Arlene Foster on the Irish sea border
The Brexit trade deal is “very unstable” and could easily be brought crashing down, a legal expert has warned MPs as importers run into difficulty transporting goods across the Irish sea under new customs checks.
Several questions on tariffs and trade go unanswered in the deal, specialist EU legal scholar Professor Catherine Barnard said, warning that companies may be put off investing in the UK.
Prof Barnard’s warning comes as a customs official with 40 years of experience in the field complained that the post-Brexit Irish sea border is “cumbersome” and hugely complex.
Warning of a “huge shortage” of customs agents, Robert Hardy, director of one of four companies tasked with handling new customs forms for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, said pressure will build at the border as exports begin to ramp up.
A small grocer in Northern Ireland has already been forced to close after discovering new customs rules meant he could have to pay double the price for each item imported from Great Britain.
Jonathan Owens, who runs grocer Causeway Organic, said he suspended trading after learning of “an extra layer of red tape” in imports despite Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis’s insistence “there is no Irish Sea border”.
Meanwhile, UK nationals have been blocked from entering Sweden after Ryanair staff reportedly refused to accept a negative coronavirus test from the NHS. Travellers had already faced trouble attempting to reach Spain and the Netherlands after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Post-Brexit border checks causing ‘worrying’ delays, trade body says
The Scottish Seafood Association, which represents processors, said post-Brexit exports to the EU are already being hit by unnecessary delays and the problem is likely to get worse as trade picks up.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the association, said: “Trucks laden with fresh seafood are being held up in central Scotland due to problems with customs barcodes and lack of veterinary service capacity.
“Instead of representative samples being removed from trucks and checked, entire trailers are being emptied so that every box and label can be checked.
“Combined with computer problems on both sides of the English Channel, this is a worrying sign for the days and weeks ahead when the flow of produce will get much greater.”
Liam James6 January 2021 15:58
Tesco confirms stock shortages in Northern Ireland
Tesco have confirmed that they are having difficulty getting certain certain products over the Irish sea after shoppers reported cheeses, ready meals and many chilled meat products were out of stock in certain Northern Ireland stores.
A Tesco spokesperson said there was a “good supply” of products coming into Northern Ireland, but admitted “there has been a short delay on certain products but we’re working with suppliers to get these back on the shelves as quickly as possible and direct customers to alternatives where we can”.
Brexit disruption has already forced some supermarkets to desperate measures with Sainsbury’s stocking products bearing the brand of rival grocers Spar.
Liam James6 January 2021 15:36
PM believes Williamson is working to ‘his utmost ability’
Boris Johnson believes education secretary Gavin Williamson is the best person for the job, Downing Street has said.
Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s press secretary, told reporters the education secretary had produced a “full and comprehensive” package of measures for children who will be educated at home.
“It’s a huge brief and the prime minister believes the Education Secretary is doing it to his utmost ability,” Ms Stratton said.
Liam James6 January 2021 15:03
Raab denounces Hong Kong arrests
Amid all the kerfuffle in the Commons today, the foreign secretary has put out a statement denouncing the arrest of dozens of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong.
Dominic Raab said: “The mass arrest of politicians and activists in Hong Kong is a grievous attack on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms as protected under the Joint Declaration.
“These arrests demonstrate that the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities deliberately misled the world about the true purpose of the National Security Law, which is being used to crush dissent and opposing political views.
“The UK will not turn our backs on the people of Hong Kong and will continue to offer BNOs the right to live and work in the UK.”
This is far from the first time Mr Raab has spoken out over Beijing’s crackdown on dissenters in the territory.
He references the BNOs (British National Overseas) visa scheme, which is a route to UK citizenship that will be available to millions of Hong Kongers at the end of the month.
Liam James6 January 2021 14:44
Government urged to revive lockdown eviction ban
Homeless charity Shelter and private renter’s association Generation Rent have called on the government to reinstate the ban on evictions to protect renters during the new lockdown.
The eviction ban was introduced last March to protect renters as the pandemic overhauled ordinary life, and similar protections were put in place at the beginning of the November lockdown.
Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent said: “During the first lockdown, renters who had received an eviction notice still felt pressure to move out, which is why we’re calling on the government to do all it can to prevent unnecessary house moves by suspending evictions,” adding that landlords should be stopped from issuing eviction notices in the first place.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “We are now back in the same, if not worse, situation as last March. It is just too dangerous to start evicting people from their homes with Covid case numbers so high.
“You cannot follow the order to stay at home if you are evicted and facing homelessness. It’s not safe for people to attend court, nor is it safe for bailiffs to enter people’s homes and forcibly remove them.
“There aren’t enough genuinely affordable homes for people to move elsewhere, and councils will not be able to cope with an even longer queue of homeless households.”
Liam James6 January 2021 14:32
Labour accuses Williamson of ‘chronic incompetence’
Shadow education secretary Kate Green has accused her counterpart Gavin Williamson of “chronic incompetence”, suggesting he sows “chaos and confusion” wherever he goes.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Ms Green lambasted the education secretary for yet another U-turn, which saw primary schools close one day after they opened for the start of term.
Ms Green said: “It was disappointing (Gavin Williamson) did not make a new year’s resolution to avoid U-turns or chronic incompetence.
“Once again where the Secretary of State goes, chaos and confusion follows and it’s children, families and education staff across the country who pay the price for his incompetence.”
The Labour MP also said that the government had treated young people as an “afterthought” throughout the pandemic.
Rory Sullivan6 January 2021 14:10
Brexit deal ‘an unmitigated disaster’, DUP says
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said that the Brexit deal has been an “unmitigated disaster” for Northern Ireland.
Speaking on Wednesday, Ian Paisley Jr, the party’s communities spokesperson, said: “They’ve basically told us that the protocol and its workings, on day six, is an unmitigated disaster.
“That’s one of the reasons I was against it, because I think a blind man on a galloping horse could have told you it was going to be an unmitigated disaster.”
At a committee hearing on Wednesday, Northern Irish MPs were told about the problems hauliers and retailers face as a result of the new trade arrangements.
The Independent’s policy correspondent Jon Stone reports:
Rory Sullivan6 January 2021 14:03
School exams to be replaced by teacher-assessed grades
GCSE, AS and A-level exams in England will be replaced by teacher assessments, education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.
The move comes after schools were shuttered this week in England as part of the country’s third national lockdown.
Our Whitehall Editor Kate Devlin has the story:
Rory Sullivan6 January 2021 13:42
SNP urges government to close UK borders to ‘all but essential travel’
The government must close the UK’s borders to “all but essential travel” to stem the spread of the new coronavirus variants, the SNP has said.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, warned Boris Johnson to “act in a timely manner”, adding that the prime minister had so far been slow to respond “to the threats that we all face”.
“On travel, is the prime minister prepared to learn from his Government’s past mistakes?” he added.
Mr Johnson said: “As I said just now, we will make sure that we protect our borders from the readmission of the virus and he has seen what we did already in the case of the South African strain.
“And we’ll bring forward further measures to stop the readmission of the virus.”
Rory Sullivan6 January 2021 13:35
Lib Dems call for furlough scheme to be extended to ‘at least’ summer
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has urged the government to extend its furlough scheme until “at least” summer.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Davey said: “We must leave no-one behind as we tackle this terrible virus. Employers and workers need support and certainty and they need it now.”
“So will the Prime Minister instruct the Chancellor to publish an emergency budget to include a business rates holiday next year, an extension to furlough at least until the summer?” he added.
The Liberal Democrat leader also called on the prime minister to help those self-employed people who have “unfairly” not received any financial support to date.
In response, Boris Johnson said a budget will be set out “in the course of the next few weeks and months”.
Rory Sullivan6 January 2021 13:23