This week, The Telegraph is launching a brand new morning politics email. Front Bench, written by me, Daniel Capurro, will give you all the latest political news and analysis you need to start your day. It’s easy to sign up – just click here.
I’ll give a clear and concise picture of the political agenda that morning, letting you know what matters most and why. Here’s a taste of what to expect.
Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, has this morning cast doubt on a Brexit transition deal and failed to rule out Britain staying in a customs union with the EU. Speaking in Beijing, where he his travelling with Theresa May, he twice said “if” in reference to a transition.
Asked about a free trade agreement with China, he said that while a full trade deal remained the gold standard, there were “a series of measures for market access, mutual recognition or equivalence – the whole range of tools in the box”.
Asked by Sky News if he could then “live with being in a customs union” beyond a transition period if it meant Britain could still sign such deals Fox said “Self evidently we can do it in a customs union because we can do it now while we are still in the EU.”
Good cop, bad cop
This latter point is a significant statement simply because, for many, Fox’s job would be rather pointless if Britain were to remain in the customs union and was unable to sign free trade agreements. It’s also odd because, whereas this was a somewhat conciliatory statement, a sort of “don’t worry about concessions to Brussels, it will still be worth it”, Theresa May on Wednesday said something that is certain to wind up the EU.
The PM has declared that EU citizens who move to the UK during the transition period should not get the same rights as those who were already here. May wants to avoid the impression that nothing will have changed when the UK leaves the bloc in March next year.
The problem is, the EU is offering a status quo transition. Combined with Fox doubting the transition period altogether, this trip to China his making very clear quite how up in the air Britain’s future relationship with the EU is. With British businesses saying they need to know about a transition deal by March if they are to postpone no-deal post-Brexit planning, the pressure is on to sort a transition deal.
In theory, this should have no impact on the future relationship. But as this week’s fighting over whether Britain will be a “vassal state” to the EU during transition, even this supposedly uncontroversial idea is highly political.
No divergence allowed
Meanwhile, the FT has a remarkable report on an EU strategy paper for Brexit. The report claims that the EU will seek a deal that prevents Britain deregulating or slashing taxes after leaving, and that, if it can’t secure what would be an unprecedented level of restrictions in a trade deal, the bloc will instead use lawsuits, sanctions and retaliation to stop Britain.
This could be potentially huge, with the only thing keeping some Brexiteers in favour of a transition deal being the prospect of divergence in the future. Effectively, what the EU seems to be pursuing is Philip Hammond’s “very modest” Brexit.
Not that the Government seems to be worried by all this. It has decided not to press ahead with the first piece of legislation (related to haulage licences) that is needed in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Clearly the one thing Number 10 is not worried about is a no-deal Brexit. Read into that what you will.
Which is more important: A customs union with the EU or free trade with the world?
In the news
BREXIT COSTS IN DETAIL
The story | Buzzfeed has released more details of the Brexit impact reports leaked to them, just as MPs had voted to be allowed to see them. The reports apparently show that the economic cost of imposing the same immigration restrictions on EU citizens as those on non-EU citizens would more than wipe out any gains from a free trade deal with the US. [ Buzzfeed]
The takeaway | Whatever the doubts over the quality of the reports, this is pretty big. It cuts straight to what divides Leavers. Which is more important, the expected economic boon of Brexit or the cultural aspect. Growth or immigration? Brexiteers seem reasonably united for now, but when we get down to the post-Brexit nitty gritty, don’t expect the unity to last.
The story | Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s former China editor who resigned over equal pay, put the Corporation to the sword yesterday in front of a parliamentary committee. Most cutting was when she claimed that the BBC told her she was paid less because she was still “in development”, despite thirty years at the Beeb. [ Telegraph]
Bad for | The BBC. The statistics have been questioned, in particular by a PWC report, but the overwhelming tone of the coverage in today’s papers is anti-BBC. It is not coming off well in this scandal, and seems to keep digging every day. The BBC has survived worse, such as the Hutton Inquiry, but it won’t be able to carry on without major changes.
Further Reading | The Telegraph’s Allison Pearson lays into the BBC for its treatment of women. [ Telegraph]
DEFENCE BUDGET BLACK HOLE
The Story | The Defence budget black hole is back, and this time it’s around £20bn. Most embarassing in the revelations by the National Audit Office that the Royal Navy failed to include the cost of five new frigates in its budget forecast.
Telegraph Take | This is, like crime, another supposed Tory strongpoint. Philip Hammond claimed, as Defence Secretary, to have closed the budget hole. Sir Michael Fallon claimed to have kept it closed. That it is now open again feeds into a growing sense that the Tories can’t even get the basics right.
Further Reading | Nick Timothy defends his former boss, the PM, and calls for the Government to show some vision and fix the country’s problems. [ Telegraph]
MPS VOTE TO LEAVE WESTMINSTER
The story | MPs chose to ignore the PM’s prefered stance last night and voted to get repairs of the Palace of Westminster underway immediately, and to fully move out in the next decade to allow repairs to be completed. [ Telegraph]
Will it work? | The bill, at at least £4bn, is a big one, and we’ll soon find out what the general public thinks of it. More worrying is the lengthy timetable. The Palace is a huge fire risk, and the middle of the next decade is a long way away. Nevertheless, this is a momentus vote. The Commons has not sat outside the Palace since the Second World War.
What the papers say
What’s the story | It’s another quiet day for politics in the papers. The main focus is on the BBC pay row.
Why | There were few big announcements coming from May’s trip to China, and Carrie Gracie’s appearance in Parliament is as close to must watch television as Parliament can get.
By Patrick Scott
State of the Union addresses are the president’s chance to formally address the key issues facing America as well as an opportunity to push a legislative agenda. Given that more or less every American president has made multiple State of the Union addresses over the past 238 years, they are a useful barometer to gauge how American priorities have changed over time and provide a narrative to the country’s history.
In his first State of the Union address Donald Trump bragged about his economic record, called for more cross-party collaboration, and warned against the threats posed by terrorism and unchecked immigration. His three most stand-out words relative to those spoken by other presidents were “ISIS”, “MS-13” (a notorious criminal gang, mentioned in reference to immigration) and “terrorists”.
Trump’s speech marked a relative departure from Barack Obama’s economic focus. It wasn’t, however, unique in dwelling on threats and conflict; George W. Bush also chose to talk extensively about terrorism and security during his time in office. To see the full 238 years worth of key words and to compare speeches click here.
And finally… Matt’s life
On this day in 2000, France found itself facing up to a second day of major strikes over the introduction of a 35-hour working week. Here’s how the legendary Matt captured the story:
Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/01/front-bench-theresa-may-lays-immigration-red-line-door-still/