Work ‘day and night’ to secure a US trade deal to ‘strengthen your hand’ against the EU, Donald Trump's ambassador advises Boris Johnson: Brexit News for Saturday 11 January

Work ‘day and night’ to secure a US trade deal to ‘strengthen your hand’ against the EU, Donald Trump's ambassador advises Boris Johnson: Brexit News for Saturday 11 January
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Work ‘day and night’ to secure a US trade deal to ‘strengthen your hand’ against the EU, Donald Trump’s ambassador advises Boris Johnson…

Britain should work “day and night” to secure a trade deal with the US because it will “strengthen your hand” in negotiations with the EU, the US Ambassador has said. Boris Johnson this week sought to apply pressure on Brussels by signalling the UK would conduct negotiations with Washington at the same time as hammering out the terms of a permanent relationship with the EU. His hand appeared to be strengthened on Friday when Woody Johnson, Donald Trumps’ ambassador to London, described the President as “bullish” about Britain’s post-Brexit chances. Ambassador Johnson said Mr Trump wanted a trade deal and that UK negotiators should “take him at his word”. He added: “Having a trade deal with the US and maybe the five eyes…will strengthen your hand when you are negotiating with your, you know, your closest geographically trading partner, which is the EU.” The ambassador also sought to quash the claims made by Labour during the general election campaign that the US want to “buy” the NHS, telling LBC: “No, no and double no.” Britain formally leaves the EU on January 31, entering a transition period until December 31, during which it remains a member of the single market and customs union. – Telegraph (£)

…while insisting the US is not after the NHS in Brexit trade talks

America is not seeking to “buy” the NHS in a post-Brexit trade deal, US ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson has insisted. In the wake of Labour repeatedly telling voters in last month’s general election that the NHS would be a key part of negotiations under a Tory government, Mr Johnson said US President Donald Trump was not interested in the idea. Asked if the US wanted to buy the NHS, Mr Johnson told LBC: “No, no, and double no. “The president said… if you gave it to him on a silver platter he wouldn’t take it. We have got our own issues dealing with health care. It’s a major, major issue. The president wants to concentrate on his health issues that he has, the national health issues. You have Obama care and converting it into something that gives people choices. You can solve the NHS issues. And I think the Prime Minister has been very clear that he wants to emphasis improving health care and efficiency. And more hospitals and more nurses, which is great.” – Belfast Telegraph

Panicking EU threatens to make UK pay if fishing access is blocked after Brexit

Britain could find itself embroiled in another ‘cod war’ after Brexit if it expels foreign boats from its waters, the European Union has warned. Fishing communities the length and breadth of the UK have repeatedly called for European trawlers to be kicked out after the UK leaves the bloc while fishermen on the continent have threatened to retaliate with a blockade of ports. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, whose country holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, made clear the team of negotiators who will kick off talks with Britain after January 31 will push for continued access. Mr Plenkovic said: “We want to avoid any fisheries skirmishes in the Atlantic. We have seen them before, we don’t want to see them again.” – Express

France vows to defy Johnson’s Brexit deadline and says the EU will take up to three years to seal a trade deal

France vowed to defy Boris Johnson over his Brexit deadline saying the EU would take up to three years to negotiate a trade deal with him. Emmanuel Macron’s top Europe adviser Amelie de Montchalin came out swinging as Brussels chief Ursula von der Leyen urged the PM to ditch his red lines. The French EU minister said trade talks would be “a major arm twisting game” and the UK had more to lose from leaving without a deal. She declared: “If Boris Johnson says it must end in 11 months from now and we need 15, 24, or 36 months, the EU27 will take their time.” Her remarks came as part of mounting calls from across Europe for Mr Johnson to U-turn on his vow not to extend the transition. The transition period, during which nothing changes as Britain continues to follow all EU rules, ends on December 31, but can be extended by two years. – The Sun

Johnson accused by peers of reducing Parliament to ‘passive observers’ over Brexit deal

Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to reduce Parliament to “passive observers” during his negotiations with the EU over a trade deal. A House of Lords committee complained that a mechanism for giving MPs and peers a say in approving the negotiating objectives had been taken out of Mr Johnson’s version of the deal. The panel said that while the European Parliament would be able to scrutinise the future trade deal, Westminster politicians would have no such role. The Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Bill was passed unamended by the House of Commons by a majority of 99 earlier this week, and will be debated by the House of Lords next week. Mr Johnson’s landslide win in last month’s general election enabled him to rewrite Theresa May’s Brexit bill and remove concessions she had made in the hope of getting it through Parliament. But the Government has no majority in the Lords, which remains critical of the deal. Lord Kinnoull, chairman of the committee, said: “The revised EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill has significantly weaker arrangements for transparency and democratic oversight. The lack of any provision in the Bill for the UK Parliament to scrutinise the future relationship negotiations is set in harsh relief compared to the role the European Parliament will play. MEPs will be able to undertake detailed and transparent scrutiny of future EU-UK negotiations while parliamentarians in Westminster will be reduced to passive observers.” – Telegraph (£)

