The plan to force a second referendum, and the prospect of party realignment

Oliver Letwin’s intervention in favour of a second referendum may turn out to be of real political significance.  To understand why, let’s start by returning to Boris Johnson’s options, assuming that he isn’t able to agree a deal with the EU before October 31.

They are, first, to extend, which would mean breaking his word.  Second, not to apply for an extension, which would mean breaking the law.  Third, to resign.  It may be that there is a fourth option unclear at present – for example, a legal appeal against some defect in the Benn Bill.  But at any rate, such appear to be the Prime Minister’s choices, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision next week on progogation, and other action in the courts.

ConservativeHome concluded earlier this week that, faced with these choices, Johnson might do best to resign.  We added that this anti-No Deal Commons might then tolerate Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister for as long as it took him to apply for the extension.  After which he would be no confidenced, and a general election would take place.

We added that there was a danger such a scheme might work too well.  In other words, that Corbyn might be kept in place by MPs as Prime Minister for months, not weeks.  Or that it might not work at all, because he would be unacceptable to the Commons, which would insist on putting someone else into Number Ten.

The Letwin intervention has further complicated these already mind-bending possibilites.  It should be viewed alongside Tom Watson’s almost identical proposal as a kind of pincer movement on Johnson, intended or unintended.  Both now support a referendum before an election.  Which suggests the following.

To date, the so-called rebel alliance has been unable to resolve a simple question about extension, namely: “what is it for?”  The referendum plan answers it by breathing new life into a familiar proposal.  “It is for allowing the Commons the chance to put Brexit back to the people,” comes the response.

Now there is still a majority, as far as can be seen, in the Commons against another public vote.  Motions supporting a second referendum have twice failed, though not by all that much: one fell short by 13 votes second time round, back in April; another by 27, the week before.

So there would almost certainly be a further struggle in Parliament over a second plebiscite.  But one can see how, were Johnson still Prime Minister in the event of extension, his premiership would slowly be bled to death while MPs debated a second referendum and other plans – with his Government still unable to obtain a majority for an election.

And were not still Prime Minister? At this point, further complexities kick in.

As we say, the Commons would be unlikely to settle on a second referendum quickly, if at all.  Were it to do so, a Bill to enact it would take time.  David Cameron’s original EU referendum bill took over six months to pass through Parliament, gaining first reading in May 2015 and royal assent in December of that year.

While it is possible to imagine MPs putting Corbyn into Number Ten briefly to agree an extension, before pitching him out again to ensure an election, it is very hard to picture them doing so for several months.  For even if a second referendum bill passed through Parliament faster than the first did, its passage would surely take many weeks.

It is here that the Letwin/Watson plan begins to run into problems.  One can see why most Labour MPs, perhaps the SNP and some of the minor parties would support a Corbyn-led, John McDonnell-driven government that would hold office for several months.

But Jo Swinson presumably would not, since propping up the Labour leader would run the risk of legitimising him among her party’s target voters.  Nor, it appears, would Letwin, and most of the 21 Tory dissidents who so recently lost the whip.

Instead, the rebel alliance would cast around for an alternative Prime Minister.  Let us call this person Ken Clarke.  Or Hillary Benn.  Or Letwin himself.  Or even Watson.  One can see that how such a premiership would suit all of these, and those who think like them.

For a Clarke premiership lasting several months, with all the above in place in Cabinet, would raise the prospect of realignment.  If they could all work together so smoothly, after all, wouldn’t the old party allegiances look a bit out of date?  Why should not this “moderate centre” coalesce permanently, and isolate “the extremes?”

Nick Boles would come on board.  So would Anna Soubry.  Philip Hammond would already be in place.  The Speaker would provide procedural aid.  This new force of “progressives”, cheered on inter alia by George Osborne’s Evening Standard, would begin to work as an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, who would already be well represented in this new coalition.  But you will already have spotted the red fly in this pinkish ointment.

For if we can work all this out, so can Jeremy Corbyn.  He would fight with as much of the Labour Party as he can command to stifle such a centrist infant at birth.  And would work in strange alliance with someone who has a mutual interest in doing so too: Boris Johnson, or whoever was Conservative leader at this point in time.  Seumas Milne, meet your new best friend: Dominic Cummings.

We apologise for burdening our readers with yet more speculation, all of which could be rendered out of date tomorrow by some new twist in the tale.  But the current floating of electoral reform – as by Amber Rudd in her recent speech which we carry today – isn’t coming from nowhere.

Behind the scenes, conversations are being had; possibilities are being broached; understandings half-reached.  Perhaps Johnson will get his deal after all.  Or the EU suddenly veto extension, and put us all out of our uncertainty.  In the meantime, though, watch Letwin, the man with a claim to the title of: our Real Prime Minister.

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Javid’s spending speech will have been uncomfortable viewing for his predecessor

It’s been a pretty rough 24 hours for Philip Hammond. After losing the Whip last night, he had to sit and watch his successor as Chancellor deliver today’s spending round.

It won’t have escaped his notice that Sajid Javid – meticulous as ever – was effectively standing up not to praise Hammond but to bury him. It wasn’t an assault, in intent, tone or rhetoric, but nonetheless the implicit effect of the statement was to sprinkle earth over the ex-Chancellor’s approach.

As a former goth, he might in the right circumstances have appreciated the funereal drama. It didn’t look like it today.

Javid informed the House that he was able and willing to do what Hammond was either unable or unwilling to do – namely increase spending across the board, delivering at least the rate of inflation for every department. Although the Chancellor has delayed the full Spending Review, and thereby maintained his predecessor’s fiscal rules, the game certainly seemed to have changed.

A shift in policy might be uncomfortable but expected. But Javid, it turned out, was changing policy to deliver something that Hammond previously said was his aim: an end to austerity.

I asked at last year’s Conservative Party Conference what the definition of such a thing might be. Now we have Javid’s answer: “No department will be cut next year…that’s what I mean by the end of austerity.”

It’s starker and simpler than the principles laid out under Hammond and May. You might almost say it is the kind of clear message you’d need going into an election.

