Brexit

It seems that the government has capitulated to Brussels over the ‘divorce bill’ says the Times.

European Union negotiators have started drawing up the outlines of a future trade deal with Britain after receiving signals from the government that it would agree to pay more than €60bn (£53bn) for the “Brexit bill”.
Negotiators in Brussels say Theresa May will be able to claim a victory before Christmas as trade talks get going — but made clear the prime minister has used officials to signal financial concessions.
May’s Brexit adviser, Oliver Robbins, was told last week that EU officials need to see only a “single sentence” in writing to indicate Britain’s acceptance of budget commitments known as reste à liquider (RAL) and the UK’s share of the cost of MEP pensions and aid budgets.

But the Times also reports that a top Brexiteer has joined the cabinet.

Michael Gove has been added to Theresa May’s Brexit “war cabinet” in a move that strengthens the power of those who voted to leave the EU.
The environment secretary and Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, have both joined a group of six ministers who had been plotting Britain’s negotiation strategy.
The move means cabinet Brexiteers now have a big majority on the body that will decide Britain’s future.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, who voted “remain” but now says he would back Brexit if the vote were held again, has also joined the committee.
Senior government sources said the expansion had occurred in order to get Gove on the panel because he is seen as a key power broker.

Westminster scandal

Most of the media concentrate on various aspects of the sex scandal. The Telegraph reports a potential attempt at a cover-up.

Theresa May is under pressure to disclose what two of her closest allies knew about allegations made against senior Conservatives, amid claims they “sat on” accusations about MPs’ conduct.
The Telegraph understands that concerns about the behaviour of Sir Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary, were raised repeatedly in the whips’ office when Gavin Barwell, who is now the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, was “number three” there.
Separately, a serious allegation about the Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, then a whip himself, was made to the office in the same period, before Gavin Williamson – whom the Prime Minister appointed on Thursday as Sir Michael’s successor – became chief whip.

The Times reports the latest allegations.

The Conservative MP Daniel Poulter has been reported to his party’s new disciplinary committee after allegations about his behaviour towards at least three female MPs.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Following a conversation with him, the chief whip has referred Daniel Poulter to the party’s new disciplinary committee for further investigation.”
The move came in response to today’s revelation in The Sunday Times that Poulter had been the subject of a formal complaint by his fellow Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen.
Poulter, 39, a former health minister, has been accused of breaching the new code of conduct published last week. He is believed to be one of the first MPs to be reported under the new procedure.

And the scandal is also hitting Labour, claims the Times.

Labour was braced last night for further revelations amid claims at least six more MPs and one party aide could face accusations of sexual harassment.
It is understood a new list — similar to the Tories’ sex dossier — has been compiled.
One complaint is alleged to have been made by a Labour MP who was groped by a party aide.
The party refused to reveal whether it was investigating any further complaints.
“The party takes all complaints of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination extremely seriously,” a spokesman said.
“We ask that anyone with a complaint comes forward so allegations can be properly investigated. When evidence of misconduct comes to light, all appropriate disciplinary action is taken in line with the party’s rule book.”

It seems the Deputy Prime Minister is also under investigation, says the Mail.

The Deputy Prime Minister has been hit with a fresh scandal amid claims that police found ‘extreme’ pornography on his computer.
Officers claim they unearthed the X-rated material while raiding Damian Green’s parliamentary office during an inquiry into government leaks.
But Bob Quick, a former assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, says he was forced to step down before he had a chance to report the pornography to parliamentary authorities.
His resignation came after he was pictured carrying sensitive anti-terror documents into Downing Street in 2009.

The Times also has the story.

Theresa May’s deputy, Damian Green, was rocked last night by a former police chief’s claim that pornographic material was discovered on one of his parliamentary computers.
A statement prepared by Bob Quick, a former assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police, claimed the material was discovered by officers during an inquiry into government leaks in which Green was embroiled in 2008.
Quick, who headed the leak investigation, confirmed to The Sunday Times yesterday that his officers had reported finding “extreme” pornographic material on a parliamentary computer from Green’s office.
He will give evidence tomorrow to an inquiry into Green already under way by Sue Gray, Whitehall’s head of propriety and ethics.

But it seems the allegations could be part of a witch-hunt, says the Independent.

