Rudd returns to help sell May’s deal

She didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary, but is a highly effective media performer.

Theresa May cannot rely on the Brexiteers in her Cabinet to go out and sell her draft Brexit deal enthusiastically.  Liam Fox has been helpful to her today, but within very narrow confines.  Two of the holders of great offices of state want the Prime Minister to return to Brussels to push for concessions – Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.  That has left her reliant this week on the energetic Matt Hancock.

Amber Rudd’s return to the top table will be linked to Downing Street’s need for strong, articulate, media-experienced performers to tour the studios on May’s behalf.  The new Work and Pensions Secretary is a first-class communicator: far more adept than the Prime Minister at getting on the front foot, and completely committed to a central element of the draft deal: frictionless trade – or as near to frictionless as can be achieved.  She was a passionate Remainer during the EU referendum, stepping up for TV debates, and closely linked to the anti-Brexit campaign in which her brother, Roland Rudd, was a big cheese.

In one sense, the appointment is surprising.  Rudd was a senior voice in the pro-deal element of backbench former and present Tory Remainers.  Her departure leaves it weaker.  Furthermore, she has an ultra-marginal seat, and is now to be responsible for the hyper-vulnerable business of managing Universal Credit.

But she is the kind of centre-leftish Conservative who is now at this Government’s centre of gravity.  Esther McVey out, Rudd in makes the Cabinet even less leave-tilting than before, with Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab and McVey all gone.  There is a big question about whether a Minister compelled so recently to resign should return to government so quickly.  There has been a campaign to suggest that civil servants were to blame for the Windrush debacle.  But for all Rudd’s force on television, she didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary.  However, she does fill a gap as a Soft Brexitish future leadership contender.  It is possible there may be a vacancy soon.

Daniel Hannan: May’s deal. It leaves us facing colonial rule from Brussels, of the sort imposed on Bosnia following the Yugoslav war.

Cowardice and lack of vision have brought us to this pass – facing all the costs and obligations of EU membership, but with no voice, no vote and no veto.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Try a little thought experiment. Can you imagine a Brexit outcome so appalling that Leavers would rather stay in than accept it, and Remainers would rather leave cleanly than accept it?

It’s quite a challenge, but let’s have a go. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Britain ended up with all the costs and obligations of EU membership, but with no voice, no vote and no veto. Suppose we had to accept all the EU’s rules – on technical standards, on environmental protection, on labour law – but no longer had any say over what those rules should be. Suppose we had to submit to a trade and tariff regime designed solely to benefit the other 27. I hope both sides could agree that such an outcome would be the worst of all possible worlds.

And yet, if reports are to be believed, that is where the talks have ended up. First, under the transition, we shall explicitly be non-voting members for two years. As Brussels has spelt out with brutal clarity, the only change will be that Britain loses its Commissioner, its MEPs and its vote in Council. Then, under the backstop, that status, or something very like it, will be imposed on us in semi-perpetuity.

Surely no one, Remain or Leave, can favour such an outcome. As regular readers will know, I have been arguing since polling day for moderation. I was prepared to accept any compromise – including EFTA and including Chequers – provided it restored the supremacy of our laws. But the purgatory that now beckons is surely, by any definition, worse than either staying or leaving.

How have we come to this point? Through cowardice and lack of vision, I’m afraid. From the start, our objective was simply to reach a deal – any deal. Our negotiators, shell-shocked by the referendum result, approached the talks in a spirit of damage limitation. They never seriously contemplated walking away, and the other side smelt their desperation.

To be fair, our officials were not helped by the noises coming out of Westminster. How would you expect EU negotiators to react when senior British politicians urge them to hang tough and force a second referendum? We might view Tony Blair, John Major and Nick Clegg as has-beens but, believe me, they are seen in Brussels as men of influence.

So we fell into a pattern. Britain would make some new concession in the hope of unlocking a deal; Brussels would pocket the concession and demand more; and – incredibly – British Remainers would cheer. The UK agreed to hand over more money than was due; accepted the EU’s absurd and illogical sequencing; made an unconditional security guarantee; offered to copy EU standards; and promised not to be more competitive than its neighbours. Each time, the EU brusquely demanded “more movement”. Each time, Britain rushed to comply.

Which brings us to where we are – facing colonial rule from Brussels, of the sort the EU imposed on Bosnia following the Yugoslav war.

