BORIS JOHNSON is ready to walk away from post-Brexit trade talks with the EU today, as the bloc fails to meet the Prime Minister’s deadline. Boris Johnson is expected to spark a moment of crisis in the current talks today, after claims the EU is refusing to make any concessions on the UK’s red lines – fisheries and the level playing field. Last month the Prime Minister said he would walk away from EU negotiations if a deal had not been agreed at the European Council summit – which concludes today. As a deal has still not be reached, Mr Johnson could decide to pull the plug on the talks today. He is expected to announce his decision later today. David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, last night indicated the Prime Minister could well walk away from the talks. The Brexit envoy said he was “disappointed” with the outcome of the first day of the summit, despite the EU committing to continuing with talks next week.
Downing Street reacted in dismay as Emmanuel Macron led EU leaders in warning Boris Johnson that he must swallow the bloc’s conditions, in what appeared to be taken as a direct challenge to the British prime minister’s threat to walk out on the talks. At a summit in Brussels, the EU proposed a further “two to three weeks” of negotiations but Europe’s heads of state and government offered Johnson little succour, demanding that he alone needed to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”. The intervention was evidently regarded as incendiary in No 10 as Johnson had said he would make a decision on Friday on whether there were grounds to continue the talks.
Britain’s chief negotiator said he was “disappointed” that European Union leaders dropped their commitment to intensified trade negotiations at a Brussels summit on Thursday night. On Friday, Boris Johnson will make a statement about whether he will carry out his threat to walk out of trade talks and prepare to trade on WTO terms with the EU from January 1 after the end of the transition period. Chief negotiator Lord Frost said he was “surprised [the] EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a trade agreement” and accused Brussels of “an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation”. EU leaders said the UK had to make “the necessary moves to make an agreement possible” and concede on fishing, the “level playing field” guarantees and the enforcement of the deal at a summit held on Mr Johnson’s October 15 deadline for a deal “to be in sight”.
The UK said it is “disappointed” with the outcome of a European Union summit in which the bloc signalled it was willing to continue trade negotiations but called on Britain to make the next move. Last month, the prime minister set a deadline of Thursday’s summit for a Brexit deal, saying both sides should walk away from trade talks and prepare for a no-deal outcome if one had not been achieved so that preparations could be made for when the transition period ends at the end of December. Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, said the trade talk response from the European Council was “unusual”. In a text adopted by the summit of EU leaders, they “invited” Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier to continue his discussions while urging the UK to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.
MICHEL Barnier tonight defied stubborn EU leaders as he pleaded with Britain to hold further Brexit talks after Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator accused the bloc of rowing back on a promise to “intensify” the process. In a desperate intervention, the Brussels diplomat vowed to “speed up” the wrangling over a free-trade agreement in the coming weeks. It comes after EU leaders scrapped plans for the Frenchman to “intensify” talks and instead ordered Boris Johnson to compromise. Mr Barnier told a news conference: “We’re available, we shall remain available until the last possible day. “The negotiations aren’t over – we want to give these negotiations every chance to be successful. I shall say to David Frost we’re prepared to speed up negotiations in the next few days.”
European Union leaders, led by France, dismayed Downing Street last night by calling Boris Johnson’s bluff on his threat to walk out of negotiations and giving him an ultimatum to back down. President Macron told the prime minister that he should prepare for a no-deal Brexit unless he was willing to concede a “good settlement” preserving fishing access for French boats in British waters after the Brexit transition, which ends on December 31. “Under no condition can our fishermen be sacrificed during Brexit,” he said yesterday at a summit in Brussels. “If conditions aren’t met it’s possible we don’t have an agreement.
EUROPEAN leaders stuck two fingers up at Boris Johnson’s demand to speed up Brexit trade talks last night at a chaotic Brussels summit. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had to rush out of the event after an hour due to a Covid scare. She went into self-isolation after one of her staff came down with the virus, but has tested negative herself. Britain’s chief negotiator Lord Frost said he was “disappointed” after the gathering of the heads of the 27 EU member states provocatively refused the Prime Minister’s plea. They instead ordered No10 to compromise to secure free flowing trade after Brexit.
Emmanuel Macron today warned he will not allow French fishermen to be ‘sacrificed to Brexit’ as he stuck to his negotiating red lines and dealt a fresh blow to hopes of the EU and the UK striking a trade deal. The French President laid down the gauntlet to Boris Johnson when he arrived at a crunch summit of the European Council in Brussels as EU leaders meet to discuss the state of trade negotiations with Britain. Mr Johnson had set the summit as his deadline for agreeing the broad outline of a trade deal with the bloc but the two sides remain deadlocked in a number of areas, most notably post-Brexit fishing rights. Mr Macron wants French trawlers to maintain the same access they have to British waters as they do now but Downing Street is adamant that UK boats will be given priority.
ANGELA Merkel reported “some movement” on Thursday in talks between European Union leaders about an agreement with the United Kingdom on their post-Brexit relations. “In some places there was movement, in other places there is still a lot of work to do,” she told reporters. “For us, it is important that Ireland can continue to live in peace, that we secure the single market, but we know that Great Britain aims for a certain measure of independence, that it is no longer member of the European Union. In this spirit we have asked Michel Barnier to continue the negotiations,” she added, with reference to the bloc’s chief negotiator.” “We have asked Great Britain to remain ready for compromise on an agreement,” Merkel added.
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of trying to “shamelessly flog Scottish independence” to the EU after wooing the bloc in a German newspaper article. Writing in Die Welt, a national daily broadsheet, the First Minister argued there was no contradiction between her “stated desire for solidarity” with the European Union and her dream of leaving the UK. She said the UK Government is “determined to turn its back on cooperation, consensus and solidarity” but the EU was a “partnership of equals where decisions require consent and often unanimity from members.” Ms Sturgeon also launched an outspoken attack on the UK Government’s Brexit negotiating stance, accusing it of a “utterly reckless” determination to leave without a deal.
Boris Johnson was on Thursday night embroiled in a standoff with Labour mayors and his own health advisers over his plans for local lockdowns. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, effectively held the Government to ransom by demanding more money for supporting a move into the top tier of restrictions, while health chiefs warned that a national “circuit-breaker” lockdown may be necessary. Meanwhile Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, was accused of bouncing ministers into imposing draconian new restrictions on the capital that will decimate its economy. Mr Johnson is expected to impose the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions on Greater Manchester on Friday, with or without Mr Bunham’s consent, while Lancashire was close to agreeing to Tier 3 status on Thursday night.
A series of coronavirus ‘circuit breakers’ should be pencilled in around the school holidays, a senior Government official said last night. Three weeks ago the Sage group of scientists advising ministers recommended a short lockdown to halt the rise in Covid-19 cases, which the Government chose not to follow. But yesterday the senior government adviser argued for a ‘whole series’ of circuit breakers planned around when schools break up. The idea is aimed at causing minimum disruption to schoolchildren while allowing families to plan ahead – although the cost of a temporary lockdown to the economy has been estimated at £2billion a day.
Circuit-breaker lockdowns should be planned for school holidays for the rest of the academic year, government scientific advisers believe. The test and trace system has become overwhelmed by rapidly rising infections and cases need to be driven lower quickly to avoid longer and more damaging lockdowns, ministers have been told. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, yesterday pressed the case for tougher action now, saying that it would “prevent greater economic damage in the future”, as ministers considered imposing circuit breakers on regions with the highest infection rates.
A ban on travelling to Wales from coronavirus hotspots elsewhere in the UK comes into effect on Friday evening. First Minister Mark Drakeford asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson twice to stop people in areas of England with high coronavirus rates from travelling. But after receiving no reply, the first minister used devolved powers to shut Wales’ borders to people from hotspots. The ban will cover all of Northern Ireland, England’s tier two and three areas and the Scottish central belt. The UK government’s Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said the decision risks “stirring division and confusion”, but Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she fully supported Mr Drakeford’s move.
With half of Britain set to be plunged into stricter lockdowns from midnight tomorrow, you could be forgiven for thinking that, amidst all the doom and gloom, the threat of Covid-19 has never been so severe. But things might not be anywhere near as bad as the fear-mongers would have you think… Claim: ICU beds in Liverpool are already 95 per cent full; Reality: Fewer ICU beds are occupied than last year. On paper the 95 per cent statistic, revealed earlier this week by Liverpool city councillor Paul Brant, conjures up a disturbing image of overflowing hospitals and inadequate care. So rest assured that it bears no relation to reality. Indeed on Thursday, Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust dismissed Mr Brant’s claim, insisting that its units were only 80 per cent full with just 47 of its 61 critical care beds occupied.
THE coronavirus death rate in hospitals has halved since the start of the pandemic, new figures reveal. Fewer than 15 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 since the start of September have died from the bug – compared with just under 30 per cent during the spring. Separate figures suggest the death rate for patients who needed intensive care has fallen even further – from 39.3 per cent up to August 31 to 11.6 per cent since then. The dramatic falls were revealed in an analysis by the Health Service Journal this week. Doctors say there are several factors behind the improvement. More widespread testing means that most patients are diagnosed and begin their treatment at an earlier stage.
