Trade talks

Independent
Brexit trade talks are getting off to an acrimonious start in Brussels, with the UK accusing the EU of “cherry-picking” and being too tough before negotiations have even begun in earnest.  Angry British officials have said the EU is trying to impose conditions on the UK that go far beyond the standard of a normal free trade agreement – after the European parliament overwhelmingly backed a no-nonsense negotiating mandate on Wednesday. The EU says that Britain’s closeness to the continent and the interlinked nature of the two economies means the UK government must commit to maintain European standards on the environment, workers’ rights, and safety – including future rules – if it wants trade access.

BBC News
The European Parliament has approved a tough opening position for talks with the UK on its future relationship with the EU. MEPs called on the UK to follow EU policies in a host of areas as the price for an ambitious free trade deal. These range from chemicals regulation to climate change, food labelling and subsidies for companies. This should be with “a view to dynamic alignment” – code for the UK adopting European rules as they are introduced. The wide-ranging resolution also called for measures to ensure that Brexit does not cause gender discrimination, for a crackdown on tax havens with links to the UK, and for a joint UK-EU position at the upcoming UN climate conference in Glasgow in November.

City AM
London looks set for another head-on collision with Brussels as the two sides gear up for trade talks, after the European Parliament said any deal must be based on two areas already ruled out by Downing Street. This morning MEPs gave their backing for chief negotiator Michel Barnier to press the case for a post-Brexit level-playing field and “dynamic alignment” of cross-border rules. “Given the size of the UK’s economy and its proximity, future competition with the EU must be kept open and fair through a “level playing field”, which means guarantees for equal rules on, among other things, social, environmental, tax, state aid, consumer protection and climate matters,” the Parliament said today.

EU

Express
AN OBSCURE loophole in Boris Johnson’s Brexit withdrawal agreement could offer the EU the means to block crucial public investment even though the UK has left the bloc – and the situation must be addressed as a matter of urgency, Steve Baker MP, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) has said. The so-called Northern Ireland Protocol is a clause within the agreement whereby the European Commission would retain jurisdiction over state aid measures which “affect that trade between Northern Ireland and the Union which is subject to this Protocol”.

Telegraph
Industry in the eurozone suffered a dramatic collapse in production in December as output levels dived 4.1pc compared with the same month a year earlier. Production has not fallen faster since the depths of the financial crisis, according to official data from Eurostat, indicating the scale of the crunch facing the sector. Germany led the fall among the big economies with a 7.2pc plunge, with Italy down 4.3pc and France 3.2pc. Compared with November, output across the currency area was down 2.1pc as capital goods, consumer goods, energy production and intermediate goods all fell.

Express
EU BUDGET negotiations have kicked off in Brussels this week and talks have already become heated with five member states face crippling annual payments in order to foot the Brexit bill. European member states will meet for a crucial plenary debate on the bloc’s long term budget today, having failed to reach an agreement after months of gruelling negotiations. Countries are split on how the EU will cover the funding gap left by Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Sky News
MEPs have called for Britain to stay permanently aligned to EU employment, environmental and competition laws as the price of a free trade deal. The European Parliament on Wednesday adopted a resolution setting out the chamber’s views on the forthcoming negotiations between Brussels and London. It calls for “dynamic alignment” of UK and EU rules – which would mean that whenever the EU changed laws, the UK would be expected to follow suit.

Cabinet

Times
The Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith was fighting for his future last night as he looked poised to be one of the biggest casualties of Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. He had been considered safe after securing a power-sharing deal at Stormont. However, Mr Johnson was said to have felt “blindsided” by the deal, which includes an investigation into alleged crimes by British soldiers in the Troubles.

BBC News
Senior ministers are bracing themselves for Boris Johnson’s first major cabinet reshuffle since the Conservatives’ general election victory. The PM will make a number of changes over the next 24 hours although it is unclear how wide-ranging they will be. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said he would be “uncomplaining” if, as some expect, he is sacked or moved. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC reshuffles were often “brutal”, but he was hopeful of staying in post.

Sky News
Boris Johnson will seek to promote more female MPs as he reshuffles the cabinet today – but ministers who fear for their jobs are said to be bracing themselves for the “brutal” process.  The prime minister will look to “promote a generation of talent that will be promoted further in the coming years”, according to a No 10 source. Female MPs in line for promotion include defence minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, former Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Gillian Keegan.

Express
BORIS JOHNSON’s new Cabinet could be filled with Remain-backing ministers in a major blow to those who loyally backed the Prime Minister over Brexit. The dramatic reshuffle is expected to take place on Thursday. But the inclusion of pro-EU ministers is reportedly a ploy for the Prime Minister to show he is putting the explosive few years of Brexit drama behind him. But a government source told the Telegraph: “The labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ were binned as soon as we got Brexit done – no one mentions them now.”

Big Ben

Reuters
Britain’s Big Ben tower at the Houses of Parliament was more badly damaged by German bombs during World War Two than originally thought, experts said on Thursday, as the bill for its restoration rose by nearly 20 million pounds. The 177-year-old tower has been swathed in scaffolding for the past three years as craftsmen refurbish its stonework and famous 12-tonne clock. Being able to get close to the 315-foot (96m) tower has allowed them to spot other problems like damage caused by pollution and asbestos.

Times
The timekeepers at Elizabeth Tower had to abandon attempts to renovate its clock because they lacked the expertise in a litany of blunders over its restoration. Parliamentary authorities admitted last night that the cost of the project, which doubled two years ago, had again risen, from £61.1 million to £79.7 million. The total is £50 million more than the original estimate. The House of Commons Commission blamed “the discovery of extensive Second World War damage, pollution and asbestos”.

BBC News
The cost of repairing the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the famous Big Ben bell, has risen by £18.6m following the discovery of bomb damage and asbestos. The need for more money was only discovered during a survey of the 177-year-old structure in central London. The House of Commons Commission said it was “extremely disappointed” that the cost had risen to £79.7m.

ITV News
An extra £18.6 million is needed to repair the tower which houses Big Ben, parliamentary authorities have been told. The new costs would see the renovation bill rise by almost a third from £61.1 million to £79.7 million. The increase has been put down to the discovery of asbestos, pollution and the discovery of extensive Second World War bomb damage in the Elizabeth Tower, which is home to the capital’s famous bell.

Telegraph
MPs’ grandiose plans for a £5.6billion overhaul of Parliament could be scaled back after the public spending watchdog launched an inquiry into the cost over-runs on the overhaul of the nineteenth century tower which houses Big Ben. Concerns were raised about refurbishment of Parliament – which is due to be emptied in 2025 for a complete overhaul – by the escalating costs of the work on the Elizabeth Tower.

Scotland

Express
NICOLA STURGEON’s dreams to rejoin the European Union were shattered by Conservative MP James Sunderland who exposed a shocking trade deficit with the UK. Nicola Sturgeon  has been campaigning for the ability to hold a referendum on Scotland’s independence so that the country can rejoin the EU following Brexit. But the SNP leader has been declined the vote as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it is a once in a generation vote.

Coronavirus

Mail
The first case of the killer coronavirus has been confirmed in London, bringing the total cases in the UK to nine. The latest victim, a woman, was diagnosed this afternoon and is currently being treated for the illness at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in south London. She is thought to have flown into the UK from China a few days ago, with officials confirming she caught the virus in China.  Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England confirmed the case: ‘One further patient in England has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total number of cases in the UK to nine.

Star
Doctors warned the London Underground could further the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The chilling alert comes after a London woman became the ninth person in the UK to test positive for the deadly virus.  There are concerns the city’s status as a transport hub could exacerbate the spread of the virus, however, doctors have said the risk of infection for residents in the capital remains low. “In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher,” Dr Robin Thompson of Oxford University said.

ITV News
Doctors have warned the London Underground could be a hotbed for the spread of the strain of coronavirus known as Covid-19. The warning comes after a London woman became the ninth person in the UK to test positive for the deadly virus. There are concerns the city’s status as a transport hub could exacerbate the spread of the virus, however doctors have said the risk of infection for residents in the capital remains low.

Times
The first case of coronavirus in London was confirmed last night as the number of people infected in Britain rose to nine. A Chinese woman who flew into the capital a few days ago is believed to be the latest victim. She is thought to have developed symptoms of the virus, known officially as Covid-19, after landing at Heathrow. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that she was moved to the specialist centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust in central London, from which Steve Walsh, the “super-spreader”, was discharged yesterday.

Sun
THE first coronavirus case has been confirmed in London today as the deadly bug spread to the capital. The woman contracted the virus in China and flew to the UK where she tested positive at a hospital in central London this afternoon. It takes the number of cases in the UK to nine as officials scramble to find everyone she had been in contact with. Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England said: “One further patient in England has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total number of cases in the UK to nine.

Telegraph
An eight-month-old baby is thought to be the youngest British person in isolation for suspected coronavirus after being treated by an infected GP. The little boy and his mother have been put into quarantine in their own home after both came into direct contact with the confirmed carrier, his father said. It comes as public health authorities try to trace around a dozen patients treated by the GP last week over fears they could have caught the disease in Worthing Hospital in West Sussex.

Mail
Hospitals have been ordered to establish Coronavirus isolation pods in car parks to keep potentially infected people away from Accident and Emergency Units.  One of the first hospitals in the country to introduce its pod was the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton where Britain’s first cases were confirmed.   The pods are designed to keep people who suspect they may be carrying the virus away from vulnerable people.

