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Starmer launches UK #Labour leadership bid with call to end factionalism

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Sir Keir Starmer (pictured), the frontrunner in the race to lead Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, has pledged to end feuding within its ranks and take the fight to Prime Minister Boris Johnson if he wins the contest, writes Estelle Shirbon.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he will step down after the party’s worst general election performance since 1935 handed Johnson’s Conservatives, or Tories, a large majority in parliament.

The Corbyn era, which began in 2015 when the veteran socialist unexpectedly won the leadership, was marked by bitter infighting between the party’s leftist and centrist wings.

“We cannot fight the Tories if we are fighting each other. Factionalism has to go,” Starmer, 57, said on Saturday in a speech in Manchester, northern England, to formally launch his leadership campaign.

Starmer urged party supporters to stop attacking the achievements of the Labour governments led by Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown between 1997 and 2010, and not to dismiss Corbyn’s record.

“We are not going to trash the last Labour government, but nor are we going to trash the last four years,” he said. “There have been very many important moves.”

Despite winning three successive general elections — the only Labour leader to do so — Blair is unpopular with many within Labour who say he betrayed the left and led the country into a disastrous war in Iraq. “Blairite” is considered an insult by those on that wing of the party.

Centrist Labour supporters say Corbyn’s radical agenda, which included sweeping nationalizations, failed to win over the electorate. They used “Corbynista” as a negative label.

Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was Labour’s Brexit policy chief under Corbyn.

He pushed for a second referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, but has said that the result of the December general election had “blown away” that argument and Labour should now move on.

He said the future focus should be on ending fiscal austerity, investing in public services, and winning public arguments against Johnson, whom he described as lacking principles and a moral compass.

“I’ve never known a time when a radical Labour government was so needed,” said Starmer.

In the first stage of the party leadership contest, candidates must seek the backing of fellow Labour members of parliament.

Starmer has received 68 nominations so far, a long way ahead of his nearest rival, Corbyn loyalist Rebecca Long Bailey, who has 26 nominations.

He also has the backing of Unison, the public service workers’ union, which is seen as a crucial endorsement.

The overall winner in the contest, in which grassroots party members will cast their ballots, will be announced on 4 April.

ECR Group

Italian MEP Vincenzo Sofo joins the ECR Group

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The European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament has decided to take on Italian MEP Vincenzo Sofo as a new member.

Mr Sofo was elected to the European Parliament in 2019. He was one of the three Italian candidates suspended pending the exit of the British Members. On February 1st 2020, Mr Sofo officially took his European Parliament seat. The ECR Group now holds 63 seats in the European Parliament.

After the meeting, ECR Co-Chairman Raffaele Fitto said: “I’d like to welcome Mr Sofo to our Group. He is a trained and competent colleague who has made a political choice consistent with his political path. We are sure that Mr Sofo MEP will be able to make a decisive contribution to the work of our Group, and to our alternative vision of the future of Europe, that is, a community of homelands and nations that cooperate in respect of our different identities and peculiarities.”

ECR Co-Chairman Ryszard Legutko said: “The decision of Mr Sofo shows that our political project, together with the strength of our ideas and our values, is credible and attractive, and from today even stronger and more able to give concrete answers to our citizens in terms of well-being, wealth and security.”

Following the decision, Sofo said: “The European Union is going through one of the most difficult periods in its history, not only from an economic point of view but also from a social and cultural point of view. Surely, it must be profoundly changed to be preserved. Considering the political forces grouped in the European Conservatives and Reformists, they are the ones most able to carry out this task.

“The Conference on the Future of Europe will be a crucial appointment for our Continent and the work that conservative forces will be able to do to correct the mistakes of the European project will be fundamental to straightening its path by strengthening our Nation states and values that have forged its spirit.”

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Brexit

Brexit causing supply problems for small UK manufacturers: survey

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New post-Brexit trade restrictions have pushed up the cost of parts and raw materials for two thirds of small British manufacturers surveyed last month, and a majority reported some level of disruption, writes David Milliken.

The survey of nearly 300 firms, by consultants South West Manufacturing Advisory Service (SWMAS) and the Manufacturing Growth Programme, a government and European Union-funded initiative providing support to small firms, adds to the picture of disruption from new customs checks that came into force on Jan. 1 for goods trade with the EU.

“Price hikes in the supply chain have been immediate, and we are hearing tales of lead times being extended on raw materials,” said Nick Golding, managing director of SWMAS.

Some 65% of manufacturers reported higher costs, and 54% said they had greater difficulties exporting goods to the EU.

Around a fifth of manufacturers thought they might gain from customers bringing work back to Britain from the EU.

Britain’s government has said many of the difficulties are “teething troubles” and last week said it would make 20 million pounds ($27.7 million) available to help small firms get used to the new rules. Further restrictions are due to take effect later this year.

Earlier this month the Bank of England forecast that Brexit-related trade disruption would reduce economic output by 1% during the current quarter - equivalent to about £5 billion - and it expects trade to fall by 10% in the long term.

Brexit supporters say Britain will gain long-term advantages by setting its own trade rules with countries outside Europe, as well as from greater control over domestic regulation.

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Brexit

UK says it's not yet at 'gin and tonic' stage with EU after Brexit

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Britain said on Tuesday (9 February) its relations with the European Union after Brexit had been problematic due to differences over everything from vaccines and Northern Ireland as well as a row over the status of London’s top diplomat in Brussels, writes .

The United Kingdom left the EU in January last year, and fully exited the bloc’s economic orbit on 31 December 2020, though the European Commission sent shockwaves through the British province of Northern Ireland last month by threatening to restrict vaccine exports through Ireland’s land border.

“It has been more than bumpy to be honest in the last six weeks: I think it has been problematic and I hope we’ll get over this,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s EU adviser, David Frost (pictured), told a House of Lords committee.

“The EU is still adjusting somewhat to the existence of a genuinely independent actor in their neighborhood,” he said. “It is going to require a different spirit, probably, from the EU.”

Michael Gove, Johnson’s top minister on Brexit affairs, compared the relationship to turbulence on an aircraft after takeoff.

“You sometimes get that increased level of turbulence, but then eventually you reach a cruising altitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelts off and enjoy a gin and tonic and some peanuts,” Gove said. “We’re not at the gin and tonic and peanuts stage yet, but I’m confident we will be.”

Britain has been seeking to etch out concessions from the EU since the Commission sought briefly to prevent vaccines from moving across the open border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Commission cited a shortfall of vaccines promised for the EU, but reversed its move after an uproar.

Gove, who is due to meet Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Thursday (11 February), said he would press the EU for practical changes on the ground to the implementation of the protocol governing Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade with Ireland.

“I want the protocol to work and I think there are ways in which we can do that by making practical changes on the ground,” Gove said.

The Commission informed London that the EU would need more time to ratify the 24 December 2020 deal on future British-EU relations and Frost scolded the bloc for what he said was its restrictions imposed on the activities of Britain’s envoy to Brussels.

“I’m even more sorry there’s a restriction on the activity of our ambassador and some of his team in Brussels,” Frost said. “I don’t think it is quite tit-for-tat because we are not putting any restriction on the operation of the EU mission in London.”

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