EU attacked for ‘cherry picking’ as ‘little progress’ made in crunch Brexit talks

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Trade talks between the two sides got underway in March following Britain’s official departure from the bloc on January 31. But negotiations have turned increasingly bitter, with the EU and the UK trading crushing blows following the culmination of four rounds of talks. Earlier today, EU chief negotiator Mr Barnier again lashed out at the UK and lamented the lack of progress being made in trade negotiations, accusing the UK of backtracking on a crucial commitment that is shaping current talks.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator claimed the British team are continuously looking “to distance themselves” from the political declaration agreed by Boris Johnson last year.

He told a press conference in Brussels both sides are still very far” from reaching agreement on the level playing field, nuclear safety, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism funding, and a “overarching institutional framework” for the future relationship.

Mr Barnier said: “In all areas, the UK continues to backtrack under commitments undertaken in the political declaration, including on fisheries.

“We cannot and will not accept this backtracking on the political declaration.”

But Raoul Ruparel, former Europe advisor to both David Davis and Theresa May and an influential presence in Brexit talks under the former Prime Minister, has lambasted the EU for “cherry picking” from the political declaration.

Following the conclusion of the latest round of talks today, he tweeted: “Unsurprisingly, little progress. Now at the stage where political intervention is needed.

“Barnier referencing political declaration is tiresome for a number of reasons, not least because EU used to see it as entirely irrelevant & they are cherry picking it as well.

“For much of past three years the EU side have seen the political declaration as a sop to the UK to try to help get the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament.

“They have not only briefed this but made it clear to those of us in negotiations. Position now is quite hypocritical.”

In a series of tweets, Mr Ruparel also sites paragraph of the Political Declaration under the section ‘Level playing field for open and fair competition’.

The first two paragraphs of this section state: “Given the Union and European Union’s geographic proximity and economic independence, the future must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.

“The precise nature of commitments should be commensurate with the scope and depth of the future relationship and the economic connectedness of the Parties.”

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But tweeting this section of the political declaration, Mr Ruparel wrote alongside it: “Barnier cites para 77 of the PD. But he always only mentions the first sentence not the second sentence, as highlighted below. This is surely just as equally important.

“He continued in further tweets: his was largely lifted from the PD negotiated under Theresa May, whom I advised.

“It was obvious to all involved at the time it was fudge to account for differing views. The EU always focused on the connectedness, while the UK focused on the scope/depth of the relationship.

“So the idea that it obviously meant one thing as presented by Barnier is not in my view correct.

“Furthermore, even if both sentences are taken as being concrete, it is not obvious why one trumps the other as Barnier suggests. Its his subjective reading of the PD.

“Barnier referenced lack of progress on fisheries given PD sets aim of reaching agreement by July.

“However, he continues to ignore the commitment to seek to take financial services equivalence decisions by end of June. Focusing on what he cares about but it is still selective.”

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Alok Sharma tests negative for coronavirus amid row over physical return to Commons

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Mr Sharma, Conservative MP for Reading West, could be seen using a tissue to wipe his brow multiple times whilst speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, At one point, Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband passed Mr Sharma a glass of water.

Mr Sharma announced his negative test result in a tweet yesterday.

He wrote: “Huge thanks to everyone for their really kind messages over the last 24 hours and my grateful thanks also to the parliamentary authorities and Speaker for their support yesterday. Just had my results in and my test for Covid-19 was negative.”

Labour’s Ed Miliband responded by saying: “Glad to hear this. Hope you are feeling better.”

The fact that Mr Sharma appeared unwell in Parliament raised some concerns regarding who he had been in contact with in the days prior.

The Business Secretary had had a 45-minute meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak the day before, though Number 10 said that the meeting had been “socially distanced”, the BBC reports.

Despite Mr Sharma’s negative test result, Daisy Cooper, Lib Dem MP for St Albans, warned that it was a “wake up call” for MPs and criticised plans to physically return to parliament

She wrote on Twitter: “Good news for Alok Sharma who has tested negative for Covid-19. This should still be a wake up call for Rees-Mogg.

“Govt should lead by example: support ppl2 [sic] work from home where they can (as per its own guidance), embrace digital & stop needlessly risking health of MPs & staff.”

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg had proposed that the virtual parliament system should be scrapped.

Mr Rees-Mogg’s proposal led to a huge line of MPs snaking through the halls and courtyards of Westminster this week, and was passed by 261 votes to 163.
But the decision to return to parliament has been criticised by many MPs because of the Covid-19 infection risk it poses.

As well as the fact that it will mean that more MPs will be physically present around each other, the return to parliament will also see ministers travelling between Westminster and their constituencies – further increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

The virtual parliamentary proceedings had seen MPs vote online and contribute via video call.

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The decision to return to parliament has also faced criticism from those who are shielding and those from black and minority (BAME) ethnic backgrounds, the Guardian reports.

It follows a report by Public Heath England that people from ethnic minorities are at a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than people from white ethnic groups.

Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: “We are twice as likely to die”, and added “please stop peddling the myth that we only work when we are here”, the Guardian adds.

And Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Jonathan Reynolds ridiculed the long line of MPs to vote on the motion to return to parliament, tweeting a photo of himself in the queue with the caption: “Genius level stuff this.”

But Rees-Mogg has defended his position, claiming that physical presence in the Commons and at voting procures is better for democracy.

He said is a Commons session: “voting whole enjoying a sunny walk or whilst watching television does democracy an injustice.

“We ask members to vote in person for a reason: because it is the heart of what Parliament is about.”

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Parliament: Plastic screens placed around podiums for safer speaking amid coronavirus outbreak

SINGAPORE – Transparent plastic screens have been placed around the podiums in the House as part of measures to make Parliament sittings safer during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Members, who now wear masks and take them off only when speaking, were also seen wiping down the microphones and podiums after speaking.

In an Instagram post on Thursday (June 4), Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said that the perspex screens were installed to facilitate safer speaking. He also thanked the Parliament team for setting them up.

The new screens, first seen at Thursday’s sitting, are the latest in a series of precautionary measures rolled out in the House since March.

For the first time on March 25, members sat further apart after new safe distancing measures were introduced, with some spread out in the galleries on other levels.

They also had to take breaks in separate groups to further reduce mingling, and use separate restrooms.

Mr Tan said then that the new steps were aligned to stricter safe distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Late in May, President Halimah Yacob approved four other locations for Parliament sittings up till Nov 20. They were the Arts House, The Treasury, Civil Service College, and NTUC Centre.

The announcement came after a Bill was passed earlier that month to amend the Constitution to allow the House to meet in multiple locations if needed.

Installed perspex screens around the podiums in Parliament to facilitate safer speaking. Thanks to @parl_sg team for setting this up.

A post shared by Tan Chuan-Jin (@chuanjin1) on

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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson urges people not to gather with others indoors as weather worsens

Boris Johnson has urged people not to start gathering indoors as the weather worsens, warning it could undermine the progress made in the fight against the coronavirus.

Speaking at the latest COVID-19 news conference in Downing Street, the prime minister told Britons: “Some of you may be tempted to move the gatherings you’ve been enjoying outdoors indoors out of the rain. I really urge you: don’t do that.”

A total of 39,728 people have now died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for the coronavirus in the UK, an increase of 359 from the day before.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the country had to “tread very carefully” as it started to come out of the coronavirus lockdown.

He said there could still be as many as 8,000 new cases of the virus a day in the UK, while the rate of transmission of COVID-19 remained close to 1.

“We have relatively large numbers still not coming down fast,” Sir Patrick said.

“That gives relatively little room for manoeuvre. We have to tread very cautiously,” he said.

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said that although the COVID-19 alert level remained unchanged at 4, the lockdown could start to be eased.

He said this was because the government’s five tests were being met and the two measures were separate and not interlinked.

Mr Johnson said the government had eased the restrictions on gathering outside – with up to six people from different households allowed to meet provided they practise social distancing – “for a very specific reason”.

“The evidence shows the risks of transmission are much lower outdoors,” the PM explained.

“And the risks of passing on the virus are significantly higher indoors which is why gatherings inside other people’s homes are still prohibited.

“Breaking these rules now could undermine and reverse all the progress that we’ve made together.

“I have no doubt that won’t happen.”

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US Senator warns China is using Huawei to disrupt the special relationship with UK

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The Arkansas Senator was speaking as debate continues as to whether Huawei can be trusted within the UK 5G network. There is concern that the telecommunications firm could allow Beijing backdoor access to sensitive information, something Huawei has always denied. Mr Cotton warned: “It is my hope that the special relationship remains strong although I fear China is attempting to drive a hi-tech wedge between us using Huawei.

