Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
Well what a day that was. I normally write this column on a Thursday morning, and when I started to type this yesterday I had woken up to the fact that the DUP were refusing to go along with Boris Johnson’s compromise plan with the EU over the Irish border. A few hours later there was white smoke, albeit not from the DUP. Hmmm. Perhaps mention of white smoke and the DUP might cause my old acquaintance Ian Paisley to spin in his grave. Apologies for that. No, the white smoke came from the Berlaymont building in Brussels.
To be honest, I think we were all taken a bit by surprise. But there it was, the deal that no one thought Boris could either get, or frankly ever intended to get. We all have short memories, but I remember during the leadership contest when he would constantly say he intended to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and abolish the Backstop.
The Withdrawal Agreement, the EU said, could not be reopened. It was.
The Backstop could never be touched or abolished, said the EU. It was.
Regulatory alignment could never be watered down, they said. It has been.
This was a diplomatic and negotiating triumph for a prime minister who has only been in office for 85 days. I doff my cap. I never thought it was achievable, but it was. OK, there are many aspects of the deal which I could criticise, but in this sort of situation you never get all you want. And most sensible people recognise that.
The next crunch time comes tomorrow when the House of Commons meets to decide whether to pass the deal. I keep coming back to the point that if opposition MPs are so fearful of No Deal, why are they still so reluctant to support an actual deal? I know why. It’s because it’s got nothing to do with a deal. It’s all to do with thwarting Brexit. And the general public can smell that a mile off.
The next deadline is Saturday evening when, if the deal hasn’t passed, the Prime Minister is supposed to send a letter to Brussels requesting an extension to Article 50. Hints continue to be dropped by Number 10 that there is some way around this, but we’ll have to wait and see.
If the letter is sent, and a No Deal Brexit really is avoided then the next test must surely come on Monday when Boris Johnson will surely again challenge the opposition parties to agree to an election. They may well try to delay that until 31st October just in case the Prime Minister tried to pull a last minute fast one. There is also much talk of Labour moving towards a position, first articulated by Tom Watson before the Labour conference, whereby there would have to be a confirmatory referendum in advance of an election. This would also mean keeping Boris Johnson in power for another nine months. Is it really a credible position for Labour to describe Boris Johnson and his government in evil terms and yet be the prime movers of keeping him in power for nine months longer than absolutely necessary? As Alastair Campbell might say, this is all tactics and no strategy.
– – – – – – – – – –
Sky News have seemingly trolled themselves by opening up a new channel which won’t have any Brexit news on it whatsoever. But it only operates Monday to Friday 5pm-10pm. Utterly baffling. You can just imagine the meeting where some bright spark came up with the idea and no one was prepared to tell the bright spark he or she was talking utter bollocks. It has been glorious to see Adam Boulton treat the idea with the contempt it deserves.
– – – – – – – – – –
The race to succeed John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons hasn’t really caught light yet and it’s not easy to predict the winner. There are nine candidates but none of them have really pulled ahead of the others. Lindsay Hoyle and Harriet Harman are said to be the two favourites, but it wouldn’t at all surprise me to see Chris Bryant come up on the rails. Lindsay Hoyle’s problem seems to be that while he is very popular among Tories, Labour MPs aren’t flocking to him. It’s a sort of reverse Bercow situation. Harriet Harman, meanwhile, is struggling to attract any Tories at all. Among the Tory candidates, Eleanor Laing would appear to be the frontrunner, but in the LBC hustings last week it was Shailesh Vara who impressed most. Everyone assumes he’s running because he really wants to be a deputy speaker, but in the right circumstances maybe he might come through the middle. Stranger things have happened.
– – – – – – – – – –
The fact that Dame Louise Ellman has quit the Labour Party has sent reverberations through what’s left of the right of the party. It’s been a long time coming, but it had a certain inevitability about it. The reaction on the hard left has been predictably disgusting, and if she had any doubts about leaving after 55 years, the comments on Twitter threads will have dispelled them. I just hope she never read them. The question now is what the more moderate voices in the Labour Party do now. The answer is probably nothing. Why? Because they hope that after an election the long nightmare of the Corbyn leadership will be over and things will get back to normal. They won’t, though. The hard left have a vice-like grip on the party machine now, and in any leadership election following Corbyn’s departure, it is almost inevitable that the most hard left candidate would win. Everyone is talking about Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Laura Pidcock and Emily Thornberry duking it out. Just imagine, though, if Diane Abbott threw her hat into the ring…