Brexit

The Express has a story about the trade Britain is aiming for after Brexit.

BRITAIN’S drive to turbocharge its global trade links after Brexit has passed a crucial milestone with more than 100 experienced trade negotiators hired at a key ministry to strike new deals around the world.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the recruitment meant the UK was ready to take full advantage of the opportunities of breaking free from the
European Union.
The team will also assist the campaign he is spearheading to build trade relationships around the world, promoting British exports and foreign investment into the UK in the run-up to 
Brexit Day.
His department was created by Theresa May when she became Prime Minister last year, to help Britain make the most of life outside the EU.
Opponents have derided the Government for being short of trade negotiators to hammer out deals.
Since Britain joined the EU it has relied on Brussels negotiators to make trade agreements on the bloc’s behalf.
But Dr Fox has told the Daily Express he now has more than 100 people on his team with direct experience of trade talks in a range of different EU and other international institutions.
In total, the department’s specialist Trade Policy Group which includes policy-makers, analysts and lawyers has grown from zero in July last year to more than 450 today.
More than 200 speak more than one language but not all have direct trade talk experience.

Rail travel

Planning to use the rail network over the New Year? You may be disappointed says the Telegraph.

New Year’s Eve rail travel is set to be disrupted because of fresh strikes in long running disputes over the role of guards on trains and other issues.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT)  union on South Western Railway (SWR) and CrossCountry will walk out for 24 hours on Sunday, causing delays and cancellations.
The union is planning more strikes in January against SWR, Southern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and Arriva Rail North in the bitter row over guards.
The CrossCountry dispute is over rosters and Sunday working.
The SWR strike will disrupt services to and from London Waterloo, the busiest railway station in the country.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It’s the continuing failure of the train companies and their political puppet masters in Government to make any attempt whatsoever to resolve the range of separate disputes over rail safety that has led us to call this further action on South Western railway and the responsibility for the disruption that will be caused lays fairly and squarely at their door.

The Guardian also quotes a rail boss as saying it’s all the Government’s fault.

New Year’s Eve rail travel is set to be disrupted because of fresh strikes in long-running disputes over the role of guards on trains and other issues.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union on South Western Railway (SWR) and CrossCountry will walk out for 24 hours on Sunday, causing delays and cancellations.
The union is planning more strikes in January against SWR, Southern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and Arriva Rail North in the bitter row over guards.
The CrossCountry dispute is over rosters and Sunday working.
The SWR strike will disrupt services to and from   London Waterloo, the busiest railway station in the country.
Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary, said: “It’s the continuing failure of the train companies and their political puppet masters in government to make any attempt whatsoever to resolve the range of separate disputes over rail safety that has led us to call this further action on South Western Railway and the responsibility for the disruption that will be caused lies fairly and squarely at their door.

New Years Honours

The practice of giving out gongs to all and sundry at New Year continues. The Mail says pro-Brexiteers will benefit.

Theresa May hands gongs to a powerful Parliamentary ally and several pro-Brexit MPs in the New Year honours today.
The chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories, Graham Brady, is awarded a knighthood.
A veteran MP and close ally of the PM, he gave her his staunch support after the Tories lost their majority in June’s snap election.
Three other senior backbench Tories – who all backed Leave in the EU referendum – are also honoured.
The awards prompted claims last night that Mrs May was handing out ‘political favours’.
But the list was a far cry from previous ones. David Cameron was heavily criticised for rewarding an array of donors, advisers and members of his ‘chumocracy’.
By contrast, there are no major Tory donors on today’s list, and none of Mrs May’s former political advisers and spin doctors who lost their jobs after the election were given gongs. There were also knighthoods for two Labour MPs.

The Telegraph claims the honours will secure Mrs May’s place as Prime Minister.

Theresa May has moved to shore up her future as Tory leader by giving top honours to half of the ruling board of the Conservative party’s influential 1922 committee.
Three of the committee’s six-strong board have received senior honours: Graham Brady, the chairman, and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the honorary treasurer, are knighted; while Cheryl Gillan, a vice chairman, is made a dame.
The support of the 1922 committee is vital for Mrs May to deliver on her promise to serve a full five year term as party leader.
Sir Graham is listened to closely by the leadership and would play a crucial role in any future leadership contest, which would be triggered if 15 per cent of the party’s MPs – 48 at present – write to him requesting one.
All three backed Leave in the European Union referendum, as did a fourth Conservative MP to be honoured, veteran former minister Christopher Chope who receives a knighthood.
The honours would appear at odds with claims from Mrs May after she became Prime Minister that she would bring an end to handing out honours to cronies.

But the Mail wonders why university chiefs have received honours.

Five university chiefs who earn more than the prime minister have received awards in the New Year’s Honours list, it emerged last night.
The university bosses, who earn £1.2million between them, have been rewarded for their services to education.
The decision is likely to raise further questions about the excessive perks provided to those who work at the top of academia.
Leading the honours is Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, who will become a dame.
Professor Beer earns over £363,000 – more than twice Theresa May’s salary – including a £52,600 bonus. Joy Carter, vice-chancellor of the University of Winchester, was also appointed a CBE.
During her tenure one in eight students have dropped out and the university has fallen 20 places in the Times Good University Guide in two years, The Times reported.
Four years ago staff threatened to strike after she was awarded a £28,000 rise. She currently benefits from a pay package of over £280,000.

