Foreign secretary Liz Truss has warned she is prepared to unilaterally override parts of the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland if negotiations fail.
Ms Truss said she will suggest “constructive proposals” to her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic this week during their first face-to-face talks.
But she said she is “willing” to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which would suspend parts of the treaty designed to prevent a hard border with the Republic, if a deal cannot be struck.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph she said it is her “absolute priority” to resolve the “unintended consequences” created by the protocol to maintain peace in Northern Ireland.
“When I see Maros Sefcovic this week for our first face-to-face talks, I’ll be putting forward our constructive proposals to resolve the situation.”
The current issues are “myriad and manifest”, she argued, citing issues such as bureaucracy on sending parcels between Northern Ireland and Britain and problems procuring kosher food.
“I am prepared to work night and day to negotiate a solution,” Ms Truss continued.
“But let me be clear, I will not sign up to anything which sees the people of Northern Ireland unable to benefit from the same decisions on taxation and spending as the rest of the UK, or which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks.
“My priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. I want a negotiated solution but if we have to use legitimate provisions including Article 16, I am willing to do that.”
Last week, Mr Sefcovic warned that “the foundation of the entire deal” brokered between the UK and the EU would be jeopardised if Ms Truss takes the drastic step.
“This is a very distracting element in the discussions. You try to achieve something together and – bam – there’s the threat of Article 16 again,” he told German newspaper Der Spiegel.
“It touches on the fundamentals of our relationship. The Northern Ireland Protocol was the most complicated part of the Brexit negotiations, and it is the foundation of the entire deal. Without the protocol, the whole system will collapse. We must prevent that at any cost.”
British businesses are paying substantially more to produce carbon dioxide than their EU rivals because of the government’s refusal to link the UK carbon market to the bigger European market after Brexit.
The difference is putting UK industry at a significant competitive disadvantage to European rivals, at a time of soaring energy prices, but does not result in any additional benefit to the environment.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has welcomed a pledge from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to suspend parts of the post-Brexit deal if agreement cannot be reached with the European Union.
It comes after Sir Jeffrey reiterated his threat to withdraw his ministers from the Stormont Executive if progress is not made on the protocol.
He is due to meet Ms Truss this week, and welcomed her latest statement.
“She is right that unionists do not consent to the protocol and we need the Government to follow through on their commitment to safeguard the Union and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market,” he tweeted.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie also welcomed Ms Truss’s latest comments as a “way forward in dealing with trade issues with the EU”.
“It is perfectly reasonable that goods from Great Britain which are destined to stay in Northern Ireland should not be subject to checks, and those goods destined for the EU market can be checked at our ports. We have already recommended legislation to make this workable as far back as 2019,” he said.
“It would go a long way to easing a difficult situation and should form the basis for constructive talks with Maros Sefcovic this coming week.
“Multiple engagements with businesses and business representative bodies see this as a pragmatic and sensible solution. Common sense is needed to de-escalate this issue.”
However, he was critical of Sir Jeffrey’s threats to withdraw his ministers from the Executive.
“Further engagement and negotiations are the way forward. We do not need threats to pull down the Stormont institutions in the middle of a pandemic, but instead we need sensible, clear thinking,” he said.
“Constructive engagement will always work better than megaphone diplomacy.”
TUV leader Jim Allister gave a more wary response, and said strong words need to be met with action.
“If Liz Truss means what she said in the Sunday Telegraph – namely ‘I will not sign up to anything … which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks’ – then she must extract us from the EU’s single market for goods, customs code and VAT regime and end our subjection to EU laws and court,” he said.
“This is what is required to end all checks on inter-UK trade.
“My major problem with the Foreign Secretary’s words is that they jar with what her Government has been arguing for months in response to the judicial review challenge in which I and others are involved.
“Through their senior counsel, HMG has defended the very arrangements she now verbally disavows and in doing so has blithely and approvingly spoken of the protocol subjugating the Acts of Union.
Huge lorry queues building up at the Port of Dover have been blamed “entirely” on extra controls which have come into force from Brexit.
It comes as port chiefs urged the UK government to hold talks with the EU on ways to ease further checks set to come in later in 2022 which could cause “disastrous” disruption to trade.
