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Westlake Legal Group > Highlights

The independent MPs who could hold May’s fate in their hands

In 1979, before Sinn Fein became an electoral force in Northern Ireland, Fermagh and South Tyrone was represented in the Commons by an independent Republican, Frank Maguire.  He was only an occasional attender – he ran Frank’s Bar, a pub in public house in Lisnaskea – but, that year, he made all the difference.

This infrequent Commons voter, inclined to abstentionism in the Irish Republican tradition, travelled to Westminster for a no-confidence debate in Jim Callaghan’s Government to “abstain in person”.  Callaghan lost by 311 votes to 310.

Today, as Wesminster’s rumour mill grinds out speculation about a coming general election, it is well worth casting an eye at Maguire’s successors today – the eight oddly-assorted independents who hold Theresa May’s fate in their hands in the event of tight votes, and could decide a no confidence motion one way or another.

Eight is not a large number – but big enough, it seems, to include no fewer than seven categories, five of them related to Labour.

Let’s go through them one by one in the manner that a Conservative Whip might.

  • O’Mara voted against the Government last week both on the Brexit “meaningful vote” and the no-confidence vote.  That would suggest that he will continue to vote with Labour.  Though one cannot be quite sure.
  • Hopkins voted in the same way.  But he is a committed Brexiteer. Might he be persuaded in future at least to abstain on key future votes?
  • Lloyd also voted against the Government last week both on the Brexit “meaningful vote” and the no-confidence vote.  But since his policy reason for leaving the Liberal Democrats is that he believes the referendum result should be honoured, might he too be persuaded in future at least to abstain on key future votes?
  • Field voted with the Government on the meaningful vote but against the Government on the no-confidence vote.  Can he persuaded in any future confidence vote at least to abstain?
  • Lewis voted against the Government on the meaningful vote and abstained the Government in the no-confidence vote.  That suggests that he would do the same in future no confidence votes, which would leave the combined opposition one down.
  • Woodcock also voted against the Government on the meaningful vote and abstained the Government in the no-confidence vote.  He made a speech strongly critical of Jeremy Corbyn in the latter.  Again, that suggests that he would do the same in future no confidence votes, which would leave the combined opposition two down.
  • A by-election is due in Onasanya’s constituency, since she has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice and she is unlikely to turn up to future votes.  She abstained last week both on the meaningful vote and the no-confidence vote, which suggests that the combined opposition is three down.
  • During the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, Hermon tended to vote with Labour.  She left the Ulster Unionists when they went into formal alliance with the Conservatives for the 2010 election.  However, she abhors Jeremy Corbyn.  And she is a dedicated Remainer in a province in which the Remain cause is associated less with a second referendum than the Prime Minister’s deal.  This helps to explain why she is the only independent who voted with the Government on both the meaningful vote and the no confidence motion.  That takes the combined opposition four down and puts the Government one up – if this voting pattern continues, which there is reason to think it will.

Were ConservativeHome the Tory Whips, we would, rightly or wrongly, have special hopes of Woodcock, and to a lesser extent of Field, Lewis, Hopkins and Lloyd, probably in that order.  The third may be hoping for readmittance to Labour which would complicate the picture.

 

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Steven Edginton: The BBC’s Question Time last week. Abbott was the victim of her own rudeness – not of racism. As I saw at first-hand.

Steven Edginton is the Chief Digital Strategist at Leave Means Leave.

Diane Abbott had a shocker on BBC Question Time last week – so she’s slapped the corporation with a formal complaint. The Shadow Home Secretary claims that the most plausible explanation for the way the audience reacted to her woeful performance is the colour of her skin. So she is crying racism – accusing the programme of “legitimising mistreatment, bias and abuse.” And I’m calling her out.

I was with Abbott throughout the evening in question, and I did not see or hear a single thing to support her knee-jerk allegations. What I did observe was an extremely haughty, discourteous individual who behaved as if she was superior to everybody else. Her attitude towards me personally was particularly shocking – and appears to offer an insight into the deep-seated prejudices of the current Labour leadership.

On air, on what was only Fiona Bruce’s second appearance as Question Time’s new presenter, Abbott floundered about, struggling to defend her party’s increasingly bewildering position on Brexit. That’s understandable. Off air, she was offhand to the point of rudeness, failing to extend even the most basic of courtesies to others involved in the show. It was embarrassing to watch.

From the moment Jeremy Corbyn’s old ally boarded the 16.47 train from London St Pancras to Derby, she seemed to be in a funk. I was travelling with Isabel Oakeshott, the political journalist and commentator, who has been supporting me in my career since I was 17.
The last few years have been a great journey in politics and after various short-term jobs, including at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, I am about to join the cross-party Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave as their Chief Digital Strategist.

I first contacted Isabel three years ago when I was 16, and still at state school, asking if I could interview her for my YouTube channel, Politics UK. Soon after, she offered to mentor me, and I have since accompanied her to Question Time on four or five occasions. She is always nervous before the show, and likes my help. I enjoy going because I get to meet some of the most interesting characters in politics, who always have fascinating stories to tell.

