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Chris Grayling criticised over Qatar trip as rail fare rise prompts protests – as it happened

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen


4.46pm GMT16:46

Afternoon summary

  • The department for transport has defended Chris Grayling’s decision to be out of the UK on a visit to Qatar on the day the biggest annual rise in rail fares for five years came into effect. In a statement the department said that Grayling was on “a pre-planned visit to promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries” and that he had repeated answered questions about the fares increase in the past. (See 2.23pm and 4.35pm.)
  • Keir Starmer has torn into the government’s “woefully inadequate” analysis of how the EU charter of fundamental rights will be covered by British law after Brexit, warning that essential protections will be lost. As Rowena Mason reports, the shadow Brexit secretary said Labour would force a vote on the issue this month at the next stage of the EU withdrawal bill, as the government was still refusing to transpose the charter into UK law. The government managed to head off a rebellion on the issue by Conservative MPs, led by former attorney general Dominic Grieve, by promising a “right by right analysis” of how UK law already covers the same ground as the charter on areas such as children, the environment, data and consumer rights. However, Labour and legal experts said the document showed only how UK law fell short in providing the same protections as the EU charter of fundamental rights.

That’s all from me for today.

Thanks for the comments.

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4.38pm GMT16:38

These are from Channel 4 News’s Michael Crick.

Michael Crick (@MichaelLCrick)

Jeremy Corbyn has formally dropped his policy of not nominating new Labour peers. His office has, I'm told, "engaged" with the latest process of peerage nominations. Expect 2-3 Labour nominees in the imminent list of new peers.

January 2, 2018
Michael Crick (@MichaelLCrick)

When he stood for leader Corbyn said he wouldn't nominate any new Labour peers, but then elevated Shami Chakrabarti in 2016. He's now formally returned to practice of past Labour leaders, joining most other parties in nominating peers, as Lab ranks in Lords get ever more depleted

January 2, 2018

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4.35pm GMT16:35

The department for transport has finally got back with a bit more information about Chris Grayling’s visit to Qatar. As Number 10 revealed this morning, Grayling is meeting the Qatari prime minister and the ministers for transport, finance and the interior, as well as the chief executives of the Qatar Investment Authority and Qatar Airways and representatives from UK businesses. After Qatar Grayling is also visiting Turkey.

This is what the DfT said in a briefing note for journalists.

Following the success of the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum, which took place in London and Birmingham in March 2017, and which was led by the prime ministers of both countries, the UK is seeking to build on our already close and growing trade and investment relationship. The transport secretary is seeking to support the delivery of commitments made by both sides at the conference, including a commitment to invest a further £5bn across the UK in the next 3-5 years.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, we want to strengthen our commercial ties with partners around the world, creating new opportunities for British businesses. The secretary of state’s visit to Qatar aims to strengthen our relationship for the future of both countries.

The UK is also keen to share its private and public sector expertise and experience of security and transport management around major events.

In Turkey the SoS [secretary of state] will be discussing a number of issues with his opposite number, Minister [Ahmet] Arslan, and supporting potential major contracts in civil and defence aerospace.

The proposed £5bn investment from Qatar covers transport, but generally Grayling’s visit does not seem to have a great deal to do with his ministerial portfolio. It looks as if instead he has been given the chance to freelance as a trade envoy for a few days ...

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3.02pm GMT15:02

The Conservative MP Martin Vickers, who sits on the Commons transport committee, told the World at One at lunchtime that he was a “lukewarm” defender of today’s rail fares increase. Vickers, who represents Cleethorpes on Humberside, explained:

The vast majority of my constituents never use the railway, I suspect the percentage is in single figures and the argument they would put forward quite reasonably is why should they contribute towards getting people into central London each day and it’s a fair point.

Season ticket holders have got reason to complain, it’s a massive hike for them and I do sympathise with them, but the reality is someone has to pay and it’s either the general tax payer or the users of the system.

I would accept that there is a continuing role for the tax payer within the rail network, but at the moment the trains are bursting at the seams and as long as that increased income is going into improving the network and the modernisation of the system, then I’m prepared to live with it for the moment.

Vickers was referring to the fact that rail travel is subsidised by the government. According to the Office of Rail and Road’s annual statistical release for 2016-17 (pdf), that subsidy is worth £4.2bn.

Rail subsidy figures. Photograph: ORR

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2.23pm GMT14:23

Transport department defends Grayling's decision to leave UK for Qatar as rail fares rise takes effect

The department for transport has put out a statement about Chris Grayling’s visit to Qatar. A spokesperson said:

The secretary of state is currently on a pre-planned visit to Qatar to promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries.

This trip has been specifically arranged to take place outside of parliamentary time. The secretary of state has repeatedly answered questions on [the rail fare increase] ever since fare increases were first announced by the industry in August.

This doesn’t really answer the question that I (and, I presume, others) asked earlier about what exactly Grayling is doing in Qatar (see 1.21pm), but the press office says it will giving more information about his visit shortly.

Updatedat 4.47pm GMT

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1.25pm GMT13:25

Lunchtime summary

  • Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has been accused of dodging his responsibilities by Labour and the Liberal Democrats after he left the UK for Qatar on the day much-criticised rail fare increases come into force.
  • Rail bosses have defended the biggest annual increase in train fares in five years in the face of dozens of demonstrations against the rise by commuter groups and unions at the UK’s busiest stations.
  • David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has turned the European Union’s negotiating mantra against the bloc to warn that it cannot “cherrypick” the terms of a free trade deal.

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1.21pm GMT13:21

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, has put out this statement about Chris Grayling, the transport secretary.

Chris Grayling knew that the fares story would be top of the news agenda today but instead of being available to defend his government’s great rail rip-off he booked himself a trip to the Qatari sunshine.

While millions of passengers are taking a financial hit as they battle their way back to work in the cold and the rain today they will draw their own conclusions from the transport secretary’s decision to book himself a trip to the desert.

I’ve called the transport department to ask what Grayling is actually doing in Qatar. Someone is meant to be getting back to me with a response. I’ll post it when I get it.

Doha, the capital of Qatar. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

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1.07pm GMT13:07

Here is Jeremy Cliffe, the Economist’s Berlin bureau chief, on rail prices in Britain.

Jeremy Cliffe (@JeremyCliffe)

An annual London-Peterborough season ticket now costs £7,864. In Germany you can buy an annual BahnCard 100, providing travel on *every train in the country*, for less than half that (€4,270, or £3,797).

January 2, 2018

And here is a Press Association infographic making a similar point.

Press Association (@PA)

How much of your salary goes on #railfare travel? An average 30 mile commute in the UK can be five times higher than on the continent pic.twitter.com/ctu7dzSCnG

January 2, 2018

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1.01pm GMT13:01

When he was chancellor George Osborne frequently clashed with Theresa May, the then home secretary, over her hardline approach to immigration. He was particularly sceptical about including foreign students in the immigration statistics. In today’s editorial, Osborne’s Evening Standard welcomes hints that May is going to be forced to back down on this.

George Osborne (@George_Osborne)

Our editorial @EveningStandard on the looming government u-turn on student immigration https://t.co/48WCkGGMNP

January 2, 2018

Here’s an extract.

Every effort to get the students out of the net migration target — by David Cameron in the last government and by most of the current cabinet — has been single-handedly blocked by Theresa May. As home secretary and as prime minister she insisted students should be in the official numbers because, the Home Office claimed, 100,000 of them overstayed. Last year it emerged that this number was completely bogus — fewer than 5,000 do, one 20th of the estimate that drove government policy. Still Downing Street refused to budge.

So why might they back down now? Credit must go in part to the subversive operations of various ministers. The home secretary, Amber Rudd, quietly commissioned rational advice on the economic benefits of international students and shifted her department’s mindset. Meanwhile, Jo Johnson, the effective universities minister, has used every opportunity to promote our higher education institutions abroad. But in this hung parliament it’s not the government that dictates policy, it’s the House of Commons — as MPs are starting to realise. That’s why, last August, this paper said, “let’s hope someone puts down an amendment in parliament to remove students from migration numbers… [for] it will surely be carried”.

At the Number 10 lobby briefing earlier the prime minister’s spokesman said May still thinks foreign students should be included in the figures. But he did not rule out a U-turn at some point later this year when legislation comes to the Commons. (See 11.57am.)

