Friday, 5 June 2015

Deus ex merkina..

Critics are lining up to mock David Cameron's bid to reform the European Union, with former chancellor Lord Lawson telling Newsnight that "anything he can secure will be inconsequential". Former German foreign minister - Joschka Fischer - has said that keeping Britain in the EU is not Angela Merkel's "priority", dismissing Cameron's renegotiation efforts as "wishful thinking".

However, the German Chancellor has weighed in to offer Cameron a glimmer of hope, saying that other nations could be willing to agree treaty change in order to ensure Britons do not vote to leave the EU. Merkel told the BBC she was "not losing sleep" over the renegotiation of Britain's EU membership and that she was "optimistic" that change could be agreed.

The Prime Minister has also received a boost in his bid to curb migrants' access to benefits as part of his intended renegotiation agenda after a top EU legal adviser, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, said unemployed migrants can be legally blocked from claiming benefits during their first three months in another EU country. But some still aren't happy. The Daily Express fumes on its front page about the "barmy" plan, pointing out that Cameron originally wanted to deny benefits to EU migrants for four years - not three months. The ECJ isn't being entirely helpful though, with another ruling suggesting that George Osborne may have to break his pledge not to raise VAT.

Meanwhile, Conservatives may wonder if Joschka Fischer is best-placed to know what exactly Merkel thinks of Cameron, as the Green politician didn't serve in her government but that of her predecessor Gerhard Schröder. However, he has a point in saying "she has a much bigger problem to address - how to find a compromise in the currency union with Greece". The Guardian splashes on Athens' standoff with EU creditors ("Greece steps towards the exit"), as does the FT ("Greece to withhold €300m loan repayment in show of defiance").

That may sound like scary stuff but, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes, Greece is "invoking an obscure mechanism in abeyance since the 1970s to bundle all debts due in June and pay them at the end of the month". This rejigging is being pitched as an act of defiance, but what happens if the brinksmanship goes too far, and Greece fails to pay the €1.6bn it owes? Szu Ping Chan has explained it all

"As Greece's leaders bicker once again with their paymasters over the terms of their latest bailout, it is hard to argue with such angry sentiments as the country that gave birth to democracy is slowly strangled by the currency meant to be its modern salvation," writes Ian Birrell. "Deal or no deal, surely it is time for the Greeks to confront their modern-day chimera." 


George Osborne has announced that he will sell off the government's remaining stake in Royal Mail while making £3billion worth of cuts this year to all unprotected government departments, Steven Swinford reports. The Ministry of Defence, the Department for Education and Business, Innovation of Skills will be at the forefront of the cuts and share the burden of nearly £1.5billion worth of spending reducations between them. "When bad men threaten world peace, it is soldiers and arms that a nation needs most," we say on the defence cuts. "The Government needs to reconsider its priorities urgently."

Banks and City pension funds are to get preferential treatment in the £1.5billion sale of Royal Mail, leaving private investors empty-handed, Chris Hope and Ben Farmer have learned. Labour attacked the plans, saying the decision to give "preferential treatment to City speculators" was "short-changing" the public. Osborne also infuriated SNP ministers by telling them to "put up or shut up" after announcing a surprise £177 million cut to their budget for this year, in a move the nationalists called "completely and utterly unacceptable". Simon Johnson has more.


The BBC licence fee is "regressive" and hits the "poorest people" hardest, the Culture Secretary has in his clearest indication since taking office he wants to scrap the payment. John Whittingdale told MPs that by charging all viewers the same annual fee those families on lower incomes are forced to pay more to watch BBC programmes. Here are more details


Ed Miliband's six-year-old son told him he "used to be famous", the former Labour leader has disclosed, as he made his first backbench speech in nine years, Emily Gosden reports. Miliband, who resigned after Labour's crushing general election defeat, was praised for his swift return to the House of Commons by George Osborne who said it was "good to see him back in the chamber".

"Ed Miliband still thinks he was right," writes James Kirkup, who watched the ex-Labour leader's return. "But so do some Conservatives."


David Cameron warned his Cabinet ministers not to publicly say that they would give a proposed pay rise to charity just hours before Cabinet split over the issue, Peter Dominiczak reports. The Prime Minister earlier this week used a Cabinet meeting to urge ministers to "fall into line" on a planned 10 per cent pay rise which will take MPs' salaries to £74,000.

This comes as Tory MP Charles Walker, member of the influential 1922 committee of backbenchers, has hit out at colleagues for "loftily" refusing to take a proposed 10% pay rise. Speaking to Buzzfeed's Emily Ashton, he said: "Many of their constituents – the quiet majority I suspect – will be aghast at the stance they're taking." As MPs mull what to do with the extra money, I've analysed whether we have the most expensive parliamentarians in the world. The results may surprise you.


The Prince of Wales tried to persuade Alan Johnson, the former health secretary, to safeguard NHS funding for controversial homeopathic medicines, a newly-released batch of his correspondence shows. The Prince, a lifelong advocate of homeopathy, despite a lack of evidence that it works, said it made "abundant sense" to protect homeopathic hospitals "in the interests of the nation's health".

Meanwhile, Labour ministers showed wildly varying degrees of deference towards the Prince of Wales in their replies to his letters, Gordon Rayner reports. Yvette Cooper, the former planning minister, addressed her letters to the Prince with a curt "Sir", signing off: "Respectfully yours." But Andy Burnham, the former health secretary, finished his letters with a handwritten flourish, saying: "I have the honour to remain, Sir, your Royal Highness's most humble and obedient servant."


David Cameron is a "misogynist", the singer Charlotte Church has said, as she insisted she would pay 70 per cent income tax if it improved public services, Chris Hope reports. Miss Church, who voted Labour at the election but said she would now vote Green, made the comments as she announced her support for a major march against planned Government cuts later this month.


Labour's shadow cabinet is facing a deep split over how to approach the European referendum campaign, the Times' Sam Coates reports. The split is between those wanting a loud and proud campaign to keep Britain in the EU, and those who would prefer Labour kept a distance from the cross-party "yes" campaign in order to expose Tory divisions.

Meanwhile, the Sun's Steve Hawkes has revealed how Ed Miliband's team were planning to kick David Cameron and his family out of their Downing Street flat within 48 hours of an election victory, even if there was only a hung parliament.


David Miliband has fuelled speculation he may return to frontline UK politics after announcing plans for a major speech in October, just weeks after the new Labour leader is due to be appointed, Emily Gosden reports. The former foreign secretary, who lost out to his younger brother Ed Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership election, stood down as an MP in 2013 and moved to America to run the International Rescue Committee charity in New York.


Scotland's teachers have accused the SNP Education Minister of declaring "open season" on them in an attempt to make them the scapegoat for the appalling gulf between the best and worst state schools, Simon Johnson reports. Tommy Castles, the outgoing president of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, attacked Angela Constance for attempting to reverse a decade of policy in a half-hour speech.


Alastair Campbell has told LBC that Labour should "ruthlessly topple" the next leader if they look unlikely to win the 2020 General Election. Tony Blair's former spin doctor told Iain Dale that the party needed to do whatever it took to win the election - even if that means changing leaders again in two or three years' time. "I am going to agitate if they're not doing their job properly," he said. 


David Cameron has angered a Labour MP by refusing to reform Prime Minister's Questions, an event the Tory leader once targeted as a symbol of "Punch and Judy politics, HuffPost UK's Owen Bennett reports. In response to Paul Flynn, he said PMQs - which he compared in February to a "Roman circus - "has a long tradition of robust exchanges and debate and, while we all have a responsibility to ensure that the session is conducted in a respectful manner, the behaviour of Members must remain a matter for The Speaker." 

Meanwhile, Labour MP Albert Owen has shown off his ability to tackle long Welsh names by slipping the word "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch" into a Commons debate, the longest place name in Britain. You can watch his verbal dexterity here


Card games like bridge should be recognised as sports because of their ability to "train the mind", ministers have been told. Bob Blackman, a Conservative MP, asked ministers for an update on "what progress has been made to ensure Sport England recognises mind sports for their ability to train the mind". Chris Hope has more.


@GerriPeev: "Andy Burnham signs letter to Charles: "Your Royal Highness's most humble and obedient servant"..." Oh I thought they weren't releasing letters to Len McCluskey till next week?


From The Telegraph

Boris Johnson - How Winston Churchill's work for The Telegraph helped him defeat Hitler

Fraser Nelson - The Andy Coulson farce proves the justice system needs urgent reform

Matthew Elliot - Seven lessons from Britain's 1975 EEC referendum

From elsewhere

Philip Collins - Kennedy's legacy will lead Lib Dems nowhere

Martin Kettle - Let's have a reality check. The Tories aren't all wicked and wrong


09:00 Energy Secretary Amber Rudd undertakes a visit in London to mark UN World Environment Day 

09:45 Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Angus Robertson MP (10:30) speak at a UK's Changing Union and UCL Constitution Unit event in London on devolution and the future of the Union. Former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind will also speak.

20:00: "Any Questions?" on Radio 4 with Labour Party deputy leader candidate Rushanara Ali, Conservative back bencher David Davis, cross bench peer and constitutional expert Lord Hennessy, and SNP MP for Edinburgh East Tommy Sheppard

40th anniversary of the first ever UK referendum which voted to stay in Common Market

British Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, resigned 53 years ago in a sex scandal known as the "Profumo affair".



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