Closed Election: Parties back campaigning after London Bridge terror attack — as it happened

ELEX_LIVEBLOG_corbyn_johnson2

The Labour and Conservative parties are making a final push on key issues — border security and rail fares — as the election campaign nears the home stretch. Brexit concerns are also bubbling again.


Good morning

Welcome back to Election Central.

There’s just a week and a half to go until polling day and parties are ramping up their efforts to win over voters.

Follow our live coverage here throughout the day, where we’ll be bringing you the latest news and insight as the campaign enters the final stretch.


Brexit crunch in focus as election nears

Boris Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done” has proved a powerful election slogan, but the prime minister’s critics claim it masks the fact that if he wins the election, Britain faces a tough and potentially humiliating trade negotiation with the EU, write the FT’s George Parker and Jim Brunsden.

Michael Heseltine, former deputy prime minister, called it “the great delusion”, while Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, warned last week of “the crisis that is likely to confront us at the Christmas yet to come — Christmas 2020”.

Mr Johnson and fellow ministers have so far brushed aside any idea that a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU would be anything other than simple. “Most of the work has already been done,” chancellor Sajid Javid claimed.

But by insisting that a deal must be done by December 2020, Mr Johnson has set a highly ambitious — some say impossible — timetable for talks. His critics claim Britain is heading for another economic and political Brexit crisis if he is returned to Downing Street.

Check out Jim and George’s explainer on the route ahead for Brexit here.


What the papers are saying

The front pages this morning are almost exclusively focused the aftermath of Friday’s London Bridge attack.

The incident, in which two people were killed by a convicted terrorist has raised questions over the way the UK handles the release and rehabilitation of extremist offenders.

The Guardian leads on the prime minister being accused of exploiting the deaths after politicians on all sides yesterday began a blame game over the tragedy.

The Telegraph leads on plans to send a number of convicted terrorists who were released early back to jail, while the Times says security forces are on the lookout for copycats.


Labour to cut rail fares by a third

The Labour party has pledged to slash the price of train tickets by a third if it wins the election next week.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, has been on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning speaking about the party’s latest rail plans, which also include guaranteeing a “fair fare” for part time workers and free travel for under 16s.

Mr McDonald said rail users had seen a “swingeing increase” of 40 per cent since 2010 and the party was “going to try to put that right with this 33 per cent reduction” which would come into effect from January next year.

He said the move would be financed by taking £1.5bn from a ringfenced vehicle excise duty fund, but said he did not know yet which road projects would be scrapped as a result.

“There’s plenty of money around for roads …. but you cannot road build your way out of a climate crisis,” he said.


Tories promise tighter border controls after Brexit

The Conservatives have vowed to “strengthen” the UK’s borders after Brexit as they seek to position themselves as the party of law and order in the upcoming general election, reports Laura Hughes.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, has pledged to introduce an “Electronic Travel Authorisation” system for all non-visa nationals, along the lines of the US ESTA visa-waiver entry permit.

The plans — which were first laid out in the government’s 2018 immigration white paper — would force all visitors to fill out an online application before being permitted entry to the UK.

The party said the programme would “strengthen our ability to identify and block the entry of those who present a threat to the UK”. It added that as the technology became available, it would also mandate “a biometrics requirement for all ETAs”.

Citizens of all EU countries are currently allowed to enter Britain as long as they have a passport or identity card from their home country. If elected, the Tories said ID cards would no longer be deemed proof of identity as they are “notoriously easy to fake”.

Ms Patel claimed yesterday that EU laws on freedom of movement had allowed dangerous criminals to come into Britain from other European countries but that this would end after Brexit. She said:

After Brexit we will introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system and take steps to strengthen our border and improve the security of the UK.

For more on this check out Laura’s full piece here


Political ‘point-scoring’ over London Bridge tragedy criticised

The former chair of the Parole Board of England of Wales this morning hit out at “silly political point-scoring” over Friday’s London Bridge attack in which two people were killed.

