And, readers, I sincerely hope it will be. I mean, what with Brexit lurching to its endgame this week (or is it just the beginning of the end?), Andy Murray deciding to lay down his racket, or the fact that veganuary isn’t even half over yet, I suspect we all need some good news to remedy the January blues. And probably a burger while you’re at it.
No doubt the various machinations of parliament will fill this space in the coming week. With every man, woman and dog predicting the demise of the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill as it comes before a so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the Commons tomorrow, the stage is set for a battle of almighty proportions between parliament and the executive. The prime minister, meanwhile, is expected to issue a last-minute appeal to Brexiteers that voting down the deal is more likely to result in no Brexit than no-deal, whilst The Times reports this morning that the EU now “expects” the UK to request an extension of Article 50.
Fear not, for stories to warm the cockles are out there for those who seek them on an otherwise bleak Monday. Take, for example, the celebration of four Brits this Saturday “with a cup of tea” after they became the first team to row across the Atlantic in less than 30 days. Or, better yet, the fact that a picture of an egg overtook Kylie Jenner yesterday to become the most liked photo on Instagram (with 18.2 million thumbs up, in case you’re wondering).
My personal favourite, however, were the scenes at Toronto Pearson International as Saudi teenager, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun touched down in Canada after being granted asylum from human rights abuses. Al-Qunun faced torture from her family after denouncing Islam and seeking an education, having also been locked in her room for six months for the simple act of cutting her hair. Although initially rejected asylum in Australia and barricading herself in a Bangkok hotel room for fear of deportation , al-Qunun tweeted on her arrival in Canada on Saturday, posting “#I_did_it”!
A bold exercise in escapism, maybe. But as the rest of the week shapes up to be turbulent, I suggest we’d all benefit from spending a wee bit longer on these kinds of stories with our morning coffee.
Nicola Sturgeon has referred herself to an independent standards panel over her actions during an investigation into Alex Salmond for sexual harassment. Scotland’s first minister revealed that she held face-to-face meetings with her predecessor, which she didn’t initially disclose to the civil service. Sturgeon has suggested she “acted appropriately and in good faith”, but that it was in the interest of the complainants that her actions are examined under the ministerial code.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is due to begin a three-day hunger strike in protest against being denied special medical care during her detention In Iran. The British-Iranian mother who is detained in Tehran, and was jailed in 2016 after being accused of spying, was reportedly refused access to a doctor to examine lumps in her breast and other health issues.
President Macron has written a letter to the French people launching a “great national debate” as a way of defusing protests by le gilet jaune movement. The debate, which is “neither an election nor a referendum”, will be held via a series of town hall meetings and online ballots. In his letter, Macron included reform of taxation and democratic institutions as those issues likely to be discussed, but ruled out scrapping anything his election campaign proposed prior to 2017. (£)
Business & Economy
Sky News reports that the administrators of HMV have set a deadline of January 15 for the music chain to be approached by potential buyers. KPMG was last month appointed to oversee the sale of HMV from investment firm Hilco following a “tsunami” of challenges in recent years. According to sources close to the process, a viable deal would need financial support from leading names in the recorded music and film industries.
Hitachi is to make a formal decision this week on whether to end its involvement in the construction of a £20 billion nuclear reactor at Wylfa Newydd in Wales. The Japanese nuclear energy facilitator has suspended its operation of the site which, if scrapped, will costs 400 jobs and leave Hinkley Point as the only new UK reactor still being built. Discussions with the UK government are currently ongoing.
China’s central bank has refused to acknowledge applications from Visa and Mastercard to operate in the country. The perceived rejection to process renminbi payments comes despite rule changes in 2017 that removed obstacles to foreign participation, and is likely to provide a sticking point in trade relations between China and the US. (£)
The week ahead
Following months of infighting between parliament and the government, and a delay since December, Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill will finally be put to a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday. But given widespread acceptance that the bill is likely to be defeated – not least on the government benches – the markets will be equally interested in what follows during the rest of the week. Expect a turbulent week for sterling, which may rise on the prospect of agreeing a softer or delayed Brexit, but could equally suffer if no-deal or a general election become realistic options as March 29th looms.
