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Liz Truss to announce plan to unilaterally abandon parts of Northern Ireland protocol – UK politics live


Dublin says ‘breaking international law not the answer’ as Truss set to announce Northern Ireland protocol plan

Good morning. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, will make a statement to MPs later about government plans for legislation that would allow it to ignore parts of the Northern Ireland protocol – the agreement signed with the EU imposing checks on some goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland, to ensure that Northern Ireland can remain in the EU’s single market and to prevent checks having to be imposed at its border with Ireland.

The proposal is potentially inflammatory – because it would involve the UK unilaterally abandoning a deal it agreed with the EU less than three years ago.

But there are signs that it might not be quite as provocative as originally envisaged. Truss is not going to publish an actual bill today, and government sources have been indicating that MPs won’t start debating the legislation until later this year. That, of course, fuels suspicions that No 10 is not particularly serious about this anyway, and that it may be no more than an empty threat. In our overnight story Rowena Mason, Lisa O’Carroll and Rory Carroll write:

No 10 has not appeared to be as keen as Truss on the option of legislation to undermine the protocol in recent days.

One diplomatic source said one of the prime minister’s top aides had been privately telling people that the government was very committed to negotiations and no decision had been taken on pressing ahead with the legislation.

The full story is here.

In the light of these briefings, it will be interesting to see quite what tone Truss adopts. At the weekend the Sunday Times carried a report by Tim Shipman suggesting that some of Boris Johnson’s allies view her as a “knucklehead” on this. Shipman wrote:

There is ill-disguised fury in some parts of No 10 that Truss and David Canzini, the deputy chief of staff, are so privately gung-ho about confrontation with the EU. One senior official said: “The object of the exercise with some people seems to be to have a fight. The object of the exercise for the prime minister is to restore democratic processes to Northern Ireland. We want a weapon on the table, we don’t want to use it. It’s like the nuclear deterrent. The PM does not want to use nuclear weapons, whatever the knuckleheads tell him.”

Truss briefed Simon Coveney, her Irish opposite number, on the plan last night, and this morning he says he told her that “breaking international law” is not the solution.

I last night spoke to @trussliz & look forward to seeing her in person in Italy later this week. I made clear that breaking international law is not the answer to solving Protocol issues. The EU/UK negotiating teams haven’t met since Feb. Time to get back to the table. @dfatirl

— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) May 17, 2022

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

11.30am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, takes questions in the Commons.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

After 12.30pm: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, makes a Commons statement about proposed legislation allowing the government to ignore parts of the Northern Ireland protocol.

After 1.30pm: MPs resume their debate on the Queen’s speech. At 7pm there will be a vote on a Labour amendment calling for a windfall tax on energy companies.

2.30pm: Alistair Burt, the former foreign minister, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee on how the government responds when people like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are taken hostage by foreign states; at 3.30pm Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, will give evidence.

3pm: Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general, and Andrew Neil, the broadcaster, give evidence to a Lords committee about the future of BBC funding.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com.

When he was in Belfast yesterday Boris Johnson suggested that pay for members of the Northern Ireland assembly could be cut if it does not start meeting. It cannot meet at the moment because the DUP won’t agree to the election of a speaker.

Sam McBride from the Belfast Telegraph says this may have been a mistake.

When Sinn Féin pulled down Stormont in 2017, it was the most popular thing the party had done in years. The DUP has similarly been getting positive feedback on its stance; that makes it a gargantuan gamble to go back now based on a Boris Johnson promise.https://t.co/OHavkpdvqi

— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) May 17, 2022

If Boris Johnson hopes to push the DUP into quickly lifting its veto of devolution, this comment may be a gaffe: I suspect the DUP was likely to lift its veto of the Assembly (not Exec) within days; this will make it seem like they’re doing that for cash. https://t.co/KSftMMJX8X

— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) May 17, 2022

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, says he has written to Boris Johnson urging him not to go ahead with legislation that would allow the UK government to ignore parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. He says this would “risk material damage to the British economy”.

I’ve written to @borisjohnson following media reports that the UK Gov wants to rip up parts of the NI Protocol they negotiated, agreed and signed.

This decision would have very serious consequences for the UK as a whole and must not be taken unilaterally.

Here’s the letter 👇 pic.twitter.com/R2O4p7EvID

— Mark Drakeford (@PrifWeinidog) May 17, 2022

Daniel Ferrie, a European Commission spokesperson, restated the EU’s call for the UK to negotiate changes to the Northern Ireland protocol with Brussels, instead of acting unilaterally, at his briefing this morning. This is from Georg von Harrach from Channel 4 News.

In the Commons the government chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, has just moved the writ for two forthcoming byelections – in Wakefield, and in Tiverton and Honiton.

Both byelections are expected to be held on Thursday 23 June – the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum.

These will be two of the most eagerly awaited byelections in years. In Wakefield Imran Ahmad Khan had a majority of 3,358 in the 2019 election, but until then it had been a Labour seat since the 1930s, and Keir Starmer will need a comfortable win here to reassure his party that it is on course to win the next general election.

In Tiverton and Honiton Neil Parish had a majority of 24,239 in 2019. In normal circumstances a seat this safe would never be in play, but the Lib Dems are hoping that they will be able to pull of a shock victory here, following their gains in the byelections in Chesham and Amersham, and in North Shropshire, where they overturned Tory majorities of 16,223 and 22,949 respectively.

Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris. Photograph: HoC

PM performed ‘reprehensible’ U-turn on junk food deal ban partly to avert leadership challenge, William Hague suggests

At the end of last week the government announced that it was delaying a ban on “buy one get one free” deals on junk food for at least a year, ostensibly to help people with the cost of living crisis. It is now questionable whether the ban will ever be implemented by this government. Health campaigners criticised the U-turn, but No 10 will have been heartened by the fact that it was warmly welcomed by the Sun.

However, today the move has come under withering attack from perhaps an unlikely source – William Hague, the former Conservative leader. He has writtten about it in his Times column, under the headline: “Obesity U-turn is weak, shallow and immoral.” It’s a good read. Here are some of his main points.

  • Hague suggests Boris Johnson dropped the cheap supermarket junk food deals partly to avert a leadership challenge from Tory MPs. He says:

Under pressure from some Conservative MPs, some of whom have been threatening to write letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson unless they get their way, ministers have retreated from banning “Buy One Get One Free” deals and from imposing a watershed of 9pm on junk food advertising. While some measures, such as rules on the positioning of unhealthy foods by retailers, will still go ahead in October, this U-turn adds to the long history of failed obesity strategies.

  • Hague rejects claims that the proposed ban was un-Conservartive because it would have restricted people’s freedom to buy what they want. Accusing food companies of exploiting their customers, he says:

Humans evolved, when food was scarce, to indulge in calorie-dense foods if the opportunity arose. Now, the abundance of food and its particularly highly processed nature, which means we go on eating for a long time before feeling full, leads us to eat a lot of the wrong things. Food companies have an overwhelming incentive to design products that lead us ever further down this chemically induced addiction to foods that make us overweight, more prone to disease, and less able to work and enjoy life to the full. This is not freedom …

Freedom is, most crucially, being free from oppression, violence or discrimination. But it is also the freedom of a child to skip and somersault; of an adult to enjoy running down a country lane or in a city park; of an old person to keep their quality of life until their final days … These are the freedoms being denied to vast numbers of people who are the victims, not the free agents, in a system that wants to fill them up with salt, sugar and saturated fat.

  • He rejects claims that “buy one get one free” deals help people with the cost of living, quoting research saying they encourage people to buy food they do not need.
  • He says failing to tackle obesity will make it harder to cut taxes in the long run. Quoting analysis saying that by the mid-2030s the NHS could be spending more treating type 2 diabetes than treating cancer, he says:

It is therefore a terrible error to associate conservatism with a reluctance to protect people from their natural appetites being abused, in an industrial age for which they were not designed. If we could liberate more people from that fate, they could enjoy greater personal freedom and have some chance of a lighter tax burden.

  • He describes the U-turn as “intellectually shallow, politically weak and morally reprehensible”. He says:

MPs who have pressed, seemingly successfully, for the dilution of the obesity strategy are profoundly mistaken. They are acquiescing in a future of higher dependence, greater costs, reduced lifestyle choice and endless pain. For the government to give in to them is intellectually shallow, politically weak and morally reprehensible.

