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Westlake Legal Group > Dominic Grieve MP

Wanted in Beaconsfield: a Conservative candidate

Of the 21 former Conservative MPs from whom the whip has been removed, only one has confirmed to date that he will stand in his constituency at the next election: Dominic Grieve.  The former Attorney General paid lip service to perhaps standing again as an official Tory candidate, but that door is closed.  The local Association has voted that it has no confidence in him, and wouldn’t re-select him as its candidate were he to apply.  It is far from clear that he would want to stand as a Conservative, in any event.  The local Liberal Democrats have agreed to stand down to enable him more room for manoeuvre as an anti-Brexit independent candidate for the seat.

Beaconsfield has thus become a test case for what the Party centrally and Associations will now do when it comes to finding a Tory candidate.

As Mark Wallace wrote recently on this site, “Conservative-held seats with big majorities normally only come up rarely, particularly given that the great majority of the Parliamentary Party were first elected within the last decade and would ordinarily be expected to serve out many more years to come. So the competition for these selections will be intense”.

He added that “what isn’t yet completely clear is what the process will be. In a normal selection, the association executive selects a shortlist of three following interviews with a longlist of applicants, chosen with CCHQ’s “advice” (the strength of that advice varies based on the robustness and attitude of the association), then members pick the winning candidate at a selection meeting.”

“However, there are two possible factors which might undermine that. The first is the ever-present fact that the central machine of the party likes to get its way where possible – and influencing selections in Tory-held seats is as close as you get to directly moulding the Parliamentary Party. The second is that if an election is truly imminent, there will be time pressures on the process.”

“This latter factor will be key, I understand. If there’s time, they’ll select in the normal way. But if a snap election is secured soon, the Party Board is more likely to opt for some variation of by-election rules, where as seen in 2017 CCHQ and the candidates’ committee may decide shortlists themselves, then allow the associations to choose from them.”

Beaconsfield has been a very safe Conservative seat indeed since its creation during the 1970s, and will presumably return a Tory MP again when the election comes.  But Brexit is bound to muddy the waters.

The constituency itself went Remain in the EU referendum by the narrowest of margins – 51 per cent to 49 per cent. (The local authority, South Bucks, was narrowly leave.)  It would clearly make sense to select a Parliamentary candidate as soon as possible, for two main reasons.  First, to ensure that Grieve doesn’t have a monopoly on local Parliamentary campaigning and, second, because the Association should have as much choice as possible.  And it will have more if it draws up its own shortlist than if the candidates’ committee does so.  This site understands that the Association is keen to get a move on.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Supreme Court’s ruling. Why not now go all the way – and let Bercow deliver the Queen’s Speech?

‘Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows’.

Those are the words of the Enacting Formula – the standard pattern of words which, with certain variations, precede the clauses of Bills at Westminster.  In a single sentence, they capture the meaning of Parliamentary sovereignty.

They clearly don’t say that the legislature is the only source of this sovereignty – in other words, of law-making power.  Rather, they tell a story.  It is one of that power being shared by the Queen, through the executive branch of government, with the legislature.

That’s why it’s said that we’re governed by the Queen-in-Parliament: it is the place where the monarch, her Government, and the legislature come together.  Parliament should work with harmony of a stately dance (come to think of it, “stately” is le mot juste), in which each dancer has his or her part to play.  Some of its most riveting steps came about because of the English Civil War. The dance continues to this day.

The best way of understanding the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday is to grasp that it reads the dance very differently – and, frankly, wrongly. “As long ago as 1611,” its ruling declared, the court held that “the King [who was then the government] hath no prerogative but that which the law of the land allows him”.  Like this site, the Court clearly has that civil war, and long-run up to it, very much in mind.

