Early evening summary
- Priti Patel was accused by Labour of overseeing a “shambles” and participating in a “government by gimmick” after the 11th-hour cancellation of the first plane carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda.
- The UK is likely to challenge the European court of human rights ruling that stopped the deportation to Rwanda of people seeking asylum and is already preparing for the next flight, a cabinet minister has said.
- Brussels has urged Westminster to throw out the “illegal” attempt by Boris Johnson to unilaterally rewrite the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, as the EU launched fresh legal action against the UK.
- Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of trying to fool the public with “nonsense” about a booming economy, as an often bad-tempered prime minister’s questions saw the pair square up over stagnant growth and tax rises.
Labour frontbencher forced to disown comment saying party could take Britain back into single market
The Labour party has rejected claims that it would take Britain back into the single market. Today’s Sun reports that Anna McMorrin, a shadow justice minister, told a meeting with Labour activists: “I hope eventually that we will get back into the single market and customs union, and who knows then.”
According to the report, McMorrin said Labour said the party could not have that conversation at the moment, but she said that could change if Labour won the election.
A Labour party spokesperson said that McMorrin had been spoken to by Keir Starmer about her comments and that she was keeping her job after issuing a statement clarifying the party’s position. In it McMorrin said:
Labour policy on Brexit is clear. We have left the EU, Labour voted for the deal. Now it is the job of all of us to make it work.
The spokesperson said: “That is the Labour party position.”
Boris Johnson referred to McMorrin’s remarks when she asked a question at PMQs. (See 12.31pm.)
The Labour amendment to the government motion on the rail strikes (see 3.02pm) was easily defeated, and the government motion was passed by 293 votes to 15.
In the debate John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, said unions were calling strikes because workers felt “real anxiety”. He explained:
It isn’t just about RMT. At every union conference I’ve been to there’s a real anxiety.
The big fear at the moment is that they are facing a potential avalanche of costs coming at them, they have had their wages largely frozen for 12 years, effectively a wage cut, they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, they see a Government now threatening intimidatory legislation to undermine further trade union rights.
It is because we have working class people frightened of their futures - deeply insecure about their futures and faced with a government, to be frank, on this particular issue, won’t even open the door for a meeting - that’s why this atmosphere’s been so foul at the moment.
Sir Mike Penning, a Conservative former transport minister, told MPs in the debate that his constituents felt they were being punished for voting Tory. He said:
What is going on here is that we are being punished. My constituents are being punished by the Labour party that won’t come out against this strike.
I absolutely passionately believe that my constituents, and in the northern seats in particular, are going ... to be punished because the British public dared to vote Tory ... and the union barons hate it and so does the Labour party.
Finance ministers from the three devolved nations have urged the UK government to do more in helping those “most in need” during the cost-of-living crisis, PA Media reports. PA says:
Holyrood’s Kate Forbes, Stormont’s Conor Murphy and Rebecca Evans from the Welsh government and Simon Clark, the UK government’s chief secretary to the Treasury, met in Cardiff today.
The ongoing cost-of-living crisis was at the top of the agenda for the politicians as they attended a finance interministerial standing committee.
The ministers discussed what more could be done to assist people and businesses in coping with the soaring costs of food, fuel and energy as inflation rises.
It comes after a warning from Ofgem that consumers could be facing yet another increase to their energy bills, with costs set to rise by around £800 per year in October.
The three finance ministers joined forces to call on Westminster to use the powers available to do more in the way of support for those struggling.
In a statement afterwards Forbes, Scotland’s finance secretary, said:
As we continue our economic recovery from the pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, we must firmly focus government and public sector resources on delivering clear priorities, including tackling child poverty, growing the economy and meeting our climate change targets.
While we are doing all we can with the finite financial resources and limited powers currently available to us to tackle the rising cost of living, the UK Government needs to use the powers at its disposal to help those most in need, including low-income households and families with children as well as businesses.
Murphy and Evans issued similar statements.
Sir Jonathan Jones, who resigned as head of the government’s legal department over the internal market bill, which as orginally drafted included provisions in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol that broke international law, has written an article for the House magazine saying the new Northern Ireland protocol bill is far more extreme. He also says the legal argument used to justify it is “hopeless”. He explains:
The government justifies this on the basis of the international law doctrine of “necessity” – that “the legislation is currently the only way to provide the means to alleviate the socio-political conditions” in “the challenging, complex and unique circumstances of Northern Ireland”.
Like most legal commentators, I regard this explanation as hopeless.
The concept of “necessity” is an extremely high test. It applies only where a state must act to safeguard its essential interests against “grave and imminent peril”.
