May to bid to offer MPs ‘double lock’ on her deal in order to pass it…

“Theresa May is set to offer MPs a ‘double lock’ on her Brexit deal in a last-ditch bid to reassure them the UK could not be trapped in a customs union indefinitely. The Prime Minister is pursuing two safeguards designed to ensure the controversial Irish ‘backstop’ could not last for more than 12 months. The drive is the focus of efforts to turn around a massive Tory rebellion ahead of a crunch vote this month on the PM’s Brexit deal. But Government sources last night acknowledged the initiative would require more EU concessions than Brussels has so far been willing to grant. And leading Eurosceptics said there were ‘no signs’ that resolve was wavering among more than 100 MPs who have vowed to join forces with Labour to defeat Mrs May’s deal. Last night it emerged that the PM is to take personal charge of no-deal planning, as the March 29 deadline for Britain’s exit from the EU approaches. Until now the cabinet committee charged with ensuring the UK is ready for Brexit has been chaired by Mrs May’s deputy David Lidington. But Downing Street sources said that from Monday a new committee known as EUXT (Preparedness) would focus on ensuring the UK is ready to leave on March 29, regardless of whether a deal has been approved or not. Sources last night insisted securing a deal remains Mrs May’s primary focus.” – Daily Mail

  • Prime Minister ‘turns on charm’ as rebellion over Withdrawal Agreement deepens – The Times
  • Brussels thaws as Downing Street hunts crunch concessions – Daily Express
  • May and Juncker speak as she struggles to break impasse – The Guardian


  • Gove backs deal ‘to the hilt’ as alternatives too risky – The Times


  • Farmers wary of post-Brexit green push – FT
  • British schools explore EU expansion post-Brexit – FT

…but Brexiteers accuse her of making ‘apocalyptic’ threats…

Theresa May has been accused by senior Tories of trying to scare MPs into backing her EU Withdrawal Agreement with an “apocalyptic” vision of what would happen in a no deal Brexit. In a report aimed at debunking “myths” about leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, Lord Lilley, the former trade secretary, said the Government was trying to “play up the supposed horrors” of leaving the EU ahead of this month’s Parliamentary vote on the deal. It came as ministers hired 150 lorries for a high-profile demonstration of what might happen in a no-deal Brexit. The HGVs will be used on Monday for a dry run of Operation Brock, simulating tailbacks caused by delays at Dover. On Friday the Prime Minister phoned Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, in a desperate attempt to re-open talks over the Brexit deal after he had made it clear the negotiations were over. MPs will restart a debate over the deal next week ahead of a vote on it in the middle of this month, with no sign that Tory rebels are softening their opposition to the deal. There was more bad news for Mrs May when Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the DUP, whose votes the Tories need for their majority, said a no-deal Brexit would be less damaging for Northern Ireland than Mrs May’s deal.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Troops must be ready for Brexit chaos, warns Ellwood – The Times
  • Live test of plan to use airfield as lorry park – The Guardian
  • Website offering advice on ‘no deal’ to go live next week – The Sun


  • Brexiteers accuse Downing Street of ‘bullying’ and abandon truce – The Sun
  • Eurosceptics hold firm against May’s deal – FT
  • Deal ‘bigger threat to Northern Ireland than no deal’, warns DUP – Daily Telegraph
  • Nearly 300,000 sign petition urging May to go for ‘no deal’ – Daily Express

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

…and pressure mounts on Grayling over ferry company

“The Labour party will on Monday put fresh pressure on Chris Grayling, the UK transport secretary, to justify his decision to grant a £14m cross-Channel ferry contract to a company that has yet to acquire any vessels as controversy mounted over the operator’s leadership. The opposition will attempt to table an urgent question in the Commons that would force Mr Grayling to explain why he awarded the contract to Seaborne Freight to run an emergency ferry service across the Strait of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Concern over the contract has grown after it emerged that Ben Sharp, Seaborne Freight‘s chief executive, previously ran a business that was liquidated owing money to the UK tax authorities. According to Companies House documents, Mr Sharp, who is also known as John, ran companies named Mercator Ship Chartering and Mercator International, which were both wound up in October 2015 following court petitions by HM Revenue & Customs. Mercator International owed £1.8m to creditors in the final year for which it filed accounts, which was the year to March 2013… Mr Sharp declined to comment on the Mercator insolvencies. He said Seaborne Freight had been “working to reintroduce the Ramsgate-to-Ostend ferry service for the last two years” and that the company was “now in the final phase of the project”.” – FT

  • Grayling is Peter Pan in this ferry tale – Matt Chorley, Times Red Box

Charles Moore: Elites are failing to reckon with the real reasons behind the EU’s failings

“Far from global institutions being the only shape of the future, great nations are becoming ever more clearly delineated. America and China, Russia and India, are accruing more power. The EU is watching its own drain away, because its citizens do not fully accept its authority. Twenty years this week after it invented its own currency, it has failed to bring about the prosperity the euro was supposed to engender and the political union for which it was supposed to pave the way. There is no country in the EU where mainstream, integrationist parties are stronger now than they were five years ago. It is highly likely that anti-federalist parties will make big pan-continental gains in the European Parliament elections in May. It just is not good enough for clever people who don’t like what is happening to condemn the stupidity of those demanding change. They must ask themselves why their own beliefs are on the run… There is much worth saving from the fall of the Brussels empire, as there was from the Roman and from the British. The rules-based international order for which it stands needs to be rescued, but re-based on realistic rather than Utopian principles – the sort of thing at which British pragmatism excels. Our educated elites are shirking this responsibility; and poor Mrs May, with her deal that theoretically lets us leave but actually binds us in forever, is failing to fill the vacuum.” – Daily Telegraph

  • More people are waking up to the benefits of ‘mitigated no deal’ – Michael Fabricant, Daily Telegraph
  • Let’s call time on this post-imperial dreaming – Matthew Parris, The Times
  • Euroscepticism is infiltrating the EU’s intellectual elite – Juliet Samuel, Daily Telegraph
  • Until Euro countries pool fiscal sovereignty, it will deliver only misery – Alex Brummer, Daily Mail
  • Democrats battle Trump, but Labour is tongue-tied on Brexit – Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian

May to push ahead with NHS reforms despite Treasury objections

“Theresa May is to forge ahead with her £20bn plan for reforming the NHS on Monday despite objections from the Treasury that the 10-year blueprint risks failing to deliver value for money. The Treasury is unhappy that Mrs May has insisted on pushing ahead with publication of what it considers an incomplete plan that fails to secure radical reforms needed to cut long-term pressure on the service. The department felt bounced by Number 10 last year into the plan to inject an additional £20.5bn annually in real terms into the NHS by 2023-24. “The fundamental question is how you cut demand in the NHS, rather than just increasing spending,” said one Treasury source. “The allocation of funds to the NHS was contingent on them having a proper plan which delivers value for money.” Mrs May’s decision to make the NHS the focus of her first political push of 2019 is intended to show the government has a strong agenda beyond Brexit. But the plans have also been criticised as a distraction by some senior ministers during a crucial few weeks for the UK’s exit from the EU.One senior Whitehall figure said Mrs May’s decision to publish the plan was “displacement activity”, given that the government should be fully focused on breaking the impasse on Brexit.” – FT

>Today: Hiten Ganatra in Comment: Why Help to Buy should be extended – not curbed

Ministers 1) Stewart calls for pre-sentence deportation of foreign criminals

“Foreign offenders should be deported rather than jailed in Britain to ease overcrowding in jails, the prisons minister said. Rory Stewart said the government could do more to send such criminals back home. About 10 per cent of prisoners are foreign nationals. “One option, which of course is available to the police and could potentially be expanded, is to say that if a foreign national commits an offence in Britain they are simply deported”, Mr Stewart said. The public would have to decide whether it was comfortable with the idea of foreigners simply being pushed out of the country, he added. Mr Stewart’s remarks in the Prison Service Journal contradict official policy which is that foreign offenders should be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced in the UK. They are liable for deportation at the end of their sentence or, under certain circumstances, may be eligible to be transferred to their home country to serve their time in prison there. There were 9,047 foreigners in UK prisons at the end of last September, out of a total jail population of 83,005, according to the Ministry of Justice. The ministry said that Mr Stewart had been referring to a foreign national offender conditional caution, a rarely used penalty under which police and the Crown Prosecution Service can opt not to prosecute certain suspected foreign offenders.” – The Times

  • Jails need airport-style security searches, minister claims – The Guardian
  • Police warn that organised gangs are taking prison jobs to smuggle drugs – Daily Telegraph


  • Javid welcomes French action on cross-channel migrants – The Times
  • Call to ban knife offenders from social media – Daily Telegraph

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

Ministers 2) Hunt to review whether Britons are safe visiting Russia after arrests

“Jeremy Hunt is reviewing whether Brits are safe in Russia after blasting Moscow for the arrest of alleged spy Paul Whelan. The Foreign Secretary accused the Kremlin of using the former Marine – a dual UK-US citizen – as a pawn in a “diplomatic chess game”. And challenged whether the Government was concerned other Brits could potentially be picked up, the Tory leadership contender said: “Well this is obviously something that is under active consideration. “We are constantly reviewing our travel advice in all parts of the world. And if we see the need to make a change, then we will make it.” The 48 year-old was charged with espionage on Wednesday amid allegations he was given a computer memory stick containing a list of Russian agents in a Moscow hotel room. American embassy officials contacted British counterparts to inform them of the arrest and his status as a Brit. Speaking during a trip in Singapore, Mr Hunt said he had no idea whether the arrest was motivated by the fallout from the Salisbury attack last year – or to secure the release of a Russian awaiting sentencing in the US. The Russian, Marina Butina, has admitted acting unlawfully as a Russian agent.” – The Sun

  • UK grapples with post-Brexit ambitions in Asia – FT

Beneath the surface, Tory leadership campaigns get into gear

“Gavin helped Sajid with boats, then presented him with the bill. Liz annoyed people and didn’t care. Boris kept quiet for once. And Jeremy irritated just about everyone. Welcome to the 2019 Tory party leadership race. Theresa May’s confidence vote victory last month means that she is likely to have a free pass for another 11 months whatever happens with Brexit. So the wrangling may continue through briefing and crude positioning for much of this year. Truly, politics is a rough old trade. Mr Javid hoped that his global immigration blueprint and handling of Home Office troubles would put him in poll position. Soft-focus interviews in the autumn, even as his policing minister had to deal with anger over police budgets, suggested ambition… The chief secretary to the Treasury is not afraid of making enemies as she sets out her vision of Conservatism, a distinct departure from Theresa May’s philosophical approach… Mr Williamson went over the top when he got to the Ministry of Defence in autumn of 2017, picking fights with cabinet colleagues including, eventually, Mrs May. His change of tactics, and reacquainting himself with the virtue of loyalty, suggest he has realised that he needs to play a long game.” – The Times

  • May deserves better than the narcissists more focused on succeeded than supporting her – Peter Oborne, Daily Mail


  • There is no vacancy to justify this leadership posturing – The Times
  • Scariest part of ‘no deal’ is who would succeed May – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: The Welsh Conservatives need to break out of their rut in 2019

Government accused of ‘abuse of statistics’ about impact of aid in bid to enshrine spending in law

“Britain made the false claim that it had enabled tens of millions of people in developing countries to leave poverty as MPs were being urged to enshrine an aid spending commitment into law. The figure was trumpeted by Justine Greening as international development secretary when David Cameron’s government was persuading parliament to enforce a pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of Britain’s income on aid. The Department for International Development (Dfid) later dropped the claim. Officials admitted that the figure did not refer to how many people had ceased to be poor but counted the number with access to “financial services such as savings, credit, mobile banking” which it was hoped would allow them to “cope better and make small investments to increase their income and help work their way out of poverty.”… Britain is committed by law to give away £14 billion a year in foreign aid. Mr Cameron has said that enshrining the aid budget in law was his finest achievement, and the government has repeatedly claimed that it is helping to save lives and lift millions out of poverty. Mr Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment.” – The Times

  • Britain handing £1.5 billion to most corrupt states – Daily Mail


  • Developing countries ‘less transparent’ despite assistance – Dominic Kennedy, The Times

Rosindell accused of bigotry over membership of Tommy Robinson Facebook group

“A Conservative MP has been accused of bigotry after his Facebook account was found to be a member of a group supporting the far-right leader Tommy Robinson. The account of Andrew Rosindell, 52, MP for Romford joined a “Free Tommy” group backing the former leader of the English Defence League after he was jailed for 13 months in May for being in contempt of court. Robinson was jailed for potentially derailing a trial by livestreaming his commentary outside a court in Leeds. The judge had imposed reporting restrictions but Robinson named defendants and cited the charges and details of the allegations. He filmed defendants and confronted them as they entered court. The footage was viewed 250,000 times. Robinson was found in breach of a previous suspended sentence for contempt of court after livestreaming at a court in Canterbury last year. Far-right leaders called for his release and “Free Tommy” rallies were organised and funded by far-right groups… Screenshots show that Mr Rosindell’s Facebook page joined a group called “London says #FreeTommy NOW #MakeBritainGreatAgain #MBGA” in May. The page said that the “purpose of Make Britain Great Again is to oppose the collapse of the British culture and nation”.” – The Times

Former standards watchdog urges review of means to expel disgraced MPs

“The Government should “urgently” review the legal mechanisms available to Parliament to expel convicted MPs in light of the Fiona Onasanya scandal, the former head of the Commons standards watchdog has said. Sir Kevin Barron, the former chairman of the committee on standards, has called on ministers to consider tightening legislation so that MPs who receive a prison sentence lasting more than 10 days should face expulsion from Parliament. The senior Labour figure said it was “absurd” that MPs can only be automatically ousted from Parliament after receiving a year-long prison sentence, as set out in The Representation of the People Act 1981. In contrast, MPs who are banned from the Commons for just 10 days can be subject to a recall petition, a poll which will trigger a by-election if 10 percent of their constituents sign it. His intervention came after Ian Lavery, the Labour Party chairman, confirmed that Ms Onasanya, the disgraced MP for Peterborough, had been permanently expelled from the party after she was convicted of perverting the course of justice by lying to police to avoid a speeding charge.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Labour town hall chief tried to have blogger arrested – The Times

Speaker ‘one false move’ from being ousted

“John Bercow is ‘one false move’ away from being ousted, a cabinet minister has warned, amid fury over his handling of Westminster bullying allegations and Brexit. The Commons Speaker avoided a bullying probe last year after a parliamentary committee said the claims were too old. But senior Tories angered by his conduct are now poised to report even the most minor transgression to the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which has the power to investigate and sanction all MPs – including Mr Bercow. One cabinet minister said: ‘The Speaker has been on his best behaviour since the changes came in, but we all know it won’t last. He’s on his last warning now – one false move and we’ll have him.’ In October, the Dame Laura Cox inquiry found there was widespread bullying and harassment in Parliament and called for a change in leadership of the Commons. Mr Bercow, who denies all allegations of bullying, has also infuriated senior Tories with his handling of the Brexit debate. Ministers point out that he has repeatedly helped fuel discontent with Theresa May’s deal by calling dozens of her critics to attack her proposals before allowing more supportive MPs to have their say.” – Daily Mail

Lucas calls for meat tax

“Calls by the Green MP Caroline Lucas for a tax on meat have been met with disdain by the food industry. Ms Lucas used a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference to call for “serious consideration of a meat tax” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. “If the world’s diet doesn’t change, we simply can’t avoid the worst effects of climate change,” she told delegates. Livestock accounts for 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the UN, and farming produces 7 per cent of Britain’s emissions, of which 5 per cent stems from livestock. Minette Batters, the president of the NFU, said that the industry was trying to be carbon neutral by 2040. Ms Lucas acknowledged that better farming techniques could reduce emissions, but said, “at the risk of incurring the wrath of the energy secretary, who said recently that encouraging people to eat less meat would be ‘the worst sort of nanny state ever,’ we need serious consideration of measures like a meat tax, particularly for beef”. She added: “We need to bring the whole food chain into the circle of responsibility, not leaving farmers to work on their own.” Stuart Roberts, vice-president of the NFU, said a meat tax was regressive and would hit the poorest areas of society hardest, making it harder for everyone to eat a balanced diet.” – The Times

Scottish NHS patients face two-year wait despite Sturgeon pledge

“Scottish NHS patients have been forced to wait more than two years for their treatment despite Nicola Sturgeon’s legally binding guarantee promising them help within 12 weeks, it has emerged. The Liberal Democrats published official statistics obtained using the Freedom of Information Act showing more than 12,000 people have had to wait more than six months and 450 at least a year until their treatment started. In two cases, both recorded in troubled NHS Tayside, patients have been forced to wait more than 800 days for help – far in excess of two years. The Lib Dems said the figures showed the Scottish Government’s Treatment Time Guarantee, which Ms Sturgeon personally put into law, was “not worth a jot.” In 2012, when she was Health Minister, she introduced a legal right for treatment within 12 weeks for conditions like knee and eye operations. But performance against the target sank to its lowest ever level between July and September last year with only 72.9 per cent of patients being treated on time… The pledge has now been broken more than 150,000 times since its introduction and SNP ministers have admitted it will not be honoured until at least spring 2021.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Jewish widower of Auschwitz criticises SNP’s Westminster leader over Holocaust comparison – Daily Mail

News in Brief:

  • The real dividing lines – Oliver Wiseman, CapX
  • Brexit is about Empire? Don’t be daft – Alastair Benn, Reaction
  • The great awokening – Toby Young, The Spectator
  • Why Brexit Britain should welcome more refugees – Giles Fraser, UnHerd