A riposte to the Project Fear narrative promoted by The Economist

Theresa May has achieved the remarkable feat of uniting the nation. Leavers and Remainers of all stripes have come together to condemn the Withdrawal Agreement she has negotiated with the EU. This should not really be a surprise: she has committed the country to a semi-permanent colonial state in which we stay in the Customs […]

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Theresa May has achieved the remarkable feat of uniting the nation. Leavers and Remainers of all stripes have come together to condemn the Withdrawal Agreement she has negotiated with the EU. This should not really be a surprise: she has committed the country to a semi-permanent colonial state in which we stay in the Customs Union and Single Market but without having a say in the rules. There is a way out but only if the EU agrees, something they are unlikely to do unless any future trading relationship works to their advantage.

Far from taking back control, the Prime Minister has agreed to the UK being a rule-taker from the EU for the foreseeable future, under the supervision of the European Court of Justice. And the icing on the cake is that, in return for these ‘privileges’, she has also agreed to hand over £39bn of taxpayers’ money to the EU with absolutely no guarantee of any long term agreement on trade. Even the right to take decisions over fishing in our water has been left up for grabs.

The Agreement is so demonstrably bad that barely any MPs outside of the Government payroll have come out in its support. Rather than accepting that the Agreement is unlikely to be passed by the House of Commons, Number 10 seem to be focusing their strategy on making the alternative, namely leaving without a trade deal, sound as terrifying as possible. The hope is that, if MPs and the public are sufficiently unnerved by the prospect of ‘no deal’, they will come round to reluctant support of the flawed Withdrawal Agreement.

The scary predictions made by the Treasury and others during their campaign of Project Fear during the referendum proved to be an embarrassing failure of almost legendary proportions. So the decision to embark on Project Fear Mark II is, should we say, brave. But this does not appear to holding anyone in the Establishment back.

Last week, that once-respected periodical The Economist published a leader going all out to support the Prime Minister’s line of attack. We are warned that no deal could lead to “food rationing”, “medicine shortages”, “the demise of farming” and the “collapse” of manufacturing. The planes will all be grounded of course but (Hallelujah) the leader writer thinks that the EU might graciously allow us to operate a few flights to “carry stranded citizens home”. The Economist seems to have gone ‘full Project Fear’ and as Robert Downey Jr might have said in Tropic Thunder, ‘you should never go full Project Fear’!

To some extent, such emotive nonsense deserves only ridicule. But despite The Economist’s recent reputation as being the lapdog of the Remain establishment, its influence cannot be underestimated and it is important to engage with its arguments about the risks of no deal, so let’s consider a few of its claims:

1. “Reneging on the £39bn in obligations to the EU would devastate Britain’s international credibility”

Even under no-deal, the UK will of course honour its obligations under international law. However, it is clear that our strict liabilities are very significantly lower than £39bn and, if there is no Withdrawal Agreement, we will be under no obligation to fork out such a sum as even the Remain-dominated House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Committee concluded. The exact amount due could end up being decided by independent arbitration, something that would take a number of years. In practice, the UK may well be willing to make a generous settlement once a reasonable trading relationship with the EU has been agreed. The EU desperately needs the UK cash to avoid a huge hole in its budget. So, far from ruining our relationship, leaving with no deal and no payment will help to focus EU minds. They will certainly have every incentive to avoid creating more difficulties for the UK than necessary. From the UK’s point of view, savings on the £39bn bill can be put to good use in the months leading up to and immediately after Brexit with the aim of minimising the short run disruption that may occur as we re-work our systems to cope with new arrangements.

2. “Britain has slipped to be one of the slowest growing members of G7”

Surely The Economist could at least have got basic statistics like this correct? It does not take much to look up the latest OECD data which reveal that the UK is the third fastest growing G7 economy this year, ahead of all the major EU economies. At the same time our employment rate continues to be at a record high, wages are growing again, and in a good sign for future growth, foreign direct investment into the UK in 2018 has been by far the highest of any European country. This is all a far cry from the doomsday scenarios predicted by the Treasury in the first round of Project Fear. There is a great deal of confidence in the long term prospects for the UK economy, irrespective of whether we strike a formal trade deal with the EU.

3. “No deal would swap membership of the EU’s single market for the most bare-bones trading relationship possible”

World Trade Organisation rules are certainly not “bare bones”. They are designed to facilitate trade and they already provide the basis for about half of UK exports and imports. Further, leaving without a deal would allow us to embark straight away on independent trade deals with some of the fastest-growing countries in the world. Remember that we operate a trade surplus with the EU of close to £100bn per year. Once we have left the EU on 29th March, the EU will face heavy pressure from member states such as Germany and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that they strike a trade deal with the newly-independent UK as soon as possible. There is no reason why, like other countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Canada, the UK should not end up trading freely and tariff-free both with the EU and with other countries around the world.

