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UN General Assembly president welcomes Azerbaijan’s initiative to hold session on COVID-19

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Sept.1


President of the UN General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad Bande expressed gratitude to Azerbaijan for the initiative to hold a special session on cooperation between countries in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, Trend reports referring to TASS News Agency.

“The proposal to hold a special session on the pandemic by the General Assembly is a veritable platform to mobilize global efforts against the pandemic,” Bande said at a special meeting on the session’s organization.

“We thank Azerbaijan, as Chair of Non-Aligned Movement, for pushing for this important session,” he stressed.

The assembly’s president clarified that the session co-organizers have already produced the document draft which can be accepted at the end of the session.

“We trust that the special session will ensure greater involvement of world leaders toward a result-oriented response to the pandemic,” he added.

“This will further strengthen the General Assembly as a global partner in the fight against the pandemic and its impact on people’s livelihood,” Bande concluded.

The UN General Assembly’s special session on the fight against the pandemic officially opened on July 10, but it took the countries time to agree on aspects of its conduct in conditions of remote work.

Earlier, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry expressed its confidence that the special session will contribute to strengthening the solidarity of states in the fight against the pandemic, and reinforce international cooperation in finding an answer to this global threat.

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Pompeo Aide Who Pushed Saudi Arms Sale Said to Have Pressured Inspector General

WASHINGTON — A senior State Department official who helped Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pushed the agency’s inspector general to drop an investigation into whether that effort was illegal, the former inspector general told lawmakers, according to a transcript released Wednesday.

The senior official, Marik String, now the department’s top lawyer, was acting chief of the agency’s political-military affairs bureau in early 2019 when Mr. Pompeo and aides tried to come up with a means of circumventing Congress on a sale of 22 batches of munitions worth $8.1 billion, much of it made by Raytheon. Lawmakers from both parties had held up the sale because the Persian Gulf nations had been using American-made weapons in an air war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

President Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general, Steve A. Linick, last month at the urging of Mr. Pompeo. Three congressional committees are investigating whether Mr. Pompeo made the recommendation to retaliate for inquiries tied to the secretary that Mr. Linick was overseeing. Mr. Linick had opened at least two such inquiries — one into the arms sale and one into potential misuse of agency employees for the benefit of Mr. Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo.

Mr. Pompeo declared an emergency over Iran in May 2019 to push through the sale. At the request of Congress, Mr. Linick opened an investigation last June into the legality of that.

But during a meeting over the winter, perhaps in late 2019, Mr. String and Brian Bulatao, a top State Department official and friend of Mr. Pompeo, tried to persuade Mr. Linick to end the inquiry, Mr. Linick told lawmakers in an interview last Wednesday.

Congressional investigators were alarmed by news of Mr. String’s involvement, which appeared to be a conflict of interest, given his central role in formulating Mr. Pompeo’s use of the emergency declaration, Democratic aides said.

Mr. String joined Mr. Bulatao in telling Mr. Linick that his office “shouldn’t be doing the work because it was a policy matter not within the I.G.’s jurisdiction,” Mr. Linick told lawmakers, adding that he told officials he was investigating enactment of policy. Mr. Linick also said Mr. Bulatao did not explicitly “say stop our work.”

Since 2013, Mr. Linick had led a team of hundreds of employees in investigating fraud and waste in the State Department. He is known to be cautious and nonpartisan.

Mr. String, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the political-military affairs bureau who served as the unit’s acting head from January to May 2019, played an important part in the run-up to the emergency declaration. He oversaw the process that led to the declaration by Mr. Pompeo — convening meetings, offering guidance and briefing the secretary on progress, according to an American government official with knowledge of Mr. String’s role.

Mr. Pompeo notified Congress of the emergency declaration on the afternoon of May 24, 2019, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. That same day, Mr. String was promoted to be the department’s acting legal adviser. Congressional officials have raised questions about that appointment.

The three congressional committees investigating the inspector general’s firing asked Mr. Linick to do an interview with them last Wednesday. They have also asked seven State Department employees to be interviewed, including Mr. String and Mr. Bulatao, but none agreed to the request.

Mr. Linick told lawmakers that Mr. Bulatao on occasion tried to “bully” him. And he said the two officials raised the possibility in their meeting that there might be “a privilege issue” that would prevent Mr. Linick from continuing his investigation. But a privilege issue only exists when a party is acting as a lawyer, and neither official was in that role during the formulation of the emergency declaration.

