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Remainer rebels ‘open talks with Labour’…

“Theresa May’s Brexit strategy was in tatters last night after Tory Remainer rebels opened talks with Labour over an alternative to her deal. The prime minister suffered another Commons defeat yesterday and will now be forced to produce a plan B within three days of Tuesday’s meaningful vote, which she is expected to lose. It also emerged last night that Mrs May was holding her own private meetings with Labour MPs to try to secure their backing. John Bercow, the Speaker, outraged ministers by overruling advice from officials in order to help an alliance of rebel Tories and opposition MPs to inflict the defeat, the second for the government in 24 hours. A cabinet source said Mr Bercow’s actions meant that the relationship between the government and the Speaker was “beyond breaking point, it is broken”. Mrs May had hoped to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal as the March 29 Brexit deadline approaches. That strategy has been dismantled by MPs who voted on Monday to restrict the Treasury’s powers to levy taxes after a no-deal Brexit, and yesterday to reduce the timetable for the prime minister to spell out her “next steps”. The result is that January 28 is now the latest date by which MPs will be able to start instructing the government on how — or even whether — to achieve Brexit.” – The Times

  • Boles received death threats after joining rebellion – The Sun
  • Starmer insists second vote may be ‘only way out’ – The Times

More:

  • Davies ‘demolishes’ Scottish and Welsh MPs using Brexit to demand independence – Daily Express
  • Carmakers urge Abe to warn May against ‘no deal’ – FT

>Yesterday:

…as May considers move on workers’ rights to win support…

Theresa May is considering backing calls by Labour MPs to safeguard workers’ rights after Brexit in order to try to get her controversial EU withdrawal deal through the Commons. With time running out for the Prime Minister to shore up support for her controversial exit plan, Government sources said supporting an opposition bid to enshrine EU standards was being considered. The amendment would keep EU rules on pay and conditions, health and safety issues, plus environmental standards. The move came after Mrs May suffered another embarrassing Commons defeat on her EU withdrawal agenda. MPs insisted that if the PM’s deal is voted down next Tuesday, she must set out a “Plan B” to Parliament within three sitting days. The controversial decision by Commons Speaker John Bercow to allow a vote on the move provoked fury among many Tory MPs and led to calls for his resignation. Labour MP John Mann, one of the people behind the amendment on workers’ rights, said Government backing for the proposal could make the PM’s plan “more attractive”. He said: “If we have a guarantee that works on workers’ rights and conditions, that’s significant.” The comments came as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to say that a general election is the most “practical and democratic” way to “break the deadlock” in the Commons over Brexit.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Government plots ‘major climbdown’ on EU rules – Daily Express
  • Prime Minister’s last-ditch moves ahead of key vote – FT
  • May loses grip on her deal after fresh humiliation – The Guardian
  • Corbyn to table no-confidence motion if Meaningful Vote lost – FT

Ireland:

  • MPs dismiss offer on backstop as ‘flimsy rubbish’ – The Sun
  • DUP say pledge to consult Stormont is ‘meaningless’ – The Guardian

Transport:

  • Eurotunnel claims ferry contract breaches EU rules – FT
  • Lorries will run smoothly across Channel even with no deal, says port chief – Daily Telegraph
  • Grayling accused of ‘disrespect’ – The Times
  • Brexit certainty ‘unbearable’, says Airbus chief – FT

>Today: ToryDiary: This rotting Cabinet

…and ministers ‘plot revenge’ on Bercow

“Senior government figures plotted revenge on John Bercow while clerks declared the Speaker “patently out of order” after he rejected their advice on a pivotal Brexit ruling yesterday. Mr Bercow ignored the counsel of Sir David Natzler, the clerk of the House, when he tore up precedent to allow MPs to vote to force the government’s hand on the Brexit timetable. Mr Bercow stunned ministers by allowing amendments to a business motion that set out the government’s Commons timetable for Brexit. The government believed that decades of convention would ensure that the motion was not amendable, in line with the advice of the clerks. One official said: “I would say it is patently out of order but the Speaker’s word is law. By definition if he says it’s in order, it’s in order. The magic words ‘it’s a decision for the Speaker’ cover all sins.” Another said: “It is hard to read the original motion and think that amendments are permissible.” Mr Bercow and the clerks were in conflict from Tuesday night when the Speaker stepped in to overrule them to allow the amendment, drawn up by Dominic Grieve, the Remain-backing Tory MP, to appear on the order paper. Conservatives believe that Mr Grieve and the Speaker have been working together, and think this is evidence of Mr Bercow’s bias, a charge he rejects. Asked about the government’s relationship with Mr Bercow, a cabinet source said: “It’s beyond breaking point, it’s broken.”” – The Times

