United Kingdom

Brexit: Michel Barnier claims UK has conceded on human rights

Boris Johnson has agreed to keep Britain tied to European human rights rules in the Brexit trade deal, says the EU chief negotiator.

The Prime Minister gave in to the EU demand so Britain can retain access to shared intelligence on criminals, Michel Barnier told MEPs.

He had previously warned that the UK would automatically be kicked out of joint law enforcement programmes if it pulled out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

At a behind-closed-doors meeting of MEPs on Friday, Mr Barnier said Britain had shifted its stance.

‘We are almost in agreement on judicial and police co-operation,’ he said, according to a leaked transcript.

‘The British have accepted the prerequisites that we put down on the European Convention on Human Rights. We can now finalise those points.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to keep Britain tied to European human rights rules in the Brexit trade deal, says the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier as negotiations continue

The ECHR is enshrined in British law by the Human Rights Act but has become increasingly unpopular with many Conservatives.

It is often cited by people fighting legal deportation and critics say the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights – which is entirely separate from the EU – has roamed far beyond its remit and created new rights that were never intended by its founders.

But the EU went into the Brexit trade talks warning that it would end all ‘law enforcement co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters’ if the UK were to ‘denounce the ECHR’.

Mr Barnier said at a press conference earlier this year: ‘When it comes to security and legal co-operation, judicial co-operation, you are talking for example about the exchange of personal data, sometimes very personal data, like DNA. In that area this is a must-have for us.’

The Tories promised in their manifestos at the 2010 and 2015 elections that they would scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

Before the 2019 election, Mr Johnson promised to ‘update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government’.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, pictured flanked by protesters, told MEPs Boris Johnson had given in to EU demand so Britain can retain access to shared intelligence on criminals

Small farms ‘will lose 80% of income in subsidy cuts’ 

Family farms hit by subsidy cuts could lose up to 80 per cent of their income by 2024, rural business leaders have warned.

Beef and sheep farmers are expected to be worst hit, as well as cereal farmers.

Especially vulnerable are farms and smallholdings across the Lake District, Peak District, Dartmoor and Exmoor.

The NFU estimates livestock farmers could lose 60 to 80 per cent of their income by 2024, as the Government moves away from the Basic Payments System.

It is questioning how farmers will be able to replace that cash under more onerous conservation agreements.

The Country Land and Business Association says that the average family farm of around 210 acres and receiving around £19,000 a year will face progressive cuts which will reach more than 50 per cent by 2024.

This could see some forced to quit, while others lay off staff or take on extra debt.

Beef and sheep farms already operate on thin profit margins.

Minette Batters, president of the NFU, said: ‘These payments have been a lifeline for many farmers, especially when prices or growing conditions have been volatile.’

Direct payments will start to be reduced from 2021 on the way to being phased out by 2028.

And Home Secretary Priti Patel last month announced proposals to close a loophole that has been exploited by murderers, rapists and other serious criminals.

UK negotiators have now won a clause giving either side the right to suspend or terminate the final deal if there are serious concerns about protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law.

And Downing Street was last night playing down Mr Barnier’s claim to MEPs that Britain had changed its stance.

A spokesman for the Government said: ‘The UK remains committed to the ECHR – we have been clear on that time and time again, including in Parliament.

‘We agree that co-operation with the EU should be based on our shared values of respect for fundamental rights and for the rule of law.

‘The UK’s approach to these issues in the context of law enforcement is based on precedent for EU third-country agreements in this area.’

The compromise comes as British and EU negotiators race to try to agree a trade deal within days.

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney told the BBC yesterday: ‘I do think a deal is possible, but it needs to be finalised this week if possible, because we really are running out of time in terms of ratification and preparation.

‘But I think a deal is possible because the consequences of no deal are so costly and so disruptive, particularly for the UK and for Northern Ireland, but for the Republic of Ireland as well. So I think there’s a big incentive to get a deal done.’

He said the negotiating teams need to find a compromise ‘that both sides can live with’ on the sticking points of fishing rights and ‘level playing field’ rules.

Environment Secretary George Eustice suggested talks could continue for another ten days, leaving very little time for a deal to go through the British and European parliaments.

He told Sky News: ‘This is the crucial week when we need to get a breakthrough.

‘I really do think we are now in the sort of, final week, or ten days. Of course if great progress were made this week and you were nearly there, it is always possible to extend those negotiations.’

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