Brexit: Johnson hails UKs freedom moment as EU era draws to close

Boris Johnson has said the UK has “freedom in our hands” and must make the most of it as the country prepares to leave EU trading rules at 11pm.

Historic changes to rules on travel, trade, immigration and security are to come into force as the UK enters a new era of relations with the continent.

UK officials have insisted new border systems are “ready to go” amid concerns about possible delays at ports.

The PM said the UK could now do “things differently and if necessary better”.

The trade deal agreed by the two sides on Christmas Eve, and passed by MPs on Wednesday, avoids the need for import taxes – tariffs – after the UK leaves the EU’s internal market and customs union on 1 January.

While fears of giant tailbacks of lorries at Dover have receded, uncertainty remains about new customs rules and the government has warned there will be “some disruption” in the coming days and weeks.

To reduce the risk of delays, the UK is phasing in checks on goods entering the country from the continent over a six-month period up to July 2021.

But some new customs procedures will come into force on the UK-side immediately from 11pm, such as on imports of alcohol, tobacco, chemicals and controlled drugs.

EU member states are introducing full customs declarations and other controls on UK exports from 11pm.

Among the other things that will change from 23:00 GMT:

Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland will continue to follow many of the EU’s rules, as its border with the Irish Republic remains all but invisible.

And the UK will gradually be able to keep more of the fish caught in its own waters, while the European Court of Justice will cease to have any role in deciding disputes between the UK and EU.

If you are Boris Johnson this is huge, and exciting.

If you are a business that’s affected it might mean a big new opportunity, but it might also mean really big disruption and lots of extra hassle.

The fact that there is a trade deal doesn’t take all of the risk away.

The treaty contains lots of uncertainty, not least for the biggest part of the economy: the service sector. Getting the agreement finalised in the time was a big achievement for both sides but there is a lot that it just doesn’t cover that will, in time, have to be worked out somehow.

Read Laura’s blog

Mr Johnson – who led the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum and took the UK out of the EU in January six months after becoming prime minister, said the UK was on the verge of an “amazing moment”.

In his New Year message, the PM said he wanted the UK to be an “open, generous and outward looking” country that was a global leader in new technologies, fighting climate change and promoting free trade.

“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.”

And he urged the four nations of the United Kingdom to put the Brexit divisions of recent years behind them and focus on their common bonds.

“I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – working together to express our values around the world.”

Intensive preparations have been taking place over the past two weeks to prepare the UK for the coming changes.

The UK’s Countdown Plan has involved operational testing of infrastructure at the border and close co-operation with France, Holland and Belgium.

A government spokesman said: “The border systems and infrastructure we need are in place, and we are ready for the UK’s new start.”

But concerns remain that many small businesses are not prepared for the changes and that with lorries without the correct paperwork set to be turned back at Dover and other ports, delays are inevitable.

Traffic volumes are expected to be lower than normal on 1 January due to the pandemic but are expected to pick up from Monday, when the new procedures and the UK’s contingency measures are expected to be tested.

The government said 450 “Kent access” permits had been issued to HGV lorries intending to cross the channel at Dover on 1 January and hauliers arriving without them would be identified and subject to a £300 fine.

One logistics firm told the BBC it would not send any trucks across until 10 January due to congestion fears although Channel Tunnel Operator Getalink has said it expects the new systems to work smoothly.

Brexit happened on 31 January 2020, but the UK has continued to follow Brussels’ trade rules until now, while the deal was thrashed out.

It completes the process set in motion in June 2016, when, in a referendum, UK voters chose by 52% to 48% to leave the EU.

The free trade deal – agreed on Christmas Eve after nine months of negotiations – finally passed into UK law early on Thursday morning – having also been backed by Brussels.

But opponents say the country will still be worse off than it was while in the EU – and there is still uncertainty about what it will happen to banking and services, which are a major part of the UK economy.

Meanwhile, the UK and Spain have reached agreement on a political framework for Gibraltar which will pave the way for a separate UK-EU treaty regarding the British overseas territory, which was not covered by the trade deal.

Thursday’s agreement means the border between Gibraltar and Spain will remain open.

Scotsman owner JPI Media sold to National World for £10.2m

Regional newspaper publisher JPI Media has been bought for £10.2m by National World, a media takeover vehicle led by industry veteran David Montgomery.

JPI Media, previously known as Johnston Press, is the UK’s third largest local news publisher.

Its titles include The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post, Belfast News Letter, Sheffield Star, Portsmouth News and Lancashire Evening Post.

The takeover is expected to complete on Saturday.

