tv Dateline London BBC News September 2, 2019 3:30am-4:01am BST
this is bbc news. the headlines: the most powerful storm in modern times to hit the bahamas is battering the archipelago‘s northernmost islands. hurricane dorian has winds of almost 300km/h. officials have warned of life—threatening storm surges of up to seven metres with some parts already underwater. thousands of pro—democracy protesters have brought chaos to hong kong international airport for the second time in three weeks, blocking road and rail links and forcing dozens of flights to be cancelled. thousands tried to enter the terminal building but were stopped by riot police. it comes a day after violent clashes at a banned rally. british conservative party mps have been told that if they vote to block a no—deal brexit, they'll be suspended from the parliamentary party and barred from standing in the next general election.
now on bbc news, dateline london. hello and welcome to dateline london. i'm carrie gracie. this week, one story only, but what a story. two months to go until the brexit deadline and the british prime minister plans to suspend parliament for half of that time. many are outraged. but can they turn outrage to action? my guests — political commentator steve richards, stefanie bolzen, uk correspondent for die welt, writer on politics eunice goes, and americanjournalist and authorjef mcallister.
welcome to you all. borisjohnson has warned he will do whatever it takes to deliver brexit by october 31st. his enemies have vowed to do whatever it takes to prevent a no—deal brexit. the clock is ticking and there is no sign of a new deal with the eu, the westminster stand—off reaches a new pitch with the prime minister's plan to suspend the mother of parliaments and the arrival of legal action to stop him. steve, you've been writing a book on british prime ministers. it's coming out this week. how is this one doing and what his game plan? his game plan, obviously, is to get the uk out by october the 31st and he has given himself no wriggle room, very unusual for prime ministers to allow themselves no space. it is interesting, i have written this book on modern prime ministers and the honeymoon period for all of them was intoxicating.
they sensed they were special, they were gripped by their sense of power, the media swooned, parliament was in awe, colleagues were terrified of them and how they used this period was very significant. some of them moved to towards their doom in this intoxicating period, theresa may being an example. she was 20 points ahead during her honeymoon. it seems to me that he is making several risks. in proroguing parliament, he has united all that disparate group of anti—no—dealers who were fractious, unclear of what to do and when to do it. in flirting with an early election — early elections are dangerous in british politics. so i thinkjohnson is taking big risks during this intoxicating period. he has only had to face parliament for one day so far
and it's still a hung parliament, he can't change that until an election. so i see risks in this strategy, but it's clear what it is, he hasn't hidden it. he wants to get britain out on october the 31st and feels that the fate of his party is dependent, and him obviously, on doing so. eunice, intoxicated? surely. surely, because these are really very dangerous tactics. the honeymoon periods also have the added advantage for the sitting prime minister, that parliament is not sitting so there are no announcements and everything goes well. and he forgets, i think he is forgetting the key fact that he is the prime minister of a minority government. suspending parliament when we are — the clock is ticking for brexit is extremely dangerous and it has had the effect of uniting people who are against a no—deal brexit but that so far had failed to come together, drafting a strategy on how to stop a no—deal brexit. well, he managed to do that and, as steve says, even if the endgame
is to call an early election, that's very risky. not only are these very difficult times, but the british electorate has been highly volatile for the past decade. so no party leader, particularly of the main parties, can count on winning a majority at any election. british voters are at their most volatile so it is very dangerous. jef, desperate times, desperate gamble needed ? it is self—inflicted desperation. brexit has been a big problem in british politics since the referendum because the kind of brexit that was envisaged by the people who voted for it is not what can be accomplished. this has continued to be the giant piece of concrete that the dinosaur has to swallow! itjust can't be done.
