Brexit

Talks seem to be progressing as the UK gives ground, says the Telegraph.

British negotiators expect to clinch a deal on Brexit transition terms as early as this weekend following a series of climbdowns to secure a deal from the EU, the Telegraph understands.
Sources on both sides of the negotiation said there were now no insuperable sticking points in the negotiations over a deal that would provide a largely status-quo transition until at least December 31 2020.
Negotiators are scheduled to work throughout the weekend in a bid to finalise a legal text for the 21-month agreement that will be hailed by Downing Street as a significant win for Theresa May, and a key stepping-stone on the road to Brexit.

The Express reports a boost for trade.

EUROPEAN big businesses are falling over themselves to set up UK companies so they can continue trading in Britain after Brexit and make sure they are part of the country’s future outside the bloc.
German and Austrian firms are particularly keen to get a foothold in the UK since the vote to leave, it is claimed.
Alexander Altman from accounting firm Blick Rothenberg said opening a UK subsidiary would allow firms to utilise the country’s business culture, employment laws, banking systems and tax rates.
And he claimed the move would allow firms to better manage their imports into the UK and access work permits for staff from their home countries.
He told the Financial Times: “Having an entity in the UK also puts businesses in a position where they could have access to any future preferential trade agreements.”

Russia

Relations with Russia are deteriorating, says the Star, which reports that the PM is prepared to go nuclear.

PRIME Minister Theresa May is prepared to use nuclear weapons if Britain went to war with Russia.
The PM has been taking a tough line against Vladimir Putin this week as Moscow and the UK clash over the poisoning of spy Sergei Skripal.
Fears of war were raised as Russia warned Britain not to threaten a “nuclear power”.
And military chiefs have warned there is a “real risk” of war sparked by Vladimir Putin.
Britain’s main nuclear weapons are the Trident missile armed Vanguard submarines operated by the Royal Navy.

The Sun claims the situation could escalate into war.

BRITAIN is at a “real risk of war” with Russia, a top former military chief has warned.
Admiral Lord West, a member of the Royal Navy, said the world should “get a grip and make some sensible moves” when dealing with the former Soviet State and its president Vladmir Putin.
Lord West said Putin is “extremely dangerous” and “thinks he can get away with anything”, the Daily Star reported.
He added: “If we are not careful, we will end up in nuclear war.”
Prime Minister Theresa May kicked 23 Russian diplomats out of the UK after the Russian diplomat and spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury with a military-grade nerve agent on March 4.

The Independent reports on the Russian ‘dirty money’ in the UK.

Senior MPs are poised to probe the flow of dirty money flooding into the UK amid escalating tensions with Russia  over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter, The Independent understands.
The Treasury Select Committee is understood to be in talks with other high-level Commons committees over a potential investigation into money laundering by criminal gangs and corrupt billionaires in the wake of the attack on Sergei and  Yulia Skripal.
London has been seen by some as a desirable place to hide ‘suspicious wealth’, while transparency campaigners have identified £4.4bn worth of UK property from corrupt proceeds. More than a fifth of those properties were bought by Russians, according to Transparency International.
“London is awash with dirty Russian money. The inquiry will look at that,” a source told 
The Independent.

The Sun reports criticism of the foreign secretary for suggesting the Russian president was to blame for the Skripal poisonings.

THE KREMLIN today slammed Boris Johnson after he said Vladimir Putin was personally responsible for the attempt to murder a former spy on the streets of Britain.
Russian officials said the Foreign Secretary’s claims were “shocking and unforgivable” after he pointed the finger directly at the president for the first time.
Speaking in London this morning, Mr Johnson stressed that Britain has no “quarrel” with the Russian people.
He said: “Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision, and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.
“That is why we are at odds with Russia.”
But the Kremlin hit back, saying: “Any reference or mention of our president in this regard is a shocking and unforgivable breach of diplomatic rules of decent behaviour.”

The Morning Star also carries Boris’ comments.

FOREIGN Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russian President Vladimir Putin today of personally ordering the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter.
Mr Johnson further ratcheted up tensions by claiming that it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Mr Putin himself ordered the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in a restaurant in Salisbury.
However, Mr Johnson did not offer any evidence for his claim — in the same way that Prime Minister Theresa May did not when she alleged that it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning.
The Russian government has denied being involved in the poisoning of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and Westminster has yet to present any evidence that would back up its claims.
Moscow has repeatedly requested that Britain send it samples of the suspected nerve agent for testing.

Ireland

The sticking point over the Brexit negotiations continues to be the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, says the Guardian.

