1. FOR FOX’S SAKE
MPs are preparing to head off for their summer break (don’t dare call it a ‘holiday’, they’re all working really hard in their constituencies). But as Parliament gets ready for ‘take out the trash day’ in London (see below), just how much garbage will be talked in Brussels on either side about Brexit?
David Davis and counterpart Michel Barnier will give us an update on their negotiation so far, but it seems there’s little progress over citizens’ rights or the divorce bill. The Sun, however, has a nice scoop that Business Minister Lord Prior told a private meeting there would be continued access for skilled EU migrants. It is “now looking like it is going to be the softest of soft Brexit”, Prior said. Using the s-word is bound to prompt the f-word among Eurosceps, and Iain Duncan Smith is already outraged.
Another leading Brexiteer, Liam Fox, was on the airwaves this morning, digging in on his own stance. The International Trade Secretary told Today that “we can of course survive with no deal”, a line that is in stark contrast to Philip Hammond’s funereal warnings of how difficult the ‘no deal’ outcome would be. Foxy did relent on the need for some kind of transition, but tellingly used the words ‘implementation phase’ instead. Never forget that for him, like millions of Leave voters, quitting the EU is a liberation, and he kept saying the Government had to “keep faith with the voters”.
The FT reports that Michael Gove raised objections to a new Government position paper on the European Court of Justice, which accepted some cases would have to be allowed to work their way through even after Brexit. Gove has DEFRA Questions at 9.30am so will be worth a watch.
Vince Cable, who said this month Brexit ‘may never happen’, is expected to be crowned the new Lib Dem leader later today. But for the Tories any coronation to replace May looks very unlikely. Fox told Today that questions about the PM’s future were “slightly peripheral questions” to the enormity of Brexit. Yet he added something few of his colleagues have said publicly so far: “I think the Prime Minister is likely to be here for the rest of this Parliament.” Let’s see.
Quizzed by the Today programme’s Sarah Montague about his own future in the Cabinet, Liam Fox hit back: “Will YOU be in your job in another year’s time? None of us can predict the future.”
And there was a tricky moment at 6.06am (I do this so you don’t have to, reader) when the Radio 4 show did its usual read through of the morning paper front pages. Montagu read out the Sun’s splash ‘AWKWARD!’, showing BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker alongside a grimacing Louise Minchin as he joked about the impending BBC pay revelations.
Montague pointed out that Walker was on £250k a year, while Minchin was not on the highpay list, adding that the BBC bloke had been in post “a fraction of the time” his colleague had. Why was this doubly awkward? Because Montague has worked on the Today prog for 15 years and is not on the richlist, and alongside her sat Mishal Husain, who has been on Today for 4 years and is on the richlist.
Eddie Mair (£300k) won the prize for self-flagellation yesterday when he asked BBC boss James Purnell (£325k): “Why do people get paid more if they have a penis?” Many Labour MPs see this all as a Murdoch/Dacre plot to destabilise the BBC, but the public may well be baffled by the huge sums involved for some. And while many in the Corporation dislike individual salaries being identified, Purnell and BBC DG Tony Hall conceded the gender pay gap merit of the whole exercise. Purnell said on Newsnight that male ‘talent’ would have their salaries cut further to balance things out in coming years.
After PMQs yesterday, we were told that Jeremy Corbyn would apply his 20:1 pay cap ratio to the BBC. So either Gary Lineker’s £1.75m pay packet will be slashed to a miserly £320k…or the lowest paid cleaners and admin staff will all get £87,500 each under PM Jez.
It’s the last day of Parliament before summer recess, aka ‘take out the trash day’ for Whitehall. The Order Paper lists 22 written ministerial statements, including ones on Cabinet committees, immigration rules, terror legislation and ‘machinery of government changes’ (always a favourite).
