Rudd returns to help sell May’s deal

She didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary, but is a highly effective media performer.

Theresa May cannot rely on the Brexiteers in her Cabinet to go out and sell her draft Brexit deal enthusiastically.  Liam Fox has been helpful to her today, but within very narrow confines.  Two of the holders of great offices of state want the Prime Minister to return to Brussels to push for concessions – Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.  That has left her reliant this week on the energetic Matt Hancock.

Amber Rudd’s return to the top table will be linked to Downing Street’s need for strong, articulate, media-experienced performers to tour the studios on May’s behalf.  The new Work and Pensions Secretary is a first-class communicator: far more adept than the Prime Minister at getting on the front foot, and completely committed to a central element of the draft deal: frictionless trade – or as near to frictionless as can be achieved.  She was a passionate Remainer during the EU referendum, stepping up for TV debates, and closely linked to the anti-Brexit campaign in which her brother, Roland Rudd, was a big cheese.

In one sense, the appointment is surprising.  Rudd was a senior voice in the pro-deal element of backbench former and present Tory Remainers.  Her departure leaves it weaker.  Furthermore, she has an ultra-marginal seat, and is now to be responsible for the hyper-vulnerable business of managing Universal Credit.

But she is the kind of centre-leftish Conservative who is now at this Government’s centre of gravity.  Esther McVey out, Rudd in makes the Cabinet even less leave-tilting than before, with Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab and McVey all gone.  There is a big question about whether a Minister compelled so recently to resign should return to government so quickly.  There has been a campaign to suggest that civil servants were to blame for the Windrush debacle.  But for all Rudd’s force on television, she didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary.  However, she does fill a gap as a Soft Brexitish future leadership contender.  It is possible there may be a vacancy soon.

Changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing

A new leader would need a new plan to reverse this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft.

If we can congratulate Cabinet members on nothing else this morning, we can at least do so on their ability to speed read under pressure.  In less than a morning, they somehow managed to master 585 pages of the Brexit Draft Withdrawal Agreement, all without recourse to independent legal advice.  Plus the seven pages of the Outline Political Declaration – a mere bagatelle by comparison.  Yes, that’s right.  The Government wants us to hand over the best part of £40 billion for fewer than ten pages of unenforceable text. And our future negotiating leverage into the bargain.

But let’s stick for the moment to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Don’t judge it before you’ve read it, its backers said yesterday.  That they were supporters betrayed that they had already made a judgement themselves.  By the same token, they should have conceded that reading a document of that length takes rather more than a few hours.  None the less, we will take their advice.  Unlike a mass of newspapers and commentators, we do not pretend to have done so in full.

So we will make no comment for the moment on whether the Northern Ireland backstop has survived, with its implications for Scotland and the Union.  On the UK-wide or Great Britain backstop, and whether the latter can practicably leave it, de facto if not de jure, with all the consequences that has for our freedom to strike trade deals worldwide.  On whether that seven page declaration points towards Chequers, Canada, Cheqada – or anything bankable at all (and if there are any safeguards for the money).  Above all, on whether the whole package leaves us, in that neat reversal of William Hague’s famous saying, out of Europe, but run by Europe.  And on, if you prefer George Osborne’s brilliantly malicious assessment yesterday, whether or not the EU has Taken Back Control.

We will pause to make only one observation.  Theresa May’s claim that the agreement would allow us to take back that control – of borders, law and money – is already under siege, at least as far as its second part is concerned.  Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post has found 63 references to the European Court of Justice in the draft.  Ending its jurisdiction was at the heart of the EU referendum result.  The Conservative Manifesto committed the Party to it, not that most of members needed any persuading.

Where Waugh has trod, others will follow.  As we write, Martin Howe will be pouring himself another cup of strong black coffee, surrounded by gutted candles and legal tomes.  He will have laboured overnight to craft his assessment.  So will others.  By lunchtime, the Withdrawal Agreement will have been wrenched open, gutted, filletted, and its innards displayed to the world.  One thing is certain: bits of it will not look very appetising.  The Prime Minister will have passed them over in her statement yesterday evening.  One senior ERG member told this site yesterday that the agreement is like a Budget that will unravel on day two.

