Boris Johnson news: ‘Big gap’ in NI Protocol talks as Shapps cannot rule out Christmas shortages

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Lord Frost has distanced himself from reports of an imminent agreement with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, telling reporters in Brussels “there is still quite a big gap” between the bloc and the UK.

Speaking as he arrived at the European Commission for talks with vice president Maros Sefcovic, the Brexit minister commended the EU for making “an effort in pushing beyond where they typically go in these areas” – adding the UK government was “quite encouraged”.

However, he told reporters, the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in policing the Protocol remains an issue.

It comes as post-Brexit supply chain issues continue to wreak havoc across Britain, with Grant Shapps admitting earlier he cannot say with absolute certainty “that every line of every product will be available” in the run up to Christmas – despite temporary changes to allow EU lorry drivers on British roads unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs.

Pressed on comments he made just hours before about the holiday being safe, the transport secretary conceded to ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Goods and food will be available, maybe a few lines that you normally want to get aren’t, but I think it’s at that level, rather than ... thinking Christmas will be cancelled”.

Read More

Order your Christmas presents in November, Amazon to warn shoppers amid supply-chain crunch

Shapps eases rules for EU lorry drivers to tackle post-Brexit supply crisis

Rishi Sunak ‘confident’ enough Christmas gifts will be on shelves despite supply chain crisis

Key points

  • David Amess: Tory MP ‘stabbed multiple times’ at constituency surgery

  • ‘Big gap’ remains in Northern Ireland Protocol talks, warns Frost

  • Shapps eases rules for EU lorry drivers to tackle supply crisis...

  • ...but admits he ‘can’t guarantee every product will be in stock’ at Christmas

  • Government ‘crossing fingers for mild winter’ to alleviate energy crisis

  • Queen’s remarks on Cop26 ‘should have stayed private,’ says Shapps

08:06 , Sam Hancock

Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling UK politics coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates on the same day transport secretary Grant Shapps claims Christmas will not be tinged by supply chain concerns.

Shapps eases rules for EU lorry drivers to tackle supply crisis

08:11 , Sam Hancock

EU lorry drivers on British roads will be allowed to make unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs as rules are temporarily relaxed by ministers in a bid to ease the supply crisis.

Grant Shapps has altered limits on trading rights in order to allow more deliveries, reports Joe Middleton.

The transport secretary said he hopes the waiver will help fix fuel and food shortages as complaints grow over empty shelves, though he denied the issues would impact Christmas.

Shapps eases rules for EU lorry drivers to tackle post-Brexit HGV crisis

UK handling HGV shortages ‘resiliently,’ claims Shapps

08:20 , Sam Hancock

Grant Shapps is, unsurprisingly, doing the media rounds this morning. The transport secretary first appeared on Sky News to say issues with supply chains are a problem internationally but they are being dealt with “resiliently” in the UK.

He also warned “we shouldn’t report ourselves into a crisis”, in an apparent nod to the narrative in which news outlets are blamed for shortages that already exist.

“We know that the globe has woken up after coronavirus with huge supply chain issues everywhere around the entire world,” Grant Shapps told the broadcaster. “In this country we have taken 24, now 25, different steps on the domestic side of that - the lorry drivers side of things - and we’re seeing it have a big impact.”

He also claimed Britain now had “three times as many people applying to become lorry drivers every single day than before the crisis”.

Transport secretary says Christmas will not be ruined by shortages

08:22 , Sam Hancock

Next up, Grant Shapps said Christmas is not at risk from consumer shortages and there will be food and gifts come 25 December.

Speaking on Times Radio, Grant Shapps said: “Unfortunately, unlike last year where there was a genuine question about whether we’ll be able to see friends and family and it was very restricted, that’s not the case.

“Christmas will go ahead, we’ll be able to see our friends and families. There will be food, there will be gifts.”

He blamed the “squeeze” on the “entire world’s supply chain” on post-Covid activity as well as the UK’s “expanding economy”.