theresa may kicked the can down the road, that was her technique for keeping parliament from having scrutiny, now we are in a phase where boris johnson's technique is to use the clock to prevent parliament from having scrutiny because i think he figures that even if people were able to have a no—confidence vote, it won't be effective in time for october 31 because of the vagaries of the fixed—term parliament act. if the people try to stop it through legislation and say that article 50 has to be postponed, it's very likely it will be filibustered in the lords or some other way could be found. so, the desperation is, i've got the tactics, i've got the initiative, i'm going to do what it takes. it's almost leninist but there is a long tradition of minority governments winning. i mean, 1983, the margaret thatcher election, the labour and sdlp alliance had a much higher percentage of the votes but she ran a very effective
and tough government. that is in the british system because of the way the voting works. this is now on steroids, it's move fast and break things, it's silicon valley punk politics almost, and for a new age, and it is trumpish too. it is almost so outrageous — nobody can stop me, it's cool and funny to look at, wow, let's go! so far, it's working. which comes back to the intoxication that steve was talking about. but stefanie, can you give us your assessment at this point of the game plan and also, i know you have been in berlin and talking to brussels, give us a sense of how europe is perceiving the game plan at this moment, this plan to suspend parliament? it has been really interesting to be on the continent last week and watch it from the other side of the channel. i think there are two narratives going on. in a way, borisjohnson for now can't do anything wrong because he — his narrative is, i actually want a deal. if he doesn't get that deal, it is the fault of the europeans and he has to go for no deal
so he has been forced into no deal. he tried his best but it was impossible because of the intransigent in europeans. and talking to people in berlin and brussels, they have seen this coming. so over the summer already, from london, they saw the blame game starting, getting steam and getting really fierce and they have been preparing their own narrative. what are they doing? that was the famous and interesting meeting of german chancellor merkel and borisjohnson to say, you can solve that in 30 days. she didn't mean that really. what she was trying to do is to say, we are helpful, we are constructive, we want a deal and if there is not a deal, it's your fault. so both sides are getting their narrative. getting ready for the crunch. and, steve, just before we get to the crunch between the europeans and borisjohnson, what about the crunch in westminster? how effective do you see this rebel alliance at turning its rainbow of outrage into action? first of all, it's worth pausing
to reflect that this is going to be an astonishing a few days. that sort of cliche, parliament versus the executive, really taking tangible form. the answer is that we know certain things. we know the majority in the house of commons is opposed to no deal because there have been previous votes where they have expressed this. we know also that the speaker, john bercow, is a pro—parliamentary figure. some, unfairly so, say he will act for remainers but it's not that — he will facilitate parliament having a voice. that is two very big advantages for this fractious group of rebels, these include tories who want a deal and out, some labour people who want us to remain in after a referendum and so on. two very big advantages. on the other side, though,
when you look at the pattern of this whole saga from the beginning, the hardline brexiteers win every time. they forced a weak prime minister, david cameron, into holding a referendum. they won the referendum. they did not like theresa may's deal, defeated theresa may's deal. they wanted borisjohnson in, they got borisjohnson in. even though this alliance unquestionably have the figures, they lack the same brutal focus and determination that the other side, in some cases, brilliantly, have shown. so, that sets it up, if you like. they do have the numbers, i think they still have the time, even though a few days have been cut off. will they have the result? but will they have the resolve and the guile? what you're talking about is people on the tory side like oliver letwin, a nice guy, thoughtful guy, but not proven to deliver in these situations, which is kind of epic. jeremy corbyn, who, as leader of the opposition,
has never shown a fascination or a skill of parliamentary guile. these are the kind of people we are talking about. so, let's see. and if i can push you on one point, you're talking as if it's a purely political dimension. how significant do you see the constitutional, legal direction, all these challenges in scotland, through the high court in london and, indeed, in belfast? yes, it's a very good point. part of the extraordinary drama of the next few days is to take one of the court cases. you're having a former prime minister, john major, taking the current prime minister to court over proroguing parliament. and of the same party! yes, former conservative prime minister taking the current conservative prime minister to court. this in itself is mind—boggling politics. in parallel to the political drama, which i think will resolve this,
not the courts, you do have the legal proceedings as well. and in both cases, lawyers are working around the clock, for the government in the court case or john major and others to try to stop this prorogation, but also, crucially for the rebels, the anti—no—deal rebels, lawyers are trying to frame as we sit here now a legally watertight bill that will block no deal. we will come back to that. so, you are absolutely right, there is a legal dimension but i sense in the end it will be the politics that decides this. yes, yes. just before we lose the legal dimension, though, jef, you are a lawyer. how extraordinary is it to see judges tasked with the job of looking inside the head of the prime minister and trying to determine whether his intentions are different from the ones he states in relation to prorogation? pretty extraordinary and also something that they hate to do, and with good reason. if you believe in a constitution
and checks and balances and deference to the other branches of government, which is what in fact keeps the system alive, even if the current prime minister is driving a bulldozer through it, judges really don't like to try to see past public statements to try to infer evil motive. this has happened in the us when trump has made many comments — this is a muslim ban, we're going to ban all the muslims! and his lawyers have to say, oh, no, it's not a muslim ban, this is done for reasons of economy and other things. and the judges have done it but it's only because it has been an extraordinary barrage and they would look ridiculous if they didn't look beyond. it hasn't quite reached that fever pitch with boris johnson yet. so, do you agree with steve that this is going to be fought on a political battlefield at the end of the day rather than the battlefield of court? i think the judges will not
