Just when you’ve had about enough Brexit drama for one week, you can usually rely on a fresh crisis in the White House to provide some relief, light or otherwise.
And for hardcore Trump anoraks, this one is a biggie. Hope Hicks, the president’s communications director and longtime aide, has announced her resignation, just a day after testifying before the House intelligence committee as part of the panel’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Hicks, 29, a former model with no political experience before joining the Trump Organisation and later Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015 as an intern, was the president’s longest-serving aide. She was thought to be among his closest confidantes, tasked with smoothing over the president’s frequent Twitter outbursts and managing an often hostile news cycle.
But during Tuesday’s hearing, Hicks let the mask slip. She acknowledged that her work for Trump had occasionally required her to tell “white lies”, but denies that these had anything to do with matters material to the Russia investigation.
The president himself has been in hot water over the fall-out from the Parkland shooting in Florida last month, but yesterday surprised pundits by signalling his backing for tighter gun control. Speaking to an extraordinary congressional meeting of Republicans and Democrats, Trump called for a “beautiful” bill that would expand background checks and restrict gun purchases by young people and the mentally ill, whilst also bolstering security on school campuses.
This may be a case of too little, too late, but I say anything which puts Trump at odds with the NRA gun lobby must be a step in the right direction. As yet another staffer slopes off to dust down their CV, Trump will need to move quickly to gain allies if he is to avoid the next White House crisis being his last.
White lies in the White House while white stuff lies all outside my house. Woah.
David Davis has warned that Britain may renege on its multimillion pound Brexit divorce deal if the European Commission does not withdraw demands to keep Northern Ireland as part of the customs union. In a letter sent to Conservative MPs, the Brexit secretary said financial payments to the EU would not be finalised until “all the issues” had been addressed. Theresa May is also expected to reiterate her objection to the plans, which were revealed by the EU yesterday in a 118-page draft of the withdrawal agreement, as she meets with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, in Downing Street later today.
Demand for gas hit its highest level in five years yesterday as freezing weather in the UK prompted fears that supplies could become tighter. Wholesale gas prices for same-day delivery soared to a 12-year high, increasing to 190p a therm on Wednesday morning, more than three times the average of 56p a therm so far this month. The National Grid reported an undersupply yesterday, with demand at 391 million cubic meters (mcm) and supply expected at 385mcm.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
The Treasury has reached a surplus in Britain’s current account budget for the first time since George Osborne announced the target in 2010. A sudden improvement in the public finances, attributed to a £1.2 billion EU rebate in January, has allowed revenues in this financial year to greatly exceed expectations, meaning a deficit of £100 billion a year in 2010 – when the Conservatives took office – has been cleared. No British government has run a surplus in its budget since 2001-02.
Toys R Us UK and Maplin entered administration yesterday, putting more than 5,300 jobs at risk in over 300 stores. The Pensions Protection Fund has said Toys R US faces a pensions shortfall of between £25 million and £30 million, and will now be administered by Moorsfield Advisory. Maplin, the electronics store, has appointed PwC. Italian restaurant chain Prezzo also warned that it could close 100 outlets, one third of its total, if it is to avoid entering administration.
Spotify has filed to start trading its shares publicly on the New York Stock Exchange in a valuation estimated at more than $23 billion. The world’s largest music streaming service, which was launched in Sweden in 2008, will list its shares directly on the NYSE, bypassing the traditional stock offering process. Spotify said its shares sold for between $37.50 and $125 each in private transactions last year and more than $132 this year.
What happened yesterday?
As the City was blanketed in snow, the markets were cooled by weaknesses in the retail and mining sectors, disappointing earnings from ITV, and Brexit concerns. By close of play yesterday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.69% at 7,231.91.
ITV was the FTSE’s biggest faller as the broadcaster’s shares closed down 7.6% after reporting weaker profits amid a squeeze in advertising sales. Elsewhere, the news that Maplin and Toys R Us were to enter administration had a knock-on effect for those companies most likely to benefit; shares in Sainsbury’s, which owns Argos, rose 0.5%, whilst Dixons Carphone was 0.72% higher on news of competitor Maplin’s collapse.
The pound tumbled to its lowest mark against the dollar for nearly three weeks after the publication of the EU’s draft Brexit treaty which was met with an icy response at PMQs. Sterling was down one per cent against the stronger dollar at $1.38, while the euro was up 0.8% at 89p.
Allied Irish Banks AIM
Arrow Global Group
Bovis Homes Gtoup
Grafton Group Units
Hastings Group Holdings
Howden Joinery Group
International Personal Finance
National Express Group
XP Power Ltd. (DI)
Haydale Graphene Industries
Aberforth Smaller Companies Trust
Electra Private Equity
Jersey Electricity ‘A’ Shares
Local Shopping REIT
UK Economic Announcements
(07.00) Nationwide House Price Index
(09.30) Consumer Credit
(09.30) M4 Money Supply
(09.30) Mortgage Approvals
(09.30) PMI Manufacturing
Intl. Economic Announcements
(07.00) Import Price Index (GER)
(08.55) PMI Manufacturing (GER)
(09.00) PMI Manufacturing (EU)
(10.00) Unemployment Rate (EU)
(13.30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13.30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(13.30) Personal Income (US)
(13.30) Personal Spending (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
Writing in the FT, the Conservative MP and chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, Tom Tugendhat, reflects on his experience as a solider in stating his strong support for upholding the Good Friday Agreement. Although he considers it flawed, Tugendhat argues that it is an extraordinary achievement of history whose current questioning in political discourse is a worrying turn for both the government and opposition. He concludes that although Brexit means Brexit, “peace in Northern Ireland cannot be sacrificed in the process”.
Iain Martin comments in The Times that the European Commission’s brazen attempts to interfere in the UK’s constitutional integrity over the Northern Irish border demonstrate why the UK electorate were right in opting to leave. While decrying the EU’s draft withdrawal treaty as “gypsy jargon”, Martin suggests the final settlement with Northern Ireland will be a compromise and the British government will need to play into the EU’s preference for ‘fudge’ words to broker a satisfactory deal which respects the status quo.
DID YOU KNOW?
According to the Met Office, the most snow recorded at a single site in the space of a year was at Balmoral, Aberdeenshire, where in 1986 the Queen’s highland retreat saw snow on 111 days over the winter period.
House of Commons
Transport (including Topical Questions)
Debate on a motion on season migrant workers – Kirstene Hair
General Debate on St David’s Day – Albert Owen
Future of ATMs – Simon Hoare
House of Lords
Assessment of 'Public health failure in the prevention of neural tube defects: time to abandon the tolerable upper intake level of folate' article in Public Health Reviews - Lord Rooker
Discussion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting - Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
Reducing waiting lists for consultant-led NHS treatment - Baroness Thornton
Effectiveness of Police and Crime Commissioners in holding their chief constables and police forces to account - Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury
Nuclear Safeguards Bill - Committee stage (day 2) - Lord Henley
The use of facial recognition technology in security and policing - Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
First Minister’s Questions
Atrial Fibrillation in Scotland – Colin Smyth
Scotland’s plan to tackle climate change and reduce emissions
Stage 3 Proceedings
Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill
House of Commons
No business scheduled.
House of Lords
No business scheduled
No business scheduled