1. BREXIT BLUES
It’s PMQs day again. I’d be surprised if Theresa May didn’t try to force Jeremy Corbyn onto the defensive over new evidence of Moscow’s role in the Salisbury poisonings. For his part, the Labour leader may want to focus on the Government’s universal credit woes. But with No.10 and Brussels wanting to say as little as possible about Brexit ahead of next week’s EU summit, will Corbyn allow May to duck the issue today? One easy hit for Corbyn would be to simply quote various Tory frontbenchers and backbenchers (Raab on Canada-plus is a short cut to no deal, DD on ‘dire’ electoral consequences, Mercer on this ‘pretty poor’ Government) and ask if May agreed with them. He could ask her if ‘Chequers’ is now an unutterable c-word (ministers talk only of ‘the White Paper proposals’). He could even point to Whitehall’s new Armageddon-outta-here advert for ‘civil emergencies’ staff in the event of no deal (a nine-month role ‘with the possibility of extension’).
Still, No.10 remains stubbornly, some may say quixotically, confident that the PM will get her Brexit plans through both Brussels and the UK Parliament by the end of this year. Yesterday laid bare just how many obstacles still remain, not least the blue-on-blue action within the Tory party. Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt’s extraordinary refusal to back the ‘Chequers’ plan gave a hint of what Brexiteers say are possible further ministerial resignations. David Davis added to the pressure with a letter warning of a ‘dire’ election defeat if May stayed on her current course. And the DUP sounded as unyielding as ever.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab’s words are always worth watching closely and in the Commons he laid down some robust rebuttals, plus some wriggle room. In answer to former minister Steve Baker, Raab pointed out his ‘Canada-plus-plus-plus’ model was simply not being offered by the EU precisely because it would lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland. Punchy as ever, Raab even reminded Baker of the “commitment we made when he was in government in December to come up with a legally binding backstop”. “That is a shortcut to no deal,” he added. Baker looked furious, Labour MPs went ‘oooh’ and some even saw Raab turn to colleague Robin Walker to ask ‘was that too much?’
Yet there really are still some big problems. Raab kept saying yesterday that the Irish ‘backstop’ had to be ‘temporary’ and ‘finite’, but the EU insist the whole point of this guarantee is it has to be indefinite. It’s hard to see how even the textual dexterity merchants in the civil service in London or Brussels can square that circle. Politico have done a handy guide to the five remaining obstacles to a Brexit deal, and right now some of them seem insurmountable. Labour may also pounce on the admission from the Migration Advisory Committee chairman yesterday that there was nothing its recent report to suggest that “any potential gains from going it alone on migration can offset substantial weakening of trade ties with the EU”.
As I’ve been saying for some time, some of the PM’s allies still hold out the hope they can attract around 30 or so Labour MPs in Leave areas to back her deal rather than a no deal. Labour thinks that’s a wild overestimate. Meanwhile, some in the EU think a ‘fudge’ on the future EU-UK relations is May’s only way out, yet Eurosceptics say they won’t give away our £39bn divorce bill without specifics. Raab yesterday said “there is no question of some kind of blindfolded Brexit”. But note that he also said he wanted “enough detail and enough of the substance in the political declaration on the future relationship, so that this House and the country at large understand the model of economic and security co-operation that we will be pursuing”. How much detail is ‘enough detail’ remains to be seen.
2. SUICIDE ISN’T PAINLESS
Around 4,500 people take their own lives each year in England and suicide remains the leading cause of death for men under 45. But half of mental ill health problems begin by the age of 14. That’s why there’s a cautious welcome today for Theresa May’s new decision to appoint a dedicated minister for suicide prevention and an annual ‘state of the nation’ report on young people’s mental health. To mark World Mental Health Day, she has also pledged to hand the Samaritans £1.8m to remain a free 24-hour service for four years.
