That’s all from us for this evening. Thanks for reading and commenting. If you’d like to read yet more, my colleagues Luke Harding and Dan Sabbagh have tonight’s main story:
Here’s a summary of the day’s main events:
- The Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, faced calls to resign over comments he made about Grenfell Tower disaster victims. Rees-Mogg suggested those who died after being advised to stay put by firefighters lacked the “common sense” to do otherwise. Survivors, relatives of the dead and the grime artist, Stormzy, were among those to fiercely criticise Rees-Mogg, who later apologised.
- However, his Tory colleague, Andrew Bridgen, later suggested Rees-Mogg would have survived where others did not because he would have been clever enough to ignore the advice. He insisted he believed Rees-Mogg had intended no malice. But Bridgen’s comments were denounced as “contemptible” by Labour.
- The prime minister abandoned his pledge to give MPs a vote on whether or not to extend the Brexit transition beyond 31 January 2020. The announcement led to claims Boris Johnson was planning to force through a no-deal Brexit.
- The Labour leader defended wanting to represent both sides in the Brexit debate. Jeremy Corbyn also claimed he would sort Brexit more quickly than Johnson and that a Tory negotiated US-UK trade deal would unleash “Thatcherism on steroids”.
- Jo Swinson ruled out using Lib Dem votes to put Corbyn in No 10 in the event of a hung parliament. Even today, if you ask him if he is remain or leave, he will not say, she said as the party held its election launch. Swinson also said she would make a better prime minister than both Corbyn and Johnson.
- A Foreign Office minister dismissed claims No 10 was holding up the publication of the Russia report without justification. Responding to an urgent question in the Commons, Chris Pincher said the report needed to be checked for sensitive information. But the chair of the committee that produced it, Dominic Grieve, said it was cleared by the intelligence services last month.
- The former chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced he will not seek reelection in December. Hammond, who had the Tory whip suspended in September, told constituents he had considered fighting his seat as an independent, but that that would have led to him being thrown out of the Conservative party.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, spoke to the US president, Donald Trump, this evening, Downing Street says. A spokeswoman added:
They discussed security issues, with the prime minister welcoming the US operation which led to the death of al-Baghdadi and underlining the ongoing importance of the fight against Daesh.
The prime minister looked forward to the Nato leaders’ meeting next month. They agreed on the need for burden sharing and for Nato to prepare for future threats.
The prime minister urged the president to lift tariffs on goods, including Scotch Whisky, and, ahead of a US decision on additional tariffs, urged him not to impose tariffs on car exports.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has urged local councils to find alternative venues for polling stations to avoid disrupting school Christmas plays and concerts. In a letter to returning officers, Williamson wrote:
In the run-up to Christmas, schools across the country will be planning festive events such as Christmas plays and carol concerts. These are important highlights in the school calendar and the result of a huge amount of hard work and dedication from staff, parents and children.
As you will be aware, central government has agreed to reimburse the necessary costs where needed to support you in identifying alternative venues to avoid disrupting long-planned and important events relating to this time of year.
I would be grateful for anything you can do to ensure arrangements for polling stations keep the disruption to school activities over the Christmas period to an absolute minimum and that you work closely with local schools to this end. In every community there will be alternatives and I would ask that, wherever possible, these are used instead.
Here’s a little more on the difficulties inherent to December elections – as well as the history of such votes:
The former Tory minister, Justine Greening, will find it difficult to bring herself to vote Conservative at the upcoming election because of the party’s Brexit stance, she has said. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live earlier today, Greening said:
I certainly don’t want to see us getting on with what I think would be a very damaging deal for Britain. So, it would be very hard for me to vote for the Conservatives, if I’m looking at what they stand for on Brexit.
Explaining her reasoning, she told the station’s presenter, Emma Barnett:
Brexit is part of what will drive how I vote, along with millions of other people. It’s not the whole story. I’m still a centre-right conservative-minded voter and and, indeed, politician.
But I have had a fundamental difference with my party on Brexit. And so, like many people in this country, I’m going to have to weigh it up.
And I think it’s going to be very hard for people in this election because they’re probably going to look at all the parties and think: ‘I’m not sure I want any of them’ because none of them quite necessarily stack up with where their politics are.
Asked whether or not she trusted the prime minister, Boris Johnson, Greening said:
Certainly in relation to Heathrow, I’ve been very absolutely disappointed by the fact that, having campaigned with many of us to stop this expansion, he has now seemingly gone back on that word.
Pressed on whether or not that meant she trusted him, she added:
I find it hard to trust him on other issues when the one that has mattered to me the most as a local campaigner is one that he’s not followed through on.
About a million of the commemorative Brexit 50p coins that are now having to be melted down were minted before Boris Johnson chose to pull his Brexit deal and seek a delay, it has emerged.
But the government has refused to say how much the operation cost, citing commercial sensitivity.
It also emerged that a thousand trial coins were struck to mark the first exit date of 29 March 2019, subsequently missed by Theresa May.
Details of the Brexit coins, carrying the words “Friendship with all nations”, came on the last day of Parliament sitting before it broke for the forthcoming general election.
Responding to a written parliamentary question by the former EU ambassador, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, the Tory frontbencher, the Earl of Courtown said:
Approximately one million coins were minted in October to mark the UK’s exit from the European Union, in addition to 1,000 trial coins that were struck before 29 March. Coins bearing these dates will now be recycled and the value from the materials will be recouped by the Exchequer. The cost of minting these coins is commercially sensitive.
The former chancellor, Philip Hammond, had planned a limited edition of about 10,000 commemorative coins to be sold to collectors for £10 each. But his successor, Sajid Javid, pressed for a much greater circulation, portrayed at the time as a statement of intent that the Treasury was fully behind Brexit.
A lawyer for the Lib Dems has written to ITV demanding it reverse its decision to not include Jo Swinson in its head-to-head election debate, the party has said:
Legal action by the party has been mooted but, as was noted earlier, a Scottish court threw out a similar challenge by Alex Salmond against the BBC in April 2010, which was brought after he was excluded from a leaders’ debate. (see 4.10pm)
The prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, warned that the law governing campaigning in a general election is “wide open to abuse”, a member of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee has claimed.
