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Jeremy Corbyn drops biggest hint yet that Labour could back single market membership after Brexit

2 hours 24 minutes ago
Jeremy Corbyn speaking in London this afternoon
Jeremy Corbyn speaking in London this afternoon

Jeremy Corbyn today left the door open to a change in Labour’s Brexit position by suggesting the UK could yet end up in the single market.

Mr Corbyn also said that Britain has to "have a customs union" with the EU after Brexit.

He has previously ruled out the UK remaining in the trading bloc, saying repeatedly that single market membership is contingent on being in the EU.

Just last month the Labour leader said the idea of staying in the single market was “based on the flawed assumption that the single market is a membership club”.

But speaking this afternoon he signalled a possible change of tack by saying non-EU countries could not “automatically” join the single market - suggesting they can if they wish.

"We have to have access to European markets, we have to have a customs union that makes sure we can continue that trade, particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that is key to it," he told an audience at the EEF manufacturing conference in London.

"Being a member of the single market is automatic if you’re in the EU, if you’re not in the EU you’re not automatically a member of it.

Labour MP Wes Streeting welcomed Mr Corbyn’s apparent change of heart and urged him to change his party’s policy on Brexit.

Fellow Labour MP Ian Murray, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, added: “Any shift in Jeremy Corbyn’s position towards resisting the Government’s plans for a hard and reckless Brexit is welcome. But we need and deserve clarity.

“It’s becoming clearer by the day that the least worst option in leaving the EU is the single market and customs union and Jeremy Corbyn needs to take that option as soon as possible”.

 

PEACE PROCESS

Yesterday the leader of  the SDLP, Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland, called on Mr Corbyn to support the UK staying a full member of the single market and customs union.

In a letter to the Labour leader, Colum Eastwood that a hard Brexit has the “potential to dismantle the architecture” of the peace process in the province.

Mr Corbyn was speaking after delivering a speech in which he vowed that a Labour government would make the City of London "the servant of industry, not the masters of all".

He said: "There can be no rebalancing of our distorted, sluggish and unequal economy without taking on the power of finance.

"For 40 years, deregulated finance has progressively become more powerful.

"Its dominance over industry, obvious and destructive; its control of politics, pernicious and undemocratic."

John Ashmore

One year on – how to solve a problem like Euratom

3 hours 1 minute ago
The nuclear facility at Dounreay in Scotland

Nuclear Industry Association Chief Executive Tom Greatrex responds to a recent article by Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on the subject of Euratom, which currently facilitates the free and frictionless trade of nuclear goods, services and people across the EU.

Just over a year ago, by dint of an explanatory note to a short Parliamentary Bill, almost by accident the government decided it was going to cease to be a member of Euratom in parallel to leaving the European Union.

While, at the time, few outside of civil nuclear and medical bodies had even heard of Euratom, and some of those then dominating decision making inside the government clearly didn’t understand its scope and the consequences of leaving.

One year on, the country is now in the process of seeking to hastily replicate everything we currently have as members of Euratom. While late March 2019 may be the leave date, it is simply not possible to have everything negotiated, ratified and enacted to replicate Euratom arrangements in that time.

Separate from the European Union Treaties, Euratom facilitates the free and frictionless trade of nuclear goods, services and people (including medical radioisotopes), safeguards nuclear material to ensure it is being used for civil purposes in line with our non-proliferation responsibilities,  co-ordinates funding for world leading nuclear fusion research (much of which takes place in Culham in Oxfordshire) and holds vital nuclear co-operation agreements between Euratom states and third countries.

As Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath pointed out in his recent PoliticsHome article, government policy is to “stick to the same [Euratom] standards” and the challenge to do so in such a short space of time was clearly laid out in the NIA’s ‘Exiting Euratom’ paper published back in May 2017. Giving evidence to a series of select committees over recent months, I have sat alongside the independent regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, where they have confirmed that meeting Euratom standards on day one is just not possible.

It will take a significant amount of time and effort to replicate Euratom arrangements and Lord Hunt’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill seeks to protect the industry by ensuring government, at the very least, “maintain[s] equivalent participatory relations with Euratom”.

If the government want to meet their policy objective of replication, then the mammoth effort of securing and implementing agreements with the IAEA (the UN body overseeing international safeguards), the EU, Euratom, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and many others, is going to take time to get done. That is why minds in Whitehall and on the Eurostar commute to Brussels need to be focussed on securing and confirming a suitable transition period to ensure normal business can continue in the meantime, and Ministers need to accept that the replication of more than 40 years of technical collaboration is not a straightforward exercise that can be unilaterally accelerated.

Viewed from afar it might seem odd to leave a Treaty which is separate from the EU because of a largely theoretical concern over ECJ competence; odder still to then seek to replicate everything we currently have as members of that Treaty with the time, effort and complexity that involves rather than seeking a form of continued membership; and oddest of all to continue to pretend it can all be achieved in an unrealistic and wholly artificial timeframe without some pragmatism and flexibility.

Last month, because of concerns expressed by Members of Parliament, the government conceded that they would publish progress reports on Euratom. The first of these hinted towards a more sensible, measured and pragmatic approach as complex new arrangements need to be implemented - it is more of that and less of the hyperbole that is now required to get the job done. 

Anonymous

Antoinette Sandbach: The Norway option could offer Britain the best of both worlds

5 hours 56 minutes ago
Antoinette Sandbach has a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning
Antoinette Sandbach has a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning

If Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal in place, there is only one realistic option. We must rejoin EFTA – and ensure a soft landing, writes Antoinette Sandbach

In order to secure the best possible Brexit, it is vital that MPs analyse and assess all available options. That is why I am leading a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning focusing on the alternatives to a ‘No Deal’ outcome in our negotiations with the EU.

