The soar-away success of the vigorously anti-EU Front National in France’s regional elections may well give David Cameron a boost in his efforts to renegotiate Britain’s membership. “What is going on…should make those running the EU realise that their great ideal is facing an existential crisis,” writes Philip Johnson in today’s paper. “Perhaps they simply cannot see it. But they would be mad not to give Mr Cameron enough wriggle room to claim some sort of triumph on which he can campaign to stay in.”
If EU leaders are planning to cave in to Cameron, they are not rushing to do so yet, as European Council chief Donald Tusk has given a mixed assessment of his four key renegotiation demands. The EU chief, in a letter to leaders of member states, insists “we have made good progress”, indicating support for Cameron’s demands for an opt-out from the EU’s “ever closer union” and a commitment to cutting away red tape. But these aren’t much as concessions, James Kirkup points out, as they are “nebulous” and easy to portray as significant.
Tusk is decidedly less receptive towards Cameron’s other two demands, suggesting that Britain may only get a brake mechanism to “raise concerns” about Eurozone migration, rather than a veto. He also said Cameron would have to “compromise” as there is “no consensus” and “substantial political differences” over his demand to strip EU migrants of in-work benefits for their first four years in Britain. The Prime Minister has also been given a deadline of two months to conclude a deal, with Tusk indicating that there would be a big debate about the welfare plans at the European Council’s summit next week, followed by a final deal in February.
Agreement won’t mean much if David Cameron hasn’t passed his referendum into law. The bill is coming before MPs today, after being sent back by the Lords – with a demand for 16 and 17 year olds to be given the vote attached. However, ministers are preparing to invoke the “financial privilege” of the Commons in rejecting votes for under 18s, as a way to ram it back through without getting the bill caught up in a legislative “ping-pong” between both houses. The Speaker’s Office, on advice from the Commons’ Clerk of Legislation, has agreed the matter is “financial”, with the government estimating that extending the franchise would cost £6m. This is being fiercely contested by Labour, who accuse the government of trying to “deny a full and proper debate” on giving under 18s the vote. Some Tories are concerned too, with Conservative peer Lord Lucas lamenting: “More power to government, less to parliament’ was not my party’s cry in the Blair/Brown years.”
“The institutions must show readiness for compromise for this process to succeed,” Donald Tusk
On England’s Green And Pleasant Land
Thousands of new homes are set to be built on the Green Belt in the biggest relaxation to planning protections for 30 years. A new Government consultation proposes to change strict rules that only allow building on the ribbon of greenfield land around towns and cities which prevents urban sprawl in exceptional circumstances.
Flood Spending Review
Flood defences may be reviewed after the Government admitted it had underestimated the potential strength of severe weather events. Michael Deacon watched Liz Truss, the environment secretary, take questions from MPs about the floods caused by Storm Desmond. “Not all her answers were entirely convincing,” he writes. “Dennis Skinner, the perpetually apoplectic Labour MP for Bolsover, asked whether the Government would reverse its cuts to the fire service. “Well,” replied Ms Truss, “what I would say is that we’ve seen fantastic support from the firefighters.” Yes. Fantastic support that we’d like to pay less for.
Hard-left activists are using the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Momentum campaign group to try to take over the Labour party, Tom Watson has claimed, as he warned of “an entryist problem” in some branches. Dan Hodges sympathises with Watson, writing in today’s paper that Corbyn’s plan “involves shunting the Labour Party aside and allowing the “real Labour movement” a free run at fighting for a genuine socialist alternative”.
Trump’s Muslim Ban
Donald Trump sparked a furious backlash on Monday when he called for all Muslims to be barred from entering the United States in the wake of terrorism attacks in Paris and California. It was a bombshell even by the outspoken candidate’s standard of bombast, and brought the immediate condemnation of his rivals for the Republican nomination.
A three-day conference for young conservatives has been postponed after being caught up in the bullying row involving “Tatler Tory” Mark Clarke. The Young Britons Foundation conference was due to be held this weekend at Churchill College, Cambridge University, attended by 120 young people. Six Cabinet ministers had already pulled out of the event, citing diary clashes.
13p On The Taxpayer
MPs continue to claim expenses for negligible fuel mileage worth as little as 13p, the latest figures from the expenses watchdog Ispa have revealed. There have been 117 separate mileage claims for under £1 since the election in May, with one Conservative MP responsible for 17 of the MPs expenses requests. Ben Howlett, the MP for Bath, made one claim for just 13p after travelling 0.3 miles for an office viewing, before claiming as little as 27p on two other occasions.
Brown Gets A New Job
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been appointed to a new advisory board at Pimco, the world’s largest bond manager. It will be Mr Brown’s first major corporate role since leaving Downing Street five years ago.
FOI: The Price To Pay
Suspected plans to clamp down on Freedom of Information rules will take Britain back to the “dark ages” and risk undermining democracy, the Information Commissioner has said. Christopher Graham told MPs that the Freedom of Information Act is the price the government must pay to be a “modern” and “accountable” democracy in the 21st century.
Vaz For Speaker?
Keith Vaz has rubbished reports that he wants to succeed John Bercow as the next Commons speaker. The Home Affairs Committee chair dismissed as “complete nonsense” Exaro News’ report that he was eyeing Bercow’s job. Vaz’s name was first floated by Chris Hope in 2013, who said he was seen as “close to Mr Bercow”.