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Leo Varadkar: EU will have the upper hand in post-Brexit trade talks with UK

2 hours 11 minutes ago
Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar is fighting for re-election in February.

The European Union will have the upper hand in post-Brexit talks with Britain, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has claimed.

The Irish premier said the EU had a "stronger team" going in to negotiations on the two sides' future relationship because of the bloc's larger population and ability to stay "united".

And he warned Boris Johnson against any attempt to secure a "piecemeal" trade agreement as the two sides thrash out a deal.

Mr Johnson is expected to spell out his negotiating objectives for the talks in the coming weeks, and has vowed not to extend the current transition period - where Britain will stay broadly aligned with EU rules - beyond the end of this year.

That promise tees up a race to secure a free trade deal with Brussels over the next 11 months, with Cabinet ministers already signalling that the UK will look to diverge from many EU rules and standards as it does so.

But Mr Varadkar, who is fighting his first election campaign as Taoiseach, warned the Prime Minister that he risked being outgunned in the talks.

He told the BBC: "I think the reality of the situation is that the European Union is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country. 

"And we have a population and a market of 450 million people. The UK, it's about 60. So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team? So long as we're united."

The EU has already signalled that divergence from the bloc's rules and standards in any future deal will come at the cost of reduced access to the EU's markets.

Ursula Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on a visit to London earlier this month: "The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be."

That view was echoed by Mr Varadkar, who said: "The final deal, the new relationship, will have to be comprehensive, and you know that's always the case with these kind of agreements."

He added: "When I hear people talking about 'piecemeal', it sounds a bit like 'cake and eat it'. 

"You know, 'let's have a trade deal in the areas where we have an advantage but not in the areas where we don't'.

"And that's not fair And that isn't something that will fly in Europe."

'UNDERESTIMATED'

Elsewhere in his BBC interview, the Taoiseach accused British politicians of having failed to understand Ireland's history and place in the EU during the fraught first phase of Brexit talks.

And he pinned the blame in part on the UK's "colonial" past.

He said of Ireland: "We really understand a lot about Britain, but I think a lot of British people don't understand a lot about Ireland, including your politicians,

"And that's what was very badly exposed I think during the whole Brexit process.

"A lot people in Britain underestimated the fact that European partners will stay by us. 

"You know, Britain has a very powerful history, a very colonial history. And I think there were people in Britain who thought that France, Germany and Britain would get together at a big summit and tell the small countries what's what.

"That's not the way the 21st century works - that's certainly not the way the European Union works."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Britain won't diverge from EU standards 'for the sake of it' after Brexit, says Stephen Barclay

22 hours 44 minutes ago
Steve Barclay
The Brexit Secretary said talks with the EU could mean a 'win-win' situation.

Britain will not diverge from European Union rules "for the sake of it" after leaving the bloc, according to the Brexit Secretary.

Stephen Barclay said the two sides would start from a "position of alignment" as they thrash out a host of agreements following Britain's departure.

His comments come after Chancellor Sajid Javid alarmed some businesses by saying there would "no alignment" with the EU after Brexit - and calling on firms to instead "adjust" to new regulations.

Mr Javid told the Financial Times: "There will be an impact on businesses one way or the other, some will benefit, some won’t."

But Mr Barclay - whose department is set to be abolished on 31 January when Britain leaves the EU - appeared to strike a softer tone in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr.

He said: "We're coming out of the single market. We're coming out of the customs union. We're not going to diverge just for the sake of it."

The Brexit Secretary added: "We need to look at where the opportunities are. But it is true that we are going to have control of our approach to regulation and that's the very essence of Brexit - is that we can do things differently.

"Particularly where for example, there's innovation, there's new technologies, there's things where we want to move quickly. So Brexit at its very core is that we will have control of our laws, our regulation and that is why we can't be a rule-taker. We need to have that opportunity."

European Union negotiators have already argued that any divergence from the bloc's rules and standards will come at the cost of reduced access to the EU's markets.

'WIN-WIN'

Ursula Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on a visit to London earlier this month: "Our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before.

"It will not be as close as before because with every choice comes a consequence. With every decision, comes a trade-off.

"Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.

"Without a level playing field on environment, labour and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market.

"The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be."

Some UK business groups have meanwhile warned that diverging from EU rules could hit the economy.

A letter sent to the Government late last year by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Chemical Industries Association, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industries, said a failure to sign up to so-called 'level playing field' arrangements with the EU after Brexit could pose a "serious risk to manufacturing competitiveness".

But Mr Barclay insisted that the two sides could agree to a "win-win" set of agreements, as he confirmed that Boris Johnson would set out his "objectives" for negotiations in a speech in the coming weeks.

"Both sides are committed through the political declaration to having a zero-tariffs, zero-quotas free trade agreement," he said.

The Cabinet minister added: "This isn't about one side winning, one side losing. It's in both side's interests to keep the flow of goods going."

And he said: "The key issue is that we will have control of our rules, we will not be a rule-taker.

"We will not diverge for the sake of diverging: we start from a position of alignment. But the key opportunity is that we will be able to set our standards high, standards on workers' rights, on the environment, on state aid, as part of that trade policy."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Don't 'rub our noses in it' with 'divisive' Brexit celebrations, top Remainer Lord Heseltine warns Boris Johnson

1 day 2 hours ago
Lord Heseltine
PA

Boris Johnson must not rub Remainers' "noses in it" with a raft of "unwise" celebrations on Brexit day, Lord Heseltine has warned.

The Tory peer, a longstanding campaigner for Britain to stay in the European Union, cautioned the Prime Minister against "celebrating" the defeat of his political opponents when the UK leaves the bloc at the end of January.

Mr Johnson has called on the country to "heal past divisions" over Brexit and confirmed plans for government buildings to be lit up in red, white and blue on Friday.

A light display including a countdown clock will also take place at Downing Street, while Chancellor Sajid Javid has confirmed that millions of commemorative 50p coins will be released.

The Prime Minister said: "No matter how you voted in 2016, it is the time to look ahead with confidence to the global, trail-blazing country we will become over the next decade and heal past divisions.

"That is what I will be doing on 31 January and I urge everyone across the UK to do the same."

