Newslinks for Wednesday 21st November 2018

May heads to Brussels to try to finalise political declaration “Theresa May will meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday… Read more »

May heads to Brussels to try to finalise political declaration

“Theresa May will meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday to try to finalise the political declaration covering future UK-European Union relations after attempts by hard Brexiters to remove her ended in humiliation. The prime minister meets the European commission president in the late afternoon in her strongest position since the first part of the Brexit deal was published last week after Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Tory rebels, conceded that it might take time to call a no-confidence vote. No 10 said it was not prepared to forecast when the final part of the Brexit deal would emerge, although Brussels insiders expect a draft to start circulating on Thursday among a restricted group of officials after the one-on-one meeting.” – Guardian

Comment:

  • How come France and Spain can renegotiate? – Asa Bennett, Daily Telegraph
  • History is repeating itself – Ben Wright, The Times

Editorial:

She tells cabinet that technology could solve the border issue after listening to Brexiteers

“Theresa May has told the cabinet that the country could still avoid a controversial Irish backstop after Brexit. The prime minister said she was open to exploring a technological solution to the Irish border issue because the wording of the draft deal held open this possibility. A technological plan proposed by Brexiteers would negate the need for a UK-wide customs arrangement, the present backstop proposal for avoiding a hard border. Mrs May promised Leave figures including Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson that she would consider their proposals in a meeting on Monday.” – The Times

  • The idea is back on the table – FT

>Today: David Shiels in Comment: Technological solutions. A greater role for the Assembly. How May could yet win over the DUP.

Rees-Mogg, like Mainwaring, speaks of struggling to corral the Dad’s Army troops

“Jacob Rees-Mogg has likened Tory Brexiteers to ‘Dad’s Army’ over the way they have struggled to submit enough letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister. So far 25 Tory MPs have publicly said they have submitted letters of no confidence in Theresa May – far short of the necessary 48 letters to trigger a vote of no confidence. Asked if there were a “Dad’s Army” feel to all this, Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “I’ve always admired Captain Mainwaring.” Capt Mainwaring is a fictional bank manager and Home Guard platoon commander portrayed by the late Arthur Lowe in the BBC television sitcom Dad’s Army. According to Wikipedia Mainwaring is “a pompous, blustering figure…” – Daily Telegraph

  • He calls on his colleagues to seize their chance to remove May – Guardian
  • They tell her to hold back money – Daily Express 
  • What next for the Brexiteers? – Daily Telegraph
  • Could they sue Brady? – The Sun
  • They “turn on each other” amidst failure to oust May – The Times
  • McVey’s angry messages – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: “…need to be able to count”

Finkelstein: All this letters stuff is so tiresome. The ERG is clueless. And can’t count

“Has there ever been anything more tiresome than all that stuff about the letters? For months they have been saying that almost 48 members of parliament have sent a letter to the chairman of the 1922 committee requesting a vote of confidence in Theresa May. The threshold was about to be reached. One day they would claim to have 44; next weekend they would say the number had risen to, erm, 40. It’s now obvious they have never been anywhere near these figures. We all feel pretty clueless about what will happen with Brexit, but it seems some are more clueless than others.” – The Times

  • They don’t have the 48 – John Crace, Guardian
  • They’re “heroically untrendy” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

Raab: We need to stand up to the EU bullies. And show that we can walk away

“Last week, I resigned as Brexit Secretary because I could not in good conscience support the proposed deal between the UK and the EU. There is still time to stand up to the bullying tactics from Brussels. But we must change course, or the flame of optimism and opportunity that sparked Brexit will be snuffed out. When I accepted the post in July, I knew we would need to compromise, as we strived to marry principle with pragmatism. I wanted to help deliver a good deal with our EU partners, while grasping the opportunities of Brexit – to take back control of our money, laws and borders, and champion free trade abroad.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Brexit has already hit business – Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian
  • The BBC is biased – Peter Lilley, The Sun

>Yesterday: Peter Lilley in Comment: Fears about leaving the Customs Union are a mix of imaginary and exaggerated

DUP continues protest by abstaining on Finance Bill again

“DUP MPs have heaped further pressure on Theresa May by once again refusing to back the government in a series of votes on the Budget. For the second day in a row, the party abstained from voting on amendments to the Finance Bill, in protest at the prime minister’s draft Brexit withdrawal deal. DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the move was intended to spell out to the PM the “consequences of not honouring her promises to Northern Ireland”. The move throws into doubt Mrs May’s ability to maintain her governing majority in parliament.” – Belfast News Letter

  • The party told its MPs to ignore pact with Conservatives – Daily Telegraph
  • It will vote against the deal – FT

Sturgeon shows interest in Boles’ “soft” Brexit

“The SNP should work with Conservative MPs to secure a soft Brexit deal that can get through the Commons, Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday. The Scottish first minister indicated that she was actively interested in a plan being drawn up by Nick Boles, a former Tory minister who has been holding discussions with MPs from all parties. His proposal would keep the UK in the single market and customs union possibly indefinitely if Mrs May’s blueprint fails to win the necessary support in the Commons next month. The plan would retain almost all of Mrs May’s deal but would keep the UK inside existing structures, which Mr Boles hopes would make it easy to negotiate.” – The Times

Will the CJEU say Article 50 can be overturned?