Mr. Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that he had not read the transcript of Mr. Linick’s interview with Congress. He argued that the inspector general is supposed to “work for the agency head — that’s me — and they are supposed to deliver and help make that organization better.”

“It’s not what Mr. Linick did,” he added.

Mr. Pompeo did not agree to be interviewed by Mr. Linick for the arms sale inquiry, and submitted a written statement instead. Investigators were close to finishing the investigation this spring and briefed senior State Department officials on findings in early March.

Lawmakers say officials have informally told them that the administration plans to sell another package of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, worth $478 million, and to grant Raytheon a license to expand its manufacturing footprint in the kingdom.

Mr. Linick also told lawmakers that he informed Mr. Bulatao, as well as Stephen E. Biegun, the deputy secretary of state, and other top agency officials in late 2019 of the inquiry into Mr. Pompeo’s potential misuse of employees and requested documents from the agency. Mr. Pompeo has indicated he did not know about this inquiry, but Democratic aides say that is unlikely given what Mr. Linick has said.

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General Atomics awarded $9,9 million for U.S. Army’s Gray Eagle – Defence Blog

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), an affiliate of privately-held General Atomics, was awarded a $9,9 million contract modification for continuation effort for the Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

This contract is funded by the U.S. Army. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of April 23, 2021.

The MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an extended range / multipurpose (ER/MP) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the US Army.

Gray Eagle has an endurance of 25 hours, speeds up to167 KTAS, can operate up to 29,000 feet, and carries 1,075 lb (488 kg) of internal and external payload. The aircraft can carry multiple payloads aloft, including Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) with laser designation, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), communications relay, and four Hellfire missiles.

Compared to the Predator predecessor, Gray Eagle’s Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE) supports the Army’s “single fuel in the battlefield” concept and provides increased horsepower and significantly improved fuel efficiency, utilizing either jet or diesel fuel.

* If you wish to report grammatical or factual errors within our news articles, you can let us know by using the online feedback form.

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Labour leaders threaten general strike as they protest outside Ontario PC convention

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—Ontario is careening toward a general strike unless Premier Doug Ford changes his ways, a key labour leader warned outside a convention hall where the Progressive Conservatives debated their next steps in running the province.

Carrying protest signs and waving union flags, about 1,000 people gathered in biting cold winds Saturday as Ford and an equal number of cabinet ministers, MPPs and party activists started developing the PC platform for the June 2022 election.

“If the Conservatives don’t listen to us … we will shut this province down,” declared Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which organized the event to fight what she called Ford’s “regressive agenda.”

Inside the convention later in the day, Ford said the government is sticking to its “pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-people government” and repeated a promise he has not yet been able to keep – putting beer and wine in corner stores.

“My friends, the 2022 campaign starts today, starts now,” he told delegates during an 18-minute dinner speech in which he boasted of cancelling unnecessary green energy projects, planning new subway lines in Toronto and pledging “we’re here for the little guy.”

“Absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to stop us,” Ford vowed. “Our economy is firing on all cylinders.”

He took aim at the Liberals who will elect a new leader in two weeks after a campaign that has seen former cabinet minister Steven Del Duca take a commanding lead.

“The people we’re up against are the same ones who ran this province into the ground.”

Ford did not take questions, but Government House Leader Paul Calandra brushed aside the prospect of a broad labour disruption.

“We’re always willing to listen to anybody who wants to bring their opinions forward,” he told reporters amid unusually tight security and restrictions for a political convention by any party.

Journalists’ identities were checked and bags searched before they were escorted to a news conference with Calandra and Ford’s speech under instructions not to roam the convention hall where delegates were emerging from policy discussions.

“There is hot debate,” Calandara added. “Grassroots members would like to have that opportunity to have those discussions in private.”

Behind closed doors, former Ford campaign head Kory Teneycke advised delegates to hold steady in the face of opposition, particularly “those who have gotten fat from the largesse of past regimes” as the government works to balance the budget in 2023.

“Being a party of responsible choices is not just thankless, it’s often met with protests, anger and vitriol,” he says in a video obtained by the Star.

Other sources inside the convention told the Star party members were voting, among other items, on resolutions from social conservatives, including one from former PC leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen to axe the old Liberal sex education curriculum which Ford initially opposed and later relented after a consultation with parents.

