Friday briefing: Unwelcome guest? Trump state visit in peril

Minister says he is ‘deeply uncomfortable’ with plan to invite president to UK … Preschoolers being grouped by ability … Kremlin set for World Cup draw

Top story: Diplomatic row over Britain First retweets deepens

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s daily briefing. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories this Friday morning.

Opposition is growing over plans to allow Donald Trump a state visit next year after Britain’s much-vaunted special relationship with the US suffered one of its darkest days. Overshadowing her own three-day visit to the Middle East, Theresa May was forced to issue a mild rebuke to Trump in their ongoing exchange about the president’s retweeting of a video by rightwing group Britain First. The prime minister, in carefully chosen words, said during her visit to Jordan that she was “very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do”. But as UK diplomats waited in vain for an apology from the White House or for Trump’s tweets to be deleted, politicians of all stripes expressed concern about a full state visit next year. Justice minister Sam Gyimah told BBC’s Question Time he was “deeply uncomfortable” with the idea while a debate in parliament earlier heard criticism of the president.

Still with Trump, and Washington is alive with rumours that he is about to sack his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and replace him with CIA boss Mike Pompeo. Multiple reports said on Thursday that the president planned to axe the former Exxon chief with whom he has enjoyed an uneasy relationship. Trump’s non-denial of the story on Thursday only fuelled the speculation – “He’s here. Rex is here,” was all Trump would say when asked – although the state department says it has been assured by the White House there are no plans to oust its boss. So no Rexit before Brexit then?

* * *

Set ideas – Preschool children are being grouped by ability and behaviour in classrooms in England, according to research. Around half of the 118 nursery school teachers questioned for the survey by academics at the University of London said they grouped their two- to four-year-olds for teaching reading, and a third did so for maths. The tendency to use groups increased later in primary schools. The researchers found children quickly worked out that they had been grouped according to different abilities despite the efforts of teachers to conceal the differences.

* * *

‘History in the making’ – The world’s largest lithium-ion battery has officially been turned on in South Australia in a development that promises to transform the production and storage of electricity. Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla, delivered on his pledge to build the 100-megawatt facility on deadline or for free after the state was blacked out last year. Critics blamed the state’s pro-renewable policies for the power cuts but Labor premier Jay Weatherill had the last laugh in the acrimonious debate when he flicked the switch to plug the battery into the grid on Friday. He called it “history in the making”.

* * *

‘No one will be rescued’ – The Argentine navy has called off the search for the missing submarine, San Juan, which went missing in deep waters off the coast of Patagonia 15 days ago. “No one will be rescued,” said navy captain Enrique Balbi. “Despite the magnitude of the effort made it has not been possible to locate the submarine,” he said, referring to the efforts of countries including the UK, US and Russia to help find the boat. However, he added that the search would continue to waters less than 500m deep, angering relatives of the 44 sailors feared lost.

* * *

Troops outside the Kremlin before today’s draw.
Troops outside the Kremlin before today’s draw. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Pot luck – If the 3pm kickoff for today’s World Cup draw feels quite traditional, then the location of the Kremlin looks a tad unusual. England’s group stage opponents will be decided this afternoon in the unlikely surrounds of Moscow’s famous medieval fortress as the buildup to next summer gets under way. You can swot up with our excellent form guide to the 32 qualifiers and also work out the best- and worst-case scenarios for England’s draw out of pot 2 with our accompanying explainer. And if that’s not enough, check out our equally wonderful venue/stadium guide, from Kaliningrad in the west to Ekaterinburg in the east.

* * *

Chain of fool – A Belgian performance artist who chained himself to a block of marble representing the “burden of history” from which artists cannot escape has been cut free after abandoning his plan to chisel himself out. Mikes Poppe was locked to the stone in Ostend and intended to slowly extricate himself but admitted defeat after 19 days. “This block was symbolic of history, the history of art, which I am trying to free myself from. I discovered that this is not possible. It is burden which I must always carry,” he said.

Lunchtime read: National symbol or national disgrace?

Big Ben under repair.
Big Ben under repair. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Deep in the bowels of the Houses of Parliament wires and cables run so thickly across the ceilings and walls that they have shrunk the space. Grease and fat from the kitchens drip on to the cabling, much to the alarm of our reporter Charlotte Higgins, who has visited the nation’s favourite gothic pile to see what is being done – or not being done – to stop the buildings falling into total disrepair. Billions need to be spent to rebuild the place, she says, but the problem is the political class fear the much-needed change will see the palace lose its mystique and perhaps its place as the “symbolic centre of the nation”. Our photographer David Levene went along too and has produced a picture essay on Westminster’s crumbling grandeur.

Sport

Joe Root’s England players intend to use the image of Steve Smith laughing at them after Brisbane as a source of extra motivation when they look to level the Ashes series in the historic day-night second Test that starts tomorrow night. Meanwhile, Ben Stokes has ploughed on with his plans to make a comeback in New Zealand despite his Ashes hopes suffering a setback and England’s players being told to move on from the prospect of his arrival in Australia.

Tiger Woods has said he is “very thankful” after making a successful comeback from back surgery by shooting a 69 in the first round of the Hero World Challenge. And football fans at next year’s World Cup in Russia will be allowed to fly rainbow flags to highlight the rights of LGBTIQ supporters but must not promote same-sex relationships to minors, according to the former Chelsea player Alexei Smertin.

Business

The prospect of Trump pushing through his plans for $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts helped the Dow Jones hit a record high of 24,272.35, a jump of 1.4% for the day. Asian investors were more circumspect, however, as some US senators emerged as potential deal blockers after the US market closed. The FTSE100 is forecast to open down 0.24%. The pound is up to $1.355 and €1.135.

The papers

It’s all about Trump and his attack on Theresa May – well almost.

The most imaginative front page award goes to the Mirror, which has an image of the Donald with the word “Wanted” on the top and a scribbled “Not” next to it. Metro doubles down with a headline saying “Twit hits the fan”. And the i has the headline “Special relationship in tatters”.

The Times says the far-right group retweeted by Trump has been given a huge boost by the publicity and had received “hundreds” of membership applications. The Guardian splashes with “PM joins storm of protest over Trump tweets”.

The Guardian front page, Friday 1 December 2017.
The Guardian front page, Friday 1 December 2017. Photograph: The Guardian

Interestingly the more rightwing UK papers play down what was undoubtedly the story of the day – a case of burying what its editors see as bad news perhaps?

The Mail fails to mention Trump on its front, opting for a story about the NHS and prescription rationing. The Express goes for a health story saying cheese helps fight heart disease. And the Sun focuses on two army dogs or “hero hounds” who are going to be put down.

The Telegraph joins the tabloids in the anything-but-Trump lead – splashing on warnings over levels of debt in Britain and only giving a few hundred words to the unprecedented war of words between the UK and US.

Lastly, the FT has a financial angle on UK politics saying Jeremy Corbyn has “lashed out” at “big bank gamblers and speculators”.

For more news: www.theguardian.com

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Martin Farrer

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