Labour leadership: blaming 2019 defeat just on Brexit 'not honest', says Starmer at Guardian hustings – as it happened

Last modified: 10: 02 PM GMT+0

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including the EU agreeing its negotiating mandate for the post-Brexit trade talks with the UK, and the Guardian’s Labour leadership hustings in Manchester

Guardian Labour leadership hustings - Summary

Here are the main points from the Labour hustings.

  • Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary and favourite in the Labour leadership contest, said that blaming Labour’s general election defeat just on Brexit was “not an honest analysis”. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have argued that Brexit was the main problem for the party last December. But Starmer said he did not accept that. He said:

The one thing I think we’ve got to avoid in this analysis after the event is ‘there was one thing, Brexit - but for that it would have all been fine’. If we go down that route, we are heading straight towards defeat at the next general election, because that’s not an honest analysis.

He was also fiercely critical of the claim - again, one made by some Corbynites in the party - that Labour “won the argument” in 2019 because even the Tories have started to accept the need to end austerity and invest in infrastructure. “We can’t pretend there was any good that came out of that election,” he said.

This mindset about having won something ... is complete nonsense as far as I’m concerned.

Starmer said he visited 44 constituencies during the general election, and spoke to the different teams campaigning for the different Labour candidates. He went on:

And every team was talking about what was coming up on the doorstep, the big issues. And there was complete uniformity across the country; it was number one, the leadership. Fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly, anybody who was in that campaign knows that was the number one thing that came up. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m just saying let’s be honest about it.

The second thing was Brexit, of course. But that came up differently. If you were campaignign in the Midlands, it came up in a particular way. If you were campaigning in Scotland, it came up in a completely different way. But it did come up, I accept that.

The third thing that came up - this is not me, this is the teams reporting to me - was the manifesto overload. Now, whether what was in the manifesto was right or wrong, there was too much. There was a tipping point, and it did not matter whether it was good or bad, because people did not believe we could deliver it. And once you got past that point, there was no coming back.

And I’m really sad to say, but in all honesty antisemitism came up ... It came up as a values issue and as a competency issue.

  • Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy both insisted that Brexit was a major problem for the party at the election. Long-Bailey said the party’s position was “confusing”. And she went on:

It wasn’t popular policies like investing in eduction or the NHS or industry that people voted against. Nobody voted against wanting a better life. But they just didn’t trust us to be able to deliver on those policies, and I think a large part of that was that mistrust, and the creation of that mistrust through Brexit.

And Nandy said Brexit was “a real problem” for the party at the election. She said:

Brexit was a real problem for us, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And the reason it was a problem was because our response was so utterly tone-deaf.

  • Nandy said the fall in life expectancy for the very poorest in society should be seen as “corporate manslaughter”. She said:

I don’t think we have been good enough at explaining what the human cost [of austerity] is. Today we’ve had the Marmot review which has drawn a direct link between the actions of government and people dying [prematurely]. This is the difference between meeting your grandchild or not in many communities, including mine. If this was happening in the corporate world, we would call it for what it is; it’s corporate manslaughter.

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story from the hustings.

And here is is summary of the candidates’ best and worst moments.

That’s all from me for tonight.

Thanks for the comments.


Guardian Labour leadership hustings - Snap verdict

At this stage in the Labour leadership contest there was little original for any of the candidates to say; they have all answered so many repeat questions, it’s a wonder they can still deliver their lines with relative spontaneity. But this format was different - more time for answers, a mix of personal questions and policy questions, and the chance to engage with each other - and anyone who was here, or who reads what they said, will certainly get a deeper understanding of the candidates, although not a particularly novel one.

If anyone has made the best impression during the campaign on audiences, it has been Lisa Nandy, and you could see why tonight. She may have been the most eloquent debater on stage, and the person with most passion and urgency. If the polls and CLP nominations are correct, despite being the candidate favoured by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Rebecca Long-Bailey is not heading for victory. But she has still grown in stature during this contest, and comes over as a more confident and rounded figure than she did during the general election, when she sounded like little more than a leadership spokeswoman.

But in terms of experience, Keir Starmer has a depth that his two rivals just can’t match. He was not always the most engaging performer on the stage, but his best moments were better than his opponents’ by quite some measure. One came right at the end, when he gave a withering put-down of the “Labour won the argument at the election” claim. (See 8.07pm.) And the other came when he shot down the “most exciting thing you’ve done” question quite brilliantly. (See 7.20pm.) It wasn’t a news moment at all, and moral one-upmanship is not a strategy that you can deploy all the time. But it has worked well for him already in this contest (his decision to refuse to answer the “marks out of 10 for Jeremy Corbyn” question that scuppered Long-Bailey may be seen as an important moment in the campaign if he does win, as expected) and tonight Starmer looked like a figure who can’t be outperformed on mature seriousness. There are traits that are a lot worse in a party leader - particularly one facing Boris Johnson.

I will post a news summary soon.

The audience at the Guardian’s Labour leadership hustings.
The audience at the Guardian’s Labour leadership hustings. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian


Anushka finishes by asking if anyone in the audience has made up their mind on the basis of what they heard tonight. A few hands go up, but it is not clear whether these are people who have changed their mind, or just been confirmed in what they thought beforehand.

And that’s it.

I will post a verdict/summary shortly.

Q: [To Nandy] Has your campaign received funding from business figures involved in energy industries?

Nandy says she is only taking money from companies that she thinks are ethical. She does not have a huge amount of money, she says. She says she has a small team, mostly “my mates and me”. She has had a donation from her mum.

Q: Did you celebrate the anniversary of Communism?

Nandy says the Communist manifesto was written in Long-Bailey’s constituency. She says she did not celebrate its birthday. But she thinks “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” is the best political organising principle.

Long-Bailey says legend has it that the Communist manifesto was written in the Crescent pub in her Salford constituency.

Q: Do you support the UCU strike?

Nandy says she has been on a picket line today. She has heard some terrible stories about casualisation. She says higher education needs to be valued.

Q: Labour lost the election by a landslide. But did we win the argument?

No, we lost, Starmer says. He says that has consequences.

We can’t pretend there was any good that came out of that election.

He says Labour can do great things when it wins. It lost that election.

This mindset about having won something ... is complete nonsense as far as I’m concerned.

Nandy says Labour did not just lose the argument. It was not even making the argument, she says.


