Considering January lasted at least three months, seeing the tiny glimmer of sun peeking over the Forth on my commute yesterday was like remembering there’s a new episode of Outlander to watch – warm, tingly, decidedly unexpected.
It may not quite be time to abandon the vitamin D tablets, but there’s light on the horizon.
In Venezuela too, there’s renewed optimism – although the stakes are considerably higher than my pitiful millennial griping. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó was yesterday recognised as interim president by the UK and 16 other European countries, following similar announcements from the US and Canada earlier this year.
The move was widely seen as a welcome step in the diplomatic efforts to undermine the regime of Nicolás Maduro, who has stood at the helm while what was once the wealthiest South American country has been driven to “chronic shortages of food, water and medicine.”
Britain and the EU had given Maduro until midnight last night to call a new presidential election with the scrutiny of the international community after a poll last year was broadly recognised as fraudulent. He failed to do so, compelling countries to recognise Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
But European divisions over the Maduro regime were laid bare when Italy and Greece refused to back the declaration. Italy was blocked from recognising Mr Guaidó by the Five Star Movement, due to fears that it would prompt a Libya-style US military intervention similar to that of 2011.
Naturally, Donald Trump has refused to rule out military action; Canada and the bulk of Latin American countries have countered his bullish assertions with calls for peaceful change.
In keeping with Trump’s bellicose approach to foreign policy, the US imposed crippling sanctions on the country’s oil exports last week, insisting that Guaidó’s administration must have control of any US funds or they will be withheld. Naturally sanctions will hurt only the poorest in Venezuela.
But now the international community is watching: Maduro is under increasing pressure, millions of dollars of international aid has been pledged, and there might be some hope for Venezuelans in the grips of humanitarian crisis.
The EU’s most senior civil servant offered Britain a legal guarantee that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop but was immediately rejected by Brexiteer MPs. Martin Selmayr, secretary general of the European Commission, spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee and emerged saying that he was willing to make considerable concessions on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. (£)
Seven people have died in a fire at a building in south-western Paris. Nearly 30 people were injured, one is in a serious condition and the death toll could still rise as the fire continues to burn on the seventh and eighth stories of the building. It is not clear what caused the blaze in Paris’ 16th arrondissement.
Social media companies will have to sign a legally binding code of conduct in a move to protect young people online, according to reports. Ministers have been considering proposals for an internet regulator to ensure that the likes of Instagram and Twitter are not promoting harmful content. Digital minister Margot James is expected to announce plans later today.
Business & Economy
Nissan will be forced to reapply for almost £60 million of taxpayer support after withdrawing plans to build its X-Trail SUV in Sunderland. A letter from business secretary Greg Clark in 2016 said that government funding was contingent “on a positive decision by the Nissan board to allocate production of the Qashqai and X-Trail models to the Sunderland plant”.
British steelmakers will face restrictions in virtually all export markets in the event of a no-deal Brexit. UK Steel, an industry lobby group, said in a briefing paper that no-deal would result in a “hugely negative” impact on annual sales worth £2.8 billion. (£)
Google’s parent company Alphabet released fourth-quarter resultswhich beat Wall Street’s profit and revenue forecasts last night, bolstered largely by ad revenue. But shares fell as the company reported rising costs and a narrower operating margin. (£)
What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 ended slightly up last night after hitting a fresh two-month high earlier in the day. Investment firm 3i was the best performer, up 1.7% driven by a strong performance in its equity portfolio. Smurfit Kappa was the biggest loser of the day, down 2.3%.
In US and European markets stocks slipped as anticipation grew over the release of quarterly figures by Google’s parent Alphabet. Wall Street’s S&P 500 was slightly lower at the start of trading, with Google earnings due after the closing bell. The company eventually announced a sales rise, but shares dropped 22% nonetheless amid fears of shrinking margins. Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax fell 0.3% as stocks in carmakers and industrial metal makers bore the brunt of losses.
On the currency markets, the dollar index rose 0.3% after being tested last week by the announcement from the Federal Reserve that it could soon be finished lifting interest rates.
The pound was down 0.2% against the dollar at $1.30 but up 0.06% against the euro at €1.14.
St. Modwen Properties
Hargreave Hale AIM VCT
JPMorgan Asian Investment Trust
Ten Lifestyle Group
Int. Economic Announcements
(08:55) PMI Composite (GER)
(08:55) PMI Services (GER)
(09:00) PMI Composite (EU)
(09:00) PMI Services (EU)
(10:00) Retail Sales (EU)
(14:45) PMI Composite (US)
(14:45) PMI Services (US)
(15:00) ISM Non-Manufacturing (US)
Columns of Note
Writing in the Financial Times Amy Kazmin recognises a step change in social mobility in India – albeit a gradual one. Having attended the wedding of a man from the Dalit (or “untouchable”) caste to a woman of the Brahmin (or priestly class), Kazmin notes the rise in both inter-caste and “love” marriages which are not pre-arranged. While it is still estimated that less than six per cent of marriages unite spouses from different classes, a government incentive scheme is compelling more Indians to abandon the traditional caste system.
Charles Bethea of The New Yorker has an interesting take on the future of the media in the age of the Buzzfeed quiz. Buzzfeed quizzes, although not journalism in the traditional sense, are a product that competitors simply can’t compete with and saw Buzzfeed coined as “the most influential news organisation in America today”. But in the past week Buzzfeed’s revenue left it shy of profitability and cutbacks are on the horizon. So, what does the future hold for the media challenger?
Did you know?
During the recent US government shutdown, a colony of elephant seals took over an unstaffed beach and car park in California; they have since given birth to 35 pups and show no sign of moving.
House of Commons
Justice (including Topical Questions)
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Crime (Impact Statements) - Melanie Onn
Police Grant; Local Government Finance Reports
Funding for children's social care in Rotherham - Sarah Champion
House of Lords
Publication of the NHS Workforce Implementation Plan - Lord Clark of Windermere
Reviewing security in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster - Baroness Rawlings
Pausing the Article 50 process - Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill - Second reading - Baroness Manzoor
United Nations Human Rights Council Resolutions - Lord Naseby
Topical Questions (if selected)
Publication of Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029
Stage 1 Debate
Vulnerable Witness (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill
Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill
House of Commons
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (including Topical Questions)
Prime Minister’s Question Time
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Armed Forces Covenant (Duty of Public Authorities) – Gavin Robertson
Comptroller and Auditor General – Ms Theresa May
Social Security – Sarah Newton
Prostate cancer – Simon Hoare
House of Lords
Total cost charged by the Ministry of Defence for the use of HMS Mersey and naval assets in the Channel since 1 January – Lord West of Spithead
Dealing with online abuse by people using anonymous social media accounts – Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Improving the resilience of the railway line at Dawlish towards south Devon and Cornwall – Lord Berkeley
Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) – Third reading – Lord Bates
Brexit – Preparations in the light of recent developments
Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Debate: inquiry into Salmon farming in Scotland