Monday briefing: May rejects Corbyn's customs union proposal

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Top story: Business warns of cliff edge as exit date approaches

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s proposal for a Brexit compromise, stressing her objection to staying inside a customs union. “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?” she wrote to Jeremy Corbyn. The PM argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”. She accepted a customs union could potentially have delivered her a Commons majority but at the serious risk of splitting her party. The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February. Business leaders have called for quicker action, with the head of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, saying the UK is “in the emergency zone of Brexit now” and the confusion will not just affect jobs and investment, but harm the UK as a long-term business destination.

The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, will say in a speech today that Brexit represents an opportunity for Britain to boost its global military standing in response to the threats posed by Russia and China. He will argue that a post-Brexit UK should redefine its role as a global power prepared to intervene against countries that “flout international law”, backed up by new military technologies and capabilities.

Meanwhile, a new report by the Global Future thinktank that supports more open immigration has warned that Brexit could cost employers more than £1bn in administration costs over five years. It warns the NHS could face £120m a year in additional costs to recruit overseas staff.

It comes amid warnings of Brexit damaging police powers to detain foreign suspects and leave British fugitives in Europe beyond the law. “Criminals are entrepreneurs of crime … if there is a gap to exploit I’m sure some of them probably would,” says assistant commissioner Richard Martin, who is leading national police preparations to cope with with the loss of key crime-fighting measures if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

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Baftas and Grammys – It’s been a big night in the entertainment world with both ceremonies taking place within hours of each other. The Favourite almost reigned supreme, taking best actress (Olivia Colman), best British film, best production design, best supporting actress, best original screenplay and best costume design. Rachel Weisz also won best supporting actress. But the top award of the night, best picture, went to Roma, whose director, Alfonso Cuarón, also won best director. Rami Malek won best actor for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. You can read about all the winners and losers here ; and check out the best images from the red carpet and from the awards themselves.

Across the Atlantic the Grammy awards were dominated by live performances by female artists. The host, Alicia Keys, opened the show by asking: “Can I get some of my sisters in here tonight?” as Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez joined her on stage. English singer and songwriter Dua Lipa won best new artist and Cardi B became the first solo woman to win best rap album for Invasion of Privacy. Childish Gambino’s This Is America marks the first time a rap song has won for song of the year and record of the year. The night’s biggest prize, album of the year, went to country artist Kacey Musgraves for Golden Hour. You can see all the winners here and catch all the best pictures from the night here.

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Knife crime – London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, will today announce a pilot scheme where offenders will be tagged with tracking devices on release. The scheme, beginning on 18 February, will be used on up to 100 offenders deemed likely to reoffend in four London boroughs that have among the highest rates of knife crime – Lewisham, Lambeth, Croydon and Southwark. The tags will automatically check the movements of the offenders against the location of reported crimes and share significant matches with police.

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‘The fighting was intense’ – Fresh details have emerged about the attempted coup against the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in eastern Syria. Witnesses claim that foreign members of Isis lost a two-day battle with his bodyguards before being rounded up and executed. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, a witness said the clash took place in September in al Keshma, near the village of Baghouz, three months earlier than originally reported.

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TV licencesLabour has urged the government to keep licences free for over-75s. The party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has told the PM that scrapping the benefit would represent a “huge financial blow” to millions of pensioners and breach a Conservative general election manifesto pledge. His intervention comes as a BBC consultation on whether to carry on with the scheme after government funding ends in 2020 is due to close on Tuesday.

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‘Obligation chocolate’ – Japanese women are pushing back against a tradition of giving male colleagues sweets on Valentine’s Day. Giri choco literally means obligation chocolates. But now women are changing course, with growing evidence that giving chocolate to avoid causing offence has become intolerable for many. A recent survey found that instead around 60% of women will buy chocolates as a personal treat on 14 February. Bon appétit.

Today in Focus podcast Dying on the streets: homelessness in Britain

After a spike in deaths among homeless people in the affluent city of Oxford, Robert Booth went to investigate. In a growing community of rough sleepers, there is little support for people with mental health problems and addiction. Plus: Nosheen Iqbal on the “white fragility” preventing a frank national discussion about racism.

Lunchtime read: ‘We can’t let fear consume us’

Almost a year after the March for Our Lives that followed the tragic Parkland high school shooting, gun control may have faded from the spotlight, but the survivors are not done quite yet. Dealing with the trauma of what happened at their school, including 17 deaths, some of the students are looking to college. Others are organising for 2020, to boost the youth vote and to push for better gun control laws. David Hogg became one of the best-known faces after the shooting, internationally recognised as a voice against gun violence.

Hogg and a small group of his friends are focussed on the unglamorous work of grassroots organising, training regional directors to help build out their nearly 200 March for Our Lives local chapters. “One of my goals in the next two years is to get 71% youth voter turnout in 2020,” Hogg told the Guardian in a recent phone interview. Just under 50% of voters aged18-29 voted in the 2016 presidential election. “I like the way the number [71%] looks,” he said. Gun control policy and changing gun laws remains the key driver: “The thing that I’m most proud of is the stories that were not reported on because they didn’t happen,” Hogg says.


Maurizio Sarri admitted he does not know if Chelsea will sack him as manager and said it was right that there should be scrutiny of his position following the 6-0 hiding at Manchester City, in which Sergio Agüero hit another hat-trick.

Eddie Jones wasted no time lighting a fuse under England’s potential Six Nations grand-slam decider against Wales on Saturday week after crushing France, while Warren Gatland says his Wales side’s unconvincing win over Italy could pile expectations on England.

England’s women appear certainties for a grand slam after only two games following a ruthless display by their forwards and some sharp finishing by their backs in a destruction of Six Nations champions France.

Mark Wood took a Test-best five for 41 to put England in control of the third Test against West Indies.

And racing was rocked by late-night bad news for the second time in five days when it emerged that horses at a second stable, this time in Newmarket, have tested positive for equine influenza.


The chancellor, Philip Hammond, must find an extra £5bn in this year’s Whitehall spending review to reverse planned cuts and meet his claim of ending austerity, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The thinktank said funds pledged in last year’s budget to boost NHS spending, defence and international aid, failed to safeguard local councils and some of the worst-hit government departments from further shortfalls. It also said a minimum of £2.2bn would be needed to freeze all budgets and protect them from inflation, but ministers would need to find an extra £5bn to allow departments to maintain services in line with the UK’s rising population.

The pound is buying €1.14 and $1.29.

The papers

Concern for the future of the world leads on the front page of the Guardian, with “Plummeting number of insects threatens ‘catastrophe for planet’”. The Express also has dire environmental news to report: “18 million breathing toxic air”.

The Telegraph has news about Sir Philip Green who faces investigation over allegations of sexual assault and racial abuse: “Green faces Met police inquiry over allegations”. The Mail asks “Is £60bn HS2 set to hit the buffers?” and the i has a report on “Britain’s hidden housing scandal”.

The Times has: “Soft Brexit talks with Labour risk cabinet split” and the FT says “May offers Brexit concessions to win over wavering Labour MPs”.

The Sun ’s front page is dominated with reports about Wayne Rooney’s marriage: “Coleen lets fly at Roo” and the Mirror is concerned about the end of the BBC consultation period on television licenses: “24 hours to save free TV for OAPs”.

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