PLUS: Fallon goes AWOL
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The Times and Sunday Times
Friday November 17 2017
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
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Good morning,
This is not a coup. Without a shot being fired or vote cast, a new powerbase has emerged among political journalists.

Kate McCann of the Telegraph has emerged as the new chairman of the parliament press gallery, only the second woman in our 214-year history.

My time in charge is coming to an end, though rumours that I am under house arrest are exaggerated. I just work from home on Fridays.
Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
 
Must reads
  • Senior judicial figures have called for an end to “unjust” and “outdated” divorce laws as The Times begins its 'Family matters' campaign to modernise legislation that would put children first in marital break-ups.
  • Mali, a special forces dog who fought on under fire, even after shrapnel from Taliban grenades tore into his belly and legs, blew out a front tooth and damaged his right ear is to be given the highest animal award.

  • Today's Times2 features a review of Morrissey's first album since he claimed far-right politician Anne Marie Waters’s failure to become Ukip leader was a fix.
It's official: Brexit is boring
It's possible I have mentioned before that Brexit is boring, but it seems it is now government policy too.

Theresa May has told her cabinet that Tory polling shows the public is not following the ins and outs of Brexit, and ordered her ministers to concentrate on the domestic agenda.

One person who knows the PM well told me recently that she "comes alive and gets really animated" when discussing her mission to tackle burning injustices, whereas she sees Brexit as a "solemn but burdensome duty". It's something dull and technical to get through, a means not an end.

A new poll by Britain Elects/D-CYFOR found 35 per cent of people think Brexit is the biggest issue facing the country, and only 14 per cent think it is the biggest thing facing their family.

May's advisers know that she wants a legacy which is about more than getting a Brexit deal (which itself does not seem certain).

David Lidington, the justice secretary, seems to have got the memo. Speaking at a press gallery lunch yesterday, he joked that the government had taken on board my criticism of Brexit being boring.

"We have been working hard to find something to distract," he said. "There have been diplomatic rows, reshuffles, a defence expert has told us that we could be within range of North Korean nuclear missiles. We have had a coup in Zimbabwe... The foreign secretary has been working overtime to tempt Matt's jaded appetite."

I'm not sure that's quite what the PM had in mind. In fact, while the week in parliament has been dominated by mutineers, Downing Street has been trying to change the subject.

This week May has hosted European business leaders and tech firms for roundtables in No10, met Nicola Sturgeon and Stefan Löfven, the Swedish PM, used her Lord Mayor's banquet speech to tell Russia: "We know what you're doing." A trip to a housing development in Barnet to highlight her "personal mission" to get Britain building (a mission most PM's claim to have, at least initially).

All of which is doing what the May premiership has not been terribly good at in the past: pitch rolling before a big event, with the budget just five days away.

May's to do list might have Brexit at the top, but there is plenty more to do: pay, tax, housing, social care, schools, transport, NHS, security, and on and on.

The PM and her team are itching to get on to these other issues, and who can blame them. Just today we've got headlines about U-turns, Tory MPs attacking each other and going AWOL, and no sign of the Brussels talks making progress.

Brexit is still complex, intractable, laborious, divisive, risky. And boring.
YESTERDAY'S RESULT: We asked if Michael Gove should become chancellor. Just 22 per cent said 'yes', while 55 per cent said: "Are you joking? No!" See the full results here
Friday's best comment
Philip Collins
Spare us from these high-minded Tories
Philip Collins – The Times
Ed Conway
Brexit may be just what British trade needs
Ed Conway – The Times
Anne Ashworth
Get used to hearing ‘tepid’ and ‘sluggish’
Anne Ashworth – The Times
If you feel like British democracy is falling apart, don't worry: everything is working as intended
Fraser Nelson - The Daily Telegraph
'A decade-long fight for the soul of the Labour Party’ - how Momentum are gaining ground in Manchester
Jennifer Williams - Manchester Evening News
Today's cartoon from The Times by Peter Brookes
    Ins and outs
    Exactly a week ago Theresa May wrote an article in the Telegraph promising the date of Brexit – 11pm on March 29 2019 – would be written into the EU Withdrawal Bill "in black and white" (despite it being written into the Article 50 process anyway).

    "Hurrah!", said the Brexiteers. "Rubbish!", said the Remainers who vowed to rebel. The Telegraph called the rebels "Brexit mutineers", helpfully uniting the Tory party around the idea of parliamentary sovereignty and MPs being free to voice their views.

    And now the government seems to have realised it won't get its date amendment through, and is preparing to ditch it, proving that it didn't make any difference to Brexit anyway, and you could have just not paid attention all week.
    Collaborators and mutineers
    One of the lasting impacts of this week will be the deterioration in the debate, and the hurt that has caused. On Tuesday Sir Bill Cash, the most ardent of ardent Tory Brexiteers, wrote an article for The Times criticising Conservative "dissidents" threatening to "collaborate with this turncoat Labour Party".

