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The Times and Sunday Times
Monday April 16 2018
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning,
Westminster lurches back to life after a 17-day Easter recess, with just the small matter of war and peace on the agenda.

One thing that might make MPs' lives a little easier: JD Wetherspoon has announced it is shutting all Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts for its 900 individual pubs following the trolling of MPs and others.

Now if MPs want inane abuse fuelled by cheap booze, they'll have to actually go into one of the pubs instead.
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Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
 
 
Must reads
  • Hundreds of thousands of people will receive personal allowances of NHS cash to organise their own care as ministers seek to “put power back into the hands of patients”.

  • Sacked FBI director James Comey has labelled Donald Trump “morally unfit to be president” and said America was in jeopardy of losing its moral foundation as a result.

  • As the private secretary at No 10, Caroline Slocock witnessed the end of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership. In Times2, she reveals the real story of her resignation with extraordinary detail.
Corbyn's act of war
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn look totally relaxed on the Andrew Marr Show
Who is in charge here? Who decides how, when and why British armed forces are deployed into battle?

The decision to commit to military action is one of the gravest decisions any prime minister takes. The question of the day is: should it be their decision at all?

Jeremy Corbyn
thinks not. After Britain joined France and the US in targeted airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria on Friday night, the Labour leader wants to turn this into a political battle at home.

He wants a War Powers Act, to force prime ministers to ask parliament’s approval before taking military action. It would enshrine in law the precedent, built up since the Iraq war vote in 2003, in which MPs have had a vote before most (though not all) deployments of British forces.

It's not a new idea. David Cameron's 2010 manifesto vowed to make the use of the Royal Prerogative, including deploying the military "subject to greater democratic control so that Parliament is properly involved in all big national decisions". The coalition government made similar noises in 2011, and it wasn't until 2016 that the idea of a war powers act was officially dropped by the Tories.

But let's be honest: Corbyn is not solely concerned about ensuring parliament has a say, he believes this is the way to stop Britain committing to any military intervention in the future at all.

Asked if he would ever authorise the use of force against countries against other countries, Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show: "No one would ever say never." Which is like my response if asked if I would ever sit through a whole episode of Mrs Brown's Boys. You know exactly what he means. His old friends from the Stop The War coalition will be protesting outside parliament later.

Corbyn's performance on Marr was pretty extraordinary, and achieved the rare feat of making Boris Johnson look level-headed and sensible.

The Labour leader suggested that "other groups" might have carried out the chemical weapons attack and not Assad, claimed there was not “incontrovertible evidence” that Russia was responsible for the Salsibury spy poisoning, and urged May to "work might and main to bring Russia and the United States together". Good luck with that.

"I say to the Prime Minister: where is the legal case for this?" Corbyn asked. It was published on Saturday, at some length, here.

"This is policy made up by Twitter," said the man whose entire policy platform is based on what will be shared most online.

So as MPs return to Westminster following their Easter recess, Theresa May is preparing to make a statement to parliament in which she will claim it was in “the national interest” to deter the use of chemical weapons. She will also explicitly tie the strikes by RAF jets to Russia’s alleged use of a nerve agent in Salisbury last month.

Writing in The Sun, May tries to widen her coalition beyond President Trump and President Macron, highlighting how "the action has been backed by a succession of world leaders from Germany’s Angela Merkel and EU President Donald Tusk to Malcolm Turnbull of Australia and Justin ­Trudeau of Canada".

The prime minister is also expected to make a request to the Speaker for an emergency debate under Standing Order 24, usually reserved for backbenchers to force a debate that the government is trying to avoid. It is expected to take place tomorrow afternoon, with Tory MPs put on a three-line whip to be around for what is likely to be a largely symbolic vote.

Asked if it would be a proper substantial vote for or against the military action, Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, told the Today programme: "I cannot confirm that."

Tobias Ellwood, a defence minister, Ben Wallace, the security minister, and Nadhim Zahawi, the education minister have all been recalled from overseas to bolster numbers.

However, it is possible that with the support of the DUP and perhaps two dozen Labour MPs, the government could win a symbolic, non-binding vote on the principle of acting against Assad's use of chemical weapons.

It might be OK to bypass parliament last week if May had the public onside. She doesn’t. Ahead of the airstrikes, a YouGov poll suggested just 22 per cent supported them in theory. A new Survation poll, taken on Saturday, found only 36 per cent supported them in practice.

More than half (54 per cent) said May should have held a vote before military action, and just 39 per cent trust her to make the right decision. Half trust MPs as a collective to do the right thing. Four in 10 think the biggest factor in the decision was May wanting to bolster her leadership. The same proportion think Corbyn’s opposition to airstrikes is more about political opportunism to try to damage the government.

