Newslinks for Sunday 23rd February 2020

UK claims EU is in disarray over Brexit negotiations

“Britain has accused the EU of being in disarray in its approach to the post-Brexit trade talks, stepping up a war of words between the two sides. A week before the first round of formal talks in Brussels, a source close to the negotiations claimed that EU countries appeared “divided” and were “distracted” by issues such as securing the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece, rather than focusing on the “important decisions”. The claim escalates a propaganda war between Downing Street and Brussels, which saw the two sides engage in a public row last week over the type of trade deal that the UK could strike with the EU. This week, senior ministers will sign off on the UK’s list of demands for the negotiations in a meeting of the Cabinet’s “exit strategy”, or XS, committee on Tuesday, with the paper due to be published online on Thursday.” – Sunday Telegraph

>Yesterday:

Immigration boss quits ‘after run-ins with Patel’

“Bullying allegations engulfing the home secretary, Priti Patel, have intensified as it emerged that “major run-ins” had forced the resignation of one of her department’s most senior civil servants on immigration. Union sources have revealed that “uncomfortable” demands by Patel had prompted Mark Thomson, the director general of UK Visas and Immigration and HM Passport Office, to announce his departure just weeks after her appointment. Mick Jones of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the largest trade union for Home Office staff, said that Patel’s approach to various immigration issues had led to Thomson’s resignation. “He’s indicated to our reps that it was mainly because they had had major run-ins. It was clear that [Patel] had come in and was trying to do things that they [Home Office officials] just weren’t comfortable with and [Thomson] sort of said ‘I’m off then’.” – Observer

  • MI5 chiefs ‘do not trust’ Patel with their secrets – Sunday Times
  • Top civil servants on Tories’ ‘hit list’ – Sunday Telegraph
  • Furious ministers accuse civil servants of ‘co-ordinated attempt’ to oust Patel – Sun on Sunday

House of Lords expenses spiral out of control

“Peers paid themselves almost one-third more last year just as the size of the House of Lords is set to swell to its largest in two decades. Analysis by The Sunday Times found that the cost of peers’ expenses and daily attendance allowance rose by 29% in the year to last March to £23m.In a triple hit for taxpayers: The average tax-free payment was £30,827, higher than the median salary of a UK worker, while 31 lords claimed more in expenses than the standard take-home pay of an MP; Peers are set to receive an above average pay rise of 3.1%, taking their daily payment for attending to £323, andtThe latest round of peerages is expected to bring the total number of lords to 834, the highest since Tony Blair axed the majority of hereditary peers in 1999. One lord, former Labour minister Lord Cunningham, claimed a total of £79,437 last year, according to official House of Lords figures. Cunningham, 80, made 17 spoken contributions to the upper chamber despite checking in for his allowance on 159 of a possible 161 days.” – Sunday Times

  • The peers who don’t speak but claim their allowance – Sunday Times

Sunak to move Treasury officials north

“Rishi Sunak, the new chancellor, will use his first budget to announce that parts of the Treasury will move to the north of England as he unveils the biggest spending giveaway since 2001. A significant number of the Treasury’s 1,500 posts will be transferred to an “economic decision-making campus” in the north in an effort to show northern voters who switched to the Tories in December that the government is serious about their priorities. The plan, Sunak’s first big move since he replaced Sajid Javid earlier this month, will see officials from key departments of the Treasury moved to the new hub. They will funnel billions of pounds of public money to infrastructure projects and listen to the needs of taxpayers and businesses in the region. The chancellor, who represents Richmond in North Yorkshire, is the first MP from Yorkshire to run the Treasury since Denis Healey in the 1970s. The Tees Valley is favourite to host the hub after Sunak took nine officials to Teesside last month for a Treasury board meeting.“ – Sunday Times
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/rishi-sunak-to-move-treasury-officials-north-7wgmh0r2x
Councils ask wealthier households to pay a voluntary ‘mansion tax’ – Sunday Telegraph

>Today:

Flood defence money diverted from south

“The Environment Agency is to rewrite its controversial flood defence funding formula after claims that it pours cash into England’s richest regions, mostly in the south, at the expense of poorer flood-prone areas mainly in the north. The formula is criticised for favouring the southeast because it is based on property values. It means up to 60% of the £2.6bn flood defence funding from 2015 to 2021 will be spent around London — despite the deluges hitting towns in the Pennines, Yorkshire Dales and Herefordshire in recent weeks during storms Ciara and Dennis. Many are still flooded. Now the formula is to be rewritten to focus more on protecting people’s health — so property values will be less important. It means hundreds of millions of pounds could be diverted northwards and westwards, to protect England’s poorest flood-prone regions.” – Sunday Times

  • Local leader seeks council tax increase for climate change action – Sunday Times
Comment
>Today:

Lawson: This new Tory coalition has deep foundations

“Conventional wisdom is often right, in politics as in everything else. But that does not mean we should not question it. Since the Conservatives’ ballot-box triumph in December, the fashionable argument has been that it is impossible for the government to remain true to its “traditional” support in the affluent south while satisfying the demands of the former Labour voters in northern England and the Midlands who provided the electoral breakthrough. This is a truism rather than a demonstrable truth. No one has been more assiduous in challenging it than James Frayne, founder of the opinion research group Public First and author of Meet the People. He has conducted countless focus groups in these former Labour heartlands, so his opinions have an empirical basis. In October he wrote on the ConservativeHome website: “I ran a detailed opinion research exercise for the Taxpayers’ Alliance to probe working-class attitudes to prospective tax policies . . . This research showed that working-class voters are much more supportive of business tax cuts than middle-class professional voters . . . ” – Sunday Times

Left demands Starmer reveals ‘big bucks’ financial backers

“The race for the Labour leadership descended into a row over funding last night as opponents of Sir Keir Starmer, the frontrunner, accused him of failing to disclose the sources of his “big bucks” campaign. Voting in the contest opens tomorrow, with the left worried it could lose control of the party and fail to preserve Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy. Allies of Rebecca Long Bailey, the left-wing candidate, led calls for transparency as Starmer refused to publish a full list of donors before voting began. Ian Lavery, the party chairman, said: “All candidates should be comfortable disclosing the source of campaign donations prior to the ballot papers being sent out so that members can cast their votes in full knowledge of their candidate’s funding. “The Labour Party has long argued for transparency and full disclosure when it comes to general elections. The same should apply to internal elections.” – Sunday Times

  • Starmer warns Labour: unite or face a generation out of power – Observer
  • ‘Boring’ Starmer seeks to heal wounded Labour party – FT
  • Long-Bailey is ‘heading for third place’ – Mail on Sunday

And finally, the prime minister’s vanishing briefs

“Boris Johnson’s aides have been ordered to send him shorter memos, limiting papers to just two sides of A4. Civil servants have also been told to cut the number of documents put into the prime minister’s red box to “make sure that he reads them”. The edict emerged after Johnson spent a week away at his Chevening country house. Members of the Downing Street policy unit were told to provide “weekend reading” for the prime minister on keys aspects of policy. But a source said: “They’ve been told it should be an easy read: no more than four pages, or he’s never going to read it. Two pages is preferable.” Another said Johnson’s private office and his closest aide, Dominic Cummings, had put a cap on what goes into the red box. An official said: “Box submissions have to be brief if he is going to read it. If they’re overly long or overly complex, Dom sends them back with savage comments.” A Whitehall source accused Johnson and Cummings of running “government by ADHD” — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” – Sunday Times

  • Cummings and Johnson: working in tandem or pulling apart? – Sunday Times

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Author: Conservative Home


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