Brexit party MEPs defect and back Conservative party — live

Annunziata Rees-Mogg: Brexit party now ‘risking Brexit’

Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the sister of House of Commons leader Jacob, and arguably the most high profile of this morning’s Brexit party defectors, said the party had become “the very party risking Brexit” as she outlined her reasons for quitting.

She and three other Brexit party MEPs announced their decision to leave earlier today, urging voters to ditch Nigel Farage’s party in favour of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in order to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote.

I find it absolutely unbelievable, but tragic, that the Brexit party with so many wonderful people dedicated to a cause are now the very party risking Brexit.

“I only stood in May to fight for Brexit,” she said. “I am still determined to do so.”

She said she had not been offered any enticements by the Conservatives to make her decision.

Farage ‘disappointed’ with Brexit party defectors

The Brexit party was dealt a blow this morning after four of its most prominent MEPs quit and urged its supporters to vote for the Conservatives next week in an effort to unite the pro-Leave vote, writes Sebastian Payne.

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit party, said he was “disappointed” with the MEPs — Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of cabinet minister Jacob, businessmen Lance Forman and John Longworth, and campaigner Lucy Harris — for not acknowledging that the party’s decision to stand down candidates in the south and south west of England had already helped to unite the Leave vote.

We are also hammering the Labour Leave vote in its traditional heartlands making it much easier for the Conservatives to win many of those seats.

The only vote on the Leave side that is currently being split is in areas such as Barnsley, the South Wales Valleys, Doncaster and Hartlepool where there is a risk that the Tories will split our vote.

A spokesperson for the party suggested that the personal circumstances of Ms Rees-Mogg, Ms Harris, Mr Forman and Mr Longworth may have affected their decision to leave the the party.

We also note that one of the MEPs is the sister of a Cabinet Minister, another has a partner who works in the office of the same Cabinet Minister and yet another is a personal friend of both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The spokesperson insisted the party would not be standing down any more candidates, however.

“We’re here to keep the f*****s honest,” they said, presumably referring to the Tories.

FT poll of polls – update

With only a week to go until polling day, Labour has not made up any ground during the election campaign, according to the FT’s poll of polls.

The Tory lead is back up to 11 points, which is exactly where we started back at the beginning of November.

The window of opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn to make up ground is closing, which helps explain why the pound is riding (relatively) high.

Political scientists and election forecasters generally believe that a Conservative polling lead of around 6 points over Labour is the dividing line between a Tory majority and a hung parliament.

A Labour government offers investors short-term appeal on tax

Wealth manager AJ Bell says the election has not been good for business, reports Andy Bounds from Manchester.

Although revenue and profits rose in the year to September 30, the inflow of funds has slowed ahead of the UK general election and decision over Brexit.

Andy Bell, founder and chief executive, said the country was in “the eye of the storm” waiting for further turmoil.

“Investors are sitting on their hands. People are not putting the maximum contribution into their pension or Isa. They are not sure about whether they will keep their job or what costs might go up. We hope they will come back into the market [after Brexit],” he told the FT.

A majority government would help the Manchester-based company, which runs a platform for DIY investors and one for financial advisers.

But would this be the case even it was led by Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour party wants to transfer the assets of some of those investors such as rail and energy companies to the state?

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“Under a Labour government high taxes would make the tax wrappers we offer more effective,” he said. “Isas and the like protect your income and become ever more valuable. Let’s wait and see.”

Johnson doubles down on promises on NHS and Brexit

The prime minister reiterated promises this morning on the NHS and Brexit that leave him a potential hostage to fortune if he is returned to office next week.

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning show Boris Johnson promised to complete Britain’s exit from the EU by January 31 if the Conservatives gain a majority and said the country would achieve a trade deal with the bloc by the end of next year.

He also doubled down on a vow that “under no circumstances” would any part of the NHS be sold off in a potential trade deal with the US.

He said Labour’s claims that the NHS privatisation would be on the table in a trade deal were “absolute nonsense” and “a scare story that comes up time and time again” before going on to compare a leaked dossier which Jeremy Corbyn said proved the NHS was for sale to “photographs that purport to prove that there are UFOs”.

