Brexit

Express
THE Liberal Democrats are desperately seeking to delay Brexit by holding a public inquiry. The party’s co-leader Sir Ed Davey has said that Boris Johnson’s “countless lies” in the run-up to the Brexit referendum means that such an investigation is warranted. His party will table an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) – and in it, they will state that an inquiry must be held within six months of the legislation being passed. The amendment will also include the financing of campaigners and also the government’s decision to invoke Article 50. But it is likely the Lid Dem’s plans will be scuppered.

Sun
LABOUR has launched a fresh push for a TWO YEAR Brexit delay if Boris Johnson doesn’t seal a trade deal with the EU by June. Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a change to the PM’s Brexit Bill – which will be brought back to the Commons for more scrutiny next Tuesday. After MPs passed the PM’s Bill before Christmas, just a few more Parliamentary stages are required before it becomes law, and Britain leaves on January 31. But nothing significant will change day-to-day until the end of 2020, when Britain exits the transition period. The PM promised in the Tory election manifesto to enshrine in law his promise not to extend the transition and delay Brexit again.

Sky News
Labour is to attempt to delay leaving the EU by two years to prevent a no-deal Brexit, despite the party’s crushing defeat in last month’s general election. Jeremy Corbyn has tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill being debated by MPs in the Commons next week that will lead to accusations that Labour is attempting to block Brexit. Labour’s amendment, which is doomed to fail now Boris Johnson has a Tory majority of 80 in parliament, would extend the Brexit transition period until 2023 if there is no deal by June.

Breitbart
Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer have tabled an amendment to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill that would force a two-year delay if the UK does not agree on a new trade deal with the EU. The current leader of the Opposition and the shadow Brexit minister tipped to replace him have put forward the amendment calling for a two-year extension to the transition, or ‘implementation’, period if London and Brussels do not agree to a new trading arrangement by June 2020. Mr Johnson has pledged he will stick to the 11-month transition period, with his European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill set to outlaw any attempts to keep the UK in regulatory alignment with the EU beyond December 2020.

Telegraph
A group of Eurosceptic MPs campaigning for Big Ben to chime for Brexit on January 31 have tabled an amendment to Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill that would enshrine the ceremony in law. MPs have pushed for a symbolic chime of the bell to mark the UK’s exit from the EU since March, but were blocked by John Bercow in his time as Commons Speaker. Mr Bercow chaired the parliamentary commission that presides over decisions about the bell, which is housed inside the Elizabeth Tower. The tower is currently undergoing a multi-million pound restoration and its normal hourly chimes have been silenced to protect the hearing of construction workers.

Mail
A group of Eurosceptic MPs have tabled an amendment to Boris Johnson‘s withdrawal bill to make sure Big Ben chimes for Brexit  on January 31 – when Britain is due to leave the European Union. The group, led by Mark Francois, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group – who previously said that Britain would ‘explode’ if it had not left the EU by October 31, 2019 – want the bell to ring out to celebrate the country’s eventual departure from the bloc more than three years after the referendum. Plans to have the bell bong for Brexit were previously scuppered by John Bercow, the Speaker at the time, as he chaired the parliamentary commission that presided over decisions about Big Ben.

Guardian
Growing numbers of business leaders in the UK believe Brexit uncertainty will take longer to resolve than Boris Johnson  pledged before the election, according to a Bank of England  survey. In a reflection of the challenges the government faces in striking a trade deal with the EU before the end of the year, Threadneedle Street said the date at which firms expected the issue to be clarified had been pushed further into the future. According to the central bank’s decision maker panel, which surveys almost 3,000 chief financial officers from small, medium and large UK firms, as many as 42% said they thought the lack of clarity over Brexit that their business faced would not lift until at least 2021, up from 34% in November.

Whitehall

Telegraph
Boris Johnson’s chief adviser has issued a call for “weirdos and misfits” to apply for jobs in Downing Street as plans to shake up Whitehall went into overdrive. Dominic Cummings said he wanted to hire “true wild cards” and “people who fought their way out of an appalling hell hole” to transform the civil service, instead of “public school bluffers” with no real-world experience. In a 3,000-word job advert on his personal blog, Mr Cummings  suggested the ideal candidate might be a “Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB” as he cited characters from science fiction novels as his inspiration.

Times
The prime minister’s chief adviser has appealed for “weirdos and misfits” to come to work with him in 10 Downing Street on radical ideas as he set out plans to transform the way the government is run. In a blog post that will deepen his row with the civil service, Dominic Cummings urged “true wild cards” to bypass its formal recruitment process and get in touch with him via email. He argued that while “there are many brilliant people in the civil service and politics” there are also “profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions”. He said that at present we “do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed”.

