The UK is damaging itself to keep the EU happy on customs checks, Northern Ireland’s first minister has said.
DUP leader, Arlene Foster, has said the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol needs to be replaced because of disruption to trade from Great Britain to the region.
She said parcels were still not getting through and retailers like John Lewis were not delivering despite extensions of easier regulations in some areas until October.
“There is damage happening to the Belfast Agreement and its successor agreement.
“It has also damaged the UK internal market by putting in place a system to protect the EU single market.
“What we are doing is damaging our own country,” said the Stormont First Minister. “There is damage happening to the Belfast Agreement and its successor agreement.
“It has also damaged the UK internal market by putting in place a system to protect the EU single market.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson visited Northern Ireland on Friday, meeting business leaders and the first minister to hear their concerns, but deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin was “otherwise engaged”, according to No 10.
Stormont’s Agriculture Minister has stalled work on permanent border checkpoints for food entering through Northern Ireland’s ports from the rest of the UK.
Mrs Foster told Times Radio: “The Agriculture Minister (Edwin Poots) is looking at all of these issues. He is taking legal advice and speaking to officials as to what needs to be done.”
Earlier in the week Mr Poots said the prospect of Northern Ireland having to carry out the same number of checks as the EU does as a whole was not rational.
“What has been imposed upon Northern Ireland is irrational, it is oppressive, it is burdensome and, actually, frankly ridiculous,” he told an Assembly committee.
Ms Foster said some foods from Great Britain heading for Northern Ireland would be marked for sale in pound sterling and therefore posed no risk of entering the Republic of Ireland where they use euros.
She blamed the EU, saying that it was imposing third-party checks similar to if somewhere like China wanted to send goods into the single market
“It is completely disproportionate to what is necessary,” said Ms Foster.
The Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to vote on whether to scrap the protocol in 2024 but Ms Foster believes action needs to happen sooner because the economy is suffering now. Mr Johnson has said the protocol is not operating in the way he envisaged.
She said: “We need replacement of the protocol and a much more sensible way to deal with the risk to the (EU) single market.”
Trade has plummeted and red tape has blocked our borders. Is that what ‘protecting our sovereignty’ meant?
Now we know that British exports to the European Union plummeted by a cataclysmic 41% after Brexit on 1 January, what next? This is not the “slow puncture” predicted, but a big bang. Yet so far, it registers little on the political Richter scale.
It should shake the government to the core, but voters are well protected from this unwelcome news by our largely pro-Brexit press. Nor does BBC news, under Brexiteer mortar fire, dare do enough to rebalance the misinformation. Saturday’s Financial Times splashed that killer trade figure on its front page, but the Daily Express splashed “Flying start for US trade deal”. There is no “flying start”. Meanwhile, an EU legal action against Boris Johnson is starting this week, for his reneging on the Northern Ireland protocol and thereby imperilling the Good Friday peace agreement.
The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph barely cover the EU trade fiascos, says Dr Andrew Jones, part of an Exeter University team monitoring Brexit media stories since the referendum. Currently, Jones says, those papers’ main Brexit story is Britain’s triumph over the EU on vaccines. That trope always omits the fact the UK could have purchased the same volume while in the EU, but it has become the Brexiters’ clinching case.
Prof Katharine Tyler, of the same Exeter team – and currently re-interviewing voters from Lincolnshire, the south west and Newcastle – finds no shifting views in either leavers or remainers. Nor does she expect real-world effects to have much impact given Brexit’s strong connection to national and personal identity. Bad trade news bounces off sovereignty-seekers, for whom any economic price was always worth paying.
Unless people read the Guardian, the Financial Times and a very few others, the Brexit damage is still invisible, with no lorry queues jamming motorways nor empty supermarket shelves: these may yet happen when delayed import controls are imposed next January.
Manufacturers may say they are in “Dante’s fifth circle of hell” but their loss of exports is out of sight of most of the public. Take Seetru, a Bristol industrial valve-maker I’ve followed throughout Brexit. Half its exports were to the EU: as UK exports to Germany fell by a shattering 56%, its managing director, Andrew Varga, finds his products “stuck for eight weeks in German customs, swamped by bureaucracy, massively clogged”. Fearing the loss of his just-in-time customers, he’s flying his products to Germany at “10 times the cost”.
He calls “doctrinaire and ideological” the creation of a UK kite mark, forcing him to re-register 30,000 products under two systems. “That,” he sighs, “is what they call sovereignty.” Brexit never “took back control” or escaped “Brussels bureaucracy” but instead blocked the borders with impenetrable thickets of red tape.
No extra time, no illegal “grace period” unlocks the impossible Irish conundrum now heading to court. Once out of the single market and customs union there were just two options, both terrible: a UK-splitting customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; or a peace-deal-breaking hard border within Ireland. No wonder Johnson lied about what he had signed.
The only answer is Norway-shaped: putting all the UK into the single market and the customs union restores frictionless trade, with no Irish borders. But Britain is still emotionally miles away from recognising that necessity.
Meanwhile, this Pandora’s box of a Brexit swarms out new pests daily. Take the 83% collapse of a fishing and shellfish industry that was once the Brexit campaign’s talisman. David Frost and Michael Gove seem never to have known that each boatload of seafood needs 71 pages of customs forms; nor did they understand the fatal fish “depuration” rules that left stock rotting on the dock.
Political optics were all that mattered to these brilliant negotiators, so they thought they could abandon the services and the banking sector, despite services making up 80% of our economy and financial services 10% of tax receipts. So City firms have moved £1.3tn of assets to the EU already, and within one month Amsterdam has overtaken the City as Europe’s largest sharetrading centre.
Daily, new stingers fly out of the Brexit box. “Au revoir to au pairs”, mourns the Telegraph, with no visas for student family helpers because they earn under £20,480. The British Cactus Society mourns the loss of its industry to customs barriers. Students mourn the needless loss of Erasmus, its inferior Turing replacement abandoning cultural swaps for teachers.
How’s global Britain doing? We used to be good at soft power, spreading UK influences in culture, language and the ideals of democracy; but that liberal stuff nauseates the most ideological Brexiters. So they swing their wrecking ball at the BBC, the UK’s worldwide voice, cutting its funding level by 30% while putting its cherished independence under sinister attack. The British Council, spreader of English language and culture, is cut too. Even UK collaboration in global scientific research – on antimicrobial resistance and the climate crisis – is halved. Cutting aid to Yemen mid-famine sends a spine-chilling message about what Britain has become.
Refusing the new EU envoy ambassadorial status is a political gesture to keep the Brexit base fired up. Fighting the EU in the courts may be relished by them. The more damage Brexit does, the louder those who Ken Clarke calls “headbangers” yell for “revenge”. Mark Francois, chair of the hardcore pro-Brexit European Research Group, this week calls not just for tearing up the “intolerable” Northern Ireland protocol, but for defaulting on the £20bn owed to the EU. Treaty-defaulters, debt-dodgers – these wreckers make us new enemies and no new friends.
There is no upside, so will all this damage ever outweigh the spiritual belief that Brexit saved our national sovereignty? What that trigger might be, no one knows. Labour will plug away, exposing myriad flaws in the dreadful trade deal. The shadow trade secretary, Emily Thornberry, scored a hit this week by forcing the government to reveal no economic impact assessment was ever made on the Brexit deal, despite one for every other trade treaty, even with Albania. No extra penny of advantage comes from Liz Truss’s trade deals, all identical to existing EU deals. Who but remainers notices?
Labour is increasingly aggressive in attacking Brexit fallouts, despite bombardment by Tories as “remoaners”. The question is when the sheer weight of evidence exposes how astonishingly bad the Brexit deal is. The remain ship sailed long ago, but the boat to Norway may eventually dock here. In the meantime, EU legal action reinforces our government’s reckless isolationism. There the ministers stand, as if reprising that wartime cartoon from the cliffs of Dover: “Very well, alone!”
The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has accused the EU of trying to erect a border down the Irish Sea as he told a US audience that it was the EU that had been doing most to threaten the Northern Ireland protocol and damage the Good Friday agreement.
His remarks came at the end of a setpiece speech at the Aspen Forum in which he extolled Britain as a force for good determined to build a broader caucus of nations ranged against a dangerous minority determined to ransack the international system.
