UK can ‘turn a corner’ if MPs back Brexit deal, says May

Theresa MayImage copyright PA

The UK can “turn a corner” and start to “put its differences aside” if Parliament backs the proposed Brexit deal, Theresa May has said.

In her new year message, the prime minister said 2019 would mark a new chapter for the country outside the EU.

Should MPs approve the exit terms later this month, she said the UK could “move forward together” and concentrate on other issues like housing and health.

Labour has said the Brexit process is a “complete mess” due to Tory divisions.

The UK is scheduled to leave the union on 29 March, but it is unclear what will happen if MPs reject the withdrawal agreement and the framework for future relations.

MPs are due to vote in the Commons in mid-January on the proposals reached with the EU.

Downing Street has said there is “still work to do” – as the PM seeks to persuade sceptical Conservative MPs, some of whom believe the agreement does not represent the Brexit the country voted for in 2016.

The prime minister is continuing to seek further assurances from European leaders about aspects of the agreement, notably the controversial Irish border “backstop”, designed to prevent physical customs checks on the island of Ireland.

No 10 said the prime minister had been in contact with European counterparts during the Christmas break and that would continue in the coming week.

In her message, Mrs May said MPs had an “important decision to make”.

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“In 2019 the UK will start a new chapter. The Brexit deal I have negotiated delivers on the vote of the British people. If Parliament backs a deal, Britain can turn a corner.

“The referendum in 2016 was divisive. But we all want the best for our country and 2019 can be the year we put our differences aside and move forward together, into a strong new relationship with our European neighbours and out into the world as a globally trading nation.”

An orderly Brexit, she argued, would enable the UK to “focus its energy” on other challenges, such as addressing housing shortages, improving technical education and ensuring the £20bn in extra spending planned for the NHS during the next five years ensures the health service continues to be “there for us when we need it”.

With employment at a record high and debt falling, the PM said the UK’s economic foundations were strong but she acknowledged more needed to be done to ensure “everyone in every community can feel the benefit”.

What is Jeremy Corbyn saying?

Labour has warned uncertainty over Brexit has plunged the country into a state of crisis and the agreement on the table would not satisfy either Leave or Remain voters.

The opposition is seeking to force a general election by calling a vote of no confidence in the government if the deal is rejected by MPs. However, Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that the decision to leave the EU cannot be reversed.

In his new year message, Mr Corbyn said Mrs May could not be allowed to “drive through a bad deal” and Labour, if it was in power, would seek to reopen negotiations with Brussels to pursue a better outcome.

Only his party, he claimed, was capable of uniting the UK, with policies to tackle inequality and job insecurity.

“Eight years of damaging Tory failure has left us with a divided country where millions are struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “We cannot go on like this.

“Labour is ready to deliver a radical alternative to rebuild and transform our country. We will stand up to the powerful few so the wealth you create is shared fairly, not hoarded by a privileged elite.

“We will work to create a society where the talent of everyone is unleashed. That is how we will unite our country.”

And other party leaders?

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable insisted Brexit can be stopped as he urged fellow supporters of another referendum on the UK’s future in Europe to “keep fighting”.

“Are we going to make a terrible mistake, leaving behind our influence in Europe’s most successful peace project and the world’s biggest marketplace?” he said.

“Or are the British people, in the final hours, going to be given a chance to reconsider, in light of all the facts which have come to the surface in the last two years?”

Meanwhile, Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon has sought to assure EU nationals living in Scotland that they were “hugely valued”, despite the current uncertainty about their future status.

“Our reputation for being an open, warm-hearted, hospitable country has never been more important,” the SNP leader said in her Hogmanay message.

“I want to make that especially clear to the hundreds of thousands of nationals from other EU countries, who have done us the honour of choosing Scotland as their home.”

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said Wales needed to make its voice heard and the Welsh people given a “real choice” about their future in Europe.

Hammersmith stabbing leads to 39 attempted murder arrests

Fulham Palace Road in HammersmithImage copyright Google

Thirty nine people have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a man was stabbed in London.

