‘We are reversing this. I don’t care how bad it is for you’ – May ‘forced’ Hammond to ditch NIC rise

tax‘Philip Hammond is fighting to save his career after being forced into the most humiliating Budget U-turn in a generation. Theresa May scrapped the Chancellor’s headline policy – a hike in National Insurance contributions for the self-employed – after a backbench rebellion over what amounted to a broken manifesto pledge. Tory MPs said the fiasco had been “hugely damaging” to Mr Hammond’s authority, with one saying he was now “on probation”. With Mr Hammond now looking increasingly isolated from Number 10, a Conservative source said the Prime Minister had “dug her stiletto in and told him, ‘We are reversing this – I don’t care how bad it is for you’.”’ – Daily Telegraph

  • Number 10 claims to have warned the Chancellor beforehand – The Times (£)
  • The blunder will be remembered – The Times (£)
  • Corbyn lets the Prime Minister off the hook with ‘worst PMQs in history’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Swayne’s local newspaper article defending the policy had already gone to the printers – The Sun
  • And Rory Stewart found out on live TV – The Times (£)
  • Tougher austerity ahead if people won’t accept tax rises – The Times (£)



>Today: ToryDiary: The NICS bungle has exposed a weakness. This is not a strong Cabinet.


The Queen will give Royal Assent to the Article 50 Bill today

‘The Queen will today give Royal Assent to the Article 50 Bill, clearing the way for Theresa May to trigger Brexit. She is expected to formally sign off the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, clearing the way for Mrs May to begin the two-year process of leaving the EU. It came as Brexit Secretary David Davis played down concerns about quitting the EU without a deal, saying it was ‘not as frightening as some people think’.’ – Daily Mail

  • Pressure mounts to trigger it next week – The Times (£)
  • Davis says the Government hasn’t done an assessment of Brexit with no deal – FT
  • Tusk says the EU won’t heed ‘threats’ of walking away – Daily Mail
  • Fox wants students removed from the immigration target – FT
  • Cairns accidentally invites Heseltine back to Government – The Sun



The Prime Minister warns the SNP that Scotland will leave the EU, in or out of the UK

Scottish flag‘Scotland will leave the EU whether or not it becomes an independent country, Theresa May has said in a slapdown to the SNP. The Prime Minister seized on comments from the European Commission indicating it would not automatically become a member. Its spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the “Barroso doctrine” continued to apply – which sets out the legal view if one part of an EU country became an independent state it would have to apply for EU membership. Theresa May said at PMQs: “Scotland will be leaving the European Union, it will leave the European Union either as a member of the United Kingdom or were it independent. It’s very clear with the Barroso (doctrine), it would not be a member of the European Union.”’ – The Sun

>Today: Joe Ray on Comment: Scottish Leavers could hold the key to sinking Sturgeon’s dream of independence

Electoral Commission fines the Conservatives £70,000 for misreported and unreported election expenses

‘The Tories have been fined a record £70,000 after an investigation into election campaign expenses, the Electoral Commission has announced. It has concluded there were “significant failures” by the Conservative Party to report accurately on how much it spent on campaigning at three by-elections in 2014 and at the 2015 general election…The commission concluded its spending return in 2015 was missing payments worth at least £104,765. Its report this morning said: “Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the Commission or were incorrectly reported by the party. A portion of this amount should have been included in the Party’s return but wasn’t. Another portion was put into the Party’s return when it was candidate spending in a number of constituencies where the Party spent money promoting individual candidates”…Apologising for their mistakes, the party also suggested “given the range of technical errors made by a number of political parties and campaign groups” the Electoral Commission’s own rules could be “clarified or improved”.’ – The Sun

The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1975

growth flag‘The jobless rate has fallen to its lowest since the hippy ­summer of 1975. In a new Brexit booster, it stands at 4.7 per cent after the number of unemployed fell by 31,000 to 1.58million. Almost 32million people are now in work, a jump of 315,000 compared to last year. Experts said that is in at least part down to immigrant workers. The boom has also seen a record number of workers on zero-hours contracts in their main job. The figure rose 101,000 in the last quarter of 2016 to 905,000.’ – The Sun

  • The Fed raises rates – and plans to do so twice more – The Times (£)

Brady: Grammar schools would open up professions to poorer children

‘More grammar schools are necessary to stop rich former public school pupils dominating top professions such as law, a senior Tory backbencher has said. Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative 1922 Committee, said politics, the civil service and even acting are now disproportionately dominated by those who went to private schools. He said part of the reason is that comprehensives often ‘lack’ the capacity to get their pupils into the top universities, meaning success in life is limited. Allowing more poorer pupils to access selective state schools which can provide an academically rigorous education would help combat the trend, he suggested.’ – Daily Mail

‘Marine A’ has conviction reduced to manslaughter on appeal

Ministry of Defence‘British soldier Alexander Blackman – better known as Marine A – was today sensationally cleared of murdering a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan and could be a free man by next week. His wife Claire grinned and there were loud gasps and then cheers from his family, ex-Marines and other supporters as five top Court of Appeal judges quashed the conviction and reduced it to manslaughter. Sergeant Blackman, who has already been in prison for three years, will face a new sentencing hearing in the next week but his legal team will argue he should be freed because of time served. The judges, led by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, agreed that rather than being a ‘cold-blooded execution’ the ‘exemplary’ soldier who served his country for 15 years was under ‘exceptional’ stress when he shot the Taliban fighter already wounded after he had attacked British troops in September 2011.’ – Daily Mail

  • Defence chiefs blocked a key witness from giving evidence – The Times (£)
  • Top brass were warned about the unit before the killing – The Times (£)
  • He’s done enough time. Let him come home. – The Sun Says
  • Now protect other soldiers – Daily Mail Leader
  • MPs demand tighter controls over the Prime Minister’s war powers – The Sun
  • We must learn from Chilcot – Bernard Jenkin, The Times (£)

Fallon challenges defence suppliers over profits

‘The Ministry of Defence is set for a clash with industry after it cut the level of profit that companies can make on “single-source” contracts awarded without competition. Michael Fallon, defence secretary, is reducing the starting point for allowable profit on this type of contract from 8.95 per cent last year to 7.46 per cent for 2017 — a 30 per cent reduction since 2015. Mr Fallon said the cut would mean “better value for money” for the MoD, which is embarking on a £178bn equipment-buying programme. The rate, which will be revised again in a year’s time, can be raised in some cases. Industry took issue with Mr Fallon’s judgment that the lower starting rate provided a “fair return”.’ – FT

Rutte sees off challenge from Wilders in Dutch election

Geert Wilders‘Dutch voters turned out in huge numbers to thwart the anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders yesterday and halt the wave of populist successes that delivered Brexit and President Trump. Mark Rutte, the centre-right prime minister, emerged from a bitter election campaign with the highest number of parliamentary seats, according to exit polls. However, he lost nearly a quarter of his MPs and may struggle to form another coalition quickly. Labour, his ruling partner for the past five years, lost 28 of 38 MPs. With 93 per cent of votes counted this morning the VVD party led by Mr Rutte, 50, was in front with 33 seats after a late surge in support attributed to his tough stance on Turkey and a ban on President Erdogan’s ministers entering the Netherlands…Mr Wilders, the far-right populist who dominated the agenda, was on course to win 20 seats, an increase of five.’ – The Times (£)

  • Turkey threatens to cancel refugee deal over row with Rutte – Daily Mail
  • Erdogan claims ‘fascist’ EU treats Turks like the Nazis treated Jews – The Times (£)
  • Le Pen criticises May in interview with Farage – Daily Mail
  • Defending ethnic interests can never be justified – David Aaronovitch, The Times (£)

News in Brief

  • Russian spies charged over the Yahoo email hack – Daily Mail
  • Redrafted Trump travel ban blocked by Hawaiian judge – The Times (£)
  • Hilton gets Fox News show about the rise of populism – The Guardian
  • Johnson visits Somalia – The Times (£)
  • MPs are to be banned from employing family members – The Sun
  • Artist apologises for anti-semitic road sign – The Times (£)
  • MPs and tech giants face off over hate speech online – The Guardian