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9 February 2017

Commons confidential: The Brexit chill

Furtive whisperings among Tory MPs and late nights for the PM.

By Kevin Maguire

Diane Abbott is Jeremy Corbyn’s most influential comrade, closer to the leader than even John McDonnell. The Hackney Hatchet hijacked January’s Labour relaunch by squatting in the leader’s office until he agreed to defend free movement. After her Brexit migraine, an informant muttered that her north London neighbour David Lammy had told a meeting of party members in Tottenham that she had consistently supported migration and didn’t believe what she is now forced to utter publicly. In journalism we know that as “for ‘yes’ read ‘no’”.

Sunken eyes and a near-permanent sniffle leave Tory MPs fretting over the Prime Minister’s health. A radar-lugged nark in the tearoom overheard a table of Conservatives discussing how knackered Theresa May looks. The consensus was that pressures of the post, including an exhausting trip to pay homage to Donald Trump, are taking their toll.

Tiredness is a symptom of the PM’s type 1 diabetes and one of May’s cabinet ministers told me he feared she would be forced to slow the pace. Another snout whispered that a critical role of May’s No 10 Rottweiler Fiona Hill is to protect “the boss” from avoidable stress as the day wears on. If MPs and ministers in Westminster are deliberating May’s stamina, surely it will soon be a topic of national conversation.

Furtive Brexit discussions were earwigged in the foyer of 1 Parliament Street between the former Tory ministers Ed Vaizey and Dominic Grieve. The Remoaner Vaizey fancied himself as a resistance leader, while the constitutionalist Grieve evidently controlled “my people” in the battle over Britain’s EU departure. Unofficial whips, including Hazy Vaizey, outnumber May’s paid enforcers.

By glorious coincidence, one of Culture Secretary Karen Bradley’s special advisers is Craig Woodhouse, a Sun reporter who wrote the 2013 premature story “Arise Sir Becks”, conferring a knighthood that never was on David Beckham. The upside is that the spad is in a prime position to advise his line manager to fulfil the player’s wish.

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On a foray to the Rooftop Arts Centre in Corby, Labour’s deputy dawg and culture vulture, Tom Watson, was prodded by a newspaper snapper into sketching a picture. He drew a lemon. That’ll be the lemon that Watson observed Corbyn was forced to suck, in agreeing not to erase May’s Brexit.

Charlie Windsor has reason other than climate change to bridle at the prospect of Donald Trump enjoying the full royal works state visit. The US president, I’m assured, was tickled during a 2005 visit to the US by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall when the New York Post renamed Camilla “Frump Tower”.

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

This article appears in the 08 Feb 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The May Doctrine