• Barnier ‘failing to make himself available for Brexit talks’: Despite the EU negotiator’s claims that he was available “24-7” for talks, Barnier was said to have been resistant to requests for lengthy meetings with Raab to discuss the details of the UK’s proposals, hammered out at Chequers. The British cabinet minister was granted only a two-hour meeting with Barnier last week, and was initially offered only a three-hour slot this Friday, due to the former French minister’s diary constraints, the Guardian has learned. The two sides pledged earlier this summer to have continuous Brexit talks in the final stage of the negotiations, with Barnier insisting a deal needed to be struck by “the beginning of November, but not much later than that”. The tension in the talks has been exacerbated by a lack of progress in the negotiations last week, despite claims by both sides that the discussions had been “positive”. The Guardian has learned that discussions over Northern Ireland proved to be some of the most difficult yet, with both sides digging in. Irish government officials, briefed on the meeting, were told that the UK side had insisted that progress on avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland could not be made unless there was progress on Chequers. The EU, in turn, repeated that the British government needed to live up to the commitments it made on an “all-weather” solution to avoiding a hard border through a backstop solution in the withdrawal agreement, which would snap into place if a wider deal or bespoke technological solution did not solve the problem. (The Guardian)
  • No-deal Brexit: Plan to maintain medicine supplies ‘could cost £2bn’: The health secretary’s plan to set aside six weeks’ worth of vital medicines to avoid supply disruptions in the event of a no-deal Brexit could cost up to £2bn, campaign group Best for Britain warns today. Matt Hancock wrote to healthcare providers last week, saying the government would set in motion plans to “ensure the UK has an additional six weeks’ supply of medicines in case imports from the EU through certain routes are affected”. Data collated by thinktank the King’s Fund earlier this year suggested the total drugs bill for the NHS in 2016-17 was £17.4bn. Best for Britain suggests that could make the cost of the temporary stockpile – which would presumably then be run down over future months – £2bn. Owen Smith, the former shadow Northern Ireland secretary and a supporter of Best for Britain, said: “I don’t remember anyone warning that Brexit would mean we’d have to stockpile drugs or that this would cost the NHS and taxpayers up to £2bn. Maybe they should have slapped that on the side of the bus. “Every day it seems as though there is another hidden cost being revealed.” (The Guardian)
  • Theresa May visits Nigeria as Brexit trade mission continues: Theresa May is visiting Nigeria on the second day of her trade mission to boost ties with Africa after Brexit. Mrs May will discuss security, trade and people trafficking with President Muhammadu Buhari before meeting victims of modern slavery in Lagos. Mrs May is travelling to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria – Britain’s second largest trading partner in Africa – for talks with President Buhari. She is expected to announce a new UK and French project to help Nigeria and Niger strengthen their borders to crack down on trafficking. Arriving in South Africa on Tuesday, Mrs May – who is accompanied by a team of business delegates – said she wanted the UK to overtake the US to become the G7’s biggest investor in Africa by 2022. On Thursday, she will finish her tour in Kenya, where she will hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta and attend a state dinner, visit a business school and meet British troops. (BBC)
  • No-deal Brexit is only alternative to Chequers plan, says Lidington: The Cabinet Office minister, David Lidington, has warned that relations between Britain and France are at “a fork in the road” – and the only alternative to the prime minister’s Chequers plan is a no-deal Brexit. Ministers are concerned the French government remains deeply sceptical about the approach spelled out in its July white paper, prompting Theresa May to fly to Emmanuel Macron’s holiday home earlier this month to try to win the president over. In a speech delivered to French business leaders on Wednesday afternoon, Lidington, who in effect serves as May’s deputy, warned it was too late to go back to the drawing board. Lidington underlined the “hard-fought compromise” made to reach the government’s current position – including the resignation of two cabinet ministers – and said “the alternative models do not meet the level of ambition or the outcome we all want to see delivered”. He added: “We understand that the EU is concerned that we could lower our standards to gain a competitive advantage. But these concerns are completely unfounded. Like France, we view economic growth, consumer and worker protection and sustainable development as going together hand in hand, not as trade-offs.” The Chequers plan is causing considerable anxiety among Conservative MPs, who fear that a close continuing relationship with the EU, alongside the £40bn exit bill, will smack of backsliding to Leave voters. (The Guardian)
  • Pound rallies after Barnier touts post-Brexit ‘partnership’: Sterling shot higher on Wednesday after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier indicated that he was close to offering the UK a deal. “We are prepared to offer a partnership with Britain such as has never been with any other third country,” Mr Barnier was quoted by Reuters as saying. He added, however, that the UK “must respect” core structures of the EU such as the single market. “Single market means single market,” he said, adding that “this is not negotiable.” Sterling popped 0.6 per cent higher on the news, to around $1.2950. UK government bonds fell back, also suggesting that traders perceive this as a dose of positive news for the UK economy. (Financial Times)