Minister claims Northern Ireland Protocol was ‘never going to last forever’
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng appears to have conceded that ministers did not know the full extent of what the Northern Ireland Protocol would, or could, mean for the island of Ireland until after Britain had already left the EU.
“Obviously nobody had any idea the actual effects of [the Protocol] until we left the EU,” he told Sky News earlier, adding the government had since “looked at it” and wanted to make amends. But presenter Kay Burley refuted this point. “When you said ‘nobody knew’, am I not right in saying that at least three previous prime ministers warned that this would happen?” she asked.
The Cabinet minister, correcting himself, said he meant to say “nobody could guarantee it would happen”. He went on to blame the European bloc for being “inflexible”.
Meanwhile, ministers will today announce a consultation into what slashing red tape inherited during Britain’s time as an EU member will look like. Brexit minister David Frost, who negotiated the Withdrawal Agreement, said the proposals marked the “first time in a generation” that British politicians were “free to implement rules that put the UK first”.
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After David Frost, the Brexit minister, published the government’s plan for the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wednesday, many questions remain.
Especially considering the proposal was swiftly rejected by the EU. “We will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol,” said Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s vice president, in an official statement.
So what’s next? Our chief political commentator, John Rentoul, reckons the UK government’s position is a reasonable one, and the EU is being inflexible. But if you have questions about the Brexit rules following these developments, he will be available on Friday lunchtime to answer as many queries as he can about what is going on.
To get involved all you have to do is register to submit your question in the comments section here:
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 12:28
Officials did not apply pressure to let Greensill lend, says top civil servant
Sarah Munby, the civil service boss of the business department, has denied that her officials applied pressure to ensure collapsed lender Greensill Capital was approved to issue government-backed loans.
Instead, she claims, her officials merely asked the British Business Bank (BBB) – an independent body which ran the loans schemes – if and when Greensill would be accredited for the loans.
Ms Munby, who is permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said: “If you go through those emails … they are not putting pressure on the BBB to accredit Greensill, they are asking the BBB when, ‘will you accredit or not accredit Greensill?’”
She added the reason BEIS asked that question several times is because at that point “our steel team were in very active live discussions not just with Liberty but with a whole range of steel companies about the impact of the pandemic, and working out what the different paths might be to provide Government support where it was needed and where it made sense, into those steel companies”.
BBB chief executive Catherine Lewis La Torre said on the matter: “In our view, whilst there was an unusual level of interest from BEIS, that didn’t have any impact at all on the decisions that we took with the accreditation in respect to Greensill.”
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 12:17
Tory anger over Covid certification for party conference
Conservative MPs and delegates are set to be asked to show a Covid passport or negative coronavirus test in order to attend the party’s annual conference in October, much to the annoyance of some opposed to so-called Covid certificates.
Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Independent that a lot of delegates would boycott the conference if they were required to show certification as a condition of entry.
It is not yet clear exactly what legal controls will be in place at the time of the conference, with Mr Johnson’s hopes of imposing mandatory Covid passes for mass-attendance events taking a blow on Wednesday as Labour indicated it could vote against, putting proposed legislation at high risk of defeat in the Commons, writes our political editor Andrew Woodcock.
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 12:00
Speaker condemns No 10 for failing to give Commons news first
Sir Lindsay Hoyle has once again criticised Downing Street for failing to inform MPs of news that is of “great political interest” before announcing it to the public.
The Speaker said he was “far from happy” that Sajid Javid failed to disclose news of the agreed 3 per cent NHS pay rise to MPs yesterday, instead taking to Twitter from his home where he is isolating to share the update.
“I was far from happy that yesterday the House heard from a health minister giving us an NHS update with no mention at all of the pay deal for NHS, a point of great political interest,” he told the Commons earlier, adding: “It’s not my fault the Secretary of State got pinged. But if he does want to make announcements from his garden, somebody could have been here, the minister could have shared that information with us.”
Sir Lindsay added: “The clear message is, once again, this House should be told.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he “offered the apology of the Secretary of State and the Department of Health on the inability of the department to make a statement on the acceptance of the independent pay review body that NHS staff should get 3 per cent”.
While Sir Lindsay welcomed the apology, he concluded of Wednesday’s events: “It makes it worse when the minister is actually at the despatch box when all this is going on outside, and to turn to the House and say ‘well I can’t tell you’, not ‘I don’t know’ but ‘I can’t tell you’, is even more worrying.”
Sir Linday has again asked ministers to inform the Commons of important political updates before the public
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 11:44
‘Privileged few’ have unfair access to govt, Greensill report finds
Complaints that a “privileged few” have disproportionate access to those at the top of government are “justified”, a report into lobbying by David Cameron on behalf of failed finance firm Greensill has found.
The report commissioned by Boris Johnson from lawyer Nigel Boardman found that financier Lex Greensill enjoyed “a privileged – and sometimes extraordinarily privileged – relationship with government”.
“It has been argued that the government’s processes for managing lobbying are insufficiently transparent, that external organisations are able to exploit certain loopholes to land their messages more effectively, and that a privileged few have a disproportionate level of access to decision makers in government,” Mr Boardman wrote.
“I think some of these observations are justified.”