“But we’re taking a whole range of measures,” Mr Shapps said, “including one that I’m announcing today about the way lorry drivers from abroad pick up and drop things off ... that will mean they can, in an unlimited way by Christmas, pick up and drop off goods within this country within a 14-day period.”

Port boss questions government’s confidence on supply issues

08:34 , Sam Hancock

The head of a port group has said that despite the government saying the supply chain crisis is getting better, we should not “fool ourselves”.

Tim Morris, head of the Major Ports Group, told Sky News: “This week has seen improvements in what we call stack levels, so the amount of containers, for example, sat on the ground. But let’s not fool ourselves, it has been an extraordinarily busy 12 months now.

“And what we’ve seen over the last week, fortnight, have been some of the UK supply chain congestion issues sort of matching up and catching ports ... between surging global demand and shipping and very congested inland here in the UK.”

Despite this warning, though, Mr Morris said while there will be “one or two bumps in the road” he is “confident” in supply chains ahead of Christmas.

Pig industry ‘positive’ after govt issues 800 visas to butchers

08:38 , Sam Hancock

A leading pig vet has said there is a “general positive feeling” in the industry after the government decided to issue up to 800 foreign butchers with temporary visas over fears that as many as 150,000 British pigs could be culled due to a backlog in abbatoirs.

Duncan Berkshire told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” after Boris Johnson “and the government have indeed now listened, that they’ve engaged properly this week, which has been a relief, and there is an element of a light at the end of that tunnel”.

Speaking about the incoming butchers, he added: “We need that to be swift, we need them to be over here as soon as possible and we need them to be on the butchery lines as soon as possible.”

Government to let 800 more foreign butchers into UK

08:40 , Sam Hancock

Following my last post, here’s some more detail on the decision to let up to 800 foreign butchers work in the UK temporarily.

The government announced that pork butchers from overseas can apply up until 31 December for the visas that would allow them to work in the UK for six months.

The move is temporary, and the scheme is in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible since December 2020 to apply to come to the UK through the existing skilled worker route, reports Adam Forrest.

Under the plans, there will also be funding for additional meat storage, moves to introduce processing of animals on Saturdays, and the potential for longer working hours.

Government to let 800 more foreign butchers in to stop pig cull

RHA slams ‘pathetic’ decision to allow non-UK drivers ‘unlimited’ work

08:45 , Sam Hancock

It seems not everyone in the industry is happy about the government easing cabotage rules for foreign lorry drivers.

Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs of the Road Haulage Association, said changing the visa processes for overseas hauliers amounted to “taking work from British operators and drivers”.

“I spoke to some of our members last night and they were appalled - ‘ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked’ were some of their more broadcastable comments,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He continued:

“The government has been talking about a high-wage, high-skill economy and not pulling the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’, and to them this is exactly what it looks like.

“Allowing overseas companies and drivers to come over for perhaps up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers.

“So this is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers.”

Mr McKenzie then told the BBC “cabotage is sabotage” before logging off.

Queen’s remarks on Cop26 ‘should have stayed private,’ says Shapps

08:48 , Sam Hancock

Some news on the Queen now. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said this morning comments made by the monarch, suggesting she is irritated by a lack of action in tackling the climate crisis, should have “stayed in private”.

Asked about the remarks, which including the 95-year-old royal saying she found it “irritating” when world leaders “talk but don’t do”, Mr Shapps told Sky News: “I think comments made in private should stay private, but we all share the desire to see progress made and we know there will be hundreds of leaders coming to Glasgow for Cop.”

“We will wait to see whether it lives up to - whether they all live up to - expectation, it’s very important we get this job done.”

The Queen had been attending an event at the Welsh Senedd when her conversation with the Duchess of Cornwall and a presiding officer was picked up on the live stream.

“I don’t think her comments were for broadcast,” Mr Shapps repeated.