Nick Hardwick said it was “disrespectful” to the family and friends of the victims to turn the case into a political football. He told BBC Radio Four’s Today show earlier this morning:

Politicians from both parties have very difficult choices to make. This is simply not a suitable subject for silly political point scoring. It’s complicated.

His comments came after both the Conservatives and Labour over the weekend launched a blame game over the best way to deal with convicted terrorists being released from prison.

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday, the prime minister repeatedly blamed “a leftie” Labour government for introducing the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act in 2008, which provided for automatic release after prisoners serving long sentences had served half their term, without the prisoners’ having to go before the parole board.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary told BBC Radio 5 Live this morning Conservatives have “had 10 years to address this”.

The father of Jack Merritt, one of those killed in the attack, criticised this morning’s front pages of the Daily Mail and Daily Express, urging them not to use the tragedy to sow division. David Merritt tweeted:


Justice secretary denies spending cuts to blame for London attack

Robert Wright, the FT’s social policy correspondent, reports:

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has insisted spending cuts played no role in failures of the monitoring of Usman Khan, who killed two people in a knife attack in London on Friday despite being out of prison on licence after a terrorism conviction.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Buckland insisted there had never been any question that the wider spending cuts to criminal justice services such as probation would affect the handling of people like Khan, convicted of participating in a plot in 2012 to plant a bomb at the London Stock Exchange.

“There has never been a question that resources were an issue in this type of case,” Mr Buckland said.

Earlier, Nick Hardwick, the former head of the parole board, had told Today that cuts and reorganisation in the system had affected the organisations’ ability to keep people safe.

The Conservatives have said that resources for efforts by the police and other organisations to tackle terrorism have been protected from cuts. But professionals in the fields have said that those operations cannot be readily separated from other functions, which have suffered cuts.

Mr Buckland also defended the government from an attack by David Merritt, father of Jack Merritt, one of the two people killed, that it was using the attack to justify changes that the victims – who were working on a prisoner rehabilitation project – would have opposed.

He said:

I think we have to be realistic about what is mercifully a small group indeed because public protection and the need to ensure we are safe has to be the number one priority.


Sturgeon: Nothing ‘inevitable’ about election outcome

Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon warned this morning against reading too much into the polls, insisting that “whatever they are saying it’s not inevitable” as parties gear up for the final stretch of the election.

Her comments come as Labour has been making grounds on the Conservatives’ national lead in recent days, but Boris Johnson’s party still retain a strong majority. The FT’s poll of polls has the Tories on a lead of 11 points, roughly back where they were when the campaign started, having initially widened the gap.

Speaking during a Q&A session on BBC Radio Five Live this morning, Ms Sturgeon said:

Whatever the polls are saying – and actually there has been a narrowing of the polls in the UK in the last few days – whatever they are saying, it’s not inevitable. People will decide the outcome of the election when they vote next week.

A number of recent polls have showed a narrowing over the past week, prompting the bookies to trim the odds on a Labour government.

Rupert Adams, a spokesperson for William Hill, which has cut the odds of a Labour majority from from 20/1 to 16/1 said:

There has been a bit of money around for Labour after a number of polls suggested that the gap between Labour and the Conservative party has narrowed.


UK officials wary of Trump election intervention during visit

Donald Trump is set to touch down in the UK this week for a Nato summit on Wednesday to celebrate 70 years of the military alliance. But the prime minister’s team are on high alert for any comments by the US president on next week’s election.

Boris Johnson is refusing any meeting with Mr Trump in an effort to avoid unwelcome interventions in the campaign, write the FT’s Helen Warrell, George Parker and Aime Williams.

His team are also hopeful that Mr Trump will not be making one of his customary media interventions — usually via the Sun newspaper or with Piers Morgan, the presenter of ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain.

The last time Mr Trump visited the UK in June, he had only just landed at Stansted airport when he used Twitter to insult the London mayor Sadiq Khan, labelling the Labour politician a “stone cold loser”.

Sir Christopher Meyer, former UK ambassador to Washington, told the Financial Times that outside interferences by US presidents “don’t help [UK politicians] because people resent outsiders, however amiable they might be, from telling them how to vote”.

