Northern Ireland

The EU will threaten Theresa May’s Brexit plan Wednesday by warning that Northern Ireland must sign up to Brussels rules and regulations if Britain wishes to leave the customs union and single market. France and Germany are understood to have blocked British plans to continue “fudging” the issue and are now insisting on a legal agreement, which is likely to spark an “explosive row” in the coming days. The DUP, which props up the Conservative minority government in Westminster, will strongly oppose the EU’s proposal, as will Conservative Brexiteers. British Brexit negotiators privately warn that the hardline stance from Brussels has left them unable to negotiate. 

Brussels has drawn up a plan to put the post-Brexit customs border in the Irish Sea in a move which sets it on a collision course with Theresa May.  The Prime Minister struck a deal with the EU in December which committed to keeping a soft border in Ireland as part of the divorce agreement. They also drew up a ‘DUP clause’ which promised there would be ‘no new regulatory barriers’ – effectively no hard border –  between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But the European Commission has deleted this wording in the legal document putting the divorce deal down in writing, according to reports. They have also drawn up  a last resort option which would see Northern Ireland stay under EU rules and regulations if no free trade deal is done.

THE EU plan to threaten Theresa May’s Brexit plan later today, warning that Northern Ireland must sign up to Brussels’ rules and regulations if the UK wishes to leave the single market and customs union. It is believed that France and Germany have blocked British plans to continue “fudging” the issue and now insist on a legal agreement set to spark an “explosive row” over the next few days. 
The DUP – which props up the Conservative minority Government in Westminster – will strongly oppose the EU’s proposal. UK Brexit negotiators are said to be worried that the hardline stance from Brussels has left them unable to negotiate. It is understood that the approach will be set out in the European Commission’s draft withdrawal agreement. According to officials who have seen the agreement, which is due to be published today, if the UK decides to diverge from EU rules the UK/EU border would move into the Irish Sea.

BBC News
On Wednesday, the EU is expected to publish a text which will translate December’s deal between the UK and EU into a legally binding agreement. Mr Coveney said people could expect a document that was “faithful and true” to the pledges made at the end of 2017. Meanwhile, Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister) has said full regulatory alignment should be “spelled out” in this week’s draft EU withdrawal agreement. Leo Varadkar held a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister on Monday evening. In the December deal, the UK pledged there would be no hard Irish border in any post-Brexit circumstances. Since then, however, the two sides have had different interpretations of what was agreed. The sticking point concerns a UK pledge to follow EU rules relating to cross-border co-operation. The UK agreed that, in the absence of an overall deal, it will continue to fully align with the rules of the customs union and single market that are necessary for cross-border co-operation and the protection of the all-island economy. Mr Barnier has said there would be “a large number of rules where this coherence or alignment” would be needed.

Customs Union

BBC News
Any form of customs union with the EU after Brexit would be a “complete sell-out” for the UK, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is to argue. The UK would find itself in a “worse position” than it is now, he will say, if it leaves the existing arrangement but negotiates a similar new one. Labour says such an outcome would help business by securing tariff-free trade. But Mr Fox will say having to accept EU rules and limits on doing other deals would make the UK “less attractive”. In a speech in London, he will warn changing economic and trade patterns mean the EU is a less significant partner than 15 years ago and the UK must have the freedom to exploit the “opportunities of the future”, particularly in services and digital industries.

Jeremy Corbyn has just confirmed that Labour want a “new, comprehensive UK-EU Customs Union” deal that would stop Brexit Britain from negotiating global trade deals. Corbyn also insisted that Labour “would seek to remain in a Customs Union and within the Single Market” during the Brexit transition period set to last into the 2020s and that it was “an option” to remain in other EU agencies. Laughably, the Labour Leader is insisting that his party still “respects the result of the referendum”. The British people voted for a country that was free to do independent trade deals. It is now Labour policy to completely ignore that. What a betrayal.

Jeremy Corbyn’s plan for a customs union with the EU does not overcome the strategic headache of the Irish border and would undoubtedly bind Britain’s hands with onerous conditions, trade experts have warned. Labour’s shift in policy makes sense only if it is the first step in a “softening-up exercise” as the party leadership moves crab-like from its old manifesto position towards the logic of full single market membership. “This is not going to solve the Irish border question,” said Professor Lorand Bartels, a trade lawyer at Cambridge University and senior counsel at Linklaters. “A customs union in itself does not do anything about the issue of ‘regulatory alignment’. The only way to avoid that is going back to something resembling the single market. You might as well go all the way,” he said.

