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Westlake Legal Group > Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

Interview. “Look, this is a Christian country”, says Hinds. But he adds that the cap on new faith schools’ admissions should stay.

Damian Hinds says that as Conservative Education Secretary, the post he has occupied since January 2018, “there are always arguments to be won”, and you have to face up to the “forces of small-c conservatism”.

He adds that “if you stand still, you will go backwards”. But Hinds, described by his fellow parliamentarians as a man who has entered the Cabinet on merit, has an aversion to extravagant language and cannot be regarded as a publicity seeker.

In this interview, he sets out to show how reasonable his policies are. When he declares “this is a Christian country… it still has, at the core of its institutions, traditions which are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition,” his tone is studiously reasonable.

Hinds defends his refusal to lift the 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions for new free schools by insisting there are there are “good community and integration reasons” for keeping it. His decision has angered the Roman Catholic Church, to which he himself belongs.

Before becoming a minister, he opposed the cap, and his appointment raised hopes in Catholic circles that he would use his power to sweep it away.

The Education Secretary instead says his “number one priority” is “to bear down on workload for teachers”, so fewer of them leave the profession.

He wants to accelerate the academies programme and urges ConHome readers to come forward as governors.

On Brexit, he says the Prime Minister has reached “a very good deal”, a point which tends to be forgotten amid “legitimate” concerns about the backstop. He observes that rapid progress is needed, and declines to say whether the Cabinet would continue to “hold their nerve” if the Prime Minister informed ministers she could only get concessions on the backstop at the EU summit on 21st March.

A paradox of his career is that he has risen higher than his good friend and contemporary Jacob Rees-Mogg, while remaining much less well known.

ConHome: “How did you beat Jacob Rees-Mogg and become President of the Oxford Union?”

Hinds [laughing]: “Let’s start with the important stuff.”

ConHome: “I think actually our readers are intensely interested. You were in the same college…”

Hinds: “We were in the same college [Trinity College, Oxford].”

ConHome: “You’re co-religionists.”

Hinds: “Yes, but that’s not desperately relevant,”

ConHome: “I’m not suggesting the Pope had anything to do with it.”

Meg Powell-Chandler [Hinds’ special adviser]: “Actually…”

Hinds: “Actually, Jacob was the first person I met at university, literally the first person. It’s one of those things you do when you arrive, and you have all the first years in a room, and I turned to the bloke next to me and said ‘Hello, I’m Damian’, and it turned out to be Jacob.

“He wasn’t dressed the same as all the other undergraduates. He just happened to be standing next to me. And we’ve been friends ever since.

“And the answer to your question about elections. As you know, there are lots of undergraduate elections, and I was lucky enough on that occasion. There’s not much more to it than that.”

ConHome: “Well actually, oddly enough, the most candid thing Boris Johnson ever wrote about politics was an essay about how to become President of the Oxford Union, in a book, The Oxford Myth, edited by his sister, Rachel.

“He said that what you need is ‘a disciplined and deluded collection of stooges’ who will get the vote out for you in their respective colleges.”

Hinds: “‘Stooges’ is one of those words you only ever actually hear in student politics.”

ConHome: “Michael Gove has admitted he was a Johnson stooge in those days. So you too had a collection of disciplined and deluded stooges? They weren’t deluded in your case.”

Hinds: “Lovely people. Actually there were three of us in that election, all three from the same college, and I think that was very, very unusual.”

ConHome: “Who was the third?”

Hinds: “Stephanie Young, now Stephanie Tyrer. That was a very unusual set-up. There were many other elections that Jacob won while we were undergraduates, but on that occasion I was lucky enough to come out on top.”

ConHome: “And did you enjoy being President?”

Hinds: “I loved it, yes.”

ConHome: “And who were your most famous visitors?”

Hinds: “I had the summer term. My favourite visitors, we had Alvin Stardust, who also sang, and Will Carling, the Rugby player.”

ConHome: “And who are your political heroes?”

Hinds: “It’s so clichéd to say Mrs Thatcher is your political hero, but point me to the person on our side of the Chamber who wouldn’t say that.

“As it happens, I’m a child of the Eighties [he was born in 1969], grew up in Manchester, it was a difficult time, proper divides in politics, and in the earlier part of that period I was a Leftie.

“I came to my realisation aged 16, 17 and joined our party, so I’ve got a reasonable pedigree given I’m now 49. But it was a realisation rather than something automatic.”

ConHome: “And how did you realise?”

Hinds: “Well I think the Eighties was an amazing time to grow up, partly because there was so much politics. Everything from the Iron Curtain and communism versus capitalism through the Miners’ Strike and privatisation.

“Some things we got wrong as well as some things we got right of course. But as a teenager you couldn’t help but be politically very conscious of what was going on around you.

“And I came to the conclusion, first of all that I was a very lucky boy, coming from a strong family and going to a good school [Saint Ambrose College, a Roman Catholic grammar school].

“But I came to the conclusion that the way to make more boys and girls lucky boys and girls was to have a strong economy with enterprise but also with social responsibility, and with people looking out for each other. And sometimes we got on the wrong side of that, towards the end of the 1980s, of course, in terms of how people perceived us.”

ConHome: “Do you have a favourite monarch?”

Hinds: “The Queen.”

ConHome: “And of her predecessors, of whom there are 39 including William the Conqueror?”

Hinds: “Are there only 39, all the way back to 1066?”

ConHome: “Yes, it’s not that many. Of course there were various people like Queen Victoria and George III..”

Hinds: “…who upped the average. Wow. I didn’t realise that. So I’m not going to profess to have a favourite monarch, other than of course Her Majesty. I do think the Queen is just so off the scale of amazingness and a role model for us all.”

ConHome: “When I put the same question to your predecessor but one, Nicky Morgan, she said Henry VIII. But when I and her special advisers expressed amazement, she switched to Elizabeth I.”

A division bell rang, and Hinds went off to vote. When he got back, the interview continued with a question about Brexit.

ConHome: “If Theresa May came back to Cabinet and said, ‘I can get something on the backstop, but not until the EU summit on 21st March,’ would you be happy to hold your nerve until then?”

Hinds [after a pause]: “I think the Prime Minister needs all of us to be behind her in this. Only she can know the exact dynamic of the negotiation, and exactly what is the best route forward.

“I won’t rehearse all the stuff about we need to get a deal, because clearly we do – I say clearly, it’s clear to me we absolutely do. Clearly already time is very short, and we need to make good and rapid progress.

“Obviously there are real worries about the backstop and it’s very legitimate for people to have worries about that, and legitimate to be seeking assurances.

“It is also true, and we must remember to keep saying it, that the deal overall is a very good deal. There’s been so much talk about the relatively I’m not going to say small issues that sometimes we don’t talk about the thing itself.”

ConHome: “But would you hold your nerve, and would your Cabinet colleagues hold their collective nerve, until 21st March?”

Hinds: “I think everybody is holding their nerve.”

ConHome: “Now on education, how important is it for an Education Secretary to be talked about? There have been some, people like Tony Crosland, who’ve gone on the offensive, who have been talked about – since Rab Butler, there’s been Crosland, Thatcher, Baker, Blunkett, Gove, and probably a few others, probably people like Boyle. Do you think that’s important, or not really?”

Hinds: “I actually think what’s really important is for the system to be working well, not letting down any of our children anywhere, and for the person doing my job, and all our ministers, and the whole department, to be making sure that happens.

“And sometimes that does require, and it certainly did when Michael [Gove] was doing this job, a bold and vociferous and constant presence, at other times less so.

“But there are always arguments to be won in this sphere, because there are forces of small-c conservatism – which is definitely not the same as our Conservatism – in the education world.

“And as a Conservative Education Secretary, you need to be facing up to those. If you stand still, you will go backwards.”

ConHome: “Would it be fair to say you’re more focussed on heads and teachers than on parents?”

Hinds: “It wouldn’t be fair to say I’m more focussed on heads and teachers. But without heads and teachers the parents would be very upset.

“And we have had a problem in the last few years with making sure we have enough teachers. So we haven’t recruited quite enough, and we’ve had too many leaving. And the biggest reason they leave is because of workload.

“So I’ve made my number one priority to bear down on workload for teachers. Which turns out to be not nearly as simple a task as people might expect.

“Because although in a popular image there’s all these forms that you’re making teachers fill in, I’ve tried very hard to find those forms and they basically don’t exist.

“It’s a much more endemic, complex set of circumstances that makes teachers work on average 50 plus hours a week, which again is much more than people would expect to hear.

“And I think from a parent’s point of view they don’t want to know that teachers are spending a huge amount of time other than teaching their children. It’s all the other stuff.”

ConHome: “If it’s not form-filling, what is it?”

Hinds: “The three biggest things are very large amounts of lesson-planning…”

ConHome: “Well that’s difficult to avoid, isn’t it?”

Hinds: “No, not necessarily. It depends on what you do. Obviously I want teachers planning lessons. And schools do much better lesson-planning than when we were at school, and that is a very good thing.

“But if you are producing lesson-plans because you think the Ofsted inspector is going to see them, and stockpiling ring binders full of these things – this does happen in many schools, this is not a productive use of time.

“Similarly marking. And email.”

ConHome: “Another problem is that good teachers are intelligent and capable people. If the economy’s doing well, they can go off and do other things.”

Hinds: “That’s true. If you’ve got four per cent unemployment that’s a bad time for anybody to be recruiting, because it’s a very competitive market. But I just say our vacancies are more important than everybody else’s.”

ConHome: “You did a piece on ConHome saying you firmly believe in academies. But are they being created quickly enough, do you think? Do you have enough sponsors? Or has your department been gradually reducing the financial incentives?”

