A new bombshell in the phone hacking scandal

Former NoW royal editor Clive Goodman alleges that phone hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial

Just when you thought the phone hacking scandal had reached a lull, Clive Goodman's bombshell of a letter turns up. The letter (which you can read here) was released this afternoon by the DCMS select committee and is potentially devastating for Andy Coulson's defence. Goodman alleges that phone hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial meetings until Coulson banned "explicit reference" to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he did not "implicate" the paper; and that his own hacking was carried out with the "full knowledge and support" of other senior NoW journalists (whose names have been redacted at the request of Scotland Yard). It's yet more evidence of a gigantic cover up.

Goodman's missive could also prove disastrous for Murdoch consigliere Les Hinton, who received a copy but failed to pass it to the police, and who told the select committee just days later (on 6 March 2007) that the tabloid's former royal editor was "the only person" involved in phone hacking. The letter, which is addressed to News International's director of human resources, Daniel Cloke, is dated 2 March 2007 and was sent shortly after Goodman had served a four-month prison sentence for phone hacking. It was intended as an appeal against Hinton's decision to dismiss him for "gross misconduct".

Significantly, as the Guardian's Nick Davies reports, two versions of Goodman's letter were supplied to the committee. One, supplied by law firm Harbottle & Lewis, was redacted to remove the names of NoW journalists, at the police's request. The other, which was supplied by News International, was redacted to also remove all references to hacking being discussed at editorial meetings.

There's also more bad news for the Murdochs themselves. In a separate letter, Harbottle & Lewis criticises the pair's evidence to the select committee as "hard to credit" and "self-serving". The law firm points out that its investigation was limited to whether Goodman hacked phones with the knowledge of other journalists, not whether "general" criminality took place at the tabloid. Thus, it was dishonest of the Murdochs to present a letter from the firm as evidence that News International had received a clean bill of health.

The select committee, which accurately described the evidence as "devastating", has said that James Murdoch is "likely" to be recalled but that Rupert Murdoch is not. In an allusion to Murdoch senior's ignorance and/or amnesia, Tom Watson said that the "devil is in the detail".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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.