We are not at all sure that he is right.  This morning, it looks rather more like one of those Budgets that went to pieces on day one.  Today’s splash headlines make bleak reading for Downing Street.  How could they not, given the Cabinet’s verdict, which is all over them, and on the inside pages too?  Dominic Raab was palpably unhappy.  Geoffrey Cox compared the agreement to a life raft made up of oil drums and a plastic sail.  Michael Gove thinks it is bad, but that no deal would be worse.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt pushed at May to take if back to the EU for re-drafting.  Liam Fox dislikes the backstop.  Penny Mordaunt wants a free vote, so that she can oppose the agreement.  Esther McVey actually called for a vote, clashing with the Chief Whip and the Cabinet Secretary.  How on earth can any of the discontented third of the Cabinet, or more, look voters in the eye and claim they are content with it?  How can they go out and sell it?  It is significant that, yesterday evening, none of them were due to take to the airwaves this morning.

One last point on that Cabinet meeting.  Reporting of it has tended to divide members up into supporters and opponents of the agreement.  This is understandable, but flawed.  The Cabinet makes, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, collective decisions.  And as McVey has discovered, it does not vote.  Nor do its members shape the minutes.  If they are unhappy, they must either wait to be cheered up, or resign.  Those whose discontent spills over into opposition, like McVey, have not quit – so far.  Do they really intend to stay in office, hoping perhaps that the agreement collapses, or that the Commons votes it down, saying nothing about it at all?  Such a position would be worse than dishonourable, in a manner of speaking.  It would be ridiculous.

By then, events may well have overtaken them.  Perhaps Graham Brady will announce today that he has received 48 letters, and that a confidence ballot in Theresa May must be held.  Maybe he will not.  Perhaps it will come later, or not at all.  But even if it does, and she wins it convincingly, her troubles will be far from over. As matters stand, it is very unlikely that the agreement can get through the Commons.  Even if she survives a ballot, she might not be able to survive that.  The combination of a future Commons vote on the agreement and aleadership contest, ushering in a new Prime Minister, would be like a cutting-edge experiment with two new chemicals.  There is simply no knowing what it would bring.  We believe that a Conservative Prime Minister, faced with this Commons, can carry through Brexit if intent on it – even a no deal one, given the legislative state of play.  But it is possible that the mix could blow the laboratory roof off.

Our position on May’s leadership is well-known.  Like our members’ panel, we believe that she should not lead the Party into the next election.  Enraged Brexiteer MPs are itching to get her out now.  The sum of their view is that there is a lie at the heart of her policy – that she does not believe her own words; that no deal is better than a bad deal.  For this reason, they say, we are not properly prepared.  Downing Street and the Treasury have dragged their feet, and conspired to spring a new choice on the Cabinet yesterday: May’s Deal, a chaotic No Deal, or No Brexit.  And for this she has lost the DUP, in all likelihood, and with it her majority.

One doesn’t have to take a view on the agreement before accepting their point.  But they should reflect that changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing.  A new Conservative leader would face the same old Commons.  He or she would need a new plan – Canada, plus or minus those three pluses; Nick Boles’ Norway-for-Now; or perhaps a transition to No Deal, as proposed by some Cabinet Ministers.  And given the numbers in the Commons, logic also points to a general election, sooner rather than later, to win a majority for change.  That runs the risk of a Corbyn Government – and, more pressingly as far as some Tory MPs are concerned, the loss of their seats.

Some Leavers will be tempted to join many Remainers, and say that this humbling pass, this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft, is the inevitable consequence of Brexit.  Our response is uncompromising.  The British people are entitled to vote to leave the European Union.  If they were now to be told that they can’t, because our politicians aren’t up to negotiating it; or the commanding heights of our institutions are against it; or government is incapable of planning for it – in short, that they must “come to heel”, in John Kerr’s illuminating phrase – what would that say to the British people about the state of our liberal demcracy and parliamentary government?  The potential consequences are so far-reaching that there is no need to spell them out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action on knife crime must be swift, firm, and visible – but it must also be effective

Blanket stop and search is not the silver bullet some like to imagine, despite all the hype.

It’s obvious why the rise in violent crime – and knife crime in particular – grabs people’s attention. It’s horrific, it disproportionately affects the young, and it’s downright scary. The idea that someone you pass in the street might mutilate or kill you or those you love for the tiniest offence, or for no reason at all, tends to stick in one’s mind.

