Brexit

Telegraph
The Cabinet did not agree to Theresa May’s negotiating strategy for the transition period after Brexit before it was sent to EU nations, senior ministers have told Telegraph. The official strategy document, which was published on Wednesday, prompted a furious backlash after raising the prospect of an open-ended transition period after Brexit. The legal text makes no mention of Theresa May’s pledge to end free movement after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, while eurosceptics also raised concerns that it could limit Britain’s ability to strike free trade deals. The Telegraph understands that Cabinet ministers were told about the position paper less than 24 hours before it was published.

Westmonster
A leaked government document has revealed the Brexit transition period could go on for an indefinite period of time – that’s not time limited, it’s not Brexit. It also appears to confirm that Britain will also be subject to ECJ rule, again, for an indefinite period of time. The document, available here, states: “The duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement.” It adds: “The UK acknowledges that the agreed approach will need to ensure the UK’s domestic law reflects the Union acquis covered by this part of the agreement during the transition period.”

Breitbart
Remain-supporting Prime Minister Theresa May has been accused of her most shocking betrayal of Leave voters yet, as it emerges she has asked the European Union for an indefinite so-called ‘transition’ period after Brexit. “The UK believes the [transition] period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership [with the European Union],” read a draft text seen by 
The Times. It was previously expected that the United Kingdom would only be subjected to a ‘transition’ period of around two years — during which it is expected that very little about Britain’s relationship with the EU will change, except a likely loss of MEPs and European Council voting rights — and it was  recently reported that this could even end in December 2020, which was earlier than expected. The new proposals suggest May is, in fact, seeking an “open-ended” transition, with a fixed date for a genuine break with Brussels nowhere to be seen.

BBC News
The UK has published proposals for how it wants the transition period immediately after Brexit to work. It says the period should last as long as it takes to “prepare and implement the new processes and new systems”. Number 10 denied this meant it would be longer than the planned two years. The document suggests the UK will abide by new EU laws and be involved in talks on future fishing quotas, but will not be able to sign trade deals without the EU’s permission. There are “only a small number of areas” where the two sides disagree, it says. These include the status of EU nationals arriving during transition.

Sky News
Theresa May will lay on the best hospitality her country retreat Chequers can offer in a bid to persuade her feuding Cabinet ministers to agree a policy on Brexit. At an away-day of 11 senior ministers – her so-called Brexit “war Cabinet” – she will attempt to reach a compromise between the Cabinet’s hardline Brexiteers and Remainers. Talks scheduled to last up to eight hours will begin with an afternoon meeting, followed by drinks and then dinner, as the Prime Minister battles to reach an agreement between her ministers. It has even been suggested that if the ministers on the Cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee fail to reach an agreement the PM will keep them at Chequers overnight and as long as necessary until a deal is done. Leading demands for a so-called “hard Brexit” will be the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, while Remainers led by the Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd want a so-called “soft Brexit.

Express
THERESA May’s aides were tonight forced to deny claims that Britain will be locked into EU rules indefinitely after a Government document failed to specify the date for a full break with Brussels. Alarm erupted among Eurosceptic Tory MPs yesterday when a Whitehall negotiation paper did not set a limit on the expected Brexit transition period. It suggested the length of the adjustment following the official departure from the EU in March next year “should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare” for new trading arrangements to be established. Campaigners warned that the open-ended transition risked a “betrayal” of the 2016 referendum vote to quit the EU. 
But Downing Street officials and ministers insisted a definite cut-off date will be set soon.

Guardian
Downing Street has insisted there will be a firm end-date to the Brexit transition period, after a leaked document revealed the British government is challenging the EU’s 21-month limit and proposing that the UK stays in the single market and customs union as long as is necessary. The government moved to avoid inflaming tensions with its pro-Brexit backbenchers, by dismissing the idea that a transition deal, which the government hopes to strike within the next few weeks, would be open-ended. “There will be an end-date included in the agreement,” a Downing Street spokesman said. A cabinet minister told the Guardian any suggestion otherwise was “just paranoid or wishful thinking”.  
The intervention came after a Whitehall position paper shared with EU member states on Wednesday appeared to leave open the possibility of an open-ended transition.

Independent
Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will soar by billions of pounds if it tries to extend the transition period beyond the date suggested by Brussels, EU officials have told 
The Independent. Sources near the EU’s negotiating team said the UK would inevitably have to pay more – with the bill agreed by Theresa May already as high as £39bn – if it wants more time to prepare for its final break from the bloc. It came after a British Government document opened the way for a transition that could go on longer than the EU’s proposed end-date of 31 December 2020, though Downing Street was adamant the period will still be around “two years”. The prospect of a higher divorce bill, charged at millions of pounds a day, is likely to anger Tory Brexiteers as Ms May’s Cabinet gathers at Chequers today to try and hammer out a joint negotiating position for a trade deal with the EU.

Mail
Britain will be fully out of the EU by the end of 2020, Government sources said last night. A senior Whitehall source said the so-called ‘transition period’ would almost certainly be over by the end of December 2020, when the current seven-year EU budget expires. The declaration came after a day of confusion and claims from some Eurosceptics that the Government’s Brexit strategy was becoming ‘shambolic’.
Ministers yesterday published negotiating guidelines saying the transition period should be governed by ‘how long it will take to prepare’ for leaving the EU – suggesting it could be open-ended. This sparked a Eurosceptic backlash, which threatened to overshadow today’s crunch meeting of Theresa May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ at Chequers.