Independent
Plans by Boris Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings for a “seismic” shake-up of the civil service have been branded “insulting” by a union representing Whitehall mandarins. Civil servants could be made to take regular exams to prove they are up to their jobs as part of a government drive to create “the most dynamic state in the world”, according to one of the people behind the election-winning Conservative manifesto. Rachel Wolf, who helped draw up the blueprint of Tory election pledges, told The Daily Telegraph that civil servants are “woefully unprepared” for sweeping reforms the prime minister is keen to push through.

Express
UNION barons are gearing up to “strenuously resist” Boris Johnson’s plans for a “seismic” shake-up to modernise Whitehall. The Prime Minister and key aide Dominic Cummings are drawing up reforms to create the “most dynamic state in the world”, according to the architect of the Tory manifesto. Rachel Wolf, who co-authored the Conservative Party manifesto, said civil servants could be forced to sit exams and the “merry-go-round” of officials changing jobs every 18 months will be stopped. Whitehall is “woefully unprepared” for the scale of change that will begin in the spring, she said.

Morning Star
BORIS JOHNSON and his team were accused today of flaunting their “anti-trade-union mentality” with plans that would include making civil servants sit tests every five years. Civil-Service union PCS vowed to “strenuously resist” the threat to require government workers to pass exams to prove their competence. General secretary Mark Serwotka argued that the Civil Service’s “major problem” over the past decade of Conservative rule has been “under-investment, real-terms pay cuts and poor government policy.”

EU

Express
BREXIT could cripple the German farming industry due to tumbling exports and plummeting prices, Berlin has warned. Britain’s exit from the EU could have serious consequences for the EU member state as the German Farmers’ Association claimed up to 40 percent of the UK’s food comes from Berlin. Farmers in Germany are panicking over the future of the 4.5billion euro chunk of money coming from the UK, vice president of the association Walter Heidl said. He said regardless of whether Britain opts for a hard or soft Brexit, the fact the UK is leaving the EU is enough to put a colossal strain on the German economy – particularly its agricultural sector.

Telegraph
Manufacturers suffered one of their toughest months for a decade at the end of 2019 as demand plunged in the face of political turmoil and an industrial recession across much of the eurozone. British factory activity dropped in December at one of its fastest rates since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis of 2012, according to IHS Markit’s purchasing managers’ index survey (PMI). The influential index dropped to 47.5 in December, marking the ninth consecutive month in contractionary territory. Any score below 50 indicates activity is falling. Most of the survey’s results were received before the general election on Dec 12, so any immediate boost from the Conservatives’ resounding victory will only be seen in the next set of numbers.

Express
BORIS JOHNSON’s pledge not to extend the Brexit transition period for the UK’s departure from the European Union beyond December 2020 has been torn apart by the bloc’s new Commissioner for Trade, who believes he “won’t die in the ditch” this time either. Boris Johnson last month received a major boost when he crushed his rivals in the UK general election, which saw his Conservative Party secure a huge majority of 80 in the House of Commons. This enabled him to finally get his Brexit deal voted through Parliament, putting the wheels in motion for the UK’s long-awaited departure from the European Union.

Education

Times
Two thirds of universities have recorded a rise in student dropouts over the past five years, a study has found. The proportion of young people at some universities leaving after a year has increased by more than five percentage points, official data shows. Critics attribute the rising number of dropouts to universities admitting too many students who lack the academic skills required for a degree. Others suggest that certain students need greater support to make the transition from school to university.

Mail
After waiting two months for their playground to be revamped, children were delighted that a set of three brightly-coloured bongos and a xylophone had been added. And like all youngsters, they wasted no time in enjoying making their own music. But their enthusiasm seems to have struck a sour note with residents – who think the noise is bang out of order. Some homeowners in the wealthy suburb of St Andrew’s, Bristol, complain the bongos are ruining the park and even make it ‘too noisy to think’. George Clarke, who has lived in the area for 25 years, said: ‘There is nowhere to get away from the racket.’

BBC

Times
Half of Britons support a commercial model for the BBC and would like the broadcaster to make its money through advertisements or subscriptions, a new poll shows. Just one in four says that the current compulsory licence fee system is their preferred way of funding the BBC.  The findings, in a YouGov poll for The Times, come weeks after Boris Johnson questioned whether the corporation’s funding model “makes sense” with the rise of digital media. During the election campaign the prime minister said that the licence fee could be scrapped and replaced with a pay-to-watch subscription model, similar to Netflix.

Mail
Half of Britons want the BBC licence fee scrapped and would like the broadcaster to adopt a commercial model and make its money through advertisements – like ITV and Channel 5 – or subscriptions – like Netflix or Amazon Prime. The news comes weeks after Boris Johnson – while on the General Election campaign trail – said the BBC licence fee is outdated and could be axed. He said he was looking at whether it made long-term sense to impose a £154.50 annual levy on all homes with TV sets – and criticised the current enforcement regime which allows the corporation to prosecute non-payers.