And there’s the final reason Hammond might have found the statement somewhat aggrieving to watch. It’s no fault of Javid’s, but while the Treasury was almost absent from the 2017 election campaign, it will evidently underpin the police and hospitals message that is set to be central to General Elecfion 2019.

 

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Interview. McLoughlin – Hunt’s former campaign Chairman, lifelong One Nation Tory – backs Johnson’s suspensions

Sir Patrick McLoughlin has defended the Prime Minister’s right to withdraw the whip from Tory MPs who refused last night to support the Government.

McLoughlin, who chaired Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign and is the only person ever to have served both as Conservative Party Chairman and as Chief Whip, said “Leadership is about making some very tough decisions” and Tory MPs cannot “just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue”.

He said with deep emotion during this interview, carried out yesterday morning so before last night’s Government defeat, that “I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing”.

He added that what is happening to One Nation Toryism is “terrible”, and the party must not become a Brexit party, but in order “not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

McLoughlin defended David Cameron against the charge that calling the referendum was just a way to fix the problems of  the Conservative Party. He pointed out that Tony Blair and Jack Straw had previously raised the idea of a referendum, the Liberal Democrats had committed themselves to one in their 2010 manifesto, and Labour as well as the Conservatives voted for the referendum which was actually held.

ConHome: “You are the only person to have been both Chief Whip and Party Chairman?”

McLoughlin: “I think I probably am. I don’t think anybody else has been punished like that.”

ConHome: “What’s your view of the Government’s proposal to withdraw the whip from those who don’t support it today?”

McLoughlin: “I regret very much that it’s come to this. But the truth is that if the Prime Minister decides something is a matter of confidence, having just got the overwhelming endorsement from his party to lead it, then I think he has the right to do that.

“Leadership is about making some very tough decisions. I think this is a very tough decision and I wish it wasn’t necessary.

“So I don’t come to it with a sort of ‘Yes, let’s do this, bring it on.’ It’s very much a regret, and it’s very much with sorrow, because some of the people we’re talking about have been good, loyal Conservatives.

“But I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing. That is part of the problem.”

ConHome: “Friends of ours like Alistair Burt make the point that ‘we’ve been through the lobbies three times to support this deal, and there are all these characters who haven’t, including the Cabinet ministers who abstained on key votes and helped to bring about the deterioration in discipline.’

“They’ve got a point, haven’t they?”

McLoughlin: “Yes they have got a point. I won’t publicly go, but there are some people who I find absolutely staggering, what they’re calling for.

“But the job for the Prime Minister is not necessarily to look at individuals. And sometimes life is tough. But he is taking the position that we promised…

“All these people voted to implement Article 50. And, you know, we’ve had a six-month delay which cost us very dear. They’re now talking about another three-month delay.

“Well I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next three months that’s not happened in the last six months.

“And I just think we’ve got to move on from this. I’m sorry we’re leaving the European Union. I still remain sorry we’re leaving the European Union.

“But we gave the people a chance in the referendum. And I just would like to say one other thing as well.

“Everybody says the reason David Cameron did this was to try to a) thwart Farage and b) to reunite the Conservative Party.

“It is just worth remembering that in 2010 the Liberal Democrats had an In/Out referendum in their manifesto, and when we actually moved to the referendum the referendum was supported by the Labour Party as well as by the Conservative Party.

“It was never just in my view a ‘try and fix the Tory Party’ scenario.”

ConHome: “When the whip’s removed, the tradition is you remove it on a vote of confidence, and without trying to peer too far into the future, if the Government loses, do you expect the PM to go immediately for a general election if he can, or wait for Second Reading, or wait for the Lords to get its teeth into the Bill, or what?”

McLoughlin: “Well ‘I don’t know’ is the answer to that.”

ConHome: “I’m just trying to establish if it’s really a vote of confidence or not, even if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act…”

McLoughlin: “Well I think the Prime Minister can say I regard this as a vote of confidence in my leadership, and that’s what he’s doing.

“It is not in the technical sense of the word a motion of confidence, as required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

“But it is a motion of confidence, because the Prime Minister says ‘I regard this as a motion of confidence’.”

ConHome: “I mean presumably without encouraging you to speak up for the deselection of endless numbers of Conservative MPs, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander here.

“And if he comes back with a deal, and it’s opposed by some Conservative MPs, he would be entitled to remove the whip from them, would he not?”

McLoughlin: “One step at a time. We’re dealing with today at the moment, and tomorrow will be a different day. The logic of that, which is what your article basically says today, is that would be the case.

“I think one’s got to be always cautious about using these things, and I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into it, and I hope they’ve considered all the consequences.

“Because as I say I very much regret it has come to this. But I also don’t think we can just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue, which we seem to have done, some people say for the last three years, actually it’s been more like the last four years, following the 2015 election when the referendum was first promised.”

ConHome: “If a very senior member of the party is reselected by their association, as the former Chancellor was last night, but they vote against the Government today, they could be finding that reselection vote is in vain, could they not?”

McLoughlin: “That’s my understanding, but I know Philip Hammond seems to have a different view.”

ConHome: “Is there going to be a general election this year, and if so, when?”

McLoughlin: “I think it’s looking very likely there will be a general election, and I only know from what everybody is saying, October 14th, a Monday, which would enable the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the [European] Council that weekend.”

ConHome: “Though that’s not been said on the record.”

McLoughlin: “The only thing I know about this election, unlike the last election, is what I’m reading in the newspapers.”

ConHome: “Just as a former Chief Whip who’s used to watching the Opposition the whole time, what do you think the Labour Party’s going to do if it comes to a general election vote?

“Because part of the point of having an election before October 31st, if there is one, is Labour can’t say ‘We’re not voting for this, because if we do there’ll be a no deal Brexit’. That excuse has been removed from them, so they’re going to have to vote for this.”

McLoughlin: “I would have thought so. I don’t understand this new nuance that somehow we should wait until after 31st October.

“Because if there was an election on 14th October, then that allows for the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the European Council on the 17th.”

ConHome: “And if the election comes before Brexit, presumably the Brexit Party will stand as many candidates as they can, arguing you can’t trust the Tories.”