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12.40pm GMT12:40

This is Stefaan De Rynck, senior adviser to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, responding to what David Davis, the Brexit secretary, is saying in his Telegraph article. (See 9.31am.)

Stefaan De Rynck (@StefaanDeRynck)

Quote April EUCO #Brexit guidelines: welcomes the recognition by the British Government that the four freedoms of the Single Market are indivisible and that there can be no "cherry picking". The Union will preserve its autonomy as regards its decision-making.

January 2, 2018

But this does not particularly address Davis’s point. Davis is saying the UK wants financial services to be fully included as part of a free trade deal. Barnier has in the past argued that the UK will only get a deal similar to existing EU free trade deals, and that these do not offer full access for financial services.

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12.18pm GMT12:18

Labour and Lib Dem criticise Grayling for going to Qatar as rail fares rise

Labour and the Lib Dems have condemned Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, for going to Qatar on a day when he could, and arguably should, have been on the Today programme defending the annual rail fair increases. Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said:

The secretary of state for transport’s failure to publicly explain to rail passengers why they are being hit with crushing fare increases today smacks of a man running scared. Chris Grayling won’t defend his multi-million pound bailout of Stagecoach on the East Coast line because he can’t.

Passengers and taxpayers deserve better than a failing transport secretary who refuses to defend his track record.

McDonald issued his comment despite getting stuck on a broken-down Virgin train.

Andy McDonald MP (@AndyMcDonaldMP)

After great rail fares rally at Kings X, and then meeting brilliant campaigners at Stevenage, now en route to Leeds only for our Virgin train to breakdown with complete loss of power just like this awful Tory government!

January 2, 2018
Andy McDonald MP (@AndyMcDonaldMP)

My day of campaigning has been interrupted by a broken down train on the recently bailed-out Virgin East Coast on the same day fares are hiked by 3.6%. Let’s take our railway back into public ownership! pic.twitter.com/Y6YrK0iTMT

January 2, 2018

And Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, has also accused Grayling of dereliction of duty. Cable said in a statement:

Rail passengers are shivering on platforms angered by the biggest fare increase in years while Chris Grayling is off globetrotting.

It’s very difficult to see what useful function he can perform in Qatar and Turkey that our excellent trade officials could not.

Vince Cable. Photograph: Sky News

Updatedat 12.21pm GMT

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11.57am GMT11:57

No 10 lobby briefing - Summary

I’m back from the Number 10 lobby briefing. Here are the key points.

  • Downing Street played down suggestions that Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, might be sacked in the reshuffle expected later this month. Grayling is on a ministerial visit to Qatar today and neither he nor any of his transport minister colleagues have been giving interviews this morning defending the rail fares increases. But when it was put to him that Qatari ministers might not see much point in meeting Grayling given that he has been tipped for the sack, the prime minister’s spokesman said he did not accept that at all. The spokesman said:

Chris Grayling is working hard and doing a good job as transport secretary.

Grayling was one of five cabinet ministers named as being tipped for the sack in a story by Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times at the weekend (paywall). But the fact that the Labour peer Andrew Adonis publicly called for Grayling’s departure in an Observer interview the same day almost certainly has boosted his position because prime ministers are always loath to letting it look as if the opposition is deciding who sits in their government.

Chris Grayling. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
  • The spokesman insisted that Theresa May remains opposed to removing foreign students from the immigration statistics. It has been reported that the government now sees excluding students as inevitable because the Commons is likely to vote for this when the immigration bill is debated later this year. Many senior cabinet ministers are thought to be in favour of the change, and some have said as much publicly. But May remains opposed. Her spokesman said that her position was “very clear” and that the current policy was in line with the international definition of an immigrant, which is someone arriving in the country to stay for more than 12 months. But, when asked if the government would get its MPs to vote against an amendment to the immigration bill changing the existing system, the spokesman said he would not respond to a hypothetical question.
  • Number 10 refused to rule out pegging rail fare increases with the the CPI measure of inflation, not RPI, as the Labour party proposes. (See 10.43am.) The spokesman said that using RPI was consistent with the standard approach in the rail industry, but that this was a matter that was kept under review.
  • Downing Street rejected Andrew Adonis’s claim that Grayling has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions by bailing out Stagecoach and Virgin in relation to their contract to run the East Coast line. Adonis made the claim when he resigned on Friday as chair of the national infrastructure commission. The spokesman said that “no one is getting a bail out” and to suggest that the taxpayer would lose out from Grayling’s move was “completely wrong”.

