Cyprus Leader Ready To Attend UN Meet On Ending Deadlock

A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government’s Press and Information Office (PIO) on January 11, 2021, shows UN Special Envoy Jane Holl Lute (R) meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades (L) and ministers at the presidential palace in the capital Nicosia. (Photo by Stavros IOANNIDES / PIO / AFP)

 

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told a UN envoy Monday he is ready to attend an informal conference involving Britain, Greece and Turkey to end a deadlock in peace talks, officials said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta then in power in Athens aimed at annexing the island to Greece.

There have been no official UN-sponsored negotiations on the island’s future since a conference in Switzerland –- also involving Britain, Greece, and Turkey –- collapsed in July 2017.

UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, on her second visit to Cyprus since December, held talks on Monday with Anastasiades before crossing the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

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“During the meeting, the President of the Republic expressed his readiness to participate in the informal five-party meeting,” Cyprus government spokesperson Kyriacos Koushios said.

“He also expressed his expectation that the… meeting will lead to a substantial resumption of talks, with the aim of reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he told reporters.

Lute had told Anastasiades that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres intended to convene a five-party conference in February.

Guterres is hoping to get the three governments more involved to build momentum.

In a report to the UN Security Council this month, Guterres said the parties had expressed a willingness to attend an informal conference under his auspices.

“I intend to invite the sides and the guarantor powers to this informal meeting as soon as practicable in 2021,” Guterres said.

Guterres also acknowledged “scepticism” on the prospects of peace talks resuming has risen on both sides of the divided island.

In November, rival Cypriot leaders held a “break-the-ice” meeting at which they promised to back a UN-led peace push involving the outside powers.

It was their first and only meeting since the Ankara-backed Tatar was elected leader of the breakaway north in October.

Tatar was elected on a hardline platform of seeking a two-state solution for Cyprus, rather than a bi-communal federation.

The two men have acknowledged their positions on the way forward are “far apart”.

Britain, Greece and Turkey act as guarantors of the island’s sovereignty under the treaty that gave Cyprus independence from British rule in 1960.

UK Helps Raise $1 Billion In Global Vaccine Donations

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP


Britain said on Sunday it has helped raise $1 billion (818 million euros) from global donors towards the drive to help “vulnerable countries” access coronavirus vaccines, by match-funding contributions.

The UK said, in addition, it has committed £548 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), after matching with £1 every $4 pledged by other donors.

Canada, Japan and Germany are among the countries to make contributions that it matched, helping the AMC raise more than $1.7 billion in total so far.

The fund will allow for the distribution of one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to 92 developing countries this year, according to Britain’s Foreign Office.

“We’ll only be safe from this virus, when we’re all safe — which is why we’re focused on a global solution to a global problem,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

The announcement came as Britain marks the 75th anniversary of the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in London, hosting UN Secretary-General António Guterres for a so-called virtual visit starting Sunday.

Guterres will on Monday meet Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as Alok Sharma, who was this week designated full-time president of the UN’s next major climate summit, COP26, in November.

Sharma had previously done the role part-time alongside his UK government job of secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, which he left Friday.

Ahead of the virtual visit, Guterres said he was honoured to “renew our cause of overcoming global challenges together, and celebrate a country that was instrumental in creating the United Nations”.

Also on Monday, Guterres and global leaders will try to reignite international environmental diplomacy with a biodiversity summit to launch a critical year for efforts to stem the devastating effects of global warming and species loss.

The One Planet Summit, a largely virtual event hosted by France in partnership with the United Nations and the World Bank, will include French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union chief Ursula Von der Leyen.

Britain Locks Down Over COVID-19 Surge Despite New Vaccine Rollout

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 11, 2020 A laboratory technician supervises capped vials during filling and packaging tests for the large-scale production. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

 

Schools and colleges across Britain closed on Tuesday ahead of a national lockdown as the country battled to control surging coronavirus cases that are threatening to overwhelm its healthcare system.

The tough new measures were announced Monday even as Britain began rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots, a possible game-changer in fighting Covid-19 worldwide, and as vaccine programmes in the United States and Europe stumbled.

Scotland began its lockdown Tuesday, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all of England, the UK’s largest nation, would close down from Wednesday — possibly into mid-February.

The latest virus moves are aimed at containing a severe wave of infections with a new coronavirus strain believed to spread faster.

“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” Johnson said in a televised address.

Similar to a first March-June lockdown last year, the new moves include the closure of schools and a ban on leaving home for all but exercise and essential shopping.

As Britain ramped up its inoculation programme Monday with the shots developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, pressure was growing on European authorities to speed up their vaccine approvals process.

The European Medicines Agency is yet to approve the Moderna vaccine, and it has said a decision on the AstraZeneca jab is unlikely in January.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders were expected Tuesday to extend a shutdown in Europe’s top economy as coronavirus deaths mounted despite tough restrictions in the run-up to the holidays.

– US vaccine sabotage –

The ease of storage and use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine compared with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna alternatives could mean greater access for less wealthy nations in the fight against the coronavirus, which has infected more than 85 million people with more than 1.8 million known deaths.

Mexico on Monday followed India in approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use.

The efforts to accelerate vaccinations come as concerns grow about the potentially more transmissible variant spreading out of control.

The Chinese firm Sinopharm said Monday its vaccine — with a claimed effectiveness of 79 percent — remains effective against the new variant.

In the United States, the worst-hit nation in the world, the rollout of vaccines has been plagued by logistical problems and overstretched hospitals and clinics.

But authorities also face the challenge of conspiracy theories spread on social media that could increase vaccine hesitancy and outright rejection — and even sabotage.

That threat was illustrated last week in the US state of Wisconsin, where a pharmacist was accused of intentionally spoiling hundreds of Moderna doses because of a baseless conspiracy theory.

Steven Brandenburg, who appeared before a judge Monday, “told investigators that he believed that Covid-19 vaccine was not safe for people and could harm them and change their DNA”, according to a police statement quoted by local media.

– ‘Existential crisis’ –

Mass vaccinations are considered key to breaking the back of the pandemic, which has impacted all walks of life and severely restricted activities that involve large gatherings.

The world of sport has been hit hard, with events postponed, cancelled entirely, or held in empty arenas.

Organisers of the Australian Grand Prix said a final call on staging the race will be made in the coming weeks, with strict travel restrictions and Australian quarantine requirements in place because of the new variant.

The pandemic has also hammered the live music industry, with Britain’s summer festivals such as Glastonbury into “existential crisis”.

Lockdowns and restrictions have forced music venues to shutter in Britain, and in many other parts of the world.

“There is a real threat that the vast majority of the 2021 season will not happen either,” UK Music, an industry organisation, warned Tuesday, calling for greater government support.

UK Set For Tougher COVID-19 Rules As Cases Surge

People queue to enter a novel coronavirus COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Walthamstow in north east London, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday warned the country to expect tougher restrictions to combat spiralling coronavirus cases, as a row flared over whether schools should reopen.

“It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country,” Johnson told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“I’m fully, fully reconciled to that.”

Britain recorded 57,725 new cases on Saturday, its highest total of the entire pandemic, with a new strain of the virus tearing across the country.

Health officials are concerned that the surging numbers could overwhelm hospitals during their busiest time of the year.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer urged the prime minister to immediately impose national lockdown measures.

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“It’s no good the prime minister hinting that further restrictions are coming into place in a week or two or three,” he told British media, adding the virus was “clearly out of control”.

“So I say bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions within the next 24 hours.”

Much of Britain is already under strict regional rules to prevent the spread, although primary schools are set to reopen in most of the country when the Christmas holiday ends on Monday.

However, around one million four to 11 year olds will learn remotely after the government announced primary schools in London, where case rates are particularly high, would remain closed.

Johnson told parents elsewhere that they should “absolutely” send their young children to school when term begins.

“I understand people’s frustrations, I understand people’s anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.

“We’ve really fought very hard throughout this pandemic across the country to keep schools open,” he added.

But Jerry Glazier, national executive member of the National Education Union, told AFP on Sunday that “schools are now playing a significant part in the spreading of the infection” and called for them all to be closed for at least two weeks.

“Schools are unsafe for the kids and unsafe for the education workers,” he added. “Many teachers are very anxious about going back into the workplace.”

Johnson said that public health experts had highlighted the long term health and social costs of children being kept out of school.

– ‘Tough period ahead’ –

“There are many factors you have to take into account, particularly deprivation in left-behind communities,” he told Marr.

“The issue is how can you stop schools being places the virus can circulate. Weekly lateral flow testing in schools I believe can make a huge difference.”

The government is also concerned that closing schools will lead to further chaos for students sitting their final exams in the May and June.

Johnson, who has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 75,000 people in Britain, is pinning his hopes on the mass rollout of the recently approved AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

Britain will have 530,000 doses of the vaccine available for use from Monday.

“We can see the way ahead in terms of a route forward, we can see how we can get out of this. But we do have a tough period ahead,” he warned.

Britain has already vaccinated around one million people after approving the Pfizer vaccine in early December, Johnson said Sunday.

“We hope to be able to do tens of millions in the course of the next three months,” said the prime minister.

Assange Faces UK Court Ruling On Extradition To US

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London./AFP

 

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces a UK court ruling on Monday over whether he should be extradited to the United States on espionage charges for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret documents online.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is due to give her decision at the Old Bailey court in central London from 1000 GMT, in a case that has become a cause celebre for media freedom.

Assange, 49, faces 18 charges in the United States relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The extradition hearing follows over a decade of international legal controversies surrounding the Australian publisher.

Monday’s court decision is subject to appeal, meaning legal proceedings in the country could still continue before any possible extradition.

If convicted in the United States, Assange could be jailed for up to 175 years.

Before the ruling, both Germany and a UN rights expert expressed concern over the human rights and humanitarian problems presented by the extradition.

Assange suffers from a respiratory condition that makes him more vulnerable to Covid-19, which has infected several inmates at the high-security prison in southeast London where he has been held.

Defence witnesses called during the hearing said Assange’s history of depression meant he would be a suicide risk if sent to the United States and locked up in a maximum-security prison.

He has also complained of hearing imaginary voices and music during his detention.

Clear message

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, told AFP on Sunday that he was “almost certain” the court will rule against Assange.

“We’ve seen such bias in the proceedings, there have been so many violations against Julian in the proceedings, that unfortunately I’m almost certain that the decision tomorrow will be that he should be extradited.”

In an earlier statement, he said that “the mere fact that this case has made it to court, let alone gone on this long, is an historic, large-scale attack on freedom of speech”.

United Nations special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer has urged US President Donald Trump to pardon Assange, saying he is not “an enemy of the American people”.

“In pardoning Mr. Assange, Mr. President, you would send a clear message of justice, truth, and humanity to the American people and to the world,” he wrote in December.

“You would rehabilitate a courageous man who has suffered injustice, persecution, and humiliation for more than a decade, simply for telling the truth.”

The prospect of a possible pardon from the outgoing US leader has gained ground following a slew of pardons granted to a number of Trump’s political allies.

The UK hearing in February last year was told Trump promised to pardon Assange if he testified Russia hacked into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the 2016 election campaign.

WikiLeaks later published the emails, which proved politically damaging to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton before the vote.

Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancee and the mother of his two young sons, has appealed to Trump directly. “The people want you to pardon Assange. Please listen,” she wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

In court, his lawyers have argued the charges against him are political while outside supporters have mounted a noisy daily vigil.

Baraitser will have to decide whether the US request for extradition is compatible with human rights.

Washington for its part claims Assange helped intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal the documents before exposing confidential sources around the world.

After Sweden first issued an arrest warrant for Assange in 2010 over allegations of sexual assault, he sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he remained from 2012 until 2019.

In April 2019, Ecuador, by then ruled by right-wing President Lenin Moreno, revoked his citizenship.

The following day, British police dragged Assange out of the embassy, having been informed that his asylum had been withdrawn. He was arrested by British police for breaching his bail terms.

The earlier Swedish assault investigation against him was later dropped due to lack of evidence.

New Year, New Rules: UK Begins Post-Brexit Future

People watch a fireworks display during New Year celebrations at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on January 1, 2021. (Photo by KIM Won Jin / AFP)

 

Britain on Friday began a new year and life outside Europe, after leaving the bloc’s single market trading rules to go it alone for the first time in nearly half a century.

Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the Channel since 2016, became reality an hour before midnight, ending the UK’s 48-year obligation to follow Brussels’ rules.

Free movement of over 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states ended.

More rigorous customs checks returned for the first time in decades, despite the hard-fought brokering of a tariff- and quota-free trade deal.

New Year’s Day newspapers reflected the historic but still deeply divisive change, which will have repercussions for generations to come.

The pro-Brexit Daily Express’ front-page photograph showed the White Cliffs of Dover — an enduring symbol of Britishness — with “Freedom” written on a Union flag.

“Our Future. Our Britain. Our Destiny,” its headline said.

The pro-EU Independent, though, was less sure: “Off the hook — or cut adrift?” it asked, reflecting widespread uncertainty at the path the country had now chosen.

 

Frech custom offciers watch the first vehicle entering the Eurotunnel terminal post Brexit, an Estonian lorry driver, on January 1, 2021, in Coquelles, northern France. (Photo by Lewis Joly / POOL / AFP)

 

As dawn broke on 2021, attention turned to Britain’s borders, particularly its key Channel seaports, to see if the end to seamless trade and travel would cause delays and disruption.

But with New Year’s Day a public holiday followed by a weekend, and the government having announced the phased introduction of checks, few immediate problems were envisaged.

“The traffic forecast for the next few days is very light,” said John Keefe, spokesman for Eurotunnel, which transports freight, cars and coaches under the Channel.

Practical changes

From Monday, more truckers transporting goods to and from mainland Europe face the new rules, including permits to even drive on the roads leading to Channel ports like Dover.

The Road Haulage Association, an industry body, estimates that some 220 million new forms will now need to be filled in every year to allow trade to flow with EU countries.

“This is a revolutionary change,” Rod McKenzie, managing director of public policy at the RHA, told The Times newspaper this week.

Other practical changes include how long Britons can visit their holiday homes on the continent, to travel with pets, and an end to British involvement in an EU student programme.

Holidaymakers and business travellers used to seamless EU travel could face delays, although fears Britons will have to get international permits to drive in Europe were averted by a separate accord.

British fishermen are disgruntled at a compromise in the free trade agreement to allow continued access for EU boats in British waters, which has raised fears of clashes at sea.

The key financial services sector also faces an anxious wait to learn on what basis it can keep dealing with Europe, after being largely omitted from the trade deal along with services in general, which account for 80 percent of Britain’s economy.

In Northern Ireland, the border with Ireland will be closely watched to ensure movement is unrestricted — key to a 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence over British rule.

And in pro-EU Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a clear sign of a looming battle ahead for a new vote on independence.

“Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on,” she tweeted.

 

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to update the nation on the post-Brexit trade agreement, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 24, 2020.  (Photo by Paul GROVER / POOL / AFP)

 

‘Make the most of it’

Despite the uncertainty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is bullishly optimistic, describing the culmination of Brexit as an “amazing moment” for the country.

He vowed that post-Brexit Britain, despite being battered by a surge in coronavirus cases, would be an “open, generous, outward-looking, internationalist and free-trading” country.

“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he added in a New Year’s message.

The divisions over Brexit, both political and social, remain deep and are likely to last for years, despite a muted end to the saga overshadowed by the global health crisis.

Opinion polls indicate that most Britons want to move on and are far more worried about the worsening coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 73,500 dead in Britain alone.

 

A man gives a welcome pack to the second vehicle entering the Eurotunnel terminal post Brexit, a Polish lorry driver, on January 1, 2021, in Coquelles, northern France. – Britain on Thursday finally severed its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe, quitting the EU single market and customs union and going its own way four-and-a-half years after its shock vote to leave the bloc. Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the Channel since 2016, became a reality as Big Ben struck 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) in London, just as most of mainland Europe ushered in 2021. (Photo by Lewis Joly / POOL / AFP)

 

Johnson, who survived several days in intensive care with Covid last April, warned of tough times ahead but said a UK-developed vaccine offered grounds for hope.

But his desire for a prosperous, more globally focused Britain could yet see a resurgence of Brexit wrangling, as the country finds out what its new trading terms mean in reality.

COVID-19: UK Approaches One Million Vaccinated As Cases Surge

People queue to enter a novel coronavirus COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Walthamstow in north east London, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

Britain said Thursday that it had vaccinated almost 950,000 people, as a surge in coronavirus cases prompted the reopening of field hospitals and warnings not to party on New Year’s Eve.

According to the latest government figures, 944,539 people in the UK had received a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as of Sunday.

A second approved vaccine, developed by Oxford University and British drugs firm AstraZeneca, will be given from next week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the figures showed the state-run National Health Service had “risen to this enormous task”.

He predicted the number of vaccinations would “rise rapidly in the months ahead”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a New Year message underscored the “hard struggle” ahead, as pressure mounted on the NHS to deal with the rise in cases.

But at the same time, he said that “as the sun rises tomorrow on 2021, we have the certainty of those vaccines”.

The positive news came as England on Thursday was preparing to reopen its Nightingale field hospitals as the surge in cases of the new strain of coronavirus strained bed capacity.

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The government launched a campaign for New Year’s Eve telling people to avoid any socialising. “Act like you’ve got it,” it said.

A leaked email sent to staff at The Royal London Hospital, one of the main hospitals in the capital, and published by ITV News, said that “we are now in disaster medicine mode”.

The hospital was “no longer providing high standard critical care, because we cannot”, it added.

– ‘Reactivated and ready’ –

An NHS spokesman said the temporary Nightingale facilities across England “are being readied to admit patients once again should they be needed”.

He said that “in anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection,” the authorities asked the NHS to ensure London’s Nightingale hospital was “reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and that process is under way”.

The hospital is located in a convention centre in east London.

Seven Nightingale hospitals were opened with fanfare across England during the first wave of the virus at an estimated cost of £220 million, to provide extra beds for patients with coronavirus.

Named after one of the pioneers of nursing, Florence Nightingale, some are in exhibition centres. Other parts of the UK built similar facilities.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Times Radio that the military, which helped to build them, “stands ready” to help staff the hospitals if the NHS runs out of critical care beds.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that the London Nightingale hospital had no patients and had been stripped of beds and ventilators, while the temporary hospitals in two other cities were empty.

According to the latest government data, the United Kingdom had 23,813 hospitalised virus patients as of Monday.

The UK recorded 55,892 new cases on Thursday, more than 12,000 of which were in London.

The number of people testing positive in the UK in the last seven days rose 24 percent compared to the previous week.

NHS England said there were 22,728 beds occupied by confirmed cases in England on Thursday.

Three-quarters of England’s population are currently under the harshest anti-virus restrictions and ordered to stay at home except for essential trips.

The UK has recorded 2.4 million virus cases and 73,512 deaths.

UK Finally Seals Exit From EU

 In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019, the final day of campaigning for the general election. Ben STANSALL / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 Britain’s Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019, the final day of campaigning for the general election. Ben STANSALL / AFP

 

Britain and the EU signed a post-Brexit trade deal on Wednesday, sealing their drawn-out divorce in the closing hours before the UK definitively ends its half-century European experiment.

Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the heads of the European Commission and European Council, smiled at a brief televised ceremony to put their names to the 1,246-page Trade and Cooperation Agreement in Brussels.

“It has been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” von der Leyen said.

The leather-bound document was then flown by the Royal Air Force to London for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to add his signature, as the UK parliament held a rushed debate to ratify the deal in the dwindling time left.

Johnson gave a thumbs up after inking what he described as “the beginning of what will be a wonderful relationship between the UK and our friends and partners in the EU”.

Britain will leave the European single market and customs union at 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) on Thursday, the end of a post-Brexit transition period marked by tortuous trade negotiations which culminated in the Christmas Eve deal.

Introducing an 85-page bill to implement the pact, Johnson told the House of Commons that it heralded a new chapter for Britain and the EU as “sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values”.

The lower house voted overwhelmingly by 521-73 to back the deal, despite serious opposition misgivings, and the bill then passed the House of Lords late Wednesday in an unusually rapid one-day procedure.

London and Brussels would work “hand in glove whenever our values and interests coincide, while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own sovereign laws made by their own sovereign parliament”, Johnson added.

Anxious wait

Michel echoed the sentiment in Brussels, vowing the two sides would work “shoulder to shoulder” on major issues, including climate change and future health pandemics.

Johnson’s government only published the accompanying UK legislation on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the debate began in parliament, underscoring the frantic dash to clear the decks in time.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) pose in Brussels, on December 30, 2020 as they show the signed Brexit trade agreement due to come into force on January 1, 2021. JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) pose in Brussels, on December 30, 2020 as they show the signed Brexit trade agreement due to come into force on January 1, 2021. JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP

 

The last-ditch deal averted the prospect of a cliff-edge separation which would have seen quotas and tariffs slapped on all cross-Channel trade, exacerbating strains in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Britain harder than most.

But British fishermen have accused the government of selling them out, while services — accounting for 80 percent of the UK economy — were largely omitted.

The City of London financial hub faces an anxious wait to learn on what basis it can continue dealing with Europe in the future.

Theresa May, whose three-year Brexit-dominated premiership ended in 2019 after she failed to win support for a closer future relationship with the bloc, voiced unease.

“We have a deal in trade which benefits the EU, but not a deal in services which would have benefited the UK,” she told MPs.

‘Thin deal’

However, an influential faction of arch-Brexiteers in Johnson’s ruling Conservatives gave their blessing to the EU agreement on Tuesday, and the main opposition Labour party also gave its reluctant backing.

“This is a thin deal, it’s got many flaws, but a thin deal is better than no deal,” Labour leader Keir Starmer told MPs, accusing other opposition parties of staging an irresponsible protest vote.

Lawmakers from the pro-European Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party voted against — with the SNP using the issue to push for a fresh referendum on independence for Scotland.

In Edinburgh, the SNP-dominated Scottish Parliament declined to give its own consent to the Brexit deal, although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that would not affect passage of the UK bill.

The agreement’s impact will play out in the coming months, with UK businesses braced for customs red tape they have avoided for decades in cross-Channel trade.

Meanwhile from January 1, there will no longer be free movement of people from Britain to the EU or vice versa.

Under the compressed legislative calendar, the European Parliament will debate the Brexit deal after the New Year, but is expected to eventually nod it through.

Pending that, EU member states gave their green light on Monday for the accord to take provisional effect before the New Year’s Eve deadline.

 

AFP

London Stocks Soar On Post-Brexit Trade Deal

) this file photo taken on January 5, 2020 shows the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. According to a British government source a 'deal is done' on post-Brexit trade. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
) this file photo taken on January 5, 2020 shows the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. According to a British government source a ‘deal is done’ on post-Brexit trade.
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

London stocks surged Tuesday with investors relieved over Britain’s long-awaited Brexit deal with the EU, while eurozone equities also rose on US stimulus news with Frankfurt extending its record-breaking run.

The British capital’s benchmark FTSE 100 index jumped 2.2 percent in late morning deals, having last traded on Christmas Eve before the announcement of a long-awaited post-Brexit trade deal.

Britain and the European Union finally struck a trade deal Thursday to cushion the economic blow of Brexit, in a major boost to Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The pound climbed against the dollar but steadied versus the euro, as dealers continued to digest the 1,246-page agreement document.

“The Brexit deal is really a blessing… for the UK and for the FTSE 100 index. There is no doubt that the FTSE 100 has been a laggard index and now is its time to shine,” AvaTrade analyst Naeem Aslam told AFP.

READ ALSO: US Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Troops In South Korea

He added: “European stocks are still very much in Santa rally mode and traders only want to push stocks higher because they know that there is enough tailwind for the stock market in 2021.”

The EU gave the green light to the deal on Monday, paving the way for it to come into effect in the New Year. Britain’s parliament will seek to ratify it this week.

“Markets seem to be welcoming the Brexit deal,” noted AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

“However, the agreement struck between London and Brussels is yet to win universal acclaim — even if that is the inevitable result of the compromises that the Prime Minister had to make to get the deal over the line.”

Elsewhere, Asian markets mostly rose Tuesday following a record-breaking lead from Wall Street, as investors cheered the passage of a huge US stimulus bill which has helped temper fears about surging coronavirus infections.

Investor sentiment was given another shot in the arm after US President Donald Trump signed a $900-billion (735-billion-euro) Covid-19 economic stimulus bill late on Sunday.

“The hunt for records continues,” said Comdirect analyst Andreas Lipkow.

Frankfurt’s DAX index also powered its way Tuesday to new heights, extending its record-breaking run as the market ends a turbulent year on a strong note.

Asia also scored new pinnacles, with Tokyo soaring 2.7 percent to end at a 30-year high.

European nations meanwhile continue to ramp up vaccinations, adding to optimism of a route out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet governments around the world have been forced to impose lockdowns and other strict, economically painful measures to contain surging Covid-19 cases.

Trump had meanwhile held off signing the US virus stimulus package for almost a week, saying it did not provide enough cash to Americans and calling for handouts to be jacked up to $2,000 from the $600 offered in the initial bill.

Democrats agreed more was needed and on Monday the House of Representatives approved a motion to increase the payments.

– Key figures around 1150 GMT –

London – FTSE 100: UP 2.2 percent at 6,643.19 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 0.3 percent at 13,831.72

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.4 percent at 5,610.83

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AFP

UK COVID-19 Strain Has Been In Germany Since November

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine at the ‘Am Birkenwaeldchen’ senior citizens’ park in Zeulenroda-Triebes, eastern Germany, on December 27, 2020. (Photo by Bodo Schackow / POOL / AFP)

 

The new coronavirus strain sweeping Britain has been in Germany since November, health officials said Tuesday, after detecting the variant in a patient who died in the north of the country.

Researchers were “able to sequence the variant of the B1.1.7 virus in a person infected in November this year”, the health ministry of Lower Saxony said in a statement referring to the new strain.

This is the same strain “responsible for a large proportion of the infections detected in the south of England,” it said.

The variant was found in an elderly patient with underlying health conditions who has since died. His wife was also infected but survived.

The couple caught the virus after their daughter returned from a trip to Britain in mid-November, where she “in all likelihood” became infected with the new strain, the statement said.

Teams from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) were able to identify the new strain after sequencing the genome.

READ ALSO: US Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Troops In South Korea

The results were then confirmed by a team at Berlin’s Charite hospital, which included top German virologist Christian Drosten.

Germany had previously reported only one case of the new strain, in a woman who flew in from London on Thursday.

Britain sounded the alarm earlier this month over the variant, which authorities say is significantly more contagious.

Concerns over the strain have prompted many countries to suspend travel to and from Britain.

It has since been detected in several other nations, including Portugal, France, Jordan and South Korea.

Germany has banned arrivals from the UK by road, sea and air until January 6.

 

South Korea Detects First COVID-19 Variant Cases

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a temporary testing station outside the City Hall in Seoul on December 28, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

 

Three cases of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain have been confirmed in South Korea, health authorities said Monday.

The three individuals are members of a London-based family who arrived in the country on December 22, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

They have been placed in isolation since testing positive for Covid-19 on arrival, the KDCA statement said.

The new strain of the virus emerged earlier this month in Britain and has already reached several European countries, as well as Canada, Jordan and Japan.

Last week London said another new variant of the virus was found in the country in cases linked to South Africa, which is the first African nation to record one million coronavirus cases.

The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain.

South Korea was among them and has barred flights from Britain until January 7.

READ ALSO: Federer Out Of Australian Open After Knee Surgery

In addition, the country will make it mandatory for passengers travelling from Britain or South Africa to submit negative Covid-19 test results before departure, KDCA chief Jung Eun-kyeong said.

Authorities are also looking into the case of an elderly South Korean man who tested positive for Covid-19 after his body was returned from Britain earlier this month.

The announcement came as a third wave of the virus grips the country, with a resurgence centred on the greater Seoul area seeing daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times this month despite stricter distancing measures.

South Korea reported 808 new cases Monday, raising its national total to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

European Leaders Hail Post-Brexit Deal

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 22, 2019 EU and Union flags belonging to both anti-Brexit and pro-Brexit activists, fly outside the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP)

 

Political leaders in Europe on Thursday hailed the belated sealing of a UK-EU post-Brexit deal that aims to lay the groundwork for long-term future cooperation.

– Britain –

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lauded what he termed “a good deal for the whole of Europe,” which offers “a new stability and a new certainty” to relations.

Former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, who both resigned over Brexit, dubbed the deal “very welcome”. May said it “provides confidence to business and helps keep trade flowing”.

– European Union –

“It was worth fighting for this deal. We now have a fair & balanced agreement with the UK. It will protect our EU interests, ensure fair competition & provide predictability for our fishing communities,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned “this agreement will require efforts”, and notably pledged support to EU fishermen and women after fishing proved the toughest of issues to resolve.

– Ireland –

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the deal “represents a good compromise and a balanced outcome” which will avoid a hard border on the border with Northern Ireland, stressing “the UK will always be a close friend and partner”.

READ ALSO: EU Gives Up 25% Of Fish Quota In UK Waters

– Northern Ireland –

“This is the start of a new era in the relationship between the UK and the EU and in Northern Ireland we will want to maximise the opportunities the new arrangements provide for our local economy,” said First Minister Arlene Foster.

– Scotland –

“Before the spin starts, it’s worth remembering that Brexit is happening against Scotland’s will. And there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It’s time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation,” said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

– France –

“Europe’s unity and firmness paid off,” tweeted President Macron, adding “the agreement with the United Kingdom is essential to protect our citizens, our fishermen, our producers” and concluding that “Europe is progressing, and can look to the future, united, sovereign and strong”.

– Germany –

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “confident” the deal represents a “good outcome” that Germany would be able to support.

– Spain –

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted “the principle of an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom is welcome”, while adding that Madrid and London must continue talking on the status of Gibraltar.

– Netherlands-

“Excellent news that an agreement on a new EU-UK partnership has been reached after tough negotiations,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted, complimenting Michel Barnier and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen for “their tireless efforts”.

– Portugal –

“I warmly welcome the reaching of an agreement with the United Kingdom,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa tweeted, underlining that the UK will remain an important partner and ally.

– Italy –

“Good news: deal between the EU and the UK has been agreed,” tweeted Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “Interests and rights of European businesses and citizens guaranteed. The UK will be a central partner and ally for the EU and Italy.”

– Austria –

“I welcome that an agreement could be reached by the negotiators on the EU’s future relationship with the UK. We will now carefully examine the agreement,” tweeted Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

– Romania –

“Romania welcomes the agreed partnership on future relations. This agreement will protect the interests of companies & citizens — Romania’s key objectives during these negotiations,” tweeted President Klaus Iohannis.

– Denmark –

“Draft agreement is the best Christmas gift EU27 & UK can give each other,” tweeted Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod.