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May outlines ‘five tests’ by which to judge Brexit deal…

“Theresa May will today warn Brussels that relations could break down for years if it tries to punish Britain with a bad Brexit deal. Outlining five tests against which the final deal will be judged, the Prime Minister will pledge to deliver ‘real change’, saying any agreement must ‘respect the result of the referendum’ and give the UK ‘control of our borders, laws and money’. But she will also warn that it must be fair to both sides if it is to endure, and that the worst outcome would be to ‘find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down’. In an upbeat assessment, Mrs May will say she wants to strike a trade deal more comprehensive than currently exists ‘anywhere in the world today’.” – Daily Mail

  • Brexit deal must ‘protect the Union’ – The Scotsman
  • Prime Minister ‘won’t commit to mirroring EU rules’ – The Times
  • May urges UK to ‘come back together’ – The Guardian
  • EU negotiators warned that forcing a bad deal will backfire – The Sun
  • Cabinet at odds hours before key speech – FT
  • Tusk ‘berates’ May over red lines – Daily Mail

More:

  • Barnier to meet Ulster party leaders – Belfast Telegraph
  • Why the Prime Minister backed down on EU migrants – FT
  • Brussels rejects May’s migrants plan – Daily Express
  • Adopt customs union, Irish warn London – The Guardian
  • ‘Friction is inevitable’, warns Tusk – The Scotsman

Comment:

  • ‘Power grab’ is no constitutional crisis, just SNP cant – Brian Wilson, The Scotsman
  • There are three ways out of the Border impasse, all closed to May – Peter Leary, The Guardian
  • May’s best hope is to fudge the Irish question – Philip Collins, The Times

>Yesterday:

…as Corbyn is accused of ‘conspiring’ with Barnier

“Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of “conspiring” with Michel Barnier to undermine Brexit after a series of senior Labour figures’ pilgrimages to Brussels. Top Tories said the Labour leader is plotting with eurocrats to try and force Britain into a customs union. Their fears were aired as former prime minister Tony Blair gave a speech in Brussels calling for Brexit to be reversed. The arch europhile said Remainers have “months, perhaps weeks to think, plan and act” if they are to overturn the referendum result. And a host of other Labour figures – including Jeremy Corbyn and ex-No10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell – also gave speeches this week, prompting accusations they were coordinated.” – The Sun

  • Blair-Major team tries to wrestle back Brexit initiative – The Times
  • Arch-Remainer Blair urges EU to reform immigration rules – The Sun
  • SNP accused of rushing ‘dangerous’ Brexit bill – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • Brussels is making a decent Brexit impossible – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph
  • Danger on multiple fronts as Brexit day looms – Jonathan Portes and Anand Menon, Times Red Box
  • Brexit could work wonders for free trade – Ed Conway, The Times

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: Is Barnier now conspiring with Corbyn to bring down May?

Spies can commit crimes, Prime Minister confirms

“The government has publicly acknowledged for the first time that agents acting on behalf of MI5 are allowed to carry out criminal activity in the UK. Theresa May published yesterday a previously secret order governing criminal activity by the security service. She revealed that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who scrutinises the work of the intelligence agencies, has oversight of “security service agents’ participation in criminality”. The government has refused to give more detail due to security fears. MI5 relies heavily on the work of its agents or informers who provide intelligence to assist investigations into terrorism and espionage.” – The Times

  • Security services must wake up to far-right threat – Nick Lowles, The Times

Ministers 1) Hancock closes the Leveson Inquiry

“The second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the press has been scrapped, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock announced today. Mr Hancock also revealed the Government would repeal laws that could force newspapers to pay all costs for libel cases whether they won or lost. He told MPs that it was in the national interest to protect the free press by cancelling the long-awaited second part of the inquiry. The second phase of the inquiry – which was due to look at specific phone hacking cases and links between the police and journalists – was postponed during a marathon series of criminal inquiries and court cases.” – Daily Mail

  • Watson defends keeping donation from Impress backer Mosley – Daily Mail

Editorial:

Ministers 2) Gove tells water companies to ‘clean up their act’

“Water companies will bring renationalisation upon themselves unless they stop their “excuse-mongering” and clean up their act, the Environment Secretary has warned. Michael Gove has accused the sector of exploiting their “natural monopoly” in order to benefit their shareholders while customers are forced to bear the brunt of leaks and increasingly higher prices. Singling out chief executives at some of the country’s largest companies, Mr Gove attacked them for the “dizzying complexity” of their tax affairs and for continuing to hide their wealth in offshore tax havens. Speaking at the Water UK City Conference on Thursday, Mr Gove warned that whilst he strongly opposed bringing the industry back under state ownership, the public’s appetite for change was “significant and growing”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Tories and Labour each desperate to be the most animal-friendly party – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: No change in our Next Tory Leader survey result. Rees-Mogg is top – then Gove, then Johnson.

Ministers 3) ‘Pressure’ on Hammond to increase spending as public spending gets back in the black

“Britain has finally swung back into the black on day-to-day spending thanks to a jump in the tax take and years of austerity. The current budget – which includes expenditure such as running hospitals, but not one-off capital costs such as major building projects – ended last year with a £3.8 billion surplus, its first since 2001. It is a major milestone on the road to rebalancing the nation’s books after costs surged and receipts dwindled in the Great Recession following years of tax-and-spend policies under Labour. The figures are likely to pile pressure on Chancellor Philip Hammond to loosen the purse strings and offer tax breaks and other sweeteners in his Spring Statement later this month.” – Daily Mail

  • Osborne’s austerity target hit, two years late – FT

Comment:

  • The overwhelming case for increased public spending – Chris Giles, FT

>Yesterday:

Ministers 4) Johnson under fire over Garden Bridge

“Boris Johnson has been accused of forgetting key details of how £46m of taxpayers’ money was spent on a now-abandoned plan for a footbridge across the Thames river during his time as mayor of London. Mr Johnson said that he did not waste “a single penny” on the so-called Garden Bridge, which was championed by actor Joanna Lumley, but which was criticised for poor procurement practices and an inadequate business case. Under questioning from members of the London Assembly, he could not explain why he had changed the criteria for public money to be released to the Garden Bridge. He also wrongly claimed that the project had won all the necessary planning permissions before he left the mayoralty.” – FT

Ministers 5) Bradley mulls cuts as £30 million cost of shuttered Northern Irish assembly revealed

“The Northern Ireland assembly has cost taxpayers more than £30 million over the past year despite being mothballed because of the political deadlock in the province. In the year since the last election for the devolved institution, it has met for just 46 minutes to enrol the 90 members of the legislative assembly (MLA), enabling them to claim their £49,500 annual salaries. Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, says continuing payment of salaries is “a matter of significant public concern”. She is expected to announce sharp cuts to them next week. The cuts will also apply to a small number of MLAs with enhanced salaries, including Robin Newton of the Democratic Unionists who receives £87,500 a year as speaker of the non- sitting assembly. Mr Newton is one of 14 assembly members who employ family members among their office staff. His son is his office manager.” – The Times

Ministers 6) Liz Truss: The middle-class blob is stalling the economy

We know the path ahead, then. But what could hold us back? Our main opponents will be those with a vested interest in expanding Government, and those who want less freedom, and more control. These are the people who benefit from the status quo, who embrace inertia, who hoard and jealously guard influence. They can be lobbyists, big corporations, unions, bureaucrats. But together, I call them the Blob. They are gloopy, treacly, hard to define, and harder to resist. They often present themselves as warm and cuddly, and belch out platitudes: that they are protecting people, upholding standards, defending livelihoods. And they will ask and ask again for Government favours – arguing that they are the exception, that their cause deserves coddling and sympathy.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Free schools could be the Tories’ lifeline, if they shouted about them – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Sam Frost in Comment: Meet Reignite – which aims to inspire a new generation of Tories. And which fills a gap that CCHQ has opened up.

Caulfield calls for debate on lowering abortion limit

“A senior Conservative has called for a debate on reducing the 24-week time limit on abortions. Maria Caulfield, the Tory vice chairman for women, said she had ‘concerns’ about the current time limit, adding that in most of Europe abortions were not legal after 15 or 16 weeks. The former nurse said the 24-week limit was a relic of a time when such babies would not have been expected to live. Now half of babies born at 22 weeks are viable. She called for an inquiry leading to new ‘evidence-based’ laws based on how medically-feasible it is to keep such premature babies alive. Theresa May faced criticism in January when she promoted Miss Caulfield even though she had led opposition to a parliamentary bid to end the criminalisation of women who terminate their own pregnancies.” – Daily Mail

Ministers ‘were warned about gas storage shortage’

“Ministers were warned last year that the closure of Britain’s largest North Sea gas storage facility could lead to shortages and price spikes. Industry leaders warned that the closure of Rough without plans to replace it would make the UK vulnerable to the price spikes and shortages reported by the National Grid yesterday. The Rough site was responsible for 70 per cent of the UK’s entire gas storage capacity at its peak. Run by the owner of British Gas – Centrica – it was converted into a storage facility in 1985 based on the concept that during the summer, cheap gas would be pumped in to be held for use later. After the closure decision last June, the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), wrote to MPs on the Commons Business and Energy Select committee in August, supporting requests for an inquiry.” – Daily Mail

  • National gas alert as prices soar – The Times

Editorial:

Labour extend Livingstone’s suspension over anti-Semitism allegations

“Ken Livingstone’s suspension from holding office in Labour has been extended indefinitely while he is investigated over new claims of antisemitism, the party has said. The former mayor of London received a one-year suspension in 2016 after he made claims about Hitler. Last April Labour’s disciplinary body the national constitutional committee (NCC) found Mr Livingstone had breached party rules against engaging in conduct that was “prejudicial” or “grossly detrimental” to the party. He was suspended for a further year. A row erupted again in January after Mr Livingstone, 72, repeated claims, on International Holocaust Memorial Day, that Zionists had collaborated with Hitler.” – The Times

  • McDonnell interview: is Britain ready for a socialist chancellor? – FT

Comment:

  • Corbyn brings a Siberian chill to British politics – Jane Merrick, Times Red Box

MPs criticise decision to increase pay

“MPs will receive a 1.8 per cent pay rise this year, above the 1 per cent cap imposed on public sector salaries. Parliament’s standards watchdog confirmed yesterday that the basic salary paid to members would increase by more than £1,300 to £77,379 from next month, up from £76,011. The increase, which was criticised by several MPs yesterday, is below the rate of inflation but well above the cap imposed on the majority of public sector employees since 2010. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority insisted that the rise was in line with a commitment in 2015 to adjust pay for MPs at the same rate as the average overall rise in public sector pay.” – The Times

More than 200 instances of sexism or harassment reported in Holyrood

“More than 200 cases of sexual harassment and sexist behaviour have occurred in the Scottish Parliament including dozens of instances where the perpetrator was an MSP, according to a “shocking” official report. A confidential survey sent to everyone in the Holyrood building found one in five respondents had experienced such behaviour while working there, including 30 per cent of women. Of the 137 people who said they had been sexually harassed, almost half (45 per cent) said the perpetrator was an MSP. This is the equivalent of 62 complaints against the parliament’s politicians, with the majority of incidents happening since the 2016 Holyrood election.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Cllr Thomas Kerr in Local Government: In Glasgow, the SNP is punishing business

News in Brief:

  • The EU is playing with fire on Northern Ireland – Ben Kelly, Reaction
  • Government must spend on post-Brexit preparations – David Jones MP, Brexit Central
  • Downing Street’s new tactics with the DUP et al – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • Juncker’s dangerous defence strategy – Ana Palacio, Project Syndicate

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