Thursday, 2 July 2015

On the brink. Again.

Alexis Tsipras remained defiant towards Greece's international creditors yesterday, refusing in a televised address to call off Sunday's referendum, despite being threatened with financial ruin and a banking collapse as early as next week. "Come Monday, the Greek government will be at the negotiating table after the referendum, with better terms for the Greek people," the Greek premier insisted, accusing the country's creditors of trying to "blackmail" voters with stark warnings. 

Despite his seeming belligerence, the FT got its hands on a letter sent by Tsipras to his eurozone counterparts offering to accept most of the austerity terms in a bailout deal that he had described last week as "humiliation", with only a few minor changes. "Greek reversal sows confusion", read the NYT's front page. 

Meanwhile, the Germans can't hide their irritation, with an ally of Angela Merkel ridiculing Tsipras' "dumb" referendum. The German chancellor has dismissed Tsipras' conciliatory tone, remarking: "There can be no negotiations on a new aid programme until after the referendum". It is now an "open secret", the Guardian reports, that Merkel's government "would be happy to see Tsipras fall". In the meantime, they are maintaining that Sunday's referendum is effectively a vote on whether to stay in the euro. 

With Greece now in the biggest arrears process in the IMF's history, will the pressure get to Tsipras? "Syriza officials are fully aware that the likely consequence of a "No" vote would be a parallel currency - or IOUs - along with the nationalisation of the banks" writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. "You might wonder whether Mr Tsipras has not in fact lured European leaders and officials into a legal trap, and that they have fallen for the bait. His Byzantine negotiating tactics may make perfect sense after all. Just a thought."


David Cameron has abandoned a "no ifs, no buts" pledge to block a third runway at Heathrow and told his Cabinet not make public statements about their opposition to airport expansion, Peter Dominiczak reports. "If Mr Cameron cannot bring himself to overrule his colleagues, he could pass the decision to the House of Commons in a free vote, ensuring whichever airport is chosen has a clear mandate from the start," we say. "Alternatively, if Mr Cameron plans to capitulate to his party and choose Gatwick, he should say so quickly and openly."

Other papers share the impatience. "The government must get on with commissioning a runway that will actually get built," says the Times. "For our grandchildren's sake, Mr Cameron must get a move on – and end one of the longest episodes of political cowardice in our history," says the Mail. "If our airport capacity must be expanded, get on with it," the Independent says. "Like passengers delayed in an airport lounge, frustration at the dithering is at boiling point."

This comes as the Prime Minister was accused by Harriet Harman of being "bullied by Boris" - the London Mayor - in his stance over Heathrow. "On TV a few hours earlier, he [Boris] had gibbered that building a third runway would be the sort of outrage he'd expect from "Communist China"," writes our sketchwriter Michael Deacon. "The Little Red Book is curiously silent on the subject of Heathrow, but it's possible that Mao was saving up his opinions on it for a sequel, sadly denied us by his death."


The United States has blocked attempts by its Middle East allies to fly heavy weapons directly to the Kurds fighting Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, Con Coughlin has learnt. "If Mr Cameron and other Western leaders are really serious about preventing a repeat of the appalling scenes witnessed last week at Sousse, then they need to come up with a far more convincing strategy – one that guarantees Isil is destroyed," Coughlin writes.

Meanwhile, the BBC Director General has refused to ban the term Islamic State in the corporation's reports. After 120 MPs signed a letter asking for it not to be used, Tony Hall said - in a letter seen by the Times - that any alternative name would be "pejorative" and the broadcaster must remain "impartial".


Traditional degree marks will become obsolete and a new 13-point system will be introduced because too many students are receiving firsts and 2:1s, universities minister Jo Johnson has announced. He said the current system of marking university students, which was developed in 1918, is "no longer capable" of giving employers the information they need. Michael Wilkinson has the story.

This comes as education minister Lord Nash said teachers can lawfully "confiscate, keep or destroy" unhealthy snacks in children's school lunch boxes. Answering a question in the House of Lords, he said that the child in question and a second member of staff should be present during the search. Read more here


The definition of child poverty will be changed, Iain Duncan Smith has announced as the government attacked the current measurement as "deeply flawed". Child poverty will no longer be defined as 60 per cent of the average income but through a series of indicators including exam results and whether parents are in work. Labour, however, attacked it as the "obituary for compassionate conservatism" and said action rather than changing definitions was needed to tackle child poverty. Read more here


David Cameron has said that the wishes of English MPs will never again be "overruled" by those in Scotland as his government announces plans to give them a veto on English-only laws, Steven Swinford reports. Chris Grayling, the leader of the Commons, is expected to unveil plans to use a parliamentary procedure known as a standing order to stop Scottish MPs from shaping legislation that only affects English voters.


