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Greg Clark: “The next few weeks and months will be a defining period for the UK”

3 days 4 hours ago
Business Secretary Greg Clark
Greg Clark was appointed Business Secretary in July 2016

Greg Clark knows the next few months will be a defining period for the UK. As Brexit begins to take shape, the Business Secretary is determined that firms large and small will be heard at the Cabinet table. He talks to Sebastian Whale

Like a cricketer waiting to go out to bat, Greg Clark had to sit tight while Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt spoke inside Number 10 as day turned to night in early January. Weeks of rumours would have it that Clark was either due for the chop or in line to trade briefs with the Health Secretary during May’s reshuffle of her top team.

In a rear-guard action, Hunt convinced the PM after nearly 90 minutes to retain him at the Department of Health. Clark was reappointed Business Secretary following a comparatively brisk visit to Downing Street.

“I had a very short and delightfully cordial meeting with the Prime Minister. I think the speculation was wide of the mark,” Clark politely states.

So, was there no truth to the reports regarding his future? “All I know is that she, the Prime Minister, was very keen on the work that we were doing together on the industrial strategy and asked me to continue.”

Such is Clark’s gentlemanly approach that probes to work out exactly he felt about events that took place were unlikely to yield any fruit. And the very nature of the briefing, which centred around Clark’s inability to cut through, seemed highly personal for a man who is as inoffensive as they come. But the whole saga ended up highlighting May’s weakness, unable to move or sack members of her Cabinet, in office but not in power.

Clark does not want to focus on all that. How does it feel to still be in post? “I’m thrilled. The pulling together of the industrial strategy for the whole nation with all the opportunities that there are in the world today, I think is a fantastic privilege. I’ve always been very energised by it from the moment I was appointed,” he says.

We are sitting in Clark’s ministerial office at the Houses of Parliament on a Tuesday evening that marks the centenary of some women getting the vote. Clark is in casual attire with a blue collared shirt sitting underneath a green v-neck jumper that matches the four couches positioned in the top half of his room, impressing as he recalls with accuracy our photographer’s name after they worked together on a shoot some years back.

Clark is fresh from launching the Government’s long-awaited industrial strategy, which aims to lift growth and improve productivity. He unveiled sector deals with life sciences, artificial intelligence, creative, automotive and construction sectors (with his door open for more, he stresses), an extra £725m to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and a rise in Research and Development tax credits.

But the strategy was overshadowed by the engagement of little known couple ‘Harry and Meghan’, pushing it down the news agenda. “It’s nice that it coincides with good news,” Clark says with a smile.

Is it not fair to say though that the strategy failed to land? “The approach that I’ve taken with the strategy right from the beginning, is that it has to be for the long term. A short-term strategy is a contradiction in terms. How do you make sure that something endures? My view is that you need to bring everyone together, bring the country together, bring industry together, bring the leaders of our sectors together with this,” he says.

“You’ve seen since the launch that actually people regard it with a recognition that this is the right way forward. The grand challenges that we set out: AI and big data, the future of mobility, the ageing population, clean grown; these are the areas that actually where we can create a big future for the UK.”

Of course, it’s not only royal engagements hogging the air time. All roads lead to Brexit. And while Clark insists that the necessary conversations about the future of work and automation are taking place, much of the focus is on the immediate future direction of the United Kingdom.

We meet the day before the first of two Cabinet sub-committee talks on Brexit. I put to Clark that business is looking for clarity on key decisions regarding the UK’s vision for the future, particularly in relation to the vexed issue of the customs union. Does he support remaining in a customs union with the EU?

“It’s true to say that of course every business wants to have as much certainty as possible. But day-in, day-out I talk to businesses large and small, and they recognise that in a negotiation the certainty comes as you conclude the negotiation,” he says.

“Now, in terms of the best possible deal, again, one of my responsibilities as the Business Secretary is to obtain, to understand and to advocate very clearly what business needs out of Brexit. Business is foundational to our economy. We could not be the country we are without successful businesses. We absolutely owe it to businesses large and small to make sure that we are reflecting their needs both at the high level and in detail as well.

“I meet with the business organisations every week and have done since the beginning of my tenure, we have a good understanding that feeds into those negotiations. I said from the outset reflecting their views that we need to see continued ability to trade with the minimum of frictions and without tariffs with the rest of the European Union.

“We need an implementation period. It was through the discussions that I had with businesses right across the country last summer that it was identified as clearly the most important thing that they wanted. And the breakthrough that we saw in December following on from the Florence speech was a direct result of listening carefully to the requirements of business. That’s what I’ll do throughout this.”

 The Confederation of British Industry rejected the Government’s aim to enter a customs arrangement with the EU, which would involve a new system in which the UK would have to collect duty for European governments, and vice versa. So, if Clark is to represent business at the Cabinet table, shouldn’t he be calling for the UK to remain in the customs union?

“It’s the outcome that you want that you need to aim for. It’s very clear and it is unambiguously the case that the importance of the ability to trade not just without tariffs but without introducing frictions into often very sophisticated and well-developed supply chains is absolutely essential,” he says.

“The discussions that will take place as we’re just getting into that phase of discussions, will be about what are the best arrangements that will deliver that. What I want to do is to make sure that of all of the different options that we discuss and that we debate as part of the negotiations, that we secure what we need for the continued prosperity of business.”

But with firms set to make decisions on potential relocations of headquarters in the coming months, isn’t there a sense of urgency here?

“That’s why the implementation period is so important. If it’s agreed in March of this year then obviously it will take effect from the end of March next year. So, in effect that is three years of stability in terms of the present arrangements to be able to trade. That’s incredibly valuable for businesses who might otherwise need to make decisions during that time.”

In a further bid to quell unease among business Clark along with fellow Cabinet ministers David Davis and Philip Hammond wrote a letter to the FT assuring that European workers will be able to continue to work in Britain during the transition period out of EU membership. The Government is still to iron out its vision for future immigration policy.

“Most places I go in the country, people say, again businesses large and small, that they need to be able to count on the sources of the labour that they have, domestic and those from Europe, over the months ahead,” says Clark.

“Any abrupt change to that would be very difficult and that’s why we were so clear in that letter of the continued policy for people to be able to come and work.”

The question of Europe continues to be a razor-sharp thorn in the side of the Conservative party however, with criticism of the Civil Service and calls for Theresa May to “sling out” Eurosceptic MPs taking place all in the same week. Clark recognises that the EU has always “attracted strong views”, but claims his party acknowledges the decision the country has taken. “Some of the discussions that we have don’t accord with the types of division that is sometimes described. These are difficult and important issues but there is a determination together to find the right way through,” he says.

He adds: “I find that colleagues in the Conservative party want the negotiations to be successful. They want the Prime Minister to succeed in those negotiations. The next few weeks and months are going to be a defining period for us as a country. They will define our future relationship.

“It’s so important that we get a positive outcome that I think the will of the party is like the will of the country, which is for us to get that good deal.”

Clark has enough on his plate beside Brexit following the collapse of construction giant Carillion and the Government’s response to the Taylor review into work in the gig economy, launched without much fanfare in the days after our interview. The Government has talked tough on corporate governance issues but proposals to put workers on boards and rhetoric around curbing the excesses of executives have been accused of falling short.

Clark is typically insistent that the reforms implemented, such as a requirement on companies to address their pay policies after a shareholder revolt and an annual report of the ratio of the chief executive pay to the average employee, are taking effect. Would he consider, as Labour have proposed, putting restrictions on the ratio between an organisation’s highest and lowest paid employee?

“It’s for shareholders to decide and to justify, not just in terms of their decisions as to how this is in the interest of the company, but including the interest of their employees. That’s now one of their responsibilities.”

It seems that in his role Clark must balance championing the needs of business at the Cabinet table while seeking to reform malpractice where it takes place. Under Theresa May’s stewardship the Conservatives have combined tough rhetoric on corporate excesses while still claiming to be the party of business. Is the government getting the message right?

“Our reputation as a country is of a place in which you can do business dependably, in a system in which high standards are expected. One of those is how you treat your employees. That is where our reputation is, and to go back to the industrial strategy, increasingly in the future, in an uncertain world in which around the world there are places and jurisdictions where there is less confidence in the security and the standards that apply, I think Britain’s reputation is a strong selling point,” he says.

“Every so often we make revisions, whether it’s to corporate governance, whether it’s to employee rights, all in the direction of strengthening that reputation. That is in the interests of companies as well as the whole country.” 

Sebastian Whale

Ed Balls survey finds majority of businesses do not want to leave customs union

3 days 10 hours ago
Ed Balls' team interviewed interviewed 80 British SMEs.
Ed Balls' team interviewed interviewed 80 British SMEs.

The overwhelming majority of British businesses do not want to leave the customs union and a majority also want to stay in the single market, according to a survey carried out by Ed Balls.

The former shadow Chancellor interviewed 80 small business leaders and found most wanted to remain part of the tariff-free EU trade zone.

Businesses believed “the potential gains from Britain negotiating its own trade deals elsewhere in the world cannot offset the substantial disadvantages of leaving the customs union”, according to the survey.

The poll also showed the majority of British SMEs also backed keeping single market membership.

The findings were published in a report from the Harvard Kennedy School and research was co-led by banker Peter Sands and three postgraduate students.

Mr Sands said: “It is no surprise that the businesses we have spoken to view Brexit with increasing concern. They currently face the double uncertainty of not knowing what the endpoint is likely to be, nor how it will be reached.

“They are clear Britain must stay in a customs union, and if possible, they want to maintain full access to the single market.

“They repeatedly emphasised to us their need for clarity about where we are headed to enable them to make investment decisions, hire employees and strike deals.”

Mr Sands, who was chief executive of Standard Chartered until 2015, added: “Most business leaders are sceptical about the claimed benefits of Brexit and are deeply concerned about the practicalities of implementation.

“It is clear from our interviews that most business leaders believe Brexit could have a significant negative impact on their businesses, and the way it is currently being implemented is likely to exacerbate the damage.”

However, the report was not met with overwhelming support from MPs.

