Bad smell lingers around Tories as past failures return to haunt them

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Good morning. The UK government’s £63mn-a-year deal with France to prevent attempts to cross the Channel in small boats is “throwing good money after bad”, said Tim Loughton, a senior home affairs select committee member and former minister.

As for the Australia trade deal, that’s bad too, according to former cabinet minister George Eustice. Some thoughts on the kvetching and general bad air around the government in today’s note.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to [email protected].

Worse than Eustice

The UK-Australia trade deal has come under a blistering attack from one of the cabinet ministers who negotiated it, the ex-Defra secretary George Eustice. Speaking in a parliamentary debate on Australia and New Zealand trade deals in the House of Commons, he admitted:

The Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK. It wasn’t for lack of trying on my part. Indeed, there were things that we achieved: a special agricultural safeguard for years 10 to 15, staged liberalisation across the first decade, the protection of British sovereignty in SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] issues.

It’s no surprise that many of these areas were areas negotiated either exclusively or predominantly by Defra on behalf of the UK team.

But it has to be said that, overall the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return.

Part of what is going on here is that one of the rows that went on behind closed doors in Boris Johnson’s government has broken out into the open. Under Johnson, Eustice was derided by Liz Truss’s closest allies as one of the “Waitrose protectionists” (which also includes Michael Gove and Zac Goldsmith) standing in the way of free trade deals due to their concerns about British agriculture.

Many of the so-called “Waitrose protectionists” believed that Truss was either signing up to trade deals to burnish her leadership credentials and/or was a monomaniacal ideologue with no feeling for what the UK was giving up thanks to her rapid-fire trade deals.

Of course, in the end, neither side really won. Truss got her trade deals, and burnished her credibility with the Tory right through getting them, but, well, we all know how that story ended.

As for her internal opponents: they lost the battle over the content of Truss’s trade deals and it remains to be seen whether their fears that British farming will end up being the biggest casualty of Brexit come true.

What’s significant is that, yes, Eustice’s speech is partly an attack on Liz Truss and her reputation. The quality of her trade deals is her only real hope of being remembered for anything other than her disastrous 44-day premiership, after all.

But the biggest loser from these headlines is Rishi Sunak. He once again faces criticism over one of his cabinet appointments — this time Dominic Raab, who was accused of behaving inappropriately towards civil servants during his previous stints as a cabinet minister. And yet again Sunak must deal with headlines about the small boats issue and his government’s inability to tackle it — this time, the problem is a £62mn-a-year deal with France that nobody, not even his home secretary, believes is sufficient to tackle the problem. The UK-France deal is “not a silver bullet”, Suella Braverman said yesterday.

It adds to a highly unhelpful smell around his government: that this is an administration that is divided, fractious, can’t fulfil its functions and is doomed.

Now, you may say: well, yeah. Just look at the polls. Redfield and Wilton’s latest numbers find Labour ahead of the Conservatives by 24 points. What does it matter if the government looks worse? I would say there are two problems. The first is that the Tories’ poll rating could decline yet further.

Second, one reason why the Tory party is continually picking at old wounds, briefing against its own government and policy agenda is the general sense among a lot of MPs that the race has been run and they are heading into opposition. I don’t know what Sunak can do to change the general air of fatalism around his party — assuming, that is, we can safely rule out “first, invent time travel”. But if he doesn’t, then things are going to get even worse. That may mean he finds that he cannot even pass his budget, and that we end up with an election sooner rather than later.

Now try this

As one often does on holiday I found myself browsing various second-hand bookshops in Much Wenlock and Ironbridge during my weekend away. Included in my haul was Sir Terry Pratchett’s Mort (one of many mistakes I made as a student was to shed my Discworld books in a fit of “well, I won’t be reading that again”). Here’s Robert Shrimsley on the enduring power and quality of Pratchett as an author. My suggestion if you are giving the Discworld series a go is to start with Mort, Equal Rites or Guards! Guards! Under no account should you start with the first book in the series, which is not much cop.

Top stories today

  • Sunak in Bali | The prime minister has said China poses the greatest state-based threat to UK economic security, as he left open the possibility of Britain sending arms to Taiwan.

  • New windfall tax | Jeremy Hunt is preparing a raid on electricity generators with a new tax on their “excess returns” as he tries to find money to pay for an inflation-linked rise in benefits and pensions while extending help for households with energy bills.

  • Macron and Sunak rapprochement | When Rishi Sunak took over at Number 10, he appeared to form an instant bond with French president Emmanuel Macron, and the accord signed yesterday signalled a change in dynamic after years of dismal relations. But the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol remains a litmus test for UK-French co-operation.

  • Caught in multiple departments | Dominic Raab was warned about his behaviour towards officials during his time as foreign secretary by the department’s top civil servant, who then informally reported his concerns to the cabinet office’s propriety and ethics team (PET), the Guardian has been told. Meanwhile, Bloomberg have three sources with direct knowledge claiming cabinet secretary Simon Case was told by senior officials of concerns about Raab’s treatment of staff.

  • TikToks by gangs ‘glamorise crime’ | According to UK government figures, the number of Albanians arriving illegally via the Channel jumped 43 per cent between May and September this year. Albania’s young men are tempted by a world of easy money portrayed by traffickers using glitzy images and videos in a sophisticated social media campaign on Instagram and TikTok.

  • Pressure on the Home Office | The Home Office does not know what fraud is costing the UK economy or what is being spent to tackle it, the independent public spending watchdog has found.

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