Boris Johnson’s plan for what a former aide described as “the world’s most stupid tunnel” between Scotland and Northern Ireland has been ditched as the Treasury clamps down on spending.
The prime minister initially proposed a 28-mile bridge connecting Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland in 2018, but the £15bn project was widely derided by engineers because of the practical obstacles to construction in a stretch of water which is more than 1,000 feet deep in places.
An unnamed government official with knowledge of Treasury spending negotiations told the Financial Times the plans are “dead, at least for now”.
Elsewhere, the government will push back a number of post-Brexit border controls from October and January next year until July 2022, David Frost has confirmed.
It came after the Brexit minister issued a fresh warning to the EU that Britain is not afraid to unilaterally suspend the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol agreed by Mr Johnson last year if officials continue to dismiss renegotiations.
Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling UK politics coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest Brexit fallout and goings-on from inside Parliament.
‘Take renegotiations seriously or we will abandon Protocol,’ Frost warns EU
The row over Brexit and Northern Ireland (NI) has escalated after Britain warned last night it is prepared to unilaterally suspend the NI protocol trading agreement with the EU.
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, told the House of Lords on Monday night that his July command paper had set out the tests the UK would apply to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol, which allows either side to suspend the Protocol if it is deemed as having a significant impact on everyday life.
“I urge the EU to take this seriously. They would be making a significant mistake if they thought that we were not ready to use Article 16 safeguards, if that is our only choice to deal with the situation in front of us. If we are to avoid Article 16, there must be a real negotiation between us and the EU.”
It is not the first time the government has issued such a warning. Back in June, while the G7 summit was underway in Cornwall, Boris Johnson told Sky News he would do “whatever it takes” to make things right for Northern Ireland – including invoking Article 16.
The EU has repeatedly responded to such claims by saying it will not be “bullied” into changing its mind. “We will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol,” said Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s vice president, in an official statement in July.
Britain’s demands include abandoning full Irish Sea trade checks – due to start later this year, when “grace periods” expire – and for Brussels to shelve legal action for non-implementation of existing terms.
PM’s mother dies ‘suddenly and peacefully’ aged 79
Boris Johnson is mourning the loss of his mother, the artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who has died at the age of 79.
She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 40 and later became president of the European Commission for Human Rights.
The prime minister once described her as the “supreme authority” in his family, reports our deputy news editor Alastair Jamieson.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was among the first politicians to offer his condolences. “I’m very sorry to learn of the prime minister’s loss. My condolences to him and his family,” he tweeted.
Ocado to spend £5m on pay rises for HGV drivers due to Brexit shortages
Online grocer Ocado is set to spend an additional £5m this year in pay rises, recruitment and signing-on bonuses for HGV drivers.
The shortage, caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, has become “an increasingly important issue for the industry” and that it will try to mitigate costs where possible, the company said.
Bosses also revealed they will face a further £10m hit this year due to a fire at the company’s warehouse in Erith, southeast London, in the summer which led to around 300,000 customer orders worth £35m being cancelled.
Sales fell 10.6 per cent to £517.5m in the 13 weeks to 29 August, in part due to the fire but also because of strong comparisons last year at the height of the pandemic.
However, bosses are confident the company can continue its “strong growth”.
Tim Steiner, chairman of Ocado Retail, said: “Despite the challenges we faced in the period, I am delighted to report that Ocado Retail is performing well, improving the customer experience even further and continuing to grow the business in a post-lockdown environment.”
Additional reporting by PA
Minister criticised for telling MPs government ‘can’t help stranded Afghans’
The minister for Afghan resettlement has told MPs to stop asking for help on behalf of people stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan – as the government will not be able to respond to their requests.
In a letter to MPs, seen by The Independent, Victoria Atkins told her parliamentary colleagues instead to tell desperate people seeking their help to visit the government website, reports Andy Gregory.
Describing the move as “utterly disgraceful”, the Liberal Democrats warned that Afghans trapped in their homes in fear of the Taliban had “lost one of their last lifelines”.
But the Home Office minister said that Britain’s lack of troops or an embassy in Afghanistan represent a “new reality”, meaning the government now “cannot provide to MPs assessments or updates on those individuals who remain in Afghanistan and whose cases they have raised”.
UK government threatens to suspend NI protocol
Boris Johnson hailed the signing of the Northern Ireland protocol and withdrawal agreement as a “fantastic moment” for the UK in January last year, but now says it is not working and that it must be changed.
Speaking in the House of Lords on Monday evening, David Frost, the government’s Brexit minister, said the EU should come to the table to make changes to the accord.
Lord Frost, who negotiated the agreement as a special advisor with wide ranging executive powers but who has since been appointed to the legislature and made a government minister, said: “A real negotiation does not mean the EU coming up with its own plans for solutions, within the framework of the existing Protocol, and presenting them to us as ‘take it or leave it’.”
Here’s our policy correspondent Jon Stone with more on Britain’s warning to the EU.
Post-Covid employment boom sees worker numbers at pre-pandemic levels
UK worker numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels after the “biggest jump in employment since 2014,” according to figures analysed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Jonathan Athow, ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: “Early estimates from payroll data suggest that in August the total number of employees is around the same level as before the pandemic, though our surveys show well over a million are still on furlough.
“However, this recovery isn’t even: in hard-hit areas such as London, and sectors such as hospitality and arts and leisure, the numbers of workers remain well down on pre-pandemic levels.
“The overall employment rate continues to recover, particularly among groups such as young workers who were hard hit at the outset of the pandemic, while unemployment has fallen.
“Vacancies reached a new record high.
“Not surprisingly, this is driven above all by hospitality, the sector with the highest proportion of employers reporting their job openings are hard to fill.”
Welfare and immigration policies driving racial disparity in housing – study
Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are more likely to face unaffordable housing costs because of poverty, the benefit cap, immigration policies such as ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ (NRPF) and racism in the labour market, new research has revealed.
One quarter of these groups, excluding Indian employees who are overrepresented as homeowners, are paying housing costs that are unaffordable (25 per cent), compared with 10 per cent of white workers, the study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown.
Khem Rogaly, one of the report’s authors, said: “Our research lays bare the shameful reality that people from ethnic minority communities are much more likely to be living in unaffordable housing that has a detrimental impact on their living standards.”
Our race correspondent Nadine White reports:
Watch: Border Force carries out ‘pushback drills’ using jet skis
Recap: Footage shows officials practicing ‘pushback drills’ to divert migrant boats
In case you missed this yesterday, Border Force staff were spotted using jet skis to turn around dinghies in the English Channel as part of a training exercise.
Photographs and video footage taken by charity Channel Rescue on Monday morning shows large Border Force vessels with what appears to be three jet skis trying to turn around rubber boats.
“We saw the jet skis either side and at the rear of the boat and then collide with the vessel to actually spin it around. It looked dangerous,” Channel Rescue coordinator Steven, who recorded the video off the coast of Kingsdown, in Dover, told The Independent.
Read our social correspondent May Bulman’s report in full here: