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Making Brexit work is a ‘delusion’, says Guy Verhofstadt

Guy Verhofstadt, the former chairman of the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group, is pictured in Brussels in January 2019 – Francisco Seco/AP

Guy Verhofstadt has claimed the suggestion that Brexit can be made to work is a “delusion” as he called for Britain and Brussels to rethink their relationship.

The MEP who chaired the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group tweeted: “British politicians are far behind public opinion.

“Making Brexit work is a delusion. Time for pro-Europeans to put a roadmap for a different relationship on the table!”

The comments were made in response to reports of a cross-party conference being held last week which looked at “making Brexit work better”.

Senior Tories including Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, reportedly attended the conference at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire along with Labour politicians and business leaders.

It came amid growing optimism that the UK and the EU will agree a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol in the next fortnight after a long-running row between the two sides over post-Brexit border rules.

You can follow the latest updates below. 

04:00 PM

That is all for today…

Thank you for joining me for today’s politics live blog.

I will be back early tomorrow morning.

03:33 PM

Nuclear power to get ‘green’ status

Nuclear power projects such as Sizewell C in Suffolk will be granted so-called “green” status under plans by Jeremy Hunt to unlock billions of pounds in funding for the industry.

The Chancellor is expected to announce the change within weeks as part of a broader shake-up of the UK’s financial rules on green energy.

It would see nuclear power projects classed as “green” or “sustainable” investments, clearing the way for more institutional investors and environment-focused funds to back them.

You can read the full story here. 

03:01 PM

UK to hold one-minute silence to mark one year anniversary of Ukraine invasion

The Government has announced that a national one-minute silence will be held to mark the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rishi Sunak is expected to lead the tribute to the “bravery and resilience” of the Ukrainian people which will be held at 11am on Friday February 24.

In a statement, the Prime Minister said: “Russia’s unjustifiable attack brought war and destruction to our continent once again, and it has forced millions from their homes and devastated families across Ukraine and Russia.

“I am incredibly proud of the UK’s response, and throughout this past year, the UK public have shown their true generosity of spirit and their enduring belief in freedom.”

02:39 PM

Brexit deal meets DUP’s seven red lines, Downing Street to declare

Downing Street is preparing to declare its new Brexit deal meets all of the DUP’s seven red lines for the renegotiation in the hope of restarting powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Throughout talks in Brussels the UK negotiators pressed their European counterparts to agree terms that would be seen to pass the demands set by the Northern Irish Unionists.

Detailed briefings are expected to be issued alongside the announcement showing how each of seven red lines are met by the new terms of trade.

“It meets all the seven tests”, said a well-placed source.

You can read the full story here.

01:59 PM

Work and Pensions Secretary signals potential benefits crackdown as part of back-to-work drive

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has signalled people who are out of work who do not “engage appropriately” with the job seeking process could see some of their benefits taken away.

Asked if the Government preferred the carrot or the stick when trying to get more people back to work, Mr Stride told the BBC: “We certainly should be supporting people as much as we can where they are able to work. I think if your question is well what do we do where people perhaps are on benefits, certainly can work but are not engaging with job centres in the way that they should do as part of that contract between ourselves and them then I think we do have to ask questions about what we might do under those circumstances.”

It was suggested to Mr Stride that the Government was looking to use a bit of carrot and a bit of stick. He replied: “I would phrase it as we should be in position to provide a very high level of support, a very high level of service to those who are engaged and looking for work.

“But I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect those that are able to work who are receiving benefits to engage appropriately with job centres and actively look for that work and I think that is just what most people would see as being perfectly reasonable.”

01:46 PM

Chancellor will unveil ‘major push’ at Budget to get more people back into work – Cabinet minister

Jeremy Hunt will unveil a “major push” at the Budget next month to get more economically inactive people back into work, Mel Stride has said.

The Work and Pensions Secretary told the BBC: “What we have got at the moment in the UK is a very high level of what is called economic inactivity and those are people who are neither in work nor looking for work broadly.

“And I have been doing a huge amount of work within the department and working closely with other departments and the Chancellor and I will have more to say about this around the Budget as to how we bring more of the people back into work to engage with the workforce.

“We currently have over eight million who are economically inactive. The good news in the figures that have just been released by the ONS is that over the last quarter there has been some movement in the right direction but we still have quite a long way to go.

“We have got about half a million more people in economic inactivity than we had before the pandemic but that is something that will be a major push and I have no doubt that the Chancellor and certainly I will have much more to say about that around the Budget in the middle of March.”

01:39 PM

UK has ‘moved on’ from original Brexit debate, says Work and Pensions Secretary

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said the economic benefits of Brexit are “coming through” and politics has now “moved on” from the original debate about whether the UK should leave the EU.

Asked when the benefits of Brexit would come, Mr Stride told the BBC Radio 4 World at One programme: “They are coming through. You can see them coming through. But you mentioned that I voted to stay in the EU, and indeed I did, but we have moved on now and I accept that and I cannot argue now that there are not major opportunities.

“What we have got to do though is to get out there and capitalise on them and that is what we are determined to do.”

01:32 PM

Cabinet minister concedes Brexit and political turmoil have hit business investment

A Cabinet minister has appeared to concede that Brexit and the domestic political turmoil of the last few years have had an impact on business investment into the UK.

Asked if the two things had an impact, Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told the BBC Radio 4 World at One programme: “I think if you have a situation where you create frictions between yourself and your major trading partners, I think you have to accept that that will have an impact.

“What I think we need to do now and I know the Government is absolutely determined on this… is to maximise the benefits of the freedoms we now have given that we are not part of the European Union.

“I think it is taking a bit of time to move from the disbenefits of what I just described at the beginning to the benefits of what I have referred to just there which is seizing those opportunities.”

01:10 PM

Latest attempt to restore Stormont powersharing fails

The Northern Ireland Assembly has again failed to elect a speaker to enable the crisis-hit devolved legislature to resume business.

The DUP again exercised its veto to block the election of a speaker during a recall sitting.

The party is preventing the functioning of the powersharing institutions in Belfast in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

01:07 PM

Poll: Labour has 20 point lead over Tories

Labour has a 20 point poll lead over the Conservative Party, according to a new survey published by Deltapoll.

The poll, conducted between February 10-13, put Labour on 48 per cent overall, up by one point on a poll conducted between February 3-6.

It put the Tories on 28 per cent, down by one point.

12:48 PM

Kemi Badenoch: Air India-Airbus deal will provide ‘shot in the arm for UK exports’

Kemi Badenoch, the Business and Trade Secretary, said a new deal between Air India and Airbus (see the post below at 12.17) represented a “significant win” for the UK and will provide a “shot in the arm” for UK exports.

She said: “This is a significant win for the UK’s world-leading aerospace sector and one which will help to secure thousands of highly skilled jobs across the country and drive economic growth.

“It’s a shot in the arm for UK exports as we aim to sell £1 trillion of goods and services a year to the world by the end of the decade.

“We’re currently negotiating a trade deal with India which could boost trade by up to £28 billion a year by 2035. Export wins like this are another big step to our nations forming a closer trading relationship.”

12:22 PM

British Museum workers continue strike

University staff and civil servants are on strike today as the wave of industrial action continues to sweep across the UK.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union have set up picket lines outside universities and the British Museum in disputes over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Around 100 members of the PCS union at the British Museum working in visitor services and security teams are striking all week as part of a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka speaks at a strike for British Museum workers at the British Museum in London today - Justin Ng /Avalon

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka speaks at a strike for British Museum workers at the British Museum in London today – Justin Ng /Avalon

12:17 PM

Rishi Sunak hails Air India-Airbus deal

Air India has announced a 250-plane order with Airbus that will create 450 manufacturing jobs in Britain as part of what stands to be the largest aircraft purchase in commercial aviation history (you can read more on The Telegraph’s business live blog here).

Downing Street said the deal will be “worth billions of pounds to the UK” and will “support and create new highly skilled jobs in Wales and Derbyshire”. A “significant portion” of the manufacturing process for the aircraft is expected to take place in the UK.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said the deal “demonstrates that the sky’s the limit for the UK’s thriving aerospace sector”.

He said: “It will create better-paid jobs and new opportunities in manufacturing hubs from Derby to Wales, so we can grow the economy and support our agenda to level up – helping to deliver on my five priorities for the country.

“The UK is already a top investment destination, and by building trade ties with growing economic powers like India we will ensure UK businesses remain at the forefront of global growth and innovation.”

11:54 AM

Lord Hague: Spy balloon controversy ’embarrassing’ for both China and US

Lord Hague, the former foreign secretary, said he believed the US and China will want to “get over” the spy balloon controversy quickly because it is “embarrassing” for both sides.

He told Times Radio: “Well, I think in terms of relations between the US and China, I think they will both try to get over it quickly. You know, this is one of those things that’s embarrassing to both sides because the Chinese have either screwed up, or they’ve been found out or both. So that’s a bit embarrassing.

“And the Americans, it turns out, you know, may have had more things flying through their airspace than they previously knew or acknowledged, or did anything about. So that’s embarrassing.

“And usually in international relations, when both sides are embarrassed about something, they make quite an effort to get past it.”