His Northern Ireland remarks prompted the pro-Irish congressman Brendan Boyle to ask whether the UK was going to continue unilaterally delaying the implementation of the protocol. Boyle said the UK had twice now taken unilateral actions with respect to delaying the Northern Ireland protocol. He asked if the UK government was going to continue with its disruptive cycle.
Raab said: “It is the EU that by trying to erect a barrier down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain that is challenging the spirit of Northern Ireland Protocol and the Good Friday agreement.
He added: “I hope that our friends on the Hill on all sides of the house, and both houses, are equally robust in picking up when the EU undermines the agreement.”
He said the brief invocation of article 16 of the withdrawal agreement by the EU had created “huge tensions across all communities”.
Raab said: “The most overt political threat to the agreement and ultimately the Good Friday agreement has been the politicised way the EU has gone about things.” He also questioned whether the EU had made the same level of unequivocal commitment as the UK on refusing to set up any border infrastructure.
With the EU threatening legal action against the UK, Raab said: “We are still wrestling with the Northern Ireland protocol and trying to make it work. We need to make it work in the interest of all communities. All we have ever done is take targeted precautionary measures that are necessary to respect and uphold the integrity of the UK, and in particular the internal market between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.”
The UK has twice unilaterally extended grace periods in what it sees as an attempt to iron out unforeseen bureaucratic hurdles in the protocol.
The exchanges on St Patrick’s Day may not endear the UK to the Biden White House, which has been a staunch supporter of the Irish cause and a sceptic about Brexit. The White House will be monitoring the activities of Lord Frost, the UK minister for EU relations, who is seen by some as intent on renegotiating the agreement with Ireland.
Biden is hosting a virtual bilateral with the Irish premier, Micheál Martin, where alongside the celebrations there is bound to be exchanges about the British approach to the Northern Ireland protocol.
Administration officials at a briefing reminded reporters that Biden on the campaign trail had warned that the Good Friday agreement must not become a casualty of Brexit. Although the senior officials said the US was not taking sides in the dispute between Ireland and the UK, they stressed that the Northern Ireland protocol was legally binding.
New customs rules also a factor in 41% drop in value of goods moving from UK to the EU
Trade between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland in January plunged by 65% following the end of free movement of goods because of Brexit, according to new data.
The figures followed Office for National Statistics data last week that showed the UK’s overall export of goods to the EU slumped by 41% during the same period.
New customs, export and health certification requirements for goods going from Britain to Ireland have caused major disruption to the flow of cargo, with ferry companies operating on the Holyhead-Dublin Port route reporting a significant drop in traffic in January.
Figures issued on Thursday by Ireland’s Central Statistics Office showed the trade in food and live animals was hit hardest, with a 75% decline in trade, resulting in imports to the republic falling from €187m (£160m) to €62m year on year this January.
While Ireland exports large quantities of food to Britain including cheese and milk, the republic relies heavily on Britain for other goods such as milled flour, cereals and sugar.
Overall, exports from Britain to Ireland dropped from €1.4bn to €497bn, with significant decreases also in mineral fuels, chemicals and transport equipment.
CSO senior statistician Orla McCarthy said traders reported issues, which “included the challenges of complying with customs requirements”.
“Other factors identified by traders were stockpiling of goods in Q4 2020 in preparation for Brexit, substitution with goods from other countries, and a reduction in trade volumes due to the impact of Covid-19 related restrictions throughout January.”
Trade in the other direction has also been hit by Brexit and Covid restrictions.
Exports of food and live animals to Great Britain fell by 30%, with exports of machinery and transport equipment in January dropping 50% year on year.
Imports from Northern Ireland, which effectively remains in the European Union’s single market under the Brexit deal, were buoyant by comparison and increased to €177m from €161m in January last year, the CSO said.
A celebration of British weather and a grow-your-own food initiative will be among the festivities
A celebration of the British weather and the largest grow-your-own food project of modern times will be among the events being staged for a nationwide festival of creativity aimed at bringing the UK together in 2022.
Organisers of the £120m festival, commissioned by Theresa May’s government and supported by Boris Johnson, announced 10 teams who had successfully pitched ideas.
The festival remains a divisive one. In some eyes it is a politically motivated “festival of Brexit”, but its supporters say that is the last thing it will be. Its chief creative officer, Martin Green, said it was about bringing people together and celebrating creativity in events that are “open, original and optimistic”.
Others balk at the cost, while supporters point to the work it brings to creative freelancers ravaged by the pandemic. “Don’t write it off,” argued a Guardian editorial in September.
It has a working title of Festival UK 2022, but that will be replaced with a better name before the year is out.
On Tuesday 10 teams were named, chosen from 30 that had taken part in a three-month paid research and development process. The idea is that the successful teams give a flavour of what their project is about, but the public will have to wait for full details.
A team led by the Glasgow-based Aproxima Arts will offer “a unique approach to community growing celebrating music, future food technology and sustainable festivals.” Part of that will be the “largest grow-your-own project of modern times”.
Angus Farquhar, the creative director, said the plan was to empower as many people as possible to grow their own food and would involve spaces being reclaimed to allow that. But he added: “I’m conscious of giving too much away.”
That “wait and see” element is true for all the teams, including one led by the Leeds-based events studio Newsubstance, which is promising “a physical manifestation and celebration of the British weather and UK coastline” involving “a large-scale installation that addresses global questions, encourages playfulness, elicits joy and presents an experiment in change.”
All the teams are strikingly mixed in terms of specialisms and may include poets, film-makers or mathematicians. Other groups in the Newsubstance team include Dose of Society, a video platform for unheard voices; the British Antarctic Survey; and the kinetic sculptor Ivan Black.
The Turner prize-winning architecture collective Assemble are leading a team promising “an immersive experience exploring the wonder of the human mind through architecture, neuroscience, technology, light and sound.”
The Salford-based Walk the Plank, known for outdoor spectaculars, head a team exploring the outdoor beauty of the UK and asking questions about “access, taking part, landscape and the future of public spectacle.”
The festival has been cursed by the “festival of Brexit” label since the start, which may well have prevented some people and organisations taking part.
Claire Doherty, an associate creative director of National Theatre Wales, another team leader, said the process had been “incredibly open and transparent … We trust Martin [Green]. Our team said how can we use this investment to help recovery after the pandemic, how can we make sure this project … really looks at who is under-represented and overlooked and listen to those voices.”
Green, whose CV includes the Olympic ceremonies and Hull city of culture, said the festival was one of a number of big events due to take place in the UK in 2022, including the Queen’s platinum jubilee and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
The festival is funded by the UK government but Green said the devolved governments were fully onboard.
Scotland’s culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said it had been inspiring to see creative and Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors working together to share their talents. “This is an important opportunity to support freelancers and organisations in these sectors as we begin our recovery from the pandemic,” she said.
Just over half of Scots would favour leaving the United Kingdom if reentry to the European Union was guaranteed, a poll has suggested.
A survey conducted for the Press and Journal (P&J) found 53 per cent of voters said they would back such an arrangement, against 51 per cent who said "no" when asked if Scotland should become independent.
It is unclear how or if Scotland could rejoin the EU if it became independent. Former EU Council chief Donald Tusk said last year the bloc feels "empathy" towards Scotland rejoining the union.
The polling came as the Scottish Labour and Tory parties kicked off their campaigns for the upcoming Holyrood elections in May, where the SNP is expected to win a majority.
The Survation poll, which spoke to more than 2,000 Scots, was carried out between 11 and 18 March - after the nation’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, gave evidence to an inquiry into sexual harassment complaints against the latter.
At least 10 EU countries will no longer extradite their nationals to face prosecution in the UK because of Brexit, the government has admitted.
In correspondence with the House of Lords EU Committee, it said Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden will be “invoking constitutional rules as reason not to extradite their own nationals to the UK”.
A letter from the Home Office said it amounted to “an absolute bar on the extradition of own nationals” to the UK.
Additionally, Austria and the Czech Republic will only extradite their own nationals to Britain with their consent.
It means that British authorities may have to attempt prosecutions in other countries, or circulate wanted criminals on an Interpol database in the hope they leave their home nation and can be caught elsewhere.
The UK was previously part of the European Arrest Warrant system, which allows a streamlined extradition process between EU states and has been used for high-profile terrorists, drug smugglers and murderers.
As part of its post-Brexit security agreement, the UK has drawn up new extradition processes, but they do not have the same power to bypass constitutional barriers.
EU states can also refuse to surrender suspected criminals if the alleged offence does not exist in their country, or it is a “political” crime.
Peers also raised concern over the capability of the EU to terminate security cooperation over data protection rules and human rights.
The report said that the EU will continue to monitor UK data protection rules, and hold it to “higher standards” as a country outside the EU.
Peers warned that the situation increases the scope for legal challenges, which could trigger a suspension of the security agreement.
The document states that it can be terminated by either the UK or EU with nine months’ notice, for reasons including derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Leave campaigners behind project only won charitable status by vowing it would tell balanced story
Leave campaigners have begun raising funds to open a Museum of Brexit after the long-awaited project was granted charitable status.
The trustees are seeking to generate £400,000 to buy a home for the museum – possibly in a pro-Brexit town such as Dudley in the West Midlands – plus another £250,000 to set up the institution and a strategic financial reserve of £350,000.
The project is being championed by prominent Brexiters who say they want to set up an institution that will tell the story of Britain’s departure from the EU “before items and stories get lost”.
Although all those involved in the project are keen Brexit supporters and the museum has had no public endorsements from pro-Europeans, the trustees said they were only able to secure charitable status by persuading the Charity Commission that it would be neutral.
A Q&A on the museum’s website says both sides of the Brexit debate need to be presented “fairly and in a balanced way”.
Alex Deane, one of the trustees and the executive director of the Grassroots Out campaign in 2016, said: “There is a tremendous story behind this that deserves to be preserved. Unless we act fast, much of the material from the referendum will be lost. Our objective is to plug that gap at the time when it is easiest – right now, while memories are fresh.”
Other trustees include Lee Rotherham, a former director of special projects at Vote Leave, Thomas Borwick, Vote Leave’s former chief technology officer, Jim Reynolds, the honorary secretary of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, and Gawain Towler, a former director of communications for Ukip.
The museum is intended to include a library and an archive, while its website sets out how people can contribute items, such as correspondence, diaries and campaign material.
According to the prospectus, one model is the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, Greater Manchester, which also houses an extensive collection of books and material for study.
But the museum is also being billed as an attraction for the public as well as researchers, and the prospectus says visitors could be greeted at the door by an image of the former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell delivering his anti-European Economic Community speech lamenting “the end of a thousand years of history” in 1962.
The museum is designed to explore Britain’s relationship with Europe going back to the Romans and the development of parliamentary democracy, as well as telling the story of the birth of the EU, the UK’s membership, and the 2016 vote to leave.
EU rules post-Brexit limit UK nationals to maximum 90-day stay per 180 days
Spain has warned British tourists and second-home owners that they are not entitled to spend more than 90 days in the country at a time post-Brexit, but dismissed reports that offenders would be rounded up and deported if they overstay.
Rules applying across the EU – which now apply to Britons – limit visa-free visits to those from outside the bloc to six months with an additional restriction of a maximum 90-day stay per 180-day period.
While the visitor rules do not apply to British nationals settled in the EU lawfully, hundreds if not thousands of unregistered British citizens in Spain could be affected.
“These are people who have been flying under the radar for a long time when they should have registered their residence in the country and didn’t for whatever reason,” said Sue Wilson, the chair of Bremain in Spain, a group campaigning for the rights of British migrants living in Spain.
“If they are unable to prove they were resident before 31 December and get entitlement to remain in Spain, they now face a 90-day deadline to leave the country.
“Many are still planning to do the same and think the Spanish will either turn a blind eye or will take time to get their act together to enforce the law. But they are kidding themselves. These rules are rules that have applied to third-country nationals for years and the Spanish authorities have no catching up to do.”
Spanish government sources have lamented what they say are misleading reports in UK media suggesting they will be “deporting” or “kicking out” 500 British nationals in the coming days.
The Guardian understands that police will not be deployed to search for British over-stayers, but that anyone staying longer than 90 days will be considered to be in an irregular situation and will be subject to the law if they are picked up at a control point.
British nationals living in Spain before 31 December are entitled to remain in the country permanently under the Brexit deal and have until 30 June to register their residency.
However, the new rules are causing anxiety and stress to some who face having to choose their formal country of residency.
“If they remain in Spain, they have to become officially resident and might be worried about their rights to go home to access the NHS for example. For them it is crunch time,” said one British national in Spain who did not wish to be named.