Lyndon Johnson claimed that the first rule of politics is knowing how to count. I hope that this debate will demonstrate to ministers that the number of MPs who think that no deal should result in a soft landing far exceeds those colleagues who hanker for the hardest Brexit possible.

Over the last few weeks we have seen quite how damaging a ‘No Deal’ Brexit could be. Treasury estimates have shown that WTO terms would reduce GDP by 8% over 15 years. The impact would be most strongly felt in the Midlands, the North and the devolved nations. The consequence for my own constituency would be dramatic; the North West is projected to take a 12% hit. What is more some of my area’s key industries – chemical, automotive and pharmaceutical – are all at risk.

So, what are the other options?

The first alternative to WTO terms is the successful delivery of a “deep and special partnership” as the government has promised. I support this goal. I hope that the government ensures that the services industries are included in this deal; as to not do so would damage some of our most globally competitive sectors. 

The second alternative is perhaps as politically dangerous as WTO terms are economically disastrous. There are some who advocate that we should just stay in the EU. This is unrealistic. It defies the will of the people and would cause a compound fracture in the body politic. 

The third option is by far and away the best alternative to a No Deal exit, the so-called ‘Norway option’. By re-joining EFTA we would ensure a soft landing should we ‘crash out’ without a deal. Instead of facing WTO terms we would have a range of trade deals with 27 countries, as well as access to the EEA, guaranteeing our continuing economic relationship with Europe. 

If learning to count is the first rule of politics, it is also good economic practice. WTO terms would see a 40-60% drop in trade with the EU whereas EFTA would see a comparatively small dip of 12%, securing thousands of jobs that would otherwise be lost. It would also protect our financial services sector and the £10bn of tax revenue that it generates. 

It’s not hard to see why even staunch Leavers like Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan and Sir Bill Cash have, at one time or another, talked up an EFTA style arrangement.

Some say that the only way to respect the result is to default to WTO terms and pull up the drawbridge. I disagree. EFTA would allow us to protect our prosperity and respect the outcome of the referendum. EFTA would see us outside of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. It would protect us from ‘ever closer union’ as well as any threat of joining the euro. What is more, under certain circumstances EFTA allows an emergency brake on immigration. 

No doubt there will be a range of views on Wednesday, but I hope colleagues from all sides of the House will turn up and demonstrate to the government that there is a substantial and popular middle ground between the unrealistic few who want to remain in the EU, and the economic peril of no deal hardliners.  

 

Antoinette Sandbach is Conservative MP for Eddisbury. MPs will debate ‘Alternatives to a no-deal outcome’ in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 21 February 

Sebastian Whale

Lord Hunt: Government's weak response over Euratom is worrying the medical sector

1 day 5 hours ago
nuclear

The government must think again about leaving Euratom, given the impact on healthcare, says Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Almost under the radar, the government is trying to rush a piece of legislation through Parliament designed for the softest of Brexit departures from Euratom. This agency oversees countries with nuclear facilities to ensure that material used for civil purposes, for example in power stations, is not being diverted into weapons programmes.

Following the perverse decision of the Prime Minister to withdraw from Euratom because of the never used jurisdiction of the ECJ, the government has tasked the UK’s own regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to take over these vital nuclear safeguarding responsibilities.

No doubt because Euratom is doing such a good job, the government rather ironically wants the ONR to stick to the same standards! The problem however, is that there’s no way they can reach those standards by March 2019 because it needs to recruit and training up to 40 inspectors from scratch. As ONR Deputy Chief Inspector, Dr Mina Golshan told the Commons Bill Committee:“we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one. That is unrealistic.”

So, the government’s weak response is to accept lower standards of frequency and intensity of inspections to meet the less exacting requirements of the International Atomic Energy Authority. But with an aspiration over time to return to Euratom standards.

The decision is also causing considerable worries in the medical world. Euratom currently facilitates a free trade of nuclear material across the EU, which ensures a secure and consistent supply of radioisotopes. These are vital for diagnosing particular diseases via nuclear medicine imaging techniques, courtesy of radiology, palliative relief of pain and biochemical analysis in clinical pathology.

The UK imports these radioisotopes around the world, but mainly from EU countries such as France, Holland and the Czech Republic. They have a very short life, degrade quickly and cannot be stockpiled. Indeed, it was in response to the 2012 shortage crisis that the European Observatory on the supply of Medical Radioisotopes was established. This facilitates the sharing of vital information between member states, industry suppliers and the medical profession. 

Operating outside of Euratom would remove the UK’s guarantee of consistent and timely access to medical radioisotopes, with consequent delays in patient treatment. It would also weaken collaborative links between the UK and EU on nuclear-medicine research.

Pressed at our Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguarding Bill, the BEIS Minister Lord Henley acknowledged that changes to customs arrangements after Brexit could affect and disrupt the supply of radioisotopes. While the government says it is working to minimise such risks, there is not much confidence to be had from the current state of the wider negotiations.

That is why Labour has tabled a frontbench amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill on retaining our membership of Euratom. Failing that, the government must negotiate the very closest of alignments with the agency that guarantees both our very high standards on nuclear safeguards and the vital exchange of materials essential to healthcare.

Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath is a member of Labour’s Health team in the House of Lords.