This evening, The Labour MP Ian Lucas used a valedictory debate to “draw to the House’s attention today the serious position that exists on the cusp of a general election”.
Lucas, who is standing down at the election, quoted correspondence he said he had secured through the committee between Cummings and the Electoral Commission. He told MPs:
I have secured through the committee these documents and I’m placing them in the public record because it is something that should be known by the public in this country before we vote in a general election.
We have a general election happening and we have laws in place which are completely inadequate to deal with that general election.
And I just want to quote to this House the words of Dominic Cummings in correspondence that he sent to the Electoral Commission.
It says: ‘Overall, it is clear that the entire regulatory structure around national elections, including data, is really bad. There are so many contradictions, gaps, logical lacuna, that it’s wide open to abuse. There has been no proper audit by anybody of how the rules could be exploited by an internal or foreign force to swing close elections’.
‘These problems were not fixed for the 2017 election and I doubt they will be imminently. The system cannot cope with the fast-changing technology’.
So, the main adviser to the prime minister is telling us that the current legal structure for elections is unsound. We are going into a general election which is going to be fought online and we’re already seeing the way in which that is affecting the campaign we are facing.
Boris Johnson has spoken to the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi this evening, Downing Street says. A spokeswoman added:
The leaders welcomed the recent lifting of restrictions on flights from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh as the first step towards services resuming and emphasised the importance of close cooperation between the UK and Egypt on security.
The two leaders agreed to continue to work together to strengthen the relationship between the UK and Egypt, particularly in areas of trade and education. The prime minister welcomed the opening of three new British university campuses in Egypt.
Conservative plans to use the civil service to rubbish Labour’s spending plans have been scuppered after the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, argued with senior civil servants that it would breach impartiality rules.
Forcing a climbdown before the general election, Britain’s highest ranking civil servant, Mark Sedwill, made a decision that the publication of Treasury analysis with only weeks to go before the 12 December poll would be improper.
The government had planned to open its election campaign with an attack this week on Labour’s economic credibility. However, opposition sources said the government had been slapped down by senior civil servants, forcing an embarrassing U-turn.
In an email exchange seen by the Guardian, the cabinet office told the party: “To confirm our conversation, these costings will not be published.”
A Labour source said: “This is an embarrassing slapdown to Tory ministers who were blatantly trying to use the civil service for political purposes.”
Labour have heavily criticised the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as his Tory colleague Andrew Bridgen, over their comments on the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Earlier today, Rees-Mogg said it would have been “common sense” for people living in Grenfell Tower to have ignored the fire brigade and to have left the building once the fire started. He later apologised (see 2.08pm).
This evening, Bridgen has told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme:
Jacob is a good friend of mine and he’s an extremely intelligent and compassionate human being and his comments regarding Grenfell were uncharacteristically clumsy.
But I think we have to put them in the context of Jacob, I mean, Jacob is a leader; he is an authority figure. And what he has failed to realise is that, in a life-threatening and stressful situation, most people – most of the public – will probably defer to the advice of an authority figure – be that someone from the fire authority or the police – and not come to their own conclusions.
And, as we know with regard to Grenfell, that advice was flawed.
Bridgen said he believed Rees-Mogg meant he would not have stayed put were he caught up in the disaster – even if told to do so by firefighters.
The interviewer, Evan Davis, put it to him that that was, in fact, central to people’s objections, adding that Rees-Mogg was, in effect, saying he would not have died because he would have been cleverer than those who took the fire brigade’s advice.
After a lengthy pause and a sigh, Bridgen replied:
But we want very clever people running the country, don’t we Evan? That’s a by-product of what Jacob is an that’s why he’s in a position of authority. What he’s actually saying is that he would have made a better decision than the authority figures who gave that advice.
But I can assure you there’s absolutely no malice and no... I mean, he’s one of the most compassionate and thoughtful politicians we’ve got.
Bridgen agreed that Rees-Mogg “lives in a different world” to those who lived in Grenfell Tower and, therefore, finds it difficult to empathise; adding that he is not alone among politicians and people who work in the media in that respect.
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, called Bridgen’s comments “contemptible” and said the Tory leader should remove him as a candidate.
What Rees-Mogg and Bridgen said go to the poisonous heart of the Tories’ attitude towards people in our communities.
The choice at this election is clear – the Tories who blame the victims of tragedy, or Labour who are on your side.
The Labour MP, David Lammy, also criticised Bridgen and called on Rees-Mogg to resign from the government:
As the main parties ramp up their election campaigns, letterboxes across the country will begin to clog with leaflets vying to attract voters’ attention.
We want to hear the most outlandish claims your local candidates from the main political parties or independents have made to try to win your vote.
If you’ve spotted claims you think should be challenged, unverified bar charts, or facts you think need checking, send them over to us. You can do so here:
The Tory MP and Brexiter Andrew Bridgen defended what Jacob Rees-Mogg had to say about the victims of the Grenfell Tower not having enough sense (see 2.08pm), in an interview on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme a few minutes ago. These are from Sky’s Lewis Goodall.
That’s all from me for today.
My colleague Kevin Rawlinson is now taking over.
From my colleague Rowena Mason
The Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, says he will be broadcasting on Facebook every day, staring this evening at 6pm.
With parliament dissolving tonight ahead of the election, ministers have released a flurry of minor-ish announcements that they have been holding back because, on a quieter day, they would attract too much bad publicity. The Mirror’s Dan Bloom has a good summary of them here.
From Stefan Rousseau, the Press Association’s chief political photographer
During Foreign Office questions in the Commons earlier Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, denied that Downing Street was in the grip of a “Kremlin mole”. He was responding to a question from his Labour shadow, Emily Thornberry, who asked about Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s de facto chief of staff, who worked in Russia after leaving university. Thornberry asked:
Does Mr Cummings have unredacted access to top secret intelligence and unrestricted access to top secret meetings relating to Nato, Russia, Ukraine and Syria, yes or no?