How can an agreement willingly entered into only in 2020, at what the prime minister described as a “fantastic moment”, be already proving so disastrous as to represent “grave peril” to the country?
In a post on his Facebook page at 10.29pm last night Jonathan Gullis, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, said the Rwanda deportation flight decision showed why the UK needed to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. He said:
I know many of you across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove & Talke will be frustrated that the first flight of illegal economic migrants to Rwanda has not been able to happen.
This policy was always going to face mass action from lefty lawyers and activists.
It is clear that the ECHR prevented the flight from departing, after efforts in U.K. courts were exhausted. The ECHR has no place in the U.K. judicial system.
The government needs to free itself from it entirely!
But, about an hour later, he amended the post, removing the final sentence saying the UK should withdraw from the ECHR and instead replacing it with: “The ECHR’s role in U.K. law needs looking at urgently!”
As Adam Payne writes at Politics Home, Gullis’s decision to drop his call for withdrawal from the ECHR is linked to the fact that the a commitment to the ECHR is embedded in the Good Friday agreement, which the government is committed to supporting. Gullis is parliamentary private secretary to Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary.
The link between the ECHR and the Good Friday agreement makes it hard to see how the UK could withdraw from the convention, at least in the short to medium term. But if Boris Johnson considered the Good Friday agreement an overwhelming priority, he would probably never have backed Brexit in the first place and, as this week’s events have shown, his respect for international obligations is not absolute.
Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, has said it would be a mistake for the Conservative party to abandon its commitment to the European convention on human rights.
The UK government has said it is “disappointing” that the EU has chosen to revive its legal action over the Northern Ireland protocol. Darren McCaffrey from GB News has the full quote.
Harman under pressure to withdraw from privileges committee inquiry into claims PM lied to MPs over anti-Johnson tweets
The Labour MP Harriet Harman is under pressure to withdraw as chair of the Commons privileges committee, which is about to launch its inquiry into claims Boris Johnson lied to parliament about Partygate, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports.
Harman, the former Labour deputy leader who chairs the joint committee on human rights, was appointed to the committee to replace Chris Bryant, the former chair who stood down because he was on record as saying Johnson did lie, which meant he felt he was not in a position to head the inquiry impartially.
In his story Hope says Harman is now being urged by Tory MPs to quit because of tweets she posted in April. In one she said that, if Johnson accepted a fine, he would be admitting having misled the Commons. In another she commented approvingly on a tweet by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press secretary, saying Johnson lied. And in a third she commented on a tweet saying polling showed 75% of people thought Johnson lied; Harman wondered why, in that case, only 57% said he should quit.
Harman did not respond to the Telegraph’s request for a comment.
I’ve amended the post at 11.44am because originally it said that the EU description of its plan to change the way the Northern Ireland protocol operates as effectively creating an “express lane” sounded like an attempt to match the “green lane” concept in the UK’s Northern Ireland protocol bill. In fact, the EU was using the “express lane” label when it floated these plans last year.
The Liberal Democrats plan to flood Tiverton and Honiton with activists after internal polling suggested the party was only marginally trailing the Conservatives before next week’s byelection in the Devon constituency, my colleague Peter Walker reports.
In her World at One interview Suella Braverman, the attorney general, defended the lawyers representing asylum seekers fighting deportation to Rwanda. She said:
I’m always going to support lawyers who take on difficult cases and it is of crucial importance that they are free to do so. That is the cab rank rule ... that is the golden thread running through the profession.
When it was put to her that her words were at odds with what Boris Johnson told cabinet yesterday, when he implied that the lawyers opposing the deportations were “abetting the work of criminal gangs”, she said that she wasn’t sure Johnson used that phrase and she suggested he was being misquoted. (Johnson did use that phrase, and he wasn’t being misquoted.)
Braverman also refused to comment on claims that, in an unsual move, Sir James Eadie, who as first Treasury counsel is the government’s most senior legal adviser, was not asked to advise on whether the Northern Ireland protocol bill was lawful. She said there was a convention that meant she could not discuss legal advice to the government.
MPs debate government motion condemning rail unions for calling strikes next week
In the Commons MPs are now debating a government motion condemning the decision by rail unions to go on strike next week. The debate was scheduled at short notice (it was only announced yesterday) and it will have no practical impact (unlike the second reading debate for the genetic technology [precision breeding] bill, which is coming later, but which will get less time because of the rail debate). But it will allow the Tory MPs to spend half the afternoon claiming that Labour is backing the strikes.
In his opening speech, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said Labour should be condemning the strike. He said:
It is inexplicable how the party who style themselves as the workers’ party don’t seem to care about the fact that these people, that anyone that is trying to get anywhere, will lose pay.