It’s also an opportunity to find new interviewees from across the political divide for my YouTube channel. I am careful not to get in anyone’s way – almost everyone is anxious before the show– but the atmosphere among fellow panellists en route to the venue and in the Green Room is always friendly, and if there is a good moment to introduce myself to some of the politicians and researchers, I take it.

Alastair Campbell, Lord Winston, Armando Iannucci, Emily Thornberry; the Apprentice’s Claude Littner and the many others I have spoken to before and after the show have all treated me with warmth and courtesy. Six weeks after I met him in a makeshift Green Room in Putney, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor and I met at Kings Cross, where he generously gave me half an hour of his time to talk about Brexit for my YouTube channel. What a contrast with Abbott, who struggled even to muster an ill-tempered “hello.”

My opportunity to introduce myself to the Shadow Home Secretary came sooner than I anticipated last Thursday, when Isabel and I found ourselves sitting almost next to her on the train taking us to the show in Derby. As we boarded, she and Isabel exchanged basic pleasantries, before settling down to their preparations.

When Isabel stepped out of the carriage to make a telephone call, I took the chance to say hello to Abbott. “I’m Steven Edginton, I work for Isabel,” I said tentatively.

“I know you work for Isabel,” she sniffed disdainfully – and stuffed on her headphones. She clearly wanted nothing to do with me.
Doubtless she was preoccupied: certainly, she was making plenty of notes. But this went beyond being busy and distracted. Abbott was openly hostile and continued to be so for the rest of the journey. She went out of her way to ignore me, physically turning her back on me on the platform as we alighted, and avoiding all small talk.

When I asked her whether her job was stressful at the moment with all the political chaos, she scoffed back, saying: “I get paid to do it.” The only explanation I could come up with was that, based on the way I look and sound, and my association with Isabel, she mistakenly assumed I was just another privileged Tory public school boy, to whom she did not need to bother giving the time of day. It set the tone for her attitude to others throughout the evening, from her aggressive “talk to the hand” gesture at Isabel which viewers would have seen in the first few minutes of the show to her haughty demeanour to other panellist and their staff.

Abbott’s complaint to the BBC begins with claims that the audience were “whipped up” against her before the show was recorded. Based on what seems to be nothing more than hearsay from a couple of Corybnistas in the audience, she whines that during rehearsals, someone mentioned her youthful romance with Corbyn 40 years ago. Well knock me down with a feather. How very dare they!

Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t – but neither Abbott nor her researcher can possibly know, because they were not there. They were a long way from the auditorium at that point, in the Green Room, with all the other panellists. Any impropriety, by Fiona Bruce or anyone else, is vehemently denied by the very professional BBC Question Time team, which in any case cannot be expected to gag the audience.

During the show itself, Bruce was tough but polite and entirely even handed. Neither Isabel nor Rory Stewart, the Prisons Minister, escaped mockery and heckling from the audience. They smiled and sucked it up, as par for the course on that particular show.

Abbott has some fine qualities: she has dedicated half a lifetime to public service; she is brave, and has to put up with piles of abuse. She is a talented communicator, which is why she is in such demand from broadcasters. She is an old hand at Question Time, and knows what it involves. This is called being held to account by ordinary voters – and if you put yourself forward for the experience on live TV, sometimes you get a roughing up.

Those who falsely cry “racism” to cover up failure or inadequacy discredit themselves and do a terrible disservice to the cause. Abbott, of all people, should know this. Perhaps she should consider her own prejudices – and what instant class-based judgements she makes of someone like me.

Anyone can have an off day. Screwing up in the intense gladiatorial arena of a prime time television show after one of the most extraordinary weeks in British politics is quite understandable. Blaming everyone but yourself is lame, but perhaps not an unnatural reaction to feelings of public humiliation. What is unforgivable is crying racism, when there is nothing whatsoever to support such a claim.

It wouldn’t have mattered whether Diane’s skin was black, white or the colours of the rainbow: she would have been mocked for trying and failing to defend the indefensible. She knew it; the audience knew it; and they reacted with the derision that her party’s cynical, incoherent and opportunistic Brexit policy merits. If that’s racism, then I’m a jellybean.

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Our survey. May’s Deal. A majority of Party members would support it were the UK able unilaterally to leave the backstop

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-01-18-at-17.47.15 Our survey. May’s Deal. A majority of Party members would support it were the UK able unilaterally to leave the backstop United Kingdom ToryDiary The Union Northern Ireland ireland Highlights Europe EU ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brexit

  • When we last asked a roughly comparable question, Theresa May’s Brexit deal had the support of 26 per cent of our panel members.  That’s now down to 13 per cent.  Doubtless part if not most of the reason is its defeat by a record margin in the Commons this week.  The Prime Minister may believe it can be revived.  This finding suggests Party members believe that it can’t.
  • Well over two in five respondents say that the deal is not acceptable – rejecting it entirely.  The total is not that far off half.
  • None the less, two in five replies also say that the deal would be acceptable were the UK to have the right to leave the backstop unilaterally.  Add the 40 per cent concerned to that 13 per cent, and May wins a majority for such an amended deal among our members’ panel.  But one almost as tight as the referendum result.

