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Question: if “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, is last week’s EU deal a binding deal?  Downing Street is suggesting that the answer is No.

“A senior Eurosceptic with knowledge of the discussions involving Cabinet ministers, including Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, told The Telegraph that No 10 had said a commitment to “full alignment” between the UK and the EU “doesn’t mean anything in EU law”. A separate source confirmed that a specific Cabinet minister had been told by No 10 aides that the provision was “meaningless” and was simply included to secure Ireland’s approval for the document…In an article for The Telegraph, signed off by No 10, Mr Gove said: “If the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.” The Eurosceptic source said the article, and its approval by Downing Street, “has given Brexiteers the public assurances they wanted” about what the agreement “means and what it doesn’t mean”. “The Remain side are trying to say alignment suggests we are heading towards a soft Brexit. But No 10 have signed up to an article saying that we are free to diverge at the end of the transition period,” the source said.” – Sunday Telegraph

Williamson lines up with Johnson and Gove

“In a crucial breakthrough for the Brexiteers, the environment and foreign secretaries have won support from Gavin Williamson, the new defence secretary, to press for a clean break from European Union regulations, giving them a majority in the Brexit war cabinet…It will be Gove, Johnson, Williamson and the Brexit secretary, David Davis, urging divergence against the chancellor, Philip Hammond, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the first secretary, Damian Green, pressing for close alignment.” – Sunday Times (£)

  • Brexit Cabinet summit will be December 19 – Sunday Express
  • Brexiteers split on the deal – Observer
  • Rees-Mogg, Redwood: we must still be willing to walk away – Sunday Express
  • Shapps, Bridgen, Goldsmith, Philip Davies: May’s pre-deal critics – Sunday Times
  • Soubry says deal means we will stay in the Single Market and Customs Union – Mail on Sunday
  • “Meaningful vote” EU Withdrawal Bill latest – Observer
  • LibDems to put Single Market membership to a vote this week – Sunday Times (£)
  • Brussels says it’s under global pressure not to give Britain special treatment – Observer
  • UK-Ireland Brexit-inflamed County Down fishing row – Sunday Times
  • Bradley and Crouch met with F.A to discuss Brexit’s impact on the Premier League – Mail on Sunday
  • May crowns her church’s Christmas tree with a shoe – Mail on Sunday

David Jones: This deal could make a nonsense of Brexit

“We are at long last on the brink of where we should have been months ago – moving from preliminary skirmishes about the exit bill to serious talks on our future trade relationship with Europe. That alone is very welcome and I can understand my fellow Tory Brexiteers’ reluctance to criticise the deal. But we cannot ignore the hard fact that lying in the heart of this agreement are provisions that could make a nonsense of a real Brexit…There’ll be a lot more tough negotiating before we finally break free from Brussels. And we must never forget one important phrase tucked away in Friday’s deal document: ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’ “ – Mail on Sunday

Yesterday:

Hammond and Williamson “squared up to each other in the Commons over the defence budget”

“Witnesses reported the astonishing sight of Mr Williamson and Mr Hammond going ‘toe to toe’ in the Commons last week, with Mr Williamson angrily accusing Mr Hammond of publicly insulting him over his handling of the MoD. Mr Hammond defended himself, arguing he had done no such thing. At this point a horrified Mrs May, standing just feet away, stepped in to break up the row. A well-placed source said: ‘She made it clear the two of them should grow up and calm down. After slugging it out toe to toe, they trudged off like naughty schoolboys.’ “ – Mail on Sunday

  • Defence Secretary “could have been savaged by army dogs” – Mail on Sunday
  • Pet tarantula latest: removed from MoD, now in Commons, back home in Staffordshire for Christmas – Sun on Sunday
  • Is Williamson the new Major, rising effortlessly without trace? – Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday

Johnson Brother 1) Boris travels to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (or try to)

“Boris Johnson made a “frank and constructive” start to his sensitive first trip to Tehran, where he will meet President Hassan Rouhani as he lobbies for the release of a jailed British-Iranian. The foreign secretary’s visit comes as concerns grow about US president Donald Trump’s hostility to the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran, and deepening regional tensions, including over the Syrian war and Iran’s role in the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.” – Observer

Johnson Brother 2) Jo moves to raise Univesities’ game (or try to)

“Universities will have to provide 45 weeks of lectures a year, meaning prolonged summer and Christmas holidays will be slashed to make way for “more intense, condensed teaching”. The reforms are designed to add more “flexibility” into the system, which Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, believes is currently “skewed” in favour of traditional degrees and offers a “pitifully low” number of alternative courses. It follows a damning report by National Audit Office earlier this week, which found that the poor quality degrees offered by some institutions have left many graduates with lower earning potential than their peers who did not attend university.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Shorter degrees are brilliant for students and taxpayers – Jo Johnson, Sunday Telegraph

Loughton champions straight civil partnerships

“Loughton, a former children’s minister, said he is “optimistic” of its success. Justine Greening, the education secretary, also signalled her support, telling a recent ­meeting of the Bright Blue think tank: “I am all for equality.” Supporters of the measure say it would help to stabilise families with unmarried parents, who account for more than half of ­family breakdowns despite making up only a fifth of couples. Sir Paul Coleridge, founder of the Marriage Foundation campaign group, endorsed Loughton’s plans. “What matters is that people make a decisive, truthful commitment to each other before they enter into a relationship which leads to children,” he said.” – Sunday Times (£)

Other Tory news

  • Green inquiry trudges on, may report this week – Sunday Times
  • Don’t use my name to sell Highland timeshares, says Iain Duncan Smith – Scotland on Sunday
  • Fox seeks to spearhead tech giants’ grab for ‘digital oil’ – Observer

Nick Cohen: When will good people on the Left rumble the bad people who run Labour?

“I accept that Labour supporters may be ignorant. But ignorance is no defence if they never stop to question what might happen if Corbyn and his “team” were to come to power. The normal place to search for an answer is to look at the record. Try that, however, and you run into a problem. The greatest weakness of the far left is also its greatest strength. Momentum does not yet control a single council in Britain, let alone the British government. There is no record of Momentum in office to scrutinise. Critics cannot point to a London borough or northern city and say this is what happens when Momentum comes to town. Without evidence of the worst, supporters can hope for the best.” – Observer

  • Businessman with close links to Labour demands Tower Hamlets bribe – Sunday Times
  • Pidcock buys three-bedroom home after saying she can’t afford to buy – Sun on Sunday
  • Blair’s Christmas card – Mail on Sunday

News in Brief

  • Gove is waving the white flag over Brexit – John Rentoul, The Independent
  • This Brexit fudge will run and run – Patrick Benham-Croswell, The Conservative Woman
  • The Welsh Government negativity towards Brexit is misguided – Adrian Mason, Brexit Central

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