“Technical Problems” With Hammond’s Plane

Today’s Times has a belter of a story about the MoD banning Philip Hammond from using RAF planes and helicopters until the Treasury settles his jet-setting bills. An epic tale of briefing and counter-briefing after Team Hammond dubbed Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson “Private Pike” in the Mail on Sunday.

Yesterday Hammond was late for his meeting with EU finance ministers – journalists were told “because of technical problems with his plane”. Were the technical problems that the RAF wouldn’t let him on board?

Knives Out For Heywood and Robbins

Tory Brexiteers fear Theresa May is being bounced by her top civil servants Jeremy Heywood and Olly Robbins into a non-Brexit which prevents us from diverging from the EU after we leave. Leavers have been pragmatic, calm and willing to compromise throughout the Brexit process so far. This is really the first time things are in danger of seriously kicking off. This line in the draft text apparently agreed by Number 10 has caused genuine fears among all Brexiteers:

“In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with the internal market, customs union…”

This is wholly unacceptable, it is almost unbelievable Number 10 would sign it off. Guido bumped into Lord Trimble last night and showed him this line, he stared at it for some time as if having difficulty believing it could be real before commenting: “This is surely not something the British government could sign up to”.

Brexiteers believe Heywood and Robbins are taking advantage of a weak Downing Street to force through a Brexit which keeps us too closely aligned to Brussels. Guido reported in September that Heywood and Robbins were seeking a softer EEA minus model, there are now genuine fears of a stitch up and Number 10 choosing a route closer to that than the real Brexit preferred by Boris, Gove and Fox, and demanded by the referendum result. A Whitehall source says May is “way too reliant” on Robbins. It is baffling that they appear to have conceded alignment on agriculture between the EU and the whole of the UK – could the Environment Secretary really live with that? There are also serious concerns that May could drop the ECJ red line from her Lancaster House speech. Leavers are seeing the situation as salami slices being given away until eventually there is no salami left. 

There is also disbelief that May did not consult Cabinet about what they were about to concede. A Whitehall source tells the Sun“Cabinet is in the dark about what the PM is doing now, which is a very strange state of affairs to be in”. A Cabinet source tells the Telegraph: “The Prime Minister is playing a risky game”. Brexiteers are asking who in is in charge: is it Heywood and Robbins bouncing a weak May into a softer Brexit, or is it May trying to bounce the Brexiteers? It is more likely to be the former. May knows she owes her position to keeping Leavers onside – if she sells out they won’t stand for it.

Nigel Evans Wishes You a May-ry Christmas

Nigel Evans first out of the Christmas postbag this year with a double picture greetings card showing the PM holding a mug emblazoned with his face. Not a patch on last year’s

H/T Marie Le Conte

Where Are the Dirty Dozen’s Promised Reports, Investigations and Decisions?

The Brexit noise is helpfully letting both the government and the Labour Party sit on the promised reports, investigations and decisions which followed the recent string of Westminster scandals. Here’s Guido’s run-down of the unfinished business from the past few weeks (and earlier)…

Jared O’Mara: Jared hasn’t been seen in Westminster since the scandal around him erupted in October and he hasn’t voted in the months since. He – or more likely, his whip – is submitting a number of very general written questions and signing the odd EDM to give the impression things are still ticking over. Jared is still under investigation after losing the Labour whip. He’s been off for weeks…

Keith Vaz: An investigation into Vaz by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner is somehow still ongoing after a complaint was made about his rent boys and coke binge in September 2016 (Kathryn Hudson better hurry-up, she’s due to step-down by the end of this year). Vaz hasn’t voted since 18 October, though he did speak in the House last week. He is currently rumoured to be on a trip to the Middle East…

Damian Green: Westminster was on tenterhooks awaiting the release of Sue Gray’s report last week, but it didn’t materialise. It was rumoured to be on the agenda again yesterday but failed to appear. Putting off the inevitable seems to be distracting Damian from his job liaising with the DUP…

Mark Garnier: Remains under Cabinet Office investigation after the Mail on Sunday reported allegations in October that he sent an aide to buy sex toys and called her “sugar tits“. What on earth are they doing, interrogating the sex shop owner?

