Brexit

Today’s big story is a decision by a House of Lords committee that the UK will not have to pay ‘alimony’ for its divorce from the UK. The Telegraph reports:

Britain is not under any legal obligation to pay cash to the European Union after Brexit, a cross party committee of peers has found.
The European Commission has threatened to force the UK to make payments worth £50billion over four years after leaving as part of a “hefty” exit bill.
But House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee said in a report published today that “under international law the UK will not be legally obliged to contribute to the EU budget if an agreement is not reached at the end of Article 50 negotiations”.

The Times reports the legal advice:

Britain can leave the European Union without paying a multibillion-pound “divorce settlement”, government lawyers have concluded.
The legal advice states that there is no law or treaty that can compel Britain to make payments to the EU after Brexit, The Times understands.
It represents a significant boost to Theresa May’s negotiating hand as she prepares to trigger Article 50 within the next two weeks, starting exit talks.
European negotiators are expected to demand up to €60 billion (£50 billion) of financial liabilities that the EU believes it is owed. The bulk of the money consists of funds for projects that Britain signed off as a member but which have yet to be paid for.

And the Guardian also carries the story.

The UK could walk away from the European Union in 2019 without paying a penny, the House of Lords has said, in a report bound to raise tensions with Brussels in the run-up to Brexit talks.
The British government would have no legal obligation to either pay a €60bn (£52bn) Brexit bill mooted by the European commission or honour payments into the EU budget promised by the former prime minister David Cameron, according to analysis by the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee.
In a report published on Saturday, the committee argues that the British government would be on strong legal ground if it chose to leave the EU without paying anything, adding that Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting any money.

The Express claims this is a ‘massive boost’ for the Prime Minister.

BRITISH taxpayers cannot be forced to pay anything into EU Budget should Brexit talks break up without a deal, a parliamentary report said last night.
A House of Lords inquiry into the legal position facing the UK found that international law will not oblige the country to continue contributing to Brussels coffers after leaving the EU.
The expert findings are being seen as a massive boost to Theresa May, further strengthening her hand ahead of the formal start of Brexit negotiations later this month.
And they are likely to be a hammer blow to the demand from senior Eurocrats for Britain to be hit with a swingeing £50billion divorce bill as a punishment for leaving the bloc.

BBC News reports that the fee will not be payable if we don’t reach a deal with the EU.

The UK could exit the EU without paying anything if there is no post-Brexit deal, a group of peers has claimed.
The government would be in a “strong” legal position if the two-year Article 50 talks ended with no deal, the Lords EU Financial Affairs Committee said.
But it warned failure to reach any kind of financial terms would undermine PM Theresa May’s aim of securing continued favourable access to EU markets.
It has been reported the EU may demand a “divorce bill” of up to £52bn.
Mrs May has warned the EU against punishing the UK for voting to leave in last year’s referendum but several EU leaders have said the UK cannot enjoy better arrangements outside the EU than it currently has.
The question of what, if anything, the UK remains financially liable for after Brexit is likely to be one of the flashpoints in negotiations when they begin in earnest.

And the Independent describes the bloc’s claims as ‘hugely speculative’.

Britain will not be legally obliged to contribute towards the European Union’s budget if no exit deal is reached, according to a new House of Lords analysis.
The report from the Lords also claims that calculations of the UK’s so-called “divorce bill” from the EU are “hugely speculative” and almost every element is subject to interpretation. Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, has reportedly placed such a bill close to €60bn (£52bn).
According to the Lords, EU budget payments – likely to be a contentious issue throughout the Article 50 negotiating period – would not be enforceable and the UK would be in a “strong” legal position to not pay a penny if talks ended with no deal.

Sky News urges the Prime Minister to refuse to pay.

