Brexit

MPs are still trying to get Big Ben to sound at the end of the month, says the Telegraph.

Dozens of Tory MPs are staging a last ditch attempt to persuade Parliament to allow Big Ben to ‘bong’ at the moment Britain leaves the European Union later this month.
In a letter to today’s Sunday Telegraph, 60 MPs say that the Great Bell must sound at 11pm on January 31 to provide Remainers and Leavers with “closure” after three years of Brexit bitterness.
The decision could be made as early as tomorrow when MPs and officials on the House of Commons Commission which meet for its last scheduled meeting before Brexit day.
However Commission was reluctant to allow Big Ben to sound when Brexit was mooted on two previous occasions – March 29 and October 31 – and signs were not hopeful last night.
A spokesman told The Telegraph last night that it could cost at least £120,000 to prepare the Great Bell to chime while contractors needed 14 days to carry out the work ahead of January 31.
Nevertheless Brexiteer MPs are desperate for Big Ben – which has been silenced since 2017 due to refurbishment work – to chime to mark the UK’s exit Today’s letter, signed by MPs including Mark Francois, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Bill Cash and Sir John Redwood, urges the Commission to reverse its a previous ruling that Big Ben will not sound.

The Express points out that, contrary to the former Speaker, the new man in the chair may allow it.

TORY MPs are pushing forward with a last ditch attempt to ensure Big Ben chimes to mark Brexit at 11pm on January 31.
Though House of Commons Commission chair – Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle – said he would not stand in the way should MPs wish to mark Brexit that way, a spokesman said the extra chime could cost at least £120,000 and contractors needed 14 days to carry out work ahead of the departure date.
A total of 60 MPs, including Tory Brexiteer grandees Mark Francois, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Bill Cash and Sir John Redwood, have signed a letter to the Sunday Telegraph demanding the chiming take place. They said: “Unless this decision is overturned, Big Ben will stay silent on this historic night.

The Remain-backing Independent claims a poll shows we want to stay in the EU.

Boris Johnson is set to take the UK out of the European Union at a time when a majority of voters want to stay, according to a new poll.
The BMG survey for The Independent found that with less than three weeks to go before Brexit Day on 31 January, voters are split by the highly symbolic margin of 52-48 per cent in favour of Remain – the reverse of the result of the 2016 referendum.
Participants also expected Brexit to be bad for the economy, the NHS, the unity of the UK and Britain’s place in the world over the next two years. Almost three in 10 (29 per cent) expected to be personally worse off as a result of EU withdrawal, while just 15 per cent expected their finances to be improved.
And more than four out of 10 want the chance to vote on rejoining the EU within the next decade – 18 per cent saying a second referendum should be held within a year, 15 per cent in one to five years and 9 per cent in six to 10 years. Ten per cent said no new referendum should be held for 11 years or more, and 28 per cent said there should never be another one, while 20 per cent did not know.

Trade deal

Officials are working towards a deal with the US, says the Express.

HOPES are high in the US that a blockbuster interim trade deal can be agreed with the UK by the summer, ahead of America’s presidential election.
Sources involved in the campaign to re-elect Donald Trump have told the Sunday Express they expect Boris Johnson to visit the US early in Feb­­ruary – days after Brexit on January 31 – as “a sign of the renewed relationship”.
Last night it was reported he could be given the honour of addressing both Houses of Congress, only the sixth British Prime Minister to do so.
The President’s team are keen for the Prime Minister to arrive ahead of Mr Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4. A campaign committee source said: “It would be great if we can have Boris there as a guest of honour. It will be a real signal of what is to come this year.
“Boris and the President have a really good relationship so as soon as Brexit has happened the talks for a trade deal between the two countries can get going. There is no reason why an interim deal can’t be done for the summer, with some eyecatching agreements which will help both the President and Prime Minister.”

Cabinet

Perhaps the saying: ‘Keep your friends close …’ is the reason Michael Gove is reported by the Telegraph to be set for deputy PM.

Michael Gove looks set to be given a wide ranging role running the entire Cabinet Office and Brexit talks after next month’s expected ministerial reshuffle.
Whitehall sources say Mr Gove’s new role is likely to make him the “de facto” deputy Prime Minister, despite the fact that Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, is the official “first secretary of state”.
Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was given a major role ensuring that the UK was ready for a no-deal exit from the EU in the run-up to the last deadline, October 31.
The elevation of Mr Gove could distract from what is known as Mr Johnson’s “women problem” at next month’s expected reshuffle.
Talk is widespread of Boris Johnson having to sack female Cabinet ministers who are seen as underperforming and replace them with male colleagues.

Labour leadership

A left-wing group is backing one of the candidates for leadership, reports the Guardian.

