It seems Theresa May has made herself a friend or two in facing up to the Russian bear.
The prime minister was buoyed by news yesterday that more than 20 countries would join the UK in expelling more than 100 alleged Russian intelligence officers following the nerve gas attack in Salisbury earlier this month. In addition to the 23 agents already ejected by Britain, the coordinated manouevre marks the largest against Russia since 1971 at the height of the Cold War.
The expulsions were led by the US, which ejected 60 Russians in total and closed Moscow’s consulate in Seattle. France and Germany were among 16 EU countries to join the collective action, alongside Ukraine, Canada and other non-EU allies. Russia has vowed to retaliate against the “provocative gesture”, though just what that means remains to be seen.
Writing in The Times, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that he was “deeply grateful” for the UK allies’ act of solidarity. (£) Pointing out Russia’s increasing isolation, he said: “I believe that yesterday’s events could be made into a turning point”.
And for once, the foreign secretary might have struck the tone just right. Make no mistake; this intervention marks a significant boon for a government and prime minister whose foreign policy record to date hasn’t lent itself to winning admirers.
But in the current climate, standing up to Vladimir Putin could prove to be a “Falklands Islands” moment for the prime minister’s popularity. At home, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on this issue has been contradictory and ineffective, and in the wake of fresh internal Labour party squabbles over antisemitism, the prime minister could be scoring open goals on this issue for a while yet.
If nothing else, the main loser from yesterday’s actions was certainly Russia. In addition to undermining its intelligence effort across Europe and the West, the expulsions mark the start of much frostier relations with the rest of the world. That could make investors think twice about putting down roots in the country, and cause difficulties for Russian citizens abroad.
More than 15 Labour MPs led a protest in Westminster yesterday demanding Jeremy Corbyn take action against antisemitism within the party. The veteran MPs, including John Woodcock, John Mann, and Louise Ellman, led criticism of the Labour leader for “allowing himself to become the posterboy of antisemitism everywhere”. Yesterday it emerged that Corbyn and other Labour MPs were members of a Facebook group where anti-Semitic conspiracy theories were posted, having previously questioned the removal of a mural in London that showed Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor. Dame Margaret Hodge, a former Labour minister, has called for an internal party inquiry. (£)
The White House has strongly denied allegations that Donald Trump had an affair with adult-film actress, Stormy Daniels, following her appearance on CBS News’ 60 Minutes. Speaking at the White House yesterday, spokesman Raj Shah cast doubt on the accuracy of details Ms Daniels revealed in the interview and announced that President Trump’s lawyers are seeking $20 million in damages, having already issued a cease-and-desist order. Ms Daniels told CBS on Sunday that she had accepted $130,000 in “hush money” from Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, just before the 2016 election.
A rift has emerged between the Scottish and UK governments on the future of a former Catalan regional minister who faces extradition to Spain. Carla Ponsati, who is a professor of economics at the University of St Andrews, has said she will hand herself over to police authorities in Scotland this week after the Spain’s supreme court issued a European arrest warrant for her and other exiled Catalan leaders’ role in organizing an unofficial decalaration of Catalan independence. (£)
Sally Mapstone, St Andrews principal and vice-chancellor, defended Ponsati, saying: “We believe there are legitimate arguments that Carla is being targeted for standing up for her political beliefs. That is anathema to us, and we will continue to offer her every appropriate support”
Meanwhile, the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was remanded in custody in Germany last night, paving the way for possible extradition to Spain within 60 days. The Times reports that Mr Puigdemont has been tracked by 12 Spanish secret service agents across Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Germany over the past four days before his arrest. (£)
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
US stocks saw their largest one-day gains since 2015 as fears of a trade war receded on optimism over trade talks between the US and China. The S&P 500 – which last week suffered its worst weekly performance in more than two years – added 2.7%, whilst the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 2.8% and the Nasdaq Composite increased 3.3%. Technology stocks led gains, including a 7.6% jump in the value of Microsoft shares. (£)
Credit card debt is growing at the fastest rate in 12 years, according to new research by UK Finance. Figures show that the annual growth rate in outstanding credit debt was 8.3% in February, equivalent to 220 million transactions and a rise of 3.3% on figures from 2017. UK Finance has pointed to the more regular use of credit cards for smaller, contactless purchases as a reason behind the greater debt build-up over shorter periods.
US private equity group Carlyle has won a bid to acquire the chemicals arm of Akzo Nobel in a deal worth up to €10 billion including debt. Acquisition of the unit would represent one of the largest European private equity deals in recent years and is expected to be unveiled today, despite an agreement yet to be drafted. Carlyle is thought to have beat rival bids from Apollo Group Management, Hal Investments and a consortium of Bain Capital and Advent International. (£)
What happened yesterday?
There was some confusion behind the day’s movements, as investors looked to political updates in the absence of new macroeconomic data and a busy corporate diary. At close of business, the FTSE 100 was down 0.5% at 6,889 points.
Boons elsewhere couldn’t help Facebook on the London market yesterday, as shares in the social media platform continued to fall (down 3.34%) on news over the weekend of continuing investigations in the US and UK into Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica. Smurfit Kappa (down 3.4%) was the day’s biggest loser, on news that the firm had rejected an increased takeover bid by US-based International Paper Company that valued shares in the Irish packaging group at €37.54, saying it “fundamentally undervalues the group”.
At the higher end of the scale, oil giants BP (up 1.54%) and Shell (0.45%) were lifted on stronger oil prices. Brent crude hit a 52-week high on Friday and hovered at or above the $70 mark on Monday.
The market’s overall losses were the pound’s gains, however, as sterling strengthened on news that the Labour party will table an amendment to the government’s EU withdrawal bill to ensure parliament has a final say on the Brexit deal. The pound was up 0.71% on the dollar at $1.42, and was relatively stable against the euro at €1.14, or 0.04% lower.
Bank of Cyprus Holdings Public Limited Company
Gulf Marine Services
Moss Bros Group
Nostrum Oil & Gas
Touchstone Exploration Inc NPV (DI)
Orchard Funding Group
United Utilities Group
One Media IP Group
Bank of Cyprus Holdings Public Limited Company
UK Economic Announcements
(11.00) CBI Distributive Trades Surveys
Intl. Economic Announcements
(08.00) M3 Money Supply (EU)
(09.00) Business Climate Indicator (EU)
(09.00) Economic Sentiment Indicator (EU)
(09.00) Industrial Confidence (EU)
(09.00) Services Confidence (EU)
(10.00) Consumer Confidence (EU)
COLUMNS OF NOTE
Charles Moore comments in The Telegraph that introducing a designated “NHS tax” would not take the issue out of politics. Instead, pointing to the precedent of the TV licence, Moore suggests that the move would make the public question whether such a tax was worth paying based on the performance of the NHS. Moore also asks whether the NHS could still benefit from emergency funding, which he argues would defeat the point of special taxation. (£)
Writing in The Times Hugo Rifkind comments that Jeremy Corbyn may have been too late in recognising the Labour party’s associations with antisemitismto not risk a blow to his leadership. Rifkind points out a denialism at the heart of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party that has been glossed over until now, but criticism of which now looks to be gaining traction. (£)
DID YOU KNOW?
The term “Third World Country” does not mean poor or impoverished, but refers to a country which was not aligned with either America (“the First World”) or the Soviet Union (“the Second World”) during the Cold War.
House of Commons
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (including Topical Questions)
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Discarded Needles (Offences) – Mr Simon Clarke
Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – remaining stages
Construction of council housing – Matt Western
House of Lords
The right of return of Palestinian refugees and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict – Baroness Tonge
Brexit negotiations and recent submissions from the European Council and Commission - Lord Dykes
Increasing the supply of council housing stock - Lord Bassam of Brighton
When the Government intends to undertake a full impact assessment of the Free School Lunches and Milk, and School and Early Years Finance (Amendments Relating to Universal Credit) (England) Regulations 2018; and what further action they intend to take regarding those Regulations. - Lord Watson of Invergowrie
Nuclear Safeguards Bill - Third Reading - Lord Henley
Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill – Second Reading and remaining stages - Lord Duncan of Springbank
Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Bill – Second Reading and remaining stages - Lord Duncan of Springbank
Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – Second Reading and remaining stages - Lord Duncan of Springbank
Orders and regulations
Draft Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendment) Regulations 2018 – motion to approve - Lord Henley
Fair Start Scotland: Launching Scotland’s New Employment Support Service and Welcoming the Opportunity for Better Integration and Alignment
Local Government and Communities Committee Debate
City Regions – Deal or No Deal?
Cancer Awareness for Young People – Rona Mackay
House of Commons
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (including Topical questions)
Prime Minister’s Question Time
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Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) – Conor McGinn
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Reductions in local government funding: Reductions in police and counter-terrorism funding
Patient safety – Dr Carolina Jonson
House of Lords
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – Committee stage (day 11) - Lord Callanan
Recommendations of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration report 'An investigation into the Home Office’s Handling of Asylum Claims Made on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, March to June 2014' - Lord Scriven
Implementation of proposals set out in the December 2017 Green Paper, 'Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision' - Lord Cotter
Risks to community football clubs from land development proposals - Lord Kennedy of Southwark
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – Committee stage (day 11) - continued - Lord Callanan
Finance and the Constitution; Economy, Jobs and Fair Work
Scottish Green Party Debate
Bus Services; Local Tax
Earth Hour 2018 – Graeme Dey