Hancock’s Half Page

MAY’S DEAL IS STILL IN PLAY

 

MOGG WAVERING.

At a Downtown event this week, the former Chief Executive of Manchester Council, Sir Howard Bernstein, identified Yvette Cooper as a potential Labour leader.

Even before that happens, she could make a major contribution to British politics, by threatening to delay our departure from the EU. The Labour MP wants to delay Brexit if no deal is struck by the end of February. Her party leadership are considering backing it even though there is no love lost between party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Yvette Cooper.

This prospect is even beginning to worry boneheaded Brexiteers like William Rees Mogg who is now suggesting it is only the Northern Irish backstop that is stopping him from voting for May’s Deal.

The performance of Remain MPs has lacked the intensity of the European Research Group over the last few years, but at last they are stirring into action. The prospect of delaying or losing Brexit may be enough to start the collapse of opposition to May’s Deal.

118 Tories voted against May’s Deal last week, but it is quite possible for most of them to come into line, particularly if the DUP are bought off with some more assurances on the Backstop which I think are out there.

THE POLISH MILITARY CURFEW!

It is difficult to raise a smile at the moment, but I thought I’d share this with you from a Brexit conference I attended in London this week.

The influx of Polish workers before the Referendum was one of the issues played up by UKIP. A speaker was claiming that Polish immigration had almost dried up now, partly because the wage gap had massively narrowed. But he had another explanation. There had been a baby boom in Poland about 25 years ago producing a large number of young Polish men without work around 2012. Why the baby boom? Because there had been a night curfew imposed by the army!

PARLIAMENT REFLECTS THE PUBLIC MOOD.

The public are increasingly frustrated by the parliamentary deadlock but, according to the latest polling, they are only reflecting a deeply divided country.

Support for No Deal is rising, although it is behind Remain with Mrs May’s Deal in third place. It is all very tight with no big swings. People are largely staying in their 2016 trenches and the parties also. There is strong support for No Deal amongst Conservative grassroots which is mirrored by support for Remain amongst Labour members.

YOUNG REVOLT AGAINST CORBYN?

Has the penny dropped amongst those young enthusiasts for Jeremy Corbyn that they were actually supporting an enemy of the European Union going back forty years?

Dissatisfaction with his leadership was in evidence at the Fabian conference I also attended in the last week in London. The Fabians are a long-standing centrist Labour think tank and many delegates expressed their dismay that the party is not streets ahead in the polls considering the Tory mayhem.

At the gathering Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer made clear his preference for a People’s Vote but Deputy Leader Tom Watson concluded that there were not the parliamentary votes to secure it, and he had his doubts about its merits anyway.

So another big Brexit week looms. Stalemate could still prevail, but I have a sense that things could break May’s way shortly.

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PAINFUL OR POINTLESS: CALL IT OFF

WILL MAY COMPROMISE?

On Tuesday I walked through the media tents and contending Brexiteers and Remainers outside Westminster on a darkening January afternoon. I’ve reported from that patch of grass on and off for over 40 years, often urging people to take more interest in politics. I should have been more careful over what I wished for. People are interested now as they shout and tweet from wholly divided camps. The nation is ripping itself apart.

As Downtown’s Chief Executive explains eloquently in his blog, our parliamentary system is unable to cope. A system designed to give all power to a government cannot deal with the compromises needed in the current situation. The proportional representation that Frank calls for would result in coalitions requiring compromise. Just like our democratic participation in the European Union requires compromise. We aren’t shut out. Our voice is heard. Sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t but we are there with our democratically elected MEP’s and our democratically elected ministers.

Quoting Tony Blair approvingly has become the crime of the century according to Brexiteers, so here goes. The former Prime Minister says we are faced with a choice between a painful No Deal Brexit, and a pointless one where we have a close relationship with the EU but with no say.

The latter possibility is more real now as the Prime Minister is forced to hold talks with her political opponents. I am not optimistic they will go well.

Up to now she has only been interested in appeasing the Democratic Unionists and the European Research Group. At the last minute to seek the support of people who’s job it is to oppose the government, is unlikely to end well.

This is particularly because those stupid red lines all seem still to be in place. Jeremy Corbyn is right to say that No Deal must be off the table. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond and Business Secretary David Gauke are right to hint that a Customs Union can be discussed.

If the talks fail, then we are faced with several possibilities. Even though there is more support for stopping No Deal than anything else, it might just happen. The size of Mrs May’s deal defeat amazed me. I said I might get egg on my face and I apologise for thinking the majority against her could be under a 100. Bloody-mindedness is rampant in the House of Commons so don’t dismiss us crashing out. The idea of the Liaison Committee stopping a hard Brexit has just collapsed. The suggestion that MPs could take control is silly. Surely no government could stay in office as a bystander whilst the Commons ran things. Furthermore, will Labour want such a precedent for when they are in office?

Let us hope there are enough members of the Cabinet to force Mrs May to take an open approach to the talks which might lead to suspending Article 50 or a very soft Brexit. The latter would help those of us who will hope to point out soon that the whole project was wrong, and we can begin the campaign, with young people, to re-join an EU that is likely to be radically reformed by the challenges it will be forced to face.

POWER TO THE NORTH.

I haven’t time to discuss this in detail today, but I note that Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister is talking about a Department for the North with tax raising powers! It seems to lack democratic accountability, but it looks like John Prescott’s turn of the century Northern Way with bells us.

It’s a pity that the Tories, with the shameful connivance of their Lib Dem partners, scrapped the regional structure in place in 2010. It sent out a message that the North doesn’t matter that partly led to the Leave vote in 2016.

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CAN MAY POSSIBLY GET HER DEAL THROUGH?

