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The UK will seek to renegotiate with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol

   News / 22 Jul 2021

Published: 22 July 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The UK will seek to renegotiate with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol and agree a "standstill period" while it hammers out the finer points, officials said yesterday in parliament, in contrast to earlier information released into the public domain. On Monday, chief negotiator David Frost told MPs that the current agreement was not sustainable and if an agreement could not be reached the UK would consider action through Article 16, which allows the EU or UK to unilaterally suspend aspects of its operations if either side considers that aspect to be causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. Yesterday’s statement confirms the UK will not yet invoke Article 16 but seek to rework a relationship currently "built on mistrust".
The British Retail Consortium has told the government it needs to "act fast" and allow fully vaccinated retail workers or those who had tested negative for Covid to go to work. Shops are facing increasing pressure as they try to keep shelves stocked, with rising numbers of staff self-isolating. Iceland is having to recruit 2,000 temporary staff to cover absences. However, the government is currently still saying that it is crucial people isolate when asked do so to stop the spread of the virus.
Sky News has seen a letter signed by trade associations including the CBI, Make UK and the British Chambers of Commerce which expresses frustration at the continued challenge facing British businesses. The letter, sent to the PM yesterday, says fully vaccinated passengers from the US should be given the same quarantine exemptions as British citizens returning home in a bid to revive transatlantic trade. "If this action is taken, albeit at the last possible minute, this government will have shown decisive action supporting businesses across the country, protecting thousands of jobs reliant on international travel and setting Britain on the right footing to flourish post-lockdown," the letter said. The intervention, which comes ahead of the end of the Treasury's furlough scheme, also warned that businesses reliant on international travel "simply cannot survive a second lost summer".
Following a review of its diversity and inclusion efforts, the Bank of England has found that there are still “material disparities between the collective lived experiences, career opportunities and outcomes of minority ethnic and white colleagues” and that the bank is witnessing "slower-than-expected progress" in its efforts to diversity its workforce. The review was launched in response to feedback from the Bank’s Ethnic Minorities Network and in recognition that the bank had not yet made sufficient progress on the ethnic diversity and inclusion. The central bank has now set new targets for the end of February 2028 for: - 

  • 18-20% of senior managers to be black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME)
  • 40-44% of senior managers to be female
  • 20% of new appointments at executive director and director level to be BAME
  • Gender parity on new appointments at executive director and director level
  • 10% of graduate intake to be black (including mixed)
  • 5% of managers and above to be black (including mixed)

The Royal Mint has returned to annual profit following an increased demand for precious metals during the pandemic, which promoted a surge in prices. The government-owned mint, based outside Cardiff, reported a pre-tax profit of £12.4m during the year to 31 March compared with losses of £0.2m over the previous 12 months. Revenue rose 85% to just shy of £1.1bn.
British Gas owner Centrica has swung back into profit this year as the company enjoyed the benefits of a spike in global energy prices and completed the sale of its North American business, Direct Energy, for $3.6 billion (£2.3 billion). PA Media reports that the pre-tax profit of £907 million in the first six months of the year, compared to a £462 million pre-tax loss in the same period last year, came despite bosses revealing British Gas customer numbers continue to fall and the company seeing an increase in costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. In its British Gas division, which has struggled with fleeing customers as smaller rivals eat into the market, 114,000 gas and electricity customers switched supplier, with the company saying many chose to switch following a recent increase in the energy price cap.
London estate agent Foxtons confirmed yesterday that it is considering the sale of its mortgage broking business. Responding to press speculation, the company said: "Foxtons confirms that it is reviewing strategic options for Alexander Hall Associates, its mortgage broking business, which could include the potential sale of the business." Foxtons said a further announcement will be made if and when appropriate.
Shares in private equity firm Bridgepoint surged on their London Stock Exchange debut yesterday at one point jumping 21% to trade at as much as 423 pence per share. The initial offer was priced at 350 pence per share, giving the group a market cap of £2.9bn, the largest private equity listing in decades. Yahoo Finance UK comments that Bridgepoint's debut comes at a time when private equity deals are booming in the UK, as a spending spree has ensued. Most recently supermarket chain Morrisons was targeted by a number of US PE houses as a good acquisition. Private equity firms have been largely unaffected by volatility in equity markets brought about by uncertainties surrounding recovery from the pandemic, the financial news website says.
Global resources producer BHP is reportedly mulling how to extract itself from the oil and gas space while valuations are still supportive. A trade sale of its petroleum business was one of the options under consideration, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter. That unit was forecast to generate around 6% of the FTSE 100 firm’s profits during the current financial year ending on 30 June, or $2bn. One of those who spoke to Bloomberg said the assets might be worth approximately $15bn. Nonetheless, the deliberations were said to be at an early stage with no final decision having yet been adopted. The internal discussions come amid intense pressure on corporates worldwide to shift away from hydrocarbons and towards renewables.
Global miner Rio Tinto has promised to pay for an independent assessment of environmental damage caused by its Panguna mine in Bougainville 32 years after it fled the island as it descended into civil war. The move is in response to a claim from 156 residents of villages near the mine alleging that the FTSE 100 listed firm is accountable for more than one billion tonnes of mine waste dumped into the Kawerong-Jaba river delta which continues to cause catastrophic environmental damage and is putting their lives and livelihoods at risk. However, Rio Tinto has not yet committed to funding the mine clean-up, saying this will be the subject of further discussions after the assessment is completed.
Netflix has confirmed it is moving into video games, having reported the addition of just 1.5 million subscribers in the April-June quarter, the slowest growth for eight years. The streaming giant said games would be available for paying customers at no extra cost with an initial focus on games for mobile devices.
Bitcoin has jumped past $30,000 again as Elon Musk said Tesla is "most likely" to start accepting it as payment once more. The electric carmaker said in May it would no longer accept the cryptocurrency for purchases because of the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining, which uses huge amounts of electricity. Then yesterday, at the B Word cryptocurrency conference, Musk said he had been investigating fossil fuel usage in Bitcoin mining and that he would resume accepting it  provided “the percentage of renewable energy usage is…at or above 50%”.

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