Trade talks

Boris Johnson is set to kick start trade talks with the US within the next two weeks, amid frustration in Number 10 at EU “time wasting.” The Prime Minister will next week (March 2) publish the Government’s “red lines” for its US trade negotiations which are expected to push back on US demands for its drug and health firms to have greater access to the British market. In an apparent nod to US concerns over Britain’s tough stance on food and agricultural standards, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, on Sunday appeared to soften the UK’s resistance to importing American chemically-treated chicken. Although he said he said there were “no plans” to allow imports of chlorine-treated chicken which is illegal in the UK, he said it was an outdated technology which had largely been replaced in the US by chickens washed with lactic acid.

Business leaders have urged Boris Johnson to avoid heaping misery on firms with post-Brexit red tape as the UK draws battle lines for trade talks with Brussels. As the government prepares to spell out its demands this week, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) appealed to the government to limit bureaucracy for firms that are already fearful of a no-deal exit at the end of the year. Senior ministers are expected to sign off on the UK’s negotiating blueprint on Tuesday, which will underline the prime minister’s desire for a Canada-style trade deal with limited tariffs on goods. But Downing Street’s hardline stance has already set the UK on a collision course with Brussels, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier explicitly ruling out a deal similar to the agreement the bloc has with Canada. It comes after French president Emmanuel Macron cast doubt on whether a deal could be reached before the end of the Brexit transition period in December, setting up for a new cliff edge at the end of the year. Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general, unveiled a string of demands for British officials going into the talks, including trusted trader schemes, simplified paperwork for customs checks and reciprocal mobility agreements for business trips to European countries.

ITV News
Businesses have urged Boris Johnson to drive down post-Brexit red tape in a trade deal with the European Union as the UK prepares to sign off on its negotiating demands. A Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report on Monday called on the Prime Minister to ensure a deal with Brussels minimises bureaucracy to ensure a strong economy. Ministers are expected to commit to seeking to obtain a Canada-style agreement with zero tariffs in the negotiating mandate scheduled for publication on Thursday. But this could set up a clash with the EU after its chief negotiator Michel Barnier ruled out the possibility the UK can have the same deal as the North American nation.

Sky News
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to begin trade talks with the US within the coming fortnight, according to a report. The move towards a free trade deal with the US comes amid frustration in Downing Street with the speed of talks between the UK and EU. Next week Mr Johnson will publish the government’s “red lines” for negotiations next week, according to The Daily Telegraph. These are expected to include a push back against US demands for its pharmaceutical firms to have greater access to the UK market. Another issue could be Britain’s stance on food and agricultural standards. On Sunday Environment Secretary George Eustice dismissed fears that chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef could be rolled out in UK supermarkets.

Bypassing agreed checks on goods in the Irish Sea could mark the end of any hopes of US-UK trade deal, Boris Johnson’s government has been warned amid claims it will renege on its commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement. The prime minister is reported to have ordered his Brexit team to find ways to “get around” agreed protocol on Northern Ireland that would see goods checked as they are transported to Great Britain following the end of the transition period. He is expected to ask his Brexit ‘war cabinet’ to approve the plan before it is published on Thursday, according to The Sunday Times. But Ireland’s former envoy to the European Union warned attempt to swerve the agreement could mean the premature end of Downing Street’s long-promised trade agreement between the UK and the US.

Reneging on the special Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland will risk trade deals with both the EU and the US, experts have warned. Concern has been raised after Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiating team has reportedly been ordered to come up with plans to “get around” the Northern Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement, which includes checks on goods and food going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Former Irish ambassador to the EU Bobby McDonagh said reneging on it would have serious consequences, including posing a risk to a future deal with Washington, where there is considerable support for Ireland. “If UK gov were to renege on its legal obligations under Brexit withdrawal agreement to protect Good Friday agreement, it would have many consequences. One would be the end of any prospect of a UK-US trade deal,” he said in a tweet.

Britain must not exclude its huge services industry from a planned trade deal with the European Union as the price for reclaiming control over its economy, a group representing British employers said on Monday. The Confederation of British Industry urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure a post-Brexit deal that will not leave out service industries, such as finance, something many employers fear if London and Brussels stick to their guns. Avoiding costly red tape and customs complexities were also vital for goods companies, the CBI said. Britain and the EU are expected to begin talks for a trade deal next month, leaving little time before a post-Brexit standstill period expires on Dec. 31. Most economists polled by Reuters this month thought the most likely outcome would be a goods-only deal.


The Chancellor may relax the fiscal rules to raise £26 billion extra a year in his Budget next month as he prepares for the biggest spending boost for at least two decades. Rishi Sunak is considering giving the Government the leeway to go one per cent above or below a balanced current budget – a move that could raise an extra £26 billion for hospitals, criminal justice, transport upgrades and schools. The other Budget option, which would raise an extra £11 billion, would relax the fiscal rules of Sajid Javid, his predecessor, to allow the Government to achieve a balanced budget within five, rather than three years.  The moves on the fiscal rules – first floated by the Resolution Foundation last year – could also reduce the need to raise taxes amid signs of growing opposition to them amongst Conservative backbenchers.

Rishi Sunak is expected to drop plans to cut pensions tax relief for higher earners in the face of fierce resistance from Tory MPs but has refused to rule out increasing fuel duty in his first budget. The chancellor has to submit his final policies to the Office for Budget Responsibility this week so it can draw up its forecasts. The government had been considering moves to cut pensions tax relief for high earners from 40 per cent to 20 per cent in a move that would have raised £10 billion a year. However, Tory MPs are strongly opposed to the move and there are concerns that it would be too complex to implement at such short notice.

CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak is planning a massive Budget boost for the North with the creation of a mini-Treasury and billions for road, rail and hospital projects. The Government aims to repay northern towns that helped deliver the first Tory landslide in a generation. By moving a significant number of its 1,500 officials out of Whitehall it will shift economic decision-making away from London and help spread “opportunity and prosperity to all”. Around £70billion is likely to be spent in the North, it has been claimed.  At the election, the Conservatives pledged £100billion in capital spending for road and rail projects, new hospitals and other big schemes. The aim is to focus spending on regional growth, particularly outside the affluent South-east.  Mr Sunak, who delivers the Budget on March 11 – just 26 days after his shock appointment – is said to be considering loosening financial rules set by predecessor Sajid Javid.

David Davis has warned Boris Johnson not to go ahead with a potential pension tax relief raid at the Budget as the former Cabinet minister said it would be a ‘moral disgrace’.  The ex-Brexit secretary said hitting savers in the pocket would represent an ‘economic farce’ as he urged caution on the issue.  A tax grab on pensions was floated earlier this month as one of the ways that the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak could raise cash to fund the government’s infrastructure plans.  But the suggestion sparked an immediate backlash and accusations that it could ultimately leave workers £10 billion a year worse off.

We are now in the warm-up period before negotiations begin between the EU and the UK. Predictably, both sides are digging their heels in and it looks as though there is a good chance of some sort of bust-up. Not so long ago, this prospect would have caused anguish among the EU-supporting British commentariat. Remarkably, it now seems to be greeted with equanimity. Many people appear to have come to the view, long held by most Brexiteers, including myself, that although it would be preferable to get a good trade deal with the EU, we can do perfectly well without one. By contrast, there is increasing anxiety about the future of the EU.


Four new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK on Sunday, as experts warned of an impending pandemic with parts of Italy in lockdown after a massive rise in the number of new infections there. The new British patients had all been passengers on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were in quarantine in The Wirral when they fell ill, having returned from Japan on Saturday. It emerged on Sunday that the patients had been tested while in Japan, but the results were not received until Sunday morning, by which point they were back in the UK.  They have now been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres. Of the four people who tested positive for coronavirus, two patients are in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, one is in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and a fourth was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, NHS England said.

Experts have warned the world has reached a coronavirus  ‘tipping point’ after an explosion of cases in the last few days, including three deaths in Italy and another four infected in Britain, sparked panic in Europe. It comes as Austria last night briefly halted all trains moving to and from Italy which has locked down 50,000 residents in 12 of its northern towns after 150 became infected. As Italy recorded its first death on Friday, the director general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of a narrowing ‘window of opportunity.’ Sharp rises in Italy, Iran and South Korea have brought this window into stark focus as the global infection toll soared to 79,166 today, including 2,470 deaths.


Nicola Sturgeon has called a plan by one of her MPs to force a second independence referendum through a series of by-elections unreasonable as tensions simmer within the SNP. The Scottish first minister is facing pushback from some in her ranks who want another ballot on separation to be held sooner rather than later. Ms Sturgeon has said that she wants a vote to take place before the end of this year but privately senior party figures accept this is near-impossible given the timescale and Boris Johnson’s refusal to transfer the required powers to Holyrood. The constitution is reserved to Westminster.

BBC News
Nicola Sturgeon has said she “emphatically” wants to remain as first minister for at least a few years. Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show, the SNP leader said she believed she had the support of “party and of country” to hold her post. It comes after party figures told BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley Ms Sturgeon may be in trouble. She also defended a proposal for a “Scottish visa” system after the UK government unveiled immigration plans. MSPs would decide the criteria for this new visa, and the Scottish government would receive and assess applications before sending them to the UK government for security checks.


Far-right extremists are growing in number and are more intent on committing terrorist attacks, one of Britain’s top police officers has said. Dave Thompson, chief constable of West Midlands and vice-chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said fanatics who once would not have acted on their views were increasingly planning attacks. He added that although he backed emergency legislation to stop the automatic release of terrorists it would only defer the problem, and that officers could not monitor every suspect round the clock. Far-right terrorists have been more active in Britain in recent years. The Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in 2016 by Thomas Mair, and Darren Osborne murdered a worshipper at Finsbury Park mosque in north London in 2017.

Two former reviewers of the government’s anti-terror legislation have launched a bid to stop Boris Johnson changing the law so that Islamist prisoners currently in jail can be kept behind bars for longer. The prime minister says the new law being rushed through parliament in the wake of this month’s Islamist knife attack in Streatham must be passed by Thursday to avoid the release over the coming weeks of offenders who pose a threat to the public. The House of Lords is being asked to complete all stages of the bill in a single day on Monday. But a former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, told The Independent that it was “fatuous” to believe that the move would keep the public safe without the commitment of extra funds for deradicalisation programmes in jails and supervision of offenders after release. And former anti-terror law reviewers David Anderson and Alex Carlile joined with Conservative former attorney general Edward Garnier and former Lib Dem deputy leader Alan Beith to table an amendment which would block Mr Johnson’s plan for the release of existing terror inmates to be delayed until they have served at least two-thirds of their sentence.


NURSES are to be trained to perform certain surgeries as part of new plans to halt a rise in NHS waiting times. The plans will see nurses given the option to take a two-year course to qualify as “surgical care practitioners” and carry out procedures including the removal of hernias, benign cysts, and some skin cancers. Nurses will also be qualified to perform important tasks during major operations like hearts bypasses and hip replacements. The proposals are expected to be announced in the coming months as part of the NHS’s People Plan. The much-anticipated plan will set out a series of reforms intended to improve the NHS as a workplace, ensure it is equipped to treat an ageing population, and address staffing shortages. NHS figures show that there are 43,600 vacant nursing positions – 12 percent of the total. The last ten years has also seen record numbers of patients on waiting lists for non-emergency care as well as continual increases in waiting times for A&E and cancer treatments.

Campaigners are challenging the ‘discriminatory’ law that allows abortion for Down’s syndrome up until birth. It is wrong to permit terminations at any time for babies with serious disabilities, including Down’s, cleft lip and club foot, while other foetuses are protected by a 24-week limit, they argue. Heidi Crowter, 24, a woman with Down’s, has joined Cheryl Bilsborrow, who has a two-year-old with the genetic disorder, to write to Health Secretary Matt Hancock seeking a change to the 1967 Abortion Act to prevent late abortions for all non-fatal disabilities.

Eating a piece of fruit and a large serving of vegetables a day could reduce the risk of having the most common type of stroke by 13 per cent, a study has found. An international team of scientists investigated the association between specific foods  and the likelihood of two stroke types. They found that for every 200g of fruit and vegetables — roughly one medium apple and a generous helping of broccoli — there was a 13 per cent lower risk of an ischaemic stroke. Every 10g extra of fibre eaten a day was linked with a 23 per cent lower risk of ischaemic stroke.

Channel 4

Boris Johnson is planning to sell off Channel 4 after boycotting the ‘left-wing’ broadcaster, senior Tory MPs have claimed. The prime minister has refused to appear on the broadcaster since its head of news Dorothy Byrne said he was ‘a proven liar’ at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August. It has been alleged the channel could become more like Fox News following the sale, as Britain’s broadcast media ‘is so biased to the left’. ‘Boris Johnson has privately confirmed that he will definitely privatise Channel 4,’ a Conservative MP told the Sunday Express. ‘He thinks it’s a great idea.’

Boris Johnson has confirmed he is planning to sell off Channel 4, senior Tory MPs have claimed. The prime minister believes that privatising the publicly-owned broadcaster is a “great idea”, according to a report in the Sunday Express. His alleged remarks come in the wake of a series of rows between Downing Street and Channel 4 over its coverage of the election campaign. Mr Johnson appears to have boycotted the broadcaster since its head of news Dorothy Byrne described him as a “proven liar” in August last year. He pulled out of a planned interview and refused to take part in Channel 4’s leaders debate on climate change in November.  The prime minister was replaced by a melting ice sculpture in the studio.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email