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Baroness Hayter: We need contingencies to mitigate the delay to Brexit negotiations as a result of COVID-19

2 weeks 5 days ago
Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to walk away from the negotiations if, by June, there isn’t sufficient progress for a September agreement, writes Baroness Hayter.

This pandemic risks major disruption to Brexit negotiations. MPs need to understand any differences this stalling will make, writes Baroness Hayter. 

Just when you thought the economy couldn’t have a bigger shock than Brexit (with the possibility of a no-deal at the end of this year), along comes a major pandemic risking greater disruption than last century’s financial crisis.  
 
The government has been juggling negotiations with the United States alongside those with the European Union – and travel to both is in doubt. In the case of the US, President Trump has closed the airports to Brits. In the case of the EU, this week’s second round of talks, due in London, have been cancelled – although they might yet continue by video conference.
 
Given the complexity of the talks, with myriad subjects handled by different groups of officials who need near constant updates from each other, it is hard to imagine how Skype will fit the bill. 

Aside from re-scheduling the talks, there is the very real need for business to prepare for whatever outcome. Industry was already warning that help is needed for firms to prepare for life outside the EU. The Institute of Directors, noting the heavy costs of adjustment, regretted the absence of any such aid in the Budget.
 
In fact, Brexit was barely mentioned by the new Chancellor, leading the British Chambers of Commerce to demand more support for businesses as they navigate changes to trading arrangements. The longer the talks take, the less time business has to line up the paperwork, tariff adjustments, transport and data exchange – let alone respond to currency fluctuations.
 
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to walk away from the negotiations if, by June, there isn’t sufficient progress for a September agreement. But with the talks halted, and other pressing priorities – both here and within the EU – it is hard to believe an outline treaty would be negotiated by then. And the possible appearance of a first draft this week and the EU’s 441 page Draft Agreement on the New Partnership that was helpfully leaked at the weekend would make little difference.
 
We are not talking about a few containable issues, nor of minor disagreements to be negotiated away. Detailed comparison of the UK and EU’s opening gambits by the Lords EU Committee underlined the extent to which the two sides have diverged since Mr Johnson signed the Political Declaration back in October.
 
On Tuesday I will ask Cabinet Office Minister Lord True if contingencies are in place given the delay to the negotiations because of the COVID-19 crisis. One frustration of how our government is talking to Brussels is that it’s a Civil Servant, not a Minister, leading the UK delegation – and that individual is not answerable to Parliament. Just when MPs need to understand any differences that this stalling will make, the Chief Negotiator is nowhere to be seen. 

 

Baroness Hayter is a Labour Life Peer and the Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords. 

Member of the House of Lords

Next round of Brexit trade talks cancelled due to worsening coronavirus outbreak

3 weeks 2 days ago
EU and UK flags
UK and EU negotiators had been due to meet in London on Monday.

The next round of Brexit trade talks has been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Around 200 negotiators had been due to sit down for face-to-face discussions in London on Monday.

But as the numbers struck down by Covid-19 continues to rise across the world, the decision was taken to postpone the talks.

It is also unclear whether they will still be able to go ahead via videolink.

In a joint-statement, both sides said: "Given the latest Covid-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled.

"Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences."

The first round of talks took place in Brussels two weeks ago.

But Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove raised the possibility that Monday's get-together may not go ahead when he appeared before a Commons committee on Wednesday.

He said: "It’s a live question. We were looking forward to a joint committee in the UK on the 30th and we were also looking forward to the next stage of negotiations going ahead, but we have had indications today from Belgium there may be specific public health concerns."

The postponement is likely lead to fresh calls for the Brexit transition period, which is due to end on 31 December, to be extended, given there is no end in sight to the coronavirus crisis.

But Downing Street has insisted that Boris Johnson will not make such a request, ensuring the UK stops following all EU rules from 2021.

Kevin Schofield

Brexit preparations have cost more than £4bn, government spending watchdog says

4 weeks 2 days ago
UK and EU flags
The NAO said the spending estimate was a "minimum" due to limitations in the data

Ministers have spent more than £4bn preparing for Brexit, according to a new report by the government spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said between the EU referendum in June 2016 and the 31 March this year, government departments will have racked up at least an extra £4.4bn preparing to leave the bloc.

At total of £6.3bn had been allocated by the Treasury to prepare for Brexit, including planning for both 'deal' and 'no deal' outcomes.

But the watchdog said the £4bn figure represented a "minimum estimated level of spend" due to "limitations" in the data, meaning the true figure could be even higher.

The report found that around £2bn of the cash had been designated for spending on no-deal preparations in 2019-20, but was scaled back as the likelihood of that scenario lessened.

According to the watchdog, at least £1.9bn of the money spent went on staffing, with a peak of 22,000 civil servants working on Brexit planning in October 2019.

Meanwhile, the funds also included a £1.5bn spend on creating new systems, including £238m on building the EU settlement scheme, and an extra £69m spent on Operation Brock, to prepare Kent's traffic system for disruption in the event of a no-deal.

A further £288m was put towards bringing in expertise and external advice, while local government organisations were handed £104m to prepare for the UK's future outside of the bloc.

Responding to the report, Meg Hillier, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "The public has been kept in the dark as to what the Government has been doing.

"Data is limited, and the Treasury seem unconcerned by the lack of transparency."

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Brexit Spokesperson Alastair Carmichael said ministers should "come clean" on how they had spent the cash.

"Billions of pounds have been thrown away in a bid to paper over the Tories' Brexit mess," he said.

"The public have a right to know where it is all going. In the face of major flood and the coronavirus threat, we have to ask if the Government knows its own spending priorities."

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO said: "In preparing for EU exit, government departments planned for multiple potential outcomes, with shifting timetables and uncertainty.

