Raab, Cox, Gove, Fox, Mordaunt – all these Cabinet members, and others, should prepare to resign today

They should first seek to persuade May not to press for a decision, since there will have been no opportunity for full timely study of the text.

As this month began, we set five tests for any Brexit deal that Theresa May might recommend to her Cabinet members.  They were as follows:

  • Would it hive off Northern Ireland?  Will there be either an an exit date or a unilateral escape mechanism from the backstop?
  • Does it threaten to break up the Union?  If there isn’t, and Northern Ireland is effectively to be kept in the Single Market, won’t that boost the SNP’s campaign for Scottish independence – and the break-up of the Union?
  • Would it trap the country in a customs union?  If Great Britain is to be put into a parallel customs union, will there be either an exit date or a unilateral escape mechanism from it?
  • Does it hand over money for nothing? Since a future trade deal will be covered by an unenforceable political declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – what safeguards are there against  shelling out £40 billion for nothing?
  • Chequers or Canada? Given that the political declaration is likely to be written in vague, Cheqada terms, which future does it really point to – Chequers or Canada?

In the wake of the Prime Minister summoning Cabinet members for one-to-one meetings yesterday evening, with a full Cabinet meeting due this afternoon, it is possible that there are reassuring answers to all these questions.

But it is more likely that, as we wrote then, the proposed deal would wreck the prospect of meaningful trade deals, hand over £40 billion for no bankable gain, and potentially threaten the break-up of the UK.

It is early days to draw definitive conclusions either way about the draft agreement’s contents, but it is clear that the planned settlements for Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be different.

And Sabine Weyand suggested to a meeting of EU ambassadors yesterday that the deal would effectively keep the whole UK in the Customs Union, force EU access to our fishing waters, and align us to Single Market rules.

Such a settlement would breach the Conservative Manifesto commitments to leave the Customs Union, and arguably the Single Market too – and threaten the survival of the Government if the DUP withdrew all support, as it is poised to do.

At any rate, it is evident that the Prime Minister is no longer driven by the belief, in the famous phrase from her Lancaster House speech, that “No Deal is better than a Bad Deal”.  Evidently, she is desparate for a settlement.

In a sense, then, one can scarcely blame her for seeking to bounce the Cabinet today.  Its members are being given this morning only to examine 500 or so pages of the Withdrawal Agreement alone before it meets this afternoon.

It will be impossible for them to undertake the full timely study of this text, plus legal advice about it, within this brief time-frame – let alone to get independent advice about what it all adds up to.

It follows that when May proposes the immediate approval of the draft deal today, Brexiteering Ministers have no option but to seek to persuade the Cabinet as a whole to withold that approval – even if that means missing the November deadline for a summit.

On our count, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Gavin Williamson, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Esther McVey, Natalie Evans, David Mundell and Penny Mordaunt have all variously asked questions or expressed doubts about where the deal is going.

Add Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom and Geoffrey Cox to the list – all these are entitled to attend Cabinet, though they are not full members – and one reaches 14 of a total of 29, just under half.

Of course, it is the Prime Minister who takes the voices and shapes Cabinet minutes: its members don’t do anything so crude as cast votes.  In short, if she is determined to make the proposed deal the basis for a summit, Cabinet members aren’t well placed to stop her.

Which leaves only one course open to them.  If those resistant to approving any deal on the basis of a single meeting aren’t heeded, they will have no practicable alternative but to resign.

Our article of a month ago was headed: the Cabinet must stand ready to take back control.  Today may be the last chance that its members have to do so.

Greg Hammond: Freedom for disruptive technologies v the need for peace and quiet

Clumsy bans are not the answer – but local rules do need to be adapted to cope with Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb.

Cllr Greg Hammond is a councillor for Courtfield Ward in Kensington and Chelsea.

“This generation are Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters”, says Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. And she is right that disruptive technologies are delivering consumers new opportunities for services at lower prices than conventional taxis, hotels and restaurants. Such new freedoms are welcome, and are particularly taken for granted by the young generation that does not remember the restricted choices of the pre-smartphone age. Yet are these new technologies an unalloyed good?

In my ward and its neighbours in South Kensington, in addition to enjoying the benefits of Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo, our residents have been experiencing some unintended second – and third – order consequences of these disruptive technologies.

Uber drivers have found hitherto quiet residential streets in which to hold while awaiting a call-forward for a fare. In some cases, unwilling to pay for parking and with no designated rest areas, drivers are discarding on the curbsides litter from hastily-eaten meals and even drinks bottles re-used for urine. Of course not every Uber driver is guilty of such anti-social behaviour, but as a minimum residents’ parking bays are blocked and extra traffic created in certain hotspots.

