Britain Signs Post-Brexit Trade Deal With Japan

British Secretary of State for International Trade Elizabeth Truss (L) and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi exchange documents during a signing ceremony for economic partnership between Japan and Britain at the Iikura Annex of the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on October 23, 2020. (Photo by Kimimasa MAYAMA / POOL / AFP)

 

Britain hailed its first major post-Brexit trade deal Friday after signing an agreement with Japan that it said shows it can stand alone on the global stage, as talks on a pact with the European Union remain bogged down.

London said the pact, which was agreed after just a few months of talks over the summer, would boost business between the two by £15.2 billion ($19.5 billion) and proved others could be signed elsewhere.

The deal comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pursues his “Global Britain” strategy that seeks potentially more advantageous trade deals than those that were negotiated while it was an EU member.

The UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement covers sectors including food, textiles and technology and largely replicates the existing EU-Japan arrangement, which will no longer apply to Britain at the end of this year.

It is due to take effect on January 1 — the end of a transition period in which London and Brussels are trying to thrash out the terms of their own new relationship.

British-Japanese trade was worth around £30 billion last year, while Britain’s imports and exports to the European Union, its biggest trading partner, totalled $670 billion.

After the signing ceremony in Tokyo, Britain’s International Trade Minister Liz Truss said: “It used to be said that an independent UK would not be able to strike independent trade deals, or they would take years to conclude. But today we prove the naysayers wrong.”

Truss also said the deal “paves the way” for Britain to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership between 11 countries including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam and Australia.

But joining is likely to be a complex manoeuvre that will take years.

Long-running post-Brexit talks with the EU resumed Thursday after Britain ended a week of threats to abandon them.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier arrived in London vowing to work around the clock to salvage a trade deal and avert potential economic chaos at the end of the year — although key sticking points still remain.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Friday highlighted the importance of a smooth end to the Brexit transition period, especially for Japanese businesses that see the UK as a “gateway to continental Europe”.

“It is of paramount importance that the supply chains between the UK and EU are maintained even after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Japan has high hopes that an agreement is reached soon,” he said.

Britain formally left the EU in January, following a seismic referendum in 2016 that saw voters opt to end five decades of European integration.

Britain’s Royal Opera House To Sell Hockney Painting To Raise Funds

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 6, 2020 a pedestrian passes the Royal Opera House, in London’s West End. – Britain’s Royal Opera House plans to sell a portrait by David Hockney in a bid to raise funds, as it suffers from the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

Britain’s Royal Opera House plans to sell a portrait by David Hockney in a bid to raise funds, as it suffers from the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The iconic London institution said the sale of the painting of its former chief David Webster at auction later this month was “a vital part of (our) strategy for recovery”.

It is expected to fetch between £11 million ($14 million, 12 million euros) and £18 million, according to the Observer newspaper.

“The proceeds will be used to ensure that the world’s greatest artists can once more return to our stages,” said Chief Executive Alex Beard.

The Royal Opera House closed its Covent Garden doors in late March as Britain went into a months-long nationwide lockdown as Covid-19 spread across the country.

It reopened in June without live audiences and by streaming performances online as part of a four-pronged recovery plan which includes redundancies and other cost-cutting.

It has also launched a fundraising campaign among audiences and supporters “to sustain our community of artists”.

But income has fallen by more than half since the pandemic began and been described by Beard as “the biggest crisis in our history”.

The painting by Britain’s Hockney depicts Webster, who ran the opera house from 1945 to 1970, and was commissioned for the Covent Garden building in the 1970s.

It will go under the hammer at Christie’s auction house on October 22.

AFP

UK Resumes US Beef Exports After Two-Decade Ban

Red Meat

 

Britain’s first beef exports to the United States in more than 20 years left Northern Ireland on Wednesday, six months after Washington lifted a ban, the government said.

