Boris Johnson is under fire over plans to impose strict new restrictions on EU immigration at the beginning of 2021 – two years earlier than promised by Theresa May. Labour said the proposed limits on lower-skilled migrants were “damaging, ill-informed and reactionary”.

The prime minister is also facing pressure over the mounting costs of the controversial HS2 rail project. Critics dubbed it “white elephant”, as a widely leaked government-commissioned review suggested the total cost could spiral up to £106bn.

It comes as the European Commission said it might take until March to finalise its mandate for trade deal negotiations. Meanwhile, prospective Labour members have until 5pm on Monday to join and vote in the leadership contest – with over 100,000 people believed to have signed up in recent weeks.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of events at Westminster.


Gordon Brown will make yet another big speech on the union today. The former Labour prime minister will be setting out his ideas for region-by-region citizens assemblies and attacking the government’s planned constitutional shake-up as “cosmetic”.


Boris Johnson, meanwhile, will call for the UK to be the “investment partner of choice” for Africa at a conference in London. And the Brexit bill is under scrutiny again in the House of Lords, where Labour peer Alf Dubs is confident his new amendment to ensure protections for child refugees remain in the bill has majority support.

New Labour members have until 5pm to join – as 100,000 new people are said to have signed up


Prospective Labour party members need to make applications by 5pm on Monday to be able to take part in the leadership contest.


According to The Huffington Post, more than 100,000 people have joined in recent weeks. Some commentators think it could be bad news for Rebecca Long-Bailey – seen as the flagbearer for the Corbynite left. But we really have no idea yet whether the newbees are moderate or militant.


Leadership hopeful Jess Phillips, one of those who could gain from an influx in more moderate members, said the surge was “great to see”.


Keir Starmer has taken an early edge in the campaign – buoyed by a second YouGov poll of Labour members at the end of last week which indicated he had boosted his support.


Keir Starmer at leadership hustings in Liverpool (Getty)


UK could do deals with individual US states, says Liam Fox


You can always rely on former trade secretary Liam Fox to say something strange and interesting to an obscure think tank. Today the Tory MP will tell the Spinoza Foundation in Geneva that the UK should strike deals with individual US states.


Fox claims Washington will try to drive a “hard” bargain on a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA), so British diplomats could get better deals on services if they went on a road trip to state capitals in California, Florida, New York and all the rest.


He told The Telegraph: “There are other things in the toolkit apart from FTAs.”


It comes as the Food and Drink Federation has warned food prices could go up if the government refuses to align with EU rules at the end of this year. It follows an FT interview with chancellor Sajid Javid in which he said “we will not be a ruletaker” after Brexit.


Former trade secretary Liam Fox (Reuters)


The House of Lords: is it moving to York?


Boris Johnson is considering a radical plan to relocate the House of Lords to the north of England, with York emerging as a frontrunner to house the upper chamber.


Tory chairman James Cleverly confirmed the plan was being considering in Downing Street after reports emerged that the prime minister had ordered officials to look into the practicalities of shifting the Lords outside of London.


Cleverly told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday: “What we are looking at is a whole range of options about making sure that every part of the UK is properly connected with politics.”


Birmingham is also said to be under consideration as possible location for the Lords. Peers are already expressing disquiet, with concerns about the expense of such a move.


Lord Forsyth said: “I can only assume this is the first fruit of the weirdos that Dominic Cummings said he wanted to recruit to No 10.” 


Dismissing it as a “cosmetic gesture”, former PM Gordon Brown said: “An outdated institution 200 miles or so north of its current location is still an outdated institution.”


PM to impose restriction on low-skilled EU workers on the first day after Brexit transition period ends


Boris Johnson is drawing up plans to impose strict new restrictions on EU immigration by 2021, two years earlier than promised by Theresa May.


New proposals are understood to be in the works to implement restrictions on lower-skilled EU migrants on the first day after the Brexit transition period ends, removing a temporary extension of current rules to 2023 sought by business groups.


Priti Patel, the home secretary, is expected to present the blueprint to cabinet this week, which would give businesses and workers less than a year to prepare for a major overhaul of the immigration system.


An Australian style-points-based immigration system should be introduced into the UK by the end of 2020, she will reportedly tell cabinet colleagues.


Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, said: “This is an ill-informed and reactionary policy that will damage us all.”


PM could face Lords defeat over protections for child refugees


Boris Johnson is braced for a Lords defeat on his Brexit bill amid disquiet among Tory peers over the decision to strip support for child refugees from the legislation.


Labour peer Alf Dubs has tabled a new amendment to ensure protections for child refugees remain in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) – a promise made by Theresa May but noticeably absent from Johnson’s new bill.


