The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Paul Nuttall hasn’t had the best week. On Monday, he launched the party’s platform on integration at the Marriott Hotel in Westminster, and then had to flee as journalists tried to find out whether he was going to stand for Parliament. One of his frontbenchers stepped down soon after in protest over his “misguided” new proposals, which included a burka ban. So it was bold of the Ukip leader to return to the Marriott today to launch his party’s election campaign.

The launch was no less controversial, as anti-racism protesters managed to get inside the event. They were swiftly thrown out, chanting as they went that Ukip was a “nasty, racist party”. What about the substance? Mr Nuttall made clear that he would stand for Parliament, although refused to confirm where. “Bring your bucket and spade” his aide told journalists, in what is now being taken as a hint that it will be Boston and Skegness. Such a target would be a big test for the Ukip leader. Voters in the constituency heavily backed Brexit, yet its incumbent MP Matt Warman (a former Telegraph journalist) backed Remain. If Ukip can’t win there, a seat it spent more money on trying to win in 2015 than any other seat in the country, then where can it win?

Ukip’s popularity has been on the wane in the polls, so it’s tempting to be sceptical of how well the party could do in this election. Douglas Carswell isn’t holding his breath, as he writes for the Telegraph that the Liberal Democrats could do much better than his former party as “they know how to count…[and] are very good at converting what votes they do get into actual seats because they know about targeting and messaging”. If Mr Nuttall can defy the odds by taking a seat, Ukip will show it doesn’t need Mr Carswell in order to have a voice in Parliament.

 
 

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

There is no set way for a party leader to behave on stepping down. Some prefer to hold their tongue in retirement and speak up on select occasions. This has been Sir John Major’s approach, after he declared on leaving Downing Street: “When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage—and that is what I propose to do”. His intervention on Brexit last night has not escaped criticism though, as Boris Johnson used his address to the British Chambers of Commerce this afternoon to mock the “ prognostications of gloom“. The Foreign Secretary’s rebuke was much more diplomatic than the response given by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, which led James Kirkup to lament their tendency to resort to “personal vitriol” and “talk of plots”.

Sir John Major prefers as a former party leader to hold fire, so as to maximize his impact when he goes in all-guns blazing. Nigel Farage’s strategy could not be more different, as he has kept up a sustained barrage since stepping down. His latest target is one of his favourites – Douglas Carswell. The Ukip MP has earned his ire now after emails leaked to the Telegraph suggested he was not pushing wholeheartedly for Mr Farage to receive a knighthood. The messages were proof, Mr Farage declared, that he was “consumed with jealousy and a desire to hurt me”.

The former Ukip leader wants his successor, Paul Nuttall, to punish Mr Carswell by kicking him out of the party. The Clacton MP should be meeting with party chairman Paul Oakden this afternoon, so disciplinary action could be in the offing. But Mr Nuttall knows that if does sack Mr Carswell, as I’ve written online, he would inevitably re-open the splits that he had only just managed to cover. Meanwhile if he doesn’t, Faragistas will take this as proof that he is working with Mr Carswell and his “elitist cabal” ( as one Ukip MEP put it) to desecrate Mr Farage’s legacy.

As Paul Nuttall works out how to appease the Carswellites and the Faragistas, he must be wishing that his predecessor wasn’t quite so eager to stir things up.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Voters in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central are braving the might of Storm Doris to come out and vote today in two crunch by-elections. As polling day enters its final few hours, I’ve been looking online at how the parties will treat the possible results.

Labour is fighting to cling on two seats in what have been traditional heartlands. It shouldn’t be remarkable if that happens, but the party has lowered expectations about how it may do in the hope of making it seem so. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics will be keeping an eye out on how Labour’s majority holds up in such a scenario to see what damage his leadership may have had.

