<p>EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier wearing a protective face covering to combat the spread of the coronavirus</p>
Face-to-face Brexit negotiations have resumed in London after being derailed by coronavirus infection, with just days effectively left to secure a trade deal before the transition period ends on 31 December.
Negotiator David Frost suggested a deal is “still possible” but insisted any deal must “fully respect” UK sovereignty, while his EU counterpart Michel Barnier warned “the same significant divergences remain” on fishing rights, governance and “level playing field” issues.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon will declare Scotland a “nation on the cusp of making history” with independence in “clear sight” at the SNP’s annual conference, after a clear succession of opinion polls showed a majority of support for a Yes vote.
And in the wake of Dominic Cummings’ departure, the Tories have been urged to abandon their threats to abolish the Electoral Commission – which has fined both the Conservative Party and Vote Leave campaign – with democracy campaigners denouncing such threats as a “tactic worthy of Putin, not the British PM”.
Boris Johnson has appointed a dedicated minister to take charge of the deployment of the Covid vaccine, days after Labour warned the role was necessary to avoid a repeat of the mistakes seen with PPE and Test and Trace, our Whitehall editor Kate Devlinreports.
Nadhim Zahawi – currently a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – will be made a health minister, with responsibility for the coronavirus vaccine until at least next summer.
Scotland faces ‘tsunami of child poverty’ if Sunak imposes ‘second wave of austerity’
After Boris Johnson’s embarrassing row and painful U-turn with Marcus Rashford over free school meals, the SNP has pledged to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all primary school children all year round if re-elected in May.
SNP education minister John Swinney made the commitment as he warned that Scotland was facing a “tsunami of child poverty” if Rishi Sunak imposes a “second wave of austerity”.
However, education has been a sore point for the SNP. While Nicola Sturgeon had sought to push a Blair-esque education-first narrative, the party’s critics now frequently point to falling standards, increasing inequalities and a lack of subjects on offer to pupils – with Mr Swinney’s ambitious reforms somewhat hampered by UK government-led austerity.
PM calls on public to plant trees to stall climate breakdown
As campaigners urge the government to be more ambitious in their efforts to stall climate change, by rewilding and vastly reforesting swathes of the UK, a campaign to celebrate Queen’s Platinum Jubilee has been launched to encourage communities, schools and charities across the country to plant more trees.
The Queen’s Green Canopy campaign, led by charity Cool Earth, will launch next year and will strive to “increase and protect our native tree cover which, for centuries, has played such a central role in the life of the nation”.
Boris Johnson encouraged involvement in the campaign, noting the “huge role” trees have to play in tackling climate change and the potential they hold to “transform our communities, connect us with nature and provide homes for precious wildlife”.
“Nature” receives only a brief mention in the PM’s new 10-point climate plan, which includes a goal of planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year – a repeat of an election pledge in 2019.
Columnist James Moore has looked at the “chilling” similarities between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson:
“Reading former Republican operative Stuart Stevens’ It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, a new fierce critique of what the party has become under Donald Trump, I found myself asking a question: how much of it could be applied to Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party he has created?
“Yes, yes, I know. The US and the UK are not “two countries divided by a common language” and it’s ridiculous to pretend that we are. The political and cultural contexts are very different.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that there has long been a transatlantic exchange of ideas between the two nations’ centre-right parties and there are some disturbing parallels in the rise of Trump and his debasement of Grand Old Party and the rise of Johnson and the debasement of the Tories.”
‘Toilet of England’: anti-Brexit activists modify road signs in Kent
Anti-Brexit activists, all claiming to be from the county, have stormed Kent to modify road signs which now describe the “garden of England” – as Kent is known – as the “toilet of England”.
The stunt aimed to highlight fears of huge lorry queues along the county’s motorways, with suggestions that portable toilets will have to be installed on roadsides for use by delayed drivers.
Government minister Michael Gove has previously warned that queues of up to 7,000 trucks could form in Kent unless businesses do more to prepare.
Kent Police said they have been made aware of “criminal damage” to road signs in the county and inquiries are continuing. But a member of the activist team, known collectively as EU Flag Mafia, hit out at the idea of officers devoting time to the newly-stickered signs.
They told the PA news agency: “We acted on behalf of the residents of Kent. Everyone who was involved in placing ‘Toilet’ on the road signs lives in Kent and we reject any suggestion that any damage was done to any of the road signs – the stickers can be removed very easily.
“If any Kent resident feels offended, we suggest they simply remove the stickers. We suggest that Kent Police have better things to be doing with their valuable time, like trying to work out how the people in Kent will be still be able to travel around the county while thousands of lorries are gridlocked in jams around the county.”
The cloak-and-dagger operation – believed to have complied with Covid guidelines – covered around 30 road signs stretching from Dartford near London to the border with East Sussex.
Starmer ‘mulling three-line whip’ on Brexit deal, reports suggest
The Labour leader is considering imposing a three-line whip in support of a Brexit trade deal if negotiators are able to broker one, The Guardian reports, citing multiple sources.
While Keir Starmer’s decision is reportedly dependent on the details of such a deal, he risks fuelling anger from some corners of the party who are said to fear that such a move could kneecap future Labour criticism over the socio-economic fallout of Brexit, and hand ammunition to the SNP.
Joe Biden expected to name Cindy McCain as UK ambassador
Joe Biden is reportedly expected to name Cindy McCain – widow of the late Republican senator, John McCain – as the new US ambassador to the UK.
The 66-year-old, a fierce critic of Donald Trump, is a known Anglophile and thought to be a frontrunner for the job as a reward for helping to win the state of Arizona for the Democrats – but it is unclear if she would be interested in the role.
“It’s hers if she wants it. She delivered Arizona. They know that,” a source told The Times.
Our Whitehall editor Kate Devlin has the details here:
Dunkirk to Ireland shipping line opens ahead of Brexit
Norwegian ferry firm DFDS have announced they will be opening a new shipping route from Rosslare to Dunkirk, just in time for Brexit.
The Irish Times reported yesterday that it will “become a valuable entry point for Ireland into mainland Europe”.
The paper said the service will allow Irish importers and exporters to “avoid expected Brexit-related border delays on the UK ‘landbridge’ route and shave hours off the journey for lorries landing at Cherbourg destined for important export markets for Irish companies in the Benelux countries, Germany and beyond”.