04.10.2019

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The Simple Politics guide to next week in Parliament.
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Nothing has changed.


When I'm out and about in schools, I wear branded 'Simple Politics' t-shirts / hoodies. Occasionally I'll stop for a coffee somewhere and I'm invariably told that my top is ridiculous because politics isn't simple. My response is normally just to smile and enjoy my black americano. 

You see, lovely reader, the point of what we're doing here at Team SP is to strip away the nonsense and boil politics down to the solutions different parties are suggesting for the problems our country faces.

How much tax we should pay and how we should spend the money? How much we should spend on the NHS and how should that money be spent? How can we improve our school system? The different parties have different ideologies and approach these questions in different ways.

We actively choose to believe that these solutions, from all parties, are made in good faith and are all put forward in an attempt to improve the lives of everyone in the country.

What, then, are we supposed to make of the Brexit proposals put forward by our Prime Minister this week? The answer is, I'm not really sure. They are very, very complicated, for sure. My wonderful colleague, Hattie, broke it down on social media, but even that was a loooong document (for us at least). 

I think the truth is that nothing has changed. We have three options - all of which are still on the table:

1) We leave on 31st October with a version of the deal Johnson has outlined.

2) We leave on 31st with no deal (assuming Johnson can find a way round the Benn Act)

3) We extend to 31st January, maybe have an election, try to find a deal, but potentially extend again.

If Parliament has successfully forced an extension to January, I think it very unlikely that we'll leave on 31st January with no deal. I suppose we could have an election and get lots of pro-no-deal MPs in, but an election is unlikely to change personnel all that much.

That deal

The EU have been clear for quite some time that they are happy to re-visit the backstop, as long as those alternative arrangements provide exactly the same benefits. These complicated proposals (I won't go into them in detail, but the BBC has a good summary here) do a lot, but don't provide exactly the same benefits. 

It relies on the trusted trader scheme, which means that companies fill out the paperwork at the factory or wherever, and then travel across the border. This, in particular, has already been dismissed by the EU. Partly because it's not quite clear what happens to untrusted traders. If there are no borders, doesn't it become a smuggler's paradise? On Radio 4's Today (but, actually, it happened yesterday), Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said that most smugglers are foud away from borders anyway. Intelligence and police work is how they're caught, not customs checks.

The other area that has raised eyebrows is that the Northern Ireland Assembly has to vote in favour of the measures and then renew their consent every 4 years. The Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat since January 2017. There are no signs of them coming back together. Even if they did, all legislation needs to be approved bu both Sinn Fein and the DUP. That gives the DUP an effective veto.  The DUP love this. Nigel Dodds (the Westminster DUP leader) has his signature on the deal.

The EU has already suggested it can't work with the NI consent votes. Not for either of the issues above, but because the consent can't come before the 31st October - meaning that the deal would be finalised in the transition period, while they say they need everything finalised before we start that two-year stretch.

That said, Ireland (and the EU has said it will pretty much go along with what Ireland want to do) are being fairly open-minded. Yes, they've criticised some bits, but they've not thrown the whole thing out. Leo Varadkar (Irish Top Dog) is happy to talk.  People have said that the Benn Act would mean that the EU would assume there would be an extension and therefore more time to negotiate, but it appears that Johnson's claim that this is the final offer has been taken seriously.

The prediction game

I subscribe to a few political emails and this week I read two from people I respect very much. One said that the chances of no-deal were now '90%'.  The other said that the chances of an extension to January 2020 were now '85%'.  What can we learn from this? Nobody knows anything.

This phrase has cropped up a few times in this email, but nothing has changed. We knew that he would propose something to the EU. We knew that it would be on the verge of what might be acceptable. We knew that it would probably contain some of the ingredients that had already been ruled out.

It's possible that the EU take Boris Johnson at his word and accept that this is the final offer. They might take it as a negotiating position and try to work something out. It's even possible that the EU agree to a slightly amended version and all parties sign up to it on 17th October. We would then sail out the EU on October 31st and start the two-year transition. We'd fully leave on October 31st 2021. I think that this is unlikely. 

More likely is that talks fall apart quite soon. Maybe next week. Which leaves us with this whole Benn Act issue. We probably won't have an agreement on October 19th. Will Johnson write that letter asking for an extension? He's adamant he won't, but the law suggests he must. Your guess as to what's going to happen here is as good as mine. Almost certainly better.

Whatever happens, it's the 4th October today (that's how calendars work). In just under four weeks time we'll know what the outcome of all this might be. 4 weeks. 27 days. Last week I wrote about Team Johnson and Team Everyone Else. As we approach an endgame, both sides are going to fight harder. Extraordinary scenes expected.

Parliament suspended. Again. But lawfully.


A potentially very dull week
 
27 days until the big 31st October. We've got two days of Parliament next week and then Parliament is suspended. Only for 5 days (or two sitting days) this time, but still suspended. Opposition MPs are upset that the suspension starts on Wednesday, so there will be no PMQs. The government says that Johnson has made many statements to the House and has been very available for scrutiny.

The days we've got are, on paper, slightly dull.  Lots of not very exciting motions.  There won't be any votes. This is partly because Johnson has no majority and has lost consistently in the first 11 sitting days of his premiership. 

Of course, one of the things that happens when Parliament is prorogued for a Queen's Speech is that all bills that have not been finalised go in the bin. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which received cross-party support on Wednesday will, amongst many others, be binned. 

Finally, there is every chance that the Monday and Tuesday that the Commons is sitting will be more exciting than planned. MPs can ask urgent questions and drag ministers to the Commons to explain what's going on and Ministers can choose to come and make statements.  These are often the most interesting part of the week and are decided on the day, so can't be predicted.

The Week Ahead. 

Monday - By the looks of things, the Commons will be very quiet today. 

Tuesday -  More fairly innocuous motons today. Expect them to pass without votes.

There is also a debate on baby loss awareness. This isn't a topic many tend to think about very much but can be so utterly devastating for those who go through it. I can speak first hand of the love and care that is poured into a baby before it's birth and after. An emotional response that I previously never thought possible.

The loss of that most precious, most special, most wonderful baby - before or after birth - must be... I don't have the words for how it must be.  If a House of Commons debate can help anyone suffering, encourage anyone to reach out to someone suffering after the loss, or even make the law more supportive at some point in the future, it can only be a good thing.

Wednesday - Parliament is prorogued (suspended) until a Queen's Speech next week

National Poetry Day


It was National Poetry Day yesterday. I thought I'd share this wonderful poem from Kate Tempest. It's about a break-up and I just love it The combination of the mundane detail of life with a yearning heart, the inability to think about anything else. Wonderful.

Keeping Busy
 
I wake up in hotel rooms and fall over on my way to
The shower and put my clothes on inside out
I see the shape of you in every bare branch
In every cereal bowl and water-jug
The driftwood, the vandalized statue, the train station roof
 
The whole world is a sick joke about how beautiful you are
 
Kate Tempest
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