|* Paul Waugh|
by Paul Waugh | The Waugh Zone
Government sources tell me there is ‘likely’ to be a new amendment to the EU referendum bill published today and it will indeed reinstate a 28-day ‘purdah’ period. There will however be exemptions for some ministerial actions and statements and it’s the precise nature of those that will be the real focus for Tory Eurosceptics.
Some in the FCO mutter that you can feed the backbench beast and it will always ask for more, but No.10 knows that Labour’s amendment this summer offered it a way through without junking all rights to ministerial flexibility. It’s worth noting that Harriet Harman got her way on this amendment, and some Labour MPs felt Hilary Benn was too ready to go along with Cameron and Hammond rather than exert a ‘Maastricht-style’ pressure of an alliance with Tory rebels. It’s that threat of a Maastricht alliance that appears to have forced the Government’s hand.
Europe minister David Lidington (pictured above), one of the great survivors in this Government (especially since he lost his main protector William Hague) knows more about Brussels and this terrain than most and his compromise plan may hold (despite a smaller Tory rebellion) if it satisfies Labour. The devil will be in the detail of the amendment.
Yesterday’s retreat by No.10 on the issue of a ‘Yes/No’ question being replaced by a ‘Remain/Leave’ question was welcomed by Eurosceps, but many Outers felt it was a sideshow compared to the possible impact of purdah suspension. We will now have ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns rather than Yes/No campaigns. I’m told the In camp will launch formally in October, but it is waiting for all party leaders conference speeches (not least Corbyn’s) before making moves on who will lead it.
Boris was swift yesterday to say how ‘disappointed’ he was at Cameron’s apparent watering down of plans to get a full opt-out of employment rights. We could get even more Eurosceptic Bojo noises, not least given the latest ConHome survey (the Indy gives it big licks today) puts him in 5th place in the future leader stakes (down 5% to just 12%), way behind George Osborne on 33%.
BACK/SACK CRACKS ON THE LABOUR LEADERSHIP RACE
Chuka Umunna has been on the Today programme following up his speech last night urging Labour to back whoever wins the leadership, including Jeremy Corbyn. With many shadow ministers now convinced Corbyn will win, their thoughts are turning to whether they will back him or plot to sack him before 2020.
Some tell me they will stick with it, as the guarantors of the ‘mainstream’ on policy, and will battle hard in any policy reviews at conference. Others just despair and think the party has made its bed and has to lie in it for a couple of years until the polls become so bad that a new mood for change emerges.
Umunna appears to take the former approach. Asked if he’d serve in a Corbyn Shad Cab this morning, he pointed to a long list of Corbyn stances he had ‘great concerns’ about, from wooliness on EU and Nato membership, nationalisation plan and ‘QE for the people’. “I would find it difficult” to serve if those became party positions, Umunna said. But that’s the point: they may not become party positions. “It completely depends on the programme you’ve been asked to sign up to. It isn’t just about the leader”, he added, and said that ‘consensus’ was needed.
And on things like Trident, as I’ve pointed out before, its unlikely the trade unions (given their members jobs) would back scrapping the nuclear renewal. Ditto the EU and Nato. But if the new members stick around and join up properly, who knows? Umunna was keen to point out how much he welcomed the ‘wonderful’ new influx, though added ‘we can’t have a flashmob democracy’.
However, I note that Chuka also said that “ultimately we are all keen to contribute” but also “you don’t only contribute by serving in a shadow cabinet”. If he were to decide he couldn’t continue, others may well follow suit.
* Paul Waugh is the Executive Editor, Politics, HuffPost UK.