Shailesh Vara: This Better Deal would solve the backstop problem

Our plan is supported by remainers like me, by leavers such as David Davis and Dominic Raab and, crucially, by the DUP.

Shailesh Vara is a former Northern Ireland Minister, and is MP for North West Cambridgeshire.

I voted to remain in the EUU referendum, but I believe the largest ever public mandate should be respected. Parliament should deliver what the people wanted and that is to leave the European Union. In so doing, it is important that we get the very best deal possible.

The current Withdrawal Agreement is clearly unsatisfactory, and that is why I resigned from my ministerial post in the Northern Ireland Office. The bedrock of dissent has been about the backstop.

It strikes at our nation’s soul and imperils our Union by treating Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK. If we signed up to it, we would be trapped under the thumb of the EU as its satellite, obeying its laws without a say, unless the EU and its members gave permission for us to leave.

The backstop would place the UK in a “single customs territory”, causing two fundamental problems for our post-Brexit trading relationships. 

First, it would stop us from being able to strike trade deals with non-EU countries, as it would bar us from controlling our tariffs and regulations. Without control in these areas, we would be useless to any prospective trading partner.

Second, with regard to the UK-EU trading relationship, the backstop would create a climate which lends itself to continued EU belligerence. The EU would have no incentive to make concessions in future trade negotiations. 

Once member states have the ability to wield the threat of plunging us into the backstop – and keeping us there indefinitely – we will have no alternative but to make concessions we don’t want to. The Spanish could use Gibraltar as a bargaining chip and the French could demand continued access by EU boats to UK fishing waters.  We can’t possibly let the backstop hold our future trade talks hostage in this way.

So we need a new approach – A Better Deal – and that what’s been published by a team of legal and customs experts. It is supported by remainers like me, by leavers such as David Davis and Dominic Raab and crucially, the DUP. It doesn’t throw out the Prime Minister’s plan. Indeed, it retains the vast majority of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, whilst identifying and removing the poison pills that have prevented it from finding cross-party support.

A Better Deal provides the Government with an alternative vision to present to Brussels.  It is likely to command support in Parliament, closely resembles the offer made by the EU itself last March and honours the referendum result.

Our proposal would restore – rather than destroy – the UK’s leverage for future trade talks with the EU. It safeguards the integrity of the United Kingdom, since it doesn’t treat Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK, and it would allow us to be a credible trade partner for third countries after 29th March 2019.

A Better Deal bins the divisive and ill-thought-through Northern Ireland Protocol and replaces it with an extendable backstop. The new backstop would allow us to control our own tariff schedules and regulations – so it’s not an inherently negative situation for the UK to be in. 

In fact, some may even argue that under our proposal the backstop becomes a “front stop” – and for that reason, no EU country could use it to cajole us into having to agree to a set of appalling terms from Brussels which would let British consumers and businesses down.

The new backstop would provide for tariff-free trade in goods; it would bring about regulatory cooperation between us and the EU as well as regulatory recognition based on “deemed equivalence” – making use of the unique fact that our regulations will be identical on day one of Brexit.

This new and reformed backstop include an agreement to deploy advanced customs and trade facilitation measures, including any specific measures necessary for the Northern Ireland/Ireland border, in addition to normal, free trade agreement-style level playing field provisions on labour, the environment, competition and state aid – unlike the hugely one-sided commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement.  And importantly, it will include a commitment by all parties not to place infrastructure on the border – nobody wants to see that.

Brussels wants to do a deal with us. They offered us a free trade deal back in March, and I suspect that the EU negotiators have been surprised at our inability to grab what is on offer. 

We have a chance to put our future prosperity in our hands as we become a great, self-governing, free trading nation once again. The proposals in A Better Deal will, I believe, meet with the approval of many of my colleagues in Parliament as well as the public. It stays loyal to the Belfast Agreement, avoids a hard border and allows us to leave the arrangement, should we wish to do so. The UK is crying out for a better deal.  Let’s make sure we deliver it.

Stalemate

May wins – but not by enough to break free from her internal opponents. Too strong to fall and too weak to win, she is, if anything, more exposed to them than before.

The editors of this site spare no effort on our readers’ behalf.

