Stoke by-election

Labour is to send Diane Abbott and John McDonnell to Brexit heartlands in an effort to ‘take back control’ from Ukip. Amid sliding poll ratings for Jeremy Corbyn’s party, the senior MPs – both of whom have represented metropolitan London seats for decades – are to take part in a series of events around the country. Starting in Sunderland in April, the campaign will also visit Barnsley, Bradford, Plymouth and Dagenham.  The Take Back Control campaign is aimed explicitly at trying to stop voters deserting Labour for Ukip and helping people break free from the control of ‘economic elites’. Among the team being sent on the road by Labour are Clive Lewis and Rachael Maskell, who quit the shadow cabinet this month to vote against implementing Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn’s key allies in Westminster are set to take part in a series of events in Labour’s heartlands where Ukip represents a serious threat to the party. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, are among the senior Labour MPs to appear at the events in marginal constituencies, starting in Sunderland on 1 April.  Clive Lewis and Rachael Maskell, who both recently resigned from the shadow Cabinet, are also set to appear at the events arranged by The World Transformed – an organisation that has grown out of Momentum, the grassroots group of activists behind Mr Corbyn’s election and re-election as Labour leader. The events will launch at the beginning of April and aim to “bring together Leave and Remain voters, make sense of the Brexit negotiations and discuss how voters take back control from economic elites and establishment politicians”.


EUROSCEPTIC MEPs today lined up to tear into fresh plans to ramp up federalisation of the bloc which they said were an attempt to create an “EU superstate” which would ultimately bring about its demise. Politicians on both the left and right savaged proposals by Brussels’ Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, which would centralise European economic policy and severely reduce the influence of the member states.  One furious Italian MEP described the euro currency as a “criminal project” which had wrought economic devastation on the continent, whilst others blasted the project as “finished” in its current state. But europhile politicians defended calls for more European integration, saying only through greater pooling of powers can they combat the range of crises facing the struggling bloc.  In a report put before the EU parliament in Strasbourg today Mr Verhofstadt, who will represent MEPs in the Brexit talks, presented a range of ambitious proposals which would merge Europe’s foreign and economic polices together. 

European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt accused British Eurosceptics of destroying Winston Churchill’s legacy in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The well-known federalist told MEPs that the former British prime minister would have opposed Brexit at the referendum, before calling for a raft of reforms which would strengthen Brussels’s power. The row broke out at a debate on the future of the European Union (EU) after UKIP MEP and former leader Nigel Farage said Verhofstadt’s vision of “more Europe” lacks popular support, speaking of “the global revolution of 2016; Brexit, Trump, [and] the Italian rejection of the referendum”. “Mr Verhofstadt this morning said that people want more Europe; they don’t. The people want less Europe. And we see this again and again when people have referendums and they reject aspects of EU membership,” Mr. Farage said. The former Belgian Prime Minister hit back, telling MEPs: “The Eurosceptics in this house can twist and turn the words from the British Bulldog all they want. It is a fact that they have professionally squandered Winston Churchill’s legacy.

WEAKER than expected growth across the eurozone proves “the need” for the EU to continue its current free trade terms with post-Brexit Britain, economic experts insisted. The EU’s own statistics office this morning revised downwards their estimates for growth among the 19 eurozone countries in the last three months of 2016, from a 0.5 per cent to 0.4 per cent increase in GDP. Germany, the bloc’s powerhouse economy, mirrored the lower than predicted growth figures for the whole eurozone – with the nation’s own statistics body outlining a 0.4 per cent boost to GDP for the country in the same period, below an expected 0.5 per cent increase. Italy also fell 0.1 per cent short of expected growth in the final quarter of 2016, with the country’s economy expanding 0.2 per cent. Commenting on the growth figures, top economist Patrick Minford claimed they revealed how “fragile” the eurozone economies are, with Italy’s banking system in particular in “terrible trouble”.

The European Commission is being asked to consider issuing EU passports to British people in danger of losing their right to free movement after Brexit. The Commission will be forced to consider the proposal if a million EU citizens from across the bloc put their names to an EU citizens’ initiative backing the proposal. European Union citizens’ initiatives were introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2012 to allow EU citizens to help shape the union’s policies through direct democracy. Any initiative signed by one million EU citizens is considered by the European Commission, as long as signatories come from at least a quarter of member states, subject to a quota.  Several initiatives have previously resulted in the adoption of policy stances by the European Commission on subjects ranging from vivisection to water pollution.

