1. THE THATCHER GLOOM
It’s the last PMQs for five weeks and both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will want to head off to the party conference season with their troops’ cheers ringing in their ears. But with both leaders acutely aware they have some pretty restless backbenchers, we’ll all be watching for any grim faces behind each of them.
While the PM is sure to want to highlight the continuing ‘jobs miracle’ after yesterday’s employment figures, Corbyn may not be able to resist continuing Tory splits over Brexit. And last night’s meeting of the European Research Group (ERG) in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House sounded like the first confirmation that several Conservative hardline Brexiteers are openly plotting May’s downfall. Robert Peston’s account is gripping, including the line to the 50-strong meeting ‘What’s the best way to get rid of her?’ The Telegraph says the rebels have 35 of the 48 letters needed for a vote of no confidence.
It’s worth pointing out that none of the leading names were at the meeting last night. Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Owen Paterson, Bernard Jenkin, Jacob Rees-Mogg - none of them were present to hear the leadership plotting. The great irony of last night’s venue is that for many Eurosceptics the rot set in when Margaret Thatcher was herself the victim of a coup by her colleagues. Rees-Mogg has an event about the Irish backstop this morning and is sure to try to distance himself from the plotters. But after a dinner with No.10 aides, backbencher Andrew Bridgen told ITV we should ‘wait and see’ if there was to be an attempted regicide.
Michael Gove was on the Today programme this morning and was uber loyal. “I would urge everyone to get behind the Prime Minister. think she’s doing a great job”. Only ‘a united Government’ could deliver on Brexit, he said. On his friend Nick Boles’ idea of a Norway-then-Canada solution, Gove said “I don’t believe it’s right”. Chequers was “the only plan on the table”. And he tried to dismiss the leadership plotting as “squally weather…a feature of British life…this is loose talk, you always have loose talk”. He studiously refused to say whether he’d serve in a Boris Johnson-led Cabinet. “Boris is a friend and colleague…I’m serving under Theresa May.” Mind you, he did also say May was PM ‘at the moment’.
2. FAR FROM THE MAD-DING CROWD
DD, IDS, JRM, BJ (Tories love a good acronym) and other leading lights were not present for the ERG meeting, but they were all at the Economists for Free Trade (EFT) event hours earlier. A packed Committee Room 9 yesterday saw a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of senior Brexiteers attend the launch of new ‘complete pocket guide’ to the benefits of a no-deal outcome. Afterwards Boris said he didn’t like the idea of “abandoning our seat around the table in Brussels and continuing to accept the single market legislation”. To which Remainers replied: “Well, d’uh!”
What was really unusual yesterday was that photographers were allowed to take snaps during the meeting (there are strict rules against that without prior permission). But Getty’s Dan Kitwood caught a moment where Boris, Rees-Mogg and Peter Bone looked pretty glum. Unsurprisingly, it’s been used everywhere as an iconic image of Brexiteer gloom and our Graeme Demanyk has a fun round-up of the reactions. Yet there’s often more to such images than meets the eye. The 2015 classic shot of David Cameron and a school pupil with her head on a desk was actually not about her dismay or boredom. It was all about her embarrassment after she couldn’t answer a question the PM put to her about the story book they were reading, but that didn’t stop lots of hot takes.
And some in No.10 loved yesterday’s photo. May’s allies have long been waiting for the Brexiteers to pop their heads over the parapet with any kind of alternative plan and many ministers relished the way yesterday’s no deal claims were shot down so swiftly. In response to my tweet of the contents of the pocket guide (including the line that short-term economic hits caused by Brexit would be mere ‘speed bumps’), economist Jonathan Portes said it was ‘quite, quite mad’ and ‘fundamentally dishonest’. Philip Hammond himself couldn’t contain his disdain when he said the EFT claims were “wildly out of line with assumptions used by other economic models”. Of course, if you’re a Leaver your riposte is that the Treasury’s own forecasts of instant Armageddon haven’t been borne out either.
Brexiteers weren’t overly pleased at Hammond’s announcement that Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is staying on for seven more months. CityAM deserve a medal for their lovely splash ‘Keep Carn And Carry On’, complete with wartime poster treatment. The Times reveals Hammond is delaying the Budget until after the PM sorts a Brexit deal with Brussels. Meanwhile, the boss of Jaguar Land Rover said yesterday the wrong kind of exit would cost £1.2bn and see jobs moved abroad.
3. CORBYN SECURITY ‘BREACH’
We report exclusively today that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest aides has not been granted a Parliamentary pass due to unspecified security concerns – but has continued to work in his Commons office for more than nine months. Iram Awan, the Labour leader’s Private Secretary, has not had her application approved by the authorities on the advice of the security services, due to questions over known associates. You can read the full story HERE.
Awan has routinely accessed Parliament through both its Derby Gate and Portcullis House entrances. She goes through security checks and X-ray like other visitors, before being picked up by a member of Corbyn’s team and escorted to his office. But most MPs and Parliamentary staff know that there are very strict rules forbidding anyone from working on the Westminster estate without explicit ‘Counter Terrorism Check’ clearance. As a spokesman for the Commons says: “Visitor passes are for visitors only; they cannot be used to carry out work on the parliamentary estate. While we are unable to comment on specific cases, any alleged breach of the rules on passes will be investigated by the House authorities.”
Corbyn was personally aware of Awan’s failure to get security clearance for a pass (and of the practice of using a visitor pass to allow her access), although it is claimed that his office were not told of the specific reason. With the threat of Islamist terrorism all too real over the past year, and with Russian security threats underlined of late, there are real questions for the Leader of the Opposition to answer about his stance on the balance between civil liberties and security. There are also questions as to how the Commons itself could allow what seems a routine and regular breach of one of its most fundamental security rules.
Like several of the recruits in Corbyn’s office, Awan is new to the Labour party. In 2013 she attended the first national meeting of Left Unity, the group created after Ken Loach’s appeal for an alternative left party to Labour. She worked at the Open Society Foundations before joining the leader’s office as a successor to Laura Parker, now the National Coordinator for Momentum. Highly regarded by Corbyn and her colleagues, she may now have to carry out her duties as Private Secretary outside Parliament. Watch today for further developments.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
The BBC’s Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg is reporting on the Russian military exercise today. But he’s also an impressive pianist, as proved by this clip of him playing his favourite Russian songs.
4. SUCKER PUNCH
For the third day in a row the politics of policing is in the news. In an unprecedented attack on the Government, Met chief Cressida Dick said its rejection of a 3% pay rise for officers was a ‘punch on the nose’. She also unveiled plans for a ‘Dad’s Army’ of retired cops to help ease her force’s staff shortages on murder, rape and other serious crimes. Labour’s shadow policing minister Louise Haigh has again been quick to capitalise.
5. NO ADDED FAT
The front page of the Daily Mail says Britain is “the third fattest nation in Europe” according to research from the World Health Organization. Only Malta and Turkey had higher levels of obesity as some 28% of people in the UK are now classed as obese. But Labour deputy leader Tom Watson is doing his bit to turn the figures round. He has lost a stunning seven stones after cutting out all processed foods and refined sugar from his diet. Watson reveals to the Daily Express that he’s also reversed his Type 2 diabetes in the process.
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