Hinds: “Well it shouldn’t be about financial incentives. It is possible to help with the costs of conversion, but actually the big advantage of being an academy is about autonomy, and about being able to combine with other schools.

“We’ve just passed a really important milestone of more than half the children in the state sector being in academies, which is a great thing. We’re still seeing more coming forward for conversion. I would like to see that pace continue and accelerate.

“We also need more people, I hope ConHome readers will step up to this, to be governors and trustees. When you’ve got a devolved system, with lots of autonomy, the role of a governor can become a much bigger thing.

“And the academies programme is now for the first time since early Blair under threat from the Labour Party. It was originally a Blair invention.

“Michael Gove and Nick Gibb put turbo-chargers under that programme, massively increased the numbers, and actually I hear from Members of Parliament on all sides what a difference academisation has made.”

ConHome: “You gave a speech the other day about children’s character. How do you build children’s character without some ethical or religious input?”

Hinds: “Well I don’t think you do do it without some ethical input. I distinguish character and resilience from values and virtues, but they go together. So character and resilience, I talk about ‘believe you can achieve’, “be able to stick with the task in hand’, ‘understand the link between the effort I put in today and the reward I do or might get in the future’, ‘being able to bounce back when things go wrong’.

“All those things would also make you a really good criminal, and I don’t want you to be a criminal. So I also want you to be grounded in friendship, kindness, community spirit, all those values.

“Some people will get those through a religious education, others will get it through a non-religious but still an ethically based education.”

ConHome: “So what in your opinion is the role of Christianity in politics, both generally and for you personally? I asked Nicky Morgan this.”

Hinds: “What did she say?”

ConHome: “She said the Anglican Church is very important to her.”

Hinds: “Well the Anglican Church is very important to me too. I’m going to go a wee bit further. Look, this is a Christian country. I mean these days it is a multicultural country as well, and there are many different faiths represented, and vast numbers of people who have no religious faith.

“But it still has, at the core of its institutions, traditions which are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And in Parliament you find – I’ve never actually done the maths, but it’s always felt to me that there’s a disproportionate number of people of some religious faith. Not necessarily Christian, but some religious faith.

“We start every day with Prayers, this little segment of the day, three minutes, the only part which is not broadcast, and I think whether people are Anglican or some other denomination, or an atheist, actually the majority of Members of Parliament I think appreciate that as a moment of reflection and thinking about the day ahead, thinking about why we’re here.

“Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Chaplain, does this prayer about remembering not to put personal self-interest in the way of what we do.”

ConHome: “What’s your view of free schools? It’s gone a bit quiet on free schools.”

Hinds: “We’re still doing this. We’ve got hundreds in the pipeline. Free schools are a type of academy, but brand new. They’ve brought a great deal of innovation. By bringing something different to an area, they create diversity and choice and a bit of competition with other schools.”

ConHome: “Is the Catholic Church still opting out of free schools – they were very cross, weren’t they, about the admissions cap?”

Hinds: “And that is still there. We’ve got a 50 per cent cap on faith-based admissions for new free schools. But they can now – and others can as well – open new voluntary aided schools.”

ConHome: “Why have you got the cap on free schools?”

Hinds: “There are good reasons for wanting to be able to ensure diversity in school provision. But the voluntary aided school route has always been there. The process for application is different from that for a free school, it has to have the backing of the local authority, but it’s been around since 1944 and has worked well.

“It’s mostly associated with the Catholic Church but actually there are Anglican VA schools as well, and indeed other faiths. It’s actually never technically stopped being possible to open a VA school. There just wasn’t any money available.”

ConHome: “But is there a lobby within the Conservative Party against lifting this cap on faith-based admissions to free schools? Is that part of the trouble?

“Because oddly enough, you seem to be standing up for the more traditional socialist way of doing things, even if it goes back to 1944. The Labour Party would have less to disagree with – local democratic control and all that.”

Hinds: “Free schools came in under the Coalition Government and there is obviously a reason why they came in as they did, and they’ve been a great addition to the schools system, including by the way having schools of religious character coming in, but with a cap of 50 per cent when oversubscribed.

“There was one large denomination which did not feel able to open free schools, which was the Catholic Church. And I was keen that every denomination should be able to open new schools. And of course the voluntary aided route isn’t only open to them, but it is open to them.”

ConHome: “And Catholic voluntary aided schools are opening, are they?”

Hinds: “There’s a round of applications that’s just happening as we speak.”

ConHome: “I still don’t understand why you refused to get rid of this cap. You don’t need legislation. You can decide, can’t you?”

Hinds: “There are good community integration reasons why the cap is as it is.”

ConHome: “This applies to Muslims as well.”

Hinds: “It applies to all faiths, in the same way that the opportunity to open a voluntary aided school applies to all faiths. We don’t make things specifically for individual religions.”