Larry the Downing Street cat sits on the doorstep of No 10. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Updatedat 12.25pm GMT

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10.57am GMT10:57

Cable says he has 'open mind' on Brexit and could support it if May secures 'miracle' deal

Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, is opposed to Brexit. But, in an interview with LBC, he claimed that he had an “open mind” and that he could be persuaded to support it if Theresa May secured a fantastic Brexit deal. When it was put to him that he was just opposing Brexit and the will of the people, he replied:

If Brexit is the way it’s now looking, I think we should be aiming to stop it, but I have an open mind … We would stay within the European Union. We haven’t left it yet, but it’s possible that Theresa May could produce a miracle and we could have some really good outcome and people would be positive about it but I’m sceptical we’ll get there.

I’m off to the Number 10 lobby briefing now. I will post again after 11.30am.

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10.43am GMT10:43

Andy McDonald's Today interview - Summary

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, was on the Today programme earlier talking about Labour’s plans for rail. Here are the main points he made.

  • McDonald said British Rail, the old nationalised service, was a “remarkable achievement” because it was more efficient than the privatised service operating now.

You’ve got to remember, through British Rail there was a remarkable achievement. [It was] so derided and abused, when we have the curly-lip sandwiches stories and all the rest of it. But that was actually 3% more efficient in its last 20 years than we’ve had under privatisation, with little or no investment, because it was a declining industry and the investment didn’t go in. If British Rail had half the investment that’s gone in under privatisation, we’d have had a gold standard railway.

But he also insisted that Labour’s plans to nationalise the railways should not be seen as the party just wanting to bring back British Rail. When asked if he was nostalgic for the days of British Rail, he said:

No, it’s not about British Rail. It’s about a new era of railways that delivers the very, very best for the British people.

  • He said Labour would peg rail fare increases to the CPI measure of inflation, not RPI, saving commuters on average £500 over the course of a parliament.
  • He explained how nationalisation would save passengers money. Asked how Labour would pay for cheaper tickets, he replied:

You pay for that by not wasting money in the franchising system itself, which is immensely costly for the taxpayer and for the TOCs, the train operating companies, and who pays for that ultimately? The passengers.

You reduce that cost. You take out this terrible duplication, you’ve seen it over the last couple of days, endless CEOs on massive amounts of money duplicating costs. And, lastly, [you stop] profits and dividends going out to, not only the corporate entities, but to [foreign] state-owned and controlled railways.

  • He described the rail franchising system as “an absolute racket”.

We have a fractured, expensive and complex system, we are wasting money in the franchising system itself, it duplicates costs ... This is a nonsense, this is an absolute racket.

  • He confirmed that under Labour’s plans it would take time to bring train companies back into public ownership. This would happen when franchises came up for renewal, he said. He said after two parliamentary terms (10 years) all but one of the current franchises would have expired.
  • He defended Labour’s tendency to support rail workers in industrial disputes. He said:

I think instead of being at war with the people who work in the rail industry, we should be in partnership with them to ensure that we deliver the best possible service and they want to commit to that, but what’s happening here is ideologically we’ve got a government who prefers to have battles and wars, rather than sit round a negotiating table and resolve these very, very real issues.

Shadow transport Secretary Andy McDonald (centre) joining campaigners protesting against rail fare increases outside King’s Cross station in London today. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

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10.12am GMT10:12

Here are some of the campaigners at King’s Cross station in London protesting about the annual rail fare increases.

Campaigners protest against rail fare increases outside King’s Cross station in London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

And here is our latest story about the controversy.

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9.53am GMT09:53

And here is Peter Foster, the Daily Telegraph’s Europe editor, on the David Davis article.

Peter Foster (@pmdfoster)

As you’d expect, some wishful/ambitious thinking in David Davis #brexit opener in @telegraph bit this final para seems right to me, if you define successful as “completed” and less rigidly binary in scope than Barnier pretends. https://t.co/dfUai8VUC5 pic.twitter.com/Oh9vYWyPyC

January 2, 2018

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9.52am GMT09:52

Here is Michael Russell, the Scottish government’s Brexit minister, responding to the David Davis article.

