Brexit

Independent
Fresh Brexit talks have been scheduled for early next week as Theresa May heads towards another Commons showdown on her EU withdrawal stance. The move comes amid reports the prime minister is facing a major challenge from Tory MPs opposed to a no-deal exit from the EU. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay and attorney general Geoffrey Cox announced they will hold talks again with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the coming days on the Northern Ireland backstop.

Reuters
Britain’s Brexit ministry said after talks in Brussels on Thursday that the focus of negotiations was now on getting new guarantees on the temporary nature of the Irish backstop. In a statement after Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met EU negotiator Michel Barnier, the ministry gave a clear indication that Prime Minister Theresa May was no longer pushing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, even if that remained the government’s preferred option. “The simplest way to get legally binding changes on the backstop is to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. That remains the Government’s position,” the ministry said.

Westmonster
The CEO of Heathrow Airport, John Holland-Kaye, has reiterated that planes will fly after a No Deal Brexit. A dose of common sense after absurd hysteria that included the BBC once asking “will Britain’s planes fly after Brexit?” Bonkers. Heathrow’s CEO told LBC today that when it comes to Brexit: “Whatever will happen, will happen. “We’ve been preparing for No Deal for the last four or five months. We know this is going to go down to the wire. We hope there won’t be a No Deal situation but we are well-prepared if there is.

EU

Independent
The outline of a potential compromise deal on Brexit has begun to emerge in Brussels with both sides now working towards a new route out of the deadlock. EU diplomats confirmed they were looking at a new kind of legal instrument to sit alongside the existing withdrawal agreement, giving clarity over the temporary nature of the Irish backstop so hated by Tory backbenchers. They were in meetings with the UK’s attorney general Geoffrey Cox, who has already done groundwork on similar instruments before heading to Brussels for meetings alongside Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay.

Express
BRUSSELS is reportedly making preparations for Theresa May to renege on her pledge to deliver Brexit by March 29 as EU officials plan to push back Britain’s departure by three months. Talks between the two sides indicate that the UK could soon be forced to request that Brexit day delayed, Bloomberg reports. Citing two EU officials, the news outlet said Brussels believes Mrs May will have no choice but to ask that the Article 50 process taking Britain out of the bloc be extended if she manages to secure a Commons majority for her deal in the next few weeks.

Telegraph
Jean-Claude Juncker has said he is “not very optimistic” that the UK will leave the EU with a deal, as he admitted he was suffering from “Brexit fatigue.” The European Commission president issued the gloomy assessment the day after meeting Theresa May to discuss clarifying the controversial Irish backstop clause. Under the terms of the backstop, the UK would be tied to EU rules and regulations after Brexit, which critics say would neuter the benefits of leaving the bloc.

Mail
Jean-Claude Juncker warned today he was not ‘optimistic’ of a Brexit deal following his latest talks with Theresa May. The EU Commission President held his latest meeting with Mrs May last night and the pair issued a joint statement on the urgency of the process. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are due back in Brussels today to continue work on the Irish border backstop.   But Mr Juncker claimed today he had ‘Brexit fatigue’ and suggested the talks were making little progress.

Breitbart
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker complained of “Brexit fatigue” Thursday, as he said he was no longer optimistic about avoiding a so-called no-deal Brexit, remarks which will cheer many Brexiteers who see a full no-deal Brexit as the only way to truly leave the European Union. With just 36 days to go until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, top Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker indicated he’d had enough of talking about Brexit when asked about it in a Brussels committee.

Express
CHIEF Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker tonight night declared he was tired of Brexit and suggested Britain is on course to leave without a deal. Cabinet ministers spent hours locked in talks with Brussels negotiators as they raced against the clock to find a way to break the deadlock before March 29. But Mr Juncker, who met Theresa May on Wednesday, said he was “not very optimistic” that an agreement will be reached by exit day. And Government sources admitted an agreement is unlikely to have been struck by next week’s crucial Brexit vote.

Yahoo News
The European Union and Britain are moving towards a separate legal statement in which the bloc would again stress the temporary nature of the so-called Brexit backstop for the Irish border, diplomats in Brussels said. They spoke of a “parallel declaration” or “interpretative instrument” on the backstop, a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May and the head of the European Union’s executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, met in Brussels to seek a way out of the Brexit deadlock.  The backstop is an insurance policy designed to avoid border controls between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Times
A new Brexit agreement with the European Union will not be agreed, even in principle, until after MPs have voted on a move to rule out no-deal next week, senior Brussels sources have warned. Talks between Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, broke up yesterday with both sides saying that more work needed to be done to resolve the Irish backstop issue. The two sides are due to meet again next week for further “technical discussions”, with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, admitting that he was suffering from “Brexit fatigue”.

Express
THE EU has postponed a colossal 10,000-officer expansion of Europe’s border control from 2020 to the year 2027. Brussels said plan to hire the large number of border control staff has been delayed by a further seven years due to mounting concerns the recruitment timetable remains unfeasible. Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had called 2027 as a “feasible schedule”, after the mass recruitment drive was initially planned for the year 2020. Mr Seehofer said the protection of EU borders was a precondition for an end to the internal border controls introduced during the refugee crisis, according to German publication Online Focus.

Independent
An Italian far-right party has been admitted to the Conservatives’ EU-wide political group – putting the post-fascist outfit in official alliance with Theresa May’s MEPs. The Brothers of Italy, or Fratelli d’Italia, on Thursday joined the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, which was set up in 2009 by David Cameron as a Eurosceptic breakaway. The Italian party is a descendent of the post-fascist Italian Social Movement, which was set up by supporters of Benito Mussolini in 1946. It is resolutely anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and anti-LGBT rights. It is led by Giorgia Meloni, a former leader in the youth wings of the Italian Social Movement and its defunct successor the National Alliance.

Telegraph
German manufacturing continued contracting in February, falling to six-year lows with decreasing demand from Asia blamed for the drop. The German economy expanded overall, buoyed by a stronger services sector, but the internationally focused manufacturing industry was hit by export orders sinking to the weakest levels since 2013. The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for manufacturing fell to 47.6 in February, down considerably from 49.7 in January and the lowest since December 2012. Any reading under 50 indicates contraction rather than expansion.

Labour Party

Times
Jeremy Corbyn has been warned that he faces another exodus of MPs unless he backs a plan to put Theresa May’s Brexit deal to a second referendum. His office has been told that dozens of MPs, including shadow ministers, are prepared to join the new Independent Group in parliament or resign the whip, in defiance over the party’s EU policy. They are demanding that he support a proposal by two of his backbench MPs in which Labour would agree to pass legislation underpinning Mrs May’s deal in return for a public vote. If the deal were rejected by the electorate, the government would be obliged to withdraw Article 50 and remain in the EU.

Independent
Left-wing campaign group Momentum has launched a major canvassing drive against MPs who have splintered away from the Labour Party to the newly-formed Independent Group. The combative response from the Jeremy Corbyn-backing organisation comes as both Labour and the Conservatives remain braced for further walkouts with the turbulence at Westminster showing no sign of abating. The Labour leader himself has described the decision of his eight former colleagues as “disappointing” and called on them to face the electorate in by-elections.

Conservative Party

Telegraph
Ministers are prepared to resign or be sacked next week to ensure a bid by MPs to avert a no-deal Brexit by forcing the extension of Article 50 succeeds, an MP who left the Tories this week has warned. Heidi Allen tells Chopper’s Brexit Podcast – which you can easily listen to by logging in or subscribing here: “Certainly the Letwin-Boles-Cooper 2, whatever you want to call it, is a done deal. I’ve seen text messages from ministers saying we will support it and the prime minister can choose to sack us or not. That one I have no concern at all about.”

Mail
Theresa May is facing the most serious revolt of her premiership as up to 100 MPs  pledge to vote to delay Brexit unless she takes No Deal off the table. Rebel Tories now sense there are enough MPs across the House of Commons to pass the Cooper Amendment – which extends Article 50 beyond the departure date of March 29 – due to be debated on Wednesday. Four Cabinet ministers were said to have confronted the Prime Minister yesterday and warned they are prepared to vote for the motion proposed by the Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour’s Yvette Cooper.

Independent
Theresa May is facing the most serious cabinet revolt of her premiership next week, with as many as 25 members of the government ready to vote for a Brexit delay unless she rules out “no deal” – in a move that will challenge her to sack them. Rebel Conservatives believe there are now enough MPs across the House of Commons to pass an amendment that would require May to extend article 50 rather than allow the UK to leave without a deal.

Sky News
Theresa May is facing the threat of a new rebellion by Conservative MPs intent on avoiding a no-deal Brexit. About 35 Tory MPs could support a House of Commons move to delay the UK’s exit from the EU, if it looks likely the prime minister is still unable to secure enough backing for her Brexit deal. In a letter to Conservative chief whip Julian Smith, the Brexit Delivery Group of Conservative MPs – made up of Remainers and Leavers – have warned they could vote in favour of demands to extend the UK’s EU membership next week.

BBC News
Dozens of normally loyal Conservative MPs could rebel against the government in a bid to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, Downing Street has been warned. Leaders of a group of MPs comprising Leavers and Remainers say they may back alternatives if Mrs May’s reworked deal cannot command a Commons majority. Co-chairman Andrew Percy told the BBC more than 30 may try to block no deal. The government says “productive” talks in Brussels aimed at addressing MPs’ concerns continue “urgently”. The UK remains on course to leave the European Union on 29 March.