"Producing this report has highlighted limitations in how government monitored spending on EU exit specifically, and cross-government programmes more generally."

John Johnston

Brexit row erupts after Michel Barnier accuses UK of planning to ditch human rights commitment

4 weeks 2 days ago
EU and UK flags
Trade talks between the EU and UK begin on Monday.

A row has erupted after the EU's chief Brexit negotiator accused the UK of planning to ditch its commitment to human rights.

Michel Barnier said Britain had refused "to commit formally to continuing to apply" the European Convention on Human Rights after it quits the EU.

But hitting back, Downing Street insisted it still backed the ECHR, but that it should play no part in the Brexit negotiations.

The dispute emerged after Mr Barnier admitted there were "serious divergences" between Brussels and London following initial trade talks.

He said: "The UK informs us they do not wish to commit formally to continuing to apply the ECHR, nor do they wish the ECJ (European Court of Justice) to play its full role in interpreting European law."

The veteran EU official added: "If the UK position does not move it will have an immediate and concrete effect on the level of ambition of our cooperation."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the UK would not be ditching its commitment to the ECHR, but insisted it was completely separate to the Brexit negotiations.

He said: "The UK is committed to the European Convention on Human Rights and to protecting human rights and championing them at home and abroad.

"But we believe that this does not require an additional binding international legal commitment. How the UK gives effect to its long-standing, strong human rights protections is a matter for the UK as an autonomous country.

"In the same way, it's a matter for the EU and its member states to give effect to their own human rights protections according to their own legal orders."

The dispute came as the differences between both sides on key areas like fisheries were laid bare.

Britain has warned it is prepared to walk away from the negotiations in June unless clear progress is being made in the negotiations.

Mr Barnier said: "To be completely frank with you…there are many divergences, and they are very serious divergences which is probably quite natural after a first round of negotiations."

A spokesperson for the Government said they were "pleased with the constructive tone from both sides that has characterised these talks".

But they added: "These are going to be tough negotiations – this is just the first round. In some areas there seems to be a degree of common understanding of how to take the talks forward. In other areas, such as fishing, governance, criminal justice and the so-called ‘level playing field’ issues there are, as expected, significant differences.

"The UK team made clear that, on 1 January 2021, we would regain our legal and economic independence – and that the future relationship must reflect that fact.

“We look forward to continuing these talks in the same constructive spirit when the parties meet again in London on 18 March."
 

Kevin Schofield

Michel Barnier warns of ‘very serious divergences’ between UK and EU in post-Brexit trade talks

4 weeks 2 days ago
Michel Barnier
The senior EU official warned there remained "serious differences" between the two negotiating sides.

Michel Barnier has warned there are "serious divergences" between the UK and the EU following the first round of talks on Britain's post-Brexit relationship with the bloc.

The EU’s chief negotiator said there remained "very difficult" differences on issues such as fair competition and fisheries as he claimed an agreement with was still "possible, even if difficult".

Speaking after four days of talks between the two negotiating teams, Mr Barnier said it was "natural" for differences to exist.

But he warned there would be an "immediate and concrete" effect on the future relationship unless the two sides can reach an agreement.

According to the senior EU official, the two sides remain divided over so-called level playing field provisions to ensure fair competition between UK and EU firms, the role of the European Court of Justice, fisheries and the overall nature of the agreement.

Speaking to reporters, he said: "To be completely frank with you…there are many divergences, and they are very serious divergences which is probably quite natural after a first round of negotiations.

"We had agreed with the UK that we would want to prevent. on both sides. distortions in trade and prevent unfair competitive advantage."

He added: "The UK does not wish to translate those undertakings into a common agreement and they do not want appropriate mechanisms on either side to ensure the respect of it.

"Whilst we agree on preserving high standards, my questions is why not committ to them formally? It is a question of trust."

Mr Barnier also said the UK had put forward an "impracticable" deal for fisheries which would see a new agreement on quotas thrashed out between the two sides each year.

He meanwhile claimed Boris Johnson was in favour of a series of separate deals guiding the future relationship - while the bloc is eyeing a comprehensive deal which includes the UK continuing to implement the European Convention on Human Rights, and allowing a role for the European Court of Justice.

Mr Barnier warned there would be a "lot of consequences" for the UK if it walked away from a deal at the end of the transition period in January 2021.

He said: "The definitive changes which will happen because of the decision of the United Kingdom and the difficulties which will be linked to that, my impression is they are very often underestimated."

His warning comes after a spokesperson for the Prime Minister dismissed suggestions the Brexit talks could be extended due to the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Asked if growing numbers of cases could derail the negotiations, they said: "That work has been continuing throughout, and I'd expect it to carry on as planned - no change."

John Johnston

Boris Johnson vows to 'drive a hard bargain' with Donald Trump as he unveils pitch for post-Brexit US trade talks

1 month ago
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has promised to "drive a hard bargain" with the United States as he revealed the UK's opening bid for talks on a free-trade deal.

Unveiling the UK's negotiating mandate, the Prime Minister said a post-Brexit deal with America could "deliver lower prices and more choice for our shoppers".

And he quipped that Britain could start trading "Scottish smoked salmon for Stetson hats".

The Government is also publishing new analysis claiming that the UK economy will receive a £3.4bn boost from a deal, with transatlantic trade flows increasing by £15.3bn, according to its own figures.

Spelling out the topline objectives for the talks, ministers say they are seeking an "ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement with the United States", building on America's status as the UK's biggest bilateral trading partner.

The talks will aim to boost the UK economy "by opening up opportunities for British businesses and investors", leading to what the Government claims will be "greater choice and lower prices for British producers and consumers".

