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Brexit: PM urged not to let Eurosceptics ‘dictate’ talks

Theresa MayImage copyright PA
Image caption Downing Street has insisted it is still confident of a first-phase Brexit deal before next week‘s summit

Theresa May has been urged not to allow Eurosceptic MPs in her party to “impose their own conditions” on negotiations amid signs of fresh Tory infighting.

Nineteen Tory MPs who back a “soft Brexit” have written to her saying it is “highly irresponsible” for anyone to dictate terms which may scupper a deal.

It follows some Tories backing the DUP’s decision to oppose a draft deal on the future of the Irish border.

The PM has spoken to the DUP’s Arlene Foster to try to break the deadlock.

The DUP says there is “more work to be done” if it is to agree to plans for the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit – a prerequisite for talks to move on to their next phase.

Irish PM Leo Varadkar, who also spoke to Mrs May on Wednesday, said he was willing to consider any new proposals, suggesting the UK might put something forward within the next 24 hours.

In a separate development, Chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested the UK could pay the so-called Brexit bill, regardless of whether or not there is a subsequent trade agreement with the EU.

He told MPs on the Commons Treasury Committee he found it “inconceivable” that the UK would “walk away” from its financial obligations.

In their letter, the 19 MPs – who largely backed Remain in the 2016 referendum – say they support the PM’s handling of the negotiations, in particular the “political and practical difficulties” relating to the Irish border.

But they hit out at what they say are attempts by some in their party to paint a no-deal scenario in which the UK failed to agree a trade agreement as “some status quo which the UK simply opts to adopt”.

“We wish to make it clear that we are disappointed yet again that some MPs and others seek to impose their own conditions on these negotiations,” the MPs, including former cabinet ministers Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan – write.

“In particular, it is highly irresponsible to seek to dictate terms which could lead to the UK walking away from these negotiations.”

It urges the PM to “take whatever time is necessary” to get the next stage of negotiations right.

On Tuesday, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith argued the time was fast approaching for the UK to consider walking away from the talks if the EU did not allow negotiators to proceed to the next phase – in which future trade and security relations will take centre stage.

The suggestion of “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the European Union and any continuing role for the European Court of Justice has also concerned some Eurosceptic Conservative MPs.

At a summit next week, European leaders will decide whether enough progress has been made in the negotiations on Ireland, the UK’s “divorce bill” and citizens‘ rights so far to open trade talks.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCitizens’ rights, the Irish border and money are the three big negotiation points

On Monday Northern Ireland‘s Democratic Unionist Party – whose support the PM needs to win key votes at Westminster – objected to draft plans drawn up by the UK and the EU.

The DUP said the proposals, which aimed to avoid a “hard border” by aligning regulations on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, were not acceptable. Dublin says it wants firm guarantees that a hard border can be avoided.

This has left the UK government racing to find an agreement suiting all sides in time for next week’s summit.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Irish PM said he was willing to consider any new proposals from the UK

Following Mrs May’s call to Ms Foster, a DUP spokesman said discussions were continuing and there was “more work to be done” but the DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the Irish government was playing a “dangerous game” with its own economy.

At a press conference with his Dutch counterpart on Wednesday, Irish PM Leo Varadkar insisted he wanted the talks to move beyond consideration of divorce issues to the future.

“Having consulted with people in London, she (Theresa May) wants to come back to us with some text tonight or tomorrow,” he said. “I expressed my willingness to consider that.”

On the issue of the divorce bill, a No 10 spokesman said the government’s position remained that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and that applies to the financial settlement”.

Mr Hammond had suggested it would not be “credible” for the UK to leave without honouring its obligations as “frankly it would not make us a credible partner for future international agreements”.

Reports have suggested the UK has raised its financial offer to a figure of up to 50bn euros (£44bn).