Michael Fallon has for the first time indicated that Britain is considering bombing jihadists from the so-called Islamic State in Syria, Chris Hope reports. He said it was "illogical" for Britain to take part in bombing campaigns against Islamic State, or Isil, in Iraq but not Syria. This comes as the Defence Secretary admitted that the government is struggling to meet its pledge for recruiting reservists to the Armed Forces, Ben Riley-Smith reports


Hillary Clinton ridiculed David Cameron's "wacky" attempt to torpedo the Lisbon Treaty while he was Opposition leader, newly released emails reveal. Cameron's "high-handed" attempt to sink the European treaty had "seriously damaged" his relationship with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, before he even entered office, Clinton was told by a close aide. 

Other messages also suggested that Tony Blair asked Hillary Clinton to lobby Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, on his behalf in support of his bid to become President of the European Union. Further e-mails also shed light on Cherie Blair's apparent efforts to lobby Hillary Clinton to meet with a senior member of the Qatari royal family, Raf Sanchez reports.


House of Commons officials have launched an internal investigation after five laptops in public meeting rooms were used to access porn. One MP told the Sun's Kate McCann: "This is really shocking stuff and clearly there needs to be a system in place that finds out who is accessing these sites." This comes after official figures (revealed by yours truly) suggested that MPs, Lords and parliamentary staff had been trying to access adult websites potentially thousands of times.


Fracking is likely to wipe up to seven per cent off house prices and deter tourists, according to an internal Government report that ministers battled to keep secret, Emily Gosden reports. Houses within five miles of shale gas drilling sites could face higher insurance premiums due to the risk of explosions and residents' health could suffer due to noise and pollution, it said.


Nigel Farage is "right too often" about the failings of the European Union, the vice president of the commission has said. Frans Timmermans, the second most powerful man in Brussels, said he is "terribly annoyed" by how frequently the leader of the UK Independence Party appeared to correctly diagnose the bloc's failings – particularly its handling of the migration crisis – even when he strongly disagrees with his proposed solutions, Matthew Holehouse reports

Meanwhile, Douglas Carswell - who was of plotting to oust Farage as party leader after the election - appears now to have patched things up. Speaking at an IPPR event, the Clacton MP quipped: "The parliamentary party is very democratic. I had a rebellion, I put it down brutally and savagely." HuffPostUK's Ned Simons has more.


@DanielleCodd: When reusing teabag at breakfast in #Athens hotel waiter tells me "there's no point economising because the economy is broken anyway"


From The Telegraph

Allister Heath - The Chancellor must stun us with a radical tax-cutting Budget

Con Coughlin - Our Arab allies are being hung out to dry in the fight against Isil

Harry De Quetteville - Sir Nicholas Winton: A list of Schindlers

From the Politics blog

Dr Kristian Niemietz - Politicians can't be trusted on Heathrow expansion

Allan Massie - We will never be able to negotiate with Islamic State. So what other options are there?

Asa Bennett - Could slashing the top rate of tax to 40p put off blue-collar Tories?

From elsewhere

Seumas Milne - Syriza can't just cave in. Europe's elites want regime change in Greece

Jenni Russell - Greece needs our help not our hectoring

Thom Feeney - Why I set up the Greek bailout crowdfund


MPs debate English votes for English laws proposals, and bombing Isil in Syria.
Lords debate airports and national security. 

11.50 Harriet Harman speech at LGA conference
13.30 Communities Secretary Greg Clark speaks at LGA confernece
18.00 International Development Secretary Justine Greening speaks at an Overseas Development Institute event 
19.00 Labour Party candidates for the London mayoral election attend a hustings on housing 
19.30 Business Secretary Sajid Javid attends a Conservative Way Forward event 
22.35 'Question Time' from Essex features Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn and Jeremy Hunt
Information Commissioner's Office to publish its annual report
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova is to give a speech at RUSI on the threat of cultural destruction from Isis

Ken Clarke celebrates 75th birthday



9.30 Oral questions - Attorney General; Women and Equalities
Business Statement - Leader of the House
Debate - Britain and International Security
Adjournment debate on Hatfield Colliery and the low carbon transition led by Edward Miliband


10.00 Oral questions
Start date for building a new London airport runway and when it will be ready for use - Lord Spicer
Establishing a Constitutional Convention and publishing a white paper on the consequences of fiscal autonomy for Scotland - Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
Reconciliation talks between the President of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot community leader in Northern Cyprus - Lord Anderson of Swansea
Assessment made of the level of threat posed by ISIL to the United Kingdom - Lord West of Spithead

Debate on  Human rights and civil liberties in the UK - Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Lord Faulks
Debate on UK's role in a world threatened by terrorism, conflict, climate change and mass migration - Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, Baroness Anelay of St Johns
Short debate on Help for those with Type 1 and 2 diabetes to educate themselves on disease management - Lord Harrison, Lord Prior of Brampton


13.30 Education and the sustainable development goals - Mr Mark Williams
15.00 Iranian nuclear programme - Ian Austin