“Boris Johnson has faced a backlash over his rail strategy from “deeply disappointed” Tory MPs who accused him of promising “perpetual sunlight” but delivering “moonlight” on train projects for the North. The Prime Minister insisted the Government’s 162-page Integrated Rail Plan, published on Thursday, was a “fantastic” blueprint and represented the “biggest investment in rail at least for 100 years”, worth £96 billion. The document confirmed that the eastern leg of HS2, linking the West Midlands and Leeds, has effectively been scrapped, while plans for a new line between Manchester and Leeds – a key plank of Northern Powerhouse Rail – have also been abandoned. The revised package places a greater focus on short-distance links in the North, upgrading several existing lines and helping boost capacity and slash journey times between smaller towns and cities years earlier than scheduled.” – Daily Telegraph
“Boris Johnson has today unveiled a £96 billion package to cut train journey times across Britain. Critics accuse him of breaking his promise to Northerners by ditching a key HS2 route – but the PM insists his railway revolution will speed up transport. Mr Johnson dismissed claims he had betrayed northerners as “total rubbish” and said the Integrated Rail Plan would help level up the country… But while the overhaul slashes journey times across the board, some routes won’t be as quick as originally planned because of the scrapping of some lines. The first leg of HS2 from London to Birmingham is due to be completed in 2029-2033. All journey times from the capital to the Midlands and the North will be slashed.” – The Sun
>Yesterday: ToryDiary: HS2. We have “a very British solution – a half-built railway”
“All day yesterday Labour filled the airwaves with rhetoric about betrayal, deceit and lies, but the truth is that the government was between a rock and a hard place. Of course, many MPs in the Midlands and the north were looking forward to seeing the government’s plans to level up the UK through a transport revolution, but there were also many who were and always have been against HS2 from its inception. As one 2019 red-wall Conservative MP told me: “It’s swings and roundabouts. There were plenty who were anti-HS2 who will now be back on board, compared to the ones who will be annoyed. Overall I don’t think it will make a difference.” Described by Tory MP Bob Seely in the chamber yesterday as “a turkey mixed with a white elephant” and “a politician’s vanity project”, HS2 will remain controversial for years to come and perhaps even after it is finished.” – Times Red Box
“Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda will be hammered by his new social care plans, which will whack Northerners and the poor, the original architect of the plan blasted. Raging Andrew Dilnot told MPs the PM’s plans would make the North-South divide worse and would hit his mission to slash inequality in Britain. But the PM hit back – saying it was a “massive improvement for everybody” and it would stop people from seeing their savings “eaten up”. Ministers yesterday finally slipped out long-delayed plans to fix the social care crisis and bring in a new £86,000 cap on costs. But the small print revealed that only “the amount that the individual contributes towards these costs will count towards the cap on care costs”.” – The Sun
“Priti Patel has blamed the EU’s open borders for spurring a “mass migration crisis” in the Channel. The home secretary said the Schengen agreement, which abolished borders among member states, had left France “overwhelmed” with migrants trying to reach Britain. “Let’s not forget that the real problem on illegal migration flows is the EU has no border protections whatsoever — Schengen open borders,” she said during a visit to Washington for talks with her US counterpart. More than 24,500 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats this year, almost triple the number last year. Patel said that she had secured assurances from the French government that it would deploy more technology to monitor its northern coastline.” – The Times
“Albania on Thursday poured scorn on reports the country could be preparing to host an offshore centre to hold people seeking asylum protection in the UK, in the latest blow to London’s efforts to find a solution to a surge in clandestine immigration in small boats. Olta Xhaçka, Albania’s foreign minister, criticised a story on the issue in The Times — which mistakenly referred to her as a man — as “fake news”. Edi Rama, prime minister, said Albania would “never” be a country where rich countries could set up camps for their refugees. Priti Patel, UK home secretary, is under significant pressure from prime minister Boris Johnson and some Conservative MPs to halt the influx of people on small boats, which they insist is a bigger political issue than the “sleaze” scandal over MPs’ second jobs.” – FT
>Today: ToryDiary: Asylum seekers and economic migrants. Where is the place that would allow us to process applications offshore?
