A campaign to advertise the return of limited duty-free shopping when visiting EU countries in the event of a no-deal Brexit has attracted criticism and mockery on social media.
The chancellor, Sajid Javid, announced passengers travelling to the EU in a no-deal scenario would not have to pay UK excise duties on cigarettes and alcohol purchased in airports, and the Treasury posted on social media in support of the change, but immediately ran into a negative reaction.
The campaign has been “ratioed” on Twitter – a term for when a post has many more comments mocking it than it has retweets or likes. But rather than just the usual series of jokes and memes, users raised a consistent set of objections to the proposal – not least that it is at odds with the government’s stated policies on discouraging drinking and smoking.
There were also questions about whether the government had inadvertently breached one of its own laws by promoting cheaper cigarettes. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 states: “A person who in the course of a business publishes a tobacco advertisement, or causes one to be published, in the United Kingdom is guilty of an offence.”
Other users raised the issue of the UK border with Ireland, pointing out that if the government were insisting that in a no-deal scenario it would not be checking goods at the border, this move to significantly lower the price of alcohol and cigarettes at airports in Northern Ireland would likely make the prospect of smuggling more attractive.
And even pubs in the UK were puzzled as to why the Treasury was spending money to advertise it.
The announcement of the limited reintroduction of duty-free shopping to EU destinations marked a change of tone from government communications around no-deal planning, as it was the first advert to suggest a specific positive outcome of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied lying to Queen Elizabeth over the reasons for suspending parliament for five weeks after a court ruled his decision to do so was unlawful.
Parliament was prorogued - suspended - on Monday until Oct. 14, a move opponents argued was designed to thwart their attempts to scrutinise his plans for leaving the European Union and to allow him to push through a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.
Scotland’s highest court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that the suspension was not lawful and was to stymie lawmakers, prompting Johnson’s opponents to accuse him of lying to the queen as to the reasons for the suspension.
Johnson said on Thursday those claims were “absolutely not” true.
GARYVOE, Ireland (Reuters) - The European Union would respond positively if the British government shifts its position in Brexit talks in the coming weeks as the dangers of a no-deal exit become clearer, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
The question of how to keep Ireland’s border with the British region of Northern Ireland open is the key sticking point in talks to secure an orderly British exit from the EU and avoid the economic disruption of no-deal exit on Oct. 31.
To date the British government has offered “nothing that comes close” to what is needed to secure Irish and EU agreement, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shown a “willingness to try and explore new approaches,” Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told reporters on Thursday.
“As the discussion gets more real, and I hope more honest, I hope that will feed into the discussions that are now needed in the context of anything that can close the gaps,” said Coveney, speaking at an annual meeting of his Fine Gael party.
“We will respond positively if there are suggestions and new approaches that are based on realism in terms of what will actually work,” he added. “Let’s wait and see what the British government brings forward.”
Ireland’s preferred method of keeping the border open is via a “backstop” mechanism that would ensure that either Northern Ireland or all of the United Kingdom remains in regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit.
Asked whether the Northern Ireland-only option was dead after the British government on Tuesday said it was not seeking it, Coveney said nothing had been taken off the table.
“Really this is a matter for the British government,” he said.
In parallel to the Brexit talks, the Irish government is negotiating with the European Commission about what checks it would have to impose on the border to protect the EU single market if the United Kingdom leaves without a deal.
Coveney said the talks were ongoing about imposing the “minimal level of checks that is credible”, away from the border. Such implementation would likely be imposed after Britain leaves, he added.
But the moves would be temporary as an agreement on keeping the border open would be a prerequisite to any talks on a trade deal between Britain and the EU.
“We don’t regard those checks that may be needed in a no-deal scenario as a permanent arrangement,” Coveney said. “Not by a long shot.”
EU’s top negotiator tells MEPs Britain has not offered credible proposals for Irish border
Michel Barnier has told MEPs there remain insufficient grounds for reopening formal negotiations over the Brexit withdrawal agreement, six months after Theresa May and the European commission closed them.
