What Could an EU Exit Mean for the UK Construction Industry?

Simon Thomas   |   June 22, 2015    1:02 PM ET

Even though the dust from the 2015 General Election has only just begun to settle, the political news agenda has already shifted to the next public poll; the European Union Referendum.

The EU referendum is one of those issues that seemingly everyone has an opinion on - even US President Barack Obama has weighed in on the debate to say that he opposes a UK exit. That's because an EU exit - for better or for worse - will have profound effects on the way business is done in Britain, especially in my own sector; construction.

Britain's continued involvement in a political and economic union of European states has been a subject of controversy stretching back as far as the 1970s. In 1975, a referendum was held asking whether or not Britons wanted to remain part of the European Economic Community, which became part of the EU - founded in 1993. The electorate resoundingly voted to stay.

That is not to say that history will repeat itself this time. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) - a party whose core belief is that Britain should leave the EU - have enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence in recent years. Despite only winning a single seat in the General Election, their 12% share of the vote proved that their controversial brand of anti-EU politics has struck a chord with millions.

Additionally, the ruling party - the Conservatives - are facing serious infighting about the issue, which could well lead to resignations and defections to more right-wing parties like UKIP. So what if the UK does vote to go it alone? How would this affect the construction industry and the way we go about our day-to-day business?

The first major issue is access to labour, without which the construction industry would be unable to function. The industry relies heavily on foreign workers to fill both skilled and non-skilled job roles, and always has done. This, of course, is nothing new. There's evidence to show that the architects of the Pyramids of Giza created incentives to entice labourers from all over Egypt to come and work for them. More recently, in the mid-20th Century, a British labour shortage - coupled with a financial crisis in Ireland - meant that the construction industry in the UK was primarily made up of Irish migrant workers.

A core principle of the EU is the right of free movement, which makes immigration between member states relatively easy and stress-free. For the construction industry, this provides a vital resource. An EU exit would mean that foreign workers would find emigration to the UK much more difficult. It's logical that in this scenario those skilled individuals will instead take the easy option and cast an eye toward France, Germany, or Spain, where the right of free movement would remain intact. James Hick, head of recruitment firm Manpower, says that an EU exit could lead to a skills crisis in any sector that relies on educated and/or skilled workers. I fear that Mr Hick is correct.

This is the view of many in the construction industry. Rob Hooker, director at Greendale Construction says that "foreign labour is vital to reduce skills shortages," and that UKIP's "little Englander" approach is short sighted; we are part of the global market, and to influence it we must remain in the EU. I can't help but agree.

Another issue is investment. At its core, the EU is a trading union, which breaks down the barriers that make it more difficult for companies in different countries to do business with, and invest in, one another. This has caused some alarm among multinationals with a foothold in the UK; already, European manufacturing giants Airbus have expressed concern about investing in an independent UK. Similarly, a high level employee of German firm Festo (which has an annual turnover of £1.76bn) has said German companies should hesitate to invest in Britain until the business landscape of a post-referendum UK becomes clear. And let's not forget that Germany is the economic powerhouse of the EU.

It's not just European countries voicing their opinion either. The BBC's business editor Kamal Ahmed recently wrote of a trip to Japan, where businessmen openly baulked at the prospect that the UK could possibly want to leave the biggest trading union on Earth.

Another factor that is important to keep in mind is that no country has ever withdrawn from the EU before; there is no precedent for how it could affect the way in which we do business with our contemporaries on the continent.

These examples indicate that, from a business point of view, an exit from the EU doesn't make an awful lot of sense. It allows other countries to provide ours with workforce and investment, and allows British businesses better opportunities to set up shop abroad. It seems to me that the strange identity crisis Britain has about itself in Europe is a prevailing factor in an anti-EU surge. Many Britons prefer to identify as British rather than European, and the concept of a union of European states dictating UK policy is a bitter pill to swallow for some. Make no mistake though; an EU exit on the back of a nationalistic, flag-waving, emotive campaign would have real, serious effects on British industry.

Back in 2011 George Osborne famously said "Britain is open for business." If he truly believes those words, now's the time for him to put his money where his mouth is and throw his support behind the campaign against an EU exit. The prosperity of the UK construction industry could depend on it.

Simon Thomas is the Managing Director of Asset International, a leading manufacturer of large diameter plastic pipes. Asset International Ltd supplies bespoke designs to the water and construction industries, from surface drainage to foul sewers and inter-process pipework: www.weholite.co.uk

Sara C Nelson   |   June 22, 2015   11:08 AM ET

An Israeli TV and radio personality has apologised after she was accused of tweeting a racist joke about President Barack Obama.

On Sunday Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, who is also the wife of Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, informed her 74,000 followers: “Do u know what Obama Coffee is? Black and weak.”

Mozes, whose husband is involved in Israel’s US-sponsored talks with Palestine, was accused of being “racist” and of causing “grievous damage” to foreign relations.

judy mozes

Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes in 2003

She hurriedly deleted the tweet and composed a series of apologies in English and Hebrew.

barack obama

President Obama has not responded to the tweet, nor Mozes' apology

She said: “I apologise, that was a stupid joke, somebody told me."

Addressing him directly, she added: “President Obama I shouldn’t have written the inappropriate joke I heard. I like people no matter about their race and religion.

“Sorry if I caused any offence to anyone. I hope I will stay married when my husband will land and hear what I did.”

It’s not the first time Mozes has found herself in hot water on Twitter.

