Last weeks news headlines were solely dominated by Brexit and Coronavirus. So, within this Weekly News Roundup, I have attempted to go into more depth of each headline.
BORIS SIGNS POST-BREXIT TRADE DEAL
On Wednesday, Prime Minster Boris Johnson signed his post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union after the document was flown from Brussels to London. His signature was added to that of EU chiefs. At the time of signing the agreement, he stated that the Treaty he had signed was ‘not the end, but a new beginning’ and that the agreement was “an excellent deal.”
The deal has now passed into Law as the Queen gave royal assent after the bill was rushed through Parliament in a single day. The bill was backed by the Commons by 521 to 73 votes after Parliament was recalled. The deal comes four and a half years after the Brexit referendum to vote to take the UK out of the EU.
But, Parliamentarians raised concerns over the 1,300 page document, saying it had failed to secure access to security databases, broke promises over fishing rights in the UK and left many questions unanswered, such as the border issues in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Many MPs have argued therefore that the bill has not been properly scrutinised.
Opening the debate in the Commons, the Prime Minister said the deal would enable the UK to trade and co-operate with the EU on the “closest possible terms” while taking “sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny”. He said he hoped it would end the “old, desiccated, tired, super-masticated arguments” which have dogged the country for years and enable it to move forwards to a “new and great future”.
LABOUR LEADER SAYS AGREEMENT HAS “MANY FLAWS”
Although Labour backed the deal, party leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the agreement was “thin” with “many flaws”. He explained there was a “gaping hole” in the agreement when it came to the service sector, which accounts for about 80% of the UK’s economic output. However, he explained the alternative would be devastating for the UK to leave with a no deal agreement.
Since then, the Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, condemned the deal as “an act of economic vandalism” and attacked Labour for failing to oppose it.
A rundown on some of the clauses:
- There will be new customs and regulatory checks, including rules of origin and stringent local content requirements.
- Freedom of movement comes to an end and there will be reintroduction of temporary visas for work-related purposes. Some sectors, including in financial services and energy, are subject to future regulatory decisions, adding to uncertainty.
- The deal is good news for the Northern Ireland border, as customs checks will take place in the Irish Sea rather than on the land border between NI and ROI.
- Briton’s lose their rights to live and work across the 27 remaining EU member states.
- UK citizens can go on holiday or take a trip to EU countries, but can only stay for 90 days in any 180 day period.
- Passports are now being issued with a new post-Brexit blue design, with ‘European Union’ omitted from the cover.
- The pet passport scheme has come to an end and already-issued pet passports will become invalid. Under the new rules, any animals taken into the EU will need an Animal Health Certificate, which can be issued by a government-authorised vet, which is valid for four months at a time.
- EHIC (European Health Insurance Cards) allow British citizens to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in an EU country. Existing EHICs will remain valid until they expire, but applications for new cards will see people receive a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to help them get the necessary medical care when in EU countries.
- Briton’s can still drive over to Europe, but will need extra documents. A green card (proof of vehicle insurance to be requested from your insurer 6 weeks before travel) and a GB sticker will be needed on your own vehicles. In some countries, an international driving permit may be needed.
- Free mobile phone data roaming in the EU is due to end, but many phone providers have said they will not impose roaming charges straight away.
- Fishing rights have been resolved. 25% of EU boats in UK waters will be transferred to the UK fishing fleet over the next five and a half years. However, The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says the deal does not give the UK enough control of its waters.
- Starting in 2026, the UK and the EU will hold regular talks on fishing access. So there could be more heated arguments ahead.
- The UK won’t be under EU law.
- There will be no role in the UK for the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which is the highest court in the EU. Disputes that cannot be resolved between the UK and the EU will be referred to an independent tribunal instead.
- The ECJ could still have a role in Northern Ireland because it continues to follow some EU trade rules.
- The UK will no longer take part in the Erasmus student exchange programme and will be replaced by the £100 million Turing scheme which will support 35,000 students to go on placements around the world from September 2021.
- There will no longer be automatic recognition of professional qualifications for people such as doctors, chefs and architects. Individuals will need to check each country’s rules to make sure their qualification is still recognised.
- Under the agreement, the threat of tariffs have been removed. This will allow companies on both sides to keep trading in a similar way to before, with the aim to prevent price rises and keeping shelves stocked. But, the last-minute nature of the trade deal could still lead to price rises, with many businesses having to find replacements whilst the content of the trade agreement is understood.
- Trade in goods will become a lot more burdensome, since the UK has formally left the EU customs union and single market. Companies will face extra paperwork and costs. In fact more than 200 million additional customs forms will need completing at a cost estimated around £7 billion a year.
- Trade in goods will become a lot more burdensome, since the UK has formally left the EU customs union and single market.
- There will be a limit on alcohol and tobacco which can be brought from the EU to the UK for personal consumption without having to pay duty. The limits on alcohol are:
– 42 litres of beer
– 18 litres of still wine
– 4 litres of spirits
– 9 litres of sparkling wine
– Tobacco limit is 200 cigarettes.
What will the impacts of this deal be on other populist or Euroskeptic movements around the EU?
The deal has shown that leaving the EU is not easy, and has laid bare the real trade-offs and difficulties between regaining sovereignty and reaping the economic benefits of being a member of the single market.
Now that it’s no longer in the EU, the UK is free to set its own trade policy and can negotiate deals with other countries. Talks are being held with the US, Australia and New Zealand – countries that currently don’t have free trade deals with the EU.
SCHOOLS TO REOPEN
The Prime Minister has said that parents should “absolutely” send their children to school when schools reopen on 4th January. Boris explained on the Andrew Marr show that there was “no doubt” in his mind that “schools are safe”. He continued that kids needed to be kept in education because it is the best thing for them.
Four national teaching unions have called for the delay to apply to all schools in England amid concerns the new strain of Covid-19 poses a threat to teachers, but Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said children’s time out of the classroom should be kept to the “absolute minimum”.
Whilst an overwhelming majority of primary schools are opening as planned on the 4th January, a small number of schools in tier 4 areas where infection rates are the highest will only have vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers returning in person. The government has added that early years care, alternative provision and special schools will remain open. In London, all primary schools will remain closed for the start of the new term, it has been confirmed. This means that around a million pupils aged between 4 and 11 will face remote learning from Monday, again. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision about when they could return to school would be reviewed by 18 January.
MORE AREAS ENTER TIER 4
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced on Wednesday that another 21 million people – including all of the north-east of England, Greater Manchester, large parts of the Midlands and the south-west – would be in the strictest tier 4 rules from Thursday morning. Now, 8/10 people across England are in tier 4. Everywhere else, apart from the 2,224 people on the Isles of Scilly who remain in tier 1, will be in tier 3.
The infection rate in England increased by a third in the week to Christmas Eve, while the number of Covid patients admitted to hospital rose 8% on the week before to 14,915 people. On Tuesday, cases reached a record high, with 53,135 reported in the UK, including 47,164 in England.
Hancock said he knew the measures would place a significant burden on businesses and livelihoods but that it was “absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we have seen”.
Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, said the tier 3 rules had been unable to halt an increase in cases across the region. He said he would continue to press the Treasury for more financial support for businesses, adding: “I will continue to make the case vociferously to government, and will not relent until we achieve a breakthrough.”
UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ RETURN STAGGERED
Student’s return to their respective universities has been staggered, as the government ask fewer to return at the start of term, including only those who require practical learning.
Universities will contact students with a date they are able to return. The wider return of students currently planned for the two-week period beginning 25 January will be kept under review.
Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, has said, “We fully appreciate the public health situation has changed quite dramatically in a very short period of time, and it is therefore right that government and universities should look again at plans for the start of the spring term”.