ConHome: “But would that be a worry, that you would then get some purely Muslim schools?”

Hinds: “There are purely Muslim schools, there are Jewish schools, there are Catholic schools, there are Anglican schools and they all play an important role. The key thing is that there is no significant religion in this country that wants to be able to open faith schools and can’t.”

ConHome: “I still haven’t got to the heart of your objection to lifting the cap.”

Hinds: “As I say, there are good community and integration reasons.”

ConHome: “What does that mean?”

Hinds: “It means it is right, and this is why the system was set up as it was initially, to be able to say, ‘Yes, we want to be able to have faith schools, but we also want to be able to have multiple ways, this is one of the ways, to make sure that we have full integration of communities. And that’s one of the ways we do it.”

ConHome: “And did you change your mind about this? Were you in favour of lifting the cap?”

Hinds: “If you looked hard, I think you would probably find a record of me somewhere in Parliament speaking about the cap before I was in a ministerial position.”

ConHome: “In your reckless youth.”

Hinds: “I wasn’t aware of all the considerations at the time.”

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

The Moggcast. He is “very concerned” delaying Brexit would allow “Tommy Robinson to win the European elections”.

You can also listen and subscribe to the Moggcast on iTunes, through our YouTube channel, or through the RSS feed here.

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

Our survey. Next Tory leader. Stasis as Johnson carries on leading amidst little expectation of change.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-02-03-at-17.42.51 Our survey. Next Tory leader. Stasis as Johnson carries on leading amidst little expectation of change. ToryDiary Tom Tugendhat MP Sajid Javid MP Rory Stewart MP Priti Patel MP Penny Mordaunt MP Next Tory leader Michael Gove MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Cleverly MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Highlights Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Elizabeth Truss MP Dominic Raab MP David Lidington MP David Davis MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Amber Rudd MP   Theresa May cannot formally be challenged as Conservative leader until this coming December – a year after the unsuccessful bid to topple her by the European Research Group and others.  There are doubtless other ways of toppling a Tory leader, and her position remains extraordinarily vulnerable.  But there is no current expectation of moves against her before March 29 – or afterwards in the event of extension.

It may be for this reason that there is little movement in our Next Tory Leader survey this month.  Boris Johnson leads on 26 per cent, 14 points more than the next contender, Dominic Raab.  Last month the latter was on the same total and Johnson’s rating was a point higher.  Michael Gove is up to third from three per cent to nine per cent.  Perhaps his swashbuckling winding-up speech in the recent no confidence vote provides the explanation.

Otherwise the main point to note is the gradual decline of Sajid Javid.  In our October survey he was second, and a point off Boris Johnson, on 19 per cent.  His scores since have been 12 per cent, 13 per cent and this month seven per cent.  There is no obvious explanation for the drop.  Against a background of very little media leadership speculation indeed, the pattern of the table suggests that many respondents have only half an eye on the prospect of change, if that.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-02-03-at-17.43.11 Our survey. Next Tory leader. Stasis as Johnson carries on leading amidst little expectation of change. ToryDiary Tom Tugendhat MP Sajid Javid MP Rory Stewart MP Priti Patel MP Penny Mordaunt MP Next Tory leader Michael Gove MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Cleverly MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Highlights Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Elizabeth Truss MP Dominic Raab MP David Lidington MP David Davis MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Amber Rudd MP   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iain Dale: Self-indulgent Remain Ministers, self-deluded ERG MPs

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

Remember those briefings from Remainer ministers that 40 of them might quit if Theresa May didn’t allow her front bench free votes on Tuesday?

Call me old-fashioned, but I must have missed the consequent resignations when this didn’t happen. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting slightly fed up with self-indulgent ministers who go on the media and whine about resigning if they don’t get their own way. (I discussed this in last week’s column.)

They should all be called in to see Julian Smith for interviews without coffee, and told that any repetition will lead to their instant dismissal. If a Chief Whip can’t control Ministers, then none of us can be blamed for writing about chaos at the heart of government.

– – – – – – – – – –

“There once was an MP called Cooper

Who for the cause of Remain was a trooper

Yet for their whinge and her wail

She just couldn’t derail –

So we leave on the 29th, which is just super”

(h/t @BenStoneham)

– – – – – – – – – –

On Monday night, I wrote an open letter on my blog to the European Research Group, and emailed it to most Conservative MPs.

The main thrust of it was to urge them to vote for Graham Brady’s amendment, and to say that their antics were threatening to derail Brexit by leaving the Prime Minister with little alternative but to apply to extend Article 50 beyond 29 March. My fear is that once it is extended, it could lead to Brexit never happening. I won’t rehearse the arguments here, but suffice it to say I didn’t pull any punches. I was expecting quite a volcanic response.

Instead, I was assailed by text after text, email after email from Conservative MPs – including members of the ERG – saying that I was bang on, and that they agreed with me. It demonstrated to me that even though Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker like to present the ERG to the media as a cohesive group, which votes as a slate, this is far from the case.

It’s all very well for them to say we should leave with No Deal, but I’m afraid this implies that they can’t count. As the passing of the Spelman/Dromey amendment proved, Parliament will do anything to prevent us leaving on 29 March without a deal.

Clearly, the rest of the votes on Tuesday weakened the hands of the second referendum campaigners and those who think they can thwart Brexit.  But make no mistake, this week isn’t the end of the parliamentary battle. Only at 11pm on 29 March, assuming we leave, will it be over.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve been given an exclusive insight into Theresa May’s meeting with Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday. Here’s the transcript of their conversation…

TM: Thank you Jeremy. Glad you could make it at last. By the way, what’s that tape measure for?

JC: Oh, Laura asked me to measure the curtains. Anyway, Prime Minister, to the subject at hand: how are you intending to support my good friend Nicolas Maduro?

TM: No, Jeremy, we’re to discuss the Withdrawal Agreement…

JC: I totally agree. You must persuade Donald Trump to withdraw his sanctions against Senor Maduro’s regime. It’s what Hugo would want.

TM: I don’t know what Mr Swire has got to do with anything, but we really must find a way through…

JC: I totally agree. I think it would be great if you could divert £1 billion from the aid budget. In fact, Nicolas has given me this bank account number…

TM: Thank you Jeremy, but I really must insist we talk about what you need from me to support our deal. More workers’ rights? Guarantees on the environment? What’s your price.

JC: I just told you.

TM: You’re caracas.

– – – – – – – – – –

Imagine the outcry if a Conservative or UKIP MEP had been found to have charged constituents 150 Euros to visit them in Brussels. They’d have been metaphorically torn limb from limb by the UK media, including the BBC.

Last week, Politico revealed that’s exactly what the CDU MEP Elmar Brok, so beloved by Newsnight and the BBC, had been doing. On Wednesday, the BBC reported his words reacting to Theresa May’s intention to reopen the backstop.

Katya Adler, their Europe Editor, tweeted: “Elmar Brok, MEP, bursts into English to appeal to UK MPs “Please talk to each other in London before you come to us. We’re united (in EU), you’re not (in UK)!”

She then followed up with this tweet: “Elmar Brok, German MEP appeals to UK for rational dialogue and warns a no deal Brexit will be toughest of all on the UK. To which UK MEP shouts “Auf Wiedersehen!”

Does anyone really think if this had been a scandal-hit British Conservative MP, he or she would have been quoted about anything? I’ve interviewed Brok on my show a few times. It won’t be happening again. Schade.

– – – – – – – – – – –

If you’re into podcasts, do download Matt Forde’s Political Party podcast with Alastair Campbell and Adam Boulton. They talk about their famous incident just after the 2010 election, as well as tell some wonderful anecdotes from their respective careers. A brilliant listen for a car journey or commute!

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

What the ‘Malthouse Compromise’ entails

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about the so-called ‘Malthouse Compromise’, but what does it actually entail? Below is a summary of the proposals.

Plan A – Revise negotiated Withdrawal Agreement and Framework


  • Immediately table legal text to amend the Withdrawal Agreement to replace the backstop with an acceptable indefinite solution set out in A Better Deal, 12 Dec 2019
  • Maintain our offer on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, the agreed financial settlement, and the proposed Implementation Period
    (IP) until no later than Dec 2021, or sooner on conclusion of the Future Relationship (FR)
  • Require that, at the end of the IP or sooner, the UK shall negotiate fisheries access as an independent coastal state, under UNCLOS


  • Rescues the Withdrawal Agreement
  • Maximises leverage plus secure a transition period
  • No backstop dangers: the new protocol is permanent, a “frontstop” and should be objectively acceptable to all.


  • Uncertainty continues until the FR is ratified
  • Difficulty of persuading Eurosceptics to swallow:
  • – £39bn payment
  • – Saving the effect of the ECA during the IP
  • – Additional EU citizens’ rights
  •  – Other WA problems (DSC, CCP vs WTO)

Plan B – Basic transition agreement


  • Continue to offer legal text for Plan A and bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including security, in a spirit of goodwill
    and cooperation
  • Unilaterally guarantee EU citizens’ rights
  • Uphold current standards, pending a comprehensive FR
  • Offer to pay our net contribution (c.£10bn pa) in exchange for the Implementation Period as negotiated, until no later than Dec 2021
  • Require that, at the end of the IP or sooner, the UK shall negotiate fisheries access as an independent coastal state, under UNCLOS
  • Work to agree an interim GATT XXIV compliant trading arrangement, pending a comprehensive FR
  • Revise our financial offer to the minimum compatible with our public law international obligations and submit to arbitration


  • Offers a standstill to 2021 to enable negotiations
  • Preserves optionality
  • Secures time
  • Secures exit


  • Risks EU conditions, legislation, extension
  • No Withdrawal Agreement
  • Eurosceptic concern about:
  • – Structure of standstill, esp saving ECA effect
  • – Money

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Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Corbyn digs himself into a hole as May starts to unite her party

Jeremy Corbyn dug himself into such a deep hole that by the end of his speech only his head was visible. These ought to be great days for the Leader of the Opposition as he faces a Prime Minister whose party is deeply split on Brexit.