Q: What is your view of regional government?

Starmer says devolution is a mess. He says the principle should be for decisions to be made as close to people as they can be.

He says Labour has to have a discussion about how it devolves power. It should not just be a matter of, say, devolving power to Scotland or Wales. It needs to go a lot further than that.

Long-Bailey says she wants to abolish the House of Lords. She would also devolve power to every region. At the election Labour talked about setting up regional offices, but it did not talk about what they would do.

Nandy says she is a big fan of what Andy Burnham has done as mayor for Greater Manchester. But the model is flawed, she says. Outside of election time, Burnham is only accountable to the council leaders, she says.

She also says she would abolish local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) because she thinks they have been a failure.

Q: What would you do about endemic landlordism?

Starmer says affordable housing should be seen as a basic human right. He says at his advice surgery he sees every week families living in a one-bed flat.

For the private sector, he supports a licensing system.

Long-Bailey says her parents were very proud that their chidren were able to buy their won homes. But for the next generation that won’t necessarily be possible, she says. So she says Labour has to build more council homes.

Nandy says rent controls work, but only with a radical expansion of council housing. So Labour should build more council homes.

Q: What slogan would you have?

Starmer says he does not know. Substance matters more than slogans, he says.

Long-Bailey says she talks about aspirational socialism. Her slogan would be: “You deserve the best.”

The Guardian Live Labour leadership hustings in Manchester Central: left to right, Rebecca Long-Bailey (glasses), Lisa Nancy and Keir Starmer.
The Guardian Live Labour leadership hustings in Manchester Central: left to right, Rebecca Long-Bailey (glasses), Lisa Nancy and Keir Starmer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Nandy says rising health inequalities should be seen as 'corporate manslaughter'

Anushka is now taking questions from the audience.

Q: What would you do to challenge the government on cuts to local authority funding?

Long-Bailey says Labour should do more to publicise what the cuts are doing.

Nandy says her local council in Wigan consulted the public on how to respond to the cuts. The council would have shut libraries. But people said they wanted to keep the libraries open, and so they stayed open - with reduced hours.

She says this has united the community more than anything since the miners’ strike.

She says the report about health inequalities out today revealed something that should be described for what it is - “corporate manslaughter”.

Starmer says he ran a public body. It had to take 20% cuts. But councils have had cuts of 50%. He says the Tories arranged this so that councils took the blame.

Q: What are your views on HS2?

Long-Bailey says HS2 should start in the north and finish in the south.

Starmer says he agrees with Long-Bailey. If HS2 just cuts journey times from Birmingham to London, it will have been a failure.

The hustings: left to right, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nancy and Keir Starmer.
The hustings: left to right, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nancy and Keir Starmer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Q: Labour members are significantly more liberal than the public at large? How will you win over general voters?

Long-Bailey says the party must speak to the whole community.

Nandy says she does not accept that you have to choose between your head and your heart.

Starmer says Labour has to hold on to its voters, win back the ones it lost, and win over more.

Q: Would you back PR?

Starmer says he is open to PR. He does not like the way votes are wasted under first-past-the-post. But he would keep the constituency link.

And PR on its own is not the answer. He says he thinks decisions should be taken closer to where people live.

Q: Do you all drive less, or take fewer flights? Or avoid shopping on Amazon?

Long-Bailey says she uses public transport. Once she had to go to Cornwall. It would have taken an hour to fly. But she took the six-hour train journey.

Q: How do you persuade people who like driving cars and flying abroad on holiday to accept the changes necessary to tackle climate change?

Starmer says he thinks people do want change. They just did not trust Labour to do this, he says.

He says people want better public transport.

Q: Would you increase fuel duty?

Starmer says Labour should not be afraid of the argument that, if you want transformational change, you have to pay for it.

Long-Bailey says she thinks Boris Johnson would have trouble taking on a “bolshy northern woman” like herself at PMQs.

Q: [To Long-Bailey] Do you regret your response at a recent event to the person who asked about the Israeli lobby?

That is a reference to this moment.

WATCH: Rebecca Long-Bailey fails to challenge member who blames Corbyn's defeat on "members of the Israeli lobby" at Liverpool rally tonight.

— The Red Roar (@TheRedRoar) February 24, 2020

Long-Bailey says she thought, in a long answer, she had shown why the man’s claim was wrong. But she says she should have been clearer about why he was wrong to say what he did.

Starmer says Labour has to be effective from day one. Boris Johnson is not a cuddly clown. He is dangerous, he says.

He says the leader must model unity.

And he says the party must demonstrate change from day one.

And this is particularly important on antisemitism, he says.

He says the leader should have a “line of sight” on this. He should have these cases on his desk every Friday. He says he knows from running a large organisation (the CPS) that you have to act like this.

Long-Bailey defends her plan for open selections. She says this could help Labour to find candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (the young, dynamic new Democratic congresswoman in the US).

Nandy says she disagrees. Labour should be getting rid of Tory MPs, not Labour ones. Under open selection, the sort of candidates who would be removed would be the female or BAME onles like Ocasio-Cortez.

She also says she would make Labour less London-centric. She would move the HQ to Warrington, she says.

Q: [To Starmer] Is it true that the most exciting thing you have done is take your kids to the football? (That is prompted by Starmer’s reply to a question on LBC yesterday.)

Starmer says he objects to questions like this. His mother-in-law died recently. He has spent time “trying to be the best husband I can” and dealing with grieving children. And then he gets asked questions like this. He goes on:

The person who tells the world the most exciting thing they’ve done on live media hasn’t done anything really exciting.

Q: You mentioned your children. If you become leader, how will you have time for family life?

Starmer says you have to make time. He tries to protect Friday nights, so his family all spent time together, with their devices off.

He says children can get great levellers. He says his recently told his daughter about going to a fund-raising dinner. When he said he was the speaker, she asked why anyone would pay money to hear him speak.

UPDATE: Here is the full quote from Starmer’s first answer.

Keir Starmer gets a massive round of applause at the #GuardianLive hustings in Manchester when asked if it’s true the most exciting thing he has done is taken his kids to football. This was his very powerful answer:

— Helen Pidd (@helenpidd) February 25, 2020


Q: [To Nandy] Do you regret being involved in the campaign to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn in 2016?