Students face losing EU exchange courses if Erasmus scheme ends

British students could lose their right to subsidised years at European universities after Brexit. Officials in the Treasury and the Department for Education have suggested that Britain’s participation in the Erasmus+ exchange scheme could end this year. At present the £1 billion cost of subsidising British students studying for a year of their course in EU universities is paid for by the European Commission. At the end of the Brexit transition period Britain will have to pay if it still wants to participate in the €16 billion programme. The commission hopes to expand the reach of the project from next year, with the potential to double its budget to €30 billion, and the UK would be expected to contribute. On Thursday the government was forced to deny that it was planning to scrap the scheme after Tory MPs were whipped to oppose an amendment to the withdrawal agreement bill that would have required the government to seek continued participation in Erasmus+. Ministers and officials were said to have discussed whether the scheme fitted in with government priorities because it is viewed as mainly benefiting middle-class students. “The question being asked is whether you want to spend a billion pounds on this or put it into the schools budget,” a Whitehall source said. “Clearly it will depend on the negotiations with the EU but the feeling is that it is expensive and not a priority for the government.” – The Times (£)

No-deal Brexit: Operation Brock contraflow to be removed on M20

Work to dismantle the 15-mile contraflow system on the M20 in Kent, put in place as part of Operation Brock, will begin on Monday. The system was implemented in March 2019 to prevent severe delays on the motorway, which is the key freight route to and from Dover, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. But it was announced that the steel barrier, between Junction 8 for Maidstone and Junction 9 at Ashford, would be removed because the risk of a no-deal Brexit has lowered. The decision was made by Highways England, the Kent Resilience Forum and the Department for Transport. It cost £35 million to put in place, which includes the design, construction, testing, activation and deactivation of the system. – ITV News

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer says Labour must regain people’s trust (days after he and his colleagues again voted against Brexit) 

Sir Keir Starmer will launch his Labour leadership campaign with a pledge to win back former supporters who switched to the Tories at the general election. At a launch event in Manchester on Saturday, the shadow Brexit secretary will say the party must retain its radicalism while making it relevant to people’s everyday lives. He will promise to pursue Boris Johnson relentlessly in Parliament if he succeeds in becoming leader when the result is announced in April. Sir Keir has emerged as the clear favourite among Labour MPs and was the first of the six contenders to secure the 22 nominations required to progress to the next stage of the contest. He has, however, been keen to emphasise his radical credentials in a pitch to grassroots party members who are thought to be more left-wing and whose votes will ultimately determine the outcome. – ITV News

John Rentoul: Boris Johnson has ‘got Brexit done’ – and politics will now move on to be about ‘other things’

The Brexit ship is now moving down the slipway. After three and a half years of wrangling in the House of Commons about leaving the EU, MPs have finally finished voting for the withdrawal legislation. The bill will go to the House of Lords next week, and, while there may be a token last stand by Remainers in the upper house, it will pass. Peers will not stand against the will of the Commons, and especially not so soon after an election fought on the slogan, “Get Brexit done”. As Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said, the upper house “is capable of acting with remarkable speed when it considers it is in the interests of democracy”. So that, finally, is that. If Conservative Eurosceptics get their way and Big Ben is sounded on 31 January, just 22 days away, then on the first bong at 11pm the UK will cease to be an EU member state. Nothing else will change, in practical terms: we will enter a transition period in which we will be treated as a member state until the end of the year. People who come to the UK from other EU countries in the next 11 months will have exactly the same rights as those already here. The big change will be psychological. Everything in politics will look different from the other side of the exit door. The word “Brexit” will be used less and less. The Brexit department will be abolished. The Liberal Democrats may have an agonised debate about whether to advocate rejoining, but no one else will care. – John Rentoul for the Independent

Julian Jessop: Is the British economy set for a Brexit bounce?

The forecasts for 2020 suggest another lacklustre year in store for the British economy. The median prediction for GDP growth, according to the latest survey of independent forecasters compiled by HM Treasury, is just 1%. That would be the weakest annual figure since the recession of 2008-09. In particular, investment is expected to remain sluggish, largely because of persistent Brexit uncertainty. The good news is that the consensus is usually wrong, and, in this case, it already looks too pessimistic. Let’s focus on Brexit (although there are other reasons to be optimistic, including an easing in political uncertainty more generally, and signs of an improvement in the global backdrop). Many commentators are still sniffy about the Tory election pledge to ‘Get Brexit Done’. They argue that the official departure from the EU on 31st January is only one small step in a potentially lengthy and difficult process. This process will include the first serious negotiations about the future relationship, and a ‘transition period’, lasting until the end of 2020, when not much will actually change. There are indeed still plenty of ways that Brexit could play out, with different implications for the economy. The UK government’s ambitious aim is to conclude a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU this year, covering all major sectors and, crucially, which allows for some future regulatory divergence. For now, at least, the EU is dead set against this, preferring to prioritise some sectors (for example, fisheries before financial services), and insisting on full regulatory harmonisation as part of the price for unfettered market access. The timetable is challenging too. Realistically, most of the groundwork will need to be completed in the first six months, with everything sorted by October or November. Indeed, new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already claimed that it is “basically impossible” to negotiate a full future-relationship deal and have it ratified by the end of 2020. Brexit pessimists have therefore focused on what could still go wrong. – Julian Jessop for CapX

Joe Armitage: Those longing for a Brexit transition extension are going to be bitterly disappointed

At the end of this month the UK will leave the EU and enter a transition period. This transition sits uncomfortably with those who believe in the concept of self-governance. The UK will continue to be subject to all the conditions associated with EU membership without any political representation whatsoever. Nonetheless, this was a compromise worth making so that businesses could use the period of continuity it provides to ready themselves for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The transition will end on December 31st this year and if a trade agreement has not been negotiated with the EU by this point then the UK will exit the bloc’s regulatory strictures without one. There is a great deal of hope in certain quarters that the UK will avoid the risk of this by exercising its right under the withdrawal agreement to extend the transition by one or two years. Some – particularly those who opposed Brexit and supported a second referendum – contend that the UK is simply not capable of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU within 11 months. Those demanding what is, in effect, an additional delay to the UK exiting the EU should accept the new political composition of the UK. It would be the height of folly for the Conservative party – which pledged throughout the election campaign to end the dithering and “get Brexit done” – to postpone the UK’s departure from de facto membership of the EU by any longer than is necessary. If the UK extended the transition period by two years then it would result in the UK leaving the EU’s institutions almost 7 years after the 2016 referendum result, a completely unacceptable length of time to put a democratic decision on ice. It would also take up the first half of the new majority government’s term in office. Those who want to remain in the EU’s orbit fail to recognise that the government want to be able to use the freedom that leaving brings as quickly as possible. – Joe Armitage for the Telegraph (£)

Asa Bennett: As Tory MPs get Brexit done, Remainers can only offer yet more Project Fear

More than three and a half years after Boris Johnson inspired the British people to rise up and vote to leave the European Union, MPs have cleared the terms he agreed for the United Kingdom’s departure, paving the way for Brexit to happen from January 31. Some may well miss this parliamentary history, not just due to the raft of headlines about other big events, but also because the considerable Tory majority won by Boris Johnson last month means this result was not in any doubt. This new Parliament has proven to be a refreshing contrast from its predecessor, which spent last year tying up both prime ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson in endless procedural chicanery and a string of awkward amendments. If the Government persisted with that Commons in the expectation the worst it could do would be to mangle the withdrawal deal, the agony would not go away for the next phase of future relationship talks with the EU. Many will have wondered if this moment would ever come. But it has at last, thanks to the scores of new Tories raring to get Brexit done who have replaced rebellious windbags like Dominic Grieve. The teeth-grinding war of parliamentary attrition is over, with Conservative MPs easily dealing with amendments tabled by their opponents this week: some of which aimed to tie the UK’s hands in negotiating its post-Brexit future, while others amounted to little more than legislative virtue-signalling. Opposition MPs must have known that these amendments were doomed, as their rejection has been seized on by Remainers to whip up hysteria about the Government’s plans. While Tory MPs get Brexit done, their opponents are on the backfoot. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • Actually, Iran and the Brexit deal have more in common than you may think – Robert Rowland MEP for the Telegraph (£)
  • After Brexit, a big break from arguing MPs is just what the nation needs – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)
  • Boris Johnson should get Brexit done as he promised and not bend under EU pressure – James Forsyth for The Sun
  • Will Big Ben chime to mark the moment we leave the EU? – Harry Phibbs for ConservativeHome
  • Hungary’s Orban threatens to destroy EU’s biggest party to take on Macron – Express