US downplays prospect of post-Brexit trade deal with UK

US downplays prospect of post-Brexit trade deal with UK

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US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, arrives for talks, during the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting, at Lancaster House in London, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Diplomats from the group of wealthy nations are meeting in London for their first face-to-face gathering … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

LONDON (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has downplayed any prospect of an imminent trade deal with a post-Brexit Britain.

In an interview with BBC radio broadcast Thursday, Blinken said any deal would take “some time” and that U.S. President Joe Biden wants to ensure any trade agreement would benefit American workers and their families.

“Our trade negotiator just got on the job, so she’s taking the time to go back and review everything that was discussed and that’s going to take some time,” said Blinken, who was in London in the early part of the week for the Group of Seven meeting of foreign ministers.

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“We want to make sure that, whether it’s with the United Kingdom or anyone else, any agreements reached are consistent with the principles that President Biden has established to focus on making sure that these agreements really advance the wellbeing of our workers and their families. That’s our focus.”

Blinken said the U.S.’s new trade negotiator, Katherine Tai, would be taking time to review the discussions that had taken place with the preceding administration of Donald Trump before progressing with the talks.

Trump had been a keen proponent of a trade deal with Britain, which formally left the economic orbit of the European Union at the start of this year. Now outside the EU, the U.K. can negotiate its own trade deals – previously, when within the bloc, the EU had negotiated trade deals on behalf of its members.

One of the main arguments of Brexit supporters in the runup to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2016 was the prospect of a swift trade deal with the U.S., the world’s largest economy.

The EU and the U.S. do not have an overarching trade agreement but they do have a series of bilateral deals to ease trade, such as on aviation.

Though the U.S. is the world’s largest economy, Britain’s trade with the EU is far higher as a proportion of its annual GDP. That’s why it was a priority for the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate an agreement that ensured that tariffs were not put up on trade between the U.K. and the EU. Though tariffs have been avoided, there are numerous non-tariff barriers, such as customs checks, that hinder trade and add costs to businesses.

The Brexit deal has caused particular consternation within Northern Ireland, especially among those who want the region to remain part of the U.K.

As part of the agreement to ensure there is no border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, the British government agreed to customs checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., which did not exist when the U.K. was part of the EU.

In his interview, Blinken stressed the importance the president, who has Irish roots, placed on ensuring the gains of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland.

“We want to make sure that, whether it’s with the United Kingdom or the EU, whether it’s anything we’re doing, that we make sure that the tremendous gains from the Good Friday Agreement are sustained and that the economic as well the political wellbeing of Northern Ireland is taken fully into account,” he said.

___

Follow all AP stories about Brexit and British politics at https://apnews.com/Brexit

100 years old: Low-key centenary for Northern Ireland

100 years old: Low-key centenary for Northern Ireland

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A display on grass celebrating the 100 year centenary of Northern Ireland, in Ballyduff, Newtonabbey, Northern Ireland, Monday, May 3, 2021. Queen Elizabeth II has stressed the need for “reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding” as she sent her “warmest best … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Northern Ireland marked what is widely considered to be its centenary on Monday, with Queen Elizabeth II stressing the need for “reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding” as she sent her “warmest good wishes” to its people.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to London, said the U.S. will continue to encourage the U.K. and the European Union “to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland” as they work through their post-Brexit relationship.

Northern Ireland was created on May 3, 1921, when the Government of Ireland Act came into effect and partitioned the island of Ireland into two separate entities. Northern Ireland became part of the U.K. alongside England, Scotland and Wales, while Ireland would later that year become what was then known as the Irish Free State.

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Much like the day that Northern Ireland was founded 100 years ago, there were no huge celebrations or grand ceremonies Monday, given the sharply differing views on its creation and subsequent history. Restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic have also led to all commemorations this year being scaled back.

Since its creation, Northern Ireland society has been split between those who want to remain in the U.K. and those who wish to see Northern Ireland become part of the Republic of Ireland. For decades, that fissure fueled sectarian violence: the so-called Troubles, which resulted in around 3,500 deaths.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 formalized power-sharing arrangements between unionists and nationalists. It’s not always been a smooth process politically, with the two sides often unable to reach agreement on how to govern, and there’s been sporadic outbreaks of violence.

“This anniversary reminds us of our complex history, and provides an opportunity to reflect on our togetherness and our diversity,” the queen said in a statement.

“It is clear that reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding cannot be taken for granted, and will require sustained fortitude and commitment,” she added.

The queen also referred to “treasured” memories she shared in Northern Ireland with her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last month at 99.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also marked the date, describing it as a “very significant” anniversary and stressed the importance of reflecting on the “complex history” of the past 100 years.

“People from all parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and across the globe, will approach this anniversary in different ways, with differing perspectives,” he said.

In recent weeks, there have been outbreaks of violence across Northern Ireland, with the unionist community particularly aghast at post-Brexit trade rules that took effect this year. These imposed customs checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., which did not exist when the U.K. was part of the EU.

Blinken urged all politicians and parties to prioritize peace and stability.

“The United States remains a steadfast supporter of a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland, in which all communities have a voice and can enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace,” he told reporters on Monday.

Although no major celebrations were held, plans to mark the centenary this year included tree-planting projects. Every school was given a native tree to plant in their grounds and many will explore what the future will look like in the next 100 years.

“Across generations, the people of Northern Ireland are choosing to build an inclusive, prosperous, and hopeful society, strengthened by the gains of the peace process,” the queen said. “May this be our guiding thread in the coming years.”

EU lawmakers approve post-Brexit trade treaty

EU lawmakers approve post-Brexit trade treaty

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Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK Michel Barnier, center, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, attend a debate on the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders, their British counterparts and European businesses expressed hope Wednesday that the final ratification of the post-Brexit trade deal will open a new, positive era of cooperation despite the many divisive topics remaining between the former partners.

After European lawmakers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement ensuring that free trade continues between the two sides without tariffs and quotas, U.K. Prime minister Boris Johnson said the vote marked the “final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the accord’s “faithful implementation is essential” while EU Council chief Charles Michel welcomed the beginning of a “new era.”

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Relations between the EU and the U.K. have been strained since a Brexit transition period ended on Jan. 1. The two sides have argued so far this year over issues ranging from violations of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the full diplomatic recognition of the EU in Britain.

EU lawmakers approved the final ratification of the deal nearly five years after Britain decided to leave the bloc. The deal, which was finalized on Christmas Eve, had already been ratified by the U.K. Parliament and conditionally came into force pending the European Parliament’s approval, which marks the final legal hurdle.

Lawmakers at the European Parliament voted 660-5 with 32 abstentions to endorse the free trade agreement. Voting took place Tuesday but results were not announced until Wednesday morning.

EU legislators said in a resolution accompanying their consent that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was a “historic mistake, as no third country can enjoy the same benefits as an EU member.”

The United Kingdom joined the bloc in 1973, and its citizens decided in a June 2016 referendum to pull out of the bloc. In a debate ahead of Tuesday’s ratification vote, many EU lawmakers rued Britain’s departure but insisted that approving the text was the best option to avoid economic disruptions and ensure the integrity of the EU’s single market.

While the long-term effects of Brexit on trade remain to be seen, BusinessEurope, a lobby group representing enterprises in the EU said the ratification brings “clarity and legal certainty.”

“The U.K. is the third biggest trading partner of the EU, which makes this deal one of the most important trade agreements the EU has ever finalized,” said BusinessEurope president Pierre Gattaz. “The positive vote of the European Parliament removes a major element of uncertainty, while companies on both sides are still adjusting to the new reality of trading while struggling with COVID-19 challenges.”

British exports to the EU plummeted by 5.7 billion pounds ($8 billion) in January compared to the previous month and recovered by 3.7 billion pounds ($5.2billion) in February. Imports also saw a sharp decline in January and a weaker rebound in February. The British government has downplayed the impact of Brexit, saying coronavirus restrictions played a role in the economic slump.

Amid ongoing tensions between London and Brussels over Northern Ireland trade rules, the EU Parliament also said that the agreement will provide extra legal tools to “prevent and protect against unilateral divergence from the obligations to which both parties signed up.”

Earlier this year, the European Union accused Britain of breaching international law after the U.K. government unilaterally extended until October a grace period for not conducting checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The move led the EU to start legal action against its former member nation.

Those checks were agreed to as part of the EU-U.K. divorce deal in order to avoid creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland because an open Irish border helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

But tensions and violence have escalated in recent weeks in the territory, with British unionists saying the arrangement the British government and the EU worked out has amounted to the creation of a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. Unionist politicians are demanding the government rip up the Northern Ireland arrangements in the Brexit agreement,

The sensitivity of Northern Ireland’s status also was seen in September when the U.K. Parliament considered legislation that would have given Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government the power to override part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

The tension increased in January when the EU threatened to ban shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Northern Ireland as part of moves to shore up the bloc’s supply. That would have drawn a hard border on the island of Ireland – exactly the scenario the Brexit deal was crafted to avoid.

European Parliament set to greenlight post-Brexit trade deal

European Parliament set to greenlight post-Brexit trade deal

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, and Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK Michel Barnier, second left, arrive for a debate on the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union lawmakers are set to formally ratify the post-Brexit deal between the EU and the United Kingdom amid ongoing tensions between London and Brussels over Northern Ireland trade rules.

The deal, which was finalized on Christmas Eve, already has been ratified by the U.K. Parliament and conditionally came into force pending the European Parliament’s approval.

Because of disagreement on how to apply trade rules in Northern Ireland, some EU legislators previously threatened to hold back the ratification vote, but a large majority of lawmakers are in favor of the deal.

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Results of the vote are set to be announced on Wednesday, almost five years after U.K. voters decided to withdraw from the bloc.

“This deal is not good because Brexit is not good. The situation is also complicated because we cannot be sure how trustworthy the UK government really is,” said Terry Reintke, the vice-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament. “Still, this agreement can be a starting point reconstructing what we lost due to Brexit.”

Top European Union officials and their British counterparts have so far failed to find common ground on implementing the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, which were designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, and to guarantee the integrity of the bloc’s single market.

In March, the U.K. government unilaterally extended until October a grace period for not conducting checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., a decision that led the EU to start legal action against its former member nation.

