INDEPENDENT 2024-03-08 16:04:08


Theresa May to end 27-year parliamentary career defined by Brexit chaos

Theresa May is quitting Parliament after 27 years in which she reached the height of political power and hit significant lows.

The UK’s second female prime minister revealed her decision to stand down as MP for Maidenhead to a local newspaper on Friday.

Elected seven times, the 67-year-old has been the Tory MP for the Berkshire constituency since 1997.

She occupied Downing Street from 2016 to 2019, a period of extraordinary tumult in British politics in the wake of the Brexit vote.

When she entered No 10, Mrs May was seen as the “safe pair of hands” supposed to successfully negotiate a departure agreement with the European Union.

Steely and principled with the brisk, no-nonsense air of a school headmistress, she had already survived six years as home secretary, the longest holder in more than 60 years of an office traditionally regarded as a political graveyard.

Branded a “bloody difficult woman” by her former cabinet colleague Ken Clarke, she embraced the jibe saying that was exactly what the country needed as it entered talks with Brussels.

However, she proved unable to bridge the bitter divisions opened up within the Conservative Party and in the country at large by the referendum.

Having supported remain – albeit with little visible enthusiasm – she was never fully trusted by Brexit ultras.

In Europe, her perceived intransigence and lack of “soft” diplomatic skills meant she struggled to build the kind of alliances which might have smoothed the UK’s departure.

After seeing her proposed withdrawal agreement with the EU roundly defeated three times in the Commons, she finally announced she was quitting in a tearful statement on the steps of Downing Street.

“I have done my best,” she said, but admitted it had not been enough.

She never really recovered from her disastrous decision to call a snap general election a year after entering No 10.

She had hoped to capitalise on her early popularity, but instead saw her majority wiped out after an ill-judged campaign which saw the hasty withdrawal of the so-called “dementia tax” manifesto pledge.

It gravely undermined her authority and left her reliant on the votes of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists to prop up her government.

Initially she delighted Brexit supporting Conservatives with her insistence that Britain would not remain part of the EU single market or customs union.

But her plan for Britain to remain close to EU regulations in a order to maintain the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – a key element of the Good Friday peace agreement – proved hugely controversial.

An instinctively private woman, as prime minister she at times appeared to struggle with the additional scrutiny the top job brought – her sometimes awkward and stilted manner leading to her being dubbed “the Maybot”.

On the international stage, she won kudos for the way she stood up to Vladimir Putin after the Salisbury nerve agent attack when Russian agents tried to murder former spy Sergei Skripal.

But her reputation as home secretary was tarnished by the Windrush scandal, with her policy of creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants blamed for the mistreatment and wrongful deportation of scores of those who had come to the country legally from the Caribbean in the years following the Second World War.

Away from politics, Mrs May was known for her love of fashion, particularly her trademark kitten heels.

From 2012 onwards, she required daily insulin injections after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – in No 10 she would order staff to bring her Jelly Babies when her blood-sugar levels dropped.

Born on October 1 1956 in Eastbourne, Sussex, Theresa Brasier was the only child of Church of England clergyman Hugh Brasier and Zaidee Mary.

A studious, bookish girl, she grew up in rural Oxfordshire where, by her own admission, she was something of a “goody two shoes” – once confessing that the naughtiest thing she had done was to “run through fields of wheat” to the annoyance of local farmers.

After a grammar school education, she gained a place to read geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University.

There she met her future husband Philip May after they were introduced by Benazir Bhutto, the future prime minister of Pakistan.

Following graduation, the couple both took jobs in banking, with Mrs May (they married in 1980) initially going to the Bank of England before becoming a financial consultant at the Association for Payment Clearing Services.

She secured her first elected position as a Tory councillor in the London Borough of Merton in 1986, going on to become chairman of education and deputy Conservative group leader.

After twice standing unsuccessfully for Parliament, she finally won the newly-created seat of Maidenhead in Berkshire in the 1997 general election only to see the Tories turfed out of office in a Labour landslide.

She nevertheless soon caught the eye of party leader William Hague who made her shadow spokeswoman for schools, disabled people and women, before promoting her to shadow education secretary.

Mr Hague’s successor, Iain Duncan Smith, made her Conservative Party chairwoman and gave her the chance to really make her mark with the wider public.

In a famous speech to the 2002 Tory Party conference, she warned they needed to shed their reputation as the “nasty party”.

After she toiled in a series of less high-profile shadow cabinet roles, David Cameron made her home secretary in the new Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010.

She was seen to have thrived in one of the toughest jobs in government, gaining plaudits for securing the deportation of the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada and resisting US demands for the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

After Mr – now Lord – Cameron decided to stage a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, Mrs May came out for remain.

The unexpected vote in favour of Leave resulted in Mr Cameron’s abrupt resignation, followed by a chaotic contest to find a successor.

After Boris Johnson’s dramatic withdrawal, Michael Gove’s elimination and remaining rival Andrea Leadsom pulling out after controversial comments about the importance of motherhood, Mrs May was elected unopposed.

She moved swiftly to stamp her own mark on government, vowing to tackle the “burning injustice” holding back the poor, ethnic minorities, women and the working classes.

In the aftermath of the referendum, she was determined to show the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU did not mean stepping back from the world stage.

She rushed to Washington in January 2017 to become the first foreign leader to meet new US president Donald Trump, only to suffer ridicule when he was pictured apparently briefly holding her hand.

The Tory conference that year was reduced to farce after a prankster handed Mrs May a P45 on stage, she lost her voice, and ended her speech with letters falling off the backdrop behind her.

It was inevitably Brexit, however, which was to define her time in office.

The cabinet was summoned to the prime minister’s country residence at Chequers in July 2018 to endorse her blueprint for future economic relations with the EU.

However, it resulted in the resignations of foreign secretary Mr Johnson days and Brexit secretary David Davis, two of more than 50 ministers to resign during the course of her three-year tenure in No 10 – more than half over Brexit.

The mood within the Tory party was becoming ever more rancorous and that December she had to fight off a no-confidence motion by rebellious MPs.

When her Brexit plan was finally put to MPs in January 2019, it was defeated by a majority of 230 – the biggest government defeat in modern political history.

Two more votes followed with two more heavy defeats for the government, and when talks with the Labour Party to find a cross-party way forward collapsed, she announced her resignation.

Despite the humiliating circumstances of her departure, Mrs May chose to carry on as a backbench MP in Parliament, emerging as a periodic critic of her successor Mr Johnson including over the partygate scandal.

Detailing her exit from the Commons, Mrs May said causes such as tackling modern slavery were taking an “increasing amount” of her time.

But her political legacy will chiefly be remembered as one dominated by wrangling over Brexit.

Former Sex Pistol John Lydon blames immigration for ‘division’ in UK

John Lydon has lashed out at the apparent effects of immigration in the UK during a fiery interview in which he doubled down on his support for Brexit.

The former Sex Pistol, who is himself the son of immigrants, decried Britain’s seaside towns as “run down” and full of “prospective immigrants”, which he claimed has fueled “animosity in communities.”

Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, rose to fame with the punk band in the mid-Seventies with songs such as “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the UK.”

In recent years he has adopted right-wing political stances including throwing his weight behind Brexit, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage.

But his remarks sparked a backlash from migrant charities who branded him “an old punk rocker… shamefully choosing to demonise marginalised communities.”

Speaking to LBC host Andrew Marr on Thursday evening (7 March), Lydon said that much of his forthcoming tour is taking place in seaside towns, which he claimed indicates how “run down” Britain has become.

“They used to be fantastic places when I was a kid,” the 68-year-old told Marr. “Mum and dad would drag us off for what felt like hours in a traffic jam, but it was absolutely great, it was working-class people throwing sand at each other… and the environment was economically thriving, I suppose. It was vibrant.”

