David Cameron is off to Hamburg today, where he will meet with Angela Merkel and talk about how to improve his proposed deal from the European Union. He will certainly be feeling the pressure from the Conservative grassroots, we can report this morning, after 132 councillors wrote to him to warm that he endangers “the long term future” of the party if he ignores members in the referendum and suggests the party should back Leaving. “You made clear that if you did not get the deal you wanted in Europe you would not rule out campaigning for Britain to leave…and we hope you will now unite your party and Britain in doing so,” they wrote. This comes a day after Eric Pickles emailed councillors urging them to back the Prime Minister in his “battle to achieve a better deal”, showing how both sides are gearing up in the party over the EU.
The campaign is set to get fierce, with Chris Grayling yesterday taking the chance to launch a thinly-veiled swipe at the Prime Minister for “Project Fear” scare tactics while Hilary Benn argued that Brexit would help Vladimir Putin. But no matter how ill-tempered things get, Cameron may already be drawing up plans to bring Eurosceptics back on board in a sort of “reconciliation reshuffle”. Sources told the Telegraph that this could see figures like Priti Patel – currently employment minister – join the cabinet if even she backs the Leave side, meanwhile Boris Johnson could also join his top team and speculation is mounting that Iain Duncan Smith would not continue as Work and Pensions Secretary. Eurosceptics will have a lot to chew over, judging by the state of progress in EU talks so far, with the latest draft of the deal being offered to Britain showing that it is losing ground on several key issues, most notably on the City safeguards which banking experts said had been watered down on the insistence of France. Peter Lilley is more emollient in today’s paper, praising Cameron as “our most eurosceptic Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher’s last term and a determined negotiator.”
However, the arguments over Cameron’s deal could well be overshadowed by Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after he warned his country could be forced to “open the gates” and allow refugees to travel to Europe. The potential influx is huge, as Turkey currently has to cope with more than 2.5 million migrants on its soil, so it would intensify the refugee crisis Europe is already trying to tackle. If Erdogan does have to open Turkey’s borders, it would be a political gift to Eurosceptics – who tend to favour immigration as an argument for leaving the EU. Ukip may feel particular vindication as it devoted an entire broadcast to the issue of Turkey and the EU.
If Cameron manages to secure his deal next week, this would pave the way for a June referendum. The Prime Minister is already under pressure from one of UK’s oldest Parliamentary campaigning groups – the Hansard Society – to take his case to the nation in public debates, potentially sharing a platform with Jeremy Corbyn. “The devil will be in the detail and I can see ahead fraught negotiations – it was difficult enough for the leaders’ debates,” said Ruth Fox.
The briefing is taking a short break over the Parliamentary recess, so it (and I) will be back to keep you updated from the 22nd when the House returns.
“The only responsible and honest thing for the Conservative Party – and for those in it – to do, is campaign for Britain’s exit”, councillors in letter
Syria Ceasefire Agreed
Major powers agreed on Friday to a cessation of hostilities in Syria set to begin in a week and to provide rapid humanitarian access to besieged Syrian towns, but failed to secure a complete ceasefire or an end to Russian bombing. Following a marathon meeting in Munich aimed at resurrecting peace talks that collapsed last week, the powers, including the United States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations, reaffirmed their commitment to a political transition when conditions on the ground improved.
Hunt Takes On The Doctors
Jeremy Hunt unveiled a Government review into junior doctors’ morale and said a new contract would be imposed upon them, sparking outrage from medics online. The Health Secretary told the Commons that negotiations with doctors’ union the British Medical Association had found some “wider and more deep-seated issues relating to junior doctors’ morale”. “Is it a fight he can really win?,” asks Sean Worth, “for the sakes of every NHS patient in this country, especially the poorest, the sickest and the oldest, let us hope so.”
Gender Pay Naming And Shaming
Companies which fail to pay women as much as men will be “named and shamed” in Government league tables for the first time. All companies employing more than 250 people will be required to publish details of their gender pay gap in a move that puts the Government in direct conflict with business leaders. The Confederation of British Industry, which represents employers, warned the Government against “naming and shaming” firms and suggested that the figures would only present a “partial picture”.
Clinton Tries To Stop Sanders
Hillary Clinton attempted to blunt Bernie Sanders’s momentum in Thursday’s debate by painting him as a “single-issue” candidate who would be unable to carry on the legacy of President Barack Obama. In the first debate after Mr Sanders defeated her in the New Hampshire primary, Mrs Clinton amplified her criticisms of the Vermont senator’s ambitious policy platform. “We should not make promises we can’t keep,” the former secretary of state said, noting that Mr Sanders economic and healthcare policies “don’t add up”.
A Way Out For Peers
Peers suspected of fiddling their expenses or breaking Parliamentary rules will be able to escape a formal investigation if they leave the House of Lords, it was announced yesterday. The House of Lords privileges committee said that it would be “disproportionate” to investigate former peers when the strongest punishment it could administer would be a public “admonishment”. Sir Alistair Graham, the former head of the Commons Committee on Standards in Public life, warned that the move could erode public trust.
A U-Turn On Milk?
The Government have said they will consider bringing back free milk in schools in a bid to boost children’s health. Lord Lexden, the Conservative life peer, called on the government to reintroduce the break time drink in view of milk’s “nutritional benefits”. He added that there was a “widespread desire” to help hard-pressed milk producers.
A Pill Per Person
The equivalent of an anti-depressant pill for every person in England is proscribed each year according to new statistics. Almost 58 million anti-depressants were issued in 2014/15 – some 10 million more than in 2011/2012. A Labour MP warned the “dramatic increase” highlighted the “growing and significant” mental health challenges facing people across the country.