Downing Street’s stance on the Irish border is under severe pressure with EU diplomats telling Theresa May she must back down over Northern Ireland’s place in the customs union and MPs warning that hopes of a technological solution to a hard border are unrealistic.
Ahead of three days of talks on the issue this weekend, EU officials said the British government would have to reconsider the possibility of Northern Ireland effectively staying in the customs union and single market, a position it has previously rejected.
The warning was echoed by the Northern Ireland affairs committee in Westminster, which published a report saying there was no evidence that a hi-tech alternative to a fortified border could be made to work in the time available.

The Independent claims the province will have to be tied to the EU indefinitely.

Theresa May is warned today that her pledge of no hard border in Ireland after Brexit can only be achieved if the UK remains aligned with EU rules for the foreseeable future, in a hard-hitting report by MPs.
There is “no evidence” of a technical solution to allow  Northern Ireland to break free from the customs union  and single market without the return of border posts and checks, their report concludes.
The Government’s existing proposals are dismissed as “blue sky thinking” which would be impossible to implement before Brexit day, now just one year away.
Crucially, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee also rejects “a customs border down the Irish Sea” – requiring the entire UK to stay aligned with the EU.
“The UK may need to remain in, or parallel to, the customs union and single market for the duration of the implementation period,” its report states.
That transition period is intended to conclude at the end of the decade – but the EU is insisting on continued alignment with Northern Ireland, unless a different solution can be found by then.

And the Times claims the Irish government is demanding the Prime Minister backtracks.

Ireland’s government is insisting that Theresa May publicly renounce her opposition to the EU’s “backstop” plans for the Irish border which would divide Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mrs May told MPs that the EU’s draft text of a withdrawal treaty was something “no UK prime minister could ever agree to” because it would create a border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. The government has said the plan threatens the “constitutional integrity” of the UK.
Ireland, France and the European Commission are demanding that Britain agree “publicly and unambiguously” that the draft text can form the basis for negotiations. Dublin is threatening to block negotiations unless Mrs May backs down.

The Guardian claims that without sorting out the Irish issue, no deal can be finalised.

The UK cannot get a legally watertight transition deal until it resolves the status of the Irish border as part of a wider divorce settlement with the EU, sources have said, as Brexit  talks move into an intense phase.
Senior UK and EU officials are due to meet this weekend in Brussels, ahead of an EU27 Brexit summit on Friday, when Theresa May hopes to bag the transition deal that British business demands.
But firms will be denied certainty on the transition deal, as EU sources stress the best the UK can get in March is a political text, not a legally binding treaty giving cast-iron security for companies across Europe.
EU negotiators “will make it crystal clear that this agreement on transition is only a political agreement”, a senior source told the Guardian. But even that is on a knife edge. While optimism has risen in recent days, British negotiators will be told they need to move closer to the EU’s insurance option for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland – a proposal that is anathema to the Democratic Unionist party, which is propping up Theresa May’s government.

Sky News looks for evidence.

There is no evidence to support the claim Britain could have a post-Brexit open Irish border without any checkpoints, according to a report by MPs.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee examined whether it is possible to leave the single market and customs union without creating a hard Irish border.
The report concludes it has been unable to find border solutions anywhere in the world which avoid physical infrastructure.
It says greater technical clarity is needed to explain how the current frictionless border will continue.
The Committee Chair Dr Andrew Murrison MP said: “Brexit’s success or otherwise hinges on the UK-Ireland border. Everyone agrees that the border after Brexit must look and feel as it does today.

And the Independent claims it’s all about abortion laws.

The Government is using “devolution as an excuse” to avoid liberalising abortion laws in Northern Ireland, campaigners claim, saying Theresa May is being “held hostage” by her alliance with the DUP.
Ministers have been accused of “extraordinary” inconsistency in their stance, after parliamentary questions revealed that the UK Government might consider imposing same-sex marriage in the province but that it would not intervene on the issue of abortion.
Northern Ireland has some of the strictest laws on abortion in Europe, as women are banned from getting terminations in all but the most extreme circumstances. Rape and incest are not deemed valid reasons for seeking abortions.
More than 130 cross-party MPs and peers have written to  Home Secretary Amber Rudd urging her to relax abortion laws in the province after a key UN committee said forcing women in Northern Ireland to travel for terminations was a “systematic violation” of their human rights.
However, such a move could threaten Ms May’s fragile truce with the DUP, a staunchly anti-abortion party who prop up her Government after she lost her majority in last year’s election.

Social care

The Telegraph claims an exclusive story that tax could rise to pay for social care.

The NHS is set to receive billions of pounds in extra funding later this year with ministers considering possible tax rises on older workers.
Theresa May will today tell Conservatives they must prove to voters that they “care enough” about the NHS if they are to beat Labour on the key battleground of public services.
It is understood there is now broad agreement within the Cabinet that extra money must be provided for the health service.
Some ministers have privately suggested an across-the-board rise in National Insurance to provide new ring-fenced funding for the NHS.

And the Mail claims the extra cash could fund the NHS.

