BORIS JOHNSON has effectively turned the tables on Michel Barnier and the EU by setting an October 15 deadline for the conclusion of trade talks, a Brexiteer MP has said. And David Jones, deputy chairman of the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) said the EU’s negotiator would do well to heed one of his favourite phrases, explaining: “The clock is ticking.” However, the MP for Clwyd West said he remains pessimistic about the prospects of an agreement, despite a recent suggestion by James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, that both sides were “edging towards a deal“. Mr Johnson earlier this month set the deadline as he confirmed the publication of the Internal Market Bill, which if given Royal Assent will controversially grant the UK Government powers to override aspects of the withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
The European Union and Britain both said a post-Brexit deal was still some way off and differences persisted on Monday over putting in place their earlier divorce deal as they began a decisive week of talks in Brussels. Britain left the EU last January and is locked in negotiations on a new trade deal from 2021, as well as on implementing the divorce, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, especially on the sensitive Irish border. EU national leaders will assess the state of play at a summit next month, with a no-deal Brexit still possible. Negotiations have stumbled over fisheries, fair competition and settling disputes, and Brexit descended into fresh chaos this month when London proposed draft laws that would undermine the earlier agreement.
Michael Gove travelled to Brussels on Monday to kick off another week of Brexit trade talks in the EU capital. The cabinet minister represented the UK government at so-called “joint committee” talks about the Northern Irish border – which is still a source of disagreement in negotiations. Mr Gove met with European Commission vice president Marcos Sefcovic, who has accused the UK government of moving towards an “extremely serious violation” of the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed earlier this year.
BRUSSELS have proposed intensive secret trade negotiations called “Le Submarine” – but Brits fear a trap on fishing. The super secret talks would allow both sides to hammer a trade deal with the EU over the line without the constant public sniping that has dominated so far. But UK negotiators are weary Brussels are trying to bounce Britain into last minute concessions or face being blamed for the “submarine talks” sinking. One UK source said “obviously we are ready to up the pace but people are getting too over excited – there still is a long way to go and fish remains very tricky.”
BRUSSELS today backtracked on its threat to pull the plug on trade talks after the Government refused to drop plans to tear up part of the Brexit divorce deal. Top eurocrat Maros Sefcovic insisted the European Union would not walk away from the negotiations despite earlier this month giving Downing Street until Wednesday to ditch the proposed Brexit Bill. But the European Commission vice-president said the bloc would not drop its plans to haul Boris Johnson in front European judges over alleged breaches to last year’s Withdrawal Agreement. In an amicable Brussels meeting, the EU official vowed to work with Michael Gove to alleviate concerns that the Northern Ireland border protocol could create a border between the province and Great Britain.
Brussels threatened Britain with legal action but refused to walk out of trade negotiations on Monday after the UK Government rejected EU demands for changes in the Internal Market Bill. The European Commission had set London a deadline of midnight on Wednesday to excise provisions in the Bill relating to Northern Ireland which override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. “Those clauses will remain in that Bill,” Michael Gove said after meeting Maroš Šefcovic, the commission vice-president, in Brussels.
The EU has doubled down on its threat to take legal action against the UK unless it withdraws its controversial internal market bill that could breach the Brexit withdrawal agreement. European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefcovic said the EU would “not be shy” in using legal methods to stop the UK implementing the legislation after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December. “The UK’s position is far apart from what the EU can accept,” Šefcovic said. Boris Johnson’s internal market bill contains clauses that would be activated if the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on 31 December without striking a trade deal with Brussels.
EUROPEAN Council chief Charles Michel issued a thinly veiled threat to Britain as wrangling over a post-Brexit trade deal got underway. The European Union’s most senior official insisted the UK must choose between the bloc’s standards or face losing access to its markets. His bizarre rant came after a cordial meeting between Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to end recent rows over Britain’s EU divorce. Speaking at a Brussels think-tank, Mr Michel claimed Boris Johnson faces the EU’s “quiet strength” to maintain the bloc’s standards for food safety, animal health and environmental standards. The Council President said: “In the aftermath of the referendum, the result shook the European Union.
European negotiators have indicated for the first time that they are prepared to start writing a joint legal text of a trade agreement with the UK, before fresh talks begin today. In a potentially significant move Brussels is understood to have dropped its demand for the two sides to reach a broad agreement on all the outstanding areas of dispute before drafting a final agreement. In return the UK side is expected to engage in detailed discussions on post-Brexit fishing quotas and the government’s future subsidy policy, two of the biggest remaining sticking points.
The UK will be flooded with cheaply produced food should it lower its regulatory standards after Brexit, Brussels has warned, echoing a new animal and child welfare campaign backed by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. On the eve of a crunch round of negotiations in Brussels over the UK’s future trade and security relationship with the EU, the European council president, Charles Michel, said Boris Johnson’s government faced a major choice with just three months left of the transition period in which the UK remains in the single market.
Migrants crossing the Channel in small boats from “safe countries” will be refused asylum, the government plans. The system for handling failed asylum seekers was condemned by Chris Philp, a Home Office minister yesterday as “not fit for purpose” with “vexatious” challenges by lawyers preventing deportations after a record number of migrants crossed the channel over the summer. Priti Patel, the home secretary, told MPs: “We want to ensure our asylum system is not being abused by those who are not genuine asylum seekers.”
Pensioners could face severe delays getting a flu vaccine this winter, with a surge in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic leading to shortages. High street pharmacies Boots and Lloyds have decided to suspend bookings for those aged 65 and over at branches across the UK. Meanwhile, waiting lists at some GP surgeries are at high levels, leading to a potential several week wait for the jab for the elderly. It means that those aged 65 or above are facing the prospect of being without a flu vaccine over the winter, despite the government promising that, as the most vulnerable, they would be at the front of the queue.
The flu vaccine is running short across parts of the UK, causing fears that pensioners could face delays in getting the jab. Surging demand caused by coronavirus has prompted high street pharmacies Boots and Lloyds to suspend bookings for those aged 65 and over, while the waiting list at some GP surgeries stands at several weeks. The shortages leave swathes of the most vulnerable in the population with no immediate prospect of a flu jab, despite a Government promise that they would be at the front of the queue.
Alcohol will not be sold in parliament’s bars and restaurants after the 10pm curfew – following criticism over an exemption from the coronavirus rules. Earlier, it emerged bars on the House of Commons estate were not subject to restrictions introduced last week for hospitality venues in England as they are designated “workplace canteens”. Under the new rules, “workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food”.
MPs will be banned from buying alcohol after 10pm after Parliamentary authorities said its bars and restaurants would not be exempt from early closing times. Venues serving alcohol in the Palace of Westminster were expected to be exempt from the new coronavirus rules as they qualify as “workplace canteens”, according to The Times. But after a furious backlash, a Parliament spokesperson said: “Alcohol will not be sold after 10pm anywhere on the parliamentary estate.”
The Houses of Parliament has said it will not serve alcohol on its premises after 10pm despite not being subject to England’s Covid-19 hospitality curfew. Parliament is not bound by the early closing time because of exemptions for “workplace canteens” where there are no “practical” food alternatives on offer. While most of its bars remain shut, MPs said the rules risked making Parliament look “ridiculous” to the public.
Local lockdown laws
A Tory rebellion over coronavirus laws is set to be thwarted this week despite mounting anger over fines and rules brought in with minimal notice and a lack of parliamentary scrutiny. New measures for England came into force on Monday including a ban on mass singing in pubs, £1,000 fines for falsely reporting that someone must quarantine, and a £4,000 first-time fine for those deemed “reckless” for coming into contact with large numbers of people when they should be self-isolating, for example by going to an office. They were published on Sunday evening, hours before coming into force.
Boris Johnson is facing a Red Wall revolt after a new Covid crackdown stopped friends meeting for a drink. With 16 million Britons now under draconian restrictions, Tory MPs warned of ‘national lockdown by default’. Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday banned two million people in the North East from socialising anywhere indoors. Although pubs and restaurants in the region can stay open, it will be illegal to go for a drink with a member of another household or visit them at their home from Wednesday. The tightened measures affect Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham, and are enforceable by law and could be accompanied by a fine.
Police are ‘struggling’ to enforce coronavirus rules because there are not enough officers to crack down on the 10pm curfew breakers, a union boss warned today. John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, said there were often now just ‘one or two’ officers available to police busy high streets in towns and cities at night when the curfew begins on pubs and restaurants. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we’re struggling now if I’m honest, certainly my colleagues are, because of just the daily pressures.’ Mr Apter added: ‘Here’s the reality – in a typical large town or city centre, I think the public think we have hundreds and hundreds of police officers to police.
Boris Johnson has been accused by Conservative MPs of ruling by decree after creating an array of coronavirus offences, including falsely reporting that someone must quarantine and pubs playing music too loudly. The new offences, which were not subject to consultation, also include penalties of £4,000 for “reckless” refusal to self-isolate, prompting comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984 from leading Tory rebels. In a further tightening of restrictions in the northeast, meeting people from other households in pubs and restaurants is illegal from tomorrow.
Coronavirus has now claimed the lives of one million people across the globe. But the death toll is likely to reach two million unless we get the pandemic properly under control, a senior World Health Organisation official has warned. As the world passes the grim milestone, Dr Mike Ryan, head of emergencies at the WHO, said it was “not impossible” another one million people could die before a vaccine becomes available, while better treatments and effective vaccines might not be enough on their own to prevent deaths surpassing two million. “Are we prepared to do what it takes to avoid that number?” Dr Ryan asked.