I am not one of those Brexiteers who half-favoured no deal all along. On the contrary, I was proposing moderation on this website even before the vote, and have repeated that call many times since. But, paradoxically, Britain’s reluctance to countenance no deal has made such an outcome likelier. We have reached the point where the terms on offer are less attractive than either a WTO-based Brexit or a second referendum.

This last point is critical. I suspect that two contradictory arguments will now be wheeled out before wavering MPs. Europhiles will be told that the deal, backstop and all, is better than “crashing out” on WTO terms. Conversely, Eurosceptics will be told that, if they don’t approve the deal, Parliament might vote to extend Article 50, thus imperilling Brexit. These two lines of argument can’t both be true, of course; and, in reality, neither of them is.

Talking of Bosnia, I recall a conversation some years ago with the EU’s High Commissioner there – the man with the power to sack local politicians if they didn’t toe the approved Brussels line. He told me, in a pleased tone, that the Serbs thought he was too pro-Muslim while the Muslims thought he was too pro-Serb. “If they are all unhappy,” he concluded, genially, “I must be doing something right”. “Or maybe if everyone is unhappy,” I responded, “it’s because you’re doing something wrong”.

Well, that’s the point we reached with these talks. We’re invited to believe that if Boris Johnson and Jo Johnson, from opposite ends of the Brexit spectrum, both oppose the deal, it can’t be too bad. In fact, both Johnsons oppose it because it is a lamentable failure of statecraft. Boris was no Brexit headbanger: he came out for Leave only after the EU refused to give David Cameron any powers back. And Jo is no Remoaner: he has spent two years in government trying to deliver a reasonable Brexit. If neither of them will back the deal, that tells us something.

There is still time – just – to recover our position. As things stand, the backstop has no legal force. The moment it finds its way into a treaty, it will be binding. If any MPs or Cabinet Ministers oppose the current approach, now is their chance to act. There won’t be another.

WATCH: Johnson gets in early doors. May’s proposed deal is “vassal state stuff – utterly unacceptable”

“If you ask me, am I going to vote against it? My answer is yes,” he says, as the DUP and ERG come out fighting.

Iain Dale: If we had a government with Cox and Balls

Plus: Crouch’s revenge. Islam’s departure. Brexit, May’s prospective deal and Labour’s internal agonies. And: Trumpety-Trump as the President claims victory.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

Oh, how the Prime Minister may regret crossing Tracey Crouch, who resigned last week as Sports Minister over gambling regulation.

Why? Because Tracey is writing the Prime Minister’s biographical essay for the second volume of The Honourable Ladies, a two volume book I am editing with Jacqui Smith, containing essays about the 491 female MPs elected since 1918. I’m sure that last week’s feeling of complete let-down by the Prime Minister will have no impact on the conclusions which Tracey will draw in her analysis of Theresa May’s career so far.

The main question we should ponder if whether she will have been restored to ministerial office by the time the book comes out next September. Or maybe it should be whether the Prime Minister herself will still be in office.

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So farewell, Faisal Islam. He’s been poached by the BBC as their new Economics Correspondent, replacing Kamal Ahmed, who is taking on a new management role there.

Faisal’s departure from Sky News could well trigger quite a substantial lobby domino effect, depending on who is appointed to replace him. Beth Rigby, currently deputy political editor at Sky must fancy her chances, and I suspect that Sophie Ridge is a leading candidate too.

Another standout internal candidate would be Niall Paterson, who used to be a political correspondent at Millbank, then covered the defence beat and now co-presents the weekday breakfast show.

If they want to look outside their own team, I’d say Tom Newton-Dunn would be a strong candidate. He has been wanting to get into TV for some time and recently lost ou narrowly to Deborah Haynes for the Sky Foreign Editor job.

Of course, whoever gets the job will operate in the long shadow which Adam Boulton continues to cast. He is Mr Politics at Sky, and I suspect Faisal always found it quite difficult to make his own mark. Adam is a giant among political journalists, and there will be some who would happily make a case for him to return to his old job. He was brilliant at it.

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Those of you who have followed this column for some time will realise I have a slightly puerile sense of humour. So be warned, here goes.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that if Geoffrey Cox had been a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, there would have been a Cox and Balls in the same government. Arf arf. And that if Geoffrey had been in Parliament in the 1980s when the Tories held Hayes and Harlington, not only would we have had Cox, but also Dicks – as in Terry Dicks.