As she knows, the government and ministers do not comment on security clearance.
But I think that the insinuation in her letter that No 10 is somehow in the grip of a Kremlin mole is frankly ridiculous even by the standards of the ‘loony left’.
Jeremy Corbyn sounded confident talking about his Brexit policy this morning. (See 1.16pm.) But, according to this YouGov polling, by three to one voters are more likely to say Labour’s Brexit policy is not clear than that it is clear. All the other main GB parties (the Tories, the Lib Dems and the Brexit party) have Brexit policies that are widely seen as clear.
There have been two GB polls out in the last 24 hours or so.
- An ICM poll gives the Conservatives a seven-point lead.
- A YouGov poll gives the Conservatives a 13-point lead.
The Times’s Matt Chorley has posted on Twitter an interesting chart showing how trends in the YouGov pre-election polling compare with the trends at the same point before the 2017 general election.
And Joe Murphy in the Evening Standard says YouGov polling in London shows that Labour’s lead over the Tories in the capital is half what it was at the 2017 general election. In his story, Murphy quotes Prof Philip Cowley, an elections expert, saying this about the new figures.
Compared to the position in 2017, these figures mean a fall of 16 points in the Labour share of the vote and just a four point drop in the Conservative share. In practice, assuming no change by polling day, this would almost certainly mean seats being lost by Labour and gained by the Conservatives.
Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP will consider legal action against broadcasters that exclude her party from leaders’ election debates, after it complained to Ofcom over Sky News refusal to include the SNP.
Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s business convenor at Westminster, wrote to Sky and Ofcom on Wednesday to complain that its plans to invite only Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson were “undemocratic and completely inexcusable”.
The SNP said it “could test the matter in the courts if it is not swiftly resolved”. It believes excluding other Westminster parties breaches the Ofcom code on screening a wide range of significant views, taking account of past or current electoral support. The SNP is currently Westminster’s third-largest party and claims the polls show it will remain so after the election.
The first minister, campaigning in the Labour-held marginal of Midlothian, said:
We will consider all of our options. [It] remains to be seen whether this Sky debate goes ahead because to the best of my knowledge Johnson and Corbyn haven’t agreed to it yet.
But there’s an issue of real principle here of how how can you include the fourth biggest party in the UK in a debate like this and not the third biggest party. We’ll take forward these discussions, but I’m ruling nothing out at this stage.
The Lib Dems have mooted legal action against ITV for screening a Johnson against Corbyn debate that excludes Swinson, but in April 2010 a Scottish court threw out a similar challenge brought by Alex Salmond against the BBC after he was excluded from a leaders’ debate.
Critics argue that since Sturgeon is not standing for Westminster and cannot become prime minister, and as the SNP is only contesting seats in Scotland, it does not have the same standing as UK-wide parties in a Westminster contest.
Stormzy joins those criticising Rees-Mogg for saying Grenfell Tower victims should have shown more sense
The grime artist Stormzy has joined those criticising Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, for saying the Grenfell Tower victims should have had the sense to ignore fire brigade advice to stay put. (See 2.08pm.) There are a series of tweets about Rees-Mogg on his Twitter feed. Here’s one.
The BBC’s Daniel Sandford says the Tories have doctored a video featuring Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, to show him in an unfavourable light.
I’ve asked the Tories for a comment, and will post the reply when I get it.
Conservative candidates in the general election will be told not to sign up to specific pledges on protecting the NHS from privatisation and trade deals or tackling climate change, according to a leaked internal document from party headquarters, my colleague Nick Hopkins reports.
Hammond decides to leave parliament rather than quit Tory party and stand as independent
Philip Hammond, the former chancellor, has announced that he is standing down. He was one of the 21 Tories who had the whip removed in September over Brexit, and was not one of the 10 from that group who had the whip restored.
In an open letter to his constituents, he suggests that he considered fighting his seat, Runnymede and Weybridge, as an independent, but that this would have led to him being thrown out of the Conservative party (which is different from having the whip removed). That is not what he wanted, he suggests.
Hammond says that he is “saddened” to find himself in this situation after 45 years as a party member. But he remains a Conservative, he says, and does not want to challenge the party at an election.
He also says he intends to remain an active party member, and that he will be working “to ensure that the Conservative party of the future is a broad-based, forward-looking, pro-business and pro-markets centre-right party”.
Anne Milton, the Guildford MP who was one of the 21 Tories who had the whip removed after rebelling over Brexit, has said that she will stand as an independent. She was not one of the 10 rebels who subsequently had the whip restored.
No 10 abandons promise to give MPs vote on extending Brexit transition, leading to claim PM planning no deal
At the Downing Street lobby briefing this morning the prime minister’s spokesman ruled out MPs being given a vote on whether or not to request an extension to the Brexit transition, which is due to finish at the end of next year. The government is now ruling out an extension (see 9.45am), even though many people assume an extension will be necessary, and so it is perhaps not surprising that No 10 is ruling out a vote.
Asked if MPs would be allowed a vote on an extension, the spokesman told journalists:
The answer to that is a simple no. We aren’t extending the implementation period. There is no reason whatsoever why we will not secure a deal by that date. Both the UK and the EU are committed to reaching a trade agreement by that date and that is what we are going to do.
David Gauke, the former justice secretary who was one of the 21 Tories who had the whip removed over Brexit, says, without an extension, the UK will face a no-deal Brexit in December 2020.
He also says the new No 10 line directly contradicts what Robert Buckland, Gauke’s successor as justice secretary, told MPs only two weeks ago about how MPs would get a vote on an extension.
Nick Boles, another former Tory who left the party by his own choice over Brexit, also claims this decision means Johnson is planning a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year. He tabled an amendment to the withdrawal agreement bill that would have guaranteed MPs a vote on extending the transition.
If Johnson does win a majority, one key question will be whether or not there are enough Tory MPs willing to rebel with the opposition to force through a Boles-style amendment saying parliament should have a vote on an extension.
Although Boles says that No 10 ruling out an extension to the transition means Johnson is planning a no-deal Brexit, a more credible explanation is that he is just making a promise now that he has no intention of keeping - as when he went back on his promise not to agree to customs controls down the Irish Sea (see 10.32am), or broke his “do or die” pledge not to request a Brexit extension.
Yesterday John Woodcock, the Labour-turned-independent MP, announced that he was standing down from parliament. Today Priti Patel, the home secretary, has appointed him as UK special envoy for countering violent extremism.
Woodcock, like his fellow former Labour MP John Mann, who was appointed independent adviser on antisemitism by Theresa May, has been highly critical of Jeremy Corbyn, particularly over antisemitism.
The most memorable story of the day will probably turn out to be Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, apologising for saying it would have been “common sense” for people living in Grenfell Tower to have ignored the fire brigade and to have left the building once the fire started. My colleague Kate Proctor has written it up here.
Here is some comment from politicians.
From Jeremy Corbyn
From Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary
From Humza Yousaf, the Scottish justice secretary
From Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary
And here is some comment from journalists.
From the BBC’s Nick Robinson
From the broadcaster Tom Sutcliffe
Jo Swinson has formally launched the Liberal Democrats’ election campaign with a remain-dominated message, insisting she can become prime minister but declining to specify what the party might do if it holds the balance of power, my colleague Peter Walker reports.
Here’s a question from below the line.
Gavin Freeguard from the Institute for Government has a tally.
Barnier says extension to transition period may be necessary
The UK and European Union face “a moment of truth” in post-Brexit trade talks next summer, Michel Barnier has said.
In a sign that he does not share Boris Johnson’s confidence that no extension of the Brexit transition period is needed (see 9.45am), Barnier warned that the risk of a no-deal “cliff edge” remained.
If the UK leaves the EU with a deal on 31 January, only 11 months remain of the post-Brexit transition, a period when the UK will remain in the EU single market and customs union, without having any say over decisions.
The government has the choice to seek a one-off extension of the transition until the end of 2021 or 2022, but must agree any extension with the EU by 1 July 2020.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said on Monday that the UK would not extend the transition period. Barnier, who has seen the UK extend withdrawal negotiations three times, sounded unconvinced: “Summer 2020 will be a moment of truth in how far we have come and whether an extension will be needed,” he told a tech conference in Lisbon on Tuesday.
Recently rehired by Brussels to lead talks on the future relationship with the UK, Barnier also issued a reminder that the current withdrawal agreement was “a necessary step” but not the “final destination”. Approval of the Brexit withdrawal deal by the UK parliament is the prelude to years more negotiations on a free trade agreement and foreign policy links. “As long as we have not completed both negotiations [the withdrawal agreement and future talks] with the UK, the risk of a cliff edge remains and we should all remain vigilant,” Barnier said.
Reiterating what he told the Guardian and other European newspapers last week, he said the EU would not compromise its environmental, social and economic standards in exchange for a free trade deal.
He stressed that an agreement on zero quotas and zero tariffs on trade would be linked to respecting EU norms on the environment, worker protections and state aid, in order to maintain a level playing field between EU and British companies. “The EU will not tolerate unfair competitive advantage.”
He predicted the negotiations would be “difficult and demanding” because the time is “extremely short” and because the UK “might want to diverge from EU rules”.
Corbyn's speech and Q&A - Summary
Some Tories have been assuming that Brexit will work best for them, not Labour, as an election issue. There are many voters, including people who voted remain, who are desperate for this to disappear as a problem facing the country, and in No 10 there was an assumption that Jeremy Corbyn’s stance - promising to a second referendum, but refusing now to say how he would campaign in it - would prove a liability.
But it did not particularly look like that this morning. Rather than duck Brexit as an issue, Corbyn this morning sought to switch it into a campaign positive for him, particular with his claim about how he could actually put it to bed as an issue more quickly than Boris Johnson.
Here are the main points.
- Corbyn claimed that Labour would resolve the Brexit crisis facing the UK more quickly than Boris Johnson - because Johnson would spend years negotiating trade deals, while Labour wouldn’t. (See 11.34am.) This involved an implicit admission that, under a Labour soft Brexit, the UK would not be negotiating its own trade deals because it would be working on them in conjunction with the EU. This is something that Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, conceded in an interview on the Today programme this morning.
- Corbyn defended his policy of trying to represent people on both sides of the Brexit debate. (See 11.36am.)
- He said that a UK-US trade deal of the kind envisaged by the Tories would unleash unleash “Thatcherism on steroids” on Britain. (See 11.28am.)
- He defended the claim that a UK-US trade deal could cost the NHS an extra £500m a week in higher drug prices (see 9.08am), saying that this was an accurate and credible figure. Labour say this figure comes from what Liverpool University’s Dr Andrew Hill, an adviser to the WHO, told the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last week. Hill said:
Our annual drugs bill for the NHS is £18bn, if we had to have American drug prices we are talking about £18bn a year going up to £45bn, so that’s an extra £27bn a year, or £500m a week extra for the NHS to pay.
- Corbyn dismissed suggestions that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party should appeal to Labour voters, saying Farage was a “one-trick pony”. Corbyn went on:
He doesn’t actually offer anything to any of those communities. Our message and manifesto is about investing in all parts of this country.
- Corbyn sidestepped a question about whether Labour would keep freedom of movement under its proposed plan for a soft Brexit. In the past Labour has said that freedom of movement would end if the UK left the EU, but at the party conference delegates passed a motion backing the principle of freedom of movement. In a separate interview today Starmer said freedom of movement would have to be part of any Labour negotiation with the EU over the terms of its soft Brexit.
- He did not rule out letting ministers campaign on either side during a second Brexit referendum. When asked if this would be an option, he just said the party would decide its stance at a special conference ahead of the proposed referendum.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, tells MPs the government’s refusal to publish this report is unjustified and politically motivated. It is “nothing less than an attempt to suppress the truth”, she says.
