Early evening summary
- The EU has offered to abandon 80% of checks on supermarket goods that enter Northern Ireland from Britain but officials in Brussels conceded they were “preparing for the worst” amid signs Boris Johnson is unlikely to accept the deal. The DUP has said the EU proposals “clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution”. (See 6.23pm.) The UK government responded by saying it now wanted “intensive talks” between the two sides to start.
- The EU’s proposals to break the impasse over the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol have gone “beyond expectations” of local businesses who say the bloc has listened to their demands and come up with solutions.
- The UK government always intended to “ditch” the Northern Ireland protocol, Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed.
- Claudia Webbe MP has been found guilty of harassment and is expected to face demands to stand down from her seat.
Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, welcomed what she called the “far-reaching” EU plans. She said:
I think that demonstrates both in word and deed that the EU side are living up to their commitments that they made to both business and civic leaders as well as political leaders.
Asked if the proposals represented a victory for the DUP, she replied:
Brexit is the problem and the protocol is a solution, the protocol remains today, we have always said there needed to be flexibility inbuilt into that protocol to make it work, that was what Maroš Šefčovič committed to when he met business and civic leaders here back in September and he’s true to his word today, he has delivered upon what he listened to and I think that’s crucially important.
So I think now is the time for clarity, time for certainty. That’s what the business community here want. It’s been far too long with so much uncertainty.
DUP says EU plans for NI protocol 'long way short of being basis of sustainable solution'
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, has described the plans as a “welcome acknowledgement that the NI protocol has not worked”.
But, in a lengthy response, he also said the proposals “clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution”. Here is an extract.
Short –term fixes that reduce checks and potentially give the appearance of easements compared to the current time will not of themselves solve the problem of divergence within the United Kingdom. Other less talked about aspects of the current protocol – state aid and VAT arrangements- if left unaltered will be detrimental to Northern Ireland’s long term prospects.
Constitutionally, this Irish Sea border violates the Acts of Union and is opposed by every elected unionist in Northern Ireland. Rather than cement peace and stability, the protocol has been the catalyst for instability.
Back in July I outlined our seven tests that we would use to measure new arrangements. They were based on commitments already made to Northern Ireland. At their heart was the removal of the Irish Sea border. Economically it has damaged trade between us and our main market and politically it has undermined the Union by placing a border between one part of the United Kingdom and another.
These proposals clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution and are presented within the framework of a protocol that has failed.
The European Commission has published seven papers relating to today’s announcement. Four cover the main topics - SPS issues, customs, medicines and stakeholder engagement - and the other three cover the benefits of the protocol, examples of flexibilities already identified, and concrete examples of how these plans would work. All seven papers are here.
Šefčovič says the EU is clear that the ECJ should be the final arbiter of the single market.
But he says when he started working on these plans, he focused on the practical issues. That is where they should be focusing their energies, he says.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
Šefčovič says in his meetings with civil society representatives in Northern Ireland he only heard the ECJ issue mentioned once.
He says he thinks he first became aware of it as a problem issue when he read the UK government’s command paper earlier this year.
Šefčovič sidestep question about whether ECJ oversight remains red line for EU
Q: Do you think the UK will negotiate earnestly on these plans?
Šefčovič says of course he thinks they will.
He says they cooperated in agreeing the protocol in the first place. They did that because both sides shared the same goals - prosperity, peace and no hard border.
That is why they came up with an unprecedented solution, he says.
Many of today’s ideas are also unprecedented, he says.
He says he hopes they share the same goal now.
And access to two markets could benefit the Northern Ireland economy, he says.
Q: How can you resolve the dispute over the ECJ?
Šefčovič says he does not want to focus on red lines. He says both sides should listen to what people in Northern Ireland says about what they want. People want them to focus on practical issues, he says.
He says the EU is doing its utmost. He hopes this will be reciprocated by the UK.
EU officials are in London briefing their counterparts, he says. And he says he has invited Lord Frost for lunch on Friday.
He says he would be very happy if they could start the new year with the new rules in place.
Q: Why are you still refusing to recognise pet passports?
Šefčovič says these plans were based on what people thought were the most pressing issues in Northern Ireland. That is why sausages would be allowed. The EU is making an enormous effort, he says.
Q: Is the European court of justice a red line for you? And what will you do if article 16 is triggered?
Šefčovič says he wants to stick to a positive agenda today. He says these ideas should be appealing.
Šefčovič says he hopes UK and EU 'in home stretch' in terms of reaching agreement
Šefčovič is says these measures would cement “stability and predictability” in Northern Ireland.
He says he briefed the EU member states and the European parliament on the plans today.
He says he hopes the UK government will engage.
And he says he hopes they are “in the home stretch” in this process.
Šefčovič is now talking about the community engagement aspects of the plans. See 5.33pm.
Šefčovič is now talking about the customs plans.
He says customs formalities for some goods will be cut in half.
He says this will be possible if the right safeguards are put in place, including real-time access to databases, and better market surveillance.
Šefčovič is now talking about agri-foods.
He says the plans apply to goods for sale in Northern Ireland only.
There would be an 80% reduction in checks compared to what is required today.
If you have a business importing, say, yoghurts or chickens into Northern Ireland, 80% of checks will be removed, he says.
That means if you are transporting 100 different food products, only one certificate is required, not 100, he says.
But the UK would have to do its best by ensuring permanent border posts are up and running, as it agreed a long time ago, he says.
Šefčovič starts with the proposals on medicines. (See 5.33pm.)
The EU is ready to legislate for these plans, he says.
Šefčovič says plans will make 'real, tangible difference on the ground'
Šefčovič says he would call this “the package of enhanced opportunities”.
He says the EU has an “unwavering commitment” to the people of Northern Ireland.
These plans could make a “real, tangible difference on the ground”, he says.
He says he can say that confidently because the EU has spent a lot of time listening to what people want, he says.
We have listened to, engaged with and heard Northern Irish stakeholders, from political leaders to businesses and a cross-section of civic society.
Our proposed solutions are a direct and genuine response to concerns they had raised.
A lot of work has gone into this, he says. At times the plans go beyond what EU law allows, he says.
We have put a lot of hard work into this package. We have explored every possible angle of the protocol and, at times, went beyond current EU law.
In effect, we are proposing an alternative model for implementation of the protocol.
One the one hand the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be facilitated for goods that are to stay in Northern Ireland.
On the other, robust safeguards and monitoring mechanisms should be put in place to make sure that they stay in Northern Ireland.
The press conference is starting now.
Maroš Šefčovič says he thinks this is “an important moment” in EU-UK relations.
EU offers to scrap 80% of NI food checks but prepares for Johnson to reject deal
And here is the Guardian story on the proposals from my colleagues Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin.
This is how it starts.
The EU has offered to abandon 80% of checks on supermarket goods that enter Northern Ireland from Britain but officials in Brussels conceded they were “preparing for the worst” amid signs Boris Johnson is unlikely to accept the deal.
Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, presented four papers at a press conference on Wednesday evening as he sought to bring an end to the destabilising tussle between the UK and Brussels, saying they were not being presented on a “take it or leave it” basis.
An appeal was made for pragmatism from Johnson but the chances of a compromise appeared low. David Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister, remains insistent that an entirely new protocol should be negotiated that does not have a role for the European court of justice (ECJ) as an arbiter of EU law in Northern Ireland.
A three-week negotiating period is expected for talks over the EU’s new proposals but Brussels is equally determined that it will not renegotiate the fundamentals of the tortuously negotiated protocol which keeps Northern Ireland within the single market, policed by the ECJ, and draws a customs border down the Irish sea.
Full details of how EU is proposing to change Northern Ireland protocol
PA Media has summarised the plans being announced now by Maroš Šefčovič. Their report is based on an advance briefing.
PA says the plans cover four specific areas, with a paper dedicated to each. They are agri-food goods, customs, movement of medicines and engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders.
Here are the details from the PA report.
The EU is offering what it describes as a “bespoke Northern Ireland-specific solution” on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules.
It would see an 80% reduction in spot checks that would have been required on retail goods arriving in Northern Ireland if the original protocol was implemented in full.
The requirement to submit documentary information online ahead of shipping the goods will remain, but the EU said it envisages an 80% reduction in both identity checks on lorries arriving at ports and the more intensive physical inspections of their contents.
The EU is also proposing a significant reduction in certification requirements on multi-product consignments.
Under the protocol, lorries bringing agri-food products into the region are required to have vet-approved export-health certificates for each different product line on the vehicle.
A grace period exemption means this requirement has yet to be applied.
The EU is proposing that instead of certificates for all products, which could potentially amount to 100-plus per lorry, each vehicle would instead only need one all-encompassing certificate.
This measure would cover retail SPS goods bound for use by consumers in Northern Ireland.
The European Commission is also proposing relaxing laws that would have seen some “high-risk” GB produce, such as chilled meats, being banned from export into Northern Ireland.
Again this prohibition has yet to come into effect as it is covered by an ongoing period.
The EU said it will allow the movement of these products in the long term if the UK can demonstrate there is an issue sourcing supplies from within Northern Ireland.
That would allow the continued import of British produce such as Cumberland sausages.
Added certification requirements would be applied on certain high-risk produce entering Northern Ireland.
The EU proposals on SPS goods apply to products that originate in Great Britain.
In return for the concessions on agri-food rules, the EU is asking for added safeguards to ensure products remain within Northern Ireland and do not end up in the Irish Republic.
Those include labelling, so certain items are clearly identified as being for sale in UK/NI only.
The bloc says the light-touch arrangement will only work if the UK follows through with unfulfilled commitments to build new border control posts in Northern Ireland and give the EU real-time access to trade-flow data.
The EU says its proposals on customs will halve the volume of paperwork needed on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This will be achieved by expanding the number of businesses and products covered by trusted trader arrangements and a concept that differentiates between goods destined for Northern Ireland and those “at risk” of onward transportation into the Irish Republic, or elsewhere in the EU.
