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Nicola Sturgeon calls for second Scottish independence referendum by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead

8 hours 29 minutes ago
Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon addressed MSPs in Holyrood this afternoon

Nicola Sturgeon has said that a second Scottish independence referendum should be held within two years if the UK has left the European Union by then.

The First Minister told MSPs that the Scottish Government would introduce legislation to allow for another vote by the end of this year.

She said the referendum should then be held before the next Scottish Parliament elections, which are due in May 2021.

Ms Sturgeon has been under pressure from grassroots SNP members to push for so-called "indyref2" as soon as possible, amid the ongoing Brexit uncertainty at Westminster.

In a statement to Holyrood, she said: "To rush into an immediate decision before a Brexit path has been determined would not allow for an informed choice to be made, however if we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests we cannot wait indefinitely.

"That is why I consider that choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament.

“If Scotland is taken out of the EU the option of a referendum on independence within that timescale must be open to us. That would be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage Brexit will do."

Ms Sturgeon also conceded that Westminster would need to pass a so-called Section 30 order authorising the Scottish government to hold a legally-binding referendum.

However, Theresa May has repeatedly said she would not allow another Scottish referendum to take place. 

When the first one was held in 2014, Scots voted 55% to 45% to remain in the UK.

Ms Sturgeon's announcement sparked anger from opposition parties, with stand-in Scottish Conservatives leader Jackson Carlaw branding the proposal "inherently divisive".

"Astonishingly, the way Nicola Sturgeon thinks we can come together is for Scotland to be plunged into another divisive referendum within the next 18 months. That is frankly absurd," he said.

"The SNP's plan is clearly to divide families, workplaces and communities all over again, and for the foreseeable future. That is not what the majority of Scotland wants."

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said Ms Sturgeon's timing was down to the SNP's conference being due to take place in three days time.

"The First Minister is using this Parliamentary platform for a party platform, and in that she is devaluing the office which she holds."

The Scottish government argues that it has a mandate for a fresh referendum during this parliament since a majority of MSPs - from the SNP and Scottish Greens - were elected on manifestos in 2016 to hold one if Scotland was pulled out of the EU against its will.

The country voted by 62% to 38% in favour of remaining in the bloc a month later, while the UK as a whole voted to leave.

Nicholas Mairs

Humiliating blow for Change UK as second candidate dumped over offensive social media comments

11 hours 27 minutes ago
Chris Leslie
The party have lost two candidate within a day of their launch

Change UK have been dealt another humiliating blow after they were forced to dump another European election candidate for offensive social media posts.

Joseph Russo, who was number one of the party's list in Scotland, became the second hopeful to be forced out within 24 hours of the party's campaign launch.

Writing on Twitter in 2012, Mr Russo said the arrest of former pop star Gary Glitter for historical child sex offences “smack of the police targeting low hanging fruit”.

Glitter - real name Paul Gadd - was convicted in the UK in 1999 for downloading child pornography and was arrested again in October 2012 as part of Operation Yewtree.

In 2015, he was found guilty of attempted rape, indecent assault and having sex with a child under the age of 13, and was sentenced to a total of 16 years in prison.

In another tweet, Mr Russo added: “I wonder if there’s a c**t/anchovy correlation. One smells like the other.”

And speaking about an unknown American woman in 2010, he tweeted: “The American woman has too much time on her hands – I’d burn her as a yule log. Bitch.”

A spokesperson for the party told PoliticsHome that Mr Russo was no longer on the list of candidates.

The spokesperson added: “We have been made aware of several offensive Twitter posts. We have discussed this with Joseph Russo and it has been agreed that he will stand down and is no longer on our list of candidates.”

The stream of embarrassing tweets also included Mr Russo describing Change UK MP Anna Soubry as “Thatcher 2.0” as well as claiming pizza chain Dominoes was owned by a “loony Catholic”.

The University of Glasgow PhD candidate has now deleted his Twitter account.

His removal as a candidate is yet another major blow for the party who were yesterday forced to dump London candidate Ali Sadjay after he was accused of “hate speech”.

The MMA fighter was dropped hours after he was announced at the party’s official European election launch after a 2017 tweet was uncovered in which he wrote: “When I hear that 70% of pick pockets caught on the London Underground are Romanian it kind makes me want Brexit.”


Business investment ‘signficantly’ lower due to Brexit uncertainty, warns Philip Hammond

12 hours 35 minutes ago
Chancellor Philip Hammond
Mr Hammond today said Brexit uncertainty was damaging investment in the economy

Business investment is “significantly” lower due to uncertainty around Brexit, Philip Hammond has warned.

In comments sure to infuriate Brexiteers, the Chancellor said it was “definitely the case” that the Brexit impasse had impacted the economy as businesses hold back from spending.

According to a forecast from the Bank of England, business investment was 20% lower than it expected before the referendum, Mr Hammond warned.

Speaking during a session of the Treasury Select Committee, he told MPs: “It is pretty clear to me that the principle reason is uncertainty created by the continuing of working out how we are going to exit from the EU.

“Where businesses are able to defer investment decisions until they are clearer about the future, many of them are deciding to do so. And we know that anecdotally both from our own engagement with businesses and from reports from Bank of England agents.”

Mr Hammond, who has repeatedly angered Tory Brexiteers with warnings about the economic impact of the referendum result, said businesses had welcomed the Government’s decision to seek another extension to the Article 50 process in a bid to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

“In all engagements I’ve had with business without exception, they believe the extension of Article 50 was a lot better outcome than the potential alternative,” he said.

“But of course, business shares the view I have expressed that the sooner we can bring this to a conclusion the better so that investment can resume and people can get on with the day job as it were.”

The Chancellor also blamed the Brexit process for diverting staff and using up "bandwidth" within his own department.