“This is great news for our food and farming industry, who have estimated it will bring a £66 million ($85 million, 72 million euros) boost to beef producers over the next five years alone,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

Washington imposed restrictions on all EU beef exports in 1998 due to concerns about mad cow disease but has gradually eased them as it tries to negotiate a free trade deal with Brussels.

It has permitted Irish beef imports since 2015 and granted the Netherlands approval to renew its exports the following year.

Britain, which left the European Union on January 31 after the 2016 Brexit vote, received permission to restart its transatlantic beef shipments in March.

British herds were badly hit by mad cow disease — officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) — in the late 1980s and 1990s.

More than four million cows were slaughtered, then burned on huge pyres across the countryside, in an effort to contain the spread.

Eating infected beef can cause the degenerative brain condition variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans. In 2000, 24 people died in Britain from vCJD.

Britain is aiming to strike a free trade deal with the United States as the country tries to take advantage of life outside the EU from 2021.

Although the country formally left the bloc earlier this year, it is still abiding by EU rules in a standstill transition period until December 31.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the resumption of beef exports to the US “could be just the tip of the iceberg”.

“The free trade deal we are negotiating with the US will create a host of export opportunities for British agriculture,” she added.

“We are seeking an ambitious and high standards agreement that benefits farmers and delivers for consumers.”

AFP

Britain Launches Fresh COVID-19 Plan To Protect Jobs

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak hosts a remote press conference to update the nation on his economic measures announced today during the covid-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 24, 2020.  (Photo by JOHN SIBLEY / POOL / AFP)

 

Britain on Thursday launched a coronavirus winter battle plan to protect jobs and boost the fragile economy, after surging infections sparked fresh nationwide measures to slow the spread.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak unveiled his new jobs protection scheme that will support wages of staff keeping at least one-third of their usual working hours.

The plan, starting in November, does not however go as far as the furlough scheme ending next month that has paid out billions of pounds to support wages of some ten million workers.

“The next phase of our planned economic response” would “protect jobs and the economy over the winter period,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak told parliament.

He decided to also prolong tax cuts for the hospitality and tourism sectors, while extending an income-support initiative for the self-employed.

– ‘Cannot save every business’ –

“As I’ve said throughout this crisis, I cannot save every business,” Sunak said as he announced the watered-down jobs scheme.

“I cannot save every job. No chancellor could.”

Under the new scheme, the government and employers will together pay the salaries of workers kept in roles on reduced hours.

To keep the UK economy alive and people in jobs during the pandemic, the government’s furlough scheme has paid the bulk of wages earned by staff in full-time roles across the private sector.

Despite the new support, analysts warn that Britain still faces the possibility of surging unemployment as many businesses simply cannot afford to keep staff, even on reduced hours.

“These measures should help ease the pressure currently being felt by businesses and workers up and down the country,” noted analyst Tom Selby at broker AJ Bell.

“However, whether it is enough to prevent a surge in unemployment as we head into winter remains to be seen.”

Sunak’s update comes on the day Britons began facing new restrictive measures — including early closing times for pubs and restaurants.

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week called on Britons to work from home as the country faces a spike in virus cases, hurting city-centre services.

Johnson’s call comes as businesses were just starting to get back on their feet after a three-month nationwide lockdown earlier this year.

– ‘Fact of life’ –

“It is now clear, as the prime minister and his science advisers have said, that for at least the next six months the virus and restrictions are going to be a fact of our lives,” Sunak added Thursday.

“The resurgence of the virus and the measures we need to take in response pose a threat to this fragile economic recovery,” he added.

British gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by a fifth in the second quarter, more than any European neighbour, after the March 23 lockdown plunged the country into its deepest recession on record.

While retailers, hospitality and travel groups have been at the forefront of slashing tens of thousands of jobs during the pandemic and despite furlough support, supermarkets have created many new ones to meet a surge in online food demand.

Britain on Wednesday meanwhile recorded 6,178 new virus cases — the highest daily increase since May 1.

The government’s top medical advisers had warned that the country could see up to 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day if nothing was done.

Almost 42,000 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Britain, the worst death toll in Europe.

AFP

Plans To Allow Fans Back Into Stadiums ‘Paused’ Due To COVID-19 Spike

Britain’s Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove walks through Downing Street in central London on September 22, 2020 to attend the weekly meeting of the cabinet. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

 

Plans to allow the phased return of fans to sporting venues in England from October 1 will be put on hold due to the sharp rise in coronavirus cases, ministers said on Tuesday.

A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000, have taken place and it was hoped venues would be allowed to welcome more spectators from the start of next month.

But Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said a “mass reopening” would not be appropriate at the current time, dealing a devastating blow to sports bodies struggling with the financial fallout of Covid-19.

“We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning — it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans,” Gove told the BBC.

“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.”

Professional sport, including the Premier League and Test cricket, has largely been played behind closed doors since it returned following the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year.

Sports chiefs have warned of crippling losses due to the loss of income from gate receipts and hospitality.

The leaders of more than 100 sports bodies have reportedly written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for emergency funding, warning of “a lost generation of activity”.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters earlier this month warned it was “critical” to get fans back into stadiums soon, with clubs facing enormous losses.

Plans to host 1,000-capacity crowds at four Super League fixtures next week now look set to be scrapped.

“It’s clearly very disappointing,” RFL (Rugby Football League) chief executive Ralph Rimmer told the BBC. “We spoke with the secretary of state last week who was very supportive in developing a road map back to full crowds and the pilot schemes were the first step in that.

“The push on the 1,000 crowds would be disappointing if that was to be pushed backwards.”

Julian Knight, who chairs the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee, expressed his concern at the announcement from Gove.

“If we don’t find a route map with smart solutions to allow sports and live events to gradually reopen, we risk decimation of our sporting and cultural infrastructure,” he wrote on Twitter.

AFP

COVID-19 Sparks Overhaul Of Britain’s Historic Railway Sector

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 19, 2012 trains are seen at Clapham Junction train station in south London. – Britain unveiled on September 21, 2020 a radical overhaul of its coronavirus-plagued privatised rail sector that will see franchises replaced with concessions subject to tougher scrutiny and greater state involvement. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

 

Britain’s privatised railway sector that drove the Industrial Revolution and was rescued by the state in March owing to coronavirus-ravaged demand, faces a major overhaul under government plans unveiled Monday.

While UK train services will continue to be run mainly by private companies, the franchising system will be replaced by Emergency Recovery Management Agreements (ERMA) as the virus derails demand, the government said.

The Department for Transport said it would continue to cover losses suffered by private rail operators over the next 18 months, extending a system begun following the start of the virus outbreak in Britain.

“Ministers today ended rail franchising after 24 years as the first step in bringing Britain’s fragmented network back together,” the DfT said in a statement.

“The new system will create a simpler, more effective structure and will take shape over the coming months.”

The franchising system has been long-criticised by passenger groups, who accuse private companies of charging excessive fares for regularly-delayed train services despite earning large state-subsidies.

Despite long-standing government help, the taxpayer has in recent years been forced to take over several franchises that ran into financial trouble, such as Northern Trains and London North Eastern Railway.

– ‘No longer working’ –

With Covid-19 decimating passenger demand, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has already paid out a reported £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion, 3.8 billion euros) to support private rail operators.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated Monday said that the privatised rail model was not working in the current climate, as many commuters choose to work at home and travellers cancel their plans.

“The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working,” Shapps said.

The new system will keep the best elements of the private sector but add better direction and accountability, he insisted.

And the DfT warned: “Until passenger numbers return, significant taxpayer support will still be needed.”

Rail operators will still be paid management fees for running services under the ERMA system — but these will be lower than under emergency measures that were implemented in March.

Keith Williams, a former British Airways boss commissioned by the government to review the sector, welcomed the new strategy.

“These new agreements represent the end of the complicated franchising system, demand more from the expertise and skills of the private sector, and ensure passengers return to a more punctual and co-ordinated railway,” he said.

