Blair: beware the election ‘elephant trap’

Speculation is raging in Westminster that any move by Boris Johnson to goad anti no-deal ministers into resigning could be a precursor to the prime minister calling a snap general election.

How? Well, if Mr Johnson loses his already-slim majority in parliament because rebel MPs resign en masse, he could seek a snap election to strengthen his position as prime minister.

The focus of Conservative supporters and potential voters could then shift from no-deal fears to worries about a Jeremy Corbyn-led, left wing government.

Mr Blair said earlier today, as reported by newswires:

Boris Johnson knows that if no-deal Brexit stands on its own as a proposition it might well fail but if he mixes it up with the Corbyn question in a general election he could succeed despite a majority being against a no-deal Brexit because some may fear a Corbyn premiership more.

Mr Blair predicted that Mr Johnson’s election campaign would be framed as a choice between a populist Conservative programme versus the economic profligacy of a far-left administration.

Mr Blair then advised Mr Corbyn not to fall for such a ploy, adding he should:

See an election before Brexit is decided for the elephant trap it is.

He then advised:

If the Government tries to force an election now, Labour should vote against it.

What about the Irish border?

Here, our columnist Jonathan Ford wonders why Boris Johnson seems not be unduly bothered by the question of the Irish border post-Brexit.

The Republic of Ireland will of course remain in the EU, while Northern Ireland would leave with Britain.

The ‘biggest barrier’ in the way of a consensual Brexit, Jonathan writes, is the so-called Irish backstop that would keep Northern Ireland and by extension the UK in some aspects of the European Single Market, until a solution is found to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

Mr Johnson is against this backstop concept, while the EU is for it.

Yet when it comes to producing a plan to scrap it, Jonathan writes, Mr Johnson’s ministers have been strangely silent.

Read more here

Shadow cabinet set to meet in Salford to finalise gameplan

Senior officials in the opposition Labour party will meet at an emergency shadow cabinet in Salford today to set out their plans for the week to block a no-deal Brexit ahead of parliament’s return tomorrow.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Jeremy Corbyn said a no-deal Brexit would “decimate industry and destroy people’s jobs”.

In a wide ranging speech, the leader of the opposition set out his party’s stall ahead of a possible general election in the not-so-distant future.

He described the prime minister’s plans to suspend parliament for five weeks in order to limit the time opponents of his strategy have to thwart it as “an attack on democracy which will be resisted”.

“First we must come together to stop no-deal. This week could be our last chance,” said Mr Corbyn.

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“We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink. Then we need a general election.”

FTSE 100 extends four-day winning streak

London’s benchmark stock index is up 1.2 per cent in mid-morning trading, adding nearly 3 per cent since its close on August 27. Many blue chips are multinationals that traditionally benefit from a weaker pound. Sterling was recently down 0.7 per cent against the dollar at $1.20.76. That makes it 8 per cent lower than it was six months ago. Against the euro, it was at €1.1011, down 0.5 per cent.

UK government debt rallies as no-deal Brexit fears swell

Investors are shifting into UK government bonds amid deepening worries that Britain is headed for a potentially damaging no-deal Brexit.

Two-year gilts, seen as sensitive to expectations for monetary policy, are rallying the most strongly. The yield is currently down 4.8 basis points at 0.353 per cent. The 10-year gilt yield is down 3.4 bps at 0.446 per cent. Yields fall when prices rise.

The recent fall in gilt yields is part of a broad rally in the debt of highly-rated countries. But it also comes amid rising jitters that the UK will exit the EU with no divorce deal — something that is broadly expected to hit the economy.

Brexit uncertainty has already shown up in economic data. A report released on Monday showed factory activity is contracting at the swiftest pace in seven years.

Who are among the Tory rebels?

Heavy hitting former cabinet ministers are among a group of Tory MPs who have come out against a no-deal Brexit:

Philip Hammond, chancellor during Theresa May’s premiership
David Lidington, the former deputy prime minister
Guto Bebb, former Tory defence minister
Rory Stewart, former international development secretary
David Gauke, the former Tory justice secretary (see Naomi’s post below)

Last month 21 Conservative MPs last month signed a letter opposing a no-deal Brexit

The ‘Rebel Alliance’

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away….OK not really. But British politics now has its own so-called Rebel Alliance in the form of Conservative politicians who are opposed to the UK leaving the EU on October 31 without a transition deal.

In a BBC radio interview this morning David Gauke, who is considered the, ahem, Luke Skywalker of the rebels, accused Mr Johnson of ‘goading’ MPs who do not agree with him into rebelling so he can then purge them from the Tory party.

Mr Johnson has warned the rebels they will lose the party whip and be banned from standing as Conservative candidates in an election which some believe he could call within days if he is defeated in the Commons this week.

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On the Today programme, Mr Gauke said:

I think their strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and seek a general election having removed those of us who are not against Brexit or leaving the EU but believe we should do so with a deal.

On Sunday, Mr Johnson refused a request from the Tory rebels for a meeting at Westminster today and Mr Gauke confirmed this morning that party whips or other senior figures were doing nothing to try to win over the rebels.

Of course, removing sitting Tory MPs would make Mr Johnson lose his majority in parliament, at which point a snap general election becomes more likely.

Sterling shaken by escalating standoff within Tory party

The pound fell below $1.21 this morning, as the Tory civil war intensified, with expectations of a rocky week ahead for the currency amid plans by party rebels to work with Labour to block a no-deal Brexit.

Sterling shed 0.7 per cent against the dollar to trade most recently at $1.2075. Against the euro, it was down 0.5 per cent at €1.1012.

Traders will be closely watching as the opposition, in tandem with the rebels, looks to seize control of the House of Commons order paper and then pass a law to stop Mr Johnson from executing a no-deal departure from the EU on October 31.

Mr Johnson told the rebels on Sunday they would be stripped of the party whip and banned from standing as Tory candidates at the next election if they do not back his tough line on Brexit.

“The pound will initially attempt to add to its recent gains if opposition MPs are successful in passing legislation in the week ahead,” said Lee Hardman, a currency analyst at MUFG.

“However, those gains could prove short-lived as it remains unclear how the government will respond to the request from parliament.”

A must read: the Corbyn shake-up

Meanwhile, FT research outlines how the economic agenda of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party will change Britain’s economy:
FT Series: The Corbyn revolution

Cost soars for Labour’s grand pledge to reshape the economy: FT research finds the next Labour government will have to find at least £26bn in new tax rises

UK’s Labour party would seize £300bn of company shares

Corbyn’s plan to rewrite the rules.

Mr Corbyn, pictured above with MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, is speaking in Salford this morning about his opposition to a no-deal Brexit.

What’s going on?

FT reporters and columnists have been hard at work on recent days explaining just what is going on in British politics. Here are some highlights from our coverage:

In this short video editorial director Robert Shrimsley explains why Boris Johnson wanted to suspend parliament and what this means for Brexit.

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Constitutional lawyer David Allen Green argues here that the prorogration of parliament is “an attack on direct democracy.”

And here, political editor George Parker and chief political correspondent Jim Pickard explain the role of Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s backroom adviser and the architect of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, in parliament being suspended.

Scottish court: Judge knocks down attempt to overturn rejection of injunction

Well, that was fast. The judge in the Scottish court case against the suspension of parliament has dismissed an attempt to overturn his decision to reject a request for an emergency injunction. A hearing will take place tomorrow, as previously planned.

Tory civil war intensifies

Boris Johnson was accused on Monday of deliberately “goading” Conservative rebels into voting down his Brexit strategy so that he can purge them from the party and then hold a snap general election, writes the FT’s political editor George Parker.

David Gauke, one of the leading Tory rebels opposed to a no-deal Brexit, said Mr Johnson was taking a “confrontational” approach and was doing nothing to try to head off a defeat in the Commons this week.

His comments came after Boris Johnson threatened yesterday to purge some of the party’s biggest beasts — including former chancellor Philip Hammond — unless they back him in a key Brexit vote on Tuesday.

Mr Johnson last night abruptly cancelled face-to-face talks scheduled for this morning with 15 Tory rebels including Mr Hammond, David Lidington, the former deputy prime minister, and David Gauke, former justice secretary, citing a “diary clash” and further heightening tensions.

Petitioners in Scottish court challenge seek to appeal decision to reject emergency injunction of suspension

A Scottish court ruled last week against launching an emergency injunction to stop Boris Johnson from suspending parliament. A cross-party group of petitioners have now started a new attempt to have that decision overturned, reports the FT’s Scotland correspondent, Mure Dickie.

This case is one of three that are expected to be heard in courts across the UK this week against Mr Johnson’s proroguing of parliament that has thrust the UK into a constitutional crisis.

Welcome back

The FT’s Westminster live blog is back in action ahead of what is expected to be a hectic week in UK politics. Boris Johnson over the weekend threatened to strip the party whip from Tory MPs who stand against him in parliament later this week as the prime minister looks to thwart a rebellion in his own party.

Sterling has started the week off on weak footing, UK government bonds are rallying … and to top it off, we’ve received a round of gloomy data on the factory sector.

Follow along throughout the day as FT reporters bring you the latest developments.



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