Brexit

Westmonster
A new poll out from YouGov has shown a growing gap between support for leaving the EU and remaining in it. YouGov’s Eurotrack results for December shows that whilst 48% of Brits asked prefer that the UK leaves the EU, only 39% now say they would prefer for the UK to remain, a 9 point lead for those now full square behind Brexit. An additional 13% of those asked are undecided. That is a big swing since the same firm asked the same question in October. Back then support for leaving had just a 2 point lead. There is also substantial support amongst Brits to leave right now, with 30% favouring an immediate Brexit. 54% prefer an EU exit after negotiations with Brussels have concluded, though many are clearly growing impatient. Interestingly those in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland still want Britain to remain, with majorities in favour of retaining the UK cash cow inside the Brussels club.

Times
The EU will exact a high price in return for allowing Britain’s financial services and airlines access to the single market as part of its plan to stop splits emerging during trade negotiations, The Times has learnt. Two of the EU’s most senior officials have revealed how they plan to maintain unity among the 27 member states in the months ahead. The other tactic will be to exploit “helpful rhetoric” from Brexiteer ministers to scare EU nations with strong trading links to Britain with the threat of a race to the bottom on corporate taxes and environmental standards.

Independent
Germany’s foreign minister has said the UK’s Brexit  agreement could serve as a model for the EU’s relations to other non-member countries in the future. Sigmar Gabriel  said if negotiators created a smart arrangement, it could be used as a map to forge more solid ties with Turkey and Ukraine. The UK is still negotiating its withdrawal from, and future relationship with the EU, with Brexit set to occur on 29 March 2019.  Speaking to Germany’s Funke media group, Mr Gabriel said: “If we can reach a smart agreement with Great Britain that outlines its relations with Europe after Brexit, then that could serve as a model for other countries.” In particular, he foresaw a “new, closer form of customs union” with Turkey, provided the situation in that country improved in relation to human rights under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

BBC News
A “smart” Brexit deal could serve as a model for the EU’s future relations with other non-EU states, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel says. Turkey and Ukraine were two states that could benefit from the template, he told Germany’s Funke media group. He did not see either joining the EU any time soon, so alternative forms of closer co-operation were needed. The UK’s future relationship with the EU, which it is due to leave on 29 March 2019, is still being negotiated. The two sides agreed this month on the three “divorce” issues that took up the first phase of negotiations: how much the UK owes the EU, what happens to the Northern Ireland border and what happens to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK.

Times
The economic impact of Brexit will be “limited” if the government seizes domestic policy opportunities and “looks forward not back”, a former top Treasury mandarin has said. Lord Macpherson of Earl’s Court was permanent secretary to the exchequer for 11 years until last year. He is widely regarded as one of the key authors of “Project Fear”, a term used by Leave supporters when claiming their opponents in the referendum campaign were exaggerating the risks of Brexit. However, he has now suggested that the risks associated with Brexit can be avoided if Theresa May steers the right course.

Sun
More people are expected to flock to the UK than ever before in 2018, according to the national tourism agency. VisitBritain predicts there will be nearly 42 million visits over the next 12 months, with tourists to spend an estimated £27 billion. Total visits for 2017 are on track to hit 39.9 million by the end of the year, with forecasts for 2018 predicting 41.7 million, a jump of 4.5 per cent. The latest official statistics show there were 30.2 million visits between January and September, up 7 per cent on 2016, with tourists from EU countries accounting for around two-thirds of this number. Additionally, visitor numbers from the US rose by around 14 per cent in this period, thanks in part to the draw of the weakened pound following Brexit.

Independent
A UKIP MP has hit out at what he says are secret plans to form an EU Olympic team to keep the UK off the top spot. While Team GB won as many gold medals in Rio as Germany and France combined, the EU 27, which excludes the UK, won 79 medals which would have put them comfortably at the top of the medal table. UKIP’s Bill Etheridge told the Daily Telegraph he believes the campaign is driven by “jealousy” over Team GB’s recent successes in London and Rio. He said the move was a “crazy EU effort to destroy national identity”. Eurocrats apparently believe that the 2036 games, which mark 100 years since Hitler tried and failed to use the sporting competition to prove Aryan superiority, would provide the perfect opportunity to show the world the progress made by the EU.

Sun
MEPs are reported to have held secret talks about entering a mighty EU team into the 2036 Olympics – which could leave British athletes in the shade. It’s been claimed the move would give the European Union a chance to smash Team GB in any final medal table. The Telegraph reports Eurocrats  believe the 100th anniversary of the so-called Hitler Games in Berlin would give them a chance to show the world how much has been achieved by the EU. However, one British MEP has said he believes the idea has been partially driven by “jealousy” over Team GB’s recent successes in London and Rio. British athletes came second to the USA in the medal table in Brazil – with a haul of  67 medals in total. However sports fans were left fuming when a German PR firm printed an “alternative” medals table with a combined EU squad.

Armed forces

Telegraph
Conservative MPs stood on a manifesto pledge of maintaining the strength of Britain’s armed forces and any cuts to the services would be “untenable”, a Tory member of the defence select committee has warned. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Leo Docherty, a former soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, states that rumoured  reductions in the numbers of soldiers and warships are “odd” coming at a time when Islamic State has become “more dangerous” and “a resurgent Russia is probing Nato’s flank”. Mr Docherty’s intervention signals growing unrest over the Government’s approach to the armed forces and a major review being conducted by Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser. Last month Theresa May was warned that she faced a major Tory rebellion unless Philip Hammond could be persuaded to find extra funds for the defence budget.

Rail travel

Guardian
A campaign to return the East Coast rail franchise to public ownership has been launched in protest against the government’s bailout of the Stagecoach-operated Virgin Trains service. More than 10,000 have signed a petition  demanding that the London-Edinburgh line be run by the public sector, following the deal announced last month by the transport secretary, Chris Grayling. As part of a rail strategy published by Grayling, the franchise contract of Virgin Trains East Coast will be terminated three years early, potentially forfeiting up to £2bn in premiums due to the Treasury. The franchise will be replaced by a new partnership, which could well involve Stagecoach, which indicated it would bid to run the line.  East Coast was operated in the public sector from 2009 until 2015, and rail campaigners are now renewing their focus on the intercity line.

Universities

Mail
Students at some universities have drawn up a list of ‘trigger words’ and demanded books containing them should be removed from the library, Jo Johnson has said. The universities minister warned institutions they have four months to clamp down on student zealots who restrict free speech on campuses. Mr Johnson said he has seen too many ‘worrying’ incidents of groups trying to ‘stifle those who do not agree with them’. He warned institutions that they have a duty to intervene and ensure differing points of view can be heard – however controversial. And speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Johnson said students at one university had created an extensive list of ‘trigger words’ and demanded any books containing them be removed from the library.  A new regulator, the Office for Students, will come into being in April 2018 and will have the power to punish universities which do not adequately safeguard free speech. Those falling short could be fined or even deregistered – rendering them effectively unable to operate. It follows incidents in which student unions and societies have banned speakers because they deemed their views ‘offensive’.

Guardian
Jo Johnson, the higher education minister, is facing a backlash from students after he threatened fines against universities that failed to defend free speech on campuses. The government was accused of both exaggerating the issue and failing to listen to student concerns, after Johnson set out the policy in a speech on Boxing Day. He claimed free speech was under threat because some students are denying speaking slots to campaigners who have expressed controversial views, calling for books to be removed from libraries and demanding extensive “trigger lists” of words not to be used. However, a senior National Union of Students   (NUS) official defended its policies, saying it only denied a platform to a small number of extremist groups: Al-Muhajiroun, the British National party, the English Defence League, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK and National Action.

Foxhunting

Times
Thousands of people turned out for 250 legal Boxing Day hunts yesterday amid claims from animal rights activists that foxes were still being killed. Fox hunting was banned in 2004 but trail hunting for an artificial scent continues to thrive. Protest groups say trail hunts are a guise for fox hunting. One of the largest turnouts was at the Heythrop hunt in Oxfordshire, where crowds were estimated to exceed 6,000. Nessie Chanter, joint master, said: “Every year we are humbled by the number of people that turn out whatever the weather to greet us.” At least one fox was killed yesterday at the Thurlow hunt but activists and hunters blamed each other for the incident.

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