Minister Suggests Brexit Withdrawal Agreement May Not Be Reopened

Theresa May might not seek to reopen the Brexit withdrawal agreement as she tries to secure changes to the controversial Irish border backstop, a cabinet minister has suggested in comments which risk infuriating Tory eurosceptics.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright stressed that the “mechanism” to change the backstop does not matter.

But it comes after senior Brexiteer Steve Baker warned in WhatsApp messages leaked to the Sunday Times that anything other than removing the backstop from the withdrawal agreement would see the Tories “just grind towards a party split”.

Brexiteers vehemently oppose the backstop because they fear it could trap Britain permanently in a customs union with the EU, leaving it unable to strike its own free trade deals around the world after Brexit.

They want the withdrawal agreement, which is the legally binding part of the Brexit deal that MPs are being asked to approve, changed to make clear that this will not happen.

But Wright said there may be another way of reassuring Tories that the backstop will not be indefinite without having to reopen the current legal text, suggesting the prime minister could seek a codicil or addendum to the deal.

disputed Irish border backstop, a cabinet minister has suggested in comments which risk infuriating Tory eurosceptics.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright stressed that the “mechanism” to change the backstop does not matter.

But it comes after senior Brexiteer Steve Baker warned in WhatsApp messages leaked to the Sunday Times that anything other than removing the backstop from the withdrawal agreement would see the Tories “just grind towards a party split”.

Brexiteers vehemently oppose the backstop because they fear it could trap Britain permanently in a customs union with the EU, leaving it unable to strike its own free trade deals around the world after Brexit.

They want the withdrawal agreement, which is the legally binding part of the Brexit deal that MPs are being asked to approve, changed to make clear that this will not happen.

But Wright said there may be another way of reassuring Tories that the backstop will not be indefinite without having to reopen the current legal text, suggesting the prime minister could seek a codicil or addendum to the deal.

Cabinet minister Jeremy Wright on #Brexit: “There are a number of different ways” to get legal changes to the Northern Irish backstop#Marrhttps://t.co/99TkHy8W5ipic.twitter.com/smocS1K5y9

— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) February 17, 2019

The former attorney general told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think what’s obvious is that Parliament, and I think probably people well beyond Parliament, are concerned about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop – that’s what we’ve got to do something about.

“If this is the only way of doing it then that’s the way we will pursue. If there are other ways of doing it that are just as effective that perhaps we haven’t yet explored then we will do that too.”

He continued: “I don’t think it’s the mechanism that matters, it’s the objective: if you can get to a place where the potential longevity of the backstop, the potential that the backstop lasts forever can be adequately dealt with, that’s what we’re all seeking to do.

“That’s what Parliament has been very clear that it wants, it will back this deal if we can do something about the backstop.”

The prime minister last month promised to secure “legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement”, potentially including a backstop time limit, unilateral exit mechanism or a replacement with “alternative arrangements”.

The EU has so far refused to reopen the text of the withdrawal agreement and speculation is rife that it may instead offer a codicil, addendum, or additional protocol to try and convince the UK the backstop will not be permanent.

Baker has however told scores of MPs in the Brexiteer Tory European Research Group that it has to “insist” the backstop is removed, otherwise the negotiations are a “complete waste of time”.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, he added: “What will it take for the PM to accept that we will not accept the backstop in its current form?”

Only a treaty-level clause which confers an unconditional right on the UK to exit the backstop would work https://t.co/JUC2j86pq4

— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) February 16, 2019

May on Saturday night issued a desperate plea to Conservative MPs to unite and deliver on Brexit, urging her party to “move beyond what divides us” and sacrifice “personal preferences” for the national interest.

Mrs May, in a letter to all 317 Conservative MPs after her Brexit plans suffered a humiliating Commons defeat on Valentine’s day, said the result was “disappointing” but vowed that the government would continue its work to secure changes to the Irish border backstop.