“This is the question the UK Government does not want answered and has been spending vast amounts of public money trying to block. … Next week, despite the best efforts of the government’s top lawyers, their legal challenge will finally reach Europe’s highest court. … The case was raised in Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session, earlier this year and the request to take it to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was initially denied after the government argued it was a “hypothetical” and “academic” question. However, this decision was later overturned by Scotland’s top judges.The Government has since tried to appeal this decision twice, with the most recent application rejected by the UK Supreme Court on Tuesday.” – Herald

Mordaunt to announce new focus on championing women in low-paid jobs

“Middle-class women’s issues such as the gender pay gap and corporate glass ceiling are to be downgraded by the government in favour of championing those in low-paid, low-status roles. Women in poorly paid jobs, with limited qualifications or who care for elderly relatives or disabled children will become the priority in Whitehall in a shift of policy to be announced today. Instead of focusing on professional women returning to work, attention will switch to those who work as carers, cleaners and in customer service roles. Ethnic minority groups such as Bangladeshi women will be targeted because their employment rate is three times lower than that of white women.” – The Times

Comment:

  • In politics, there’s some way to go on all this – Nicky Morgan, The Times

Burnham says Javid wants Home Counties to take more asylum seekers

“The Home Secretary has paved the way for hundreds more asylum seekers to be housed in the Home Counties, it was claimed yesterday. Sajid Javid’s move comes after councils across the north of England threatened to pull out of the current so-called ‘dispersal programme’. The Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester – Andy Burnham – yesterday revealed that Mr Javid has told him he wants to see more areas which currently take no refugees stepping up to the plate. In a letter, the Home Secretary promised a “reduction in the proportion of dispersal” to authorities who already take large numbers. And he vowed a “commensurate increase” in those who take lower numbers or none at all.” – The Sun

Hunt meets Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter

“Jeremy Hunt has met the four-year-old daughter of jailed British mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as he continues his push to free her. The Foreign Secretary spent time with little Gabriella in Tehran during his visit to Iran. He brought the youngster a touching gift from his own daughter – who is also four years old. Nazanin’s family praised Mr Hunt for working to try and secure her release from prison after two and a half years. The minister lobbied Iranian ministers to pardon Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was jailed on spurious charges of spying. The 39-year-old mum, a dual citizen of Iran and the UK, has been separated from Gabriella since she was locked up in April 2016.” – The Sun

More from the Commons

  • Gauke says ex-prisoners could take place of cheap EU labour – Daily Mail
  • Cooper and Tugendhat speak out against Russian candidate for Interpol job – Daily Telegraph
  • Rudd gets a response from Alston – Guardian
  • Onasanya blames her brother – The Times 

News in Brief

  • China and trust – Hilton Root, CapX
  • They didn’t jump the queue – Pauline Bock, New Statesman
  • What went wrong with the letters? – Steerpike, Spectator
  • On Pelosi – Amy Davidson Sorkin, New Yorker

Interpol elects South Korean as president over Russian rival

Kremlin critics had warned against the election of a Russian former major-general.

Interpol elected Kim Jong Yang as its president for a two-year term after international pressure against choosing his Russian rival, interior ministry veteran Alexander Prokupchuk.

The decision by delegates at Interpol’s general assembly in Dubai comes after a joint U.K-U.S. drive to block the election of Prokupchuk, a former major-general who is linked to Vladimir Putin, as that could jeopardize the integrity of the global policing agency.

Critics warned that countries such as Russia have been using Interpol’s “red notice” system to secure the arrests of political opponents around the world.

A dozen U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlining their “grave concern” at the prospect of Prokupchuk’s election, and U.K. Conservative MP Bob Seely, who sits on the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told BBC Newsnight: “Putting a representative of one of the most criminalized governments on Earth in charge of Interpol makes a mockery of the organization.”

Reacting to the news, prominent Putin critic Bill Browder said: “The clear next step is to suspend Russia from Interpol for its consistent and serial abuse of the Red Notice and diffusion system for political purposes.”

Ahead of the vote, the Kremlin accused the U.S. senators who opposed Prokupchuk of “election meddling,” according to Reuters.

Kim, a former policeman, has been serving as Interpol’s interim chief since former president Meng Hongwei was detained by China last month over corruption allegations. Hongwei disappeared from his home in Lyon, France and later resigned from the presidency.