Washington has warned allies they risk being cut off from intelligence sharing programmes if they make deals with Huawei.

Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang said: “It’s clear that market position, rather than security concerns, is what underpins America’s attack on Huawei.

“The committee was given no evidence to substantiate security allegations.”

Britain has said Huawei’s involvement will be limited to 35 percent and it will be excluded from the sensitive core.

In recent weeks, reports have said that Boris Johnson is looking to reduce Huawei’s involvement in the 5G network to zero by 2023.

The US has long warned other nations that Huawei is unsafe.

Mr Cotton said: “I do hope that as the government refines its decision, that if it doesn’t reverse it outright, it will mitigate it and minimise the use of Huawei technology, put it on a shorter time frame.”

Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei told CNBC: “We never participate in espionage, and we do not allow any of our employees to do any act like that.

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“And we absolutely never install backdoors.

“Even if we were required by Chinese law, we would firmly reject that.”

Sceptics have, however, raised concerns over two pieces of law, the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law.

Despite Huawei’s denials, some experts point to article 7 of the former which mandates any organization or individual “shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law”.

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Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor and Council on Foreign Relations adjunct senior fellow, said: “There is no way Huawei can resist any order from the [People’s Republic of China] Government or the Chinese Communist Party to do its bidding in any context, commercial or otherwise.

“Huawei would have to turn over all requested data and perform whatever other surveillance activities are required.”

Martin Thorley, of the University of Nottingham, added: “The idea of fighting a request of this nature in the courts is not realistic. In truth the law only confirms what has long been true — that one must submit to the Party if called upon.

“Added to this, a company of Huawei’s size, working in what is considered a sensitive sector, simply cannot succeed in China without extensive links to the Party.”

The original approval for Huawei to form part of the British 5G network came from former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Gavin Williamson was sacked as Defence Secretary as Mrs May believed he was the source of the leak regarding Huawei’s involvement.

Mr Williamson was first asked to resign but denied the allegation and refused to resign.

The South Staffordshire MP has maintained an inquiry would vindicate him.

He returned to Cabinet as Education Secretary when Mr Johnson succeeded Mrs May.

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Senate Republicans block move to condemn Trump on force against peaceful protesters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday failed to win passage of a resolution condemning President Donald Trump for his role in the use of force against peaceful demonstrators in Washington Monday night, after Republicans blocked the move.

Democrats tried to use fast-track procedures to pass the measure by a unanimous voice vote but were stopped when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, objected.

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Colorado legislators propose bipartisan ballot measure to repeal Gallagher Amendment

The vision of an empty fire station in Glenwood Springs keeps Fire Chief Gary Tillotson up nights. Should a fire break out or someone need medical aid, help would have to come from further away — meaning much longer response times when people can least afford them.

The vast majority of the fire department’s calls are for medical emergencies like heart attacks and strokes, Tillotson said — situations in which the chances of death escalate dramatically if responders don’t arrive within five to seven minutes.

But if the department’s $4 million annual budget dwindles any further, that vision of empty fire stations and delayed response times will become a reality.

The coronavirus pandemic has already meant a costly drop in sales tax revenue for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, and the economic devastation the pandemic is wreaking — combined with a state law called the Gallagher Amendment — means local governments’ property tax revenues will suffer for years to come.

“It’s an insurmountable obstacle,” Tillotson said. “We work on a relatively meager operations budget anyway and with the current devastation to our sales tax, we’re already having to cut back and basically we’re furloughing our firefighters. Any further cuts are going to reduce service.”

Gallagher ties residential property taxes to commercial property taxes, so the pandemic’s extreme impact on Colorado businesses’ bottom lines will result in significant property-tax decreases across the board for years to come, experts expect.

Unless the amendment is removed from the state Constitution.

To head off the upcoming financial crisis, Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, said he and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are proposing to repeal the 1982 Gallagher Amendment, which they say has become a twisted version of what was once a good idea.

The measure will be introduced Monday, said Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver. It will be followed by a second measure to freeze residential property tax rates for several years.

Lawmakers have wanted to do away with the amendment for decades, but the pandemic has created a new sense of urgency.

