LONDON, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged Sunday to increase funding for the National Health Service (NHS) by £20 billion after Brexit, funded by money no longer spent on membership of the European Union and possible tax rises.
The announcement of more cash for the NHS, a regular issue at elections, comes after a row in parliament over Brexit highlighted the fragility of May’s minority government.
May said spending in England would increase to an extra 20 billion pounds by 2023/24. The pledge drew immediate scepticism, with critics saying the plans lacked detail and questioning whether leaving the EU would actually save money.
“As we leave the European Union and stop paying significant annual subscriptions to Brussels, we will have more money to spend on priorities like the NHS,” May said in a post on her Facebook account.
“But to give the NHS the funding it needs for the future, this Brexit dividend will not be enough. As a country, we need to contribute a bit more in a fair and balanced way.”
May said the spending increase was equivalent to a 3.4 per cent funding increase in real terms. Independent experts say it needs even more than that to improve.
The idea of a “Brexit dividend” is also contested. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank highlighted government analysis showing public finances would weaken by 15 billion pounds per year after Brexit, and paying Britain’s EU divorce bill would eat up any savings initially.
In media interviews, May said her finance minister would set out plans before a government spending review expected next year. She said the increased contribution from taxpayers would be done in a “fair and balanced” way. She did not answer directly when asked whether borrowing might increase.
The announcement is timed to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS, which delivers free access to care for everyone living in Britain. It aims to foster unity in the government and the country after two years of bitter divisions over Brexit.
But it is also seen as a political risk. During eight years in power, May’s Conservative Party has made fiscal discipline its core message. Any departure that involves tax increases could upset core voters and open it up to criticism from the opposition Labour Party.
“I’d certainly welcome it, if I could believe it,” Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry told the BBC. “Let’s see what they deliver. How are they going to pay for it?”
Sunday’s announcement was also tailored to send a positive message to the 48 per cent of Britons who voted in 2016 to remain in the EU - many of whom are still unconvinced about Brexit as the March 29, 2019 exit date approaches.
During the 2016 referendum campaign on EU membership, the pro-Brexit camp claimed that Britain was sending £350 million a week to the EU and should spend that money on the NHS instead.
The claim was controversial because the figure did not take into account Britain’s sizeable rebate or the payments that were flowing back from the EU to Britain, so it was widely seen as overstating Britain’s contribution to the bloc.
Despite leaving, Britain will continue to make payments to the EU over several decades to settle an exit bill of around £39 billion pounds.
In interviews, May - who campaigned against Brexit in 2016 and has been under pressure from hardline Brexiteers ever since to prove her conversion to the cause - drew attention to the fact that her funding announcement exceeded that £350 million-per-week figure.
The £20 billion pounds annually is approximately 384 million pounds per week.
LONDON, June 11, 2018 (News Wires) - Troubled UK budget chain Poundworld on Monday fell into adminstration, putting it closer to collapse with the loss of up to 5,100 jobs unless a last-ditch buyer can be found.
Poundworld, which is battling against discounting in supermarkets, has appointed financial group Deloitte to help it find a buyer and stave off store closures and job losses.
The announcement comes just days after House of Fraser, the Chinese-owned department store chain, said it is closing more than half its shops across Britain and Ireland, risking the loss of 6,000 jobs.
British retailers with large amounts of stores are suffering also from fierce online competition from the likes of Amazon.
The UK is also experiencing weak household spending generally amid Brexit uncertainty.
Speaking of Poundworld’s move, Deloitte administrator Clare Boardman said that “the retail trading environment in the UK remains extremely challenging and Poundworld has been seeking to address this through a restructure of its business.
“Unfortunately, this has not been possible. We still believe a buyer can be found for the business or at least part of it and we are keeping staff appraised of developments as they happen,” she added in a statement.
Operating out of 335 stores, Poundworld sells items including household cleaning items and confectionery mostly priced at £1.
“Like many (UK) high street retailers, Poundworld has suffered from high product cost inflation, decreasing footfall, weaker consumer confidence and an increasingly competitive discount retail market,” Deloitte said.
Last month, British food-to-clothing retailer Marks and Spencer said it would shut more than 100 UK stores as it looks to shift at least one third of overall sales online.
Emphasising the fast-growing shift to online among British consumers, Amazon last week said it plans 2,500 new UK jobs by the end of the year.
LONDON, June 8, 2018 (News Wires) - British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been caught on tape predicting a “meltdown” in Brexit talks and musing admiringly how US President Donald Trump might handle them.
In his latest indiscreet remarks likely to embarrass Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson said the government was reaching a phase in negotiations “where we are much more combative with Brussels”.
“You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK?” he told Conservative activists earlier this week, according to a secret recording leaked to BuzzFeed News.
“I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.”
He added, according to further quotes revealed in The Times: “Take the fight to the enemy - absolutely right. We need to - and we will.”
Johnson, Britain’s chief diplomat, also said he was “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump”. “I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness,” he said.
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard... There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos,” Johnson continued.
“Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
The leading Brexiteer talked about divisions within the British government, saying that Brexit “will happen, and I think it will be irreversible, but... the risk is that it will not be the one we want”.
He said the establishment was seeking to ensure that Brexit “does as little change as possible”, with “the risk is that you will end up in an anteroom of the EU, locked in orbit around the EU”.
Johnson also played down concerns about the risk of new checks on the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, which threaten to hold up talks on the future trading relationship.
“It’s so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way,” he said.
“We’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly.”
China ‘will try to stiff us’
Away from domestic politics, Johnson also suggested May would put forward a new plan at the G7 summit in Canada for a “rapid response unit” to deal with Russian aggression, including cyber-warfare.
On China, he said: “We need to engage with China diplomatically, treat China as our friend and our partner, but also recognise that they are our commercial rivals. And they will try to stiff us.”
Johnson also said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked Britain to use its nuclear expertise in helping North Korea dismantle its arsenal.
“What they want us to do is to use our nuclear expertise to dismantle Kim Jong-un’s nuclear missile. That’s what he asked me to do today,” he said.
A source close to Johnson said: “This was a private dinner under Chatham House rules (meaning it cannot be reported) so it is sad and very disappointing that it has been covertly recorded and distributed to the media.”
BERLIN, June 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Britain's finance minister said he favoured a collaborative rather than a confrontational approach to Brexit negotiations, rejecting a suggestion from his cabinet colleague Boris Johnson that Donald Trump-style tactics would produce a better deal.
Philip Hammond, speaking at a conference in Berlin, was asked about comments by Johnson that were secretly recorded at a dinner on Wednesday and published by Buzzfeed.
"Imagine Trump doing Brexit," Johnson is reported to have said. "There'd be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he'd gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It's a very, very good thought."
Hammond pointed to his years of experience negotiating with Germans, French and Italians.
"My experience has been that ... a collaborative approach ... is generally more productive than a confrontational approach," he said, noting that his advice to his colleagues would be to engage with Britain's European partners if they wanted a good Brexit deal.
"Finding a mutually beneficial outcome is the only way forward. That is the firm intention of my government. Theresa May, the prime minister, has said so very clearly," Hammond added.
LONDON, June 7, 2018 (News wires) - British ministers will meet on Thursday to try to hammer out an agreement over a “backstop” plan for the Irish border after concerns were raised by the Brexit minister that a current proposal would keep Britain tied to the EU indefinitely.
Ten months before Britain is due to leave the European Union, May is struggling to unite her ministers over the backstop plan - an arrangement that would essentially keep Britain in the bloc’s customs union after a transition period in case of any delay in the implementation of a Brexit deal.
The so-called Brexit war committee was expected to meet on Thursday after Brexit minister David Davis, according to one source close to the government, “had gone bananas” over the proposal because it contained no end date.
Pro-Brexit campaigners fear that even though the proposal is time-limited, there is no time frame built in, which could see Britain staying in the EU’s customs union indefinitely.
At the heart of the problem is ensuring there is no hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, which some say could disrupt a peace agreement to reduce sectarian conflict in the north.
Davis has not commented directly on the source-based reports of his anger and on Wednesday the Brexit minister said the backstop proposal was still being discussed, but he expected a “decisive” conclusion to the talks on Thursday.
Time is pressing in the Brexit talks, which have all but stalled as May tries to overcome the divisions not only in her cabinet of ministers but also in her Conservative Party.
She has tried to persuade doubters over the proposal that it is a backstop plan - something that the government does not intend to use as ministers expect to have secured a workable deal later this year.
But one pro-Brexit campaigner said the fear was the backstop plan would put Britain “in purgatory”, essentially still in the EU’s customs union but with no rights.
BRUSSELS, May 26, 2018 (News Wires) - EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned Britain on Saturday that failing to agree a deal on the governance of a withdrawal treaty which preserves the primacy of the EU court would mean no treaty and no transition period.
Barnier also described British delays in spelling out what kind of trade relationship London wants as “a game of hide and seek” in remarks prepared for delivery to a gathering in Portugal of jurists specialized in EU law.
He chided British criticism of EU positions as a “blame game”, urging London to recognize that it could not retain many elements of EU membership after Brexit.
The sharp tone of the former French minister’s remarks follow several days of talks in Brussels between his team of EU negotiators and British counterparts, after which a senior EU official dismissed as “fantasy” both London’s overall proposals for future close relations and an offer to avoid a disruptive “hard border” between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
British ministers said those remarks were not “helpful”.
Barnier said he was ready to have “political level” talks to try to advance in three key areas where uncertainty remains, 10 months before Britain is due to leave in March 2019 — how to rule on future disputes over the withdrawal treaty, a “backstop” solution for the Irish border and a framework for future ties.
Referring to discussions within Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on whether to drop an insistence on having no customs union, he said: “If the United Kingdom would like to change its own red lines, it must tell us. The sooner the better.”
“We are asking for clarity,” he added. “A negotiation cannot be a game of hide and seek.”
On the issue of the governance of a withdrawal treaty, which both sides hope to have ready around October, Barnier repeated the EU’s insistence that primacy of the European Court of Justice inside the Union be maintained in regulating any dispute that could not be resolved by a joint committee appointed by the political leadership of the two sides.
“We cannot accept that a jurisdiction other that the Court of Justice of the European Union determines the law and imposes its interpretation on the institutions of the Union,” he said.
The role of British judges would be respected, he added.
But without an agreement on this, the whole deal would collapse: “Without an agreement on governance, there will be no withdrawal agreement and so no transition period.”
Many businesses are counting on an interim accord to maintain a broad status quo between Britain and the EU after Brexit until the end of 2020.
Barnier, who has been hoping to making substantial progress on key issues before May meets fellow EU leaders at a Brussels summit in a month, also criticized what he called a “blame game” in which British officials were accusing the EU of failing to show flexibility to allow continued close cooperation in areas such as security, the economy and research.
This, Barnier said, was to ignore the close legal framework within the EU which was the basis for trust and cooperation among its nation-state members. “We cannot share this decision-making autonomy with a third country,” he said.
“The United Kingdom must face up to the reality of the Union ... It is one thing to be inside the Union and another to be on the outside.”