A Cabinet minister is facing claims he privately admitted the EU is right to ban UK shellfish because of Brexit – despite publicly branding it “legally wrong”.
An email sent to beleaguered traders by the Shellfish Association says a government letter has “changed this position” and acknowledged that the EU's legal position “is correct”.
Yet George Eustice, the environment secretary – while admitting the “devastating blow” to the industry – has insisted there is “no legal barrier” to exports and demanded Brussels back down.
Luke Pollard, his Labour shadow, called on ministers to “explain clearly what they really believe the legal position to be and what they will do to help the industry”.
The row blew up after Mr Eustice said the ban – which has prevented most shellfish not ready for human consumption from entering the EU – was “unjustified”.
He went further today, claiming the European Commission had shifted its position having previously “been clear that this was a trade that could continue”.
“The truth is there is no legal barrier to this trade continuing, both on animal health grounds and on public health grounds,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“There is legal provision within existing EU regulations to allow such trade to continue from the UK. We are just asking the EU to abide by their existing regulations and not to seek to change them.”
But the email sent by the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, seen by the Politics Home website, said it had received a government “update” on the export of unpurified mussels, clams, scallops, and cockles.
“All along they have told us that they believe the trade in class B animals is legal and that the regulation supports this. They have now changed this position,” it is reported to say.
“They now say that they believe on balance that the EU view, that the trade is not legal, is in fact correct. This is in complete contrast to everything they have told us so far.”
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been asked if it is correct that it has privately acknowledged the EU ban is justified.
The Commission has warned exports will be outlawed indefinitely, after Defra insisted the bar would last only until 21 April and would not affect farmed shellfish.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We continue to believe that our interpretation of the law, and the EU’s original interpretation, is correct and that the trade should be able to continue for all relevant molluscs from April.”
Letter to Michael Gove says British must meet Brexit deal obligations before ‘flexibility’ can be considered.
The European commission has ruled out major changes to the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland protocol, saying it would not even consider any flexibility unless the UK first meets its obligations under the pact in full.
Half of British exporters to the EU are facing difficulties with mounting Brexit red tape and border disruption after a month of the new rules, according to one of the most comprehensive business surveys since leaving the bloc.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said that 49% of UK-based exporters in a survey of 470 firms had suffered problems with post-Brexit arrangements since the start of the year, as companies struggled to adapt and faced higher costs due to extra border checks and paperwork.
Amsterdam ousted London as the largest financial trading centre in Europe last month as Brexit-related changes to finance rules came into force.
About €9.2bn (£8.1bn) worth of shares were traded on Amsterdam exchanges each day, against €8.6bn in London.
Following new Brexit rules, EU-based banks wanting to buy European shares currently cannot trade via London, meaning a loss of fees for City firms.
Bank of England chief Andrew Bailey has warned the EU not to cut off London.
On Wednesday, Mr Bailey said there were signs that the EU planned to cut the UK off from its financial markets.
The EU does not recognise UK exchanges as having the same levels of supervisory status as its counterparts in the Netherlands, France and Germany.
Both sides are working towards a March deadline to agree an "equivalence" regime under which each would recognise the other's regulation.
Number 10, said it remained "open" to discussions with the EU on the equivalence issue.
"Despite the fact that we've supplied all of the necessary paperwork and are one of the world's most preeminent financial centres, with a strong regulatory system, the EU still haven't granted us full equivalence."
"This has meant that some meant a number of EU shares that were previously traded on UK venues, have moved to the EU venues on advice of the European regulator, but our position is fragmentation of share trading across financial centres is in no one's interest," it added.
Financial services - a key driver of the UK economy - were largely omitted from the last-minute Brexit trade deal agreed in December.
The City generates about £135bn in business annually, with financial institutions earning big fees from trading stocks and shares. But London's financial centre has been cut off from EU markets since 1 January.
But Brussels says it will not be rushed into decisions on granting access for UK financial firms, as it wants to see how far UK rules will diverge from its own.
It follows fears the UK will adopt a low-regulation Singapore-style model that would undercut the EU.
Mr Bailey said the EU was holding the UK to unrealistically high standards on the issue of divergence, saying it would in effect make the City a "rule taker".
