Boris Johnson has insisted Northern Ireland businesses can put customs forms “in the bin” as he doubled down on his claims there would be no checks on goods coming into Great Britain under his Brexit deal.

He faced questions on the campaign trail after footage emerged of the prime minister contradicting his own cabinet ministers by saying there would be no checks at the border.

The Tory leader inspired bemusement as he told party members that he had secured a “great” Brexit deal for Northern Ireland – by retaining access to the single market and freedom of movement.

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Elsewhere, Mr Johnson told a group of school children the sculptor Sir Antony Gormley was “an interesting chap” but his work had been too expensive to commission for the 2012 Olympics.

It comes as veteran Labour candidate Dame Margaret Hodge declined to say whether she would prefer Jeremy Corbyn or Mr Johnson as PM, while Nicola Sturgeon claimed a hung parliament would give the SNP the “power” to demand an independence referendum in 2020 and try to stop Brexit.

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the 2019 general election campaign.
Margaret Hodge refuses to back Corbyn as PM
 
Veteran Labour candidate Dame Margaret Hodge has declined to say whether she would prefer Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson as prime minister.
 
Dame Margaret - an outspoken critic of Corbyn - said she wants a Labour government, adding that a government is “more than any individual”.
 
It came after ex-Labour MP Ian Austin advocated for the electorate to vote for Mr Johnson over Mr Corbyn on December 12. Dame Margaret, asked if she would prefer Boris Johnson or Corbyn as prime minister, said: “I want a Labour government.”
 
Pressed on the issue, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think any government is more than any individual. And I want a Labour government. “And I think that was as true of the past as it is of the present.”
 
She told the programme there are parts of the current Labour project with which she disagrees. “I will not give up fighting for what I believe to be right and moral and important. I will never do that.”
 
Dame Margaret said there was “some hostility” to the work she had done around fighting antisemitism. “I do think it’s a terrible reflection that actually there is myself and Ruth Smeeth and we're the only two women Jewish MPs left on the Labour side,” she said.
 
Asked about Dame Margaret not being able to bring herself to endorse Corbyn, shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti told the Today programme: “I’m sorry to hear that from Margaret, who I’ve worked with and debated with, with great mutual respect for many years.
 
“I’m very glad that she’s been endorsed (as a candidate) in her seat in Barking. And I believe that there is still the possibility of greater healing in this movement of ours.”
 
Labour had been accused of antisemitism when Dame Margaret was told she would face a re-selection battle in her east London constituency.
 
On one occasion she told Corbyn to his face that he is an “antisemite and racist”.
 
She was forced into the re-selection fight after activists in her constituency voted for the chance to pick a new candidate.
Tory candidate quits over rape case remarks
 
The Conservative candidate for Broadland has announced he is standing down over “ill-judged comments” during a radio discussion about a rape case.
 
Nick Conrad, who resigned from his role at BBC Radio Norfolk last week, was selected on Wednesday to contest Broadland for the Conservatives in the upcoming poll, the local association confirmed.
 
Speaking about a sexual assault case in 2014, two years before the case was overturned at a retrial, Mr Conrad suggested women should “keep their knickers on” to avoid being raped, and said: “I think women need to be more aware of a man’s sexual desire.
 
Conrad said the remarks had become a distraction and he had decided to step down.
 

Tory candidate will not stand in election after rape comments resurface

Former BBC host stands down after claiming women ‘partially responsible’ for rape if they give off wrong signals
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Labour candidate quits after comparing Israeli state to child abuser
 
A Labour election candidate has quit after it emerged she likened the actions of the Israeli government to those of a child abuser.
 
Kate Ramsden stood down in the Scottish constituency of Gordon over a blog post in which she also reportedly alleged that antisemitism claims against Jeremy Corbyn were “orchestrated by the wealthy establishment”.
 
All the details here:
 

Labour election candidate quits after likening Israel to a child abuser

Resignation comes as John McDonnell is criticised for claiming Labour has done all that has been asked to tackle its antisemitism problem
PM claims no checks on goods from NI to GB in rambling speech
 
Frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be maintained under the proposed Brexit agreement, Boris Johnson has claimed – contradicting previous claims his government made about the deal.
 