Read this next: Trump defiantly refuses to condemn Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi’s death

The Brexit deal needs to be modified in order to pass through Parliament

Open Europe’s Henry Newman discusses the draft Withdrawal Agreement agreed by the UK and the EU on LBC Radio with Nick Ferrari, arguing that the deal needs to be tweaked in order to pass through the House of Commons.

The post The Brexit deal needs to be modified in order to pass through Parliament appeared first on Open Europe.

The Brexit deal needs to be modified in order to pass through Parliament

Open Europe's Henry Newman discusses the draft Withdrawal Agreement agreed by the UK and the EU on LBC Radio with Nick Ferrari, arguing that the deal needs to be tweaked in order to pass through the House of Commons.

The post The Brexit deal needs to be modified in order to pass through Parliament appeared first on Open Europe.

Theresa May to meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels today for “ongoing negotiations”

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today in Brussels “as part of the ongoing negotiations over the future [UK-EU relationship] framework,” Downing Street confirmed yesterday, adding however that agreement on a “final document” of the political declaration is not expected. A European Commission spokesperson commented, “The aim of the meeting is to prepare Sunday’s European Council Article 50 format and to ensure that we are in a position… to endorse the draft Withdrawal Agreement and approve the political declaration of the framework of the future relationship.”  Separately, May will meet Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tomorrow as part of the preparations for Sunday’s special European Council Brexit Summit.

Elsewhere, the Cabinet yesterday discussed “alternative arrangements” to avoid triggering the backstop, which was agreed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. Ministers reportedly considered the ‘maximum facilitation’ plan proposed earlier this year, which consists of using technology in order to ensure a frictionless customs border after Brexit. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said, “There was discussion in Cabinet about the fact the Withdrawal Agreement recognises and keeps open the potential for alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland…One possible alternative arrangement could involve technological solutions.”

Meanwhile, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon held talks in London yesterday to discuss their “common opposition” to the Withdrawal Agreement. A Scottish Government spokesperson said that Corbyn and Sturgeon “agreed that we will not be boxed into supporting No Deal.”

Elsewhere, on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, suggested that it was wrong to think that MPs faced a binary choice between May’s deal and a No Deal Brexit, saying, “The House of Commons will stop No Deal. There isn’t a majority for that to take place.”

The post Theresa May to meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels today for “ongoing negotiations” appeared first on Open Europe.

Theresa May to meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels today for “ongoing negotiations”

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today in Brussels “as part of the ongoing negotiations over the future [UK-EU relationship] framework," Downing Street confirmed yesterday, adding however that agreement on a "final document" of the political declaration is not expected. A European Commission spokesperson commented, “The aim of the meeting is to prepare Sunday’s European Council Article 50 format and to ensure that we are in a position... to endorse the draft Withdrawal Agreement and approve the political declaration of the framework of the future relationship."  Separately, May will meet Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tomorrow as part of the preparations for Sunday's special European Council Brexit Summit. Elsewhere, the Cabinet yesterday discussed "alternative arrangements" to avoid triggering the backstop, which was agreed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. Ministers reportedly considered the 'maximum facilitation' plan proposed earlier this year, which consists of using technology in order to ensure a frictionless customs border after Brexit. The Prime Minister's spokesman said, "There was discussion in Cabinet about the fact the Withdrawal Agreement recognises and keeps open the potential for alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland...One possible alternative arrangement could involve technological solutions.” Meanwhile, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon held talks in London yesterday to discuss their “common opposition” to the Withdrawal Agreement. A Scottish Government spokesperson said that Corbyn and Sturgeon “agreed that we will not be boxed into supporting No Deal.” Elsewhere, on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, suggested that it was wrong to think that MPs faced a binary choice between May's deal and a No Deal Brexit, saying, "The House of Commons will stop No Deal. There isn't a majority for that to take place."

Sources: Press Association, Guardian, Politics Home, BBC, Twitter

  • Movement towards confidence vote in PM appears to stall

    The movement within the Conservative Party towards a confidence vote in Prime Minister Theresa May appears to have received less backing than anticipated. As of this Tuesday, twenty-six MPs have publicly submitted letters of no confidence to Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee. While the actual number may be higher, it still falls short of the 48 needed to launch a vote.

    The Chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, yesterday remained confident that the threshold would be reached. Arguing that few Conservative MPs wanted May to stay in power until the next general election, he said, “We will see what letters come in due time… I may find that [MPs] don’t or they don’t do it today but when we get the meaningful vote [on the Withdrawal Agreement].”

    Meanwhile, the Conservative MP and Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Damian Collins, has said he “will not be supporting” the Withdrawal Agreement. He argued in a blog on his website that the proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement “could leave the UK locked into a relationship with the EU that would be worse than our current terms of membership.” He writes, “As an independent nation, we must retain the power to set the time limit for any period of transition out of the EU, and to end any backstop arrangements if a future trade deal has not been agreed… Without this guarantee, we run the risk of being permanently suspended in a backstop limbo, unable to fully leave the European Union.”