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Newspaper headlines: Cabinet split over Green and Meghan-mania

Image caption The claim legal pornographic images were found on the parliamentary computer of Damian Green leads several papers. The First Secretary of State and PM‘s deputy denies downloading or viewing such content but the Times says there is a Cabinet split over his future.
Image caption The i leads on reports that Brexit Secretary David Davis has threatened to quit if Damian Green is “unfairly forced out” of his role. It says Mr Davis believes police are waging a “vendetta”.
Image caption The Daily Mirror reports new details of the case against Mr Green emerged when a retired police officer came forward on Friday to claim he had found the images on his computer.
Image caption The Daily Mail says the Tories were “at war” with Scotland Yard over the Damian Green case. It says friends of Mr Green have accused the police of wanting “payback” for their botched 2008 raid on the office of the then opposition MP as part of a Home Office leaks inquiry.
Image caption Meghan Markle appears on several front pages after her first official engagement with Prince Harry since the couple announced they are to wed. The Sun reports the scenes in Nottingham, saying “Meghan-mania” swept the city as the 36-year-old US actress was “introduced”.
Image caption “Trump aide turns informer in Russia case”, says the Daily Telegraph as it reports the guilty plea from ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn to making false statements to the FBI. It says Donald Trump has been dragged into the investigation into Russian meddling in the US election.
Image caption The Guardian describes Michael Flynn’s guilty plea as a “startling breakthrough” for prosecutors. His admission in court came “after months of silence and invisibility”, the paper says.
Image caption The Financial Times also leads with the Flynn case – but highlights the comments from Donald Trump‘s lawyer that the plea implicates only the ex-adviser. It also has an interview with ex-PM David Cameron in which he says he regrets failing to “solve” the issue of social care reform.
Image caption The Daily Express carries news of a UK study which suggests being overweight in middle age increases the risk of developing dementia by as much as a third. The research examined the health records of 1.3m adults in the US, Europe and Asia.
Image caption The Daily Star focuses on Strictly Come Dancing, and the rivalry between contestants Debbie McGee and Alexandra Burke.

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Prime Minister’s Questions: The key bits and the verdict

Damian Green and Emily Thornberry

With Theresa May in the Middle East – stand-ins Damian Green and Emily Thornberry faced each other at Prime Minister‘s Questions. How did they do?

The pair clashed over nursing numbers in the NHS – and why so many are quitting. Standard fare, you might think, but with Labour’s Emily Thornberry in typically theatrical form at the despatch box it was far from a standard PMQs.

The shadow foreign secretary kicked off with a risky joke about waving the Cross of St George at an England rugby match – risky because she was sacked by Ed Miliband in 2014 for allegedly sending a “snobby” tweet about a terraced house with three England flags and a white van parked outside.

Will Ms Thornberry see getting away with this joke – despite a glancing jibe from Mr Green – as a sign that she has fully laid that episode to rest?

She then attempted to throw Mr Green off balance with a first question about standards in public life. The First Secretary of State is currently being investigated by the Cabinet Office over allegations about his past behaviour.

“The First Secretary looked rather perturbed by my line of questioning but he doesn’t need to worry I really am not going there,” Ms Thornberry reassured Mr Green. So why bring it up? She didn’t say.

She then hit him with a question about a question he had asked John Prescott 17 years ago – when Prescott was standing in for Tony Blair at PMQs – about nursing numbers.

Mr Green hit back with a flurry of statistics – but got more of a purchase on the issue when Ms Thornberry claimed an A&E department in his own constituency was facing closure. He accused Ms Thornberry of getting her facts wrong.

Ms Thornberry nearly fluffed her finale – stumbling over the words “winter fuel allowance,” eliciting supportive shouts from her Labour colleagues, before recovering to accuse the government of getting its priorities wrong by spending extra on Brexit rather than the NHS.

Mr Green ended with a fairly standard rebuttal, accusing his Labour opposite number of “talking down” the NHS.

What other subjects came up?

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries brought up allegations about Labour MP Tulip Saddiq, who has apologised for comments about a pregnant Channel 4 journalist.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster Iain Blackford asked about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with the PM travelling to the region.

Another potentially awkward moment for Damian Green as Labour’s John Mann asked about sexual harassment allegations at Westminster.

The SNP’s Tommy Shepherd brought up that perennial favourite – House of Lords reform.

So what was the verdict?