In March 2012, Mozes tweeted in response to rocket fire coming from Gaza: “I hope that today they decide to destroy Gaza if they don’t stop shooting. Let them suffer as well,” Vox recalls.

A few months later, when her husband's own Twitter feed was taken over by pro-Hamas hackers, she tweeted: "The murderers have taken over Silvan's Facebook, Twitter and email. Our son Nimrod is trying to salvage. I wish they would die!"

Paul Vale   |   June 18, 2015    6:20 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Following Wednesday’s massacre in Charleston in which 9 people were killed after a gunman opened fire in an historic African-American church, Barack Obama addressed the nation noting that “too many times” he had been forced to make a speech about gun related killings.

Local police took Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white male, into custody on Thursday on suspicion of killing the parishioners and the church's pastor. According to one church member, the suspect used racist language during the attack: “He just said 'I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go.'"


Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks on the church shooting in Charleston on Thursday, June 18, 2015

Speaking from the White House, the President said, “any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy,” adding that there was something "particularly heartbreaking" about murder in a "place of worship.”

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times," he noted. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. Once again, communities [were destroyed] because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no problem getting their hands on a gun.”

In a frank assessment of the politics of the gun control, Obama said: “Let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this type of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it. I say that recongising the politics in this town... but it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.”

dylann roofs

Shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof, second from left, is escorted from the Shelby Police Department in Shelby, N.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015

Despite repeated massacres, gun control in the US remains a politically immovable issue because the firearms industry, via the National Rifle Association, spends millions of dollars each year funding politicians that defend gun rights. It also donates money to the opponents of politicians that call for greater gun control.

As of Thursday evening, the NRA had not responded to Obama's statement, however Second Amendment defenders were quick to hit Twitter (muskets in hand) to peddle stock lines and conspiracy theories:

And then there was Fox News, who on Thursday morning managed to twist the massacre away from the issue of racism and gun control and turn it into an attack on faith, specifically Christianity. They also asked a pastor if clergymen should be armed.

Despite the killings, recent Pew polls show an increase in the popularity of gun rights in the US. In research published last December, 57 percent of adult respondents said guns “protect people from becoming crime victims.” Only 38 percent said guns “put people’s safety at risk."


Forget the 'Daily Show' Hype, This Is What the Scottish National Party Really Stands For

Simon Phillips-Hughes   |   June 9, 2015    4:32 AM ET

This week Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and unexpected media star of the UK's recent general election is on a 'charm offensive' tour in the US. The amity of Americans and Scots is natural and well documented; from their shared egalitarian culture, the large numbers of 19th century immigrants to America and the genuine charm tourists experience north of the Border, not just in scenery but in person.

But of course having a lot of time for Scotland is not the same as agreeing with the SNP. For at the center of contemporary Scots nationalism is an anti-English sentiment that overshadows its pro-Scottish credentials, and merges with the anti-Americanism of the far left everywhere. Honestly, these guys make Bernie Sanders look like Rand Paul and Barack Obama look like Ronald Reagan.

Take away the media savvy and cheeky persona and you will uncover SNP hostility to anyone that has the temerity to question their proposals. It is true of the torrent of online hate the famed 'Cybernats' directed at critics of independence like J.K. Rowling or recently departed (and hounded) Scottish Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy. It is true of their bullying disregard of centuries old protocol in the legislature. It is seen in double-talking reminiscent of Orwell; Nicola Sturgeon reassured an SNP vote in the general election was not one for Scots Independence... right until the 'dramatic' morning after the vote.

Seeing as Sturgeon is in the US, it is topical to underscore the SNP's anti-Americanism, which has made an unlikely return to UK politics by way of Hadrian's Wall (Labour Party spin doctors sensibly eradicated most of this stuff from the British left in the 1980s). The Scottish First Minister is in the US ostensibly to promote links but wants exemptions north of the border to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that would otherwise bind America and European countries closer together.

From their rhetoric on public spending you would think that government is the fountainhead of all that is good, because that is what the far left believes. The rest of us are lucky they let us make the money they spend. Their statist vision for an independent Scotland is the exact opposite of the laissez-faire values that made the US the powerhouse it is, rooted in commerce. Put simply, SNP stalwarts loathe capitalism and its champions.

But it is on the question of defence that this all becomes rather more serious. An independent Scotland would oppose American foreign policy and prevent some of the best units in the British Army from joining their brothers in arms. It's sad enough that Obama's terms have led, paradoxically, to the possible necessity of stationing US cruise missiles in Britain again (and don't worry, we will welcome them). To make matters worse, it has always been the mission of the SNP to disarm Britain of its own Trident submarine system, with targets agreed by the Pentagon and permanently ensconced in the side of Scotland. Vladimir Putin can only be delighted this has come at a time when Finland has put 900,000 reservists on notice and the Poles are breaking out the brick-bats in fear of invasion.

Yet it is this very talk of independence that is most calculated to tug at the heart strings of Americans (and prompted the SNP's Alex Salmond to cry hypocrisy when even Barack came out in favour of the Union). Any analogy with the American experience is false. English soldiers last pacified the Highlands hundreds of years before the Union Army settled the West and a Scot inherited the English throne to unite the kingdoms 150 years before the United States. The Smith commission agreed devolution of powers to Scotland last year that exceeds the federal freedom the Constitution gives States (and which the American left would deny them). And by American standards, the Scottish Government is an elective dictatorship because (McFly, hello!) there is no separation of powers. At least Westminster has the poor old Lords as a check on executive largesse.

