Afternoon summary

  • Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, has encouraged Nicola Sturgeon to hold another independence referendum even if the polls are just 50/50. In an interview with the House magazine he said:

There have been six opinion polls since the European vote. Three of which have shown a majority for independence and the other three have all shown an increase from 45%.

Will Nicola Sturgeon push the button on a referendum if support for independence is, say, 50:50 or at that level? Well, I hit the button for a referendum when support was 27%. Why would she be reluctant on a much larger level than that?

  • Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has accused Boris Johnson of “politicking” over his condemnations of Moscow’s involvement in the bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo. In an interview with CNN Lavrov said:

What my friend and new colleague Boris Johnson is saying is absolute politicking, in the usual arrogant way. Boris is the Jack of all trades, as you know. Having served as mayor, he said he was a very good friend of Russia and was very famous at the Russian festivals in London.

Now I think he is getting ready to become maybe an internationally-recognised prosecutor-general at The Hague, especially after our British colleagues decided that the slogan ‘Yes, we can’ should be additioned by a ‘You can’t’ - when they decided to remove their military from the jurisdiction of the European Human Rights Convention.

Some kind of clarity must be introduced in these discussions. We are open to these discussions. We never cut connections. We want to discuss things and arrive at some truth, instead of accusing each other without any justification.

Sergey Lavrov (left) and Boris Johnson during a meeting at the UN.
Sergey Lavrov (left) and Boris Johnson during a meeting at the UN. Photograph: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

That’s all from me for today.

Tomorrow I will be blogging from the SNP conference in Glasgow.

Delegates at the SNP conference in Glasgow.
Delegates at the SNP conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Boris Johnson is facing criticism for his comments to the foreign affairs committee earlier about how the Britain could get an even better trade deal with the EU when it leaves than it has at the moment. (See 2.33pm.) This is from the Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a campaigner for Open Britain, which wants the UK to stay in the single market.

If there’s a deal of ‘greater value’ out there than single market membership, then businesses and economists have not come across it. The government needs to provide concrete evidence before it pulls us out of our home market of 500 million customers.

And this is from the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.

After his bungling performance today, it’s clear the only thing which is becoming ‘increasingly useless’ is Boris Johnson himself. His glib dismissal of the single market shows the Conservatives have given up any claim to be the party of business and are putting jobs, prosperity and lower prices at risk.

The SNP conference has passed a resolution saying that the UK government should abandon the policy of having lower minimum wage rates for the young and that workers aged 16 to 24 should get the same as over-25s, who are currently the only group who get the more generous “national living wage”. The SNP MP Chris Stephens said:

Conference has been resounding in its condemnation of the UK government and their discriminatory policy on wages. To pay workers less than their colleagues based purely on age is unacceptable and today the SNP has made that clear.

Simon Wolfson, the Next chief executive and prominent leave campaigner, has warned that the British economy is “finished” if the government pursues an isolationist Brexit course. The Tory peer told the Press Association that the referendum vote was about UK independence, not isolation, adding that Britain is setting itself up for economic failure if it closes itself off from the rest of the world.

I think the hard, soft Brexit language is unhelpful, and what we should be talking about is whether we have an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ Brexit.

Britain voted for independence, it didn’t vote for isolation and so we have a choice: are we going to choose to build an open, global-facing economy, or one that’s closed and isolated?

If we choose the latter, then our economy is finished. If we choose the former, we stand a chance of flourishing greatly.

Here is the Labour MSP Anas Sarwar on Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.

Nicola Sturgeon has got the David Cameron problem. She needs to talk up a referendum to fix her party not to fix the country. #SNP16

— AnasSarwar (@AnasSarwar) October 13, 2016

Theresa May’s cabinet committee on Brexit met yesterday and considered three new papers, I’ve heard. A draft of one was reported to include that controversial £66bn cost of reverting WTO rules.

But there were two others as well, on free movement and interestingly the customs union, which was discussed.

Liam Fox has suggested Britain will leave the customs union, and Raoul Ruparel - the new adviser to David Davis who was the co-director at Open Europe- has said Britain will have to leave, arguing “that ship has sailed”.

But Treasury ministers are pushing back internally saying there has to be a conversation about cost of an exit, and clearly the issue remains on the table.


Lunchtime summary

  • Johnson has said that Britain could get a trade deal with the EU when it leaves that will be even better than the status quo. Giving evidence to the foreign affairs committee, he also said he found the term single market “increasingly useless”. He told the MPs:

I think the term single market is increasingly useless. We are going to get a deal that will be of huge value, and possibly greater value - if you at what is still unachieved in services, for instance - in goods and services for our friends on the continent and for business investing in the UK.

He said he thought those who predicted “doom” if Britain voted to leave the EU had been proved wrong, but that the full benefits of Brexit would take time to emerge.

I think those who prophesied doom before the referendum have been proved wrong and I think they will continue to be proved wrong. Obviously it will take time before the full benefits of Brexit appear.

He said that leaving the EU could take longer than the two years laid down in article 50. If that happened, there were “mechanisms” for extending the talks, he said.

I think there will be a deal, I think it will be a great deal. If it can’t be done in two years then there are mechanisms for extending the period of discussion. I don’t think that will be necessary, I think we can do it.