Nandy says it was a very difficult period. The party was very divided. There was a real problem with antisemitism.

(Someone in the audience expressed doubts about this.)

Nandy says she was trying to hold things together. But the two sides seemed determined to fight it out. She went to see the Corbyn camp and urged them to settle the divisions, but she was told they had to fight it out until one side lost.

She left the shadow cabinet, but still served the party. She organised a byelection.

But what is important is to do the right thing.

Q: [To Long-Bailey] To win, Labour will have to win back people who voted Tory. But you said your friends would not even tell you if they voted Tory. How are you going to persuade people?

Long-Bailey says that remark (in a BBC interview at the start of the campaign) was a joke. She says she does have a friend who votes Tory.

Q: [To Long-Bailey] Your friend Angela Rayner says Jeremy Corbyn did not command respect in the party. Do you agree?

Long-Bailey says she thinks Rayner was talking about the problem with disunity in the party. The party should unite, she says.

Turning back to Brexit, she says the vote for Brexit was triggered by distrust. People do not trust Brussels politicians. But they don’t trust Westminster ones either.

Nandy says Brexit was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Labour at the election. She says the ‘take back control” Brexit slogan was highly effective. She says Labour sounded tone deaf.

She says the problem was not that Labour tried to find a compromise. It didn’t, she says. She says she pushed for one (a soft Brexit), but was threatened with expulsion by some people.


Starmer says blaming Labour's election defeat on Brexit alone 'not an honest analysis'

Q: [To Starmer] Are you to blame for pushing Labour into a Brexit policy that alienated voters?

Starmer says anyone in the party knows that the leadership was the most serious problem. “Rightly or wrongly,” he says. He accepts Brexit caused a problem. He says there was a manifesto overload. And antisemitism came up, he says. That was a values issue and a competence issue, he says.

He says Labour cannot pretend that, if it had not been for Brexit, everything would be fine. “That’s not an honest analysis”, he says.

But he also says Labour must now accept that Brexit is done.

This gets a round of applause.

Long-Bailey says she regrets the way the party campaigned on Brexit at the general election. She says the compromise position did not satisfy remainers or leavers.

She defends the rest of the manifesto, although she says Labour should have been clearer about the difference between firm promises and long-term aspirations (like the four-day week).

Starmer also says the candidates have all agreed not to take quick-fire questions.

Starmer says he thinks Labour lost confidence in the summer of 2015, after the election defeat. This is when Labour abstained on the welfare bill, although he does not mention that specifically.

He says a lot of decisions were taken in this period that had a lasting effect. Someone should write a book about it, he says.

Q: Do you have any political regrets?

Nandy says she does. She worked for the Children’s Society before becoming an MP. They led the campaign against vouchers for refugees. They won some battles. But what they did not do was go out to the public, and win the arguments there. They did not get public support for their cause.

She say the same problem occurred with Brexit. Remain had not made the case for the EU to the public.

She says, because her charity had not won the argument on refugees, the Tories were able to reverse Labour’s policy.

Labour was making arguments about Margaret Thatcher at the last election. That was not relevant to people, she suggests.

She says Labour has to win over the public.

She gets a round of applause.

Long-Bailey says she remembers her dad, a union rep, talking about politics while she listened as a child from the top of the stairs. Then she worked in a pawn shop. She saw how poverty was driving people to pawn their goods. She went to university. But she felt she was getting opportunities that were not available to other people.

Then she remembers taking her mum to a Labour meeting. She thought she would not get involved. But she did, because he was so angry about someone proposing that Labour back charges for hospital meals.

Formative experiences

Anushka says she wants to start with the past.

Q: Is there a formative experience that helped you to become a politician?

Nandy says she thinks her mum is in the audience. Her dad is Indian. She says she saw him campaign for race relations. Her mum worked for Grenada TV, on programmes like World in Action. She was a real inspiration too. She says she saw how people can be empowered to do better.

Starmer says there is no one answer to this for him. He says he is suspicious of the idea one single factor applies. He was brought up in a Labour household. His mum got ill, and he spent a lot of time in hospital high-dependency units. His mum was very opposed to private health. She got him to promise that he would not let his dad go private, even though she was very seriously ill. They nearly lost her a few times.

He says his parents were very proud when he went to university. When he went to study law, he did not even know the difference between a solicitor and a barrister. But he discovered human rights law, and was inspired by that. Most of that involved attacking things. But then he went to Northern Ireland, and he worked with the police on turning the RUC into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Then he worked for the Crown Prosecution Service, he says. By the time he became an MP, he was worried that something important, the social contract, was being undermined.

Opening statements

We are now on opening statements.

Long-Bailey goes first. She defends the 2019 manifesto, and says if people vote for her, Labour will have a vision, it will have the courage of its convictions, and it will have a path to power.

Nandy says this was not an ordinary election. Nurses and ex-miners who had voted Labour before abandoned the party. She says the party has a narrow opportunity to get things right. It cannot just offer the same again. She says Labour must not just rebuild the red wall, but build a bridge to that future.

Starmer starts by thanking the audience for coming. He is looking forward to the questions. The one burning question is, who can we win the next election. Defeat was devastating for people who needed change. He says Labour has lost four elections in a row, and if it loses the next one, it will have been out of power for longer than any period since the war. Labour can tear lumps out of each other; it is good at that. But if it wants to win, it must unite.

Anushka asks audience members if they think they know who they will vote for. Most hands go up. But then she asks if candidates could say something that would make them change their minds. Almost the same number of hands go up too.

The event is now starting. Sir Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey take the stage, along with Anushka Asthana, a former political editor of the Guardian who now presents the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast. There will be a Today in Focus episode about tonight’s event.

The hustings is taking place in one of the larger conference rooms at Manchester Central, the venue used for party conferences. There are 800 people in the audience, and most of them now seem to have arrived. We should be starting soon.

It is raining in Manchester, and the only campaigners outside handing out leaflets to people on the way in were supporters of electoral reform.

Starmer, Long-Bailey and Nandy debate in Guardian Labour leadership hustings

Good afternoon. I’m Andrew Sparrow, taking over from Aamna Mohdin, and I’m in Manchester for the Guardian’s Labour leadership hustings.

We start at 6.30pm. Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy will all be taking part, and the event will be chaired by my colleague Anushka Asthana. It will run until 8pm.