But Lord Heseltine told The Observer: "Brexit is the most divisive issue of modern times. Those of us who fought to remain did so sincerely in the interests of our country and subsequent generations who we believe should be influential at the heart of Europe."

He added: "I think it is unwise of the Government to rub our noses in it by celebrating our defeat at this hour, whilst talking about unifying the country."

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey also joined in the criticism, and warned that the planned celebrations could prove divisive.

"The prime minister should be seeking to pull the country together, not gloat with an expensive party on the public purse," he said.

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford meanwhile told the paper: "It grieves me that we should be leaving the greatest postwar peace project ever created. That is not something we should be celebrating."

The Government's plans to mark Brexit day come after the Withdrawal Agreement Bill - formalising Britain's break with the EU - received Royal Assent after clearing its final parliamentary hurdle on Wednesday evening.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Sajid Javid confirms three million new Brexit coins will hit the streets from Friday

1 day 2 hours ago
Brexit coin
Around ten million coins will enter circulation by the end of the year

Millions of special 50p coins to mark the "turning point" of Brexit day will enter circulation on 31 January, the Chancellor has confirmed.

Around three million coins bearing the inscription “peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” and the date of 31 January are set to be released in an initial batch to mark the UK's departure.

Sajid Javid originally ordered the production of around a million coins in the same design for Britain's planned 31 October departure date last year.

But these had to be melted down by the Treasury when Brexit was delayed, with the metal set aside for the production of the current batch.

The coins were first proposed by Mr Javid’s precessory Philip Hammond to mark the original March 29, 2018 Brexit day. The then-chancellor had planned a limited batch of 10,000 coins. 

Mr Javid said: "Leaving the European Union is a turning point in our history and this coin marks the beginning of this new chapter.”

He also confirmed that a further seven million Brexit coins will enter circulation later this year. 

The Chancellor, who is also Master of the Mint, will present a coin from the very first batch to Boris Johnson this week.

Visitors to the Royal Mint will also be able to strike their own Brexit coin as part of a special event.

The European Parliament is expected to approve the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on Wednesday after it was signed by the Prime Minister and EU representatives last week.

Eleanor Langford

Boris Johnson heralds ‘new chapter in UK history’ after signing EU withdrawal agreement

2 days 15 hours ago
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson signed the Withdrawal Agreement formalising the UK's exit from the EU

Boris Johnson has heralded “a new chapter in our nation's history” after signing the official document which formalises the UK’s exit from the EU next Friday.

The Prime Minister put pen to paper on the Withdrawal Agreement, which goes back to Brussels ahead of Brexit day on January 31.

In a statement he said: “The signing of the Withdrawal Agreement is a fantastic moment, which finally delivers the result of the 2016 referendum and brings to an end far too many years of argument and division.

“We can now move forward as one country – with a Government focused upon delivering better public services, greater opportunity and unleashing the potential of every corner of our brilliant United Kingdom, while building a strong new relationship with the EU as friends and sovereign equals.”

The document had earlier been signed by the President of the European Council Charles Michel, and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen before being transported to London by EU and Foreign Office officials.

They, along with Downing Street staff including the PM’s chief negotiator David Frost witnessed the moment Mr Johnson put pen to paper in the anteroom outside the Cabinet Room in Downing Street.

It comes after his Brexit deal was turned into law when the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act was given Royal Assent on Thursday.

Mr Johnson said the country could now "move forwards as one United Kingdom" after the legislation passed through Parliament this week.

He said: "At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we've done it.

“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future."

Alain Tolhurst

Confirmed: UK will leave European Union on 31 January after Queen rubber-stamps Brexit Bill

3 days 17 hours ago
UK and EU flags
The Brexit bill has finally passed into law, paving the way for the UK's exit at 11pm on 31 January

The UK is guaranteed to leave the European Union after the Queen rubber-stamped the Prime Minister's Brexit Bill.

MPs were told that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill had received Royal Assent after clearing its final parliamentary hurdle on Wednesday evening.

The formal announcement was made in the Commons by deputy speaker Nigel Evans on Thursday, who told MPs: "I have to notify the House in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967 that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following act: European Union Withdrawal Agreement Act 2020."

It came after MPs voted to reject five amendments made to the WAB by peers, including Lord Dubs's attempt to ensure the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their families in the UK post-Brexit.

Mr Johnson said the country could now "move forwards as one" after "years of rancour" which brought repeated delays to the Brexit process, and forced former Prime Minister Theresa May from office.

The announcement, which comes three-and-a-half years after the country narrowly voted to leave the European Union, was also welcomed by the Department for Exiting the EU, which tweeted: "The Brexit act is now law. We are leaving on 31 January. We are getting it done."

Lawmakers in the European Parliament are due to give final approval to the agreement in a vote next Wednesday, but the result is expected to be a formality.

The UK's relationship with the bloc is set to remain unchanged during an 11 month transition period in which negotiators will thrash out details on the future relationship, including new agreements on security, trade and free movement.

But Mr Johnson has already rejected suggestions the transition period could be extended, despite concerns from European leaders that the tight schedule will not provide enough time to agree the new provisions.

Meanwhile, the formal announcement was met with anger from opposition MPs, with the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford saying the country now faced a "constitutional crisis".

"All three of the UK's devolved Parliaments refused to give their legislative consent for Boris Johnson's damaging Brexit agreement, and the UK government's decision to plough ahead in spite of this shows absolutely no regard for the devolution settlement," he said.

"Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and we did not vote for Boris Johnson's Tory government."

John Johnston

Tory MPs reject bid to help child refugees as Commons overturns Lords changes to Brexit Bill

4 days 21 hours ago
UK and EU flags
MPs have rejected amendments to the Brexit bill in a major boost for the PM

MPs have overturned a bid by a veteran Labour peer to let child refugees settle with their families in the UK.

In a major boost for Boris Johnson, MPs voted to reject five amendments to the flagship Withdrawal Agreement Bill formalising the UK's departure from the EU.

They included Lord Dubs's amendment calling on the Government to give greater protection to unaccompanied children coming to the UK.

But despite a last-minute plea by the peer for the Commons to back it, MPs voted by 342 to 254 to reject his plan.

It means the Brexit bill, which seeks to enshrine the UK's 31 January exit date into law, is likely to come into force unamended.

