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Media Hub

Downing Street confident of defeating rebel Tory bid to keep UK in customs union

22 hours ago
Theresa May
Theresa May will move to head off rebellion over EU-UK customs

Attempts by pro-European Tory MPs – with Labour support – to keep the UK in the EU customs union will fail, according to No 10 sources.

Sources speaking to the Sun said the Prime Minister will spell out her plans for a post-Brexit customs ‘partnership’ as early as Friday in order to nip the attempt in the bud.

A cross-party amendment to the Trade Bill tabled by rebel MP Anna Soubry calls on the Government to negotiate “a” customs union with the bloc.

Ten to fifteen Tories are thought to back the amendment – enough to defeat the government if they receive support from Labour. 

Defeat would be a major blow to the Theresa May, who has vowed to take the UK out of the customs union after Brexit.

The vote has been pushed back to the spring, and Downing Street sources claimed the Conservitive rebels would come back onside when Mrs May laid out her proposals.


John Ashmore

EU chief Donald Tusk slams UK Brexit plans as 'pure illusion'

22 hours 15 minutes ago
Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk speaks after a summit of the 27 EU leaders yesterday

European Council president Donald Tusk has said that the UK’s approach to Brexit negotiations appears to be based on “pure illusion”.

Speaking at a news conference after an informal meeting of the EU 27 governments in Brussels yesterday, he said media reports of the Cabinet’s Brexit talks at Chequers on Thursday suggested the "cake philosophy is still alive" among the British government.

Members of Theresa May's Brexit 'war Cabinet' had met for eight hours of tense discussions, after which senior sources claimed "divergence has won" – implying a victory for the pro-Brexit MPs.

Mr Tusk reiterated his position: that the UK will not be able to “cherry pick” aspects of its post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

"From the very start it has been a key principle of the EU27 that there can be no cherry-picking and no single market à la carte.

"This will continue to be a key principle, I have no doubt."

He said: "If the media reports are correct I am afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion."

The EU’s draft guidelines on the future relationship would be published in March, he revealed, adding: "Our intention is to adopt these guidelines, whether the UK is ready with its vision of our future relations, or not. Naturally it would be much better if it were. But we cannot stand by and wait."

UK sources told Sky News that Mr Tusk should wait until the government had set out its position before passing judgement.


John Ashmore

EHRC briefing - EUW Bill Lords committee stage, day 2

1 day 12 hours ago

This briefing covers amendments relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and EU case law 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced a further briefing for Committee Stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which can be found here.

This updates our previous briefing (focusing on the Charter and EU case law) so that it now includes advice on amendment 63A that relates to how the Charter will work after we leave the EU.

To summarise, in this briefing we recommend supporting the following amendments:

  • 34, 14, 20, 25, 41 and 63A to ensure protections in the Charter are retained.
  • 56 which requires a court or tribunal to have regard to future decisions of the European Court where relevant to the proper interpretation of retained EU law.

The Commission has also published a ‘Supplementary legal note on how the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights works, and would work after Brexit’ to accompany this briefing. This note explains why there is no reason courts should not be able to continue to apply the rights in the Charter to retained EU law, and to actions of UK public bodies which fall within the scope of retained EU law, in the same way as they do at present. To do so will promote legal consistency and certainty, and ensure there is no weakening of human rights protection as we leave the EU.


NFB: EU migrant rethink for the best

1 day 17 hours ago

The National Federation of Builders responds to Theresa May's supposed changed stance on the legal position of EU migrants who arrive in the UK during the transition period. 

The Times newspaper reported that Theresa May has allegedly changed her stance on the legal position of EU migrants who arrive in the UK during the transition period between 31 March 2019 and 31 December 2020.

The prime minister had previously stated that EU migrants should not have the same rights as those coming before 29 March 2019. However, the Times reported that 10 Downing Street is currently considering proposals to make a unilateral promise to EU citizens that they can remain in the UK if they arrive before the end of 2020.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) would welcome this change of direction, as it will help tackle the existing shortage of skilled construction workers, whilst ensuring the Government has time to build a positive growth environment when the UK leaves the EU.

Red tape, planning costs, and an inefficient procurement process remain major barriers to industry growth. Policies tackling these barriers have either not been fully implemented yet - in the case of the Housing White Paper - or tackled, such as reforming the planning process or stronger action on late payments.

A transitional period without the benefits of migration would put undue pressure on our industries and the Government, who will need time to plan for changes.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said: “Construction SMEs train and retain 66% of apprentices. The increased focus on policies to help them is a step in the right direction for the skills crisis. Our industry needs to foster home-grown talent, as well as talented foreign workers.

“The Government needs to continue addressing growth barriers in the UK industry. In construction, procurement remains an unfair playing field, late payments continue blighting our industry and planning reform is long overdue.”


Brexit divorce bill 'could soar by £5bn' if transition period extends beyond 2020

2 days 16 hours ago
UK and EU flags
The Commons Committee was told that the additional costs of extending the transition period could be up to £5bn.

The UK’s Brexit divorce bill could cost an extra £5bn if the proposed transition period runs beyond 2020, according to the head of an influential group of MPs.

It comes after the UK's draft negotiating guidelines left the door open for the transition period to be extended if it was felt that the necessary arrangements had not been made for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

The chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, Bill Cash, claimed that the deal struck last December between the UK and EU over payments into the EU budget only lasts until the end of 2020, and if the transition period extends beyond that point, the UK may need to continue making financial contributions.

