Here is a summary and analysis of the main points from Boris Johnson’s LBC interview.
- Johnson claimed that the Northern Ireland protocol bill being published today proposed “a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things”. Opposition parties, and some Tories, argue that the plan to allow the UK to unilaterally ignore most of the protocol – an agreement with the EU – would be in breach of international law. Johnson was asked about a note circulating among Tory MPs saying the bill breaks international law.
Asked to accept the bill was doomed to fail because of the extent of opposition to it, Johnson refused to accept that. He went on:
What we have to respect, and this is the crucial thing, is the balance and the symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We have to understand there are two traditions in Northern Ireland, broadly two ways of looking at the border issues, and one community at the moment feels very, very estranged from the way things are operating and very alienated. And we have just got to fix that.
And it is relatively simple to do it. It’s a bureaucratic change that needs to be made. Frankly, it’s a relatively trivial set of adjustments in the grand scheme of things.
- Johnson refused to accept that the bill broke international law. Asked if he agreed that it did, he replied:
I disagree with that, and I tell you why. I think our higher and prior legal as commitment as a country is to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, to the balance and stability of that agreement, and that means respecting [the concerns of unionists].
This is an argument that Johnson has used before. But if the Good Friday agreement takes precedence over the Northern Ireland protocol, because it came first, perhaps it should take precedence over Brexit too, which also came later and which has also been hard to square with the 1998 agreement that has formed the basis of peace in Northern Ireland?
- Johnson said that, if the EU responded to the UK unilaterally abandoning large parts of the NI protocol by starting a trade war, that would be a “gross, gross over-reaction”. Asked about the prospect of a trade war happening, he replied:
I think that would be a gross, gross over-reaction.
All we’re trying to do is simplify things, to actually to remove barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. How perverse, how preposterous … to be introducing further restrictions on trade when all we’re trying to do is have some bureaucratic simplifications between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
- Johnson brushed aside claims from Prince Charles deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda is “appalling”. At the weekend it emerged that Charles has said this about the policy in private. Clarence House has not denied that this is what he thinks, but it has said that he is politically neutral, and that it won’t comment on private conversations. Asked about Charles’s views, Johnson replied:
I think that most people can see that the criminal gangs …. they need to be stopped. That model needs to be frustrated.
Asked again if Charles was wrong, Johnson replied:
Let me put it this way, what I don’t think we should support is continued activity by criminal gangs.
- Johnson stressed that there were legal options for people wanting to come to the UK. Explaining the need to break the business model of the people smugglers putting migrants on small boats to cross the Channel, he said those boats were very dangerous, and the people were breaking the law. He went on:
What it does is it undermines everybody who’s coming here legally, and it undermines people who support immigration, who want people to come here legally and to be integrated properly.
Johnson said that the workers he met on a farm in Cornwall this morning (see 8.40am) had come from all over the world. “But they come here legally,” he said. “They do it properly. They’re not they’re not controlled by criminal gangs. And that is what we want to see.”
Since Johnson was fined for breaking lockdown rules in No 10, he has not been in the best position to complain about others breaking the law. But a more substantial objection to this argument is that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme used by the farm workers Johnson met this morning would be no use to the women and children crossing the Channel because they are seeking asylum in the UK, not a summer labouring job.
- Johnson said the government had always expected “very active lawyers” to challenge the Rwanda policy. But he also claimed he had “utmost respect for the legal profession”. This meant that, by Johnson’s standards, this was a relatively benign reference to immigration lawyers. In the past he has accused them of being politically motivated.
- Johnson implied that he was opposed to implementing further tax cuts now. Asked about the claim by Gerard Lyons, the economist who advised Johnson when he was London mayor, that Johnson should be cutting income tax instead of listening to the Treasury (which is opposed to this now), Johnson replied:
[Lyons] will understand that we’re bringing in tax cuts as fast as we can. But what we’ve also got to do is look after people in a tough time …
I understand that we need to bear down on taxation, and we certainly will. But we’ve got an inflationary spike that we’ve got to get through right now, looking after people as we go through that. And that is what we’re going to do.
Johnson seemed to be arguing that he could not implement further tax cuts now because the government needed to fund the measures announced to help people with the cost of living. He may also have been implying that cutting income tax now would be inflationary.
Here are the key points from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
- No 10 says the shrinking of the economy in April was largely explained by the end of mass Covid testing. That “significantly impacted” on the GDP figures, the PM’s spokesperson said. He went on:
When we exclude the falling numbers of Covid tests, the rest of the economy saw positive growth of 0.1% in April.
So we are focused on growing the economy to reduce the cost of living and we will continue to work to create the conditions for economic growth.
