Tory Chairman on Russian Spy at Summer Party

Pesto asked Brandon Lewis about the Spectator story of the Russian spy at the summer party. Brandon says the spy wasn’t on the guest list. He was there however…

Soubry: McDonnell One of the Most Dangerous People in British Politics

McDonnell Hardens Labour’s Line on Russia

McDonnell says he agrees with Theresa May that Putin is responsible. More differentiation between the Shadow Chancellor and Labour leader. Has he seen the polling?

Boris: Russia Has Been Stockpiling Novichok

“We actually have evidence, within the last ten years, that not only has Russia been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok itself.”

The major news from Boris this morning…

Russia: Porton Down Could Be Behind Nerve Agent

Russia’s ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov suggests Porton Down could have been behind the nerve agent used in the attack on the Skripals, noting it is only 8 miles from Salisbury. Boris hits back: “This is not the response of a country that believes itself to be innocent”.

Russia going the full Craig Murray…

Boris: Putin Made Decision

“We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK.”

Over to you Seumas…

Now Starmer Abandons Jezza over Russia

Keir Starmer is the most senior Shadow Cabinet minister so far to publicly abandon Jeremy Corbyn over his position on Russia. On Question Time last night Starmer said the attack should be “condemned by all of us without reservation” and that Russia was responsible – “no ifs, no buts”. Starmer strongly backed the government and Theresa May…

Starmer’s intervention followed the publication of an article in the Guardian last night by Jezza in which he doubled down on his previous statements to the Commons. In the piece he again directly refused to blame Russia for the attack. Instead he suggested the government had taken a “McCarthyite” stance. Jezza wrote:

“This horrific event demands first of all the most thorough and painstaking criminal investigation, conducted by our police and security services. To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”

The article came as a Sky Data poll found just 18% of people thought Corbyn was doing a good job over the Russia crisis. Will this damaging week move the polls?

May We Fist Bump, Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister had her most successful walkabout ever in Salisbury this morning. She even knew how to do a fistbump…

Jezza’s Russian Revisionism After Shadow Cabinet Split

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith was at odds with her leader over his response to Russia’s suspected poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Griffiths told BBC Radio 4:

“We very much accept that what the prime minister said – this is a very sophisticated nerve agent and Russia is responsible for this attack and therefore we’re fully supporting the measures which the government is taking, including the expulsion of 23 diplomats.”

That’s much tougher than Corbyn’s words in the Commons yesterday. Griffith also said of Seumas: “I cannot speak for Seumas Milne. He has to speak for himself.” Griffith and Team Corbyn have a long history of falling out, particularly over NATO and nukes

Her line and overnight pressure following Milne’s briefing has bounced Corbyn’s office politburo into revising their position. They now say:

“The Government has laid out two alternatives: that Russia is either directly responsible or culpable because it lost control of this nerve agent. Yesterday, we agreed that the evidence overwhelmingly points to those two alternatives. The Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence and our response must be both decisive and proportionate.”

Too late, the damage is done…

Seumas Sticks to Line, Refuses to Condemn Russia

Theresa May slammed Jeremy Corbyn for his lack of support over the Russian spy poisoning crisis. The Prime Minister told Jezza:

“There is a consensus across the backbenches of this House. I am only sorry that this consesnsus does not go as far as the Right Honourable Gentleman, who could have taken the opportunity as the UK government has done to condemn the cuplability of the Russian state.”

This will lead all the news bulletins tonight, the press will crucify Corbyn tomorrow, his own Labour MPs have disowned him and sided with the PM.

In this type situation Guido would normally expect the leader of the oppostion’s spin doctor to back pedal in the Lobby briefing huddle that follows, he would “clarify” and nuance the wording. Emphasise the more conventional parts of the argument to soften the inevitably hostile headlines coming tomorrow. When that spin-doctor is Seumas Milne however it seems there was to be no compromising on Putin’s line. Under intense questioning he refused to say that the Labour Party’s leader accepted the Russian state was at fault:

“The government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don‘t. However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly. So, I think the right approach is to seek the evidence to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibitive chemical weapons.”

When Lobby hacks pressed Milne as to if Corbyn believed Russia was responsible for the attack, Milne said the PM continued to leave open the possibility that Russia had lost control of the nerve agent. Milne prefers to doubt MI6 and give the benefit of the doubt to the FSB….

