Cameron warns Merkel about Juncker…

CAMERON EU fence“David Cameron today warns Angela Merkel her controversial candidate to head the European Commission would be ‘deeply damaging’. … In a hard-hitting article placed in leading European newspapers, the Prime  Minister makes public for the first time his opposition to arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker. … Mr Cameron says he has no legitimacy – and warns that his selection would be a slap in the face for millions who voted for Eurosceptic parties in last month’s European elections.” – Daily Mail

  • “David Cameron’s hopes of striking a deal with the German chancellor to stop Jean-Claude Juncker securing one of Europe’s top jobs suffered a significant blow on Thursday when the centre-right and centre-left groupings in the European parliament announced that they wanted a five-year grand coalition behind Juncker as the new head of the EU executive.” – The Guardian
  • “David Cameron hosted a Thai billionaire whose conglomerate is at the centre of Guardian revelations of fishing industry slavery, but did not record the visit on his official list of meetings.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Prime minister prefers grandstanding to exerting influence” – Financial Times editorial

> Today: Iain Dale’s column – Let’s send pro-reform, bone-dry Theresa Villiers to Brussels

…as Tory MEPs also set about aggravating the German leader…

“David Cameron’s hopes of renegotiating Britain’s role in the EU suffered a major blow yesterday as Tory MEPs teamed up with Germany’s answer to Ukip. … In a snub to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, they agreed to form a group in the European Parliament with Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD), Eurosceptics who are implacably opposed to Mrs Merkel. … Alienating Mrs Merkel, whose power in Europe is almost unrivalled, could seriously damage the Prime Minister’s chance of bringing about change.” – Daily Mail

> Today: The Deep End’s Heresy of the week – Europhiles should welcome the AfD’s membership of the ECR > Yesterday:

…and one Tory MP moves to enshrine an EU referendum in law

EU Exit“David Cameron’s promise to give Britain a referendum on EU membership in 2017 could be put into law before the election, after a Conservative MP won a place in a ballot that allows backbenchers to put forward legislation. … Bob Neill, a vice-chairman of the Conservative party, pledged to put forward the legislation after coming third in an annual private member’s bill ballot behind two Liberal Democrat MPs.” – Financial Times

  • “No shelter for Britain in European halfway houses” – Martin Wolf, Financial Times

> Yesterday:

The Prime Minister apologises for the passport chaos

“David Cameron finally said ‘sorry’ for the passport shambles last night as emergency measures were brought in to tackle the backlog. … After days of denials, the Government finally admitted that urgent action was needed to deal with the crisis. … In the face of mounting public anger, Mr Cameron caved in and apologised. ‘If people’s passports have been delayed and people have been inconvenienced, of course the Government is sorry for that,’ a Downing Street spokesman said.” – Daily Mail

  • MAY Commons Ellison“Britons who need to travel abroad ‘urgently’ will have their passport applications fast-tracked free of charge, under emergency measures to deal with a backlog of 30,000 documents.” – Financial Times
  • “Theresa May was warned in a report a year ago that the closure of overseas passport offices would lead to 350,000 extra applications to UK centres.” – Financial Times
  • “A mother whose daughter died from an ecstasy overdose said she wants to meet Home Secretary Theresa May to discuss legalising and regulating drugs.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Angry villagers yesterday said riots could break out if police do not deal with hundreds of Roma immigrants who they claim have ruined their community.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “Home Secretary Theresa May is to be commended for trying to do something about the mess over processing applications” – Daily Telegraph editorial

He also wants tougher action against knife crime – even if it means a rift in the Coalition

Prison bars“Criminals caught carrying a knife for the second time will face automatic jail sentences under plans to be backed by Conservative MPs in defiance of their Liberal Democrat colleagues. … In a significant fracturing of the coalition, David Cameron will next week urge Tories to vote for a toughening of punishments for repeat offences despite Nick Clegg’s refusal to support the move. … Because of the Government split, ministers will abstain, but backbenchers and Parliamentary private secretaries, who are junior members of the Government, are being encouraged to back the change.” – Daily Mail

  • “An armed robber serving a life sentence is the latest in a series of criminals to go on the run from an open prison.” – The Times (£)
  • “An attempt by the Crown Prosecution Service to hold a terrorism trial entirely in secret has been overturned by the court of appeal.” – The Guardian

