LONDON — As Theresa May’s minority government appears to diminish in strength with each passing week, so the power of the U.K. parliament appears to be on the ascent.
Wednesday was a bumper day for that most revealing of parliamentary events — the select committee hearing, when backbench MPs get their chance to grill ministers, experts and officials.
An array of senior officials and Cabinet ministers appeared at no fewer than 19 committee hearings across the House of Commons and the House of Lords and, inevitably, Brexit dominated.
Here are some of the key quotes and what we learned:
75,000 post-Brexit City job losses is ‘within the plausible range of scenarios’ — Sam Woods, Bank of England
It sounds like a nightmare scenario for London’s financial sector, but the head of the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority Sam Woods was clear that the figure, reported by the BBC, originated from a 2016 Oliver Wyman report rather than from the bank — but was not implausible.
The BoE itself estimates around 10,000 financial services job losses from Day 1 of a hard Brexit, which could then increase over time depending on post-Brexit arrangements.
The estimates, which Woods set out for the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee, add to the quiet drum beat of bad economic news around Brexit.
‘I am in favor of insurance’ — Amyas Morse, National Audit Office
While the economic news contains some worrying omens, the U.K. government must press on with contingency planning and spending for all post-Brexit scenarios, the comptroller and auditor general of the National Audit Office told the House of Commons treasury committee.
He said he would advise ministers to push ahead on contingency planning and associated spending, citing, for example, preparations needed for new customs checks at the border.
“If I was giving advice to a parliamentarian, I would say push that forward,” he said, adding “I am in favor of insurance.”
‘There are no health reasons why you couldn’t eat chicken that had been washed in chlorinated water’ — Liam Fox, international trade secretary
Fox told MPs he had “no objection” to importing chlorine-rinsed chicken under a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S.
“Most of the salads in our supermarkets are rinsed in chlorinated water,” he told the House of Commons international trade committee, adding that U.S. levels of bacterial food poisoning are “in general much lower” than in Europe.
“I have no objection to the British public being sold anything that is safe as long as they know what they are eating,” Fox said. “As long as the scientists tell us it’s safe then I think that should be our guiding principle.”
He did concede, however, that following derailed negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the EU, politicians should heed concerns from the public before engaging in trade negotiations.
‘In some American states, not all, chickens are kept in conditions that we would never allow in the UK’ — Michael Gove, environment secretary
Quick off the mark to challenge Fox was Environment Secretary — and friend to chickens — Michael Gove.
Speaking to the House of Lords EU energy and environment sub-committee, the environment secretary said the U.K. would not allow imports of chlorine-rinsed chicken under a U.K.-U.S. trade deal because of “animal welfare factors.”
Regardless of food safety, Gove said he was opposed to the farming practices.
“We will maintain high animal welfare standards in any trade deal and it is clear that on that ground that we would not allow America — unless it would change its animal welfare rules — to export chlorinated chicken to this country,” he said.
‘Telling jokes is often a very effective way of getting your diplomatic message across’ – Boris Johnson, foreign secretary
Appearing at the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee Wednesday, the U.K.’s controversial foreign secretary repeatedly sparred with chair Tom Tugendhat, who recently delivered a veiled criticism of his Conservative colleague via a magazine interview and observed that humor often doesn’t translate on the international stage.
Johnson also confirmed that the U.K. has created 50 new diplomatic posts in European capitals to “beef up” bilateral relations with EU member nations as the country leaves the bloc.
But his appearance will be remembered for the clash with the young pretender Tugendhat. Throughout the committee hearing, Tugendhat attempted to catch the foreign secretary off-guard with quick-fire questions, and accused him of simply reading from a script written by his department’s permanent secretary.
The sparring culminated in Tugendhat making an arch reference to another Johnson joke, about Italy’s prosecco exports to the U.K.
Johnson hit back with a quote that will raise eyebrows in foreign capitals from Tripoli to Tallinn: “I think actually telling jokes is often a very effective way of getting your diplomatic message across, I just say that in parenthesis, and sometimes people greatly appreciate that you are talking to them in that informal way while subtly getting your point across.”
On Euratom, ‘there’s a sensible solution which may involve the ECJ’ — Richard Harrington, energy minister
The U.K. may be willing to accept a relationship with Euratom that includes a role for the European Court of Justice, according to an energy minister.
Richard Harrington told MPs on the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee that a “sensible solution” could be found that “may involve the ECJ and possibly other parties as well.”
However, the U.K.’s lead Brexit negotiator on Euratom, David Wagstaff, told the committee that because of the EU’s sequencing of talks, discussions about the U.K.’s future nuclear safeguarding relationship with the bloc had not actually started.
Asked whether the question of ECJ governance was the main source of contention in the talks, Wagstaff said: “Because negotiations have not started yet we do not know what the areas of contention are going to be with the people we are negotiating with.”