"The Treasury has approximately the equivalent of 1500 full time staff, on the most recent check, around 400 full-time equivalents were working on Brexit related matters, that is a huge chunk of the Treasury’s capacity is focussed on the Brexit task, and clearly, once we are able to redeploy most or all of those people onto other tasks, that will make a difference," he said.

His comments come as talks between Labour and the Government to find a compromise solution remain deadlocked, with the Prime Minister accusing the opposition of dragging their feet in negotiations.

But in a message to MPs, Mr Hammond added: “The sooner we can bring that process to an end the better, both for the state of our politics and for investment in our economy.”


Meanwhile, Mr Hammond this morning kick-started the process to find a replacement for Bank of England Govenor Mark Carney, who is set to depart from the role in January 2020 after almost 7 years in the post.

Mr Carney had initially intended to remain as Governor for five years, but twice extended his term due to the continued uncertainty from Brexit.

Announcing the formal start of the process to replace Mr Carney, the Chancellor said: “In today’s rapidly evolving economy the role of Governor is more important than ever.”

“Finding a candidate with the right skills and experience to lead the Bank of England is vital for ensuring the continuing strength of our economy and for maintaining the UK’s position as a leading global financial centre.”

He added: “I look forward to working with Mark Carney over the remaining months of his term as governor. His steady hand has helped steer the UK economy through a challenging period and we are now seeing stable, low inflation and the fastest wage growth in over a decade.

"And under Mark’s leadership the Bank of England has been at the forefront of reforms to make our financial system safer and more accountable.”


Conservative grandee Ann Widdecombe quits Tories to stand for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party

16 hours 10 minutes ago
Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe

Conservative grandee Ann Widdecombe has quit the Tories to run as a candidate for Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party.

The former minister revealed that she had put her retirement on hold to help fire a "very loud warning shot" at Theresa May over the the way Britain's exit from the European Union has been handled so far.

Ms Widdecombe - who was a Tory MP for more than two decades and served as a minister in John Major's government - will stand for the Brexit Party in South West England if next month's European elections go ahead as planned.

She told the Daily Express: "In early May I shall do what I have always done since I first got the vote fifty years ago, and put my cross by the Conservative candidate in the local elections - but a couple of weeks later on May 23 I shall do what I have never done and cast my vote for a different party.

"Nay, I am going further than that: I am standing for the Brexit Party in order that I may campaign vigorously and convince my fellow voters that this time it is imperative to fire a very loud warning shot across the bows of the parties they normally support."

The new blow for the Prime Minister comes after a Conservative MP stood by her decision to heap praise on the "fantastic" candidates picked to run for the new Brexit Party, which polls suggest could humiliate the Tories in the EU-wide poll.

Backbencher Lucy Allan told PoliticsHome that party loyalties would be “eclipsed” by Brexit at the ballot box.

And she added: "It’s good to see strong candidates in the Leave camp.

"However, I sincerely hope we leave the EU before these elections are held so that we can move on and not waste time and money on unnecessary EU elections."

The Brexit Party on Tuesday revealed that Television pundit and former Revolutionary Communist Party member Claire Fox would be standing as a candidate in the May poll, alongside ex-soldier James Glancy, charity boss Matthew Patten, former nurse Christina Jordan and salmon exporter Lance Forman.

The announcements followed the unveiling earlier this month of Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the former Conservative candidate and sister of Tory arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, as a candidate.

Mr Farage said: "This is about changing politics for good, changing the shape of our political parties."

Matt Foster

Blow for Change UK as candidate forced to quit over 'Romanian pickpockets' remark

17 hours 4 minutes ago
Change UK launch
Change UK's European election candidates were unveiled at a campaign launch in Bristol.

A European election candidate for Change UK has been forced to quit over comments he made in the past about "Romanian pickpockets".

In a major blow for the fledgling party, the remarks by Ali Sadjady were unearthed on the same day they launched their election campaign.

Writing on Twitter in 2017, the former Conservative, who had been due to stand as a candidate in London at next month's election, said: "When I hear that 70% of pick pockets caught on the London Underground are Romanian it kind makes me want Brexit."

In another tweet in the wake of the EU referendum in 2016, Mr Sadjady said: "Brexit is like dumping your girlfriend because she’s expensive and high maintenance and then realizing she’s pretty hot.”

A tweet from October last year also appeared to put him at odds with his new party, which backs a second referendum.

He said: "Democracy was served – I voted Remain but stand by the vote cast because I believe in democracy."

Green MEP Molly Scott Catto condemned Mr Sadjady over the pickpockets tweet. She said: "I’m shocked to read this negative stereotyping of EU citizens. It’s the job of Remain politicians to defend them against the hate speech and acts that have been on the rise since the EU referendum – not to join in."

A spokesperson for Change UK said: "Following discussions, Ali Sadjady has reflected on his inappropriate tweet from 2017 and agreed to stand down from the list of potential candidates."

It is not the first race row to hit the party since it was initially formed as The Independent Group in February following the defection of 11 Labour and Tory MPs.

On the day it was launched, former Labour backbencher Angela Smith was forced to apologise after she said during a live TV discussion: "It’s not just about being black or a funny tinge…you know a different, from the BME community.”

In a statement afterwards, the Penistone MP said: "I have seen the clip from Politics Live. I am very sorry about any offence caused, and I am very upset that I misspoke so badly. It is not what I am, and I am committed to fighting racism wherever I find it in our society.”

Kevin Schofield

EXCL Lord Bates blasts Brexit 'aggressiveness and intolerance' as he quits government to walk to Brussels

17 hours 12 minutes ago
Lord Michael Bates hikes through Maschpark with his wife Xuelin
Lord Bates on an earlier hike with his wife Xuelin in Hanover, Germany.

A government minister has revealed that "aggressiveness, intolerance and incivility" over Brexit led him to quit his post and go on a walk from Belfast to Brussels.