Andrew Bridgen, the Brexit-supporting Conservative MP, reminded Mr Balls he was no longer an MP when he said:

“As Ed Balls knows there are only two polls that matter: when he lost his seat in the general election and when Leave won the referendum.”

Jessica Wilkins

Former Tory minister condemns 'pitiful' Boris Johnson Brexit speech

3 days 11 hours ago
Boris Johnson speaking in central London yesterday
Boris Johnson speaking in central London yesterday

Former Conservative minister Anna Soubry has torn into Boris Johnson over yesterday's "embarrassing" speech on Brexit. 

The Foreign Secretary used the address to "reach out" to Remain voters, while also insisting that any backsliding on the referendum result would be a "betrayal" of those who voted to leave the EU. 

Mr Johnson tried to quell the fears of pro-Europeans, claiming Brexit would be "the great liberal project of the age" and could "unite this country". 

Former Business minister Ms Soubry offered a withering verdict on the speech, telling Channel 4 News:

“I’m afraid to say that Boris has confirmed my very worst fears about him. I don’t think he’s a very good Foreign Secretary. I think he has on a number of occasions broken collective responsibility.

"But I think today, he really has hugely lacked the sort of grown-up responsible, sensible approach that we expect from one of the most senior members of our cabinet in the approach to Brexit. It was a very poor, it was actually a pitiful speech and I think a lot of people found it really rather embarrassing.”

Elsewhere Labour MP Chuka Umunna, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, attacked Mr Johnson for failing to mention Northern Ireland. 

“This was an astonishing exercise in hypocrisy from Boris Johnson. His vision of Brexit may be many things, but it is not liberal," he said.

“His plan would see Britain sever trade ties with our largest trading partner, weaken protections for workers, consumers and the environment, and jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, a subject he didn't even bother to mention."

And former Labour minister Lord Adonis piled in over Mr Johnson's refusal to rule out resigning from the Cabinet. 

"Johnson's refusal to deny that he would resign should he be thwarted in his ambitions for Brexit is just more juvenile game playing," he said.

"In fact he should resign now because after more than a year as Foreign Secretary he has yet to demonstrate any understanding of Britain’s place in the world or of our relationships with our friends and neighbours."

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard described Mr Johnson appealing to Remain voters as “like sending an arsonist to put out a fire”. 

 

John Ashmore

EU gets rid of 'punishment clause' from Brexit transition draft

3 days 12 hours ago
David Davis and Michel Barnier meeting in Downing St earlier this month
David Davis and Michel Barnier meeting in Downing St earlier this month

EU officials have reportedly removed a so-called 'punishment clause' from the draft Brexit transition arrangement. 

The BBC reports that officials have agreed to re-word the document so it no longer refers to the UK potentially losing access to elements of the single market if it breaks EU rules. 

It comes after Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that a transition deal might not happen if the two sides could not reconcile their differences. 

The EU wants the UK to continue to abide by all its rules and regulations during the two-year period, including allowing continued free movement of people from the continent. 

Yesterday Boris Johnson suggested the Government had accepted a 'status quo' transition, telling reporters that "things will remain as they are" during the transition, which the EU wants to finish at the end of 2020. 

According to today's reports, officials from the other 27 EU member states agreed at a meeting yesterday to tone down the wording of the draft agreement so that it only refers to normal EU infringement rules, without any special punitive elements for the UK deal. 

ALIGNMENT

Within the Cabinet, ministers have also apparently been at odds over the extent to which the UK aligns with Brussels regulations after Brexit.

At a speech in London yesterday, the Foreign Secretary strongly hinted he would prefer a system where the UK starts from a point where it has entirely separate rules, then decides areas where the Government wants to mirror the EU.

"It’s all about voluntarism, it’s all about who decides. Of course when it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hair dryers or vacuum cleaners or whatever it may very well make sense for us to remain in alignment as a matter of choice, something we elect to do," Mr Johnson said. 

"I'm sure for the purposes of supply chains, there are many businesses who understand the need for that. But I don’t think we should necessarily commit as a matter of treaty that forever and a day we are going to remain locked into permanent congruence with the EU.

"It just doesn't seem to me to be a sensible thing to do. If you're going to come out then you might as well take the advantages of difference."

John Ashmore

Boris Johnson says things will 'remain as they are' during Brexit transition period

4 days 5 hours ago
Boris Johnson speaking in central London this morning
Boris Johnson speaking in central London this morning

The UK will continue to abide by European rules and regulations during the transition period after Brexit, Boris Johnson said today.

There have been suggestions of a Cabinet rift over the terms of the implementation period, which the EU has suggested will finish at the end of 2020. 

It also throws into question Theresa May's insistence Britain will no longer be part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy or Common Fisheries policy after March 29, 2019.

This morning's remarks from the Foreign Secretary suggest the Government has now agreed on a transition that mirrors current arrangements.

Speaking to reporters after a major speech on Brexit, Mr Johnson said: "What I’m saying there is obviously during the implementation period, as Theresa has said, things will remain as they are and it’s very important for confidence and for certainty and the rest of it. So I realise there’s been some misunderstanding about that, I’m glad to clear that up."

ALIGNMENT

Cabinet ministers have also apparently been at odds over the extent to which the UK aligns with Brussels regulations after Brexit.

