Boris Johnson says it is 'epically likely' the UK will seal a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020: Brexit News for Wednesday 15 January

Boris Johnson says it is 'epically likely' the UK will seal a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020: Brexit News for Wednesday 15 January
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Boris Johnson says it is ‘epically likely’ the UK will seal a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020…

Boris Johnson today insisted it is ‘epically likely’ that the UK will seal a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year – despite Brussels warning the timescale is unrealistic. The PM refused to give a categorical guarantee that an agreement will be reached before the end of the post-Brexit transition period, ‘you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense’. But Mr Johnson – who this morning gathered his Cabinet for its regular meeting – made clear he believes the ‘enormous’ probability is that a settlement will emerge. The comments came as the cross-Channel haggling stepped up a gear. The EU’s trade commissioner Phil Hogan has suggested the UK will have to surrender fishing waters in return for access to the bloc’s financial markets for the City of London. Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast: ‘Obviously you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense, that goes without saying, but I’m very, very, very confident that we’ll get a (deal).’ The premier also gave another strong hint that the UK will seek to carry out trade deals with the US in parallel to those with the EU. ‘This is not about a deal, this is about building a great new partnership. And from January 31, what we’re going to do is start working with our friends and partners around the world – not just with the EU,’ he said. ‘We’re going to start building new relationships with friends and partners around the world.’ – MailOnline

> WATCH: PM Boris Johnson’s full BBC interview

…and puts his faith in Brexit supporter David Frost…

For the past three and a half years, hardline Brexiters have claimed that the UK’s civil service was working to thwart Britain’s bid to break free from Brussels. But in appointing David Frost to head the upcoming trade talks with the EU, Boris Johnson has placed his faith in one of the few senior diplomats who thinks Brexit is a good idea. “They’ve been on the same intellectual journey over the EU,” a Downing Street adviser said. “There is a joint conviction in what they’re doing. David believes this is going to be a better country when we’ve left and we have a relationship of equals with the EU.” Mr Frost will lead “Taskforce Europe”, a 30-40 strong unit based in Downing Street charged with overseeing the sprawling negotiation and bringing it to a successful conclusion by the end of 2020, a timetable seen in Brussels as wholly unrealistic. – FT (£)

…while US-UK trade talks begin as pressure mounts on Brussels to strike a deal this year

Trade Secretary Liz Truss has kicked off talks with the US ambassador as Britain scrambles to fast-track a deal with America that would pile pressure on Brussels. Ms Truss is understood to have this week made the case against further American tariffs on UK exports including Scotch whisky to ambassador Woody Johnson, in their first meeting on the matter. It follows six working groups between policy experts to discuss a free trade agreement, insiders said. Both sides are hoping a deal to slash tariffs can be reached rapidly – cutting the cost of US goods for British consumers and opening new opportunities for British firms in the American market. If talks progress well, it is hoped the European Union will move faster in its own discussions on a post-Brexit trade agreement to avoid being left behind. A spokesman for the Department for International Trade (DIT) said: “Retaliatory tariffs cause harm to British businesses and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. “This completely contradicts the more open business environment we are trying to create after Brexit and we have raised the issue at the highest levels of the US administration.” After the meeting, Woody Johnson tweeted that he had “emphasised the excitement in the US to get started on a comprehensive US-UK free trade agreement as soon as possible”. Plans for a deal could be slowed down by concerns it will allow US food firms to sell chicken washed in chlorine in British supermarkets, and fears over efforts to increase private sector involvement in the NHS. Ministers insist food standards will stay high and the health service is not a bargaining chip. – Telegraph (£)

EU threatens to block any trade deal this year if Johnson doesn’t give in on fishing rights…

Brussels last night threatened it will block any UK trade deal this year if the PM does not give in on fishing rights. Eurocrats hardened their position on demanding continued access to our waters after Boris Johnson vowed not to extend the transition period beyond December 31. The EU said talks on fisheries will now have a “direct link” to thrashing out tariff and quota free trade on goods. Previously, the EU had stated access for its vessels would be secured “within the context of the overall economic partnership”. But Mr Johnson’s insistence the UK will quit the transition come what may at the end of this year has sparked concern in Brussels. Eurocrats believe only a “bare bones” trade deal on goods will be done by then and want to play hardball over fishing for maximum leverage. In a briefing to EU27 diplomats, Michel Barnier’s team said any deal on “reciprocal” access would be of “unprecedented scale and scope”. The pact would include agreements on quotas that European fishermen can land in our waters and a clause to protect their livelihoods. EU negotiators want to get it done by July 1 this year — the date by which the UK must say whether or not it plans to extend the transition. EU trade chief Phil Hogan has suggested fishing rights may be secured in a “trade-off” with the UK over market access for the City of London. – The Sun

