The UK’s Brexit negotiators are being urged to come up with a fresh plan to solve the deadlock on the Irish border as a fresh round of talks on the issue continues. Six weeks of negotiations on Ireland began on Monday last week in Brussels as part of a UK-EU deal to explore workable solutions for the border, days after Theresa May said the transition deal struck last month would inject a “new dynamic” into talks. However, there is creeping concern that with less than a year to go Britain is no closer to finding a solution, with no ideas considered developed enough to form the framework for a post-Brexit plan. Sources say the proposals put on the table by the UK last week are not much different to those made last August, which were based on technological solutions and were dismissed by the EU as “magical thinking”. It is said that the British team, led by Olly Robbins, have acknowledged that so-called “non-tariff barriers”, and not customs checks, are the main stumbling block on the trade side of the equation.
It’s been a quiet week in Brexit, with Theresa May and her Cabinet away on their Easter holidays, but Chopper’s Brexit Podcast never stops work. Joining Christopher Hope, the Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, this week on Chopper’s Brexit Podcast our guests are Shanker Singham, the director of the Institute for Economic Affairs’ International Trade and Competition Unit, Matt Warman, Tory MP for Boston and Skegness and a Parliamentary aide to Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley, and Commodore Tony Morrow, the last captain of HMY Britannia, on why a new royal yacht could help secure trade deals post Brexit.
SPAIN is set to capitulate on its “hardball” threats to derail a transition deal over Gibraltar. Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Madrid wants to sign a pact with the UK ensuring the Rock is fully covered when we leave the EU. And he promised its 30,000 inhabitants Spain will not turn Brexit into a “hostage-type situation” for them. Spanish ministers have spent months wrangling for tougher language after securing a veto over a transition period applying to Gibraltar. But in doing so they have angered other Member States by repeatedly threatening to hold up much needed Brexit progress. British officials fear Madrid will attempt to hold London to ransom at the last minute to try and secure concessions on sovereignty. But the leader of the Tories in Brussels, who is MEP for Gibraltar, told The Sun the rest of the bloc has had enough of Spanish games.
SPAIN is set to renounce its hostile Brexit position and threats to derail the UK’s transition deal over Gibraltar after Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Spain would not turn Brexit into a “hostage-type situation”, it has been reported. Mr Dastis welcomed recent progress in Brexit talks and said Spain would not seek to gain power over Gibraltar during the ongoing negotiations. But the Foreign Minister said Spain would continue to keep an eye on the territory, adding: “We recognise that Gibraltar was ceded to Britain more than 300 years ago but our aim is to recover it. “However, we do not want to convert the conversation between the European Union and Britain into a hostage-type situation.” Spanish officials instead aim to sign a pact with the UK to ensure the territory is fully covered when the UK finally leaves the EU.
Turkey has been accused of allowing migrants to “surge” into Greece amid a dispute over EU funding, as Europol reveals they are tracking some 65,000 people-smugglers. Greece was on the frontline at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015, with over 800,000 arriving from Turkey by sea over the course of the year. The influx was reduced dramatically after the European Union agreed to transfer some 3 billion euros to the Turkish government to stem the influx, but Ankara has been accused of loosening its borders again and allowing over 5,000 migrants to enter Greece over the first two months of 2018. The surge came after it was revealed that Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are arguing with the European Commission over whether another 3 billion euros should come from the bloc’s central budget or national budgets.
A Russian military research base has been identified as the source of the nerve agent used at Salisbury in a British intelligence briefing for its allies, The Times has learnt. It was used to persuade world leaders that Moscow was behind the poisoning and said that the novichok chemical was manufactured at the Shikhany facility in southwest Russia. The briefing led to the expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomats from 28 countries. Also included was information suggesting that Shikhany, Russia’s equivalent of the defence laboratory at Porton Down, was used during the past decade to test whether novichok could be effective for assassinations abroad. The weapons-grade nerve agent was used to poison the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
Russia last night accused the UK of ‘playing with fire’ over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, as the military base where the nerve agent that nearly killed him was identified. Speaking in New York, the Kremlin’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said Britain had questions to answer about the poisoning of the ex-double agent, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 in Salisbury last month. Mr Nebenzya added: ‘We have told our British colleagues that you are playing with fire and you will be sorry.’ The remarks came as it was revealed the deadly Novichok that nearly killed the pair was manufactured at Russia’s equivalent of Porton Down. The killer substance was produced at the Shikhany military research base in south west Russia, reports The Times.
Russia lashed out at Britain tonight, warning: “You are playing with fire, and you’ll be sorry.” Speaking at a special meeting of the UNSC, called by Moscow, permanent representative Vassily Nebenzia claimed the only way victims Sergey and Yulia Skripal could have survived a novichok attack was if an antidote was available nearby. He told the council it was “lucky” that Porton Down, which he claimed was “well know for producing chemical weapons” was nearby. Mr Nebenzia claimed Britain was waging a “coordinated campaign – prepared in advance – to discredit and delegitimise Russia.” And he branded claims Russia was behind the attack, a “theatre of the absurd”, asking British representatives: “Couldn’t you come up with a better fake story?”
Russia has warned Britain that “it will be sorry” over its handling over the Sergei Skripal spy poisoning. In a stark message, Moscow’s ambassador to the UN said the UK was “playing with fire” over the case. It comes as Britain stands by its conclusion that the Kremlin is “highly likely” to have carried out the nerve agent attack on Mr Skripal, a 66-year-old former double agent. Russia issued the threat on Thursday during a UN Security Council meeting in New York, called specifically to discuss the poisoning. The latest remarks have plunged diplomatic relations between the two countries to a new low.
It is “beyond reasonable doubt” that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent living in southern England, the UK security minister has said. The strong statement comes after British chemical weapons experts from the Porton Down facility said earlier this week they had not, in fact, proven the chemical came from Russia – just the Novichok type of nerve agent used in the poisoning. The scientists’ words appeared to contradict statements from Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, and his department was forced to delete tweets stating Porton Down had proved the chemical’s origins. However the British government was reportedly able to use other intelligence sources, on top of the chemical analysis, which led them to blame Russia alongside almost all other Western nations.
Thirty million workers will get a tax cut today when the latest rise in the basic rate threshold takes effect. It means that workers will not start paying income tax until they earn £11,850 – a £350 rise on the level last year. A typical basic rate taxpayer will pay £1,075 less in income tax this year than they did in 2010, when the coalition government began a radical programme to take the low-paid out of tax. Higher rate taxpayers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also benefit, with the 40p tax threshold jumping from £45,000 to £46,350, producing an annual saving of £270. Treasury figures suggest a typical higher rate taxpayer will pay £1,323 less in income tax than they did in 2010.
BRITAIN is being tapped up for a leading role in a new European military alliance outside of Brussels’ control. France and Germany met yesterday to develop plans for a rapid reaction force that would have the UK at its heart. The force would be comprised of troops from a number of EU states and could be deployed overseas to help in humanitarian crises and civil wars. But it would be independent of Brussels, circumventing hardliners in the Commission who want to limit defence cooperation after Brexit. A source said: “It would not be within the European Union and would allow countries outside it, like Britain, to be part of it.” Alongside the bloc’s big three other countries like the Netherlands and Denmark could also be involved when the force is launched in June.
Britain’s ability to maintain a global military presence post-Brexit has been greatly enhanced by the opening of the Royal Navy’s new permanent base in the Gulf, according to one of Britain’s most senior officers. And, at a time when Iran is continuing to pose a serious threat to the security of the oil-rich Gulf region, the Navy’s new HMS Juffair base at the Bahraini port of Mina Salman will enable Britain to play its part in keeping the region’s vital sea-lanes open. The Navy’s new £40 million base, which was built with the Bahraini government agreeing to pay most of the cost, will allow the Navy to maintain a permanent presence in the region.
Britain spent over half a billion pounds more on international aid last year, according to official figures that reveal huge fluctuations in the development budget. Less than a quarter of the additional funding went on humanitarian assistance, in a year that included the east African drought and other crises. The vast majority of the additional spend went to multilateral organisations such as the International Monetary Fund Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust and the World Bank. In 2017, the amount of aid provided by the UK government increased by 4.2 per cent to £13.9 billion. This represented an increase of £555 million, up from £13.4 billion in 2016. Spending in Asia dropped by £149 million.
Britain’s foreign aid budget soared by £555million to almost £14billion last year – more than doubling over a decade. The figures released yesterday will intensify calls for ministers to look again at the pledge introduced by David Cameron to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas handouts each year. Ministers are facing pressure to give more money to vital services at home such as cancer screening, schools and the NHS. Council tax bills are rising by the biggest amount for 14 years this year, in part because of the social care crisis – and policing resources are under scrutiny after more than 50 murders in London since the start of the year. The Treasury is also under pressure to give more money to defence as the threat from Russia intensifies.
Britain’s foreign aid budget has rocketed to £14bn – that’s an increase of more than £550 million. But while Britain sends bucket loads of cash abroad to help with things like launching the music career of the Ethiopian Spice Girls, the NHS and police remain chronically underfunded. Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Protecting the overseas aid budget continues to be a costly mistake when there are so many other pressing demands on the budget. At the end of the day, charity starts at home. Council tax seems to be constantly rising but Britain’s public services never seem to improve as the country’s population surges. How can the UK justify sending this much cash abroad instead of spending it on improvements here at home?
The two-child limit on benefits is likely to have caused women to have abortions because they could not afford another baby, a coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders has said. Sixty Church of England bishops joined the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain to call for the policy to be scrapped. Parents can claim child tax credits or universal credit for only their first two children unless there are special circumstances. Anyone who had a third child after April last year was affected. In a letter to The Times, the religious leaders warn: “The policy is expected to tip an estimated extra 200,000 children into poverty.
Free school meals
Up to 100,000 children from low-income families will lose out on free school meals because of the government’s method for setting the threshold at which pupils qualify, a new study has found, prompting accusations the Conservatives are “consciously” targeting poor children. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the decision to discount inflation when freezing the threshold for the next four years means thousands of children miss out. Ministers announced in February that the threshold for free school meals for children whose parents receive universal credit will be set at £7,400 a year before benefits are taken into account. This will be frozen until 2021-22, despite inflation currently being at 2.5 per cent. If the threshold was instead allowed to rise with inflation or earnings, between 80,000 and 100,000 more children respectively would be entitled to free school meals in 2021-22, the IFS said.
AN earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale has hit California. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has reported the quake hit just off the southern coast of the state with shaking felt in Los Angeles. The tremor occurred just before 12:30 p.m. local time south of Santa Cruz Island and was felt as far away as Los Angeles, according to the USGS. Sgt. Eric Buscho, public information officer for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, says they have received no reports of significant injuries or damage, or an influx of 911 calls, in time since earthquake struck. The quake was initially reported as a magnitude 5.0 and upgraded later to 5.3 but there is no tsunami danger. The Los Angeles Fire Department is in “earthquake mode” following the shaking, as is standard protocol, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas tweeted. He said units will be surveying the city.