want to throw themselves into the middle of this giant political decision. ok, so, eunice, can you pick up on the characters? at the end of the day, this is partly about the characters and what they can achieve and steve has raised questions about whetherjeremy corbyn and oliver letwin, whether they can pull off a victory against a very determined government. we don't know. we are really in uncharted territory but i think it would be worth coming back to what happened since 2016 up to now and see how the remain political parties and the remain mps have voted. having been given the means to vote on brexit thanks to the efforts of gina miller, so we have the courts enabling, giving power to parliament to vote on brexit. this was the campaigner who took it to court and it would have to be decided in parliament. and what did mps do? they voted to trigger article 50. so, mps are too divided, as steve said, we don't know how
they will behave next week. so far, we'rejudging from what happened in the past, there is very little reasons to be hopeful. because the labour party is divided but they might be united on stopping a no—deal brexit. jeremy corbyn is not the most skilful leader of the opposition in terms of manoeuvring the parliamentary regulations and so on. the leader of the lib dems, she is dead against the idea of having tojeremy corbyn being a caretaker prime minister for a short period of time. we have conservative rebels, we don't know how they will behave in the division lobbies, so there's a lot of uncertainty and on the other hand, we have a ruthless machine in government where we have heard today, for instance, that downing street is telling potential rebel mps, you will be deselected if you vote to request an extension of article 50. that sets up quite an asymmetry of forces. stefanie, there is the question
of timing and time is very short. borisjohnson is talking about proroguing somewhere between the 9th and 12th of september. very soon. it is very soon and there is also looming the european council in the middle of october, on the 17th and 18th of october. and following up on what steve said, the tricky thing for the opposition is they do not have a joint target. the hard brexiteers want a no deal but what the others want is not clear. some want to remain, some want a soft brexit, to stay in a close relationship with the eu and so on and so forth and this is what theresa may tried to do, tojoin these interests. what borisjohnson is doing now, and especially apparently his special adviser dominic cummings, they have seen this weakness and they hit it and hit it hard.
the opposition was so surprised by that, and the outrage that was felt this week, some people were saying that westminster felt like a courtyard of chickens, everybody headless and running around! this is what they have foreseen. what you also have to have in mind is the reaction in europe. of course they are looking at this and they feel confirmed that you cannot trust this government so why on earth should they move on the backstop if the backstop is something about trust to keep the northern irish border open? this has certainly not helped the case, if it was honest, to get a better deal. let's move on to the eu view of the situation because it matters so centrally because borisjohnson has said that his opponents in westminster are undermining and thwarting his ability to negotiate effectively with europe, that there is a deal to be had but that westminster is making it difficult for him to get it. i can't quite believe he is honest when he says that, i'm really sorry. where is the proof that actually his government, his advisers, have taken any money to do another feasibility study of different arrangements or an alternative on the border? they haven't done anything. what they are doing is talking
a lot, sending people to brussels, sitting there and doing technical talks which is what i hear from brussels, but on the ground, there is nothing that is really convincing the europeans that there is honesty behind wanting a deal. they are pretty much convinced that no deal is actually the outcome that everybody in government here is looking for. this is an important question in terms of whether there is an effort to get a deal. the prime minister said tempo is raised, we're going back and negotiating twice a week, he has sent his top civil servants over. do you believe he wants a deal? no, and so far no minister has been asked coming back from those trips to brussels, paris, berlin and so on, what have you proposed. they have no answer. there are no alternative arrangements to those that have been negotiated by theresa may.
this is again for mass consumption. most european leaders are completely aghast at what happened. many of them lead a minority government and, can you imagine if i suspended parliament like borisjohnson? it is totally untrustworthy and they are preparing themselves for managing public expectations by saying, if there is a no—deal brexit, that's your own fault. i think he aches for a deal. because every route you contemplate from his perspective is full of little landmines. that is true, however you reflect on in this current drama. there is one route through for him. if he were to get a deal and britain leaves on october 31st, on november the 1st the transitional arrangements kick in. nothing much will have changed, to quote theresa may... there is no transitional arrangement
on a no—deal brexit. no, if he gets a deal there would be and he could start and say that we have left, the pound is soaring because nothing would have changed for two years at least. and then call an election. the problem is, what is the deal? and what is the deal that he can reassure the hardliners known as the erg group of his parliamentary party, that it is significantly different from theresa may? in this game of poker that's going on, i think he does want a deal, but it is not at all clear, as the rest of the panel have said, who have spent time in europe, confirmed, that anything of substance can change in the next few days. can i press you on one point? does it need to be that different
from theresa may's deal? do the erg group not come closer towards this cliff edge of no deal and share a concern about the possibilities of what might happen? no, the erg group would prefer no deal than anything that has any echo of the theresa may deal. he could probably get it through on the back of labour mps who are now so terrified of no deal that he would get a block voting for something close to hers, but it would split his parliamentary party. the hardliners are not sentimental, it's one of the reasons they have been so successful. and if they see itjust as a shadow of her deal, i think they will be up in arms about it. it would need substantial change but there is no evidence of that. you say that he aches for a deal but it might cost him the unity of his parliamentary party to get it... when i say he aches, he aches to get out on october 31. the smoother route is with a deal, no question. between those two, supporting the parliamentary party and getting a deal off the back of labour, which is preferable? i don't know, i don't know.