Former international development minister Lord Bates - whose surprise resignation was announced by Number 10 on Tuesday - said the debate over Britain's EU departure had descended into "a kind of toxic court room divorce battle".

And he urged the country to "heal the divisions" caused by the Brexit debate as he explained why he had decided to embark on an extended trek from the UK to Brussels with his wife Xuelin.

Writing for PoliticsHome, the Tory peer said his decision to quit had been prompted by an opinion poll published last week in which vast swathes of voters described the country as divided - with almost three-quarters saying the divisions splits had grown since the 2016 EU referendum.

"I have been in politics a long time and realise the limitations of building a case on a single opinion poll, but these findings struck a chord with my own experiences," he said.

"There is an aggressiveness, intolerance and incivility which has emerged in our public discourse which is doing our country immense long-term harm.

"Brexit has become for us a kind of toxic court room divorce battle in which the hatred of the parents for each other, and their refusal to concede ground to the other, has all but obscured their shared love and responsibility for their children.

"It is time to seek selfless solutions that put the happiness and wellbeing of all the people first."

Urging his fellow politicians to "rediscover the common ground between us", the Conservative peer said his decision to quit the Government and "step out on a walk" would allow him to focus on "rebuilding that unity of purpose at home and close friendships abroad" that had been lacking in the bitter Brexit debate.

"It is probable that our walk will fail either to identify common ground to move forward or to begin a process of national coming together, but we believe it is right to try and find a different path from the one we are currently on, one which will bring us closer together rather than driving us further apart," he said.

Lord Bates and Xuelin are due to arrive in Dublin on Wednesday.

The former minister - who served as a whip in John Major's government - stunned Westminster last year when he briefly quit the frontbench on the floor of the House of Lords after turning up late for a debate.

He also briefly resigned as a minister in March 2016 to take part in a 2000-mile solo walk from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro.

Matt Foster

MPs form cross-party alliance to tackle ‘issues ignored because of Brexit’

1 day ago
MPs from across the Commons have vowed to work together in support of shared causes

Dozens of MPs have formed an alliance in Parliament to tackle common causes which they say have been "ignored" because of Brexit.

Around 50 MPs from seven different parties have joined the Commons grouping of the ‘More United’ campaign in order to work “in the national interest, no matter which party is in power”.

The movement, which was formed on the back of the 2016 vote to leave the European Union, has attracted over 150,000 members and lobbies MPs through digital technology.

The group said MPs in the newly-established network will lead campaigns on issues such as poverty and homelessness, responsible technology, mental health and climate change.

The campaign has vowed to capitalise on the "clear appetite" of the public to use online petitions, and has vowed to attract more than 250,000 members, including 100 MPs by next year.

Those who lead and support More United campaigns will also be eligible for money raised by the wider campaign at general elections - with almost £500,000 given out to supportive candidates via crowdfunding in 2017.

Conservative former minister Nicky Morgan and Labour's David Lammy are among the group, which also includes figures from the SNP, Change UK, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens' Caroline Lucas.

More United CEO Bess Mayhew said: “People see cross-party working as a proxy for trust in politics. When polling shows that only three out of ten people believe they can make a difference by getting involved in politics something has to change.

"By uniting MPs who can find common ground on divisive issues we want to show there is a way to move Britain forward and work together to build a fair and thriving country.”

Ms Morgan, who is also chair of the Treasury Committee, said: “All MPs come in to politics because they want to improve the lives of the people they represent.

“Of course we don’t always agree on how to do that but where we can find agreement across party lines there is often a compelling case to be made to the government of the day.

“The More United Network will give MPs across the Commons a chance to do just that.”

Mr Lammy added: "A rare silver-lining to come out of the disastrous Brexit process is a new willingness among MPs to cooperate beyond traditional tribal loyalties.

"MPs have found that there is a special power in cross-party working and by publicly committing to seek out strong alliances that protect shared values we can help create positive changes that benefit the entire country."

Nicholas Mairs

Theresa May accuses Labour of dragging its feet in Brexit negotiations

1 day 5 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn remain far apart on Brexit.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the Brexit talks have diminished even further after Theresa May accused the opposition of dragging its feet in the negotiations.

The Prime Minister told her Cabinet that the talks have been "difficult" in some areas, such as the timetable for the discussions.

Both sides are also understood to remain far apart on the issue of a post-Brexit customs union, which Labour is pushing for but which Mrs May opposes.

In a further sign of how the negotiations are at a stalemate, Jeremy Corbyn said there needed to be "changes" to the Government's strategy for a deal to be done.

The Cabinet spent around an hour discussing Brexit and Mrs May's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister said discussions with Labour had been serious but had also been difficult in some areas, such as the timetable for negotiations."

A Number 10 source said: "Our position is we need to get this done, theirs is 'we need more time'."

The Prime Minister's remarks are significant because, up until now, the Government has stopped short of publicly criticising Labour's approach to the talks.

Mrs May is eager for them to be wrapped up in time for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to be passed by MPs before it is too late for the UK to pull out of next month's European Parliament elections.

Her spokesman said: "Cabinet agreed on the need to secure safe passage of the WAB through Parliament as soon as possible."

But speaking as Tory and Labour frontbenchers prepared for the latest round of negotiations, Mr Corbyn said the Government must be prepared to compromise more.

He said: "There’s got to be some changes by the Government. We cannot go on just hearing this tired old mantra that the Brexit agreement has to be adhered to. The Brexit agreement has been three times rejected by Parliament.

"What we’re saying is that there must be a dynamic relationship, protection of rights at work, rights on what we consume and protection of our natural world as well of course access to markets which are essential for industry in this country and a customs union which would ensure there is no hard border in Northern Ireland and would ensure that we are able continue that kind of relationship in the future,.

