Johnson’s new Brexit Bill clears first Commons hurdle
Boris Johnson’s controversial plan to override key elements of the Brexit deal he signed with Brussels has cleared its first Commons hurdle despite deep misgivings by some senior Tories.
MPs voted to give the UK Internal Market Bill a second reading by 340 to 263 – a Government majority of 77.
Two Tory MPs – Sir Roger Gale and Andrew Percy – voted against the Bill, while 30 did not cast a vote although some may have been “paired” with opposition MPs.
The Government tally was bolstered by the support of seven DUP MPs.
The Prime Minister said the legislation was necessary to prevent the EU taking an “extreme and unreasonable” interpretation of the provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
He said some in Brussels were now threatening to block UK agri-food exports to the EU and to insist on tariffs on all goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
However, some senior Conservatives warned they could not support the legislation in its present form after ministers admitted last week that it breached international law.
MPs will begin detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill on Tuesday, with votes expected next week on amendments to the Northern Ireland provisions which some Tories may back.
Sir Roger acknowledged he was in a “tiny minority” of Conservatives in voting against the Bill but predicted others could rebel when the Commons comes to consider the amendments which have been tabled.
“I took a view that you fight this tooth and nail at every step. Others have quite clearly decided they want to hold their fire. There is much to play for yet,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
Even before the debate began, former prime minister David Cameron expressed his “misgivings” and former chancellor Sajid Javid and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox said they could not support the overwriting of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The intervention by Mr Cameron – who said passing legislation which breaks international treaty obligations was “the very, very last thing you should contemplate” – means all five living former prime ministers have spoken out against the Bill.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson – who took the unusual step of opening the debate himself – said the “protective” measures were necessary because the EU was now trying to “leverage” the Northern Ireland protocol in the talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal.
He said Brussels negotiators were threatening to ban the sale of UK agri-food products anywhere in the EU, creating an “instant and automatic” prohibition on the movement of such goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“Absurd and self-defeating as that action would be even as we debate this matter, the EU still have not taken this revolver off the table,” he said.
Mr Johnson said some on the EU side even wanted to designate all goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland as being “at risk” of entering the EU single market, making them liable to EU tariffs.
David Cameron says he has ‘misgivings’ about the Bill (Jacob King/PA)
He said it could mean levies of 61% on Welsh lamb, 90% on Scottish beef and 100% on Devonshire clotted cream, and would “carve tariff borders across our own country”.
“We cannot have a situation where the very boundaries of our country could be dictated by a foreign power or international organisation,” he said.
“No British prime minister, no government, no parliament could ever accept such an imposition.”
For Labour, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband – standing in for Sir Keir Starmer who is in coronavirus self-isolation – said Mr Johnson had only himself to blame for signing up to the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Either he wasn’t straight with the country about the deal in the first place or he didn’t understand it,” Mr Miliband said.
“Because a competent government would never have entered into a binding agreement with provisions it could not live with.”
A number of Conservative former ministers made clear that they would not support any measure which breached international law, including Andrew Mitchell, Sir Oliver Heald and another former attorney general Jeremy Wright.
Sir Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee, and Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan – a member of last year’s new intake of Conservative MPs – said they would not be supporting the Bill at second reading.
Sir Bob Neill, the chairman of the Commons Justice Committee who has tabled an amendment requiring a vote of Parliament before ministers can exercise the new powers in the Bill, urged MPs to “take the opportunity to change and improve these clauses”.
Published: 15/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
PM to face down critics over plans to override EU exit deal
The Prime Minister is preparing to face down his critics as he looks to quell a growing rebellion over his plans to override the Brexit divorce deal.
Downing Street confirmed that Boris Johnson will open the debate on the Internal Market Bill in the House of Commons on Monday, taking the place of Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
Mr Johnson will make the case to MPs that it is “critical” that the legislation, which the Government has said would breach international law, is in place by the end of the year in order to act as a “safety net” if no trade deal is agreed with Brussels before the conclusion of the Brexit transition period.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, confirming Mr Johnson’s appearance at the Despatch Box, told reporters: “The Bill will protect seamless trade and jobs in all four corners of the United Kingdom following the end of the transition period.