But by taking almost no interventions, and in particular by refusing to allow Angela Smith (Lab, Penistone and Stockbridge) to intervene, he instead managed to advertise the divisions within the Labour Party, and his own unfitness to take over as Prime Minister.

Can it be that Corbyn is a Tory agent? No. He is a man too weak, too full of a petulant and immature vanity, to brook contradiction from his own side, or indeed from any side.

Smith wants a second referendum. Corbyn ought to be able to cope with her. He instead reduced the House to pandemonium by insisting on holding the floor against just about everyone, though Michael Gove did manage to ask: “Why is he scared to take an intervention from the Member for Penistone and Stockbridge, a member of the Labour Party for 37 years?”

Corbyn just said that was a leadership bid by Gove. It was actually an expression of anger that Corbyn, of all people, whose career until he became leader consisted of saying whatever he wanted from the back benches, was now trying to crush debate.

And Theresa May did manage to ask whether Corbyn’s call for a Customs Union meant accepting the Common External Tariff, and various other aspects of the present Customs Union.

“Obviously, Mr Speaker, a Customs Union would be negotiated,” Corbyn said.

May, who spoke before him, was no more revealing on some aspects of her policy, and was indeed accused by Lady Hermon (Independent Unionist, North Down) of being “nebulous”.

But the Prime Minister was more animated than usual, as if she finds adversity stimulating and still thinks she sees a way through. She took plenty of interventions without losing her thread, and said she was listening to the House, and wanted to take to Brussels “the clearest possible message” about what it wants.

The Tory tribe gave signs of coming together. She said that getting legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement will involve reopening it, “for which I know there is a limited appetite among our partners”.

Nigel Dodds, Commons leader of the DUP, rose at this point and assured her of his support. Nicky Morgan and Jacob Rees-Mogg made encouraging interventions.

Yet David Lidington, sitting beside her on the front bench, who in the past has managed to look perky even on the toughest days, today seemed despondent, as if he now sees no way through.

The Speaker had great difficulty maintaining order, and was gratuitously rude to a number of Conservatives. But the main fault for the bad behaviour lay with Corbyn, who was so determined to shut down debate while he spoke. His deficiencies remain one of the most cogent arguments for sticking with May.

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Kit Malthouse – the pragmatic Brexit broker bringing Tory MPs together

The “Malthouse Compromise” burst this morning upon an astonished world. At a time of increasing and perhaps even fatal acrimony within the Conservative Party, it has achieved the improbable feat of uniting Leavers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker with Remainers such as Nicky Morgan, Stephen Hammond and Robert Buckland.

But who is Kit Malthouse, and how did he command the trust needed to act as the “convenor” of these opposed factions, and get them to agree on a way forward?

He was elected to the Commons in 2015 as Sir George Young’s successor in North West Hampshire, is now Minister of State for Housing, but learned his politics first as a member of Westminster City Council and then from 2008 in City Hall, where Boris Johnson, the newly elected Mayor, was in desperate need of people who understood how the government of London actually worked.

Malthouse was at both Westminster Council and City Hall a “deputy”: a position in some ways much trickier than being leader, for you have to interpret the leader’s wishes, while often possessing not much more than your powers of persuasion and grasp of the issues to help you do so.

You have to win the trust of those involved if you are going to make much progress.

One who saw a lot of Malthouse at both Westminster Council and City Hall, and has since watched him taking questions in the Commons, says:

“He’s a great man. He has a good understanding of the issues. He is a Conservative, but he also has a presence. When he answers questions in the House he commands a certain sort of respect.”

Malthouse was born in Liverpool in 1966, educated at Liverpool College, read politics and economics at Newcastle University, qualified as a chartered accountant and has run his own business. A former colleague at City Hall says of him:

“He was quite arrogant, but not stupid. A Leaver, but because he’s a business person, he’s pragmatic and wants a solution, rather than standing on one side waving a Union flag.”

Another colleague described him as “moody but great”. Journalists recall that he would always “ring for a chat” if he thought anything to do with City Hall, and in particular to do with policing, for which as Deputy Mayor he was responsible, had been misreported: “It was exhausting.”

A certain tenacity is evident, and a curious blend of tact and realism. In his description of himself on Twitter, he says: “Given the volume I don’t/can’t reply on twitter sorry.” A polite but unyielding formula.

As Housing Minister, he has recognised the crucial importance of beauty:

“The only way we stand a chance of winning support for this output is if people like what we build – beautiful buildings gather support; blank ubiquity garners protest and resentment. If you get the design right – the scale, the context, the fitness – communities will feel enhanced and respected, and will lay down their petitions and placards.”

Here too, one can see a Malthouse compromise being advanced. There will be many more houses than the protesters like the sound of, but these will be so good that a new consensus in favour of development will emerge.

We shall soon know whether a consensus has emerged which favours the Brexit proposals he has helped to devise. Malthouse starts with the great advantage over Number Ten of being regarded, by both wings of the Conservative Party, as an honest broker.

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The Moggcast. “The backstop has to go.” Rees-Mogg sets out his red lines.

You can also listen and subscribe to the Moggcast on iTunes, through our YouTube channel, or through the RSS feed here.

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Iain Dale: We’re heading towards an application to extend Article 50 – and, if it’s accepted, towards revoking Brexit

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

As sure as night follows day, collective responsibility within the Government is seeping away. It’s this that is likely to lead to a general election rather than anything else.

Ed Vaizey is encouraging ministers to vote against their own government on the Yvette Cooper amendment next week, saying that the Government is so weak that they can do so without fear of being sacked. One Cabinet minister (anonymous, natch) briefd that up to 40 ministers could do so. Ludicrous, of course – but political journalists swallow it up and report it as fact.

Tobias Ellwood says he could well quit. Richard Harrington did an interview with me this week in which he said he would resign as a business minister in the event of No Deal. He described the Prime Minister as “inflexible”, said we should look at remaining in the Customs Union and that he thought Article 50 should be extended. Three days later he’s still in his job – thus proving Vaizey’s point.

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I had the displeasure of interviewing A C Grayling once. He was on my programme with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who I am sure remembers it as well as I do.

A ruder man I have rarely met. He refused to acknowledge Jacob’s existence, and seemed to take great delight in being as obnoxious towards Jacob as he could. He is another one who is suffering from BDS – Brexit Derangement Syndrome: a condition which seems to make people lose their reason and become totally obsessed with it, to the exclusion of everything else.

Since that he is seen by some as one of the country’s leading philosophers, you’d think we might all want to take notice of what the good Professor says, but this week he’s demonstrated again why we should all ignore him.

A now deleted tweet declared it was outrageous that EU citizens had to register their details with the state. He likened the arrangement to Germany in the 1930s, and ended by wondering how long it would be before EU citizens would be forced to wear gold stars on their sleeves. And he tweeted it in the week that we mark International Holocaust Memorial Day

When I criticised his action on Twitter, someone said I clearly didn’t understand ‘nuance’. I suggest that Professor Grayling reflects on his tweet and consider whether a period of silence on his part might be a good idea. Oh, and get a bloody haircut.

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Theresa May is clearly determined to pursue her ‘Nothing. Has. Changed’ strategy. She’s like a train running on tracks – but with no ability for the signalman to pull the lever so that the train can veer off to the left or right. We’ll soon see how that strategy ends.

There are certainly indications that some of those who voted against her last week, and inflicted the biggest defeat on a government in modern times, are peeling off and will support her deal in a second vote. But she needs to persuade 116 Conservative MPs to change their minds. I’ve said for weeks that the DUP is the key. If its MPs can be won over, most of the ERG might then follow. Might.

But even that might not be enough. There are probably enough irreconcilables on both extremes of the debate to ensure that, however many times MPs vote, the Prime Minister can never win. It seems to me inevitable that all this will lead to an application to extend Article 50, just as the hardline Remainers have always wanted, on the basis that the move could well lead to Brexit being cancelled altogether.

I copped a lot of flack at the weekend for a piece I wrote for the Mail on Sunday in which I took ERG MPs to task for putting Brexit in jeopardy. I don’t take back a word of it. I’m as committed to Brexit as the day I voted for it on June 23 2016. I want to see us leave in 63 days time. If we don’t, there will be many Conservative MPs who won’t be able to look themselves in the mirror. They should think about that.

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Michel Barnier’s latest wheeze is to suggest that Britain should cough up £39 billion even in the even of no deal. As someone once said: ‘No. No. No’. I’m sure, though, that Olly Robbins will be advising May to comply on the basis that “we don’t want to upset Brussels at this stage in the negotiations” – which is his usual mantra, I gather, whenever he returns to London from Brussels.

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Henry Newman: Norway Plus, Common Market 2.0. Call it whatever you like, it would basically leave us as a non-voting EU member

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

A week after the biggest ever Parliamentary defeat, we are no closer to finding a way through on Brexit. Theresa May and her ministers have been meeting MPs from different factions. Yet the people I’ve spoken to in the room for those cross-party discussions say that few of those visiting 70 Whitehall showed interest in exploring compromises other than their own preferred solution. Some of those leaving the talks complained that they heard no new ideas from the Prime Minister, but that’s little surprise. We have been arguing about Brexit pretty much non-stop for three years.