Nearly two years ago, May announced plans for more school teachers to be trained in spotting mental health issues. At the time, critics pointed out that schools and the NHS were coping with wider budget cuts and what was needed were more dedicated professionals. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England said this morning she wanted a counsellor in every secondary school, every primary school having access to counselling services. She wants “proper funding and more ambitious delivery.”
HuffPost UK is proud of our campaigns to put mental health on the agenda and recently we’ve done some in-depth reporting on the alarming level of suicides among university students. It’s clear too that GPs are still woefully ill-equipped to deal with the issue more broadly, and waiting lists for treatment range from three months to a year. One area where perhaps the Government could do more is to copy its approach to the gender pay gap, and force firms to publish stats on their mental health gaps. We know of suicide ‘clusters’ for certain universities, but what about certain City firms and others? Lib Dem leader Vince Cable tells us he wants the law changed so big companies have to publish mental health absences.
3. THE EX-FACTOR
As an ex-Brexit Secretary, Davis knows how to use his clout. But other former Cabinet ministers, indeed former party leaders and Prime Ministers, have varying degrees of success in getting themselves heard. Gordon Brown opts to make fewer interventions than Tony Blair and his friends think he gets a better reception as a result. Today, he’s coming out strongly to oppose the roll-out of Universal Credit for the first time. The father of tax credits wants to see them increase, as well as child benefit. His most eye-catching line of a speech in Edinburgh is that “poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead”.
In many ways, this is Brown reminding everyone that metropolitan liberal, anti-Brexiteer George Osborne wasn’t so liberal when it came to protecting welfare. Osborne’s multi-billion pound cuts legacy lives on and the Department for Work and Pensions is still struggling to deny claims that Esther McVey told Cabinet colleagues that half of all lone parents and two-thirds of couples with children stand to lose £2,400 a year – £200 a month – once they are transferred to universal credit. Still some newspapers will be thinking this is ‘the old Gordon’ in more ways than one, when it comes to media management – a trail of his words seems to have been given only to the Guardian and Mirror.
Two other ‘exes’ united yesterday, as ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling and former Tory leader Michael Howard backed a Policy Exchange report calling for post-Brexit carbon taxes to help save the planet. They want the UK to remain a member of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme until at least 2021 and then adopt if necessary an independent carbon tax, with the proceeds used to help taxpayers. Some Brexiteers are as enthusiastic as Remainers about this whole agenda. This morning, Leaver Tory MP Simon Clarke is hosting a Commons panel with IPCC co-chair Prof Jim Skea and others on calls for a net zero emissions target for the UK.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Tory MP Johnny Mercer tell a think tank event: “Make no bones about it, I think we’ve got a pretty poor administration at the moment”.
4. GETTING TRIGGERED
Labour MP Chris Williamson isn’t one to back down from an argument. And after our exclusive yesterday that he will face a union-driven deselection ‘trigger ballot’, he was typically unrepentant. “There’s absolutely nothing to be scared of!” he tweeted. The row stems from what is seen by trade unionists as an attempt by Williamson to cut their members out of the party. Lots of Momentum members agree with the Derby North MP that there should be automatic reselections. Yet plenty of Labour MPs think it’s a needless distraction. And they were delighted that Williamson would see in his own backyard the kind of disruptive deselection he has been advocating in a tour of the country’s local parties this summer.
5. ON THE BRAIN
Brain injury caused by concussion among youngsters and adults is a ‘hidden epidemic’, costing the UK £15bn a year to the economy, a new report out today declares. Labour’s Chris Bryant is leading a cross-party campaign for better training for teachers and sports coaches, plus more for the NHS to spot and treat the condition. We report today on how 10-year-old Anson Mackay was left with a brain injury after being beaten over the head by a school bully, and it was 10 months before he was well enough to return to a classroom. When he did return, he was unable to look properly at computer screens and needed to be kept away from loud noises. “I just wish I had a bandage around my head, because one week somebody might remember and the next week they’ve forgotten,” he said.
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