But the King (or, in this case, the Queen) is no longer “the government” – a truth that the learned judges seem to have forgotten as soon as they uttered it.  Government is now a shared exercise between “the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty” and those “Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons”.  Or, to put it another way, Boris Johnson in no way resembles a Stuart Monarch.  Quite apart from anything else, Charles I did not offer the Roundheads the chance to vote him out of office.

Neither is Dominic Grieve John Hampden; nor Lady Hale, Sir Edward Coke; nor Dominic Cummings “Black Tom Tyrant” – the Earl of Stafford, Charles I’s formidable adviser, who was eventually sacrificed as a scapegoat.  If anyone thought they were.  Above all, this Gollum of a Speaker is not, repeat not, John Lenthall.

It is baffling that the highest court in the land so misunderstands our constitution – with more errors spawning from its first.  “[Parliamentary sovereignty] would be undermined if the executive could, through the use of the prerogative, prevent Parliament from exercising its power to make laws for as long as it pleased,” it ruled.

Once again, it conflates the legislature with Parliament.  Yes, MPs and peers are part of Parliament.  But so is the Queen – hence the Enacting Formula with which this article opened.  So, for that matter, are Ministers.  They sit and speak and vote in the same chamber as backbenchers, because they are also MPs.  Do we really need to make the point that there is no separation of powers in our constitution?  If a lowly blog can understand this, why on earth can’t the Supreme Court?

Perhaps the answer lies in its title.  Ponder it again for a moment.  The.  Supreme.  Court.  Where does your mind travel to when you hear those words?  If you’re at all like us, the answer is “America”.  And there, of course, one does find the separation of powers.  Once judges have them, in the sense that they do in the United States, they become political.  Which explains why those nominated to America’s Supreme Court must face confirmation hearings.  And helps to demonstrate what is happening here.

Not so long ago, our judges were part of that ceremonious Parliamentary dance.  It was Tony Blair, with his characteristic tin ear for our constitutional music, who turfed out the Law Lords from Parliament and set up the Supreme Court.  Once you establish such a body, and look towards United States, American-type controversy is likely to follow.

In a curious way, then, the Court was acting explicably by making a judgement about the lawfulness of the Government’s prorogation with only a single reference to a particular statute.  By basing most of its case on principles rather than statute (contrary to usual practice), its judgement had a flavour of America – or, more precisely, of continental law, in which judgements are induced from abstractions, rather than Common Law, in which they are deducted from practice and precedent.  There, judges make the law.  Here, they discover the law.

Or did – until EU law, the ECHR, and concepts from continental law, such as proportionality, slowly coloured parts of our own system: for evidence, consider the growth of judicial review.  Perhaps that’s desirable.  Maybe it isn’t.  But, either way, politicians since the Blair era have tended to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend that the change isn’t really happening.  Policy Exchange has pointed to the problem, by means of its Judicial Power Project, while Ministers have looked the other way.

No wonder the Government’s collective response to Tuesday’s judgement has been a shambles.  Some Ministers want to leap forward – or at least sideways – and have America-style confirmatory hearings for judges.  Others want to go back to the future, scrap the Court and revive the Law Lords.  The Johnson Government is paying a price for the thoughtlessness of its predecessors.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court’s ruling begins by misreading Parliamentary Sovereignty and thus ends by exalting one part of Parliament at the expense of the others.  So prorogation is something that is somehow done to MPs and peers “from outside” and “is not a proceeding in Parliament”.

However, as we have seen, the Queen and her Ministers are inside: they are part of Parliament.  Where does the Supreme Court’s logic take us?  Should Royal Assent end, because it is also “from outside”?  If so, what about the Queen’s Speech?  Why not send the Speaker up from the Commons, and let him deliver it instead?

It is tempting to mull the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling, allow one’s imagination to soar, and picture a future in which the legislature alone “takes back control”.  Over six hundred MPs could have a go at negotiating treaties at once, or mastermind detailed battle plans from the green benches. And if some of them had no right to, because their party didn’t command a majority in the Commons, too bad.

