May says she is seeking to alter, not scrap, the backstop

‘The Prime Minister risked infuriating hardline Brexiteers on Tuesday after ruling out removing the controversial Irish border protocol from her deal as she said she would focus on making changes to it instead. Mrs May will travel to Brussels on Thursday for showdown talks but before she does so she will meet Northern Irish political leaders in Belfast…Mrs May used a speech in Belfast on Tuesday to restate her “unshakeable” commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland after Brexit as she said: “I will not let that happen.” But asked how she could convince the people of Northern Ireland to accept a Brexit deal which was stripped of the backstop, Mrs May said: “I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future. “What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop.” MPs voted last week for the Prime Minister to seek to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements”.’ – Daily Telegraph

  • Backbenchers are unimpressed – Daily Mail
  • Today she meets with the leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties – The Times
  • Hold our nerve to get the deal we want – David Davis, Daily Telegraph
  • There’s a route to a real Brexit, but May must avoid customs union – Owen Paterson, Daily Express
  • If the eventual concession is legally watertight, Brexit-supporting MPs must back it – The Sun Says
  • Merkel is set to press the Irish to support a technological solution – The Times
  • Brussels prepares for No Deal blame game – FT
  • The Prime Minister hinted at a joint bid for the 2030 World Cup – Daily Mail
  • Such folly – The Guardian Leader

>Today: Richard Graham on Comment: Brexit with Muskets – or, lessons from our past about the essential art of compromise

>Yesterday: WATCH: In Belfast, May reiterates her “unshakeable” opposition to a hard border

No Brexit recession even if the Government and Bank take no action, NIESR forecasts

‘Britain will avoid recession in a no-deal Brexit as the government launches a £40 billion emergency stimulus package and the Bank of England ignores surging inflation to keep interest rates on hold, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The think tank said policymakers would respond to a no deal with tax cuts and welfare spending amounting to around 2 per cent of GDP, blowing a fresh hole in the budget deficit. Even if no action is taken recession will be averted, although the economy will stagnate with growth just above zero for two years. The scenarios were set out in the institute’s quarterly forecast, in which it downgraded UK growth sharply for next year and warned that the chancellor would break his fiscal rules regardless of Brexit. Student loans, the promise to end austerity and weak economic growth will force Philip Hammond to jettison his deficit reduction plan even in a soft Brexit, it claimed. The outlook came amid signs that the economy is stalling.’ – The Times

Cabinet ministers discuss possible Article 50 delay to pass essential legislation

‘Cabinet ministers have secretly discussed plans to delay Brexit by eight weeks despite warnings by Theresa May that it is “counter-productive” to talk about it. Ministers want the EU to agree a two-month “grace period” after March 29 if Mrs May’s deal passes through Parliament to allow extra time for necessary legislation. Britain would remain in the EU on the same terms during this temporary period, The Telegraph understands. An eight-week delay would mean Brexit being postponed to May 24. At Cabinet on Tuesday the Prime Minister appeared to rebuke ministers for talking publicly about delaying Brexit as she insisted that Britain will leave on March 29. Those who have suggested Brexit may be delayed to finalise a deal include Jeremy Hunt, Philip Hammond and Liam Fox, in what has been seen as a sign the Government has been preparing the public for postponing Brexit.’ – Daily Telegraph

  • Rudd tries to persuade the Prime Minister to publicly highlight the costs of No Deal – Daily Telegraph
  • Think tank rapped by regulator for producing a report proposing a Brexit policy – Daily Telegraph
  • Italian defence group chief fears weaker UK ties – FT
  • Union leaders are ‘at war’ over Brexit policy – FT
  • Now Starmer wants to keep free movement – The Sun Says
  • Corbyn’s rant against EU ’empire’ – The Times
  • It’s a reminder of what everyone else has always known – he has opposed the EU all his life – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph
  • Will his youth cult finally rumble him now? – Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail
  • Slippery politicians will celebrate when Humphrys retires – Libby Purves, Daily Mail

Hancock sets out new standards for NHS leaders, including protection not persecution for whistleblowers

‘ New standards for health service leaders will set out standards they have to meet, in a bid to drive out bullying and incompetence. Health Secretary Matt Hancock will today promise to create “a more just culture in the NHS, starting at the top”. And he will say that for too long the NHS has made “morally abhorrent” choices in forcing whistleblowers to risk their jobs if they want to speak up about safety risks. In a speech to medics in London, he will say: “Mistakes should be seen as an opportunity to learn and improve, not a need for cover-up and denial. So whistleblowers are doing the NHS a great service. Someone, who has the courage to speak up and put their head above the parapet, should be encouraged and embraced.”‘ – Daily Telegraph

  • Drinking rates fall – Daily Mail
  • Supermarket booze sales jump in ‘dry’ January – The Sun
  • Thousands die without care package, but still no social care green paper – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Hunt loses pole position in our Cabinet League Table as overall ratings languish

Millions face higher council tax

‘Funding plans will free town halls to increase bills by three per cent from April, while some will be allowed to add an extra two per cent to raise money for social care – taking the overall hike to more than double the rate of inflation. The measures – announced by Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire on Tuesday – will see average bills for a Band D home rise from £1,671 to as much as £1,778 in the coming financial year. The new freedom for local authorities to hike council tax bills comes alongside an additional £1.3 billion cash injection to help fund social care and roads. Mr Brokenshire said the latest pot of money, which takes the overall fund to £46.4 billion for next year, will “pave the way for a more confident, self-sufficient and reinvigorated local government”.’ – The Sun

  • Brokenshire’s figures assume councils increase tax as much as possible – The Times
  • Minister in leasehold ‘mis-selling’ dispute – Daily Mail
  • Flagrant rip-offs are just as bad as the PPI scandal – Alex Brummer, Daily Mail
  • Citizens Advice warns people on Universal Credit are struggling to pay their bills – The Times

Javid defends deportations of foreign nationals convicted of ‘serious’ crimes

‘Javid said it was wrong to “suggest that there is even an ounce of racism in this house”. He added that some of the previous mistaken deportations had happened under Labour administrations before 2010. He said that everyone set to be deported on the charter flight had been convicted of a “serious crime”, and that the deportations were in the interests of public safety. Javid added that among the individuals set to be deported were people who had committed rape and murder: “We are required under the law, quite correctly, to deport anyone that has such a serious conviction … Most liberal democracies have very similar laws.” However, campaigners state that many of those being removed have less serious convictions. Chevon Brown, 23, who has lived in Oxford since arriving in the UK as a 14-year-old, is scheduled for deportation after pleading guilty to a dangerous driving offence and serving eight months in prison.’ – The Guardian

Police apologise to blogger for pursuing complaint about legal transgender article

‘Margaret Nelson, a former teacher and journalist from Suffolk, had written that “gender is fashionable nonsense”. In a blog post discussing her plans to donate her body to science, she argued that it is sex, not gender, that is visible to pathologists and medics. “So no, in life or in death, trans women are not women, no matter how many times you say it’s so,” she wrote. “It’s simply impossible to change your sex.” Ms Nelson had written nothing illegal but was contacted by a police officer this week who said that her posts were attracting complaints. “She said that some of the things that I’d written could have upset or offended transgender people. So could I please stop writing things like that and perhaps I could remove those posts and tweets?” Her supporters accused Suffolk police of attempting to censor her. Ms Nelson said: “It’s the policing of people’s opinions.”’ – The Times

The UK is to take the lead in allowing driverless cars on the roads

‘Fully driverless cars are expected to take to Britain’s roads by the end of the year under government plans to scrap the requirement for a dedicated safety driver. A system will be introduced to allow the first advanced trials on any public road of self-driving vehicles without a steering wheel or human in control. A strict application process will apply. The Department for Transport said that the move would place Britain at the forefront of the technology. To date only limited trials of self-driving vehicles without a human monitor have taken place in the United States, which is seen as the global leader, and none elsewhere in Europe. The government has said that it expects fully self-driving vehicles to be in operation on British roads by 2021. It has been estimated that the technology will be worth £52 billion to Britain by 2035.’ – The Times

  • Grayling ‘banned’ from Calais for suggesting trade could route through other ports – Daily Mail
  • Designs published for HS2 hub station – The Times
  • Rail bosses are warned to stop taking passengers for granted – The Times
  • Money-grabbing car insurers are driving motorists mad – Daily Mail

Councillors approve Thatcher statue in Grantham

‘A £300,000 statue of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is to be erected in her home town – despite fears that it will be a ‘likely target for politically motivated vandals’. A heritage association in Grantham, Lincolnshire put in an application to install a bronze statue on a plinth, which would be 6.4 metres high, on a patch of grass outside the town’s museum. Plans to erect a statue had previously split the town for over a decade – but the deadlock was broken when South Kesteven District Council members unanimously approved the application during a meeting yesterday.’ – Daily Mail

Thornberry: British foreign policy should be led by values, not trade

‘As I will spell out today, my grave concern is that the exclusive focus on the promotion of trade is forcing the Foreign Office to set aside its equally important historic responsibility to promote British values, including urging every other country — friend or foe, trading partner or not — to respect human rights, basic freedoms and the rule of law…the next Labour government would immediately remove the Foreign Office’s blinkers and tell our diplomats to get their focus back on British values. First because, on a principled level, promoting our values is the right thing to do for their own sake, and a fundamental end in itself. But second, on a practical level, because it is also the best guarantee against repeating the misjudgments and failures of the past.’ – The Times

>Today: Daniel Hannan’s column: Venezuela. Be warned. This is the regime that Corbyn still sees, even now, as his model.

Twenty-two Labour members allowed to stay despite antisemitic comments

‘Nearly two dozen Labour politicians and officials have been quietly let back in the party or failed to be expelled despite making anti-Semitic remarks under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. They include six councillors, council candidates or staffers who were reinstated to the party only last month. One Labour employee who works close to Mr Corbyn is still on the payroll despite calling Israel an “apartheid state” that was excused “because of the Holocaust”. Council candidate Alan Myers was reinstated to Labour after posting about “Zionist leaders of Israel and their billionaire masters”. And councillor Ben Lloyd-Shogbesan was let back in after comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Labour also reinstated councillor Mohammed Shabbir after he used the word ‘Zio’. Some 22 Labour politicians, candidates or officials have been allowed back into the fold or not expelled at all since 2016 despite anti-Semitic comments.’ – The Sun

>Yesterday: LeftWatch: Five crucial implications of Labour’s membership decline

Trump calls for an end to ‘the politics of resistance’ in State of the Union address

‘President Trump called for unity and an end to “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution” as he vowed to win his battle to build a border wall in his second state of the union address last night. With the senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi sat behind him in a sign of changed power dynamics in Washington, Mr Trump warned that “ridiculous partisan investigations” could derail the strong economy even as various committees prepare to launch inquiries into his behaviour and the special counsel investigation into Russia election interference nears its conclusion. His audience in Congress included several rows of recently-elected Democratic female members dressed in Suffragette white who took great delight in leaping to their feet and chanting “USA! USA!” when the president boasted of creating more jobs for women.’ – The Times

  • He announced a second summit with Kim Jong-Un – Daily Telegraph
  • UN experts believe North Korea is hiding intact nuclear weapons – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: James Frayne’s column: Amid all the turbulence, one politician is surging among UK voters – Donald Trump

News in Brief

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