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In Skopje, May says “we have been very clear we will be leaving the customs union” and will “operate an independent trade policy”

“…Mrs May then travelled to Skopje for talks and in a joint-media conference with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, she said Britain is committed to having a smooth trade agreement with the European Union so they can also ensure they don’t have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland enabling them to have an independent trade policy. She said: “We have been very clear that we will be leaving the customs union and in future outside of that customs union be able to develop our own independent trade policy … That we also deal with the issue in the Irish government that we do not have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland but also that we are able to have an independent trade policy. “That is what we will be doing and ensuring that at the end of the implementation period – as form the end of December 2020 – we will be able to operate an independent trade policy.”” – Daily Express

Editorial:

  • Customs pact is “road to ruin” – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: A lesson from Wednesday evening in the Commons. May might win a Customs Union vote after all.

Formal UK proposal on avoidance of hard Irish border to be published “within weeks”

“A new UK government proposal to ensure there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit is expected to be published within weeks. Following a high-level meeting in Sofia on Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that a proposed ‘backstop’ customs arrangement put forward by the European Commission was “unacceptable,” and that the UK would soon be presenting its own white paper. The EU backstop plan, which was proposed by Michel Barnier in February, would result in Northern Ireland and Great Britain adhering to different regulations – effectively placing a border in the Irish Sea. At the time, Mrs May rejected the idea, saying “no UK prime minister could ever agree” to such a proposal.” – Belfast News Letter

  • The proposals could be out next week – The Times 
  • Varadkar says he was “not discouraged” after bilateral talks with May – Daily Telegraph
  • But that border checks “would still be required if the UK left the single market” – Guardian
  • And what about the view from Brussels? – FT
  • DUP says no deal better than showing weakness – Daily Telegraph
  • Meanwhile, May’s spokesman says she intends to bring Brexit bill to commons in weeks – Daily Express
  • And will “demand” her backbenchers “throw out” Lords amendments – The Sun

Comment: 

  • May makes progress – Heather Stewart, Guardian

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s column: May should not fall for the old ‘fragile Union’ con on Northern Ireland

Nelson: No deal is still an option, “whether May likes it or not”

“…To remain in the EU system, unable to cut trade deals with the United States or anyone else, taking dictation while being unable to influence the rules: what would be the point of leaving? To at least a dozen Tories, perhaps more, it would be better to have no deal at all. This is, still, an option – whether Mrs May likes it or not. It’s sometimes said that there is no support in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit, but this overlooks a fairly important point. When MPs gave the Prime Minister permission to invoke Article 50, serving divorce proceedings to the European Union, this became the default position.” – Daily Telegraph

  • The clock keeps ticking – Gina Mller, Guardian

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: Gammon – and the patronising Remainers who’ve lost on Brexit but can’t move on

Javid criticises EU for not taking British citizens’ rights’ protection seriously enough

“Sajid Javid has attacked EU members over a lack of preparation for protecting the rights of UK citizens after Brexit. The Home Secretary is pressing European leaders for details of arrangements for British expats seeking to remain in the EU. He said the UK had taken significant steps to protect the rights of European Union citizens in Britain, but there is a lack of evidence that the rest of the EU is taking the issue as seriously for UK citizens. Mr Javid said it is “currently unclear” what systems member states are creating to ensure the rights of UK citizens in their countries are protected after the end of the implementation period in December 2020.” – Daily Express

European Commission refers UK to ECJ for air quality limits breach

“The British government faces huge fines from the European Court of Justice for failing to curb air pollution linked to thousands of early deaths in Britain every year.   The European Commission announced it was referring the UK to the EU’s top court on Thursday in Brussels but the lawsuit was first reported in March by The Telegraph. The decision fires the starting gun on a race to bring Britain back in line with air pollution limits before EU judges in Luxembourg impose hefty fines in the form of a daily penalty or lump sum. That ruling is expected within two years but could come sooner if proceedings are fast-tracked.  If a Brexit deal is agreed, Britain will be in the transition period and still subject to the ECJ’s judgement at that time.” – Daily Telegraph 

  • It could result in a multimillion-pound fine – The Times 

May expected to approve 10 Conservative peers to strengthen hand in Lords, including perhaps Lilley

“Theresa May is expected to approve the creation of about 10 Tory peers and hand at least one to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party in an attempt to improve her weak position in the House of Lords, which has already voted 15 times against her government over Brexit. The elevations, which are expected to be announced in the coming days in Westminster, were immediately criticised by high profile remain Labour peer Lord Adonis as a desperate attempt by the prime minister to enlist people to boost her fragile position in the unelected upper house. Tories tipped for elevation include former ministers Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Adonis said: “This is a classic example of packing the Lords to try and make Brexit easier to endorse.” – Guardian

  • Meanwhile, peers “have composed a further amendment” to Data Protection Bill – The Times 

Comment:

  • Lords reform remains “unnecessary and damaging” – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph

Gyimah speaks of “serious concern” about free speech in UK universities

“British universities are in “danger of developing a mono-culture” where only certain political views are accepted, an education minister has warned. Sam Gyimah, the Conservative MP for East Surrey, said one student he met during a nationwide tour of university campuses had “Tory bitch” written on her bedroom door after airing her political views in a lecture. In another university, a student had his car egged for expressing his political opinions, the universities minister said. Speaking to students at King’s College London, Mr Gyimah expressed “serious concern” at the state of free speech in UK universities.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Badenoch advises candidates about social media profiles – Daily Telegraph

Britain “considering” deploying 400 more troops to Afghanistan

“Britain is considering sending hundreds more troops to Afghanistan after pressure from President Trump, The Times understands. One of the options being looked at is for about 400 additional personnel to be deployed to the war zone as part of a Nato training mission, almost doubling the British presence. The United States said last year that it would send an extra 3,500 troops to Afghanistan, key areas of which have fallen under the control of the Taliban four years after the end of Nato-led combat operations. A final British plan has not been signed off but Whitehall sources say that Theresa May is expected to make an announcement at a summit of Nato allies in July. Mr Trump will attend the meeting then travel to Britain on his first official visit.” – The Times

  • MoD says contribution “kept under constant review” – Guardian
  • Williamson “has written to the Prime Minister” to ask for the increase – Daily Express

More government 

  • Brokenshire says Grenfell-type cladding should be banned – The Times 
  • Clark asks competition watchdog to look at supermarket supply – FT
  • Javid tells banks to suspend immigration checks following Windrush – Daily Express
  • Eustice says government has “open mind” about levy on disposable cups – Daily Mail 

Bradford: The real gambling problem is online

“Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) have been dubbed the crack cocaine of betting, having destroyed thousands of lives over the past few years and become the topic of heated public debate. On Thursday, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport finally ruled that the stakes on the highly addictive machines should be cut from a staggering £100 every 20 seconds to £2. The B2 machines exist in betting shops around the country and are a staple product for the industry; a large proportion of its profits depend on the income from these machines… We are taking gambling addiction off the high streets and sending it online. The government has missed a trick in its regulation reforms. The Gambling Commission last year reported that online gambling was a growing area and that 18- to 24-year-olds would suffer the most.” – Guardian

  • FOBT stake cut “may not be implemented for another two years” – The Times
  • Meanwhile, National Lottery age limit could rise to 18 – Daily Telegraph

Increased calls for Bercow to stand down after accusations that he called Leadsom a “stupid woman” in the chamber

“John Bercow was overheard calling a female cabinet minister a “stupid woman” in the Commons chamber this week. The Speaker allegedly made the remarks about Andrea Leadsom, the Tory leader of the House. Some MPs also said they had heard him mutter that she was “f***ing useless”, though others present disputed that claim, according to The Sun. The allegations will intensify calls for his departure that were made after bullying accusations, which he denies. The Speaker’s Office said last night that “strong and differing views were expressed on all sides” in the Commons on Wednesday, when the remarks were reported to have been made.” – The Times

  • It’s also alleged he muttered she was “f—— useless” – Daily Telegraph
  • Speakers office speaks of “strong and differing views” – Guardian
  • This is just the latest problem for the speaker – Daily Mail

More Conservatives

  • Party “set” to appoint Sheleg as treasurer – The Times
  • There should be no “sense of shame” about mental illness – James Cleverly, The Times
  • May “lacks reasoning power” – Polly Toynbee, Guardian
  • Five things to do before the next election – Will Tanner and Neil O’Brien, The Sun

>Yesterday: 

>Today: Claire Ward in Comment: If the Conservatives really want to work with trade unions, they will back one in its struggle with Boots

Other parties

  • Watson calls McCluskey “controversial” after his criticism of Labour MPs – The Times 
  • Corbyn’s controversial Lords appointment – Daily Telegraph
  • Hamilton ousted as Ukip group leader in Welsh assembly – Guardian
  • Salmond waiting for IndyRef2 “starting gun” before re-entering politics – Herald

News in Brief

  • Brexit’s trojan horse – Ray Bassett, BrexitCentral
  • What we can learn from Italy this week – Kai Weiss, CapX
  • And what it might mean for Macron – Frederik Erixon, Spectator
  • Trump v Nielsen – Jonathan Blitzen, New Yorker
  • My rules for art consumption – Amelia Tait, New Statesman

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