Ministers have warned Whitehall that there can be no more “excuses” for going slow on Brexit preparations, including readying the UK for the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal. A team of 100 officials in David Davis’s Brexit department will this month urge mandarins to intensify Brexit preparations as they return a series of delivery plans to Whitehall. Mr Davis’s department will subsequently produce monthly “progress reports” to ensure each Government department is enacting the plans. It comes amid mounting concern among Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers, including Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, that Whitehall is failing to do enough to prepare for Brexit.

BREXIT Secretary David Davis will this week order go-slow Whitehall mandarins to “get ready for Brexit”. And he will say they have run out of excuses. Brexit officials will return implementation plans drawn up by Government departments and insist officials start “delivering” so Britain is prepared in time for March 2019. The push covers domestic policy on everything from cu­s­toms desks to the type of HGV licences foreign truckers require once we leave the EU. Critically, the shift in ap­proach is designed so the UK can cope in the event of a “No Deal” with the EU, leaving with no trading agreement. It comes a day after PM Theresa May’s New Year vow to “keep up the progress” on Brexit talks this year. A senior source said: “We’re moving from a planning phase to delivery. “We will be removing the excuses some departments have for not being ready. “The intention is to ensure we are ready to deliver Brexit, whatever is negotiated in Brussels.”

Friday 19 October 2018 is already ringed in Theresa May’s diary. That is the very ambitious deadline for a withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU to be signed off at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. If there is one thing that UK and EU negotiators agree on, it is that phase two of the Brexit talks will be much more difficult than the phase one agreement approved on 15 December. That deal kept the show on the road but masked the fact that the two sides are poles apart on both the scope and timeline of the next stage. They sometimes seem in a parallel universe. Several issues were put off until phase two – not least the Irish border and how to resolve any disputes arising later over the withdrawal agreement. Officially, UK ministers want a “substantive trade deal” by October and a done deal shortly after March 2019. In private, minsters admit their best hope is a “heads of agreement” by exit day. Even that will be tricky. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has suggested that “the real negotiation” on trade will not start until after then. The 27 EU countries have agreed only to preliminary talks on the “future partnership”. They do things by the book, and will not produce negotiating guidelines until March, leaving just seven months until the October deadline. The EU27 wants a “close partnership” with the UK, rather less than the “deep and special” one desired by May. It is particularly frustrated at the lack of clarity from London and is keeping things vague until Britain spells out what it really wants. But the EU’s starting point is clear: the UK cannot have its cake and eat it. So it cannot enjoy the benefits of Norway’s access to the EU market and Canada’s freedom to diverge and will have to choose between these two models of relations with the EU. There is scepticism in Brussels about the “bespoke” deal sought by May – described as “Canada plus plus plus” by David Davis, the Brexit Secretary. It would add services, which account for 80 per cent of the UK economy, to Canada’s free trade agreement with the EU on goods. But the EU is unlikely to offer a deal covering financial services.

SENIOR Brexiteer Owen Paterson has warned Theresa May that heads of terms for a new free trade deal with the EU need to be agreed by March or Britain should quit talks and prepare for no deal. Writing exclusively for the Daily Express online, the former cabinet minister who sits on the board of leading Brexit group of Leave Means Leave has told the Prime Minister that enough concessions have been made to the EU and the Prime Minister must not be taken in by “Remoaner double talk.” The tough line from the Brexit group which includes more than 50 Tory MPs, has come as Remainers have seized on reports that Brexit Secretary David Davis has suggested that ending Brussels rule could be stopped. The message comes as Mrs May has said in her new year message that the next 12 months will allow Britons to feel “renewed confidence and pride” as the country makes progress on Brexit and creating a “stronger and fairer” society. Ministers and Eurocrats have said that a deal needs to be completed by October, but Brexiteers fear a delay could force Britain to accept a bad deal that leads to “Brexit in name only”.

Theresa May is preparing a new year reshuffle that could see a number of cabinet figures losing their positions in an attempt to refresh the Conservative front bench. The prime minister is said to be considering offering the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson a move to a Brexit delivery role based in another department, but he is likely to resist such a move. May’s decision to shake up her team comes after fierce disagreements within Downing Street about how sensible such a move would be. Some of those around the prime minister, including her former chief whip, Gavin Williamson, have urged caution because of the ramifications of placing sacked ministers on the backbenches. Others could also feel aggrieved at being overlooked. But May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, has received the backing of Williamson’s successor, Julian Smith, about the benefits of promoting younger MPs. Rumours circulating in Westminster include the idea of Justine Greening being moved out of education, with one source suggesting that she had sided too strongly with the trade unions instead of embracing Tory reforms. 
The Sunday Times suggested that Andrea Leadsom could be sacked as leader of the House of Commons, and it also named Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, who ran May’s leadership bid.