Short-term holiday letting is also proving to be much more lucrative than traditional residential letting. Although Airbnb and similar sites apply a maximum limit of 90 days’ letting per year, it is easy for unscrupulous landlords to register with more than one site and let all year round. Instead of being just a means of making some occasional money from a spare room, there are now short-term letting businesses with multiple properties. Indeed there are some entire town houses containing nothing but short-term letting flats. The consequences are hollowed-out communities, a reduced supply of properties for those who want to live in the area, rubbish left out in the streets on the wrong days by people who are not invested in the local community, and increased instances of noisy parties at anti-social hours on what are working days for local residents.

Deliveroo (and Uber-eats) riders meanwhile are congregating near the restaurants whose products they are going to deliver. Increasingly using noisy scooters rather than relatively benign bicycles, large numbers of riders are positioned at peak times near the restaurants. An example of this problem was in an echoey residential mews which also happens to contain the service entrance to a local branch of Nando’s.

So what is to be done?

The answer is certainly not Labour’s instinctive opposition to new ideas that threaten existing vested interests: the type of reaction that was recently demonstrated by Sadiq Khan’s clumsy attempt to ban Uber in London. This is the kind Luddite approach that would still see our cloth made on the Spinning Jenny and steam locomotives on the railways. Something much more nuanced is required.

In Kensington & Chelsea we are having some small successes in addressing these problems. My Ward colleague worked with parking enforcement and an engaged group of residents to address the problem of Uber drivers holding in one particular hotspot. I organised a meeting on site with Deliveroo’s head of public affairs to show her the problem in the mews. Pleasingly, she was proactive in following up by explaining the problems to the riders and setting up a direct email address for residents’ complaints. As councillors, meanwhile, we have encouraged the Council to increase parking restrictions in that mews, but have accepted that the Deliveroo riders have to go somewhere and that the already-busy commercial street is the place. In both cases the problems have been mitigated in the particular hotspots, though these are microcosms of the problem as a whole.

On short-term holiday letting, last year our relevant scrutiny committees launched a proper study into a problem that had been identified by councillors but had hitherto been completely overlooked as an issue by council officers. The study identified that only a quarter of the short-term holiday lettings in our borough were for the classic ‘spare room’, whereas three-quarters were full dwellings and therefore probably primarily business enterprises. The recommended solutions in many cases would require primary legislation. Suggestions included the creation of a mandatory licensing system and registration with the local authority to facilitate enforcement actions against breaches of, for example, the 90-day limit. A more ‘joined-up’ approach to enforcement between different council departments was also proposed.

The actions described are all tentative first steps, and in some cases are hyper-localised. It would be wrong to squash the new freedoms and opportunities offered by disruptive technologies or to give in to vested interests. But we also need to protect our residents from new threats to the quiet enjoyment of their homes and neighbourhoods. Where does the balance lie? There are no easy answers. Constructive suggestions in the comment area would be a useful contribution to the debate.

Cox is hoisted shoulder-high to the top of our Cabinet League Table

We have occasionally seen precipitous falls in Cabinet members’ scores. Vertiginous rises are rarer. Indeed, it is hard to think of a jump quite like it.

 

When our last Cabinet League Table was published, Geoffrey Cox had neither made his ringing speech to the Conservative Party Conference, nor yet brought a new clarity in Cabinet to what comes before it from the Brexit negotiations. And though he was sat mid-table, his rating was a modest + 11.

This month, it soars by almost 60 points to take him to the table’s top. We have occasionally seen precipitous falls in Cabinet members’ scores. Vertiginous rises are rarer. Indeed, it is hard to think of a jump quite like it. We may now even get a Cox-for-leader ramp, though our view is that he is well placed to take over, in due course, at Justice.

The Attorney General has clearly raised great expectations among the pro-Brexit generality of party members. But their approval is not confined to those who campaigned for Leave during the EU referendum.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are second and third. The Foreign Secretary’s rating has scarcely moved. The Home Secretary’s has actually risen slightly.

Dominic Raab is now fourth. Esther McVey has slid: that will be the impact of the Universal Credit row. Gavin Williamson is out of negative territory. We suspect that Philip Hammond’s score would have been higher had the survey gone out post rather than pre-Budget, but the Softer Brexiteers, as usual, take a pasting, with the Prime Minister’s score down on last month.