In an address to EU lawmakers ahead of Tuesday’s ratification vote, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she shared their concerns on “unilateral actions taken by (the) United Kingdom” but noted some progress in the talks with British officials.

“In recent days and weeks, we have seen a new constructive dynamic, and we will continue to work closely with the U.K. to find constructive solutions that respect what was agreed,” she said.

Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. but remained part of the EU’s single market for goods after Brexit to avoid customs checks at the territory’s border with EU member Ireland. An open Irish border helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

But tensions and violence have escalated in recent weeks, with unionists saying the arrangement the British government and the EU worked out has amounted to the creation of a border between the territory and the rest of the U.K.

The sensitivity of Northern Ireland‘s status also was in September when the U.K. Parliament considered legislation that would have given Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government the power to override part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

The tension increased in January when the EU threatened to ban shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Northern Ireland as part of moves to shore up the bloc’s supply. That would have drawn a hard border on the island of Ireland – exactly the scenario the Brexit deal was crafted to avoid.

Relations between the EU and the U.K. have been strained since a Brexit transition period ended on Jan. 1. The two sides have argued so far this year over issues ranging from COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the full diplomatic recognition of the EU in Britain.

Gioacchini restored to US roster after protocols change

Gioacchini restored to US roster after protocols change

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Monday, March 22, 2021

CHICAGO (AP) – Forward Nicholas Gioacchini has been restored to the U.S. roster for exhibitions against Jamaica and Northern Ireland after a change in coronavirus restrictions.

The 20-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, plays for the French club Caen. He was on the original roster announced March 17, then was dropped two days later because of protocols in France.

The U.S. plays Jamaica on Thursday in Austria, and is at Northern Ireland on Sunday.

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In addition, the U.S. Soccer Federation said Monday that three Germany-based players will be allowed to stay with the national team for the match at Northern Ireland after a change in quarantine protocols that originally had them scheduled to return to their clubs Friday: Hoffenheim defender Chris Richards, Borussia Dortmund forward Gio Reyna and Werder Bremen forward Josh Sargent.

The Americans are preparing for a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against Honduras in June and the start of World Cup qualifying in September. Most top players are expected to skip the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July.

The revised roster (x-departing Friday):

Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge, Belgium), Chituru Odunze (Leicester, England), Zack Steffen (Manchester City, England).

Defenders: x-John Brooks (Wolfsburg, Germany), x-Reggie Cannon (Boavista, Portugal, Sergiño Dest (Barcelona, Spain), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Matt Miazga (Anderlecht, Belgium), Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Vienna), Tim Ream (Fulham, England), Bryan Reynolds (Roma, Italy), Chris Richards (Hoffenheim, Germany), Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England).

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Christian Cappis (Hobro, Denmark), Luca de la Torre (Heracles, Netherlands), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Yunus Musah (Valencia, Spain), Owen Otasowie (Wolverhampton, England).

Forwards: Daryl Dike (Barnsley, England), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen, France), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, England), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen, Germany), Jordan Siebatcheu (Young Boys, Switzerland).

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

EU, Britain clash again in latest post-Brexit spat

EU, Britain clash again in latest post-Brexit spat

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Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union said Wednesday that Britain’s “unilateral action” on trade rules will breach international law and is threatening legal action as post-Brexit tensions continue to escalate between the two sides.

Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said in a statement that UK’s decision to unilaterally extend a grace period on checks for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland amounts to “a violation” of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Protocol was designed to ensure an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit.

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“This is the second time that the UK government is set to breach international law,” Šefčovič said. “This also constitutes a clear departure from the constructive approach that has prevailed up until now.”

The EU‘s anger was sparked by the British government’s decision to extend until October a grace period for checks on agri-food entering Northern Ireland that was set to expire at the end of the month.

In September last year, the UK had already upset the 27-nation bloc when it considered – then backpedaled – legislation that would have given Boris Johnson’s government the power to override part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

The sensitivity of Northern Ireland’s status was underscored earlier this year when the EU threatened to ban shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Northern Ireland as part of moves to shore up the bloc’s supply. That would have drawn a hard border on the island of Ireland – exactly the scenario the Brexit deal was crafted to avoid.

Šefčovič held discussions Wednesday with cabinet minister David Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator now responsible for EU relations.

“Lord Frost explained that the measures announced today, following official-level notification to the Commission earlier this week, were temporary technical steps, which largely continued measures already in place, to provide more time for businesses such as supermarkets and parcel operators to adapt to and implement the new requirements in the Protocol,” a UK government spokesperson said.

Before their talks, Šefčovič said he would tell Frost “the European Commission will respond to these developments in accordance with the legal means established by the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

Quiet New Year gives breathing room after UK-EU Brexit split

Quiet New Year gives breathing room after UK-EU Brexit split

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People watch the first truck, from Estonia, entering the Eurotunnel terminal Friday, Jan.1, 2021 in Coquelles, northern France. Eleven months after Britain’s formal departure from the EU, Brexit becomes a fact of daily life on Friday, once a transition period … more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Friday, January 1, 2021

LONDON (AP) – A steady trickle of trucks rolled off ferries and trains on both sides of the English Channel on Friday, a quiet New Year’s Day after a seismic overnight shift in relations between the European Union and Britain.

