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Starmer calls on Sunak to stand up to ERG and ‘Brexit purity cult’– UK politics live | Politics

Starmer calls on Sunak to stand up to ERG and ‘Brexit purity cult’

Keir Starmer has confirmed that Labour will support the government if it secures an agreement with the EU on reform of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking at Queen’s University in Belfast, the Labour leader said it was time for Rishi Sunak to face down hardline Brexiteers in the Tory European Research Group (ERG) if they try to block a deal.

Addressing the PM, he said:

Whatever political cover you need, whatever mechanisms in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland, we will support you.

The time for action on the protocol is now. The time to stand up to the ERG is now. The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which could never be satisfied, is now.

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The UK culture secretary, Michele Donelan, has said she is “not ruling out” changing the online safety bill to allow regulators to prosecute social media bosses who are found not to have protected children’s safety.

Donelan told the BBC she was open to making changes that have been demanded by dozens of Conservative MPs, saying she would take a “sensible approach” to their ideas.

Her comments came a day after Downing Street said it was considering measures backed by 36 Conservative MPs that could lead to executives being jailed for up to two years for breaches in the law.

The MPs who have signed the amendment include the former home secretary Priti Patel and the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour also confirmed on Friday it would back the amendment, increasing the pressure on the prime minister to back down.

Read the full story here:

Sunak ‘concerned’ about impact of Scotland’s gender recognition bill

Speaking earlier this morning, Rishi Sunak said he was “concerned” about aspects of Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, which would allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.

He declined to say whether Westminster could block the legislation, saying the government is taking advice on the issue “as is completely standard practice”.

Sunak said he was concerned about the impact of the bill across the UK, telling BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland:

Obviously this is a very sensitive area and I know there were very robust debates and exchanges on it as the bill was passing in Scotland. What I’m concerned about is the impact of the bill across the United Kingdom.

He added:

There may be impacts across the UK that we need to be aware of and understand the impact of them, and that’s what we’re doing, and once the government has received final advice it will set out next steps.

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, warned the UK government must not block the bill, telling the radio programme:

This is not just a question about the GRR people’s individual views on it. This is about democracy.

The Scottish parliament has voted in favour of legislation that sits within devolved competencies, and it’s incumbent upon Westminster to ensure that legislation is passed in full.

Starmer calls on Sunak to stand up to ERG and ‘Brexit purity cult’

Keir Starmer has confirmed that Labour will support the government if it secures an agreement with the EU on reform of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking at Queen’s University in Belfast, the Labour leader said it was time for Rishi Sunak to face down hardline Brexiteers in the Tory European Research Group (ERG) if they try to block a deal.

Addressing the PM, he said:

Whatever political cover you need, whatever mechanisms in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland, we will support you.

The time for action on the protocol is now. The time to stand up to the ERG is now. The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which could never be satisfied, is now.

Starmer: UK must ‘normalise and strengthen’ relations with Ireland

Keir Starmer is speaking in Belfast, where he has called for a “change of direction” from the prime minister and urged the UK government to “normalise and strengthen” relations with the Irish government.

Relations between the UK and Ireland should never have been “this strained,” Starmer said during his address at Queen’s University Belfast. He said:

Brexit was a rupture in the UK’s diplomatic stance, a call to change in every area of our society, which had to be recognised. I’ve been very clear about this. My government will make it work.

Inverness and Cromarty Firth green freeport and Forth green freeport have been jointly selected to become Scotland’s first green freeports.

Downing Street said the green freeports, backed by up to £52m in government funding, will bring new, high-skilled jobs to Inverness and Cromarty Firth and the Firth of Forth.

Applicants to become a green freeport in Scotland were required to demonstrate how they would contribute towards a just transition to net zero emissions by 2045 and create new, green jobs.

In a statement, Rishi Sunak said:

Working together delivers results – and I am absolutely delighted that the first minister and I can announce the delivery of our shared ambition for people in Scotland today with not one but two excellent green freeport areas.

In extending the benefits of freeports to Scotland, we are unleashing the potential of the Firth of Forth and Inverness and Cromarty Firth – backing the delivery of thousands of high-quality green jobs for future generations as we continue to make gains on our commitments to transition to net zero.

Boris Johnson given £1m donation by former Brexit party backer

Peter Walker

Peter Walker

Boris Johnson has received a donation of £1m from a Thai-based British businessman who had previously given millions of pounds to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, the newly released register of MPs’ interests has shown.

Christopher Harborne, a tech industry investor who had previously donated to the Conservatives but gave the Brexit party £6m before the 2019 general election, handed the £1m donation to Johnson’s personal office, set up after he left No 10.

The Office of Boris Johnson Ltd was established in October last year. Companies House records show its sole original director was Johnson’s long-time aide Shelly Williams-Walker.

She has since been replaced by Ann Sindall, another close ally of the former PM, who was his secretary when he edited the Spectator magazine and went on to work with him when he was London mayor.

The Companies House entry lists the purpose of the company only as “other business support service activities”. Former prime ministers often set up offices to manage their post-Downing Street activities.

However, the size of the donation, one of the biggest recorded to an individual UK politician rather than a party, and from a strong Brexit supporter, will increase speculation that Johnson could be planning some sort of comeback.

Read the full story here:

Jamie Grierson

Jamie Grierson

Keir Starmer is to challenge Rishi Sunak to stand up to the “Brexit purity cult” of Eurosceptics within the Conservative party to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol impasse.

The Labour leader will use a speech in Belfast on Friday to encourage the prime minister to take on the once highly influential European Research Group (ERG) of backbench Tory MPs to find a fix for issues arising from Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Starmer will say he will offer “political cover” at Westminster if Sunak can deliver an agreement with the EU that is in the national interest.

“The time for action on the protocol is now. The time to stand up to the ERG is now,” Starmer will say on Friday.

The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which can never be satisfied, is now.

There is a “small window of opportunity” to resolve the issue before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement in April, Starmer will say in the speech at Queen’s University.

Read the full story here:

Sunak says he wants to work ‘constructively’ with Sturgeon

Rishi Sunak, who is on the second day of his visit to Scotland, said he wanted to “work constructively” with the Scottish government “to make a difference to people in Scotland” after talks on Thursday evening in Inverness with the first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The pair are set to jointly announce millions in UK government funding, including for two new green freeports near Edinburgh and Inverness.

Sunak said he wanted to have a “constructive dialogue” with Sturgeon and the Scottish government, while disagreeing on the issue of independence. He said:

The Scottish government took this case to the Supreme Court, which was completely clear about the ability of the Scottish government to do that (hold a referendum) unilaterally. What I want to do is have a constructive dialogue with the Scottish government to make sure we can continue to deliver for the people of Scotland.

The health secretary, Steve Barclay, has privately conceded he will have to increase his pay offer to NHS staff, in a U-turn that may help to end the growing wave of strikes.

However, the Treasury has made clear he will have to find any new cash from within the existing health budget, raising the prospect of cuts to key services.

According to senior sources who have spoken to the Guardian, Barclay has acknowledged that more than 1 million frontline personnel deserve more money – after months of repeatedly insisting the existing £1,400 award for 2022-23 was all the government could afford.

His hardline stance led to him being called a “bullyboy” by nurses’ leaders and health unions claiming that ministers’ “intransigence” would lead to a campaign of industrial action that could last for months and involve regular disruption of NHS care and treatment.

His newfound determination to end the walkouts by increasing the £1,400 offer, which has been confirmed by well-placed Whitehall sources, comes in advance of nurses in England staging two more stoppages next week, which will again force hospitals to scale back their activities.

A government source said that the Treasury is waiting for Barclay to set out which NHS services could be scaled back in order to release what health service insiders estimated would be the £2bn to £3bn needed to offer more than 1 million workers an improved deal for 2022-23.

Once he has done that, Treasury officials will assess whether going beyond the £1,400 original sum will threaten the government’s ambition to get inflation under control during 2023.

My colleagues Denis Campbell, Pippa Crerar and Peter Walker have more:

Sturgeon says ‘no indication’ from Sunak of additional funding to avert NHS strikes

Good morning. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said she held talks with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, on Thursday evening in which the pair discussed the pressures facing the NHS.

Sturgeon described the talks as “perfectly constructive and cordial”, however she said there was “no indication” from the PM that there would be any additional funding to avert strike action within the NHS.

Sturgeon told BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme:

No indication from the prime minister of new money, but hopefully we will see strong investment in the NHS. The Scottish government continues to work hard to avert strike action in the NHS.

The pair did discuss how to “work together to realise the vast renewable energy potential that Scotland has”, she said.

Clearly Rishi Sunak and I disagree on lots, but we were able to talk about some of the areas where the Scottish and UK governments can work together.

Sunak, also speaking on the radio show, said he and the first minister did not “agree on everything” but that he wanted to “work constructively” with the Scottish government.

Asked about the crisis in the health service across the UK, he replied:

Obviously the NHS is something that the first minister and I discussed extensively last night because there are challenges that the NHS faces as a result of recovering from Covid in every part of the United Kingdom.

He said there was “record funding” already going into the NHS, adding that “more is coming”.

£1.5bn over the next couple of years coming to Scotland as a result of the decisions made in the autumn statement. Obviously, that will be up to the Scottish Government to decide how to allocate that money.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The Office for National Statistics will publish its cost of living survey data.

Sunak will continue his visit to Scotland, where he and Sturgeon are expected to jointly announce millions in UK government funding.

10am: Keir Starmer will give a speech at Queen’s University in Belfast, followed by visit to local businesses.

12pm. The Office for National Statistics will publish its weekly Covid-19 infection survey.

I’m Léonie Chao-Fong and I’ll be covering Andrew Sparrow on the UK politics blog today. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via email.

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