Manchester Arena attack: PM vows to cover costs

Top (left to right): Lisa Lees, Alison Howe, Georgina Callender, Kelly Brewster, John Atkinson, Jane Tweddle, Marcin Klis - Middle (left to right): Angelika Klis, Courtney Boyle, Saffie Roussos, Olivia Campbell-Hardy, Martyn Hett, Michelle Kiss, Philip Tron, Elaine McIver - Bottom (left to right): Eilidh MacLeod, Wendy Fawell, Chloe Rutherford, Liam Allen-Curry, Sorrell Leczkowski, Megan Hurley, Nell Jones
Image caption Twenty-two people died in the attack at Manchester Arena on 22 May

The government will fully fund the costs of dealing with the Manchester Arena attack, Prime Minister Theresa May has said.

It comes after Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said an initial offer was “not good enough”.

But the PM told the Manchester Evening News: “Be in no doubt, Manchester will get the financial support it needs.”

She added in a statement that a Cabinet Office taskforce had been set up to oversee meeting the costs.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated a device that killed 22 people and injured 512 in the foyer of the venue at an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May.

Image caption Andy Burnham said an initial government offer was “not good enough”

The government had previously said Manchester would receive £12m to help cover the “exceptional costs” of the attack, with £3m being made available immediately.

But Mr Burnham said more than £17.5m had already been spent and suggested at least £10.4m more could be needed, including for the inquests into the 22 deaths and an inquiry.

The £12m figure would have meant local authorities being forced to cut services to make up the £5m shortfall on what had already been spent, he warned.

Mrs May told the Manchester Evening News: “Be in no doubt, Manchester will get the financial support it needs – and if that costs £28m, as Andy Burnham has estimated, then that is what we will make available.”

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs May said the government would meet the “unexpected and exceptional costs”

She added in a statement that the attack was “one of the darkest moments in the city‘s history“.

“I promised in the wake of that appalling atrocity this government would do all it could to help victims recover and the city to heal. I repeat that commitment today,” she said.

“Where your public services have had to bear, or will bear, unexpected and exceptional costs in coping with this terrible attack, these will be met by the government.

“The process of making those payments is ongoing and I understand the frustration felt at the pace of delivery.

“So I have taken steps to speed up our response. Over the weekend a taskforce has been established within the Cabinet Office to oversee progress and expedite payments when necessary.”

Mrs May added that not all the funding would be needed immediately.

“For example the inquests, opened and adjourned this month, will not begin until next June,” she said.

Lord Kilclooney withdraws ‘Indian’ Leo Varadkar tweet

Lord Kilclooney
Image caption Lord Kilclooney said the tweet was “not racist” but “shorthand for an Indian surname which I could not spell”

Former senior Ulster Unionist Lord Kilclooney has withdrawn a tweet in which he described Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar as “the Indian”.

Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey and Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry both described the tweet as racist.

Lord Kilclooney said the tweet was “not racist” but “shorthand for an Indian surname which I could not spell”.

He has since written that the tweet had “caused upset and misunderstanding and so I withdraw it”.

“In Twitter one is restricted to a limited number of words and so for shorthand I used the term Indian for the new PM in Dublin,” he wrote.

“This has caused upset and misunderstanding and so I withdraw it. I am no way racist and accept that Varadkar is 100 percent Irish Citizen.”

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role=”region”> Skip Twitter post 2 by @KilclooneyJohn

End of Twitter post 2 by @KilclooneyJohn

Mr Varadkar was born in the Republic and is of Indian heritage.

He was elected taoiseach (Irish prime minster) in June.

Lord Kilclooney issued the tweet on Thursday evening in response to a news story about Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

He wrote: “Simon Coveney is stirring things up. Very dangerous non statesman like role! Clearly hoping to undermine the Indian.”

Afterwards, Mr Kilclooney said that he was unsure of how to spell Mr Varadkar’s name and had used the word Indian as “shorthand”.

Some Twitter users, including BBC News NI’s Mark Carruthers, pointed out that Lord Kilclooney had spelled the taoiseach’s name correctly in previous tweets.

Lord Kilclooney responded: “One swallow does not make a summer!!! Previously spellings had been wrong!”

In response to the original tweet, Mr Maskey wrote: “Can’t see that comment as anything other than racist?”

Mr Farry also wrote on Twitter: “Let’s call this out for what it is – racism. The Taoiseach is just as Irish as Simon Coveney. Let’s see if there is the courage and integrity to withdraw this.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said on Twitter that Lord Kilclooney was not a member of the party and “speaks for himself”.