In education sessions, there were concerns raised that the government is not getting its message out on countering the rotating teacher strikes and there was talk of more “choice” in education, particularly for faith-based schools – a promise that former PC leader John Tory made in the 2007 election campaign only to be soundly defeated by then-premier Dalton McGuinty.

Calandra apologized “unreservedly” to CBC reporter Mike Crawley who was repeatedly interrupted by a guard from Viking Security Corp. while doing a live report on the sidewalk outside the convention centre on Friday night.

“It wasn’t something that the PC party had asked to be done,” Calandra maintained.

But a co-owner of Viking challenged Calandra’s response.

“It was laid out ahead of time and in that moment,” Tammy Rolland said in a telephone interview with the Star, referring to an advance briefing with party officials and orders given on the scene. “He told me he was told to do it,” she added, referring to the guard.

At the rally outside Saturday, leaders of several unions, from teachers to health care and grocery store workers, hopped on the back of a flatbed truck to take the government to task for its 1 per cent public sector wage cap, plan for larger class sizes, more online learning, changes to autism funding that have left parents scrambling, and stalling the rise to a $15 minimum wage.

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“Let this government know that we will hold them accountable … for what they’re doing to working families,” Coates added.

“They need to change course.”

The crowd arrived on buses from as far away as Windsor and Ottawa, with two protesters bearing elaborate effigies of Ford and many sporting buttons saying “I am the people,” a twist on the premier’s victorious 2018 campaign slogan and theme song “for the people.”

The event followed Friday’s much larger encirclement of Queen’s Park by thousands of teachers from four unions whose one-day strike shut down every school in the province.

“This isn’t just about education,” Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said during 90 minutes of speeches.

“Next comes health care. Next comes all our public services — unless we push back.”

Sarah Labelle of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents tens of thousands of civil servants, echoed the OFL’s threat of widespread labour unrest.

“If it takes a general strike down the road we’re not scared.”

New Democrat MPP Wayne Gates, who represents Niagara Falls in the legislature, said the government has proven itself incapable of managing the province with a number of high-profile policy reversals after measures have backfired.

“They can’t even make licence plates,” he added in a mocking tone, referring to a problem that dogged Ford’s administration all week.

New double-blue plates which went into distribution Feb. 1 are hard to read in the dark because they give off a glare under some lighting conditions.

After initially denying the problem first raised by a Kingston police officer in a tweet that went viral, Government and Consumer Services said Thursday a fix is the works and plates already issued will be replaced.

The plates have been dubbed “propaganda plates” because they are in Conservative blue colours.

Rob Ferguson

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Labour leadership: Clive Lewis warns party only has ‘very slim’ chance of winning next general election without alliances

Labour leadership hopeful Clive Lewis has warned his party only has a “very slim” chance of winning the next general election unless it embraces alliances with other parties at Westminster.

As he battles to secure the required number of nominations from colleagues in the parliamentary party to remain in the contest, the left-wing candidate will today also launch his “transform to win” manifesto. 

The document focuses on radical democratic reform, including proposals for abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected chamber, introducing proportional representation at national elections, and a vow not to block a second Scottish independence referendum. 

It includes a number of measures aimed at tackling the climate crisis, with a net-zero emissions by 2030 target, the opposition of any future airport expansions, and introducing duties for individuals taking multiple flights per year.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Lewis warned, however, that Labour must put aside tribal differences and be open to forming pacts with progressive parties, or risk a fifth defeat in a row at the ballot box. 

Asked about the probability of Labour securing victory at the next general election, he replied: “On the current trajectory that we’re on with the current policies, the current strategy we’re using of not collaborating with other political parties – not embracing progressive alliance, not embracing working with others, I think it is very slim.

“And I don’t think it’s necessarily that just my opinion – I think the historical context shows that for Labour in the post-1945 period. The only time that Labour has convincingly come from opposition to win has been in 1997 in the post-war period. And to do that we had to tack quite substantially to the right.” 

Mr Lewis’s manifesto – to be released on Sunday – states that Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) should be given the option to decide if “they will stand down in favour of a better-placed candidates with the same values”. 

It adds: “We must be open to creating alliances of progressive and socialist organisations on a local level, particularly given the undemocratic electoral system face”. 

It is a significant break with Jeremy Corbyn, who repeatedly dismissed attempts throughout his leadership to form so-called “progressive alliances” with Liberal Democrat and Green candidates in order to thwart Conservative candidates’ chances of success at the ballot box. 

Pressed on what his leadership manifesto would concentrate on, Mr Lewis added: “Democracy. Democracy within the party, democracy in the country. The fact that we have a crisis of democracy, a crisis of social democracy that unless we accept this a longer term malaise, unless we understand that people need to have a sense of power, and agency in their lives.

“That this is in part what has seen the collapse… or a big part of the problem for Labour Party over the last century and in particular the last 40 years, then that is going to have be at the heart of what we do.” 

“From that you begin to see the possibilities – the whole thing about the climate crisis or about any policy we implement is making sure it’s not from the top down, what I’m saying is the reason that democracy runs through everything I’m doing is because I actually want to give people a say to feel empowered and I actually think we’ll get better policies coming from that.” ​

The left-winger urged the party to put aside ‘tribal differences’

As it stands, however, Mr Lewis, a former BBC journalist and army reservist, is struggling to convince his colleagues he has what it takes to be Labour’s next leader, with nominations so far from just three MPs. In order to reach the second stage of the contest, leadership hopefuls must secure the backing of at least 22 MPs or MEPs. 

Asked who he would back if didn’t make the second round of the contest to succeed Mr Corbyn, he said:  “What I would do is I will have to look and see who says what. I have heard so little from the other candidates. 

“I haven’t heard anything of significance yet. From my mind I want to hear who is going to have a radical programme of democratising not just our party – so we can transform to win – but also who is going to deal with the climate issue, who is going to deal with democracy crisis.” 

But while he said he would want to “hear what Jess Phillips is saying” in the contest, he added it was “highly unlikely” he would back her leadership “and the wing of the party that she comes from”.

For the deputy leadership position, Mr Lewis said he would nominate Dawn Butler, the shadow women and equalities minister, if she has not managed to secure sufficient support before the first round of the contest ends on Monday. “I want to see,” he added. “If she gets over the line then I can look around because there are other Bame candidates. There’s Rosena Allin-Khan.” 

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General election 2019: Labour facing long haul, warns McDonnell

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Media captionJohn McDonnell says it’s time for him to step aside as shadow chancellor

Labour faces a “long haul” as it attempts to gain power following its fourth election defeat in a row, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has warned.

He rejected claims that leader Jeremy Corbyn had been responsible for the result, instead blaming “the overwhelming issue” of Brexit.

But some current and ex-MPs have said Mr Corbyn’s unpopularity contributed to Labour losing dozens of seats.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won on Thursday with a Commons majority of 80.

The outcome, far more positive for the Tories than most opinion polls had predicted, has prompted much soul-searching within Labour, which last won a general election under Tony Blair in 2005.

Mr Corbyn has announced he will stand down in the near future and Mr McDonnell, one of his closest allies, said he had been “the right leader” for the party.

But Labour MP Phil Wilson, who lost the seat of Sedgefield which he had held for 12 years, said “so many people said to me on the doorstep, Phil, if you had a different leader, I’d vote for you, there wouldn’t be a problem”.

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Media captionFormer Labour MP: Corbyn lost me my seat

Asked whether Mr Corbyn lost him his seat, Mr Wilson replied: “Yes.”

For many of his constituents, he said: “The one thing that was holding them back from voting Labour was the current leadership of the Labour Party.”

He added: “For every one person who raised Brexit with me on the doorstep, there would be five people who raised Jeremy Corbyn.”

Image caption

Phil Wilson had been the MP for Sedgefield since 2007

Meanwhile, Labour’s Helen Goodman, who lost her Bishop Auckland seat to the Conservatives on Thursday, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “the biggest factor was obviously the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader”.

And Dame Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking, east London, said she felt “anger because this is an election we should have won”.

She added that, under Mr Corbyn’s leadership – during which Labour has faced criticism for its handling of anti-Semitism allegations among its membership – voters had come to see it “as a nasty party”.

Asked whether M Former Labour MP Phil Wilson, who lost the seat of Sedgefield which he had held for 12 years, said “so many people said to me on the doorstep, Phil, if you had a different leader, I’d vote for you, there wouldn’t be a problem”.

Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, said the party’s “far-left” manifesto had alienated much of the electorate.

However, Labour’s ex-Welsh secretary, Lord Hain, insisted the party must not embrace a “wishy-washy centrism” in the wake of its defeat.

Lord Hain, a cabinet minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said the “Corbyn project” had some “very searching self-examination” to do, but it was important to offer “a clear alternative to the Tory project”.