Anonymous

Greg Clark: “The next few weeks and months will be a defining period for the UK”

5 days 3 hours ago
Business Secretary Greg Clark
Greg Clark was appointed Business Secretary in July 2016

Greg Clark knows the next few months will be a defining period for the UK. As Brexit begins to take shape, the Business Secretary is determined that firms large and small will be heard at the Cabinet table. He talks to Sebastian Whale

Like a cricketer waiting to go out to bat, Greg Clark had to sit tight while Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt spoke inside Number 10 as day turned to night in early January. Weeks of rumours would have it that Clark was either due for the chop or in line to trade briefs with the Health Secretary during May’s reshuffle of her top team.

In a rear-guard action, Hunt convinced the PM after nearly 90 minutes to retain him at the Department of Health. Clark was reappointed Business Secretary following a comparatively brisk visit to Downing Street.

“I had a very short and delightfully cordial meeting with the Prime Minister. I think the speculation was wide of the mark,” Clark politely states.

So, was there no truth to the reports regarding his future? “All I know is that she, the Prime Minister, was very keen on the work that we were doing together on the industrial strategy and asked me to continue.”

Such is Clark’s gentlemanly approach that probes to work out exactly he felt about events that took place were unlikely to yield any fruit. And the very nature of the briefing, which centred around Clark’s inability to cut through, seemed highly personal for a man who is as inoffensive as they come. But the whole saga ended up highlighting May’s weakness, unable to move or sack members of her Cabinet, in office but not in power.

Clark does not want to focus on all that. How does it feel to still be in post? “I’m thrilled. The pulling together of the industrial strategy for the whole nation with all the opportunities that there are in the world today, I think is a fantastic privilege. I’ve always been very energised by it from the moment I was appointed,” he says.

We are sitting in Clark’s ministerial office at the Houses of Parliament on a Tuesday evening that marks the centenary of some women getting the vote. Clark is in casual attire with a blue collared shirt sitting underneath a green v-neck jumper that matches the four couches positioned in the top half of his room, impressing as he recalls with accuracy our photographer’s name after they worked together on a shoot some years back.

Clark is fresh from launching the Government’s long-awaited industrial strategy, which aims to lift growth and improve productivity. He unveiled sector deals with life sciences, artificial intelligence, creative, automotive and construction sectors (with his door open for more, he stresses), an extra £725m to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and a rise in Research and Development tax credits.

But the strategy was overshadowed by the engagement of little known couple ‘Harry and Meghan’, pushing it down the news agenda. “It’s nice that it coincides with good news,” Clark says with a smile.

Is it not fair to say though that the strategy failed to land? “The approach that I’ve taken with the strategy right from the beginning, is that it has to be for the long term. A short-term strategy is a contradiction in terms. How do you make sure that something endures? My view is that you need to bring everyone together, bring the country together, bring industry together, bring the leaders of our sectors together with this,” he says.

“You’ve seen since the launch that actually people regard it with a recognition that this is the right way forward. The grand challenges that we set out: AI and big data, the future of mobility, the ageing population, clean grown; these are the areas that actually where we can create a big future for the UK.”

Of course, it’s not only royal engagements hogging the air time. All roads lead to Brexit. And while Clark insists that the necessary conversations about the future of work and automation are taking place, much of the focus is on the immediate future direction of the United Kingdom.

We meet the day before the first of two Cabinet sub-committee talks on Brexit. I put to Clark that business is looking for clarity on key decisions regarding the UK’s vision for the future, particularly in relation to the vexed issue of the customs union. Does he support remaining in a customs union with the EU?

“It’s true to say that of course every business wants to have as much certainty as possible. But day-in, day-out I talk to businesses large and small, and they recognise that in a negotiation the certainty comes as you conclude the negotiation,” he says.

“Now, in terms of the best possible deal, again, one of my responsibilities as the Business Secretary is to obtain, to understand and to advocate very clearly what business needs out of Brexit. Business is foundational to our economy. We could not be the country we are without successful businesses. We absolutely owe it to businesses large and small to make sure that we are reflecting their needs both at the high level and in detail as well.

“I meet with the business organisations every week and have done since the beginning of my tenure, we have a good understanding that feeds into those negotiations. I said from the outset reflecting their views that we need to see continued ability to trade with the minimum of frictions and without tariffs with the rest of the European Union.

“We need an implementation period. It was through the discussions that I had with businesses right across the country last summer that it was identified as clearly the most important thing that they wanted. And the breakthrough that we saw in December following on from the Florence speech was a direct result of listening carefully to the requirements of business. That’s what I’ll do throughout this.”

 The Confederation of British Industry rejected the Government’s aim to enter a customs arrangement with the EU, which would involve a new system in which the UK would have to collect duty for European governments, and vice versa. So, if Clark is to represent business at the Cabinet table, shouldn’t he be calling for the UK to remain in the customs union?

“It’s the outcome that you want that you need to aim for. It’s very clear and it is unambiguously the case that the importance of the ability to trade not just without tariffs but without introducing frictions into often very sophisticated and well-developed supply chains is absolutely essential,” he says.

“The discussions that will take place as we’re just getting into that phase of discussions, will be about what are the best arrangements that will deliver that. What I want to do is to make sure that of all of the different options that we discuss and that we debate as part of the negotiations, that we secure what we need for the continued prosperity of business.”

But with firms set to make decisions on potential relocations of headquarters in the coming months, isn’t there a sense of urgency here?

“That’s why the implementation period is so important. If it’s agreed in March of this year then obviously it will take effect from the end of March next year. So, in effect that is three years of stability in terms of the present arrangements to be able to trade. That’s incredibly valuable for businesses who might otherwise need to make decisions during that time.”

In a further bid to quell unease among business Clark along with fellow Cabinet ministers David Davis and Philip Hammond wrote a letter to the FT assuring that European workers will be able to continue to work in Britain during the transition period out of EU membership. The Government is still to iron out its vision for future immigration policy.

