Article 50 Bill

Times
Theresa May has promised to give parliament the final say over the future of citizens of EU countries living in Britain, in effect preventing her from using it as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations. This final concession helped get the legislation to trigger Article 50 cleared in the Commons last night, after the third reading was backed by 494 MPs, with 122 voting against. Fifty two Labour MPs opposed triggering Article 50, five more than last week; while 163 voted for it, four less than last week. As the final vote of the evening was taking place, SNP MPs whistled and sang Ode to Joy, the anthem of the European Union. The legislation will now go to the Lords.

Independent
Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs have been caught staging an unusual musical protest against Brexit as the House of Commons voted on whether Theresa May should be allowed to trigger Article 50. A group of anti-Brexit MPs sang Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” while MPs filed through the division lobbies during the crucial vote. The song is the official anthem of the European Union. The famous piece was composed by Beethoven in 1824 as part of his 9th Symphony and uses words from an earlier poem by Friedrich Schiller. It was adopted as the official EU anthem in 1972. A small group of SNP MPs began whistling the tune as the Commons voted on the crucial third reading of the Government’s European Union Bill. As other MPs joined in, the whistling developed into humming and then outright singing, with one MP even standing in front of the SNP benches to conduct their colleagues.

Labour Party

Telegraph
Jeremy Corbyn saw one of his key allies walk out of the shadow cabinet on Wednesday night as the Labour leader was forced to deny he is preparing to stand down. Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary, resigned as he joined more than 50 MPs to vote against triggering formal Brexit negotiations, prompting rumours of a future leadership challenge. Senior Labour sources said that Mr Lewis’s resignation, which comes after 17 other front-benchers defied the Labour leader, had left Mr Corbyn increasingly isolated. It follows reports that the leader has already spoken to aides about his departure date amid claims that Labour is working on a handover plan to allow him to step down.

Times
Jeremy Corbyn was hit with a new high-profile resignation from his shadow cabinet last night as he suffered another rebellion over Brexit. Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary once seen as a close Corbyn ally, became the most prominent Labour figure to quit after concluding that he could not “in all good conscience” back a bill allowing the government to trigger the Brexit process. The move was seen by many Labour MPs as an attempt to position himself as the successor to Mr Corbyn. His resignation came hours after the Labour leader’s advisers were forced to deny rumours that he was planning to stand down before the next election.

Guardian
Clive Lewis, the MP for Norwich South, has resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet as the government’s Brexit bill was passed overwhelmingly by MPs, completing its passage through the House of Commons without a single amendment. The historic bill was passed overwhelmingly, by 494 votes to 122, and will now pass to the House of Lords, where Labour and Liberal Democrat peers will press for concessions on key issues including the status of European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom. But its emphatic passage through the Commons means that Theresa May appears to be on track to meet her self-imposed deadline of triggering article 50 – and starting the formal process to quit the EU – by the end of March.

Sky News
One of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest left-wing allies has walked out of the Shadow Cabinet as MPs overwhelmingly backed the Government’s Article 50 Bill. Clive Lewis, tipped as a future Labour leader, resigned as Shadow Business Secretary minutes before defying the Labour leader and voting against the Bill. Amid noisy scenes in the Commons, the Government had a massive majority of 372 as MPs voted by 494 votes to 122 for the Bill’s third reading. After the Bill was passed, Mr Corbyn tweeted: “Real fight starts now. Over next two years Labour will use every opportunity to ensure Brexit protects jobs, living standards & the economy.”

ITV News
Jeremy Corbyn has been accused by the Tories of leading a “hopelessly divided” Labour Party after Clive Lewis quit to vote against the Brexit Bill. The senior frontbencher defied a three-line whip after promising last week he would vote against the legislation if amendments to safeguard against a “hard Brexit” were not passed. In total, 52 Labour MPs rebelled against Mr Corbyn’s orders and voted against triggering Article 50 on Wednesday night.