In 2005, The Scotsman newspaper and other titles, including the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday, were bought by Johnston Press in a deal worth £160m.

In a statement, National World said the JPI acquisition would provide a platform for it to “implement its strategy of creating a sustainable local online news publishing model”.

JPI is estimated to have posted £85m in revenues and £6m in earnings for the past year.

The regional newspaper group has been seeking a buyer since 2018 and sold The i newspaper to Daily Mail owner DMGT last year for almost £50m.

Mr Montgomery, a former chief executive of the Mirror Group and News of the World editor, has targeted a deal for JPI since National World was launched with a stock market float last year.

National World said it had funded the deal from its cash resources and by issuing £8.4m in loan notes.

It added that it planned to issue further loan notes during January.

Mr Montgomery, who chairs National World, said: “JPI’s historic publishing brands represent the best in journalism and have reliably served their communities and supported local businesses, in some cases for centuries, and never more than in the last year.

“National World will uphold this tradition and implement modern technology to grow the business across a wider footprint based on high quality, unique content.”

National World states on its website that its objective is “to create a modern platform for news publishing by implementing a new operating model, powered by the latest technology”.

It adds: “National World will jettison legacy systems and archaic industrial practices to create efficient dissemination of news, monetising it by matching content to audience.”

Joe Anderson: Liverpool mayor in police probe will not seek re-election

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson says he will not fight for re-election in May due to an ongoing bribery and witness intimidation investigation.

Mr Anderson made the announcement after Merseyside Police said he had been rebailed until February following his arrest earlier this month.

He tweeted he was “disappointed” with the police decision as he had “provided all of the information they asked for”.

He said it was in the Labour Party’s best interests to pick a new candidate.

Mr Anderson was arrested on 4 December, along with four other men, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.

The year-long investigation, Operation Aloft, has focused on a number of building and development contracts in Liverpool.

Mr Anderson’s statement said he would “continue to fight to demonstrate that I am innocent of any wrongdoing but also to protect my legacy as mayor of this city of which I am proud”.

He said the timing of the police investigation “means it would be in the best interests of the Labour Party to select a new candidate for the mayoral election”.

Mr Anderson also wrote: “I have dedicated my life to this city with loyalty and passion and I am not prepared to throw that away.”

Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on Liverpool City Council, called on Mr Anderson to immediately resign from the local authority.

Mr Anderson has been on unpaid leave since his arrest.

Mr Kemp said his Labour opponent was a “lame duck mayor” who was “preventing the city from moving on”.

Earlier, Merseyside Police said five men had been rebailed until 19 February.

The Labour Party, which has been contacted for a comment, has previously suspended Mr Anderson pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

A councillor since 1998, Mr Anderson became Liverpool’s first directly elected mayor in 2012 and earned a second term in 2016.

Gateshead girl, 3, praised for saving drowning dad

A three-year-old girl has been praised for raising the alarm to save her father from drowning when he passed out in a bath.

Craig Pearce, 36, slipped beneath the surface while in the bath with his daughter Lucy and 18-month-old son Euan at their Gateshead home.

Lucy’s cries of “daddy daddy” called her mother Sarah who was able to pull Mr Pearce to safety and perform CPR.

The family have been reunited with the paramedics who came to his aid.

It is not clear what caused Mr Pearce to lose consciousnesses and stop breathing on 30 July, the North East Ambulance Service said.

Mrs Pearce said as she pulled her husband out of the bath, “quick-thinking” Lucy pulled the plug out.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she said.

“I knew the kids were safe but the screams were horrific. He wasn’t taking a gasp. I found the phone but I couldn’t get it on speaker – my hands were shaking that much.”

Ambulance service call handler Hannah Watson said it was an “emotional call” but Mrs Pearce saved her husband’s life, adding: “No doubt she is one of the reasons he is still here today.”

Lucy, who turned four three days after the incident, has been given a certificate by the North East Ambulance Service.

On arrival at Gateshead Queen Elizabeth hospital, doctors prepared Mrs Pearce for the worst but the next day he started to improve and within two days he was awake and talking.

Mr Pearce said: “I don’t remember anything about what happened but the more people I talk to in the medical profession, the more I realise how close I was to dying.”

Dartmoor: Snow day-trippers urged not to visit the moor

Visitors have been urged to stay away from snow-covered Dartmoor after vehicles got stuck and “poor parking” led to the closure of a main road.

Overnight snowfall lured many families to parts of the Devon beauty spot such as Princetown and Sharpitor.

But police reported a number of road accidents amid the icy conditions.

And traffic officers said the B3212 at Dousland had been closed “due to the exceptionally poor parking by hundreds of motorists”.

Tavistock Police tweeted: “Members of the public take our advice and do not come up to the moors to see the snow – motorists are now getting stuck and traffic ground to a halt.

“If you can’t get through the road nor can we or any emergency service.”

Devon and Cornwall Roads Traffic Police tweeted: “The snow conditions on Dartmoor are deteriorating at present, visibility now seriously reduced in parts.

“Please drive safely and if you are visiting consider leaving soon.”

Phil Starkey tweeted a video from Sharpitor showing parked vehicles on both sides of the road, saying: “God help anyone that needs an ambulance in the Sharpitor/Peek Hill area of #Dartmoor this afternoon!”

Deputy Chief Constable Jim Nye urged people to “please be careful on the roads”.

Channel migrants: More than 8,000 people make crossing in 2020

More than four times the number of migrants reached the UK by boat in 2020 compared to 2019, according to official figures.

At least 8,400 people made the crossing in 2020 while last year 1,844 did.

Despite freezing temperatures 33 migrants were the latest to reach the UK, in four boats on Thursday morning.

The totals, based on a running tally of Home Office figures, account for any migrants intercepted in the Channel or held by officials upon arrival.

As well as the 33 who made the trip on Thursday, a further 17 were prevented from making the crossing by French authorities.

Minister for immigration compliance Chris Philp said: “France is a safe country with a well-functioning asylum system.

“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making a dangerous and illegally-facilitated crossing.

“We continue to work closely with the French following our agreement to take further action to tackle illegal migration, through increasing police patrols and surveillance.”

The Home Office said the number of police officers on the ground in France had doubled in response to the volume of migrants attempting the crossing.

Ron Atkins: UKs longest living former MP dies aged 104

Ron Atkins, the UK’s longest living former MP, has died aged 104.

The Labour politician twice represented Preston North in Lancashire from 1966 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1979.

Mr Atkins, who later served as a Preston councillor until he was 92, “passed away peacefully” at his home in Avenham, Preston.

Elizabeth Atkins added that her husband had “devoted his life to the Labour Party” and was “driven by making the world better”.

She said he would be remembered for bringing a polytechnic – now the University of Central Lancashire – to Preston instead of Blackburn, and for saving the Preston-Ormskirk railway line.

Mrs Atkins, who is a councillor for Ashton ward, said: “He was staunch Labour all his life and highly respected.

“He was a real guiding force; the Labour group in Preston called him ‘the guru’.”

On Mr Atkins’s 103rd birthday, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted his congratulations to a “passionate” socialist and “the oldest person ever to have been an MP”.

Preston City Council said it was “saddened” by the news and sent “our heartfelt condolences” to his wife and family.

“Much of his long life was dedicated to public service both locally and in parliament.”

It added the mayor of Preston will be making a formal statement in tribute to Ron Atkins’ long life and work on behalf of the city on Monday.

Brexit: Boris Johnsons father applies for French citizenship

The father of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is applying for French citizenship now that Britain has severed ties with the European Union.

Stanley Johnson told France’s RTL radio that he had always regarded himself as French as his mother was born there.

The 80-year-old former Conservative Member of the European Parliament voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

His son Boris spearheaded the Leave campaign and later took the UK out of the EU as prime minister.

Stanley Johnson explained his reasons for seeking French citizenship in an interview broadcast on Thursday, hours before the UK was due to leave EU trading rules.

“It’s not about becoming French,” he told RTL. “It’s about reclaiming what I already have.”

He pointed out that his mother was born in France to a French mother. “I will always be European,” he added.

Stanley Johnson won a seat in the European Parliament when direct elections were first held in 1979, and later worked for the European Commission. As a result, Boris spent part of his childhood in Brussels.

Brexit issues have divided the Johnson family. The prime minister’s sister, the journalist Rachel Johnson, left the Conservative Party to join the Liberal Democrats ahead of the 2017 election in protest again Brexit.

Their brother, the Conservative MP Jo Johnson, resigned from the cabinet in 2018 to highlight his support for closer links with the EU.

Brexit: UK ready as it counts down to start of new EU relationship

The UK is ready for its “new start”, the government has said, as it prepares to leave EU trading rules at 11pm.

Officials insisted new border systems were “ready to go” amid concerns about possible delays.

The trade deal agreed by the two sides avoids the need for import taxes – tariffs – which many firms had feared.

But there will still be major changes to rules on travel, immigration, commerce, living and working abroad – as well as crime fighting and security.