“Most places I go in the country, people say, again businesses large and small, that they need to be able to count on the sources of the labour that they have, domestic and those from Europe, over the months ahead,” says Clark.

“Any abrupt change to that would be very difficult and that’s why we were so clear in that letter of the continued policy for people to be able to come and work.”

The question of Europe continues to be a razor-sharp thorn in the side of the Conservative party however, with criticism of the Civil Service and calls for Theresa May to “sling out” Eurosceptic MPs taking place all in the same week. Clark recognises that the EU has always “attracted strong views”, but claims his party acknowledges the decision the country has taken. “Some of the discussions that we have don’t accord with the types of division that is sometimes described. These are difficult and important issues but there is a determination together to find the right way through,” he says.

He adds: “I find that colleagues in the Conservative party want the negotiations to be successful. They want the Prime Minister to succeed in those negotiations. The next few weeks and months are going to be a defining period for us as a country. They will define our future relationship.

“It’s so important that we get a positive outcome that I think the will of the party is like the will of the country, which is for us to get that good deal.”

Clark has enough on his plate beside Brexit following the collapse of construction giant Carillion and the Government’s response to the Taylor review into work in the gig economy, launched without much fanfare in the days after our interview. The Government has talked tough on corporate governance issues but proposals to put workers on boards and rhetoric around curbing the excesses of executives have been accused of falling short.

Clark is typically insistent that the reforms implemented, such as a requirement on companies to address their pay policies after a shareholder revolt and an annual report of the ratio of the chief executive pay to the average employee, are taking effect. Would he consider, as Labour have proposed, putting restrictions on the ratio between an organisation’s highest and lowest paid employee?

“It’s for shareholders to decide and to justify, not just in terms of their decisions as to how this is in the interest of the company, but including the interest of their employees. That’s now one of their responsibilities.”

It seems that in his role Clark must balance championing the needs of business at the Cabinet table while seeking to reform malpractice where it takes place. Under Theresa May’s stewardship the Conservatives have combined tough rhetoric on corporate excesses while still claiming to be the party of business. Is the government getting the message right?

“Our reputation as a country is of a place in which you can do business dependably, in a system in which high standards are expected. One of those is how you treat your employees. That is where our reputation is, and to go back to the industrial strategy, increasingly in the future, in an uncertain world in which around the world there are places and jurisdictions where there is less confidence in the security and the standards that apply, I think Britain’s reputation is a strong selling point,” he says.

“Every so often we make revisions, whether it’s to corporate governance, whether it’s to employee rights, all in the direction of strengthening that reputation. That is in the interests of companies as well as the whole country.” 

Sebastian Whale

Ed Balls survey finds majority of businesses do not want to leave customs union

5 days 9 hours ago
Ed Balls' team interviewed interviewed 80 British SMEs.
Ed Balls' team interviewed interviewed 80 British SMEs.

The overwhelming majority of British businesses do not want to leave the customs union and a majority also want to stay in the single market, according to a survey carried out by Ed Balls.

The former shadow Chancellor interviewed 80 small business leaders and found most wanted to remain part of the tariff-free EU trade zone.

Businesses believed “the potential gains from Britain negotiating its own trade deals elsewhere in the world cannot offset the substantial disadvantages of leaving the customs union”, according to the survey.

The poll also showed the majority of British SMEs also backed keeping single market membership.

The findings were published in a report from the Harvard Kennedy School and research was co-led by banker Peter Sands and three postgraduate students.

Mr Sands said: “It is no surprise that the businesses we have spoken to view Brexit with increasing concern. They currently face the double uncertainty of not knowing what the endpoint is likely to be, nor how it will be reached.

“They are clear Britain must stay in a customs union, and if possible, they want to maintain full access to the single market.

“They repeatedly emphasised to us their need for clarity about where we are headed to enable them to make investment decisions, hire employees and strike deals.”

Mr Sands, who was chief executive of Standard Chartered until 2015, added: “Most business leaders are sceptical about the claimed benefits of Brexit and are deeply concerned about the practicalities of implementation.

“It is clear from our interviews that most business leaders believe Brexit could have a significant negative impact on their businesses, and the way it is currently being implemented is likely to exacerbate the damage.”

However, the report was not met with overwhelming support from MPs.

Andrew Bridgen, the Brexit-supporting Conservative MP, reminded Mr Balls he was no longer an MP when he said:

“As Ed Balls knows there are only two polls that matter: when he lost his seat in the general election and when Leave won the referendum.”

Jessica Wilkins

Former Tory minister condemns 'pitiful' Boris Johnson Brexit speech

5 days 9 hours ago
Boris Johnson speaking in central London yesterday
Boris Johnson speaking in central London yesterday

Former Conservative minister Anna Soubry has torn into Boris Johnson over yesterday's "embarrassing" speech on Brexit. 

The Foreign Secretary used the address to "reach out" to Remain voters, while also insisting that any backsliding on the referendum result would be a "betrayal" of those who voted to leave the EU. 

Mr Johnson tried to quell the fears of pro-Europeans, claiming Brexit would be "the great liberal project of the age" and could "unite this country". 

Former Business minister Ms Soubry offered a withering verdict on the speech, telling Channel 4 News:

“I’m afraid to say that Boris has confirmed my very worst fears about him. I don’t think he’s a very good Foreign Secretary. I think he has on a number of occasions broken collective responsibility.

"But I think today, he really has hugely lacked the sort of grown-up responsible, sensible approach that we expect from one of the most senior members of our cabinet in the approach to Brexit. It was a very poor, it was actually a pitiful speech and I think a lot of people found it really rather embarrassing.”

