Express (by Patrick O’Flynn)
A SORE tooth is enough to put anyone in a bad mood. A sore Tusk, however, is a temperamental event on an altogether bigger scale. And there is no doubt Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council of Ministers, was feeling very sore when he made his spectacularly undiplomatic outburst against Brexit campaigners, wondering what “special place in hell” lies in wait for us. Tusk is usually a cool character. So while many observers were swept up in the reaction to his remarks, others asked themselves what had brought them about and what the outburst tells us about the pressure on the Brussels high command as Britain’s March 29 leaving date looms. The trail, fascinatingly, leads back to a plot to stop Brexit spearheaded by none other than former PM Tony Blair. EU insiders tell me that Tusk allowed himself to become convinced Brexit was going to be overturned after a plan was constructed between senior Brussels figures and British pro-Remain politicians, led by Blair, that seemed to be working perfectly. Part of the plan involved Brussels playing hardball in negotiations, so that the deal Theresa May was able to put in front of MPs was profoundly unappetising. That advice to Brussels was relayed by a stream of pro-Remain visitors from the heart of the British establishment.
SECRET talks have begun between the UK and EU to prepare the way for a managed no-deal Brexit, sources in Brussels have claimed. It is also understood that the World Trade Organisation has opened the door to a route for the EU and UK to continue trading on an interim basis in the event of no deal being reached by March 29. The revelations come as leading pro-Brexit lawyers have warned that extending Article 50 would be a “blackmailer’s charter” for the EU. Senior figures in Brussels have said that officials at UK Rep – the British embassy in Brussels – have been “putting out feelers” for extending Article 50, but “only to deliver a managed no-deal”.
Theresa May has agreed to hold fresh talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s over his plans for a soft Brexit that would keep Britain tied to the Single Market after Brexit and locked in a customs union with the EU. In a letter to the Labour leader, the Prime Minister did not rule out Mr Corbyn’s demand for a “permanent” customs union although she said it would present a “negotiating challenge”. She also agreed to talks on Mr Corbyn’s call for “close alignment” with the Single Market, as well as committing to asking Parliament if it wishes to follow EU rules on workers’ rights and environment standards.
Theresa May opened the door last night to a soft Brexit by engaging with Jeremy Corbyn on a customs union in a move that puts her at risk of losing the support of members of her cabinet. In a letter to the Labour leader, the prime minister suggested that their parties hold further talks on the issue of a permanent customs union in an attempt to win support from Labour MPs for her Brexit plan. She also offered guarantees on environmental and employment laws, addressing more of the opposition’s central demands.
Theresa May will offer MPs the chance to copy EU rules on workers’ rights after Brexit as she bids to win Labour support for her withdrawal deal. The Prime Minister’s move will be seen as an olive branch as she desperately seeks backing for her pact after its crushing Commons defeat last month. The Tory leader is set to deny MPs a fresh “meaningful vote” until next month – edging closer to the March 29 withdrawal deadline.
Theresa May has responded to Jeremy Corbyn’s letter setting out his five demands for a Brexit deal. The prime minister queried his call for the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU – but welcomed more talks with Labour on a Brexit agreement. Mrs May wants the two parties to discuss how “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop – a commitment to avoid a hard border – could work. She did not reject any of his conditions outright in her reply.
Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”. The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals. But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected the idea of targeting a customs union with the European Union, pouring cold water on hopes from some that she could shift her Brexit policy to win over the opposition Labour Party. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but has yet to find a deal which is acceptable to both Brussels and lawmakers at home, raising the prospect of a disorderly exit that could damage the world’s fifth largest economy.
THERESA May is planning to take Brexit to the brink after delaying the do-or-die Commons vote on her deal until next month. The Government yesterday promised MPs they will get another chance to vote on Brexit options on February 27. But Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said that would not necessarily be the crunch Meaningful Vote on the PM’s deal. The further delay risks triggering an exodus of Remainer ministers who last month gave the PM a two-week deadline to secure a breakthrough.
Tom Watson appeared to edge the Labour Party closer to backing another Brexit referendum yesterday in breach of its present policy. Mr Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, suggested the party could support a fresh public vote if the cross-party talks between the opposition and government fail. He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “It seems to me we’re now at the point where we can have meaningful talks to get a deal between the main political party leaders or the only way to break the impasse is a public vote, and that remains our policy.”
Rebel Labour MPs targeted by Downing Street are being warned that their constituencies could lose £1.1bn a year within a decade if they back Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Analysis of Treasury figures for the People’s Vote campaign found the 32 constituencies such as Wigan and Hartlepool could be hit by a total annual loss of £970m in economic output and some £100m in agricultural subsidies and structural funds within 10 years of leaving the EU.
