Hunt on three-day visit to Singapore, which he will “praise for being an open society” against FO advice

“Jeremy Hunt will praise Singapore for being an open society with a democracy worth defending, despite Foreign Office warnings about its approach to freedom and dissent. The foreign secretary will begin a three-day visit to Asia today with a speech in Singapore boasting that Britain has “some of the best connections of any country” and is ready to strengthen ties with Asia after Brexit. “Britain is already the biggest European investor in southeast Asia, with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] trade of nearly £37 billion, and over 4,000 British companies employing more than 50,000 people in Singapore alone,” he will say. “Those connections are why Britain’s post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies.”” – The Times

  • He speaks of “not overestimating or underestimating” our strength as a global leader – Daily Telegraph
  • He seeks Asia pivot – Daily Express

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Hunt seizes the top spot in our Cabinet League Table, but overall ratings continue to struggle

DfT to claim new teenage railcard will cut fares for “generation of rail passengers”, as Grayling talks of “record investment”

“Today the Department for Transport will say that it is cutting fares for a “generation of rail passengers” by introducing a new half-price teenage railcard. The railcard will extend child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds from September, cutting prices by 50 per cent for 1.2 million teenagers. A new millennial railcard for 26- to 30-year-olds also goes on sale today. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, claimed the government’s “record investment” in Britain’s rail network will help passengers receive “frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve”. Andrew Jones, the rail minister, added: “For the sixth year in a row fares are only rising with inflation. Labour’s 13 years in office saw inflation-busting fare rises of up to 7.5 per cent.”” – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Let’s turn Railways Day into Scrap HS2 Day

Grayling: I’m doing all I can

“… On the railways we’ve ended Labour’s inflation-busting price rises that resulted in rail fares rising by as much as 7.5 per cent a year. Today, for the sixth year in a row, fares will rise with inflation, not above it. We’re doing this while investing for the long term – with £48billion going into improving our railways over the next five years, starting with £3.7billion for Transpennine and East Coast mainline upgrades in the spring. I’m determined to do everything I can to cut the cost of rail travel for as many people as possible too, particularly for young people starting out. After a successful trial last year and working with the rail industry, today, the 26-30 railcard comes live across the board – offering savings to millions of young people who use our railways.” – Daily Telegraph

Brexiter Conservatives criticise May’s New Year message…

“Mrs May used her New Year’s message to urge MPs to “put our differences aside and move forward together” by supporting her deal in the Commons. She said that accepting the Withdrawal Agreement when it comes before Parliament later this month would allow Britain to “start a new chapter” and see the country “turn a corner”. But her plea appears to have fallen on deaf ears among her pro-Brexit backbenchers as they restarted their opposition to the deal. Former Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood, a fierce critic of the terms, insisted he still had “fundamental objections” to Mrs May’s plan and rejected suggestions he was “wobbling” in his opposition. Veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash said: “My New Year’s Resolution – not to vote for the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement this January.” And Andrea Jenkyns said she wanted a “true Brexit” and called for MPs to reject the Prime Minister’s deal.” – Daily Express

…and Khan’s “politicised” NYE fireworks

“London mayor Sadiq Khan has infuriated Brexiteers after a major landmark was lit up like the European Union’s flag during the capital’s fireworks on New Year’s Eve. The London Eye ferris wheel near the Houses of Parliament was lit up in blue with gold stars around the rim during the nine minute display on Monday night. As the fireworks went off along the Thames, the words “London is open” were said in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian and Spanish. Eurosceptic Tories were appalled by what they say as a politicisation of the event. David Jones MP, a former Brexit minister, said: “This was a golden opportunity to project London as a confidant, global city.  “Instead the Mayor chose to portray it as tied to the EU’s apron’s strings. That he did so at huge public expense simply added insult to injury.” Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “It’s low, it’s very low, to politicise what is an international public event.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • His actions and comments have been criticised – Daily Mail

Brexit comment:

>Today: Philip Booth in Comment: It’s time to remember that there’s more to politics than Brexit

Macwhirter: Might there be a recession this year?

“… Recessions come in roughly 10-year cycles – 1990, 2000, 2008 – and are linked to natural fluctuations in the business cycle. But they are usually triggered by specific events. In 2000, it was the bust when thousands of dodgy internet ventures went under. In 2008 it was banks behaving badly by marketing collateralised debt obligations and other toxic financial derivatives. That required £1.1 trillion in bailout money, loaned by us taxpayers, to prevent a collapse of the global financial system. … The utter chaos of the British Government, and loose talk of a No-Deal Brexit, makes a collapse in confidence in the UK economy a dead cert in 2019. These apparently psychological factors are important.” – Herald

YouGov poll suggests three quarters of Labour supporters want a second referendum

“Three quarters of Labour members want Jeremy Corbyn to back a second referendum on Brexit, as a survey shows that the Labour leader has suffered a marked drop in his support over the past eight months. A YouGov poll of 1,034 Labour members, who pay annual subscriptions and can vote in leadership contests, found that 72 per cent supported a second referendum while 18 per cent did not. Six per cent said that they did not know. The poll for Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University was conducted between December 17 and 21 as part of a project by the Economic and Social Research Council on party members. Labour has about 540,000 members, according to Commons figures compiled last spring, while the Conservatives have 124,000.” – The Times 


More Labour and other parties 

  • Why is May not following through on over-75s’ licence fee promise? – Gordon Brown, Guardian
  • Could SDLP merge with FF? – Belfast News Letter

May and Corbyn commend emergency services for response to suspected terror attack

“Theresa May joined British Transport Police in commending the emergency services for containing the threat. “My thoughts are with those who were injured in the suspected terrorist attack in Manchester last night,” the prime minister said. “I thank the emergency services for their courageous response.” Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said: “Thinking of those injured in Manchester last night, their families and loved ones. Thanks to our emergency services for their professionalism and bravery in dealing with this suspected terror attack.” The Muslim Council of Britain said it wished to express its concern for the victims and its support for the police. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the three victims and the courageous police whose actions appear to have prevented further casualties. We hope the perpetrator faces the full force of justice for this suspected terrorist attack.”” – The Times

  • Suspect detained under mental health act – Guardian

Williamson will investigate and be investigated over barracks’ fire risk

“Senior MPs last night vowed to investigate why defence chiefs ignored warnings of a Grenfell-type inferno in decaying barracks. The Sun yesterday revealed a report by inspectors highlighting the “unacceptable degradation” of fire safety standards. After finding high chances of “a significant loss of life” among soldiers in unmarried quarters, the Defence Safety Authority’s alert was covered up by senior civil servants. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s aides said he was also urgently looking into it. And he wants to know why an urgent improvement order issued by MoD safety boss Lt Gen Richard Felton is still being ignored eight months on, as we also revealed. MPs on the Commons Defence Committee said they would haul in MoD mandarins for a grilling next week. Its chairman, Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis, told The Sun: “We must not wait for a tragedy to happen before we get to the bottom of what appears to be serious failings here.”” – The Sun

More government 

  • FO charged forced marriage victims for repatriation costs – The Times
  • Audit Office emphasises submarine funding gap – FT
  • Fowler speaks of need to reduce size of Lords – Guardian

News in Brief

  • My brush with the conspiracists – Oliver Kamm, CapX
  • Can you love both equality of opportunity and the monarchy? – Matt Gillow, 1828
  • Is transhumanism compatible with democracy? – James Bickerton, Backbencher
  • A profile of one of the greatest political philosophers of our time – Nathan Heller, New Yorker