UK has 'crossed the Brexit finish line', says Boris Johnson as Withdrawal Agreement passes final parliamentary hurdle: Brexit News for Thursday 23 January

UK has 'crossed the Brexit finish line', says Boris Johnson as Withdrawal Agreement passes final parliamentary hurdle: Brexit News for Thursday 23 January

UK has ‘crossed the Brexit finish line’, says Boris Johnson as Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes final parliamentary hurdle…

Boris Johnson has said the UK has “crossed the Brexit finish line” after Parliament passed legislation implementing the withdrawal deal. The EU Bill, which paves the way for the country to leave the bloc on 31 January, is now awaiting royal assent. The PM said the UK could now “move forwards as one” and put “years of rancour and division behind it”. The EU’s top officials are expected to sign the agreement in the coming days, while MEPs will vote on it next week. The European Parliament will meet on 29 January to debate the agreement, which sets out the terms of the UK’s “divorce” settlement with the EU, the rights of EU nationals resident in the UK and British expats on the continent and arrangements for Northern Ireland. Its ratification is expected to prove a formality. The UK will officially leave the 27-member bloc at 11.00 GMT on 31 January – more than three and a half years after the country voted for Brexit in a referendum in June 2016. – BBC News

…while he plans to hail a ‘new chapter’ for the country and ‘mobilise the full breadth of our new freedoms’

The Prime Minister will vow to ‘mobilise the full breadth of our new freedoms’ on Brexit night – as his Bill paving the way for Britain to leave the EU was finally passed by Parliament yesterday. A leaked Downing Street memo, setting out how the Government will mark January 31, reveals Boris Johnson will use the occasion to call for national healing and unity. But he will also make clear that after the UK’s exit it will ‘maximise all the freedoms the British people voted to grasp’, including on trade, immigration and fishing. The script, obtained by the Daily Mail, has been prepared as a basis for remarks to be given by Mr Johnson and ministers on the historic day. The PM will hold a Cabinet meeting in the North, before returning to No 10 to make a televised address to the nation in the evening. Britain will leave the EU at 11pm after Mr Johnson’s Brexit bill cleared its final Parliamentary hurdle yesterday when it was approved by the House of Lords. Now all it awaits is Royal Assent and approval by the European Parliament next week. – Daily Mail

Sajid Javid ‘absolutely’ confident a Brexit trade deal can be done this year, despite ‘tight timetable’…

Sajid Javid has said he is “absolutely” confident a Brexit trade deal with the EU can be done this year, despite the “tight” timetable. The Chancellor said the UK’s top priority was to seal a trade deal with Brussels by the end of 2020, as there was a “strong belief on both sides it can be done”. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos today, he told a panel discussion: “Yes, we’ve set a timetable. It’s the end of this year, but it can absolutely be done. “A lot needs to be to put together in the time we have. “But it can be done, and it can be done for goods – we want free trade, zero-tariffs, zero-quotas – and also on services.” He insisted that Britain had seen a “huge boost in investor confidence” since the election result. Brexit certainty and the knowledge of a stable government has seen businesses become more sure of the path ahead, he said. He wanted Britain to be seen as “one of the most pro-business governments the UK has ever seen”. – The Sun

…as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the UK will lose market access if it ditches Brussels regulations…

The UK’s access to the single market will be weakened if it does not continue to sign up to EU rules after Brexit, Ursula von der Leyen has said. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the European Commission’s president warned of “more distance” between the UK and EU if such a state of affairs came about. She also insisted that trade talks would begin in February, following speculation that there could be a further delay until March. Her comments came as the chancellor, Sajid Javid, said there was “no point” in leaving the EU unless the UK was going to ditch the Brussels rule book. Ms Von der Leyen’s said that the “next negotiations will start in February with our British friends” and said officials would “work day and night” to reach a deal. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has set himself a deadline of reaching a trade deal by the end of the transition period in December. If one is not secured by that point, UK firms will face tariffs and quotas that could wreck their businesses. “The closer the UK is to the European Union, the better the access to the single market,” Ms Von der Leyen told the conference.” – Independent

…and Brussels draws up a hit list of UK financial services as the row over EU rules after Brexit intensifies

The European Commission has drawn up a list of British financial industries to penalise if the City of London strays too far from EU regulation after Brexit. Commission officials told European Union diplomats they had identified 40 different types of financial services that could be frozen out of the EU’s market at a meeting in Brussels earlier this week. The future trading relationship on financial services will be based on a so-called “equivalence” regime which can be withdrawn unilaterally at just 30 days notice. By pinpointing specific industries and sparing others, the EU would be able to ensure its continued access to vital clearing services and global capital markets – while heaping pressure on Britain as a punishment or to exert leverage in future UK-EU negotiations. EU diplomats said they do not plan to use equivalence as a political weapon to leverage negotiations with Britain, as the commission did with Switzerland last year. After the meeting, one diplomat said: “We don’t foresee it, but we could do it”. – Telegraph (£)

Trade tensions erupt between London and Washington…

Trade tensions between London and Washington erupted on Wednesday, as the US threatened to impose “arbitrary” tariffs on UK car exports and Britain said it would give precedence to a commerce deal with the EU. Donald Trump wants to secure a swift trade deal with Britain before US presidential elections this autumn, but relations were soured as UK chancellor Sajid Javid confirmed plans to introduce a digital services tax, which will mainly hit big American technology companies. Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, retaliated by threatening to impose tariffs on British car exports, including leading brands manufactured in the UK such as Mini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce, if a digital tax is introduced in April. In a further sign of tension, Mr Javid said London would prioritise a post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU over a deal with the US. British officials said talks with Brussels must wrap up by December when a Brexit transition period ends, while discussions with the US had “no hard deadline”. “Our first priority is getting an agreement with the EU,” said Mr Javid at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We are leaving [the EU] in nine days but we still have to do the trade agreement.” – FT(£)

…although Donald Trump accuses the EU of making it ‘impossible’ to trade and praises Boris Johnson’s ‘guts’

Donald Trump today claimed the EU makes it ‘impossible’ to trade as he praised Boris Johnson and said the UK is in a ‘good position’ to get a strong post-Brexit deal from the bloc. The US President delivered a savage attack on Brussels as he spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this afternoon. He said the EU was ‘more difficult to do business with than China’ but predicted the bloc would agree to better trade terms with the US because ‘they have no choice’ as he threatened to impose punishing tariffs on European goods. Despite his criticism of the EU, Mr Trump said he believed Mr Johnson was well placed to strike a beneficial future partnership agreement with Brussels. He said Mr Johnson had ‘a lot of guts’ and was doing a ‘terrific job’ as he insisted doing a quick UK/US trade deal was ‘okay with me’. Mr Trump said: ‘The United States has been losing $150 billion and more for many years. £150 billion more. I mean really more than that with the European Union. ‘They have trade barriers where you can’t trade. They have tariffs all over the place. They make it impossible. They are frankly more difficult to do business with than China.” – MailOnline

UK manufacturers feel more upbeat, CBI study shows

UK manufacturers have become much more optimistic about their business outlook since October, according to a survey published on Wednesday that points to a possible rebound in economic growth since the December general election. The CBI quarterly industrial trends survey found that the proportion of manufacturers expecting business to improve was 23 per cent larger than the share predicting conditions to worsen in the three months to January — the highest level of optimism since 2014. In the quarter to October, pessimists outnumbered optimists by 44 per cent. The swing in sentiment between the two quarters was the biggest recorded by the CBI survey, which has been published since 1958. If the surge in confidence is corroborated by the closely watched purchasing managers’ indices covering manufacturing and services, due to be published on Friday, it could give members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee pause for thought when they meet to set interest rates next week. Sterling strengthened by about 0.6 per cent against the dollar after the CBI survey of 300 manufacturers was released and investors scaled back bets on the MPC loosening policy, with pricing in futures markets suggesting a 50-50 chance of a rate cut. – FT(£)

Priti Patel says low-skill migrants won’t be spared new visa curbs

Low-skilled workers in sectors such as construction and social care will not be exempt from new immigration rules after Brexit despite staff shortages, Priti Patel has told ministers. The home secretary made clear at cabinet on Tuesday that there would be no “carve-outs” under the points-based system. Although people in “shortage occupations” may be given more points under the Australian-style system, there will be no guarantee that they will be able to enter the UK. There have been warnings that Britain will face a shortage of social care workers if care homes are unable to recruit enough staff from overseas. Ministers have also said that foreign construction workers should be given special treatment to ensure that Boris Johnson’s pledge to “level up” the country with £100 billion of infrastructure investment can be met. However, Ms Patel is said to have warned that exemptions for certain sectors risked undermining the new migration system, which she said should be “simpler and fairer”. There are concerns that the present system is so complex it has become a “lawyer’s paradise”. “The immigration rules have become a real spaghetti mess,” a cabinet source said. “Even the judges think that’s the case. Priti was arguing that we need a much clearer rules-based system. She doesn’t want a system with carve-outs all over the place.” – The Times (£)

Nigel Farage says he is mothballing the Brexit Party so he can bring it back if Boris Johnson makes a ‘mess’ of Brexit…

Nigel Farage today said he will be mothballing the Brexit Party so that he can bring it back if Boris Johnson makes a ‘mess’ of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Mr Farage claimed his latest political vehicle could go down in history as the ‘shortest lived but most successful party ever’ after it helped guide Britain towards it split from Brussels. Mr Farage said it was ‘unbelievable’ to see the UK about to leave the EU after he spent his entire political life fighting for it. Britain will cease to have any MEPs on January 31 when Britain’s divorce from Brussels finally goes through. Asked what the point of the Brexit Party was now that the split is actually happening, Mr Farage told ITV’s This Morning programme: ‘What I’ll do now is put it [The Brexit Party} on care and maintenance, just in case they make a mess of it. ‘In 2016, I actually believed that Mrs May was going to do the thing properly… I was wrong, so I’m not going to close it [the Brexit Party] down. ‘But I think the truth of it is that Boris Johnson knows that he has got a big Parliamentary majority. If he goes soft on this he’d lose in five years time. I’m actually quite optimistic.’ – MailOnline

…as he reveals more details of next Friday’s Parliament Square victory party

The Brexit Party will sound its own Big Ben bongs on the day the UK leaves the EU after the Commons silenced calls for the iconic clock to ring. The 13.7-tonne bell has been under construction since 2017 and the chimes have not been sounded for the safety of workers involved in the four-year restoration scheme of the Elizabeth Tower. The House of Commons Commission ruled out ringing the bells for Brexit after it was revealed that it would cost £500,000 – a massive rise over the original estimate of £120,000. Sounding the bells just for one night would mean installing a temporary floor and hike up the cost of renovations. But the Brexit Party has another trick up its sleeve to ensure Brexit day can be celebrated in style. Rather than the traditional bells ringing out on January 31, loudspeakers will instead echo around Parliament Square. An open letter, signed by Nigel Farage and Richard Tice, said: “We will be celebrating all those who have made this monumental victory for democracy possible – including politicians on the left and the right, campaigners who handed out leaflets in the rain, and the millions who turned out to vote. – Express

Emily Thornberry denies ‘sneering’ at Brexit voters

Labour leadership candidate Emily Thornberry has denied “sneering” at Brexit voters. The shadow foreign secretary was confronted in a TV interview with Andrew Neil with a video in which she appeared to laugh as a fellow Labour frontbencher said that people who did not hate Brexit “have something wrong with them”. But she insisted that she had been amused by the “extraordinary” comments being made by Dawn Butler from the platform of the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit event. And she said a double standard was applied to her, as the daughter of a single mother who grew up on a council estate, compared to the wealthy, Eton-educated Boris Johnson, who had made clearly derogatory remarks about working-class people. Ms Thornberry was the second of the contenders to succeed Jeremy Corbyn to submit to an interrogation by Neil on his BBC2 show, after Lisa Nancy. She said she would keep an “open mind” on future free movement for EU citizens after Brexit, arguing it should be decided on the basis of what would be best for jobs and the economy, which she said would involve being “close to the single market”. – Independent