The veteran eurosceptic was speaking as his committee took evidence this morning from the UK's top Brussels diplomat, Tim Barrow, and Brexit minister Robin Walker.

“If the transition lasts beyond 2020, this could require the UK to make payments into the EU budget for 2021 as well," Sir Bill said.

“From January 2021, we would then be paying into the EU’s long-term budget. The net result of this that the additional costs could run into billions of pounds, and the estimate is between £4-5bn.”

Sir Bill said that the transition period was starting to look “as long as a piece of string” and that the new figures had appeared like something out of “Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected”.

Mr Walker admitted that while details of the implementation period were still being negotiated, the Government had no intention of extending the proposed transition.

He said: “The discussion around the date is a question of converging two positions, which are really quite close to each other, in terms of the overall time being around two years”.

Sir Tim also defended the current position, arguing: “We have always said around two years…as Michel Barnier has said, this is a convergent position, and the end of 2020 falls square between the remit.”


WATCH: Former minister says Tory party discipline has ‘completely broken down’

2 days 17 hours ago
Ed Vaizey
Ed Vaizey appearing on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff

An ex-Tory minister has launched a scathing attack on Theresa May’s premiership by saying discipline within the party has “completely broken down”.

Ed Vaizey savaged the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the party, arguing that “there’s no power anywhere”.

His comments come as Mrs May’s Brexit inner cabinet meet for an away day at Chequers to thrash out a deal on Britain’s future relationship with the EU, where talks are expected to go on late into the evening.

The former minister appeared on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff for the second day running, having yesterday said the "the whole thing about how Brexit is good for trade is obviously complete nonsense".

When asked if he had been "told off" by any of the party's top brass, he told the programme: “No, I mean discipline has completely broken down in the parliamentary party, so no one tells anyone off, because there’s no power anywhere.”

He added: “It’s an atomised parliament."

And when it was suggested to him that Mrs May has a record of slapping down the Chancellor when he makes off-message comments, Mr Vaizey likened him to a “human shield”.

 “It’s a slightly unpleasant analogy to say he’s a human shield, but some people do use that term about Philip Hammond, that he gets all the flak.


Nicholas Mairs

Hilary Benn tells David Davis clarity ‘urgently needed' over UK's Brexit demands

2 days 18 hours ago
Hilary Benn has called on the Brexit Secretary to give more clarity on what the UK wants from Brexit.
Hilary Benn has called on the Brexit Secretary to give more clarity on what the UK wants from Brexit.

Hilary Benn has warned David Davis that details are "urgently needed" on what Britain wants to achieve from Brexit.

In a letter to the Brexit Secretary, Mr Benn pleaded for clarity on both the transition period and the “UK’s proposals for that future partnership”.

His warning came as the Brexit's Cabinet sub-committee meets at Chequers in a bid to thrash out the UK's demands.

But Mr Benn warned that negotiations were already entering a critical phase and clear terms should be made public long before the October deadline for the end of the talks.

"It is now clear that events in the next few weeks will have a crucial influence on the shape, and therefore the outcome, of the negotiations that will follow," the letter said.

Mr Benn said he was "concerned" the Government had yet to make its plans on the future relationship with the EU public in a White Paper., as his committee had called for last year.

“I am concerned that this has not yet happened and, given that there appear to be some differences of interpretation between the Government and the EU on how the transitional/implementation period will work in practice, UK businesses need certainty as soon as possible if this period is to serve its purpose.”

The letter ended with Mr Benn warning there was a risk talks on the future relationship “will be delayed” or “the EU’s negotiating guidelines may close off options” if the Government failed to make its position clear.

A draft of the UK’s negotiating position was leaked to Bloomberg News yesterday.

The document showed plans for an indefinite transitional period, despite calls from 62 Eurosceptic Tory MPs for it to be short so the UK could negotiate trade deals “immediately”.

It has also emerged that the Cabinet had not agreed the Government's position on the transition period before the document was released.

One minister told PoliticsHome: "The full Cabinet have never discussed, let alone agreed it."

"You can't keep everyone happy but I don't think the solution is making everyone unhappy."

Jessica Wilkins

Cabinet ministers ‘did not agree’ to Theresa May transition period strategy

2 days 22 hours ago
EU and UK flags
The Government's position has been criticised by Tory Brexiteers

Theresa May has angered Cabinet ministers by signing off on Britain’s negotiating strategy for the transition period after Brexit.

The draft of the UK’s negotiating position frustrated senior eurosceptics after it revealed the transition should be as long as is necessary to put in place arrangements for the future UK-EU relationship.

The leaked document, revealed yesterday morning, suggests the Government is still aiming for a two-year transition period, but it leaves the door open for negotiations to go on longer than December 2020.

The clash comes as Mrs May’s Brexit inner cabinet meet for an away day at Chequers to thrash out a deal on Britain’s future relationship with the EU, where talks are expected to go on late into the evening.

A Government spokesman told the Telegraph that the Brexit Cabinet sub-committee had signed off the transition period stance at a meeting in January, but not the legal text sent to EU nations.

A source added: "Every policy detail was signed off at a meeting of the Brexit Cabinet last month. In addition, the precise legal text was circulated in advance of publication."

However the paper reports today that allies of Liam Fox told them the document was a "draft of a draft" and has not been agreed by the ministers.

