• Mon. Oct 25th, 2021

Hopes for deal over Northern Ireland Protocol rise as minister says no red lines have been drawn

ByAmeerah O'Connor

Oct 13, 2021
Hopes for deal over Northern Ireland Protocol rise as minister says no red lines have been drawn

Hopes that the UK and EU might agree a new deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol were given a boost this morning, after a Cabinet minister refused to describe the European Court of Justice as a red line.

Maros Sefcovic, Brussels’ Brexit negotiator, is expected to respond to Lord Frost’s speech with a press conference of his own this afternoon, setting out a new set of proposals to resolve issues with the agreement, including vowing to cut up to 50 per cent of customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.

However, overnight there appeared to be little movement on the ECJ – despite Lord Frost making it a central request yesterday.

This morning Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party co-chairman, said cutting checks on trade were “welcome steps”. Although he stressed the ECJ remained a “major issue” that must be resolved, he stopped short of saying it was a a deal-beaker, telling Sky News: “I am not going to start writing red lines here and there.”

The Government would “engage fully, constructively with these proposals, but we need fundamental change to the protocol,” he added.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

08:36 AM

Government ‘not setting arbitrary targets’ to resolve HGV driver shortage

Oliver Dowden has shrugged off suggestions that the Government is failing to resolve the lorry driver shortage, saying they are “not in the business of setting arbitrary targets”.

Latest figures suggest just 27 people have taken up the offer of 5,000 short-term visas to resolve the supply chain crisis in the run-up to Christmas.

But asked how far the Government will have got in addressing the shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers by that point, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re not in the business of setting arbitrary targets.

“What I can assure you is that the Government is straining every sinew and the Government is committed to making sure we increase HGV driver capacity through a whole range of different measures…

“It is already increasing the supply of HGV drivers, we’re seeing welcome progress in terms of HGV fuel drivers, the situation in most parts of the UK is easing. This is a challenging situation, it’s not just unique to the UK.”

08:31 AM

Leo Varadkar: Don’t strike agreements with British until protocol is honoured

Ireland’s deputy premier has warned political leaders not to enter any agreements with the British Government until they are confident they will keep to their promises.

Leo Varadkar was responding to claims by Dominic Cummings that it had always been the plan to “ditch bits we didn’t like after whacking Corbyn”.

The Tanaiste told RTE Morning Ireland said the comments were “very alarming” because they suggested the UK Government had “acted in bad faith”.

He added: That message needs to be heard around the world… that this is a British Government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word and doesn’t necessarily honour the agreements it makes.

“You shouldn’t make any agreements with them until such time as you’re confident that they keep their promises, and honour things, for example, like the protocol.”

08:18 AM

Ed Miliband savages Boris Johnson’s ‘half-baked’ Brexit deal

The former Labour leader has been scathing about Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘triumph’ – Reuters

Ed Miliband has criticised the Government’s Brexit deal as being “half-baked”, drawing on the Prime Minister’s slogan that it was “oven-ready” at the time of signing.

The shadow business secretary told Sky News: “I hope there’s compromise on both sides. I think people will be scratching their heads because this was an agreement signed by Boris Johnson, he said it was a fantastic triumph, it was all going to be fine – and now they want to rip up their own protocol.

“I actually think there’s a case for a wider EU-UK veterinary agreement because that would then make the goods situation in Northern Ireland much easier, it would agree common standards.”

Asked if he thought the deal was “oven-ready”, he replied: “It was half-baked.”

08:05 AM

Port of Dover boss admits wondering about ‘pre-buying early Christmas presents’

The head of the Port of Dover has admitted wondering whether to “pre-buy some early Christmas presents for the kids”, after cargo vessels were turned away yesterday.

Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, said there is “no congestion” at Dover, and that he was not feeling “particularly Grinchy”.

But he told Times Radio: “Felixstowe, London Gateway, Southampton, these big container ports, for the goods coming on the long supply routes, on these big ships from Asia and India and the Middle East, these are providing a lot of the goods that people want to have around Christmas time.”

He added: “So I don’t feel particularly grumpy knowing our business, but I do wonder about, you know, if my wife needs to pre-buy some early Christmas presents for the kids.”

07:57 AM

UK is not seeking to take Northern Ireland out of Single Market, minister insists

A Cabinet minister has insisted the UK is not seeking to take Northern Ireland out of the Single Market, despite Brussels stressing that would be the logical consequence of ending ECJ jurisdiction.

“Lord Frost has correctly highlighted challenges with the role of the ECJ,” Oliver Dowden told BBC Radio 4”s Today programme.

“This is not a dogmatic point – it is a point that goes to trust in this arrangement.. given the mechanisms are overseen by the court of one party.”

He stressed the UK Government has “not changed our position” on the special status allowing Northern Ireland to remain within the Single Market, but added: “It is incumbent on us as the Government and the EU to make sure we have a sustainable future.”

07:52 AM

ECJ power ‘highly anomalous’, says Cabinet minister

The continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the Northern Ireland Protocol is “highly anomalous”, a Cabinet minister has said.

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party co-chairman, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If they are making progress that it very welcome. We will engage with the detail and constructively.”

He said it was very welcome that the EU had said it would not be “take it or leave”, but stressed the need to “look fundamentally at the protocol, because it is not working for one community”.

07:49 AM

‘There is no such thing as a holiday for a prime minister’

Oliver Dowden said he was expecting to see the Prime MInister later this week - Anadolu Agency

Oliver Dowden said he was expecting to see the Prime MInister later this week – Anadolu Agency

Oliver Dowden has defended Boris Johnson’s decision to go on holiday in a Spanish villa while the UK faces energy shortages and problems recruiting much-needed HGV drivers.

The Conservative Party co-chairman told ITV: “I’ve worked closely with three prime ministers and I can assure you that there’s no such thing as a holiday for a prime minister.

“I know the Prime Minister will be and is working out there and is engaged with issues going on in the UK.

“But also, I hope your viewers will appreciate that the Prime Minister has been through a challenging time in a lot of different ways – he had Covid-19, he’s got a new child on the way, and very sadly he lost his mother just a few weeks ago.

“So this is a just a short break and he will be returning to the UK and I am expecting to see him later this week.”

07:38 AM

Brussels protocol proposals: What we know so far

Maros Sefcovic is expected to set out Brussels’ latest set of proposals on the Northern Ireland Protocol from 5:30pm (UK time) today.

The Commission’s vice president is expected to focus on four key areas in a bid to finally resolve the many issues that have emerged since the start of the year. Lord Frost yesterday set out his expectations – including not only a resolution on trade but also an end to the jurisdiction of the ECJ over the arrangements.

It is thought the EU will avoid responding directly to the Brexit minister’s speech in Portugal, instead highlighting the lengthy process it has gone through to find its own set of solutions. Under the proposals, up to 50 per cent of customs checks on goods would be lifted, or even more for some areas.

That will be done through the creation of a “green lane” for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and a separate “red lane”, with more customs controls, for products intended to travel beyond the province.

One diplomat likened the plan to the “maximum facilitation” strategy previously called for by Brexiteers, which employed technological solutions to minimise the need for physical checks.

07:32 AM

Owen Polley: Coveney has some cheek attacking Britain

As the UK and the EU prepare to renegotiate aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Irish Republic’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, accused Britain of risking a “breakdown of relations” with the EU by objecting to the European Court of Justice’s interference in Ulster.

He has quite a cheek, writes Owen Polley.

Coveney and his boss, the Fine Gael leader and former taoiseach Leo Varadkar, have done more than most politicians to damage friendship between London and Dublin, undermine cooperation between the two parts of Ireland and destabilise the Belfast Agreement.

Read more from Owen here.

07:28 AM

Growth stutters with muted figures for August and contraction in July

Britain’s economy grew lower than expected in August, as revised figures have revealed a contraction in July.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product (GDP) rose 0.4 per cent between July and August. However it downgraded its estimate for July from a 0.1 per cent expansion to a contraction of 0.1 per cent.

The data showed further signs of a slowdown in the UK’s recovery from the pandemic as global supply chain woes take their toll.

The economy would need to soar by 2.1 per cent in September to remain on track with the Bank of England’s forecast for the third quarter – something Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics said was “implausible” in light of the growing supply crisis.

Growth rebounded strongly in the second quarter, with GDP rising by 5.5 per cent, but the recovery has been more modest than expected, with supply chain problems and the lorry driver crisis holding back the economy.

07:21 AM

Treasury wrong to view energy support as ‘unreasonable’, says Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband has attacked the Treasury for acting as though support for hard-pressed firms during the energy crisis was “just unreasonable”.

The shadow business secretary told the BBC’s Today programme: “There does need to be cash support which is going to keep these industries going. The trouble of the last few days was the Treasury looking like it thought this was just unreasonable and they were against it happening, and that is just completely wrong.

“There’s a longer-term issue here though. Yes there is a global dimension to this, but we are so exposed because we don’t have the gas storage,” the Labour MP added. “We’ve stalled on renewables including on on-shore wind and solar, and nuclear programme is stalled.

“And crucially, we haven’t made the steps we need on energy efficiency. This is a decade of inaction we’ve seen that’s led us to this point.”

07:17 AM

French MEP stands firm on ECJ

Nathalie Loiseau questioned "who is the trouble-maker and who is the problem-solver?" - AP

Nathalie Loiseau questioned “who is the trouble-maker and who is the problem-solver?” – AP

Ending ECJ jurisdiction would “tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol”, which cannot be “agreed”, a senior MEP and former French minister has said.

Asked if ending the Court’s jurisdiction would end Northern Ireland’ special status in relation to the Single Market, Nathalie Loiseau told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that she “sincerely hoped”, that the UK would properly consider proposals being tabled by Brussels today, saying it “fixes problems”.

She added: “I am wondering who is the trouble- maker and who is the problem-solver? I never heard people in Northern Ireland saying it was terrible that there was a role for the ECJ.

“People in Northern Ireland talk about goods, talk about medicine – this is exactly what the Commission is addressing. Let’s start getting visibility and stability for people in Northern Ireland.”

07:13 AM

‘Not accurate’ to say Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed in hurry, says French MEP

A senior MEP and former French minister has rejected suggestions the Northern Ireland Protocol should be overhauled because it was agreed under great time pressure.

Nathalie Loiseau, who was previously a European affairs minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The only pressure was on the British side – the British side was in a hurry.

“But this is not accurate, it took months. There was an offer on the table when Theresa May was Prime Minister – backstop – which was rejected by some members of the Conservative Party.

“We came to the protocol but not in 14 hours – it took months,” she added. “It was the very same person – Frost – who says he doesn’t agree with the protocol.”

07:09 AM

Brussels willing to find solutions ‘within Northern Ireland Protocol’, says French MEP

A senior MEP and former French minister has said she is “comfortable” with Brussels’ efforts to try and broker a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol within the agreement, as she urged an end to “posturing”.

Nathalie Loiseau, who was previously a European affairs minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she was “really disappointed” that the British reaction “has not been put on the table yet”.

But she said: “I am comfortable with the fact that the Commission is willing to go the extra mile and fix the problems, and try to find solutions within the protocol. There is certainly pragmatism and good will on the EU’s side.”

She expressed hope that it would stop the UK “denying the benefits of protocol” for Northern Ireland.

“What can we think of David Frost negotiating the protocol, signing the protocol and pushing hard for the British Parliament to ratify the protocol if now he says that he doesn’t agree with the protocol? That’s a big problem.”

07:04 AM

France must ‘do their part of the bargain’ to get £54m to deal with migrants

A Cabinet minister has taken a tougher line on the issue of outstanding payments to France to deal with the numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Channel.

Last week Damian Hinds, the security and borders minister, stressed that it was an administrative issue that would be resolved within a few days or weeks.

However this morning, Oliver Dowden told Sky News the £54m was dependent on more action being taken first.

The Conservative Party co-chairman said: “We expect the French to do their part of the bargain. The Home Secretary has already raised concerns about that…

“This is not us reneging on a deal, this is making sure we deliver on what was agreed,” he added. “We very much hope to make payments as agreed but need the French to keep up their side of the agreement.”

07:00 AM

Government will ‘engage constructively’ with EU on Northern Ireland Protocol

The Government will “engage fully constructively” with the EU proposals on the Northern Ireland Protocol, a Cabinet minister has said.

Asked if the EU proposals were sufficient, Oliver Dowden, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, told Sky News: “Well clearly we’ll wait to receive the full announcement from the EU and I know that Lord Frost, as he said yesterday, and the Government as a whole will engage fully, constructively with these proposals.

“It is though important that there is fundamental change to the Northern Ireland Protocol so we’ll be looking to see that, but let’s see exactly what the EU comes up with.”

06:59 AM

Children ‘will get their toys for Christmas’, minister insists

Oliver Dowden has said he is “confident” that children will get their “toys for Christmas” after shipping containers were turned away from the UK’s biggest port yesterday.

The Conservative Party co-chairman stressed that Felixstowe has said this morning the situation is improving, but that work was underway to strengthen supply chains in the run-up to the festive period. However he was unable to confirm whether there had been more than 27 applications for visas from overseas HGV drivers to make up the shortfall.

Asked if people should buy Christmas goods earlier than usual, he told Sky News: “It is sensible that you buy when you want, some people buy very early for Christmas – my wife is quite an early Christmas buyer.”

He added: “Just buy as you buy normally.”

06:50 AM

Matt Hancock handed new job

Matt Hancock ran the London Marathon earlier this month -  WireImage

Matt Hancock ran the London Marathon earlier this month – WireImage

Matt Hancock has been appointed as a United Nations special representative for Africa – his first role since resigning as Health Secretary in June.

Mr Hancock will advise the UN Economic Commission for Africa on issues related to climate change and sustainable economic development.

In a statement, he said: “I care deeply about making this happen, not only because of the strong economic opportunity but because we share a view of Africa as a strategic long-term partner.”

He resigned as Health Secretary in June after he was caught on camera kissing an aide in his Whitehall office in breach of Covid restrictions.

06:47 AM

Life expectancy was falling before pandemic, new study finds

Life expectancy in many communities in England was declining even before the pandemic, according to new figures.

From 2014 until 2019 life expectancy went down in almost one in five communities for women, and one in nine communities for men, Imperial College London (ICL) researchers have found.

The study, published in The Lancet Public Health, found communities with the lowest life expectancy – below 70 and 75 years for men and women, respectively – were typically situated in urban areas in the north of England.

Communities with the lowest life expectancy were typically located in urban areas in the North, including Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool. Communities with the highest life expectancies were often based in London and the surrounding home counties.

Although recent data from the Office for National Statistics found that life expectancy for men in the UK had fallen for the first time in 40 years due to the pandemic, the new research shows that life expectancy was declining in many communities years before the pandemic began.

06:41 AM

Brussels to offer new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland

Brussels will offer Britain a new Brexit deal on Northern Ireland on Wednesday, but is set to reject demands to strip European judges of their role in the province.

The European Commission will hold a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to launch proposals to resolve the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol once the plans are approved at a meeting of the College of Commissioners.

EU officials are expected to say they can significantly cut the number of checks on British goods exported to Northern Ireland if they are given real-time access to UK trade databases in order to police which products cross into the Republic of Ireland.

06:41 AM

Good Morning

You wait for months for a Brexit proposal and then two come along at once.

Fresh from Lord Frost’s speech in Portugal yesterday, we are expecting to hear from his counterpart Maros Sefcovic today as Brussels sets out its gambit for solving the Northern Ireland protocol.

But will it match expectations in London and Belfast?

Here is today’s front page.

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