National Insurance could rise by a penny in the pound to fund a major boost in health spending.
The radical plan is being examined by senior Tories looking for ways to prevent a repeat of this winter’s NHS crisis.
While officially still saying there are ‘no plans’ for tax rises, Downing Street is thought to be ‘increasingly keen’ on the proposal, which would raise about £5billion a year.
Tory sources say the Cabinet has accepted the need to ‘make an intervention’ on the NHS in the coming months, which will involve releasing billions in extra cash.
Debate is now raging over how to raise the money. One proposal is to increase National Insurance by 1p, taking the rate paid by most workers from 12 to 13 per cent.

Grooming

Child grooming continues, reports Westmonster.

Child abuse is still taking place in Telford but the police are too scared to confront the gangs because they don’t want to be labelled ‘racist’, according to a man who claims his daughter is currently being groomed.
Westmonster went to Telford to investigate what the reality was like on the ground after news broke that it could be the scene of Britain’s worst ever child grooming scandal.
The first person our reporter spoke to said: “Can I speak to you privately over here? Listen, I know it’s still happening. I know because it’s happening to my daughter right now.”
He said social services have to check her attendance at a local college every day in case she’s absconded to spend time with the grooming gang, or been kidnapped.

Breitbart claims there’s a cover-up.

Counter-extremism campaigner Maajid Nawaz has spoken of his amazement and shame at the “drag” in institutions including the police, the BBC, and politics in responding to the Telford child sexual exploitation scandal, accusing those at the top of society of being paralysed by fear of accusations of racism.
Speaking on Sky News panel-programme 
The Pledge, Nawaz explained the situation and common characteristics shared by the majority of abusers in grooming gangs in the UK. He also took aim at the establishment figures who had attempted to brush the scandals under the carpet, remarking: “A tragedy that has been going on up and down the country and unfortunately the police and local councils have been complicit in covering up this scandal.
“Time and time again, they have found that British Pakistani and Bangladeshi south-Asian Muslim men, like me, have been involved in grooming underage white girls and targeting them in what I would describe as racially-motivated sexual assault.

Education

Schools are under financial pressures, says the Times.

One in seven head teachers is thinking of cutting teaching hours to save money and some are already letting pupils leave early on Fridays.
A study by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and ITV News on the impact of real-terms funding cuts found that one in 20 heads had already reduced hours.
Among 1,300 respondents, nearly all said that their school faced a funding crisis. About six in ten said that their school had already been affected and three in ten said it was about to be affected. One in eight mentioned redundancies; of those, six in ten had made them or planned to do so next year.

Rail travel

There could be train strikes over Easter, says the Times.

Rail passengers face huge travel disruption over Easter after union leaders called strike action in protest over who closes train doors.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said that workers on South Western Railway, the biggest network in the country, will walk out for four days over the bank holiday weekend. Guards will refuse to work from Good Friday, March 30, to Easter Monday. Drivers have been told to work to rule, although most belong to the Aslef union.
RMT leaders said it was an attempt to force South Western “to see sense” over the long-running dispute. Previous strikes on South Western have led to the cancellation of about a third of services.

World Cup

Consideration is being given to how Russia can be punished for the poison attacks by targetting the World Cup, says the Mirror.

The entire World Cup should be postponed until 2019 and moved out of Russia, an MP declared today.
The four-yearly sporting extravaganza is due to kick off in Moscow on June 14, and is expected to be used by Vladimir Putin as a massive PR opportunity for his country.
But Labour’s Stephen Kinnock said Fifa should be asked if it is appropriate after ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury.
Mr Kinnock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we should seriously consider making a co-ordinated approach to Fifa and talk about moving the World Cup to 2019 and have it hosted in another country or countries.

The Times says the country is divided.

Britons are divided over whether England should boycott the World Cup in Russia this summer as more MPs expressed support for the team to stay away after the Salisbury poisonings.
John Woodcock and Ian Austin, Labour MPs, joined a call by Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative, for a boycott, not least to protect fans.
A YouGov poll for The Times found that 34 per cent of people it questioned supported a boycott, 39 per cent wanted the team to take part and 27 per cent were not sure. Among football fans, 32 per cent said that England should boycott, 56 per cent said that the team should go and 12 per cent were not sure. YouGov interviewed 1,986 adults on Wednesday and Thursday.

And BBC News confirms that the video referee will be used in the tournament.

VAR will be used at this year’s World Cup in Russia, FIFA has confirmed.
The introduction of video assistant referees on football’s biggest stage was approved by the governing body’s ruling council on Friday.
Announcing the news, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: “We need to live with the times.”
VAR has been trialled throughout this season’s FA Cup with the potential for it to be used in the Premier League.
However the technology has proved divisive, with a number of VAR-related decisions throwing up controversy.
The decision comes two weeks after FIFA voted to write video assistant referees into the football rule book.

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