Labour has launched a bid to FORCE Theresa May not to delay her crunch Brexit vote until the last minute. Just 47 days before we leave, the party will this week try to bind the Prime Minister to let MPs have their say no later than February 26. It comes amid reports she plans to run down the clock to just 72 hours before exit day. The PM might have to stitch up agreement at an EU summit on March 22. That could be followed by a Commons statement on Monday 25 March – and a final vote by MPs only after that.
LABOUR has piled the pressure on Theresa May after vowing to force the Prime Minister to put her Brexit deal to a second crunch vote in in the House of Commons before the end of the month. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer warned Labour will try to stop Britain leaving the European Union without an agreement by using a Commons amendment to require Mrs May to hold another ‘meaningful vote’ by February 26.
THE government has won Brexit victory after signing a deal ensuring trade between the UK and Switzerland continues uninterrupted after Britain leaves the European Union. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox put pen to paper on the deal in the Swiss capital Bern yesterday, saying the agreement provides a “solid foundation” for a post-Brexit trading relationship.
The government will today sign a trade deal with Switzerland, heralded as the most significant such agreement in the run-up to Brexit. The deal, known as a trade continuity agreement, will guarantee future trading terms between the two countries once the UK has left the EU. It will be signed, in the Swiss city of Bern, by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and the Swiss federal councillor Guy Parmelin.
BRUSSELS has sparked fury by stopping member states agreeing arrangements with the UK to provide healthcare to expats in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to an official memo. A Government document seen by the Daily Telegraph claims Brussels is refusing to let EU countries engage with each other so health arrangements for British nationals in the bloc can be put in place. Currently, European Union citizens with a right to live in the UK can claim benefits in the country just like British nationals do.
Italy is drawing up emergency plans to safeguard financial stability and keep trade with the UK flowing even if there is a no-deal Brexit, if necessary through a bilateral deal between Rome and London. The country’s insurgent Lega-Five Star coalition is increasingly worried that a mishandling of the EU’s Brexit crisis could push Italy’s fragile economy into a dangerous downward slide and risk a funding crisis for its sovereign debt at a treacherous moment.
An influential economic research centre has warned that 100,000 jobs could be put at risk in Germany if the UK leaves the EU without securing a deal. The study by the Halle Institute for Economic Research found that jobs in the car industry would be particularly vulnerable to the uncertainties created by Britain tumbling out of the EU without securing a favourable trading relationship.
A no-deal Brexit would jeopardise at least 100,000 jobs in Germany and up to 50,000 in France because of a slump in exports, according to a study. Economists have calculated that 15,000 workers in the German car industry — roughly one in a hundred — could be made redundant if formidable trade barriers sprang up with Britain. The blow would be felt in much of the world but fall most heavily on high-tech manufacturing centres such as Wolfsburg, the home of Volkswagen, and Böblingen, a suburb of Stuttgart where Siemens and IBM are leading employers.
A vicious street brawl between rival “yellow vest” factions has highlighted bitter divisions among the anti-government protesters as the speaker of the National Assembly warned of a culture of violence engulfing French politics. Dozens of far Right supporters and ultra-Leftists taking part in yellow vest protests fought with fists, rocks and sticks in the eastern city of Lyon on Saturday night. The violence was seen as further evidence of widening splits in the leaderless grassroots movement.
A new report from a French magazine claims that at least 150 Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) activists have their phones tapped by the French government and are being tracked online. The report comes from weekly political magazine Le Point, which says that French security services agents have been tracking the Yellow Vest protestors and listening to their phone conversations, building on prior similar claims by Le Canard Enchaîné, the satirical weekly which broke a scandal involving former presidential candidate Francois Fillon, France-Soir reports.
TAXPAYERS in the UK are footing the bill for a £2 million road safety project which includes funding a driving simulator in China – the world’s second-largest economy which already received a staggering £47 MILLION in British aid. The ambitious research project, which it has been warned will “drive Brits up the wall”, is based at the University of Southampton and focuses on ways to reduce road traffic accidents around the globe.
The £56 billion earmarked for HS2 may have been better spent on other projects, according to the former head of the rail watchdog. Stephen Glaister said that the budget for Europe’s biggest infrastructure programme could have been invested on upgrades to railways in the Midlands and north of England. A survey of more than 2,000 people published today found that only 12 per cent believe the new line represents “good value for taxpayers’ money”.