In fact, the top-down Jacobite tendency of Scottish politics the SNP represents is a form of frustrated imperialism common to nationalists movements all across Europe, still seething they never became the power Britain did in the 19th century or the US did in the 20th. When Scottish autocracy failed in Nova Scotia, or to make it down to London in 1715 and 1745, they were at the forefront of the oppression of Whig colonists in America a few decades later. And now they are coming again!

So, sure, John Stewart and the NGO crowd should welcome Nicola Sturgeon, share a dram, recognise what a talented politician she is. But that is all she is, and she should leave the hate and the crazy stuff alone at home as much as on her best behaviour stateside.

Paul Waugh   |   June 8, 2015    8:33 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Monday June 8, 2015...

david davis


David Cameron’s defiant refusal to let ministers campaign for a ‘No’ vote in an EU referendum has certainly sparked a backlash. It’s worth noting his exact words: “If you want to be part of the government you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation to have a referendum and that will lead to a successful outcome.”

Lots of papers interpret that as a ‘Back Me or I’ll sack You’ message (the Mail) or at least a ‘Vote for Europe or resign (the Telegraph).

The risk of an historic split or crack in the Tory party has been obvious ever since the PM made his famous Bloomberg speech pledging an In-Out referendum. Many Eurosceps still point out that he would never have made such a pledge without 81 of them rebelling in the Commons.

Still, it’s clear that the PM feels emboldened by his election victory to take on what No.10 calls the ‘irreconcilables’ on the Tory benches. Barack Obama yesterday emerged from his meeting with Cameron sounding like a man who had been reassured that a Yes vote was gonna happen, saying he was ‘looking forward’ to the UK remaining part of the EU.

The new Conservatives for Britain group (note their title is ‘for’ something, not ‘against’ anything, part of the optimistic tone needed for change) has 50 Tories on board and could easily get the 100 Steve Baker expects.

David Davis has been on the Today prog and fired a salvo at the PM, declaring he’s not sure it would be ‘constitutional’ to ban ministers from campaigning for No. He added that Cameron’s position suggests he doesn’t have confidence in the result. "If the only people who will not have the freedom to vote and speak on it are ministers in the government, that is extraordinary and will likely lead to some people resigning from the government." That sounded like we could expect those resignations sooner rather than later.

But the PM is making a calculation that the Cabinet won’t risk their own career prospects by veering off collective responsibility. The Telegraph lists six senior figures it thinks could campaign for Brexit: IDS, Hammond, Javid, Gove, Fallon and Boris. Of that six, I personally reckon only IDS would really walk. Hammond himself was pretty loyal on Marr yesterday, don’t forget.

Boris is the only one with the Tory leadership in his sights. Some of his allies think he would be the perfect leader of a ‘No’ campaign and his words in his maiden last week suggested we could have a ‘glorious’ future outside the EU. Yet people like Douglas Carswell suspect that was all a cunning plan to make any watered down deal look like a great triumph as Boris praises it and gets rewarded with a Cabinet post. In his Tel column today, Bojo was as loyal as ever, saying the PM is making all the running on the EU.

It was left to James Wharton, the EU referendum bill sponsor last term and now a CLG minister (expect cries of ‘traitor’ from some colleagues) to make the Government’s case today. Wharton said ‘I think anything is possible. He’s ruled nothing out.’ But he was firmly loyal on the big question, saying it was ‘reasonable to expect’ ministers to quit if they disagreed with collective responsibility: ‘On big issues like this, we saw this with the Scottish referendum, the government takes a position. If you don’t want to take that position, you then leave.”

The Times splashes on claims that the PM is to lift the campaign limits in a referendum by 40%, from £5m to £7m, fuelling fears that he wants to rig the odds in favour of a (better funded) Yes vote. Still, it’s not clear that the No camp will be outspent.


Harriet Harman’s interview with the Independent proves the merits of having an acting leader freed of the cares of permanent office. The most eye-catching quote of all is her claim that even Labour supporters ‘feel relieved that we are not in government’.

This is a welcome ice-cold plunge pool for all those deluded by the 40,000 new extra Labour members signed up since the election, who believe that the nation is striving to get rid of the wicked Cameron administration. Harman’s words are backed up by focus groups from Deborah Mattinson, in which some Labour voters confessed to being ‘ a little bit disappointed and a little bit relieved that Miliband was not in power. Expect Cameron to feast on all this in PMQs this week.

I wonder if Harriet is a secret Liz Kendall supporter? She tells the Indy that she is urging the party to choose the leader who will best connect with voters in 2020, rather than make Labour members “feel glowing about our principles and values.”

Kendall yesterday on Marr was forced onto the defensive about just how much her own prospectus sounds like that of the Conservatives. She refused to condemn outright Osborne’s cuts programme, saying ‘let’s see what the details are’. Asked to answer Yvette Cooper’s charge that she was ‘swallowing’ the Tory manifesto, Kendall said defiantly: “The only thing I have swallowed is the sheer scale of the defeat that we faced at the election and the huge changes we need to win again.”

The gloves are coming off in this race. On Radio 4‘s Week In Westminster on Saturday, the discussion got pretty lively as Kendall backer Simon Danczuk told his party to ‘get real’ and claimed Cooper hadn’t laid a glove on Theresa May. Jess Philips and Louise Haigh made clear they weren’t in politics to ape the Tories.

Cooper at the weekend warned against choosing the ‘new but untested and naive option’‘. Kendall ally John Woodcock, who yesterday said the EdStone should be smashed up, saw that as another attack on his candidate. He tweeted: “Disappointed Yvette attacking @LizforLeader as ‘untested. Seen others over two decades, that’s why I’m backing Liz..Might be put on someone’s blacklist for that, but you know what? We need to turn the page on Labour machine politics and ‘doing people in’.”


The ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK was put under strain in Cam’s hour long chat with Obama last night. The President said he hoped Britain would stick to its 2% defence spending target, a warning that the Sun describes as a ‘dressing down’. A No.10 source admits: “President Obama said he thinks the 2% target is important and hoped the UK will continue to meet it”.

The PM was forced to respond by setting out all of the UK’s obligations worldwide - a line he uses a lot whenever this topic comes up - and how it continued to meet them. Cameron insisted the Prez, like everyone else, would have to wait for the comprehensive spending review in the autumn. Watch out for Defence Questions at 2.30pm today. Will ‘Big Vern’ Vernon Coaker hint he backs Kendall’s 2% call?

Meanwhile, the PM is trying to again be creative about overseas aid spending, telling the G7 it could be used to target countries that were the source of migrants heading for the Med.

The Sun has an exclusive that the G7 has quietly dropped its annual progress report on nations htting the 0.7% GDP target. Remember Blair’s Gleneagles summit and all those signatures committing to the target? Well, only Britain hit the figure this year. No wonder some Tory MPs now say the UK is ‘the world’s mug’ on the issue.

Yvette Cooper is today calling for refugee policy to be separated from immigration policy, declaring it’s ‘morally wrong’ to lump them both in the same migration target. That could help her with Labour members.


Check out a surprising item on the G7 agenda, courtesy of Patrick Wintour’s Tweet.


The looming Budget will offer a first glimpse of the comprehensive spending review battles ahead and the £12bn welfare cuts will be the focus for many. With the PM keen not to touch disability benefit and with child benefit having been ruled out categorically, all the chat in Whitehall is about tax credits and housing benefit being the main items on the cuts list. The Sunday Times yesterday said that axeing housing benefit for under-25s and restricting child tax credits to just two children were top of the DWP’s list.

But what’s top of the Treasury’s list? The Indy suggests ministers think cutting tax credits and Universal Credit would be more palatable politically because they are less visible.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation says IDS’s Universal Credit should now go ahead, but with key modifications to further help women’s earnings by increasing work incentives for second earners and lone parents.


The EU referendum bill has its second reading tomorrow and after Labour signalled it wouldn’t oppose the legislation the main stumbling block is the growing row over the voting age.

Senior Lib Dem peer Jim Wallace (aka Lord Wallace of Tankerness and a former Advocate General, dontcha know) has told the Times that many in his party hoped 16 and 17-year-olds would be given the franchise in the referendum. “It’s a matter for the Conservative party to say: really, is it worth getting our heels dug in for this? The clock is ticking.”

Does that mean the clock will tick on the Parliament Act? I’m not so sure it will go that nuclear. The Lib Dems and Labour (Baroness Smith, Labour’s new Shadow Leader of the Lords) made clear yesterday this issue was a big one for her too. But will they really want to dig in, to use Wallace’s own word?

To get round the Salisbury Convention, will both Labour and the Libs use the excuse that the Tory manifesto didn’t explicitly state the voting age? With the SNP determined to help teenagers, Dave will need all his MPs not to wobble in the Commons, but the Lords are the ones who could really delay things.


The Scotland Bill has its second reading. George Osborne is due to meet the SNP's John Swinney today too.

Sol Campbell has chucked his hat in the ring for the Tory mayoral race (he’ll be speaking at the Conservative Way Forward hustings on July 4). The real question is: will Zac Goldsmith go for it or not?

The Telegraph has a story about Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner suggesting lorry drivers could stage ‘sit in’ barbeques on motorways to protest at austerity cuts. Expect Labour leader and deputy leader contenders to be asked about that one.

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Paul Waugh (paul.waugh@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com), Graeme Demianyk (graeme.demianykt@huffingtonpost.com) and Owen Bennett (owen.bennett@huffingtonpost.com)

Louise Ridley   |   June 7, 2015   11:50 PM ET

US President Barack Obama has said that America is "looking forward" to the United Kingdom remaining part of the European Union.

Mr Obama's comments came as he met Prime Minister David Cameron for talks in the margins of the G7 summit of world leaders in Schloss Elmau, Germany.

They are the strongest indication yet that Washington wants a Yes vote in the referendum which Mr Cameron has promised by the end of 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU.


Obama and Cameron met at the G7 summit

Greeting Mr Cameron at the start of the bilateral talks, Mr Obama said the US-UK relationship remains strong, telling reporters: "We have no closer partner around the world on a whole host of issues."

And he added: "I would note that one of the great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is its leadership and strength on a whole host of global challenges, so we very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union because we think its influence is positive not just for Europe, but also for the world."


Obama: "We very much are looking forward..."

Obama's comments come on the same day as Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall criticised the Prime Minister for reducing the question of Britain's future relationship with the EU to the issue of migration.

The shadow health minister accused David Cameron of putting "internal political management" before the national interest.
She described the policy of removing tax credits to migrant workers as "definitely something we should look at" but called for a wider debate on the subject ahead of the referendum in 2017.