One small corrective to consider: in the Populus poll of news stories the public had noticed last week, only 36 per cent mentioned the Syria crisis.
Russian revenge
Satellite images show the Barzeh scientific research centre, believed to be a chemical weapons facility, before and after the allied strikes at the weekend
Britain’s intelligence agencies are on the alert for possible revenge attacks by the Kremlin in response to the Syria airstrikes, after reports that a disinformation operation linked to Russia was increasing its output. Read the full story

President Macron used a TV interview last night to claim he had persuaded President Trump to keep US forces in Syria “long term”. Read the full story
Who is saying what
Theresa May (Commons statement): "We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised — either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”

Jeremy Corbyn (Andrew Marr Show): “What we need in this country is something more robust, like a war powers act, so that governments do get held to account by parliament for what they do in our name.”

Boris Johnson, foreign secretary (Andrew Marr Show): "There’s one overwhelming reason why this was the right thing to do and that is to deter the use of chemical weapons, not just by the Assad regime but around the world. Finally, the world has said, enough is enough.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish first minister and SNP leader (Sky News): "It felt like what happened on Friday night had more to do with some kind of macho stand-off between Trump and Putin and that should not be the role of U.K. foreign policy.”

Vince Cable, Lib Dem leader (Sky News): "It could go very badly pear shaped and under those circumstances it would be very important for the prime minister to have built a consensus at home, which she hasn’t done.”

Nigel Dodds, DUP Westminster leader: "The prime minister has the full authority, on the basis of all the information at her disposal, to order the type of military action which has been carried out and we reject any suggestion that she was not entitled to do so."

Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader, (The Observer): "By refusing to engage parliament on the issue, Theresa May has shown a contempt for parliamentary democracy, and trampled over an important safeguard against unwanted military action."
 
What the public think
FRIDAY'S QUESTION: I asked when you thought airstrikes against Assad would happen. Most of you got it wrong. Full results here
 
Monday's best comment
Matt Ridley
Britain can show the world the best of AI
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Libby Purves
Of course rootless millennials feel lonely
Libby Purves – The Times
Clare Foges
Labour’s exploitation of Grenfell is an outrage
Clare Foges – The Times
Enoch Powell is gone, but his hateful tricks are still with us
Matthew d'Ancona - The Guardian
Germany is frustrating Emmanuel Macron’s grand ambitions
Wolfgang Münchau - Financial Times
Today's cartoon from The Times by Morten Morland
    CHOGM chatter
    The Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) starts in London today and has been described as the biggest summit held in Britain.

    But it's all got a bit awks because just as the Queen rolls out the red carpet for the leaders of 53 leaders, there are calls for the Commonwealth to weaken its ties to the Royal Family, with Jeremy Corbyn suggesting that Prince Charles should not automatically take over.
    Read the full story >
    Windrush to judgement
    A huge row has erupted after Downing Street rejected a request from 12 Caribbean countries for CHOGM to discuss immigration problems being experienced by British residents who arrived in the Windrush era but now face being deported.

    Last night ministers were rushing to share an article by Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, in which she insists: "My main priority here is to dispel the myth that this Government is clamping down on Commonwealth citizens – particularly those from the Caribbean – who have built a life here. This is just not true."

    But it looks absolutely terrible as leaders gather in London today. Expect it to be raised at home office questions from 2.30pm.
    Read the full story >
     
    the thunderer
    Elton John and Josephine Nabukenya
    The Commonwealth could help beat Aids
    Elton John and Josephine Nabukenya – Aids campaigners
    To boldy go (back into EU)
    A new campaign for a "people's vote" on the final Brexit deal turned a bit, well silly, after Sir Patrick Stewart, the Star Trek and X-Men star, claimed that his best-known characters would have wanted to stay in the EU.

    He claimed Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier were “excellent, admirable individuals... Yes, intellectuals but also compassionate and concerned for the well-being of everyone. They would have voted Remain".
    Read the full story >
    Peer pressure
    The EU Withdrawal Bill is expected to get a kicking in the House of Lords this week, as peers push to keep Britain in a customs union after Brexit.

    There will be a rush of votes on amendments to the bill, which the government will have to try to overturn in the Commons.
     
    Red Box: Comment
    Lord Warner
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    Lord Warner – Crossbench peer and former health minister
    Kate Allen
    The kids aren’t alright: three-quarters of young voters are worried about their rights after Brexit
    Kate Allen – Director of Amnesty International UK
    Chart of the day
    With just over two weeks to go until the local elections, some amazing data from the PolitiStatsUK Twitter account, which says that in the 227 council by-elections since last year's general election, the Tories and Labour have exactly the same vote share at 33.3 per cent. In fact Labour is narrowly ahead on 114,597 votes to the Tories' 114,477. More here

    Meanwhile The Guardian reports that Labour has set its sights on Wandsworth, famously Margaret Thatcher’s favourite borough, and Trafford, the only Tory borough in Greater Manchester.

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    Red Box: Comment
    Anneliese Dodds
    We need a tax system that helps the 95 per cent and targets the richest
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    Ones to watch today
    • Prince Harry makes his debut in his first major public role as a Commonwealth youth ambassador, attending the opening session of the Commonwealth Youth Forum.

    • The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons holds a special meeting to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and Salisbury.