Mr Johnson strongly suggested he would prefer a system where the UK starts from a point where it has entirely separate rules, then decides areas where the Government wants to mirror the EU.

"It’s all about voluntarism, it’s all about who decides. Of course when it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hair dryers or vacuum cleaners or whatever it may very well make sense for us to remain in alignment as a matter of choice, something we elect to do," he said. 

"I'm sure for the purposes of supply chains, there are many businesses who understand the need for that. But I don’t think we should necessarily commit as a matter of treaty that forever and a day we are going to remain locked into permanent congruence with the EU.

"It just doesn't seem to me to be a sensible thing to do. If you're going to come out then you might as well take the advantages of difference."

'REACHING OUT'

In his speech this morning, Mr Johnson said it was time for Brexiteers to acknowledge the concerns of pro-Europeans worried about the consequences of Brexit. 

"We must accept that many [pro-Europeans] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed," he said.

"If we are to carry this project through to national success - as we must - then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties.

"I want to try to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope."

Elsewhere he insisted leaving the EU was not a "V sign from the cliffs of Dover", but the opportunity for an "outward-looking liberal global future".

At the same time he warned that reversing the result of the 2016 referendum would be "disastrous" and a "betrayal" of Leave voters.

John Ashmore

Guy Verhofstadt lashes out at Boris Johnson's 'liberal' Brexit vision

4 days 6 hours ago
Guy Verhofstadt criticised Boris Johnson's case for a liberal Brexit.
Guy Verhofstadt criticised Boris Johnson's case for a liberal Brexit.

Guy Verhofstadt has criticised Boris Johnson’s vision of a 'liberal' Brexit ahead of a key speech by the Foreign Secretary today. 

The EU’s Brexit coordinator took to Twitter to reject Mr Johnson’s argument that Brexit was a liberal enterprise and could be a cause for hope.

Mr Verhofstadt accused Mr Johnson of putting forward an argument that is, by its very nature, illiberal:

“Putting up barriers to the movement of trade and people & suggesting that the identity of citizens can only be national is not liberal - it's quite the opposite,” he wrote. 

 

 

In a key speech, the Foreign Secretary has today outlined his belief that Brexit is an opportunity not a catastrophe.

In an attempt to appeal to Remain voters, he said Brexit “need not be nationalist,” adding that he was aware that sentiment may cause anger in some Leave camps.

Jessica Wilkins

Boris Johnson 'reaches out' to Remain voters, claiming Brexit is cause for 'hope not fear'

4 days 11 hours ago
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson will say he wants to 'reach out' to Remain voters in his speech later

Boris Johnson will today "reach out" to Remain voters and argue that many of their fears about Brexit are "unfounded".

The Foreign Secretary's address later will also pile the pressure on Theresa May over future alignment with the continent, warning that it would be "intolerable" for the UK to continue following any Brussels regulations beyond Brexit. 

Mr Johnson will try to build bridges with pro-Europeans by acknowledging that they are motivated by a "desire to succeed". 

However he will also warn that trying to reverse the result of the 2016 referendum would be a "disastrous mistake". 

His address today is the first in a series of speeches from Cabinet ministers on the "road to Brexit", with the Prime Minister due to set out her own vision for future EU relations in Germany on Saturday.

'INTOLERABLE AND UNDEMOCRATIC'

Extracts of the speech published in the Sun suggest Mr Johnson will make an impassioned call for Britain to go it alone and leave behind the EU's regulatory structure - a position that puts him at odds with Cabinet colleagues including Chancellor Philip Hammond. 

He will say: “It is only by taking back control of our laws that UK firms and entrepreneurs will have the freedom to innovate, without the risk of having to comply with some directive devised by Brussels, at the urgings of some lobby group, with the aim of holding back a UK competitor.

“That would be intolerable, undemocratic, and would make it all but impossible for us to do serious free trade deals.”

“The British people should not have new laws affecting their everyday lives imposed from abroad, when they have no power to elect or remove those who make those laws," he will add.

“And there is no need for us to find ourselves in any such position.”

'HOPE NOT FEAR'

He will also try to build bridges with Remain campaigners, acknowledging their concerns about Brexit but insisting that leaving the EU can be a success for the UK.

"We must accept that many [pro-Europeans] are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed," he will say.

"If we are to carry this project through to national success - as we must - then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties.

"I want to try to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope."

But in an accompanying comment piece, also for the Sun, Mr Johnson makes clear his concerns about attempts by campaigners to reverse the referendum result.

"I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote and frustrate the will of the people," he writes.

"I believe that would be a disastrous mistake, leading to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen."

 

John Ashmore

Nick Clegg hits out at ‘muppet’ ministers in ‘clueless’ government

6 days 2 hours ago
Nick Clegg dubbed Theresa May's government "clueless".
Nick Clegg dubbed Theresa May's government "clueless".

The former Deputy Prime Minister has criticised Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, accusing her of running a “clueless” government full of “muppets”.

In an unflinching attack, Nick Clegg called on MPs to launch a “constitutional crisis” by rejecting whatever legislation the Government tried to get through Parliament on the terms of Brexit.