Meanwhile a cabinet minister told PoliticsHome."The full cabinet have never discussed, let alone agreed it."

"You can't keep everyone happy but I don't think the solution is making everyone unhappy".

Meanwhile senior Tory eurosceptics are said to find the document "deeply troubling" and have urged the Prime Minister to disown it.

Former cabinet minister, Iain Duncan-Smith told the Telegraph: "I am deeply concerned that a policy document turns out not to be an agreed government position.

“There are genuinely deep concerns about policy areas, particularly around not being able to sign trade deals."

The interventions come after dozens of Tory MPs signed Jacob Rees-Mogg’s letter of hard Brexit demands, including "full regulatory autonomy" from Brussels and an ability to sign trade deals within the transition period.

The prominent backbencher launched a fresh swipe at the latest revelations, saying the draft position represents "Brexit in name only" and is a "perversion of democracy".

"It has been disowned by ministers as not representing government policy. Concern over lost control over migration was a significant issue in the referendum,” he wrote. 

"Whoever compiled this document proposes no changes to it for an indefinite period and would thereby let down millions of voters for whom this was an important issue."


Elsewhere, The Times reports that ministers are to delay Commons votes on the customs union for up to two months amid fears that they could lead to defeats that threaten Brexit negotiations.

The Prime Minister is said to be facing rebellions from both pro-EU and Brexiteer MPs which could tie her hands on future EU customs arrangements if successful.

Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke are reportedly attempting to keep Britain in the customs union by tabling amendments to the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, also known as the customs bill or trade bill.

Meanwhile Brexiteers were set to rebel against a clause in the trade bill that would allow ministers to negotiate “a customs union between the UK and the country or territory”.

Nicholas Mairs

Jean-Claude Juncker's 'monster' aide given top Brussels role

2 days 23 hours ago
Martin Selmayr
Jean-Claude Juncker's chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, will take on a top Brussels role at the end of the month

A top aide to Jean-Claude Juncker accused of anti-British leaking has been given the top civil service role at the EU. 

German lawyer Martin Selmayr, known as 'the monster of Berlaymont', is due to become secretary-general of the European Commission at the end of this month. 

He will be responsible for all of the Commission's business, including helping oversee the Brexit negotiations. 

As Mr Juncker's chief of staff, Mr Selmayr has developed a reputation as a fearsome Brussels operator, with a prodigious work ethic. 

However he has also been accused of deliberately undermining the Brexit negotiations by leaking details of meetings between Mr Juncker and Theresa May.

In October he was involved in a Twitter spat with former Downing Street aide Nick Timothy, who had accused him of passing details to a German newspaper.





At a press conference yesterday, Mr Juncker acknowledged his right-hand man's divisive reputation, saying: “He has one thing in common with me — we both have enemies. 

“I am sure that Martin Selmayr will be an excellent secretary-general. We need a secretary-general who knows this place and knows Europe so there will be no political rupture.”

John Ashmore

Government risks Brexit backlash with plans for ‘indefinite’ implementation period

3 days 17 hours ago
A document setting out the Government's Brexit negotiating position has reveals plans for an indefinite implementation period

The Government has risked the ire of Tory eurosceptics by proposing an indefinite Brexit implementation period.

A draft of the UK’s negotiating position, obtained by Bloomberg News, reveals that the Government says the transition should be as long as it takes to put in place arrangements for the future UK-EU relationship.

It comes after a group of 62 Tory MPs wrote to Theresa May setting out their demands for the UK’s withdrawal, including “full regulatory autonomy” and the ability to negotiate trade deals “immediately”.

The leaked document suggests the Government is still aiming for a two-year transition period, but it leaves the door open for negotiations to go on longer.

That puts it at odds with the EU, who have specified that the period should be over by the end of 2020, just 21 months after the UK officially leaves the bloc in March 2019.

The draft guidelines state:

 “The UK believes the Period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership.

“The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.”

The document also includes plans to create a joint committee to “supervise the Withdrawal Agreement” and protect “the rights and interest of both parties”.  

A Government source confirmed to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that the draft proposals did represent a “softening” of the UK’s position on EU migrants settling during the Brexit transition period.

Mrs May had previously said their status would be different after Brexit, but EU officials insisted that citizens’ rights must be maintained during the handover. 


Senior ministers 'still deadlocked' on key Brexit issues ahead of Chequers summit

3 days 23 hours ago
Boris Johnson flanked by Philip Hammond and David Davis at the Tory conference last year
Boris Johnson flanked by Philip Hammond and David Davis at the Tory conference last year

Theresa May's senior ministers reportedly remain divided on basic aspects of Brexit ahead of a crunch Cabinet summit.

The Sun reports that ministers have been meeting in small groups of two or three to try to thrash out their differences on issues such as regulatory alignment with Brussels. 

There have been well-publicised disagreements between the likes of Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexiteers including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove over which rules the UK will sign up to beyond March 2019. 

Tomorrow the Prime Minister will chair a meeting of her so-called Brexit 'war cabinet' at her country residence, Chequers, in a bid to end the deadlock.

“The traditional divides on the committee are still there," a government source told the paper.

“It’s now coming down to the speed at which we diverge which means whether or not to accept new EU rules.

“It looks like the PM will have to finally get off the fence for one side or the other.”

