Boris Johnson to stress December trade deal deadline in meeting with Ursula Von Der Leyen today: Brexit News for Wednesday 8 January

Boris Johnson to stress December trade deal deadline in meeting with Ursula Von Der Leyen today: Brexit News for Wednesday 8 January
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Boris Johnson to stress December trade deal deadline in meeting with Ursula Von Der Leyen today…

Boris Johnson will stress the importance of the UK and EU reaching a trade deal by the end of the year in his first meeting with the new president of the European Commission. The PM will hold talks with Ursula von der Leyen in Downing Street. Once the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, the two sides will begin talks on their future economic relationship. Mr Johnson has insisted a deal is possible by the end of 2020 and the process will not be extended. After its 31 January exit, the UK will enter into an 11-month transition period in which it will largely follow EU rules but will not have any representation in the bloc’s institutions. This period will come to an end on 31 December 2020. Earlier in the Commons, the government rejected calls from Labour and the Lib Dems for Parliament to be given a vote on extending the transition period, if necessary, this summer to allow more time for negotiations. Opposition MPs have warned that trade deals typically take years to conclude and, with relatively little time available, the UK risks defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules at the start of 2021, potentially leading to damaging tariffs for some industries. But No 10 said Mr Johnson was expected to tell the EU president that he is confident of getting a deal and, having waited for more than three years to leave the EU, both British and EU citizens expect the next phase of trade negotiations to conclude on time. Downing Street added that the PM was likely to underline to Mrs von der Leyen and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier that the objective was securing an ambitious, tariff-free trade agreement rather than continued regulatory alignment. – BBC News

  • Boris Johnson ready to leave EU without trade deal – The Times (£)

…while Brussels fires warning shot over citizens’ rights after Brexit 

The European Union has warned Boris Johnson not to water down protections for EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit, ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, raised “issues of concern” in a letter to the Brexit Secretary Steven Barclay before Christmas, The Telegraph can disclose. The concerns included the need for a fully independent watchdog to enable EU citizens to make complaints against the Government. The warnings, which have been echoed by the European Parliament, emerged on Tuesday evening as Ms von der Leyen and Mr Barnier prepared to travel to London. The meetings come at the start of a gruelling year of negotiations which EU officials warn risk being soured by ongoing concerns over the UK’s commitment to the rights of more than 3m EU citizens living in the UK after Jan 31. In what appeared to be a two-pronged attack, both the European Commission and the European Parliament have raised concerns about whether the UK will keep to the spirit of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. – Telegraph (£)

MPs resume scrutiny of Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement…

MPs have concluded the first of three days scrutinising legislation that will implement the UK’s Brexit deal. The government, which has a commanding Commons majority, easily defeated three opposition amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on citizens’ rights. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said the bill would deliver on the “overwhelming mandate” his party was given to take the UK out of the EU on 31 January.  MPs overwhelmingly backed the bill at its first stage in late December. It is expected to comfortably pass its remaining stages in the Commons by Thursday before moving to the Lords. The bill covers “divorce” payments to the EU, citizens’ rights, customs arrangements for Northern Ireland and the proposed 11-month transition period lasting from 1 February to 31 December. The bill has now moved on to the second phase of the parliamentary process – known as the committee stage. MPs also debated citizens’ rights, with Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems all having submitted amendments seeking to guarantee the rights of the three million or so EU nationals resident in the UK. Labour’s amendment, which aimed to provide the right of permanent residence to all EU citizens who are resident in the UK before exit day, was defeated by 342 votes to 252 votes. A Liberal Democrat effort to establish a right to appeal settled status decisions was defeated by 343 votes to 251 votes, as was a similar amendment tabled by the SNP. An amendment from Conservative backbenchers requiring Big Ben to chime at 23:00 GMT on 31 January – the moment the UK is set to leave the EU – was not selected and will therefore not be debated by MPs. Acting Chairman of Ways and Means Sir Roger Gale also decided not to select a DUP amendment seeking to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol – which replaced the Irish backstop plan. On Wednesday, MPs will look at parliamentary oversight and issues relating to Northern Ireland. – BBC News

  • Labour urges Tory MPs to take ‘moral stance’ on child refugees amid Brexit bill row – PoliticsHome

…with Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay hitting back at Green Caroline Lucas over Brexit timetable in a tense Commons clash

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay clashed with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas regarding the timetable of Britain leaving the European Union. The Green Party MP questioned why the Government had already decided to end the Brexit transition period by 2020. Ms Lucas argued it would be better to wait until June before making such a commitment. However, Mr Barclay pointed out that his party “gave a manifesto commitment” to stick to that timetable and they would honour it during a tense clash in the Commons. Ms Lucas said: “Just last month it was the Commission President who said she had serious concerns about this timetable. All experts in trade are concerned that with an 11-month time period there simply isn’t the time to necessarily get a good deal done. So why are we signing up to something now that we could at least postpone until June when we have a better sense of how negotiations are going. Rather than cutting off our nose to spite our face by saying now that we won’t extend the implementation period.” Mr Barclay replied: “In short for the reasons I have already given to the House set out in the political declaration that there is a shared commitment there. But also because on this side of the House, we gave a manifesto commitment to stick to this timetable. I’m sure the honourable lady would be the first to criticise the Government if it made a manifesto commitment and then decided not to stand by it. So we are committed to the commitment we gave on timescale and that is why we want to move forward.” – Express