4. “WTO rules require the enforcement of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland”

The Economist is being particularly irresponsible in perpetuating this myth. WTO rules do not require border checks on goods – that is a matter for each country to decide. Currently, ‘intelligence led’ inspections by the UK affect only 4% of non-EU goods shipments, Ireland only 1%. The remainder are cleared immediately by computer-based procedures. There is no WTO requirement for these checks to involve physical infrastructure at a border and they can be carried out away from the border. Time and time again in Select Committee hearings, Jon Thompson, Chief Executive of HMRC, has told MPs that there is absolutely no need for the UK to erect a hard border under any scenario, including leaving without a deal. Either The Economist is ignorant of this or, even worse, they know the truth but refuse to report it.

Responding to Project Fear arguments is a bit like playing whack-a-mole: no sooner has one claim been demolished than another – equally implausible and twice as bizarre – surfaces. The Economist leader is no different in this respect and it is impossible to respond to every point in just one article.

The key point is that virtually all Brexiteers would prefer to leave the EU with a trade deal in place and most are willing to agree to a transition period to help achieve this. However, no-one can force the EU into a deal and if they are unwilling to countenance a sensible withdrawal arrangement then we must implement the result of the referendum without one. Doing so will certainly not be the economic disaster suggested by Philip Hammond and The Economist.

The trouble with the EU negotiations is that Theresa May never really believed her mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. The deal she wants us to sign up to is a very bad deal indeed so leaving with no deal is looking increasingly like the best option available. The UK should embrace the economic opportunities it will bring, even if that means doing so without Theresa May at the helm.

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Ben Rogers: Ofcom must not give China’s TV propagandists special treatment

CCTV is closely entwined with the ruling Communist Party. If it is to operate in London, we must not fail to uphold British values.

Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, the co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and author of three books on Burma.

Two months ago I came face-to-face with the shrieking, ferocious, thuggish human face of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the Conservative Party Conference.

As we were concluding a fringe meeting on Hong Kong hosted by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Hong Kong Watch, Kong Linlin, a reporter for China Central Television (CCTV), the CCP’s propaganda arm, screamed abuse at me. It was yet another example of China’s “tantrum diplomacy”.

I had ended by saying that I am pro-China, even if I am critical of the regime. I have spent much of my life in China and I want China to succeed. But, I argued, it is in China’s interests for Hong Kong to succeed, so China must honour its promises to the people of Hong Kong.

With a venom which I have never before encountered, Ms Kong yelled out: “Liar, liar. You are anti-China. You want to divide China”. She continued to yell at me and our three speakers from Hong Kong – Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, and Benny Tai and Nathan Law, leaders of the Umbrella Movement.

Then, when she refused to sit down, she slapped a young student, Enoch Lieu, three times after he politely asked her to leave. Part of the incident was captured on video and went viral. She was arrested and charged, although last week the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges.

After that experience, it was a shock to learn that CCTV is opening their largest media hub outside China in Chiswick next month, employing over 300 staff. The thought of hundreds of CCP agents roaming around Britain is alarming. Kong Linlin’s behaviour is part of the Chinese regime’s growing pattern of thuggery around the world, and it should not continue unchallenged.

That is why I was delighted when Peter Humphrey, a former Reuters journalist-turned-corporate investigator, filed a complaint last Friday with Ofcom. At a press conference after filing the complaint, Mr Humphrey was joined by Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin to launch a new report on China’s use of forced televised confessions, titled Trial by Media: China’s new show trials and the global expansion of Chinese media.

Humphrey and Dahlin have first-hand experience of the CCP’s most brutal behaviour. Both have been imprisoned in China – Humphrey and his wife for 23 months in a Chinese jail, Dahlin for 23 days in secret detention. Humphrey was forced to confess on television twice.

“They drugged me, locked me to a tiger chair, and placed me and the chair inside a small metal cage,” he says. “CCTV journalists then aimed their cameras at me and recorded me reading out the answers already prepared for me by the police. No questions were asked.” His confession was broadcast on CCTV, before his case had even come to trial.

Humphrey was subjected to a catalogue of abuse: an overcrowded cell, poor sanitary conditions, meagre food rations, sleep deprivation, separation from family, denial of legal representation or consular access for part of the time and denial of medical treatment for cancer. “The aggregate of these different types of duress adds up to what the UN would describe as torture,” he says.

Complicit in this torture was CCTV. In his complaint to Ofcom, Humphrey writes: “CCTV was working in active collusion with the police and the Chinese state”. Under duress, Humphrey was paraded on CCTV’s domestic and international broadcasts, “confessing” to crimes he had not yet been convicted of.

Seven years ago, Ofcom ruled that Iran’s Press TV was in violation of Britain’s Broadcasting Code for airing a forced televised confession. Press TV’s license in the UK was revoked. It was this precedent that prompted Humphrey to file a 17-page complaint with Ofcom, detailing 15 violations of the Broadcasting Code by CCTV.

Dahlin was subjected to psychological torture in secret detention. His organisation Safeguard Defenders has published two previous books – The People’s Republic of the Disappeared and Scripted and Staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced televised confessions. Their new book, Trial by Media, provides analysis of CCTV’s key role in China’s apparatus of repression.

Forced televised confessions, filmed and broadcast by CCTV, are now commonplace in China. Typically, Dahlin explains, confessions fall into three categories – “defend”, “deny” or “denounce”. The person giving the statement must defend the CCP, deny any mistreatment, and denounce their own ‘crimes’ and the regime’s critics. Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who was abducted from Thailand in 2015 and continues to be held in China, was forced to read a statement denouncing Sweden.

My own experience pales into insignificance compared to the trauma which these two men endured, and the even worse treatment to which Chinese detainees are subjected. All I have experienced is being denied entry to Hong Kong on Beijing’s orders, receiving seven rather absurd anonymous threatening letters to me, my neighbours, employers and mother, and a woman screaming at me. I didn’t even get slapped.

But what I have experienced gives me a glimpse into CCTV’s character and its relationship to the CCP, and what I have heard from these two brave men leaves me in no doubt that allowing CCTV to build its media centre in London without reference to our Broadcasting Code would be an appalling surrender of our values. When I asked Peter Humphrey what he made of Kong Linlin’s behaviour, he responded with stark clarity: “Kong Linlin’s conduct reminds me of the woman who interrogated me while I was strapped to a tiger chair in a small metal cage – a total viciousness that is in the bloodstream of the CCP.”

Yet it is important to emphasise that at the heart of this are the values that make Britain different from China. We believe in a free press. Strangely, after Kong Linlin was arrested by West Midlands Police, the Chinese Embassy tried to portray her as a victim, suggesting that her right to freedom of expression as a journalist was denied. In the next sentence, the Chinese Embassy demanded that the organisers of the meeting apologise, because apparently we have no right to discuss Hong Kong.

Without a hint of irony, the CCP defends the freedom of its representatives to assault people, but denies the freedom of expression of the co-signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration to discuss Hong Kong.

The truth is, if she had asked a question or made a comment, however hostile, in an appropriate manner, she would have been welcome to do so. And Dahlin is clear that the Ofcom complaint is not about trying to drive CCTV out or to “silence them,” even though most western media is banned in China. “This is not about revenge or retaliation,” he said. “On the contrary, we want them to participate in the conversation – but on the same rules as everybody else. We want this to influence their behaviour”. China, he adds, “should not be afforded special treatment”.

That is all that Humphrey and Dahlin seek. They want Ofcom to enforce its own Broadcasting Code, and act according to precedent. I hope Ofcom will respond accordingly. Broadcasters cannot be accomplices to torture.

Why Mark Zuckerberg’s ’empty chair’ policy is backfiring

Facebook’s chief executive has focused his time on answering US critics. But the bigger threat lies overseas, and he’s failing to react.

LONDON — Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know he’s listening.

The Facebook chief executive traveled to all 50 U.S. states to better understand people’s everyday lives. He testified to Congress (twice) on how his social networking giant helped to spread falsehoods during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he pledged to “fix Facebook” as one of his yearly resolutions — complete with impassioned social media updates about how the company is getting its house in order.

But Zuckerberg’s mea culpa is aimed at the wrong audience.

So far, his pleas have focused almost entirely on the domestic U.S. scene. When it comes to non-Americans — who make up roughly 80 percent of the company’s 2.2-billion-user base worldwide — the 34-year-old tech mogul has been mostly MIA.

That lack of engagement is now coming back to haunt him.

Facebook says its execs have answered questions from more than 13 parliaments from the U.S. to Germany to Indonesia.

Politicians from nine countries — whose citizens on Facebook, collectively, total roughly 500 million, or around 200 million more than the population of the U.S. —  are gathering in London Tuesday for a daylong gripe-fest aimed almost entirely at Zuckerberg and his failure to answer global fears that his social network now has too much clout beyond the U.S. border.

After U.K. officials seized internal Facebook documents over the weekend central to an ongoing U.S. lawsuit, fireworks could fly if British politicians decide to make public those emails from Zuckerberg and other senior executives that allegedly show Facebook was complicit in the data practices that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company vigorously denies the accusations.

Central to lawmakers’ concerns is how misinformation, hate speech and other digital nastiness is created, shared and spread virally during national elections among Facebook’s users, who now number one out of every three people in the world (outside China).

Google, Microsoft and Intel all faced EU antitrust fines over their alleged illegal behavior | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

They will also publish a non-binding set of principles about how the internet should be governed worldwide — a toothless act, but one aimed at showing how politicians worldwide have had enough.

But don’t be fooled. The real target is Zuckerberg and his refusal to take the rest of the world seriously as a source of existential problems for Facebook.

The international dressing down of Facebook underscores what many in the company’s senior management have yet to grasp — that the firm can no longer be viewed as merely a U.S. company, and that by failing to treat global complaints on an equal footing to those from American lawmakers, it’s heading ever deeper into a world of pain.

“If he doesn’t want to appear to make suggestions on how to regulate, we can do that ourselves,” said Bob Zimmer, a Canadian politician taking part in the London hearing on Tuesday, along with officials from Britain, France, Belgium, Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, Singapore and Latvia, in reference to Zuckerberg.

“He needs to show up, he needs to understand the gravity of this,” Zimmer added. “Only one person can answer our questions, and that’s Mr. Zuckerberg.”


Zuckerberg has not been totally absent from the international debate.

In May, he made a pilgrimage to Europe, stopping off to meet Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Matt Hancock, Britain’s then-digital minister, before suffering through a televised dressing down by members of the European Parliament.

Yet even that showing — Facebook had hoped that by talking to MEPs, its boss could skip parliamentary hearings elsewhere — didn’t go to plan.

The European politicians were underprepared and spent much of the two hours trying to score political points. By focusing on the European Parliament, Zuckerberg also opened himself up to criticism that he didn’t take other lawmakers’ complaints seriously.

“There’s an enormous amount of propaganda being circulated by supporters without the support of official political parties” — Margot James, U.K. digital minister

In the past few months, the social networking giant has shown greater readiness to address outrage. It hired Nick Clegg, a former deputy British prime minister, to be its new chief global policy wonk; it removed tens of thousands of fake accounts worldwide; and it even joined forces with the French government in a six-month project to revamp the country’s hate speech rules.

In total, Facebook says its execs have answered questions from more than 13 parliaments from the U.S. to Germany to Indonesia.

But for most of those hearings, Zuckerberg was absent. Clegg, who won’t attend the London hearing as he’s still on a global tour to get to know Facebook’s business, said the company realized that more regulation was surely to follow.

“The best way to ensure that any regulation is smart and works for people is by governments, regulators and businesses working together,” Clegg said in a statement.


What Facebook has yet to figure out is that its legal woes globally are different from the regulatory headaches that faced previous generations of U.S. tech firms.

Google, Microsoft and Intel all faced EU antitrust fines over their alleged illegal behavior. But the social network’s missteps are of a different nature — they threaten to undermine Western democracy by allowing misinformation, hate speech and unfiltered (and, to be fair, legal) polarizing political speech to circulate faster than a swipe of a smartphone.

Expect the global gaggle of lawmakers Tuesday to focus on their own national specific pain points.

In Brazil, falsehoods during the recent presidential election circulated widely on WhatsApp, the internet messaging service owned by Facebook. In France, far-right online tricksters attempted to undermine the electoral campaign of Macron to favor his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen. And in Britain, campaigners say misinformation connected to the country’s referendum to leave the EU may have swayed people’s votes.

Protestors from the pressure group Avaaz demonstrate outside the parliament in London | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

“There’s an enormous amount of propaganda being circulated by supporters without the support of official political parties,” said Margot James, the U.K.’s digital minister.

Zuckerberg needs to realize that such international complaints are more likely to undermine Facebook than the series of Congressional hearings that have garnered much of the attention since 2016.

Despite a recent awakening by U.S. lawmakers to the need for potential tech regulation, policymakers are pushing ahead with attempts to bring the social network to heel.

Not of all these regulatory land grabs (everything from Germany’s cumbersome hate speech rules to Myanmar’s efforts to target opposition on Facebook) are welcomed.

But if Zuckerberg spends most of his time placating U.S. concerns, and not on the legitimate (and more worrying) complaints from other countries where most of his users now live, the techie Millennial will soon find himself and his company left out of the debate.