Elsewhere Labour MP Chuka Umunna, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, attacked Mr Johnson for failing to mention Northern Ireland. 

“This was an astonishing exercise in hypocrisy from Boris Johnson. His vision of Brexit may be many things, but it is not liberal," he said.

“His plan would see Britain sever trade ties with our largest trading partner, weaken protections for workers, consumers and the environment, and jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, a subject he didn't even bother to mention."

And former Labour minister Lord Adonis piled in over Mr Johnson's refusal to rule out resigning from the Cabinet. 

"Johnson's refusal to deny that he would resign should he be thwarted in his ambitions for Brexit is just more juvenile game playing," he said.

"In fact he should resign now because after more than a year as Foreign Secretary he has yet to demonstrate any understanding of Britain’s place in the world or of our relationships with our friends and neighbours."

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard described Mr Johnson appealing to Remain voters as “like sending an arsonist to put out a fire”. 

 

John Ashmore

EU gets rid of 'punishment clause' from Brexit transition draft

5 days 10 hours ago
David Davis and Michel Barnier meeting in Downing St earlier this month
David Davis and Michel Barnier meeting in Downing St earlier this month

EU officials have reportedly removed a so-called 'punishment clause' from the draft Brexit transition arrangement. 

The BBC reports that officials have agreed to re-word the document so it no longer refers to the UK potentially losing access to elements of the single market if it breaks EU rules. 

It comes after Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that a transition deal might not happen if the two sides could not reconcile their differences. 

The EU wants the UK to continue to abide by all its rules and regulations during the two-year period, including allowing continued free movement of people from the continent. 

Yesterday Boris Johnson suggested the Government had accepted a 'status quo' transition, telling reporters that "things will remain as they are" during the transition, which the EU wants to finish at the end of 2020. 

According to today's reports, officials from the other 27 EU member states agreed at a meeting yesterday to tone down the wording of the draft agreement so that it only refers to normal EU infringement rules, without any special punitive elements for the UK deal. 

ALIGNMENT

Within the Cabinet, ministers have also apparently been at odds over the extent to which the UK aligns with Brussels regulations after Brexit.

At a speech in London yesterday, the Foreign Secretary strongly hinted he would prefer a system where the UK starts from a point where it has entirely separate rules, then decides areas where the Government wants to mirror the EU.

"It’s all about voluntarism, it’s all about who decides. Of course when it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hair dryers or vacuum cleaners or whatever it may very well make sense for us to remain in alignment as a matter of choice, something we elect to do," Mr Johnson said. 

"I'm sure for the purposes of supply chains, there are many businesses who understand the need for that. But I don’t think we should necessarily commit as a matter of treaty that forever and a day we are going to remain locked into permanent congruence with the EU.

"It just doesn't seem to me to be a sensible thing to do. If you're going to come out then you might as well take the advantages of difference."

John Ashmore

Boris Johnson says things will 'remain as they are' during Brexit transition period

6 days 4 hours ago
Boris Johnson speaking in central London this morning
Boris Johnson speaking in central London this morning

The UK will continue to abide by European rules and regulations during the transition period after Brexit, Boris Johnson said today.

There have been suggestions of a Cabinet rift over the terms of the implementation period, which the EU has suggested will finish at the end of 2020. 

It also throws into question Theresa May's insistence Britain will no longer be part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy or Common Fisheries policy after March 29, 2019.

This morning's remarks from the Foreign Secretary suggest the Government has now agreed on a transition that mirrors current arrangements.

Speaking to reporters after a major speech on Brexit, Mr Johnson said: "What I’m saying there is obviously during the implementation period, as Theresa has said, things will remain as they are and it’s very important for confidence and for certainty and the rest of it. So I realise there’s been some misunderstanding about that, I’m glad to clear that up."

ALIGNMENT

Cabinet ministers have also apparently been at odds over the extent to which the UK aligns with Brussels regulations after Brexit.

Mr Johnson strongly suggested he would prefer a system where the UK starts from a point where it has entirely separate rules, then decides areas where the Government wants to mirror the EU.

"It’s all about voluntarism, it’s all about who decides. Of course when it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hair dryers or vacuum cleaners or whatever it may very well make sense for us to remain in alignment as a matter of choice, something we elect to do," he said. 

"I'm sure for the purposes of supply chains, there are many businesses who understand the need for that. But I don’t think we should necessarily commit as a matter of treaty that forever and a day we are going to remain locked into permanent congruence with the EU.

"It just doesn't seem to me to be a sensible thing to do. If you're going to come out then you might as well take the advantages of difference."

'REACHING OUT'

In his speech this morning, Mr Johnson said it was time for Brexiteers to acknowledge the concerns of pro-Europeans worried about the consequences of Brexit. 

"We must accept that many [pro-Europeans] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed," he said.

"If we are to carry this project through to national success - as we must - then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties.

"I want to try to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope."

Elsewhere he insisted leaving the EU was not a "V sign from the cliffs of Dover", but the opportunity for an "outward-looking liberal global future".

At the same time he warned that reversing the result of the 2016 referendum would be "disastrous" and a "betrayal" of Leave voters.

John Ashmore

Guy Verhofstadt lashes out at Boris Johnson's 'liberal' Brexit vision

6 days 5 hours ago
Guy Verhofstadt criticised Boris Johnson's case for a liberal Brexit.
Guy Verhofstadt criticised Boris Johnson's case for a liberal Brexit.

Guy Verhofstadt has criticised Boris Johnson’s vision of a 'liberal' Brexit ahead of a key speech by the Foreign Secretary today. 

The EU’s Brexit coordinator took to Twitter to reject Mr Johnson’s argument that Brexit was a liberal enterprise and could be a cause for hope.

Mr Verhofstadt accused Mr Johnson of putting forward an argument that is, by its very nature, illiberal:

“Putting up barriers to the movement of trade and people & suggesting that the identity of citizens can only be national is not liberal - it's quite the opposite,” he wrote. 

 

 

In a key speech, the Foreign Secretary has today outlined his belief that Brexit is an opportunity not a catastrophe.

In an attempt to appeal to Remain voters, he said Brexit “need not be nationalist,” adding that he was aware that sentiment may cause anger in some Leave camps.

Jessica Wilkins

Boris Johnson 'reaches out' to Remain voters, claiming Brexit is cause for 'hope not fear'

6 days 10 hours ago
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson will say he wants to 'reach out' to Remain voters in his speech later

Boris Johnson will today "reach out" to Remain voters and argue that many of their fears about Brexit are "unfounded".

The Foreign Secretary's address later will also pile the pressure on Theresa May over future alignment with the continent, warning that it would be "intolerable" for the UK to continue following any Brussels regulations beyond Brexit. 

Mr Johnson will try to build bridges with pro-Europeans by acknowledging that they are motivated by a "desire to succeed". 

However he will also warn that trying to reverse the result of the 2016 referendum would be a "disastrous mistake". 

His address today is the first in a series of speeches from Cabinet ministers on the "road to Brexit", with the Prime Minister due to set out her own vision for future EU relations in Germany on Saturday.

'INTOLERABLE AND UNDEMOCRATIC'

Extracts of the speech published in the Sun suggest Mr Johnson will make an impassioned call for Britain to go it alone and leave behind the EU's regulatory structure - a position that puts him at odds with Cabinet colleagues including Chancellor Philip Hammond. 

He will say: “It is only by taking back control of our laws that UK firms and entrepreneurs will have the freedom to innovate, without the risk of having to comply with some directive devised by Brussels, at the urgings of some lobby group, with the aim of holding back a UK competitor.

“That would be intolerable, undemocratic, and would make it all but impossible for us to do serious free trade deals.”

“The British people should not have new laws affecting their everyday lives imposed from abroad, when they have no power to elect or remove those who make those laws," he will add.

“And there is no need for us to find ourselves in any such position.”

'HOPE NOT FEAR'

He will also try to build bridges with Remain campaigners, acknowledging their concerns about Brexit but insisting that leaving the EU can be a success for the UK.

"We must accept that many [pro-Europeans] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed," he will say.

"If we are to carry this project through to national success - as we must - then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties.

"I want to try to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope."

But in an accompanying comment piece, also for the Sun, Mr Johnson makes clear his concerns about attempts by campaigners to reverse the referendum result.

"I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote and frustrate the will of the people," he writes.

"I believe that would be a disastrous mistake, leading to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen."

 

John Ashmore

Nick Clegg hits out at ‘muppet’ ministers in ‘clueless’ government

1 week 1 day ago
Nick Clegg dubbed Theresa May's government "clueless".
Nick Clegg dubbed Theresa May's government "clueless".

The former Deputy Prime Minister has criticised Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, accusing her of running a “clueless” government full of “muppets”.

In an unflinching attack, Nick Clegg called on MPs to launch a “constitutional crisis” by rejecting whatever legislation the Government tried to get through Parliament on the terms of Brexit.

The former Lib Dem leader did not single any minister out but was highly critical of the entire cabinet.

“I think is impossible exaggerate the level of a cluelessness and incompetence now at the heart of British government,” he said.

“I think it’s really difficult for folk here in Brussels and in other European capitals to get used to the idea that, you know, to all intents and purposes, the British government now looks like a bunch of muppets sitting around the Cabinet table.”

Mr Clegg made the comments in an interview with the Politico EU podcast, said it would “becomes obvious” Brexiteers were not going to be able to keep their promises.

“When it becomes obvious — as it already has — that the British people are not going to get any, I mean literally none, of that great long list of beguiling promises they were made by the Brexiteers, I think they are totally within their rights to say ‘well, hang on a minute, we’re not going to vote for this because this is not what you told our constituents they were going to get’.

“At that point, of course, you’ll have a crisis, there will be a standoff between Parliament and government – a kind of constitutional crisis, if you like.”

Mr Clegg has been stridently pro-European throughout his political career, which began with a stint as an MEP.

He was also highly critical of arch-Brexiteer and Tory grassroots favourite, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

“He’s like a Don Quixote in pinstripes … rushing at windmills that don’t kind of exist.”

He continued: “They’re like Maoist revolutionaries — they don’t care how many bodies they sacrifice along the way or how much hardship is inflicted on people in the long march.”

Jessica Wilkins

George Soros hits back at 'smear campaign' with £100,000 donation to anti-Brexit group

1 week 1 day ago
George Soros
Financier George Soros has offered another cash injection to pro-EU campaigners

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has hit back at what he calls a press "smear campaign" by pledging to donate up to £100,000 to an anti-Brexit campaign group.

The 87-year-old Hungarian-American financier was the subject of a front page splash in last week's Daily Telegraph focusing on his £400,000 donation to Best for Britain, a cross-party group working to keep Britain in the EU. 

The article prompted a fresh crowdfunding drive from pro-Europeans, which Mr Soros has now promised to bolster by matching any Best for Britain donations under £100, up to a total of £100,000.

"I am happy to take the fight to those who have tried to use a smear campaign not arguments to prop up their failing case," Mr Soros said. 

Best for Britain chief executive Eloise Todd welcomed the donation, saying: "We live in a democracy, and the right to freedom of speech is precious. Elements of the right-wing press don’t seem to agree. The UK’s future with the EU is not a done deal, there is still a vote to come and people across the country deserve to know the truth about the options on the table: one of which is staying and leading in the EU.

"George Soros and his foundation is kindly offering to help match-fund to give Best for Britain more support so we can make sure this message gets out: the biggest decision on Brexit is yet to come."

Mr Soros has donated billions of pounds to pro-democracy causes around the world through his Open Society Foundation, which he founded in 1979 to promote liberal values and human rights.

John Ashmore

Work on post-Brexit migration register has 'barely begun'

1 week 1 day ago
UK border
New arrivals queue at passport control at Heathrow Airport

Work on a new system to register EU migrants who come to the UK after March 2019 has "barely begun", according to worried Home Office officials. 

Theresa May's former department is scrambling to get new systems in place after the Prime Minister said new arrivals would not be automatically entitled to remain in the UK during the transition period. 

It is one of the sticking points in negotiations with the European Commission, which is insisting the UK abides by the rules of the single market for the two years after Brexit day. 

According to the Times, Home Office mandarins wanted the Government to guarantee that new arrivals would get the same rights as existing EU citizens during the transition, but were rebuffed by Mrs May. 

They now have just over a year to design a new system to register not only new arrivals, but also the 3m EU nationals already in the UK. 

Two government sources told the paper that work had "barely begun" on putting together a new system.

“Rightly the focus has been on registering the three million nationals who are already here, and while that has been progressing well there is still a lot of work to do,” one source said.

“But the problem is that this is a streamlined process that doesn’t question whether in future someone might not have the right to work."

The other source was also pessimistic about the prospect of getting a fully functioning new system in place by next spring.

“The way things look at the moment it almost certainly won’t be ready. The Government doesn’t have the best record of these kind of projects anyway and the most pressing priority is to ensure that nothing goes wrong with registering existing EU nationals. If that goes wrong it will be a disaster.”

A Home Office spokesman rejected those claims, saying: "The precise details of the implementation period are currently being negotiated with the EU, but planning is well under way.”

'INCOMPETENT'

Outspoken eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested Home Office officials would be at fault for a lack of preparation.

“If this were true, it would be a sad admission of incompetence at the Home Office and it would be hard to believe that someone as efficient as Amber Rudd would accept such a sorry state of affairs,” he said.  

John Ashmore

WATCH: John McDonnell accuses Alastair Campbell of 'macho, threatening politics' in heated TV clash

1 week 2 days ago
John McDonnell appearing on Peston on Sunday this morning
John McDonnell appearing on Peston on Sunday this morning

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has engaged in an angry clash with former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, accusing him of a "macho" approach to politics.

The pair went head-to-head on ITV1's Peston on Sunday after Mr Campbell tore into Labour's Brexit policy. 

The former head of Downing St communications claimed there was nothing to choose between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May's approach to leaving the EU.

"They're basically saying, whatever the cost, whatever the chaos, whatever the damage to the economy, whatever the Brexit impact assessment's saying...we are still basically on the road out and it doesn't matter what happens, that is going to happen," he said.

 

 

This prompted an irritated response from Mr McDonnell, who said: "That's the sort of macho, threatening politics that has divided this country, what we need to do now is have a rational, moderate debate about the pros and cons of our future and what relationships we need. 

"To exaggerate individual people's or party's positions doesn't help that...We're saying we respect the referendum result and we have to build a new relationship with Europe which will bring our people together again."

Labour's position on Europe has caused serious internal ructions, with dozens of MPs defying Mr Corbyn last month by voting in favour of keeping the UK in the EU internal market and the customs union.

 

John Ashmore

EU diplomats 'concerned at Michel Barnier's negotiating stance'

1 week 2 days ago
Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier pictured on Downing St earlier this week

Michel Barnier's "aggressive" approach to negotiating the Brexit transition has reportedly caused concern among EU diplomats.

Among the areas of concern is the Frenchman's insistence on a so-called "punishment clause" to impose penalties if the UK breaks the transition agreement. 

Mr Barnier raised the stakes on Friday by claiming an agreement was "not a given" if the two sides cannot hammer out their differences.

Among the issues dividing the UK and the EU is whether Europeans will have full residency rights in the UK if they arrive after March 2019, but before the end of the two-year transition. 

Brexit Secretary David Davis also wants a mechanism for the UK to avoid implementing new EU directives it does not agree with. 

Mr Barnier was cool on the idea of concessions, saying Britain "should logically accept all the rules and obligations until the end of the transition".

But one EU diplomat told the Sunday Telegraph the UK would be within its rights to reject the Commission's proposals. 

“Could anyone accept these terms? If I was Britain I would be tempted to say ‘no’ – walk away and then see how the EU does without the money.”

Elsewhere the Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Poland, said Warsaw was also concerned about Mr Barnier's "opening salvo".

“In private, many Polish politicians are expressing regret at the Commission not treating Britain with due consideration and respect," he said.

And a Whitehall source also told the Sunday Telegraph that French officials were also unhappy with the way the Commission had opened the negotiations.

“My understanding is the French were cross at the lack of consultation on the so called legal document, which was really an aggressive political opening salvo," the source said.

“The Nordics and East Europeans are also fracturing the coalition. Barnier … fears having his legs cut off by the Franco/German alliance – hence his belligerent tone.”

John Ashmore

Theresa May accused of ‘plot to frustrate Brexit’ by keeping UK half in single market

1 week 3 days ago
One source said the plans would make the UK “little more than a colony of the EU”.
One source said the plans would make the UK “little more than a colony of the EU”.

The Prime Minister has come under fire from the arch-Brexiteer side of her own party for her latest plan to comprise on the terms of leaving the EU.

According to the Sun, Leavers are furious her latest plan could mean staying under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, pitched the latest plan to the Prime Minister’s Brexit committee on Thursday.

Under it, Britain would maintain very close alignment to the EU’s rule book for hard goods, but diverge from Brussels edicts on the services sector.

That would keep trade and supply lines for products such as machinery, cars and planes flowing freely with Europe and protect jobs, Mr Robbins argued.

Mr Robbins pitched the plan as a compromise between Conservative Brexiteers and ambitions of the Remain camp.

However, the proposals went down like a lead balloon, as one source said they would make the UK “little more than a colony of the EU”.

“Fox, Gove and Boris have made it clear they will not accept single market rules, because it means being dictated to by Brussels forever.

“How can we defend that in the House of Commons?

“It makes us little more than a colony of the EU, and the PM has been told that.”

Jessica Wilkins

Theresa May spent almost £1000 on safe delivery of Article 50 letter

1 week 3 days ago
Theresa May spent almost £1000 sending the Article 50 letter to Brussels.
Theresa May spent almost £1000 sending the Article 50 letter to Brussels.

The Prime Minister spent £985.50 from the public purse on the safe delivery of the official letter to trigger Britain’s exit from the European Union.

According to a document released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, two civil servants travelled on the Eurostar to hand deliver the letter to Brussels.

Their two business premier class return tickets, including a small booking and change fee, cost at total of £985.50.

The letter, signed by Theresa May, launched the official two year process to leave the EU after June 2016’s referendum vote.

The Government said the cost was limited to the two train tickets: “There were no other quantifiable costs associated with their travel,” officials said, in the FOI response.

Meals were provided on the train and the two civil servants stayed overnight at an official residence.

“The letter was then delivered to the president of the European council by Sir Tim Barrow as part of his duties as UK permanent representative to the European Union at no additional cost.”

Jessica Wilkins

Northern Ireland will stay in single market and customs unions after Brexit, says EU

1 week 4 days ago
Northern Ireland border
A solution to keeping an open border in Ireland has yet to be found

Northern Ireland will have to remain in the customs union and single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border, EU negotiators have said.

The condition in the EU draft withdrawal agreement means the province will continue to follow EU law at the end of the 21-month implementation period, where relevant to the all-Ireland economy and the tenets of the Good Friday agreement.

The document, which is set to be published in two weeks and which ministers are expected to sign off on, is likely to spark anger among the Tory government’s allies in the DUP, whose backing they need on Brexit for a working majority.

Cabinet ministers have repeatedly insisted that the whole of the UK would leave under the same conditions, however despite a meeting on the subject yesterday, they have failed to resolve how to maintain an open border with the Republic.

The Guardian reports that UK negotiators were told by their EU counterparts that the document could retain a "sunset clause" that would void the text, if a particularly generous trade deal can be agreed.

Philippe Lambert, the leader of the Greens in the European parliament told the paper "there will be no wriggle room for the UK government" on the issue. 

"We are going to state exactly what we mean by regulatory alignment in the legal text," he said.

"It will be very clear. This might cause some problems in the UK – but we didn’t create this mess."

Pro-EU Best for Britain campaigner and former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the document showed the Prime Ministers "fudging" of the December divorce deal is "already coming back to haunt her."

"The EU has proposed a 'sunset clause' on Northern Ireland’s single market membership, which would render the deal null and void should an unexpectedly generous free trade deal, or a hitherto unimagined technological solution emerge," he said.

"May claimed this was a possibility - the EU knows it isn’t likely.

It’s another example of the vacuum left by May’s divided and dithering government allowing the EU to set the agenda."

Nicholas Mairs

Japanese car firms ready to leave Britain if EU free trade affected by Brexit, says ambassador

1 week 4 days ago
Koji Tsuruoka
Koji Tsuruoka outside Downing Street

Japanese motor firms based in Britain are prepared to leave if free trade to the EU after Brexit is affected, the country’s ambassador has warned.

Koji Tsuruoka said Nissan, Toyota and Honda were “watching very closely” the Brexit negotiations and admitted there were fears over their future “profitability”.

His comments came after a meeting with Theresa May in Downing Street, where he was joined by bosses from the firms as well as Hitachi and Mitsubishi.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Tsuruoka said: “The question is whether the arrangements that will be reached between the two sides will allow the Japanese companies to continue to operate in the UK.

“If there is no profitability of continuing operation in [the] UK… no private company can continue operations. It is as simple as that. This is all high stakes that I think all of us need to keep in mind.”

Mr Tsuruoka refused to answer "hypothetical" questions about future UK customs relations with the EU, following the Government's move to “categorically” rule out staying in a customs union with the bloc.

But he added that he "expected that manufacturing business in particular will continue to have free access to the European market".

Mr Tsuruoka said Japanese companies would like to continue their "successful" operations in the UK, but added they and wanted to "see clarity and certainty".

A Downing Street spokesperson said the country’s business leaders "spoke of their desire to continue trading with and investing in the UK".

They added that they “expressed their appreciation for the opportunity for constructive dialogue with the Government” while agreeing the importance of reaching an implementation period and then trading relationship with the EU.

Labour MP Phil Wilson, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said failure to reach a satisfactory deal with the EU could affect tens of thousands of UK jobs.

"If the Government doesn't get its act together soon, we could be saying 'Sayonara' to Japanese businesses based in the UK,” he said.

"Japanese companies have invested in this country, supporting more than 160,000 jobs, largely on the basis that it provides a bridge into the wider European market.

"If that bridge collapses, their investment will dry up."

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