THE EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has claimed Europe “cannot afford to lose” Scotland in a desperate bid to upset the UK as the Prime Minister prepares to trigger Article 50. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister who is set to play a key role in Brexit negotiations, used the romantic sentiment of Valentine’s Day to suggest relations between the EU and Scotland may not be over. He told The National: “Europe hasn’t forgotten that a large majority of the Scottish people voted to remain. “We need the Scottish people and their firm European beliefs. “Scotland has shaped European civilisation, through iconic figures such as David Hume, Alexander Fleming and Adam Smith and still does so today by being at the forefront of defining and strengthening European values. 
We cannot afford to lose that.”

Nigel Farage has pointed out that the European Union has no future in its current form and that the EU elite are in for a big shock in 2017, in a speech made in the European Parliament this morning. Farage warned that the EU’s disastrous Euro project has hurt Greece and that the Common Asylum policy has made European cities less safe. He also called out EU fanatic Guy Verhofstadt, countering his claim that citizens want more EU. “They don’t, we see this again and again when people have referendums and reject aspects of EU membership.” Farage pointed out how many at the top of the EU probably despise their own voters given that only 20% in a recent poll want to see migration from Muslim countries continue. The poll showed that 55% of those across Europe oppose such migration. The former UKIP Leader pointed out that the EU is still blind to the fact that even Angela Merkel has made a u-turn on migrants and ended by claiming that the “EU has no future at all in its current form,” with a big shock in 2017 likely to be delivered as in 2016. 
Spot on Nige!

Article 50

David Davis has indicated the UK is unlikely to trigger Article 50 and kick-start the formal Brexit negotiations at the European Council summit in early March. The comments from the Brexit Secretary come following reports that Downing Street was preparing to invoke the two-year mechanism for Britain’s exit from the EU during the two-day European Council summit in Malta beginning on 9 March. When asked at a news conference in Stockholm whether Theresa May intended to serve notice of Article 50 to the 27 other EU leaders at the summit, Mr Davis replied: “The 9th or 10th is not a date I recognise in terms of our timetable. What we have said is by the end of March, sometime during March.” He added: “I’m confident that we’ll do it before our timetable but not necessarily before the one you played out”. A Downing Street source supported the Brexit Secretary’s comments.

Critics of the Brexit bill are increasingly confident that they will be able to win a vital parliamentary battle in the House of Lords, a senior opposition peer said on Tuesday. Dick Newby, the leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords, said he was confident that enough peers would back amendments on issues such as the rights of EU citizens and parliamentary votes on the final Brexit deal to defeat the government and force a rethink. He spoke on the same day that Brexit secretary David Davis admitted that he expected the bill to “ping pong” back to the House of Commons with amendments over the next fortnight. The Brexit bill was passed by MPs last week without amendment despite the efforts of Labour, the Lib Dems and a handful of rebel Conservatives. Newby said he expected around 230 Labour and Lib Dem peers to back an amendment on EU citizens, as well as most of the crossbenchers and at least two Tory peers. With a number of Tory peers also expected to abstain, he said those numbers should easily defeat the government.

Sky News
David Davis has admitted the Government’s hopes of triggering Article 50 early next month are likely to be dashed by the House of Lords. Theresa May had hoped the Article 50 Bill would clear the Lords unamended on 7 March and receive Royal Assent in time for a summit of EU leaders on 9 March. But in a U-turn after making confident predictions last week, the Brexit Secretary has admitted he is now expecting “ping pong” between the Lords and the Commons. Speaking during a visit to Stockholm, Mr Davis conceded that peers will pass amendments to the Bill, saying he was expecting the House of Lords to “do its job of scrutiny”. “We’ll have some passing backwards and forward,” he said at a news conference alongside Sweden’s EU and trade minister Ann Linde. “We call it ping-pong, you can imagine why, backwards and forwards of the Bill, but I expect that to be resolved in good time before the end of March.”


The Supreme Court Brexit ruling may affect attempts to take legal action against Tony Blair and other “state officials” over their role in the Iraq War, it has emerged. Bereaved families of soldiers who died in Iraq are now appealing for funds to pay for an expert constitutional lawyer to examine exactly how January’s controversial Brexit judgement may help or hinder any case against those who took Britain to war. By Tuesday afternoon, the families had raised £14,800 of their £22,000 target in little over 24 hours, with the comments of those donating including “for the sake of justice, this has to go forward”, and “Blair should have to account for his actions. It’s a disgrace that it has to be privately funded.” The Iraq War Families Campaign Group started exploring the possibility of taking action against Mr Blair and others after July’s Chilcot report delivered a damning verdict on how Britain went to war in 2003. After an emotional press conference in which the grieving sister of one of the 179 British servicepeople killed in Iraq described Mr Blair as “the world’s worst terrorist”, the families rapidly raised £159,000 to explore the possibility of a legal case. The money was used to employ lawyers to go through Sir John Chilcot’s 5,000-page, 2.6m-word report with a fine tooth comb to see whether legal action was possible.

Trump visit

The Government has officially rejected a petition calling for Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK to be cancelled. Nearly two million people signed the petition on Parliament’s website, with the number still rising. In a written response the Foreign Office, the Government said it did not agree with the request and would extend “the full courtesy of a state visit” to the US President. The Government’s statement says: “HM Government believes the President of the United States should be extended the full courtesy of a state visit. We look forward to welcoming President Trump once dates and arrangements are finalised. “HM Government recognises the strong views expressed by the many signatories of this petition, but does not support this petition.

Morning Star
DONALD TRUMP will be given the “full courtesy” of a state visit to Britain later this year, the government insisted yesterday, despite a petition against the plans for a taxpayer-funded welcome receiving 1.85 million signatures. A Foreign Office statement said the government “recognises the strong views expressed by the many signatories of this petition, but does not support this petition.” It added: “This invitation reflects the importance of the relationship between the United States of America and the United Kingdom. At this stage, final dates have not yet been agreed for the state visit.” Support for the call to downgrade the US president’s visit gained traction after he imposed a travel ban on nationals of seven Muslim majority countries. The government was compelled to reply to the petition because it garnered more than 10,000 signatures. MPs will debate it in the Commons on Monday.

Council tax

Labour has warned of a council tax “bombshell” after documents showed bills are to rise by 25% by the end of the decade. Research by the House of Commons library revealed ministers expect town halls to scoop almost £6billion extra a year in council tax by 2020. If shared equally across each home, it would mean the average band D household paying an extra £371 a year by then. Shadow Local Government Minister Jim McMahon said: “What we have on our hands is a council tax bombshell.” The extra cash represents a 25% rise on the £22billion raked in by councils in England in 2015. It is the cumulative effect of annual 2% council tax hikes allowed over the five-year period, plus two further 3% increases unveiled by Theresa May last year to help cover the cost of social care. Mr McMahon blasted the Prime Minister for failing to address the social care crisis and leaving it to councils to hike taxes.

Business rates

Amazon will have business rates cut at most of its warehouses while high street stores are forced to pay more. The American internet giant, which has faced allegations of tax avoidance and reported quarterly profits of $750 million this month, is expected to have the rateable value of some of its vast premises reduced from April as part of an overhaul of taxes. Amazon prompted anger when it emerged in 2015 that it had paid £11.9 million in tax while its Luxembourg unit took £5.3 billion of sales from British internet shoppers without being subject to UK levies. Asos and Boohoo are among other online retailers forecasted to pay less or the same in rates for warehouses in the north of England.

NHS surgeries and hospitals will be forced to shell out an extra £635million over the next five years in England and Wales due to the hike in business rates. Health trusts already struggling to plug black holes in their budgets have threatened legal action – and bosses warn the increased fees will worsen their finances even further. Rates will rise by a third on average by 2021, but some hospitals will have their charges doubled – with Peterborough City Hospital set to see rates jump from £2.5m to £4.8m. More than 150 trusts are threatening to mount a major test cast against a local authority unless they’re granted an exemption or rebate. Business rates for hospitals will rise from £328m to £418m in five years, while GPs will see their costs rise from £357m to £332 over the same period. Sally Gainsbury, of the Nuffield Trust think tank, said: “Hospitals are currently overspending at a rate of between £150m and £250m a month. They will struggle to absorb and extra hit like this. “When a hospital has to cut costs, it doesn’t take long before they end up having to look at their staffing numbers, at doctors and nurses.”

Diesel cars

Britain is facing a major health emergency unless diesel cars are taken off the roads, doctors warned last night. Fumes and toxins from diesel cars are already contributing to smog which has been linked to the deaths of 40,000 people a year. But with the Government failing to get a grip on illegal levels of pollution in major cities that number could spiral, experts warned. Health charities, medical leaders and environmental groups yesterday called for a new law to rival Anthony Eden’s Clean Air Act, which 60 years ago ended the ‘pea souper’ smogs that had blighted cities until 1956. That legislation forced an end to coal power stations in towns and cities. Last night charities called for a modern Clean Air Act to bring pollution under control, and a scrappage scheme to encourage drivers to abandon diesel cars. Separately, more than 300 doctors in the Doctors Against Diesel group wrote to Theresa May, calling for a diesel reduction initiative to reduce the impacts of pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and soot.

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