Terrorists to be denied early release

“Serious terrorists will be forced to serve their entire prison sentences without any prospect of early release as part of a crackdown announced on Tuesday. All offenders convicted of preparing or committing a terrorist act will face a minimum of 14 years in jail, more than four times the present three years – and the current rule allowing release of serious terrorists two-thirds of the way through the sentence will be abolished. They will also face tougher controls on release including lie detector tests that could help prevent a repeat of the London Bridge terror attack where killer Usman Khan is thought to have conned police and probation into thinking he had reformed. The introduction of fixed-term sentences for terrorists will fuel demands for early release to be scrapped for offences across the criminal justice system so offenders serve the jail terms handed down by judges. Boris Johnson is proposing longer sentences for serious violent and sex offenders by abolishing the current release at the half-way point, but they will still be eligible for parole two-thirds of the way through their jail terms. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said Khan’s murder of two young Cambridge graduates last November had confronted the Government with “hard facts about how we deal with terrorist offenders” and “to do whatever is necessary to stop these sickening attacks from taking place.” – Daily Telegraph

BBC faces ‘dangerous moment’ after Hall’s departure

“The BBC was warned on Monday that it is facing a “dangerous moment” as Conservative MPs seized on the departure of director general Tony Hall to call for an overhaul of its funding model and an end to the licence fee. John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, led calls for a debate on the BBC’s funding model to start as soon as its mid-term review in 2022, arguing that Hall’s replacement would have to consider how the broadcaster can compete in the Netflix era. The Tory MP, who negotiated the 2016 charter renewal and is tipped for a possible return to his old job in the reshuffle, told the Guardian: “The massive increase in streamed content and the proliferation of subscription services does raise questions about the sustainability and how we continue to support public service broadcasting generally and also the future of the licence fee.” Hall is due to step down in the summer after seven years in the job, having been brought in to stabilise the broadcaster after the Jimmy Savile scandal in 2012. In an email to staff he announced he was leaving to take over as chair of the National Gallery. He said: “The BBC has an 11-year charter – our mission is secure until 2027. But we also have a mid-term review process for the spring of 2022. We have to develop our ideas for both. And it must be right that the BBC has one person to lead it through both stages.” – The Guardian


Peers deride Tory plan to ship House of Lords to York

Peers have openly scoffed at the idea of the House of Lords moving out of Westminster to York or another northern city, after the government confirmed it was looking at relocating the upper chamber. A string of Tory, Labour and crossbench peers expressed disbelief on Monday that such a proposal was being considered, with some arguing it was impractical and others making jokes about it. The idea was floated over the weekend and James Cleverly, the Tory party chairman, later confirmed the government was examining whether to move the House of Lords out of London to help parliament to better reflect the country’s diversity. Many peers struggled to take the proposal seriously. Alan West, a retired Royal Navy admiral, proposed that the government could use a cruise ship for peers to tour the country. Michael Forsyth, a Tory peer and former Scottish secretary, asked Earl Howe, the government minister leading a debate in the upper chamber: “Does he think that when the people in so many constituencies in the north lent their votes to the Conservative party, they were longing for more politicians to be sent to them? “Or does he think they wanted a government that concentrates on the things that actually matter, like health and social care and infrastructure, and shouldn’t the special advisers in No 10 turn their attention to those matters?” – The Guardian


Government loses first parliamentary votes since election

“The government has lost three votes in the Lords over its Brexit legislation – its first defeats since the election. Peers supported calls for EU nationals to be given a physical document as proof they have the right to live in the UK after it leaves the bloc. They also voted to remove ministers’ power to decide which EU Court of Justice rulings can be disregarded or set aside by UK courts and tribunals. Ministers will aim to reverse the moves when the bill returns to the Commons. With a majority of 80, the government will be confident of getting its way. Meanwhile, separately on Monday, the Commons voted to approve the Queen’s Speech, which outlines the government’s legislative agenda. The EU Withdrawal Bill, which paves the way for the UK to leave the EU with a deal on 31 January, was approved by MPs earlier this month without any changes. But despite their emphatic victory in December’s general election, the Conservatives do not have a majority in the Lords and have suffered a series of defeats during the bill’s passage through the unelected House. The first amendment passed by peers, by a margin of 270 to 229, would give EU citizens in the UK the automatic right to stay, rather than having to apply to the Home Office, and would ensure they can get physical proof of their rights. Its supporters said it would allay the “deep concerns” felt by many EU nationals who have until the end of June 2021 to apply for settled status.” – BBC News


Britain set for parallel trade deal talks with America and EU

“Boris Johnson will try to maximise his leverage in trade talks with the United States and the European Union by publishing plans for both sets of negotiations at about the same time early next month. The prime minister will lay out Britain’s objectives in the weeks after it leaves the EU on January 31, Downing Street said yesterday. A speech will be accompanied by a series of documents setting out the formal negotiating mandate for talks with both Brussels and Washington. A third set of papers will deal with negotiations with other potential partners. Mr Johnson told The Times during the election campaign that he wanted to conduct parallel negotiations. “Clearly when you are offering your tariff schedules at once to multiple partners you are engaged in an elaborate Rubik’s cube of calculations,” he said in November. There is concern in Downing Street that, with the EU talks being led by the Cabinet Office and the American talks being run by the Department for International Trade, there is a danger of mixed messages and confusion. One idea being discussed is to scrap the department and create a US-style trade negotiation body, possibly based in the Cabinet Office. The ministry’s other functions, such as supporting exporters, would be handed to an enlarged business department.” – The Times

  • Johnson promises no more backing for coal – The Times

British economy will grow faster than eurozone rivals, says IMF

“Amid growing optimism over Britain’s economic outlook, the International Monetary Fund said that it would outperform the eurozone this year and next. Assuming there is an orderly Brexit at the end of the month, and a gradual transition to a new relationship with the bloc, growth would accelerate from 1.3 per cent last year to 1.4 per cent this year and 1.5 per cent in 2021, it said. Of the G7 advanced economies only the United States and Canada would grow faster in the next two years, and Germany, France, Italy and Japan struggle to keep up. The eurozone would grow by 1.3 per cent this year and 1.4 per cent next. The Washington-based IMF, a 189-member organisation created at the end of the Second World War to help governments co-ordinate policy, released its forecasts at the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos. Britain’s post-Brexit future will be a key topic for the 3,000 political, business and academic leaders at the annual gathering of the world’s elite in the Swiss Alps, and the early signs were positive. According to PWC’s global CEO survey, European chief executives regard Britain as a key market for growth and investment, with the country’s “attractiveness” back to levels last recorded in 2015. The accounting firm found that Britain was rated as the fourth most important territory for growth, after the United States, China and Germany.” – The Times

PM may block Labour’s nomination of Bercow for peerage

“The Labour leader is said to have included Mr Bercow among his list of nominees for peerages despite Mr Bercow not being a member of his party. Downing Street stressed that the “long-standing convention” was that the leader of the opposition would nominate only people representing their own party for a place in the Lords. Mr Bercow, a former right-wing Conservative MP who helped resist Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy in parliament, last year became the first holder of his role in 230 years not to be offered a House of Lords seat upon resigning. It is unknown whether he would sit as a Labour peer or a crossbencher. Downing Street would not comment on specific nominations and it is understood that no list of potential peers from Mr Corbyn has been submitted to the prime minister. But Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “It is a long-standing convention that leaders of the opposition can nominate individuals representing their party for peerages.” Mr Bercow is not the only choice on Mr Corbyn’s list of nominations, reported by the Sunday Times, that might raise eyebrows. Karie Murphy, his former chief of staff, has also been put forward for a peerage despite Labour being investigated for alleged antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.” – The Times

  • Ex-speaker Bercow may have to join Labour party if he wants to be a lord – Daily Mail
  • Westminster is a vastly better place without Bercow, Mark Wallace – the i

More trade union backing for Starmer deals blow to rivals

“A second big trade union has thrown its weight behind Sir Keir Starmer in the Labour leadership race, ensuring his place on the ballot paper in the final round and dealing a blow to Jess Phillips’s faltering campaign. The Usdaw shopworkers’ union said it believed that Sir Keir and Angela Rayner as deputy leader was the right team to unite and rebuild the party after its worst election defeat since 1935. Paddy Lillis, the union’s general secretary, said: “The Labour Party must be led by someone who can persuade voters that they have what it takes to be a prime minister and we are a government-in-waiting.” The remaining five contenders to replace Jeremy Corbyn must secure the backing of at least three affiliates, of which two must be trade unions, or the relatively high bar of 33 local constituency Labour parties (CLP) to proceed to the next round. Sir Keir has three affiliates, and Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long Bailey have secured the nomination of one trade union each. Ms Phillips and Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, have yet to receive any, meaning they potentially have the more difficult task of winning backing from CLPs to stay in the contest.” – The Times

  • Tories in 17-point lead over Labour – The Sun

Academic reveals her ordeal in Iranian jail

“A British-Australian academic jailed in Tehran has written of feeling “abandoned and forgotten” and claimed that the Iranians tried to recruit her as a spy, in letters smuggled out of her cell. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in September 2018 while at an educational conference and was convicted of espionage. A cache of ten letters, understood to have been written by her in crude Farsi between June and December last year, were secretly sneaked out of Evin jail and passed, via an intermediary who translated them, to The Times. The British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been held in Evin prison since her arrest in 2016 over spying allegations that she denies. In her letters, Dr Moore-Gilbert, who was educated at Cambridge, begged to leave the most restrictive prison unit where she has served periods in solitary confinement and detailed the privations that she has suffered while incarcerated. The letters are variously addressed to three individuals: a man named Mr Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr Ghaderi and Mr Hosseini, who are thought to be mid-ranking officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).” – The Times

  • Harry arrives in Canada for new life with Meghan – The Sun
  • Senate prepares to hear opening arguments in impeachment trial – The Guardian
  • No 10 trying to undermine HS2 with leaks, says review expert – The Times
  • Care home inspectors faked reports, watchdog admits – The Times

And finally, Cummings thinks he’s an evil genius, says sci‑fi author

“Dominic Cummings must think he is a “quasi-evil genius” according to the writer whose fictional characters the prime minister’s chief adviser wants in Whitehall. William Gibson, the so-called godfather of the cyberpunk genre, said that Mr Cummings should re-read his books to truly “take the measure” of the characters he thinks can run the country. Gibson, 71, said his “eyebrows shot up” when Mr Cummings said he was looking to employ people like Cayce Pollard, an advertising consultant with a phobia of brands from his 2003 book Pattern Recognition. “He must almost certainly, if perhaps subconsciously, be likening himself to Hubertus Bigend, the quasi-evil genius who employs Cacye,” the author said of the character described in Pattern Recognition as a “nominal Belgian who looks like Tom Cruise on a diet of virgins’ blood and truffled chocolates”. “I would have to say that he might want to read the book again and take Mr Bigend’s measure,” the American-Canadian author added in an interview with the BBC. Mr Cummings posted a blog earlier this month calling for unconventional people to apply for jobs. “We need some true wild cards,” he wrote. “Artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger.” – The Times

News in Brief