Rail travel

Mail
Fat cat rail bosses have been handed inflation-busting salary hikes despite another year of rising fares and delays on the UK network. The heads of all main rail company ownership groups have been given huge pay rises, with most of them on seven-figure deals. The chief of bus and rail giant Arriva received the biggest increase of all current rail bosses in spite of strong criticism for its handling of the Northern Rail franchise.

Times
The bosses of Britain’s biggest rail operators received inflation-busting pay increases last year despite mounting passenger anger over rising fares and delays on the network. An analysis by The Times shows that the heads of all main rail company ownership groups have enjoyed huge rises over the past 12 months, with the majority on seven-figure packages. The head of the bus and rail giant Arriva got the biggest pay increase of the serving rail chiefs, despite severe criticism of the company’s handling of the Northern Rail franchise.

Mail
South Western Railway passengers are facing fresh misery today because staff have been on strike for so long that they need to be retrained.  SWR workers have staged 28 days of strikes since the start of December, affecting millions of passengers at London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest station.  The strike ended last night but services are still disrupted on Thursday and Friday because the staff who walked out need ‘refresher training’ on safety matters. The continuing rail chaos has sparked fresh anger among weary SWR passengers who labelled the latest disruption a ‘joke’.

Drugs

Sun
DEALERS are using Twitter and Instagram to flog new ultra-strength “glass” cannabis costing almost as much as gold, a Sun Online probe reveals. British-based drug pushers are using the social-media websites to advertise the potent products – some even brazenly posting videos of their illegal weed farms. Our investigation found the new ultra-powerful form of the drug – known as cannabis concentrates – are now flooding the UK market and they are so strong they can spark psychosis and make some users pass out. Web dealers are constantly advertising the concentrates, known as shatter, dabs or wax, and just one gram of the product can go for as much as £30.

Smoking

Mail
All menthol cigarettes will be banned in the UK from 2020 after strict new legislation comes into force.  The ban will cover menthol cigarettes, rolling tobacco and ‘skinny’ cigarettes and will be put in place in May this year.  Public health officials hope the move will deter young people from smoking and reduce numbers picking up the habit.  Experts claim menthol and other flavoured cigarettes make smoking more appealing to non-smokers because they relax the airways and take away the severity of the smoke. The ban comes from new EU Tobacco Product Directive laws, which outlaws all menthol cigarettes, and will still apply to Britain during the Brexit transition period as the instruction was implemented into UK law in 2016.

Sun
SMOKERS are being warned that major changes will be enforced this year. Menthols, menthol rollies and skinny cigarettes will be banned under new smoking laws due to come into effect in May. The ban will also see the production of click dual cigarettes – such as Sterling Dual – that change from normal to menthol, stopped. It’s part of a four year phasing-out period that stems from the new EU Tobacco Product Directive laws. So far, flavoured cigarettes were restricted to packs of 20 but they’ll be totally outlawed by May 20. In 2017, smaller packs of rolling tobacco were banned, as well as 10 packs of cigarettes.

Iran

Telegraph
General Qassim Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport early on Friday, an assassination that marks a major escalation in US-Iran tensions in the region. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. The Pentagon said US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani “in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad”. “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

Times
Qassem Soleimani, a leading Iranian general, has been killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad, in a dangerous escalation of violence between Tehran and Washington. Gen. Soleimani, who was head of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, died in the strike at Baghdad airport this morning on the orders of President Donald Trump, the Pentagon announced. Gen. Soleimani, who was in charge of Iranian military operations in Syria and Iraq, was being driven from the airport by the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), an umbrella organisation consisting of around 40 Iranian-backed militias. Gen. Soleimani died alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a close confidant and deputy head of the PMU.

Express
DONALD TRUMP has provoked Iran on social media following a US air-strike which killed General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force. The General was killed in Iraq as part of an operation the Pentagon have said was at “the direction of the president.” Reports suggest a strike on Baghdad’s international airport took place, a number of people being killed.  The fear now is Iran could make a deadly reprisal.   General Soleimani was a huge figurehead in the Iranian, even hailed as national hero. Now the US president tweeted chilling image of the American flag just moments after the shock attack in the early hours of the morning in the UK. Meanwhile, oil prices have surged more than 4% in the wake of the news.

Mail
President Donald Trump has ordered an airstrike that killed Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at Baghdad International Airport, the Pentagon confirmed. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which were responsible for the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, officials said. The audacious airstrike is a potential turning point in the Middle East as the U.S. and Iran teeter on the brink of all-out war, and is expected to draw severe retaliation from Iran and its regional Shiite allies against Israel and American interests.

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