    This has gone down like a cup of cold sick with his colleagues. Antoinette Sandbach, who was also branded a "mutineer" by the Telegraph, hits back in a spiky article for Red Box. She says talk of collaborators is "deeply divisive and personally offensive to someone whose family was thrown out of their house by Nazis and lived under Nazi occupation".
    Red Box: Comment
    Antoinette Sandbach
    My family were thrown out by the Nazis - I'm no "collaborator"
    Antoinette Sandbach – Conservative MP
    Fallon goes AWOL
    The former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon has not taken part in any parliamentary votes since leaving the cabinet. He defied a three-line whip instructing all Tories this week to vote down amendments to the withdrawal bill.

    By contrast, Priti Patel, who resigned as international development secretary last week, took part in all ten votes on the withdrawal bill.
    Read the full story >
     
    No deal in sight
    There may not be anything actually happening but the mood music on Brexit is not good. Brussels rules out Britain getting a fancy bespoke trade deal.

    Dominic Grieve has rounded up 27 mutineers, according to the Telegraph. Boris Johnson is letting it be known he doesn't want the divorce bill to top £20 billion, according to the Mail.

    Journalists who traipsed to Berlin for David Davis' Big Speech returned disappointed. No movement on anything of note, just a warning against putting "politics above prosperity", which Remainers would say is what got us into this position in the first place.

    Arriving at a summit in Gothenberg, Theresa May said she hoped the European Union would respond "positively" to her approach to Brexit as senior Brussels figures warned trade talks may not be given the green light in December.

    Keep an eye out for a report being rushed out by the Brexit select committee at midday.
     
    We'll go it alone, warns SNP
    Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, has warned that Scotland could join the EU “as a full independent nation” if the UK government rejects demands for continued single market membership after Brexit.

    In a stark ultimatum issued yesterday, Blackford suggested that nationalist MPs are poised to call for a second independence referendum as he warned “We cannot, and we will not, be dragged out of the EU against our will.”
    Read the full story >
    Paying for Nazanin blunder
    Even before Boris Johnson had a foot-in-mouth moment at a select committee, the lack of an obvious plan to help Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British mother jailed in Iran, had looked a bit of a tangled mess.

    Now it seems that the Treasury and the Foreign Office are at odds over Britain paying a historical debt of £450 million to Iran as pressure builds to secure her release.
    Read the full story >
    Picture of the day
    I'm not sure about the new people on Gogglebox.
    Wake up and smell the avocado
    Frankly anyone who eats smashed avocado for breakfast deserves everything they get, but Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, has come to their defence after it was claimed millennials can't buy a house because they spend all their money on extravagances like eating.

    In a speech Javid attacked those who have “long-since paid off their own mortgage” for “living in a different world” and for blaming millennials as he warned that without more affordable housing the UK was at risk of creating “a rootless generation”.

    It might not come as a surprise but the Mail is not happy, splashing with a rather direct message to its readers: "You Baby Boomers are so selfish"
    Budget bits
    Labour would meet a £17 billion bill for increased spending on public services entirely through tax revenues, John McDonnell has said in a pre-budget shot across the chancellor's bows. Read the full story

    Speculation is growing that Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is considering imposing a £200 levy on sales of new diesels to force drivers to switch to cleaner models. Read the full story

    The Guardian
    says Hammond is being urged to set aside £7 billion for new transport links in the so-called "brain belt" between Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes and to use the budget to persuade local authorities to build the first new towns in Britain in half a century.

    The paper also reports that the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith, is calling on the chancellor to renege on promised Tory tax cuts and instead plough billions of pounds into universal credit if he wants to help families that are just about managing.
     
    Economicky with the truth
    Our story yesterday that Michael Gove had been "auditioning" to be chancellor in cabinet meetings by using "long, economicky words" caused a stir.

    I was contacted by another member of the cabinet who insisted that eyebrows were not being raised at Gove's behaviour because they did not understand the terms he was using, but because they doubted he did.

    Robert Shrimsley in the FT imagines a conversation in the chancellor's office.
    Red Box: Comment
    Iain Stewart
    I’ve told the chancellor how to massively expand shared ownership
    Iain Stewart – Conservative MP
    Retweets and RT
    He had hoped that his first show on RT would, er, silence the critics.

    Instead Alex Salmond's debut on the controversial Russian TV channel, featuring an interview with Carles Puigdemont, the exiled Catalan leader, drew claims of #fakenews after it emerged that of four tweets read out, one came from a Twitter account that did not exist, one was from an account that had not been used in years and one was from the director of the programme.
    Read the full story >
    The Sketch
    Strictly chitchat for Salmond on RT
    Patrick Kidd
    Patrick Kidd
    There is no worse fate for a politician than irrelevance. Which is why Alex Salmond was on Vladimir Putin’s favourite television channel at 7.30am yesterday, launching his own chat show. Who knows where this could lead? Russia Today, Pointless Celebrities by Christmas.
    Read the full sketch >
     
    Chart of the day
    From Russia without love
    Getting Labour's Jess Phillips and Theresa May to agree on something is no easy feat, but Vladimir Putin has managed it: they are both worried about Russian

    After the PM warned of Moscow "meddling in elections", Phillips reveals in a piece for Red Box how she feels cyber aggression happening to her: accounts hacked, inboxes rendered unusable by co-ordinated attacks, bots spreading misinformation.

