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Johnson says it is ‘overwhelmingly likely’ that Putin ordered attack

“Boris Johnson has accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal in a dramatic escalation of Britain’s war of words with the Kremlin. The Foreign Secretary said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that the Russian President was behind the attempted murder, a claim that was described as “unpardonable” by Mr Putin’s spokesman. Mr Johnson’s decision to place blame for the attack in Salisbury on Mr Putin came as Britain awaited Moscow’s response to the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats. Asked whether Moscow would expel UK diplomats, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Of course we will.” He also took a swipe at the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, suggesting he was “not educated enough” after he, too, had made strong comments about Russian culpability.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Murder probe launched into Russian businessman – FT
  • Russia expels 23 British diplomats – Daily Express

Prime Minister:

  • Poll bump for May as she defies ‘Maybot’ image – Daily Mail
  • The Prime Minister plays to her strengths – FT

James Forsyth: How and why Russia is testing us

“In Whitehall, the thinking is that there were three things Moscow was trying to achieve with this attack. First, to show Russia’s enemies that they are never safe. If they can hit a former spy for Britain who was keeping a low profile in a small English city, then they can get to anyone. Second, they think the Russians were trying to test out Britain. This country is now the major Western power most consistently pushing for a robust approach to Vladimir Putin. This attack has enabled them to see how prepared for confrontation the UK is and where it stands diplomatically. They also suspect the attack was designed to create a reaction ahead of the Russian elections. Putin likes to play on the idea of Russia being under siege from the West.” – The Sun

  • We must see through Putin’s lies and take action – Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian

UK climbdowns means a transition deal on Brexit may be within reach

“British negotiators expect to clinch a deal on Brexit transition terms as early as this weekend following a series of climbdowns to secure a deal from the EU, the Telegraph understands. Sources on both sides of the negotiation said there were now no insuperable sticking points in the negotiations over a deal that would provide a largely status-quo transition until at least December 31 2020. Negotiators are scheduled to work throughout the weekend in a bid to finalise a legal text for the 21-month agreement that will be hailed by Downing Street as a significant win for Theresa May, and a key stepping-stone on the road to Brexit. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, who this week told the Commons he was “confident” a deal would be secured, will be in Brussels over the weekend and is scheduled to have a meeting with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, on Monday.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Prime Minister urged to clarify Grayling’s border comments – The Guardian
  • Bank of England says risks of Brexit are diminishing – Daily Mail
  • May urged to back down on Irish border or risk deadlock – The Times
  • Britain gives ground on fishing quotas – FT
  • MPs and ministers angry over secret Whitehall briefing – The Sun

More:

  • Sturgeon backs down from demands over post-Brexit powers – The Sun
  • UK so unprepared to leave it should delay, MPs to claim – Daily Mail
  • Shutting down EU ivory trade a ‘personal priority’ for Johnson – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Osborne left May up Brexit creek and resents her finding a paddle – Asa Bennett, Daily Telegraph

Older workers may face ‘NHS tax

The NHS is set to receive billions of pounds in extra funding later this year with ministers considering possible tax rises on older workers. Theresa May will today tell Conservatives they must prove to voters that they “care enough” about the NHS if they are to beat Labour on the key battleground of public services. It is understood there is now broad agreement within the Cabinet that extra money must be provided for the health service. Some ministers have privately suggested an across-the-board rise in National Insurance to provide new ring-fenced funding for the NHS. However, The Telegraph understands that officials are drawing up plans for a more targeted tax rise on older workers as part of a new 10-year funding plan for the NHS championed by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Revolt fears over ‘secret’ plot to hike National Insurance – The Sun

More NHS:

  • Hunt to allow coroners to investigate stillbirths – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Andrew Selous MP in Comment: Government needs to go further to curb junk food advertising to children

Tories relaunch the Young Conservatives

“The Conservative Party’s youth wing is set to return three years after it was rocked by bullying allegations, with organisers implementing a series of reforms to prevent a future scandal from arising. Relaunching the “Young Conservatives” at the party’s Spring Forum yesterday, Conservative Chairman Brandon Lewis said the organisation would be crucial in helping win back young voters from Labour. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Lewis said that despite previous setbacks, it was vital that the party gave a voice to the “thousands of young people who keep being told they must be Corbynistas, but aren’t.” The organisation will be coordinated by Conservative vice chairs Ben Bradley and James Morris, while a new director of training has been brought in to train young activists on how to orchestrate a ground campaign.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Make school children pick up litter, ex-minister says – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: It’s not enough for the Young Conservatives to be worthy – they must be fun

>Yesterday: Brandon Lewis MP in Comment: As we meet for our Spring Forum, far-left intimidation is on the rise. But we will not be silenced.

Jayawardena criticised over migrant comments

“A Tory MP has been blasted for claiming that letting the families of child refugees come to the UK will put the country at risk of Cologne-style mass sexual assaults. Ranil Jayawardena faced cries of “shame” after he warned of the “potential to face similar issues’” that Germany had if they backed a so-called ”Good Samaritan Bill”. The draft legislation put forward by SNP backbencher Angus MacNeil would allow minors to sponsor their close relatives to join them in Britain. But despite getting cross-party support in the House of Commons today, Mr Jayawardena  delivered a speech opposing the bill – which was labelled a “spiteful, rambling filibuster”. The Conservative member for North East Hampshire referenced the shocking events in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015 as he called on colleagues to “do what is best to keep control of our system” and protect the “silent majority” in the United Kingdom.” – The Sun

  • Nationalist MP’s bid to reunite refugee families clears major hurdle – The Scotsman

Labour 1) Corbyn denied access to confidential information

“Theresa May did not offer the Labour leadership the same access to highly classified information this week as David Cameron gave to Ed Miliband over Syria in 2013, The Times understands. An intelligence briefing on the Salisbury nerve agent attack was extended to Jeremy Corbyn under privy council terms before the prime minister updated the Commons on Wednesday. However, he was not offered the same level of briefing that Mr Cameron gave to Mr Miliband and Tim Livesey, his chief of staff, before a parliamentary vote on military action in Syria… Privy council briefings extend to information that is classified as “secret”, but it is at the discretion of the prime minister to share the very top level of information classified above that category with an opposition leader who has been security vetted.” – The Times

  • MPs who oppose Corbyn on Russia should be deselected, ally argues – Daily Telegraph
  • Pro-Corbyn blog spreads false conspiracy about poisoning – The Sun
  • Woodcock calls for debate on World Cup move – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Corbyn can’t bring himself to condemn Russia for good reason – Juliet Samuel, Daily Telegraph

Editorial:

  • Why the Labour leader remains blind to the truth about Russia – FT
  • Excuse-making reveals Corbyn’s instinctive hatred of the West – The Sun

>Yesterday: Iain Dale’s column: Corbyn’s weakness on security should cost Labour the next election. Will it, though?

Labour 2) Front-runner for Labour general secretary in new anti-Semitism row

“The frontrunner to become Labour’s next general secretary employed a woman who was suspended from the Labour party for saying Jews had ‘big noses’. Jennie Formby – a senior figure in Unite, Britain’s largest trade union – gave a contract to Vicki Kirby last year. Miss Kirby was suspended in 2014 over a series of anti-Semitic Twitter posts in which she called Adolf Hitler a ‘Zionist God’. But Miss Formby, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, gave her a job with the union after she was re-admitted to the party. The revelation will raise more questions about Labour’s apparent tolerance of anti-Semitism within its ranks. It will also put extra pressure on Miss Formby ahead of next week’s meeting of Labour’s ruling executive to appoint the general secretary.” – Daily Mail

Labour 3) Momentum topple veteran mayor

“The Labour mayor of Newham has been ousted in favour of a Momentum-backed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Sir Robin Wales, 63, was deselected as the party’s candidate for the May elections, ending his 23-year tenure in the east London borough. He was beaten for the nomination, by 861 votes to 503, by the councillor Rokhsana Fiaz, a former charity and public relations worker. Ms Fiaz, who twice backed Mr Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership, had support locally from Momentum… Conservative MPs seized on the deselection, with Neil O’Brien tweeting: “This is the biggest scalp yet for the extreme left. They are on a mission to expel all moderate local Labour leaders.” The local Labour MPs Mike Gapes and Wes Streeting paid tribute to Sir Robin, who was Labour’s longest serving mayor, and congratulated Ms Fiaz.” – The Times

  • Few of us pay any attention to our local council… until it combusts – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph

Teacher shortage leaves £15 million of SNP’s ‘flagship fund’ unspent

“Millions of pounds from Nicola Sturgeon’s flagship fund for driving up the performance of poor pupils are lying unspent because schools cannot find the staff they need to employ, according to an official assessment. A Scottish Government-commissioned evaluation found almost £15 million of the £52 million handed to councils and schools during the first two years of the drive was not spent, with “difficulties in recruiting staff to posts” being blamed. Local authorities singled out for extra help because they have high levels of deprivation spent only half of the £11.7 million they were handed in 2015/16 and barely three-quarters of the £32.5 million they were given last year. Some councils reported that a lack of available teaching staff had slowed their progress in increasing attainment, while others had been forced to change tack, “for example by scaling down the planned initiative.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • Students used to ‘solve’ Scottish teaching crisis – The Scotsman

News in Brief:

  • Britain must respond to Salisbury with strength – Askold Krushelnycky, Reaction
  • The case for conservative universities – Rachel Lu, The Week
  • Corbyn’s support for ‘a customs union’ is a temporary political ploy – Fawzi Ibrahim, Brexit Central
  • Why mass immigration explains the housing crisis – Lionel Shriver, The Spectator
  • Why you can’t rely on the news media to understand… Europe – Ian Birrell, UnHerd

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