Those products deemed “not at risk” would not be subject to customs duties.
The arrangements were originally only envisaged for NI-based manufacturers with a low turnover.
Under the EU proposals they will be extended to include manufacturers with higher turnovers and GB suppliers.
Another practical consequence will mean companies dealing in NI-destined products will only need to submit basic customs information, such as a copy of an invoice, rather than comprehensive EU customs code data sets that would otherwise have been required.
The EU intends to pass legislation that will enable trade of medicines between GB and NI to continue.
Under the protocol, this supply chain would have been severely disrupted when an ongoing grace period lapses, as Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are in different regulatory zones for pharmaceuticals.
The EU law change would allow GB-based pharma suppliers to maintain their current regulatory arrangements.
The EU wants to improve information exchange between the European Commission and stakeholders in Northern Ireland, such as politicians, business representatives and other members of civic society, to ensure the application of the protocol is more transparent.
This would see the establishment of structured groups to provide a forum for discussion on key issues related to the implementation of the protocol.
It would also see stakeholders invited to some meetings of the joint UK/EU committees that oversee the protocol.
The EU says it also wants to create a stronger link between the Stormont assembly and the EU/UK parliamentary partnership assembly.
It also intends to create a website to show how EU legislation is applicable in Northern Ireland.
EU press conference announcing proposed changes to Northern Ireland protocol
Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president, is due to start the press conference where he will announce the EU’s plans to change Northern Ireland protocol very soon.
There is a link to the live feed here.
There is uncertainty over whether a meeting between the Irish government and the Northern Ireland executive on the environment and marine aquaculture will take place later this week, PA Media reports. PA says:
Stormont’s executive committee heard that the minister for agriculture, environment and rural affairs, the DUP’s Edwin Poots, has not confirmed if he will attend.
It comes as the DUP stages a boycott of north-south meetings in an act of protest against the Northern Ireland protocol.
Earlier this week a high court judge in Belfast ruled the boycott in protest is unlawful.
Claudie Webbe MP has been found guilty of harassment and is expected to face demands to stand down from her seat, my colleague Rajeev Syal reports.
This is from Peter Neumann, professor of security studies at King’s College London, on the wisdom of Dominic Cumming’s comments about breaking international law. (See 9.29am.)
And these are from John Campbell, BBC Northern Ireland’s economics and business editor, on Simon Coveney’s comments.
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, has said the “vast majority” of checks on food items going from Britain to Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland protocol would be removed under the compromise plans being announced by the EU later. These are from my colleague Lisa O’Carroll.
Frost rejects claim UK negotiated Northern Ireland protocol in bad faith
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, has rejected claims that the UK government did not negotiate the Northern Ireland protocol in good faith. That allegation has been made today by the Irish deputy PM, Leo Varadkar, who was responding to tweets from Dominic Cummings. (See 9.38am.) Asked if it was true, Frost replied:
We negotiated to find a result, to get an agreement and of course, look at our actions; we’ve spent hundreds of millions on implementing this protocol, setting up a trader support scheme, setting up a movement assistance scheme for agrifood. We have spent a lot. And the problems that we now have come from implementing this protocol, not from not implementing it.
Speaking to broadcasters, Frost also rejected Cummings’s claim that Boris Johnson did not understand the protocol when he signed it. (See 9.29am.) When this was put to him, he said:
I think we all understood extremely well what this deal meant, it was a deal that delivered on democracy and delivered on the referendum result.
Frost also restated his hope that the UK and the EU would be able to find “a consensus solution”. But he repeated his claim that the problem with the protocol was “that EU law, with the ECJ as the enforcer of it, is applied in Northern Ireland without any sort of democratic process”.
Neale Richmond, a member of the Irish parliament and Fine Gael’s spokesperson on European affairs, told the World at One that it was “very worrying” that Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, seemed to have rejected the EU’s proposals to amend the Northern Ireland protocol before they were even announced. He said:
Unfortunately we are in a situation once again and these Brexit - they’re not even talks - the Brexit merry-go-round that we’re on, whereby the European Commission has spent months preparing a really generous set of proposals to address the actual every day concerns of people in Northern Ireland.
Prior to that, 24 hours prior to that, the British government send their minister out to completely - to call for a complete renegotiation of the protocol without ever considering the impact or indeed engaging with the Irish government, the European Commission or political leaders in Northern Ireland, it’s a very worrying state of affairs.
Richmond also said the EU’s proposals were “really generous”.
Border Force staff who enact Priti Patel’s plans to “ push back” migrant boats in the Channel could be given immunity from conviction if a refugee dies, officials have confirmed. My colleague Rajeev Syal has the story here.
The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Heather Stewart and Gaby Hinsliff dissect a cross-party report that found the government’s response to Covid-19 contributed to “one of the UK’s worst ever public health failures”. Plus, as the UK and EU enter the latest negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol, Lisa O’Carroll tells Rowena Mason why the UK could be heading for a trade war.