There’s something odd about the current debate. Putting aside those at the extremes advocating No Deal or a second referendum, there seems to be a majority in the Commons in favour of a form of negotiated exit. However, there isn’t yet a majority for the Prime Minister’s deal. Most MPs in favour of a negotiated deal accept the need for some form of backstop (now a sine qua non for a deal), and also accept that major changes to the Withdrawal Agreement are unlikely. To put it another way: these MPs are (essentially) only arguing about the non-binding bits of the deal.

One category of MPs demanding a ‘Plan B’ are those advocating Norway Plus. But the truth is that Norway Plus is Plan A with a bow on top. It’s a plan which even its proponents admit is premised on accepting every binding part of Plan A. All that would change is a narrowing of the destination outlined in the Political Declaration to Norway Plus.

The Norway Plus plan has got through various evolutions, but the basic idea is to seek a long-term relationship with the EU which keeps the UK inside the Single Market (the Norway part) and the Customs Union (the plus bit). That would, proponents suggest, obviate the need for the backstop. Putting aside the fact that during the referendum leading campaigners, from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to David Cameron and George Osborne, unequivocally ruled out the UK remaining in the Single Market, there are many issues with this plan.

First, it’s often suggested that Norway is an off-the-shelf model, ready to adopt. Actually, things aren’t so straightforward. There are two broad paths to Norway Plus. Both require negotiation. Either the UK would accede to the European Free Trade Area, while getting a derogation from EFTA’s free trade deals (which would be incompatible with an EU Customs Union), as well as agreeing a move to the EFTA ‘pillar’ of the EEA agreement. Or the alternative is to negotiate a new pillar of the EEA Agreement – a major change to a treaty with 30 state parties.

Second, negotiating a path to a version of Norway Plus would put the UK under huge pressure to agree further strictures, which would likely leave us with a far worse deal. Many in Brussels and member states are worried we are too big to be treated like Norway. They want tighter rules on services (especially financial services). Some want to keep us in the Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. Others want tighter enforcement rules. We will probably be asked to pay more money than Norway does. What leverage would the UK have to resist these extra demands if we had signed the Withdrawal Agreement and committed to getting to ‘Norway Plus’? We would be over a negotiating barrel, trying to agree the required protocols or derogations as the clock ticked down and pluses kept being added. MPs can call for a ‘Common Market 2.0’ but that’s just a slogan – not something anyone has agreed with the EU or EEA.

Would Norway Plus be sustainable in the long-term? Probably not. A senior Elysee source told me he thought it was inevitable that the UK would either break such an agreement by pushing back on obligations, or cancel the deal by demanding a new arrangement. Why? Because Norway Plus would leave us extremely close to the EU, far closer than Theresa May’s deal. It could – depending on the number of pluses – leave us as essentially as a non-voting member of the EU, subject to wide ranging rule-taking.

An alternative path to a negotiated deal is put forward by the Labour Party. Last night ,Labour proposed an amendment demanding a vote on a permanent customs union with the EU and a “strong relationship with the single market”. There already is a customs union in Theresa May’s deal – it’s at the heart of the backstop and could only be replaced if both the EU and UK agree. So it’s unclear how exactly this differs from anything Labour could negotiate, although Labour claim their customs union would come with control over trade policy, something the EU won’t offer now. It’s also unclear how their relationship with the Single Market would work, but they accept it would be “underpinned by shared institutions and obligations” and would entail wide spectrum rule-taking, or “dynamic alignment on rights and standards.” So far, of course, the EU have said you’re either in the Single Market or you’re not. Partial dynamic alignment was proposed by the UK at Chequers and has again so far been rejected by the EU.

Over the next few days, Parliament will seek to wrest control of Brexit. But although some claim that the facts around leaving the EU have become clearer since the referendum, a quick glance at Hansard for the last couple of weeks reveals a serious amount of magical thinking and unicorn-chasing from MPs on all sides. A series of indicative votes won’t necessarily bring greater clarity but would risk a majority coalescing around a policy which is simply un-negotiable.

Ultimately, there are still only three basic choices: No Deal, No Brexit, or a version of the Prime Minister’s deal. Yet MPs have passionately dug in, as they cling to their ideal options. The deal on the table is far from flawless, and needs some improvement. But it represents the safest path to delivering Brexit and already leaves a spectrum of future possibilities open – from a close Norway Plus relationship to a far looser arrangement.

Following last night’s Labour amendment there will also soon be a vote on a second referendum. As the risk of losing Brexit entirely grows, will more Eurosceptic MPs come around to Nadine Dorries’s view that the deal just needs to be got over the line? Or to the argument that Jacob Rees-Mogg repeated over the weekend that the deal, though flawed, is better than Remain? Until they do, there’s little possibility of securing Brexit, and a high chance that any exit is on far softer terms than most Conservatives would desire.

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