Times
Theresa May has vowed to block right-wing entryists from joining the Conservative Party in an attempt to stem further defections. Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen said local Tory associations were being infiltrated by a Eurosceptic “purple Momentum” when they joined the new Independent Group of MPs on Wednesday. In a letter to the trio, Mrs May said she did “not accept” the comparison between the Conservative grassroots and the influx of left-wing activists into the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

The Independent Group

Mirror
The Independent Group could prop up Theresa May’s government in return for a second Brexit referendum, according to a key member. This could see the 11 MPs backing the Prime Minister’s deal if it was then to be put to a referendum. It would mean the new grouping effectively replacing the Northern Irish DUP in the arrangement which keeps the Tories in power. Gavin Shuker, one of the original seven to leave Labour and go independent, told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast it would be “in the national interest” to prop up the government to uphold stability.

Huffington Post
The Independent Group of Labour and Tory defectors could prop up Theresa May’s government in a confidence and supply arrangement, a leading member has said. This would include voting for any Brexit deal, if the prime minister put it to the public in a referendum. Gavin Shuker told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast it would be “in the national interest” to provide stability through any public vote, which could take a year to arrange. The group first made the offer in a meeting with the PM’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, last month. Shuker and then-Labour colleagues Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna were present, alongside then-Tory Anna Soubry.

NHS

Times
Patients’ right to choose where they are treated is being threatened by radical plans to scrap competition in the NHS, ministers have been warned in leaked documents. Plans to abolish the health service’s internal market are being resisted by Whitehall officials who have told Matt Hancock, the health secretary, that they would quietly reverse 30 years of policy, according to a Department of Health briefing seen by The Times. Mr Hancock is understood to be ruling out any changes that would prevent patients selecting the NHS hospital or private provider where they are sent for treatment.

The economy

Telegraph
A bumper tax haul for January gave Philip Hammond the biggest budget surplus ever recorded last month, rescuing his plans to trim borrowing over this financial year and handing him a boost just in time for the spring statement. The Chancellor was £14.9bn in the black for the month, according to official statistics, smashing the £10bn surplus predicted by economists as the healthy jobs market brought in extra income tax revenue. The strong numbers, boosted largely by income tax receipts, defied fears that by the end of March the public finances would be £5bn worse than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) at the budget in October.

Guardian
Britain has recorded the biggest-ever monthly surplus in public finances since the early 1990s, putting the government on a strong footing in the run-up to Brexit, now less than 40 days away. In a rare piece of positive economic news for Philip Hammond as he prepares for his spring statement next month, income from taxes outstripped public spending by £14.9bn, the biggest January surplus since records began in 1993. Although January is typically a surplus month for the exchequer because of seasonal trends in the payment of taxes, the Office for National Statistics said last month’s surplus was £5.5bn larger than a year ago.

Religion

Telegraph
Churches will no longer be legally required to conduct a service every Sunday after the General Synod has voted to end a law that has existed since the 17th century.  Canon laws, first passed in 1603 and updated most recently in 1964, stipulate that weekly Sunday services must take place in every church.  However vicars in rural parts of the country, who have been increasingly responsible for “up to 20 churches” in their area due to the decline in clergy, say they are unable to abide by the law and left with little choice but to break it.

Times
Churches in “sparsely populated” areas will no longer be obliged to hold services every Sunday, after the Church of England changed its rules. Under laws dating from the early 17th century each of the 16,000 C of E churches was required to hold morning and evening prayer and Holy Communion on Sundays and on big festival days. They will now be allowed to sit empty as long as a service is being held at another church near by. Observance of the law had proved impossible in rural regions where one priest can be in charge of up to 20 churches.

Times
Pope Francis has told bishops at a Vatican summit that he wants “concrete measures” to stamp out the “evil” of paedophile priests, and made them listen to testimony from victims. Addressing 190 cardinals, bishops, priests, monks and nuns from around the world at the start of the four-day event, the Pope urged them to “hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice,” and outlined 21 proposals for cracking down on predatory priests. “The holy people of God look to us, and expect from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures,” he said.

Rail travel

Order-Order
This week the rail industry released their proposals to reform the fares system, after consulting almost 20,000 people last year in the Easier Fares Consultation. 84% of people called for change to the current regulation of the fares system… The proposals recommend a seven day price cap which could remove the need to commit to a rigid weekly season ticket, giving flexible workers the opportunity to save money. The industry wants to work with government to update regulations and create easier fares for all… Find out more at www.bigplanbigchanges.co.uk/easierfares

Conservation

Telegraph
Woodlands, meadows and other parts of the countryside with a “bit of magic” will be preserved “forever” under Government plans to introduce conservation covenants. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, wants to introduce new legal safeguards to help ensure England’s countryside can be enjoyed by future generations. The legally-binding agreements would enable landowners to guarantee a certain area is protected and would enshrine a commitment to preserve and improve them.

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