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Northern Ireland protocol — live: Boris Johnson heads to Belfast for emergency talks

·15-min read
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Boris Johnson will hold emergency talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders in a bid to break the Stormont deadlock caused by disagreements over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The government is also expected to set out plans that would allow ministers to unilaterally scrap part of the Brexit deals.

More details would be released “in the coming days”, said the prime minister in an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, despite warnings that they could trigger a trade war with the European Union.

The move has prompted a furious row with the EU as Brussels warned that such unilateral action to walk away from a key plank of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would represent a clear breach of international law.

Ministers are engaged in a standoff with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol after the recent Assembly elections, with the DUP refusing to re-enter a devolved government in protest at the contentious arrangement which has created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

Key points

  • Boris Johnson confirms UK will set out NI protocol plans this week

  • PM expected to hold talks with NI leaders

  • UK calls for EU to show flexibility in resolving NI protocol standoff

  • Priti Patel lifts restrictions on police stop-and-search powers

Labour: Protocol solutions must satisfy both sides of the community

10:40 , Matt Mathers

Boris Johnson must find solutions to Brexit's Northern Ireland protocol that satisfy both nationalists and unionists, Labour has said.

Peter Kyle, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, spoke to Sky News earlier ahead of the prime minister's visit to Belfast.

More comments below:

Minister’s ‘get better job’ comments are ridiculous and out of touch, says Labour

10:25 , Matt Mathers

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, said minister Rachel Maclean’s comments advising people to get a better job show the government “could not be more out of touch or out of ideas”, our politics reporter, Adam Forrest, writes.

“As energy bills rise by record amounts for millions of families, comments like this are ridiculous – as is the prime minister’s refusal to back a windfall tax on oil and gas producer profits that could tackle the cost of living crisis.”

Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrats’ work and pensions spokesperson, said: “So the Conservatives’ answer to the cost-of-living emergency is that people should just earn more? This shows just how out of touch they truly are.”

Partygate: Time to rethink fixed penalty notices, says Jacob Rees-Mogg

10:10 , Matt Mathers

Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for a rethink over the use of fixed penalty notice (FPN) fines handed out to Boris Johnson and Downing Street staff over the Partygate scandal.

The Brexit opportunities minister claimed that FPNs defy the British tradition of burden of proof – arguing that they assume “you’re guilty until you prove your innocence”.

Our politics reporter Adam Forrest has more details:

Jacob Rees-Mogg calls for rethink on fixed penalty notices after Partygate

Minister: Civil servants ‘still delivering’ while working from home

09:55 , Matt Mathers

Home Office minister Rachel Maclean said civil servants are "working really hard" and that they "are still delivering" when working from home.

"A lot of them are back at work and we certainly have civil servants in the Home Office - when I go back there today, they will be back at their desks," the safeguarding minister told ITV's Good Morning Britain programme.

"I think the economy as a whole has moved to a more hybrid working pattern, I'm quite relaxed about that.

"I think it is for employers to consider how best to achieve their outcomes. It is actually about performance and delivery."

Asked whether she was "at odds" with government efficient minister Jacob Rees-Mogg on the issue of working from home, Ms Maclean said: "Not at all."

She added: "We've had a pandemic, things have changed, people work differently.

"If people work from home, it is incumbent on their managers and ministers, such as myself, to make sure they are still delivering. And actually, that's what we are seeing in the Home Office."

Channel crossing hit 8,000 for the year

09:40 , Matt Mathers

More than 8,000 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel this year, figures show.

Since the start of 2022, 8,393 people have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats, according to analysis of government data by the PA news agency.

This is more than double the number recorded for the same period in 2021 (3,112) and more than six times the amount recorded at this point in 2020 (1,340).

Crossings resumed this weekend, with more than 600 people arriving in Kent over two days, after four consecutive days last week without any taking place amid poor weather conditions.

Some 436 people made the crossing to the UK in nine boats on Sunday after 167 in 13 boats arrived on Sunday, according to Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures.

Ireland’s foreign minister hopes for ‘message of willingness to work together’ on protocol issues

09:23 , Zoe Tidman

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney acknowledged there were problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol and he hoped Boris Johnson’s visit to Belfast would be constructive.

Mr Coveney told reporters in Brussels: “The prime minister is in Northern Ireland today and I hope we’ll get a message of a willingness to work together to try to respond to these issues.

“There are real issues in relation to the implementation of the protocol that need the attention of both the UK and the EU working together to make sure that we can respond to concerns on the ground.”

Northern Ireland protocol ‘not working in current format’, minister says

08:57 , Zoe Tidman

The Northern Ireland Protocol “isn’t working in its current format”, government minister Rachel Maclean also said this morning ahead of the PM’s visit.

“I think the key thing here is that the prime minister is going to Northern Ireland today because he recognises that the protocol needs to be reformed,” she told Times Radio.

“It isn’t working in its current format and we need to have the executive up and running, because that is how we will actually deal with those issues affecting businesses and the cost of living in Northern Ireland.”

‘I need another coffee’: Minister in a muddle over stop-and-search plan

08:48 , Zoe Tidman

A Home Office minister admitted she did not have the numbers to hand on her department’s stop-and-search changes as she appeared to muddle the amount of hours the powers could be extended for.

Home secretary Priti Patel has made permanent changes to Section 60 extending the length of time the extra searching powers can be in force from 15 to 24 hours.

Rachel Maclean, asked how long a Section 60 can be put in place for, told LBC: “I think the time is 12 hours.”

Told it was not 12 hours, but 24 under the changes, she replied: “Oh, forgive me, 24 hours. I need another coffee.”

Pressed further, she responded: “I think it is ... No, I’m being quite upfront with you, I haven’t got the paper in front of me, forgive me.”

Asked whether she thought she should know such information, she said: “I do know. But ... you’re doing a very good job of demonstrating that I don’t have the papers in front of me now.”

Watch: Minister claims over better-paid jobs and cost-of-living crisis

08:24 , Zoe Tidman

Here is the clip from below:

Minister’s suggestion at how to cope with cost-of-living crisis

08:10 , Zoe Tidman

Britons struggling with the cost-of-living crisis should consider taking on more hours at work or moving to a better-paid job, a minister in Boris Johnson’s government has said.

Adam Forrest reports:

Britons struggling with cost of living should get ‘better job’, says minister

Ex-Northern Ireland secretary calls for ‘political deal’ with EU

08:02 , Zoe Tidman

Julian Smith, the former Northern Ireland secretary, has called on the UK to form a “political deal” with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Asked his thoughts on the UK government overriding elements of the protocol, the Tory MP urged the EU to “go the extra mile” and be flexible over any negotiation.

“I think my view would be to try to delay, to give space now to looking at what the EU could do to solve those practical issues. Business supports the protocol but there are major technical issues,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

“I think we do need the EU and UK negotiators to spend some positive time in a locked room and come up with a deal, we need a political deal, we need a fudge.”

PA

Energy price cap ‘could change twice as often'

07:32 , Zoe Tidman

Energy regulator Ofgem has revealed plans that, if implemented, would see the price cap on bills changed twice as often.

The watchdog said it might change the price cap to update every three months, rather than every six.

Ofgem said this will help customers when wholesale gas prices fall from current peaks by passing on savings to households more rapidly.

PA

Priti Patel overrode legal advice in asylum cases, leading to record costs

07:00 , Namita Singh

Priti Patel has repeatedly overridden Home Office legal advice on immigration and asylum cases, adding to record costs for the taxpayer, The Independent can reveal.

The department spent £35.2m on legal bills for lost cases and paid out a further £9.3m to people wrongly held in immigration detention in 2020-21.

The figures stand at their highest level since the Conservatives came to power, having rocketed from £17.1m and £2.2m respectively in five years.

Home Office sources told The Independent that Ms Patel and other Home Office ministers had rejected legal advice in individual cases on numerous occasions.

Legal experts had shown clear instances where “immediately settling cases offered best value to the taxpayer, and set best precedent for presenting future cases to the courts”, a Home Office source said.

Read the details in this exclusive by our correspondents Anna Isaac and Lizzie Dearden:

Priti Patel overrode legal advice in asylum cases, adding to record costs

Jeremy Hunt declines to call Boris Johnson an honest man

06:48 , Namita Singh

Former Conservative minister Jeremy Hunt has declined to say that Boris Johnson is an honest man in the wake of the Partygate scandal.

Mr Hunt was asked the question by Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

In response, he twice replied that “talking about personalities is not a helpful thing to do”, despite being told by Ms Raworth that it was a “simple question”.

On the issue of whether Mr Johnson was the best person for the job, Mr Hunt said: “I hope he can turn things around.”

He did say, however, that he thought that Tory MPs should support the prime minister “in the situation we are now in” with the war in Ukraine.

Whitehall editor Kate Devlin has the details:

Jeremy Hunt declines to say Boris Johnson is an honest man following partygate

Margaret Thatcher statue egged within hours of going up

06:35 , Namita Singh

A statue of Margaret Thatcher was egged less than two hours after being installed in her home town of Grantham.

Onlookers voiced their disapproval of the new memorial to the divisive former prime minister, with several motorists booing loudly as they drove past. One man shouted “Tear it down” while another said “This is no good for Grantham, is it?”