And he also said that the vote for Brexit was not a mandate to “haul up the drawbridge” and that “people of talent” from abroad would still be welcome after the UK left the EU.

  • He said the UK would maintain “a completely implacable, marmoreal and rocklike resistance” to Spanish claims for any change in the status of Gibraltar as a result of Brexit. And he compared himself to movie mafia boss Don Vito Corleone dismissing a proposal from a fellow-mobster when he described how he rejected a Spanish attempt to raise the issue.

I remember the Spanish foreign minister raised it with me and... you remember Marlon Brando in The Godfather when he said: ‘Mr Barzini, I must tell you my answer is No’.

  • He said Britain should be prepared to be “supportive” of any moves by the European Union to create its own defence capability.

If our friends want to go ahead with a new security architecture, as they have pledged to do many times over the past four decades, I don’t think, post-Brexit, we can reasonably stand in their way.

  • He said that wealthy philanthropists could fund a new Royal Yacht for the Queen but that replacing Britannia was “not a government priority”. He was replying to a question prompted by a Daily Telegraph campaign for a new Royal Yacht.
  • He admitted that he did not know what the Commonwealth flag looked like. This emerged when the Tory Andrew Rosindell asked if it would be flown over British embassies instead of the EU flag. Johnson replied:

You are testing my vexillography. I’m going to have to own up, I am unaware of the exact configuration of the Commonwealth flag. What does it look like?

When told what it looked like, he refused to give a commitment to fly it over embassies.

Alex Massie at the Spectator says, in the light of Nicola Sturgeon’s speech, that it’s a mistake to write off the chances of Scotland voting for independence. Here’s an excerpt.

In any event, these are still the opening exchanges in a long game. Sturgeon might have announced a crowd-pleasing consultation on a draft referendum bill – sometimes a piece of paper makes a convincing rabbit – but we are still in the wait and see stages. She may need to keep her troops happy but past experience, and the evidence of our present circumstances, suggests the promise of jam tomorrow is always enough to maintain their morale.

Again, the sage and serious people will tell us it’s all a ruse and we can calm down because, come on, sage and serious people in London know the Jocks aren’t stupid enough to vote for independence. They are, instead, trapped in a Brexit box and that’s worth a chortle or two. Maybe that is so, but many of these sage and serious people are also the idiots who thought, for reasons best explained by their own ignorance and complacency, that only one in three Scots would vote for independence in 2014. They were warned not to be fools then but chose not to listen until it was almost too late but I suppose it’s too late – and probably pointless anyway – to warn them not to be fools again.

A canine attendee at the SNP conference in Glasgow.
A canine attendee at the SNP conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

SNP members at the conference in Glasgow have passed a motion condemning xenophobia and prejudice and saying foreigners are welcome in Scotland. Christian Allard, a former SNP MSP and a French citizen, said:

The difference between the SNP conference and last week’s Tory conference could not be starker. Here in Glasgow, we are promoting a message of inclusivity and diversity - a million miles away from the Tory message of xenophobia and division.

Labour would not try to stop the Scottish government holding a second independence referendum, PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield reports.

UK Labour spokesman says party is opposed to #indyref2, but "Westminster should not stand in the way" if Holyrood votes for it.

— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) October 13, 2016

Here is some more comment from journalists on Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.

From the Guardian’s Martin Kettle

Nicola Sturgeon's speech in Glasgow today was not, repeat not, the speech of a woman who intends an indyref2 any time soon. Brinkwomanship

— Martin Kettle (@martinkettle) October 13, 2016

From the Times’ Kenny Farquharson

Sturgeon's speech this morning is the best I've seen her make. Boldly puts Scottish national interest before desires of her party. #SNP16

— Kenny Farquharson (@KennyFarq) October 13, 2016

From the Guardian’s Libby Brooks

Worth recalling Sturgeon laid ground for this option in her Programme for Government....turning up the gas now, right enough, but no u-turn

— Libby Brooks (@libby_brooks) October 13, 2016

From the Sun’s Steve Hawkes

Big year for Nicola Sturgeon, will she really be bold enough to call a second Indy referendum knowing she'll be finished if she loses?

— steve hawkes (@steve_hawkes) October 13, 2016

Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, has also accused Nicola Sturgeon of dividing Scotland.

Scottish Labour leader @kezdugdale's response to Nicola Sturgeon's #snp16 speech.

— Alan Roden (@AlanRoden) October 13, 2016

She says:

Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority is to divide our country once again. But our country is already divided following the Tories’ reckless Brexit gamble and we should not be seeking further divisions.


Davidson says Sturgeon is an 'SNP fundamentalist' who is creating division

Here is Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, responding to Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.

Just left a meeting with David Davis on how to get best Brexit deal for Scotland, to read Nicola Sturgeon threaten to breakup the UK. Again.

— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) October 13, 2016

She really has given up any pretence of being a First Minister for all of Scotland, in order to play to SNP gallery. Yet more division.

— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) October 13, 2016

Here is the full statement Davidson has released about Sturgeon’s speech. And here is an extract.

Nicola Sturgeon could today have set out a positive, constructive vision for how the country progresses together.

Instead she has made it clear she wants to take Scotland back to yet more uncertainty, more division and more constitutional upheaval.

Her comments show she has given up on speaking for Scotland and is now solely playing to the SNP gallery.

This isn’t the action of a first minister of Scotland but an SNP fundamentalist who puts independence first, last and always.

Earlier I posted a tweet suggesting that Andrew Rosindell may have asked Boris Johnson a question about Norfolk Island because he had been there on a freebie. Actually, there was a bit more to it than that. I have posted an update at 10.17am.

Nicola Sturgeon's speech - Summary and analysis

Here are the key points from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.

  • Sturgeon indicated that she would call a second referendum on independence if the UK opts for a hard Brexit. Addressing the prime minister, she said:

If you think for one single second that I’m not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland’s interests, then think again.

If you can’t - or won’t - allow us to protect our interests within the UK, then Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path.

A hard Brexit will change the UK fundamentally.

A UK out of the single market - isolated, inward looking, haemorrhaging jobs, investment and opportunities - will not be the same country that Scotland voted to stay part of in 2014.

If that’s the insecure, unstable prospect we face as part of the UK, then no one will have the right to deny Scotland the chance to choose a better future.

She said the Scottish government would publish an independence referendum bill next week. (See 11.33am.) In some respects, this sounded more like a negotiating gambit than a statement of intent. As my colleague Severin Carrell points out (see 12.12pm), there are still considerable obstacles to winning a second independence referendum. Sturgeon does not have the power to call a legally-binding independence referendum, and Theresa May has hinted that, unlike David Cameron in 2014, she would not facilitate such a poll. Sturgeon also seems to be ignoring the promise she made last year, which was that she would not call a second independence referendum unless there was “strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted No have changed their minds”. At the moment that evidence does not exist.

  • She made remaining in the single market Scotland’s key priority.

The prime minister may have a mandate to take England and Wales out of the EU but she has no mandate whatsoever to remove any part of the UK from the single market.

  • She said she wanted Scotland to acquire extensive new powers. She explained that she would be developing a Brexit plan for Scotland and that, if Scotland were not to become independent, it needed to acquire new powers to ensure that it did not lose out from Brexit.

The Scottish government will set out a plan for Scotland.

We will seek to make this plan a key element of the UK’s Article 50 negotiation.

It will require substantial additional powers for the Scottish Parliament.

All the powers in our areas of responsibility that currently lie with the EU - and significant new powers too.

Powers to strike international deals.

And greater powers over immigration. Powers not just to protect our economy, but also our values.

UK ministers might believe it acceptable to order businesses to create lists of foreign workers.

We do not.

This passage suggests that, as an alternative to a second independence referendum, Sturgeon is demanding a new version of independence-lite.

  • She said a second independence referendum would not be a re-run of the last one.

There is one final point I want to make. And it’s an important one.

When Scotland does come to take this decision again - whenever that might be - we must not take for granted how anyone will vote.

It will be a new debate - not a rerun of 2014.

We must not assume that people’s views - yes or no - are the same today as they were two years ago.

Instead we must engage the arguments with a fresh eye and an open mind.

The case for independence will have to be made and won.

  • She said the SNP would vote against the proposed “great repeal bill” - the bill planned for the next session of parliament to repeal the European Communities Act 1972.

I can confirm today that SNP MPs will vote against the Brexit bill when it come before the House of Commons next year.

That Bill will repeal the legislation that enacted our EU membership. Scotland didn’t vote for that and so neither will our MPs.

But we will also work to persuade others - Labour, Liberals and moderate Tories - to join us in a coalition against a hard Brexit: not just for Scotland, but for the whole UK.

In practice this is unlikely to make much difference because Labour is unlikely to vote against the bill at second reading. Many Labour MPs are opposed to a “hard” Brexit, but most of them do not intend to right against the principle of the UK leaving the EU.

  • She said the Conservatives were pushing for a hard Brexit for which they had no mandate.

They are using the [referendum] result as cover for a hard Brexit for which they have no mandate - but which they are determined to impose, regardless of the ruinous consequences.

  • She accused the Conservatives of embracing Ukip-style xenophobia and said their views had “no place in a civilised society”.

Last week, in Birmingham, we heard an intolerance towards those from other countries that has no place in a modern, multicultural, civilised society.

You know, on the day of the prime minister’s speech to the Tory conference, the new leader of UKIP resigned.

Perhaps she realized that her job and her party are now redundant.

Last week, we saw the Tories adopt UKIP policy and Farage-style rhetoric - lock, stock and beer-barrel.

It was a disgrace. It shames the Tory party and all who speak for it.

But make no mistake - the right wing of the Tory party is now in the ascendancy and it is seeking to hijack the referendum result.

Brexit has become Tory Brexit.

The rampant right wing of the party are using it as license for the xenophobia that has long lain under the surface - but which is now in full, unlovely view.

  • She compared Theresa May to Margaret Thatcher. This was noteworthy because of Thatcher’s continuing unpopularity in Scotland.
  • Sturgeon said that even though 1m Scots voted for Brexit, they did not vote for the hard Brexit now on offer from the Tories.

Of course, I know that one million of our fellow citizens voted to Leave. They did so for a range of legitimate reasons and as first minister, I have a duty to listen to, to understand and to respond to these reasons.

But I suspect that many of those who voted to Leave, look now at the actions and rhetoric of the Tories and think ‘that’s not what I voted for’.

They may have voted to take back control.

But I can’t imagine many of them voted to hand control to the unholy trinity of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox ...

They didn’t vote to throw economic rationality out of the window.

They didn’t vote to lower their own living standards or to sacrifice jobs and investment.

They didn’t vote for our businesses to face tariffs or for holiday-makers to need visas.

They didn’t vote for the scapegoating of foreigners.

Sturgeon’s language at this point in the speech is similar to what has been said by Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who has also been arguing that the referendum vote was not a vote for “hard” Brexit. (The problem for Hammond and Sturgeon is that there is ample evidence that people were voting for this, because the UK government warned very clearly about the economic consequences of Brexit, and Ukip’s Nigel Farage even said explicitly that lower living standards would be a price worth paying for independence from Brussels.)

Nicola Sturgeon addressing her conference today.
Nicola Sturgeon addressing her conference today. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Speeding up the referendum bill process opens up a deepening and increasingly significant political divide between the Scottish and UK governments, signalling Nicola Sturgeon’s increasing confidence that the Tories shift to a harder line stance on Brexit has strengthened her hand.

But she made clear that was to protect her government’s longer term position. Sturgeon faces clear short-term obstacles to staging a second vote on leaving the UK: Scottish voters are still not convinced of the case for a fast second referendum and Holyrood requires Westminster’s legal authority to stage one.

The latest poll, published on Thursday by the Herald from BMG, found that only 12% of voters would switch to back leaving the UK if there was a hard Brexit.

The economics of Scottish independence are still extremely difficult: the latest GDP data showed Scotland’s economy is still growing at a third of the pace of the UK’s as a whole and government data showed a £15bn Scottish spending deficit last year – 21% of overall government spending in Scotland.

The SNP leader told delegates her first objective was to win far more power for the Scottish parliament – a proposal many senior SNP figures including former health secretary Alex Neil now back.

Sturgeon made clear for the first time she will press May to strengthen Holyrood’s autonomy over policies currently overseen by the EU but devolved within the UK to Scotland, such as fisheries and agriculture.

But Sturgeon expanded that list of demands to include the right for Scotland to have special access to the single market, the freedom to have distinctive immigration policies, and the right to strike separate foreign deals, without specifying what those deals might be.


Here is my colleague Severin Carrell’s story on the Nicola Sturgeon speech.

No 10 tells Sturgeon that Scotland settled the independence issue two years ago

Here is PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield with the Number 10 reaction to Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.

Downing Street on Nicola Sturgeon's #indyref2 call: "This issue was addressed in 2014. We should be focusing on working together as the UK."

— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) October 13, 2016

Here are more lines from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech from my colleague Severin Carrell.

@NicolaSturgeon accuses Theresa May's Tories of adopting "#UKIP policy and Farage-style rhetoric - lock, stock and beer-barrel." #SNP16

— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) October 13, 2016

@NicolaSturgeon; "rampant right wing" of UK Tories using #Brexit as "licence for the xenophobia that has long lain under the surface" #SNP16

— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) October 13, 2016

@NicolaSturgeon will demand "substantial" new #Holyrood powers incl foreign deals in UK #Brexit deal as price for backing #Article50 #SNP15

— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) October 13, 2016

@NicolaSturgeon wins cheers, applause warning May she will seek #indyref2 if hard #Brexit is UK policy #SNP16

— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) October 13, 2016

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, has been elected deputy leader of the party with a pledge to empower all members to begin campaigning for a second independence referendum immediately.

Describing himself as “bowled over” by the result, Robertson told over 3000 delegates gathered in Glasgow for the first day of party’s autumn conference: “We are very close to independence and we must start campaigning right now”.

Robertson, who emerged as an early favourite in the contest, was considered the establishment candidate. On the gradualist wing of the party, he has enjoyed a significantly raised profile over the past year thanks to his confident performances at PMQs, often in the face of lacklustre efforts by the main opposition.

Robertson’s closest challenger, fellow MP Tommy Sheppard, is a former Labour council leader who is one of the many thousands who joined the party after the 2014 referendum. Sheppard’s campaign focused on the membership needs of the radically expanded cohort of SNP members.

The contest was triggered in May after Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie stood down from the position following the revelation of his extra-marital affair.

The result, which was decided in a ballot of the SNP’s 116,000 members, gave 52.5% of first preferences to Robertson, with Sheppard taking 25.53%, MEP Alyn Smith gaining 18.6% and Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny with 3.38%.

Speaking of the need to “empower every one of our members” to “reach out to the 55% who voted no [in 2014]”, Robertson said: ““The SNP is the most effective political party in the country. Our strength comes from our members, branches, local grassroots campaigning and partnership with councillors and parliamentarians.”

He described his election as a “tremendous honour” and praised the other candidates for contributing to a “model election campaign”.

Angus Robertson addressing the SNP conference.
Angus Robertson addressing the SNP conference. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Here is the key quote from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech about publishing an independence referendum bill.

I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence - and to do so before the UK leaves the EU - if that is necessary to protect our country’s interests.

So I can confirm today that the independence referendum bill will be published for consultation next week.

You know, there’s not a day that passes just now without someone advising me to hurry up with a referendum.

And there’s not a day that passes without someone advising me to slow down.

Welcome to my world.

But the responsibility of leadership is to act in the best interests of our country as a whole.

The morning after the EU referendum, I said that I’d be guided at all times by a simple, clear test.

What is best for the people of Scotland?

That’s the principle that I will continue to be guided by - and I know I can on your support every step of the way.

Nicola Sturgeon speaking to the SNP conference.
Nicola Sturgeon speaking to the SNP conference. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Sturgeon says Scottish government to publish new independence referendum bill

And, at the SNP conference in Glasgow, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has just announced that her government will publish a bill for a new independence referendum next week.

This is from my colleague Severin Carrell.

BREAKING: @NicolaSturgeon announces #indyref2 bill to be published for consultation next week - wins cheers standing ovation #SNP16

— Severin Carrell (@severincarrell) October 13, 2016

Angus Robertson elected SNP deputy leader

While Boris Johnson has been giving evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee, the SNP announced their new deputy leader. Or “depute leader”, as the SNP call the post, using Scots.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminter, was elected, with 52.5% of the vote.

He beat fellow MP Tommy Sheppard (25.5%), MEP Alyn Smith (18.6%), and Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny (3.4%).

Andrew Rosindell asks about Cyprus.

Johnson says we are on the verge of great progress in Cyprus.

And that’s it. The hearing is over.

I will post a summary soon.

Labour’s Ann Clywd goes next.

Q: Should we suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia until we are sure they are not being used against civilians in Yemen?

Johnson says the UK has one of the most robust regimes for arms exports in the world. It is keeping this matter under constant review.

Crispin Blunt says the committee does not agree with the Foreign Office on this.

Johnson says Brexit talks with EU could take longer than two years

Q: You say we will get the best possible deal for trade and services on Brexit. But it is not in our gift. We need the 27 countries to agree. And the European parliament could veto a deal too.

Johnson says that is why he would like to see Brexit as a development in the history of the EU.

It will not be an acrimonious divorce. It should be beneficial to both sides, he says.

Q: What will happen if there is no deal after two years? How bad would that be? This committee was very critical of the last government for not planning for Brexit. In your response to that report, you did not try to defend the government on that point.

Johnson says he is not to blame for the last government not preparing for Brexit.

He thinks there will be a deal, a “great deal”. If it cannot be done in two years, there are mechanisms for extending the period of discussion. But he does not think that will be necessary, he says.

  • Johnson says Brexit talks with EU could take longer than two years. He says there are “mechanisms” for extending the process. This could mean extending the two-year withdrawal timetable set out in article 50, or it could mean having a transitional trade deal with the EU (maintaining the status quo, or something similar) to cover the period between the UK leaving after two years and a new trade deal being finalised.

UPDATE: This is from BuzzFeed’s Matthew Champion.

Boris goes all Trump on Brexit trade talks: "I think there will be a deal... it will be a great deal."

— Matthew Champion (@matthewchampion) October 13, 2016


Q: What measures could we take in Syria, short of “kinetic” (ie, military) action?

Johnson says much of Western Europe still buys “huge amounts of Russian gas”. Some countries think sanctions should be imposed on gas. But that would be damaging to countries reliant on Russian gas.

Crispin Blunt is asking questions now.

Q: Can you tell us more about the Syria meeting on Sunday?

Johnson says he is bringing together like-minded country. There are 25 countries in the Syria support group, which is chaired by Russia and America. But that has not worked. The last session was very acrimonious. Speaker after speaker denounced Russia, but the Iranians came to Russia’s aid.

On Sunday John Kerry and others - he cannot reveal the exact cast list now - will meet to “canvass all the options”.

Those options include “more kinetic action”. But there are grave difficulties involved, for the reasons Theresa May set out at PMQs yesterday.

Q: Will the US position change if there is a new president?

Johnson says it is too early to say. But Hillary Clinton has taken a tougher line on Syria than the White House.

Q: How close are Syria and Russia to achieving their goals?

Johnson says President Assad will never be able to be a legitimate rule of Syria.

Johnson says he is a Russophile

Q: How do we get Russia out of the cul-de-sac it has placed itself in?

Johnson says both sides need to make an effort for progress to happen in Ukraine.

He says Russia is a great country. “I’m a Russophile,” he says. He went there when he was 16, he says.

  • Johnson says he is a Russophile.

He does not want to get into the logic of a new cold war.

But Russia needs to cease its “barbaric acts” in Syria and Aleppo.

It needs to do the right thing. That means doing a deal in Syria, and doing a deal in Ukraine.

Britain has to engage with Russia, he says.

Johnson says UK does not want “endless confrontation” with Russia.

Q: Given what Russia has done in Ukraine, Georgia and its own country, shouldn’t we fundamentally reassess our relationship with it.

