The Irish backstop, far from preventing a hard border post-Brexit, will create one if not amended, Conservative MEPs' leader Ashley Fox warned the European Parliament this afternoon.

Speaking in a set piece debate to discuss last night's votes in Westminster, Mr Fox urged the European Union to engage constructively with the Prime Minister to amend the Withdrawal Agreement and secure the approval of MPs.

He said: "There is now a clearer road ahead – if we choose to take it.

"My government and the House of Commons want to leave the EU in an orderly manner and with a deal. And to achieve that we need to amend how the Protocol on Northern Ireland operates.

"We must do all we can to support the Good Friday Agreement. But it is a paradox that the backstop, whose purpose is to avoid a hard border, may – in just 58 days time – be the cause of creating such a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"It is simply not good enough to repeat ad nauseam that the deal cannot be amended. That leads to no deal. And that leads, as the Commission confirmed last week, to a hard border."

Mr Fox pointed out that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that in the event of a no deal the bloc would find an alternative "operational way to carry out checks and controls without putting back in place a border."

He added: "Let us look at that now. Let us consider whether time limits and exit mechanisms offer a solution. Let us proceed with goodwill, remembering that flexibility and generosity are not signs of weakness but of strength.

"At stake is the future partnership between the EU and the UK. Let us ensure that we can construct a long term relationship to promote our common values and our shared interests in an uncertain world.

"Let us find a way to move forward together."

Politically motivated recommendations to overhaul the way pesticides are authorised for use in the European Union were opposed by Conservative MEPs today.

The European Parliament's special committee on pesticides is proposing that many powers to licence products are removed from member states and centralised in Brussels, despite hearing from experts that the present system works well.

It is also calling for the decision to re-licence the world's most popular weed killer Glyphosate to be re-assessed, just 12 months after the substance was declared as safe for use and approved for the European market.

Conservative Agriculture Spokesman Anthea McIntyre said the report included discredited assertions simply "to provide a platform for campaigning MEPs ahead of the European elections in May."

She told the Parliament in Strasbourg: "The EU approval process for plant protection products is one of the most stringent systems in the world, yet to read the committee's report you really wouldn't think so. It has been prepared in a very selective manner with many expert contributions being intentionally disregarded.

"The report is very disappointing and reflects poorly on our institution. We   should be supporting a fact-based approach to policy making."

Miss McIntyre believes the current system could be improved by increasing transparency, supporting new farming techniques to reduce pesticide use and encouraging the development of novel substances which would make older, more persistent chemicals obsolete.

She added: "The Commission, EU regulatory agencies, Member State authorities and Greenpeace all gave evidence to the committee and said it was not flaws in the legislation that needed to be addressed. Instead they argued that improvements were required in its implementation.

"The committee has a duty to reflect the expert testimony, even when this may be inconvenient for some political groups and campaigners. But it has singularly failed to do so."

The report was approved today by Parliament. It has no legal authority but is likely to inform future decision making on the approval and authorisation process for pesticides.

 

New rules approved today by MEPs risk undermining existing rail passenger rights in the UK, Conservative Transport Spokesman Jacqueline Foster MEP has warned.

The measures threaten current compensation schemes by making it easier for train companies to avoid paying out for delayed or cancelled services. The report also calls for "service animals" such as guide dogs to be certified before being allowed on trains, introducing new and unnecessary bureaucracy.  

Mrs Foster, Deputy Leader of Conservative MEPs, said: "Whilst we always welcome improvements to passengers' rights, I have serious concerns about some proposals which will confuse passengers with reduced mobility, complicate compensation schemes and tie the hands of rail companies."

"The UK currently has a successful compensation scheme which passengers understand. However, these new measures complicate those rules by potentially allowing companies to pass the buck and confuse passengers who are trying to claim compensation.

"I am deeply concerned about requirements for service animals, like guide dogs, to be certified before they are allowed on trains. The new rules also confuse the notice period for passengers' who require assistance. If these rules are meant to improve access for disabled passengers they shouldn't be making it more bureaucratic and complicated for them to travel."

A requirement for all trains to have eight designated spaces for bicycles would also be imposed under the EU rules. This would likely require some British rail companies to buy new rolling stock to meet the rule and prevent them from prioritising seats over bikes on busier services. They would also have to conduct a "meaningful and proper consultation" before cancelling any service, making it impossible for companies to cope with sudden emergencies.

Mrs Foster added: "We all want to see a greater use of bicycles, but requiring all services to have space for eight bikes risks making busier services overcrowded. The rules should be flexible allowing for rail companies to prioritise seats over bikes when it's likely to be busy.

"Rail companies also need the ability to quickly cancel or delay services if there is a sudden emergency. The EU's call for a 'meaningful and proper consultation' beforehand simply won't be possible in some scenarios and common sense should kick in. When the rail track was washed away by a storm in Devon a few years ago the rail company could not be expected to consult before cancelling its services."

 

 

The EU must have a close security partnership with the UK after Brexit to fight terrorism, the European Parliament's Special Committee on Terrorism has concluded.

The Special Committee's final report, which was agreed late last night, says it is "crucial to ensure a continuation of the mutual security cooperation and exchange of information between the EU and the UK post-Brexit" in any future agreement. The committee has spent the last year examining ways in which it might improve the EU's response to the recent wave of attacks across Europe and its recommendations will now be voted on by the European Parliament in December.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, Vice-Chairman of the committee and the only British member, said: "If the EU is serious about strengthening its measures to combat terrorism, then it must match the UK's ambition for our future security relationship. Otherwise, instead of stepping up its efforts it will have taken a step backwards.

"I am pleased that MEPs have recognised Britain's expertise and capabilities in counter-terrorism and called for a close security partnership after Brexit. It is in our mutual interest that we come up with a strategy to cover the whole of Europe, not just the EU."

Mr Van Orden, who is also Conservative Security and Defence Spokesman, added: "This report is advisory, but it makes some useful proposals for strengthening efforts in the fight against terrorism. It's vital that countries work together, sharing best practice and information so that we can tackle radicalisation at home and prevent terrorist attacks by foreign nationals."

 

 

Conservative MEPs' leader Ashley Fox has issued the following statement in response to today's European Court of Justice ruling on the long running case involving James Dyson:

Conservative Industry Spokesman, Ashley Fox MEP, who helped shape EU legislation on energy labelling, welcomed today's ruling.

He said:  "We drew up the rules to ensure consumers are able to make informed choices about the products they buy.

"In the case of vacuum cleaners, the European Commission has been aware since 2014 of concerns that its testing methods do not accurately reflect the energy use of vacuum cleaners.

"It's a shame that it has taken four years – and James Dyson's dogged persistence - to prove this is the case and that countless consumers have potentially been misinformed. The Commission must now urgently design new tests that properly inform shoppers, promote a reduction in energy use and are fair to innovative entrepreneurs like Mr Dyson."