Ms Kendall told BBC 1's The Andrew Marr Show: "We do have to deal with the issue of people who come here to work. They must be working and not claiming benefits. But this is about something much bigger - it is about the future of our country and our place in the world.

"David Cameron should be focusing on what is in Britain's national interest and our place in the world, not on internal party politics."


Asked if she was in favour of removing tax credits to migrant workers, she replied: "That's definitely something we should look at, but this is a far bigger debate.

"Of course David Cameron is reducing the question because he has failed to show leadership with his own backbenchers.
"He has allowed this to define whether or not Britain remains part of Europe. That is a profound lack of leadership on his behalf because he is more concerned about internal political management than the future of the country."

Pushed on the migration question again, she added: "I'm in favour of free movement of labour but not free movement of benefits. People who come here should come here to work.

"If we allow this debate to be defined by that issue alone, we will be profoundly wrong. This about Britain's place in the world, our future economy."

She reiterated her support for maintaining the 2% defence spending commitment, adding: "Our place in Europe is essential as part of our wider international relationship."

liz kendal

Kendall speaking on The Andrew Marr Show

Ms Kendall also failed to confirm whether or not she supports the £3 billion of cuts announced by the Chancellor this week.

Asked about the need to cut the deficit, she said: "Let's see what the Conservatives come out with in their budget. I'm not going to provide a budget response to a budget that has not been delivered."

Paul Waugh   |   June 5, 2015    8:40 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Friday June 5 2015...

george osborne


George Osborne was the axeman who cometh yesterday, unveiling £4bn in new savings and lopping £3bn off departmental budgets. But just days after it looked like No.10 was giving the nod to a 10% pay rise for MPs, the timing wasn’t good. Trousering a nice wad at a time of austerity for others isn’t exactly the ‘we’re all in it together’ message the Government wants to project.

And, like zombies from the Thriller video, MPs’ quotes from 2013 - when IPSA first proposed the 10% rise - are being disinterred by hacks and public alike. The Times has dug up this choice morsel from Michael Gove at the time: “Pay rise? They can stick it.” Nicky Morgan this week answered the straight question with a straight answer, suggesting she would donate any rise to charidee,

Chris Grayling’s letter to IPSA yesterday, warning them again not to go ahead with the rise, smelled very much like a U-turn. Only on Tuesday, No10 expressed a surprisingly new tone - at best fatalistic, at worst nonchalant - that if the independent body went ahead with bumper pay rises, well there was not a lot it could do about it.

The Telegraph reveals today that the PM himself told his Cabinet on Tuesday not to make ‘public statements about giving the money to charity or things like that’. That may explain why the PM’s spokesman said that he will take the rise. No.10 hopes the charity question will go away, but it will keep on coming back.

As for the Chancellor, he yet again displayed a Gordon Brown-like gift for theatrics by overshadowing his cuts with the surprise announcement of the Royal Mail sell-off. But the papers aren’t letting him get away with it. The Sun and Telegraph are both unamused about the cuts to the defence budget.


It’s the 40th anniversary of the UK’s referendum on membership of the ‘common market’ and matters European abound in the news today. Greece’s cheeky decision to play hardball and withhold a 300m euro debt repayment (which makes the Guardian and FT splashes) is a reminder that this is one can that keeps on being kicked down the road. The Tsipras goverment is muttering darkly that if Brussels and the IMF don’t like it, they can lump it in the form of a snap election or even a referendum.

Greece is the perfect foil for George Osborne’s own austerity plans (look what happens when you don’t get a grip on your debts folks). But David Cameron’s own EU renegotiation and referendum plans continue to meet bumps in the road.
Nigel Lawson last night repeated on Newsnight his belief that any changes Cam gets from Brussels will be ‘inconsequential, of no significance at all’ and that the UK is heading for another ‘Yes’ vote.

Some papers pick up on yet more warm words from Angela Merkel to the BBC that when it comes to treaty change ‘if that is really necessary then we have to consider it’. But she added that she was ‘not losing sleep over this’. That may fuel the suspicions of Eurosceps that little real change is going to happen.

The Mail has a nice tale that the PM is prepping for a Europe referendum as early as May 5 next year. Cameron has overruled the Electoral Commission advice that any vote would clash with elections in Scotland, Wales, English councils and London. The Mail says Tory whips have told MPs that the referendum campaign that could be as short as 16 weeks.

As for Labour tactics in a referendum, don’t forget it is worried about UKIP. The Times pursues reports of the Shadow Cabinet’s splits as people like Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Michael Dugher worry about cosying up to Cameron in a joint Yes campaign. But Alistair Darling tells the paper it would be a ‘massive mistake’ to shun a cross-party effort, adding the SNP tsunami was more about Labour’s own failures than Better Together’s.


It’s not often you can say the UK is doing better than the States. But our employment rate is now higher than the US’s. Indeed if the US had the same rate as us, there would be 10 million more people in jobs over the pond.

A new study by the Resolution Foundation has found that workless family rates in Britain are their lowest for 30 years. The idea that the US is a booming jobs-filled economy while we are a welfare-dependent backsliders has been turned on its head. For all Bill Clinton’s warm words on the issue, American single mothers’ unemployment rates have gone up, not down.

What’s driving the change is the great success Britain has had in getting women into the workplace, thanks to a combination of more childfriendly workplaces, tax credits, schemes to get lone parents into employment.

