David Cameron will set out in detail what he wants from the European Union when he meets fellow EU leaders today in Brussels, in a step that marks "phase two" (as No 10 call it) of his renegotiation plans. However, France is already kicking up a fuss.
Ahead of the summit, French economy minister Emmanuel Macron warned that the Prime Minister will not be able to get the treaty change he seeks, and should not be allowed to follow EU rules "à la carte", instead settling for Brussels set menu. Cameron, fresh from meeting Angela Merkel in Germany, will be hoping his pre-meeting pow-wow will give him the powerful ally he needs in his fight to get meaningful concessions. If he fails, Britain would find itself drifting towards the EU exit door. Some are blunt about this, with Business for Britain declaring "the EU is stealing Britain's diplomatic influence - and so we must leave".
Macron's warning is hardly the first sign of French belligerence, with foreign minister Laurent Fabius comparing Cameron's renegotiation bid last month to joining a football club but then deciding "in the middle of the match we are now going to play rugby". Faced with such opposition, Conservative MPs aren't worried about how their party leader will fare. One ardent Eurosceptic told me that the Germans will be the key ally as "they know without us in the EU, France would have too much sway".
This comes as the Queen used her speech at a state banquet yesterday in Berlin, attended by Cameron and Merkel, to issue a timely message, declaring that "division in Europe is dangerous". She also stressed Britain's "key part" in shaping Europe. Has she effectively given her royal assent to the Yes campaign? Some will see it that way, though the Palace of course insists that she stays out of politics. And Eurosceptics would say that Britain leaving the European Union - far from being a declaration of war - would still mean European nations would get along nicely.
With Greece's debt crisis far from over, the Prime Minister will be pressed for time as he tries to lay out what he wants back from Brussels. "No one involved in the Greek shambles - the Greek government, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank or the eurozone politicians – wants to be responsible for the country leaving the euro," laments Ben Wright. With immediate issues like this in EU leaders' in-trays, it looks like Cameron's renegotiation will take a while.
Greece's eurozone future was thrown into fresh turmoil on Wednesday night as talks broke down after creditor powers demanded further austerity measures to release the funds the country needs to avoid a debt default, Mehreen Khan reports. Dashing tentative hopes that an agreement could be struck at European Union leaders summit on Thursday, a meeting of finance ministers was suspended after only an hour as Prime Minister Tsipras was summoned for further late night talks with his bail-out chiefs.
PRIME MINISTER'S PROTEST TIME
A group of disability protesters has attempted to storm the House of Commons chamber during Prime Minister's Questions. Around a dozen chanting activists were stopped by police and officials as David Cameron addressed MPs just feet away in the Commons, Peter Dominiczak reports. However, the activists,failed to disrupt Cameron's flow at PMQs, as Tom Rowley noted. "There was no mention of the commotion outside and not a single cry of protest was heard above the MPs' usual brouhaha," he wrote.
Migrants have been managing to confound the government's "100 per cent" security checks at the UK border, David Barrett reports. Abdul Aziz, dazed but defiant after a 106-mile journey underneath a lorry, slipped out from underneath a truck at Toddington services on the M1 in Bedfordshire, and said: ""England is good." This comes as David Cameron condemned the "totally unacceptable" scenes at Calais that led to the Channel Tunnel being shut after migrants attempted to climb aboard UK-bound lorries.
Taxpayers' money has been spent on a variety of odd projects, like finding mates for tropical fish off Africa, teaching Hamlet to Ecuadorians, producing a game show for Ethiopian TV, and an anti-littering campaign in Jordan, the Sun's Oliver Harvey has found. Tory MP David Nuttall told the newspaper: "You couldn't make some of these projects up."
In response, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has launched a review into how oversees aid money is spent to ensure the taxpayer was getting "value for money" from the projects. Ben Riley-Smith has more.
HACK AT TAX, NOT CREDITS
The former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson has urged George Osborne to cut the top income tax rate to 40p in next month's Budget. Lord Lawson told the Financial Times that he would "strongly support" the move, adding that it would "significantly enhance the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do business, at no cost in terms of lost revenue".
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has warned David Cameron against "hacking back" on benefits for low-paid workers until companies "cough up" more money and increase their pay. The Mayor of London said that private firms that fail to pay the living wage and force their staff to rely on tax credits to top up their pay were "scandalous". Steven Swinford has the story.
A TREE-MENDOUS METAPHOR?
As David Cameron prepares to decide whether to allow London's Heathrow Airport to expand, Bloomberg's Thomas Penny has found that a tree he once sponsored to signal his opposition to a third runway has died. "The trees all died; they didn't look after them, they weren't watered or anything so they all just expired," Michael Aslam, who owns the land the orchard was planted on, told him. Some may wonder, has his opposition died with it?
CLEGG NEARLY PEGGED IT
Nick Clegg offered to resign as Liberal Democrat leader a year before the 2015 election, it has emerged. The former Deputy Prime Minister considered his position in the wake of the party's humiliating reverses in the European and local elections in May 2014, the Guardian reported.
THE LADY IN THE VAN
Newly-elected Labour MP Jess Phillips planned to bed down in her camper van with her husband and kids because London hotels were so expensive, she told the Mirror's Ben Glaze. Phillips, who was quoted £1,450 for three night stay, said: "It made me think even more that this isn't a normal place for normal people with normal families."
CRASH N' MILBURN
Labour must accept that Tony Blair was "great" like Margaret Thatcher and learn lessons from his success or it will never be in power again, Alan Milburn has said as he endorsed Liz Kendall for the leadership. The former health secretary said the party "could not have got it more wrong" at the last election as Ed Miliband "unilaterally sought to bring the shutters down on New Labour". Ben Riley-Smith has more.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband's policy chief has said it was "vital" that leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn be included in the Labour leadership contest. Speaking at the IPPR think-tank, Jon Cruddas also revealed that he was involved in setting up an English Labour Party, HuffPostUK reports.
COLD WAR GAMES
Britain and its Nato allies are to review their preparedness for a nuclear standoff with Russia in response to President Putin's threats to upgrade his nuclear arsenal, Matthew Holehouse has learnt. In a return of the atomic chess games of the Cold War, Western defence ministers will conduct an audit of what they know about the Kremlin's nuclear doctrine.
"Spotty" computer geeks across the world are encouraging Islamist radicalisation by posting "selfies" supporting Isil, the United Nations expert on extremist groups has warned. Alexander Evans, who leads the UN's expert team on al Qaeda, said Europeans are being convinced to start fighting for Isil in the Middle East because it appears to be the "new brand on the block", says Ben Riley-Smith.
SNP WANT LAIRDS A-LEAPING
A powerful new quango is to be set up to overhaul land ownership in Scotland, under "radical" legislation that set out four tests that must be met to forcibly strip lairds of their property, Simon Johnson reports. The Land Reform Bill creates a Scottish Land Commission comprising six commissioners with sweeping powers, along with a controversial new power forcing landowners to sell land if they are deemed a barrier to development.
TOO MANY TWEETS
@GawainTowler: A hack (nameless) has just told me a place is "off the Surrey coast". Kids, don't ask directions from journalists, stick to policemen
From The Telegraph
Business for Britain - The EU is stealing Britain's diplomatic influence - and so we must leave
Allan Massie - Pensioners should get preference when it comes to welfare
Tim Montgomerie - There's no money left so the left is collapsing
EU Summit opens as Greek debt crisis expected to be discussed
09.00 Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on LBC Radio for first major broadcast interview since the election
The European Commission is to launch a sea and air mission to tackle the migrant crisis. The plan also includes resettlement quotas for refugees for countries across the bloc and a 'blue card' scheme, similar to the US Green Card, for highly skilled migrants
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
10:30: Business statement
HOUSE OF LORDS
11:00: Oral questions, to ask the Government:
Question for short debate on what action Her Majesty's Government plan to take in the light of the report by the Care Quality Commission Right here, right now, regarding providing young people with adequate help, care and support during a mental health crisis
Debate on the amount of affordable housing in all forms of tenure and the case for increasing the supply of affordable housing (Lord Whitty, Lab)
Question for short debate on what plans Her Majesty's Government have to reduce the requirement for all leaseholders to agree if they wish to become holders in common (Baroness Gardner of Parkes, Con) (1.5 hours)
13:30: Economic disparities in older industrial areas (Grahame Morris, Lab, Easington)
Samizdata quote of the day
5 hours ago