Mr Johnson also repeated an apology for any offence caused to Muslims by comments in which he compared women wearing burqas to letterboxes. When pressed on other derogatory remarks he made in articles in the 1990s in which he called single mothers irresponsible and working class men feckless, he said: “I don’t think that this is the time to talk about articles that were written really a long time ago.”


Labour aims to govern alone in a hung parliament

The FT’s Jim Pickard and Robert Shrimsley have held a wide-ranging interview with shadow chancellor John McDonnell:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would refuse to negotiate with smaller parties in the event of a hung parliament and instead dare them to vote down a minority government formed by him, according to shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Lagging far behind the Conservatives in opinion polls with only a week to go before election day, many Labour figures believe the opposition party’s only viable path to power is by depriving the Tories of a parliamentary majority and then cobbling together a coalition.

Even if the Tories are the largest party in a hung parliament after December 12, Boris Johnson has far fewer options than Labour in assembling a working majority in the House of Commons.

This prospect has prompted Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon to demand an early independence referendum as the key price of her support for Labour, while Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has hinted she could work with the party to stop Brexit if it removed Mr Corbyn as leader.

But Mr McDonnell said Labour would insist on its right to form a minority government in a hung parliament, rolling out its leftwing election manifesto — with £83bn of annual tax rises and extra public spending — and then challenging other parties to “make up their minds” on each policy, such as raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour.

“We will implement our manifesto . . . no negotiation, no deal, no coalitions,” said the shadow chancellor in an interview with the Financial Times.

“We’ll roll out our programme and let’s see if the Lib Dems vote against the real living wage at £10 an hour, let’s see if the SNP vote against the proposals we brought forward for ending austerity.”

Read the full story.

EmoticonFour Brexit party MEPs abandon party

Four of the Brexit party’s European parliamentarians have resigned the whip and urged voters to back the Conservatives.

Annunziata Rees Mogg, the sister of Tory grandee Jacob, Lance Forman, John Longworth and Lucy Harris have all delivered a letter to Nigel Farage explaining their decision to back the Tories.

The four were elected to the European parliament after the Brexit party stormed to victory in May’s European elections. But Mr Johnson has since succeeded in mopping up a large portion of the party’s vote as he has anchored his own party in the eurosceptic space.

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The FT’s poll-of-polls shows plummeting support for the Brexit party since November 11, when Nigel Farage announced that the party would not contest seats won by the Conservatives in 2017.

The details of the letter will be released in a press conference later this morning in London, but for now Ms Rees Mogg said: “We need a strong Leave supporting government to deliver the Brexit 17.4m voted for. The Conservatives are the only option for Brexit supporters and democrats alike.”

Mr Longworth, a former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, had the whip removed yesterday by the Brexit party “for repeatedly undermining the party’s election strategy.”

Mr Farage said in a statement:

Four of our MEPs don’t seem to understand that we both saved the Conservative party from large scale losses to the Liberal Democrats in the South and South West of England, [and] we are also hammering the Labour Leave vote in its traditional heartlands.

Swinson hints at backing Labour in hung parliament if Corbyn goes

The prime minister is still heroically trying to find space in his diary to sit down for an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil.

But last night Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, was brave enough to take part. The FT’s Laura Hughes has picked out the key news lines:

Ms Swinson suggested for the first time that she could work with the Labour party to stop Brexit if it removed Jeremy Corbyn as leader in the event of a hung parliament.

The leader of Britain’s third party repeated her pledge not to use her party’s votes to put either Mr Corbyn or Tory leader Boris Johnson in Downing Street if neither wins a majority in the House of Commons.

But, pushed on whether she would abstain or vote for a minority Labour government’s agenda, in order to secure a second Brexit vote, she replied:

Look, to be honest, if Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn don’t win a majority at this election then there’s no guarantee that they’re still going to be the ones that are leading their parties a week afterwards, right?

So Liberal Democrats will work to stop Brexit, we will support legislation that puts in place a people’s vote and we will work across parties.

More from the interview in Laura’s full piece.

Pound tests key resistance level

Sterling has been the best performing major currency this week, racking up strong gains as polls suggest Boris Johnson is on course for victory next Thursday night.

Fritz Louw, a currency analyst at Japanese bank MUFG, said the currency has moved decisively out of its trading range as it has broken through key technical support levels.