"People might have voted to leave or to remain in the referendum nearly 3 years ago - they didn’t vote to lose their jobs, they didn’t vote to have a de-regulated society.

"I believe the Labour approach can and does bring people together to have a sensible relationship in the future. That’s what we’re putting forward this afternoon. Let’s see how it goes but the Government really does need to move on a bit and it cannot try to separate out the future political relationship document from the withdrawal agreement."

Kevin Schofield

Tory splits erupt once again as MP hails ‘fantastic’ Brexit Party candidates

1 day 8 hours ago
Lucy Allan
The pro-Brexit MP has been highly critical of Theresa May's approach to Brexit

Deep Tory splits have been exposed once again after one of their MPs described the Brexit Party candidates for next month's European Parliament elections as "fantastic".

Backbencher Lucy Allen heaped praise on her own party's supposed rivals as they announced who would be standing for them should the poll go ahead on 23 May.

Television pundit and former Revolutionary Communist Party member Claire Fox announced she would be standing for the Brexit Party, alongside ex-soldier James Glancy, charity boss Matthew Patten, former nurse Christina Jordan and salmon exporter Lance Forman.

Sharing a list of the latest additions to former Ukip leader Nigel Farage's party on Twitter, Telford MP Ms Allen said the group contained "some fantastic candidates".

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Ms Allan defended the comment, saying party loyalties would be “eclipsed” by the Brexit issue at the ballot box.

“If EU elections are held, Leave supporting voters will want to vote for Leave supporting candidates," she said. "Usual party loyalties will be eclipsed by the Leave v Remain divide. It’s good to see strong candidates in the Leave camp.

“However, I sincerely hope we leave the EU before these elections are held so that we can move on and not waste time and money on unnecessary EU elections.”

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Ms Fox said her party would benefit from an influx of Leave voters who would boycott traditional party allegiances after being “smeared and insulted”.

“I’ve spent my life fighting for left-wing causes, so I can tell you no one is more surprised than me to be standing as a candidate for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party,” she said.

“To be honest, Nigel and I are unlikely to agree on a range of issues… but on the key question of implementing Brexit, no ifs, no buts, on the crucial issue of honouring democracy, Nigel and I agree wholeheartedly."

Meanwhile, Mr Farage said the 23 May elections would be “just the beginning” for his new party.

“We have a two party system and those parties now serve nothing frankly but themselves," he said.

“The system isn’t working, Parliament doesn’t represent the view of this country and we are being ambitious, more ambitious than I’ve ever been in the past.

“I did say a few years ago that I would do my best to cause an earthquake in British politics and I think given the current aftershocks I had some success with that agenda.

"But this is far more upbeat, far more optimistic and far more ambitious. This is about changing politics for good, changing the shape of our political parties."


Boris Johnson's sister Rachel unveiled as EU elections candidate for Change UK

1 day 10 hours ago
Rachel Johnson
Rachel Johnson is standing as an MEP candidate for Change UK

Change UK has unveiled Rachel Johnson - sister of Tory Brexiteer Boris - as a candidate in the European elections.

The Remain-backing journalist will stand in the South West region for the newly-formed party, also known as the Independent Group.

She told the Evening Standard she did not want to see Brexit “rubbing out my children’s prospects and chances of living and travelling and working in Europe”.

And, hitting out at Leave campaigners, she added: “These are chances that the politicians who decided to campaign to Leave have enjoyed themselves.

“It is simply not fair - and sometimes one has to stand up and be counted. It is now that time for me.”

The move comes after Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party unveiled Annunziata Rees-Mogg, an ex-Conservatice candidate and sister of fellow Conservative Eurosceptic Jacob, as one of its own candidates for the EU-wide poll.

Change UK revealed its clutch of candidates for the upcoming May poll at its official European election launch in Bristol on Tuesday, including former BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler.

Speaking at the launch, interim leader Heidi Allen - a former Tory MP - said 3,700 applications had been received to stand for the party, and described the group as the “home of the Remain alliance.”

Ms Allen said: “With Parliament in deadlock and European elections scheduled for 23 May, we are here to say: we stand ready.

“Because these elections are a chance to send the clearest possible message: we demand a People’s Vote and the right to remain, and campaign to remain in the European Union."

Speaking about the new candidates, which also include former Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell, she added: “Today I am very proud, like a proud Tigger mum.

“From all walks of life right across the UK - teachers, nurses, leading professionals in their fields, carers, ex-armed forces, public sector, private sector people who are new to politics and disillusioned, seasoned politicians who have all concluded the same thing: that the old political parties have let them down.

“This is no rebel alliance - this is the home of the Remain alliance.”

Mr Esler, a former BBC news anchor, meanwhile accused arch-Brexiteers Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg for "selling the same old snake oil".

He added: "I’m sick of it. They claim to speak for the British people, they do not. They stole our patriotism and I want it back…

"I have joined this Remain alliance for three reasons – stop Brexit, fix Britain and move on to reform the EU."


TV pundit and ex-Communist Claire Fox heads list of Brexit Party EU elections candidates

1 day 11 hours ago
Brexit Party
The Brexit Party launched its European Parliament elections campaign in Coventry

Television pundit and former Revolutionary Communist Party member Claire Fox has been named among the Brexit Party's candidates at next month’s EU elections.

The writer and broadcaster was revealed as one of five due to run for ex-Ukip chief Nigel Farage’s new outfit when Britain is sent to the polls on 23 May.

Ex-soldier James Glancy, charity CEO Matthew Patten, former nurse Christina Jordan and salmon exporter Lance Forman were also unveiled at the party’s press conference in London this morning.

Taking to the lectern after being announced by party chair Richard Tice, Ms Fox said she was joining the movement during a "watershed moment for democracy".

“I’ve spent my life fighting for left-wing causes, so I can tell you no one is more surprised than me to be standing as a candidate for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party,” she said.

“To be honest, Nigel and I are unlikely to agree on a range of issues… but on the key question of implementing Brexit, no ifs, no buts, on the crucial issue of honouring democracy, Nigel and I agree wholeheartedly."

The announcements follow the unveiling of Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the former Conservative candidate and sister of Tory arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, as a candidate at the party’s launch earlier this month.

Mr Farage meanwhile said this morning that the European elections marked “just the beginning” for the group, which he insisted had not formed “just to get a protest vote”.

“We have a two party system and those parties now serve nothing frankly but themselves," he said.

“The system isn’t working, Parliament doesn’t represent the view of this country and we are being ambitious, more ambitious than I’ve ever been in the past.

“I did say a few years ago that I would do my best to cause an earthquake in British politics and I think given the current aftershocks I had some success with that agenda.

"But this is far more upbeat, far more optimistic and far more ambitious. This is about changing politics for good, changing the shape of our political parties."

Elsewhere former Royal Marine Mr Glancy said Britain was facing a “crisis”, adding: “The politicians at Westminster, the members of parliament, the lords, right now, are undermining democracy and our leadership is humiliating the British public on the international stage.”

Mr Forman's London salmon smokehouse, H. Forman & Son, was once praised by Michael Gove as "the Mount Everest of the fish business".

Following a visit to the factory in 2017, the Environment Secretary, said: "This smoked salmon is delicious and unique. It's an inspiration to the rest of the world. Eating is believing."

One poll published last week put the new Brexit Party on course to top the European elections, which will take place if Theresa May cannot get an EU agreement through Parliament by 22 May.

Nicholas Mairs

Jeremy Corbyn says Easter should prompt fresh focus on refugee crisis

3 days 16 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour leader said Christianity could yield 'new hope and new aspirations'.

Easter should prompt a renewed focus on the world's refugee crisis, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

In a message to mark the religious holiday, the Labour leader said Britain could boast "a proud history of providing a safe refuge to those in need".

But he blasted the Government for taking a tough line on migration, including during a high-profile row earlier this year about people trying to cross the English Channel.

Mr Corbyn said the UK now faced "a great moral test" in the face of surging numbers of refugees around the world.

"Jesus went on to know what it was to be ostracised, rejected and tortured," Mr Corbyn said.

"A family forced to flee their homeland for fear of persecution.

"Sadly, this is still so familiar to us today. There are 68 million refugees across the world, more people than have ever before been forced to flee persecution, war and abject poverty."

And the Labour leader added: "The refugee crisis is a moral test. Jesus taught us to respect refugees.

"He himself said 'welcome the stranger'. And the Bible says 'the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born'.

"In Britain, we have a proud history of providing a safe refuge to those in need.

"But this government refuses to meet our legal obligations to child refugees in Europe as required by the Dubs Amendment."

The Dubs Amendment commits the UK to relocating and supporting unaccompanied refugee children from other EU countries.

Mr Corbyn said: "At the end of last year as refugees tried to cross the Channel, [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid threatened to deploy the Navy.

"But in response the Bishop of Dover said 'it is crucial that we all remember we are dealing with human beings here'."

The Labour leader heaped praise on churches for their work to support refugees, saying such institutions had shown "true leadership".

Mr Corbyn said: "So at this time of new hope and new aspirations we can learn from Christian values and offer the hand of friendship to welcome those in need."

The Labour leader's Easter message came after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to a string of Christian groups in a bid to express solidarity with persecuted communities around the world.

Matt Foster

Liam Fox warns Theresa May that EU elections will lead to 50 'disruptive and resentful' British MEPs

3 days 17 hours ago
Liam Fox
The International Trade Secretary warned MPs that they risked Britain's 'democratic credentials' by refusing to back Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Liam Fox has warned that Britain will end up fielding scores of "disruptive and resentful" members of the European Parliament if it has to take part in Europe-wide elections next month.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the International Trade Secretary also cautioned Theresa May against agreeing membership of an EU customs union with Labour's Jeremy Corbyn - saying it would undermine promises to voters that Brexit meant "taking back control".

Britain is currently slated to take part in the 23 May elections to the European Parliament after the Prime Minister was handed a six-month Brexit delay by EU leaders.

Mrs May has insisted that Britain could still swerve the EU vote if MPs get behind an EU agreement by 22 May.

Bur Dr Fox - a leading Brexiteer in the Cabinet - said Brussels was now risking Britain having "an effect on the formation of the next [European] Commission”.

And he warned: "The last thing our European partners want are 50 disruptive and resentful UK MEPs."

The International Trade Secretary - speaking on a trip to Iraq - told the Sunday Telegraph that MPs risked undermining Britain's "basic democratic credentials" by repeatedly refusing to back Mrs May's Brexit deal.

And he dismissed Labour's demand for Britain to join a permanent customs union with the European Union - something Brexiteers have long warned would hobble key campaign promises to give the UK its own independent trade policy once it quits the EU.

Dr Fox said: "The EU would be able to negotiate access to the UK market as part of its market offer in a trade negotiation, irrespective of whether it was good for Britain or not … we would be being traded.

"Just how that in any way, shape or form equates with taking back control is beyond my understanding."

The intervention from one of the Cabinet's leading Leave-supporters came as an ORB poll for the Sunday Telegraph put the Conservatives three points behind Labour.

According to he study, the newly-formed Brexit Party - headed up by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage - would gain 14% of the vote if an election were held tomorrow, while the Conservatives would trail Labour on 26% to 29% respectively.

Matt Foster

Tom Watson urges Jeremy Corbyn not to 'sit on the fence' over second Brexit referendum

3 days 17 hours ago
Tom Watson
Mr Watson said Labour voters "deserve better than Nigel Farage’s promise of a far-right Brexit that would solve nothing".

