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25 July 2018updated 27 Nov 2018 6:37pm

Commons Confidential: On Raab’s first trip to Brussels, even the Eurostar wasn’t without mishap

Your weekly dose of gossip from Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Dominic Raab’s first trip to Brussels didn’t signal that this Brexit Secretary with an extremely high regard for himself will navigate his way easily through complicated negotiations to wrench Britain out of Europe. Sitting in the wrong Eurostar carriage on his way back from meeting Michel Barnier in Brussels seemed symbolic of a Tory government losing its way. An informant recounted how Raab C Brexit settled into a seat and unpacked his bag before an aide whispered that it wasn’t their part of the train, so they needed to shift positions. The wayward minister was forced to pack up his stuff and move. Just like Theresa May did with her Chequers plan. Complicated challenge, boarding a train. Good job we were promised that a future trading relationship will be the easiest deal in history.

Extraordinary scenes in the division lobby before the parliamentary recess when Labour’s combustible Ian Austin exploded in the summer heat. Witnesses allegedly heard and then saw the MP swearing loudly at party chair Ian Lavery, screaming that he was a “fucking bastard” and “wanker”. Onlookers report Austin didn’t make a political point as he went nose-to-nose to shout expletives at the granite-faced former miner but surmise it was another offensive in the anti-Semitism row. The outburst was observed by Labour chief whip Nick Brown, who moments earlier was told he should resign by the Dudley rampager. Also watching was former defence minister Kevan Jones. He was subsequently overheard informing Lavery, “You handled that well, Ian. In the old days you might’ve nutted him.” I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the detonation.

Tory Brextremist Steve Baker suffered a sense of humour failure on the Commons terrace. Theresa May’s former minister was viewed by a snout haughtily pushing away a proffered satirical song sheet with Boris Johnson versions of “It’s My Party” and “The Party’s Over”. Brexit did mean breakfast for a plotter wanting to remain undisturbed.

Stardust was sprinkled over a Labour staff and peers end-of-term dinner in a posh curry house with the arrival in the restaurant of Paul McCartney. The party’s lordly leader, Angela Smith, is more 1950s rock’n’roll Basildon Lady than Beatles fan yet still swooned into her vegetarian dhal. Might we one day speak of a Lord McCartney of Abbey Road? Let it be.

Eyebrows were raised over invitations from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC to a Doughty Street Chambers lawyerly soirée with Stella Creasy to finance an extra member of the Walthamstow warrior’s team. The grand billing for the Labour MP left rivals scenting leadership ambitions when Comrade Corbyn is no more.

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Editor’s noteOn 27 November, the Labour Party dropped its investigation into Ian Austin MP and no further action will be taken. “The account that suggests I swore in his [Ian Lavery’s] face is not true,” said Austin. “I did not swear at him.”

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This article appears in the 22 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special

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