One courier told The Independent he had been caught up in queues of up to 15km (9 miles) since full customs controls came into force at the beginning of January.
The British haulier said it was taking 15 to 20 minutes for each driver to clear checks needed for the UK government’s new Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) system and other export paperwork at Dover.
“It’s entirely Brexit – you can’t blame it on anything else but Brexit,” said the driver, who has had to push back some deliveries.
Boris Johnson has risked heightening tensions with the EU after accusing Brussels of implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in an “insane” and petty way.
The Prime Minister told MPs he never thought when negotiating the agreement that scores of businesses would stop supplying Northern Ireland.
He adopted a noticeably more abrasive tone than Foreign Secretary Liz Truss who told MPs earlier this week “there is a deal to be done” to resolve the deadlock over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Speaking in the House of Commons, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The Prime Minister will know that many families across the United Kingdom are struggling with the increased cost of living and rising energy costs, but in Northern Ireland that is compounded by the protocol.
“Twenty-seven per cent is the increase in the cost of bringing goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – when we can get access to those goods.
“It is costing business £2.5 million every day, which is almost £1 billion a year. That is the cost of the protocol.
“The Prime Minister talks about uniting this nation and levelling up; he could do that by removing the Irish Sea border and restoring Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market.”
Mr Johnson replied: “I support passionately (Sir Jeffrey’s) indignation.
“Yes, I never thought, when we negotiated, that it would mean 200 businesses would stop supplying Northern Ireland, foods being blocked and Christmas cards being surcharged.
“Frankly, the EU is implementing this in an insane and pettifogging way. We need to sort it out and I completely support what he says.”
The UK has just months to avoid huge disruption to holidaymakers when new EU rules come into force – despite knowing about the problem for two years, the chief of Dover port has warned.
British tourists headed for city breaks in Paris or sunny getaways in Spain in September could be hit by new biometric checks set to be required at the border.
A nightmare scenario where the new rules are enforced without a solution could see tourist traffic at the crucial ferry port grind to a halt, chief executive Doug Bannister told the PA news agency.
Previously there have also been fears the new border checks could lead to 17-mile tailbacks in Dover – and time could be running out to fix the problem.
Mr Bannister told PA that they spotted the issue two years ago, but so far no fix appears to have been agreed by the UK and French governments.
As it stands, travellers would have to exit their vehicles to undergo biometric checks at the border – something that could cause massive delays in the Kent port.
The Government says it continues to engage with EU partners to ensure border arrangements work.
He said: “As it stands right now, nobody has got a process for a car load of people on a dark stormy night going through a ferry terminal.
“So if we had to follow the airport process in the ferry port, that would entail people exiting their vehicle in the middle of busy traffic lanes.
“That would be unsafe and we just couldn’t allow that to happen.”
He says the issue can only be solved by governments striking a deal, perhaps involving a new piece of technology to allow people to pass through the port quickly and safely.
Asked what would happen if no deal was reached by the deadline and the checks were implemented without a fix, Mr Bannister said “that basically means that traffic has to stop”.
“It would be unsafe to do anything otherwise”, he said, adding that it would be different for freight traffic.
Mr Bannister said he does not believe it will come to that, but emphasised the need for a solution.
His words come at a time where miles-long queues of lorries have been forming outside the port of Dover as the UK continues to navigate a post-Brexit world.
New EU border checks came into force this month which has been something to get used to in both Dover and Calais, Mr Bannister said.
He added: “I think it is true that the arrangements now are clunkier than they were when we were part of the single market.
Boris Johnson has announced plans for legislation to make it easier to rip up EU regulations and protections, amid criticism from Conservative MPs that the government has not taken sufficient advantage of Brexit.
The plans claim to cut £1bn in red tape expenses for businesses, but Johnson gave no firm details on which regulations are intended to be repealed or enhanced, instead stating five principles that would be applied, including the value of sovereignty and creating new markets.
Critics said Johnson must make clear whether he intends to target employment protections, and pointed out that businesses and government have already faced billions of pounds of costs as a result of additional red tape due to Brexit itself.
Two years since Britain left the EU, Brexit is still very much at the top of the news agenda with lorry queues lengthening at Dover as exporting firms struggle with red tape.