That applies from a distance, if you hear about it on the news or read about it in the paper, but as a father of young children living in South London I can confirm it applies all the more when you’re physically rather more near to the events in question. And it seems that the proportion of the country who find themselves in relatively close proximity to such crime is rising. While the London murder rate, and the seeming absence of the capital’s mayor, is often the go-to reference, police statistics suggest a rise in violent crime involving a knife in every region of England and Wales. There is local variation, including a few forces which have seen a fall to some degree, but overall the police recorded 28 per cent more violent crimes including a knife in June 2017-July 2018, than in April 2010-March 2011.

It’s a particularly stark change because we have more generally enjoyed a sustained fall in most types of crime for several years now – part, as per Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature, of a trend seen in many similarly developed countries. The fact might be that you’re less likely to be a victim of crime than ten or 20 years ago, but the good news of hypothetical crimes failing to occur does not outweigh the grim sight of kids bleeding on the pavement, for obvious reasons.

Rightly in a democratic society such horrors leap from the streets into the minds of the public and the pages of the press and thereby onto agendas in Westminster. It’s a measure of concern about the issue that while other topics are swamped by the dominance of Brexit, knife crime in particular has established itself as a major question of the day. As City Hall and Whitehall are yet to produce a clear answer, the clamour for action will surely grow – as will the tally of attacks.

The poser for policymakers is what to do that will actually work. Inside and outside the police, stop and search has become a common answer. The implication is that Theresa May’s decision as Home Secretary to limit the use of the power is responsible for the rise in stabbings, and that reversing those changes would duly nip the problem in the bud.

There are a few problems with this theory. For a start, let’s remember what May’s policy and reasoning (cited by this site in 2015 as a Reason To Vote Tory) actually were. Home Office statistics (albeit now disputed by one source) suggested the power was used disproportionately against ethnic minority people, without any sign of a resultant higher rate of arrests, which troubled her on two levels – first as an unjust mistreatment of innocent people by law enforcement, and second as a waste of police time and resources. She took the view not that stop and search was wrong, but that misusing it was an ineffective way to fight crime.

As Stephen Bush summarises in the New Statesman, by cutting the number of suspicion-free stops, and raising the proportion of stops which led to an arrest, May’s reforms essentially kept the number of actual criminals being stopped and caught the same, while reducing time wasted and resentment incurred among the innocent. As Bush points out, David Blunkett’s 2001 experiment, in simply reducing the number of stops generally, produced an almost immediate rise in crime, while May’s specifically targeted reduction in 2014 did not.

It might be, of course, that while May’s approach did not cause crime directly it might instead have made policing vulnerable to a problem which has subsequently arisen. We know that organised criminals are adept at identifying and taking advantage of flaws in police procedure – the widely-reported practice of scooter gangs taking off their crash helmets in the knowledge that doing so meant pursuing police officers were forbidden from knocking them off their bikes is a good example.

Perhaps what we’re seeing now is a change in criminal tactics to belatedly take advantage of the stop and search reform. Maybe it’s something else – changes in the subculture of crime, or Trevor Phillips’ idea that it represents the influence of refugees from war zones, or a shift in the economics of the drug trade, or a symptom of the expansionist strategy of ‘county lines’ gangs, or all of the above.

It falls to the Home Secretary to take a clear, swift and effective decision about what to do in response.

The police want a drastic relaxation of the requirement for suspicion, and they have a following wind in the press. Politically, it would be easiest just to give them exactly what they want, and boast of one’s toughness.

Doing so might tick the “clear” and “swift” boxes, but it’s not certain that it would also be effective. It remains true that targeting suspects has a higher hit-rate than targeting people without suspicion, and even if there were sufficient resources to sizeably expand police numbers (which there aren’t) it wouldn’t be wise to squander officers’ time on inefficient tactics. Furthermore, not all police officers used such powers fairly or even legally in the past – simply undoing May’s reforms would risk undoing any gains in trust made among those who were unfairly stopped without good reason under the old system.

The Government definitely wants to lower the barriers faced by police in the fight against knife crime, and be seen to do so. But it cannot simply repeat policies that don’t work properly.

Notably, Javid’s recent discussion of cutting bureaucracy around stops and making police confident to use the power was still couched in terms of requiring grounds for suspicion: “If the police think that there’s good reason that they may be carrying an offensive weapon, the police should be absolutely empowered to stop them.” His eventual answer, when it comes, has to persuade people that the law can be enforced while maintaining that principle. And then, crucially, it must work.