Writing for HuffPostUK, Gavin Kelly warns that any attempt to cut tax credits could undermine all the good work done since the 1990s. Note that Ed Miliband put down a clear marker yesterday that he would oppose cuts to tax credits and any “harsh brutal and brutalising” welfare reforms.

But the Resolution Foundation analysis is also sure to be seized on by Iain Duncan Smith’s team as proof that he’s making a difference in getting people off welfare into work. Indeed many Republicans in the US are looking closely at how the UK has pulled off its transformation. Paul Ryan has told IDS that ‘you’re ten years ahead of us, but that’s where we should be heading’.


Check out this cute pic of Barack Obama and a White House ‘rugrat’.

Also, watch Damian Collins’ YouTube video promoting his bid to be chairman of the DCMS Select Committee. It’s a digital first alright, featuring Prince Harry and even Alan Rusbridger. Most MPs prefer discreet chats in the tea room or Portcullis House (and the lobbying has been fierce this week) but you can’t fault his transparency.


Ed Miliband’s self-deprecating speech yesterday was well received by by all sides of the House (Tory backbenchers came up to him afterwards to praise him). But it was also a reminder of the need to move on.
Yvette Cooper is in Scotland today, the first Labour leadership contender to enter the lion’s den. She’s citing her Inverness born roots and work for John Smith. Will it be enough to counter what could be a very rough ride? Her camp is certainly pleased at the way she responded to Prince Charles’s spider letters, compared to Andy Burnham’s more deferential tone.
The Guardian meanwhile is continuing to look back on Labour’s election campaign woes. It reports that Miliband’s decision to insert a new front page to the party manifesto - for a fiscal responsibility ‘lock’ - caused uproar among some. Jon Cruddas and Angela Eagle were kept out of the loop and Jon Trickett was furious that this all came after the Clause V meeting to approve the manifesto.
“In the end, the document was subordinated to a statement about a programme of austerity,” he says. Sounds like the party still hasn’t sorted out just where it wants to go on this central issue.
In the Deputy Leader race, Tom Watson is stepping up the pace. His website is offering the prize of tickets to the London Fashion Week show of celeb designer Katie Eary - in return for a £10 donation to his campaign.


The NSPCC has hit hard at Facebook’s decision not to remove a clip from its site showing a "terrified, sobbing baby" being repeatedly dunked into a bucket of water. David Cameron has called out Facebook before about terror posts, will he do so again today?

Over in the US, there’s been a huge hack of Government workers’ details. But the whole issue of what can and can’t be done to govern the online space is a tricky one.

John McAfee has been on the Today prog criticising the UK’s plans to let security agencies access data held by US web giants. Yet the Indy picks up on a quiet announcement yesterday that Whitehall has unveiled its very first contract to
monitor what people Tweet, post and blog about the Government. Five firms have been approved to keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and blogs and provide daily reports to Whitehall on what’s being said in “real time”. Ministers, their advisers and officials will provide the firms with “keywords and topics” to monitor. The lovely-sounding Human-Driven Evaluation and Analysis system that will allow them to see “favourability of coverage” across old and new media. You have been warned.

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Paul Waugh (paul.waugh@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com), Graeme Demianyk (graeme.demianykt@huffingtonpost.com) and Owen Bennett (owen.bennett@huffingtonpost.com)

Paul Waugh   |   June 5, 2015    5:01 AM ET

David Cameron has urged fellow world leaders to learn lesssons from the Fifa scandal to tackle the 'cancer' of corruption that ravages countries across the globe.

Writing for The Huffington Post UK, the Prime Minister declared that this weekend's G7 meeting in Germany had to focus on rooting out a problem that affected the security and prosperity of rich and poor countries alike.

For too long corruption 'lined the pockets of those on the inside" but was met with "little more than a reluctant sigh" by political leaders, he said.

Mr Cameron said that corruption was the common cause of many of the world's problems, from migrant deaths in the Mediterranean to the spread of ISIL and the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria.

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Praising those who exposed the Fifa scandal on both sides of the Atlantic, he added that it took 'some brave British journalists and American lawyers' - at the US Department of Justice - to prove that things could change.

Mr Cameron, who joins other leaders in an Alpine resort in Bavaria on Sunday, cited figures showing that corruption adds 25 per cent to the cost of aid spending in developing countries, with an estimated one trillion US dollars (£650billion) wasted on bribes every year.

Hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Schloss Elmau, the two-day G7 summit will see the UK prime minister join US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Italian PM Matteo Renzi, Canadian PM Stephen Harper and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe.

Seizing on the example of the Fifa scandal, Mr Cameron said that Sepp Blatter's comeuppance gave the world a chance to start afresh in countering the wider problem.

"In the last fortnight we have seen the stark truth about FIFA. The body governing the game that means so much to so many around the world has faced appalling allegations that suggest it is absolutely riddled with corruption.," Mr Cameron writes.

"Blatter's resignation this week is the first step on a long road to reform and we will do everything we can, together with our international partners, to help identify and prosecute anyone guilty of wrongdoing and to clean up the game we love."

The Prime Minister added: "But at the heart of FIFA is a lesson about tackling corruption that goes far deeper. Corruption at FIFA was not a surprise.

"For years it lined the pockets of those on the inside and was met with little more than a reluctant sigh. The world shied away from taking on the problem, until some brave British journalists and American lawyers showed that things really could change.