Why, we have even offered you exact figures from today’s confidence ballot.  200 votes for Theresa May and 117 against her, we wrote this afternoon, would be a “Problematic Win”: “once the opposition to May climbs above a third of the electorate, it becomes harder to assert legitimacy”.

So it has proved.  A third of the 317 Conservative MPs is 106.  So 117 is a bit north of that – 37 per cent, close on two of them in five.  Furthermore, one must take the payroll vote into account.  Either 62 per cent of the non-payroll voted against her, an indisputable majority.  Or one must let that percentage fall…but raise the proportion of the payroll that opposed her, pari passu.

All in all, this result isn’t bad enough to spur her Cabinet into removing her, as Margaret Thatcher’s did to the then Prime Minister in 1990 (Were its members less timid and had the Tories a majority, matters might be different, especially were the Government not embroiled in the most important negotiation of modern times.)

But nor is it good enough to free Theresa May from the ERG, their allies and the DUP – or from the Conservative Norwegians and second referendum campaigners, for that matter.  And since her vote is a bit lower than expected and the opposition a bit higher, the ERG whips can take a modest bow.  Having apparently predicted the result to within three votes, they have salvaged their reputation for numeracy.

The ERG claims 80 members – a total about which we’ve always been a bit sniffy.  But the lower the number really is, the more support they’ve put on today – in the wake of a rushed ballot, the timing of which caught the group on the hop; of a co-ordinated Twitter blitz on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and of a carefully-crafted appearance by her outside Downing Street, in which she pushed claims about the contest that were, shall we say, debatable.

You will say reply May scooped 63 per cent of the vote, and that her leadership can’t now be challenged for a year.  Quite so.  However, those facts simply open up a new range of problems.  She will have wanted to win by a margin large enough to justify bringing her Brexit deal back to the Commons.  It is very hard to see how this drab result can be treated as a springboard to that effect.

But if it can’t be used to threaten the Commons with No Deal (as in: “my deal or no deal”), it can scarcely be used to threaten the Commons with no Brexit either (“my deal or no Brexit”).  These numbers don’t give her a platform solid enough on which to pivot to postponing Article 50, or a Second Referendum, or Norway Plus.

The Queen is the most powerful piece on the chess board.  And the Prime Minister is the most powerful member of the Government, usual rules permitting.  May retains the title, but cannot move except by putting her side into check.  Her internal opponents can’t no confidence her for the next twelve months.  But she can’t win votes or get legislation through without their help.

Across the board this evening, she and the pawns and knights of the ERG glower and frown at each other.  We have stalemate.

And all the while, Labour watch and wait for the day when they can take on the Queen and her allies themselves – if she’s still in place then.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May provokes derisive laughter and has exhausted the House’s patience

The Prime Minister looked like a straight actor who is appearing in a Christmas pantomime, in order to become the butt of everyone else’s jokes.

The laughter began as the Prime Minister got half-way through her third sentence.  “I’ve listened very carefully to what has been said in this Chamber,” she said, and a roar of derision went up from the Opposition benches.

It was the sort of applause some ridiculous figure in a pantomime might receive. And the unhappy fact was that the Prime Minister did look ridiculous.

Having led the way forward to the meaningful vote wlth every appearance of confidence, and sent her ministers out this morning to assure the world that the Government was still marching forwards, here she was announcing that she was instead leading the way back to Brussels, in search of further “assurances”.

Sir Oliver Letwin (Con, West Dorset) praised “the dignity and perseverance” she has shown, and many sympathetic looks were directed at her amid the mockery she endured.

But the truth was that her position was utterly undignified, for she had realised at the eleventh hour that she could not persevere, because the Commons will not accept her deal.

So she had to exercise that most difficult and inadvisable manoeuvre, a retreat in full view of the enemy, with a hail of misslles raining down on her from every direction.

She tried one of her favourite double negatives, to which she has so often resorted in recent weeks: “There is no deal available that does not include the backstop.” And she insisted the challenge of the Northern Ireland border must be met “not with rhetoric” – a plain hit at the more flowery speakers among the Eurosceptics on her own benches – “but with real and workable solutions”.

But her own solution has just been shown to be unworkable. Theresa May did not have a leg to stand on, and the House could see she did not have a leg to stand on, and the more she tried to insist she did have a leg to stand on, the more she sounded like a straight actor who is currently appearing in a Christmas pantomime, in order to become the butt of everyone else’s jokes.

The Chief Whip, Julian Smith, entered the Chamber a few minutes late, looking like a mourner at a funeral who has encountered unexpected delays on the way to the church.

There was a tremor in the Prime Minister’s voice as she spoke one of her favourite clichés, “I am clear”, but she kept bravely on. One suspects  it is kindness, as shown by that very perfect gentle knight Sir Oliver, which would come closest to reducing her to tears.

Bravely but unconvincingly she insisted that hers is “the very best deal that is actually negotiable with the EU” – the quintessence of the Establishment view, but the Establishment is losing control.

“Does the House want to deliver Brexit?” she demanded. “No!” the Scots Nats shouted.

And quite a lot of MPs on both sides of the House agree with the Nats. Numerous pleas were made for a second referendum as a means of wriggling out of Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn said “the Government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray”. Things have come to a pretty pass when one finds oneself agreeing with him.

He told her that if she is just going to bring back “the same botched deal” then “she must give way”.

The Speaker, John Bercow, inflicted the torment on her of a lecture about manners. He said that to kill off the debate after no fewer than 164 MPs had spoken was “deeply discourteous”, and lectured her about how she should proceed.

The Prime Minister looked like a deeply upset yet inwardly recalcitrant schoolgirl, who feels herself unjustly accused of  breaking the school rules. The Chief Whip lent over and said something to her. It appeared he was rejecting the Speaker’s advice.

Vince Cable, for the Liberal Democrats, said that “after the fiasco today the Government has really lost all authority”, and his party would support a No Confidence motion.

Nigel Dodds, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Unionists, looking white with anger, observed that “this is an impossible position”, and asked: “Does she not get it by now?”

There was altogether a feeling, even among MPs less averse to compromise than Dodds, that May has exhausted everyone’s patience.

The veteran Labour Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), traditionally known as the Beast of Bolsover, pointed out with a snarl that Brussels will see she is “very weak” and will humiliate her, in order to set a terrifying example to other countries which might feel tempted to leave the EU.

David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, asked whether she was going to get “legally enforceable” guarantees about the backstop. He did not get a reply, for legally enforceable guarantees are virtually impossible to obtain from the EU.

Jess Phillips (Lab, Birmingham Yardley) mocked Conservative Eurosceptics “who like to go around calling themselves Aslan”, and contended that whatever May might obtain in Brussels will “make absolutely no difference to these people”. And on that, one suspects, Phillips is right. It is hard to see how May can now satisfy anyone.

Chris White: A guide to what could happen in the Commons this week

I set out what could happen – and translate what the amendments to the Government’s motion mean.

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

On Tuesday, the Government will face its toughest test – trying to get its Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. Eight hours of debate will be followed by a series of votes that will decide the future of the UK, as well as the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party. The stakes could not be higher.

Over 100 Conservative MPs have publicly declared they will vote against the Theresa May’s deal. Yet it is important to remember that there might not even be a vote on the deal. Equally, an amendment could pass which if won, would mean no vote on the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement. Below I set out what could happen, as well as translate what the motions actually mean.

The Government caves in and changes the Parliamentary business, or fails to move the vote, because it knows it is going to lose

The numbers look terrible for the Government, and there have been no MPs who have publicly swapped sides to endorse the Prime Minister’s deal. The reality of the situation is that the Government knows that it is going to lose, and so could decide to pull the vote and seek state that it accepts it won’t get it through Parliament. Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, took the highly unusual step of recommending this in the media. This would be highly embarrassing, but would avoid a humiliating defeat, with the Prime Minister forced to go back to Brussels to renegotiate. There are two ways of doing this:

  • Emergency Business Statement: The Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, either on Monday or Tuesday at the start of Parliamentary business, makes a statement changing the business for the day, pulling the last day of debate and the votes.
  • The Government Minister winding up the debate ‘talks out’ the votes: The business motion for the debate has been cleverly drafted – under section 10 (c), only a Minister may move a closure, which basically means if they are still standing and speaking at the end of the debate, the votes won’t be moved.

