MINISTERS have provoked fury for trying to put through a treaty “under the radar” which will keep Britain tied to the EU after Brexit. An early day motion (EDM) will today be put down by Ukip MP Douglas Carswell objecting to the Unitary Patent Court Agreement (UPCA). The deal, which ministers have tried to avoid having a vote on, means that Britain will still be subject to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after Brexit and mean we are still tied in with single market rules despite promises by Theresa May that we will completely leave. Ministers have claimed the UPC is separate to the EU but only EU members can sign it and the European Court of Justice is the final court of appeal.It also means that the standards for products and inventions are set in Europe not Britain.
Nearly every council in the country is planning a tax raid on households to boost funding, a new survey has found. Research has found that more than 90 per cent of town halls are planning council tax increases of up to 5 per cent as well as increasing charges for services such as parking and green waste collections. Conservative MPs last night accused councils of plotting “back-door methods” to “squeeze” households. It comes amid growing claims by councils about significant financial shortfalls because of the rising cost of social care.
Millions of households are facing an inflation-busting rise in council tax after almost all of England’s town halls vowed to increase bills. A survey found that 94 per cent of local authorities plan to increase the tax by up to 5 per cent in April – the equivalent of an £80 rise for the average property. The same proportion say they also want to put up parking charges and other fees, resulting in residents paying more for home help, swimming pools, school meals, burials, planning advice and garden waste collection. This year’s study also found that five councils had been considering referendums to raise bills by more than the 5 per cent limit, but thought ‘better of it’ following the row over Surrey County Council’s move to hold a poll. The majority of councils blame the social care crisis for the planned hike in bills. But critics said town halls could avoid the ‘utterly ridiculous’ rise if they stopped hoarding cash and dipped into their huge reserves, which stood at £22.5 billion in 2015 – a rise of almost £1 billion on the previous year.
Some local authorities may be forced to declare technical insolvency in the next two years, experts have said, as councils struggle to weather the financial pressures caused by budget cuts and growing demand for social care. A survey of councils in England and Wales by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) thinktank found that three-quarters had little or no confidence in the sustainability of local government finances and more than one in 10 believed they were in danger of failing to meet legal requirements to deliver core services. The nervousness about finances was even more pronounced among councils with responsibility for delivering social care. They were much more likely to state that the financial squeeze would see a deterioration in the quality of services this year and that cuts would put them in breach of their statutory duties. More than 40% of all councils anticipated making “cuts in frontline services, which will be evident to the public” – rising to 71% among social care authorities. More than half considered adult social care to be the most pressing issue, a figure that increases to 80% among social care authorities.
House of Lords
Peers in the House of Lords are confident they can force changes to the Article 50 Bill and derail Theresa May’s timetable for starting Brexit. The Independent has learned of the areas of the legislation that Labour peers are determined to amend – the rights of EU nationals, the vote on the final deal and regular reports on the exit talks.The Liberal Democrats will also go into battle over EU nationals and other attempts to re-shape Brexit are certain to come from independent crossbenchers. The stance puts the Lords firmly on a collision course with the Government, which has demanded that the upper chamber “get on and deliver the will of the British people”. Immediately after the Commons passed the Bill – unamended – a Government source threatened: “The Lords will face an overwhelming public call to be abolished if they now try and frustrate this Bill.”
Labour peers have vowed to rewrite Theresa May ’s Brexit Bill and said they will not be “cowed” by threats to abolish the House of Lords if they succeed. Labour Lords leader Baroness Smith has tabled eight amendments to the Brexit Bill which was passed by the House of Commons on Wednesday night. The amendments largely ape those which Labour MPs tried and failed to secure in the Commons during the Bill’s stormy passage this week. They include guaranteeing rights for EU nationals currently living in Britain, and forcing Ministers to give quarterly updates to Parliament on how the Brexit talks are progressing. The Bill will be debated in the Lords later this month and Tory Government sources have hinted the chamber could be abolished if it tries to “frustrate” the new Article 50 law.