Lord Dubs told The Independent: “All I can say is that there are quite a lot of Conservative members of the Lords who are unhappy about this. They won’t vote or speak but they may abstain, which will help.


“It’s interesting how many Conservative peers are quietly supporting the amendment … clearly the majority is not with the government.”


Jess Phillips: My hustings performance was ‘awful’


The Labour leadership hopeful has admitted her campaign to succeed Jeremy Corbyn is faltering, saying: “I probably won’t win.”


The centrist candidate described her own performance in the first party hustings in Liverpool at the weekend as “awful” – appearing to acknowledge that either Keir Starmer or Rebecca Long-Bailey would triumph.


Phillips vowed to be herself and strive to be less “statesmanlike” at future hustings with the Labour faithful, saying: “I am going to say what I think. I am going to give honest answers.”


‘Nothing would be wasted,’ says transport secretary on HS2


There has been speculation for several months the government could be prepared to back out of the controversial rail project HS2, with various groups intensifying their arguments in recent weeks.


The whole thing could cost up to £106bn, according to a widely leaked government review.


An inquiry led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Doug Oakervee reportedly found there is “considerable risk” that the high-speed rail project’s cost will rise by up to 20 per cent beyond the £81bn to £88bn range set out in a report by current HS2 chairman Allan Cook just four months ago.


Transport secretary Grant Shapps has been asked about it this morning, and about the initial work already done.


“Nothing would be wasted whatever the outcome,” he said of work done in stations and other upgrades to the rail network.


Asked for his view on whether HS2 should be scrapped, Shapps said: “Quite simply, [the decision] needs to be fact-based. I asked Doug Oakervee to do the report, and I said to him: ‘Give me the facts’ … I’ve always approached this from a relatively neutral point of view.”


He said a final decision whether to continue would be made “very shortly”.


Nandy complains about hustings format to Labour’s general secretary


Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy is said to have written to general secretary Jennie Formby to complain about the format for the Labour leadership hustings event – which only allowed candidates 40 seconds to respond.


Jess Phillips criticised it in her comment piece for the Guardian, saying: “To answer any question in 40 seconds is ridiculous. If it were possible to sum up, for example, an economic plan or an industrial strategy in 40 seconds, one wonders why they are actually hundreds of pages long. What a ridiculous farce.”


The Labour-supporting pundit and broadcaster Paul Mason, who has backed Keir Starmer in the contest, also has problems with it – complaining that it favours Rebecca Long-Bailey.


“The format of the Labour hustings looks stacked in favour of the existing machine, which backs RLB. It stifles honesty … and puts the party machine in charge of the debate agenda. Change it now.”


Post-Brexit immigration will put ‘people before passports’, says Boris Johnson


There has been plenty of criticism of the government proposals to bring in tough restrictions on lowed-skilled migrants from the EU at the end of this year.


But the prime minister has claimed the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system will put “people before passports”, as he made a pitch for improved business links with Africa.


At the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London Johnson said: “Our system is becoming fairer and more equal between all our global friends and partners, treating people the same, wherever they come from.


“By putting people before passports we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be.”


PM launches investment summit with African leaders (AFP)


Release the Russia report, Boris Johnson is told


The SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford has written to Boris Johnson demanding his government publishes the report into alleged Russian interference in UK politics.


Calling Russian interference in elections “widespread and well documented”, Blackford told the prime minister in his letter: “There is no need for delay.”


He urged the government to appoint members of the intelligence and security committee so the report could then finally be released.


He added: “If this report, as you have recently claimed, shows that Russia has never interfered in any democratic event in the UK then it is inexplicable that you chose not to restore public trust and publish this report before the 2019 general election.”


UK will stop aid money to countries supporting coal


More from Boris Johnson at the UK-Africa Investment Summit. The prime minister has said the UK government will no longer commit aid money to any African states – or any country – that supports thermal coal mining or coal power plants.


“There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it,” he told the conference.


“So from today the British government will no longer provide any new direct official development assistance … investment, export, credit or trade promotion for thermal coal mining coal or coal power plants overseas.”


The government has provided financing worth £620m to support projects and UK exports to Africa, international trade secretary Liz Truss announced.


Truss told the summit the money will be used to support infrastructure projects including financing hospital beds and healthcare centres in Ghana and Zambia, a business park in Uganda and road upgrades in Gabon.


The minister said: “Africa is home to eight of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world and its economic prosperity matters to the UK.”


“We want the UK to be the partner of choice in Africa so I am delighted that, with UKEF’s support, British expertise will form a key component of these infrastructure projects that will directly improve millions of lives.”


