David Cameron is launching an eleventh-hour appeal to Jean-Claude Juncker, we report this morning, in the hope of saving his EU renegotiation after negotiators reached a stalemate on the issue of migration and benefits. This led to him cancelling a trip to Scandinavia in order to pencil in a meeting with the European Commission president on Friday. The Prime Minister now has less than 10 days to knock heads together otherwise he will miss his target of striking a deal at the European leaders’ summit next month, which he can then put to voters in a swift June referendum. But Britain appears to have hit a snag because of opposition from the Commission, and a sudden change of heart from Germany over a proposal to insist EU workers must earn above a threshold salary before they can claim benefits. So how are its negotiators responding?
“Right now, the Brits have nothing,” an EU diplomatic source told our man Peter Foster. “The cupboard is bare.” British diplomats have narrowed their negotiating position down to three core demands, they bare minimum it considers acceptable. They want EU workers to be denied benefits for the first six months and to have to show “self-sufficiency”, and finally (most contentious of all) for Britain to get an emergency brake to stop services being overwhelmed by migration. However, under European Commission proposals, the brake would be substantially watered down, with it taking two years to operate. Downing Street would want to use it “pretty much straight away”, a source remarked.
The migration crisis continues to weigh in on the EU. Sweden has announced its to expel up to 80,000 failed asylum seekers, and Brussels came a step closer to sealing off Greece from the Schengen free travel zone after a report found “serious deficiencies” in its border. This means Athens now has three months to get a grip on the migrant inflow. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has rejected calls for Britain to take 3,000 orphaned child refugees who have made their way to Europe. British negotiators have been playing down their chances of securing a deal next month as European leaders increasingly fret about the migration crisis, with a source saying there was only a “50-50” chance of a deal. Some may wonder if this is a game of expectations management so that any deal, no matter how fudged, seem like a triumph.
The continued chaos should provide an ideal backdrop for the Out campaign to make its case for leaving the EU (an institution Sir Bernard Ingham has said is “corrupt and ridded with fraud”). Out campaigners will no doubt seize on the proposal from a senior EU official that it could review VAT, challenging Britain’s right to waive it on things like food and medicines, and the suggestion from Europe’s human rights watchdog that children’s paper rounds should be banned as examples of meddling EU interventions. However, they seem too busy caught up fighting each other, with the Times reporting on an attempt to oust Vote Leave’s directors Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliot. Meanwhile, David Cameron is feeling confident that he has won around Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to the In side, according to the Sun, which would deprive Outters of two big Tory beasts. If Leavers don’t get their act together, the only part of Britain to vote for Brexit will remain the London borough of Havering.
“Right now, the Brits have nothing. The cupboard is bare” EU diplomatic source
Pressure Mounts On Google
The Google tax settlement secured last week does not involve the company paying an “awful lot of money” and it would be “silly” to suggest otherwise, the Tory business minister has admitted. This comes as Google fought back in the escalating row over big tech firms’ tax arrangements, writing to the FT to say that criticism ignored “international tax rules and how they work”. Allister Heath says in today’s paper that it’s time to bring in a “fair, straightforward” flat rate of tax. “The best way to encourage and attract profitable businesses and the economic benefits they bring is to make corporate taxes as low – and as simple – as possible,” we say. “That eternal truth should not be lost.”
Bedroom Tax Breaches Rights
The so-called “bedroom tax” breaches the human rights of vulnerable people, Britain’s most senior judge has ruled. But Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, and two other senior judges last night faced claims of “usurping the role of Parliament” over the ruling hailed by campaigners against the Government’s benefits changes as a major victory.
Kinnock: I Warn You
Jeremy Corbyn should resign or face a leadership challenge if he fails to improve Labour’s fortunes, former leader Lord Kinnock has warned as he said it was “difficult” to see him winning the next election. With polls showing Labour far behind the Tories, the peer said Mr Corbyn would have to consider his position if he fails to win over voters after a “reasonable space of time”.
Donald Won’t Back Down
Donald Trump has publicly rejected an appeal by Fox News to reverse his decision to boycott the cable channel’s final Republican presidential debate on Thursday evening. Less than 24 hours before the final candidate’s set-piece before Monday’s Iowa caucuses, Mr Trump stuck rigidly to his guns in a confrontational interview with Bill O’Reilly, one of Fox’s leading presenters. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said Trump would present a “very challenging” situation if he wins the race for the White House.
New Holocaust Memorial
Victims of the Holocaust are to be remembered in a “striking” new memorial outside Parliament so that the “darkest hour of humanity” is never forgotten, David Cameron said yesterday. The Prime Minister revealed that the memorial will sit alongside the Thames in Victoria Tower Gardens as he marked Holocaust Memorial Day. Mr Cameron also urged survivors of Nazi atrocities to record their memories so that their “powerful and moving” experiences can be captured for future generations.
Samantha Bakes Her Way To Victory
Samantha Cameron came out on top in the Great Sport Relief Bake Off last night, and Michael Hogan was watching. “Call me a cynic but I find it hard to believe she’d never seen a vanilla pod before, let alone never sieved icing sugar – but she came across fairly well and ran out a worthy winner… Without wishing to get party political, I doubt Ed Balls will fare quite as well when he appears later in the series.”
George’s Great British Sale
Ministers sold off more public assets in 2015 than in any other year to date, according to new figures. Over £26billion was raised for Government coffers through privatisation, largely thanks to the sale of Eurostar and Royal Mail. It represents the biggest sell-off of public assets since Margaret Thatcher was in power in 1987.
Greater Commons Diversity
Parliament has more female MPs and more pension-age politicians than ever before, a new study has found. MPs in Westminster are overwhelmingly white and middle class, while a quarter of all Labour MPs were political bag-carriers before they won a seat. Conservative and SNP members are most likely to have worked in businesses before becoming MPs. This comes as research showed that white people are less well integrated with ethnic minorities in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency than towns in the London commuter belt.
Bramall Fights Back
Lord Bramall is preparing to challenge Scotland Yard’s decision to execute a search warrant at his home because he believes it may have been obtained illegally. The 92-year-old D-day veteran was subjected to a 10-hour raid on his property by 20 officers as a result of uncorroborated historic sex abuse claims made by a single witness known as “Nick”.