McLoughlin: “Well look, all that we can do, if the Brexit Party stand in every seat, which they may well do, they may take some votes.

“But it’s a bit like at the last general election, when everybody thought the UKIP vote would come to the Conservatives. It didn’t wholeheartedly come to the Conservatives, it was quite mixed, and in some areas it did, you know the Mansfields and the places like that.

“I remember talking to you after that election, pointing out we’d won some seats that we haven’t won for 70 years.

“So look, this next election will not be like the 2017 election and it won’t be like the 2015 election. No elections are. They’re all individual entities, fought very much as things are then.

“And this will be a very quick election. The 2017 election was too long.”

ConHome: “How comfortable do you feel about where the party is now?

“If there’s an election, going in on a manifesto that’s pro-Brexit, possibly, actually, with a reasonably good relationship with the Brexit Party, Leave voters might find this prospectus attractive, but there would be tremendous problems with former Remain voters, London, the south.

“You’ve been a One Nation Tory all your working life, and you’re seeing that bit of the Tory coalition in peril.”

McLoughlin: “It’s terrible. It is not a nice scenario. I’m not doing any of this with glee.

“But I also think that governments have to govern, and you know, that’s what we said in the referendum, what we would do, and I don’t think we can rejudge that.

“I famously used that line at the Cabinet meeting, which David Cameron’s used since, saying I’ve always wanted to live in Utopia – the only trouble is I’d wake up and find the European Union was still there.

“But I also respect the right of the Prime Minister to say, ‘We’ve fought an election, that election was on leaving on the 31st October, I’m determined to deliver that.'”

ConHome: “How do you think he’s doing? As Jeremy Hunt’s former campaign chairman.”

McLoughlin: “I think he’s doing very well. He’s trying not only to address the Brexit issue, but he’s also trying to address the other issues that needed addressing anyway.

“Such as education funding and also what he’s saying about the Health Service and other issues.

“So I think what you see in Boris is someone who does actually want to move on to the other agendas as well, and perhaps he feels we’re being sucked into one issue and one issue alone.

“I said a few months ago the Conservative Party must not become a Brexit party. I definitely believe that. But for us not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

ConHome: “That suggests you think under the previous regime all collective discipline by the end had completely broken down.”

McLoughlin: “I wouldn’t say all discipline. I almost think, looking at this now in hindsight, and with the benefit of hindsight, I almost think we had to go through that to get where we are.

“And don’t forget, Theresa May became Prime Minister because everybody else faded away. That’s how she became Prime Minister. And I think she carried out the job with incredible dignity, and I will never criticise Theresa, because I think she was trying to do an incredibly difficult job.”

ConHome: “How is she now? I saw you talking to her yesterday.”

McLoughlin: “I saw her briefly yesterday. She seemed fine. I think when you consider for nine years she’d either been Home Secretary or Prime Minister, with all the constraints that has on life, I look at Philip and I look at Theresa and I think they are people who are of the Conservative Party, were the Conservative Party, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for her.”

ConHome: “You’ve already touched on David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum. It was in fact disastrous, would you say?”

McLoughlin: “No, because I think again, that is something we probably needed to do… Blair was the first person to start talking about referendums, Blair and Straw.

“So this isn’t something that DC woke up one morning and thought, ‘This’ll sort everything out.’ It rarely does.”

ConHome: “You are going to stand again, aren’t you?”

McLoughlin: “I very much hope to stand again.”

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Daniel Hannan: How to keep our pledges to the EU nationals who live here

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

Amid all the angst and acrimony, let’s cling to one area of agreement. All sides concur that EU citizens already in the UK should be allowed to stay here with the right to work and claim benefits as now. Labour and Conservative, Leave and Remain, everyone signs up to the principle. During the referendum, both the official Leave campaign and Arron Banks’s spoiler operation declared that, whatever happened, nothing should prejudice the rights of EU nationals who had already made their lives in Britain.

Indeed, the only politicians who seemed to have a problem with the idea were Theresa May and, oddly enough, Philip Hammond, who insisted on seeing the issue as part of a bargaining process. Not until 2018 did May finally agree to grant settled status to EU nationals, and months more were to pass before she was prevailed on to waive the £65 processing fee.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, always saw the issue in terms of trust and decency. At no stage has he wavered in that view. So what is the problem?

Like other politicians, I have been hearing complaints from EU nationals in in my region who believe they have had their applications turned down, despite being resident in Britain – in some cases for many years.

In fact, what we are seeing is a degree of bureaucratic friction. No one has a claim “rejected”; but some are asked for further proof of residence. Typically, a National Insurance number will do but, in some cases, other evidence is required: a bank statement, a council tax bill or similar.

Rather as when you open a bank account, it can be a pain to get exactly the right documentation together. Sometimes, even when you think you have done everything correctly, you run up against a “computer says no” glitch. In normal times, you would simply grit your teeth and submit whatever else was being asked for. The Home Office, after all, is known to be useless at little things.

These, though, are not normal times. Many EU nationals are still upset about the referendum result, and can interpret a request for more paperwork as a “no”. Some campaigners have, unhelpfully, sought to weaponise the issue. False claims about Brexit being driven by anti-immigrant hostility, rising hate crimes and so forth, have created a febrile atmosphere.

For what it is worth, Britons are likelier than almost any other EU nationals to see immigration as a net good. The number of us who view immigration as largely positive has risen significantly since the 2016 referendum. And despite claims of a “Brexodus”, there are more EU nationals here than ever. The newcomers plainly don’t believe that they will face a hostile atmosphere; nor, indeed, that economic growth is in jeopardy.

Still, the fact that some European citizens feel rejected, or even believe that they might face repatriation, is intolerable. We must fix it. What should we do?

We need to give people a clear sense of legal reassurance. Europeans who haven’t submitted the relevant paperwork should not feel that they have thereby missed the boat, or are somehow in danger of deportation. Imagine, for the sake of argument, a child of French parents who came here in infancy, and is currently in primary school. We must not allow a situation where, through oversight, such a child, years from now, could face a Windrush-type debacle.