Mr Johnson said: "We have the best negotiators in the business and of course, we’re going to drive a hard bargain to boost British industry.

"Trading Scottish smoked salmon for Stetson hats, we will deliver lower prices and more choice for our shoppers.

"Most importantly, this transatlantic trade deal will reflect the unique closeness of our two great nations."

That view was echoed by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who vowed: "This deal with our biggest single trading partner will cut red tape for our small businesses, cut tariffs for our great products from dairy to cars and increase growth in all four nations."

The Government is also seeking to reassure voters that a deal with the US will not see the health service opened up to American companies, a claim repeatedly made by Labour during the election campaign.

Ministers say they will "rigorously protect the UK’s freedom to provide public services, such as the National Health Service, in the national interest" as the talks progress.

"NHS is not for sale and the Government is committed to the guiding principles of the NHS – that it is universal and free at the point of use," they add.

There is also a promise to "ensure high standards and protections for British consumers and workers" - including "high domestic standards on food safety and animal welfare".

'RIGHTS ON THE LINE'

But Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner accused ministers of making "false promises" on standards and the protection of public services.

The Labour frontbencher added: "This is a government that has sought, at every opportunity, to resist efforts to lock in our high standards and to ensure robust protections for our NHS.

"Their false promises are meaningless — they have said they won’t undercut our food standards while briefing that chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef are perfectly acceptable."

"That is why there must be a full and proper scrutiny process for this and all trade agreements."

The TUC, the umbrella group for Britain's unions, meanwhile urged Boris Johnson to focus on striking a trade deal with the EU rather than "cosying up to Donald Trump".

General secretary Frances O'Grady said: "President Trump doesn’t care about the UK. The only trade agreement he wants to strike is one that will line the pockets of his corporate backers.

"Boris Johnson is wrong to rush into these talks. A bad trade deal with the US will put working people’s jobs and rights on the line. And it will undermine our vital public services, environment and food standards.

"Nobody voted for chlorinated chicken or for US corporations to have more access to our personal data."

The Department for International Trade said the talks would be led by Crawford Falconer, the department's chief negotiator.

The Government is meanwhile promising to hold "one of the biggest consultations ever undertaken" as the talks progress, in a bid to reassure businesses and campaign groups that they are being listened to.

But trade expert David Henig told Sky News that the UK would face a "big choice" as it simultaneously tries to strike deals with the EU and the US.

The director of the European Centre for International Political Economy told the broadcaster: "Both the EU and US would like us to adopt their food safety rules - we can't adopt both of them as the EU doesn't allow certain US food in.

"We're going to have to make a choice there between either those two, or perhaps we'll adopt our own and go with that.

"That's a big choice. We also have to choose in various regulatory areas whether we go with an EU approach or a US approach.

"The more we go with one against the other, the more trade barriers are in place."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Post-Brexit trade talks could collapse over fishing rights, French minister warns

1 month ago
Amélie de Montchalin
Amélie de Montchalin is the French Minister for European Affairs

Talks over Britain's post-Brexit relationship with the EU could collapse if the bloc is not given access to UK waters, a top French minister has warned.

Speaking to BBC’s Andrew Marr, France’s European Affairs Minister Amélie de Montchalin said there was also the chance of a “nasty battle” ahead if there is no agreement in key areas.

She said: “We’ve linked four subjects. We linked free trade agreement, conditions of competition, governance of the whole deal, and fishing. 

“Because we feel we cannot agree on any of these subjects if we cannot agree on the whole of the four points.”

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has already made clear that European fishing boats must have access to UK waters once the current quota system comes to an end in return for a comprehensive free trade agreement with Brussels.

But UK officials have remained insistent that there will be “no alignment” between the two sides, and are resisting calls to tie access to waters to a deal on financial servies.

When asked if a failure to agree on fishing rights could cause the entire deal to collapse, Ms Montchalin said: “Yes, we said there are four topics which are linked in negotiations.”

And she added: “We know how to make it a very nasty battle. Both sides.

“A very nasty battle, where politicians in the UK and politicians in France are put in a situation where things get very difficult. And in the end we will both lose."

Her comments come after a number of senior French politicians cast doubt on the future of a UK-EU agreement.

Last month, President Emmanuel Macron told French fishermen he was “not sure” if a deal could be struck by the December 31st deadline.

He also said fishing rights could be a sticking point in negotiations.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that both sides would “rip each other apart” in upcoming negotiations, with fishing a contentious area.

Ms Montchalin told the BBC that she believed it would be difficult to reach an agreement by the end of the year, when Britain's closely-aligned transition period with the EU comes to an end.

“There is time: if we are consistent, if we go quickly to the reason, to the rationality," she said.

“If we stay at the level of the politics of symbols, of things which are not at the heart of the negotiation, then there is a risk.”

 

Eleanor Langford

Leaked emails show top Treasury official said farming and fisheries 'not important' to UK’s future

1 month ago
Farmer
Agriculture contributes less than 1% to the UK's economy

A senior advisor to the Chancellor has said that the UK’s farming and fishing industries are “not critically important” to the country’s economy, it has been revealed.

Emails seen by the Mail on Sunday show Dr Tim Leunig suggested Britain could become more like Singapore, which is “rich without having its own agricultural sector”.

He also reportedly questioned tax breaks given to farmers, and suggested that the UK could import its food in future.

The comments were made in emails sent last week to the National Food Strategy, the Government's wide-ranging review of the British food system.

Dr Leunig wrote: "Food sector isn't critically important to the UK, and ag[riculture] and fish production certainly isn't."

He then went on to query tax breaks given to farmers, saying: "We know that supermarkets also make very little, and that lots of restaurants go bust.

