BORIS JOHNSON’S chief negotiator has tabled a new post-Brexit free-trade agreement in a bid to break the deadlock with the European Union. David Frost handed over a “draft legal text” to EU counterpart Michel Barnier during a private dinner in Brussels on Tuesday night. Government sources said the dossier covers the areas where both sides “already have agreement”. The basic text is understood to focus on eliminating most tariffs and quotas after Britain’s post-Brexit transition from the bloc expires in December. But the offer was rebuffed by Mr Barnier, who insisted progress would first have to be made in the more contentious area – such as the so-called “level-playing field” and future access to Britain’s fishing grounds. British officials are frustrated with the Frenchman’s refusal to discuss the free-trade agreement without making progress in “parallel” on each section of the future relationship. Mr Frost warned Mr Barnier the EU’s insistence on finding solutions for the most difficult issues first was increasing the chances of no deal. The Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy said time is running out to complete the required legal texts before their autumn deadline. The document, marked confidential, remains a closely guarded secret with its contents only made available to the European Commission’s negotiating team.
Britain has tabled a draft free-trade agreement with the European Union to try to unblock stalled Brexit negotiations, according to diplomats. Government sources have refused to confirm its existence but The Times has learnt that David Frost, Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator, handed over a “consolidated legal text” at a private dinner in Brussels this week. Classified as a secret negotiating text, it is regarded by EU officials as a desperate move.
A DEEP row erupted last night over high-level talks on fishing rights after Brexit with Westminster snubbing requests by senior Scottish ministers to take part in discussions. Fergus Ewing MSP, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary said he had seen repeated requests from the Scottish Government to participate in international negotiations on fishing denied. Part of the controversy surrounds the UK Government’s Fisheries Bill, which creates the powers for the UK to operate as an independent coastal state and manage its fish stocks sustainably outside the EU is currently in process.
Britain is set to lose its power to send asylum seekers back to other EU countries after the Brexit transition period ends, throwing the government’s immigration policy into disarray. EU negotiators have reportedly rejected UK requests for a new agreement to replicate the Dublin Regulation, which binds EU member states to process certain asylum claims at the request of their neighbours. The provision is used regularly by the UK to turn back refugees arriving on the south coast after travelling overland through France and other European countries.
EU negotiators have blocked talks on a migration pact that would allow Britain to return asylum seekers to other European countries. Brussels officials have angered their UK counterparts by “not engaging” with plans to broker a post-Brexit agreement to tackle illegal migration, a Government source said. European officials dismissed proposals put forward by Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator as “one-sided” and said the UK would instead have to reach separate agreements with member states.
A Sudanese people smuggler has been jailed for two years after cramming nine migrants including two children into an inflatable boat and trying to cross the Channel. Altaib Mobarak, 43, also a Sudanese national, dodged French coastguards but a Border Force boat eventually intercepted him during his attempt to smuggle the passengers into the UK from France. His sentencing came just a day before a further 164 immigrants tried to enter the UK by similar means, including a Sudanese migrant, who is believed to have drowned in the attempt.
More than 5,000 migrants will have crossed the Channel in small boats this year by this weekend. Undeterred by the tragic death of a young Sudanese man earlier this week, hundreds more are expected to attempt to reach Britain in the coming days. Yesterday the Home Office announced 164 migrants arrived on the Kent coast in 11 boats on Wednesday, and 41 were picked up by the French. A further eight men from Nigeria, Guinea, Gambia and Sierra Leone were picked up by the Border Force yesterday.
BRITAIN is set to keep its vice-like grip on the European Union’s financial markets after its continental rivals failed to take advantage of Brexit. European financial centres have failed to make the most of the UK’s departure from the bloc by seizing business opportunities from the City of London. Hubs, such as Frankfurt and Paris, had hoped to attract investment managers after the City lost its automatic access to the EU’s financial services market.
BRITAIN is definitely bouncing back with nine in ten businesses open again, figures revealed today. The first official statistics detailing the return from lockdown reveal High Street and shopping centre activity is picking up. And traffic is almost back to normal levels — with 100 per cent of White Van Men back on the road. Experts and MPs have welcomed statistics showing that more people are getting out and about and boosting business after the Covid-19 crisis.
Hospital admissions for Covid-19 were over-reported at the peak of the pandemic, with patients who were taken in for other illnesses being included in outbreak statistics, it has emerged. An investigation for the Government’s Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) found that people were being counted as Covid hospital admissions if they had ever had the virus, and were added to those being admitted directly due to it.
WORKPLACES are suffering “an explosion” in coronavirus infections because the government ignored warnings about the dangers of a rush back to work, according to a damning report released today. The report, by occupational-health experts at the Hazards campaign, accuses the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of “an unprecedented abdication of responsibility” resulting in workers’ deaths.