“It will also provide a vital legal safety net, it removes any ambiguity should an agreement not be reached at the Joint Committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“It protects the integrity of the UK internal market, it ensures ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protects the gains from the peace process.
“It is therefore critical that we pass this legislation before the end of the year.”
Number 10 said the Prime Minister and UK chief negotiator Lord Frost had “significant concern” about the approach taken by the European Union during the trade talks, claiming Brussels had confirmed last week that a blockade of food goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland was a possibility.
But the Prime Minister’s spokesman, when asked how the Bill would prevent a blockade, did not provide concrete examples, adding only that “good faith” was expected to be “shown by both sides in resolving outstanding matters”.
The Conservative Party leader has seen his Bill proposal criticised by all five living former prime ministers, with David Cameron making it a full set when he voiced his fears on Monday.
Mr Cameron said: “Passing an Act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate.
“It should be an absolute final resort. So, I do have misgivings about what’s being proposed.”
Geoffrey Cox, Mr Johnson’s former attorney general when the Withdrawal Agreement was signed, has also spoken out against the plans.
He told Times Radio that the Government “knew” what it was signing up to when it ratified the exit terms.
“What I can say from my perspective is we simply cannot approve or endorse a situation in which we go back on our word, given solemnly not only by the British Government and on behalf of the British Crown, but also by Parliament when we ratified this in February, unless there are extreme circumstances which arrive involving a breach of duty of the good faith by the EU,” he said.
“In those circumstances, there are then lawful remedies open to us and it is those we should take rather than violating international law and a solemn treaty.
“The breaking of the law leads ultimately to very long-term and permanent damage to this country’s reputation and it is also a question of honour to me – we signed up, we knew what we were signing.”
The Brexiteer warned he would not back the UK Internal Market Bill unless ministers dispel the impression that they plan to “permanently and unilaterally” rewrite an international agreement.
Simon Hoare, Tory chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said Mr Cox’s condemnation of the Government’s plans could not be ignored.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Rehman Chishti resigned as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in opposition to the clauses in the Bill.
He tweeted: “As an MP for 10 years and former barrister, values of respecting rule of law and honouring one’s word are dear to me.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Government’s position was likely to cause “reputational damage” on the world stage and called on Mr Johnson to “get on with” securing fresh trade terms with the bloc.
Informal talks on a future trade deal with the EU were due to continue this week, with a meeting expected between chief negotiators Lord Frost and Michel Barnier and their teams due on Tuesday.
Published: 14/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Rule of six restrictions: How are they being applied differently in each nation?
The number of people that can attend social gatherings have been slashed across the UK following a rise in coronavirus cases.
New rules were implemented in England, Wales and Scotland
However, they are being applied slightly differently in each devolved administration.
From Monday, gatherings of more than six people are illegal.
The rules apply across England to all ages and in any setting either indoors and outdoors, at home or a pub.
A single household or support bubble that is larger than six will still be able to gather.
Covid-secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality settings can still hold more than six in total.
Education and work settings are not affected by the new rules.
Weddings and funerals can still go ahead with a limit of 30 people if conducted in a Covid-secure way.
People in Wales are only able to meet in groups of six or under indoors and must all belong to the same extended household group.
Up to four households can join together to form an extended household.
But, unlike in England, children under 12 are exempt and will not count towards that total.
Also unlike in England, people can still meet up in groups of up to 30 outdoors, as long as social distancing is maintained.
The changes do not apply in Caerphilly county borough due to its rise in Covid-19 cases.
A maximum of six people from two households are allowed to meet together in Scotland.
Just like in England, the new limit applies when people meet in restaurants, pubs and beer gardens, as well as in homes.
However, children under the age of 12, who are part of the two households meeting do not count towards the limit of six people, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
There are “some limited exceptions”, covering organised sports and places of worship.
Up to 20 people can attend weddings, civil partnerships and funerals, as well as receptions and wakes, which is more stringent than both England and Wales.
Northern Ireland has not announced any changes to how many people can gather. However, localised coronavirus restrictions were introduced in Belfast and Ballymena.
People from two or more households in these areas are not able to meet in private settings.
There are a number of limited exceptions, including childcare provision and households that have formed a social bubble with another.
No more than six people, from no more than two households, are allowed to meet in private gardens.
In Northern Ireland, the number of people who can gather indoors in a private home was already reduced from 10 people from four households to six people from two households last month due to a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Up to 15 people can meet outdoors.
Published: 14/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Brussels could ‘carve up’ UK if Tories reject controversial Brexit Bill, says PM
Boris Johnson has said his controversial legislation to override parts of his Brexit deal is needed to end EU threats to install a “blockade” in the Irish Sea.
The Prime Minister said Brussels could “carve up our country” and “seriously endanger peace and stability” in Northern Ireland if Conservative MPs rebel to block his Bill.
Mr Johnson is working to quell a plan to amend the legislation from senior Tories who are incensed that it could break international law by flouting the Withdrawal Agreement.
The EU criticised the plan as a serious breach of trust that jeopardises peace in Northern Ireland and has threatened legal action if ministers do not alter the UK Internal Market Bill by the end of the month.
But the Prime Minister has doubled down and argued it is “crucial for peace and for the Union itself” and said voting it down would reduce the chances of a trade deal with the EU.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Johnson said the EU would use an “extreme interpretation” of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose “a full-scale trade border down the Irish sea” that could stop the transport of food from Britain to Northern Ireland.
“I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a treaty, negotiated in good faith, to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off; or that they would actually threaten to destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK,” he added.
Mr Johnson said that “in the last few weeks” he learned his negotiators had discovered there “may be a serious misunderstanding about the terms” of the Withdrawal Agreement he signed in October.
He argued it was agreed during “torrid” days with the deadline for a deal fast approaching while “negotiating with one hand tied behind our back” because Parliament blocked a no-deal.
“If we fail to pass this Bill, or if we weaken its protections, then we will in fact reduce the chances of getting that Canada-style deal,” he wrote.
“Let’s remove this danger to the very fabric of the United Kingdom. Let’s make the EU take their threats off the table. And let’s get this Bill through, back up our negotiators, and protect our country.”
Both Ireland and the EU, however, have warned that Mr Johnson’s plans pose a serious risk to the peace process rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
The Prime Minister on Friday evening held a conference call with around 250 MPs to try and drum up support for the Bill, and warned them against a return to the “miserable, squabbling days of last autumn”.
But during the call in which there were connection issues and no questions taken by Mr Johnson further fall-out emerged from the EU.
Leaders in the European Parliament said they would “under no circumstances ratify” any trade deal reached if “UK authorities breach or threaten to breach” the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Johnson appeared not to have ended the disquiet within his party during the call, with senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill saying he was not reassured by the speech.
Sir Bob, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee and is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he says would impose a “parliamentary lock” on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains “objectionable” elements.
“I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.
Amid the worsening atmosphere between London and Brussels, it emerged the EU had even raised the prospect that it could block exports of animal products from the UK once the current Brexit transition period comes to a close at the end of the year.
In a statement following the latest round of talks on Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there were “many uncertainties” about the UK’s animal hygiene regime.
He said “more clarity” was needed if Britain was to receive the “third-country listing” entitling it to export animal products to the EU.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown joined fellow former prime ministers Theresa May and Sir John Major in condemning the Government’s plan, describing it as “a huge act of self-harm”.
Published: 12/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
New restrictions imposed in parts of UK as cases rise and R rate passes one
Tough new Covid-19 lockdown measures have been announced for parts of the UK as cases continued to rise and the R number climbed above one.
New measures banning people from mixing in homes and gardens will be imposed on Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell from Tuesday in response to a rocketing infection rate in the area.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the body representing rank and file police officers urged people to look after each other and avoid a “party weekend” before the “rule of six” restrictions come into force on Monday.
John Apter, of the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “There is a real risk some members of the public will take advantage of the current situation and treat this weekend as a party weekend ahead of the tighter restrictions being introduced on Monday.”
Police in Manchester – where a local lockdown has been in force since July 30 – said they broke up a house party of 30 people in the early hours of Saturday.
Officers said: “The occupant claimed he wasn’t aware there were any Covid restrictions in place and couldn’t see what the problem was. People dispersed and fixed penalty notice issued.”
Coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to the highest level since mid-May, with a total of 3,539 new cases recorded on Friday.
It is the highest daily figure since May 17 and Public Health England’s medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle warned it is a reminder of the “ongoing risk as the virus spreads throughout the UK”.
The figure rose sharply from 2,919 the previous day and most cases are people who have been tested in the community.
Data released by the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed the estimate for the R value, the reproduction number of coronavirus transmission, across the UK is between 1.0 and 1.2.
According to Government advisers, the last time R was above 1 was in early March.
Further restrictions came into force at 4am on Saturday, meaning new arrivals from Portugal, Hungary, French Polynesia and Reunion have to quarantine for two weeks.
In Birmingham, 1,031 new cases were recorded in the seven days to September 8 – the equivalent of 90.3 per 100,000 people, up sharply from 35.9 in the seven days to September 1.
Solihull was up from 14.8 to 68.4, with 148 new cases, while in Sandwell the rate has risen from 21.9 to 52.4, with 172 new cases.
The lockdown measures were announced by West Midlands mayor Andy Street on Friday, and included a warning from the region’s chief constable that anyone “calculating” a way to flout rules on gatherings risked a £10,000 fine.
They come amid reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering plans to fine people who breach self-isolation rules amid concerns people are ignoring the advice and leaving their homes.
The Times reported on Saturday that the move was part of a “carrot and stick” approach after evidence suggested people were routinely ignoring advice and leaving their homes.
Lockdown measures were also tightened in Lanarkshire due to a rise in cases, the Scottish Government said.
The measures will be the same as those currently in place in Glasgow City, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire and West Dunbartonshire.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said coronavirus is “on the rise again” there, as he announced face coverings will become mandatory in indoor public places and the number of people who can meet inside will be limited to six.
Similar restrictions preventing groups of more than six meeting socially come into force in England on Monday.
Meanwhile the UK Government also revealed a launch date for the delayed NHS app which it hopes will help to contain the virus during what the Health Secretary described as a “critical time”.
The tracing app is due to be rolled out across England and Wales on September 24, and pub goers and diners will be among those urged to download it and check themselves in to venues.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is “vital” the NHS Test and Trace system is used to reach as many people as possible to prevent outbreaks and “stop this virus in its tracks”.
Elsewhere, Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates suggested there has been a 60% rise in daily infections in England.
The ONS said the rate of new infections in private households was estimated to average of 3,200 people per day between August 30 and September 5, up from 2,000 the previous week.
Separately, new data from an Imperial College London study suggested coronavirus cases in England were doubling every seven to eight days at the beginning of September.
A further six people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday, according to the Government dashboard, bringing the UK total to 41,614.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 57,400 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
Published: 12/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Derbyshire County Council has announced ambitious plans for the future of local government in the county. The move comes in preparation for the local government and devolution white paper expected to be released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in the coming weeks. The plans prioritise, in an approach known as Vision […]
Covid-19 app to be rolled out
The NHS Covid-19 app will be launched across England and Wales on September 24, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
Ahead of the roll-out businesses including pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas are being urged to ensure they have NHS QR code posters visible on entry so customers who have downloaded the new app can use their smartphones to check-in.
The department said ongoing trials in the London Borough of Newham, on the Isle of Wight and with NHS Volunteer Responders show the app is “highly effective when used alongside traditional contact tracing to identify contacts of those who have tested positive for coronavirus”.
Published: 11/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Chesterfield single-use plastics campaign group, Plastic Free Chesterfield, is to hold an online meeting to highlight how the Environment Bill, currently going through Parliament, has the opportunity to address the plastic pollution crisis. The Environment Bill is a piece of legislation aimed at replacing European environmental legislation, including issues around waste and recycling. Campaigners from […]
UK economy grew 6.6% in July as rate of rebound slows
The UK economy grew by 6.6% in July as the rate of the country’s financial recovery slowed down, according to official data.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said GDP increased for the third consecutive month in July after lockdown restrictions eased further, but remained 11.7% below pre-virus levels.
A consensus of analysts predicted a 6.8% month-to-month increase.
Figures showed that the economic rebound decelerated after the UK had reported 8.7% growth in June.
ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “While it has continued steadily on the path towards recovery, the UK economy still has to make up nearly half of the GDP lost since the start of the pandemic.
“Education grew strongly as some children returned to school, while pubs, campsites and hairdressers all saw notable improvements.
“Car sales exceeded pre-crisis levels for the first time with showrooms having a particularly busy time.
“All areas of manufacturing, particularly distillers and car makers, saw improvements, while housebuilding also continued to recover.
“However, both production and construction remain well below previous levels.”
Published: 11/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Trade talks in the balance after the UK rejects EU ultimatum
Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU are hanging in the balance after Brussels demanded the UK abandon plans to override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.
At a stormy meeting in London, the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove insisted the Government “could not and would not” drop measures in legislation tabled earlier this week.
It prompted European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic to accuse the UK of an “extremely serious violation” of international law, putting the ongoing trade talks in jeopardy.
Despite the tensions, Britain’s negotiator Lord Frost said there had been “useful exchanges” and talks would resume next week in Brussels, although he warned that there were still “a number of challenging areas”.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson is facing growing unrest among Tory MPs deeply unhappy at the threat to undermine Britain’s traditional support for the international rule of law.
The former chancellor Lord Lamont said the Government was in a “terrible mess” and warned the UK Internal Market Bill would not get through the Lords in its present form.
In the Commons, senior Conservatives are tabling an amendment to the Bill which they said would limit the powers it gave to ministers in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement.
The row erupted as the latest round of trade talks – also taking place in London – ended on Thursday with both sides acknowledging that “significant differences” remain.
Mr Johnson has set a deadline of October 15 for an agreement to be reached, otherwise he has said he will simply walk away from the negotiating table.
However Mr Sefcovic said the UK side needed now to rebuild trust which had been “seriously damaged” by the events of the past days.
He said the provisions in the Bill relating to the Withdrawal Agreement had to be dropped by the end of September and that the EU would “not be shy” about taking legal action if the Government refused.
Under the terms of the Bill, ministers would take powers to vary a protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to the customs arrangements in Northern Ireland after the current Brexit transition period ends on December 31.
The protocol, agreed after much difficult negotiation, was intended to prevent the need for the return of a “hard” border with the Republic while ensuring the integrity of the EU single market.
The Government has said the measures in the Bill are simply a “legal safety net” to enable it to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland peace process.
This drew a dismissive response from the EU which said that “it does the opposite”.
Among Tory MPs there was uncertainty whether the measures were intended as a negotiating tactic designed to put pressure on the EU as the trade talks enter their final stages.
Even some committed Brexiteers voiced concern that the Prime Minister had gone too far.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, the leader of the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group, said Mr Johnson “should be more mindful of the reputational damage of playing such hardball”.
The senior Conservative backbencher Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, is tabling an amendment to the Bill which he said would impose a “parliamentary lock” on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Among its supporters are Theresa May’s former deputy, Damian Green.
Sir Bob told Times Radio: “We are not natural rebels. We’ve all served as ministers, we know that this is a serious job, and we do our best to take the job seriously. So we don’t do anything like this lightly.
“So I hope it’s at least an indication as a Government that really, you need to think very hard and carefully about going down this route. For heaven’s sake, try and find some other way.”
Published: 11/09/2020 by Radio NewsHub