In case you missed it: Queen’s anger at ‘irritating’ world leaders who ‘talk but don’t do’

08:58 , Sam Hancock

EU must shift on ECJ to reach Protocol deal – Lord Frost

09:12 , Sam Hancock

A Brexit update now. Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, has said the EU must make a “significant” concession on the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if there is to be a deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The EU has offered a package of major compromises aimed at easing the transit of goods between Great Britain to Northern Ireland. But Lord Frost has made clear the EU’s proposals as they stand are unacceptable – insisting the role of the bloc’s court in resolving trade disputes is removed.

“They will need to if we are to find a solution – there needs to be significant change if we are to get an agreed solution,” the Brexit minister said in an interview with Politico.

Adam Forrest has the full report:

EU must shift on European court powers to reach deal, says Lord Frost

Shapps ‘can’t guarantee every product will be in stock’ after saying Christmas was not at risk

09:19 , Sam Hancock

After claiming Christmas would not be affected by shortages, Grant Shapps has now said he cannot guarantee that every line of every product will be available in time for the holiday.

Pressed on comments made earlier this morning that Christmas is safe, the Cabinet minister told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Let’s put it this way - we’ll all be able to be together, we’ll be able to buy things, there will be food on the table. I can’t guarantee that every line of every product will be available. We are in an international, you know, supply restrictive period.

“We’re coming out of coronavirus and no more so than this country, which is the fastest-growing of all the major economies, so there’s a lot of demand there, but I don’t think we want to sort of talk ourselves into a crisis either about it.”

He added: “Goods and food will be available, maybe a few lines that you normally want to get aren’t, but I think it’s at that level, rather than, you know, thinking Christmas will have to be cancelled and upsetting children everywhere across the country.”

Watch: Shapps promises ‘no issues’ with seeing family and loved ones this Christmas

09:41 , Sam Hancock

Kwarteng hoping for ‘mild’ winter to ease pressure on energy supplies

09:53 , Sam Hancock

Kwasi Kwarteng has reportedly shared a private Met Office briefing with energy companies which said Britain could face a mild winter, in what could be a major relief for suppliers over the coming months.

Rocketing global wholesale energy prices have seen 12 small energy suppliers collapse in the UK since September, with experts warning the increase in the price cap for consumers announced at the beginning of this month could be followed by a further rise in April.

“For the late winter period from January to February 2022, the most likely scenario is for an unsettled period of wet, windy and mild spells,” a private Met Office briefing says, according to the Financial Times.

It is thought the paper would go further than the Met Office’s most recently published three month “outlook”, issued three weeks ago, which says that period up to December is “significantly more likely than normal to be mild”, but adds “cold spells are still possible”.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, described the news as a “new low for government energy policy”.

“Reduced to crossing his fingers for a mild winter, Kwasi Kwarteng is showing just how much a decade of inaction from government has left us vulnerable,” Mr Miliband told the FT about his Tory counterpart.

Queen’s ‘no action’ climate comments aimed at foreign leaders – Shapps

09:58 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier posts, just before 9am, Cabinet minister Grant Shapps has denied that the Queen’s irritation over a lack of action in tackling the climate crisis was partly directed at Boris Johnson’s government, reports Adam Forrest.

Elizabeth II was captured talking about next month’s crucial Cop26 summit in Glasgow – expressing her concern about still not knowing “who’s coming” to the talks.

But asked by Sky News whether the Queen was referring to lack of action from the UK government, Shapps said: “Well she specifically referred to who was coming [to the summit], actually – so I don’t think it was intended in that sense.”

Queen’s ‘no action’ climate comments were not dig at UK government, says minister

Shapps praises ‘robust’ switch to lateral flows for vaccinated travellers

10:34 , Sam Hancock

Last point now from Grant Shapps’ interviews this morning. The transport secretary praised the newly-announced policy of allowing vaccinated travellers returning to England to take lateral flow tests instead of more expensive PCR tests.

