30 Apr 2019

Chief Whip to Cabinet: We need Labour – don’t hide under the duvet

One committee room along from where Labour MPs were gathered yesterday evening for their weekly meeting, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell was briefing a select group of loyalist Cabinet ministers. This was a “rolling the pitch” exercise one source said, intended to prepare the ground for this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

There the Prime Minister, David Lidington and Steve Barclay told ministers that the talks with Labour should be concluded soon. Their intention, it seems, is not to let them die with a whimper but to give them one last push. One minister was heard to say “we’re throwing the lot at them.” The implication was that talks with Labour were about to move to a different place and the Opposition leader was about to be offered just about everything he’d been asking for. Another source said the Prime Minister was very mindful that she couldn’t afford to lose many Tories by going too close to Labour but added: “Labour can’t deliver everyone and neither can we. You might find 160 of their MPs and 160 of ours” making up a stable majority to see a Brexit deal through. The source said No. 10 detected signs that the Labour leadership was truly up for a resolution of Brexit. “It’s not like they’re on 56% and we’re on 12 … they’re not getting a sustained boost from all this.”

Some Cabinet ministers said efforts should be focused on getting the Withdrawal Agreement over the line by winning back Tory rebels. According to one source, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt pushed that line though another source suggested Liam Fox’s arguments wandered around a bit.

The Chief Whip warned colleagues that trying to get the Withdrawal Bill through on Tory votes would not work and might wreck the government. He said those Tories who voted against the deal last time round weren’t about to fold. Those who persisted with the ‘pass Brexit on Tory votes alone’ approach were hiding “under the duvet” and not engaging with reality.

Across Westminster, Jeremy Corbyn won NEC support for his draft manifesto for the European Parliament elections. He has pretty much held the line resisting those who want Labour to commit to a second referendum on EU membership. His pro-referendum critics in the party wanted more. Will he risk their wrath and potential walk-outs by pursuing a Lab-Con deal? The majority of senior Labour figures say they just don’t think that will happen.

One source said the improvement in the talks which Labour and Tory sources claimed had happened at yesterday’s session was helped by an earlier private meeting between Michael Gove and Seumas Milne. No-one was able to confirm that had taken place but several people thought it would make a good short play.

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