On Monday, peers had backed an amendment demanding EU citizens be given physical proof of their right to stay in the UK after Brexit - but MPs voted 338 to 252 to reject that move.

The Lords had inflicted two further defeats on measures related to EU court of justice rulings - rejected by the Commons 348 to 246 - and the independence of UK courts, which MPs voted 350 to 247 against.

A narrow Lords vote had also seen peers backing a commitment to the Sewel Convention, which orders Parliament not to legislate on devolved issues without the consent of devolved authorities. That was comfortably defeated in the Commons by 349 to 246 votes.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Brexit Minister Steve Barclay urged MPs to "resist" the amendments, saying in response to concerns over the child refugees: "I can only say again... that the Government's policy is unchanged, delivering on it will not require legislation.

"The Government has a proud record on supporting the most vulnerable children. The UK has granted protection to over 41,000 since the start of 2010."

Responding, Labour shadow Brexit minister, Thangnam Debbonaire, said: "I ask [MPs] opposite, and particularly those newly elected, do they really think this is what voters wanted? Their voters may have voted for Brexit and the opposition accepts that, but did they vote for the Government to break trust with the country on child refugees?"

She added: "This government has asked us to trust them, and on all of these matters, why should we need to rely on trust?"

The Brexit bill will now return to the House of Lords as part of the so-called "ping-pong" process, but is unlikely to face further amendments after the emphatic rejection of the changes by MPs.

The result on child refugees will come as a bitter blow to campaigners hoping to reinstate protections for unaccompanied minors that had been dumped from the latest version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

Writing for PoliticsHome ahead of the vote, Lord Dubs had urged MP to defy Boris Johnson and show "what they're made of" as he claimed public opinion was behind his plans.

"A petition requesting the government rethink its position on refugee children has been signed by almost a quarter of a million people and I met supporters in parliament square who had travelled from as far as Dewsbury and Devon to lend their voice," he wrote.

The Government has already committed to introducing new legislation within two months to protect the mechanism, which allows refugee children in one EU country to be reunited with relatives in another.

John Johnston

Boris Johnson hit by fresh Lords Brexit defeat as peers demand guarantees on child refugees

5 days 20 hours ago
Child refugees in Greece
The government have vowed to bring in further legislation to protect the rights of child migrants after Brexit

Boris Johnson has been handed a fresh defeat in the House of Lords after peers backed calls to reinstate protections for child refugees in his flagship Brexit bill.

Peers voted 300 to 220 to reintroduce measures into the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill which would ensure migrant children can continue to be reunited with relatives in the UK after it leaves the EU.

The family reunification protections were originally included in Theresa May's version of the key Brexit legislation, but were later dumped by Mr Johnson in the wake of his December election victory. The Government has insisted that it remains committed to guaranteeing their rights.

But the defeat on the amendment, drawn up by Labour peer and former child refugee Lord Dubs, is the fourth inflicted by peers on the Prime Minister's flagship Brexit bill, which seeks to enshrine the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January into law.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Lord Dubs said his amendment sought to ensure the "very simple and basic" mechanism, which allows children in one EU country to be reunited with relatives in another, would be retained after Brexit.

"It is a very simple point, and I would have thought family reunion is one of the basic things that we would all have to believe in," he told peers.

"If young people have worked their way, sometimes in hazardous and dangerous conditions, from half-way across the world, from war and conflict in Syria or Afghanistan.

"And if their incentive is they have family here, surely it is right we should take note of that and not close the door on them."

'SHOCKING'

The Government has already pledged to introduce further legislation to ensure the protections, and has argued that including the measures in the Brexit bill could tie their hands in future negotiations with the bloc.

Responding to the debate, Home Office minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, said the government had already given a "statutory guarantee" to set out their new policy on child refugees within two months of the UK's exit date as she urged peers not to back the amendment.

She added: "This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide scrutiny."

But Lord Dubs dimissed the assurances, saying he found it hard to trust the Government and accused them of "seeking to delete" the protections.

The Labour peer, who was forced to flee from Nazi Germany as a young boy, said refugee children had been left in "shocking" conditions in migrant camps in Greece and northern France where they were at risk of sexual assualt or violence.

And he added that the debate on reunification risked sending a "dangerous signal" to young people who would be forced to continue paying traffickers to smuggle them into the country.

"By giving young people legal routes to safety, we are thwarting the traffickers as well as being humane in terms of giving them an opportunity to join family members here," he said.

The amendment will now go back before MPs, where the Conservative-majority Commons could strike out the changes imposed by the Lords.

A previous attempt by Labour to amend the bill in the Commons was defeated by 348 votes to 252 earlier this month.

John Johnston

Blow for Boris Johnson as government loses three Lords votes on flagship Brexit Bill

6 days 16 hours ago
EU and UK flags
The UK will leave the European Union on 31 January.

Boris Johnson has suffered a major blow after peers inflicted three defeats on the Government's flagship Brexit Bill.

The House of Lords defied the Prime Minister by passing three amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will bring the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January into law.

And the Government is braced for another loss on Tuesday, when peers are expected to back a fourth amendment in the name of Lord Dubs calling on ministers to allow refugee children to settle with family members in the UK.

However, the Commons - where the Conservatives have an 80-seat majority - will have the chance to overturn all of the amendments when the WAB returns there on Wednesday.

Peers inflicted Mr Johnson's first parliamentary defeat since being re-elected last month by voting 270-229 in favour of calls to give EU citizens physical proof of their right to stay in the UK after Brexit.

Supporters of the amendment said European citizens needed documentary evidence to show to landlords, employers or others in positions of authority that they have the legal right to live in the UK.

But the Government said physical proof was unnecessary and rejected their demands.

Lib Dem peer Lord Oates, one of those behind the move, said: "This really is not a complicated issue. There are millions of EU, EEA (European Economic Area) and Swiss national citizens who are desperately concerned and who are asking for physical proof.

"We have a system of permanent residency in this country for non-EU citizens. One of them, my husband, has in his passport a Home Office sticker which gives him permanent leave to remain. That is physical proof.

"We just need the same scheme. But the complication about having a system where there is no physical proof is that landlords, employers or others who may be used to having that physical proof may well not accept or find it diffcult to deal with people who don't."

 Labour peer Lord McNnicol said: "The Government has made a rod for its own back on this non-contentious issue, when it should have been listening to the sensible solutions from around the House of Lords.

"I hope ministers take this defeat on the chin and find a way of accommodating our amendment to give people the reassurance they need."

The Government's second defeat came when peers voted 241-205 to remove ministers' power to decide by secondary legislation which courts and tribunals can depart from judgments of the European Court of Justice.

Remarkably, the third defeat was on an amendment by Tory peer Lord Mackay which would allow procedure to be initiated in any UK court and result in authoritative decision without any interference with the independence of judiciary.

Despite the government defeats, the WAB is expected to receive Royal Assent on Thursday, paving the way for the UK to leave the EU at the end of the month.

 

Kevin Schofield

Guy Verhofstadt says Britain rejoining the EU 'will happen in the coming decades'

1 week 2 days ago
Guy Verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt is the European Parliament's Brexit Coordinator

Guy Verhofstadt suggested that the UK could rejoin the EU in the next few decades as young voters will demand it. 

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief said future generations may regret the country’s decision to leave. 

He said: “I think that will happen, yes. It’s difficult to say when actually but there will be a generation, a young generation in the coming decades who will say, ‘what have we done, we want to go back.’”

“It will happen. Maybe I will not see it in my life anymore, but it will happen."

The former Belgian prime minister was responding to comments made by British MEP Seb Dance on the country’s final day in the European Parliament.

The Labour MEP tweeted: “One day British MEPs will get to sit here again and represent our interests and work with our neighbours to solve common problems. Britain is taking a sabbatical.”

Mr Verhofstadt also discussed the UK’s upcoming trade negotiations with the EU, suggesting that it would be “very difficult” to reach a deal.

He said: “I think both sides have an interest to be very ambitious, but how far this will go is very difficult to say today becuase it will depend on what the willingness is of the UK side to comply with a number of standards in the EU.”

A number of other issues such as security measures, defence strategy and foreign policy also needed to be discussed, he added. 

But, the EU’s Brexit chief said that it was “obvious” that the EU needed a close relationship with the UK.

He also touched upon the rights of EU citizens, which he had discussed in a meeting with Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Thursday evening. 

Mr Verhofstadt said he’d had “assurances” from Mr Barclay that there would not be mandatory deportation of rightful citizens who had not applied for settled status by the deadline.

EU citizens would also soon be given a “physical document” to prove their settled status, he added.

Eleanor Langford

EU commissioner tells Boris Johnson trade deal ‘just not possible’ by end of 2020

1 week 3 days ago
Phil Hogan
EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan said the UK is 'certainly' not going to get a Brexit deal this year

Agreeing a free trade deal between the UK and Brussels by the end of 2020 is "just not possible", according to a senior EU official.

Phil Hogan, the EU's trade commissioner, said the two sides were "certainly" not going to be able to meet Boris Johnson’s ambition of having a comprehensive agreement in place by the deadline of 31 December.

And he warned the UK not to engage in “brinkmanship” during the second phase of talks, saying those tactics “are not going to work on this occasion”.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said the UK will not ask the EU for an extension to the post-Brexit transition period, which runs out at the end of 2020.

The Prime Minister reinforced the point during face-to-face talks with new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Downing Street last week.

But Mr Hogan said Ms von der Leyen came away from the summit thinking "we have to prioritise" on aspects of the agreement, rather than try and get a full deal within 12 months.

Speaking to former Labour Cabinet minister Lord Mandelson at an event in London, he  said: "Certainly by the end of the year we are not going to get everything that's in the 36-page document on the future relationship agreed because Prime Minister Johnson decided we are going to have everything concluded by the end of the year.

"It's just not possible. Especially if we have to make a decision about the transition by July 1."

The commissioner added that the EU was "certainly open to suggestions" on how to manage the situation politically, but the "wisest thing" would be to not set deadlines.

He added: “We need to wake up to this reality that gamesmanship and brinkmanship are not going to work on this occasion.

“If you want to do a deal together I wish you well, but I’m hearing messages from the various players in this town that it won’t be as easy as the United Kingdom and the United States think, certainly it won’t be as easy as the United Kingdom thinks for the United Kingdom to strike a deal that actually meets the objectives of the administration here.”

In response a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: “The Political Declaration is an agreement by us and the EU to meet that timescale.

"The Prime Minister has been clear on this throughout, there will be no extension to that.”

Alain Tolhurst

EXCL Overseas Territories should join UK and send MPs to Westminster, says former minister

1 week 4 days ago
Gibraltar is one of 14 British Overseas Territories
Gibraltar is one of 14 British Overseas Territories

The British Overseas Territories should be invited to become equal members of the United Kingdom after Brexit, according to a former Conservative minister.

In an interview with The House magazine, John Penrose said the likes of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands should also send MPs to represent them at Westminster.

The MP for Weston-super-Mare, who served under both David Cameron and Theresa May, said it would show that the UK was "committed to being a global nation post-Brexit".

Britain has 14 Overseas Territories which are fully autonomous while remaining under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the UK.

As well as Gibraltar and the Falklands, they also include Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat.

Mr Penrose said: "What I am suggesting is they should be at least offered the chance to have an equivalent kind of devolution settlement that has already been agreed and negotiated with Scotland, with Wales and Northern Ireland.".

The Overseas Territories would then become “equal elements” of the UK with the “same status” as Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, he continued.

“They would send MPs to the Westminster parliament here, they would have their own devolved governments like the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, but it would just mean that it would be constitutionally stable, properly integrated, modern status for these overseas territories.

“It would show that we are committed to being a global nation post-Brexit.”

Mr Penrose argued the proposals would provide more “constitutional stability” surrounding the Overseas Territories, with the UK currently in dispute over Gibraltar with Spain and the Chagos Islands with Mauritius.

“Until we have a stable settlement, there is always going to be a risk of something blowing up,” he said.

The former Northern Ireland minister denied the move would be a return to Britain’s imperialist past.

He said: “People might make that argument but because we are offering and suggesting that these territories become equal parts of the United Kingdom, it’s hard to make an imperialist argument about this at all. It is clearly something that is talking about equal status.”