Hopes of getting a Covid-19 vaccine were boosted again today after an experimental Chinese jab was found to be safe and produce an immune response. Every volunteer given a double-dose of state-owned firm Sinopharm’s vaccine made antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. In theory, this would protect them from catching the virus again in the future, or at least protect them from developing a severe bout of the disease. But this has not been proven by the scientists yet — they only injected fewer than 1,000 participants. Ministers repeatedly insisted Britain could start to use a Covid-19 jab by September — but the Government has still yet to approve any vaccine because of a lack of data that they work. Number 10’s own vaccine tsar yesterday admitted the odds of getting one rolled-out before Christmas were ‘slim’.
A Russian disinformation campaign designed to undermine and spread fear about the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine has been exposed by a Times investigation. Pictures, memes and video clips depicting the British-made vaccine as dangerous have been devised in Russia and middlemen are now seeking to “seed” the images on social media networks around the world. The crude theme of the distorted images is that the vaccine, millions of doses of which will be manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Astrazeneca, could turn people into monkeys because it uses a chimpanzee virus as a vector.
More than 25 million GP appointments have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic, with the NHS watchdog warning that the crisis could fuel cancer deaths. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said access to family doctors remains worse than it was before lockdown, raising concerns that people with worrying health problems were struggling to see a physician. Cancer Research UK said that, since March, more than 350,000 people who would normally have been urgently referred to hospital with suspected cancer have not been. It said too many patients had been left struggling to get an appointment or had been scared off seeing their GP for fear of being a burden on the health service or catching Covid-19.
GPs’ warnings about restricted services may have put patients off seeking treatment, delaying diagnoses and worsening existing illnesses, the health and care watchdog has said. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said that millions of people had struggled to see their doctors during the coronavirus pandemic, which had magnified inequalities and risked “turning fault lines into chasms”. Between March and August 119.5 million GP appointments were made in England, down from 146.2 million last year, according to NHS Digital. Ian Trenholm, the CQC’s chief executive, said: “The number of lost GP appointments translates into millions of people potentially . . . not getting conditions diagnosed early enough, not getting those referrals on for diagnoses like cancer and other conditions.”
Destinations abroad are back on the table for half term holiday makers as domestic venues suffer a rush of cancellations. Hotels in the UK have reported a surge in drop outs, with some losing more than half their bookings, in the days after the introduction of the new tier system for regional lockdowns. But the lifting of the travel ban to the Greek island of Crete gave would-be sun-seekers a glimmer of hope, even as Italy became the latest major destination to be subject to quarantine rules coming into force at the weekend. Data from Travelsupermarket, the holiday comparison site, showed that interest in packaged trips to the Greek islands of Zante, Santorini, Kos and Rhodes in October have soared in the last week and a half.
Hopes for overseas holidays were dealt a severe blow yesterday when the “travel corridor” with Italy was closed. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced that from 4am on Sunday people arriving from Italy would have to quarantine for 14 days, in effect blocking one of the last popular overseas destinations for British tourists. The deadline is 24 hours later than the usual Saturday morning cut-off for new quarantine measures, giving British tourists an extra day to return home. The change will affect an estimated 30,000 British citizens who are in the country or about to fly there.
Grant Shapps today announced Italy is being added to the Government’s travel quarantine ‘red list’ as the number of safe destinations for Brits to visit was reduced still further. The Transport Secretary said that as of 4am on Sunday all travellers returning to England from Italy as well as San Marino and Vatican City will have to self-isolate for 14 days. However, a reduction in case numbers means quarantine-free travel to the Greek island of Crete will be allowed to resume. The decision to impose quarantine restrictions on travel from Italy is likely to spark controversy because its coronavirus infection rate is currently far below the UK’s. Statistics show that over the past seven days Italy has recorded 58.4 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people while the UK’s rate was recorded at 157.8 per 100,000.
The Army will slash its 82,000 manpower target by 7,000 under cost-cutting proposals handed to ministers, it can be revealed. Thousands of roles that are currently being recruited for are likely to be axed, with some of the gaps being filled by machines. As part of a ten-year plan, the Army has offered to reduce its current target of 82,000 regular troops to 75,000, defence sources said. It is currently at around 74,000-strong but its ambition for years has been to reach the 82,000 figure. It has, however, struggled with recruitment and senior Army chiefs now recognise that some positions could be filled by technology and machines. However, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence select committee, said the decision to reduce the target was ‘sheer madness’. ‘It is completely wrong,’ he said.
YouTube has become the latest social media giant to announce a sweeping crack down on content linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory. The company said it would ban material targeting a person or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify violence, such as QAnon. Twitter and Facebook have already taken similar steps to root out QAnon. The QAnon movement alleges US President Donald Trump is battling a cabal of elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles. The FBI last year issued a warning about “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” and designated QAnon a potential domestic extremist threat. In a blog post on Thursday, YouTube said it had “removed tens of thousands of QAnon videos and terminated hundreds of channels” under its existing content rules.