Today’s daily politics briefing
The EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has apologised to Ireland’s parliament for the recent attempt to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol over vaccine orders. He said the commission “deeply regrets” how it handled the issue.
Meanwhile international trade secretary Liz Truss is accused of refusing to answer questions about the trading crisis caused by Brexit. Opposition parties claimed Ms Truss was trying to “shirk responsibility” by transferring enquiries to other departments.
Sir Ian McKellen and other leading actors have urged Boris Johnson to secure visa-free EU travel for performers. It comes as MPs were told some UK musicians are thinking in “quite desperate terms whether they have a career left” because of post-Brexit touring restrictions.
Musicians asking ‘whether they have career left’ after Brexit
Deborah Annetts, chief executive at Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), said UK artists are already losing summer bookings due to post-Brexit visa challenges.
“If you’re the Foo Fighters you won’t have a problem,” she told MPs on the digital and culture committee. “If you’re at an early stage in your career then you’re going to find [touring] problematic … Musicians are already thinking in quite desperate terms whether they have a career left.”
She added: “At the moment we have got a window, bizarrely enough, because of Covid, to try and sort this out, so we really need to pick this up and move this forward.”
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke called the government “spineless f****” after The Independent revealed that the UK rejected an offer of visa-free tours.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 11:37
EU ‘deeply regrets’ mistake over protocol threat, says Sefcovic
The European Commission vice-president has apologised to Ireland’s politicians over the recent attempt to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Maros Sefcovic said told Ireland’s European affairs committee that the commission “deeply regrets” how it handled the issue. “But in the end, in a matter of three hours we got it right,” he said.
“Article 16 was never activated and I can reassure you that the commission has learned the lesson, and the commission will do its utmost to protect peace in Northern Ireland, as it has done throughout the entire Brexit process.
Sefcovic added: “I’m sure you will ask me, how can I prove that? I think that the best answer is our track record, unwavering support, political, economic and financial to the peace process since the Belfast agreement was signed and agreed upon.”
Sefcovic also told the Oireachtas committee responsibility for implementing the protocol was a “two-way street” with the UK. “It was quite obvious from the beginning that there will be the teething problems and I believe that we can resolve them if we work very well together.”
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 10:59
‘Flexibility’ the key to protocol, says Irish minister
Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney sounds cautiously optimistic that practical changes can be agreed between the UK and EU to implement the protocol in Northern Ireland more effectively.
“Pragmatism and flexibility within the confines of the protocol actually strengthens the protocol. It doesn’t weaken it,” the top official told the FT.
He suggested the Irish government would back “modest extensions” to the grace periods, but made clear long-term delays in certain checks were not possible.
On Sunday, EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic suggested said a new agreement between the UK and EU on standards was still possible.
In an interview with RTE he hinted that common animal health and food-safety standards would ease some of the problems getting animals, meat and plant produce across borders.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 10:31
Blue line for Brexit
Kent Police has revealed that more than 30 constabularies all over Britain have been involved in the operation to manage Brexit border issues in the county.
The officers remain part of the scheme in place to mitigate the disruption at the Channel ports, but Britain’s export slump since 1 January has meant no repeat of the chaotic scenes seen before Christmas.
Kent Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix said: “We are aware that the roads are currently quieter than usual due to the national Covid-19 lockdown, and that disruption in the future remains a distinct possibility. We therefore cannot afford to be complacent.”
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 10:12
Fewer France-UK shipments rejected
Are there signs English Channel trade is beginning to recover after an awful first six weeks outside the EU? The rejection rate for cargo shipped from France to the UK almost halved last week, according to new Transporeon data shared by Bloomberg.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 09:39
Minister accused of ‘phantom threats’ over free speech
So what’s the reaction on campus to Gavin Williamson’s warning against “unacceptable silencing and censoring” of academics?
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), claimed the government was “more interested in fighting phantom threats to free speech” than focusing on real threats such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillary Gyebi-Abiabo, vice president for higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “There is no evidence of a freedom of expression crisis on campus.”
The Mirror’s commentator Kevin Maguire claims it’s all a deliberate distraction. He says ministers are “stoking divisive culture wars to distract from Covid’s lost lives and livelihoods, a Tory chumocracy scamdemic and cynical liar Johnson’s Brexit disaster”.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 09:36
Williamson launches plan to protect free speech at universities
Gavin Williamson has launched the next strike in the culture war – warning against a “chilling effect” of “unacceptable silencing and censoring” on university campuses as he unveiled tougher measures to protect free speech.
The education secretary announced a series of proposals to strengthen academic freedom at universities in England – including the appointment of a “free speech champion” who will investigate potential infringements, such as no-platforming speakers.
A new free speech condition would be placed on universities for them to be registered in England and access public funding, and the Office for Students (OfS) regulator would have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breached the condition.
“I am deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring,” said the education minister.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 09:22
Venues can demand proof of vaccination, minister says
Cinemas and other venues will be free to demand proof of vaccination for Covid before allowing people to enter, a government minister says.
Nadhim Zahawi said it is “up to businesses” what rules to introduce – despite the government ruling out a “vaccine passport” scheme of its own.
Asked by the BBC if owners could demand a vaccine certificate “if you wanted to go to the cinema”, he replied: “Well, I just think it is obviously up to businesses what they do.”
Boris Johnson said on Monday that rapid flow tests would be a much better method of ensuring people are able to enter venues in future.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 09:18
No 10 urged to overhaul competition laws after Brexit
The government should bring in major post-Brexit reforms to competition laws to help boost the UK economy, according to a new report by a leading Tory MP.=
John Penrose MP – tasked with writing an independent report by the government – has called for a new Competition Act to make the UK’s competition law fit to serve in the digital age. He said that new regulations could “update and modernise our institutions for the new digital economy”.
The report recommended that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should work out a way that lets customers easily compare the “price” of free online services – including a comparison on how firms like Facebook and Google use our data.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 09:13
High streets at risk of being ‘hollowed out’, says Labour
Tourist hotspots reliant on hospitality, leisure and retail are in danger of seeing their high streets “hollowed out” if coronavirus support is scaled back, Labour has warned. The party has identified the 20 places in England most at risk of “hollowed out” high streets.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband is urging the government to confirm it will extend the 100 per cent business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses for at least another six months.
The party is warning of devastation in tourist areas. According to Labour analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, a fifth of businesses in Cornwall, Torbay and in the Isle of Wight businesses rely on visitor, retail and hospitality trade.
“We are facing a national economic crisis, but it’s clear that if high street businesses like restaurants, hotels, shops and salons go bust the impact will be felt much more deeply by communities in certain parts of the country,” said Miliband.
Adam Forrest16 February 2021 09:04