EU

Guardian
Emmanuel Macron has said France will block a Brexit delay unless there is a “new choice” by Britain, as Spain’s prime minister said that merely postponing the no-deal deadline would not be “reasonable or desirable”. In a sign of the heightened risk of an accidental crash-landing for the UK, both leaders signalled their disapproval of Theresa May’s suggestion of a last-minute request for a two-month extension if her deal is voted down again. The French president said there would need to be a clear purpose to delaying the UK’s exit from the EU, in comments that will inevitably raise cross-party concerns among those seeking to take no-deal Brexit off the table. “We would support an extension request only if it was justified by a new choice of the British,” Macron said at a joint press conference held with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. “But we would in no way accept an extension without a clear objective. Merkel offered a more compromising tone. “We are absolutely in agreement, and I have talked to Theresa May  about this in Sharm el-Sheik a couple of days ago, the exit agreement is valid,” Merkel said. “If Great Britain needs more time we will not oppose it but of course we are seeking an orderly exit. We regret this step, but it is reality and we now have to find a good solution.”

Mail
A No Deal Brexit would cause ‘considerable’ economic harm to the rest of Europe, Dutch MPs warned yesterday. The delegation, which visited Westminster last week on a fact-finding mission, said No Deal would worsen already weak growth across the eurozone. It could even trigger a banking crisis in Italy, they suggested, given the country’s vulnerability to economic shocks due to high public debt. ‘This could rebound on the eurozone,’ the Dutch said. They predicted the worst-hit nations would be Italy, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and France, as well as the Netherlands

Sky News
The European Commission has rejected a call for the UK and EU to make a joint commitment to safeguard citizens’ rights ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit. Brussels dismissed a proposal for a “mini-deal” on the issue to be carved out of Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, despite a unanimous House of Commons request for such an accord. On Wednesday night, MPs backed a demand for Mrs May to “seek at the earliest opportunity” a UK-EU commitment to adopt and implement those agreements on citizens’ rights that are within her Brexit deal, before the UK’s exit.

BBC News
The EU has dismissed calls from MPs for an agreement to protect the rights of UK and EU expats in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The amendment from Conservative MP Alberto Costa was passed without opposition by the Commons on Wednesday. But the European Commission said it would “not negotiate mini deals” as it would imply negotiations had failed. The withdrawal deal includes pledges to protect the rights of UK citizens in EU states and EU citizens in the UK after Brexit.

Brexit

Telegraph
The fate of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement could be decided by a star chamber of Eurosceptic lawyers. The panel of eight lawyers – seven of whom are serving MPs – has been assembled to forensically examine any legal changes to the Brexit deal secured by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. When the amended agreement is put to another meaningful vote on March 12, it is likely to hinge on whether the lawyers agree that what Cox has brought back from Brussels constitutes a legal change that will ensure the Northern Ireland backstop cannot endure indefinitely.

Express
TORY Brexiteers have formed an eight-strong group of lawyers to scrutinise attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s Brexit negotiations over the Northern Ireland backstop. The European Research Group (ERG) called in the lawyers as Mr Cox works to find a legal compromise that will help Mrs May get her Brexit deal through parliament. The attorney general is looking to upgrade the EU-UK political declaration on their future ties after the withdrawal date on March 29, as well as focusing more on what role “alternative arrangements” to the so-called Irish backstop could play in the future and looking at “possible additional guarantees” for Britain on the backstop.

Guardian
Labour is moving towards a compromise plan that would allow Theresa May’s Brexit deal to pass but make clear that parliament “withholds support” until it has been put to a public vote, according to multiple party sources. Those involved in talks said the Labour leadership was in favour of a redrafted amendment proposed by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which would see the party abstain on the Brexit deal if a second referendum were promised on those terms.

Mail
Dozens of Brexiteer Tory MPs will back Theresa May’s Brexit deal if she sets a timetable for when she will quit as Prime Minister. A number of Brexiteer MPs are now prepared to vote for the deal, even if Mrs May isn’t able to secure any significant changes. Mrs May faces a new Commons vote to approve her revised Brexit deal on March 12. One senior MP told The Sun: ‘We need her to lay out a timetable for her departure this year. ‘A decent amount of us have now told the whips we would change our vote and back the deal if she did – enough of us to get it through.’

Independent
Theresa May faced fresh pressure over her Brexit strategy after farming minister George Eustice resigned from government to oppose any delay to Britain’s exit day next month. Mr Eustice said he had backed the prime minister through “a series of rather undignified retreats” but he was afraid that the prospect of a vote on extending article 50 would lead to the “final humiliation of our country”. His resignation came after MPs overwhelmingly voted to lock in the prime minister’s promise to give parliament a veto over a no-deal Brexit, while Ms May opened the door to a “limited” delay to Brexit.

