Politics news: 'Hurdles to overcome' before Northern Ireland deal, Tory MPs told

·32 min read

There are "hurdles to overcome" before a Brexit deal is reached to improve the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Foreign Secretary told Conservative MPs on Wednesday night.

James Cleverly addressed around 20 Tory backbenchers at a meeting of the 1922 Committee where Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield, said Mr Cleverly told attendees "he doesn't want to do a running commentary".

"What he also said was every week is going to be 'this week' that it's published,". "He said there’s a number of hurdles to overcome yet. So I wouldn’t hold your breath."

Earlier in the day, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, repeatedly pressed Rishi Sunak on what would be in the deal as he claimed it is largely completed but the country is having to wait while the Prime Minister "plucks up the courage to take on the malcontents, the reckless, the wreckers on his own benches".

Accusing Sir Keir of "jumping ahead", Mr Sunak said that he will be "resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom".

He also claimed the Labour leader had adopted his "usual position" of giving "the EU a blank cheque" during talks.

06:47 PM

That's all for today...

Thanks for following along with our live coverage on another busy day in Westminster.

My colleague Jack Maidment will be back early tomorrow bringing you all the latest.

06:37 PM

Prime Minister: Businesses need 'certainty, stability and clarity'

06:12 PM

Number of hurdles to overcome, Cleverly tells MPs

Tory MPs are starting to filter out of this evening's meeting of the 1922 Committee with James Cleverly, writes Amy Gibbons, our Political Correspondent.

Asked what he told backbenchers, Mr Cleverly replied: "The truth, always."

Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield, said: "We discussed the Protocol but [Cleverly] said - and I understand that - he doesn't want to do a running commentary.

"What he also said was every week is going to be 'this week' that it’s published. He said there’s a number of hurdles to overcome yet. So I wouldn’t hold your breath."

06:00 PM

'He's going to enjoy my loyalty'

Steve Baker pledged his full support to Rishi Sunak as he insisted "we can't get into a conversation about speculation" following claims ministers were on resignation watch.

"I'm delighted to be part of Rishi Sunak's Government and he's going to enjoy my loyalty," Mr Baker, a minister at the Northern Ireland Office, told UTV News.

"I think the Prime Minister knows, as everybody does, that any deal's got to meet everyone's legitimate interests - the legitimate interests of unionists, and eurosceptics, and Ireland, and the European Union.

"And that's what I think everyone's working towards in the spirit of goodwill. So any kind of talk about drama within the Conservative Party is very, very premature. I want the Prime Minister to be able to succeed in his negotiation. I'm one of his ministers, I'm going to give him every support."

05:56 PM

'How stupid does Shamima Begum think the British public are?'

Thank God for common sense and for the views of the British people being respected for once, writes Allison Pearson.

All that PR soft-soaping and cunning pretence of rehabilitation were to no avail, Shamima Begum has lost her appeal and lost her British citizenship, subject no doubt to any further appeal.

There is no way on earth that Begum did not witness the barbarity carried out in the name of the bloodthirsty cause she so willingly embraced. Although that was the story she stuck to in recent interviews. Equally offensive was the claim she had been the victim of "trafficking".

Thousands of girls did suffer that fate and, unlike Begum, they were raped by the butchers of Islamic State, one of whom she married.

We all remember how  the so-called jihadi bride left the UK in 2015 when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl to join Islamic State. Now 23 and living in a Syrian refugee camp, she has been miraculously transformed into a polished and contrite media performer in Western clothes, albeit one with highly convenient amnesia.

Allison Pearson: Shamima Begum now knows how wise we are

05:26 PM

The latest from this evening's 1922 Committee

The Foreign Secretary was greeted by the customary banging on desks as he prepared to address the powerful committee of backbench Tory MPs amid heightened tensions over Brexit, writes our Political Correspondent Amy Gibbons. 

More than a dozen journalists have gathered in Westminster's famous committee corridor waiting for MPs to file out after the meeting, which kicked off around 5pm.

Mr Cleverly was expected to give a speech about Britain's drive to support Ukraine in the war against Russia.

He gave no answer when asked what he would tell colleagues as he entered the room.

