MIL-OSI UK: Corbyn slams May’s “Frankenstein monster of a deal”

Source: Labour List UK

Jeremy Corbyn today slammed the government’s Brexit offer as a “Frankenstein monster of a deal” and accused Theresa May of “trying to run down the clock” and “blackmail the country”.

The Labour leader was asking an urgent question in the House of Commons on the changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement. It was granted by the Speaker, but the Prime Minister did not come to the chamber to answer, with Stephen Barclay stepping up instead.

Addressing the new Brexit Secretary, Corbyn focussed on seeking confirmation that the delayed meaningful vote will indeed be held on 15th January.

He asked: “What guarantees do we have that, faced with a yet another humiliating defeat, the Prime Minister won’t just run away?

“Can the Secretary of State do what the Prime Minister should be doing today, and confirm the timetable for the meaningful vote, and provide what we’ve not received before – a cast iron promise this will not be reneged on yet again?”

Corbyn added: “The government is trying to run down the clock in an attempt to blackmail this House and the country in supporting a botched deal.

“She has refused to work with the majority in the last few months, in a desperate attempt to spark life into what is actually a Frankenstein monster of a deal.

“We’re now told if we don’t support it, our government is prepared to push our whole economy off a cliff edge. And to prove this, no deal preparations are underway.”

In the debate following the question, MPs also pressed the Brexit Secretary on whether the government would consider extending Article 50. Responding to members, Barclay said the vote would take place next week and described not extending Article 50 as “the government’s firm intention”.

Labour MP Lucy Powell, who has today written for LabourList on her newly published report ‘Common Market 2.0’, promoting a ‘Norway Plus’ model, asked about the possibility of holding indicative votes on ‘Plan B’ once the deal is defeated.

In his reply, Barclay echoed May’s response to Andrew Marr on Sunday: “If the deal does not go ahead, we will be in unchartered water.” It is widely expected that, should the draft agreement be voted down the first time next week, the government will attempt to put the same deal to another Commons vote.

Theresa May is only expected to update the Commons on progress in EU talks on Wednesday, when the meaningful vote debate resumes.

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MIL-OSI UK: There is just one question worth asking. Will Brexiteers pull the plug on this government?

Source: Labour List UK

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Theresa May survived last night’s ballot on her party leadership by 200 votes to 117, with over a third of her MPs electing to end her reign. The result of the secret ballot was announced in a room filled with lobby journalists, plus a few MPs, on committee room corridor in parliament at exactly 9pm. As Sir Graham Brady (currently 1922 Committee chair, though that could be coming to an end) read out the voting figures, loyalists clapped and cheered, but their celebrations were short-sighted.

The number of 117 was higher than expected, with most having predicted around 80-100, and indicates that the internal opposition against May goes beyond the core group of hard Brexiteers in her party. Although the Prime Minister is now safe under party rules from another such challenge until 12th December 2019, several promises she can’t keep were made to ensure her survival and the level of Tory infighting has been ramped up rather than quelled.

May is off to Brussels today to get a legally binding assurance on the Irish backstop, but her deal is still dead on arrival and the Conservative Party continues to tear itself apart. Yesterday, Andrew Bridgen actually left a live BBC interview because he couldn’t bear to stand next to his Tory colleague James Cleverly. But it’s not just Bridgen: the noises coming from Tory Remainers sound apocalyptic for the party too. Anna Soubry says she’s embarrassed to be a Conservative MP, and Nicky Morgan predicted a formal split this morning: “I think there’s an inevitability that some of these people – the hardest Brexiteers – are going to walk.”

Labour’s take on the no-confidence vote drama is that it doesn’t matter. That was clear in PMQs yesterday, when Jeremy Corbyn neglected to mention the ballot until the end of the session. ‘What is Corbyn doing?’ the commentariat tweeted. ‘Hasn’t he seen the news?’ But this was the right call: Corbyn knew May would probably survive, and it could have given her the chance to remind him of his own no-confidence vote by the PLP. Most importantly, the Labour leader is bang on to say the vote is “utterly irrelevant to the lives of people across our country”. Life expectancy is falling for the poorest, Universal Credit has not been radically changed as required, and the largest government departments are not fit for purpose.

Crucially, the ruling party does not have a working majority to get legislation through parliament and May’s deal still cannot pass. Corbyn is calling on May to “bring her botched deal back to parliament next week”, but this seems unlikely. The stubborn PM is running down the Brexit clock and flirting with no-deal by doing so. The only question that matters is whether the DUP, or even Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ERG, are willing to pull the plug and help Labour bring down the government.

Sienna @siennamarla

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MIL-OSI UK: The key bone of contention exposed by McDonnell in the Brexit debate today

Source: Labour List UK

The economy is the subject of the Brexit debate on Day Three. Accordingly, Philip Hammond opened, and his words were entirely predictable. Hemmed in by Treasury forecasts that show any form of Brexit will make the UK worse off than it would be remaining in the EU, Hammond had no choice but to focus on the case for securing a deal in the first place. This is lucky, in a way, as the only thing going for Theresa May’s deal is that it is a deal.

“I do not believe that we can afford the economic cost of a no deal exit. But I equally do not believe that we can afford the political and society cost of trying to undo the decision of the British people in the referendum,” Hammond told MPs. It is key to the matter of Brexit that this argument could just as well have been delivered by Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader would also posit that ‘no deal’ is too harmful to jobs but that no Brexit may destroy the little faith in democracy still held by voters in places such as Mansfield and North East Derbyshire, which happen to be key marginal seats for Labour.

John McDonnell kicked off his response by acknowledging the importance of Tuesday’s meaningful vote and quoting Corbynsceptic Labour MP Hilary Benn. “My final plea to the House is as follows: now is the moment to tell each other the truth. No one is going to get everything they thought they would get…. All of us are going to have to compromise.” It struck a conciliatory tone with cross-factional, cross-party appeal – a particularly clever move at a time when MPs and ordinary voters are talking about the benefits of a national unity government. (Not that a Tory leader would countenance the idea, which from their perspective would risk offering credibility and authority to Corbyn.)

The Shadow Chancellor said he would focus on four key points:

  1. Seeking to avoid ‘no deal’, “either by imposition or by default”, which he described as an area of “widespread majoritarian common ground across the House”.
  2. Accepting that the Prime Minister’s deal is “neither politically nor economically acceptable”, and cannot win a majority in the Commons.
  3. Establishing that Labour’s plan could unite the country “by addressing the concerns raised in the referendum campaign while securing the benefits of
  4. Recognising “the expression of a worrying concern, given our economy, of Brexit’s impact on our communities”.

The cross-party appeal soon fell away in favour of a divide and conquer strategy when the Shadow Chancellor aimed fire at the Irish ‘backstop’. This is the reason that the DUP – which is holding the government together – will not vote for the deal currently on offer, and therefore has been highlighted repeatedly by Labour spokespersons at the despatch box. Quite understandably. But many are bemused by the identity of the fierce backstop opponents, especially McDonnell, who only in October said he still “longs for a united Ireland”.

But more pertinent than an apparent U-turn on British unionism is whether Labour’s critique of May’s deal stands up. Corbyn, McDonnell and other frontbenchers have been to point out problems with the backstop – primarily that the UK cannot unilaterally withdraw from it, and it could apply indefinitely, as confirmed by the published legal advice. The assumption is that Labour’s alternative Brexit plan would not require a backstop.

In the debate today, when the DUP’s Ian Paisley asked “if his party would drop the backstop and the Northern Ireland protocol altogether”, McDonnell replied: “We would not need the backstop because we want a permanent customs union and a relationship with the single market.” Certain terms were used. But Tory backbencher Alex Chalk then raised the matter again: “Wouldn’t there still need to be a backstop in any event, as the UK would be outside the single market?” This time, McDonnell replied: “I believe under a comprehensive customs union agreement, it is so much more unlikely there would be any need for that fallback position.” The second answer was less definite. And it is this matter that would become of crucial importance if Labour got its preferred option of a renegotiated Brexit deal.

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