"The same is true of corruption the world over. Just as with FIFA, we know the problem is there, but there is something of an international taboo over pointing the finger and stirring up concerns. At international Summits, leaders meet to talk about aid, to discuss how to grow our economies and how to keep our people safe. But we just don’t talk enough about corruption. This has got to change."

Mr Cameron, who did not name individual countries or companies, added that it was time that world leaders grappled the issue after years of sweeping it under the carpet.

"Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we face around the world today. The migrants drowning in the Mediterranean are fleeing from corrupt African states. Our efforts to address global poverty are too often undermined by corrupt governments preventing people getting the revenues and benefits of growth that are rightfully theirs," he writes.

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Mr Cameron also stressed that he wanted to put anti-corruption measures at the heart of the new United Nations development goals for the coming 15 years, which are due to be agreed in September.

"World leaders simply cannot dodge this issue any longer. We have to show some of the same courage that exposed FIFA and break the taboo on talking about corruption. I will start tomorrow at the G7 in Germany and I will put corruption at the heart of my agenda at the United Nations in September and the G20 in Turkey, culminating with a major anti-corruption Summit in London next year."

The Prime Minister warned that spread of graft and kickbacks also undermines the wider global economy. "The World Economic Forum estimates that corruption adds 10% to business costs globally, while the World Bank believes some $1 trillion is paid in bribes every year.

"Cutting corruption by just 10 per cent could benefit the global economy by $380 billion every year – substantially more than was estimated for the Doha Trade Round. While corruption costs the EU economy alone 120 billion euros every year.

The OECD reckons bribery and corruption costs 5 per cent of the world's GDP ever year.

Setting his big agenda for global reform, Mr Cameron underlined his commitment to overseas aid and development and the link between poverty and bribery.

"We also need to secure a fundamental change in the way we tackle global poverty. As co-chair of the UN High Level Panel I fought hard to put good governance at the heart of the replacement for the Millennium Development Goals. It took months of negotiation, but there is now a clear international consensus for an explicit target on reducing corruption and bribery. If we can galvanise the world to meet it, we really could achieve our ambition of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030."

Mr Cameron added that Britain had been 'practising what we preach' on the issue, with a national Anti-Corruption Plan and former minister Eric Pickles now pushing through further change.

The leading role taken by the UK on open data and on tax transparency at G7 level was part of a wider approach under his premiership, he added.

Paul Vale   |   June 5, 2015    1:30 AM ET

The 44th President of the United States posts some impressive tweets. Whereas most politicians use the social network to talk about transport projects, academic awards or the size of their penis, Barack Obama is playing a much stronger game.

Thursday evening's offering showed the Commander-in-Chief on all fours in the Oval Office peering at a baby, the post entitled “Rugrats.” It wasn't quite the hug with the wife after the 2012 election, the third most retweeted tweet of all time, but it still garnered plenty of reaction on the social network.

With less than two years left in office (allied to Hillary Clinton drawing all the flak from the conservative right), Obama has entered what he recently described as the “bucket” phase of his presidency. Or the “buck it” phase. Meaning the “f*ck it” phase.

Wait till he’s only got two months left. The White House Twitter account will be trolling Sepp Blatter, doxing Piers Morgan and posting how Katie Hopkins' latest Sun column confirms that she’s a “stoat-faced ****”


...and for no reason, here are some pictures of Obama's dog:

Owen Bennett   |   June 3, 2015    1:10 PM ET

Barack Obama wants to “do nothing” on the world stage and the United Nations is a “laughing stock”, according to new Labour MP Stephen Kinnock.

The husband of the Danish Prime Minister launched a full-blooded attack on the American president last night as he also bemoaned the failures of international institutions such as the World Bank.

The Aberavon MP, son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, claimed the Western leaders have “profound misunderstandings” about the sheer level of Russia’s “resentment” towards the West.

His attack on President Obama is likely to raise eyebrows in Washington thanks to his marriage to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is seeking re-election as Denmark’s leader.

Ms Thorning-Schmidt was snapped laughing with President Obama as they posed for a selfie at the memorial for Nelson Mandela in 2013.

Speaking in the residence of the Danish ambassador to the UK, Claus Grube, Mr Kinnock said: “We have never seen a time where we have such a risk adverse and timid global leadership - President Obama with his dogma of strategic patience, which to me just seems like an excuse to do nothing.

“We have European Union member states squabbling amongst themselves constantly looking to make headlines in their own national capitals rather than actually recognising the only way to create a resilient global and regional system is by compromising, cooperating, collaborating.”

obama mandela
President Obama, Ms Thorning-Schmidt and David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial

Mr Kinnock also turned his guns on some of the key international organisations, and said: “The global institutions are totally inadequate.

“The United Nations, I’m very disappointed and sad to say this, I think it’s become something of a laughing stock.

“I think that there’s big questions about the legitimacy of the IMF, the World Bank, which are still dominated by the industrialised Western powers in the world where money and powers are shifted so much from west to east and from north to south.”

Speaking about the “truly worrying” threat to the West from Moscow, Mr Kinnock – who lived in Russia for four years – said: “There are profound misunderstandings of the Russian psyche.

“Having lived and worked there I understand…I think the only way to really understand Russia is to have been there and to see how much resentment there is about the way Russia feels its been treated down the years by the West, how much of a feeling of conspiracy feelings are all around and so we have to take that into account.”

President Obama has faced criticism from Republicans over his perceived lack of strategy for dealing with ISIS.