The former Lib Dem leader did not single any minister out but was highly critical of the entire cabinet.

“I think is impossible exaggerate the level of a cluelessness and incompetence now at the heart of British government,” he said.

“I think it’s really difficult for folk here in Brussels and in other European capitals to get used to the idea that, you know, to all intents and purposes, the British government now looks like a bunch of muppets sitting around the Cabinet table.”

Mr Clegg made the comments in an interview with the Politico EU podcast, said it would “becomes obvious” Brexiteers were not going to be able to keep their promises.

“When it becomes obvious — as it already has — that the British people are not going to get any, I mean literally none, of that great long list of beguiling promises they were made by the Brexiteers, I think they are totally within their rights to say ‘well, hang on a minute, we’re not going to vote for this because this is not what you told our constituents they were going to get’.

“At that point, of course, you’ll have a crisis, there will be a standoff between Parliament and government – a kind of constitutional crisis, if you like.”

Mr Clegg has been stridently pro-European throughout his political career, which began with a stint as an MEP.

He was also highly critical of arch-Brexiteer and Tory grassroots favourite, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

“He’s like a Don Quixote in pinstripes … rushing at windmills that don’t kind of exist.”

He continued: “They’re like Maoist revolutionaries — they don’t care how many bodies they sacrifice along the way or how much hardship is inflicted on people in the long march.”

Jessica Wilkins

George Soros hits back at 'smear campaign' with £100,000 donation to anti-Brexit group

6 days 10 hours ago
George Soros
Financier George Soros has offered another cash injection to pro-EU campaigners

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has hit back at what he calls a press "smear campaign" by pledging to donate up to £100,000 to an anti-Brexit campaign group.

The 87-year-old Hungarian-American financier was the subject of a front page splash in last week's Daily Telegraph focusing on his £400,000 donation to Best for Britain, a cross-party group working to keep Britain in the EU. 

The article prompted a fresh crowdfunding drive from pro-Europeans, which Mr Soros has now promised to bolster by matching any Best for Britain donations under £100, up to a total of £100,000.

"I am happy to take the fight to those who have tried to use a smear campaign not arguments to prop up their failing case," Mr Soros said. 

Best for Britain chief executive Eloise Todd welcomed the donation, saying: "We live in a democracy, and the right to freedom of speech is precious. Elements of the right-wing press don’t seem to agree. The UK’s future with the EU is not a done deal, there is still a vote to come and people across the country deserve to know the truth about the options on the table: one of which is staying and leading in the EU.

"George Soros and his foundation is kindly offering to help match-fund to give Best for Britain more support so we can make sure this message gets out: the biggest decision on Brexit is yet to come."

Mr Soros has donated billions of pounds to pro-democracy causes around the world through his Open Society Foundation, which he founded in 1979 to promote liberal values and human rights.

John Ashmore

Work on post-Brexit migration register has 'barely begun'

6 days 11 hours ago
UK border
New arrivals queue at passport control at Heathrow Airport

Work on a new system to register EU migrants who come to the UK after March 2019 has "barely begun", according to worried Home Office officials. 

Theresa May's former department is scrambling to get new systems in place after the Prime Minister said new arrivals would not be automatically entitled to remain in the UK during the transition period. 

It is one of the sticking points in negotiations with the European Commission, which is insisting the UK abides by the rules of the single market for the two years after Brexit day. 

According to the Times, Home Office mandarins wanted the Government to guarantee that new arrivals would get the same rights as existing EU citizens during the transition, but were rebuffed by Mrs May. 

They now have just over a year to design a new system to register not only new arrivals, but also the 3m EU nationals already in the UK. 

Two government sources told the paper that work had "barely begun" on putting together a new system.

“Rightly the focus has been on registering the three million nationals who are already here, and while that has been progressing well there is still a lot of work to do,” one source said.

“But the problem is that this is a streamlined process that doesn’t question whether in future someone might not have the right to work."

The other source was also pessimistic about the prospect of getting a fully functioning new system in place by next spring.

“The way things look at the moment it almost certainly won’t be ready. The Government doesn’t have the best record of these kind of projects anyway and the most pressing priority is to ensure that nothing goes wrong with registering existing EU nationals. If that goes wrong it will be a disaster.”

A Home Office spokesman rejected those claims, saying: "The precise details of the implementation period are currently being negotiated with the EU, but planning is well under way.”

'INCOMPETENT'

Outspoken eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested Home Office officials would be at fault for a lack of preparation.

“If this were true, it would be a sad admission of incompetence at the Home Office and it would be hard to believe that someone as efficient as Amber Rudd would accept such a sorry state of affairs,” he said.  

John Ashmore

WATCH: John McDonnell accuses Alastair Campbell of 'macho, threatening politics' in heated TV clash

1 week ago
John McDonnell appearing on Peston on Sunday this morning
John McDonnell appearing on Peston on Sunday this morning

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has engaged in an angry clash with former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, accusing him of a "macho" approach to politics.

The pair went head-to-head on ITV1's Peston on Sunday after Mr Campbell tore into Labour's Brexit policy. 