Michele Euesden, the Marbella-based managing director of the Euro Weekly newspaper, said there had been a surge in the number of people moving “lock, stock and barrel” back to the UK before they breached their 90-day limit.
“Some people are frightened of the consequences if they overstay and are afraid if there is another lockdown they will won’t be able to leave and come back again and visit because they will be known to the authorities,” said Euesden, who also offers a one-stop shop for movers to and from Spain.
She added that the departure of people who had “lived under the radar for 20/30/40 years” and who “contributed nothing” in the way of taxes or social contributions would not be missed.
A spokesman for Spain’s interior ministry said there were errors in media reports that suggested the government was planning mass deportations of unregistered Britons.
“Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, and in accordance with the Brexit agreement with EU countries and international conventions, British citizens are subject to the same rules as citizens of other third-party countries,” he said.
“Like any other third-country citizens, the maximum period they can stay in Spain is three months – unless they have a work, study, or other kind of visa that allows them to stay longer.”
Government sources said Spain was merely following the rules governing visits and stays in its territory that apply to the UK as a non-EU country.
The government guidelines state: “Stays in Spain cannot exceed 90 days in an 180-day period, whether in a single visit or various visits. Britons need to use their passports for identification purposes and will be exempt from visas.”
The interior ministry also pointed out that fewer Britons were visiting Spain at the moment because of Covid travel restrictions, which will end on Tuesday.
Spain introduced the curbs on 22 December last year in response to the spread of the so-called British strain of coronavirus, allowing entry only to flights and ships carrying Spanish and Andorran citizens or official residents. The restrictions will be lifted on 30 March, but those arriving from the UK will still have to show a negative PCR result from a test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.
Thousands of British citizens in France have been left without a valid driving licence, or face losing theirs within months, because of bureaucratic overload and the failure of the two countries’ governments to sign a post-Brexit reciprocal agreement.
The French government announced late last year that, as a consequence of Brexit, British residents of France would need to exchange their UK licences for French ones, and would have until 31 December 2021 to apply to do so.
Short-term visitors and tourists in France can continue to use British licences.
The Living in France section of the British Foreign Office website advises that UK licences “will continue to be recognised in France until 31 December 2021”, but adds: “The rules for exchanging your licence have not been confirmed”.
British residents in Spain have until 30 June to start exchanging their licences, although talks are under way to extend the deadline. In Italy, if holders did not apply to exchange before 31 December last year, they must take the Italian driving test.
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Industry claims it was misled by Defra over post-Brexit position and will sue unless trade with Europe restarts soon
The environment secretary, George Eustice, is facing a threat of legal action from shellfish farmers over claims that the government has misled the industry over its post-Brexit arrangements with the EU.
A solicitor representing 20 shellfish firms told the Guardian the government had shown “negligence and maladministration” and that a group action was being considered for compensation.
Separately, an exporter of mussels sent a legal letter to the secretary of state saying the firm would sue for damages if the shellfish market with the EU were not opened up by September.
The move comes as the UK finally hands a roadmap to Brussels on Northern Ireland following the launch of legal action by the EU over an alleged breach of the withdrawal treaty.
Live mussels, cockles, oysters and other shellfish caught in most of the UK’s waters are no longer allowed to enter the EU following Britain leaving the customs union and single market on New Year’s Eve.
Eustice, officials and other ministers have claimed the bloc originally planned to let this trade resume after Brexit and that it altered its position earlier this year. Brussels has consistently denied the government’s claims and said the rules for third countries such as the UK are clear and longstanding.
Andrew Oliver, a partner at Andrew Jackson LLP, said he was representing 20 shellfish firms considering possible legal action against the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: “We are taking a leading counsel’s opinion as to the government’s actions in regard to the EU trade agreement and the assurances given by the government to make live shellfish exports.
“We feel that there has been negligence and maladministration regarding the government’s negotiations on the agreement and its treatment of our clients.”
One leading mussel farmer has already sent a legal letter to Eustice warning that unless they can begin trading by September they will launch a claim for “substantial damages”.
Solicitors for Offshore Shellfish, a 30-year-old business employing 15 people in Brixham, Devon, wrote to the secretary of state on 25 March stating that ministers and officials from the department had repeatedly given false hope to shellfish farmers, suggesting their businesses would be able to continue trading with the EU.