However, he said that while some UK rules would change post-Brexit, sudden deregulation was not in the cards.
"Let me be clear, none of this means that the UK should or will create a low-regulation, high-risk, anything-goes financial centre and system," he said.
"We have an overwhelming body of evidence that such an approach is not in our own interests, let alone anyone else's."
Despite the current situation, Mr Bailey said that London would "undoubtedly continue as one of the world's leading if not the leading financial centre".
Last month Mr Bailey said up to 7,000 finance jobs had so far been relocated from London to rival centres in the EU - well down on predictions of as many as 50,000 losses.
Foreign secretary talks up global growth opportunities and says Brussels ‘imposing obstacles’ to trade
Potential losses in UK trade with the EU because of Brexit will be more than made up by more opportunities in developing markets, Dominic Raab has claimed, saying people should take a “10-year view” of the current troubles faced by companies.
Questioned about warnings from a number of firms that bureaucracy and duties means they will go out of business, or have to relocate operations inside the EU, the foreign secretary also appeared to blame Brussels, saying it was “imposing” obstacles to trade.
Asked about the experience of companies facing such difficulties, Raab told BBC1’s Andrew Marr programme that the government was “doing a huge amount to support them, with advice and guidance, particularly intermediaries dealing with things like custom declarations”.
He added: “We have always been clear that there are changes that come with exiting the transition period, and what we’re trying to do is support businesses as best we can to manage those.”
Raab said such disruption should be seen in a broader context. He said: “You can always take individual cases, and I know they matter, but overall we’re in an excellent position to grasp the opportunities of a global Britain.
“I think if you take a 10-year view, as well as looking at the short-term risk, which is right to do, actually the growth opportunities in the future are going to come from emerging and developing economies around the world.”
Raab also appeared to blame the EU for many of the barriers, saying the government was seeking to “reduce and mitigate as far as we can the bureaucratic obstacles that the EU is imposing”.
He was bullish about the idea of EU financial centres taking considerable business from the City of London, despite Amsterdam having overtaken London as Europe’s top share trading centre.
Raab said: “[The EU] may be able to, if you like, nick a bit of business here or there from the City, but the problem is, the measures they will take to achieve that undermine their own competitiveness.”
Leading Tories have dismissed a proposal to create an underwater tunnel linking Scotland and Northern Ireland, with one MP arguing that ministers need to focus on making the current Brexit arrangements work.
“Let’s concentrate on making the protocol work and put the hallucinogenics down,” Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland committee, said.
It came as new figures showed a boom in direct trade from the Republic of Ireland and France. Continental freight traffic between Irish and French ports was up 447 per cent in January, as businesses seek to avoid red tape disruption in the UK.
Senior Tory Simon Hoare suggests ‘putting the hallucinogenics down’ and making the protocol work
If the rail industry leaders who proposed tunnelling under the Irish Sea between Stranraer and Larne hoped for enthusiasm, or at least to be taken seriously, they must be disappointed by the withering responses.
Politicians and business leaders have lined up to scorn the idea, calling it a distraction from efforts to adapt to the Northern Ireland protocol, a part of the Brexit deal with requires customs checks on some goods entering the region from Great Britain.
“It’s time the prime minister woke up to that reality, people here simply don’t want a Boris bridge, a Boris burrow, frankly a Boris anything,” said Nichola Mallon, Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister. “They want jobs, opportunities, stability and a brighter future.”
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it took 30 years to build the Channel tunnel, that there was a munitions dump blocking the way and that any tunnel to Northern Ireland would not obviate border checks.
The most direct route passes Beaufort’s Dyke, a 1,000ft deep trench in the Irish Sea where the government dumped about 1m tonnes of unused explosives and chemical weapons, including sarin and mustard gas.
The High Speed Rail Group has proposed the tunnel in its submission to a review to a group tasked with exploring ways to improve connectivity between the four constituent parts of the UK, saying it would bind Northern Ireland closer to Great Britain and “address problems in economic status of Northern Ireland post-Brexit”.
The preferred route, based on 120-year-old research by the Victorian engineer James Barton, would be diverted to avoid Beaufort’s Dyke.
