The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned David Frost that without a major negotiating shift by Downing Street within the next 48 hours he will pull out of the Brexit negotiations in London this weekend, pushing the talks into a fresh crisis. In talks via videoconference on Tuesday, Barnier told his British counterpart that further negotiations would be pointless if the UK was not willing to compromise on the outstanding issues. Should Barnier effectively walk out on the negotiations it would present the most dangerous moment yet for the troubled talks, with just 36 days to go before the end of the transition period. While Brussels might hope such a move would put the UK prime minister under pressure to give Frost new negotiating instructions, it might also embolden those within the Tory party who believe no deal is the better outcome.
EUROSCEPTIC Tory MPs have warned they could vote against any EU trade deal which infringes on Britain’s sovereignty, even if it’s recommended by Boris Johnson, according to reports. The Government is currently attempting to negotiate a new trade deal with Brussels. This would come into effect when the Brexit transition period finishes at the end of the year. However talks remain deadlocked over European access to British fishing waters and the EU’s demand for a regulatory ‘level playing field’. Speaking to The Telegraph a source close to the European Research Group (ERG), a Eurosceptic group of Tory backbenchers, delivered a warning to Mr Johnson. They said ERG members could vote against the trade deal in the House of Commons unless their red lines are respected.
FRANCE has accused Britain of deliberately taking Brexit trade talks to the brink of no deal in the row over fisheries. Foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Downing Street was slowing the negotiations in an attempt to win concessions on the main sticking points. But he insisted Paris would not cave in on its demands for near-parity access to Britain’s coastal waters after Brexit. “The outcome is uncertain,” Mr Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing. “British overtures remain insufficient on the most sensitive matters.” “At this time, Britain is dragging its feet on secondary matters and is playing with the calendar. I say this to our British friends, we won’t let the calendar take priority over the content of the accord.”
Europe’s financial markets regulator has thrown down the gauntlet over post-Brexit trading by refusing to relax rules on the trading of swaps and derivatives. The European Securities and Markets Authority said that EU rules on trading of complex financial instruments would mean that UK branches of European banks will have to comply with both British and European rules after the Brexit transition ends on Dec 31. The decision could effectively force some financial institutions to execute trades in New York or other European hubs rather than in the UK. London currently dominates the multi-trillion pound derivatives sector and has a far greater market share than hubs in France or Germany – the two leaders among the EU 27.
THE European Union’s last-ditch attempts to lock the UK into their rules as part of a long-term post-Brexit trade deal have sparked fury among Brexiteers, with one campaign group branding the “desperate” move “absolutely absurd”. In a bid to break the deadlock in negotiations, the EU is understood to have demanded a review in 10-15 years on any post-Brexit trade agreements with the UK – which critics say leaves the door open for a reversal by a future pro-EU Government in the UK. The review down the line would mean a future Government could simply “roll over” to the EU, tearing up all the progress made by the current UK negotiators. The move has sparked a furious reaction from one Brexiteer group, which warned such a proposal would push the UK further away from the negotiating table.
French police have arrested what is being characterised as a major people-smuggling operation behind many of the small rubber boats that have carried illegal migrants across the English Channel to the UK. Police arrested six Iraqi and Syrian men during raids in the city of Sin-le-Noble in northern France. The alleged human traffickers are said to have played a “crucial” role in facilitating dozens of illegal boat crossings since at least May. During the raids, police also seized 14 inflatable boats.
A top casting agent who worked on hit TV shows for the BBC, ITV and Netflix has banned British boys from auditioning to play a young Prince William in an upcoming feature about his mother because of Brexit. Amy Hubbard, who worked on the Trial of Christine Keeler, White House Farm, and Isolation Stories is seeking an 11-year-old boy to play Prince William in Spencer. The biopic, starring Kristen Stewart as Lady Diana is set on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in the 1990s when she realises over the course of three days that her marriage was over.
Local lockdown tiers announced tomorrow (Thursday) may already be outdated and ‘unjustified’ when England’s national shutdown lapses next week because Covid infections are plummeting across the country, according to one of Britain’s top infectious disease experts. Just 9,854 new infections were recorded in England yesterday, almost half of the number of diagnoses last Tuesday (18,626). If infections halve again next week, the country will be in the same situation it was prior to the second wave in September, when there were minimal curbs in place. Professor Carl Heneghan, an epidemiologist and expert in evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said ‘if the trend continues it will be hard to justify tougher tiered restrictions’ when the national lockdown ends on December 2.
LONDON and Liverpool are expected to avoid being to be put in the highest Tier 3 when ministers reveal post-lockdown rules for each region of England today. But Manchester is set to fall under the toughest restrictions and only a few rural areas will be in the lightest Tier 1 – meaning tens of millions of Brits will be banned from meeting indoors. London was last night expected to be put in the beefed-up Tier 2 when lockdown ends on December 2. Matt Hancock is due to confirm which areas will be in which tier at 1130am. It comes after MPs warned of the economic disaster crippling restrictions could have on the capital in the run-up to Christmas. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweeted last night: “What happens next in lockdown matters for the economy too… after meetings tonight London’s likely to be in Tier 2 along with most parts of England.
Nicola Sturgeon is planning tougher Christmas lockdown rules in Scotland than England as the ‘four nations’ approach fractures within 24 hours. The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing three households to mix from December 23 to 27. The First Minister said staying at home should be the ‘default’ position but the easing of restrictions to allow households to gather over Christmas is a ‘recognition of a reality that exists over the Christmas period, whether I like it or not’. Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch added the prevalence of coronavirus will ‘almost certainly’ rise as a result of allowing more households to mix over Christmas.
NICOLA STURGEON has single-handedly broken a “four-nations” Christmas coronavirus lockdown plan as she warned Scots could be facing even stricter rules while Britons elsewhere look forward to a relaxation of measures. The UK Government and devolved administrations agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing friends and family to hug for the first time in months. A joint statement issued by the four UK governments said they had been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, recognising it must be “limited and cautious”.
The balance of power in Britain should be “recast” after Brexit with greater devolution and a council of ministers representing the four nations of the UK, the Scottish Labour leader has said. Speaking to The Independent, Richard Leonard said he was feeding in his views to Sir Keir Starmer, who is expected to outline the party’s vision for the “future modernisation” of the constitution in the coming weeks. During the contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader pledged to maintain the 2019 manifesto commitment to hold a “constitutional convention” and look at decentralising decision-making on the principles of federalism. Mr Leonard said the party should not “wait around” until it returns to government and begin work immediately.
Britons are facing up to £46billion in tax rises and spending cuts to get spiralling debt under control, it was revealed today as Rishi Sunak splashed the cash one last time to shore up jobs and businesses before coronavirus vaccines can finally end the crisis. The Treasury watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that to keep the government’s finances balanced after coronavirus, between £21billion and £46billion will need to be raised by 2025. While taxes are not expected to rise in the short term, that could mean more acute economic pain before 2025 if tax raises or spending cuts are delayed. And the IFS warns that the years ahead could be even worse than the OBR predicts, with the UK in for ‘a pretty austere few years once again, or for some significant tax rises.’
Rishi Sunak has warned Britain that its Covid-19 economic emergency has only just begun after responding to news of the deepest slump in more than 300 years by pledging a fresh £55bn to tackle the pandemic. On the day that the daily death toll from the virus reached a new second-wave peak of 696, the chancellor said that despite borrowing a peacetime record of £394bn this year, he would need to carry on spending in order to protect lives and livelihoods. Sunak said his one-year spending plan for the economy included the biggest sustained increase in infrastructure investment for four decades, and involved more money for housing, railways, broadband upgrades and Boris Johnson’s green agenda, totalling £100bn next year.
Rishi Sunak steeled the country for a slow and painful recovery from the coronavirus crisis as he warned that the United Kingdom was only at the start of the “economic emergency” triggered by the pandemic. The Chancellor announced sharp increases in spending on public services to combat the infection and promised to press ahead with heavy investment in infrastructure projects in less prosperous parts of the country. His blueprint for rebuilding a shattered economy over the next year was set against the background of dire forecasts over the health of the UK’s finances. Delivering his spending review statement, he told the Commons: “Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun.”
Rishi Sunak said that Britain’s economic emergency had only just begun as the long-term damage that the pandemic has inflicted on growth, jobs and the public finances was laid bare. The chancellor froze public sector pay and reduced foreign aid yesterday but must still find tens of billions in tax rises and spending cuts to stop debt running out of control. The independent budget watchdog said that the economy would be 11.3 per cent smaller this year than was forecast before Covid-19, the biggest fall for 300 years, and still 3 per cent smaller by 2025 owing to “long-term scarring”. It is not forecast to return to 2019 levels until late in 2022, meaning that coronavirus has cost the country three years of growth,
Oxford University and AstraZeneca on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental Covid-19 vaccine. A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected. In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90 per cent effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62 per cent effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70 per cent effective.
The breakthrough results from trials of Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine are based on ‘shaky science’, an expert has warned. Hopes of ending the pandemic grew on Monday when scientists announced the jab — which is being manufactured by AstraZeneca — could block up to 90 per cent of Covid-19 infections. Oxford’s candidate is seen as a potential silver bullet because it costs a fraction of the price of rivals made by Pfizer and Moderna and does not need to be stored in expensive fridges. But Hilda Bastian, an accomplished scientist turned writer who blogs for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), claims data from the Oxford trials has been ‘patched together’ and excludes results from the groups most vulnerable to Covid.
BRITAIN has a “50/50 chance” of becoming the first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine — with a decision expected as early as next week. NHS staff will be first in the queue for the jab under plans being finalised by health bosses. Frontline workers are now expected to be immunised ahead of care home residents and other vulnerable older Brits. High-risk under-65s will also move up the pecking order. Ministers are also primed to launch a nationwide campaign across TV and radio highlighting the benefits of vaccination as early as next week. Final safety data for the Pfizer jab, which offers 95 per cent protection, was given to regulators on Monday.
In the world of Covid vaccines there are three big contenders which have proved to be highly effective and at the forefront of the race. The Pfizer/BioNTech candidate is 95% effective and has passed its safety checks, according to data from the firm, interim trial results for Moderna’s jab have suggested it may be 94.5% effective against Covid-19 and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be up to 90% effective. The idea that we could be administering a vaccine by the end of the year is an exciting one for the science industry and indeed the world, but what is the next stage in the vaccine process and how close are we from approving a jab? What happens next? Before the vaccines are rolled out nationally, they need to go before the regulatory body – the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The BBC is losing the loyalty of its older, upmarket audience, a report has found, after a year in which the corporation concentrated its energies on wooing the young. Satisfaction levels among viewers and listeners aged 55 and above from middle class backgrounds are waning, according to statistics from Ofcom. At the same time, despite its efforts to appeal to teens and 20-somethings, the proportion of young people using the BBC each week fell from 86 per cent in 2017 to 79 per cent in the past year, while working class audiences also said they did not feel represented by the national broadcaster. In its annual report on the BBC, Ofcom said: “For the first time, satisfaction levels among audiences who typically use the BBC the most, and have been most satisfied with it, are beginning to show signs of waning.
Older, wealthier viewers are falling out of love with the BBC as its overall audience continues to decline. Britons spent an average of two hours and 22 minutes a day with the national broadcaster’s television, radio and digital services last year, down 19 minutes since 2017. Middle-class and older people have been the BBC’s most devoted audience but even they are starting to drift away, according to the media regulator Ofcom. The proportion of over-55s with a positive impression of the BBC has slipped from 64 per cent to 62 per cent in two years, while the corporation’s reach among higher socio-economic households has fallen from 96 per cent to 92 per cent.
BBC VIEWERS over the age of 55 are growing less satisfied with the broadcaster, new figures from Ofcom reveal. The new figures suggest the service is attempting to cater more to a younger audience, according to analysts – but struggling to do so. The proportion of young people using the BBC fell from 86 percent to 79 percent between 2017 and 2019. Specifically, Ofcom said the BBC “is still struggling to reach and retain young audiences” in spite of steps to improve on this. Ofcom released its third Annual Report on the BBC yesterday, which covered the period between April 2019 and March 2020. It aims to assess how well the BBC complied with its regulatory requirements, as well as how well Ofcom itself serves as the BBC’s regulator.
The loyalty of older and wealthier BBC viewers is draining away as the corporation desperately tries to attract younger audiences, a report from the media regulator has revealed. Ofcom also said yesterday that the corporation was out of touch with large swathes of licence fee payers around the UK, as its audience continues to fall. Satisfaction levels from over-55s and the well-off is ‘waning’ for the first time, the regulator said. It also warned only half of adults regarded its news service as impartial, with many viewing it as too focused on London. Although they use its services the most, older people have a less ‘positive overall impression’ of the broadcaster than adults and youngsters do in general, Ofcom’s annual report found.
The Chancellor has delivered a “kick in the teeth to people living in rural areas” by quietly dropping a pledge to connect the whole of the UK with gigabit capable broadband by 2025, pulling it back to just 85pc. “The Government is working with industry to target a minimum of 85pc gigabit capable coverage by 2025, but will seek to accelerate roll-out further to get as close to 100pc as possible,” according to The National Infrastructure Strategy, published on Wednesday alongside the Treasury’s Spending Review. The pledge to provide the UK with gigabit broadband has already been watered down once.