"Not sure I buy a 'life is tough for farmers, easy for restaurateurs' approach."

After being challenged by members fo the review's advisory panel, Dr Leunig is then reported to have said: "All I am saying is that, as a logical possibility, a nation (or region) can import stuff. We see that in many places for many goods and services. Singapore imports (almost) all its food, Germany all its oil, Japan all its planes and all its oil, Australia and New Zealand import all their cars, all their planes and all their oil, while Iceland imports oil, cars, planes and graduate-level education."

The Government has distanced itself from Dr Leunig’s comments, with a spokesman saying: “We have made clear the comments are not in line with government policy.”

Sources also told the PA news agency that the remarks were made in personal emails and that Dr Leunig was not speaking in his Treasury role.

His comments come after both the UK and the EU published their negotiating mandates earlier this week, with talks set to begin in the coming days. 

Agriculture and fishing policy is set to be a sticking point in future discussions, with the EU’s Michel Barnier stating the bloc's boats must have access to UK waters.

Issues around animal welfare are also set to come up, with the EU set to insist that a ban on chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef imports from the US must remain in place post-Brexit.

Meanwhile farming industry leaders have called on the Government to uphold current standards to set a “benchmark” to other countries around the world.

NFU President Minette Batters told the union’s annual conference: "To sign up to a trade deal which results in opening our ports, shelves and fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would not only be morally bankrupt… It would be the work of the insane."

Eleanor Langford

France warns Boris Johnson plan for Australia-style Brexit deal ‘for the birds’

1 month ago
Amélie de Montchalin
France’s secretary of state for European affairs Amélie de Montchalin

A leading French politician has warned Boris Johnson his plan for an Australia-style relationship with the EU is “for the birds”.

The Government has said the UK will walk away from talks on a comprehensive free trade agreement in June if no progress is being made.

A 30-page document setting out ministers' objectives for the upcoming negotiations said the UK would then seek an arrangement like the one the EU has with Australia.

This would effectively mean a World Trade Organisation regime, with a series of side deals in specific areas.

But Amélie de Montchalin, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, said the remaining countries in the bloc will reject an "artificial deadline".

“Don’t underestimate the unity of the 27 members,” she said in a direct message to Mr Johnson.

Speaking at Chatham House in London, she said: "We did not accept cherry-picking from the UK in the first half of negotiations, we will not accept it now.”

The minister added that the EU will “not accept time pressure” and is “not ready to sign any kind of a deal on 31 December at 11pm”.

“We cannot let our level of ambition be affected by what I would call artificial deadlines,” she said.

“If the UK decides to shorten the negotiating period, it will be the UK’s responsibility.

“It will not be our choice on the European side, and that choice will have consequences in terms of the breadth and depth of the relationship we can build.”

She added: “For us substance is much, much more important than deadlines.”

And Ms de Montchalin repeated the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s claim that the UK cannot have a Canada-style trade deal because “the UK is not Canada”.

She said: “The UK is the ninth economic power on the planet. You’re much bigger, you’re much closer, you’re much more important.”

The minister also spoke of the importance of trust in the negotiations, telling the audience at the think tank: “A swift negotiation could be impacted by a degrade in implementation of the former agreement which we just reached three months ago – the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Ensuring that our citizens are protected and are never bargaining chips in the future.

“Ensuring that the Northern Ireland protocol is fully implemented is for us an absolute priority.”

Alain Tolhurst

Ministers defend decision to quit European Arrest Warrant after Brexit

1 month ago
Man in handcuffs
The UK is currently a member of the European Arrest Warrant.

Ministers have defended the decision to ditch an EU-wide agreement on the speedy extradition of criminals after Brexit.

The Government's plans for the upcoming trade talks with the EU make clear it no longer wants to be part of the European Arrest Warrant.

Instead, the UK wants to enter into a relationship with the bloc similar to that enjoyed by the likes of Norway and Iceland.

Under the EAW, European criminals can be arrested anywhere in the EU and quickly sent back to their home countries.

But the 30-page negotiating mandate published by the Government on Thursday makes clear that the UK wants to quit the scheme.

The Lib Dems said the move could lead to 6,000 criminals avoiding prosecution.

Christine Jardine, the party's home affairs spokesperson, said: "Boris Johnson’s reckless Brexit plans threaten to cut the UK off from vital crime-fighting tools that the police use every day to keep us safe.

"Thousands of dangerous criminals could escape justice and the UK’s ability to tackle terrorism and organised crime would be seriously undermined.

"The only way to ensure vital police cooperation with Europe is kept is by stopping Brexit and staying in the EU.

"Every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit, build a brighter future and keep our communities safe."

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister insisted leaving the EAW could end up making it easier for British police to bring home suspected criminals overseas.

He said: "Norway and Iceland sets a precedent for the EU agreeing fast-track extradition arrangements which aren’t specifically the EAW.

"In negotiating our own new fast track extradition model, we would seek to negotiate extra safeguards as compared to what’s currently in the EAW.

."The negotiation gives an opportunity to do things better, including for witnesses and victims.

"Making improvements to extradition arrangements could be to the benefit of both UK and EU citizens."

In 2017, then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd said keeping the UK in the EAW after Brexit was a "priority" for the Government.

She said: "I certainly agree with the principle that the European Arrest Warrant is an effective tool and is absolutely essential to delivering effective judgment to the murderers, rapists and paedophiles that we have managed to seek judgment on.

"It is a priority to ensure that we do remain part of it and I can also reassure Honourable colleagues throughout the House that this is something European partners want to achieve as well."

Trade talks betweek the UK and EU are set to kick off on Monday.

But the Government has already made clear that unless the broad outline of a deal is not in place by June, it is ready to walk away from the negotiations.

Kevin Schofield

EXPLAINED: Why is the UK already talking about walking away from trade talks with the EU?

1 month 1 week ago
Brexit
The UK has made clear it will be prepared to opt for an Australia-style relationship if it is 'not possible to negotiate a satisfactory outcome' with the EU.

The Goverment has finally published its opening gambit in talks on the UK's future relationship with the EU. But what's it actually pitching? PolHome's Matt Honeycombe-Foster takes a look

If Number 10's aim had been to ruffle a few feathers ahead of talks on Britain's future relationship with Europe, it can probably rest easy.

While the 30-page document spelling out how it plans to approach negotiations, published on Thursday, starts off with a few warm words about "friendly cooperation between sovereign equals", it's not long before we're into fiery talk about storming out of the negotiations and going it alone if necessary.

Right at the top, the document makes clear: "Whatever happens, the Government will not negotiate any arrangement in which the UK does not have control of its own lawsand political life. That means that we will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU's, or for the EU's institutions, including the Court of Justice, to have any jurisdiction in the UK."

That'll certainly be read with interest in Brussels, where EU negotiators believed the broad sweep of the talks would be shaped by the Political Declaration, agreed by both sides in November last year.

That document talked about an "ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership" - but, crucially, it also agreed that both sides would work towards an agreement that is "underpinned  by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition".

This, then, is the essential sticking point as the talks kick off: the EU believes Britain has already signed up to continued closeness with the bloc on a range of rules and standards in exchange for access to its markets - but the UK is making clear that, if push comes to shove, it will prize the ability to set its own rules over ease of trade between the two entities.

Number 10 thinks the Prime Minister has been strengthened in effectively shrugging off bits of the Political Declaration by his decisive December election win - but the European Union is unlikely to look favourably on any attempt to move the goalposts.

'RAPIDLY FINALISED'

Once again, the negotiating mandate published on Thursday says a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) should be at the "core" of future ties between the two entities, with a host of other agreements on fisheries, justice cooperation, transport and energy drawn up alongside it.

However, it again makes clear that Britain does not want to be treated any differently to other countries with which the bloc has signed pacts, saying an agreement should be "on the lines of the FTAs already agreed by the EU in recent years with Canada and with other friendly countries".

The Government has in mind Canada's Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU, which came into force in 2017.

This pact, which took eight years to negotiate, scraps tariffs on most types of goods, and has already been talked up by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier as a viable model for the UK given its decision to quit the EU's customs union and single market and end the free movement of people.

But CETA is not a tariff-free panacea, either. It sees some cooperation on standards, limits some food imports into the EU, and maintains a host of barriers in the service sector.

Number 10 on Thursday made clear that if the EU pushes too hard on the alignment front while trying to agree that trade deal, it will be willing to essentially walk away without an agreement.

As the document says: "The Government will work hard to agree arrangements on these lines. However, if it is not possible to negotiate a satisfactory outcome, then the trading relationship with the EU will rest on the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement and will look similar to Australia's."

Australia is currently negotiating a free trade deal with the EU, and is subject to high tariffs in some areas while it trades on World Trade Organisation terms. It would, for businesses, likely represent a much bumpier ride - and, while Downing Street is at pains to avoid the term 'no deal', this type of relationship would bring Britain fairly close to the scenario averted by the 11th-hour divorce deal agreed by the two sides last year.

For the first time, Thursday's document sets out the "speedy and determined" timetable the UK government wants to work towards once talks get underway next week. The clock is already ticking down to the end of 2020, when the current transition period - where the UK stays closely aligned to the EU with the same trading arrangements as it enjoyed during membership - expires.

Boris Johnson now wants to see progress before a "high-level meeting" slated for June - and the mandate says that, by this point, Britain expects "the broad outline of an agreement would be clear and be capable of being rapidly finalised by September".

That leaves just over three months for the two sides to make progress. And, if not, the Government says it will "need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion".

With Whitehall officials already admitting that this would require customs posts to be erected at the UK's border by the end of the year, it's certainly a high-stakes gamble. And we'll soon find out whether Number 10 means business.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

UK warns EU it will walk away from trade talks in June if no agreement on the horizon

1 month 1 week ago
EU and UK flags
Trade negotiations between the UK and EU will begin on Monday.

The UK government has warned the EU it is prepared to walk away from trade talks in June unless clear progress is being made in the negotiations.

Whitehall officials said they are ready to step up preparations for leaving the bloc's regulatory regime without an agreement at the end of this year.

The warning - which is likely to cause fury in Brussels - came as Downing Street published a document setting out what it wants to achieve in the talks, which are due to kick off on Monday.

Under the withdrawal agreement struck with the European Commission by Boris Johnson last year, the UK will continue following most of the EU's rules during a transition period running until the end of this year.

It had been hoped that both sides would be able to strike a Canada-style free trade agreement before 1 January next year.

But in a sign that the Government is prepared to play hardball in the negotiations, the 30-page negotiation mandate makes clear that the PM could call off the talks within three months of them starting.

The document says "the UK is committed to working in a speedy and determined fashion" to make progress between now and a stock-taking meeting in June.

"The Government would hope that, by that point, the broad outline of an agreement would be clear and be capable of being rapidly finalised by September," it said.

"If that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the Government will need to decide whether the UK's attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion."

Whitehall officials admitted that would lead to customs posts being erected at the UK's border with the EU to allow the checks of goods travelling to and from the continent.

They also made clear that Mr Johnson does not feel bound by the "political declaration" he signed alongside the Brexit withdrawal agreement last autumn setting out the future relationship between the UK and EU.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has insisted that all elements of the Brexit deal - including the political declaration - should be implemented "to the letter".

