Brexit 1) PM heads to Brussels in attempt to secure deal

“The Prime Minister will meet European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to try and thrash out the “remaining significant differences” holding up an agreement. Their face-to-­face summit, arranged in a phone call ­yesterday, is expected to take place tomorrow. Mr Johnson’s first trip to Brussels since taking over in Downing Street will be seen on both sides of the Channel as a sign that a trade deal is tantalisingly close. But they admit the three key sticking points – a level playing field on trade, state aid subsidies and fisheries – still need to be resolved.” – Daily Express

  • Johnson to meet von der Leyen – The Times
  • As he takes personal charge of negotiations – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson in last-ditch bid to save deal as ‘significant differences’ remain – The Sun

Brexit 2) UK signals possible retreat on Internal Market Bill

“The UK has announced it is prepared to withdraw its threat to break international law, handing a significant olive branch to the EU as Brexit trade deal talks continue. Downing Street signalled its willingness to scrap contentious clauses contained in the UK Internal Market Bill that protect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, if other solutions can be urgently agreed. The clauses have drawn fierce criticism in Brussels and the House of Lords because they override the Withdrawal Agreement, thereby breaching international law in what ministers have described as a “specific and limited way”. – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson shifts position in bid to break Brexit talks impasse – FT

Brexit 3) How an ‘ambush’ brewed in Brussels derailed Brexit talks

“The announcement of a last-ditch emergency Brexit summit between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen has its roots in a breakdown of trust between the British and European negotiating teams who less than a week ago had seen a deal within their grasp. As recently as Thursday morning the UK side was hopeful that any summit would only be necessary to formally sign off on an agreement forged between teams of officials in the unprepossessing basement of the business department in London. But it was not to be as a few hours later Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, performed a volte face that was both unexpected and unwelcome.” – The Times

Brexit 4) William Hague: Heart of Brexit crisis is our love-hate relationship with France

“At the heart of this week’s last-minute crisis in talks with the EU is the tortuous complexity of the British relationship with France. While Germany tries to push both sides towards a deal, Eastern European states hope for the best and Ireland worries about the disastrous consequences of a no-deal outcome, it is France that stiffens the spine of its very own Michel Barnier and affects disdain for deadlines and compromises. Italy and Spain support the French hard-line position, but they would soon be overridden in Brussels without leadership from Paris.” – Daily Telegraph

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‘V-Day’ brings vaccine to first patients

“The first British patients will receive coronavirus vaccinations today with the head of the NHS welcoming it as a “decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic”. Sir Simon Stevens suggested that coronavirus would go the way of polio and smallpox as the NHS prepared to become the world’s first health service to begin mass Covid-19 vaccinations on what is being called “V-Day”. The first patient will receive the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine before 8am. Hundreds are expected to be vaccinated today as most of the 50 hospital “hubs” that received the first doses of the vaccine begin to administer them.” – The Times

  • New lockdown possible in Wales as cases surge – The Guardian

Lottery player age to rise amid gambling crackdown

“The age limit for playing the National Lottery is set to be raised from 16 to 18 from next October as the government moves to crack down on gambling. The government has pledged a “major and wide-ranging review” of the sector, which may include limits on online stakes and restrictions on advertising. Betting firms could also be banned from sponsoring football shirts. The current legislation, established in 2005, was “an analogue law in a digital age”, the government said. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the industry had “evolved at breakneck speed” and the aim of the review was to tackle “problem gambling in all its forms to protect children and vulnerable people”. – BBC News

  • Gambling laws set for wide-ranging review – FT

David Lammy: Tories used to understand importance of human rights

“Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, announced the political aims of his forthcoming review into the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law. If the changes the Government puts forward as a result of this review are inconsistent with membership of the ECHR, the UK will become the only major European nation other than Belarus which is not a signatory. Winston Churchill was one of the first to set out a vision for what he called a “Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law”. By questioning the value of our human rights in this way, this Government has broken with a proud tradition in its party’s history.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Retired judge to lead review into UK human rights laws – FT

And finally, Cummings gag voted Xmas cracker joke of the year

“Moments of light relief have been hard to come by this year but the annual ranking of topical Christmas cracker jokes provides some, with the top spot taken by one that has a punchline featuring a Chris Rea song and Dominic Cummings. The TV channel Gold’s eighth annual ranking, which is chosen by a panel chaired by the comedy critic Bruce Dessau, was put to 2,000 voters who chose: “What is Dominic Cummings’ favourite Christmas song? Driving Home for Christmas”, as the best cracker joke this year. Other entries riff on more Covid-related themes, with punchlines ranging from quips about pirates and the R number to festive groaners about reindeer and herd immunity.” – The Guardian

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