The busy goods route between southeast England and northwest France is on the front line of changes now that the U.K. has fully left the economic embrace of the 27-nation bloc, the final stage of Brexit.

“For the majority of trucks, they won’t even notice the difference,” said John Keefe, spokesman for Eurotunnel, which carries vehicles under the Channel. “There was always the risk that if this happened at a busy time then we could run into some difficulties, but it’s happening overnight on a bank holiday and a long weekend.”

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Britain left the European bloc’s vast single market for people, goods and services at 11 p.m. London time on New Year’s Eve, in the biggest single economic change the country has experienced since World War II. A new U.K.-EU trade deal will bring restrictions and red tape, but for British Brexit supporters, it means reclaiming national independence from the EU and its web of rules.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “an amazing moment for this country.”

“We have our freedom in our hands, and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said in a New Year’s video message.

The historic moment passed quietly, with U.K. lockdown measures against the coronavirus curtailing mass gatherings to celebrate or mourn. Brexit, which had dominated public debate in Britain for years, was even pushed off some newspaper front pages by news of the huge vaccination effort against COVID-19, which is surging across the country.

In the subdued streets of London – which voted strongly to remain in the EU in Britain’s 2016 referendum – there was little enthusiasm for Brexit.

“I think it is a disaster, among many disasters this year,” said Matt Steel, a doctor. “It is a crappy deal. I don’t really see any positives in it, to be honest.”

But in seaside Folkestone, at the English end of the Channel Tunnel, retired bank manager David Binks said he was relieved that the tortuous Brexit saga was – just possibly – over.

“It’s been going on for so long now that the time is now, I think, that we move on and go from there,” he said.

The break comes 11 months after a political Brexit that left the two sides in a “transition period” in which EU rights and rules continued to apply to Britain.

The trade agreement sealed on Christmas Eve after months of tense negotiations ensures that the two sides can continue to buy and sell goods without tariffs or quotas. But companies face sheaves of new costs and paperwork, including customs declarations and border checks.

The English Channel port of Dover and the Eurotunnel braced for delays as the new measures were introduced.

The vital supply route was snarled after France closed its border to U.K. truckers for 48 hours during Christmas week in response to a fast-spreading variant of the virus identified in England. Some 15,000 truckers needed emergency virus tests just to get into France, a process that left many stuck in their trucks for days.

But the pandemic and a holiday weekend meant cross-Channel traffic was light on Friday. Britain has also delayed imposing full customs checks for several months so that companies can adjust.

In the French port of Calais, officials said the new computer systems were working well and truckers had the right paperwork.

“Brexit … is not a synonym for congestion, as we say in English, nor a synonym for traffic disruption, but everyone must do their work,” said Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of the Ports of Calais and Boulogne-Sur-Mer.

Jean Marc Thillier, director of customs for the region, warned that the border faced a “trial by fire” when traffic picks up after the holiday weekend.

Brexit also brought new checks across the Irish Sea. A dozen trucks rolled off the first ferry to arrive at Dublin Port from Wales before dawn, clearing the new customs inspections without delays.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said trade would change “fundamentally.”

“We’re now going to see the 80 billion euros ($97 billion) worth of trade across the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland disrupted by an awful lot more checks and declarations, and bureaucracy and paperwork, and cost and delay.”

Hundreds of millions of people in Britain and the bloc also face changes to their daily lives, with new rules for work visas, travel insurance and pet paperwork.

And years of discussion and argument lie ahead, over everything from fair competition to fish quotas, as Britain and the EU settle into their new relationship as friends, neighbors and rivals.

Brexit could also have major constitutional repercussions for the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland, remains closely tied to the bloc’s economy under the divorce terms. So while goods will continue to flow freely across the Irish land border, there are new checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. Over time, that could pull Northern Ireland away from the rest of the U.K. and toward Ireland.

In Scotland, which voted strongly in 2016 to remain in the EU, Brexit has bolstered support for separation from the U.K. The country’s pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on.”

___

Video journalists Jo Kearney and Jason Parkinson in Folkestone, England and Alex Turnbull in Calais, France contributed.

______

Follow all AP stories on Brexit at https://apnews.com/Brexit

UK, EU head for supper showdown over Brexit trade deal

U.K., EU head for supper showdown over Brexit trade deal

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend a cabinet meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Britain’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday has been dubbed "V-Day," recalling … more >

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By Raf Casert and Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The leaders of Britain and the European Union were meeting Wednesday for a dinner that could pave the way to a post-Brexit trade deal – or tip the two sides toward a chaotic economic rupture at the end of the month.

Early-morning comments from both sides insisting that it was for the other to compromise only highlighted the difficult task ahead for U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. They have just a few hours over a multi-course meal to unstick negotiations that are deadlocked on key aspects of the future relationship for the EU and Britain.

British officials said they hoped political pressure from the top could break the logjam, but room was limited.

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“Unless we see some movement on the EU side, then it will be very difficult,” U.K. Cabinet minister Michael Gove told Times Radio.

