The Telegraph – Election Bulletin

  Good evening.

What does Theresa May believe? She didn’t have much time to set that out during the Conservative leadership campaign, as Andrea Leadsom brought it to a swift close. But after launching her first election manifesto as party leader this morning, we now have the clearest sense of Mrs May’s agenda. Her Government, she said, would not “drift the Right”, but would follow “good solid Conservatism”.  Policies like an energy price cap, a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid and new rights for workers ( we have summed them all up here) prompted questions as to whether she was rejecting Margaret Thatcher’s philosophy – and she didn’t dismiss the suggestion. “Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative, I am a Conservative, this is a Conservative manifesto”.

Mrs Thatcher still made her mark, as Mrs May borrowed her 1980 party conference slogan by inviting voters to join her in going  “forward together”. The Prime Minister’s language was curious in other ways, as she only used the word “Conservative” once in her manifesto launch speech. Tory voters may well be irked by her changes to social care, which Richard Dyson describes as an “ attack on the principle that inheritance is good”, but will doubtless be buoyed by her zeal for Brexit and her renewed commitment to reducing migration numbers. “Most of what she said was designed to engage the sensibilities of socially responsible people who want to do the right thing for the “country as a whole”,” writes Janet Daley. “What better definition is there of the traditional Tory voter?”

Those looking for detail as to what Mrs May wants to do about Brexit will be disappointed though, says Juliet Samuel, as ” her plan amounts to a single principle: trust me“. That strategy seems to be paying off, as the Conservative poll lead remains healthy. Labour supporters will be delighted that their party has leapt up eight points in Ipsos MORI’s latest poll, although they may want to go slow on the victory celebrations as they’re still 15 points behind the Tories in it.

The manifestos are out, so party leaders now have to get on and sell them to the public. Many of them are preparing to do that tonight for ITV’s televised debate. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have said they will be giving it a miss, so it looks like viewers will get to see the remaining leaders – none of whom can expect to be Prime Minister after June 8 – duking it out. Will sparks fly when Tim Farron takes on Paul Nuttall? Will Nicola Sturgeon team up with Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas, or will they find ways to disagree? We’ll be liveblogging it – with analysis from yours truly – tonight, so you can follow the mayhem here.

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Tories must use victory to revolutionise UK economy

There’s an election next month in the United Kingdom, though there’s not much political suspense.

The Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a crazed Bernie Sanders-style leftist, and British voters have no desire to become an Anglo-Saxon version of Venezuela.

Or, since Corbyn’s main economic adviser actually has said all income belongs to the government and Corbyn himself has endorsed a maximum wage, maybe an Anglo-Saxon version of North Korea.

Given the Labour Party’s self-inflicted suicide, it is widely expected that the Conservative Party, led by Theresa May, will win an overwhelming victory.

But what difference will it make? Will the Tories have a mandate? Do they actually want to change policy?

Let’s start by asking whether policy should change. The good news is that the United Kingdom is ranked #10 according to Economic Freedom of the World. That means the U.K. is more market-friendly than the vast majority of nations (including the United States, I’m sad to report).

The bad news is that the U.K.’s score has been slipping throughout the 21st century. Basically, there were a lot of great reforms during the Thatcher era, but policy in recent years has been slowly deteriorating.

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The Telegraph – Election Bulletin

  Good afternoon.

Parliament has been dissolved. Let the election campaign proper begin.

In a remarkable speech outside Downing Street the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has accused Europe of deliberately trying to influence the general election.

This follows on from two stories that have dominated the news this week. The first saw a leak to a German newspaper of details of Mrs May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s dinner last week, and was seen as a German effort to undermine the PM. The second was this morning’s claim by the Financial Times that the EU’s demands for a Brexit bill has risen to €100bn, and Europe’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggesting that Brussels would pursue legal action to make Britain pay.

The Prime Minister, it would appear, is on the warpath. But don’t be too taken in her by her performance. Mrs May knows that she is the only party leader both willing and capable of negotiating Brexit. Support for Brexit remains strong in Britain, and far from giving the population second thoughts, the EU playing hardball will likely backfire, strengthening British resolve and driving voters toward Mrs May’s open arms. Even a relatively weak Tory government, yet alone a “coalition of chaos” headed by Jeremy Corbyn, would struggle to deliver Brexit. The message is clear, if you want a good Brexit, vote for a Tory landslide.

Of course this leads to the slightly bizarre reality that, by picking a fight with the EU now, Mrs May can secure the large majority that would allow her to play nice and make concessions to the EU after the election, by diminishing the power of hardcore Brexiteer Tory backbenchers. Might the EU be deliberately aiding this ploy? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

All this has overshadowed what the Tory campaign had intended today to be about: Labour’s tax plans. The Conservatives launched a new campaign poster today, taking directly from their 1992 classic, which accuses Jeremy Corbyn of wanting “no bombs for our army, one big bombshell for YOUR family”. What’s in that bombshell? “MORE DEBT HIGHER TAXES” adding up to £45bn of tax and spend if you believe the maths coming from the blue corner. All in all, the Tories claim each and every family in Britain will have to pay £1,667 more tax per year under a Labour Government.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Britain’s spat with Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar escalated sharply over the weekend after Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the Government would go “all the way” to defend The Rock. Former Tory leader Lord Howard played his own part by suggesting that Theresa May would show the “same resolve” over Gibraltar as Baroness Thatcher did over the Falkland Islands in 1982. It was only a matter of time then before the Prime Minister stepped in to defuse tensions, telling reporters that she preferred “ jaw-jaw rather than war-war” and that common sense would “win through” once Spain realised “a good deal for the UK is good for us”.

Spain didn’t win much favour from Gibraltar after persuading the EU to give it an effective veto over the terms of any final trade deal applying to it that emerges over the Brexit talks. Fabian Picardo,  its chief minister, compared their actions to a “ cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children“. So why did Spain do it? It’s due to Gibraltar’s airport, Peter Foster writes. “ It has a separate demand over the isthmus that contains the airport,” he notes, “arguing that it was not included in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 that ceded Gibraltar to the UK “in perpetuity”…This gambit over the EU-UK Brexit deal gives Madrid the perfect mechanism with which to press its case.”

Spain hasn’t just sought to wind up the UK Government by renewing its claim on GIbraltar, it has also given the SNP a boost. Foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis declared that the Spanish would not veto any application by an independent Scotland to join the EU, undermining the assumption that they would stop their re-entry in order to discourage their own separatists in Catalonia. Nicola Sturgeon might be delighted by this concession, Tom Harris writes, but it could present her opponents with a gift. “Can you imagine the Unionist campaign’s posters? ‘We want Scottish fishing to be run from Scotland – why does Nicola Sturgeon want it to be run from Brussels?'”

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Theresa May’s formal response to Nicola Sturgeon was not going to be a surprise given that her initial line on Monday, when the First Minister demanded a second independence referendum, was that “this is not a moment to play politics”. Speaking this afternoon to Robert Peston, the Prime Minister repeatedly made clear that “now is not the time” for another vote.

Mrs May was never going to agree to a vote during the period suggested by Ms Sturgeon of autumn 2018 and spring 2019, unless she wanted to be thrashing out the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union while fighting to keep the United Kingdom together. The window given by the SNP leader would also likely close before the Brexit terms were ratified, and their consequences became clear. The Prime Minister suggested as such on ITV News, declaring: “Just at this point, all our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union about our future relationship.” That decision has infuriated the Scottish Nationalists, who argue that Holyrood should have control over the referendum timing. Nicola Sturgeon branded her response a “democratic outrage”, and will no doubt build on that when the SNP gathers for its spring conference tomorrow.

Crucially for the SNP, the UK Government hasn’t ruled out a second referendum. Theresa May insists that the next few months are “not the time”, so Ms Sturgeon can dig in and argue over when exactly they could say “now is the time” for a vote. The Prime Minister has full control, by contrast, over the time that Article 50 is triggered, as the Queen has given royal assent to the Brexit Bill. Of course, the Scottish Nationalists will be determined not to let her proceed with it quietly.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Another week, another Brexit row in Parliament. Last week, it was over the House of Lords’ insistence that ministers guarantee the residency rights of EU nationals before triggering Article 50. This week it’s whether Parliament should have a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal before Britain agrees that deal.  Of the two issues, this week’s is more serious, and more revealing.

Serious, because there appears to at least some chance of a real Government defeat. Assuming the Lords back the “meaningful vote” amendment to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, it’s possible that enough Conservative MPs will rebel next week to back that amendment. Hence No 10’s pre-emptive strike, warning giving Parliament the chance to reject a proposed deal would give the EU an “incentive” to offer a bad deal, in the hope that Parliament would then reject it and maintain EU membership, at least until a new one was agreed, or perhaps in perpetuity.

Telling, because that warning gives some interesting clues about how solid No 10 believes support for Brexit really is. Right now, Brexit has the irresistible momentum of an express train at full speed. Hence the Commons’ easy passage of the Brexit bill.  But in a couple of years’ time, after the hard pounding of talks in Brussels? The converts in No 10 appear to have been infected by the fears of some Brexiteers that their victory is fragile and reversible, that a country that today strongly backs Brexit could be persuaded to think again.  Mrs May is currently supreme, but she takes nothing for granted.

That warning also tells us something else about Mrs May’s Brexit thinking: she doesn’t share the true Brexit believers’ conviction that even leaving the EU without a deal and relying on basic WTO rules is preferable to continued membership.  Believers such as Daniel Hannan have argued that while they’d prefer a deal, Britain should not fear a WTO Brexit.  Doesn’t today’s warning over the Brexit Bill amount to No 10 tacitly admitting that Parliament (and perhaps, the British public) wouldn’t share that confidence, and thus would not back a Government that rejected a bad deal from Brussels and walk out of the EU empty-handed.

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon.

Theresa May went up to Glasgow today to reassure Scottish Conservatives of her intention to keep the Union safe as part of the Brexit process. The Prime Minister insisted that Scotland and England would not “drift apart” under her watch, and used her half-hour address to set out a detailed case for the “enduring” economic, security and social benefits to the Union. Her unerring focus on the Union did make it sound like Downing Street is preparing for Mrs Sturgeon to demand the power to stage a second independence referendum, most likely when the SNP gather for their Spring Conference in a fortnight.

Mrs May’s speech came after Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, told the Telegraph that the Unionists would win another vote by an even larger margin but hinted that Mrs May would not allow a rerun of the 2014 vote until after Brexit. The Prime Minister went after the SNP as well, declaring that there was “no economic case” for Scottish independence”.

The Tories’ punchiness has impressed Tom Harris, who has written today about how “it is the Scottish Conservatives, not the Labour Party, to whom those who still cherish the Union are turning.” Ruth Davidson is one of the few politicians happy to challenge the SNP to a “ square go”, he says. “She seems to have boundless energy and a thick skin. She’s going to need both in the next few years.”

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