Mark Scott is chief technology correspondent at POLITICO.

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

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Mark Stockwell: Sunk by rolling news and social media, Question Time is dead. Even Fiona Bruce can’t bring it back to life.

I like Fiona Bruce. I hope she can pull the programme out of the doldrums. But I fear its time has past.

Mark Stockwell is a freelance writer and a former Conservative policy adviser.

I’m not going to get into any nonsense about whether Fiona Bruce can ever be as good as David Dimbleby or Robin Day. Of course she can. I’m not going to discuss whether a female presenter will be a breath of fresh air. Maybe she will. But Question Time’s problems run much deeper, and go back a lot further than the regrettable decision to start inviting ‘entertainers’ and other ‘celebrity’ panellists on alongside serving politicians. That has helped to devalue the programme, but was itself a response to a structural problem.

In its heyday, it was a fixture in the political calendar: Thursday night meant Question Time, just as surely as Saturday 3pm was when the football kicked off. That had something to do with the engaging personalities of its presenters, no doubt, but a great deal more to do with the dearth of political programming on TV in those days. For a politically interested teenager in the 1980s and a mild obsessive in the 1990s, Question Time was an oasis in the desert.

People hungry for lively discussion of current affairs and political debate really had nowhere else to go. Politics on TV consisted mostly of straight reportage or fairly staid set-piece interviews. The likes of Sir Robin Day and Brian Walden were capable of getting under politicians’ skin, but there was next to no opportunity to see senior politicians being questioned by members of the public, or debating with one another.

For politicians, appearing on Question Time was a high-risk/high-reward tactic. A strong performance would be seen as an indicator that they were effective communicators and had the common touch. They would be marked out to take a step up the ladder. A bungled answer, a gaffe under pressure, even just a cold reception from the studio audience — all these could be the equivalent of a snake.
Deciding who to ‘put up’ for Question Time each week, and briefing them for the occasion, was an important part of the parties’ media operations.

More often than not, it would be real frontbench heavyweights — the Ken Clarkes and Michael Heseltines of the world (in a time when such europhile voices were still able to occupy senior frontbench positions). Nowadays, with the power largely in the hands of the producers, the panellists are just as likely to be gobby backbenchers or even (heaven forbid) former party staffers who are particularly vocal on Twitter. True, we are occasionally treated to one of the Shadow Cabinet, but the impression left on the viewer is largely the same.

The fact is that people who are likely to be interested in a programme such as Question Time are now saturated with politics on TV and radio, and we are able to see senior political figures on our screens at any time of day or night. Rolling news gives us politics 24/7, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. And that’s without taking social media into account. By the time it gets to Thursday night, even my hunger for political programming is largely sated.

I am a Question Time loyalist, and I continue to tune in most weeks; but these days I’m just as likely to listen to the simultaneous broadcast on the radio while I get ready for bed. And sometimes, I just clean forget it’s on. That may be as much a comment on my advancing years as the quality of the programme, but I suspect I am fairly typical of the programme’s demographic. I like Fiona Bruce. I hope she can pull Question Time out of the doldrums. But I fear its time has past.

‘Judgment day’ for May

Also making headlines: The battle to succeed Merkel turns nasty and Italian government’s ‘search for the perfect enemy.’


Brexit made the front page of every national newspaper (except the Daily Star, which led on police receiving more money to search for Madeleine McCann). And the papers did not hold back in their insistence on how important Wednesday would be in the Brexit negotiations.

— The BBC’s website reported that this afternoon’s Cabinet meeting would be a “showdown” between Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers.

— The Daily Mail said it was “Judgment Day,” the Daily Telegraph called it a “moment of truth” and the Financial Times a “moment of danger.”

— The i newspaper said, with tongue in cheek, that “now all the prime minister has to do is get it past her Cabinet, the Commons, the Lords, the DUP, and 27 EU nations …”

— The Express focused on International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s call for Cabinet to get a free vote on the proposed deal.

— The Times said May had been “accused of betrayal” by Brexiteers, but would nonetheless “claim to have won a crucial battle” over the Irish backstop.

— Backbench Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote in the Telegraph that the proposed deal was “not in the national interest.”

— Former PM Tony Blair had an op-ed in the Times urging Labour to back a second vote.


German papers took most of their top stories from news in Italy and the U.K. — although camels also featured.

— Tagesschau described the mood in Rome as “serene” after the Italian government overnight decided not to change its budgetary targets despite the possibility of the EU’s sanctions against it. Bild said Italy was being stubborn and is “provoking” Europe.