But at PMQs Boris Johnson’s attempts to saddle Labour with the blame for the rail strike did not seem very successful (see 12.16pm) and it is not obvious that this debate will do the job any more effectively. Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, opened the debate for Labour. She said Labour did not want the strike to go ahead, and that ministers should be intervening in talks to find a solution.
Here is the government motion.
That this house recognises the vital role of the railways in supporting people and businesses across the UK every day; condemns the decision of the rail unions to hold three days of strikes; believes those strikes will adversely affect students taking examinations, have an unacceptable effect on working people and a negative effect on the economy; and calls on the rail unions to reconsider their strike action and continue discussions with the industry.
And here is Labour’s amendment.
Leave out from ‘house’ to end and add ‘does not want the national rail strikes to go ahead; and therefore urgently calls upon the government, operators, network rail and the union to get around the table and resolve the issues on pay and cuts to safety staff to avert industrial action’.
At Labour’s post-PMQs briefing, Keir Starmer’s spokesperson refused to commit Labour to abandoning the policy of deporting some asylum seekers to Rwanda. This is from my colleague Jessica Elgot.
Labour is determined to avoid saying anything that would make it easier for the Tories to accuse the party of being soft on immigration. But, as Robert Hutton from the Critic points out, in this case Yvette Cooper’s criticism of the policy has been so overwhelming (see 12.58pm) that it is very hard to imagine circumstances in which Labour would maintain the policy.
Government 'definitely open to assessing' options for future relationship with ECHR, says Braverman
In an interview on the World at One, Suella Braverman, the attorney general, said the government was “definitely open to assessing” what its options were in relation to the European convention on human rights. Asked if withdrawal was an option, she replied:
Well the government has been clear in the media aftermath of the ruling issued by the [European court of human rights] that all options are on the table. So we’re not ruling anything in and we’re not ruling anything out.
I think what is clear is it’s a very frustrating situation that we find ourselves in ... Many people will have assumed that we took control back of our borders when we left the European Union.
It is a decision that has caused a setback. That’s clear to see. We are considering our response in relation to that decision but more broadly we are definitely open to assessing all options available as to what our relationship should be going forward with the [ECHR].
(Of course, as Braverman knows, the convention and the European court of human rights are not related to EU membership.)
Patel hints at her support for Tory MPs saying UK should leave ECHR
In the Commons at least three Conservative MPs asked Priti Patel about the prospect of the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. She did not explicitly back the proposal, but she did not discourage them either. Overall, she gave the impression she was keen to see them push for a debate on this.
Andrew Murrison said the ECHR was created in the 1950s, with British support, for very good reasons. He went on:
But does [Patel] agree with me that last night’s decision undermined the original purpose of the convention and that the court stands a very real risk of losing the confidence of the British people as it seeks to undermine our domestic legal structures?
Patel replied: “[Murrison] makes a very, very strong, important point.”
Sir Desmond Swayne went next. He told Patel:
Notwithstanding the niceties of this particular judgment, we are going to have to grasp the nettle and extend the principle of taking back control to the convention, aren’t we?
Patel replied: “[Swayne] will know wholeheartedly my own views on taking back control.”
And later Daniel Kawczynski was even more explicit. He praised Patel for the “courage” she showed in implementing this policy. And he went on:
I know that [Patel] is awaiting the final adjudication from the European court. But when that is through, will she show the same courage in making sure that she starts a debate in cabinet on leaving the European convention on human rights ... Maritime law is predicated on English law, many financial centres around the world using English law, many international disputes come to Britain to use British law. The fact that our supreme court decision is thwarted in this way means that it is time now to consider leaving the European convention on human rights.
Patel said Kawczynski had made “an important point about the standing of the UK’s legal system in the world”. It was “one of the best in the world”, she says. She went on:
It would be wrong of me to comment even further, particularly in the context of this debate and the fact that I am in the process of going back to the European court of human rights.
In the Commons Barbara Keeley (Lab) says Patel did not reply to Yvette Cooper’s question about whether it was correct that it was the Home Office itself that decided to remove most of the asylum seekers from the flight scheduled to leave for Rwanda last night.
Patel says that, when lawyers made representations on behalf of asylum seekers, their names had to be taken off the list so that their cases could be looked at.
No 10 revives prospect of UK leaving European convention on human rights, saying 'all options on table'
Downing Street has refused to rule out the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights to allow it to implement the Rwanda deportation policy more easily. At the post-PMQs briefing, asked if the UK could withdraw from the ECHR, the PM’s spokesperson said:
We are keeping all options on the table including any further legal reforms that may be necessary. We will look at all of the legislation and processes in this round.
This is more or less word for word what Boris Johnson said about this in a TV interview yesterday. But the significance of No 10 saying this now, when it has had almost 24 hours to prepare a line, is that it shows Downing Street is serious about floating this as an option. If Johnson thought he went too far yesterday, and wanted to downplay the prospects of the UK leaving the ECHR, the spokesperson could easily have given a briefing stressing this was most unlikely.
(And, realistically, ECHR withdrawal is unlikely. The Good Friday agreement, which Johnson professes to support, is based on the UK remaining committed to the convention, and the UK eventually agreed to include ECHR commitments in its Brexit deal with the EU.)
The No 10 line also suggests that Guy Opperman and Thérèse Coffey, the two ministers who played down the prospect of the UK leaving the convention in interviews this morning (see 9.39am), were freelancing, not delivering a No 10 message.
Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover, says many of her constituents have been in touch with her to say they are concerned that the Rwanda flight was not able to go ahead.
Patel praises the people of Dover, saying they are on the front line in this issue.
Stuart C McDonald, the SNP spokesperson, says the government should not have tried to deport asylum seekers before the courts had decided if the policy was lawful.
She challenges Patel to say whether she agrees with what Boris Johnson once said about the European convention on human rights being a good thing.
Patel says the European court did not say the policy was unlawful.
She says the first ruling encouraged solictors to go back to the court to get more injunctions for other asylum seekers.
Patel says she is concerned about 'opaque nature' of European court of human rights decision-making in Rwanda case
Sir Mike Penning (Con) says parliament is supreme. So how can it be right that the European court of human rights overruled the domestic courts?
Patel says the courts have not challenged the legality of the policy.
She says the “opaque nature” in which the appeal to the European court was conducted is “concerning”.
Patel is responding to Cooper.
She says Cooper was wrong to say no other country is doing anything like this. Denmark is looking at this policy, she says.
And she says Labour is happy to claim Rwanda is a suitable country of a summit. But it won’t accept that asylum seekers can be send there.
And she claims that Cooper was in the last Labour government, she did not complain about the government introducing powers to allow the removal of asylum seekers whose claims fail.
She also says Labour cannot logically accuse the policy of being unworkable and extortionately expensive.
Cooper says Patel's Rwanda deportation policy has been 'shambles'
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, says the policy has been a “shambles”.
She asks Patel to confirm that the Home Office decided to withdraw most of the cases at the last minute. That is why by yesterday only seven people were meant to be on the plane.
She says Rwanda does not have the capacity to process large numbers of asylum seekers.
She asks Patel to say how much the UK has agreed to pay Rwanda for taking asylum seekers.
She says Rwanda has not address concerns with its asylum policies. In the past asylum seekers have been shot for protesting about food shortages. And asylum seekers have been returned to countries like Syria and Afghanistan, she says.
She says Patel should be working night and day to get a better plan with France to stop people crossing the Channel in the first place. But Patel can’t, because her relationship with her French counterpart has broken down.
The Home Office is failing to take asylum application decisions. That is why it is asking Rwanda to do it for them.
Patel spent £500,00 chartering a plane she never expected to plane.
That is because Patel is not interested in the policy working. She is only interested in picking fights, she says. Patel is trashing the British values of decency and fairness, she says.
Patel says Labour does not have a solution to the problem of people crossing the Channel on small boats.
And she says it does not have a solution because it does not believe in the need to control borders.
Priti Patel's Commons statement on deportations to Rwanda
Priti Patel, the home secretary, is making a Commons statement now about the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.
She says the government is disappointed by the European court of human rights’ intervention last night.
But she stresses that the court did not rule that the policy was illegal.
The domestic courts approved the removals, she says.
Britain is a generous and welcoming country, she says. But she says the country’s ability to help asylum seekers has been undermined by people arriving in the country illegally.
She says the UK and Rwanda have shown a way forward to dealing with the problem of immigration.
And she says she is saddened by how Rwanda has been “misrepresented” in coverage of this scheme.
Johnson receives mild rebuke from deputy Speaker for saying Labour on side of people traffickers
Yasmin Qureshi (Lab) raises a point of order. She says Boris Johnson claimed that Labour was on the side of people traffickers. She says that should be struck from the record.
Dame Rosie Winterton, the deputy Speaker, says the view of the Speaker is that that comment was not consistent with the good order expected of people in debate.
Frankly, the level of noise during PMQs meant it was not possible for the chair to hear everything, but I understand that the prime minister, as she says, did say that the opposition was on the side of people traffickers.
That seems to me, and I have to say to the Speaker, to fall well short of the good temper and moderation which should characterise our debates.
