Breaking News -- United Kingdom
|Cameron in battle to stem rebellion over vow to Scots
by Steven Swinford, Senior Political Correspondent
Prime Minister stages major talks at Chequers after Tories threaten uprising to 'dwarf’ EU row
David Cameron will today seek to head off a back-bench rebellion over new powers for Scotland, amid concerns that his ambitious timetable for English votes for English laws may be derailed.
The Prime Minister will meet more than 20 Tory backbenchers at Chequers, where he will try to allay concerns over devolution and set out his vision to block Scottish MPs from having a say on English legislation.
On Friday, Mr Cameron sought to quell anger among his backbenchers after agreeing in advance of the referendum to hand more power to Scotland and to maintain high levels of public funding for Scots.
He pledged to introduce English votes for English laws “in tandem” with handing more powers to Holyrood, which led to speculation that further devolution would not happen without constitutional reform in England. Michael Gove, the Chief Whip, subsequently went further and said it would be “impossible” to introduce further reforms in Scotland without action on England.
However, Downing Street insisted that Mr Cameron would honour his promise to devolve powers to Scotland with “no ifs, no buts”.
The clarification, intended to defuse accusations in Scotland that he and the three main parties could break their promise, is likely to intensify the concerns of his own backbenchers.
Some Tory MPs have privately threatened to inflict a series of rebellions on the Prime Minister that would “dwarf” the uprisings over Europe.
The backbenchers are furious that their constituents are being asked to fund giveaways in Scotland without receiving any reciprocal benefit. Tory MPs at Chequers will argue today that the Government should scrap the controversial Barnett formula, which gives Scots about £1,600 more in funding per head than people in England.
They will also push Mr Cameron to keep to his timetable on English votes for English laws.
On Friday, William Hague, the Leader of the Commons, who is heading a committee on the issue, pledged to introduce draft legislation in January that would pave the way for a new law at the beginning of the next Parliament.
In an attempt to reassure his critics, the Prime Minister has invited to Chequers leading backbenchers, including Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, Bernard Jenkin, the head of the public administration committee, and Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General.
Other Tory MPs at the meeting will include John Redwood, Peter Lilley, Rory Stewart, Guto Bebb, Heather Wheeler and James Wharton.
The Telegraph understands that Conservative MPs in northern England have opened talks with neighbouring Labour MPs to discuss how to ensure that the region does not lose out to Scotland.
Mr Brady said: “Even Lord Barnett says that the so-called Barnett formula needs to be changed. It is complicated and the implications of it are difficult to predict, especially if there is a shift to more tax- raising powers for the Scottish people.
“Ultimately, I suspect that the Scottish government would want to review Barnett as well as English members of Parliament.”
Mr Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South, said: “If Scotland gets even more power, there is the potential for them to use that to compete even more effectively. The challenge we have got in the north of England is to make the case for some sort of package to ensure equality of opportunity for the regions of the North.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The three pro-Union parties have made commitments on further powers for the Scottish Parliament and we have set out a clear timetable to do this. This Government has delivered on devolution and we will do so again in the next parliament.”
Game of drones: UK govt faces legal threat to reveal UAV usage
The UK government is facing a legal challenge over the deployment of its armed drones amid claims that its Afghanistan fleet could be moved to the Middle East to operate against jihadists.
The human rights group Reprieve plans to launch a judicial review challenge against the Ministry of Defence if the UK government does not clarify what it will do with its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) after the Afghanistan mission ends.
"We call for more transparency and accountability on the use of drones," a spokeswoman for Reprieve told RT.
"We want more clarity on the use of Reaper drones," she added.
The MoD has repeatedly refused to state what it intends to do with the RAF’s Reaper squadron once the UK deployment in Afghanistan draws to a close this December.
Some claim that the Reapers could be moved from Afghanistan to operate against jihadists in the Middle East, the Guardian reports.
The UK-based human rights group is said to act on behalf of Saeed Al Yousefi, a Yemeni man from a region that has been frequented by US drones, who has raised questions what will happen to 10 armed Reaper drones currently based in Afghanistan.
Pro-independence Scots launch new ‘45%’ campaign
Thousands of pro-independence activists, determined to continue their fight for Scottish statehood, have launched a new campaign called ‘the 45 percent’, despite losing Thursday’s referendum.
The campaign draws its name from the 44.7 percent of the Scottish electorate who voted ‘Yes’ to independence. Although the ‘No’ campaign secured a narrow majority at 55.3 percent, the appetite for a split remains strong.
While it ultimately failed to win the referendum, the ‘Yes’ movement vastly outperformed pro-union activists in its employment of social media. The 45 percent want to sustain the momentum of this grassroots online movement.
Several Facebook pages have rapidly accrued thousands of likes, while #the45 and #wearethe45 are trending on Twitter. A 45 ‘Twibbon’ has replaced the blue ‘Yes’ sticker prominent on supporters’ accounts throughout the campaign.
Still at a disparate and formative stage, with multiple parties and grassroots organizations in its orbit, the 45 percent movement has coalesced around the shared cause of keeping independence on the agenda.
“The British establishment would love nothing more than for the 45 percent to disappear,” reads one page.
“The 45 percent will only grow stronger.”
Initially appealing for crowd funding in order to launch and support food banks, and to create campaign merchandise, the page calls for ideas and input from its supporters, reflecting its grassroots character.
“This idea is a work in progress and will be of course open to suggestions,” it reads. Organizers have procured the45percent.org domain name and @Scotlands45 Twitter handle.
A key figure in the grassroots campaign for independence is former MSP Tommy Sheridan, whose speaking tour, ‘Hope Over Fear’, visited dozens of meetings in the run up to the referendum. As a prominent socialist voice in Scotland, Sheridan has sought to pave a way forward for the movement.
“Over the last couple of days I have been inundated with thousands of Facebook and Twitter messages from disappointed ‘Yes’ supporters looking for a way forward,” Sheridan told his Facebook followers.
“I am encouraged so many have decided to become politically involved and stay politically engaged. Leaving politics to the politicians is a recipe for poor governance.”
Sheridan urged ‘Yes’ supporters to back candidates in local and national elections who support independence and called for another referendum in March 2020. He said the Scottish National Party (SNP) were the most likely candidates to deliver on this.
“Let's punish the reactionary and dishonest ‘No’ parties at the ballot box next May,” said Sheridan. “Let's punish the shameful Labour Party in particular for siding with the bankers, bosses, billionaires and millionaires to try and crush our dream of a new and better Scotland with an avalanche of fear and lies.
“We have youth, energy and hope on our side. Hope can triumph over Fear in 2020,” he added.
Supporters of the 45 percent have been accused of issuing abusive comments against supporters of the union and of anti-English sentiment. Others have said the group should disband and accept the outcome of the referendum.
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