Pincher repeats the point about the turnaround time for the publication of this report being not unusual.
Foreign Office minister dismisses claims No 10 is holding up publication of Russia report without justification
Grieve is responding to Pincher now.
He says the committee finished its report in March. He says it was then vetted for sensitive information, and it was cleared by the intelligence services by October. Then it was sent to No 10 for approval before publication.
He says the claim the intelligence agencies have already said publicly that the publication of this report will not hinder their work. So why is No 10 not publishing it? He says Downing Street cannot remove material from these reports.
He says there have been claims from No 10 that weeks of further consultation is necessary. That is not true.
And he also asks the government to withdraw the “slur”, which he says came from No 10, that parts of the report have already been leaked.
Pincher says it is not unusual for the review of ISC reports to take some time. The prime minister has had other things to do in recent weeks, Pincher says.
He says the PM has a specific responsibility to check that there is nothing sensitive in these reports before they are published.
Urgent question on No 10's refusal to publish report on Russian meddling in UK politics
In the Commons Dominic Grieve, the chair of the intelligence and security committee, has just asked an urgent question about why No 10 has refused to publish his committee’s report into Russian meddling in UK politics.
Chris Pincher, the Foreign Office minister, is responding. He says these reports always contain sensitive information. He says it is normal for the government to spend around six weeks looking at these reports before publishing them to ensure that sensitive information does not get into the public domain. He says Grieve’s committee knows this.
Boris Johnson’s cabinet discussed abuse of election candidates at a meeting this morning, agreeing that the government will write to social media companies calling on them to protect politicians from online threats. They will be asked to set up “one-stop shops” where candidates can report abusive online behaviour.
The prime minister’s spokesman said:
Cabinet discussed the safeguards which will be in place during the campaign to protect all candidates from intimidation and abuse. Cabinet agreed that people who intimidate public figures should face the consequences of their actions.
The freedom to hold respectful, vibrant and robust debate cannot be an excuse to cause harm, spread hatred or impose views upon others ...
Ministers are also writing to social media companies calling or action to prevent candidates being subjected to abuse online, and to encourage the companies to work together during the campaign.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National party leader, has said she will “drive a hard bargain” in any post-election talks with Jeremy Corbyn about supporting a minority Labour government.
Sturgeon refused to rule out negotiating a formal “confidence and supply” arrangement with Labour but she told Kay Burley on Sky News her strong preference would be to support Labour on a vote by vote basis.
Let’s see what the arithmetic is. There will be no formal coalition... [I] would favour more, and be more likely to be, in a situation where we have an issue by issue arrangement, where we support on some things but don’t support on others.
But we will drive a hard bargain and we will stand up for Scotland’s interests and we will stand up for the kind of progressive values that people across the UK think are important.
We will want to see a very strong position on Brexit. This is an opportunity for Scotland and for what it’s worth the rest of the UK to escape the mess of Brexit.
That conforms with Corbyn’s repeated insistence Labour will not form coalitions with any other party, but Sturgeon’s reference to the SNP driving a “hard bargain” were picked up by the Scottish Tories.
Tory allegations that Corbyn and Sturgeon have already struck a deal where Labour will grant the SNP powers to stage a second independence vote next year mushroomed after Sturgeon confirmed last week the pair had had private talks late last month.
Sturgeon said last month Corbyn shouldn’t “bother picking up the phone” if he was not prepared to authorise a second Scotland referendum, and has confirmed she plans to ask for the section 30 powers to hold it within days of the election next month.
Labour sources say that conversation was entirely about post-election strategies to thwart a no-deal Brexit and deny there was any discussion of pacts or independence. Labour officials say the party’s first priority would be renegotiating a new Brexit deal and putting that to a confirmatory referendum.
Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, have confirmed they are open to granting a second independence vote, but only after several years of Labour rule at Westminster, and assuming pro-independence parties win a majority and a fresh mandate in the 2021 Holyrood elections.
Q: Nigel Farage says he will target Labour MPs in leave-voting seats. He says you are out of touch with these people. How will you assure people you are in touch?
Corbyn says Farage is a one-trick pony from a very rich organisation.
He says Farage is not offering anything that would solve the problems facing these communities.
Labour would set up a national investment bank to invest in these regions.
His message is that a Labour government will improve these communities, he says.
Q: Would you accept revoking article 50 as the price of a coalition in a hung parliament with the Lib Dems?
Corbyn says he is campaigning to win the election with a majority Labour government. He is not campaigning to form a coalition with anyone.
Q: If you held a referendum, and remain won very narrowly on a smaller turnout than in 2016, would you consider that the final word on the matter for the next 40 years.
Corbyn says he wants the whole debate to be over. He wants to lead a Labour government that would carry out Labour policies, and that would be a voice for justice on the world stage.
And that’s it. The Q&A is over.
I will post a summary shortly.
Q: You quoted a figure for a trade deal costing the NHS £500m a week that is based on a crude assumption about all drug prices being the same as in the US. Isn’t this misleading?
Corbyn says he believes this to be an accurate and credible figure. He would not be using it otherwise. And he says he is happy for people to analyse it, and to tell him if he is understating the case.
Corbyn says Johnson wants a trade deal with the US. They want a trade deal, knowing full well the US will demand alignment and full market access. And you will see the price of it, he says.
He says a vote for Boris Johnson involves a vote for a trade deal, and all that goes with it.
Q: You have made it clear you will not say how you would campaign in a second Brexit referendum. But would you be happy for your ministers to campaign on either side during that campaign.
Corbyn says the Labour policy has been arrived at through debate. That is one thing the party is good at debate; they love it. They have experts in all areas.
He says he has tried to bring the party together.
It agreed a Brexit policy at its conference in Brighton.
He says Labour activists are campaigning on this policy.
After a three-month negotiation, Labour would hold a special conference. At that point it would come to a view, he says.
He says he would want a referendum to have informed debate, and very strict spending limits.