An amendment to the Government motion is passed, politically changing the deal

In the table below I’ve listed the 13 amendments tabled so far by MPs. Of these, six will be selected by the Speaker – it’s not certain which he will select, but some have more chance than others – my current thinking is amendments (a) (b) (i) (k) (l) and (m). It’s unlikely that the official Labour one would succeed – amendment (a) – as Tory MPs and the DUP won’t support it, and of the others:

Hilary Benn – amendment (i) explicitly rejects the UK leaving on no deal, and demands the Government move straight to the final Parliamentary debate under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act. This is the one which the Government lost a vote on last week, which basically means that Parliament is able to direct Government politically which course of action it should pursue. Whilst this isn’t binding under legislation, and the Government could still theoretically leave under no deal terms, it would be politically challenging to do so.

Backbench Conservative – there are three motions which seek to do similar things (b) (e) and (f) – force the Government to place a time limit on the NI backstop, or to reject the backstop. Even if this passed, the UK Government would have to seek agreement from the EU.

Liberal Democrat – amendment (l) calls on the UK Government to hold a second referendum. This would require primary legislation, and even if passed swiftly, such a referendum could not be held within the next 5 months because of the time needed to organise.

No amendments are passed, but the main Government motion fails as well

In this scenario, all votes fail, and the Commons fails to both pass the Withdrawal Agreement, and direct the Government what to do next. This would be hugely damaging to the Prime Minister. Under the EU Withdrawal Act the Government has 21 days to make a statement to the Commons setting out what it plans to do next, and within seven days of that statement the Government must bring forward a motion for the House to consider. This motion can now be amended following the Government’s defeat next week, and the Commons would be able to express a view on what to do next, though this would not be binding on the Government.

What could happen next?

If the Government motion fails, and all amendments fail, then there are several things that might happen:

  • May could face a vote of no confidence in the Commons. Kier Starmer has said that Labour would table a vote, but with the DUP stating that they would support the Conservatives in such a vote, this is unlikely to succeed. If the Government did fall, there would be 14 days for another Government to win a vote of confidence in the Commons, or the country will have a General Election.
  • Conservative MPs put in 48 letters, and the party has to have a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. If 48 letters go in, this would require a swift vote of confidence, where May must win more than 50 per cemt of the 315 eligible MPs. If she lost, the party then has to elect a new leader. Given the incredibly short timescale before 29th March, the Conservative Party would be signing its own death warrant to do this.
  • Labour tries to table a censure motion about May – this is effectively a personal vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which is what happened recently to Chris Grayling. This would potentially allow Tory MPs to vote against the May without bringing down the Government. However the Government is under no obligation to provide time for an Opposition Day before Christmas, so this is unlikely to happen.
  • The Prime Minister goes to negotiate with Brussels and brings back an amended deal. This would then require the Government to win a vote on its renegotiated deal, using the procedure outlined above.
    If no negotiated deal can pass through the Commons the UK will leave the EU without a deal.

My best guess is that if the Government doesn’t pull the vote, then none of the amendments or the main motion will pass. The Government will then be forced to return to Brussels and try and renegotiate, whilst no-confidence motions in the Government or the Prime Minister are unlikely to succeed due to the dire situation the Tory Party would find itself in. What happens next will depend on whether the Prime Minister can remove either the backstop, or insert a time limit on it, in order for the deal to satisfy enough Tory MPs.

List of amendments before the House – Green means likely to be selected by the Speaker for voting, yellow means a reasonable chance of being selected.

WATCH: Dodds says Democratic Unionists are “abiding by our side of the bargain”

“We entered into the confidence and supply agreement in relation to supporting Brexit on the basis of our shared priorities.”

Why Conservative MPs should prepare to call for a confidence vote in the Prime Minister’s leadership this week

A new leader will be a surer means of delivering Brexit if she can’t extract last-minute backstop concessions.

It may now not be possible for the Government to postpone Tuesday’s evening’s coming vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.  Or the Speaker – that friend of Labour and enemy of Brexit – may somehow block any such move.  Or Downing Street may find some face-saving amendment that minimises the scale of defeat.

But whatever happens, the Prime Minister has a last chance this week to amend the element of the deal that makes it unacceptable: the backstop.  So whether or not the vote takes place, she must push the EU in Brussels on Thursday for a unilateral right of exit or a time limit.