And speaking of burying bad news, as the BBC row raged, David Gauke told a virtually empty Commons chamber yesterday that six million workers aged under 48 will have to wait a year longer to qualify for a state pension. No.10 insisted yesterday that if it had delayed the pensions announcement to today it would have been further accused of pulling a fast one. Downing Street said Gauke’s statement had been tabled straight after PMQs to ensure maximum exposure and only two urgent questions delayed it (a handful of MPs was present mid-afternoon).
Gauke insisted the announcement had been in the ‘grid’ for a long time, and no one was trying to hide the big news while all eyes were on the BBC pay row. The PM’s spokesman said “I’m not aware of any correlation between the two”. That doesn’t quite explain why the announcement was not made earlier this month (it was on hold because of the snap election). And the Tories face claims their manifesto failed to specify this major change, despite a vague wording about tackling the pension issue.
Away from spin and timing rows, the substance is well, substantial. Government saves a massive £74bn by forcing people to retire at 68, not 67. Labour says it wants to keep the retirement age at 66. But if so, it’s now got a genuine ‘black hole’ in its finances. Still, Gauke has to work out if there will be any exemptions for manual workers. And the irony is that this week, Prof Marmot pointed out life expectancy was ‘levelling off’, not lengthening, due to austerity since 2010.
Watch SNP MP Hannah Bardell flash her Scotland football kit in the Commons. She and Rosena Alin-Khan and Tracey Crouch showed pretty good keepy-uppy skills too (click HERE), after they took part in our first ever MPs v Political Emails Sports Day yesterday.
There was more raw anger on display last night as Kensington and Chelsea council confirmed its new leader Elizabeth Campbell in post. Our reporter Rachel Wearmouth was there, and one of the most poignant moments came when a Grenfell Tower survivor held up the key of her destroyed 10th floor flat.
The Iranian woman, speaking through an interpreter, said: “Every time I look at this key and want and I ask what is the difference between us human beings? I’m here to represent those who died innocently and they are powders now – their bodies’ powders – and those survivors who are burning inside themselves and nobody hears them and nobody listens to them.”
The new deputy leader of Kensington, Kim Taylor Smith (what is it about double barrelled surnames on the Tory group?) showed again a tone deafness on both ITV’s GMB and on the Today prog. But last night the moment which brought the tragedy back into its sharpest focus came when survivors were left to desperately bang on a fire escape door at the council meeting. “Why is the fire escape locked?” one survivor cried out to Campbell. Another despairing resident was heard to shout: “I do not want anyone trapped. I’m already traumatised as it is”.
Theresa May’s appearance on Iain Dale’s LBC show (isn’t he a good broadcaster?) yielded several news lines. One of the best was the summation of her predicament as a diminished PM, able to chastise but not really fire any colleague. “There is no such thing as an unsackable minister,” she said, before adding swiftly “But at the moment, the team is together”.
As we mark the 50th anniversary in the first step of decriminalizing gay sex in Britain, May also stressed she wanted to do “more” to boost LGBT rights, and denied her deal with the DUP had hindered that in any way. In a piece for PinkNews, she also made clear she wanted equal marriage in Ulster: “LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the rest of the UK.”
But what caught the ear in the LBC interview was her hint that her own late father, a Church of England vicar, would have approved of blessings of gay marriages. And she also revealed a personal experience of meeting a gay couple in Maidenhead. “I remember meeting a couple in my Constituency, indeed in my own village, who had been going to go to South Africa to get married and said to me that because the government was bringing this [same-sex marriage] in, they were going to wait and get married here in the UK,” she said. “I went to their wedding, and it’s seeing people having, you know, their lives change…because of the Government bringing in legislation like that, that I think has been so important.” A reminder that often the personal really is the political.
This is the last WaughZone until Parliament returns in September (I am taking a break but will also be back doing my day job in August). Many thanks for all your texts, emails, DMs, phone calls that help make this the (hopefully) well-informed missive you want in your inbox every weekday. Responsibility for the awful punning headlines is all mine, however. Here’s wishing you all a lovely, relaxing summer.