Mrs May is also under pressure from restive Tory eurosceptics, who have signed a letter setting out their own "suggestions" for Brexit, including letting the Government start negotiating its own trade deals "immediately" and giving the UK "full regulatory autonomy" from Brussels.


Elsewhere the Sun and the Daily Telegraph report claims that Mr Johnson told German officials that Brexit negotiations had become "a mess". 

According to the Telegraph, the Foreign Secretary urged the Germans to see Brexit as an economic opportunity. 

An ally of Mr Johnson dismissed the claims as "nonsense".

John Ashmore

Dozens of Tory Brexiteers send Theresa May negotiating 'suggestions' letter

4 days ago
Theresa May speaking in Derby on Monday
Theresa May speaking in Derby on Monday

More than 60 Tory MPs have signed a letter to Theresa May demanding she follows through with a 'hard Brexit' that allows the UK to start negotiating trade deals from next year. 

The influential European Research Group of MPs, chaired by arch eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg, has set out a series of "suggestions" for how the Prime Minister can best negotiate the UK's exit from the EU. 

They include ensuring that Britain has "full regulatory autonomy" from Brussels, that it can begin negotiating trade deals "immediately" and that ministers should be able to set out "alternative terms" to those set out by European negotiators.

The UK must be free to start its own trade negotiations immediately," the letter says.

"The UK should negotiate as an equal partner. Ministers may not want or be able to accept the EU's timing and mandates as fixed, and should be able to set out alternative terms including, for example, building an agreement based on our World Trade Organization membership instead."

Among the 62 signatories are former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, along with former cabinet ministers John Redwood, Owen Paterson and Priti Patel.

The timing of the letter is significant as it comes as Mrs May prepares to meet her so-called Brexit 'war cabinet' at Chequers tomorrow.

It provoked an outcry from pro-European Tories, with Treasury committee chair Nicky Morgan saying: “This isn’t a letter, it is a ransom note. The ERG clearly think they have the prime minister as their hostage.”

Another former Tory minister, Stephen Hammond, told the Times that "any restraint on what the Government does during the transition period must be resisted". 

Shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfeld said the letter “exposes the deep divisions that run through the heart of this Tory Government".

“On the day David Davis promised the EU that the Government does not want a race to the bottom on standards, the extreme Brexiteers and the European Research Group are calling on Theresa May to do just that," he added.

“It is clearer than ever that Theresa May cannot deliver the Brexit deal Britain needs. She is too weak to face down the fanatics in her own party and to deliver a final deal that protects jobs and the economy.”

Fellow Labour MP Chris Leslie, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said the ERG was "brazenly advocating the hardest of hard Brexits".

“With Brextremists on the rampage, people have every right to keep an open mind about whether Brexit is the right choice for our country," he added.

John Ashmore

EHRC launch briefing for Committee stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill

4 days 12 hours ago

EU (Withdrawal) Bill: A Committee stage Briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s briefing for Committee stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, can be found here. This is the first in a series of briefings we will produce for Committee Stage, and focuses on amendments relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and EU case law.

In this briefing we recommend support for:

  • Amendments 34, 14, 20, 25 and 41: The Commission has obtained the opinion of senior counsel, and the advice is that the loss of the Charter will lead to a significant weakening of human rights protection in the UK. The Commission has also produced a supplementary briefing on the practical impact of the loss of the Charter. This can be found here and includes a number of additional examples.
  • Amendment 56:  We argue that this amendment is important to promote legal certainty and to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of equality and human rights law.

Jeremy Corbyn drops biggest hint yet that Labour could back single market membership after Brexit

4 days 14 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn speaking in London this afternoon
Jeremy Corbyn speaking in London this afternoon

Jeremy Corbyn today left the door open to a change in Labour’s Brexit position by suggesting the UK could yet end up in the single market.

Mr Corbyn also said that Britain has to "have a customs union" with the EU after Brexit.

He has previously ruled out the UK remaining in the trading bloc, saying repeatedly that single market membership is contingent on being in the EU.

Just last month the Labour leader said the idea of staying in the single market was “based on the flawed assumption that the single market is a membership club”.

But speaking this afternoon he signalled a possible change of tack by saying non-EU countries could not “automatically” join the single market - suggesting they can if they wish.

"We have to have access to European markets, we have to have a customs union that makes sure we can continue that trade, particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that is key to it," he told an audience at the EEF manufacturing conference in London.

"Being a member of the single market is automatic if you’re in the EU, if you’re not in the EU you’re not automatically a member of it.

Labour MP Wes Streeting welcomed Mr Corbyn’s apparent change of heart and urged him to change his party’s policy on Brexit.

Fellow Labour MP Ian Murray, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, added: “Any shift in Jeremy Corbyn’s position towards resisting the Government’s plans for a hard and reckless Brexit is welcome. But we need and deserve clarity.

“It’s becoming clearer by the day that the least worst option in leaving the EU is the single market and customs union and Jeremy Corbyn needs to take that option as soon as possible”.



Yesterday the leader of  the SDLP, Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland, called on Mr Corbyn to support the UK staying a full member of the single market and customs union.

In a letter to the Labour leader, Colum Eastwood that a hard Brexit has the “potential to dismantle the architecture” of the peace process in the province.

Mr Corbyn was speaking after delivering a speech in which he vowed that a Labour government would make the City of London "the servant of industry, not the masters of all".