…as Ursula von der Leyen says it will be the UK’s decision on how close it wants to be to the EU…

The President of the European Commission has said it will be up to the UK to decide how close or how distant it wants to be from the European Union and also from the single market. Ursula von der Leyden said it cannot be expected to have no free movement of people and then expect to have free movement for goods, capital or services. She said it was either all four or none of this was possible. Following her recent trip to London she told MEPs that behind each of the 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK, there were personal stories and those people were teaching children, treating patients and working on farms and in factories. Ms Von der Leyen said these people wanted to have peace of mind and a plan for the future and to feel at home in the place they call home. She said the EU Withdrawal Agreement provided comprehensive rights for these citizens and it was up to the UK to safeguard those rights. She said many EU citizens living in the UK had already received proof of their right to remain but she said many more had yet to apply, whilst others were confused. She said there was a need for all citizens, especially the most vulnerable to be protected and added that the EU Commission would be keeping a close and vigilant eye on this issue. The European Parliament is debating a resolution to address the rights of these citizens, as well as those of UK citizens residing in the EU. – RTE

> WATCH: Ursula von der Leyen’s speech to the European Parliament 

…while Guy Verhofstadt warns that the EU may not accept ‘any trade deal’ in a savage attack on Britain…

Guy Verhofstadt today urged Boris Johnson to adopt the Queen’s “flexible” approach and allow more negotiating time for a possible trade agreement with Brussels. The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator said the Prime Minister should stand ready to extend the transition period beyond the end of the year – just as the Queen agreed to accommodate the Duke and Duchess of Sussexes’ wish to quit the Royal Family. Addressing MEPs, he said Mr Johnson should “take an example” from the 93-year-old monarch who has allowed Harry and Meghan’s wish to create a new lift, in which they will divide their time between Britain and Canada in a transition period. Mr Verhofstadt said: “I ask a bit of flexibility from Prime Minister Johnson. Maybe he can take an example from the Queen. “The Queen yesterday gave a transition period to leave to Harry and Meghan. So maybe some flexibility on the side of Mr Johnson could also be very useful.” Mr Johnson has warned Brussels that he is not willing to extend the so-called Brexit transition period, under which the UK continues to follow EU rules, beyond the end of the year. The Prime Minister told Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, that Britons want the trade negotiations to be wrapped up by December 2020 during a recent meeting. – Express

> WATCH: Guy Verhofstadt addresses the European Parliament

…and Michel Barnier insists there will be a border in the Irish Sea

There will be a border in the Irish Sea under the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson, the EU’s chief negotiator has said. Michel Barnier confirmed there would be “checks and controls” between Britain and Northern Ireland under the agreement that will govern the UK’s exit from the EU. Boris Johnson claimed several times during the general election campaign that there would be no checks on the Irish Sea, and was accused by the Opposition of lying. Whether the Prime Minister had misunderstood the agreement he had signed, or was indeed lying to the public, the text of the deal signed in November is clear that there will indeed be checks. “The implementation of this foresees checks and controls entering the island of Ireland,” Mr Barnier said during a sitting of the European Parliament. “I look forward to constructive co-operation with British authorities to ensure that all provisions are respected and made operational.” Mr Barnier had kept quiet during the UK general election campaign, telling anyone who asked him – even in private – that he did not want to say anything that could have political impact and undermine his Brexit deal. Mr Johnson repeated his claim just on Monday, telling a Press conference: “Be in no doubt. We are the Government of the United Kingdom. I cannot see any circumstances whatever in which there will be any need for checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to GB. The only circumstances in which you could imagine the need for checks coming from GB to NI, as I’ve explained before, is if those goods were going on into Ireland and we had not secured, which I hope and I’m confident we will, a zero tariff, zero quota agreement with our friends and partners in the EU.” – Belfast Telegraph

> WATCH: EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier’s speech on post-Brexit EU citizens’ rights

