Jeremy Corbyn tabled an amendment to Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Bill seeking a two-year extension to the transition period after Brexit – an attempt by Labour to avoid a no-deal crash-out at the end of 2020 if a trade deal cannot be done in time.
Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings came under fire over his plans for a radical shake-up of the civil service. His blog post urging only “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for roles in Downing Street was widely mocked online.
It came as Labour leadership candidates and potential contenders condemned the US strike on Iran’s top general, with Jess Phillips expected to announce her bid to succeed Mr Corbyn as party leader on Friday evening.
A fresh attempt to avoid a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 will be made by Labour when key legislation returns to the Commons.
Jeremy Corbyn has tabled an amendment seeking, from mid-June, a two-year extension to the implementation period which runs out at the end of December.
Such talks for an extension would not be required if an agreement on the future trade relationship has been concluded or the Commons has passed a motion approving the government’s intention not to apply for an extension.
An explanatory statement on the proposal reads: “This new clause would restore the role for Parliament in deciding whether to extend transition to avoid a WTO (World Trade Organisation) Brexit.”
Boris Johnson has insisted he believes a trade deal with the EU can be agreed before the transition period expires. But critics fear the 11-month timetable is too tight and could lead to Brexit without a UK-EU trade deal in place.
Labour’s amendment, tabled in the name of outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn, states: “A minister of the Crown must seek to secure agreement in the joint committee to a single decision to extend the implementation period by two years, in accordance with Article 132 of the Withdrawal Agreement unless one or more condition in subsection (2) is met.
“Those conditions are: (a) it is before 15 June 2020; (b) an agreement on the future trade relationship has been concluded; (c) the House of Commons has passed a motion in the form set out in subsection (3) and the House of Lords has considered a motion to take note of the Government's intention not to request an extension.”
Cummings’ plan for Whitehall shake-up ‘dangerous’, says union leader
The general secretary of the First Division Association trade union has said the PM’s aide Dominic Cummings’ call for radical changes in the civil service “worrying”.
Dave Penman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “But it’s quite an unusual approach and I think what’s more worrying rather than the kind of dynamics of his blog and some of the language in it, is the kind of approach being taken by government, or certainly being signalled by government about what it thinks of the capability of the civil service just now and what needs to change.”
Pushed on whether it is right for a political figure such as Cummings to lead changes, Penman added: “The civil service is recruited on merit, it’s a really fundamental principle. You are employed in the civil service because of what you can do, not what you believe.”
He continued: “If you surround yourself with people who are recruited simply because they believe the same as you believe, and whose employment is at your behest, is that the best way for the civil service or advisers to speak truth unto power? I don't think it is, and I think some of those approaches are quite dangerous as well.”
Francois leads legal bid to make sure Big Ben bongs for Brexit
A group of Tory Eurosceptics, led by ERG deputy chairman Mark Francois, have now tabled an amendment to the government’s withdrawal bill to make sure Big Ben chimes on 31 January to mark our exit from the EU.
Francois has previously said it would be “inconceivable to me and my colleagues that Big Ben would not form part of a national celebration to leave the EU”.
Although a commission led by his predecessor John Bercow blocked any “celebratory” bongs ahead of the UK’s previous scheduled departure from the EU on 29 March, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said recently he was “not going to stand in the way” if MPs choose to mark the expected exit.
Jess Phillips could ‘reach out to ordinary people,’ says Labour backer
Melanie Onn, the former Labour MP for Great Grimsby, has said Jess Phillips would be in a "very good position to be able to reach out to ordinary people” if she were to stand for the Labour leadership.
Onn, who lost her seat in the December election, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m really looking for somebody who is going to be honest, I’m looking for somebody with a USP that is going to transcend normal politics, I’m looking for somebody who is going to be unafraid to share their views and opinions and be prepared to back those up with very strong committed arguments.
“And I think that at the moment, while we’ve got Boris Johnson as prime minister, we need somebody with an incredibly strong personality who’s not going to be afraid to stand up to him and is going to scrutinise him in a way that he does not appreciate.