The £300,000 statue was lowered into place in the Lincolnshire town on Sunday, after plans to put it in Parliament Square in London were opposed because of fears it would be vandalised.

My colleague Liam James reports:

Margaret Thatcher statue egged within hours of going up

Post-Brexit financial ‘competitiveness’ could spark race to the bottom, warn experts

06:25 , Namita Singh

The UK’s post-Brexit focus on helping the financial sector could spark a harmful race to the bottom and undermine the government’s levelling up plans, a former minister and academics have warned.

In an open letter to the chancellor, the former business secretary Sir Vince Cable and other expressed scepticism about the new plans.

“We are writing to express our concern about proposals for the UK’s Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework (FRF) to give regulators statutory objectives to promote competitiveness after Brexit,” the letter reads.

Read more about the letter in this report:

Post-Brexit financial ‘competitiveness’ could spark race to the bottom – experts

Sturgeon to warn of ‘catastrophic’ consequences of failure on Cop commitments

06:14 , Namita Singh

Failure to meet the targets agreed at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow could have “catastophic” consequences, Nicola Sturgeon will warn.

Six months on from the global conference, the First Minister will speak about environmental issues as she addresses the Brookings Institution in Washington DC during a trip to the US.

She will stress that world leaders must prioritise an “approach to energy security that focusses on sustainability”, with measures to promote greater energy efficiency and need to move towards renewable and low-carbon power.

“Six months on from Cop26, the world looks very different but many of the challenges we faced then remain,” she will say.

As things stand, the world is on course to exceed both 1.5 degrees of global warming and the 2 degree threshold - and scientific consensus is overwhelming that this will be catastrophic.

Nicola Sturgeon

Read the details here:

Sturgeon to warn of ‘catastrophic’ consequences of failure on Cop commitments

Priti Patel lifts restrictions on police stop-and-search powers

06:01 , Namita Singh

Priti Patel is lifting restrictions placed on police in the use of controversial stop-and-search powers as part of the government’s strategy to tackle violent crime.

The new measures will see officers able to stop people without suspicion in areas where serious violence “may” occur, rather than “will” occur, a loosening of the guidelines which the government claims will help prevent knife crime.

In a letter sent to police forces on Monday, the home secretary will set out how restrictions on section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which have limited when officers could use stop and search and have been in place since 2014, will be removed.

Ms Patel’s initial plan to remove restrictions placed on section 60 searches was met with criticism, leading her to backtrack on the plan, although she is now pressing ahead with it.

Zaina Alibhai reports:

Priti Patel makes it easier for police to use stop and search

UK calls for EU to show flexibility in resolving NI protocol standoff

05:39 , Namita Singh

The EU must display the same flexibility it has shown during the Ukraine crisis to resolve the standoff over the Northern Ireland protocol, government sources have said, just days before the row is set to come to a head.

Sources told The Independent that the bloc had shown enormous agility when it took in huge numbers of people almost overnight after Russia invaded Ukraine.

But they added that the UK would be forced to act if some of the same flexibility and creativity were not applied in relation to the protocol, which ministers insist is threatening the Belfast peace process.

Our Whitehall editor Kate Devlin reports:

UK calls on EU to show same flexibility on NI protocol as it offered to Ukraine

PM expected to hold talks with NI leaders

05:26 , Namita Singh

Boris Johnson is expected to hold emergency talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders in a bid to break the deadlock over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The PM’s visit comes amid heightened tensions between the UK and EU over the prospect of him moving forward with a plan aimed at unilaterally scrapping parts of the deal creating economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

Brussels has made it clear that Westminster’s attempt to override elements of the protocol by way of domestic legislation would represent a breach of international law.

Mr Johnson has said the UK will have a “necessity to act” if the EU is unwilling to reach a compromise, though he stressed that the government is open to “genuine dialogue” with the European Commission over the protocol.

Read the details here:

Boris Johnson to hold talks in bid to break Stormont deadlock

Boris Johnson confirms UK will set out NI protocol plans this week

05:16 , Namita Singh

Boris Johnson has confirmed the government will this week set out plans expected to allow ministers to unilaterally scrap part of his Brexit deal.

The prime minister said more details would be released “in the coming days”, despite warnings they could trigger a trade war with the European Union, in an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper.

Ministers are engaged in a standoff with the European Union over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Johnson’s government signed up to the agreement, which is designed to protect the EU’s single market.

But ministers warn the deal threatens the Northern Ireland peace process by putting a border down the Irish Sea and introducing checks on goods coming from other parts of the UK.

Read the full story from our Whitehall editor, Kate Devlin:

Boris Johnson confirms UK will set out NI protocol plans this week

04:55 , Namita Singh

Welcome to The Independent’s UK politics live blog for Monday, 16 May 2022.

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