5 February


5 February

The message was clear - we’re leaving… aren’t we? Yes. No? Well, it’s definitely a maybe.
Such was the language coming from the government over whether Britain should remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit as divisions in cabinet took to a public stage over the weekend. Despite being relatively overlooked in public debate, the customs issue has emerged as a crucial sticking point ahead of a meeting of the prime minister’s Brexit “war cabinet” on Wednesday and Thursday when an agreed negotiating stance for the UK in the second round of talks is expected to be confirmed.
The weekend’s battle was very much a war of words, as senior members of the government bickered over whether Britain would remain part of “the”, “a” or “any” customs union after Brexit (or was it “special partnership?”). Housing minister Dominic Raab said there would be “no form of customs union”; home secretary Amber Rudd said there was still room for “a bespoke agreement”, and Downing Street said, “to put this to rest, we are categorically leaving”.
Their conclusion? Your guess is as good as mine.
Occupying the primetime slot on the Sunday sofas,Amber Rudd’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show, however, was more targeted to hit back at Tory Brexiteers who looked to be mounting a leadership challenge to Theresa May last week. The Times today reports that the prime minister will seek to drive a wedge between this camp - and particularly the unholy alliance of Messrs Gove and Johnson - by seeking a commitment to leave the customs union, but only after an agreed transition phase during which the UK will remain a fully signed up participant.
So as Brexit lurches to another key moment this week, watch closely what is said. As with previous agreements, it goes without saying that the cabinet’s conclusions will be a fudge of almighty proportions - Lord knows it needs to be. But with the unity of the government and the country’s leadership coming into question sooner or later, the devil will surely be in the detail.


North Korea’s ceremonial head of the state will visit South Korea this week ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the most senior official to ever visit the South. Kim Yong-nam, who is president of North Korea’s parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, will lead a 22-member delegation to attend the games’ opening ceremony on Friday. In a sign of thawing relations, both Koreas are expected to march under one flag at the opening ceremony and will field a combined team in women’s ice hockey.
South African President Jacob Zuma is under growing pressure to resign following senior-level talks within his ANC party yesterday. Party chiefs say Mr Zuma’s departure may avoid a power struggle ahead of national elections next year, and are expected to begin the process to remove him by introducing a vote of no-confidence in parliament. Facing corruption allegations, Zuma was replaced as ANC leader by Cyril Ramaphosa in December, but has since remained in post as the country’s president.

The Philadelphia Eagles have beaten the New England Patriots 41-33 to become surprise winners of this year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. The Eagles clinched their first title win, helped by a Zach Ertz touchdown with less than three minutes remaining. The much-awaited half-time show featured Justin Timberlake and is expected to have been watched by more than 170 million viewers in the US.


The Bank of England could raise interest rates twice this year following a string of surprisingly strong economic indicators at the end of 2017, economists believe. The EY Item Club boosted its UK growth forecast for 2018 to 1.7 per cent, up from 1.4 per cent previously. Although no change to the current 0.5 per cent rate is expected following a meeting by the Bank’s monetary policy committee on Thursday, the report suggests further rises in May and November would represent a ‘normalisation’ of monetary policy.
Lloyds Banking Group has banned the purchase of Bitcoin WITH its customers credit cards, fearing a debt bubble should values in the digital currency fall further. Bitcoin ended last week down 30% at $8,291.81, its worst week since April 2013 and far below the $19,000 it reached last November. Theresa May has also recently urged action against digital currencies, citing their increasing association with criminal activity.
The gender pay gap between male and female graduates is widening, according to a new report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The report found that the average hourly wages of women with degrees differed by 22% in 2016, compared with 21% in 1993, attributing the losses to reduced career progression opportunities following childbirth. Overall trends are improving on the long term, however, as the overall gender pay gap has been cut by 10% since the early 1990s.


The week ahead
Kicking off the week, all eyes will be on Ryanair as it reports its third-quarter earnings on Monday. The low-cost airline has recently reached its first union deal, agreeing to recognise Britain’s pilot group as it attempts to resolve a long-running dispute over wages and conditions. Given that Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, had previously said “hell would freeze over” before he would allow unions into the company, markets have cause for optimism that improved relations between Ryanair and its staff may mean less disruption to business and healthier profits. Other company news to look out for include trading results from BP, General Motors and Walt Disney on Tuesday, and Rio Tinto, GSK and Tesla on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee will meet to consider a rate change, following on from last November’s increase in interest to 0.5 per cent – the first increase in a decade. Although it is expected a vote will unanimously endorse the status quo, analysts suggest there is a 50-50 chance of an increase in May depending on the suitability of any transition deal which may be agreed for Britain’s departure from the EU.
As the 23rd Winter Olympic Games begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Friday, expect global politics to re-emerge on the agenda over the weekend. With North and South Korea intending to field a combined women’s ice hockey team under a ‘unity’ flag, pundits will be watching closely to see if the games could mark the start of a less confrontational approach towards the international order from North Korea.

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Writing in yesterday’s Sunday Times, Kevin Pringle comments on a reversal of roles for the Scottish and UK governments. Where constitutional questions seem to have crowded out the political agenda in Westminster for the immediate future, Pringle suggests that the SNP’s record on coalition building in the Scottish Parliament and on health initiatives have reinforced a positive image of the party's governing ability.
Commenting in the FT, Janan Ganesh writes that the recent high profile of Jacob Rees-Mogg, or “Moggmentum”, reveals a lack of credible leadership alternatives to Theresa May within the Conservative Party and party that is ripe for the taking. Ganesh points out that an irony of Brexit, which was intended to highlight the robustness of Britain’s democratic traditions, has instead allowed a hollowing of the institutions which are currently under attack from Rees-Mogg’s wing of the party.


The only letter that doesn’t appear in the Periodic Table of elements is J


House of Commons
Oral questions
Work and Pensions (including Topical Questions)
Smart Meters Bill – remaning stages.
Job centre closures – Stewart Malcolm McDonald
House of Lords
Oral questions
Ensuring materials collected for recycling by local authorities are not incinerated - Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Ensuring awareness of rights and obligations in respect of data protection and privacy - Lord Holmes of Richmond
Ensuring those facing removal from the UK have access to adequate legal advice - Lord Roberts of Llandudno
British businesses taking and reporting action to prevent modern slavery in supply chains from India - Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Role of women in public life and the progress made in increasing their representation in Parliament 100 years after the Representation of the People Act 1918 achieved Royal Assent - Baroness Williams of Trafford
Scottish Parliament
No business scheduled
House of Commons
Oral questions
Health and Social Care (including Topical Questions
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance) – Sir David Ames
Space Industry Bill [Lords] – remaining stages
Backbench Business
General debate on housing, planning and the greenbelt – Mr Laurence Robertson
Improving educational outcomes for children with autism – Maria Caulfield
House of Lords
Oral Questions
Assessing women’s economic freedom and promoting equal pay. - Baroness Donaghy
Providing additional resources for teaching English to refugees - Lord Alton of Liverpool
Reviewing the safety of pelvic mesh implants - Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
Ensuring that children and young people are not being indoctrinated in schools - Lord Storey
Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster - Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
Scottish Parliament
Topical Questions
Equalities and Human Rights Committee Debate
Making the Most of Equalities and Human Rights Levers
Scottish Government Debate
Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Right to Vote
Members’ Business
Encouraging Cyber-resilience Among Young People – Gillian Martin