The intriguing timing of Rebekah Brooks's arrest

The ex-NI executive is arrested two days after she resigned - and two days before she is scheduled t

Rebekah Brooks, the former Chief Executive of News International, has been arrested.

Police said that a 43-year-old woman was arrested by appointment at a London police station on Sunday on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and on suspicion of corruption allegations. A spokesperson for Brooks confirmed that the appointment for her attendance at the police station was made on Friday.

Brooks was arrested by Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone-hacking, with involvement from Operation Elveden, which is investigating allegations of improper payments to police.

According to the BBC's Robert Peston, the arrest of Brooks is a "big deal". He adds: "News Int sources say they had no inkling Rebekah Brooks would be arrested when discussing her resignation last week".

The New Statesman's legal correspondent, David Allen Green, has questioned the timing of the arrest. He wrote on Twitter: "Am not a conspiracy theorist, but... the Met need to urgently explain the agreed timing of the Brooks arrest 'by appointment'."

It is the tenth arrest in connection with the investigation over phone hacking at News of the World.

In a statement, the Metropolitan police said:

At approximately 12.00 hrs a 43-year-old woman was arrested by appointment at a London police station by officers from Operation Weeting together with officers from Operation Elveden. She is currently in custody.
She was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section1 (1) [of the] Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of corruption allegations contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News has questioned whether the arrest makes it harder for MPs to question Brooks at the Select Committee hearing on Tuesday. Tom Watson, the MP who has championed the investigation into hacking, added: "Had she made her appointment to be arrested before confirming attendance at our committee? I wouldn't be surprised."

John Whittingdale MP, another member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, told the Telegraph's Christopher Hope the arrest "change[s] the picture somewhat".

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch's biographer, Michael Wolff, wonders whether attention might turn now to James Murdoch, who is still employed by News Corporation. He tweets: "In 2008, during a two hour interview I did with Rebekah Brooks, she took seven phone calls from James Murdoch --that's how often they spoke.".

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.