Losing both would inevitably precipitate a leadership challenge. The Tories may hope Labour clings onto Stoke then, so that Mr Corbyn can be embarrassed, but remain in place as leader. They have their hearts set on taking Copeland off Labour by trying to highlight Mr Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance to voters there. It will be quite a coup if they manage it, as it will be a be the first time the Government had won a seat off the official opposition since the Tories took Mitcham and Morden in 1982.

Ukip’s fortunes rest on what happens in Stoke. If Paul Nuttall wins, the party will enjoy a new moment of glory as it celebrates its new MP and its first seizure of a Labour seat. If he doesn’t, his allies will be tempted to blame it on Labour’s “smear campaign” over Hillsborough. That  won’t persuade everyone, as Nigel Farage told Ukip’s spring conference that winning Stoke was “fundamental” to the party’s future. If Mr Nuttall can’t deliver, some Faragistas will be sharpening their knives.

The results will be not be known until much later, likely between 3 and 4am. We’ll have them, as well as all the analysis, on our website tomorrow. Every party will hope to have something to boast about. If not, their leaders can expect to have pretty gloomy weekends.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

  Good afternoon.

Paul Nuttall is off to Bolton tomorrow to rally the Ukip troops at their spring conference, after a rough few days on the campaign trail in the “ Brexit capital” of Stoke-on-Trent. He has been forced on the back foot over the last few days by reports raising doubts over whether he was at the Hillsborough disaster and how close his friends he lost at the tragedy were to him. Labour thinks it has has scented blood, insisting that he has “questions to answer”.

This furore could not have come at a worse time for Mr Nuttall, as he hopes to convince Stoke to make him their first Ukip MP, after a lifetime of Labour representation, next Thursday. The by-election seemed at first to be his to lose. Most constituents – around 70 per cent – voted for Brexit, something his Labour rival Gareth Snell vehemently opposes. The majority of them are working-class, a demographic that now – polls say – is more partial to Ukip than Labour. So is his campaign doomed? Those hoping so, as I wrote online, are assuming that Stoke residents are just as fascinated by the press releases he has put out over the last few years as the Twitterverse. Many will have little interest in the #AskPaulNuttall jokes, and recent history suggests they will be just as engaged in the by-election itself.

Voters in Stoke are less likely to turn out to the polls than the average Briton, and so many will have tuned out and view such reports as just noise. “It’s not going to make a blind bit of difference on the doorstep,” one Ukip official told me. But the flip-side is that voters won’t be so outraged by Labour candidate’s controversial tweets, which has put some Ukippers on edge. “Gareth Snell is such an awful candidate,” one source lamented to me. “But I wonder if Stoke realises how awful he is?”

The final week of the by-election will see both sides hammer home their key messages. They’ll try to keep the rows about controversial tweets and press releases going, but know there will be some residents who will be hard to interest. They’re the group that won’t answer the door to canvassers, so campaigners will struggle to determine how they will vote. They won’t be so interested by the campaign coverage, but will have their own concerns. These people, Stoke’s silent voters, have Mr Nuttall’s fate in their hands.

 

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Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

Good afternoon.

The Brexit preparation continued today as Theresa May hosted her New Zealand counterpart Bill English for a working lunch at Downing Street. The Prime Minister said afterwards that they both agreed on the potential for a “bold” new trading relationship once Britain leaves the European Union. New Zealand’s premier said in turn that he hoped to thrash out a “high quality” trade deal with the UK “as soon as possible”. He’ll be relieved Liam Fox is visiting that Commonwealth nation in the coming months to ensure that happens. All this should help Mrs May hit the ground running next week in the run-up to her big Brexit speech on Tuesday.

Brexit is not just a subject for the international arena, as it is fast becoming an issue in local politics. The Liberal Democrats ousted pro-Leave Zac Goldsmith, despite his 23,000 majority, last month by making a show of how much they agreed with Richmond Park’s mostly pro-Remain residents. In light of that, the departure of pro-Remain Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, one of the most pro-Brexit areas in the country, will worry Labourites about their chances of fending off Ukip and the Tories. Their concern will be even greater given he leaves behind a much smaller majority to defend, of just over 5,100 votes.