If you find the prospect fanciful, ponder real life.  MPs actually are seeking to direct a treaty negotiation: that’s the point of the Benn Act.  Oliver Letwin has been like a shadow Prime Minister to their shadow Government, exercising control of the Chamber’s proceedings and timetabling.

But unlike a real Prime Minister, he can’t be held to account at the despatch box or before Select Committees. And unlike a real monarch, Bercow is unrestrained by convention – and apparently untouchable by the courts, too.

‘Be it enacted by the Speaker’s most Excellent Person, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows’. If this is the Supreme Court’s vision of the future, perhaps it ought to tell us.

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WATCH: Grieve “delighted this unconstitutional act has been stopped in its tracks”

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Grieve’s demand for advisers’ correspondence touches on awkward questions of how transparency really works

In the ongoing search of every constitutional nook and cranny for potential tactics to deploy against the Government, Dominic Grieve and his colleagues provoked an angry row by seeking to require nine named individuals to release correspondence on private channels relating to prorogation.

The lines write themselves. One side declares that it seeks only truth, and there’s definitely no element of wishing to intimidate, disrupt or harass the specific named people it is picking out, your honour. The other denounces the effort as an outrageous intrusion into personal privacy, an assault on civil liberties, and an effort to make Government an impossibly hostile environment in which to operate.

You may already have a preferred side in the debate; but the truth lies somewhere between the two.

First, the actual rules. The sought messages are widely described as “private correspondence”, meaning that (if they exist at all) they are alleged to be privately held, through personal accounts on various platforms, and on personal phones and computers. But there are circumstances in which such material can still legally be considered public.

To understand this, we need to look back to the early days of the Coalition. In particular to the Department for Education, between 2010 and 2012. Then the Financial Times and the DfE fought a battle over exactly this question: were ‘private” messages really private if they related to public officials doing their official work?

The battleground then was Freedom of Information – a journalist used the FOI Act to request emails which he knew existed, between named individuals (including Dominic Cummings, just like Grieve’s proposal). The Department replied that it did not hold the data – which was true, because it was held in private inboxes hosted by whichever email providers were being used.

The FT’s case was that this was a failure of the Department to hold (and thereby disclose) all the required data on its official work, not a failure of the FOI request. Ultimately, the Information Commissioner upheld the journalist’s appeal, and defined public employees discussing public work, no matter the medium used, to be public domain, not private correspondence. If you write down a note all about your work and take it home, it’s still work data – and the same goes under FOI for emails, texts, and so on.

So this might be correspondence on theoretically private media and deices, but if it’s on an official topic discussing public work, then it would generally fall under the definition of disclosable public data.

Of course, Grieve’s request was filed not through FOI channels but by the House of Commons as a Humble Address. Michael Gove’s reply declines to acquiesce essentially on the grounds that requiring such disclosure from civil servants would breach various items of legislation, which a mere Humble Address cannot in itself require the Government to do.

Ironically, Grieve could still therefore ask for this data under Freedom of Information. But that takes time: 20 working days to reply in some form, a limit which is often exceeded by many public bodies; possible debate about whether exemptions for things like policy development might apply, or how they weigh against public interest; and various other potential for delay and debate, followed by what is often a backlogged appeal process at the Information Commissioner’s Office. That would pose some obvious problems for a time-sensitive topic, which is presumably one reason why Grieve used a Humble Address instead (the other reason being the PR value of the Commons demanding something).

If he was to succeed in his argument, either on his chosen route or another one like FOI, there’s then a question of the practicality of enforcement. Chris Cook, the FT journalist in that DfE case, got the documents he was seeking – but a major reason why he was able to fight and win the case was that he already held proof that the out-of-department correspondence existed, including copies of some of it. Grieve claims to have reason to believe that privately-held public correspondence exists in his case, too – we don’t know how, or if he’s correct, but the question raises a difficult hypothetical scenario: how can we be certain that things which are meant to be disclosed actually are?

