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Brexit news: No 10 rejects EU offer to ‘intensify’ talks and demands ‘change of approach’ from Brussels

Follow all the latest developments in UK politics

Adam Forrest,Conrad Duncan,Jon Sharman
Monday 19 October 2020 21:56
Michael Gove welcomes Michel Barnier's offer to 'intensify' talks

Downing Street has rejected an offer from the EU to “intensify” Brexit negotiations – just minutes after Michael Gove welcomed it as a “constructive” move.

The offer from Michel Barnier saw Mr Gove thinking on his feet in the Commons after the Cabinet Office minister had told  colleagues the EU was refusing to negotiate on a string of key points. 

Despite Mr Gove’s positive reaction, however, No 10 later insisted there was still no basis to resume talks.

Mr Gove also clashed with former prime minister Theresa May, who said the UK’s security will be damaged if police lose access to key databases and partnerships in the event of no deal.

The minister responded by claiming that the UK will be able to cooperate more effectively while outside the EU - before reminding Ms May of her own statement that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

Elsewhere, business secretary Alok Sharma admitted that when Boris Johnson talks about an “Australia-style” deal with the EU, he effectively means a no-deal Brexit. Questioned about the phrase, Mr Sharma said: “Well … it’s a question semantics at the end of the day, sure.”

Semantics or not, the prospect of no deal prompted Britain’s pharmaceutical industry appealed to Mr Johnson to strike a “side-deal” with Brussels to avoid shortages of medicines if the UK crashes out. 

Meanwhile ministers are said to be “carefully considering next steps” after the government failed to reach agreement with local leaders in Greater Manchester over a move to Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.


‘Absolute pillocks’: Tory MPs feud over Manchester

What will bring the stand-off in Greater Manchester to an end? Mayor Andy Burnham thinks democracy might help – calling on MPs to help “break the impasse” by holding a vote on a transparent process for extra funding given to areas moved into tier 3. 

Boris Johnson is counting on money to do the trick all by itself. The PM is ready to offer the Manchester region up to £100m, according to The Telegraph. Will it be enough? Burnham also wants an 80 percent furlough scheme for affected workers, rather than the 66 per cent the government is offering.  

Senior Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, who represents a constituency in the region, said regional leaders were “pretty united” in resisting tier 3 curbs. But four other local Tory MPs backed the government – claiming Burham was keeping residents in “a state of suspended terror”.  

Another 20 Tory MPs in Tier 1 seats signed a letter Burnham, urging him to accept Tier 3 staus to avoid a national lockdown.

One red wall MP called signatories “absolute pillocks” in a WhatsApp group, with northern MPs said to be angry at southern colleagues for throwing them “under a bus”.

Andy Burnham accuses Boris Johnson of ‘exaggerating’ coronavirus situation in Manchester

Remarks come as Michael Gove accuses Greater Manchester mayor of ‘political posturing’

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 08:41

Church leaders condemn No 10’s Brexit bill

Anglican archbishops do not like the government’s international law-breaking Brexit bill. The leaders of Anglican churches across the British Isles have warned that the Internal Market Bill could set a “disastrous precedent” and seriously damage relations between the four nations of the UK.  

In a joint call, the archbishops stated: “The bill is, of course, not just concerned with domestic law. It currently asks the country’s highest law-making body to equip a government minister to break international law. This has enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences. We believe this would create a disastrous precedent.”

Peers are due to debate the legislation today. Elsewhere on Monday, officials on the EU-UK Joint Committee will meet in London to talk about the implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

Brexit legislation could set ‘disastrous precedent’, archbishops warn

Archbishops warn bill could ‘further undermine trust and goodwill’ among home nations

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 08:44

‘Time is running out’: Government unveils new Brexit slogan

The government has revealed its latest Brexit public information campaign slogan this morning – “time is running out”. UK officials are urging businesses to make preparations for the “changes and opportunities in just over 8 weeks” – an odd way of describing a potential no-deal, crash-out scenario at the end of the transition period.  

The CBI and 71 separate trade associations and professional bodies have written to the government pleading for a trade deal. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove will reportedly hold a call with business leaders this week to warn them not to get caught out at the end of the year.

HM Revenue and Customs is thought to be writing to 200,000 import-export business to explain customs and tax rules.

Boris Johnson launches advertising drive warning businesses ‘time is running out’ to prepare for Brexit amid no-deal threat

Business body hits back telling PM: ‘Facing the triple threat of a resurgent coronavirus, tightening restrictions and a disorderly end to the transition period, it is little wonder businesses are struggling to prepare’

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 08:51

Drugs industry appeals for ‘side-deal’ to avoid no-deal shortages

Britain’s pharmaceutical is appealing to Boris Johnson to strike a swift side-deal with Brussels to avoid delays and shortages of medicines if he crashes the UK out of the EU in a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) says that failure to secure either an overarching trade deal or a sector-specific agreement would cost “many, many millions” of pounds and introduce delays of up to six weeks in supplies.

ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett told The Independent: “There are many thousands of medicines used by the NHS and other health systems and all of them require good flow of trade across borders, both within the EU and internationally, so it is very important.”

Drugs industry appeals for urgent action to avoid medicine shortages in no-deal Brexit

Exclusive: UK and EU ‘must prioritise patients’, says trade body

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 08:54

EU ‘expects Brexit deadlock to last days’ in cooling off period

Chief Brexit negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost are set for an extremely awkward phone call today – after No 10 accused the EU of effectively ending negotiations by refusing to give the UK what it wants.  

The mood music appears ever-so-slightly brighter this morning, after Michael Gove said on Sunday the door was “still ajar” for further talks. “If they want to do a deal, we can do a deal,” one senior UK government official told Politico.

No 10 are said to want Barnier to indicate that the EU is willing to work “intensively” to get a deal done. Downing Street is also said to wants some indication from Barnier that the EU will be willing to compromise, effectively putting the onus on France to ease its hardball stance on fishing rights.

The Times reports that Brussels expects a “time out” of no more than a week to allow everyone to cool off from the fireworks of the recent EU Council summit.  “A circuit breaker on Brexit may have a positive effect,” said one diplomatic source.

EU diplomats are said to have privately acknowledged their own stunt (dropping a commitment to “intensify” talks) backfired somewhat last week. “It was not meant as trolling the British,” said one.  

No 10’s negotiator David Frost and EU counterpart Michel Barnier
Adam Forrest19 October 2020 09:02

Today’s talks with Manchester ‘final discussions’, claims minister

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said it was time for “decisive action” to resolve the impasse over Greater Manchester’s coronavirus status.

He said there had been “productive” negotiations with Greater Manchester and “further resources” had been offered, but Monday’s talks would be the “final discussions” on the matter. “We do now need to draw these conversations to a conclusion,” Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.  

“We have set out the action that we think is appropriate but we are also willing to continue, and have final discussions, with council leaders and the mayor in Greater Manchester today to see if we can reach an amicable agreement.”

With Downing Street reportedly willing to offer up to £100m in support funding to resolve the deadlock, Treasury sources said chancellor Rishi Sunak he would not cave in to mayor Andy Burnham’s demand for a return to the 80 per cent furlough scheme for people whose workplaces are forced to close.

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 09:44

‘Not about the size of the cheque’, says Burnham

It sounds as though Andy Burnham isn’t interested in reports the government could offer his region up to £100m in support funding to enter tier 3. The Greater Manchester mayor said it was “not about the size of the cheque”.

He told Sky News: “It’s about protecting low-paid workers, people who are self-employed, supporting businesses and preventing them from collapsing. That’s what this is about.

“We’ve always said we would put people’s health first, and we will do that. But health is about more than controlling the virus – people’s mental health, I think, is now pretty low given that we’ve been under restrictions here for three months already.”

Setting out his call for MPs to debate and hold a vote to on a clear process for tier 3 status, Burnham said tier three measures should come with a “fair financial framework” endorsed by parliament rather than “side deals with local areas”.

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 09:51

Wales set for ‘fire break’ lockdown?

The Welsh government is due to announce whether or not it has decided on “fire break” lockdown to control the virus, with first minister Mark Drakeford set to make a statement this morning after speaking to his cabinet.

“There is a growing consensus we now need to introduce a different set of measures and actions to respond to the virus as it continues to spread across Wales,” a spokesman for the Welsh government said.

Asked about a circuit breaker earlier, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said it was not “sensible” and was not being considered at present. On Sunday his cabinet colleague Michael Gove ruled out the idea of a lockdown during the October half-term – but left the door open for it being introduced later.

First minister Mark Drakeford
Adam Forrest19 October 2020 10:02

Fancy a pair of Khan flip-flops?

Sadiq Khan’s Tory rival in the London mayoral contest Shaun Bailey has sent journalists some flip-flops with the Labour’s man face all over them. The clever, subtle and hilarious joke is supposed to show Khan has “flip-flopped” on policies (it also happened in The Thick of It about 15 years ago).  

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 10:15

Why not call ‘Australia-style’ deal no-deal Brexit? ‘Semantics’, says minister

The business secretary Alok Sharma has been on LBC talking about the UK’s desire for a “Canada-style” trade deal – and repeated No 10’s threat to walk away from talks and go for “Australia-style” trading on WTO terms if the EU does not give way.

Asked if an Australia-style deal was actually just a no-deal Brexit, Sharma ummed and ahhed repeatedly, before saying: “Well … it’s a question semantics at the end of the day, sure.”

Adam Forrest19 October 2020 10:31

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