Brexit: Welsh exports to Irish Republic hindered by wrong ink

Welsh exports to Ireland are being blocked by extra paperwork and costs at customs, says CBI Wales.

Director Ian Price said the authorities in the Republic of Ireland are “zealous” when checking goods which is “causing some delays.”

He said documents had been rejected for being written in blue rather than black ink.

Mr Price called for “consistency of approach” when exporting to the EU.

Denise Hanrahan, Ireland’s consul general in Wales, has insisted the Irish Government was “focused” on facilitating trade between the two countries.

The republic is Wales’ fourth biggest export market, behind Germany, France and the US and the fifth largest market for the UK.

Trade worth £20bn goes back and forth across the Irish Sea every week.

But since 1 January, there has been a drop in UK-Ireland traffic at Holyhead and Pembroke Dock.

Mr Price said it’s difficult to tell whether this was down to companies “biding their time” because they foresaw problems or if it is “a genuine change in the way people are moving their goods.”

“There’s no denying costs of freight have increased quite largely and it’s hard to judge at the moment, whether this is a temporary glitch, or whether this is something that is with us for good,” he explained.

“Quite clearly there’s a lot more administration involved now we’re moving goods from ourselves into mainland Europe and as a consequence, it requires more people, requires more time or documentation and that in itself creates a cost.”

This was “a burden” being absorbed by UK businesses, he said.

Ms Hanrahan said: “Ireland and Wales are so closely tied, our shared Irish sea border is one of the vital links between us.

“The UK has left the EU customs union, has left the single market, and that inevitably requires then systems to be put in place to manage the customs, the health aspects, the animal safety aspects.

“All of those normal aspects of trading.”

Ms Hanrahan said it was a “steep learning curve.”

The Irish Government was supporting businesses “to learn as much as possible as to how they can best interact with those systems.”

Josh Burbidge, managing director of 150-year-old family firm Archwood Group, says the Irish market is “significant”.

It is worth more than £600,000 in annual revenue to the business, based in Chirk, Wrexham, he said.

“We made the conscious decision to stop exporting anything to Ireland for two weeks at the start of January to help with the paperwork, and ensure that we had everything sorted in terms of all of the regulation,” he explained.

Deliveries have recently been delayed by six weeks and while currently absorbing extra costs, the firm cannot do so forever.

“Every pallet we send in as an extra £65, and every consignment or individual parcel is £6.50,” he said.

“We’re not in a high margin business. Therefore, we won’t be able to continue absorbing those costs on the longer term.”

Wrexham Lager sales manager Joss Roberts, said Brexit complications were having a “major impact”, despite the majority of business comes from the UK.

“Prices are becoming unrealistic,” said Mr Roberts.

“We’ve had to cancel three Irish orders this morning because the end receiver is expected to pay €11.50 per crate, that’s on top of an admin courier fee.

“It’s gone up around £17 alone to the Republic of Ireland where as to the likes of Spain it’s gone up over €60 a crate.”

He has written to customers to warn them of the extra fees.

The business will “have to work out a way.”

He said: “Do they ring us and pay the extra over the phone? Do we put an extra addition on our cost on the website? It’s hassle that from December wasn’t there.”

“We just hope it can get better soon.”

Labour renews vow to keep nuclear weapons

Labour’s support for keeping the UK’s nuclear weapons is “non-negotiable”, the shadow defence secretary is expected to say in a speech.

But John Healey will also promise to “lead efforts to secure multilateral disarmament” if the party wins power.

Labour dropped its policy of unilaterally getting rid of the UK’s nuclear weapons after then leader Neil Kinnock lost the 1987 general election.

But many on the party’s left remain vehemently opposed to that decision.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a long-time opponent of the UK’s Trident submarine-based missile system and a vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) – said in 2015 that he would never use it if he became prime minister.

Yet maintaining nuclear weapons remained a pledge in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.

In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute think tank, Mr Healey will emphasise that the party leadership under Sir Keir Starmer is far clearer in its backing of this than Mr Corbyn was.

“Labour’s support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent is non-negotiable and we want to see Britain doing more to lead efforts to secure multilateral disarmament,” he is expected to say.

Mr Healey will also say the party’s commitment to the NATO military alliance – which Mr Corbyn said in 2012 should be disbanded, but later argued should focus on reducing “tensions around the world” – is “unshakeable”.

This isn’t a change in policy, but it’s a distinct change in tone.

Labour wants to make sure it gets a serious hearing on defence.

It knows that it needs its own position to be clear to be able to most effectively challenge the government’s decisions (which is particularly important with the Integrated Review due soon).

That means definitively answering some of the questions which have been raised over recent years, especially around NATO and nuclear weapons.

Keeping Britain’s nuclear weapons system has always been a divisive issue within Labour but it is party policy.

That didn’t change under Jeremy Corbyn but his lifelong personal opposition to nuclear weapons – and his statement in 2015 that he would never use them – allowed Labour’s commitment to be questioned

Stating that it is “non-negotiable” ends that speculation, although it is unlikely to go down well with everyone in the party.

The government launched its Integrated Review last year, looking at the UK’s long-term foreign policy and defence priorities.

Mr Healey will say that, “at a time of geopolitical uncertainty and technological change”, ministers must not “smother strategic decision-making in clouds of rhetoric and hubris”.

“We cannot any longer go fudging and fumbling our way into the future, with major procurement projects at the mercy of the illusion that ‘something will turn up’ to pay for them,” he will add.

The government has promised an increase in spending on defence of 2.6% above the rate of inflation between 2019/20 and 2020/21.

It expects the overall figure to rise to £41.5bn during this time.

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government first acquired Trident – using submarines to carry up to eight missiles each – in the early 1980s, replacing the previous Polaris system.

Opponents say the maintenance and update costs – running into billions of pounds – are excessive and that the deterrent effect of such weapons is questionable, and that is not truly independent as it relies on US technology.

But supporters argue that there is no alternative, and that Russia and China already have nuclear missiles, with several others attempting to develop them.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described Trident as “vital” to protecting the UK.

Government agrees to call pregnant women mothers

The government has agreed to change its bill allowing ministers to take maternity leave, so that it uses the term “mother” rather than “person”.

The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill would ensure up to six months’ leave on full pay.

But the House of Lords rejected the use of the word “person” in its text.

The government initially argued this was in line with “drafting convention” but has changed its view, saying use of “mother” is legally “acceptable”.

The bill was introduced in time for Attorney General Suella Braverman, who is expecting her second child, to take maternity leave this year.

Under existing laws, she would have to resign if she wanted to take time off following the birth.

During a debate on Thursday, Cabinet Office minister Lord True said the government “recognised the strength of feeling” on the use of language in the bill and would change its mind.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has backed the legislation, adding that the change to pregnant minister’s rights “should have been brought in a long time ago”.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said: “The choice between taking leave to recover from childbirth and care for a new-born child or resigning from office is not acceptable in modern times.”

The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, already passed by the House of Commons, is expected to enter law soon.

GP alerts Sebastian Coe to vocal problem after interview airs

Sebastian Coe is receiving treatment for a problem with his vocal cords after a Radio 4 listener contacted the station to express concern over his “gravelly” voice.

Lord Coe, the president of World Athletics, had been speaking to the Today programme’s Garry Richardson about the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

The interview prompted an email from a retired GP, which led to Lord Coe seeing an ear, nose and throat doctor.

He said it was an “act of kindness”.

On hearing the interview in December, the retired doctor emailed the programme immediately, and said: “If he or especially family and friends feel his voice has altered over any time, more than three to four weeks, he should see his GP for an ENT referral so that a specialist can look at his vocal cords, to make sure there are no significant or alarming changes.”

Her comments were passed straight to Lord Coe, who said he was “slightly perturbed”.

He visited specialist Peter Valentine, from Guildford, in Surrey.

“It was obvious when he spoke to me for the first time that he had an issue with his voice, in the sense that it was rough and gravelly,” Mr Valentine said.

“What I was able to do was examine Seb using a nasendoscope, which is a small flexible optic fibre that we pass through the nasal passages to go to the back of the throat.”

Mr Valentine discovered a throat condition which is now being treated with speech therapy.

Lord Coe said: “It’s almost like being back in training because you’re sort of working on muscularity, and all sorts of things and learning to breathe properly and through your diaphragm.”

He warned other people to speak to a doctor if they find “alarming symptoms”.

“Don’t be stoic and brave and not say anything about it,” he added.

Primark gears up for April reopening as sales slump

Fast fashion chain Primark hopes to offload millions of pounds worth of last year’s clothing stock when its shops reopen in England on 12 April.

The High Street giant does not offer online sales and says it expects to have lost £1.1bn in sales due to the latest lockdown closures.

It plans to sell more than £400m of last year’s stock to help plug the gap.

The chain said its stores would also offer new ranges for all the new seasons, including this spring.

Primark said its 153 stores would reopen in England on 12 April, and in Scotland on 26 April.

Unlike rivals, the retailer had no online operation to shift stock when stores were closed during lockdowns.

But Primark is not set up to sell online, and has said the costs involved in distribution and sales online would mean price rises for customers.

Primark’s £1.1bn sales drop contrasts with online only fashion retailers such as Asos and Boohoo, whose sales rose by around 40% in the last four months of 2020.

Primark owner Associated British Foods said sales for the 24 weeks to 27 February 2021 were £2.2bn, compared to £3.7bn in the same period last year, as lockdowns and closures in the UK and Europe stopped people going to many High Street shops.

Its stores have been closed in many countries across Europe, including Germany and the Netherlands.

It has dates for reopening shops in those countries, but still does not know when it will reopen in Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Portugal.

However, it is optimistic that customers will return to all of its stores as soon as they reopen: “We know that people will welcome us back when we reopen,” finance chief John Bason said. “There is pent-up demand.”

It will be selling a mix of new and old lines for the remainder of the year as it plays catch-up.

When stores reopen Primark expects to sell £150m of spring and summer lines that were stored in warehouses from last year. It then aims to sell £260m of autumn and winter stock such as jeans and jumpers next season.

This is unusual in the fashion world, where unsold stock is usually sold off in end-of-season sales, and has in the past even been burnt or sent to landfill, to make space for new ranges.

Primark says it does not burn or bin any unsold stock but instead normally donates it to charity.

Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the closures of the Primark estate were “costing a pretty penny”.

“However, the retail chain is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “When previous lockdowns ended we saw demand rebounded strongly.”

While sales were down 15% in the last round of reopening, which “sounds bad”, “in reality that’s an impressive recovery when you consider people had little reason to visit the High Street, and Primark’s lack of online business”.

“Even more importantly, so strong is the demand for Primark’s clothes, excess inventory has been less of a problem during the pandemic, because more of it flies off the shelf than expected once the doors open,” she said.

In the past Primark has said it won’t sell online because the cost of manning the operation and processing high volumes of returns would mean it could no longer offer low prices.

Being in fast fashion means it has low margins, so “they have to be very competitive on price,” Patrick O’Brien, UK retail research director at GlobalData told the BBC in January.

Online players like Asos and Boohoo were “geared up for it in terms of logistics”.

“But Primark would be starting from scratch, and would have to integrate any new online operation with its existing store structure which would be costly.”

However Retail Economics’ Richard Lim said Primark was at risk of “potentially alienating its customers” who increasingly expect to be able to shop online.

Customers would be finding new ways of shopping with rivals, he said.

Primark’s performance meant owner-Associated British Foods’ first half sales and earnings would be lower than the previous year, the company said.

But Associated British Foods has a grocery division, with brands that include Kingsmill bread, Twinings tea and Ovaltine, as well as major sugar, agriculture and ingredients businesses.

These fared well as people stocked up during lockdown.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, said: “Primark store closures are inevitably punching a hole in profits, but the diversified nature of the business is serving AB Foods well.

“Changing habits arising from the pandemic have boosted other parts of the business.”

Vauxhall: Talks over fate of Ellesmere Port plant productive

Talks over the future of Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port car plant have been “productive but not conclusive”, the car plant’s owner said.

Stellantis has been in talks with the government for weeks about the site, which employs more than 1,000 people.

It is thought Stellantis is seeking financial incentives to make a fully electric car at the factory.

There are fears Stellantis, formed from the merger of France’s PSA Group and Fiat-Chrysler, may close the factory.

Stellantis bosses have also voiced concern about the UK’s decision to bring forward a ban on new petrol and diesel cars.

Michael Lohscheller, who heads the parent group’s Vauxhall unit, said it expects an “eventual binding commitment by the UK government in the near future and will act accordingly.

“In the meanwhile, no investment decision will be made,” he said.

Speculation over the future of the plant, which makes the Astra car, has been mounting since the merger of PSA and Fiat-Chrysler created a new automotive superpower.

Stellantis has been reviewing its options for plants worldwide. It has yet to decide if a new generation of a hatchback model will be produced there.

Vauxhall confirmed on Thursday that talks on “different scenarios for Ellesmere Port” were ongoing with UK authorities “at both national and local levels”.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has been involved in discussions with Stellantis, which have been ongoing for several weeks.

The BBC understands that three options on the table for the plant include:

Stellantis boss Carlos Tavares recently referred to the “brutal” decision for the UK government to bring forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030 and said it might make more sense to move future electric production closer to its biggest market in the European Union (EU).

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “The Ellesmere Port plant is a major employer and winding it down would have devastating consequences, with 1,000 highly skilled jobs lost from the local community.

“To support our automotive manufacturing industry and boost its competitiveness, Labour has called for ambitious investment in electric vehicle technology, including the electric battery supply chain, through a £30bn green economic recovery. This investment would mean manufacturers have the long-term confidence they need to build new electric models in the UK.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring the UK continues to be one of the best locations in the world for automotive manufacturing, and we’re doing all we can to protect and create jobs, while securing a competitive future for the sector.”

Minari: Oscar favourite sees Korean family chase the American Dream

Parasite, last year’s Oscar winner from South Korea, dented assumptions that English-speaking audiences are wary of any film with subtitles. Now another Korean-language film is making waves. Minari is a very different story set in rural America. But there’s buzz about its chances in April’s Academy Awards.

Minari is Lee Isaac Chung’s fourth feature film. For the first time, he’s tried to capture on screen the lives of South Koreans in the US.

Chung is 42 and was born into a Korean family in Denver, Colorado. While he was editing his film, he says he was very aware of the acclaim building around the dark comedy Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s film went on to win four Oscars last year, including best picture. It’s taken more than $250m (£177m) at the box office.

“Obviously I wanted to see this subtitled South Korean movie everyone was talking about,” he remembers. “But I decided I’d resist until Minari was edited: I didn’t want it to influence me at all.

“When I finally watched Parasite, I asked myself how I could ever make anything so good. So it was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.”

In fact, Minari has had excellent reviews since opening last year at the Sundance festival. Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson said the film “is one of the highlights of the season”. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph described it as a “finely-observed portrait of family relations and rural American values”.

Minari’s warm story of the Yi family moving in the 1980s from California to Arkansas is utterly unlike Parasite’s sharp social satire.

The father, Jacob, plans a better living for his wife and two young children farming Korean vegetables and selling them to wholesalers and restaurants. His wife Monica is less convinced and eventually they bring her eccentric mother over from South Korea to help look after the farm and the children.

It’s an engaging and at times moving blend of family drama and comedy. There are moments when it seems tragedy may strike… so will Jacob’s faith in the American Dream prove misplaced?

A lot of detail came from Chung’s own family background.

