Afternoon summary

  • Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach (PM), has suggested the UK will fail to get a trade deal allowing its banks access to the EU’s financial services market unless it agrees to let EU boats carry on fishing in its waters. (See 10.18am.) Downing Street has not ruled out using fishing as a bargaining chip in the trade talks in this manner. (See 11.24am.)

That’s all from me for today.

Thanks for the comments.

Boris Johnson faces backlash from Tory MPs over plan to give Huawei role in building 5G network

This is the afternoon when Boris Johnson’s post-election honeymoon came to an end. The Conservative backlash over his proposed decision to allow Huawei a role in building the UK’s 5G network does not mean that Johnson faces any sort of immediate risk in the Commons. The Huawei decision is not one that will have to be put to a vote and, even if it were, he has a majority of 80-plus (the exact figure depends how you count it).

But until now he has encountered virtually no opposition from his own MPs in parliament on anything. This afternoon that all changed, as one Tory MP after another stood up to question the wisdom of giving Huawei even a limited role in the 5G network.

And it was not just the usual foreign policy hawks who were sounding off on this. There were mainstream loyalists expressing concern too, like Damian Green, the former first secretary of state, Damian Collins, the former culture committee chair, and Tim Loughton, the former first minister.

In one sense this just marks the return of normal politics. But it is unusual to hear a minister receive so little support from the government backbenches during an urgent question like this. Johnson should be at least a bit concerned - not least because Iain Duncan Smith implied that Johnson is breaking a promise made in private to Tory MPs on this matter.

Here are some of the quotes from Tory MPs during the Huawei UQ.

From Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader and former cabinet minister

Given the fact that we are at war, in a sense - there is a cyber war going on, in which China is arguable the single biggest participant - that we should think about giving a company which is heavily subsidised by China, a country that has set out to steal data non-stop, and also technology, that we think of giving to them that right to be in what is essentially a very, very delicate area of our technology, the idea that we would do that seems to me utterly bizarre.

I was led to believe that this government would not make that decision. I hope that they will now reject Huawei immediately.

From Bob Seely

Why is it argued that you could limit Huawei to the periphery of the network when Australia and the United States don’t agree, and when of the head of Australia’s cyber agency says the distinction between core and edge in 5G collapses? A threat in the network anywhere is a threat everywhere.

Why is it said that the risks are manageable, when our allies say not?

Why have previous ministers claimed that Huawei is a private firm when in no way is that true?

Why are we told that there are no alternatives when there are?

Why are we told that the quality of Huawei’s work is high when the Cell in Banbury says their work is sloppy?

Why do we need high-risk vendors in our network at all?

Whoever controls 5G will affect significantly our rule of law, our data privacy, our security and our freedom to support our allies. We have had so little parliamentary debate on this issue.

From Owen Paterson, the former Tory cabinet minister

I find this absolutely extraordinary. If there is such a risk, and we know Sir Richard Dearlove, ex head of MI6 has said there is, we know there is a risk of losing key intelligence from our closest allies, what is the overwhelming advantage of this equipment that we are looking to take this risk?

From Andrew Bridgen

Does the minister agree with me that, however cheaply Huawei are offering this country the benefits of their 5G technology, if as a result of their participation in this project we risk any jeopardising of our position within the five eyes, and access to shard intelligence in the future, then I’m afraid that Huawei’s price is too high for us to pay.

From Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister

Given that some of our most important major allies have said no thanks to Huawei, given that the costs of cyber attacks can ultimately far outweigh the outweigh on networks and hardware, what exactly is the downside of shopping around for a low-risk vendor from a country we can call an ally.


Ed Conway, Sky’s economics editor, has posted a good thread on Twitter about why the Huawei/5G decision is so important.

Tomorrow Britain will decide whether to allow Huawei a role in building its 5G network. A quick thread on why this matters. Beginning with the technology itself. Contrary to what you might have heard, 5G isn't just about downloading movies and music faster onto your smartphone...

— Ed Conway (@EdConwaySky) January 27, 2020

Bedroom tax set to continue, says work and pensions secretary

During work and pensions questions earlier Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, said the government would continue with the so-called bedroom tax, the policy that reduces housing benefit payments for claimants with spare room.

In response to a question from the SNP’s Martyn Day, who said the Scottish government was spending £50m a year reversing the impact of the policy in Scotland, she said the policy was an “important part” of changes in housing policy in order to tackle homelessness. She went on: “I absolutely think that we will continue with that policy.”

Therese Coffey.
Therese Coffey. Photograph: Mark Thomas/REX/Shutterstock

The Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney is now asking an urgent question about the police use of live facial recognition technology.

Kit Malthouse, the Home Office minister, says the use of this technology, which involves looking for particular suspects, mirrors the use of existing police techniques (such as the use of “spotters” in crowds). He says when the police use this technology, they have to follow certain rules. They are looking for people on watch lists. He says data about people not on these list is not kept. And he says the police need his permission to use this technology.

Olney says 93% of matches using this technology have been shown to be wrong. And he says the technology is more likely to make mistakes with women or minority ethnic people. She asks what ministers are doing to address these concerns.

Malthouse is responding to Olney. He says the Metropolitan police has not found a disproportionality problem with this technology. Many democratic institutions are looking at this issue, he says. And he says the Met will be publishing information about when this is used, and what their success rate is.

Tim Loughton, a Conservative, asks what is the downside of shopping around for a low-risk vendor from a country that could be called an ally.

Warman says there are not as many vendors of this kit as we would like.

But he says Loughton is right to say the long-term consequences must be considered.

Andrew Bridgen, a Tory, says however cheap the Huawei technology is, that would not be worth jeopardising the UK’s place in the five eyes intelligence network.

Warman says these intelligence considerations will be at the top of the list of priorities when this decision is being taken.

Labour’s Geraint Davies says it does not seem right to be important technology used for mass control in China.

Damian Green, the Conservative former first secretary of state, asks if the UK still has the capacity to provide large chunks of its own telecoms infrastructure.

Warman says it is important that the UK has this capacity. The government is investing to improve it, he says.

The SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes says this session is like an unofficial hustings for the chairmanship of the foreign affairs committee.

Crispin Blunt, Bob Seely and Tom Tugendhat are all standing for the post. The election is on Wednesday.

Damian Collins, the Tory MP who chaired the culture committee in the last parliament, asks why Huawei is being considered for 5G when there are concerns about the work it has already done on 4G.

Warman says these are issues that will be taken into account.

Labour’s Chris Bryant says Huawei has been engaged in state sponsored espionage. He says it would not be an appropriate partner.

Warman says the government is aware of these concerns.

Owen Paterson, the former Tory cabinet government, says he finds this decision extraordinary. He asks why the government is considering taking this risk.

This is from Nick Timothy, who was co-chief of staff to Theresa May when she was home secretary and when she was PM until the 2017 general election.

In 2011, Huawei offered to install free WiFi equipment on the London Underground. The advice from security officials was to reject the offer. And that was for 3G, not the pervasive and game-changing 5G that will connect everything with everything.

— Nick Timothy (@NJ_Timothy) January 27, 2020

Most of the Tory MPs who have spoken out against Huawei so far are already on the record as being opposed to the prospect of Huawei playing a role in building the UK’s 5G network. But the strength of feeling on this issue is still striking. It is the first time since the election that Boris Johnson has faced any proper opposition from Tory MPs in the Commons on a matter of policy.

Jeremy Wright, the former Tory culture secretary, asks for an assurance that any decision taken by the government will be in accordance with advice from the intelligence agencies.

Warman says he can give this assurance.

Bob Seely, another Conservative, says whoever controls 5G will control significantly our rule of law, our data privacy, and our ability to protect our allies.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader and former work and pensions secretary, says the UK is effectively involved in a cyber war with China. He says the idea of giving Huawei a role in the 5G network is “bizarre”.

He also says he was told Boris Johnson would not let Huawei play a role in constructing 5G.

I was led to believe that this government would not make that decision.

Kevan Jones, a Labour former defence minister, says from the briefings he has had, he thinks any risk posed by Huawei could be mitigated.

Crispin Blunt, the former Conservative chair of the foreign affairs committee, says the US position “thinly disguises” a protectionist position. Unless the US can prove that its security concerns are valid, the government should ignore them, he says.

The SNP’s John Nicolson asks if Huawei is really the only firm that could produce this infrastructure.

Warman says Huawei is not the only company in this market. There are other providers too, he says.

Julian Lewis, the former Tory chair of the Commons defence committee, says the intelligence and security committee report should investigate this. He says the ISC published a report on this in 2013. Most of what it said was not made public on security grounds, he says.

Warman says the government would cooperate with any ISC inquiry.

Tracy Brabin, the shadow culture secretary, says she is deeply dismayed that the PM is not making a statement on this. She says she agrees with Keir Starmer about how the PM is “doing a runner”.

She says, if Huawei is limited to non-core parts of the network, how will that be enforced?

Warman says the PM will, of course, take responsibility for the decisions he takes.

Letting Huawei build 5G would be letting 'fox into henhouse', senior Tory tells MPs

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP, is responding now.

He says there is a risk that this decision could “nest a dragon” within the UK’s telecoms infrastructure.

He says any decision taken on this tomorrow will affect the UK for years to come.

He says Vietnam has rejected Huawei. The Czech government has rejected Huawei. He says Germany is taking a decision today.

He says ministers should understand the concerns MPs feel about this.

He says allowing Huawei to play a role in 5G would amount to letting “the fox into the henhouse”.

Warman says this decision will not be taken lightly.

Matt Warman, a junior culture minister, is responding to the UQ.

He says 5G networks can change our lives for the better.

But he says the UK must be sure its infrastructure is secure.

The government commissioned a review of its telecommunications network, he says. It was published last summer. But it did not make recommendations on the controls to be placed on high-risk companies, he says.

He says the UK would never take a decision that would threaten the security of the UK, or its allies.

The national security council will discuss this matter tomorrow, he says.

Urgent question on Huawei

We are about to get an urgent question in the Commons on Huawei.

It has been tabled by Tom Tugendhat, who chaired the foreign affairs committee in the last parliament and is standing for election to chair it in this parliament. The elections are on Wednesday.

Tugendhat wrote an article on this subject in the Mail on Sunday yesterday. Here is an extract.

Rightly, we shouldn’t rely on essential services that have only one reserve parachute. Huawei, however, is not like the others.

It’s incompatible with rivals, meaning that once the hardware is in, you’re stuck with it.

Such a dependency, combined with allegations about state subsidies, lead many to believe that Huawei’s bid isn’t a sales pitch but tech dumping – selling its products cheaply to achieve a dominant position.

In 4G, there’s a distinction between core and non-core equipment, dividing the heart of the system from the antennas, but that difference is less clear in a 5G network that handles more data at higher speeds.

Speaking at Kings College London Boris Johnson also said that he did not agree with Leo Varadkar about how it might be necessary to extend the post-Brexit transition beyond December 2020 (a move Johnson has ruled out) to ensure time for a proper UK-EU trade deal to be negotiated. Johnson said:

I have to say this is one of those rare occasions where I’m going to be obliged to respectfully disagree with my friend the taoiseach and just say I think we can wrap all this up in the time we’ve got.

We’ve got till, as you know, the end of the year and we will be doing things very fast, [in a] very friendly and respectful way, and in a way also, I think it’s important to stress, that really ensures we look after the interests of the Republic of Ireland as well.

Johnson hints that he plans to defy US and give Huawei role in constructing 5G network

Boris Johnson has been speaking to journalists at King’s College London mathematics school, where he was at an event promoting the government’s plans for a new visa system intended to attract highly skilled scientists and others to the UK. Asked to respond to the claims from the Tory MP Tom Tugendhat (and endorsed by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo) that letting Huawei have a role in building the UK’s 5G network would hand power to the Chinese government, Johnson denied it. But, in doing so, he effectively confirmed that Huawei would get a role in constructing the 5G infrastructure. He said:

I think there’s a very, very important strategic win for the UK.

The way forward for us clearly is to have a system that delivers for people in this country the kind of consumer benefits that they want through 5G technology or whatever but does not in any way compromise our critical national infrastructure, our security or jeopardise our ability to work together with other intelligence powers around the world. The five eyes security relationships we have, we’ve got to keep them strong and safe.

Asked what the government was planning, he said:

We are going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives and that’s the way forward.

There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have technological progress here in the UK, allow consumers, businesses in the UK to have access to fantastic technology, fantastic communications, but also protect our security interests and protect our key partnerships with other security powers around the world.

Boris Johnson reacts as he listens to students solving maths questions during his visit to the maths department at King’s.
Boris Johnson reacts as he listens to students solving maths questions during his visit to the maths department at King’s. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images


Congress likely to veto UK-US trade deal if Huawei gets role in 5G network, former Trump aide claims

On the BBC’s World at One, Tim Morrison, a former adviser to President Trump on his national security council, said that if the UK were to go ahead and give even a limited role to Huawei in building its 5G network, he did not think Congress would approve a UK-US trade deal. A decision of this kind – which Boris Johnson is expected to announce tomorrow (see 9.36am) – could do “incalculable” damage to the special relationship, he said.

I’m concerned that, as the United Kingdom finally appears to be at least at the end of the beginning for Brexit, what this could mean for a US-UK trade agreement.

When asked if he was saying that there would be no UK-US trade deal if Johnson refused to boycott Huawei, Morrison replied:

It becomes extremely difficult to see how you could get the votes on Capitol Hill [for such a deal].

Morrison, who was on the US national security council until October last year, said that letting Huawei play a role in building 5G would be like allowing the KGB into UK or US telecommunications networks during the cold war. He said:

We are talking about allowing the Chinese Communist party into the telecommunications system, into the healthcare data, into the personal financial records of every Briton, and, frankly, into the heart of the most successful security alliance, the five eyes, the world has ever known.

Morrison said that, if the UK did go ahead with allowing Huawei a role in building its 5G networks, Americans would see that as London putting its desire to protect Chinese inward investment ahead of its security relationship with the US. Asked whether the US would withhold intelligence from the UK as a result, he said: “We have seen members of Congress call for that.”

And he dismissed claims that it would be possible to mitigate the risks by restricting Huawei’s role to non-core parts of the network. He explained:

In 5G there is no fringe. There is only core. And or if Huawei is allowed into any part of your network, it is allowed into every part of your network. And the risk for the United States, the risk for Australia, the risk for Canada, the risk for your other security partners, is if it’s in your network, it could wind up in our network.

Tim Morrison.
Tim Morrison. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters


From the BBC’s Nick Eardley

Scottish Parliament to vote on Wednesday on the principle of holding #indyref2.

Academic at the moment because no agreement with UK government - but part of attempt to put more pressure on. And symbolic as it's going to be a couple of days before Brexit.

— Nick Eardley (@nickeardleybbc) January 27, 2020

Boris Johnson is expected to hold an extensive government reshuffle next month. But, according to a report out today (pdf) from the Institute for Government, he should think twice before he does. The IfG says that in Britain ministers move post too often and that the government would be better run if they stayed put for longer.

According to the report, since 1997, secretaries of state have stayed in post for just two years on average. The IfG says this means they move almost as often as football managers, and more than twice as often as the CEOs of major companies.

Length of time cabinet ministers stay in office
Length of time cabinet ministers stay in office Photograph: IfG

The IfG says that in countries such as Germany and Sweden senior ministers stay in post for much longer than they do in the UK.

Time ministers spend in post
Time ministers spend in post Photograph: IfG

And the IfG says junior ministers tend to get moved even more often. Since 1997 the average housing minister has stayed in the job for just 14 months.

Housing ministers since 1997
Housing ministers since 1997 Photograph: IfG

Tom Sasse, an IfG researcher and one of the authors of the report, said:

Playing musical chairs with the ministers in charge of key public priorities is not a serious way to run the country. It is disruptive, wasteful and hinders government efforts to deliver the kind of long-term reforms needed to improve people’s lives.


“I wasn’t trained to lose,” the Tory Brexiter Mark Francois once famously claimed. But it is remarkable how easy it is to pick up new skills, even in middle age, and the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn says Francois has admitted defeat in his campaign to use crowdfunding to get Big Ben to chime on Friday night to mark Brexit.

The Big Ben Bong for Brexit bunch are throwing the towel in. Mark Francois announces the £272,000 raised so far will now go to @HelpforHeroes instead. So there's a happy ending after all.

— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) January 27, 2020

Sturgeon says UK government refusal to discuss her plan for Scottish visa would confirm union not working for Scotland

This morning the Scottish government published a 94-page paper (pdf) explaining how the Scottish government could take charge of its own immigration policy and start issuing its own “Scottish visa”. Ostensibly it is an immigration policy paper, but the Scottish government does not have responsibility for immigration policy in Scotland, Westminster does, and so perhaps it would be better to see this as a devolution policy paper, or a contribution to a manifesto for Scottish independence. There is a Scottish government news summary of the plans here.

Speaking at the launch of the document in Edinburgh, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said:

The hard reality is this: without continued inward migration in the years ahead, there’s a real risk that Scotland’s working-age population will fall …

A common, UK-wide approach to immigration simply hasn’t worked in Scotland’s favour for some time now. I hope the UK government will be prepared to work with us to deliver a Scottish visa.

Asked what would happen if the UK government refused her proposal to allow the Scottish government to take joint charge with London of immigration policy for Scotland (as seems likely – see 11.16am), Sturgeon said:

I’m not going to sit here and say that they’re going to jump and say yes.

But equally, I know what the risks and the realities will be if we don’t have this.

If there is a complete blanket refusal to discuss these things, then the view that the Westminster system is incapable of accommodating Scotland’s distinctive interest just becomes more and more of a real thing.

Nicola Sturgeon unveiling immigration policy proposals for a new Scottish Visa in Edinburgh this morning.
Nicola Sturgeon unveiling immigration policy proposals for a new Scottish visa in Edinburgh this morning. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian


There are two urgent questions this afternoon.

Two important UQs from 3:30pm:

1. @TomTugendhat to ask s/s for @DCMS to make a statement on the question of Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network.

2. @sarahjolney1 to ask @patel4witham to make a statement on police use of automated facial recognition surveillance.

— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) January 27, 2020

'Brexit is not going to go away,' says Barnier

Here are some more lines from the press conference that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach (Irish PM), held earlier.

  • Barnier said he would present a draft negotiating mandate for the trade talks to EU member states next Monday. He said:

Brexit is not going to go away.

