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News review – Tuesday 4 December 2018

News review – Tuesday 4 December 2018

Theresa May

Express
THERESA MAY has been accused of holding secret weekly Brexit meetings with Cabinet ministers and civil servants of which no record has been made, sparking accusations of a “scandal”. Political advisers to the Government are said to be increasingly concerned about the meetings. Mrs May’s Government has relied upon various subcommittees to deal with Brexit since Article 50 was triggered in March 2017. But since the controversial Chequers summit this summer the Prime Minister has held weekly off-the-books meetings with her core advisers and ministers, often with civil servants present.

Sky News
Theresa May will kick off the biggest gamble of her political life as she fights to persuade MPs to back her Brexit deal. Facing down Labour, Conservative and DUP critics, the prime minister will insist the House of Commons must vote for her agreement to “respect the decision of the British people”. Mrs May is due to kick off a marathon five-day debate on the terms of Brexit, culminating in a series of dramatic votes next Tuesday. The fate of those will determine if her Brexit deal succeeds, whether the UK could be headed for no deal, a second referendum, or even a general election. But first MPs will vote today on whether to hold ministers in “contempt of parliament” for refusing to publish the full legal advice given to the government on its Brexit deal.

Sun
‘DEFEATED’ Theresa May will tomorrow implore all MPs to back her Brexit deal even as senior ministers last night gave up any final hope of victory. The PM fires the starting gun to the biggest Parliament showdown in decades when she opens a marathon five day debate in the Commons on the ‘meaningful vote’. She will insist that her controversial EU exit agreement “delivers for the British people” before MPs decide on it a week today, on December 11. But one normally loyal Tory MP who had a private audience with the PM yesterday told The Sun that she “looked defeated”. And ministers were also last night resigned to a crushing government defeat after almost 100 Tory MPs spoke out against the deal.

Legal advice

Guardian
The UK is “indefinitely committed” to the Irish backstop if it comes into force, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, has told MPs as he explained to them the legal advice he gave the government on the planned Brexit deal. Answering questions from MPs in what Downing Street said was the first such appearance by an attorney general in the Commons in decades, Cox also said there was no unilateral right for the UK to pull out of the backstop, which would come into force to prevent a hard Irish border if no permanent trade deal was reached. “Let me make no bones about the Northern Ireland protocol. It will subsist, we are indefinitely committed to it if it came into force,” Cox said.

Times
The backstop plan to avoid a hard Irish border is an uncomfortable necessity, Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator has insisted, after a leaked letter revealed that he had told the prime minister that it would be a “bad outcome” for Britain. Olly Robbins told MPs that the backstop proposal, which is opposed by many Conservative MPs because Britain cannot cancel it unilaterally, was the only way to guarantee a Brexit deal. “I think the backstop is not the future relationship that either the UK or the EU wants to have with one another,” he told the Brexit select committee. “It is an uncomfortable position for both sides and the reality . . . is that there is not a withdrawal agreement without a backstop.

Telegraph
Commons Speaker John Bercow has told MPs he believes there is an “arguable case that a contempt has been committed” by the Government over its failure to publish its Brexit legal advice in full. The move came after the DUP, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru wrote to Mr Bercow demanding the triggering of contempt proceedings, which could lead to sanctions against ministers including the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, who had earlier told MPs that Britain will be “indefinitely committed” to the customs backstop with the EU if it comes into force. Mr Cox told his critics in the Commons it was time they “grew up and got real” over the legal advice.

Mail
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admitted tonight the UK cannot unilaterally exit the Irish border backstop – prompting claims the Brexit divorce is a ‘trap’. Mr Cox told MPs if the backstop ever comes into force there will have to be a trade deal or proof the EU is acting in bad faith to escape it. To heckles of ‘it’s a trap’, Mr Cox told MPs the Brexit divorce deal contained ‘no unilateral right for either party to terminate’. Insisting he would answer questions ‘candidly’, Mr Cox said the Britain was ‘indefinitely committed’ to the backstop if it ever came into force – but said that was a political not a legal question.

Mirror
Labour is leading calls for the government to face contempt of Parliament proceedings over their refusal to publish their Brexit legal advice. MPs passed a motion two weeks ago that ordered ministers to provide “any legal advice in full” on Theresa May’s deal. At the time, Commons Speaker John Bercow confirmed the motion should take effect adding: “It is not just an expression of opinion”. But the government insist they will only publish a “summary” of the legal advice. Today, a cross-party alliance has written to Speaker John Bercow, asking him to consider launching contempt proceedings against the Government for failing to release the Attorney General’s full legal advice on the Brexit deal as ordered by Parliament.