“The assurances that were given by the department [Defra] gave rise to a legitimate expectation that export of LBMs [live bivalve molluscs] from class B waters from the UK to the EU would continue after 1 January 2021.
“In the event that our clients are unable to restart trade in September 2021, it will become necessary for them to dismantle and remove the offshore farm. This scenario (which we would hope to avoid) may result in a substantial damages claim,” the letter said.
The solicitors for Offshore Shellfish said they had received advice from counsel that contradicted Defra’s assurances that exports from the UK to the EU would continue.
Their letter said: “Our clients and the Shellfish Association of Great Britain have been in discussions with Victoria Prentis MP (parliamentary undersecretary for farming, fisheries and food) and were informed in a telephone conversation on 9 March that the EU’s position is simply wrong.
“However, no legal basis or advice from Defra has been provided to support this position. Indeed, our clients have been forced to seek independent counsel’s opinion on this matter, and counsel advises that the EU position is tenable.”
Meanwhile, talks were stepped up on the legal dispute between the EU and the UK over London’s failure to implement the special Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
On Tuesday the UK finally delivered the roadmap it had promised last December to Brussels in relation to the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
The EU recently launched infringement proceedings against the UK over its decision to extend a grace period for checks on supermarket goods that was due to end on 1 April. It had demanded the UK fulfil its promise of a detailed operational plan setting out the milestones for the implementation along with sharing live border clearance data with Brussels.
The European commission said it would study the document in the coming days before commenting.
Businesses in Northern Ireland, which feared a further crisis if 1 April passed without progress, welcomed the move. “Looking forward to seeing the detail and how this will work practically for business, but prima facie this is good news. Still a lot to do in little time and our priority remains to keep choice and affordability for NI households,” tweeted Aodhán Connolly, head of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium
A Defra spokesperson said the department could not comment on any potential legal action. “The legislation was clear that the export of live bivalve molluscs from class B waters for purification could continue after the transition period. Our correspondence with the commission confirmed this,” he said. “The commission have now amended their import rules, without scientific or technical justification. Effectively, they have changed the law to justify their position in blocking the trade, causing impacts for businesses on both sides.”
John le Carré, the great embodiment and chronicler of Englishness, saved his greatest twist not for his thrillers but the twilight of his own life: he died an Irishman.
The creator of the quintessential English spy George Smiley was so opposed to Brexit that in order to remain European, and to reflect his heritage, he took Irish citizenship before his death last December aged 89, his son has revealed.
Le Carré, the author of acclaimed thrillers including The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, had long made clear his opposition to Brexit, but his embrace of his Irish heritage was not fully known until now.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU compounded his disenchantment with Britain, he told the Irish writer John Banville in 2019. “I think Brexit is totally irrational, that it’s evidence of dismal statesmanship on our part, and lousy diplomatic performances. I think my own ties to England were hugely loosened over the last few years. And it’s a kind of liberation, if a sad kind.”
In the documentary, Sands digs into the author’s life and his relationship with his native country. Sands learned about the Irish citizenship only recently, he said in an article in the Times.
“This I did not know, not when we were together, not when I entered the archives just a few weeks ago, imagining a journey around the writer and his country. In the end, there were three countries: the country of his home, the country of his soul and the country of his forebears.”
The “country of his soul” was Germany, which awarded Le Carré its Goethe medal, for individuals who “have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural dialogue”, in 2011.
“At the age of 16, I decided that 11 years’ hard labour in the English boarding-school gulag was enough for anyone, and in 1949 – only four years then after the war’s end – I bolted to Berne in Switzerland, determined to embrace the German soul,” the author said in 2010. From 1959, Le Carré worked in Bonn at the British embassy, and as an agent for the British secret service.
The success in 1963 of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, astonished its author. The manuscript had been approved by the secret service because it was “sheer fiction from start to finish”, he said in 2013, and so couldn’t possibly represent a breach in security.
“This was not, however, the view taken by the world’s press, which with one voice decided that the book was not merely authentic but some kind of revelatory Message From The Other Side, leaving me with nothing to do but sit tight and watch, in a kind of frozen awe, as it climbed the bestseller list and stuck there, while pundit after pundit heralded it as the real thing.”