Theresa May has scheduled a major Commons statement on Tuesday raising hopes she could use it to trigger Article 50 and launch her Brexit talks. In a rare move, Commons Leader David Lidington today announced the Prime Minister’s usual statement to MPs on the EU council has been bumped from Monday to Tuesday, blaming ‘diary commitments’. Historic legislation handing Mrs May the power to invoke Article 50 – the EU’s divorce procedure – is slated to be law as soon as Monday night if peers back down in a row with MPs. It means by the time Mrs May rises to the Despatch Box to speak to MPs at around 12.30pm on Tuesday, she could hold the power to trigger Article 50. Such an historic move would normally be announced to MPs first, fuelling speculation her statement is the ideal moment to invoke the will of the people.
THE time has come to crack on with leaving the EU, Theresa May declared last night. It is thought she could trigger exit talks as early as next Tuesday. Speaking at her last EU summit before she is due to activate the departure process, the Prime Minister said Britain was on the brink of a “defining moment” and ready to “forge a new role in the world”. She also signalled her determination to resist any attempt by Brussels to hit the UK with a swingeing “divorce” bill of up to £52billion as a punishment for voting to leave. Her remarks came as ministers prepared to bring the parliamentary wrangle over Brexit between MPs and peers to an end on Monday. Mrs May is due to make a statement to the Commons about yesterday’s summit the next day, raising expectations that she could use the occasion to activate the EU’s Article 50 exit clause.
THERESA May could be set to trigger Article 50 as early as Tuesday. The Prime Minister looks set to have the power to start the Brexit process, providing a crucial vote in the House of Commons goes her way. If MPs vote to reject the amendments suggested by the House of Lords on Monday, Theresa May could trigger Article 50 as early as Tuesday. The House of Lords have sent the PM’s Brexit bill back to the Commons over worries about the rights of EU citizens after Brexit and in favour of a meaningful vote on the final deal. The Bill will come back to the Commons on Monday – but further time has been set aside later in the week on Tuesday and Wednesday in case the Lords decide to insist on their amendments and “ping pong” it back again.
THERESA May told EU leaders to forget demands for a multi-billion divorce bill saying it wasn’t what “people voted for”. Speaking at a Brussels summit, the PM declared: “Boris was clear and I am clear, when people voted on June 23 for us to leave the European Union they voted for us in the future not to pay huge sums of money to the EU every year, and of course when we leave the EU that will be the case.” She backed Boris Johnson who also shrugged off calls for Britain to cough up £50billion when we quit the EU. The Foreign Secretary insisted he was confident of Mrs May repeating Maggie Thatcher’s famous deal at Fontainebleau in 1984 when she negotiated a rebate for Britain. He said it was “not reasonable” for Britain to keep making “vast budget payments” once it has left the EU.
Theresa May should refuse to pay the money the European Union says Britain owes it in legally binding liabilities, Boris Johnson has said. The Foreign Secretary said the PM should follow the example of Margaret Thatcher over the Brexit bill, which is estimated to be around £52bn. Mr Johnson alluded to the former PM’s battle to secure a rebate for Britain from the EU’s budget in 1984, an achievement regarded by Eurosceptics as one of her finest moments. “I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter, I think you can recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back and I think that is exactly what we will get,” he said. The issue of the so-called “divorce bill” – intended to cover legally binding budget commitments already made by the UK – could be a major stumbling block in the negotiations after Ms May triggers Article 50.
Theresa May should think back to Margaret Thatcher’s fight for a UK rebate from Brussels as she battles a multibillion pound Brexit divorce bill from the EU, Boris Johnson has suggested. The foreign secretary – referring to the actions of the former Conservative prime minister – appeared to apply pressure on May to stand firm against EU demands for cash, amid reports saying the UK could be asked to hand over up to £50bn as an exit fee. Asked about that prospect, Johnson said: “I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter: I think you can recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back and I think that is exactly what we will get.” He told a BBC2 programme, Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal, that the UK should not have to make large payments to the EU after leaving the union.
British MPs will meet on Monday to discuss amendments made to a bill empowering Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Brexit, with further debate possible on Tuesday and Wednesday, the government said. The legislation is a requirement from the Supreme Court, which said that May needs lawmakers’ approval to be able to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal procedure for leaving the bloc. The House of Commons will discuss changes to the bill made by the House of Lords, particularly for granting permanent residency rights to EU nationals living in Britain and giving parliament a final say on Brexit. Brexit minister David Davis said the government, which holds a majority in the Commons but not in the Lords, would oppose the changes as they were “unnecessary”. But some Conservative MPs could vote in favour.
Theresa May insisted last night she will fight any demands for Britain to pay a £52billion ‘divorce bill’ when it leaves the EU. The Prime Minister warned European leaders the British people did not vote for Brexit only to keep sending huge sums to Brussels. The row over a potential bill intensified yesterday as EU figures claimed the amount would have to be settled before talks on a new trading relationship start. But Mrs May, in Brussels for an EU leaders’ summit, said: ‘I’m clear that the way people voted on June 23 for us to leave the European Union, they voted for us in the future not paying huge sums of money into the EU every year. ‘And of course when we leave the EU that will be the case.’
Theresa May has rejected accusations that she had broken a manifesto pledge on tax rises as she faced a growing rebellion from Tory MPs. The Prime Minister refused to back down over the controversial rise in National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, but announced a series of concessions to buy time before the policy faces a Commons vote. Senior Conservatives including a minister and Government whip denounced the key pillar of Philip Hammond’s Budget and said they would seek to overturn it when it comes before Parliament. The Telegraph has learnt that the leader of the mutiny, the MP for Berwick upon Tweed Anne-Marie Trevelyan, is in the process of drafting an amendment designed to kill off the proposed increase, which has the backing of 30 Tory MPs.
Theresa May put the brakes on a controversial tax rise for 1.6 million self-employed workers last night in the face of a Tory rebellion. The prime minister said that legislation to increase national insurance contributions (NICs) will not be put before the Commons until the autumn and left the door open to concessions only a day after the measure was announced in the budget. Mrs May insisted that she supported moves to reduce the “unfair” tax advantages of being self-employed but the pause is an embarrassment for Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who had boasted of his willingness not to “shirk difficult decisions on tax”.
Theresa May has signalled a potential row-back on the Budget’s tax hike on the self-employed, saying the Chancellor will listen to concerns and that MPs will vote on it, but she also insisted it makes the system “fairer”. The Prime Minister and Philip Hammond both faced a backlash over the plans, prompting Mrs May to explain that the changes would not be voted on by MPs until the autumn. The vote would happen after a paper which sets out the full effects of the changes for self-employed workers is published. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that the “partial U-turn” shows that the government is in “disarray”, and a number of Tories have raised concerns about the £2 billion hit on the self-employed.
Theresa May ignored mounting fury over the Tories’ broken election promises tonight as she claimed hiking taxes for the self-employed was “fair”. Speaking in Brussels the Prime Minister failed to apologise for breaking the central pledge of the Tory election manifesto not to raise VAT, income tax or National Insurance for the whole of the current Parliament. In a bid to quell the widespread anger in her own party Mrs May said there will be no vote in Parliament on the 2% hike in NI payments until the autumn. That will give her Ministers time to draw up a package of new rights for self-employed workers that could include Government-funded maternity pay and pensions rights for the first time. But she defended the decision to hike NI despite promising not to do so in the Tory 2015 election manifesto. Shamelessly she insisted this was acceptable because the Tories’ ‘tax lock’ laws published after the election included small print which stated that only the NI contributions paid by employees – called ‘Class One’ payments – would be protected.
Theresa May hit the pause button on Philip Hammond’s controversial raid on the self-employed, in a bid to head off a humiliating Commons defeat by furious Tory MPs. The Prime Minister moved to delay legislation on the £2 billion hike in National Insurance on solo workers until the autumn, after Tory whips warned her they ‘didn’t have the numbers’ to push the Budget measure through the Commons. Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Mrs May tried to shore up her beleaguered Chancellor by defending the tax raid, which breaks the Tories manifesto pledge not to raise NI. She said the change made taxation ‘simpler, fairer and more progressive’. The Prime Minister insisted ministers had not broken the manifesto promise, which appeared four times in the manifesto, which pledged there would be ‘no increases in VAT, National Insurance contributions or income tax’. But she also bought time for a potential climb down by delaying legislation, which had been expected this spring, until the autumn, when Mr Hammond will have the chance to offer concessions at a second Budget. But the move is unlikely to be enough to calm Tory fury over the issue.
The Prime Minister of Luxembourg has signalled that Britain can reverse Article 50 after triggering it if the country decides it still wants to say to Europe, “we love you”. Xavier Bettel said it could be that during the Brexit “procedure of divorce”, the UK is able to decide it is not able to go through with the split. His intervention comes amid claim and counterclaim over whether the Article 50 process is reversible or not, something which is yet to be legally tested. Answering a question from The Independent, Mr Bettel said he still felt that the June referendum in the UK was launched for political reasons and had been a mistake.
Palace of Westminster
MPs and peers should be forced to vacate the crumbling Palace of Westminster for around six years while vital renovation works take place, a Commons committee has urged. Warning that the Unesco World Heritage Site faces the prospect of a “catastrophic failure”, MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) describe the historic building as being in a state of “extreme disrepair”. The report claims: “The risk of catastrophic failure is high and growing with every month that passes: fire, water, penetration, sewage inundation, comprehensive electrical failure or some other mechanical breakdown are among the most likely causes. It must be repaired.”
The Palace of Westminster is at risk of “catastrophic failure” unless ministers bring forward a renovation programme as a matter of urgency, an influential committee of MPs has found. The public accounts committee (PAC) has backed a plan for a “full decant” of the parliamentary building, with MPs and peers moving out for about six years while the work is done, at an estimated cost of £3.5bn to £3.9bn. The committee said the proposal, supported by a joint committee of the Commons and Lords, represented the “most economical, effective and efficient” option for restoring the palace to a proper state. The palace, a grade 1 listed building and Unesco world heritage site, has not had any restoration programme since it was rebuilt following a fire in 1834. Driving the need for modernisation was the threat of fire, as well as water damage, decay and dilapidation, the committee said. There was also the combined impact of pollution and lack of maintenance, which had caused decay to the stonework, the MPs said. The roofs leaked, gutters and internal plumbing regularly failed, there was extensive damage to the Pugin-designed interiors, and there was asbestos throughout the building, according to the report.
The Palace of Westminster is a dangerous fire hazard that could go up in flames unless repairs are carried out urgently, Parliament’s top spending watchdog has told Sky News. The MP who chairs the powerful Public Accounts Committee says there are faulty wires and pipes, leaks and asbestos and at times she does not feel safe working in the building. The warning from Labour’s Meg Hillier comes as her committee published a report claiming that MPs and peers moving out for six years while work is done provides the best value for money for taxpayers. The committee’s report comes amid a growing backlash from senior MPs who are opposing plans for the Commons and Lords to move out, claiming the £4bn cost is a waste of money. Proposals by a joint committee of MPs and peers last year have been put on hold after the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, demanded more facts.
Grieving families will be forced to hand the Treasury a £1.5billion windfall under plans to hike probate fees. Currently, families pay the Government a set £215 fee, or £155 if they apply through a solicitor, to get permission for probate – the legal authority to distribute someone’s property, savings and investments after they die. But fees are set to rocket in May with new levels ranging from £300 to £20,000 depending on the value of the estate – and will be in addition to inheritance tax. Experts described it as a ‘stealth tax’ which will target the bereaved. Small print in the Budget documents reveals how the Government will pocket hundreds of millions of pounds every year by scrapping the single flat fee. The increase will hit those middle-class families passing on estates worth as little as £50,000 – effectively hitting them with a 40 per cent hike in fees.