ITV News
Jeremy Corbyn has called on MPs from all parties to support Labour plans for a new customs union with the European Union after Brexit. Labour’s vision for Brexit is one in which there is tariff-free trade with Europe which would also help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland, he said. And at a speech in Coventry, the Labour leader rejected any “race to the bottom” on issues such as workers’ rights, environmental safeguards, consumer protections or food safety standards. He accused the Conservatives of leaving the country “in the dark” about their plans for Brexit, as he called on MPs who are “prepared to put the people’s interests before ideological fantasies” to support plans for a customs union.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech this morning was supposed to end the Labour tactic of creative confusion over it’s Brexit policy, but does no such thing.  UKIP Leader Gerard Batten said: “What Labour are demanding is nothing more than a fantasy ‘Unicorn’ Brexit, where everybody thinks they will receive everything on their wish list, while no serious thought is given to what is actually achievable without revoking the European Communities Act. “Labour’s argument has about as much chance of convincing the EU as it does of fooling the 4 million 2017 Labour voters who voted to leave. This includes the millions of people who have in the past voted UKIP as the guarantor of Brexit, particularly in the Midlands and the North; who are being betrayed by those who pretend to speak for them.

Labour could ditch plans for a customs union with the EU if Brussels refuses to give the UK a say in making new trade deals,  Jeremy Corbyn  has said. The Labour leader’s spokesman insisted plans to stay in the customs union after Brexit were “not a commitment” after Mr Corbyn used a major speech to say his party would seek to negotiate a deal to maintain existing trading terms. Instead, Labour would leave open the option of walking away from negotiations if EU leaders make clear the UK could only be part of the tariff union if it accepts it will not have a say over deals that are made. It means a Labour government could ultimately adopt a similar position to the Conservatives and rule out any customs union with the EU – a move that would likely see tariffs imposed on goods and lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland. Some Labour MPs said their leader’s shift towards staying in a customs union was “nowhere near enough”.

Conservative MPs have sought legal advice about the prospect of Theresa May losing a parliamentary vote on a post-Brexit customs union as Jeremy Corbyn made clear that it had now the support of Labour, the Guardian understands. The opposition leader attempted to outflank the Conservatives with the business community by promising to place such an arrangement firmly on the table in a speech on Monday that won the cautious backing of industry representatives. Corbyn’s suggestion that Labour would pursue “a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union” after Brexit was praised by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Institute of Directors (IoD), as well as the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne. He claimed the Tories had offered Labour an “open goal” by making no customs union a red line and Corbyn had “just kicked the ball into the back of it”.

Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn says Brexit shouldn’t leave Britain worse off as he described protecting people’s jobs and living standards as his “overriding mission”. The Labour leader set out his party’s support for a customs union with the EU which would prevent the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the Good Friday Agreement. His announcement opens up a clear divide with the Prime Minister, who wants to be outside any customs union so Britain can sign free trade deals with countries around the world after leaving the EU. And he stressed that freedom of movement will “as a statement of fact end when we leave the European Union” in an attempt to reassure Labour-voting Brexiteers. But he said that Labour “would not do what this government is doing, start from rigid red lines on immigration.”

BRITAIN should hand over millions to the EU so we can stay tied to Brussels after Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn said today. The Labour leader confirmed that he wants Britain to remain close to the EU by entering a customs union with Europe – even though that would stop the UK cutting our own trade deals. And he said Britain should keep most EU rules and regulations even when we have the freedom to pass our own laws instead. But Mr Corbyn’s plans for a customs union were shot down by Theresa May today, as she vowed Britain would set its own trade policy in future – while other Tories accused him of waving a “white flag” to the EU. Speaking in Coventry, Mr Corbyn insisted the UK must contribute to the Brussels budget after Brexit – saying we should “support individual EU agencies” with cash so we can continue to benefit from their work.

Labour is planning to “weaponise” its new softer Brexit stance to woo three million citizens from other EU nations who are eligible to vote in the forthcoming local elections. MPs have been writing to Europeans living in Britain appealing for their support at the ballot box in London and elsewhere in May. A letter from Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the capital, begins “as someone from an EU member state”, suggesting that the party is directly targeting non-Britons. It tells the recipients that the elections on May 3 are a chance to “send a clear message to Theresa May” on “her disastrous Brexit policy”.