It has not all been lying on the sun lounger for Boris Johnson in Spain; Downing Street says he had a call with Fumio Kishida, the new Japanese prime minister, this morning. Johnson said “he hoped to see a new pledge from Japan ahead of the Cop26 summit on ending the use of domestic coal power, supporting the global transition to renewable and clean energy”, according to No 10.
Extracts from Ed Miliband's Cop26 speech
Here is the Labour news release about Ed Miliband’s speech. The speech itself is here, and it is worth reading in full. It may be the fullest and clearest account we’ve had yet from a mainstream UK politician as to what’s at stake at Cop26.
Here are some extracts summarising his argument.
- Miliband said there was “little public clarity” about what Cop26 is trying to achieve - but that keeping the 1.5C goal alive was virtually a matter of self-preservation. He said:
Let me start with the maths. I’m a self-confessed nerd and maybe being a climate nerd has something going for it.
“What is the Cop about?” is a question I get asked a lot. It is about whether we preserve species or destroy them, make our planet inhabitable or uninhabitable, protect the most vulnerable here and around the world from climate breakdown or not. But which of these paths we take depends on the maths.
The Paris agreement set out a clear and agreed aim for the world: “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. But individual pledges made by countries in Paris added up not to 1.5 or 2 degrees of global warming but something around 2.7 degrees.
In that gap is written global catastrophe. That is why the authors of the Paris agreement rightly and wisely wrote in a five-year review mechanism to try to close the gap between ambition and reality.
This is the purpose of Glasgow: To seek to close the gap between the aggregated country by country targets and the high level aims of Paris. We know what that must eventually mean.
Miliband even included the numbers, which he said have been on display on a whiteboard in his Commons office for the past two years.
The world on the basis of Paris commitments was on course for 53 gigatonnes of emissions in 2030. To have a fighting chance of keeping global warming to two degrees, we need to be at 41 gigatonnes of emissions in 2030 and for 1.5 degrees, we need to be at 25 gigatonnes.
In other words, reductions of 12 gigatonnes from business as usual for a 2 degree world and 28 gigatonnes for a 1.5 degree world.
This is the undeniable and frightening maths of Glasgow.
To ‘keep 1.5 alive’ in the slogan of this summit, greenhouse gas emissions, rising for more than two centuries and set to rise again post Covid, must be cut in half in the next nine years.
- He suggested that net zero targets for 2050, while necessary, were less important than the nationally determined contributions setting out country by country plans to reduce emissions this decade.
- He said in some respects there had been “real progress” since the Paris conference in 2015. He said:
Since Paris, the economics has moved on, with the price of renewables across the globe crashing below the fossil fuels they must replace, and pulling global markets in the direction of clean technologies. The politics has moved on with global pressure to tackle this issue in a way there just wasn’t more than a decade ago and the science has moved on, most notably in the IPCC’s landmark 2018 report about the importance of 1.5C.
- But it was not enough, because the world is currently set to miss the 1.5C target, he said.
The best estimates are that while we need reductions of 12 gigatonnes by 2030 for a 2 degree world, and 28 gigatonnes for a 1.5 degree world, we currently stand at about 4 gigatonnes of emissions reductions on the basis of the pledges made ahead of Glasgow.
This is not to diminish important steps forward by the United States, the EU, the UK and others in their targets, or the work being done in the private sector and civil society. But it is striking that the respected Climate Action Tracker concludes no country, apart from the Gambia, is 1.5 degree compliant in both targets and delivery.
- He said the UK government had been “at best bystanders and at worst, contributors to this global inaction”. He explained:
Above all, they have undermined our moral standing with a series of actions which cut right against climate integrity. When trust between developing and developed countries is the key to success, and we need to persuade others to step up on climate finance, the UK took the disastrous decision to cut the aid budget, the only G7 country to do so. When we are telling every major emitter they must act, the UK has done a trade deal with Australia allowing them to delete Paris temperature commitments from the text. When we have rightly made powering past coal a focus of our presidency, at the very same time the government has flirted with a new coal mine in Cumbria. When we know moving past fossil fuels is an essential part of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees, the UK government, aided and abetted by the Scottish government has chosen this moment to back the Cambo oil field.
But Miliband did praise Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, saying he deserved “credit for his seriousness, his integrity and commitment”.
- Miliband explained why making banks and big companies produce 1.5C-aligned climate crisis transition plans (see 2.35pm) was so important. He said:
The UK may be 1% of global emissions but according to Carbon Tracker, the investments of companies and financial institutions based in the City of London account for approximately 15% of global emissions.
Many of our leading financial institutions and businesses have been ahead of government, pushing the debate forward in very welcome ways. I praise them for their actions and their forward-thinking approach. But we need all to meet the standards of the best.
The biggest single decision we can make as a country is to mobilise our world-leading global financial centre behind climate action equal to the scale of the emergency. So government should ask all financial institutions not just to report on climate risks, as they plan to, but to bring forward by 2023 credible transition plans that are consistent with a 1.5 degree pathway. This would make a profound difference in the flow of finance out of fossil fuels and into green energy.
