Boris and the little details

Front Bench

Good morning. The Commons will approve the Withdrawal Agreement Bill’s second reading today in very different circumstances to the first time.

Commons set to approve much-changed WAB

By Daniel Capurro,
Front Bench Editor
Today is the last day of Parliamentary business for MPs before Christmas. Things will be wrapped up with an adjournment debate on the progress of Southend towards city status. Then it’s off home for the holidays, with MPs not returning to Parliament until January 7.

Oh, but before that there’s the small matter of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB). The Commons agreed to sit today to consider the Bill, which will be voted on for its second reading and sail through.

That won’t be the end of it – there’s plenty of heavy lifting to do next month and MPs have already been warned to expect late-night sessions to get the Bill through quickly in January – but holding the vote today is symbolically important.

– Who cares about amendments anymore? –

The SNP, Liberal Democrats and DUP have all tabled amendments to the WAB, but unlike just a few weeks ago, they’re all irrelevant. The Bill will have no problem progressing, and the British public can head home for Christmas with Brexit off the agenda for once.

As expected, the redrafted WAB itself is a demonstration of how much things have changed. Gone are all the concessions to rebellious Tories and Labour MPs. Parliament will have little say in the future relationship negotiations, while the Government will be legally prohibited from extending the transition period.

Workers’ rights are now dealt with in a separate bill that doesn’t tie them to European regulation. The changes also mean that the Government believes the WAB can’t be challenged legally, reports Christopher Hope.

– We’re tough and we’re on your side –

The vote on the WAB will complete what has been a symbolism heavy week. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech was full of it. Johnson went heavy on the transformation and long-term government rhetoric, telling voters that this was “not a programme for one year or one parliament, it is a blueprint for the future of Britain. Just imagine where this country could be in 10 years’ time”.

As a declaration of intent, the speech was full of policies whose political message was as important as their actual impact. There were the spending promises we’ve all become familiar with, but also offers on security and housing and other smaller policies clearly intended to send a message about whose side the Government is on.

For example, new powers for police to crack down on travellers setting up camp illegally will be introduced, including the ability to seize properties and vehicles. It’s not the biggest issue facing Britain right now, but the policy is perfectly designed to appeal to the new working-class Tories as well as more traditional Conservative voters in the home counties.

The heavy emphasis on longer sentences for terrorists and on rewriting the Treason Act is also a clear signal about what this government is for and who it is going to serve. Likewise, the plans to ditch no-fault evictions.

– Good politics isn’t always good policy –
Yet look beyond the politics and not all of the policy adds up. One of the big surprises was a promise help “local people” onto the housing ladder with a 30 per cent discount on new homes paid for by developers.

Yet, as Melissa Lawford explains, the way the policy is designed means it may well just cannibalise the supply of affordable home and do little to boost overall supply.

And the same goes for the billions being poured into the NHS. Unless the Government fixes social care, it will be chucking money at the health service without addressing the major cause of the current crisis.

Pick of the day

If you read one thing today Read Fraser Nelson on why this Blue Labour government risks repeating the errors of New Labour

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Today’s cartoon

Election Round-up

To the Left, to the Left | Meanwhile, there’s another name in the Labour hat. Clive Lewis has declared, via The Guardian opinion pages, that he will run for the leadership. Lewis’ entry into the contest is an interesting one, as, while not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn personally, he is very much from the same space politically. That means he would be fighting for the same votes as the official continuity Corbynite candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Lewis’ biggest problem may simply be getting on the ballot. While securing the support of 10 per cent of MPs shouldn’t be a problem, he also needs to get either a number of Constituency Labour Parties to back him or union bosses. Which might help explain his opening pitch. Lewis has taken up the most totemic issue of the Labour Left – democratising the party. He’s promising to “empower” members to campaign, select candidates and decide policy in a way that Corbyn promised but failed to do.

Tae think again | Finally, Nicola Sturgeon made a formal request to the UK government yesterday for the powers to hold a second referendum. Johnson’s official position is that the 2014 vote was “once in a generation” and that there will not be a second referendum, which should hold for now.

Yet this isn’t really a battle over today. The key flashpoint will come after the 2021 Holyrood elections. If there is a pro-referendum majority then it will be much harder for Johnson to say no. And as Sarah Smith at the BBC points out, Sturgeon is laying the groundwork. By talking about a referendum, rather than independence, and a democratic deficit, she is attempting to create an indisputable case that the “settled” will of the Scottish people is another vote.


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