Trade talks

Evening Standard
Battle lines were drawn for a new Brexit showdown today as EU leaders called on Boris Johnson to agree to stay in step with EU “high standards” permanently. European Union foreign ministers in Brussels approved a 46-page mandate for negotiations that stated Britain should “over time” use EU standards as its “reference point” in areas like the environment, state aid and employment rights. Downing Street announced that the first round of talks will begin on Monday in Brussels, with a second round in London later in March. The EU mandate said any deal should “uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with Union standards as a reference point”. This would be required in “the areas of state aid, competition, state-owned enterprises, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, relevant tax matters and other regulatory measures and practices in these areas”.

Telegraph
The European Union has agreed its mandate for talks on its future relationship with the UK, setting out “red lines” for negotiations which open in Brussels next Monday. The 46-page document covers the broad sweep of future EU-UK relations, from fishing rights to financial services and labour mobility to the “level playing field” the bloc demands as the price of a trade deal. Like all negotiating mandates, the document represents an opening bid which experienced negotiators know will be whittled down through the necessary compromises that lead to a deal.

Times
Britain and the European Union warned each other yesterday that they would walk away from talks on a Brexit trade deal unless the other side gave way on their red lines. Amid diplomatic sparring before the start of formal negotiations next week, Downing Street accused Brussels of hypocrisy in demanding concessions from the UK that it had not requested from other trade partners. No 10 added that any attempt to force Britain to follow EU state aid laws or social and environmental regulations would be categorically rejected.

Sun
BORIS Johnson binned trade demands from Brussels yesterday in just four hours. He rejected key calls on business, fishing rights and the courts. The PM’s hardline stance saw ministers predicting “an almighty punch-up” when trade talks start next week. In a 46-page document, EU leaders called for a string of conditions on Britain. They include following EU rules on a level playing field for business, the same access to our fishing waters and an oversight role for EU judges. The PM’s official spokesman said: “The UK did not vote twice to take back control of its fishing waters only to give that control up again.”

Express
Boris Johnson’s officials have savaged the EU for presenting a shopping list of demands for agreeing on a free trade deal. The Prime Minister was understood to be furious after EU ministers insisted his Government must sign up to a raft of Brussels regulation and keep British waters open to European fishing fleets in return for an agreement on a future relationship. And seeking to intensify the pressure in the talks, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted the bloc would not conclude a deal with the UK “at any price”.

Independent
Britain and the European Union are heading for a bust-up in talks on a trade agreement beginning next week, after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned Boris Johnson that Brussels will not accept a deal “at any price”. Speaking after the remaining 27 member states agreed their negotiating position, Mr Barnier said that the UK must agree to a “level playing field” on rules and regulations and access to fishing waters “or there won’t be any agreement at all”. His comments set the scene for a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020, after Downing Street made clear that the prime minister’s top priority is to secure freedom to diverge from Brussels rules, even if it means leaving on World Trade Organisation terms.

Mail
Boris Johnson last night warned he would rip up a post-Brexit trade deal which bound the UK to ‘onerous commitments’ insisted by Brussels. Downing Street accused the EU of trying to keep the UK shackled to its rule book, despite maintaining agreements with other countries that imposed no such conditions.  The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson also said the bloc was backtracking on the agreed Political Declaration setting out the vision for a deep UK-EU relationship. He said: ‘The Political Declaration was agreed alongside the Withdrawal Agreement and sets out aspirations and parameters for the upcoming negotiations on the future relationship.

Independent
Boris Johnson has been warned that a failure to fulfil commitments on the Irish border which he signed up to in his Brexit divorce deal last October will “significantly damage” the UK’s chances of a favourable trade agreement with the EU. Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said that the implementation of checks and controls on goods passing from the British mainland to Northern Ireland will be a “test of good faith and trust” for Mr Johnson’s government, without which future relations will not be easy. And the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier voiced “surprise” at signals from London that the UK has not begun the process of preparing for checks which are due to begin at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Mirror
Boris Johnson promised Brexit was “done” on January 31. But today we kick-started 10 months of talks on a trade deal between the UK and Brussels. And it’s clear many of the same Brexit issues will rear their heads – after the EU finally published the first formal statement of what it wants. Brussels’ 46-page “negotiating directives” show we are heading for clashes on hot issues like courts, fishing, state aid rules and the “level playing field”. Britain, meanwhile, publishes its own negotiating mandate on Thursday.

Guardian
No 10 has accused the EU of trying to give the UK a worse trade deal than those offered to the US, Canada and Japan, as the two sides clashed ahead of crucial talks scheduled to take just 40 days. With the opening round of talks due to start on Monday, Downing Street publicly rejected the EU’s opening offer for a trade deal and said it did not recognise the need for a “level playing field” for competition. It said Brussels was trying to impose “onerous commitments” that would undermine the UK’s legal autonomy and right to set its own regulations.