There have already been 11 official Labour party hustings, although there were complaints that the format (question, 40 second answer, with no debate between the candidates) made them rather dull. There have been several other hustings organised by broadcasters or campaign organisations - you can read about the Newsnight one here, and the Jewish Labour Movement one here - but obviously the Guardian one will be the best.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis told the Financial Times that the French have “long had a mythology that the UK is the home of all wild west deregulation.”

In response to Barnier’s statement that the UK can’t expect the same treatment as Canada because of the close trading relationship and geographic proximity between the UK and EU, Davis said:

Look at the things where you have got a hard empirical comparison — then we are pretty much always in the lead. This is a lunatic mythology that exists inside France. The Germans know it’s not true

When asked why the EU would shift its position, David said:

Ultimately the EU sells 50 per cent more to us than we sell to them . . . there are a large number of vested interest groups that want this to continue. Our sales are very highly profitable. The nickname in the German car industry for us is treasure island . . . we are a highly profitable, very important market.

From the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent

What we learnt today about nuts and bolts of 🇬🇧 🇪🇺talks.
➡️First round begins Mon 2 March PM in Brussels and concludes Thur 5 March ➡️ Next round in London, then alternating ➡️There will be at least 10 “negotiating tables” i.e. subjects. ➡️EU expects David Frost to lead UK side.

— Jennifer Rankin (@JenniferMerode) February 25, 2020

David Henig, the UK director of the think tank European Centre For International Political Economy, has criticised the UK’s government Twitter thread on the EU’s negotiating mandate, saying it is inaccurate.

If you are going to carry out negotiations by twitter it would be helpful to be accurate and neither of these tweets are. The EU did not offer the US zero tariffs, and as part of the EU-Japan the latter had to make changes to their regulations.

— David Henig (@DavidHenigUK) February 25, 2020

Steve Baker resigns as chair of the ERG

Steve Baker announced he has resigned as chair of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs.

In his resignation letter, he said that Boris Johnson “has the policy, the mandate and the majority he needs to deliver an exit from the EU worth having”.

I have today resigned as Chair of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs.

The UK has now left the EU and the PM has the policy, the mandate and the majority necessary to make a success of it.

More via @TheCriticMag

— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) February 25, 2020


When asked if the months ahead were likely to be the toughest in his career, Barnier said: “It will be difficult, but its already been difficult over the past three years. If you look at the discussion with the UK couple years ago on the financial settlement there were many issues that were controversial.”

He called for all those involved to look at day to day problems in perspective. He added the EU would not undermine peace in Ireland and was focused on creating a great future relationship with the UK.


Barnier said: “The UK will be the EU’s third largest trading partner, almost 10 times bigger than Canada. At the same time Canada is some 5,000 km away. It’s clear that the rules cannot be the same. It’s logical, it’s simple. This is not new, there is no surprise.””

Here’s a video from Bloomberg of that clip

"The U.K. will be the EU's third largest trading partner, almost 10 times bigger than Canada. At the same time Canada is some 5000 km away. It's clear that the rules cannot be the same"

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Brexit trade negotiations

— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) February 25, 2020


Barnier said: “We are ready to offer a highly ambitious trade deal to the UK.

“But the UK cannot expect high quality access to the single market if its not prepared to accept guarantees that competition remains open and fair, free and fair.”

He added: “There must be robust level playing field, safeguards to avoid unfair advantages social, environmental, tax, and aid state matters.”

He said he quoted the exact sentences that was agreed in the political declaration that was agreed in October.


Barnier announced a joint committee will be established to monitor the implementation for the Irish protocol during the negotiations.

Barnier says that a joint committee will be established to monitor the implementation of the Irish Protocol during negotiations.
(i.e. ensuring planning is taking place to implement checks down the Irish Sea border, after indications from London that it would seek to evade them)

— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) February 25, 2020


The UK has responded to the EU negotiation mandate during Barnier’s press conference.

1/5 The EU has set out its objectives for the negotiations with us in the mandate it has agreed today.  We welcome that and we will be setting out our own approach on Thursday.  Meanwhile, a few key points:

— No.10 Press Office (@Number10press) February 25, 2020

Barnier said the EU will do everything it can under the current time pressure.

“The pressure is not being put by us. The British government is putting the pressure of time on these negotiations,” he explained.

He said the negotiations will be complex, demanding and difficult.


Barnier says EU would not conclude negotiation 'at any price'

Barnier said the EU would not conclude negotiation “at any price”.

He added: “Over the coming months, in a calm and methodological way, we will be stressing a fair and balanced partnership with a robust framework of governance as outlined in the political declaration that now needs to be reflected in our future partnerships by solid guarantees to ensure fair competition and high standards.”


Barnier is now discussing the agreed mandate.

Barnier said the 27 member states adopted the negotiating mandate which commits and authorises the commissions’ negotiating team, which he heads up, to starting negotiations with the UK

He said: “We are ready to start this new stage in negotiation following Brexit. We’re ready to start Monday afternoon these negotiation with the British team led by David Frost.”

He added there will be meeting on Monday and Tuesday and the first round of negotiations will be concluded on Thursday.

“Later in March, we’ll have a second round in London and so on,” he explained.


Afternoon, I’m Aamna Mohdin taking over the liveblog from Andy.

Michel Barnier is currently hosting a press conference about the EU’s negotiating mandate with Andreja Metelko-Zgombić, state secretary for European affairs, and Maroš Šefčovič, the EU Commission’s vice-president for Inter-institutional relations.

Metelko-Zgombić said: “We are so proud that we managed to adopt a clear and comprehensive mandate for negotiations for a new partnership with the United Kingdom.”


Georgina Wright, a Brexit expert at the Institute for Government, has posted a useful thread on Twitter about how the negotiating mandate published by the EU today differs from the draft published at the start of the month. It starts here.

Is the draft EU #mandate that different to the final mandate for negotiations with the UK? Answer: not really but there are some interesting nuggets. Thread:

— Georgina Wright (@GeorginaEWright) February 25, 2020

That’s all from me for the moment.

My colleague Aamna Mohdin is taking over now. I will be picking up the blog later, from Manchester, where I will be covering the Labour leadership hustings hosted by the Guardian. It starts at 6.30pm.

These are from Raoul Ruparel, who was a Europe adviser to Theresa May when she was prime minister. The PD is the political declaration.

Will provide a fuller view on both mandates once both published. But the suggestion some are making that the EU is sticking to the Political Declaration, while the UK is not, is not correct in my view. EU has consciously removed two key dates from its mandate compared to PD /1

— Raoul Ruparel (@RaoulRuparel) February 25, 2020

The PD included endeavouring to conclude financial services equivalence by June 2020 & a data adequacy ruling by end 2020. Neither of these is in the mandate. But the desire to have fishing sorted by July 2020 is. 2/

— Raoul Ruparel (@RaoulRuparel) February 25, 2020

Clearly, EU has selective chosen dates in areas which most suit its negotiating position. Which is entirely legitimate. But we shouldn't pretend EU is sticking to PD & UK is not. Indeed, maybe we should realise with new mandates, the PD isn't all that relevant now 3/ ENDS

— Raoul Ruparel (@RaoulRuparel) February 25, 2020

This is what Downing Street said earlier about the cabinet’s EU exit strategy (XS) committee approving the UK government’s mandate for the trade talks with the EU this morning. The PM’s spokesman said:

The XS committee has just approved the UK’s negotiating mandate. It was a very smooth process to agree our approach which will restore our economic and political independence and which is based on other existing FTAs [free trade agreements] between the EU and like-minded sovereign nations.

We look forward to engaging with the EU constructively following the publication of their mandate.

The UK’s primary objective in the negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on January 1 2021.

At the end of this year we will be leaving the single market and customs union and taking back control of our own laws and our own trade.

EU's negotiating mandate for trade talks with UK – Snap analysis

Here is the full text (pdf) of the negotiating mandate agreed by the EU for the trade talks with the UK. It has been toughened up a bit since a draft version (pdf) was published earlier this month.

The UK has not published its own negotiating mandate yet – it is due out on Thursday – but we already have a pretty clear idea of what it will say, partly because of what Boris Johnson said in his Brexit speech in Greenwich and partly because of what Johnson said the same day in a written ministerial statement.

The trade talks will be hugely complicated, but there are two issues where the gap between the two sides is widest – on the general issue of the need for a level playing field, and on the specific issue of fishing.

Level playing field

What the EU is now saying: The key passage is paragraph 94. Here it is in full.

Given the union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the envisaged partnership must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field. These commitments should be commensurate with the scope and depth of the overall envisaged partnership and the economic connectedness of the parties. These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages so as to ensure a sustainable and long-lasting relationship between the parties. To that end, the envisaged agreement should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with union standards as a reference point, in the areas of state aid, competition, state-owned enterprises, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, relevant tax matters and other regulatory measures and practices in these areas. In so doing, the agreement should rely on appropriate and relevant union and international standards. It should include for each of those areas adequate mechanisms to ensure effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement, including appropriate remedies. The union should also have the possibility to apply autonomous, including interim, measures to react quickly to disruptions of the equal conditions of competition in relevant areas, with union standards as a reference point.

How the EU mandate has been toughened up: Paragraph 94 is tougher than the equivalent passage in the original draft, paragraph 89. The original said the agreement should uphold “common high standards” in various areas but now it says the agreement should uphold “common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with union standards as a reference point” in these areas. This is not the same as “dynamic alignment” – the toughest form of level playing field provision, involving a rule saying regulations would have to remain aligned (so that if, for example, the EU toughened its laws, the UK would have to follow suit). But it is a nudge in this direction.

The original also said that if the UK broke these conditions, the EU should have the power to “apply autonomous interim measures” as a sanction. Now the text talks about the EU being able to “apply autonomous, including interim, measures” in response – implying that non-interim, ie permanent, sanctions could be imposed too.

How this differs from the UK’s demand: The UK is adamant that it will not agree to be bound by EU regulations. In his written statement Johnson said:

Any agreement must respect the sovereignty of both parties and the autonomy of our legal orders. It cannot therefore include any regulatory alignment ...

In his speech he insisted there was no need to have a commitment of this kind, because the UK would maintain high standards anyway. He said:

There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules.

The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas – better, in many respects, than those of the EU – without the compulsion of a treaty.

And, just in case anyone failed to get the message, No 10 said yesterday:

The UK’s primary objective in the negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021.

What remains to be seen is whether common ground can be found in the possible overlap between “high standards over time with union standards as a reference point” and Johnson’s determination to “maintain the highest standards”. But if the UK will not legally commit to upholding EU rules, then any agreement will involve the EU trusting the UK to honour its promises. And, as we saw this morning (see 9.50am and 10.11am), trust between the two sides is under strain.


What the EU is now saying: The section on fishing starts at paragraph 86. Here are the most important paragraphs:

Besides the cooperation on conservation, management and regulation, the objective of the provisions on fisheries should be to uphold union fishing activities. In particular, it should aim to avoid economic dislocation for union fishermen that have been engaged in fishing activities in the United Kingdom waters.

To reach this objective, the provisions on fisheries should uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the union fleet, and therefore:

– uphold continued reciprocal access, for all relevant species, by union and United Kingdom vessels to the waters of the union and the United Kingdom;

– uphold stable quota shares, which can only be adjusted with the consent of both parties;

– include modalities for transfers and exchanges of quotas and for the setting of annual or multi-annual total allowable catches (or effort limitations) on the basis of long-term management strategies.

How the EU mandate has been toughened up: The original version of the mandate just said “the provisions on fisheries should build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the union fleet”. That has now become “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions” etc. EU fishing fleets do not want to lose any of the access they currently have to UK waters, or UK fish, and this new wording implies that the status quo should continue.

How this differs from the UK’s demand: This is what Johnson said about fishing in his Greenwich speech.

We are ready to consider an agreement on fisheries, but it must reflect the fact that the UK will be an independent coastal state at the end of this year 2020, controlling our own waters.

And under such an agreement, there would be annual negotiations with the EU, using the latest scientific data, ensuring that British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats.

British fishermen expect to be allowed to catch a larger proportion of the fish in British waters after Brexit and Johnson fuelled this expectation by saying that British fishing grounds should be “first and foremost for British boats”. The EU is resisting this, because it wants to ensure EU fishermen don’t lose out.

And the EU is pushing for a long-term agreement on access. But the UK wants annual negotiations, which presumably would give the UK the right every year to refuse EU boats access to British waters.


This is from Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president.