How? I am no lawyer, but my sense is that we should emphasise the distinction between having a legal entitlement and exercising your rights under it. Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP who has led the campaign to establish the rights of EU nationals more clearly, gives the example of applying for a passport. You are British by right, but when you apply for a passport, you still need to establish that you are who you claim. In the same way, EU nationals should have settled status by right, though they will similarly have to prove who they are when they wish to (say) acquire a National Insurance number.

It is not an exact parallel, but the Spanish government ruled in 2015 that Sephardic Jews with Hispanic connections were entitled to citizenship – belated restitution for the expulsion of 1492. Those wishing to avail themselves of that right – as several thousand have done – still needed to submit documentation to prove that they had Sephardic Jewish heritage. But the right itself was not in dispute.

Whether we need primary legislation, or whether there is a neater method, others can judge better than I can. If, as rumoured, Priti Patel is about to announce a softening of the abrupt cut-off for EU nationals on 1 November, so much the better: it gives us the time we need. A clear legal entitlement will, I hope, settle the minds of the EU nationals resident here. It is the least we can do.

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The rebels – 21 Conservative and two Labour – on the Letwin SO24 motion

Tory rebels

Here are the 21 Conservative MPs who rebelled to vote for the motion seizing control of Parliamentary business from the Government:

Alistair Burt

Anne Milton

Antoinette Sandbach

Caroline Nokes

David Gauke

Dominic Grieve

Edward Vaizey

Greg Clark

Guto Bebb

Justine Greening

Kenneth Clarke

Margot James

Nicholas Soames

Oliver Letwin

Philip Hammond

Richard Benyon

Richard Harrington

Rory Stewart

Sam Gyimah

Stephen Hammond

Steve Brine

The BBC reports that the Chief Whip has begun to phone round each of them informing them that they have lost the Whip.

Labour rebels

Two Labour MPs – John Mann and Kate Hoey – rebelled against their own party to vote with the Government.

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Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Disraeli Johnson inflicts deep pain on serious-minded people

The Prime Minister rushed into the House and slid into his seat like an errant schoolboy who has made it into class in the nick of time. He rose with extraordinary rapidity when called to make his statement on the G7, as if so full of energy and animal spirits that he could not bear to remain seated a moment longer, and held forth in a manner that was quite astonishingly rude to his opponents.

Boris Johnson had decided that the best way to play things was to wind up anyone who disapproves of him. If they began by frowning at his behaviour, let them end by weeping and gnashing their teeth.

According to the Prime Minister, the measure before the House which would prevent a no deal Brexit is “Jeremy Corbyn’s Surrender Bill” and means “running up the white flag”.

Corbyn was provoked by this scorn into a better performance than he usually gave against Theresa May. “We’re not surrendering,” he insisted, “because we’re not at war with Europe.”

And he ended by declaring that the Prime Minister has “no mandate, no morals and as of today no majority”.

No majority was a reference to Dr Phillip Lee, who had just defected to the Liberal Democrats, and could be seen sitting next to  their new leader, Jo Swinson.

But the afternoon belonged to Johnson the pantomime Prime Minister, behaving with an effrontery which has not been seen in a leader of the Conservative Party since Benjamin Disraeli in 1867, when to the horror and disgust of serious-minded men, he wangled the Second Reform Bill through the Commons.

Johnson horrifies and disgusts serious-minded people. Theresa May sat pale and disapproving beside Kenneth Clarke, the Leader of the House.

On the Labour front bench Sir Keir Starmer looked as if he could not bear Johnson. Hilary Benn, several rows behind him, began by laughing but soon evinced a frigid disgust.

Clarke, Benn and Philip Hammond were among the many who demanded detail from Johnson which he refused to give. One could not help wondering, as he batted away specific inquiries with broad brush observations, if he is preparing a trap for his opponents.

Perhaps one morning we shall awake to find a cornucopia of detail pouring out of Downing Street, most of it excruciatingly dull. Perhaps Johnson the conjuror is all the while distracting us with a series of outrageous tricks, so we do not see what he is actually doing.

Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) asked whether whether the whip will be removed from those Conservative MPs who refuse to vote for whatever deal the Prime Minister may bring back from Brussels.

“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” he replied. Disraeli, sorry Johnson, will stop at nothing to get a measure through which inflicts the deepest pain on the Gladstones of our time, on whichever side of the Commons they may be found.

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No, Philip Hammond’s reselection last night does not protect him from being deselected if he loses the Whip

Having made the mistake of learning about the Conservative Party’s rules, because I’m cool like that, it falls to me to try to cut through the confusion and counter-claims about the whole question of what happens when a Conservative MP loses the Whip.

There’s a whole separate debate to be had about whether the Government is right or wrong to threaten to take such action against MPs who vote against them tonight. We’ve covered that elsewhere: I took a look yesterday at why it’s not really accurate to compare a rebellion on an issue like this with more day to day rebellion, while Paul looked this morning at some of the risks, moral hazards and political consequences of the threat.

Rather, this article is just a look at the facts of the process.

First, as I explained earlier in the year – when covering Nick Boles’ dispute with his local association in Grantham – there isn’t really a ‘deselection’ process in the Conservative rulebook. Rather there’s a readoption process for sitting MPs, which they can fail to pass or which can be obstructed in some way. I know that might seem like a fine distinction to draw, but it does matter: it means that being ‘deselected’ is a negative process, failing to clear the requisite hurdles to keep candidate status, not a separate process of its own.

Normally, what’s termed deselection is a constituency event. An MP seeking readoption has to apply to their association executive to do so. They get the chance to present their case to the exec – what they’ve achieved for the constituency, what their plans are, what crucial work they do in government and so on – and then there’s a secret ballot. If they lose, the MP has the fallback options of going to a ballot of the whole association membership or automatically inserting themself onto the shortlist in the ensuing selection meeting. If they win the executive’s approval in that initial vote, however, they’re readopted and that’s normally it.