The bloc, however, insisted the U.K. must to move to secure a trade agreement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “there is still the chance of an agreement,” but stressed that the EU would not compromise on its core principles. Merkel told the German parliament that the bloc would “take a path without an … agreement if there are conditions from the British side that we can’t accept.”

The U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31 after 47 years of membership, but remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of the year. Reaching a trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs or quotas on trade in goods on Jan. 1, although there would still be new costs and red tape for businesses.

Failure to secure a trade deal would mean tariffs and other barriers that would hurt both sides, although most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit because the U.K. does almost half of its trade with the bloc.

Months of trade talks have failed to bridge the gaps on three issues – fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes.

While both sides want a deal, they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep – hence the demand for strict “level playing field” guarantees in exchange for access to its markets.

Merkel said “the integrity of the single market must be preserved.”

“We must have a level playing field not just for today, but we must have one for tomorrow or the day after, and to do this we must have agreements on how one can react if the other changes their legal situation,” Merkel said. “Otherwise there will be unfair competitive conditions that we cannot ask of our companies.”

The U.K. government sees Brexit as about sovereignty and “taking back control” of the country’s laws, borders and waters. It claims the EU is making demands it has not placed on other non-EU countries and is trying to bind Britain to the bloc’s rules indefinitely.

“We’ve been clear throughout – the prime minister’s been admirably clear – about what the United Kingdom needs as a sovereign independent country,” Gove said. “And I think President von der Leyen will want to ensure that all EU member states recognize that a deal is in everyone’s interest and that will require a degree of movement for some on the EU side.”

Amid the gloom, one area of tension has been resolved. The British government has dropped plans to break international law after reaching an agreement with the EU on rules governing trade with Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with the bloc.

The Brexit divorce agreement struck by the two sides last year promised there would be no customs checks or other trade barriers along Northern Ireland’s border with EU member Ireland. As the two sides tried to hammer out the details, British government introduced legislation in September giving itself powers to breach the legally binding withdrawal agreement in order to keep goods flowing to Northern Ireland in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.

Britain claimed the bill was needed as a safety net, but the move infuriated the EU, which saw it as an act of bad faith that could imperil Northern Ireland’s peace settlement.

Gove said resolving the Northern Ireland issue provided a “smoother glide path” towards a broader trade deal with the EU, though the bad feeling generated by the lawbreaking move still lingers.

___

Jill Lawless reported from London. Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.

UK-EU talks near collapse ahead of Johnson trip to Brussels

U.K.-EU talks near collapse ahead of Johnson trip to Brussels

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A pedestrian walks past the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Monday Dec. 7, 2020. One of the most intense days in the long-running Brexit trade negotiations started off with little good news about any progress on the talks Monday, with … more >

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By Jill Lawless and Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Britain and the European Union warned Tuesday that talks on a post-Brexit free-trade deal are teetering on the brink of collapse, with just over three weeks until an economic rupture that will cause upheaval for businesses on both sides of the English Channel.

Officials downplayed the chances of a breakthrough when Prime Minister Boris Johnson heads to Brussels for face-to-face talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the next few days.

With negotiators deadlocked on key issues after months of tense talks, Johnson said “the situation at the moment is very tricky.”

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“Our friends have just got to understand the U.K. has left the EU in order to be able to exercise democratic control over the way we do things,” Johnson said during a visit to a hospital where some of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccinations were being administered. “There is also the issue of fisheries where we are a long way apart still.

“But hope springs eternal. I will do my best to sort it out if we can.”

German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth said the bloc’s confidence in Britain was hanging in the balance.

“What we need is political will in London,” said Roth, whose country currently holds the EU‘s rotating presidency. “Let me be very clear, our future relationship is based on trust and confidence. It’s precisely this confidence that is at stake in our negotiations right now.

“We want to reach a deal, but not at any price,” Roth told reporters before chairing videoconference talks among his EU counterparts.

Johnson and von der Leyen, head of the EU‘s executive arm, spoke by phone Monday for the second time in 48 hours but failed to break the talks impasse. They said afterwards that “significant differences” remained on three key issues – fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes – and “the conditions for finalizing an agreement are not there.”

The two leaders said in the joint statement that they planned to discuss the remaining differences “in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”

No date was given for the meeting. Leaders of the EU‘s 27 nations are holding a two-day summit in Brussels starting Thursday and are not keen for it to be overshadowed by Brexit.

The U.K. left the EU politically on Jan. 31, but remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union through Dec. 31. Reaching a trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs and trade quotas on goods exported or imported by the two sides, although there would still be new costs and red tape.

Both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, but most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit because the U.K. does almost half its trade with the bloc.

While both sides want a deal to keep trade running relatively smoothly, talks have stalled because they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU accuses Britain of seeking to retain access to the bloc’s vast market without agreeing to abide by its rules. It fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep — hence the demand for strict “level playing field” guarantees.

The U.K. government sees Brexit as about sovereignty and “taking back control” of the country’s laws, borders and waters. It claims the EU is making demands it has not placed on other countries with whom it has free trade deals, such as Canada, and is trying to bind Britain to the bloc’s rules indefinitely.

Trust and goodwill between the two sides have been further strained by British legislation that breaches the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement Johnson struck with the EU last year.