11:22 AM

Guy Verhofstadt: ‘Making Brexit work is a delusion’

Guy Verhofstadt has claimed the suggestion that Brexit can be made to work is a “delusion” as he called for Britain and Brussels to rethink their relationship.

The MEP who chaired the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group tweeted: “British politicians are far behind public opinion.

“Making Brexit work is a delusion. Time for pro-Europeans to put a roadmap for a different relationship on the table!”

The comments were made in response to reports of a cross-party conference being held last week which looked at “making Brexit work better”.

10:38 AM

UK lost 843,000 work days to strike action in December – most since 2011

The UK recorded the highest number of working days lost to strike action for more than a decade in December, according to official figures published this morning.

The Office for National Statistics said: “There were 843,000 working days lost because of labour disputes in December 2022, which is the highest since November 2011.”

The surge in lost days came after rolling industrial action involving Post Office, rail and NHS workers among others.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “The number of working days lost to strikes rose again sharply in December.

“Transport and communications remained the most heavily affected area, but this month there was also a large contribution from the health sector.”

10:15 AM

UK economy ‘lagging behind’, claims Labour

The UK economy is “lagging behind” its international competitors, Rachel Reeves said this morning as she responded to today’s unemployment and wage statistics (see the post below at 08.04).

Labour’s shadow chancellor said: “Britain has huge potential – but 13 years of the Tories has left real wages down, families worse off, and our economy lagging behind on the global stage.

“The government needs to stop sitting back and following this path of managed decline. Labour will get people back into work, with our real plan for growth to create good, new jobs across every part of our country.”

09:50 AM

Lib Dems: ‘Hard-working people are having their pay squeezed thanks to the incompetence of Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt’

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokeswoman, said this morning’s wage figures (see the post below at 08.04) were the result of Tory “incompetence”.

She said: “This Conservative government has hammered families with soaring mortgages, rising energy bills and huge unfair tax hikes.

“Hard-working people are having their pay squeezed thanks to the incompetence of Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt.

“A long list of Conservative Chancellors have driven the economy to the edge of recession, leaving millions worried about losing their jobs. The Government should do the right thing, put in place a proper windfall tax and cancel April’s energy bill rise.”

09:15 AM

Former MI6 boss: China made a ‘deep mistake’ over use of spy balloons

Sending Chinese spy balloons into US airspace “wasn’t properly thought through” and Beijing has made a “deep mistake”, the former head of MI6 has said.

Sir Alex Younger said the use of the balloons represented a “gross and really visible transgression of the sovereignty of many nations” which is likely to undermine China’s foreign policy.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “It is a deep mistake by China to underestimate the effect that this was going to have. I think it wasn’t properly thought through and it is really difficult for Xi because to your point he’s spent a lot of time, he is proposing a new security architecture for the world, it is called the global security initiative and it is about the indivisible rights and interconnected security of developing countries and China’s role in safeguarding that in contrast to sort of US recklessness. That’s the story and it gets quite a lot of take in the non-aligned world.

“This just flies absolutely in the face of that. This is just a gross and really visible transgression of the sovereignty of many nations.

“So I think the West, the US, will, and I think rightly, take the opportunity to point out the manifest hypocrisy that this programme involves and will I think be politically motivated to make a big fuss and I think that is sensible.”

09:10 AM

‘Eminently possible’ that Chinese spy balloons use US technology – ex-MI6 chief

It is “eminently possible” that US technology may be being used in Chinese spy balloons, the former boss of MI6 has said.

Sir Alex Younger said people need to “wait to hear what the FBI has got to say” about the balloon which was shot down but that if US tech is found it will “rapidly deepen” the conversation around tech divergence between the two countries.

He told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “On the balloons, we have got to wait to hear what the FBI has got to say. Let’s be clear, we are under the full press of Chinese espionage activity already – space, cyber, human – so I personally would be a bit surprised if this is a sort of game changing new technique.

“But let’s see what they say. I think by the way if it turns out there is US technology being used within these sensors to spy on the US that will rapidly deepen the tech divergence conversation.”

Asked if he believes that is possible, Sir Alex said: “I think it is eminently possible but let’s see.”

09:06 AM

Former MI6 boss: Trust between China and the West ‘plummeting to zero’

Sir Alex Younger, who was the head of MI6 from 2014 and 2020, said the Chinese spy balloon controversy represents a serious moment for China-US relations.

Sir Alex said trust between China and the West is “plummeting to zero” and the balloon row “demonstrates to you how there is no trust in that relationship now”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, regrettably I do think that. As it happens Xi Jinping made a speech last week. It has kind of suited Xi to pretend there isn’t a competition going on because china has benefited enormously from the status quo.