Mr Penrose said it would depend on the devolution settlement as to whether the Overseas Territories, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, are subject to the same tax regime as the rest of the UK.

And he argued it would present opportunities for the Overseas Territories to export goods, such as lobsters from Tristan da Cunha, into the UK internal market with fewer restrictions.

“It just makes the trading ties and links between our respective parts of the UK a great deal simpler, a great deal more friction-free,” he said.

A spokesperson for the UK Overseas Territories Association says: “We are unaware of any formal consultation with the elected Governments of the UK Overseas Territories on this issue.”

Sebastian Whale

John Penrose: Invite the Overseas Territories to join the UK post-Brexit

1 week 4 days ago
Gibraltar is one of 14 British Overseas Territories
Gibraltar is one of 14 British Overseas Territories

The Tories are in a commanding position to address the many outstanding issues that have accumulated over the past few years. From boundary reforms to a bold offer to the Overseas Territories, former minister John Penrose has plenty of ideas for how his party can make the most of its newly acquired power. The MP talks to Sebastian Whale

A sizeable majority opens many doors. With malcontents in the Commons somewhat impotent after the heady days of a hung parliament, the Conservative government can expect to get its business through with considerable confidence. For John Penrose, channelling his inner George Osborne, this presents an opportunity to “fix the roof while the sun is shining”.

What does this mean in practice? Penrose, the MP for Weston-Super-Mare since 2005, wants to address some outstanding issues. They range from abolishing the Fixed-Term Parliament Act (FTPA) or amending the legislation so that more than 50% of MPs are required to support an election for one to take place, as opposed to two-thirds. Conversely, he argues changes to standing orders should require the backing of two-thirds of the Commons to ensure they receive cross-party consent. Weary from the actions of former speaker John Bercow, he also proposes a consent mechanism be introduced if a chair wishes to interpret standing orders in a new way.

“It is far, far better to do this now when there isn’t contention,” he tells me over coffee in Portcullis House. The Tories pledged to abolish the FTPA in their election manifesto.

Penrose, the Prime minister’s anti-corruption tsar, is also leading the charge on another Conservative bugbear. Over the festive period, he helped coordinate a letter to Boris Johnson, published in the Sunday Telegraph, calling for changes to parliamentary constituency boundaries to be made “as fast as possible”. Penrose and five fellow Tories, including Liam Fox, Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Sir Graham Brady, argue the current system, which sees discrepancies in the sizes of constituencies, is unfair.

Parliament approved the principle of reducing the number of MPs back in 2011, but successive governments have stalled over implementation. In September 2018, the Boundary Commission published final recommendations for a new electoral map that saw the number of MPs cut from 650 to 600 and constituencies made more equal in size, with voters ranging from 71,031 to 78,507 per seat.

Due to opposition from rival parties, the Tories have not been in a position to get the reforms over the line. But with 365 Conservative MPs on the green benches, the party has the political space to revisit the proposals. Downing St has signalled that it is prepared to follow through.

Rather than get hung up on whether MPs reduce in overall number, Penrose argues addressing constituency discrepancies is the number one priority. “The crucial thing, and this is important for democratic legitimacy, is the equalisation,” he says.

Penrose believes that the stakes are markedly high. “We are at a time where populists are making hay right the way through western democracies. Any hint of democratic illegitimacy is extremely dangerous. The problem that we face is that there are huge unjustifiable variations in the size of constituencies and, therefore, in the value of your vote versus mine depending on where you happen to live.”

According to analysis by Electoral Calculus, under the proposed changes the Tories would have secured a majority of 104 at the election. Could pursuing the reforms appear to the average voter like gerrymandering? “I would respectfully but strongly refute that argument. Gerrymandering is creating an unfairness. Gerrymandering is not eliminating an unfairness which is what this is. It’s about legitimacy,” replies Penrose.

 “We are at a time where populists are making hay right the way through western democracies. Any hint of democratic illegitimacy is extremely dangerous"

Given the UK stuck by its first-past-the-post electoral system in the 2011 AV referendum, Penrose says work must be done to ensure it is “as legitimate as possible”. While stressing he has no personal preference, he warns MPs that they would need to consider the optics of voting to keep the number of MPs at 650 – and thus at greater cost to the taxpayer – following the “slap in the face” that was delivered to the political class at the election. As for those whose seat may disappear under the new electoral map, Penrose says the overall number of MPs makes little difference.

With the UK embarking on a new life outside of the European Union, Penrose, who voted Remain, wants to convey that Brexit does not equate to pulling up the drawbridge. As a gesture in this direction, the former Northern Ireland minister proposes offering Overseas Territories the opportunity to become fully-fledged members of the UK.  “That means that they are no longer captives of a history which started off originally with the empire but instead they are an equal part of the rest of the United Kingdom,” he explains. 

Penrose argues that the Overseas Territories, which include Gibraltar, Bermuda and Anguilla, should be given the chance to negotiate an equivalent devolution settlement to those arranged with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and have representation in parliament.

“They would send MPs to the Westminster parliament here, they would have their own devolved governments like the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament,” he says. “It would show that we are committed to being a global nation post-Brexit.” 

Britain has 14 Overseas Territories which are fully autonomous while remaining under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the UK. Penrose says it would be up to the individual Overseas Territories as to how they secured consent for joining. “The important thing is there should be an open-handed, generous-hearted offer on the table for as many of them that want to pick it up,” he says.

He argues it would depend on the devolution settlement as to whether the Overseas Territories, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands – renowned tax havens – are subject to the same tax regime as the rest of the UK. And he says that it would present opportunities for the Overseas Territories to export goods, such as lobsters from Tristan da Cunha, into the UK internal market with fewer restrictions. “It just makes the trading ties and links between our respective parts of the UK a great deal simpler, a great deal more friction-free,” he says.

The UK already has disputes over some Overseas Territories, including Gibraltar with Spain, the Falkland Islands with Argentina and the Chagos Islands with Mauritius. Penrose argues his idea could provide clarity. “If you haven’t regularised and created a stable settlement of the one I’m describing, there is always a risk that somewhere around the globe some sort of geopolitical, tectonic plate will shift.” He adds: “Until we have a stable settlement, there is always going to be a risk of something blowing up.”