Theresa May is being urged to walk away from the European Union without paying a £50bn “divorce settlement” being demanded by Brussels.
Government lawyers are recommending that the Prime Minister should stop paying money to Brussels if Brexit negotiations end in deadlock with no deal.
But the PM is also being warned that withholding cash from the EU could damage the UK’s prospects in the Brexit negotiations after she triggers Article 50.
The highly contentious demand comes in a report by a high-powered House of Lords committee which has examined the legal consequences of Brexit.

Breitbart claims that the timetable for exiting the EU is still on track, according to the Brexit secretary.

Britain will still formally trigger its departure from the European Union by the end of March, the minister responsible for managing “Brexit” said Friday.
David Davis’s comments, during a visit to Bratislava, came just two days after a vote by the House of Lords called that date into question.
When asked by journalists about the date Davis said “Yes”, the conservative government would be able to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty by the end of this month.
A two-year period of negotiations will follow.
The House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber of parliament, voted Wednesday to amend and thereby delay the bill that would allow Prime Minister Theresa May to begin Brexit negotiations.

But Westmonster claims that there are still plans afoot to halt the Brexit negotiations.

The rearguard action aimed at keeping the UK inside the EU is continuing with as many as 20 Conservative MPs reported to be ready to break ranks in order to stop Brexit without the approval of Lords and MPs.
Lords today are looking at ‘amending’ the Brexit Bill so that unelected Peers and MPs in the House of Commons would have to approve of any final outcome from the Brexit negotiations, whether the Prime Minister gets a deal or not.
This would effectively give the pro-EU establishment a last hurrah to try and block Brexit at the last minute by arguing that the outcome of negotiations is bad and that we would be better off calling it all off.
It is absolute lunacy and once again shows the unbelievable levels of arrogance that run deep in Westminster.
If Lords and MPs think for one minute that they overturn the will of the people in two years time then they will reap the huge electoral consequences come the next General Election.
They still just don’t get it.

Calais jungle

In other news, despite the razing of camps housing those hoping to reach the UK from France, hundreds are still pouring into Calais says the Telegraph.

France is struggling to cope with new waves of migrants desperate to reach Britain barely four months after the sprawling Calais “Jungle” shanty-town was bulldozed in an effort to end the crisis.
More than 1,500 migrants, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, are crammed into unheated, waterlogged chipboard huts at a state-funded camp beside the nearby port of Dunkirk, less than 50 miles from Dover. Its population has more than doubled from about 700 before the Calais camp was closed.
Hundreds of other migrants are sleeping rough in muddy woodlands on the fringes of Calais, where the mayor has banned food handouts to try to deter migrants from congregating in the area and setting up new camps.
About 200 migrants arrive in Paris each week from Italy after crossing the Mediterranean in small boats, joining more than 1,000 already in the French capital.

NHS

The Times reports on the hardship being suffered by our nurses.

Record numbers of nurses applied for hardship grants last year to pay their bills, their union said.
The Royal College of Nursing said that more than 700 nurses and healthcare assistants had applied for grants to cope with the cost of food, travel, rent or mortgage payments in 2016, a 50 per cent increase on 2010.
It calculates that nursing staff are 14 per cent worse off in real terms since that year as a result of government policies on public sector pay, frozen for two years in 2010, with annual rises thereafter capped at one per cent.
The college said one in four grants last year went to staff on a full-time salary. The average award was £500.

And the Independent claims the Labour leader will speak at today’s demonstration in London.

Jeremy Corbyn will address a national demonstration on the NHS on Saturday morning, and will call the current crisis in the NHS a crisis “made in Downing Street”.
With new Chancellor Philip Hammond due to deliver his first Budget next week, the Labour leader will say there is “no excuse” for the current failings in the NHS.
When they’ve found the money to cut taxes on big businesses, cut taxes on the richest families, cut taxes for the speculators and cut taxes for the fat cats,” Mr Corbyn will say.
Don’t then tell us there’s no more money for our NHS. There is no excuse. Every person waiting in A&E. Every person on a trolley in a corridor. Every student nurse forced to visit a food bank to make ends meet. Every elderly person denied the care they need. Every time, that is a political choice.
It is this Government saying tax cuts for the few are more important than the dignity and care of the many in their time of need.”

