13 May 2019

Katie Stanton

13 May 2019

Good morning,
 
Growing up with three sisters, passive aggression was more of an everyday language than a last resort.
 
From avoiding eye contact with my them for weeks on end and maliciously dismembering Barbie dolls behind their backs, to my mother not-so-subtly leaving cleaning supplies in my bedroom to signal that my day of tranquil relaxation was coming to an end (news flash, mum, I’m quite happy for the hoover to become a permanent installation), our house was a centre-of-excellence in non-verbal communications.  
 
But the pettiness is mostly behind us, we are all mildly more mature now, and we happily muddle on, drinking wine together like some tragic Sex in the City foursome.
 
For the president of the United States, however, passive aggression seems to be the tactic du jour – well, when he’s not practicing his preferred engagement style of openly aggressive aggression, of course.
 
Much as my mum would softly wheel her Dyson into my room under the cover of darkness, Donald Trump has gone and slipped an aircraft carrier and warship down the Suez Canal and into the Gulf, signalling rather crudely to Iran that the US is ready to act.
 
The ships are joined by a Patriot missile-defence system and US B-52 bombers, which have arrived at a base in Qatar. The Pentagon said the moves were a response to a “possible threat” to the US forces in the region by Iran, without specifying exact what that was.
 
The manoeuvres are part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy, which seeks to force Tehran to pull out of Syria and end its support of proxies in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
 
Tehran dismissed the claims as nonsense and described the deployments as “psychological warfare” aimed at intimidating the country. But, despite the cool response, Iran is jittery. They see the move as a clear provocation and a challenge.
 
Last year, Trump withdrew from the 2015 treaty which curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting international sanctions. Trump wants a “new deal” to cover not only nuclear activities, but also its ballistic missile programme and what officials call “malign behaviour” across the Middle East.
 
US-imposed sanctions have left the country sliding towards a deep recession. Oil exports have more than halved, the currency has hit record lows and inflation is unstable.
 
Iran has repeatedly threatened to retaliate to the US measures by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which about one-fifth of all oil consumed globally passes. The country has also withdrawn from the treaty, threatening to step up uranium enrichment if it is not shielded from the sanctions within 60 days.
 
European powers say they remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal, but “reject any ultimatums” from Tehran to prevent its collapse.
 
Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at thinktank International Crisis Group said: “it would almost be magical if we can come out of this period unharmed. With no channels of communication between the two countries, there is plenty of space for misunderstandings and miscalculations.”
 
Despite growing fear, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo sought to soothe tensions: “We are not going to miscalculate. Our aim is not war. Our aim is a change in the behaviour of the Iranian leadership.”
 
But, with both the US and Iran (and their respective allies) on high alert, the potential for an “accident” – which sees sly military manoeuvres escalate into full-blown conflict – is too great to ignore.

News

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has told the Guardian that, without a new confirmatory referendum, a cross-party Brexit deal will not get through parliament as up to 150 Labour MPsare expected to reject any deal without a vote. Talks between Labour and ministers continue today, but Starmer added that he’s not afraid to pull the plug on cross-party talks as soon as this week if the prime minister does not budge on her red lines.
 
Broadcaster Danny Baker has performed his first live show since being sacked by the BBC over a tweet which led to accusations of racism. His tweet showed an image of a couple holding hands with a chimpanzee dressed in clothes with the caption: “royal baby leaves hospital”. Baker denies being racist but called the tweet “revolting” and “misjudged”. The show at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal ended with a standing ovation.
 
Swedish prosecutors will announce today whether or not they are reopening an inquiry into a rape allegation against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange. Assange denies the charges and has avoided extradition to Sweden for seven years after seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012. The US also wants to extradite him over his alleged role in the release of classified military and diplomatic material in 2010.

Business & Economy

Train operator Arriva is suing the government after it lost a bid to run the East Midlands railway franchise. The firm said it wanted more information on how the Department for Transport (DfT) assessed the bids. The move comes after rival Stagecoach, which was banned from rebidding, announced it was taking legal action. The DfT said it has complete confidence in its franchise competition process.
 
Boeing is expecting “far reaching” changes to the certification of aircraft, as pressure mounts on regulators to prevent further fatal accidents like the two recent Boeing 737 Max air disasters. The comments from Boeing come as signs of a deepening rift emerges between US and European regulators over who should be in charge of ensuring the safety of the Max before it returns to the skies. Usually, the European Aviation Safety Agency would follow the lead of the authority in whose jurisdiction the aircraft was manufactured – in this case the US. But the US Federal Aviation Administration has come under fire both for the way in which it certified the aircraft and for being the last regulator to ground the plane. (£)
 
Following “false rumours” about its financial health, Metro Bank has been forced to reassure customers that their money is safe. There was queuing at some branches after messages were posted online urging customers to withdraw savings from accounts and belongings from safe deposit boxes. The lender is preparing to unveil the terms of a £350 million fundraise to shore up its finances and has also hinted that it may sell some of its loan book to free-up capital. (£)

Markets

The week ahead
This week all eyes will be on the US-China trade dispute, as investors seek any updates in progress. It is now rumoured that president Donald Trump is moving closer to imposing tariffs on all Chinese imports, after his decision to tax about $200bn worth of imports last week.
 
Important consumer and manufacturing data will also be released in the US, with investors watching closely to see what it says about two key parts of the economy ahead of new tariffs coming into effect on Chinese goods. The US earnings season also continues, with Walmart under scrutiny on Thursday as it battles Amazon for retail supremacy.
 
In China, Alibaba and Tencent are set to report on Wednesday. Recent moves by the companies to work with joint investment ventures have signalled growing maturity as they shift from consumer-focused apps to enterprise. Last week both won licences to launch new digital banks in Hong Kong, challenging traditional lenders HSBC and Standard Chartered.
 
In the UK, travel-operators will come under the microscope as Thomas Cook, Tui and easyJet report this week. All three have issued profit warnings this year in a market that has been hit hard by online competition, discounting, overcapacity and high fuel prices, as well as Brexit. 
 
The UK jobs report is out on Tuesday. Britain’s job market has proved strong despite concerns over Brexit, however some analysts are warning of a slight slide in pay growth for the March figures.

Finals
Angling Direct
Clearstar Inc. (DI)
Centralnic Group
 
Interims
Diploma
Wey Education

Trading Announcements
Centrica
Dignity
 
AGMs
Anglo Pacific Group
Centrica
Fidelity European Values
Maintel Holdings
Midwich Group

Columns of Note

In The Sunday Times yesterday, Kevin Pringle argues that a Scottish Conservative party separated from its UK equivalent might see Ruth Davidson secure power in Holyrood. Davidson, newly returned from maternity leave, has dismissed the idea, but Pringle notes that she never said “never”, and the Scottish Tories need a real game-changer if they want to bid for government in 2021. Perhaps – as the boundaries of devolution expand and Westminster seemingly implodes –  a connection to the UK Conservative party is becoming less relevant, and more plain damaging. (£)
 
Writing in the Independent, Harriet Hall praises the decision to have Phoebe Waller-Bridge act as script doctor for the latest James Bond film. Waller-Bridge, the Fleabag and Killing Eve creator, said that the role was “mainly about making [the female characters] feel like real people”. This is surely better than having a tokenistic female Bond, which would totally undermine demands for more complex female characters in film by retrofitting a woman into a distinctly male role. Given that Waller-Bridge will become only the second ever female scriptwriter to treat a Bond film, it is clear that gender representation is needed behind the camera too. And having last night won a Bafta for her drama Killing Eve, Waller-Bridge is perfectly placed to add a touch of reality to the Bond girl. 

Did you know?

According to Pew Research, 89 per cent of Greeks believe their culture is superior, followed by 69 per cent of Russians and 58 per cent of Norwegians.

Parliamentary highlights

TODAY 
 
House of Commons
Oral questions
Work and pensions (including topical questions)
 
Legislation
Non-domestic rating (preparation for digital services) bill – second reading
 
Programme motion
Non-domestic rating (preparation for digital services) bill – James Brokenshire
 
Money resolution
Non-domestic rating (preparation for digital services) bill – Mel Stride
 
Motion
Adjournment (Whitsun) – Andrea Leadsom
 
Business of the House (14 May) – Andrea Leadsom
 
To change the membership of select committees: environmental audit; health and social care – Bill Wiggin
 
Adjournment
Promoting self-build housing – Victoria Prentis
 
House of Lords
 
Oral questions
Representations to the government of Saudi Arabia about recent reports of the use of torture on political detainees – Baroness Blackstone
 
Government progress on the introduction of public alert systems for mobile phones in the event of an emergency – Lord Harris of Haringey
 
How many people are currently registered as undertaking Intermediate, Advanced, Higher, and Degree apprenticeships – Lord Fox
 
Costs and effects of the delay in publishing their green paper on social care – Baroness Wheeler
 
Legislation
Census (return particulars and removal of penalties) bill – second reading – Lord Young of Cookham
 
Orders and regulations
 
Scottish Parliament
No business scheduled.
 
TOMORROW
 
House of Commons
Oral questions
Foreign and commonwealth affairs (including topical questions)
 
Ten minute rule motion
Hares preservation – George Eustice
 
Opposition day debate
Prisons and probation – Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbot, Yasmin Qureshi, Valerie Vaz, Nicholas Brown
 
Health and local public health cuts
 
Adjournment
Crime and antisocial behaviour in Stockton South – Dr Paul Williams
 
House of Lords
Oral questions
Ensuring all police forces have the requisite training on stalking to prevent women and girls being murdered or taking their own lives – Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
 
Will the Government offer EU exporters continuing free trade under the auspices of the WTO and EU citizens continued reciprocal residence rights for a period to be agreed – Lord Pearson of Rannoch
 
Deployment of the Internet Engineering Task Force’s new “DNS over HTTPS” protocol and its implications for the blocking of content by internet service providers and the Internet Watch Foundation – Baroness Thornton
 
Report by the National Audit Office 'Progress delivering the Emergency Services Network' – Lord Hogan-Howe
 
Legislation
Courts and tribunals (online procedure) bill – second reading – Lord Keen of Elie
 
Short debate
Improving the education experience and attainment of adopted children, including those adopted from abroad – Lord Triesman
 
Scottish Parliament
 
Topical questions
 
Ministerial statement
The global climate emergence: Scotland’s response
 
Supporting sheep farming in Scotland
 
Scottish government debate
Place principle