Brexit, the WAIB debate in the HoC and Ms vdLeyen’s visit have been relegated to the bottom of the news pile, thanks to that ‘Royal Bombshell’. I hope that shows Ms vdLeyen how unimportant she is as far as the attention of the British MSM are concerned. Even President Trump’s speech yesterday afternoon was relegated in the Red Tops.
Moreover, in the now customary ‘division of labour’ between our broadsheets we count three articles in the DT, on Ms vdLeyen’s visit what it means for Brexit compared to one in RemainCentral. Ah well, that makes life a bit easier …
Before I take a closer look at the vdLeyen visit, here’s my brief summary of yesterday’s proceedings in the HoC. Firstly, there was PMQs. It was predictably on the Iran issue, with Corbyn trying to label the assassination of that terrorist ‘general’ a ‘murder’ and ‘illegal’, never mind the trail of blood that terrorist has left in the ME. The parliamentary custom is that the leader of the opposition gets six occasions to speak, one after the other. The last word has the PM. When Johnson, in his last reply to Corbyn pointed out how much Corbyn had earned by appearing on Iranian TV, he had to let this pass with no answer. Well played, Johnson!
In the absence of Bercow, PMQ went back to the customary 30 minutes: no comments by the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, no interruptions – well done, even an MP (Mr Fabricant) congratulated him on this feat. There was the predictable “Freedom for Sco’land” cry from the SNP’s Ian Blackford who was then skewered by the PM (watch it here). The only uproar – it was huge! – came when another SNP MP started his question with “Thatcher”. As a colleague said, they still haven’t changed their tune after 30 years, while another remarked that the SNP is not going to get as easy a ride in this Parliament as they did in the previous one.
And so to the predictably dire debate on the WAIB, dire because the amendments were all voted down – ‘stonking majority’, innit! John Redwood lambasted the opposition – this one on WTO rules is important, you can watch him here, while the other (here) is more general. The final debate takes place this morning in the HoC – you can watch it live here.
Now to that visit by Ms vdLeyen … In what I can only describe as a boot-licking article, the DT’s Peter Foster (Remain) reports:
“Her speech [given at the LSE], entitled ‘Old Friends, New Beginnings” was very precisely calibrated – generous about the UK’s contribution to the European Union; earnest about the need to forge a new relationship, but utterly unflinching about the trade-offs implicit in Brexit. “The truth is that our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before. And it cannot and will not be as close as before – because with every choice comes a consequence. With every decision comes a trade-off,” she said, quietly schooling the British prime minister. In short, if Mr Johnson wants to prioritise divergence then, as Ms Von der Leyen, reminded him, “The more divergence there is the more distant the partnership has to be”. (paywalled link)
Oh dear! Brussels, as represented by Ms vdLeyen, still thinks that we’ll be frightened of becoming ‘more distant’ to the sacred EU! There’s more:
“But as Ms Von der Leyen observed, this new negotiation will take place against “a backdrop of clarity”, and it will take clear-sighted, strategic thinking to produce workable results, a message she conveyed to the Prime Minister when they pair met. As they smiled for the cameras, Mr Johnson sought some common ground exclaiming that “Ursula and I were in school together” – before his guest gently corrected him: “The same school,” she recalled, “but not at the same time.” Punctilious to the point of pitilessness. The details will matter; in the new era of clarity, backslapping bonhomie will not suffice.” (paywalled link)
Did ‘backslapping bonhomie’ ever suffice? If it had, Ms May would still have been PM and we’d already been out … But you’ll have noticed the sly hints that Johnson and his negotiators will have a hard time now that the German Frau is at the helm. In a more austere report The Times writes:
“Britain will find it impossible to negotiate a comprehensive and close future relationship with the EU by Boris Johnson’s December deadline, the new head of the European Commission said yesterday.” (link, paywalled)
Translated, this means: “we will do our utmost to make it impossible” – as we all, who have watched Ms May trundle to Brussels time and time again know full well. Brussels still believes it has the power to dictate to us. They also are still singing from the ‘clean Brexit will be a disaster’ hymn sheet, giving ammunition to our Remain MSM. The DT reports on Johnson’s remarks after some quotes from Ms vdLeyen’s speech:
“However in their meeting Mr Johnson was “clear that the UK would not extend the Implementation Period beyond 31 December 2020”, a Downing Street spokesman said. The Prime Minister also told her that “any future partnership must not involve any kind of alignment or ECJ jurisdiction. He said the UK would also maintain control of UK fishing waters and our immigration system.” However, he said the UK would “continue to ensure high standards in the UK in areas like workers’ rights, animal welfare, agriculture and the environment.” The Prime Minister’s press secretary added: “The UK has a long history of having higher standards on a number of issues than the EU and that is a proud tradition that we will continue.” (paywalled link)
Please underline and bookmark that last remark by the PM’s press secretary! This is a truth Remainers everywhere want to be kept swept under their Remain carpet! Moreover, it’s as if Brussels still hasn’t got the message that there will be no extension.
While I am by no means certain that Johnson won’t cave in to some of the Brussels demands, I think he’s too astute a politician to let Brussels force him into an extension. He knows that this would mean the Red Wall will be rebuilt with a vengeance, and that he cannot be certain of keeping his ‘stonking majority’ because there will be too many Tory MPs elected on the “Out on December 31st 2020” promise who might rebel.
It was therefore quite interesting to see an article in the DT about the ERG and it’s possible future. Here are some quotes:
“The ERG met for the first time this year in Parliament on Tuesday night, when they agreed the future of the group would be thrashed out at the AGM in a few weeks time. Deputy chairman Mark Francois […] admitted “there’s a rumour doing the rounds that we’re going to wind it up”, but added: “That’s codswallop.” The former defence minister, who gained a reputation for using military terminology to describe the Brexit negotiations, added: “We didn’t win the war to throw away the peace. We will have a discussion about the way forward at the AGM but we won’t be stuck at the back of the broom cupboard. The ERG has a continuing role to play even after we’ve left the EU.” (paywalled link)
Indeed so, but it’s fascinating nevertheless that some in the MSM are already speculating about the demise of the ‘Spartans’, quoting speculations by certain ‘sources’:
“But as one Tory insider put it: “Downing Street would rather the ERG turned around and said: ‘We’ve done our job, we’re confident in Boris, now we’re pulling up the stumps’.” It is not just down to the strident Euroscepticism of members like John Redwood and Sir Bill Cash which could still prove problematic during the trade negotiations. If Wednesday’s speech to the LSE is anything to go by, new European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen’s idea of ‘getting Brexit done’ appears dramatically at odds with that of the British electorate.” (paywalled link)
Precisely – and if “keeping Johnson honest” is already seen as ‘problematic’, then the ERG will definitely still be needed, as this next bit of ‘speculative interpretation’ makes inadvertently clear:
“Mr Johnson’s insistence on “an ambitious free trade agreement, not alignment” will be yet more music to the ERG’s ears after the Bill prohibited the implementation period being extended beyond Dec 31, keeping no deal firmly on the table. But the Spartans, some of whom are now established media commentators, are unlikely to remain silent if the British team of negotiators led by Mr Johnson’s EU sherpa David Frost concedes too much to Brussels.” (paywalled link)
Just so! And as The Spartans seem willing to keep going, so are we going to