Downing Street today urges Brussels to ‘get real’ and accept Britain is an ‘independent country’ as Brexit talks restart and negotiations descend into acrimony amid warnings time is running out to do a deal. Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator with the EU, said the two sides ‘can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground’ in the deadlocked discussions to secure a trade deal before the UK leaves at the end of the year. He said: ‘We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country.’ The Prime Minister yesterday vowed ‘not to back down’ as his government prepares legislation to effectively override the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out at the end of last year and its provisions for Northern Ireland. And leaked diplomatic cables shows unease among European officials over the UK’s hardline stance, suspecting Johnson of holding off on a compromise until the last minute to secure a compromise more advantageous to Britain.
Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator has said there needs to be “more realism” from Brussels about the UK’s “status as an independent country”. David Frost has declared that this week is make-or-break for trade talks with the EU if the UK is to avoid leaving the transition period with no deal. Lord Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier are meeting for the eighth round of Brexit negotiations in London after the prime minister set a new deadline for a deal that is just five weeks away. And Lord Frost insists that progress must be made in the talks this week if the UK and EU are to reach a deal by the PM’s deadline of 15 October, when Europe’s leaders meet at a major summit.
The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator has called for “realism” from his EU counterparts ahead of the next round of trade talks beginning in London. Lord Frost said there was “still time” for the two sides to agree a post-Brexit trade deal for next year. But he said the EU needed to recognise the UK’s negotiating position came from that of a “sovereign state”. His words follow a pledge from Boris Johnson to walk away from the talks if a deal isn’t done by 15 October. The EU said it would “do everything in [its] power to reach an agreement” with the UK, but “will be ready” for a no-deal scenario.
As Brexit trade talks restart this week, relations between the UK and EU sides look to be more strained than at any time in the past year. Boris Johnson has set a five-week deadline for the negotiations to bear fruit – and ramped up the rhetoric about going for no-deal (a so-called “Australian-style arrangement”) if there is no sign of progress by 15 October. And leaked plans for changes to the withdrawal agreement signed last year have raised the temperature still further. Reports suggest that in legislation published this week, the Government will weaken its commitments to enforcing state aid rules in Northern Ireland and relax the requirements on firms exporting goods across the Irish Sea.
Guido understands the Government was caught out by last night’s FT scoop claiming various provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement will be “disapplied” in the event of no Free Trade Agreement being reached. Downing Street is very annoyed at not having been able to explain the plans in their own terms. Not that there was much clarity from ministers this morning… The Government’s plans are not as dramatic as first appears. As things stands the Withdrawal Agreement committed the UK and the EU to establishing a joint committee to oversee, monitor, and interpret the application of the Agreement.
BORIS Johnson has rubbished EU claims he was planning to rip up the Withdrawal Agreement, as a massive war of words exploded over Brexit. Trade talks with Brussels were last night hanging by a thread after both sides threatened to pull out over the row. Ahead of face to face talks in London starting today, the EU erupted over suggestions the PM wanted to tear up 2019’s Withdrawal Agreement. Brussels was enraged after the Financial Times claimed the UK wanted to “overwrite” parts of last year’s exit deal to water down checks on goods flowing between Northern Ireland and the British mainland. Despite denials from the Government that they were just seeking legal “clarity”, Bernd Lange, chairman of the EU Parliament trade committee, said the talks are “doomed” if the UK breaks its word. He fumed: “We will not allow ourselves to be blackmailed.”
The Brexit divorce deal is “contradictory” and must be rewritten to protect the Union, Boris Johnson will tell EU leaders on Tuesday. The Prime Minister believes the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement is legally ambiguous and would leave Northern Ireland isolated from the rest of the UK, something that was “unforeseen” when he agreed to it last year. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, arrives in London on Tuesday morning for the latest round of formal trade talks after Mr Johnson said he “will not back down” over his plan to change the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement through legislation being tabled on Wednesday.
Boris Johnson has been branded a “charlatan” in a furious backlash after he threatened to “rip up” parts of the Brexit deal he agreed last year. As Brexit trade talks resume this week, the Prime Minister has set a deadline of October 15 to reach a trade deal with the EU – warning otherwise, the UK will “move on”. But he also hurled a hand grenade into the debate as it emerged he could go back on bits of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Senior Conservatives warned Boris Johnson last night that his plans to water down Britain’s obligations under the EU withdrawal agreement were a “dangerous step” that could make a no-deal Brexit more likely. Amid growing unease among Tory backbenchers about the prime minister’s strategy, MPs criticised Downing Street’s plans to unilaterally pass legislation that could limit the need for customs checks in the Irish Sea and new state aid rules in the event of trade talks collapsing.