Times
Ministers face being held in contempt of parliament today after refusing to publish the attorney-general’s legal advice on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. John Bercow, the Speaker, announced last night that he would accept a motion of contempt against the government for failing to comply with a Commons order to publish the advice. The motion, which will be debated today, could result in Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, or David Liddington, Mrs May’s de facto deputy, being suspended from parliament. “I have considered the matter carefully and I am satisfied that there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed,” Mr Bercow told MPs.

Sky News
The government may have broken parliamentary rules by failing to fully release legal advice over the Brexit deal, according to John Bercow. The House of Commons Speaker announced MPs would get a chance to debate and vote on the matter first thing on Tuesday. The repercussions of an MP being found in contempt can include them being suspended or expelled from parliament. It came in response to a letter from six political parties, including Labour and minority government partners the DUP. They are fighting the government’s chief legal adviser’s decision to publish just a summary of legal advice on the Brexit divorce deal.

ITV News
A legal opinion on whether the UK can unilaterally revoke its withdrawal from the EU will be published later. An advocate general from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will produce his opinion on the case, brought by a cross-party group of Scottish politicians, ahead of a judgment by the court at a later date. Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona’s written opinion will be an independent legal solution to the question of whether an EU member state such as the UK can decide on its own to revoke the Article 50 withdrawal process or whether the agreement of the 27 other member states would be required.

Westmonster
The UK government have released some legal advice that confirms the EU ‘backstop’ trap position would continue to apply indefinitely until a deal is done. By then of course Brussels will have banked Britain’s £39 billion long ago.
The paragraph on the Irish backstop in the legal advice makes clear: “The main provisions of the Protocol come into force from the end of the implementation period (31 December 2020 – see Article 185 of the Agreement) in the event that a subsequent agreement is not in place by then, and the Protocol will continue to apply unless and until it is superseded, in whole in or part, by a subsequent agreement establishing alternative arrangements (Article 1(4), and the fifth recital in the preamble).

BBC News
MPs will vote later on whether the UK government broke Parliament’s rules by failing to publish the full legal advice it received on the Brexit plan. The government’s chief legal adviser, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, published an overview on Monday. Opposition parties say that by limiting the information released, ministers ignored a binding Commons vote demanding they release the full advice. No 10 insists publishing confidential advice is not in the national interest. It comes ahead of five days of debate on the EU withdrawal agreement, with MPs voting on the PM’s deal next week.

Guardian
A senior minister is at risk of being suspended from the House of Commons after Labour and the Democratic Unionist party were allowed to submit an emergency motion accusing the government of holding parliament in contempt for failing to publish the full Brexit legal advice. John Bercow, the Speaker, allowed Labour, the DUP and four other opposition parties to lay down a motion that will be voted on on Tuesday, immediately before before the start of the five-day debate on the Brexit deal. The motion, submitted late on Monday, calls on MPs to find “ministers in contempt for their failure to comply” and is signed by the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer; the DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds; and the Scottish National party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green party.

Mail
Commons Speaker John Bercow has told MPs that he believes there is an ‘arguable case that a contempt has been committed’ by the Government over Brexit legal advice. Mr Bercow gave the ruling after representations from Labour, the DUP and four other opposition parties that ministers were in contempt of Parliament for failing to publish the full Brexit legal advice on Monday. Opposition parties complained, after a fractious two-and-a-half-hour debate, that the summary legal advice released by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox did not comply with a Commons resolution agreed on November 13.

Compact for Migration

Breitbart
An official petition urging the British government to reject the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration is close to 45,000 signatures, but Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to issue a response. The compact is reported to have been shaped in large part by the pro-mass migration government of Germany’s Angela Merkel — who launched an “unusually passionate” defence of the document in November — and has proved highly controversial, with countries led by national populist governments pulling out one after another as its shape has become clear. Leading the charge was the Donald Trump administration in the United States in late 2017, with the American ambassador to the United Nations.

Trade

Breitbart
Woody Johnson, President Trump’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, has said that the U.S. is “ready to get straight to work” on a major trade deal with the UK, but included a major caveat, pointing out this could only happen “if Britain takes back control of its trade policy” after leaving the European Union. The Ambassador made clear the significant doubt the United States holds that the United Kingdom will ever truly break away from the European Union in any meaningful sense, a concern expressed earlier this week by President Trump himself after the details of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit compromise “deal” became public.

UKIP

Mirror
Suzanne Evans has become the latest key player to quit Ukip over its growing association with the EDL founder Tommy Robinson. Party leader Gerard Batten won a confidence vote on Sunday after former leader Nigel Farage called for him to go over his associations with the far right. Ms Evans, who is a former deputy chair of the eurosceptic party, referred to the “obvious attempts by Gerard and Tommy Robinson to orchestrate a ‘Momentum-style’ takeover of UKIP”. She said she felt that the lack of action by the ruling NEC and the party’s remaining MEPs left her with “no option but to join the thousands of other good, decent former UKIP members in walking out of the door in disgust at the radical change in UKIP’s direction.”

Army

Mail
Looking like something from TV’s robot wars, this is the Army’s latest battlefield weapon. The remote-controlled mini-tank carries a gun and can be used to attack an enemy without putting troops at risk. Called Titan Strike, it has been undergoing initial tests on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, firing a laser beam to simulate live rounds of ammunition. It is controlled remotely by a soldier using a tablet computer to plot locations on a map and can also be driven remotely by joystick.  Cameras allow the operator to see down the barrel of the gun so they can decide when to fire.

Rail travel

Times
Chris Grayling should accept personal responsibility for the meltdown of rail timetables over the summer, MPs have said in a damning report. The transport secretary failed to avert the crisis that brought misery to millions of commuters after the biggest single change to train schedules attempted, a cross-party committee has concluded. The MPs found that Mr Grayling was at “the apex” of the hugely complex system controlling Britain’s railways and had the power to halt the changes. Although he was not given “all the information” required for a decision, the transport select committee found that he should have been “more proactive”.

Mail
A damning report on the summer timetable shambles has laid bare the dysfunctional chaos of Britain’s railways. Decision-making was ‘not fit for purpose’ and there was a ‘collective, system-wide failure’, said MPs. There was an ‘extraordinary complacency’ among government officials, rail bosses and regulators about ‘protecting the interests of passengers’, they added. Transport committee chairman Lilian Greenwood said the news last week of an average 3.1 per cent rise in fares added ‘insult to passengers’ injury’.

Education

Times
Sixteen grammar schools have agreed to relax admissions criteria and admit more poor children to qualify for part of a new £50 million fund to expand their school. The money will allow them to build classrooms and other facilities, making room for 4,000 more pupils. The schools, in 12 counties, were selected from 39 that applied for the first tranche of money made available by the government. Kent, which has the most grammar schools, has not had any bids accepted.

Mail
Universities must contact parents if students suffer a breakdown to help prevent suicide, the Education Secretary has said. Staff must do more to reach out to families because they are often best-placed to offer support, said Damian Hinds. It is especially important when youngsters have ‘left home for the first time’ and may not have their friends and relatives around them, he said. His warning comes after 11 students are thought to have killed themselves over the past two years at Bristol University. 

HS2

Times
The chairman of HS2 admitted yesterday that there was “still a lot of work to do” to deliver the project on time and on budget. Sir Terry Morgan, who is expected to be sacked today or tomorrow, said that it would be “very difficult” to make sure that the £56 billion project was built within its price. He said that senior managers were confident that the Y-shaped line, capable of carrying trains at 250mph, would be delivered in full but that it would be a “big challenge” to achieve government time and cost targets.

Dementia

Times
Thousands of people with dementia are needlessly sectioned because of bureaucratic delays and legal confusion, doctors and regulators say. Older people are confined to locked wards where they cannot even go for a cup of tea with relatives and face a struggle to get a care home place because they have been detained under the Mental Health Act. Doctors say that a review of the act, due this week, must address the confusion or the problem could worsen. Inspectors, doctors and human rights chiefs warn that the NHS is struggling to get to grips with a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that legal permission was required to care for patients who were not allowed to walk out of the door.

Cancer

Times
It is taking more than a year longer to develop cancer drugs than it did at the turn of the century, research suggests. For many cancers there had been few or no new drugs since 2000, despite huge advances in our understanding of the disease. The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) blamed red tape in research and approval processes for the delays. Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, said that a “herd mentality” among pharmaceutical companies also meant that fewer highly innovative drugs reached the market.

NHS

Mail
Doctors and nurses believe hospital volunteers play a vital role in improving the experience of patients and staff, a landmark report concludes today. They say volunteers make a hugely important contribution relieving pressure on frontline NHS workers, the research found. In the study, the first of its kind, experts from Britain’s most respected health think-tank The King’s Fund, asked healthcare professionals how they perceived volunteers working in the NHS. They found that the overwhelming majority – 90 per cent – felt volunteers improved patient experience by ‘bringing human kindness’ to busy hospitals.

China

Times
The head of MI6 has questioned whether a Chinese telecoms giant should be involved in Britain’s next-generation mobile network amid fears over spying. Alex Younger, 55, said that “some decisions” about Huawei must be made after the US, New Zealand and Australia, all close intelligence partners, banned the company from providing technology for their 5G superfast networks. New Zealand said last week that the company posed “significant national security risks”. The US has repeatedly warned that Huawei’s ties to China’s government made its products vulnerable to espionage or interference.

Mail
The head of MI6 has raised concerns about Chinese companies building high-speed mobile internet networks in the UK. In a rare public appearance, Alex Younger said Britain needs to decide ‘the extent to which we would be comfortable’ with the Chinese owning our future high-speed internet networks. China is currently a world leader in developing 5G, a next generation mobile internet technology that promises to deliver much faster download speeds which could revolutionise connectivity.

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