The Chamber was much fuller yesterday – trust me, I watched!
Yesterday we had the pomp-and-circumstances of the first session of the new parliament, election of the Speaker first and foremost. Yes, I watched, so there’ll be a few remarks below. We had and still have the misery of Labour, from Corbyn’s speech yesterday to the interventions of former MPs and one by Tony Blair today, oh joy (see here).
We had an intriguing announcement by the PM, and we have our friends in the EU, as told to current and former Brussels correspondents. That is guaranteed to raise our collective blood pressure so I’ll come to that last, giving you the chance to brew yourself some valerian tea rather than coffee.
Firstly, that announcement! During the HoC session tweets made the rounds (e.g. here), that the PM has forbidden ministers to attend that billionaires’ jamboree in Davos next month. Here’s a non-paywalled report while The Times writes:
“Mr Johnson’s allies said that the timing of the summit, which starts on January 21, ten days before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU, played a part in the decision to stay away. They insisted that the ban was only for this year and ministerial attendance at the 2021 event would be reviewed closer to the time. It is not clear whether any British civil servants will attend the 2020 summit.” (link, paywalled)
That makes eminent sense to me. This announcement did not figure in the PM’s first speech in the new HoC. The chamber was full to bursting, the mood was jubilant. MPs old and new on the government benches were practically sitting on each other while the Labour benches looked ‘moth-eaten’, according to Quentin Letts. Poor JRM on the government front bench looked squashed by those more hefty MPs sitting on each side to him. Here’s a non-paywalled report and here‘s a non-pywalled sketch.
We were treated to the full panoply of parliamentary pomp, with Black Rod summoning the HoC to attend the HoL for Sir Lindsay Hoyle to receive the assent of the Queen, delivered by the Lords’ Commission. You can watch the full TV recordings here on the Parliament TV channel.
Personally, I do enjoy watching these arcane proceedings – these traditions do pack a powerful punch. A footnote: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the new Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, both wore morning coats. What difference to the Bercow regime!
A brief note to the swearing-in of the MPs which started yesterday afternoon and which will go on all day today and probably tomorrow morning before the opening of Parliament by The Queen: MPs were given a choice of bibles on which to swear, from the King James Bible to ones in Welsh or Gaelic, and of course the RC Jerusalem Bible, the choice of JRM (‘Should have read it in Latin for the Lol’, said a friend). The quran, which some used, was hidden in a little reticule so that infidel hands wouldn’t touch it.
The atheists were given the choice to ‘affirm’ … with Ed Miliband (remember him?) declaring loudly that he was ‘an affirmer’. Sir Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, had subdued his wonderful booming voice to a near whisper, which led one colleague to remark that he didn’t want to blast the eardrums of the HoC clerk administering the oath.
Nothing much needs to be said about the speeches by Johnson and Corbyn, except that Corbyn looked as if he’d rather have been somewhere else: grey, just ‘present’ but ‘not participating’. He will whip his reduced horde of MPs to vote against the Johnson WA on Friday (link, paywalled).
We’ve all heard by now that the ‘Deal’ which will be voted on in the 2nd reading on Friday incorporates the deadline of December 31st 2020, on which date we’ll leave, trade agreements or not. The EU and EU MEPs still think this is ‘negotiable’, provided they make sufficiently harsh, threatening noises (link). It’s obvious that Brussels, like Labour, has learned nothing. They look set to base their strategy on what has happened before, as Peter Foster, DT’s Remain EU editor, reports:
“At this stage we take everything with a pinch of salt,” says one EU diplomat, noting that with his majority Mr Johnson is free to make laws – and remake them – as the circumstances require. Mr Johnson’s does however provide one piece of clarity for the EU, which had harboured hopes in some quarters that a sizeable majority would open the door to extending transition for up to two years – at a cost of 10 billion euros or more a year. It seems clear now that there is no chance of this happening” (paywalled link)
Mr Foster then describes four scenarios, as seen from Brussels. The quotes from EU ‘diplomats’ as reported by Mr Foster make my blood boil. See for yourselves:
“Scenario one: a ‘Zero-tariff, zero quota’ Free Trade Agreement: This is the stated target of Mr Johnson […] This will mean at least maintaining current EU stands for environment and social standards – as well as EU rules on state aid. The EU might also request ‘dynamic alignment’ in some areas, which would mean the UK following new rules as they develop in the future. But if agreement can be reached on this divisive area, then EU officials and trade experts say a basic goods-only FTA is possible by the end of 2020 […] Even so, trade experts warn, this would still be a hard exit.” (paywalled link)
Agree to keep taking EU rules, apparently in perpetuity – but even so this might still be that ‘hard exit’ which the EU and Remain still think will scare us! Have they not heard us voters say ‘no’ to this fudge? Next:
“Scenario two: A more limited Free Trade Agreement: If the level playing field ‘strings’ that the EU wants to attach to a UK-EU ‘zero tariff’ deal are considered too onerous by Mr Johnson, then the two sides could agree an even more limited deal. This would accept the need for protective tariffs on some products as the price of the UK taking back regulatory autonomy. “The EU’s aim is to keep the UK close. If the UK is not interested, then it is not clear why the EU would rush to do the deal,” (paywalled link)
The EU obviously wants to keep the UK as tightly shackled to the EU as possible – but again, why do they think that we’d meekly accept this? Johnson knows full well that the Labour votes giving him this majority are ‘lent’, and that they’ll vanish if he presents us with an EU fudge. Now the scary bit, the old and trusted ‘hard exit’, the cliff edge:
“Scenario three: Hard exit out on ‘WTO terms’: If both of these scenarios prove to be politically impossible, then the UK will simply leave without a deal and revert to WTO tariff schedules. […] Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor warned [Johnson] last week he will have to “weigh carefully” the costs of divergence if it builds barriers with the advanced market on the UK’s doorstep.” (paywalled link)
The arrogance of the EU and their nominal empress, Ms Merkel, is breath-taking! They see themselves as the ‘advanced’ market and we poor peasants in the UK must gratefully accede to their diktats because the UK market is what … backwards? Helpless? They still regard us as supplicants! Here’s the last scenario:
“Scenario four: A transition deal that dare not speak its name; A fourth alternative is that both sides reach October with ‘zero for zero’ FTA on the table which, with the consent of the European Parliament, could be ‘provisionally applied’ prior to full ratification. […] Such a mechanism could be modelled on the agreement offered to the Swiss to manage their relationship with the EU. […] EU diplomats and officials are – for now – outwardly sceptical about the viability of such an idea […] It may also prove ideologically difficult for both sides. “The Swiss accept the supremacy of EU legal order […]” observes a senior EU diplomat. […] The alternative is a ‘hard’ landing, where business needs to adjust overnight to new regulatory regimes” (paywalled link)
Give me strength: has ‘business’ still not had sufficient time to ‘adjust’? Are we going to see the spectre of cliff edges resurrected for the next twelve months? And have we not voted Out because we do not accept the ‘Supremacy of EU Law’? Let the EU chew on this:
“A new clause in Mr Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill will let lower courts overturn ECJ rulings. MPs will vote on the bill on Friday. Mr Johnson has argued that Britain should “take back control of our laws” and the change will be celebrated by his party as restoring the sovereignty of the justice system. It will mean that British courts can rule on existing EU case law” (link, paywalled)
Yes, there are the usual ‘concerned’ nay-sayers, and yes, their complaints come under ‘it’s too difficult so we better not try and anyway the EU won’t like it.’ It seems many of the returned, former Remain MPs also haven’t heard our voices, given on December 12th!
So don’t think it’s all over, it isn’t – and we’ll