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Brexit news – live: Port chaos is ‘new normal’ as NHS bosses urge Boris Johnson to extend transition

Boris Johnson dodges question on why his promises keep failing

Boris Johnson has been warned that this week’s lorry chaos at Channel ports is a glimpse of life outside the European single market. Guy Verhofstadt, the outspoken Belgian statesman, said on Tuesday that Britons would “start to understand what leaving the EU really means” after 1,500 lorries were stranded in Kent due to border closures forced by the emergence of a new coronavirus variant. 

NHS leaders have meanwhile written a letter to the PM, calling for him to extend the Brexit transition period, due to end on 31 December, by a month – citing no deal as a potential risk for patients’ health during the Covid crisis.

An extra four weeks would take the NHS out of “the immediate danger zone, and it will enable the NHS to continue to focus on fighting the pandemic without having to contend with disruptive changes brought about by a no-deal outcome,” bosses said. 

It comes as Michel Barnier announced yesterday that progress had been made in trade talks, with some topics even “preliminarily closed or close to being agreed” – but that fishing remained a block to a deal.

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Jenrick ‘optimistic’ about deal but ‘issues’ remain

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has revealed he is “reasonably optimistic” about the prospect of a Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

However, “there is still the same serious areas of disagreement, whether that is on fisheries or the level playing field,” he told Sky News on Wednesday. 

“But at the moment there isn’t sufficient progress, it isn’t a deal that the PM feels he can sign us up to because it doesn’t yet respect us, in full, as a sovereign, independent nation.”

Asked whether there was a link between Emmanuel Macron’s action to shut the border with France and the Brexit negotiations, Mr Jenrick said: “I hope not.”

Sam Hancock23 December 2020 08:36

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Read the NHS’ letter to Johnson about no-deal dangers

Here are a few snippets from the NHS Confederation’s warning to Boris Johnson:

“The NHS might not be perceived to be on the Brexit negotiating table, but the disruption shockwaves from a no-deal outcome could push the NHS’ ability to function over the edge.

Given we are days away from the cliff edge, we urge you to extend the transition period by a month, buying the NHS a precious few extra weeks and enabling the UK to leave the EU after a one-year transition period.”

Talking specifically about the current situation at ports, and in Kent, it adds: “With Operation Stack implemented with borders closed to the continent and rampant Covid-19 infections meaning the region has already breached the safe level of hospital bed occupancy, the South East will face disruption even if a deal is reached.

Should a deal not be reached, the magnitude and extent of disruption will be of a much greater order.

Your government should be under no illusion that the NHS will be harmed by the potential failure to agree a negotiated deal.”

The UK has just recorded its highest ever daily rise in infections and over the next few days patients in hospital with Covid-19 will breach the peak of the first wave.

The virus has found another gear and will leave the NHS in its wake, so we support the actions the Government has taken to protect the NHS.

But a similarly tough stance is needed in the event of a no-deal outcome.”

A government spokesman, meanwhile, seemed to take a more idealistic approach: “Our healthcare system will thrive after the transition period and we continue to explore every route to a deal.

We are on our way to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this parliament and providing a record cash funding boost of £33.9 billion extra a year for the NHS by 2023-24.

We have worked closely with the health and care system, suppliers, industry and the devolved administrations to put in place robust measures to ensure the continued supply of medicines and medical products so everyone can receive the highest quality care.”

It comes as Mr Johnson, his spokesman and multiple ministers warned this week that there would be no extension to trade negotiations should a deal not be reached before New Year’s Eve. 

Sam Hancock23 December 2020 08:11

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Johnson warned lorry chaos is new normal outside EU

The lorry chaos at Channel ports is a glimpse of life outside the European single market, Boris Johnson has been warned, as EU negotiators geared up for a “final push” to avoid no deal.

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more:

Sam Hancock23 December 2020 08:04

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NHS bosses urge PM to extend Brexit transition period

NHS leaders have called on Boris Johnson to extend the Brexit transition period by a month, as it warns that no-deal could risk the health of patients during the Covid-19 crisis.

Faced with an alarming rise in Covid-19 infections, they say that a month delay will take the NHS out of “the immediate danger zone, and it will enable the NHS to continue to focus on fighting the pandemic without having to contend with disruptive changes brought about by a no-deal outcome”.

The NHS Confederation warning comes via a letter, telling the PM that “tough” action similar to the new Tier 4 rules are needed to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge moment on 1 January and help protect the NHS.

It says: “Come January 1, the NHS will be battling the greatest challenge in its history during what is traditionally its busiest time of year.”There are now nearly 19,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19, close to the first-wave peak, and the conveyor belt is picking up speed as we head into the festive period.”

The warning came as a negotiated Brexit deal looks increasingly unlikely and health secretary Matt Hancock described the new variant of coronavirus as being “out of control”. 

On Sunday the rate of recorded positive cases in the UK doubled over a week and the number of non-Covid patients waiting more than a year for treatment now stands at 160,000, according to the NHS.

Sam Hancock23 December 2020 08:01

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Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the Brexit negotiations. 

Sam Hancock23 December 2020 07:58