Even in response to normal, vanilla FOI requests, it’s often the case that public bodies seemingly fail to retain or properly disclose data even on their official records. I’ve filed FOI requests in the past knowing for a fact what the answer is, only to be told that the data doesn’t exist or to be given something completely different instead. We hope that officialdom will comply fully with its legal responsibilities, but the sad fact is that it sometimes does not. Often that is cock-up rather than conspiracy, but it would be naive to pretend that some organisations and individuals aren’t deliberately awkward.

That obviously gets more tricky when you get into the territory of disclosing officials’ correspondence from personal media and devices which may nonetheless amount to public data. Since the Cook/DfE case, ministers have confirmed that they will of course ensure public data is copied to public servers, but the blunt truth is that the fox is currently the gamekeeper: we reasonably expect public servants to abide by the law and the regulations of their jobs, but will they always reliably do so? And might there not be cases in which even their honest interpretation of what must be disclosed would be different to the view of their critics and opponents?

This swiftly gets into the issue of enforcement. If, as in this case, you’re talking about data the claimant believes to have been wrongly concealed in a private place when it should be public, you’re by definition starting off with a low level of trust in those who allegedly hold the data. Would Grieve trust his targets to fairly review and fully disclose voluntarily? Alternatively, whose job would it be – and in what route would they use – to secure the passwords to the named individuals’ phones, email accounts, WhatsApp accounts, Signal accounts, Facebook accounts and so on?

In what way will he or his enforcement agents ascertain that they have got all correspondence from all of the nine? I can chat to people via a messenger built in to Words With Friends, have conversations with other players on Call of Duty, or whistle coded messages as I pass someone’s house while on a stroll – what trawl is required, in the absence of a trust system, to obtain all public data within such channels?

You don’t have to go very far into thinking up options before it starts feeling rather hazardous. Should everything they hold of any sort just be surrendered as standard for adjudication as to its public or private nature? Would anybody ever agree to be an adviser ever again under such strictures? Who would do the adjudicating of the surrendered data’s status, which becomes more important at times of obvious controversy and distrust? What risks might there be to sensitive official data, genuine liberties of personal and family privacy for people working in public roles, including of political leaks?

We must assume such hazards are unintended potential consequences, rather than a deliberate form of intimidation of those being targeted, but they are undesirable nonetheless. They threaten and weaken the proposal: if the message to advisers is their critics do not trust them to disclose fully and properly, then they would predictably retort that they do not trust their critics to behave properly with such powers. Then we’re back to the original problem.

None of this is helped, of course, by the lack of structure around the route used. As a short term political tactic, the Humble Address does not even have the imperfect and often rickety protections and processes that you get on FOI, or the controversial and sometimes malfunctioning rules on criminal evidence disclosure.

Interestingly, even some of those former Tory MPs who lost the Whip last week appear to be aware of these problems. They haven’t criticised the tactic publicly, but it seems unlikely to be a coincidence that former ministers like Rory Stewart and Caroline Nokes voted against Grieve’s measure, while others including Philip Hammond abstained. They know how government works and can presumably imagine some of the downsides of such a tactic.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Is “private correspondence” truly private?

In the ongoing search of every constitutional nook and cranny for potential tactics to deploy against the Government, Dominic Grieve and his colleagues provoked an angry row by seeking to require nine named individuals to release correspondence on private channels relating to prorogation.

The battle lines write themselves. One side declares that it seeks only truth, and there’s definitely no element of wishing to intimidate, disrupt or harass the specific named people it is picking out, your honour. The other denounces the effort as an outrageous intrusion into personal privacy, an assault on civil liberties, and an effort to make Government an impossibly hostile environment in which to operate.

You may already have a preferred side in the debate; but the truth lies somewhere between the two.

First, the actual rules. The sought messages are widely described as “private correspondence”, meaning that (if they exist at all) they are alleged to be privately held, through personal accounts on various platforms, and on personal phones and computers. But there are circumstances in which such material can still legally be considered public.

To understand this, we need to look back to the early days of the Coalition. In particular to the Department for Education, between 2010 and 2012. Then the Financial Times and the DfE fought a lengthy battle over exactly this question: were ‘private” messages really private if they related to public officials doing their official work?

The battleground then was Freedom of Information – a journalist used the FOI Act to request emails which he knew existed, between named individuals (including Dominic Cummings, just like Grieve’s proposal). The Department replied that it did not hold the data – which was true, because it was held in private inboxes hosted by whichever email providers were being used.

The FT’s case was that this was a failure of the Department to hold (and thereby disclose) all the required data on its official work, not a failure of the FOI request. Ultimately, the Information Commissioner upheld the journalist’s appeal, and defined public employees discussing public work, no matter the medium used, to be public domain, not private correspondence.

So this might be correspondence on private media, but if it’s on an official topic discussing public work, then it would generally fall under the definition of disclosable public data.

That isn’t the end of the story, however. As Sam Freedman – then a DfE civil servant, and also one of the people whose supposed correspondence was sought under that FOI request – notes, the ruling was clear on the theory but the practice was more blurry: the disclosure was never successfully enforced.

There may yet be legalistic skirmishing over this different route to demand similar publication. But even if it succeeds on paper, it might well run up against the same issue.

Whose job is it to enforce Parliament’s resolution? By what means will Grieve secure the passwords to the named individuals’ phones, email accounts, WhatsApp accounts, Signol accounts, Facebook accounts? In what way will he or his enforcement agents ascertain that they have got all correspondence from all of the nine? I can chat to people via a messenger built in to Words With Friends, have chats with other players on Call of Duty, or whistle coded messages as I pass someone’s house while on a stroll – how is it proposed for Parliament to capture all these possibilities and more?

It’s at this point, of practical implementation, that the civil liberties issues which don’t seem to apply in terms of the messages being “private” do actually start to bite.

And that’s before we wonder what the model is for adjudicating whether disclosed (or seized) data is indeed relevant to the official’s public duties or not. Would the assumption be that everything on all their possible correspondence media should be collected and pores over? Again, who by? Grieve himself? The Information Commissioner? The Cabinet Office?

Now that threatens an invasion of privacy and trampling important rights.

From the invasive prospect of strangers riffling through messages to their partners or pictures of their children or personal financial information, through to the politically controversial idea of leaky officials or even one’s opponents getting access to records of separate but sensitive conversations with the press or one’s party colleaghes, it doesn’t have to go very far before it starts feeling rather hazardous. We must assume those hazards are unintended, rather than a deliberate form of intimidation of those being targeted, but they are undesirable nonetheless.

It seems unlikely that Grieve would be satisfied to let the subjects of the proposal sift messages for disclosure themselves. But the alternative is both impractical and unpalatable.

Even in systems where there is a structure for such tasks – like the workings of the police and CPS when investigating crimes – the job is hard, intrusive, open to misuse, and very controversial. Here, there isn’t a structure or system at all.

If Parliament really wants such a principle, it seems irresponsible and ineffective at best to vote for the desired outcome without any preparation for or consideration of securing it reasonably and successfully.

Even some of those former Tory MPs who lost the Whip last week appear to be aware of these dangers. They haven’t criticised the idea publicly, but it seems unlikely to be a coincidence that former ministers like Rory Stewart and Caroline Nokes voted against Grieve’s measure, while others including Philip Hammond abstained. They know how government works and can presumably imagine some of the downsides of such a tactic.

It also, of course, risks opening this field to tit for tat retaliation. The former Chancellor might perhaps not be that keen for his own ex-advisers to be made to submit to such a trawl on, for example, preparations (or lack of) for No Deal.

