30 Nov 2018

May brushes off Brexit Plan B questions as she travels to G20 summit

Good morning from Buenos Aires where Theresa May has arrived overnight ready for two days of talks at the G20.

She wont have had to time to listen to her International Trade Secretary defending her deal on Radio 4 this morning but if she had she might have thought it was someone speaking from a hostage situation.

Mrs May’s allies have been heard to joke that ‘not resigning’ is the new ‘support.’ On the plane over, the Prime Minister said rebellious MPs should listen to the concerns of their constituents and she was picking up that those concerns were very real.

No doubt that’s partly because of their ennui at the whole drawn out process but it must also owe something to the scenario painting by Government departments published this week and the Bank of England scenario projections too. Dr Fox sounded underwhelmed by them. There was a time when he would’ve denounced them as “project fear” but they are weaponry deployed by the side he has decided to stick with in this battle.

President Trump arrived earlier as part of a fleet of ten aircraft. There are, The Guardian reports, also US jets circling above the Argentine capital and an American naval vessel off the coast. He’s already rubbished Mrs May’s deal as something that precludes a full-blown US/UK trade agreement.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, whose regime has been blamed for the gruesome semi-public murder of a troublesome journalist on foreign soil (which he has always denied any involvement in) is also here. Mrs May will not be avoiding him. Britain is, after all, meant to be facing outwards and “going global.” Some will wonder whether leaving the EU makes the UK more constrained in who it can and can’t criticise when new trade contracts have to replace the inevitable lost trade with the EU that any friction would bring. Some would say it was ever thus.

Add to the Crown Prince a G20 cast list that includes President Erdogan, President Xi, President Putin and, waiting in the wings though not yet in office, Brazil’s new President Bolsonaro and it is quite a breath-taking moment.

The encounter between President Xi and President Trump could be the one the world watches most closely. President Trump repeated his trade war escalation threat to China before coming here but the US press suggests there are deep divisions in his own team on whether to escalate issues here on this trip. President Trump is also threatening extra tariffs on car imports. If he were to trigger a full-scale global trade war it would come on the back of much of the world having already deployed its main defences against such shocks in the wake of the banking crash. The impact could be enormous.

President Putin will be called on to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine but President Trump says he won’t meet him because he hasn’t released the Ukrainians detained in recent days.

Into this happy throng  flies Theresa May, fresh from telling Parliament that the UK could be on the brink of “chaos and uncertainty.”

The 14-hour flight here wasn’t probably what the Prime Minister most wanted to do with her Thursday. She very briefly relaxed with some Soduku before ploughing through, amongst other documents, a file officials always prepare for PM’s attending G20s which includes an “ice breaker” line for each potential brush-by moment which Mrs May will have to memorise to avoid an awkward silence.

When Mrs May gets back it will be to a wave of different scenario painting … the “what happens when you lose” gaming.

On the plane, Mrs May was pretty sniffy about Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of a plan, as she sees it. She wouldn’t go near questions on “plan B” planning. But it is all that anyone in Westminster has been talking about.

MPs repeatedly report that Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, tells them that if the government looks like losing the vote then the vote will not be put. Friends of the Chief Whip say that’s very much not his position and he’s been misunderstood. But if, for whatever reason, the business was pulled and the vote on the deal didn’t happen on December 11th, the government under the legislation has until January 21st to complete this approval process in Parliament. Officials say, with that sort of delay, the only way it could then get the necessary legislation through Parliament ahead of the Brexit date would be if there was Lab-Con cooperation to fast-track parts of it along the lines of emergency legislation.


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