Does Penrose envisage this proposal solving the vexed issue of Gibraltar as the UK prepares to look at the future relationship with the EU? “If Gibraltar wanted to do it and we made the offer, then that would be what would go ahead,” he replies. Though he is quick to dampen fears about war with Spain, he adds: “Gibraltar is one example, but there are other Overseas Territories where you will need to mount a carefully diplomatic push to make sure that the neighbours understood what we were doing, why we were doing it, why they shouldn’t feel threatened by it and see it as an opportunity. The crucial thing, of course, is local self-determination, local consent. It’s got to be their choice.”

Penrose is keen to stress that this would not be a return to Britain’s imperialist past. But after leaving a 28-member bloc, would it not look like empire re-building?  “No, I don’t think it does,” he says. “People might make that argument but because we are offering and suggesting that these territories become equal parts of the United Kingdom, it’s hard to make an imperialist argument about this at all. It is clearly something that is talking about equal status.”

It remains to be seen whether this is a proposal currently being considered in No 10. A spokesperson for the UK Overseas Territories Association says: “We are unaware of any formal consultation with the elected Governments of the UK Overseas Territories on this issue.”

Penrose was at home in an “exhausted heap” when the exit poll landed on Thursday 12 December. After the initial joy ebbed away, thoughts turned to the task at hand.  “When it came out, it was a combination of elation and relief, I’ve got to say. But also, quickly followed up by a pretty sobering realisation that, alright, we have now got to deliver,” he says.

Sebastian Whale

Lib Dem peer compares post-Brexit Britain to Nazi Germany during Lords debate

1 week 5 days ago
Lord Greaves
Lord Greaves said people were feeling a "sense of loss that is akin to bereavement" following the Brexit vote.

A Liberal Democrat peer compared post-Brexit Britain to Nazi Germany during a debate on Boris Johnson's Brexit plans.

Lord Greaves said he was concerned EU nationals could face treatment "reminiscent" of 1930's Germany as he urged the Government to do more to combat "hostility" after the UK’s exit from the bloc.

The controversial comments came as peers debated amendments to Boris Johnson's Withdrawal Bill, which seeks to cement 31 January as the UK's official exit date from the European Union.

Speaking in the upper chamber he said: "I am fearful on the 31st January that some things may happen in some places which could be reminiscent of things happening in Germany in the early 1930s.

"I am worried because there is that sentiment among a hostility minority of the population and I'd like to know what the government is trying to stop this happening."

Lord Greaves also hit out at "unfeeling hard-headed Tories" as he claimed the Brexit debate had caused "very serious wounds" in the country.

"People are moaning, people are crying at night when they go to sleep, they are crying in the morning when they wake up," he added.

"And all they get from the unfeeling hard headed Tories is moans. They are feeling a sense of loss that is akin to bereavement and a grieving process has only just begun."

But Labour peer Lord Grocott said the comments left him "reeling", adding: "He's just made a comparison...between Britain on Febraury 1st this year, and Nazi Germany in 1933....that seems to be stretching the point just a bit."

Lord Greaves then defended his remarks, saying some European citizens were now afraid to go into shops because of their accents.

"The day after the referendum, people had their windows put in, people were abused in the street, paint was daubed on people's houses, that kind of thing," he said.

"All I know is that talking to EU citizens here, I know people who are reluctant to go into shops now if they are not known in those ships because of their accent, and the attitude that people might have towards them."

And he said the behaviour was "widespread but not very frequent", adding: "I am very worried that on the 1st February and 2nd February there will be a wave of this kind of thing."

John Johnston

Boris Johnson calls on the public to pay for Big Ben to bong for Brexit

1 week 6 days ago
Houses of Parliament
It would cost £500,000 to restore the bong in Big Ben to chime on 31 January

Boris Johnson is planning a huge fundraising drive so that Big Ben can chime at the moment the UK leaves the EU, he has revealed.

The Prime Minister said he wanted the public to "bung a bob for a Big Ben bong" at 11pm on 31 January.

The iconic clock tower is currently silent for restoration work, and the cost of bringing it back for a one-off occasion is estimated at £500,000, Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast.

Pro-Brexit Tory MP Mark Francois has called for the bell to chime at the moment the UK officially leaves the EU, although it had been thought that the Government did not support it.

But Mr Johnson said: "We’re working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong, because everybody knows Big Ben is being refurbished, they’ve seemed to have taken away the clapper away.

"So we need to restore the clapper in order to bong Big Ben on Brexit night.

"That is expensive so we’re looking at whether people might want...we’re looking at how we can fund it."

The House of Commons Commission discussed funding the move on Monday but ruled it out for financial and logistical reasons. 

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Johnson suggested he now supports scrapping the existing Iran nuclear deal and replacing it with one negotiated by Donald Trump.

It comes amid pressure from the US President, who has called on the UK to join America in withdrawing from the so-called JCPOA.

"My point to our American friends are look, somehow or other we’ve got to stop the Iranians requiring a nuclear weapon, that’s what the JCPOA does. But if we’re going to get rid of it we need a replacement.

“The problem with the JCPOA..from the American perspective it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama. 

“If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it with the Trump deal and I think that would be a great way forward.”

The Prime Minister meanwhile stayed tight-lipped over the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to quit being senior Royals, and whether press coverage of Meghan Markle had 'colonial undertones'.  

He said: “The Royal family is a fantastic asset for this country, I am absolutely confident they’re going to sort this out. And do you know what I think they’ll be able to sort it out easier without any particular commentary from me.”

Anahita Hossein-Pour

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal 'bad for the Union and economy', says Theresa May's former top aide

1 week 6 days ago
Gavin Barwell
Gavin Barwell was Theresa May's chief of staff for two years.

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is "bad for our Union and for our economy", Theresa May's former top aide has declared.

Gavin Barwell, who was the former Prime Minister's chief of staff for two years, also warned there was no chance of the Government agreeing a new trade deal with the EU by the end of the year.

He spoke out as he made his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

Peers are debating the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will put the UK's departure from the EU into law.

Mr Johnson managed to renegotiate the deal which had been previously agreed with Brussels when Mrs May was still in Number 10.

The biggest change will see customs checks carried out on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, effectively putting a border in the Irish Sea.

The new-look deal also makes clear the UK will have a more distant economic relationship with the EU after Brexit, something Lord Barwell said was "akin to Canada's" trading arrangement with the bloc.

He said: "I regret ... these changes - I believe they are bad for our Union and for our economy.

"However, I believe the referendum result must be implemented. People have waited too long already, and having spent two years telling people they needed to compromise to achieve that, I need to take my own advice."

The former MP also hit out at the PM's insistence that the post-Brexit implementation period, during which the UK will still follow the EU's rules, must end at the end of this year.

He said: "I understand why the Government doesn't want to extend the implementation period, but there simply isn't time to negotiate the entire future relationship, have it ratified by national parliaments and for business to prepare to implement it in 11 months.

"As (European Commission) President von der Leyen has said, we are going to have to prioritise.

"The main risk is not no deal, it is a very basic initial deal. It is in our interests for everything to be decided in one go because the moment that is no longer the case, we risk getting into a repeat of the divorce negotiations, where the EU ensured its three priorities were dealt with first."

However, Lord Barwell also called on the EU to compromise with the UK, adding: "History will judge us both badly if we get this wrong."

Kevin Schofield

Labour leadership hopeful Clive Lewis says 'element of racism' helped cause Brexit

2 weeks ago
Clive Lewis MP
The Labour leadership contender said 'unsavoury' elements had contributed to Brexit.

"An element of racism" lay behind Britain's push to leave the European Union, Clive Lewis has said.

The Labour frontbencher - who is among those vying to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as party leader - said that while he did not believe "every single person that voted for Brexit is a racist", there were "very unsavoury" drivers behind the vote to quit the bloc.

"I think part of the Brexit campaign and part of the undertone of Brexit from some politicians, Nigel Farage and others, had racism at its core, at its heart," he told Sky News' Sophy Ridge.

Mr Lewis added: "I think for anyone to say there was not an element of racism in the Brexit project as an endeavour were basically wrong… 

"Now that doesn’t mean that every single person that voted for Brexit is a racist. Some of my family voted for Brexit. 

"But I think there were drivers within that campaign that certainly were very unsavoury and what I would call racist."

Mr Lewis - who on Sunday launched his manifesto for the leadership contest - has so far struggled to scoop up the 22 nominations needed to make it through to the next round of the contest.

The Labour MP, who is half-Grenadian, also urged his parliamentary colleagues to tackle "structural sexism" and "structural racism" in the party as he was pressed on the reason for his lack of support.

He said: "Do I think if you go to the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and speak to the members they are overtly sexist? No, I don’t, plus I don’t believe they are overtly racist but these issues, these things run through our society."

Mr Lewis added: "I have never said that it is because of my colour that I am not being nominated by my parliamentary colleagues but what I was saying is if you want to understand why we haven’t had a woman, why we haven’t had a person of colour as leader of the Labour party then we have to look at the entirety of the issue which is that those structural issues do exist."

The latest total of MP nominations show that the shadow minister has the backing of four colleagues, with his nearest rival Emily Thornberry scooping ten.

Frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer has 68 Labour MPs on board, followed by Rebecca Long-Bailey on 26, Lisa Nandy on 24 and Jess Phillips on 22.

Mr Lewis said: "Clearly I wish my mum could nominate me as well, that would be fantastic wouldn’t it?  But it’s not quite in the rules.  

"Look, it’s hard and I think some of the things that I’m saying aren’t necessarily things which everyone after a devastating defeat want to hear but the reality is that unless we transform ourselves as a party, transform how we organise, transform the culture of our party, stop the tribalism within our party, we won’t be able to win in the next five years."

The Labour leadership contender, who has described himself as a republican, also floated plans for a referendum on the monarchy, arguing that it would help give "people a real say over the kind of country they want to live in".

"I think we’ve seen this week there is a great love for the Royal Family in this country but there are also I think some concerns about how it will go forward into the future," he said.

'SHARP POLICY IDEAS'

Mr Lewis's manifesto - dubbed 'Transform to Win' - urges the party to scrap the House of Lords, introduce proportional representation, and hand "maximum devolution" to Scotland and Wales in a bid to help the party reconnect with voters.

It meanwhile floats open selections for all candidates in the party, a new "independent complaints function" to help it tackle racism and sexism complaints, and a major shake-up of the party's ruling National Executive Committee to make its running more transparent.

Launching the document, Mr Lewis said: "So far, this leadership election has been dominated by questions of factionalism and sectarianism. 

"I’d rather it be dominated by sharp policy ideas that map out a clear and credible route back to government. I call on my fellow leadership candidates to share with us the ideas they would implement if they were elected as leader."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

EU will 'not be rushed' into agreeing post-Brexit deals with Boris Johnson, Irish deputy PM warns

2 weeks ago
Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney is Ireland's deputy prime minister.

The European Union will "not be rushed" into signing off on post-Brexit agreements with Britain despite a UK law setting a fixed deadline on the talks, Ireland's deputy prime minister has warned.

The Tánaiste cast fresh doubt on Mr Johnson's "ambitious" vow not to extend the existing Brexit transition period, in which the UK will stay aligned to EU rules, beyond 31 December this year.

The Conservative manifesto commits the Prime Minister to the end-of-year deadline, teeing up a race to secure deals with the EU on areas including trade, security and aviation.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed by MPs this week enshrined in British law the commitment not to extend the so-called 'implementation period' December 2020 - meaning UK and EU negotiators will have just 11 months to negotiate fresh agreements.

Mr Coveney said that while the fixed deadline was "a matter for Boris Johnson", the EU would not be bumped into agreeing pacts with the UK to suit its timeframe.

"When people talk about the future relationship in the UK in particular they seem to only talk about a future trade agreement," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr.

"Actually, there's much more to this than that."

"There's fishing, there's aviation, there's data. And there's so many other things."

He added: "I know that Prime Minister Johnson has set a very ambitious timetable to get this done, he's even put it into British law. But just because a British Parliament decides that British law says something, doesn't mean that that law applies to the other 27 countries of the European Union. 

"And so the European Union will approach this on the basis of getting the best deal possible, a fair and balanced deal to ensure that the UK and the EU can interact as friends in the future. But the EU will not be rushed on this just because Britain passes laws."