He called it a “robust system” and said it marked another step to making international travel “easy” again.

“I think it’s important that we have a system in place which is straightforward. That’s why we’re moving from PCR to lateral flow, hoping to bring down the cost. Another step to opening up international travel,” he told Times Radio.

On lateral flow safety, Mr Shapps added: “Actually, interestingly, there was a report just this week that lateral flows turned out to be pretty good and more accurate than people thought, so I think that, combined with the fact that the answer is instant and you’re not necessarily wandering around for a day or two, waiting for that result come back, means that this will be a robust system in place and it’s another step to making international travel easier again.”

It follows a decision by the government to scrap day two PCR tests and introduce lateral flow versions from 24 October, just in time for half-term holidays.

Our report on that can be found here:

Lateral flow tests to replace PCRs for vaccinated travellers in time for half-term

WTTC: Change to lateral flow tests ‘boost for UK travel and tourism’

10:37 , Sam Hancock

Following my last post, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has shared its delight at the news lateral flow tests will replace PCRs from 24 October.

Julia Simpson, president of the WTTC, said:

“Finally, the government has listened and ditched costly PCRs for a cheaper antigen test. This will be a boost for UK Travel & Tourism, a sector that brought more than £237 billion to our economy in 2019.”

Watch: Shapps ‘can’t guarantee’ all products will be in stock at Christmas

10:39 , Sam Hancock

RHA condemns ‘pathetic’ rule changes for EU lorry drivers

10:43 , Sam Hancock

Our politics reporter Adam Forrest writes the following...

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) is not impressed by the government’s move to allow EU lorry drivers on British road to make unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs.

The RHA’s Rod McKenzie said the so-called “cabotage” changes to visas would undercut British drivers. “We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry,” he said.

“I spoke to some of our members last night and they were appalled – ‘ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked’ were some of their more broadcastable comments,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“The government has been talking about … not pulling the lever marked 'uncontrolled immigration', and to them this is exactly what it looks like.

“Allowing overseas companies and drivers to come over for perhaps up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers.”

Leaked documents show govt putting trade deals over environment

11:04 , Sam Hancock

UK trade negotiators should prioritise economic growth over the environment in trade deals, according to a leaked official document.

The paper, drawn up by officials at the Department for International Trade, says environmental safeguards should not be treated as a red line when other countries do not want to include them in agreements, reports our policy correspondent Jon Stone.

It comes a month after it was revealed that the UK secretly dropped climate promises to get a trade deal with Australia’s government, which is hostile to action on climate change.

Don’t let environment get in the way of trade deals, government tells its negotiators

Centrica boss: Government intervention on energy requires ‘proper consultation’

11:25 , Sam Hancock

The chief executive of Centrica, which owns owner British Gas, has warned that government intervention including an energy price cap should go through “proper consolation” with energy suppliers.

Referring to the introduction of the retail price cap in 2019, Chris O’Shea said it was not his job but the government’s to enforce policy.

“But if there’s any intervention in any market at all, in terms of regulating prices, what I have learnt is that you really have to think through all the consequences,” he told Sky News.

“It’s not something I think can be done incredibly quickly, but it is something that if the government wants to think about it then we need to make sure all interested parties are involved in a proper consultation.”

Ministers ‘crossing fingers for mild winter’ to alleviate energy crisis

11:41 , Sam Hancock

Following my post at 9.54am, here’s Holly Bancroft with more on the fresh allegations against Kwasi Kwarteng.

The business secretary was accused of “crossing his fingers for a mild winter” by Labour’s Ed Miliband, after sharing a briefing with energy companies about weather which could help alleviate the price crisis.

Kwasi Kwarteng shared a private Met Office briefing with businesses which said that the “most likely scenario” is that this winter will be wet and mild, the Financial Times reported.

A milder winter could help families struggling to deal with the rising cost of heating their homes.

