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EU pauses legal action against UK over Northern Ireland protocol

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The European Commission has paused legal proceedings against the United Kingdom over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the hope that solutions can be found.

It comes after the UK government called for a “standstill period” in which the EU would not further legal action and the UK would also refrain from unilateral moves.

A European Commission spokesman said in a statement that “in order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March”.

Last week the UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, told the House of Commons there should be a “significant change” in the protocol and that “we cannot go on as we are”.

The commission said the pause in the legal action would be used to consider the UK’s proposals.

“We confirm our readiness to continue to engage with the United Kingdom, also on the suggestions made in the Command Paper, and to consider any proposals that respect the principles of the protocol,” the statement from the commission added.

The Irish Government has also said it will carefully consider the British proposals, which include suggestions that were raised and discussed during the negotiation process.

“We have received a constructive reply from the Commission in response to our request for a standstill on existing arrangements,” a British government spokeswoman said. “We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead to progress the proposals in our command paper.

“As we set out in the Command Paper last week, significant changes are needed to ensure the Pprotocol is sustainable for future”

Last week, Mr Frost suggested a tiered system in which goods produced for consumption in Northern Ireland only would not need to be inspected at Irish Sea crossing points, and that goods that were made to standards that equalled those of the EU should be able to circulate freely.

‘Impossible’ steps

Other proposals included abolishing export certification, state aid rules and the oversight of the European Court of Justice, encompassing several steps that are seen as impossible for EU capitals to agree to.

Both Brussels and Dublin are seen to be keen to cool the heat on the issue of Northern Ireland and encourage negotiations to find solutions for any problems through the pathways laid out by the withdrawal agreement and trade deal wherever possible.

The commission warned that it would not renegotiate the protocol, which was negotiated and agreed by both sides as a way to allow Britain to leave the single market and customs union while avoiding the need for checks across the island of Ireland.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson originally praised the deal as a “reasonable, fair outcome” and a “very good deal” for both sides, but his government has since said it has been implemented in a stricter manner than foreseen.

“The EU has sought flexible, practical solutions to overcome the difficulties citizens in Northern Ireland are experiencing regarding the implementation of the protocol – as demonstrated in the package of measures announced by the commission on June 30th,” a commission spokeswoman said.

“While the EU will not renegotiate the protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the protocol in a spirit of good faith and co-operation.”

It added that if was essential that “constructive discussions” continue in the coming weeks.

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Fraser to attend Oireachtas committee on Zappone controversy

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The State’s highest ranking civil servant will appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the circumstances around the now-scrapped appointment of Katherine Zappone as special envoy.

The secretary general of the Department of Taoiseach Martin Fraser will appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs next week.

Members of the committee are expected to ask Mr Fraser to explain in detail when precisely Ms Zappone’s name was communicated to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Controversy erupted in late July over an attempt by Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights.

On Monday, former minister Zappone turned down an invitation to appear before the committee to discuss the matter.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not aware of plans to appoint her before they came before Cabinet just before the summer recess.

Moreover, Fianna Fáil has disputed a claim from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s that Ms Zappone was named as a UN special envoy in a memo sent to the Taoiseach’s office the day before the Cabinet discussed the proposed appointment.

“The memo with the name of Katherine Zappone was in the Taoiseach’s office, the day before the Cabinet meeting,” Mr Varadkar said earlier this month.

“Notwithstanding that, Simon Coveney and I had a responsibility to flag that to him as a Minister, me as a leader in Government, there should be good faith and no surprises, and I’ve spoken the Taoiseach about that, and apologised.”

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath disputed this and said that an “under the arm memo” sent to the office of the Taoiseach the day before the Cabinet meeting on July 27th did not mention Ms Zappone.

Mr Fraser’s decision to appear before the committee means the controversy will continue into another week.

Mr Fraser, who has been secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach for a decade, is to move from Government Buildings late next year to become the Irish ambassador in London.

In mid-September, the Dáil voted confidence in Mr Coveney by 92 votes to 59.

Separately, Mr Varadkar has now sought to downplay reports of a “sting” operation arising from the Zappone affair, whereby a junior minister reportedly gave false information to a senior minister during a phone call, which then made its way to a journalist.

The Tánaiste said he had spoken with Patrick O’Donovan, reportedly the junior minister involved, but said he had not been shown text messages arising from the “sting” and that “there have been no confrontations” about it.

“He’s shown me no text messages or anything like that. This is an internal matter that will be dealt with within Fine Gael,” Mr Varadkar said. “I’m aware of what’s been reported and I’ve spoken to all the Fine Gael cabinet Ministers about this.”

Asked whether Ms Zappone should attend or otherwise respond to written questions from the Oireachtas committee, Mr Varadkar said it was a matter for her and the committee, arguing the Government had “moved on”.

Speaking in New York on Monday, the Taoiseach also sought to draw a line under the controversy, saying Ms Zappone was a “private citizen”. Mr Martin said: “As far as I’m concerned we’ve had enough debate about it now.”

“This was in effect, an under the arm memo which means it is brought to Cabinet on the morning of the Cabinet meeting itself and that was the first time that the name Katherine Zappone was with the Taoiseach and with all of the other Cabinet colleagues so that is certainly the case.”

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How much it costs to buy near new Nine Elms and Battersea tube stations

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Two new Underground stations opened this week – Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station.

But while the areas feature lots of new housing for London, people looking to move to there and jump on the Tube’s extended Northern Line will pay a hefty price tag.

The average price of a house in Nine Elms is £726,131, according to Zoopla, but they have got cheaper. This is a drop of more than 6 per cent on a year ago, the equivalent of £50,000. 

But that average price doubles to £1,501,091 once you narrow a buyer’s search area from the wider Nine Elms area to just the Nine Elms development site, which is the new housing just south of the River Thames. 

And there’s the opportunity to spend much more – among the three homes we found below in the location was a flat in Battersea Power Station for £16million.

A luxury penthouse high up on the eleventh and twelfth floors of Battersea Power Station is for sale for £16million with estate agent Copperstones - see more details below

A luxury penthouse high up on the eleventh and twelfth floors of Battersea Power Station is for sale for £16million with estate agent Copperstones – see more details below

Two new Underground stations have opened this week: One at Nine Elms and the other at Battersea Power Station

Two new Underground stations have opened this week: One at Nine Elms and the other at Battersea Power Station

Buyers looking at the Nine Elms development will need a typical budget of £1.5m, according to property website Zoopla

Buyers looking at the Nine Elms development will need a typical budget of £1.5m, according to property website Zoopla

Billions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the area in recent years, including through the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station.

The decommissioned coal-fired power station is now luxury flats and penthouses – while there has also been the building of a new US Embassy in Nine Elms.

Despite the recent falls in average house prices near the stations, property experts suggest that values will rise, at least in the surrounding areas.

Billions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the Nine Elms area in recent years, including through the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station

Billions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the Nine Elms area in recent years, including through the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station

Buying agent Henry Pryor said: ‘While some might expect the new stations to be full of people fleeing the Nightmare on Nine Elms Street, these new infrastructure nodes are really going to give the area a genuine lift.

‘Lower Chelsea and the area around Battersea Park may well see prices bumped up by as much as 10 per cent, even if many buyers in SW11 thought that they were high enough.’

We take a look at three properties for sale at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms 

1. Two-bed flat, Battersea Power Station, £1.15m

This luxury flat is close to the Battersea Power Station Underground station, which opened this week in London

This luxury flat is close to the Battersea Power Station Underground station, which opened this week in London

The modern property is on the market for £1.15million and is being sold via estate agents Martin & Co

The modern property is on the market for £1.15million and is being sold via estate agents Martin & Co

Inside, there is an open-plan living area with a fully-fitted kitchen, while outside there is a covered and tiled private balcony

Inside, there is an open-plan living area with a fully-fitted kitchen, while outside there is a covered and tiled private balcony

There are two bedrooms, including the main one boasting an en-suite shower room and room for a baby's cot

There are two bedrooms, including the main one boasting an en-suite shower room and room for a baby’s cot

There is also a smaller balcony at the rear of the flat that overlooks the railway tracks that carries commuters in and out of central London

There is also a smaller balcony at the rear of the flat that overlooks the railway tracks that carries commuters in and out of central London

This luxury two-bedroom flat is in the redeveloped Battersea Power Station and has an asking price of £1.15m.

It has an open-plan living area with a fully-fitted kitchen and a large private balcony.

Residents have access to a library, private cinema, communal gardens, a gym, swimming pool and a concierge service. The flat is being sold via estate agents Martin & Co.

2. Six-bed penthouse, Battersea Power Station, £16m

The modern interiors include designer crittall-style doors and walls, which are made from many panes of glass

The modern interiors include designer crittall-style doors and walls, which are made from many panes of glass

The property has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms - including this one with a cooper bath -, a roof terrace and two parking spaces

The property has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms – including this one with a cooper bath -, a roof terrace and two parking spaces

The penthouse boasts far-reaching views from the private balcony across the River Thames and towards the city

The penthouse boasts far-reaching views from the private balcony across the River Thames and towards the city

The London penthouse has a hefty price tag and is being sold via estate agents Copperstones for £16million

The London penthouse has a hefty price tag and is being sold via estate agents Copperstones for £16million

This luxury penthouse is on the eleventh and twelfth floors of Battersea Power Station, with views across the River Thames and the capital.

It has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a roof terrace and two parking spaces.

You’ll need deep pockets to buy it due to its £16million price tag. It is being sold by estate agents Copperstones.

3. Three-bedroom flat, Nine Elms, £3.95m

The three-bedroom flat is in the Ambassador Building in Nine Elms and has a light interior with walnut parquet flooring

The three-bedroom flat is in the Ambassador Building in Nine Elms and has a light interior with walnut parquet flooring

The luxury home has floor to ceiling windows and is being sold via estate agents Johns & Co with an asking price of £3.95m

The luxury home has floor to ceiling windows and is being sold via estate agents Johns & Co with an asking price of £3.95m 

The famous Sky Pool floats 10 storeys up between two skyscrapers at the Embassy Gardens development in London

The famous Sky Pool floats 10 storeys up between two skyscrapers at the Embassy Gardens development in London

This flat is in the Ambassador Building in Nine Elms at the Embassy Gardens development – home to the Sky Pool.

It is three bedrooms, walnut parquet flooring, marble work surfaces and floor to ceiling windows.

It has an asking price of £3.95m and is being sold via estate agents Johns & Co.

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What to expect in Budget 2022? Small tax cuts and modest welfare increases

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Public spending may have rocketed over the past 20 months due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but it appears that tax cuts and welfare increases will be on the table nonetheless when the Government sets out its budget on October 12th.

As Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently said, there will be tax measures aimed at “middle-income people in particular”, as well as a welfare package to offset the impact of the rising cost of living.

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