Labour would then carry out the referendum decision. And there would be no further debate, he says.
Corbyn is now taking questions.
Q: You had some fun talking about Boris Johnson’s deadline. But you say you can get Brexit done by 13 June. Is that a fixed deadline for you? Or could you go beyond that, if the talks take longer or the referendum legislation takes longer?
Corbyn says this deadline is a realistic one. He says he and Keir Starmer have spent many hours in Brussels discussing their plans. They would not be discussing this if it was not realistic. The referendum legislation could start going through before the negotiations had finished. Starmer has a season ticket for the Eurostar, he says.
Q: Will freedom of movement remain under Labour?
Corbyn says EU nationals would have an absolute right to remain after Brexit. Their rights would be guaranteed.
He does not address the specific point about the freedom of movement that currently applies because the UK is in the EU.
Q: President Trump has denied wanting to include the NHS in a trade deal. And the government says it will not include this. So this is just a scare story, isn’t it?
Corbyn says Trump himself said the NHS had to be included. And the US ambassador said the NHS would be included. And, if the government assurances are true, why did the government allow officials to have six meetings with US officials on this subject. He says the threat is real. The Americans talk about the UK health market. Corbyn says it is the national health service. And the key word is service.
Q: Will your renegotiation reopen the withdrawal agreement? Or will it just consider the political declaration.
Corbyn says Labour would rip up the withdrawal agreement on day one and start again.
Corbyn defends wanting to represent both sides in Brexit debate
Corbyn defends his own stance on Brexit.
People sometimes accuse me of trying to talk to both sides at once in the Brexit debate; to people who voted leave and remain.
You know what? They’re right.
Why would I only want to talk to half the country?
I don’t want to live in half a country.
Anybody seeking to become prime minister must talk to and listen to the whole country.
Labour stands not just for the 52% or the 48%, but for the 99%.
It’s Labour that’s determined to bring a divided country together.
Corbyn claims he would sort out Brexit more quickly than Boris Johnson
Corbyn summarises Labour’s Brexit policy - a renegotiation, and a referendum, with remain and a soft Brexit proposal as the options.
And he claims that this would enable Labour to “sort” Brexit more quickly than would happen under the Conservatives.
The irony is, for all his boasting, Johnson’s sell-out deal still won’t get Brexit done. It will lead to years of continuing negotiations and uncertainty.
Whereas Labour’s plan will sort Brexit quickly, because whatever the final decision, we won’t be ripping up our main trading relationship.
The EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said an EU trade deal on Johnson’s terms would take “three years, maybe more” of further negotiations.
Johnson’s sell-out deal with Trump could take even longer.
A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for yet more drawn-out, bogged down negotiations, more broken promises, and more distraction from the vital issues facing all of us - like making sure people have decent wages, secure homes, and a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.
A green light for Boris Johnson’s sell-out Trump deal would just be the start of years more Brexit chaos and division.
Corbyn says Tory UK-US trade deal would 'unleash Thatcherism on steroids' on UK
Corbyn says a Tory UK-US trade deal would unleash “Thatcherism on steroids” on the UK. He says:
For many in the Tory party this is what Brexit has always been about: reversing the hard-fought gains won by working class people over generations.
Given the chance, they’ll run down our rights at work, our entitlements to holidays, breaks and leave.
Given the chance, they’ll slash food standards to match the US, where what are called “acceptable levels” of rat hairs in paprika, and maggots in orange juice are allowed and they’ll put chlorinated chicken on our supermarket shelves.
And given the chance they’ll water down the rules on air pollution and our environment that keep us safe.
They want a race to the bottom in standards and protections. They want to move us towards a more deregulated American model of how to run the economy.
In the US workers get just 10 days holiday a year, big business gets free rein to call the shots and tens of millions are denied healthcare.
What Boris Johnson’s Conservatives want is to hijack Brexit to unleash Thatcherism on steroids.
The Thatcher government’s attack on the working people of our country left scars that have never healed and communities that have never recovered.
Corbyn is now covering what might happen if the Tories negotiate a UK-US trade deal. Some extracts on this subject were released overnight. (See 9.08am.) Here is the rest of the passage.
Just look at how these corporations operate in the US. They are ruthless. They will suck as much money as they can out of our NHS while cancer patients wait longer for treatment.
We now know that US and UK officials have been discussing drug pricing in secret, and the US government is demanding what its officials call “full market access for US products”.
Senior NHS managers have said that would mean “higher prices for medicines” which will “pass on costs to both patients and the NHS”.
So there we have it. Johnson can deny it all he likes, but people won’t believe him. And the Tories know that – which is why, behind the scenes, the Conservatives have tried to suppress the news attacking the BBC for reporting what we and health professionals are saying.
This is what they don’t want you to hear: a vote for Johnson’s Conservatives is a vote to betray our NHS in a sell out to Trump. Johnson’s Trump deal Brexit puts a price tag on our NHS.
So we’ll say it again and again until the message gets through to the White House: our NHS is not for sale.
Activists at the event start shouting: “Not for sale”. Corbyn tells them to make sure this message is heard on the doorsteps.
Corbyn also praises the two Labour shadow cabinet ministers who spoke before he took the stage, Laura Pidcock and Sir Keir Starmer. He particularly praises the way Starmer and his team were able to provide the party with a comprehensive analysis of Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement overnight, so that Corbyn and his colleagues had it the morning after the agreement was published.
Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit speech
Jeremy Corbyn starts by praising the Labour candidate in Harlow, Laura McAlpine. Two years ago the Tory Robert Halfon had a majority here of 7,031.
Swinson is still speaking at the Lib Dem event, but I’m going to switch now to Jeremy Corbyn, who has just started his Brexit speech.
Q: Are there any Tory or Labour MPs you would not accept into the Lib Dems?
Yes, says Swinson. But she won’t name names.
Q: Would you rule out putting any Labour into No 10 willing to allow a second Scottish independence referendum?
Swinson says the Lib Dems are opposed to second independence referendum.