Sir Peter Hendy, who is leading the group, is expected to publish his interim report within weeks.
It appears to be a sequel to the bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland that Downing Street mooted last year. Critics called it a fantasy designed to mollify unionists worried that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal would undermine the region’s position in the UK.
The Ulster Unionist party leader, Steve Aiken, dismissed the tunnel as impractical. “Can we just have 10% of the multi-billions that it would cost to fix our infrastructure – oh, and maybe some zero-emission ferries [built here] – now that would make more sense [also get rid of the Irish Sea border].”
Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist party MP, did not ridicule the tunnel but said it was more important for Northern Ireland to be connected economically and constitutionally, not physically.
Arlene Foster and senior MPs want new post-Brexit trade arrangements to stop disruption at Irish Sea ports
The leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Arlene Foster, and senior DUP MPs are launching a legal action challenging the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland protocol.
They will be joining other unionists from across the UK in judicial review proceedings unless alternative post-Brexit trade arrangements are put in place that secure their consent.
The DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, the party’s Westminster leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and its chief whip, Sammy Wilson, are backing Foster’s action in response to disruption of business through Irish Sea ports.
A separate group of DUP members have engaged senior legal counsel to prepare for a series of challenges to the protocol.
Foster said: “Fundamental to the Act of Union is unfettered trade throughout the UK. At the core of the Belfast agreement was the principle of consent, yet the Northern Ireland protocol has driven a coach and horses through both the Act of Union and the Belfast agreement.”
Unionists and loyalists have been growing increasingly angry at new regulatory and customs processes required to bring goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Nationalists and the Irish government are committed to solving problems with the protocol keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market but insist nothing must threaten the free flow of commerce on the island of Ireland.
The nationalist SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said: “The DUP’s legal action against the Ireland protocol is ill judged and will only further entrench the febrile political environment as well as creating further uncertainty for people and businesses.
“There will be few with sympathy for the argument that the protocol, which prevents a hard border in Ireland and guarantees dual market access for local businesses, breaches the Good Friday agreement.”
The DUP group has sought the legal opinion of constitutional law experts before several potential high court challenges in Belfast and London against the government over the post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.
A party source involved in the initiative told PA that preparatory work on a “series of very significant legal challenges” was at an advanced stage. “No stone will be left unturned in the pursuit of justice for the people of the union,” the source said.
They are also joining a legal challenge by the former Labour MP Kate Hoey, the Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister and the former Brexit party MEP Ben Habib.
Unionists have argued that the protocol undermines the Act of Union and the Northern Ireland Act, which gives legislative effect to the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast agreement, which established devolved powersharing.
The DUP leadership has presented a five-point plan in recent weeks aimed at frustrating the operation of the protocol.
That campaign includes a boycott of north-south ministerial engagement on issues related to the contentious trading arrangements.
The party also started an online petition to secure a parliamentary debate on the protocol. The debate is due to take place at Westminster on Monday.
The protocol was agreed by the EU and UK to overcome one of the main sticking points in the Brexit withdrawal talks, regarding the Irish border. It keeps that frontier free-flowing by Northern Ireland remaining in the single market for goods and applying EU customs rules at its ports.
The protocol instead moved the regulatory and customs border to the Irish Sea, with a series of checks, certifications, inspections and declarations now required on many goods being shipped into the region from Great Britain. This has led to some trading disruption since the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Brexit deal won’t be fully approved until end of April after UK agrees to EU request for delay
The Brexit trade deal will not be fully approved by the EU until the end of April, after the UK reluctantly agreed to a two-month delay.
Ministers had resisted the move, insisting the “provisional application” given in December should end this month and warning about the “uncertainty” created.
Although Michael Gove gave the go-ahead, he said the new ‘partnership council’ – which businesses hope will ease the crisis caused by the Christmas Eve agreement – should not “begin work” until ratification is completed.
Brussels, unlike the UK, gave the deal only provisional approval after the frenzied negotiations continued into the final days of 2020 and the European Parliament refused to rush it through.
It has allowed the new trading arrangements to be applied in practice, even though the Parliament and the EU Council of national leaders have not yet signed it off.