We have no confidence that such a manoeuvre will succeed if executed by her at this stage.  It could just be that, confronted by the prospect of a disorderly Brexit on its north-west frontier, the EU gives way.  But it is far more likely to stand firm, hoping – with reason – that May will then lose control of the Commons altogether, which will then push for the postponement of Article 50 and a second referendum, to which pressure she will yield.  The European Court is primed to pave the way for this development on Monday.  Furthermore, backing down on the backstop would mean the EU27 deserting one of its own, the country which has been the biggest winner in the negotiation to date: Ireland.

The Prime Minister would then have three policy options: that second referendum, Norway-plus-the-backstop and no deal.  Since she opposes all of them, the logic of the impasse would point to resignation.  But we read May as believing that it would be her duty as a public servant to carry on.  And what seems to animate her most is a fear of no deal – an outcome which the Government has had a duty to prepare for, which it has failed properly to do.

She would therefore bend either to cross-party pressure for the Norway scheme, or for that second referendum – thereby spitting in the face of the biggest-ever vote in British electoral history, breaking her own manifesto commitments, and crafting a narrative of betrayal that threatens frightening consequences for the country.  Even if she doesn’t do all this, however, the point at which she provided effective leadership and credible negotiating is past, if the backstop can’t be altered this week.

Conservative MPs will therefore have no alternative, if she can’t extract that last-minute change, but to write to Graham Brady seeking a vote of confidence in May’s leadership.  Cabinet members are preparing for this development already: today’s papers are packed with details of fledgling leadership campaigns, and Amber Rudd has already broken with Downing Street by supporting a Plan B (Norway-plus-the-backstop) if Plan A fails.

The way would thus be open for candidates supporting a second referendum, the Norway scheme or no deal to MPs and Party members.  We suspect that the eventual outcome would favour that last option.  The new Prime Minister would then face a titanic struggle between the Conservative manifesto position, reinforced by Party members, and those MPs determined to flout the referendum mandate.  His or her message to Commons and the country would be: the government I lead will deliver the referendum result.  If you want to thwart me, the only means available to you will be a vote of no confidence.

Ultimately, the argument for this course is that the alternative is even worse.  May’s threat of a Corbyn Government before Christmas is evidence of her desperation and – unless the EU somehow saves her – ruin.  For the DUP has made it clear that it will only abandon the Conservatives if her deal passes the Commons, not if it fails.

Henry Hill: Unionist parties unite against backstop as Varadkar rules out fresh talks

Also: Welsh Labour choose their new leader (and First Minister) this afternoon; Scottish Tories attack SNP over tax divergence plans.

Unionists unite against backstop as Varadkar says no to new talks

The leaders of all three of Northern Ireland’s principle unionist parties – the Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionists, and Traditional Unionist Voice – have maintained their lock-step opposition to the backstop this week, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Although there was no joint press conference to mirror that held by Remainers, Arlene Foster, Robin Swann, and Jim Allister made it clear that none of their parties was going to follow Lady Sylvia Hermon – the pro-deal independent unionist MP for North Down – and fracture the united front.

This is electorally significant, as it means that in the event of a snap election the three are much more likely to be able to come to some sort of vote-maximising pact. The prospects of a similar arrangement on the Remain side are slim, because the various pro-EU parties would need Sinn Fein to take their seats in order to include them and have little hope of unseating them otherwise.

Robin Swann, the UUP leader, launched a stinging attack on ministers for trying to “downplay” unionist concerns when “he legal advice that was sitting on their desks from the Attorney General tells us we were right to reject this deal”. His party campaigned for Remain in 2016, so its rowing in behind the DUP is especially significant.

Meanwhile in Dublin, the Irish Taoiseach ruled out the prospect of the European Union re-opening the negotiations if Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated in the House of Commons. Speaking in the Dail, Leo Varadkar specifically criticised the idea that talks could be conducted with a legislature, as opposed to a government:

“The suggestion that somehow if it is defeated, we would somehow find ourselves negotiating with a parliament really is quite unworkable. To see a parliamentary delegation entering the tunnel to reopen the talks is just not something that is feasible.”

He also ruled out publishing the Irish Government’s own legal advice on the backstop, although it seems unlikely to contradict the Attorney General’s.

All this will do nothing to assuage unionist fears, articulated this week by Dr Graham Gudgin of the University of Cambridge, that elements in Ireland view the Withdrawal Agreement as ‘a “stepping stone” towards a united Ireland’.

This united unionist front once again puts the spotlight on the 13 Scottish Conservative and Unionist MPs – especially in light of Jackson Carlaw’s tough talk about a “pro-Union ticket” for the party in the 2021 Holyrood elections. David Mundell has still not explained why he hasn’t resigned, as he threatened, over this deal’s differential treatment for Northern Ireland.

Welsh Labour select their next leader this afternoon

The three candidates vying to replace Carwyn Jones will find out which of them is Wales’ next First Minister this afternoon, Wales Online reports.

Jones will step down next Tuesday and hand over to whichever of Mark Drakeford, Eluned Morgan, and Vaughan Gething emerges triumphant today. Amongst the inspiring pitches on offer was Drakeford’s plan to ban smoking (outdoors) in every town and city centre in Wales.

The current First Minister has been beset by scandal since the suicide of Carl Sargeant, a former minister whom Jones sacked. An inquiry into his handling of the matter is still ongoing: just last week the presiding coroner rejected a bid by Jones’ lawyer to consider evidence on the late AM’s ‘inappropriate behaviour’.

Whoever wins will have a few years to get their feet under the table before facing their first electoral challenge, currently scheduled for 2021. At present the Welsh Government holds a narrow majority in the Assembly thanks to the support of Kirsty Williams, its last remaining Liberal Democrat, and Lord Elis-Thomas, who resigned from Plaid Cymru to support the executive and now holds a cabinet brief as an independent AM.

Scottish Conservatives attack SNP over tax plans

The Scottish Government has been warned against widening the tax gap between Scotland and England in its upcoming budget, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The CBI counselled that it would make Scottish firms less competitive by making it harder for them to attract the best talent from elsewhere in the UK, and thus risked “economic damage”. Murdo Fraser, the Tories’ Shadow Finance Secretary, echoed these concerns. The Conservatives fear any gap will drive away “wealth and investment”.

However, the IPPR think-tank has warned that the SNP would have to plug a £1 billion hole in their budget if they emulated the tax cuts unveiled by Philip Hammond in the Budget. Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary, has also signalled his personal opposition to the cuts.

WATCH: Javid – “No one can pretend that this deal is perfect in every sense”

The DUP appeared to think this was, to put it mildly, an understatement.

The House of Commons renders the proposed television debate on Brexit utterly superfluous

It is hard to see how the different Brexit alternatives can be presented anything like as well on TV as they will be in Parliament.

At first glance, Theresa May’s push for a television debate with Jeremy Corbyn looks understandable as part of her drive to be seen doing everything she can to persuade people of the merits of her Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister wishes to demonstrate she will leave no stone unturned and spare herself no exertion between now and the vote on 11th December. She is also confident she has a far greater command than Corbyn of the meaning and detail of her proposals, so has good chances of showing him up as a lazy thinker who has not gripped the subject.

But the more one examines how the debate might actually work, the odder it looks, and the less surprising it has become a stumbling block, with no agreement even about whether the BBC or ITV will host it.

Brexit is a horribly complicated subject, with a wide range of mutually contradictory outcomes being canvassed by devoted adherents, ranging from No Deal to the Norway option to a second referendum. It is obvious May and Corbyn have no interest in doing justice to these different ideas.

The Prime Minister is determined to frame this as a choice between her deal and chaos. She is entitled to push that line, but the broadcasters cannot allow themselves to become mere tools in Downing Street’s propaganda offensive.

So the BBC proposed a panel of 20, half of whom would back the PM and half of whom would canvass other options. It then agreed to reduce the panel to ten, split the same way.

What scope for rancour there is in this proposal. No one is likely to feel that in the small amount of time available, his or her cherished ideas about the best way forward have been represented as well as they deserve to be represented.

Happily, there exists a better way of having this debate. A chamber exists in which 40 hours have already been set aside for it, with over 600 members on hand to represent the different points of view.

This chamber has rules of debate which have evolved over a long period, and which enable opposing points of view to be expounded and challenged. It can and does oblige the Prime Minister to attend for hours on end, in order to answer every possible question, not just from the Leader of the Opposition but from the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, the Democratic Unionists, the Liberals and from many Conservative and other backbenchers who have important and often inconvenient points about which they wish to inquire.

