Andrew Mitchell's statement resolves nothing

Chief whip continues to deny that he called the police "plebs".

If Andrew Mitchell's statement outside Downing Street this morning was intended to draw a line under the controversy surrounding his altercation with the police, it was a resounding failure. The Chief Whip began badly, stating that it had been "a long and extremely frustrating day", before rather negating that point by conceding: "not that that's any excuse at all" (why mention it then?)

He added: "I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer on the gate, and he has accepted my apology, and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there."

Then asked whether he called the police "plebs", he again denied doing so.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not say the words attributed to me.

But with today's Sun reporting that an official police record of the incident confirms that he did use the word "plebs", the Chief Whip's denials are only likely to invite further scrutiny of the conflicting accounts. Either he did use the word "plebs", in which case he is unfit for office, or he didn't, in which case the police are lying and, as Trevor Kavanagh puts it, he should he sue them "for defamation".

What Mitchell has still not told us is what he did say. Earlier this morning, Nick Clegg rightly called on him to "explain his side of the story" but that is precisely what he failed to do.

Minutes after Mitchell's statement, Clegg was interviewed on the Today programme. He said that Mitchell had "quite rightly" apologised, before adding that he was not going to give a "running textual analysis". Others, however, will continue to do so.

Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell again denied that he referred to the police as "plebs". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Labour will soon be forced to make clear its stance on Brexit

The Great Repeal Bill will force the party to make a choice on who has the final say on a deal withg Europe.

A Party Manifesto has many functions. But rarely is it called upon to paper over the cracks between a party and its supporters. But Labour’s was – between its Eurosceptic leadership and its pro-EU support base. Bad news for those who prefer their political parties to face at any given moment in only one direction. But a forthcoming parliamentary vote will force the party to make its position clear.

The piece of legislation that makes us members of the EU is the European Communities Act 1972. “Very soon” – says the House of Commons Library – we will see a Repeal Bill that will, according to the Queen’s Speech, “repeal the European Communities Act.” It will be repealed, says the White Paper for the Repeal Bill, “on the day we leave the EU.”

It will contain a clause stating that the bit of the bill that repeals the European Communities Act will come into force on a date of the Prime Minister's choosing. But MPs will have to choose whether to vote for that clause. And this is where Labour’s dilemma comes into play.

In her Lancaster House speech Theresa May said:

“I can confirm today that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.”

Later that day David Davis clarified May’s position, saying, of a vote against the final deal:

“The referendum last year set in motion a circumstance where the UK is going to leave the European Union, and it won’t change that.” 

So. The choice the Tories will give to Parliament is between accepting whatever deal is negotiated or leaving without a deal. Not a meaningful choice at all given that (as even Hammond now accepts): “No deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain.”

But what about Labour’s position? Labour’s Manifesto says:

“Labour recognises that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain and that it would do damage to our economy and trade. We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option.”

So, it has taken that option off the table. But it also says:

“A Labour approach to Brexit also means legislating to guarantee that Parliament has a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal (my emphasis).”

Most Brexit commentators would read that phrase – a meaningful vote – as drawing an implicit contrast with the meaningless vote offered by Theresa May at Lancaster House. They read it, in other words, as a vote between accepting the final deal or remaining in the EU.

But even were they wrong, the consequence of Labour taking “no deal” off the table is that there are only two options: leaving on the terms of the deal or remaining. Labour’s Manifesto explicitly guarantees that choice to Parliament. And guarantees it at a time when the final deal is known.

But here’s the thing. If Parliament chooses to allow Theresa May to repeal the European Communities Act when she wants, Parliament is depriving itself of a choice when the result of the deal is known. It is depriving itself of the vote Labour’s Manifesto promises. And not only that - by handing over to the Prime Minister the decision whether to repeal the European Communities Act, Parliament is voluntarily depriving itself of the power to supervise the Brexit negotiations. Theresa May will be able to repeat the Act whatever the outcome of those negotiations. She won’t be accountable to Parliament for the result of her negotiations – and so Parliament will have deprived itself of the ability to control them. A weakened Prime Minister, without a mandate, will have taken back control. But our elected Parliament will not.

If Labour wants to make good on its manifesto promise, if Labour wants to control the shape of Brexit, it must vote against that provision of the Repeal Bill.

That doesn’t put Labour in the position of ignoring the referendum vote. There will be ample time, from October next year when the final deal is known, for Labour to look at the Final Deal and have a meaningful vote on it.

But if Labour supports the Repeal Bill it will be breaching a clear manifesto promise.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues. 

0800 7318496