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Boris Johnson says the UK and the EU must make progress in talks this week or face a no deal Brexit (PA)


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The UK government has claimed it is only making “minor clarifications in extremely specific areas” to the Withdrawal Agreement, after the EU accused it of trying to tear up the existing Brexit deal and in the process threaten peace in Northern Ireland.

An official said the government is “completely committed, as it always has been, to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in good faith” as part of attempts to quell the latest row between Britain and Brussels as negotiations reach their final stage.

This morning the Financial Times reported that a new Internal Market Bill was set to be published this week which would “eliminate the legal force of parts of the Withdrawal Agreement” and allow UK ministers to take charge of customs issues on the Irish border – despite potentially being in breach of international law.

But the UK official told reporters the steps had to be taken, otherwise “we face the prospect of legal confusion at the end of the year and potentially extremely damaging defaults, including tariffs on goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland.”

They added: “We are making minor clarifications in extremely specific areas to ensure that, as we implement the protocol, we are doing so in a way that allows ministers to always uphold and protect the Good Friday peace agreement.”

The Internal Market Bill is set to allow the Westminster government to decide which goods traded from Britain to Northern Ireland are deemed “at risk” of then entering the EU, and therefore being subject to tariffs. 

It will also waive export summary declarations on goods heading in either direction, and make changes to the way the EU’s state aid rules would apply in Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for No10 said: “We will continue to work with the EU in the Joint Committee to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“However, as a responsible Government, we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol. 

“The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed as a way of implementing the needs of our exit from the EU in a way that worked for Northern Ireland and in particular for maintaining the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, the gains of the Peace Process, and the delicate balance between both communities’ interests.”

They added: “So we are taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol in domestic law to remove any ambiguity and to ensure the government is always able to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.

“These limited clarifications deliver on the commitments the Government made in the General Election manifesto, which said ‘we will ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal, we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market’.

“This was reiterated in the Command Paper published in May.”

But the president of the EU commission, Ursula von der Leyen, warned the UK must adhere to the Withdrawal Agreement in full.

She tweeted: “I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law and a prerequisite for any future partnership. Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island and integrity of the single market.”

And the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told French radio that honouring the existing protocol was “a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected”.

His spokesman suggested he would walk away from the talks if the UK didn’t live up to its commitments, while Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said abandoning the agreement would be “a very unwise way to proceed”.

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister confirmed: “We are fully committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

It comes after Mr Johnson told European leaders progress must be made in this week’s eighth round of Brexit talks or the Brexit negotiations are heading for no deal.

The spokesman added: “He is clear that we need to make progress this week.

“We can’t be in the same position as we are now by the end of the upcoming negotiating round if we are going to reach an agreement in the time available.

“As the PM is setting out today, there needs to be an agreement by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it is going to be in force by the end of the year.

“Reaching a deal at the eleventh hour is not an option.”

Mr Johnson has also spoken to the French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday morning, where they discussed Brexit alongside the “shared challenge of illegal small boat crossings” between the two countries.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “On the negotiations to reach a trade deal with the European Union, the Prime Minister and President Macron agreed on the importance of making progress this month and reaching a conclusion on talks quickly.”

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US citizen abducted in Niger, State Department says

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“We are aware of a US citizen abducted in Niger. We are providing their family all possible consular assistance,” a State Department spokesman said in a comment to CNN.

A US official tells CNN the individual was working in Niger as a missionary. CNN has not been able to confirm the citizen’s identity.

The governor of the local region where the abduction took place was quoted in various local media and by French media reporting from Niger as saying that six men on motorbikes armed with AK47s came to the man’s property in the village of Massalata, close to the border with Nigeria.

The governor, Abdourahamane Moussa, told these media outlets that after demanding money, the men took the American citizen with them in the direction of the Nigerian border.

The State Department spokesman said that “when a US citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to US citizens in need and to their families. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.”

The US embassy in Niamey, Niger, did not respond to requests for comment.

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Pelosi: Covid relief deal could still happen before Election Day

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On Friday, Pelosi told CNN she sent Mnuchin a list of concerns “that we still had about ‘what is the answer?'”

“My understanding is he will be reviewing that over the weekend, and we will have some answers on Monday,” she said Sunday.

Pelosi said she’ll not hold out to see whether Democrats win the White House and the Senate and keep the House after in the Nov. 3 elections to pursue a bill more to Democrats’ liking. Instead, she said she’ll continue working to get a relief bill passed “as soon as possible.”

The speaker went on to say that a relief bill could be passed as soon as this week in the House, but that it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it would go to the Senate floor.

McConnell has largely steered clear of stimulus talks recently and many GOP senators are opposed to the $2 trillion deal being discussed by Pelosi and Mnuchin. On Tuesday, McConnell softened his stance a bit, saying he would allow the Senate to vote on a Pelosi-Mnuchin agreement — assuming that first Trump agrees to sign it.

Earlier Sunday on CNN, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “We’ve identified those Senate Republicans most likely to vote” for the relief deal to pass. But he said Republicans will not blindly pass the bill without first reading its terms fully.

“We are not Nancy Pelosi. We are not going to vote or opine on a bill and pass it before we have read it,” he said.

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one man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with ‘the family’

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Jeremy Corbyn is elected as the new leader of Labour Party, September 2015: Forde barely hides his contempt for the MPs ‘who put a Marxist on the ballot paper’. | PA Images


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At times searing in his criticism of those he holds responsible for trashing the prospects of the Labour party, Gisela Stuart finds Matt Forde’s new book both entertaining and insightful

Matt Forde’s “Politically Homeless” is like an episode from the Archers’ in the early months of the lockdown. One man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with “the family”. To be fair to Forde, unlike the Archers, he does make you laugh.

We often think of political parties as families, and there is a reason for that. We like some members more than others, every so often we have a big row, but eventually we find a way of rubbing along. And we have secrets; things which we either all know to be true, but we would rather not talk about or which we hope will go away if we ignore them long enough.  Even when things get really bad, we rarely pack our bags and, move in with the family on the other side of the road.  

Matt Forde is as entertaining as he is insightful and like many of us, he wants to get back to the days when Labour was in government, invested in Sure Start centres, schools and hospitals, introduced a national minimum wage and ended boom and bust.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser. The joys and tribulations of by-elections, ministerial visits, and photo calls. Needs must, and if that means dressing up as a chicken and stalking Charles Kennedy, then so be it. He is generous in naming some MPs he’s worked with who genuinely cared about their constituents and even occasionally said “Thank you”. He thought the late Tessa Jowell “made you behave better by her just being there” and he is right.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser

But he is searing in his criticism of the string of events which started with Ed Miliband trashing the achievements of the Blair/Brown governments and culminated with the party electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He barely hides his contempt for the MPs who put a Marxist on the ballot paper. He wonders if those who did so to “broaden the debate” were gutted because they couldn’t find a fascist.

Anyone who is still in doubt about the mountain Labour has to climb only needs to read his chapter on Stoke on Trent. A collection of six towns, represented by three Labour MPs, where the local council was so divided that a grand coalition of Britain’s three biggest political parties could only muster a majority of one against a collection of BNP and independent councillors who were either hard-left ex-Labour or had never been part of any political party.

Corbyn’s Labour Party hoped that by ignoring the stain of antisemitism, which became attached to the party as a whole, it would just somehow go away, which of course it didn’t. But there is an even bigger secret much of today’s Labour Party tries to not talk about. It is the simple fact that the whole point of a political party is to win elections. If you are not in power then you can’t make the changes necessary to help the people you claim to care about.

Jacqui Smith, when she was chief whip, used to remind MPs that the “worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”. Entertaining as opposition might be, it can’t be your purpose.

It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have a good heart-to-heart with our friends about the state of the party, drown our sorrows with a glass of wine and have a good laugh, but we can give each other Forde’s book as a Christmas present.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston is a Non-Affiliated peer and was Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston 1997-2017

Politically Homeless by Matt Forde is published by Quercus

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