He said: "There can be no rebalancing of our distorted, sluggish and unequal economy without taking on the power of finance.

"For 40 years, deregulated finance has progressively become more powerful.

"Its dominance over industry, obvious and destructive; its control of politics, pernicious and undemocratic."

John Ashmore

One year on – how to solve a problem like Euratom

4 days 15 hours ago
The nuclear facility at Dounreay in Scotland

Nuclear Industry Association Chief Executive Tom Greatrex responds to a recent article by Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on the subject of Euratom, which currently facilitates the free and frictionless trade of nuclear goods, services and people across the EU.

Just over a year ago, by dint of an explanatory note to a short Parliamentary Bill, almost by accident the government decided it was going to cease to be a member of Euratom in parallel to leaving the European Union.

While, at the time, few outside of civil nuclear and medical bodies had even heard of Euratom, and some of those then dominating decision making inside the government clearly didn’t understand its scope and the consequences of leaving.

One year on, the country is now in the process of seeking to hastily replicate everything we currently have as members of Euratom. While late March 2019 may be the leave date, it is simply not possible to have everything negotiated, ratified and enacted to replicate Euratom arrangements in that time.

Separate from the European Union Treaties, Euratom facilitates the free and frictionless trade of nuclear goods, services and people (including medical radioisotopes), safeguards nuclear material to ensure it is being used for civil purposes in line with our non-proliferation responsibilities,  co-ordinates funding for world leading nuclear fusion research (much of which takes place in Culham in Oxfordshire) and holds vital nuclear co-operation agreements between Euratom states and third countries.

As Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath pointed out in his recent PoliticsHome article, government policy is to “stick to the same [Euratom] standards” and the challenge to do so in such a short space of time was clearly laid out in the NIA’s ‘Exiting Euratom’ paper published back in May 2017. Giving evidence to a series of select committees over recent months, I have sat alongside the independent regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, where they have confirmed that meeting Euratom standards on day one is just not possible.

It will take a significant amount of time and effort to replicate Euratom arrangements and Lord Hunt’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill seeks to protect the industry by ensuring government, at the very least, “maintain[s] equivalent participatory relations with Euratom”.

If the government want to meet their policy objective of replication, then the mammoth effort of securing and implementing agreements with the IAEA (the UN body overseeing international safeguards), the EU, Euratom, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and many others, is going to take time to get done. That is why minds in Whitehall and on the Eurostar commute to Brussels need to be focussed on securing and confirming a suitable transition period to ensure normal business can continue in the meantime, and Ministers need to accept that the replication of more than 40 years of technical collaboration is not a straightforward exercise that can be unilaterally accelerated.

Viewed from afar it might seem odd to leave a Treaty which is separate from the EU because of a largely theoretical concern over ECJ competence; odder still to then seek to replicate everything we currently have as members of that Treaty with the time, effort and complexity that involves rather than seeking a form of continued membership; and oddest of all to continue to pretend it can all be achieved in an unrealistic and wholly artificial timeframe without some pragmatism and flexibility.

Last month, because of concerns expressed by Members of Parliament, the government conceded that they would publish progress reports on Euratom. The first of these hinted towards a more sensible, measured and pragmatic approach as complex new arrangements need to be implemented - it is more of that and less of the hyperbole that is now required to get the job done. 


Antoinette Sandbach: The Norway option could offer Britain the best of both worlds

4 days 18 hours ago
Antoinette Sandbach has a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning
Antoinette Sandbach has a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning

If Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal in place, there is only one realistic option. We must rejoin EFTA – and ensure a soft landing, writes Antoinette Sandbach

In order to secure the best possible Brexit, it is vital that MPs analyse and assess all available options. That is why I am leading a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning focusing on the alternatives to a ‘No Deal’ outcome in our negotiations with the EU.

Lyndon Johnson claimed that the first rule of politics is knowing how to count. I hope that this debate will demonstrate to ministers that the number of MPs who think that no deal should result in a soft landing far exceeds those colleagues who hanker for the hardest Brexit possible.

Over the last few weeks we have seen quite how damaging a ‘No Deal’ Brexit could be. Treasury estimates have shown that WTO terms would reduce GDP by 8% over 15 years. The impact would be most strongly felt in the Midlands, the North and the devolved nations. The consequence for my own constituency would be dramatic; the North West is projected to take a 12% hit. What is more some of my area’s key industries – chemical, automotive and pharmaceutical – are all at risk.

So, what are the other options?

The first alternative to WTO terms is the successful delivery of a “deep and special partnership” as the government has promised. I support this goal. I hope that the government ensures that the services industries are included in this deal; as to not do so would damage some of our most globally competitive sectors. 

The second alternative is perhaps as politically dangerous as WTO terms are economically disastrous. There are some who advocate that we should just stay in the EU. This is unrealistic. It defies the will of the people and would cause a compound fracture in the body politic. 

The third option is by far and away the best alternative to a No Deal exit, the so-called ‘Norway option’. By re-joining EFTA we would ensure a soft landing should we ‘crash out’ without a deal. Instead of facing WTO terms we would have a range of trade deals with 27 countries, as well as access to the EEA, guaranteeing our continuing economic relationship with Europe. 

If learning to count is the first rule of politics, it is also good economic practice. WTO terms would see a 40-60% drop in trade with the EU whereas EFTA would see a comparatively small dip of 12%, securing thousands of jobs that would otherwise be lost. It would also protect our financial services sector and the £10bn of tax revenue that it generates. 

