Trade talks 1) EU meets to agree “red lines”

“Ministers from the EU will meet later to approve their mandate for post-Brexit trade talks with the UK. The document approved by the EU General Affairs Council on Tuesday morning will be the basis for future negotiations, to be carried out by Michel Barnier. It will say that a trade deal should be based on EU rules in some areas as “a reference point”. Meanwhile, UK ministers will also meet at No 10 to discuss the government’s opening stance for negotiations. The final agreement is due to be published online and presented in Parliament on Thursday.” – BBC

Trade talks 2) UK’s primary objective is independence

“Britain’s main goal in trade talks with the EU will be to “restore economic and political independence from 1 January”, No 10 has said, as the government prepares to publish its negotiating aims on Thursday. Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the “primary objective” was ending the transition period by the end of the year, regardless of whether a deal had been struck. His comments suggest the UK will be prepared to walk away from talks rather than submit to the EU’s requests for some oversight by the European court of justice (ECJ) and future alignment on regulation.” – The Guardian

Emergency terror law approved by the Lords

“Emergency legislation to block the automatic release of people convicted of terror offences is set to become law after being approved by the Lords. The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill – which was passed by MPs earlier this month – was drawn up following an attack in south London. The attacker, Sudesh Amman, had recently been freed from prison. The government had wanted to pass the bill before 28 February when the next terror offender is due for release.” – BBC

Whitehall 1) Sedwill pleads for an end to the briefing war

“Mark Sedwill, head of the UK civil service, on Monday pleaded for an end to a Whitehall briefing war that has destabilised Boris Johnson’s government and he claims “besmirches this country’s hard-won reputation for good governance”. Sir Mark’s letter to colleagues was an attempt to draw a line under tensions that came to a head after the Sunday Times reported the Security Service was withholding information from home secretary Priti Patel because it did not trust her. The letter was also a coded warning to Mr Johnson’s political allies to stop attacks on senior civil servants after the Sunday Telegraph reported that Number 10 had drawn up a “hit list” of senior mandarins it wanted to fire either because of doubts about their competence or their commitment to reform.” – Financial Times

  • Civil service recruits HR chief after concern over Cummings – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Johnson’s sex problem

Whitehall 2) Another senior Home Office civil servant “forced out”

“A second senior civil servant has been forced out of the home office after falling foul of Priti Patel. The official, who was in charge of the department’s oversight of the police, is understood to have left in recent weeks. He is to take up a role in the Department for Transport while another official outside the Home Office has been drafted in to replace him. The official’s departure follows that of a senior member of the home secretary’s private office after clashes with Ms Patel. She also demanded the removal of the department’s permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam.” – The Times

Whitehall 3) Defence Secretary investigates £300,000 payoff for official

“The defence secretary has begun an investigation into a £300,000 tax-free payoff handed to an official in his department. The move by Ben Wallace comes as ministers face growing pressure to act on promises to ban six-figure payouts in the public sector, with politicians saying the “extraordinary” sums are a matter of public concern. The chairmen of two parliamentary select committees criticised the government for allowing hundreds of staff each year to leave with packages worth more than £95,000 despite pledging to cap them at this amount in 2015.” – The Times

Whitehall 4) Hague: Downing Street can’t run everything

“There are several reasons why the centralisation of decision-making does not work well in government. One is that the centre, in the form of No 10 and the Cabinet Office, cannot possibly keep on top of what is happening across a couple of dozen departments trying to govern a complex, modern society. Revealingly, British military doctrine states that a commander in battle cannot cope with more than five subordinate units at one time, and only then with a high degree of mutual trust. Our generals have worked out something easily forgotten: too much centralisation can lead to many areas being neglected.” – William Hague, Daily Telegraph

  • Yes, Sir Humphrey must be tamed. But I fear No 10’s hostile approach may backfire – Ian Birrell, Daily Mail
  • How Cameron’s Cabinet went to war against itself – Kate Fall, Daily Mail

Sunak suggests IR35 changes will proceed

“Rishi Sunak, the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, has promised that tax officials will not be “heavy handed” for the first year after changes to rules affecting tens of thousands of companies and 230,000 freelance contractors. Changes to the off-payroll working rules, known as IR35, are due to come into effect in April in spite of a furious lobbying campaign by freelancers and businesses to halt the reforms. The new law will require all companies — apart from those with fewer than 50 employees or less than £10.2m annual turnover — to assess the employment status of any person they hire, who works through a limited company. Companies and their recruitment agencies will be liable for unpaid tax if HM Revenue & Customs finds that a worker has been wrongly classified. But speaking at an event in Birmingham on Saturday night, Mr Sunak sought to reassure the business community by promising that the policy would have a soft landing. “I’ve spent time with HMRC to ensure they are not going to be at all heavy handed for the first year to give people time to adjust as well, which I think is an appropriate and fair thing to do,” he said.” – Financial Times

  • Yorkshire Tea faces online backlash – Daily Telegraph
  • The Chancellor will commit political suicide if he hikes fuel tax next month – Leader, The Sun

>Today: John Redwood on Comment: In this post-Brexit budget, Sunak should spend more, cut taxes and raise borrowing

Moore: If landlords can’t evict tenants then the supply of homes will fall

“The Government is toying with the idea of getting rid of Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Property Act. This section allows a landlord to ask a sitting tenant to quit at the end of an agreed period. If it is abolished, so that no notice to quit can ever be issued to a tenant, the incentive to let disappears. The value of the property thus encumbered drops, sometimes halves. Besides, sitting tenancies require rent controls to work, so the landlord will be stuck, not only with the tenant, but with every prospect of lower returns as time passes…An unmovable tenant creates, over time, an unworkable business. Some ministers may see this as “levelling up”. Actually, it is more like closing down.” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Philip Booth on Comment: The planning system can be liberalised in a conservative way

UK “well prepared” for coronavirus

“The UK is “well prepared” to deal with coronavirus cases and the risk to individuals “remains low”, the government has said. Downing Street said 99% of those tested in the UK had come back negative. The total number of cases in the UK has risen to 13 after four cruise ship passengers flown back to Britain on Saturday tested positive for the virus. It comes amid growing fears the outbreak could reach pandemic scale as more cases emerge around the world. A total of 6,536 coronavirus tests have been conducted in the UK as of 14:00 GMT on Monday, with 6,527 returning as negative, the Department of Health said.” – BBC

Starmer faces early clash with Formby

“Sir Keir Starmer, the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, faces an early battle with the party’s general secretary for control even if he wins, according to party officials. The shadow Brexit secretary has built a commanding lead in support among Labour MPs and local parties as 500,000 members and registered supporters start to receive their ballot papers this week. His unity pitch will face an immediate test if he wins on April 4, however, as he has to construct a frontbench team that unites Labour’s warring factions while including defeated rivals. As big a challenge, say Labour officials, will be reining in Jennie Formby, the party’s general secretary. Ms Formby, 59, formerly Unite’s political director and who was appointed by Jeremy Corbyn, is suspected of trying to use the leadership contest to entrench her power over the party machinery.” – The Times

  • Long-Bailey pledges ‘climate justice fund’ paid by oil companies – The Guardian
  • Starmer hints he would bring back EU free movement – The Sun
  • Public backlash against Starmer – Daily Express
  • Rayner: Corbyn did not command respect – The Guardian

Robertson denies plotting against Sturgeon

“Former SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson has said he is standing in the forthcoming Holyrood seat battle with fellow Nationalist Joanna Cherry to “support Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership”. Mr Robertson even appeared to pour cold water on the prospect of Ms Cherry – or himself – replacing Ms Sturgeon as leader of the party, revealing that he will back one of the “younger” generation of talent at the Scottish Parliament for the role.” – The Scotsman

Lewis declines to say there will be an amnesty to end veteran prosecutions

“The new Secretary of State has said prosecutions of veterans who served in Northern Ireland are a matter for the Public Prosecution Service – which he declined to say could be trusted. On a visit to Londonderry, Brandon Lewis – who has replaced Julian Smith as Northern Ireland Secretary – also described as “tragic” the suicide last Thursday of former soldier Eddie ‘Spud’ Murphy. He took his own life after he was questioned by the PSNI about his actions while on duty in Northern Ireland. Mr Murphy’s friends claimed the threat of prosecution had left him feeling “anxious and stressed”. Mr Lewis said he, like the Prime Minister, was determined to make sure there were no vexatious claims against former soldiers but declined to say whether or not this meant an amnesty.” – Belfast Telegraph

Life expectancy has “stalled”

“Life expectancy has stalled for the first time in more than 100 years and even reversed for the most deprived women in society, according to a landmark review which shows the gap in health inequalities is yawning even wider than it did a decade ago, in large part due to the impact of cuts linked to the government’s austerity policies. Sir Michael Marmot’s review, 10 years after he warned that growing inequalities in society would lead to worse health, reveals a shocking picture across England, which he says is no different to the rest of the UK and could have been prevented.” – The Guardian

  • Poor areas lose a decade due to deprivation – The Times

CDU rush to elect new leader

“Angela Merkel’s party has brought forward the succession battle after one of its worst election results, with one leadership contender voicing fears that she might turn out to be the last Christian Democrat chancellor. The four putative rivals, who range from the veteran conservative Friedrich Merz to the relatively liberal Armin Laschet, now have two months to compete for the affections of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) members at a critical juncture in the party’s history. The centre-right CDU is close to a record low in the polls and on Sunday night won scarcely 11 per cent of the vote in Hamburg, a city it once ruled over with an absolute majority.” – The Times

Call to scrap gender neutral lavatories

“Gender neutral lavatories introduced by “woke” local authorities and public bodies make women feel uncomfortable and should be replaced with single sex facilities, a Tory peer has said. Lord Lucas told a House of Lords debate that half of all lavatories and changing rooms in public buildings should be only for women, reversing a trend to let men and women share all public lavatories. Increasing numbers of publicly accessible lavatories are being converted into facilities that can be used by all. Last autumn the Old Vic theatre in London converted all of its male and female lavatories to be gender neutral.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief

  • Priti Patel and the ugly prejudice of her critics – Brendan O’Neill, The Spectator
  • The inept hit job on Priti Patel is the hallmark of an officer class in revolt – Ian Acheson, CapX
  • What Johnson Should Know About Innovation – Matt Ridley, Free Market Conservatives
  • How a Corbynite strategy designed to aid Long-Bailey could backfire – Stephen Bush, New Statesman
  • Every Home Secretary must fight the Home Office – Stephen Pollard, Unherd