Top story: Another day, another crunch meeting for PM
Good morning. A happy Monday to you. I’m Martin Farrer and this is the Guardian’s morning briefing.
It must feel like Groundhog Day for Theresa May: another meeting in Brussels, another day being billed as crucial for the Brexit process. This time the big problem is that she has failed to sort out the problem of the Irish border in time for today’s talks with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. The lack of progress, revealed by the Irish government on Sunday night, could mean that the Brexit negotiations can’t move on to the second stage, which is all about trade and Britain’s future relationship with Europe. The border issue, along with the question of citizens’ rights and the UK’s divorce payment, must be settled in time for an EU council meeting in 10 days’ time when leaders will decide if “sufficient progress” has been made to proceed to the next phase.
On another Brexit battlefront, a leading winemaker has said that Britons “will starve” if European migrants are prevented from working on our farms. Frazer Thompson, the boss of Chapel Down, which supplies wine to 10 Downing Street, said: “The biggest potential impact of Brexit is on agricultural labour. Kent has had eastern Europeans picking fruit in recent years, but we’ll all starve if the labour issue is not sorted after Brexit.”
But before you start stockpiling food, help is at hand. Tony Blair has told BBC radio that he is working to reverse the Brexit decision because the “£350m a week” promise of the leave campaign has been exposed as untrue.
Poverty trap – Hundreds of thousands of children and old people have slipped into poverty in the past four years as falling wage growth and rising inflation take their toll on household budgets. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners were living in poverty last year compared with 2012-13. The foundation said the government should reverse the freeze on benefits, increase training for adult workers and adopt a bigger house-building programme to provide affordable homes for struggling families.
Trump tribulation – The intrigue surrounding former US national security adviser Michael Flynn deepened overnight as legal experts voiced surprise that one of Donald Trump’s lawyers sought to take the blame for a tweet by the president that could show he broke the law. In Saturday’s (possibly) offending tweet, Trump said he fired Flynn in February for lying to VP Mike Pence and the FBI. But that would mean Trump knew Flynn had committed a serious crime when the president allegedly asked former FBI chief James Comey the next day to halt an investigation into Flynn. Enter Trump attorney John Dowd, who says he composed the tweet but made a “sloppy” error.
Trump’s notorious “grab em by the pussy” remarks were also thrust back to centre stage on Sunday when Billy Bush, the former TV host present when Trump made the taped comments, dismissed suggestions by the president that the recording was a fake, saying: “Of course he said it.”
Scandal-hit aid scheme suspended – The government has suspended a multimillion-pound foreign aid scheme amid allegations that the funds are ending up in the hands of jihadi fighters in Syria. The Ajacs project was set up in 2014 to help establish civilian police forces in rebel-held parts of Syria but a BBC Panorama investigation has alleged that officers were being forced to hand cash to extremists. The programme, which will be shown on BBC1 tonight, also claims that the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, handpicked police officers for two stations in Idlib province and that dead or fictitious people were on the payroll. Adam Smith International, the British company which runs the scheme, strongly denies the allegations.
Test changes stalled – The biggest overhaul of the driving test for more than 20 years could be stalled after examiners said they would go on strike because they say the changes will require them to work longer hours for no extra pay. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union will picket test centres across Britain today and tomorrow after 84% voted in favour of a strike described as “shameless” by bosses. The industrial action could nevertheless give candidates an extra 48 hours to practise new skills such as following instructions on a satnav, increasing their pre-test independent driving hours and entering parking bays, which replaces the outdated manoeuvre of reversing around a corner.
Starry night for science – Morgan Freeman was the host and celebrities included Mila Kunis, Kerry Washington and Miss USA 2017 Kára McCullough. But this wasn’t another Hollywood awards night. Instead it was the glitziest night in the scientific calendar as the Breakthrough awards handed out $22m in prize money to some of the world’s leading brains. Winners included five researchers who won $3m (£2.2m) each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8bn years ago.
Lunchtime read: ‘This is hell’: harrowing diaries of Manus detainee
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish journalist who fled Iran in 2013 hoping to reach Australia. He has been held ever since on Manus Island, a remote island in the Pacific which Australia uses to detain refugees who try to reach its shores by sea. As the government stepped up its efforts to disperse the refugees to less secure camps, we asked him to keep a diary. The result is a harrowing insight into the hunger, fatigue and mental torment experienced by the refugees. In one excerpt he writes: “Starvation, thirst and terror slowly but surely dominate the prison … Bodies are weak, muscles are fatigued, spirits are weary. It has been nearly five years full of anguish, anguish that has ground everyone down.” In his entry for 1 December he sums up Australia’s policy as “the annihilation of human beings”. Read the full diaries here.
Grim news from Adelaide. England are 140-6 on the third day of the second Test as Joe Root’s decision to bat first in Adelaide continues to look like a very bad call. Gareth Southgate has been told he will keep his job even if England lose all their group stage matches at Russia 2018, according to the FA chief executive, Martin Glenn, who gave him an overwhelming public vote of confidence. Pep Guardiola praised Manchester City’s increasing ability to win in “Fergie time” after West Ham United were beaten by David Silva’s 83rd-minute strike, to make it three successive matches his side have served up a late, late show in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Meanwhile, Swansea City’s calamitous season is going from bad to worse after it emerged their players turned on one another in a heated row in the wake of their chastening defeat at Stoke City. Having completed his first tournament in 12 months at the Hero World Challenge – won by Rickie Fowler – Tiger Woods has declared his intention to play regularly in 2018. And, angry at a holding call late in the NFL game against New York Jets, Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters threw a penalty flag into the crowd and ejected himself, before later returning – without socks.
The financial markets resemble the pre-crash era and are in danger of overheating, the Bank of International Settlements has warned in its quarterly health check. Debt was too high and there was too much risk-taking, it said.
Asia Pacific investors don’t seem to have read the report as most indices were in the black led by Hong Kong which climbed 0.6%. The FTSE100 is set to rise 0.7%. The pound is buying £1.346 and €1.134.
It’s Monday morning and the papers are serving up a “mélange” as the French would say.
First up the Sun, which splashes on a Strictly Come Dancing story, saying one of the contestants has a new boyfriend. The Mail leads with the news (reported above) that the government has pulled the plug on a foreign aid project which may have inadvertently funded Syrian jihadis.
The Mirror has the headline “Words are Cheap” and juxtaposes a promise by Theresa May to run a country for the many not the privileged few with figures showing 700,000 more children and pensions living in poverty.
The Guardian, Metro and the i also lead on that sharp rise in child poverty as detailed in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.
The Times meanwhile reports that EU officials believe a Brexit deal is “90% there” albeit with the caveat that obstacles remain. The Telegraph says the Treasury is launching a crackdown on Bitcoin “amid growing concern it is being used to launder money and dodge tax”. Lastly the FT reports a surge in the number of Swiss banks reporting suspicious activity by Saudi clientele.
For more news: www.theguardian.com
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