Closed Election: SNP sets out independence vote as price of ‘progressive alliance’ — as it happened

SNP general election campaign launch in Edinburgh

Nicola Sturgeon launches the SNP’s campaign and demands a second referendum in Scotland as the price to cooperate with other parties; Tories promise an ‘NHS visa’ to bring staff from overseas to help offset shortages in the national health service


Welcome to day three

Good morning and welcome to the FT’s coverage of day three of the UK election campaign.

We are expecting immigration and the health service to play a leading role today as the Conservatives unveil a new ‘NHS visa’ in a drive to bring in more overseas staff, while the Scottish National Party is launching its official campaign.

We will bring you all the latest developments here, along with analysis from the FT’s correspondents and editors.


What’s in the papers

Huge spending pledges from both of the main parties lead several of the broadsheets this morning.

Sajid Javid, the chancellor, has ripped up his party’s borrowing rules while Labour was more radical as it pledged £55bn a year of new investment.

The Times said Jeremy Corbyn would launch a “1970s-style cash spree”, while the Guardian said the parties had launched a “bidding war” for votes but had been warned on their spending commitments by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

You can read the FT’s coverage of the spending plans here.

Several of the right-leaning tabloids seized on former Labour MP Ian Austin’s decision to back Boris Johnson in the election, while the Daily Mirror leads with a photo of an 88-year old former NHS worker who it says was left for six hours on a hospital trolley.


Tories tout NHS visa

A new “NHS visa” will be introduced by a future Tory government, in a drive to bring in more staff from overseas to plug severe workforce shortages in the UK’s taxpayer-funded health system.

It follows an announcement in August of a similar fast-track route for scientists, but experts argued that the changes did not go far enough.

Ian Robinson, a partner at Fragomen, the London-based immigration law firm, said:

“Anything to help the NHS recruit doctors is welcome, but the visa won’t be a game changer. The Home Office already routinely issues work visas in three weeks with same day and one-week services available.”

You can read our full story here.


Emoticon Royal Mail launches legal action against postal strike

Some breaking news this morning over the threat of a strike disrupting postal voting in the election.

Royal Mail said it will make an application to the High Court for an interim order against the Communication Workers Union, as it bids to avoid nationwide strikes over the election and Christmas period.

Members of the CWU, which represents more than two-thirds of Royal Mail’s 140,000-strong workforce, voted overwhelmingly for industrial action last month in a dispute over a range of issues. Union leaders have six months to act on the mandate.

In a statement to the stock exchange this morning, Royal Mail said:

The Company believes there are potential irregularities in the ballot, which would render it unlawful.

The Company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital. This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the General Election on 12 December 2019. Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the Company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas.

Update: The CWU said it “completely rejects and denies this claim in the strongest possible terms” and will contest the claim at the High Court.


London market open

A quiet one.

London’s FTSE 100 opened 0.3 per cent lower, in line with other major European indices as the to and fro between the US and China over trade continues to drive market sentiment. Signs of progress this week drove markets higher, but that rally has lost steam into Friday’s session.

A few moments ago the pound was flat at $1.287.


The Irish border question is back

The prime minister has been selling his Brexit deal on the campaign trail, but his words could reignite a row over whether it would lead to a customs border in the Irish Sea.

A video has emerged on Twitter of Boris Johnson meeting with local Conservatives in Northern Ireland last night. In it, the prime minister promised that there would be no checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain under his Brexit deal.

Here are his words, in video posted by campaigning group Manufacturing NI:

“The great thing that has been misunderstood on this is there will not be checks, there will not be checks. I speak as the prime minister of the United Kingdom and a passionate unionist. There will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. Because we are the government of the United Kingdom, and we will not institute or implement or enact such checks.”

The Conservatives lost the support of the Northern Irish DUP on the grounds the deal would lead to customs checks on some goods traveling from Northern Ireland into mainland Great Britain, and much of this debate comes down to what would be defined as a “check”.

The prime minister has previously been clear that there would not be any, but he has also said in the Commons that there will be “some light touch measures on the border.”

Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, has also confirmed that businesses in Northern Ireland will have to complete export declaration forms when exporting goods across the Irish Sea to Great Britain.


Watch: Drawing the battle lines

The FT’s UK political commentator Robert Shrimsley and deputy opinion editor Miranda Green map out the key battlegrounds as Conservative and Labour fight for votes, with the Liberal Democrats, Brexit Party and SNP among those also in the mix.


Questions over candidate selections

Several prospective MPs from both parties are facing calls to pull out from standing at the election for offensive past comments, often on social media.

The storm of accusations is raising serious questions over what due diligence the parties carry out when they vet their prospective candidates. While this is a snap election it has been clear for months that an imminent vote was inevitable.

Here’s Ayesha Hazarika, former adviser to the Labour party under Ed Miliband:


Opposition parties focus on Johnson’s Northern Ireland comments

The video showing Boris Johnson discussing his interpretation of border and customs rules between Great Britain and Northern Ireland under his Brexit deal has now been viewed more than 1m times on Twitter, and attracted criticism from the major opposition parties.

Mr Johnson said there would be no checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Northern Ireland, and also had some interesting lines on the benefits of his deal:

“Actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market but you also have unfettered access to GB.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: “Boris Johnson either doesn’t understand the deal he has negotiated or he isn’t telling the truth. Probably both.”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrats Brexit spokesman, tweeted:


Investors fear Labour policies ahead of the election

Volatile stock markets, a potential tightening of gifting rules and the threat of higher taxes are at the forefront of investors’ minds ahead of the UK general election, reports Lucy Warwick Ching.

Advisers and wealth managers have reported a rise in the number of clients contacting them with questions about their portfolios as the country heads to the polls, with wealthy clients particularly raising inquiries over the impact of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn on their finances.

Alistair Fullerton, director and financial adviser at Lathe and Co said:

“Many of our clients have postponed important financial decisions amid Brexit uncertainty, but the decision to hold a general election in December has been the trigger for some of them to act.”

Read the full story here.


Markets round-up: slow day as London’s FTSE close to one-month high

Shares in Europe hovered close to a four-year high, as the bellwether Stoxx 600 pulled 0.2 per cent away from the highest close since July 2015. The index is heading for a weekly gain of 1.6 per cent.

London’s FTSE 100 was close to a one-month high as it fell about the same as its European counterpart in mid-morning trading on Friday.

Sterling meanwhile has kept below the $1.30 level since May, other than breaching that threshold briefly last month. The pound was recently about 0.1 per cent down against the dollar and trading at $1.2804. Against the euro, it is at €1.1604.

Gilts were slightly in positive territory. They received a boost yesterday after the Bank of England cut its forecast for the UK economy. The yield on the policy-sensitive two-year gilt was recently flat at 0.544 per cent while that on the benchmark 10-year fell 1 basis point at 0.78 per cent. Yields move inversely to bond prices.

The central bank on Thursday said underlying UK growth had “slowed materially” in 2019, with a quarterly growth rate of only half the previous three-year average – due to the uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU and global trade wars.

With some slack opening up in the economy, and inflation likely to fall sharply in the near term, a majority on the monetary policy committee voted to leave the key interest rate unchanged at 0.75 per cent.


Emoticon SNP launches its campaign

The FT’s Scotland correspondent Mure Dickie writes:

The Scottish National party is ready to work with Labour and other UK parties in an anti-Brexit “progressive alliance”, but only if they accept that Scotland must be allowed to hold a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon declared.

Launching the SNP’s election campaign, Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, waved aside UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that he would never approve another independence referendum and suggestions by Labour that it would only allow one after 2021.

Such refusal would be “unsustainable”, Ms Sturgeon said, noting that polls suggested the SNP could be a pivotal power if the December 12 election results in a hung parliament.