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Nick Hargrave: In an age of post-truth politics, moderate politicians must prepare to work across party lines

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

It’s a common trope that we live in an age of post-truth politics. It increasingly appears that politicians have impunity to say things that are either demonstrably false or – more often in the UK at least – promise a future that is not supported by a rational reading of the evidence at hand.

The EU referendum and the subsequent process after serve as good exhibits for the prosecution. The Leave side of the fence is probably the more egregious with the £350 million red bus, the promises that a free trade deal with the EU would be the easiest such undertaking ever and – most pressingly now – denunciations of those who suggest that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would come with a cost.

The Remain side of the divide is not without fault either though; lest we forget the ‘punishment budget’ that never happened, the pre-referendum modelling on the impact of the vote that ludicrously assumed no policy response from the Bank of England – not to mention every piece of bad economic news now being held up as a ‘told you so’ with no examination of whether the real cause is Brexit or not.

We should not of course  hark back to a mythical golden era where those with power dispassionately handed down truth to the people. From the hagiographical Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the ninth century to the 1945 General Election campaign, where our wartime hero, Winston Churchill, said that a British Gestapo would be needed to implement Labour’s policies – politicians of the day have always presented their interpretation of the truth to try and win support.

It is all a matter of degrees. But nonetheless it does feel like something has changed for the worse in politics in recent years. Certainly since the extension of the franchise in the nineteenth century, I do not think there has been a period in modern British history where politicians pay such scant regard to objective evidence and where the general public are willing to suspend disbelief in response.

The causes for this are well-rehearsed enough; the explosion of the internet in the past 20 years that has given the charlatan and the populist an unvetted voice and forced ‘moderate’ politicians to engage in an arms race to catch up; a declining trust in traditional sources of authority because of the profound economic effects of the financial crisis, globalisation and automation; the exponential growth of data, meaning that it’s easier to build a surface argument no matter how flimsy; a news cycle that moves so quickly that the best and speediest rebuttal in the world still comes too late; an increasing divide on values which means people shut out information that they don’t want to hear.

Less well tested is how we might rectify the situation.

There are two options. We can accept that, short of banning the internet and censoring political discourse, there is very little we can do. We are at the mercy of events and will have to accept a mid twenty-first century characterised by demagogues winning elections and referendums, chaotic policy making, a gradual erosion of the global rules-based order – with evidence only coming back into vogue after a series of shocks and recessions that lead us to see the error of our ways.

There is another school of thought though, which I much prefer – if only because the alternative is unlikely to be peaceful or economically stable. While there is no silver bullet, there are certainly things we can and should do to raise the standard of political debate in this country.
First, we need better politicians who the public are willing to trust in a face-off with the charlatans of the hour. Part of this is about getting people who have genuinely achieved things outside of Westminster into the Commons, and speak with gravitas and knowledge of what the real world is like. We could frankly do with more Andy Streets and Geoffrey Cox’s going into the frontline.

But there is more to it than that. We should also be honest that self-defined moderate politicians of this era stick to the line too much, and are obsessed with repeating back what they think people want to hear. As someone who spent several years in the bowels of Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ, raised on a diet of Clinton 1992 and Blair 1997 as model campaigns, this has been a humbling and gradual realisation. Most effective public policy is difficult and involves trade-offs; campaigning is very different to governing.

There is no better illustration of this than the current mess we have reached in the implementation of Brexit where our political leaders were not honest about the compromises needed to give practical effect to the referendum result. The temptation to boil political communications down to a form of cereal marketing will always be there. But I suspect that future leaders who level that there are no moral absolutes or easy answers will do better than is commonly supposed; the electorate are many things but they are not stupid.

Second, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there needs to be greater regulation of the veracity of claims made by registered participants in political campaigns. There are important free speech considerations here and unregistered mendacious participants will still slip through the cracks online. But a more developed regulatory regime would nonetheless remind mainstream politicians that they should not stoop to this level.   One could, for example, trial a role for the Advertising Standards Authority – who currently cannot adjudicate complaints and impose sanctions on electoral material – in an upcoming campaign in the UK.

Finally, and perhaps a little uncomfortably, we have to get better at working on difficult issues across traditional party lines. If we are constantly saying the other side have nothing good to impart then there are consequences. The electorate do not know who to believe. They think everyone is as bad as each other. The door is opened to those who take the easy way out and propose mythical ‘unicorns’ rather than evidence-based solutions. Cross-party coalitions on issues such as fixing social care, an honest conversation about the right balance of tax and spend to fund twenty-first century public services – or dare I say it implementing a version of Brexit that respects the narrow mandate of the referendum – would lend credibility to viewpoints because they don’t look politically driven.

Some will of course cry ‘establishment stitch-up’ and ‘Westminster cartel at its best’. It will be the responsibility of the moderate politicians of the future to demonstrate that evidence, and developed understanding of the issues at hand, remain the most reliable route to improved living standards and a better tomorrow.

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Esther McVey: Now that May’s Brexit deal has been voted down, we need to win back trust. Here’s how.

Esther McVey is a former Work and Pensions Secretary, and is MP for Tatton.

The fallout from Parliament’s rejection of the Meaningful Vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal continues, but what is clear is that something has gone very wrong in our politics.  As most of this this site’s readers know, I resigned from the Cabinet over the deal. And in my resignation letter, I wrote about the danger of trust being lost. As a political class, we have stretched public trust to the limit in recent years but, if we now fail to honour the biggest democratic vote in our history, we risk severing trust entirely.

Parliament is awash with competing views about what needs to happen next. What is most startling is how most of these views have nothing to do with implementing the will of the people, and expose just how out of touch that political class is.

For a majority of Labour MPs, in particular ,this is about overturning a result they have never accepted. They believe people were too stupid to make an informed decision about how the EU affects their lives. Amidst the metropolitan bubble, they have convinced themselves that people across the country are clamouring to listen to their betters, and do as they are told in a second referendum. This view is deluded – and if they ever managed to block Brexit it could genuinely break politics as we know it.

However, it is the Conservatives who are most in danger of severing trust with the voters and suffering the consequences. We are the party in office – the party that introduced the referendum, and the party whose members predominantly support sovereignty and exiting the EU. We should take no false comfort in whatever polls might predict the election result to be when all trust has been lost. Not even the economic destruction threatened by the Marxist alternative might be enough to save us.

The Withdrawal Agreement falls short of delivering what people voted for, but it is the compromises doing the rounds that have the potential really to pour petrol on the fire. The current deal would leave us tied to the EU and their its indefinitely. So how is an alternative such as Norway Plus or Common Market 2.0, which look even less like Brexit, a potential solution? Not to mention that delivering either could only be achieved with the collusion of Labour MPs. What is worse is that at the heart of these developments is not what is best for the country, or genuinely delivering on the votes of 17.4 million people, but rather getting politicians out of a muddle of their own creation.

After the resounding rejection of the deal, the Prime Minister now needs to go back to the EU to get a better deal – fundamentally, to ensure the removal of the backstop, and that the payment of the £39 billion gains us a future trade deal along the lines outlined by Donald Tusk back in March 2018, sometimes referred to as Canada Plus.

At the same time, so that the EU can be in no doubt of our Government’s will to deliver for the people, and for our Party to live up to our general election manifesto commitment that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, we need to show how we would spend that £39 billion at home if we left without a deal; reveal to the public all the no deal preparations already done by the civil service; explain what World Trade Organisations rules are, and set out the side deals we need to secure.

We also need to look at a ‘no deal transition period’ just like the kind we had for a ‘deal transition period’ –  i.e: a payment for a period of time whereby we and the EU adjust to the changes ahead of us. This would continue as already planned until Dec 2020. We are good neighbours, and seek to remain as such.

What we can’t do is shackle ourselves to a bad deal simply to get Brexit over and done with because politicians think the effort of coming out of the EU is too much hard work. Nor can we keep the public in the dark about our options post-29th March, simply because politicians don’t want change. Change is inevitable – and preparations and planning are the solution. For the idea that somehow things will move on and people will forget what they voted for in the biggest referendum of a life time is fantasy. Let me assure my colleagues that if we break the public trust on something as big as this we will not be easily forgiven.

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Not yet angry – but patriotic and bewildered. Fear of betrayal is the dominant emotion at the Leave Means Leave rally

An orderly queue formed last night outside Methodist Central Hall for the Leave Means Leave rally. As we entered we were handed small Union Jacks to wave during speeches by Kate Hoey, Rocco Forte, Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Martin, Nigel Farage and Esther McVey.

The Labour people who gave out Union Jacks to the crowd which applauded Tony Blair’s entry into Downing Street in 1997 were onto something. Here is a delightful way to demonstrate patriotism.

But last night’s crowd, about 2,000 strong, rather than celebrating victory, were anxiously hoping to avert defeat.

The mood of these Brexit supporters has not yet turned angry. It is one of bewildered patriotism. For although they won the referendum, they now question whether they can trust the very politicians to whom they decided to return power.

As the man sitting next to me put it:

“I just don’t think it’s right that we have to concede a second referendum. People had a choice. They voted as they did. I think it’s right for the country to leave the EU, personally.”

He is 45 years old, has a job in insurance, and had never attended such a rally before. His tone was modest, almost apologetic, yet conveyed a sense of incredulity at the outrageous injustice which may be about to be perpetrated.