Zeit Online focused on Brexit, writing: “For Theresa May the political struggle is only beginning.” Frankfurter Allgemeine‘s headline was “White smokes rises.”

Spiegel Online said Health Minister Jens Spahn, who wants to succeed Angela Merkel as the chairman of the CDU, had launched an attack on his rivals Friedrich Merz and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

— The website also said Die Linke would seek to gain ground from the Greens in next year’s European election but that “not all comrades” will like the strategy.

Deutsche Welle said seven camels had been spotted loitering in a supermarket carpark in the northern city of Celle. A circus employee escorted them home but it was unclear why the animals had made their way to the area. Police said they may have been “waiting for the best bargains.”


French news focused on mounting outrage over a proposed hike in diesel and petrol tax, ahead of a planned citizen-led protest by the “high-vis jackets” movement, which is set to blockade roads this weekend.

Le Figaro said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was set to announce measures to help struggling people, but according to FranceInfo‘s website, the PM said he would not nix the tax hike.

Libération said the Modem party, which supports La République en Marche, was firmly behind the tax hike.

Le Parisien noted François Hollande was returning to politics. It featured a clip from TV show Quotidien in which the ex-president told a fan: “I am going to come back.”

— Le Monde said “the essential” elements of the draft Brexit deal were done in Brussels, but “everything remains to be accomplished in London.”


Italian papers focused on the government’s refusal to back down in its dispute with the EU over the national budget.

La Stampa warned the “clash with the EU will cost us €60 billion a year.”

La Repubblica described the affair as the Italian government’s “search for the perfect enemy.”

Read this next: Italy refuses to bow to Brussels’ budget demands

Boris Johnson says Britain is ‘the punk of Brussels’

Also making headlines: Horst Seehofer ‘retreats’ from CSU and Brexit is rubbish for Sweden.

United Kingdom

The Telegraph led with former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s column in which he accused Prime Minister Theresa May of “the biggest statecraft failure since Suez” and said the U.K. has “agreed to become the punk of Brussels, signing up not just to their existing rulebook but to huge chunks of future regulation.”

— The BBC reported that some Cabinet ministers had “voiced doubts” about May’s Chequers plan when she revealed it to them in July.

The Times said May was hoping for a deal with the EU “in the next 48 hours” but noted “Cabinet unhappiness with the eventual package is growing.”


Tagesschau said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was preparing to “retreat in instalments” — by stepping down as CSU party leader in January and possibly also leaving his post in government. However, “it’s not official yet.”

— Süddeutsche Zeitung said far-right party AfD had received a €130,000 campaign donation from Switzerland, even though “donations [from] abroad are generally not allowed.”

— Bild said it had got its hands on “a secret strategy paper” that shows how the AfD will try to thwart Friedrich Merz’s bid to succeed Angela Merkel as CDU chairman.

Die Welt said in the race to succeed Merkel within the CDU, “the crew wants Merz, the officers want [Annegret] Kramp-Karrenbauer.”


Le Figaro said U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin discussed international issues, such as North Korea, at length when they met on the sidelines of the World War I centenary commemorations in Paris this weekend.

Le Parisien reported teachers would strike on Monday to protest the axing of thousands of jobs in secondary schools.

BFMTV carried comments by the mayor of Marseille, Jean-Claude Gaudin, in which he admitted his administration had not done enough to sort out dangerous housing, after last week’s collapse of two apartment blocks that killed eight people.


Swedish papers previewed a week in which parliament will vote on making center-right Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson the new prime minister, after seven frustrating weeks of coalition negotiations.

Expressen said Wednesday’s vote would be “historic” and noted that “a new candidate for prime minister had never been voted down in the Riksdag in modern times.”

Svenska Dagbladet said Kristersson had prepared a list of potential ministers, but that “he will probably be the first prime ministerial candidate in modern times to be voted down.”

Sydsvenskan reported that Brexit was threatening a key source of Sweden’s fuel: British trash. The website said “no one knows” how the country will manage to import over half a million tons of garbage, which it needs to burn for fuel, once the U.K. has left the EU.

‘Call me Manfred’

Also making headlines: Soaring anti-Semitism in France and British PM’s leaked letter stokes Brexit tensions.


The German press focused on new diesel rules.

Bild said the federal government had found a way out of the “diesel crisis” after carmakers negotiating with Berlin agreed to pay out €3,000 per vehicle for hardware fixes in the 14 cities most affected by air pollution.

Frankfurter Allgemeine said the compromise deal struck Thursday was under attack, with critics dubbing it a “trickery” because hardware retrofits would only be subsidized from 2020.

