The divisions among senior Tories over Brexit were laid bare on Sunday as government ministers contradicted each other on vital details within minutes. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, and Dominic Raab, the housing minister, offered drastically different predictions of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union. Ms Rudd said the UK should remain in some form of customs arrangement with the bloc – a view she suggested was shared by Theresa May. However, Mr Raab, a Brexiteer, said he did not think Britain would be part of any kind of customs union after Brexit.
Ministers are preparing a Brexit compromise aimed at ending the increasingly acrimonious row in the Conservative Party over whether Britain stays in the EU’s customs union. The 11-strong Brexit “war cabinet” will meet on Wednesday and Thursday to try to break the 19-month deadlock over the country’s relationship with the European Union after it leaves the bloc. Fractious public exchanges between pro-Remain ministers and Brexiteers continued yesterday when Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and Dominic Raab, the housing minister, appeared at odds on a future trading relationship.
Downing Street has insisted that Britain will “categorically” leave the customs union as a crucial week of Brexit negotiations begins both with the EU and inside the Cabinet. Seeking to calm the fears of some backbench critics who have accused Chancellor Philip Hammond of seeking to pursue his own policy aimed at keeping Britain as closely aligned as possible with the EU, a No 10 source said last night: “It is not our policy to be in the customs union.” The source said they would be seeking an “arrangement” with the EU to ensure trade remained as “frictionless” as possible after Brexit.
Theresa May has categorically ruled out keeping Britain in any form of customs union with the EU in a significant victory for Brexiteers ahead of two crucial Cabinet meetings this week. Downing Street said it wanted to “put to rest” arguments that have raged for weeks about whether the UK would join a customs union after Brexit. Following reports that Eurosceptic Tory MPs were plotting a coup if Mrs May bowed to the will of Remainers, sources close to the Prime Minister insisted customs union membership was off the table.
THERESA May was last night forced to rule out any form of customs union with the EU after Tory Brexiteers threatened a mass walk-out. The PM had even been warned of a formal split in the Conservative party if she opted to keep Britain tied to the EU’s trading rules, which would bar us from striking new trade deals. Making the warning very clear to Mrs May, a senior Tory MP told The Sun: “If they go for a customs union, the party will split.” It followed other warnings from Brexiteers that the PM would face a “cavalry” of opposition from her party if she chose to keep Britain in a customs union with Brussels.
Downing Street has insisted Britain will leave the customs union after Brexit amid claims of Tory disunity over the UK-EU future relationship. Theresa May has faced calls to set out clearly what she wants to secure from the negotiations leading up to the UK’s departure in March 2019. But a No 10 source said “to put this to rest, we are categorically leaving”. It comes ahead of a week of key Brexit meetings with the EU chief negotiator and with her most senior ministers.
Downing Street has moved to reassure Tory Brexiteers that Theresa May is committed to taking Britain out of the EU customs union, amid growing dissent on her backbenches and speculation she could face a leadership challenge over the issue. With anger rising among Tory Eurosceptics over suggestions the Prime Minister was considering softening her Brexit stance, Number 10 sources insisted the UK would “categorically [be] leaving the customs union”. The move by Downing Street came after warnings from senior Brexiteers and reports that anti-EU Tory backbenchers could launch a bid to topple Ms May if she joined pro-EU Cabinet ministers including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, and Amber Rudd, in advocating an ongoing customs union with the EU.
Downing Street has ruled out involvement in a customs union with the European Union amid confusion over government policy as Theresa May prepares for a crucial week of talks. After the exposure of divisions between ministers over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, an official source said: “It is not our policy to be in the customs union. It is not our policy to be in a customs union.” The statement went further than May who, on Friday, refused to rule out involvement in a customs union when questioned during her visit to China. The development will anger remainers who have clung to hope that Britain will strike a deal with the EU that allows a close relationship with the EU after Brexit.
LEADING figures in the House of Lords – on both the Remain and Leave side of the debate – have squashed fears that the parliamentary body will “sabotage Brexit”. In what could be a significant step forward for Brexiteers, key figures in the House of Lords have admitted their actions will have “no bearing” on Brexit talks. Brexit-supporting Baron Michael Forsyth and Remain-backing Baronness Ann Taylor told Radio 4’s Westminister Hour that the Brexit saboteurs would not prevail. This follows fears that the House of Lords could embarrass the Government and hold up the EU Withdrawal Bill, sparking a constitutional crisis amid fragile Brexit talks. However, this was rubbished by the two leading figures in the House of Lords, who said they wanted to deliver the best Brexit deal for the country, rather than scupper it.
The first step along what Andrew Adonis hopes is the road to reversing Brexit starts a few miles upstream from where it all began 19 months ago. Fresh from introducing proposals for a second referendum into the House of Lords, the Labour peer travelled to Durham on Friday to begin a national tour that aims to convince the poll-weary country to think again. In June 2016, this city was a rare island of EU support from the moment regional results first started pouring in from nearby Sunderland. Even here, high up in the cathedral precincts, the notion of reopening wounds is a hard sell.
A MEMBER of Labour’s leadership has revealed new plans to keep Britain in the EU for an extra two years. Richard Corbett, who is leader of the party in the European Parliament and a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, has said the UK needs to extend its EU membership until the end of the transitional period at the end 2020. The leading Remainer has previously been accused of trying to help engineer a situation where the UK is forced to stay under Brussels rule either as full members of the EU or stuck in its single market and customs union. In his latest statement, Mr Corbett wrote on his website: “Extend the UK’s EU membership for the transitional period… setting a later date for departure. “If there is an agreement, then this agreement sets the date of departure, which need not be March 2019.
THE ROYAL Marines – one of Britain’s premier fighting forces with a peerless history of protecting the nation – could vanish altogether if swingeing defence cuts go ahead. In a damning report, MPs say the regiment “risks being sacrificed to short-term Treasury book-keeping”. The Marines face becoming “watered down infantry” under leaked plans to scrap ships designed to carry them into enemy territory, the report says. It describes the axeing of specialist amphibious vessels HMS Albion and Bulwark as an “irreparable act of folly”. This would not only put Britain at the mercy of other nations but see the end of a unique capability, honed over centuries, upon which Nato depends.
Budget cuts to the Royal Marines and the number of amphibious assault ships they use would significantly undermine the UK’s security, MPs have warned in a report. The report comes amid speculation about the loss of 1,000 marines and a threat to the Royal Navy’s two Albion-class amphibious assault ships. The Defence Select Committee said “Treasury bookkeeping” could have a major impact on marine morale, already dented by recent cuts, as well as putting the country at “serious risk”. The Tory-led committee’s report – called ‘Sunset for the Royal Marines?’ – will increase pressure on Theresa May to increase the defence budget.
MINISTERS have been warned that cutting the Marines would significantly undermine Britain’s defence. In a strongly worded report the defence select committee has hit out at “Treasury bookkeeping” amid speculation that there is pressure to slash the number of marines and reduce the UK amphibious capabilities. The Tory-led committee’s report will increase pressure on Theresa May to increase the defence budget. Speculation about the loss of 1,000 marines and a threat to the Royal Navy’s two Albion-class amphibious assault ships came amid the National Security Capability Review (NSCR).
The Royal Navy would struggle to win a war after decades of shrinkage, a former admiral has warned. Chris Parry, a former Nato commander, said the naval service appeared more like a maritime bureaucracy than a credible fighting force. He cited a survey of middle-ranking officers between 2015 and 2017 that indicated that “none was confident about going to war against a peer competitor in the current generation of surface ships”. The comments were in an article in The Naval Review, a pro-navy publication whose readership is largely serving and former personnel. The use of such blunt language by a former naval officer in such a highly regarded journal is an indication of the concern about the state of the Royal Navy.
Campaigners have demanded that the Ministry of Defence clarify whether it permits the use of lethal force by drones against suspected terrorists anywhere in the world. Human rights groups have long suspected that, under certain exceptional circumstances, the UK will target threats outside conflict zones – a legally grey area. The new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, has also hinted that such a policy, similar to the one operated by the US, exists. In a recent interview, Williamson said: “My view is a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.” He added: “We have got to make sure that as [Isis] splinters and as terrorists disperse across Iraq and Syria and other areas, we continue to hunt them down.”
Record numbers of patients are dying malnourished in NHS hospitals, with almost one case a day, new figures show. Charities last night said the figures were “shocking” – urging hospitals to do more to ensure that vulnerable elderly patients receive help eating and drinking. The statistics show a total of 351 patients in England and Wales had malnutrition listed on their death certificate as an underlying cause or contributory factor in 2016 – the latest figures available. The figure is 18 per cent higher than the 297 total recorded the year before – and 31 per cent up on the 268 figure a decade earlier.