Birmingham is on the brink of going into lockdown because of its spiralling Covid-19 outbreak and faces being hit by tougher measures next week after Matt Hancock met with local officials today to thrash out plans to control the virus. The Health Secretary chaired the ‘Gold Command’ meeting this morning, which was attended by council bosses — who are desperate to prevent further damage to the already-crippled local economy through tougher lockdown measures like ones imposed in the North West and Leicester — and Public Health England representatives. Local health bosses warned residents of the city — home to 1.1million people — that ‘what we do in the next seven days will decide if we go into lockdown or not’.
Birmingham could be just a week away from a local lockdown, with the government set to put the city on a national “watch list”, a ccording to Birmingham Live. It came as the region’s Mayor Andy Street said the city wasn’t facing a full scale lockdown yet – but needed to act fast. According to our sister title, Dr Justin Varney, director of public health, warned local businesses that the spike in cases locally had been “dramatic”. He added: “There is a meeting of gold command this morning (with health secretary Matt Hancock) going on – the national watch list is being discussed and is published tomorrow.
Oldham, Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle are set to have tougher coronavirus measures imposed on them, ITV News understand. Health Editor Emily Morgan said that on Friday, “the government will announce stricter measures” on the three areas but it is “highly unlikely they will be full lockdowns”. It follows warnings from Oldham’s council leader that the town is facing a “very real threat” of a full-scale lockdown as coronavirus cases continue to soar.
HOLIDAYMAKERS have been warned ‘only travel if you can quarantine’ as tens of thousands of Brits face a mad scramble to get home from Croatia. The government will implement the new restrictions from 4am tomorrow – meaning anybody travelling home after that time will have to self-isolate for two weeks. That means bad news for the 20,000 Brits estimated to be on holiday in the Balkan sunshine state right now, and those booked to travel there over the next few weeks.
Holidays to Portugal are back on after the Iberian nation was added to the Government’s “green list” on Thursday, but Croatia, Austria and Trinidad and Tobago were struck from quarantine-free travel. Ministers made the decision to act after coronavirus rates in Britons’ third most popular holiday destination fell to 14.4 cases per 100,000 people, well below the benchmark used to assess risk. The changes will come into force on Saturday at 4am, setting a 34-hour deadline for thousands of Britons to return home before the mandatory 14-day quarantine comes into force.
Brits can book holidays to Portugal and won’t have to quarantine when they return to the UK, the Transport Secretary has revealed. The popular holiday destination has been added to the UK’s travel corridor list Grant Schapps confirmed in a tweet. The rule change will come in to force from 4am on Saturday. Portugal’s government expressed anger when the country was placed on the quarantine list when it was created at the beginning of July.
Portugal has finally been ruled safe for travel by the government, with airlines and holiday companies expecting a surge in bookings from Britons desperate for a late summer getaway. Additional departures to the Algarve are likely over the next week, just in time for the August bank holiday weekend, after the decision to take Portugal off a list of “high-risk” countries.
Flight prices from the UK to Portugal have gone up SIXFOLD just hours after the government announced it was bringing in an air bridge with the popular holiday destination. Average fare prices to Faro – the airport used by holidaymakers heading to the Algarve – rocketed from just £35 to £190 in the hours after the announcement was made by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today. One website showed a BA flight fare from London to Faro had jumped from £90 to £580 – with a claim it had been reduced from £594 – in a day.
Talking loudly in pubs is just as risky as singing when it comes to spreading Covid-19, a UK Government-backed study has found. The research was used to inform ministers’ decision to allow indoor concerts and stage performances to resume last week. It comes as a major boost for the arts and entertainment industry, which has been obliterated financially by the pandemic. But questions will be raised about people’s safety in rowdy pubs, where there is often music playing and revellers have to shout to be heard.
Choirs can restart safely as long as they keep the volume down, according to research that suggests singing does not pose a significantly greater risk of spreading coronavirus than speaking. Communal singing was put on hold at the start of the pandemic after choirs were linked to several superspreader events across the world. British academics, backed by Public Health England and the department for culture, started a study to uncover whether singing was really more risky than similar activities. The results, which have not yet been peer reviewed, suggest that volume is key.
The humiliating A-level upgrade forced on ministers led to 99.7 per cent of all exams being passed – and nine times fewer failures than last year, according to new figures released on Thursday. Officials published fresh data showing the full extent of the upturn in students’ fortunes following the outcry over the faulty algorithm that was finally ditched on Monday. One leading educationalist said the new grading now had “little meaning” and branded the results “unreliable”. In the space of a week, the proportion of A-level entries receiving an A grade or higher increased to a record high 38.1 per cent in England – compared with 27.6 per cent under the formula used initially
Thousands of A-level candidates have been left without qualifications because they took part in their courses privately and could not be given estimated grades by teachers. The government on Monday abandoned a plan to use an algorithm to determine students’ grades in the absence of exams during the coronavirus crisis, and instead said that A-level and GCSE results would be based on teacher-assessed marks. Many home-schooled or private A-level students were left without qualifications because they were not working within assessment centres, such as schools or colleges, where teachers could give them grades.