And I say to the prime minister, and to all members here, we need to refer to each other in this place in more respectful terms.
Theresa May, the former Conservative PM, says she has a constituent who is a niece of Dom Phillips, the Guardian journalist who went missing in the Amazon. Will the government make this a diplomatic priority?
Johnson says the government is deeply concerned about what happened to him. FCDO officials are working with the Brazilians on this. And he says the government has offered to provide all the support that may be needed.
Sarah Champion (Lab) says sexual assult victims are being advised that if they seek counselling that might undermine their credility as a witness. Will the PM ensure this does not happen?
Johnson does not address the problem directly, but he says the government is trying to ensure sexual assualt victims get better treatment. But some of the legal issues are complicated, he says.
David Jones (Con) says the genetic technology (precision breeding) bill, being debated today, only applies to England. Will the PM ensure other countries in the UK can benefit?
Johnson says “in a loving way” the government wants to ensure other countries can benefit too.
Kerry McCarthy (Lab) asks the PM to support more suicide prevention programmes.
Johnson says the government wants to focus ever more on mental health. It would be good if Labour supported the government’s health spending, he says.
Anna McMorrin (Lab) quotes the new cost of living tsar asking (in a tweet posted before his appointment) why the worst people rise to become PM.
Johnson says McMorrin wants to return to the single market and the EU.
He is referring to this story.
Johnson says he would encourage pensioners to check their eligibility for pension credit.
Liz Twist (Lab) says ministers have not held any talks to attempt to avoid the need for next week’s rail strike. Has the PM had a meeting?
Johnson says one union leader, asked about this, said: “I don’t negotiate with a Tory government.” He says Labour should condemn the strike.
Neale Hanvey (Alba) asks if the PM will schedule a meeting to discuss the case of Jim Fitton, the Briton jailed in Iraq for collecting fragments of pottery.
Johnson says he is glad Hanvey raised this, and he says he will arrange a meeting with a minister.
Henry Smith (Con) says, as planning laws are updated, the “brownfield first” approach will continue.
Johnson agrees, and says that principle will still apply.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says people in rural communities, like Devon (where his party hopes to win the Tiverton and Honiton byelection next week), are hurting because rural fuel duty relief is not available.
Johnson says all households are getting help with the cost of energy under his government’s plans.
People do not know what Lib Dem policies are. The Lib Dems are in favour of green taxes, and returning to the common agricultural policy, he says.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says Nicola Sturgeon yesterday launched a national conversation on Scotland’s right to choose its own future. Its neighbours are outperforming it, he says. Scotland is being held back by Westminster.
Johnson says the UK performs better when it is together.
Blackford says the fall in the value of the pound suggests the UK is not doing well. Scotland cannot afford to remain trapped in the failing Westminster system:
Stop the world - Scotland wants to get on.
Johnson says there are a record number of people in payroll employment. What could be more foolish than a project that would impose trade barriers between England and Scotland?
Andrew Selous (Con) asks about a constituent who now has terminal bowel cancer because a diagnosis was missed. So will the government ensure areas get enough GP capacity?
Johnson says they must ensure this happens. The NHS has a duty to take account of population growth, and provide services for new developments.
Starmer says he does not want the strikes to go ahead. Johnson does, so that he can “feed on the division”. He starts quoting from what Tory MPs said about Johnson. Reading out the quotes, he invites Tory MPs to say who it was. His favourite was a document describing him as “the Conservative Corbyn”. That was not intended as a compliment, he says.
People know the truth, he says. The economy is growing more slowly than in any competitor country. The PM sounds “totally deluded”. He is failing to tackle inflation, and failing to help people. And his big idea: going back to imperial measurements. Under him, the economy is going backwards.
Johnson says Starmer tried to get Corbyn elected as PM. And Corbyn is “relatively dynamic compared to [Starmer]”. He says he will continue to take the tough decisions to help the British people. Labour is on the side of the union barons, he says. And Labour is also on the side of the people-traffickers. They carp from the sidelines. And no matter how much welly Angela Rayner asks him to apply, that welly is always on the left foot.
Starmer says Johnson thinks he is on Love Island. Johnson was warned about inflation last autumn. But he ignored the warnings; he did not act. When will he accept that he got it badly wrong when he claimed worries about inflation were unfounded?
Johnson says he is helping people with the cost of living. They can do that because they have the “fiscal firepower”, because the economy is in good shape. He challenges Starmer to say he opposes the rail strikes. Let Starmer disagree with the union barons.
Starmer says Johnson is not just denying the problem. He is making it worse with his tax rises. When did screwing business turn from a flippant comment to economic policy?