And, of course, in David Cameron’s day we’d have had both Cox and Willy (Hague). There is also a very large Johnson on the backbenches. And as for Jeremy Hunt…  [More, more – Ed].

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Tonight, I am supposed to be having dinner with a Cabinet minister. However, I’m prepared for it to be cancelled just in case there is an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning. The speculation is that the Prime Minister has done a deal with the EU over Brexit, and that she will lay it before her Cabinet before putting it to a relatively quick parliamentary vote.

Who knows if these rumours are true? And as to the contents of this deal? Well, obviously I have no idea – but I suspect that it is a deal which no-one will particularly like, but that it will be one which we will all have to live with. I am not a flat earther on it, but I do believe that if we are to stay in the Customs Union beyond the end of the transitional period, it can only be described as Brexit in Name Only.

We have to be able to sign unfettered free trade agreements with countries all over the world. I interviewed Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador, on Tuesday, and he told me that scoping discussions with Liam Fox were already at an advanced stage. We need to be able to sign these kind of agreements on January 1, 2021. My suspicion is that there will be many countries who will think that it’s just not worth the candle if we remain aligned to EU regulations beyond that date. I hope I’m wrong.

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Assuming that the Prime Minister can get the support of her Cabinet for a deal – and I’d have thought that this is likely, – we can expect a vote in Parliament around the first week of December.

In the end, it may come down to how many Labour MPs will support any deal struck by May. Clearly, such an agreement wouldn’t meet Keir Starmer’s ludicrous six tests but, since Labour say that a No Deal Brexit is the worst of all worlds, you could argue that it could justify voting for the deal – and then tell voters that this is in the national interest.

I suspect that it won’t happen, but if Labour did go down that road I think they would garner an awful lot of support. My current bet is that the deal will go through because enough of its MPs will vote for it to counteract the Conservative MPs who vote against. That could trigger internal mayhem in the Labour Party.

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I predicted on Monday that if the Democrats won the House of Representatives, Donald Trump would still claim victory. Guess what? They, did – and so did he.

I’m not sure these results really change an awful lot. The Senate balance means that even if the House tried to impeach the President over the next two years, it would fall at the first hurdle.

Lewes Bonfire. You really want to see the Big Society in action? Then here it is.

There is a spirit of liberty at this event, informed by the belief that traditional British freedom includes the right not just to make a lot of noise, but to be extremely rude.

At 10.25 last night Boris Johnson was destroyed in effigy by a series of thunderous explosions at Malling Recreation Ground on the edge of Lewes in Sussex.

Although this might be seen as evidence of Johnson’s unpopularity, Downing Street is unlikely to derive great satisfaction from it, for in one hand he carried an axe, and from the other dangled the severed head of Theresa May.

Fireworks of remarkable power and beauty erupted first from beside him, then from behind him, and finally from within him.

A large crowd watched as clouds of smoke began to pour from the top of his head and out of his mouth. Once the cloud of smoke had cleared, all that was left of Johnson was the metal frame which had supported him.

This spectacle was staged by the Waterloo Bonfire Society, one of the six societies in Lewes which mark 5th November by parading through the town with 17 flaming crosses (illustrated here), commemorating the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake in the town in 1555-57. After seeing who can do the best procession, they compete to see who can put on the best firework display.

The Waterloo display started with an enormous bonfire made out of wooden pallets erected in the form of a pyramid, which was set alight with burning torches thrust into it and hurled up its sides.

The whole evening was shot through with displays of contempt for authority – originally the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but nowadays the authority of anyone who has in some way annoyed the people of Lewes, a handsome town of 17,000 people with a castle and a brewery.

Once the Waterloo’s bonfire was well alight, shooting sparks hundreds of feet into the air, a member of the society who had been designated the Lord Bishop mounted a scaffold, accompanied by three other members in clerical robes, and delivered an inaudible speech in which he attacked (according to the printed programme) “the police, local councillors and do-gooders trying to curtail the celebrations”.

The speech could not be heard because of the very loud bangers which were being hurled by other members of the society at the four figures on the scaffold. The Lord Bishop has remarked of a recent year: “A rookie [rook scarer] found its way into my mitre and blew a hole in the back of my head – quick trip to hospital to be glued up, and concussion.”

Part of the charm of this event is that it is not conducted in the pedantically cautious manner which generally prevails today, with members of the public kept far away from any possible danger.

Hundreds of people, including many visiting bonfire societies from other parts of Sussex and even from as far afield as Kent, parade through the narrow streets of the town with blazing torches and hurl blazing barrels from the bridge into the River Ouse, while many thousands of spectators look on.

I asked a member of the Cliffe Bonfire Society, who was himself clad in a First World War uniform, what people value most about these celebrations. He replied:

“It’s a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some people like all the remembrance. Some people like the anarchy of it. Some people like the costumes.”

There is certainly a lot of remembrance. Special ceremonies are held at the war memorial to remember the dead of the two world wars, and the Waterloo’s programme recounted the horrific fate of three battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment which between them lost almost 1400 men killed, wounded or captured during a diversionary attack on the day before the start of the Battle of the Somme.

There is also a lot of dressing up. Members of the societies enjoy wearing an extraordinary range of costumes, many of which are military in inspiration. There are moments when one feels the Napoleonic wars might still be in progress, but others when one is charmed to glimpse Vikings or suffragettes or long files of smugglers in striped jerseys.

I was not sure what one man was, so asked him how I should describe his costume. He turned out to be a Samurai warrior: “It’s just the warrior caste that we chose for our pioneer corps. It’s a way of honouring and respecting that warrior class, not taking the mick.”

Another man, in a red cloak, proved to be a devil, though he looked too kindly for that role, and had taken off his hat, which had horns on it, because it was uncomfortably tight.

The man in a First World War uniform said his own preference was for the anarchic side of things: “I like the fact that you come out on the street and the whole world stops for you, and you can get away with things you can’t normally get away with.”

There is a spirit of liberty at this event, informed by the belief that traditional British freedom includes the right not just to make a lot of noise – these were the loudest fireworks I had ever heard – but to be extremely rude. There has been a much-publicised row about members blacking their faces in order to look like Zulus – a practice which the bonfire society concerned is anxious to abandon.

I asked a Nigerian woman who is studying just down the road at Sussex University how she found the event. She said:

“It’s very nicely done. It’s very beautiful. I think it gets you interested in the history not only of the town but of England in general. It’s a way of helping the youth and the young generally to find out what happened many years ago.”

The event does constitute a kind of pageant of history, with no worry about trying to make the whole thing consistent. Part of the charm of it is that you have no idea what you are going to see next. I was amazed to see a French guillotine making its way down the street, accompanied by a banner in French.

But of course the whole performance will strike some people as utterly tasteless – which to those who rejoice in this event is a great part of the point.

At the hot dog stall, I happened to fall into conversation with one of the men who built the Johnson effigy. He  added some details which I had missed when it passed me in a crowded street, and also when I saw it being destroyed by fireworks:

“Jacob Rees-Mogg, or Moggy as we called him, was a half human, half cat licking the blood from Theresa May’s head off Boris’s leg.

“On the back was a packet of Snobyobs [a play on the Hobnob biscuit], and Boris has his foot on a packet of Viagra.”

Here is the Big Society in action, community activism at its finest. Until you have been destroyed in effigy at Lewes, you have not really begun to make an impact.

Operation Gobble. May promotes Leavers within the Government…with an eye on a coming Brexit vote.

Meanwhile, the Government has quietly been appointing more trade emissaries during the last few months.

Yesterday evening, it was announced that Mims Davies will replace Tracey Crouch at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  Jeremy Quin will be a Government Whip.  (Very able, is Quin: watch him.)  Nigel Adams will be a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office and an Assistant Government Whip.  And Gareth Johnson will be be an Assistant Government Whip).

All of these appointments are from within the ranks of the Government – and all, bar Davies, are unpaid.  That’s further evidence, were it needed, of how the Ministerial ranks are over the statutory maximum of 109 paid Ministers.  When Henry Hill carried out a check under the Cameron Government, almost half the Conservative Parliamentary Party was on the payroll.

Theresa May has no disincentive to cut the proportion.  Every new MP on it is a MP with a new obligation – namely, to vote, as a member of the Government, for its business.  That will matter if it comes to the most crucial vote of all, both for this administration and for the country – namely, the “meaningful vote” on any Brexit deal, and the votes on legislation that would follow.

Downing Street thus has an incentive, as matters stand, to appoint MPs for voted for Brexit to the payroll: the more there are on it, the more will be obliged to support any deal she strikes in the lobbies.  Number Ten will be mindful that Party Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen are in a similar position.

It lost pro-Brexit Ministers, PPS’s and CCHQ appointees last summer in the wake of Chequers – David Davis, Boris Johnson, Steve Baker, Chris Green, Conor Burns, Maria Caulfield, Ben Bradley, Robert Courts, Scott Mann.  (Plus, separately, a pro-Remain Minister: Guto Bebb, over concessions to the ERG, plus Phillip Lee)  So it has ground to make up.

Of the four new appointments, three were on our EU referendum list as supporting Brexit – Davies, Adams and Johnson, a former PPS.  All were previously on the payroll – so to speak – and thus already under an obligation to support the Government.  But the first and last moves are unarguably promotions, and will bind in those concerned more deeply.

Meanwhile, the Government has quietly been appointing more trade emissaries during the last few months.  Though these are not on the payroll, they are also under an obligation to the Prime Minister.  Downing Street has no incentive to publish the appointments, but it is impossible to miss that some pro-Leave MPs have been among them.

So we have Pauline Latham as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kenya and Andrew Rossindell as the equivalent to Tanzania.  Back in the days of New Labour, Alistair Campbell had a crude but effective term for Conservatives drawn into its Big Tent – “Operation Gobble”. Number Ten might not put it the same way, but it will certainly be looking for the same effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Seely: Hunt must face up to the harsh strategic realities facing Britain

Authoritarian regimes are rising, democracies are on the retreat, and our power to change that is less than we might wish.

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

This week Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has been giving some pointers for Global Britain – and a reality check for those who think that foreign policy should be about virtue signalling and moral posturing.

Hunt became Foreign Secretary three months ago when Boris Johnson resigned over Brexit. He may lack Johnson’s pazazz, but he is at least trying to understand the world and work out what ‘Global Britain’ means beyond the slogan.

Yesterday he outlined ideas for the future in a speech at Policy Exchange and in his first appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees the work of the Foreign Office. Hunt reminded us, in both his speech and his talk, that we need to understand some harsh global realities.

In 20 years time, China, a one-party nominally ‘socialist state’, may have the world’s largest economy. Democracies are regressing. Free and open states are in a global minority. The rules-based system is under threat. In short, the world is changing, not necessarily to our liking, and we don’t have as much power as we would like to change it.

Yet the UK needs to continue to defend an international order based on values. The alternative is a valueless and anarchic one based on hard power – plus the willingness to use force.

The Foreign Secretary rightly talked of expanding and reinvigorating British diplomacy. He is planning for 1,000 more staff: 335 new diplomatic posts overseas, 328 new roles in London, and 329 new locally engaged staff. In addition, he wants 12 new UK posts and a greater emphasis on language training.

He also talks of protecting media freedom. This is not a ‘nice to have’, but a critical element in defending freedom of speech and the core values of democracies. We have a Foreign Secretary who wants to support the BBC World Service and sees it as a critical tool in the UK’s arsenal of power. Whatever one thinks about the BBC at home, the World Service TV and Radio is critical to the future of global free speech because of its reach and what it represents – especially in the developing world.

More generally, he wants a more confident UK as a great power. This is all good. However, there are some ‘buts’.

Hunt is mid-way through his thinking. What we need to see from the FCO under his leadership is more strategic understanding about its role. Over and above the generic promotion of UK interests, what are our aims and campaigns? Can it really be right that Britain’s overseas policy is divided up between so many government departments – FCO, DfID, Defence, DExEU, DIT, Cabinet Office, not to mention Number 10?

There is a powerful argument for the UK to redefine the 0.7 percent it spends on aid rather than accept the sometimes confusing definition set by the OECD, which undermines the credibility of our aid budget and, on occasions, negates its affect. We need more ‘hard’ power in a more dangerous world.

Finally, there is the central question; what does Global Britain stand for? The blunt answer is that we don’t really know because the Government hasn’t done enough collective thinking on it – yet. We badly need to develop our national strategy post-Brexit.

This summer, the grand old man of US diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, told Hunt that the difference between a good foreign secretary and a bad foreign secretary was that a good foreign secretary thinks strategically.

It is early stages, but at the Select Committee Hunt was thoughtful, diligent, and decent. His problems are the limitations on the FCO, the lack of thinking about Global Britain, and the UK’s current obsession with Brexit. By next Spring we’ll need a better understanding of the Foreign Secretary’s strategic thinking about our future.