15 December 2018 – today’s press releases

My apologies for lateness, but it’s been Opera Night in Needham Market, and we’ve been kept up by an Armenian soprano… And no, that’s not a metaphor… Only two today, but one of them turned up just before midnight, so don’t say you aren’t getting them fresh. Lib Dems: Diplomatic move by Australian Government is […]

My apologies for lateness, but it’s been Opera Night in Needham Market, and we’ve been kept up by an Armenian soprano… And no, that’s not a metaphor…

Only two today, but one of them turned up just before midnight, so don’t say you aren’t getting them fresh.

Lib Dems: Diplomatic move by Australian Government is ‘deeply unhelpful and disappointing’

Responding to reports that the Australian Government have recognised the state of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plan to move their embassy there from Tel Aviv once a peace settlement is reached, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

This move from the agreed UN position by the Australians​, is deeply unhelpful and disappointing.

We must all strive towards a renewed push for peace and calm in occupied territories, and all nations have a responsibility to uphold that.

Lib Dems: Penny dropping with top Tories over People’s Vote

Responding to reports in tomorrow’s Sunday Times that two of Theresa May’s key allies, David Liddington and Gavin Barwell, have been making preparations for a referendum giving the people the final say, Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

Better late than never, it seems the penny has dropped with at least some senior Ministers – a People’s Vote provides the only escape route from a divisive and damaging Brexit.

The parties must join forces to defeat the PM’s friendless deal and trigger the vote and legislation necessary for a referendum. This decision must be taken back to the people, with the option to remain on the ballot paper offering us a chance to get out of this mess.

Garvan Walshe: Leadership crisis. Ministerial resignations. Eyes turn to the army…in Israel

The numbers in the Knesset are finely balanced, and the search is on for a figurehead to end Netanyahu’s decade in power.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative party. He runs TRD Policy.

An embattled prime minister under attack because of a troubled mission extricating their country from a decades long foreign entanglement. The responsible Cabinet minister resigned, believing the Prime Minister has gone soft, conceding to technocrats and selling the people short. All eyes turned to a famous hawk, deeply suspicious of Iran and known for his divisive work at Education. Yet, confounding expectations, this minister has refused to resign.

But enough about Theresa May’s troubles and Michael Gove’s decision to support her. This government crisis is taking place in Israel.

The resigned minister is Avigdor Lieberman, the former defence minister who wanted a more aggressive policy in Gaza than the Israeli army thought wise.

The unresigned minister is Natfhali Bennett. Unlike Gove, who refused the post of Brexit Secretary and stayed at Defra, Bennett wanted to be moved to the vacant defence ministry, and threatened to resign if he didn’t get it.

In Israel’s proportional system, parties are small and coalitions are formed after elections rather than within parties. Lieberman and Bennett both lead right-wing parties and were once rivals to lead a broad right-of-centre coalition.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has learned to master the system, tacking sufficiently to the right to compete for voters who prefer the red meat that Bennett in particular promises, while remaining acceptable at least to centre-right politicians like Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister.

As long as Israel’s strategic situation stayed uppermost in voters’ minds this was enough to keep him in the lead. Israeli voters do not, by and large, believe there’s a viable peace process, and the Palestinians have been unable to convince them otherwise.

Their traditional Arab allies are either distracted or hostile – preferring indeed a discreet anti-Iranian alliance with Israel – and the United States and EU, who might otherwise devote some attention to imposing an arrangement less to Israel’s advantage than the status quo, are otherwise occupied.

All this makes Netanyahu’s pose as “Mr Security” less relevant. The focus has shifted to corruption and the web of police investigations closing in on Netanyahu himself.

After Lieberman pulled his party out, he was left with a one seat majority. Had Bennett left the government as well, elections would have followed. Netanyahu had until recently thought new elections to be an advantage. Electoral politics after all is his favourite pitch. A new election and endorsement by “the people” could buy him time before the law might catch up with him.

Indeed, the political landscape appears to favour Netanyahu. Polls suggest his Likud party would be by far the single largest, with around 30 seats. Bennett’s nationalist Bayid Yahudi (Jewish Home) is useful to him because there was no chance of them forming a coalition with anyone else, yielding a right-wing bloc of about 40 seats.

A centrist group, including Kahlon’s Kulanu (currently in the government), a new party formed by Orly Levy (who left Bennett’s party to start her own movement) that refuses to position itself on the traditional left-right security spectrum, and the explicitly centrist Yesh Atid, would together win another 30.

The Left, comprising the Zionist Union (led by Tzipi Livni and Avi Gabbay), Meretz and the Joint (Arab) List, secures another 30.

(Religious parties — the Israeli DUP if you like — traditionally support whichever side gives them the largest subsidies, and command around 15 seats.)

That leaves Yisrael Beitenu, a party with its base among immigrants from the former Soviet Union led by the just-resigned Lieberman, and traditionally leaning rightwards, to make up the balance. Lieberman is a right-winger, but it would be perverse (if hardly unIsraeli) for him to resign from a government only to return to it after elections left the distribution of seats pretty much where it had been before.

Though Netanyahu himself can only rely on about 40 seats – a third of the Knesset, including Bennett’s party, to which the Prime Minister can now consider himself hostage – his opponents lack a unifying figurehead. The search is on, and, as is traditional, is zeroing in on the Army barracks.

The decoy general is Ehud Barack, the former Prime Minister. A polarising figure, he is simultaneously Netanyahu’s former commander, the man who beat him decisively in a direct election for Prime Minister in 1999, and someone despised with such intensity in many parts of the political spectrum that he could be called Israel’s Hillary Clinton.

The officer Likud actually fear is Benny Gantz, recently Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces and already under attack from culture minister (and member of Likud) Miri Regev. Mark him. He could be the man to end Netanyahu’s decade in power.

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.