“Supporters of Hamas could face up to 10 years in jail under plans to be announced on Friday by Priti Patel. The home secretary said the organisation will be proscribed by the government under the Terrorism Act. It means anyone who expresses support for Hamas, flies their flag or arranges meetings for the organisation will be in breach of the law. Patel hopes to push through the change in parliament next week in a move she says will help to combat antisemitism. She told reporters in Washington DC: “We’ve taken the view that we can no longer disaggregate the sort of military and political side. “It’s based upon a wide range of intelligence, information and also links to terrorism. The severity of that speaks for itself.”” – The Guardian
“Britain will send 100 troops to help Poland build a ‘Trump-style’ wall at the country’s border with Belarus. The Royal Engineers are being deployed amid a crisis at the border to stop migrants from Iraq and Syria entering Europe. Last night Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Belarus had been using migrants as ‘political pawns’ by attempting to assist their passage into Poland in a bid to destabilise the country. The Polish parliament signed off controversial plans in October to build an 18ft border wall which will cost £297million. It will be equipped with motion sensors, a monitoring system and cover a roughly 125-mile stretch between the countries. Mr Wallace also vowed the UK will ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with Poland and Ukraine amid rising tensions with Russia and Belarus.” – Daily Mail
“The UK prime minister has been denounced this week by members of his party for presiding over a “shambles”, surrounding himself with “nodding dogs” and leading the Conservatives towards what could be a “sudden decline into defeat”. But perhaps the most ominous moment for Boris Johnson came at question time in the House of Commons on Wednesday, where gaping stretches of empty green leather benches spoke to Tory MPs withholding their support. Johnson’s botched handling of the parliamentary “sleaze” scandal was compounded when the prime minister’s promised rollout of high speed rail to the Conservatives’ new northern heartlands was radically scaled back.” – FT
“Banks will be forced to refund victims of money transfer scams under changes to the law backed by ministers today. A consultation from the payment systems regulator (PSR), an independent body which oversees any form of payments, announced proposals today to make reimbursement for scam victims mandatory. John Glen, the economic secretary to the Treasury, said the government would legislate to address any barriers to this regulatory action at the earliest opportunity. “Fraud is posing an escalating risk to UK customers, with increasingly sophisticated scams that can be detrimental to people’s lives,” he said… The change in legislation would allow the PSR to ensure that victims of authorised push payment (APP) scams — when a victim is duped into sending money to fraudsters — will be reimbursed by their bank.” – The Times
“Ministers are backing away from threats to tear up parts of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal before Christmas. Lord Frost yesterday said it would be ‘better’ to find an agreement with Brussels than take unilateral action. The Brexit minister had been ramping up threats to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to suspend EU customs checks he says are disrupting trade. Speculation has been mounting in Whitehall that the move would happen this month, despite warnings from Brussels that it would spark an all-out trade war. But a Government source last night said that although the option remained ‘on the table’ it was ‘not imminent’. The change in tone comes amid rising hopes that a compromise can be struck.” – Daily Mail
“Britain’s first new free port throws open its doors today in a multi-billion pound Brexit trade boost. Teesside is one of eight low-tax hubs set to turbocharge business with a £23billion shot in the arm. Ministers last night vowed to do everything to lure “top-end employers” from across the world. Levelling Up minister Neil O’Brien said free ports will create a network of Silicon Valleys across the country. He told The Sun: “The number one thing they can deliver is a huge number of really good jobs. “We’ve brought together a huge range of tax breaks to really strongly incentivise firms to bring new jobs. The ability to have incredibly exciting access to international trade is a spur to getting top-end employers in. Outside the EU you have a lot more freedom.” Teesside is set to see the creation of more than 18,000 jobs.” – The Sun
>Today: David Willetts’ column: New businesses, faster connections, better data, tighter security. There are so many reasons to commit to Space.