Brooks and Coulson charged for third time

The pair face new charges over alleged illegal payments to public officials.

The Crown Prosecution Service has just announced that Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks have been charged over the alleged bribery of public officials.

In the case of Coulson, the charges relate to payments made for a Palace phone directory, known as the "Green Book", containing contact details for the Royal Family. Clive Goodman, the News of the World's former royal editor, who was imprisoned in 2007 for hacking phones belonging to the Royal Household, has also been charged in relation to these allegations.

In the case of Brooks, the charges relate to an alleged payment of £100,000 to Ministry of Defence employee Bettina Jordan Barber in exchange for information which formed the basis of a series of stories published by the Sun. Jordan Barber and the Sun's chief reporter, John Kay, have also been charged.

These are the third set of charges Coulson and Brooks have faced. Coulson has previouly been charged with committing perjury at the trial of Tommy Sheridan in December 2010 and with phone-hacking between October 2000 and 2006. Brooks has also been charged with phone-hacking, including in the case of Milly Dowler, and with perverting the course of justice by concealing evidence from police investigating hacking last summer.

Fifty two people have now been arrested as part of Operation Elveden, the Met's investigation into alleged illegal payments to police and other public officials, including 21 journalists at the Sun.

Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.