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The Waugh Zone Thursday June 14, 2018

By Paul Waugh

1. REMEMBERING GRENFELL

A year ago today, fire was still raging through Grenfell Tower in west London. To mark the exact moment the first 999 call was made, at 12.54am the scaffolded block and other high rises nearby were lit up the green colour that has come to be associated with Grenfell. Today is first and foremost about remembrance of the 72 people who died from the awful blaze. Each of their names will be read out at a service at St Clement’s Church and a national minute’s silence will be held at noon.

The green of Grenfell, the idea of local people, is meant to symbolise renewal and hope. Yet the 12 month anniversary is also a moment to take stock of the progress on rehousing and fire safety and needs of those so long neglected simply because they lived in ‘social housing’. We report today our Freedom of Information request that shows the scale of the problem of replacing outdated fire doors, with 70% of those inspected not fit for purpose. After “decades of neglect”, councils are still scrambling to replace faulty doors. One safety expert saying at least a million need replacing in the long-term.

Did Grenfell change Britain? Survivors, musicians, poets and politicians have given us their thoughts. A No.10 source told me there will be no policy announcements today or tomorrow, at the request of Grenfell groups. Sensibly, a planned update on cladding safety has been postponed, I’m told.

Downing Street and other Whitehall buildings were also lit up green last night and will again be tonight. Theresa May knows more than anyone the raw anger that followed the fire, particularly when she failed to meet local residents. I wrote at the time that that omission betrayed not just a lack of empathy but a lack of leadership. This week she herself has said she regrets that error and her aides stress lessons were swiftly learned. Yet many people still wonder how on earth the PM remained in office after those awful few days, let alone the year since. We have a long read out later this morning on how May reacted, and how she didn’t.

2. E-E ACHE

Jeremy Corbyn found out last night just how strongly many of his MPs feel about a ‘hard Brexit’. As the Commons voted on a Lords amendment calling for UK membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), some 89 MPs (more than a third of his MPs) ignored his orders to abstain. And what was even more striking was the way both sides in the Brexit debate defied him. There were 74 for the EEA amendment, and 15 against.

Five MPs quit as shadow Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs) – Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazzi, Anna McMorrin and Rosie Duffield – to vote for the EEA move. But Laura Smith quit her job as Shadow Cabinet Office minister to vote against it. Corbyn very swiftly put out a statement thanking them all for their work. Some pro-Remain backbenchers were muttering that Smith’s decision looked suspiciously like a coordinated move, but there’s no evidence that it was done in cahoots with the leadership.

Former minister Caroline Flint won praise from many Tories yesterday for the way she articulated her constituents’ concerns over immigration, the key reason she opposed the Norway-style plan. “My constituents, those Leave constituents, who have been insulted, day in, day out, by some of the comments in this House are not against all migration, but they do want to have a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose.” Anna Soubry said many such voters didn’t even have local migration affecting them directly, something Flint disputed. If Flint and her 14 Labour colleagues side with the Brexiteers in coming votes, that really will throw the arithmetic up in the air.

3. HAIL(SHAM) TO THE CHIEF

Douglas Hogg’s main notoriety as he left the Commons as an MP was his infamous expenses claim to clear the moat of his manor house. Now with the (inherited) title Lord Hailsham, he’s seeking to make history for altogether more positive reasons in the eyes of his fellow Tory and Labour Remainers. Hailsham is set to table Dominic Grieve’s ‘meaningful vote’ amendment in the Lords, a move designed to keep Theresa May to her PMQs promise yesterday to bring forward her own amendment on the issue.

Yet while Tory Remainers say they want May to keep her word to them, Brexiteers are also mobilising to warn they won’t stand for any backsliding from the PM. The Government amendment is due to be published today and it’s going to take some impressive wording to keep both sides happy. I note that during our post PMQs huddle yesterday, Downing Street stressed that wording would be agreed by both the PM and David Davis. Chief Whip Julian Smith has quite a job on his hands in coming days.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail has trained its guns on Grieve, splashing its front page with a story that he met anti-Brexit groups at the EU’s London HQ. “Has there ever been a more unprepossessingly narcissistic figure that Dominic Grieve?” Quentin Letts writes for the paper. “Has Westminster a worse example of a silken slitherer?” I’m assuming the silk refers to Grieve’s status as a QC, but it’s a reminder that the Mail may not easily give up its robust stance on Brexit even after Paul Dacre is replaced by Remain-friendly Geordie Greig later this year. Dacre has handily used a Spectator column to warn that backing off Brexit would be ‘commercial suicide’ for the paper. Tory Remainers can expect much more next week.

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…

The weather has turned and it’s pretty windy in parts of Britain today. But watch this video to see what stormy weather really feels like on the high seas.

4. SKILL BILL

Sajid Javid has certainly wasted no time in asserting himself at the Home Office and today it looks like he’s got his way on post-Brexit migration of skilled non-EU workers like doctors and nurses. He hinted at changes to the visa regime earlier this month, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr he “saw the problem” with the current cap and would take a “fresh look” at it. The Telegraph says that tomorrow will see doctors and nurses excluded from the cap.

Of course that cap was introduced by a certain Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, setting a limit for all non-EU skilled workers at 20,700 people a year. But NHS bosses say the rules are making it difficult to recruit enough staff. Tory backbencher Heidi Allen (who seems to be a resident guest on early morning Today programme slots) welcomed the news. “It’s absolutely brilliant…the immigration debate has been distorted,” she said. Jeremy Hunt is before the NHS Confederation today, maybe he’ll say more.

5. UP FOR THE CUP

The 2018 World Cup starts in Russia today. I’m personally very excited, not least because we have our very own Lobby World Cup prediction competition in the Press Gallery. There are plenty in No.10, Labour HQ, MPs’ offices and across Whitehall who will be watching matches or sneaking a glance at the latest scores over the next four weeks.

Two of the Government and Opposition’s most impressive female politicians, sports minister Tracey Crouch and her shadow Rosena Allin-Khan, often agree on much (they also share impressive keepie-uppy skils). But will Crouch back Labour and the TUC’s call for employees to be given flexible hours to watch the games at work? Labour deputy leader and Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson blogs for HuffPost that the country, and media, should get behind the England team. “Past tournaments have been sullied by intrusive focus on the private lives of players,” he says.

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