Fears of giant tailbacks of lorries at Dover – in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU single market and customs union – have receded, but uncertainty remains about new customs rules and the government has warned there will be “some disruption”.

To reduce the risk of delays, the UK is phasing in checks on goods entering the country from the continent over a six-month period up to July 2021.

But some new customs procedures will come into force on the UK-side immediately from 11pm, such as on imports of alcohol, tobacco, chemicals and controlled drugs.

EU member states are introducing full customs declarations and other controls on UK exports from 11pm.

Among the other things that will change from 23:00 GMT:

Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland will continue to follow many of the EU’s rules, as its border with the Irish Republic remains all but invisible.

And the UK will gradually be able to keep more of the fish caught in its own waters, while the European Court of Justice will cease to have any role in deciding disputes between the UK and EU.

If you are Boris Johnson this is huge, and exciting.

If you are a business that’s affected it might mean a big new opportunity, but it might also mean really big disruption and lots of extra hassle.

The fact that there is a trade deal doesn’t take all of the risk away.

The treaty contains lots of uncertainty, not least for the biggest part of the economy: the service sector. Getting the agreement finalised in the time was a big achievement for both sides but there is a lot that it just doesn’t cover that will, in time, have to be worked out somehow.

Read Laura’s blog

Intensive preparations have been taking place over the past two weeks to prepare the UK for the changes.

The UK’s Countdown Plan has involved operational testing of infrastructure at the border and close co-operation with France, Holland and Belgium.

A government spokesman said: “The border systems and infrastructure we need are in place, and we are ready for the UK’s new start.”

But concerns remain that many small businesses are not prepared for the changes and that with lorries without the correct paperwork set to be turned back at Dover and other ports, delays are inevitable.

Traffic volumes are expected to be lower than normal on 1 January due to the pandemic but are expected to pick up from Monday, when the new procedures and the UK’s contingency measures are expected to be tested.

The government said 450 “Kent access” permits had been issued to HGV lorries intending to cross the channel at Dover on 1 January and hauliers arriving without them would be identified and subject to a £300 fine.

One logistics firm told the BBC it would not send any trucks across until 10 January due to congestion fears although Channel Tunnel Operator Getalink has said it expects the new systems to work smoothly.

Brexit happened on 31 January 2020, but the UK has continued to follow Brussels’ trade rules until now, while the deal was thrashed out.

It completes the process set in motion in June 2016, when, in a referendum, UK voters chose by 52% to 48% to leave the EU.

The free trade deal – agreed on Christmas Eve after nine months of negotiations – finally passed into UK law early on Thursday morning – having also been backed by Brussels.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The destiny of this great country now resides firmly in our hands.”

But opponents say the country will still be worse off than it was while in the EU – and there is still uncertainty about what it will happen to banking and services, which are a major part of the UK economy.

Meanwhile, the UK and Spain have reached agreement on a political framework for Gibraltar which will pave the way for a separate UK-EU treaty regarding the British overseas territory, which was not covered by the trade deal.

Thursday’s agreement means the border between Gibraltar and Spain will remain open.

Brexit: Gibraltar gets UK-Spain deal to keep open border

Spain has reached a deal with the UK to maintain free movement to and from Gibraltar once the UK formally leaves the EU on Friday.

To avoid a hard border, they have agreed that Gibraltar will join the EU’s Schengen zone and follow other EU rules, while remaining part of the UK.

The deal was announced by Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya, just hours before the UK exits the EU.

The Rock voted Remain in 2016 and about 15,000 Spanish workers go there daily.

“With this [agreement], the fence is removed, Schengen is applied to Gibraltar… it allows for the lifting of controls between Gibraltar and Spain,” said Ms González Laya.

The deal, not yet formalised by a treaty, does not address the thorny issue of sovereignty. Spain has long disputed British sovereignty over the Rock, which is home to about 34,000 people. The Remain vote there was an overwhelming 96% in the 2016 EU referendum.

Most EU states are in the passport-free Schengen zone, but the UK has never been in it.

Once Gibraltar joins it, EU citizens arriving from Spain or another Schengen country will avoid passport checks, while arrivals from the UK will have to go through passport control, as is already the case.

The Gibraltar deal will mean the EU sending Frontex border guards to facilitate free movement to and from Gibraltar, during a transitional period, pending a treaty.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called Thursday’s deal a “political framework” to form the basis of a separate treaty with the EU regarding Gibraltar.

He said “all sides are committed to mitigating the effects of the end of the [Brexit] Transition Period on Gibraltar, and in particular ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the people living on both sides.

“We remain steadfast in our support for Gibraltar and its sovereignty.”

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