i just see political problems every which way. my view is that it depends how you see the no deal. perhaps naively, i believe people like the governor of the bank of england, who said the other day, euphemistically, firms that depend on the supply chain, which comes with being part of the single market and customs union, will no longer be economically viable on november the 1st. i think no deal would be a catastrophe. if i were him, i would look for some deal, pretend it is a great significant change, face down the hardliners and then claim a triumph. as i said at the beginning, very unusually for a new prime minister, in this book i've said that they all left themselves wriggle room with the various problems they would face when getting into number 10 and he has left himself with so little. that is why i'm so hesitant in saying that he would prefer a deal.
and theresa may tried to take the unpalatable meal and declare victory and it didn't work too well. no. ijust can't see that there is anything that the european union is going to come up with that is going to make jacob rees—mogg happy. and a lot of people want to crash out. there is something satisfying to them in the whole psychological scenario. as you said, it is the hardliners who have the venom and you can't see them breaking unless it is a real capitulation by europe which is not on the cards, institutionally or morally. i can't imagine that labour would vote to support boris johnson and keep him in government. that is another thing. only the fear of no deal would propel them to do that. that is why he wants to keep no deal
on the table and that's why the rebels, if they had the resolve and guile to pull it off, would have pulled off something massively significant. if they do block no deal, it changes the whole dynamic of this. who around the table believes they have got it in them to do so? it doesn't sound like it? i don't think so because we have a clash of two different cultures, the westminster politics which is all about waffle and being in permanent campaigning mode, and the political culture of the eu which at this stage in the brexit negotiations, it's not enough to say that we want a deal. show us exactly what you want in this deal. we have to remember that what has been agreed so far was the result of the red lines of the british government, the backstop was a massive concession from the eu towards great britain. it's in the court of the brits, to come with proposals and so far
they have failed to do that and there are no signs out there that they have any concrete ideas about how to convince the eu to make the concessions to sign a new deal or political declarations. i don't think anybody disagrees? in which case, coming back to steve's question, do you regard this rainbow alliance as having any chance of stopping borisjohnson on the way to october the 31st? i'm not very optimistic about them having really the political power and the political wit to stop no deal and therefore stop or obstruct boris johnson's strategy. i think it will be very difficult and they have so little time. i hate being pessimistic because it plays into the inevitability idea that borisjohnson wants to create, that he's got to get this through and get it out of the way, but i have to agree. i'm pessimistic. and if everybody around the table agrees on this direction of travel, does this mean out on october 31 and a general election called a couple of months after?
they do have the numbers, and they will have a procedural mechanism to do it. so, let's see. all i would preface my view was, the patent would suggest the hardliners will win because they have won at every juncture so far but the numbers are there. it is in their hands if they want to do it so let's see. the october 31, if they fail, that deadline seems to me to be unyielding. you have an executive then in full control, parliament would have stepped aside. and they have made clear that the uk is leaving on october the 31st. the issue then becomes a deal or no deal. as we have agreed, there would be very little change from the european union over the withdrawal agreement so it would look then like no deal was much more likely. that is why this week is massively pivotal in this drama. we have to leave it there, a pivotal week in westminster ahead.
thank you all so much forjoining us today. that is it for dateline this week. we will be back next week to analyse the week that was. same place, same time. goodbye. hello there, good morning. cloudier, milder weather is set to return across much of the uk for monday. the weather will look a little bit different to the way it did on sunday. still a few showers around at the moment, particularly across northern areas but it is turning quite chilly and we have clearer skies across the south as well. we have had those cooler, fresher, north—westerly winds on sunday
and they will be replaced by these west— south—westerly winds coming around top of this area of high pressure. we're going to find these weather fronts focusing the wetter weather across the northern half of the uk. ahead of that, with the clearer skies, in eastern scotland, eastern england, it will be chilly and temperatures could be lower than this in rural areas, perhaps three orfour degrees. milder across northern ireland and western scotland. they will start the day with cloud and outbreaks of rain which will push steadily eastwards. further rain through the day across scotland. always wetter in the west. rain for northern ireland and northern england and north wales. a few spots of drizzle further south over those western hills.
this is bbc news. welcome if you're watching here in the uk or around the globe. i'm duncan golestani. our top stories: the most powerful storm ever to reach the bahamas makes landfall. bearing the brunt, the northernmost abaco islands. part of it is already under water and, in some areas, you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins. chaos at hong kong international airport as protesters block road and rail links and force dozens of flights to be cancelled. a blunt message for britain's conservative mps — block a no—deal brexit and be barred from elections.