Brexit: Talks enter last day before crunch EU summit

Brexit flagsImage copyright EPA

EU and UK officials will resume Brexit talks this morning in the hopes of reaching a deal that can be agreed by leaders at a key summit on Thursday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to update the cabinet on the progress of the negotiations, which continued through the night.

On Tuesday there were reports a deal was imminent amid claims the UK had made concessions over the Irish border.

But Downing Street said there was “more work still to do”.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, will update the bloc on what progress has been made between the two sides when he briefs EU commissioners and ambassadors later.

Mr Johnson is facing a race against the clock to reach a new Brexit deal before the two-day gathering of EU leaders.

Any deal will need to be published – along with a legal text – if the EU27 are to consider ratifying the withdrawal agreement at their summit.

That meeting is crucial because under legislation passed last month – the Benn Act – Mr Johnson is compelled to ask the bloc for a delay to Brexit if he does not get a new deal approved by MPs by Saturday.

The UK is due to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on 31 October and the prime minister has repeatedly insisted he will not request a delay.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption DUP leader Arlene Foster met the PM for 90 minutes on Tuesday night

But in addition to the challenges of reaching an agreement with the EU this week, Mr Johnson also requires support from Conservative Brexiteers and Democratic Unionists if he is likely to get his deal through Parliament.

Such support rests on the UK’s proposed alternative to the Irish backstop – the measure aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Johnson held a series of talks with backbench MPs and leaders of the DUP.

After a 90-minute meeting with the prime minister, the DUP said “it would be fair to indicate gaps remain and further work is required”.

Earlier in the day, the party’s leader, Arlene Foster, said the party could not accept reported plans of a customs border in the Irish Sea – meaning Northern Ireland would be treated differently from the rest of the UK.

Another Brexiteer, former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, told the Sun he would wait to see the full details of a deal, but added that a border down the Irish Sea would be “unacceptable”.

However, the chair of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, Steve Baker, struck a more upbeat tone, saying he was “optimistic” that “a tolerable deal” could be reached.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons and a former ERG chair, told LBC: “I think the votes are there now for a deal.”

DBP. Let’s have a new one, a new acronym of course, because Brexit has been nothing if not a journey through collections of syllables that once might have seemed unfamiliar to even political aficionados, but now trip off the tongue.

DUP? Easy one, the Tories’ Northern Irish allies.

ERG, obvious too, the European Research Group – the Brexiteers’ club.

Then there is NCP, what was once upon a time Theresa May’s plan for customs, the IP, the implementation period, the departure lounge after Brexit, and so on, and so on, and so, until we all lose the will to live.

If you are still with me then let’s introduce ‘DBP’, because on a very odd day in Westminster, it’s the phrase I have heard almost more than any other – difficult but possible.

Read Laura’s full blog here.

Regardless of what happens in Brussels, a showdown is anticipated in an emergency sitting of Parliament on Saturday – the first in 37 years, if it goes ahead.

MPs will be able to back or reject any deal presented to them and there will be discussions on what to do next.

However, Mr Rees-Mogg did not confirm the sitting would happen, saying it would depend on events in Brussels.

BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming said the widely-held view among the EU was that the UK was unlikely to be leaving on 31 October, and the question was whether an extension could be short in order to iron out some small issues, or had to be much longer to deal with bigger problems.

Timeline: What’s happening ahead of Brexit deadline?

Thursday 17 October – Crucial two-day summit of EU leaders begins in Brussels. This is the last such meeting currently scheduled before the Brexit deadline.

Saturday 19 October – Special sitting of Parliament expected – and the date by which the PM must ask the EU for another delay to Brexit under the Benn Act, if no Brexit deal has been approved by MPs and they have not agreed to the UK leaving with no-deal.

Thursday 31 October – Date by which the UK is currently due to leave the EU.

More children caught bringing knives into school

KnivesImage copyright PA Media

More than a thousand children were caught with weapons in school last year, according to a survey of 29 police forces in England and Wales.

The weapons included knives, blades, knuckledusters and a Taser stun gun, the Press Association survey found.

The children included a 14-year-old with a sword and a four-year-old with an unnamed weapon.

Head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton said the findings were “grim but unsurprising”.

The survey, which follows concern about rising levels of knife crime, was based on Freedom of Information data from police forces.

Rising problem

It found schoolchildren involved in incidents with many different types of bladed weapon, including lock knives, penknives, craft knives and garden shears.

In Bedfordshire, a pupil was caught in possession of a machete and in Manchester a samurai sword was recovered from school premises.

Image copyright Getty Images

Thames Valley police discovered a bayonet in a school and in the West Midlands, a 15-year-old was found in possession of an axe.

The figures showed 1,072 incidents involving weapons, up from 831 in the same areas in the previous year – but did not include statistics from the biggest force, the Metropolitan Police in London.

The data was based on the financial year – and the survey found anther 311 incidents between April and August 2019.

‘Serious violence’

“Serious violence is a growing problem amongst young people and we continue to work closely with partners to address this,” said Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, lead for young people on the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

“Police involvement in schools, whether it be officers delivering talks and interactive sessions or based in schools themselves as part of the Safer Schools Partnership, helps us to educate young people and explain why carrying a weapon is never the right choice.”

But Lucy Martindale, a youth worker from south London who campaigns against knife violence, said: “The situation is getting worse, even just this year.

“Some young people I speak to say before they leave the house – where most people check they have picked up their keys and wallet or purse – they check they have their knives with them.”

Mr Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said this is a problem that schools cannot tackle on their own and called for more community support and “investment in policing”.

Gang pressure

“The scourge of weapons has grown worse in recent years, and while there are a number of complex factors involved, a key issue has been cuts in policing and local support services for vulnerable families.

“Gangs have filled this vacuum and often pressure and groom young people into dealing drugs and carrying weapons,” Mr Barton said.

A Department for Education spokesman said £10m had been invested in “behaviour hubs” to share information between schools on improving discipline.

“We have strengthened teachers’ powers so they can take action if they suspect a pupil has brought a prohibited item, including knives, into school.”

NHS screening ‘needs to fit with busy lives’

Generic picture of a woman receiving a mammogramImage copyright Science Photo Library

There needs to be easier access to NHS screening programmes in England, including evening and weekend clinics, to increase uptake, a review says.

The report by Prof Sir Mike Richards also called for tests to be offered in a wider variety of locations, including mobile units.

And it recommended using social media to promote what was available.

The government had asked Sir Mike to look at the five adult programmes covering cancer and other conditions.

They are:

  • bowel cancer (men and women aged 60 to 74, or from 55 in some pilot areas)
  • cervical cancer (women aged 25 to 64)
  • breast cancer (women aged 50 to 71)
  • abdominal aortic aneurysms (a weakness in the main blood vessel supplying the heart) (men aged 65)
  • diabetic eye screening

Sir Mike, a former national cancer director and chief inspector of hospitals, said the screening programmes were saving 10,000 lives a year through prevention and early diagnosis.

Image copyright Science Photo Library

But it was clear they were still not reaching their full potential, especially the cancer ones.

Some 15 million people are invited to take part in these screening programmes each year – but just over 10 million take up the invitation.

Uptake for bowel cancer screening is lowest, at below 60%.

Changes are already being introduced, including a new easier-to-use screening test for bowel cancer.

And Sir Mike said the use of artificial intelligence and genetic testing would continue to drive forward improvements.

But, he said, more needed to be done.

Car parks

“People live increasingly busy lives and we need to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to attend these important appointments,” Sir Mike said.

He wants to see more use of different locations.

Most screening takes places in hospitals and GP centres.

But there is work being done to offer some of the tests via mobile units at supermarket car parks and in other health clinics, such as sexual health centres for cervical screening.

Weekend and evening opening could also help, Sir Mike said.

He also called for more to be done to engage the public.

He highlighted local projects that had increased uptake by posting breast cancer screening opportunities into Facebook community groups and carrying out follow-up phone calls to people who did not take part in bowel cancer screening.

Meanwhile, he said, responsibility for all the screening programmes should lie with NHS England – at the moment it is shared with Public Health England.

And improvements in IT programs were needed – something NHS England is already looking at.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said they were “sensible recommendations” that would be acted on.

Macmillan Cancer Support gave its backing to the recommendations, saying they should be implemented “urgently”.

Harry Dunn’s parents meet President Trump at White House

Harry DunnImage copyright Justice4Harry19
Image caption Harry Dunn died in hospital after his motorbike was involved in a crash with a Volvo

Donald Trump has said the chief suspect in the death of crash victim Harry Dunn will not return to the UK, the teenager’s parents have said.

Anne Sacoolas, 42, returned to the United States days after the crash which killed the 19-year-old.

Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn said the president was sympathetic when he met them at the White House but did not agree to Mrs Sacoolas’ UK return.

She was also at the White House, but Harry’s parents declined to meet her.

Harry died near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on 27 August when his motorcycle was in a crash with a Volvo.