We should ask all our FTSE100 companies to do the same and have their own climate transition plans, consistent with 1.5 degrees, by 2023. And furthermore, we should be asking in Glasgow that all major economies follow suit.
Labour says banks and big companies should be forced to produce 1.5C-aligned climate crisis transition plans
Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, and a former energy secretary, is delivering a speech on the Cop26 climate crisis conference now.
He is setting out five demands intended to keep alive the goal of keeping the rise in global temperature to just 1.5C, the target set out in the Paris agreement. Here is the Labour party summary of those five demands.
Leading by example, with climate action at home, by investing £28bn every year until 2030 to tackle the climate crisis, and creating secure jobs in the UK;
Support for developing countries through reversing the overseas aid cut, delivering and surpassing the $100bn pledge for countries to cut emissions and adapt to climate change and vaccinating the world’s poorest;
Pressuring the big emitting nations, phasing out fossil fuels, and ensuring a just transition for workers;
Protecting nature with a robust net zero and nature test for all government spending;
Mobilising private finance behind climate action by requiring financial institutions and FTSE100 companies to publish their carbon footprint and adopt credible 1.5C-aligned transition plans.
Labour argues that the final proposal in particular could be a game changer.
I will post more from the speech shortly.
Here is my colleague Rowena Mason’s preview of the speech.
Scotland must “be careful” not to leave communities behind as it transitions away from oil and gas, Nicola Sturgeon has said. Giving a Ted Talk in Edinburgh this morning, the first minister said:
We’ve got to be careful that we don’t leave people and communities behind in that transition.
We’ve got to be careful we don’t switch domestic production to imports of oil and gas - that would be counter-productive.
So the way in which we make the transition matters, but we can’t have business as usual, because if we keep telling ourselves we can rely on fossil fuels forever, then we’ll never make that transition and that’s the key point we’ve got to address.
As PA Media reports, Sturgeon also again refused to express her opposition to the Cambo oil field development proposed near Shetland. She stressed the supply of oil and gas cannot be turned off completely in the short term because that may lead to a spike in imports, as well as economic problems caused by mass lay-offs.
Micheál Martin, the taoiseach (Irish PM), told the Irish parliament today that if both sides were operating in good faith, the proposals being announced by Brussels this afternoon should address the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol. He said:
If everyone is operating in good faith, and if the focus is on addressing disruption in trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, then these proposals address the problem and respect the treaties we all agreed to.
He also said he would be discussing this further with Boris Johnson.
Truss and Raab to share Chevening
Boris Johnson has one less cabinet split on his hands after it emerged he has instructed two senior ministers, Liz Truss and Dominic Raab, to share the grace-and-favour mansion of Chevening, my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports.
Philip Rycroft, who was permanent secretary at the Brexit department from 2017 to 2019, told the BBC’s World at One that he did not know whether the government was sincere about wanting a version of the Northern Ireland protocol to work.
Referring to the negotiations between the UK and the EU, he said:
It is possible that there will be some shift in governance without removing the European court entirely from the picture. You could put in some mechanisms to try and resolve issues before it gets to that level. Does the UK government want the protocol to work? And I have to say I’m just not sure what the answer to that is right now. But if the answer is no, what is the alternative?
Rycroft also said that the UK certainly knew the full implications of the protocol when it signed up to it in 2019. He said:
The government from my perspective will have known absolutely what it was signing up to when it agreed to the protocol and I think the government now has to demonstrate unequivocally that it is committed to making this work because that’s in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland, as well as the rest of the UK. What we’re hearing is very mixed signalling and that is worrying.
Two drug dealers were arrested and 13 people were detained for possession of various drugs on the parliamentary estate in the space of a year, according to Scotland Yard. My colleague Kevin Rawlinson has the story here.
The government has won an appeal against a high court ruling that found a policy forcing parents to pay upfront for childcare costs unlawfully discriminates against women, PA Media reports. PA says:
Nichola Salvato, who fell into debt trying to pay her childcare costs after she returned to work, brought a legal challenge last year against the “proof of payment” policy of only reimbursing the money to parents once it has been spent.
The high court in London previously heard that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will only refund parents and carers 85% of their childcare costs through their universal credit payments once it has received proof that they have been paid, rather than when they are incurred.
The court was also told that around 83% of households receiving the childcare element of universal credit are single parents, and 90% of lone parents are women.
In a ruling in January, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that the proof of payment policy was unlawful, had a “disproportionately prejudicial” impact on women and was “bound to have a greater adverse effect on women than on men”.
However, the government challenged his decision and today the court of appeal ruled in its favour.
Lady Justice Andrews, sitting with Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Warby, found the policy was objectively justified.
She said: “The fact that the proof of payment rule, and therefore any inherent disadvantage it produces, affects far more women than men is simply a function of the fact that more women than men claim the childcare costs element.”
She continued: “There is a self-evident simplicity and certainty about a system of reimbursement for childcare that has already been paid for.”
The committee on fuel poverty, a government advisory body, has criticised the fact that only 15% of government funding for fuel efficiency and to help families with bills is going to fuel-poor households. In its annual report (pdf), it says:
It is unacceptable that out of a current total budget of over £2.55bn per year allocated to improving energy efficiency and assisting householders to pay their fuel bills, only about £0.4bn per year is received by fuel-poor households. It is also unacceptable that although there are current plans to increase the total budget to circa £3bn per year, it is only proposed to allocate circa £0.6bn per year to the fuel poor. This report, along with our previous recommendations, urges government to take the quite straightforward steps needed to improve the targeting of these funds and programmes on those most in need.
Anton Spisak, a Brexit specialist at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a thinktank, says a Swiss-style arrangement (see 11.22am) could provide a solution to the dispute between the UK and the EU over the role of the European court of justice in the Northern Ireland protocol. In a statement he explains:
In sensitive debates like this, it is useful to start from the first principles. If there are any EU rules governing trade between Northern Ireland and the EU – whether now or in the future agreement – then it is unavoidable for the ECJ to be involved in enforcing those rules. The ECJ is the only body that can interpret EU rules. The question is how to accommodate the ECJ in this process.
One alternative, which could be a landing zone for the protocol, is to replace the current ECJ clause with the dispute settlement body from the EU-Swiss treaty, to which the EU had previously agreed.
Under the Swiss treaty, the independent arbitration panel resolves all disputes as a default arbiter. But when questions about EU rules are asked, the ECJ has to offer its view. The independent panel is the one making the ultimate decision, but it has to take the views of the ECJ into account.
This could be a credible landing zone for the Northern Ireland protocol. To the UK, this would offer a more narrow role for the ECJ not as a default, but only in those limited circumstances where EU rules apply. It would also make the protocol look like a more standard international treaty. To the EU, this is a ready precedent to which it had previously agreed.
The question is how to get here politically. A solution like this requires trust and good faith. If the current dispute escalates, then it will be impossible for the EU side to compromise on this fundamental point.
10 things we've learned from the Barnier and Barwell books about Brexit
Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s chief of staff in Downing Street from 2017 to 2019, told the Institute for Government this morning that when Boris Johnson was foreign secretary he refused to engage with the complexity of the problems Brexit would create for Northern Ireland. It is a point he makes in his memoir about that period, Chief of Staff. With the English translation of Michel Barnier’s account, My Secret Brexit Diary, just out, that means two new weighty books about the Brexit period are now available.
Both are worth reading if you are interested in the intricacies of the Brexit negotiations (although Barwell’s is better, and particularly incisive on what the various Tory factions thought, and how and why decisions were taken). Neither of them contain surprise revelations, but they both shed new light on the period. Here are 10 things I learned from them.
1) Boris Johnson once described the Northern Ireland issue as a “gnat” in terms of its significance, Barwell writes. Describing a meeting that Theresa May chaired in May 2018 about what was then her Brexit plan, he says:
Boris was even more dismissive. David [Davis, the then Brexit secretary] acknowledged why the prime minister favoured hybrid [a customs model] but Boris was contemptuous of that. “The Northern Ireland issue is a gnat,” he declared.
2) Theresa May found Jean-Claude Juncker, and the European Commission he led, the most supportive of their many EU opponents, Barwell says. He writes:
Far from the commission taking the most hardline position, it was the closest thing we had to a friend, particularly towards the end of the negotiations. This was probably for the simple reason that, having devoted a huge amount of time to trying to hammer out a deal, commission officials didn’t want that work wasted. The British tabloid media regularly lampooned commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Selmayr, its secretary general, when they were the two people who did most to help behind the scenes.
3) Barwell blames Sir Keir Starmer for stopping Jeremy Corbyn agreeing a deal with May on a compromise deal that would have passed parliament - and believes this was a terrible mistake for Labour. Barwell writes:
The collapse of the talks meant the end of Theresa’s premiership, and her successor was bound to be a hard Brexiteer. I presume they thought they could stop whoever came next from leaving without a deal and then win the subsequent general election. If they did, they were right on the first point, but the latter was a colossal misjudgment - if they had done a deal, it would have been much harder for Boris to portray them as blocking Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn wanted to do it, but Keir Starmer stopped it - it seems fitting that he’s now dealing with the consequences.
This is not an original claim; it is one of the main themes of Lord Ashcroft’s Starmer biography, Red Knight, which quotes David Lidington, who led the government team in the talks with Labour on a possible deal, as saying: “Starmer is one of the authors of a very hard Brexit. There is no doubt in my mind about that.”
But Barwell and Lidington may be overstating Starmer’s influence. It was not just Starmer opposed to a deal when a second referendum seemed possible; most Labour activists felt this very strongly too, and their views mattered to Corbyn as much as Starmer’s, or more.
Starmer gets a better write-up from Barnier, who after a meeting in 2018 records in the diary thinking that Starmer will one day be prime minister.
4) Barwell says one of his favourite Brexit meetings was with Len McCluskey, the then Unite general secretary. McCluskey met May in January 2019 and the Tories found him constructive because he wanted a deal to pass. Barwell writes:
I think of all the meetings the prime minister had on Brexit, this was my favourite: Len was the one person who showed some understanding of where the prime minister was coming from and was honest about what he was looking for.
