This week in politics: Barking, by-elections and more Brexit
What the parties said
Theresa May’s plans for Brexit were backed by a majority of 373 votes in a House of Commons debate. Labour and Conservative MPs united to back a Labour motion that the Government should publish a ‘plan for leaving the EU’, and a Government amendment stating Article 50 should be invoked by 31st March. Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s fragile relationship took another knock after Downing Street offered a stern rebuttal to Johnson’s assertion that Saudi Arabia was ‘playing proxy wars’ in the Middle East. The week ended with a comfortable Conservative win in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, batting away suggestions of a UKIP uprising in the Lincolnshire seat.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer used a speech to set out five conditions for the Government’s plans for Brexit, threatening that if the conditions were not fulfilled, Labour would impose them on the Government by amending the Article 50 Bill. Trade Union leader Len McCluskey resigned from his position at the helm of Unite, only to announce he would be running again. Should he win, it will cement his position as a key influencer of Labour under Corbyn.
Elsewhere, OECD education statistics for Scotland revealed that the country was declining in English, Maths and Science. This provided an open goal for Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson at FMQs to claim it was proof the SNP have taken their eye off the ball due to their ‘constitutional obsession’ with independence.
What the papers said
The Spectator published an in-depth character piece on Theresa May this week, with James Forsyth and Fraser Nelson examining the PM’s new style of governing that is based on attention to detail and a constant oversight of departmental activity. The piece focuses on her issues with Whitehall, with her frustrations that civil servants want to ‘box everything in’ and use specific acronyms in policy creation making headlines the following morning.
David Aaronovitch for the Times wrote about the current struggles within Momentum and the far left wing of the Labour party this week, specifically between old Trotsykists and young members enamoured with Jeremy Corbyn’s new style of politics. Ultimately he argues infighting between sects threatens to prevent the party from making any significant political noise or effectively communicating their stand point.
With the Supreme Court case on Parliamentary right to sanction the Government’s decision to trigger Article 50 kicking off this week, John Penrose discussed the consequences of such a case taking place within the context of today’s reliance on social media for the Telegraph. Deeming it the UK’s ‘first national social media court case’, Penrose suggests this holds judges at the behest of a ‘baying online mob’ threatening to undermine the rule of law and politicise the trial, despite acknowledging the need for courts to be accessible and transparent.
On the benches
Truss goes barking mad
Justice Secretary Liz Truss had a ruff time during Justice Questions this week, when she said that dogs barking can help to deter drones. Truss came under fire from MPs and newspapers for her pawful solution to drones, with one outlet accusing her of barking up the wrong tree. Truss went on to try defend her comments, but only succeeded in further digging herself a hole. We’ll have to wait until the next Justice Questions to see if she can retriever dignity in the House. This one will dog her for a while.
Gove us a kiss
It seems no love is lost between Pro-Remain Anna Soubry and Eurosceptic Michael Gove… This week in Parliament, Gove complimented an intervention made by Soubry, to which Soubry responded by blowing him a kiss. Let them be an example to us all.
Someone finally addresses the elephant in the room
Westminster Hall this week saw an impassioned call from MPs for further action to close the UK ivory market, none more so than Pauline Latham MP, who set out that young elephants are now being raised in broken homes and running wild because of poaching of adults. Responding to this issue of teenage tearaway elephants the Minister Therese Coffey wore an elephant patterned scarf, in her best effort to connect with the youth of today…
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: Sir Keir Starmer MP. The Shadow Brexit Secretary made some progress this week in turning Labour back towards a coherant opposition on Brexit, using Labour’s opposition day debate to press the Government into publishing a plan for exiting the EU.
Bad week for: Humza Yousaf MSP. Beleaguered Scottish Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, found himself ‘mortified’ this week, as he issued an apology for being charged for driving without insurance. Already under pressure to resign over his handling of Scotrail’s underperformance, Yousaf, a close ally of Nicola Sturgeon, and someone with ambitions to lead his party in the future, said that he hoped his mistake would serve as an example to others to check their insurance. He didn’t come under too much pressure from the opposition in the end. ‘More mildly amusing than a resigning issue’ murmured one Conservative. One thing is for sure, though, after weeks of negative press over delayed trains, Humza will rather enjoy a week out of the newspapers soon.
‘Should the UK notify the council by the end of March ’17 [that it is triggering Article 50], as Prime Minister Theresa May said she would, it is safe to say that negotiation would start a few weeks later and an Article 50 agreement be reached by October ’18.’ – EU Chief Negotiator Michael Barnier sets out his stall on the Brexit process this week.
George Eaton writes about how both Tory and Labour MPs fear Brexit.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer set out the Labour’s Party’s five requirements of the Government’s plan for Brexit:
Tweet of the week
Stephen Bush this week pointed out one especially pedantic Peer in the House of Lords who replies to the Morning Call in the Lords every day and corrects all the given names of peers to their technically correct Lordly titles.
This prompted Stephanie Boland, a colleague of Bush, to respond and asked whether you would describe such an activity as a peer review.
In another hectic week in politics, we had the Supreme Court Case, a Labour Opposition day motion on Brexit which committed the Government into publishing some sort of Brexit plan, a counter Government motion which binds the Labour Party to vote to trigger Article 50 by March 2017 and the Sleaford by-election.
All of this is fascinating but the media and politicians seem to forget, or at the very least are not prioritising, comments made across the Channel by European political leaders.
Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator for the EU this week made plain, again, that the UK could not pick and choose what parts of the EU they liked. He also said that negotiations had to be concluded within 18 months of Article 50 being triggered to give time to National parliaments to approve of the deal. Politico meanwhile reported on confidential discussions with senior EU officials who said they will ensure the UK pays their £60 billion ‘divorce bill’, a tactic designed to enrage Eurosceptic Tory MPs.
Dan Hannan may have written optimistically on Britain’s chance of succeeding in negotiations in Con Home this week but it is noticeable how consistent leaders from across Europe have been on the inviolability of the four freedoms. Even Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Prime Minister, who wants as close a relationship as possible with the UK has said the four freedoms can’t be divided up to suit the UK.
Compromises are inevitable, but Eurosceptic MPs, Labour and the Government will need to listen closely to what’s been said across the Channel to best understand what is realistic in terms of negotiations