Politics latest news: No 10 hits back at Nigel Farage over Brexit remarks
Downing Street has hit back at Nigel Farage after he criticised Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework and claimed Brexit has still "not been completed".
Mr Farage, the honorary president of Reform UK, used a press conference this morning to criticise the record of successive Tory governments as he said EU regulations "have not been axed", Northern Ireland has been "hived off" and "our borders are as open as they have literally ever been".
He said: "Three and a half years on, Brexit has not been completed, we are still under the jurisdiction of a foreign court in Strasbourg, our borders are as open as they have literally ever been. We have a high tax, big state, low growth, low productivity society and our public services are fundamentally broken."
No10 rejected the criticism and said Mr Sunak's Brexit deal will fix "longstanding problems" with border arrangements in Northern Ireland while regulations made in Brussels have been "reduced right down to the very minimum level".
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman told reporters: "We think this delivers on fixing the longstanding problems which have hindered individuals and businesses and caused such problems both for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
"With regards to EU regulations, these have been reduced right down to the very minimum level to ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland, and I think that is the overriding priority of all parties in protecting and securing the Good Friday Agreement."
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Windsor Framework not 'sufficient' to trigger restoration of Stormont powersharing - DUP leader
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Windsor Framework as currently constructed is not "sufficient" to trigger the return of powersharing arrangements at Stormont.
Asked if powersharing is "dead", the leader of the DUP told broadcasters: "We are committed to Stormont but we have consistently said that what we need is an outcome that unionists as well as nationalists can support.
"We need to ensure that whatever arrangements are put in place that they provide the stability that Stormont needs on a cross community basis to operate effectively.
"I don't believe that what we have at the moment is sufficient. There has been significant progress but there are key areas of concern that remain and we hope those can be addressed in the weeks ahead."
'We are not in a position to endorse the Windsor Framework'
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said his party is "not in a position to endorse the Windsor Framework".
He told broadcasters: "We have been assessing the Windsor Framework now since it was launched. I have already outlined some of the key concerns that we have about these proposals.
"It was indicated by some in government that the vote on Wednesday was some sort of indicative vote of support for the Windsor Framework and based on where we are at the moment and the need for those key concerns to be addressed, we are not in a position to endorse the Windsor Framework and we have made clear that we will continue to engage with the government to have those concerns that we have outlined properly addressed."
Sinn Fein: Focus now must be on 'getting Stormont moving'
Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill has said the Windsor Framework is "done" and the focus must now move to restoring powersharing arrangements at Stormont.
She tweeted: "The deal is done & huge economic opportunities are before us. The Brexit Joint Committee meets 24 March to adopt the deal into EU law & we move onto implementation stage.
"The onus is on the British & Irish Governments & all parties – not least the DUP to now get Stormont moving."
The deal is done & huge economic opportunities are before us. The Brexit Joint Committee meets 24 March to adopt the deal into EU law & we move onto implementation stage. The onus is on the British & Irish Governments & all parties - not least the DUP to now get Stormont moving
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) March 20, 2023
Cleverly and Sefcovic to meet on Friday to formally adopt Windsor Framework
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has announced that he will meet the EU’s Maros Sefcovic in London on Friday this week to formally adopt the Windsor Framework pact.
The announcement was made in a written statement to Parliament.
Government publishes detail on Wednesday's Brexit vote
The Government has just published the Brexit-related statutory instrument which MPs will vote on on Wednesday afternoon.
The statutory instrument is labelled "The Windsor Framework (Democratic Scrutiny) Regulations 2023.
In simple terms it spells out how the so-called "Stormont Brake" - the process by which the Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to stop new EU laws being rolled out in certain circumstances - will actually work.
MPs will now be poring over the detail as they decide whether to back the brake and the wider Brexit deal.
Boris Johnson hands over partygate probe defence to Privileges Committee
Boris Johnson’s written defence to allegations he lied to Parliament over his partygate denials has now been handed over to the Privileges Committee ahead of Wednesday's evidence session.
A source close to the former prime minister said: "Boris’s formal submission has been made to the committee today, as planned.
"The committee control the timing of publication. We encourage them to publish it as soon as possible."
