David Cameron is under fire from nearly every side over how deeply he has cut Britain's defence budget, with the former head of the Army, Sir Peter Wall, issuing a broadside in today's Telegraph on how the coalition's cuts have led to the country being "caught napping" by growing threats like Russia and terrorist organisations like Isil.
Sir Peter also threw his weight behind growing calls for Cameron to agree to spend 2 per cent of Britain's annual income on defence, as required by Nato membership, which will be give Conservative MPs a spring in their step this morning as they prepare to use a Commons debate on Thursday to try and force ministers to sign up to the target. America's ambassador to the U.N, Samantha Power, has also added to the pressure after warning that peacekeeping missions in warzones around the world needed troops from Europe "more than ever".
Tory backbenchers are even more determined to make their point after the House of Lords voted on Monday to enshrine in a law a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of Britain's GDP on foreign aid, a target some have branded "idiotic". The growing row will make Tory HQ squirm, as a spat about defence cuts hitting the headlines hardly puts their "longtermeconomicplan" in a good light, especially just over a week before the coalition's last Budget before the election. Meanwhile, Ukip are ready on the sidelines to capitalise on any Tory dissent over defence, a subject polls show they are normally the most trusted party on.
Ed Balls (dubbed 'the prophet of Doom' by the Mail) has also done his best to add fuel to the Tory backbenches' fire, provocatively claiming that further cuts by a Tory government would leave Britain with "the smallest army since Cromwell". Cameron has faced down his party before on issues like international aid and gay marriage, but eventually conceded on others like offering an EU referendum. With Tory MPs dragging their party's campaign off-message, we are seeing the first test of his campaign mettle.
THE BUTCHERY BEGINS
After accusing the BBC of "institutional arrogance" in its management of the TV debates, the Tories are calling for one of Auntie's top executives, Sue Inglish, to stand down as the broadcasters' lead negotiator for the debates after it emerged that her husband, John Underwood (no relation to Frank), is a former Labour comms chief. Philip Davies MP said Inglish should "absolutely" step back, adding: "It seems that [the BBC] are stuffed with people who have links to Labour". The Tories have their knives out as David Cameron insisted he would not back down on his final offer of just one televised leaders debate before the election. Peter Dominiczak has the story.
BBC BOSS GETS BOTH BARRELS
Rona Fairhead, the chairman of the BBC's governing body, has been told to resign because of her links with HSBC, the bank linked to claims of tax avoidance at its Swiss operation. Margaret Hodge, the Labour chairman of the Commons' Public Accounts Committee, branded her "incredibly naive or totally incompetent." Read more here.
Britain faces a friendless future as the North Korea of Europe if it leaves the European Union and seeks to forge a role in "Anglospheric" parts of the world such as Hong Kong, Gordon Brown has warned in a Guardian article before MPs debate the EU today. He also signalled that he was ready to speak out if a referendum is held on Britain's EU membership.
CAGE FIGHTER HAMMOND
"Apologists" for those who commit acts of terrorism are partly responsible for the violence, foreign secretary Philip Hammond will say, in a rebuke to the advocacy group Cage, an advocacy group which said MI5 played a role in the radicalisation of Mohammed Emwazi, known as "Jihadi John". MPs are also set to approve new travel restrictions for people the government believes pose a "terrorism-related threat". The BBC has more.
WILL ED TELL SALMOND TO JUMP?
Ed Miliband is facing mounting pressure from his own party to rule out any electoral deal with the SNP, amid claims that strategists want to form a "permanent alliance" with the Scottish separatists. Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, a former Scottish minister, said: "Every Labour MP and peer to whom I've spoken thinks we should rule out any kind of deal with the SNP. What are we waiting for?" Ed Balls said that a coalition is "not part of our plans", but pointedly refused to rule out a looser deal like governing on a supply-and-confidence basis with the SNP. Here are more details.
OFF THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER
George Osborne is looking at relaxing the Treasury's assumption of deep austerity over the next five years in next week's Budget, the Finacial Times reports, giving him a prospective surplus of nearly £30 billion by 2019-2010. This would counter Labour's claim that his "extreme" policies would take state spending back to the levels of the 1930s, which the BBC's Norman Smith irked Downing Street last year by describing as taking Britain back to "land of the Road to Wigan Pier".
SPELLING IT OUT ON GRAMMAR SCHOOLS
Grammar schools should be able to expand if there is demand from parents, David Cameron has said. The Prime Minister spoke out amid claims that a decision over whether to open Britain's first 'new' grammar school in 50 years has been shelved until after the election. Chris Hope has more. Our leader column also takes the Prime Minister to task over his failure "to allow grammar schools to expand if parents wish it to be so".
THIS ISN'T THE END...
Ministers who lose their seats at the next election could carry on in their posts for weeks if it results in a finely-balanced hung parliament, the Cabinet Secretary has told MPs. Sir Jeremy Heywood said that the first priority after May 7would be to keep the whels of government turning, and to avoid a "hiatus", the Independent reports.
ALLERGIC TO EU
More than 100 top chefs have attacked EU rules that force restaurants to specify dishes which contain specific allergens, warning that "significant damage" being inflicted on catering industry. Chefs and restauranteurs including Prue Leith, the Great British Menu judge, Albert Roux, Mark Hix and Thomasina Miers, the founder of Wahaca, have written to The Daily Telegraph warning that the rules, unveiled in Brussels last year, are hurting "spontaneity, creativity and innovation". Read more.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@ChrisShipITV: Cameron 2007: grammar schools are an "electoral albatross"
Cameron 2015: I have never said they are an albatross
From The Telegraph
Dan Hodges - 2015 will be the most thrilling election of my lifetime. How can anyone be bored?
Martin Thatcher - Is this the EU rule that could prevent you drinking your favourite cider?
Philip Collins - How mad to look Blair's gift horse in the mouth
Gordon Brown - The truly patriotic British view on Europe? We must lead from within
0830 Philip Hammond gives a speech on the intelligence services at RUSI, London
1100 Plaid Cymru holds a pre-budget briefing
1230 Communities secretary Eric Pickles gives a Commons statement on the troubled families progrmame
1415 Bank of England governor Mark Carney gives evidence to the Lords economic affairs committee.
14.45: Relatives of the London schoolgirls thought to have gone to Syria to join Islamic State give evidence to the Commons home affairs committee. Later Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner, gives evidence, as well as the Turkish ambassador, Abdurrahman Bilgic.
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
A Ten Minute Rule Motion: Mesothelioma (Amendment).
Deregulation Bill - Consideration of Lords amendments
A motion to approve Statutory Instruments relating to counter-terrorism.
A motion to approve a European document relating to the subsidiarity and proportionality and the Commission's relations with national parliaments: EU document no. 12425/14 and no. 12424/14.
A backbench business debate: School funding.
A short debate on proposed reforms to trading relationships with Europe.
0930: Digital Democracy and opening up Parliament.
1100: Government policy response to collapse of MG Rover.
1430: CPR and public access defibrillator awareness within the National Curriculum.
1600: Third crossing over Lake Lothing, Lowestoft.
1630: Hague Abduction Convention.
HOUSE OF LORDS
A debate on the report of the select committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence on Persuasion and Power in the Modern World.
A debate on the report of the Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act.
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