William Hague.
William Hague. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex/Shutterstock

Boris Johnson addressing cabinet this morning.
Boris Johnson addressing cabinet this morning. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

In the light of Archie Norman’s comments (see 10.40am), it is worth pointing out that business groups in Northern Ireland say that, on balance, so far the protocol is working well. My colleague Rory Carroll explained this in a good article for the Observer. It’s here.

Archie Norman, the Marks & Spencer chair and a former Conservative MP, told the Today programme this morning that the Northern Ireland protocol imposed “very, very onerous” burdens on firms moving goods from Britain to Northern Ireland. He explained:

At the moment, wagons arriving in the Republic of Ireland have to carry 700 pages of documentation. It takes about eight hours to prepare the documentation. Some of the descriptors, particularly of animal products, have to be in Latin. It has to be in a certain typeface. We employ 13 vets in Motherwell to prepare it all.

Norman said the protocol took up “30% more driver time” and he said the EU plans for the protocol checks to be fully implemented (some have been shelved until now) would make the situation worse. He said:

The EU are looking for us to impose comparable controls for Northern Ireland and were that to happen, it would mean that quite a lot of product from the UK simply wouldn’t get to Northern Ireland and what does go there would be very very costly.

Norman said the EU customs rules were designed to protect consumers from “unsafe food arriving from some far-flung country” but that UK food standards were “equivalent or higher” than the EU’s. He said the UK government’s plans for reform of the protocol were sensible.

What the British government is proposing at the moment seems to me a triumph of common sense over rules-based mentality and will make sure at a time of inflation that the Northern Irish people can get the fresh food that they’re used to and entitled to.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and Tim Barrow, political director at the Foreign Office, arriving at 10 Downing Street this morning ahead of cabinet.
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and Tim Barrow, political director at the Foreign Office, arriving at 10 Downing Street this morning. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

EU plan for Northern Ireland protocol would ‘make matters materially worse’, Brandon Lewis claims

And here are some of the main lines from Brandon Lewis’s interviews on the Northern Ireland protocol.

  • Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, said the EU’s plan for the protocol would “make matters materially worse” because they wanted to end some of the “grace periods” in place that have prevented some full checks coming into force. The “grace periods” were only ever meant to be temporary, because they were meant to allow businesses time to adjust to the new rules. The UK now wants them to be permanent, and for the proposed new checks to be abandoned for good. The EU does not agree. Lewis said:

What sometimes gets missed in this is that what the EU is proposing now is that some of the checks we’ve had grace periods for – we are at a standstill at the moment where we are not fully applying some of the checks the EU wants – they actually want to bring those in, so they want to make matters materially worse for the people of Northern Ireland, and that’s just not viable.

  • He said it was never the government’s intention to bring the proposed new legislation on the Northern Ireland protocol to parliament for a vote this week.
  • He said the UK wanted to set up a system of “green lanes” for goods entering Northern Ireland for Britain, so that items not destined for Ireland are exempt from checks. He explained:

The solution is, and what we’ve been outlining to the EU, that products that are moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should effectively go through what has colloquially been called a ‘green lane’.

So, those products that are being consumed in the UK, used in the UK, from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, should not be going through the same checks as products that are moving into the EU, into the single market – that’s pretty much what we have been outlining.

There are too many companies, including major supermarkets, at the moment who have no stores in the Republic of Ireland, who are moving their products from their depots in Great Britain into Northern Ireland for sale and consumption in Northern Ireland, but going through checks as if they were going into the EU.

That just doesn’t work and there are products that can’t travel that way.

Brandon Lewis at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland yesterday, where he attended the talks Boris Johnson had with party leaders.
Brandon Lewis at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland yesterday, where he attended the talks Boris Johnson had with party leaders. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

UK pay hit by inflation but unemployment falls to 48-year low

Soaring bonuses for City bankers and high signing-on fees for construction and IT professionals pushed Britons’ average annual pay up by 7% in March, but most workers suffered a fifth consecutive month of falling living standards. My colleague Phillip Inman has the story here.

Bank of England governor went too far with warning about ‘apocalyptic’ food prices, minister suggests

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, had the morning interview round this morning on behalf of the government. Mostly he was talking about the protocol, but he also delivered what sounded like a mild rebuke to the governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, over his comments to MPs yesterday. Lewis implied that Bailey went too far.

As my colleague Larry Elliott reports, Bailey blamed the war in Ukraine for the highest inflation in the UK for three decades and warned that “apocalyptic” food prices caused by Russia’s invasion could have a disastrous impact on the world’s poor.

Asked about the comments, and particularly about Bailey’s use of the word “apocalytic”, Lewis told the BBC:

I was surprised to see that particular turn of phrase, I have to say.

But the Bank of England is independent, they will have their view of their assessment, their economic view of where things are and where things are going.

Lewis went on:

We do recognise … and as a constituency MP I see the challenges that some of my constituents face, that we all face.

In my part of the world [Lewis represents Great Yarmouth in Norfolk] we are all – the majority of people – on oil fire heating and you see that change in the price which has a big impact on people.

That’s why I think it is important as a government we put in the packages of support we’ve put in and, as the chancellor said, this is something we will keep under review because of the global pressures, as the Bank of England governor said yesterday, that we’re seeing on economies around the world.

Dublin says ‘breaking international law not the answer’ as Truss set to announce Northern Ireland protocol plan

Good morning. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, will make a statement to MPs later about government plans for legislation that would allow it to ignore parts of the Northern Ireland protocol – the agreement signed with the EU imposing checks on some goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland, to ensure that Northern Ireland can remain in the EU’s single market and to prevent checks having to be imposed at its border with Ireland.

The proposal is potentially inflammatory – because it would involve the UK unilaterally abandoning a deal it agreed with the EU less than three years ago.

But there are signs that it might not be quite as provocative as originally envisaged. Truss is not going to publish an actual bill today, and government sources have been indicating that MPs won’t start debating the legislation until later this year. That, of course, fuels suspicions that No 10 is not particularly serious about this anyway, and that it may be no more than an empty threat. In our overnight story Rowena Mason, Lisa O’Carroll and Rory Carroll write:

No 10 has not appeared to be as keen as Truss on the option of legislation to undermine the protocol in recent days.

One diplomatic source said one of the prime minister’s top aides had been privately telling people that the government was very committed to negotiations and no decision had been taken on pressing ahead with the legislation.

The full story is here.

In the light of these briefings, it will be interesting to see quite what tone Truss adopts. At the weekend the Sunday Times carried a report by Tim Shipman suggesting that some of Boris Johnson’s allies view her as a “knucklehead” on this. Shipman wrote:

There is ill-disguised fury in some parts of No 10 that Truss and David Canzini, the deputy chief of staff, are so privately gung-ho about confrontation with the EU. One senior official said: “The object of the exercise with some people seems to be to have a fight. The object of the exercise for the prime minister is to restore democratic processes to Northern Ireland. We want a weapon on the table, we don’t want to use it. It’s like the nuclear deterrent. The PM does not want to use nuclear weapons, whatever the knuckleheads tell him.”

Truss briefed Simon Coveney, her Irish opposite number, on the plan last night, and this morning he says he told her that “breaking international law” is not the solution.

I last night spoke to @trussliz & look forward to seeing her in person in Italy later this week. I made clear that breaking international law is not the answer to solving Protocol issues. The EU/UK negotiating teams haven’t met since Feb. Time to get back to the table. @dfatirl

— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) May 17, 2022

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

11.30am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, takes questions in the Commons.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

After 12.30pm: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, makes a Commons statement about proposed legislation allowing the government to ignore parts of the Northern Ireland protocol.

After 1.30pm: MPs resume their debate on the Queen’s speech. At 7pm there will be a vote on a Labour amendment calling for a windfall tax on energy companies.

2.30pm: Alistair Burt, the former foreign minister, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee on how the government responds when people like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are taken hostage by foreign states; at 3.30pm Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, will give evidence.

3pm: Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general, and Andrew Neil, the broadcaster, give evidence to a Lords committee about the future of BBC funding.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com.





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