She announced that she will return to Brussels for further talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker next week, and revealed plans to speak to the leaders of every EU member state over the coming days.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday to discuss the proposals of the alternative arrangements working group of Tories, who have been probing how the backstop might be replaced with measures put forward in the so-called Malthouse compromise.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the controversial Irish backstop in a speech on Tuesday.

Gavin Williamson Rebuked By Former Army Chief For Scuppering China Trade Talks

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been rebuked by the former head of the army for apparently scuppering UK-China trade talks by threatening to deploy a warship to the Pacific.

General Sir Lord Dannatt said Williamson made a “bad diplomatic move” by announcing the HMS Queen Elizabeth would be sent to an area where Beijing has been involved in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Chancellor Philip Hammond was reportedly due to visit China this weekend but Beijing is said to have pulled out of trade talks after the defence secretary’s comments.

Lord Dannatt said Williamson “oversold” his idea, pointing out that the aircraft carrier was not yet ready for deployment.

“He wants to use defence as a platform to develop his own career.”

General Lord Dannatt tells #Ridge that “enthusiastic” @GavinWilliamson may have oversold Britain’s defence capabilities.

More on politics here: https://t.co/hBpW3ARc71pic.twitter.com/4N7Hx8sPdk

— Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) February 17, 2019

He told Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “I think actually it’s premature. The aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth is a very fine looking ship but it hasn’t got its full complement of aeroplanes yet, so let’s get the thing properly equipped, properly sorted out and use it responsibly.”

He went on: “I think he may have just oversold that one over the last few days and if it has had the disappointing effect that the chancellor’s trip to China, largely going to be talking about trade and that kind of thing, if that’s been cancelled as a result then that’s a bad diplomatic move and Gavin has got that one wrong.”

Labour Party chair Ian Lavery added: “Once again the hapless defence secretary has stumbled into another diplomatic incident.

“It’s a shame that Gavin Williamson isn’t as focussed on his ministerial responsibilities as he is on his leadership ambitions. If Theresa May had any authority left she’d stop turning a blind eye to his series of blunders.”

The Chancellor was expected to meet Chinese vice premier Hu Chunhua, but Treasury sources said the trip was never confirmed.

It follows reports in the Sun newspaper that Hu scrapped the plans hours after Mr Williamson announced that he would be sending HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific region.

The paper said China had been expected to lift its bans on British poultry and cosmetics not tested on animals, which could have opened up access to markets worth around £10bn over five years.

But a Treasury spokeswoman said: “The Chancellor is not travelling to China at this time. No trip was ever announced or confirmed.”

A source suggested the visit would be rescheduled when possible.

Pasha Kovalev Partners Cheryl For One Last Dance As A Strictly Come Dancing Professional On The Greatest Dancer

Pasha Kovalev made sure he went out with a bang for his final performance as a Strictly Come Dancing professional, which culminated in a high-octane routine with Cheryl on Saturday’s The Greatest Dancer.

Pasha paired up with Strictly favourites Dianne Buswell, Neil Jones and Graziano Di Prima on the BBC show for one last dance, before he was joined by Cheryl for a Latin-style finale.

Following the performance, Pasha was asked by host Jordan Banjo: “Pasha, obviously this was a very special performance for you tonight. Why is that? Let everyone know?”

He replied: “Oh yes, of course. As you might know, 2018 was my last year of Strictly but I am so, so excited to be here and share the stage with my Strictly family for one more time.”

Aww, what a way to sign off from @bbcstrictly, @PashaKovalev! Dancing with all your #Strictly friends on the #GreatestDancer stage. It was incredible to have you. 🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/lorYQFB6H5

— The Greatest Dancer (@GreatDancerTV) February 16, 2019

Earlier this week Pasha announced that the 2018 series of Strictly was his last as a professional dancer on the show.

He confirmed his departure on Twitter on Wednesday morning, stating he felt it was the right time for a “new challenge”.