The request for delay flowed from the need to make the text available in all 24 EU languages, for scrutiny by the Parliament and the national governments.
Brussels has played down any fears of the deal lapsing – but some believe any delay creates a vacuum in which the growing tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol could fester.
Boris Johnson’s surprise decision to pick David Frost to lead the future negotiations – stripping the more dovish Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, of the role – has provoked fears of more clashes to come.
It was suggested he will try to “effectively renegotiate” the Protocol and that he “thinks Michael’s been too weak on it”.
In a letter, Mr Gove said the UK had always opposed any delay to ratification “given the uncertainty it creates for individuals and businesses and indeed the parties”.
“Extending the period of provisional application prolongs that uncertainty,” he told Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s vice-president.
The UK now expected the EU to “satisfy its internal requirements” before 30 April, so “we would therefore not be asked to further extend the period”.
Some companies are pinning their hopes on the partnership council to find ways to unlock the hugely-damaging blockages created by the agreement.
Exports have been hit by the blizzard of new red tape, with requirements for health checks and customs documents – and ban on shellfish trade is “indefinite”, the EU is warning.
The head of Scottish Food and Drink alleged that ministers are refusing to open talks to find solutions until the EU feels “some of the pain”.
But, in the letter, Mr Gove – who gives way for Lord Frost next Monday – said: “While this uncertainty persists, and until the period of provisional application is over, we do not believe the partnership council and other bodies....should begin their work formally.”
...the independent vaccine commission advising the German government ...
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Brexit has changed everything about Britain’s relationship with the European Union, and also nothing. For anyone trying to do business across borders newly gummed with bureaucracy, the comparison is stark and painful. But in politics, an old pattern is playing out – a cycle of suspicion and self-sabotage that began long before the 2016 referendum.
It starts with the belief that Britain does not depend on its neighbours for trade or anything else. That leads to neglect of the diplomacy required to make the partnership work. Going against the grain of economics and geography escalates every negotiation into a test of national self-esteem. Each adjustment for reality is resented as a surrender of sovereignty.
Euroscepticism is a machine for generating perpetual grievance. It works by making Brussels the enemy, spoiling relations and serving up the soured mood to a domestic audience as proof that the other side does not want to be friends.
Brexit has dismantled the institutional platform on which that drama used to be played, but it does not change the economic and strategic dynamics. The UK still needs things from Brussels, but it has lost the leverage it had from a seat at the EU summit table. This makes it harder for Boris Johnson to play the old double game of public belligerence and private compromise. (On that score, EU membership was the way previous prime ministers used to have their cake and eat it.)
Johnson has no interest in the practical side of European diplomacy. His 2019 promise to “get Brexit done” expressed a personal preference for changing the subject of British politics – a preference that chimed with the enervated public mood. Since Johnson only applies his brain to things when he can no longer hide from them, not talking about UK-EU relations allows him also to stop thinking about them.
That task has been outsourced to David Frost – formerly chief Brexit negotiator, now UK chair of the partnership council that oversees implementation of the EU deal. Frost was given a peerage last year, and his new role comes with a seat at cabinet. His rapid elevation was propelled by dogmatic Euroscepticism and personal devotion to the prime minister. He is a true believer in the cult of sovereignty. He was converted to the faith when his career in the Foreign Office stalled, then made zealous by the pursuit of an alternative career clinging to Johnson’s coattails. Nowhere does his record speak of subtle or creative diplomacy.
Frost’s appointment is not a malicious provocation, but a typical act of Johnsonian negligence. The prime minister likes to delegate the many aspects of leadership that bore him, but he trusts very few people (because he presumes his own tendency for deceit and betrayal is the norm). He needed someone, like Frost, who will obediently try to mop up the grief spilling out of his leaky, rickety EU deal.
Tension is already high over the Northern Ireland protocol, which creates a customs border in the Irish Sea. The mere existence of that trade barrier has infuriated unionists even before the full cost is felt. A “grace period”, waiving some checks, expires at the end of March. The UK has demanded an extension on terms that amount to major renegotiation. The European commission responds that Britain must honour the treaty it signed. And so the Brexit that was “done” turns out not to be done.
