Nuclear powers, spiralling tension – and Kashmir’s fallout in urban Britain

Brokenshire must keep an eye on the potential knock-on from the latest flare-up over terror, reprisals, a captured pilot and the disputed territory.

The community cohesion post at HCLG is viewed as the most junior in the department.  Which is why it was originally siphoned off to Andrew Stunell, the only Liberal Democrat placed in it when the Coalition was formed, while the Conservatives bagged housing, planning and local government finance.  The present holder of the post isn’t even in the Commons: he is Nick Bourne, the former leader of the Welsh Party, now Lord Bourne and re-badged as Minister for Faith.

Given this set-up, it would be well worth James Brokenshire keeping half an eye on the military escalation between India and Pakistan.  The two countries have fought three wars since they were founded over a territory about which both make claims: the former princely state of Kashmir.  In a nutshell, India occupies a part of it, the valley, against the wishes of its inhabitants, and has a long record of committing human rights abuses there; Pakistan, meanwhile, equips, trains and manipulates jihadi terrorists, who cross the line of control to commit atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir and in India itself.

The present flare-up was sparked by an attack on Indian police in the valley which left 40 of them dead.  The Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group was responsible for the assault.  A line of control separates the Indian and Pakistani-occupied parts of Kashmir.  The terrorists will almost certainly have crossed it to carry out the attack.  They would not be able to operate in Pakistani-controlled territory without the protection of the Pakistan Government.

Consequently, India launched retaliatory air strikes.  Unsurprisingly, there are conflicting accounts of who they hit and to what effect, but what is certain is that at least one Indian plane was shot down and at least one pilot captured.  He has duly been paraded on Pakistani television.  That Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, faces an election shortly is inflaming the situation: he must prove to the country’s voters that he won’t go soft on terror.  Imran Khan, his Pakistani counterpart (yes: that Imran Khan), has sought to pour oil on these troubled waters.  There will be more to his motives than meets the eye, but his words are worth pondering none the less.

“With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford a miscalculation?  Shouldn’t we think about what will happen if the situation escalates?” he said, calling for talks.  As we write, Modi, doubtless with that election in view and outraged Indian voters in mind, isn’t willing to take up the offer.  Most likely, the confrontation will simmer down, and the near-70 year old Kashmir dispute duly vanish from the headlines, before duly simmering up again.

But there is always a chance that it will not.  There will now be over 1.5 million people of Indian origin in Britain and at least that many people of Pakistani origin.  Roughly 60 per of these are, strictly speaking, not Pakistanis at all: they originate from the Mirpur area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.  The two populations don’t exactly live side by side, but they do share parts of some cities, such as Birmingham and Leicester.  Local councils will be in the lead when it comes to defusing potential tensions, but national government also has a role – just as it does in relation to the Israel-Palestine dispute, which is more visible, at least to Britain’s white majority.

The Attlee Government may not have handled Britain’s departure from the old imperial India well, but given the country’s communalism there would doubtless have been mass bloodshed in any event.  In a different world, there would be some Northern Ireland-type solution to the Kashmir problem.  But neither India nor Pakistan are remotely, to borrow a phrase that Brokenshire sometimes uses in other contexts, “in that space”.  For the moment, he can only watch, get briefed and plan, but “they also serve who only stand and wait”.

Garvan Walshe: Assailed by police, polls and a triumvirate of ex-generals, can Netanyahu hold on to power?

The odds are stacking ever higher against the man who has dominated his country’s politics for years.

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

As Israelis go to the polls, police investigations are closing in on Balfour Street, and its most famous inhabitant, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has a system of pure proportional representation in which potential Prime Ministers have two hurdles to clear. First, be the first to be asked to form a coalition (it’s usually enough to be the single biggest party), and then to assemble the 61 votes needed for a majority in the Knesset. 

Netanyahu has dominated this process for a decade. A skilled communicator, perhaps the last of the Clinton-Blair golden generation, he first corrals enough of the right-wing vote into his Likud party, and then deploys charm and extreme pragmatism to bring once and future enemies into his administration.

To assemble his core vote, he deploys hawkish security rhetoric to paint opponents as weak, naive left-wing peaceniks. He then seasons this charge with a generous portion of what in British terms would be anti-Islington populism. It’s a tried and tested formula.

But anti-elite rhetoric wears thin when you’ve been Prime Minister for ten years, and the press has long been filled with stories about your expensive private lifestyle, your wife’s princess-like behaviour and “gifts” of extremely pricey cigars from businessmen of dubious reputation.

And tough language on security doesn’t work at all when your opponent is a slate led by not one, not even two, but three(!) former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defence Forces.

Benny Gantz, the slate’s leader, rammed the message home with all the subtlety of a tank rolling over a car unlucky to find itself in a Hezbollah-controlled area of Lebanon. His first campaign videos, over the top even by Israeli standards, attacked Netanyahu from the right, boasting of how under his (Gantz’s) operation in Gaza “1,364 terrorists” had been killed and parts of the strip had been bombed back to the Stone Age. Gantz calculated that his potential left-wing supporters are so blinded by their hatred of Netanyahu they’d ignore what Oudeh Basharat, a Haaretz columnist, described as an application to be put on trial at The Hague.

Ganz then concluded alliances with Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, the two other chiefs of staff, and Yair Lapid, who leads a centrist party. There are even family connections. Gantz’s and Lapid’s grandmothers lived in the same apartment block in the Budapest Ghetto during the war. (How long before Netanyahu suggests George Soros is behind the whole thing?)

The product of this work, called ‘Blue and White’ after the colours of the Israeli flag, now leads Netanyahu’s Likud in the polls by five seats.

If the polls hold up, Gantz would have the first go at forming a coalition. More important, the party appears to be able to reach into the “right wing” bloc that Netanyahu had made it his business to consolidate.

This matters because, until this alliance was formed, Israeli politics could be divided into three blocs: the right, led by Netanyahu’s Likud. The left, traditionally led by Labor, but more recently reconfigured in various ways, and including the Arab parties (just under a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab); and the two religious parties, representing ultra-orthodox voters. Since the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, Left and Right have been divided on how to deal with the Palestinians. 

The religious parties, part of the current coalition, mainly focus their attention on public support for their economically marginal communities, where men are supposed to devote their time to studying the Torah and women are disbarred by traditional mores from working outside the home. They have supported governments of either side, though the “Left”, which in Israel draws much of its support from the upper middle class, would prefer to see transfers to people they consider welfare scroungers cut, something the “Right” finds it easier to tolerate.

The latest polling average collated by ‘Knesset Jeremy’  gives Netanyahu and his ideological allies 47 seats and 48 for Ganz and his Jewish ideological allies. Neither is enough for a majority.

The religious and Arab parties are thus crucial. (The Jewish religious parties are polling at 13 seats, the Arab parties at 12.)

The Arab parties will not, ever, support a Netanyahu government; but it is crucial for Ganz that he can appear to have a path to a majority without them. In theory, a coalition between Ganz, his Jewish allies and the Jewish religious parties would give him the slimmest of majorities of 61. In practice, it could count on the further support of the Arab parties and be impregnable. 

Netanyahu, in contrast, would have to obtain the support of both Jewish religious parties to assemble a bare majority. Such is his desperation that he even pressured another right-wing party to merge its slate with that of a party so extreme that the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth alleged that is is financed by a body listed as a terrorist organisation in the United States. While having people officially listed as terrorists linked to a governing coalition does not entirely prevent other countries cooperating with it (it is possible to deal with Lebanon while also proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety, as Sajid Javid was right to do this week), it does complicate matters somewhat.

Netanyahu thus finds himself weakened even before the decision to indict him over three corruption cases has been made. A decision on this matter is expected in the coming weeks, and the traditional practice in Israel is that prime ministers accused of corruption have to resign when indicted.

Up against a triumvirate of generals, behind in the polls, forced to make an alliance with alleged terrorist money-laundering vehicles instead of fighting them, and pursued by the police, does Netanyahu have one last escape left in him? Israelis will decide on April 9th.

Natasha Hausdorff: The proscription of Hezbollah is welcome – though overdue

It will be a significant step forward in keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on our streets.

Natasha Hausdorff is a barrister and a Conservative activist.  She was recently a Pegasus Scholar and Fellow in the National Security Law Programme at Columbia Law School in New York. 

The Home Secretary’s decision today to proscribe the whole of the Lebanon based Hezbollah terrorist organisation is significant and long-overdue, not least because of the organisation’s antisemitic ideology and targeting of Israeli civilians. Once affirmed by Parliament, the UK’s approach to Hezbollah will be brought into line with that of the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands.

Since July 2008, the so-called ‘military wing’ of Hezbollah has been on the list of proscribed organisations that are “concerned in terrorism”, pursuant to Section 3 and Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or otherwise invite support for a proscribed organisation. However, until now, an arbitrary distinction between supposed political and military ‘wings’ left certain support for the group lawful in the UK.

Hezbollah has perpetrated atrocities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Bulgaria. Its terror activity has included hostage taking, airline hijacking, and bombing, including blowing up a US Marine barracks killing more than 300 US and French servicemen in Lebanon. The group has also assassinated diplomats and policy makers in the Middle East, the US and Asia. The original proscription in the UK coincided with the discovery that Hezbollah had been targeting British soldiers in Iraq. Acting as an Iranian proxy, it has killed thousands of innocents and continues its butchery in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, promoting Iran’s regime of terror in the region.

While some terror organisations feign non-violence, Hezbollah itself has never gone in for such a masquerade. The organisation makes no such distinction between its military and political affairs, because terror is its fundamental ideology and raison d’etre.  Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, explained in clear terms: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority”.

This sentiment has been echoed by other top officials, including Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s current Secretary General, and Ibrahim Mussawi, its spokesman. And this unity of purpose is considered to be an essential component of the group’s perceived success; Qassem stressed to a Lebanese paper in 2000 the importance of “one leadership, with one administration”.

