David Cameron’s European renegotiation tour continues, with the Prime Minister slipping out of Davos’ World Economic Forum later today to visit the Czech Republic in a bid to chip away at central European opposition. His four-year benefits fan remains contentious, we report this morning, with the Czechs offering an “emergency brake” on migration as alternative. “The emergency brake simply responds to what we understand is the worry of the British that is too many people using public resources,” Czech Europe minister Boguslav Sobotka told us. Philip Hammond has signalled Britain’s keenness to compromise, recently declaring “there is no magic about four years”, so this could gain traction as negotiators seek to thrash out a deal.
How would this proposal work? Cameron’s team had pushed a version last year that would allow Britain to cap the number of European migrants coming, but dropped it amid German opposition. This model would see an outside referee – possibly a non-EU body like the OECD to please the UK government – decide when immigration is putting too much strain on social services. Such an idea will be pored over by negotiators as they try to reach an acceptable deal ahead of the European Council summit on February 18-19. Cameron sought to deflate expectations yesterday in his Davos speech, telling business leaders he was in no “hurry” and would rather “get this right… than rush it”. However, officials will want to make progress next month, and they have to agree a preliminary text for discussion by February 3 so that EU leaders have time to digest and comment before the summit.
Cameron’s team will be happy as long as he can return with something he can say – with a straight face – will help Britain get to grips with migration. He’ll have to work hard to persuade voters, with Michael Caine capturing the popular mood on the Today programme this morning by saying “unless there are some really significant changes, we should get out” as “you cannot be dictated to by faceless civil servants”. So how are diplomats hoping to impress him? They’re understood to be seriously considering a German proposal to “redefine” the status of EU workers to reduce the attraction of richer countries’ benefits systems, but Out campaigners are rubbishing it as a “fix” that falls short of the “fundamental” change Cameron once promised. This could have even less appeal if, as originally suggested, it would see British workers lose out. Eurosceptic cabinet ministers will be watching with particular interest. Theresa Villiers, one of the more Brexit-inclined members, toed the line on Question Time last night, but did concede that Britain could be a “success” outside of the EU.
The Prime Minister can at least console himself with the fact that business leaders have responded warmly to his invitation to speak up about the benefits of Britain staying in the EU. The issue of immigration will weigh in on voters’ minds, as Europe’s leaders are still battling to handle the refugee crisis. Germany has indicated that temporary border checks could be extended in a bid to regulate the flow of asylum seekers, while France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has warned: “If Europe is not capable of protecting its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that will be questioned”. So if business leaders can wade in to warn Britons of what life could be like outside of the EU, voters may feel less certain about the appeal of Brexit. But could his charm offensive backfire? “The Tories still need to be very careful about who they cosy up to and take great care to be seen as the challengers, not the defenders of a failed status quo,” Fraser Nelson warns in today’s paper. “This is, after all, the Conservative way.”
“I’m not in a hurry, I can hold my referendum at any time up until the end of 2017”
Corbyn’s Triple Whammy
Jeremy Corbyn has been told Labour will suffer a hat-trick of election blows next May by losing 200 council seats in England, its effective majority in the Welsh Assembly and all constituency seats in Scotland. The warnings came as infighting in the Labour leader’s officer forced one of his most senior aides to quit, raising fears “lunatics” on the hard-Left now “have the keys to the asylum” at the top of the party. This comes as Labour peer Lord Winston said the party was a “shambles” that had already lost the next election.
MPs Get A New Code Of Conduct
MPs are to get a new code of conduct in the wake of a recent spate of scandals about their behaviour and the punishments handed down. Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has launched the first review of how MPs’ conduct themselves in four years. It comes after the way MPs police themselves was criticised after over the way it has disciplined senior MPs who were accused of wrongdoing including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw and Maria Miller.
David Cameron has condemned President Vladimir Putin for presiding over the “state sponsored murder” of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. A public inquiry into the radioactive poisoning of the former KGB officer found that Mr Putin “probably” sanctioned the assassination by two Russian agents in London in 2006. Mr Cameron said the UK had frozen the suspects’ assets as punishment for the “absolutely appalling” crime, but critics described his response as “weak”.
The Red Button Corbyn Will Not Press
Locked within a non-descript safe on board HMS Vigilant is a trigger with a red pistol grip that if pulled would launch nuclear destruction on millions of people. The trigger, modelled on a Colt 45 Peacemaker pistol, would launch Britain’s Trident II D5 missiles, tipped with warheads carrying many times more destructive power than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Ben Farmer has met the man who would fire the missiles.
MP’s War On Junk Food
Ministers must end cheap chocolate and junk food promotions in supermarkets as part of a dramatic plan to cut obesity in the UK, an influential Conservative MP has said. Sarah Wollaston called on the government to take action against cut-price deals on fatty and sugary foods or face letting down “the least advantaged in society”; after it emerged 40 per cent of purchases are promotions, often on unhealthy snacks.
Labour’s £140bn Bombshell
John McDonnell was accused of plotting a £140 billion tax and spend bombshell for families and businesses last night, after unveiling Labour plans to scrap spending cuts and tax relief. The shadow chancellor announced a Labour government would reverse all savings made by the Conservatives and look again at £110 billion of tax reliefs and allowances for businesses and charities. Treasury chief secretary Greg Hands said the plans amount to “a debt-fuelled spending spree and a huge tax bombshell on the businesses”.
London Rail Lines In TfL’s Hands
The government has backed plans to hand over the running of commuter rail services in the capital to Transport for London and the Mayor. It means train companies like South West Trains and Southeastern, which have been criticised for long delays and poor services, would lose control of the routes. Instead, a more frequent metro-style integrated system would operate across the city with plans to have services running every 15 minutes on popular routes.
Cameron Squares Up To Macri
David Cameron has told the new Argentinian President that it is “absolutely clear” that Falkland Islanders want to remain British in a stark new message in their first face-to-face meeting. The Prime Minister told Mauricio Macri that his stance on the Falklands “remained the same” and said any debate about its sovereignty had been settled by a recent referendum. The comments come with Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, calling for Number 10 to open up “dialogue” with the Argentinians over the state of the Islands.
Gerry’s Book Of Tweets
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is publishing a book of his best tweets. The party’s website says that the tweets have been “selected by the man himself”, adding: “[They] range across the political and the personal, the serious and the humorous, often featuring rubber ducks and teddy bears!”