Johnson says it is tech week. The superdeduction helps. Under Labour taxes go up, he says. He says on average people are getting a tax cut worth £330. Labour has made promises worth £94bn. That is why Labour governments leave office with unemployment higher then when they came in.
Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of being an 'ostrich prime minister' with his head in the sand over the economy
Starmer says Johnson is in government, he is not. He says he does not want the strikes to go ahead. But Johnson does – so he can blame Labour.
Starmer says Johnson thinks he can perform Jedi mind tricks on the public. But he can’t. The economy has shrunk for the second month in a row. How does it help to have an ostrich PM, with his head in the sand?
Johnson says Starmer is running the country down. Employment is at a record high, he says. He says investment levels are higher than in France or Germany. Starmer should be talking the country up, he says.
Starmer says Johnson has not answered the question. Why is the UK on course for lower growth?
Quoting a Latin legal term, Johnson says he has already answered that. What would help would be for Starmer to denounce the rail strikes, he says.
Keir Starmer starts by paying tribute to those who served in the Falklands war. His uncle was among them, he says. He was on HMS Antelope when it went down. Luckily he survived.
He says the UK is on course for the lowest growth of any major economy apart from Russia. Why?
Johnson says it is because the UK came out for the pandemic early. That would not have happened under Labour, he says.
Mike Wood (Con) says government support for households is appreciated. But energy costs are causing problems for energy-intensive production. Will the PM consider how the Black Country can be a pilot for means of decarbonising?
Boris Johnson says Wood is a great champion for the Black Country. It has already had investment for a cluster plan to develop decarbonisation.
PMQs is about to start.
Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.
Ipsos Mori has new polling about Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, Keiran Pedley from the company reports.
Priti Patel will now be making a Commons statement about the Rwanda deportation scheme, Commons officials have announced.
This is from Anton Spisak, the Brexit expert at the Tony Blair Institute thinktank, on today’s announcement from the European Commission.
EU says UK's plan for Northern Ireland protocol would create 'mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy'
Here are the main points from the European Commission’s formal response today to the UK government’s publication of its Northern Ireland protocol bill. The quotes are from the opening statement by Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president in charge of Brexit negotiations with the UK, and the commission’s Q&A briefing note.
- Šefčovič said the UK’s bill was illegal. He said:
Let there be no doubt: there is no legal, nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement. Opening the door to unilaterally changing an international agreement is a breach of international law as well.
Let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal.
- He said the EU was reviving an ongoing legal action against the UK in response, as well as adding two new legal cases. He explained:
We have been withholding this legal action over the last year because we wanted to create a constructive atmosphere to find solutions. The UK government’s decision has left us with no choice but to act.
First, we are proceeding a step further with the infringement process we launched in March 2021 regarding, for instance, the movement of agri-food. If the UK does not reply within two months, we may take them to the Court of Justice.
Second, we are launching two new infringements against the UK: one for failing to carry out the necessary controls at border control posts in Northern Ireland, by ensuring adequate staffing and infrastructure; and one for failing to provide the EU with essential trade statistics data to enable the EU to protect its single market.
- The EU is also making a fresh attempt to persuade the UK of the merits of its own plans to reform the way the protocol operates. It has published two new position papers, covering customs, and sanitary and phytosanitary controls. The plans do not seem to substantially alter what the EU was already proposing, but they do seem to change the way they are being presented. The EU is saying that, taking together, its plans would create an “express lane” for goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland. The commission says:
When taken together, the facilitations for both SPS and customs rules will create an “Express Lane” for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, while at the same providing for a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism in order to protect the integrity of the single market.
This sounds like an attempt to replicated the “green lane” plan in the UK’s Northern Ireland protocol bill, although in fact the commission floated the “express lane” concept in a policy paper last year.
- Šefčovič said the UK’s plans for Northern Ireland (a “green lane” and a “red lane” for goods coming from Britain, with exporters free to choose between UK regulation and EU regulation) would produce “a mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy”. He said:
Our proposals are all about simplification and therefore in stark contrast with for instance, a dual regulatory regime proposed by the UK. A dual set of rules – EU and UK – would lead to a mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy, enough to burry a small business in Northern Ireland that wants to profit from access to both, the UK’s internal and EU’s Single Market at once.
- Šefčovič hinted that the EU could be open to further compromise. He said:
The UK has stated that for us to talk, the EU must be willing to change the Protocol. On the contrary, we have always said that our package of proposals has never been a take-it-or-leave-it offer. It can evolve.
- But he also ruled out renegotiating the protocol itself. He said it had taken years to negotiate it, and that it was the best solution available.
