Welcome to the latest edition of This Week on Twitter for Westminster HUB. Our fortnightly look at how Twitter reacted to the latest and greatest events in the political universe. This week saw pressure build on Theresa May over the public sector pay gap following statements from a couple of well-known politicians in her cabinet.
The week’s other big news surrounded Britain’s Brexit negotiations as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, gave a press statement and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also gave their advice on what Britain should do with the Brexit future.
Public Sector Pay Cap
Pressure continued to build on Prime Minister Theresa May following the election as Labour's calls for the end to the public sector pay cap was echoed this week by cabinet members, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. It was reported early this week that foreign secretary Boris Johnson was one of a number of frontbenchers pushing Theresa May to lift the pay cap on public sector workers which has limited their pay increases to 1% for the past 7 years. Jeremy Corbyn was quick to react to these reports accusing the foreign secretary of hypocrisy after voting against raising the cap the week before.
After Michale Gove and Boris Johnson's interventions in the debate, eyes turned to a speech the chancellor, Philip Hammond was due to give. In the speech he referred to the public sector pay cap but it was interpreted as a put down for Gove and Jonhson as he insisted that a pay rise may have to come from tax rises. Robert Peston reported the chancellor's intervention in the debate with quotes from his speech which encouraged the debate but he insisted it must be a "grown up debate," which was interpreted as a veiled jibe at Gove and Johnson.
Later in the week another Conservative MP was grilled on the topic on BBC's Question Time program. Jacob Rees-Moog, who celebrated the arrival of his sixth child this week, stated that the government was forced in to making hard choices, such as the public sector pay freeze, because they had to, "get the public finances in order," following Labour's time in government. This well worn argument has been one the Conservatives have relied on for many years but still seems to be an effective line.
This very public debate about lifting the pay cap on public sector workers has followed news about a review in to tuition fees and reversal of decisions to scrap the pension triple lock and universal winter fuel allowances. To some journalists, including the New Statesman's George Eaton, this looked like the Conservatives swinging towards Corbyn-esque policies following his unexpected election night success.
Other members of the media, such as Politics.co.uk's Ian Dunt, found the debate to be a hollow one as it consisted purely of politicians realising that public opinion was in favour of raising the public sector pay gap and therefore MP's were changing their opinions to suit that realisation rather than any profound reversal of their actual opinion.
There was also some Twitter users who felt that the cap on pay may be quite strict but that those receiving the pay freeze benefited from job stability and perks such as pensions that people in other sectors aren't able to enjoy. The intimation therefore being that these other benefits were enough to offset the lack of wage growth in the jobs.
Barnier and CBI Brexit Bargaining
This week also saw a number of influential people and institutions making their thoughts on the British stance in Brexit negotiations clear. The biggest and most interesting intervention in the Brexit debate was by the EU's Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, who gave a statement to the press that revealed what had been discussed already in the negotiations as well as what the EU would be demanding from the UK. It was a reasonably damning indictment of what the UK has been pushing for and showed the firm stance the EU is taking to negotiations. Barnier suggested that, even outside of the single market, if the UK wanted to trade with the EU it would be required to meet EU standard rules while he also rubbished claims that the UK could leave the single market but keep all the benefits.
Lots of journalists reported Barnier's quotes as the EU's negotiator also revealed some of his conversations with his UK counterpart David Davis. Barnier revealed that he had directly asked the Brexit secretary if the UK wanted to leave the EU, single market and customs union to which David Davis said yes to each area.
Prominent Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, jumped on Barnier's comments to back his push for the UK to remain within the single market. Although his single market amendment to the Queen's Speech was voted down the previous week, Umunna was clearly backing Barnier's stance and still pushing the debate within the Labour Party over the issue.
Earlier in the week it was the CBI, the UK's leading business organisation, who released a statement expressing their fears over leaving the single market and what they believe should be Britain's aim from Brexit negotiations. The director general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, released a statement saying that the UK faced the "prospect of multiple cliff edges," and urged the UK to agree a transition deal to stay within the single market which would give business "greater stability."
Tim Farron, the departing Liberal Democrat leader, tweeted that the CBI intervention in the debate was a significant step. He suggested that staying within the single market would secure jobs which the CBI statement echoed along with securing investment in the UK in coming years.
The coming weeks will see the EU and UK return to the Brexit negotiation table and we may hear more from Davis, Barnier and co. about developments including EU citizens, divorce bills or the Irish border issues. It remains to be seen whether the pressure from within the cabinet over public sector pay has been seen off by May, Hammond and Rees-Mogg but undoubtedly Jeremy Corbyn and Labour will continue to push this popular cause. For any and all developments on these stories or any other breaking political story Backbench will continue to provide all the analysis, opinion and news coverage.
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