The former head of Downing St communications claimed there was nothing to choose between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May's approach to leaving the EU.

"They're basically saying, whatever the cost, whatever the chaos, whatever the damage to the economy, whatever the Brexit impact assessment's saying...we are still basically on the road out and it doesn't matter what happens, that is going to happen," he said.

 

 

This prompted an irritated response from Mr McDonnell, who said: "That's the sort of macho, threatening politics that has divided this country, what we need to do now is have a rational, moderate debate about the pros and cons of our future and what relationships we need. 

"To exaggerate individual people's or party's positions doesn't help that...We're saying we respect the referendum result and we have to build a new relationship with Europe which will bring our people together again."

Labour's position on Europe has caused serious internal ructions, with dozens of MPs defying Mr Corbyn last month by voting in favour of keeping the UK in the EU internal market and the customs union.

 

John Ashmore

EU diplomats 'concerned at Michel Barnier's negotiating stance'

1 week ago
Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier pictured on Downing St earlier this week

Michel Barnier's "aggressive" approach to negotiating the Brexit transition has reportedly caused concern among EU diplomats.

Among the areas of concern is the Frenchman's insistence on a so-called "punishment clause" to impose penalties if the UK breaks the transition agreement. 

Mr Barnier raised the stakes on Friday by claiming an agreement was "not a given" if the two sides cannot hammer out their differences.

Among the issues dividing the UK and the EU is whether Europeans will have full residency rights in the UK if they arrive after March 2019, but before the end of the two-year transition. 

Brexit Secretary David Davis also wants a mechanism for the UK to avoid implementing new EU directives it does not agree with. 

Mr Barnier was cool on the idea of concessions, saying Britain "should logically accept all the rules and obligations until the end of the transition".

But one EU diplomat told the Sunday Telegraph the UK would be within its rights to reject the Commission's proposals. 

“Could anyone accept these terms? If I was Britain I would be tempted to say ‘no’ – walk away and then see how the EU does without the money.”

Elsewhere the Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Poland, said Warsaw was also concerned about Mr Barnier's "opening salvo".

“In private, many Polish politicians are expressing regret at the Commission not treating Britain with due consideration and respect," he said.

And a Whitehall source also told the Sunday Telegraph that French officials were also unhappy with the way the Commission had opened the negotiations.

“My understanding is the French were cross at the lack of consultation on the so called legal document, which was really an aggressive political opening salvo," the source said.

“The Nordics and East Europeans are also fracturing the coalition. Barnier … fears having his legs cut off by the Franco/German alliance – hence his belligerent tone.”

John Ashmore

Theresa May accused of ‘plot to frustrate Brexit’ by keeping UK half in single market

1 week 1 day ago
One source said the plans would make the UK “little more than a colony of the EU”.
One source said the plans would make the UK “little more than a colony of the EU”.

The Prime Minister has come under fire from the arch-Brexiteer side of her own party for her latest plan to comprise on the terms of leaving the EU.

According to the Sun, Leavers are furious her latest plan could mean staying under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, pitched the latest plan to the Prime Minister’s Brexit committee on Thursday.

Under it, Britain would maintain very close alignment to the EU’s rule book for hard goods, but diverge from Brussels edicts on the services sector.

That would keep trade and supply lines for products such as machinery, cars and planes flowing freely with Europe and protect jobs, Mr Robbins argued.

Mr Robbins pitched the plan as a compromise between Conservative Brexiteers and ambitions of the Remain camp.

However, the proposals went down like a lead balloon, as one source said they would make the UK “little more than a colony of the EU”.

“Fox, Gove and Boris have made it clear they will not accept single market rules, because it means being dictated to by Brussels forever.

“How can we defend that in the House of Commons?

“It makes us little more than a colony of the EU, and the PM has been told that.”

Jessica Wilkins

Theresa May spent almost £1000 on safe delivery of Article 50 letter

1 week 1 day ago
Theresa May spent almost £1000 sending the Article 50 letter to Brussels.
Theresa May spent almost £1000 sending the Article 50 letter to Brussels.

The Prime Minister spent £985.50 from the public purse on the safe delivery of the official letter to trigger Britain’s exit from the European Union.

According to a document released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, two civil servants travelled on the Eurostar to hand deliver the letter to Brussels.

Their two business premier class return tickets, including a small booking and change fee, cost at total of £985.50.

The letter, signed by Theresa May, launched the official two year process to leave the EU after June 2016’s referendum vote.

The Government said the cost was limited to the two train tickets: “There were no other quantifiable costs associated with their travel,” officials said, in the FOI response.

Meals were provided on the train and the two civil servants stayed overnight at an official residence.

“The letter was then delivered to the president of the European council by Sir Tim Barrow as part of his duties as UK permanent representative to the European Union at no additional cost.”

Jessica Wilkins

Northern Ireland will stay in single market and customs unions after Brexit, says EU

1 week 2 days ago
Northern Ireland border
A solution to keeping an open border in Ireland has yet to be found

Northern Ireland will have to remain in the customs union and single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border, EU negotiators have said.

The condition in the EU draft withdrawal agreement means the province will continue to follow EU law at the end of the 21-month implementation period, where relevant to the all-Ireland economy and the tenets of the Good Friday agreement.