5) Some of the most senior figures in Donald Trump’s administration thought Brexit was a mistake, Barnier writes. Brexiters welcomed Trump’s personal support for Brexit. But, writing about a trip to Washington in July 2018 which involved meetings with Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Robert Lighthizer, the US trade negotiator, Barnier writes: “All of them, more or less directly, let us know they consider the UK to be acting against its own interests by leaving the union.”
6) David Davis, the Brexit secretary, did not want to get involved in the specifics of the negotiations, Barnier says. Barnier says this was frustrating because Davis was supposed to be his opposite number. “There is a minister officially in charge of Brexit who does not want to go into the details of the negotiations and considers that his responsibilities lie with the political debate and public explanation in his home country.”
7) Barwell admits the Chequers plan would have involved a customs union with the EU, and he says he now thinks it would have been better to say so. But he says they avoided the term “because it was toxic with many Conservative MPs”.
8) Barnier says he had to persuade the European Commission to let him display the union jack, and other national flags, at its HQ. He wanted them on display for visitors. But initially he was told that was impossible because the protocol service told him only EU flags were allowed at the building.
9) Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, told a minister privately that he would support May’s deal in public ahead of the first parliamentary vote, Barwell says. Writing of the period at the end of 2018, ahead of the vote, he says: “Andy Burnham ... told Greg Clark [the then business secretary] that he’d come out in favour of the deal ‘when the time is right’.”
10) Kit Malthouse, the then housing minister, infuriated No 10 when he unveiled his Brexit solution in early 2019, Barwell reveals. For a brief period the so-called “Malthouse compromise” was seen by Brexiters as a plan that could break the deadlock. But Barwell says he was “flabbergasted” when Malthouse proposed the idea, “I liked Kit, but it was jaw-dropping that a government minister with no responsibility for Brexit policy had got involved without informing the prime minister.” Barwell says it was also “depressing” that “sensible people” could support such a “nonsense” idea.
Dowden says only around 20 HGV drivers from abroad now in UK under emergency visa scheme
In an interview with LBC this morning Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party co-chair, said that around 300 HGV drivers from abroad have applied for visas to come and work in the UK under the emergency scheme announced recently - but that only just over 20 of the applications have so far been approved. “I’m quite sure that that number is going to increase over time,” Dowden added.
Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson, said this showed the government was being complacent. He said:
It is staggering that just 20 fuel tanker drivers from abroad who applied to work here are now on UK roads.
In the face of a national crisis and our ports going into gridlock, the response from Conservative ministers is too little too late. This incompetence will mean more empty shelves and more misery for British consumers in the run-up to Christmas.
The immigration system is broken, and it is hurting everyone. The government needs to end their arbitrary rules that shut out lorry drivers as ‘unskilled’ and take visa applications away from the Home Office to get them decided quickly and fairly.
Last night Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, posted an interesting thread on Twitter on the row about the Northern Ireland protocol. It starts here.
And she suggests a Swiss-style compromise might offer a way forward on the European court of justice issue.
One argument used by the UK to justify renegotiating the Northern Ireland protocol is that it was agreed in a bit of rush. It was drafted “in challenging circumstances”, No 10 said on Monday. Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, said in his speech yesterday that many in the UK feel the protocol was concluded at “a moment of EU overreach when the UK’s negotiating hand was tied”.
In an interview on the Today programme this morning Nathalie Loiseau, a former French Europe minister who is now an MEP, said it was wrong to claim the protocol was negotiated in haste. She explained:
It took months and there was another offer on the table when Theresa May was prime minister which was called the British backstop, the Irish backstop at that time.
It was rejected by some members of the Tory party and then we came to the Irish protocol but not in 14 hours, it took months to negotiate it, and it was the very same person, Lord Frost, who says he doesn’t agree with the protocol.
Loiseau welcomed the EU decision to propose changes to the protocol, and she urged the British to stop “posturing” and to recognise the protocol’s advantages. She said:
I’m comfortable with the fact that the [European] Commission is looking to go the extra mile, and fix the problems and try to find a solution within the protocol.
I think pragmatism and good will is really on the EU’s side and I sincerely hope that the [British] posturing of denying the benefits of the protocol [ends], because there are many benefits of the protocol.
Felixstowe backlog improving, so shop normally for Christmas, says Dowden
In his morning interviews Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party co-chair, also claimed that the backlock at Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, was “improving” and that he was “confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas”. My colleague Joanna Partridge has the story here.
Johnson criticised for being on holiday less than three weeks before start of Cop26
Boris Johnson is still on holiday in Spain, and the Daily Mirror has splashed on a picture of him painting at Lord Goldsmith’s luxury villa, where he is staying.
Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary and former Labour leader, said that Johnson should not be taking a holiday now, with the start of the Cop26 climate crisis summit less than three weeks away. Miliband told Times Radio:
We need prime ministerial leadership on this, I think this is really important. Nobody begrudges the prime minister having a holiday every so often. But I just remember that G20 summit that Gordon Brown was in charge of around the financial crisis. I can’t imagine him touring the beaches, two weeks before the summit. He would have been touring the world.