Now, Lydon claimed, those towns are “full” of “prospective immigrants… which are really illegals [who are] not being cared for properly, but they shouldn’t have been accepted in such vast numbers.

“It’s created a real animosity in communities,” he continued. “The division… when you import so many people with a completely different point of view, they’re not going to adapt to yours, they’re going to stay and bring the problems they’re allegedly escaping from with them.”

Marr then asked Lydon what the difference was between “Britain importing the Lydons” from Ireland and the current situation.

“The first thing my mum and dad would tell me when I was very young was, ‘You’re British now, be British, and be proud of it,’” Lydon responded.

“Most excellent advice, and I’ve followed through.”

Lydon reaffirmed his support for Brexit in spite of its impact on the economy, remarking: “I’d rather a faltering economy than a dictatorship.”

In January, a damning report by Cambridge Econometrics found that the decision to leave the EU has already cost the UK £140bn, and is predicted to leave Britain’s economy £311bn worse off by 2035.

Lydon’s remarks on LBC sparked criticism on social media, with many pointing out what they perceived as hypocrisy in Lydon’s attacks on immigration, given his own family history.

Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais told The Independent: “These are rotten comments from an old punk rocker who made his name railing against the establishment.

“Now he is shamefully choosing to demonise marginalised communities, rather than blame those in power for the decline of the UK’s economy, public services and communities.”

“Son-of-immigrants and husband-of-an-immigrant John Lydon ranting about immigrants has at least proved one thing: punk is a young man’s game,” David Williamson wrote on X/Twitter.

Lydon was married to Nora Forster, a German-born music promoter who moved to the UK in the Sixties, for 44 years.

Amra Watson commented: “John Lydon joins the right wing brigade and blames the lack of investment, sewage in rivers & seas, lack of local services, and we may add, low wages, cost of living crisis, NHS queues, child poverty, crumbling schools, corruption… on immigration.”

“John Lydon provides this year’s least punk interview,” another critic said. “Son of Irish migrants and Irish passport holder, Lydon migrated to the USA decades ago and has taken out US citizenship. And without a shred of self-awareness, he asserts that immigration is destroying Britain.”

Lydon threw his support behind Brexit after the EU referendum in 2017, during an appearance on ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain.

“Where do I stand on Brexit?” he asked. “Well, here it goes, the working class have spoke and I’m one of them and I’m with them.”

In the same interview, Lydon said that the then-newly elected US president Donald Trump was a “complicated fellow” who had been “smeared by “the left-wing media”.

“One journalist once said to me, is he the political Sex Pistol? In a way,” he said. “What I dislike is the left-wing media in America are trying to smear the bloke as a racist and that’s completely not true.

“There are many, many problems with him as a human being but he’s not that and there just might be a chance something good will come out of that situation because he terrifies politicians.

“This is a joy to behold for me. Dare I say, [he could be] a possible friend.”

Aristocrat accused of killing her baby fears she’ll never get other children back – latest

Aristocrat Constance Marten has resumed giving evidence at the Old Bailey as she and her partner Mark Gordon stand trial over the death of their newborn baby Victoria.

Testifying in the witness stand on Thursday, the mother told the court she “panicked” when her daughter died, fearing she would never get her other children back.

Jurors heard the 36-year-old concealed her pregnancy and went on the run with Gordon after their four other children were taken into care. Victoria’s remains were found last March in a Lidl shopping bag in a disused shed.

As she and Gordon, 49, deny charges of gross negligence manslaughter of Victoria between 4 January and 27 February last year, Marten told jurors she “did nothing but show her love”.

Prosecutors allege the couple’s “reckless and utterly selfish” behaviour led to the infant’s “entirely avoidable” death after they spent weeks living “off-grid” in a tent on the South Downs in wintry conditions.

The couple also deny charges of perverting the course of justice by concealing the body, along with concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty, and allowing the death of a child.

Taste test gives shock result for best caterpillar cake – and it’s not Colin

A caterpillar cake taste test has sent shockwaves across the industry as Marks and Spencer’s original Colin was knocked off the top spot.

