The five things you need to know on Friday May 20, 2016…
1) T-TIP FORAY
If you were in any doubt about just how nervy David Cameron is over the EU referendum, yesterday proved it in spades. After a Parliamentary procedural ambush by the Vote Leave camp, and hours of confusion, we had the spectacle of No.10 effectively confirming the Government would admonish itself over its own Queen’s Speech.
Of course, Downing Street doesn’t for a minute think the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) planned for the EU and US will mean the NHS is open to backdoor privatisation. But it has been forced to accept an amendment (as revealed on HuffPost) regretting the lack of a Bill to protect the health service.
A lethal cocktail of more than 25 Tory rebel Eurosceptics and Labour and SNP MPs wanting to embarrass the Government just proved too much. No.10 says the rebels have had their fun but accepting the amendment means it avoids that symbolic ‘defeat’ on the Queen’s Speech that would have set hares running. But there's one more twist this morning: I'm told Govt whips have been calling round telling backbenchers to take their names off the amendment. An amendment the Government now backs.
There’s better transatlantic news for the Remain camp early this morning, with Canadian heart-throb and PM doing an Obama and warning he wants the UK to stay in the EU. In his own ‘back of the queue’ warning, Trudeau told Reuters there is "nothing easy or automatic" about negotiating new trade deals between Canada and a Brexit Britain. The irony is not lost that some Outers back a ‘Canadian’ model for trade with the EU.
But in the economy-versus-migration Project Fear contest we see nearly every day now, the be-Leavers will be more pleased with the Mail splash on the buried report claiming Brussels is ordering Britain to build more homes to house EU migrants. Oh and a new poll shows that two in three students don’t know when the referendum is - and many will not be at their registered addresses to vote.
2) FLAT PAT SQUIRMITURE
Ah, Pat Glass has had her very own ‘Gillian Duffy moment’ (in fact, like Gordon Brown, it wasn’t just a moment it lasted several excruciating hours, though the apology was swifter). Yes the Shadow Europe Minister’s on-mic remarks about a voter being a “horrible racist” spread like wildfire online yesterday and is on the front of a few papers today.
Pat was flattened by her own candour in declaring just how she viewed a bloke in Sawley in Derbyshire who had complained about neighbouring Poles living like ‘scroungers’. Of course, no one is daft enough to deny some voters aren’t pretty racist against Eastern European or other migrants. It’s just that - once again - a possibly legitimate concern may have been misinterpreted by a Labour MP with a different view of the world.
The irony of this is that I was told some weeks ago that Glass - who is new to the political frontline - was getting media training from Ken Livingstone’s former comms chief Joy Johnson. I understand that the ex-City Hall and Labour media expert certainly gave some advice, but it looks like it was ignored in the heat of the moment yesterday. It’s not just Ken who goes ‘off-message’ (yesterday he offered dinner to anyone who could prove him wrong on his Hitler/Jews history). The only saving grace for Glass is that she wasn’t caught on camera.
The incident was a gift to the Vote Leave camp. And the FT has a story of the Brexiters taking a novel approach with non-white voters. It reports leaflets are being prepared in Asian languages warning that “if Britain quits the EU it will mean more immigration from elsewhere in the world”. People with EU passports can "just walk in" to Britain, and the leaflets warn of the "increasingly far-right tinge to politics” across Europe. If Austrian Freedom Party leader Norbert Hofer is elected this weekend, that may not just be rhetoric.
3) HIS WORD IS HIS BOND
I interviewed Sadiq Khan yesterday at City Hall and the new Mayor of London had lots of things to say. With Daniel Craig set to quit as Bond, he suggested it was time for a woman as 007, namechecking both Naomi Harris and Rosamund Pike.
Khan added: “I’m busy for the next eight years, so as much as there will be a big clamour for me to go for it, I rule myself out.” Note that ‘eight years’ tenure, by the way…
More seriously, the Mayor has given details of his invitation to Donald Trump to London, saying how he wants to educate the ‘ignorant’ billionaire getting him to meet his family, take him to a mosque, and introduce him to Bake Off’s Nadiya, Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez and ex-ID star Zayn Malik.
With the EgyptAir crash looking more like terrorism with every hour, Khan (who spoke before the jet went missing) also makes the point that it’s important to get away from the image Americans like Trump have of Muslims only being ‘bad people’ they see on the TV news.
“The only experience they have of Muslims could well be what they see on TV on the news when there are criminals, terrorists, bad people committing acts of terror and terrorism, using the name of Islam to justify their acts. And so I accept some people’s view of Islam may be clouded by what they see on the TV and the news.
"My point to Donald Trump is: if it is the case that your views on Islam are ignorant, if it is the case that you have not met Muslims who are compatible with, comfortable with Western values, to all purposes ‘normal’ – come to London.”
We will have the full interview up online later, with more on Khan’s thoughts on Hillary, Bernie and Jeremy Corbyn.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this The Thick of It mash-up of Jeremy Hunt’s interview on Channel 4 News. ‘That’s a mega-blink’
4) THE OTHER DEFICIT
Just as Jeremy Hunt looks like he’s got out of the junior doctors frying pan, he may be straight back in the fire of the NHS deficit. Though stories about health service finances are more of a slow burn, this is just as important a moment for the Government today.
New figures are expected to show the deficit rising once more to nearly £3bn and there’s panicked talk that the NAO could censure the DH because it risks spending money that Parliament simply hasn’t voted for.
And the BBC’s Health Editor has got hold of the NHS finance director turned whistleblower who says that all sorts of ‘alchemy’ is going on to cook the books, including shifting cash from capital into revenue.
This is the deficit that George Osborne would rather not go on about. He has so far been lucky that stories about NHS financing are rather dry and complicated. But never forget that a former chief exec of the NHS actually had to quit under Blair for getting the health service into the red, by a much smaller sum.
5) THE AWKS NEST
The Sun picks up on the PM’s LBC interview to highlight just what was so awkward about his and Jeremy Corbyn’s non-conversation on the way to the Queen’s Speech.
"I was asking about whether he had time to see the Chilean President when she was in town because I know he’s got a great passion for Latin America and things that are happening there. So we talked about Chile. We talked about Colombia.
"I was about to get onto Venezuela but we didn’t... maybe that’s where I went wrong! But that’s sort of the thing we were talking about!”
That Venezuelan reference was possibly to leftwing President Maduro, who was accused yesterday of being ‘as mad as a goat’ and who is facing mass protests over his repressive regime. No wonder Jez threw some shade.
Our latest Commons People podcast is out (LISTEN HERE). This week’s focus is on guess what? Yep, Brexit, the H-word and the Queen’s Speech.
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