    • Jacob Rees-Mogg the hosts first edition of his new fortnightly phone in show on LBC. Listen here
    ‘No. Zero. Nothing’
    Sir Philip Green described himself as a “gentleman” with “zero” responsibility for the collapse of BHS in a foul-mouthed tirade in which he called MPs a “bunch of w***ers” for debating whether he should lose his knighthood.
    Read the full story >
    Batten down the hatches
    Things move so fast in Ukip these days that newly-installed leader Gerard Batten (no, me neither) used his first speech after being confirmed in the job to announce his resignation.

    He got the job vacated by Henry Bolton, who quit to spend more time with his racist, after no one else threw their hat into the ring. Batten will stay in post for a year and see what, if anything, is left of the party then.
    The agenda gap
    A fascinating piece of research by The Times interactive team into who MPs follow on Twitter. Accounts followed by Conservative MPs are on average 71 per cent male, with the figure falling to 63 per cent for Labour MPs.

    The piece from Saturday's paper revealed how Greg Clark may have overseen the gender pay gap investigation but he has failed to notice a gender gap of his own: the business secretary doesn’t follow any female cabinet ministers on Twitter apart from Theresa May.

    You can also search for any MP to see how they fare: just five follow more women than men. See the interactive here
    Not-so-driverless cars
    Owners of driverless cars could be made to sit a new test before going on the road because of fears that the vehicles will pose a significant safety risk, a study suggests. Read the full story

    Data held on people by the NHS and other public institutions should be made available to artificial intelligence companies to counter the giant US technology companies like Facbeook and Google, a House of Lords report has recommended. Read the full story
    EVENT: Who rules the robots?
    7pm, Monday May 21, News Building, London
    Matt Chorley hosts a panel discussion on the opportunities and threats posed by the rise of artificial intelligence, automation and big data. Can global tech firms be controlled within national borders? How will centuries of laws keep pace with algorithms that can be tweaked in seconds? Who decides what we do (and don’t) see online? Does sharing data mean we trade privacy for convenience, and at what price? Are there any jobs robots can’t do?

    Taking part in the panel will be: Matt Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Timandra Harkness, author and presenter of the BBC Radio 4 series, FutureProofing , Dame Wendy Hall, regius professor of computer science at the University of Southampton and Tom Whipple, The Times science editor.

    Click here to book tickets
    Around the world
    HUNGARY: Viktor Orban, buoyed by his election triumph, is making life ever harder for advocates of free speech in Hungary. Read the full story

    USA: Barbara Bush, former first lady of the US and matriarch of a political dynasty, is in failing health and has entered end-of-life care at her home in Texas, her family announced last night. Read the full story

    SPAIN: Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Barcelona yesterday to demand the release of Catalan nationalist politicians from jail. Read the full story
    Red Box: Comment
    Stephen Twigg
    As desperate Rohingya refugees await the rains, where is the world to help?
    Stephen Twigg – Chairman of International development committee
    Also in the news
    • CHARLIE ELPHICKE: Police speak to Tory MP over sex claims (The Times)

    • 25TH ANNIVERSARY: I forgive you, Stephen Lawrence’s father tells killers (The Times)

    • ONWARD MARCH: Davidson and Gove team up to woo younger voters (The Times)

    • FINDING SHELTER: Number of beds for homeless people drops by a fifth under Conservatives (The Independent)

    • INDIAN PM: Narendra Modi’s London visit may help thaw frosty relationship (Financial Times)
    Agenda
    Today
    • Prince William attends the Welcome to the UK reception as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) gets underway in London.
    • Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, attends the EU Foreign Affairs Council.
    • 9am Institute for Government hosts a discussion on a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal with Dominic Grieve, Baroness Smith, and the FT's George Parker.
    • 9am Jacob Rees-Mogg the hosts first edition of his new fortnightly phone in show on LBC.
    • 1pm osaia Voreqe Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji, speaks at a Chatham House event.
    • 5.30pm Stop the Rush to War: Don't Bomb Syria protest held outside parliament.
    House of Commons
    • 2.30pm Home office questions
    • Theresa May makes a statement on Syria
    • Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords] - 2nd reading
    • General debate on housing
    • Adjournment: Effect of cyber-bullying on young people's mental health (Alex Chalk)
    Westminster Hall
    • 4.30pm Debate on e-petitions relating to Myanmar’s Rohingya minority (Helen Jones)
    House of Lords
    • 2.30pm Questions on conflicts in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Punjab and other territories; public alert technology on mobile phones in event of a terrorist incident; benefit to the UK in participation of world trade; and EU withdrawal and the implications for business of a short transition.
    • Employment Rights Act 1996 (Itemised Pay Statement) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2018 - Motion to approve
    • Companies (Disclosure of Address) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 - Motion to approve
    • Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (Railways) Order 2018 - Motion to approve
    • Motion: To move that this House approves, for the purposes of Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, HM Government’s assessment of the medium term economic and fiscal position as set out in the latest Budget document and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s most recent Economic and Fiscal Outlook and Fiscal Sustainability Report, which forms the basis of the United Kingdom’s Convergence Programme.
    • Short debate: Developing a sustainable lifelong learning culture in England.
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