Labour must not "sit on the fence" over its support for a second Brexit referendum, the party's deputy leader Tom Watson has said.

In the latest pro-referendum intervention from Jeremy Corbyn's second-in-command, Mr Watson said the party was at risk of ceding ground to Nigel Farage's "far right" Brexit Party if it failed to set out a distinct platform in May's planned European elections.

Writing in The Observer, Mr Watson - who last month spoke at a major London rally for a so-called 'People's Vote' - warned that the former Ukip chief's new political outfit could pose a major challenge to Labour.

And he warned: "We cannot just sit back, watch this fight on the far right, and allow Farage to prosper with a backward-looking brand of politics that offers no solutions.

"Instead we must offer a radical alternative based on our values that speaks directly to the people we represent and demonstrate Labour has a way forward out of the crisis."

The Labour deputy leader has been one of the party's most prominent backers of a second referendum, despite major disquiet from some Labour MPs in Leave-supporting seats who fear that supporting a fresh vote could alienate supporters.

But Mr Watson said the party could not hope to beat the newly-formed Brexit Party - which polls have suggested could top the planned European elections - if it offered a a "mealy-mouthed" pro-Brexit platform.

He warned: "We won’t win if we sit on the fence about the most crucial issue facing our country for a generation."

Mr Watson's intervention comes after a YouGov poll handed Mr Farage's new Brexit Party a commanding lead in next month's European Parliament elections, which are set to take place if Theresa May cannot convince MPs to get behind a Brexit agreement by 22 May.

The YouGov study puts the Brexit Party on 27% - compared to just 15% for the Conservatives and 22% for Labour.

Mr Corbyn's party has been divided on a second referendum since it agreed at its annual conference last year to leave "all options" on the table, including a fresh public vote on Brexit.

Labour is currently holding talks with Theresa May - whose own Brexit deal has been voted down three times in Parliament - in a bid to reach a compromise deal that can command a majority in the House of Commons.

But Mr Watson warned: "Now that we know a bit more about what Brexit means, the very least that Leavers and Remainers deserve is a final say - a confirmatory referendum - on any deal.

“They deserve a Labour Party that offers clarity on this issue, as well as the radical vision for a new political economy achieved by working with our socialist allies inside the EU.

“And, above all, they deserve better than Nigel Farage’s promise of a far-right Brexit that would solve nothing.”

But, hitting back, Mr Farage said: "Tom Watson has broken his promises to the people.

"The second referendum that he backs is a total insult to 5 million Brexit Labour voters."

And the Brexit Party leader said: "I now intend to wholeheartedly target Labour lies and dishonesty in the weeks ahead."

Matt Foster

Change UK's Chris Leslie dashes hopes of anti-Brexit pact with other parties and attacks Lib Dems

5 days 14 hours ago
Independent Group MP Chris Leslie
The former Labour MP took aim at fellow pro-EU party the Liberal Democrats.

Change UK's Chris Leslie has all-but ruled out forming an electoral alliance with other anti-Brexit parties and trained his fire on the Liberal Democrats.

In an interview with Business Insider, the former Labour MP hit out at the fellow pro-EU party - and said a formal pact had never been "on the agenda".

The comments came as the newly-formed centrist bloc prepared to field candidates in next month's planned European elections.

A YouGov poll released this week put Change UK - also known as the Independent Group - on 6% support ahead of the Europe-wide vote.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable - whose party garnered 9% in the YouGov study - has previously hinted at an official pact between his party and the fledgling group.

But Mr Leslie told Business Insider that the Lib Dems had "fallen below a critical mass" and "haven't had the drive to get out of that for a long time".

He added: "We [Change UK] are starting afresh and don't come with that baggage.

"They don't have any MEPs apart from one in the southeast, so everyone is starting on a fairly level playing field. It is not as though they can say they are in a particularly more advantaged position than anybody else."

The ex-frontbencher was among 11 MPs from both Labour and the Conservatives who quit their parties earlier this year to form the new group.

He said a tie-up with other pro-EU parties "wasn't ever on the agenda", adding: "I don't think it will ever be likely because we are starting something new. We are not joining the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party."

Instead, Mr Leslie urged Lib Dem members to switch allegiance and join Change UK, saying the "emergency situation" of Brexit required "a completely fresh overhaul of the centre-ground".

Britain's electoral watchdog this week approved Change UK's bid to become a formal political party in order to run in the European elections, which are currently slated to take place on 23 May.

But, in an embarassment for the new party, the Electoral Commission rejected its choice of emblem for ballot papers, saying it was "likely to mislead voters" and dismissing its chosen acronym - 'TIG' as not "sufficiently well known".

Mr Leslie said: "Emblems and things like that are nice to have, but we will get there.

"We are more focused on our policy offer and I think people will understand that this is still in its early days."

Matt Foster

Theresa May risking Tory anger with plan for fresh Queen's Speech

5 days 15 hours ago
Theresa May
The Prime Minister has told Tory MPs she will not lead Britain into the next phase of Brexit talks.

Theresa May has risked fresh Conservative anger over her departure plans after telling ministers to sign off on proposals for another Queen's Speech.

The Times reports that government departments have been told the Prime Minister will "actively consider" ideas for the set-piece event, which kicks off a new session of Parliament and spells out the Government's legislative programme.

The move comes despite Mrs May telling Tory MPs she will not lead the party into the next phase of Brexit talks.

According to The Times, Downing Street will consider ministers' plans for the parliamentary session when MPs return from their Easter recess on Tuesday.

But any attempt to open a new session could prompt renewed anger from Conservative MPs keen for Mrs May to spell out her departure date.

It will also require the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, who have supported the Government as confidence-and-supply partners since 2017, but repeatedly voted against Mrs May's Brexit deal.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith warned: "The nature of the Queen’s Speech is that it has the character of the prime minister written through it. Without the prime minister’s authority it is just a wish list of things that probably won’t happen."