It’s at this point that things have become confused this week. The Government’s plan to remove the Whip from MPs who rebel tonight was characterised as “deselection” but nobody quite seemed to know why that was the case. In practice, the rulebook reasons why that would be the effect are quite straightforward. To enter the readoption process, you have to be “a sitting Member of Parliament”, and the party constitution defines that as “a Member of the House of Commons in receipt of the Conservative Whip”. So lose the Whip, and you lose your eligibility to be considered for readoption.

It gets a bit more confusing in one case. Philip Hammond – one assumes not coincidentally – managed to get his executive to vote on his readoption last night. They approved him. Some have taken that to mean that it is too late to deselect him by removing the Whip. Certainly Hammond himself claims to believe that, and has promised “the fight of a lifetime” against any attempt to do so.

Unfortunately, I simply think he’s got the rules wrong on this. He was readopted last night, perfectly validly, but that’s not an unassailable, inalienable status. If he loses the Whip tomorrow, effectively ceasing to be a member of the Conservative Party’s Approved Candidates List, then he would cease to be eligible to be nominated as the official Conservative candidate come election time. If Hammond claims that it is against the rules to effectively undo a selection after the fact, he needs to consider what happens when a non-MP Conservative candidate is suspended from the Party in some pre-election scandal: they wouldn’t have the right to insist on being the candidate because of the selection; the selection has been superseded.

The former Chancellor’s threat of “the fight of a lifetime” might “possibly” extend to a legal case, but if the constitution’s explicit rules aren’t sufficient to settle that (and they appear to be to me), the constitution also contains two clauses which make it implicitly impossible for him to prevail. Schedule 6, point 8, empowers the Party Board’s Committee on Candidates to establish any set of criteria it likes for membership of the Approved List. Schedule 6, point 13, empowers the Board and the Candidates Committee to “publish mandatory rules as to the procedure by which Constituency Associations and other bodies select Candidates for all or any public elections” whenever and however it likes. In short, if what they want to do isn’t covered to their satisfaction elsewhere in the constitution, they can write a binding policy making it so.

If that seems a remarkable degree of centralised and unchallengeable power, that’s because it is. Those Schedule 6 powers were used to establish the controversial selection rules used in the dash to select before the 2017 snap election, and even two years after I reported it people still seem surprised to learn that it really does work on the basis that the Party sets whatever rules it wants for itself.

If all those powers weren’t sufficient, and an association still wants to hold out to try to hang onto its candidate, then the Party Board has the power (under Part VII, points 49-53 of the constitution) to place the association into ‘Supported’ status, which amounts to central control. In short, this is not the localised, association-controlled party of 30 years ago. Nor has it been for quite some time.

Finally, when election time comes round, if for whatever reason Hammond and his association still tried to submit nomination papers, a national party must licence local candidates to stand on its ticket. A compliance message from CCHQ to the local Returning Officer making clear he was not their party’s candidate would suffice to prevent the nomination being valid under the Conservative Party name.

I’m aware the above is all rather technical, so here are three examples which illustrate the process in practice.

Howard Flight, 2005. As a sitting MP, Flight lost the chance to seek re-adoption when Michael Howard removed the Whip (for the comparatively minor sin of saying something about fiscal policy the leadership found embarrassing). His association tried to refuse to select someone in his place, as the 2005 General Election approached, but backed down when threatened with Supported status, preferring to begrudgingly find a successor of their choice than have one of CCHQ’s choice forced on them.

Adrian Hilton, 2005. A week before Flight got into trouble, Hilton was deselected by the Party leadership as candidate for Slough. The association stuck to its guns, and was duly taken over by the edict of the Party Board, which selected on its behalf. Hilton challenged the decision in the High Court and lost, with the court finding that the Party’s constitution does indeed allow the centre to set whatever rules and act on whatever basis it likes.

Alex Story, 2016. When Timothy Kirkhope entered the House of Lords, he ceased to be an MEP – meaning the seat would automatically transfer to the next candidate on the list. However, Story – the natural successor – had since been (unfairly) removed from the Approved List, and so the Conservative Party advised the Returning Officer for Yorkshire and the Humber that he was ineligible and the seat would go to somebody else, who had been further down the running order. Story, understandably incensed, challenged the verdict in court, only to also fall foul of the constitution’s provisions for the Party to do as it wishes.

In brief, Hammond’s readoption last night is not binding, and doesn’t prevent him being deselected by the loss of the Whip. Neither he nor his association has the ultimate say over his candidacy. And if the published rules as they stand aren’t sufficient to make all that the case, the Party Board has the power to write the rules however it feels necessary to make it so. And so far as I can recall, the court case record for the Party in such disputes is a merciless clean sweep.

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Stewart Jackson: No Tory acting in good conscience can back this ploy to defy the people

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough from 2005-2017 and was Treasurer of the 1922 Committee 2015-16.

At 4.25pm yesterday, the Brexit Phoney War came to a long- and grimly-anticipated end. Battle commences in earnest today.

Not for the war weary voters, many of whom not unreasonably imagined three years ago that their decision to vote to leave the European Union, in an historic plebiscite, to rejoin the world as an independent, free and self-governing nation for the first time in 46 years, would be respected and honoured. They have long despaired of our Parliamentarians keeping their word and delivering a speedy Brexit. For this reason, Parliament’s reputation with the electorate is at a record low and many mild mannered people want to see the back of our modern Rump Parliament.

Yesterday, at a speech at Policy Exchange, it took a former foreign leader, Australia’s recent premier Tony Abbott, to articulate and crystallise the case for Brexit and British boosterism and renaissance after 31st October, in a way fresh and inspiring and absent from our own domestic discourse.

Meanwhile, for the political classes in SW1, yesterday was the denouement for which they had been waiting since Theresa May’s defenestration and Boris Johnson’s unlikely ascendance in June. It arrived with the publication of Hilary Benn’s EU (Withdrawal) No 6 Bill.

Seldom has the House of Commons seen such a deeply cynical and fundamentally dangerous piece of legislation, which might just as well be entitled the Usurpation of Awkward Referenda Bill No 1. It is the last throw of the dice for the Europhile elite in Westminster and Whitehall and the universities, trades unions, multinational boardrooms, charities, newspapers and TV and radio studios of the UK.