Former victims’ commissioner Patricia McBride tweeted that she would report Lord Kilclooney’s comment to the House of Lords commissioner for standards.

Lord Kilclooney was previously criticised for a tweet in August when he claimed that unionists and nationalists were not political equals.

Cyril Smith inquiry: PM’s pledge on ex-Rochdale MP’s documents

Cyril Smith
Image caption Cyril Smith was a governor at Knowl View

Prime Minister Theresa May has made assurances documents relating to the late Cyril Smith will not be withheld.

An inquiry is investigating alleged sexual abuse of boys by the former Rochdale MP in care institutions.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy told the Commons she received a letter from Ms May stating security services work would “not prevent information being shared”.

The Labour MP said Home Secretary Amber Rudd had told her some papers would be held back for “national security”.

Rochdale abuse inquiry: What has been revealed?

Ms Nandy said: “Last month in this house, the home secretary told me that some papers would be withheld from the Cyril Smith inquiry for national security reasons.

“This week the prime minister has written to me to say we are clear that the work of the security services will not prevent information being shared with other such inquires.

She added: “So can she can confirm to the survivors of Cyril Smith who have waited for justice for decades that she was wrong and that the prime minister is right?”

Ms Rudd replied: “I am happy to confirm the prime minister is always right and I will certainly look carefully at the letter that she has received to ensure that we comply with it.”

Smith was a Liberal MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has heard allegations of abuse at Cambridge House hostel and Knowl View residential school, where he was a governor.

It will publish its findings next year.

Former PM David Cameron ‘shocked’ at No 10 groping claim

Daisy Goodwin, 2017Image copyright Shutterstock
Image caption Daisy Goodwin says she was cross, not traumatised, after the incident

David Cameron says he is “alarmed and shocked” by a TV producer’s claim that she was groped by a government official at 10 Downing Street.

Daisy Goodwin, who created the ITV series Victoria, told the Radio Times the man touched her breast after a meeting about a new TV show during Mr Cameron’s time as PM.

Ms Goodwin said she was “cross” at the time, but did not report the incident.

No 10 said the Cabinet Office would look into any formal complaint made.

“Allegations such as this are taken very seriously,” the Downing Street spokesman added.

Ms Goodwin said the official – who has not been named – invited her into an office at Number 10 for the meeting.

She said she was surprised when the man, who was a few years younger than her, put his feet up on her chair and remarked that her sunglasses made her “look like a Bond Girl”.

She said she tried to steer the conversation back onto professional matters, but added: “At the end of the meeting we both stood up and the official, to my astonishment, put his hand on my breast.

“I looked at the hand and then in my best Lady Bracknell voice said: ‘Are you actually touching my breast?’

“He dropped his hand and laughed nervously.”

Ms Goodwin said she left Downing Street in a state of “high dudgeon”.

“I wasn’t traumatised, I was cross. But by the next day it had become an anecdote, The Day I Was Groped In Number 10,” she said.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron – who was in office from 2010 to 2016 – said he was first made aware of this “serious allegation” on Monday.

“He was alarmed, shocked and concerned to learn of it and immediately informed the Cabinet Office,” the spokesman added.

‘Keep Calm’ philosophy

Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “Of course this is something that we would be concerned about.

“We are looking at it, and as we have said, wherever an allegation has been made we will make sure it’s treated with the utmost seriousness.”

Ms Goodwin said recent revelations of alleged abuses had made her question whether she was wrong not to have made a formal complaint.

“Now, in the light of all the really shocking stories that have come out about abusive behaviour by men in power from Hollywood to Westminster, I wonder if my Keep Calm and Carry on philosophy, inherited from my parents, was correct?

“The answer is, I am not sure.”

Hollywood has been rocked by allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein and others.

At Westminster, several Conservative and Labour MPs are being investigated over claims of sexual misconduct.

Daisy Goodwin: ‘I was groped by 10 Downing Street official’

Daisy Goodwin
Image caption Daisy Goodwin said she did not report the incident

A TV producer has said she was groped by a government official during a visit to 10 Downing Street.

