|Good afternoon. Today the House of Lords began the process of debating and potentially amending the Article 50 bill, and Theresa May is watching them closely. In fact she paid them a rare personal visit, pointedly perching on the steps by the throne like Stringer Bell sitting in on the murder trial which opens The Wire. Whatever can she mean by it?
Some people see, in the intervention of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson over the weekend, the beginning of a Remainer fightback. The FT’s Janan Ganesh believes that “friendships are growing” between pro-European MPs and Lords across three parties, with “lots of money” sloshing around. Meanwhile we report on the various peers who enjoy generous EU pensions: among many others they include Lord Mandelson, at an estimated £34,659 a year, Lord Kinnock, at an estimated £87,794 a year, and Baroness Ludford, estimated at £21,000. The big demand will likely be a guarantee of the rights of EU nationals in Britain, which the public strongly backs.
But there are also factors weighing against a decisive intervention by the Lords at this stage. Labour’s Baroness Smith confirmed Labour will try to amend the bill but that there will be no house-to-house “ping pong”. William Hague advised that “if there was a real chance of rising up successfully against leaving the EU, it would open up the most protracted, bitter and potentially endless conflict in British society since the decades of debate on Irish Home Rule.” The Bishop of Southwark argued that, if faced with a choice between passing an amendment and accepting an assurance from a minister, peers should do the latter. This is what happened in the Commons when a potential rebellion on EU nationals’ rights was blunted by a ministerial concession, and if followed by a large number of peers it would obviate many mooted amendments. Then there are the people (those pesky, pesky people): an ICM poll has found that 68 per cent of voters want the Government to get on with Brexit, compared to 54 per cent of people last year. Quite quickly it seems that Theresa May is leading the country with her, Mr Blair be damned.
In other news, Emmanuel Macron, a strong candidate in the French Presidential election, will visit London tomorrow hoping to woo the 300,000 French nationals (mostly young, often affluent, and by definition cosmopolitan) who live in Britain. If he wins it will have implications for Brexit. Mr Macron has said he will be “pretty tough” on Britain, “because we have to preserve the rest of the European Union”. His rival François Fillon agrees. Only Marine Le Pen, as illustrated in our interview last week, is pro-Brexit, seeing it as the first crack in the “whole psychological framework” underpinning the status quo she intends to destroy. Some Britons may welcome her victory on the grounds of our national interest. Others, I think, will find the price too high
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