housing benefit is increasing the problem. Asked about rising homelessness and foodbank use, Amber Rudd admitted on Today that “these are facts”. The worry is the facts are even worse than currently recorded.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Tory MP Michael Fabricant’s latest home-made explainer video on Parliament. It features a mock conversation between a whip and a rebel backbencher. ‘Tarquin, can I call you Tarquin?’ Despite the flattery, Tarquin turns down the offer of a peerage. No, really.
4. DEATHLY PROSE
If anyone was in any doubt that Donald Trump really meant it when he talked of ‘America First’, his latest statements on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi confirm he wasn’t bluffing. Trump explicitly cited the need for $450m of arms sales and investment to the Saudis, having rejected CIA intel that Crown Prince bin Salman had knowledge of the killing (“maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”). The President also talked of Khashoggi being seen as ‘an enemy of the state’. As I’ve written before, we should at least be grateful that Trump is telling the truth about the raw amorality of American self-interest. US Senators are demanding a second investigation, but nothing will change the White House view that, well, money talks.
5. CYBER WARFARE
Victims of ‘cyberflashing’ have told us they are backing MPs like Maria Miller and Jess Phillips in their bid to tighten the law. The practice involves sending unsolicited sexual images via local Wifi or Bluetooth, using the AirDrop feature on mobile phones within 30 feet of each other. Miller says that the Government’s ‘upskirting’ bill is totally inadequate and without “a comprehensive bill against all image-based abuse..we are sleepwalking into a crisis.” Nine women tell us their stories today, including Jenny Briggs, who was ‘cyberflashed’ on a packed rush-hour train in London.
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