THERESA MAY faces a Tory mutiny after Spain demanded joint management of Gibraltar’s airport as the price of a Brexit deal. Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis also said Madrid wanted greater cooperation on tax and tobacco smuggling. The demands stop short of a full demand for sovereignty. But it threatens to spark yet more uproar among Tory backbenchers furious the Government hasn’t stood up to Spain on the issue of the Rock. Mr Dastis wants an agreement by next month’s crucial EU summit where Britain hopes to seal a Brexit transition deal. Last year  Brussels gave the Spanish government a formal veto over the provisions of any EU-UK Brexit deal that apply to the territory.


Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democratic Union laid the groundwork for a future without the long-serving Chancellor yesterday, elevating a new generation of conservatives – including rival Jens Spahn – to key positions. Merkel faced building pressure from within the party to begin clarifying the questions of succession and enforce a stronger force within the conservative wing leading up to Monday’s Berlin convention in Berlin. If Germany’s governing grand coalition with the Social Democrats is renewed, the coming term is expected to be Merkel’s last. The decision is expected to be answered on Sunday. After a lengthy debate, convention delegates endorsed both the planned grand coalition and Merkel’s Cabinet nominees with near unanimity. At the same time, delegates responded to Merkel’s hour-long speech with polite applause, while meeting Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – the party’s new general secretary and a figure many would like to see as the CDU’s next leader – with excitement.

Angela Merkel warned immigrants to “integrate or face consequences” as she tried to win her party rank-and-file’s support for her coalition deal yesterday. Mrs Merkel received strong backing for the agreement at her annual party conference despite misgivings about handing the powerful finance ministry to the Social Democrats (SPD). Her choice of Jens Spahn, a 37-year-old rightwinger, among six nominees for her next cabinet, along with other new faces, helped to win over critics in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The conference in Berlin also overwhelmingly backed her choice of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 55, as the next CDU secretary-general, a move seen as positioning the Saarland state premier as her preferred successor.


More than 50 abuse or neglect cases have been uncovered in illegal faith schools in the last three years but no one has been prosecuted over them. Pupils were being indoctrinated by extremists and exposed to danger in underground religious schools. In one case, an Islamic school in Birmingham was allowing children to read a book which claimed all gay people should be murdered. In another, a staff member at a Jewish school was filmed striking a pupil over the head. Many of the other schools were keeping children in filthy conditions, with no regard for health and safety law. Ofsted said it has identified more than 350 illegal schools, and since 2014 has issued safeguarding alerts – concerns of abuse or neglect – regarding 50 of them. However, despite the findings, the Department for Education has been unable to carry out prosecutions because of a loophole in the law.


Sky News
Women face “unacceptable differences” in breast cancer care across England caused by variations in screening, the availability of drugs and a staffing crisis, a new report has concluded. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer found “stark” variations in the standard and availability of care across England, sometimes within the same town or region. Marked differences in the volume and effectiveness of screening means that some women are far more likely to have their cancer diagnosed early. In areas with complete diagnosis records for at least nine out of 10 women, Rushcliffe covering Nottingham was the best-performing area with 88% of breast cancers identified at stage 1 or 2. Gloucestershire on the other hand was the worst performing with just 62%. 
In Slough, just 32% of breast cancers were identified at stage 1 or 2, but the area only has complete records of the diagnosis path of 40% of cases so was not highlighted by the report.


British farmers will not accept lower welfare and hygiene standards under any post-Brexit trade deals, and will fight to remain as part of a customs union, the new president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has pledged. Minette Batters, the first woman to head the powerful farmers’ lobby since its foundation 110 years ago, set out a vision of farming as a unifying force across the UK, providing high-quality but low-cost food to consumers on a tight budget while safeguarding the environment and providing one in eight of the UK’s jobs. “A customs union [with the EU] is absolutely vital,” she said, pointing out what farmers have to lose from EU trade, which accounts for 40% of lamb, 80% of dairy and 75% of the UK’s wheat and barley exports. In her first public speech since her election last week, she said: “The food we produce is a public good. Good quality, safe and traceable food is a public right and above all else a necessity. I want British farming to be the food producer of choice for every British citizen, no matter who they are, where they live and regardless of their income.”


Britain’s largest rail operators are accused of benefiting from transport chaos by pocketing millions of pounds in compensation while passengers endure cancellations and delays. Train companies are pocketing millions in compensation from travel chaos as swathes of Britain are hit by cancellations and delays caused by blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. Britain’s biggest rail operators will run reduced services on Tuesday and Wednesday as up to 10cm of snow falls in parts of the country, with commuters on some of the country’s busiest lines facing severe disruption. The Met Office has issued weather warnings for Eastern England and parts of the South East including Kent, East Sussex and Suffolk, with passengers on some services urged to avoid travelling altogether.

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