Michel Barnier passes pro-EU demonstrators near ‘make or break’ talks in London

Brexit talks are “at the very end”, Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, has said. He told RTE that if a deal cannot be done then the focus will shift very soon to a no deal scenario.

It comes as it was revealed on Thursday that trade talks, described as “make or break”, stretched late into the night in London on Wednesday as negotiators sought to bridge considerable gaps over fishing rights, state aid and governance – the same issues over which talks have stalled since February.

And with Downing Street pledging to push ahead with plans to breach international law amid reports it intends to do so again in a Finance Bill due next week, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney warned this would be a “a really big mistake” and would be taken by the EU as a “clear signal” the UK doesn’t want a deal. Michel Barnier reportedly told the EU27 that such a move would trigger a “crisis”.

Boris Johnson has insisted that although he is “absolutely committed” to trying to secure a deal, his “bottom line” is to “take back control”, while France and Belgium are reportedly among EU nations to urge Mr Barnier to walk away without a deal rather than strike an unsatisfactory agreement under pressure. With just 28 days left until the transition period ends and any deal expected to surpass 1,800 pages, senior EU figures warned “very few days” remain to allow for any level of scrutiny.

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Petition to ensure ministers ban export of live animals garners thousands of signatures

Following the announcement of government plans to ban the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening, the Compassion in World Farming group has set up a petition asking for signatures to hold ministers to account for their promise. 

“This ban would apply to all live export journeys starting in, or passing through, England and Wales,” the website says, before adding in bold: “But the outcome of the consultation is not guaranteed.”

It was revealed yesterday that a government consultation had been launched aimed at ending the practice in England and Wales, which officials said could not be stopped while the UK was part of the EU. Reducing maximum journey times, giving animals more space and headroom during transport and stricter rules on transporting livestock in extreme temperatures and by sea are also proposed.

The eight-week consultation, launched on Wednesday, marks “a major step forward in delivering on our manifesto commitment to end live exports for slaughter,” environment secretary George Eustice said.

“Now that we have left the EU, we have an opportunity to end this unnecessary practice. We want to ensure that animals are spared stress prior to slaughter,” he added.

If the UK does pass the legislation, it will make it the first country in Europe to do so. It is thought ministers are keen to follow through, in a bid to show a number of people that Brexit has its advantages.

The petition has garnered 21,685 signatures in less than 24 hours, the group said it wants to reach 50,000.

(Getty)

Sam Hancock3 December 2020 18:20

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UK set to ‘sleepwalk into cashless society’ unless notes become mandatory tender

MPs have been warned today that the UK will “sleepwalk into a cashless society” unless the government draws up legislation to make it mandatory for shops to accept bank notes.

Yvonne Fovargue, Labour MP for Makerfield, said in a Westminster Hall debate that Covid had accelerated the transition away from cash and she called on the government to act to prevent its demise entirely, which could be as soon as “weeks away”.

Opening the debate, Conservative Paul Maynard said the government must introduce the legislation it proposed in the Budget in March to ensure that cash “remains viable”.

He told MPs: “A more radical idea still might be that there is a short-term legal requirement for shops to continue to accept cash as a primary way to protect both acceptance of cash and by protecting the cash infrastructure, including ATMs.”

Ms Fovargue agreed, adding: “Things are happening piecemeal at the moment. Bank branches are shutting, ATMs are closing, increasing numbers of shops going cashless – it may be we would have to look at it being mandatory for shops to accept cash, particularly for those providing the essentials, for example food and medicine.

“Covid-19 pushed an already fragile cash system to the brink of collapse. Unless the Government acts now, we’ll effectively sleepwalk into a cashless society and millions will be left behind.”

Conservative former cabinet minister David Mundell said that “without action”, the UK’s cash system was “in danger of collapsing, leaving elderly and the most vulnerable to pay the price”. 

“I hope the minister can promise action today as a matter of urgency,” Mr Mundell said.

Labour’s Sarah Owen told the debate she’d had “older constituents contact me during this pandemic concerned about the fact that they cannot pay with cash” and that they are less likely to be able to access banking digitally. “These people literally cannot afford to be left behind,” she added.

