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A deal in his sights?
One of the biggest frustrations among some of Boris Johnson’s oldest friends has been the way he has ramped up a no-deal Brexit since becoming PM. Instead of being a tough negotiating tactic, it has felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Lob in the provocative prorogation and rebel MP deselection threats and you can see why even loyal backbenchers (many of whom blame Dominic Cummings for all the hardball) have been getting very nervous of late. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay’s veiled threats today to Spain (we import £2bn of your fruit and veg, and £2bn of your cars, Manuel) were more of the same.
But those who always wanted Johnson to run a twin-track strategy - working hard for a deal alongside beefed-up preparations for no-deal - now have more reasons to be cheerful. First, the EU admitted it had finally got some ‘confidential, technical non-papers’ (informal proposals) from the UK.
Second, Irish PM Leo Varadkar sounded the most upbeat he has in months. “The rhetoric has tempered and the mood music is good. There is a lot of energy and a lot of positivity,” he said. Varadkar said he was convinced now Johnson did want a deal, though he warned on issues of substance “the gaps are still very wide and we have no time to lose”.
Third, Jean-Claude Junckertold SkyNews tonight a deal “can” be done. “I don’t have an erotic relation to the backstop,” the European Commission president added, with a curious Carry On Matron flourish. Add in DUP leader Arlene Foster’s similarly positive tone overnight and you can see why Johnson said today “I don’t want to exaggerate the progress that we are making, but we are making progress”.
There’s even chatter that the UK team are in talks with Brussels about the possibility of ruling out any further extensions or further negotiations once a deal is struck. Under this idea, the forced choice for MPs next month could be Johnson’s deal or no-deal. In our Commons People podcast today, former Ed Miliband aide Matthew McGregor suggests that in such circumstances there would be “a stampede” of Labour MPs backing the deal.
If you suspend disbelief and imagine a Johnson deal getting through parliament before October 31 (I know that’s a lot of disbelief to suspend), where would it leave the main parties? There are some who think Johnson would enter a snap election with Nigel Farage saying this was a ‘fake Brexit’.
But I suspect the Brexit Party would be decimated (the clue is in their name) as soon as we leave the EU. Most Leave voters won’t care about backstops or customs unions, they’ll just be relieved we are out. The ‘Boris Bounce’ we’ve already seen in recent polls could become a pole-vault. Note he had another shameless policy-free, electioneering photo-op today, this time with the military on Salisbury Plain.
And what about the Lib Dems? One YouGov poll put the Lib Dems in second place today, ahead of Labour. A MORI poll then showed another ‘Swinson surge’ (copyright, Evening Standard) putting the party nearly neck and neck with Labour. Political analyst Rob Ford has talked of the possible “Tinkerbell effect” - if voters believe parties can win, then that belief becomes self-fulfilling. Lib Dems are starting to dream that if they can say they’re second nationally to the Tories, they can even win Tory-Labour marginals.
Yet if a Brexit deal is passed in the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn’s team believe they can kill Tinkerbell: Swinson would lose her only political weapon and Labour could focus better on years of Tory cuts. The real challenge for Labour next week is to use its conference as an election springboard - and to get a ‘Jezza Jump’ of its own in the polls.
On Commons People This Week
Commons People, our weekly politics podcast, is out. We chat with former Miliband aide (now Hope Not Hate chief) Matthew McGregor and Tory think tanker Ryan Shorthouse of Bright Blue. We cover: Johnson’s photo-ops and why he’s had an empathy bypass; the Lib Dem resurgence and Blair’s take; plus a preview of Labour conference. Oh, and the usual quiz. Click here.
Quote Of The Day
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Thursday Cheat Sheet
The Queen is really unamused by David Cameron’s revelation that he asked her to ‘raise an eyebrow’ about Scottish independence during the 2014 referendum. Sources said there was “displeasure” in Buckingham Palace. “It serves no one’s interests” for conversations between the prime minister and the Queen to be made public, and “it makes it very hard for the relationship to thrive”.
Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, revealed that she hopes it will be able to deliver its ruling on the prorogation case “early next week”.
Tony Blair said the Lib Dem conference proved the party was a force to be reckoned with. “For the first time in long time, they are looking a much more serious group of people. Why is that? Because people have come from the Labour party, come from the Conservative party, and they have got a coherent argument.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rail firms “should not be paid when they don’t run trains on time” - as new figures showed more than a third of services are late. He said “the lion’s share” of their state income should be decided by punctuality.
The race for Commons Speaker is hotting up. It turns out that only one of the eight candidates actually went to a state school - Tory MP Shailesh Vara. Turns out Labour’s Sir Lindsay Hoyle went to a private school (in Bolton), as did Harriet Harman, Chris Bryant and Meg Hillier. Less surprisingly, Dame Eleanor Laing, Sir Henry Bellingham and Sir Edward Leigh were privately schooled too. A friend of Vara tells me: “Shailesh is definitely the non-establishment candidate. He’s a first generation immigrant who through a state school and sheer hard work is now a contender for one of the highest offices in the land.”