The House of Lords has been warned it could be abolished if it tries to block Brexit later this month after a key bill cleared the House of Commons Wednesday evening. The government saw off attempts by Remain-supporting MPs to frustrate Britain’s exit from the European Union, with the Commons finally passing the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill unamended, by 494 votes to 122. Now the House of Lords will have to debate and approve the bill before Theresa May can formally give notice to the EU of Britain’s intention to withdraw under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. However, the government does not hold a majority in the upper chamber, with many peers passionately pro-EU. Various outlets report a government source warning Wednesday night that the House of Lords will face calls for its abolition if it tries to scupper Brexit.
THERESA May got a Brexit boost last night from her Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni, who said there is “no point” in having “destructive” EU divorce. Visiting No 10, Italy’s PM warned that Brexit “will not be easy” but promised Italy would take a “constructive and friendly” approach. The Italian Premier said: “We are aware of the fact that negotiations will not be easy and we also know, and this will certainly be the Italian attitude, that we need a constructive and friendly approach. “There is absolutely no point in having a destructive negotiation between the EU and the UK.” “So, obviously we will do this in the hope of fostering the unity of the 27 countries because without the unity of the 27 countries, it will be difficult to come to some agreement. “We must ensure this unity will result in the best possible agreement with the UK.”
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned Europe not to take a ‘destructive’ approach to the Brexit negotiations. At a joint press conference with Theresa May in Downing Street, Mr Gentiloni said the two years of negotiations would be difficult but said they should be tackled in a ‘friendly’ manner. In a further win for Mrs May, her Italian counterpart said he was eager to secure a deal on reciprocal rights for expats after Brexit. The Prime Minister attempted to strike a deal on the issue ahead of the main Brexit talks but was blocked by Germany’s Angela Merkel. Mrs May welcomed the ‘constructive’ talks over a working lunch and vowed to assist Italy on its G7 agenda, including on the migration crisis, due to be discussed at a summit in the spring.
BRUSSELS politicians today described Britain’s exit from the European Union as “no loss” in defence terms as they voted through controversial proposals to create an EU military headquarters and defence fund. Representatives sitting in the EU parliament said Brexit could work as a catalyst for a new era of common European defence and said they were not concerned by losing Britain’s armed forces or nuclear deterrent. But a defence expert testifying to MEPs suggested that they should leave the door open to future military cooperation with Britain and even give UK ministers a seat at the table when Brussels makes defence decisions. Britain has the most powerful army in Europe, accounting for around a quarter of the continent’s standing troops and defence spending, and along with France is the only country to boast a nuclear deterrent.
EU OFFICIALS want every 18 year-old on the Continent to be given a free inter-rail pass to fight the fallout from Brexit. Draft proposals reveal the European Parliament’s chief Budget negotiator wants an estimated £2 billion to be set aside for the project in 2018. Powerful Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan said it would be a “key component in increasing European consciousness and identity, especially in the face of threats such as populism and the spread of misinformation”. In an opening salvo of a battle to set priorities for next year, he said the European Parliament “intends to secure adequate financing for the programme in the 2018 budget.” The idea was first mooted last year by German MEP Manfred Weber – who said teens should be given a month-long pass worth £340 on their 18th birthday.
Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is set a demand €57bn (£48bn) in a divorce settlement from Britain following talks in Brussels this week. Sky News understands the precise figure was agreed at a meeting on Monday, in which France and Germany demanded the UK is forced to pay upwards of €70bn (£59bn). Britain is committed to tens of billions of euro in spending on EU wide projects up until 2020 as well as the pensions of officials. The discussion ended with an agreement that any trade negotiations could only begin when the final bill is reached. Britain had hoped that any future EU trade agreement could be agreed in parallel.
