Salisbury Attack 1) May gives Putin until midnight to explain the use of Russian poison

‘The Prime Minister said the facts increasingly suggested Russia was behind the apparent ‘hit’ on double-agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. Branding the attack a ‘reckless and despicable act’, Mrs May said the substance used was a ‘military grade’ agent Moscow has produced. Mrs May said the government would not accept such an attempt to ‘murder innocent civilians on our soil’. She will decide on a range of sanctions over the next 24 hours after urgent talks with Nato, the United Nations, EU and US. The Prime Minister will also draw up a secret package of measures against Russia which will never be revealed. This could include targeting the Kremlin’s propaganda machine. Whitehall sources said yesterday they were accelerating their offensive cyber programme and could hit select targets for a specific effect.’ – Daily Mail

  • One possible response is a cyber-attack – Daily Mail
  • Asset freezes and expulsions are on the cards – The Times
  • Russia Today could lose its licence – The Times
  • Rudd says investigations into suspicious deaths could be reopened – The Times
  • Public health officials criticised for slow response – The Times
  • The police are too secretive – Fiona Hamilton, The Times





Salisbury Attack 2) Corbyn draws criticism from his own benches for partisan point-scoring

‘The Labour leader faced shouts of “shame” and “disgrace” when he mentioned Tory donations. “We’re all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics,” he said. “Meddling in elections, as the prime minister put it, and there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative Party from Russian oligarchs and their associates.” Chris Leslie, the Labour MP for Nottingham East and a regular leadership critic, told the Commons: “There are certain circumstances, as the prime minister knows, that we take party political differences of opinion. But when our country is potentially under attack, this is just not appropriate.” Mrs May said questions of what another state may have done on British soil “should be a matter that would concern all of us and should be above party politics”.’ – The Times

  • He united the House in dismay at his inappropriate reply – Patrick Kidd, The Times
  • His response was shameful – Daily Express Leader
  • Scientist who blew the whistle on Russian chemical weapons urges action – Daily Mail
  • The poison is so rare it has never been known to be used before – The Times
  • Suspicious liquid sent to Labour MP – The Times
  • Putin keeps attacking because the weak West lets him, former NATO commander says – The Sun

>Yesterday: Mark Francois on Comment: States like Russia now pose the primary threat to the UK – we must strengthen our defences accordingly

Salisbury Attack 3) The United States is ‘outraged’, the State Department says

‘The US has said it is “outraged” that Russia appeared to have been involved in a nerve agent attack in the UK that left a Russian double agent and his daughter critically ill.  The State Department said it had full confidence in the UK’s assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the attack in Salisbury and that there was “never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation.” US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had been in contact with foreign secretary Boris Johnson by telephone on Monday morning, the department said. “From Ukraine to Syria – and now the UK – Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens,” the State Department said.’ – FT

  • Tillerson ‘clearly’ blames Russia – The Guardian
  • The White House earlier declined to do so – Daily Mail
  • Putin will hold an election rally in Crimea tomorrow – The Times

A positive Spring Statement may tempt Tory MPs to demand more spending

‘Philip Hammond will face spending demands from cabinet colleagues and senior backbenchers after he reveals improved economic forecasts today. Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility are expected to show borrowing of about £7 billion to £11 billion lower than that projected in November. Forecast GDP growth for this year is also expected to rise to 1.8 per cent, from 1.4 per cent in November. The chancellor will reveal consultations on VAT, tax on technology companies and a public waste tax to cut down on plastics. He will also set out how departments will divide up £1.5 billion for Brexit preparations.’ – The Times

  • Eeyore no more, as the indicators are expected to be positive – Daily Mail
  • IDS urges him to reverse Universal Credit cuts – The Guardian
  • But he will hold the course – FT
  • The coffers could be £10 billion better off than forecast at the Budget – The Sun
  • The Treasury hopes to sell the Help to Buy loan book – FT
  • Consultation explores chewing gum tax – The Times
  • Minimum pension contributions set to rise – The Sun


>Today: Which taxes should Tories cut? 1) Sam Dumitriu: No virtue-signalling giveaways, instead hammer taxes that hold back growth

>Yesterday: Nicky Morgan’s column: It’s too soon to abandon fiscal discipline, but the Spring Statement is a chance to communicate our vision

Wallace: To properly resolve the Westminster bullying scandal, Bercow must step aside

‘Back in November, I predicted in this column that the next scandal to hit Westminster would be about bullying. At the time, the shockwaves of the Weinstein revelations were still rushing round the world…What began with sexual abuse in Hollywood has, in time, turned into a far more widespread rejection of the general tactic of intimidating people into silence. Some victims speaking out have inspired others, and bit by bit there are signs of a cultural shift against the ability of people to threaten others into silence. As part of that domino effect, people who allege bullying on the part of MPs have begun to tell their stories…With a cross-party scandal on the working conditions and employment practices of some parliamentarians, the natural person to look to for leadership would ordinarily be the Speaker of the House. But here’s the greatest problem of all: John Bercow is one of those alleged to have bullied staff.’ – Mark Wallace, the i paper

Hancock warns state control of the press would harm democracy

‘Matt Hancock said it was right the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the Press had been scrapped. ‘The world has changed, and I want to look to the future,’ he told the Oxford Media Convention. ‘I tremble at the thought of a media regulated by the state in a time of malevolent forces in politics. Get this wrong and I fear for the future of our liberal democracy.’ Launching a Government review into journalism, which will be led by Dame Frances Cairncross, Mr Hancock said it would ‘explore whether intervention may be required to safeguard the future of our free and independent Press’. He added: ‘It is about making sure we don’t wake up in five years’ time to find high-quality journalism has been decimated and our democracy damaged as a result.’’ – Daily Mail

Brexit contributes to payroll growth at core Whitehall departments

‘Theresa May will have spent £2 billion on Brexit preparations by the time the country leaves the EU in one year, a think tank claims. The Institute for Government said 10,000 extra roles will have been created by then to cope with the sheer amount of work required. Staff numbers at the Department for Environment – have soared 65 per cent since June 2016. And the department – led by Environment Secretary Michael Gove – is now 4 per cent larger than it was when George Osborne launched the Coalition’s austerity drive in 2010. The Home Office is using 50 per cent more agency staff per month than it was before the Referendum. In all, six core ‘Brexit Ministries’ will have spent £1.3 billion by March 2019, the IFG said.’ – The Sun

  • Standard Chartered says trade with emerging nations could bring in billions – The Times
  • CBI continues to demand customs union – The Times
  • Patel urges Rudd to ‘level’ with the nation on immigration policy – The Sun
  • Demands for Selmayr’s power-grab to be investigated – Daily Mail
  • Vince and the Lib Dems loathe voters – Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail
  • He should be better than this (but he isn’t) – The Sun Says


Bradley is ‘minded’ to cut MLA salaries as Stormont impasse continues

‘Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has said she is “minded” to cut the salary of members of the crisis-hit Stormont Assembly by 27.5%, but will consult the parties before making a final decision. Mrs Bradley’s predecessor James Brokenshire commissioned former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney to examine the controversial issue of paying MLAs who are not performing their roles as legislators due to the powersharing impasse. Before Christmas, Mr Reaney recommended the 27.5% cut, a move that would take the average salary of £49,500 to £35,888 in two stages. Mrs Bradley told the Commons she would seek to introduce legislation at Westminster that would hand her the power to vary MLA pay. “Further to that, I am minded to reduce pay in line with the Reaney Review recommendation, but I would welcome full and final representations from the NI parties before I make a final decision,” she said.’ – Belfast Telegraph

Unite set to defeat Momentum in battle for power over Labour machine

‘Unite is expected to win a power struggle for the job controlling Labour’s party machine, adding to fears over the growing power of Jeremy Corbyn’s largest financial backer. Jennie Formby, the union’s southeast regional secretary, is heading for a “coronation” in the race to become general secretary after her main rival pulled out, senior Labour figures said. Jon Lansman, founder of the grassroots Momentum group, withdrew under intense pressure from Mr Corbyn’s team after his decision to stand exposed a split between the Labour leader’s two most important backers. Mr Lansman called for others to come forward to challenge Labour’s “old, top-down model”, a reference to what his allies have described as a Unite stitch-up. Hopes that Laura Parker, Momentum’s national co-ordinator, would put herself forward have faded, however, with some suggesting she had been put off by hostile briefing from supporters of Mr Corbyn.’ – The Times

  • Just ‘three or four people’ control Unite Wales’s political alignments – WalesOnline
  • Labour really is blind to its own bigotry – Melanie Phillips, The Times
  • Brighton Labour leader forced out with ‘upsetting abuse’ after criticising anti-semitism – The Times
  • The credible prospect of a Labour victory could itself deter voters – Rafael Behr, The Guardian
  • Resolution in sight for university strikers – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Mike Clancy on Comment: How the trade unions can help drive up productivity

Calls for formal inquiry into Telford child abuse

‘The official inquiry into child abuse has been asked to investigate claims that police and social workers failed to tackle gangs that targeted girls over a 40-year period. Three girls are reported to have been murdered by paedophiles who are estimated to have abused hundreds of victims in Telford, Shropshire. The local council yesterday asked for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to upgrade Telford to become a separate specific review alongside allegations involving establishment figures and the Church of England. An investigation by the Sunday Mirror gathered allegations of abuse in the town said to include cases involving girls as young as 11 who were drugged, beaten and raped.’ – The Times

News in Brief

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