“Right now we’re in a moment because of a pandemic, where the economy is hurting and a lot of people are therefore hurting as well,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat who’s chair of the Joint Budget Committee. “If we don’t fix the Gallagher Amendment that hurt can be felt even deeper.”

The amendment’s namesake, Dennis Gallagher, said he’s abstaining from an opinion until he sees the specific proposal. In theory, a repeal makes sense, he said.

“I understand it completely,” he said.

But something must be put in place to maintain the idea behind the amendment, Gallagher added.

What is the Gallagher Amendment?

In short, the Gallagher Amendment is meant to protect homeowners by keeping residential tax rates lower than commercial rates, Gallagher said. Property owners “back east” in New Jersey pay through the nose each month, he said in an interview, and he wanted to prevent that from happening in Colorado.

The amendment categorizes all properties as either residential or commercial and mandates that homeowners pay no more than 45% of the property tax total. Commercial properties are always billed 29% of their building’s value, and the residential rate floats to maintain the 55/45 split.

“It leveled property taxes for residential property owners and ratepayers in Colorado, and it’s been working,” Gallagher said.

What’s the problem?

The issue is that while the commercial property tax rate is constant, the values of commercial properties are not, Tate said. Those properties are largely assessed based on the income of the businesses inside them.

And that income is falling drastically after two to three months of shutdowns and the overall economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Tate said. As income drops, so do property values and commercial tax revenue.

To maintain the legally required 45/55 ratio, residential property tax rates will also have to drop.

Estimates from the state’s property tax administrator show that residential rates could drop from the current 7.15% to 5.88%, spelling a $491 million cut for school districts statewide and a $204 million cut for county governments, as Chalkbeat reported.

“The impact on schools is going to be brutal if we don’t repeal Gallagher,” Hansen said. “Massive.”

And that lost revenue will stay lost, Esgar said. While the Gallagher Amendment allows residential rates to float up and down as needed, a second amendment passed in 1992, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, prevents the taxes from rising again, she said.

“If we get rid of Gallagher before the residential assessment rate drops, we can at least maintain where it is right now,” Esgar said. Otherwise, “we’ll never be able to get back to where we are now.”

Repealing the amendment would prevent residential property taxes from falling in conjunction with commercial rates, but it wouldn’t raise rates for homeowners, Esgar said.

“We’re not raising your taxes,” she said. “We can’t.”

If Gallagher isn’t repealed, fire departments across the state will lose a substantial amount of cash. Already the Glenwood Springs department’s 28 full-time employees face staggered furloughs, but another hit to the budget would mean fire stations would go unstaffed, Tillotson said. Emergency calls would be answered by other stations across town or from neighboring departments dealing with their own budget shortfalls.

“Some of those are a 10- or 20-minute drive away,” he said. “If you’re having a heart attack, you don’t want that to happen.”

The same goes for house fires, he said.

“The size of a fire escalates exponentially for every minute that we’re not there,” he said. “We work really, really hard to build fire stations and staff them within five miles of our major populations. So when one of those stations closes and now we’re eight or 10 miles to the nearest staffed fire station, that exponentially affects the response time.”

The amendment already has been particularly problematic for Western Slope communities, where property values haven’t risen as high or as fast as those on the Front Range.

But the pandemic has touched every corner of the state, and revenue drops would hit every agency that depends on property taxes — hospitals, libraries, ambulance services, cities and state government, in addition to schools and fire departments.

“This is community-level impact that we’re talking about,” Esgar said.

The legislature can address the problem putting a measure on the fall ballot asking voters to repeal the amendment, she said.  It will be difficult, she acknowledged. Both chambers of the legislature must approve the measure with a two-thirds majority. But she and Tate said they believe the support is there.

Then the measure would only need a simple majority from voters for passage, Hansen said.

The effort is sure to face opposition, although none has announced itself so far.

“We are studying it,” said Jon Caldera, president of the conservative Independence Institute and a frequent opponent of tax changes.

But if there’s strong bipartisan support in the legislature, Hansen said, that should help in November.

Tillotson said education will be key in the push to repeal the amendment, and representatives of libraries, fire departments, schools and other affected agencies will be happy to do the educating.

“Gallagher’s been on the books for a very long time, and as homeowners that’s a tough sell,” he said.

