If You think it’s Bad Now….. (catching Up with the News)
Farm subsidy payment delays raise Brexit doubts, say MPs.
The government's failure to pay EU subsidies on time or help farmers hit hard by delays raises doubts about its ability to cope with Brexit, MPs say. Delays to Common Agricultural Policy payments meant some farmers had to sell livestock to pay bills, they say. Only 38% of England's farmers were paid on the first day possible in 2015 - in other years it had been more than 90%. The government said major progress had since been made and it had met its 2017 target to pay 93% of farmers by March. On 1 January 2015, the Common Agricultural Policy Basic Payment Scheme replaced the previous Single Payment Scheme - bringing with it new requirements. The Rural Payments Agency, which distributes EU funds to farmers, went from an "all time high" - paying out 95% of farmers on day one of the scheme in December 2014 - to paying out just 38% of farmers on 1 December 2015. By the end of March 2016, only 84% of farmers had been paid - meaning some 14,300 farmers had received no payment. Some were still owed more than 1,000 euros (£850) nine months after they could first have been paid. Delays were blamed on changes to the CAP scheme and a problematic IT system. Applications had to be processed on paper, because an online application system was not ready, which "introduced a significant amount of errors... despite farmers submitting appropriate evidence".
Brexit: Labour rebels to receive formal written warning.
Labour frontbenchers who defied Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons Brexit vote will be sent a formal written warning over their behaviour but will not be sacked. Mr Corbyn had imposed a three-line whip on his MPs to vote to back Brexit. But 52 Labour MPs rebelled in Wednesday's vote, including 11 junior shadow ministers, and three whips whose job it is to impose party discipline. Convention dictates that members of the leader's shadow team should resign or be sacked if they defy such an order. Some did resign, including shadow business secretary Clive Lewis, who was replaced by Rebecca Long-Bailey. But, after a meeting between Mr Corbyn and his chief whip Nick Brown, the remaining rebels will receive only a letter insisting that they must "comply with the whip" in the future. When the government brought its Brexit Bill to the Commons, Mr Corbyn said Labour would not seek to obstruct the EU referendum result. To ensure as many of his MPs supported him as possible, he imposed a three-line whip, the strictest instruction to vote with the party.
UK economy to slow down, says European Commission.
The UK economy will slow down sharply over the next couple of years says the European Commission. Its latest forecast says the UK economy will grow by just 1.5% this year and by 1.2% in 2018, compared to 2% last year. The Commission says the slowdown is prompted by uncertainty following last June's Brexit vote in the UK. By contrast, the eurozone of 19 countries is predicted to grow faster than the UK, by 1.6% this year and 1.8% the next. However the latest forecasts by the Commission, for both the UK and the eurozone, represent an improvement on its previous one made last November, which suggested that the UK would grow by just 1% this year. Explaining its view, the Commission said: "Business investment is likely to be adversely affected by persisting uncertainty while private consumption growth is projected to weaken as growth in real disposable income declines." Inflation is also predicted to rise this year in the eurozone, reaching an annual rate of 1.%, up from just 0.2% in 2016. The view of the Commission on the UK was shared recently by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Earlier this month it also predicted an economic slowdown in the UK, with the country growing by 1.7% this year and 1.9% in 2018.
Brexit: UK warned against 'special' deals with member states.
The UK should not try to play different EU states off against each other or pursue "special discussions" in key areas, a top EU official has warned. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the UK may want to be more "obliging" to certain countries to secure future commercial advantages. The EU is keen to maintain a united front and conduct central negotiations. Meanwhile, a leading candidate to be France's next President says he will take a "pretty tough" line on Brexit. Emmanuel Macron, who opinion polls suggest could win May's election, told Channel 4 News the UK should not be punished for voting to leave the EU but the EU's interests had to be paramount into the upcoming negotiations. "We have to preserve the rest of the European Union and not to convey the message that you can decide to leave without any consequence," he said. The final agreement on the UK's exit will need the approval of 20 out of the EU's 27 other member states as well as the support of the European Parliament. However, a future trade deal could need the backing of all EU states. There have been suggestions the UK could potentially exploit divisions within the EU over how hard a bargain they are willing to drive. Several EU leaders have insisted the UK cannot expect a better deal outside the EU than it has now and their priority is to protect the interests of the remaining 27 members. Others have advised against "punishing" the UK.
UK inflation highest since June 2014.
Inflation has reached its highest rate for two-and-a-half years, mainly as a result of the rising price of fuel. Annual inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) reached 1.8% last month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, up from a rate of 1.6% in December. It is the fourth consecutive month that the rate has risen and takes inflation to its highest since June 2014. Fuel prices hit a two-year high in early February, according to the RAC. As well as fuel, the ONS said food prices also contributed to the rise in inflation, as prices were unchanged between December and January, having fallen a year ago. Offsetting these factors, the prices of clothing and footwear fell by more than they did 12 months ago. The increase in the inflation rate takes it closer to the Bank of England's target rate of 2%, which was last seen in December 2013. Inflation is widely expected to pick up this year as a result of the weaker pound, which is making imported goods more expensive. Earlier this month, the Bank of England said it expected the inflation rate would hit 2.7% next year. Separate ONS figures for producer prices showed that input prices - the amount paid for materials and fuel by UK manufacturers - rose at an annual rate of 20.5% in January, the fastest pace since September 2008, and a rapid pick up in pace from the 15.8% figure seen in December. The prices of goods leaving factories were up 3.5%. ONS head of inflation Mike Prestwood said: "The costs of raw materials and goods leaving factories both rose significantly, mainly thanks to higher oil prices and the weakened pound." Chris Williamson, chief business economist at analysts IHS Markit, said: "While the further upturn in price pressures will fuel speculation that interest rates may start to rise later in 2017, the most likely scenario remains one of policy staying on hold over the next two years as the economy navigates through Brexit.
All details above from BBC News website.
[There are some interesting messages – mixed of course – coming out of Parliament this week. We have Vince Cable (probably the next head of the Lib-Dems) saying that he’s starting to think that Brexit isn’t going to happen, Teresa May in full conciliation mode wanting other parties to stop criticising and start collaborating as well as the possibility of a Tory backbench revolt and leadership challenge. These are the stories that won’t go away. Much in-fighting, back-biting and ‘challenges’ ahead I think. What an almighty mess!]