The man charged with leading the European Union’s (EU) Brexit negotiations has admitted the bloc faces an “existential crisis” and could “disappear” due to the rise of populism and nationalism. Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium, is a dedicated Europhile known in the European parliament for his hard-line liberal views. However, his faith in the future of the EU appears to have been shaken after 2016 and his prescription is ever-closer union and the on-going erosion of the nation-state. “If we look to the pressure on the European Union at the moment… [President Donald Trump] is bidding on the disintegration of the European Union and also Vladimir Putin who wants to divide the European Union,” he told the BBC World Service on Wednesday. “Then there’s also the threat of jihadism and then internally we have enormous pressure by nationalists, populists, the whole question of Brexit. So, it’s an existential moment for the European Union,” he said. He added that it is “now the time to reform, otherwise it could disappear”.
In a rare outbreak of common sense in Brussels, a German MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament, Alexander Graf-Lambsdorff, has called for European countries to help Greece leave the Euro and go back to having its own national currency. Greece’s crippling debt problem has led to wide-spread human suffering in the country and huge unemployment rates as it has been bullied and beaten down by EU nationalists desperate to sustain the fatally flawed Euro single currency. But the admission from even pro-EU politicians that Greece should now leave the Euro in order to recover shows just how desperate the situation has become. The problem as ever is whatever the economic reality, the EU’s true believers know that one country leaving the Euro, as with Brexit, could set a precedent that would further undermine their failed project.
John Bercow is facing a fight for his future as Speaker of the House of Commons after it emerged that up to 150 Tory MPs prepared to back a motion to oust him over his criticism of Donald Trump. James Duddridge, a Conservative MP and former foreign minister, tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Trump after the Speaker said he wants to bar President Trump from addressing Parliament. Mr Bercow was last week accused of damaging the Special Relationship after he said he would stop the US President from speaking in Westminster Hall because of his “racism and sexism”. Conservative MPs opposed to Mr Bercow want a “fresh speaker” and believe that even if 10 per cent of MPs say he should go his position will be “untenable”. Mr Duddridge said: “He has got to go. He can no longer reasonably chair as Speaker, this is the straw that broke the camels back. “He was not within his remit, he was using a minor technicality. Any MP can invite anyone into the House of Commons.”
John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, was facing a formal motion of no confidence last night with critics claiming that he could be ousted within days. James Duddridge, a Tory MP and former minister, tabled a parliamentary motion of no confidence in the Speaker and predicted that he could be “dead in the water” if MPs publicly reveal concerns about Mr Bercow that they have so far kept private. A source close to the whips claimed that there were only 12 Tory MPs “agitating” against Mr Bercow, however, with no Labour, SNP or Lib Dem opponents willing to vote against him at this stage. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, is expected to write in support of Mr Bercow today.
THE SPEAKER of the House of Commons John Bercow is to face a no confidence motion following his rant about Donald Trump this week. The motion has been put forward by Tory backbencher James Duddridge, who responded furiously to Mr Bercow’s comments on Monday. He said the Speaker’s comments were just the latest in which he ignored his position’s expectation of political neutrality. Mr Duddridge “He has overstepped the mark, he has overstepped the mark a number of times but this most recent incident – where he used the Speaker’s chair to pronounce his views on an international situation in some quite detailed and lengthy manner is wholly inappropriate and it means that he can no longer reasonably chair, as Speaker, any debate on those subjects.
John Bercow faces a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons after a Conservative MP, angered at the Speaker’s comments on Donald Trump, tabled a motion to oust him. Mr Bercow riled members of his own party earlier this week when he said the US President should not be allowed to address Parliament during a state visit to the UK later this year. James Duddridge, MP for Rochford and Southend East, described Mr Bercow’s comments, which called out the billionaire businessman’s “racism” and “sexism”, as “wholly inappropriate”. He tabled the motion after earlier writing to Theresa May to ask for the Commons to be given a free vote in the event of a vote of no confidence in the Speaker. The Telegraph reported that up to 150 MPs are prepared to back his motion to remove Mr Bercow. Labour has said it would oppose a vote of no confidence, with shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz saying she welcomed Mr Bercow’s “support for us and for the reputation of Parliament”.
A Tory MP has launched a formal bid to topple the House of Commons Speaker over his “wholly inappropriate” ban on Donald Trump. James Duddridge tabled the motion tonight after John Bercow said he would not allow the US President to give an address in Westminster Hall. The Speaker’s tirade at the “racist and sexist” President sparked a backlash from Tory MPs, some of whom have disliked Mr Bercow ever since he took the role in 2009. Mr Duddridge told Sky News: “He has overstepped the mark. He has overstepped the mark a number of times but this most recent incident.” The bid is an ‘Early Day Motion’, a form of internal petition which has no automatic process to unseat the Speaker.
The Royal Navy’s fleet of attack submarines are all currently out of action – and Ministry of Defence chiefs are said to have kept it a secret from the Prime Minister. Britain’s seven ‘hunter-killer’ vessels are understood to be ‘non-operational’, with five understood to be undergoing maintenance. It is believed the HMS Astute, commissioned in 2010, is the only one currently at sea although she is still ‘weeks away’ from active service following a tune-up. According to The Sun, it is the first time in decades Britain does not have an attack submarine on stand-by to respond to threats. Sources said the Navy’s three Astute-class vessels – built by BAE Systems – are ‘beset by problems’ despite costing around £1.2billion each. The others currently in service are the HMS Ambush – which is being repaired after crashing into a tanker off Gibraltar in 2016, and HMS Artful.
The NHS faces an “existential crisis” and a repeat of the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal is inevitable, the man who led the public inquiry into the trust’s failings has warned. Sir Robert Francis, QC, said the government could no longer pretend that the health service was coping. Pressure to cut costs would again lead to the neglect of patients, he added, and public confidence was at risk of collapse. The warning comes in the midst of a winter crisis that has exposed a rift between NHS leaders and the government. Figures showed yesterday that waiting times in A&E units were at their worst for more than a decade and revealed missed targets on surgery, ambulance responses and cancer care.
Theresa May has “lost control” of the NHS crisis as A&E figures showed the worst performance ever. December saw the worst A&E performance ever, and waits for treatment are at their worst in more than seven years. Provisional figures for January, leaked to the BBC, suggest record numbers of patients spend more than four hours in A&E. Patients in A&E should be seen within the four hour benchmark – but that target hasn’t been hit in months. Figures also suggest record numbers waited longer than 12 hours for a hospital rate. The British Medical Association accused the government of ‘burying their head in the sand’ and failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
Teenagers at new technical schools achieve two thirds of a grade lower for each GCSE compared with pupils of similar ability at conventional schools. Analysis of exam results at 28 university technical colleges (UTCs) where students sat GCSEs last summer showed that they were awarded, on average, lower grades overall but also did much worse in terms of progress made. Backed by local employers and a university, UTCs recruit pupils at 14 to offer an alternative hands-on approach to technical and practical education, and specialise in skills linked to economic sectors. The first opened in 2010 and there are 48 UTCs in England.
An independent Scotland would start life outside the EU and be forced to join the queue for membership, the European Commission’s official representative in the UK has said in a major blow to Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit strategy. Jacqueline Minor said Jean Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, had made clear there would be no more states admitted until 2020 – the year after the UK is expected to leave the European Union. She said there are several countries waiting to become member states, including Montenegro and Serbia, and an independent Scotland “would join that list.” This would mean Scotland being outside both the UK and EU for an indeterminate period. With the SNP’s leadership reviewing their stance on currency, she said a separate Scotland would have to commit in principle to joining the euro to get membership and show how it intended to bring down its huge deficit, which is even larger than Greece’s.
A senior EU official has cast doubt over claims that an independent Scotland could automatically join the EU or inherit the UK’s membership after Brexit. Jacqueline Minor, the European commission’s head of representation in the UK, said Scotland would need to formally apply after leaving the UK, although it could be fast-tracked because it already complies with EU rules and regulations. Speaking immediately after Scotland’s voters backed remaining in the EU by 62% to 38% in last June’s referendum, the former first minister Alex Salmond said it would be a logical option for an independent Scotland to take over the UK’s membership of the EU post-Brexit. The former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, now the European parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, implied he was sympathetic to giving Scotland automatic membership. “It’s wrong that Scotland might be taken out of EU, when it voted to stay,” he tweeted after the referendum.