Government ‘crossing fingers for mild winter’ to alleviate energy crisis

DUP fails to show up at cross-border meeting

11:49 , Sam Hancock

The DUP has not attended a cross-border political meeting, four days after a High Court judge declared that the party’s non-participation in the north-south ministerial meetings was unlawful.

The unionist party has vowed to boycott the structures of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) as part of its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Edwin Poots, the DUP’s agriculture minister, had been scheduled to participate in an NSMC meeting on marine issues on Friday morning but he did not show up. The party claims it technically isn’t boycotting the meeting, though, because it was not possible to formally schedule in times.

Under Stormont rules, such meetings cannot proceed without the participation of both a unionist and a nationalist minister.

Bizarre images emerge of PM’s visit to a school on Friday

11:57 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson pulls facial expressions while interacting with school children during a visit to Westbury-On-Trym Church of England Academy in Bristol (PA)
Boris Johnson pulls facial expressions while interacting with school children during a visit to Westbury-On-Trym Church of England Academy in Bristol (PA)
Johnson smells a bird feeder he made with the children (PA)
Johnson smells a bird feeder he made with the children (PA)
The PM visited the Bristol school ahead of a regional Cabinet meeting in the city later today (PA)
The PM visited the Bristol school ahead of a regional Cabinet meeting in the city later today (PA)
Johnson plants flower bulbs with the school children weeks before the Cop26 climate conference (PA)
Johnson plants flower bulbs with the school children weeks before the Cop26 climate conference (PA)

Council tax hike of 10% needed for social care to ‘stand still’ – analysis

12:10 , Sam Hancock

A council tax hike of 10 per cent would needed without an urgent government cash injection, just to allow social care to “stand still”, according to a new analysis.

In a stark warning to Rishi Sunak ahead of the autumn spending review in a fortnight, Age UK said the chancellor’s decisions will “determine whether social care services continue to wither and die”.

Money the government is planning to raise from a national insurance rise will mainly go to the NHS over the next three years, with the charity adding this will leave social care “desperately short of the funds required”.

Age UK, which is urging central government to provide the funds, agreed with the recent view of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, suggesting annual funding for social care must increase by £3.9bn by 2023-24, reports our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn.

Council tax hike of 10% needed for social care to ‘stand still’, analysis warns

SDLP says ‘people deserve better than’ DUP’s cross-border boycott

12:15 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (11.49am), the SDLP’s infrastructure minister hit out at the DUP’s continued boycott of north-south political meetings, saying it cannot continue.

Nichola Mallon, of Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party, accused Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party of knowingly breaking the law and “unacceptable and totally dishonest” behaviour.

She said:

“Jeffrey Donaldson’s deliberate and unlawful boycott of the north-south institutions shows ... not only disdain for the rule of law but utter contempt for the people we represent.

“Today’s meeting was about co-operation on our marine environment. Less than a month out from Cop26, and while we face a climate emergency, it is an act of gross irresponsibility to frustrate cross-border co-operation on these important issues.

“The EU has made generous and flexible proposals aimed at addressing all of the legitimate concerns that the DUP has raised over the operation of the Protocol. It’s time to end the strategy of boycott, division and deadlock. Our people deserve better than this.”

‘Big gap’ remains in Northern Ireland Protocol talks, warns Frost

12:31 , Sam Hancock

Lord Frost has warned a “big gap” remains between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking as he arrived at the European Commission in Brussels, for talks with vice president Maros Sefcovic, the Brexit minister commended the EU for making “an effort in pushing beyond where they typically go in these areas” - adding the UK government was “quite encouraged”.

However, he told reporters, “there is still quite a big gap and that’s what we’ve got to work through today and in the future”.

Lord Frost added the role of the European Court of Justice in policing the Protocol would be an issue.

“The governance arrangements as we have them don’t work - we need to take the court out of the system as it is now and we need to find a better way forward,” he said.