Foreign aid

The Mail has a story of continued corruption in foreign aid.

UK aid to corrupt countries soared by 10 per cent last year. Almost £1.39billion was sent to the world’s 20 most crooked states last year – up from £1.26billion in 2015.
The money was handed over despite warnings that some of it would be wasted, stolen or even handed to terrorists. The Department for International Development insists it operates a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to corruption.
But critics warn it is wrong to increase aid to countries where there is a clear risk of it being diverted. The Government is committed to spending the equivalent of 0.7 per cent of UK income on foreign aid – £13.4billion last year. Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘Whatever you think about the overall aid budget there is no point simply pouring in more money if it’s going to be stolen.
‘Why would you be giving more money to corrupt countries where there’s every chance it will end up in the Swiss bank accounts of dictators?
‘These are some of the worst regimes in the world and I think people will be shocked we are giving them so much money and even more shocked that it is still going up. 

Passports

What colour are the new passports going to be, asks the Times.

It was, in Theresa May’s words last week, an “iconic” passport whose return would symbolise Britain’s new “independence and sovereignty”. However, in a case of fake blues rather than fake news the Home Office has admitted that the picture Mrs May tweeted of Britain’s passport after Brexit looks nothing like the real thing.
When the image was first unveiled eagle-eyed members of the public, at least those over a certain age, pointed out that the blue looked different from the “iconic” passport that ministers were promising to reintroduce.
“I’m properly confused,” the Olympic rower James Cracknell tweeted. “I remember being really excited when I got my first black passport, does anyone remember them being blue?”

And the Mail claims the number of people wanting Irish passports is soaring.

More than a fifth of all Irish passports issued in the last year went to people living in the UK – a surge which has been directly linked to people wanting to keep living and working in the EU post-Brexit.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said more than 779,000 of the Republic’s identity papers were issued in 2017 – another record figure.
Some 81,752 people from Northern Ireland, who are automatically entitled to an Irish passport, sought the burgundy-coloured document, an increase of almost 20 per cent on the previous year. While in Britain the demand for the documents soared by more than 28 per cent to 81,287.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said it received 785,026 passport applications during 2017 but it only issued 779,184.
Simon Coveney, the Tanaiste, or deputy Prime Minister, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister, said: ‘This is the highest number of Irish passports ever issued in one year. It represents an increase of over 6 per cent compared to 2016 (itself a record-breaking year), and an increase of over 15 per cent since 2015.
‘The number of applicants from Northern Ireland and Great Britain has continued to rise. Overall, almost 20 per cent of the total number of applications received by the passport service this year were from Irish citizens in Northern Ireland or Great Britain.’

NHS

Meanwhile, the Guardian has another story about problems with our health service.

Almost 59,000 patients in England have endured long ambulance waits before being admitted to A&E this winter, according to NHS figures.
Data from the end of November to 24 December revealed that the number of people who waited 30 minutes or longer reached 58,845. Of those, 12,188 waited more than an hour to be seen.
Hospitals are struggling to stick to stringent rules brought in for this winter by NHS England and NHS Improvement, which demand that no patient should have to wait more than 15 minutes.
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “This is an appalling indictment of Theresa May’s neglect of our NHS this winter … [it] paints a bleak picture of this government’s inability to cope with the annual cold snap hitting the health service.”
The pressure the NHS is under is also evident in latest winter figures, which showed that half of England’s paediatric intensive care units were more than 85% full last week.
From 18 to 24 December, more than one-third of England’s children’s care units were completely at capacity, Labour’s analysis showed. 

Flu

And the service could be on the verge of being hit even harder, says the Sun.

AN outbreak of so-called ‘Aussie Flu’ has struck down more than one thousand Brits in the past week.
Government statistics show 1,111 people were  infected with the virus – a 156 per cent jump on the previous seven days.
The sharp rise in cases, released by Public Health England, has been triggered by a surge in two aggressive sub-types of flu.
One includes the so-called ‘Aussie flu’, a strain of influenza A which wreaked havoc on hospitals in Australia during the country’s winter.
The H3N2 subtype triggered two and a half times the normal number of cases in Australia.
Britain’s flu season tends to mirror what has happened there.
Experts fear the virulent flu strain, which has now reached the UK, could prove as deadly as the Hong Kong flu in 1968, which killed one million people.
Usually, just one subtype, either influenza A or B, is responsible for the majority of cases. It spreads much easier in the cold weather.
However, last week 522 cases of type A and 546 cases of type B were recorded across England and Wales – with 43 cases yet to be identified.

Heathrow

Those fighting a third runway at Heathrow airport have come up with another argument, says the Times.

A new consultation on plans for a third runway at Heathrow is illegal because of bias by ministers towards the expansion, councils near the airport have alleged.
In an intervention that threatens to prolong uncertainty over the future of the airport, four Conservative-run councils have said that “a consultation, to be lawful, must be approached with an open mind”.
The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Richmond upon Thames and Wandsworth contend that pro-Heathrow statements made by Conservative ministers including Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, could mean that it is unlawful.
Expansion at the airport has been under discussion for more than a decade. The plan was shelved when David Cameron became prime minister in 2010.

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