    Elsewhere, in relation to recent comments made by EU member state leaders regarding the prospect of an EU army, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said, “It is an absolutely crazy idea. Nato has delivered European security for the last 70 years and we should feel very proud of it. Should we undermine that by forming a separate military force? Absolutely not. To begin discussing a new EU army is dangerous and undermines the security that Nato underwrites.”

    Sources: Guardian, BBC, Damian Collins, Daily Mail

  • Governor of the Bank of England welcomes Withdrawal Agreement

    The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has welcomed the transition period in the Withdrawal Agreement and said that the Bank “take[s] note of the possibility of extending that transition period.” Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, Carney said that the current implementation period provides a “very limited window to negotiate” a trade agreement with the EU, and added that a No Deal Brexit without a transition period would be the “worst outcome.” The Bank will provide the Select Committee with its assessment of the Withdrawal Agreement, and of a No Deal Brexit, on 29 November.

    Source: Bloomberg

  • Government forced to accept Finance Bill amendments after DUP abstain agai

    The Government was forced into accepting several opposition amendments to the Finance Fill last night after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) abstained on the votes for the second night in a row. The Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP requires the latter to support the government on finance bills, but the DUP have been abstaining in protest at the draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. DUP sources insisted that the confidence and supply deal was not yet over, but said its future was linked to the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.

    This comes ahead of the DUP’s annual party conference in Belfast on Saturday, which will be addressed by both Chancellor Philip Hammond and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

    Source: The Times

  • Theresa May: Withdrawal Agreement puts Northern Ireland in a "fantastic position"

    The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said that the Brexit deal “puts Northern Ireland in a fantastic position for the future”, and ensures that its “constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom is guaranteed.” Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, May said that the Agreement provides the “clarity and certainty that business needs”, and endorsed the view of the Ulster Farmers’ Union that a “No Deal would be especially challenging for Northern Ireland.” On the question of the backstop, May wrote that both sides would “be legally bound to use our best endeavours to reach agreement” on the future relationship, but added that that she shares “some of the concerns that have been expressed.” She added that she saw the backstop as “an acceptable insurance policy,” because of the option to “extend the implementation period,” because of the Government’s pledge to “keep regulations consistent across the whole of the UK in order to minimise any checks or controls” between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and also because the backstop is “expressly temporary, with a mechanism by which it can be terminated.”

    Elsewhere, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney yesterday said on the Withdrawal Agreement, “This is a text that has been agreed between the negotiations teams, it has been agreed by the British government. So to that extent, it is not a draft text, it now the text, and it is not going to be reopened,” adding that only the political declaration would change in the coming days.

    Sources: Belfast Telegraph, Press Association

  • TUC: Workers’ rights “under real threat” because of Withdrawal Agreement

    The General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has written that workers’ rights “are under real threat” because of the Government’s plans for the transition period and the future relationship with the EU. Writing for Huffington Post, O’Grady said that “new EU rights that come into force after the transition won’t apply to UK workers” and that “after the transition, the rights of British workers look set to fall far behind those of workers across Europe.” She also said that “the only employment rights commitments that cover our future relationship with the EU are in the draft Political Declaration,” which was “not worth the paper it’s written on.” O’Grady added that the UK needed a “real alternative” to the Government’s Brexit plan and the people should have the “final say” through “a general election or a popular vote now.”

    Elsewhere, the four UK farming Unions have issued a joint statement in support of the Withdrawal Agreement, noting that “the default of trading with the EU under WTO rules alone is unacceptable and would decimate our industry.”

     

    Sources: Huffington Post, NFU

  • Italian Deputy PM: Markets will calm after EU decision on Italy’s budget

    Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has said that market tensions will ease once the European Commission adopts its decision on the Italian budget for 2019. This comes amid reports that Italian government bond yields rose to one-month highs yesterday. The Italian government last month defied a request by the European Commission to submit a revised spending proposal, in line with EU fiscal commitments.

    This comes as the Commission will today release reports on draft budgetary plans of each Eurozone member state, as well as a report on Italy’s debt. According to Politico, it will state that Italy is at “serious” risk of non-compliance with the EU’s debt rules. Di Maio yesterday said that Italy remains a “solid” country, regardless of the decision the EU takes.

    Separately, the EU will today publish its Annual Growth Survey, in which it is due to say, “In 2019, Europe’s economy is set to continue expanding, providing jobs to a record number of people and lifting millions out of poverty.” It will also name “low productivity growth; income inequality and slow reduction in poverty; disparities; high public and private debt and other remaining macroeconomic imbalances” as challenges to European economic growth.

    Sources: Reuters I, Reuters II, Politico

  • EU establishes a new strategic partnership with India

    A new Joint Communication between the EU and India has been published, aiming at strengthening the EU’s relationship with India. “India is a key player in our interconnected world,” said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, adding that “We want to further reinforce our political, economic and people-to-people ties with India in order to address together global challenges, to promote together economic growth and to expand together business opportunities.” The agreement includes specific pledges on trade and investment and shared security measures in areas such as cybersecurity and counterterrorism. It also involves regular exchanges on issues such as research, innovation and climate change.