Brexit made UK’s supply crisis worse than in EU – French minister

13:03 , Sam Hancock

The UK’s supply chain problems have been much more intense than those suffered in the EU because of Brexit, a senior French minister has said, adding the UK could not adapt to labour shortages as well as countries on the continent because it quit the single market and no longer enjoyed free movement.

“We are facing the same situation,” said finance minister Bruno Le Maire on supply issues in France. “But the fact that we are a member of a very important single market helps us facing these bottlenecks.”

Speaking to the BBC after the G7 meeting in Washington, Le Maire said France was coping better because of its membership in the EU, writes Adam Forrest.

Brexit made UK’s supply crisis worse, says French minister

Patel to being penalising ‘uncooperative’ countries in deportation row

13:29 , Sam Hancock

Priti Patel is to be granted new powers that allow her to impose visa penalties on countries that do not cooperate on deportations, under new reforms in the Nationality and Borders Bill announced on Friday.

The home secretary will be able to suspend visas entirely, impose a £190 surcharge on applications to come to the UK or increase visa processing times in a move that will affect the whole visa service – including study, work, visitor and settlement visas.

Ms Patel hopes the change will force other countries to cooperate with the UK government when it comes to deportations and removals.

She said:

“The UK has a proud history of being open to the world but we rightly expect our international partners to work with us to remove those who have no right to be in the UK, such as dangerous foreign national offenders.

“It is unfair on UK citizens and taxpayers that pressure is put on our public services by foreign nationals with no legal right to be here.

“Through my New Plan for Immigration, and this landmark legislation, I will continue to take the difficult action needed to fix our broken asylum system and deliver on what the British people want - full control of our borders.”

Patel says she will ‘continue to take the difficult action needed to fix our broken asylum system’ (AP)
Patel says she will ‘continue to take the difficult action needed to fix our broken asylum system’ (AP)

Plan to phase out gas boilers by 2035 not enough, say campaigners

13:40 , Sam Hancock

Climate change campaigners have warned that government plans to phase out gas boilers are not ambitious enough to deliver on UK commitments to cut carbon emissions, reports our political editor Andrew Woodcock.

Long-heralded plans to end the sale of new gas boilers by 2035 are set to be confirmed when Boris Johnson launches strategies for net-zero emissions and heat and buildings at the start of next week, just a fortnight before he chairs the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

The boiler upgrade scheme will also include a £5,000 grant for householders who switch early to heat pump systems to warm their homes in a more green way, but campaigners warn the cash on offer will not be enough to fund the installation of new £6,800-a-pop heating systems.

Despite widespread support for measures to combat

Plan to phase out gas boilers by 2035 doesn’t go far enough, climate campaigners warn

David Amess: MP ‘stabbed multiple times’ at constituency surgery

13:55 , Sam Hancock

A Conservative MP has reportedly been stabbed multiple times in an incident at his constituency surgery.

Sir David Amess, the MP for Southend West in Essex, was attacked on Friday, local media reported.

Police are believed to be at the scene and the surrounding roads have been closed off, while Mr Amess receives treatment for his injuries.

Follow Holly Bancroft’s breaking report here:

David Amess: MP ‘stabbed multiple times’ at constituency surgery

Essex Police tweet about ‘stabbing’ in Leigh-on-Sea

14:01 , Sam Hancock

Reactions and well-wishes pour in for David Amess

14:12 , Sam Hancock

A string of cross-party MPs, councillors and political commentators are reacting to reports Tory MP Sir David Amess has been stabbed at a so-called “constituency surgery”.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said:

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted:

Fellow Tory MP Stephen Metcalfe said:

The Jo Cox Foundation, set up in memory of the former Labour MP who was shot and stabbed to death in 2016 as she was about to give a “surgery” in West Yorkshire, wrote:

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also paid tribute, writing:

15:22 , Sam Hancock

That’s it from us on the politics blog for today, thanks for following along.

If you wish to follow the latest updates on the tragic death of Tory MP David Amess, head to our separate live blog on that here.

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