Britons will be able to fly to 2020 summer holiday destinations on classic blue passports

Iconic blue British passports are about to be issued for the first time in more than 30 years as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. Home Office officials were unable to give a precise date for the switch-over but confirmed the new design would be rolled out in time for the 2020 summer holiday season. Production of the burgundy travel document will be phased out in the coming months. The Passport Office said all passports issued from the middle of this year would be the blue version. A spokeswoman said: “The new blue passport design will start being issued from early 2020. – Express

John Longworth: A new Thatcherite spirit can turn Brexit Britain into a world-beating economy

As a young executive, I was a great fan of Margaret Thatcher. She changed the psyche of Britain: breaking free of Trade Union domination and the belief that the state was the answer to every question, she created an atmosphere of liberty and enterprise, self reliance, broke the back of jobsworth bureaucracy in government and business,  and handbagged a failing political class. One of the side effects of this was to engender amongst Thatcherites the belief that the state is always bad and free markets are always good. In fact, Britain swallowed the free market pill whole in a way that no other country has, including the USA. Free markets and enterprise, liberty and freedom from bureaucracy remain great objectives for wealth creation, for the building of a prosperous nation. But times change and while the fundamentals may remain the same the economic environment and the challenges move on, the circumstances in which we operate as a nation flex, we reach different points in the cycle. Slavishly following a doctrine can be almost as bad as following the wrong doctrine. When the facts change, one must change one’s mind to paraphrase Keynes. It is notable that even the Great Patrick Minford, to his credit, recently acknowledged as much in a piece in this paper. At the last election we were faced with an existential threat which would have taken us back to the days prior to Thatcher. The electorate have soundly rejected this for now. Their continued rejection will depend upon whether their decision proves to be propitious to their interests. This is politics. In order to win the votes of the electorate or indeed parts of the electorate, the government needs to weigh what actions or inactions will most benefit their constituents. This is democracy. A crucial test of the new government will be the way in which they use the new liberty that Brexit affords in respect of economic and business policy. Early indications are that it will not be laissez faire. – John Longworth MEP for the Telegraph (£)

Daniel Hannan: I wave farewell to the EU in my last column as an MEP

This is it: the last column I’ll write for ConservativeHome as an MEP. We were supposed to leave the EU at the end of March 2019. Then at the end of June. Then at the end of October. Now, at last, it is happening. In nine days’ time, we’ll be out. What an extraordinary three years. “If this were played upon a stage now,” says the poet, “I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” The rise in the Conservative Party’s vote from 8.8 per cent at the European election in May (our worst ever result) to 43.6 per cent less than eight months later has no precedent. If anyone foresaw the turbulence, the vertiginous swings, the sudden reversals that followed the Brexit vote, they kept very quiet. I certainly didn’t. How long ago all that seems now. Boris Johnson revived his party’s fortunes, won a stunning victory and restored normal government, The Brexit Bill has been passed, the Stormont assembly is back up and running and an ambitious democratic programme is being put before MPs. Six months ago, just before Johnson was elected, I called in this slot for the democratisation of our administrative state, and suggested putting Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings in charge. That is now happening. When I think that it might have happened in 2016, and that we might have been spared the anguish of the intervening 43 months, I almost want to weep. – Daniel Hannan MEP for ConservativeHome

Asa Bennett: Boris Johnson is showing what control means for Brexit Britain’s borders

