Politics

Jean-Claude Juncker says protocol deal better for EU than some in UK saying and calls Boris Johnson ‘a piece of work’– live


Former EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker says protocol deal better for Brussels than some in UK are suggesting

Jean-Claude Juncker, who was the president of the European Commisison during most of the Brexit negotiations, has said the Northern Ireland protocol deal gives more authority to the EU than some in Britain are suggesting.

In an interview for LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, Juncker described the deal as “a real breakthrough”. But he went on:

I think that the European Commission will have more authority than it seems. And as the European court of justice has been reconfirmed in its role as an arbiter when it comes to internal market questions concerning Northern Ireland.

So I think that, although the deal is giving a response to the major British concerns, there is a part of European Union in the deal some in Britain are trying to hide.

In the interview, Juncker also said he liked Boris Johnson “as a person”, even though he considered him “a piece of work”. He said:

I like him as a person. He’s funny, but he’s serious nevertheless. And I had better relations with all the prime ministers of Britain I’ve known, starting with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, even David Cameron, then mainly Theresa May, who was a lady.

And Boris Johnson was a piece of work, someone you cannot categorise, in normal definitions, but I liked him as a person.

Jean-Claude Juncker.
Jean-Claude Juncker. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

Key events

Afternoon summary

  • Jean-Claude Juncker, who was president of the European Commisison during most of the Brexit negotiations, has said the Northern Ireland protocol deal gives more authority to the EU than some in Britain are suggesting. (See 2.30pm.)

The Labour party has offered Sue Gray the role of chief of staff to the leader of the opposition. We understand she hopes to accept the role subject to the normal procedures. Keir Starmer is delighted she is hoping to join our preparations for government and our mission to build a better Britain.

Striking members of the NEU teaching union holding a rally in Chichester, where Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, is the local MP.
Striking members of the NEU teaching union holding a rally in Chichester, where Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, is the local MP. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Libby Brooks

Libby Brooks

SNP leadership candidates on the campaign trail this afternoon were swift to praise John Swinney, the hugely experienced and well-liked deputy first minister who announced he will step down from government after 16 years once a new first minister is elected. (See 3.48pm.)

After speaking to Ukrainian families in Glasgow, the Scottish finance secretary, Kate Forbes, said Swinney was “an incredibly able to politician who has put public service at the heart of his career” as well as “a friend to so many MSPs”. She went on:

I have valued enormously his advice and guidance over the years and I wish him well because he has put in some shift.

Visiting a community charity in Midlothian, the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, said:

John is one of those unique people in politics that appeals to people right across the political divide, even if you’re not politically involved.

He is one of the most caring, compassionate people I know. I’ve gone through some really hard times and the first person that’s picked the phone up to me has been John, time and time again. I’ll always be grateful for his love and support.

Keir Starmer poised to hire Sue Gray as Labour chief of staff

The Cabinet Office has confirmed that Sue Gray has left the civil service. A spokesperson also said they would be “reviewing the circumstances under which she resigned”, which suggests some concern about how she might have been negotiating a move to Labour (to work as chief of staff for Keir Starmer) while working for the government as a civil servant.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:

We can confirm that Sue Gray has resigned from the post of second permanent secretary in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This was accepted by the department permanent secretary and cabinet secretary with immediate effect.

We will not be commenting further on individual personnel matters. We are reviewing the circumstances under which she resigned.

The Labour party has not officially commented. It is understood that it wants to wait until the appointment has been cleared with the advisory committee on business appointments, which issues guidance on ministers and senior officials taking jobs outside government when they leave. But Labour sources say Starmer is set to appoint her as his chief of staff.

My colleague Jessica Elgot has the story here.

Former EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker says protocol deal better for Brussels than some in UK are suggesting

Jean-Claude Juncker, who was the president of the European Commisison during most of the Brexit negotiations, has said the Northern Ireland protocol deal gives more authority to the EU than some in Britain are suggesting.

In an interview for LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, Juncker described the deal as “a real breakthrough”. But he went on:

I think that the European Commission will have more authority than it seems. And as the European court of justice has been reconfirmed in its role as an arbiter when it comes to internal market questions concerning Northern Ireland.

So I think that, although the deal is giving a response to the major British concerns, there is a part of European Union in the deal some in Britain are trying to hide.

In the interview, Juncker also said he liked Boris Johnson “as a person”, even though he considered him “a piece of work”. He said:

I like him as a person. He’s funny, but he’s serious nevertheless. And I had better relations with all the prime ministers of Britain I’ve known, starting with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, even David Cameron, then mainly Theresa May, who was a lady.

And Boris Johnson was a piece of work, someone you cannot categorise, in normal definitions, but I liked him as a person.

Jean-Claude Juncker.
Jean-Claude Juncker. Photograph: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

John Swinney to stand down as Scotland’s deputy first minister

John Swinney has announced that he will stand down as Scotland’s deputy first minister when a new first minister is elected to replace Nicola Sturgeon. In his resignation letter, he pointed out that he had been in government for almost 16 years. He said:

When I joined the Scottish National party at the age of 15 in 1979, our political prospects were poor and I could scarcely have imagined that over so many years I would have the opportunity to serve Scotland in government in the way I have.

In her reply, Sturgeon said:

I could not have wished for a better partner in government than you, and there is no doubt that our Scottish government would have achieved much less had you not been in it.

Joe Pike at Sky News is reporting that the senior civil servant Sue Gray has now been offered the job of chief of staff to Keir Starmer. At least one other journalist was saying this earlier. (See 11.57am.) Labour has still not commented.

EXCL: Sue Gray has been appointed chief of staff to Labour leader Keir Starmer.

As a senior civil servant, the job offer will be subject to ACOBA process before formal confirmation.

Major coup for the Labour leader and part of an effort to prove the party is preparing for govt. pic.twitter.com/IksivN0XFm

— Joe Pike (@joepike) March 2, 2023

Johnson says return of Parthenon marbles to Greece would harm British Museum

Boris Johnson’s speech did not just cover Brexit. He also included a passage on the Parthenon marbles, where he argued strongly against their return to Athens. He said the British Museum in London, where they are now, “tells the story of the evolution of the human spirit”. He went on:

If you give back the Elgin Marbles to Greece, then you leave a huge gap in that narrative.

And, above all, you have no answer in the years ahead to the theoretical claims for restitution from Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Nigeria, everywhere whose treasures are housed in Bloomsbury.

And suddenly in trying to please the world and correct thinking, you’ve deprived the world of one of its great treasures and cut some vital panels from its great pageant of human progress.

This passage is probably best understood as an exhibit from an ongoing Tory feud. George Osborne, the former chancellor, is chairman of the British Museum, and has reportedly been pushing for an agreement that would see the marbles returned to Greece. He is also a longstanding rival of Johnson’s (in 2015 they were probably the two Tories with the best chance of succeeding David Cameron), and he regularly uses his slot on Andrew Neil’s show on Channel 4 on Sundays to disparage the former PM.

Cost of living crisis prompting over-50s in UK to seek work, IFS thinktank suggests

People in their 50s and 60s are re-thinking their decision to take early retirement after being made poorer by Britain’s cost of living crisis, the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests. My colleague Larry Elliott has the story here.

Boris Johnson’s speech and Q&A – summary and analysis

The opening minutes of Boris Johnson’s address at the soft power summit in London were dreadful. But it was well worth perservering because, once he started talking about Brexit, he gave what was by his standards a remarkable speech.

Johnson is famous for his trademark boosterism. He is also someone who has never shown much interested in self-reflection, and is notorious for never admitting fault. He gave a glimpse of this trait in his jibe about Partygate. (See 12.12pm.) But when he started talking about the Northern Ireland protocol, he turned uncharacteristically humble.

While ERG and DUP diehards, in so far as they have criticised Rishi Sunk’s deal, have focused on issues like the ongoing role of the European court of justice, Johnson was much more astute, focusing how the protocol remained “a drag anchor on divergence”. This is probably the strongest argument available against the deal.

But Johnson also admitted that the protocol deal he originally signed was flawed, saying “it was all my fault”. He was conceded that there was no longer any public appetite for the confrontational approach to Brussels that he championed, and sought to enact through the Northern Ireland protocol bill. And, most tellingly of all, he admitted that he had failed to persuade people of the benefits of Brexit.

