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Tuesday 21 January 2020

We’d be the first to warn some big bumps lie on the road to true independence in December, but along the way there’ll be much pleasure to be had from Boris’s political re-alignment project. Today, the prime minister unveils longer sentences for terrorist plotters and the introduction of lie detector tests to avoid parole boards from getting duped.

The current minimum sentence for someone found guilty of plotting a terrorist atrocity is just three years, a travesty. Boris, supported enthusiastically by home secretary Priti Patel, plans to bring it up to fourteen.

The government will also recruit more probation officers, specialist psychologists and imams to deradicalize and monitor offenders.

“We have to be ready to challenge our own assumptions at all times, and to ask ourselves the question – are we really on top of this? How do we track it? Is it just going to be Islamic terrorism,” said Justice secretary Robert Buckland on BBC Breakfast this morning.

Sounds encouraging enough, certainly monitoring is a vital arm of counterterrorism,  but there’s little confidence in the government’s ability to reform these wicked individuals. Hiring more wishy washy psychologists looks likely to achieve little more than draining resources.

Lest we forget, the government’s heightened sensitivity to the omnipresent threat of radical jihad was brought about by November’s attack on London Bridge when a supposedly reformed terrorist killed two bright young graduates. He would have destroyed more lives had it not been for the bravery of members of the public that the security services should not need to count on.

But that’s not to say the government doesn’t have the will to punish as well as reform. The “senseless” London Bridge attack “confronted us with some hard truths about how we deal with terrorist offenders,” said Ms Patel in a statement.

“Today we are delivering on those promises, giving police and probation officers the resources they need to investigate and track offenders, introducing tougher sentences, and launching major reviews into how offenders are managed after they are released.” she added.

Certainly, the governments plans will go down well with the public, if not metropolitans – who ironically are most at risk of terror attacks – who will also be disappointed to learn that the British economy will grow faster than any other European country.

The Times reports on IMF forecasts that only put the US and Canada ahead of the UK among the G7 over the next two years. Growth is expected to climb to 1.4% this year and 1.5% in 2021. The Eurozone will be 0.1% behind each year. Meanwhile, a survey of bigshot CEOs has found the UK has returned to its high ranking for investment attractiveness last recorded in 2015, only Germany, the US and China are ahead.

And what’s to say both of those metrics won’t rate the UK more favourably if a trade deal with the US gets put together this year. Following reports over the weekend (see tweet below) that Boris was looking to get talks underway with the White House as soon as possible, the FT today confirms the PM will deliver a big speech at the beginning of next month, once Britain has officially left the European Union, in which he will sketch out plans for a fast-tracked deal with Washington that will put the frighteners on Brussels.

The omens are good. International trade secretary Liz Truss met with her US counterpart, Robert Lighthizer last week to discuss next steps. US trade representative Lighthizer  “suggested he was prepared to move heaven and earth to get something tied up by the summer,” said a government official.

Typically, the perspective in Brussels is as pessimistic as the Trump administration is optimistic. The Telegraph report this morning that the EU won’t get talks underway “before the end of February, beginning of March”, once negotiating parameters have been agreed between the EU27. This has been known for some time now, why repeat it? It just makes Brussels sound as stupid as it is negative.  

Speaking of those parameters, EU diplomats have their first big meeting today to agree on whether they’re going to go for a big deal, which would not be possible to seal before the end of the year as it would require ratification from all of the EU’s national and poxy regional assemblies, or a slimmer deal, which as it happens is what Downing Street is angling for (see tweet of the day). Commentators are anticipating a rowdy summit. Logic tells us it should be open and shut. It won’t of course, that’s Europe, always the hard way.