The primary threat to Labour in Mr Hunt’s seat comes from Ukip, which came second there in last year’s general election after a swing of over 18% in its favour. If Paul Nuttall’s plan to replace Labour as the voice of the disenfranchised working class should work anywhere, it should be here. That is why there is already considerable pressure on the Ukip leader to test his strategy by standing as the party’s candidate himself. If he does, that is a sign Ukip is in it to win. Their candidate will be unveiled next Saturday.

Ukip’s campaign will face more problems than the Lib Dems did in Richmond Park. The Greens and Conservatives weren’t standing there, so it was easier for them to frame it as a pro/anti Brexit contest. The Conservatives show little sign in standing aside, which means the anti-Corbyn and pro-Brexit vote will be split. They were less than 50 votes behind Ukip last year, so could feel they are worthy contenders. The Tories could present Ukip a whole new problem if they did stand aside though. Any whiff of a pact between both parties risks limiting Ukip’s potential to appeal to left-wing voters. Even if there isn’t an official deal, Labour will do what it can to convince voters otherwise.

This by-election won’t be too surprising for Theresa May, given that she had to approve Mr Hunt’s appointment as director of the V&A museum. She is likely to have known about his career move before Jeremy Corbyn did. Mr Hunt won’t worry too much about surprising his party leader with news of his departure. But the consequences could be uncomfortable for him. It’ll be embarrassing if Labour barely manages to cling onto his seat. If it falls into Ukip’s hands, it’ll be outright humiliating.

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Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

Theresa May is building on her vow outside Downing Street to be a “one nation” Prime Minister today, we report, by bringing together leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations to talk about Brexit. She will tell Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh counterpart Carwyn Jones and Northern Ireland’s leader Arlene Foster that the way the UK leaves the EU “will not boil down to a hard choice” and that “no final decisions have been taken” about what form it would take. The Prime Minister will also offer an olive branch to them in the form of a new forum chaired by David Davis and a hotline to the Brexit secretary. This comes after the leaders called for their legislatures to get their own votes on the negotiating position the Government intends to take.”I am determined that as we make a success of our exit from the European Union, we in turn further strengthen our own enduring union,” she said ahead of the talks.

Mrs May doesn’t just have to worry about the devolved assemblies this week in her drive for Brexit, as her Government is set tomorrow to decide on how best to expand Britain’s airport capacity after the referendum. Sir Howard Davies, the man chosen by the Government to review this issue, says in today’s Telegraph that the case for expanding Heathrow has “strengthened in recent months” post the vote for Brexit. “The need for a clear strategic direction is more important since the referendum result,” he writes. “The rhetoric about becoming a European Singapore with a “blue water” trading focus  seems empty if we cannot connect to the new markets we wish to serve.”

The decision will be made by the airports cabinet committee and announced in the House of Commons. But the Prime Minister has already moved to curb the potential backlash by giving free reign to her ministers to air their views on the announcement once it has been made. This will be a relief for the likes of Boris Johnson, who has previously voted to lie down in front of the bulldozers if Heathrow goes ahead, although the pressure will be higher on Zac Goldsmith, as he has repeatedly vowed to resign his seat in the Commons if Heathrow gets the green light.

Mrs May has time to wrestle with the big questions post-Brexit as Ukip has turned its fire inwards. Suzanne Evans launched her campaign bid yesterday, and has already reopened her feud with Nigel Farage (and his former aide – now aspiring successor – Raheem Kassam). Tim Stanley wonders whether Evans is the right candidate for the May era, writing in today’s paper that the best option looks to be former deputy leader Paul Nuttall. “Ukip must be agile and move to swallow Labour. Either this will lead to its emergence as an authentic voice of working-class dissent or, more benignly, it might compel Labour to reconnect with ordinary people,” he concludes.