Lord Frost has distanced himself from reports of an imminent agreement with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, telling reporters in Brussels “there is still quite a big gap” between the bloc and the UK.
Speaking as he arrived at the European Commission for talks with vice president Maros Sefcovic, the Brexit minister commended the EU for making “an effort in pushing beyond where they typically go in these areas” – adding the UK government was “quite encouraged”.
However, he told reporters, the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in policing the Protocol remains an issue.
It comes as post-Brexit supply chain issues continue to wreak havoc across Britain, with Grant Shapps admitting earlier he cannot say with absolute certainty “that every line of every product will be available” in the run up to Christmas – despite temporary changes to allow EU lorry drivers on British roads unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs.
Pressed on comments he made just hours before about the holiday being safe, the transport secretary conceded to ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Goods and food will be available, maybe a few lines that you normally want to get aren’t, but I think it’s at that level, rather than ... thinking Christmas will be cancelled”.
Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling UK politics coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates on the same day transport secretary Grant Shapps claims Christmas will not be tinged by supply chain concerns.
Shapps eases rules for EU lorry drivers to tackle supply crisis
EU lorry drivers on British roads will be allowed to make unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs as rules are temporarily relaxed by ministers in a bid to ease the supply crisis.
Grant Shapps has altered limits on trading rights in order to allow more deliveries, reports Joe Middleton.
The transport secretary said he hopes the waiver will help fix fuel and food shortages as complaints grow over empty shelves, though he denied the issues would impact Christmas.
The HGV crisis has caused fuel and food shortages in Britain
UK handling HGV shortages ‘resiliently,’ claims Shapps
Grant Shapps is, unsurprisingly, doing the media rounds this morning. The transport secretary first appeared on Sky News to say issues with supply chains are a problem internationally but they are being dealt with “resiliently” in the UK.
He also warned “we shouldn’t report ourselves into a crisis”, in an apparent nod to the narrative in which news outlets are blamed for shortages that already exist.
“We know that the globe has woken up after coronavirus with huge supply chain issues everywhere around the entire world,” Grant Shapps told the broadcaster. “In this country we have taken 24, now 25, different steps on the domestic side of that - the lorry drivers side of things - and we’re seeing it have a big impact.”
He also claimed Britain now had “three times as many people applying to become lorry drivers every single day than before the crisis”.
Transport secretary says Christmas will not be ruined by shortages
Next up, Grant Shapps said Christmas is not at risk from consumer shortages and there will be food and gifts come 25 December.
Speaking on Times Radio, Grant Shapps said: “Unfortunately, unlike last year where there was a genuine question about whether we’ll be able to see friends and family and it was very restricted, that’s not the case.
“Christmas will go ahead, we’ll be able to see our friends and families. There will be food, there will be gifts.”
He blamed the “squeeze” on the “entire world’s supply chain” on post-Covid activity as well as the UK’s “expanding economy”.
“But we’re taking a whole range of measures,” Mr Shapps said, “including one that I’m announcing today about the way lorry drivers from abroad pick up and drop things off ... that will mean they can, in an unlimited way by Christmas, pick up and drop off goods within this country within a 14-day period.”
Port boss questions government’s confidence on supply issues
The head of a port group has said that despite the government saying the supply chain crisis is getting better, we should not “fool ourselves”.
Tim Morris, head of the Major Ports Group, told Sky News: “This week has seen improvements in what we call stack levels, so the amount of containers, for example, sat on the ground. But let’s not fool ourselves, it has been an extraordinarily busy 12 months now.
“And what we’ve seen over the last week, fortnight, have been some of the UK supply chain congestion issues sort of matching up and catching ports ... between surging global demand and shipping and very congested inland here in the UK.”
Despite this warning, though, Mr Morris said while there will be “one or two bumps in the road” he is “confident” in supply chains ahead of Christmas.
Pig industry ‘positive’ after govt issues 800 visas to butchers
A leading pig vet has said there is a “general positive feeling” in the industry after the government decided to issue up to 800 foreign butchers with temporary visas over fears that as many as 150,000 British pigs could be culled due to a backlog in abbatoirs.
Duncan Berkshire told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” after Boris Johnson “and the government have indeed now listened, that they’ve engaged properly this week, which has been a relief, and there is an element of a light at the end of that tunnel”.
Speaking about the incoming butchers, he added: “We need that to be swift, we need them to be over here as soon as possible and we need them to be on the butchery lines as soon as possible.”
Government to let 800 more foreign butchers into UK
Following my last post, here’s some more detail on the decision to let up to 800 foreign butchers work in the UK temporarily.
The government announced that pork butchers from overseas can apply up until 31 December for the visas that would allow them to work in the UK for six months.
The move is temporary, and the scheme is in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible since December 2020 to apply to come to the UK through the existing skilled worker route, reports Adam Forrest.
Under the plans, there will also be funding for additional meat storage, moves to introduce processing of animals on Saturdays, and the potential for longer working hours.
Six-month visa scheme is to be temporary
RHA slams ‘pathetic’ decision to allow non-UK drivers ‘unlimited’ work
It seems not everyone in the industry is happy about the government easing cabotage rules for foreign lorry drivers.
Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs of the Road Haulage Association, said changing the visa processes for overseas hauliers amounted to “taking work from British operators and drivers”.
“I spoke to some of our members last night and they were appalled - ‘ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked’ were some of their more broadcastable comments,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The government has been talking about a high-wage, high-skill economy and not pulling the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’, and to them this is exactly what it looks like.
“Allowing overseas companies and drivers to come over for perhaps up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers.
“So this is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers.”
Mr McKenzie then told the BBC “cabotage is sabotage” before logging off.
Queen’s remarks on Cop26 ‘should have stayed private,’ says Shapps
Some news on the Queen now. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said this morning comments made by the monarch, suggesting she is irritated by a lack of action in tackling the climate crisis, should have “stayed in private”.
Asked about the remarks, which including the 95-year-old royal saying she found it “irritating” when world leaders “talk but don’t do”, Mr Shapps told Sky News: “I think comments made in private should stay private, but we all share the desire to see progress made and we know there will be hundreds of leaders coming to Glasgow for Cop.”
“We will wait to see whether it lives up to - whether they all live up to - expectation, it’s very important we get this job done.”
The Queen had been attending an event at the Welsh Senedd when her conversation with the Duchess of Cornwall and a presiding officer was picked up on the live stream.
“I don’t think her comments were for broadcast,” Mr Shapps repeated.
In case you missed it: Queen’s anger at ‘irritating’ world leaders who ‘talk but don’t do’
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