Sunday Crunch: Brexit bunfight — Stumping up — Replacing Sturgeon

Sunday Crunch: Brexit bunfight — Stumping up — Replacing Sturgeon
Опубликовано: Sunday, 19 February 2023 16:25

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By ANNABELLE DICKSON

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Good Sunday afternoon. Welcome to another political week.

THINGS TO KNOW

BREXIT BUNFIGHT: Rishi Sunak continues to insist this weekend that a deal has not yet been struck with the European Union to untangle those contentious Northern Ireland protocol arrangements in Britain’s Brexit deal. That hasn’t stopped the noises-off ahead of what could potentially be a seismic week in the long history of Brexit rows.

Expectation management: Out batting for the government this morning, Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt reiterated the Downing Street line that there is still work to do. A Saturday statement from Downing Street following Sunak’s talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “very good progress” on finding a solution to the protocol had been made, but that “intensive work in the coming days is still needed at official and ministerial levels.”

Boris is back: But as is always the case when it comes to Brexit deals, even before a deal is struck there are signs of trouble ahead. Boris Johnson has been making his views known through a source, and getting plenty of pick-up. The Sunday Telegraph gives the source quote that his “general thinking is that it would be a great mistake to drop the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill” front-page billing. The BBC was also leading its early morning bulletins with his views. “A friend who recently spoke to Johnson” told the Sunday Times: “His basic worry is that we took the powers in the bill and we are not using them, and we haven’t got as good a deal as we would have because we didn’t stick with it.”

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What Crunch wants to know: When the ex-PM is going to put on his big boy pants and do an interview to impart his wisdom on the record. Or maybe a 4,000-word essay would do the trick?

Quite the spin: In her morning media round, Mordaunt, who was a key figure in the Brexit campaign trenches with Johnson in 2016, suggested that his soundings off could actually be a good thing. “Boris is being Boris, but I wouldn’t say this is a completely unhelpful intervention,” Mordaunt told Sky News. She later told the BBC’s Laura K the Johnson intervention was a “reminder to the EU the bar that they have to get over.”

Frosty reception: David Frost, who negotiated the original Brexit deal for Johnson, popped up on Twitter this afternoon to call for the government to “push on with the Protocol Bill” and “keep negotiating” to put the U.K. in the “strongest possible position.” He also called for “a little more transparency about what has been achieved so far.”

Silence needed: Unsurprisingly Labour peer Peter Mandelson was unimpressed with Johnson’s intervention. “I hope he’s not going to come in and start wrecking everything all over again. A period of silence on his part, I think, would now be welcome,” Mandelson cautioned on Sky.

Over to you, DUP: Strikingly, Mordaunt played down the commentary from Westminster, pointing out it was community backing in Northern Ireland that mattered most.

“Unless this deal is satisfactory to all communities in Northern Ireland, it won’t be possible, it’s not going to work,” she told Sky News. “The DUP’s tests that they have referred to are not a random wishlist, they are promises that we have made to the people of Northern Ireland. That is the bar that this deal has to get over, and I know that the Prime Minister is completely focused on that,” she added. On Sky News, another figurehead of the Brexit movement Jacob Rees-Mogg agreed the DUP’s seven tests were “absolutely the right tests.”

The IDS test: In the Telegraph, another former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, set his conditions, warning: “So long as EU law and regulations apply to Northern Ireland, leaving the province outside the U.K.’s own single market and the remit of exclusively U.K. law, the DUP cannot go back into the Assembly,” he wrote. “If they don’t re-enter, then the Good Friday Agreement is to all intents and purposes dead.”

What could the deal look like? The Sunday Times says Sunak is trying to negotiate a democratic consent mechanism that would let the Assembly in Belfast reject new EU regulations. A Downing Street official told Crunch they wanted to explore democratic consent further, but it was “far from straightforward.” On Friday the Bloomberg team said “the main British achievement” had been for its proposal for so-called “green” and “red” lanes for goods depending on whether they are coming from GB to Northern Ireland or the EU to be accepted, but Britain has not been able to remove the role of the ECJ.

Providing political cover: Labour continues to offer warm words to Sunak ahead of any potential vote. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper reiterated in her media round that Labour would “provide political cover” for Sunak if he had problems with his own party. On the continued involvement of the European Court of Justice, Cooper said there would “have to be some kind of dispute resolution process” and highlighted the need to “just be really pragmatic and common sense” about approaching it.

Next steps: The Sunday Times reckons government whips and civil servants are preparing for Sunak to talk to the cabinet on Monday or Tuesday, with a statement to the Commons and a debate once there is a formal agreement. “There is a decision paper for the cabinet ready to go. The statutory instruments are written. There is a ‘dear colleague’ letter that has been written for MPs,” a “Whitehall source” tells the paper. Downing Street continues to insist that with no deal, timings are incredibly speculative.

