The ERG warns it will not be bounced into accepting a deal with no time for scrutiny

‘Tory Brexiteers told Theresa May last night not to ambush them with a last-minute legal deal with Brussels on the Irish backstop and expect them to vote in favour of it next week. Leaders of the hardline European Research Group (ERG) said after a meeting yesterday that they expected to see details of any agreement struck between Geoffrey Cox and EU negotiators well before next Tuesday’s “meaningful vote” in the Commons. They added that they would back a compromise only if they had the time to consider it in “good time” to “form a judgment in advance of a vote”, adding: “Our primary objective is a proper analysis.” The ERG and Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, have set up a committee of Brexiteer MPs with legal backgrounds to examine concessions won by the attorney-general. The group includes staunch opponents of the withdrawal agreement such as Sir Bill Cash.’ – The Times

  • ConservativeHome’s Goodman is sceptical of the panel – Daily Telegraph
  • Towns Fund under further attack – The Times
  • The cash will be split over several years – Daily Mail
  • No amount of money will ever be enough for the loony left – The Sun Says
  • Proper reform would be better than a bung – Daily Telegraph Leader
  • Cox makes a last ditch bid to save the deal – FT
  • Rogers says May did not understand the EU when she triggered Article 50 – The Guardian


>Today: Henry Newman’s column: Get real, Eurosceptics. Your choice is May’s Deal – or no Brexit at all.


Johnson leads the ConservativeHome survey leadership race

‘This month Boris was the favourite in a poll from Conservative Home, which has him on 24 per cent of the vote – 319 votes. Ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was second but miles behind him on 12 per cent. And Michael Gove was third on ten per cent. The numbers are slightly down on last month, where he was up an extra two percentage points. The news comes after The Sun revealed that the Boris Johnson – Amber Rudd alliance for a dream ticket to No10 is under threat because of Brexit infighting. And sources said that Ms Rudd is looking to back another big candidate, political commentator James Forsyth revealed.’ – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: Leadsom climbs to the top spot in our Cabinet League Table


Ministers and police chiefs fight over responsibility for the surge in knife crime

‘The families of the latest teenage stab victims – girl scout Jodie Chesney and private school pupil Yousef Makki, both 17 – yesterday told of their horror and devastation. In an impassioned Commons statement, Jodie’s constituency MP Julia Lopez, a Tory backbencher, warned that the public was losing faith in the Government’s ability to keep the streets safe. Her Labour colleague Stella Creasy, whose east London seat has been blighted by knife killings, joined her call for urgent action. She told Home Secretary Sajid Javid: ‘The taskforces, the consultations, the more reports, it isn’t working. This is an emergency that requires an emergency response.” – Daily Mail

State schools ask parents for donations to their budgets

‘State schools are asking parents to donate hundreds of pounds a year to pay for salaries, buy textbooks and equipment and repair leaking buildings, a Times investigation has revealed. Grammars, comprehensives and primaries are increasingly relying on families to pay for essentials and in one case have asked for up to £1,200 per child each year. Others do not specify amounts but are receiving £100,000 a year, some using campaigns that allow donors to choose what to buy. School funding was debated in parliament yesterday after a petition on budget cuts, started by head teachers, garnered more than 100,000 signatures. Growing numbers of schools are adopting a four and a half day week to save money, with one saying it would charge parents for their children to stay in school on Friday afternoons. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said last year that, between 2009-10 and 2017-18, school spending per pupil in England fell by about 8 per cent.’ – The Times

Hammond faces economic challenge in forthcoming Spring Statement

‘The UK economy appears to be suffering from an acute bout of split personality disorder. In most months for the last year, records for employment rates have been smashed and public borrowing has fallen. Simultaneously, economic growth has been noticeable for its weakness, business investment has fallen every quarter for the past year and economic sentiment is dropping rapidly. The dichotomy in British economic indicators will give the chancellor an odd narrative for his spring statement on March 13. He will have to admit that most data look worse, while at the same time celebrating another multibillion-pound windfall in tax receipts which will again improve the outlook for the public finances. With these contradictory forecasts, the chancellor’s message is likely to be an extension of what he has been using since before October’s Budget.’ – Chris Giles, FT

Rudd scraps repeated tests for disabled pensioners to receive payments

‘Disabled pensioners will no longer have to go through repeated tests to get their benefits, Amber Rudd will announce. The Work and Pensions Secretary will say that 270,000 Brits will benefit from not having to have their personal independence payments reviewed. The DWP has faced a storm of criticism amid claims elderly people with chronic illnesses have been put under the stress of regular checks even though their condition is very unlikely to improve. Under current rules, a pensioner on PIP has to undergo regular checks – either annually or every three years depending on the severity of their condition. But under this change, officials will accepts their word that their condition has not changed and just carry out a “light touch” review via letter every decade or so. Ms Rudd says she wanted to stamp out the “unnecessary experience” for older people who have worked hard all their lives and paid into the benefits system.’ – The Sun

  • MPs want ‘pink tax’ on women’s products banned – The Sun

Macron: My plan for a European renaissance

‘Europe is not a second-tier power. Europe in its entirety is a vanguard: it has always defined the standards of progress. In this, it needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition: Europe, where social security was created, needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, guaranteeing the same pay for the same work, and an EU minimum wage, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year. Getting back on track also means spearheading the environmental cause. Will we be able to look our children in the eye if we do not also clear our climate debt? The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition, a European food safety force to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health. This imperative needs to guide all our action: from the Central Bank to the European commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe, all our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.’ – Emmanuel Macron, The Guardian

Allen claims TIG is in talks with three Tory MPs

‘She hinted that the number was big enough to cost Theresa May her wafer-thin “working” majority of eight. Ms Allen told ITV: “We have more [potential defectors] than we could take in. We’re having to stem the enthusiasm there. “Two or three more would be as much as we could manage I think [to avoid destabilising the Conservatives].” The comment come as leaders of The Independent Group (TIG) prepare for “exploratory talks” with the Electoral Commission tomorrow to step up plans to become a fully fledged political party. Separately Labour began moves to boot ex-Labour MPs among TIG such as Luciana Berger off their seats in cross-party select committees.’ – The Sun

Falconer will have the right to search historic emails in his Labour anti-semitism investigation

‘Lord Falconer of Thoroton has been told that he can trawl through old Labour emails relating to antisemitism cases as he prepares to make the final decision on whether to carry out a review on behalf of the party. It came as MPs again rounded on Jennie Formby, the general secretary, over the handling of antisemitism cases and allegations of interference by the leader’s office in another difficult meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Lord Falconer, a former lord chancellor, will decide in the next couple of days whether to formally accept the role leading the party’s inquiry into antisemitism. He is understood to have been promised access to historic emails, including those held on backup servers.’ – The Times

Watson criticised for starting paedophile conspiracy ‘moral panic’ with ‘no basis’

‘Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, started a “moral panic” when he made claims in parliament about a Westminster establishment paedophile ring, a public inquiry was told yesterday… Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing Harvey Proctor, the former Conservative MP, said that his client was anxious that the inquiry examine his position as a “victim of false accusations of sexual abuse — accusations by liars and fantasists”. He added: “The moral panic started by Tom Watson about a Westminster paedophile ring had no basis, it was smoke without fire.” Mr Robertson said that MPs and others who fuelled rumours about the abuse scandal should have used “a modicum of intelligence”. He added that they should now apologise for making claims that caused anguish to those wrongly accused.’ – The Times

>Yesterday: LeftWatch: When decency’s last best hope is Tom Watson, something might have gone a bit wrong

Russian ambassador to Washington warns of nuclear arms ‘crisis’

‘Russia’s ambassador to the US has warned that arms control is “in crisis” and claimed that “some politicians and generals in Washington” were beginning to think in terms of winning a nuclear conflict. Anatoly Antonov was speaking on the day Vladimir Putin followed Donald Trump’s example in suspending participation in the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which is due to expire entirely in August unless there is an 11th-hour effort to save it. That would leave the 2010 New Start treaty as the last constraint left on the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and that agreement is due to expire in 2021. Moscow has signaled its willingness to extend New Start, but the Trump administration has said it has not yet made up its mind on the issue. “The situation in strategic stability as well as in arms control is very bad. We are in crisis,” Antonov said.’ – The Guardian

  • How do we prevent another Salisbury? – Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, Daily Telegraph
  • Law to jail spies is held up by Parliamentary backlog – The Sun
  • Russia’s generals are gearing up for fresh confrontation with the West – The Times Leader
  • Defector claims there is a plan to conquer Ukraine in mere hours – Daily Mail
  • The US is plotting to destroy us, Kremlin military boss claims – The Times
  • Meanwhile, Russia loses investment – FT Leader
  • Prince Charles’s charity might inadvertently have received ‘dirty money’ – The Times
  • China lowers GDP target – FT
  • Canada crisis deepens as second Trudeau minister resigns – FT

News in Brief