Spiegel Online ran the headline “Call me Manfred,” reporting on the election of Manfred Weber to be the EPP’s lead candidate for next year’s European election. It was “a respectable but not surprising result,” the website said.

Die Welt said Germans believed Friedrich Merz and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer were equally likely to be successful chancellors — but the third candidate for the CDU leadership, Health Minister Jens Spahn, trailed behind them in a survey by Kantar Emnid.


Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s plan to respond to rising anti-Semitism was a top story in France.

FranceInfo carried the PM’s announcement of a 69-percent rise in anti-Semitic acts in France in the first nine months of 2018. A permanent national team will be posted in the education ministry to tackle the situation, Philippe said.

20 Minutes said a march would be held in Marseille on Saturday to honor the victims of collapsed apartment blocks.

Le Monde carried news of Manfred Weber’s nomination as the EPP’s lead candidate but said he was still not the “best placed” to unite pro-European parties. Europe’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier “are holding onto their chances.”

— The website of broadcaster LCI said 10,000 police and military personnel would participate in World War I centenary commemorations this weekend, with 72 heads of state or government expected to attend a ceremony in the north of France.


The British press was all Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

The Times published revelations from a leaked letter written by Theresa May, sent to the Democratic Unionist Party, which indicated the British PM would accept the EU’s plan to put a customs border in the Irish Sea if the U.K. crashes out of the EU without a divorce deal.

The Telegraph said the EU was demanding fishing rights in British waters in return for an all-U.K. customs backstop.

— The Metro ran the headline: “I didn’t think it Dover,” in response to Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab’s admission that he had not fully understood the importance of the Dover-Calais border crossing.


The run-up to next year’s European election also made the Belgian press.

Le Soir noted Manfred Weber was one “important step” closer to the 13th floor of the Berlaymont.

DH said hundreds of administrative workers from Brussels’ communes took to the streets on Thursday to protest “too much work for not enough pay.”

Iain Dale: If we had a government with Cox and Balls

Plus: Crouch’s revenge. Islam’s departure. Brexit, May’s prospective deal and Labour’s internal agonies. And: Trumpety-Trump as the President claims victory.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

Oh, how the Prime Minister may regret crossing Tracey Crouch, who resigned last week as Sports Minister over gambling regulation.

Why? Because Tracey is writing the Prime Minister’s biographical essay for the second volume of The Honourable Ladies, a two volume book I am editing with Jacqui Smith, containing essays about the 491 female MPs elected since 1918. I’m sure that last week’s feeling of complete let-down by the Prime Minister will have no impact on the conclusions which Tracey will draw in her analysis of Theresa May’s career so far.

The main question we should ponder if whether she will have been restored to ministerial office by the time the book comes out next September. Or maybe it should be whether the Prime Minister herself will still be in office.

– – – – – – – – – – –

So farewell, Faisal Islam. He’s been poached by the BBC as their new Economics Correspondent, replacing Kamal Ahmed, who is taking on a new management role there.

Faisal’s departure from Sky News could well trigger quite a substantial lobby domino effect, depending on who is appointed to replace him. Beth Rigby, currently deputy political editor at Sky must fancy her chances, and I suspect that Sophie Ridge is a leading candidate too.

Another standout internal candidate would be Niall Paterson, who used to be a political correspondent at Millbank, then covered the defence beat and now co-presents the weekday breakfast show.

If they want to look outside their own team, I’d say Tom Newton-Dunn would be a strong candidate. He has been wanting to get into TV for some time and recently lost ou narrowly to Deborah Haynes for the Sky Foreign Editor job.

Of course, whoever gets the job will operate in the long shadow which Adam Boulton continues to cast. He is Mr Politics at Sky, and I suspect Faisal always found it quite difficult to make his own mark. Adam is a giant among political journalists, and there will be some who would happily make a case for him to return to his old job. He was brilliant at it.

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Those of you who have followed this column for some time will realise I have a slightly puerile sense of humour. So be warned, here goes.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that if Geoffrey Cox had been a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, there would have been a Cox and Balls in the same government. Arf arf. And that if Geoffrey had been in Parliament in the 1980s when the Tories held Hayes and Harlington, not only would we have had Cox, but also Dicks – as in Terry Dicks.

And, of course, in David Cameron’s day we’d have had both Cox and Willy (Hague). There is also a very large Johnson on the backbenches. And as for Jeremy Hunt…  [More, more – Ed].