Mr Johnson has politely urged the US president to stay quiet, saying in a radio interview on Friday:

What we don’t do traditionally as loving allies and friends, what we don’t do traditionally, is get involved in each other’s election campaigns.

US officials told reporters that Mr Trump was “absolutely cognisant of not . . . wading into other country’s elections”.

For more on this have a look at this piece by Helen, George and Aime.


Commuters disrupted as SWR staff begin 27-day strike

Commuters travelling into London endured packed trains and longer waits than normal this morning as a 27-day strike on South Western Railway began, Bethan Staton reports.

Strikes on the network, which serves around 600,000 daily passenger trips on routes into London including from Bristol, Southampton and Guildford, mean half of normal services will be running. On most lines, this amounted to one every hour.

Passengers began their journeys early to try to beat the crowds, but found themselves on standing-room-only trains and some commuters tweeted that trains were too busy to board.

The strikes, confirmed on Thursday after talks between the RMT union and SWR broke down, are over the role of guards on trains. The operator plans to shift responsibility for closing train doors from conductors to drivers, but the union argues this compromises passenger safety and puts the eventual role of the guard at risk.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said members were “standing rock solid and united” and said the strike was “solely about protecting safety and accessibility”.

The operator has urged passengers to plan their trips in advance, warning of longer journeys and queues. It blamed RMT for the strikes, saying it has promised a safety-critical role for guards on all trains.


Public believes business ‘should make its voice heard’

What is the role of business in the election? It could sway how people vote, according to a new poll from law firm Pinsent Masons, reports the FT’s enterprise editor Andy Bounds.

Two-thirds of the public believe business should ‘make its voice heard’, the ComRes survey found.

Some 32 per cent say that the views of business are important to them in determining which way to vote, and 62 per cent believe businesses should make clear the impact the general election result may have on local jobs and investment.

Voters are most interested in the views of small and medium-sized businesses.

Andrew Henderson, director of public policy at Pinsent Masons, said:

So far, the voice of business hasn’t been front and centre in this election campaign. Some businesses may understandably be nervous about making their views known, perhaps following bruising experiences during previous elections and referenda, or because they fear becoming a football in a politics which is increasing polarised.

However, what these findings show is that there is clearly an appetite for business involvement in the political debate, particularly when policy agendas can impact businesses at a local level.

Brexit, the biggest issue for many companies, may be an exception though.

While 17 per cent of voters say the views of businesses have become more important to them since the EU referendum in 2016, 19 per cent say the opposite.


Poll tracker: Labour closing the gap

The FT’s poll of polls shows that Labour is closing the wide gap with the Conservative party, with less than two weeks to go until election day.

The gap between the two parties is now 10 points, with support for Jeremy Corbyn’s party up to 33 per cent.

The polling average estimates the parties’ likely national vote share if the election were held today. But in the UK’s first-past-the-post voting system, it is difficult to extrapolate the number of seats likely to be won by each party from the national vote share.

Still, political scientists and election forecasters generally believe that a Conservative polling lead of around 6 per cent over Labour is the dividing line between a Tory majority and a hung parliament.

You can read more details on the poll here.


Sinn Féin and Ukip to launch manifestos

We haven’t quite reached the end of the manifesto launches yet, with Sinn Féin and the UK Independence party both set to lay out their policy platforms today.

Sinn Féin, the biggest Northern Irish nationalist party, will launch its electoral programme in Derry, underlining the emphasis it is putting on retaining the Foyle seat, where it faces a strong challenge from the SDLP, a rival nationalist party.

Sinn Féin, which abstains from taking up its seats at Westminster, is standing in all but three of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies — having opted to stand down in a handful of seats in order to boost the chances of anti-Brexit candidates running against the Democratic Unionist party.

Ukip, formerly headed up by leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, played a key role in pushing for the 2016 referendum. But it has all but faded into oblivion since Mr Farage launched the Brexit party as a rival outfit.

It will be standing in 44 seats at the election. Pat Mountain, Ukip interim leader, told Sky News this morning Ukip could outlive the Brexit party and wanted to use the election to send the message that “we are still here”.