But Security Minister Brandon Lewis insisted it was an "achievable" aim to get an over-arching post-Brexit agreement signed off before Britain leaves the EU transition period at the end of 2020.

He told the same programme: "Let’s remember we are talking about a prime minister where people said we couldn’t reopen the Withdrawal Agreement - he did that in under a hundred days, got a new agreement. 

"[People] said we couldn’t get it through parliament, we got the General Election, got a majority and just this week we had that vote, we are leaving the European Union."

'FRIENDS'

The Irish deputy PM also urged British politicians to ignore calls to adopt the "language of enemies not friends" as the two sides thrash out a post-Brexit relationship.

He warned: "Both sides in this negotiation, in the next stage of Brexit, have a vested interest in working together, not to try and outmanoeuvre each other. 

"We need to put in place, from a trade perspective, a deal that respects the fact that the EU has got to insist on equivalence and a level playing field if there's going to be free trade in the future. And the UK also has its interests in terms of the relationship it wants to develop with other parts of the world taken into account as well."

Mr Coveney's comments come after the first face-to-face talks between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen, the newly-elected President of the European Commission.

Ms von der Leyen used a trip to the UK this week - where she held discussions with Mr Johnson at Number 10 - to argue that it would be "basically impossible to negotiate all" elements of the two sides' future relationship by the December deadline.

And she warned: "Our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before.

"It will not be as close as before because with every choice comes a consequence. With every decision, comes a trade-off.

"Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.

"Without a level playing field on environment, labour and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market.

"The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be." 

But a Downing Street spokesperson said Mr Johnson had urged the EU chief to kick off talks "on the future partnership and Canada-style FTA [Free Trade Agreement] as soon as possible after January 31".

They added: "The PM was clear that the UK would not extend the Implementation Period beyond 31 December 2020; and that any future partnership must not involve any kind of alignment or ECJ [European Court of Justice] jurisdiction. He said the UK would also maintain control of UK fishing waters and our immigration system."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

Harry Dunn death: US brands UK extradition request ‘highly inappropriate’

2 weeks 2 days ago
Harry Dunn family
Harry Dunn's family praised the move as a 'huge step forward'

The Home Office’s extradition request for the wife of a US intelligence officer, charged with death by dangerous driving, has been branded “highly inappropriate” by US officials. 

Anne Sacoolas, who has previously insisted she will not return to the UK voluntarily, was charged in connection with the death of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old motorcyclist. 

Dunn died after his motorbike collided with a car outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August last year. 

The suspect claimed diplomatic immunity shortly after the incident and was able to return to the US, sparking international controversy. 

A Home Office spokesman said on Friday: “This is now a decision for the US authorities.” 

However, the US state department deemed the request “highly inappropriate”, adding: “The use of an extradition treaty to attempt to return the spouse of a former diplomat by force would establish an extraordinarily troubling precedent.” 

A spokesman for Dunn’s family hailed the move as “a huge step towards achieving justice for Harry and making good on the promise that they made to him on the night he died that they would secure justice for him”. 

State department officials are determining whether or not they believe the extradition request to be “in proper order”, before it is handed over to the department of justice and the US courts.

Boris Johnson had previously said he did not "think it can be right" for the system to be used in this way.

He added: "I hope Anne Sacoolas will come back and engage properly with the processes of law as they are carried out in this country."

 

Boris Johnson had previously said he did not "think it can be right" for the system to be used in this way.

 

He added: "I hope Anne Sacoolas will come back and engage properly with the processes of law as they are carried out in this country."

Matt Honeycombe-Foster

MPs finally back law which will take the UK out of the European Union on 31 January

2 weeks 3 days ago
UK and EU flags
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill has finally cleared all of its Commons hurdles.

The UK's departure from the European Union has taken another major step forward after MPs finally gave approval to Boris Johnson's Brexit plans.

The Commons voted 330 to 231  to approve the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at its third reading, putting an end to months of late night votes and government defeats.

Although the draft legislation still needs to be approved by the House of Lords, it means the UK will definitely leave the European Union on 31 January, over 10 months after the original 29 March 2019 exit date.

Speaking before the vote, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: "The Prime Minister obviously made it a priority after winning a majority to get Brexit done and to move the country forward, and securing the legislation's passage through the Commons is a signficant positive step for deliver that."

Winding up the debate on the bill, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said: "This evening the bill will pass to the other place with a very clear mandate from this House that now is the time to move forwards.

"I anticipate constructive scrutiny as we would expect from the other place but I have no doubt that their lordships will have heard the resounding message from the British people on 12 December and they will have seen the clear will of this House.

"This bill will secure our departure from the European Union with a deal that gives certainty to businesses, protects the rights of our citizens and ensures that we regain control of our money, our borders, our laws and our trade policy."

Labour voted against the bill, and shadow Brexit minister Thangam Debbonaire said: "We will focus entirely on voting against the entire bill at third reading and no that’s not voting against Brexit ,it’s voting against this bill.

"To all the members opposite who think they’re about to vote to get Brexit done they must know what lies ahead...they know they must know that trade negotiations take time. They must know even if we are in alignment now the Government stated intention is to diverge and so be in no doubt trade negotiations will take longer than the precious few months that they've allowed."

Unless there is a significant challenge from peers it is likely the bill will receive Royal Assent on 22 January, before the European Parliament ratifies the deal on 29 January.

The thumping 99-vote majority for Mr Johnson's deal comes after Theresa May was dealt three crushing Commons defeats on her Brexit proposals, leading to a series of delays and her eventual resignation.

In October, Mr Johnson won a slim 30 vote majority for his Brexit plans, but chose not to proceed with the process after MPs rejected his three-day timetable for passing the legislation through Parliament.

He used the defeat to press for the December election in which he vowed to deliver the UK's exit by the end of January.

The legislation passed by MPs has also enshrined in law the commitment not to extend the post-Brexit transition period beyond December 2020, meaning UK and EU negotiators will have just 11 months to negotiate a new trade deal.

But the move was criticised by newly appointed European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen, who described the timetable as "very, very tight".

Speaking ahead of talks with the Mr Johnson earlier this week, she said: "Without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership. We will have to prioritise."

John Johnston
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47