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9 January 2019

Commons Confidential: Keir’s Starmer’s cry of despair on Brexit – “What are we doing?”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Europe remains Jeremy Hunt’s Achilles heel and I’m told the ambitious Foreign Secretary’s emissaries approached Penny Mordaunt’s friends for the two to run as a dream team in the undeclared race to succeed Theresa May. With most members of the Tory sect preferring a hardline no-deal break to the PM’s Brexit scam, one-time second referendum supporter Hunt believes persuading a Leaver to be his deputy is vital if he’s to inherit May’s crown. Europhobic dog whistler Mordaunt, who lied in the 2016 campaign about millions of Turks moving to Britain, still fancies her own chances. Should the pair be forced into a marriage of convenience, the vows wouldn’t include Mordaunt’s commitment to obey.

Keir Starmer was overheard behind the Speaker’s chair asking a Labour MP “What are we doing?” after the shadow Brexit secretary sauntered into the chamber for one of Jeremy Corbyn’s waffles on Europe. Both the Labour leader and a PM who is sidelining Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay are taking back control.

Boris Johnson’s back catalogue continues to catch up with him, this time on Myanmar. My Foreign Office snout recalls how on an official visit the blond bungler’s mobile ran out of battery during a call with Aung San Suu Kyi. Nervous British diplomats declared the power failure an unparalleled triumph.

No applause from smoking room philistines for the substantial figure of Alec Shelbrooke, a waistcoated Tory with the girth of a prosperous 19th-century mill owner. The crowd wasn’t exactly arty when he flourished tickets for Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Leeds Grand Theatre. The fellow MP who suggested that the portly representative for Elmet and Rothwell looked as if he’d already eaten the Sugar Plum Fairy doesn’t need to go to Specsavers.

The life-size cut-out of Tom Watson at a Daily Mail Christmas party was an unlikely symbol of regime change, as former editor Paul Dacre regarded Labour’s deputy leader as the devil incarnate. Sugary drinks, during a Fizz-Free February, are the slimline former hammer of the press’s new target. “Coca-Cola is the new Rupert Murdoch,” Watson was overheard declaring. After he cost the Sun King hundreds of millions of pounds, every crisis is an opportunity. Pepsi will be delighted.

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A Liberal Democrat old hand lamented the end of unintentional free media monitoring provided by the Cabinet Office. Transcripts of TV and radio interviews continued to arrive long after the ConDem coalition ended. The flow ceased only after an out-of-office reply from a Lib Dumb press officer alerted Whitehall.

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

This article appears in the 09 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit Showdown