Our political editor Andrew Woodcock has the full report:
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 11:20
Ashworth urges government to clarify ‘how it will fund NHS pay settlement’
The shadow health secretary has taken aim at Boris Johnson’, insisting the PM “promised a health and social care plan two years ago” but has instead delivered only “a government in disarray”.
Jonathan Ashworth labelled ministers’ pledge to give NHS workers a 3 per cent pay award “a shambles” and said it was both “an insult to the house and a let down for health and care staff”.
“Ministers have been dragged kicking and screaming to this 3 per cent settlement,” he told MPs, appearing virtually in the Commons.
“Can he [Nadhim Zahawi, taking questions] accept that this isn’t an NHS-wide pay settlement, because it doesn’t cover all the health and care force who don’t fall under the pay review body. It doesn’t cover, for example, our junior doctors who’ve had an intense year,” Mr Ashworth said.
Going on to question how the government plans to fund the pay settlement, Mr Ashworth told colleagues: “NHS Trusts don’t even know what their budget will be beyond September. Now, [Mr Zahawi] has just said the pay settlement will cost £2.2bn, so where is that £2.2bn coming from? Or is he expecting Trusts and general practices to find it in their existing budgets?”
He added: “The NHS needs more investment now to cope with the pressures that it is under. So can he confirm that the government are going to break their manifesto pledge to increase national insurance? Or is the business secretary correct to say this morning, ‘I don’t see how we could increase national insurance’?”
Vaccines minister Mr Zahawi responded by defending the government, saying plainly some “one million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics, consultants and, of course, salaried GPs” would benefit from the 3 per cent pay packet.
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 11:07
List of industries exempt from Covid isolation to be published today
A “very narrow” list of sectors exempt from Covid isolation rules will be published on Thursday, the business secretary has revealed.
The prime minister’s official spokesman previously said the government was not expecting to produce a list detailing precisely which jobs would be eligible for the exemption and that “business-critical areas” would instead have to apply to government departments.
But business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on Thursday contradicted this, telling BBC R4’s Today programme Downing Street would be “publishing guidance today on who might be exempt,” reports Chiara Giordano.
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 10:41
Farmers and fishermen ‘have gained from Brexit’ – minister
An environment minister has said farmers and fishermen “have really gained from Brexit”, and that the government wants to replace the EU’s farming subsidies by “paying public money for public goods” to farmers.
Victoria Prentis, the Tory MP for Banbury, told the Commons earlier: “I don’t think it is any secret to this House that I was no Brexiteer, but I must say that for farming and fishing I think we have really gained from Brexit.
“In England, we don’t think the environment can wait. We want to start paying public money for public goods to our farmers and that is how they will be supported in the future.”
She was responding to a question from SNP environment spokeswoman Deidre Brock, who said farmers would be hit by “calamitous” tariffs if the government broke its trade agreement with the EU, as was discussed on Wednesday in relation to Northern Ireland.
“Will the Secretary of State or minister commit to covering the extra costs to farmers this whole sorry mess is causing? Or are the consequences of this ideological Brexit crusade to be borne by everyone but the UK government and its ministers?” she added during her question to Ms Prentis, who is Defra’s parliamentary under secretary.
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 10:33
Medics will consider strikes if it means ‘defending their pay,’ says doctor
A spokesman for the British Medical Association (BMA), and a consultant anaesthetist in central London, has announced industrial action will be on a list of considerations for medics after “10 years” of decreasing pay.
Dr Tom Dolphin said health workers’ “pay has fallen in value by about a third” over the past decade, adding “exhausted doctors” were leaving the NHS.
Asked if workers would consider industrial action, he told Sky News: “We’re not at that stage yet. What we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be sending out a survey to our members today and over the next week or so, to check and make sure that they are as angry and disappointed about this pay offer as we are at the BMA and if so what they’re prepared to do about it.
“And industrial action will be on that list of things they might want to consider, and we’ll see what people are prepared to do to defend their pay.”
Dr Dolphin also spoke about the controversial NHS app, which it has been reported millions of people are deleting, to say: “The reason there’s a pingdemic is because there’s a pandemic, people are being infected and testing positive in huge numbers and blaming the app for that is like blaming the fire alarm for going off when there’s a fire.”
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 10:19
Minister ‘believes’ social care plan coming ‘by autumn’
Plans to increase national insurance in order to pay for social care have not been ruled out – but are unlikely to appear this year, a government minister has said.
Reports earlier this week claimed Boris Johnson was considering plans to raise national insurance payments by one percentage point for employers and employees to raise £10bn a year to help support the ageing population.
Downing Street did not deny the reports on Tuesday and when business secretary Kwasi Kwateng was asked about the potential hike this morning, he signalled a social care plan will come “by the autumn”.
“That’s what it says in the manifesto, I don’t see how we could increase national insurance, but you know things have been very flexible over the last 18 months, we’ve lived through an unprecedented time, we’ve been spending huge amounts of money that we never thought was possible and it’s up to the Chancellor and the Treasury, and the wider government, to decide a budget,” he told Sky News.
The plan is not expected before the autumn, with the Commons set to rise for its summer break following Thursday’s business.
Sam Hancock22 July 2021 09:57