“Brexitism as the doctrine of national renaissance through conflict with Brussels is dying,” my colleague Rafael Behr argued in a great column yesterday. Johnson did not put it like that, but the tone of his speech did a lot to support Rafael’s argument.

Here are the main points.

  • Johnson criticised Rishi Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal, saying that it was “not about the UK taking back control” and that it would act as a “drag anchor on divergence”. He was not entirely negative. He accepted that it would reduce friction at the GB/NI border, and in that respect he said “we’ve got to hope that it works”. But goods made in Northern Ireland would still have to be be made to EU standards he said. He went on:

The EU single market remains paramount. And in that sense, this deal … acts as a drag anchor on divergence, which is the point of Brexit. There’s no point in Brexit unless you do things differently.

He also said this meant it was not about taking back control (the slogan of the leave campaign that he led in 2016). He said:

I’m conscious I’m not going to be thanked for saying this, but I think it is my job to do so, we must be clear about what is really going on here.

This is not about the UK taking back control and although there are easements this is really a version of the solution that was being offered last year to Liz Truss when she was foreign secretary.

This is the EU graciously unbending to allow us to do what we want to do in our own country, not by our laws, but by theirs.

  • He said that he would find it “very difficult” to vote for the deal. (See 12.31pm.) But he did not say he would vote against it, and he admitted to having “mixed feelings”. He said:

When I look at the deal that we have now, I, of course, have have mixed feelings. I’m conscious of where the political momentum is and people’s deep desire just to get on.

It’s clear … people to move on. They want to do a deal. They don’t want any more ructions, and I get that, I totally get that, and I got to be realistic about that.

I thought those checks would not be onerous since there isn’t that much stuff that falls into that category; most of the goods stay in Northern Ireland.

As an aside, he muttered: “It’s all my fault, I fully accept responsibility.” It sounded spontaneous, and half in jest. But it is the first time he said that, and it means in future he can say that he has accepted his responsiblity for the flaws in the deal.

I’ve got to put my hands up for this as much as anybody – we haven’t done enough yet to convince them that it can deliver the change they want to see.

And I think that they’re particularly dismayed about things like the small boats crossing the Channel, but they also don’t feel the economic change and so we’ve got to break out of the model that we’re in.

At the end, talking about his plans for the future, he said he needed to do “a better job of explaining and supporting and defending Brexit”.

What I wish we had done is put a big ‘invest here’ sign over Britain as soon as we were out of Covid. As soon as it was remotely credible, I think we should have done something. We should have outbid the Irish.

We had this long, long, long, long, long civil war about what Brexit was. And we never really – we haven’t yet said we’re doing things differently. And that’s the point. Things like the genome editing – get on and do it.

This is nothing if it is not a Brexit government and Brexit is nothing if we in this country don’t do things differently …. It is because this is a Brexit government that we got the biggest share of the vote since 1979 [at the 2019 general election].

I think it very, very unlikely that I will need to do anything big in politics again.

Boris Johnson speaks during the global soft power summit in London.
Boris Johnson speaks during the global soft power summit in London. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Johnson says he needs to do ‘better job of explaining and supporting and defending Brexit’

Asked about his “next big job”, Johnson says he has got a “big budget of words” to write (a reference to his memoirs). But he also says he needs to do “a better job of explaining and supporting and defending Brexit”.

He says he cares deeply about the fact that Britain is so unbalanced. He wants to continue campaigning for levelling up.

And he says he will continue to support Ukraine.

That’s it. The Q&A is over.

Boris Johnson speaking at the global soft power summit at the QEII conference centre in London today.
Boris Johnson speaking at the global soft power summit at the QEII conference centre in London today. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Johnson claims UK more influential in Europe after Brexit than it was before

Johnson says he thinks the UK is more influential in Europe now, outside the EU, than it was before.

I genuinely think it is true that we are now more influential in Europe, about foreign policy, because we’re outside it, outside the EU structure, than we were when we were in.

Johnson claims (not for the first time) that “Brexit saved lives” because it facilitated the UK’s speedy vaccine rollout programme.

(This is not true – although it is arguable that a more pro-European government might have joined the EU vaccine programme, instead of acting unilaterally. See this post, from the last time Johnson made this claim, for an analysis.)





READ SOURCE