Boris Johnson could be offered a new Brexit ‘super-ministry’ as part of Theresa May‘s New Year reshuffle. The Prime Minister is expected to offer him a role encompassing parts of the Business Department and major infrastructure decisions to prepare Britain for leaving the EU. But last night allies of the Foreign Secretary said he would refuse to accept anything that looked like a demotion. The Mail understands the long-awaited reshuffle could begin as early as next week. Senior sources said it was ‘looking very likely’. Mrs May will also embark on a domestic policy blitz in the coming weeks, with major speeches on education and the environment. A third major Brexit speech is pencilled in for February. But first the PM will stamp her authority on the government, and inject fresh energy into the senior ministerial ranks. Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who is seen as having underperformed as party chairman, is likely to be sacked, while Jeremy Hunt is in line for a promotion. The Health Secretary, who has been in his job for nearly eight years, is regarded as a ‘safe pair of hands’ by No10. He has become their go-to minister for difficult media interviews. Despite backing Remain, he has wholeheartedly endorsed Brexit since the referendum.


Scots ringing the NHS 24 hotline have complained of being kept waiting for more than 40 minutes after it experienced its busiest ever festive period amid a major flu outbreak. Angry callers took to social media to complain about the lengthy delays, pointing out that the out-of-hours service was supposed to deal with “urgent” medical problems. But NHS 24 pleaded for patience, saying it had already received almost 3,500 calls by 10.30am and more than 13,000 on Saturday as a flu outbreak swept the country. It said it had experienced its busiest festive period since being set up 15 years ago and warned that public demand would not drop over the next few days. Scots made 45,000 calls to the hotline in the four days over Christmas – almost double last year’s total. Thousands more are expected over the New Year period as medics confirmed Australian flu has hit Scotland.

THE sinister Australian flu spreading across the UK has claimed its first victims after striking down thousands of people in just one week. The killer strain of flu, called H3N2, has been hospitalising people across the UK during the first month of winter. Latest figures show 1,111 people have been struck down by the illness within the last seven days – a worrying 156% spike. Now health chiefs have revealed that “less than 10 people” have died from the terrifying illness in Ireland, fuelling fears of more deaths in England, Scotland and Wales. In Ireland, 73 people have been admitted to hospital with the illness, dubbed “Aussie flu”, so far this winter. Speaking to the Independent, Kevin Kelleher, of Ireland’s Health Service Executive, said: “There have been a few deaths already… under 10 people have died so far this year. “I don’t give specific numbers when it’s less than 10 because people could be identified. “There are deaths every year that happen directly as a result of the flu, which account for about 18 to 20 fatalities. “On average, there are about 400 to 600 deaths a year which are associated with the flu indirectly. “For example, these are people who may have died because of the heart disease, linked to the flu.

The NHS is in the midst of its worst winter crisis, doctors in accident and emergency departments have warned, with many hospitals without even a single free bed. One consultant said that he could not even make any more space in the department’s corridors for new patients to be admitted. The warnings came as Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, said: “We are moving into what is always the most challenging and stressful week of the year for the NHS.” NHS figures show that some hospitals have had barely a single free bed since the middle of November, recording night after night of being “100 per cent” full.


The headteachers of grammar schools have told ministers that a loophole allowing parents to get their children into schools is being abused. In 2016 The Times reported that tutoring agencies were paying children to sit 11-plus tests and leak information about the questions. Parents then pay companies to find out which questions would feature and entered their child for a late sitting of the same exam. The Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA) has asked the Department for Education to stop the abuse. Jim Skinner, its chief executive, told The Sunday Telegraph: “It is a concern that we have raised with the department . . . The concern has become greater in the last couple of years.”

Ivory trade

The UK will be “front and centre” of global efforts to end the trade in ivory, Michael Gove vowed, as conservation groups urged the Government to act quickly to implement a proposed near-total ban on sales. There have been more than 60,000 responses to a public consultation on the Government’s plans to ban the sale of ivory items, with the overwhelming majority in favour of the prohibition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. Environment Secretary Mr Gove said the scale of the response – including 30,000 submissions during Christmas week – underlined the strength of feeling about the issue. The consultation closed on 29 December and the Government has promised to publish its response shortly. Conservation charity WWF’s chief executive, Tanya Steele, said: “The scale of the public response – including over 60,000 who signed a WWF petition – shows just how strongly the British public feel about the need to end this mindless slaughter. “The Government must now act quickly. On average 55 elephants a day are killed. Every day we wait is a day too long.” Mr Gove said: “It is imperative we halt the decline in the elephant population to protect these wonderful animals for future generations.  “Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol and we are ready to take radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species.

Ice age

A DRAMATIC cool down in global temperatures lasting at least three decades could lead to catastrophic food shortages across the world, a researcher has warned. A bombshell study from a team of scientists, led by professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University, suggests Earth will enter a cooling phase within the next few years. Zharkova and her team came to their alarming conclusions by producing a mathematical model of the sun’s magnetic fields. Her findings suggest a “huge reduction” in solar activity for 33 years between 2020 and 2053 will cause global temperatures to plummet. As solar activity decreases, temperatures will dip to freezing lows not seen since the 1600s – a period known as Maunder Minimum, her model predicts. During the last Maunder Minimum, between 1645 to 1715, temperatures plummeted low enough to freeze over the River Thames in London. Zharkova said the next mini ice age will be “slightly shorter” but no less brutal. Speaking to Sputnik, she explained: “They keep repeating every 350-400 years because the Sun goes through this [period of] minimum activity. She said planet Earth has “natural mechanisms” designed to withstand ice ages and has done so “for billions of years and survived”. However, Zharkova said there is a risk crops “won’t be able to grow properly”, meaning food supplies could dwindle across the world.

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