Boris Johnson. File
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday his government would iron out what he described “technical issues” with the European Union over post-Brexit trade.
Asked about an article in which his Brexit adviser David Frost says the EU should “shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving”.
“I think this is one of those issues we were always bound to have in the early stages of our new relationship with our friends in the EU and the various technical issues that we are going to iron out,” he told reporters.
“I am full of optimism about the future and the partnership that we are building.” Boris Johnson expressed his gratitude on Sunday to health workers, responding to criticism over his government’s pay proposal by saying he had tried to give the service as much as he could.
Johnson, who himself was treated in hospital last year when he became severely ill with COVID-19, has come under fire for failing to meet his promise to look after health workers who have been fighting a coronavirus pandemic for more than a year by proposing a 1% pay increase for the National Health Service.
Earlier, Britain’s opposition Labour Party stepped up its criticism of the government’s budget, calling the pay offer to health workers “reprehensible” and pledging to vote against its freeze on income tax thresholds.
But Johnson defended his government by saying it was investing in the National Health Service and that “we have tried to give the NHS as much as we possibly can”.
Last week, his government set out its plans to help the economy weather the COVID-19 crisis, with finance minister Rishi Sunak promising to do “whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses”.
And while Johnson enjoys a large majority in the lower house of parliament, his Conservative government’s plans have come under fire for what some say is its targeting of lower- and middle-income earners and not being generous enough to health workers, after a year of battling the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson, who was the face of Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, promoted what has become a disputed promise that Brexit would free up an extra 350 million pounds a week for the NHS.
But in the budget, the government proposed the 1% pay rise for NHS workers, an offer one nurses union, the Royal College of Nursing, called “pitiful” and has threatened to strike over.
Labour, which is flagging in opinion polls despite criticism of Johnson’s uneven handling of the pandemic, has called on the government to stand by what it said was an earlier commitment to hand NHS workers a 2.1% pay increase.
“The government is not planning a pay rise...That is a real terms pay cut because it doesn’t keep pace with inflation, which is just reprehensible in our view,” Nandy told Sky News.
“In the NHS long-term plan the government budgeted for a 2.1 per cent pay rise, that is what nurses were promised.”
She also said the party would vote against a freeze on income tax levels because “we think that now is absolutely the wrong time to be targeting low- and middle-income earning families for tax hikes and squeezing their incomes”.
Sunak has said the freeze is part of an approach to start fixing the public finances as he looks for ways to raise funds following unprecedented measures to support jobs and the economy during the pandemic.
Government ministers have also said that the pay proposal for NHS workers is what is affordable.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the government was investing large amounts of money into the NHS, showing “we recognise the vitally important role the NHS plays”.
The European Union should shake off its ill will and build a good relationship with Britain as sovereign equals, Britain’s top EU adviser David Frost said on Sunday, promising to stand up for the country’s interests. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Frost again defended Britain’s unilateral move to smooth post-Brexit trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, over which the EU has promised to launch legal action for breaching the terms of the Brexit deal.
Since Britain left the EU last year, relations between the two have soured, with both sides accusing the other of acting in bad faith in relation to part of their trade agreement that covers goods movements to Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has tried to keep his distance from the row, said Britain and the EU would iron out what he described as “technical issues”, saying such issues were bound to happen “in the early stages of our new relationship”.
Frost, who led Britain’s negotiations to secure a trade deal with the bloc, was appointed as a minister and Johnson’s main point man for future ties with the EU earlier this year and looks set to take a firmer approach.
“I hope they will shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship, between sovereign equals,” he wrote in an opinion piece.
“That is what I will be working towards, acting constructively when we can, standing up for our interests when we must - as a sovereign country in full control of our own destiny.”
The majority of British firms have faced disruption with trade with the European Union since Brexit, with many expecting the problem to last for some time, according to a survey published on Saturday.
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