Times
A Eurosceptic minister resigned yesterday after a confrontation with Theresa May  about delaying Brexit. George Eustice, the agriculture, food and fisheries minister, quit three days after expressing his dismay to the prime minister. He became the 14th minister in Mrs May’s government to resign over Brexit and wrote to her to criticise a “series of rather undignified retreats” by the government. On Tuesday night he gave the prime minister “both barrels” at a meeting attended by 15 Brexiteer colleagues after Mrs May presented her plan to parliament.

Westmonster
The pro-Brexit group Leave Means Leave have announced that they will be organising a march from Sunderland to London. The march will begin in Sunderland on 16th March, with Nigel Farage announcing that he will be there on the day. Others in the launch video include Leave Means Leave’s pro-Brexit businessman Richard Tice and John Longworth, along with Tory Brexiteer and former Cabinet Minister Esther McVey.  On their website, LML explain that: “It is now clear the Westminster elite are preparing to betray the will of the people over Brexit.

Mail
Nigel Farage is to lead a march from Sunderland to London by Leave campaigners who accuse the Government of ‘betraying the British people over Brexit’. Organised by the Leave Means Leave campaign, the march will begin on March 16 and arrive in the capital on March 29 – the scheduled date of Brexit. Theresa May’s announcement that she will offer MPs a vote on blocking a no-deal Brexit or extending negotiations mean it is no longer certain the Government will take the UK out of the EU that day.

Sky News
Nigel Farage will lead a march from Brexit-voting Sunderland to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster to campaign against the Government “betraying the British people over Brexit”. The ardent campaigner for leaving the European Union will start the 277-mile march on March 16, arriving at Westminster on March 29 – the day the United Kingdom is due to depart the trade bloc. Although Brexit is timetabled for March 29, Theresa May’s announcement she will offer MPs a vote on blocking a no-deal Brexit or extending negotiations mean it is no longer certain the Government will take the UK out of the EU that day.

Sun
NIGEL Farage will lead a pro-Brexit march from Sunderland to London, he announced today. The ex-Ukip leader is in charge of a two-week hike down the length of England to try and pressurise politicians over Brexit. He is now recruiting hundreds of marchers to join the ambitious project timed to coincide with the day we quit the EU. The walk, funded by pressure group Leave Means Leave, will start in Sunderland and pass through other Brexit-backing towns such as Hartlepool, Doncaster, Mansfield and Wellingborough. It will finish outside the Houses of Parliament on March 29. Mr Farage said today: “The Westminster elite are in the process of betraying the British people over Brexit.

No deal

Independent
Theresa May was left no room to back out of her pledge to give the commons a veto over a no-deal Brexit, after MPs voted to make it parliament’s will. MPs voted by 502 to 20 for a motion locking in the verbal promises given by the prime minister to allow votes on whether to leave the EU without a deal and delay Brexit if her agreed deal is rejected. The vote was one of several that took place in the commons, with the government also accepting a measure from Conservative MP Alberto Costa to guarantee EU citizens rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Theresa May

Sun
BREXITEER Tory MPs have told Theresa May they can deliver a majority for her EU deal if she lays out a timetable to leave No10 this year. The Sun has been told that “dozens” of sceptical backbenchers are now ready to hold their noses and vote for the PM’s revised divorce agreement, even if she can only win small tweaks to it. In exchange, they want the PM to publicly lay out how she will step down and allow a successor to negotiate a future trade deal. Mrs May faces a knife edge final Commons vote to approve her deal on March 12, or be forced by the Commons to delay Brexit.

The economy

Telegraph (by Liam Halligan)
The public finances are on the mend, recording a healthy surplus in January on booming tax receipts. Employment is at record levels, with real wage growth at a two-year high. Despite a global slowdown, Britain expanded 1.4 per cent last year, recording just 4 per cent unemployment. Yet Germany and France are on the brink of recession, the Italian economy is contracting and eurozone joblessness is twice as high.

Express
BUSINESSES will flourish after Brexit and the country will seize the fresh opportunities on offer, MPs have said. State secretaries for Exiting the European Union defended a no-deal Brexit and blasted Project Fear when they were questioned by MPs in the House of Commons today. Under-secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the EU, Kwasi Kwarteng, said: “I do not believe that a no-deal scenario will lead to the sort of destruction the doomsayers on the side opposite have suggested.

Telegraph
Britain’s biggest investors have all increased their shareholdings in the UK since the Brexit referendum in a show of faith in the economy’s fundamental strengths. Political turmoil and market volatility have not stopped the financial powerhouses from pouring more money into Britain, betting on Britain’s sustained success over the long-term. UK shares have performed relatively poorly since the referendum compared with investments in other countries.

Defence

Telegraph
The planned closure of five Defence bases has been reversed in the wake of the Salisbury Novichok attack, the Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood has announced.  The decision was made after a “clear-eyed assessment of the rapidly changing threats”, Mr Ellwood said, taken to be a reference to the reckless action undertaken by Russian agents in Wiltshire in 2018.  In a partial reversal of the government’s 2016 plan to rationalise the Defence estate, the Royal Marine bases at Norton Manor, Arbroath and Chivenor will now be retained, as will Rock Barracks in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and RAF Molesworth, a Cambridgeshire-based intelligence site used by British and US Forces.

Health

Times
Hospitals will no longer have to treat A&E patients within four hours under plans to axe a key New Labour target, The Times has learnt. NHS England wants to scrap the measure, which has been in place for 15 years, claiming that it does not promote the best care. Senior figures, however, fear a “politically driven” change that could make it easier for bosses to hide poor performance. Health chiefs believe the target encourages hospitals to game the system by prioritising those who have been waiting close to four hours, rather than those in the greatest need of care.

Sun
SCRAPPING the four-hour A&E time limit will plunge hospitals into meltdown, it was claimed last night. NHS England could introduce the plans this autumn — leaving patients waiting to see doctors for longer than before.  Chairman Lord Prior of Brampton last month claimed the target had doctors and nurses “running around like headless chickens” once patients had waited three hours and 55 minutes. Health chiefs claim the measure, which has been in place for 15 years, does not promote the best care.

Mail
Breast screening rates have dropped to their lowest this decade, official figures show. Only 70.5 per cent of women in England aged 50 to 70 went to routine screening in 2017/18, down from 71.1 per cent the previous year. It means around 750,000 women who were invited did not attend their appointments, according to NHS Digital statistics. Experts blame it on busy lives, worries that mammograms are painful and concerns that screening can do more harm than good.

Sun
SOME 1.5million women are at increased risk of dying from breast cancer because they are not up to date with screening, damning figures show. Uptake in England is at a decade low with almost one in three women invited for scans last year failing to attend an appointment.  Charities described the numbers as “extremely worrying” and warned scans are “critical” for early diagnosis, when tumours are easier to treat. The NHS first invites women for screening between the ages of 50 and 53 and then every three years until their 71st birthday.

Child grooming

Telegraph
Instagram is increasingly being used by paedophiles to groom children for sex, the NSPCC has warned as police figures reveal a trebling in cases on the site in a year. Instagram was used by groomers 428 times from April to September last year, up from 126 in the same period in 2017, according to police data obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws by the NSPCC. Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat accounted for 70 per cent of the grooming cases prosecuted for the new offence of sexual communication with a child which was introduced 18 months ago.

Mail
Social media giants are operating like the ‘Wild West’ after a surge in paedophiles on social media sites like Instagram, according to children’s charity the NSPCC. Predators have been recorded grooming children online 5,161 times in the first 18 months since it was made a crime, police figures reveal. There were nearly 2,000 grooming cases in the six months to September 2018 alone – ten a day. Girls aged 12 to 15 are most at risk but paedophiles have targeted children as young as five, according to records for 39 police forces in England and Wales, the NSPCC said.

HS2

Telegraph
Ministers have been accused of allowing spending on HS2 to run out of control after it emerged that bosses spent £650,000 of taxpayers’ money on a promotional film and more than £6,000 on inflatable photo booths. Department for Transport figures show that another £733,000 was spent on office furniture, including desks that averaged £745 each, with £326m spent on consultancy and professional fees. To date, HS2 has cost more than £4 billion before any track has been laid, with the £56bn project expected by some to double in cost by the time it is finished.

Education

Times
Record numbers of children will today be left without their first-choice secondary school for September, experts predict. About 115,000 children, particularly in large cities, will not be offered a place at their preferred school, according to The Good Schools Guide. It says a population bulge filtering through to secondary schools is making itself felt, and the most popular schools are vastly oversubscribed. Analysis of government data by the guide estimates that record numbers of families will be left disappointed. Parents are asked to list three to six schools in order of preference, depending on where they live.

Mail
Parents are facing the worst year ever for children missing out on their first-choice secondary school as allocations are announced across the UK today. A record 115,000 children are expected to be disappointed following a growth in applications of around 23,000 since last year. The explosion in the school-age population is due to a baby boom a decade ago fuelled by high migration in the 1990s and early 2000s. Experts at the Good Schools Guide say 18.8 per cent – around one in five – will lose out on their first choice, up from 17.9 per cent last year.

Telegraph
Appeals against secondary school offers have doubled in six years, figures suggest, with record numbers expected to miss out on their first choice place today. More than half a million families will learn this morning which school their child will attend in September, in what has become known as National Offer Day. The number of pupils who fail to get a place at their preferred school is expected to increase by up to a third compared to last year in some parts of the country following an application surge. Around 115,000 children across England will be left disappointed due to a continuing shortage of places, according to analysis by The Good Schools Guide.

Times
A new university for polymaths will aim to teach students to solve “complex problems” such as knife crime, its founders have said. Such conundrums will be placed at the heart of the degree, with students asked to decide whether, for example, the genes of mosquitoes should be edited to eliminate malaria. Another proposed project is to design a tool so food companies can trace their palm oil supply chains. The Metropolitan Police has already asked that the university takes on knife crime as a complex problem.

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