Blog: Boris Johnson news — live: PM was ‘missing in action’ on Afghanistan, as Brexit grace periods to be extended – The Independent

Lisa Nandy on national insurance hike: It will load ‘more pressure onto the working aged people’

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of being “incapable of international leadership, just when we need it most”, as the prime minister updated MPs on the situation in Afghanistan.

With the Commons returning from its summer recess on Monday, Mr Johnson faces a Tory revolt over plans to fund social care reform by raising National Insurance (NI).

A number of Tory grandees have criticised the plans, with former Conservative chancellor Lord Hammond suggesting that such a move would break a commitment in the government’s manifesto and would provoke a “very significant backlash”.

Labour has ruled out his party supporting the proposed increase, arguing that it would unfairly punish young people and low earners.

It came as Downing Street denied rumours suggesting that Mr Johnson was planning to hold a Cabinet reshuffle this week after it was reported that his schedule had been cleared for Thursday.

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The EU has confirmed it is not opening any new infringement action over the Northern Ireland protocol, after the UK moved to extend grace periods on checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

Its statement, Brussels said it will “not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol” – which the UK government wants to amend and Northern Ireland’s ruling Democratic Unionist Party wants to scrap entirely.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 19:38

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‘Sausage wars on hold’ as ban on sale of chilled meats to Northern Ireland to be delayed again

New checks and red tape for trade across the Irish Sea – including a ban on the sale of chilled meats – will be delayed again, under an expected deal between the UK and EU, our deputy political editor Rob Merrick reports.

The government is poised to announce further extensions to post-Brexit ‘grace periods’ until at least the end of the year, possibly as early as today.

A government source said Brussels had agreed to pushing back implementation of the new rules from the start of October – for the third time – saying: “So sausage wars are on hold.”

Government poised to announce further extensions to post-Brexit ‘grace periods’ until at least the end of the year

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 19:22

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Vaccine boosters ‘probably most important piece of the jigsaw’ in making Covid endemic

After being pressed by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt on being ready to mobilise booster jabs, pending a decision from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Nadhim Zahawi said the NHS is “ready to operationalise a massive booster programme”.

The vaccines minister responded that the “booster programme is probably the most important piece of the jigsaw yet to fall into place before we can actually transition this pandemic to endemic status”.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 19:08

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Labour attacks government over planned national insurance rise

The shadow health secretary has criticised the government for reportedly planning to break its manifesto pledge and raise national insurance to fund social care.

Jonathan Ashworth told MPs that, if the Covid crisis has taught us anything, it is that a long-term plan for social care is “long overdue” and should be funded in “a fair way”.

But he added: “The prime minister guaranteed no rise in national insurance, and we are told to expect tomorrow a rise in national insurance – a tax on workers to pay for a regressive social care policy that simply won’t improve the care people need and deserve.

“In this House, he used to call national insurance a tax on jobs, what would he call a manifesto-breaking national insurance rise now?”

The vaccines minister said he would “urge [Mr Ashworth] not to speculate” and “wait for the announcement”.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 18:56

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Government seeking further advice after JCVI fails to recommend jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds

The Commons debate on Afghanistan has now come to an end, giving way to an update on Covid-19 from the vaccines minister.

Citing Public Health England data, Nadhim Zahawi told MPs that coronavirus vaccines have now prevented over 100,000 deaths, 143,000 hospitalisations and 24 million infections,

But pointing to the 34,000 new cases and 938 hospitalisations on average each day last week, Mr Zahawi said “it is vital that we continue to plug the gaps in our defences”.

He confirmed that the government “will now consider advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers and make a decision shortly” on whether to offer vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds, after the JCVI concluded that “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination of healthy” people in this age group.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 18:43

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Following his clash with the PM earlier in the Commons, Johnny Mercer – who Boris Johnson fired from the post of minister for veterans’ affairs in April – has suggested the prime minister’s newly announced £5m in funding for veterans “just won’t cut it”.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 18:18

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MP raises issue of potentially eligible evacuees requiring help of human traffickers to reach border

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has asked Dominic Raab whether members of the Hazara minority are considered a vulnerable group and whether the government’s talk of “safe passage” includes how people get both to and over the Afghan border, “not just what happens when they get to the border – because for many people that is not a possibility”.

Ms Moran said she had met with members of Oxford’s Hazara community, one of whom described paying “exorbitant amounts of money to human traffickers for their family to get to the Pakistan border and then get over the border itself – they had been turned away because they weren’t of the right tribe.”

Mr Raab agreed that the Hazaras and other ethnic groups are considered as part of the eligibility, adding that people’s ability to get to the border relies on the Taliban granting safe passage.

“I’ve explained to the House how we’re working on that, and what we’re also trying to do,” Mr Raab said. “That’s why I was in Pakistan and Qatar … we want to be clear that we’ve got the capacity to process and give them the assurance to let those individuals across the border and we will take them directly back to the UK”.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 17:53

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Government u-turns on unions’ role in trade talks

Our economics editor Anna Isaac reports that the British government has invited unions to join its secretive groups which advise on trade deals, days after The Independent revealed the bodies had been excluded for over a year.

These groups have allowed business representatives to scrutinise key details and some draft text of trade agreements, and have been consulted on a range of issues thrown up by the government’s drive to secure deals with Australia, New Zealand, and others.

However, since August last year, trade unions were blocked from these meetings, preventing them from sharing insights on employment law and workers’ rights with the Department for International Trade on the details of their negotiations.

Move comes days after The Independent revealed the bodies had been promised a seat at the table that hadn’t appeared

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 17:32

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Labour criticises ‘appalling’ coordination between Foreign Office and MoD

Lisa Nandy has alleged that the co-ordination between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence “is still appalling”.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary told MPs this was “despite some very hardworking civil servants on the ground who are working round the clock”.

“My office is in touch with a small number of Afghan workers, for example, who are attached to intelligence and MI6 in recent years,” Ms Nandy said. “They’re being treated as special cases under ARAP and many of them have been waiting for months.”

She added that the “personal intervention” of Ben Wallace and Lord Ahmad, the minister for Afghanistan, “has made a difference, but this is no substitute for a system”.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 17:28

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Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy began her response to Dominic Raab’s statement by saying it had “been a painful and sobering few weeks”, adding that those troops and diplomats involved in Operation Pitting “reminded us what courage looks like”.

She asked Mr Raab to fix the “basic” issue of the Foreign Office phone number provided to Afghans, “which asks people to hold for hours and is still chargeable”, and for an update on how many British nationals are still stuck in Afghanistan, adding: “I imagine he must know by now.”

Ms Nandy added that there are “still hundreds of unanswered emails from MPs” to the government on behalf of Afghans.

Following Boris Johnson’s earlier insistence that “every email” will be answered tonight, Ms Nandy asked her opposite number to guarantee that “that will be a real answer and not just a holding response”.

Andy Gregory6 September 2021 17:22

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