 

PLEA TO EU ON BACKSTOP?

I still expect The Prime Minister to eventually find a majority for her vision of Brexit in the next two months. But having been right on the 2016 Referendum, I am probably heading for an “egg on my face moment”.

After all the government have been defeated twice this week and are dealing with a Speaker who is bending the rules against them.

Next week the government are likely to accept an amendment that would give MPs the right to limit the infamous backstop to 12 months. This violates the Withdrawal Agreement. But if it gets her deal through, she could go back to Brussels and say that is the only thing that stands in the way of an agreement that they want.

Democratic Unionist support for this move is vital, because if the DUP can be brought on board, Tory opposition may largely collapse.

 

Mrs May’s deal already has more support than any of the other options. She is currently well short of the 320 she needs. However, her opponents are not close to agreeing an alternative whether that be, delaying our departure, a hard Brexit, hard Brexit with side deals, second referendum, Labour or a national government renegotiating the terms, Norway or Canada options.

The only other thing, apart from Mrs May’s deal commanding strong support is opposition to a hard Brexit. However that can only be stopped by changing the law, and laws can only be changed by a government not the House of Commons.

 

A recent survey suggested the Prime Minister could rely on 150 MPs in the Brexit Delivery Group. It also identified 65 waverers who will probably support the government as the crunch approaches. Then there was a 20 strong group described as nervous Tory Remainers. If the DUP are on board, how many of them will actually vote against their government?

It is to Labour that we must now turn.Given that the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid and the Green’s Caroline Lucas are going to vote against May’s deal, the largest bloc in her way is the 257 strong Labour Party. Some of them, especially in seats that voted to leave will come under increasing pressure to support the May deal. Some,like John Mann, already seem prepared to offer their support to the Prime Minister on the basis of assurances about workers rights.

Nevertheless, a majority will stay loyal to the Corbyn strategy which is to cynically get us out of the EU whilst having no part in the Brexit deal and thus being able to criticise it from March 30th.

Labour will probably be joined by a group of Tory diehard Brexiteers. 117 Conservative MPs voted against her in last month’s leadership election but that does not mean they will all vote against her EU deal. The argument that their hard line could lead to Brexit not happening will erode their numbers to the point where I think Mrs May will squeak home, but it will be close.

OTHER THINGS WILL HAPPEN!

Let us hope that if we get through the immediate Brexit crisis that other things can be attended to this year like social care, housing and a boost for devolution. The Northern Powerhouse project has taken a credibility blow because of the chaos on road and rail. We need a renewal of the debate around regional government and in the meantime devolution agreements for Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Warrington/Cheshire.

We will see what the public have made of our departure from the EU in the local elections in May. A third of the seats are up in our metropolitan and unitary councils with all out polls in the two Cheshire authorities and Blackpool.

We won’t be taking part in the democratic elections to the European Parliament in May because we’ve decided not to have a say anymore in the EU laws that will continue to affect our lives one way or another.

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A NEW YEAR FULL OF UNCERTAINTY

BREXIT.

I still expect The Prime Minister to just find a majority for her vision of Brexit in the next three months. But having been right on the 2016 Referendum, I am probably heading for an “egg on my face moment”.

My prediction is based on the parliamentary arithmetic which suggests that Mrs May’s deal has more support than any of the other options. She is currently well short of the 320 she needs. However, her opponents are not close to agreeing an alternative whether that be, delaying our departure, a hard Brexit, hard Brexit with side deals, second referendum, Labour or a national government renegotiating the terms, Norway or Canada options. Before Christmas there seemed to be a majority to stop a hard Brexit if Mrs May’s deal was voted down. That can only be done by changing the law and laws can only be changed by a government not the House of Commons.

A recent survey suggested the Prime Minister could rely on 150 MPs in the Brexit Delivery Group. It also identified 65 waverers. I think the eerie calm that descended on the Brexit debate over Christmas may have led many of those into the May camp. Then there was a 20 strong group described as nervous Tory Remainers. As the clock ticks down, they may well head into the government’s camp.

Then we come to the Democratic Unionists, only ten of them but much more influential. If they can get the sort of annex of assurance over the backstop that the European Commission has a track record for producing, they could be brought on side. If this were to happen it would be hugely influential on Tory waverers and some Labour MPs. It is to Labour that we must now turn.

Given that the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid and the Green’s Caroline Lucas are going to vote against May’s deal, the largest bloc in her way is the 257 strong Labour Party. Some of them, especially in seats that voted to leave will come under increasing pressure to support the May deal as the government plays for time.

Nevertheless, a majority will stay loyal to the Corbyn strategy which is to cynically get us out of the EU whilst having no part in the Brexit deal and thus being able to criticise it from March 30th.

Labour will probably be joined by a group of Tory diehard Brexiteers. 117 Conservative MPs voted against her in last month’s leadership election but that does not mean they will all vote against her EU deal. The argument that their hard line could lead to Brexit not happening will erode their numbers to the point where I think Mrs May will squeak home, but it will be close.

OTHER THINGS WILL HAPPEN!

Let us hope that if we get through the immediate Brexit crisis that other things can be attended to like social care, housing and a boost for devolution. The Northern Powerhouse project has taken a credibility blow because of the chaos on road and rail. We need a renewal of the debate around regional government and in the meantime devolution agreements for Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Warrington/Cheshire.

We will see what the public have made of our departure from the EU in the local elections in May. A third of the seats are up in our metropolitan and unitary councils with all out polls in the two Cheshire authorities and Blackpool.

We won’t be taking part in the democratic elections to the European Parliament in May because we’ve decided not to shape anymore the EU laws that will continue to affect our lives one way or another.

Follow me @JimHancockUK