  • Tory MPs plot to dock Speaker’s pay or pension – Daily Telegraph
  • Bercow accused of bias after ignoring clerks’ advice – The Times
  • Controversy sparks ‘near riot’ in Parliament – The Sun
  • Tory whip brands Bercow ‘bully’ – Daily Mail
  • Boothroyd brands ruling “absolute and utter disgrace” – Guido Fawkes

Comment:

  • The wrong man is in the Speaker’s chair at this crucial moment – Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph
  • Ministers have lost the political power struggle of our time – Martin Kettle, The Guardian

Sketch:

  • He sent Brexiteers into meltdown and enjoyed every minute – Michael Deacon, Daily Telegraph
  • All he wants is a blaze of notoriety – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

Editorial:

  • Bercow’s prejudices are costing him MPs’ trust – The Sun
  • If Parliament decides to take over Brexit, MPs need to know what they want – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Chris White in Comment: The day the Speaker set fire to Erskine May

>Yesterday:

Selmayr denies Hands’ claims on this site

“Martin Selmayr, the so-called ‘monster’ of Brussels, has reacted angrily to claims that he set out to punish Britain over Brexit. Selmayr, controversially elevated last year to become secretary general of the European Commission, was said to have told a meeting in Brussels in November that ‘the power is with us’ in Brexit trade talks. The claim was repeated in a detailed article by Tory MP Greg Hands, who sets out allegations that Selmayr and Sabine Weyand, another top EU official, crafted the Brexit deal in order to inflict maximum pain on Britain. Needless to say, Selmayr isn’t happy. This morning, he shared a link to Hands’ Conservative Home piece… Having been asked to clarify which bit of the article is ‘false’, Selmayr has since kept quiet. So who should we believe? And can the ‘monster’s’ denials be trusted? To help readers make up their minds, here is Mr S’s round-up of the times where Selmayr has called out inaccuracies…” – The Spectator

  • He accuses Johnson and Raab of lying too – The Times

>Yesterday: MPs Etc.: “We have never said this.” Selmayr tweets a response to Hands’ ConHome article about him and Weyand.

Nick Timothy: May will not willingly take Britain out of the EU without a deal

“No-dealers believe they are in the driving seat. The law says that Britain is leaving the European Union on March 29. The only thing that can stop Brexit – or even prevent a no-deal Brexit – is a change in the law. If they can run down the clock, no-dealers believe, and block changes in the law, then no deal is what we will get. But Parliament can change the law. And with a trade Bill in the Lords, and agriculture, fisheries, healthcare and immigration Bills in the Commons, there are opportunities for MPs to pass new laws before Brexit. No problem, no-dealers say: ministers should suspend all Brexit legislation, denying MPs the chance to push through amendments. Mrs May has made a habit of delaying difficult moments and avoiding votes she might lose. But is she likely to defer legislation that prepares Britain for leaving the EU, in order to bring about a no-deal Brexit? No 10 is trying to give the impression that no deal remains possible but, after many years of knowing the Prime Minister, I do not believe that she would willingly take Britain out of the EU without a deal… The question, therefore, is whether the opponents of a no-deal Brexit can forge a consensus among themselves about what to do. If the different factions vote down every proposal in pursuit of their own ideal outcome, they will all lose, and Britain will leave the EU with no deal. As the options narrow, however, they are likely to show more discipline and start to work together.” – Daily Telegraph

  • We’re heading for no deal, and fatuous MPs are making it worse – Daniel Finkelstein, The Sun
  • Brexit is a certain route to a divided Britain – Philip Stephens, FT
  • Nobody but May can save us from this unholy mess – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
  • The backstop would work to Britain’s advantage – James Kirkup, The Times
  • How Remainers should handle… remaining in the EU – Simon Kuper, FT Magazine
  • Why Cummings used ‘control’ and ‘sovereignty’ in the Leave campaign – Mark Wallace, The i

Hunt scraps repatriation fees for forced marriage victims

“Young women sent abroad for forced marriages will no longer be charged by the Foreign Office for the cost of their rescue, following an investigation by The Times. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, announced yesterday that fees levied on victims for their flights home, food and shelter would be scrapped as an “immediate policy change”. Instead, parents who send their daughters abroad for forced marriages will face court orders requiring them to pay. If this is not possible, the Foreign Office will cover the costs. Mr Hunt said: “Victims of forced marriage are exceptionally vulnerable and face terrible ordeals. Changes in the areas rightly highlighted by The Times are an important part of improving our work. I believe this change is the right and compassionate way forward.” This newspaper revealed that the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) helped to repatriate 82 victims in 2016 and 2017. Those who were over 18 and could not cover costs, including their flights home, food and shelter, had to sign emergency loan agreements before take-off and had passports confiscated or blocked until repayment. If they did not clear their debts in six months a 10 per cent surcharge applied. Mr Hunt said that all victims with outstanding loans would have them cancelled and their passports reissued.” – The Times

Docherty presses for troops to be protected from the ECHR

“Tory MPs yesterday launched a fresh bid to free British troops of hated human rights laws. A draft law introduced by former British Army officer Leo Docherty calls for the British Armed Forces to be exempt from prosecution under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Currently soldiers can be chased years after they finish serving over breaches to the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the convention into UK law. Mr Docherty warned that it paralyses troops on the battlefield as they fear being prosecuted for their actions years later. And he said it also threatened the viability of future UK deployments abroad. Mr Docherty pointed out that 10 countries including France and Spain have in effect opted out of certain aspects of the ECHR and called on the Government to carve out its own exemption for serving soldiers. The draft law was backed by a string of ex-Armed Forces ministers in the Commons yesterday. But it lacks government backing so is unlikely to become law in its current form. Mr Docherty said: “No other country has such a perverse situation in which soldiers who have done their duty and done no wrong face this kind of sustained legal pursuit.” He added: “Our Armed Forces need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf, while adhering to the Geneva Conventions and the laws of armed conflict. They need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf and will not then not face spurious legal accusations years and decades after the event.”” – The Sun

>Today: Alex Morton’s column: Conservatives must be able to debate the future of their Party’s ideas as well as its future leader

Parliament moves towards special inquiry over MP abuse

“Parliament is moving towards a special inquiry into the abuse and harassment of MPs after repeated threats and other forms of intimidation in relation to Brexit and other issues. The proposal for a Speaker’s conference was made by Harriet Harman and Ken Clarke, the longest continuously serving female MP and male MP in parliament. A panel of cross-party MPs will examine evidence and make recommendations for police, prosecutors and others. Harman, a Labour MP since 1982, said the idea was first considered more than a year ago, but had been lent fresh impetus by the barracking and abuse of MPs such as Anna Soubry by pro-Brexit protestors outside parliament in recent weeks. The panel would consider how best to balance the right to protest with helping MPs carry on with their jobs, Harman told reporters. “People have got to have freedom of expression, to get into groups. And that’s something we’ve got to be champions of. But we’ve also got to balance that with the ability of MPs to do their job freely. And once somebody has been voted for, whatever I think of them, they’ve got to get on and do their job, however they see fit to do it,” she said. The special inquiry would have to be approved and formally established by the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow. To promote the move, Harman has put together a dossier of dangers faced by MPs in recent years, including the murder of Jo Cox, the plot by a neo-Nazi to kill another Labour MP, Rosie Cooper, and as well as dozens of other incidents covering threats, abuse and other issues.” – The Guardian

  • Soubry says she now sticks to shoes she can run in – The Times

Comment:

  • Blame McDonnell for vile abuse of Remainer MPs – Rod Liddle, The Sun

>Yesterday: Nadine Dorries in Comment: Thuggery. Abuse. Threats. Unacceptable everywhere. But no-one came to Brexiteers’ defence when we were victims.

MPs call for Minister of Hunger (to fight… obesity?)

“MPs have called for a Minister for Hunger to be created in order to stem Britain’s alarming increase in families who struggle to put food on the table. The minister would also oversee the Government’s fight against childhood obesity and other food-related health problems, the Commons Environmental Audit committee said. Its recommendations came alongside shocking findings that show one in ten children in England aged 4-5 are malnourished. In Wales this figure rises to one in eight. Separate figures from the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (Bapen) which said that the number of “undernourished” people in the UK was three million, with 1.3 million of those aged over 65. MPs said a cross-government position in the form of a Minister for Hunger is needed in light of worrying analysis that found the number of families in Britain who have limited access to food due to a lack of money is among the highest levels in Europe. The committee blasted the Government for leaving “an item as significant as hunger and food insecurity in the UK has fallen between the cracks”. Committee chair Mary Creagh warned that while many are still recovering from Christmas excess, “the sad fact is that more children are growing up in homes where parents don’t have enough money to put food on the table”… In its report into “Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK”, the committee found that the Government’s widely publicised obesity strategy made no mention of “food insecurity”.” – The Sun

Party official found guilty of breaking election law as Mackinlay cleared

“A Conservative Party official has been found guilty of falsifying expenses during the 2015 election campaign to stop Nigel Farage becoming an MP. Marion Little, 63, who was described by a judge as a “friend to prime ministers”, authorised spending above legal limits in the South Thanet constituency. The MP for the seat, Craig Mackinlay, was cleared of breaking election law at the same trial. “I await a statement from the Electoral Commission, the CPS and Kent police as to how they justify millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in pursuing me in a political show trial,” he said. Mr Justice Edis said yesterday that Little, of Ware, Hertfordshire, had been “carried away by her conviction” that defeating Mr Farage was an “overwhelmingly important political objective”. She was found guilty of two charges of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence under the Serious Crime Act but cleared of a third charge. The judge called for clarity on electoral law to distinguish between national and local spending limits. The charges came after investigations by Channel 4 into the Conservative Party’s election expenses. The jury at Southwark crown court had deliberated for more than 53 hours before reaching its verdicts. Prosecutors said that more than £60,000 in staffing, hotels and advertising had not been declared in the battle for the Kent constituency, and that Little had, in effect, run the Conservative campaign for the seat.” – The Times

Liberal Democrats lead move to force rethink of ‘retrospective tax’

“The Treasury has taken a step back on a key tax avoidance measure, in the face of political opposition from those who said it would unfairly punish tens of thousands of contractors and agency workers who had used disguised remuneration schemes. Rather than being paid a salary, which would have attracted income tax and national insurance, workers were instead loaned money — typically via an offshore trust — on terms that meant it was unlikely ever to be repaid. HM Revenue & Customs considers the schemes a form of tax avoidance, and the finance bill was due to finalise plans for a “loan charge” that would have resulted in large, retrospective charges for workers who had not entered into an agreement to pay the outstanding tax by April 2019. However, more than 30 MPs backed an amendment by the former Liberal Democrat environment secretary Sir Ed Davey calling for a review on the effects of the move to be published before March 30 this year. Sir Ed tweeted: “An outrageous attempt at retrospective tax must now be reviewed — and gives hope to thousands of innocent people.” The review in itself would not change the situation facing those with outstanding tax payments. However, in a sign that the government’s position might shift further, prime minister Theresa May told parliament on Wednesday that Philip Hammond, the chancellor, would meet with a cross-party group of MPs to “look at how that review is being taken forward”.” – FT

Sturgeon threatened with inquiry over collapse of Salmond misconduct case

Nicola Sturgeon has been threatened with a Holyrood inquiry over the collapse of her government’s sexual misconduct investigation into Alex Salmond if she refuses to provide answers about her dealings with him. Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tories’ interim leader, warned the First Minister that his party would push for a Scottish Parliament committee to conduct an inquiry if key questions “are not properly answered.” In particular, he challenged her to explain why she held five discussions with Mr Salmond, including two meetings at her Glasgow home, when she insisted she had not intervened in the inquiry. Labour also poured scorn on her explanation that she had held the talks as a former friend and party colleague of Mr Salmond, rather than as First Minister, while her government was investigating him. Pauline McNeill, a Labour MSP, wrote to Ms Sturgeon demanding answers about the role she and her key advisors played in the debacle, which culminated in the Scottish Government admitting in court its inquiry was unlawful. Opposition party sources told the Telegraph that some of Mr Salmond’s SNP supporters have contacted them encouraging them to “keep going” in demanding answers about the botched inquiry. With the SNP embroiled in civil war, senior Holyrood insiders said the opposition had been urged “to take the fight to Nicola Sturgeon on behalf of their man.” One said: “It’s a quite extraordinary situation.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • First Minister under fire for discussing harassment claims with predecessor – The Guardian

News in Brief:

  • We need to reject the current deal and prepare for a WTO exit – Priti Patel MP, Brexit Central
  • The government’s Northern Ireland Brexit paper won’t reassure Unionists – Owen Polley, CapX
  • Project Fact: how scared should we really be of a no deal? – Ross Clark, The Spectator
  • Tory rebels binding government’s hands on tax is a bad idea – Maggie Pagano, Reaction
  • What if Trump played nice with the Democrats? – Henry Olsen, UnHerd

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