POLITICAL & COMMERCIAL INTELLIGENCE

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Lords throw spanner in Brexit works

The House of Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has just published a withering attack on the Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – otherwise known as the ‘Repeal Bill’ – saying “the Bill has failed to meet our expectations on all points” concerning scrutiny, transparency and control.

Among changes demanded by Peers are calls for Parliament to decide how much scrutiny is needed on every detailed element of the Bill, for MPs and Peers to have 10 days to consider each one of the 800+ Statutory Instruments the Government needs to transfer EU law onto the new UK statute book, and for the Government to legislate separately on key issues, like what powers are going to the Devolved Assemblies.

Most worryingly for the Government, the Lords have taken the highly unusual step of trying to influence scrutiny of the legislation in the Commons, which could signal the start of both Houses coordinating their efforts against every Brexit Bill the Government brings forward.

Theresa May is at risk after conference

The Conservatives tend to indulge in political regicide when they think they’re getting further away from political power. Similarly, they are most willing to attack each other over Europe. If there isn’t a breakthrough that satisfies most Conservative MPs in this round of Brexit talks and the party gathering in Manchester does not provide a convincing reply to Corbyn, there will be calls for a change.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act lets MPs choose a new administration without a General Election, so some Conservative MPs are already tempted to take the plunge.

A financial education

Universities that have taken out large scale loans from the European Investment Bank could find themselves out on a limb. HMG says the terms of the cash loans – often used to speculate on property – are “matters for the parties”. In other words, Whitehall doesn’t intend to step in if the loans go bad, either because of poor investment decisions or post-Brexit changes at the EIB.

That £1bn hasn’t been spent yet.

In a quiet answer to a Written Parliamentary Question, the Treasury confirms that “it will be for the restored Northern Ireland Executive to determine” how to spend the £1bn secured by the DUP to prop up the Conservatives.

In other words, the cash will not be released until Sinn Fein and the DUP get back together at Stormont – if they ever can. That the DUP’s money does not come without strings adds another twist in assessing how long the Government can hold its majority together in the Commons.

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Look out for this at Conservative conference…

Tory Ministers using their time with the faithful in Manchester to announce new spending commitments, either in their own bailiwick or for the Government generally, will reveal three political truths.

First, new policies will reflect what Conservatives feel must to be done to counter Corbyn. Second, they will be a measure of May’s ability to force a unified message from Cabinet and support for Hammond’s prep for the November Budget. And third, they will signal the Government’s macroeconomic approach – there’s still no money left, so new spending would keep debt reduction out of reach.

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Politics and housing

DCLG has just published a new house building consultation. The Government proposes to incentivise Councils by letting them increase planning application fees in return for permitting more developments and it also wants Councils to ‘work together’ across borders to help avoid building on the green belt. The proposals create opportunities for large scale developers with the capacity to work with more than one Local Authority and pay higher fees to those Councils approving more applications.

Full details are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-right-homes-in-the-right-places-consultation-proposals

Data Protection Bill – coming to a business near you (yours)

The Government has published guidance on its new Data Protection Bill, which is effectively the new EU regulations (GDPR), plus a bit.

It will be very wide-ranging, concerning every business regardless of size. The only discrepancy might come in how UK regulators police the new requirements immediately after May 2018, with the Information Commissioner intending to take “a fair and reasonable approach to enforcement”, reflecting higher expectations of big firms and suppliers to the public sector.

The two tests for the legislation are whether enough SMEs will comply with it to make it practicable and what happens when regulators from different jurisdictions have competing interpretations of the new law – which could be an especially acute problem for Government Departments using cloud services with data physically secured in a country outside the EU.

Date of the next General Election

The Conservatives have a new factor to consider in deciding when to go to the country. As well as working out how to address Corbyn’s surge and demonstrating progress on Brexit, they will be keen to avoid presenting a potential Labour government with the extended so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’ associated with the Withdrawal Bill. As such, if the next election is brought forward from 2022, it’s likely to be after any temporary new legislative powers have expired.

Three reasons whips need friends in politics

They used to say that in the House of Commons, your opponents are in front of you but your enemies are behind you. Today’s parliament is trying to break that convention, with the lack of coordination between the Conservative and Labour whips’ offices showing that sour relations across the chamber are all too real.

Apart from taking some of the fun out of MPs’ days, this is having three practical effects: first, the traditional ‘pairing’ system, whereby an MP from one party promises not to vote so a colleague from another party can attend their child’s school play or go to the dentist, is not up and running; second, the tensions helped to allow a delay in allocating Select Committee places to backbench MPs; and third, it increases the animosity and suspicion around the Government’s bid to control the Committee of Selection, which will play a vital role in getting Brexit-related legislation through the House.

More widely, it means that Government whips will never have a truly accurate count of Opposition MPs ahead of any given vote, so they will forever fear an ambush on even the most pedestrian issue. It sets a dangerous precedent for the Lords, too, as the Government’s minority is even more stark there – and if Peers can claim that a Bill has only garnered marginal support in the Commons, they will be all the more inclined to knock it down in the Upper House.

Reshuffle marks turning point for May

As the next Cabinet reshuffle approaches, Theresa May will enjoy a rare boost in her political authority (any PM’s power is ultimately based on patronage). Changes could also be used to ‘blood’ prospective Conservative leaders who do not yet have ministerial experience – just as Michael Howard brought on David Cameron and George Osborne before he stood down – and, with a cynical eye, could be used to remove the more able backbenchers from scrutinising Select Committees.

But once the reshuffle has happened, resentment among overlooked MPs will rise and backbench management will become harder. Conservative MPs will also become more aligned with their activists in terms of being open to a ‘generational change’ when colleagues from their own intake fail to get the nod, which could create a lot of “old men in a hurry” in the Cabinet.


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