He wrote: “I’ve had eight fantastic years, full of wonderful memories, thanks to the incredible partners, professionals and myriad of behind the scenes teams who all work to make Strictly the amazing production that it is.

“The biggest thanks go to all the members of the public who’ve supported me so much over these years – I look forward to seeing you on the Strictly Pro-Tour this spring, and for many future adventures to come!”

Pasha was partnered with Ashley Roberts on his last series of Strictly.

Pasha joined Strictly in 2011, and has had a number of noteworthy partners over the years, including Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, with whom he would later start a romance, and TV personality Caroline Flack, who won the show back in 2014.

Last year, he was partnered with former Pussycat Dolls performer Ashley Roberts, who made it all the way to the final, but it was ultimately documentary host Stacey Dooley who went on to be crowned the public’s winner.

Strictly Come Dancing will return for its 17th series later in the year.

Instant Hotel: If You Love Four In A Bed, Here’s 22 Reasons Why You Need To Check In To This Netflix Series

Many an hour can be wasted of a hungover Sunday, binge-watching reruns of Four In A Bed

Since its debut in 2010, the show, which sees four BnB owners taking it in turns to host as the other couples rate their establishments, has become famed for its pettiness among the contestants. 

But if you thought Brits were bad, then clearly you are yet to see Australia’s take on the format, Instant Hotel. 

The series, which focuses on Air BnBs rather than the traditional guest house, first aired Down Under back in 2017, but is reaching a whole new fanbase after making its way onto Netflix earlier this year. 

And if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s 22 reasons why you absolutely should… 

1. The series is full of proper Aussie characters, like the adorable Mark and Jannine

Once you see the mullet, you know you’re in for a good day. 😍 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/z5P6M1I5IZ

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 10, 2017

2. And the sublimely ridiculous, Margarita-loving Babe…

Every Australian mum when someone starts pumping the ABBA… 💃💃💃 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/tnqGI2oSCJ

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 8, 2017

3. Some of the Instant Hotels featured in the show are interesting to say the least

Rock, roll and red wine!! What do you think of Mark & Jannine’s #InstantHotelAU? 😱 pic.twitter.com/WWdhJXn39a

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 8, 2017

4. And some of them really could do with employing the phrase ‘less is more’

Do you think Brent & Leroy’s style is cluttered or couture? 🤷 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/aehzK2fnrn

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 14, 2017

5. Many of the participants have ideas above their station, and are at pains to tell everyone why they are better judges of taste than anyone else

WE. GET. IT. #InstantHotelpic.twitter.com/dMcQ5SgLwR

— Brett White (@brettwhite) January 9, 2019

6. While it Britain, we usually employ the tactic of being lovely to people’s faces and say everything else behind their backs, this lot do not operate on the same basis

Is Anita right in her criticisms about Point Cook? 👍 or 👎? #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/1TMGvvLFl7

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 21, 2017

7. All the rooms in each Instant Hotel are not assigned, meaning the contestants have to come up with inventive ways of fighting it out when it comes to deciding who is sleeping where

Sturt getting into a staring competition with Leroy’s death stare?! He doesn’t know what he’s signed up for! 😳 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/gNcUW9jmON

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 28, 2017

8. With the aim of the game to score as many points from the guests as possible, there’s many little ways in which the owners try and do this, one of which are the Welcome Packs – sometimes though, they are a little too welcoming, if you catch our drift

Babe and Bondi’s welcome packs are little suggestive…🙊 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/2Aui5ieRbi

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 13, 2017

9. Some have unusual ways of trying to bump up their marks, but this can lead to mixed results… 

Babe, Bondi and a buff bartender!! What did you think of Margaritaville’s man candy? 💪 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/B6q4xPx56s

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 13, 2017

10. Because with this bunch, even a nice dinner party can escalate into an awkward row

The most awkward dinner party ever… 😬😬😬 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/f3Ekkklgl5

