The Week in Politics: Portraits, Poultry and Positions
The week that was
With the summer break entering full swing, those of us not lucky enough to be departing to sunnier European climes were at least treated to some clarity from the Government on just how the UK will exit itself from the EU. Chancellor Philip Hammond outlined the Government’s position on a transitional deal after weeks of ministers delivering somewhat contradictory statements to the media. Britain’s relationship with the EU for the first three years after Brexit will be broadly similar as the current one, with free movement, access to the single market and no new trade deals with non-EU countries. This confirmation came after Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister, caused confusion on Thursday by saying free movement would end in March 2019.
Further afield, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s trip to the United States to outline the parameters of a UK-US trade deal after Brexit was somewhat overshadowed by fears that the UK would be flooded with chlorine-soaked chickens. This led DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove to insist on the Today Programme that no such birds would ever make onto the UK dinner plate.
Labour’s long running internal battle over where it stands on the UK’s future relationship with the EU continued this week. Diane Abbott and John McDonnell both suggested that the UK should remain in the single market and customs union- effectively moving from halfway in the EU to halfway out. However Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner argued that following such a position would be a ‘disaster’ for the UK.
Newly appointed Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable threw himself into his role with a number of media appearances, criticising both the Government and Labour’s lack of clarity over the EU and trying to persuade other politicians to join a cross-party campaign to force Theresa May to change course away from a hard Brexit.
On the benches
Diane Abbott gets her figures in a twist
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott found herself in a pickle over police funding again this week, following her famous ‘car-crash’ encounter with LBC radio’s Nick Ferrari during the General Election campaign. In an interview for ITV News, Abbott fumbled around for the details of how restoring capital gains tax would fund the recruitment of additional police officers. She appeared to say ‘sorry’ to someone off camera, before continuing to answer the question without mentioning a figure. It was only after the reporter asked if it would raise £300 million a year, that she agreed, quoting the figure back the reporter.
She took to twitter after the interview to lament ‘gotcha’ journalism…
Smile for the camera
Even in the first week of recess, the House of Commons managed to create a great deal of amusement, within the Westminster bubble at least. New portraits of MPs were taken after they had sworn in, and have been released on the new Parliament Beta website where photographer Chris McAndrew’s shots will provide a welcome change from the previously-used pictures. Obviously, the twittersphere seized upon the new pictures, with hilarious results.
Good week/ Bad week
Good week for electric vehicles
This week saw BMW announce that its new electric Mini Coopers will be built in the UK. The news played to both sides of the Brexit debate, with leavers saying it is a vote of confidence in the UK and remainers highlighting the issues that could arise if the UK is outside the Customs Union, with the batteries for the vehicles set to be built in Germany. The Government also set out plans to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by the end of 2040 as part of its air quality plan. All in all, the future looks bright for electric cars.
Bad week for Momentum
Earlier in the week, Momentum released a video of older, middle class voters questioning why young people support Jeremy Corbyn and his policies. One character complained about how young people think that they deserve a job when no one helped him out, when in fact he got his job at a media agency through his father. However, critics were quick to point out that nepotism is alive and well in the Labour Party; Corbyn’s son works for Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, whilst the daughter of Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey works for Corbyn. It looks like Momentum might not ‘get it’ either!
“I think there is a broad consensus that this process has to be completed by the scheduled time of the next general election, which is in June 2022, so a period of at the most three years in order to put these new arrangements in place and move us on a steady path without cliff edges from where we are today to the new long-term relationship with the European Union.” Chancellor Philip Hammond speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on his plans for an ‘off-the-shelf’ transitional deal with the EU.
‘Barnier expressed concerns that sufficient progress in October looked difficult now. Mainly because Britain has no position on finances, but also because they don’t have positions on other issues as well. The more they drag on, the less time is left for second phase and special relationship they want.’ An EU official recounts the warning made by Chief Negotiator for the EU Michel Barnier at a private meeting in Brussels with EU ambassadors.
‘Mr Barnier, by overstating his position and being overly demanding, is risking getting a less favourable deal for the European Union and the European Union will find life very difficult without a deal because they need our money. They are in real trouble without our money.’ Senior Tory MP and arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg responds to comments made by EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier.