World news – Boris Johnson to be grilled by MPs amid Brexit bill fallout – LIVE


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Boris Johnson will face a grilling from senior MPs today with his Government facing a string of challenges, including the ongoing fallout over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement .

The Prime Minister is set to appear at the Liaison Committee , where he will be asked about negotiations with the EU, days after the controversial UK Internal Market Bill cleared its first Commons hurdle.

He will also face deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner at PMQs at noon. Sir Keir Starmer will miss the session because he remains in isolation while awaiting a Covid-19 test result for a member of his family.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will appear before the Education Select Committee. It comes after he was warned of the possibility of legal action if the Government fails to protect teachers working in schools which have fully reopened during the pandemic.

Brandon Lewis added: “I gave a very straight answer to Parliament last week in line with the Attorney General’s position.

“My position is absolutely in line with the legal advice that the Attorney General put out.”

Mr Lewis expanded on the circumstances of his comments during an urgent question on the Bill in Parliament.

He said: “I read out something very specific because I wanted to ensure that what I said, to make sure that I was giving the House a straight answer.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has defended his recent comment that the Internal Market Bill would break international law in a “specific and limited way”.

On Wednesday he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs his assertions were consistent with advice from the Government’s main legal adviser, attorney general Suella Braverman QC.

He said: “My answer was in line with the legal opinion given by the law officers.

“The position I took at the dispatch box is not a breach of the ministerial code but I am not the arbiter of that.”

Ursula von der Leyen has said that time is running out for agreement with the UK on a post-Brexit free trade deal.

The European Commission president told the European Parliament meeting in Brussels: “Talks have not progressed as we would have wished and that leaves us very little time.”

Mrs von der Leyen said Margaret Thatcher had always insisted that the UK honoured its treaty commitments.

She quoted the former prime minister as saying: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.”

She added: “This was true then and this is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the UK cannot unilaterally disregard the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

In her annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen said both sides had agreed it was the only way to guarantee the Northern Ireland peace process.

“This Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it line-by-line, word-by-word, and together we succeeded,” she said.

“The European Union and the UK jointly agreed that it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland and we will never backtrack on that.

“This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied.

The Justice Secretary said the Government was working to ensure there was a “balance” should the powers in the Internal Market Bill ever need to be used.

Senior Tory Sir Bob Neill is calling for ministers to concede and create a parliamentary lock, meaning MPs would have to approve use of the powers.

“The issue is this – we want to make sure that if we hit a situation where we have this kind of dislocation, this kind of crisis if you like, then we can act swiftly to bring into power the necessary regulations,” Robert Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“And I think while, absolutely we have got parliamentary procedures to allow secondary legislation to come into force with debate and scrutiny, we have to get the balance right.

“I want to make sure we are fleet of foot when it comes to the crunch but that at the same time to make sure MPs have their say.

“That’s what the Prime Minister wants, that’s what he said in Parliament and I’m sure we’ll find a way to do that in a manner that is acceptable to all Conservative colleagues.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland denied that the “rule of six” would effectively cancel Christmas, following criticisms from a source close to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the social restrictions imposed this week to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Cabinet minister said: “Archbishop Justin (Welby) makes an important contribution to this debate and he is right to point to the huge spiritual and social significance of Christmas.

“I don’t think any of us in Government want to be Oliver Cromwell-esque about this – we want to see families celebrate Christmas in a safe and happy way and we want to see our churches and indeed our other places of worship joining in that celebration.”

Mr Buckland added: “We are not going to cancel Christmas but the ‘rule of six’ is something that is clear and important and I do think we’ve committed to that and we need to stick to it.”

Robert Buckland said any suggestion in the future that the UK has broken the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement through the Internal Market Bill will have been sparked by a European Union decision.

He told Sky News: “If we reach that stage, the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us.

“It is like an international dispute where clearly there is a breach somewhere but it is going to be the subject of a lot of argument.

“I would like to avoid that, I think we can but we do need to just prepare for that contingency, that ‘break glass in case of emergency’ provision, which I believe this is.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland refused to deny he had held talks with the Prime Minister and senior Tory MP Sir Bob Neill over his amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill.

The Government is facing growing disgruntlement on its backbenches over its plans to override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement by using domestic legislation.

Mr Buckland told Sky News: “I don’t think it would be right of me to start talking about private conversations.

“But what I can say is that there are lots of discussions going on with MPs from all parts of the debate, not just Bob Neill but MPs in all parts of the Conservative Party.

“We want to get on with this job, we want to get this Bill through, we want to make sure we are ready for any disagreements or disputes that might arise if we don’t get agreement at the Joint Committee, and that’s what we’re planning on.”

Asked about whether he had spoken to Sir Bob, Mr Buckland added: “I talk to Bob Neill regularly, I have talked to Bob Neill about the Internal Market Bill, I have spoken to other people (as well).”

Pushed on whether he had raised Sir Bob’s concerns with Boris Johnson, he said: “I’ve had lots of conversations with colleagues – ultimately it is up to the Prime Minister and those responsible for business in Parliament to get the details (sorted).”

Senior US politicians have warned Boris Johnson that Washington will not support any free trade pact with the UK if Britain fails to uphold its commitments to Northern Ireland as part of Brexit.

The UK Internal Market Bill cleared its first Commons hurdle on Monday despite deep misgivings by some senior Tories, with amendments to the Northern Ireland provisions expected to emerge in the Commons next week.

Four US congressmen, led by chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, have written to Mr Johnson urging the Government to respect its open border and peace process with Northern Ireland.

Downing Street has issued a warning to peers not to try to block controversial legislation overriding key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

A No 10 spokesman said ministers believed the Salisbury Convention – which states the House of Lords should not vote down legislation to implement government manifesto commitments – should apply to the UK Internal Market Bill.

“Guaranteeing the full economic benefit of leaving the EU to all parts of the United Kingdom and ensuring Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK were clear Conservative manifesto commitments which this legislation delivers.”

Some peers have warned that the Bill – which passed its second reading in the Commons on Monday – will not get through the upper chamber in its current form.

Asked if the European Commission was in touch with the UK Government regarding the Internal Market Bill, a commission spokesman told a Brussels press briefing: “We were very much in contact with the British authorities.

“Vice president (of the EC) Maros Sefcovic even went to London extremely quickly in order to seek clarifications and make the views of the EU known on this issue.

“Which led… to the deadline which was set for the UK to withdraw the provisions from the draft Internal Market Bill.

“This is what we expect from the United Kingdom and we have made our views extremely clear.

“And we are not going to speculate on anything in the meantime. We are waiting to see the developments in London on this issue.”

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