The man, believed to be in his 30s, was found with life-threatening injuries when police were called to Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, at 01:00 GMT.

He is in hospital after being treated at the scene by officers and paramedics.

The Metropolitan Police said the arrests were made at a property near the scene.

Those arrested are being held in custody while inquiries continue.

South Western Railway strike to hit New Year’s Eve trains

South Western RailwayImage copyright PA
Image caption South Western Railway said a reduced service would run across the network

Passengers on some of the country’s busiest rail routes face disruption on New Year’s Eve as workers stage a day of strike action in a long-running dispute over guards on trains.

Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) workers on South Western Railway (SWR) walked out at midnight.

The RMT claimed SWR will be “bailed out” by the government for revenue lost as a result of the strike action

The rail operator said it would run a reduced service across the network.

The 24-hour strike will affect services across the south of England, including London Waterloo, the capital’s busiest station.

Some rail replacement bus services will be in place and SWR said it would “do everything we can to keep customers moving and reduce disruption”.

“The RMT continues to play politics with their ongoing strike action, causing misery at a time when people just want to be with friends and family or get to work,” it added.

Image copyright RMT
Image caption The dispute over guards has been running for two years

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Official parliamentary answers have shown that the government is preparing to bail out South Western Railway for revenues lost as a result of strike action.

“Passengers will be outraged to know that instead of taking steps to resolve this dispute rail ministers are instead prolonging it by using tax payers’ money to prop up South Western Railway on strike days.”

Which services are affected?

  • Basingstoke to London Waterloo: Reduced service with one train an hour running in each direction
  • Salisbury to London Waterloo: An hourly reduced service will run
  • Guildford to Ascot: A bus service will be in operation
  • Portsmouth to London Waterloo: Due to planned engineering works there will be a reduced service and rail replacement services between Woking, Guildford and Haslemere
  • Portsmouth to Southampton: Trains will run between Southampton Central and Fareham, with one service every two hours
  • London Waterloo to Reading: Two trains an hour will run between Clapham Junction and Reading
  • London Waterloo to Weymouth: Hourly trains will run between Waterloo and Bournemouth, with a shuttle service between Bournemouth and Weymouth
  • Salisbury to Romsey via Southampton: No services

More information is available on the South Western Railway website.

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Stevenage shed radio DJ ready for BBC local radio slot

Deke Duncan
Image caption Deke Duncan in 1974 in his shed in Stevenage – and preparing for his New Year’s Eve show at BBC Three Counties Radio in Dunstable

A DJ whose shed-based radio station was only ever heard by his wife is preparing to expand his audience after 44 years.

Deke Duncan, 73, started playing records from his back garden in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 1974.

He was the subject of a BBC Nationwide television report, recently tweeted by BBC Archive, prompting BBC Three Counties Radio to track him down.

He was then offered a one-hour special, which goes out on New Year’s Eve.

‘Real cool’

Listeners to the pre-recorded show, which will be broadcast at 18:00 GMT on Three Counties Radio, can expect some “old school radio”, Mr Duncan said.

“Radio like it was 30 or 40 years ago with a happy disc jockey, bouncing along from one record to another and just being real cool. It’s going to be rock and roll,” he said.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionShed station DJ given BBC local radio slot

Mr Duncan said his interest in radio was sparked by pirate station Radio Caroline, which broadcast from a ship off the coast of Essex in the 1960s.

He set up Radio 77 – named after a job-lot of second hand jingles bought from a US station of the same name.

But with no licence, the station could only be beamed through a speaker in his living room to wife Teresa.

He presented non-stop weekend slots on the station with friends Richard St John and Clive Christie and made regular references on air to the fact he was broadcasting from – and to – 57 Gonville Crescent.

Image copyright BBC Archive
Image caption The shed at 57 Gonville Crescent in Stevenage in 1974 – home of Radio 77

He was tracked down to Stockport, Greater Manchester, where he still broadcasts Radio 77 to just his wife, and was invited to co-present a show on BBC Three Counties Radio.

In 1974 he had said his “ultimate ambition” was to broadcast to the rest of Stevenage and the forthcoming show will not only be broadcast to Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire on radio, but the whole world via the BBC iPlayer.

His story has been in many newspapers and television including BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning.

Mr Duncan described the media furore surrounding his re-discovery as a “whirlwind” but he was “loving it”.

“It has been a blast… I am as happy as Larry,” he said.

Councils ‘failing’ to prosecute blue badge abusers

A woman showing her disable person's parking permitImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Blue badge holders can park for free in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines

A disability charity says it is “disgraceful” councils are failing to take action against people misusing blue-badge parking permits.

Analysis by the Press Association found 94 out of 152 (62%) local authorities in England did not pursue anyone for abusing the scheme in 2017-18.

Phil Talbot, from charity Scope, said thefts of disabled permits were rising.

The Local Government Association said councils had to take “tough decisions” on enforcement with limited resources.

Mr Talbot added: “Stealing blue badges isn’t a crime without consequences. They are a vital lifeline for those who genuinely need them.”

The analysis of the Department of Transport data showed the number of blue badges reported stolen totalled 4,246.

Zero prosecutions

It found 31 councils did not catch anyone despite claiming to have a policy for prosecuting offenders.

Local authorities in Nottingham, Middlesbrough, Shropshire, Luton, Milton Keynes, Bournemouth and Reading were among those to record zero prosecutions.

Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said gathering evidence and mounting a prosecution could be “time-consuming and expensive”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Disabled charity Scope urged the authorities to crackdown on the abuse of blue badges

About 2.4 million disabled people in England have blue badges, which are issued by councils.

Almost every case involving the 1,215 prosecutions across the country involved drivers using someone else’s blue badge.

The permits allow holders to park for free in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines, except for where there are restrictions. Holders in London are exempt from the congestion charge.

The largest number of prosecutions were made by the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham (137) and Newham (88), with Leeds (78) in third place.

Mr Tett claimed the disparity in enforcement levels across England was likely to reflect “different levels of pressures on available parking”.

Minority take up ‘life-saving’ free health check

GP measuring blood pressureImage copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Monitoring blood pressure is part of the free health check

Fewer than half of people eligible for a NHS health check in England have taken up the offer, despite it being free to everyone over 40.

The routine check can pick up heart problems early and help to prevent dementia, plus highlight the need to stop smoking, NHS England said.

The check-up takes 20 minutes and is carried out by a GP or nurse.

It involves tests on blood pressure, weight and height, and is offered every five years up to the age of 74.

Around 7.15 million people have had a free health check since 2013, yet 15 million are eligible, NHS stats show.

NHS England said identifying people with an irregular heartbeat or high blood pressure and giving them treatment would help to prevent dangerous blood clots which could lead to strokes.

And if more people went for their health check, the number of people having a stroke or other heart problems would reduce, potentially preventing thousands of cases of vascular dementia.

Who can have an NHS health check?

Anyone between the age of 40 and 74 who is generally healthy and doesn’t already have any diseases.

You should automatically get an invitation through your GP surgery or local authority every five years.

After the age of 74 you can request a health check-up from your GP or nurse.

What problems can they spot?

By checking blood pressure, family history, lifestyle, height and weight, it is possible to give an idea of your risk of getting heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.

Research shows that people with a history of heart diseases are at least twice as likely to develop vascular dementia.

You will receive personalised advice on how to lower your risk of all those conditions, usually by:

  • improving your diet
  • taking more exercise
  • taking medicines to lower blood pressure or cholesterol
  • losing weight
  • stopping smoking

If you are 65 or over, you will be told the signs and symptoms of dementia to look out for.

Why this could be a ‘life-saving step’

Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health for NHS England said: “Heart disease and dementia are two of the biggest health risks facing people in our country.

“Attending a free NHS health check is a great opportunity to discuss existing health conditions, and to work out how to reduce the risk of developing dementia and other illness in the future.”

He said the start of a new year was the right time to commit to “taking a simple, free and potentially life-saving step towards a healthier life”.

Public Health England said the check looked at the top causes of premature death and ill health and supported people to take action to reduce their risks.