We have some important work ahead of us. The protocol of Ireland/Northern Ireland now needs to be implemented in all its dimensions - we will watch over its implementation very closely.

We also need to begin negotiations on our future relationship - an ambitious relationship with the UK. It’s time for round two and time will be very short. We will maintain the EU unity, and we want to find an agreement that works in the interest of the whole EU.

He also described the next stage as the second round of the negotiation.

It’s time for the second [Brexit] round. This time it is very short, [we] have no time to lose in any politics.

  • Barnier said the amount of access the UK got to the single market post-Brexit would depend on the level of its commitment to keeping a level playing field with the EU. He said:

The level of access for the UK and particular for the UK products to the single market will be proportionate to the level of commitments taken by the UK vis-a-vis our rules in particular for the state regulations.

  • Varadkar said that, although he was “ambitious” about the UK-EU future partnership, there was also a need for “realism”.
  • He said he did not see the next stage of the negotiations a contest. He said:

I think if you see this as a contest, the European Union is in a very strong position - we’re 27 countries, we have a population of 450 million people and the single market is the largest economy in the world.

But I don’t think we have to see it as a contest. There is a possibility for us to work together with the United Kingdom over the next few months and come to a future relationship and a trade agreement that’s mutually beneficial and that’s the spirit in which we will be entering these talks.

Leo Varadkar (left) and Michel Barnier at a news conference at Government Buildings in London.
Leo Varadkar (left) and Michel Barnier at a news conference at Government Buildings in London. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

From Boris Johnson

I was truly honoured to meet Mala Tribich MBE and hear her story of surviving the horrors of the Holocaust.

We should all listen to her message, remember and commit ourselves to ensuring that this never happens again.#HolocaustMemorialDay #WeRemember

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 27, 2020

Here is the Times’s Steven Swinford on the significance of the PMOS’s comments on fishing.

No 10 spokesman suggests access to Britain’s waters for EU fishing boats *will* be the subject of negotiations over future trade deal

‘We are taking back control of our waters

‘It will be for the UK to determine for the best interests of the UK who fishes in those waters’

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) January 27, 2020


The PMOS is not talking about some of the post-Brexit Whitehall arrangements.

He says there will be 40 officials working in a government taskforce on the EU future partnership.

He says after Friday the UK will no longer sit with the EU at international meetings.

Our permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, will become ambassador to the EU.

And he says the ministers will be making visits abroad to promote the UK.

Q: Who is in charge of the taskforce on Europe?

The PM.

Q: So there will be no other minister in charge. Who will Michel Barnier speak to?

The PMOS says Barnier will be able to speak to David Frost, the PM’s EU adviser.

Q: Who will update parliament on Brexit?

The PMOS says Michael Gove will oversee the withdrawal agreement, but the PM will oversee the negotiation.

And that’s it. The briefing is over.


The PMOS says after Friday night the Brexit department will not exist. Asked about Stephen Barclay’s position as Brexit secretary, he says that there will be no department, but that cabinet reshuffle decisions are a matter for the PM.

Yesterday Barclay said that his gut feeling was that HS2 would go ahead. Asked if the PM trusts Barclay’s gut, the PMOS says:

In relation to HS2, discussion is ongoing. Once a decision is reached, we will let you know.


No 10 does not rule out using fishing as bargaining chip in wider UK-EU trade talks

Q: Leo Varadkar said this morning that British ignorance of Ireland was a problem. Does the PM agree?

The PMOS says he has not seen those remarks.

Q: Does the PM accept, as Varadkar implied, that the UK would have to trade access to fishing waters for UK access to financial services in Europe?

The PMOS says:

We are taking back control of our waters … We have been clear on that.

He says this was made clear in the PM’s election manifesto.

Asked if this means the government is ruling out linking the two issues in trade talks, the PMOS repeats the point about taking back control of fishing waters. He says the PM has left the EU in “no doubt of our determination on that issue”.

He says the government will decide for itself who accesses its fishing waters.

Q: We can determine that we are going to let the French into our waters?

The PMOS says the government has been very clear that the UK will determine who fishes in British waters.

Q: Fishing leaders themselves have said that some EU boats will continue to fish in British waters after Brexit.

The PMOS says he has not said anything that contradicts this.

  • No 10 does not rule out using fishing as bargaining chip in wider UK-EU trade talks.


Q: Why is there a delay in getting people out of Wuhan?

The PMOS says the Foreign Office has said this morning it is exploring its options. The safety of British nationals is its priority, it says.

Q: Is an airlift possible?

The PMOS says the government is exploring options.


No 10 rules out giving Scottish government control over immigration policy for Scotland

Q: Why is the government announcing a visa scheme for highly skilled people now?

The PMOS says there are concerns that the government is not bringing in enough highly talented people. By announcing the scheme now, the government will be able to bring it in more quickly.

Q: What is your reaction to the Scottish government’s visa plans announced today?

Immigration policy is a matter for the UK government, the PMOS says.

We’re very clear that we want an immigration system that works for the whole UK. Immigration policy is a matter for the UK government.

  • No 10 rules out giving Scottish government control over immigration policy for Scotland.


Back to Harry Dunn.

Q: Does the UK government think Anne Sacoolas was covered by diplomatic immunity?

The PMOS says the government’s view is that she should come back to face justice.

The PMOS says the government will consider the recommendations made by the migration advisory committee in a report coming this week, and then bring forward an immigration bill in due course.

Asked about the US refusal to extradite the US diplomat’s wife accused of killing Harry Dunn in a road accident, the PMOS says the PM sees this as a denial of justice.

What more will the government do?

We said on Friday that we were urgently looking at our options, the PMOS says. He says this point will be made to Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, when he visits the UK this week.

The PM will be speaking shortly at the UK’s commemorative ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day, the PMOS says.

The briefing is taking place in 9 Downing Street. These briefings used to be held in the Commons, but No 10 changed the arrangements this year, ostensibly to make it easier for officials to brief journalists, as well as the PMOS (prime minister’s official spokesman).


The spokesman starts by reading out a list of what the PM and other ministers are doing today.

Downing Street lobby briefing

I am at the No 10 lobby briefing, where the prime minister’s spokesman, James Slack, is briefing journalists.

In the past these briefings were embargoed until they were over. But the rules were changed last week, and so now I can live blog from the meeting.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, have been holding a press conference in Dublin. Varadkar said that, if Brexit does not work out and the UK wants to rejoin the EU, it would be welcome back.

These are from Sky’s Stephen Murphy, the BBC’s Chris Page and the Irish government (aka Merrion Street).

Leo Varadkar on #Brexit Friday:

“We’ll say goodbye to a old friend embarking on an adventure.
We hope it works out for them but if not there will always be a seat for them at the table”

— Stephen Murphy (@SMurphyTV) January 27, 2020

EU chief Brexit negotiator is in Dublin. ⁦@MichelBarnier⁩: “Brexit shows... it doesn’t really matter if you’re big or small, we are all part of the family”. @LeoVaradkar says he hopes Brexit goes well for UK - but if it doesn’t “there will always be a place at the table”

— Chris Page (@ChrisPageTV) January 27, 2020

Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar - In the next phase of Brexit, @MichelBarnier will be focused on the partnership with the UK. We discussed some of the particular challenges for Ireland. I have asked Michel to continue to consider Ireland’s interests in this next phase.

— (@merrionstreet) January 27, 2020

. @MichelBarnier - We now have an agreement that brings legal certainty. It would not have been possible without the work of everybody here in Ireland.

Brexit really showed, we are all part of a family. Brexit will not go away. We have important work ahead of us.

— (@merrionstreet) January 27, 2020

@MichelBarnier - Later today, I travel to Belfast. I am delighted that power sharing has been restored. I will pay my respects to Seamus Mallon.

— (@merrionstreet) January 27, 2020

Leo Varadkar's BBC interview – summary

The BBC’s interview with Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, was thorough and candid. Laura Kuenssberg has written a blog about what Varadkar told her that you can read here, and I’ve already posted some quotes. Here is a fuller summary.

  • Varadkar suggested that the UK would fail to get a trade deal allowing its banks access to the EU’s financial services market unless it agree to let EU boats carry on fishing in its waters. (See 9.02am.)
  • He said he thought the EU would be in a stronger position than the UK in the forthcoming trade negotiation. Asked if the EU would have the upper hands in the talks, he said:

The reality of situation is that the European Union is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people. The UK, it’s about 60. So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team? So long as we’re united.

  • He said the British did not understand Ireland very well, and this was a problem for London during the first round of the Brexit talks. He said:

A lot of people, unfortunately, in Westminster, and in Britain, don’t understand Ireland, or know much about Ireland. And that’s one thing that we actually find hard to understand because if you grow up in Ireland, you know, we speak English as our first language, most of us do anyway. We watch the BBC, we watch Graham Norton, we watch your television, your news. We really understand a lot about Britain.

But I think a lot of British people don’t understand a lot about Ireland, including your politicians. And that’s what was very badly exposed I think during the whole Brexit process …

I think that a lot of people in Britain underestimated the fact that European partners will stay by us. You know, Britain has a very powerful history, a very colonial history. And I think there were people in Britain who thought that France, Germany and Britain would get together at a big summit and tell the small countries what’s what. That’s not the way the 21st century works. That’s certainly not the way the European Union works.

There is plenty of evidence to support what Varadkar is saying, and the Atlantic’s Tom McTague came up with a new anecdote last week which supports the claim that the cabinet underestimated Ireland. In an article about how the UK could emulate Canada after Brexit, he says:

In Britain’s negotiations with Ireland over Brexit, some senior politicians in London were dismissive of the effectiveness of Irish diplomacy. One cabinet minister, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, told me that Ireland was a small country, which meant that the quality of its ministers could not match that of those in the UK. And yet this attitude proved part of London’s undoing in the negotiations, which saw Ireland win more of its objectives than Britain did.

  • Varadkar said he did not know if Brexit would increase the chances of Ireland reuniting.
  • He said he thought it would be “possible” but “difficult” to conclude a UK-EU trade deal before the end of this year.
  • He said Johnson had personally assured him that he did not want the UK to undercut EU standards after Brexit.

He said:

I think the area where it’s going to become tricky is this whole idea of a level playing field. Because there’s a genuine concern across the European Union that part of the motivation behind Brexit was for the UK to undercut us in terms of environmental standards, labour standards, product standards, food standards, all of those things. Now when I meet Prime Minister Johnson he says: ‘No, absolutely not. That’s not the kind of United Kingdom that I want or need as prime minister.’ But we want that written down in law. We want that in a treaty so that we know that the UK will not be undercutting the EU with lower standards.

  • Varadakar insisted that there would be a need for some checks on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland after Brexit. Johnson has repeatedly played down the need for these checks, telling a news conference in Belfast recently that these checks would only apply in the absence of a zero-tariff, zero-quota trade deal. But Varadkar said:

Goods coming into Northern Ireland, which may come across the border into the European Union, Ireland, the single market – then there will be checks required at ports and airports in Northern Ireland. But it is absolutely our wish and our desire that they should be minimised.

Leo Varadkar (left) with Michel Barnier outside Government Buildings in Dublin this morning.
Leo Varadkar (left) with Michel Barnier outside Government Buildings in Dublin this morning. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA


Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, arriving at Government Buildings in Dublin for talks with Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach. They are due to hold a press conference later.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, arriving at Government Buildings in Dublin for talks with Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach. They are due to hold a press conference later. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters

Jeremy Hunt says UK should not become dependent on Huawei

This week Boris Johnson is due to take a decision on whether or not to allow the Chinese firm Huawei to play a part in constructing the UK’s 5G network. He is expected to say it should be allowed to play a role, subject to certain conditions.

On the Today programme this morning Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary and Johnson’s main rival in the Tory leadership contest last summer, said that when he was in government he was sceptical about allowing Huawei to take on this role. He explained:

I must admit I always wondered whether it was wise to allow ourselves to become technologically dependent on another country, whichever country, for something as critical as 5G technology.

That is my view, but I would say if the decision goes the other way this week, as some of the signs seem to indicate it might, I hope there will also be some reflection in the US because we have never needed the western alliance to be stronger than now.

Hunt also said that, even if the intelligences services thought they could contain any risk, he was worried about how the situation might develop in the future. He said:

I do accept the word of our intelligence community that they are pretty good at protecting our core national infrastructure.

But I think the issue is what happens if we get to the situation where no western companies that are really able to compete with Huawei going forward and, like it or not, in a decade’s time people will look back and say: ‘Was this really wise to take this decision in 2020 that has led to this dependency?’

According to the Financial Times, Johnson is expected to say that Huawei can play a role in building the 5G network, subject to a market cap. In their story (paywall) George Parker and Nic Fildes say:

The NSC [national security council] will be asked to consider two options: the total ban on Huawei demanded by Mr Trump; or a ban on the company providing “core” services, coupled with a limit on market share.

Non-core equipment refers to the antennas and base stations that sit on masts and rooftops, which are considered less vulnerable than the core servers and systems where customer information is processed.

Telecoms companies have been bracing for months for the introduction of a limit to how much Huawei equipment can be used in a city or region. Mobile phone companies typically source equipment from more than one vendor but build the network in clusters.

That means a single city, such as Manchester, may be dominated by Huawei radio equipment if all the mobile networks – Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three – use Huawei in that region.

The push to impose a market share threshold – considered by Theresa May’s government last year – would require networks to swap out equipment in exchange for Ericsson, Nokia or Samsung kit. That would add cost for the industry rolling out 5G but would be less of a setback than a total ban on using Huawei.

As the Guardian reports, yesterday Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, claimed that choosing Huawei would amount to a threat to UK sovereignty.

Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary.
Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images


UK must keep fishing waters open to EU boats if it wants trade deal for banking, Irish PM implies

Good morning. At the end of this week the UK will leave the European Union. But if Boris Johnson thinks that this will amount to getting Brexit done, he’s wrong, according to his Irish opposite number, Leo Varadkar. “We’re only at halftime on Brexit. It’s not done yet,” he told the BBC, in an interview with its political editor, Laura Kuenssberg.

In the interview Varadkar more or less explicitly said that if the UK wanted British banks to be able to continue to have access to the EU financial services market after Brexit, it was going to have to let EU boats continue to fish in British waters. Asked if the proposed UK-EU trade deal would end up being limited or piecemeal, Varadkar, who is of course in the middle of a general election campaign, replied:

I think we’ll have to be comprehensive. You could have a bare bones interim agreement, but whatever final future economic partnership we come up with, I think it will have to be quite detailed.

Because what happens in these things is trade-offs. For example, the United Kingdom has a very strong position on fisheries. The UK has a lot of waters, and a lot of fish is taken out of your waters by boats from other countries, but bear in mind 70% of the fish you sell, you sell into Europe. So unless British people are going to start eating an awful lot more fish, you have a problem there.

But that’s an area where you’re in a strong position. An area where you’re in a very weak position is one of the most valuable parts of the British economy which is financial services. It’s such a crucial part of the of the British economy. And areas like the entertainment industry. And if financial services and entertainment, audio visual, are cut off from the single market, the European market, that will be a very severe blow to the British economy and the south-east, in particular in London.

So, you know, you may have to make concessions in areas like fishing in order to get concessions from us in areas like financial services, and that’s why things tend to be all in the one package.

This has always been implicit in the EU negotiating position, but generally EU leaders have not up to now been as blunt as this in saying: “Let us keep fishing in your waters, or your banks will take a hit.”

There is a lot more in the BBC interview, and I will post further extracts soon.

Here is the agenda for the day.

8.45am: Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, meets Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, in Dublin.

11am: Downing Street lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

3pm: Barnier meets ministers from the Northern Ireland executive in Belfast.

5.30pm: Barnier gives a speech at Queen’s University Belfast.

As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to post a summary when I wrap up.

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

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson rejects Gove's claim government now assuming no-deal Brexit most likely outcome – as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Boris Johnson’s first visit to Scotland as prime minister

Andrew Sparrow

29, Jul, 2019 @4:55 PM

Article image
Johnson refuses to meet EU leaders unless they scrap backstop
Some supporters had hoped PM would tour capitals explaining alternatives to Brexit withdrawal agreement

Rowena Mason, Libby Brooks and Jennifer Rankin

29, Jul, 2019 @2:13 PM

Article image
Barnier says there will be checks on GB/NI trade after Brexit, despite Johnson denying this – as it happened
Follow all today’s political developments as they happen

Andrew Sparrow (now); Ben Quinn (earlier)

14, Jan, 2020 @5:52 PM

Article image
Brexit: Rees-Mogg says he can't confirm Saturday sitting as EU talks continue - as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen

Andrew Sparrow

15, Oct, 2019 @5:07 PM

Article image
Irish PM says he is 'disappointed' UK backed off a deal it had approved - as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Theresa May’s meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker intended to conclude phase one of the Brexit talks and MPs debating the EU withdrawal bill

Nicola Slawson (now) and Andrew Sparrow (earlier)

04, Dec, 2017 @9:01 PM

Article image
Brexit: Varadkar says PM's plans 'do not fully meet agreed objectives' – live news
All the day’s political news, including Johnson’s speech to Tory party conference in Manchester and UK offer to EU for alternative to backstop

Andrew Sparrow (earlier), Jedidajah Otte (later)

02, Oct, 2019 @10:51 PM

Article image
Brexit: Boris Johnson to offer EU 'far-reaching' alternative backstop plan - as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments, including reaction to leaked UK plans for the Irish border, the PM’s interviews and Priti Patel’s speech to Tory party conference

Andrew Sparrow and Kevin Rawlinson

01, Oct, 2019 @7:43 PM

Article image
Brexit: EU still 'unconvinced' by your new backstop plan, Donald Tusk tells Boris Johnson – as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Boris Johnson’s statement to MPs about his Brexit plan for a replacement to the backstop

Andrew Sparrow

03, Oct, 2019 @4:47 PM

Article image
Arlene Foster says draft of UK-EU Brexit deal came as 'big shock' to DUP – as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Theresa May’s attempt to salvage a Brexit deal after it was rejected by the DUP

Andrew Sparrow

05, Dec, 2017 @6:46 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson rejects claims he had to back down from telling EU to 'go whistle' over 'Brexit bill' – as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, as Theresa May tries to reach agreement on the UK-EU Brexit deal

Andrew Sparrow

07, Dec, 2017 @4:59 PM