Brexit news live: Latest updates as MPs warn Boris Johnson over border ‘catastrophe’

Flyers are distributed in Rotterdam, as part of the Get Ready For Brexit campaign

There is a “risk of serious disruption and delay” at the border after the Brexit transition period ends in 29 days, MPs on a parliamentary committee have said, warning of possible “catastrophe” as they offered a scathing verdict on ministers’ preparations for breaking with Brussels.

Michel Barnier is reported as warning a trade deal “hangs in the balance” in a briefing with envoys from member states, who are said to be “nervous” the EU’s chief negotiator could be inclined to accept an unsatisfactory agreement as talks run down to the wire. France and Belgium said on Tuesday that a deal with the UK is important, but not at “any cost”.

It comes after the UK’s fiscal watchdog warned a no-deal scenario would batter the sectors of the UK so far spared by the pandemic – particularly manufacturing, financial services and agriculture – days after it offered analysis suggesting failure to secure a deal would knock an additional two per cent from GDP next year, making the long-term economic impact of Brexit worse than the coronavirus.

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Hancock’s Brexit claim knocked down by regulator chief

While Matt Hancock has sought to paint Brexit as a reason for the UK becoming the first country to approve a vaccine, the MHRA chief touted EU laws from which we will diverge on 31 December as allowing its authorisation.

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 11:12

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Deal ‘hinges on Boris Johnson’s idea of sovereignty’

With commentators having often focused on external factors and pressures that could sway the prime minister into accepting – or rejecting – a trade deal, an expert on European geopolitics says that aides to Boris Johnson have told her that the likelihood of him approving a deal rests on whether it fits with his idea of “sovereignty”.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group, suggests that while fishing rights have been dismissed by some as a red herring over the more fiscally pressing issue of state aid, EU flexibility on the subject could unlock greater goodwill on the British side over state aid and governance.

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 11:06

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‘Democratic scrutiny is not negotiable,’ EU foreign affairs chair says

Following Michel Barnier’s briefing this morning, the chair of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee has warned there are “very few days” left to secure a deal and allow time for proper scrutiny of a document expected to surpass 1,800 pages.

David McAllister said: “We are very much aware that the work on level-playing field and State Aid has entered the final phase … This is the critical moment where principles need to be translated into rules and, more importantly, rules need to be guaranteed by a robust enforcement framework.

“Swift progress is of the essence … Democratic scrutiny is not negotiable.”

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 10:54

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Hancock cites Brexit as reason UK is first country to approve vaccine

With the MHRA having approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Matt Hancock told Times Radio that the reason the UK was the first country to do so was twofold.

“Firstly, because the MRHA has done a great job of working with the company to look at that data as it’s come through and do things in parallel, rather than one after the other as they normally would, that’s the first reason,” the health secretary said.

“The second reason is because, whilst until earlier this year we were in the European Medicines Agency, because of Brexit we’ve been able to make a decision to do this based on the UK regulator, a world-class regulator, and not go at the pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly.

“We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit.”

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 10:33

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EU member states tell Barnier not to rush Brexit deal despite looming deadline

Here’s more detail from Reuters on the reaction to Michel Barnier’s briefing with EU envoys this morning.

A senior EU diplomat has told the EU agency that member states urged Mr Barnier not to be rushed into agreeing an unsatisfactory deal because of the looming deadline.

The diplomat said several member states would rather see negotiations continue past the end of the transition period on 31 December even if that means there is a brief “no-deal” period.

“There is a worry that because of this pressure of time there is a temptation to rush,” the diplomat said. “We told him: don’t do that.”

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 10:09

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PM to hold press conference after MHRA grants vaccine approval

Away from Brexit for a moment, No 10 has announced Boris Johnson will hold a press conference later this evening – at around 5pm – following the news the UK’s independent medicines regulator has approved the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

Around 10am, a technical briefing on the vaccine’s approval will also take place in Downing Street, with MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine.

She will be joined by professor Sir Munir Primohamed, the chair of the commission on human medicine working group and professor Wei Shen Lim, who chairs the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the health secretary Matt Hancock said he expected 800,000 jabs to be available in the “first instance” and “many millions” available before the end of 2020.

He added: “The vast majority of vaccinations we expect to be in the new year and this is a vaccination that requires two doses – 21 days apart – and so of course it will take time to roll it out. The speed at which we go will be determined by how quickly Pfizer can manufacture in Belgium.”

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 09:47

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EU states becoming ‘jittery’

Reuters reports an EU diplomat as saying that some member states are becoming “jittery” as trade talks enter their endgame.

This follows a public statement from the leaders of France and Belgium that a deal must not be sought at any cost if it is detrimental to the interests of member states.

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 09:33

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Editorial: Failure to agree an EU trade deal would be an unforgivable mistake

An editorial in today’s Independent states:

“Looking back over the past decade and a half, the British economy was among those that suffered most from the financial crash; it was among those that suffered most from coronavirus; and it will also suffer inevitably from the decision of the British electorate in 2016 to put the idea of sovereignty above economic prosperity. 

“It would be unpardonable folly to impose a further 2 per cent surcharge on those costs by failing to agree a trade deal that is already, we are told, 95 per cent complete.”

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 09:31

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‘How could EU ever approve’ deal if new bill violates WA?

ITV’s Robert Peston has quoted an EU source as saying that if the government’s new taxation bill violates the withdrawal agreement, the bloc would certainly not ratify a trade deal.

It comes after the BBC’s Faisal Islam reported that the government’s new Taxation Bill may contain clauses which could allow the UK to deactivate parts of the Northern Ireland protocol by handing the UK power to decide itself which of its goods are “at risk” of passing into the EU via Northern Ireland – and thus which goods should be subject to tariffs.

He points out that this would be a breach of international law, and suggests that by including these clauses in a finance-related bill, the government could be seeking to bypass the House of Lords – which has strongly opposed elements of the controversial Internal Market Bill.

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 09:15

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Government has failed to properly prepare for no-deal Brexit, watchdog warns

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more details on the damning assessment of the government’s preparations by the Public Accounts Committee.

MPs on parliament’s Whitehall watchdog warned in a report yesterday that the government was still “taking limited responsibility” for Brexit readiness despite there being just four weeks left until Britain leaves the single market.

Andy Gregory2 December 2020 09:07

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