The five things you need to know on Wednesday 18 December 2013...
1) PLEASE DON'T COME TO THE UK
From the Guardian's splash:
"David Cameron is rushing through a block on European Union migrants' access to benefits from 1 January, the politically fraught date when the remaining work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians will be lifted in the UK. From New Year's Day all jobseekers from the EU will have to wait for three months from their arrival in the UK before they can apply to claim any out of work benefits, Downing Street announced... David Cameron said he believed the restrictions would 'make the UK a less attractive place for EU migrants who want to come here and try to live off the state'."
The problem for Dave is that on the issue of immigration, no matter how many concessions you make and no matter how far to the right you move, the anti-immigration brigade are never satisfied and always demand more curbs, restrictions and crackdowns. The Guardian report notes how nearly 80 Tory backbenchers "are backing calls for the UK to defy the EU and retain the tough labour market restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians for a further five years".
The Sun has published the results of a special YouGov poll which shows that the public believe "immigration controls should be by far the most important issue" in Cameron's "list of demands" during the EU renegotiations. The paper, classy as ever, has a front page splash image of a map of the continent with a thick red line cutting off the UK from the rest of Europe.
Meanwhile, the Economist notes that Romanians might not want to come to the UK in the huge numbers that the Sun and others suggest they will:
"Yet the country is wealthier, more dynamic and more sophisticated than [some] suggest. Unemployment there is relatively low (and lower than in Britain). Its budget deficit puts Britain to shame... Economic growth is at 4.1%. Wages are rising fast. Adjusting for prices, Bucharest’s GDP per capita is above the EU average. Indeed, the average Bucharest resident is comfortably better off than the average resident of Manchester."
2) 'DAVE'S LAPDOG'
My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports on the latest chapter of the long-running Boris Johnson-Nick Clegg feud:
"Boris Johnson has dismissed Nick Clegg's impact on government as little more than serving as 'David Cameron's lapdog'.
"The mayor of London said the Lib Dem leader was a 'great yellow albatross' who had been 'converted by taxidermy into a protective shield' for the prime minister.
"The attack on Clegg mirrors that made by Labour. Harriet Harman recently said that far from being a brake on Tory policies, Clegg was the 'very best deputy a Conservative prime minister could ever wish for'."
The mayor was speaking at a press lunch in Westminster where he also assured his audience of journalists that he wouldn't be standing for parliament at the next general election. Asked if he would be in the Commons come May 2015 he replied: "No."
3) FRACK YEAH
From the Telegraph splash:
"Fracking could take place across more than half of Britain under plans announced by the Government yesterday to "step up the search" for shale gas and oil.
"Ministers said they would offer energy companies the chance for rights to drill across more than 37,000 square miles, stretching from central Scotland to the south coast.
"Every county in England except Cornwall could have shale gas exploration, according to a map showing areas the Government plans to offer to energy companies... Michael Fallon, the energy minister, said that shale was 'an exciting prospect, which could bring growth, jobs and energy security'."
No mention of the environment there from a member of the 'greenest government ever'...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of Ed Balls playing the piano - specifically, Robert Schumann's 'Kinderszenen' - live on Radio 2 yesterday.
4) SYRIA U-TURN?
Yesterday, it emerged that the British doctor Abbas Khan, who went to Syria to help the humanitarian relief effort and was detained by the Assad regime, had died in prison. But was he murdered or did he, as the Syrian government claims, take his own life? And how hard did the FCO lobby for his release?
From the BBC:
"The Foreign Office (FCO) has been accused of not doing enough to help secure the release of UK doctor Abbas Khan, before he died in a Syrian jail.
"Mr Khan's brother said the FCO treated his case as if he was a 'wayward traveller in Dubai being caught drunk'.
"UK Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said Mr Khan was 'in effect murdered' by the Syrian authorities."
Meanwhile, could next month's Syria peace talks actually, really, finally, produce some sort of ceasefire, if not outright peace deal? Reuters has this exclusive report:
"Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace next month talks may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, opposition sources said.
"The message, delivered to senior members of the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting of the anti-Assad Friends of Syria alliance in London last week, was prompted by rise of al Qaeda and other militant groups, and their takeover of a border crossing and arms depots near Turkey belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army, the sources told Reuters.
"'Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue,' said one senior member of the Coalition who is close to officials from Saudi Arabia."
5) 'DON'T PANIC, CHRISTMAS IS NOT BANNED'
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has released a Christmas card - and it's very political, not to mention amusing. The HuffPost UK's Jessica Elgot has the details:
"Riffing on the hackney-ed 'Keep Calm...' motif, the MCB issued a veiled challenge to any media outlet (who could they possibly mean?) who might suggest Muslim don't enjoy twinkly lights or a chocolate log as much as the rest of us. One read: 'Keep Calm, It's Christmas', and another 'Don't Panic, Christmas Is Not Banned'.
"'Who wants to ban Christmas? Not Muslims,' the council said. 'So put up the Christmas tree, prepare the roast, wrap the presents and spread the Yuletide joy.'"
On a more serious note, Prince Charles is worried about a clash between Islam and Christianity - from the Times front page:
"Bridges between Christianity and Islam are being destroyed amid growing intimidation, recriminations and persecution, the Prince of Wales has warned.
"In an intervention that centred on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, Prince Charles said that the relationship between the faiths had reached crisis point and called for an end to the 'ignorance and misunderstanding' which he said he has spent decades trying to dispel. 'It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately attacked by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ.'"
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 94.
From today's Independent/ComRes poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 58.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@ChukaUmunna The thoughts and prayers of our whole community are with the family of my constituent Dr Abbas Khan at this very difficult and painful time.
@paulwaugh Only Boris cd mix his animal metaphors so effortlessly. Says Clegg both "a lapdog" and "a yellow albatross". #pressgallery
@chhcalling Just bought some counterfeit Mr Kipling's Mince Pies. I must say they are exceedingly good fakes.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "If taxpayers fund parties it won’t be long before quangoes control what politicians can say and do."
Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "Why does Wonga even exist? It's a question no one on the left asks."
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Ed Miliband's challenge is to prove he can do without Santanomics."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol