1. TRUST ME, I’M NOT A DOCTOR
With the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell fire looming tomorrow, you can expect the PM and Jeremy Corbyn to reference the awful tragedy in PMQs. However, politics goes on and both have the weekly job of picking the right topics to show the country they’re fit to lead. On the economy, the PM can trumpet record employment figures, while Corbyn can point to a fresh dip in wages. NHS spending and tax rises could also feature.
But as Brexit takes up so much bandwith in politics right now, the Labour leader (who has done well on the issue in recent PMQs) may be tempted to push Theresa May further on precisely what deal she has or hasn’t offered on a ‘meaningful vote’. And this morning, as both Remainers and Brexiteers fear they’ve been double-crossed by last-ditch promises, the PM has a tough job indeed. David Davis’s hardline statement last night made plain he would not stand for anything that bound the PM’s hands. On Newsnight, Nick Watt suggested some DD allies were plotting ‘guerrilla’ tactics and there was even fevered talk confidence votes.
In our snap verdict last night, I pointed out that the Government’s shift felt like a palliative rather than a genuine cure for Tory divisions. You only have to read Anna Soubry’s and Sir Bernard Jenkin’s Twitterspat to see that the PM’s intention is in the eye of the beholder. “I trust our PM to honour the undertaking she gave,” Soubry says of that crucial meeting in May’s Commons office, a meeting that persuaded 14 or more backbenchers to back off just minutes before the vote. Dr Philip Lee put his finger on it in his resignation statement when he said: “In politics, as in the medical profession, trust and integrity are fundamental.” May got his shock resignation letter just before yesterday’s Cabinet. Tellingly, No.10 said there were no plans to send the usual PM’s reply.
Brexiteers are hoping the PM’s message is ‘trust me, I’m not going to doctor the Leave vote’. The hardline European Research Group thinks the Dominic Grieve lacks the numbers, claiming the rebels are made up of a very small hardcore and others who ‘blink easily’. “There is zero trust anywhere, but as far as we are concerned we have lost on nothing,” one of them tells me. Meanwhile, one Corbyn ally asks me: “How many times do Tory rebels have to not rebel before they’re no longer called rebels?” They’re not so much rebels, as flakes, they added.
Still, Heidi Allen told the BBC that in yesterday’s meeting “the Prime Minister seemed exceptionally genuine…she agreed that no deal was the worst of all options”. If that’s accurate, that’s quite a shift from ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ bravado May showed before the snap election. The FT is convinced that May is now committed to avoiding a no-deal scenario. If that is indeed the case, Philip Lee will think his resignation was not in vain.
On the Today programme, the affable Solicitor General Robert Buckland said “so far my mind is drawn to the potential of having a resolution to be voted upon if there is no deal..” But he made plain that no detailed deal was yet ready. “We’ll be working hard to come up with ideas”. As ever, a fudge has got May out of a hole. But as ever, she can’t ignore a ticking clock. She has until Friday to draft a new Government amendment for the Lords, which then gets the bill on Monday. We’ll find out next week who can really be trusted most: the PM, the Remainer rebels or the backbench Brexiteers.
2. SINGLES NIGHT
Jeremy Corbyn is facing his own rebellion tonight as Labour MPs gear up to defy the party’s whip. His troops have been ordered to abstain on the Lords amendment on UK membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Yet it’s clear many want to send a strong signal that they think British membership of the EU single market is the only practicable basis for jobs and growth post-Brexit. The numbers to look for will be not just those voting for the rebel amendment but those Leave area MPs who will vote against it. If there are no ministerial statements (and there may be one), expect the EEA vote (the second in a series) to start around 7.15pm.
As it happens, Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, sent an email to all Labour MPs last night urging them to back the EEA amendment. “While membership of the EEA is not the SDLP’s ideal position, the adoption of this amendment will allow for the necessary alignment with the Single Market which is fundamental to preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland,” the letter states. One real problem for Keir Starmer is that while Brussels likes his attempt to shift to a softer Brexit, it still worries it suffers from ‘cakeism’. One EU source tells Business Insider: “It looks like exceptionalism…If you want it in a nutshell, the single market isn’t divisible.”
With the Tory ‘rebels’ backing off confrontation yesterday, some Labour loyalists say it proves they can’t be trusted and that the EEA ‘rebel alliance’ was always questionable. Still, some Labour MPs are very, very determined to back this amendment. As I reported last week, that includes some frontbenchers – and even on shadow whip. The most interesting moment tonight will therefore come after the vote, if it indeed emerges Corbyn’s shadow team have rebelled. Will he sack them, urge them to resign or just let them off with a severe warning? Don’t forget three Labour whips rebelled on Article 50 – and kept their jobs.
3. VISA EASER
Sajid Javid is continuing his mission to transform the image of the Home Office in the wake of the Windrush affair, announcing last night new plans for ‘start up visas’ for entrepreneurs who want to come to the UK. The son of migrants, and a self-made man who defied old-school prejudice to make a career in the City, Javid knows better than most the need to pull in talented foreign nationals.
The Government mantra has been that post-Brexit Britain will still attract ‘the brightest and the best’ and that it really isn’t pulling up the drawbridge. Javid’s new plan will open the special visas to non-graduates for the first time. Timed to coincide with London Tech Week, the announcement is meant to widen the pool of applicants. This year only 839 of a possible 2,000 places were taken up on the existing visa scheme.
Rita Chadha, of the Migrants’ Rights Network, said the campaigners were “glad to see the government is prepared to invest in migration”. But she told the Guardian: “Our concern is that this should not be restricted to those who have the ability to, and are prepared to invest or start up businesses in the UK.” The next tests for Javid are what progress he makes on excluding students from the 100k migration target, and on getting more overseas doctors visas for the NHS.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns tell anti-Brexit protestors outside the Commons that democracy will prevail. ‘Go Brexit’, as she puts it.
4. SERJEANT MAJOR SUPPORT
In the dying seconds of the Brexit debate, Speaker Bercow infuriated several MPs yesterday when he cut off Antoinette Sandbach mid-sentence, just as she was starting to explain what deal the Government had offered on the meaningful vote. Bercow pointed out that his hands were tied by the strictly time-limited programme motion pushed by the Government. Given his own insistence on stringing out PMQs to nearly an hour, several MPs felt he was motivated by the desire to hoist ministers on their own petard.
Yet Bercow certainly has his backers among MPs, many of them Labour. And this morning, he has the loyal support of the Serjeant at Arms. In a very rare public statement, Kamal El-Hajji has used The House magazine to write an article hitting out at the claims of bullying made against the Speaker. “It seems clear to me that there is a witch hunt against him, whether it is coming from previously disgruntled staff members or ex-colleagues trying to settle old scores of some kind.” Strong stuff indeed.
5. DUP STEP
Speaking of loyal support, the DUP was as steadfast as ever yesterday in its votes with the PM on Brexit. But over in Northern Ireland there is a startling story about the way the party enforces discipline on its own politicians. One insider has told the BBC’s Nolan Show that the party’s politicians are forced to pay as much as £1,000 if they break internal protocol on dealing with the press.
The DUP refused to comment directly but said it operated under a constitution and a code of conduct, passed by its executive. The BBC has seen a letter signed by the DUP’s chief executive imposing a fine on an elected representative. While the politician was asked to pay a £100 fine, the BBC understands repeat offenders might face higher charges of £500 or £1,000. The letters emphasise that all DUP “these rules apply to all MPs/MLAs/councillors on political matters that are outside of their narrow constituency business”.
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