STUMPING UP: With the first anniversary of the Ukrainian conflict looming on Friday, Britain’s defense capabilities continue to dominate the domestic discourse. The latest call to action comes from Richard Barrons, who headed the Joint Forces Command until 2016, whose call for funding to replace weapons and tanks given to Ukraine makes the front of the Sunday Express.

Big hint? Mordaunt insisted the government had made commitments that defense spending would be raised, and pointedly replied that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had been looking at defense spending of 3 percent [of GDP] “in fairly recent history.” She added: “We have always protected defense spending, even in the nightmare situation we inherited in 2010, and I’m confident we will do so in the future.”

Also worth noting: Budget pressure is mounting on a separate front after Sunak was sent a letter from a number of Tory MPs warning him against hiking corporation tax. Simon Clarke, Greg Smith and Mark Francois are among those opposed, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

On fighter jets? Mordaunt reiterated in her BBC interview that “nothing is off the table” and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was looking at the Ukrainian asks.

Despatch from Munich: “Cut through the haze of hoary proclamations emanating from the main stage of the Munich Security Conference about Western solidarity and common purpose this weekend, and one can’t help but notice more than a hint of foreboding just beneath the surface,” POLITICO’s Matt Karnitschnig writes from Munich where world leaders have been turning up the heat on Russia.

Now read this: A top POLITICO reporting team has a special report looking inside Russia’s Wagner Group, the paramilitary force and global network led by a top Putin ally, and reports on how U.S. and European allies are mobilizing to thwart its expansion. Details of how the group stepped up activities in Africa, where its trained fighters perform key security functions for regimes in Sudan, the Central African Republic and other countries, are detailed in a series of U.S. government cables and documents from the internal network of the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, which were obtained by POLITICO and verified by outside experts.

Governing a warzone: Also a must-read , the Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler has a fascinating piece looking at how Ukraine’s government is able to continue functioning under the extreme pressure of war.

REPLACING NICOLA: There is a big week ahead for Scottish independence with wannabe SNP leaders facing a fraught week collecting the 100 nominations from local branches needed to stand in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon before Friday. Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf announced his candidacy in Scotland’s Sunday Mail. Former minister Ash Regan also announced she would be standing in the Sunday Mail. HuffPost’s Kevin Schofield says he is hearing it “unlikely” Angus Robertson, the former SNP leaders at Westminster, will put himself forward.

Labour momentum: In the Sun on Sunday, polling guru John Curtice has a very useful piece looking at the potential impact of Sturgeon’s departure for Labour, concluding if there was just a 5 percent swing from the SNP following her exit, Labour could get 16 Scottish MPs, and if the party closes the gap, it could get 25 Scottish seats.

Right on cue: Starmer urged Scottish voters to “take another look at Labour” and portray his party as the “change that Scotland needs” in a keynote speech at Scottish Labour’s conference in Edinburgh today. The Daily Record has a write-up.

Keeping quiet: On the BBC Sunday morning political panel, SNP leader in Westminster Stephen Flynn was keeping his counsel on who would get his all-important backing, but he said it was an “exciting moment” for the party and an “opportunity for change.” Flynn said there was still time for more people to come forward.

Monarchy’s future: His most striking news line was his response to Australian actor Hugh Jackman’s prediction that it is inevitable that Australia will become a republic in the future. “I would probably be quite sympathetic to a similar evolution in Scotland in time,” Flynn told Laura K. Later clarifying that he was “quite happy with the status quo as it stands” but the people of Scotland might want an alternative “over time.”

QUICK-FIRE CATCH-UP

BULLEY INTERVENTION: Mordaunt was the latest politician to say there are “serious questions to be asked” about the personal information released by police as they hunt for the missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley. “I think it really does grate with a lot of women, and we have to put up with all kinds of sexist behavior in all kinds of settings, and I think to have it play out in this kind of environment is why people are so upset,” she told the BBC.

SHOW SOME RESPECT: Cooper was out on the airwaves promoting Labour’s plans for new “Respect Orders” — a tougher anti-social behavior order — as part of the party’s crime blitz. The Telegraph has more details of the plan here. Quizzed on whether Starmer’s Labour is aping Blair’s Labour on crime, Cooper told the BBC: “‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ [the famous Blairite slogan] was right then, and it’s right now, and at the moment the Conservatives are doing neither.” Right on cue, Blair has given Labour’s crime plans his backing in the Sun on Sunday.

STRIKING TONE: The head of the British Medical Association Philip Banfield is warning today it would be a historic mistake to fail to stop strike action affecting the NHS. A strike ballot of junior doctors is due to close tomorrow. ITV has his quotes. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it had been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce was one of its main priorities.

LEE LATEST: New Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson has told the Sunday Telegraph that Calais refugee charities are “just as bad a people smugglers.” The Sun on Sunday has an interesting write-up of a More in Common focus group on what voters make of Anderson. Quizzed on capital punishment after Anderson backed its return, a straw poll of the eight participants, evenly split between Labour and Tory voters, found half backed the death penalty for rape and murder, the paper reports. But as More in Common’s Luke Tryl points out, the group found his comments about food bank users “ridiculous” and “infuriating.”

Also worth knowing: Hope Not Hate had research out over the weekend suggesting hard-right protesters visited hotels housing asylum seekers 253 times last year. The Times picked it up.

BIG HOUSE BORIS: Fans of lavish property and followers of Boris Johnson’s finances will be interested to read that the Guardian understands he has bought a £4 million nine-bedroom, Grade II-listed home in Oxfordshire.

TIME TICKING FOR TIKTOK: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is the latest high profile political figure to warn people to come off the Chinese-owned social media site TikTok. In her BBC interview, she said the U.S. government had made the “very, very sound judgment” that TikTok shouldn’t be used on any official devices, and that she would tell young people to “think twice about being on Tiktok.” The Sunday Telegraph has a piece looking at the Tory divide over whether to be on the platform. Energy Secretary Grant Shapps says he wouldn’t be “chased off” the platform.

MEDIA ROUND

Ayesha Hazarika on Times Radio (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.): Former Chief Whip Wendy Morton, Labour peer and barrister Charles Falconer, SNP MP Richard Thomson; HuffPost’s Kevin Schofield.

Gloria Meets on GB News (6 p.m.): Former Tory Cabinet minister Justine Greening; General Secretary of the FDA union Dave Penman; Tory MP Cherilyn Mackrory.

Westminster Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 p.m.): Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg; Labour peer Ruth Smeeth; the FT’s Miranda Green; the i Paper’s Hugo Gye.

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WEEK AHEAD

MONDAY

WAR IN UKRAINE: U.S. President Joe Biden begins a three-day trip to Poland.

COMMONS: Sits from 2.30 p.m. with leveling-up questions and a debate ahead of the first anniversary of the Ukrainian conflict.

STRIKES: Ambulance workers and Drax power station staff out on strike. British Medical Association expected to announce results of junior doctor strike action ballot.

COST OF LIVING: Office for National Statistics to publish analysis of the increased cost of living.

TUESDAY

PANCAKE DAY

COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with justice questions followed by the Social Security (Additional Payments) (No.2) Bill.

DEFENSE: Senior officials at the Ministry of Defense to give evidence to parliament’s defense committee on the department’s finances, 10 a.m.

WAR IN UKRAINE: Russian President Vladimir Putin to address Russian lawmakers in Moscow.

LEGAL: Attorney General Victoria Prentis up in front of parliament’s justice committee, 3 p.m.

LORDS: Anti-strikes legislation to be debated by peers in the House of Lords.

STRIKES: University staff out on strike.

LABOUR: Labour Leader Keir Starmer to address the National Farmers’ Union conference.

FINANCE: Economic Secretary Andrew Griffith (4.05 p.m.) and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (11.55 a.m.) to address the Association of British Insurers’ annual conference.

WEDNESDAY

FARMING: Environment Secretary Therese Coffey to address the National Farmers’ Union conference.

PARTYGATE: High Court hearing on Met Police’s Partygate investigation.

COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with Scotland questions followed by PMQs and the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.

UNITED NATIONS: UN Security Council to meet to discuss the Nord Stream pipelines, while general assembly to debate the Ukrainian conflict.

THURSDAY

COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with environment questions followed by the business statement and a debate on NHS funding.

SCOTLAND: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to take first minister’s questions in the Scottish parliament.

ETHICS: Rishi Sunak’s ethics chief Laurie Magnus to appear at parliament’s public administration committee, 10 a.m.

STRIKES: Northern Ireland health and care workers out on strike.

LORDS: First day of committee stage of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

FRIDAY

COMMONS: Private members’ bills.

ANNIVERSARY: First anniversary of the war in Ukraine, with moment of silence at 11 a.m.

SNP: Nominations for the new leader of the Scottish National Party due to be submitted.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Leveling-up Secretary Michael Gove to address the Conservative councilors’ association conference, 11.15 a.m.

ECONOMY: G20 finance ministers and central bank governors to meet in Chandigarh.

Thanks: To Jones Hayden for bringing his sharp editing eye to Sunday Crunch.

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