Mr McDonnell disagreed with personal criticism of his leader, saying: “The overwhelming issue was Brexit and the Labour Party was caught on the horns of a dilemma.

“We had a party which was largely supportive of Remain, but many of us represented Leave constituencies.”

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Image caption

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are longstanding allies

In the election, Labour’s number of Commons seats fell to 203, its lowest since 1935.

Mr Corbyn, leader since 2015, ran for prime minister on a promise to hold a second referendum on Brexit, saying that during any campaign he would remain neutral – in contrast to Mr Johnson’s promise to take the UK out of the EU by 31 January.

Mr McDonnell said: “If we went one way, to Leave, we would have alienated a lot of our Remain support. If we went for Remain, we’d alienate a lot of our Leave support.

“We tried to bring the country together. It failed. We have to accept that, take it on the chin. We have to own that and then move on.”

Mr McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington in west London, said Labour now needed to have “a constructive debate” about its future, discussing “what went right and what went wrong” during the election campaign.

He argued that Mr Corbyn, who has received criticism from some Labour figures for not standing down immediately, was right to stay on “for a couple of months”.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionJeremy Corbyn: “There is no such thing as Corbynism”

It was necessary because of the “expertise” required to deal with issues such as Brexit and the forthcoming Budget, he said.

Discussing Mr Johnson’s government, Mr McDonnell said: “My fear is that we’re in for a long haul now, possibly five years.

“The two issues that we face are still there – huge, grotesque levels of inequality and, the issue that never really emerged in the campaign, which was climate change, this existential threat that must be our priority.

“Brexit, well, we’ll see what the government brings back in terms of its negotiations. The people have decided we need to implement that, but we’ve got to get the best deal to protect jobs and the economy.”

He added: “My fear is five years of a fossil fuel-backed government under Boris Johnson means we’ll miss this five-years opportunity of saving our planet.”

At the 2017 general election, Mr Corbyn’s first as Labour leader, the party won 40% of votes and gained 30 MPs, denying Theresa May’s Conservatives a majority.

But on Thursday it received 32% of the vote and lost 59 seats, including several of its traditional strongholds in the north of England.

Mr Corbyn said that, during the election campaign, he had done “everything I could” and that he had “pride” in the party’s manifesto.

The Labour leader’s sons, Tommy, Seb and Benjamin, tweeted a tribute to their father, calling him an “honest, humble and good-natured” figure in the “poisonous world” of politics.

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UK General Election: All the latest updates | UK News

The United Kingdom has voted in a general election seen as a critical juncture in the Brexit crisis engulfing British politics.

Thursday’s high-stakes ballot came after months of political deadlock over the UK’s drama-filled bid to quit the European Union, with MPs split over how to execute the result of the 2016 referendum on membership of the bloc.  Final results are expected by early Friday morning.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party offered starkly different visions for resolving the impasse and rebuilding the UK after a decade of austerity during a febrile campaign period in the lead up to the vote.

Here are the latest updates:

Friday, December 13

01:45 GMT: Another pair of Tory gains

Peterborough and the Welsh seat of Vale of Clwyd go to the Conservatives – another two big losses for Labour.

01:30 GMT: More bad news for Labour

Two more big losses for Labour just announced. Darlington has gone from Labour to the Conservatives, while the Tories have also taken Workington – a constituency which has been a Labour seat for all but three years since its creation in 1918.

In Scotland, the SNP has taken Rutherglen & Hamilton West from Labour, and appear on course to perform very well north of the border.

Other results in the past hour include Middlesbrough (Labour hold), Swindon North (Conservative hold), Newcastle upon Tyne North (Labour hold), Nuneaton (Conservative hold), South Shields (Labour hold), Halton (Labour hold), Broxbourne (Labour hold), Wansbeck (Labour hold), Fylde (Conservative hold), Kettering (Conservative hold).

We’re into the thick of it with constituency announcements now, and could see another 200 decalring results within the coming hour.

00:55 GMT: Swedish PM says Brexit will happen

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says that Britain’s election results, according to exit polls, meant Brexit would now materialise and that time was short to seal a new relationship deal between the EU and the UK.

“It is a very clear result – it will not change by tomorrow morning,” Lofven tells reporters on leaving an EU summit in Brussels that Johnson skipped.

“[It] means that we will move forward with our separation … we now have 11 months to hash out a deal. It’s a very short time.”