Britain says the Internal Market Bill, which gives the government power to override parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to trade with Northern Ireland, is needed as an “insurance policy” to protect the flow of goods within the U.K. in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The EU sees it as an act of bad faith that could imperil Northern Ireland’s peace settlement.

The House of Lords, Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, removed the law-breaking clauses from the legislation last month, but the elected House of Commons restored them on Monday night.

As the parliamentary tussle continues, the British government has offered the bloc an olive branch on the issue, saying it will remove the lawbreaking clauses if a joint U.K.-EU committee on Northern Ireland finds solutions in the coming days.

___

Cook reported from Brussels.

UK spending watchdog sounds alarm over EU trade disruption

UK spending watchdog sounds alarm over EU trade disruption

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By

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Friday, November 6, 2020

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s spending watchdog warned Friday that there is likely to be “significant disruption” to trade with the European Union at the start of next year even if a trade deal between the two sides is agreed in time.

The National Audit Office, which assesses government spending, noted that crucial IT systems and transit areas for trucks are not yet ready to deal with the upcoming change in the economic relationship between the U.K. and the EU.

It did find some progress in the implementation of the changes required to systems, infrastructure and resources even though they have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Though the U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31, it is in a transition period that sees it remain within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of this year. A trade deal would ensure there are no tariffs and quotas on trade in goods between the two sides, but there would still be technical costs, partly associated with customs checks and non-tariff barriers on services. Progress this year has been slow and time is running out.

“There is likely to be significant disruption at the border from January 1 as many traders and third parties will not be ready for new EU controls,” the National Audit Office said in its latest assessment of border preparations.

According to the government’s latest “reasonable worst case planning assumptions”, between 40% and 70% of trucks transiting between the EU and the UK may not be ready for the new border controls come Jan. 1. It has also warned of queues of up to 7,000 trucks around the main sea crossings in southeast England.

The agency also highlighted concerns about the checks that will be required for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.

Under the Northern Ireland protocol, negotiated as part of last year’s Brexit deal, the region will follow some of the EU’s rules to allow freedom of movement of goods and services across the border with Ireland, which remains part of the EU.

UK-EU trade talks back on after bloc offers olive branch

UK-EU trade talks back on after bloc offers olive branch

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European Council President Charles Michel addresses the chamber on a report of last weeks EU summit during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP) more >

Print

By RAF CASERT and JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – Britain and the European Union will resume their stalled trade negotiations at an “intensified” pace, the British government said Wednesday, in hope of striking a deal within weeks to avoid a messy economic breakup at the end of he year.

The announcement came five days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the talks were over unless the bloc made a “fundamental” change of policy,

There is little sign that has happened. But Britain seized on conciliatory comments by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, saying they offered the chance of a breakthrough.

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Barnier has already agreed to “intensify” talks – a key U.K. demand – and to discuss the legal text of an agreement. On Wednesday he said compromise would be needed from both sides to get a deal.

That turned out to be the key. Britain has long complained that the EU expects it to make all the concessions.

Johnson’s office said that on the basis of Barnier’s words it was “ready to welcome the EU team to London to resume negotiations later this week” for “intensified” talks.

“It is clear that significant gaps remain between our positions in the most difficult areas, but we are ready, with the EU, to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks,” Downing St. said in a statement.

Barnier spokesman Daniel Ferrie said EU negotiators would travel to London on Thursday. The first chunk of negotiations is due to run through the weekend.

Barnier told the European Parliament that “despite the difficulties we’ve faced, an agreement is within reach if both sides are willing to work constructively, if they are willing to compromise.”

He also said that “the European Union’s attitude in this negotiation has in no way shifted and it will not shift.”

But Downing Street focused on Barnier’s words about compromise and his acknowledgement that a deal would have to respect the U.K.’s “sovereignty,” a key term for British Brexit supporters.

The two sides have been trying to strike a trade deal since the U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31. They must do so within weeks if an agreement is to be ratified by the end of the year, when a post-Brexit transition period ends.

Johnson’s about-face will reinforce suspicions that his walkout was a gesture designed to inject momentum into the sluggish talks.

The two sides have come close to agreement in many areas during months of fraught negotiations, though big gaps remain over fishing rights – highly symbolic for maritime nations on both sides – and rules to ensure common regulatory standards and fair competition.

The EU fears the U.K. will gain an unfair advantage by slashing food, workplace and environmental standards and pumping state money into businesses once it is free of the bloc’s rules.

The bloc also accuses Britain of seeking the kind of unfettered access to its markets usually reserved for EU members.

“The U.K. wants access to a single market while at the same time being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them,” European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament on Wednesday. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Britain accuses the bloc of seeking to impose demands that it has not placed on other countries it has free trade deals with, such as Canada.

If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel face tariffs and other obstacles to trade starting Jan. 1. British business groups warn that could mean border delays, soaring prices and shortages of some goods.

Barnier’s emollient tone contrasted with the combative stance of Michel, who said that if Britain wants vast access to the 27-member bloc’s markets, it will have to keep its waters open to EU fishermen, something the U.K. is refusing to do.

“Yes, we want to keep access to U.K. waters for our fishermen,” Michel said. “Exactly like the U.K., too, (wants) to keep access to our huge and diversified markets for its companies.”

EU leaders also remain angry over the U.K.’s plans to disregard some parts of the legally binding withdrawal agreement it signed with the bloc.

If passed, the Internal Market Bill will allow the British government to override parts agreement relating to trade with Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a border with the EU.

Johnson’s government says it needs the legislation as an insurance policy in case the EU behaves unreasonably after a post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31 and tries to impede the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The bloc sees it as a flagrant breach of an international treaty that could undermine the delicate foundations of Northern Ireland’s peace settlement, created by the 1998 Good Friday accord.

___

Jill Lawless reported from London.

___

Follow all AP stories about Brexit at https://apnews.com/hub/brexit

Brexit is back: UK aims to prepare public for Jan 1 EU break

Brexit is back: UK aims to prepare public for Jan 1 EU break

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust in London, Monday July 13, 2020. (Ben Stansall/Pool via AP) more >

Print

By DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Monday, July 13, 2020

LONDON (AP) – The British government told individuals and businesses Monday to get ready for new costs and red tape – but also an exciting “new start” – when the U.K. leaves the European Union’s economic embrace in less than six months.

The government unveiled details of new border arrangements and a major public information campaign to remind Britons that Brexit has not gone away, even though it has been knocked out of the headlines by the coronavirus pandemic.

Britain officially left the EU on Jan. 31, but remains inside the bloc’s economic orbit until the end of 2020.

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Advertisements under the “The U.K.’s new start: let’s get going” campaign will warn British tourists that starting Jan. 1 they’ll need to buy health insurance, arrange paperwork for their pets and check their telephone provider’s roaming policy when they travel to the EU.

Companies that do business with the 27-nation bloc – which accounts for about half of Britain’s trade – will have to fill in customs declarations and potentially pay tariffs, depending on the outcome of talks about a post-Brexit free-trade deal.

The British government has softened the blow for importers by saying they would not have to complete full customs declarations or pay tariffs for the first six months of next year.

Even with a deal, the U.K. will need a vast new customs and border infrastructure to deal with trade that has flowed unimpeded during the U.K.’s 47 years as a member of the European bloc. The government announced Monday that it plans to spend 705 million pounds ($890 million) on new border posts, computer systems and personnel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government says the burdens of Brexit will be offset by new economic opportunities as the U.K. strikes fresh trade deals around the world.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who is in charge of Brexit preparations, said the full break with the bloc “will herald changes and significant opportunities, for which we all need to prepare.”

Britain and the EU have given themselves until the end of the year to strike a deal on trade, security and a host of other issues.

But negotiations have bogged down amid wide differences on major issues including fishing rights and competition. Even with a deal, the U.K. faces new barriers to business with the EU. Without one, it faces an abrupt, disruptive departure that would hammer many businesses, and with the U.K. economy already hammered by COVID-19.

One major change will be the end of Britons’ freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU, and of Europeans’ right to settle in the U.K.

More than 3 million EU citizens currently living in the U.K. are entitled to stay. But from January 1, 2021, new immigration rules will apply to EU and non-EU citizens alike.

Britain is introducing a “points based” immigration system that will assess prospective immigrants on criteria including English-language ability, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.

The system is designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year, but also aims to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get U.K. visas.

Johnson said it would be “a humane and sensible system” that allows the U.K. to attract the best talent from around the globe.

“Although of course we are going to be taking back control and we are controlling our immigration system we’re not going to be simply slamming the gates and stopping anybody anywhere coming into this country,” he said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced new details of the system on Monday, including a special fast-track visa for health care workers.

Hundreds of thousands of people who work in Britain’s publicly funded National Health Service come from abroad, and many in the sector fear post-Brexit staff shortages.

The government said social care workers will not be eligible for the special health care visa. Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said “immigration is not the sole answer here” and that care homes should “invest more in training and development” to recruit more staff.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, accused the government of treating social care workers “as second-class citizens.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a member of the main opposition Labour Party, accused the government of “pulling up the drawbridge to much of the talent we continue to need as a city and a country.”

“Rushing through these proposals during the middle of a global pandemic is particularly irresponsible,” he said.

The new border rules announced Monday do not apply to trade between the EU and Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a land border with the bloc. Britain and the EU have agreed that Northern Ireland’s currently invisible border with the Republic of Ireland must be kept free of customs posts and other obstacles to the movement of people and goods to maintain peace on the Emerald Isle.

The U.K. has promised to set out exactly how it will do that later this month.

UK delays post-Brexit border checks as virus slams economy

UK delays post-Brexit border checks as virus slams economy

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FILE – In this file photo dated Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, lorries leave after disembarking a ferry as others wait to board on the morning after Brexit took place at the Port of Dover in Dover, England. The British government … more >

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By JILL LAWLESS and SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

LONDON (AP) – The British government said Friday it will delay bringing in full border checks on goods coming from the European Union to relieve pressure on businesses hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. But the U.K. once again ruled out delaying its full economic break with the bloc beyond the end of this year.

The U.K. left the now-27-nation bloc on Jan. 31, but remains part of its single market for trade and other economic structures during a transition period that lasts until Dec. 31. After that, British firms trading with the EU will face customs checks, border inspections and – unless there is a free trade deal – tariffs.

