Brexit news – live: EU to launch legal action against UK ‘very soon’ as ‘pitiful’ NHS pay rise condemned

Today’s daily politics briefing

Brussels will launch legal action against the UK “very soon” after it accused Westminster of ‘violating’ part of the Brexit deal.

The move comes in response to the UK’s recent announcement that it will unilaterally extend grace periods introduced to ease trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These had been due to expire at the end of March.

Speaking to the FT, EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said “infringement proceedings” would be brought against the UK “really very soon”.

Over in London, Boris Johnson attempted to downplay the dispute on Thursday, saying that the problems are “eminently solvable”. 

As well as fierce criticism for the EU, the British government faces a backlash over its proposal to restrict a pay rise for NHS staff to 1 per cent.

Health service unions condemned the decision, with the head of the Royal College of Nursing describing it as “pitiful and bitterly disappointing”.

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Labour accuses Rishi Sunak of ‘cowardly’ behaviour

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said a pay increase of just 1 per cent was “the ultimate kick in teeth to our NHS heroes” who have kept the nation safe.

“It’s shocking, it’s disgusting, it’s appalling,” he told the BBC, arguing it would effectively be a “pay cut” given expected levels of inflation.

“It was so cowardly of Rishi Sunak to not announce this in his Budget – to let it sneak out in the small print. He posts pictures of himself clapping for NHS staff, but when it came to it he’s cutting their wages. That’s appalling,” he added.

Proposed 1% NHS pay rise is a ‘kick in the teeth,’ says Shadow Health Secretary

Adam Forrest5 March 2021 10:41

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Sturgeon and Salmond must stop ‘knocking hell’ out of each other, says former first minister

A former Scottish first minister has said Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond need to stop “knocking hell out of each other in public”.

Labour’s Henry McLeish made the comment two days after Ms Sturgeon appeared before a committee investigating her government’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations made against Mr Salmond.

Mr McLeish told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The First Minister, I think, has rebutted most of the challenges, the assertions, the allegations that have been made.

“In my view there is no serious path to the First Minister either resigning or suffering with a vote of no confidence in the parliament.”

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 10:23

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Second Scottish independence reference could happen this year, says Blackford

A Scottish independence referendum could happen “as early as late 2021”, Ian Blackford has said.

The SNP Westminster leader added that the Scottish government’s primary concern was leading the country out of the coronavirus crisis.

He told the PA news agency: “I want to see that referendum happen as quickly as is practically possible, I think it’s in everybody’s interest that that is the case.”

Mr Blackford also said that Boris Johnson “cannot stand in the face of democracy” if the SNP wins a majority in the Holyrood elections in May.

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 10:03

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Dozens of government Covid contracts remain unpublished

Dozens of government coronavirus contracts are still unpublished, despite Boris Johnson’s claim that the details “are there on the record for everybody to see”.

Gemma Abbott, the legal director of the Good Law Project, said: “Unless contract details are published, they cannot be properly scrutinised — there’s no way of knowing where taxpayers’ money is going and why.”

Our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn has more on the story:

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 09:45

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Foster accuses EU of taking ‘very belligerent approach’ to protocol

Arlene Foster has said the UK was right to unilaterally extend a grace period limiting red tape on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Speaking about the EU, Northern Ireland’s first minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They have taken a very belligerent approach to the difficulties the Protocol have caused for Northern Ireland.

“It was quite clear to me that there wasn’t going to be a meeting of minds. So the UK government was going to have to take action, given that the grace period for goods in terms of supermarkets ended at the end of this month.”

<amp-img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/02/21/23/PRI183335082.jpg?width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quality=75" alt="

Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster.

” height=”726″ width=”982″ srcset=”https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/02/21/23/PRI183335082.jpg?width=640&auto=webp&quality=75 640w” layout=”responsive” class=”i-amphtml-layout-responsive i-amphtml-layout-size-defined” i-amphtml-layout=”responsive”>

Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster.

(PA)

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 09:25

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Minister says she was ‘pleasantly surprised’ by slight pay rise for NHS staff

Conservative health minister Nadine Dorries has said she was “pleasantly surprised” to learn about the planned 1 per cent pay increase for NHS staff.

Unions and Labour have branded the proposal a “kick in the teeth”, saying it is not a fair way to treat staff who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic.

However, Ms Dorries, a former nurse, told BBC Breakfast : “I was actually surprised because I knew that we’d frozen public-sector pay, that no-one in the public sector was receiving a pay rise, so I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer.”

The minister added her hope that nurses would stay in the NHS and “stick with us through what is a difficult time”.

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 09:09

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Government has ‘no plan’ to get to net zero, MPs warn

The government has “no plan” to reach its net zero climate target by 2050, a Commons committee has said.

The warning from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) comes two years after the target was enshrined in law.

Meg Hillier MP, chairwoman of the PAC, said: “Government has set itself a huge test in committing the UK to a net zero economy by 2050 – but there is little sign that it understands how to get there and almost two years later it still has no plan.

“We must see a clear path plotted, with interim goals set and reached – it will not do to dump our emissions on poorer countries to hit UK targets.”

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 08:45

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Inside Politics

“It’s the British government essentially breaking the protocol – breaking their own commitments again,” Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney has said about the latest Brexit bust-up.

Here’s Adam Forrest with our daily politics round-up:

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 08:26

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Government faces backlash over limited NHS staff pay rise

Ministers have come under a barrage of criticism for their plan to limit a health workers’ pay rise to one per cent.

Donna Kinnair, head of the Royal College of Nursing, said experienced nurses would only take home £3.50 extra per week as a result.

“This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing. The Government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public,” she said.

Ms Kinnair also suggested it would “do nothing to prevent the exodus from nursing”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association council, described the proposal as a “kick in the teeth”.

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 08:10

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EU to begin legal action against UK ‘very soon’

The UK government will soon face legal action over its decision to extend post-Brexit grace periods, the EU has warned.

Announced earlier this week, the unilateral move from Westminster is designed to help trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland beyond March. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, insisted it was necessary to prevent empty shelves in the territory.

However, Brussels is furious about what it sees as a breach of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Speaking to the FT, EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said “infringement proceedings” would be brought against the UK “really very soon”.

“We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon. The most precise term I can give you is really very soon,” he said.

Rory Sullivan5 March 2021 07:48

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