All six speakers wrestled with the paradox of a Parliament most of whose members yearn to avert Brexit, even though it gives more power to Parliament. Hoey, a Labour MP since 1989, warned that “the great betrayal has begun” and is now “moving apace”.

Richard Tice, the clean-cut Englishman, somehow reminiscent of an American evangelist, who runs Leave Means Leave and introduced the speakers, insisted “we can begin to smell” the betrayal. He urged people to chant “Let’s go WTO”.

Forte, who spoke as a businessman, said “I have not known such defeatism…by the ruling class…since the Seventies” [applause]. He described the elite’s lack of belief in the British people as  “almost treasonable”.

A heckler interrupted at this point by shouting very loudly. He was quite near to me, but I could not make out what he was saying. Forte, being somewhat inexperienced as a public speaker, fell silent, and members of the crowd started shouting “Out, out, out”.

Tice poured oil on troubled waters by saying, “We respect the right of free speech and we urge them to do the same”, for apparently there was more than one protester. The heckler near to me was ushered from the hall and someone shouted after him “At least you can leave”, which produced rueful laughter.

Duncan Smith started with some jokes, including the funny story he told when interviewed by ConservativeHome in 2013, and went on to talk of “this enormous Establishment plot” to tell us “we are a miserable little nation” and “a hopeless little island”.

He added that Parliament “doesn’t represent the British people any more”. But he and the minority of MPs who think like him “will not rest” until Britain is “fully free once again”.

Tim Martin, founder and Chairman of the Wetherspoon pub chain, bore as he came on stage a fleeting but disconcerting resemblance to the satirist Craig Brown.

Martin’s main message was “don’t believe Project Fear”. He recalled that car manufacturers said “they’d all f*ck off to the continent” if Britain didn’t join the euro.

And he reported that “if you really want to annoy people”, you should “try going into a pub in Sunderland” and asking people there if it was true they “didn’t understand” what they were voting for in the referendum.

This produced laughter of the usual good-natured yet rueful kind.

Farage received the most enthusiastic welcome of anyone: a standing ovation before he had said a word.

He walked to and fro across the front of the stage, his amplified voice painfully loud as he warned that “we tonight here in Westminster are in the heart of enemy territory”, for “our political class” never respected the referendum result “from day one”.

Theresa May’s deal with the EU “looked more like a surrender document” [applause], and was the culmination of “50 years of lies from the British Establishment”.

He fears the whole referendum battle will have to be fought all over again, urged everyone to prepare for it, and concluded: “Next time, as far as I’m concerned, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy.”

One could not help suspecting that as in the first referendum campaign, Farage being nasty could have an off-putting effect on those voters who do not already agree with him.

McVey delivered an apologia for her time in government: “We thought we could trust our MPs.” On realising last November that the Prime Minister’s deal failed to honour the referendum result, she resigned.

And that was that. The event lasted two hours, felt decorous and respectable, and can be watched on Youtube. The audience was almost entirely white, but mixed by age and sex. It wanted to feel reassured that Brexit is going to turn out fine, but none of the six speakers could set at rest the fear that Parliament is about to refuse to do what the people have voted for.

The drawback of upholding an old-fashioned belief in parliamentary sovereignty turns out to be that a majority of MPs would much rather we had remained in the EU.

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Iain Dale: It’s time for Cabinet members of both sexes to show some balls

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Just because you keep chanting the mantra ‘Nothing Has Changed’ doesn’t mean it hasn’t. And after Tuesday’s massive defeat for the Prime Minister’s ‘Meaningful Vote’, it clearly has.

Well, it’s clear to everyone but her. Instead she keeps buggering on, pretending to herself that all is well and that she will eventually get her deal passed. She won’t. It is a dead parrot. It has ceased to be.

Even if she manages to drag the EU into giving her some concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop, I just don’t see how she can persuade 118 of her own party’s MPs to vote in a different way in any Groundhog Day re-vote. The DUP is in no mood to be conciliatory, as Sammy Wilson, the party’s Brexit spokesman, has made abundantly clear. He believes that the Theresa May has betrayed the DUP by crossing her own red lines and, from what he told me in an interview this week, trust has almost completely broken down.

Even worse, when the Prime Minister stood up to say that she would be consulting other parties about the way forward, people naturally assumed that would mean talks with the leaders of those parties. Apparently not. And she won’t be talking to anyone who believes in staying in a form of Customs Union. Okaaaaayyyyy….

– – – – – – – – – –

I haven’t a clue what the Prime Minister will say on Monday when she is obliged to return to the Commons to tell us how she plans to take things forward.

I wonder if her Cabinet even knows. She has apparently decided that it is so leaky that she won’t take its members into her confidence, because the one sure consequence is that the details will be on James Forsyth’s Twitter feed within five minutes of a Cabinet meeting ending.