    Source: European Commission

  • Spanish PM steps up pressure on EU over Withdrawal Agreement's clause on Gibraltar

    The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has stepped up pressure on the EU over the Withdrawal Agreement. Spain has argued that the future of Gibraltar, which is not part of the UK, must be dealt with separately from the EU-UK relationship. Mr. Sanchez said yesterday, “In the past 72 hours, none of the documents has clarified something which is fundamental for us. Gibraltar is not part of the UK… As it stands, the [Spanish] government will vote against the Brexit agreement.”

    Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that Spain has dropped its opposition to an independent Scotland joining the EU.

    Sources: Telegraph I, Telegraph II

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‘Bolstered’ Theresa May does the ‘Brexit scramble’

Also making headlines: More fuel for anti-Macron protests and Spain’s phantom threat to the Brexit deal.

United Kingdom

British media sensed a change in Theresa May’s fortunes — at least for now.

— The BBC website said both the EU and U.K. were making a “Brexit scramble” to finalize a deal before Sunday’s special summit, with Prime Minister Theresa May heading to Brussels to meet with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

The Times said voters were “rallying behind May,” after she face a “sustained coup attempt for almost a week.” The Guardian said she had been “bolstered” by the failure of the revolt but now “the race is on” to secure a Brexit deal with the EU.

— Research in the Guardian showed the growing rise of populist parties across Europe.

The Telegraph said more British troops would be deployed to Ukraine to defend “freedom and democracy.”

Germany

German media watched yet more drama unfolding in the White House.

Tagesschau focused on news that Ivanka Trump used her personal email for White House business. The website said the situation was “delicate” for President Donald Trump after his criticism of his rival Hillary Clinton over her email scandal.

Der Spiegel said there was “chaos” in Baden-Württemberg’s SPD after the resignation of party leader Leni Breymaier.

— In an op-ed in Die Zeit, Jakob Simmank said “Brexit can make you ill,” citing research that showed the Brexit vote had an adverse effect on U.K. citizens’ mental health. “Do we care too little about the health consequences of political campaigns?” he asked.

France

French media focused on a particularly difficult patch for President Emmanuel Macron.

FranceInfo reported on Macron’s refusal to change course after the so-called Yellow Jacket movement blockaded roads in France to protest a fuel tax rise. “We are a country that rears up because we don’t like change imposed on us,” Macron had said.

Le Parisien reported that the Paris prosecutor had opened an investigation into the provenance of €144,000 of donations to Macron’s La République en Marche in 2017.

Ouest France led with the Yellow Jacket protests, which the paper described as “a thorn in the government’s side” that is “threatening” Macron’s presidency.

Libération said Trump had reaffirmed his alliance with the Saudi Kingdom, despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October.

Spain

Papers in Spain focused on tussles with the EU, some big, others perhaps exaggerated.

El País said Brussels was not fully satisfied with the Spanish budget, and will tell the government it “puts fiscal stability at risk.”

El Mundo said the EU was playing down Spain’s threat about voting down the Brexit deal over Gibraltar. “There is no change of plan and nobody thinks the summit or the approval of the agreement is at risk,” the paper said.

— Less than two weeks before an election in Andalusia, RTVE said the PSOE’s incumbent Susan Díaz was aiming for a majority, after it took her over 80 days to form government after the last elections in 2015. “It’s a campaign where no one wants to marry anyone,” the state broadcaster said.

My Solution for Party HQ Issues – Let ALDC run it

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party. All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent […]

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party.

All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent is or the rates are on that building, but I know that it is situated in one of the most expensive areas for real estate in the whole of the UK. I also know that London is the most expensive place for employers in the UK. As you might have guessed my solution to the Party’s finances is to move most of our HQ out of London.

Of, course, some elements of Party HQ need to remain within the Westminster Village. I am sure that we need to keep The President’s and Chief Executive’s office; the press office and research inside or close to the Whitehall bubble. However, for the rest, they could be run from anywhere. Conferences; membership; IT support; campaigns; compliance; finance etc. can be delivered for the Party from anywhere in the UK. Rents would be half (at most) of what is paid in the central London area. Employment would either be cheaper or in relative terms, we could pay our staff more.

This may seem treacherous thinking, but it is not new in our Party. Local Government and publications etc. used to be run from Party HQ, but they have been ‘farmed out’ for more than 25 years. If we are looking at other Parties Labour devolved a lot of their staff to the North East almost 20 years ago.

So, am I suggesting that Liverpool would be the best place for the move? Well, I’d like to, but I have to confess that I think the operation should move to Manchester. Why Manchester? Because, it is where ALDC works from to support councillors campaigning for local governments seats and that is, almost always, the precursor to parliamentary success.