Mr Johnson is due to be questioned by the committee from 2pm until 6pm on Wednesday afternoon.
DUP not ruling out backing Brexit deal in future if concerns addressed
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, has not ruled out his party backing Rishi Sunak's Brexit deal in future if their concerns are addressed.
"Clearly there is still some way to go, there is a lot more work to be done, we’re engaged with the Government on that, and we will make our judgments whenever we see the final picture of all of this," he said.
DUP leader: Brexit deal 'doesn’t cover all of the concerns that we have'
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said the Stormont Brake (see the post below at 13.23 for an explanation of what it does) does not cover all of the concerns his party has with the Windsor Framework.
He said: "The Government were saying that not only was this a vote on Wednesday in relation to the statutory instrument but the media were being briefed that it was an indicative vote in relation to the overall Windsor Framework, and clearly we continue to have key concerns about that framework, not least on the continued application of EU law in Northern Ireland, what that means.
"The Stormont Brake of course is designed to manage any future change to EU law so it deals to a certain extent with the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland where the Assembly had no say whatsoever in these matters.
"At least the Stormont Brake offers some degree of democratic scrutiny, but it doesn’t cover all of the concerns that we have, and divergence between UK and EU law can occur not just because the EU changes its law but also because the UK changes its law, and we need to ensure that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market is properly protected."
RMT members at Network Rail accept pay offer to end strike action
Members of the RMT union in Network Rail have voted overwhelmingly to accept an offer to end the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
In a turnout of nearly 90 per cent, members voted by 76 per cent to 24 per cent in favour, signalling an end to the bitter row, which led to a series of strikes in recent months.
The union said the deal includes an uplift on salaries of between 14.4 per cent for the lowest paid grades to 9.2 per cent for the highest paid, increased backpay, a no compulsory redundancy agreement until January 2025 and rail travel benefits.
RMT's dispute with train operating companies remains ongoing.
Analysis: DUP decision causes a major Brexit headache for Rishi Sunak
The DUP's decision to vote against Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal creates a major headache for the Prime Minister.
Fixing problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol is the DUP's price for returning to powersharing at Stormont.
If the DUP is not on board with the Windsor Framework then the chances of restoring powersharing are basically nil.
The DUP view the current deal as unsatisfactory and want it to be improved and that would likely mean further negotiations between the UK and the EU - something No10 has suggested is simply not on the table.
No10 is expected to press ahead with Wednesday's vote but many Tory Brexiteers will be asking what the point is of a protocol deal if it does not restore powersharing. The next 48 hours are looking like they could be incredibly bumpy for the PM.
DUP: 'There remain key areas of concern' in Brexit deal
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal "does not deal with some of the fundamental problems at the heart of our current difficulties" regarding border arrangements in Northern Ireland.
The leader of the DUP said "there remain key areas of concern which require further clarification, re-working and change as well as seeing further legal text".
On the specific issue of the "Stormont Brake", Sir Jeffrey said it represented "real progress" but ultimately it is not good enough as currently drafted.
He said: "Notwithstanding the issues and conditions which have to be met to make the brake work it remains the case that the 'brake' is not designed for, and therefore cannot apply, to the EU law which is already in place and for which no consent has been given for its application.
"Whilst representing real progress the 'brake' does not deal with the fundamental issue which is the imposition of EU law by the Protocol."
The 'Stormont Brake' is designed to give the Northern Ireland Assembly the ability to stop new EU laws from being imposed in Northern Ireland in certain circumstances and when certain conditions are met. However, the actual power to veto new laws would rest with the UK government.
DUP announces it will vote against Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal
The DUP has announced it will vote against Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal on Wednesday.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said in a statement:
"Since the announcement that the 'Stormont Brake' is to be debated and voted upon in Parliament on Wednesday there have been a number of indications that this vote will be read as indicative of current positions on the wider Windsor Framework package.
"Our Party Officers, the only decision-making mechanism in our party on these matters, met this morning and unanimously agreed that in the context of our ongoing concerns and the need to see further progress secured whilst continuing to seek clarification, change and re-working that our Members of Parliament would vote against the draft statutory instrument on Wednesday.
"We will continue to work with the Government on all the outstanding issues relating to the Windsor Framework package to try to restore the delicate political balances within Northern Ireland and to seek to make further progress on all these matters."
Downing Street denies delaying Government announcements because of Boris Johnson partygate grilling
Downing Street has denied delaying Government announcements because of Boris Johnson’s scheduled partygate grilling on Wednesday.
Asked about a report of delays to announcements because of the potential for distraction caused by Mr Johnson’s evidence, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said: "It’s not accurate.
"There is a large number of announcements being made this week, whether that’s on support for low-income households on energy, and obviously the vote on the Stormont brake on Wednesday so it is a significant week for Government.
"It’s wrong to suggest Government business changes as a result of this committee hearing."
No10 urges President Xi to tell Putin to 'cease bombing Ukrainian cities'
China’s President Xi Jinping should use his visit to Moscow today to urge Vladimir Putin to halt its bombings and other "atrocities" in Ukraine, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: "China has spoken previously about the importance of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity in Ukraine.
"We would like to see President Xi advocate for this point when he speaks to Putin. This war and its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty could end today if Russia withdrew its troops from Ukraine.
"So we hope President Xi uses this opportunity to press President Putin to cease bombing Ukrainian cities, hospitals, schools, and to halt some of these atrocities that we are seeing on a daily basis."
MPs may vote only once on Rishi Sunak's Brexit deal
Downing Street has refused to confirm that MPs will get to vote on all aspects of Rishi Sunak's Brexit deal.
The vote on Wednesday will be specifically on the Stormont Brake issue - a new mechanism which would stop the imposition of new EU laws in Northern Ireland in certain circumstances - but Downing Street has made clear the vote will be taken as the verdict of MPs on the deal as a whole.
It had been thought that there could be further votes on other specific items contained within the Windsor Framework but Downing Street at lunchtime failed to guarantee it.
Asked if elements other than the Stormont Brake would be waved through the Commons via "negative procedure" which does not require a full vote, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman replied: "I don't think a decision has been taken on all the other elements."
Downing Street hits back at Nigel Farage over Brexit remarks
Downing Street has hit back at Nigel Farage over his criticism of Rishi Sunak's Brexit deal.
Mr Farage, the honorary president of Reform UK, said this morning that Brexit had "not been completed" three-and-a-half years on because EU regulations "have not been axed", immigration continues to rise, and Northern Ireland is "being hived off" to Brussels.
"The job for Reform is even bigger than the task that is faced by Ukip... This is about getting our entire country back on track, changing the priorities of our Government and opposition and I'm here to help in absolutely every way," Mr Farage told a press conference.
Defending the agreement, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said: "We think this delivers on fixing the longstanding problems which have hindered individuals and businesses and caused such problems both for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
"With regards to EU regulations, these have been reduced right down to the very minimum level to ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland, and I think that is the overriding priority of all parties in protecting and securing the Good Friday Agreement."
New: Stormont Brake to be published today
The Stormont Brake will be published later today, Downing Street has confirmed this lunchtime.
"I should say the detail is already out in the public domain," the Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters.
Migrants being housed in almost 400 hotels across UK
Almost 400 hotels are currently being used to house asylum seekers, it has been revealed.
The number of migrants being housed in private is now above the 50,000 mark, a 20-fold increase in less than three years.
Earlier this month, analysis by The Telegraph found that 42 of the 48 English counties now have hotels accommodating asylum seekers.
The Government has never publicly confirmed the total number of hotels involved, but a government source has now told BBC News it is using 395 to accommodate more than 51,000 asylum seekers, at a cost of more than £6m a day.
Will Bolton has the full story
Ann Widdecombe joined Reform UK because 'it is the only way to save the Union'
Ann Widdecombe, a former Tory MP and ex-minister who was elected as an MEP for the Brexit Party, said she had decided to join Reform UK "because it is very clear that it is the only way to save the Union".
She said: "I do not believe that that is an exaggeration. We have left Northern Ireland in the single market while the rest of the UK has withdrawn and yet... it was made extremely clear in the Conservative Party manifesto that when we left the EU we would leave as one United Kingdom.