Hospitals have been cancelling urgent surgery for patients with cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses, despite NHS bosses’ orders not to delay such operations. Some patients have had their procedure cancelled several times, even though their poor health means the surgery is urgent. Others have had operations cancelled on the day they were scheduled to take place. Doctors’ leaders and the Patients Association have expressed alarm at the cancellations. They warned that very ill patients could die as a result and questioned whether the NHS can still offer timely acute care all year round. Hospitals say that the NHS’s limited supply of intensive care beds has forced them to prioritise flu patients at risk of dying before surgery over other very sick people, including those with cancer and heart problems.
A new ring-fenced tax to fund the NHS and social care has been proposed by a panel of health experts. The panel, set up by the Liberal Democrats, says the NHS in England should be given an extra £4bn on top of inflation in the next financial year. It has suggested replacing National Insurance with the new tax to close the funding gap. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said NHS funding “is at a record high”. “[It] was prioritised in the Budget with an extra £2.8bn, on top of the additional £2bn already provided for social care over the next three years, and an additional £437m of funding for winter,” the spokesperson said.
Fees charged to non-EU migrants so that they can access NHS care will double, ministers will say today, watering down another manifesto pledge. The health surcharge is paid by people from outside the European Economic Area who want to live in Britain for six months or more to work, study or join family. It will rise from £200 to £400 per year, with the rate for students and those on the Youth Mobility Scheme for people aged 18 to 30 increasing from £150 to £300. The Tory manifesto had promised that the fee, which was introduced in 2015, would be tripled. It said that the immigration health surcharge would increase to £600 annually for workers and £450 for students if the party was re-elected.
Migrants will be charged twice as much to access the NHS under plans announced yesterday. Workers from outside the EU will have to hand over £400 a year instead of £200 as part of a Government bid to clamp down on so-called health tourism. The planned hike is expected to raise £220million a year, with the money going back to NHS services. But the new charge is less than the £600 promised in the Conservative manifesto last year. Sources close to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after a consultation the Government had decided to bring the fee, known as the immigration health surcharge, in line with the actual costs to the NHS of treating those people. The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that the NHS spends £470 on average per person per year on treating surcharge payers.
Charges paid by temporary migrants to the UK to use the NHS are to double, the government has announced. Ministers said the move would raise around £220m a year for the health service while ensuring that migrants made a “fair contribution” towards its costs. The increase to the immigration health surcharge – payable by people from outside the European Economic Area staying in the UK for six months or longer – means the main rate will rise from £200 to £400 a year. The discounted rate for students and those on the youth mobility scheme will go up from £150 to £300. A surcharge was brought in by the government in 2015 in a clampdown on so-called “health tourism”. It has been questioned by some doctors, who have voiced concern that the policy could be discriminatory and result in racial profiling to identify chargeable patients.
Plans to prescribe e-cigarettes on the NHS have collapsed following the abandonment of the only product licensed for medical use. The eVoke device received approval two years ago amid hopes it could help thousands of smokers to quit. But British American Tobacco, which holds the medical licence, says the product is unlikely to ‘see the light of day’ because of production difficulties.
More than 1,000 women may have been wrongly given the all-clear for cervical cancer after laboratory blunders. Up to 60,000 results from the past two years will have to be reviewed after inspectors noticed the errors from an Essex laboratory. Checks on 900 cases so far have found 17 where patients were incorrectly told that the results of their smear tests were negative. Two women were found to have cancer and the remainder require further tests. The GPs’ magazine Pulse learnt that 2,500 samples from the Pathology First laboratory in Basildon that were processed between April 2016 and September last year are being checked. Patients are notified if mistakes are revealed.
THE number of university applicants has dropped for the second year in a row, new figures show. Just over 5,000 fewer people — around 0.9 per cent — applied to start courses this autumn by January 15, compared with this time last year. The fall is due to 12,420 fewer UK applicants, driven by a drop in the number of 18-year-olds in the country, the admissions service, Ucas, says. But there was a 7,300 rise in overseas students with numbers above 100,000 for the first time. Overall, 559,030 applied to start degree courses this autumn — 5,160 fewer than this time last year.
BRITISH Summer Time could be replaced with ‘Berlin Time’ as EU politicians will this week vote on whether to scrap it for good. The proposal would end the British ritual of moving clocks forward by an hour in March and back again in October. MEP’s are debating the change after an ‘impact assessment’ indicated that there could be ‘negative impacts’ on health, agriculture and road traffic safety. The UK Government could block the move up until Brexit in March 2019, but ‘Berlin Time’ could be forced upon the UK during the transition period. Changing the clocks has already been dumped in some countries including Iceland, Belarus and Turkey, and if the change is implemented then London would be on the same time zone as Berlin for six months a year.