She says Labour are in the clutches of Corbyn and his supporters. Even if the leader were to change, the direction of policy would not.
Q: What is your message to leave voters? How would you bring the country together if a Lib Dem government revoked article 50?
Swinson says she understands the challenge this would be. As a Scot, she knows what it is like being in a divided country.
Many people have been unhappy with the way things have been going. A Lib Dem government would address those problems. That is how to bring the country together.
Q: As prime minister would you refuse to deal with Donald Trump?
Swinson says she would not refuse to deal with him. There are plenty of world leaders the Lib Dems have their differences with, but who they would engage with.
But she says the decision to offer Trump a state visit was the wrong thing to do because of Trump’s values.
Q: Why will you stand down candidates against some remain parties, but not against Labour candidates who are personally committed to remain?
Swinson says the Labour party is not at all serious about stopping Brexit.
She says Rosie Duffield, the Labour candidate in Canterbury, is great. She would be welcome to join the Liberal Democrats.
Q: Would you prop up another form of government in a hung parliament?
Swinson says she is offering to the public a Lib Dem government.
She says she is speaking in the constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster. The Lib Dems have never been in contention here. But this time, with Chuka Umunna as a candidate, they are in the running.
Swinson rules out using Lib Dem votes to put Corbyn in No 10
Q: You have said Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be PM. But, in the event of a hung parliament, would back him to be in Downing Street so he could deliver a second referendum.
Swinson says she is “absolutely, categorically” ruling out using Lib Dem votes to put Corbyn into No 10.
Even today, if you ask him if he is remain or leave, he will not say, she says.
She says she does not trust him on the economy, or on defence.
And one of the most important values is equality. Corbyn’s failure to root out antisemitism in his party is a “total dereliction of duty”, she says.
(It is worth pointing out that ruling out using Lib Dem votes to put Corbyn into No 10 is not the same as saying the party would vote against Corbyn in a confidence vote. This form of words would be compatible with the Lib Dems abstaining in such a vote, although Swinson did imply she would oppose him.)
Q: When before has a position ever won a general election from the point the Lib Dems are starting now? Isn’t it the case that you wanted an election because it would help you win seats, even though the result might deliver Brexit?
Swinson says politics is different now. She thinks opinion has shifted. That is why she is setting out ambitious plans for a Lib Dem government.
Swinson is now taking questions.
Q: You say you want to bring the country together. But how will you do that if you overturn the referendum result?
Swinson says the Lib Dems are standing up for what they believe in.
Swinson says one in five people in the UK are living in poverty, and 4.6 million of them are children.
She says she wants to live in a country where people can achieve whatever they want to, where people get the help they need, and where can be whoever they want to be.
Swinson dismisses Johnson as 'British Donald Trump'
Swinson accuses Johnson of modelling himself on Donald Trump.
With his big lies, his brash promises and his attitude to women, it’s clear that Boris Johnson is modelling himself on Donald Trump. But Britain deserves better than the British Donald Trump.
And she says only this morning Corbyn was giving a speech saying he will get Brexit done. That just shows how similar to the two main parties are, she says.
Swinson says she is certain she would be a better PM than either Johnson or Corbyn
Swinson says the Lib Dems recognise that society is stronger because of immigration.
In other times in these circumstances the Lib Dems might have hoped to double their seats.
But the country needs the Lib Dems to be more ambitious, she says. She says what Labour and the Tories are offering on Brexit is not good enough.
It is not about the red team and the blue team, because on this issue they merge into one.
Swinson says she never expected to be a candidate for PM. But she has looked at Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn and decided she is certain she could do a better job as PM.
Swinson says all four nations of the UK are stronger when they stand together.
She will never stop fighting for the UK “because we are stronger together when we are united, and it’s precious, and we must not let people wreck it”.
Jo Swinson is speaking now. She says the Lib Dems will “stop Brexit and build a brighter future”.
Some people ask why the Lib Dems are being so ambitious now. It is because they can be, and they have to be.
Politics is no longer about left versus right. It is about values, she says.
The only uncertainty is what will emerge, she says. Will things go back to usual? Or is this a moment for seismic change? Can a new politics emerge?
She says voters have that choice.
Change is possible, and you get to choose.
She cites MPs like Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, who defected to the Lib Dems, as examples of people who chose change.
Berger says Lib Dems have often heard people ask who would be worse - Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. They are two leaders stuck in the past, failing time and time again, she says.
But there is a better choice, she says.
She says she is excited at being able to campaign for the Lib Dem programme.
She says every one in the community would be valued and cared for, and business would be treated as part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Berger says Jo Swinson is someone who represents a new way of doing politics. She stands up for remainers, and she is the Lib Dem candidate for prime minister.
Lib Dem election launch
Luciana Berger, the former Labour MP who defected to the Lib Dems, is introducing Jo Swinson at the Lib Dem election launch.
She says the Lib Dems have an opportunity to stop Brexit.
Boris Johnson's three misleading claims in his election pitch to cabinet
Boris Johnson has been chairing cabinet this morning, and Downing Street let the cameras in to film the PM delivering an upbeat, pre-election message to his team. He did not say anything that he had not said before, but his words were significant because they probably encapsulate his key election pitch.
They also contain three statements that are significantly misleading at the very least.
1) Johnson said he negotiated a Brexit deal when people said it could not be done. He told the cabinet.
We have achieved something that people thought we really couldn’t do, and that was get a new deal, and a great new deal on our Brexit from the European Union. They said it couldn’t be done.
People were sceptical about Johnson’s ability to negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU. But that was because they were rash enough to believe the commitment Johnson himself gave he spoke at the DUP’s annual conference in November 2018 and said no Conservative government could sign up to a plan that would impose customs controls between Britain and Northern Ireland.
2) Johnson claimed parliament blocked his deal. He told the cabinet:
Unfortunately parliament at the last minute decided to block it.
Parliament voted to give his bill a second reading. It did vote against his programme motion. But, as the Constitution Unit’s Meg Russell argues here, that was because the time allocated to consider the bill was widely seen as unreasonable. Johnson never tried to get MPs to vote for a more reasonable programme motion.
