Hague must resign over new Ashcroft revelations

The Tory shadow foreign secretary is unfit for office.

So, after the Tories attempted to divert attention away from the Ashcroft affair with a crude assault on the trade union movement, today they find themselves back under the spotlight.

Papers leaked to the BBC show that William Hague was consistently kept informed about the negotiations of Ashcroft's tax status and that he was "satisfied" with the final outcome in July 2000. All of which seems rather at odds with the shadow foreign secretary's earlier claim that he only discovered Ashcroft's non-dom tax status a "few months" ago.

Hague's rather lame defence on the Today programme this morning was that he was not a "tax accountant", and that as leader of the opposition he had "a thousand and one problems at a time".

It may well be that, rather than engaging in an elaborate cover-up, Hague simply didn't realise that Ashcroft had wriggled out of paying his fair share (again). But neither option is particularly palatable. If he did know, then he's too wicked to hold office, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid.

Chris Huhne got it right this morning when he argued: "William Hague is not fit for any role in government, let alone that of foreign secretary."

Hague's importance to David Cameron cannot be overstated. The Tory leader's decision to appoint him as his de facto deputy in 2009 was a crucial move, designed to reassure the right of the party. He is one of the five shadow cabinet ministers who will lead the Tories' election campaign.

Hague must now show the sort of dignity that has been so lacking throughout this affair and resign his post.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.