Stewart Wood, the Labour peer who, like Miliband, worked for Brown as an adviser, has been making a similar point on Twitter.
But Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party co-chair, defended Johnson’s right to be away in his interview on Good Morning Britain earlier. He said:
I’ve worked closely with three prime ministers and I can assure you that there’s no such thing as a holiday for a prime minister ...
The prime minister has been through a challenging time in a lot of different ways - he had Covid-19, he’s got a new child on the way, and very sadly he lost his mother just a few weeks ago.
So this is a just a short break and he will be returning to the UK and I am expecting to see him later this week.
Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party co-chair, was doing the morning interviews on behalf of the government earlier. He sounded a bit more conciliatory than Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, did yesterday, but he did not say anything that implied a fundamental shift in the UK government’s stance.
Here are the main point points.
- Dowden declined to say that removing European court of justice oversight from the Northern Ireland protocol was an absolute red line for the UK. Asked if this was a deal-breaker, he told Sky News:
Well it is a major issue for us and we want to engage and I’m not going to start pre-empting, writing red lines here and there, but I think what Lord Frost said yesterday, this was a major issue and we do expect to see some progress.
But he did say the UK wanted fundamental change to the protocol addressing the ECJ issue. He said:
We do need to look fundamentally at this protocol simply because it is not working for, particularly for one of the communities in Northern Ireland, and that must include also looking at the role of the European court of justice.
It is highly anomalous that a treaty between two, effectively, parties is being adjudicated by the courts of one party.
- But he said the UK would engage “constructively” with the EU over the proposals being announced today. He told the Today programme:
If they [the EU] are making progress that’s very welcome and we will very much engage in detail and constructively with it.
And this is from Charles Tannock, a former Conservative MEP, on Dominic Cummings’s comments. (See 9.29am.)
This is from Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, on the EU offer on the Northern Ireland protocol coming this afternoon.
As a reminder, the BBC’s Adam Fleming has dug out what Boris Johnson said about the Northern Ireland protocol when he negotiated it.
Irish deputy PM says Cummings' comments imply UK negotiated 'in bad faith'
Leo Varadkar, who was Ireland’s taoiseach (PM) at the time the Northern Ireland protocol was negotiated and who is now the tánaiste (deputy PM), has said Dominic Cummings’s comments (see 9.29am) are “very alarming” because they suggest Boris Johnson was negotiating “in bad faith”, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.
UPDATE: Here is the Varadkar quote in full.
I saw those comments; I hope Dominic Cummings is speaking for himself and not for the British Government.
But those comments are very alarming because that would indicate that this is a government, an administration, that acted in bad faith and that message needs to be heard around the world.
If the British government doesn’t honour its agreements, it doesn’t adhere to treaties it signs, that must apply to everyone else too.
At the moment they’re going around the world, they’re trying to negotiate new trade agreements ... Surely the message must go out to all countries around the world that this is a British government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word and doesn’t necessarily honour the agreements it makes.
And you shouldn’t make any agreements with them until such time as you’re confident that they keep their promises, and honour things, for example, like the protocol.
Cummings claims No 10 always intended to ‘ditch’ parts of Northern Ireland protocol
Good morning. For the last four years politics in the UK in the approach to Christmas has been dominated by a Brexit crisis involving a negotiation with the EU. In 2017 it was all about whether the withdrawal talks had made “sufficient progress” to move to phase two. In 2018 it was all about the withdrawal agreement, and subsequently whether it would be passed by parliament. In 2019 it was all about Boris Johnson renegotiating that withdrawal agreement. And last year it was about the trade deal negotiation, which was only settled on Christmas Eve.
You might have thought Brexit was over, but the UK and the EU are about to commence another renegotiation, over the Northern Ireland protocol. The process will effectively open this afternoon when Maroš Šefčovič, the vice president of the European Commission who is in charge of Brexit negotiations on behalf of the EU, announces proposed changes to the protocol. My colleague Daniel Boffey has a previews.
Yesterday Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, gave a speech implying that the EU offer would be inadequate and that a more extensive overhaul of the protocol would be needed. Lisa O’Carroll reports on what he said here.
Last night Dominic Cummings, who was Johnson’s chief adviser when the protocol was negotiated in 2019, posted a series of tweets saying No 10 always intended to ditch bits of it anyway. He said that Johnson did not understand what it meant when he signed it. And he dismissed the claim that this showed contempt for international law as “low-grade student politics”.
Gavin Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff when she was prime minister, says this shows the Johnson government negotiated the protocol in bad faith.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11am: Gavin Barwell, chief of staff to Theresa May when she was PM, speaks at an Institute for Government event.
11.15am: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a speech at the TED Countdown Summit on climate change.
2pm: Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, gives a speech on climate action and Cop26.
5.30pm (UK time): Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president, announces the EU plans for the Northern Ireland protocol at a press conference in Brussels.
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