Bercow

Independent
Theresa May has declined to give her “full confidence” in John Bercow, after his extraordinary attack on Donald Trump in the House of Commons on Monday, when the Speaker said the US President would not be welcome to address Parliament in his upcoming state visit. Mr Bercow told the House of Commons that he was “strongly opposed” to the President addressing Parliament, and an invite to do so was “not an automatic right” but an “earned honour”. Asked for her reaction to Mr Bercow’s remarks, her spokesperson said: “What John Bercow suggests to Parliament is a matter for Parliament. “What I will set out is our position, which is we’ve extended this invitation to the President and we look forward to receiving him later this year.”

Guardian
Conservative MPs have urged Theresa May to clear the way for a vote of no confidence in the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, after his outspoken remarks about the US president, Donald Trump, earlier this week. One backbencher, James Duddridge, the MP for Rochford and Southend East, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that she would offer ministers a free vote if a vote of no confidence is called. Backbenchers told the Guardian they have already approached the clerks of the House of Commons to ask whether they can table a motion – though it would be unlikely to succeed. Bercow infuriated some MPs when he said he would not countenance the idea of Trump addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.

Breitbart
Conservative MPs are reportedly planning to call for a vote of no confidence in House of Commons Speaker John Bercow after he effectively banned U.S. President Donald J. Trump from speaking in Parliament. ITV Political Editor Robert Peston claims to have obtained a copy of a question Conservative MP James Duddridge was planning to put to the Prime Minister earlier on Wednesday, asking her what ministers would do if there were a confidence vote. The text reads: “There is a good tradition of the government not interfering in House matters. Will my right honourable friend, therefore, give me the assurance that the government will not interfere and will give minsters a free vote in any vote of no confidence in the Speaker?”

EU

Express
BRUSSELS is set to blow £400 million renovating a 40-mile stretch of motorway in Poland whilst British roads crumble following decades of neglect. Eurocrats announced a modernisation project for the DK7 highway near the city of Gdansk, on the Baltic coast, which will cost an eye-watering £10 million per mile. A spokesman for the EU Commission explained that the cost was “higher than usual” because of the geography of the area, a former delta of the River Vistula which includes “very unfavourable soil conditions”. British taxpayers will be expected to stump up just under £50 million for the project even though the country is set to leave the bloc, because the funding commitment has already been made. Whilst northern Poland gets a shiny new motorway the UK’s road infrastructure is on the verge of collapse and has been compared to those of Namibia and Puerto Rico.

Sky News
Brussels is bracing itself for Theresa May to trigger Article 50 on 9 March – but actual Brexit negotiations are unlikely to start until June. Manoeuvring Senior EU officials have been pushing London to formally notify EU leaders at the next council summit in a few weeks, to avoid clashing with the French elections in April. If the Brexit trigger Bill, currently going through Parliament, doesn’t face difficulties in the Lords it will be given Royal Ascent on 7 March, two days before the European Council summit. This also avoids causing offence at the end of March, when Europe celebrates 60 years since the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the EU. Formal notification from the UK, which comes in the form of a letter, will not see the start of negotiations. An emergency EU Council meeting of the 27 will need to take place first.

Breitbart
Austria is joining forces with 15 other Eastern European countries to stem the flow of migrants northwards, as they believe the European Union (EU) has failed in its duty to protect the region’s borders. Under the banner of the Balkan Frontier Defence Project, the countries will ensure that their police and military forces are in constant contact to ensure the vigilant protection of the national borders northwards of Greece, and repelling illegal immigrants from those borders. Austrian Defence Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil (SPÖ), told
Die Welt: “We do not believe that the EU’s external borders are adequately protected so far by the EU. That is why Austria, together with 15 other countries along the Balkan route and the Visegrád states, is planning a close cooperation in the framework of a new Balkan frontier defence project.

