The five things you need to know on February 1, 2016…
1) DONALD DUCKS
European summit chief Donald Tusk left Downing Street last night, ducked detailed questions and swiftly sent a Tweet (how very 21st century) that there was ‘no deal’ on the PM’s EU demands. This morning, I’m told No.10 officials (whom we love to call ‘sherpas’ ahead of summits) left on pre-dawn trips to Brussels for a final 24 hours of further negotiation.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Well the PM’s team tell me there was a ‘significant breakthrough’ on the crucial issue of getting Brussels to agree the UK’s current EU net migration level of 180,000 a year would meet the criteria for an ‘emergency brake’ on benefits to be applied.
But there are sticking points. David Cameron wants the brake to be applied for seven years. The European Commission wants it to be active for two years, and then renewable for a further period of two years, but only after a unanimous vote of EU leaders. Another unresolved item is abuse of free movement, where the UK wants more substantive proposals including closing backdoor routes to Britain which have enabled non-EU illegal migrants to stay in Britain in recent years.
The FT reports a further fly in the ointment, with French officials last week circulating a secret paper to negotiators in Brussels and Berlin, laying down two red lines: no new rights to be created for non-euro countries, and no veto powers that prevent the eurozone from taking decisions to integrate or manage an emergency.
No10 sources are playing it straight for now, insisting there has been progress on all four areas the PM wants and ‘a shift of gear’ since the Juncker meeting on Friday. “It comes down to the next 24 hours,” says one. John Redwood told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night that the latest noise amounted to “huffing and puffing” and “tinkering at the edges”.
2) BORDER TELEVISION
John McDonnell found out yesterday why Andrew Neil is such a canny broadcaster. On the BBC's Sunday Politics, Neil offered the Shadow Chancellor the chance to muse - almost as if he were still a backbencher (and therefore very seductive) - broadly about refugee flows and borders.
McDonnell obliged with this: “Inevitably in this century we will have open borders…The movement of peoples across the globe will mean that borders are almost going to become irrelevant by the end of this century so we should be preparing for that".
Sadly it wasn't Jeremy Corbyn saying this, otherwise we could have had a Jez San Frontiers header. Still, Yvette Cooper, former Shadow Home Secretary and current Labour refugee taskforce chief, was not a fan. She told us: “Labour needs to maintain a policy in favour of firm and effective border controls alongside help for refugees. I also disagree with John McDonnell about what will happen in the coming decades.” Michael Dugher piled in to support her, as did many others wary of the impact such remarks have on the UKIP, let alone Tory voters the party needs to win back.
McDonnell’s allies say such ‘knee-jerk’ responses were bizarre because he was not calling for borders to be abandoned, and merely that the current evidence suggested that’s where Europe was heading. But with Angela Eagle telling the Sunday Times Corbyn’s dividends/living wage plan was ‘unworkable’, divisions in Labour are still not far from the surface.
3) REGISTRATION TIME
The Guardian splashes on a Labour analysis that 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register since the government introduced individual registration, with many of those disenfranchised thought to be in university towns. Gloria de Piero is leading Labour’s campaign.
But John Penrose, the minister who has steered the change through Parliament, is unrepentant on the need for reform. In fact, lower registration may well be seen as a success because Penrose has pointed out the Electoral Commission thinks upto 1.9m names on the register are ‘ghost entries’, and the implications for electoral fraud were ‘scary’. And that means inner-city areas, not just student towns.
Still, registering those who are eligible to vote is undeniably a Good Thing and today figures from David Blunkett to Jamal Edwards will kick off a week-long national voter registration drive.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this El Paso county deputy sheriff bust some dance moves in a lift, on his final day in the office. Seriously funny
4) GOOGLE LURCH
Sajid Javid declared on Marr yesterday that the £130m tax settlement for Google was 'not a glorious moment’. Given how close he usually is to George Osborne, that sounded significant, and was certainly a far cry from the ‘victory’ Tweet of the Chancellor, let alone his ‘major success’ quote.
But the Googletax issue has bled into a wider issue of Osborne and the Tory leadership. On Saturday, the Sun had a string of highly critical quotes from Tory ministers and MPs slating the Chancellor. One senior minister said: “It’s yet another example of how George is like Gordon Brown and believes his own spin. He is exactly like Gordon Brown - he is a social cripple, he is awkward, a schemer, his budgets have a habit unravelling incredibly quickly, and he has the same right-to-rule attitude.” Blimey.
And in case we didn’t get the message, another minister previously regarded as an Osborne ally said: “It’s like Ed Miliband and the ‘weird’ thing - people look at him and they don’t like him, they’re not even sure why. There are also question marks as to whether he’d be any good.”
Google is expected to announce today that it has amassed £30bn of profits from non-US sales in Bermuda, where companies are not liable for any corporation tax at all. The Observer revealed that the UK government has been privately lobbying the EU to remove Bermuda from an official blacklist.
John McDonnell, who’s had ‘a good war’ so far on this topic, tried to get Osborne to publish his tax return by publishing part of his own yesterday. However, questions are being asked about why McDonnell didn’t publish his entire return.
5) SNOOP DOGGED
Privacy campaigners hope the row over Google won’t obscure growing worries over the Investigatory Powers Bill. Some in the Home Office think the bill is a done deal but there is along way to go.
Today, the Commons Science and Technology Committee fires a warning shot, arguing the planned surveillance law (aka the son on ‘snooper’s charter) is "ambiguous", "confusing" and will cause disadvantages for UK technology companies. Nicola Blackwood, the doggedly determined chair of the committee, said it had concerns with the cost of the law, encryption, hacking and the impact on businesses.
With TalkTalk, HSBC and even Lincolnshire council all being targeted by hackers in recent weeks, maybe the public will begin to see bulk data and internet connection records not the kind of thing they want messed with. The Committee rightly also raises the real issues down the line when the ‘internet of things’ data goes mainstream.
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