Will he, Won’t he?

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Ben Brogan is away today. This email was edited by Donata Huggins.

Will he, won’t he? Today the papers are full of speculation on George Osborne’s “hint” – or “threat” if you read the Guardian or the Independent – of an EU referendum.

On the Today programme yesterday he got everyone excited by saying:

“A reshaped relationship with Europe would imply, would involve, a transfer of sovereignty or powers to Brussels. I think we have a very clear safeguard in the system now, thanks to this Government, which is, if there is any transfer of power from this country, transfer of competence or transfer of sovereignty from this country to the European Union, then there will be a referendum.”

It’s not explicit, but it’s certainly a hint. The Times (£) reports that this surprised Downing Street and the Lib Dems – and could cause tensions in the Coalition. Is this George the strategist at work, trying to outfox Labour’s referendum chat?

It’s interesting that this happened while Dave was in Berlin talking about the eurozone crisis. We’ve splashed on the robust stance he took, dismissing Angela Merkel’s suggestion that the European Union should eventually have a single national identity as “nonsense”.

He signalled that Britain was prepared to veto a new EU treaty unless it included safeguards for the City – and flatly refused a financial transactions tax.

Mrs Merkel hit back. She said “in a currency union have to move closer together”, reinforcing the shift to “a multi-speed Europe” which had begun with the single currency. “We cannot just stop [the process] because one or other doesn’t want to join in yet.” You can read more on the specifics in the FT report here . The graphic breakdown of the situation in the Independent is also worth looking at.

They disagreed on the speed of reform too. He urged “immediate action”, she called him “impatient”. Our cartoon of them discussing the weather, before blowing away in the storm, probably sums things up.

Our leader column called it a “a watershed moment” and that there is a “a sense that we are moving towards something entirely new.”

Dave and George best be careful though – the Mail won’t tolerate a tease. In its leader column today it demands “No more betrayals on the EU referendum.”

And this diplomacy stuff could become farcical thanks to football. The Sun splashes on the ministers who plan to boycott Euro 2012 over human rights violations in Ukraine – unless England get to the quarter-finals.

The Foreign Office said: “No ministers will be attending group games at Euro 2012. We’re keeping attendance at later stages under review in the light of ministers’ schedules and concerns about selective justice and the law in Ukraine.”

They aren’t the only ones fed up with politicking. The Times (£) reports that Jeremy Heywood hopes to rein in the Coalition’s 83 special advisers. He wants greater scrutiny and accountability from them post-Adam Smith. Whitehall sources are concerned that “Many special advisers get a bunch of documents when they arrive and are broadly left to get on with it.”

WORLD CRISIS

This is all to the backdrop of a worsening global financial crisis, of course. Yesterday Spain’s credit rating was slashed from A to BBB by Fitch and China cut its interest rates – an acknowledgement that they’re in trouble (you can read more in the FT’s report here ).

The US and the Bank of England stood steady, but Ben Bernanke said that “the situation in Europe poses significant risks to the US financial system and economy and must be monitored closely.”

BRIDE AND JOY

Closer to home, the big announcement is the ban on forced marriages – it’s becoming a specific criminal offence. Dave will say: “Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.”

The Sun has claimed victory on this one: “Govt backs Sun’s war on cruel weddings”, while the Mail who splashed on it yesterday points out that the new law could mean we’re going to rescue women who are smuggled abroad to be married. Somehow I’m not sure the half a million pound budget will stretch that far.

MILIBANDING

Meanwhile, Ed Miliband is talking about Englishness and the union. He’s written in the Telegraph today saying that we can forge a progressive patriotism based on the qualities that shone through during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. He admits that the Labour Party has not been very good at patriotism in recent years and that discussing Englishness might undermine the union.

During his speech yesterday he also admitted that he looks a bit like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. The Sun has a wonderful graphic showing Ed’s face slowly merging into Wallace’s – it’s worth keeping.

And finally, this English-Scottish issue might be one to keep an eye on. The Independent reports that No 10 has got squeamish about cutting Scottish regiments.

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 34%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 6%

Overall government approval rating: -35

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Fraser Nelson: John Prescott climbed the ladder – now he wants to saw it away

Ed Miliband: The England I love is defined by its spirit

Leader: The comfortable course is no longer an option

Leader: Rights for grandparents

Best of the rest

Owen Jones in the Independent: England, Miliband’s England, is a lost country

William Rees-Mogg in the Times (£): There’s only one question on Europe: in or out

Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian: On pensioners, Iain Duncan Smith is right: ‘granny bashing’ is fair

Jin Liqun and Keyu Jin in the Financial Times (£): Europe should stop arguing and look to Asia

THE AGENDA

Today: Theresa May will make an announcement on forced marriage

Today: Lord Freud, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will make an announcement on the benefits of Universal Credit for young people aged 25 years and below

Today: Eric Pickles, will set out new guidance for strategies to support local shops

Charles Rowley's Blog

Newly-elected French president, Francois Hollande, is campaigning  to secure a Socialist Party majority in the National Assembly in the June 16 and 17 elections. To this end, he has followed up on an election pledge by proposing a reduction in the retirement age from 62 to 60 years for thousands of French workers.

This proposal, if enacted, will reverse one of the most important structural reforms enacted by the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 as a means of providing long-term fiscal sustainability for France’s state pension system.  Hollande’s proposal runs counter to almost every  reform suggestion elsewhere in Europe and in the United States in response to the increasing life expectancies and increasing size of the senior citizen population.

President Hollande’s proposal would restore the retirement age to 60 for individuals who have contributed to the pension system for 41 years.  Mothers with three or more children would also be able to retire at…

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To help Syria, we must fight as dirty as Russia

As the families bereaved in the latest atrocity carried out by supporters of Bashar al-Assad yesterday undertook the painful task of burying their dead, those responsible for operating Syria’s state-sponsored killing machine were taking delivery of yet another cache of Russian weapons.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, might insist, as he did during his state visit to Beijing this week, that he is totally opposed to any form of foreign intervention in Syria’s deepening sectarian conflict. But his publicly declared position is very much at odds with Moscow’s thriving arms trade with Damascus, which is currently worth an estimated $400 million a year. Indeed, the regular movement of weapons from Russia to Syria, which in the past has included the latest anti-aircraft missile technology, as well as more everyday fare such as sniper rifles and grenades, has only grown in the 15 months since the Assad regime first came under pressure from anti-government protesters.

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John Prescott climbed the ladder – now he wants to saw it away

For the outnumbered enemies of the monarchy, it was the perfect story. A security firm hired to provide stewards for the Jubilee celebrations had been using unpaid workers, some of whom claimed to have been asked to sleep under a bridge, and to have been promised payment. For Lord Prescott, it was the perfect contrast: royalists who like to sing that “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves” being directed to their seats by people who (in his eyes) pretty much fitted that description. The company concerned, Close Protection UK, has been overseeing the “development of labour camps”, he proclaimed.

The idea that 220 of Britain’s unemployed actually volunteered to help with the celebrations must be, to Lord Prescott, a puzzle. That some of them described it as an “amazing experience”, and wrote to Close Protection UK to thank them for the opportunity, would presumably strike him as an utter mystery. It is odd that Lord Prescott, who worked his way up the ladder of life, wants to saw off the bottom rung now. But his objection takes us to what will remain one of the most contentious issues for David Cameron’s Government: the messy job of tackling Britain’s scandalous levels of poverty and youth unemployment.

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Cameron: I’ll protect Britain from European superstate

The Prime Minister dismissed as “nonsense” a suggestion from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, that the European Union should eventually have a single national identity and described as “nonsense” the idea of loyalty to a common European flag.

Underlining the sceptical message, George Osborne hinted at a referendum on Europe following the euro crisis, saying any “reshaped” relationship with the EU might have to be put to British voters.

He signalled that Britain was prepared to veto a new EU treaty unless it included safeguards for the City.

But Mr Cameron and his Chancellor accepted that the only way to resolve the eurozone crisis was deeper integration between the 17 countries using the single currency, including a new “banking union”.

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