The document, which is set to be published in two weeks and which ministers are expected to sign off on, is likely to spark anger among the Tory government’s allies in the DUP, whose backing they need on Brexit for a working majority.

Cabinet ministers have repeatedly insisted that the whole of the UK would leave under the same conditions, however despite a meeting on the subject yesterday, they have failed to resolve how to maintain an open border with the Republic.

The Guardian reports that UK negotiators were told by their EU counterparts that the document could retain a "sunset clause" that would void the text, if a particularly generous trade deal can be agreed.

Philippe Lambert, the leader of the Greens in the European parliament told the paper "there will be no wriggle room for the UK government" on the issue. 

"We are going to state exactly what we mean by regulatory alignment in the legal text," he said.

"It will be very clear. This might cause some problems in the UK – but we didn’t create this mess."

Pro-EU Best for Britain campaigner and former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the document showed the Prime Ministers "fudging" of the December divorce deal is "already coming back to haunt her."

"The EU has proposed a 'sunset clause' on Northern Ireland’s single market membership, which would render the deal null and void should an unexpectedly generous free trade deal, or a hitherto unimagined technological solution emerge," he said.

"May claimed this was a possibility - the EU knows it isn’t likely.

It’s another example of the vacuum left by May’s divided and dithering government allowing the EU to set the agenda."

Nicholas Mairs

Japanese car firms ready to leave Britain if EU free trade affected by Brexit, says ambassador

1 week 2 days ago
Koji Tsuruoka
Koji Tsuruoka outside Downing Street

Japanese motor firms based in Britain are prepared to leave if free trade to the EU after Brexit is affected, the country’s ambassador has warned.

Koji Tsuruoka said Nissan, Toyota and Honda were “watching very closely” the Brexit negotiations and admitted there were fears over their future “profitability”.

His comments came after a meeting with Theresa May in Downing Street, where he was joined by bosses from the firms as well as Hitachi and Mitsubishi.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Tsuruoka said: “The question is whether the arrangements that will be reached between the two sides will allow the Japanese companies to continue to operate in the UK.

“If there is no profitability of continuing operation in [the] UK… no private company can continue operations. It is as simple as that. This is all high stakes that I think all of us need to keep in mind.”

Mr Tsuruoka refused to answer "hypothetical" questions about future UK customs relations with the EU, following the Government's move to “categorically” rule out staying in a customs union with the bloc.

But he added that he "expected that manufacturing business in particular will continue to have free access to the European market".

Mr Tsuruoka said Japanese companies would like to continue their "successful" operations in the UK, but added they and wanted to "see clarity and certainty".

A Downing Street spokesperson said the country’s business leaders "spoke of their desire to continue trading with and investing in the UK".

They added that they “expressed their appreciation for the opportunity for constructive dialogue with the Government” while agreeing the importance of reaching an implementation period and then trading relationship with the EU.

Labour MP Phil Wilson, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said failure to reach a satisfactory deal with the EU could affect tens of thousands of UK jobs.

"If the Government doesn't get its act together soon, we could be saying 'Sayonara' to Japanese businesses based in the UK,” he said.

"Japanese companies have invested in this country, supporting more than 160,000 jobs, largely on the basis that it provides a bridge into the wider European market.

"If that bridge collapses, their investment will dry up."

Nicholas Mairs

Government impact analysis suggests North East will be region worst-hit by Brexit

1 week 3 days ago
UK and EU flags
The regional breakdown suggests former industrial areas will be worst-hit by Brexit

The industrial heartlands of the north-east and the West Midlands will face the greatest economic hit from Brexit, according to the Government's own impact analysis.

The figures are part of the controversial report leaked last week that suggested the UK would be worse off under every scenario.

MPs have now been able to read sections of the analysis after the Government backed down on a Commons vote last week that would have forced them to release the papers.

Downing Street has played down the report's findings, saying it does not take account of Theresa May's preferred option of a bespoke EU-UK trade deal. 

But the latest projections are likely to re-ignite the debate in Parliament about the Government's plan to take the UK out of both the single market and the customs union.

Tory MP Stephen Hammond has already laid amendments to the upcoming Trade Bill to give MPs a vote on a possible 'Norway option' of remaining in the European Free Trade Association.

The regional breakdown suggests London and the south-east will come out of Brexit relatively unscathed. 

The analysis suggests the capital would miss out on 3.5% of economic growth over the next 15 years in a 'no deal' scenario, and 2% under a free trade deal. 

 

Government impact analysis suggests North East economy could shrink 16% after Brexit

 

However the outlook for other areas are much more pessimistic. A 'no deal' scenario is forecast to knock 16% off of growth in the North East and 13% in the West Midlands. 

With a trade deal in place, the two worst-hit regions would still see a decline of 8% and 11% respectively over the forecast period.

The devolved regions are also projected to suffer, with Northern Ireland losign out on 12% of growth if the UK falls back to WTO rules, and Wales and Scotland losing 9% and 9.5% respectively.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, a supporter of the pro-European Open Britain campaign, expressed dismay at the findings, saying:

“People in every corner of the United Kingdom will be shocked to see the Government’s own assessment of the damage Brexit will do to their communities. It is utterly shameful that people all across this country are having to rely on leaks to find out how much damage a hard, destructive Brexit will do to their local economies and the country as a whole.

