Europe 1) Clarke warns that Britain must prepare for Grexit

EU FLag“Britain must start to prepare for the impact of Greece’s inevitable exit from the euro, Kenneth Clarke warned yesterday. The former Tory Chancellor branded the new government in Athens ‘latter-day Trotskyites’, and said there was no way their demands could be met. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his hard-Left Syriza party have promised to slash repayments on Greece’s £185billion bailout and reverse the harsh austerity measures imposed.” – Daily Mail

Europe 2) Boris seeks lead role in EU renegotiation…

“Boris Johnson feels he would be well-placed to lead the renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the European Union, it was claimed yesterday. If the Conservatives win a second term, it is expected that Mr Johnson would be a cabinet minister when they deliver the promised in-out referendum, by the end of 2017. As a journalist based in Brussels in the early 1990s, he has revealed he would like to use his knowledge of EU politics in the talks, and has ‘strong views’ about what Britain should push for.” – Daily Mail

  • Mayor revives call for Tory MPs to publish tax returns – The Guardian

…as he bids farewell to his American passport

BORIS blue and red“Boris Johnson yesterday gave a fresh signal he wants to be Prime Minister — by saying he is to ditch his US citizenship. The Tory Mayor of London — entitled to a US passport because he was born in New York — declared: “My commitment is, and always has been, to Britain.” Bojo, 50, who is to stand as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, also wants to stop having to pay tax in the States.” – The Sun (£)

Boris Johnson: If Britain wants to be taken seriously we must defend ourselves

“As our American friends instinctively understand, it is the existence of strong and well-resourced British Armed Forces that gives this country the ability to express and affirm our values overseas: of freedom, democracy, tolerance, pluralism. David Cameron gets that. Ed Miliband would put it all at risk, and in the process he would make Britain weaker and less safe.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Failure to meet NATO spending target will embolden enemies – Daily Telegraph


Cameron to enshrine aid target in law despite opposition

aidgraphic“It has taken almost five years but ministers are finally set to deliver on their promise to enshrine overseas aid spending in law. The move, which has come under prolonged fire from the Tory right and several newspapers, is due to reach the statute book just before Parliament is dissolved for the general election.” – The Independent

Osborne pressured by Cable over HSBC

“George Osborne is facing growing pressure over the HSBC scandal after Vince Cable challenged the chancellor to answer a series of questions over whether he has shown proper vigilance towards inquiries into the bank’s Swiss subsidiaries. The business secretary said that he had written to Osborne to ensure that the “various inquiries” into HMRC have been followed through properly.” – The Guardian

Welfare 1) Top Tories split on child benefit cap

money“Tory Cabinet ministers are split over whether the party should pledge to limit child benefit to the first two children, it emerged last night. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith gave his public backing to the idea yesterday, saying it would encourage ‘responsibility’ by parents. Mr Duncan Smith, a long-time enthusiast for the plan, has drawn up private costings suggesting the move could cut £2 billion a year off the benefits bill if it is applied to all future families.” – Daily Mail

Welfare 2) Election nerves force Prime Minister to soften cuts to obese support

“Plans to impose benefit cuts on the obese and addicts who refuse to change their lifestyle were toned down because of tensions between David Cameron and the team of one of his most senior cabinet ministers. No 10 has made it clear that the benefit curbs, worth about £100 a week, were a personal priority of the prime minister. However, allies of Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, urged caution over the proposals.” – The Times (£)

>Today: The Deep End: If Cameron loses in May it will be because he fought the 2010 and 2015 general elections in the wrong order

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Iain Duncan Smith says Universal Credit is under budget

Grammar school row piles pressure on Morgan

MORGAN Nicky headshot“Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has been warned not to duck a decision on whether to approve the first new grammar school in 50 years until after the election as a cabinet battle over the issue comes to a head. She is stuck between Michael Fallon and Theresa May, who both support new grammars in their constituencies, and Michael Gove, her predecessor.” – The Times (£)

Conservatives should fight Labour’s NHS myths, argues Dorrell

“Mr Dorrell also called on the the Tories to challenge Labour on the issue of the NHS in the run-up to the general election. Suggesting that David Cameron should expose the “myth” that he wanted to privatise the NHS, he said the commercial sector had always had a role alongside the state provision of health care.” – Daily Telegraph

Miliband claims that boosting household income is key to revival…

Miliband Odd and Red“Drawing inspiration from Barack Obama’s pledge to build the American economy from the “middle out”, Ed Miliband will today insist that boosting the prosperity of working families on average incomes is the key to Britain’s industrial revival. As Labour launches its industrial strategy, he will accuse the Conservatives of focusing their strategy on the rich in the hope that their wealth trickles down to the rest of society.” – The Independent

…as tumbling cost of living undercuts Labour narrative

“Rising living standards are a headache for Labour leader Ed Miliband who has spent months campaigning on the ‘cost of living crisis’. But the dramatic slump in the price of oil, as well as the supermarket price wars, have eased the pressure on household budgets just as wages start to pick up. Rob Wood, chief UK economist at Berenberg Bank, said: ‘With low inflation, 2015 will be the year of the consumer. We have for some months been forecasting 2015 to record the strongest consumption growth in a decade.” – Daily Mail

Balls declares war on cash-in-hand…

BALLS Miliband pub“Homeowners have a duty to demand receipts for the smallest cash job carried out by gardeners, cleaners and handymen, Ed Balls said yesterday. The Shadow Chancellor said he always asked for a written record even if it was for £10 to trim a hedge – because it was the ‘right thing to do’. His crackdown on cash-in-hand jobs was branded ‘completely out of touch’ yesterday as he extended Labour’s war on tax avoidance to ordinary families.” – Daily Mail

…as he refuses to support Miliband’s personalisation of tax row…

“Ed Balls distanced himself from Ed Miliband yesterday as he warned he would crack down on a controversial form of ‘tax abuse’ used by the Labour leader. The Shadow Chancellor twice declined to say whether Mr Miliband had acted morally in signing up to the so-called ‘deed of variation’ on his late father’s will that limited potential inheritance tax liability. Mr Balls vowed that Labour would be ‘the party that will crack down on tax planning.’” – Daily Mail

…but is accused of “gob-smacking hypocrisy” as he defends Labour’s tax efficiency

LABOUR dead rose“Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were accused of “gob-smacking hypocrisy” last night after saying Labour’s attempt to avoid tax on donations was financially “efficient.” Mr Miliband has spent days accusing Tory donors like Lord Fink of “dodgy” tax avoidance and even vowed to investigate similar schemes. But after Labour was accused of accepting a £1.6million donation in shares to avoid a 45 per cent bill, shadow chancellor Mr Balls said: “It was a tax efficient way to do things.”” – The Sun (£)

  • Shadow Chancellor will not endorse Labour leader’s tax loophole – Daily Telegraph
  • Party faces quiz over donors’ tax arrangements – Daily Express
  • Miliband tries to rally Welsh support with tax attack – Financial Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: There’s only one way to escape the endless, pointless battle over political donors

Cruddas demands profit-based companies be stripped of Government contracts

“Private companies motivated by profit should be stripped of billions of pounds worth of government contracts, Ed Miliband’s top policy chief has said. Jon Cruddas, who is helping to write Labour’s general election manifesto, said there should be “no more outsourcing” of public services to firms that seek to make money rather than achieving a “social purpose”… The comments undermine the Labour leadership’s attempts to prove it is not anti-business after weeks of public criticism from executives and top donors.” – Daily Telegraph

Blair and Brown were urged to get couple’s counselling

Blair and Brown“Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were urged to get ‘couple’s counselling’ to repair their relationship, former Number 10 spin chief Alastair Campbell has revealed. Mr Campbell said he suggested the two Labour heavyweights use professional help to resolve their differences – but Mr Blair rejected the idea. The former Downing Street communications director also claimed every politician in Britain should seek psychiatric help.” – Daily Mail

Byrne claims university should be ‘free like the NHS’

“Labour’s shadow universities minister has endorsed the principle that higher education should be available free of charge “like the NHS”. Liam Byrne however indicated that Labour would not adopt the policy, arguing that to get rid of tuition fees would be undeliverable in practice. He was speaking this week during a visit to King’s College London where he answered questions from members of the party’s Labour Students organisation.” – The Independent

Matt Ridley: Who wants cheaper jeans and cheaper beer?

Building shield“Pressure groups on the left are increasingly agitated that the agreement is being negotiated in secret and contains clauses that might force competition on the National Health Service — a canard that Mr Shapps exposed as nonsense. They couch their opposition almost entirely in terms of the risks to producers — farmers, health-service managers and small businesses fearful of American competition.” – The Times (£)

Norwich South MP abandoned by Lib Dem strategic retreat

“He now has the longest odds against him winning again of any MP: 14-1. In a party staging a strategic retreat to fortified strongholds, Wright is the lone soldier marooned in no-man’s land, surrounded by enemies, ammunition dwindling, written off by the General Staff, relatives to be informed in due course.” – Financial Times

Farage in Ulster row

ulsterunionist“UKIP boss Nigel Farage is in hot water after calling the Northern Ireland peace deal “utterly loathsome”. The politician made the remark before his party had any MPs. Asked if he supported the devolved government, Mr Farage is recorded saying: “I find the whole peace process utterly and entirely loathsome. “To have released back into the community over 400 convicted murderers some of whom served sentences short as 18 months. That’s not what I call a peace process, that’s what I call surrender to the wrong ’uns.”” – The Sun (£)

Poll names UKIP as one of Britain’s most hated brands

Many may love it, but Marmite has been named as one of Britain’s top ten most hated brands, beaten only by political parties Ukip and the Conservatives. Starbucks also made it into the list, but there was better news for Heinz and Cadbury’s  – which are among the nation’s favourites, according to the new poll. The study of 1,500 people by advertising agency Isobel looked at both the most loved and most hated brands in Britain.” – Daily Mail

  • Party claims to have been denied access to controversial Farage documentary – Daily Telegraph
  • Tourism spokesman launches campaign ‘battle Jag’ – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Dominic Raab MP in Comment: Farage himself says that UKIP “isn’t passing the credibility test”. Here’s why he’s right.

News in Brief

  • Red tape lunacy that damns NHS bureaucrats – Daily Mail
  • Egypt bombs ISIS after mass beheading – The Times (£)
  • Bungling bureaucrats blow more than £5 billion – The Sun (£)
  • Online courts mooted for low-value claim cases – Financial Times
  • Quarter of new psychosis cases linked to super-strength cannabis – The Independent
  • Dozens of arms firm employees on Government secondment – The Guardian
  • Artist behind Tower of London charities received death threats – Daily Mail