It’s not hard to see why even staunch Leavers like Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan and Sir Bill Cash have, at one time or another, talked up an EFTA style arrangement.

Some say that the only way to respect the result is to default to WTO terms and pull up the drawbridge. I disagree. EFTA would allow us to protect our prosperity and respect the outcome of the referendum. EFTA would see us outside of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. It would protect us from ‘ever closer union’ as well as any threat of joining the euro. What is more, under certain circumstances EFTA allows an emergency brake on immigration. 

No doubt there will be a range of views on Wednesday, but I hope colleagues from all sides of the House will turn up and demonstrate to the government that there is a substantial and popular middle ground between the unrealistic few who want to remain in the EU, and the economic peril of no deal hardliners.  


Antoinette Sandbach is Conservative MP for Eddisbury. MPs will debate ‘Alternatives to a no-deal outcome’ in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 21 February 

Sebastian Whale

Lord Hunt: Government's weak response over Euratom is worrying the medical sector

5 days 18 hours ago

The government must think again about leaving Euratom, given the impact on healthcare, says Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Almost under the radar, the government is trying to rush a piece of legislation through Parliament designed for the softest of Brexit departures from Euratom. This agency oversees countries with nuclear facilities to ensure that material used for civil purposes, for example in power stations, is not being diverted into weapons programmes.

Following the perverse decision of the Prime Minister to withdraw from Euratom because of the never used jurisdiction of the ECJ, the government has tasked the UK’s own regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to take over these vital nuclear safeguarding responsibilities.

No doubt because Euratom is doing such a good job, the government rather ironically wants the ONR to stick to the same standards! The problem however, is that there’s no way they can reach those standards by March 2019 because it needs to recruit and training up to 40 inspectors from scratch. As ONR Deputy Chief Inspector, Dr Mina Golshan told the Commons Bill Committee:“we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one. That is unrealistic.”

So, the government’s weak response is to accept lower standards of frequency and intensity of inspections to meet the less exacting requirements of the International Atomic Energy Authority. But with an aspiration over time to return to Euratom standards.

The decision is also causing considerable worries in the medical world. Euratom currently facilitates a free trade of nuclear material across the EU, which ensures a secure and consistent supply of radioisotopes. These are vital for diagnosing particular diseases via nuclear medicine imaging techniques, courtesy of radiology, palliative relief of pain and biochemical analysis in clinical pathology.

The UK imports these radioisotopes around the world, but mainly from EU countries such as France, Holland and the Czech Republic. They have a very short life, degrade quickly and cannot be stockpiled. Indeed, it was in response to the 2012 shortage crisis that the European Observatory on the supply of Medical Radioisotopes was established. This facilitates the sharing of vital information between member states, industry suppliers and the medical profession. 

Operating outside of Euratom would remove the UK’s guarantee of consistent and timely access to medical radioisotopes, with consequent delays in patient treatment. It would also weaken collaborative links between the UK and EU on nuclear-medicine research.

Pressed at our Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguarding Bill, the BEIS Minister Lord Henley acknowledged that changes to customs arrangements after Brexit could affect and disrupt the supply of radioisotopes. While the government says it is working to minimise such risks, there is not much confidence to be had from the current state of the wider negotiations.

That is why Labour has tabled a frontbench amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill on retaining our membership of Euratom. Failing that, the government must negotiate the very closest of alignments with the agency that guarantees both our very high standards on nuclear safeguards and the vital exchange of materials essential to healthcare.

Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath is a member of Labour’s Health team in the House of Lords.


Greg Clark: “The next few weeks and months will be a defining period for the UK”

1 week 2 days ago
Business Secretary Greg Clark
Greg Clark was appointed Business Secretary in July 2016

Greg Clark knows the next few months will be a defining period for the UK. As Brexit begins to take shape, the Business Secretary is determined that firms large and small will be heard at the Cabinet table. He talks to Sebastian Whale

Like a cricketer waiting to go out to bat, Greg Clark had to sit tight while Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt spoke inside Number 10 as day turned to night in early January. Weeks of rumours would have it that Clark was either due for the chop or in line to trade briefs with the Health Secretary during May’s reshuffle of her top team.

In a rear-guard action, Hunt convinced the PM after nearly 90 minutes to retain him at the Department of Health. Clark was reappointed Business Secretary following a comparatively brisk visit to Downing Street.

“I had a very short and delightfully cordial meeting with the Prime Minister. I think the speculation was wide of the mark,” Clark politely states.

So, was there no truth to the reports regarding his future? “All I know is that she, the Prime Minister, was very keen on the work that we were doing together on the industrial strategy and asked me to continue.”

Such is Clark’s gentlemanly approach that probes to work out exactly he felt about events that took place were unlikely to yield any fruit. And the very nature of the briefing, which centred around Clark’s inability to cut through, seemed highly personal for a man who is as inoffensive as they come. But the whole saga ended up highlighting May’s weakness, unable to move or sack members of her Cabinet, in office but not in power.

Clark does not want to focus on all that. How does it feel to still be in post? “I’m thrilled. The pulling together of the industrial strategy for the whole nation with all the opportunities that there are in the world today, I think is a fantastic privilege. I’ve always been very energised by it from the moment I was appointed,” he says.