00:45 GMT: Labour candidate calls for Corbyn to quit

Labour leader Corbyn must quit, party candidate Gareth Snell says, conceding that he expects to lose his parliamentary seat in Stoke-on-Trent – a city once regarded as a Labour stronghold.

Snell says a combination of the perception that Labour was blocking Britain’s exit from the European Union, and some voters dislike of Corbyn meant he expected to lose the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat.

Asked if it was time for Corbyn and his finance chief John McDonnell to go, Snell replies: “Yes”.

00:35 GMT: Minority Report

As journalist Mehdi Hasan calls the impending result “a dark day for minorities”, former Conservative Party chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has called for a moment of introspection. Al Jazeera’s Anealla Safdar and Linah Alsaafin have also reported on Islamophobia within the Conservative Party – read The rot of Tory Islamophobia goes all the way to the top.

00:20 GMT: Contenders, ready?

Thursday, December 12

23:45 GMT: ‘Maybe not the right Brexit’

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said Britain would leave the European Union if Boris Johnson’s Conservatives win the majority forecast in the exit poll, but it may not be the hard Brexit he had spent his political career campaigning for.

“We are going to get Brexit. Are we going to get the right one? Maybe not,” he told the BBC. “My purpose was to try to get the right kind of Brexit. If we get half a loaf out of it, well that’s what we’ve achieved.”

Farage dec 10 - reuters

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was not standing for a parliamentary seat in this election, having failed seven times to win election to Westminster [Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

23:40 GMT: Swinson in trouble

Boris Johnson isn’t the only party leader with concerns about winning their own seat – the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson has a 95 percent chance of losing her own constituency of Dunbartonshire East to the SNP. We’re expecting the official result for that constituency at around 3:00am.

23:35 GMT: Question marks over Corbyn leadership

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said he will not serve “either as a temporary or a permanent” leader of the Labour Party if Jeremy Corbyn were to stand down.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: “The poll itself, I think it looks as though it’s Brexit dominated, a lot of this I think was Brexit fatigue, people just wanted it over and done with and it put Labour in a very difficult position.

“But also, it is about installing what is generally seen as the most right-wing extreme cabinet that we’ve seen in our history, and it means, therefore, if they have a large majority like this, they will have, therefore, the opportunity to introduce some quite reactionary policies.

“If the electorate have decided this way, that’s democracy, you have to respect it. But I don’t think it will bring the country together, I think it will be divided still.”

23:30 GMT: First official results

Newcastle Central is the first constituency to report; a convincing Labour win, holding on to a party stronghold.

Sunderland reported just a minute or so later, another Labour hold, albeit with a reduced majority.

Blyth Valley came in at number three – and a highly significant result – the Conservatives have won the seat, a former mining area and traditional Labour heartland, for the first time.

23:20 GMT: ‘Flabbergasted’

Kevin Craig is a Labour Party activist and donor. “I’m flabbergasted,” he told Al Jazeera. 

“Earlier today, the feedback I was getting was that we had done surprisingly well – we’d rallied in the Midlands, we’d rallied in the east, the Labour party was running out of the campaign balls used to go door-knocking in several regions … But anything like the numbers in the exit poll are hugely bad news, and it does go back to Brexit for me.”

23:10 GMT: Could Boris win election but lose seat?

“If this exit poll proves right, it’s historic, it’s even a landslide,” said Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reporting from outside Parliament.

“An 86-seat majority in Parliament is colossal. It will also show that simple messaging works – ‘get Brexit done’ – a mantra. And for all the criticism that Boris Johnson has received in this campaign; his accusers saying that he lies, that he is not to be trusted, yet we have this massive push towards him – if the poll turns out to be true.”

Emma Hayward is at the count in Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge in west London.

“Boris Johnson is up against Ali Milani, a Labour campaigner who has been out on the streets for months trying to get people out on his side. There has been a big campaign to try to oust Boris Johnson from this seat – in 2015, he came here with a healthy majority, but that was halved in 2017.

“It’s getting tense here, and it’ll get more tense as the night goes on. There’s no guarantee that he will win here, but he will be buoyed by this poll.”

23:00 GMT: Boris Johnson reacts

22:55 GMT: Sterling soars

The pound has soared against the dollar and the euro in the aftermath of the exit poll, as investors predict a level of stability to the UK’s government absent in recent years.

The pound was up 2.21 percent to 1.347 dollars – an 18-month high – and up 1.38 percent to 1.205 euros, a level close to before the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“Markets hate uncertainty but they would have hated a Corbyn government a lot more,” Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at, told the Press Association news agency.