Sometimes there is a difference between what you can do and what you should do. Much of Conservatism rests on that principle, and it’s one Dominic Grieve himself has in the past been quite sympathetic towards. It’s telling that even some of his allies on the Brexit issue seem to think he’s on the wrong side of the line this time.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Duke abandons the Tories and Grieve goes for Cummings

The Duke of Wellington has quit the field. The shocking news that he has left the Conservative Party ran round the Palace of Westminster during the afternoon.

His famous ancestor said the test of a great general was to know when to retreat, and to dare to do it. In politics, the Iron Duke concluded that in order to avoid a civil war in Ireland, or even in England, it was his disagreeable duty to persuade his fellow peers to accept various measures to which he and they had hitherto been implacably opposed, including Catholic emancipation and the Great Reform Bill.

The ninth Duke, who served as a Conservative MEP and is now one of the 92 hereditary members of the House of Lords, does not appear to apply this doctrine of precautionary retreat to Brexit. He may, of course, think public opinion is no longer flowing in favour of leaving the EU.

But Tories of a traditional frame of mind cannot be happy to have driven the Duke out of the party.

Nor can Tories of a traditional outlook be delighted to find Dominic Grieve intensifying his attacks on the Government, by demanding the release of all correspondence about the prorogation of Parliament sent or received by Dominic Cummings and eight other advisers “in both written and electronic form”.

Dominic versus Dominic may well drag on as long as Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, so that at the end, no one can remember how it all began.

Grieve spoke of “compelling evidence” that “trust is breaking down”, said that to prorogue until 14th October is “unprecedented” in modern times and “startling”, and argued that “the crisis” which is “engulfing us” makes “continued sitting absolutely essential”.

He drew attention to inconsistencies in the reasons the Government has given for prorogation, and pointed out that it was not David Cameron but Tony Blair who introduced the September sitting.

So Boris Johnson’s description of Cameron as “a girly swot” for doing this was misapplied. Grieve suggested the Prime Minister wished, by contrast, to gain a reputation for “manly idleness”.

A joke, or at least a shaft of satire. But for the most part, Grieve was in deadly earnest, and that was the most distressing thing about his attack. He does not believe a word the Prime Minister says.

The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, rose and asked Grieve, who used to occupy that office, what legal right the Government has to demand that advisers hand over their private emails and telephone communications?

But such questions, though justified, can do nothing to repair the breakdown of trust.

Simon Hoare (Con, North Dorset) said he had received no correspondence from his constituents, no matter what their views are of Brexit, saying “I think prorogation is the right thing to do”.

He added, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, that “the legislative needs of Northern Ireland are being ridden roughshod over”.

In Hoare’s view, the Government needs to show “humility”, as “we haven’t got the muscularity” needed to ram unpopular measures through.

This lack of a majority was soon illustrated, for the Government lost the Grieve motion by 311 votes to 302.

The Speaker had earlier announced that he will stand down on Thursday 31st October. This produced laughter, but he then allowed the tributes to him to go on for far too long, the gulf between Labour admiration and Tory disdain becoming more and more embarrassingly apparent, after which he himself attacked a Tory frontbencher – it was hard to tell whether the target was James Duddridge or Graham Stuart – with shameless vehemence: “Quite frankly young man you can like it or lump it.”

This was demeaning. Some of us were told when young never to argue with the umpire, but in those days the umpire was a respectable figure.

Bercow has been a far better umpire than his unfortunate predecessor was. But he has never set an example of good behaviour.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ex-Tory MPs split three ways on the question of compelling advisers to publish private correspondence

The Government was defeated in this evening’s vote on Dominic Grieve’s proposal that a named list of advisers should publish their private correspondence, by 311 votes to 302. The motion was proposed under Standing Order 24, the mechanism for backbenchers to seize control of Commons business.