Hundreds of thousands of Btec students have been warned that their A-level classmates may be “stealing a march” and snapping up all the best university places after another delay to their results. Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said the final Btec results would “hopefully” arrive next week, a situation college leaders described as “shambolic”. The latest delay came after Pearson, the exam board in charge, decided to recalculate Btec grades for a second time with hours to go before they were due to be given to students.
Education experts have described the number of As in today’s GCSE and revised A-level results as ‘staggering’ after a record number of A grades were awarded based on teachers’ estimated grades. A record high proportion of GCSE entries in England were today awarded the equivalent of A* or As – with 25.9 per cent getting a Grade 7 or above compared with 20.8 per cent last year- after a Government U-turn meant results could be based on teachers’ estimated grades instead of a government algorithm. The results were released at the same time as revised A-level results which showed more than 10 per cent of A-level entries have been upgraded following a U-turn on the way results are awarded.
EXPERTS have slammed “staggering” GCSE marks inflation as A QUARTER of pupils receive top marks. More than one in four (25.9 per cent) GCSE entries in England scored one of the top three grades, up from just over a fifth (20.7 per cent) last year. Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, described the percentages of top A-level grades as “staggering.” He said: “The percentages of top grades are staggering, and no help at all to university admissions tutors having to take difficult decisions.
The Government is asking universities to prioritise students from disadvantaged backgrounds for admission ‘where possible’ following the U-turn on A-level grades – meaning Middle-Class pupils may be forced to take gap years. Universities minister Michelle Donelan wrote to vice-chancellors requesting their flexibility around admissions and asking them to honour all offers accepted. She wrote that once admissions capacity is reached and additional places cannot be provided then institutions should ‘where possible try to prioritise those from disadvantaged backgrounds for admission this year’.
Middle-class children may be forced to take a gap year after ministers told universities to favour poorer children where places were tight. Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, has told vice-chancellors that all students should be guaranteed their first-choice course if they have the grades, although they can be told that they must defer until next year. The government has provided money to fund an increase in the number of places.
More smart motorways will be outlined today as the government introduces a specialist unit to accelerate road and rail upgrades. At least seven new routes without a hard shoulder will be approved to improve 4,000 miles of English roads. Highways England will renew its commitment to a tunnel under Stonehenge, pending the outcome of a review by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, which is due to end in November. It will also confirm plans for the UK’s biggest road tunnel under the Thames east of Dartford to cut congestion on the M25.
England is to get at least seven new smart motorways as part of a £27billilon package of improvements to the country’s roads, according to reports today. Highways England is to set out its five year plan of major road improvements later today, according to The Times. The plans, which were partly released back in March, now include smart motorway upgrades to the M6, M62, M56, the M40 and M42 interchange, the A1(M), the M3 and part of the M25, reports the paper.
The BBC is at the centre of a fresh impartiality row after Newsnight’s policy editor wrote an article for a Left-wing magazine attacking the Government’s handling of the exam crisis. Lewis Goodall’s piece for the New Statesman was billed on the cover as an examination of “how the Government’s ineptitude created a lost generation”, and headlined: “How a Government led by technocrats nearly destroyed a generation of social mobility.” Goodall, a former Labour activist who previously worked for the Left-wing Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, laid the problems at the door of the Prime Minister’s senior adviser.
The BBC press office is being quite evasive even by their standards, we have got from them that Goodall’s New Statesman piece was apparently signed off by his superiors. They claim the blanket ban post-Hutton on BBC journalists writing about political controversies has been rescinded. The BBC press office further claims, with a straight face, that Goodall’s piece isn’t controversial. All we got on the record from the BBC press office on the record is the following: “It’s a piece of journalistic analysis, based on evidence, that holds to account the handling of examinations by all of the political parties that govern the UK.”
Greenland’s ice sheet melted at unprecedented levels last year, satellite data shows, suggesting that lower levels of ice loss in 2017 and 2018 were anomalies caused by unusually cold weather. Levels of ice loss in 2019 reached more than 500 billion tons, breaking a previous record set in 2012 by 15pc. The ice sheet, a significant contributor to sea level rises, lost more than five times the level of mass in 2019 as it did in 2017 and 2018.
Greenland lost a record amount of ice last year, prompting warnings that it is melting more quickly and will accelerate the rise in sea level globally. Satellite measurements reveal that there was a net loss of 532 billion tonnes of ice from Greenland in 2019, exceeding the previous record melt in 2012 by 15 per cent.