In a rambling speech in Northern Ireland – shared by the Manufacturing NI group on Twitter – the prime minister said his deal would be “great” for the region – and insisted there would no checks on goods coming into the British mainland.
 
“Actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal – you keep free movement, you keep access to the single market … and unfettered access to GB [Great Britain],” he said.
Johnson also claimed: “There will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.”
 
Johnson was previously criticised for claiming: “There will be no checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and there will be no tariffs between NI and GB.”
 
The PM was accused of misleading parliament after that claim was directly contradicted by the Brexit secretary Steve Barclay – who admitted last month that that Northern Ireland businesses will be forced to fill out export declaration forms when sending goods to Britain under the terms of the deal.
 
PM sparks anger by praising single market access for NI
 
Our correspondent Lizzy Buchan has more on that speech by Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland.
 
The PM was caught on camera extolling the virtues of key elements of EU membership to a group of Conservatives in Northern Ireland – irritating many who are frustrated the rest of the UK will be missing out on
 
Johnson said Northern Ireland had a “great” Brexit deal – as it retains access to the single market and freedom of movement – which Britain will lose under the terms of Johnson’s blueprint.
 
All the details here:
 

Boris Johnson says single market access after Brexit is 'great deal' for Northern Ireland

Critics ask why PM wants to drag the UK out of the EU if the terms of its membership are so beneficial
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Baroness Chakrabarti finds antisemitism poll ‘alarming’
 
Labour’s Baroness Chakrabarti was asked about an opinion poll in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper which found the vast majority of British Jews consider Jeremy Corbyn to be an anti-Semite.
“That obviously is incredibly alarming and disappointing,” she said.
 
Baroness Chakrabarti told the Today programme: “Because we dragged our feet on implementation for so long there is a trust gap.
 
“And so even though I believe that our procedures are way better now than they were a few years ago, it’s going to take time to rebuild trust, and it’s going to take more than procedures.”
 
Asked about Dame Margaret Hodge not being able to bring herself to endorse Jeremy Corbyn, Baroness Chakrabarti said: “I’m sorry to hear that from Margaret who I’ve worked with and debated with, with great mutual respect for many years.
 
“I’m very glad that she’s been endorsed (as a candidate) in her seat in Barking. And I believe that there is still the possibility of greater healing in this movement of ours.”
Tories want ‘brightest and best’ as party promises NHS visa
 
Boris Johnson will try to shift the focus onto the NHS and immigration today – and is promising a fast track “NHS visa” to make it easier for overseas doctors and nurses to work in the UK. 
 
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the Tory party “wants to get the brightest and best coming to our country”.
 
Asked if the Tories want immigration to be higher or lower than it is now, she said: “We want to have immigration that suits the needs of the country.
 
Pressed on whether she thinks constituents want immigration to be higher or lower and if she will promise them one or the other, Atkins said: “Given that we will now have control of immigration, we want to have a points-based system that focuses on bringing the brightest and the best into the UK, precisely so that we can attract doctors, nurses and so on into the NHS.”
 
It was put to Victoria Atkins that the Conservative Party had promised in three elections to bring down the number of people coming in to the UK and that it had a target.
 
Asked if she knew how many months in a row the target was missed, the Home Office minister told the Today programme: “I don’t have that figure to hand.”
 
Sir Keir Starmer: PM either confused or lying about Brexit deal
 
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer isn’t too impressed by Boris Johnson’s speech in Northern Ireland – claiming the prime minister “either doesn’t understand the deal he has negotiated or he isn’t telling the truth. Probably both”.
 
Johnson claimed there would no checks on goods coming into the British mainland, and Northern Ireland would retain freedom of movement and single market access.
 
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Labour candidate quits following ‘Shylock’ remark
 
The Labour candidate for Clacton Gideon Bull has announced he is standing down after comments he made referring to “Shylock” came to light.
 
Bull allegedly referred to Shylock – the well-known Jewish moneylender in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – in relation to a controversial housing scheme involving a Jewish cabinet member of Haringey Council.
 