A Which? blind taste test of caterpillar cakes from eight supermarkets found Co-op’s Charlie, costing £8 for 660g, to be the finest, awarding it a 72% score and the watchdog’s coveted “Best Buy” recommendation.

In surprise news to some, the Co-op won with its “ultimate combination” of chocolate, sponge and buttercream.

Coming in a close second was M&S’s Colin at £8.50 for 625g, achieving a 71% and a “Best Buy” recommendation, beating most of its rivals with its “superior sponge and delicious chocolatey flavour”.

However, the result will be a bitter blow for M&S, whose Colin cake has been widely copied by rival grocers.

M&S took Aldi to court for what became a long-running legal dispute in which the former accused the discounter of copying Colin with its “Cuthbert” product.

An undisclosed settlement eventually reached by the two grocers did not deter Aldi from going on to release an ad in which it announced it was “like M&S, only cheaper”, and showing rival caterpillar cakes Cuthbert and Colin breaking into a scuffle at a party.

Morrisons’ Morris the Caterpillar Cake (£7.50 for 624g) received a score of 70%, with testers finding its sponge “a little disappointing”.

Tying in third place with Morrisons was Sainsbury’s, whose Wiggles the Caterpillar Cake (£7.50 for 627g) lacked “much-needed moistness”, while nearly a third of tasters thought the chocolate shell was too thin.

Waitrose scored 69% for its Cecil the Caterpillar Cake (£8.50 for 720g), and while tasters were satisfied with the strength of chocolate flavour, sweetness and thickness of the chocolate shell, almost half felt there was too much sponge compared with buttercream.

Aldi’s Cuthbert, the cheapest option at £5.49 for 625g, could only achieve 68%, with nearly half of tasters finding the sponge too dry, although Which? Noted it was not a bad choice for a budget birthday cake.

Tying with Aldi’s score was Tesco’s Slinky the Caterpillar Cake (£7.50 for 648g), with tasters finding it “too dry” and lacking buttercream.

Asda’s Letty (£7.50 for 615g) came last with a score of 67% after tasters were concerned about its weak chocolate flavour and dry sponge.

Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins said: “For a lot of us, a caterpillar cake is a must for a birthday or celebration. Our test results show you don’t have to go out of your way to get the best, or splash too much cash.

“Our panel rated Co-op as our highest scoring caterpillar cake overall. As well as being budget-friendly, Co-op’s Charlie the Caterpillar had a rich chocolate flavour and plentiful amount of buttercream.

“The scores across the board were quite close, so you can’t go too far wrong with a caterpillar cake, but if you want the best, we advise you to head to Co-op or M&S.”

Liz Truss spent £15,000 of taxpayer money on catering during flight

Former prime minister Liz Truss spent more than £15,000 on in-flight catering on a single flight to Australia while she was foreign secretary.

As revealed in a freedom of information response to the Labour Party, British taxpayers paid more than £1,400 per head for 12 government officials on a single trip to Australia.

Catering for the Australia flights in January 2022 cost £15,639 in total, which was 3.4 per cent of the total £454,626.59 cost of the tickets, Politico reported.

The government said the sums also include wider logistics of running a private aeroplane, such as catering equipment, as well as food and drink.

A spokesperson for Ms Truss told The Independent: “Liz had many responsibilities as foreign secretary, but it ought to be self-evident that organising the in-flight catering on overseas trips was not among them.”

Catering for Ms Truss’ South East Asia trip in November 2021 totalled £12,742, which was 4.2 per cent of the overall £300,545.39 flight cost. Another visit to Indonesia in the summer of 2022 cost £5,604 in in-flight catering, which was £431 per head and 1.5 per cent of the total £369,000 cost.

Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry said the figures showed ministers were “determined to have their hugely expensive cake and eat it”.

She added politicians were “booking planes which are for them and them alone, ignoring the burden on the taxpayer, and indifferent to the cost of living crisis facing the rest of the country”.

The Mail on Sunday reported last year that Ms Truss was contesting a £12,000 government bill relating to her use of the grace-and-favour country house at the Chevening estate that she had access to as foreign secretary.

Leaked correspondence, revealed by The Sunday Times, disclosed that Ms Truss in 2022 had requested taxpayers’ cash for a £3,000 lunch at a private club owned by a Tory donor, overruling her officials’ advice to go somewhere more suitable.

The freedom of information data released on Thursday also showed the in-flight catering bill for Ms Truss’ predecessor Dominic Raab came to £6,215 during a trip to Indonesia and Brunei in April 2021, and £7,625 for a visit to Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia in June of that year.

Meanwhile, catering for flights to Japan, South Korea and Singapore made by Ms Truss’ successor James Cleverly amounted to £14,900 — almost 4 per cent of the overall £384,160 flight cost.

A government spokesperson said: “The figures shown represent the end-to-end cost of providing in-flight catering, including transport, on-boarding/off-boarding, preparation, disposal in line with adherence to international waste management regulations, and the required equipment for these processes. These logistical elements make up most of the cost and are charged by the vendor regardless of the specific items ordered or consumed.

“Catering in-flight is a monopoly for the vendor and these costs would also be accrued on scheduled commercial flights. However, they are contained within the wider ‘all-inclusive’ booking fee and not broken down separately.

“Therefore the figures shown should not be conflated as actual expenditure on food or drink. The substantive costs will relate to the transfer of associated catering equipment, in the same way for example that a proportion of the cost of a commercial flight will include charges for the transport of hold luggage (whether itemised or inclusive).”

They added the flight costs are in line with past precedent for all political parties.

Ms Thornberry claimed private flights had become “the default option for ministers to do their overseas travel”, adding: “If they are determined to ignore the ministerial code by opting for government planes when commercial flights are available, the least they should be doing is taking along media or business delegations to help subsidize the cost.”

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool (www.BeatTheGap.com) to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at Scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

Could anti-Trump Republicans block his way back to the White House?

One of the most startling impressions from the past week has been the extent to which it now seems to be accepted, on both sides of the Atlantic, that Donald Trump is certain to be the Republican nominee for president – and almost as certain to be back in the White House this time next year. A reasonable response to all this certainty might be: “Steady on…”

It is true that Trump has so far enjoyed one of the smoothest rides to a presidential nomination on the part of any challenger in recent memory. Nikki Haley, his only rival after the Iowa caucuses, won only two contests, in Vermont and Washington DC, before suspending her campaign. She even lost in her home state of South Carolina, where she had been governor, which was hardly a promising prelude to a presidential run. She leaves Trump now with a clear run to become the Republican Party’s nominee.

Trump’s campaign was also given an unexpected boost – unexpected by timing rather than content – when the Supreme Court upheld his appeal against being excluded from primary contests in individual states. The ruling, which was handed down on the day before so-called Super Tuesday, with primaries in 15 states and one territory, was unanimous. The specific state concerned in the case was Colorado, but Maine had followed in announcing a ban on Trump contesting its primary, and other states had been expected to follow suit.

Labour and Tories won’t talk about the biggest crises facing Britain

Jeremy Hunt has just stolen half the extra money we would raise,” one Labour adviser told me gloomily after the chancellor filched the opposition’s plan to end non-domicile tax status and put the £2.7bn a year raised towards cutting national insurance.

At other times, Labour would have opposed the tax cut as unaffordable, arguing the non-dom revenue would be better spent as Labour envisaged – for example, providing breakfast clubs in every primary school and tackling NHS backlogs. (Labour insiders tell me Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, is confident she can stick to these pledges – probably by closing other tax loopholes or ending “wasteful” spending).

Labour will not oppose the national insurance cut, on the grounds that is exactly what Hunt and Rishi Sunak would like it to do. The chancellor’s move was an elephant trap that could be seen from outer space; Labour was always going to sidestep it. Why give any legitimacy to Tory claims that “we cut taxes, Labour raises them”?