Hague rules out military action in Iraq

HAGUE Merry Christmas“The disaster unfolding in Iraq was branded ‘Tony Blair’s legacy’ last night as Britain ruled out military intervention. … Though Islamist extremists are threatening to seize Baghdad, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain was ‘not contemplating’ any form of action, and Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there was no role for the alliance. … US President Barack Obama insisted his country had an interest in stopping jihadists taking control and said he was looking at ‘all options’, including drone strikes.” – Daily Mail

  • “Iraq’s Shia-dominated government launched air strikes on Sunni insurgent positions in and around the city of Mosul on Thursday as Islamist forces hurtled towards the capital and Kurdish troops seized control of the key oil city of Kirkuk.” – Financial Times
  • “Aid groups have warned of a new refugee crisis after half a million Iraqis fled their homes as Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists took over.” – Daily Mail
  • “An Iraqi who worked as an interpreter for the British Army and whose son was executed by militants faces being made homeless in this country.” – The Times (£)
  • “President Barack Obama has ruffled so many feathers during his five and a half years in office that he is now as disliked by as many Americans as former president George W. Bush, a new poll shows.” – Daily Mail
  • “Britain is stepping up its cooperation with the US over the design of nuclear warheads, raising new questions about the independence of the UK deterrent, according to documents disclosed after a freedom of information request.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Mr Blair – who many would like to see impeached for lying to Parliament – must be held to account for the chaos and destruction he has caused when the Chilcot report is finally published.” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “President Obama chose not to leave enough troops in Iraq to shore up the democracy established there at such great cost. It is now clear this was a grave mistake.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “The fall of Mosul threatens civil war in Iraq” – Guardian editorial
  • “Bush and Blair’s hubris in Iraq means the West is now powerless to act against a genuine threat” – Independent editorial
  • “We had to topple Saddam – now let’s go back to Iraq to rescue democracy” – John McTernan, The Guardian
  • “Afghanistan could soon follow Iraq into chaos” – Richard Williams, The Times (£)
  • “Who can halt the jihadis now?” – Con Coughlin, Daily Telegraph

Meanwhile, is Putin taking the opportunity to send his tanks into Ukraine?

Russian flag“Russia was accused of sending tanks into Ukraine for the first time yesterday while the West’s attention was diverted by the chaos in Iraq. … The development threatens to destroy the tentative peace process just when the US and EU had hoped Vladimir Putin had agreed to ease tension. … Three T-72 tanks were in Snizhne, some 13 miles inside Ukraine, backed up by armoured personnel carriers, claimed Kiev. It was initially not clear if the tanks were Russian or under the control of separatist forces sympathetic to Moscow.” – Daily Mail

  • “Fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian militia is fuelling a worsening humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “The moving tale of Putin’s mother is a myth” – Ben Macintyre, The Times (£)

Osborne’s plan to let the Bank of England limit mortgage lending…

Conference 4“Mr Osborne wants to give the BoE political cover to carry out sensitive operations in the housing market, including possibly limiting the amount of money people can borrow to buy a new home. … The chancellor’s move, which was announced in his annual Mansion House speech to the City on Thursday, is intended as signal that he expects Mark Carney, BoE governor, and his colleagues to do whatever is necessary to prevent a housing bubble.” – Financial Times

  • “George Osborne wouldn’t like to admit it, but the Tories are really milking the rich” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • “The economic recovery appears strong but it still remains vulnerable” – Times editorial (£)

> Yesterday: Andrew Gimson’s profile – Team Osborne: feared, admired, and sometimes enraging for other Conservatives

…as Carney tells us to prepare for rate rises

“Mark Carney has warned households, companies and financial markets to prepare for an interest rate rise, saying the first increase ‘could happen sooner than markets currently expect’. … In his first hawkish comments since becoming governor of the Bank of England almost a year ago, Mr Carney stressed on Thursday evening that the widely anticipated action by the central bank this month to cool the housing market will not be a substitute for gradual interest rate rises.” – Financial Times

  • “Banks are crying out for the Uber treatment” – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

