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Friday 18 January 2019

Jeremy Corbyn has finally awoken. He continues to refuse to meet with the prime minister but has written to Labour MPs, several of whom have already met with the Theresa May over the “consensus” she hopes to reach, instructing them to insist on ruling out no deal. In doing so, he has dealt the prime minister a blow as she tries to snuff out a nascent rebellion with the same nefarious objective from within her own ranks.

Following yesterday’s revelation that Chancellor Philip Hammond intends to avoid leaving the EU on WTO terms by either getting Article 50 revoked or facilitating Tory MP Nick Boles’ plan for Parliament to get an agreement (any agreement) with Brussels, the Telegraph reports five junior ministers visited May yesterday to tell her they are prepared to resign if they are not given a free vote on an amendment blocking No Deal. A further 20 mid-ranking ministers have told Downing Street they will do the same.

A cabinet minister is quoted as saying, “I personally think she would be wise to do that” on the grounds that it would damage the government. It goes further than that. Hammond, Amber Rudd, David Gauke, David Lidington and Greg Clarke – who joined in on Hammond’s no-to-no-deal assurances to business leaders – have long been rumoured to resign if a clean exit looks near-certain.

With one arm May is trying to avoid a deal-at-all-costs rebellion that will make Monday’s 230-vote defeat in the Commons look like a minor event, with the other she is trying to make inroads into the opposition without losing face with her adversary, Jeremy Corbyn who wants, above all else, assurances no deal will be taken off the table.

Off the table? No deal is the table. It is the default outcome and speaks volumes of the idiocy infecting Westminster that can be ruled out with the stroke of a pen. Furthermore, it’s what the British people voted for and it is absolutely essential leverage in a negotiation with the EU that will resume now that Brussels knows it badly miscalculated in weaponising the Irish border, forcing May into a terrible arrangement.

Mrs May is aware of at least some of these things, and therein lies the problem with our nation’s leader. No-one knows what she’s thinking or what she wants. All we know is she always tries to get everyone to agree to dreadful compromises.

Following yesterday’s meetings between MPs from both sides of the aisle to help formulate a plan B, this morning’s papers are awash with reports of a very distant prime minister.

“She (May) was reading to us off a script. It was pathetic,” said  a senior opposition MP to the Sun, while a Tory backbencher complained of their party leader’s eagerness to be “all things to all people”, another described her as “like a sphinx”.

“As ever with Theresa, you never know whether she’s listening or whether it’s going in one ear and out the other,” said an irritated third Conservative MP.

And those are just the frank statements, Plaid Cymru’s calls for Downing Street to show more “positive indications of conciliation,” spoke of exactly the same frustration.

No bad thing, one might say. May is keeping her cards close to her chest as she moves into opposition territory while fighting an ongoing battle with Brussels and a pro-Remain insurrection in her own party. Indeed, this her natural reflex, play for time, always.

But that’s not how a leader behaves. It would be far more reassuring if she would go in the opposite direction and get that Canada deal now that the EU knows it has messed up. If that then fails, it’s the EU’s fault, not ours. And to think all those MPs want us to stay in the EU.

According to the Mail, Whitehall is on high alert for another general election.

A Tory staffer pointed out the logic to Politico: “Parliament won’t accept her deal. She won’t accept a second referendum. The government won’t accept no deal… general election is the only viable alternative.” Some truth to that, but let us not forget many many Brits and even a fair few in Westminster want a no deal and it’s what we essentially voted for.

Step forward Boris Johnson who in an obvious pitch for the leadership at a JCB plant today will spell out his vision for a lower-tax independent United Kingdom. To hell with Boles, Hammond and Corbyn. This is the kind of pressure we need.

Quote of the day: “We know one of the ways big corporations have held wages down is that they have had access to unlimited pools of labour from other countries,” Boris Johnson.