The Members of this House, who have been elected under clearly understood rules by the whole nation, feel themselves under pressure to be intelligible, and if possible to make their arguments in pithy and witty form, for there is then the greatest chance of getting what they have to say across to the wider public. They can be lobbied by their constituents, and find it prudent to remain aware of local opinion, while also exercising their informed judgment on the often very intricate and contentious questions which need to be resolved.

The House has a quick-witted chairman whose duty is to facilitate this process, learned clerks who know how to give legal form to the different options, and voting procedures which enable decisions to be taken. There are also press and public galleries from which the debate can be watched and reported, and the proceedings will, incidentally, be televised.

Why hold the other, much shorter television debate, under improvised and inevitably unsatisfactory rules of procedure, when this far superior forum, known as the House of Commons, already exists?

Iain Dale: Why is the May making her case to 35 million people won’t vote on her deal? And not to 300 or so who will?

Plus: Keep the Brexit TV debate simple. Giving Allin-Khan and Duncan a piece of my mind. And: Carney – we’ve heard it all before.

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

When you are fighting a political battle it’s a good idea to identify who your target audience is. I’m therefore somewhat perplexed by the Prime Minister’s strategy to embark on a whistle-stop campaigning tour of the country to sell her Brexit deal to voters.

The point is that the electorate as a whole won’t vote on December 11th – 650 MPs will. Shouldn’t Theresa May’s time be spent convincing her own MPs, rather than the generality of voters, to support her?  After all, they will now decide the fate of her Brexit deal, and indeed her own too.

There are echoes of 1990, when Margaret Thatcher thought her time would be better spent in Paris at a summit of world leaders than in the Commons tea room convincing her backbenchers. That worked out well…

– – – – – – – – – –

Almost as baffling is the Prime Minister’s decision to offer to debate the Leader of the Opposition on TV about the proposed Brexit deal.

Given its importance, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to seek to do so but, given her lack of willingness to debate Jeremy Corbyn directly during the last general election, it shows how desperate Number Ten have become. I suppose it’s the ‘sh*t or bust’ strategy.

Once again, her audience in this debate has to be her 315 colleagues rather than the country at large. A lot of hot air has been expelled on this debate by people desperate to muscle in on it. In the last few days we’ve had the ludicrous sight to both Boris Johnson and the People’s Vote campaign pleading to be let onto the stage too.

No doubt the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP think they should have a representative there too, not to mention the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP. How utterly ridiculous.

May and Corbyn are the only two possible people who can negotiate a Brexit deal at present – the current Prime Minister, or the man who might be were a general election to take place. It would be preposterous to have anyone else on the stage apart from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

– – – – – – – – – –

I was on Politics Live on Tuesday with Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, and Alan Duncan, the Europe Minister.

Rosena is seen as a rising star in the Labour Party and is appearing everywhere in the media. I was, however, slightly disappointed that all she did throughout the programme was trot out the party line and a few vacuous soundbites.

OK, she’s a politician hoping to be promoted, but it was disappointing nonetheless. She argued that there was an exodus of companies leaving this country for the EU, and jobs are leaving the City of London in droves.

Patent nonsense – so I decided to take her on. I simply asked her to name one big company that had left the country because of Brexit. She couldn’t name a single one. Had I been quicker witted, I could have talked about the major Dutch publishing group which has relocated to London, or the fact that Chanel is moving here from Paris.

Alan Duncan also disappointed me by making specious claims about the links between Breitbart, the Leave campaign and the Russians. So I’m afraid he got the benefit of my views as well!

It’s the second time I have been on Politics Live, and I have to say I think it has really found its feet. It’s very different to its predecessor, the Daily and Sunday Politics, and no doubt cheaper to make, but in many ways it is much more watchable, and I suspect it has more ‘stickability’. If you like the guest lineup, I suspect you’ll stick with the whole programme rather than tune out halfway through.

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It’s entirely right for the Bank of England to look at what effect the various forms of Brexit would have on the UK economy. What is not right for it to be partisan.

Mark Carney said he was not making predictions but looking at ‘scenarios’. Utter rot. If that was his aim he’d have modelled the various ‘best scenarios’ too, but those didn’t get a look in.

What about if the Eurozone collapses? What if the Italian banking sector collapses? Wouldn’t we be better off out in those circumstances? I’m afraid I take the Governor’s warnings with a respectful pinch of salt, because we’ve heard it all before.