“But he said it last week, he said modernisation is not Westernisation and made it very., very clear that he sees China’s path as being different and sees risk in the interdependence that exists between us and clearly he is vaunting increasing divergence and self-sufficiency as a matter of national priority and in a way that buttresses Communist party control.

“And to your question, the key fact there is that that’s inevitably creating a reaction and now the US sees risk in the interdependence as well, even though it is at an all time high and essentially the economic relationship becoming politicised and trust is plummeting to zero and this whole balloon conversation just demonstrates to you how there is no trust in that relationship now.”

08:35 AM

People ‘shouldn’t be panicking’ about Chinese spy balloons – ex-national security adviser

Lord Darroch, the former national security adviser and former UK ambassador to the US, said people “shouldn’t be panicking” about Chinese spy balloons making incursions into Western airspace because it is “just part of the way the world is”.

He told Times Radio: “These are, in the end, balloons. An awful lot of surveillance goes on, a lot of it is done by satellite, balloons are a cheaper way of doing it and I guess because they are lower and they move more slowly you get different kinds of intelligence from it.

“But this is stuff that just has been going on for years so it is a good story, it is important, but we shouldn’t be panicking about it. It is just part of the way the world is.”

08:25 AM

Former national security adviser says UK air defences not as ‘watertight’ as PM suggested

Lord Darroch, who served as the UK’s national security adviser from 2012 to 2015, said the UK’s capability to protect against incursions by spy balloons into British airspace is not as “watertight” as Rishi Sunak suggested.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that “people should be reassured that we have all the capabilities in place to keep the country safe”.

Asked if he was as confident as the PM, Lord Darroch told Times Radio: “I am not, to be honest, but I wouldn’t want your listeners to get very worried about that.

“I am not because I think we have underinvested in defence for the last couple of decades, one might argue ever since the end of the Cold War, and we don’t have all the kit and equipment that we really need and there are gaps around in the technology that our armed forces have.

“So we will have some capability. Whether we have a watertight capability as the Prime Minister says, I am not so sure. But we have enough capability, I think, that people can certainly sleep easy in their beds.”

08:13 AM

Chancellor: Unchanged unemployment rate an ‘encouraging sign’

Jeremy Hunt said today’s unchanged unemployment figures (see the post below at 08.04) are an “encouraging sign of resilience” in the UK’s labour market.

The Chancellor said: “In tough times unemployment remaining close to record lows is an encouraging sign of resilience in our labour market.

“The best thing we can do to make people’s wages go further is stick to our plan to halve inflation this year.”

08:04 AM

Unemployment rate is unchanged while wages continue to be outstripped by inflation

The UK’s unemployment rate has remained unchanged despite Britain’s economy flatlining, official figures published this morning have shown.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the rate of UK unemployment was 3.7 per cent in the three months to December, the same rate that was recorded in the three months to November.

However, it had edged slightly higher than the previous calendar quarter, with the unemployment rate standing at 3.6 per cent in the three months to September.

The data also showed that regular pay growth was 6.7 per cent in the three months, the strongest growth rate seen outside the pandemic. However, wages continued to be outstripped by rising prices, falling by 2.5 per cent once inflation was taken into account.

08:00 AM

Another Tory MP announces they will step down at next general election

Stephen McPartland last night became the latest Tory MP to announce they will stand down at the next general election.

The MP for Stevenage said he had made the decision after “much soul searching”. He has been an MP since 2010.

Here’s his tweet and letter to Rishi Sunak:

07:56 AM

Senior Tory MP says cutting taxes at the Budget would be ‘irresponsible’

Caroline Nokes, the former minister and current Tory chairman of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, has argued it would be “irresponsible” for Jeremy Hunt to cut taxes at the Budget next month.

Asked if she would be happy with no tax cuts in this Budget, Ms Nokes told TalkTV: “Yeah, I would be happy with no tax cuts. I think it would be irresponsible to have tax cuts and we saw back in the autumn, didn’t we, the dangers of unfunded tax cuts.

“I will be content with that. What I would like to see and I think is going to be a really difficult decisions, is something on childcare.”

She continued: “I think it is very obvious at the moment that we have a sector that is really struggling and we have parents that are struggling and that is something that is most keenly although not exclusively felt by women.

“We want mums to go back to work, we want them to be in the economy, we have massive labour shortages but you can’t go back to work if you can’t get decent, affordable childcare, so that would be my big plea for the Chancellor headed into next month’s Budget.”

The Tories are fiercely split on tax cuts, with allies of Liz Truss planning to hand the Chancellor an alternative low-tax Budget as they ramp up pressure on him to set out a plan for growth (you can read that story here).

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