Business groups tone down Brexit deal demands as reality hits home

Business leaders are giving up their ambitious demands for the UK to maintain frictionless trade, freedom of movement or a customs union with the EU after Brexit, as Boris Johnson’s resounding election victory forces europhiles into a new political reality. The Confederation of British Industry, the leading business group and a pro-remain force in the referendum, is scaling back its lobbying plans to push for what it sees as more “pragmatic” goals. “We have to look at the reality of where we are now. We used to talk about frictionless trade – that is not the world we’re in,” said Rain Newton Smith, the CBI’s chief economist. “We are not going to be a member of the single market and we are going to have a different system of immigration. As a service-oriented economy, being open to talent from around the world is a key part of that. But it is partly around short-term business travellers. We are moving away from a world of free movement of people, there is a big conversation to be had over free movement of workers.” Her comments mark a key shift in business attitudes towards Brexit and politics, in preparation for Britain’s formal exit from the EU at the end of this month. The CBI wants the Government to focus on a trade deal that keeps borders open to goods and to services, as the EU is a key market for both types of trade. It is also important as much of the rest of the world will take its cue for free trade deals from the UK’s arrangement with the EU. – Telegraph (£)

Post-Brexit Britain will ‘turbo-charge’ trade relations with Africa, says International Development Secretary Alok Sharma

Unshackled by European Union membership, Britain will be able to “turbo-charge” relations with Africa after Brexit by striking trade and business deals across the continent, the International Development Secretary has said. Alok Sharma told the Telegraph that an unprecedented summit with African leaders in London next week offers Britain an important opportunity to flex its financial heft in the emerging world’s final frontier. Amid warnings that British influence in a region it once dominated is on the wane, Boris Johnson’s vision of a “Global Britain” will be put to the test for the first time since his election victory in December when he hosts the inaugural UK-Africa Investment Summit on Monday. The Prime Minister will seek to demonstrate British ambitions in a once overlooked part of the world by delivering the principal address of the summit himself. Britain may be viewed by some as a laggard in the race, but Mr Sharma says that Britain’s strengths – from its record as a leading source of private investment on the continent to the attractions of the City of London – will ensure that it remains competitive. “One of the things I want to do is to turbo-charge relations with growth economies and if you look at Africa, eight of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world are now based in Africa,” he said during a pre-summit visit to Kenya this week. “There is an opportunity out there for us to grasp and I think events like the summit will be a catalyst for that.” – Telegraph (£)

Lisa Nandy accuses Labour Remainers of failing to fight for the UK’s place in the world and being too focused on the EU

Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy will launch an attack on the party’s pro-Remain wing for being too focused on the EU and paying only “lip service” to its broader internationalist traditions. In a speech on foreign policy on Wednesday, the MP for Wigan will say the party became too focused on the “corrosive” debate on Brexit under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. She will criticise Labour Remainers for failing to argue for the UK’s place in the world, beyond the EU, saying that while the right hailed the UK as a “small nation with a proud history of punching above our weight”, Labour’s pro-Europeans had little else to say except pledging to cut roaming charges. Ms Nandy will back a close relationship with Europe as a top priority after Brexit, but say that Labour needs to think beyond the EU about the UK’s foreign and security policy. In her speech to the Royal Society of Arts in London, Ms Nandy will say: “For Labour internationalism has become just about being in the EU. “We’ve paid lip service to our proud internationalist history but without ever explaining what that meant for the future. Because we’ve been locked in a corrosive debate solely focused on Remain or Leave. “One of the problems with the referendum was that there was no story about our place in the world. They said we were a small nation with a proud history of punching above our weight. We said we’ll cut your mobile phone roaming charges.” – iNews

Lib Dem peer compares Brexit Britain to Nazi Germany in Lords debate

A peer has faced criticism for going “a step too far” in comparing Brexit Britain to Nazi Germany. Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves also claimed people were crying themselves to sleep at night over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as he warned against “triumphalistic behaviour”. He made his comments as peers at Westminster started their line-by-line scrutiny of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which will enable the UK to leave the EU on January 31. Lord Greaves said there were many people people in the country “full of dismay and distress” over the break with Brussels. As some Conservative Tory peers signalled their dissent, he continued: “People are crying when they go to sleep at night and when they wake up in the morning, and all they get from the unfeeling, hard-headed Tories is moans. They are feeling a sense of loss which is akin to bereavement and a grieving process has only just begun.” Lord Greaves added: “In these circumstances, triumphalistic behaviour, festivals of Brexit and all the rest will simply make things worse. “The people who are feeling it worst are those citizens of the EU who live, work and take part in our communities.” He went on: “I am particularly concerned about what the Government is doing about prevention of discrimination in the transition period. I am fearful that on January 31 some things may happen in some places which could be reminiscent of things happening in Germany in the early 1930s.” But challenging him, Brexit-supporting Labour peer Lord Grocott said: “He’s just made a comparison, I’m slightly reeling from it, between Britain on February 1 this year and Nazi Germany in 1933. Could he elaborate on that just a little bit, because that seems to me to be stretching the point just a bit?” – Evening Standard

Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips rages at ‘bonkers’ EU’s ‘astonishing’ future vision

Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips unleashed a scathing attack on Ursula von der Leyen and the European Union during a European Parliament plenary session on Tuesday. The President of European Commission Ms von der Leyen was slammed by Ms Phillips for planning to “shackle” the UK to EU rules. The Brexit Party MEP also referred to plans to sign up Croatia to the Euro as “bonkers”. Ms Phillips warned the nation that the Euro was the “poster child” for weak economic growth and advised them to “keep the Kuna”. She said: “I saw you this morning Ms von der Leyen leaving your hotel complete with your three-car escort and I wondered whether tomorrow you might want to give me a lift? “It doesn’t seem very environmental not to offer the colleague a lift to the same building. The vision for the EU over the next six months a simply astonishing, open borders with two more countries Albania and Macedonia and ambitions to keep the UK shackled to EU rules. Why on earth would we want to do that? – Express

> WATCH: Alexandra Phillips MEP addresses the European Parliament

The public could fund Brexit day Big Ben bongs, suggests Boris Johnson

People may be able to donate money towards the cost of making Big Ben chime when the UK leaves the EU, Boris Johnson has said. The prime minister said getting the famous bell to ring at 23:00 GMT on 31 January would cost £500,000, but some form of crowdfunding might be possible. Big Ben has only rung on a few occasions since refurbishment of the tower housing it began in 2017. A bid to get the bell-ringing enshrined in law was dismissed last week. An amendment to the PM’s Brexit bill, which would have required it to chime on Brexit day, was not selected for a vote in the House of Commons. “We’re working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong, because there are some people who want to,” Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast. – BBC News

  • Brexiteers’ calls for church bells to celebrate Britain’s exit from EU cause big ding-dong – The Times (£)

Nigel Farage: Why are the authorities so embarrassed about celebrating Brexit Night? Let Big Ben bong

At the stroke of 11pm on 31 January, Big Ben will ring out to a cheering crowd in Parliament Square and a 47-year experiment of political integration with the European Union will be over. At least, this is what I thought would happen after the cross-party Leave Means Leave group applied to hold a celebratory event in the heart of Westminster to mark this historic moment. Oh, that life was so simple. Despite days of negotiations, it remains unclear if this occasion will even go ahead. Ten months ago, on 29 March, 2019 – the date Britain was supposed to quit the EU – Leave Means Leave held a rally in exactly the same spot. We did so with the permission of Westminster City Council and the Mayor’s Office. Although we had been let down by the government, and remained stuck in the bloc, a good-natured atmosphere prevailed. Given that background, I had thought it would be a formality to get permission from the same authorities this time around. Yet still nothing has been sanctioned at an official level. There is certainly a demand for it. As a result of the Brexit Party sending just one email, more than 15,000 people have registered their willingness to attend. We hope for positive news from the Mayor’s office. We need it quickly to make this gathering a success. But I am beginning to think the attempts to block this celebration go to the heart of government. – Nigel Farage MEP for the Telegraph (£)

James Cook: How Britain’s technology industry shrugged off Brexit fears – and kept on growing

Just days after the result of the EU referendum was announced, a German political party hired a van for an unusual publicity stunt. It drove around some of London’s most fashionable neighbourhoods for 12 hours with a bold message for British technology start-ups: “Keep calm and move to Berlin”. It was the opening salvo of an extended campaign by Germany and France to poach nervous start-ups which were worried that Brexit would cripple the technology industry just as it had begun to flourish. One poll conducted before the 2016 referendum found that 87pc of people who work in technology planned to vote to Remain. And on the day the result of the vote was declared, one serial investor wrote in a text message “Whole thing is s***. F*** me.” Nearly four years later and with the UK poised to leave the EU within weeks, new data show that investment into UK technology start-ups is stronger than ever, with growth in investment in 2019 outpacing the US and China. Research from Government-backed Tech Nation and Dealroom shows that British technology start-ups raised a total of $13.2bn (£10.1bn) in 2019, up 44pc on 2018. Total investment in the US and China remains significantly higher, but investment levels in those countries dropped 20pc and 65pc respectively last year. The trend of the UK outpacing the US in start-up investment growth is also shown in new data from PitchBook, which shows investment in the US dropping from $140.2bn in 2018 to $136.5bn last year, while investment in the UK continues to rise. – James Cook for the Telegraph (£)

Madeline Grant: Big Ben’s bong would be a fitting end to three years of Remain mischief

Throughout British history, bell-ringing has always heralded both celebration and moments of high drama. Church bells were used to warn of incoming troops and imminent floods, while the eerie sound of bells chiming back-to-front, from low to high, ushered in rebellions such as the Pilgrimage of Grace. According to medieval superstition, bells could even ring themselves, like those of Canterbury Cathedral which reportedly knelled spontaneously when four knights murdered Thomas Becket in 1170 at vespers. The current tussles over whether Big Ben, silent since 2017 for repairs, should provide a ringing endorsement to welcome Brexit at the end of the month, prove that the role of bells remains as politically fraught as ever – except these certainly aren’t going to ring themselves. The PM suggests a public fundraiser – a “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” campaign – to meet the £500,000 cost of getting the bells ready in time, and prominent Brexiteers such as Lord Ashcroft and Tim Martin have already pledged large contributions. Remainers are understandably frustrated. Half a million pounds is a hefty sum and over-emphasising this relatively unimportant issue plays into their caricature of Brexiteers as obsessed with totemic trivialities like blue passports and bendy bananas. Yet for Leavers, the creep of EU rules and regulations onto our statute book was also a major concern. Ringing in the future in the UK’s supreme legislative body seems the perfect way to mark the repatriation of power and the exciting possibilities ahead. There would be a pleasing dramatic irony in using a public fundraising campaign to ring out a tumultuous period in which crowdfunding has played a prominent, and often unedifying, role. – Madeline Grant for the Telegraph (£)

Daniel Finkelstein: Sir Keir Starmer is boxing himself in over Europe

Let me introduce you to Finkelstein’s law of political decisions. You are forever making decisions before you know you’ve made them. Most choices you make are the prisoner of a smaller choice you made earlier. At some point, obviously, you make the original determination from which consequences flow, but you usually don’t realise it when you are doing the determining. By the time you reach your destination, and it is too late to turn back, you have almost forgotten those light first steps you took onto the path. I could give you loads of examples from world history — Vietnam, for instance — and loads from my own history — ending up living my life in Pinner, for reasons that are obscurely related to the 1997 Conservative election defeat. But maybe Brexit provides the best illustrations. The Conservatives are heading towards a negotiation of trade terms with Europe that has been made more difficult by a decision to end transition after a year. Yet this decision was probably necessary to win the election. An election that Boris Johnson didn’t want but which itself became necessary because he couldn’t get a deal through. Which in turn was the result of his decision not to back Mrs May’s deal. And so on. And then there is Labour. When Labour approved the idea of a meaningful vote — that Brexit should not go ahead until parliament had agreed the terms of withdrawal — it seemed such an obvious thing to do. Of course they felt they should have that power. Of course they should assert the rights of parliament when the Tories had made such a fuss about control. I did try quietly pointing out to Labour politicians that maybe they weren’t thinking enough about the future. I explained Finkelstein’s law but to no avail. The problem with approving the idea of a meaningful vote is that one day they would have to cast such a vote. And what would they do then? They had just given themselves the power to stop Brexit. Which was a power they didn’t know what to do with and would never know what to do with. – Daniel Finkelstein for The Times (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • End unfair taxes on airline businesses under Brexit – Tim Newark for the Express
  • Peer refuses to drop fight to keep child refugee protections in Withdrawal Agreement Bill – Guardian