Education

Times
The new generation of grammar schools will be highly selective and cater only for the brightest 10 per cent of children. While the country’s 163 grammars typically aim to admit the top 25 per cent of pupils by academic ability, Theresa May’s planned expansion of the system is expected to be more elite in an attempt to reassure local schools that not all top pupils will be selected. This will make the new grammars more selective than all but the top private schools. Under the plans, a standardised 11-plus exam could be drawn up to prevent “test tourism”, when parents travel long distances to sit exams where their children are most likely to receive a grammar place, the prime minister’s advisers suggested.

Mail
The new wave of grammar schools will take only the brightest 10 per cent of pupils. Under current rules, grammar schools select the top 25 per cent of high-achieving pupils. The new wave of highly selective grammar schools are expected to open in 2020, minutes from a government meeting with the Grammar School Heads’ Association revealed. They say the schools are likely to have a ‘narrower ability range’ – closer to 10 per cent. Ministers are also considering a new ‘national selection test’ to replace the 11-plus. It is understood the test would be designed to be ‘coaching-resistant’ in an effort to break the middle class stranglehold on selective schools.

NHS

Independent
Nurses at NHS hospitals are treating patients in corridors because of severe overcrowding in A&E departments. Footage taken by the BBC shows patients waiting more than four hours to be seen at Royal Blackburn Hospital, where at one point last week 33 beds were available for 95 seriously ill people. Nurse Danielle Turner told the broadcaster: “We actually have corridor nurses now as well, which shows times are very desperate”. Doctors have warned of worsening conditions in overstretched NHS hospitals, said to be at breaking point due to overwhelming demand and bed shortages – with the number of patients on wards reportedly at unsafe levels at nine out of ten NHS trusts in England.

BBC News
Record numbers of patients spent more than four hours in accident and emergency units in England in January, figures leaked to the BBC suggest. During a difficult winter for the NHS, January appears to be the worst performing month since the four-hour target was introduced. The figures also suggest record numbers of people waited longer than 12 hours for a hospital bed once seen in A&E. The BMA said the prime minister could no longer “bury her head in the sand”. And it accused the government of failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation in the NHS. But a spokesman from the Department of Health said the vast majority of patients were seen and treated quickly, and busy periods in hospitals were supported by an extra £400 million of funding.

Social care

ITV News
The elderly and vulnerable are facing desperate waits for
social care in England, despite being told they qualify for council funded care visits. An ITV News investigation found people waiting over six months for their promised care at seven different councils. And one local authority admitted leaving someone in limbo for over a year before their care package could begin. In total, 42 councils – over half of the 80 which responded – said they had recorded waiting times of over a month.

Mail
Elderly people who are told they qualify for home care are having to wait up to a year for their first visit from a carer, shocking figures revealed last night. A survey of councils revealed many vulnerable people routinely face delays of more than six months before they get the help they need with tasks such as washing, dressing, cleaning and cooking. Under one authority, the delay for delivery of an adult social care package stretched to longer than a year. The waits faced by older people, usually those with serious health and disability problems, were revealed in a survey conducted by ITV News.

Scotland

Express
SCOTLAND could be set for a second independence referendum as early as August next year as rumours grow First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to make a major announcement. Sources within Scotland, both in the SNP administration and in the country’s opposition Tory party, indicated the likelihood of another vote was growing by the day. Prime Minister Theresa May is believed to already be working on a contingency plan amid fears demand for another vote could be impossible to ignore in just a matter of months. And after the House of Commons voted through the Brexit Bill last night, plans could be accelerated.

Foreign aid

Times
Hundreds of millions of pounds in overseas aid is lost to fraud every year undetected by the Department for International Development, an auditors’ report suggests. Only 0.03 per cent of the £10 billion a year spent on aid is recorded as fraudulent by the department run by Priti Patel, even though it sends money to many of the world’s most corrupt countries. The implausibility of such low levels of fraud is spelt out by the National Audit Office in a report on waste in the aid budget. Although the auditors do not attempt to quantify the scale of unreported fraud, they highlight that other agencies and departments admit to significantly higher levels of misused money.