On Monday, fears were raised that a ‘bonfire’ of EU laws on everything from data privacy to road standards could be forced through behind parliament’s back under new plans to seize “Brexit freedoms”. This followed a report over the weekend that British shoppers are facing less choice and higher prices as food suppliers give up on the UK.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s government has claimed that Brexit has already proved a “big success”.
To mark two years since ‘Brexit Day’, The Independent’s journalist Adam Forrest was on hand to answer reader questions on all things Brexit from lorry queues to trade deals and the protocol.
How is the government can claim the queues at Dover have nothing to do with Brexit?
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Isn’t the problem new requirements on UK businesses having to import from the EU?
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Please could you comment on why this story is not being picked up by mainstream media apart from yourselves?
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Will Liz Truss and the government trigger Article 16?
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What happens if the DUP decides to stop all the Brexit checks themselves?
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Could you see a situation where the UK re-joins the EU in the next decade?
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What is the price an average family pays for 'the freedom of' Brexit’?
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These questions and answers were part of an ‘Ask Me Anything’ hosted by Adam Forrest at 3pm on Monday 31 January. Some of the questions and answers have been edited for this article. You can read the full discussion in the comments section of the >original report<
The UK government's replacement for the EU's regional development funding leaves regions billions of pounds worse off, devolved administrations have said.
The Conservatives' 2019 manifesto pledged to "at a minimum" match the £1.5 billion a year EU structural funds doled out by Brussels before Brexit.
But calculations by the Welsh government suggest the UK Shared Prosperity Fund would leave the country “close to £1bn” worse off over the next three years.
Wales will get £750m less in structural funds and £242m less in agricultural support for farmers than it would have in the EU.
Vaughan Gething, the Welsh government's economy minister, told the Financial Times newspaper that the cuts were a "straightforward breach of the manifesto pledge".
Other parts of the UK are also set to lose out from the UK's replacement fund.
A pre-white paper analysis produced by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership found that the government "is planning to spend less on English regional development than previous Conservative governments despite levelling up being a flagship policy".
"The annual spending of Shared Prosperity Fund and Levelling Up Fund in England is expected to be around
£1.5bn per year. This compares with an annual £2.1bn spend under the ERDF, ESF and Local Growth Fund," it says.
According to the partnership's analysis, "most sub-regions of England, except Cornwall, are at risk of seeing their regional development funding cut".
In the Tees Valley, annual funding could be cut from £46m to £21m, while in the Leeds City Region funding will fall from £149m per annum to £72m.
The analysis also warns that "the north of England is at risk of seeing double the per-person per-year reduction than the England average".
Northern Ireland is also expected to see a reduction, the former losing £65 million a year – according to an official presentation to the Stormont budget committee.
As reported by The Independent in October, the funding pot provided by the government will be just £2.6bn over three years, rather than the pledged £4.5bn.
The department for levelling up said in a statement: “We have been clear throughout that UK-wide funding for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund — worth over £2.6bn [over three years] — will ramp up to at least match receipts from EU structural funds, which on average reached around £1.5bn per year."
Brexit port food checks in Northern Ireland will be halted from midnight on Wednesday, the Belfast government has announced – reigniting the battle with the EU over the inspections.
Edwin Poots, Stormont’s agriculture minister, announced the inflammatory move, which opponents have warned will be a breach of the Northern Ireland protocol.
The Democratic Unionist Party minister has ordered his top civil servant to act – although it was unclear whether the permanent secretary, Anthony Harbinson, will comply.
A UK government source said the UK government had been clear that "there are issues with the protocol that threaten political stability and peace in Northern Ireland".
"That's why we're in intensive talks with the EU to fix these issues," the source said. "Both sides have a responsibility to resolve this."
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Mr Poot's decision was "effectively a breach of international law".
He said the protocol was part of an international treaty.
"So, to deliberately frustrate obligations under that treaty, I think, would be a very serious matter indeed," he said.
Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill tweeted that the DUP were "fixated on their own priorities, which are clearly at odds with where the wider community is at".
The reaction of the European Commission will be key in this.
The Irish government will be very concerned as well. That raises the question - if stuff isn't being checked at the Irish Sea then where is it being checked?
Will the companies sending stuff here - will they still fill out the export health certs, will they still produce the Common Health Entry Documents even if there is nobody to actually carry out the physical inspections?