January was the worst month on record for hospital A&E departments, with more patients than ever waiting over four hours to be seen, official figures have revealed. NHS England statistics showed 85.1 per cent of patients were seen within four hours – down from 86.2 per cent in December and below the Government’s target of 95 per cent. Doctors have warned of worsening conditions in overstretched hospitals, said to be at breaking point due to overwhelming demand and bed shortages. Nearly 80,000 seriously ill patients spent more than four hours waiting on trolleys to be treated after being admitted to A&E, with an unprecedented 988 patients waiting on trolleys for longer than 12 hours. The number of 12-hour trolley waits has risen from 550 in December and is up six times since January last year, when 158 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment. In January 2015, 650 patients waited more than 12 hours to be treated. Some hospitals have said they are now using “corridor nurses” to cope with a severe lack of available beds.
THE SHOCKING neglect of England’s NHS was laid bare yesterday as official figures revealed that almost 1,000 people were left waiting 12 hours for emergency treatment in January. The so-called “trolley waits” figure is six times higher than last January — when it was 158. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that the NHS was publicising the highest figure on record. Mr Ashworth said: “It is shocking that Jeremy Hunt has indicated he doesn’t expect to hit the A&E target until 2018. The Health Secretary has been in position for four-and-a-half years and this simply isn’t good enough. “The spring Budget announcement should have been an opportunity to genuinely place the NHS on a sustainable footing. “And yet the Chancellor’s mere offer of £100 million for capital funding simply isn’t enough, meaning the NHS will continue to face its biggest financial squeeze in history and head-for-head investment will fall again next year.
Thousands of patients will be treated over the phone under plans to avoid a repeat of the worst A&E crisis on record. Almost 80,000 patients were waiting for more than four hours in A&E in January, the highest ever, NHS performance records revealed yesterday. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told hospitals they must see patients more swiftly, emphasising that it was ‘critical’ for safety. The Nuffield Trust think-tank warned that corridors were being turned into ‘makeshift emergency wards’ – with patients treated on trolleys and chairs. Yet last night NHS officials unveiled a series of drastic measures aimed at reducing the pressures in A&E in time for next winter. They included plans for 999 call centre operators and NHS 111 staff to treat thousands more patients over the phone.
NEARLY 1,000 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E departments in the worst ever waiting times to plague the embattled NHS. Official figures further revealed the number of patients being seen within four hours slid to 85 per cent – with Government targets missed every month since July 2015. According to the latest NHS statistics, 988 people were kept waiting for an extended time – more than six times the figure in January last year. The flagging statistics come after Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £100million to station family doctors on site in hospitals in the budget – but leading medics warned the plan would do little to help struggling hospitals. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told The Mirror: “These NHS performance statistics are a damning indictment of Theresa May’s neglect of our NHS.”
Children with cancer are being denied new drugs with the potential to save lives due to EU regulations, cancer experts have warned. Drug companies are currently able to opt out of running clinical trials in children – but even if this loophole is closed, there are concerns young cancer patients in the UK could miss out on Europe-wide trials after Brexit. The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust called for urgent reform to the EU Paediatric Regulation so children can access the latest cancer treatments. They said currently nowhere near enough cancer medicines were being tested in children and recommended changes to the regulation to allow children to benefit from trials.
LUXEMBOURG’S prime minister yesterday poured scorn on Theresa May’s grand plan for a ‘global Britain’ saying Article 50 can be reversed if UK voters decide they “love” the EU too much to leave. Xavier Bettel said his British counterpart had the “wrong idea” if she thought new relationships with the rest of the world could make up for EU membership but hinted European leaders are still open to welcoming the UK back into the fold. At a summit of liberal leaders from across the continent he insisted the British will not be allowed to “have their cake and eat it” over single market access and free movement and described the decision to hold a referendum as a “mistake”. His remarks that Article 50 is not irrevocable in the eyes of at least some EU leaders will provide cheer for europhiles including former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who appeared alongside him at the press conference in Brussels.