    Putin should know Phillips is not to be messed with; just as the mugger found out who tried to take her iPhone in Whitehall, but went away empty handed.
    Red Box: Comment
    Jess Phillips
    The PM is no tin-hatted conspiracy theorist: I feel cyber-aggression all the time
    Jess Phillips – Labour MP
    Tweet of the day
    End of an era
    Robert Mugabe’s resignation as president of Zimbabwe is expected as early as today after he was summoned from house arrest to discuss the terms of his departure with generals, church leaders and international mediators.

    He is said to have issued a list of demands that would bring a dignified end to 37 years in power including immunity from prosecution and safe passage for his family.
    Read the full story >
    Red Box: Comment
    Jane Merrick
    Sick of the smog? Why city dwellers should get an allotment
    Jane Merrick – Red Box columnist
    Also in the news
    TMS
    From the diary
    By Patrick Kidd
    Saved by the (opera) bell
    David Lidington, the cerebral justice secretary, told a parliamentary lobby lunch yesterday that one of the trickiest tasks he had ever faced in politics was to brief Ann Widdecombe, when she was shadow home secretary, on the sexual offences that would be covered by a new piece of legislation. “I went through cottaging, cruising, incest, bestiality,” he said. “Her eyebrows were getting higher as her jaw dropped lower.” Suddenly, La donna è mobile was heard coming from his boss’s pocket. It was her phone, summoning her elsewhere to both their relief. As she left, Widders barked at Lidders: “As far as I’m concerned, they all should be banned.”
    Read more from the TMS diary >
     
    What the papers say
    The Times
    "An unhappy marriage is at best a burden, while a bitter divorce can directly harm children’s mental health with long-term effects that last for decades. That is why divorce laws should make it easier for parents to remain on civil terms after separating." Read the full article

    Financial Times
    "Michel Barnier, chief EU negotiator, has let it be known that the UK will have to choose between Norway and Canada. The idea for a special deal is off the table. This may be Gallic brinkmanship, but the reality is that the UK has to start from one of these basic approaches." Read the full article

    The Daily Telegraph
    "Mr Hammond has to apply radical conservative policy not only to power Britain through Brexit but to keep Mr McDonnell's hands off the Budget box. The last election proved that the promise of "strong and stable" is far less attractive than a plan to raise the standard of living - and that is what the chancellor has to deliver next week." Read the full article

    The Sun
    "The unavoidable truth is that the social media giant's owners have lost control of the monster they have created — and must now be regulated. If MPs aren't convinced of that by Facebook execs shrugging their shoulders and saying "we can't stop you being raped", they never will be." Read the full article

    Daily Mail
    "It's long been obvious that with so much money swilling around in the budget, aid officials are desperate to find ways to spend it - a sure-fire recipe for profligacy. So the Mail has a proposal for the new international development secretary Penny Mordaunt: Order a full audit of all aid spending to examine just how wisely the money has been used."

    Daily Mirror
    "The decisive public support for tax rises to fund a billion-pound cash injection into the ailing NHS is a go-ahead for the Tories to substantially raise healthcare spending. Under pressure, underpaid staff need help that can only be provided through increased funding. The head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, needs £4billion just to keep going."

    The Guardian
    "Recent chancellors bestrode the political scene and their colleagues were in no doubt that their fortunes rested on the whims of Treasury. This is not Mr Hammond’s fate. In the run up to this year’s events it is clear he is an isolated figure, upstaged in cabinet by rivals who want his job and challenged in the media by ministers unafraid to question him over spending restraint." Read the full article

    Daily Express
    "Mr Carney would do well to remember that this is a democracy and we abide by the wishes of the majority. He might also like to take a glance at the economies of southern Europe, especially Greece, and the way that they have been brought to their knees by EU membership."
    Agenda
    Today
    • Theresa May meets EU leaders for talks in Gothenburg, Sweden.
    • Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, meets Simon Coveney, Irish foreign minister, for talks in Dublin.
    • David Davis, Brexit secretary, visits Berlin and makes a speech to the Süddeutsche Zeitung summit.
    • Ballot closes in the Scottish Labour leadership election. The result will be announced on Saturday at 11am.
    • Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary general, addresses the opening day of the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.
    • The UK faces a security "cliff edge" after Brexit, according to a report by the UK in a Changing Europe.
    • Small and medium-sized businesses that provide "good jobs" should get a 1 per cent corporation tax cut, according to the IPPR think tank.
    • 11am: Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister, delivers a pre-Budget speech on the impact of the government’s policies on black and ethnic minority women.
    • 11:10am: Lord Gardiner, Defra minister, speaks on Brexit and the veterinary profession at the London Vet Show.
    • 1pm: Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, speaks on the implications of Brexit at the Royal United Services Institute.
    • 5:30pm: Lord Thurso delivers the annual Charles Kennedy memorial lecture in Fort William, Scotland.
    House of Commons & House of Lords
    • No business scheduled
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