In a private briefing with the European parliament’s leaders, the EU’s chief negotiator said Boris Johnson’s officials had yet to offer any “legally credible and workable” proposals to replace the Northern Irish backstop on which the two negotiating teams could build.
In an earlier briefing with diplomats representing the EU27, a senior member of Barnier’s Brexit team had described the ideas so far put forward during technical talks between officials on both sides as “aspirational”.
“Another longish meeting without tangible progress on Wednesday,” said an EU diplomat, referring to the latest round of talks between the European commission and Johnson’s Brexit envoy, David Frost.
The last substantive Brexit negotiation took place in Strasbourg in March when the then prime minister and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, drafted an ill-fated adjunct to the withdrawal agreement emphasising the temporary nature of the Irish backstop. May’s deal was subsequently defeated in the Commons by the crushing margin of 149.
EU officials insisted that nearly two months after Johnson was made prime minister the gap between the two sides was still far too wide for any meaningful negotiation to take place with Downing Street and that British civil servants were still merely “talking about concepts”.
In the most recent talks between officials, Frost was said to have outlined ideas covering customs and manufactured goods in which Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be in separate customs and regulatory zones.
Sources said Johnson’s envoy had suggested an “enhanced market surveillance mechanism” for industrial goods involving tough penalties for those who seek to smuggle contraband over the border.
Frost had said the UK could commit to an open border in the withdrawal agreement but that the detail of how checks could be done away from the border would have to be decided during the stand-still transition period catered for in the withdrawal agreement.
The EU insists that there must be a legally operable plan for avoiding a hard border in any withdrawal agreement and that it will not accept a deal based on a promise.
While diplomats said there was growing belief that the UK was likely to table concrete plans in October, there was concern that the groundwork was not yet being done in order for the ideas to receive a positive reception in Brussels.
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Ministers insist it is a worst-case scenario. But with no new deal in sight, the dangers set out in a document they wanted to hide must be taken seriously
Even for a government that prides itself on high-handedness, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s vicious attack on consultant neurologist David Nicholl was a low point. Dr Nicholl, who drew up a risk register for the newly released Yellowhammer no-deal Brexit planning document, asked Mr Rees-Mogg, on live radio, what “level of mortality” he would regard as an acceptable price for leaving the European Union with no arrangements in place. Since this was a direct challenge to ministers’ strategy of trying to normalise what should be unthinkable, Mr Rees-Mogg’s anger was not surprising. His insolence, however, in comparing Dr Nicholl to the struck-off anti-vaccination campaigner Andrew Wakefield, proved too much for his frontbench colleagues and Mr Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise.
Now that Yellowhammer has been published, it is clear why Dr Nicholl felt compelled to confront him. No-deal Brexit is a recipe for chaos, with medical supply shortages near the top of a list of consequences that are already scaring people around the country. While the long-term impact of a bitter divorce is strategically more damaging than any initial shocks, even voters tempted to buy into Mr Johnson’s no-deal bluster could be put off by the prospect of two-day traffic jams, energy price rises, civil unrest or a lack of clean water.
For Gibraltar and Northern Ireland the prospects are far bleaker, with a revived black market described as “likely”, particularly in border areas where criminals and terrorists are already active. Even given all the politics that surround Brexit, it is extraordinary that ministers thought it appropriate to hide such warnings from parliament and the public.
Both tips of the government’s two-pronged damage limitation exercise – that Yellowhammer represents a worst-case scenario, and that a deal is in any case on the cards – require careful handling. Since other versions of the Yellowhammer document are headed “base case”, it seems more likely that it sets out what civil servants believe will happen rather than what they think won’t (even if further attempts at mitigation are now in train), while the latest claims about a new deal being within view are at odds with the resignation statements of Amber Rudd and Jo Johnson.
Angela Merkel’s warning of the risk to the EU that could be posed by a low-tax, low-regulation “Singapore-on-Thames” on its doorstep is more illuminating. That such threats are being taken seriously, following Brexit negotiator David Frost’s announcement that Mr Johnson’s government wants to walk back from Theresa May’s commitment to a level playing field on social and environmental standards, should alarm everyone who wants the UK to continue in a constructive partnership with our neighbours, whether within or outside the EU. Given the enormous difficulties that would beset trade negotiations were the UK to pursue such a course, it is tempting to dismiss such statements as empty boasts, intended to force the EU’s hand with regard to Ireland. But Yellowhammer provides some support for this week’s complaint by a French foreign minister that the UK is attempting to negotiate “side deals” with individual member states, and subvert the Brussels process.
Since parliament has all but ruled out no deal, Yellowhammer’s predictions are not as frightening as they might be, even if an extension from the EU is not guaranteed. But it remains extremely disturbing that members of the prime minister’s immediate circle apparently believed, as recently as last weekend, that riots and shortages could be features of the near-future for which he is readying the country.
GARRYVOE, Ireland (Reuters) - The gap between Britain and the EU over Brexit is “very wide”, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday, and the British government’s Northern Irish allies poured cold water on suggestions the contentious border “backstop” could be reworked.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, the EU has focused in recent days on whether the main disagreement - over plans to guarantee the border in Ireland remains open - can be bridged.
A deal reached last year with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May would guarantee regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland to help keep goods flowing. But the British parliament rejected it three times.
Johnson says the border backstop must be replaced to reach any deal. The EU says any replacement must have the same effect, and so far London has offered no proposals that are good enough.
“We always said we are willing to explore alternative arrangements ... But so far I think it is fair to say that what we are seeing falls very far short of what we need,” Varadkar told Ireland’s RTE radio in an interview.
“The gap is very wide,” he said.
Northern Ireland’s largest political party, whose 10 members of parliament support Johnson’s minority government, also suggested a deal was not close, saying it would not let the British region be forced to accept EU regulations after Brexit.
Britain’s Times newspaper reported that the DUP had agreed to accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules after Brexit as part of a deal to replace the Irish backstop. But Democratic Unionist Party Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson rejected the report as “nonsense”.
“We will not accept a Northern Ireland-only backstop... It won’t be a backstop by any other name either. We will not be accepting separate arrangements that cut us off from UK,” Wilson told BBC Radio Ulster.
He suggested that the Northern Ireland assembly would require an effective veto of any EU regulations, only approving measures “if we believe it is to the advantage of industry in Northern Ireland,” something the EU and Ireland have repeatedly rejected.
DUP leader Arlene Foster also rejected the Times story in a tweet, saying the “UK must leave as one nation”.
“We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK,” Foster said.
Johnson’s government lost its working majority in parliament last week after expulsions and defections from his Conservatives, which means the DUP no longer holds the balance of power in parliament. But its votes could still prove crucial as Johnson tries to convince Brussels that he can secure parliamentary approval for any deal.
A no-deal exit would trigger complex negotiations, argues former top DexEU civil servant
Claiming a no-deal Brexit represents a clean break with the European Union is “nonsensical”, according to Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU.
Boris Johnson has promised to extricate the UK from the EU on 31 October “come what may” – and has hinted that he could try to get around legislation mandating him to request a Brexit delay.
The Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, whose party trounced the Tories in May’s European elections, has been urging the PM to deliver a “clean break Brexit” by leaving without a deal.
But Rycroft, who was the most senior civil servant at DexEU until March this year, told the Guardian a no-deal Brexit would mark the beginning of a complex series of negotiations.
“It is not a clean break: what it does is it takes us legally out of the EU. But what it can’t do is undo all of the very close economic ties that we have with the EU, on which so much of our trade as a country depends. And nor would we want to undo all of the close security ties that we have with the EU,” he said.
“And because of the importance of those ties both for the EU and the UK, it will remain hugely important to have those expressed through a formal relationship. In other words, we’re going to have to negotiate – and that negotiation on the future relationship starts with citizens, money and the border on the island of Ireland.
“So the notion that no deal somehow means that we can turn our backs on the EU and break all our ties is just nonsensical.”
Rycroft spent part of his career at the Scottish Office and in the Scottish Executive before working in Nick Clegg’s office during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, and helping to coordinate Whitehall’s approach to devolution from the Cabinet Office.
He gave a speech on Monday warning that politicians should be thinking carefully about how to protect the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland after Brexit – deal or no deal.
“Clearly at the moment, political time has collapsed: everything has become very short term, everyone’s worrying about what’s happening not even next week but tomorrow,” he said. “In those circumstances it’s very different to be lifting their eyes to a more distant horizon. How do we manage as a country, if and when we come out of the EU?”
After this week’s renewed clashes between Johnson’s government and rebel MPs and the judiciary, Rycroft said it may be time to think about whether Britain’s constitution is working – a question also raised by the Speaker, John Bercow, on Thursday.
“We don’t have a written constitution: it relies on convention and precedent, and the spirit within which those conventions and precedents are regarded. And if those conventions and precedents are ignored, overturned, challenged – then the lack of a codified constitution becomes an issue,” he said.
“I would agree with those who would say in these circumstances, it may not be that you’d need a written constitution as a whole, but as a minimum, some of the procedures, not least in the Houses of Parliament, are going to have to be codified for clarity on what the rules are. There is no doubt in my mind that we have reached that point.”
Rycroft is about to take up a post at the University of Cambridge as a distinguished honorary researcher at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and the department for politics and internal studies.
He warned against the growing tendency in public debate to denigrate civil servants and blame them for the failings of their political masters.
“Civil servants do their job for governments of the day, delivering the policies of the government of the day, and that’s just as true for Brexit as for anything else.” He said claims his erstwhile colleague Olly Robbins had sought to stymie the government’s negotiating efforts were “complete nonsense”.
Robbins left Whitehall as Johnson took over and it emerged recently that he had taken a job at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.
No 10 strategists say they have devised a secret plan, known only to the PM and three key advisers, which they claim will allow them to ignore the order without breaking the law – although most legal experts are sceptical that such a ruse could work.
Boris Johnson is a liar who only backed the Leave campaign to help his career and Michael Gove was a “foam-flecked Faragist” whose “one quality” was disloyalty, David Cameron writes in his memoirs.
In what may be Cameron’s most explosive allegation yet, he effectively accused Boris Johnson of mounting a racist election campaign by focusing on Turkey and its possible accession to the EU.
“It didn’t take long to figure out Leave’s obsession,” he writes. “Why focus on a country that wasn’t an EU member?
“The answer was that it was a Muslim country, which piqued fears about Islamism, mass migration and the transformation of communities. It was blatant.”
Then Cameron echoes the explicitly racist Conservative campaign slogan used in Smethwick in 1964: “They might as well have said: ‘If you want a Muslim for a neighbour, vote “remain”.’”
In Smethwick, Peter Griffiths had been elected as Conservative MP on the slogan “If you want a n**** for a neighbour, vote Labour.”
Cameron writes that Johnson’s claims of concerns about British sovereignty were “secondary to another concern for Boris: what was the best outcome for him?”
Johnson “risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career” and was open to a second referendum after a renegotiation, according to a Sunday Times account of Cameron’s book, For The Record.
Cameron is even more acerbic about Gove, who was once his close friend. Writing about Gove’s decision to stand against Johnson for Tory leader, he says: “As for Michael, one quality shone through: disloyalty. Disloyalty to me and, later, disloyalty to Boris.”
Their conduct during the EU referendum campaign amounted to “open warfare” and the pair seemed to be different people by the end, Cameron writes. “Both then behaved appallingly, attacking their own government, turning a blind eye to their side’s unpleasant actions and becoming ambassadors for the expert-trashing, truth-twisting age of populism.”
He said Patel’s attacks on his government’s immigration record “shocked me most” but he did not want to fire her and create a “Brexit martyr”. Cummings was part of a “cauldron of toxicity” with Nigel Farage, he says.
Reaction to Cameron’s memoirs has seen the former PM attacked by Conservatives from all wings of the party.