Johnson and Corbyn attend vigil for London Bridge victims

The leaders of the major parties have been attending a vigil this morning in central London to pay tribute to the victims of Friday’s terror attack on London Bridge.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were accompanied at the service at Guildhall Yard by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who said London would stand in defiance of violence and “never be cowed or intimidated by terrorism”.

Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed in Friday’s attack at a prisoner rehabilitation conference in Fishmongers’ Hall by Usman Khan, a convicted terrorist.

Speaking this morning, the mayor told those gathered:

The best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another, but it’s by focussing on the values that bind us, to take hope from the heroism of ordinary Londoners and our emergency services who ran towards danger, risking their lives to help people they didn’t even know.


Police make second arrest amid review of convicted terrorists

Robert Wright and Helen Warrell report:

Police said this morning they had arrested a man for breaching reporting requirements under anti-terror legislation as authorities continue an urgent review of convicted terror offenders following Friday’s London Bridge attack.

In a statement the Metropolitan Police said it had arrested a 23-year-old man in north London on suspicion of breaching notification requirements on Sunday.

Although the Met said it was not linked to the attack carried out by Usman Khan, who killed two people in a knife attack on Friday, the move came hours after police in the West Midlands recalled a convicted jihadi to prison as a result of the review.

An official identified the man arrested by West Midlands police as Nazam Hussein, who was convicted alongside Khan in 2012 of a plot to plant a bomb at the London Stock Exchange. He was arrested on the suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts, a suspected breach of his licence conditions.

The Ministry of Justice announced the review into the licence conditions for some 74 terrorist offenders who have been released from prison over the weekend.

The justice secretary Robert Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday that the review was more than a paper exercise and that the National Probation Service — the government-run service that monitors high-risk offenders in England and Wales — would be meeting all of them this week.

For more on this story, read Robert and Helen’s full piece here


IFS: Tory spending plans would require councils to cut local services

Delphine Strauss, FT economics correspondent, writes:

Councils would need to cut local services under a Conservative government, even if they continued raising council tax at double the rate of inflation, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The think tank said the money set aside for local authorities under current spending plans would not be enough to meet rising costs and demands over the course of the next parliament.

Even if councils made full use of their powers to increase council tax, and spent the extra £1bn of grant funding announced in September, per capita spending could still be 20 per cent lower than a decade ago, the IFS said. The pressures would be biggest in deprived areas where local authorities are less able to raise revenues from council tax and business rates.

Labour, in contrast, would add £13bn to the funding of existing local services – enough to meet demand and improve services without raising council taxes. However, the IFS warned that this would be paid for by higher taxes at national level, which would not fall only on the top 5 per cent.

The Liberal Democrats’ proposals fall in between these extremes, the IFS said, implying council tax increases of 2 per cent a year for local authorities to cope with rising costs and demand for services.

However, none of the parties has explained how they would fund a reform of adult social care – which could mean tax increases beyond those announced, to avoid breaching fiscal rules.


Constituency focus: Wrexham

At the heart of the Conservatives’ electoral campaign is the so-called “red wall” of seats running from North Wales across the north of England, traditionally held by Labour, but which the Tories hope they can take on December 12.

Wrexham, writes the FT’s Tobias Buck, has backed Labour since 1935. Today, it is a crucial brick in that red wall and a prime target for the Tories.

Labour won the seat by just 1,832 votes at the last election. But Wrexham has also been a strong Brexit-supporting constituency. Fifty-nine per cent of the electorate backed leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum – one of the biggest victories for the Brexit camp in all of Wales – and at the European Parliament elections in May, the Brexit party won almost 40 per cent of the vote.

Seats such as Wrexham have focused attention on “Labour leavers” — Labour supporters that also back Brexit. Prising them away from their traditional political home is arguably the central goal of the Conservatives in the election — and one that some Tories in the town believe is within the party’s reach.