“And I think that, were Jess to formally declare, that she would be in a very good position to be able to reach out to ordinary people around the country, speak their language and make people feel like she understands what it is that they’re saying.”
Former civil service chief warns Cummings against ‘war’ with Whitehall
The former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake has warned Dominic Cummings that the service cannot be changed overnight.
Lord Kerslake told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We need to wait to see the detail of this. But what I would say is of course the civil service should be open to challenge, to improvement and change – that’s part and parcel of how it stays a good civil service.
“What I would guard against is getting into a war with the civil service where they get given the blame if you like for anything that doesn’t quite go right – it works a lot better if you deliver change with the grain of the civil service.”
Lord Kerslake said: “My point would be government’s come in at this situation and the biggest risk for them is hubris – they think because they’ve won an election they can do everything and change everything overnight and it isn’t like that. If they don’t want to hear that then so be it.
“But there’s plenty of evidence that change is possible in the civil service, it was achieved when I was there, it has been achieved since, but you have to work with the civil service and try to carry them with the process of change.”
He added: “There’s a balancing act here between getting things done and also making changes to the way the civil service works and that’s something they’re going to have to work through, and I would advise them to work it through in some detail.”
Former Middle East minister warns of ‘huge potential escalation’ with Iran after US airstrike
Alistair Burt has said the US launching an airstrike which killed Iran’s most powerful military commander General Qasem Soleimani could cause “a huge potential escalation” of the conflict, of which “the consequences are unknown”.
The former Middle East minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it is “very important now to concentrate on what happens next, and for everybody involved diplomatically to do everything they can to try and diffuse the situation”. He added: “It’s extremely serious.”
Asked whether the UK government would have been told about the US government’s airstrike plans before they happened, Burt added: “I doubt it.”
Burt added that the risks and consequences facing UK military personnel based in the Middle East “are much greater this morning than they were before”.
Asked whether this airstrike was an unwise move by the US, Burt said it “takes the confrontation between the United States and Iran to a completely different level”.
“It’s very hard to see what the consequences will be. I’m quite sure the United States will have to come out with more justification for its actions – what has caused this.
“But I think everyone has got to have extremely cool heads this morning. This is a very grave escalation in the affairs of the region, the consequences are unknowable and I think words and comments have got to be extremely carefully handled today.”
Tom Watson hasn’t made up his mind on Labour leadership contenders
Former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has said it it’s “too early in the race” to decide who is best placed to lead the party of the “mess”.
“I honestly haven’t made up my mind who I’m going to vote for yet,” he told BBC Breakfast. “Partly that’s because I want to see leadership from the candidates. I want them to explain to the Labour party why it lost (and) really very deeply and very honestly explain what they think went wrong.
“Remember we’ve, in the last 11 general elections, Labour have only won three of them – all of those under Tony Blair.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband worried for imprisoned wife after US air strike
The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen detained in Iran has expressed concern for her safety and that of her family after a US air strike killed Iran’s top general.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been imprisoned in Tehran since 2016 when she was arrested and accused of spying while visiting family.
Her husband Richard, who has spent the last four years campaigning for her release, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Things are getting much worse again between the US and Iran, but also between all of us and Iran.”
He added: “I sit here partly worried for what that means for Nazanin, partly worried what that means for my in-laws, sat in their ordinary living room in Tehran where they’re all really worried.”
Dominic Raab: ‘Further conflict is in none of our interests’
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has urged “all parties to de-escalate” after the US air strike which killed Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani.
In a written statement, Raab said: “We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
Former UK ambassador to Lebanon warns of Iran’s ‘dangerous’ options
The former British ambassador to Lebanon has said Qasem Soleimani was a “much more powerful figure than Osama bin Laden or Baghdadi, where at the moment of their own deaths, their power was in decline”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier, Tom Fletcher said: “His (Qasem Soleimani) was growing as it has been really since the US invasion of Iraq.”
Fletcher added that it is “hard to overstate the potential impact of this moment”.
He said that Iran had been “goading Washington, goading Donald Trump”, adding: “And of course, we don’t just have erratic leaders at the moment in Tehran, we have an erratic leader in Washington as well.”
On how Iran could retaliate, Fletcher added: “The strategic response if they’re feeling rational is probably to consolidate their position in Iraq, but elsewhere they have many more dangerous options including assassinations themselves or proxy wars or asymmetric attacks like the ones against the Saudi oil facilities.”
Corbyn condemns ‘belligerent actions’ after US strike on Iran’s top general
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has told the government to stand up to the “belligerent actions and rhetoric” from the US after the nation killed Iran’s top general.
In a statement, Corbyn said: “The US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict in the Middle East with global significance.
“The UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the United States.
“All countries in the region and beyond should seek to ratchet down the tensions to avoid deepening conflict, which can only bring further misery to the region, 17 years on from the disastrous invasion of Iraq.”
Layla Moran becomes first MP to come out as pansexual
The potential Lib Dem candidate has become the first MP to come out as pansexual after she started a relationship with another woman.
Moran told PinkNews she was more comfortable with the label pansexual than bisexual or gay because it referred to the idea of love for an individual person for who they are and not their gender or sexual identity.
Keir Starmer: ‘We need to engage, not isolate Iran’
Jeremy Corbyn is not the only Labour figure reacting to the US strike on Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani. Some of the potential leadership contenders have made statements too.
Keir Starmer said the incident was “an extremely serious situation”. He tweeted: “We need to engage, not isolate Iran. All sides need to de-escalate tensions and prevent further conflict.”
Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who is still considering standing for the leadership, said world leaders had to “stand up to Trump”.
She tweeted: “17 years after the catastrophic decision to go to war in Iraq violence still rages every day. World leaders must stand up to (US president Donald) Trump. The last thing we need is another all out war.”
Jess Phillips, another Labour expected to announce their candidacy, added: “Reckless foreign policy does not show strength. It’s not a game. The consequences of the escalating tensions between the US and Iran are not to be underestimated, not just once again on the civilians in the region but on the whole world.”
Farage should get peerage, say almost half of Tory voters
Nearly half of Tory supporters want Nigel Farage to be handed a peerage, a new YouGov poll has found.
Some 45 per cent of Conservative voters want the Brexit Party leader in the House of Lords, while only 32 per cent oppose the idea (23 per cent told the pollster they were unsure). Only 21 per cent of the public would back the idea.
Farage claimed he was offered a peerage just three days before standing down his party’s candidates in hundreds of Tory-held seats in November.
The UK government was reportedly given no advanced warning of the US airstrike on Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani.
So far we’ve had a statement from foreign secretary Dominic Raab calling for calm, but nothing so far from Boris Johnson or No 10. The Times’ deputy political editor says the government was “scrambling” to work out a response this morning.
The prime minister is said to have advised his Tory colleagues to “love bomb” the EU ahead of trade negotiations.
According to Fraser Nelson in The Telegraph, Johnson “has been telling colleagues about the need to ‘love bomb’ our European neighbours and mark a complete break from the sniping and rancour of Theresa May’s Brexit talks.”
Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, suggests a “friendly” divorce in now on the cards.
BBC needs to be stronger in ‘striking back’ against government
The former chairman of The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has told the BBC that it needs to be “far more stringent in striking back” against criticism from the government.
Discussing the aftermath of the election, Sir Alan Moses told the BBC: “Well, what a strange irony it is that there’s a prime minister as a journalist who conceives of it as reasonable to criticise what the BBC has done.
“My view is that you’re far too wet about it. I think you ought to be far more stringent in striking back at the attacks.”
Sir Alan added that criticisms like this “happen after every election”. He said that the BBC’s senior figures may write responses in the papers but do so in a “very polite way” and should be much tougher.
He added: “Democracy depends on people like you and upon the newspapers and if we don't look after democracy then democracy won't look after us.”