Brussels prepares to offer ‘figleaf’ on backstop…

“Cabinet ministers have been told that EU countries are likely to provide assurances to Theresa May over her Brexit deal, but these have been referred to as “operation figleaf” by Whitehall officials. Downing Street hopes that the clarifications from the EU over the Northern Ireland backstop will come in the week before a vote on her withdrawal agreement, which will be either on January 15 or 16. These could include a promise that the EU does not want to keep Britain in the backstop permanently and that it is “not the desired outcome” or that it will be “only for a short period”. A cabinet source said: “The commission made very clear privately before the Christmas break that there will be something helpful coming in the week before the vote. They were never going to give it early — at December council — because what they are offering won’t be massive and they don’t want to overplay their hand. It is referred to in Whitehall by senior officials as ‘operation figleaf’.”… Cabinet ministers have told The Times that they expect Mrs May to hold a second vote if she loses the first. “She will lose the first vote but then try again once, but hopefully not more than twice.” Another cabinet source said: “Her first instinct will be to hold another vote.”” – The Times

  • Dublin says backstop must stay effective – FT
  • Rees-Mogg blames Irish Government for looming threat of no-deal – Daily Express
  • EU leaders reiterate that the negotiations are over – The Sun
  • DUP insist that Brussels must give more ground – Daily Mail


  • Ireland wants hundreds of millions of EU aid to mitigate damage of no-deal Brexit – Daily Telegraph
  • Taoiseach has escalated no-deal preparations – The Guardian
  • Irish professor admits border gamble could end in disaster – Daily Express
  • Northern Irish police train reinforcements in case of disorder – The Guardian

Today: ToryDiary: The first department to need boosting post-March. The Treasury? Business? Transport? No: Northern Ireland.

…as Gove warns that ‘no deal’ would be ‘nightmare’ for farmers…

“Farmers will face a grim barrage of export tariffs, increased haulage costs, paperwork and looming labour shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Michael Gove warned yesterday. He painted a nightmare scenario for Britain’s food producers as he urged fellow MPs to back the prime minister’s Brexit deal. “It’s a grim but inescapable fact that in the event of a no-deal Brexit the effective tariffs of meat and sheep meat would be above 40 per cent. In some cases well above that,” Mr Gove told the Oxford Farming Conference. The National Farmers Union said that tariffs on beef exports could be up to 65 per cent and tariffs on lamb could be 46 per cent. Mr Gove, the cabinet’s leading Brexiteer, rejected suggestions that his warnings were a repeat of “Project Fear” – the term his fellow Brexiteers used to dismiss Remain campaigners’ warnings about what Brexit would entail. “While Project Fear proved to be fiction, when we look at what a no-deal Brexit could involve we do need to be clear about the costs and the facts,” he said. “Nobody can be blithe or blasé about the real impact on food producers in this country of leaving without a deal.”” – The Times

  • Britain can lead new farming revolution, Environment Secretary claims – Daily Telegraph


  • ‘Panic stations’ as May’s team prepare for defeat on the meaningful vote – Daily Express
  • Advertising blitz dismissed as latest chapter of ‘project fear’ – Daily Telegraph


  • Brussels is turning Europe into the world’s museum of farming – Owen Paterson, Daily Telegraph
  • Singapore can teach us a lesson after Brexit – Ed Conway, The Times
  • Brexit will test the resilience of the British economy – Chris Giles, FT

…but poll finds Conservative members back it

“Conservative Party members have resoundingly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal and will support a “no deal” departure from the EU, according to a new poll. The prime minister made a sustained effort to sell her withdrawal agreement and her plans for the EU-UK future relationship to grassroots Tories before Christmas. She had hoped that rebellious MPs would return to their constituencies over the festive period and spend time with activists, who would talk them into backing the agreement before the meaningful vote the week after next. However, a YouGov poll of paying Tory members suggests that the activists strongly dislike Mrs May’s deal. Some 59 per cent oppose her deal while only 38 per cent support it. Just over half say it fails to respect the result of the Brexit referendum. An overwhelming majority of Conservative activists made clear they were not bothered by the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Some 63 per cent said they would be happy with no-deal, while only 22 per cent said they would be unhappy. Some 79 per cent of Tory members who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum told YouGov they would be happy to leave the EU without a deal.” – The Times

  • Ryanair gains UK licence in case of no deal – FT
  • No deal would harm cancer research, universities warn – Daily Telegraph
  • Brexit threat to European sovereign bond sales – FT


Tom Tugendhat: Our fractured foreign policy harms Britain

“Are we prepared for what we can already see on the horizon? The answer is no. Some parts of our system work — the National Security Council does what it says and brings soldiers, spies and diplomats together, for example — but too much lacks purpose, leaving us struggling to secure our interests. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Foreign Office. Once one of the great offices of state, the FCO is now a shadow of its former self, stripped of responsibility for the EU talks, trade and aid, and the loser of a tug-of-war with the Cabinet Office over national security. Despite its impressive staff, it is only one of six departments competing to determine how Britain acts abroad. Separated, these different instruments of influence produce cacophony rather than a harmony. The answer is to restore the Foreign Office’s role as the conductor of British foreign policy, and bring trade and aid under its wing. Jeremy Hunt has the chance to reshape the department for the Brexit age. He has started well, resetting relationships that were strained. But he could go further. With his experience of running a fifth of all government spending in his previous job as health secretary, he’s more than capable of strategic oversight of our overseas budgets, bringing resources together so they can switch according to need, just as his opposite numbers do in Australia, Canada, France and the US.” – The Times

Javid in talks to return migrants to France

Sajid Javid is in talks with his French counterpart to send migrants crossing the Channel by boat back to France rather than allowing them to seek asylum in Britain. The Home Secretary is expected to discuss the proposal with the French interior minister Christophe Castaner at a meeting pencilled in for next week. Border Force officials aim to exploit a clause in the Dublin agreement that allows the UK to send migrants back if it can be shown they have previously been in an EU state for more than three months. The move is seen as a deterrent to migrants from making the crossing if they know they will be returned to France and comes after Mr Javid questioned whether the migrants were genuine asylum seekers rather than economic migrants. It represents a further nod by Mr Javid, a potential Tory leadership contender, to backbench Tory demands after he caved in earlier this week by ordering two Border Force cutters back from a humanitarian refugee mission in the Mediterranean. They will join one other cutter in the Channel. Mr Javid has also agreed that the Home Office will pay Ministry of Defence (MoD) the £20,000 a day required  to deploy HMS Mersey, a Navy patrol vessel, to the Channel to help combat the migrant crossings until the cutters return by the end of the month.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Post-Brexit immigration plan branded ‘suicide note’ – The Sun
  • Home Secretary accused of trying to burnish leadership credentials – FT


  • To stem the tide of human traffic, migrants must be turned back – Ross Clark, The Sun
  • Britain’s immigration scandal will grow in 2019 – Satbir Singh, The Guardian

>Today: Andrew Green in Comment: The new Immigration White Paper. Not just damaging, but a disaster – both for control and the Conservatives

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Javid is right about illegal immigration across the Channel – and his critics help to underline his point

Labour expel Peterborough MP

“A Labour MP convicted of lying to police to avoid a speeding charge has been expelled from the party. Fiona Onasanya, 35, was suspended by Labour last month on the day of her conviction for perverting the course of justice. Ian Lavery, the party chairman, has announced that she was expelled the next day after she refused to stand down and allow a new Labour candidate to fight a by-election. Onasanya, who is now an independent MP for Peterborough, had said she would to continue as the city’s “representative in the corridors of power”. In a review of her year in the Peterborough Telegraph she did not mention her conviction but expressed her determination to stay in parliament, saying there was “still much more to be done”… MPs are disqualified from keeping their seat if they are sentenced to more than a year in jail. Onasanya will be sentenced at the Old Bailey at a future date. Under laws introduced in 2015 any prison term, even a suspended one, can trigger a recall petition, which can force a by-election if it is signed by 10 per cent of voters in a constituency.” – The Times

  • Khan fails to reduce gender pay gap – The Times


  • Onasanya is lucky, without Brexit she’d be out of a job – Martin Kettle, The Guardian

SNP minister acknowledges ‘unwelcome’ fare rises

“Scotland’s Transport Minister has admitted rail travellers have been hit with “unwelcome” fare rises this week despite receiving a substandard service from ScotRail. Michael Matheson said the performance of Abellio, the Dutch franchise holder, “is not where is should be” after fares increased by an average of 2.8 per cent this week. He rejected Labour calls for a fare freeze, arguing this would cost the public purse £58 million with the loss of this revenue having a “significant impact.” But Mick Hogg, of the RMT union, said Scotland’s train travellers are “sick to the back teeth of a rail service that is not working”. The row broke out after increases were implemented on Wednesday that saw peak fares rise by 3.2 per cent and off-peak tickets by 2.2 per cent. The increase means some commuters paying more than £4,000 for annual season tickets, with the cost between Glasgow and Edinburgh rising by £126 to £4,082 and the price for Dundee-Edinburgh increasing by £138 to £4,450. In addition, ScotRail has scrapped its Kids Go Free scheme allowing an adult to take up to two children on a return journey for free. The increase was implemented after ScotRail faced a storm of criticism last month as hundreds of services were cancelled or delayed during the introduction of a new timetable.” – Daily Telegraph

Ex-SDLP leader says she would ‘regret’ loss of name in merger

“A former leader of the SDLP has said she will feel a “severe” sense of regret if the party vanishes from Northern Irish politics as the result of a mooted merger. The former MP also believes Brexit is a major factor spurring on the cross-border move. The former South Down representative, who last year revealed she had been battling breast cancer, was speaking after days of reports suggesting that some kind of deal may be imminent between the SDLP and Fianna Fail – the Dublin-based party originally founded by Eamon De Valera, and which styles itself as “the republican party”; its leader Micheal Martin described it as having a “centrist” political background. The SDLP, meanwhile, was formed in 1970, having emerged from the Northern Irish civil rights movement. The suggestion of some kind of link-up has been mooted for years, but the Irish Times on Monday reported the two parties could be ready to make an announcement “possibly later this month”. Exactly what such an arrangement would look like is not clear, and extensive attempts by the News Letter to glean information from current and former high-profile SDLP figures led to many saying they are in the dark themselves about what is going on. However, the Irish Times quoted an unnamed “well-placed” Fianna Fail source as saying the process will eventually result in “one all-island party which will be called Fianna Fail”.” – News Letter

  • Careful Colum, the obliteration of your party may be at hand – Sir Reg Empey, News Letter

News in Brief:

  • The really worrying thing about the Irish backstop – Martin Davison, CapX
  • A downbeat assessment of doomed Britain’s dire prospects – Walter Ellis, Reaction
  • Europe is a continent in crisis – where lo-vis people now wear high-vis jackets – Christopher Caldwell, The Spectator
  • This age of semiotics is breaking us – Graeme Archer, UnHerd