Foster says May’s Belfast visit is ‘distraction’ from devolution talks

“DUP leader Arlene Foster today blasted Theresa May’s visit to Belfast as a ‘distraction’ from talks to restore powersharing. The Prime Minister raised hopes of a breakthrough in the 13-month stalemate by announcing the surprise visit, which also include Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. But as talks broke up last night little progress had been made and the two main parties – Mrs Foster’s DUP and Sinn Fein – never met face to face. Devolution has been on ice for more than a year after Sinn Fein collapsed the power-sharing executive and demanded Mrs Foster’s resignation. As talks broke up last night Mrs May urged the parties to make ‘one final push’ to strike a deal to salvage powersharing. But Mrs Foster said while the leaders were welcome, their presence proved a ‘bit of a distraction’ as it interrupted negotiations.” – Daily Mail

  • Defiant DUP leader reiterates stance against Irish Language Act – Belfast Telegraph
  • Prime Minister fails to reach deal to restore power-sharing – The Guardian


  • Varadkar refuses to take May’s calls in ‘Brexit tantrum’ – The Sun
  • Dublin port prepares customs checks for hard Brexit – FT

Williamson sends warship to the South China Sea

“Gavin Williamson has pledged to send Royal Navy warship HMS Sutherland to sail across the disputed South China Sea in an act of defiance to Beijing. The Defence Secretary said the anti-submarine frigate would be sent to ‘assert our values’ and international right to navigate the waters. His vow comes amid ongoing tensions in the resource-rich sea, which China has laid claim to – seizing control of reefs and islands and building artificial islands out of them. Beijing has tried to drive other countries away from the area and in January dispatched a warship to scare off a US missile destroyer which it said had sailed too close to its territory. But speaking on a trip to Australia, Mr Williamson vowed not to be intimidated by China and to send the British ship through the disputed waters after it docked in Down Under.” – Daily Mail

  • Defence Secretary warned that fight against ISIS is ‘far from over’ – The Sun
  • UK missed two per cent defence spending target, report claims – FT

Johnson to set out his Brexit red lines

“Boris Johnson will today warn that keeping Britain shackled to EU laws after Brexit would be ‘intolerable, undemocratic’ and make it all but impossible to sign trade deals. In a major speech titled ‘A United Kingdom’, the Foreign Secretary will call on Leave and Remain campaigners to come together for the future of the country. Setting out his upbeat vision, Mr Johnson will say leaving the EU is ‘grounds for hope, not fear’ – and will warn that any attempts to reverse the referendum would be a ‘disastrous mistake and a betrayal’. He will also argue efforts by Remain-supporting ministers to keep Britain closely aligned with Brussels rules after Brexit would not amount to ‘taking back control’.” – Daily Mail

  • UK will no longer tolerate Brussels’ laws, Foreign Secretary warns – The Times
  • Johnson condemns Remainer plot… – Daily Express
  • …and says that thwarting the vote would be disastrous – The Guardian
  • Brussels ‘ready to offer better deal’ amidst disarray – Daily Mail
  • Punishing the UK would backfire, France admits – Daily Telegraph
  • Border Force not ready for extra checks, say MPs – The Times
  • Clegg admits that soft Brexit is dead – Daily Express


  • ‘Artists 4 Brexit’ comes out of the closet – The Times
  • Juncker backs election process for Brussels’ top job – Daily Telegraph
  • Macron to introduce one-month ‘national service – Daily Mail

Boris Johnson: Brexit is about being more global, not more insular

“I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote and frustrate the will of the people. I believe that would be a disastrous mistake, leading to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen. But if we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties. It is not good enough to say to remainers: you lost, get over it. Let us address their concerns and show that Brexit is a great national endeavour with immense economic and political benefits. To all who worry about the supposed loss of Britain to European security, I can offer this vital reassurance.” – The Sun

  • Foreign Secretary’s ambition blinds him to the perils of Leaving – Martin Kettle, The Guardian
  • Johnson’s big Brexit idea is just preposterous – Oliver Kamm, The Times
  • Tories will win voters over by putting the national interest first – Roger Scruton, Daily Telegraph
  • Time has run out for May’s immigration plan – Yvette Cooper, Times Red Box
  • Truss knew how to make Global Britain take off – Asa Bennett, Daily Telegraph
  • Fear and abuse won’t change Brexit minds – Hugh Muir, The Guardian
  • No love lost on the road to Brexit – Sir Vince Cable, Times Red Box


  • Remainers and Leavers deserve to know how Brexit will make things better – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson’s message to Remoaners is vital – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: Why our European neighbours think we’re a basket case

Rudd orders web giants to share terror-detection software

“Amber Rudd today ordered Facebook, Google and Twitter bosses to share their terror-detection software with smaller firms. The Home Secretary said the severity of the terror threat in the US and the UK meant the internet giants must prioritise the security and safety of their customers. Speaking at a global summit of tech giants in San Francisco tonight she made an emotional plea for better cooperation in the industry as she shared her personal pain of witnessing five terror attacks in Britain last year. Every attack had an online component, she told the Global Forum to Counter Terrorism, which was set up by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft last year. And she told them that three quarters of terror convicts in the UK possessed or spread poisonous terrorist material on the web.” – The Sun

  • ‘White powder’ sent to Home Secretary’s Parliamentary office – The Sun

McVey demands apology from McDonnell over ‘lynching’ comment

“Esther McVey last night publicly called on John McDonnell to apologise for joking about her being ‘lynched’. In her first major comments on the row, the Work and Pensions Secretary said the shadow chancellor had effectively ‘given permission’ for a Labour hate mob to target her online. Ms McVey said even Labour MPs had told her he should apologise. She also condemned Jeremy Corbyn for promising a ‘kinder, gentler’ politics and then promoting Mr McDonnell. In her first interview since her remarkable Cabinet comeback, the 50-year-old former television presenter also told Tory colleagues they should ‘rally around’ Theresa May but refused to rule out a possible leadership bid in the future.” – Daily Mail

Hinds to revive times tables tests

Children as young as eight will be put through mandatory times tables tests, the new Education Secretary will announce today. The policy has been resurrected by Damian Hinds after being shelved by his predecessor Justine Greening, in the first sign of a return to a more traditional approach to education. It marks the first time in 75 years that students will be required to sit national multiplication checks, although previously such tests were administered by some schools on an ad hoc basis. More than 7,000 primary-aged children will trial the scheme this Spring before the tests are launched nationally next year. Speaking to The Telegraph, Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said that the tests would mean that a new generation of schoolchildren will once again be able to recite their times tables “effortlessly”.” – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Robert Halfon MP in Comment: Three big Conservative achievements. Better schools, more apprenticeships – and help for lower paid people.

Oxfam chief must quit, says Evans

“Oxfam’s chief executive must quit after reports that he refused to meet the charity’s safeguarding chief about abuse claims, an MP has demanded. Nigel Evans, a Conservative member of the international development select committee, said that Mark Goldring, was “part of the problem”. He told The Times: “By what Mr Goldring has already conceded, he should go. He has admitted that he didn’t take on board what his own safeguarding officer was saying. He’s part of the problem, not the solution. Let’s get somebody else in who can cleanse the organisation.” But Oxfam’s trustees insisted they had confidence in Mr Goldring, who has run the charity since 2013. Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s chairwoman, said: “We have complete confidence in Mark Goldring, he’s doing a brilliant job.”” – The Times

  • Charity chairman arrested in Guatemala over corruption allegations – The Times
  • Watchdog probe puts Oxfam under fresh pressure – FT


  • UN staff ‘responsible for 60,000 rapes in a decade’ – The Times


  • The whole sector needs root and branch reform – Allison Pearson, Daily Telegraph
  • Allegations are an urgent call for action – Stephen Twigg, Times Red Box

>Yesterday: James Frayne’s column: Those who use the Oxfam scandal to bash overseas aid risk looking opportunistic in the extreme

Cameron tried to block ‘too posh’ Rees-Mogg from becoming an MP

“Cameron tried to block Jacob Rees-Mogg from becoming an MP because he was too posh, it emerged yesterday. The popular backbencher revealed for the first time that the former Tory leader phoned his election agent for the 2010 candidate selection contest in the North Somerset seat to offer her any other candidate “so long as their name wasn’t Rees-Mogg”. It has previously been revealed that Mr Cameron tried to get Mr Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata to change her name to Nancy Mogg to make her sound more common at the same election but she refused. She failed to get elected. Speaking to a ConservativeHome podcast called ‘Moggcast’, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “My agent was told that before the final selection round that she could have any candidate she liked so long as their name wasn’t Rees-Mogg or her name. Central office was very keen to stop me being selected at every stage.”” – The Sun

>Yesterday: Audio: The Moggcast. CCHQ’s attempts to rule the Party by “imperial fiat” – and how they attempted to block Rees-Mogg’s candidacy

Corbynite holds talks in Greece as hard left seeks to row influence

“A senior member of Momentum met members of the left-wing Greek government this week as the pro-Jeremy Corbyn network seeks to strengthen its international presence. Emine Ibrahim met Syriza ministers and officials on a trip organised by the Greece Solidarity Campaign. Ms Ibrahim, 51, is a vice-chairwoman of Momentum nationally. She said that she was there as part of the Mediterranean caucus on Haringey council, in north London, accompanied by the Labour councillors Peray Ahmet and Isidoros Diakides, rather than in any official capacity for Momentum. However, her visit has been noted by senior Labour centrists and comes as other Momentum figures strengthen their relationship with left-wing parties abroad.” – The Times

Dozens of new parties founded

“A record number of political parties have been created in the past year in an effort to break the two-party duopoly. More than 50 new parties were registered with the Electoral Commission in 2017, more than double the year before. This year is set to be another bumper year, with 12 parties registered in January alone. While many of the parties operate on the political fringes, some of the most credible are seeking to reclaim the centre ground, which their supporters feel has been deserted by Labour and the Conservatives… Renew, a pro-EU party, was formed last October to give voice to Remain-backing metropolitans. The co-founders, Chris Coghlan, 37, and James Torrance, 30, started it after standing as anti-Brexit independents in west London in the general election. The party so far has 300 parliamentary candidates in place, 5,000 supporters and six staff.” – The Times

  • Don’t write off Britain’s political dinosaurs – Lucy Fisher, The Times

Retailers criticise SNP’s tax proposals

“The Scottish Government’s plans to increase tax mean retail businesses face a tough challenge to get the public to spend in their shops, a leading trade body warns today. Finance secretary Derek Mackay’s proposal to increase income tax amid strong signs that local authorities are set to increase council tax has led to the Scottish Retail Association (SRC) saying businesses will have to work hard to attract consumer spending. The warning was made by Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy and external affairs of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), as the organisation announced disappointing sales for January. Published today, the SRC-KPMG Scottish Retail Sales Monitor for January showed Scottish sales fell by 0.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared with January 2017.” – The Scotsman

>Today: Thomas Kerr in Comment: My mission as a Tory councillor in one of the poorest parts of Glasgow – the first there in a century.

News in Brief:

  • Johnson’s Valentine’s speech is a chance to prove his critics wrong – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • Remainers insult Ulster when they paint it as always on the edge of violence – Lee Reynolds, Brexit Central
  • Are male MPs really hogging all the safe seats? – Andrew McKie, CapX
  • How to reserve Brexit: a guide for angry Remainers – Iain Martin, Reaction
  • China has turned the internet into a tool of complete citizen control – Nigel Cameron, UnHerd