Boris Johnson at UK-Africa Investment Summit (Reuters)


Dominic Cummings thinks he’s a quasi-evil genius, says sci-fi writer


Earlier this morning the legendary science fiction writer William Gibson was asked about the PM’s closest adviser Dominic Cummings – who recently recommended that people interested in a job in Downing Street must be like the novelist’s “weirdo” characters.


According to Gibson, Cummings “must almost certainly – if unconsciously – be likening himself to Hubertus Bigend, the quasi-evil genius” in his book Pattern Recognition.


EU nationals without proof of ‘settled status’ being wrongly denied basic rights


Thousands of EU nationals are already being denied employment, housing and other basic rights if they cannot prove their “settled status”, according to a new report.


Research by campaign group the3million suggests more than one in 10 EU citizens and their relatives have been wrongly told to provide proof of settlement – despite the fact that it is not required until after Britain leaves the EU (and people have until June 2021 to apply).


It has prompted fears Brexit will expose millions more people to the government’s “hostile environment” policy.


Our social affairs correspondent May Bulman has all the details:


‘We will continue the fight’, says Verhofstadt


Guy Verhofstadt, the EU parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator said the Renew Europe – the liberal, pro-European political grouping at the parliament – would still give British people a “voice” in Brussels.


“We will continue the fight for the citizens rights and prepare the ground for a new generation to re-enter the EU,” he tweeted – responding to departing Lib Dem MEP Caroline Voaden.


Last week Verhofstadt predicted the UK would “re-enter” the EU in future.


‘You just need to adapt’, says Thornberry of Labour hustings format


More now on complaints by Labour leadership hopefuls on the hustings events. Although Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips have both criticised the format – which gives candidates just 40 seconds to speak – rival Emily Thornberry says she is accustomed to keeping her answers brief.


Speaking to the PoliticsHome website, the shadow foreign secretary said “formats are formats, and it’s the same for everyone”.


She added: “I think when you’ve spent many years in frontbench roles like I have, and filled in at PMQs, you get used to the discipline of getting your point across in 30 or 60 seconds, because that’s just how the job is.


“And you know, we can’t have the new leader turning round in six months and saying: ‘I know I’m rubbish at PMQs and I never lay a glove on Boris Johnson, but it’s just because of the format.’ That’s not how it works … you just need to adapt.”


Leadership contender Emily Thornberry (PA)


Bercow may have to join Labour if he wants peerage


Former speaker John Bercow may have to join the Labour Party in order for Jeremy Corbyn to nominate the former Commons Speaker for election the House of Lords, political editor Andrew Woodcock writes.


Reports over the weekend suggested Bercow is on a list of nominees for peerages from the Labour leader, alongside his aide Katie Murphy.


It is understood that No 10 has yet to receive any opposition nominations for the dissolution honours list, published shortly after the end of any parliament.


Boris Johnson’s official spokesman declined to comment on whether the PM has seen a list, but indicated that Corbyn might be breaching convention if he put former Tory MP Bercow’s name forward.


“It is a long-standing convention that leaders of the opposition can nominate individuals representing their party for peerages,” said the spokesman.


Bercow, who angered Brexiteers by allowing MPs to use parliamentary procedure to ensure scrutiny of the government’s EU withdrawal plans, is the first speaker in generations not to receive a peerage on leaving the Commons chair.


Former Commons speaker John Bercow (PA)


Moving ermine-clad ‘cronies’ to York would be ‘tokenistic tinkering’, say reformers


Campaigners have warned the unelected House of Lords needs more than simply a move up north, amid reports that the government are considering radical options for Lords reform.


Willie Sullivan, senior director of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Ministers are right to look at the rotten state of the unelected House of Lords. But they must do more than simply reshuffling an unreformed travesty to York or Birmingham.


“Just moving this private members’ club without changing its composition is tokenistic tinkering …


“Rather than just moving ermine-clad cronies somewhere else, it’s time for real democracy in this country – ending the scandal of unelected privilege, and giving voters a real voice … In 2020, it’s finally time to mend the sinking ship of politics – not just reshuffle the deckchairs.”


Zac Goldsmith was sworn in as a peer last week (PA)


Boris Johnson jumps up and down


The prime minister is having fun at the UK-Africa Investment Summit. He was captured jumping up and down at the Pavegen stand, a company that converts footsteps into energy.


Johnson makes new friends (Reuters)


Deadline for voter registration in Labour contest looms


A reminder that any prospective Labour members wanting to vote in the leadership election have until Monday afternoon to join the party.


Applications need to be submitted by 5pm in order to take part in the contest.

All those eligible to vote will receive an online ballot by email and those without a verified email address in


Labour’s system will receive a ballot by post – consisting of candidates’ statements and lists of any nominations.


After the second round of the contest – nominations from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) – has concluded, the ballot for electing the next leader will then open on 21 February. 


More details here: