Here are some more lines from Boris Johnson’s article this morning in the Belfast Telegraph.
- Johnson says that he does not want to see the Northern Ireland protocol scrapped, but that he does want the EU to agree to “sensible” changes to it. (See 9.40am.)
- He says all parties in the Northern Ireland assembly want at least some changes to the protocol.
Every unionist representative campaigned against the protocol, as currently constituted. More importantly, every party, across the divide, seeks mitigations and change. None support a zealous zero risk approach to its implementation.
- He says global events since 2019, particularly Covid and the cost of living crisis, have also strengthened the case for an overhaul of the protocol.
Many things have changed since the protocol was agreed. It was designed in the absence of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement and when it was unclear one would be agreed. It has not been adapted to reflect the realities of the TCA.
It was designed before a global pandemic and a European war which has created a cost of living crisis on a scale not seen for half a century.
For there even to be a question about the fast availability of medicines or medical testing in Northern Ireland (between two constituent parts of the same National Health Service) is incompatible with the post-Covid era.
For the chancellor of the exchequer to say in his spring statement that people in Northern Ireland could not be granted the same benefits in terms of tax and VAT as those in the rest of the same country is a serious issue. It means that our ability to assist with post-Covid recovery and — moreover, the long-term economic development of Northern Ireland — is restricted.
- He congratulates Sinn Féin on its victory in the Northern Ireland elections, and says Michelle O’Neill should become first minister. He also accepts that the party has changed considerably since 1998, when it was principally seen as the political wing of the IRA. He says:
So I want to repeat my congratulations to Sinn Fein as the largest party. Respect for the rights and aspirations of all communities are an essential part of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
And I think it is testimony to the path that Sinn Fein have taken from 1998 that Michelle O’Neill is now awarded the position of First Minister. I have no doubt we will work together well.
- But he also says that “unionist parties performed well” in the elections, and he also pays tribute to the non-aligned Alliance party, which saw its seat share more than double. (In fact, the three unionist parties in the assembly saw their combined share of the vote, and their number of seats, fall in the elections.)
- He says the election results showed there was “a large majority for making Northenr Ireland work”. He says:
Taken together, what the election results tell me is that the basis for successful power-sharing and stability is actually enhanced. Whichever way you cut it, there is a large majority for making Northern Ireland work.
- He says he wants to embrace the “hybridity” of modern Northern Ireland, which is meant to accommodate people with different national identities. He says:
Nor is there some perfect constitutional clockwork version of how the Union should be. Northern Ireland has always been a place in its own right, in which governance has been contested, broken, re-imagined and carefully nurtured.
Those arrangements continue to evolve. And far better, I think, is the Northern Ireland of today in which people look any way they want (north-south, east-west, or both) — depending on their identity, and their family, and their economic interests.
In today’s debates about Brexit and the Protocol, let us embrace that hybridity. Let us make it work.
- He confirms that the UK government is going ahead with three reforms required under the New Decade New Approach deal that have been stalled while the power-sharing executive has been suspended: on language rights, on access to abortion, and on legacy issues (accountability for crimes committed during the Troubles).
A demonstration has taken place in Hillsborough, Co Down during a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his government’s proposals for dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past, PA Media reports. PA says:
Some of the families of the 11 people killed by soldiers in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 protested against the plans to offer an effective amnesty for Troubles-related crime.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill will see immunity offered to some depending on their co-operation with a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.
The new body aims to help individuals and family members to seek and receive information about Troubles-related deaths and serious injuries.
It is also designed to produce an historical record of what is known in relation to every death that occurred during the Troubles.
The proposals leave open the route of prosecution if individuals are not deemed to have earned their immunity.
Grainne Teggart, campaigns manager for Amnesty International UK, said that with these proposals the government is on a “collision course with rights and the rule of law”.
“They must pull back, now, from a dangerous course of unilateral action on legacy and the protocol,” she said.
“We have yet to see a real departure from plans to legislate for a de facto amnesty. We will be watching closely, along with victims, to see if the strong objections and warnings on lack of human rights compliance have been listened to.”
Here is an analysis from the Institute for Government earlier this year explaining in detail the differences between the UK and the EU on how the Northern Ireland protocol should be implemented.
A new government white paper on UK aid has been condemned as a “double whammy to the world’s poor”, my colleague Patrick Wintour reports. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s first strategy paper on overseas assistance since the merged department was formed and large-scale cuts were implemented in 2020 is dominated by a near halving of UK aid to multilateral bodies, including the UN and the World Bank, and a renewed focus on aid as an adjunct to trade.
And here is some more comment on the white paper from development charities.
From Sam Nadel, the head of government relations at Oxfam:
While there are some welcome words on the importance of addressing the climate emergency and supporting women and girls, when push comes to shove, this strategy prioritises aid for trade and the financialisation of development. It is clearly motivated more by tackling China than tackling poverty.
From Sarah Brown, the wife of the former prime minister Gordon Brown and the chair of Theirworld, the global education charity:
We are disappointed by the lack of ambition in the government’s international development strategy.
Where is the commitment to end global poverty, reverse climate change, or educate the 260 million children who still don’t have a place in school?
There is little here to comfort those of us still concerned by earlier cuts. The government urgently needs to restore its manifesto commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid.
And while the government’s stated support for girls’ education is welcome, it is hard to be convinced when education aid has been slashed by a third in recent years. Words need to be backed up with action if the government intends to deliver on its own apparent priorities.
More than 8,000 people have arrived in the UK this year after crossing the Channel in small boats, PA Media reports. PA says:
Since the start of 2022, 8,393 people have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats, according to analysis of government data by the PA news agency.
This is more than double the number recorded for the same period in 2021 (3,112) and more than six times the figure recorded at this point in 2020 (1,340).
Crossings resumed this weekend, with more than 600 people arriving in Kent over two days, after four consecutive days last week without any taking place amid poor weather conditions.
On Sunday 436 people made the crossing to the UK in nine boats after 167 in 13 boats arrived on Saturday, according to Ministry of Defence figures.
The latest crossings come after the department said it had started to tell asylum seekers they could be flown to Rwanda under its new deportation plan, with flights expected to begin in “the coming months”.
Here is the key line from Keir Starmer on Beergate in his Loose Women interview.
- Starmer claimed that, as soon as he heard Durham police were going to reopen their investigation into Beergate, he knew he would have to promise to resign if he were fined because “deep down” it was a test of his integrity. He said:
My instinct, as soon as I knew that Durham [police] had decided they were going to reopen this investigation, in my heart I knew what I was going to say, which is if I’m wrong, and they find I have broken the law, then I’ll do the right thing and step down … I’m trying to make a bigger point here … which is trust in politics; the number of times I hear ‘You’re all the same, you won’t do the right thing’ …
As soon as I knew there was a reinvestigation, I knew I was going to say that [that he would resign if he was fined] because that was so deep down inside me as to what I believed, in that there was no way I wasn’t going to say that.
Starmer, who also stressed in the interview that he did not break the rules, clearly feels the need to say this because last week, when he did announce that he would resign if fined by Durham police, there were reports that he had hesitated before making this pledge because of the obvious risk.
Starmer is now talking about his mother, and Still’s disease, the form of arthritis she had. He says she was diagnosed at the age of 11. At that point she was told that by the time she was in her 20s, she would stop being able to walk. But she was treated with steroids, which was experimental for people her age, and she was very determined. She went on to have four children, he says.
Starmer says he wants to show that all politicians are not the same.
He repeats the point about how, as soon as he heard Durham police were reopening the investigation into Beergate, he knew he would have to resign if he was fined because “deep down, inside me” he felt it was important to show this was a matter of honour.
Keir Starmer is being interviewed on ITV’s Loose Women. The programme is having an arthritis week, and Starmer has been invited on because his mother had the illness.
But the first questions are about Partygate and Beergate.
Q: A poll yesterday said 63% of voters thought you were a hypocrite?
Starmer says he has been very clear he has not broken the rules. But he says, if he is fined, he will resign.
Q: But you said Boris Johnson should resign when the police started their investigation.
Starmer says at that point there had already been industrial-level rule breaking in No 10.
Q: You had a meal for about 30 people.
It was not 30 people, says Starmer. It was nearer 15 people. He says they were on the road. They had to eat. He always travels with a team.
Q: But you have been hoist with your own petard. You were so noisy about Partygate this has hit you in the face.
Starmer says they were on the road. Someone had to organise food. That is what happens when politicians are travelling.
Q: Are you worried about having to resign?
Starmer says he has not broken the rules.
But he says, when he heard he was being investigated, he knew that he had to say he would resign if fined.
Ciaran Martin, a professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University, has an interesting Twitter thread on Boris Johnson’s Belfast Telegraph article. It starts here.
At one point the UK government was floating the idea of suspending parts of the Northern Ireland protocol by using article 16. But ministers now seem to have abandoned that option in favour of legislation, which may be announced tomorrow but which would take months or even years to become law. Article 16 was not even mentioned in Boris Johnson’s Belfast Telegraph article. John Campbell, the government’s economics and business editor in Northern Ireland, says this is significant.
The Home Office minister Rachel Maclean appeared during a live interview to struggle to answer questions about extensions to stop-and-search powers announced by Priti Patel, PA Media reports. PA says:
Maclean, the safeguarding minister, admitted she did not have a briefing paper in front of her when questioned on the detail of the policy shift.
Patel has made permanent changes to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which allows police to search people without reasonable grounds in an area where they expect serious violence.
Effectively undoing limitations put in place in 2014 by then-home secretary Theresa May, Patel has extended the length of time the extra searching powers can be in force for, increasing it from 15 to 24 hours.
Maclean, asked how long a section 60 can be put in place for as part of the move, told LBC: “I think the time is 12 hours, but it has to be renewed on a proportionate basis when the intelligence is reviewed.”
Told it was not 12 hours, but 24 under the changes, she replied: “Oh, forgive me, 24 hours. I need another coffee.”
The safeguarding minister was also told it was 15 hours previously, not 12 as she had stated.
She was then asked how long an extension could be sought if approved by a superintendent, to which Maclean said: “So, there is another time period, which I’m sure you have in front of (you), which I haven’t.”
Told by presenter Nick Ferrari that he did not think she knew the answer following a back-and-forth exchange, Maclean responded: “No, I’m being quite upfront with you. I haven’t got the paper in front of me, forgive me.”
Asked whether she thought she should know such information given she works in the Home Office, the Redditch MP said: “I do know.”
But when asked to share the answer with listeners, she replied: “Look, you’re doing a very good job of demonstrating that I don’t have the papers in front of me now.”