Johnson says many people will agree with Gapes in terms of his opposition to what Russia has done. He says Russia is doing “many, many terrible things”, but he does not think it can be compared to the Soviet Union. It is not as much of a threat to the world as the Soviet Union was. It is wrong to talk about a new cold war.

But there is a serious problem, he says.

He says sanctions are biting. It is tough for people in Russia. But the regime is determined to remain on its present course.

We must remain “very, very tough”, he says. He says the UK is at the forefront of pushing for action against Russia at the UN. It is pushing for an international criminal court investigation. It is keeping the pressure up on sanctions.

But the UK must engage with Russia, he says. It must persuade President Putin that there is an alternative path. If Russia continues on its path, it will become a “rogue nation”. That would be a tragedy, he says.

He says he does not want “endless confrontation” with Russia.

There are things the UK and Russia must do together, like fighting terrorism.

  • Johnson says that it’s “wrong” to talk of a new cold war and that Russia is not as much of a threat as the Soviet Union was.
  • He says UK does not want “endless confrontation” with Russia.

Q: In 2012 William Hague said the government recognised the national coalition of Syrian opposition forces as the sole representatives of the Syrian people. Is that still the case?

Johnson says the national coalition is still recognised, but there might be other groups that legitimately represent the Syrian people.

Johnson says LSE was wrong to say Foreign Office rules on foreigners advising the government have changed

Labour’s Mike Gapes goes next.

Q: You were born in America. Are you what Theresa May described as a citizen of the world.

In part, says Johnson. He recalls what it used to say on pots of honey - produce of more than one country.

Q: Were you offended by Theresa May’s speech that criticised people who saw themselves as citizens of the world?

Johnson says he is a citizen of the UK. But we are also members of one great species.

Q: So why are foreigners being excluded from giving advice to the Foreign Office?

Johnson says this story about foreign academics at the LSE being excluded from Foreign Office consultancy work was wrong. He says it has always been the case that people working for the Foreign Office need security clearance. This was presented to someone at the LSE. The LSE misrepresented this in an internal email, and then someone - possibly a “remoaner” - took it to the press. It was wrong

Q: So the position has not changed?

No, says Johnson.

  • Johnson says LSE was wrong to say Foreign Office rules on foreigners advising the government have changed.

Johnson says he will host meeting of foreign ministers on Sunday to consider new options for Syria

Johnson says on Sunday he will be hosting a meeting of fellow foreign ministers, including the US secretary of state John Kerry, to consider how to proceed in Syria and Iraq.

They feel talks with Russia have “run out of road”, he says.

He says they want to look at all the options.

People have changed their mind on this, he says. He says the Commons debate on Tuesday implied that there was an appetite for action. They will look at “kinetic” options. But whether this leads to action, he cannot prophesy.

  • Johnson says he will host meeting of foreign ministers on Sunday to consider new options for Syria.
  • He claims that the public mood has changed and there is now more support for intervention.
Boris Johnson: public mood over Syria intervention has changed


Boris Johnson says time to look again at economic sanctions against some of the key players in the Assad regime and the Russians

— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) October 13, 2016

Boris Johnson says "a long day's march" from taking up more kinetic/military options in Syria, and all dependent on the US.

— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) October 13, 2016


BuzzFeed’s Jim Waterson has dug out this, which helps to explain Andrew Rosindell’s interest in Norfolk Island. (See 10.09am.)

Tory MP Andrew Rosindell strangely questioning Boris on Norfolk Island. Helps he got a £2k freebie trip last month.

— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) October 13, 2016

UPDATE: Rosindell’s trip was not a jolly - or at least not just a jolly. There was a serious point to it, because the island has had its autonomy revoked by Australia. Here is the story that Guardian Australia published about the trip that Rosindell made with fellow MPs in the summer.


Johnson is now talking about Syria.

What is happening in Aleppo is a "gross, gross crime against humanity", Boris Johnson tells FASC.

— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) October 13, 2016

The Assad regime is being backed up by the Russians and Iranians, says Mr Johnson. We only re-opened our embassy in Tehran last year.

— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) October 13, 2016

He says the government is looking at more military options.

Q: Do you want to build another Royal Yacht?

(This is something the Daily Telegraph is campaigning for.)

Johnson says building a new Royal Yacht is “not a government priority”. He says the old Royal Yacht is in such a poor state that restoring it is not feasible. But if a group of philanthropists want to fund a new one, that would be fine, he says.

  • Johnson signals that government will not fund a new Royal Yacht.

Rosindell has just asked about Gibraltar and the Falklands.

Boris Johnson promises "rock-like" resistance to any Spanish claim on Gibraltar... says no grounds whatever for any change in sovereignty

— Carole Walker (@carolewalkercw) October 13, 2016

He is now asking Johnson about Norfolk Island, and its right to self-determination.

(That means another trip to Google for me.)


Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative, goes next.

Q: You have not mentioned the Commonwealth. William Hague promised to put the C back in FCO, but nothing happened. What are you going to do to improve relations with Commonwealth countries.

Johnson says the Commonwealth is very important. Many Commonwealth countries are high growth countries. They are bounding ahead. But, because the UK has been in the EU, it has not been able to sign trade deals with these countries.

