Hammond under fire

“Phil Hammond is an embattled man,” says The Times. The chancellor is under fire for two reasons, firstly because of the “extraordinary blunder” of labelling EU negotiators as “the enemy… on the other side of the table” in a television interview. He has also been criticised for saying that he would budget for a scenario of “no deal” with the EU only at the last possible moment. While the first criticism is valid, when it comes to spending on border controls, “he is right to proceed on the assumption that a viable free-trade deal can be reached”.

Oh please, says Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph. “You don’t enter a negotiation on the assumption that you will never, under any circumstances, walk away.” By refusing to both make plans, and spend money for such a scenario, the chancellor, along with the rest of the “remain rump”, is “quite shamelessly colluding with the EU establishment”. All these people are trying to ensure that the negotiations “will never really begin, let alone end”. 

But think about the practicalities here, says Marina Hyde in The Guardian. There is no point in splashing out on contingency plans such as customs facilities if they aren’t reciprocated. It isn’t our decision whether the system gets used or not. “If the EU27… don’t match them on their side, yours will end up the most dysfunctionally desolate facility since Michael Jackson’s Neverland.”

Details aside, ditching Hammond now would just make May look even weaker, argues Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. True, like May herself, he only rose to prominence “because of the widespread but baseless hunch that people with little outward charisma must possess great depth by way of cosmic balance”. And in normal circumstances, his removal would pass without protest.

But at present he is widely seen as one of the few pragmatic figures in a government “remote-controlled by backbench ideologues”. The world used to prize Britain’s political stability above all else. Ditching Hammond would destroy our “ultimate lure” as well as underscore to what extent May is a hostage of her party.

At present, the most pressing issue is that we are all being held hostage by the EU’s “obduracy”, says The Daily Telegraph. A deal on our future relationship will need to be finalised by next October, but the EU insists Ireland, citizens’ rights and the divorce bill be discussed first, yet this is nonsensical. Ireland can only be sorted out in the context of the wider agreement, which the EU won’t discuss.  How much longer will be expected “to endure this belittling treatment”?

Why Universal Credit is universally reviled

The Labour Party and some Tory rebels are calling “for a pause in the plans” to roll out Universal Credit, which combines six benefits into one monthly payment, notes The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Hope. Tory MPs are concerned that claimants lose out when they switch from their existing benefits programme because there is a six-week delay. They are also unhappy because benefits are “reduced by 63 pence for every £1 a claimant earns above their work allowance”. Indeed, former prime minister John Major has called the new system “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving”.

“The delays built into Universal Credit are extreme: no one I’ve spoken to has waited for less than six weeks; some have waited four months,” says Dawn Foster in Prospect magazine. The trouble is that most people applying for Universal Credit don’t have savings to tide them over, having either lived on subsistence benefits or supplemented their income with benefits. They are thus forced to skimp on food and heating. The two architects of universal credit, David Cameron and Iain Duncan-Smith, “have been cleared out of their offices”; Theresa May “should do the same with their misguided welfare policies”.

Universal Credit has “deep-rooted problems” and the “government needs to listen and learn”, says Campbell Robb in The Times. Nonetheless, “if fully implemented and properly funded, it should be simpler, help smooth people’s transition into work and will respond better to people’s changing circumstances”.

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