Brexit

Mirror
Boris Johnson’s Brexit divorce bill cleared Parliament last night as Brussels officials warned a no deal departure was still on the cards. The landmark legislation could become law by the weekend paving the way for the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the month.  Last night Boris Johnson claimed: “At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.” But a top EU official claimed that no deal remained a “distinct possibility” at the end of December 2020 if the two sides fail to strike a trade deal before then. Stefaan de Rynck, senior aide to Michel Barnier, Brussels’ chief negotiator, said: “It is [an outcome] that we will try to avoid, just like we tried to avoid it in the past, but not at any price. “So it could well be there is a no deal in January 2021 in case we don’t reach a common ground.” Although the divorce agreement would be in place, it would mean defaulting to worse economic terms.

Express
DOWNING Street has swapped traditional French Champagne for home-grown British sparking bubbly as the Queen today rubber-stamped Boris Johnson’s Brexit Bill, making it UK law. No10 today received a colossal order of English sparkling wine hours after Her Majesty wrote a jubilant Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal into history when Parliament finally gave its formal backing to the deal. The draft legislation, which is needed to ensure the UK’s departure on January 31 – eight days’ time – was given Royal Assent today which is the last stage a bill must needs to pass for it to make it onto the historic statute book.

Independent
Conservative MP has called for Brexit to be marked next week with a firework display that can be seen from France and a huge banner hanging from the White Cliffs of Dover. Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, has urged the UK to celebrate its exit from the European Union by hanging a banner displaying the words “We love the UK” on 31 January. The newly elected Conservative has suggested the banner should replace a rival 150 sq m “We still love EU” banner which is being crowdfunded by Liberal Democrat MEP Antony Hook.

Bercow

Telegraph
John Bercow could be investigated over past allegations of bullying after the House of Lords agreed to change its rules amid new complaints against the former Speaker. The Lords conduct committee met on Wednesday to discuss closing a “loophole” in its code of conduct to allow inquiries into allegations against former MPs who become peers, the Telegraph can reveal. The meeting took place on the day new revelations emerged about a complaint against the former Speaker. Lord Lisvane, who served as chief clerk of the House of Commons, has passed a dossier of allegations to the parliamentary commissioner for standards, the MPs’ watchdog.

Express
John Bercow has hit out after a Cabinet minister insisted he must not be made a peer if he is found to have bullied staff. Andrea Leadsom said that the former Speaker should not able to “skip” from the Commons to the Lords if complaints against him are upheld. Downing Street said allegations about Mr Bercow’s behaviour were “very concerning” and should be “investigated thoroughly”. It comes after former Commons clerk Lord Lisvane became the latest to complain and handed a dossier of allegations to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. But Mr Bercow denied the claims and accused the government of trying to stop him becoming a peer. Mr Bercow said that since retiring it has “become increasingly obvious that the Government has no intention of honouring the centuries-old convention that a departing speaker is promptly elevated to the House of Lords”.

Times
John Bercow accused the government of trying to block his elevation to the Lords yesterday as it emerged that Boris Johnson intends to recommend peerages to the Queen as soon as next month. The former Speaker has been accused of bullying by his most senior former aide, Lord Lisvane, in a formal complaint that comes just before he is to be vetted for a peerage. If a decision on awarding peerages is taken next month it is highly unlikely he will have been cleared for the role in time. Mr Bercow yesterday “categorically” denied the claims, revealed by The Times, and accused Mr Johnson of seeking to block his elevation despite a “centuries-old convention” that former Speakers are made Lords.

Guardian
John Bercow has accused Downing Street of trying to scupper his chances of being made a peer, and dismissed accusations of bullying made by his former most senior official. Amid an escalating and increasingly public row with No 10, Bercow said it had “become increasingly obvious that the government has no intention of honouring the centuries-old convention that a departing Speaker is promptly elevated to the House of Lords”. He added: “Indeed, it has been suggested to me that the government actively seeks to block any other attempt to nominate me for membership of the upper house.” Asked why Downing Street had ignored the convention that Speakers are elevated to the Lords after they step down, a No 10 source said: “The Speaker was not always a fan of convention.”

Independent
John Bercow has publicly raised accusations that ministers are trying to block his elevation to the peerage, as he “categorically” denied bullying allegations made by his former most senior official. Downing Street has described the claims of former Clerk of the Commons Lord Lisvane as “concerning” and said the complaint against Bercow should be investigated “thoroughly” by the Commons authorities.  And business secretary Andrea Leadsom, ​who had a series of a heated clashes with the former speaker while serving as Commons leader, said Mr Bercow’s suitability for a peerage would be in question if there are “genuine, upheld” complaints against him.

EU

Telegraph
The UK will face massive fines if it deviates from any of the thousands of directives that pour out of Brussels every year. A trade agreement will take years to complete, and even then may include strict quotas on anything where we happen to have a surplus. And even if it is ever agreed it will have to include such strict oversight of tax, labour laws and industrial policy that even French public sector workers will be thinking of popping across the Channel for an easier working life. Over the last few weeks, Michel Barnier has been issuing a constant stream of demands, edicts and ultimatums over everything that Britain will have to agree to before it will be offered a trade deal with the European Union. But hold on. How come Barnier is still in a job? True, he was kept even as the commission changed to oversee the next phase of Brexit negotiations. And yet, in his first role as the chief Brexit negotiator he was a comprehensive failure.

Trade

Express
A FORMER UK ambassador to the United States hinted the UK could have a “massive lever” over the EU in future trade talks with the bloc. Sir Christopher Meyer, who served as the Ambassador to the United States from 1997-2003, highlighted the UK has the upper hand over the EU in trade discussions going forward. Tweeting about the issue, he said: “Missing from so much analysis by Brussels ‘insiders’ is awareness that the EU’s £94billion trade surplus with the UK gives us a massive lever. “Brussels’ blood-curdling noises today are a sure sign of the jitters.

Express
BORIS JOHNSON’s hopes of a speedy trade deal with Donald Trump roared ahead yesterday when top US officials said it could happen by the end of the year. And in a double boost for the Prime Minister, the Queen enshrined Brexit in law when she granted his Brussels deal Royal Assent. Deputy Commons Speaker Nigel Evans interrupted a debate at 2.30pm to announce the historic moment which clears the path to leaving the European Union at 11pm next Friday, January 31. The predictions by US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and commerce secretary Wilbur Ross follow Downing Street indications that Mr Johnson wants the transatlantic talks to run alongside trade negotiations with Brussels. Mr Mnuchin said a December 31 deal meant an “aggressive timeline” for the talks, but added: “It’s an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that within this year.”

Times
President Trump’s “appetite” for a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain will be diminished if Boris Johnson gives Huawei the green light to help build its 5G network, senior US officials have warned. The prime minister is facing intense lobbying from Britain’s western allies as they attempt to put pressure on him to ban the Chinese technology giant. The government is widely expected to give Huawei the go-ahead. Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary and a member of the National Security Council said yesterday that alternatives to Huawei were limited.

Sun
BRUSSELS fears trade talks will hit the buffers early because Boris Johnson is making the same mistakes as Theresa May – with Dutch PM Mark Rutte putting the chances of a deal this year at “50-50”. Eurocrats say early skirmishes ahead of the start of negotiations feel like “2017 all over again” with the PM laying down rigid red lines. They are worried that he has adopted a series of tough positions he will struggle to move from and set an unrealistic timeframe for a deal. Mr Rutte warned there was a “risk that we might get to a cliff edge again” due to the deadline imposed by the PM. And one senior EU source told The Sun: “They’re making a textbook repeat of the same mistakes.

Express
BORIS JOHNSON’s Government is keen to strike four post-Brexit trade deals before the end of the year, in a clear effort to ramp up pressure on EU officials. After next Friday, the UK will be free to commence trade talks with other countries, and senior Government officials are believed to be urging Boris Johnson to prioritise a deal with the US. Such a move would send a clear signal to the EU that their is life for Britain outside of the bloc. The Government has a deadline of December 31 to reach an agreement with Brussels, and UK officials also aim to broker a deal with the US, Australia and New Zealand within the same time frame. Senior officials in the UK’s Department for International Trade are urging the Prime Minister to prioritise a trade deal with the US and ensure that it is the first to be signed into law, Business Insider report.

Times
Britain will not diverge from European rules “just for the sake of it” after Brexit, Sajid Javid said yesterday, as he softened the government’s rhetoric on future EU trade talks. In a move to reassure business, the chancellor said that while ministers were determined that Britain would not become a “rule taker” from Brussels, it did not mean the UK would necessarily diverge from European standards. “We will be a sovereign and independent country,” he told a lunch for British executives at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “But we’ll always protect the interests of British businesses throughout this process and we’ll maintain high standards — not because we are told to, but because we want to.”

Independent
Chancellor Sajid Javid has moved to stem business alarm over the government’s determination to avoid alignment with EU  rules and standards after Brexit by declaring that the UK will not “diverge for the sake of it”. The comment, in a speech to the CBI in Davos, marked a retreat from his insistence in a weekend interview that there would be no alignment and businesses would have to “adjust”. His remarks to the Financial Times sparked concern among businesses in key sectors like car manufacturing and agriculture, who fear that breaking away from EU rules will mean costly delays which would force prices up for consumers.

Virus

Telegraph
Fourteen people have been tested for suspected coronavirus in the UK with five confirmed negative and nine still awaiting the results, Public Health England said on Thursday night. Officials said there had been no “confirmed cases” of the disease and stressed the risk to the public remained low amid increasing fears the virus may have spread to Britain from China. Five people are being tested in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. Six patients who had all travelled to the UK from Wuhan, where the outbreak is thought to have originated, within the past two weeks, are showing symptoms of respiratory trouble, a red flag for the virus.

Times
More than a dozen people in Britain have been tested for a deadly virus sweeping out of China, with the NHS under orders to question everyone with flu-like symptoms in an attempt to stop its spread. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has warned it is likely that cases of coronavirus will be seen in Britain as part of a “rapidly developing” global outbreak in which more than 20 million people have been quarantined. In China there have already been more than 630 confirmed cases and 18 deaths linked to the new virus, which is thought to have originated in snakes.

Mail
Fourteen UK patients have been tested for the killer coronavirus after returning from China with flu-like symptoms with more than 800 cases confirmed, it can be revealed.  The unidentified patients are thought to be from Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak which has killed 25 people – officials today revealed the first person had died outside of Wuhan’s province Hubei.  Up to 10,000 patients in the city may already be infected, experts fear – with cases confirmed across nine different countries, including the US, Singapore and Vietnam.  Scientists have today revealed the never-before-seen virus can be spread by coughs and sneezes from someone nearby – not just though saliva or close contact such as hugging.

Sun
A DESPERATE hunt was under way last night for 2,000 recent arrivals in the UK from China after at least nine people were tested for killer coronavirus. They all arrived in Britain within the past two weeks from Wuhan, the centre of the deadly outbreak. But experts say it is now too late to contain the bug, warning it may already be on our shores. The warning comes as nine unidentified patients faced a worrying overnight wait for their results – and experts fear there could be many more victims. Six of the potential victims are being held in isolation at Scottish and Northern Irish hospitals.

Prison

Mail
Prisoners will face X-ray scans for drugs and contraband hidden inside their bodies in a major crackdown. Ministers announced a new £28million fund to install the technology at 16 prisons with bad smuggling problems. The scanners show up illegal substances, mobiles and weapons hidden in body cavities or swallowed. A trial at one jail led to 300 illegal items being found in its first year. Prisons minister Lucy Frazer said: ‘They will help to stem the flow of contraband and allow officers to focus on rehabilitation.’

NHS

Times
Rapid response teams of nurses, physios, social workers and therapists will be rolled out across England to respond to 999 calls and treat older people in their homes in order to avoid unnecessary A&E trips, the NHS has said. People who call 999 or the NHS’s 111 helpline may now be told that a team of relevant healthcare professionals will be dispatched instead of sending an ambulance with paramedics, with a two-hour target for arrival. In other cases an ambulance will still be sent but paramedics may decide, on assessing the patient, that they would benefit more from treatment at home than from a trip to hospital and can call out a rapid response team.

Mail
An NHS manager sent a gloating email to staff boasting they had been ‘saved by the death of Terry Jones’ after the Monty Python star’s passing overshadowed a report into the deaths of two dementia sufferers in media coverage.  Yesterday the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust was criticised in an investigation into the death Doreen Livermore, 88, who broke her hip and died six weeks after being attacked in Amberley Hall Care Home in King’s Lynn by another dementia patient.  The NSFT also came under fire for the death of another man with dementia at the same care home in 2017. Mark Prentice, communications manager at NSFT, inadvertently copied a journalist into his email to staff on Thursday where he suggested that the passing of comedy film star Mr Jones meant reduced coverage for the death of Mrs Livermore in news reports.

HS2

Telegraph
HS2 is over-budget and years behind schedule because ministers “underestimated the complexity” of the project, a damning official report states. The National Audit Office said the Government did not “adequately manage risks to taxpayers’ money” and failed to “take into account” the sheer scale of the railway. HS2, originally costed at £36 billion, is now forecast to cost £106 billion, but the NAO warned it is impossible to “estimate with certainty what the final cost could be”. The NAO also suggested the first phase of HS2 – between London and Birmingham – will be delayed beyond the current opening date of 2033 unless work begins by March.

Times
HS2 is running ten years behind schedule and it is impossible to know how much it will ultimately cost, parliament’s spending watchdog has found. The National Audit Office said that the first phase of the high-speed rail project might not open in full until 2036, a decade later than planned. It said that there was a risk of an even longer delay unless building work started within the next two months. Its report, published today, also condemned the soaring costs. The original budget of £32.7 billion was revised to £56 billion then rose to £88 billion last year.

Sun
BUNGLING officials’ failure to grasp the complexity of HS2 have led to the project’s rocketing bill, a report says. The high-speed rail line will cost billions more than first promised and open much later — if it ever does. Department for Transport cost forecasts in 2015 have all risen save that for buying trains and officials were warned in 2013 the original 2026 opening date was wildly optimistic. Ministers underestimated risks to taxpayers’ cash, the National Audit Office report says. Estimates have since rocketed with plans for longer underground tunnels and soundproofing barriers along the line.

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