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Monday, October 18, 2021

Tory conference: Sunak rejects Truss’s suggestion government has no responsibility for food supply

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Frost says UK ‘cannot wait forever’ for EU to agree to overhaul of Northern Ireland protocol

Lisa O'Carroll

The UK government has issued a veiled threat to ditch the Northern Ireland protocol sooner rather than later, warning it “cannot wait forever” for the EU to respond to its demands to rewrite the controversial Brexit arrangement.

In his speech to the conference, the Brexit minister, Lord Frost, said he had been waiting since July for a formal request for substantial changes to the protocol, which the UK has largely suspended over objections to checks on a range of goods including sausages.

Declaring the “long bad dream of EU membership” over, he warned the EU that it must come back to him with “ambitious” proposals to renegotiate the protocol, which was drawn up to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But setting the scene for an imminent triggering of article 16, allowing the UK to unilaterally suspend some of the current arrangements if the EU does not respond, he told a half-full hall in Manchester he was not confident the EU would meet his demands.


From what I hear I worry that we will not get one [a response] which enables the significant change we need.

We cannot wait forever. Without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the article 16 safeguard mechanism, to address the impact the protocol is having on Northern Ireland.

That may in the end be the only way to protect our country – our people, our trade, our territorial integrity, the peace process, and the benefits of this great UK of which we are all part.

Frost attacked what he described as the EU’s “heavy handed actions”, which he said had led to the protocol unravelling sooner than he had anticipated. “Cross-community political support for the protocol has collapsed,” he declared.

His claims come just days after business representatives in Northern Ireland warned that triggering article 16 would have a chilling effect on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the EU.

The EU’s ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, who was in the audience, said there was “nothing strange” or unexpected in Frost’s speech, promising a response to the UK’s demands within the coming weeks.

“We are looking forward to the solutions in Northern Ireland. We are ready to be flexible,” he said.



Lord Frost addressing the conference.

Lord Frost addressing the conference. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Updated

Pig industry facing ‘disaster’ because of labour shortages, says NFU president

Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers Union, told the Today programme this morning that pig farmers were “angry, distraught and extremely upset” about the prospect of having to dispose of their animals as waste because of a shortage of butchers and slaughterers.

Referring to farmers protesting outside the conference, she said:


We have been calling for an emergency scheme, a Covid recovery scheme, to be put in place to avoid this very scenario.

I am desperate to get the facts of this story to the prime minister and that is what the pig farmers outside want to get across, the story of this disaster.

We have never had a cull of healthy livestock in this country and this cannot be a first. I can’t stress it enough, this cannot happen, there are vets outside as well. It is a welfare disaster.

In a separate interview, Nick Allen, the chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told Sky News that while the government criticised producers for paying low wages, it was happy for meat to be imported from countries that paid low wages. He said:


What’s interesting is [the government is] happy to ban the import of non-UK labour in this country, but they continue to actually aid and abet imported food from countries that have got access to this labour.

At the end of the day someone has to pay for these increased wages and they somewhat get in the way of that by aiding and abetting imported food.

And Zoe Davies, the chief executive of the National Pig Association, said higher wages for people in the industry – which is what the government wants – would lead to higher prices for consumers. She said:


There is an inevitability that food prices will rise as a result of this increased wage – that has to happen.

So the retailers themselves have a huge responsibility to support that, rather than doing what they’re currently doing, which is effectively looking at EU pork, which is a lot cheaper and shipping that in instead, and not prioritising British pork or British jobs.



Farmers protesting outside the Tory party conference this morning.

Farmers protesting outside the Tory party conference this morning. Photograph: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Sunak rejects Truss’s suggestion government has no responsibility for food supply in shops

Here are the main points from Rishi Sunak’s morning interviews.

  • Sunak did little to play down speculation that the government is planning to cut taxes before the next general election. It has been reported that this is what Boris Johnson wants to do, and that Sunak has implied that a tight spending review this autumn could make it possible for taxes to go down before polling day. When this was put to Sunak, he did not dismiss the idea. Instead he said:


I’m not going to sit here and speculate about future budgets. I would like to think that we’ve been responsible with the public finances and that’s something I take very seriously.

  • He confirmed that he had joked about needing to tear up Johnson’s credit card. “That was an old thing but I think that’s something all chancellors say as part of our job,” he said.
  • He rejected the suggestion from Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, that the government is not responsible for food shortages in the shops. At a fringe event yesterday Truss said: “I don’t believe in a command and control economy, so I don’t believe the prime minister is responsible for what’s in the shops.” When it was put to Sunak that Truss seemed to be saying the government was not to blame for the shortages, he replied:


What I’d is there are things that we can do and should do, and it’s reasonable that people expect us to do what we can. Whether it’s short-term visas or speeding up testing capacity for HGV drivers, of course we should do all those things and we are doing all those things.

