Rat infestations, sewage leaks and a dramatic resignation - Wednesday was a rather odd day in the halls of Westminster.
First and foremost was the House of Commons’ surprise decision to up sticks and leave, which for once had nothing to do with Brexit. Following a three-hour debate,MPs yesterday voted in favour of fully vacating the Palace of Westminster while a proposed £5.6-billion-pound refurbishment takes place.
The works will not take place until 2025 at the earliest, and although social media was lit up with visions of parliamentarians moving to the streets of Glasgow or Manchester while the repairs are completed – a perfect opportunity to rebalance the North/South divide, I say - in fact they will only have a slightly longer walk to work at Richmond House, a nearby building in Whitehall currently used by the Department of Health.
During the three-hour debate, MPs shared horror stories of vermin-infested offices, sewage leaks, and asbestos dust threatening to engulf the chamber, describing the situation as a “death trap” bordering on “catastrophic collapse”. A less astute commentator might read something of this into the current state of the government whilst the prime minister is away in China, but I wouldn’t be so bold.
Elsewhere, the House of Lords saw a shock resignation from a peer who arrived late to a debate. The international development minister and former Conservative MP, Lord Bates described himself as “ashamed”, offering his immediate resignation and walking out of the chamber to the surprise of his peers. But the drama was defused when Downing Street deemed the move “unnecessary”, as apart from anything else, it would have marked the fifth high profile exit from government in recent months.
Politics as usual resumes today with the EU Withdrawal Bill entering another day of debate in the Commons. But with Labour contemplating a vote to force the government into publishing its Brexit economic impact studies, those hoping for a quiet Thursday might be out of luck.
Theresa May will challenge a proposal to give residency rights to EU citizens who arrive in the UK during the transition period after Brexit. Speaking on the first day of a three-day trade visit to China yesterday, the prime minister promised that freedom of movement with the EU will end with Brexit in March 2019, challenging Brussels’ preferred date of December 2020. The issue is considered to be a red-line in negotiations over the transition period which begin in Brussels next week.
The FBI has opposed Donald Trump’s intention to release a memo said to allege that the FBI and US Justice department engaged in a politically driven plot to undermine Mr Trump and to spy on his campaign. In a statement ultimately attributable to the FBI director appointed by Trump, Christopher Wray, the FBI said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy” and said it should not be released.
BBC news presenter Carrie Gracie has accused the BBC of ‘belittling’ women and damaging its reputation through dishonesty on gender pay. The former China editor spoke at a televised BBC pay review administered by the consultants PwC, blaming Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC director-general, and Franks Unsworth, its director of news, of failing to get to grips with the crisis. Gracie also revealed she had turned down an offer of £100,000 in back salary in order to bring public scrutiny to the issue.
Business & Economy
Facebook has cut the amount of time that its users spend on its network by 50 million hours a day as it attempts to combat hate speech, violent videos and Russian propaganda. Despite posting a fourth-quarter profit of $4.3 billion and a revenue rise of 47% to $12.9 billion last night, the announcement spooked investors by implying users will be less engaged in the social network as use by its North American audience dropped for the first time.
More than £1 billion was wiped off the value of shares in the government contractor Capita yesterday, prompting fears that it could follow rival Carillion into liquidation. Shares in Capita fell by 47.5% after new chief executive Jonathan Lewis surprised markets by issuing a profit warning, cutting its dividend estimated to be worth more than £500 million over the past three years, and seeking £700 million to plug a hole in its finances. Capita is estimated to have a net debt of £1.1 billion and a pension deficit of around £380 million.
The US Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged last night as Janet Yellen chaired her last policymaking meeting as chairwoman of the central bank.The federal open market committee voted unanimously to maintain the federal funds rate range at 1.25 to 1.5 per cent, also voting unanimously for Ms Yellen’s successor, Jerome Powell, who will take over as chairman on Saturday.
What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 extended its losses yesterday, down by 54.4 points or 0.7 per cent to close at 7533.55. A weakness in the housebuilding sector was to blame, as individual stocks in Persimmon, Barratt Developments, Taylor Wimpey and Berkeley Group all suffered following a Times report that property developers are set to lose planning permission on unused land if they to hit construction targets under moves to kick-start productivity.
A 47% plunge in the shares of Capita overshadowed their losses, however. The government outsourcer sparked fears of a repeat of rival Carillion’s collapse last week, after it announced it would carry out a rights issue this year, shelving dividend plans and issuing a profit warning for its 2018 results.
Meanwhile, glimmers of Brexit optimism and a fall in the dollar to a three-year low on currency markets helped the pound record its best month against the greenback since 2009 – rounding off January at $1.42. The euro, however, has matched sterling’s successes of late with improving economic indicators and a mood on the markets that Brussels is firmly in charge of Brexit negotiations. The pound was up 0.21 per cent to close at €1.14.
Royal Dutch Shell ‘A’
Royal Dutch Schell ‘B’
F&C Managed Portfolio Trust Growth Shares
Euromoney Institutional Investor
UK Commercial Property Trust
Aberforth Smaller Companies Trust
Euromoney Institutional Investor
Premier Veterinary Group
UK Economic Announcements
(07.00) Nationwide House Price Index
Intl. Economic Announcements
(08.55) PMI Manufacturing (GER)
(09.00) PMI Manufacturing (EU)
(13.30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13.30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(14.45) PMI Manufacturing (US)
(15.00) Construction Spending (US)
(15.00) ISM Manufacturing (US)
(15.00) ISM Prices Paid (US)
(20.30) Auto Sales (US)
Columns of Note
In a bold front cover story for The Spectator, James Forsyth writes that Theresa May “must lead or go”. Forsyth argues that the prime minister has fallen short of radical policymaking at home, has struggled to leverage the upper-hand in Brexit negotiations and stands to do badly in May’s local council elections.
For all the talk of Trump’s ‘economic miracle’ following his State of the Union address this week, Martin Wolf comments in the Financial Times that the president has broadly charted the same economic course started under his predecessor. As the stock market continues its upward journey, and rises in employment show no sign of relenting, Wolf suggests this president might not be quite as radical in economic policy as once thought.
Did you know?
In a traditional deck of cards, the king of hearts is the only king without a moustache.
House of Commons
Exiting the European Union – including Topical Questions
Business Questions to the Leader of the House – Andrea Leadsom
Debate on a Motion on baby leave for Members of Parliament – Ms Harriet Harman, Mrs Maria Miller, Hannah Bardell
Debate on a Motion on hospital car parking charges – Robert Halfon, Lucy Allan, Emma Hardy, Martin Vickers
Housing, planning and infrastructure in Essex
House of Lords
Orders and regulations
First Minister's Questions
World Cancer Day 2018 - Richard Lochhead
Supporting People to Study in Scotland
Stage 3 Proceedings
Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill
House of Commons
Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill - 2nd reading -Tim Loughton
Parking (Code of Practice) Bill - 2nd reading - Sir Greg Knight
Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill - 2nd reading - Daniel Zeichner
Healthcare (Local Accountability) Bill - 2nd reading - Sir Christopher Chope
Local Roads (Investment) Bill - 2nd reading - Sir Christopher Chope
Live Animal Exports (Prohibition) Bill - 2nd reading - Theresa Villiers
Food Insecurity Bill - 2nd reading - Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck
Terms of Withdrawal from EU (Referendum) Bill - 2nd reading - Geraint Davies
Clear Air Bill - 2nd reading - Geraint Davies
Kew Gardens (Leases) (No.2) Bill - 2nd reading - Zac Goldsmith
Ambulance delays and the leadership of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust - Norman Lamb
House of Lords
No business scheduled
No business scheduled