Top story: Britons on continent still worried
Good morning – Warren Murray here to straighten out a few things before the day gets started.
The European parliament has ratified the withdrawal agreement with its Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, declaring: “It’s sad to see a country leaving that twice liberated us, twice gave its blood to liberate Europe.” Emotions ran high, with MEPs breaking into a rendition of Auld Lang Syne after the parliament’s president, David Sassoli, announced the result of the vote – 621 in favour, 49 against and 13 abstentions. The debate turned raucous at one point when Nigel Farage took the floor. “Once we have left we are never coming back and the rest is detail.” At the end of his speech Farage and his Brexit party MEPs were asked to leave, and obliged, after brandishing miniature union jacks. Sassoli concluded the session by quoting the murdered British MP Jo Cox, who was killed during the 2016 referendum campaign: “We have a lot more in common than divides us.”
British citizens living in the EU remain confused and worried about their post-Brexit healthcare and pension entitlements, despite the fact that both issues were settled in the withdrawal agreement, a Guardian callout suggests. But with 80% of the estimated 1.3 million Britons on the continent of working age or younger, the withdrawal agreement’s failure to guarantee continued rights to free movement, cross-border working and recognition of professional qualifications for Britons remains of real concern, says Laura Shields, spokesperson for the lobby group British in Europe. “The settlement for healthcare provision and state pensions is actually quite satisfactory.”
Coronavirus latest – A British flight to bring about 200 nationals back to the UK has been unable to take off by this morning as planned. The Foreign Office said it was “working urgently” to organise a flight to the UK “as soon as possible”. Delays in obtaining permission from the Chinese government have been reported. The death toll in China from the coronavirus has climbed to 170 – follow updates at our live blog.
Car output driven down – British car manufacturing has slumped for a third consecutive year, with UK factories producing 1.3m cars in 2019, a decline of more than 14% on 2018 and the lowest level since 2010. One bright spot: Arrival, the UK maker of electric vans, has secured a €400m (£339m) order for 10,000 vehicles from the delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS). The Guardian’s final Brexit watch snapshot before Britain’s EU departure shows that warning lights are flashing with zero growth forecast for the final three months of 2019. But the last instalment of our three-year project shows there are also early shoots of recovery from a surge in business confidence since Boris Johnson’s decisive election victory.
Javid on board HS2 – Sajid Javid is expected to throw his weight behind the controversial HS2 rail project at a key meeting today, after the Treasury concluded it will still deliver economic benefits despite spiralling costs. The chancellor is expected to demand tighter budget controls after the National Audit Office said the final cost is “impossible to estimate with certainty”. A final decision is unlikely to be made until next week. Boris Johnson has faced enthusiastic lobbying in favour of the rail link from northern mayors but opposition from a group of new Conservative MPs in “blue wall” northern seats who want it scrapped in favour of smaller-scale infrastructure projects in the Midlands and the north.
Heated dispute over gas power – The government is being sued for approving the biggest gas power station in Europe, overruling the climate change objections of its own planning authority. The 3.6GW plant, being developed by Drax in north Yorkshire, could produce 75% of the UK’s power sector emissions when fully operational, according to the environmental lawyers ClientEarth, who have brought a judicial review. Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, gave the go-ahead in October despite the planning inspectorate determining it would have significant adverse effects and “undermine the government’s commitment, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, to cut greenhouse emissions”.
Modern slavery cases surge – There has been a more than tenfold increase in the number of people identified as victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in London, with a third of all cases nationally discovered in the capital, according to an analysis by the London assembly. In October, the Local Government Association reported an 807% rise in the number of child victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Theresa May introduced laws targeting modern slavery in 2015 but there has been disappointment about a lack of funding to implement the legislation. The assembly’s police and crime committee is calling for an overhaul of how police and the mayor’s office handle the problem, and has asked Sadiq Khan to put more detectives on the modern slavery taskforce.
Staring straight at the sun – The sun’s turbulent surface has been revealed in unprecedented detail in the first observations by the Inouye solar telescope in Hawaii. The striking images reveal a surprising level of structure hidden within the churning plasma exterior, bringing a previously hazy impression of the sun’s patchwork surface sharply into focus for the first time.
“These are the highest resolution images of the solar surface ever taken,” said Thomas Rimmele, the director of the Inouye solar telescope project. “What we previously thought looked like a bright point – one structure – is now breaking down into many smaller structures.”
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Manchester City plotted a nervy course into the Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa after losing 1-0 on the night to Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium for a 3-2 aggregate victory, although the occasion was marred by trouble in the stands. Liverpool went 19 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 2-0 victory at West Ham thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The World Indoor Athletics Championships in Nanjing have been postponed by a year to March 2021 because of the coronavirus, which has now infected around 6,000 people worldwide and caused 132 deaths. The Chinese Football Association has postponed all domestic games.
England are taking the scenic route into the Six Nations, opting to relocate from Portugal to Paris in the lead‑up to their opening fixture against France rather than returning to home comforts. Nick Cushing’s hopes of a happy sendoff were dented as goals from the Dutch duo of Vivianne Miedema and Daniëlle van de Donk put Arsenal into the Continental Cup final. And Russia has been warned that its track and field athletes face a blanket ban from the Tokyo Olympics – unless it accepts senior officials forged documents and lied in an attempt to help a world champion escape a doping ban. Ashleigh Barty’s hopes of emulating Christine O’Neil, the last local woman to win the Australian Open back in 1978, ended in stunning fashion as the American 14th seed, Sofia Kenin, beat her in two sets.
Concerns about the coronavirus have returned to dog the financial markets with Asian shares off sharply in overnight trading. As a succession of airlines suspended flights to China, Ikea closed its stores and Oreo-maker Mondelez said it was shuttering two factories in the country, the prospect of a pronounced slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy is causing the jitters among investors. The FTSE100 is set to fall 0.6% this morning while the pound is stable at $1.302 and €1.182. Our economics editor Larry Elliott warns that Boris Johnson’s swing to the left on economic policy – as manifested by the Northern Rail decision – is a danger to Labour.
The most common thread today is the chancellor’s expected nod for high-speed rail. “HS2 should go ahead, Javid tells Johnson”, says the Telegraph, while the FT draws a deep breath then rattles out: “HS2 future clearer as Javid throws support behind £88bn rail project”. “Chancellor’s green light for HS2”, says the Express.
The i has a different rail story: “End of the line for Northern after years of rail chaos”, as the train operator is renationalised. The Guardian continues to cover the coronavirus situation with “Evacuated Britons face two weeks in quarantine”.
The Mail has a TV “legend” undone by Twitter: “ITN star is forced to quit in race row”. The end of Alastair Stewart’s 40-year tenure is also the Express splash: “ITV legend quits after race jibe”. “Beeb’s Brutal Cull” – see what the Metro did there? The story is about BBC cuts including the axing of the Victoria Derbyshire show. Lord Lucan reappears in the form of a Mirror front page: “Scotland Yard to probe Lucan claims” – those claims being that he is still alive somewhere in Australia. The Sun reports on Eamonn Holmes grabbing a “gong” from Phillip Schofield at the National Television Awards – the headline is “I’ll Phil you in”.
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