However, trade unions slammed the move, which is the first major sector-wide overhaul since the Conservatives privatised British Rail in the mid-1990s.

“This announcement should now force the government’s hand and lead them to face up to what has been staring them in the face for the best part of three decades,” said Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash.

“Public ownership is the only model that works and can steer us through a crisis such as Covid-19,” he added.

Lawmaker Tan Dhesi, rail spokesman for the opposition Labour party, argued it was “completely unacceptable” that taxpayers continue to pay “hundreds of millions of pounds” in management fees to private rail companies — and urged the government to bring all rail services back into public ownership.

AFP

UK MPs Resume Brexit Feuding As New Bill Faces First Commons Vote

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (central left) giving a statement on coronavirus on September 10, 2020.

 

Britain’s parliament on Monday finds itself in familiar territory — arguing about Brexit — with threats of rebellion and resignations over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial plan for a new law that will break his EU divorce treaty.

The House of Commons holds its first debate and vote over the bombshell new bill from late afternoon, despite a call from Brussels for it to be withdrawn by the end of the month.

The contentious legislation, unveiled last week, would override the divorce deal the UK struck with the EU last year in several key areas related to Northern Ireland.

It would see London unilaterally regulate UK trade and state aid within the British province, ignoring the EU treaty which gives Brussels a continuing say over Northern Ireland’s trading relationship.

If the law passes in the coming weeks, Brussels has warned it could scupper ongoing trade deal talks and threatened court action, leaving the prospects of an orderly Brexit in tatters.

Even some Brexiteer lawmakers were aghast that Britain would wilfully trash an international treaty, threatening the country’s reputation and potentially endangering Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.

Former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair this weekend openly criticised the action, while David Cameron said Monday he had “misgivings” about the approach.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s pro-Brexit former attorney general Geoffrey Cox said it would be “unconscionable” to override an international treaty.

“I think it is wrong that the British government or our parliament should renege on an agreement on which we gave our solemn word,” he told Times Radio.

– ‘Squabbling days’ –

The latest row revives the bitter wrangling over how to implement British voters’ shock decision in 2016 to quit the bloc, which led to parliamentary deadlock and repeated postponements.

The impasse was broken after Johnson sealed a divorce deal with Brussels and used it to win a thumping victory in a December general election which gave his Conservatives an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons.

Brexit took legal effect the next month, but in practice Britain has remained bound by EU rules under a transition period until the end of this year.

With the clock ticking down, no breakthrough is in sight for regulating cross-Channel trade from January, and Northern Ireland is back as a fiendishly complicated obstacle.

Britain claims it needs the new law as an insurance policy in case no trade agreement is struck, but the EU was left blind-sided, as were many in parliament.

The government nonetheless appears determined to ram the UK Internal Market Bill through as quickly as possible, and senior minister Michael Gove believes it can avert a full-scale rebellion.

“I think we have got the support of our own MPs and MPs in other parties as well,” he told BBC television. “But you’re absolutely right we are reaching a crunch moment.”

On Friday evening, the prime minister held a chaotic Zoom call with about 250 Conservative backbenchers which appeared to do little to mollify the malcontents.

Johnson warned them against a return to the “miserable, squabbling days of last autumn” over Brexit, according to MPs’ accounts to the media afterwards.

Not long after the call, he accused the EU of plotting to break up the UK with a food “blockade” down the Irish Sea, which EU leaders have denied.

– ‘Madman theory’ –

MPs will get their first chance to debate the legislation from mid-afternoon Monday, before voting at around 2100 GMT to continue its passage through parliament.

However, more meaningful votes on attempts to change the draft law will not come until next week.

Commons Justice Committee chairman Bob Neill has filed an amendment to dictate that parliament, not the government, will have the final say on any changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The bill “is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.

It remains to be seen whether Tory rebels can muster the numbers to seriously embarrass the government on Monday or whether they could hold their fire until future votes.

The main opposition Labour party, which opposed Brexit, says it is open to negotiation about the bill but would rather be talking about Covid-19.

“We should be getting on with defeating this virus, not reigniting old rows,” Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

AFP

UK Holds Crisis Talks With EU As Pelosi Warns On Brexit Bill

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Britain held emergency talks with the European Union on Thursday, facing warnings of legal action over a new Brexit bill and a threatening reminder of its obligations to Northern Ireland from leading US Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

Warnings redoubled too within the ranks of the governing Conservative party as former prime minister John Major, who helped lay the foundations for Northern Irish peace in the 1990s, said his successor Boris Johnson risked trashing the UK’s global reputation.

“If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained,” Major said, after the government conceded that the proposed new legislation would breach an EU withdrawal treaty in the countdown to a full Brexit divorce.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic headed to London demanding “clarifications” over the new UK Internal Market Bill, after it was submitted to a stormy session of parliament Wednesday.

“I came here to express serious concerns the European Union has over the proposed bill,” Sefcovic told reporters before starting the meeting with his counterpart on a UK-EU joint committee, Michael Gove.

The bill would give British ministers unilateral powers to regulate trade among England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, once the force of EU law expires after a post-Brexit transition period at the end of this year.

But under the EU withdrawal treaty, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on arrangements for Northern Ireland, which will have the UK’s only land border with the EU, and where 30 years of bloodshed ended with a landmark peace deal in 1998.

– Rushed through? –

EU diplomats — and Johnson’s many critics at home including in the UK’s devolved governments — have ridiculed Downing Street’s argument that the EU treaty was written “at pace” and contained unforeseen problems relating to a protocol on Northern Ireland.

But Johnson’s spokesman, rebuffing the criticism from Major and others, stressed the legislation was needed to create a “safety net” for Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading regime.

“We can’t allow the peace process or the UK internal market to inadvertently be comprised by the ill-intended consequences of the protocol,” the spokesman told reporters.

“We would expect other countries to recognise this and the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Sefcovic and Gove met on the last day of a parallel track of negotiations this week in London that have struggled to make headway on a future trading relationship, as Britain unwinds nearly 50 years of European integration.

Johnson’s critics say the new bill is aimed partly at torpedoing that track, so Britain can go its own way and forge other trade pacts free of EU oversight, not least with the United States.

However, House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi gave short shrift to any hopes of Congress ratifying a future trade deal if Britain ploughs ahead with the new Brexit bill.

In a statement, she said London must respect the EU treaty’s Northern Ireland Protocol, which envisages borderless trade with EU member Ireland as a way of upholding the 1998 peace pact.

“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” Pelosi warned.

“The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.”

– See you in court –

More immediately, the EU’s executive commission circulated a paper setting out legal options against London including recourse to the European Court of Justice — the supreme arbiter of EU law which Brexit, ironically, is meant to escape.

“A breach of the obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement would open the way to the legal remedies,” a draft prepared by EU ambassadors and seen by AFP said.

EU diplomats said that to avoid that, and the possibility of hefty fines against Britain, much hinged on the Sefcovic-Gove committee finding a way out.

Johnson spoke by phone on Wednesday evening with his Irish counterpart, Micheal Martin, who was left unimpressed by British assurances that the internal market bill is aimed in fact at preserving peace in Northern Ireland.

“I pointed out very strongly to him that this was very unsettling for Northern Ireland, that it was dragging Northern Ireland back into the centre stage,” Martin told RTE radio, warning also that Johnson had eroded trust with the EU.

AFP

EU Chief Warns UK Must Respect Brexit Withdrawal Deal

Newly elected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gestures as she attends a news conference after a vote on her election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on July 16, 2019. FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP.

 

EU leader Ursula von der Leyen warned Monday that Britain is legally obliged to respect the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which must form the basis of bilateral relations going forward.

“I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law and prerequisite for any future partnership,” the president of the European Commission said.

Von der Leyen issued her warning after The Financial Times reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning legislation to override parts of the withdrawal treaty that Britain and the EU agreed last year.

The report cited three people close to the plans as saying a bill to be put before parliament this week would undermine agreements relating to Northern Ireland customs and state aid.

In response, Downing Street said only that it was still “working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol” but was considering “fall-back options”.

But Von Der Leyen warned that, in Brussels’ view, the clause — which would see the British province continue to follow some EU rules while maintaining an open border with Ireland — is essential.

The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, she tweeted, “is essential to protect peace and stability on the island and the integrity of the single market.”

AFP

Britain Commences Work On New High-Speed Railway

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) reacts during his visit to the Solihull Interchange construction site for the HS2 high-speed railway project, near Birmingham, central England on September 4, 2020. Andrew Fox / POOL / AFP
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) reacts during his visit to the Solihull Interchange construction site for the HS2 high-speed railway project, near Birmingham, central England on September 4, 2020. Andrew Fox / POOL / AFP

 

Britain on Friday formally began building HS2, its new high-speed railway set to deliver thousands of jobs to the country’s virus-ravaged economy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the project — which is to cost more than £100 billion ($130 billion, 110 billion euros) funded mostly by the state — will play a part in helping the country get back on its feet following the pandemic.

Prior to the virus outbreak, Johnson saw HS2 as a key infrastructure project aimed at helping drive Britain’s post-Brexit economy.

“HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better (following the pandemic) and with construction now formally underway, it’s set to create around 22,000 new jobs,” Johnson said in a statement Friday.

The start of construction comes amid huge financial losses for Britain’s rail sector as office workers shun public transport to work from home during the virus outbreak.

Despite this, Johnson later told an event to mark the start of building works that he has “absolutely no doubt that mass transit transport infrastructure is going to be crucial for our country, not just now, but in the decades ahead”.

HS2, while quickening train journeys between London in southeast England and major cities in the north, will also ease pressure on existing lines and possibly help rebalance a UK economy that is heavily centred on the capital.

Activists take part in demonstration against the HS2 hi-speed rail line outside the Department of Transport, as part of protests by the Extinction Rebellion climate change group in central London on September 4, 2020 on the fourth day of their new series of 'mass rebellions'. Tolga Akmen / AFP
Activists take part in demonstration against the HS2 hi-speed rail line outside the Department of Transport, as part of protests by the Extinction Rebellion climate change group in central London on September 4, 2020 on the fourth day of their new series of ‘mass rebellions’. Tolga Akmen / AFP

 

“As the spine of our country’s transport network, the project will be vital in boosting connectivity between our towns and cities,” Johnson said Friday.

“But HS2’s transformational potential goes even further.

“By creating hundreds of apprenticeships and thousands of skilled jobs, HS2 will fire up economic growth and help to rebalance opportunity across this country for years to come,” he added.

The project’s first stage — connecting London to Britain’s second-biggest city Birmingham in the English Midlands — is due to open by around 2028-2031.

A second phase, extending the line north to English cities Manchester and Leeds, won’t be completed before 2035-2040.

And while construction of HS2 is set to produce vast amounts of carbon emissions and destroy ancient woodlands and wildlife, according to experts, its electric trains will likely be far more environmentally friendly than planes making similar trips.

HS2 is Britain’s second high-speed rail project after HS1, which links London with the Channel Tunnel that connects the UK to France.

 

AFP

UK To Impose Quarantine On Arrivals From Switzerland, Jamaica

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

Britain said on Thursday it will reimpose quarantine for travellers from the Czech Republic, Jamaica and Switzerland, but ease restrictions on arrivals from Cuba in a bid to keep coronavirus infection rates down.

The decision, which will come into effect from 0300 GMT on Saturday, will require travellers from those three countries to self-isolate for 14 days following spikes in cases.

“Data shows we need to remove the Czech Republic, Jamaica and Switzerland from our list of #Coronavirus Travel Corridors to keep infection rates DOWN,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter.

“Data also shows we can now add Cuba to those countries INCLUDED in Travel Corridors,” he added, warning that people thinking of travelling abroad should be prepared for the advice to change at short notice.

Quarantine was imposed last week on Croatia, Austria, and Trinidad and Tobago, following France, the Netherlands and several other countries on the list as governments across Europe grapple with fears of a second wave of virus infections.

Britain, which has been the hardest-hit European country by COVID-19, registering more than 41,000 deaths to date, has itself seen its number of confirmed cases creeping up in recent weeks.

Officials announced more than 1,500 new cases on Thursday, its highest total since mid-June, although hospital admissions and death rates remain low.

The UK had no quarantine measures in the early stages of the pandemic but in June imposed a blanket self-isolation requirement on all arrivals.

Weeks later it carved out “travel corridors” which exempted travellers from certain countries from quarantine.

However, the measures were reintroduced for arrivals from Spain in late July, catching airlines by surprise — as well as thousands of Britons leaving for their holidays.

The country’s struggling tourism sector has criticised the quarantine policy as overbearing and called for more targeted testing at ports of entry.

AFP

Britain Suspends Further Reopening As Concerns Grow Over Spike In COVID-19 Cases

A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending a remote press conference to update the nation on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic inside 10 Downing Street in central London on July 31, 2020. Andrew PARSONS / POOL / 10 Downing Street / AFP
A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending a remote press conference to update the nation on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic inside 10 Downing Street in central London on July 31, 2020. Andrew PARSONS / POOL / 10 Downing Street / AFP

 

Britain on Friday “put the brakes on” easing lockdown measures and imposed new rules on millions of households in northern England, following concerns over a spike in coronavirus infections.

The reopening of high-risk activities such as casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks, which was meant to begin on Saturday, will be delayed until at least August 15, as will the reintroduction of indoor performances and pilot schemes of larger crowds at sporting events, Boris Johnson announced.

“I have said our plan to reopen society and the economy is conditional.. that we would not hesitate to put the brakes on if required. Our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal,” the Prime Minister said in a Downing Street briefing.

Johnson, who earlier this week warned of a “second wave” of cases in Europe, added that Britain “cannot be complacent” about increasing infection numbers.

Increase in new infections

His announcement came hours after the government increased regional lockdown measures — under which people from different households are banned from meeting indoors — for some four million people across Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions were being brought in because people were “meeting and not abiding to social distancing”.

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock/ AFP

 

“We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of COVID across Europe and are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe,” Hancock said on Twitter.

Government data released Friday showed there was “some evidence that the incidence of new infections has increased in recent weeks” in England.

However, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said “I don’t think it is helpful” to talk yet of a second wave sweeping across Europe.

The local measures came into effect at midnight (2300 GMT Thursday), just hours after being announced.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, backed the measures due to an increase in infections.

“The picture in Greater Manchester has changed over the last seven days,” he told the BBC.

“We have a rise in nine out of the 10 boroughs, the reality on the ground is changing.”

Scots should avoid Manchester

But the new measures have come under criticism from the opposition Labour party for being announced late at night.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter: “Announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.”

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister's Question time (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 22, 2020. JESSICA TAYLOR / PRU / AFP
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister’s Question time (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 22, 2020.
JESSICA TAYLOR / PRU / AFP

 

They also come into force just as celebrations of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha begin. Areas affected by the latest lockdown have significant Muslim populations.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned her citizens against travelling to the affected areas.

“To… minimise risks of onward transmission here, @scotgov is STRONGLY advising against non-essential travel between Scotland and these parts of the north of England,” she wrote on Twitter.

It is not the first local lockdown to be put in place — England has lifted most of its restrictions nationally but imposed store closures around the central city of Leicester at the end of June.

Hancock said Leicester would now follow the same ban on meetings between different households being applied to Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire.

Britain’s official virus death toll stands at 45,999 but is believed to be as high as 65,000 if excess deaths are used as a guide.

 

AFP