Mrs Sacoolas – who is reportedly married to a US intelligence official who was stationed at RAF Croughton – was interviewed by police but then returned to the United States after claiming diplomatic immunity.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Charlotte Charles (l) and Tim Dunn (r) want Anne Sacoolas to return to the UK

Ms Charles said after the White House meeting: “When [President Trump] held my hand, I gripped it a lot tighter and I was honest with him and just said… ‘if it was your son you would be doing the same as us’.

“He actually gripped my hand a little bit tighter and said ‘yes I would be’. And that’s when he said he would try and look at this from a different angle.

“I can only hope that he was sincere enough to consider doing that for us.

“He’s the one in control here, but we’re the ones in control of our situation as much as he can be – we still want justice for Harry and we will take it as far as we possibly can to ensure that that’s done.

“We do feel that we have done as much as we can at the moment.”

Tim Dunn said of turning down the chance to meet Mrs Sacoolas at the White House: “We weren’t ready to meet her – it would have been too rushed.

“It’s not what we wanted – we wanted a meeting with her in the UK.”

But he added that the trip to the White House “didn’t feel like a stunt”.

“I think the president was very graceful and spoke very well to us.

“He listened to Charlotte very well, she spoke excellently to him and he was very understanding.

“I genuinely do think he will look to resolve this in a way that will help us.”

Image copyright Aiken Standard Archive
Image caption Anne Sacoolas, pictured on her wedding day in 2003

Over the weekend, Mrs Sacoolas broke her silence over Mr Dunn’s death in a letter via her lawyers.

In it she said she wanted to meet his parents “so that she can express her deepest sympathies and apologies for this tragic accident”.

Mrs Sacoolas was said to be covered by diplomatic immunity as the spouse of a US intelligence official, though that protection is now in dispute.

The UK cities where rent is rising the fastest

Nottingham skylineImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nottingham recorded the fastest increase, the figures show

The cost of renting a home rose fastest in Nottingham, Leeds and Bristol in the past year, research indicates, while Aberdeen recorded the biggest fall.

The survey, from property website Zoopla, said tenants moving into a Nottingham home this summer paid 5.4% more in rent than a year earlier.

Leeds and Bristol (up 4.5%) were the only other UK cities where rents rose faster than UK average wage growth.

On average, renting a UK home has become more affordable, Zoopla said.

Part of the reason lies in an increase in the number of people buying their first own home, relieving some of the pressure on the rental sector.

Tenants moving in Aberdeen – where the local economy is affected significantly by the oil industry – saw rents drop by 4.1% in the third quarter of the year, compared with a year earlier.

Coventry and Middlesbrough also saw renting become cheaper, according to the inaugural Zoopla quarterly rental report.

Who is affected?

Nearly three-quarters of 16 to 24-year-olds and almost half of 25 to 34-year-olds rent from a private landlord, according to the government’s Family Resources Survey.

The sector is concentrated in London, with about a third of rental properties in the UK found in the city. This is also where the typical rent per month is the most expensive.

The Zoopla report suggests that the typical tenant in the UK spends nearly a third of their earnings on rent (31.8%), slightly less than the peak in 2016.

Outside of London, tenants spent the highest proportion of earnings in Oxford, Brighton and Cambridge, with the lowest in Hull, Bradford and Stoke.

UK-wide rental prices are up by an average of 2% in the last year, which is about half the typical level of wage rises.

“Renting is more affordable today than the 10-year average. [An increase in] first-time buyers, 80% of whom exit the private renting sector to buy, has also moderated rental demand,” said Richard Donnell, of Zoopla, which has based the figures on its listings and other data.

“Rental affordability varies widely across the country, reflecting the relative strength of local economies.”

Across the UK, homes take an average of 17 days to rent, based on the time between a listing being posted and removed. This is down from one year ago, when homes took 19 days to rent, and much shorter than the time it takes to sell a property.

The typical tenant spent nearly four years in the same property, Mr Donnell said.

Extinction Rebellion: Police ban London protests

Police remove an Extinction Rebellion protester from Trafalgar Square in central LondonImage copyright PA Media
Image caption Police remove an Extinction Rebellion protester from Trafalgar Square in central London

Police have been clearing Extinction Rebellion activists from Trafalgar Square after issuing a London-wide ban on the group’s climate change protests.

In a statement issued on Monday evening, the Metropolitan Police said demonstrators protesting in the capital after 21:00 GMT would be arrested.

On Twitter, the group’s London branch called the move “an outrage”.

The protests, which began last Monday and were due to last two weeks, have resulted in more than 1,400 arrests.

A number of demonstrations have been staged across the capital by the group, which is calling on the government to do more to tackle climate change.

In the latest move, on Monday, hundreds of protesters targeted the City of London, blocking the crossroads outside the Bank of England.

The Met said there had been 1,445 arrests by 14:00 on Monday, with 76 people charged with offences including criminal damage and obstruction of a highway.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said the ban had been imposed due to breaches of the Public Order Act and “ongoing serious disruption to the community.”

Image copyright PA Media
Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Protesters gather their belongings as police work to remove the last of the Extinction Rebellion demonstration

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Media captionTrying to balance the right to protest with preventing obstruction

Previously, protesters had been warned by police to protest only in Trafalgar Square or risk arrest.

However, on Monday evening police began removing protesters from the site.

In a statement on Twitter, Extinction Rebellion London accused police of “back-tracking on promises made” and that MEPs had told them the clearing of Trafalgar Square could be “in contravention of UK law”.

Four people who had locked themselves together inside a so-called peace tent were cut out of their locks with machinery by police.

Pam Williams, 71, glued herself to the spot where her tent stood as police arrived to take it.

She said protesters in Trafalgar Square were only given 30 minutes’ notice before the 21:00 deadline.

‘I’ve glued myself to the ground’

“I feel possibly that they’ve been approached by people we’ve upset today, maybe the finance sector or the banking sector,” she said.

“I’m refusing to leave and I’ve glued myself to the ground.

“My husband has taken away the tent, the police haven’t got it. I shall stay here until I’m arrested.”

Referencing the City of London demonstration, Mr Taylor said protesters had caused “further disruption to people and businesses” with police making more than 90 arrests.

He said officers had “been working hard to keep London moving” during the protests and that they had begun “getting things back to normal”.

He added: “The policing operation continues, and we will continue to take action against anyone engaged in unlawful protests at locations targeted by Extinction Rebellion.”

Corbyn: Voter ID plans discriminate against ethnic minorities

Jeremy CorbynImage copyright AFP
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn made the comments at a rally after the Queen’s speech

Plans to make all UK voters prove their identity will “disproportionately” discriminate against ethnic minorities, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The government outlined plans in the Queen’s speech on Monday to require people to bring photo ID to polling stations in order to vote.

Mr Corbyn claimed the move was an attempt to “suppress voters” and “rig” the next general election result.

The government said the plans were “reasonable and proportionate”.

Approved photographic ID would include passports and driving licences.

The proposals follow two trials which involved five areas in England during council elections last year and 10 areas in May this year.

During the first trial, about 340 people were turned away from voting and did not return with ID, compared to about 750 people in the second trial. That represented less than 1% of eligible voters in both trials.

Currently, only voters in Northern Ireland have to show photo ID before they can cast their vote.

Speaking at a rally on Monday, shortly after the Queen’s speech, Mr Corbyn said the plans were a “blatant attempt” by the Conservative Party to “deny people their democratic rights”.

He added: “The people that the Tories are trying to stop voting will be disproportionately from ethnic minority backgrounds, and they will disproportionately be working class voters of all ethnicities.”

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Media captionWhat did we learn from the Queen’s Speech? The BBC’s Helen Catt explains

Research in 2015 by the Electoral Commission, the independent body that sets the standards of elections in the UK, indicated that about 3.5 million citizens, or 7.5% of the electorate, did not have access to any approved photo ID.

The research suggested that women are considerably less likely than men, and black people considerably less likely than white people, to have a driving licence.

Certain ethnic groups such as Gypsies and Irish Travellers are also much less likely than the average to have a passport, it found.

The government plans to offset this risk by introducing a new form of identity document voters can apply for free of charge.

It said the plans would help give the public confidence that elections are “secure and fit for the 21st century”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman added: “Showing ID to vote is a reasonable and proportionate way to protect our elections – it is something people already do in everyday life and voters in Northern Ireland have been doing it with ease for decades.”

Campaign group the Electoral Reform Society said its research suggested there were only eight allegations of impersonation made out of the millions of votes cast during council elections in 2018.

Its chief executive, Darren Hughes, said 3.5 million voters did not have access to photo ID, making them vulnerable to missing out.

“When millions of people lack photo ID, these mooted plans risk raising the drawbridge to huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) voters,” said Mr Hughes.

However, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly accused Mr Corbyn of “sowing the seeds of division”.

“If anything, tougher checks against electoral fraud will protect the democratic rights of all communities,” Mr Cleverly added.