Dean Turner, an economist at UBS Wealth Management, added: “We’ve long said that sterling looks a very cheap currency. If Brexit is indeed completed by the end of January, we see the pound trading as high as 1.35 against the US dollar.

“However, a long-term lack of clarity on Brexit and sterling to produce minimal UK earnings growth next year.”

22:45 GMT: ‘The Brexit we deserve’

David Allen Green is a noted legal blogger who has built a reputation for his commentary on the way Brexit is being delivered.

22:30 GMT: What the pollsters are saying

Chris Hopkins, head of political research at research consultancy Savanta ComRes, told Al Jazeera the exit poll indicated the prime minister’s “pared-back” campaign messaging had worked.

“If this was the Brexit election and it looks like, for all intents and purposes, if this exit poll is correct, that it was, then the simple message of ‘get brexit done’ has clearly resonated,” Hopkins said.

“Johnson is going to want to get his Brexit deal through as soon as he can, and it sounds like he is going to have the numbers to do so at a canter really, very, very easily.”

22:10 GMT: First reactions to exit poll

“Northern Ireland has been thrown into uncertainty, while the Labour vote appears to have collapsed in the Midlands and the north,” Scott Lucas, professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham, has told Al Jazeera. “Could Scotland now look for independence in the next five years?”

The exit poll suggests the Scottish National Party will win 55 seats, a major boost for the pro-independence party. But Johnson’s Conservatives have ruled out an independence vote, and if the exit poll does translate into a large win for the Tories, the SNP’s ambitions will face serious obstacles.

“Many people will now be wondering where this leaves the very many people who are worried about Brexit here in Scotland, which voted by a majority to remain in the EU, and who may now be starting to shift towards favouring independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom,” said Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

22:05 GMT: Race is on for first official results

With polls now closed, constituencies in the north-east of England are racing to be the first to declare official results. We’re likely to see both Newcastle Central and Houghton and Sunderland South declare within the coming hour.

22:00 GMT: Exit poll figures announced

A poll of more than 20,000 voters suggests Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party winning 368 seats and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour securing just 191 seats – a very large Conservative majority of 86 seats.

21:50 GMT: Last moments of voting

With voting due to end at 2200GMT, and the release of the all-important exit poll at the same time, Britons are waiting with baited breath to see who will be ruling them in the morning.

Al Jazeera has been covering this election in detail throughout the campaign. Here are some of the highlights of our coverage so far:

Listening Post: Misinformation, lies and media spin: Inside the UK election

‘The rot of Tory Islamophobia goes all the way to top’

Hard Times: One UK town’s struggle in the age of austerity

And while you’re waiting for the results to start trickling in, why not refresh your memory of what is at stake in this election with our handy infographic guide?

UK brexit infog tease

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Inspector general Michael Horowitz gives opening statement to Senate

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog said that FBI agents involved in the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election failed to “meet the basic obligation” to ensure that the court applications to monitor a former Trump campaign staffer were “scrupulously accurate.”

“We identified significant inaccuracies and omissions in each of the four applications: 7 in the first FISA application and a total of 17 by the final renewal application,” Michael Horowitz testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

He said his team couldn’t determine whether correcting the misstatements and omissions would have “resulted in a different outcome.”

But “the Department’s decision makers and the court should have been given complete and accurate information so that they could meaningfully evaluate probable cause before authorizing the surveillance of a U.S. person associated with a presidential campaign,” he said.

“We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams; on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations; after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” Horowitz continued.

He said the FBI team first thought about going to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to seek an order to target the Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, in August 2016, agency attorneys considered that it was a “close call” whether they had developed the necessary probable cause to get the order.

An order was not requested at the time.

But a month later, after FBI agents received information about Page’s alleged contacts with Russian officials from the report compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele they informed the department they were ready to move ahead with the FISA order.

“FBI and Department officials told us the Steele reporting ‘pushed [the FISA proposal] over the line’ in terms of establishing probable cause, and we concluded that the Steele reporting played a central and essential role in the decision to seek a FISA order,” Horowitz will say.

“FBI leadership supported relying on Steele’s reporting to seek a FISA order targeting Page after being advised of, and giving consideration to, concerns expressed by a Department attorney that Steele may have been hired by someone associated with a rival candidate or campaign.”