Yet Wrexham also highlights one of the big challenges facing the Tories. As a Labour-held seat, it is not part of the Brexit party’s “unilateral” pact to stand down its candidates in Conservative-held constituencies. The presence of a Brexit party candidate on the ballot could mean that the Leave vote will be split down the middle, allowing Labour to hold on to Wrexham despite the electorate’s strong Brexit leanings.

Check out Tobias’s full piece here


The FT View: In Britain’s dire election, truth is the first casualty

Restoring trust in politics requires party leaders to act responsibly, writes the FT editorial board.

Among the most striking moments of the general election have been TV audiences twice laughing openly at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that he believes “truth is important” in politics.

Mr Johnson is far from the only offender in a dismal campaign notable for its use of casual falsehoods and fakery, and its further coarsening of British political debate.

It was unedifying, even if inevitable, to see Friday’s terrorist tragedy in London made an object of political point-scoring by the main parties at the weekend.

Spin — manipulating or embellishing the truth — has long been part of the political black arts. In Britain, truth-bending turned into outright falsehood in the 2016 Leave campaign. The claim plastered across Mr Johnson’s tour bus that Brexit would save “£350m a week” to fund the NHS set a precedent that fibs were no longer beyond the pale.

The central claims of both main parties in this election are only marginally less disingenuous:

The Tories’ pledge to “get Brexit done” by January 31 ignores the tortuous negotiations to follow over the UK’s future relationship with the EU — and potential disruption should Mr Johnson fail to secure a trade deal by next December.

Labour’s claim that it could spend £80bn a year more while raising taxes only for the richest 5 per cent defies credibility. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn conceded last week that plans to scrap a tax break for married couples would affect the less well-off too.

Trust in politicians can only be rebuilt if parties, leaders and advisers recognise the need for integrity. The freedoms, and checks and balances, enshrined in British democracy as in other mature western political systems have been hard-won over generations. Today’s crop of politicians have a duty to safeguard them, and pass them on intact to the next.

For more on this, read the full FT editorial here


Hugh Grant hits the campaign trail with the Lib Dems

In Westminster, actor Hugh Grant is canvassing voters with the Liberal Democrats and their candidate Chuka Umunna, Sebastian Payne reports.

Grant is a passionate campaigner against Brexit and is helping tactical candidates around the country to stop the Tories.

Mr Grant told journalists he had considered running for parliament in this election:

I wanted to help in this election and that was one idea that crossed my mind. I talked to lots of people but in the end think I would struggle with party orders.

His strategy to help particular candidates is based on “anyone who I think has a really great chance to unseat a Tory.”


Prime minister back campaigning after London Bridge blame game

The prime minister is back on the campaign trail following last week’s terrorist attack in London.

Boris Johnson took a tour around the Port of Southampton in a patrol boat with home secretary Priti Patel earlier this afternoon, as the Tories focus on border control and immigration measures.

The Conservative party has promised to “strengthen” the UK’s borders after Brexit and hopes to position itself as the party of law and order.

Mr Johnson received some criticism for politicising Friday’s terrorist incident, which saw two members of the public killed by a convicted terrorist in a frenzied knife attack at London Bridge.

The attack prompted a row between the Conservatives and Labour over the best way to deal with convicted terrorists being released from prison, after Mr Johnson blamed a “a leftie” Labour government for introducing legislation related to automatic prisoner release.

The family of one of the victims, Jack Merritt, released a statement saying he would not have wanted the attack to be used as a pretext for imposing more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.


Boris Johnson grapples with security challenges

There are 10 days to polling day and the Conservatives are clearly nervous, writes the FT’s Whitehall editor James Blitz.

The weekend flurry of opinion polls suggests the Tories are now anything between six and 15 points ahead of Labour. That’s a comfortable lead — but many polls suggest it does appear to be narrowing slightly.

Can anything now shift the dial decisively in Mr Corbyn’s favour? Two events are making the headlines today and are worth considering.

First, there is the continuing fallout from Friday’s London Bridge terrorist attack in which two Cambridge graduates — Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt — were killed by Usman Khan who had been released from prison under licence for terrorist offences.