Britain today (Monday) recorded 4,044 more cases of coronavirus as official figures revealed the daily average number of infections has dropped for the first time in a fortnight. Infections have risen consistently since July 4, when hundreds of thousands of Britons flocked to pubs, bars and restaurants to celebrate ‘Super Saturday’ after they were finally allowed to re-open following months of being shut to contain the life-threatening virus. But they are still nowhere near levels seen during the darkest days of Britain’s Covid-19 crisis in March and April, when top scientists estimate more than 100,000 cases were truly occurring each day.
Weekly squirts of a nasal spray could provide protection against Covid-19, research has suggested. Ferrets received two doses of a solution — which contains an artificial molecule designed to boost the immune system — a day before they were exposed to the coronavirus. Results reveal it slashed the virus’ replication in their noses and throats by 96 per cent, reducing the risk of infection and cutting the odds of transmission. The artificial compound — named INNA-051 — is set to enter human trials within the next four months. It was first developed to help protect against the common cold and flu, but is yet to be rubber-stamped because it has not been convincingly proven to work.
A NEW weekly nasal spray could prevent 96 per cent of coronavirus infections, Public Health England (PHE) has claimed. The spray had originally been developed to fight cold and flu symptoms and experts have now claimed it could also be used to prevent Covid-19. The preventative treatment has been successfully trialled on ferrets and could now move to human testing within months. Australian biotech company Ena Respiratory produces the spray – which works by preventing the virus from replicating in the respiratory tract. It comes as cases of the virus continue to rise in the UK.
Students in areas with high rates of the coronavirus could be asked to self-isolate before returning home for Christmas to prevent it spreading. Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, until now absent from the debate triggered by the outbreaks, is expected to call on universities today to adopt a proportionate response and say in a statement to MPs that students should not face further restrictions. Following a meeting of senior ministers to sign off a package of measures to deal with the outbreaks in student accommodation, Mr Williamson is also expected to lay out details of a plan to reduce the risk of transmission when term ends.
Students and parents have complained about inadequate food parcels for locked-down freshers – including baked beans, Pot Noodles and tins of chicken meatballs. A vegan fresher at the University of Edinburgh was even given a ‘Mars bar and a croissant for dinner’ in a move described by her mother Tina McKenzie as ‘chaotic’. Ms McKenzie took to Twitter to complain after her daughter, who has just started her studies in Edinburgh, was handed food that didn’t fit her strict dietary requirements. She wrote: ‘My daughter is in quarantine in her halls in Edinburgh. They said they would deliver food- she advised she is vegan @EdinburghUni sent a mars bar and croissant #chaotic.’
STUDENTS have been trapped in their lodgings by security guards and are going without food, living in disgusting conditions, the National Union of Students warned today. At the start of autumn term, thousands of university students have been forced into lockdown and self-isolation for two weeks in their halls of residence. NUS president Larissa Kennedy said that students nationwide were reporting “security guards outside blocks where students are being kept, stopping people from leaving, coming and going.
Shut away in our houses, staring at our four walls once again – the prospect of more coronavirus restrictions means that it is Groundhog Day for the foreseeable future. Those nagging problems we felt with our homes earlier this year will remain the same and the garden doesn’t look so inviting in the autumn drizzle. This means that Lockdown 2.0 will pour fuel over the current red-hot property market, pushing house prices even higher. The reasons why demand soared once coronavirus restrictions were lifted will be felt even more and lead to an even more frenzied rush to buy a lockdown-ready home.
A so-called super-enzyme that eats plastic could be a leap forward in finding ways to tackle the pollution crisis, scientists have said. The enhanced protein comprises two enzymes produced by a type of bacterium that feeds on plastic bottles, known as Ideonella sakaiensis. Prof John McGeehan, the director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at Portsmouth university, said that unlike natural degradation, which can take hundreds of years, the super-enzyme can convert plastic back to its original materials, or building blocks, in just a few days.
One day, amid a pile of discarded plastic bottles, a bacterium learnt to do something that had evaded the best scientists, confounded the efforts of conservationists and had been among the most urgent goals of environmentalists: it digested plastic. Now a group of scientists has taken what that bacterium does and improved it to make a “super-enzyme” that could, they hope, help to solve the world’s plastic problems. The approach combines the two plastic-munching enzymes developed by that bacterium into one, to degrade PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic at a speed the researchers hope might make full-scale recycling plants viable.
The government has been accused of “extreme Conservative authoritarianism” after guidance advised schools to promote freedom of speech and not to use teaching materials produced by groups which call for an end to capitalism. The document, published by the Department for Education last week, instructed that schools “should not under any circumstances” work with agencies or materials that “promote extreme positions”, including anti-capitalism along with support for illegal activity, racism, and opposition to freedom of speech.