To be more adventurous why not let ALDC run those functions? I do not doubt that ALDC is the most effective part of the Party’s machinery. They get their appeal out to members effectively; run their membership function excellently, and I could well imagine some savings in them running the systems for all these things. There would be a closer liaison between ALDC campaign support staff and the Party allowing even better joined-up services and support to our campaigners who mainly don’t differentiate between parliamentary and local campaigning.

The other advantage is that this would put our policies into action. We are committed devolutionists concerning policy. Wouldn’t it be nice to put our efforts where our mouth is? I believe that our Country would be better run if we broke the power or Whitehall and Westminster. I think that would be true of our Party as well.

There is definitely an air in the Party of metropolitan elitism. Much of this comes from the fact that there is a substantial contingent on the committees of the Party who live within an hour’s journey to central London. That won’t change. Regrettably, London is still the best place for people from all over the Country to meet up. However, our HQ staff mainly coming from outside the bubble would even up the balance a little.

Just some thoughts from someone who has never been considered part of the metropolitan elite (I hope!)

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE, Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

“…need to be able to count”

Don’t presume anything about a Commons vote on May’s deal. Especially a second vote. If she’s still in place after a first one goes down…

Here is the current state of parties in the Commons:

– – –

Conservative: 315

Labour: 257

Scottish National Party: 35

Liberal Democrat: 12

Democratic Unionist Party: 10

Independent: 8

Sinn Féin: 7

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green Party: 1

Speaker: 1

Total: 650

– – –

Subtract Sinn Fein and the Speaker, and one has the following:

Conservative: 315

Labour: 257

Scottish National Party: 35

Liberal Democrat: 12

Democratic Unionist Party: 10

Independent: 8

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green Party: 1

Total: 642

– – –

And here is the Sun on Sunday‘s estimate from last weekend of “actual numbers that vote”.

Conservative: 312

Labour: 253

Scottish National Party: 35

Liberal Democrat: 12

Democratic Unionist Party: 10

Independent: 8

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green Party: 1

Total: 635

– – –

So Theresa May needs the support of 318 MPs to win a meaningful vote on her proposed Brexit deal.  The paper gave two estimates of how such a vote might go, reportedly as calculated by Government whips.

FOR         AGAINST

Conservative:                            262            50

Labour:                                          –           253

Scottish National Party:                 –             35

Liberal Democrat:                          –             12

Democratic Unionist Party:          10              –

Independent:                                 3               5

Plaid Cymru:                                  –               4

Green Party:                                 –                1

Total:                                         275           360

Government loses by 85

The basis on which those whips put the DUP in the Government’s column and divide the independents as they do is unknown.

– – –

Here is a second calculation published by the paper.

FOR          AGAINST

Conservative:                            263             50

Labour:                                        35           218

Scottish National Party:                 –               –

Liberal Democrat:                          –             12

Democratic Unionist Party:            –             10

Independent:                                 5               3

Plaid Cymru:                                  –               4

Green Party:                                 –                1

Total:                                         302           298

Government wins by 4.

Again, the basis on which whips allocate 35 Labour votes to the Government’s column, calculate the SNP as abstaining and divide the independents up as they do is unknown.

– – –

Now let’s try a calculation of our own:

FOR           AGAINST

Conservative:                            281             31

Labour:                                        10           243

Scottish National Party:                 –               –

Liberal Democrat:                          –               –

Democratic Unionist Party:            –             10

Independent:                                 2               6

Plaid Cymru:                                  –               –

Green Party:                                 –                –

Total:                                         293           290

Government wins by 3

– – –

We have imagined in the scenario above that the Government wrings the three changes out of the EU floated yesterday by our columnist, Henry Newman of Open Europle.

  • A “lock” for the Northern Ireland executive and assembly without which there can be no new regulatory barriers between the province and Great Britain.
  • An explicit bar on the levying of tariffs on goods moving from the UK to Northern Ireland or the EU.
  • A fudge on the backstop.

And have gone on to imagine that the DUP still vote against the Government, but that the whips are able to squeeze the backbench Brexiteer-plus Remainer rebellion to 31, and that the smaller minority parties abstain.

All this is in the scenario of a second meaningful vote, against a background of a market and business ramp in the wake of the Commons rejecting a first meaningful vote, and Labour swinging further towards a second referendum.

For ease of calculation, we have assumed no absentions.  This surely won’t happen in real life.  Some MPs will look for a third way rather than dividing for and against.

Now there are many objections to our scenario.  On the one hand, the Brexiteer total of about 29 in our 31 looks low, as does the Remainer total of three.  It is not immediately apparent why the Liberal Democrats and the SNP would abstain if Labour voted against.

On the other, the DUP may yet be lured into absention, even if imagining it voting with the Government is a leap too far at present.  And in the event of a crisis in the markets, more Labour MPs might move into the Government’s column, especially the anti-Corbyn ones.

