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EU offers to scrap 80% of Northern Ireland food checks but prepares for Johnson to reject deal

Northern Ireland

EU offers to scrap 80% of Northern Ireland food checks but prepares for Johnson to reject deal

The EU will scrap 80% of checks on foods entering Northern Ireland from Britain but Brussels officials were “preparing for the worst” amid signs Boris Johnson is set to reject the terms of the deal.

Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, also announced that customs checks on manufactured goods would be halved as part of a significant concession to ease post-Brexit border problems.

He said he would meet David Frost, his UK counterpart who has demanded a scrapping of the entire Northern Ireland protocol, on Friday as he sought to bring an end to a month-long tussle.

“I hope with a constructive spirit we indeed could be in the home stretch, and I would be very happy if we can start the new year with new agreements,” Šefčovič told a press conference in Brussels as he presented four papers on his “new model” for the protocol.

An appeal was made for pragmatism from Johnson, with Šefčovič insistent that he remained positive. But the chances of a compromise appeared low.

Frost told the House of Lords he did not have any “red lines” going into the new negotiation with the European commission but repeated his belief that a new protocol should be agreed without a role for the European court of justice (ECJ) as an arbiter of EU law in Northern Ireland. He told peers that the question of the UK’s sovereignty over Northern Ireland was “fundamental”.

A three-week deadline for talks on the EU’s new proposals has been set. But Šefčovič was adamant the EU would not renegotiate the fundamentals of the protocol which keeps Northern Ireland within the single market, policed by the ECJ, and draws a customs border down the Irish Sea.

Šefčovič said: “It’s very clear that we cannot have access to the single market without the supervision of the ECJ. But I think that we should really put aside this business of the red lines, the business of deadlines, real or artificial, and we should really focus on what we hear from the stakeholders and the people in Northern Ireland, they want us to solve the practical issues.”

An EU official conceded there was a “very big gap” between Frost’s demands and the proposals on the table. “Primarily, it’s a call for the UK to be realistic,” the official said. “Focus on providing certainty, stability and predictability rather than focus on these high-level constitutional issues.

“We think that renegotiating the protocol would create uncertainty. And that’s the opposite of what we need … There’s a reason why negotiations on the protocol lasted for three and a half years. And we think we’ve reached the only workable solution.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We are studying the detail and will of course, look at them seriously and constructively. The next step should be intensive talks on both our sets of proposals, rapidly conducted, to determine whether there is common ground to find a solution.

“Significant changes which tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the protocol, including governance, must be made if we are to agree a durable settlement which commands support in Northern Ireland.”

The EU proposals on goods and medicines represents a significant concession for Brussels, which had previously called for the UK to align with the bloc’s food and plant health rules to avoid checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

While the EU continues to say checks and controls in the Irish Sea border are necessary to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and represent the Brexit choices made by the British government, officials admitted more clearly than ever before that its implementation had created “unintended consequences” for businesses and consumers. “It goes far beyond tinkering around the edges,” said one official.

The EU is now proposing a “bespoke Northern Ireland specific solution”. This means checks would be removed on 80% of lines on supermarket shelves, with carefully labelled and sourced British sausages, the product that became emblematic of the row between the two sides, no longer at risk of being prohibited.

In a further concession, trucks carrying mixed loads – for example a lorry bound for a Northern Irish supermarket laden with meat, dairy and confectionery – would only have to provide one health certificate for each journey rather than one for each product line.

Customs paperwork will be hugely reduced through a more generous definition of goods deemed “not at risk” of entering the EU single market via the Irish border.

In exchange for looser controls, the UK will have to ensure border inspection posts are up and running and that EU officials have access to real-time data on checks.

These are existing requirements of the protocol and EU officials say they have seen progress on access to databases, having previously accused the UK of foot-dragging.

Some market checks will also be intensified to prevent British goods being smuggled into the EU single market through Northern Ireland. Products for the Northern Irish market would have to carry individual labels, rather than labels on pallets.

“We are proposing a different model,” said an EU official. “Fewer checks on the one hand, but more guarantees in terms of governance, more market surveillance and for this reason reinforced monitoring of supply chains will also be essential.”