In wider politics, the euro could also be in for a bumpy ride as turbulence continues in Greece and Sweden. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras will face a confidence vote this week after his Syriza party’s coalition partner, Independent Greeks, pulled out of government in opposition to Greece’s naming deal with neighbouring Macedonia. On Wednesday, Stefan Lofven looks likely to be re-elected as Sweden’s prime minister following agreement between four parties announced last week.
Economy watchers will also be keeping an eye on further trade progress between the US and China announced on Tuesday, the latest US retail figures published on Wednesday and, eurozone inflation data release on Thursday.
In the UK the corporate names to watch are Pearson, which reports on Wednesday, along with Persimmon (Tuesday) and Whitbread (Thursday).
JD Sports Fashion
Revolution Bars Group
XP Power Ltd. (DI)
Int. Economic Announcements
(10.00) Industrial Production (EU)
Columns of Note
In the Financial Times, Nick Butler writes in support of an independent review of UK nuclear policy. Although he suggests Hitachi may be right to consider scrapping its investment in the Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant, even as a bargaining tactic, the government would be wrong to give too much away in ongoing negotiations. Instead, the UK should look again at alternative energy supplies, Butler concludes. Supply has risen dramatically since the go-ahead was given for more nuclear in 2013, alongside much cheaper costs of electricity and renewables. (£)
Kevin Pringle wrote in The Sunday Times yesterday about the need for bold action in the Sturgeon/Salmond affair to salvage the SNP’s reputation. He reflects on the Scottish Parliament’s decision to grant the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Meghrahi, compassionate release, noting that, whilst contentious, it saw the institution work to the very highest standards of transparency. If the Scottish government is now to avoid accusations of incompetence, the first minister must press ahead with her decision to lead an independent, external inquiry into the conduct of ministers and officials. (£)
Did you know?
When a group of hermit crabs find a vacant shell, they form a queue from smallest to largest. When they find the crab that fits into the vacant shell, each subsequent crab moves up one size.
House of Commons
Defence (including Topical Questions)
Section 13(1)b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 - continued
Closure of St Rollox railway works - Mr Paul Sweeney
House of Lords
Impact of Brexit on agriculture - Lord Wigley
Humanitarian situation in Yemen - Lord Ahmed
Potential consequences of adopting an official definition of Islamophobia - Baroness Finn
How long the longest serving person currently detained in an immigration removal centre has been held in detention - Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Further debate, for the purposes of section 13(1)(c) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, taking note of the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship (day 3 of 3) - Lord Callanan
‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’ - motion to regret (day 3 of 3) - Baroness Smith of Basildon
No business scheduled
House of Commons
Health and Social Care (including Topical Questions)
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Public Sector Supply Chains (Project Bank Accounts) - Debbie Abrahams
Section 13(1)b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 - conclusion
Rail services at Chester-le-street station - Mr Kevan Jones
House of Lords
Prevalence of gambling among children and young people - The Lord Bishop of St Albans
Reducing dental decay and gum disease in children - Lord Storey
Extending the reminder for breast cancer checks to women over 73 years old - Baroness Bakewell
Current situation in Susan - Baroness Cox
Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill - Third reading - Lord Keen of Elie
Tenant Fees Bill - Third reading - Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Third reading - Baroness Williams of Trafford
Orders and regulations
Draft Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Amendment etc.) (EU
Exit) Regulations 2018; Draft Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Amendment etc.) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 – motion to approve - Baroness Buscombe
Services of Lawyers and Lawyer’s Practice (Revocation etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Lord Keen of Elie
Civil Legal Aid (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Lord Keen of Elie
Takeovers (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019; Insolvency (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 - Lord Henley
Consumer Protection (Enforcement) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 - Lord Henley
Topical Questions (if selected)
Scottish Government Debate
Securing a just transition to a carbon-neutral economy
Paisley Voted Britain’s Top Town – George Adam