Brexiters were enraged by his suggestion that a second referendum might be necessary and that the Vote Leave campaign lied.
Personally, I hope to see the Scots depart, and end more than three centuries of union.
The BMG survey for The Independent found significantly more voters than not believe that the government should permit an independence referendum in Scotland and a border poll in Northern Ireland.
The Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, hailed the findings as “significant” and said they showed it would be “unacceptable” for Boris Johnson’s government to attempt to block a second independence vote.
And former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain said the results confirmed his concern that Brexit could hasten the break-up of the UK.
The poll of 1,504 people in England, Scotland and Wales found that 45 per cent believe the government should allow a second independence referendum north of the border, against 30 per cent who thought it should be blocked. When don’t knows are removed, the split is an emphatic 60-40 in favour of permitting a referendum. There were majorities in favour of permitting a poll in England, Scotland and Wales and among supporters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party, while Tory voters were split 44-42 against.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson says he wants to “get this thing done” so that Britain can emerge from Brexit “on a brighter, more cheerful, more confident and global path”.
Mr Johnson has become markedly more optimistic of reaching an agreement since Parliament was suspended last week, and on Sunday said he was “very confident” of agreeing a deal, with “real signs of movement” over the Northern Irish backstop and “a huge amount of progress” in talks with Brussels.
In the latest sign that Mr Johnson is preparing to compromise in order to reach a deal, Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, disclosed that Britain could remain yoked to the EU until the end of 2022 as he raised the possibility of a transition period stretching for more than three years.
He writes: “If we can make enough progress in the next few days, I intend to go to that crucial summit on Oct 17, and finalise an agreement that will protect the interests of business and citizens on both sides of the channel, and on both sides of the border in Ireland.
“I believe passionately that we can do it, and I believe that such an agreement is in the interests not just of the UK but of our European friends...we are working flat out to get one.”
The prime minister has again failed to provide a clear picture of how he intends to strike a deal with the EU, despite again claiming to be optimistic he can do so. Boris Johnson was asked repeatedly by the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, to outline the details of the proposals he has made to the European Union. Johnson said:
"I mean, there is a negotiation going on has been for a long time now about how to do this. So there’s a limit to how much the details benefit from publicity before we’ve actually done the deal."
Kuenssberg asked him if he intended to “slice and dice the backstop”. Johnson replied:
"The shape of it is all about who decides. Fundamentally, the problem with the backstop ... is that it’s a device by which the EU can continue after we’ve left to control our trade laws, control our tariffs, control huge chunks of our regulation and we have to keep accepting laws from Brussels long after we’ve left with no say on those laws. Now that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the whole of the UK and it doesn’t work for Northern Ireland. So we have to find a way to avoid that situation."
Kuenssberg tried again, suggesting that Johnson was “just articulating the problem that’s been articulated forever about the backstop”. She asked him: “Can you foresee a solution, for example, where – in some areas – Northern Ireland would follow EU rules and the rest of the UK would not?” Johnson replied:
"What we want to see is a solution where the decision is taken by the UK and clearly that’s the problem with the backstop; it basically leaves the decision making up to Brussels and that’s no good."
Kuenssberg tried yet again, asking the prime minister: “What’s the actual solution that you’re proposing? Is it giving more power to Stormont, for example, that’s being talked about a lot; that the Northern Irish assembly might be given a lock on opting out or opting in on EU regulation?” Johnson replied:
"These are certainly some of the ideas that are being talked about and as are the ideas that you’re familiar with to do with maximum facilitations, to do with checks away from the border all sorts of ways in which you can avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. This is all doable. It’s all doable with energy and goodwill."
Kuenssberg pointed out to Johnson that the European commission has said it is “yet to see proposals that they think are viable and workable”. Johnson responded:
"Well, it’s certainly the case that the commission is still officially sticking on their position that the backstop has got to be there. But, clearly, if they think that we can come up with alternatives, then I think they’re in the mark. I think the big picture is that the commission would like to do a deal."