Europe

The Guardian reports that the Prime Minister’s plans to reform the European Union are not feasible.

David Cameron was facing new pressure over Europe as Tory Eurosceptics and EU experts cast doubt over his ability to secure changes to European law before a promised referendum on the UK’s membership in 2017.

The prime minister conceded on Friday that some of his plans aimed at stemming the flow of EU migrants to this country – including banning in-work benefits such as tax credits for four years – will require changes to EU treaties. “There is no doubt this package will require some treaty change, and I’m confident we can achieve that,” he said.

Under the proposals, jobless migrants would not qualify for unemployment benefits, and those who cannot find a job within six months would have to leave the country. However, Tory MPs and experts on EU treaties said that, even if he was able to negotiate such a package with fellow EU leaders, it would be impossible to complete the process of ratification in the 28 member states in time for a referendum on the amended rules in 2017.

The Telegraph claims Conservative Eurosceptics are not pleased that the German chancellor put the kybosh on the Prime Minister’s plans.

Senior Conservative MPs are threatening a new revolt over Europe amid claims that the German chancellor Angela Merkel had intervened in David Cameron’s plan to curb European Union migration.

Leading Eurosceptic Tories reacted angrily to reports that Mrs Merkel had warned Downing Street she would not tolerate any attempt by the UK to place a cap on the number of European migrants coming to Britain.

They will table a bill on Wednesday — ahead of the Autumn Statement — that would attempt to enshrine in law Britain’s right to control its borders and allow Westminster to override the EU’s principle of free movement of workers.

The Bill, although unlikely to succeed not least because it will not be given space on the parliamentary timetable, is expected to receive widespread support and provide a rallying point for Conservative MPs disaffected with Brussels. A letter in January sent to Mr Cameron and calling for a national veto on all EU laws was signed by 95 Conservative MPs.

Mr Cameron, speaking in a keynote speech which earned him praise on Thursday, promised to put in place measures that will deny EU migrants access to all in-work benefits for four years amid hopes the move will deter tens of thousands from moving to the UK.

But his speech omitted any mention of an even more ambitious plan for an annual quota or else an emergency brake on EU migrants. Yesterday it was claimed that Mr Cameron was forced to “row back” from that proposal after being warned by Germany ahead of the speech that it would not support such an all-out assault on a basic tenet of free movement for migrant workers within the EU.

After Mr Cameron’s speech, Mrs Merkel pointedly said: “The German government has in the past again and again underlined the significance of the principle of the free movement as it is anchored in the EU treaties.”

And Breitbart said Cameron’s plans show how out of touch he is with the views of many of the British people.

First, it is an established fact most EU migrants are not attracted to Britain by the “pull-factor” of benefits, with the overwhelming majority of them coming here to work. Therefore, these reforms are frankly irrelevant. Whether or not they are eligible to claim in-work benefits or access social housing will only marginally affect the number of EU migrants settling in Britain each year.

The changes surrounding these benefits will be both difficult and time consuming. For example, the EU social security co-coordination took 12 years to agree and a further 6 years to implement the rules. If Cameron truly meant business about cutting immigration, he should be using his valuable time on reforms that would actually curb migration, rather than pretending curtailing migrants’ benefits will achieve anything.

The sad fact remains the Prime Minister does not really understand why the public are completely fed up with this issue.  He clearly does not mean business about cutting immigration, or reforming our relationship with the EU in any meaningful way. He realises his hands are tied by Brussels and as he really wants Britain to part of the EU, he knows he will not be able to do anything realistic.

The Independent reports Conservative arch-Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash’s claims that 200 of the party’s MPs now want out of Europe.

As many as 200 Conservative MPs would be prepared to call for Britain to leave the European Union, one of the party’s leading Eurosceptics has suggested, in an escalation of pressure on David Cameron over Europe and immigration.

On Friday, the Prime Minister unveiled a sweeping package of reforms to immigration in an attempt to regain control of the debate from Ukip and appease Conservative MPs. But in a speech to the Eurosceptic Bruges Group, Sir Bill Cash said the extent of MPs agreeing with his position that Britain would be better off out of the EU was far wider than many in Westminster believe and could amount to two-thirds of the parliamentary party.

Until now, it was thought about 100 Tory MPs would be happy to call for a “Brexit” in a referendum in an effort to stop losing their seats to Ukip. In his speech on Friday, which he hoped would be a “game-changer”, Mr Cameron announced plans to restrict benefits for EU migrants but stopped short of a cap on numbers, a retreat which angered Eurosceptic MPs. The decision to tone down the reforms came after a warning by Angela Merkel that it would fly in the face of the free movement of workers, and George Osborne, who advised that UK businesses would suffer.

Before the PM’s speech, Sir Bill, who has argued that Britain should withdraw from its full membership of the EU and have a free trade agreement with the bloc instead, addressed the Bruges Group’s conference Restoring Self-Government to Britain last weekend. In a leaked recording of his words, Sir Bill said: “We’ve moved the whole argument on the European issue as a result of both analysis and political will, from … when we were in the complete minority to a position where, although you may dispute the exact figure, I probably could myself, but something over 200 Conservative MPs generally agree with what I am saying today. And of course Ukip grew out of all of that too. That’s a fact.” Sir Bill added that agreeing “associated status” for the UK, where the country has a free trade agreement with the EU instead of full membership, was “still very much on the agenda for a very large number of Conservative MPs”.

Devolution

Following the additional powers granted Scotland despite a ‘No’ referendum vote, the Guardian reports that the country’s shire counties have teamed up to demand similar powers.

England’s regions – including Tory shires – have joined forces to demand an end to austerity and a radical constitutional settlement that will give them the money and power to run their own affairs.

The leaders of 119 English councils – of which 65 are controlled by Labour, 40 by the Conservatives and 10 by the Liberal Democrats – say in a letter to the Observer that the English people will not accept Scottish devolution unless it is matched by an equal redistribution of power south of the border.

They also call on George Osborne to give them the ability and cash to run their own affairs, so that they are no longer at the mercy of financial decisions and diktats by a distant Whitehall.

The letter states: “Earlier this week, the Smith commission [on Scottish devolution] set out a better deal for Scotland, granting more control over funding and recognising the importance of devolving power down beyond Holyrood. It’s England’s turn now.”

The intervention is evidence of widespread discontent over the way power in England remains centralised in Westminster – something highlighted by the Scottish referendum and subsequent moves to devolve power north of the border.

Demonstrating that unease is not confined to Labour-run authorities, or to the north of England, the letter is signed by the leaders of several big Tory-run councils in the south, including Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire county council, which covers David Cameron’s constituency of Witney.

Last week, there were signs that pressure was building for a new deal in Conservative, as well as Labour and Lib Dem circles, when mayor of London Boris Johnson signed a letter calling for more powers to be devolved.

The huge list of signatories to the letter – which also calls for an end to savage financial cuts imposed by the centre – demonstrate growing all-party frustration at a system that leaves local communities at the mercy of a central government with little or no understanding of each area’s particular needs. The letter states: “There is compelling evidence that taking decisions closer to the people affected achieves better results and saves money.

“It is vital that the autumn statement sets out a new settlement for England, which puts powers beyond Westminster, and shares out tax and spending across the UK on a fair basis.

“The people we represent, who look north of the border with envy at the greater control Scots are to get … will expect nothing less.”

Grammar schools

The Express reports a Conservative bid to bring selective schools back.

MORE than 150 Tory MPs are set to back calls for the return of grammar schools.

Pressure group Conservative Voice will launch a campaign on Friday for David Cameron to lift a ban on the creation of new selective schools, which is said to command the support of the “majority of the party”.

Members want the measure included in the party’s manifesto, and are already seeking talks with the Prime Minister and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to do so.

A recent poll, commissioned by the group, reveals 83.8 per cent of people believe grammars are a “valuable asset” to the British education system.

Some 79.9 per cent said they make the system fairer.

The campaign has already won over former shadow home secretary David Davis and Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 backbench committee.

Don Porter, founder of Conservative Voice, told the Sunday Express last night: “Since we first revealed that we were going to launch this campaign we have been inundated with support.”

World Cup

The Telegraph claims there are secret files which show that the Russian and Qatari World Cup campaigns ‘bought’ success.

ALLEGATIONS of vote-buying by the winning Russian and Qatari World Cup campaigns are contained in a secret database lying in the vaults of the England 2018 bid. The existence of the database and some of its allegations are revealed in a dossier compiled by The Sunday Times that has been submitted to a House of Commons committee, at its request, and which was published yesterday.

Officials from England’s World Cup bid gathered detailed information from ex-MI6 agents hired to spy on its rivals and British embassies around the world, according to the dossier.

Their intelligence database contained “incendiary” claims that Qatar and Russia were suspected of using their vast sovereign wealth to seal key support and that the two countries were thought to have swapped votes in a “collusion” pact brokered through a massive bilateral gas deal.

Health

The Mail reports that some 999 ambulance crews have been told to ring ahead to their local hospital to see if there is space to admit patients.

Paramedics have been told to ring ahead before taking patients to an A&E struggling to cope after the closure of departments at two nearby hospitals.

In the latest blow for health bosses who claimed their massive hospital reorganisation programme would improve care, the London Ambulance Service has put out the warning over patients being taken to Northwick Park in Harrow.

Two weeks ago, The Mail on Sunday revealed that the same hospital was experiencing the longest waits in the country following the closure of casualty units at West London’s Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals.

Paramedics would usually take patients to the nearest department, but this is no longer necessarily the case at Northwick Park.

A spokesman for London Ambulance Service confirmed the ‘call ahead’ arrangement was now in place, saying: ‘We are working with the hospital, so before crews go directly to Northwick Park, they need to call our control room. They are then advised if that is appropriate.’ It is the only London hospital with such an arrangement.

According to official guidelines, ambulances should have to wait no more than 15 minutes outside A&Es to drop off patients, but at a meeting last week, Northwick Park executives admitted this was exceeded hundreds of times at the site in September alone.

Crews had to wait because there was either no room in A&E to take the patients, or there were no staff free to care for them.

The waiting not only affects patients already in the ambulances, but also ties up crews urgently needed elsewhere.

VIP paedophile ring

The Mirror claims that a top-flight paedophile ring extended to abuse in some royal palaces.

A teenage boy working at Buckingham Palace revealed he was groomed and sexually abused by a VIP paedophile ring there.

The lad was also assaulted at the Royal Family’s Scottish retreat Balmoral, according to shocking Home Office files, reports the Sunday People.

In a heartbreaking note, the boy – then just 16 – told how he was the victim of “exploitation of the highest order”.

The chilling claims could now be the subject of a police investigation into ­historic allegations of child sex abuse in the 1970s and 80s – linked to MPs and powerful figures.

The disturbing account was passed directly to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan but he ruled it was “not practical” to investigate.

Campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson said: “I’m sure the Palace will want to co-operate with any inquiry.”

A Palace spokesman said: “The Royal Household takes any allegation of this nature seriously and would act to ­address any specific allegations or investigate specific information.”

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