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 8, 2017

11. During the show, the contestants also have the chance to convey their feelings to camera, and the shade of it all is deliciously brilliant

I just started Instant Hotel and I’m all in for this Australian shade pic.twitter.com/EIfwvxAopR

— Adina Bresge (@abresge) January 19, 2019

12. Meanwhile, the activities the hosts arrange for their guests are unlike anything you would get here in the UK

Could you lock lips with a cane toad? 😘🐸 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/uy00KtoTST

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 14, 2017

13. And not ones we’d be in any sort of rush to go and do

Will Serena & Sturt lose brownie points for this trip? 💩💩💩 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/Rn85z8SZfx

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 21, 2017

14. We especially love it when the outings introduce us to characters even more colourful than the contestants themselves

Getting to know some of the local Humpty Doo wildlife… 😳 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/SK2JOZg7uP

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 7, 2017

15. When it comes to the all-important feedback, none of it is anonymous

“Class Act should be called Ass Act!” – Is this the harshest review yet? 😳 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/VkNEwiTZy7

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 20, 2017

16. And the comments are WAY more savage than anything ever left in the Four In A Bed guestbooks

“As if someone’s Nana had decorated it when she was off her meds!” – Is this the harshest #InstantHotelAU review so far?! 😳😳😳 pic.twitter.com/uXqxFHFk4s

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 14, 2017

17. They will even score them down over things that are out of their control 

Is it fair for the teams to judge Sam & James on the number of mozzies?! 😬 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/uHGgBCxTyx

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 9, 2017

18. The contestants also get to find out how they scored each other as the competition goes along, allowing for much more tactical gameplay

Was Serena & Sturt’s score sincere or strategic? 🤔 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/QTas3Imyaw

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 22, 2017

19. In a twist of the Four In A Bed format, the property owners also get to score their guests, meaning they can seek revenge if their place gets a low mark

Do you find Mikey & Shay’s scores “childish and spiteful”? 🔥🔥🔥 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/jbtZD28Ax8

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 27, 2017

20. However, to prevent the scoring from descending into complete chaos, the Instant Hotels are also independently judged by steely (but faaaabulous) hospitality expert Juliet Ashworth…

Judge Juliet will be putting her expert eye to our team’s #InstantHotelAU! 👀 pic.twitter.com/WbuQDBrjP3

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 7, 2017

21. And let us tell you, she is not afraid to tell people if their place doesn’t come up to her standards. Alex Polizzi has nothing on her. 

We stan Juliet Ashworth, Queen of the Instant Hotel. pic.twitter.com/pWGlyqmzHJ

— Bromona Quimby (@BromonaQuimby) January 6, 2019

22. One thing we will never understand, though, is why the competitors always bring so much luggage with them when they are literally staying for one night?

Simon is all of us when a mate needs a hand! 😂 #InstantHotelAUpic.twitter.com/mAldHPOCta

— Instant Hotel (@InstantHotelAU) November 15, 2017

Instant Hotel is available to stream on Netflix now. 

Bryony Kimmings: ‘Weightlifting Helped Me Feel In Control Of My Destiny’

In ‘What Works For Me’ – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about their self-care strategies. If you’d like to contribute your story, email us.

When performance artist Bryony Kimmings started weightlifting in 2017, her body-confidence was at an all-time low. 

“I’d had a baby and really felt that my body wasn’t my own anymore,” she says. ”It had gotten quite a lot bigger than it used to be. I felt really ugly and gross and fat. I’d never had an issue with my body before, but I could sense a shift within me where I’d really started to loathe it.”

Aware that focusing on weight loss might cause her self-worth to plummet further, she decided to channel her energy into getting strong – really strong – and spontaneously paid £600 for a year-long membership at a local bodybuilding gym in her London neighbourhood of Tufnell Park. 

