Today is International Ask a Question Day but the burning question for many people yesterday was what triggered the decision by Donald Trump to sack his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
His departure had long been expected following a series of fallouts with the White House but the timing was most certainly abrupt, coming a day after Tillerson did something that Trump had so far failed to do and gave his public backing to the UK government’s conviction that Moscow was behind the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy.
Apparently, the former ExxonMobil chief first heard about the news of his sacking when Mr Trump announced in a tweet that CIA director Mike Pompeo was now America's top diplomat.
The White House insist that it was a divergence in major foreign policy issues, namely North Korea and South Asia, that brought about the end of Tillerson’s 13 month reign. However, the fact that Tillerson’s strong condemnation of Russian involvement for its alleged role in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal proved to be his last act as secretary of state is bound to raise more questions about the relationship between the Kremlin and the Trump administration.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s decision showed that “every official in his Administration is at the mercy of his personal whims and his worship of Putin,” and the credibility of the position was “diminished” as Pompeo “could be here today and gone tomorrow.”
The assertion that there is a revolving door at the White House is hard to argue against, with no previous administration seeing as big a churn in staff as this one.
With the Oval Office morphing ever more into the boardroom of The Apprentice, where do the US now stand on the Skripal case following this latest firing? That’s the million-dollar question Theresa May and her government will be asking today.
Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist, has died at the age of 76. The professor, best known for his work on black holes and relativity, was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease at the age of 22.
Russia has warned the UK not to issue threats and “groundless ultimatums” after it allowed a deadline to provide a “credible response” to the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury to pass without incident. Theresa May is expected to unveil new sanctions this afternoon, including freezing UK assets of Putin allies, expelling Russian diplomats and revoking the licence of the Kremlin-controlled television station RT. (£)
The government has announced a wide-ranging review of the currency in circulation, a move that could bring about the end of 1p and 2p coins. The Treasury consultation document will also consider dropping the £50 note and look into imposing limits on cash transactions, making it illegal to pay builders cash in hand. The consultation is being undertaken to review the efficiency of the cash cycle as more people make cashless payments. (£)
Business & Economy
Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday unveiled upgraded growth projections and predicted falling inflation and borrowing as he delivered his Spring Statement. Hammond said there was “light at the end of the tunnel” and while ruling out an immediate end to austerity, said that spending rises may be possible in the future. Labour accused him of “astounding complacency” at a time of the worst ever public sector funding crisis.
The Financial Ombudsman Service came under fire from MPs and lenders last night after they demanded to know how many flawed judgments it has allegedly delivered. Calls for an inquiry into the work of the financial arbiter come after the watchdog warned that thousands of customers may want to reopen old cases amid concern that complaints were mishandled. (£)
Intercontinental Hotels Group, the operator of Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, has joined the race to participate in the £1.2 billion auction of the company behind the Principal and De Vere hotel brands. They have teamed up with an unnamed investor to join a small number of bidders for the Principal Hotel Company, which is being sold by the Amercian investment firm, Starwood Capital Group. (£)
What happened yesterday?
It was a fall of 1.05%, a drop of 76 points, or the FTSE 100 yesterday, with the index closing on 7,138.78.
The biggest faller by a considerable distance was found on the FTSE 250 index, where Greencore saw its shares plummet by 30%. The world’s biggest sandwich maker has suffered a weak performance in the US and warned that profits were lower than expected.
On the currency markets, the pound was ever so slightly up against the dollar at $1.3982, a 0.55% increase. Against the euro it was relatively unchanged at €1.1277.
The sacking of Rex Tillerson had much to do with the pound’s small gain against the dollar, with US stocks experiencing a pre-market wobble following the news and Treasury yields coming under additional pressure.
On the commodities markets, continued efforts by Opec and its allies to cut production saw oil prices lose further ground, with Brent crude faling 0.5% at $64.64.
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SafeCharge International Group Limited (DI)
Somero Enterprises Inc. (DI)
Brooks Macdonald Group
Sydbank A/S Sydbank Ord Shs
Intl. Economic Announcements
(07:00) Consumer Price Index (GER)
(10:00) Industrial Production (EU)
(11:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(12:30) Producer Price Index (US)
(12:30) Retail Sales (US)
(14:00) Business Inventories (US)
(14:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
Columns of Note
Writing in the Financial Times, Philip Stephens says yesterday’s Spring Statement illustrates that Philip Hammond is attempting to make the best of Brexit. He says the chancellor’s statement showed the economic news was not as bad as it might have been and argues that the “quickening pace of the continental European economy has cushioned Britain’s Brexit shock”.
Paul Blanchard, presenter of the Media Masters podcast, writes in City AM about how the invention of video has made effective reputation management more difficult. Citing recent examples of McDonald’s and United Airlines, two companies who suffered public relations crises following the broadcast of a video from a smartphone, Blanchard says the emergence of easy-to-make video has also delivered “greater transparency, accuracy and honesty”.
Did you know?
Rex Tillerson was awarded the ‘Order of Friendship’ by Vladimir Putin while he was CEO of ExxonMobil, after he orchestrated deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft. In September last year, Putin said he regretted giving Tillerson the honour as he had since “fallen in with the wrong company”.
House of Commons
Oral questions: Wales
Prime Minister’s Question time
Ten Minute Rule Motion: Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities – Alison Thewliss
General debate: European Affairs – Day 1
Adjournment: Banking in North Ayrshire – Patricia Gibson
House of Lords
Legislation: European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee stage (day 7) - Lord Callanan
Effect on Universal Credit work incentives of recently announced proposals for passporting family entitlement to free school meals - Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope
Improving rural bus services - Baroness Randerson
Checks made on individuals before they meet the Prime Minister or Cabinet ministers - Lord Storey
Legislation (cont.): European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee stage (day 7) - Lord Callanan
Members’ Business: Commonwealth Day 2018 – Stuart McMillan
Portfolio Questions: Health and Sport
Scottish Labour Party Debate: Procurement
Members’ Business: Incinerators, Public Health and Planning in Scotland – Monica Lennon
House of Commons
Oral questions: Exiting the European Union (including Topical Questions)
Business Statement: Business Questions to the Leader of the House - Andrea Leadsom
General debate: European Affairs - Day 2
House of Lords
Impact on fashion and design-based industries of the potential loss of European unregistered design rights for UK-generated designs following Brexit - Lord Clement-Jones
Government plans to respond to the National Children’s Bureau report 'Children Missing Education' and their plans to improve the collection of national-level data on such children - Baroness Massey of Darwen
Government plans to support Outdoor Classroom Day - Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
Debate: The economy in the light of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Statement
First Minister's Questions
Ministerial Statement: Update on South of Scotland Partnership
Stage 3 Proceedings: Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill