Facebook is under pressure from policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to explain how data collected from 50 million users was exploited for political gain. This follows claims that data firm Cambridge Analytica leveraged the leaked information to help Donald Trump win the presidential election.
The prompt for the controversy was an article in yesterday’s Observer, based on the testimony of whistleblower Christopher Wylie. It’s a long but fascinating read, the fruit of a one-year investigation into Cambridge Analytica’s methods and relationships with the Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US.
It contains the explosive claims that, not only was Facebook data harvested and used by Cambridge Analytica, but that representatives from both companies denied this in front of parliamentary committees.
Cambridge Analytica is reportedly attempting to halt the broadcast of an undercover Channel 4 News report scheduled for tonight, in which Alexander Nix, its chief executive, talks unguardedly about its practices.
This story has some way to go in the short-term. In the long-term, might it hinder Mark Zuckerberg’s reported 2020 tilt at the presidency?
Vladimir Putin has secured another six-years as Russian president after winning with an expected landslide in yesterday’s election. According to the official result, he took more than 76% of the vote – an increase on 2012 when he won 64%. However, there were widespread reports of irregularities, including ballot stuffing and forced voting, and Alexei Navalny, the main opposition leader, was barred from standing. If Putin does continue to 2024, only Josef Stalin will have ruled Russia for longer.
Speaking after the result, Putin described as “nonsense” the idea that Russia was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, however, his spokesman did claim that the diplomatic storm had boosted turnout. Putin also said that Moscow is ready to co-operate with the UK government’s investigation. This comes as independent investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive in the UK today to verify analysis of the nerve agent used in the attack.
A British female volunteer has died fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria. Anna Campbell, who was from Lewes in East Sussex, was killed on 15 March in the town of Afrin, which has been under bombardment by Turkish forces. She had travelled to Syria in May 2017 to help the Kurds in the battle against Islamic State. Her father, Dirk Campbell, told the BBC that his daughter was “very idealistic” and “determined”, and knew she was putting her life in danger.
Business & Economy
According to The Times, Klépierre, one of Europe’s largest shopping centre owners, has made a £5 billion takeover approach for Hammerson, which could scupper the UK property company’s proposed merger with Intu. Klépierre chairman, Jean-Marc Jestin, reportedly made the approach directly to David Tyler, chairman of Hammerson, two weeks ago but the offer was rejected immediately. Klépierre is understood to be keen to make a move before the finalisation of any deal with Intu, which would only complete by the end of this year.
The Civil Aviation Authority is not undertaking preparatory work to assume the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the EU’s aviation watchdog, after Brexit as “it would be misleading to suggest that’s a viable option”. The comment was made by Andrew Haines, chief executive of the regulator, in testimony to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. The committee has warned that the UK’s aerospace sector would be irreparably damaged if it did not remain integrated in Europe’s regulatory and manufacturing hubs.
Melrose has promised to put £1 billion into GKN’s pension fund as part of its bid for the engineering group. GKN’s pension trustees had criticised Melrose for failing to address key concerns after the turnaround firm previously offered to inject £150 million into the fund which has a significant deficit. The move could remove one of the largest obstacles to the £8.1 billion takeover.
It was reported a short time ago that Edward Bramson’s activist investment fund, Sherborne, has taken a 5% stake in Barclays.
The week ahead
The week kicks off with the G20 summit in Buenos Aires today. World financial leaders are expected to discuss unfair trading and the importance of global regulations amid the threat of a trade war prompted by the US imposing import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium.
These tariffs take effect at a minute past midnight Washington time on Friday, and the EU as well as other major economies like Brazil, Japan and South Korea are rushing as they attempt to negotiate exemptions.
This week also sees the publication of several sets of Office of National Statistics UK economic data. On Tuesday, the ONS will reveal inflation figures, with both the Consumer Price Index and Retail Price Index are expected to be down marginally.
Meanwhile, labour data is released on Wednesday. The unemployment roll increased in the final quarter of 2017, however, wage and productivity growth also rose.
Whilst the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee is thought unlikely to vote to raise interest rates this week, a strong set of February data would increase the likelihood of this happening in the coming months – possibly May.
It is a different story across the Atlantic. The Federal Open Market Committee meets on Wednesday and is widely expected that interest rates will be raised by a further 25 basis points.
Thursday sees the beginning of a two-day European Council Summit. A post-Brexit transition period is on the agenda, provided all so-called “divorce” matters can be settled first. Theresa May is due to attend and is seeking an agreement that will see little change during the two years after the UK leaves the bloc in March 2019. However, significant questions remain over the Irish border.
In company news, Lloyd’s of London, Kingfisher, Next and Nike are amongst the organisations reporting results.
ADES International Holding (DI), Gama Aviation, Learning Technologies Group, Michelmersh Brick Holdings, MD Medical Group Investments GDR (Reg S), Miton Group, Spectra Systems Corporation, Tissue Regenix Group
Volution Group (WI), Finsbury Food Group
Chenavari Toro Income Fund Limited NPV
Macau Property Opportunities Fund Ltd.
Columns of Note
Writing in the Financial Times, James Kirkup, looks at the potential of a new centrist party to challenge Labour and the Conservatives, which are drifting to the left and right respectively. He contends that whilst moderates from both parties may be ready to abandon ship, weak leaders and a belief that Brexit is a disaster is insufficient Instead, they need a new agenda and new policies. Kirkup highlights three themes – the redistribution of wealth, increasing competition, and boosting ownership through tax breaks for employee ownership schemes and community ownership trusts.
In City A.M., James Brandon urges the Home Office to exempt doctors with job offers from the NHS from any immigration cap or restriction. He argues that there is an acute shortage of doctors and also underlines difficulties in the recruitment process. The Home Office is the last step – meaning a doctor can be interviewed, have their salary negotiated, hand in their notice and make plans to travel, only for the Home Office to advise that they will not be granted a visa. Furthermore, as the number of applicants rises, as does the threshold of “points” required. One of the criteria is salary, which often rules out junior doctors on lower earnings.
Did you know?
Italy’s defeat to Scotland on Saturday meant that Sergio Parisse became the first rugby player in history to lose 100 international test matches. Hopefully he will be remembered as the great player he is rather than for that unfortunate statistic.
House of Commons
Oral Questions: Education (including Topical Questions)
Legislation: Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [Lords] – 2nd reading
General Debate: Welsh Affairs
House of Lords
How many children trafficked to the UK over the last 10 years have applied for asylum and had their applications approved - Baroness Kennedy of Cradley
Providing a network of support for people affected by dependence on prescribed drugs - Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
Implementing the Universal Service Obligation for broadband - Lord Fox
Parliament being offered a more meaningful participation in foreign policy - Viscount Waverley
Legislation: European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee stage (day 8) - Lord Callanan
No business scheduled
House of Commons
Oral Questions: Health and Social Care (including Topical Questions)
Ten Minute Rule Motion: Fire Safety Information – Maria Miller
Motion: Business of the House
Legislation: Proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill
House of Lords
Enabling women undergoing early medical abortion to take the second dose of the medication, misoprostol, at home - Baroness Watkins of Tavistock
Inclusion of litter picking in the National Curriculum for Year 6 children, to tidy up the roads and encourage civic responsibility - Lord Robathan
Syria - Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Promoting part-time study - Baroness Bakewell
Legislation: Nuclear Safeguards Bill - Report stage - Lord Henley
Topical Questions (if selected)
Stage 3 Proceedings: Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill
Members' Business: S5M-08629 Peter Chapman - Holodomor Remembrance Day 2017