The Waugh Zone, Wednesday December 6, 2017


It’s PMQs day and Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn again have enough topics to choose from when they face each other over the despatch box. Corbyn could highlight new warnings about UK tax havens, Trump’s Jerusalem gamble, homelessness figures or Universal Credit. May could seize on Labour’s mixed messages on staying in the EU single market or customs union, its local in-fighting or George Galloway’s possible return.

Yet Brexit must surely dominate proceedings as the PM struggles to get a form of words that reassures both the DUP and her Tory Brexiteers. Ominously, DUP leader Arlene Foster and May have still not had their planned phone call, the conversation that many think will unlock this tortured process. Instead of talking directly to the PM, Foster told the media yesterday of her “big shock” when she received the detailed Brexit plans “late” on Monday morning.

I’ve written HERE on some of the options open to May now. The Telegraph reports Boris Johnson and Michael Gove worrying about the PM paving the way for a ‘soft Brexit’. Iain Duncan Smith sabre-rattled on the BBC (having perhaps felt he sold his support too cheaply last week). But what struck me most yesterday was how the wording ‘regulatory alignment’ was not ruled out by either David Davis or the DUP’s Nigel Dodds. Away from the attacks on Dublin, note that Dodds said: “It may make sense to have some kind of regulatory alignment in certain specific areas”. Davis stressed that alignment was not the same as harmonisation, adding it may just mean “sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection, all of that sort of thing”. And he slapped down Jacob Rees-Mogg’s demand for a ‘red line’ insisting on future ‘divergence’.

Davis more than most knows the need for finesse to get to Stage 2 of the Brexit talks. One Davis ally told me that he’s again “cleaning up No.10’s mess”, after Downing Street failed to consistently engage with or explain plans to the DUP. May’s team also allowed herself to be outspun by Dublin and Brussels on the draft leaks. There is a way out of this if May can now add to ‘alignment’ with a reassuring extra form of words. But one thing the DUP has, and she doesn’t, is time. Dodds and Foster are happy to make Brussels sweat it out until the New Year, while May wanted a deal this week. In many ways, the leaks and the DUP reaction have done the PM a favour, however. Just imagine if she had gone ahead with her joint presser with Juncker on Monday and afterwards the DUP had declared the deal was unacceptable.  Then things really would be much more serious. For now, the DUP shock therapy may be working.

David Davis faces the Brexit Select Committee at 9.15am, amid claims that his department’s sectoral analyses are so thin as to be meaningless. It’s going to be a fun day.



No.10 briefed the Lobby yesterday on a sombre presentation to Cabinet by MI5 chief Andrew Parker of the current terror threat. We were told Parker had revealed a total of nine plots had been foiled by security services in the past year. But some of the cases were sub judice and no more details could be released to the media. Hours later, crime reporters such as Sky’s Martin Brunt revealed one of the plots was an Islamist bid to bomb Downing Street and stab Theresa May in the ensuing chaos. Two suspects were charged and appear in court today.

The wider mood around the Cabinet table was one of grim determination, with some ministers wanting updates on Daesh fighters returning from Syria. The backdrop was a worrying report from former terror adviser David Anderson into this year’s terror attacks. MI5 had intelligence on Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, but his “true significance was not appreciated at the time”. Anderson had a curious phrase that “the Manchester attack in particular might have been averted had the cards fallen differently”.

Meanwhile, more Middle East bloodshed is being predicted as Donald Trump plans to confirm today his ambition to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He will be ringing several ‘world leaders’ to consult them, and Theresa May is sure to face calls to publicly stand up to Trump again and confirm UK policy is firmly against the plan. Stephen Kinnock today has a Westminster Hall debate on the demolition of Palestinian villages. Several MPs, including the Shadow Cabinet’s Richard Burgon, have written an open letter condemning the planned destruction of the village of Susiya.



That war of attrition within Labour continues to intensify at local level. We revealed how Momentum founder Jon Lansman had backed a petition to open up every single London Labour council selection contest. The capital’s local elections are just months away next May, but Lansman argues a radical rethink is necessary because Leftwing candidates are being blocked by centrists across the capital. He stressed later this was his personal view rather than that of Momentum. And without the backing of either Corbyn or the unions, the move will fail. Yet it was a clear marker ahead of his expected election to the NEC in the New Year. Fasten your seat belts once he’s at the top table.

Meanwhile, the Morning Star reported (and PolHome spotted) that Unite’s Andrew Murray, who was seconded to Labour to help run its election campaign, says it’s “long past time” for George Galloway to be readmitted to Labour. Under party rules, anyone who stood for a Parliamentary seat against the party cannot be considered for readmittance for five years, which means it will be 2020 before Galloway could return. When I asked Corbyn about this prospect a while back, he simply said the party should decide. And with the next election now technically in 2022, no one seems to be ruling out the possibility. (On a lighter note, last night the Commons unveiled a superb new portrait of another close ally of Corbyn’s, the late Bernie Grant. Watch the time-lapse video HERE).

Meanwhile, the Watford Parliamentary constituency selection battle looms tomorrow night. Unite black cabbie rep Mike Hedges is on the shortlist and has strong backing, but so too does previous candidate Chris Ostrowski. I published yesterday a letter from eight trade unions backing Hedges’s case for being readmitted to the shortlist after claims party rules were not followed. At least in Watford, the party is meeting Corbyn’s demand that key seat selections are sorted by Christmas. 40 out of 76 of Labour’s target seats still have no selection timetable.



Watch this dog in Canada being rescued from an icy river.



Labour scored a significant Parliamentary victory yesterday, using the threat of an obscure procedural device to force the Government to publish secret assessments of its Universal Credit programme. Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke agreed the “exceptional” move but made clear he expected some of the information passed to the Work and Pensions Select Committee to remain confidential. Sources say the most recent assessment could actually prove helpful to the Government’s case for rolling out the new benefit.

But it was the committee’s chairman Frank Field who had most impact yesterday as he revealed that at a recent constituency surgery he’d persuaded a man not to take his own life after Universal Credit left him destitute. Tory MP Heidi Allen was moved to tears in her own speech afterwards. Note however that Allen, one of the key Tory rebels on this issue, also praised Gauke for his reforms to the system. Shelter have a shock new report that 128,000 children will wake up homeless on Christmas day. Thanks to UC, other poverty stories still loom, but the DWP have still got their own backbenches on board.



Staffordshire born and bred, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is one of those ministers who are living proof that the Tory Government is not the exclusive home of men from the South East. And she’s running out of patience with the Metropolitan bias of state-owned Channel 4, giving it until Christmas to agree plans to move its HQ out of London (possibly to Birmingham, the main favourite) or face legislation forcing it to do so. “Very well-paid TV people seem to be horrified at the idea of living anywhere apart from London,” a senior source told HuffPost.

And the perils of living in the capital are underlined by a shocking new air quality report published at midnight. The British Heart Foundation study found that pollution is so bad in the centre of the city that it cancels the benefits of outdoor exercise. With air pollution contributing to around 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, cities with illegal levels are trying to find ways to act. Leeds yesterday decided its vehicle charging zone wouldn’t include diesel or van drivers but would target older buses, lorries and taxis.


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