Perhaps the only proposal from Theresa May that outraged more people than her Brexit deal was her desire for immigrants to be required to make at least £30,000 to be allowed into the United Kingdom. Her insistence on this minimum salary threshold managed to offend business groups and trade unions, who pointed out it would shut out many talented foreign-born entrepreneurs, nurses and builders. It even sparked a cabinet revolt, forcing Mrs May to kick it into the long grass of an extended “consultation”, and inspired members of the European Research Group to kick up a fuss. The huge backlash showed Mrs May’s struggle to understand – as a former Remainer – what Brexiteers actually wanted. As a former home secretary, she instinctively decided they needed to see tough action on immigration, forgetting to provide that toughness in her talks with the European Union as she chose to hug them close on trade. Her hardline interpretation of Brexit caused understandable angst among Eurosceptics, who feared that by pulling up the drawbridge she was corrupting the whole purpose of leaving the EU by undermining any claim to be “Global Britain”. Thankfully, Mr Johnson has indicated that the salary threshold rule she devised will be put out of its misery. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Ben Habib: What the UK must do to ensure it is match fit for Brexit

When the UK leaves the EU under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement next Friday, it will commit to pay tens of billions of pounds for nothing in return, relinquish its representation in the various Brussels institutions, effectively commit Northern Ireland to remaining in the single market as well as being in the UK’s customs union, and the UK itself will enter what is referred to as a “transition period”. By our Government’s promises, this period should not last beyond December 2020 and, during it, the UK will go on being a member of the single market, subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and liable to pay £1bn (net) a month to the EU. By signing the Withdrawal Agreement, Britain is therefore putting itself in a weak negotiating position for the establishment of its future trading arrangements. However, the UK can still largely prevail in these talks if it prepares well and plays its cards right. In order to do so, the Government must prepare, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, for a no-deal outcome at the end of this year. It remains as true today as in 2016 that the only way to get a good deal is to ensure we do not need one. The time remaining is more than adequate to prepare for no deal. By preparations, I do not simply mean things like making sure the port of Dover operates effectively. We must ensure we are ready to reap the huge benefits that no-deal should yield. – Ben Habib MEP for the Telegraph (£)

Victoria Hewson: In rejecting mutual recognition, the inflexible EU would violate the spirit of WTO rules

The latest reports from the pre-negotiations for our future relationship with the EU suggest that the Commission is preparing to offer the UK a trade deal on even harsher terms than its agreements with Canada, Japan and other trading partners. As the Telegraph revealed yesterday, the Commission proposes to withhold recognition of UK conformity assessment bodies (CABs), unless the UK agrees to the kind of alignment on goods regulations and so-called “level playing field” measures that the EU is seeking. But just how seriously should we take this apparently uncompromising stance – is it a likely proposition, or indeed a reasonable one? At first glance, withholding recognition looks like the EU continuing the inflexible approach it has shown so far, which damages its own businesses as well as the UK’s. Already, the majority of UK goods can be self-certified by the manufacturer to confirm that they meet EU rules. Some goods – usually specialised and technical goods like medicines, medical devices and safety equipment – must be independently certified as meeting EU standards before they can be placed on the market. Only authorised bodies based in the EU can provide certification, unless the EU has a Mutual Recognition Agreement with countries where it recognises conformity assessment by authorised bodies. The UK is home to a number of such bodies that test and certify products manufactured in the UK, the EU and elsewhere. During the Article 50 negotiations, the EU made clear that under a no-deal exit, certificates issued by UK bodies would no longer be recognised and UK manufacturers would have to renew their certifications with EU authorised bodies. Now this threat looms again, not only if we don’t have a free trade agreement by the end of 2020, but even if we do – so there would be no tariffs on exports to the EU, yet exporters would face the cost and inconvenience of obtaining EU conformity assessment and UK CABs would be disadvantaged, in a field in which they have been market leaders. But this threat is perhaps not as serious as it might seem. – Victoria Hewson for the Telegraph (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • Everything you know about Europe is wrong – Ed West for UnHerd
  • UK-Australia trade deal after Brexit ‘is not a substitute for the EU’, warns former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull – iNews
  • Brexit is good for better Kenya-UK trade ties, says Kenyan President – KBC
  • Bercow accused of bullying staff by his former top aide – The Times (£)
  • Madness singer Suggs says he regrets calling Brexit voters ‘small-minded’ and reveals the band had a ‘punch-up’ about the referendum vote – MailOnline
  • Nigel Farage turned down I’m A Celebrity to ‘get Brexit done’ but is considering U-turn – Express