The withdrawal agreement bill: Theresa May plans a final act of desperation

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I don’t have a single cheery bit of news to report today. Homeless people are being denied social housing “on the grounds that welfare cuts make the poorest prospective tenants too much of a financial risk”. Meanwhile, nine in 10 councils say the benefit freeze and Universal Credit will force more people into homelessness. According to an Institute for Fiscal Studies report, widening inequality is “making a mockery of democracy”, with divides in income, health and education linked to stagnant pay, unaffordable housing and a long-term decline in trade union membership.

Across the pond, Donald Trump is still President and has been swapping praise with Viktor Orbán. (Don’t forget, Trump will be enjoying that state visit to the UK next month.) Alabama has introduced the stricted abortion law in the US, criminalising the procedure at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape or incest. The penalty for a doctor performing an abortion will be more severe than the penalty for actually committing rape or incest (h/t Geradline DeRuiter).

And then there’s the latest Brexit ‘development’. Last night, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May met for an hour in parliament as the government announced that the withdrawal agreement bill would be brought to the Commons at the start of June. The Prime Minister has set a new deadline for getting Brexit done: before summer recess, which would see the UK leave the EU on August 1st. You might ask, has significant progress been made then? No, this is a final act of desperation.

No10 issued typically cheery comments after the talks, describing them as “useful and constructive”. But Labour is clear that May’s red lines still haven’t shifted and, if they were to move, there are no guarantees that such commitments would be enduring. Negotiations will continue today, though they are expected to collapse imminently and Labour is clear that it won’t support the bill without a prior deal being struck.

The question is whether the WAB will fall at the second reading, with Tory MPs terrified of enshrining in law the hated deal and so many Labour MPs willing to accept nothing less than another referendum. There is an idea that Labour could amend the bill to make the deal comply with Corbyn’s five demands, bypassing cross-party talks in favour of a parliamentary victory. Yet the party is currently shooting down any such suggestions – unsurprisingly, given the pressure it is under by campaigners for another public vote.

Two weeks is a long time in politics, but for now it looks like the Brexit deadlock will remain unbroken and we will instead be treated to a Tory leadership race over the summer. And that may well produce a Prime Minister in favour of no deal. At least the weather is nice? Oh, and as for the latest on climate change…

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