“We lived on a farm and our grandmother was with us. As in the film, it was her decision to grow minari down by a stream – a vegetable you’ll find in many Asian countries. The truth is, when I was five or six, I really didn’t like eating it but it’s a hardy crop which can flourish where other things won’t grow.

“So although mainly I associate minari with my love for my grandmother and her wisdom, there’s maybe also a metaphor about thriving in a new home.

“The process of writing the film made me understand my father a lot better and the stresses he was working through at the time I was growing up.”

Chung graduated with a biology degree and had planned to become a doctor. But in his final year at Yale he decided to become a film-maker.

“My parents were very surprised and worried for me and my welfare. They thought I was making a huge mistake after college but within a few years they’d become more supportive of what I was doing. But I had such a visceral need to make films that ultimately the important thing was not if they approved. I knew I just had to do it.”

Minari looks great on screen. Like another of this year’s leading Oscar contenders, Nomadland, it draws strength and beauty from the landscape of America.

Chung says Hollywood films which influenced him included John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and movies of the 1950s and early ’60s from the likes of Elia Kazan, William Wyler and George Stevens.

“Those directors made films about the land and about exploring frontiers and working out your hopes and dreams in America.”

He and the producers discussed trying to emulate the CinemaScope look of some of those movies. But they decided it wouldn’t work, as too many scenes were to be shot in the family’s small trailer home.

The dialogue is mainly in Korean and, while making it, Chung could never have guessed how successful Parasite was about to become. So did he ever consider making more of the film in English to dodge the subtitling issue?

He says there was always a second version of the screenplay standing by, just in case, and mainly in English. “Honestly that was for if I just couldn’t get financing for a Korean-language film set in Arkansas. I did have those thoughts.

“But it’s better to remain true to the movie and to people’s lives. In most Korean-American families at that time people would definitely have spoken Korean at home.”

The crucial moment came when the production company Plan B (co-owned by Brad Pitt) entered the scene. “They were all great and from the beginning Plan B just said go ahead make the movie as you see it. The producer there Christina Oh is also Korean American and she really fought to ensure we had the ability to shoot in Korean.”

There’s been criticism that this year’s Golden Globes wouldn’t consider Minari in the best drama film category because the dialogue isn’t primarily in English. The film was nominated for best foreign language film.

Chung won’t be drawn into the specifics of the debate. “But what would happen, for instance, if someone made a film set in the US and it was mainly in Native American languages? Would that count at the Globes as a foreign film?”

The Globes take place this Sunday. The Academy Awards have no equivalent restriction. Oscar nominations will be announced on 15 March.

Suddenly Chung is hot property in Hollywood.

His next film is to be a love story set between America and Hong Kong. Does he think the way different races and traditions and cultures negotiate their differences and explore a common past will become a staple of post-pandemic cinema?

“I admire the writers and thinkers who feel like you can’t really go forward unless you’re also going backwards at the same time.

“You can’t move into the future without contending with what’s happened before. You have to make sure we unearth every part of history if you really really want to become something better in the future. That’s a process we have to be faithful towards – to mine that history and set things right.”

Minari is released in the UK and Ireland on 19 March by Altitude Film.

Stansted 15 face no further action over airport protest

Protesters who broke into Stansted Airport to stop a plane deporting people to Africa will face no further action through the courts.

The group, known as the Stansted 15, cut through the perimeter fence and locked themselves together around a Boeing 767 jet in 2017.

They won an appeal against their convictions last month.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said it would not appeal against the decision.

“There will be no further action on this case,” the statement added.

The jet the group surrounded in March 2017 had been chartered by the Home Office to transport people from UK detention centres for repatriation to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The protesters put their arms inside pipes which were then filled with expandable foam, and secured themselves around the nose wheel and wing of the aircraft, Chelmsford Crown Court was told during their trial.

All 15 were convicted of the intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, with three given suspended jail sentences, and the other 12 were handed community orders.