Now is the time for the Cabinet to assert itself and tell her that she can’t persist with her form of ‘bunker’ government. ‘Trust no one’ might have worked for Mulder and Scully in the X Files, but it’s no way to run Number 10.

– – – – – – – – –

I did have a quiet snigger to myself when both Peter Mandelson and Norman Lamont on my show predicted the rebellion against the Prime Minister would be far smaller than people were predicting. Three minutes later, they were both having to eat their words.

For once in my life, I got the size of the majority against the deal almost bang on. Earlier in the day I had predicted between 180 and 220, but later revised it to above 220. My producer brought me back down to earth by reminding me that a monkey would get a prediction right every once in a while too.

– – – – – – – – –

In any normal political environment, May would now be contemplating a happy retirement. And if there were any obvious alternative to her, maybe that could have happened now, too. But there isn’t.  Boris Johnson is a busted flush, and none of her cabinet ministers have given us any confidence that they would do any better than the current incumbent.

It is remarkable that the Prime Minister is still in post after this defeat, but there is scant talk of the men in grey suits paying her a visit. In the end, it ought to be the Cabinet that tells her that her position is untenable, but you have to own a pair of bollocks (and I’m talking about both sexes here) first.

– – – – – – – –

Bianca Nobilo, one of my CNN colleagues, made a very telling point on Tuesday night. She said that Machiavelli wrote that in order to be a successful politician you have to be either feared or loved.

She was bang on. By whom is Theresa May feared? Apart from her husband, who loves her? I respect her. I even like her – but does she instil fear? Does she inspire love in the same way that Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair did from their tribes?  No. Buggering on is an admirable quality but it may not prove to be enough.

– – – – – – – – –

I’ve spent more hours on College Green this week than is good for any human being. Mind you, LBC did provide a nice electric blanket on my chair for my three hour stints on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was like sitting on a car’s heated seat – always a rather perverted experience in my view. And vastly overrated.

David Davis came on to react to the defeat on Tuesday, and was rather shocked that I had grown a beard. By the time you read this, the beard will have been shaved off. Yesterday, I had to have photos taken for some new LBC publicity pictures. I couldn’t decide whether to shave it off or not although, after someone said I looked like Alan Yentob, I was solely tempted to whack it off immediately.

I then did a Twitter poll. More than 4,000 people voted, and it ended up 51-49 in favour of it being shaved off. I decided to implement the result of this vote – even though it had only ever been an advisory vote. The questions remains, though. Did I have enough information to decide whether to shave it off or not, and were people telling me lies when they said they liked it?

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Simon Allison: Parliament is deadlocked. Only the British people can now deliver a final say on May’s deal.

Simon Allison is founding member of Right to Vote, author of Brexit – a Betrayal of Conservatism? and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

Right to Vote, a new grouping of Conservative MPs and grassroots activists who are calling for the voters to be given a Final Say over the Brexit process, was launched this week. We’ve called it Right to Vote because we think that voting on the final outcome of the EU talks is the right thing for people to do and indeed, something that they should – and must – have a right to do.

There’s no question that people are bored to tears with hearing about Brexit, and sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths about it – and in some cases, blatant untruths. To make matters worse, the people paid to solve the country’s problems, our MPs, have managed to get themselves into a state of total gridlock, in many cases just scoring political points while time ticks away on saving our future.

What people actually want is for our MPs to set out a clear way forward for the country. That means telling them the truth, however unpalatable and difficult that may be. In fact, if you look at the times when the Conservative Party has defied the odds to win elections, in 1979, 1992 and 2015, our success has been based on levelling with the people of the United Kingdom.

So: let’s face facts. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead. She is calling on MPs to unite around a new solution, but there’s no Commons majority for any form of Brexit – not for the Prime Minister’s deal, not for ‘no deal’ and not for a Norway-style arrangement. While many moderate Conservative MPs like the idea of a compromise based around some form of Customs Union or EEA/EFTA solution, they miss the fact that the reasons why the public didn’t swing behind Mrs May’s deal are the same reasons that they wouldn’t back that kind of compromise.

It would still leave us as a rule-taker not a rule-maker, leavs us paying £39 million without any guarantees about the final deal and we’d have to go on bended knee to persuade such global powerhouses as Norway and Liechtenstein to let us in. The whole thing would frankly be a humiliation for a world power like the UK. From a Party perspective, it opens up the prospect of internal war without end around the contents of a final trade deal, almost certainly dominating this Parliament and most probably ensuring a crushing defeat – even to Jeremy Corbyn – in 2022.

Instead, giving people a Final Say is a swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga, allowing us to get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.

If you believe some on the Party’s far right, this makes us traitors and saboteurs, unrepresentative of true conservatism; many of the Conservative MPs supporting a Final Say are receiving threats of deselection by their constituency associations. But we must not confuse the anguish of hardened activists with the underlying views of the voters. Indeed, across all the seats that elected Conservative MPs at the last election, new research suggests that an average of 55.8 per cent of voters support a new public vote.

