Reading what Rebekah Brooks says

What today's statement says and does not say.

The statement by Rebekah Brooks on phone hacking is fascinating reading and deserves to be read closely.

Dear All,

When I wrote to you last week updating you on a number of business issues I did not anticipate having to do so again so soon.

However, I wanted to address the company as a matter of urgency in light of the new claims against the News of the World.

We were all appalled and shocked when we heard about these allegations yesterday.

These are not new claims. They have been current in journalistic and media law circles for some time. For example they were mentioned in the recorded conversation between Hugh Grant and Paul McMullan, and they were put to John Yates by the Parliamentary Select Committee. It also appears from Nick Davies and Amelia Hill's report that the News of the World had already freely told the local police.

Note she does not state which "allegations" are appalling and shocking. This will be the major flaw in the statement: it is never clear what facts or allegations are being discussed at any point in what follows.

I have to tell you that I am sickened that these events are alleged to have happened.

Here we have the combination of the legally cautious "alleged" and the emotional "sickened". Again, she does not specify what the alleged "events" are which sicken her.

Not just because I was editor of the News of the World at the time, but if the accusations are true, the devastating effect on Milly Dowler's family is unforgivable.

Now she is combining her editorial responsibility with an appeal to Milly Dowler's family's sensibilities. It is interesting that she cannot even bring herself to devote one entire sentence to her editorial responsibility without trying to deflect attention. Again, the actual "accusations" are not stated.

Our first priority must be to establish the full facts behind these claims. I have written to Mr and Mrs Dowler this morning to assure them News International will vigorously pursue the truth and that they will be the first to be informed of the outcome of our investigation.

More deflection. The intention may be to make it look like News International is "doing something". However, what is glaring is a lack of any denial at all.

Our lawyers have also written to their solicitor Mark Lewis to ask him to show us any of the evidence he has so we can swiftly take the appropriate action.

This is a red herring. It is not for Mark Lewis to provide evidence of wrongdoing at this stage of the claim which the Dowlers are reported to be bringing. One notes that it is not denied that News International has the evidence itself.

At the moment we only know what we have read.

A wonderfully vague statement, which carefully avoids saying that what they read was actually news to them.

Since 2006, when the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) seized the documentation from the private investigator Glen Mulcaire, News International has had no visibility on the evidence available.

The process of discovery is complicated. The MPS first present relevant documents to potential victims. We only see the evidence much later during the legal process.

This all means the documentary and witness "evidence available" of other parties. This statement cannot logically mean any documentary and witness evidence possessed by News International.

This morning, in our regular Operation Weeting meeting, we have offered the MPS our full co-operation to establish the veracity of these fresh allegations.

I have also written to the chief constable of Surrey police. Although their nine year investigation is now complete, I want to offer our co-operation should they intend to discuss this matter with us.

I am determined that News International does everything it can to co-operate fully and pro-actively with the MPS, as we have been doing for some time, to verify the facts so we can respond in a robust and proper way.

This is again send a positive signal that they are "doing something". Again, the lack of a denial is glaring. One can also note that the "robust" phraseology is evocative of previous internal investigations.

It is almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff could behave in this way.

Mulcaire was sufficiently closely employed by News of the World to sign a settlement agreement in respect of any employment claims. This is not consistent with the strained label of "freelance inquiry agent". Note the reference to "working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff" and not "working on behalf of the News of the World".

If the allegations are proved to be true then I can promise the strongest possible action will be taken as this company will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour.

At what stage will the allegations be "proved to be true"? News International is closing down the civil litigation claims with generous pay outs. The allegations may never be proved in a way to trigger the "strongest possible action". She also does not offer to resign, even though the allegations are about conduct under her "watch". One will recall that Coulson resigned when the allegations were about conduct on his "watch".

I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew, or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.

This is a formulation of almost Clintonesque proportions; but it is not a denial. Also, of course, one does not "sanction" allegations: presumably she means the hacking.

I am proud of the many successful newspaper campaigns at the Sun and the News of the World under my editorship.

In particular, the 10-year fight for Sarah's Law is especially personal to me.

The battle for better protection of children from paedophiles and better rights for the families and the victims of these crimes defined my editorships.

More deflection; this time it is a crass appeal that won't anyone think of the children.

Although these difficult times will continue for many months ahead, I want you to know that News International will pursue the facts with vigour and integrity.

I am aware of the speculation about my position. Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues.

Even though the allegations are not "proved" and that News International wants to see "evidence", she has prejudged the situation as meaning that there could be no conceivable proof and evidence which would make this a resigning matter.

We will face up to the mistakes and wrongdoing of the past and we will do our utmost to see that justice is done and those culpable will be punished.

We will see. Note how "mistakes" are added to "wrongdoing". And note how the word "culpable" is used instead of the word "responsible". Those responsible will not be punished, only the culpable.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.