DUP’s Sammy Wilson accuses Remainers of plotting to stick the UK’s feet ‘in the mud of the EU forever’

The UK will have its “feet stuck firmly in the mud of the EU forever” if Remainer MPs are allowed to extend the transition period, warned DUP MP Sammy Wilson. DUP MP Sammy Wilson delivered a furious rant in Parliament against Labour’s attempt to “stick the UK in EU mud” by reinstating provisions giving Parliament a role in deciding whether the transition period is extended. Parliament has resumed scrutiny of the legislation needed to implement the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. Shadow minister for exiting the European Union, Paul Blomfield was arguing against the one year implementation period afforded for the UK and EU to negotiate a trade deal. Mr Wilson asked the Labour MP: “Would he accept that for many people listening to the arguments he’s making, this is not a case of a fear of jumping over a cliff, but more a case that the opposition to leaving the EU want to us to have our feet firmly stuck in the mud of the EU forever? “That’s the reason why he wants a further extension.” Mr Blomfield shot back: “I thank the honourable member for that intervention because it gives me the opportunity to say that’s absolutely not the case. We accept that we are leaving the European Union in three weeks time. End of.” – Express

Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey claims she argued against the party’s second Brexit referendum policy

Labour leadership hopeful says party lost trust with Leave voters. Rebecca Long Bailey has said she privately argued against Labour supporting a second Brexit referendum. The shadow business secretary has formally announced her bid to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. Long Bailey, the likely main challenger to shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, is seen as the favourite of the current leadership. Starmer was instrumental in shifting Labour’s position towards a promising a public vote on any Brexit deal. Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Tuesday morning, Long Bailey said Labour had not been “trusted on Brexit” at the election. “When I knocked on a Remain voter’s door they thought we were a Leave party. When I knocked on a Leave voter’s door they thought we were a Remain party,” she said. “We were losing trust with our communities who voted Leave because they were very clear they wanted the Brexit issue resolved as quickly as possible.” She added: “Everything we were trying to say in the media was confusing to voters.” Asked if she argued against Labour moving to a position of supporting another public vote, Long Bailey said: “I certainly did. I was very focused on making the point we were trying to get a good deal, I think that should have been a very strong message on everything that we said.” – Huffington Post

> LISTEN: Rebecca Long-Bailey on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

Labour whip Thangam Debbonaire promoted to frontbench with Brexit role

Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire has been promoted to the Labour frontbench, where she will take up the role of shadow Brexit minister. Ms Debbonaire, who was re-elected in December with a 28,000 majority, will replace Jenny Chapman as shadow DexEU minister after the former MP lost her Darlington seat in the general election. The Bristol MP was offered the role by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who is currently leading the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as party leader following the disastrous election result, which saw Labour reduced to just 202 seats in the Commons. As part of her new role, Ms Debbonaire will scrutinise the government on aspects of the WAB such as Northern Ireland, parliamentary sovereignty, parliamentary scrutiny and child refugees. However, the role will only last a few weeks because the Department for Exiting the European Union is due to be wound up on January 31, when the UK is set to leave the bloc. Ms Debbonaire said: “I still believe that leaving the European Union is not good for the United Kingdom.” – Bristol Live

Northern Ireland firms could seek £100m Brexit compensation

Boris Johnson is facing demands for cash compensation that could run to more than £100m for any disruption caused by Brexit to Northern Ireland’s businesses. Leading entrepreneurs who met political leaders in a local summit on Friday, fear the trade barrier down the Irish Sea will mean higher costs for consumers and businesses. “People here did not vote for this future, we should not be expected to pay the price for it in jobs and lost opportunities,” said Colum Eastwood, the newly elected MP for Foyle and leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party. Business leaders representing 12 sectors in the region have received cross-party support from the Democratic Unionist party, Sinn Féin and two newly elected Northern Irish parties for four amendments to Brexit legislation. They will be debated this Wednesday. Senior government sources have warned of the “high hurdles” that the group faces to get its amendments through but the business groups say they will continue the fight in London, Dublin and Brussels to mitigate the profound impact Brexit will have locally. “In the best-case scenario, these amendments go through, and we have protected Northern Irish businesses and consumers. In the worst-case scenario, we have raised and waved a very large flag in Dublin, London and Brussels that Northern Ireland ‘sorted’ is simply not true,” said Aodhán Connolly, director of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, one of the 12 groups behind the amendments. They are seeking legal guarantees for “unfettered” trade across the Irish Sea and future consultation with the devolved government over any new Brexit regulation affecting Northern Ireland. Their fourth amendment, which was not published over the weekend, calls for compensation. – Guardian