Asia Bibi should be offered asylum in Britain

Hers is a test case for Ministers, for Muslim organisations in Britain, for free speech – for what sort of country we want to be.

The most intractable conversation I had with Kashmiri and Pakistani-origin constituents, during my nine years as MP for Wycombe, wasn’t about the Iraq war, Israel’s two military campaigns against Gaza, its incursion into Lebanon against Hezbollah, or the Afghanistan war.  Discussion about all these was often difficult, but it was always straightforward – debate about what Britain’s foreign and security policy ought to be.

No, it was about the so-called Danish cartoons – the twelve illustrations published in Jyllands-Posten, a newspaper in Denmark, which depicted Mohammed.  I met with a delegation of these constituents for a discussion about them – though, on second thoughts, I withdraw the word “discussion”, which implies a common basis for talking about a subject, however swiftly or strongly disagreements about it then emerge.

There was no such shared ground.  Instead, the group and I talked past each other for the best part of half-an-hour.  Their starting-point, though seldom directly stated, was that cartoons of Mohammed should not be published.  It wasn’t clear whether they believed that the state should ban any such illustrations, or whether artists should simply self-censor: this seemed to shift back and forth.  But what quickly became evident was that two conflicting worldviews were present in the room that spoke different languages.  They were like the lines in Marvell’s poem that “though infinite can never meet”.

One was mine: that free speech about religion is integral to liberal democracy.  The other was theirs: that blasphemy must be barred.  One was modern, the other pre-modern (though it is worth bearing in mind that common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel weren’t abolished until as recently as 2008, though they had recently been honoured in the breach rather than the observance).

This may be a useful background against which to consider the Asia Bibi case.  She is a Christian who faced the death sentence under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.  Originally framed to prohibit blasphemy against any recognised religion, they have increasingly targeted non-Muslims.  Since 1990, those who make remarks considered derogatory of Mohammed can be punished by death. A Muslim judge must preside at the trial.  Bibi was arrested after an altercation with fellow villagers in the Punjab.  It is claimed that her family had previously been involved in a dispute about property with another family in the village.  They are reportedly the only Christians in the village.

Bibi was tried and convicted.  The High Court then upheld the sentence on appeal.  Last month, the Supreme Court quashed it – citing “material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses”.  Whatever may or may not have been said, the manipulation of the blasphemy laws as a means of paying back grudges happens in Pakistan.  It may be worth noting that the woman whose quarrel with Bibi led to the arrest – she said that the latter should not have drunk from a cup used by Muslims – is reported to have been a member of the family involved in the property row.

Though found not guilty by the court, Bibi is still locked up in prison.  In short, Imran Khan’s government has done a deal with the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik political party, which bars her from leaving the country.  She must wait until “the Supreme Court makes a final review of its verdict”.  Such proceedings can take years.

Some of Bibi’s supporters here claim that the Government is too frightened of a hostile reaction from British Muslims to offer Bibi asylum.  The claim is unproven – and, after all, she is not presently in a position to travel anywhere.  Government sources suggest that Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid are not closed to an asylum offer.  Like William Hague last week, they indicate that more may be going on than meets the eye.  However, it would not be surprising were Ministers to be lobbying for Bibi to be freed from Pakistan to find refuge elsewhere in the West, in concert with other governments.  (By the way: there’s not been a peep on her case from Labour.)

At any rate, hers is a test case for freedom.  It should not be assumed that opinion in Pakistan is universally supportive of the original verdict.  The country has a liberal middle class.  But theirs is a minority view.  Pakistan has travelled a very long way from the vision expressed by Jinnah, the founder of the state: “Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”.  Horrifying videos show crowds chanting for Bibi’s death.

Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of the Punjab, who spoke up for Bibi and against the laws, was assassinated by a member of his own bodyguard.  The only Christian member of the country’s Cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, who took the same position, was shot dead by gunmen in a car ambush.  Returning to Britain, we understand why Ministers are reluctant to spell out their plans in public.  But we believe that they should be making an asylum offer for Bibi private.  We hope that she comes to Britain.

Finally, hers is not only a test case for the Government, but also for Muslim organisations in Britain – or at least those who claim to speak for British Muslims.  Some are effectively blackballed by Ministers for reasons connected with extremism.  There is debate back and forth about how extremism can be defined.  We are very doubtful whether it can or should be be in law.

