Theresa May addresses The College of Policing Conference on October 24, 2013 in Bramshill. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Gove-May spat is a gift for Labour

The Home Secretary is now echoing the concerns raised for months by the opposition. 

The Queen's Speech is a moment when the government seeks to resonate unity and competence. In their joint statement on the occasion, David Cameron and Nick Clegg declare: "It is easy to forget when we first came together in the national interest just how sceptical people were about how long the Coalition could last and how much change we could effect. Four years on, our parties are still governing together and still taking bold steps. Four years on, no one can deny the progress we have made. The deficit down by a third; our economy one of the fastest-growing in the developed world; more than 1.5 million more people in work – and more people in work than ever before; a welfare system that ensures work pays; more than 1 million new apprentices; taxes cut; inequality declining and fewer children attending failing schools."

But while the Tories and the Lib Dems are at one today, it's a blue-on-blue skirmish that has spoiled Cameron's morning. Today's Times reveals that Theresa May has accused Michael Gove of failing to act on warnings that Islamist extremists were infiltrating schools in Birmingham (the alleged "Trojan Horse" plot). In a letter leaked to the paper (and now published in full by the government), May asks of Gove: 

How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain?” she wrote.

Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act?

I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.

A Home Office source adds: "Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010? Lord knows what more they have overlooked on the subject of the protection of kids in state schools? It scares me."

It is, to put it mildly, a gift to Labour. Not just because public infighting between ministers is never healthy for a government, but because shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has been asking precisely these questions of Gove for months. In his most recent letter to the Education Secretary, he wrote:

"I write following reports that the highly respected headteacher of Queensbridge School, Tim Boyes, warned a member of your ministerial team in December 2010 about efforts by radical Muslim hardliners to take control of schools in Birmingham."

And added: "If no action was taken and you were not informed can you explain why not?

  • What assurances can you give that other warnings have not been ignored?
  • Do you now accept that there is a lack of local oversight in our school system that means an increasing number of problems are going unnoticed?
  • What actions will you be taking to monitor and respond to fragile schools, whether in relation to governance, standards or financial probity?

"These are very serious allegations coming from a senior and highly respected headteacher. The failure to act will undermine the confidence of other heads to raise concerns with ministers. It is not acceptable for headteachers in schools in our country to become the target for radical hardliners wanting to infiltrate our school system."

That May's identical warnings have now been made public means Gove, whose star has waned in the last year, now faces a war on two fronts. 

Here's Hunt's statement from this morning: 

"Instead of ministers rowing, we need leadership on how we confront the very serious and worrying reports about Birmingham schools.

"Michael Gove has failed to act on the early warning signs to prevent the sort of situation we are seeing in schools in Birmingham. Labour will introduce new Directors of School Standards to monitor weak governance and under-performance in our schools.

"But by refusing to act, Michael Gove is paving the way for more fragile schools to run into trouble."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Tusk is merely calling out Tory hypocrisy on Brexit

And the President of the European Council has the upper hand. 

The pair of numbers that have driven the discussion about our future relationship with the EU since the referendum have been 48 to 52. 

"The majority have spoken", cry the Leavers. "It’s time to tell the EU what we want and get out." However, even as they push for triggering the process early next year, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk’s reply to a letter from Tory MPs, where he blamed British voters for the uncertain futures of expats, is a long overdue reminder that another pair of numbers will, from now on, dominate proceedings.

27 to 1.

For all the media speculation around Brexit in the past few months, over what kind of deal the government will decide to be seek from any future relationship, it is incredible just how little time and thought has been given to the fact that once Article 50 is triggered, we will effectively be negotiating with 27 other partners, not just one.

Of course some countries hold more sway than others, due to their relative economic strength and population, but one of the great equalising achievements of the EU is that all of its member states have a voice. We need look no further than the last minute objections from just one federal entity within Belgium last month over CETA, the huge EU-Canada trade deal, to be reminded how difficult and important it is to build consensus.

Yet the Tories are failing spectacularly to understand this.

During his short trip to Strasbourg last week, David Davis at best ignored, and at worse angered, many of the people he will have to get on-side to secure a deal. Although he did meet Michel Barnier, the senior negotiator for the European Commission, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative at the future talks, he did not meet any representatives from the key Socialist Group in the European Parliament, nor the Parliament’s President, nor the Chair of its Constitutional Committee which will advise the Parliament on whether to ratify any future Brexit deal.

In parallel, Boris Johnson, to nobody’s surprise any more, continues to blunder from one debacle to the next, the most recent of which was to insult the Italians with glib remarks about prosecco sales.

On his side, Liam Fox caused astonishment by claiming that the EU would have to pay compensation to third countries across the world with which it has trade deals, to compensate them for Britain no longer being part of the EU with which they had signed their agreements!

And now, Theresa May has been embarrassingly rebuffed in her clumsy attempt to strike an early deal directly with Angela Merkel over the future residential status of EU citizens living and working in Britain and UK citizens in Europe. 

When May was campaigning to be Conservative party leader and thus PM, to appeal to the anti-european Tories, she argued that the future status of EU citizens would have to be part of the ongoing negotiations with the EU. Why then, four months later, are Tory MPs so quick to complain and call foul when Merkel and Tusk take the same position as May held in July? 

Because Theresa May has reversed her position. Our EU partners’ position remains the same - no negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and Britain sets out its stall. Merkel has said she can’t and won’t strike a pre-emptive deal.  In any case, she cannot make agreements on behalf of France,Netherlands and Austria, all of who have their own imminent elections to consider, let alone any other EU member. 

The hypocrisy of Tory MPs calling on the European Commission and national governments to end "the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens living in one another's territories", while at the same time having caused and fuelled that same anxiety and uncertainty, has been called out by Tusk. 

With such an astounding level of Tory hypocrisy, incompetence and inconsistency, is it any wonder that our future negotiating partners are rapidly losing any residual goodwill towards the UK?

It is beholden on Theresa May’s government to start showing some awareness of the scale of the enormous task ahead, if the UK is to have any hope of striking a Brexit deal that is anything less than disastrous for Britain. The way they are handling this relatively simple issue does not augur well for the far more complex issues, involving difficult choices for Britain, that are looming on the horizon.

Richard Corbett is the Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber.