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Major blow for Theresa May as European Union rejects 'unworkable' Irish border proposals

1 day 2 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May's Irish border proposals have been roundly rejected, according to a report

Theresa May has been dealt another blow after the European Union rejected out of hand the Government's proposals for avoiding a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.

The Daily Telegraph reports that senior EU diplomatic sources provided a "systematic and forensic annihilation" of the UK's ideas in talks with Olly Robbins, the UK’s lead Brexit negotiator, this week.

Britain has suggested a "customs partnership" with the EU, or using technological solutions, as a way of avoiding physical checks at the frontier between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

But one source told the Telegraph: "It was made clear that none of the UK’s customs options will work. None of them."

The paper added that while the UK expected a sceptical response from their counterparts, they were left “shocked” by the outright rejection.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is also said to have have suspended internal talks on the future EU-UK trade deal.

The damning assessment could mean that unless Whitehall figures are able to come up with new ideas, the UK may face no other option but to remain in the trading bloc.

Mrs May last month said last month that remaining in the EU customs union would “not be compatible with a meaningful independent trade policy”.

The Telegraph also understands that the Prime Minister will begin weekly meetings of her inner Brexit ‘war cabinet’, starting as early as next week, in a bid to solve the problem ahead of June's European Council summit.

The blow piles further pressure on the Government after the House of Lords overwhelmingly supported an amendment to its flagship Brexit bill urging ministers to seek a customs union with the EU.

MPs are also set to vote on the demands for a customs union next week, with the Government braced for another embarrassing defeat.

Nicholas Mairs

EXCL Good Friday Agreement not ‘cast in stone’, says senior Tory MP

1 day 12 hours ago
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern signing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998

The Good Friday Agreement is not "cast in stone" and could be amended in the future, according to the Tory chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee.

Andrew Murrison said the peace deal's brokers would be "disappointed" if it were not changed at some point in the future.

The MP for South Wiltshire said while the agreement - which was signed exactly 20 years ago - was of “vital importance” in shoring up peace in the province, it would be “extraordinary” were politicians not able to revise it.

The senior Tory, who backed Leave in the EU referendum, also said the relevance of the historic peace deal was being "overplayed by some" in the Brexit debate.

And in comments likely to anger some Remain supporters, he insisted that the European Union's role in the Good Friday Agreement was only relevant "in the margins".

Fears have been raised that a hardening of the border to cope with changes after the UK quits the EU, and thereby potentially breaching the agreement, could see renewed violence on the island.

Dr Murrison's committee colleague Kate Hoey was criticised earlier this year when she said it was time for a “cold, rational look” at the power-sharing arrangement in Stormont.

The Labour MP said the mandatory coalition as enshrined in the agreement was "not sustainable".

Asked for his view on her comments, Dr Murrison told The House Magazine the historic deal could be altered “like any international agreement”.

“I think people are beginning to realise that the Good Friday Agreement was of vital importance in moving the process along and everybody supports that, but it was never meant to be an agreement that was immutable and unchangeable,” he said.

“It would be extraordinary if that were the case. And at some point we’re going to have to come back and decide whether we need to revise parts of it, as indeed we did at St Andrews.

"So it’s not the case that it is cast in stone. It always will be subject to updating as circumstances change and I think that’s what Kate was driving at.”

Dr Murrison added that future amendments to the deal would in itself be a sign of progress.

“It would be wrong to regard it as unchangeable because I think those who were negotiating at the time anticipated that the political situation would improve further over the years ahead and would have expected the agreement to be amended at some point in the future and would be very disappointed if that were not the case, because it would suggest progress had not been made.”

And he said that both the relevance of the agreement to Britain’s exit from the EU and the bloc’s role in progress on the island of Ireland was being “overplayed by some”.

“Brexit and the continuation of the Good Friday agreement are perfectly compatible. There’s no reason why Brexit should conflict with the GFA at all,” he added.

“The European Union is mentioned in the Good Friday Agreement, but only in the margins, so it should be perfectly possible to execute Brexit without damaging or infringing in anyway upon the Good Friday Agreement in my opinion.”

Nicholas Mairs

Andrew Murrison: “Brexit and the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement are perfectly compatible”

1 day 19 hours ago
Andrew Murrison is chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
Andrew Murrison is chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Andrew Murrison believes the success of Brexit hinges on the UK-Ireland border. But the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chair is optimistic a solution will be found – and insists leaving the EU is compatible with upholding the Good Friday Agreement. He talks to Nicholas Mairs

An office vista which takes in the sunlit Thames as tourists bustle around the surrounding landmarks is, Dr Andrew Murrison admits, among the best in parliament. The Tory MP quips that staying on the right side of the whips has its perks.

And it may feel like a deserved reward at a time when Murrison juggles chairing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee with being the Prime Minister’s leading organiser of First World War centenary commemorations. Despite the heavy workload, Murrison, a former Navy medical officer, seems calm on the wander from the war memorial that stands atop the steps in Westminster Hall to Portcullis House.

Endurance and patience will no doubt be an increasingly important trait as the sticking point of keeping an open Northern Ireland border rumbles on.

The size of the challenge was summed up in a report by Murrison’s committee in March, which found “no evidence” that a frictionless, “invisible” Irish border will be possible after the UK leaves the single market and the customs union.

“Brexit’s success or otherwise hinges on the UK-Ireland border,” Murrison said at the time. “Everyone agrees that the border after Brexit must look and feel as it does today. However, we have heard no evidence to suggest that there is currently a technical solution that would avoid infrastructure at the border.”

As a Eurosceptic, and chair of a committee featuring prominent voices in the DUP as well as the vocal Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey, is he worried about what such a finding could mean? “No, because I think the government will get it right and I’m confident that we will end up with a solution that ensures that the border continues to look pretty much as it looks today,” he replies with confidence.

“I don’t think that will involve drawing borders down the Irish Sea, that is completely out and I suspect that there will be a significant degree of regulatory and tariff alignment after we leave the EU.”

He argues that improving Britain’s “international, global position and our ability to interact not just with countries in Europe, but the rest of the world” is what Brexit is all about, and is something that will be “of benefit to Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom”.

It is clear however that Murrison’s optimism is tempered with caution. His committee awaits a response from ministers with interest and with the expressed wish for tangible solutions on the border issue.

His faith in the process is not so widely shared by the Irish government however, whom Murrison expresses sympathy with. The Irish Tánaiste [deputy prime minister] Simon Coveney has warned that if the UK has not proposed a solution to the frontier by June there will be “serious questions” about whether it will be possible for an overall Brexit agreement between the EU and UK by October. But Murrison says: “I’ve been involved with the Stormont House talks when I was a minister and remember full well that in negotiations you go up to the wire before a final position emerges, so I’m not too keen on artificially identifying timelines of that nature.

“I do agree that time is very, very short and certainly by the autumn we have to have an agreement thrashed out, otherwise it won’t give time for the various parliaments and assemblies throughout Europe to give the green light to whatever’s agreed in advance of Brexit.”

Yet despite his stated optimism for the post-Brexit future of Northern Ireland, Murrison accepts that there is “very little upside” from the UK’s EU departure for the Republic.“I entirely sympathise with the frustration expressed by Dublin in the matter of Brexit, completely understand it. And I think when we’re talking to ministers in Dublin we just need to understand that this is, from their perspective, not good news at all. They’re having to cope with some real challenges in relation to it.

“So, I just think we need to cut them a bit of slack if sometimes their frustration becomes apparent, which is does from time to time.”

Such warmth is not as readily offered to Brussels’ key figures, and Murrison says he was “not too happy” with the draft plans that would have forced a border down the Irish Sea, as he rallies around Theresa May’s position that no prime minister could accept such a proposal.


If Murrison’s committee wasn’t busy enough scrutinising the UK and Irish governments over their search for a solution to the border problem, they also face the added challenge of scrutinising the civil servants running Northern Ireland in the absence of a Stormont executive.

With Sinn Fein and the DUP unable to end the more than year-long stalemate, the Commons committee, Murrison says, has a duty to “interpret their role liberally” and to probe the Northern Ireland Office.

“That means not feeling too hidebound in where we go for the reason that of course the Stormont apparatus is in abeyance and people in Northern Ireland are therefore suffering from a democratic deficit. So, if the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee can in some small way plug that gap I think it should do so and I think that’s the feeling of the committee,” he adds.

Murrison picks out the example of the £1bn pledged to the DUP in exchange for backing Theresa May’s minority government, as a means of how they can scrutinise.

“I hope that that money will be used to advance reforms in things like health and education and I think under those circumstances it’s reasonable for my committee to look at that,” he explains.

Amid the absence of the Northern Ireland assembly, Murrison says the committee has taken on board the lack of nationalist representation at Westminster, after the SDLP lost its remaining MPs last June while Sinn Fein continue to abstain. “I think there is a real sense in the committee that we are not there as a partisan body and that we need to go the extra mile in ensuring that the views of all parts of society in Northern Ireland are properly reflected,” he continues. “I know that each and every one of the members of that committee feel that they have a duty as far as they possibly can to ensure that they reflect those wider views. Certainly, my committee has gone to considerable lengths to consult with civic society and you can be sure we will continue to do so under my chairmanship.”

Such a vow over the importance of cross-community representation comes 20 years following the historic 1998 Good Friday agreement, often cited as the glue which binds the current state of peace, and of which criticism is often risky.

Labour’s Barry Gardiner was scolded by his own frontbench recently after he called the agreement a “shibboleth”, while Murrison’s committee colleague Kate Hoey, a Northern Ireland-born Brexiteer, was branded “reckless” after she called for a “cold, rational look” at the accord.

Murrison stresses that while the landmark deal was of “vital importance”, it was never to be “immutable and unchangeable”. “It would be extraordinary if that were the case and at some point we’re going to have to come back and decide whether we need to revise parts of it, as indeed we did at St Andrews,” he said.

“It’s not the case that it is cast in stone, it was always subject to updating as circumstances change and I think that’s what Kate was driving at.”

He adds that its importance in the Brexit debate is also “overplayed by some” and indeed “the significance of the European Union in relation to the progress that has been made on the island of Ireland is being overplayed by some”.

“Brexit and the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement are perfectly compatible. There’s no reason why Brexit should conflict with the Good Friday Agreement at all,” he adds.


In a year of significant anniversaries, 2018 also marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. And Murrison speaks of the “enormous privilege” he felt on being appointed by David Cameron to prepare the execution of the national commemorations.

“This is the longest title ever invented for a politician – I’m ‘the Prime Minister’s special representative for the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War’, how’s that?” he says.

The commemoration of a period which represented so much loss at the hands of a divided Europe coincides with Brexit, but Murrison is keen to stress that Britain’s sense of European identity being diminished is wrong. “There are those who say the United Kingdom is less European because of Brexit and what I would say is, nobody can stand under the Menin Gate and look at all those names carved in stone and not have a sense of the United Kingdom being an intrinsic part of Europe.

“Britain always has been, is now, and always will be part of Europe and intimately involved in European affairs, in my view, in general in our history, very much for the better.”

Overlapping his responsibilities, Murrison notes that a shift of attitude in Ireland struck him on a recent visit, a marked change from the days where “service in the king’s uniform was regarded as a matter not to be spoken of”. “Right at the beginning of this centenary period I was told that I should be very, very careful about exploring the Irish dimension to the Great War, because it might cause old wounds to be exposed,” he says.

“That was a piece of advice that I ignored and I think the most satisfying element of the centenary that I’ve experienced is the transformative effect that commemoration of shared history can have on relations between communities and countries.

“Nowhere is that better demonstrated than in the island of Ireland, where people within the space of 100 years now feel comfortable talking about events that perhaps their parents would have been reluctant to talk about. I think that’s been hugely beneficial.”  

Sebastian Whale

David Cameron: I have no regrets over calling Brexit vote

2 days ago
David Cameron
David Cameron meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker back in the day

David Cameron has insisted he does not regret calling the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union that cost him his job as Prime Minister.

The former Tory leader - who campaigned for the UK to stay in the bloc - resigned from Number 10 after the UK instead opted for Brexit.

But he told CNN he felt no remorse about the decision to give voters a say on an EU that had changed substantially since the UK joined in the 1970s.

Mr Cameron said: “I don’t regret holding a referendum. I think it was the right thing to do. 

“I don’t think you can belong to these organisations and see their powers grow, and treaty after treaty, and power after power going from Westminster to Brussels and never asking the people whether they are happy governed in that way.”

However, the ex-PM said he not changed his mind about the result of the referendum, and still wished “the vote had gone another way”.

He added: “I think we have taken the wrong course.”

The former Prime Minister, who had to ditch a planned domestic policy push when he handed over to Theresa May earlier than expected, also said he believed people would “make up their own minds” about his legacy.

“I, obviously, believe that I was right to hold a referendum. I made a promise to the British people. I kept that promise,” he explained.

And he expressed hope that Britain will remain “a good, and friendly, and close neighbour to the European Union” after it quits the bloc, rather than “a slightly reluctant and sometimes unhappy tenant”.

Back in January Mr Cameron was caught on tape saying Brexit had so far “turned out less badly” than he thought it would.


Keir Starmer slaps down Barry Gardiner over Good Friday 'shibboleth' and 'b*******s' Brexit jibe

2 days 21 hours ago
Barry Gardiner
Keir Starmer, Barry Gardiner and Emily Thornberry

Keir Starmer has hit back at Barry Gardiner for appearing to suggest the Good Friday Agreement is outdated and describing a key plank of Labour's Brexit policy as "b******s".

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said his Labour frontbench colleague's remarks to a Brussels thinktank were "just wrong".

In remarks which were secretly recorded, Mr Gardiner said the Northern Ireland peace deal was a "shibboleth" and also suggested that Dublin was using the issue to secure a better deal in the Brexit negotiations.

The Shadow International Trade Secretary was forced to apologise after his comments were revealed by the Red Roar website.

In a further embarrassment, the same site then published a second recording in which Mr Gardiner said Labour's vow to only back the EU Withdrawal Bill if it guaranteed the same benefits as single market and customs union membership were "b******s".

Sir Keir told an Institute for Government event in central London this morning that anyone who played down the importance of the 20-year-old peace agreement did not “understand the history of Northern Ireland”.

Asked by PoliticsHome what he would say to those who believed the Good Friday Agreement was a "shibboleth", he said: “Anybody who downplays [the peace deal] from whichever political party is just wrong.”

He added: “If anybody thinks that all that matters in Northern Ireland is the technical question of how you get people and goods over a border, they simply don’t understand the history of Northern Ireland.

“Having no border there is the manifestation of peace. It is the symbol of peace. It’s in the heart.”



On Mr Gardiner's "b******s" remark, Sir Keir told PoliticsHome that anyone who thought such a thing was “plain wrong”.

And he insisted Labour would only support the final Brexit deal when it comes before parliament for the promised ‘meaningful vote’ if all of its six tests were met.


Elsewhere, Sir Keir suggested the Home Office debacle over the Windrush children did not bode well for EU nationals who have been told they can stay in the UK after Brexit.

The British residents, who came from the Caribbean some 70 years ago - often on their parents' passports - have been hit by changes to immigration rules, with some facing threats of deportation.

Sir Keir told PoliticsHome the “hostile” government approach to immigration by the Home Office, which was started under Theresa May, was partly to blame.

“Coupled with the numbers based approach, the maintenance of a hostile environment is the wrong combination to go into the sort of relationship that we need with the EU going forward,” he said.


Brexit Minister strikes softer tone as Lords defeats loom

3 days ago
Lord Callanan said ministers were ready "to listen to proposals to improve the Bill"

The Government has hinted at fresh changes to its flagship Brexit bill in a bid to stave off likely defeat in the House of Lords.

Peers are set to back cross-party amendments to the European Union Withdrawal Bill which would demand the UK stays in the customs union post-Brexit, and are also eyeing new clauses calling for the protection of worker and consumer rights after the UK leaves the EU.

But Lord Callanan, the Brexit Minister tasked with steering the bill through the Lords, said ministers were ready "to listen to proposals to improve the Bill", and called for a "spirit of collaboration and cooperation" in the Upper Chamber.

Writing in The Telegraph, he said: "There are other changes we intend to make. We are keen to further demonstrate that the powers in the Bill are essential, and exist simply to ensure we have a fully functioning legal system after we leave the EU - something that is critical in providing certainty to people and businesses as we exit. But it is not a power grab - as some have tried to label it as."

However, the Conservative peer warned that ministers would be "resolute in countering" suggestions that were "not reasonable".

Labour's shadow Leader in the Lords Baroness Smith meanwhile told the same paper that the party's peers would not be "shy about sending amendments to the Commons, giving MPs a further chance to scrutinise the detail of the Bill".

The expected drama in the Lords comes as ten rebel Tory MPs signalled their backing for a Commons amendment, supported by Labour, that would force the Government to seek a fresh customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Nicky Morgan, the pro-remain chair of the Treasury Select Committee said the rebels were "pretty determined" to inflict a defeat on the Government in order to firm up ministers' vow not to return to a hard border in Northern Ireland.

She told The Times: "We’ve given the government the time to come up with a concrete plan to avoid a hard border outside a customs union but the suspicion is that they’re not going to find that."

Even if pro-Brexit Labour MPs peel off to support the Government, it is likely that a rebellion of ten Conservatives will whittle down Theresa May's majority sufficiently to see the amendment pass.


Government braced for Brexit defeats in the Lords

4 days 1 hour ago
House of Lords
The Government could face defeats on a handful of issues as Brexit legislation comes under scrutiny from peers

Ministers are braced for a series of defeats as their flagship Brexit bill faces crunch votes in the House of Lords

Peers are set to inflict a series of humiliating blows on the Government as they line up to support a cross-party amendment demanding the UK remains within the customs union after Brexit, among others.

Leaving the customs union has been a major plank in the Prime Minister’s negotiating stance, and a Lords defeat would force the Government to defend the position in a fresh vote in the House of Commons.

The amendment is one of a number which have a chance of passing in the Lords as six-days of voting on the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation begins tomorrow.

Peers are hopeful that new clauses demanding protection of workers and consumer rights, and changes around the so-called Henry VIII powers could also pass.

Labour’s shadow Brexit spokesperson in the Lords, Dianne Hayter, said she was “optimistic” about defeating the Government.

“All the serious amendments have got a Tory, a crossbencher, a Lib Dem and a Labour peer; the whole house has been covered.”

She added: “I’m pretty optimistic that unless the Government makes some meaningful concessions on some of them that we should get them through.”

A Government source told The Independent they were prepared for the clash.

“Are we expecting a defeat? Yes, that’s about where we are," the source said.

“The Government is listening on the important aspects of the bill and I think that’s what the overall tone of the debate from the crossbenchers will be – that, actually, the Government is listening and taking appropriate action.

“But there was always going to be a time when this type of amendment, the customs union amendment, was going to cause a bit of a clash”, they added.

“We’ll just have to see how the debate goes.”

A Brexit department spokesperson said: “The House of Lords plays an important role in scrutinising and revising legislation and we are grateful for the contributions made so far.

“Throughout the [bill’s] passage we have demonstrated that we are listening to constructive suggestions put forward.

“This bill is about providing certainty and continuity as we leave the EU. It is not a medium to overturn the referendum.”


Lord Warner: Peers can unite around our Brexit public health amendment

5 days 8 hours ago
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will return to the Lords this week
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will return to the Lords this week

The duty to ‘Do No Harm’ will set the standard by which freedom to trade versus public health is balanced after we leave the EU, argues Lord Warner

As we approach Report Stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, a small but important amendment to protect the public’s health has united the medical and public health sectors, and Peers from across the political divide, many of whom spoke in support at Committee Stage.

While the government has assured the House that “there will be no rollback of [public health] standards”, this stops short of a simple commitment to put on the face of the Bill the “high level of health protection” that would guard against an erosion of public health policy and practice. Rather than reassuring the public, not enshrining it in the Bill will have the opposite effect.

The government has reasoned that the powers in the amendment are equal to the Secretary of State’s existing duty to protect the public’s health and so is unnecessary. In fact, the duty to ‘Do No Harm’ is broader and more protective of the public’s health, placing the duty on the whole of government, including public authorities and the devolved nations – a very important distinction.

The amendment has parallels with an amendment agreed by the House giving mental health parity with physical health. Then, as now, the government reasoned that equal powers existed and it was therefore unnecessary. Yet the Secretary of State is today “proud this government legislated for parity of esteem”. Far from unnecessary, parity of esteem has delivered key achievements on mental health and is supported by all political parties.

At Committee stage, Lord Deben cautioned that whether or not the UK upholds the highest standards of public health “will not be part of the [Brexit] negotiations”. Yet only an effective legislative provision can ensure future governments won’t rollback public health standards. This amendment, based on the “high level of human health protection” under Article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty, is such an effective provision, and could be upheld in a court where governments and public bodies fall down on protecting public health.

The government has offered an assurance that our “values and principles [won’t be] traded away”. Yet, Trade Agreements have been associated with adverse health impacts. Public health standards would be at risk were a future government to lower them in an effort to increase competitiveness. In this context it is alarming that the recent US Foreign Trade Barriers report signals that the US is keen to roll back our food safety and environmental standards: 82% of the public would oppose a trade deal negotiated on this basis. The duty to ‘Do No Harm’ will be essential in determining, and interpreting, the standard by which freedom to trade versus public health is balanced post-Brexit.

The duty doesn’t seek to preserve EU law but simply ensures we have some legal precedent and interpretative guidance to draw on when protecting the public’s health in the future. British courts, on the basis of our doctrines of parliamentary sovereignty, will decide interpretation of the law. In this way, the duty to ‘Do No Harm’ is, as Baroness Jolly has emphasised, ‘Brexit-neutral’. It “should give Remainers a rosy glow [while] Brexiteers will be grateful that [it] puts a marker down: British law for British people”.

Health, security and the economy are the most important duties of any government. This Bill is where our constitutional stability and legal certainty will be determined and the duty offers clarity on the guiding principles for our Brexit negotiations. And, it is an opportunity to reassure business that this government is committed to a post-Brexit economy based on maintaining the high levels of health and productivity within our workforce.

As we approach Report stage, I hope Peers can unite around the ‘Do No Harm’ amendment and:

  1. Vote in favour of the amendment at Report stage
  2. Tweet your support with #DoNoHarm
  3. Encourage fellow Peers to support the amendment
  4. Discuss the amendment in Ministerial/departmental meetings
  5. Encourage your professional networks to support the amendment 


Lord Warner is Crossbench peer and former health minister

Sebastian Whale

Lord Tyler: The impact of data misuse on the Brexit result must be uncovered

5 days 8 hours ago
Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerburg appearing in Washington last week

Allegations about Facebook’s misuse of data have raised new and deeply disturbing questions. Ministers must not be complacent about the potential impact, writes Lord Tyler

The revelations come thick and fast. Daily - sometimes it seems like hourly - we learn that our personal data may have been misused in ever more controversial ways. In particular, ingenious development of Facebook material appears to have played a key role in targeting both positive messages and contrived attacks in the Trump election campaign and to secure the Brexit result of our own 2016 EU Referendum.

Ministers have so far hidden behind a reassuring report from the Electoral Commission about the conduct of that referendum. However, that was issued months ago, long before the detailed analysis from Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer began to gain traction, and the whistleblowers from Cambridge Analytica, AIQ and the Leave campaigns emerged to give their evidence. Since the turn of the year, the alleged network of illicit collaboration has caused the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner and the House of Commons Culture Media & Sport Select Committee to open new investigations. The latter, led by Conservative MP Damian Collins, is being especially pro-active, and their witness list in the next few days is itself an indication of the vital role parliamentary select committees can now play.

Despite apparent BBC attempts to minimise the significance of all this increasing weight of evidence (presumably because other media have provided the investigative journalism) there are signs of growing public unease. Have we as a nation been conned, just like so many in the US? Has our personal data been “scraped” for this purpose? Are our very strict laws, which seek to protect our elections and referendum campaigns from being bought by billionaires and foreign governments, up to the job?

Carole Cadwalladr wrote recently: “It’s not about party politics. It’s not about Leave/Remain. It’s about the future of our democracy in the digital age.”

Twice in recent weeks, I have challenged ministers in the Lords to respond to the serious nature of these allegations. On 28 March I asked Lord Young: “Does the Government not recognise that there are continuing public doubts about the integrity of the system, which he has just described as robust, and which then challenge the legitimacy of the whole Brexit process?”

He replied: “We will never know if the law was broken and whether it made any difference. My personal view is that it was unlikely, and there are better explanations as to why people voted as they did, rather than that they were targeted by an algorithm.”

Is the Government still so confident that no illegality will be established? And if it is - given the narrow outcome, with 16 people voting to Remain for every 17 voting to Leave - how does that affect the current stampede over the Brexit cliff?  I think we should be told.

Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress last week provided no new answers to all these allegations about the impact of Facebook data misuse in the UK, but it certainly raised new and deeply disturbing questions. If even he admits the very serious nature of these faults, how come ministers are so complacent? 


Lord Tyler is a Liberal Democrat peer and the party’s Lords spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform. His oral question will take place on Wednesday 18 April

Sebastian Whale

EXCL Kate Osamor: Prince Charles should not be the next head of the Commonwealth

1 week 1 day ago
Prince Charles in Australia
Prince Charles wears a mulka string during a visit to Mount Nhulun in Nhulunbuy, northern Australia

Prince Charles should not become the next Commonwealth head when the Queen steps down from the role, according to a senior Labour MP.

Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor said the Prince of Wales had “not been that vocal on issues” lately - but insisted she had no truck with the Royal Family.

The issue is set to be a major talking point at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting due to take place in the UK later this month and expected to be the last attended by the Queen.

The monarch has held the title since 1952, when she succeeded King George VI upon his death, but it is not hereditary, and whether or not Prince Charles has the right to take her place is yet to be decided.

In an exclusive interview with PoliticsHome's sister title The House Magazine, Ms Osamor said she did “not particularly think it should be him”.

“Not because I have an issue with the Royal Family,” she explained. “I just don’t think it should be him. I don’t really know what he’s been up to of late. He’s not been that vocal on issues.”

She added: “We just need someone who’s level-headed, someone people respect but also someone who thinks outside the box.”

The 53 commonwealth states will meet in London between the 16 and 20 April to “reaffirm our common values, address the shared global challenges we face and agree how to work to create a better future for all our citizens”.

A source told the Daily Telegraph in February: “As part of the conversations at CHOGM it is perfectly natural that there will be a conversation at some point about succession going forward.”

Another said: “It [the succession] will be discussed at CHOGM, no question. Because Britain is hosting it this year they want to bring it to a head.

“What they don’t want is for the Commonwealth to split up, to become irrelevant.”

Meanwhile, in a separate article for the House Magazine, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said Theresa May must apologise to Commonwealth leaders over Margaret Thatcher's failure to impose sanctions on South Africa during the apartheid era.


David Davis 'wins internal battle' with May adviser over shape of Brexit negotiations

1 week 3 days ago
David Davis
David Davis reportedly won out after clashing with Brexit adviser Olly Robbins

British civil servants are set to begin detailed negotiations on the future trade relationship with Brussels after David Davis won out in a key internal battle. 

The Brexit Secretary reportedly sent a letter last night to Whitehall officials urging them to come up with key Brexit goals ahead of an intense summer of talks with the European Commission. 

Mr Davis is said to have clashed with Theresa May's chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, over how much of the future relationship can be agreed by Brexit day next March.

Mr Robbins apparently believes a broad, high-level agreement is preferable, while Mr Davis wants to see departments come up with detailed proposals as soon as possible.

“David Davis wants to set demanding targets, to be achieved before the Withdrawal Agreement is signed off, in order to meet the legitimate expectations of Parliament. This letter does that,” a government source told the Daily Telegraph.

Elsewhere a source told the Times that Mr Davis was "furious" that Mr Robbins appeared to be echoing the Commission's approach to negotiations.

The veteran eurosceptic is reportedly concerned that offering only a broad agreement would enrage Tory backbenchers who want to see substantive progress on the future relationship.

John Ashmore

Businesses want continued alignment with EU rules, claims CBI report

1 week 3 days ago
Car plant
Carmakers are among the companies concerned about the regulatory impact of Brexit

Choosing to diverge from EU rules after Brexit will mean more costs for British businesses, the Confederation of British Industry has warned.

In its latest report. titled 'Smooth Operations', the CBI says the vast majority of sectors of the British economy would benefit from continued alignment with European regulations. 

The business group claims any benefits to areas such as tourism and agriculture from leaving the EU framework are "vastly outweighed" by the damage to other sectors.

CBI chairman Carolyn Fairbairn also says the Government needs a "major acceleration" in its collaboration with businsses.

"It's vitally important that negotiators understand the complexity of rules and the effects that even the smallest of changes can have," she said.

"Deviation from rules in one sector will have a knock-on effect on businesses in others, and divergence from rules in one part of a production process will have consequences for market access throughout entire supply chains.

"It's hard to overstate the importance of the decisions that will be taken over the next six months. Put simply, for the majority of businesses, diverging from EU rules and regulations will make them less globally competitive, and so should only be done where the evidence is clear that the benefits outweigh the costs."

But the findings were rubbished by pro-Brexit group Leave means Leave, which questioned the CBI's credentials to speak on behalf of British business.

“This report from the CBI protects the vested interests of global multi-nationals at the expense of the approximately 90 per cent of the UK economy that does not export to the EU," said the group's co-chair, Richard Tice.

"It is quite extraordinary that this business lobby group wants to keep a load of unnecessary EU regulations that stifle growth and innovation, which will thus reduce wage growth potential for UK workers."

John Ashmore

Irish EU spokesman hits out at David Davis over ‘completely inaccurate’ Sinn Féin comments

1 week 3 days ago
David Davis made the comments at a conference in London

Ireland’s EU spokesman has rounded on David Davis over his "inaccurate" claim that Dublin’s Fine Gael-led Government is being steered by Sinn Féin.

Senator Neale Richmond said the Brexit Secretary’s comments that his party's leadership was under “quite a strong influence” from the Republican hard-liners on the border issue suggested a wider naivety on Irish politics in Westminster.

“I wouldn’t have expected it from David Davis,” he told the website

“It shows that the average British MP doesn’t understand the nuances of the peace process. It’s very disappointing, completely inaccurate, and certainly not happening.”

It comes after The Times reported Mr Davis telling a conference in London that the change in Taoiseach from Enda Kenny to Leo Varadkar last June had allowed a “strong political role” for Sinn Féin in discussions about the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

“We had a change of government, south of the border, and with quite a strong influence from Sinn Féin, and that had an impact in terms of the approach,” he said.

When it was pointed out that it was merely the country's leader that had changed and not the government, Mr Davis added: “Well you had a change of leader or a change in Taoiseach.

“They’ve [Sinn Féin] been playing a strong political role which they haven’t done historically, that I hadn’t foreseen,” Mr Davis said.

He added that politics on the island had altered under Mr Varadkar and with the disappearance of the Northern Ireland Executive, both of which had in turn “slowed down” Brexit discussions.

The comments prompted Owen Smith, who was Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary until he was sacked last month, to brand Mr Davis' claims "utter rubbish".

The Irish government denied there was any change of approach between Mr Varadkar and his predecessor Mr Kenny.

“From the outset the Irish government has been clear that the UK’s decision to leave the EU presents significant challenges to the Good Friday agreement as the foundation of the Northern Ireland peace process,” a spokesman said.

“This position is unchanged since the time of the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership and is one which has cross-party support in Dáil Éireann.”


Mr Davis’ comments come after Barry Gardiner was forced to apologise for suggesting the Good Friday Agreement was now out of date.

The Shadow International Trade Secretary said a recording of him saying the peace deal, which was signed 20 years ago today, was a "shibboleth" had prompted a "misunderstanding".

His comments also sparked anger from Mr Richmond, who tweeted that Mr Gardiner's comments had been "highly irresponsible".

Nicholas Mairs

Spain hopes for deal with UK on Gibraltar by summer

1 week 6 days ago
Alfonso Dastis
The Spanish foreign minister has said that he hopes for an agreement on Gibraltar by summer.

Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis has said that he hopes to reach a deal with the UK on Gibraltar by the summer.

Mr Dastis expressed hope that a bilateral agreement could be reached by October.


‘We are definitely determined to defend our position so I don’t exclude anything,’ he said.


‘But we are definitely working towards having an agreement before October, even if possible by the summer, and we hope… that there is also, from the British side, a position which works towards that end.’


The EU has said that a deal between the UK and Spain is a prerequisite for any future trade deal after Brexit.


The British Government has said that ‘informal’ talks on the future of the UK overseas territory, and Mr Dastis has said that sovereignty will not be an issue during talks.


Spain has a long-standing claim to Gibraltar, which voted against Brexit by 96 percent.


The Spanish foreign ministry is pushing for joint management of Gibraltar’s airport.


‘We have tried twice.’ Mr Dastis said. ‘Once it was rejected by the UK, the second time it was rejected by us. Maybe third time lucky?’


Responding to the comments by the foreign minister, a UK government spokesman said: ‘Discussions are continuing with the Government of Gibraltar and our European partners on how to address the specific challenges and opportunities here.’

John Ashmore

EXCL Anti-Brexit campaigners lash out as thousands spent on King of Spain visit revealed

2 weeks ago
Theresa May welcomes King Felipe VI of Spain to 10 Downing Street
Theresa May welcomes King Felipe VI of Spain to 10 Downing Street last year

Remain campaigners have attacked the Government after it emerged tens of thousands of pounds were spent on a state visit by the King of Spain - during which he sparked a row with Gibraltar.

Official figures show the Foreign Office spent £176,000 on the trip by Felipe VI and Queen Letizia in July last year, including almost £66,000 on entertainment and £8,000 printing the itinerary, PoliticsHome can reveal.

Meanwhile, £37,000 went on accommodation, £46,000 on transport and £18,000 on interpreters so the King and Queen could chat to UK dignitaries.

But the visit did not go as smoothly as planned when the Spanish monarch sparked a row with Gibraltar by failing to acknowledge its right to determine its own future in an address to Parliament.

He said he wanted a “dialogue” between Madrid and London on the status of the Rock - prompting Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo to accuse him of “seeking to ignore” the will of its residents.

Eloise Todd, CEO of the pro-EU group Best for Britain, said the eye-watering sums spent on the state visit were “Exhibit A in terms of how Brexit is turning our friends and allies against us”.

"We spent £170,000 on rolling out the red carpet, only to end up in a spat over Gibraltar,” she told PoliticsHome.

"Brexit is dangerously pulling at the strings that bind the UK and some of our closest international allies together.”

Meanwhile, John O'Connell, chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “Pageantry is always going to be a feature of soft power diplomacy, but those organising these trips should be mindful of the high costs.

“Taxpayers expect value for money, and this is just as true with diplomatic events as other areas of spending.

“It seems hard to believe that some of the costs, for instance, printing programmes can justifiably run into the thousands, so every care ought to be taken to prevent waste on these visits.”

A Foreign Office source said staying closely allied with Spain was “important for UK interests as we leave the EU” - with some £43bn of trade between the countries in the balance and 300,000 Brits living on Spanish shores.

The source added: "The state visit was an opportunity to celebrate our existing bilateral relationship and to protect these interests for the future ensuring the prosperity and opportunities available to UK citizens. It was the first inwards State Visit from Spain in 30 years.”

Elsewhere, the Government revealed the thousands of pounds that were spent on recent ‘guest of government’ visits - the lesser form of state visits which do not include rolling out the red carpet.

A trip made by Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in May last year cost the taxpayer £37,000, while a visit by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta the same month cost almost £29,000.

A visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe in April cost £14,000 including £2,300 on entertainment.


Lord Trimble warns special EU status for Northern Ireland 'would provoke loyalist terror revival'

2 weeks ago
David Trimble and Tony Blair
David Trimble with Tony Blair shortly after the Good Friday Agreement was signed

Granting Northern Ireland special status to effectively keep it in the EU after Brexit would lead to a return of loyalist paramilitary violence, Lord Trimble has warned.

The former Northern Ireland first minister, who played a key role in the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago, said any arrangement which weakened the United Kingdom would cause uproar.

His comments come after months of negotiations between the EU and the UK over how to avoid the reintroduction of a hard Irish border after Brexit.

Brussels has said that if no other solution is found, Northern Ireland should remain in the customs union and parts of the single market - a proposal rejected as "unacceptable" by Theresa May.

"What is happening now is that people are talking up the issue of Brexit and the border for the benefit of a different agenda from the (Good Friday) agreement,” Lord Trimble told the Guardian.

"The one thing that would provoke loyalist paramilitaries is the present Irish government saying silly things about the border and the constitutional issue.

"If it looks as though the constitutional arrangements of the agreement, based on the principle of consent, are going to be superseded by so-called ‘special EU status’ then that is going to weaken the union and undermine the very agreement that Dublin says it wants to uphold."

The former Ulster Unionist Party leader, who now sits as a Tory peer in the House of Lords, said suggestions by Dublin officials that the province be governed like Hong Kong were "extremely dangerous".

"I believe that some senior Irish government officials go around Brussels talking about the ‘Hong Kong model’ – the one country, two systems idea," he added. 

"That is a precedent they talk about where sovereignty has been transferred from Britain to China.

"Anything that looks remotely like this or is building on that foundation would be extremely dangerous. Although I think that under this Conservative government I cannot see that prevailing.” 

Mr Trimble also said he feared a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government could consent to special status for Northern Ireland.

"His right-hand man [John McDonnell] who in government might get a rush of blood to the head and go to his old mates like Gerry Adams and give him what they want," he said.

"If he and Corbyn were the two leading figures in a Labour government and created ‘special status’ after Brexit that would be very dangerous."

Nicholas Mairs

Bar Council: Brexit specialists call for detailed blue prints on PM's mutual recognition plan

2 weeks 1 day ago

The Prime Minister’s goal of a ‘comprehensive system of mutual recognition’ could facilitate ‘frictionless’ trade, according to the Bar Council, but the profession’s Brexit law experts have also warned that this is not a simple ‘plug and play’ solution, and would require the UK to look again at some of its ‘red lines’.

As the Bar Council published its latest Brexit Paper, Brussels Consultant Director Evanna Fruitof also pointed out the limitations of replicating the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU as an off-the-shelf model.

She said: “So far, we have been given only the merest outline of a comprehensive system of mutual recognition. As with many other aspects of the Government’s vision for the future EU-UK relationship, what we urgently need from the Government is a more detailed blue-print of how that system will be built.

“The current EU system of mutual recognition operates against the backdrop of an ever-increasing set of common rules and a centralised system of checks and balances, supported by national and supranational systems of law, judicial supervision and dispute resolution.  It is against this backdrop that Member States have the trust and confidence in each other’s systems necessary for current mutual recognition arrangements effectively to operate.

“The UK’s red lines, which include leaving the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the CJEU will make the continuation or recreation of that framework much harder to achieve. We therefore need quick, imaginative and clearly articulated thinking on what that legal framework will be.”

The Bar Council’s paper also warns that on recognition of professional qualifications, CETA does not go far enough and merely encourages regulatory bodies in the EU and Canada to agree to reduce barriers to requalification, where possible.

Evanna Fruitof said: “We need an ambitious plan that takes us well beyond CETA. On professional qualifications, for example, CETA is more about expressing hopes than guaranteeing rights. It is a reminder that mutual recognition, divorced from a binding system of common and enforceable rules, may be of limited value when it comes to trade.

“As the Chancellor has already acknowledged, any agreement on mutual recognition will need to be underpinned by proper governance structures, dispute resolution mechanisms and sensible notice periods to market participants.

“Though a degree of common ground appears to exist as to the right approach, the Bar recommends that both sides urgently focus on developing and agreeing the core elements of a framework for mutual recognition.”


Fresh Brexit committee split over 'Norway-style' trade proposal

2 weeks 3 days ago
UK and EU flags
The report's publication has caused a fracture between Remain and Leave backing MPs on the committee

A fresh row has erupted between MPs on the Brexit Select Committee after its new report said Theresa May should not rule out a Norway-style deal with the EU.

Senior eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg said his own committee was trying to "stop Brexit" while chair Hilary Benn said he aimed to help colleagues when it comes to voting on the final deal.

The new report urged the Government to consider negotiating continued membership of the European Economic Area, which would leave the UK subject to EU rules but with no say on their implementation.

It also suggested membership of the European Free Trade Area should be left open, which could serve as a precursor to EEA membership.

Both options have been previously ruled out by Brexit Secretary David Davis.

But the controversial report has split the committee, with Leave-backing MPs voting against the recommendations and against the report in its entirety - although they were defeated.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who as well as serving on the committee is chair of the powerful European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers, lashed out at the report.

“The ExEU Select Committee report is another effort by Remainers to reverse the result," he declared.

"The High Priest of Remain have pushed through another report that seeks to overturn the referendum result by stealth.

“Select Committee reports are only of any value when unanimous, divided ones have no effects.”

In a series of tweets, the arch-Brexiteer fumed that the proposals would leave the UK a “vassal state” and accused the Select Committee of trying to re-fight the referendum, signing off the tweets "#remoanathon".

Fellow committee member Peter Bone said the report was “driven by Remainers pursuing a political agenda”.

“It takes into account the evidence that suits their agenda and ignores the evidence that does not. As a result it is pretty worthless”, he added.

But Committee Chair Hilary Benn said it was "not surprising" there were disagreements and insisted the report was designed to help parliament.

The report sets out key tests against which the final Brexit deal should be compared, including benchmarks on immigration, security, border arrangements and access to markets.

The tests are based on the Prime Minister’s pledges but that they set a “high bar” for judging the finished deal, Mr Benn said.

"It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland, and that we maintain close co-operation on defence, security, data and information sharing and consumer safety,” he explained.

He added: “And should negotiations on a ‘deep and special partnership’ not prove successful, we consider that EFTA/EEA membership remains an alternative which would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services and could also be negotiated relatively quickly.”

It comes after a previous report by the committee sparked a row in April when it suggested the two-year Article 50 period could be extended to help the UK prepare for Brexit.


Britain will strike ‘at least two major trade deals’ during Brexit transition

2 weeks 4 days ago
The Brexit transition period will begin in March next year when the UK formally leavs the EU

Britain will have at least two major trade deals ready to go when the Brexit transition period ends in 2020, the Government has predicted.

The Department for International Trade will begin to negotiate global trade deals in March next year when the UK officially leaves the EU, but will not be able to implement them until the handover period ends in December 2020.

The Department for International Trade has already started the process by setting up working groups with more than 20 countries across the world — including the US, New Zealand and Australia.

A source close to the department told The Sun: “I’d expect a minimum of two new trade deals to be ready to implement on January 1st 2021. That’s very doable”.

However, this comes amid warnings to the UK’s banks that they must implement their hard Brexit contingency plans rather than rely on transition deal arrangements.

The European Central Bank has told British financial services firms to prepare for “a no-deal scenario leading to a hard Brexit with no transition”.

According to industry sources, the move could cost up to 10,000 jobs.

One told The Times the intervention was part of  a “co-ordinated lobbying campaign” by France to use Brexit to undermine London’s position as Europe’s finance hub.

They told the newspaper: “Their first priority is to repatriate 30 years’ worth of losses in wholesale banking that migrated from Paris to London after the Big Bang. They are going about it in an extraordinarily integrated manner.

“From politicians, to regulators, to the French civil servants operating in the Commission to their representatives on trade bodies are doing everything they can to advance this agenda.

“And it is not just about banking. It’s insurance, its asset management — they want a chunk of that business to come back to Paris.”



Greg Hands MP: There is a lot we can do before Brexit to realise our trading potential

3 weeks 1 day ago
UK currency

Minister of State for Trading Policy Greg Hands says that getting the "bread and butter" of trade deals correct will be crucial in making it easier for the UK to conduct trade after Brexit.

This week marks a year since the Government triggered the process of leaving the EU under Article 50.

There’s been a lot of work since then to prepare the UK for its new role outside of the EU, not least from the Department for International Trade as we look to establish our own independent trade policy for the first time in over forty years.

As the IMF predicts, 90% of global growth will be outside the EU in the coming decades, and the UK’s trade policy should be about helping our businesses tap into that growth.

There’s a lot of focus on the potential of new trade agreements, and our discussions with countries like Australia and the USA are working towards this, but there is a lot we can do even before we leave the EU to realise our trading potential.

This week the UK held its tenth annual ‘JETCO’ trade and economic talks with Brazil, and Trade Secretary Liam Fox and I were joined by Brazilian Trade and Industry Minister Marcos Jorge de Lima in London.

Brazil and the UK are the 9th and 5th largest economies in the world respectively, and our shared economies make up 6.1% of the world’s GDP.

Yet our annual trade is £5.4 billion, far below its potential and also compared with the trade we share with similar sized economies.

To improve this record we need to make it easier for UK and Brazilian companies to operate in each other’s markets, to overcome any regulatory barriers that make trade more expensive.

That’s where discussions like this JETCO come in. At this week’s meeting we signed a new partnership between our export credit agency, UK Export Finance, and the Brazilian National Development Bank to co-finance infrastructure projects in Brazil.

The Global Infrastructure Hub estimates that Brazil’s growing population will need £45 billion invested in national infrastructure by 2040. So providing financial support for Brazilian companies using UK contracts and UK companies bidding for those, will help UK firms seize that potential.

Similarly, a new Patent Prosecution Highway agreement will also prioritise the process for securing patents in each other’s markets and make it quicker and easier for companies to protect their intellectual property.

Again, this is an agreement between governments that has big potential for UK firms. The UK exports £288 million of pharmaceuticals to Brazil each year. The faster that is secured, the faster companies get their new products into the Brazilian market.

We are also working with Brazil on a trade facilitation programme which aims, among other things, to reduce the time and cost to import and export in Brazil, through faster processing at ports and helping Brazil comply with OECD standards as it moves to become a member of the OECD.

This is the bread and butter of trade, but its hugely important if we want to make it easier for UK companies to trade and do business in Brazil.

As we leave the EU, and establish new trading relationships with growing markets around the world, it will be these technical issues, and how we can work to support them, that make an immediate difference.

Greg Hands is the Minister of State for Trading Policy and the Conservative Member of Parliament for Chelsea and Fulham

Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47