Daisy Goodwin, who created the ITV series Victoria, told the Radio Times the man put his hand on her breast after a meeting to discuss a proposed TV show when David Cameron was PM.

Ms Goodwin said she was “cross” at the time, but did not report the incident.

Downing Street said it took allegations seriously and officials would look into a formal complaint, should one be made.

Ms Goodwin said the official – who has not been named – invited her into an office at Number 10 for the meeting during Mr Cameron’s time in office between 2010 and 2016.

She said the man then told her her sunglasses “made me look like a Bond Girl”.

“At the end of the meeting we both stood up and the official, to my astonishment, put his hand on my breast,” she told the magazine.

“I looked at the hand and then in my best Lady Bracknell voice said: `Are you actually touching my breast?’

“He dropped his hand and laughed nervously.”

Image copyright Getty Images

Ms Goodwin said she left Downing Street in a state of “high dudgeon”.

“I wasn’t traumatised, I was cross. But by the next day it had become an anecdote, The Day I Was Groped In Number 10,” she said.

However, she said revelations of alleged abuses in Westminster and Hollywood had made her question whether she was wrong not to make a formal complaint.

Hollywood has been rocked by allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein and others.

At Westminster, several Conservative and Labour MPs are being investigated over claims of sexual misconduct.

Ms Goodwin said: “Now, in the light of all the really shocking stories that have come out about abusive behaviour by men in power from Hollywood to Westminster, I wonder if my Keep Calm and Carry on philosophy, inherited from my parents, was correct?

“The answer is, I am not sure.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Allegations such as this are taken very seriously.

“The Cabinet Office would look into any formal complaint, should one be made.”

Priti Patel quits over Israel meetings row

Priti PatelImage copyright Getty Images

Priti Patel has resigned as UK international development secretary amid controversy over her meetings with Israeli officials.

She was ordered back from an official trip in Africa by the PM and summoned to Downing Street over the row.

In her resignation, Ms Patel apologised and said her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated”.

The PM said her decision was “right” as “further details have come to light”.

Ms Patel apologised on Monday over unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians in August, but it later emerged she had two further meetings without government officials present in September.

In her letter to Theresa May, Ms Patel said: “While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.

“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

PM plans new ministerial code after Priti Patel apology

Priti PatelImage copyright PA

Theresa May wants the ministerial code of conduct to be tightened – after it was revealed Priti Patel held secret meetings with Israeli officials.

The international development secretary apologised for holding 12 meetings, including one with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, while on a private holiday.

She was “reminded of her obligations” as a cabinet minister, Mrs May said.

The BBC understands Ms Patel suggested some of Britain’s aid budget go to the Israeli army, after the visit.

She asked her officials to see if Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area.

The BBC understands the Foreign Office advised that since Britain did not officially recognise Israel’s annexation of the area, it would be hard for the Department for International Development to work there.

The BBC revealed on Friday that Ms Patel held a number of undisclosed meetings with business and political figures during a family holiday in August.

She met with Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party, and Jean Judes, executive director of disability charity BIS, among others.

No diplomats were present at the meetings, at which the minister was accompanied by an influential pro-Israeli Conservative peer and lobbyist, Lord Polak.

Ms Patel admitted how the meetings were set-up “did not accord with the usual procedures”.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Patel discussed Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the UK

Lord Ricketts, former head of the Diplomatic Service, said her actions were unprecedented.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight programme: “I can’t think of a precedent where a senior minister visits a country, has an extensive programme like this without the Foreign Office, the foreign secretary or even the ambassador in the country knowing about it.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said there had been a “clear breach” of the ministerial code.

Shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor called for an investigation. She described Ms Patel’s apology as “a desperate last-ditch attempt… to save her job”.

‘Lack of precision’

Ms Patel, who is a long-standing supporter of Israel and a former vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, defended her actions.

She said she had paid for the holiday herself and while in Israel had taken the opportunity to meet “people and organisations” for the purpose of building links between the two countries.

She admitted a “lack of precision” for suggesting last week that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knew about the trip, and that only two meetings had taken place when she attended 12.

On Monday, Mrs May told reporters she had spoken to Ms Patel and accepted her apology.

Downing Street said the ministerial code was “not explicit” and Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heyward had been asked to see if it could be made clearer.