Greg Clark’s Soft Brexit Push is Sign of Things to Come

Remainer Cabinet ministers are not even bothering to wait for Theresa May to be defeated in the meaningful vote next week before putting forward their Brexit ‘Plan B’ ideas. Heavily Remain-leaning Business Secretary Greg Clark has broken ranks to come out and call for ‘no deal’ to be taken off the table and for the Government to pivot towards a softer Brexit to get the deal through with Labour support, neither of which are Government policy. Yet.

Clark doubled down on Today, pointedly saying that “not just the Government, but the whole of Parliament” would work out the “shaping of the final deal”. He is not alone, Lidington, Gauke and Rudd have also made their opposition to ‘no deal’ explicit. The question for Brexiteers is to what extent they are outliers or actually represent mainstream Cabinet thinking. Or even the view of Number 10…

While Downing Street has still not taken ‘no deal’ off the table publicly, privately they are extremely adverse to allowing ‘no deal’ to happen. For now their Plan A is still to get enough Tory and DUP MPs back on board to eventually get May’s deal through. If this proves to be impossible, Plan B will not be to press ahead with ‘no deal’ but to seek support from the Labour benches instead by softening up the deal further, think customs union and much more of this. Bercow’s willingness to play fast and loose with Parliamentary procedure opens the door to worse…

Brexiteers are right in their criticisms of the deal but they have a much bigger fight on their hands in trying to force ‘no deal’ in whatever happens next than many realise. How far will an unholy alliance of Downing Street and Cabinet Remainers with Labour’s Remainer MPs be prepared to go to force through a Brexit-in-name-only rather than allow ‘no deal’ to happen?

Lidington: “Hopes” Backstop Over by 2022

Three days ago the government said it “expects” the backstop to have ended by December 2021. Now Lidington says his “hope” is that it’s over by the 2022 election. Does anyone believe them? 

“Cavemen” v “Grow Up” – Double Sexism PMQs Faux Outrage

Labour are calling Lidders sexist for telling Thornberry to “grow up”, and Number 10 have even slapped him down and said May would not have used that language.

Meanwhile some Tory MPs are saying Thorners is sexist for calling them a “coalition of cavemen”.

How about everyone calms down and gets off the outrage bus…

DPMQs: Who’s Asking the Questions?

The Prime Minister is in China. David Lidington is deputising, Labour field Emily Thornberry.

Q1 Ian Mearns (Gateshead) If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 31 January.

Q2 Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean)

Q3 Colin Clark (Gordon)

Q4 Mr David Lammy (Tottenham)

Q5 Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire)

Q6 Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge)

Q7 Alex Cunningham (Stockton North)

Q8 Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Q9 Ged Killen (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)

Q10 Richard Drax (South Dorset)

Q11 John Mann (Bassetlaw)

Q12 Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East)

Q13 Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South)

Q14 Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire)

Q15 Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay)

Comments in the comments…

Lidington: Tory Plotters Have Had Too Much Sun and Prosecco

May in the Lords

Theresa May and Commons leader David Lidington are sitting on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords as they begin their Brexit debate this afternoon, to remind peers of the democratic mandate issued by the elected chamber. Sound.

UPDATE: Another angle:

DPMQs: Who’s Asking the Questions

Theresa May is in Bahrain so Leader of the House David Lidington is deputising. Emily Thornberry up for Labour.

Oral Questions to the Prime Minister

Q1 Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire)

Q2 Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West)

Q3 Bob Blackman (Harrow East)

Q4 Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase)

Q5 Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough)

Q6 Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith)

Q7 Patrick Grady (Glasgow North)

Q8 Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire)

Q9 Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire)

Q10 Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham)

Q11 Craig Williams (Cardiff North)

Q12 Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay)

Q13 Steve Baker (Wycombe)

Q14 Richard Graham (Gloucester)

Parliament’s Lawyer Shreds Tory Purdah Spin

Europe minister David Lidington has set out the government’s compromise on ‘purdah’ ahead of tonight’s vote – only to have his spin shredded by parliament’s top lawyer. In a damning email leaked to Guido, Speaker’s Counsel Michael Carpenter says Lidington’s arguments against letting the purdah rules apply in full are “unsound“.

One of Lidington’s main arguments against purdah is that “the legal advice we have received suggests that this could extend to individual elected representatives” – i.e. it would gag all MPs in the run up to the referendum. Carpenter dismisses this as “too literal a reading“. MPs would not face restrictions.

Another of Lidington’s key claims is that purdah would stop ministers from conducting European Union business. Carpenter says “I do not share the view“. Lidington suggests that the “full rigour” of purdah would prevent ministers communicating what is going on in Brussels. But Carpenter says the rules “expressly allow the issue of press notices without any restriction as to their content“.

He concludes of the Europe minister: “Mr Lidington seems simply to repeat the unsound arguments advanced before“. That’s two of the government’s main arguments on purdah torn apart by parliament’s top laywer ahead of tonight’s crunch vote…

EU Purdah Stitch Up: Full Letter From Lidington to Tories

Minister for Europe David Lidington has written to Tory MPs to tell them they are still planning on stitching up the EU Referendum, but it’s ok because they they will ‘work with them’ to do so:

16th June 2015

Dear Colleague,

EU REFERENDUM BILL

I am writing ahead of the Committee Stages of the Bill to address some of the key concerns raised by colleagues during the Second Reading debate last week and to set out the Government’s approach.

As you know, the Government’s intention in bringing forward this Bill is to fulfil our General Election Manifesto pledge to let the British people decide our country’s future in the European Union. It is our clear intention, through the Bill, to provide a straightforward, fair and effective framework for the referendum.

Timing of the Referendum

As stated during the debate, the government is keen to maintain as much flexibility as possible over the date of the referendum. The bill sets out a requirement to hold the referendum by the end of 2017 at the latest, and the Prime Minister has always been clear that if we can hold it earlier, then we will. This has lead to a great deal of speculation that the Government intends to hold the referendum in May 2016 in combination with elections to Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies. I can confirm that this is not the case. We have now tabled an amendment to specifically rule out 5th May 2016 as a date. If we are not able to debate it during committee, it will be retabled at report.

Section 125 of PPERA 2000

A number of colleagues raised concerns in the debate about Clause 25 and Schedule 1 of the Bill. I am grateful for the constructive way in which these concerns were raised.

The effect of Clause 25 is to disapply S.125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It therefore removes the statutory restrictions placed on Government publications in the final 28 days before the referendum. Under S.125, Government and Ministers are prohibited from publishing during the 28 days prior to polling day any material which deals with any of the issues raised by a referendum question; and which puts any arguments for or against a referendum outcome.

As the Foreign Secretary set out during the debate, after careful consideration we believe that it is unworkable and inappropriate to fully apply S.125 in this instance. It is unworkable because the restriction on publication is so broad that it could prevent Ministers from effectively conducting the significant amounts of ordinary day-to-day business between the Government and the EU that will necessarily continue during the pre-poll period. And it is inappropriate because the Government, having taken a position on the outcome of our negotiations with the rest of the EU, will naturally be obliged to account to Parliament and the British people.

The Foreign Secretary said during the debate that the Government will exercise proper restraint to ensure a balanced debate during the campaign. We have no intention of, for example, spending public money to deliver mailshots to households ​in the last four weeks of the campaign.

Working out a system that will reassure colleagues and voters that the referendum is a fair fight, yet will preserve the Government’s ability to act in the national interest is not straightforward. It is important that it is legally clear and robust.

Therefore, we will work with colleagues over the next few months to understand their specific areas of concern and bring forward at report stage in the Autumn government amendments that command the widest possible support within the House and put beyond any doubt that the campaign will be conducted throughout in a manner that all sides will see as fair.

I look forward to working with you during its passage.

Yours sincerely

David Lidington MP
Minister for Europe

Yeah, that should do it…

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