Brexit 1) Article 50 will be triggered on Wednesday 29th March

EU Brexit‘The countdown to the UK’s historic EU break-away will begin a week tomorrow, Theresa May has revealed. The PM said she will trigger our formal “Article 50” exit notification to fire the starting gun on two years of tough negotiations. The landmark decision means the UK will leave the EU by March 29, 2019 — as Mrs May has also ruled out any extension to talks…And a Cabinet minister dismissed suggestions that an election was imminent as “just b******s”.’ – The Sun


>Yesterday: MPsETC: Brexit will be triggered on March 29. And Downing Street repeats: no early election.

Brexit 2) The papers follow up ConservativeHome’s news that 70 MPs demand greater BBC balance

‘Around 70 MPs are understood to have signed a letter to director-general Lord Hall last night complaining about the Corporation’s gloomy reporting of the crucial issue. Tory MP Julian Knight, who co-ordinated the letter, warned that the BBC was in danger of losing touch with its viewers and giving too much airtime to ‘diehard Remainers’. It had a duty to offer impartial coverage of Brexit, he said. Mr Knight, a former BBC journalist who backed Remain during last year’s referendum campaign, insisted the letter was not intended as ‘BBC baiting’. But he added: ‘It must be careful not to lose the trust of the 52 per cent who voted Leave, as well as those Remainers like myself who respect the will of the people and want to get on with delivering Brexit.’’ – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Julian Knight on Comment: Why we believe that it’s time for better balance from the BBC

Brexit 3) Fox’s department explores zero-tariff transition period

World-shield‘Trade officials are examining international rules that would allow tariffs between Britain and the EU to be kept at zero for up to ten years after Brexit. Officials in Liam Fox’s department are looking closely at a provision in World Trade Organisation rules that would allow trade to continue under today’s terms for up to a decade, as long as both parties agree. The government insists that a fresh trade deal with the EU is achievable within the two years set aside for the discussions under Article 50. However, business groups have called for a transition period that would allow a trading arrangement with Europe to be negotiated over a longer time frame. A government source said that the provision had been looked at and that the EU had used it in the past.’ – The Times (£)

  • Small exporters demand free trade – The Sun
  • The City wants a protective tax cut – FT
  • Ports bureaucrats predict ports doom – The Times (£)
  • German unification showed technocrats have a vested interest in making it sound complex – Frederick Studemann, FT
  • Protect London’s insurance markets – Stephen Hammond, The Times (£)


>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Coming soon – at least seven Brexit Bills. Leaving the EU will define May’s Government: a fate she should embrace.

Snap election: “It isn’t going to happen”

‘Downing Street has categorically denied that Theresa May will capitalise on the chronic weakness of the opposition Labour party by calling a snap general election, possibly as soon as May 4. “There isn’t going to be one. It isn’t going to happen. There is not going to be a general election,” Mrs May’s spokesman said…William Hague, the former Conservative leader, is among those calling for an early poll, while the weekend press contained speculation on a meeting between senior Conservatives to discuss an election in early May, coinciding with local elections. But senior Tories say the “election planning meeting” between Gavin Williamson, chief whip, George Hollingbery, Mrs May’s parliamentary aide, and Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Tory chairman, never took place.’ – FT

Osborne hints he might leave Parliament if MPs insist

OSBORNE George official‘The body that approves new jobs for former ministers should be replaced because it is so weak, MPs are expected to say, after George Osborne was appointed editor of the Evening Standard. The former chancellor hinted for the first time yesterday that he could stand down as the MP for Tatton, in Cheshire, after complaints that he could not be both a backbench MP and work at the London newspaper…In the Commons yesterday Mr Osborne told MPs that parliament was “enhanced when we have people of different experience take part in our robust debate” but “I will listen to what my colleagues have to say” about his appointment, which came on top of four other roles he has taken on since standing down as chancellor.’ – The Times (£)

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Resist the pressure for full-time politicians

Lawyers raise concerns over evidence change to rape trials

‘Top lawyers have slammed Government plans to shield rape accusers from facing cross-examination in court. They said proposals to let alleged victims give evidence by video recording would be unfair to defendants – and make it harder for juries to determine the truth. The backlash follows the announcement of the plans at the weekend by Justice Secretary Liz Truss…Francis FitzGibbon QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, told Radio 4: ‘If it is likely to become the default for sex abuse cases, I think it’s likely to detract from the reality of trials. It would make it harder for juries to determine where truth lies.’

Councillors’ allowances increase as taxes rise for social care

money‘Some grasping local government members are filling their pockets as ordinary people buckle under the pressure of council tax increases of up to five per cent. Welwyn and Hatfield council leader John Dean will see a 58 per cent bumper increase to the pay he gets for his top position. In addition to £4,951 basic pay, the Tory boss will rake in another £14,853 – up from £9,505 before the rise. And cabinet members have seen this figure soar by a shocking 67 per cent – from £5,698 to £9485…John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This is absolutely sickening.”‘ – The Sun

  • A disgrace – The Sun Says
  • Home care industry ‘on the brink of collapse’ – FT

Johnson will require universities to protect free speech

‘Universities will be required to protect free speech across their campuses including inside the student union under plans being drawn up by the government. Jo Johnson, minister for higher education, has written to universities saying that they will be compelled to include a clear commitment to freedom of speech in their governance documents to counter the culture of censorship and so-called safe spaces. The letter, seen by The Times, said that it was the “legal duty” of universities to ensure as far as practicable that freedom of speech is secured for “members, students, employees and visiting speakers”. This meant that all university premises should not be “denied to any individual or body on any grounds connected with their beliefs or views, policy or objective”.’ – The Times (£)

Corbyn pleads for unity

Jeremy Corbyn‘Sniping continued, according to party sources, at an “away day” meeting of the shadow cabinet at the London headquarters of Unison, the trade union. Mr McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry were said to have berated Mr Watson in a “short and stormy exchange”. Mr Corbyn and his deputy later released a statement saying that a “robust and constructive discussion about the challenges and opportunities ahead” took place. They added: “The shadow cabinet agreed on the need to strengthen unity.” Mr Corbyn made a similar plea for unity on Twitter. Referring to the plot row, he said: “Sometimes spirits in the Labour party can run high, today has been one of those days.” Earlier he had been heckled by MPs as he addressed the parliamentary Labour Party.’ – The Times (£)

Martin McGuinness has died

‘Mr McGuinness, 66, died during the night at Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital with his family by his bedside. Sinn Fein said it is “with deep regret and sadness that we have learnt of the death of our friend and comrade Martin McGuinness who passed away in Derry during the night. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.” Mr McGuinness had requested privacy during his illness which saw him retire from front-line politics in January. He quit as deputy First Minister, after holding the position since 2007, in the wake of the RHI scandal which forced the snap Assembly election last week. The former IRA commander said he had intended to retire from politics in the summer but his illness meant he was unable to run in subsequent election.’ – Belfast Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Martin McGuinness, terrorist godfather and the Queen’s Minister

FBI confirms investigation into alleged links between Trump campaign and Putin

Vladimir Putin‘FBI Director James Comey has confirmed in public that the FBI is investigating links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government – a stunning disclosure that law enforcement was probing whether there are ties between the Trump campaign and election hacking that may have helped the president win. Comey announced the information – which has been reported for weeks but had lacked official public confirmation – during a high-stakes hearing conducted by the House Intelligence Committee. Although he said he wouldn’t reveal classified information about the investigation, Comey backed up an intelligence community conclusion that the Kremlin wanted Donald Trump to win the election. ‘I think that was a fairly easy judgment for the (intelligence) community,’ Comey said. ‘Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.” – Daily Mail

Electoral Commission: We need the power to levy bigger fines

‘The Electoral Commission now needs its sanctioning powers to be reviewed. Our current maximum of £20,000 for a single offence is not proportionate to the levels of spending being regulated. The right level is for parliament to decide, but such an increase would help to ensure an effective deterrent. Openness to scrutiny is fundamental to a healthy democracy. Transparency brings accountability, showing where money is spent on winning votes and giving voters confidence in the way campaigns are run. If all parties take their responsibilities seriously, and if we have greater powers to sanction them if necessary, the prospects for maintaining public confidence in the integrity of our political system will be so much the better.’ – Sir John Holmes, The Times (£)

News in Brief

  • Small businesses told to pay inaccurate rates demands – Daily Mail
  • Global brands shun Google over extremist content – The Times (£)
  • Businesses warn of hostile anti-shale gas tactics – The Times (£)