Of course, there may be no second vote at all.  By the time it is due, Graham Brady may finally have received 48 letters, and Theresa May could have had to resign the Conservative leadership, with goodness knows what following.

The point we are making is that although the numbers look very grim for the Government, a meaningful vote is still the best part of a month away, and it is impossible to be sure what will happen, especially in the event of any second vote.

So Lynden Johnson’s rule applies: that the first rule of politics is that its ‘practitioners need to be able to count’.  We apologise if we have failed this test ourselves.  The possibilities are none the less mutable.

David Shiels: Technological solutions. A greater role for the Assembly. How May could yet win over the DUP.

Rather than going over the heads of the Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns.

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

It is not a happy time for the relationship between the Conservative Party and the DUP. The latter’s decision to abstain on a number of amendments to the Finance Bill and to vote for one Labour amendment on Monday was intended to send a ‘political message’ to the Government. The DUP has stopped short of formally withdrawing from the Confidence and Supply arrangement, but has arguably broken it. The party’s MPs make no secret of their desire to see a change in the Government’s direction – hence the declaration that the agreement is between parties, rather than between leaders. At a time when many Conservative MPs are in a rebellious mood, DUP MPs may feel that they have some leeway in terms of their commitments under that agreement anyway.

While the DUP’s opposition to the existing Withdrawal Agreement at Westminster is steadfast, the party is coming under increasing criticism for its attitude towards Brexit in Northern Ireland. Business leaders there have taken the almost unprecedented step of coming out against the party on a major policy issue, indicating their support for the Withdrawal Agreement. Importantly, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has also come out in support of the Agreement, whereas it had stopped short of taking a Remain position during the referendum in 2016. This is particularly significant, given the perception that many Unionist farmers privately supported Brexit.

After many months of saying as little as possible about specific arrangements for Northern Ireland, the Government also seems to have found its voice. Karen Bradley’s speech in Belfast on Monday – her first major intervention on Brexit – was a robust defence of the Agreement, and a signal that the Government is prepared to bypass the DUP and appeal directly to public opinion. If anything, the DUP is likely to harden its opposition to the Agreement in the coming weeks, but there is a growing sense that the party has been caught on the back foot over the issue. The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann, has accused the DUP of being ‘asleep at the wheel’, and has suggested that the party has ‘failed in their primary duty to protect the integrity of the Union and its people.’

Meanwhile, the pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland have put forward a convincing case in favour of special treatment for the region. Although Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats at Westminster, the party has claimed that they are standing up for their constituents where it matters – in Dublin and in Brussels. The Government’s preparedness to breach the DUP’s ‘red lines’ over the backstop helps Sinn Fein to make their point, which is that Northern Ireland’s MPs have little influence anyway.

At the same time, there are many other voices in academia, the media and business who argue that the DUP has been inconsistent in its opposition to special treatment for Northern Ireland – pointing to different rules on abortion, same sex marriage and a range of other issues. The argument that ‘Northern Ireland is different anyway’ is persuasive. By seeking to make any GB-NI checks as unobtrusive as possible, the EU has persuaded many that it has gone some way to meeting Unionist concerns. The view that the backstop offers Northern Ireland the ‘best of both worlds’ is widely held and, according to reported comments by the Prime Minister, the EU is concerned that the arrangements would give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage.

The Irish Government also insists that it is not seeking to open up the question of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom – even though Unionists believe the backstop threatens to undermine Northern Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain within the United Kingdom. The latter’s objections to the backstop also revolve around the democratic and constitutional implications of Northern Ireland potentially being subject to EU rules in the longer-term, without the ability to amend or refuse them. This point has been hard to get across to audiences in Great Britain and there is a feeling that the party had taken for granted that its objections to the backstop would be understood.

There remains, of course, a possibility that the DUP’s opposition will see off the backstop, either now by helping to defeat the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament or at a later date, during the negotiations on the future relationship. Although the party is unhappy with things as they stand, its persistence has at least ensured that some of the more objectionable aspects of the EU’s February proposal have been removed. There may yet be some way that the Government can secure further assurances for Northern Ireland, either in terms of beefed-up commitments to find a technological solution for the border, or by securing a role for the Northern Ireland Assembly as a democratic lock on the backstop. For the DUP, there remains the ‘nuclear option’ of triggering a confidence vote in the Government, or coming as near as they can to doing so in order to persuade Conservative MPs to change their leader.

It may be that the DUP will be proven right in the end – that influence at Westminster does matter and that Unionist objections to the backstop cannot be overridden. At the same time, it seems unlikely that Theresa May or any other Prime Minister could secure any fundamental changes to the backstop. Rather than going over the heads of the DUP and the other Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns and bring them along as far as possible. This is necessary not just to deliver the Agreement through Parliament, but also because any deal that is seen as a defeat for Unionism will make it harder to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. At this stage, too, DUP MPs need to think about what sort of arrangements they can live with, rather than re-opening the whole negotiation. They have grounds for complaint against the backstop as it stands, which remains objectionable from a Unionist point of view. But the alternative of No Deal would be extremely hard to defend in Northern Ireland, given the short-term consequences of such an outcome.

