PM says solution to NI Protocol row ‘easily doable’ as EU says its patience with UK ‘wearing very, very thin’
Discussions between the UK and the EU over post-Brexit rules in Northern Ireland have ended without an agreement being reached.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost said he and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic had broken up their discussions with “no breakthroughs and no breakdowns” with the EU on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Mr Sefcovic described the EU as having reached “a crossroads” with the EU after Wednesday’s talks and said the bloc’s patience is “wearing very, very thin”.
In a statement following the meeting between the pair, the government acknowledged the “urgent need for further discussions in order to make real progress”.
“The UK will continue to put forward detailed proposals, as we have throughout this year, and looks forward to discussing any proposals the EU may put forward,” it said.
The showdown comes as Boris Johnson is battling to avoid a sausage trade war with Brussels which could see chilled meats barred from shops in Northern Ireland from the end of this month.
Ahead of the talks, which took place in London, Lord Frost warned that time was running out for an agreement to be reached and had called for “common sense” to prevail.
Mr Sefcovic has said there have been “numerous and fundamental gaps in the UK’s implementation” of the two sides’ trade deal and that the EU will act “firmly” if the UK does not agree on deadlines for complying with its obligations.
Speaking after the three-and-a-half hour talks on Wednesday, Lord Frost said the “frank and honest discussions” had not resulted in a resolution, but that the two sides had agreed to carry on communicating.
“The problem we’ve got is the protocol is being implemented in a way which is causing disruption in Northern Ireland and we had some pretty frank and honest discussions about that situation today,” he said.
“There weren’t any breakthroughs. There aren’t any breakdowns either and we’re going to carry on talking.
“What we really now need to do is very urgently find some solutions which support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, support the peace process in Northern Ireland and allow things to return to normal.”
Calling for “pragmatic solutions” to be found, Lord Frost maintained that the EU is insisting the protocol is implemented in an “extremely purist way”.
“What the EU is insisting on is we should operate the protocol in an extremely purist way. The reality is that it’s a very balanced document that’s designed to support the peace process and deal with the very sensitive politics in Northern Ireland,” the Brexit minister said.
But Mr Sefcovic said Brussels has engaged “creatively and tirelessly” to find solutions for businesses and those living in Northern Ireland.
“There are still numerous and fundamental gaps in the UKs implementation of our agreement.
“These gaps need to be filled by a mutually agreed compliant path with concrete deadlines and milestones for the UK to fulfil its existing obligations.
“If the UK were to take further unilateral action in the coming weeks the EU will not be shy in acting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure the UK abides by its international obligations,” he told reporters.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was put in place to avoid the introduction of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
It states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory – so if the UK signs a free trade deal with another country, Northern Irish goods would be included.
However, Northern Ireland will have to stick to some EU rules to allow goods to move freely into the Republic.
Under the protocol, a ban will come into force if the UK and EU cannot agree on new regulatory standards to cover the sale of some products after a “grace period” allowed under the agreement.
In March, the UK unilaterally extended the grace period for supermarket goods and parcels for another six months, after it was due to finish at the end of that month.
The EU launched legal action against the UK for extending that grace period.
It is understood British ministers are now considering a unilateral extension for chilled meats, including sausages and mince, which is due to end on 30 June.
After the grace period, chilled meats produced in Great Britain will not be allowed to be sold in Northern Ireland as they are not from the EU, which has strict restrictions on food products.
Mr Sefcovic said retaliation by the EU would be so extreme it would ensure the UK “abides by its international law obligations”.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman has said there is “no case whatsoever” for blocking the sale of chilled meats.
Sir Keir Starmer faces possible probe over claims he put pressure on Speaker over Gaza debate
Sir Keir Starmer is facing a possible parliamentary investigation over allegations he put pressure on the Speaker in a debate on Gaza last week.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle is facing a backlash for allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Parliamentary convention dictates that there would usually only be a government amendment to an opposition motion, but Sir Lindsay said he selected the Labour amendment to allow as broad a debate as possible.
However, critics within the SNP and the Conservatives have claimed he bowed to pressure from the Labour Party to select the amendment with the aim of staving off a potential rebellion among its MPs who could have voted for the SNP motion if denied the opportunity to vote on their own.
Following the outcry, reports circulated that Sir Keir had put pressure on Sir Lindsay, a Labour MP before taking on the Speaker role, to select his party’s amendment in order to stave off a potential rebellion – thus bringing his impartiality into question.
While Sir Keir has “categorically” denied the claims, Sky News has learned that the Commons leader, Penny Mordaunt, believes there could have been a “breach of privilege” and an investigation is one of a number of potential options being considered.
Asked on Monday if he regretted the way things had panned out, the Labour leader said: “My focus is on the awful situation in Gaza. Not the parliamentary process, the awful situation.
“And we all want to see an end to the thousands of people being killed in Gaza. We want to see those hostages out, and we want a pathway to a peaceful settlement.”
Sir Lindsay has also rejected accusations he was put under pressure by Labour and has insisted the safety of MPs was the main reason for his move. He later issued an emotional apology admitting he had made a “mistake”.
On the prospect of a privileges committee probe – first reported by the Times – a Labour spokesperson said it was “desperate stuff from a Tory party trying to distract from their own troubles by repeating lies about Keir Starmer”.
Sir Lindsay is facing a battle to save his job following the debacle, which has led to the SNP – the third largest party in the Commons – losing confidence in him.
A total of 81 SNP and Conservative MPs have now signed a petition of no confidence in Sir Lindsay.
The SNP’s anger was stoked further when the Speaker rejected an application from the SNP for an emergency debate over a ceasefire in Gaza – something Sir Lindsay himself had proposed as an olive branch following the scenes last week.