Might they want to do that for their own legal certainty? That's another question I'm not certain about.
An industry source was suggesting that the advice they would give is that to have legal certainty you should do what you've been doing under grace periods as it stands.
That will be an individual decision for businesses - particularly the big supermarkets.
A High Court judge has issued an interim order suspending a decision by agriculture minister Edwin Poots to direct a stop to Brexit agri-food checks at Northern Ireland ports.
The temporary direction will be in place until judicial review against the DUP minister — who acted unilaterally this week to order a halt to port checks required under the Northern Ireland Protocol — can be heard in full.
Even Pol Roger, the Champagne house famously favoured by Winston Churchill and the former producer of pint bottles, told The Independent the idea was a "non-story".
A relatively small number of pint bottles were sold in the UK before Britain entered the European Common Market until 1973 – but their production ceased because they did not comply with EU weights and measures rules.
The regulations include requirements to build buses and lorries with better lines of sight so that they are less likely to accidentally crush pedestrians and cyclists – known as the Direct Vision Standard.
They also require cars and vans to have advanced emergency braking systems to help prevent collisions, go through more comprehensive crash tests, and include design changes to prevent head injuries for pedestrians and cyclists.
The regulations were finalised while Britain was still in the EU but because they are being phased in they did not automatically apply to Britain.
Jason Wakeford, head of campaigns at Brake, the road safety charity, told The Independent: "The EU proposals, which the UK helped to shape prior to Brexit, provide the biggest leap forward for road safety this century - perhaps even since the introduction of the seat belt.
The Direct Vision standards for lorries and buses included in the EU package were first developed by Transport for London – and then adopted by Brussels.
Some Brexiteers in government and the Tory party have spoken out at what they see as foot-dragging by the government on ditching EU rules. Lord Frost, who negotiated the Brexit deal, articulated the view last year when he said that Britain would only make a success of Brexit if pushed ahead with a low-tax economy that focused on deregulation.
Last week ministers promised a bonfire of Brexit freedoms cut “cut £1 billion of red tape” for British businesses.
In a written answer to a parliamentary question, transport minister Ms Harrison said: "The package of European measures known as the General Safety Regulation includes vehicle construction requirements covering pedestrian safety and a range of additional new technologies.
"The Department for Transport was involved in developing these requirements, but as they apply from July 2022 it will be for the Government to decide whether to mandate the same systems in GB. No decision has yet been taken.
"The UK’s departure from the EU provides Government with the platform to capitalise on our regulatory freedoms. The vehicle safety provisions included in the EU's General Safety Regulation are currently under consideration. Government will implement requirements that are appropriate for GB and where they improve road safety."
EU agreed to associate membership of Horizon Europe programme for UK but has not yet ratified deal
The EU is being urged to stop punishing scientists and end the year-long delay in letting British universities and laboratories access its flagship £10bn Horizon Europe funding programme.
Scientists across the UK and Europe have launched a campaign to get the UK admitted into the programme amid continuing fears that Brussels is using the fund as leverage in negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol.
The EU agreed to associate membership for the UK as part of the wider Brexit trade deal struck on Christmas Eve 2020 but it has still not ratified the deal or a similar one with Switzerland, held up by a dispute over a draft treaty binding the country to the bloc.
The Swiss astronomer and Nobel prize winner Didier Queloz described the delays as a tragedy for science in the UK, Switzerland and Europe.
Lord Kinnoull, the chair of the House of Lords European affairs committee, which has recently investigated the impact of the delay, said: “This is a mutual self-harm problem. And that’s not good for something very precious, which is European scientific research.
“Last week we had two British academics and a European academic in front of us and there was a great clarity from all of them about how this was harmful to European science. Collaborative projects are much more than just a cheque … if you say you have a half-funded project you are very keen to do, you are not necessarily going to get the thumbs-up.”
Queloz, who is backing a Europe-wide campaign by scientists across the bloc to get membership ratified for the UK and Switzerland, said: “To be blunt, politicians have decided to use participation in Horizon Europe as a bargaining chip in wider negotiations.”
He wrote in the Financial Times: “If this is the way the game plays out, everybody loses. We risk destroying a fantastic tool that the EU has spent decades developing by excluding two of the biggest players in the global research arena for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the programme itself.”