IDS makes an appeal to Scottish hearts

IDS on Marr“Both sides have sought to persuade the undecided and the wavering through economic arguments. We point out that an independent Scotland could not share the pound; that welfare and pensions would cost Scottish taxpayers more; and that Scottish businesses worry about remaining competitive. … All critical facts, yet it strikes me that come September 18, many people will vote not just with their heads, but also with their hearts. To them I say there is also a case for our family of nations, less often stated but no less powerful: it is the enormous human and emotional bond between us, shared for so long that we are guilty of taking it for granted.” – Iain Duncan Smith, Daily Telegraph

  • “The Yes campaign now carries an air of menace. Mr Salmond, as Scotland’s first minister, holds the public purse strings. Potential opponents have been left in no doubt about that fact.” – Philip Stephens, Financial Times
  • “Why Salmond’s spin doctor should go” – Scotsman editorial

And news stories:

  • “The prospect of David Cameron returning as Prime Minister at the next general election would persuade Scots to vote for independence, according to a new poll.” – The Scotsman
  • “Gordon Brown has warned that Scottish families face losing their favourite BBC programmes or paying far more for watching EastEnders or Strictly Come Dancing if Scotland becomes independent.” – The Guardian
  • “Hillary Clinton has become the latest powerful figure to intervene on the independence debate, declaring she would ‘hate’ for Britain to ‘lose Scotland’.” – The Independent

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – “No, thanks”: Better Together deploys politeness to save the Union

Maude hails more Government savings

Francis Maude“…on Friday the government was trumpeting the shrinking of the estate, as it announced that it has quit land “26 times the size of Buckingham Palace” since the coalition came to power in 2010. Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, said taxpayers had been saved ‘a cumulative £1.2bn between the last general election and March 2013 by getting out of or selling unnecessary and underused properties’.” – Financial Times

Ministers back the first commercial planting of GM crops in England

“Anti-GM campaigners reacted with fury last night after the Government backed an EU vote that could lead to weedkiller-resistant maize being sowed in England next year. … Other European countries can ban the so-called Frankenstein food after EU ministers said members could opt out of GM planting. … Critics said England’s first commercial GM crops would spell disaster for wildlife and contaminate conventional and organic crops, with ‘catastrophic’ consequences for farmers.” – Daily Mail

Tory plans to tackle feckless parents

“Benefits will be docked from feckless parents who refuse to take classes on how to improve their children’s discipline, diet and exercise under plans being discussed by senior Tories. … A secret party document photographed in Downing Street reveals MPs preparing the Conservative election manifesto are considering attaching new conditions to welfare. … Carried by MP Margot James, who sits on a policy advisory board which is drawing up proposals for Prime Minister David Cameron, it reads: ‘Apply conditions for parents on benefits (training or parenting classes)’.” – Daily Mail

  • “A senior aide to Iain Duncan Smith was accused last night of threatening to ‘shut down’ Britain’s main provider of food banks, in a bitter row over allegations of the ‘politicisation of poverty’.” – The Independent
  • “Tax cuts proposed by Britain’s three biggest political parties at the next general election are not a cost-effective way of helping low-income working families, according to an analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.” – Financial Times

And comment:

  • “The young think like Tories – so why do they vote Labour?” – Isabel Hardman, Daily Telegraph

Webb pushes for the over-50s to stay in work

Steve Webb“Pensions minister Steve Webb said the older generation of workers are a ‘vast untapped talent’ and must be encouraged to stay in employment for longer, or lured back if they have retired early. … The ‘Fuller Working Lives’ programme announced today will extend flexible working to all employees straight away so older workers can combine employment with caring for relatives.” – Daily Mail

  • “The Coalition faces being accused of watering down a key pensions pledge to give ‘face-to-face’ financial advice to all pensioners. … Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat pensions minister, has admitted that George Osborne’s commitment to ‘face-to-face’ sessions could in fact involve ‘groups’ of elderly people.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “Modern Britain: no country for old men” – Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail

Clegg wants to make free schools less free

“Nick Clegg will move to distance the Liberal Democrats from the Tories over Michael Gove’s free schools programme by pledging in the party’s general election manifesto to introduce a ‘core curriculum’ for all schools in England. … In a marked departure from the changes introduced by the coalition, which exempted academies and free schools from the national curriculum, the deputy prime minister will describe the proposed core curriculum as a ‘basic safeguard’. He will also pledge to ban unqualified teachers.” – The Guardian

  • “Nick Clegg has said it is fanciful to think that cumbersome water cannon will help stop sporadic public disorder like the London riots, but added that a decision to deploy them is an operational one for the police and the home secretary.” – The Guardian

Ofsted’s concerns stretch beyond Birmingham

School“Fears were raised yesterday of more ‘Trojan Horse’ Islamist plots to infiltrate schools across the country. … Ofsted is carrying out ‘lightning’ inspections at schools in the north and south-east of England amid concerns over governors abusing their position and narrowing the curriculum. … Snap visits have already been made to schools in Bradford, Luton and Tower Hamlets in East London, and more are expected to follow.” – Daily Mail

  • “The number of schoolchildren speaking English as a second language has soared by a third in just five years amid fresh concerns that immigration may be putting a strain on the education system.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “The number of young children being squeezed into oversized classes has soared four-fold amid a growing crisis over primary school places.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “The religious extremism we should really worry about is online” – Maajid Nawaz, The Independent

Labour Lords tell Miliband not to alienate the City

“Ed Miliband has been warned by two former Labour ministers that he is alienating business leaders by speaking a language they do not understand, failing to listen and giving the impression he wants to harm big British companies. … Lord Myners and Lord Mandelson fear Mr Miliband’s attack on ‘predatory’ capitalism is damaging business relations and the party’s prospects at the next election.” – Financial Times

  • “The peer who helped to bankroll Tony Blair but described Ed Miliband as ­average has been persuaded to help to launch a last-ditch effort to secure ­business backing for Labour.” – The Times (£)
  • “Urgent action to tackle overcharging by mobile phone companies to the tune of £6bn – equivalent to £100 for every person in Britain – has been promised by Labour.” – The Independent

Burnham goes on the attack over waiting list numbers

NHS“The number of people waiting for NHS treatment has hit three million for the first time in six years, amid warnings that the growing demand for care means it could soon start routinely missing key targets. … Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said: ‘After a decade of progress by Labour, NHS waiting lists are getting longer by the day.'” – The Guardian

  • “A second baby has died after being poisoned in an NHS neonatal unit.” – Daily Telegraph

Euan Blair linked with Bootle seat

“A plum Labour seat linked with Tony Blair’s eldest son has become available after its MP said that he would step down at the next election. … Jo Benton, the 80-year-old MP for Bootle, had come under pressure from his local party to retire from the constituency he has represented for 24 years. Euan Blair has been mentioned by some locals as a replacement who could help to ‘put Bootle on the map’.” – The Times (£)

Farage in trouble over £200,000 of undeclared donations

UKIP glass“Nigel Farage broke electoral law in failing to declare donations worth £200,000 during a period of 14 years, the independent politics watchdog said yesterday. … The Ukip leader faces a maximum fine of £20,000 or up to a year in jail if the Electoral Commission decides to refer the case for criminal prosecution and Mr Farage is convicted. … The commission said that it was considering what disciplinary action to take against Mr Farage for breaching electoral law.” – The Times (£)

  • “Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian who is head of Italy’s anti-euro Five Star Movement is to team up with Nigel Farage to ‘bring down Brussels’ from within the European Parliament.” – Daily Telegraph

And Farage writes:

  • “It would be frightful nonsense for the EU to class obese people as disabled” – Nigel Farage, The Independent

News in brief

  • The World Cup’s opening ceremony – Daily Mail
  • The Clintons have made $155 million since leaving the White House – Daily Mail
  • Alcohol firms funding charities in order to gain political influence, claims study – The Guardian
  • Tesco to remove anti-homeless spikes after protests – The Guardian
  • Rik Mayall suffered a heart attack, his wife confirms – The Independent

And finally: Bercow’s left thumb

John Bercow“Poker players would call it a ‘tell’: an unconscious movement or gesture which betrays someone’s mood. At the card table this can take the form of a twitchy eyebrow or a pinkening of the cheek or a tendency to bite the lip. … Bercow’s ‘tell’ is his thumb. The left thumb. And it twitched like the clappers yesterday during Business Questions when the Speaker’s old enemy, Simon Burns, asked about headhunters.” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

  • “John Bercow, the Speaker of the House, signalled this week, however, that he thought the time had come for MPs to ‘consider’ using modern electronic technology to vote.” – Daily Telegraph