House of Lords

A petition to scrap the upper house has received a response from the government, says the Express.

THE Government has responded to a public petition as it faces pressure from the British public to abolish the unelected House of Lords.
More than 92,000 people have so far called for the Lords to be replaced with an elected membership system as costs hit £100million every year and fall out continues from the Brexit vote.
In a petition to Parliament, tens of thousands of the British public have demanded that the organisation should be completely reworked, claiming it is the second largest unelected political organisation in the world.
The largest political group is the communist China’s National People’s Congress with 2,987 members.

Social care

Policies to be included in next week’s Budget are starting to emerge, with one of the first being a cash injection for adult social care, says the Independent.

The Chancellor should provide an immediate £1.5 billion cash injection for adult social care in next week’s Budget, an influential committee of MPs has said.
The Communities and Local Government Committee said the money was needed to fill the 2019-20 black hold in councils’ funding that would see “acute” pressure on the service intensify.
The Local Government Association, which represents local councils, backed the call and warned that services were “on the brink of collapse”.
The warning comes as tax specialists at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy warned that council tax bills would see their biggest rise in decades to fund overstretched services.
Most councils will be stretching their ability to raise council tax without a local referendum to its maximum.
The Committee is also calling on the National Audit Office spending watchdog to calculate how much extra cash would be needed to close the funding gap for the rest of the Parliament.

Benefits

The Mirror reports a Conservative plan to reduce housing benefits for teenagers.

The Tory government has slipped out its formal plans to cut housing benefits for teenage jobseekers.
The plans — which were in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto — will come into force on April 1 thanks to a law laid before Parliament today.
New legislation will stop certain people aged 18 to 21 being automatically entitled to the housing element of Universal Credit, Housing Benefit’s replacement.
An assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says the move will affect around 11,000 young people and cut £105m from the benefits bill by 2020.
The DWP has published a long list of exemptions for parents, orphans, care leavers, domestic abuse victims, the disabled and those in temporary accommodation.
But 2015 research by Heriot Watt University claimed the policy will save just £3million due to the knock-on effect on those involved.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed the changes, which were published while MPs were away from Parliament.

Sky News also carries the story.

A move to axe housing benefit for jobless 18-21 year-olds – which was postponed because of fierce opposition — will go ahead next month.
The Government has been branded “shameful” and “heartless” towards young people who are old enough to fight for their country but not to receive help with housing costs.
Former chancellor George Osborne announced controversial plans in his 2015 Budget to force young unemployed people to live with their parents or pay their own rent.
The move was put on hold after a backlash, but the Government has now tabled proposals which mean jobless under-22s will no longer qualify for help with their rent.
The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that the change, which will now be debated by MPs, will affect about 11,000 young people and cut £105m from the benefits bill by 2020.

Scotland

Addressing the Scottish Conservative conference, the Prime Minister has warned against a further independence referendum, says Sky News.

Theresa May has told Nicola Sturgeon to stop playing politics with Brexit and has accused the SNP of “twisting the truth to further their obsession of independence”.
In a speech at the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow, the Prime Minister said “politics is not a game” and also condemned the Scottish National Party’s record in government on education.
“A tunnel vision nationalism, which focuses only on independence at any cost, sells Scotland short,” said Mrs May.
“People in Scotland deserve a first minister who is focused on their priorities – raising standards in education, taking care of the health service, reforming criminal justice, helping the economy prosper, improving people’s lives.”
But the first minister had already hit back, claiming her attempts to reach a Brexit compromise had been met by a “brick wall of Tory intransigence”.

BBC News reports Mrs May’s call to continue the union between England and Scotland.