But the Government insists that Brussels has already ditched some elements of it when it published its own negotiating mandate earlier this week.

They also claim that the contents of the Tory election manifesto - which led to the PM's 80-seat Commons majority - trumps the political declaration, making it virtually worthless.

Setting out the Government's position in the House of Commons, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: "It is our aim to agree a comprehensive free trade agreement, as well as agreement on issues such as fisheries, internal security and aviation.

"We're confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes that work for both the UK and the EU, but this House, our European partners and above all the British people, should be in no doubt that at the end of the transition period, on 31 December, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence.

"We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in pursuit of a deal we will not trade away our sovereignty."

Kevin Schofield

Boris Johnson set for EU clash as Number 10 casts doubt on Brexit deal

1 month 1 week ago
EU and UK flags
Trade negotiations between the UK and EU are due to begin on Monday.

The UK and EU are on a fresh collision course after Number 10 cast doubt on the Brexit deal struck by Boris Johnson last year.

Downing Street sources suggested the contents of the "political declaration" agreed by the Prime Minister alongside the Brexit withdrawal agreement had been trumped by the Tories' general election victory.

However, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has insisted both elements of the deal - which Mr Johnston signed - must be implemented "to the letter".

The row comes as the Government prepares to publish what it wants from the trade negotiations with Brussels, which are due to begin next Monday.

Number 10 has already made clear that it will not agree to EU demands that the UK continues to align itself with Brussels rules and regulations in return for a Canada-style free trade deal.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "The political declaration was agreed alongside the withdrawal agreement and sets out aspirations and parameters for the upcoming negotiations on the future relationship.

"The political declaration is clear that this will be based on a free trade agreement."

A Number 10 source claimed that the EU had already ditched two elements of the political declaration in its own negotiating mandate, which was published on Tuesday.

The source added: "I would point you to the fact that the Prime Minister is working to a mandate that is derived from his manifesto and which set out very very clearly what he would be seeking in the negotiations, and also set out what would not be acceptable to the United KIngdom.

"Whatever happens at the end of this year, the United Kingdom will be regaining in full its political and economic independence."

Those comments are likely to be greeted with dismay in Brussels, where Mr Barnier said: "We see ministerial declarations coming out of the UK and we see a distancing in what is being said.

"Moving back from what was said in the political declarations and the withdrawal agreement, where promises were made, promises to co-operate with us to make sure there is no form of unfair competition and our concern is that the text in the political declaration needs to be properly respected and implemented to the letter in a legal framework."

He added: "The UK says it wants Canada, but the problem with that is that the UK is not Canada.

"We are ready to offer to the UK super-preferential access to our markets - a level of access that would be unprecedented for a third country.

"Is this something we can do without firm guarantees that the UK will respect the level playing field and avoid unfair competitive advantages? The answer, I’m afraid, is simple. We cannot.

"We want competition in the future but it must be fair - fair and free."

Kevin Schofield

Christine Jardine MP: EU citizens must not become the victims of a new Windrush-style scandal

1 month 1 week ago
EU FLAGS
EU citizens in the UK are our families and friends, our colleagues and carers. They contribute enormously to our economy, our public services and our society, writes Christine Jardine MP.

Today, Christine Jardine MP is tabling the European Citizens’ Rights Bill, to give EU citizens the automatic right to stay in the UK, without the need to apply, and to enable them to get physical proof of their rights.

Remember this? “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
 
That was a joint statement made during the 2016 referendum campaign by Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove – now the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
 
Boris Johnson repeated that promise to EU citizens when he entered Downing Street last summer, and again in the Conservative manifesto for the General Election in December. But, surprise surprise, he hasn’t kept it.
 
And that is why today, in Parliament, I’m taking the unusual step of tabling a Private Members’ Bill to hold the Prime Minister to that promise to the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK.
 
EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for almost four years now.
 
Despite the Conservatives’ promises, they have not given EU citizens the automatic right to stay. Instead, they are forcing them to apply to the Home Office for “Settled Status” by an arbitrary deadline of 30th June next year.
 
Anyone who hasn’t been granted their status by then – and even in the best case scenario there will be thousands – will be left effectively undocumented and subject to the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment. They will be at risk of eviction, detention and even deportation. It will be the Windrush scandal on an even bigger scale.
 
Tory Ministers like to boast that they’ve had more than 3 million applications to the Settled Status scheme, and that only seven have been refused. That certainly sounds good, but it’s misleading for a number of reasons.
 
First, it double-counts multiple applications from the same person: so if you’ve applied once and then had to apply again, the government stats count you twice.
 
Second, just because there have only been seven refusals, it doesn’t mean that the rest of those 3 million applications have been granted. As of the end of January, there was a backlog of more than 370,000 unresolved cases – many of whom had been waiting weeks or even months for an outcome.
 
Third, only a little over half of the people who have had their cases resolved have actually been granted Settled Status. More than 1.1 million have been given “Pre-Settled Status” instead.
 
And those three letters make a big difference. Settled Status is permanent: the right to stay for good. Pre-Settled Status isn’t. It only gives you the right to stay for up to five years, by which point you’d have to apply again and go through the stress and anxiety all over again.
 
To make matters worse, the Conservatives are refusing to provide EU citizens with physical proof of their Settled or Pre-Settled Status. Instead, they will have to rely on a digital code and an online Home Office database, putting them at risk of discrimination when it comes to renting a home or applying for a job.
 
That’s just not good enough.
 
EU citizens in the UK are our families and friends, our colleagues and carers. They contribute enormously to our economy, our public services and our society. They must have the right to stay, and mustn’t become the victims of a new Windrush-style scandal.
 