“The Government cannot continue to try and hide tax-payer funded analysis from the public, just because they’re afraid of the political consequences. The full Brexit impact assessments, along with any other economic analysis of Brexit outcomes, must be published in full, now."

 

John Ashmore

Theresa May gathers warring ministers in bid to thrash out Brexit agreement

1 week 4 days ago
Cabinet ministers
Cabinet ministers are set to meet today and tomorrow

Theresa May will gather her most senior ministers for crunch Downing Street talks in a bid to reach an agreement on Britain's relationship with the EU after Brexit.

The 11-strong Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit will meet today and Thursday in an attempt to reach a common position on the next phase of negotiations.

The meeting - which will focus on immigration and Northern Ireland - is taking place against a backdrop of Tory infighting and business demands for clarity over the UK's position.

Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are advocating a clean break from the EU's institutions, while the likes of Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd want Britain to remain as closely aligned as possible to the bloc to protect the economy.

Downing Street this week said Britain may seek a customs arrangement or a customs partnership with the EU , but would “categorically” not remain in any form of customs union.

But the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, later said at Number 10 that tariffs on UK goods would be "unavoidable" if that were the case.

The Government's move reportedly angered a host of MPs, including Anna Soubry, who said the Prime Minister should “sling out” those pushing for a hard Brexit, which she said would be “devastating”.

Furthermore a leaked document has suggested the EU wants to be able to restrict UK access to the single market if there is a dispute in the transition period after Brexit.

And in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said “patience is wearing thin” over the continued indecision by Government.

The group, which represents tens of thousands of firms, said there was a perception “continued division” and that firms cannot afford the “continued ambiguity”.

Nicholas Mairs

Nick Clegg attacks Brussels establishment over 'sneering disregard' for 'politics of identity'

1 week 5 days ago
Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg said the EU had been guilty of a 'sneering disdain' for patriotism and identity

Nick Clegg has launched an extraordinary attack on the Brussels establishment, accusing EU officials of a "sneering disregard" for the politics of "identity and patriotism".

The former Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, who began his political career working at the European Commission, said the drive towards ever-closer integration of EU member states had been a "terrible misreading" of citizens' concerns. 

He also tore into Brexiteers in the UK, accusing them of launching an "ideological coup" spearheaded by "very rich, very angry men".

But it was his withering portrayal of eurocrats' attitude to national identity which will raise most eyebrows, given his well-known pro-EU views.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Lisbon Council last night, the former Sheffield Hallam MP said that when he worked in Brussels there had been a "a barely-concealed, almost sneering disregard for the politics of identity and the politics of patriotism". 

"There was an assumption that patriotism was an old-fashioned vestige of an order that was dying away," he said.

"The genesis of European integration was to go above and beyond the trap of patriotic politics. 

"But it was a terrible misreading of what makes people tick. We are all tribal people. You might not like it, but that’s who we are."

Mr Clegg also argued the solution to the rise of populism lay in combining patriotism with pro-Europeanism. 

He said: "Internationalist liberals are now beginning to understand that while standing for Europe, you must do so wrapped in your own flag. Patriotic Europeanism is a perfectly consistent and compelling school of thought."

John Ashmore

Michel Barnier: Trade barriers ‘unavoidable’ if Britain quits customs union

1 week 6 days ago
Michel Barnier and David Davis
Michel Barnier and David Davis at Downing Street this afternoon

Michel Barnier has said Britain will face "unavoidable" trade barriers if it chooses to quit the customs union and single market after Brexit.

The EU's chief negotiator also said "the time had come" for the UK to outline the type of relationship it wanted with the bloc after Brexit, following a meeting with David Davis and Theresa May at Number 10.

His comments come after Downing Street last night insisted the UK would "categorically" not be in any kind of customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Instead, the Government has said it wants to strike either a "highly-streamlined customs arrangement" or a new "customs partnership" with the EU.

But in a press conference this afternoon, Mr Barnier said Britain could not quit the customs union without its businesses being forced to pay tariffs.

“We need clarity about the UK’s proposals for the future partnership," he said.  "The only thing I can say is without a customs union and outside the single market, barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice.”

Mr Barnier reiterated that Britain would have to follow the same rules that it does now during the two-year implementation period following the March 2019 Brexit date.

He added: "The conditions are very clear, everyone has to play by the same rules during this transition."

Mr Davis said the UK had been "perfectly clear" on what they wanted from the talks.

“We’ve said in terms we want a comprehensive free trade agreement and with it a customs agreement and to make that as frictionless as possible, to make as much trade as currently exists as free as possible, while still giving ourselves the opportunity to make free trade deals with the rest of the world," he said.

The Brexit Secretary added that an "intensive" period of negotiations on the transition deal would start immediately in anticipation of an agreement by March.

Following the press call at Downing Street Mr Davis tweeted that talks with his EU counterpart had been "constructive".

Nicholas Mairs
Submitted by itops on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:47