However, in Westminster there is a concern that the market surveillance and checks on sources of products will be as much of a problem for traders as the status quo. There was no solution contained within Šefčovič’s proposals to the issue of pets travelling from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK and back.

In response to threats to affordability and availability of generic medicines in Northern Ireland, the EU will waive a requirement that medical manufacturers move out of Great Britain into Northern Ireland. Companies supplying the Northern Irish market can continue to have their supply “hub” in Britain, a privilege not usually afforded to countries outside the EU single market.

Following criticism that the protocol is “undemocratic”, the Northern Ireland assembly, civil society groups and businesses will be invited to take part in “structured dialogues” with the European commission on implementing the hundreds of EU laws that apply in the region, although they will not have any decision-making power.

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Business

British pound plunges to new low as tax cuts spark concern

British pound plunges to new low as tax cuts spark concern

The British pound fell to all-time low against the U.S. dollar early Monday after Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng pledged a sweeping package of tax cuts, fueling concerns about the government’s economic policy as the United Kingdom creeps toward recession.

The pound fell as low as $1.0373, before rallying to $1.0672 in early London trading. It was its lowest level since the decimalization of the currency in 1971.

The British currency has lost more than 5% of its value against the dollar since Friday, when Kwarteng announced the biggest tax cuts in 50 years. It comes as the government plans to spend billions of pounds to help consumers and businesses struggling with high energy bills that are driving a cost-of-living crisis. The combination sparked investor concern about spiraling government debt.

Kwarteng and Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took office three weeks ago, are betting that lower taxes and reduced bureaucracy will spur economic growth and generate enough additional tax revenue to cover government spending. Economists suggest it is unlikely the gamble will pay off.

Opposition Labour Party economy spokeswoman Rachel Reeves said Kwarteng had “fanned the flames” of instability by talking up more tax cuts and said the government’s policies were “reckless.”

When grilled about his economic policy Sunday, Kwarteng said he believed the government was acting responsibly.

“There’s more to come,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it is the British people that are going to drive this economy.”

As it is cutting taxes, the government plans to cap electricity and natural gas prices for homes and businesses to help cushion price rises that have been triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and have sent inflation to near a 40-year high of 9.9%.

This program will cost 60 billion pounds, and the government will borrow to finance it, Kwarteng said Friday.

He said Sunday that it was the right policy because the government needed to help consumers squeezed by the unprecedented pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain can afford the cost because its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is the second lowest among the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Kwarteng said. In the coming months, the government will announce plans for reducing the nation’s debt, he said.

When grilled about his economic policy Sunday, Kwarteng said he believed the government was acting responsibly.

“There’s more to come,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it is the British people that are going to drive this economy.”

As it is cutting taxes, the government plans to cap electricity and natural gas prices for homes and businesses to help cushion price rises that have been triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and have sent inflation to near a 40-year high of 9.9%.

This program will cost 60 billion pounds, and the government will borrow to finance it, Kwarteng said Friday.

He said Sunday that it was the right policy because the government needed to help consumers squeezed by the unprecedented pressures caused by the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain can afford the cost because its debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is the second lowest among the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Kwarteng said. In the coming months, the government will announce plans for reducing the nation’s debt, he said.

“Obviously, I will be setting out plans for the medium-term fiscal plan, as we’re calling it, that will show that we’re committed to net debt-to-GDP to be falling over time,” Kwarteng said.

The pound’s decline against the dollar also has been fueled by the Bank of England not keeping pace with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s efforts to rein in inflation. Britain’s central bank on Thursday raised interest rates by half a percentage point, compared with large three-quarter-point increase by the Fed last week. But U.K. inflation is the highest among major economies, and the bank has predicted a recession later in the year.

While the pound’s slide has accelerated in recent days, the currency has fallen steadily against the dollar for more than a year as investors sought the security of U.S. assets amid the economic shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The British currency has dropped more than 24% against the dollar since its recent peak of $1.4181 on May 27, 2021.

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37 firms get licences to produce 762.3MW

37 firms get licences to produce 762.3MW

Fresh licenses and permits have been issued to 37 companies to produce a total of 762.3 megawatts of electricity in order to boost power supply across the country, data obtained from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission showed.

An analysis of the commission’s latest Fourth Quarter 2021 Report on Sunday also indicated that the metering of power users dropped by 71.86 per cent when compared to the number of those who were metered by power distribution companies in the preceding quarter.

In the new report, the NERC said, “The commission approved the issuance of four new generation licenses with a total nameplate capacity of 508.5MW and the renewal of two existing licences in 2021/Q4.

“The commission also granted an aggregate capacity of 253.75MW captive power generation permit to eight companies and approved 25 mini-grid permits.”

It stated that 46 metering service providers consisting of 17 installers, 15 manufactures, two vendors and 12 importers were also approved by the commission in 2021/Q4

“The commission granted a total of 85 licenses and permits in 2021/Q4,” the report stated.

On metering, it stated that the huge metering gap for end-use customers was still a key challenge in the industry.

“A total of 81,084 meters were installed in 2021/Q4, as compared to the 288,154 meters installed in 2021/Q3,” the NERC stated.

Providing an explanation for this, it said, “The reduction in the number of meter installations in 2021/Q4 was largely driven by the winding down of the NMMP (National Mass Metering Programme) phase zero.

“The commission’s records indicate that, of the 10,514,582 registered energy customers as at December 2021, only 4,773,217 (45.40 per cent) have been metered compared to 42.93 per cent metering as at September 2021.”

It, however, stated that as a safeguard against overbilling of unmetered customers via estimation, the commission had set maximum limits to the amount of energy (energy caps in kWh) that might be billed to unmetered customers.

“The cap for each customer is set based on the customer category, consumption of metered customers on the same feeder and the customer’s tariff band.” the NERC stated.

It added, “The caps are computed based on three-month data of actual consumption records of metered customers on the same feeder.”

On customer complaints, the regulator stated that in 2021/Q4, cumulatively, the Discos received 222,639 complaints from consumers, as this was 24,479 (-9.91 per cent) less complaints than those received in 2021/Q3.

“In total, the Discos resolved 212,382 complaints corresponding to a 95.39 per cent resolution rate. Metering, billing, and service interruption were the prevalent sources of customer complaints, accounting for 58.83 per cent of the total complaints during the quarter,” it stated.

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Ethiopian Airlines Wins Bid For Nigeria Air

The Federal Government has selected the Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium as preferred bidder for Nigeria Air.

Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika disclosed this in a media briefing on Friday in Abuja.

He said ET scored 89 percent out of 100 as regards the technical bid and 15 out 20 as regards financial bid.

Mr Sirika said the Request for Proposal (RFP) under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Act, governed by Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC) regarding the Nigeria Air was now completed.

He said, “After a careful, detailed and ICRC governed selection process, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Consortium has been selected as preferred bidder, offering an owner consortium of 3 Nigerian investors.

“The Nigerian investors are MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Sovereign Fund (46%), FGN owning 5% and ET 49%. The consortium has been subject to a due diligence process.

“The contract will be negotiated between consortium and FGN leading to a Full Business Case (FBC) which will be expected to be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). We expect this process to take 6-8 weeks.”

The minister said the national carrier would be launched with three Boeing 737-800 in a configuration very suitable for the Nigerian market.

Mr Sirika said Nigeria Air will be launched with a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos to establish a new comfortable, reliable and affordable travel between the two major Nigerian Airports.

“The first aircraft is ready to arrive in Abuja for the further work and NCAA inspection, demo flights and audit as part of the AOC requirements.

“In time, two others will arrive to complete the required three aircraft for a new AOC holder. The interim executive team has prepared, with the support of FAAN.

“The team has arranged for Terminal C at the Abuja Airport and finalised a contract with MMA 2 terminal in Lagos, for the operation of an initial shuttle between Lagos and Abuja,” he said.

The Operations Control Centre (OCC) at the Abuja Airport would act as Headquarters of the airline.

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