The Waugh Zone Monday November 26, 2018

1. THAT’S ALL FOLKS?

The Cabinet gathers this morning to sign off the sales tactics for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and then we are in for a hell of a fortnight until the Big Vote in the Commons on Wednesday, December 12.  After this weekend’s historic signing of the deal with the EU27, the PM gets up at 3.30pm to make her Commons statement (though the Matthew Hedges news could prompt an Urgent Question that delays things a bit). In her last two marathon sessions, May was monstered by her backbench critics, but will today see a better whipping operation to get our pro-deal MPs earlier in the debate?

French President Emmanuel Macron didn’t exactly make life easy for the PM by suggesting the UK would be stuck in a customs union without escape. More important for No.10 was EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker telling the BBC: “This is the deal, this is the deal… I am never changing my mind…if the House [of Commons] would say no, we will have no deal.” But is this really as good as it gets? Is this really all that’s on offer? Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer (who has been in close contact with Brussels for months) sounds like he thinks this is as much a bluff as the PM threatening a no-deal outcome. He told the Today programme that the EU had no choice but to take its current stance, adding that if Parliament votes down the deal everybody will look at other options.

Starmer has spent the past year nudging Labour’s position forward (not least his conference ad lib where he said ‘Remain’ would be on the ballot paper of a second referendum). And today he seemed to edge it further again, effectively calling for an extension to Article 50 to allow further talks. And it appears some in the Cabinet agree. The Sun reports that Amber Rudd and Michael Gove are both looking closely at the third way of EFTA membership (aka ‘the Norway’ option), and the DUP is hinting it would consider it. Nick Boles reveals in the Times: “In the last week alone I have been invited in to discuss the Norway plan with four members of…

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