That’s why I’m tabling the European Citizens’ Rights Bill today: to give EU citizens the automatic right to stay in the UK, without the need to apply, and to enable them to get physical proof of their rights.
 
To protect the rights of people who’ve built their lives in our country. And to hold Boris Johnson to his promise.
 

 

Christine Jardine is Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West.

 

Member of Parliament

Downing Street hits out after EU says it will not agree post-Brexit trade deal 'at any cost'

1 month 1 week ago
EU and UK flags
Michel Barnier has warned the UK not to stray from the political declaration in talks

A war of words between Downing Street and Brussels has erupted after the EU said it would not agree a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK "at any cost".

Number 10 hit back after the the 27 remaining member states agreed their negotiating demands ahead of crunch talks next week.

Michel Barnier, the bloc's top negotiator, warned the EU would not waver over its demands for a "level playing field" on rules and regulations with the UK, as set out in the political declaration signed by Boris Johnson last year.

He said: "That political declaration describes very precisely the framework for a future relationship. That commits us on both sides, because that was a decisions both parties agreed to."

Mr Barnier added: "Of course, we will not conclude an agreement at any price."

The top EU official also revealed the first round of talks with British negotiatior David Frost would begin on Monday and last until Thursday.

But Mr Barnier warned the UK's refusal to extend the negotiation deadline beyond the end of the year meant both parties would have to act in "good faith" to avoid a potential hard exit.

"These will be complex, demanding, very difficult negotiations," he said. "In order to be successful, this will require trust and confidence...That is possible. It means negotiating in good faith."

"We just want the same"

Boris Johnson is set to outline the UK government's negotiating priorities on Thursday, but in a series of tweets, Number 10 said the EU must respect the UK's right to have "legal autonomy" after Brexit.

"The EU mandate stresses (reasonably) the importance of its own legal autonomy," they said. "We are equally determined to protect ours.  

"That is the key point of Brexit and is fundamental to the sustainable long-term relationship the EU says it wants with us.

"The EU has respected the autonomy of other major economies around the world such as Canada and Japan when signing trade deals with them.  We just want the same."

They added: "We agree the UK’s trade with the EU is significant. The US’s is on the same scale – yet that did not stop the EU being willing to offer the US zero tariffs without the kind of level playing field commitments or the legal oversight they have put in today’s mandate."

Meanwhile, German Europe Minister Michael Roth warned the UK to "keep its promises" in the upcoming talks.

He said: "My message is crystal clear to our friends in London - keep your promises, based on the protocal.

"The political declaration is key for us. It's the basis for further negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom and there are no doubts that we remain committed to the political declaration."

John Johnston

EU to demand UK keep chlorinated chicken ban in order to get post-Brexit trade deal

1 month 1 week ago
EU and UK flags
The UK and the EU are set to begin negotiating a trade agreement next week

The EU is set to demand the UK keep its ban on chlorinated chicken if it wants to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc.

A leaked version of the EU’s negotiating mandate, seen by The Guardian, said the UK must maintain “health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector” in line with Brussels.

The new paragraph, reportedly added on the recommendation of French officials, suggests the EU would require the UK to maintain bans on certain food production practices.

This would include methods such as endocrine disruptors, selected pesticides and chlorine washes for poultry.

It comes after the Environment Secretary George Eustice failed to rule out a ban on importing chlorinated chicken from America after Brexit.

He would only say the Government had “no plans” to allow poultry treated that way into the UK, pointing out that most US producers no longer use that method.

His comments came despite his predecessor, Theresa Villiers, explicitly stating that the ban on chlorine-washed poultry and hormone-fed beef would stay in place in any UK-US trade deal.

EU ministers are set to sign off on the bloc’s negotiating mandate on Tuesday, with talks with the UK set to begin next week.

Meanwhile the UK Government is understood to be publishing its own mandate on Thursday.

It is understood that the EU will demand the right to punish the UK if it fails to follow certain rules, but will not demand full alignment with its regulations.

The leaked agreement obtained by The Guardian, states “the envisaged agreement should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with Union standards as a reference point”.

However, both Boris Johnson and his chief negotiator David Frost have ruled out keeping the UK aligned with EU rules and standards.

On Monday, a Downing Street source said: "Our overriding objective in the negotiations is by 1 January to have taken back control and we won’t agree to anything that doesn’t deliver that. Which means no rule-taking from the EU and no role for the European Court of Justice.

“Our red line is we have to have taken back full control by 1 January.”

Eleanor Langford

Boris Johnson to prioritise clean break from Brussels over EU trade deal, Number 10 confirms

1 month 1 week ago
EU and UK flags
EU-UK trade talks are due to kick off next month.

Boris Johnson will prioritise "taking back control" of the UK's laws from Brussels over agreeing a free trade deal with the EU, it has emerged.

Downing Street said removing the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would be a "red line" in the forthcoming trade negotiations.

The comments are likely to infuriate the European Commission and dramatically increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit on 31 December.

Although the UK officially left the EU at the end of January, it is currently in a "transition period" during which it will continue to follow the majority of the bloc's rules and regulations until midnight on New Year's Eve.

Brussels officials have insisted that the UK must agree not to diverge from EU standards in order to maitain tariff and quota-free access to the bloc.

The Government, meanwhile, has insisted on a free trade agreement similar to the one struck between the EU and Canada.

Ministers will announce precisely what they want from the forthcoming negotiations on Thursday.

But the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "The UK’s primary objective in negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021."

Asked later whether this meant that avoiding alignment with Brussels regulations and preventing any role for the European Court of Justice were greater priorities than ensuring smooth trade with the EU, a senior No 10 source said: "Yes."

The source added: “Our overriding objective in the negotiations is by 1 January to have taken back control and we won’t agree to anything that doesn’t deliver that. Which means no rule-taking from the EU and no role for the European Court of Justice.

