Britain & Germany One 1) Cameron hosts Rutte. Merkel arrives next week. Prime Minister’s EU diplomatic offensive begins.

Cameron & Merkel“Mark Rutte arrived in Britain on Friday for talks and a dinner at Chequers. The red carpet will be rolled out in even more style when the German chancellor visits London: she will address both houses of parliament and meet the Queen.  Downing Street hopes Mr Cameron’s hospitality to two of his strongest natural allies in Europe will help Britain to secure a plum job on the European Commission this year, and lay the ground work for a longer-term reduction in powers held by the EU.” – Financial Times

  • Merkel to address both Houses of Parliament – The Sun
  • Red carpet for German leader – The Independent
  • “No. 10 is confident that Merkel will use this trip to offer some encouragement to Cameron’s renegotiation agenda. One source involved with the visit says, ‘She knows everyone will be analysing her words, she is coming to be helpful. She has gone out of her way to ease the path for the PM.’ ” – James Forsyth, The Spectator

Britian & Germany 2) Kirkhope warns against Afd move

“Senior Tories in Strasbourg fear that hardline Eurosceptics would like to team up with AfD after the European parliamentary elections in May. The group, which is pro-EU but anti-euro, is seen as a threat to Merkel’s centre right CDU party in the elections. Timothy Kirkhope, the MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber who founded the Tories’ new European Conservatives and Reformists group in Strasbourg, told the Guardian: “Our most vital need is to have good relations with Chancellor Merkel and her party in terms of our reform agenda to Europe. I would not want to have anything happen that might damage that possibility.” – The Guardian

> Yesterday: Alex Deane on Comment – The UK Commissioner – odds on the runners and riders

Farage concedes Clegg EU head-to-head…

FARAGE eating“Mr Farage’s acceptance will put pressure on David Cameron and Ed Miliband to follow suit. “I have absolutely no choice,” Mr Farage said in his LBC 97.3 radio phone-in programme. “I’ve got to say ‘yes’ because we need to have a national debate on what I think is the most important issue this country has faced. “The answer is yes, I will do it with Nick Clegg, but the other two, I’d like to see them there as well.” – The Independent

….And in the meantime: Oh yes, it does. Oh no, it doesn’t. Labour confusion over its own TV debate proposals

“Labour said it wanted to see straight fight between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, in an apparent shift from previous demands for a re-run of the 2010 debates when Lib Dem Mr Clegg was also included…However, as questions were raised about the legality of excluding the Lib Dems, Labour later claimed that in fact it expected Mr Clegg to be involved.”Daily Mail

  • Miliband’s radical plans to connect with the people: ‘Pay just £3 and vote for the leader’ – The Independent
  • Labour leader dismisses UKIP threat to the north – Yorkshire Post
  • Labour leader needs to axe Balls to get Labour back in the game – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

> Today: ToryDiary – Cameron v Miliband: the three debates we need

Benefits 1) Howarth, Burrowes say “duped” bishops were used as “pawns” in poverty letter

HOWARTH-GERALD-AT-PMQs“Sir Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot, and church warden at the Royal Garrison Church at Aldershot, said: “The bishops have been duped into endorsing a left-wing campaign to discredit the Government’s brave and popular reforms, which are underpinned by the moral imperative to liberate people from welfare dependency.” David Burrowes, MP for Enfield Southgate, and chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, said: “Whether deliberately or not, the bishops have been used as pawns in a wider political agenda, an agenda that I think goes beyond that of many good people supporting food banks for people in need.” – The Times (£)

Benefits 2) IDS win double victory in court over benefits challenge

“The Court of Appeal ruled that the £26,000-a-year cap on handouts and the removal of housing benefit subsidy for extra bedrooms in council homes are both legal. The victory was all the sweeter for ministers after a bruising week in which church leaders joined forces to accuse coalition welfare reforms of driving people into hunger and destitution. A source close to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “These important reforms are ensuring fairness and long-term sustainability.” – Daily Express

  • Screen shot 2014-02-22 at 09.30.20Interview with Benefit Street’s “White Dee” who:

– Won’t work because “I am depressed about my mother’s death,’ she says of her mother’s passing two years ago after a long illness. ‘Anyone who doesn’t believe me can see my psyche, my psycho, my whaddyamacall him?”

– Was sacked from her last proper job as an administrator for defrauding her employers Birmingham City Council of £13,000.

– Wants “to work, I do. But some days I just can’t get out of bed. Oh, I wish I had more oomph but I don’t. It is not because I am lazy, it’s not because I can’t be a**ed, it is because I just can’t.’” – Daily Mail

  • Sickness benefit tests firm ATOS pulls out of £500million contract – Daily Mail
  • Moyle tax dodge could have cost the Treasury millions – The Sun (£)
  • Archbishop Vincent Nichols becomes a cardinal today – BBC
  • Benefits court challenge was rightly thrown out – Daily Express Editorial
  • Food banks or dignity: is that the choice we offer the hungry? – Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
  • The Sun has long argued that handouts became so generous under Labour that they trapped people in miserable, lifelong dependency – Sun Editorial

Janan Ganesh: Why we need the NHS database

NHS“Home secretaries are always “draconian”, counterterror laws are always the first steps on a “slippery slope”. Spoilt for cultural references – 1984, V for Vendetta, A Clockwork Orange – they conjure dystopias of the deep state and the abolition of privacy. A century ago, a certain kind of bien pensant was waiting for the working classes to revolt against capitalism. They are now impatient for a popular reaction against Big Data. But what about the opposite dystopia? Powerless patients forced to take what they are given by a state that is ignorant of what works best. The tyranny of not knowing.” – Financial Times

Ukraine, Scotland – if they want to go, let them, says Matthew Parris

“If Scotland, or Catalonia, or Ukraine want to go, no written constitution, no provisions of the Treaty of Rome, and in the end no guns or water-cannon on the streets of Kiev, will stop that. Roger Boyes’s Times column this week (“Failing states such as Syria deserve to fail”) should be required reading for all who think the rise, fall, expansion, contraction, amalgamation and fracture of nations is a kind of party game in which you can blow a whistle and everybody freezes.” – The Times (£)

David Melding AM: Welsh Conservatives could become autonomous party

MELDING David“With four AMs cast out of the Shadow Cabinet to the backbenches after a bitter split over the the leader’s policy on income tax-varying powers in Wales, a schism opened up which revealed a particularly crucial fork in the road debate facing the Welsh Conservatives. But murmurings over divisions could set the Welsh party on the path to eventually cutting the umbilical cord to London altogether. Party figures have indicated the debacle around the income tax vote could make the party hierarchy assess how the “indigenous Welsh voice” is made in light of more powers coming to Cardiff Bay.” – Wales Online

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – The Tories will talk a lot about Wales in the election campaign

This ban on halal slaughter is more cruel than kind, argues Graeme Archer

“This is no way to build the society we claim to desire: the one of mutual respect and tolerance. The one of compromise, which isn’t (as the zealots of the RSPCA will claim) a weakness, but an essential ingredient for harmony. Why don’t we just label food clearly, so that everyone can decide for themselves? Because deciding for others is seductive, to a certain cast of mind. Denmark, I’m afraid, remains rotten. Persecuting adherents over the slaughter of their animals is a dreadful, dangerous step towards proscribing their faith altogether, one I find intolerable.” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief

  • Rebekah Brooks on Andy Coulson affair, Ross Kemp marriage, IVF struggle and surrogacy motherhood at trial – Daily Mail
  • Disappointing data curb enthusiasm on UK recovery – Financial Times
  • Science classes ‘must include creationism’ – The Times (£)
  • Hundreds of copies of Anne Frank’s diary ripped to pieces in Japan – The Independent
  • MLAs and Stormont’s top two at loggerheads – Belfast Telegraph
  • Driver gunned down on Waterloo Bridge – The Sun
  • Gales set to return next week – Daily Express
  • Branson “will be on first space flight – The Guardian
  • Men banned from becoming Queen as 700 years of laws redrafted ahead of first gay marriages – Daily Telegraph

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