The government’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union will now safely make its way into law, after peers struck down – by 263 votes to 246 – another amendment that would let 16 and 17 year olds the vote in it. The Commons has been spared having to reject votes at 16 for a sixth time, drawing an end to “the world’s slowest game of ping-pong”. So now the referendum legislation is slotting into place, paving the way for David Cameron to hold his vote as early as next June, it’s game on for both sides of the campaign.
Outters will be rather excited by ICM’s latest poll, which puts the prospect of Brexit on a knife edge, with 50% of voters opting for Brexit (once undecideds are excluded). This is the first time the pollster has found voters are evenly on the question since 2013. The poll also finds that there is a marked shift towards the Brexit door among voters if Cameron leaves “freedom of movement” rules allowing EU migrants to live and work in the UK unchanged, with 45% saying they would vote to leave if they remain unchanged. Only 40% would vote to remain under this scenario. “Given the modest nature of his overall demands, this is the bare minimum he should come back with,” writes Philip Johnston in today’s paper. Other European member states are feeling the pressure of migration, with Angela Merkel having to head off a rebellion from her own party by pledging to reduce the number of refugees coming to Germany – after initially throwing open her country’s doors.
Battle lines may be already drawn in the referendum campaign, but David Cameron has still to thrash out the package he’ll put to voters. He has received backing from Italy, which has embraced the idea of overhauling of the euro-federalist “ever closer union” mantra, one of his key demands. Italy and the UK have “two very different views of Europe”, Philip Hammond admitted with his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni in today’s paper, but they agree that Europe’s future depends on accepting a more flexible approach to membership. British negotiators are hoping that the public support of a major European nation like Italy will help persuade more reluctant states like France and Germany to make concessions, in a well-timed boost before the Prime Minister travels to Brussels for his latest European summit on Thursday.
However, British Eurosceptics don’t seem to be convinced, with the Commons European Scrutiny Committee warning in a report that any deal reached by Cameron could be torn apart by European judges because the changes will not be secured ahead of the vote. “Whatever the promises made in the negotiations, there is no certainty that they will be delivered to the British people,” said Sir Bill Cash, the committee chairman. “Voters in the forthcoming referendum must be aware of this when they make their choice as to whether to vote to remain in the EU or to leave the EU.”
“The time has come to equip the EU with policies and tools better suited to new international challenges” Philip Hammond, Paolo Gentiloni
Flood Defence Cuts Warning
Government spending cuts must not be allowed to affect vital flood defence work, MPs have warned. The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that with more than 5.5 million properties in England and Wales at risk of flooding, it was essential that spending on defences was prioritised.
Sturgeon’s Powers Threat
Nicola Sturgeon has issued an extraordinary threat to David Cameron that she will veto a swathe of new powers for Holyrood unless he backs her financial demands by the middle of February. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street following a meeting with the Prime Minister, in what will be seen as outright brinkmanship, she warned she could not accept a deal “on the table” about the financial arrangements that need to accompany the new powers.
It seems that something about life in Parliament must be good for the constitution after a new scientific paper established that MPs have significantly better chances of long life than the people they serve. New research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows that death rates for MPs over the last 70 years have been 28 per cent lower than those of the general population, taking account of differences such as age and sex.
Kerslake Defends FoI
Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has criticised officials and ministers for trying to curb Freedom of Information laws, telling a cross-party review: “If people are experiencing a chilling effect it’s largely in their own heads, not in the reality.” He also said that the FoI Act “is now a mature piece of legislation with perfectly predictable outcomes”.
Ken Livingstone has stoked speculation that he could serve in the House of Lords by telling the Evening Standard that he would take a peerage if Jeremy Corbyn “wanted” him to. This comes as Labour MP Jess Phillips said she was willing to stab Corbyn “in the front, not the back” if she feared his leadership was damaging the party. “It isn’t actually the Corbynites who are going to kill the Labour Party. It’s the MPs who saw their party dying in front of their eyes, and didn’t lift a finger to stop it,” warns Dan Hodges in today’s paper.
Police are on the verge of being “overwhelmed” by “staggering” increases in reports of domestic abuse, inspectors have warned. This comes as a study estimated that as many as a quarter of mothers with children removed will find themselves “recycled” back through the court system, with another baby, often conceived to replace the child taken away, also placed in care.
A senior Conservative party official told ‘Tatler Tory’ Mark Clarke to smile at people and have “someone else to shoot them” after he was accused of bullying, the Sun reports.
A Very Corbyn Christmas
Just 43 MPs are due to attend Labour’s Christmas party on Tuesday night in its “worst ever turnout” after politicians “stayed away” amid frustration at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Festive cheer is so lacking among the party that some Labour MPs have discussed getting “pre-tanked” on booze so that they can face the event. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Corbyn’s official Christmas card is based on a stock image of heavy snow that caused transport chaos almost seven years ago.
Political Christmas Cards
As the festive season nears, we have rounded up the best (and worst) Christmas cards from politicians – ranging from the Prime Minister posing with Chelsea pensioners to Nick Clegg wearing a Christmas hat, drawn on an iPad by his sons.