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The government’s reasoning for social distancing – Channel 4 News



16 Mar 2020

Our health and social care correspondent was at today’s briefing at Number 10, where the Prime Minister told people they should stop all non-essential contact and travel to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Our health and social care correspondent was at today’s briefing at Number 10, where the Prime Minister told people they should stop all non-essential contact and travel to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.



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Can the Commonwealth Fill the Gap?


I recently attended a conference at Clare College, Cambridge, organised by The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, considering the role of the Commonwealth in 2019 – its challenges and opportunities. The Commonwealth still struggles to an extent to articulate its role and significance in international relations. One session, which included myself as a presenter, had the title “A Less Valuable Connection? The Commonwealth in the post-Brexit era”. The session had the objective of considering whether the Commonwealth as an institution, and via its member states, can fill the gap (or at least partially fill the gap), which will be created by Brexit (in whatever form that takes). My focus was primarily on the Caribbean – both sovereign and non-sovereign countries – to assess briefly the direct and indirect impacts of Brexit; before going onto consider how the Commonwealth can perhaps help mitigate the consequences we are likely to see.

I would like to use the rest of this blog to provide an overview of my presentation and what role, if any, the Commonwealth can play going forward. Let us start with the impacts, and likely impacts, of Brexit on the Caribbean. The most significant consequences will be seen for the Overseas Territories of the UK – such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – who will likely lose free access to the EU single market; tens of millions of euros in EU bilateral and regional aid; free movement across the EU or at least the restriction of that benefit; and the shutting down of important avenues of dialogue with the European Commission. So far the UK government has provided very little clarity about what comes next. A commitment has been made to make good any shortfall in EU funding up to the end of 2020, but nothing more than that. As a consequence, there are concerns that trade will be hit and funding will be less and possibly based on a competitive bidding process; at present EU aid is allocated through negotiation and dialogue.

Brexit has also implications for the independent Anglophone Caribbean – in two key respects. First, there is little detail about what a future trading relationship might look like between the UK and the Caribbean, once the UK extracts itself from the Cotonou Agreement and the associated Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that links Caribbean countries with the EU. In the short-term there will likely be uncertainty and disruption; then perhaps adoption of an EPA – equivalent deal in relation to tariffs, standards and regulations. Beyond that, who knows? But could the Caribbean get a better deal from the UK than they presently have with the EU? If Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s aim of a UK military base in somewhere like Montserrat or Guyana comes to pass, then perhaps the region can ask for concessions from the UK. Second, there are the continuing relations between the Caribbean and the EU (without the UK). The renegotiation of the Cotonou Agreement has just begun, but there are challenges for the region – now fewer natural allies in the EU; less money as the UK contributed 15 percent to the key European Development Fund; and suggestions that the Anglo-Caribbean could be linked more formally to Cuba or with Latin America more generally. Thus their long-held particularism is potentially under threat.

So what role post-Brexit for the Commonwealth? Let’s begin first with Commonwealth states, and especially those within the Caribbean. There are some interesting developments here, which suggest that the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch states and territories are working more closely together. For example, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up primarily of Anglophone states, is considering associate membership for the Dutch and French territories. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a small sub-grouping of Anglophone countries, made Martinique (a French territory) an associate member in 2015. Today, relations are being strengthened more generally between the OECS, the French territories and France in areas such as illegal immigration and people smuggling, narcotics and interdiction, and relaxing the rules for the movement of people. Further, CARIFORUM (CARICOM & the Dominican Republic) has recently accepted the BVI as an associate member. So across the Caribbean, Commonwealth member states are linking up with overseas territories, providing a deeper level of cooperation across the region, whilst also trying to develop innovative ways of engaging with the EU and its member states.

Finally what of the Commonwealth as an international organisation? At the moment the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons is undertaking an inquiry into the UK Overseas Territories. I looked through the large number of oral and written pieces of evidence that have been given to see how often the Commonwealth is mentioned. It is only a handful. At present it is clear that the Commonwealth, which has a membership of sovereign states only, is not seen as a key interlocutor for the overseas territories. However, there is a desire to change this. But how? There are certainly informal ways that the Commonwealth has and can further develop that role, via for example the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and using its good offices, in tandem with member states, to assist with constitutional reform – a big issue for the overseas territories at the moment. Could for example, New Zealand with its self-governing states of the Cook Islands and Niue show the way for greater local autonomy in the UK territories?

But perhaps more importantly is whether a more formal relationship can be established between the UK overseas territories and the Commonwealth. At the moment there is no such relationship, but this has been discussed for many years. In 2012, for example, the Foreign Affairs Committee undertook an inquiry into “The Role and Future of the Commonwealth”. Some who gave evidence suggested that the Commonwealth should be more accommodating towards the territories, while others said that would breach the core requirement of membership – sovereignty, and that member states would be concerned about the broader and more informal role of the UK government via the territories in Commonwealth affairs.

But I think the Caribbean is showing the way and appreciating the benefits of deeper formal cooperation around climate change and sustainable management of the natural environment, education, health, and tourism, and not being so concerned about the issue of sovereignty (although it does rear its head from time to time). If it is thought that associate membership is a step too far for the Commonwealth, then perhaps the organisation should look at how the EU manages its overseas countries and territories. They are associated with, but not associate members of, the EU – through something called the Overseas Association Decision. There are discreet arrangements and mechanisms for the territories, but where appropriate they can link in with common EU rules and practices. So the Commonwealth should consider this option to bring together and more closely align the territories of the UK, New Zealand and Australia with itself. Brexit will cause a rupture, but the Commonwealth has a role to play, and with some imagination and boldness can enhance its role further in helping to support the UK overseas territories and the Anglophone Caribbean in the more difficult years to come.






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#Brexit – UK open to looser ‘Australia-style’ trade deal with EU: source


“There are only two likely outcomes in negotiation – a free trade deal like Canada or a looser arrangement like Australia – and we are happy to pursue both,” the source said.

Johnson is due to give a major speech on trade on Monday, following Britain’s departure from the EU on Friday after nearly 50 years of membership.

Previously Johnson has said his main goal is to reach a Canada-style trade deal with the EU before an 11-month transition period expires at the end of the year, after which British firms would face tariffs to sell goods to the EU.

But Johnson has also said Britain will not commit to continue following EU rules after the transition period, and Saturday’s remarks suggest he is growing less willing to make the trade-offs that many businesses want to smooth a deal.

Canada does not follow EU rules, but some EU governments are reluctant to give Britain similar leeway to diverge on labour and environmental standards, given the much greater trade volumes involved.

In some areas, such as the minimum wage, maternity leave and the elimination of single-use plastics, British standards significantly exceed EU minimums.





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#Conservative win marks bad day for people of Britain, says #GUE/NGL


A statement by GUE/NGL Co-President Martin Schirdewan on the Conservative Party’s victory in the British general election: “Today is a sad day for people living in Britain.

“It is bitterly disappointing that the message of hope has not carried in the face of a dirty and dishonest campaign by the Conservatives.

“Voters who had voted for change, for an end to austerity, for social and tax justice, will now have to endure a government bent on social inequality, deregulation, discrimination and xenophobia.

“It is also now clear that Britain will be leaving the EU at the end of January. As the Left in the European Parliament, we will continue to hold the British government to their commitments under The Good Friday Agreement,” he added.

“Furthermore, we will protect the interests of people across the EU in the negotiations on the future relationship. We will also seek to safeguard the interests of the people in Britain, and will work with the broader labour movement and progressive forces in Britain to this end,” said Schirdewan.

Also commenting on the vote’s impact on Brexit, Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin, Ireland) said: “The people in the North of Ireland want to remain in the EU. The result of this election shows that the only way that this can happen is through Irish unity – a referendum on which is guaranteed under The Good Friday Agreement.”

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#Brexit – ‘We are ready to start the next phase, to defend and promote Europe’s interests’ #EUCO


 

The decisive victory by the British Conservatives in yesterday’s general election was widely and enthusiastically welcomed by European leaders attending today’s (13 December) European Council.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said that they welcomed the certainty that the election provided and said that it had been difficult when things had been agreed in Brussels, then rejected by the House of Commons. Bettel added that it is also time for Boris to deliver.

The President of the European Council Charles Michel said that the EU is ready to start the next phase: “We are ready also to defend and to promote the European interest the level-playing field is a very important goal for us.”

The President of the European Commission underlined that the timeframe to reach an agreement in the second phase was going to be very challenging, she said that the EU will be ready to get the most out of the short period available. Von der Leyen was keen emphasise that while the UK would become a third country, she hoped that the UK would enjoy an unprecedented partnership with the EU. She also said that she hoped for a deal that was: “no tariffs, no quotas, no dumping.” The reference to ‘dumping’ refers to the guaranteeing of minimum standards in several fields including state aid, environmental and consumer standards, social rights and other fields. She also added that we should “care” for the 3.5 million European citizens living in the UK.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulates Prime Minister Johnson on and “an enormous victory for him […] and for his party.” Varadkar also welcomed the clear majority the PM enjoys and hopes that it will help in swiftly ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement. Varadkar reminded us that the agreement would guarantee no hard border between North and South, the protection of the common travel area, and the protection of British and Irish citizen’s rights.

Varadkar said it was also important to work with Prime Minister Johnson on getting the Northern Ireland executive and assembly up and running again and that this will have to be a key priority for the next couple of weeks.

All leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron were optimistic about an ambitious trade deal, but all made it clear that the deal would be conditional. However, it is already clear that many countries will have very specific red lines. On her way into the European Council, Danish Prime Minister said that she would insist on access to British waters for fishing.

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UK wing of Bangladesh’s ruling party appear to be campaigning for Labour candidate – Channel 4 News


Should a British parliamentary candidate receive campaign support from an organisation linked to an oppressive foreign government?

Questions are being asked about an operation to support  Labour’s candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn in north London. Tulip Siddiq is the niece of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, whose government is accused of serious human rights violations.

Channel 4 News has seen evidence that the UK wing of Bangladesh’s ruling party has been running a campaign to support Tulip Siddiq’s re-election.

Ms Siddiq claims this is “categorically untrue”. Fatima Manji reports



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Comedy writer David Javerbaum on religion, satire and controversial humour – Channel 4 News


God Almighty has been brought to life on the stage.

In a new play by the multi-award winning American comedy writer David Javerbaum God wears silk pyjamas and has some ‘wrath management issues’.

The writer who worked on the hugely popular comedy The Daily Show has adapted the play for a British audience incorporating topical issues like Brexit. I went to meet him at the The Vaults theater in Waterloo.



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‘The risk of #Brexit happening without a ratified deal still exists’ Phil Hogan 


European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan

Speaking at his first event in Ireland as the European Commissioner for Trade (6 December), Phil Hogan addressed what he described as the ‘seemingly endless’ question of Brexit, as well as other pressing trade issues.  

Hogan is hoping that next week’s UK general election will provide clarity and unblock paralysis. He told Irish business leaders that ‘we are not out of the woods yet’ and that the risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit still exist. He advised the audience of Irish businesses to continue with their work on preparedness given the lack of certainty. The Commissioner appeared to unwittingly acknowledge that a new government, of any hue, will not deliver clarity on what the UK’s situation will be at the end of 2021. 

EU still in the dark about what the UK wants 

Hogan accused the British media of quoting him out of context when he said that he thought that a deal was achievable before the end of 2020. He said the truth was that there was no accurate way to predict how long it would take to negotiate a deal with the UK as there was no precedent. He said that the UK needs to focus on content, the ‘nuts and bolts’ not timing. 

Hogan said he was still in the dark about what type of Free Trade Agreement the UK ultimately want. He said that the UK must outline preferences, define its offensive and defensive interests for each stage of the negotiations, consider the necessary trade-offs and compromises. He urged UK negotiators to involve also stakeholders in defining each stage of negotiations and to have a frank discussion about pros and cons. He said that there was little point negotiating a deal without knowing whether it will gain domestic approval. 

Hogan said the new agreement will secure that there was no hard border on the island of Ireland, but did not address the checks and controls that would apply across the Irish Sea. Today, the Labour Party revealed the contacts of a report on future arrangements written by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying about his deal when he has made repeated claims that it would mean no customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.  

Hogan told his audience that he warmly welcomed the deal’s commitment to maintaining EU state aid and VAT rules in Northern Ireland, enforceable in the European Court of Justice.  

Making a point that has been made by the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, he made it clear that given the EU’s geographical proximity and economic interdependence the EU would expect solid guarantees in relation to state aid, labour, environmental protection and tax arrangements. He said that the EU has made it abundantly clear that an ‘ambitious’ deal will be contingent on these guarantees.  

It is the UK’s desire to diverge from these EU level-playing-field standards that will be highly problematic. During the campaign Johnson has promised that he will introduce new state aid rules, that will allow the government to intervene more in the economy.  

Hogan lamented that many in the UK had not yet ‘woken up’ to the fact that anything other than EU membership would be greatly inferior to the status quo. 

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Court of Appeal overturns convictions 47 years after four men jailed – Channel 4 News


Nearly 50 years after being found guilty of stealing handbags at a London tube station – three men had their names cleared today at the Old Bailey.

They were convicted on the evidence of a corrupt police officer in 1972. Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths alongside another man, Constantine Boucher, who’s not been traced became known as “The Oval Four”.

Their convictions rested on evidence given by a British Transport Police  Detective Sergeant named Derek Ridgewell whose career ended in disgrace.

Winston Trew who’s now 69, has always maintained his innocence.

He served eight months of a two year prison sentence back then.



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Growing division on future of NATO – Channel 4 News


There’s growing evidence of division among leaders on the future of NATO – as a war of words continued throughout the day between Presidents Trump and Macron.

Tomorrow’s leaders meeting – involving 29 member states including Russia – could see heated talks on a number of issues, including Turkey’s military actions in Syria, and President Macron’s recent comments about NATO becoming “brain-dead”.



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