The way in which politicians place such a terrible event at the centre of an election campaign will strike many people as unseemly. Unfortunately such events do have a political impact. The terrorist acts at the Manchester Arena and London Bridge during the 2017 campaign helped to change the course of the election because Theresa May was accused of having made too many cuts to policing.

Once again, Labour has been making the charge in the past few days that Tory cuts were a contributor to a terrorist attack. But Boris Johnson is in a much better place to fend off this challenge than Mrs May in 2017. He has been quick to call for an urgent review of the 74 other convicted terrorists released on licence and had already committed to reversing her police cuts by recruiting 20,000 more officers.

The second event is Donald Trump’s arrival in Britain for this week’s Nato summit in Watford. With a decent lead in the polls, the last thing the Conservatives want is an intervention from Mr Trump that embarrasses Mr Johnson.

A particular concern is that Mr Trump’s presence will remind voters that the US might make tough demands on the National Health Service and pharmaceutical pricing in any future US-UK trade deal.

We’ll soon find out if Mr Trump does something to disrupt the election. If not, the summit could be a plus for the prime minister. Hosting 28 Nato leaders could be an opportunity for Mr Johnson to discover some of the gravitas that has eluded him in the election campaign so far.

Sign up for the FT’s daily Brexit briefing here


Corbyn back out promoting pledge to cut rail fares

Jeremy Corbyn has, like the prime minister, returned to the campaign trail in the wake of the hiatus following the London Bridge attacks.

The Labour leader has been at Finsbury Park station plugging his party’s proposals to reduce rail fares by a third, give under 16s free rail travel and bring in “fair fares” for part-time workers.

As part of the push to promote its rail policies — which include eventually bringing the system back under state control — the party released a peculiar and not-so-subtle spoof video, tweeted by Mr Corbyn, in which it appeared to target Virgin Rail founder Richard Branson.

In the video, a man resembling Sir Richard wears a crown and sits in ornate surroundings as he cycles through a list of reasons rail nationalisation is a “bad idea”.


President Trump heads for the UK

Will President Trump throw an unexpected curve-ball into the UK election campaign?

The president will arrive in London later this evening ahead of a Nato summit taking place later this week.

Boris Johnson is refusing any meeting with Mr Trump in an effort to avoid unwelcome interventions in the campaign, write the FT’s Helen Warrell, George Parker and Aime Williams.

His team are also hopeful that Mr Trump will not be making one of his customary media interventions — usually via the Sun newspaper or with Piers Morgan, the presenter of ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain.


Sterling and the opinion polls

Labour is slowly closing the wide gap in the opinion polls, but with less than two weeks to go until election day “the prospect of a meaningful surge in support is small,” says Lee Hardman, currency analyst at MUFG in London.

Mr Hardman believes a Conservative majority could help propel the pound stronger in the short term as investors welcome stability over Brexit, but that the looming trade negotiations with the EU will likely cap gains.

There is a risk of reverting to WTO trading rules at the end of 2020 that will likely keep uncertainty escalated and cap gains for the pound. Sterling appreciation could start to reverse in the second half of 2020.


FT Opinion: Johnson shows he cares more about winning than governing

The FT’s UK political commentator Robert Shrimsley writes in a recently published opinion piece that Boris Johnson is defiantly short-termist – victory first and worry about the aftermath later:

If one image captures Boris Johnson’s approach to life, and politics, it is the scene of him playing street rugby with schoolchildren in Japan in 2015. The now-prime minister flattens a 10-year-old-boy who stands between him and the line. Only afterwards does he regain his affable mien and worry about the boy mown down by the Boggernaut. However trivial the contest, the PM is serious about winning.

As in rugby, so in elections. Mr Johnson will do what it takes. He will curb his exuberance, put himself in the hands of his strategists and say what has to be said. But this pays little heed to the price of his promises. His seriousness about winning is unmatched by a gravitas about governing.

You can read Robert’s full column here.


We are going to wrap up the live coverage for this evening, do check back with FT.com through the evening for the latest election stories from our team in Westminster.

Have a great evening.