6 min read
The UK and EU have struck a free trade deal after days of delays in the final stages of the negotiations.
UK and EU negotiators have agreed a landmark free trade agreement, just days before Britain is set to leave the single market when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.
The new deal will apply from 1 January 2021 with Mr Johnson saying the eleventh hour agreement was a “good deal for the whole of Europe” and would provide “certainty for business”.
While the full 500 page text of the deal is yet to be released, a summary of the agreement from the EU said it “provides for zero tarrifs and zero quotas on all good that comply with the appropriate rules of origin”.
It added: “Both parties have committed to ensuring a robust level playing field by maintaining high levels of protections, the fight against climate change and carbon pricing, social and labour rights, tax transparency and State aid, with effective domestic enforcement, a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for both parties to take remedial mesures.”
However, the EU claimed the UK side had chosen not to continue its involvement with the Erasmus programme which allows students to travel and study in universities across the EU.
Instead, Mr Johnson said a new “Turing scheme” would be established to fund British students who wished to study abroad to replace the scheme, claiming the involvement in the Erasmus scheme was costing the UK treasury too much.
The agreement avoids a no-deal outcome and comes after numerous missed deadlines and suggestions that the two sides were unlikely to find an agreement.
It is believed the issue of fishing rights resulted in a final delay to the talks in the final hours, with the EU reportedly using out-of-date data when setting new fishing quotas.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said: “We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it. It is fair, it is a balanced deal, it is the right thing to do for both sides.”
Ms von der Leyen added the deal left “fair competition, EU rules and standards respected” and added there would be “effective rules to react if fair competition is distorted and impacts our trade”.
And on the issue of fishing, which is believed to have been a major sticking point in final days, she added: “We have secured 5.5 years of full predictability for our fishing communities and strong tools to incentivise to remain so”
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said the deal would give the country the “best possible chance of bouncing back strongly” from the coronavirus pandemic, claiming it was the biggest trade deal ever agreed, worth around £600bn each year.
He added: “This deal above all means certainty, for the aviation industry, the hauliers… the police, the border forces, and all those that keep us safe.
“It means certainty for our scientists who will be able to work together on great collective projects.
“But above all it means certainty for business.”
Mr Johnson said the UK would continue to be a “your friend, your ally, your supporter and indeed never let it be forgotten, your number one market.
“Although we have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe – not least through the 4 million EU nationals who have requested to settle in the UK over the last four years and who make an enormous contribution to our country and our lives.”
But Mr Johnson admitted the arrangement provided the ability to apply tarrifs on goods if either side believed trade rules were being undermined but insisted they would be “proportionate” and “subject to arbitration”.
Meanwhile, a Number 10 source added: “Everything that the British public was promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year is delivered by this deal.
“We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters.
“The deal is fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK. We have signed the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU.”
They added: “The deal also guarantees that we are no longer in the lunar pull of the EU, we are not bound by EU rules, there is no role for the European Court of Justice and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved.
“It means that we will have full political and economic independence on 1st January 2021.”
The statement went on: “A points-based immigration system will put us in full control of who enters the UK and free movement will end..
MPs will now be recalled to Parliament on 30 December to approve the deal, with the vote almost certain to pass after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would “accept it”.
“As leader of the Labour Party I have urged the Government to get on with the negotiating and get the deal that it promised. I wanted the talks to succeed. I did so because a deal is in the national interest,” he said.
“Businesses need a deal. Working people need a deal. Families need a deal. The fact that the Government was even considering no-deal during a global pandemic was grossly irresponsible.
“And after months of negotiation, a deal has now been agreed. The choice facing Parliament, the choice facing Labour is now whether to accept that deal, or to reject it.”
He added: “When this deal comes before parliament, Labour will accept it and vote for it.”
But Mr Johnson could come under some pressure from members of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs, with Tory MP Andrew Bridgen saying they would look to “ensure the PM hasn’t crossed any red lines – that we are taking back full control of our laws, borders and money.
“If Boris has managed to pull of this deal in record time, that will be a great Christmas present for all the UK.”
He warned the “devil will be in the detail” insisting that parliament should be given sufficient time to scrutinise the deal, so they were “not rushed into agreeing terms on a 2000+ page document”.
Bridgen added: “People need to realise a treaty of this sort is not just for Christmas.”
Meanwhile, responding to the announcement, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Before the spin starts, it’s worth remembering that Brexit is happening against Scotland’s will.
“And there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It’s time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation.”
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.
The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.
“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”
But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.
On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.
Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.
The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.
Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.
Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.
A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.
But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.
The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.
Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.
A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.
Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.
The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.
Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.
It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.
The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.
“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.
In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.
“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.
“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”
Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.
He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same.
“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”
Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.
But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.
Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”
The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”
The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.
“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided.
“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.
“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”
The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.
He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.
He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.
“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.
“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.
“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”
Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”
How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers
Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.
The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.
After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.
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