A growing Cabinet revolt is threatening to sink the HS2 rail link. Ministers are alarmed by the project’s spiralling costs and are ‘increasingly minded to kill it off’, says a senior source. Initially put at £33billion, the budget is thought to have soared to more than £60billion. Treasury insiders admit the scheme is being added to an audit of major capital projects in which its future will be assessed ‘from scratch’. This means funding could be squeezed or stopped.
Tens of thousands of women with a family history of breast cancer would benefit from annual NHS checks, according to a study. Health chiefs have been urged to consider screening such women from 35 after the study concluded that this would find almost twice as many tumours at an early stage while halving the number that had already spread by the time they were detected. Lives are likely to be saved by spotting these cancers earlier and the extra screening would not create a significant risk of healthy women getting needless treatment, researchers said.
UP to 86,000 women in their thirties with a family history of breast cancer should receive annual mammograms, say researchers. A study at 34 UK screening centres found the checks for those aged 35 to 39 at moderate or high risk spotted smaller tumours compared with those not tested. Earlier diagnosis also meant the cancer was less likely to have spread. NHS screening is meant to start at 40 for women known to be in danger.
Up to 950 files relating to the contaminated blood scandal were removed by Whitehall officials, an investigation has found. Although most have since been retrieved, at least 45 documents are still missing and unaccounted for. The files were ‘checked out’ by civil servants from the Department of Health and, oddly, the Department for Education at intervals over the past three decades. Campaigners believe they contain evidence that will incriminate officials over what they knew and when.
Doctors must be trained to question computer diagnoses as treatment becomes increasing automated, an NHS review has concluded. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), apps, wearable devices and genetic analysis in medicine poses a serious risk of harm unless there is proper oversight, warns the US academic Eric Topol. His review, ordered by the government, says that within 10 to 20 years doctors will be using prescribing apps to treat patients, AI will interpret scans, robots will carry out surgery and algorithms will predict who will get ill.
A head teachers’ union is supporting plans by thousands of teenagers to walk out of lessons on Friday and join global protests over climate change. Secondary pupils in at least 30 British towns and cities will down their pens for three hours at 11am to demand action from the government. The Youth Strike 4 Climate puts schools in a difficult position. Taking a hard line on striking pupils could undermine teachers’ efforts to engage young people with politics. However, granting a day off would set a precedent and schools could be liable for their pupils’ safety at the rallies.
A band of veteran militant green activists are fuelling a campaign to encourage thousands of children to skip school. On Friday, thousands of pupils will walk out of lessons across the country in a mass protest over climate change. Children as young as nine will be taking part in the day of action – which is being quietly supported by some teachers – while organisers say the strike is the beginning of a wave of youth protests of increasing intensity.
The MP who leads the education select committee has said GCSEs should be scrapped. Robert Halfon wants to replace them with a baccalaureate, taken at 18, that offers more access to vocation-based technical and creative skills, alongside traditional academic learning. The Conservative MP for Harlow will use a speech to education professionals at the Cabinet War Rooms in London to say England’s education system needs a radical overhaul.
More children will be able to attend grammar schools in the next three years as almost 3,000 new places will be created. However the £50million fund for new classrooms will focus on schools that prioritise poorer pupils – to stop them becoming too ‘socially exclusive’. Announcing the extra cash today, schools minister Nick Gibb will say grammars are now ‘returning to their original social mobility agenda’ after decades of being colonised by the middle classes.
Children at Britain’s largest group of not-for-profit nurseries will spend hours a day playing outside, even in the rain, and the chief executive wants others to follow suit. The London Early Years Foundation, which has 37 nurseries, will give children aged two to five a daily minimum of two hours’ gardening, looking at nature or just playing outside under its experimental new curriculum.
Britain must be ready to use “hard power” and increase the “mass and lethality” of its armed forces to combat growing aggression from Russia and China, the Defence Secretary will say on Monday. Gavin Williamson will warn the UK will be seen as “little more than a paper tiger” if it talks tough but walks away from global crises and he will make the case for military-led intervention to stand up to countries which “flout international law”.
The aircraft-carrier Queen Elizabeth, with two squadrons of F-35 stealth fighters on board, will be sent into disputed waters in the Pacific in a display of “hard power”, the defence secretary is due to announce in a major speech on Britain’s military strategy in the post-Brexit world. Gavin Williamson will declare the UK “may have to intervene” in future to confront aggression from countries like Russia and China who “flout international law” and are “resurgent” in rebuilding their armed forces.