“Our red line is we have to have taken back full control by 1 January.”

The source added: "Independence and fully taking back control is the priority. 

“We want to do that through a Canada FTA (free trade agreement) but ultimately our priority is taking back control."

Meanwhile, Downing Street also appeared to confirm that some form of checks will take place on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Although the Prime Minister's spokesman claimed the new regime would "ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain", he would not give the same guarantee for items travelling in the opposite direction.

Kevin Schofield

New Environment Secretary fails to rule out importing US chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef

1 month 1 week ago
George Eustice
George Eustice said that the Government would not 'take risks' with food standards

The new Environment Secretary failed to confirm that the UK will ban the import of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef from the US.

George Eustice said the Government has “no plans” to change the rules on food standards, but did not explicitly rule it out despite being asked several times.

This is despite the unequivocal rejection of the controversial methods by his predecessor Theresa Villiers, who said the current ban on such products would remain in place post-Brexit.

Sale of meats manufactured this way is currently illegal under EU law, and environmental campaigners have previously expressed concern chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef could be sold in the UK in a trade deal with America.

But speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Eustice said: “We won’t make any moves on our standards. 

“We’ve got a clear position in this country that it is illegal to sell chlorine-washed chicken, illegal to sell beef treated with hormones. We’ve no plans to change those things.”

He further deflected concerns about chlorine washing, saying: “It’s not the case that the US currently uses chlorine-washed chicken anyway.”

Mr Eustice added: “I’m not quite sure why the US would make such demands because actually chlorine washes on chicken are very outdated technology and it’s not really used by the US anymore anyway. 

“What they tend to use these days are lactic acid washes.”

The Cabinet minister, who assumed the role after Ms Villiers was sacked in last week's reshuffle, also defended the Government’s record on animal welfare.

He said: “The important thing I would say is we believe very passionately in this country about our food standards and about our animal welfare standards. 

“We’ve worked very hard over the last 20 years to build quite a sophisticated market where there’s a lot of consumer confidence in the providence of our food and how it was produced and the safety of our food. 

“And we’re absolutely clear as a government we will not take risks with our food standards.

“When it comes to animal welfare we will be projecting our views on animal welfare on the international stage. 

“It’s the UK that’s been a world leader in animal welfare, particularly farmed animal welfare, and we want to bring the rest of the world along with us."

Eleanor Langford

Emmanuel Macron 'not sure' if a UK-EU trade deal can be struck this year

1 month 1 week ago
Emmanuel Macron
Mr Macron said the negotiations between the UK and the EU were likely to be "tense"

French President Emmanual Macron has said he’s “not sure” that an UK-EU trade deal can be reached by the end of the year.

And he added: “Anyway, it is going to become more tense because [the British] are very hard."

At a meeting in Paris with French fishermen on Saturday, Mr Macron also said fishing rights could be a sticking point in negotiations.

His comments come as the UK government is set to publish its mandate for trade negotiations later this week.

Boris Johnson has previously hinted a deal could be reached on fishing rights, but added: “British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.”

The UK’s full trading stance is expected to be made public and presented to Parliament on Thursday, according to the BBC. 

It is expected the government will call for a Canada-style free trade agreement, but this arrangement has been ruled out by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Meanwhile, Britain is claiming the EU is still confused over its approach to the upcoming negotiations.

A source close to the talks told The Telegraph: "On the UK side, progress has been remarkably smooth, with a clear decision-making framework in place and a sense of unity amongst ministers.

"By contrast, the EU seem divided, distracted by other issues like [the Elgin Marbles], instead of the important decisions on what our trading relationship will actually look like. 

“The new plan is for them to approve their mandate on February 25 but it’s anyone’s guess whether they will."

The second round of talks, led by Mr Barnier and the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, are set to start in Brussels on 2 March.

Eleanor Langford

Theresa May's former chief of staff condemns Number 10 over EU attack

1 month 2 weeks ago
Gavin Barwell
Gavin Barwell was Mrs May's chief of staff during her time as PM.

Theresa May's former chief of staff has criticised Number 10 after it accused the EU of reneging on its offer of a Canada-style trade deal with the UK after Brexit.

Gavin Barwell hit out after the official Downing Street Twitter account appeared to mock Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.

Mr Barnier has insisted that the UK cannot have a deal like the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which has been in place since 2017.

That's despite Boris Johnson saying that is what the UK is aiming for - and the European Commission appearing to previously confirm that such a deal was on the table.

In its tweet, the account said: "In 2017 the EU showed on their own slide that a Canada type FTA was the only available relationship for the UK. Now they say it’s not on offer after all. what’s changed?"

But in response, Lord Barwell tweeted: "Nothing has changed. The EU has always said an FTA with the UK would need greater level playing field provisions than CETA because of the UK's geographic proximity and the interdependence of the two economies. See para 77 of the Political Declaration this Government agreed."

His comments came as another EU official insisted that the UK will not be able to strike a Canada-style deal with Brussels.

Stefaan De Rynck, an adviser to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, warned the Government that the upcoming trade talks would be "a different ball game".

Speaking at the London School of Economics on Wednesday, he said: "Some in the UK now seem to want to become Canadians. But Dover is much closer to Calais than Ottawa is.

"Proximity matters, distance matters in trade. What also matters is the interconnectedness between our economies.

"So, in terms of zero tariff, zero quota access, this brings a lot of benefits to the UK economy and with benefits come obligations."

Earlier this week, David Frost, the UK's top Brexit negotiator, insisted the Government would not sign up to so-called "level playing field" provisions as the price of a trade deal with the EU.

Kevin Schofield
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47