But we can’t wave a magic wand and make global supply chain challenges disappear overnight.

  • He played down claims that rising inflation will wipe out the value of pay rises. He said the Bank of England and other central banks thought the current inflation rise would be “transitory”. (See 8.19am.)
  • He reprimanded the Tory MP who said he wanted supermarket supply chains broken up, saying no one thought that would be a good outcome. (See 8.10am.)
  • He said the fuel situation was “improving”. He said:


We know there’s enough petrol at our refineries and our terminals, and the issue is we’ve had a very steep demand spike … but the good news is it is getting better, so I think every single day since about last Tuesday we’ve delivered more petrol to forecourts than has been taken out, the number of people getting deliveries has increased, the volume of fuel getting delivered has increased.

  • He insisted the Conservative party does carry out checks before accepting money from donors. He said:


My understanding is we carry out compliance checks in line with the referendums and political parties legislation that was put in place by the Labour government. Those are the checks that are required by law, those are the compliance checks that the party carries out.

  • He rejected the claim that the UK’s record on tax avoidance was a source of shame. (See 8.35am.)
  • He said that he had not personally benefited from offshore tax arrangements.


Rishi Sunak being interviewed this morning.

Rishi Sunak being interviewed this morning. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Updated



Boris Johnson leaving the Midland hotel, the main conference hotel, this morning.

Boris Johnson leaving the Midland hotel, the main conference hotel, this morning. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

At the conference Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, is delivering the first speech of the morning. There is a live feed at the top of the blog.

In an overnight briefing the Tories said Frost would use his speech to warn the EU about the need to revise the Northern Ireland protocol. A spokesperson said:


[Frost] will also issue a warning to the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, warning that the protocol now risks undermining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and that the threshold for the use of article 16 safeguards has been met. He will warn that ‘tinkering at the edges’ will not fix the fundamental problems with the protocol, and urge the EU to be more ‘ambitious’ in their approach so that an agreed solution which fixes the problem can be found.

I will post quotes from the speech when I have read the full text.



Boris Johnson going for a run in Manchester this morning.

Boris Johnson going for a run in Manchester this morning. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

The New Statesman’s George Eaton has posted this in response to one of Rishi Sunak’s comments this morning.

George Eaton
(@georgeeaton)

Rishi Sunak says “we’re not done supporting people” but even with the Universal Credit increase, the UK had one of the least generous welfare states in Europe. #r4today pic.twitter.com/Ag9ELZB5q6

October 4, 2021

My colleague Matthew Weaver is writing a blog with reaction to the revelations in the Pandora Papers. It’s here.

Rishi Sunak is being interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Q: Can you tell us where we can buy petrol in London or the south-east?

Sunak says the situation is improving.

Every day last week, more fuel was delivered to petrol stations than was taken out.

He says army drivers have started helping.

Alastair Campbell, a GMB presenter, says he read the Operation Yellow Hammer document last night, which was for no-deal Brexit planning. He lists a series of problems, and asks if Brexit is a factor.

Sunak says other countries have supply chain problems, too.

Q: Name me a country that has had to get the army out to help deliver petrol.

Sunak says it is good that the government is doing something.

Q: Why are you saying it is nothing to do with Brexit?

Sunak says he is not saying that. He is saying it is not exclusively due to Brexit.

And that’s it.

Updated

Sunak rejects claim Pandora revelations show that UK’s record on tax avoidance ‘source of shame’

Q: Isn’t it a source of shame that, as the Pandora papers reveal, the UK is a global capital for tax avoidance?

Sunak denies that.


I don’t think it is a source of shame because actually our track record on this issue is very strong.

Q: But half of Russian money laundering happens in this country.

Sunak says an independent research said the UK was one of the best places in the world at tackling this.

And that’s it. The interview is over.

I will post highlights from all Sunak’s morning interviews soon.

Updated

Sunak does not deny hoping to cut taxes before next general election

Q: The governor of the Bank of England said recently that growth is levelling. Things are going to get tougher, aren’t they?

Sunak says, after the immediate bounce back, you would expect the pace of growth to slow.

Q: What is your message for people ahead of winter?

Sunak says his message is, ‘We’re not done helping you.’

Q: If ministers come to you now asking for more money for their departments, you will have to say no, won’t you?

Sunak says spending is growing at historically high levels. The Ministry of Justice budget is rising.

Q: Over the last decade its budget has fallen by a quarter.

Sunak says it has been rising in the last couple of years.

Q: Is it true you told the PM you were cutting up his credit card?

Sunak says that is something all chancellors says. It is part of the job.

Q: Shouldn’t you rule out future tax cuts too?

Sunak says they have been responsible with the public finances.

Q: On the eve of the election you will find enough money for tax cuts.

Sunak says he won’t speculate on future budgets.

Q: That’s what the papers are reporting.

Sunak says he cannot control what is in the papers.

Q: You are announcing more money for job schemes. But if someone does not benefit from this directly, how might they gain when they lose £1,000 a year from universal credit.

Sunak says, like governments around the world, the government has put in temporary measures to help people during the Covid crisis.

Q: But six former Tory work and pensions secretaries have said the money should stay.

Sunak says he respects colleagues. But he says unemployment is far lower than people expected. He wants people to go into well-paid jobs.

Updated

Sunak plays down claim rising inflation will wipe out value of pay rises

Sunak says the government is doing everything it can to ensure Christmas can go ahead as normal.

Q: Who will pay for HGV drivers being paid more?

Sunak says in an ideal world higher pay will be driven by higher productivity.

Q: But that is not what is happening here. This is about people being paid more for the same work.

Sunak says this could catalyse employers into thinking about how they might improve productivity.

The government would like to see that over time.

But it will not happen overnight, he says.

Q: If that does not happen, and if pay goes up and inflation goes up, won’t we end up poorer?

Sunak says that is not happening now.

The Bank of England and other authorities think the inflation rise will be transitory, he says.

Q: Do you accept that the pig crisis is not a joke, as the PM seemed to imply in his Andrew Marr interview yesterday?

Sunak says he does not think anyone would regard this as a joke.

Rishi Sunak’s Today programme interview

Nick Robinson is interviewing Rishi Sunak on the Today programme.

He starts by asking about something Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said at a fringe meeting last night. She said:


I don’t believe in a command and control economy, so I don’t believe the prime minister is responsible for what’s in the shops. This is why we have a free enterprise economy, I’m sure that the goods will be delivered into our shops.

Sunak says there are things the government can do and is doing.

But it cannot make global supply chains problems go away overnight.

Sunak reprimands Tory MP who said he wants supermarket supply chains to break up

Good morning. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is the main speaker at the Conservative party conference this morning, and he has been doing the morning interview round ahead of the speech, which he seemed to be rehearsing last night.

Rishi Sunak
(@RishiSunak)

Practise makes perfect 😬

Watch my speech live from 11.50am tomorrow. https://t.co/mtzYnhoIuE pic.twitter.com/3CyESPiw7n

October 3, 2021

In one of his early interviews, Sunak reprimanded the Tory MP Chris Loder who told a fringe meeting yesterday that he hoped the current HGV driver shortage would lead to supermarket supply chains being dismantled. Sunak was able to confirm that abandoning the supply chains that most of us rely on for our shopping is not Conservative party policy. Asked about Loder’s comment, Sunak said:


I don’t think anyone would say there’s an upside to people struggling with supply chain challenges and not being able to get what they want at the time they want it. No one wants to see that.

What we’ve said more broadly is over time one of our desires is to transition ourselves to a higher-wage, high-skill economy, more productive economy.

Sunak was also asked about the revelations from the leaked Pandora papers, published in detail by the Guardian. He said HM Revenue and Customs would be looking at the revelations.


I’ve seen these things overnight as well and it’s always tough for me to comment on them specifically given they’ve only just emerged, and of course HMRC will look through those to see if there’s anything we can learn.

Overnight the Tories trailed an announcement from Sunak’s speech. The government will spend another £500m over the next few years extending various employment programmes, he will say. Here is our preview.

I will post more from Sunak’s interview soon.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.10am: Lord Frost gives a speech.

9.20am: Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, is interviewed on stage.

10.20am: Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, is in conversation on stage with Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley mayor.

11.20am: Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, is in conversation on stage with Arlene Foster, the former Northern Ireland first minister.

11.50am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, gives a speech.

Lunchtime: George Eustice, the environment secretary; Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader; Neil O’Brien, the levelling up minister and Oliver Dowden, the Conservative part co-chair are among the Tories speaking at fringe events.

2pm: Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, gives a speech.

2.50pm: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, takes part in a panel discussion.

3.50pm: Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, gives a speech.

4.40pm: Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, is interviewed on stage.

5.40pm: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, is interviewed on stage.

Afternoon: Gove, Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, and Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley mayor, are among the Tories speaking at fringe events.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

Updated

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