Mail
Fraud allegations involving Britain’s £12billion aid budget have quadrupled in the five years since David Cameron’s spending target was set, a damning report reveals today. The official watchdog said pledging 0.7 per cent of national income to foreign aid – and targeting ‘fragile’ states – had increased risk of wrongdoing. Some taxpayers’ money may even have ended up in the hands of extremists, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned. Its report found there were 429 fraud investigations in 2015/16, compared with 102 in 2010/11 – the year Mr Cameron came into office and set the 0.7 per cent target. The NAO said at least £3.2million was lost last year through fraudulent activity, a third of which was never recovered. It also warned that, in the first nine months of the current financial year, there were 475 fraud cases – higher than the total for the whole of the previous year.

Express
PRESSURE is mounting on the Tories to ditch David Cameron’s commitment to minimum spending on foreign aid – after official figures revealed a quadrupling of fraud. Critics of Britain’s £12billion aid budget, have pointed to a National Audit Office (NAO) report which revealed an explosion in fraud since the 0.7 per cent of GDP figure was introduced. The watchdog found that the Department for International Development’s fraud caseload quadrupled between 2010/11 and 2015/16 to 429. Reforms introduced by Mr Cameron to plough billions more into overseas support and change the way it is targeted could increase the risk of wrongdoing, according to auditors.

Guardian
Fraud investigations involving foreign aid have quadrupled over five years as more public money is given to “fragile” countries, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has found. Reforms introduced by David Cameron to increase funding and assign it to unstable nations have increased the risk of wrongdoing, according to the National Audit Office. In a report released on Thursday, the NAO said it was “particularly challenging” to detect fraud in more than half of the spending of the Department for International Development (DfID) spend because the money was routed through other international organisations, such as the United Nations or World Bank. Financial crimes in UN organisations are believed to be under-reported and the problem could be “significant and endemic”, the report said. Auditors also outlined the difficulties facing officials when operating in countries where bribery can be seen as a “cultural norm”.

Morning Star
FRAUD investigations involving foreign aid have rocketed, the National Audit Office (NAO) reported yesterday. The NAO found that in the five-year period from 2010/11, the Department for International Development (DfID) fraud caseload quadrupled. The report showed an 11 per cent increase in the number of cases by the end of December 2016. The major fraud allegations involve countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Reforms introduced by former prime minister David Cameron to change the way aid is targeted in fact increased the risk of wrongdoing, according to the watchdog. It warned that it was difficult to detect levels of fraud due to the money now being channelled through other organisations including the United Nations and the World Bank.

Child refugees

Mirror
Tory ministers are quietly ending a scheme to move stranded child refugees to Britain after accepting just 350 of them. The number is barely a tenth of the 3,000 demanded by 84-year-old peer Lord Dubs, who fled the Nazis to Britain as a child. Lord Dubs won a victory last year when he amended the Immigration Act, forcing Britain to accept unaccompanied child refugees who had already made the dangerous crossing to Europe. Until then the government was taking refugee children with family in Britain, or from camps near warzones – leaving many stranded in the Calais Jungle camp. But a bid to help 3,000 children under the so-called Dubs amendment was downgraded to a “specified number” after government pressure.

BBC News
A key route into the UK for children caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis is to close after a total of 350 arrivals. In a written ministerial statement, the Home Office said it would stop receiving children via the so-called Dubs amendment at the end of March. The law, designed by peer and former refugee Lord Dubs, aimed to help some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children across Europe. The peer has accused ministers of a “shameful” decision. 
A legal challenge on how the government has handled the legal commitment will go ahead on Friday. Ministers accepted the Dubs amendment last year after months of pressure from campaigners and members of the public to take children from the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais.

Sky News
Lord Alf Dubs – the man behind the so-called Dubs Amendment – has called the decision for the UK to stop accepting lone child refugees “shameful”. Last year, following intense pressure, the Government made changes to the UK’s Immigration Act to allow the relocation of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe. Although the exact number of migrants to be taken was never specified, campaigners originally called for 3,000 under-18s to be accepted into the country. However, a written statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill has shown that the scheme will be closed once 350 children have been brought to the UK.

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