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Brexit

The Prime Minister is upbeat about Brexit, says Sky News.

Britain’s best days “really do lie ahead of us”, Theresa May has said in comments ahead of a key speech about Brexit.
The Prime Minister will hold a special Cabinet meeting on Thursday ahead of her speech in the North East the day after.
It comes after she held a “war Cabinet” meeting at her country residence Chequers to work out forthcoming Brexit negotiations strategy.
Mrs May said: “On Thursday, I told the Cabinet committee at Chequers that the deal we negotiate with the EU must present an ambitious future for our great country.
“Next week I will present the committee’s conclusions to an additional session of the full Cabinet before travelling to the North East on Friday to give a speech setting out this Government’s vision of what our future economic partnership with the European Union should look like.

The Times claims Mrs May has been warned that her government may collapse.

Three cabinet ministers warned Theresa May during private talks on Brexit at her Chequers retreat last week that her government could collapse this year.
Julian Smith, the chief whip, told May there was a “very real threat” that Labour could unite with 15 to 20 Tory rebels to defeat the government on their decision to rule out membership of a customs union.
Senior ministers say there are discussions about whether the prime minister should turn the vote into a confidence issue, threatening a general election if Tory MPs vote with the opposition.
In the same discussion Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, warned May that the Democratic Unionists propping up the government should not be relied upon to “turn up” and vote to save her.

Trade deal

But Eurocrats have poured cold water on Mrs May’s trade plans, says the Express.

EUROPEAN Union diplomats have revealed doubts over Theresa May’s Brexit strategy after Donald Tusk described the plans as “pure illusion” in a stinging attack on the UK Government.
Theresa May persuaded her Cabinet to unite over  Brexit plans during a meeting on Thursday and while the exact details of the agreement have not officially been released, reports suggest the Prime Minister secured approval for a bespoke deal.
The Prime Minister is expected to give a landmark speech next week where she will outline the UK’s Brexit position, however European Union diplomats have already revealed it is likely to be rejected by Brussels.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was not at the Brexit sub committee meeting on Thursday, said the group agreed Britain must not be part of a customs union as it should have the right to strike free trade deals with other countries, and claimed “frictionless” trade was still possible without one.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Customs union is one way of getting frictionless trade but it’s not the only way, and what we’re saying is we want to achieve frictionless trade by agreement between two sovereign bodies – the United Kingdom and European Union.”

And the Scot Nats could stick their oar in as well, reports the Telegraph.

The SNP risks “splitting” the UK’s economy and causing serious damage to the country’s ability to strike trade deals by demanding a series of powers currently held by Brussels, Theresa May’s de facto deputy has warned.
Writing in The Telegraph ahead of a major speech on Monday, David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, says an attempt by Nicola Sturgeon’s government to seize control of key trade powers would result in a “disjointed” economy and leave Britain “struggling to make our way in a new world outside the EU”.

Single market

It seems the Labour Party is pushing its leader hard to stay in the market, reports the Guardian.

Labour’s divisions over Brexit are exposed today as an alliance of more than 80 senior figures from across the party warn Jeremy Corbyn that he will be unable to fund his promised investment in schools, hospitals and social care unless the UK stays in the EU single market.
In a statement issued exclusively to the 
Observer on the eve of a keynote Brexit speech by Corbyn, the group of MPs, MEPs, council leaders, peers and trade unionists say the pursuit of social justice and a leftwing anti-austerity agenda depends on avoiding the “multibillion-pound hit to the public finances that leaving the single market would entail”.
The timing of the statement, signed by 37 MPs and a dozen peers, including Helena Kennedy and Doreen Lawrence, will infuriate Corbyn as he prepares to announce a significant shift in policy tomorrow that is expected to commit Labour to backing permanent membership of a customs union with the EU.
His speech will open a far clearer divide between Labour and the Tories over Brexit and raises the possibility that the party’s MPs could join forces with pro-EU Tories, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats to inflict damaging defeats on Theresa May in a series of Commons votes in the spring.
But signatories to the statement, co-ordinated by the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, up the ante by saying that while the customs union shift is a step forward, it falls way short of where the party should be on Brexit. They argue that if Corbyn were to back single market membership too, he could deliver a parliamentary vote in favour of staying in, thereby safeguarding the country’s economic future and allowing his plans for boosting spending on public services to go ahead.

Sky News also has the story.

More than 80 senior figures in the Labour Party have urged Jeremy Corbyn to commit to remaining in the EU single market after Brexit.
The group of MPs, MEPs, council leaders and trade unionists say investment plans cannot be funded if the UK retracts its membership.
It comes a day before Mr Corbyn is expected to commit Labour to backing a customs union with the EU.
Downing Street has already insisted the UK will leave that union.
In a statement seen by the Observer, figures including Lord Mandelson and trade union leaders Bill Morris and Tony Young say the party as a minimum “must clearly and unambiguously” set out to remain part of the European economic area.
They add that “if we want to build a modern, low-carbon economy that protects workers and tackles tax avoidance, we will only achieve it through collaboration and frictionless trade with our nearest neighbours.”
They say this is “the only way” of keeping existing benefits.

Customs union

And the customs union also comes under scrutiny in the Telegraph.

Jeremy Corbyn is “playing with fire” by shifting towards the idea of the UK remaining in a customs union after Brexit, Eurosceptic Labour MPs have told the Telegraph.
Frank Field, Graham Stringer and Kate Hoey warned Mr Corbyn not to renege on the party’s election promises and the result of the Brexit referendum, amid concern that remaining in a customs union would prevent the UK from striking free trade deals with countries outside the EU, and isolate pro-Leave voters.
The warnings follow reports that Mr Corbyn is preparing to announce on Monday that he supports staying in a customs union, in a speech on Brexit designed to foreshadow a major address planned by Theresa May for Friday.

Immigration

Is there a shortage of skilled immigrant workers? The Independent reports.

A former Tory health secretary is calling on Theresa May to urgently review a visa-cap system she created which now risks plunging the NHS into a staffing crisis.
Stephen Dorrell told 
The Independent that the cap on visas for non-EU skilled workers must be rethought in the light of a squeeze on NHS workers coming from Europe.
The monthly limit was reached for the first time since 2015 in December and has been hit every month since, as health trusts and firms scramble to hire globally to make up for lower arrivals across the channel since the referendum.
Official data released only this week again showed EU net migration falling, with 130,000 Europeans leaving the country – the highest recorded level since the 2008 financial crisis.
Former health secretary Mr Dorrell, who also chairs the NHS Confederation, said: “We know there is a staffing shortage, a recruitment problem for our health service.
“We also know there’s been a numerical fall in the number coming in from the EU and a compensating increase, to the extent allowed, has come from non-EU workers.

Education

Elsewhere, the Education department is looking at teaching outside the main stream, says the Times.

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, is to crack down on illegal schools amid growing concern that children are at risk of being radicalised, trafficked, abused — or simply growing up ignorant.
Insiders at the Department for Education said Hinds was determined to take a tougher line on illegal schools and out-of-hours tuition centres than his predecessor, Justine Greening.
The hardening stance comes as new figures reveal the number of unregistered tuition centres is on the rise.
The schools inspectorate, Ofsted, has found 359 suspected illegal schools in the past two years, less than 200 of which it has been able to inspect.
Fifty centres have been issued with warning notices and 12 are under criminal investigation.

And the Mail has a story about the salaries of university lecturers.

A group of academics have raised questions as to whether the pensions shortfall which has triggered the university lecturers’ strike is as grave as initially feared.
Up to 100 academics have accused administrators of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) of taking a worst case scenario when it comes to assessing its performance.
They say that salary increases are likely to be lower and the performance of pension investments are likely to be much better than feared by the trust which administers the pensions, while life expectancy is not expected to be as long as predicted.
The letter written by the academics means that the strike may be unnecessary as  there is enough money in the kitty adequately to pay pensions.
About one million students have been affected by the strike, with lecturers not teaching, marking or carrying out research. It is likely that future exam-taking and marking will also be affected.
The strike comes amid allegations that two of its ringleaders are militant left wingers while the main union leader is paid more than £130,000 a year.

NHS

Children’s treatment could be improved, reports the Times.

NHS services for children are substandard in every region of England owing to nurse shortages and safeguarding failures, the NHS regulator has revealed.
NHS Improvement says that “few” children’s services are “safe or well-led”. The regulator reviewed 96 hospital and other NHS services for children that had failed inspections by the Care Quality Commission last year.
It found that 54 children’s wards fell short of expected standards and, when reinspected, only two had improved and four had deteriorated further.
The report, which will be sent to all parts of the NHS with guidelines to help trusts improve, lists unfilled nursing posts as the top concern from the review of failed inspections.

And the Independent reports further surgery cancellations.

Patients are facing delays to life-saving treatment amid warnings over a “staggering increase” in cancellations of urgent surgery.
Nearly 1,000 urgent operations have been cut so far this winter for patients with life-threatening illnesses due to pressures on hospital resources, such as beds or staff, according to new analysis of NHS figures.
The total represents a 40 per cent increase in cancellations since 2013-14, when 707 operations were cut, and a surge of 31 per cent since 2010-11 when there were 755 cancellations.
Campaigners warned that patients could be put at risk by delays to vital care, while Labour accused the Government of presiding over an “unparalleled winter of discontent”.
It comes after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to apologise to patients when hospitals took the drastic step of postponing tens of thousands of routine procedures last month.
Commenting on the latest figures, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told 
The Independent: “Patients will rightly be deeply concerned by the substantial increase in the number of cancelled urgent operations since the Tories came into power.

Armed forces

Anthrax could be a problem for our soldiers, says the Mail.

UK soldiers could be getting ‘anthrax jabs’ to prepare for a potential war between the USA and North Korea and terror attacks at home.
Plans are being made to roll out anthrax vaccinations to all military personnel, according to Whitehall sources.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is considering the measures amid growing tensions between US President  Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, reports The Times.
Anthrax is a deadly disease that comes in spray or powder form and is particularly lethal when inhaled.
It causes flu-like symptoms for a few days, which are usually followed by severe breathing problems, shock and often death.
Patricia Lewis, research director for international security at Chatham House told the newspaper Kim Jong-un is believed to have a large range of biological weapons, including anthrax.
The foreign affairs and security think tank boss also said there are concerns about terror organisations like ISIS and al-Qaeda using anthrax. 

Farage

And our former leader has promised to return to the fray in the event of a second referendum, says the Independent.

Nigel Farage has vowed to return to frontline politics if the British public are given a second EU referendum.
The former Ukip leader was speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference when he claimed that if the public were consulted again he would “be there” and “it’ll be no more Mr Nice Guy”.
Mr Farage also said supporting Donald Trump “was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life”.
He said: ”There is an attempt by that unholy trinity of big banks, big business and big politics to stop Brexit from happening.
“If the intelligence of British people is insulted and we have another vote … If they want that battle refought, I’ll be there – and next time, from me, it’ll be no more Mr Nice Guy.”
Attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference filled up a large ballroom at a hotel outside Washington to hear him speak.
Mr Farage – introduced as “Mr Brexit” – delivered a campaign-style speech in which he praised Mr Trump and said the President has “exceeded all expectations”.
He added: “He’s on the way to being a truly great president of this country.”

Westmonster also has the story.

Britain’s Brexit hero Nigel Farage has pledged to return to frontline politics if Brexit is betrayed and the British public are made to vote again, telling CPAC: “No I don’t want to have to do this again but if they want us, if they want that battle to be refought I’ll be back there and next time from me it’ll be No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
Praising Donald Trump, Farage said: “He’s on the way to being a truly great President of this country.”
On Brexit, he insisted that he would come back if the Leave vote was overturned, saying: “My gut feel at the moment is that we will just about get there.
“But we may not. We may not. And if they do in the worst case scenario overturn that result and insult the intelligence and the decency of the British people by making us have that vote again, then I tell you one thing: I will be straight back in the frontline of that campaign.”
As the American audience cheered, Farage made clear: “No I don’t want to have to do this again but if they want us, if they want that battle to be re-fought I’ll be back there and next time from me it’ll be no more Mr. Nice Guy.”

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