But one can surely say of extremism, as an American judge once said of pornography, that one knows it when one sees it.  Support for murdering someone who expresses a view about religion is extreme, by any reasonable standard.  If groups shunned by Ministers want to to meet with them, they can start by condemning Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, loud and clear.  And add that Bibi would be welcome here.

How a Brexit deal would be done

What will happen this week? When could a summit take place? What would the Cabinet say – and what might the Attorney General do?

This week’s Cabinet meeting

ConservativeHome is told that there are two Brexit-related items on the agenda for discussion at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.  The first is the now-weekly deliberation on preparations for leaving itself and for No Deal.  The second is a more general exchange and gathering of views.

That might seem to provide an opportunity for Theresa May to put a draft deal to Cabinet members.  It looks like a convenient week for Downing Street to do so.  This is because the Commons is in recess from tomorrow until next Tuesday, November 12.  It would suit Number Ten for MPs to be absent if and when proposals are put to the Cabinet, because this would minimise the opportunities for hostile reaction and the inevitable talk of a leadership challenge.

However, it appears that the Government and the EU have not yet reached an outline agreement, though there is so much smoke and mirrors that one can never be quite sure.  In any event, the Prime Minister would presumably not want to risk putting a proposal agreed by Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins straight to Cabinet members. (Remember what happened three or so weeks ago.)

A summit in mid-to-late November?

A more likely way of proceeding would be for the Cabinet to have another discussion about the key issues at stake – including five key issues we raised yesterday: the Northern Ireland backstop, implications for Scotland and the Union, a UK-wide customs arrangement, the enforcability of a political declaration, and what this last might contain.

We hope that Cabinet members press, as some did at last week’s meeting, for three conditions to met for any proposed deal.  That they approve it; that the Attorney General gives a view of it in writing, and that the Chief Whip offers an assessment of its likelihood to pass the Commons – in particular, whether it would effectively split the Conservative Parliamentary Party and leave Theresa May reliant on Labour backbench votes for it to pass.

Cabinet members told this site yesterday that any draft deal must be put to them for approval.  Number Ten wants to get a move on, because the more time ticks away before March 29, the less of it the Government will have to get its legislative preparations completed.  A date for a special summit to deal that deal was previously provisionally pencilled-in for the weekend of November 17-18.

Will Raab go to Brussels this week?

One view is that settling a mid-to-late November date for a summit is only possible if Dominic Raab flies to Brussels later this week to agree it with Michel Barnier.  If this is correct, the Prime Minister would seek tomorrow to get broad agreement from the Cabinet for him to do so on an agreed basis.

If Raab and Barnier reached an agreement about a draft deal and summit date, May would duly go to the latter herself to formalise the agreement in principle.  There is talk of a four-way press conference at the end of such a summit, starring the Prime Minister, Barnier, Donald Tusk…and Raab himself (to show the Parliamentary Party that the pro-Leave Brexit Secretary is signed up).  The deal would then be put to Cabinet.

Such a timetable would leave a dangerous gap for Number Ten between an agreement to hold a summit and it actually taking place.  It would presumably be filled by claims and counter-claims about what was in the deal to be signed off.  There would be that talk of 48 letters to Graham Brady.  However, Brexiteering Tory MPs would probably want to wait to see the final product.

Would there be Cabinet resignations?

Let us presume for a moment that this is controversial.  A question that follows is: would any Cabinet members resign and, if they did, would that leadership challenge follow?  (This line of thinking shows the importance to May of getting Raab’s assent to any deal.  If she doesn’t have it, she won’t have his backing in putting one to Cabinet.  Which suggests that she is now dependent on his agreement to be able to do so.)

The Prime Minister survived the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson without then facing a confidence ballot.  The consensus expectation is that she would similarly be able to withstand the loss of Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and perhaps Penny Mordaunt – and that Liam Fox and Chris Grayling are unlikely to quit.

Michael Gove going would be more problematic.  So would be the departures of Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.  But these are unlikely.  In particular, Cabinet members whose departments would be in the front line in the event of No Deal have an obvious incentive to stay on.  These are Gove (agricultural products at the border), Grayling (transport and prospective queues, particularly in Kent), Javid (border control and security arrangements) – and Matt Hancock (medical supplies), though there is no realistic prospect of the pragmatic last resigning.

What would be the role of the Attorney General?

The arrival in Cabinet of Geoffrey Cox, with his track record as a Brexiteer and authority as a senior QC, has transformed its balance of debate.  The Attorney General played a central role in demolishing a set of Robbins/Weyand proposals in the middle of last month.  He has turned up to a meeting of Andrea Leadsom’s pro-Leave pizza club of Ministers.