A veteran Tory MP has said the sexual harassment scandal engulfing Westminster has become a “witch-hunt”.
Sir Roger Gale, who has been MP for North Thanet for 34 years, said MPs and other prominent figures were on a “hiding to nothing” as allegations could be made that would be almost impossible to refute.
The 74-year-old said the way claims were being reported undermined the trust between voters and MPs.
“To sell tomorrow’s chip-wrappings on the back of allegations that are unfounded, and to undermine that trust in that way, I think is despicable.”
He added: “In the context, there is no proof that I can see yet of any wrongdoing. There may be things that have been done, a hand on a knee. Fine, you know, 15 years ago that may have been acceptable where it’s not today.”

Sky News reports that a new code of conduct is to be introduced.

All Conservative elected officials and their staff will be forced to sign up to a new code of conduct, as the Westminster sex scandal continues to unfold.
Everyone from MPs to councillors will have to follow the new rules, revealed in a letter from Theresa May to Commons Speaker John Bercow.
Mrs May declared there needed to be a “serious, swift, cross-party response” to allegations of sexual harassment against MPs.
But she added the Tories had taken HR and legal advice to create a new rulebook for the party itself, which is now mandatory rather than voluntary.

And the Labour Party is also committed to act, says ITV News.

Jeremy Corbyn is to commit the Labour party to tackle the “warped and degrading” culture of sexual harassment in Westminster and beyond.
The Labour leader will use a speech today at his party’s North West conference in Blackpool to tell delegates abuse has been “hiding in plain sight” – and this must be a turning point.
The pledge follows criticism of Corbyn for appointing now suspended Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins to the shadow cabinet after allegations against him had surfaced.
He 
“categorically” denied allegations of inappropriate behaviour made against him by party activist Ava Etemadzadeh.

Budget

In other news, next week’s budget could help the housing industry, reports the Times.

Theresa May and Philip Hammond have agreed a deal to make housebuilding a centrepiece of the budget this month after crisis talks last week.
The prime minister held a “trilateral summit” on Thursday night with the chancellor and Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, in an attempt to cut through cabinet divisions over housing, and agreed there would be new money, reforms to planning and incentives for the construction industry to build homes.
The Sunday Times can also reveal that Hammond will give a boost to companies by scrapping a planned 3.9% rise in business rates, set to cost firms £1.1bn next April.

And business rates are also under the spotlight, says the Guardian.

Philip Hammond is under intense pressure from tens of thousands of UK companies to drop a planned 4% rise in business rates next year, amid warnings it would be a “tipping point” for the economy ahead of Brexit.
The country’s leading business lobby groups, including the British Chambers of Commerce  (BCC), Federation of Small Businesses and British Property Federation, have joined forces in an unprecedented campaign to tell Hammond that such a rise would seriously hit investment and confidence, and could mean more firms relocating abroad in the run-up to the UK leaving the EU in March 2019.

Social care

The problems of caring for the elderly are considered by the Guardian.

Senior Tory MPs have joined calls for a government bailout of social care providers, after warnings that some will go bust as a result of a crisis over a £400m bill for back pay. Former cabinet ministers are among those concerned about the government’s failure last week to guarantee financial aid to those affected. It comes at a time when the social care sector is already under extraordinary financial pressure.
The crisis arose after a court ruled that carers staying overnight, known as sleep-in shifts, were entitled to the minimum wage, rather than a flat-rate £30 which had been paid by care providers. Charities say they had been wrongly advised by government guidance. It means some face bills for back pay covering up to six years, with many saying they will simply fold without a bailout.
After months of delay, the government announced a scheme that would give providers 15 months to calculate the amount they think they owe their workers.

Trains

Anyone wanting to get away over Christmas could have problems, says the Mail.

It’s just 51 days till Christmas, but the first signs of the traditional festive railway shutdown are already in the air.
As homesick students and workers prepare to head home to see their families, and as well-fed shoppers get ready to take advantage of Boxing Day sales, trains across the country will be out of action.
Perhaps the worst hit city is London, where there will be no trains from Charing Cross, Cannon Street Waterloo East and London Bridge stations from December 23 to New Year’s Day.
Most of the Southeastern trains affected will depart from Waterloo and Victoria stations instead as engineering works are carried out.
Between Christmas Eve and December 27, meanwhile, there will be no Great Western Railway trains departing from Paddington station, frustrating the travel plans of many of those heading west.
Between the 28th and 30th, there will also be a reduced Great Western service.
Major engineering work between Liverpool Street and the east will bring closures between December 23 and New Year’s Day. 

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