– – – – – – – – – –

Tonight, I am supposed to be having dinner with a Cabinet minister. However, I’m prepared for it to be cancelled just in case there is an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning. The speculation is that the Prime Minister has done a deal with the EU over Brexit, and that she will lay it before her Cabinet before putting it to a relatively quick parliamentary vote.

Who knows if these rumours are true? And as to the contents of this deal? Well, obviously I have no idea – but I suspect that it is a deal which no-one will particularly like, but that it will be one which we will all have to live with. I am not a flat earther on it, but I do believe that if we are to stay in the Customs Union beyond the end of the transitional period, it can only be described as Brexit in Name Only.

We have to be able to sign unfettered free trade agreements with countries all over the world. I interviewed Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador, on Tuesday, and he told me that scoping discussions with Liam Fox were already at an advanced stage. We need to be able to sign these kind of agreements on January 1, 2021. My suspicion is that there will be many countries who will think that it’s just not worth the candle if we remain aligned to EU regulations beyond that date. I hope I’m wrong.

– – – – – – – – – –

Assuming that the Prime Minister can get the support of her Cabinet for a deal – and I’d have thought that this is likely, – we can expect a vote in Parliament around the first week of December.

In the end, it may come down to how many Labour MPs will support any deal struck by May. Clearly, such an agreement wouldn’t meet Keir Starmer’s ludicrous six tests but, since Labour say that a No Deal Brexit is the worst of all worlds, you could argue that it could justify voting for the deal – and then tell voters that this is in the national interest.

I suspect that it won’t happen, but if Labour did go down that road I think they would garner an awful lot of support. My current bet is that the deal will go through because enough of its MPs will vote for it to counteract the Conservative MPs who vote against. That could trigger internal mayhem in the Labour Party.

– – – – – – – – – –

I predicted on Monday that if the Democrats won the House of Representatives, Donald Trump would still claim victory. Guess what? They, did – and so did he.

I’m not sure these results really change an awful lot. The Senate balance means that even if the House tried to impeach the President over the next two years, it would fall at the first hurdle.

Trump turns up war on ‘enemy of the people’

Also making headlines: Police foil an attack on the Spanish PM and a controversy over France’s WWI commemorations rumbles on.

United Kingdom

British papers focused on the aftermath of U.S. midterm elections and Donald Trump’s latest attack on the press.

— The U.S. “is split by economics, as always, but perhaps more intensely by culture,” the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley wrote from Pennsylvania.

The Guardian said that after the “midterm distraction” Trump “gets back to business” and “turned his war on the enemy of the people up another whole notch.”

BBC also covered Wednesday’s dramatic press event, reporting that the White House took away CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press access just hours after he and Trump clashed over immigration. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said his credentials were revoked because he put “his hands on a young woman” who was trying to wrest the microphone away from him.


German papers mulled the implications of Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and covered the latest in the campaign to succeed Angela Merkel as CDU party leader.

Die Welt said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation shouldn’t “come as a big surprise” in Washington, given Trump never shied away from expressing his dissatisfaction with Sessions. Trump is stuck in a “vicious circle,” it said: The more he, and his new attorney general, try to cripple the investigation, the more suspicion he’ll draw.

Süddeutsche Zeitung looked at the competition between Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Friedrich Merz to replace Angela Merkel as head of the Christian Democrats. A “confident” Kramp-Karrenbauer proved she’s up to the task and shouldn’t be written off, commentator Stefan Braun wrote.


French papers covered the fallout from Emmanuel Macron’s defense of Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain’s World War I credentials.

Le Figaro said the controversy surrounding Macron’s decision to pay homage to Pétain had thrown a wrench into the weekend commemoration plans, sending the Elysée making a “volte face” and scrambling to fix the situation.

Franceinfo interviewed a historian about Pétain’s World War I legacy and said it would have been “difficult to forget him in order to commemorate 1918.” Macron called Pétain a “great soldier” who made “disastrous choices” during World War II.

Le Monde looked at the heavy pressure that led to Sessions’ resignation, saying: “The president never forgave him for recusing himself in the inquiry into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.”


Spanish papers picked up a report on a foiled attack on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Público had the exclusive, reporting that authorities had arrested a 63-year-old sniper who was planning to kill the Spanish leader over the government’s move to exhume the remains of dictator Francisco Franco.


In Italy, all eyes were on the impact of the U.S. midterms and what Sessions’ resignation will mean for the Russia investigation.

Il Fatto Quotidiano said Trump’s reputation as an “invincible” politician may have taken a hit, but that the midterms showed he had successfully conquered rural America.

Il Giornale reported the “first government reshuffle” after the midterms had arrived.

Repubblica said the resignation raises doubts about the future of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and his probe into possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.