SNP urges MSPs to reject Brexit deal

The Scottish Parliament has been urged to reject the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement. MSPs are set to debate whether to give consent to the agreement struck by Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the EU. Legislative consent for issues affecting devolved policy areas is required under the devolution agreement but, in practice, the UK Government could still proceed against the will of the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish administrations. The Scottish Government’s Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell said: “We have a duty to explicitly reject consent to this Bill in order to respect the clear and consistent majority opposition to Scotland leaving the EU. “England and Wales voted to leave and Northern Ireland will have its own arrangements, Scotland voted Remain but within the month will be forced to leave, with no say over its future relationship with the European Union.” Mr Russell added the Withdrawal Agreement also increases the chances of a no-deal Brexit, whereby the UK fails to negotiate a trade deal before leaving the EU. “There is also no doubt that this Bill puts a calamitous no-deal scenario firmly back on the table,” he said. “Imposing an arbitrary deadline, the end of 2020, to conclude a free trade agreement with the European Union is unrealistic and does nothing but increase the risk of a no-deal scenario once again.” A UK Government spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has delivered a great deal that works for the whole of the UK, giving us the certainty we need to leave the EU and move on together. We want 2020 to be a year of opportunity, growth and unity, not further political division. It is disappointing the Scottish Government has so far refused to recommend legislative consent and are instead undermining this process to signal their opposition to Brexit. We have worked with them throughout the Brexit process and we will continue to do so.” – LBC News

Mark Francois’s plan to legislate for Big Ben to bong on Brexit day scuppered

A Conservative campaign for Big Ben to bong specially to “celebrate” the moment Brexit goes ahead on 31 January appears to have been dashed. An amendment to the withdrawal agreement bill to require the famous bell to be re-attached at 11pm on Brexit day – at unknown cost – has not been selected for debate. The decision is a blow to scores of hard Brexit-backing Tory MPs, including David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, who had signed a Commons motion demanding the move. The 315ft, Grade I listed Elizabeth Tower which holds the bell and clock face is undergoing a £61m restoration in which costs have already more than doubled. However, Downing Street is planning events to mark the moment the UK leaves the European Union, after nearly 47 years – without saying what – and could yet renew the push for Big Ben to bong. – Independent

Nigel Farage’s hopes of becoming Ambassador to the US dashed

With the spotlight on diplomatic relations between the US and Britain after President Trump ordered the killing of Qasem Soleimani without informing No 10, Whitehall finally posted an advert for the job of our man in Washington. The government asked for applications for the role of British ambassador to the US, widely seen as the most prestigious within the diplomatic service, adding that they must come solely from existing members of the civil service. That ruled out speculation that there might be a political appointment. “The Foreign Office has this afternoon begun the process of recruiting the UK’s ambassador to the United States,” the prime minister’s spokesman said. “Ministers believe that the right candidate will be a successful leader with proven experience of working for government on the broad range of issues that our bilateral relationship with the US covers, and therefore can be found from within the civil service.” With the Trump administration’s increasingly hawkish foreign policy stance, No 10 has been trying to strike a more conciliatory tone. Boris Johnson warned Mr Trump that his threat to strike cultural sites in Iran would be in contravention of a 1954 treaty. Working alongside President Macron of France and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, Mr Johnson has pressed for de-escalation. The stipulation that the successful candidate for British ambassador has to come from the civil service ruled out Nigel Farage. He has been after the job since the 2016 referendum, boasting of his close friendship with Mr Trump. He was the first British political figure to visit the president-elect. – The Times (£)

Jeremy Warner: Brexit is nearly done, but don’t expect an easy ride on trade. The EU is terrified of regulatory divergence

We are still very much in the early honeymoon period of the new Government, when flush with a stunning election victory all things seem possible. Even the traditionally hostile Financial Times seems to have been partially won over by the infectious optimism that for now flows through the nation’s veins, warming to some of the opportunities for positive change that Brexit may allow. Yet at some stage, with the feelgood mood colliding with harsh realities, there is going to be a comedown. The first of these awakenings is likely to centre on trade. In reaching a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year as promised, the Government will either have to compromise on scope for regulatory divergence, or accept that certain industries, including financial services, will be quite significantly harmed by whatever new arrangements are put in place. Boris Johnson has signaled the goal absolute sovereignty and therefore regulatory autonomy, but he doesn’t yet appear reconciled to the trade offs such an approach will entail. Furthermore, he finds himself torn between the US and Europe. Since US trade talks will soon be put on hold by expiry of the US negotiating mandate, followed by the purdah of the Presidential election, Britain is bound inevitably to focus first on Europe. Don’t think that just because Boris Johnson managed to get the withdrawal agreement changed, when they said it couldn’t be, the same trick will be possible with trade talks. It’s true that the EU is now fully reconciled to Brexit, and is keen to maintain as cordial a relationship with the UK as it can. To this end, there have been lots of conciliatory noises from European leaders, even if in practice the talks seem to be off to a rocky start. But equally, says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, the EU is terrified of granting favoured access to its markets without any kind of commitment to stay true to European standards and regulations. – Jeremy Warner for the Telegraph (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • There are already signs of trouble ahead with Brexit negotiations – Telegraph (£) editorial
  • Outgoing Bank of England Governor Mark Carney urges the Government to avoid aligning financial regulations with the EU post-Brexit – FT (£)