Phil’s Box Office McDonnell Takedown

Spreadsheet Phil delivers a surprise box office finale to the Spring Statement with his blistering reply to John McDonnell. The Chancellor made the point McDonnell is still refusing to apologise to Esther McVey over his infamous “lynch” comments, and also picked him up over Russia Today. Phil ya boots…

Spreadsheet Phil’s Red Book Banter

This one-liner from Hammo at McDonnell’s expense was a cracker, but thankfully not as many jokes as last time round. So far…

Commons Clerks Sceptical About MP-Led Bullying Inquiry

If MPs are goood at anything it is buck passing and blame swerving. An investigation by MPs chaired by the Speaker is not promising…

Bercow chairs the House of Commons commission – which will set the terms of reference for an “independent” inquiry. Even Caroline Lucas, who is sympathetic to Bercow, says: “I think at the very least he should withdraw from that decision and that the three deputy speakers might judge on that…There might also be a case for stepping back temporarily if an investigation is carried out.” Can you imagine any other situation where the accused is allowed to be in judgement or set the terms of the investigation? This is manifestly against natural justice.

Cable Doubles Down on Brexit “White Faces” Slur

BBC: You made a comment about all the white faces in front of you. But the fact is you said people who voted for Brexit, an awful lot of them were white. 

Cable: That is the case, and that it was a nostalgia for that world, and I think there’s a couple of bits of evidence which support that. I mean, first of all, some of the most effective propaganda at the time, you may remember Farage’s advertisement where queues of dark faced people and that was how the arguments about immigration was presented. The – you know – I spent a lot of the referendum campaign going round, you know, mostly in sort of prosperous country areas, they weren’t deprived areas of the North and the overwhelming reason people were giving for voting the way they were, and they were predominantly older groups, were about immigration and when people thought about immigration they weren’t predominantly thinking about people from Eastern Europe. 

Vince Cable unapologetic about his attempt over the weekend to suggest the 52% are a load of old racists…

Mogg Tough on Russia

Peston made a curious attempt to suggest Rees-Mogg is backed by Russian bots – even though the whole Russian bots thing has been comprehensively debunked. The Mogg was having none of it…

Hammond Corrects Himself After Accidentally Saying Brexit Is Worth It

Marr: “Is it worth it?”

Hammond: “Yes. Financial services is a very important part of our economy…”

Marr: “Not the financial services negotiation – is Brexit worth it?”

Hammond: “Oh the whole thing?”

Marr: “Yeah, the whole thing.”

Hammond: “Look, the British people have decided that we are leaving the European Union and that’s what we’re doing.”

Asked if Brexit is worth it, Hammond misunderstands the question and replies: “Yes”. Then quickly corrects himself…

McDonnell Orders Labour MPs to Stop Going on Russia Today

McDonnell orders Labour MPs to stop going on Russia Today. His deputy in the Shadow Treasury team Peter Dowd went on yesterday. And does the Absolute Boy agree?

Rouble for Chris Williamson’s thoughts…

Marina Litvinenko Reads Letter From May Vowing Crime Would Never Be Repeated

From the then Home Secretary…

Corbyn Slaps Down McDonnell Over Anti-Semitic Facebook Group

Team Jezza have slapped down John McDonnell for his attempted explanation of Corbyn’s presence in that anti-Semitic Facebook group. McDonnell said this morning on Sky:

“He was added, and then participated in some of the debate, then when he discovered there were some people in it who were expressing anti-Semitic views he immediately came out of that.”

So McDonnell says Corbyn left the group when he became aware of its anti-Semitism in 2015, but did nothing about it and didn’t report the members or the group to the party. That’s not a good look…

Team Corbyn say McDonnell’s statement to Sky was “not right”, that he left a number of Facebook groups when he became leader and claim he wasn’t aware of any anti-Semitism at the time. McDonnell keeps stiching-up the boss at the moment…

When Tom Bradby Saw the Two Sides of Bercow

This 2009 ITV interview with John Bercow has been doing the rounds in Westminster this morning. Bercow’s mask slipped and Tom Bradby saw the two sides of the Speaker: his polite public persona and his rude and bullying private tone. Also ironic to see Bercow complaining about questions overrunning. […] Read the rest

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Quote of the Day

David Blunkett says

“…the Corbyn revolution is the dog that refused to bark. The party I have worked for all my life catastrophically failed to win targets such as Barnet, where voters, at least in part, turned away from Labour in droves because of the anti-Semitism furore. Outside London the picture was worse, with disastrous performances in Dudley, Derby and elsewhere.  Election expert Professor Sir John Curtice pointed out there had actually been a swing to the Conservatives from Labour. Yet according to the leadership’s advance publicity, this was an election in which the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group was supposed to deliver grassroots campaigning and a seismic political breakthrough. How telling that one of Labour’s few success stories, in Plymouth, happened precisely because local activists insisted on running their own campaign and told Momentum to stay away. The lesson to be learned is simple and obvious: Corbyn’s project is leading the party away from victory.”

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