- The EU confirmed that, as a last resort, it might retaliate by starting a trade war with the UK. Šefčovič was reluctant to talk about possible sanctions against the UK in his press conference, and he stressed the EU’s desire for a negotiated agreement. But, in its Q&A, the commission said:
If the UK government does not reply to the reasoned opinion within two months, the commission will consider taking the UK to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Under article 12(4) of the protocol, the Court of Justice has full powers provided for under the treaties, including the possibility to impose a lump sum or penalty payment.
Other remedies are possible, including in relation to the trade and cooperation agreement.
And this is what it said might happen if the Northern Ireland protocol bill becomes law.
The commission reserves the right to act at any time to protect the EU single market and to uphold respect for its agreements and international law.
A unilateral solution violating an agreement will never be tolerated by the EU.
According to Sky’s Beth Rigby, Priti Patel, the home secretary, will not be making a Commons statement about the Rwanda deportation policy. Patel had been expected to deliver one.
Šefčovič says the EU does not see this as an issue where there will be a political victory for one side.
But he says the EU needs the UK to work with it.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
I will post a summary soon.
The European Commission has published a Q&A on what it is announcing today.
And it has also published two new papers on proposed changes to the way the protocol operates.
Q: How far would the EU go in its response to the UK?
Šefčovič says the EU is making the case that there are better ways to solve these issues than by a legal dispute.
He says the EU is clear about its proposals. There are lots of opportunities for dealing with this issue.
He says the EU expects the debate on the bill in parliament to take some time.
But if the bill becomes law, the EU is not ruling out anything.
Šefčovič says he has not heard any constructive proposals from the UK since March last year.
'Let's call a spade a spade - this is illegal' - Šefčovič condemns NI protocol bill
This is what Šefčovič said about the UK bill in his opening statement.
Let there be no doubt: there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement.
Opening the door to unilaterally changing an international agreement is a breach of international law as well.
So let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal ...
[The Northern Ireland bill] has created deep uncertainty and casts a shadow over our overall co-operation, all at a time when respect for international agreements has never been more important.
That is why the commission has today decided to take legal action against the UK for not complying with significant parts of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
Q: If this stalemate continues, who far would you go? Would you hit the UK with tariffs or the suspension of the trade treaty? And why won’t you reopen the treaty?
Šefčovič starts with the second question. He says they spent four years negotiating the treaty. They have been “pondering over these issues for years”. This was the best solution, he says. It was agreed after “laborious negotiations”. They signed it, and it was ratified.
He says they cannot thing of anything better that would meet the three priorities: peace; no hard border on the island of Ireland, and Northern Ireland having access to the single market.
He says the EU is talking about very limited checks.
He says the EU is willing to put “additional effort” and “additional imagination” into the talks. But it won’t reopen the treaty that was ratified.
Šefčovič says the fact that the EU is resuming legal action is indicative of the level of trust between London and Brussels.
But he says the EU wants its response to be “measured” and “proportionate”.
But the EU is also showing what it can do to change the way the protocol works.
Šefčovič says these plans are based on what businesses said they wanted when he met them in Northern Ireland.
He is offering a “joint solution” that would offer clarity, he says.
Potential investors in Northern Ireland want to know if they are producing for 5m (Ireland), 50m (the UK) or 500m (the EU), he says.
He says journalists should asks milk producers in Northern Ireland how they would produce one sort of milk for the EU and another for the UK.
“Let’s focus on practicalities,” he says.
Šefčovič stresses EU willing to change its plans to amend how protocol works, saying it's not 'take it or leave it offer'
Šefčovič says the EU has already offered to change the way the protocol operates.
He says the UK should resume talks with the EU on changes to the protocol. Talks have not taken place since February, he says.
He says the EU’s proposals are not a “take it or leave it offer”. He goes on: “It can evolve.”
EU says it is reviving legal action against UK for not complying with Northern Ireland protocol, with new complaints added
Maroš Šefčovič is speaking now.
He confirms the EU has decided to take legal action against the UK.
It will reviving the infringement process it first launched in 2021. If the UK does not reply within two months, the EU may take it to the European court of justice.
And the EU is initiating two more infringement processes - accusing the UK of failing to comply with provisions in the protocol relating to controls at border posts and the sharing of data.
EU plans ‘carrot and stick’ approach to UK’s Northern Ireland move
And here is my colleague Daniel Boffey’s preview story about the Maroš Šefčovič announcement.
He says the EU will take a “carrot and stick” approach to Boris Johnson’s plan to unilaterally rewrite the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, by taking legal action against the UK while offering fresh grounds for negotiation.
UK likely to challenge European court ruling that halted Rwanda deportations
The UK is likely to challenge the European court of human rights’ ruling to stop the deportation of people seeking asylum to Rwanda and is already preparing for the next flight, Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, has said. My colleague Rowena Mason has the story here.
Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president in charge of Brexit negotiations with the UK, is about to hold a press conference to announce the EU’s response to the publication of the Northern Ireland protocol bill.
There should be a live feed here.
Ministers play down suggestions government considering withdrawal from European convention on human rights
Yesterday Boris Johnson suggested that, if the courts continue to block the Rwanda deportation policy, the government could withdraw from the European convention on human rights to ensure that it can use deportation as a means of dealing with asylum seekers. When asked if withdrawal from the ECHR was an option, he replied:
Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along? It may very well be. And all these options are under constant review.
It was hard to tell whether Johnson was a) making it up as he went along; b) floating an idea that is no more than an option, to cause a stir and see what reaction it provoked; or c) pitch rolling for a policy that he is minded to adopt in the future. (Perhaps 70% b) and 30% c), but we don’t know.)
This morning two ministers have sought to quash the proposal.
Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, told Times Radio:
I don’t believe [withdrawal from the EHCR] is our policy, nor would it be something I will be advocating for, withdrawing from the ECHR. I think the situation is that, as I understand it, the UK courts have primacy on this matter, but as I understand the decision last night from the ECHR, a decision was made that not everything had been considered by the UK courts in those circumstances.
And Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, told Sky News:
I think that we have never put [withdrawal from the EHCR], as far as I am aware, in our manifesto, certainly the 2019 manifesto ...
I am not aware of any decisions or hints even about that. The most important thing is that we tackle this issue right now. We will go back to the ECHR to challenge this initial ruling.
She used similar language on the Today programme.
Opperman and Coffey both voted remain. Although the European court of human rights, which adjudicates on the convention, does not have anything to do with the EU, the Tory MPs most opposed to it are generally Brexiters.
It was not clear from the interviews whether Opperman or Coffey were freelancing, or whether they were reflecting a desire by No 10 to row back from what the PM suggested yesterday. We may get a better sense from what he says at PMQs.
Priti Patel says preparation for next flight to Rwanda for asylum seekers ‘begins now’
Good morning. Late last night the government abandoned its plan to send its first flight to Rwanda carrying seven asylum seekers after last-minute intervention from the European court of human rights meant the seven people still scheduled to be on the plane got a legal reprieve. Originally the government planned to have many more asylum seekers on the flight, but by yesterday their removal orders had already been stayed.
Here is our overnight story.
And here is the ECHR intervention.
Today we will get reaction in the House of Commons – Priti Patel, the home secretary, is expected to make a Commons statement – and it is likely that we will hear a lot of anger about the obstruction of government policy by the courts, particularly a foreign one. But will Boris Johnson really be that unhappy about what happened? Bernard Donoughue tells a story about how, when he was working for Harold Wilson in the 1970s, Wilson used to complain frequently about a policy matter relating to what was then the EEC. Donoughue, thinking he was being helpful, went off and worked out a solution. He recalls:
I took our brief to the study. Wilson read it, looked at me compassionately, handed the brief back, and said sadly: ‘Bernard, don’t you understand, I don’t want the solution, I want the Grievance’.
There is a strong suspicion that Johnson just wants the Grievance too. While a solution to the problem of small boats crossing the Channel might be desirable, you can also see why he might want to go into the election claiming that a policy with quite a lot of public support was thwarted by the liberal establishment, lawyers, the Labour party and a foreign court.
Last night Patel put out a defiant statement saying that preparation for the next flight to Rwanda was starting now. She said:
Earlier this year, I signed a world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda to see those arriving dangerously, illegally, or unnecessarily into the UK relocated to build their lives there. This will help break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for the genuinely vulnerable.
Access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers. The demands on the current system, the cost to the taxpayer, and the flagrant abuses are increasing, and the British public have rightly had enough.
I have always said this policy will not be easy to deliver and am disappointed that legal challenge and last-minute claims have meant today’s flight was unable to depart.
It is very surprising that the European court of human rights has intervened despite repeated earlier success in our domestic courts. These repeated legal barriers are similar to those we experience with other removals flights and many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next.
We will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans to control our nation’s borders. Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.
Expect more of this in the Commons later.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president in charge of Brexit negotiations with the UK, holds a press conference to announce the EU’s response to the publication of the Northern Ireland pro
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
12.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, is expected to make a Commons statement about the Rwanda deportations policy.
After 1.30pm: MPs debate a government motion condemning the rail unions for proposing to take strike action next week.
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