Bull has insisted he was not referring directly to the cabinet member Zena Brabazon – and is also claiming he “did not know Shylock was Jewish … this was a genuine accident.”
 
But he has decided that “right now is not the best time for me to stand”.
 
Labour candidate apologises for ‘offensive’ language
 
The Labour candidate for West Derby Ian Byrne has apologised for “inappropriate and offensive” comments he made on social media after they came to light.
 
According to LBC, Byrne referred to Conservative Esther McVey as a “b*****” and also made unflattering remarks about Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone and Prince William.
 
Byrne said in a statement: “I am deeply sorry for the inappropriate and offensive language from the shop floor that I used several years ago on social media and would not use today.
 
“I’m a very different person now and I’m grateful that the labour and trade union movement has enabled me and so many other working class people to represent and fight for our communities.”
 
PM claims to have given up drinking ‘until we get Brexit done’
 
Boris Johnson has claimed he has given up drinking until after Brexit is sorted.
 
The prime minister, who was photographed sipping whisky during a distillery visit in Scotland only yesterday, made the remark while chatting with nurses at the King’s Mill Hospital in Nottinghamshire.
 
He asked them to tell him more about Ashfield, noting: “Someone said there’s a lot of first-time mums who are smoking or something like that. Is that right?”
 
The PM was told a lot of people smoke in Ashfield before he switched his attention to vaping, saying: “I’m not certain about it. It might just encourage them to get into nicotine.”
 
He then asked "what about alcohol?" before adding: “I’ve had to give it up until we get Brexit done.”
 
Johnson did not clarify whether he meant the first phase of Brexit by the end of January 2020 or the end of the transition period in December next year.
 
Boris Johnson visits King's Mill Hospital (AP)
 
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Lib Dems condemn Johnson for ‘contradicting’ his own government
 
The Liberal Democrats have now criticised Boris Johnson over his speech in Northern Ireland.
 
Johnson appeared to contradict evidence given by Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay by telling supporters that goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would not face checks as a result of his Brexit agreement.
 
Barclay had told MPs that “minimal targeted interventions” would be required on some goods.
 
Tom Brake, the Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesman, tweeted: “Are you planning on contradicting every government document on Brexit, or just the more problematic pieces?”
 
Brake also said: “The single market and freedom of movement are a great deal - even Boris Johnson recognises this.
 
“So why isn’t he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership? It is clear that the best deal for the UK is the one we have now - in the EU.”
 
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer earlier claimed the prime minister “either doesn’t understand the deal he has negotiated or he isn’t telling the truth. Probably both”.
 
Boris Johnson insists ‘no checks’ in NI-GB customs territory
 
The prime minister has been asked about those off-the-cuff comments he made about his Brexit deal in Northern Ireland last night.
 
Boris Johnson told broadcasters this morning that checks required for tariff purposes under his Brexit deal will be on goods which “might be coming via Northern Ireland from GB into Ireland”.
 
He also said: “Northern Ireland and the rest of GB are part of the UK customs territory and there can be no checks between goods operating in one customs territory.
 
“We’re the UK. We will not be instituting such checks.”
 
Asked if Northern Ireland would get a better deal than the rest of the UK as it would have single market access and keep free movement, the PM replied: “I’m not going to hide it from you that Northern Ireland has a good deal but so does the whole of the UK.
 
“And the crucial thing we had to square away was the idea that there could be no checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the south.”
 
Asked if there were different customs arrangements for Northern Ireland into Great Britain and he was saying he would not enforce that, the PM said: “That’s right. We’re one UK territory.”
Nicola Sturgeon: ‘Our NHS is not for sale’
 
The SNP has announced a bill to protect the NHS from trade deals with foreign nations.
 
At the party’s election campaign launch in Edinburgh today, leader Nicola Sturgeon said the bill will be introduced at Westminster in the next parliament and will feature in the SNP manifesto.
 
The NHS Protection Bill, according to the party, will ensure the health service is not used as a “bargaining chip” in trade deals.
 
Sturgeon claims that despite health policy being devolved to the Scottish parliament, the UK Government could still “sell off" the NHS in trade negotiations.
 