Prime Minister Theresa May has called on her fellow Conservatives to continue “loudly and clearly” putting the case for the “precious Union” of the UK.
During a speech to the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow she said “we are four nations, but at heart one people”.
Mrs May had earlier criticised the SNP-led government at Holyrood for having tunnel vision over a second Scottish independence referendum.
The PM insisted that “logic and facts” were on the side of the UK.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has maintained that a second referendum was “highly likely” because of Brexit.
Voters in Scotland backed remaining in the EU by 62% to 38%. The UK as a whole voted to leave by 52% to 48%.

ITV News has a Scottish story about school reforms.

The Conservatives are planning a root-and-branch review of school reforms in Scotland, claiming the changes are responsible for a “collapse in standards” in education north of the border.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is to announce the work as she makes her address to the party’s conference in Glasgow later today.
The review of the Curriculum for Excellence school reforms will make clear there is a “better way”, with Ms Davidson pledging it will come up with “practical recommendations” for change.
She will tell activists at the conference: “It is time to get rid of the waffle, and the theories that have failed – and restore Scotland’s reputation as providing the best education in the world.”

UKIP

The Independent reports that the party’s main donor will challenge the party’s only current MP at the next General Election.

Arron Banks is “definitely” going to stand in Ukip’s only seat of Clacton in 2020, but in the meantime, Ukip’s millionaire backer and Farage bromancer-in-chief has other plans to unseat Douglas Carswell, the party’s sole MP.
One of the things Douglas Carswell was very strong on was recall of MPs,” Mr Banks says. And he’s right. After his defection to Ukip and by-election victory in 2014, Mr Carswell constantly pressured David Cameron to deliver on his 2010 manifesto commitment to allow constituents to kick out their MPs.
Carswell said that if enough of the constituents voted for it, then their MP should be recalled and they would have to face a second election. So if he’s really going back to the Tories, as people say he is, one of the things I’m looking at is going to the Electoral Reform Society and saying, ‘Let’s have a recall’.

And the Express quotes a former leader’s call for the government to demand a rebate of EU loans it has made.

FORMER UKIP leader Diane James has called on the Government to claw back money it is owed through loans paid out by the European Union’s bank.
The European Investment Bank (EIB), a lender owned by EU member states, dishes out billions of pounds each year in loans across the 28-country bloc and the rest of the world.
Along with Germany, France and Italy, the UK is one of the biggest shareholders of the EIB with a holding worth £34billion.
In 2015, the EIB lent £67billion, bringing its total of outstanding loans to around £430billion.
Ms James, now an independent Member of the European Parliament (MEP) following her resignation from Ukip last year, has urged the Government to demand the cash it is due from interest payments on EIB loans is paid directly to Britain.

In a spoof video, ITV News is one of those media which covered the ‘knighting’ of Nigel Farage on Russian television.

Nigel Farage was “knighted” on live TV by a young girl dressed as a queen — who then accused him of “hating foreigners”.
The former Ukip leader was appearing on Sam Delaney’s News Thing for Russia Today when the unidentified child was introduced to the set.
Dressed in a red cape, gold crown and wielding an inflatable sword, the girl was announced as “Her Majesty” before Mr Farage went down on one knee.
After the brief investiture was complete, Delaney said: “You are now Sir Nigel Farage,” to which the Brexit supporter described himself as being “honoured.”

The Daily Star also carries the video.

EX-UKIP leader Nigel Farage has been knighted on live television.
Mr Farage knelt on a silver cushion as he was bestowed with the honour on a TV set.
But the surprise knighting is not what you think.
The 52-year-old was part of a bizarre stunt by news channel RT.
And Mr Farage was “knighted” by a child dressed as the Queen.
The Kremlin-backed news channel presenter said they were awarding Mr Farage an “honorary knighthood” because they believe he has been “secretly wanting it”.
But in an even stranger turn of events, the young girl dressed as Her Maj then told Mr Farage: “My mummy says you hate foreigners.”
Mr Farage laughed and replied: “The Queen has to be non-political!”
Mr Farage seemed very happy with the “honorary knighthood” and laughed heavily through the gag.

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