The ONS report on the growth figures backs up this claim. It says:
Human health and social work activities fell by 5.6% in April 2022, and this was the main negative contributor to April’s fall in services (detracting 0.5 percentage points as shown in figure 3). The driver of this fall was human health activities, which fell by 7.6%. This largely reflects the significant reduction in the coronavirus (Covid-19) NHS Test and Trace activity following changes to testing policies across the UK, particularly the changes to the Covid-19 testing policy in England from April.
- The spokesperson claimed the economy had “strong foundations”.
- The spokesperson insisted that Brexit would be “a boon to the UK economy in the long term”. Asked about claims that Brexit has contributed to the UK’s poor growth, the spokesperson said it was “too early to pass judgment” on the impact of Brexit, particularly given the effects of the pandemic. He went on:
We are confident that the opportunities Brexit provides will be a boon to the UK economy in the long term.
So far, most of the evidence clearly shows that Brexit has been bad for the British economy. Jonathan Portes and Mathias Wosyka, from the UK in a Changing Europe thinktank, published a very fair assessment in the Observer yesterday.
- The spokesperson said there were “no plans” for a further cut in fuel duty.
- The spokesperson said Boris Johnson had “nothing but respect and admiration” for Prince Charles. He said:
The prime minister has nothing but respect and admiration for the Prince of Wales, who’s spoken out on a number of issues, not least the environment.
The spokesperson was asked about Johnson’s response to reports that the prince thinks the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is “appallling”. The spokesperson said Johnson dealt with this in his LBC interview this morning. (See 9.58am.)
Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president who leads for the EU in Brexit talks with the UK, posted this on Twitter this morning after speaking to Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, about the Northern Ireland protocol bill. It will be “damaging to mutual trust and a formula for uncertainty”, he says.
There are two urgent questions in the Commons this afternoon at 3.30pm; the first, tabled by Labour, is on the growth figures; and the second, tabled by the SNP, is on the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda.
After they are over, at around 5pm, George Eustice, the environment secretary, will make a statement about the food strategy.
Speaking to the media in Wakefield, where he is campaigning ahead of next week’s byelection, Keir Starmer also said that the Northern Ireland protocol bill being published today would reduce, not increase, the chances of an agreement with the EU on changes to the protocol that might improve the way it operates. Starmer said:
I think the answer to this is to accept there are some problems in the way the protocol works but they can be resolved around the negotiating table with statecraft, with guile, with trust.
Unfortunately, we don’t have those in the current prime minister.
They won’t be resolved with legislation that breaches international law and that, frankly, will impede the negotiations that, in the end, will be needed to settle this.
So the government is going down the wrong track here.
The UK government wants to legislate to allow it to change the operation of the protocol unilaterally, but ministers have also hinted that they think there is a chance of the threat of legislation leading to the EU taking a more flexible approach in talks, which could lead to an agreement.
Keir Starmer has said today’s growth figures, showing the economy contracting in April as well as in March, should be a “real cause for concern” for people. He explained:
I think these latest figures are going to be a real cause for concern for millions of people who are struggling already to pay their bills, so this is a very gloomy forecast. And it’s not new. We’ve had low growth in our economy for 12 years – the entire period of this Conservative government.
We’ve had low growth and high taxes and it’s that combination that is really punishing people across the country. What we need is a plan to get the economy going – investment in the right places, cutting those taxes, the emergency budget that we’ve been calling for.
Micheál Martin, the taoiseach (Irish PM), has dismissed Boris Johnson’s claim that the Northern Ireland protocol amounts to a “relatively trivial set of adjustments” (see 9.58am), Gavan Reilly from Virgin Media News reports.
The UK government hopes that its legislation allowing large parts of the Northern Ireland protocol to be abandoned will satisfy the DUP, which is calling for the protocol to be replaced. The DUP is refusing to allow the power-sharing executive at Stormont to resume until it gets its way, and it is not even allowing the Northern Ireland assembly to elect a new Speaker. Without a Speaker, the assembly cannot function.
But the DUP MP Sammy Wilson told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster this morning that the publication of the bill by itself would not be enough to assuage its concerns about the protocol. He explained:
Firstly, we have to see the legislation in its final form.
Secondly, what we see today will not necessarily be what comes through the process in the House of Commons and House of Lords. It is always subject to amendment and that will be very important before we can give our support to it.
Thirdly, it is enabling legislation. It states that ministers will do certain things, but we don’t know what those things are because they come in subsequent legislation.
We are at the first stage; we are pleased that the government at least is recognising there is an issue, that they are bringing forward legislation in the face of the EU’s intransigence to deal with the problems.
The Competition and Markets Authority has announced it will conduct a “short and focused review of the market” for the sale of road fuel, PA Media reports. This is in response to a request from Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, who wrote that people were “rightly frustrated” the 5p per litre cut in fuel duty implemented in March has not stopped pump prices from soaring.
In a letter to Kwarteng this morning, Andrea Coscelli, the CMA chief executive, saidL
High road fuel prices are causing significant concern for the millions of consumers and businesses who rely on being able to afford to fill up their vehicles. As you note, global factors, including the war in Ukraine, have been the principal driver of recent trends. But if competition is not working well in the retail fuel market, pump prices will be even higher than they need to be.
With that in mind, the CMA will, as you request, carry out a short and focused review of the market, and provide advice to government on steps that might be taken to improve outcomes for consumers across the UK.
In his own letter to the CMA on Saturday requesting an investigation Kwarteng said:
Unique circumstances globally, including Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and economies unlocking after Covid, have pushed pump prices up to unprecedented levels. We have taken action to support motorists by cutting fuel duty for petrol and diesel in a £5bn package.
Despite this action, there remains widespread concern about the pace of the increase in prices at the forecourt and, that prices may not fall as much or as fast as they rise. The British people are rightly frustrated that the £5bn package does not always appear to have been passed through to forecourt prices and that in some towns, prices remain higher than in similar, nearby towns.
The full judgment in Banks v Cadwalladr runs to 117 pages. The barrister Adam Wagner has tweeted the highlights.
Here is the full text of the judgment in the libel case launched by Aaron Banks, the Ukip donor who co-founded the Leave.EU campaign, against the Observer and Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr. Banks lost.
These are from Carole.
Nikki da Costa, a former director of legislative affairs under Theresa May and Boris Johnson at No 10, has posted a thread on Twitter explaining what she thinks will happen when the Northern Ireland protocol bill starts its progression through parliament. She thinks the government is in a stronger position than people think, and that the bill could clear the Commons before the summer recess.
After that the bill will go to the Lords, where opposition to the bill will be much more intense.
As sure as the sun rose over the Irish Sea this morning political leaders in Dublin and Belfast lambasted the UK government’s plans for the protocol.
After speaking with Liz Truss on Monday Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, accused the UK of intentionally stoking tension with the EU. Even stronger language is expected after the legislation is published.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland and the putative first minister, said Tory in-fighting was damaging the region.
The Alliance and SDLP also accused the UK government of bad faith.
Sammy Wilson, the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) MP, told the BBC the party would take its time to review the legislation and not rush to restore power-sharing – a rebuff to Brandon Lewis, who urged the party to hasten back to Stormont.
A spokesperson for Keir Starmer has issued this statement about the late declaration being investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards. (See 11.22am.)
Keir Starmer takes his declaration responsibilities very seriously and has already apologised for the fact that administrative errors in his office have led to a small number of late declarations. The standards commissioner has asked for more information which we are happy to provide.
It is not particularly unusual for MPs to be reprimanded for making declarations for the Commons register of members’ interests late. Starmer has a better record than Boris Johnson, who was repeatedly criticised for registering interests late before he became PM. In a report in 2019 the Commons standards committee noted Johnson’s “over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”.
According to an update on the website of the parliamentary commissioner for standards, listing MPs being investigated over alleged breaches of the code of conduct for MPs, Keir Starmer is being investigated under two sections of the code.
As PA Media reports, the first matter under investigation is stated as: “Registration of interests under category 1 of the guide to the rules (Employment and earnings).” And the second: “Registration of interests under category 3 of the guide to the rules (Gifts, benefits and hospitality from UK sources).”
According to Labour party sources, these complaints refer to items that were declared, but that were declared late.
As well as doing LBC, Boris Johnson gave interviews to other broadcasters during his visit to a farm in Cornwall this morning. Here are some of the other lines that emerged.
- Johnson claimed that growth in the UK would rebound. Stressing that the UK had the fastest growth rate in the G7 last year, he said:
It’s true that other countries are now catching up and we’re seeing the effects of inflation around the world hitting this country as well as everywhere else. But if you look for instance at the the IMF data, the UK comes back at or near the top of the of the G7 league very quickly.
- He claimed that the economy was in a much stronger position than it was at previous times of crisis. He said unemployment was low and the fundamentals of the economy were strong. He went on:
That’s so different from the economic crises I remember when I was younger in the 80s, in the 90s, millions of people … told they were on the scrap heap because of mass unemployment.
That was a total disaster, we’re in a different situation now, we’ve got an inflationary price bump that we got to get through … I think we’ll get through it very strongly indeed.
- He said he always expected the Rwanda deportation policy to encounter “a lot of teething problems”.
- He defended the government’s decision not accept the recommendation from Henry Dimbleby, its lead adviser on food issues, for sugar and salt taxes. Commenting on the food strategy being published today, Johnson said:
What we don’t want to do right now is start whacking new taxes on [people] that will just push up the cost of food.
Johnson also claimed the food and drink industry was “voluntarily reducing the amount of sugar, the amount of salt very substantially”.