Sir Lindsay said the government planned to “make a relevant statement” around the situation in Gaza on Tuesday, meaning there would be a “very relevant opportunity for this matter to come before the House”.
But the SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, accused parliament of “failing the people of Gaza by blocking a vote on the urgent actions the UK government must take to help make an immediate ceasefire happen”.
“The Speaker broke the rules last week – and this week he has broken his word,” he said.
“How can MPs have any trust in the Speaker when he makes a public commitment one minute, only to rip it up the next?
“If 30,000 dead Palestinians aren’t worthy of an emergency debate, what is?”
Labour’s role in last week’s saga came back into focus this week following an interview shadow minister Chris Bryant gave on Channel 4 News, in which he admitted to filibustering – a delaying tactic – ahead of the opposition day debate to allow Sir Keir and the Speaker time to talk.
The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman said Starmer’s party had been “caught red-handed following the admission by Chris Bryant”.
“There must now be a full, independent investigation into the appalling behaviour of Keir Starmer and his colleagues, who are no better than the Tories when it comes to manipulating the broken Westminster system,” she said.
MPs set to debate Gaza ceasefire again as SNP take up Speaker’s offer after Commons chaos
MPs are set to hold another debate on a ceasefire in Gaza after the SNP said it would take up the Speaker’s offer following last week’s chaotic scenes in parliament.
It comes after Sir Lindsay Hoyle faced a backlash last week for breaching convention by allowing a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP opposition motion calling for an immediate halt to the fighting.
His move was interpreted by critics as an “overtly political decision” designed to help Sir Keir Starmer fend off a rebellion from his own backbenchers, and there were angry scenes as both SNP and Conservative MPs stormed out of the Commons chamber in protest.
Sir Lindsay denied the claims and insisted the safety of MPs was the main reason for his move.
But he apologised twice and offered to grant an emergency debate on a fresh ceasefire motion in acknowledgement that MPs never got a chance to vote on the SNP’s amendment amid the chaos.
The party’s wording last week called for the release of all hostages held by Hamas, but also accused Israel of the war crime of “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people – which Labour’s amendment did not do.
On Sunday the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn confirmed he would take up the debate offer and table a motion this week that will press the Commons to back “concrete actions” to achieve an end to the fighting via pressure at the United Nations.
He said: “More than 29,000 Palestinian children, women and men have been killed, huge swathes of Gaza have been obliterated, and the population faces a worsening humanitarian crisis.
“The SNP will seek to refocus the discussion away from the Westminster circus and on to what really matters – doing everything we can to actually secure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel.”
Mr Flynn added: “While the appalling spectacle at Westminster has been deeply unedifying, some progress has been made. Public and SNP pressure has forced the next prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer, into a U-turn – now we need to work together to force the UK government to change its position too.”
The SNP said it would publish details of its new motion following discussions with the Speaker on the terms of the debate.
However, it is not clear what the format of the debate will be and if the SNP will be allowed to force a vote.
Sir Lindsay’s offer on Thursday came under the Standing Order 24 rule of the Commons – which grants an emergency debate for MPs to “consider” a topic – which may not be enough to satisfy the party.
More than 70 MPs have signed a no confidence motion in Sir Lindsay following last week’s scenes.
Critics of the Speaker included Mr Flynn, who said last week that his position was “untenable” and said he “no longer retains the confidence of SNP MPs”.
Meanwhile a fresh debate on the issue could renew and heighten divisions within Labour over its stance on the war.
Labour’s amendment last week called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but avoided accusing Israel of war crimes.
Israel has faced growing criticism of its actions in Gaza and there are fears over civilian causalities if it launches a ground offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge.
More than 29,000 Palestinians have died, according to the Hamas-run healthy ministry in the region, since Israel launched its latest military action in Gaza last year.
It came following Hamas’s attack on 7 October, in which around 1,200 people were killed, including more than 800 civilians, according to Israeli officials.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month called on Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza – but stopped short of ordering an end to its offensive.
Tory MPs believe Lee Anderson suspension was a mistake, leaked WhatsApps reveal
Tory MPs have complained that suspending Lee Anderson may have been a mistake, WhatsApp messages leaked to Sky News have revealed.
After one of the most toxic weeks in Westminster, the Sky News and Politico podcast, Politics at Jack and Sam’s, examines the attitude of all sides to the controversies of the last few days.
The future of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, remains in the balance – the podcast explains – while both Labour and Tory MPs have got increasingly trenchant in their views ahead of a by-election in Rochdale this Friday which could see George Galloway elected.
Rishi Sunak suspended Mr Anderson on Saturday after the former Tory deputy chair failed to apologise for telling GB News that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had “given our capital city away to his mates”.
Simon Hart, the Tory chief whip, suspended him the next day.
As part of this, the podcast exclusively obtained WhatsApp messages in which Tory MPs complain that the suspension of the high-profile Tory MP is the “final nail in the coffin” and will harm support.
The WhatsApp forum is called the “109 group” of Tory MPs elected in 2019.
Julie Marson shared a news story showing Nigel Farage calling on “cancelled” Lee Anderson to join the Reform party and “destroy” the Tories.
Her colleague Tom Hunt replied: “This isn’t good at all.”
Jill Mortimer shared messages from constituents saying that they would not vote Tory again and that “Lee Anderson’s suspension is the final nail in the party’s coffin”.
Sarah Dines reinforced this, saying she’s had “loads” of similar messages from “random” constituents, not known supporters.
Sarah Atherton said she’d lodged her concerns about Mr Anderson “due to an instant backlash from members”.
Peter Gibson then says the “inbox [is] very positive for Lee”.
Mr Farage, the founder of Reform, has said that Mr Anderson should defect to the party but Richard Tice, the current leader, pointed out that Mr Farage is not the leader.
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