No Conservative MPs rebelled in the vote, although some former Conservative MPs voted in favour of Grieve’s motion: nine who now sit as independents, two who now sit as Liberal Democrats, and one from the ever-changing TIGfC (The Independent Group for Change, since you didn’t ask):

 

Independents

Heidi Allen

Guto Bebb

Nick Boles

Ken Clarke

David Gauke

Justine Greening

Dominic Grieve

Sam Gyimah

Oliver Letwin

 

Liberal Democrats

Phillip Lee

Sarah Wollaston

 

TIGfC

Anna Soubry

 

Interestingly, there was evidently a degree of divided opinion among the former Tory MPs sitting as independents. Seven of them – six of whom lost the whip last week – voted with the Government:

 

Independents

Richard Benyon

Steve Brine

Greg Clark

Charlie Elphicke

Stephen Hammond

Caroline Nokes

Rory Stewart

 

In addition, one Labour MP voted with the Government, against the motion:

John Mann

 

The remaining former Tory MPs who lost or resigned the whip last week – Philip Hammond, Richard Harrington, Margot James, Anne Milton, Amber Rudd, Antoinette Sandbach, Nicholas Soames and Ed Vaizey – did not vote.

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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: An astonishing level of mutual scorn on the Tory benches

One of the great advantages of a good education combined with polite manners is that one can then be extremely rude about people, but the scorn leading Tories have taken to expressing for each other is still rather extraordinary.

When Sir Oliver Letwin explained to the House why he wishes to legislate against a no deal Brexit, he compared Boris Johnson to a man standing on one side of a canyon, shouting across it that if the people on the other side “do not do as he wishes he will throw himself into the abyss”.

Letwin, sitting high to the right of the Speaker in a group including Sir Nicholas Soames, Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond, Justine Greening, Alistair Burt and Sir Peter Bottomley, added that the rest of us “are to be dragged over the edge” with Johnson.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke next, and could find no image that conveyed such murderous stupidity. He was so dull and diffuse that Letwin, Soames, Grieve and the rest started to look a bit embarrassed at receiving support from so inept an ally.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, rose and declared that “what is proposed today is constitutionally irregular”.

He accused Letwin of “stunning arrogance” for supposing that it was all right to engage in this constitutional irregularity in order to defy the will of the people as expressed in the referendum.

And he said that if MPs have lost faith in the Government, the proper course is to bring in a motion of no confidence, which if passed could make Corbyn Prime Minister.

But the Government’s critics won’t do that: “They are afraid, they are white with fear because they do not want the Right Honourable Gentleman to be in Downing Street.”

So they have instead, Rees-Mogg went on, engaged in “legislative legerdemain” – pronounced “legerdemane” rather than in the French manner – in order “to create a marionette government” and impose “possibly indefinite vassalage” upon this country.

How Rees-Mogg loves being the voice of the people. But soon after ten, when the vote was declared, it was demonstrated that he is not the voice of 21 Tory MPs.

“It’s not a good start, Boris,” someone shouted from the Labour benches.

Johnson rose and said the people must now decide who should go to represent Britain in Brussels at the European Council on October 17th. If the people choose Corbyn, “he will go to Brussels and beg for an extension”.

On the other hand, the Prime Minister declared, “If I go to Brussels I will go for a deal and I believe I will get a deal.”

Corbyn retorted that keen though he is on an election, he wants to get the Bill to avert a no deal Brexit through Parliament first.

Michael Gove, sitting next to Johnson, became extremely animated, gesticulated wildly at Corbyn, and was rebuked by the Speaker: “Yes, we know the theatrics he perfected at the Oxford Union.”

It was indeed a rather Oxford Union line-up on the Conservative front bench, Johnson and Gove both having been elected president of that debating society, an office for which Rees-Mogg, sitting on the other side of the Prime Minister, also ran.

How will these Oxonian tribunes of the people fare in an election? No one yet knows, but to begin the campaign by withdrawing the whip from 21 Tory MPs is a fairly astonishing way of going about things.

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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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