It is bizarre that we in the UK have sought to maintain a distinction which is at odds with the pretty straightforward position articulated by Hezbollah leaders.  The artificial division between ‘wings’ has also been a dangerous one. Exploitation of the loophole created by this approach has allowed Hezbollah flags to be flown with impunity on the streets of London. The organisation has one flag, which displays an image of a Kalachnikov rifle, combined with a Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle, clenched in a raised fist. Individuals displaying the Hezbollah flag at the annual ‘Al Quds Day’ march in London have been shielded from prosecution under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act, under which it is an offence to carry or display an article “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion [of being] a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”.

That the current legislation allows open support for this terrorist organisation on our streets has been raised repeatedly with the police and the Home Office by concerned community organisations. It would seem that these efforts have finally paid off. Undoubtably, full proscription ought also to affect the future approach of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. This move sends a clear message that we will no longer tolerate incitement and celebration of terror on the streets of the UK.

The news of full proscription is also to be welcomed as an indication of a toughened stance towards Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and financier. The Foreign Secretary seems to be taking a stronger line on Iran due to the continued imprisonment of British Iranian dual national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In light of Iranian support for terror organisations across the Middle East, tougher action on Iran is to be supported and encouraged. Rejection of the untenable distinction between ‘wings’ of Hezbollah will also enable law enforcement agencies to crack down on financial support for one of the best funded terror organisations in the world.

Concerns have been mooted over full proscription in view of Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government. It has been argued that the UK’s relationship with Lebanon may be unduly complicated by such a determination. That argument remains unconvincing in light of the relationship which the US, Canada and the Arab League maintain with Lebanon while being clear in their own acknowledgment that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation in its entirety.

Indeed, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has further indicated that proscription of the ‘political wing’ would not conflict with the UK’s duty to speak to ministers in the Lebanese government. Notably, such MPs as Joan Ryan, Mike Gapes and Ian Austin, all of whom left Labour last week, have also previously called for the group to be banned in its entirety.

The Government and the Home Secretary should be congratulated on the decision to finally end the charade and proscribe Hezbollah in full. With Parliament’s approval, this will be a significant step forward in the proper approach to combatting terrorism and to keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on the streets of the United Kingdom.

Why an updated treason law would help to further community cohesion

One thinks of the need for such as a measure as justice-related and security-related. But it would also send a powerful signal.

One of the key features of Islamist ideology is that it categorises people by religion rather than by nationality.  Though this is far from the only reason for its anti-semitism, it is an important factor in the mix, and helps to explain a great deal.  Because Israel is a Jewish state, at least in terms of the inspiration that created it, all Jews are seen, in Islamist eyes, as indistinguishable from Israelis.  They thus become targets for terror worldwide.

This way of thinking is all but incomprehensible to most modern British people, used as we are to living in one of the world’s older nation states.  It is thus at the heart of the furore over Shamima Begum.  To her, and to the ISIS fanatics who groomed her, the United Kingdom has no claim on her loyalty.  Hence her departure to Syria in in 2014, her marriage to a ISIS terrorist, and so on.  That people can grow up in Britain without feeling any obligation to it stirs, in most of us, a sense of disgust, bewilderment and danger.  To ISIS and the Islamists, it is the most natural thing in the world.

All this helps to explain why our treason laws need to be modernised, made effective – and used.  For although the concept of loyalty to our country comes naturally to us, its expression has fallen out of use in our legal system.  Bringing it back in an improved form has been proposed by Richard Ekins for Policy Exchange.  His ideas are backed by, among others, a former Lord Chief Justice (Lord Judge), a former head of MI5 (Lord Evans), a former Home Secretary (Amber Rudd) and a former head of former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard (Richard Walton).

An updated treason law would help to solve the problem of what to do with ISIS terrorists and their supporters who are British nationals.  Sajid Javid and David Gauke have illustrated the institutional polarities of the current debate.  Javid, whose focus is on security, says that Begum shouldn’t come back to Britain.  Gauke, whose focus is on the integrity of the legal system, says that she can’t be kept out.  These tensions help to illustrate a wider point.  At present, the policy on ISIS backers and terrorists returning from the Middle East seems to be: hope they don’t come back; hope we can spot those that do; attempt to deradicalise these – and cross one’s fingers for luck.

There will always be problems in identifying people who have slipped away to Syria and now seek to slip back, and in gathering evidence for prosecution here under present laws.  It would be preferable for those who have committed crimes abroad to be charged abroad.  But a treason law would fill an important legal gap.  If there’s enough evidence for the likes of Begum to be charged, then they should be charged.  If there isn’t, then the combination of security surveillance and deradicalisation programmes must do, when appropriate.  At any rate, the reshaping of our treason law is well overdue.

One thinks easily of the need as justice-related, and as security-related, too.  But strange though it may sound, a modern treason law would be a powerful instrument of community cohesion.  Word of it would get about, even to people and communities who don’t speak English at all, and thus aren’t integrated.  The idea that one owes a loyalty to the country in which one lives would be furthered.  It is its absence that helped to create Begum.

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.

– – – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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].

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.