Liz Truss urges Government to withdraw from Stonewall diversity scheme

The UK’s equalities minister is pushing for Government departments to withdraw from the Stonewall diversity scheme amid concerns it may not provide value for money. Liz Truss, the women and equalities Minister, has told officials she does not think that Whitehall departments should be signed up to the programme, which costs around £2,500 a year and gives employers access to resources to make them more "inclusive". Membership of the Stonewall "diversity champions" scheme gives companies training about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces and helps to qualify for the LGBTQ charity’s workplace equality index. Described as "the definitive benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace," Stonewall claims its index makes companies more attractive to prospective employees. Members also get access to an "LGBTQ-inclusive jobs board" for diverse employers. The Times reported Ms Truss was concerned that the civil service already has an in-house diversity and equality scheme, and believes the additional cost of the Stonewall membership cannot be justified. Any decision on Government departments’ membership of the scheme will ultimately be made by the Cabinet Office, not by Ms Truss. Her concerns come after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the employment dispute service Acas withdrew for "cost reasons". An EHRC spokesman said the body had "extensive expertise in this area" and had concluded that the diversity champions programme "did not constitute best value for money". Figures show that Stonewall earned £3.27m in 2019 from the diversity scheme and other related programmes directed at schools and multinational companies. According to the charity, its flagship diversity champions scheme has 850 members, including 250 Government departments and public bodies, including police forces, local councils and NHS trusts. Last year’s winner of the Stonewall Top Employer award was Newcastle City Council. The council’s deputy leader said the gong rewarded "everybody in our city who shows us every day that we are all equal and that our great city accepts everyone". In a statement released after previous reports about its diversity champions scheme, Stonewall said it had been the victim of a "sustained attack" of "misinformation" and denied claims that its work stifled free speech in the workplace. "We believe these attacks are threadbare and deliberately organised and coordinated to undermine support for our work to ensure every LGBTQ+ employee can thrive at work," it said. It added that it was "up to individual employers how they meet their statutory requirements" to support diversity and equality.

Politics latest news: Incoming DUP leader opposes Australia trade deal, warning of 'high level of risk' to UK farmers

Boris Johnson told to cut farmers' red tape to offset 'damage' from Australia trade deal 'Quite a few' countries on cusp of green list, says Boris Johnson Duke of Cambridge: The BBC fuelled my mother’s paranoia Coronavirus latest news: Indian variant is 'major issue' and could delay June 21 reopening, says government adviser A zero tariff, zero quota trade deal between the UK and Australia would damage Northern Ireland's beef and sheep trade, Stormont's incoming DUP leader has warned. Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland's agriculture minister who will take over as leader from Arlene Foster, said the prospect of such an agreement posed a "high level of risk" to farmers across the UK. Mr Poots' "strong opposition" to the proposed zero tariff, zero quota deal comes amid reports from Downing Street that "negotiations are still ongoing" after a Cabinet rift over the deal took hold. Ministers are split between free traders pushing for full liberalisation to boost the flow of goods and sceptics who are concerned about cheap Australian meat imports impacting British farms. Mr Poots outlined his concerns in a letter to UK Environment Secretary George Eustice, in which he said: " The prospect of such a deal presents a high level of risk to Northern Ireland and UK farmers." He added: " T he UK should maintain tariff protection at present levels for all agricultural products where the UK has a significant production interest." International Trade Secretary Liz Truss will today speak to Australian trade minister Dan Tehan as they race to seal the terms of a free trade deal within three weeks

Boris Johnson: Australian trade deal a ‘massive opportunity’ for British farmers

Boris Johnson has signalled his support for a trade deal with Australia that scraps all tariffs on meat imports, saying it would offer British farmers a "massive opportunity" to export their beef and lamb. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister weighed in on the row engulfing his Cabinet, which is bitterly split over how much access to offer Australian farmers in a bilateral free trade agreement. He will chair a meeting of Cabinet colleagues on Thursday morning to thrash out the Government's red lines on the issue ahead of the final round of negotiations with Canberra. Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, backed by the Brexit minister Lord Frost and Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, are inclined to agree to zero tariffs and zero quotas on agricultural goods in order to secure a deal. They favour phasing out tariffs over a decade, allowing UK agriculture time to adjust. However, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, are concerned about a backlash from British farmers who fear being undercut by cheap Australian meat imports. The two ministers are understood to want a longer 15-year period to phase out tariffs, with some levies remaining after that deadline. Mr Eustice is said to have put forward a "compromise" proposal that would allow tariff-free imports, but with quotas attached. However, Alexander Downer, a former Australian foreign minister dismissed that idea outright, telling Times Radio: "Zero tariffs with quotas isn't free trade, and that's not going to happen. Australia would never agree with that." At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson came under attack from both SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs who voiced their alarm over the impact of the prospective trade deal on Scottish beef farmers and Welsh lamb farmers.

Politics latest news: PM warned opportunities of Brexit at stake amid major Cabinet row over Australia trade deal

Public told to abandon summer holidays abroad Wembley could be used for vaccination drive in fight against Indian variant Analysis: Cummings’s campaign should not be taken lightly Michael Deacon: There’s a problem with Cummings's criticisms Coronavirus latest news: Follow updates in our live blog Boris Johnson has been warned that the opportunities of Brexit are at stake amid a major Cabinet row over the Australia free trade deal. Ahead of a crunch meeting tomorrow, senior ministers are split over the issue of granting Australian farmers zero-tariff access, amid fears that lamb and beef imports could harm the British farming industry. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, is fighting to extend a transition period - during which tariffs would gradually reduce to zero - from 10 to 15 years in order to shield British farmers and give them more time to adjust. He is also said to favour maintaining tariff rate quotas, which would only allow a certain quantity of Australian imports to benefit from lower tariffs. He is backed Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, along with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, who fear a backlash from Scottish beef and Welsh lamb farmers. However, allies of Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, have hit back at Mr Eustice, claiming that a failure to agree terms could scupper future deals with the US and other major economies, in turn squandering the opportunities of Brexit. One source questioned why Mr Eustice had voted to leave the EU if he intended to resort to protectionism, while another accused him and Mr Gove in The Sun of being "more Waitrose than Redwall." Ms Truss is backed by Lord Frost, the former Brexit negotiator and minister in charge of EU relations, as well as Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, who warned that a failure to strike an agreement with Australia would make other deals "very challenging." The Prime Minister is said to side with Ms Truss on the issue, but will be forced to try and broker a compromise on Thursday when the Cabinet committee in charge of trade deals meet. Follow the latest updates below.