The steering committee at the head of left-wing group Momentum has unanimously voted to back Rebecca Long Bailey in the Labour leadership race.
The organisation’s national coordinating group (NCG) recommended that its approximately 40,000 members support Long Bailey as well as Angela Rayner for deputy leader.
The NCG said Long Bailey was the “only viable candidate” for leader able to build on the party’s “socialist agenda”.
The body also announced it would ballot its members on the recommendation.
The news followed a meeting of the NCG on Saturday to discuss the Labour leadership race. After “in-depth discussion” the group had decided to ballot its members on its top choices of Long Bailey and Rayner.
An email has been sent to all Momentum members announcing the plan, but it has been met with criticism by some who expected an open ballot.
Momentum’s statement said the group believes Long Bailey is the “only viable candidate who can build on our socialist agenda, deepen democracy in the party and unite all of our heartlands at the next election.”

The Independent reports a comment by another contender.

Labour leadership hopeful Clive Lewis has warned his party only has a “very slim” chance of winning the next general election unless it embraces alliances with other parties at Westminster.
As he battles to secure the required number of nominations from colleagues in the parliamentary party to remain in the contest, the left-wing candidate will today also launch his “transform to win” manifesto.
The document focuses on radical democratic reform, including proposals for abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected chamber, introducing proportional representation at national elections, and a vow not to block a second Scottish independence referendum.
It includes a number of measures aimed at tackling the climate crisis, with a net-zero emissions by 2030 target, the opposition of any future airport expansions, and introducing duties for individuals taking multiple flights per year.

And the Guardian quotes yet another contender.

Keir Starmer appealed to the Labour left to back his bid for the leadership on Saturday as he denounced the “free-market model” as a failure and backed higher taxes on the wealthiest to pay for better public services.
Starmer’s bid for the support of Labour members who previously backed Jeremy Corbyn came amid signs of splits in the grassroots organisation Momentum, after it said it would recommend Rebecca Long Bailey as leader and Angela Rayner as deputy in an internal ballot.
Speaking in Manchester, Starmer said the party should unite, and “trash” neither the last Labour  government nor “the last four years” under Corbyn. But – although describing the 2019 manifesto as “overloaded” – he made clear he would also back a distinctly leftwing economic agenda with the aim of reducing inequality and increasing social justice.
“We have to be bold enough to say the free-market model doesn’t produce, doesn’t work … the trickle-down effect didn’t happen,” Starmer told a meeting at the Mechanics’ Institute where the TUC was formed in 1868.

EU

The bloc will pull out all stops to stop us leaving, says the Guardian.

The EU will be unashamedly “political” and block the City of London’s access to European markets if Boris Johnson tries to exempt the UK from its laws.
Croatia’s prime minister, Andrej Plenkovic, whose country is taking over the presidency of the EU, made the bloc’s intentions clear after the prime minister insisted the UK would not be aligned to the bloc’s regulations.
Asked whether the EU would use its power to switch off the City’s ability to serve European clients to gain leverage in the coming negotiations with Britain, Plenkovic said: “I wouldn’t go into the vocabulary of weapons but what I have learned in international and European negotiations [is] that all arguments and considerations are treated as political.”
A major issue in the EU-UK negotiations over the future relationship concerns the extent to which the British government wants to diverge from the bloc’s rules in various sectors of the economy.
The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said this week that it would not be appropriate for the UK to be a “rule-taker” in the field of financial services after Brexit.

But a surprising comment from a top EU official is reported in the Times.

The European Commission heavyweight dubbed “the Monster of Brussels” by British officials has said he thinks Boris Johnson can thrash out a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year — as long as the government is properly organised.
Martin Selmayr offered a surprisingly nuanced assessment of the prospects of Britain making progress when The Sunday Times caught up with him recently — despite the insistence of the new European Commission president last week that the timetable is too tight.
The prime minister met Ursula von der Leyen in Downing Street on Wednesday, when she voiced the view that Johnson would need to seek an extension to the transition period with Brussels that is due to expire on December 31.

MEPs like Farage could receive a handout, reports the Times.

Long-serving MEPs may be looking forward to six-figure “golden goodbye” payouts after Brexit day at the end of the month, but the new crop are expecting to leave almost empty-handed.
At a meeting in Strasbourg tomorrow evening, the UK’s 73 MEPs will be provided with details of the “transition payments” that they can receive after the UK departs from the EU on January 31.
Although MEPs including the Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage will be entitled to more than £150,000, those who won their seats only last May are not expected to receive any severance pay, because they have served for under a year.
The payments are in effect redundancy money, which is usually paid when MEPs lose their seats.

But they’ll lose all the other perks of the gravy train, says the Express.

MEMBERS of the European Parliament (MEPs) enjoy a special diplomatic status that allows them to access a treasure trove of duty-free booze, cigars and perfume delivered directly to their desks.
The £90,000-a-year parliamentarians are granted so-called “immunity” designed for them to “free exercise his or her mandate”. They are, however, expected not to flout the rules for their own “personal privilege”, according to the EU Parliament’s website. But the same special status helps MEPs to avoid paying hefty national duties on a whole host of expensive products, normally out of the reach of taxpayers.
In Belgium, agreements mean foreign diplomats who live in the country are exempt from taxes on most goods and services, including private expenses.
The latest figures show that Belgium missed out in claiming around £500 million in VAT payments.

