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Matt Hancock quizzed on why he had ‘private drink’ with David Cameron

MPs will today vote whether to establish a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into David Cameron and the Greensill lobbying scandal, as the EU has again refused to set a date to ratify the Brexit trade deal.

The plan put forward by Labour would create a new Commons select committee with powers to investigate lobbying and summon witnesses – such as Mr Cameron – to answer questions.

Boris Johnson has already commissioned a review into the lobbying row which will be led by lawyer Nigel Boardman, but it has been branded a “Conservative cover up”, by Labour.

Mr Johnson said that the lawyer will be given the “maximum possible access” to get to the bottom of what happened, adding that he would like the review to be “done quickly”.

It comes as the European Parliament has once again refused to set a date to ratify the EU-UK Brexit trade deal.

Party group leaders are said want reassurances from Boris Johnson’s government that it is being implemented appropriately before signing off.

Meanwhile, the government yesterday admitted that the former head of Whitehall procurement became an adviser to Greensill Capital while still working as a civil servant – in a move approved by the Cabinet Office.

Bill Crothers began working for the firm as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 and did not leave his role as Government chief commercial officer until November that year.

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Scottish Labour plans to pay TV licences for over-75s

Scottish Labour has announced plans to pay television licence fees or help cover broadband bills for the over-75s.

Party leader Anas Sarwar said the “staying connected” policy would provide every household with people aged over 75 with the £159 cost of a TV licence.

Announcing his plans, Mr Sarwar said Holyrood has the powers to tackle the “national scandal” of pensioner poverty and ease the cost of the Tories’ “broken promise” not to scrap the benefit.

The fund, which Scottish Labour says would cost no more than £73.1 million per year, would entirely cover the cost of the licence fee but could also be used to pay for broadband bills.

Mr Sarwar said:: “Labour would help every person aged 75 and over in Scotland with the cost of their TV licence or help with their broadband bills.”

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 10:56

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Boris Johnson accused of creating ‘loophole’ in proposed conversion therapy ban

Boris Johnson has been accused of creating a “loophole” in the government’s proposed ban on conversion therapy after he suggested it will not cover prayer in religious settings for the “exploration” of a person’s sexual identity. 

In a letter to the Evangelical Alliance — a group representing 3,500 churches across Britain — the prime minister reiterated his pledge to “end the scourge” of the practice that seeks to suppress or change a sexual or gender identity.

However, in his correspondence with Peter Lynas, the UK director of the Evangelical Alliance, Mr Johnson said he wanted to reassure the religious community that the government takes “freedoms of speech and freedoms of religion very seriously”, writes The Independent’s political correspondent Ashley Cowburn

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 10:45

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High Court to decide whether housing asylum seekers in barracks is unlawful

The High Court is to consider this week whether the Home Office’s decision to house asylum seekers in military barracks breaches human rights law.

Six asylum seekers were granted permission by the court in February to bring the challenge on the grounds that the accommodation conditions in Napier Barracks in Kent were so poor they amount to being unlawful.

The Independent’s social affairs correspondent May Bulman reports

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 10:20

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SNP set to scrap music tuition in schools

The SNP will eliminate fees for learning a musical instrument in schools, Education Secretary John Swinney has announced.

The party said it will, if re-elected on May 6, invest £18 million in the project to ensure poor children have the same opportunities as their more well off counterparts.

The current system is run by local councils, despite entreaties from the Scottish Government in recent years to drop the charges.

But the SNP manifesto, which will be published this week, will pledge the extra funding needed to local authorities to scrap the fees.

Speaking to the Times, John Swinney said: “The last year has been incredibly tough for children and young people across Scotland but the SNP is more committed than ever to putting in place a solid plan to support recovery and increase opportunities for every child to achieve their full potential.”

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 10:01

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UK asks for ‘more time’ in responding to EU legal action over NI protocol

RTE Europe Editor Tony Connelly is this morning reporting that the UK has asked for more time to respond to its legal action from the EU over an alleged breach of the NI protocol.

The government last month changed the way the protocol is implemented with no prior agreement from Brussels, prompting the EU to begin legal action against the UK on March 15.

Mr Connelly adds that the request for more time was made by Brexit minister Lord Frost, who is due to for talks with the European Commission on Thursday.

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 09:41

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EU parliament again refuses to set date for ratifying Brexit trade

The European Parliament has again refused to set a date to ratify the EU-UK Brexit trade deal, amid concerns about whether the UK is implementing it properly.

Party group leaders had been expected to announce the deal would be ratified at a sitting in late April, but following a meeting said they would wait for reassurances from Boris Johnson’s government.

Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourgish centre-right MEP who leads on Brexit for the parliament’s trade committee, said that the decision would be “deferred due to the need for progress on roadmap for pragmatic yet full implementation” of the deal.

The Independent’s policy correspondent Jon Stone reports

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 09:14

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Brexit minister set for talks in Brussels on Thursday over NI protocol

Lord Frost and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic will meet tomorrow as part of ongoing efforts to resolve issues surrounding Northern Ireland.

A number of factors have been put forward to explain the recent rioting in Northern Ireland, with one of the underlying issues thought to be the post-Brexit trading arrangements in the protocol, that has has created new economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

The arrangements, agreed by the UK and EU as a way to keep the land border on the island of Ireland free-flowing, have been cited as one of the key causal factors behind the violence.

The meeting was confirmed by the European Commission, which said the pair will “take stock of ongoing technical work” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The minister and the commission vice-president will also “provide a political steer for both teams on outstanding issues”.

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 09:00

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Labour’s inquiry vote is ‘political opportunism’ – Tory MP

Former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood said Labour’s vote on an anti-sleaze committee was “political opportunism”.

The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee told Times Radio: “What has happened is the former prime minister (David Cameron) has put up his hand and said I didn’t act in the spirit of the rules, you then have No 10 that have come out with their own investigation.

“These things should be allowed to take their course.

“The idea suddenly that we all, with the limited knowledge that we have, can make a judgment on this – it is political opportunism.

“Let’s see what happens with the review, it is being done independently – that is the process that we should do these things, not just jump on this bandwagon and the day after a review has been called say, ‘Right let’s have a determination by having a vote in the House’.

“We simply cannot do that, we don’t even have access to all the information, so let’s slow down on this but let’s get the right answer.”

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 08:42

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Cameron’s lobbying is why rules have to change – Labour’s Rachel Reeves

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital indicated why transparency rules need changing.

The Labour MP told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “One of the things Labour is recommending, and the Government could do very easily, would be to tighten up the rules about lobbying that former ministers, prime ministers and civil servants can do.

“At the moment, if you are a consultant lobbyist working for one of the big lobbying companies, you have to register as a lobbyist and declare all the meetings and contacts you’ve made but if you are employed in-house by a company to do exactly the same lobbying, you don’t have to be on that register.

“And that is why David Cameron is saying, ‘I didn’t break the rules’.

“Now, if it is the case that Cameron didn’t break the rules, then I think it says something about the rules and that those rules need to change so there is proper transparency so we can see what former ministers and prime ministers are doing.”

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 08:28

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Lockdown easing may need to be reversed if variant spreads rapidly – expert

The easing of lockdown restrictions may need to be reversed if coronavirus variants spread rapidly, according to a government adviser.

Professor Peter Openshaw said his fellow scientists were “very concerned” after a cluster of cases of the South African Covid-19 variant were found in London, writes The Independent’s Chiara Giordano

Joe Middleton14 April 2021 08:15

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