At the appeal hearing in November, lawyers for the activists argued the legislation under which the 15 were convicted – the Aviation and Maritime Security Act (Amsa) 1990 – was rarely used and not intended for this type of case.

The Stansted 15’s barristers argued that the Amsa law was intended to deal with violence of the “utmost seriousness”, such as terrorism, not demonstrators.

In his judgement, given in January, the Lord Chief Justice said they “should not have been prosecuted for the extremely serious offence”.

Sitting with Mr Justice Jay and Mrs Justice Whipple, Lord Burnett said the protesters’ “conduct did not satisfy the various elements of the offence”.

“There was, in truth, no case to answer,” he said.

The CPS had 28 days to consider an appeal.

The 15 are: Helen Brewer, 31; Lyndsay Burtonshaw, 30; Nathan Clack, 32; Laura Clayson, 30; Melanie Evans, 37; Joseph McGahan, 37; Benjamin Smoke, 29; Jyotsna Ram, 35; Nicholas Sigsworth, 31; Melanie Strickland, 37; Alistair Tamlit, 32; Edward Thacker, 31; Emma Hughes, 40; May MacKeith, 35; and Ruth Potts, 46.

Mr Smoke tweeted: “We can finally say… IT’S OVER!!!!!!”

In a statement on behalf of the group, he added: “Following the Court of Appeal’s verdict last month which stated there was, in truth, no case to answer, we are of course overjoyed that the CPS have today decided to take no further action.

“After four long years, we finally have some justice, but there are tens of thousands of people who have been swept up and aside by our draconian and callous immigration system who still await theirs.

“We will not stop fighting until the hostile environment is ended, until the brutal practices of raids, detention and deportations are halted and until justice is done for all.”

Ronald Pickup: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel actor dies

Actor Ronald Pickup, who is best known for his roles in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films and The Crown, has died aged 80.

His agent said he “passed away peacefully yesterday after a long illness surrounded by his wife and family. He will be deeply missed”.

The actor, who died on Wednesday, was the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2016’s The Crown and played Neville Chamberlain in 2017 film Darkest Hour.

He worked in theatre, film and TV.

Pickup’s career break came in 1964 with a role as a physician in Doctor Who episode The Tyrant Of France.

In 1967 he played Don John in a BBC studio recording of Franco Zeffirelli’s famous production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

He also starred in the films The Mission and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and played Norman Cousins in the Marigold Hotel films in 2011 and 2015, which also starred Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith.

Pickup told the PA news agency in 2012 that his favourite role was playing the writer George Orwell in TV movie Crystal Spirit: Orwell On Jura, which told the story of him writing his acclaimed novel 1984.

Last year he starred in horror film End Of Term, which starred former Doctor Who actor Peter Davison.

Lady Gagas dog-walker shot and bulldogs stolen

Two of Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs were stolen on Wednesday night, after a gunman shot her dog-walker in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

A male suspect fired a semi-automatic handgun at the dog-walker, named in US media reports as Ryan Fischer, before making off with the dogs.

The victim was transported to hospital in an unknown condition, Los Angeles Police confirmed to the BBC.

Lady Gaga has offered a reward for the return of her dogs, Koji and Gustav.

A third bulldog, named Miss Asia ran away and was later recovered by police.

Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, is currently in Rome working on a new Ridley Scott film, Gucci.

Her press representative said anyone with information on the whereabouts of the bulldogs can email with “no questions asked”.

Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that they are searching for a “possible suspect” who fled the scene in a white vehicle from North Sierra Bonita Avenue towards Hollywood Boulevard.

It is not clear whether Lady Gaga’s dogs were specifically targeted in the attack.

French Bulldogs are sought-after breeds in the US, with healthy puppies selling for an average of $2,000 (£1.400). Those with exceptional breeding history can fetch as much as $10,000 (£7,060).

Gaga is known to be extremely protective of her dogs, who have accompanied her to the American Music Awards and her 2017 Super Bowl Halftime show.

Miss Asia even has an official Instagram account.

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