Indeed, if the Conservative Party is going to return to its election-winning positioning as the party of common sense, there are two key facts which it must recognise. First, that the Brexit side of this discussion, after nearly three years, can’t decide what Brexit means, making it somewhat difficult to implement and, second, that as of today Remain leads Leave by 12 per cent in the polls.

Against that background, to deny the electorate a say and, instead, delivering a Brexit that does not command their support would be a betrayal of the United Kingdom and a suicide mission for the Conservative Party. The right path for our country also happens to be right path for our Party.  We, as Conservatives, ought to lead the way in trusting the people with this – not to be forced in to doing so because there is nowhere else to turn.

The Right to Vote campaign has one clear aim: to secure a Final Say vote. This is about breaking the deadlock in Parliament. This is about securing consent for the next chapter in our great country. It is time to trust the people and let them really take back control.

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Decision time for Javid and Hunt?

One can see how it could happen.  David Lidington will mastermind a negotiation with Labour Soft Brexiteers and others.  Michael Gove will provide Eurosceptic cover, and make the case for what emerges on Today and in the Commons.  The negotiation will settle on formal Customs Union membership, or something so close to it as to make no difference.  In the passive way that so defines her, Theresa May will swallow it.  Lidington will tell her that, if she doesn’t, she will lose a no confidence vote, with a tiny band of fixated Remainer Conservatives, perhaps led by Dominic Grieve, abstaining – and so making the difference.  Philip Hammond and other Cabinet Soft Brexiteers are already pushing this outcome and briefing bigger business to this effect.

On this site today, Stewart Jackson sets out the risk of such a course – nothing less than splitting the Conservative Party from top to bottom.  The most crucial Tory actor in the talks with other parties and politicians is thus neither Gove nor even Lidington, but Julian Smith – though he is only one voice in that three-man team appointed for talks.

Such a formal endorsement of a softer Brexit – further concessions to Customs Union membership and new ones to Labour’s social model – would bear other perils, equally dramatic though less profound.  First, even tacking on to it more alignment with the Single Market, thus bringing the proposed treatment of Great Britain into line with that of Northern Ireland, might not satisfy the DUP, which is a Leave party.  Second, Jeremy Corbyn might not swallow this softer Brexit, even if it satisfied his party’s conditions for a deal.  It would cramp a hard left Labour Government’s room for socialist manoeuvre.   And he is temperamentally inclined to oppose the Tories at all costs. Furthermore, a Norwegian option is not compatible with ending free movement, to which lots of Labour MPs are opposed.  One can see how a coalition of the Labour front bench and the ERG might find ways of sinking any such softer Brexit.

This morning, some are claiming that the Prime Minister is about to make exactly such a pivot – with the EU, that “rules-based organisation”, then rewriting the Withdrawal Agreement (which its pro-Remain British fan club currently tells us is impossible) to deliver the compromise.  Others say that she won’t.

The most likely course still is that she hopes to continue her chicken game and suck politicians from other parties into supporting her deal.  Another way of viewing the three man negotiating team is that Gove will act as a restraint on Lidington, teaming up with Smith to block any move towards formal Customs Union membership.  The Environment Secretary is not currently a contender for the Conservative leadership, but though he is unpopular in the country he is indispensible in the Commons, as his swashbuckling performance in yesterday’s no confidence debate reminded us.  And he is currently the most creative head of any Government department.  He is the Government’s most eloquent voice and the Cabinet’s lead swing voter.  A crushing weight of responsibility is thus descending on his shoulders.

Talk of Cabinet Ministers leads us to the Cabinet Leavers – those who voted for Brexit in the referendum: Steve Barclay, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Geoffrey Cox.  Unlike Dominic Raab and Esther McVey, they didn’t resign over May’s deal (Barclay of course was not in place then).

There were arguments for and against them doing so.  But it is indisputable that formal Customs Union membership is incompatible with the Conservative manifesto, any prospect whatsoever of deep and meaningful trade deals with non-EU countries, and the Brexit vision for which they campaigned.  A big moment may be approaching for them, too – as well as for those who didn’t back Leave in the referendum but are now sympathetic to a Canada-type future, such as Liz Truss.  She seems to have future leadership ambitions. There’s no doubt at all that Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt do so.  But were they to nod reluctant assent to a Customs Union scheme, it is very unlikely indeed that whatever would be left of the Conservative membership would choose either of them to replace May.

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Stewart Jackson: Don’t be tempted to pivot to a customs union, Prime Minister – the consequences would be dire

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough 2005-17 and Chief of Staff to David Davis 2017-18.

As expected, Jeremy Corbyn’s No Confidence motion tabled yesterday served to unify and focus the Conservative Party on the existential danger, not just to our party but to the whole country, of a red in tooth and claw Labour government. In that sense, it rather backfired.

Perversely, it has ramped up the pressure on Corbyn to enunciate a clearer position in response to the defeat of the Prime Minister’s unlamented Withdrawal Agreement, between the Europhile majority of his party pressing for extension or revocation of Article 50, a Norway model soft Brexit, or a second referendum, and the millions of Labour voters who supported Brexit. I cannot see that Corbyn will move much, because he still commands the trust and support of the Labour membership and influential figures like Len McCluskey and because he believes that the EU is a plutocratic capitalist cartel dedicated to neoliberalism and doing the bidding of rapacious multinationals – a view he’s held since about 1983.

Labour’s introspection has bought the Prime Minister some breathing space. Although as a result of John Bercow’s decision to disregard Commons precedent and rip up the rule book to allow the Remain ultras like Dominic Grieve to circumscribe the Government’s room for manoeuvre in last week’s business motion, she has only four more days to outline what her Plan B might be.

My own view is that her tenure is strictly time limited, but my instinct is that she probably has one more pivotal Commons vote left before the pressure from the 1922 Committee and the Cabinet for her to step aside and let another leader take over will become insurmountable.

She’s been lucky, too, this week with her Remain opponents. Remain true believers are as fractious and impatient as anyone else – witness the spat between Nick Boles and Grieve over which (wrecking) Bill to present in the Commons – Boles’s quirky EU Referendum (No2) Bill or Grieve’s second referendum Bill? It’s a microcosm of the fight between the Norway crowd and the ‘Peoples’ Vote’ (sic) supporters. Neither has or likely will have a majority in the House of Commons, and Boles’s effort seems to have blown up on the tarmac via a big raspberry from the Liaison Committee. Nevertheless, the aim of most of their advocates is to delay and then kill Brexit.

For all that, Theresa May would be wise to avoid jumping out of the frying pan of a calamitous Commons defeat into the fire of a full-blown Tory civil war. The lack of a clear policy position after Tuesday’s vote appears to have emboldened some of the Cabinet to disregard even further collective responsibility. They now argue – both in code (“reaching out to other parties”) and explicitly – for a deal with Labour, involving reneging on our explicit 2017 General Election manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union. Indeed, to the contrary, some ministers are wholeheartedly embracing the idea of one. This was always the position of people like Greg Clark and Philip Hammond, but they now feel they have license to sell this unappetising prospect in plain sight.

‘Pivoting’ to a customs union would be a very bad idea for a number of reasons. Labour have no coherent Brexit policy and the customs union demand is only the least worst part of an incredible smorgasbord of opportunistic waffle. The Opposition really isn’t interested in anything but precipitating division and open warfare in our party, and certainly not in developing a coherent and pluralistic policy which can pass the Commons. Secondly, a customs union as a discrete policy is a terrible idea, as consistently and eloquently argued by Greg Hands – primarily because it would undermine a key rationale by Leave voters for supporting Brexit, the aim of allowing the UK to strike new, lucrative global trade deals after our exit from the EU.

Most acutely, Conservative MPs should understand the peril of shredding a policy which the Prime Minister has publicly endorsed over 30 times, when faced with a Party membership and wider electorate warming to No Deal/WTO and still irked by the debacle of Chequers and the Withdrawal Agreement. A Party faithful willing to believe that we can still strike a Canada Plus style deal with the EU. And why wouldn’t they? This week David Davis, Dominic Raab, Arlene Foster and Peter Lilley launched A Better Deal, which offers a reasonable alternative strategy for the Prime Minister when she returns to Brussels in a few days’ time. Together with enhanced No Deal planning, it is at least as good as any other course of action, not least because it was the basis of the Prime Minister’s policy outlined at Lancaster House, Florence and Mansion House and at last year’s General Election.

Signing up to a Customs Union would be such an egregious capitulation that it would endanger our local government candidates in May, and were we foolish enough to extend Article 50 to necessitate by Treaty obligation participation in the EU Parliament elections (as Boles’s bill demands), it would invite a populist upsurge of unprecedented severity.

Conservative Associations are much less deferential, more activist, and frankly more Eurosceptic now, and they’d scarcely wear such a retreat from our solemn promises. MPs who supported it would struggle to justify their decision. Remember, recent polling shows that people’s attachment to getting Brexit comfortably outstrips their attachment to even the best and most diligent local MP, and to political parties generally.

Finally, it’s as well to consider Scotland as a terrifying morality tale. In 2010, Labour polled 42 per cent there and took 41 seats – most of them won very handily. Just five years later, motivated by bitter disappointment in the wake of a fractious and unpleasant referendum campaign and a feeling that “the Establishment” had cheated them of their dreams of self-government and independence, a significant bulk of their hitherto most loyal voters turned on their own party, leaving that party with just one seat and less than a quarter of the votes.

Couldn’t happen again? Don’t bet on it.

If May takes the path of least resistance by adopting a Customs Union post-Brexit to get any deal through the Commons, she risks not just a terrible party schism but electoral Armageddon.

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