It contains an “enslavement clause,” no doubt the product of collusion and subterfuge with Benn’s friends in Brussels, which actually states that the EU can choose the length of an Article 50 extension – without a limit – and that our Prime Minister must be compelled to agree such a draconian demand.

Yes – three years after British voters decided to leave the EU, Conservative MPs and others will vote for an Act of Parliament which hands over that decision to the EU. This is nothing less than a slow-motion cancellation of Brexit. At the very least, it is a shameless ploy to give the EU an open-ended break clause until Remainers can conjure up the courage (if ever) to seek to Revoke Article 50 or to legislate for a second referendum. Meanwhile, the public would be shut out and ignored. Which Conservative MPs could contemplate giving it their support?

Did anyone say #StoptheCoup, maybe? Or “constitutional outrage”?

Make no mistake, at least three Conservative MPs – David Gauke, Philip Hammond and Alistair Burt, all former Ministers – have sponsored a Bill which seeks to de facto nullify the 2016 EU Referendum result, via primary legislation and without another referendum.

They tell us that they want to avoid a “crash out (sic)” Brexit – even though they have voted three times in statute law for legislation which would clearly and conceivably and most likely have this effect, in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

The idea propagated in last night’s Evening Standard by another ex-Cabinet Minister, Greg Clark, is that after 38 months we need to spend another few months “debating” Brexit! The Commons and the Lords have had endless opportunities since June 2017 to not just reject Theresa May’s ‘deal’ but substitute an alternative – and they have spectacularly failed. Indeed, the myth that Parliament has been excluded from the Brexit process is patently a canard.

Gauke, Hammond and their fellow rebel MPs all stood on a manifesto at the last General Election which solemnly promised that they would adhere to what the voters had willed, after a referendum that, inter alia, Peter Mandelson, Michael Heseltine, John Major, George Osborne, Sadiq Khan, Heidi Allen, Dominic Grieve, Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron had all described as a unique, once in a lifetime event.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that many of them simply lied to their voters in 2017.

Frankly, these Remain refuseniks have contributed to this disastrous stasis and borderline national humiliation and near capitulation under Theresa May; a situation in which her appalling surrender deal – written in Berlin and passed to the then Prime Minister by Olly Robbins for dissemination to the Cabinet – was actually compared by Yanis Varoufakis to that inflicted on a conquered nation following wartime defeat.

They have undermined and then broken Cabinet collective responsibility and the basic tenets of Cabinet Government, in a way which would have embarrassed Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell; connived to starve Government departments of adequate funding to prepare appropriate contingency measures in the event of No Deal; worked with opposition parties to undermine their fellow Ministers in the Commons; plotted directly and indirectly with our direct EU interlocutors to cripple the UK negotiating stance and subvert our national interests; engaged in direct negotiations outside their remit with Ministers of a foreign government (Ireland) behind the back of the responsible ministerial team; and helped a deeply flawed and biased Speaker traduce and destroy Parliamentary conventions in order to subvert a referendum result in which voters participated in good faith and in the belief that their votes really mattered (for once).

These holdouts have little intellectual case for their actions; their moral or political rationale is threadbare. Whatever one thinks of Dominic Grieve or the Liberal Democrats or the SNP, they have always at least been fairly shamelessly insouciant in their contempt for the choice the voters made in 2016.

In all good conscience, the likes of David Gauke and Philip Hammond are now indistinguishable from them. They are all preparing to support a Brexit Blocking Bill but they cannot answer the straightforward question:

“What comes next?”

That is because it’s effectively unanswerable. The Withdrawal Agreement has thrice failed to pass the Commons and as a result of their disloyalty and duplicity in seeking to “cut the legs off” the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy, the European Union has in essence no incentive and will wilfully refuse the chance to relent in its own tough stance. Furthermore, Theresa May’s abuse of the Royal Prerogative in extending Article 50 a full six months, without being mandated so to do by the Commons, was on the strict basis that such an extension would not be for the purpose of further Article 50 negotiations.

They’re obviously playing for time and hope their voters won’t notice their disreputable undemocratic antics. All the time, the corrosive rust of public disgust and opprobrium spreads across our politics and government, and taints all parties and all MPs. It will do so until we quit the EU.

This week, finally we will see if I’m wrong and whether these MPs demonstrate their vaunted principles and really do sacrifice their careers, without, as it happens, even the sure knowledge that their desperate and squalid Bill ever reaches the Statute Book. My guess is it never will.

I certainly don’t want anyone to leave or be thrown out of my party – and certainly not talented and decent people with whom I have been privileged to serve in the past as a Member of Parliament.

We are a broad church indeed and all the better for it but as the Prime Minister has asked:

“Whose side are you on?” Corbyn and the Establishment or the people?

For those who erroneously believe that honouring the biggest democratic vote in British history has turned our party into ‘an English Nationalist Party’, and Boris Johnson, who became Prime Minister with a mandate of two thirds of the party membership on an 87 per cent poll and the support of over half of our MPs, an ersatz Trump, my question is simply: why would you want to stay and carry our colours in such circumstances?

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Hammond’s reading of the 2017 manifesto is more than a little selective

Philip Hammond’s response to the Government treating this week’s vote as a confidence matter – and therefore to withdraw the Whip from MPs who choose to vote against the Government – sought to lay down some return fire. He tweeted:

‘If true, this would be staggeringly hypocritical: 8 members of the current cabinet have defied the party whip this year. I want to honour our 2017 manifesto which promised a “smooth and orderly” exit and a “deep and special partnership” with the EU. Not an undemocratic No Deal.’

As Steve Baker has pointed out this is comparing apples and oranges. What’s proposed by Hammond and others is not mere common-or-garden rebellion, an MP’s right to simply disagree with their party. It’s perfectly normal for people to do that and retain the Whip. The forthcoming vote, however, would have the effect of stripping the Government of its executive status, even to the point of collapsing it entirely. It’s very much not normal for MPs to vote to eject their party from government, and thereby elevate the opposition in its place, and nor is doing so compatible with retaining the Whip.

As a Government source puts it: “No one in cabinet voted to give control away to Corbyn – to keep the Government in place as a puppet while legislation is passed to neuter it, to undermine [the] negotiating position, and direct the PM. If you do not have confidence in the approach of the Government, we have to treat this as a confidence matter.”

I’m sure Hammond knows this. He isn’t a dunce or a greenhorn, and he will have considered these issues earlier this year when his allies including David Gauke defied a three-line whip but retained their Cabinet positions, in breach of all convention and good sense.

So he’s seeking to muddy the waters rather conveniently by blurring together the very different acts of defying the Whip and seeking to sink the Government.

But is the cover he claims for his actions – ‘honour[ing] our 2017 manifesto’ – correct? Again there seems to be a bit of selective reading going on.

The quotes he gives come from a sentence in the introduction of the manifesto: ‘We need to deliver a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union and forge a deep and special partnership with our friends and allies across Europe.’

Readers will note that this sentence does not commit to the continuing integration – or no-Brexit – which Hammond et al appear to be flirting with. Indeed, such an arrangement – with continued EU control of UK law – could hardly be described as a ‘partnership’ at all.

If there was any doubt about this, page 36 of the manifesto he wishes to ‘honour’ makes very clear that these are mutually exclusive states of being: ‘we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.’

Alternatively, be charitable and assume Hammond is only opposing No Deal, not pushing a continued semi-membership which would breach page 36. In that scenario, he is still mistaken to imply that the “smooth and orderly” exit is the form of a deal.

On the contrary, page 30 draws a distinction between a deal and the exit as a means of delivering it: “The best possible deal for Britain as we leave the European Union delivered by a smooth, orderly Brexit.” If “smooth, orderly Brexit” simply meant striking the deal Hammond would like, why did the manifesto draw such a distinction?

It seems the “smooth, orderly” element was about the process of leaving. For example, the smooth and orderly guarantee of legal continuity delivered by the Withdrawal Act.

Hammond’s tweet implies a rather peculiar understanding of that manifesto as a guarantee of a specific outcome to the negotiation, and a pledge that Brexit was conditional on that outcome. It did no such thing – what we ‘need’ to do is not the same as a guarantee that it will come to pass. No Government could make such a guarantee in a negotiation which has two sides, in a manifesto which pledges Parliament will have a vote on the outcome.

Indeed, the manifesto which Hammond is keen to honour gave no sign of Brexit being conditional at all. ‘When we leave the European Union’ (pages 27 and 78); ‘when we have left the EU’ (page 38); ‘We are leaving the European Union’ (page 31); ‘the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union’ (page 35).

It couldn’t be much clearer – there is no line in the manifesto that says ‘we might leave the EU, but only if the process passes tests that Philip Hammond isn’t applying publicly at this stage’. The manifesto is in fact explicit that what Hammond now calls ‘undemocratic No Deal’ is a possibility, and preferable in the circumstance of a bad deal: ‘we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK’ (page 36).

The former Chancellor might still believe that May’s deal was a good deal. But if Parliament, and now the Government, disagrees with him, there’s nothing in the manifesto requiring them to postpone Brexit.

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Iain Dale: Don’t mention the war, please. Why Johnson was wrong to suggest Hammond and company are collaborators.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Last week at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell told me that Labour would insist on Jeremy Corbyn leading any interim government of national unity, following any successful vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.

I told him that this idea was delusional, since the Labour leader wouldn’t be able to command a majority in Parliament in such circumstance.  Yesterday, Corbyn confirmed that this is exactly his intention.  But since there are plenty even of his own MPs who don’t have confidence in him, one wonders how he thinks he could persuade those of other parties to row in behind him.

Jo Swinson has made it clear she wouldn’t. Anna Soubry is p**sed off that she wasn’t even cc’d on his letter. I have never thought a national unity government is a runner, and I think it’s even less likely now. Jeremy Corbyn really believes that defeating No Deal is the be all and end all, he wouldn’t be taking such an uncompromising stance. I wonder if his public aversion to it is as deep as he is making out.

– – – – – – – – – –

Corbyn says that he will call a Vote of Confidence when he thinks he can win it. Well, obviously.  But his rhetoric at the moment leads me to believe that he’s in danger of boxing himself in. The more he talks about it, the more pressure there will be on him to deliver it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be painted as ‘frit’.

– – – – – – – – – –

The defection of Sarah Wollaston to the Liberal Democrats was among the least surprising news of the week. She will surely not be the last of the original Independent Group of MPs to travel that particular journey. I’d have thought there will be at least a couple more before their conference takes place.

And then, of course, there could well be one or two defections directly from the Conservative benches. Guto Bebb and Phillip Lee are the candidates most often mentioned. Both seem to be going through a bit of public agonising. I suspect if either of them, or indeed anyone else does the dirty deed, it will be at a moment of maximum impact. August is probably not that time.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Prime Minister was unwise to use the word ‘collaboration’ on his Facebook Live session earlier this week. He was rightly complaining that the actions and words of some Conservative MPs – and he clearly had Philip Hammond in mind – were persuading the EU to stick by its guns while they wait and see what havoc Parliament can wreak when it returns in early September.

His sentiment was right – but you can’t go throwing around words which have World War Two connotations and effectively accuse some of your Parliamentary colleagues of being quislings (another word with the same suggestion).

To so so debases the debate. I don’t know if it was a deliberate use of the word, or whether it just slipped out. If the latter, fine; but if it was a deliberate attempt to feed into the ‘People v Parliament’ narrative, well, there are better ways of doing it.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Monday, I returned from my two weeks appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe. In 24 shows, I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles (together), and Johnny Mercer, among many others. We’re releasing all the interviews on a new podcast, Iain Dale All Talk, which you can now subscribe to on whichever platform you get your podcasts from.

– – – – – – – – – –

Today is the first day of my first and only holiday of the year. It will last ten days and I intend to spend it in Norfolk doing precisely nothing. Apart from play golf. And binge-watch box sets. And write next week’s ConHome Diary, of course.