Scotland

There’s still a big push for Scottish independence, reports the Guardian.

Thousands of independence supporters have begun marching through the streets of Glasgow.
The march is the first of eight planned for 2020 by the grassroots organisation All Under One Banner (AUOB) in what is likely to be a crucial year for the Scottish independence movement.
It comes the day after the former Labour cabinet minister and MP Ben Bradshaw declared he was “100% certain” that Scotland would choose to leave the UK in the event of a second referendum on independence, which the first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, is pushing for later this year.
Bradshaw told the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel: “The political class in England – and this includes my own party – must very quickly recognise the Scots’ right to self-determination.” His remarks were tweeted approvingly by Sturgeon.
AUOB, which says it is not aligned with any political party, will organise events across the country, in Peebles, Elgin, Kirkcaldy, Stirling, Edinburgh and again in Glasgow, with the next march planned for Arbroath in April to mark the 700th anniversary of the signing of Scotland’s declaration of independence.

Health

The problem of patients not turning up for their appointments is highlighted in the Times.

More than 1m people fail to turn up to appointments at GP surgeries every month at a cost of more than £200m a year. A doctor shortage and population growth already make it hard to see a GP, so the wasted appointments mean even longer waits.
From June to November last year, the most recent period available, a record 7.8m patients in England “did not attend”, according to a new analysis of NHS Digital data. On average, there are 42,822 no-shows a day — 30 a minute.
About half were to see doctors, half for nurses or other healthcare professionals. At an average cost of £30 per GP appointment, according to the NHS, the problem costs some £20m a month for missed doctors’ appointments alone.

Crime

Drugs and primary schools don’t mix, says the Times.

The number of drug offences committed within a few paces of English and Welsh primary schools has jumped by nearly a quarter in a year, triggering calls for a police crackdown.
Analysis by The Sunday Times of street-by-street crime data found 1,656 drug offences in the year to November 2019 that were within about 30ft of primary school grounds.
The drug data, obtained from the police statistics website, includes both possession and dealing offences. Other crimes that have risen close to primary schools include the carrying of weapons and violent and sexual offences. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, adult dealers can receive tougher sentences if they sell illegal substances on or in the vicinity of school premises, during or close to opening hours.

Green energy

It seems our energy providers are buying their way into green-ness, reports the Telegraph.

UK energy providers have turned to Eastern Europe to buy cheap green energy certificates that let them claim they provide 100pc renewable energy while continuing to rely on fossil fuels.
Such schemes are known in the industry as “dirty REGOs”, in reference to watchdog Ofgem’s Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) plan.
Under current government rules, suppliers can claim to sell 100pc clean electricity by purchasing REGO certificates from renewable generators such as wind farms.
So instead of paying for clean energy from the renewable sources, companies are buying paper certificates equivalent to a unit of green energy.
These certificates let firms market their tariffs as completely green, when they might actually be buying electricity from a coal-fired power station.
Now, industry insiders say that instead of buying these certificates from UK renewable generators, energy suppliers are purchasing them from Lithuania, the cheapest market for REGOs in the EU.

Iran

The tense situation in Iran is not easing, says the Telegraph,

Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, has been arrested and held for several hours after attending a vigil for the victims of the Ukraine plane crash which turned into demonstration.
Details of his arrest were announced by the country’s semi-official Tasnim news agency and prompted an angry response from Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.
“The arrest of our Ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law,” he said.

BBC News reports a comment by the foreign secretary.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has condemned the arrest of the UK ambassador to Iran as a “flagrant violation of international law”.
Rob Macaire was detained after attending a vigil for those who died when a passenger plane was shot down on Wednesday.
He left when it turned into a protest before being arrested and accused of helping to organise the demonstrations.
Under the Vienna Convention, diplomats cannot be detained.
The Foreign Office is to demand a full explanation.

The country could still have missiles ready for launch, says the Sun.

IRAN has released images and film of underground “missile cities” packed full of rockets and explosives as tensions in the Middle East reach fever pitch.
Images of massive hidden bases dotted all over the Islamic republic show thousands of missiles ready for launch from the secret bunkers ready to be used if “enemies make a mistake”.
The images come in the wake of a serious missile attack against two UK and US bases last week, with Iranian generals warning that ‘a tsunami will sweep away all US bases’.
Iran has been making serious and increasingly extreme threats against the US following the January 3 assassination of their top general, Quasem Soleimani.
Since then, Iran has put an $80 million bounty on Trump’s head and accidentally downed a passenger plane that was leaving Tehran, killing all 176 on board including four Brits.

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