Chris Grayling’s piece in yesterday’s paper has reignited debate on Britain’s EU membership, with Chris Bryant archly dubbing him “leader of the Out campaign” in the Commons, while Eurosceptic Tories hailed his “important” intervention. George Osborne didn’t seem too worried last night, telling Newsnight that “the majority” of Britons “want to stay in a reformed European Union”.
If the other Out-inclined ministers are planning to follow Grayling, they’re staying quiet for the moment. Boris Johnson, Theresa May and Sajid Javid are refusing to break cover, and have refused to enter into talks with Out campaigners. This has led allies of the Prime Minister to feel increasingly confident that they will eventually fall behind him and back the renegotiated terms of membership he will put to the electorate. Sources close to the trio insist that they remain “on the fence” and are waiting to see how the renegotiation goes. Another Eurosceptic minister, Theresa Villiers, has echoed this line, telling the BBC that she “really supports” the government’s renegotiation.
What could Cameron get from Brussels? The Mail reports that Germany has offered a deal on benefits that would see EU citizens on the minimum wage denied tax credits, an idea that No 10 is said to be embracing. However, it would also require hundreds of thousands of low-paid Britons to lose out on benefits, which the government will be less keen about. Jonathan Faull, the EU’s chief negotiator, suggested yesterday that there is a “very good prospect that agreement will be reached rather soon”. But he indicated that this may not involve the treaty change Cameron has deemed “fundamental” in securing his reforms, with options like a “simple declaratory statement” committing to future change mooted in its place. The form of the deal will matter hugely to how significant an achievement it is seen to be, as ministers fear that failing to secure treaty change would mean that it can be unpicked by European judges, or reneged on by other states. Out campaigners will be ready to seize on such a failure as a way to dismiss what Cameron comes back with.
Preparations are underway for the EU referendum, with David Dimbleby lined up to present the BBC’s coverage. What does the future hold if Out campaigners manage to persuade Britons to vote to leave the EU? Fraser Nelson has looked at the possible models in today’s paper – like Norway, Turkey, Switzerland – and argues that Leavers need to offer a solid vision. “You could argue that the EU could do its worst and Britain would still prevail. And, you could make the point that this is about sovereignty – not a bloodless calculation about future GDP growth,” he writes. “If there is a British way to leave the EU without ending up in a new version of the old trap, now is the time to start talking about it.”
“If we achieve that new settlement, then we will finally have put at ease that often fractious relationship between Britain and Europe” George Osborne
Corbshuffle – Day 11
Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle has gone into its 11th day after the Labour leader made further appointments to expand Labour’s frontbench team. This comes as Pat McFadden – who was sacked earlier on in the reshuffle – warned that Labour will become “uncompetitive” unless Corbyn supporters stop attacking moderates. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Emily Thornberry, the new shadow defence secretary, is to have ultimate responsibility for Labour’s defence review, not Ken Livingstone.
More Expenses Claims
SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson has had the most claims rejected of any serving MP, according to the latest claims released by the Parliamentary expenses watchdog. Figures from the Independent Parliamentary Standards. New Labour MP Stephen Kinnock – the son of former Labour leader Lord Kinnock – successfully claimed £34.99 for a “milk frother” for his office. They can be bought for as little as £4 online, so he clearly needs his milk well frothed.
Cruzing For A Bruising
Donald Trump outclassed Ted Cruz, cementing his front-runner status, in the most dramatic debate of the 2016 presidential election race on Thursday night. With only two weeks to go until the start of the voting season, every one of the Republican presidential candidate was focused on making a kill when the lights went up in the auditorium in South Carolina. But it was the two front-runners who dominated the airtime.
Driving Around Papers
Ministers’ red boxes and papers were ferried around in official government cars almost 2,000 times over four years, despite indications that they would computerised. In 2011, Francis Maude, a Cabinet Office minister, insisted the UK government should move to a paperless system. But new figures revealed by HuffPostUK show that documents traveled without their owners 1,910 times in the three years to 2014-15.
Boris On Tour
Foreign Office officials were left to pick up Boris Johnson’s personal bar bill after a trip to the Middle East, newly published government correspondence have revealed. Department staff were forced to chase City Hall for “costs related to alcohol purchases” after Mr Johnson visited Iraqi Kurdistan in January 2015. A spokesman for the London Mayor said failure to initially pay the bill had been an “administrative oversight”, adding it the costs had been “immediately” repaid once made aware.
Mann’s Tax On Islington
Labour should impose a “wealth tax” of £1,000 a year on “middle class” members who live in homes valued at more than £1 million, an MP has suggested. John Mann has said the “socialist” tax would address the “big political problem” caused by the fact the “overwhelming” majority of new members who have joined up recently are middle-class people living in wealthy areas. He complained that on one street in Islington, where many live in multimillion-pound properties, 40 people joined the party over a 12-week period.
New Social Worker Standards
Social workers will be judged by standards similar to those of surgeons and lawyers, Nicky Morgan said as she unveiled a new regulatory body intended to prevent another ‘Baby P’ tragedy. The Education Secretary said the new professional watchdog will set standards for training and create a new assessment and accreditation system for social workers.
Care Home Fears
Elderly patients are refusing to leave hospital because of the potential cost of paying for care homes, NHS bosses fear. Figures published yesterday showed the number of pensioners taking up hospital beds when they should be at home or in a care home has increased by over 15 per cent in the last year. Senior health service figures have told The Telegraph that they believe some are resisting leaving free hospital care because they do not wish to pay for care homes.
Sturgeon Still On The Rise
The Scottish National Party is set to maintain its dominance of Scottish politics after a poll suggested that it would increase its majority in May’s Holyrood elections. The poll for the Daily Record found that 52% plan to back the nationalists.