Labour demands apology after No. 10 accuses Miliband of giving "succour" to Assad

Vice-chair Michael Dugher writes to Jeremy Heywood demanding that Craig Oliver apologise and withdraw the "infantile and irresponsible" remark.

After David Cameron's director of communications Craig Oliver unwisely accused Ed Miliband of giving "succour" to the Assad regime by forcing the government to promise a second vote on Syria after the UN weapons inspectors have reported, Labour has written a letter of complaint to Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and has called for Oliver to apologise and withdraw the "infantile and irresponsible" remark.

Asked whether Miliband was giving succour to the Assad regime, Oliver said: "Yes. The fact is that a lot of the arguments over this could give succour to the regime." In response, Michael Dugher, the party's vice chair, wrote to Heywood:

You will have noticed reports the director of government communications Craig Oliver has described the leader of opposition as giving 'succour to Assad'. It is language which is infantile and irresponsible.

It follows a pattern of behaviour by 10 Downing Street through recent days which demeans the office of prime minister. It is particularly disappointing given the serious nature of today's debate and the fact that throughout the country people will be listening with great concern about events in Syria, some knowing their relatives could soon be involved in military action.

We ask that Mr Oliver apologises and withdraws the remark. In view of the public interest in this matter we are releasing this letter to the media.

The clash is further evidence of how high tensions are running. Today's Times quoted one government source as saying: "No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a fucking cunt and a copper-bottomed shit." It is worth remembering, as I noted earlier this week, that not since Suez has there been a bipartisan split on a matter of peace and war.

Letter to Sir Jeremy Heywood

Downing Street director of communications Craig Oliver said: "the fact is that a lot of arguments over this could give succour to the regime". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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