Q: So should the Commonwealth flag fly from British embassies as the EU flag comes down?

Johnson says Rosindell is testing his vexillology (study of flags). He admits he is not familiar with the Commonwealth flag, and will not make commitments now.

Here’s what the Commonwealth flag looks like.

Commonwealth flag.
Commonwealth flag. Photograph: FCO
Boris Johnson ‘unfamiliar’ with Commonwealth flag


Q: Is there any mapping of political divisions in Syria?

Johnson says the UK wants to get the ceasefire restored.

The opposition groups have a great deal of credibility, he says. It is possible to see a future for Syria without President Assad.

He says he will write to the committee about mapping.

Johnson: "Certain amount of hocum" to suggest govt has pre-agreed EU negotiating posiitons with parliament let alone devolved admins.

— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) October 13, 2016

Johnson claims UK could end up with even better trade deal from EU than current one

Stephen Gethins, the SNP MP (and his party’s Europe spokesman), goes next.

Q: Should we retain membership of the single market?

Johnson says the term single market is “increasingly useless”. We will get a deal of equal value, “or possible greater value”, he claims.

For example, look at services, he says. (It is an area where the single market can be extended.)

We drink champagne, and buy more German cars than any other EU country, he says.

He says any attempt to punish the UK does not make economic sense for Europe.

  • Johnson says the term single market is “increasingly useless”.
  • He claims UK could end up with an even better trade deal from the EU.

Q: Is it your objective to retain membership of the single market?

Johnson says the UK wants the best possible deal. The term single market is one that “not many people understand”. He wants the best possible deal for trade in goods and services.

Gethins says no one has a “scooby” [scooby doo - clue] what will happen.

Q: Is it your objective to stay in the single market?

Johnson says Gethins is treating the single market “like the Groucho Club”. He says we are leaving the EU.


Johnson says the UK does not want to be part of a federalist construct.

That has led to UK relations with the rest of the EU always being tense.

Q: Many of us think the FCO is under-resourced. How forceful will you be in lobbying for more funds?

Johnson says he is grateful for the committee for backing the case for more money for the FCO

Q: Would we be prepared to fall back on WTO tariffs. David Davis says that holds no fears.

Johnson says Baron is trying to get him into a “running commentary” on Brexit. He thinks the UK can get a great deal.

Q: Would you say the WTO option holds no fears?

Johnson says he does not want to get into the minutiae of the negotiations.

Johnson says “people of talent” from abroad will still be welcome after Brexit

Q: Other EU countries say the UK cannot remain in the single market and take back control of immigration.

Johnson says he recalls the Belgian interior minister trying to deport him when he went to work in Brussels. So the idea that free movement always applies is “nonsense”. Britain will be able to take back control of is borders.

But that does not mean being hostile to “people of talent”, he says.

  • Johnson says “people of talent” from abroad will still be welcome after Brexit.

John Baron, a Conservative, goes next. Baron voted to leave the EU.

Q: What would you say to those called the “remoaners”?

Johnson says those who prophesied doom have been proved wrong, and will continue to be proved wrong.

But it will take time for the full benefits of leaving to emerge, he says.

  • Johnson says it will take time for full benefits of Brexit to emerge.

He says EU countries have an interest in doing a deal that will suit both partners.

But there might by some sturm und drang (storm and stress) along the way.

Crisipin Blunt has a question.

Q: Who will you achieve this with a constrained budget?

Johnson says the Foreign Office does more than its French equivalent with only 70% of the budget.

But its budget is going up from £1.1bn to £1.24bn in 2019-20, he says.

And the Department for International Development has a considerable budget, he says. He says Priti Patel, the international development secretary, wants to ensure that the money is spent in a way that meshes with the Foreign Office’s aims.

Q: But DfID only spends money in developing countries.

Johnson says his predecessor, Philip Hammond, said the Foreign Office needed more money. Since he is now chancellor, Johnson thinks he has a good chance of getting a higher budget from him.

Johnson says UK is a 'soft power superpower'

Johnson ends by praising the Foreign Office staff.

They are young and brilliant, he says.

He says they take real pride in working for a “soft power superpower”.


Johnson covers non-Brexit foreign policy.

There is no inconsistency between control of our borders and remaining open to the world - @BorisJohnson

— norman smith (@BBCNormanS) October 13, 2016

With large parts of the Middle East in chaos, the demand is for more Britain, not less, Boris Johnson tells FASC.

— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) October 13, 2016

.@BorisJohnson No inconsistency between taking back control AND being open to skills from around the world >Special visa system for London?

— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) October 13, 2016

If there is more we can reasonably and practically do with allies (in Middle East), we shd consider it. That work is being done, Boris adds.

— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) October 13, 2016

Boris Johnson" We must not give false hope" in Syria but work is going on about whether allies could do more, including a no fly zone.

— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) October 13, 2016

Johnson says Brexit is not a mandate to “haul up the drawbridge”

Blunt invites Johnson to make an opening statement.

Johnson starts by saying he visited a Gulf state a few years ago. And a sheikh said to him: “What happened to you guys.” He meant, what had happened to British power? Britain used to be the colonial power in living memory, he says.