3) Johnson claimed that under Labour there would be two referendums in 2020. He said:
Or do you want to waste 2020, which could be an absolutely fantastic year for the nation, with two more referendums, one on the European Union on a decision that has yet to be properly outlined for the country under Jeremy Corbyn, and one which risks the break-up of our union of the United Kingdom and risks breaking up the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK?
It is true that Jeremy Corbyn is proposing a second Brexit referendum next year. And it is true that Corbyn has not ruled out agreeing to a second Scottish independence referendum at some point in the future. But Labour has ruled out holding one in 2020.
The Jeremy Corbyn speech and the Lib Dem launch were both due to start at 10am. But I’m now told the Lib Dem event is due to start at 10.30am, and the Labour event about 20 minutes later.
Gove says there is 'no way' Tories would let drug prices rise under UK-US trade deal
In a subsequent interview with ITV, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said there was “no way” the Tories would allow drug prices to rise as a result of a trade deal with the US.
Starmer says he is confident Labour could negotiate new withdrawal agreement with EU in three months
In his own interview with the Today programme Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said that he was confident Labour would be able to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement with the EU within three months, as it is proposing. He explained:
I have been talking to officials in the [European] commission for the best part of three years and to very senior politicians in all the EU 27 countries.
I know very well what the parameters of a deal are. I am confident, first, that it can be secured and second that it can be secured within a very short period of time.
I am confident that this can be done in three months. I actually think it will take a lot less.
Gove's morning interviews - Summary and analysis
I have already quoted Michael Gove dismissing the Labour claim about a Tory UK-US trade deal potentially costing the NHS £500m a year as being nonsense. (See 9.08am.) Here are some of the other lines from his round of interviews this morning.
- Gove, the Cabinet Office minister and the minister in charge of no-deal planning, categorically ruled out an extension to the transition period, which is due to finish at the end of December next year. Under the proposed withdrawal agreement, the UK would have the option of requesting an extension to this period (during which the UK will officially be out of the EU, but during which it will be still complying with EU law, and paying into the EU budget, while businesses prepare for the new trading rules that will come into force) for one year or two years. But, on the Today programme, asked if the transition period could be extended, Gove replied: “No.” When the presenter, Mishal Husain, asked him if he was saying definitely not, Gove replied: “Absolutely.” He also insisted that it would be possible to to negotiate a new trade relationship with the EU before the end of next year. He told the Today programme:
It is always the case that we need to prepare for every eventuality, but I am confident that we will be able to get a good relationship with the EU at the end of this period.
In an earlier interview with Sky Gove was more equivocal, just saying that he did not believe there would be an extension to the transition. But his comment in his Today interview confirmed what No 10 was saying yesterday. Most trade specialists and EU observers believe there is almost no chance of the UK and the EU being able to finalise a new trade deal before the end of next year, although Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has recently said that “the principle elements” of a trade deal could be negotiated before the end of 2020 and that an extension is not inevitable.
- Gove claimed that Johnson was someone who had “vanquished the doubters” when it came to his ability to deliver on Brexit. He used the line an in interview with Sky’s Kay Burley, who was asking him what would happen if the UK and the EU failed to negotiate a trade deal by the end of next year. Burley responded with astonishment, pointing out that Johnson was the person who promised to die in a ditch rather than request a Brexit extension, and then did precisely that.
- Gove described the deal that the UK would negotiate with the EU on trade as “Canada plus plus plus”. Speaking on Sky, he said there would be no tariffs, no quotas and no restrictions on trade with the EU. This is not how trade experts see it. Some of them are using the term “Canada minus” to describe the trade deal proposed by Johnson, because it envisages more friction in UK-EU trade than Theresa May’s plan would have involved.
- Gove blamed parliament for the fact that Johnson had to request a Brexit extension, despite the fact that he repeatedly and categorically said that he would not do this.
This is a bogus argument, as the University College London’s Constitution Unit explains here.
- Gove said that an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party would start before the end of the year.
Gove calls Labour's claim UK-US trade deal could cost NHS £500m per week 'nonsense'
Yesterday leading figures in the NHS urged politicians not to start making excessive claims about health policy during the election. That was always a vain hope, and this morning the Conservatives and Labour are engaged in a row about whether the trade deal that Boris Johnson wants to with the US would result in crippling costs for the NHS. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister and one of the Tories’ most pugnacious communicators, has been doing a media round and he hit out at the Labour claim.
- Gove described a claim from Jeremy Corbyn that a Tory UK-US trade deal could cost the NHS £500m a week as “ridiculous nonsense”. In his speech later this morning, according to extracts briefed in advance, Corbyn will say:
Johnson stood in front of a bus and promised £350m a week for the NHS. Now we find out that £500m a week could be taken out of the NHS and handed to big drugs companies under his plans for a sell-out trade deal with Donald Trump.
We now know that US and UK officials have been discussing drug pricing in secret and the US government is demanding “full market access for US products.” Senior NHS managers have said that would mean “higher prices for medicines” which will “pass on costs to both patients and the NHS”.
Responding to this claim Gove told BBC Breakfast:
It is the most ridiculous nonsense I have ever heard in my 52 years on this earth.
It is a fantasy. It is a figure plucked from thin air in order to try to distract attention from the weakness of Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit.
We have made it perfectly clear drug prices won’t be going up. Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to perpetuate Halloween into November by telling ghost stories that frankly no one believes.
For a good analysis of what to make of these competing claims, I recommend this analysis from my colleague Denis Campbell.
There were several other striking lines in Gove’s morning interviews. I will post a full summary shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit in Harlow.
10am: Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, launches her party’s election campaign in Westminster.
11am: Nigel Farage, the Brexit party leader, campaigns in Bolsover. Later he will be in Ashfield.
1.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister and SNP leader, campaigns in Dalkeith.
As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, although I will be focusing mostly on general election developments. I plan to publish a summary when I wrap up.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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