05:25 PM

Rishi Sunak: Any deal must provide 'clarity' for NI businesses

Rishi Sunak held a roundtable with Northern Irish business groups about the Protocol this afternoon, Downing Street has confirmed.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister outlined that any deal needed to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place within the union, protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions, fix the practical problems on the ground and ensure the smooth flow of goods within the UK internal market.

"As intensive negotiations with the EU continue, the Prime Minister used the meeting to hear directly from the business community on the critical issues that must be fixed.

"The Prime Minister made it clear that any deal would need to provide certainty, stability and clarity for the business community."

05:19 PM

Most voters think Starmer was right to block Corbyn

The majority of voters believe Sir Keir Starmer was right to block Jeremy Corbyn from running as a Labour candidate at the next election.

Sir Keir made the announcement last Wednesday and polling by Savanta for the Politics Home website shows 55 per cent supported the Labour leader's crackdown on his predecessor.

Twenty-three per cent opposed the decision to stop Mr Corbyn representing the party in his Islington North constituency.

He now sits as an independent MP having had the whip removed in 2020 for his claims that antisemitism in Labour was "dramatically overstated for political reasons".

05:12 PM

Therese Coffey says ‘we can’t control Spanish weather’ over shortages

The Environment Secretary has responded to fruit and vegetable shortages in supermarkets by telling farmers "we can't control the weather in Spain".

Therese Coffey did not take questions from the press during an appearance at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference and attendees described her as "clueless".

Therese Coffey - Jacob King/PA Wire
Therese Coffey - Jacob King/PA Wire

Yesterday, Asda and Morrisons put limits on the purchases of some fruit and vegetables following extreme weather, including floods, in Spain and north Africa which has affected food harvests. And Aldi and Tesco also announced rationing of certain items earlier today.

Minette Batters, the NFU president, said that although the current shortages were primarily driven by conditions outside of British farmers' control, the government could do more to encourage people to produce food in the UK.

Why farmers branded Therese Coffey 'clueless' today

04:56 PM

Nadine Dorries: We should all take back control online

Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, has said it is "vital" everyone can take proactive steps to manage their experience online.

In a tweet, Ms Dorries said: "A vital part of everyone being able to manage their online experience is having the tools available to be in control of content you do or don’t want to see. Or even, protecting tweets.

"I choose to filter who can respond to my tweets. That’s my empowerment. My choice."

04:36 PM

'The Northern Irish question isn’t about trade. It’s about who governs'

Rishi Sunak is the latest British political leader to be trapped in a web of countervailing national identities, writes Philip Johnston.

He is looking to fix in the remaining piece of the Brexit jigsaw that Boris Johnson left unfinished in order to secure a deal on the UK’s withdrawal and win a general election in 2019.

The big gap in the middle of the picture is the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the province’s trading relationship with the rest of the UK and the EU. After Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic became a land frontier between the UK and the EU.

So as not to unravel the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which is 25 years old in April, it is widely accepted that this should not be a "hard" border with customs controls and physical barriers. But how was that to be avoided given the different jurisdictions? The answer was to leave Northern Ireland effectively in the Single Market for goods, still bound by some EU regulations and subject to the European Court.

Philip Johnston: Why Rishi Sunak risks missing the point altogether

04:07 PM

Good afternoon

Dominic Penna here, The Telegraph's Political Reporter, guiding you through the rest of the day.

Within the hour James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, will address Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee.

While it is understood the meeting has been in the diary for a while, Brexiteers on the backbenches may well use it to raise concerns or quiz Mr Cleverly amid the ongoing talks between the Government and Brussels.

03:28 PM

DUP MP urges Government not to drop Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Sammy Wilson, the DUP's chief whip at Westminster, has urged the Government to push ahead with its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill so that the EU knows the UK has a "fallback position" if talks on improving post-Brexit border rules fail.

The Bill would give ministers the powers to make unilateral changes to the rules in Northern Ireland, sidelining the EU.

The Government has effectively paused the passage of the legislation to allow talks with Brussels to continue and there have been reports that Rishi Sunak could be willing to drop it entirely.

Mr Wilson told the Commons this afternoon: "As a result of the Protocol, Northern Ireland, and he knows it, has not gained the benefits that he campaigned for and I campaigned for, and those who voted for Brexit wish to have, because we are still left within the embrace of Brussels because of the imposition of EU law.

"I believe in these negotiations the EU has to understand that there is an alternative and not to proceed with the Protocol Bill would be wrong because there must be a fallback position if these negotiations don’t succeed."

02:58 PM

Pictured: Sir Keir Starmer welcomes new West Lancashire MP Ashley Dalton to the Commons

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomes Ashley Dalton to the Houses of Parliament in London as the newly elected Labour MP for West Lancashire - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomes Ashley Dalton to the Houses of Parliament in London as the newly elected Labour MP for West Lancashire - Stefan Rousseau/PA

02:42 PM

'Don't know': Voters unsure what Labour and Tories stand for

What do the current versions of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party stand for? Voters appear to be unsure.

A new poll conducted by Redfield &Wilton Strategies suggested that the most common answer among voters was "don't know" when they were asked what each party stands for under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak.

The polling company has put the responses into a word cloud. Here is Labour's:

And here is the word cloud for the Conservative Party:

02:29 PM

Teacher strikes 'could be paused'

Teacher strikes due to be held next week could be paused if "real progress" is made in negotiations with the Government, the National Education Union (NEU) has said.

In a statement to the Government, the union said: "In a sign of goodwill, if substantive progress can be made, we are prepared to recommend a pause to strikes next week to our National Executive Committee this Saturday."

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: "We reiterate - we are ready to negotiate. We are prepared, should the negotiations make real progress, to pause next week’s strikes. But the Government has to show good faith. We ask ministers to drop its preconditions and to begin serious negotiations."

02:26 PM

Ambulance workers to strike on March 8

Ambulance and other health workers in Unison will strike on March 8 in an escalation of the long-running dispute over pay, the union announced (you can read the full story here).

Meanwhile, the Aslef union announced London Underground drivers will strike on March 15 – the day of the Budget – in a dispute over pensions and working arrangements.

02:24 PM

Rail strike talks have 'hit a roadblock'

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said negotiations to end the industrial dispute with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) have "hit a bit of a roadblock".

He told reporters at a briefing at London’s Waterloo station: "The railways are not going to be defined forever by this current action. We’ve seen people come back into work. We were 2,000 people away from a yes vote.

"I’ve got a lot of optimism. I’m just frustrated that we’ve taken a turn into a side street, as opposed to actually sticking on the path of getting this to resolution. I remain genuinely optimistic we will get a sensible outcome here. But at the moment we’ve hit a bit of a roadblock."

01:41 PM

Rishi Sunak will not drop Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Rishi Sunak will not drop legislation going through Parliament allowing ministers to override the Northern Ireland Protocol unless there is a new agreement with the EU, Downing Street has indicated.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said: "It is a longstanding position of the Government that we want to resolve the issues in partnership with the EU by negotiation rather than legislate domestically.

"In the absence of that negotiated solution, the Protocol Bill is an important piece of legislation to ensure we safeguard Northern Ireland’s position in the Union."

01:19 PM

Rishi Sunak holds Brexit talks with Ursula von der Leyen

Rishi Sunak has spoken to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol and will have further talks in the coming days, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said the call took place last night.

The spokesman said: "The leaders discussed the good progress made in the negotiations. Intensive discussions continue. They agreed to speak again in the coming days."

Mr Sunak will speak virtually to Northern Ireland businesses later today.

12:56 PM

PMQs analysis: Rishi Sunak's answers likely to increase DUP concerns

There were two interesting Brexit-related things in that Prime Minister's Questions:

1. Rishi Sunak signalled that MPs will get a vote on his final Brexit deal. Downing Street had so far refused to say that a vote would be held despite it appearing to be impossible for No10 not to offer MPs a say. The Prime Minister has now seemingly confirmed the inevitable.

2. The Prime Minister refused to give a firm commitment to rewriting the Northern Ireland Protocol. The DUP wants the actual Brexit treaty to be changed as part of the negotiations with the EU. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told Mr Sunak at PMQs that tweaks would not be enough. But Mr Sunak refused to guarantee that there will be a rewrite of the treaty. That is likely to reinforce growing concerns among DUP and Tory Brexiteer MPs about what sort of deal could be agree.

12:30 PM

DUP leader tells Rishi Sunak the Northern Ireland Protocol must be rewritten, not just tweaked

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, has told Rishi Sunak that his Brexit deal must involve "rewriting" the existing Northern Ireland Protocol rather than just making "tweaks" to it.

Sir Jeffrey said: "It is unacceptable that Northern Ireland has been put in this place with a protocol imposed upon us that harms our place in the United Kingdom.

"It must be replaced with arrangements that are acceptable and restore our place in the United Kingdom and its internal market. Does the Prime Minister accept how important the constitutional and democratic issues are in relation to getting a solution?

"And will he agree with me that it is unacceptable that EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland with no democratic scrutiny or consent and will he assure me that he will address these fundamental constitutional issues and do so not just by tweaking the protocol but by rewriting the legally binding treaty text?"

Mr Sunak failed to give a commitment to rewriting the protocol but said addressing the "democratic deficit is an essential part of the negotiations".

Mr Sunak said: "I have heard loud and clear when he says he wants and needs these issues resolved so that he has a basis to work with others to restore powersharing and I know that that is genuine.

"He raised a question of practical issues and it is vital that these are addressed but he also raises a vital question about the constitutional and legal framework in which these arrangements exist and I can assure him that I agree. Addressing the democratic deficit is an essential part of the negotiations that remain ongoing with the European Union and just as he has been consistent, so have I and I can assure him that this is at the very heart of the issues that must be addressed."

12:22 PM

Starmer claims Sunak waiting to 'pluck up the courage' to take on Tory Brexiteers

Sir Keir Starmer claimed Rishi Sunak is waiting to "pluck up the courage" to challenge Tory Brexiteers to accept his new deal with the EU to improve the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He told the House of Commons: "Everyone knows the basis of this deal has been agreed for weeks but it is the same old story. The country has to wait while he plucks up the courage to take on the malcontents, the reckless, the wreckers on his own benches.

"I am here to tell him he doesn't need to worry about that because we will put country before party and ensure the Labour votes to get it through. He should accept our offer, ignore the howls of indignation from those on his side who will never take yes for an answer. Why doesn't he just get on with it?"

Mr Sunak hit back and said: "What I am doing is talking and listening to the people of Northern Ireland. That is the right thing to do, it is to make sure that we can respond and resolve the concerns of the iuniuonist communities and businesses in Northern Ireland that is what I will keep doing."

12:17 PM

Rishi Sunak signals MPs will be given vote on new Brexit deal

Rishi Sunak has signalled that MPs will be given a vote on his Brexit deal if and when it is finalised with the EU.

Sir Keir Starmer asked: "Can the Prime Minister confirm that whatever deal he brings back, this House will get a vote on it?"

Mr Sunak said: "Of course Parliament will express its view. But what is crucial here is that this is not about his desire to play political games in this House with this situation, this is about what is best for the people and communities of Northern Ireland.

"That is what I will keep fighting for."

12:15 PM

Starmer 'wants to put the EU first', claims Sunak

Sir Keir Starmer asked Rishi Sunak: "Can he confirm that if there is a deal he will pull the Protocol Bill?"

Mr Sunak said: "The honourable gentleman wants to put the EU first, I want to put Northern Ireland first."

12:13 PM

Rishi Sunak claims Keir Starmer advocating 'surrender' to EU

Rishi Sunak claimed Sir Keir Starmer had adopted his "usual position" on Brexit.

The Prime Minister said that the Labour leader wanted to "give the EU a blank cheque and agree to anything that they offer".

"It is not a strategy, that is surrender," Mr Sunak said.

12:11 PM

Sir Keir Starmer tells Rishi Sunak 'irreconcilable' Tory Brexiteers 'are going to come after him'

Sir Keir Starmer asked Rishi Sunak: "Will he confirm that to avoid a hard border... the deal he is negotiating is going to see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU law?"

Mr Sunak said: "The honourable gentleman is jumping ahead. We are still in intensive discussions with the European Union to ensure that we can find agreement that meets the tests that I set."

He added: "I have spent time engaging and listening to those communities in Northern Ireland, businesses and political parties. I have a good understanding of what is required, and I will keep fighting until we get it."

Sir Keir replied: "The Prime Minister is biting his tongue but at some point the irreconcilables on his benches are going to twig and they are going to come after him."

12:07 PM

Rishi Sunak 'will be resolute in fighting' for good Brexit deal

PMQs in the House of Commons is now underway.

Sir Keir Starmer used his first question to ask the PM about his Brexit deal.

He said that the "Labour Party is proud to be the party of the Good Friday Agreement" and he welcomed attempts to improve post-Brexit border rules.

He asked the PM if he agreed that the protocol "has been poorly implemented and the basis for any deal must be removing unnecessary checks on goods".

Mr Sunak said "active discussions" with the EU are ongoing. He said that he is a "Conservative, a Brexiteer and a unionist" and any deal will have to "tick all three boxes".

He said: "I will be resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom."

11:58 AM

New first minister a 'real opportunity' to reset relations between UK Government and Holyrood

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told MPs this morning that there is a "real opportunity" for the next first minister at Holyrood to "reset the relationship" with the UK Government.

Opening Scotland questions in the House of Commons, Mr Jack said: "I realise many of my colleagues on the (SNP) benches diagonally opposite are somewhat preoccupied by the contest to become the leader of the SNP and Scotland’s first minister.

"In my view this is a real opportunity for a new first minister to reset the relationship with the United Kingdom Government, to work constructively with us and to make life better for the people of Scotland."

11:40 AM

Pictured: Rishi Sunak leaves No10 and heads to PMQs

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, leaves 10 Downing Street this morning - Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, leaves 10 Downing Street this morning - Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

11:22 AM

Sir Tony Blair warns Northern Ireland Protocol row using up Government 'bandwidth'

Sir Tony Blair said the rumbling row over the Northern Ireland Protocol means the Government is not able to spend as much time as perhaps it should on other key issues.

The former Labour prime minister said that governments only have so much "bandwidth" to take on challenges.

He told Times Radio: "The longer you are spending going over and over the issues to do with the Northern Ireland Protocol instead of just coming to a practical decision, the less time you are able to spend on these other things that ultimately I think are going to be determinant for the future of the country."

11:04 AM

Fix NI Protocol problems or people may conclude 'Brexit hasn't worked' - Lord Hague

Lord Hague, the former leader of the Conservative Party, said the Government needs to secure the "right deal" with the EU to improve the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He argued that failing to remedy the problems with post-Brexit border rules could ultimately lead to people concluding that "Brexit hasn't worked for the country".

He told Times Radio: "There is obviously a very powerful case for settling, driving a hard bargain, there have been really legitimate problems in Northern Ireland about how the protocol has been interpreted and so on but it is important for the Government to get the right deal... some of the people who are most recalcitrant about it need it most because otherwise people are going to conclude after a few years that Brexit hasn't worked for the country and people in Northern Ireland are going to conclude that government will never work unless they have a united Ireland.

"So it is very, very important for all concerned to bring this to a conclusion now."

10:46 AM

Pictured: Therese Coffey addresses the NFU conference in Birmingham this morning

Therese Coffey, the Environment Secretary, is pictured addressing the NFU conference in Birmingham today - Jacob King /PA
Therese Coffey, the Environment Secretary, is pictured addressing the NFU conference in Birmingham today - Jacob King /PA

10:33 AM

Inside Rishi Sunak's bid to charm Tory Brexiteers

Rishi Sunak has been inviting Tory Brexiteers to Downing Street in recent days as he attempts to persuade them to support his new deal on remedying the problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It is safe to say that the Prime Minister is facing an uphill battle.

One Tory MP told The Telegraph: "The problem is they’ve marched everybody up the hill and now they’re realising they’ve got a lot more work to do, and they’re going to have to explain why they went off at half-cock."

Meanwhile, other Tory MPs are unsure why Mr Sunak has chosen to take on the Northern Ireland Protocol challenge at a time when the Government is contending with other big issues.

One said they wondered "why he has grabbed this hissing cobra by the neck and is trying to wrestle it to the ground".

You can read the full inside story of Mr Sunak's bid to charm Tory Brexiteers here.

10:16 AM

No Brexit deal this week, says senior Tory MP

A senior Tory Brexiteer said he does not a Brexit deal on improving the Northern Ireland Protocol to be done this week.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, asked if he expected a deal this week, told Sky News: "No. Because the porotocol itself is fundamentally incompatible. The protocol applies law, EU law, in Northern Ireland and there is no democracy, there was a House of Lords sub-committee that is full of people who voted Leave, voted Remain, and they all unanimously said there is a democratic deficit that has to be addressed about the protocol.

"The answer is to include Northern Ireland back in the internal market of the United Kingdom, to make a new protocol attached to the trade and cooperation agreement which is a permanent agreement."

10:07 AM

Senior Tory MP fears Brexit deal 'not very close'

Sir Bernard Jenkin, a senior Tory MP, said he believes the Government is "not very close" to doing a deal with the EU on improving the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Asked how close a deal is, the chairman of the Liaison Committee told Sky News: "Well, I fear not very close because what's been happening is the Government has been strenuously trying to reach an agreement but within very narrow confines that the EU has set.

"They won't consider reopening their mandate to look at new ways of approaching the whole question of Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

"And the consequence is that negotiations have been on a very narrow mandate set by the EU and it doesn't look as though the Government can resolve the powersharing crisis with any deal that will emerge from these negotiations."

09:53 AM

Public sector pay rises an 'intractable problem' - minister

Nursing officials are set to meet with Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, today as they start "intensive talks" designed to end strikes over pay.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has agreed to pause major industrial action while engaging in talks over "pay, terms and conditions, and productivity enhancing reforms".

Johnny Mercer, a Cabinet Office minister, said this morning that issues around public sector pay rises are an "intractable problem".

He told Times Radio: "If you look at what is going on in communities like I represent in Plymouth, the biggest challenge is inflation, without a shadow of a doubt. That is driving up prices across the board.

"If you chase that inflation with public sector pay rises, as people like the governor of the Bank of England have pointed out, you are into a never-ending circle where prices just continue to rise."

Mr Mercer said there is "no cost-free solution".

09:34 AM

Sir Tony Blair: UK is in a 'serious' situation of high spending, high taxes and 'poor' public services

Sir Tony Blair said the UK is in a "serious" situation of high spending, high taxes and poor public service outcomes as he made the case for his plans for a digital revolution (see the post below at 08.07).

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today prorgramme: "You have got a choice. It all depends and starts from how serious is our situation as a country at the moment and I think it is serious.

"Now, it is serious for all sorts of reasons and many other developed countries face similar challenges but here is our problem: We are spending a lot, we are heavily taxed and the outcomes are poor.

"So the question is what changes that situation? So if you take for example the ambition we have on climate, there is no way we can meet that ambition without changing planning, there is literally no way we can do it.

"And a lot of these things, they are not airy fairy, they are actually about people’s lives. People already live their lives digitally. The question is whether government and politicians can catch up with that reality."

09:03 AM

Sir Tony Blair on digital ID cards: 'The world is moving in that direction'

Sir Tony Blair said he could understand why his proposals to introduce digital identification cards (see the post below at 08.07) would frighten many people.

But he argued that the increased digitisation of personal data is the direction the world is heading in.

Asked if he understood fears about data being lost or misused, Sir Tony told the BBC: "I understand it but if you look at the biometric technology that allows you to do digital ID today it can overcome many of these problems.

"By the way, the world is moving in that direction. Countries as small as Estonia and as large as India are moving in that direction or have moved in that direction."

08:54 AM

Putin nuclear threats cannot deter the West from 'doing what is necessary' - Sir Tony Blair

Vladimir Putin yesterday announced that Russia is walking away from the world’s last remaining nuclear arms control treaty, sparking fears of a new global arms race (you can read that story here).

Sir Tony Blair said the Russian President talking about nuclear weapons or threatening the use of nuclear weapons must not stop the West from "doing what is necessary" in supporting Ukraine.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Of course it is dangerous. But on the other hand you can’t end up in a situation where Putin talking about the use of nuclear weapons or threatening the use then deters us from doing what is necessary."

He added: "You can’t end up in a situation where he uses a nuclear threat to stop us defending Ukraine from the aggression."

08:49 AM

Sir Tony Blair: Russian invasion of Ukraine 'only ends' when Putin realises 'he cannot succeed'

Sir Tony Blair said Russia's invasion of Ukraine will only come to an end when Vladimir Putin finally "understands that he cannot succeed".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the former prime minister said: "I think it only ends when it is absolutely clear to Putin that his war ambitions can’t succeed and to put it very simply his original war ambitions have disintegrated, the Ukrainians have shown extraordinary stoicism and bravery in resisting the Russian aggression.

"The West and Nato has been united. And so the last hope of Putin is that that resolve of the West disintegrates in some way and dissipates and so what is important is to show that it remains absolutely strong anf firm for as long as it takes and that we are prepared to do what is necessary in providing weapons and munitions for the Ukrainians to carry on their resistance.

"Once he understands that he cannot succeed, that is when you open up the possibility of ending the conflict."

08:13 AM

Johnny Mercer: Rishi Sunak 'is not going to sell anyone out' on Brexit

Rishi Sunak's deal to solve problems with the Northern Protocol is "not going to sell anyone out", a Government minister has said.

Veterans' affairs minister Johnny Mercer told Sky News that the Prime Minister had "good discussions last week with the European Union" and had "good engagement going on with other MPs".

He added: "Let’s give the Prime Minister a chance to come out with something. He’s attacking this, he is throwing everything he can into it. He voted for and campaigned hard for Brexit, right?

"So he is not going to sell anyone out or come up with a solution that is unfair or doesn’t deliver on what he thinks is Brexit.

"I think, let’s give him a chance, let’s give him the opportunity to bring some sort of resolution to the protocol and then let’s get behind him and get on with all the other challenges that we face across this country at the moment."

Asked whether there could be a deal this week, Mr Mercer replied: "I don’t know, I hope so. But let's see what happens."

08:07 AM

Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague plan for digital ID cards a 'good idea' - minister

Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague today launched a push to bring in digital ID cards which would contain a person's passport, driving licence and tax records, amongst other things.

The former Labour prime minister and ex-Tory leader said in a piece for The Times that the move would be part of a much-needed "technology revolution".

The proposal was given a decidedly lukewarm reception by Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans' affairs, who described it as a "good idea" but suggested the pair should have acted on the idea when they were in positions of power.

He told Times Radio: "I have no view on that at all. I think that it sounds like a great idea. But if only they had been in a position to do something about it.

"Oh wait, Tony Blair was prime minister for nine years wasn’t he. Look, good idea but I think there’s lots of other things to be getting on with as well."

08:02 AM

'If you take a wage as a politician you should probably turn up to work'

Politicians who are paid to perform a public role "should probably turn up to work", a minister has said after he was asked about the ongoing collapse of powersharing at Stormont.

Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans' affairs, was asked if he believed the DUP is acting in good faith amid the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He told Times Radio: "That is a question for them. I have made my views clear on the level of politics in Northern Ireland over a number of issues over a number of years.

"I think people in politics have got to remember what they are there for. We are here to serve, it is a life of public service. No one party is a monopoly on what is right for Northern Ireland.

"I think everybody needs to do their best and conduct themselves in good faith and I hope and expect the DUP are doing that as everybody else is."

He added: "I think if you take a wage as a politician you should probably turn up to work like everyone else in the country and that is what I want to see happen."

07:58 AM

Minister urges Tory MPs to back Rishi Sunak on Brexit and accept his deal on Northern Ireland Protocol

Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans' affairs, has urged Tory MPs to back Rishi Sunak on Brexit and accept the Prime Minister's proposed deal to improve the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He told Times Radio: "We have got to operate in the real world, right? And I think that is the problem with this debate over many years.

"Rishi Sunak campaigned, voted for and is very committed to Brexit as you have seen a number of times and I think whatever he comes back with, we need to resolve this issue and we need to get on and seize the opportunities of Brexit that have been talked about for so long.

"I hope colleagues recognise the work he is putting into it, I think he is taking the right approach and I think what he comes back with, if he is happy, I am happy and we get on with it and tackle all the other challenges that we are facing today."