Brexit news: Boris Johnson vows overhaul of armed forces


Watch live as MPs discuss controversial bill to crack down on protests

Post-Brexit relations between Britain and the EU suffered another blow on Tuesday after the bloc followed through on its threat of legal action against the UK over its move to unilaterally extend grace periods for businesses trading in Northern Ireland.

The EU issued the UK with a formal legal notice which included a letter from Commission chief Maroš Šefčovič to minister of state at the Cabinet Office Lord David Frost, who recently replaced Michael Gove as the UK’s lead on Brexit.

The letter said: “The EU and the UK agreed the protocol together. We are also bound to implement it together. Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us.

“The UK must properly implement it if we are to achieve our objectives. That is why we are launching legal action today. I do hope that through the collaborative, pragmatic and constructive spirit that has prevailed in our work so far on implementing the withdrawal agreement, we can solve these issues in the joint committee without recourse to further legal means.”

Earlier this month, Lord Forst took the decision to extend grace periods on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, a move that was condemned by leaders on the Continent and in Ireland.

The EU branded the move a “serious” violation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which is set out in the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that both sides agreed to last year.

But the UK government and Lord Frost have previously insisted that the unilateral decision was within the law and made in “good faith”.

Responding to the EU legal action, a UK government spokesperson said ministers would respond “in due course”. “We’ve been clear that the measures we have taken are temporary, operational steps intended to minimise disruption in Northern Ireland and protect the everyday lives of the people living there,” the spokesperson added.

In parliament later on Tuesday, former secretary of state for Northern Ireland Lord Murphy of Torfaen accused both sides of “megaphone diplomacy” and argued the legal action would “solve nothing”.

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Good morning

Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of everything UK politics and Brexit related.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 08:13

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Boris Johnson launches £3bn ‘greener bus revolution’ to improve services

Ministers have announced new plans to make England’s buses more frequent, cheaper, greener and easier to use as part of the government’s ongoing “levelling up” agenda.

The strategy, which is backed by £3bn of investment, is intended to encourage existing and prospective passengers to choose buses over cars with the promise of better coordinated services across the country.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 08:21

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More than 1,000 civil service jobs to be relocated to Scotland, government says

More than 1,000 civil service jobs are to be relocated to Scotland in the coming years, the government has announced.

Alongside a previously announced secondary Cabinet Office headquarters in Glasgow with 500 staff by 2024, officials said more than 500 civil servants from the Foreign Office would be stationed north of the border by the middle of the decade.

Our Political Correspondent Ashley Cowburn, has more:

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 08:44

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Boris Johnson plans defence overhall

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to overhaul the country’s defence in a move to modernise the armed forces and help make the UK “match-fit.”

Mr Johnson said there would also be an increase in investment in infrastructure and skills across the country.

Plans will be unveiled on Tuesday in the government’s Integrated Review of the UK’s defence and foreign relations.

The review, which was first announced in 2019, will set out the UK’s defence as well as foregin affairs priorities for the next ten years. It is thought that the next ten years will see an increase in cyber warfare.

Other details which have been pre-released include plans to move 500 Foriegn Office jobs to Scotland, as well as the government promising  “further commitments” to “strengthening the UK’s core industrial base.”

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 09:03

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Brexit: EU expected to launch legal action today over UK breaking Northern Ireland protocol

Brussels is expected to launch legal action against the UK today over moves the EU says breach last year’s deal on Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson’s government has moved to unilaterally change parts of the deal to better suit British businesses – provoking anger on the other side of the channel.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 09:18

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Labour urges government to make plan for school exams

Labour is urging ministers to urgently put a plan in place for next year’s GCSE, A-level and vocational qualification exams.

Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting has called for a guarantee from the government of a “level playing field” for all pupils who have missed out on learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Streeting will use a Westminster Hall debate on Monday to speak to ministers about not repeating the same mistakes made last year.

He said: “The Government’s poor planning and preparation has created a second year of exam chaos.

“Ministers urgently need to set out plans for next year giving teachers and pupils time to prepare and adjust their teaching.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 09:57

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Scottish Labour leader to stand against Nicola Sturgeon in her own constituency

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar will make a bold attempt to oust SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon from her constituency seat at the upcoming Holyrood election.

The newly-elected leader has decided to run against Scotland’s first minister in her Glasgow Southside stronghold ahead of May’s Scottish parliament vote.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 10:17

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Syria civil war: UK imposes sanctions on key Assad allies after ‘decade of brutality’

The UK has imposed sanctions on six allies of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad a decade after the country’s brutal civil war began.

The asset freezes and travel bans – imposed on foreign minister Faisal Miqdad and other top officials – are a response to the “wholesale assault” from the Assad regime against the people of Syria, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 10:53

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Fears that ‘rushed’ legislation may threaten free speech rights

The government’s new measures in its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are facing criticism over the “rushed” speed with which the bill has been put together.

The bill is due to receive a second reading on Monday in the House of Commons and includes plans which would allow the police increased powers to tackle non-violent protests.

This would be applicable should the protests cause significant disruption to the public or problems with access to parliament.

Police, together with legal figures have criticised the bill, warning it could pose a threat to free speech and democracy.

Sir Peter Fahy, former Greater Manchester Police chief constable told Times Radio: “People need to be really worried about this.”

He added that there was a “real danger” rushed legislation that could potentially make the job of the “more difficult.”

Sir Peter added: “This weekend has shown the crucial importance of the right to protest, and you’ve got to be really wary of more legislation being rushed through just because certain politicians didn’t like certain protests during the summer.”

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 11:22

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Women’s groups lose legal battle over plummeting rape prosecutions at Court of Appeal

Campaigners have lost a legal battle over plummeting rape prosecutions at the Court of Appeal.

Women’s groups accused the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of causing the number of cases charged to drop by moving away from a “merits-based approach” and selecting only “safe” cases.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 11:47

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Johnson warned new protest bill ‘will deepen racial inequality’

A coalition of criminal justice and race equality organisations has written to the prime minster warning that the government’s plans for policing and sentencing will further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill entered parliament last week, and will be debated by ministers on Monday and Tuesday. It contains a number of proposals which the government itself has conceded will have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) people in equality assessments.

Our race correspondent Nadine White reports:

Sam Hancock15 March 2021 12:11

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Frost speaks to Sefcovic as EU prepares to launch legal action

Cabinet Office minister Lord David Frost and EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic are understood to have spoken on Monday morning, according to the PA new agency.

It is thought the pair chatted about the legal action the EU is seeking to take against the UK.

Details of their conversation have not yet been released.

Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost

(Getty)

Sam Hancock15 March 2021 12:27

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Pupils need mental health assessment upon return to school, says Scottish Labour

Pupils should get a “personal comeback plan” with a mental health assessment when they return to school following lockdown, the Scottish Labour leader has said.

Anas Sarwar called for all schoolchildren’s progress and mental welfare to be assessed as part of the coronavirus recovery.

In his first major speech since he was elected leader, Mr Sarwar stressed that recovering from the impact of the coronavirus should be Scotland’s priority, rather than another independence referendum.

He said Scottish Labour’s manifesto going into the Holyrood elections in May will be a “national recovery plan”, focusing on the health service, education, jobs, communities and the environment.

Addressing the impact of lockdown on pupils’ education, Mr Sarwar said the country has a “moral imperative to ensure that our next generation do not carry the weight of the pandemic”.

Outlining proposals for guaranteed exam re-sits, free college places and activities for children during the summer, he said: “This is a plan that delivers hope for our young people, restores Scottish education, supports teachers, and makes sure that every child has the right to a decent start in life.

“It includes a tutoring programme which must be led nationally and resourced by the Scottish government.

“We believe there should be a personal comeback plan for every pupil, based on a needs-based assessment, and combined with a mental health assessment.”

Sam Hancock15 March 2021 12:42

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‘Vote Tory and cut the SNP to size,’ urges Gove on visit to Glasgow

Michael Gove said on Monday that every vote for the Conservative Party will “cut the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon down to size”, adding he hopes Douglas Ross will be Scotland’s next first minister.

Speaking during a visit to Glasgow following the announcement of 500 jobs being created in the city through a Cabinet Office expansion, Mr Gove said another independence referendum would be a “momentous distraction”, but refused to be drawn on whether the UK government would be forced to grant one if the SNP return a majority in this year’s election.

The SNP is enjoying a near insurmountable lead in the polls right now, with some suggesting they could take a majority, in a clear sign that Scots want the indyref2 vote to go ahead.

Conversely, the Tories look set to stay in second place, with 20 per cent support in both the constituency and list vote in a recent Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman, while support for the SNP was at 55 per cent and 42 per cent respectively.

Mr Gove said: “It’s up to the Scottish people to decide who the next first minister is, I hope it will be Douglas Ross. The Scottish Conservatives are the only party fighting an unapologetically pro-UK campaign focused on jobs and economic recovery.

“We know that every vote for the Scottish Conservatives is a vote to cut the SNP and cut Nicola Sturgeon down to size and that seems to me to be the wisest thing to do.”

He also said that people he speaks to in Scotland rate supporting the NHS, economic recovery and improving education as higher priorities than independence.

(Getty)

Sam Hancock15 March 2021 13:02

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Boris Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in Cressida Dick as Met commissioner

Boris Johnson has said he as “full confidence” in Cressida Dick as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, amid calls for her resignation over the heavy-handed policing of Saturday’s vigil to murdered Sarah Everard.

Investigations have been launched by the Metropolitan Police and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary into Saturday’s events, when women attending the vigil on Clapham Common in south London were seen being forced to the ground and handcuffed by police.

Political Editor Andrew Woodcock reports:

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 13:19

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Brexit: EU launches legal action against UK over ‘serious’ Northern Ireland protocol breach

Brussels has launched legal action against the UK government after Boris Johnson announced he would renege on parts of the deal he signed last year.

Earlier this month the UK moved to unilaterally change parts of the deal to better suit British businesses – provoking anger on the other side of the channel.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 13:29

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The commission vice president, Maroš Šefčovič, said that the UK was undermining trust. In a statement he explained:

“The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.

The EU and the UK agreed the protocol together. We are also bound to implement it together. Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us. The UK must properly implement it if we are to achieve our objectives. That is why we are launching legal action today.

I do hope that through the collaborative, pragmatic and constructive spirit that has prevailed in our work so far on implementing the withdrawal agreement, we can solve these issues in the joint committee without recourse to further legal means.”

(AFP via Getty Images)

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 13:50

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Priti Patel’s ‘brutal’ protests ban to blame for Sarah Everard vigil crackdown, says ex-Supreme Court judge

Priti Patel is to blame for the police breaking up the Sarah Everard vigil because of her “brutal” ban on all protests, an ex-Supreme Court Judge says.

Jonathan Sumption accused ministers of “humbug” in trying to pin responsibility on the police – arguing the Met was placed in “an impossible situation”.

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 14:05

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Nicola Sturgeon confirms knowing about Patrick Grady concerns before formal complaint

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that she knew about concerns over SNP chief whip Patrick Grady, before a sexual harassment complaint was formally made about him.

The Glasgow North MP stood aside from his role following allegations that he groped two male researchers in 2016 at an SNP Christmas party.

Further claims have been made that Mr Grady “inappropriately” touched an SNP staff member in a London pub. The alleged victim was aged 19 at the time of the incident.

The SNP leader spoke at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing where she confirmed that a formal complaint had been received. However, Ms Sturgeon refused to say for how long she has known about the allegations.

Asked when and where she first head about the claims against Mr Grady, Scotland’s first minister said: “I would have had an awareness previously of a concern, but not a formal complaint.

“I’m not going to say more than that because due process requires that an investigation is allowed to take its course.”

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 14:25

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Watch live as MPs discuss controversial bill to crack down on protests

Eleanor Sly15 March 2021 14:42



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