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Thursday's Business and Politics round-up

25 Apr 2019

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Good morning!

Leaks from a highly confidential meeting with senior ministers and national security advisers about Huawei have led to calls for an inquiry.

Reports have emerged of a meeting of the National Security Council which took place on Tuesday. 

The Prime Minister was said to have given the Chinese giant the go-ahead to supply technology for the UK’s 5G network, despite concerns from the likes of Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Gavin Williamson that the move would compromise national security. 

The council includes other cabinet ministers as well as bosses from MI6, MI5 and GCHQ. It is believed that intelligence chiefs are furious that the confidentiality of the meeting was broken. 

One unnamed member of the wider intelligence community said the motivation for the leak must have been “political – someone with a leadership ambition wanting to show they are not ‘soft’ on China. Brexit meets 5G!”



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May all Right

Senior MPs in the Conservative Party have decided against changing their rules around leadership challenges, but they have demanded more clarity from the Prime Minister about how long she will stay in office. 
 
Under the current rules, MPs can hold votes of no confidence in their leader once every 12 months. This would make December the earliest May could be pushed out. 
 
Last night the 1922 Committee rejected bringing forward this deadline. Chair Sir Graham Brady said "I think the 1922 executive is asking on behalf of the Conservative Party in Parliament that we should have a clear road map forward” regarding May’s departure date. 
 
Last month the Prime Minister promised to resign if and when Parliament passed her Brexit deal. It has so far been rejected by MPs on three separate occasions. 
 
Speaking before yesterday’s 1922 Committee meeting, a Downing Street spokesperson said May had committed to step down “earlier than she would have liked” but this did “not necessarily mean” she would immediately quit if Brexit happens on 31 October, the new exit date.  
 

Supermarket chain of fools 

The UK’s competition watchdog has blocked a proposed merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s, arguing it would increase prices for consumers.
 
The Competition and Markets Authority said it wants to “protect the millions of people who shop at Sainsbury’s and Asda every week”, adding “this deal would lead to increased prices, reduced quality and choice of products, or a poorer shopping experience for all of their UK shoppers”. 
 
Sainsbury’s and Asda had offered to sell off up to 150 of their shops, as well as convenience stores and petrol stations, to enable the merger to go ahead. 
 
If the deal had gone through it would have created Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, accounting for £1 in every £3 spent on groceries. 
 
Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe said "The CMA's conclusion that we would increase prices post-merger ignores the dynamic and highly competitive nature of the UK grocery market”. The supermarket will not appeal against the decision. 

Buckle up

World leaders are set to convene in Beijing today for a summit on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, despite growing concerns about the project. 
 
The aim of the infrastructure project is to expand trade links. While it has financed trains, roads and ports in many countries, it has left some burdened with debt. 
 
Western governments have grown increasingly critical of China’s influence, with US Vice President Mike Pence expressing concerns over the country’s “debt diplomacy” although Italy recently became the first developed country to sign up to the programme. 
 
Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia have conveyed their wariness about the initiative. Recipient countries are concerned about debt accumulation and growing Chinese influence domestically. Sri Lanka has handed over control of a port to China to help repay loans. 
 
Tom Rafferty, a China expert at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said China “wants to convince the international community that the Belt and Road Initiative is inclusive and policy concessions in areas such as debt sustainability" are likely.


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