Mr Johnson was “not a man whose word, day to day, can be taken seriously” she said, and “any minority Labour government would need support of the SNP”.

Polls suggest the SNP will win a clear majority of Scottish Westminster seats on December 12 and Ms Sturgeon says she wants to hold sometime next year a rerun of the September 2014 independence referendum, in which Scots voted 55-45 per cent to remain in the UK.

She said that after the election the SNP would also seek to bring UK legislation to protect the National Health Service from what she said was the threat of post-Brexit trade deals.


Scotland’s key marginals


Emoticon BBC announces debate between Johnson and Corbyn

Another one for the diary. The BBC has just announced it will host a head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in Southampton on December 6.

The debate, six days before the election, will infuriate the smaller parties who do not want the campaign represented as a straight shoot-out between the Tories and Labour.

While the big two parties won more than 80 per cent of the vote in the 2017 election, their support has since softened as Brexit reshapes public opinion.

The BBC has said it will also host a seven-way debate between senior figures from the UK’s major political parties on November 29, live from Cardiff.

Here is the FT’s latest poll tracker, which illustrates the main parties squeezing their smaller rivals as the campaign begins.


Investors dive back into UK equities

Uncertainty, what uncertainty?

Investors piled into “extremely unloved” UK stocks at the start of November, according to new data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

In the seven days to Wednesday, UK stocks saw their longest daily streak of inflows in four years, the investment bank said. Overall, global equities saw inflows of $16.8bn.

The renewed interest in UK assets has come as the threat of a no-deal Brexit has faded over the past month. Both major parties in the general election have pledged to leave the EU with a deal in place, with Labour going further and offering to put a renegotiated deal to a second referendum against remaining in the EU.


FT election archive

We are going to be dipping into the archive throughout the campaign, and Friday lunchtime seems like a good time to start.

Geoffrey Owen, the FT’s editor from 1981 to 1990, has written a piece today on the major parties’ spending plans, comparing them to the general election of 1950:

“If a British electorate wants the Santa Claus state it will vote Socialist anyway since the Socialists will always beat the Tories at that game.”

At a time when the Conservative and Labour parties appear to be outbidding each other in the amount of money they plan to spend on public services, these words are worth remembering.

The writer was Harold Wincott, the Financial Times columnist who was to become a hugely influential advocate for what was then an unfashionable concept: liberal, free-market capitalism.

They were written in 1950, when Clement Attlee’s Labour government was running out of steam and an election was imminent. The worst outcome of the election, the article continued, would be for the Tories to return to office as “mere purveyors of rightwing socialism”. Wincott was a pre-Thatcher Thatcherite, but many of the arguments that he put forward are relevant to today’s debates.

You can read Geoffrey Owen’s full article here.

This is how the original article by Harold Wincott looked on December 5 1950, a day when the FT led the front page on a conference between Clement Attlee and President Truman, and a resignation from the Coal Board.


Brexit party on the road

Ann Widdecombe, Brexit party MEP for Southwest England, on a visit to Pontypool in south Wales with her fellow party members Mark Reckless, left, and party leader Nigel Farage


What to look out for from today

So, as the campaign kicked off in earnest this week, here’s a round-up of today’s top news from the trail:

BBC debates: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will go head to head on December 6; seven-way debate on November 29 as senior figures from major political parties will face off

As the Scottish National party launches its campaign, Nicola Sturgeon demands a second independent referendum as the price to work with Labour and other parties

Tories promise an “NHS visa” in efforts to bring more staff from overseas to help offset staff shortages in national health system

Video of the prime minister selling his Brexit deal when he meets local Tories in Northern Ireland has gone viral

Quote from the clip:

Actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market but you also have unfettered access to GB


That’s about it for this week

So here at Election Central the blog is closing down for today. Have a good weekend everyone and thanks for the company.

We will be firing up the blog again on Monday.