"We didn't say we were going to leave part of the United Kingdom behind in the EU."
Richard Tice announces 11 former Brexit Party MEPs have joined Reform UK
Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, has announced a number of former Brexit Party MEPs have joined Reform UK, including Ann Widdecombe.
He said the party is facing a "big job" in preparing for the next general election as he said "the more help the better".
He told the press conference that "the band is reforming" and "many of the former Brexit Party MEPs... are joining Reform UK as we continue this journey of growth".
Mr Tice said a total of 11 former Brexit Party MEPs have joined the party and "we mean business".
Nigel Farage not returning to the political frontline
Nigel Farage has said he is not returning to the political frontline.
Speaking at a Reform UK press conference, Mr Farage said that "my role in this is honorary and advisory" and he is only "here to help and advise".
Mr Farage said that Richard Tice, the party leader, had "kept the ship afloat pretty much on his own" in recent years and that today's event is about bringing in reinforcements.
'Brexit has not been completed,' says Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage is now on stage at Reform UK's big press conference in central London.
Mr Farage said that "Reform UK is the direct descendant of the Brexit Party" and that his original party had been "hugely successful".
He said that "Brexit has not been completed" and "regulations have not been axed".
Nigel Farage in attendance at Reform UK 'major announcement'
Nigel Farage is in attendance at Reform UK's "major announcement" press conference in central London this morning, writes Amy Gibbons, The Telegraph's political correspondent.
Meanwhile, the party's YouTube channel has a holding image on today's press conference live stream which states "The Band Reforms".
Could we be about to see the return of Mr Farage to the political frontline?
Suella Braverman attacks Rwanda deportations ‘snobbery’ as European judges near climbdown
European judges are close to climbing down over the Government’s Rwanda scheme after Suella Braverman hailed "encouraging" and "constructive" high-level talks to lift their block on deportation flights.
Speaking on a two-day visit to Rwanda, the Home Secretary also accused her Labour critics of "snobbery" and said removal to Rwanda would be "a blessing" for migrants risking their lives to cross the Channel.
You can read the full story here.
Reform UK announcement will be about 'new people joining'
Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, said today's "major announcement" by the party (see the post below at 09.14) will involve "new people joining".
Asked for an insight into what will be announced, Mr Tice told TalkTV: "We have indeed got an announcement later. It is about an enlarging of the group, announcing some new people joining. Wait and see. 11 o'clock, it will be significant."
Richard Tice claims Rishi Sunak has 'mis-sold' Brexit deal
Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, claimed this morning that Rishi Sunak had "mis-sold" his new Brexit deal.
He told TalkTV: "It doesn't solve the issues... it's like a sort of second-hand car salesman saying that the brakes are attached to the wheels when clearly it is not, it is not attached to anything."
He added: "It simply doesn't work. I am afraid it is a con, we have all been mis-sold this deal by the Government... I think that the more people look at this, and the way to read this is to look at what the EU document said about this deal... they were gloating over it, they were absolutely clear that nothing changed, they were still completely in control basically of the arrangements in Northern Ireland and look, it doesn't meet the [DUP's] seven tests.
"I would be absolutely astonished if the DUP said anything different."
Pictured: Boris Johnson leaves his London home this morning
Reform UK promises 'major announcement'
Reform UK has promised a "major announcement" this morning.
The party is due to hold a press conference at 11am and it is remaining tight-lipped about what will be announced.
We don't have long to wait to find out:
🚨 ALERT | Join us tomorrow morning at 11am for our major announcement! 📢
Watch the press conference with @TiceRichard live here on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. pic.twitter.com/uRGXoozl51
— Reform UK (@reformparty_uk) March 19, 2023
When will the DUP and the ERG deliver their verdicts on the Brexit deal?
Both the DUP and the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers are yet to deliver their verdict on the Windsor Framework ahead of Wednesday's vote on Rishi Sunak's deal.
The DUP's MPs will meet today to discuss a joint position on the deal, according to the Politics Home website.
Meanwhile, the ERG is expected to hold a press conference tomorrow to announce its verdict once its so-called "star chamber" of legal experts has finished looking over the detail of the deal.
DUP MP: Brexit deal is 'old substance dressed up in a new package with a ribbon around it'
Senior DUP MP Ian Paisley said he does not believe Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework meets the seven tests set by his party for improving post-Brexit border arrangements in Northern Ireland.
He told the News Letter: "My initial reaction to the Windsor Framework was that I didn’t think it cut the mustard in terms of addressing our seven key tests (on restoring NI’s place within the UK internal market).
"After taking time to study it and a least one legal opinion on it, and going through the details, and also having conversations and messages back and forward to the Secretary of State, I am still of that opinion – that it doesn’t address any of our seven tests.
"It is the old substance dressed up in a new package with a ribbon around it, but it hasn’t actually changed, or addressed the fundamental issue of Northern Ireland trade being disrupted in our internal UK market."
DUP MP says he will vote against Windsor Framework
DUP MP Ian Paisley has said he will vote against Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal, known as the Windsor Framework, when it is put in front of the Commons later this week.
The first vote on the deal is due to be held on Wednesday and Downing Street has made clear that this vote will be considered the moment at which MPs deliver their verdict on the whole deal.
In an interview with the News Letter, Mr Paisley said: "I am categorically voting against, and I would be surprised if my colleagues do not join me."
Tory MP: ‘Some members’ of Privileges Committee have ‘predetermined view’ on Boris Johnson
Conor Burns, a Tory MP and former minister, said he had concerns that "some members" of the Privileges Committee have already "predetermined their view" on whether Boris Johnson misled Parliament over the partygate scandal.
The Privileges Committee is made up of seven MPs and is chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman. Critics have questioned the impartiality of Ms Harman after a social media post last year indicated she believed Mr Johnson had misled Parliament.
Mr Burns, an ally of Mr Johnson, told the BBC’s Westminster Hour programme: "Now, the concern that some of us have is that it appears that some members of that committee have predetermined their view. I have real reservations.
"I rate Harriet Harman highly but she did tweet in April 2022 that if the prime minister, the former prime minister, the now Prime Minister, the former chancellor, admit guilt by which she said was accepting a fixed penalty notice then they are also admitting that they misled the House of Commons.
"Boris Johnson contests that but it seems to me the person who is now chairing this committee has predetermined that and that causes me a degree of anxiety for parliament’s reputation in handling this with integrity."
Baroness Chapman, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, suggested allies of Mr Johnson were trying to "throw sand in the wheels" of the probe.
She told the same programme that she believed Ms Harman will "make sure that this is a fair process".
Tory MP: Boris Johnson 'still has an enormous contribution to make in public life'
Boris Johnson still has an "enormous contribution" to make to public life in the UK, one of his allies has said after being asked if there could be an "act two" for the former prime minister.
Conor Burns, a Tory MP and former minister, told the BBC's Westminster Hour programme that Mr Johnson is a "young man in political terms" and that a return to the political frontline for the ex-PM could well be worth a bet.
Mr Burns said: "People have rarely lost money in betting on Boris’s future. He is a young man in political terms. He is one of the great communicators, one of the campaigning connectors, I think Boris still has an enormous contribution to make in public life here in the United Kingdom and as we have seen by the way in Ukraine internationally.
"As a loyal backbencher I am supporting the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to lead us into the next election and to win that general election."
Boris Johnson 'looking forward' to partygate grilling, claims ally
Boris Johnson is "looking forward" to his four hour partygate grilling in front of the Privileges Committee on Wednesday, an ally of the former prime minister has claimed.
Conor Burns, a Tory MP and former minister, said he had spoken to Mr Johnson yesterday afternoon and the ex-premier was "looking forward to the opportunity" to get his "case out there".
He told the BBC’s Westminster Hour programme last night: "I spoke to Boris this afternoon. He called me. He is looking forward to the opportunity to getting his case out there, to putting his case to the committee on Wednesday, to answering their questions."
He added: "You have heard very little actually from Boris on this subject over recent weeks and months. I think he has been absolutely focused on marshalling the arguments, collating the evidence that he wants to put into the public domain, allowing people to reach a rounded judgement based on facts rather than speculation and emotion."