Leon Panetta, one of President Obama’s former Defence Secretary’s, also attacked the US leader for rowing back from his “red line” over Syria’s use of chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.

In his memoirs, published last October, Mr Panetta said: “The power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.”

Last week, the current Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter claimed it was the UK which risked “disengagement” from the world if David Cameron did not commit two per cent of national wealth on military spending.

Chris York   |   May 22, 2015   10:22 AM ET

Maybe it's the new trade bill. Maybe it's her opposition to the continuation of Guantanamo Bay. Maybe it's the failure to stop Islamic State marching on Palmyra.

Whatever it is, Claudia is not happy with Barack Obama.

In al fairness she probably just needs a nap but the look on Obama's face is priceless: "See what I have to work with here?"

Probably a similar look to the one he gives when he comes out of a meeting with a Republican.

And all this is strangely familiar.

Remember last year when this happened?

As Barack Obama chatted with the boy's parents, a departing Secret Service agent and his wife, the little boy reacted to his plight in glorious fashion - by face-planting onto a couch in the Oval Office.

The majestic dive, captured by Lawrence Jackson, was released as the White House revealed some candid behind-the-scenes photographs from June on its official Flickr account.

How Obama Slap-Downs Persuaded George Clooney To Be In A Disney Film

Caroline Frost   |   May 21, 2015   12:10 PM ET

'Tomorrowland: A World Beyond' producers kept describing the proposed lead character in their brand new Disney film as ‘Clooney-esque’, without dreaming for a minute they’d actually get the A-list star to be in it. Fortunately for them, it was all about timing.

Writer Damon Lindelof says of his recruitment campaign with director Brad Bird, “He just doesn’t do movies like this. The idea of asking George Clooney to be in a big summer blockbuster, let alone a big Disney film, just on principle he’s going to say no... but fortunately he was a huge fan of Brad’s work, that got us in the door.

george clooney

George Clooney stars as Frank Walker in Disney epic 'Tomorrowland'

"Ultimately we ended up hanging out at his house for about three hours, this was at the time that President Obama was up for re-election, and everyone was basically talking about how President Obama had been elected on this idea of hope, and everybody was grumbling about how disappointed they were with him.

"We were big fans of President Obama and thought that wasn’t entirely fair, as one man could only accomplish so much, and he used so much political capital to bring in healthcare."

george clooney

Talk about President Obama, seen here with George back when he was a Senator, got the actor all fired up

Fortunately for the filmmakers, this whole conversation about Obama and the evaporation of hope was just the topic to warm up their leading man.

Damon explains they realised that, because of the all the politics in the room, "George is completely and totally activated right now".

"And we thought we could explain the movie to him in those terms, that it’s about believing in something and, if it doesn’t come to pass, you turn on it, become cynical and jaded, then how do you reactivate hope once you’ve been disappointed?

"Once you’ve failed on a risk, doesn’t mean you should never take it again."

And, folks, that's how you get George Clooney to star in your film.

'Tomorrowland: A World Beyond' tells the story of a pair of youngsters, united by their curiosity to discover a secret time and place located somewhere in their memory, and what light it might shed on the future of our planet.

The film is in UK cinemas from Friday 22 May. Watch the trailer below…


Paul Vale   |   May 20, 2015    8:00 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Barack Obama reframed the fight against global warming on Wednesday, calling it a national security threat to the United States. Speaking to graduates of the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, the President lambasted those who deny the "indisputable" science, while indicting those that refuse to act with a "dereliction of duty."

"I'm here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security," he said, adding: “It will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act — and we need to act now. Denying it or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces."

Positioning the fight as a security matter, and consequently a concern for the US military, marks a departure for the President who in recent months has framed the need for action in terms of a national health crisis. However, the Republican-led Congress, many members of which are funded by corporations whose profits would suffer from action on climate change, remains indifferent.

inhofe snowball

James Inhofe and his snowball expose the "myth" of global warming

Many of the Republican presidential candidates for 2016 have spoken out on climate change, arguing that any unilateral action would damage the US economy. In March Republican James Inhofe, chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball into the Senate chamber in an attempt to disprove global warming -- an act for which he was roundly mocked.

Obama said the cadets will be among the first generation of officers to begin their service in a world where it is increasingly clear that "climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip and protect their infrastructure."

"This is not just a problem for countries on the coasts, or for certain regions of the world. Climate change will impact every country on the planet," he said.


Nitya Rajan   |   May 20, 2015    5:46 PM ET

If there is ever anybody who can beat Iron Man using something as mundane as Twitter, it would be Barack Obama.

The US President now holds the Guinness World Record for the time taken to reach one million followers on Twitter.

On Monday, Obama aka @POTUS greeted Twitter with a very simple hello that gained him one million followers in less than five hours.

The record was previously held by Hollywood's own king of cool Robert Downey Jr., who took 23 hours and 22 minutes to achieve the same in April last year.

@POTUS' follower to following ratio also appears to be incredibly presidential with only 65 people including John Kerry, who have got the ole follow from Obama so far. Cue the FOMO.

Obama doesn't appear to be a prolific tweeter but he does seem to be taking questions from Bill Clinton, who asked:

A fair question, since @POTUS won't be relevant to Obama once the US elections kick off in 2016.

Twitter released an animated map revealing how quickly conversations around @POTUS took off on the social media platform.

Some of the Twaffic sadly involved heavy handed racism, while a lot of it probably entailed the world asking the Presidential Tweebie for a follow.