Express
THE European Union has been blasted for its “blood-red lines” for the UK’s fishing industry in their upcoming post-Brexit trade talks. The EU General Affairs Council agreed to negotiate to “uphold the existing reciprocal access to waters” at its meeting on this morning. European ministers signed off on Brussels’ red lines for the upcoming post-Brexit trade talks with the UK, which includes proposals put into writing warnings by Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief negotiator, that Britain must sign up to a “level playing field” in any free trade agreement.

Covid-19

Times
Schools are closing in defiance of official advice and dozens of pupils have been told to isolate themselves after returning from ski trips in a region of Italy hit by coronavirus. Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, said yesterday that it is closing for the rest of the week after pupils and staff went on a half-term trip to Bormio in Lombardy. The private school said some of the 29 pupils had started to show flu-like symptoms. Richard Pollock, head teacher, said that Public Health England had advised that the school remain open, but he and governors decided that shutting the doors was the best way to “minimise possible spread of infection”.

Sun
FOUR in five Brits could become infected by deadly coronavirus — with up to 500,000 killed, according to a doomsday scenario set out in official papers seen by The Sun. Ministers are now considering the assumption that more than 50million people in the UK could catch the killer bug. A memo seen by The Sun last night states that the “reasonable worst case” involves “up to 80 per cent of the population being infected”. The document by the National Security Communications Team warns: “The current planning assumption is that 2-3 per cent of symptomatic cases will result in a ­fatality.”

Telegraph
Thousands of Britons will be tested by GPs for coronavirus, amid fears that the explosion of cases in Europe means there could be far more cases in the UK than are known about. Mass surveillance will be introduced, as Britain ramps up its response to the growing threat, with health planners considering school closures and transport restrictions if the danger spreads. The virus has now killed more than 2,600 people and infected almost 80,000 others, in more than 30 countries – including 11 countries in Europe. On Tuesday  the number of cases in Italy rose by almost 100, with a total of 322 cases – up from just three on Friday – including 11 deaths.

Yahoo News
As the coronavirus spreads across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Britons are scrambling to change their travel plans – with varying levels of success. “We’re feeling very frustrated and fed-up,” said a woman from Surrey, who preferred not to be named, and whose family had booked a “holiday of a lifetime” in Hong Kong, Thailand and Laos this Easter. Deciding they did not want to expose themselves to the risk of being taken ill, or a fortnight in quarantine upon their return, they have cancelled their trip. “We’ve probably lost £2,000 in internal flights and accommodation in Asia,” she said.

Times
Preparations for a severe outbreak of coronavirus in Britain, including the closure of schools and restricting movement around the country, were being stepped up last night as the virus swept across Europe. Ministers are finalising contingency plans, which also include quarantining families, as Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and mainland Spain all recorded their first cases. Up to 600 people a week are to be tested for the virus, even if they show few symptoms and have not travelled to “high-risk” countries, Public Health England said yesterday.

ITV News
The NHS will “pay the price” if it does not embrace at-home rehabilitation, a former health minister has warned. Community rehabilitation provides tailored support for patients outside hospital to allow them to continue their recovery from emergencies, such as stroke and heart failure, or to enable them to manage conditions such as lung disease and arthritis. Tory Steve Brine called for a “real improvement” to support people with long-term health conditions outside of hospitals. He added: “I know that the NHS does so much good for the people of this country, but I also know that rehab matters, and this is an area where real improvement is needed.

Defence

Telegraph
Boris Johnson last night signalled the first major increase in defence spending for five years as he unveiled the biggest review of Britain’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War. The Prime Minister said the UK cannot “rest on its laurels” and had to develop new technologies to deal with emerging threats in the 21st century. As a result of the review, defence spending, which has been pegged at 2 per cent of GDP or £38billion a year since 2015, could increase, Number 10 confirmed.

Mail
Boris Johnson today clears the way for a major boost in defence spending as he launches the most in-depth review of the UK’s foreign and security policy since the Cold War. The Prime Minister warns that ‘as the world changes we must move with it’ as he opens the cross-Whitehall review, which will cover all elements of foreign, defence, security and international development policy. Downing Street insisted it will go beyond the parameters of a traditional strategic defence and security review (SDSR) by looking at the ‘totality of opportunities and challenges’ the UK faces

Mirror
Boris Johnson has paved the way for big increases in defence spending after he launched the widest review since the Cold War. The Prime Minister’s report on the Government’s foreign, development and security policies is designed to boost the UK post-Brexit. Insiders said the review would cover all aspects of the UK’s place in the world – its diplomats, armed forces and spies. The move would “challenge traditional Whitehall assumptions and thinking” in Mr Johnson’s latest attempt to revolutionise government.

Sky News
Boris Johnson is launching what he claims is the biggest review of foreign, defence and security policy since the end of the Cold War. In a break from previous military-led reviews, the exercise will have an increased focus on foreign policy and the UK’s place in the world. Downing Street signalled no plans to reduce defence spending, reiterating a pledge to allocate at least 2% of national income to defence. This should guard against deep cuts to the Armed Forces, analysts said, though there are expected to be reductions in areas no longer deemed affordable or relevant.

Guardian
Boris Johnson has unveiled a post-Brexit review of foreign and defence policy in an attempt to determine Britain’s national security strategy for the next five years. The six-month exercise is another step in the prime minister’s assertion of control following the controversial cabinet reshuffle, and comes amid growing cyber threats and uncertainty about the UK’s place in the world. It will be led by Sir Alex Ellis, a civil servant, with input from Dominic Cummings, who has been a sharp critic of overspending by the Ministry of Defence and of the methods of BAE Systems and other key contractors.

Child sexual abuse inquiry

Times
David Steel, the former Liberal Democrat leader, left his party yesterday and will resign from the House of Lords after being heavily criticised by a public inquiry into Westminster’s handling of child abuse allegations. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) accused Lord Steel of Aikwood of an “abdication of responsibility” in not taking action against the late Cyril Smith despite knowing of serious allegations against the high-profile MP. Lord Steel, 81, was accused of “turning a blind eye” to Smith’s paedophile behaviour when he recommended him for a knighthood.

Mirror
Lord Steel quit the Lib Dems today after an inquiry slammed his failure to report child sex abuse claims against the late MP Cyril Smith. The former Liberal Party leader, 81, said he will also retire from the House of Lords “as soon as possible” after 55 years’ unbroken service in Parliament. But the grandee did not apologise or admit wrongdoing. Instead he said he was quitting to avoid “turmoil” in his party. He added he had struggled to hear while giving evidence, and was unable to clarify his evidence to the inquiry.

Mail
Britain’s £118million child abuse inquiry today concluded Tom Watson’s ‘sensational’ claims about a VIP paedophile ring operating at the heart of Westminster were completely false. Mr Watson’s backing for convicted child abuse fantasist Carl Beech, who was called ‘Nick’ by police, was ‘a significant factor’ in setting up the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA). But today the inquiry’s damning report said there was ‘no evidence’ to back the former Labour MP’s 2012 claims about ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10’. The IICSA report said: ‘Despite the inquiry engaging in an extensive evidence-gathering process, we have seen no material indicating the existence of a Westminster ‘paedophile ring’. Similarly, no evidence of any attempts to cover up or suppress information about the existence of such a ring was found at MI5, SIS, GCHQ or in Metropolitan Police Special Branch records.’

Guardian
Political parties, police and prosecutors “turned a blind eye” to allegations of child sexual abuse connected to Westminster, ignored victims and showed excessive “deference” to MPs and ministers fighting to clear their reputations, an investigation has found. The long-awaited report by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse into the most politically sensitive section of its work, however, dismisses claims of any conspiracy involving an “organised Westminster paedophile network”. The 173-page review, following hearings over the past two years, names several prominent MPs, including the Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith and the Conservative Sir Peter Morrison, as being “known to be active in their sexual interest in children” but who escaped prosecution.

Times
The former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt must accept responsibility for the “foolish and misguided support” given to a paedophile campaign by a leading human rights group, the inquiry report said. Ms Hewitt and her former ministerial colleague Harriet Harman were senior figures in the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time it backed the work of the Paedophile Information Exchange  (PIE), a group that campaigned to lower the age of consent.

Nursery schools

Times
Nursery fees have risen at twice the rate of inflation after government subsidies pushed up prices, a study has found. Working parents of children aged three and four can benefit from 30 hours’ free care a week but the policy has driven up charges for additional hours and places for younger children, the charity Coram Family and Childcare said. Many nurseries have complained that the government pays them rates that do not cover their costs and have raised fees for additional hours, younger children and extras such as lunches.

Cash machines

Mail
The free-to-use cash machine network faces collapse within two years without Government action, it is claimed. The consumer group Which? says the law must change to force banks to maintain the system. An estimated 9,500 free ATMs have been removed or introduced charges of up to £2 since January 2018. As a result, fees paid by the public to access their cash have risen from £29million a year to £104million. At the same time hundreds of bank branches have put up the shutters in what Which? describes as rampant closures.

BBC

Guido
The BBC last night featured a fanatical anti-Tory campaigner as an ‘independent expert’ critiquing health app Babylon. Newsnight did not see it fit to mention his views, which may have informed his criticism of a private company stepping on the toes of his state industry. David Watkins (who posed on Twitter as ‘Dr Murphy’) has been a fanatical campaigner against the Tories for years. He has alleged so-called “privatisation” and “Tory deconstruction“ of the NHS, calling on followers during the election to not “fall for the social media game play of Matt Hancock and the Conservatives.”

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