Hancock’s Half Page

“LETTER OF COMFORT” TO SAVE MAY DEAL?

MORE U TURNS FROM MRS MAY?

So, Mr Rees Mogg is it OK to try to overturn the 2016 decision? No not the EU Referendum, the decision to make Theresa May leader of the Conservative Party. Then when she defeats the Brexiteers mistimed coup, it is OK, Mr Rees Mogg, to ignore the 83 Tory MP majority and tell her to go to the Queen and resign. The reeking hypocrisy of the “extremists” as the Chancellor so rightly calls them in opposing a People’s Vote is laid bare.

So, where are we? Mrs May’s 200-117 victory wasn’t great, but she carries on. There are signs that a “letter of comfort”, a clarification, an assurance over the temporary nature of the Backstop will be forthcoming from our exasperated European colleagues.

The question then is will it be enough for the DUP to fall in line? Possibly. If not, we will have to see how successful Mrs May will be in her belated attempt to get some Labour MPs to support her. This strategy should have been employed a long time ago. I think the Prime Minister has done reasonably well in very difficult circumstances. Her main failing has been her failure to build a broad coalition in her own party leave alone Labour or the SNP.

So when, at the last minute, she now seeks Labour votes it is going to be much more difficult for the likes of Wigan’s Lisa Nandy and Doncaster’s Caroline Flint. Mrs May is tarnished goods. She has a track record for saying one thing and doing another. Remember, “There will be no General Election in 2017”. “The vote on the Brexit Deal will not be pulled”. One day soon she is quite capable of saying the following. “Parliament has refused to live up to its responsibilities in a way that I could never foresee, therefore it is my duty to call a General Election or a People’s Vote.”

Her other alternative is to allow the clock to go on ticking towards March 29th, hoping to force MPs to back her deal rather than face No Deal chaos. Hillary Benn and Dominic Greave can get the Commons to vote for anything they like, the law is that we leave on March 29th. Only governments can initiate changes in the law.

The Labour leadership have refused the no confidence approach but won’t say why. I’ll tell you why. They would lose. Every Tory MP and the DUP would back the government whose morale would be raised by defeating Labour. Anyway, Brexiteer Corbyn wants us out of the EU and then he wants to be able to blame everything on the way the Tories messed up Brexit.

Finally, we come to Mrs May saying she will not contest the 2022 election. Quite rightly her statement is not fully believed, given her track record. But if we take it at face value, it was very foolish. It must have been done in a desperate pitch for votes because it now makes her a lame duck. She will probably have to go soon after March 29th as we can’t have her in charge of the protracted talks over our future relationship when the EU will be wondering who they will be negotiating with before the final deal is concluded. It also means that the depressing jockeying for the position of Conservative leader that has been going on while the nation begs for leadership, will intensify.

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BREXIT: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WEEK?

 

IF THE DEFEAT IS HUGE.

The government is censured. All warehouses in this country for frozen goods are full. Preparations are underway to turn Kent into a lorry park. People are worried they will not be able to gain access to life saving drugs. And for what? A course of action that under ALL circumstances, will leave this country worse off.

Against this background let’s have a look at the myriad of possibilities that will follow next Tuesday’s momentous Brexit vote.

Mrs May might win. If the extreme Brexiteers all take fright following Tory rebel Dominic Greave’s success in getting power to propose motions which could stop or soften Brexit, who knows who might join them just to get out of the EU? Her determination is widely admired in the country. Her opponents are deeply split on all the alternatives.

However, it remains likely she will lose. If it was a heavy 100 vote defeat, she might resign. It is highly unlikely a “coronation” would take place and a bitter leadership contest would take place between remainer and leaver candidates.

Mrs May might want to “take her case to the country”, the words of Jim Callaghan when defeated on a vote of confidence in 1979. She might be prevented by Tory MPs terrified by an election where party candidates would be split between Remain and Leave and where it might be difficult to keep the election on one issue. Labour would certainly want it to be about austerity. Meanwhile what would Labour’s stance be, still respecting the 2016 vote but riddled with vagueness on what else to do about Brexit?