Robert Halfon: Why are white working class boys underachieving in our schools?

Rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

The educational prospects of white disadvantaged boys make for uncomfortable reading, and the first chapter begins in the early years. Some can barely string a sentence together by the time they start primary school. The proportion of Year 1 pupils meeting the expected standard of phonic decoding is 13 per cent lower than it is for black disadvantaged boys, and 23 per cent lower than it is for Asian disadvantaged girls.

As they continue to stumble through the rest of their education, any outline of promise diminishes further still. At GCSE level, all disadvantaged ethnic groups outperform their disadvantaged white peers. For example, the average Attainment 8 score per pupil is just 29.5 for white boys eligible for free school meals, compared to 40.5 for Asian disadvantaged males.

Life chances become bleaker at the point of higher education. Disadvantaged white pupils are 40 per cent less likely to go to higher education than disadvantaged black peers and disadvantaged Asian students are twice as likely to attend the most selective institutions than disadvantaged white students.

There are many reasons for the underachievement of disadvantaged white boys. Some people like to talk about a lack of aspiration. I disagree. It is not that white disadvantaged boys themselves do not want to succeed. Who doesn’t want to prosper in life? Ask any young man, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and I am sure that they have an idea, even if they do not have the confidence to voice it aloud. In fact, studies show that aspiration is unfailingly high in all social groups.

So rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on. White disadvantaged boys cannot even play the game that is the competitive jobs market, whilst their wealthier peers win every time. They do not have access to the same know-how, extracurricular opportunities and social networks to build soft skills and boost their prospects in the jobs market.

One way to level the playing field is to provide comprehensive careers advice and meaningful work experience. At the moment, we are way off the mark. Around one in five schools do not even meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks – international markers of sound careers advice. Careers advice must be transformed into careers and skills advice; a one-stop-shop – a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for Further Education and Apprenticeships.

It is also important to understand what is driving disengagement with education. Disadvantaged white communities do not always make the link between educational success and getting a good job.

Professor Green, an award-winning rapper (and an unlikely reference I’ll admit), explored the lives of six young white men from deprived backgrounds in his documentary, Working Class White Men. Among those interviewed was 18-year-old Lewis Croney. Despite having defied his odds to secure a place to study Maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, Croney explained that he still faced scepticism from home, saying: “I’ve had people asking me why I’m going to Cambridge, why am I putting myself through three years or more of higher education when I could go straight into a job,” said Croney. Once this perception is embedded, it undermines educational performance.

One need only look at London to see how investment in good schooling can be transformative. Previously riddled with underperforming schools, our capital now proudly boasts an education landscape that is turning around many disadvantaged children’s’ lives. White boys in London who are eligible for free school meals perform better than those in other parts of the country.

There are so many things that can be done to stem underperformance for white disadvantaged children. But to do so, we need a proper, focused government strategy and it should start with the early years.

From a very young age, white working-class children have poor educational outcomes. Good quality childcare can help enormously. Children who attend high-quality settings for two to three years are almost eight months ahead of children who attend none. But, many families struggle with the cost of childcare. How can we justify giving major concessions, in the form of 30 hours of free childcare to 3-4-year-olds and tax-free childcare, to couples earning as much as £200,000 a year? We should reduce the current thresholds for 30 hours/tax-free childcare and redirect funding to help disadvantaged parents.

All schools in disadvantaged areas should be good. But good schools need good teachers and schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract good, experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Instead, more experienced teachers tend to gravitate towards less disadvantaged schools.

£72 million is spent on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having. How about using this money on things that are proven to improve failing schools, like great teachers and great training?

Finally, it is crucial that all educational routes – not just the traditional academic ones – are top notch. All children, regardless of background, should have access to easily accessible technical routes that will lead to good job opportunities. In other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, well-oiled part of the educational machinery that exists. In Switzerland, for example, around 70 per cent of students undertake apprenticeships.

When done well, apprenticeships change lives – they allow people to grow their skills, increasing employability and earning potential. Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering. Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them. The Government should incentivise their growth and they could do this by drawing down on the Apprenticeships Levy.

However, this is not just an issue of supply. Few families are aware of degree apprenticeships. Both the existence of apprenticeships and their value should be hard-wired into careers advice.

So a fairer distribution of funding to boost access to quality early years provision; spending money more wisely to bring great quality teaching to all schools; revolutionising careers support and putting rocket boosters on technical learning – these should be the core pillars of government strategy.

The plight of white disadvantaged boys is a stain on all our consciences. People must have a good education to climb the ladder of opportunity, and it is well within our collective ability to make sure this happens.