The bloc is the U.K.’s biggest economic partner, accounting for about half of Britain’s trade. In February the U.K. government announced that goods coming from the EU would require inspections and customs declarations starting in January.

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But on Friday the government said border checks would be introduced in stages. Importers of most goods will be able to delay submitting customs declarations or paying tariffs for up to six months, though they will have to keep customs records. From July 2021, traders will have to make full declarations and pay tariffs at the point of importation.

The government estimates that businesses will have to fill out 200 million new customs forms a year under the new rules.

The government also announced 50 million pounds ($63 million) to help set up a huge new border industry to deal with trade red tape, including customs brokers and freight forwarders. The U.K. says it will build new customs and border facilities for all the checks – a process that has been set back by the pandemic.

Britain’s economy is already reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Office for National Statistics said Friday that economic activity shrank by 20.4% in April, the first full month after a nationwide lockdown was introduced to slow the spread of the virus.

All areas of the economy were hit during the month, in particular pubs, education, health and car sales. The month-on-month decline was unprecedented and, adding the still substantial 5.8% decline in March, means the U.K. economy is around 25% smaller than it was in February.

The U.K. and the bloc are trying to negotiate a free trade deal to kick in after that, but talks have stalled amid wide differences over key issues, from fishing rights to competition rules.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to hold talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and other top officials of the bloc by video call on Monday in a bid to break the impasse in trade talks.

Britain has firmly ruled out seeking an extension to the transition period, which was permitted under a U.K.-EU divorce agreement, raising the prospect of a “no-deal exit that many British businesses say could be devastating.

EU commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said Britain’s Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit preparations ‘’could not be clearer” there would not be an extension although the EU was ready to grant one. Sefcovic and Gove co-chaired an EU-U.K. joint committee meeting on Friday.

“He explained that this was the promise which was given to the British citizens in the electoral campaign, and also Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson was very explicit on this issue,” Sefcovic said.

Gove said: “We have informed the EU today that we will not extend the transition period.”

Opposition politicians in Britain condemned the government’s refusal to seek an extension. The leaders of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, said in a letter to Johnson that “exiting the transition period at the end of the year would be extraordinarily reckless.”

Speaking during a press conference, Sefcovic said some positive results were achieved during Friday’s meeting but insisted there was still lots of work to do.

Asked about the border checks, Sefcovic said the EU is determined to protect its single market, customs union and financial interests.

He said Britain had yet to provide details about how it would implement an agreement between the two sides to ensure that the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland was kept free of customs posts and other barriers.

The agreement effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s customs territory and will require some checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. – a politically sensitive issue that the British government is reluctant to discuss.

“We need to move from aspiration to operation and fast,” Sefcovic said.

___

Petrequin reported from Brussels.

___

Follow AP’s Brexit coverage: https://apnews.com/Brexit

Fore! English golf courses reopen in modest lockdown easing

Fore! English golf courses reopen in modest lockdown easing

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By Pan Pylas

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The sound of a crisply struck golf ball could be heard in England for the first time in nearly two months as courses reopened Wednesday as part of some modest easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

People in England are allowed to exercise more than once a day and with one person from outside their household, provided they remain two meters (around 6.5 feet) apart. Golf courses, outdoor tennis and basketball courts can reopen, and swimming is once again allowed in lakes, rivers and the sea. And those who want to go fishing can do so, too.

As well as the easing of some sporting restrictions, stores selling gardening supplies can reopen, while potential house buyers or renters can once again visit properties in person. And those people who can’t work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, are being encouraged to return to their place of work if they can do so safely.

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The lifting of some restrictions, first announced by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, applies only in England. The semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are going more slowly and sticking with the “Stay Home” message.

The four parts of the U.K. have moved as one during the lockdown, which has been in place since March 23, but are starting to take different approaches during the easing phase.

Johnson justified the modest easing on the grounds that Britain has passed the peak of the outbreak. Over a seven-day rolling average, the U.K.’s daily death toll has fallen over the past month. The U.K. has officially recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, more than 32,000, a toll second only to the United States.

Critics of the U.K. government say the changes to the lockdown, spelled out in a 50-page document, are confusing and potentially dangerous – especially when it comes to returning to work. The government says people should try to return to workplaces if they can’t work from home, but should avoid using public transit if possible.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government would have to take steps if too many people packed onto buses and subways.

“We are asking people to be very sensible and not flood back to public transport,” he told Sky News. “Even with all the trains and buses back to running when they are, there will not be enough space.”

London’s Waterloo Station appeared to remain quiet during rush-hour on Wednesday morning, with only around 20 people on the main concourse at any one time.

The changes in the guidelines have also caused some confusion beyond work-related issues, as people can’t visit their relatives or friends at their homes while still being able to put in a bid to buy a home.

Fines for those who break the rules have been increased as part of a carrot-and-stick approach designed to ensure that people operate within the guidelines.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would “continue to use common sense and discretion” in policing the new rules.

“The efforts of the public mean police officers have rarely had to enforce the government regulations so far,” he said. “I am confident the vast majority will continue to do their bit and follow guidance in this next stage.”