Responding to the debate, financial secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman, said legislation to protect access to cash would be brought forward “in due course”.

“The government’s position is it does not believe that mandating cash acceptance is the answer, but exploring means to incentivise the acceptance of cash is high on the agenda and that was one of the key issues raised in the call for evidence,” he said.

“The government’s view, and we should be perfectly clear about this, is that legislation will need to ensure that business and people can have access to cash withdrawal and depositing facilities, within a reasonable travel distance, as needed for their day-to-day lives.”

Sam Hancock3 December 2020 17:40

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Supermarkets to hand back over £1bn of business rates relief to government

Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi have followed in Tesco’s footsteps in pledging to give the government back £1.7bn worth of savings they have made through business rates relief during the pandemic.

Discount chain Aldi announced on Thursday that it would hand over around £100m, while Sainsbury’s said it would pay £440m, Asda £340m and Morrisons £274m. Tesco said a day earlier that it would hand over the £585m benefit it has received through the tax break, which was designed to help struggling businesses.

Our business reporter, Ben Chapman, has the story:

Sam Hancock3 December 2020 16:58

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With such limited time for scrutiny of a deal if one is achieved, tabloid and general media reaction to the agreement may be “critical” in deciding how it is received and perceived by politicians and the public, the FT’s Peter Forster has suggested.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 16:16

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Negotiating room like a ‘bunker with bad air-con’

Spare a thought for both sides’ negotiators. A former UK civil servant describes the windowless room in which talks are being held as “a bunker with bad air-con”.

The comment came in response to the BBC’s Brussels correspondent citing a Barnier advisor as saying negotiators were at least 40km into the trade talks marathon.

For the less active among us, that leaves just over 2km, according to Google.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 15:58

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Talks ‘at very end’, Ireland’s foreign minister says

Brexit talks are “at the very end”, Simon Coveney has told RTE. 

If a deal cannot be done then the focus will shift very soon to a no deal scenario, Ireland’s foreign minister said.

Reuters reported a member of Team Barnier as saying – again – that “significant divergences” remain, but that both sides remain committed to getting a deal.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 15:29

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UK presses ahead with breaking international law at crucial moment in Brexit trade talks

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the details on the government’s decision to push ahead with two bills likely in breach of international law, both of which will be put before the Commons next week.

The timing of such a move is perilous, with Ireland’s foreign minister having warned a further provocation could see trade talks collapse, and Michel Barnier having reportedly given EU27 envoys a similarly worded briefing yesterday.

But UK ministers insist the offending clauses – thought to breach the Northern Ireland protocol – are necessary to maintain the integrity of the UK in the event of no-deal.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 15:19

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More pizza on the cards as talks ‘enter the big push’

Talks are expected to reach into the night again in London, with EU sources saying “the bulk of the outstanding work” needed to clinch a deal could be done in the next 24 hours, the BBC’s Europe editor reports.

But even if this is the case, fine-tuning the details could take several further days, according to Katya Adler, while Boris Johnson and Ursula Von Der Leyen are expected to discuss the negotiations if any substantive progress is made.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 15:01

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Post-Brexit data sharing confusion remains as clock runs down

With just four weeks until the transition period ends, it is still unclear how much access the UK will retain to data gleaned from EU security tools used in everything from combating crime to business information.

A “no-deal” could mean the UK is cut off overnight from EU security data, from the Schengen Information System, the bloc’s border database, to the European police Europol, to DNA and the licence plates hub PRUM.

If there is an agreement, the UK’s data access would still be reduced, but by how much remains unclear.

Just weeks ago, Michael Gove drew contempt from former Brexit-era PM and home secretary Theresa May after he claimed the UK’s security and counter-terrorism capabilities would flourish if it fails to retain access to this data.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 14:50

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As reported by the BBC’s John Campbell, here is a breakdown of the post-Brexit process for moving goods from Britain to Northern Ireland, created by the government’s new Trader Support Service.

It all looks pretty straightforward…

You can access the TSS webinar here.

Andy Gregory3 December 2020 14:24

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