It’s a tradeoff, Tillotson said. Repeal would mean that property taxes remain where they are, but then so, too, would the firefighters in Glenwood Springs’ fire stations.

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U.S. judge weighing fight over Trump ex-adviser Flynn to respond on case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. judge weighing whether to drop a criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former adviser Michael Flynn faces a Monday deadline to respond to the Justice Department’s bombshell request to drop a charge to which Flynn has pleaded guilty.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered Judge Emmet Sullivan to respond by June 1 after Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, filed an emergency petition in line with the Justice Department’s request.

Sullivan has tapped attorney Beth Wilkinson, one of the former top prosecutors on the Oklahoma City bombing case, to represent him in the appellate court case.

Sullivan has not yet ruled on the May 7 request by Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department to drop the false-statement charge against Flynn.

Critics have accused the Justice Department of acting to advance Trump’s personal interests, including by seeking a lighter sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone.

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI about his conversations with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn initially agreed to cooperate, but he later changed legal tactics and pursued a scorched-earth approach that included accusing the FBI of a secret plot to entrap him.

Barr this year tapped Jeff Jensen, a federal prosecutor in St. Louis, to review the case. Jensen later urged Barr to drop it on the grounds the investigation lacked a proper legal basis.

That led the lead prosecutor on the Flynn case to withdraw.

Sullivan tapped retired judge John Gleeson to serve as a “friend of the court” and instructed him to present arguments against the department – including whether he should hold Flynn in contempt for perjury.

Gleeson’s legal brief is due June 10.

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Biden says 'we must not allow this pain to destroy us' of violence in U.S. cities

(Reuters) – Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Sunday called for protesters against police brutality not to turn to violence as unrest flared in U.S. cities overnight.

Biden issued a statement just after midnight as protesters in several major U.S. cities vented outrage at the death of a black man shown on video gasping for breath as a white Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck.

“Protesting such brutality is right and necessary,” Biden said in the emailed statement. “But burning down communities and needless destruction is not.”

He added: “We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us.”

Biden will face President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Trump’s re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale, on Saturday said that Biden should deliver a more forceful condemnation of violence.

Biden’s remarks echoed a statement on Saturday by prominent black civil rights activist and U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia.

Lewis, who in 1965 was beaten unconscious by Alabama state troopers during a march for voting rights, called for protesters to “be constructive, not destructive,” though he said he knows their pain.

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Coronavirus: ‘We can’t just stay in lockdown forever,’ says Raab as rules relaxed

The UK “can’t just stay in lockdown forever”, Dominic Raab has told Sky News as he defended a gradual easing of the coronavirus rules despite concerns raised by some government scientific advisers.

While acknowledging it was a “precarious moment”, the foreign secretary told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the “careful” relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions was the “right step” to take.

But he also said if there was any increase in coronavirus cases then targeted measures would be taken.

Mr Raab was speaking after two members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), warned the government was taking risks by allowing the gradual reopening of shops and schools and larger gatherings to meet in private.

Separately, Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, also told Sky News that she feels is it “inevitable” that England will see a rise in coronavirus cases as the lockdown is relaxed.

But speaking to Sophy Ridge, Mr Raab said: “We are confident that this is the right step to be taking at this moment in time.

“We are taking those steps very carefully, based on the science but also based on our ability now to monitor the virus.”

He said “steady progress” has been made in bringing down the transmission rate.

Pointing to the downward trend in new cases, he said: “That is the steady progress that we are making which means… we can take those steps responsibly, but we have to be very careful.”

He added: “We are at a precarious moment.

“We can ease up, we can protect life, but also livelihoods, get life back to something resembling normal, but we must monitor it very carefully,

“If there is any uptick in the number of cases, if we stop making the progress I described, we will have to take further measures again and target the virus wherever it may appear.”

Mr Raab said: “Obviously this is a sensitive moment, but we can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition.

“The more we transition through careful steps the more I think we will build up confidence in the approach we are taking.”

Pressed over the warnings issued by some members of SAGE, Mr Raab pointed out the scientists would not always agree.

With more than 25 taking part at any one time, he said: “It would be totally surprising if they all agreed in unanimity. They don’t. That’s why we have that group, to test the evidence.

“Then we as elected politicians have to take the final judgement call.”

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