If she loses, a vote of confidence can be expected on Wednesday which she would likely win. If she lost, she would have to resign as Conservative leader and a Tory election would take place as discussed above but the government would stay in place. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has floated the idea that Labour could be sent for to form a minority administration at this point.

A SMALLER DEFEAT

If the defeat is less severe, say around 40/50, Mrs May is likely to go back to the EU to try and get some tweaks to the deal, particularly around the Irish backstop.

If she fails, or is defeated again, then a group of Tory ‘suits’ like Damien Green, Oliver Letwin, Michael Fallon and Dominic Greave, backed by Labour’s Hilary Benn, could put down motions to suggest several options, all of which have problems. They would also only be motions. Only the government can stop us leaving the EU on March 29th by changing the law.

They may suggest postponing the March 29th withdrawal for further talks. The problem is the European Parliamentary elections are coming up in the summer. If we are still in the EU do we elect MEPs? A new EU Commission has to be chosen. In other words, there will be a long delay.

NORWAY AND CANADA.

The Norway option seems to be attracting support, but it allows free movement, the very thing Leavers were most exercised about. Added to which the Norwegians may not want us in the European Free Trade Association vetoing EU rules that they are quite happy with.

Canada, with or without pluses, would not solve the Irish border issue.

NO DEAL AND ANOTHER REFERENDUM.

There is No Deal peddled by idiots like Boris Johnson or its ugly sister “managed No Deal” which might reduce the lorry queues a bit.

Finally, there is the People’s Vote. One can argue that people are much better informed, and the lies of the Leavers have been exposed. But it would be a very bitter campaign and what’s the question, Deal or No Deal or Deal, No Deal and Remain?

Suppose you got Remain 35%, Deal 34%, No Deal 31%? Is that a mandate to remain in the EU?

By the way, UKIP, which was the cause of all this, is now a neo fascist party with Nigel Farage out and Tommy Robinson in.

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THEN AS NOW

 

ECHOES FROM THE PAST.

The Prime Minister goes to the country in a snap General Election appealing for support across party lines. The Irish border is a major issue in the campaign. Labour is led by a man whose leadership qualities are questionable. Meanwhile the Liberal centrist tradition is weak.

I speak not of now but of the General Election of December 1918, exactly a hundred years ago. In the wake of the Great War, Lloyd George put himself at the head of a coalition that cut across Tory and Liberal loyalties. Coupons were issued to Conservative and Liberal candidates who supported the Prime Minister. The result was good for Lloyd George personally. He remained Prime Minister, but he split his Liberal Party sending them on a spiral to obscurity from which they briefly recovered in the 2010 Coalition government.

Then as now the future of Ireland was a big issue. It was the last election where the whole of Ireland took part. It saw a huge surge in Sinn Fein support which led, four years later, to the creation of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland separated by that border which is at the heart of the current Brexit crisis.

The Labour leader in the election was a man called William Adamson who had emerged as leader following a faction fight in 1917. Few would have tipped him for Labour leader but, as with Jeremy Corbyn, circumstances provide surprise leaders.

ON TRACK.

Downtown in Business maintained its tradition of hosting ground breaking events this week. I had the pleasure of hosting a members’ dinner where our guests were two of the top people in Network Rail (NR).

NR has been subject to criticism by the elected mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region. Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram argue that democratic devolution cannot fully be realised whilst bodies like NR and the Highways Agency remain outside the direct influence of democratically elected local politicians. Decisions on road and rail investment have a huge impact on our lives and should be integrated into the city region’s governance arrangements, so the mayors’ argument goes.

I think NR has been seen as remote and unaccountable because of a reluctance to engage fully in debate and explain their side of the story. That is changing, and Downtown was chosen as the forum where two top NR executives were prepared to face a range of questions from Downtown business people who all had their stories of cancelled and overcrowded trains.

Patrick Cawley, who oversees big projects, was frank about things that had gone wrong. For instance, delays in completing work on the Preston-Manchester line was at the heart of the summer crisis. Old mine workings turned out to be far more extensive than originally envisaged. Lessons had been learnt for the introduction of the next set of timetable changes shortly.

The NR executives wouldn’t be drawn into the politics of reintegrating the rail network with the operating companies or Labour’s plan for renationalisation. But it became clear that NR have to wrestle with changing government decisions. The full electrification of the Leeds- Manchester line being a case in point. Through all the uncertainty caused by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, NR continues to draw up plans.

I got the impression NR are happy to engage with the city region mayors while pointing out that they have to take national considerations into account at the same time.

Cawley stressed that the need for HS2 was one of capacity rather than speed and the evening ended with an appeal from NR’s David Golding for more private sector investment in rail projects. Business finance could give a major boost to areas around stations. The retail transformation of Birmingham New Street was given as an example. Similar opportunities are looming at Piccadilly Manchester although there are sharp disagreements among the parties involved over how HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are going to be successfully integrated.

Anyway, it was good to see Network Rail talking frankly about its complex problems. May this open approach continue.

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BUSINESS PRESSURE ON MPs TO DO DEAL

 

MAY GAINS GROUND

The pressure on MPs to stop the Westminster pantomime and act responsibly will grow and grow as the vote on the Brexit deal comes closer. It will come from business which is fed up with the uncertainty. It will also come from large sections of the public who just want to get on with it now that we have more detail on the future relationship framework after Brexit Day.

The Prime Minister has seen off the empty threats of the European Reform Group of MPs. She is also gaining admiration for her resilience while surrounded by squabbling men.

I haven’t resiled from my firm belief that the whole thing is madness and we should stay in the EU. The problem for us Remainers is that we need a Commons majority to change the law on exiting on March 29th and I can’t see how that can be done.

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, is calling for Mrs May to step aside and allow Labour to form a minority government. But they have no appetite to stop Brexit.

A General Election is almost impossible to achieve under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, (although I discuss one possibility below) Anyway it is very unlikely Labour would campaign on staying in the EU. As last year, the two main parties would likely be in lockstep on respecting the Referendum result. There is a vanishingly small chance of the Lib Dems, who would stop Brexit, coming from single digit opinion poll obscurity, to form a majority government.

I have already given way to the threat of civil unrest if there was a second referendum which I think would be close again and settle nothing.

So, we come to the intense pressure that is going to be applied to MPs to accept Mrs May’s deal. The government may come back again and again to parliament. One defeat will not mean it can’t be put to the vote again. Meanwhile the pound will collapse in value and Mrs May could seek a General Election herself, hoping to rally a nation facing the cliff edge.

Doing the parliamentary maths, I can just see the tiniest majority for the deal. It rests on two groups of MPs. Wavering Brexiteer Tories who number around 65 and a similar number of Labour MPs who currently favour a People’s Vote. People like Stephen Kinnock and Chuka Umunna.

The process of getting the deal across the line would be assisted by it being a free vote for all MPs. That’s what happened when the Commons voted on joining the Common Market in 1971.

McVEY’s FUTURE.

Esther McVey left the Cabinet in spectacular style last week. She is reported to have had a shouting match with the Prime Minister as she demanded a formal Cabinet vote on the deal.

Briefings against her soon got underway, largely centred around her row with the Chancellor over money for Universal Benefit and her misleading parliament over the National Audit Office’s view on its rollout.

McVey was a huge asset to the Tories. A scouser from a working-class background, the former TV presenter brought a bit of glamour to a party dominated by “suits”.

She lost her seat in Wirral West in 2015 after a bitter campaign and now faces the prospect of her current constituency, Tatton, being broken up. She may face a contest with for the new seat of Altrincham and Knutsford with Graham Brady.

Yes, that Graham Brady, the chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee who didn’t get 48 letters of no confidence from the Dad’s Army of extreme Brexiteers, but I wonder if Esther has popped one in?

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