“I thought if I don’t do that, I won’t do it,” she says. “Over the course of a year it changed how I felt about myself so much. I can now look at my body and think ′I love you, you’re brilliant. You really move brilliantly and you’re so strong’ – I can do anything now.”

Kimmings is arguably more in touch with her emotions than most, as her theatre fearlessly focuses on her own past experiences. Her latest show, ‘I’m a Phoenix, Bitch’ follows her through post-natal depression, dealing with her son Frank’s epilepsy diagnosis, then learning to rebuild her life after the dust settled. And yet, she was surprised by the impact weightlifting had on her mental health. 

“I didn’t start it for mental health reasons. But what I realised was that the strength I was building in my physical body was making me feel mentally strong,” she says. “As soon as I was able to control the muscles in my body, to grow them and to make them do stuff that they’ve never done before, it taught me that my brain could also be manipulated in that way – and I went back into therapy because of that.”

Two years later, Kimmings still religiously lifts weights five times per week. She’s recently moved to Brighton, but squeezes a session in between the school run and work. “I’m a single mum so in the evenings it’s impossible to go to the gym. And also, have you ever been to the gym in the evening? It’s packed and there’s loads of fucking meatheads,” she jokes.  

“All the blokes are in the weights bit, so the best time is just after the school run. No one’s awake yet who’s a meathead. Everybody’s either an old person or a mum.”

“I now look at my body and think: I love you, you’re brilliant.”

Kimmings describes enjoying the “mechanics” of weightlifting – knowing “if I eat this food and I do this exercise, I’ll be able to pick up that” – and that logic has helped her regain a sense of control after a whirlwind few years. 

“When your child gets sick and there’s nothing you can do, the fallout of that is that you feel powerless in the chain of events in the universe,” she says. “By being able to go to the gym and have a technique, it’s a bit like meditation really, there is an element of it helping me feel like I have control over my own destiny.”

The confidence Kimmings has developed in the gym has transferred to almost every aspect of her life.

“I can go into a meeting now and think, ‘I couldn’t give a fuck about any of you lot, I’m going to win this meeting, I’m going to get what I want’,” she says.  

It makes me walk down the street and I think: ’If you touch me, I’ll kick your head in.′ It’s given me such confidence and it makes me feel so powerful that it’s insane – I didn’t know it would ever make me feel like that.”

She credits other enthusiasts in the first bodybuilder gym she went to with helping her find her stride in the sport and inspiring her to keep going. 

“There was only a handful of women there and they were fucking ripped. It was great because there was never any sexism in that place because it was very clear women could do the same as men – they were doing the same exercises, it was just a different gender,” she says.

They were all really supportive which really helped me. It was never a case of ‘what are you doing in here?’ If you ever needed any help, everyone was super helpful because everyone in there loved it.”

For any women intimidated but tempted to try weightlifting, Kimmings suggests booking onto a powerlifting session with a female instructor. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fit in with the stereotypical bodybuilder aesthetic, she adds. 

“When I tell people I weight-lift, often they say ‘well, you don’t look like you do’, because I’m really skinny, I’ve got quite a slight frame. But that’s not really the point – I’m not trying to be the Hulk. I’m just trying to have a healthy relationship with myself,” she says. 

I’ve got bigger shoulders now and more muscle definition than I ever had before… but it’s along that problematic ‘thigh gap mentality’ to listen when people say ‘you don’t look very big’. Any kind of obsession around what you look like is the wrong kind of obsession for me.

“Fitness should be about how you feel, and if I feel strong, mentally and physically, then I must be doing fine.”

Bryony Kimmings performs ‘I’m a Phoenix, Bitch’ at Battersea Arts Centre from 20 Feb to 9 March, then Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts from 3 to 7 May. For tickets and more info please visit bac.org.uk and attenboroughcentre.com

The boy who taught himself to play

Student Nuradean Arreythe loved classical music so much he taught himself how to play, even though he doesn’t read music or own a piano.