Surveying the current Brexit situation, it appears that the only thing that might be icier than the weather is the working relationship between the UK and EU.
The European Union will today set out its Brexit strategy and it is almost certainly going to put it on a collision course with Theresa May, with the conundrum of the Irish border showing no signs of reaching a conclusion that satisfies both negotiating parties.
The draft document is expected to insist that Northern Ireland follow EU single market rules to avoid a "hard border" with the Republic of Ireland, if no other agreement can be reached.
With the threat of the DUP withdrawing its support for her government a risk, the prime minister is expected to reject this proposal as a workable solution and instead offer a ‘robust’ warning that Brussels must not use Brexit to break up the UK.
And it doesn’t look like the Irish border issue will be the only contentious matter in Michel Barnier’s 120-page draft withdrawal document. Text is expected to be included that states the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must have the power to “interpret and enforce” the agreement, something that May has long rejected.
Not only will some of the report be unpalatable, the prime minister might not like the consequences that go along with it. Attached to the EU commissioner’s report will be a warning that a failure by May and her government to agree the text could put the transition agreement last December in doubt and stall talks on a future relationship.
Meanwhile, May is also coping with disputes even closer to home as the Scottish and Welsh governments press ahead with the introduction of continuity bills, legislation that would give the parliament and assembly the powers in devolved areas currently held at EU level, as part of the UK’s withdrawal process. While neither measure can ultimately thwart the UK's own withdrawal bill, the PM could do without further problems when allies are already in such short supply.
When the prime minister jetted out to Brussels in December, she said that “tough conversations” had taken place in order to reach an agreement. I don’t think she’s quite finished having these just yet.
President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has had his White House security clearance downgraded, according to US media. It means that Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, will now longer gain access to top-level security briefings or the President's Daily Brief, a secret intelligence report.
North Korea has been providing materials to Syria that could be used in chemical weapons manufacturing, according to United Nations experts. TheNew York Times reports that Pyongyang's missile specialists have been seen at Syrian weapon-making facilities, and have supplied materials including acid-resistant tiles, valves and pipes.
Donald Trump has chosen Brad Parscale, the digital media director of his 2016 campaign, to run his re-election bid, the campaign announced on Tuesday. With 979 days to go until the 2020 election, it is believed to be the earliest any incumbent US president has officially declared his re-election campaign. President Barack Obama announced his re-election plans 582 days before his 2012 bid for a second term.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
Toys R Us in the UK and electronics chain Maplin are on the verge of collapse, putting 5,500 jobs at risk. The retailers are believed to have put administrators on standby after rescue deals failed to materialise. Maplin saw talks with a potential buyer break down, while Toys R Us failed to secure a buyer.
One of Sky’s top ten shareholders has welcomed Comcast’s surprise bid to hijack 21st Century Fox’s planned £18.5 billion takeover of the pay-TV broadcaster. The surprise £22.1 billion swoop by Comcast is another dramatic twist in the long-running saga, as it could complicate its separate deal with The Walt Disney Company for other assets of the business. (£)
Amazon has agreed a $1bn deal to purchase Ring, the internet-connected doorbells and security cameras maker. The deal represents an accelerated push by the online retailer into an Alexa-powered ‘smart home’.
What happened yesterday?
Yesterday was the first chance for investors to digest the first public utterances of new Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, and the reaction was muted. Powell’s nod to “gradual” interest rate increases saw Wall Street’s three main share indexes fall, while US bond yields rose after he said that the economy was strengthening and inflation would rise.
Powell’s comments also impacted the pound, with sterling trading as low as 1.385 against the dollar after it was predicted that a series of US interest rate hikes were in the offing. It recovered later in the day to 1.389.
The FTSE 100 fell 0.1%. with Sky climbing 20.5%, as investors priced in a possible bidding war for the company following Comcast’s surprise move. Shares in ITV rose 1%.
It was also a good day for housebuilders, with Persimmon shares rising 4.7% and Berkeley and Taylor Wimpey both up 0.8%.
Admiral Group, Bakkavor Group, Man Group, Foxtons Group, Gocompare.com Group, Informa, ITV, Law Debenture Corp., PPHE Hotel Group Ltd, Riverstone Energy Limited, Science Group, Seplat Petroleum Development Company (DI), St James's Place, Travis Perkins, Tarsus Group, Taylor Wimpey, UBM, Weir Group
Avingtrans, Genus, Ricardo
UK Economic Announcements
(00:01) BRC Shop Price Index
(00:01) GFK Consumer Confidence
Int. Economic Announcements
(07:00) GFK Consumer Confidence (GER)
(09:00) Unemployment Rate (GER)
(10:00) Consumer Price Index (EU)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(13:30) GDP (Preliminary) (US)
(14:45) Chicago PMI (US)
(15:00) Pending Homes Sales (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
COLUMNS OF NOTE
An announcement that is both unsurprising and shocking: this is Martin Wolf’s estimation of the impending abolition of China’s two-term limit on the presidency. Writing in the Financial Times, Wolf also says the country’s political direction has implications for western democracy, which must improve its performance if it is regain its stature in not only the wider world but with its own citizens.
Also in the FT, Sebastian Payne says that leading Brexiters are failing to address the serious situation the UK finds itself in. He says that the performances by Liam Fox and Boris Johnson yesterday show they have become “increasingly bombastic” in defending their positions, and says that the prime minister must take a more sensible and thorough approach than her colleagues when explaining her position.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 1992, a city in New York made snowfall illegal. Syracuse Common Council unanimously approved the following resolution in March: “Be it resolved, on behalf of the snow-weary citizens of the city of Syracuse, any further snowfall is expressly outlawed in the city of Syracuse until December 24, 1992.”. It was ignored by Mother Nature…
House of Commons
International Development (including Topical Questions)
Prime Minister’s Question Time
Motion on the Independent Complaints and Grievance policy - Andrea Leadsom, Valerie Vaz, Pete Wishart, Liz Saville Roberts, Emma Little Pengelly, Caroline Lucas, Dawn Butler, Jo Swinson
House of Lords
Discussions with the Competition and Markets Authority about the impact on UK retail trade of online suppliers such as Amazon - Lord Naseby
Cost benefits to the NHS and police of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in England - Lord Rennard
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee stage (day 3) - Lord Callanan
Culture, Tourism and External Affairs; Justice and the Law Officers
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Business: Early Years
House of Commons
Transport (including Topical Questions)
Future of ATMs - Simon Hoare
House of Lords
Discussion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting - Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
Appointments to the Board of the Office for Students - Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
First Minister's Questions
Ministerial Statement: Scotland’s plan to tackle climate change and reduce emissions