Mr Louw noted that the pound is now above its 200-week moving average against the dollar.

It could prove a key long-term pivot point for the pound against the dollar as it has not closed above on a sustained weekly basis since the autumn of 2014.

Javid has ‘not a single doubt’ UK can swiftly secure EU trade deal

The FT’s Laura Hughes reports:

Chancellor Sajid Javid has told the BBC’s Today programme he believes a new Tory government would secure an “ambitious, deep, comprehensive, free-trade agreement” with the EU after Brexit.

Mr Javid said there is “not a single doubt in my mind it can be agreed within months”, adding that it was unlikely the UK would leave the EU without having secured a deal.

“I am confident that we will get a deal done”, he said. “I think [leaving without a deal] is extremely remote.”

Boris Johnson has insisted he can complete the first stage of Brexit by the end of January and would then negotiate a trade deal with the EU by the end of a transition period that ends next year.

However, there are concerns that no significant trade deal has been ratified in such a short space of time.

‘No rhyme or reason needed’

Sterling’s rise today, which started just as London dealings kicked off but appeared to come without a particular impetus, has come as some traders who made bearish bets on the currency are throwing in the towel, one high-profile analyst has speculated.

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Kit Juckes of Société Générale said on Twitter:

Sterling’s going up again this morning, to the the sound of shorts capitulating. No rhyme or reason needed.

The pound has jumped 1.5 per cent against the US dollar over the past three trading days in its best run since October. Analysts have broadly cited polling data that have steadily pointed to a 10-percentage point lead for the Tories, on the aggregate. The thinking goes if Boris Johnson is able to secure a majority, it will help alleviate Brexit uncertainty … at least in the short run.

Boris Johnson aims for vote on Brexit before Christmas

Boris Johnson has outlined his agenda for the first 100 days of a Conservative government if he wins on December 12:

Emoticon Executing Brexit by January 31
Emoticon A February Budget to implement tax cuts
Emoticon A repeal of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act

The prime minister — whose election slogan is “Get Brexit done” — pledged that legislation to implement his EU withdrawal agreement will be put back before parliament ahead of Christmas, as he aims to take the UK out of the bloc by January 31.

However, John Bercow, the former House of Commons Speaker, said the idea Mr Johnson could complete Brexit quickly was “utter nonsense”.

You can read more on Mr Johnson’s plans from Sebastian Payne and James Blitz here.

Are investors setting themselves up for a fall?

A hung parliament is still within the margin of error of many opinion polls, meaning investors have some tricky short-term calls to make on the various possible election results.

Traders have trimmed their negative bets on sterling during the campaign, and the currency has risen on every positive sign for Boris Johnson.

But Mr Johnson has pledged not to extend the Brexit transition period beyond next year, leaving a short window to negotiate a free trade deal and avoid a new cliff-edge for markets.

After an initial bounce, attention would shift towards the tight timetable for a trade agreement “very, very quickly,” said Willem Klijnstra, currency analyst at Legal & General Investment Management, which has been neutral on sterling since September. “If we do get a Conservative win then we are straight back to Brexit.”

I have been looking at the various scenarios investors will face as the results pour in on election night. You can read that piece here.

Sterling marches higher

In a week’s time Britons will go to the polls, but many investors seem to have made their mind up about this election.

Sterling has surged this week, and was recently up another 0.3 per cent against the US dollar to touch $1.34. The currency was up 0.2 per cent against the euro, where it has hit 31-month highs.

A Tory victory is seen as market friendly in the short-term as it would guarantee an orderly withdrawal from the EU.

Here’s Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid with the market’s logic:

Sterling has been supported by investor hopes that a Conservative majority at the election will support a smooth ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, taking away some of the short-term uncertainty over the Brexit process.

As this chart from the FT’s Mike Mackenzie neatly illustrates, the relationship between a firmer pound and better polls for the Conservatives is clear. Sign up for Mike’s Market Forces note here, for more where that came from.

Welcome back

Good morning, welcome back to the FT’s coverage of the UK general election.

It is already looking like another good day for the pound, which has risen more than 1.5 per cent this week as traders bet on a Conservative victory.

We will have the latest coverage and analysis from the FT’s team of reporters and editors through the day.


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