Were it not for the pandemic, loose ends and lost jobs would be making more headlines. Whether they would also be changing public opinion is a different question. Some enthusiasm is surely dropping into the chasm between Brexit as liberation theology and its real-world incarnation as rotting fish undelivered to a Calais market. But British political culture contains deep reserves of stoical resignation to adversity (especially other people’s adversity). There is no simple road back, no better deal on the table, and it is easy for ministers to spin the pain mandated by their deal as aggression by vengeful Europeans.
Leavers will be attracted to that story because it spares them the discomfort of admitting that they voted for a con, and then made a prime minister of the con artist. Keir Starmer will not fight on that terrain since doing so gets him no affection in constituencies that were lost by Labour in 2019. Thus (in England, at least) the folly of Brexit is being buried for excavation some time in the future, perhaps by a different political generation.
It might happen sooner, but I suspect any shift in opinion on the EU will come only as a consequence of some wider collapse in Johnson’s personal standing. He is the denial that people elected. For many voters, disillusionment with Brexit is downstream of disappointment with the whole “Boris” shtick in the flow of political events.
Meanwhile, there will be endless negotiations, largely unreported, except when they escalate into rows. At which point the rusty old template will be applied: plucky Britain standing up to bullying Brussels. It is the story the Eurosceptics used to tell when the UK was an EU member, but more potent because the 27-against-one dynamic that was a paranoid myth has become a fact. Over time, that dynamic will make it ever harder for the opposition to express a pro-European position without inviting the charge of siding with an enemy.
It is frustrating for remainers who still crave a moment of vindication, when the fraud is proved beyond doubt and the tide of opinion turns. But for that to happen, Brexit would have to be measured in terms of trade and diplomacy. Those aren’t the leavers’ metrics. They long ago swapped economic argument for culture war bluster.
There is no defence of Johnson’s deal if the ambition was serious advancement of the national interest. But there is another test. It is the one that matters most to the architects of Brexit, although they never admit it, even to themselves.
For the true believers, a good Brexit is one that keeps the grievance alive; that makes foreigners the scapegoat for bad government; that continues to indulge the twin national myths of victimhood and heroic defiance. Measured for that purpose, Johnson’s pointless Brexit is perfect.
New visa rules, taxes and transport restrictions are some of the hurdles British dance and theatre organisations must now overcome to tour Europe
Musicians have denounced the Brexit deal’s neglect of performers who depend on European work. They feel “shamefully failed” by the British government’s failure to secure free movement for touring artists. But for many of the UK’s stage companies the situation is equally fraught. Unresolved questions remain around touring, co-producing with European venues and attracting international collaborators to the UK. Which to unpick first? “Oh gosh,” sighs Farooq Chaudhry, executive producer of Akram Khan Company (AKC). “They’re all in varying degrees depressing.”
EU sources have claimed the UK rejected an offer to allow performers visa-free touring because it wouldn’t allow a reciprocal exemption. Had British companies foreseen this unresolved outcome? “Honestly, I didn’t,” Chaudhry admits. “Our biggest fear was always mobility – touring and access to talent. I didn’t seriously think that was under any kind of threat.”
As things now stand, each of the 27 EU member states has its own rules on visa and work permits, making multi-country tours more complex and expensive. Transporting the physical elements of a production (such as the set, or musical instruments) becomes more costly, especially as “cabotage” rules prohibit UK trucks from making more than two journeys after entering the EU. There is also uncertainty about requirements for foreign nationals working with arts companies in Britain. Last week, the National Theatre put its European touring on hold, explaining that in this unresolved situation “it is currently not financially viable”.
Britain’s contemporary dance companies are also European stars. Festivals clamour for Khan, Shechter or Wayne McGregor: emotive, entrepreneurial choreographers who pull crowds and push the artform. Pre-Brexit, sorting the paperwork was almost routine for their companies, and as Hansford puts it, “we could travel in the EU like we were commuting”. Now, she puzzles over “short-term visas, work permits, carnets and cabotage”. She worries that six-country tours are no more, and that European partners may also face increased costs. “Does that make UK theatre less attractive, financially? Will they look for EU artists instead, or lower the fees for UK artists?”
Could leading British companies simply pause European visits until things resolve? Chaudhry sets me straight. “Ask any British company – touring in the UK is an absolutely tragic loss leader. If we were only touring in the UK we would run out of money – step, jetée and you’re broke!” International revenue accounts for 72% of AKC income over the last 20 years, and “the most lucrative market – where we have quick access and can make a good buck – is Europe.” Despite hubs like Leicester and Manchester, the British audience for contemporary dance is limited, he argues. “In 2006, we figured out that it was costing us £17,000 a week to tour to a UK venue. I don’t know what the cost is now. It’s not a viable model. We couldn’t survive.”
Companies are investing in administration. “If nothing changes,” Hansford says, “every company is going to need a full-time role just dealing with visas, travel, the spreadsheets. We’ve had to divert somebody in our company to logistics just to get us through this next three months.”
“Taxation is a big one and nobody understands it,” she continues. “Lots of people rely on co-commissions to support creative work. At the moment that’s part of a double-taxation agreement [exempting workers from paying tax in both Europe and the UK], but I haven’t got clarity on whether that exists any more.”
Visa regulations cut both ways, and might deter international talent. “It’s a big concern,” says Chaudhry. “Our art form thrives on different bodies and perspectives – we invigorate ourselves by different ways of doing and seeing things. I would worry if we don’t have access to that talent.” His comparison is elite sport: “Are they going to do that with football teams? That’s the perfect example of what happens when you bring global talent together – [without it] the Premier League would lose its global appeal.”
“People are the lifeblood and core of the work,” Hansford insists, noting that during most years the Shechter company employs more than 90 artists, creatives and technicians, from Britain and beyond. “There are core musicians and dancers who have been with us for 12 years.” She’s already had to “stand down” 10 musicians without EU passports – “if this becomes longterm we’re going to lose those valuable artists.”
[... ... ...]
Watching poet Amanda Gorman at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Chaudhry “realised that in adversity, when the voices get to speak, they shake us, they conjure a vision of a new world. In my idealistic and romantic notion of what [might come], I hope we’ll get better art. We won’t be bereft, we won’t end up in a cultural desert.” But first, Hansford insists, the UK and EU must negotiate to protect their artists. “We do not want the UK to get left behind.”
Two out of three supply chain managers report experiencing import delays of ‘two to three days’
Delays importing and exporting goods to and from the EU have worsened since Brexit was introduced at the start of the year and will result in stock shortages and price rises for consumers, according to a report.
A survey of 350 supply chain managers found that two out of three had experienced delays of “at least two to three days” getting goods into the UK, compared with 38% who reported delays in a similar survey in January.
A third of this group said the delays were “significantly longer” than in January, 28% said “slightly longer” and 15% reported delays of a similar length to January. Just 18% of those surveyed by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) said they experienced no delays or fewer delays.
The situation was only slightly better for exports, with 44% experiencing delays of at least two to three days getting goods into the EU.
Almost half said delays were caused by customs paperwork on both sides of the border.
The survey comes as the government says it is focused on making the protocol for Northern Ireland, where checks have caused controversy, work before a crunch meeting on the matter between Michael Gove and the EU vice-president Maroš Šefčovič at 3pm on Wednesday.
Gove has demanded a two-year transition period for checks on supermarket goods and food being brought into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, with speculation that a special agreement could be put in place similar to veterinary agreements the EU has with Switzerland or New Zealand has with Australia.
A Swiss-style deal would require the UK to align its animal, farming and food standards with the EU’s, something the UK rejected in the Brexit talks, arguing it would affect the country’s sovereign right to diverge from EU rules.
A New Zealand-style agreement would do away with the need for health certificates on food entering Northern Ireland and most of the physical checks.
The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, told BBC Radio Ulster: “The protocol is a legal agreement that’s there, that’s in place, and we’ve got to make sure that we make it work in a positive way for people in Northern Ireland. I do understand that the lived experience of some people in Northern Ireland is not what it should be under the protocol, we’ve got to get that put right.”