A Finnish politician has promised to campaign for an in/out referendum on Finland’s membership of the EU. Sampo Terho has said he wants to lead the Eurosceptic Finns Party. His candidacy has been endorsed by the Finnish Parliamentary Speaker, Maria Lohela, and the Minister of Defense, Jussi Niinistö. The party’s current leader, Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Timo Soini, is a close ally of UKIP and has spoken at several of their conferences. His successor could follow in Farage’s footsteps and lead his country out of the EU! William Hill are currently offering 66/1 on Finland being the next to leave. Might be worth a few quid!
EU leaders have confirmed Donald Tusk for another term as European Council president, despite attempts by Poland to block him. Tusk’s home country was the only one of the 28 to vote against him, a French diplomatic source told the AFP news agency. Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, had written to Theresa May and other European leaders, urging them to oust Tusk during the vote – which came on the first day of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels. Szydlo has accused her countryman of interfering in domestic politics. Tusk himself served as the country’s PM from 2007 to 2014. Tusk, whose initial term expires at the end of May, will play a key role in the Brexit negotiations and will now stay in the job until November 2019.
Headteachers are warning that severe budget cuts in schools are leading to courses being cut and class sizes increased. Design and technology, languages and arts subjects are among those being dropped from GCSE and A-level courses, according to a new report. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) say that the budget cuts are having an impact on every area of school life. Interim general secretary Malcolm Trobe said school leaders are being forced to make “impossible choices”. The Government has argued that school funding is at its highest ever level. Despite this 72% of schools teaching 14-16-year-olds said GCSE or vocational courses have had to be axed in the past 12 months, while 79% of schools teaching sixth-formers said courses have been cut.
A second referendum on Scottish independence is ‘inevitable’ Government ministers have revealed. Downing Street believes that it is only a matter of time until Nicola Sturgeon is granted her wish for a second vote on breaking up the Union. The Scottish First Minister has continued to issue threats over a second referendum following the UK-wide decision to leave the EU last year. A minister told the Financial Times: ‘It’s looking inevitable, I don’t think we’re in any position to stop it happening.’ While a source close to Theresa May‘s team said the only debate over a second referendum would be about ‘the date’. A spokesman for the Prime Minister has previously insisted she would not endorse another vote. ‘There should not be a second referendum,’ he said. Sources also say that No10 would try to delay the vote until Britain has left the EU. However, a poll has showed Scots voters split down the middle on the independence issue.
THE SCOTTISH Tory leader has scolded Nicola Sturgeon after she claimed an independence referendum next year was “common sense”. Ruth Davidson called out the First Minister over her BBC interview in which she refused to rule out calling a public vote in Autumn 2018 and insisted she was not “bluffing”. But the Conservative MSP branded her comments “nonsense” during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday. She said: “We had the First Minister gunning for a referendum on independence next year. She called it ‘common sense’. “I call it nonsense because most people in Scotland do not want it. Most Scots don’t want to go back to the days of division and uncertainty of another independence referendum. “Most Scots think it’s irresponsible to talk of a second referendum which is only going to damage the Scottish economy yet further. That is common sense.”
No 10 has dismissed the possibility of a second referendum on Scottish independence, saying continued talk over the issue is just a “distraction”. Nicola Sturgeon has said a new vote could be held in the autumn of next year, just months before Britain is due to leave the European Union. Speaking to the BBC, the First Minister said she was “not ruling anything out” and was not “bluffing” over the referendum. But Downing Street does not believe there should be a second referendum, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said. “The referendum was held only in 2014. It was a fair, decisive and legal vote,” he said. “Both sides agreed to abide by that and we think both sides should. Continued discussion around a second referendum is a distraction.