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WATCH: Hammond accuses Johnson of setting the bar too high in Brussels

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John O’Connell: Cuts to inheritance tax could help the new government

John O’Connell is Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance

The cost of dying is going up. The TPA published work yesterday detailing the taxes and charges involved when someone passes away. Inheritance Tax (IHT) is the obvious money spinner – in 2019-20, the government is projected to receive £5.35 billion from grieving taxpayers, the highest amount ever.

Inheritance Tax (IHT) is unpopular. Some polls put it ahead of other taxes as distinctly unloved – it’s often followed by Council Tax and the Licence Fee. That won’t come as a surprise to many ConHome readers, but it possibly is surprising to left-wing campaigners – who believe that inheritances entrench inequality, and that we must punish an imagined ruling aristocratic class.

Simply, IHT goes against a natural human instinct to make sure your family is looked after when you’re gone. To that end, it’s anti-aspirational – why work so hard to look after your children if the taxman guzzles it all up anyway?

But this is only one of the many ways that the government extracts money from the dead. These charges also include the cost of death certificates, land registry fees, probate and VAT.

All of that means a homeowner living in London, without a spouse or children to pass assets on to, who purchases a coffin and is cremated, faces a cost of death of up to £60,773.

This could rise to £61,308 if the newly proposed probate fees come into force. Under the innocuous sounding ‘Non-contentious Probate (Fees Order)’, Philip Hammond’s Treasury looked set to push ahead with a plan to hike the fees charged for a grant of probate from the current flat rate of £215 (£155 if a solicitor is used) to a sliding scale of fees ranging from £250 to £6,000, based on the value of the estate.

That ignores the fact that the probate service is not optional for many households. Receiving an inheritance is often unexpected and so families may not have had an opportunity to plan. This will often be the case for households on lower incomes, who do not have the resources to consult expensive solicitors. They are the people who will be most unfairly impacted.

Perhaps the cost of dying all seems rather small fry, in relation to delivering Brexit by October 31. But there is likely to be a Budget ahead of the deadline, which will need to encourage investment and win back support for the Conservative Party potentially embarking on a No Deal and General Election. So there could be three interesting elements to consider:

1. Help everyday families.

Philip Hammond’s proposal to whack up probate fees on families that may not have expected an inheritance, and may be cash poor. It is also a disproportionate increase. The level of service involved in a grant of probate is roughly equivalent, regardless of the size of the estate. Therefore, increasing the fees all the way up to £6,000 is extremely difficult to justify. As Guido reported at the time, the Lib Dems had issues with the move, as do the Law Society. It should be immediately junked.

2. Win back support with tax cuts.

The Government should consider increasing the thresholds at which people pay IHT. Consider how this issue was weaponised by George Osborne in 2007 – he dared Gordon Brown to hold an election with a promise to raise the thresholds to £1million. Brown blinked. Popular tax cuts alongside a Brexit-friendly Budget might just help a party aiming to bring voters back onside.

3. Encourage investment.

Simpler taxes are better and in the long-run, IHT should be abolished. But for now, investment is crucial. Leftist groups such as the Resolution Foundation and the Tax Justice Network have been critical of IHT reliefs like Business Property Relief (BPR). In doing so, they argue that reliefs “cost” the Treasury money; that “the government is handing out” money. Such talk is nonsense – it assumes all money belongs to the government and they simply decide to give some of it back. But until we simplify IHT by abolishing it entirely, reliefs like BPR and the Enterprise Investment Scheme can help drive growth and encourage responsible saving. BPR has been a vital tool in helping smaller companies across the UK, via the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), and has a role in ensuring that companies aren’t broken up to meet IHT liabilities, as the government alludes to. So MPs and mandarins must ignore calls from leftwing Twitter hordes and ensure that investment continues apace after the 31st October.

The new government has come flying out of the blocks and looks set to deliver Brexit by October 31st. The cost of dying may not be top of the list of priorities, but a Budget could be upon us before we know it – now’s the time for good ideas and fighting off bad ones.

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Is Johnson aiming for a snap election?

Version one is that, as soon as Parliament returns in September, Boris Johnson will seek, and obtain, a general election.  He will thereby seize the initiative, commit again to leaving the EU by October 31, squeeze the Brexit Party’s vote, and exploit an opposition vote divided elsewhere, in England and Wales, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  Although the Conservatives will lose seats in London and Scotland these will perhaps be offset by gains in the Midlands and North.  The sum of this case is that the new Prime Minister must move early before Parliament proves him powerless, now that he has next to no working majority.

Version two is that Johnson hasn’t the credibility, under such a scenario, to squeeze the Brexit Party as much as he needs to.  Instead, he must prove his commitment to that October 31 date.  And he can only do that by going for it, deal or no deal.  Which he must do until or unless the Commons votes that it has no confidence in his Government, or the Philip Hammond/Oliver Letwin/Dominic Grieve/Yvette Cooper continuum, aided and abetted by the Speaker, finds a means of preventing Brexit by the end of October.  At which point, the Prime Minister seeks and obtains an election, as above, and tries to utilise the differences between his opponents.

Which version you believe may depend on, inter alia: how quickly CCHQ can get election-ready; whether you think voters would treat any poll as a referendum on Brexit (as in 2016) or a vote on wider domestic policy (as in the snap election of 2017); what the EU does next; what any Johnson manifesto might say – would it unambiguously commit to scrapping the Withdrawal Agreement? – and, above all, whether it would be too late for an election to stop Britain leaving the EU by October 31 in any event.  A poll by which date Brexit had already happened would obviously be different from one by which it had not – especially if squeezing Nigel Farage’s party is the name of the game.

The political story of this August, unexpected foreign affairs or other crises aside, will be about these alternatives – an election that Johnson either forces himself or is forced on him.  There will be a mass of conjecture and a shortage of facts.  This will be intensified by claims about what Dominic Cummings does and doesn’t think, and he is a man who likes to throw his opponents off balance.  So for what it’s worth, our advice is to stay cool, hang loose, enjoy the summer – and rule almost nothing out.  If you do the last, you may well be imitating Johnson and Cummings themselves, hunkered down as they will be with policy wonks and constitutional lawyers.

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