Scientists say the days of solo science are long gone, with collaboration responsible for success in everything from the development of Covid vaccines to Queloz’s discovery of a new extrasolar planet. Queloz urged politicians to “pause for a moment” and consider the damage they were doing.
“As a scientist holding posts at the universities of Cambridge and Geneva, I recognise that I am conflicted. But, approaching 60, this decision won’t affect my career very much. I am not batting for myself, I’m batting for the future generation of scientists who will be held back by this failure of politics. If the UK and Switzerland walk away, the Horizon budget will be lower; there will be fewer opportunities for young talent to spend time in our great universities,” he said.
Ludovic Thilly, the chair of the executive board of the Coimbra group of 41 universities across Europe, said: “We cannot accept any longer that scientific cooperation be held hostage to bilateral politics. A decade of cooperation with our British and Swiss partners is at risk of being jeopardised, and this at a period of time when global challenges have never required so much international research cooperation.”
Imports of UK goods into Germany fell 8.5% last year, in the latest signal that extra costs and red tape related to Brexit are damaging British trading relationships.
Britain also fell out of the top five of Germany’s largest trade partners as the EU’s biggest economy turned to its neighbours inside the eurozone for machine tools, car parts and components for the aerospace industry.
The German statistical office, Destatis, said UK imports fell in 2021, the first year since the Brexit free trade deal was agreed in late December 2020, to €32bn (£27bn).
However, the situation improved for many of Germany’s other trading partners, which enjoyed a big rise in sales to Germany.
Total goods imports into Germany surged by 17.1% during the year to €1.2tn, in part due to the extra costs of imported energy, but also after the easing of lockdown restrictions and as vaccine rollouts spurred the global economic recovery last year.
The increase included a 16.8% rise in imports from Germany’s fellow European Union members, and a 20.8% rise in imports from China.
In December alone, German imports from the UK were down 18.2% year on year, which analysts said was due to a rush of stockpiling in December 2020 as firms prepared for possible Brexit disruption.
The EU introduced checks on goods from Britain entering the bloc as soon as the Brexit deal came into effect, with experts warning that UK firms were losing their competitiveness.
The value of German goods arriving in Britain has also fallen. The UK delayed its checks on goods coming in until 2022. But even so, German exports to the UK fell by 2.6% during 2021, to €65.4bn.
Overall, German exports rose by 14% in the year, even as the pandemic continued to cause disruption to global supply chains.
Destatis said: “Compared with the same month last year, exports to the UK dropped by 7.6% to €5bn in December 2021. Imports from the UK were down 18.2% to €2.6bn.”
Carsten Brzeski, the global head of macroeconomics at ING, said the trade data showed that Brexit had left its mark on German trade.
He said: “Looking at export destinations, 2021 clearly marks a structural shift, illustrating current themes including reshoring, slowing of Chinese growth and different ways to deal with the pandemic.
“Brexit has left its mark on German trade as the UK dropped out of the five most important trading partners list, with German companies exporting more to Austria than to the UK.
“In the run-up to the Brexit deal signed in December 2020 many supporters of the vote to quit the EU single market and customs union said the importance of the UK as a trading partner for Berlin would override new trade frictions.”
In 2020, figures from the World Bank showed £49bn of goods were exported to Germany, making Germany the UK’s second largest export market for goods after the US.
For imports of goods, Germany was the largest trading partner with £66.1bn of goods being imported in 2020, according to the ONS.
A report by parliament’s financial watchdog on Wednesday urged ministers to secure further agreements with the EU to ease trade across the channel.
The public accounts committee said fresh EU regulations were likely to hit trade when they come into force in September unless the infrastructure at ports is improved.
Figures show Brexit compounding Covid disruption, with clothing exports plunging 60%, vegetables down 40% and cars 25%
UK exports of goods to the EU have fallen by £20bn compared with the last period of stable trade with Europe, according to official figures marking the first full year since Brexit.
Numbers released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the combined impact of the pandemic and Britain’s exit from the single market caused a 12% fall in exports between January and December last year compared with 2018.
Highlighting the disproportionate impact of leaving the EU, exports to the rest of the world excluding the 27-nation bloc dropped by a much smaller £10bn, or about 6% compared with 2018 levels.