✅ Mandate approved. Ready to go. Negotiations with the #UK will begin the week of 2nd March.

We stand ready to build a close, ambitious partnership with the UK. This is good for people, good for business. #NewBeginnings 🇪🇺🇬🇧

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 25, 2020

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is due to hold a press conference about the EU’s negotiating mandate at about 1.30pm UK time, the EU has confirmed.

🔹@MichelBarnier will brief the press at approx 14:30 CET today, together with @EU2020HR @AndrejaMetelko and @MarosSefcovic.

🔹 On Wednesday, @MichelBarnier will give a keynote speech @ESCP_bs @Europarl_EN at 15:00 CET.

🎥 Both available on EBS here:

— Daniel Ferrie (@DanielFerrie) February 25, 2020

According to Downing Street, the UK government has now agreed its mandate for the trade negotiations with the EU. The first round of talks is expected in Brussels on Monday, with a second round taking place in London later in March.

This morning the French Europe minister Amélie de Montchalin gave quite a lengthy interview to reporters when she arrived at the general affairs council meeting. But she was speaking in French. The Brussels-based reporter Dave Keating has now posted on Twitter an English translation of her key points.

Tough words from French EU minister Amelie de Montchaline as she enters the #GAC council where the EU’s #Brexit FTA negotiating mandate will be adopted.

France cannot accept any free trade deal with UK that doesn’t contain regulatory alignment guarantees to protect EU citizens.

— Dave Keating (@DaveKeating) February 25, 2020

Montchalin: "We will not give in just because of the timing. We will protect the interests of Europeans and we want to be very clear and strong about the route that we want to follow."

— Dave Keating (@DaveKeating) February 25, 2020

Montchalin: "It is important to respect European rules, keep reciprocal conditions to make sure we keep an equal and loyal relationship. And governance is key for credibility. How to make sure you respect what you promised?"

— Dave Keating (@DaveKeating) February 25, 2020

"Zero tariffs and zero quotas are possible, but with zero dumping. And that doesn’t mean a lack of control."

"Our position is not a position of revenge or punishment. British companies claim they want full access to our market and they know that implies respecting our rules"

— Dave Keating (@DaveKeating) February 25, 2020

Montchalin: "The UK is a sovereign country. Brexit is certainly a big change."

"They can choose their own rules freely. Everything that happens in the UK depends on them. But when products leave the UK and want to enter the EU, it’s up to us to decide."

— Dave Keating (@DaveKeating) February 25, 2020

Police and politicians 'turned blind eye' to Westminster child abuse claims

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

Owen’s full story is here.

EU publishes its negotiating mandate for trade talks with UK

The EU has just published the final version of its negotiating mandate for the trade talks with the UK. It runs to 46 pages and it is here (pdf).

In a statement Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, the Croatian Europe minister (Croatia holds the rotating presidency of the EU) said:

The council has adopted a clear and strong mandate for our negotiator, Michel Barnier. This confirms our readiness to offer an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced partnership to the UK for the benefit of both sides. The EU is now ready to start negotiations.

Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, the Croatian Europe minister.
Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, the Croatian Europe minister. Photograph: EU

Tony Blair backs Ian Murray for Labour deputy leader because he 'gets it' over challenge facing party

Tony Blair has not endorsed any of the three candidates left in the Labour leadership contest. Despite being the only person alive to have won a general election for Labour, as he put it in his speech last week “it’s not as if my advice is particularly welcome to today’s party”. He said he would not be endorsing a leadership candidate because he did not want to “damage anyone by supporting them”.

But he has decided to endorse a candidate for the deputy leadership. He is backing Ian Murray. Explaining why in a statement, Blair says:

All of the candidates in this leadership election are wrestling with the inescapable fact that Labour’s lost four times in a row and that it has to be able to win power in order to put its principles into practice, and to bring about real change in the country.

And that’s a huge challenge for the Labour party.

Ian Murray understands that if Labour is to have any hope, it’s got to be able to win in every part and every corner of the United Kingdom.

It’s got to have a bold vision and programme, but it’s got to be a programme realistic enough to win power.

Only in that way can we bring about real change. Only in that way can we bring about a government for the future, and not return to being a protest movement of the past.

Ian Murray gets it, and that’s why it’s important to support him.

Gordon Brown, the only other former Labour prime minister still alive, is also backing Murray. (Brown first announced this last month.) And, in a statement released this morning, Murray has also published endorsements from Lady Smith, widow of the former Labour leader John Smith (or “Labour’s greatest prime minister that never was”, as Murray calls him in the press release), from Roy Hattersley, the former Labour deputy leader and from Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor.

Ian Murray.
Ian Murray. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

NFU president challenges PM to legislate to maintain high food standard after Brexit

My colleague Lisa O’Carroll is covering the National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham. She has been tweeting about the speeches from Minette Batters, the NFU president, and Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI president.

NFU president Minette Batters: "We must not allow UK farm high standards to be undermined by imports of goods which would be illegal for our farmers to produce here".

Other countries allow chlorine, antibiotics, hormones

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) February 25, 2020

NFU president Minette Batters: "To sign up a trade deal which opens our fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would be morally bankrupt".

Referring to Boris Johnson Greenwich speech, she adds: "This is not hysteria. This is not mumbo jumbo".

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) February 25, 2020

NFU president attacks Boris Johnson's slamming of fears of US chlorinated chicken as "mumbo jumbo" and says if he is serious about food standards in the UK why is not enshrining high UK farm standards in Agriculture Bill.

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) February 25, 2020

In his Greenwich speech on Brexit Boris Johnson said Britain would be “governed by science, not mumbo-jumbo” in future when deciding whether imported food was safe.

CBI dg Carolyn Fairbairn to NFU conf: Businesses started off “glass half empty” about Brexit but has been a realisation that “government prioritising sovereignty over rules” and there will be friction in trade. Businesses “hoping to see pragmatism” in negotiations

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) February 25, 2020
Minette Batters.
Minette Batters. Photograph: Fototek/PA


This morning Boris Johnson is chairing a meeting of the cabinet’s EU exit strategy (XS) committee which will agree the UK’s own negotiating strategy. As the official list (pdf) shows, there are now five ministers who attend: the PM, the chancellor, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the foreign secretary and the attorney general. The Brexit secretary used to attend, but that post has now been abolished.