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General election 2019: Jonathan Ashworth insists Jeremy Corbyn criticism was ‘banter’

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Media captionJonathan Ashworth: “Of course it makes me look like a right plonker”

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth has insisted his apparent criticism of Jeremy Corbyn in a leaked secret recording by his Tory activist friend was “banter”.

The recording was leaked to Tory-supporting website Guido Fawkes.

He told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire he was “joshing” when he told his friend that he thought there was no way Labour could win the election.

The shadow health secretary added he did not think Mr Corbyn would be a security threat if he was elected.

Mr Ashworth named the friend he was speaking to as former local Conservative Association chairman, Greig Baker, and he did not deny that he made the remarks.

  • Latest on campaigning as election day nears

Asked on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme about his comments that the situation for Labour was “dire” and the party had made a mistake by not getting rid of Mr Corbyn as leader, Mr Ashworth insisted this was not his view.

In the recording he says his party made an error in 2016 “when we went too early” – appearing to refer to an unsuccessful plot to oust Mr Corbyn, instigated by some of his MPs in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

“People like me were internally saying ‘this isn’t the right moment’ but I got kind of ignored,” Mr Ashworth is recorded as saying.


Mr Ashworth told the BBC: “Of course it makes me look like a right plonker, but it’s not what I mean when I’m winding up a friend, trying to sort of, pull his leg a bit.”

He said he was “having a bit of banter” with his friend “because he was saying ‘oh, the Tories are going to lose’ and I was, like saying, ‘no you’re going to be fine’, joshing as old friends do.

“And he’s only gone and leaked it to a website – selectively leaked it – and I thought he was a friend, Greig Baker, but obviously he’s not.”

When asked if he believed, as the recording suggested, that Mr Corbyn was a threat to the UK’s national security, Mr Ashworth replied: “Of course I don’t.”

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Mr Ashworth’s remarks were “an honest and truly devastating assessment” of Mr Corbyn’s leadership “by one of his most trusted election lieutenants”.

He said: “If even Corbyn’s closest political allies think he is unfit to be prime minister, why on earth should voters be expected to put their trust in him and them?”

It’s striking that in the dying embers of this campaign – which has been so carefully scripted and choreographed by the parties – suddenly events have burst into it and changed the dynamic.

Yesterday it was that photo of four-year-old Jack lying on a hospital floor. Today it’s that recording of Jonathan Ashworth – by someone who was meant to be his friend.

They clearly knew his views of Jeremy Corbyn and basically it amounts to what looks like a sting – because the individual he was talking to is a Conservative activist.

Nevertheless, the remarks are out there and they are damning.

Here you have the man who is meant to be fronting Labour’s attack on the NHS basically saying they haven’t a hope of winning, that voters believe they blocked Brexit and they don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.

And, perhaps most damning of all, seeming to suggest that Mr Corbyn is a risk to national security.

So this is absolutely going to dominate the headlines today.

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General election: Council tax more likely to go up under Tories than Labour, IFS suggests – live news

Lib Dem leader said leaders should be ‘very careful’ about relationship with US president, ahead of his arrival for Nato

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10.51am GMT

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing on the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat plans for local government funding. This is not an issue that has attracted much attention in the campaign so far, but it deserves some focus because councils provide vital services – and the gap between what’s on offer from the Tories and Labour is vast.

Although the Conservatives claim to be a low-tax party, under their plans it is more likely that council tax would have to rise, the IFS suggests.

The money allocated by the Conservatives would not be sufficient to meet rising costs and demands over the next parliament even if council tax were increased by 4% a year, necessitating a further retrenchment in services or unfunded top-ups to the plans set out.

The Labour party has allocated more than enough money to meet rising costs and demands, allowing increases in service provision and quality, although not enough to restore them to 2010 levels. That is true even if council tax were frozen – although Labour has no plans for such a freeze.

10.24am GMT

In her BBC phone-in Nicola Sturgeon said she would like to see the SNP represented in the talks with the EU that would take place if Labour formed a government and negotiated a new Brexit deal. This issue came up in response to a question about fishing. Asked if the SNP would want to have someone negotiating alongside Labour on this, Sturgeon replied:

I want to make sure, in any of these discussions, the interests of the fishing industry were absolutely paramount, and that’s a commitment I would make on behalf of the SNP.

I think Scotland should be at the table in any of these discussions, all of the time, rather than being shut out by Westminster. And fishing is an example of the particular interests we have that mean that we should be much more represented.

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