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel has waded into the Brexit row and has warned there is little time remaining in crucial talks. The UK formally left the European Union back in January with the transition period in place until the end of the year. Despite delays to trade talks due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – both sides have warned a deal must be completed by October for it to be ratified in time before December 31. However, talks are currently in stalemate with neither side backing down. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a fresh warning to the EU, insisting the UK would not be afraid of walking away from trade negotiations without a deal.
BORIS JOHNSON and Emmanuel Macron have been forced into an urgent phone call to agree on the “importance of making progress this month” as a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and European Union edges closer to collapse. A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron earlier today. “They discussed the shared challenge of illegal small boat crossings from France to the UK.
Brussels’ plummeting trust in Boris Johnson has been laid bare in leaked diplomatic cables obtained by the Guardian, as the Brexit negotiations reopen in London with a warning from the European commission president that Britain must respect international law. Ursula von der Leyen made her extraordinary intervention on Monday as Downing Street struggled to control the damage from disclosures suggesting it was backtracking on agreements made last year to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
THE EU has issued a brutal dismissal after Scottish alarm bells started ringing over fears the UK could walk away from trade negotiations without a Brexit deal, Express.co.uk can exclusively reveal. Boris Johnson set a five-week deadline for talks on a free trade deal to reach an agreement or for both sides to accept there will be no deal when the current transition period ends at the end of the year. But senior Scottish figures have reacted with dismay after it was reported the Government was set to table new legislation which could override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement which sealed the UK’s departure from the bloc in January. Downing Street said the Government was proposing “limited clarifications” to the law to ensure ministers can preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of no deal.
A TORY plot has been revealed in a bid to oust an SNP hate crime bill in a Holyrood vote this week. The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf. Under the legislation, the law on hate crime is set to be extended to increase protection for religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. If the legislation becomes law, it will mean words or behaviour considered to be “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence. But, referencing the proposed Bill, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross insisted such a “blatant attack on free speech” must not progress any further.
A screaming baby thought to be one of the youngest migrants to ever cross the Channel was taken into care by Border Force on Monday as another 200 people on more than a dozen boats made the dangerous journey across the busy waterway. The boy, thought to be around six months old, was one of a number of small children and toddlers seen being rescued from overloaded vessels off the Kent coast, as others made landfall and ran off towards a local golf club. In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson said it was imperative that boats were prevented from arriving on UK shores.
Coronavirus cases have risen throughout the UK but deaths continue to remain low, government data shows. Sunday brought news that 2,988 coronavirus cases had been confirmed over 24 hours, the highest daily amount since 23 May and a massive rise from the 1,813 recorded the day before. However, the number of COVID-19-related deaths remained low, rising by two. With restrictions on businesses having broadly been relaxed in the last few months, and children returning to school, fears of a second wave of infections remain, despite the lower mortality figures.
The numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK should not be compared to the height of the outbreak because so many more tests are being done, experts say. Scientists have accused the Government of losing its grip on the disease as the highest number of cases since May were reported on Sunday – 2,988 – and a further 2,948 were added to the toll today. But even though case numbers are high, the percentage of people testing positive for the disease is still dramatically lower than it was at the peak of the crisis. When the disease was out of control in March and April, rationed testing meant that at times more than 40 per cent of test results were positive, but this has since plummeted to just 2.3 per cent in the community and 0.5 per cent in hospitals.
Mail Up to £3.5 billion of furlough cash may have been paid out in wrong or fraudulent claims, according to official Government estimates. HMRC has calculated that between five per cent and 10 per cent of payments may have been either stolen or paid out in error. The total bill for the state subsidy scheme currently stands at more than £35 billion. The job retention programme is now being wound down and will be scrapped entirely by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the end of October.
The government believes it may have paid out up to £3.5bn in wrong or fraudulent claims for the furlough scheme. Jim Harra, the top civil servant at HM Revenue & Customs, said that his staff had calculated for the possibility that as much as 10% of the money might have gone to the wrong places. “We have made an assumption for the purposes of our planning that the error and fraud rate in this scheme could be between 5% and 10%,” the permanent secretary said.
UP to £3.5billion has been paid out in wrong or fraudulent furlough schemes, HMRC fears. Between five and ten per cent of Covid wage support payments are likely to be wrong, officials have told MPs. It will be the result of a mixture of deliberately fraudulent claims and human error, HMRC’s top civil servant Jim Harra said. The Government has so far paid out £35.4billion in furlough cash, according to the latest Treasury figures. It means that somewhere between £1.75billion and £3.5billion could have been paid out wrongly. Mr Harra told the powerful Commons Public Accounts committee yesterday that his team will now be targeting employers who have abused the scheme but will not penalise those who made “legitimate mistakes”.
Ministers are exploring plans to cut the quarantine time for holidaymakers to just five days by testing them 48 hours before they arrive in the UK, it is claimed. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to have ‘warmly welcomed’ the proposal which would more than halve the 14-day self-isolation period. Under plans by industry leaders, tourists and business travellers would undergo a second test five days after landing. If both tests are negative, they could leave quarantine. This would satisfy experts on the Sage committee of scientific advisers, who say a second test around eight days after the first will pick up the vast majority of cases.
The quarantine time for some travellers arriving in the UK could be nearly halved under a plan being worked up by ministers. Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he is trying to reduce the 14-day isolation period for those coming in from countries with concerning coronavirus rates down to eight days. The move has been called for by travel industry figures and the Labour Party to revitalise one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the boss of Heathrow Airport telling the government last month to “get a grip”.
Universities could be closed in the event of outbreaks of coronavirus amid warnings of soaring cases among young people, officials have suggested. The latest weekly statistics show that almost one third of infections in England are among people in their 20s, with more than 2,000 cases among those aged between 20 and 29. On Monday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, warned that “affluent younger people” failing to observe social distancing were driving the rises, with mounting concern that case numbers could rise again when universities reopen. Mr Hancock urged them to think of others before taking such risks, saying in a blunt message: “Don’t kill your gran.”
College towns have become new coronavirus hotspots about three weeks after students began to return. Of the 203 counties in which students make up at least 10 per cent of the population, about half have reported their worst pandemic figures since the start of last month, according to analysis by The New York Times. In about half of those, the number of infections is at its peak now. While there has not generally been a rise in deaths from coronavirus in areas with universities, some public health experts fear that young people, who usually have milder effects, will then spread it more widely.
House of Lords
Seven in 10 voters back an overhaul of the House of Lords after Boris Johnson sent another batch of cronies to the red benches, a survey revealed today. The Prime Minister dispatched another 36 peers to the packed Upper Chamber over the summer – despite claiming to support reform. The bulging House now has nearly 800 members. But support among the public for the status quo is at a paltry 12%, according to a Survation poll for the Electoral Reform Society. Some 43% are in favour of the Lords being partially or entirely elected and another 28% want it scrapped altogether.
The government has no plan to reach its own “net zero” climate target despite having written it into law last year, experts have warned. The Institute for Government, a think-tank, said that “leadership has been lacking” and that the legal and political commitment had yet to translate into serious policy changes, with the clock ticking. In June last year, Theresa May’s government committed the UK to reaching carbon neutral emissions by 2050, amending the earlier climate change act that included a less ambitious commitment.
THE families of police officers killed in the line of duty such as PC Andrew Harper are to receive legally guaranteed support after their deaths. Addressing top officers tomorrow, Priti Patel will speak of her revulsion at police killers who “laugh in the face of the law”. And the Home Secretary will unveil the new Police Covenant to protect police, staff and families of those slain in action. It will focus on physical protection, health and wellbeing, and family support. The new law to enshrine the protections for the police is similar to those that already exist for the military.
Retail sales growth accelerated last month as shoppers became comfortable returning to the high street, and increasingly keen to upgrade their homes with new furnishings and appliances. Sales were up 3.9pc compared with August last year, according to the British Retail Consortium, confirming that household spending is returning as a key driver of the economy. This is the third consecutive month in which sales have been more than 3pc higher than in the same period of 2019, and represents the strongest rate of growth since May 2018, once distortions for the timing of Easter are accounted for.
UK retailers showed “promising” signs of recovery last month as sales jumped, the latest research showed. Retail sales increased 4.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared to August last year, when they had decreased 0.8 per cent. Total sales were up 3.9 per cent last month, against a decline of 0.4 per cent last year, reaching the strongest growth since May 2018. However the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that “many retailers are hanging by a thread” due to high rents, the end of the furlough scheme and low city centre footfall.