The five things you need to know on Tuesday December 15, 2015…
1) NOUVEAU NICHE
The countdown to the EU summit continues and David Cameron is sticking to his tactics of saying there’s only one welfare deal on the table - his 4 year migrant ban. And Philip Hammond pointedly said “we haven’t heard any alternative suggestions that will deliver the same effect in a different way”.
Behind the scenes things are in flux - and the UK is coming up with its own alternatives. As Allegra Stratton reported on Newsnight, the option of banning British 18 year olds and returning expats from claiming in-work benefits is alive, but with some key caveats. Returning servicemen and women would be allowed a ten year period in which to choose their four-year bar on benefits, while 18 year olds may be able to use their parents’ National Insurance numbers to ease the ban.
But the Guardian reports what it thinks may be the real compromise plan - a six-month residency test (aimed at unemployment benefits) that is already being drafted by Marianne Thyssen, the EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and labour mobility. It also says ministers have been shown polling which suggests a ban on access to benefits for the unemployed is seen as more critical to voters than in-work tax credits.
As for the Danish-style opt-out on freedom of movement, the PM’s spokeswoman told us yesterday
Denmark's concession - which means it can insist on five year's residency in the country before buying a second property - is "niche". "We're looking at something more significant and far reaching," she said. The problem for many Tory Eurosceptics is that the whole of the PM’s shopping list is ‘a bit niche’ - and fails to give the UK control of its borders.
On Thursday John Redwood MP will light up the Bow Group Christmas event, with a live reading of "A Brexit Christmas Carol”. As it happens, today is the day Brussels unveils plans for its own border force to help prevent states on the periphery with the influx of migrants. No10 says it’s in favour.
In the Times, Rachel Sylvester has some very choice quotes from unnamed ministers about the Cameroon's approach to this EU referendum. "They are so pleased with themselves — if they were make of chocolate, they would eat themselves. The danger for the Europe referendum is that they are not as good as they think they are.” Apparently, the PM takes a schoolboy’s delight in lucky escapes. According to the minister: “It’s like leaving your car past the parking time and not getting a ticket, or smoking behind the bike sheds without being caught. He is more proud about getting away with it than having done the right thing in the first place. But he could be about to get found out.”
Two polls are out. The Telegraph/ICM poll found if freedom of movement rules remained as they are, 45% would vote for the exit door and 40% would stay. The Express/Survation poll found a Survation poll says 42% of Britons are ready to vote to leave no matter what, compared to 40% who would opt to stay.
2) ALL GREEK TO HIM
Alan Johnson has been busy fronting up Labour’s ‘In’ campaign of late, but there is still a strong strand of Euroscepticism among the party’s Left. And at last night’s premiere of Paul Mason’s BRITDOC-funded film about Greece being bullied by Brussels, that became pretty clear.
John McDonnell was at the event and I'm told he said that left groups across Europe were going to organise around the UK’s EU referendum to campaign for a restructured EU. What ‘restructured’ actually means is unclear.
As for Jeremy Corbyn, his Christmas card was aptly red in tooth and snow. He wasn’t at the PLP last night but if he had been it would have been a treat to see how he responded to Jess Phillips’ ‘frontstabber’ approach. Most MPs are trying to be nice to each other ahead of Christmas, but possible splits over Syria could reappear tomorrow when Michael Fallon is set to update the Commons on the military campaign.
3) GAME OVER?
Well, in the end, the Lords failed to defeat the government on votes at 16 and 17 for the EU referendum last night, losing by 246 to 262. The ping pong game was over, but not without some sharp exchanges between both sides. It proved that whipping still matters, no matter which end of the Parliament you’re based in - and that the Government is getting better at making some cross benchers very nervous about the Lords challenging the elected house.
Lib Dem Lord Tyler was upset that ministers ‘chose to trigger financial privilege’ and were involved in an “insidious” attempt to “neuter” the Lords. The wounds from the tax credits bloody nose for George Osborne are still raw however and Tory Lord Cormack attacked Tyler for “a frankly terrible speech” that showed the Lords trying to overrule the Commons.
Lord Dobbs, the creator of House of Cards, had been a backer of lowering the franchise age but like Lord Lansley felt there was a bigger issue. And Dobbs warned peers that they risked looking like “unaccountable panjandrums” and that if they challenged the Commons over such a significant bill, ”it would be like passing around the rope to those who want to hang us”. But will the Strathclyde review tighten the noose?
There’s a vote on the Bank of England Bill today in the Lords though. Let’s see if there’s a Government defeat on that.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this ballet dance troupe use their 5-hour layover in an airport as a chance for a workout
4) CHILL PILL
Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, is certainly enjoying his time outside Government. The peer, whom many felt was royally shafted by the last Government (and by Sir Jeremy Heywood) last night he let rip at the ‘double standards’ of ministers who want to neuter the Freedom of Information Act.
Kerslake dismissed Heywood’s claim that FoI was having a ‘chilling effect’ on Whitehall business. “If people are experiencing a chilling effect it’s largely in their own heads, not in the reality…If I can be very blunt about it, the far greater challenge is the fact that information is routinely leaked by special advisers and ministers. There is a double standard going on here we should just acknowledge.” Ouch. There’s word some ministers are backing off the neuter plan.
5) THEY SHOOT, HE SCORES
The Mark Clarke controversy shows no sign of letting up. The Sun today reports that Grant Shapps’ aid Paul Abbott leaked complaints about Clarke - to Clarke.
Activist Josh Hitchens complained about Clarke to party bosses just two months before he was made boss of RoadTrip. But his email was immediately forwarded to then-Chief of Staff Paul Abbott, who leaked the complaint to Clarke, warning: “FYI. Maybe do this on the phone in future?”
He added: “Might be safer press-wise for you to go around smiling at people, and getting someone else to shoot them.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports Abbott has been criticised for scheduling a seminar next month in which he will celebrate the success of Road Trip. Elliott Johnson’s father Ray thinks the event is inappropriate.
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