This week in politics: Trump, ties and Trainspotting
The week that was
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson began the week defending the UK Government’s relationship with the new Trump administration and outlining the protections that had been secured for British citizens from Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. Writing for the FT on Monday, Gideon Rachman cautioned that the Government is mistaken in its belief that it can push a global free trade agenda as part of its renewed special relationship with the States.
The Government published its Brexit White Paper on Thursday, which offered little in the way of fresh information on the Government’s strategy, beyond assurances to MPs that they would be able to scrutinize separate bills on immigration and customs once the UK has left. On Wednesday MPs voted to pass the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill with 498 votes to 114. As expected, potential Tory rebel MPs voted in line with the Government apart from Ken Clarke.
Such unanimity was absent among the Labour benches in spite of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three line whip on the vote. Three members of the frontbench resigned to defy the leader’s instructions, in addition to the 47 backbench rebels who voted against the Bill. It has been reported that 1,800 people have quit the part over its stance on Brexit.
Finally, UKIP’s leader and candidate for the Stoke-on-Trent by-election Paul Nuttall is to be investigated by the police after a complaint that his nomination paper declared his address at a property of which he was not a resident.
On the benches
Lager, lager, lager, lager…
SNP MP Hannah Bardell paid tribute to Trainspotting2 this week, the long awaited sequel to the cult Scottish classic. During the debate on triggering Article 50, Bardell channelled her inner Ewan McGregor when she said ‘Choose Brexit. Choose making up numbers from thin air about the NHS and plastering them on the side of buses. Choose racist and xenophobic sentiments seeping out from some corners of the leave campaign. Choose hate crime rising by more than 40% and LGBT hate crime rising by more than 150% in England and Wales following the Brexit vote.’ We’re not quite sure of the reason behind Bardell’s speech, but then again, who needs reasons when you’ve got Brexit?
Fashion on the benches
Failed Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith is clearly still struggling to get over the fact he failed to dislodge Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. This week Smith was caught on camera in the Commons spending a significant amount of time attempting to fix his cuff links. Fortunately he was saved by his comrade in arms Karl Turner MP who came over to fix them up for him. Perhaps, much like his leadership campaign Smith should have been more prepared and not do everything off the cuff……
Arch-Eurosceptic Peter Bone MP had no such problems getting his clothes on this week. A key member of the Grassroots Out organisation during the referendum, he took the opportunity this week to remind us all of the garish lime green coloured Grassroots Out tie during the debate on the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. We think that Peter has forgotten that he won the referendum and the least he could do now is retire that tie so as not to blind all us parliamentary anoraks.
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: Ken Clarke. The arch-remainer and former Chancellor delivered an impassioned speech in the Commons this week, setting out why he would vote against triggering Article 50. Clarke, noting his Conservative colleagues who had become ‘enthusiastic Brexiteers having seen a light on the road to Damascus’ on the day of the referendum, described leaving the European Union as following ‘the rabbit down the hole and emerge in a wonderland’ where the UK can negotiate positive trade deals, and dismissed accusations of disloyalty to his party, arguing ‘I am merely propounding the official policy of the Conservative Party for 50 years until 23 June 2016’ . Clarke’s speech was met with applause from approving MPs and dour faces from a number of unimpressed Tories.
Bad Week for: Diane Abbott. The Shadow Home Secretary and Corbyn ally was overcome with the ‘Brexit flu’ on Wednesday which meant she was unable to toe the party line and vote in favour of Article 50. Her conspicuous absence from the division lobby was heavily criticised by Labour colleagues and the media alike, with John Mann saying ‘she bottled the vote, it’s cowardice’. #PrayforDiane
Tweet of the Week
After accusations surrounding Paul Nuttall’s home address surfaced this week, twitter was quick to respond.
‘and let us do it not for ourselves, but for those who follow. So that when future generations look back at this time, they will judge us by what we made of that decision. They will know that we built them a better Britain’ – The ending of Theresa May’s foreword in the Brexit white paper.
A leaked report from the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs warned this week that a poor Brexit deal for the city of London will have a detrimental impact upon the economies of the EU27. . It stated that the ‘exclusion of the main European financial centre from the internal market could have consequences in terms of jobs and growth in the EU. It is in the interest of EU 27 and the UK to have an open discussion on this point’.
Theresa May is meeting with European leaders in Malta today during which she will present the UK, and herself, as a bridge between the EU and the United States. Despite the diplomatic maneuvering, the Maltese Prime Minister has already demonstrated how difficult May’s position is having described her situation as ‘unenviable’.
This week the Government released its much called for Brexit White Paper. While the White Paper was intended to address complaints from MPs that the Government was being too secretive around Brexit negotiations, there was not much additional detail outlined. The main take-away was that the Government expects to bring forward a separate bill on immigration and customs, with much of the White Paper just an extension of the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech earlier last month. The need for a ‘phased process of implementation’ was restated and slightly more clarity was also provided on how controls to immigration may change, with the White Paper stating that the Government will ensure that businesses have the opportunity to contribute their views on the new immigration system.
Aside from the criticism the White Paper received due to its lack of additional clarity on what happens if the EU and UK do not reach a deal, or any detail of how parliamentary scrutiny or holding Ministers to account may take place, the White Paper also received some criticism due to its tone. Commentators have noted that throughout the White Paper there are platitudes and rhetoric, paying particular attention to the passage which states that Britain in Europe remained sovereign, ‘but it did not always feel that way’. Emotive language such as this is not usual for a legislative document, especially one of such constitutional significance, but as is generally the case with Brexit – emotions are running high.