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Commons Confidential: Bringing on the clowns in Uxbridge

Plus, why the sisterhood is cold-shouldering Austin “Haddock” Mitchell. 

David Cameron’s incarcerated mouthpiece Andy Coulson continues to endure appalling indignities in prison. I hear he was visited by TV’s Piers Morgan. The guards watching on CCTV as Morgan arrived and departed Belmarsh may have been a larger audience than Morgan enjoyed with his axed CNN talk show. There’s something touching about the two former editors of the News of the World communing away from the Ivy. Morgan broadcasts almost every aspect of his life on Twitter but curiously found no time to record his time in jail with a hacked-off old pal. Perhaps it was too close to home. The Prime Minister has yet to visit the spin doctor, who stayed with him at Chequers. Mystic Dave predicted huge success for Coulson after he skulked out of No 10 in 2011 but presumably is too busy.

 

The sisterhood is cold-shouldering Austin Mitchell after he used the pages of a socialist feminist rag, the Daily Mail, to suggest that women MPs aren’t interested in “big ideas”. Mitchell, whose high point in parliament was to change his name to Austin Haddock to promote fishing, is said to be not very interested in big constituency parties. Labour membership in Great Grimsby has dwindled to fewer than 200 during his tenure. The priority of his successor, the Unison organiser Melanie Onn, is to revive a local base neglected by Mitchell. I wonder if he’d have been so outspoken if his favoured female candidate had been selected.

 

Self-styled Old Testament prophet Bob Marshall-Andrews upset locals in Pembrokeshire by flying the Palestinian flag during the slaughter in Gaza. The lachrymose one-time Labour MP, who cried on TV on election night in 2001 when he thought – wrongly, as it turned out – that he’d lost his north Kent seat, showed solidarity with the suffering masses by nailing their colours to his mast outside his turf-covered “Teletubby” holiday home on the Welsh coast. The council rejected a complaint, replying that Marshall-Andrews was entitled to fly a flag. The struggle takes, as they say, many forms.

 

Alan Johnson, man of letters, is Labour chic. On the literary circuit, the former postie draws good crowds in towns and cities to hear his council-home-to-home-secretary story. My snout observed that fans waving a pen and a copy of the first instalment of Johnson’s autobiography for him to sign are advised to put their Biros away. He likes to inscribe his name with his own fountain pen. That’s surely a touch of Old Labour.

 

A group of lefties of my acquaintance are toying with running a “real clown” against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. In the election circus, for once, BoJo the baby machine might not be the only candidate unable to keep up his trousers. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The summer of blood

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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.