Downing Street has yet to officially announce a date for the next Queen's Speech.

But the Times cites Whitehall correspondence which tells officials to expect the legislative launchpad "in or around June 2019".

Matt Foster

Anti-Brexit peer Lord Adonis among candidates as Labour unveils MEP hopefuls

5 days 16 hours ago
Lord Adonis
The former Cabinet minister quit as a government adviser in 2017 with a blast at Brexit.

High profile anti-Brexit campaigner Lord Adonis is among the candidates picked to stand for Labour at the European elections.

The former Transport Secretary - a leading figure in the so-called People's Vote campaign for a second Brexit referenudum - said he was "excited" to have made it onto the party's regional list of candidates for the planned May vote.

He is being put forward for the South West region if the poll goes ahead as now widely expected on May 23.

The peer - who currently sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords - made headlines in 2017 when he quit his post as a government infrastructure adviser and branded Brexit "a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump".

He told The Times: "This is going to be a titanic struggle between Farage Brexit and Labour Remain and I relish the battle.

"It will determine whether Brexit happens and define our whole future as an open liberal democracy."

EU elections are held under a proportional voting system, which sees parties draw up ranked lists of candidates.

Seats are then allocated to those candidates in order depending on what share of the vote the party received.

Lord Adonis, who served as an adviser to Tony Blair, is second on the list for the South West region, where Labour won one of six seats in 2014.

The move could raise eyebrows among some Labour MPs in Leave-supporting seats, who fear that backing a second referendum will alienate voters who opted for Brexit in 2016.

Labour's list of European election candidates also includes Eloise Todd, chief of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign group.

Ms Todd, whose group backs a fresh referendum, is second on the list for Labour in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.



Key allies of Jeremy Corbyn have also made their way onto the party's list for the EU elections.

Former Labour MP Katy Clark, who serves as Mr Corbyn's political secretary, is third on the London list, just above Laura Parker, national coordinator of the Momentum campaign group.

HuffPost reported this week that Ms Clark was shifted up the list of EU election candidates at a last-minute meeting of party officials - a move that means she is all-but certain to get elected if the vote takes place.

Matt Foster

Ex-EU ambassador warns ousting Theresa May for ‘true believer Brexiteer’ boosts chance of no-deal exit

6 days 10 hours ago
Sir Ivan Rogers
Former UK permanent representative to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers

Replacing Theresa May with a hardline Brexiteer would “wreck” any chance of Britain leaving the European Union with a deal, Britain's former EU ambassador has warned.

Sir Ivan Rogers said potential promises by Eurosceptic leadership challengers such as re-opening the withdrawal agreement, which the EU has repeatedly ruled out, would likely lead to the “breakdown” of talks.

Mrs May has vowed to stand down once phase one of the negotiations – the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc – has been completed and MPs agree a deal.

The pledge means a new Conservative leader will lead Britain into the second phase, which is expected to focus on the terms of the future relationship between both sides.

Tory Brexiteers have long called for the deal agreed by the PM, but which has been rejected three times by Parliament, to be re-opened in an effort to scrap the controversial Irish backstop, which guarantees a customs union until an alternative solution to keeping an open border.

But Sir Ivan, who was appointed as Britain’s ambassador to the EU by David Cameron but who quit January 2017, told BBC Newsnight European leaders were aware of the “danger” a new leader Conservative could present to negotiations.

“The process of appealing to the party base, which is, after all, more fervently eurosceptic than many of the parliamentarians and may well want a more true believer Brexiteer as their leader, will see various candidates give pledges as to the future direction of the Brexit talks on what they would do in phase two, that will essentially wreck any prospect of phase two succeeding,” he said.

“So for example, if people were to give commitments saying, you know, ‘when I’m in power if you give me if you give me this job, I will reopen the withdrawal agreement, indicate that we can’t possibly accept the backstop and take a much more robust and bellicose position with Brussels’.

“Well, that leads fairly inexorably, I think, to a breakdown of the talks.”


Britain's former man in Brussels also dismissed the idea that MPs have ruled out a no-deal exit by voting against it in the Commons, insisting that Brussels could refuse to offer another Brexit delay beyond that agreed until 31 October.

“Well, it can happen because the other side can decide to pull the plug on these talks, and say, ‘we’re giving you a couple of extensions, you haven’t used the time, nothing has really happened, we’re aborting this process’,” he added.

“You’ve already seen the pressures coming above all from Paris, but Paris wasn’t alone in saying this at the April [European] Council [meeting].”

Nicholas Mairs

Brexit therapy: 'Identify what's happening, be aware of it and reach out for help'

6 days 23 hours ago
PM surrounded by black gate
'People from all sides and factions are knackered, stressed, do not get enough sleep and do not see enough of their loved ones'

Late nights, large workloads and an always-on culture has turned Brexit into Stressxit for many MPs and their staff. Marie Le Conte seeks advice to help frazzled parliamentarians through the emotional turmoil

It seems fair to say that Brexit has not been a great unifier in Westminster. Beyond simple party lines, MPs are now divided according to which side of the referendum they backed, how they reacted to 23 June 2016, which Brexit (or none) they would like to see happen, and what they think is the best way to get there.

This has led to several years of endless and acrimonious debates, long hours, unpredictable schedules and relentless abuse from the outside world. But there is one thing they all agree on – everyone feels awful.

People from all sides and factions are knackered, stressed, do not get enough sleep and do not see enough of their loved ones. MPs, parliamentary staff, civil servants and the journalists who cover them aren’t doing well, and there is no sign that things will improve soon.

The lid is finally being lifted on the toll Brexit has taken on so many, with stories of reporters crying from exhaustion when they get home and MPs’ aides weeping in the Palace’s loos while at work.