He says that neglect is being reversed. Trade with the Gulf is booming, he says.

He says Labour neglected this region. But Theresa May will this year become the first female guest of honour at the Gulf cooperation summit.

He says the Foreign Office is “more energetic and outward looking and more engaged with the world than at any time in decades”.

  • Johnson claims Foreign Office is “more energetic and outward looking and more engaged with the world than at any time in decades”.

He says this will intensify under Brexit.

Brexit is not a mandate for this country to turn in on itself, “haul up the drawbridge” or detach itself from the international community.

  • Johnson says Brexit is not a mandate to “haul up the drawbridge”.

He says he is struck by how little he is asked about Brexit when he travels abroad.

NOTE: Presumably the committee will ask Johnson how this stance squares with Amber Rudd’s Conservative party conference speech, which proposed significant curbs on immigration.

Boris Johnson's evidence to the foreign affairs committee

Crispin Blunt, the committee chair, is opening the session. Blunt is a Conservative.

He says they only have limited time available this morning.

Boris Johnson was seen as a successful campaigner during the EU referendum and some involved with Vote Leave think that, if it had not been for him, leave would have lost.

But the foreign policy establishment, so far, seems less impressed by him. Here is an extract from a withering column about him that Philip Stephens published in the Financial Times (subscription) recently.

Word in Westminster has it that Boris Johnson would like to apologise personally to Barack Obama for raising his “part-Kenyan” ancestry when the US president backed the pro-Europeans during the EU referendum. Word in Washington is that the UK foreign secretary would do as well not to bother. Such slights are not easily forgotten by the first African-American president.

Mr Johnson seems to have something of a problem with, well, foreigners. Fellow Europeans have not forgiven the mendacity of the EU “out” campaign. Some in Africa may recall his allusions, albeit some while ago, to “piccaninnies” and “watermelon smiles”. He says such remarks have been taken out of context. Visiting Ankara this week he presumably told his hosts something similar about the Leave campaign’s scaremongering about Turkish migrants.

Foreign policy is a serious business, the more so in an age of global upheaval and rising disorder. Mr Johnson looks more comfortable in the role of court jester than thoughtful policymaker. He prefers the broad brush to irksome detail. His Italian opposite number Paolo Gentiloni was left baffled when Mr Johnson proposed a post-Brexit grand bargain: Italy would back open access to the EU for London’s financial industry and Britain would continue to drink lots of Italian prosecco.

Word in Berlin is that Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the intensely serious German foreign minister, can scarcely abide being in the same room as Mr Johnson. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has mocked the foreign secretary’s shallow grasp of the way the union works by offering to send him the Lisbon treaty. Finance ministers, he remarked waspishly, were “accustomed to having a high degree of respect for foreign ministers”. It might be added that Theresa May, the prime minister, is banking on Berlin’s support to secure a good deal in the Brexit negotiations.

Allies say that Mr Johnson is “a quick read” — when paying attention, he absorbs information easily. Whitehall no doubt has laid on crash seminars on the workings of the world. The foreign secretary does not help himself, though, by addressing fellow ministers in the manner of Bertie Wooster, the twittish toff from the pages of English humorist PG Wodehouse. The other day Mr Johnson sat down with the hard-bitten Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. An unkind observer might have imagined Wodehouse’s Wooster meeting Machiavelli’s Prince.

Who’d have guessed that Brexit would trigger a national Marmite shortage? Or, to be accurate, a national Marmite shortage for people who get their shopping from the Tesco website. The Brexit repercussions continue to surprise and there is detailed coverage of this (plus the pound falling, again) on my colleague Graeme Wearden’s business live blog.

It is a good day to be hearing from the leading Brexiteers. And luckily the most senior of them, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, is giving evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee. It’s a wide-ranging session, covering foreign policy developments generally, but the committee says it wants to focus in particular on Brexit, Syria and relations with Russia. The last time Johnson attended a hearing like this was in March, when he gave evidence to the Treasury committee in his capacity as a leading Vote Leave campaigners. His appearance on that occasion wasn’t exactly a triumph and at the end Andrew Tyrie, the chairman, accused him of delivering “grains of truth with mountains of nonsense”. Whether he can make a better impression on the foreign affairs committee we’ll soon find out.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.15am: Boris Johnson gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee.

9.30am: The legal challenge to the government’s decision not to let parliament decide when to invoke article 50, triggering EU withdrawal, will start.

9.30am: Statistics on hate crime are published.

9.30am: Waiting time and other health statistics from NHS England are published.

10.30am: The SNP announces the winner of the election for its new deputy leader at its conference in Glasgow.

10.45am: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and the SNP leader, gives a speech to the conference. As Libby Brooks reports, she will give a commitment to seek common cause with Westminster opposition parties and moderate Conservatives in order to defeat hard Brexit.

2.15pm: Lord Bridges, a Brexit minister, and Lord Price, a trade minister, give evidence to a Lord committee looking at Brexit.

As usual, I will be covering the breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I will post a summary at lunchtime and another in the afternoon.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments BTL but normally I find it impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer direct questions, although sometimes I miss them or don’t have time. Alternatively you could post a question to me on Twitter.


Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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