As Mujtaba Rahman, the Brexit specialist at the Eurasia Group consultancy points out, the replacement of Sajid Javid by Rishi Sunak as chancellor makes a significant difference.

Don't think it quite registered w ppl how significant reshuffle was. With @sajidjavid gone, balance in Cab has tipped to an even harder line. Brexit committee that'll meet today to sign off mandate eg of this. Govt keeps adding more icing to cake. But it's essentially same cake

— Mujtaba Rahman (@Mij_Europe) February 25, 2020

Jack Blanchard makes the same point in his London Playbook briefing. He writes:

In XS: What really jumps out now the negotiations are about to begin is just how fervently Brexiteer-y the all-important XS committee looks. The departure of Sajid Javid as chancellor means every single member of this critical decision-making group – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab and Suella Braverman – was a Vote Leave campaigner in 2016. The replacement of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox with Braverman, a former ERG chairwoman, brings an even more hardline feel to the room. And with senior No 10 aides Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain also central to proceedings, this really is the Vote Leave government writ large. There will be no dissenting voices as Britain’s strategy is agreed.


EU ministers at the general affairs council have just approved the mandate for the trade negotiations with the UK, the BBC’s Adam Fleming reports.

EU ministers have adopted the mandate for the future relationship negotiations with the UK at their meeting in Brussels.

— Adam Fleming (@adamfleming) February 25, 2020

The Tory MP James Grundy has apologised for an incident before he was elected in which he was filmed flashing his genitals in a pub, the Press Association reports. Grundy dropped his trousers at a private event in the bar, with onlookers encouraging him to expose himself. The incident took place in 2007, more than a decade before Grundy was elected as MP for Leigh, Greater Manchester, in 2019. After LBC obtained a video of the incident, Grundy said: “I apologise for my actions and for any offence caused.”

After Nicola Sturgeon’s assurances on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that she remains “emphatically” the best person to lead the SNP, former Westminster leader Angus Robertson has used his column in Edinburgh Evening News to emphatically underline his backing for the first minister.

Robertson takes on directly those commentators suggesting that the forthcoming candidate selection for the coveted Holyrood seat of Edinburgh Central – in which he will go head to head with MP and prorogation court champion Joanna Cherry – is a proxy contest about the future leadership of the SNP. Robertson insists that he is standing to support Sturgeon’s leadership, saying:

Whenever [she] decides to move on to new challenges many years down the line, hopefully after securing independence, I am sure there will be a range of younger talents in the Scottish parliament that I can support for their leadership skills and potential.

He also warns that “no former or current Westminster MP should think they can just turn up at Holyrood ... and walk into any job”, a swipe at Cherry, whose challenges to the current leadership’s strategy on independence contrast with Robertson’s loyalism. Cherry wants to see Holyrood itself legislate for a second referendum, bringing an inevitable court challenge from Westminster. Sturgeon has not ruled out court action but warned that losing it could set back the cause of independence.

Meanwhile, new MP and former veteran MSP Kenny MacAskill has backed a consultative referendum, writing in the new issue of Scottish Left Review that Sturgeon “never possessed a Plan B” to set in train once Boris Johnson blocked her request for the legal powers to hold a second vote. He also urged independence supporters to stop “marching through” communities and start making their cause relevant to people’s daily lives.

With a referendum in 2020 looking all but impossible, we can expect positioning like this to continue well into the spring.


This is from the Sun’s Brussels correspondent Nick Gutteridge on the significance of my colleague Daniel Boffey’s story about the EU wanting the UK to maintain a ban on chlorinated chicken.

This is a hardening up. Last month Barnier told a French newspaper while the bloc would keep its chlorine chicken ban 'the British are free to experience whatever they want with the US, but in any event the conditions for entry into the EU market will remain strictly applied'.

— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) February 25, 2020

And this is from the French mission to the EU, quoting what Amélie de Montchalin, the French Europe minister, told reporters as she arrived for the general affairs council meeting this morning.

This is how her words are translated by DeepL.

What we are looking for is a good agreement, not to give in to the pressure of the timetable, but to protect the interests of Europeans and to be very clear, very firm on the path we are going to take.

#Brexit: Déclaration d'@AdeMontchalin
"Ce que nous cherchons, c'est un bon accord, ce n'est pas céder à la pression du calendrier; c'est protéger les intérêts des Européens et être très clairs, très fermes sur la voie que nous allons tracer"#GAC #CAG @Francediplo @FranceintheUK

— La France dans l'UE (@RPFranceUE) February 25, 2020
Amélie de Montchalin, the French Europe minister
Amélie de Montchalin, the French Europe minister Photograph: EU

This is from the German mission to the EU, quoting Michael Roth, the German Europe minister.

Europe Ministers are expected to adopt the EU's negotiating mandate for the future relationship with the UK at today's #GAC. Germany's Minister for Europe @MiRo_SPD reiterated the need for a level playing field: "There can be no social or environmental dumping". #Brexit

— Germany in the EU (@GermanyintheEU) February 25, 2020

Here are some more quotes from EU ministers arriving at the general affairs council meeting in Brussels.

Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister, said the negotiations would be tough. Asked what the toughest issue would be in the talks, he replied:

You cannot say that there is one particular subject that will be the toughest.

The interests on both sides of the North Sea are huge: fisheries is important but of course our trade relations and security co-operations, people-to-people contacts and that makes the negotiations so challenging.

So the past has shown that we managed to do good work as a united European Union with regard to the withdrawal agreement, so that gives me hope for the negotiations to come.

But the time pressure is immense, the interests are huge - it’s a very complicated treaty - so it will be very hard work. A tough road ahead.

Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, the Croatian Europe minister, said the EU would be willing to offer a “substantial” and “ambitious” partnership deal to the UK. She said:

Today’s general affairs council will adopt a mandate for the future relationship with the UK - and from our side we are really willing to offer a substantial, ambitious, balanced and wide-ranging partnership.

Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister.
Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister. Photograph: EU

UK must start implementing new border rules for Northern Ireland within months, says Coveney

Here are the quotes, and the main points, from the Simon Coveney doorstep earlier. (See 9.23am.)

  • Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said that if the UK failed to put in place the new border rules for Northern Ireland required under the withdrawal agreement this year, that would “damage significantly” the chances of a trade deal being struck. He said:

Michel Barnier [the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator] and the Irish government are at one on this: the withdrawal agreement involves significant commitments in the context of Northern Ireland through the Irish protocol that both the EU and the UK need to follow through on.

If that doesn’t happen then I think it will damage significantly the prospects of being able to get even a bare-bones trade agreement along with a number of other things that need to be done, in place, by the end of the year.

  • Coveney said the EU expected to see the UK make progress towards implementing the new border arrangements within the next few months. This was a matter of “good faith and trust”, he said.

In some ways the implementation of agreements that have already been struck are test of good faith and trust, and without good faith and trust building a future relationship is not going to be easy.

And so if there isn’t progress on the infrastructure needed to implement the Irish protocol as part of the withdrawal agreement in the next few months then I think that is going to be a very worrying signal for whether or not it is going to be possible to conclude something sensible before the end of the year.

He also said the arrangements in the Northern Ireland protocol (ie, the new border rules) had to be “fully implemented and ready to go next year”.

  • He said the Irish government was happy with the EU’s mandate for the trade talks with the UK. He said:

From an Irish perspective the text is strong. As you would expect it recognises the importance of protecting the Good Friday agreement, the peace process.

It also recognises very clearly in the language the unique geographical positioning of Ireland and therefore the vulnerabilities that need to be taken account of.

  • He said the mandate amounted to an offer to the UK that was “generous and fair”.
Helen McEntee and Simon Coveney at the GAC meeting this morning.
Helen McEntee and Simon Coveney at the GAC meeting this morning. Photograph: EU


'Keep your promises', Germany tells Johnson, amid EU fears UK backtracking on Brexit pledges

Although the EU and the UK are trying to negotiate a trade deal, they have already signed one Brexit treaty already – the withdrawal agreement, which included provisions for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market. This was problematic for the Tories because it effectively puts a customs border down the Irish Sea.

At the weekend the Sunday Times (paywall) reported that Boris Johnson intends to “get around” this agreement by interpreting it in a way that would minimise or remove the need for any checks on goods. Yesterday No 10 dismissed this report, saying the government would abide by its obligations. But Downing Street also said that the government had not asked “any ports to prepare for new checks or controls between GB/NI” - even thought the EU says the Northern Ireland protocol (the section of the withdrawal agreement covering NI customs rules) does require new checks.

This has made EU ministers distinctly nervous. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, was warning a few minutes ago that if the UK were to renege on its commitments, that would have very serious consequences. (See 9.23am.) And in an interview when he arrived Michael Roth, the German Europe minister, said the UK had to “keep its promises”.

Asked if he was worried about the reports suggesting the UK might avoid implementing the checks and controls required under the protocol, Roth said:

My message is crystal clear to our friends in London – keep your promises, based on the protocol.

He also said that the EU expected the UK to abide by the political declaration (pdf) – the short document about the future relationship published alongside the withdrawal agreement. He said:

The political declaration is key for us. It’s the basis for further negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom and there are no doubts that we remain committed to the political declaration.

The political declaration says: “The future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.” EU leaders are worried that, in his determination to ensure that the UK does not remain bound by EU rules, Johnson will discard this level playing field promise.

Michael Roth, the German Europe minister, at the GAC meeting this morning.
Michael Roth, the German Europe minister, at the GAC meeting this morning. Photograph: EU


Irish foreign minister says UK must implement customs rules for NI border in withdrawal agreement

At the general affairs council in Brussels Helen McEntee, the Irish Europe minister, and Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, have just arrived. They say they have come from a meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

Coveney says the EU is doing what it has always done in the Brexit process - staying united, and sticking to deadlines.

He says that, from the Irish perspective, the text is strong.

But he says the EU wants to be sure that the agreements already struck in the withdrawal agreement must be implemented in full. He says the arrangements in the Northern Ireland protocol must be ready to go at the end of the year.

He says the EU mandate amounts to a “generous and fair” offer to the UK. And it protects Ireland.

Q: What will happen if the UK does not implement the protocol?

Coveney says that would have have very serious impact.

Implementing agreements that have already been struck is a test of “good faith”.

He says if there is no process in the next few months on implementing the protocol that would amount to a very worrying signal.

He says Barnier agrees with the Irish government on this.

If the UK does not implement the deal, that would damage the prospects of even a “bare bones” trade deal being agreed by the end of this year.

But he says today he wants to focus on the positive.

Whatever has been agreed in an international treaty needs to be implemented in full.

He says the joint committee being set up under the Northern Ireland protocol is not there to carry out a negotiation. It is there to implement something that has already been agreed, he says.

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign affairs minister.
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign affairs minister. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters


EU ministers meet to agree negotiating mandate for trade talks with UK

EU ministers are meeting this morning to sign off the text of their negotiating mandate for the post-Brexit trade talks with the UK. As my colleague Daniel Boffey reports, the EU will demand the UK maintains a ban on chlorinated chicken as the price for a trade agreement with Brussels. Here is an extract from his story.

On the recommendation of France, a clause has been inserted into the EU’s negotiating mandate to insist that both sides maintain “health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector”, according to a copy leaked to the Guardian.

The paragraph, in a newly entitled section of the document for the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, called “Environment and health” provides a catch-all insurance for the EU that certain methods of food production – particular pesticides, endocrine disrupters or chlorine washes for poultry – will not be used in the UK.

And here is the story in full.

EU ministers are still arriving at the general affairs council meeting in Brussels, and there is a live feed of the arrivals here. I will post some extracts from what they have been saying shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: EU ministers meet at the general affairs council to agree the EU’s negotiating mandate for the trade talks with the UK.

9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet. After that Johnson will chair a meeting of the cabinet’s EU exit strategy (XS) committee which will agree the UK’s own negotiating strategy.

12pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.

Around 1.30pm: The EU is due to hold a press conference following the GAC meeting.

6.30pm: The Labour leadership candidates Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy speak at a hustings event organised by the Guardian in Manchester. My colleague Anushka Ashthana is chairing it.

The National Farmers’ Union is also starting its conference in Birmingham. Minette Batters, the NFU president, is speaking.

As usual, we will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I will be blogging this morning, a colleague will take over in the afternoon while I get a train to Manchester, and then I will be covering the Labour hustings.

You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.



Andrew Sparrow and Aamna Mohdin

The GuardianTramp

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