Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief representative in the Brexit negotiations, sat down with Andrew Marr to discuss at length the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Verhofstadt told Marr that a trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union will not be finalised before the 29th of March 2019. Instead, Verhofstadt hinted that this would take place during the two year transition arrangement, putting him at odds with the UK government’s policy that everything would be agreed ‘at the same time’:
AM: Is it at all possible that by the time we formally leave in March next year, there will be a free trade agreement?
GV: I think what is possible by the 29th of March of next year, if everybody agrees with it – the British Parliament, European Parliament – will be the withdrawal agreement. Inside that withdrawal agreement also an agreement on the transition, the transition for example of two years, at the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. And the third thing that will be possible is an annex, a political declaration describing, more or less in detail I should say… what the future relationship will be. And then we will use the transition period to clarify this political declaration in an international agreement.
Marr also asked Verhofstadt what would happen in the event that either Parliament voted down the deal reached in the negotiations. Verhofstadt replied that such a position was ‘unknown territory’, saying: ‘If that is happening – for example, the UK parliament voting down the deal – there will be, I presume, a crisis in British politics…maybe an election. Maybe after that election a new government, and maybe a new position on Brexit’.
When Marr asked about the fabled ‘Canada+++’ deal favoured by Brexit Secretary David Davis, Verhofstadt stated that: ‘That will not be the outcome of this negotiation’.
Damian Hinds – We need more variety for tuition fees
The new Education Secretary Damian Hinds also joined Andrew Marr this morning to discuss the Government’s review of the higher education sector, which will be launched on Monday. Hinds defended the current system, but also said that the government needed to examine how to reduce the burden of debt that is being placed on graduates:
AM: Is it true that as a result of this review some courses could become cheaper?
DH: I don’t think politicians are going to be be setting the prices of different courses…What we need to look at is the different aspects of pricing – the cost that it is to put on the course, the value that it is to the student, and also the value to our society as a whole and to our economy for the future, and there are some subjects…where we’re going to need more of those coming forward in the future.
AM: [Is it] possible that the current system of tuition fees could end as a result of this?
DH: What we are doing in the review is looking at how that system works, making sure there are alternatives, making sure there is more variety, and that could include lower cost ways of delivering education which might be shorter courses, more opportunities to work, to study while you work and so on.
When Marr asked him about if the Government planned to deliver on a manifesto pledge to open up new grammar schools, Hinds replied: ‘That is not what we’re doing, we’re talking about being able to expand existing schools’.
Ruth Davidson – International aid abusers are ‘the lowest circle of hell’
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives slammed the actions of disgraced aid workers as ‘appalling’, but has spoken up strongly for the UK’s continued commitment to international development projects, despite the revelations over the last two weeks. Davidson told Robert Peston exactly what she thought about those who have abused their position as aid workers:
“The lowest circle of hell” @RuthDavidsonMSP does not hold back in her criticism of international helpers who allegedly used their position to exploit the most vulnerable #Peston pic.twitter.com/mpwdFg4h0i
— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) February 18, 2018
RP: We’ve seen this scandal at Oxfam — some are using it to call into question the government’s commitment to fund the Department for International Development to the tune of 0.7 per cent of our national income. What would you say about that commitment?
RD: I think that commitment is essential, particularly as the UK is withdrawing from the European Union. Actually, it’s almost more important that we continue to demonstrate that we engage with other countries around the world… and international aid helps us to do that… Those of us who have spent our careers arguing for the 0.7 per cent commitment are probably more angry with Oxfam than those who have opposed it their whole lives…
RP: Do you fear that because aid workers are doing good that the normal rules of how you behave don’t apply?
RD: It’s incredibly hard to grade the appallingness of the offence, but if there was a grade, the idea of international helpers that go to a country, that’s had a terrible disaster like Haiti and use their position, which is to help the most vulnerable, to then exploit them is pretty much the lowest circle of hell that you can find. And the idea that instead of addressing that behaviour… that we will protect the reputation that we have built up – I think that’s what’s really hurt people at the centre of this affair.
Davidson also hinted that there might be circumstances in which she may not back the Government over Brexit. She told Peston that:
‘Falling out on WTO rules would not be something that I think would be in the benefit of my constituency in Edinburgh or in the country as it is. But I don’t think anybody’s working to a no-deal scenario’.
Gerard Batten – No new mosques should be built in Britain
Ukip’s interim leader, who replaces Henry Bolton after he lost his no-confidence vote on Saturday, has told Niall Paterson that he still holds firm in his belief that no new mosques should be built in the UK. Gerard Batten has previously come under fire for describing Islam as a ‘death cult’ on his blog. However, Batten, who may run to become the party’s sixth leader in 18 months, told Paterson that he would not necessarily make his beliefs on mosques official party policy:
— Sunday with Paterson (@RidgeOnSunday) February 18, 2018
NP: Do you still believe that no new mosques should be built in this country?
GB: Well, it’s interesting isn’t it, that Islam doesn’t allow a Christian church of a Sikh temple of a Buddhist temple to be built in its heartland because it’s forbidden in the Qu’ran…
NP: This isn’t exactly the heartland of Christianity, Mr Batten…
GB: …and yet we are supposed to be fully tolerant of their building things here… That might be my personal opinion. Policy wise, what I would certainly want Ukip to do is to adopt a policy that says that no foreign money should be allowed to fund extremist mosques and imams, which is what we’ve allowed Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to do over decades, and why we have such a problem with literalist and radical and extremist Islam in our countries now, is because it’s actually financially supported and exported to us by those types of countries. They’ve exported their ideology to us and we have to sit powerless to do anything about it. Well, I don’t think we are, and we should do something about it.
Batten reiterated his opinion of Islam as a death cult, arguing that the religion was propagated by Muslims ‘killing other people and martyring themselves’, adding ‘Not all of them… I’m saying that a significant minority believe that’. When asked if Muslims should be made to sign a ‘charter of understanding’ in order to live in Britain, Batten replied: ‘I don’t think it’s unreasonable’.
Yvette Cooper – Boris Johnson is ‘a joke’
Ffinally, the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper has used her interview with Niall Paterson to blast the Foreign Secretary, describing his most recent speech on Brexit as ‘waffly’ and ‘vague’. Cooper declared that she held Mr Johnson in a very different regard to other politicians that she disagreed with:
— Sunday with Paterson (@RidgeOnSunday) February 18, 2018
NP: You’ve said a number of things including ‘To be honest, given everything he said about the bus I don’t see why we’re taking him seriously at all’, and you also tweeted [that his speech was] ‘waffly, bumbling and empty’. Did you not learn anything from Mr Johnson’s speech?
YC: No. Only that he’s gone round and round in circles and not made any progress at all… Where’s the detail? We’ve only got 13 months left until Brexit day and we’ve still got no practical details. It’s still just the same frankly waffly, vague stuff and that’s irresponsible. But there’s another thing here, which is I do think that you should show respect for people in politics. There’s lots of people I strongly disagree with, including the Prime Minister, who I show respect for. But the thing about Boris Johnson – I just think he’s a joke. He embarrasses us here and abroad and he makes things up for his own personal gain, and that’s why I just don’t think w should be taking him seriously at all. If the Prime Minister didn’t take him seriously as well, actually the government might be in a better state.