Cox is surely no Peter Goldsmith – prepared to issue different drafts of guidance, each closer to the view that the Prime Minister wants.  There might well be a row about Cabinet members’ access to his written advice, which will be provided to May.  Number Ten will be nervous about it leaking if distributed.  Labour, other opposition parties and many Conservative MPs will demand that Parliament sees it.  We want it to be published.

A conventional expectation is that Cox would make an oral presentation to Cabinet.  Is it conceivable that he could stress the distinction between his legal responsibilities and his political views?  (“Well, Prime Minister: as a lawyer, my view is that under these proposals we could not escape the backstop.  But as a politician, my take is that they are preferable to No Deal.”)

If the Cabinet approves a deal, what happens next?

The Commons would then undertake its “meaningful vote”.  Today, we glance only at one aspect of it.  Let us suppose for a moment that Brexiteers are unhappy with a deal agreed by Cabinet, and that perhaps there have been resignations.  We stress that neither of these will necessarily be the case in the event of a deal.

Would, say, ERG members immediately flood Graham Brady will a mass of letters demanding a confidence vote – thus risking blame for alone seeking to bring down May at a crucial moment in the Brexit drama?

Or would they wait for the meaningful vote, join MPs from other parties in opposing the Prime Minister’s plan – and hope that, if it went down, she would then resign?  This would arguably leave them less directly exposed to criticism from fellow Tories.  We don’t know what the answer is, but the question is worth asking.

Daniel Kawczynski: The Home Secretary must not back away from DNA testing for migrants

It is a vital tool for speeding up applications and ensuring more reliable judgements, and is good for both applications and the state.

Daniel Kawczynki is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.

Thirteen years ago, I was elected to the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and Atcham. This happened 27 years after I first arrived on these shores from my native Poland, and I am incredibly proud to be the first Polish-born British Member of Parliament.

There are of course many reasons why the UK is one of the best countries in the world to come and live, including our thriving democracy, strong and resilient economy, and open and compassionate society. It is exactly because of these national strengths that the UK must have a fair but robust immigration system.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is a seminal moment at a pivotal point in our nation’s history, and leaving the EU will allow the British Government to build a fair and controlled migration system once EU free movement has come to an end.

I am clear that when people voted to leave the EU, they did so in the knowledge that free movement would end. This means bringing net migration down to sustainable levels while continuing to attract and retain those who come to the UK to work and bring significant benefits. I am glad ministers now share my view that this should not include an open door to those who do not.

It has always angered me that any view expressed calling for strong national borders and controls is met with accusations of bigotry. I accept that for many across Europe, walls and fences are signs of oppression and occupation, but for the British our natural border represents self-determination, safety, and a safeguard of the peace.

I am therefore incredibly frustrated by the apology made in the House of Commons by Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, relating to DNA testing and immigration.

I am unashamedly in favour of providing our hard-working border and immigration officials with all the tools available to deliver a fair and robust immigration system. My support for the use of DNA testing in immigration cases stems from a desire to see a reduction in the time it takes for immigration cases to be dealt with. Indeed, the use of DNA testing would only provide a more reliable way to keep our borders secure, it would also provide greater certainty to the applicant and ensure they are not left in limbo. Had I been asked to provide DNA when I came to this country in 1978, I would have happily done so.

The use of DNA for immigration cases is obvious – in some cases involving paperwork, a determination cannot be made until the paperwork has been back and forth between the Home Office and the applicant. With DNA, a straightforward analysis can be undertaken, which in turn speeds up the process. This is good for secure borders and good for the applicant.

The use of biometrics is not repressive. On the contrary, it is an efficient and effective use of technology. In Canada, for example, it is now a requirement if you are from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to provide your fingerprints and photo when applying for a visitor visa, study or work permit, or permanent residence. This information is encrypted and sent to a secure Government database, illustrating how a secure use of personal information can be effectively used to determine the outcome of an immigration-related application.

Removing the use of DNA evidence and biometrics from visa applications would be a backwards step for national security, depriving our border officials of important information. I urge the Home Secretary to give serious consideration to mandatory DNA testing in all visa applications and to ignore criticism from the Labour Party, who are simply trying to capitalise on the very legitimate immigration issues experienced by people of the Windrush Generation.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Iain Dale: After Sitwell’s sacking, will I be the next journalist to be fired for offending snowflakes?

