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UK's Johnson to meet EU chief #VonDerLeyen in London

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) will meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in London on Wednesday (8 January) ahead of the opening rounds of trade talks that will begin once Britain formally leaves the bloc on 31 January, writes Kate Holton.

The two leaders are likely to discuss whether they can strike a new trade relationship in the transition period that will follow until December 2020. Von der Leyen has said time is extremely short “for the mass of issues that have to be negotiated”.

Johnson has set a hard deadline to reach a new trade deal with the EU, betting that the prospect of another Brexit cliff-edge would force Brussels to move more quickly to seal an accord.

The legislation required to implement Johnson’s EU divorce deal will return to parliament for further scrutiny on Tuesday and is set to be approved in time for 31 January following his crushing victory in a December election.

The hosting of a bilateral meeting in London indicates that unlike the first stage of the Brexit process, when ministers travelled to Brussels for talks, the second stage of trade talks will be held in both locations.

Von der Leyen, who replaced Jean-Claude Juncker in December, will also give a lecture at the London School of Economics titled 'Old Friends, New Beginnings: building another future for the EU-UK partnership'.

Conservative Party

Johnson to levy £10,000 fine on COVID-19 rule-breakers

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People in England who break new rules requiring them to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19 will face a fine of up to £10,000 ($12,914), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (19 September), writes David Milliken.

The rules will apply from 28 September to anyone in England who tests positive for the virus or is notified by public health workers that they have been in contact with someone infectious.

“People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines,” Johnson said in a statement.

Fines will start at 1,000 pounds for a first offence, rising to 10,000 pounds for repeat offenders or cases where employers threaten to sack staff who self-isolate rather than go to work.

Some low-income workers who suffer a loss of earnings will receive a £500 support payment, on top of other benefits such as sick pay to which they may be entitled.

Current British government guidance tells people to stay at home for at least 10 days after they start to suffer COVID-19 symptoms, and for other people in their household not to leave the house for 14 days.

Anyone who tests positive is also asked to provide details of people outside their household who they have been in close contact with, who may then also be told to self-isolate.

To date there has been little enforcement of self-isolation rules, except in some cases where people have returned from abroad.

However, Britain is now facing a rapid increase in cases, and the government said police would be involved in checking compliance in areas with the highest infection rates.

Johnson has also faced calls to reintroduce more wide-ranging lockdown rules for the general public.

However, the Sunday Times reported he was poised to reject calls from scientific advisors for an immediate two-week nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, and instead reconsider it when schools take a late-October break.

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Brexit

UK sees 'a way through' parliamentary maze for #Brexit treaty breach bill

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government sees a ‘way through’ the parliamentary maze for his bill that would break the Brexit divorce treaty as it talks with rebels in the Conservative Party, a minister said on Wednesday (16 September). write Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton.

Johnson’s Internal Market Bill, which the EU has demanded he scrap by the end of September, is currently being debated in parliament, though he is facing a rebellion by some members of his Conservative Party.

“I believe there is a way through,” Robert Buckland told the BBC when asked about negotiations with rebels in parliament over the bill, adding that London wanted a deal with the EU.

“In terms of shared understanding, I have already seen quite a difference,” he said when asked about a possible compromise in parliament.

Asked if he had been involved in negotiations with Bob Neill, a Conservative lawmaker, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “There are lots of discussions going on with all MPs from all parts of the debate, not just Bob Neill.”

“We want to get this bill through, we want to make sure that we are ready for any disagreements or disputes that might arise if we don’t get agreement in the joint committee,” he said. “For me, I just want Brexit sorted.”

Buckland told Times Radio that the bill was needed as an insurance policy in case the EU made a “material breach” of their obligations but that the talks were not yet at that stage and that London would use current mechanisms to find a compromise.

The EU says Johnson’s bill could collapse trade talks and propel the United Kingdom towards a messy Brexit while former British leaders have warned that breaking the law is a step too far that undermines the country’s image.

Johnson said it was essential to counter “absurd” threats from Brussels including that London put up trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland and impose a food blockade - steps he said threatened the United Kingdom’s unity.

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Brexit

EU chief executive says chances for #Brexit deal fading every day

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Every passing day reduces chances for sealing a new trade deal with Britain, the European Union’s chief executive said on Wednesday (16 September), warning London that there was “very little time” left to put an agreement in place by the end of the year, writes Gabriela Baczynska.

In her major annual policy speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dedicated just a few sentences to Brexit, mostly focusing on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic as well as digital and climate investments.

“With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in a “state of the (European) Union” speech styled on the ones U.S. presidents deliver. Von der Leyen also stressed both the EU and Britain negotiated and ratified their Brexit divorce deal and warned London the agreement “cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied”. “This is a matter of law, trust and good faith... Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership,” she said.

Von der Leyen said the bloc would “never backtrack” on UK’s divorce deal, which took three years to negotiate, as it was protecting the delicate peace on the island of Ireland from the consequences of Brexit.

Brexit talks are now in crisis yet again as Prime Minister Boris Johnson put forward a new Internal Market Bill to the UK parliament that would undercut Britain’s EU divorce treaty. That increased the risk of the most damaging, no-deal economic split precipitating at the end of the year when Britain’s standstill post-Brexit transition ends. Reuters reported exclusively on Tuesday (15 September), however, that Britain had quietly offered concessions on fisheries in trade talks with the European Union last week, leaving the bloc thinking London might still be open to clinching an agreement.

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