We are sitting in Clark’s ministerial office at the Houses of Parliament on a Tuesday evening that marks the centenary of some women getting the vote. Clark is in casual attire with a blue collared shirt sitting underneath a green v-neck jumper that matches the four couches positioned in the top half of his room, impressing as he recalls with accuracy our photographer’s name after they worked together on a shoot some years back.

Clark is fresh from launching the Government’s long-awaited industrial strategy, which aims to lift growth and improve productivity. He unveiled sector deals with life sciences, artificial intelligence, creative, automotive and construction sectors (with his door open for more, he stresses), an extra £725m to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and a rise in Research and Development tax credits.

But the strategy was overshadowed by the engagement of little known couple ‘Harry and Meghan’, pushing it down the news agenda. “It’s nice that it coincides with good news,” Clark says with a smile.

Is it not fair to say though that the strategy failed to land? “The approach that I’ve taken with the strategy right from the beginning, is that it has to be for the long term. A short-term strategy is a contradiction in terms. How do you make sure that something endures? My view is that you need to bring everyone together, bring the country together, bring industry together, bring the leaders of our sectors together with this,” he says.

“You’ve seen since the launch that actually people regard it with a recognition that this is the right way forward. The grand challenges that we set out: AI and big data, the future of mobility, the ageing population, clean grown; these are the areas that actually where we can create a big future for the UK.”

Of course, it’s not only royal engagements hogging the air time. All roads lead to Brexit. And while Clark insists that the necessary conversations about the future of work and automation are taking place, much of the focus is on the immediate future direction of the United Kingdom.

We meet the day before the first of two Cabinet sub-committee talks on Brexit. I put to Clark that business is looking for clarity on key decisions regarding the UK’s vision for the future, particularly in relation to the vexed issue of the customs union. Does he support remaining in a customs union with the EU?

“It’s true to say that of course every business wants to have as much certainty as possible. But day-in, day-out I talk to businesses large and small, and they recognise that in a negotiation the certainty comes as you conclude the negotiation,” he says.

“Now, in terms of the best possible deal, again, one of my responsibilities as the Business Secretary is to obtain, to understand and to advocate very clearly what business needs out of Brexit. Business is foundational to our economy. We could not be the country we are without successful businesses. We absolutely owe it to businesses large and small to make sure that we are reflecting their needs both at the high level and in detail as well.

“I meet with the business organisations every week and have done since the beginning of my tenure, we have a good understanding that feeds into those negotiations. I said from the outset reflecting their views that we need to see continued ability to trade with the minimum of frictions and without tariffs with the rest of the European Union.

“We need an implementation period. It was through the discussions that I had with businesses right across the country last summer that it was identified as clearly the most important thing that they wanted. And the breakthrough that we saw in December following on from the Florence speech was a direct result of listening carefully to the requirements of business. That’s what I’ll do throughout this.”

 The Confederation of British Industry rejected the Government’s aim to enter a customs arrangement with the EU, which would involve a new system in which the UK would have to collect duty for European governments, and vice versa. So, if Clark is to represent business at the Cabinet table, shouldn’t he be calling for the UK to remain in the customs union?

“It’s the outcome that you want that you need to aim for. It’s very clear and it is unambiguously the case that the importance of the ability to trade not just without tariffs but without introducing frictions into often very sophisticated and well-developed supply chains is absolutely essential,” he says.

“The discussions that will take place as we’re just getting into that phase of discussions, will be about what are the best arrangements that will deliver that. What I want to do is to make sure that of all of the different options that we discuss and that we debate as part of the negotiations, that we secure what we need for the continued prosperity of business.”

But with firms set to make decisions on potential relocations of headquarters in the coming months, isn’t there a sense of urgency here?

“That’s why the implementation period is so important. If it’s agreed in March of this year then obviously it will take effect from the end of March next year. So, in effect that is three years of stability in terms of the present arrangements to be able to trade. That’s incredibly valuable for businesses who might otherwise need to make decisions during that time.”

In a further bid to quell unease among business Clark along with fellow Cabinet ministers David Davis and Philip Hammond wrote a letter to the FT assuring that European workers will be able to continue to work in Britain during the transition period out of EU membership. The Government is still to iron out its vision for future immigration policy.

“Most places I go in the country, people say, again businesses large and small, that they need to be able to count on the sources of the labour that they have, domestic and those from Europe, over the months ahead,” says Clark.

“Any abrupt change to that would be very difficult and that’s why we were so clear in that letter of the continued policy for people to be able to come and work.”

The question of Europe continues to be a razor-sharp thorn in the side of the Conservative party however, with criticism of the Civil Service and calls for Theresa May to “sling out” Eurosceptic MPs taking place all in the same week. Clark recognises that the EU has always “attracted strong views”, but claims his party acknowledges the decision the country has taken. “Some of the discussions that we have don’t accord with the types of division that is sometimes described. These are difficult and important issues but there is a determination together to find the right way through,” he says.

He adds: “I find that colleagues in the Conservative party want the negotiations to be successful. They want the Prime Minister to succeed in those negotiations. The next few weeks and months are going to be a defining period for us as a country. They will define our future relationship.

“It’s so important that we get a positive outcome that I think the will of the party is like the will of the country, which is for us to get that good deal.”

Clark has enough on his plate beside Brexit following the collapse of construction giant Carillion and the Government’s response to the Taylor review into work in the gig economy, launched without much fanfare in the days after our interview. The Government has talked tough on corporate governance issues but proposals to put workers on boards and rhetoric around curbing the excesses of executives have been accused of falling short.

Clark is typically insistent that the reforms implemented, such as a requirement on companies to address their pay policies after a shareholder revolt and an annual report of the ratio of the chief executive pay to the average employee, are taking effect. Would he consider, as Labour have proposed, putting restrictions on the ratio between an organisation’s highest and lowest paid employee?

“It’s for shareholders to decide and to justify, not just in terms of their decisions as to how this is in the interest of the company, but including the interest of their employees. That’s now one of their responsibilities.”

It seems that in his role Clark must balance championing the needs of business at the Cabinet table while seeking to reform malpractice where it takes place. Under Theresa May’s stewardship the Conservatives have combined tough rhetoric on corporate excesses while still claiming to be the party of business. Is the government getting the message right?

“Our reputation as a country is of a place in which you can do business dependably, in a system in which high standards are expected. One of those is how you treat your employees. That is where our reputation is, and to go back to the industrial strategy, increasingly in the future, in an uncertain world in which around the world there are places and jurisdictions where there is less confidence in the security and the standards that apply, I think Britain’s reputation is a strong selling point,” he says.

“Every so often we make revisions, whether it’s to corporate governance, whether it’s to employee rights, all in the direction of strengthening that reputation. That is in the interests of companies as well as the whole country.” 

Sebastian Whale

Ed Balls survey finds majority of businesses do not want to leave customs union

1 week 2 days ago
Ed Balls' team interviewed interviewed 80 British SMEs.
Ed Balls' team interviewed interviewed 80 British SMEs.

The overwhelming majority of British businesses do not want to leave the customs union and a majority also want to stay in the single market, according to a survey carried out by Ed Balls.

The former shadow Chancellor interviewed 80 small business leaders and found most wanted to remain part of the tariff-free EU trade zone.

Businesses believed “the potential gains from Britain negotiating its own trade deals elsewhere in the world cannot offset the substantial disadvantages of leaving the customs union”, according to the survey.

The poll also showed the majority of British SMEs also backed keeping single market membership.

The findings were published in a report from the Harvard Kennedy School and research was co-led by banker Peter Sands and three postgraduate students.

Mr Sands said: “It is no surprise that the businesses we have spoken to view Brexit with increasing concern. They currently face the double uncertainty of not knowing what the endpoint is likely to be, nor how it will be reached.

“They are clear Britain must stay in a customs union, and if possible, they want to maintain full access to the single market.

“They repeatedly emphasised to us their need for clarity about where we are headed to enable them to make investment decisions, hire employees and strike deals.”

Mr Sands, who was chief executive of Standard Chartered until 2015, added: “Most business leaders are sceptical about the claimed benefits of Brexit and are deeply concerned about the practicalities of implementation.

“It is clear from our interviews that most business leaders believe Brexit could have a significant negative impact on their businesses, and the way it is currently being implemented is likely to exacerbate the damage.”

However, the report was not met with overwhelming support from MPs.

Andrew Bridgen, the Brexit-supporting Conservative MP, reminded Mr Balls he was no longer an MP when he said:

“As Ed Balls knows there are only two polls that matter: when he lost his seat in the general election and when Leave won the referendum.”

Jessica Wilkins

Former Tory minister condemns 'pitiful' Boris Johnson Brexit speech

1 week 2 days ago
Boris Johnson speaking in central London yesterday
Boris Johnson speaking in central London yesterday

Former Conservative minister Anna Soubry has torn into Boris Johnson over yesterday's "embarrassing" speech on Brexit. 

The Foreign Secretary used the address to "reach out" to Remain voters, while also insisting that any backsliding on the referendum result would be a "betrayal" of those who voted to leave the EU. 

Mr Johnson tried to quell the fears of pro-Europeans, claiming Brexit would be "the great liberal project of the age" and could "unite this country". 

Former Business minister Ms Soubry offered a withering verdict on the speech, telling Channel 4 News:

“I’m afraid to say that Boris has confirmed my very worst fears about him. I don’t think he’s a very good Foreign Secretary. I think he has on a number of occasions broken collective responsibility.

"But I think today, he really has hugely lacked the sort of grown-up responsible, sensible approach that we expect from one of the most senior members of our cabinet in the approach to Brexit. It was a very poor, it was actually a pitiful speech and I think a lot of people found it really rather embarrassing.”

Elsewhere Labour MP Chuka Umunna, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, attacked Mr Johnson for failing to mention Northern Ireland. 

“This was an astonishing exercise in hypocrisy from Boris Johnson. His vision of Brexit may be many things, but it is not liberal," he said.

“His plan would see Britain sever trade ties with our largest trading partner, weaken protections for workers, consumers and the environment, and jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, a subject he didn't even bother to mention."

And former Labour minister Lord Adonis piled in over Mr Johnson's refusal to rule out resigning from the Cabinet. 

"Johnson's refusal to deny that he would resign should he be thwarted in his ambitions for Brexit is just more juvenile game playing," he said.

"In fact he should resign now because after more than a year as Foreign Secretary he has yet to demonstrate any understanding of Britain’s place in the world or of our relationships with our friends and neighbours."

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard described Mr Johnson appealing to Remain voters as “like sending an arsonist to put out a fire”. 


John Ashmore
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47