What is there to be done? The Brexit debate is not going away, and a political sphere full of broken people is of help to no one.

“I don’t work in politics in a direct way but I must say I’m not surprised,” professor Brett Kahr, a trustee of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy said when told of Westminster’s mental health crisis. “I know from my own clinical practice that ordinary members of the public are vexed by everything Brexit, so I can only imagine what those working on the frontline must be experiencing.”

He adds: “The very first and most important comment to make is that if someone is having difficulties to the point where they are bursting into tears in the toilet, first and foremost, identify the fact that this is happening, be aware of it and reach out for help.” 

While the political culture in Westminster can lead people to believe that a stressful environment is a given and not coping well with it is a personal failing, it is not the case, and professional help can be life-changing.

Beyond counselling and therapy, there are a few other things anyone feeling overwhelmed by the current situation can do.

According to psychologist Dr Ashley Weinberg, it is important that MPs are able to draw together on a human level – although he acknowledges it’s easier said than done.

“I don’t know whether there are meetings taking place just to check how people are coping with it, sharing experiences, and having the opportunity to take advice from one another. And that might be a useful thing, which the Speaker’s office could be engaged in. In organisations, you would hope that when there’s a crisis going on, you’d bring staff together.”

While it might seem counterintuitive to turn for comfort to the person you’ve just sparred with in the Commons chamber (or late night in Strangers), the idea isn’t a bad one. After all, the Palace of Westminster was built to be a social place and, regardless of which side you’re on, it should not be controversial to say that clearer minds tend to lead to better discussions.

Though Brexit is an emotional issue as well as a political one, consciously separating work interactions from personal ones could be good for everyone’s wellbeing, as well as a potential gateway to more amiable compromises.

Switch off the media, keep the mobile phone off, otherwise you're not getting a break

If that doesn’t work out, stepping away even momentarily can always help. “In terms of the workload, MPs and their staff are used to working particularly long hours, but carving out some windows of opportunity just to step away from the job, switch off the media, keep the mobile phone off, just for a few hours here and there can be particularly important, otherwise, mentally you’re not getting a break,” Weinberg says. “And that in itself makes it that much harder to come back the following day and deal with this onslaught.”

This also seems easier said than done. As Twitter and WhatsApp continue to shape and dominate the political agenda, not glancing at a screen for 10 minutes can often make people feel like they have missed out on a day’s worth of news.

Still, there are ways around this; very few people in Westminster work alone, and making the best of having a team around you can provide a solution.

“I know MPs pretty much rely on having their finger on the pulse, but perhaps staff in the office can say OK, I’m going to monitor what’s happening on this given occasion, and then the role of keeping an eye on the Twitter feeds and everything else can rotate around the office, so it’s not everyone having to do it all the time.”

If you know that there is someone in your office in charge of monitoring what’s going on and who will shout if anything happens, it will be easier to focus on the task at hand and take a breath.

Still, therapists remain clear on one thing – making a series of small changes to your life can help you cope a bit better, but no amount of easy hacks will solve everything.

“I’m not a big fan of tips, they’re often a bit too easy,” says Dr Kahr. “Unless you’re in a state of mind to really use the tip, it’s a bit like every cardiologist saying ‘avoid fatty foods’ – we all know that already.”

But he has one piece of advice that could really make a difference: keep a diary. Catharsis can be vital, especially when so many strong feelings are in play on such a regular basis. Buying a diary and writing in it every day, even just for 10 minutes each evening, is a good way to get those feelings in order.

Future you just might thank you as well; these might not be easy times to live through but they are momentous, and we are all playing our part in them.

Marie Le Conte

Blow for Tories and Labour as Nigel Farage's Brexit Party takes EU elections poll lead

1 week ago
Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage now leads the Brexit Party

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have been dealt a major blow after a new poll found that the newly-formed Brexit Party is on course to win May's EU election in the UK.

In a damning verdict on the main parties, YouGov found that the new outfit, led by Nigel Farage, would rake in 27% of the vote, compared to Labour's 22%, while the Tories are set to lag behind on just 15%.

The former Ukip chief officially launched the party last week, unveiling a raft of candidates which includes former Tory candidate Annunziata Rees-Mogg - sister of arch-Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The study also found that the Eurosceptic bloc could secure top spot with a ten-point lead over the main parties if Jeremy Corbyn supported going ahead with Brexit but staying in the customs union.

Such a scenario would see Mr Farage's team on 25% of the vote, compared to 15% each for the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

It found that were Labour to back another referendum however, the gap would be narrowed to give the Brexit Party a three-point lead, on 26%, while Labour would take 23%, the Tories would remain on 15%, while the Lib Dems would drop to 10%.

The pro-EU People's Vote campaign seized on the poll to claim that Labour's support "could mean a majority of people taking part in the elections back a new public vote” when factoring in support for the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Change UK, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.


Britain is set to go the polls on 23 May to elect a new round of MEPs, following the latest delay to Brexit until 31 October.

The launch of Mr Farage’s new party follows the 2014 EU election, where he led Ukip to top spot, two points and three points above Labour and the Tories respectively.

The veteran Eurosceptic quit his former party last December, over what he branded the current leadership’s "fixation" with right-wing activist Tommy Robinson and the issue of Islam. The fresh poll has Ukip down to take 7% of the vote.

Labour MP and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, Dame Margaret Beckett, said warned Mr Corbyn that only Labour could halt Mr Farage’s progress.

“These elections have proven to be rich hunting grounds for Nigel Farage’s brand of extreme right-wing politics before and may be again.

“There is nothing to be gained by denying that we support the public getting the final say which is what the overwhelming majority of our voters, members and MPs want.

"If we hedge our bets or say we back another form of Brexit, Labour loses voters and Farage will storm to first place."

Nicholas Mairs
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47