Sun
TEMPORARY cabins in car parks are the NHS’ latest weapon in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak — as the ninth UK case was confirmed. Every hospital has been ordered to set up “assessment pods” to keep suspected victims away from A&Es. Anyone thought to have the virus can go there instead and call a specialist team on a dedicated phone. Medics will then test the patient if they are deemed a potential risk — and if positive they will be taken to an isolation ward.

Times
Eight of the nine people known to have coronavirus in Britain have suffered only mild symptoms, raising optimism among health chiefs about coping with an outbreak. Most of those quarantined on the Wirral, in Merseyside, will be released today after two weeks. It is thought that none of the 83 had tested positive after returning to Britain on the first evacuation flight from Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

Terror laws

Mail
MPs passed emergency anti-terrorism laws in a single day today as ministers race to get strict new measures in place before more extremists are released from prison. The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill passed its Commons stages without a vote tonight and will now move to the Lords for further scrutiny, with the government aiming to have it on the UK statute book by the end of the month.  The measures, brought forward by Boris Johnson in the wake of the London Bridge and Streatham terror attacks, will end the automatic early release of convicted terrorists halfway through their sentences and make any early release subject to a Parole Board assessment.

Independent
Boris Johnson’s emergency legislation preventing automatic early release for terrorists halfway through their prison sentences has cleared all its stages in the Commons without a vote. The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill passed unopposed as ministers rushed to get the legislation on the statue book by 27 February – just days before the next terrorist offender comes up for release. But Theresa May, who dealt with multiple terrorist attacks in the UK as prime minister, said that while the government is “right” to be addressing the issue of early release, “terrorist offenders will still be released at some point”.

Labour Party

Mail
Labour was accused of plotting a raid on the middle classes last night after John McDonnell signalled major reforms to inheritance tax. The Shadow Chancellor said he was interested in replacing the current levy with a ‘lifetime gifts tax’ on cash or homes given to children. He claimed the plan, which the Tories say would affect 10 million households, could ensure ‘wealth is more fairly distributed’. At present, the inheritance tax threshold is £475,000, or £950,000 for couples.

Falkland Islands

Telegraph
The Falkland Islands badminton team are facing possible expulsion from an international tournament after Argentina demanded they play as ‘Islas Malvinas’. Organisers of the Pan America 2020 badminton tournament received an extraordinary series of letters from Argentine and Brazilian officials regarding players representing the British territory.  The competition, due to begin on Thursday in Salvador, the state capital of Bahia, Brazil, pits an array of national teams from North and South America against each other – but will not feature Argentina.

HS2

Mail
HS2 trains could run at lower speeds in the North to cut costs, ministers revealed yesterday. And part of the route from Warrington to Wigan may be axed to reduce the £106billion bill. HS2 trains will have a top speed of 225mph, but only on relatively straight stretches of track – around 60 per cent of the line from London to Birmingham but less further north.  Ministers refuse to rule out running some services on existing lines, which have a 125mph limit, saying project bosses have an ‘obsession with getting time off the journey’.

Mail
Boris Johnson will ‘sack’ the government-owned company behind HS2, after attacking the ‘poor management’ of the project.  The Prime Minister acknowledged concerns over the spiralling budget for the development and admitted that the ‘cost forecasts have exploded’.  However, he insisted that ‘poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project’. Mr Johnson added he would now be putting a minister in charge of overseeing HS2 as a dedicated responsibility to avoid ‘further blowouts’.

Guardian
HS2 could run slower north of Birmingham in order to cut costs, Grant Shapps has said as he criticised the project’s “obsession” with cutting journey times. The transport secretary said a review of the planned line from Birmingham to Leeds and Crewe to Manchester could lead to the route changing slightly, possibly making it less straight and therefore lowering the speed. The government argues it would be counterproductive to delay the first phase of HS2, between London and Birmingham, by looking again at costs but wants to re-examine parts of the second phase north of Birmingham to help bring down the price tag, which could exceed £100bn.

Social media

Times
The prime minister is preparing to soften plans for sanctions on social media companies amid concerns about a backlash from tech giants. Yesterday ministers shelved a decision on whether social media companies should face fines, criminal prosecution or be blocked from operating in the UK for failing to protect users. Instead they published an interim response to a consultation and said that a final decision would not be taken until later in the year. They said they were “minded” to appoint Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, to oversee social media companies.

Mirror
British Internet Service Providers could be ordered to block websites that refuse to comply with Ofcom rules under new proposals revealed today. Civil rights campaigners warned the new system could be used to crack down on free speech. Ministers announced plans to expand the broadcast regulator to include regulation of websites which offer “user generated content”. It means sites like FacebookTwitter and YouTube will be required to have a ‘duty of care’ to their users. And they could face warnings, notices and fines if they fail to comply.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email