Plus: When The Sun doesn’t shine and the Home Office doesn’t work. P.S: In solidarity with the former Waitrose food magazine editor, I will eat steak.

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

A good example of how The Sun manipulates its readers could be found in Wednesday’s edition. Matt Dathan had a story about how the foreign aid budget will now top £14 billion. In The Sun’s eyes, this is clearly a disgrace. Dathan wrote: “Data buried in the budget said that spending would rise £230 million next year and £190 million in 2019-20. The combine sum is £20 million higher than the £400 million given to schools for “’little extras they need’.”

He failed to point out that the money for schools is an extra in-year allocation payable in this financial year. It’s hardly comparing like with like. A more legitimate piece of political criticism would have been to criticise the tin-rated Treasury politicians, advisers and civil servants who failed to spot that spending  £20 million more on potholes than schools might just rebound on the Chancellor. Say what you like about Damian McBride, but he would have spotted that one a mile off.

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This week, the editor of the Waitrose Food Magazine, William Sitwell, was forced to resign. In other words, he was sacked.

His crime? Well, Selene Nelson, a vegan writer, emailed him a suggestion for a series of articles on Vegan food. He responded with a tirade against Vegans, and suggested they should all be force-fed food and killed one by one.

This was clearly not meant seriously – but in this day and age, obviously, one has to take offence. Nelson did what any person would do in the circs and went to the press.

Result: Waitrose took fright at the Vegan onslaught on social media and let Sitwell go. This really is the age of the snowflake. And I say this as someone who for health reasons now has to eat some Vegan food. However, in solidarity I shall be having a steak for dinner tonight.

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I’m in the middle of preparing to write a very long read profile/interview with a Cabinet Minister for a national newspaper. I’m at the stage in the process where I wonder why I ever suggested doing it.

I’ve done nearly all the interviews, done most of the background research, I know roughly what themes will run in it…but I haven’t yet written a word. The only thoughts that go through my head are: “this is going to be rubbish, I can’t write as well as other people, should I just ditch it?”

I won’t of course. Because I’ve been through this so many times that I know that once I start writing, it’ll be fine. It’s just getting to the point where I write an actual sentence. I’d love to tell you who I’m writing about, but then, in the words of William Sitwell, I’d have to kill you. And that would obviously that mean Paul Goodman would fire me from this column for offending snowflakes. And you wouldn’t want that. Would you???

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It seems to me the big winner from the Budget, if we’re talking about politicians, is the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson. No one thought he could get £1.8 billion out of the Chancellor, especially after going to public on his demands. But get the money he did. Now let’s see what he does with it.

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Caroline Nokes is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most hapless and gaffe-prone minister in the government. Which is a shame, since she’s actually in the charge of the country’s borders.

Her performance in front of the Home Affairs select committee this week was buttock-clenchingly embarrassing. If you don’t believe me, watch it. For the immigration minister not to know her own Government’s immigration policy post-Brexit was simply unforgiveable.

Shona Dunn, The Home Office’s Second Permanent Secretary, then went on to say that the Prime Minister has made clear that, in the event of a no deal, that free movement would end on March 29 2019, and she imagined – yes, imagined – there would have “to be a few bits of secondary legislation” passed before then.

Sajid Javid then appeared on Peston the next day, and completely contradicted his  most senior civil servant – saying that in these circumstances there will be a “transition period” for EU citizens, explaining that “if there was a no deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans who were here before March 29 and those who came after.”

He’s right, of course, but why is that so difficult for both his Permanent Secretary and Immigration Minister to understand? In 2006, the then Home Secretary, John Reid, caused a massive political row by saying that he believed the Home Office was not “fit for purpose”. We’ve had five Home Secretaries since then, and it appears that little has changed. It’s still too unwieldly.

Here’s a suggestion. Post-Brexit, let’s take immigration out of the Home Office, and create a new Department of Border Security with a seat in the Cabinet.

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If you’re into podcasts, check out my new Book Club podcast, which this week asks how we can mend our broken politics. I’m joined by three political political experts with books out – Isabel Hardman from The Spectator, Philip Collins from The Times and Tom Baldwin, who now runs comms for the People’s Vote campaign. It’s a great listen, even I do say so myself. And as a bonus you can also listen to me interviewing Giles and Mary from Gogglebox!