Opposition parties have expressed concern about the possibility of the NHS being opened up to US healthcare companies in a trade deal, after US Donald Trump said “everything was on the table” during a joint press conference with then-PM Theresa May.
 
Sturgeon said: “The NHS in Scotland run in Scotland, for Scotland and under the SNP it will always be in public hands. Our NHS is not for sale at any price.”
 
Nicola Sturgeon at SNP campaign launch
 
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Labour candidate drops out over alleged antisemitic remark
 
Our political editor has more on Labour’s Clacton candidate standing down after his “Shylock” remarks.
 
Gideon Bull has insisted he was not referring directly to a Jewish councillor Zena Brabazon when he referred to the Shakespeare character – and is also claiming he “did not know Shylock was Jewish … this was a genuine accident.”
 

Labour election candidate Gideon Bull drops out over alleged antisemitic remark

Clacton candidate denies antisemitism, insisting he did not know Shylock was Jewish
Sturgeon want ‘progressive alliance’ to keep Tories out
 
Nicola Sturgeon has said that the Conservative Party has “ridden roughshod” over the Scottish parliament, and claimed: “Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU has been ignored.”
 
She claimed said that a vote for the SNP is a vote to put Scotland’s future “firmly in Scotland’s hands.”
 
“Westminster’s priorities can be summed up in just three words - Brexit, Brexit, Brexit,” said Sturgeon.
 
“A vote for the SNP in contrast is a vote to escape Brexit. A vote for the SNP is a vote to take Scotlands future out of the hands of Boris Johnson and a broken Westminster system. A vote for the SNP is a vote to put Scotland's future firmly in Scotland’s hands.”
 
She vowed: “If there is a hung Parliament after this election... SNP MPs would seek to form a progressive alliance to lock the Tories out of government.”
 
She also claimed that a SNP wins in Scotland, it would be a clear mandate for another independence referendum, says Sturgeon.
 
“There can be no Westminster veto over Scotland's right to choose,” she said.
 
Nicola Sturgeon at launch in Edinburgh (PA)
 
Paid maternity leave to be increased to 12 months under Labour plans 
 
New mothers would be entitled to a full year of paid maternity leave and companies would have to offer flexible working by default under new plans announced by Labour.
 
Dawn Butler, the shadow women and equalities secretary, is in Stevenage speaking with business people about the reforms this lunchtime.
 
More details here from our correspondent Benjamin Kentish.
 

Paid maternity leave to be increased to 12 months under Labour plans

Employers would also have to offer flexible working by default under changes designed to stop discrimination
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Are politicians finding it too easy to say ‘sorry’?
 
We’ve had a daily slew of apologies from both experienced politicians and candidates so far during the election campaign.
 
Sam Hancock says genuine contrition is fine – but if an apology just provides cover for the next transgression, it just lets repeat offenders off the hook.
 
PM tells school children Anthony Gormley ‘an interesting chap’
 
Boris Johnson has been talking to school pupils about the sculptor Sir Antony Gormley – complaining that he was too expensive to commission for the 2012 Olympics.
 
The PM was given a tour of a school and tried to make a clay figure inspired by Sir Antony Gormley, the artist whose works include the Angel of the North.
 
Speaking at the George Spencer Academy, near Nottingham, Johnson remarked he had “gunk” on him before declaring the task would be “a piece of cake”.
 
But seconds later he paused before joking “it’s all going horribly wrong” as he had not followed the guide and noted he was creating a figure similar to “Terminator”.
 
He also told pupils: “He’s an interesting chap Antony Gormley – all his sculptures are modelled on himself and then he persuades people to pay colossal sums for his own image around the world. It’s amazing success he’s had.
 
“We had a plan in the Olympic Games in 2012 to make a huge human being like this with steps sort of all the way up so you could walk up him.
 
“Gormley was going to do it but it was going to cost a huge amount.”
 
Boris Johnson visits George Spencer Academy (AFP)
 

Social media is an increasingly important battle ground in elections - and home to many questionable claims pumped out by all sides. If social media sites won't investigate the truth of divisive advertising, we will. Please send any political Facebook advertising you receive to digitaldemocracy@independent.co.uk, and we will catalogue and investigate it. Read more here.

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