James Murdoch accused of misleading parliament

"We would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told...was mistaken."

James Murdoch has been accused of misleading MPs by two former News of the World executives.

Colin Myler, who edited the paper until its closure two weeks ago, and Tom Crone, formerly the paper's top lawyer, issued a statement last night saying that Murdoch had been "mistaken" in his evidence.

The disagreement hinges on an email known as the "for Neville" email because its link to the paper's former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, would have blown a hole in News International's defence that phone-hacking was just the work of one rogue reporter, Clive Goodman. The email is thought to be a key factor in News International's decision to pay a settlement of around £700,000 to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, when he threatened to sue the paper.

At the select committee on Tuesday, Labour MP Tom Watson asked him about this.

Watson: "When you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?"

Murdoch: "No, I was not aware of that at the time."

He claimed that Myler and Crone hid the email from him. However, their statement contradicts this claim:

Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday's Culture, Media Select Committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch's recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.

In fact, we did inform him of the 'for Neville' email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor's lawyers.

So what happens now? John Whittingdale, the chairman of the select committee said that this email was "one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry", and said that MPs would be asking Murdoch to respond and clarify.

However, it is unlikely that this will get very far. Thus far, News Corporation has issued the following statement in response:

James Murdoch stands by his testimony to the select committee.

It is difficult to see circumstances in which this would be revoked, in the absence of concrete evidence that Murdoch saw the email. Wilfully misleading a select committee is not technically a crime as evidence is not given under oath, but it certainly would not look good.

Crone and Myler's intervention is deeply troubling. If their claim is true (and given the large payment to Taylor and his confidentiality agreement, it it certainly not outside the realm of possibility), then at best Murdoch has forgotten evidence of serious criminality at his company, and at worst he has deliberately misled MPs. It is not the first time that News International executives stand accused of doing so.

Parliament is now in recess, making it unlikely that the select committee will hold a special evidence session to clarify the issue, although such a course of action is not unprecedented. One thing we can be certain of is that this story is not disappearing.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.