Michael Russell (@Feorlean)

David Davis says in today’s Telegraph that he wants a relationship with the EU that “involves working together, not simply rule taking”. David, that is called “membership”

January 2, 2018

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9.47am GMT09:47

The Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) showed a reading of 56.3 last month, down from 58.2 in November, the Press Association reports. Economists were expecting a figure of 57.9. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

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9.31am GMT09:31

David Davis predicts 'public thunder and lightning' before successful Brexit deal

Good morning. And Happy New Year to everyone.

MPs do not return to the Commons until next week and this morning the Westminster news machine is still warming up. Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, has been on the airwaves condemning the annual rail fare increases that come into effect today. And David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has published a long article in the Daily Telegraph (paywall) with his agenda for the year ahead.

As our overnight story reports, the main news line is Davis’s rather creative attempt to hijack one of the EU’s key Brexit arguments. London has been repeatedly told by Brussels that it cannot “cherry pick”, in the sense of demanding all the best bits of single market membership without accepting any of the obligations that come with it. But Davis uses the phrase to argue that the EU should not be offering the UK a free trade deal covering some areas of the economy, but not financial services. We’ve got the story up here.

But there are other lines in the Davis article worth noting too.

  • Davis predicts there will be “public thunder and lightning” (ie, more massive rows) before a successful Brexit deal is reached in the autumn.

The negotiations about the future will not be straightforward. They will generate the same public thunder and lightning that we have seen in the past year. But I believe they will be successful, because the future of the Europe continent is best served by strong and successful relationships.

  • He says an agreement on a transition deal is “doable” by March. (This may worry some in business who insist that, for a transition deal to have any value, it has to be agreed by March at the absolute latest.)
  • He says he wants the UK after Brexit to be “at the cutting edge of new technologies and the regulatory regimes they will require”.

The EU might work for countries who have chosen to be members, but at a time when the commission themselves say that the vast majority of future global growth will come from outside Europe, it makes sense for Britain to place itself at the cutting edge of new technologies and the regulatory regimes they will require.

  • He says after Brexit the UK should be leading “a race to the top in global standards”.

The emphasis here must always be on raising standards. There is no route to prosperity in trying to become cheaper than China, or in undermining the safety standards which give confidence to British goods.

Whether it’s the prime minister’s commitments to workers rights, or Michael Gove’s determination to uphold animal welfare standards, this government believes the UK’s future lies in a race to the top in global standards.

(In Eurosceptic circles EU efforts to raise standards tended to be depicted as the imposition of more “red tape”. In the article Davis doesn’t explain why the same pejorative shouldn’t apply to Gove’s regulatory interventions, or to his own “global standards” ambitions.)

  • He says the free trade deal must cover financial services.

Our approach is simple: we are looking at the full sweep of economic cooperation that currently exists and determining how that can be maintained with the minimum additional barriers or friction, while returning control to the UK Parliament.

In terms of scope, the final deal should, amongst other things, cover goods, agriculture and services, including financial services, and be supported by continued intelligent cooperation in highly-regulated areas such as transportation, energy and data.

  • He says the UK and the EU should continue to recognise each other’s standards after Brexit.

For decades we have been happy to let European bodies carry out the assessments that ensure products like these — from cars to medical devices — are fit to go to market in the United Kingdom. Given the level of trust we place in each other’s institutions I see no reason why, with the right relationship, such mutual recognition should not continue after we leave.

But it will require the support of our regulators working together, collaborating on assessments to authorise products and sharing data on public health and safety risks.

I do not believe the strength of this cooperation needs change because we leaving the European Union, so long as it is understood that this involves working together, not simply rule taking. These principles can be applied to services trade too ...

My objective is that services can be traded across borders, from highly regulated sectors like financial services to modern ones such as artificial intelligence. Of course this will require some common principles: our shared adherence to international standards; the cooperation of our regulators; and an effective dispute resolution mechanism with proportionate remedies.

There are only two items on the agenda so far today.

9.30am: Manufacturing PMI (purchasing managers’ index) data is released.

11am: Downing Street lobby briefing.

As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web.

You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here.

Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’ top 10 must reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments BTL but normally I find it impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer direct questions, although sometimes I miss them or don’t have time.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.

Updatedat 9.54am GMT

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