Kelvin Hopkins: Former Shadow Culture Secretary Kelvin Hopkins lost the Labour whip in November. The party is still investigating a complaint that Hopkins sent inappropriate text messages and made inappropriate physical contact at a student event in 2014. He is voting in line with Labour but hasn’t spoken since 25 October. No update from Labour…

Ivan LewisLabour is still investigating a complaint against Lewis, who denied allegations of sexual harassment after a woman said he touched her leg and invited her to his house when she was 19. He hasn’t voted since 31 October or spoken in the chamber since 25 October. No update…

Dan Poulter: MPs say they haven’t seen Dr Dan around Westminster since the Sunday Times reported allegations against him on 5 November. His office told the BBC he’s “on sick leave”. He last voted on 31 October and hasn’t spoken in the chamber since 11 July. The new Conservative Party disciplinary committee is yet to report its findings… 

Charlie Elphicke: Elphicke’s friends say is still unaware of what allegations have been made against him. He was told in November that allegations had been passed to the police, but there has been no news of any action. In the meantime, Elphicke is still without the whip. The chairman of his association recently backed him…

Stephen CrabbThe former Welsh Secretary is still under investigation by the Conservative Party for allegedly sexting a 19-year-old who applied for a job in his office in 2013. No update…

Chris Pincher: He resigned as a government whip after allegations in the Mail on Sunday that he had un-tucked the shirt of a male Tory. Pincher referred himself to the police. No news as to the outcome…

Daniel KawczynskiReferred to the Tories new disciplinary committee in November following allegations that he pressured a young researcher to go on a date with a businessman ‘older than her father’. Nothing heard yet…

Jack LoprestiA former staff member complained about Lopresti’s behaviour and a probe was launched last week. The complaint came via the Tories’ new code of conduct hotline…

What do Sue Gray, Kathryn Hudson and the Tory and Labour party internal inquiries get up to all day?

Regulatory Convergence Between UK & EU Denied

Last night Robert Peston set the hares running reporting that “permanent regulatory convergence between the UK and EU” is Theresa May’s “preferred route”. This would essentially be the EEA minus option preferred by Hammond and the Remainers, meaning the UK would have to follow EU rules permanently, denying the opportunities of Brexit that the country voted for. Fortunately government sources are strongly kicking back at the Peston report and denying there will be regulatory convergence between the UK and the EU. The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn says alignment – which is different to convergence – would only be in limited areas of the Good Friday agreement.

It certainly would be brave for May to suddenly back the convergence model – that would go completely against the spirit of her Lancaster House speech, it would not be a real Brexit and it would mean the end of Brexiteer support for her premiership, which she has worked very hard to maintain over the last year. This episode again stresses the need for the Cabinet to thrash out once and for all what type of Brexit they actually want…

Cop: Porn Wasn’t Extreme But It Was Green Who Watched It

The police forensics officer who examined a computer seized from Damian Green’s parliamentary office has given an interview to the BBC. Neil Lewis says the First Secretary’s claim that it wasn’t him who watched the porn is implausible, and there is “no doubt whatsoever” in his mind that porn was accessed by Green:

“The computer was in Mr Green’s office, on his desk, logged in, his account, his name. In between browsing pornography, he was sending emails from his account, his personal account, reading documents… it was ridiculous to suggest anybody else could have done it.”

Green still denies the claims. Worth noting Lewis also says the material was not extreme – it could be a case of the coverup being worse than the crime here. Could Sue Gray’s inquiry finally release its findings today?

Peter Bone Tells Trump to Delete His Account

Amber Rudd says many colleagues would agree…

Green Doesn’t Take Chance to Apologise

John Mann gave Damian Green the chance to apologise at PMQs, he did not take him up on it. Answer heard in silence…

Priti Unleashed: Government “Failing” on Brexit, Must Decide End State

Priti Patel said what she really thinks at the Spectator’s event on the future of the Tory party tonight, blasting the government for its “failings” on Brexit, claiming it is “ill-equipped” to handle the negotiation and criticising Theresa May for refusing to hold a Cabinet discussion on the end state.

Leading Brexiteers have been telling Number 10 for months that a Cabinet meeting must be held where the two factions of the government can thrash out whether Brexit Britain is going to look like Hammond’s desired future convergence with the EU or the Leavers’ preferred divergence from Brussels. Priti aired their demands for “conviction and clarity in terms of our end state”.  As James Forysth pointed out, it’s extraordinary that this discussion hasn’t been had yet. 

The ousted former International Development Secretary also warned the government “has been ill-equipped in terms of preparations for the negotiations” and said on the financial settlement: “I don’t like spending money. I would have told the EU to sod off with their excessive financial demands”.

No prizes for guessing why the still ambitious Priti was laying it on thick with Tory members, talking about giving power back the grassroots and “starting from scratch” with the party hierarchy. On Brexit she is saying publicly what a lot of Leavers have been saying privately for months…

Pic via @maxlburnett

Anti-Putin Record of Gove, Boris and Legatum

The Mail on Sunday and the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr seem to believe Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and the Legatum Institute conspired with Putin and the Russian state to deliver Brexit. There are more than a few problems with this theory, though Guido is going to focus on the most obvious: Boris, Gove and Legatum are all staunch critics of Putin and Russia. Anyone who listens to these Gove comments from 2015, in which he rails against Putin and Russian money “subverting” the West, can be in no doubt as to his view.

“You see the influence of Russian agency and Russian money. We should not underestimate the extent to which Putin and those behind him are seeking to throw off balance and to subvert everything that we’re doing… His aim is to divide, to destabilise, and if not necessarily to conquer, at least to consolidate and advance. And inside Russia the widespread view of the Russian people is that Putin is right and the West is seeking to keep Russia down and to divide and to weaken. And for that reason we need to be sensitive to where Russian public opinion is but also vigilant about the threat. Now what does that mean we need to do in terms of our security and defence profile? The answer to that is several steps above my pay grade. But I don’t believe that any of us for a moment should be naive about what Putin is interested in or fall for some of the interpretations we might get on Russia Today or elsewhere about what his real intentions are.”

Boris meanwhile is on the record condemning Putin as a “ruthless and manipulative tyrant” who has been “illegally occupying parts of Ukraine”, adding “Putin’s proxy army was almost certainly guilty of killing the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that came down in eastern Ukraine” and “he has questions to answer about the death of Alexander Litvinenko”.

As for the Legatum Institute, the focus of the latest Remainer conspiracies, as Mark Wallace notes they have a long record of opposing Putin and employed Anne Applebaum, one of the leading anti-Putin voices around. Legatum was even condemned by Russia Today for anti-Kremlin bias. Which kind of ruins the story.

Perhaps all this was an elaborate double bluff. Or it could be, as the FT’s ultra-Remainer editor Lionel Barber concludes, “a stretch”…

UPDATE: Eurosceptic source: “The idea of Gove and Boris as agents of Putin is about as believable as Geordie Greig’s claim to be an impartial editor offering a clear eyed view of Brexit.”

David Gauke v Russia Today

“Go spout Putin’s propaganda,” David Gauke tells RT as he explains no reputable politician would go on their programmes. Just John McDonnell.

Tricky Start in Brussels

The Prime Minister’s aide Richard “Tricky” Jackson encounters the Brussels security team. Good to see Number 10 is taking no nonsense from the Eurocrats…

H/T John Stevens

Ben Fogle Sorry For Sharing Animal Sentience Fake News Story

Fair play to Ben Fogle, who tells Guido “I am happy to apologise and add clarity” after he tweeted the viral fake news story on animal sentience to his 336,000 followers. Sue Perkins, Rachel Riley, Caroline Lucas and the RSPCA have been less willing to admit they were wrong…

Viral Animal Sentience Fake News Story Seen By 2 Million People

This week a number of stories claiming the Tories had voted that animals are not sentient beings went mega-viral. An article on the Independent website – shared thousands of times on social media – reported “The Tories have rejected all scientists and voted that animals don’t feel pain”. The Evening Standard claimed they “just voted that animals cannot feel pain or emotions”. The Indy, which has truly become one of the most downmarket trash clickbait websites around, even named and shamed the Tory MPs “who voted legislation on animals feeling pain and emotion”. These attacks were tweeted out by celebrities like Ben Fogle and Sue Perkins, politicians including Caroline Lucas and failed LibDem MP Sarah Olney, and petitions were signed by hundreds of thousands of unwitting animal lovers. The stats are huge:

  • Analysis shows 2 million people have seen articles and tweets about the Tories voting against animal sentience
  • 155,157 signed a Change.org petition repeating the claim
  • 263,476 signed another petition on 38 Degrees
  • 43,081 signed a third petition on ThePetitionSite
  • Nearly 30,000 have signed smaller petitions (that’s almost 500,000 overall)
  • Sue Perkins shared it with her 1 million followers
  • Rachel Riley shared it with her 510,000 followers
  • Ben Fogle shared it with his 336,000 followers
  • Caroline Lucas shared it with her 276,000 followers
  • The RSPCA tweeted it out to their 248,000 followers

Just one problem. It is fake news…

During last Wednesday’s debate, Tory MPs repeatedly explained that the government already recognised animal sentience and that the amendment was flawed. Read it here in Hansard – Tory MP after Tory MP stood up and agreed that animals are sentient. No MPs argued against animal sentience. It is just not true to say, as the Indy did, that “The Tories have rejected all scientists and voted that animals don’t feel pain”. Anyone who has seen the Environment Secretary with his Bichon Frise Snowy, or indeed the hedgehog above, knows these viral articles are fake news. This made up story, circulated by the Tories’ opponents for solely cynical reasons, is cutting through to animal lovers who think they can trust things they believe on the Independent website. This morning Michael Gove categorically committed the government to animal sentience once and for all. He couldn’t be clearer:

“This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.”

Will that go as viral as the fake news BS that hoodwinked thousands in the last week?

Hammond’s Banter Budget: All the Jokes

Some real groaners…

OBR: Hammond’s Budget Rabbit Will Increase House Prices 0.3%

Hammond’s abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers might be a tax cut, but it doesn’t go anything like as far as the Institute of Economic Affairs, Adam Smith Institute and Taxpayers’ Alliance were hoping (they wanted it abolished for everyone). This line from the OBR is a tough one for the government to explain: the policy will increase house prices by 0.3%.

Given the OBR’s forecasting accuracy this is a rounding error that is less than the cash value of the stamp duty cut…

May-Hammond Cough Sweets Double Act

Wahey!

Autumn Budget Photo 2017

The Chancellor now stuck in traffic on Whitehall…

Rudd Sorry For Missing Key Brexit Vote Last Night

Five divisions in the Commons last night on the EU Withdrawal bill had MPs running back and forth from their offices, dinner and the terrace to the voting lobbies. Amber Rudd managed to turn up for four of the votes, but curiously appears to have missed the crucial division on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This was the tightest vote of the evening, the government won by 311-301 – just ten votes. Rudd made it to the votes before and after, but oddly missed the closest one of the night. Guido has asked for an explanation… the whips will be keen for one too…

H/T @mrharrycole

UPDATE: A source close to Amber Rudd says:

“Between the votes last night Amber had to deal with an urgent call about a National Crime Agency issue. She cut it too fine and missed one vote for which she has apologised to the Whips. She voted in the other 4 out of 5 votes last night.”

DD Meets Cliff Edge

Ed Miliband eat your heart out…[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

John Curtice on fiscal policy:

“Attitudes to taxation and spending are basically counter-cyclical. If a government comes in and tries to reduce spending and taxation, after a while people will get worried about the state of public services. If a government increases taxation and public spending, after a while they’ll get concerned about increasing taxation…. In as much as there are lots of ideologues out there who think the state should be this proportion of GDP, they’re all wrong. Because the public’s view is counter-cyclical to the recent experience. It’s basically impossible to satisfy the public.”

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