Brexit deadlines come and go, Johnson set to hold talks over dinner in Brussels

Sienna Rodgers
© Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
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Boris Johnson has described the “situation” – i.e. efforts to secure a post-Brexit trade deal – as “very tricky”, but said he hopes that “the power of sweet reason” will allow an agreement to be reached. He is meeting Ursula von der Leyen for dinner in Brussels from 7pm tonight. Will high-level political talks move things along? Should we interpret the agreement in principle yesterday over the Northern Ireland protocol, and the UK’s subsequent move to ditch law-breaking legislation that MPs only on Monday spent time putting back into the internal market bill, as signs of progress? It’s too early to say, and neither side now expects the details to be ironed out before the European Council summit.

Another deadline, Thursday, is probably going to come and go, and the uncertainty will continue until the very last possible minute. The key deciding factor: whether the Prime Minister prioritises listening to Brexiteers in his party or to voters, who I think we can assume do not care that the Tories were referring only to the divorce agreement when they said a deal was “oven-ready” last year. While Rishi Sunak might be pleased with the idea that he can patch up the economic effects of the transition period ending on December 31st with the help of Covid support schemes, the pandemic and arrival of vaccines make supply chain disruptions all the more critical.

new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation today has found that the number of people experiencing destitution rose by 54% between 2017 and 2019, and that 2.4 million people were experiencing “extreme hardship” before the Covid crisis hit. Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds has taken the opportunity to highlight yet again those five desperately-needed changes that the party proposed at the start of the pandemic, from scrapping the five-week wait to uprating legacy benefits. As Steve Turner writes in a piece for LabourList today, Unite is holding a day of action on Universal Credit. A live event tonight will focus on keeping the £20 uplift that the JRF report identifies as one of the few positives in our social security system right now.

Last time the Labour leader could not attend Prime Minister’s Questions due to a period of coronavirus self-isolation, Angela Rayner stepped up. The former care worker grilled Johnson on pay in the social care sector and on the crisis that still goes unaddressed by the government despite promises of cross-party working. This afternoon, however, while self-isolating after a staff member in the leader’s office tested positive for Covid-19, Keir Starmer will take on PMQs himself. Fingers crossed the video link will work better than it did for the PM last month. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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