EU

Times
Claude Juncker’s chief of staff, who is believed to have been the source of damaging leaks about Brexit talks, has been appointed the European Union’s most senior civil servant. Martin Selmayr, 47, a German lawyer nicknamed “the monster”, will become secretary-general of the European Commission at the end of this month in an act of patronage by Mr Juncker. Widely acknowledged as one of the most astute commission officials of his generation, Mr Selmayr is seen as Mr Juncker’s enforcer. He is a vocal proponent of federalism and opposed to Brexit. He will take charge of all commission business, including Brexit  negotiations, though Michel Barnier remains the chief Brexit negotiator.

Independent
A hard Brexit would make it easier for illegal migrants to enter the UK from France because new customs controls triggering 15-mile traffic jams at Calais, the port city’s deputy mayor has claimed. Philippe Mignonet told BBC Radio 4’s 
Today that the number of migrants smuggling themselves into Dover on lorries would be “even worse” than now. Around 56,000 attempts by migrants and refugees to get to Kent from France were thwarted by UK border police in 2016, the last time records were available.  “With the custom controls and custom clearances, we estimate that it could bring about 15 mile queues on the motorway 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mr Mignonet said. “So you can imagine that a lot of migrants will try to get in the trucks. So yes, it will be even worse.”

Scotland

Times
Scottish and UK ministers are expected to clash again over Brexit at a crunch meeting in London today. David Davis, the UK Brexit secretary, will sit down with Mike Russell, Scotland’s Brexit minister, in an attempt to break the deadlock over key legislation. Mr Davis is expected to use the meeting to offer a significant concession to the Scottish government. He will tell Scottish ministers that the UK government is prepared to transfer the “vast majority” of EU powers over devolved areas to Holyrood after Brexit, while retaining control over a few until joint frameworks are put in place.

Local elections

Mail
Theresa May is facing a London meltdown in local elections – with the Tories on track to lose Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet. A shock poll shows the Conservatives could be stripped of key strongholds in the capital on May 3, with Labour ahead by 54 per cent to 28 per cent. A result as bad as the figures imply would be a devastating blow and reignite speculation about the Prime Minister’s future. The YouGov research for Queen Mary University found there had been a swing of 13.4 per cent in inner London, where Labour has traditionally been strongest, since the council seats were last contested in 2014. But even in outer London the swing is 4.2 per cent.

Mirror
The Tories look set for a humiliating defeat in at least three flagship London boroughs in the upcoming local elections. According to the latest polling Labour enjoy the support of 54% of Londoners, compared to just 28% for the Tories – which would give them the highest vote share any party has achieved in London council elections since 1968. In Labour’s inner London heartland the swing from Conservative to Labour is a decisive 13.4% and even in outer London, where the Conservatives are stronger and which swung the mayorship for Boris Johnson, the swing is 4.2%. It puts Labour on target to win several Conservative-held councils including the iconic pair of Westminster and Wandsworth. Wandsworth has been a flagship Tory council since the days of Margaret Thatcher when it pioneered the outsourcing of services.

Independent
Labour is on course for a major election triumph in London that will see it seize Tory strongholds and win a greater share of the vote than any party for 50 years, a new poll has indicated. The YouGov survey for Queen Mary University of London recorded 54 per cent of voters in the capital saying they would vote for the party in May’s elections, compared to just 28 per cent for the Conservatives.  As a result, its forecast shows Labour is set to seize several Tory-held councils, including the flagship boroughs of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. It comes after 
The Independent revealed earlier this month the Conservatives still had no campaign plan for the elections in place.  The poll suggests Labour will see an increase on its 2014 London elections results, which saw the party win 43 per cent of the popular vote – their highest since 1971 – and control of 20 out of 32 councils.  

NHS

Times
About 100,000 NHS posts are vacant and hospital deficits are twice as high as planned even after a winter bailout, according to official figures. A rapid financial deterioration means that hospitals have overspent by £1.3 billion so far this financial year while waiting times have not improved. Patient numbers continue to rise, with 5.6 million A&E visits in the three months to December, a quarter of a million more than in the same period the previous year. Despite efforts to improve links with social care, patients spent almost half a million nights stuck in hospital over the quarter. One in 11 NHS posts cannot be filled amid a shortage of doctors and nurses. In London, one in seven nursing posts is empty.

Sky News
One in every 11 NHS posts in England are currently unfilled, a vacancy rate that regulators say has contributed to one of the most challenging winter periods in NHS history. NHS Improvement’s quarterly performance report for the three months to December revealed there are around 100,000 vacancies in England. The regulator said the staff shortage impacted on attempts to keep up with soaring demand that saw 5.6m people visit A&E in the quarter, 250,000 more than in the same period the previous year, and 400,000 patients admitted to hospital in December alone. Despite assurances from the Prime Minister and NHS leaders that planning for this winter was the best-ever, NHS Improvement said 
A&E activity had been “higher than planned”, and that Trusts faced difficulties freeing up beds occupied by patients requiring social care. While demand rose, performance against national targets in A&E and for elective surgery declined, as did the financial position of Trusts.

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