Glen said business should brace for the delays to continue “for at least the next few months”, with an array of new checks being introduced in the second phase of the UK application of the Brexit deal on 1 April and 1 July.
Sylvie Bermann, France’s UK ambassador during Brexit vote, assesses PM’s pandemic handling alongside Donald Trump
Boris Johnson is “an unrepentant and inveterate liar” who feels he is not subject to the same rules as others, Sylvie Bermann, the former French ambassador to the UK during the Brexit vote, has said in a new book.
She also claims some Brexiters are consumed with hatred for Germany and gripped by a myth that they liberated Europe on their own, describing Brexit as a triumph of emotion over reason, won by a campaign full of lies in which negative attitudes to migration were exploited by figures such as Johnson and Michael Gove.
Bermann, who served as the French ambassador to the UK from 2014 to 2017 and has been one of the most senior diplomats in the French diplomatic service, including as ambassador to China and to Russia, assessed the British handling of the Covid pandemic as among the worst in the world alongside that of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. She predicted Johnson would seek to use Covid to mask the true economic cost of Brexit on the UK economy.
Johnson, she says, comes from an Eton and Oxford University class that believes they are entitled to use language to provoke. Describing him as intelligent and charming, he uses “lies to embellish reality, as a game and as instrument of power. The ends justify the means. He has no rules”.
Asked at a Royal United Services Institute thinktank event about her description of him as an unrepentant liar, she said: “He would not object to being called that. He knows he is a liar. He has always played with that. He has been fired from his first post for that reason.”
In her book Goodbye Britannia, she seeks to define the psyche that led to Brexit. She describes “the partisans of Brexit as reciting a history in which the UK is never defeated, never invaded”. She suggests a country that considers it singlehandedly won the second world war , liberating the continent and deserving of gratitude.
Referencing the more than 22 million Russians who died in the second world war she says “this does not disturb the discourse of the Brexiters who peddle the myth that the UK liberated Europe alone and needs no one”.
She adds France does have a debt of gratitude to the British, but “it is right to remember that they were not alone and you cannot live with a history that stopped in June 1944”.
“The corollary of an England saving Europe,” she adds, “is a detestation of Germany and contempt for cowardice – the term is often used for those who allowed themselves to be occupied, not to mention collaborated.”
The British account of the second world war, relayed in films such as Dunkirk, she says led to loss of confidence in the EU as an instrument of peace.
She admits she did not believe the Brexit referendum would be lost by David Cameron’s government, pointing out that both sides of the debate had told her the same. In retrospect, she viewed the defeat as the first crisis of electoral democracy, and the harbinger of the populism that has been followed through in the US and Europe.
“David Cameron was always telling other heads of government that he would win and he rejected any help from EU countries,” she told RUSI. She said that if Cameron had warned the EU that he was going to lose, Europe would have come up with a new offer on migration. British ministers told her that they might win by as much as 60%.
In the book, she asks: “How this country whose influence had been decisive in Brussels, which insolently rolled out the red carpet for French entrepreneurs and which Xi Jinping had elected in October 2015 as the gateway to Europe, at the dawn of a golden period, how has it undertaken to scuttle itself?”
She predicted: “Boris Johnson’s temptation will be to hide the bill for Brexit under the Covid carpel, valued at more than £200bn for 2020, almost as much as the United Kingdom’s total contribution to the European Union since its accession in 1973, which was £215bn.”
She said it was inevitable that the UK will struggle now to find influence outside the EU, and has a Scottish independence referendum hanging over its head.
She said she believed the EU would feel obliged to open talks with Scotland in the event of a referendum vote to leave the UK, but that is not the official EU position, partly due to pressure from Spain. Madrid fears the knock-on impact among Catalan separatists if an independent Scotland was allowed to join the EU.
The governor of the Bank of England has claimed that the EU is trying to “poach” business from the UK after Brexit, accusing it of a “very serious escalation of activity”.
Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday, Andrew Bailey said the EU appeared more interested in poaching business from London than in ensuring that the UK’s regulations are “equivalent” to the bloc’s.
“Frankly it would be a serious escalation of the issue,” he said.
Mr Bailey added that the move would be “highly controversial” and would would be something “we would have to, and want to, resist very firmly”.