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The European Union has accused Britain of showing no “willingness to take on board the EU’s priorities” as the latest round of post-Brexit talks ended without a breakthrough.

The bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there was “nothing surprising whatsoever about the EU’s priorities” in the negotiations, which remain stuck on key issues including access to the UK’s fishing waters, state aid rules and a so-called ‘level playing field’ on environmental and social standards.

Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost meanwhile signalled his own frustration with the discussions as he urged Brussels to accept the “reality” of the UK’s position.

The UK is pushing for any agreement to respect its regulatory autonomy and status as an independent coastal state now it has left the EU.

But Brussels has been adamant that any deal cannot see Britain undercut its environmental and worker standards or state aid rules. 

Failure to strike a deal, which the EU wants done by October, would leave the two sides trading on World Trade Organisation terms, imposing a host of tariffs and quotas once the current transition period covering their relationship expires at the end of this year.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Mr Barnier said the EU was focused on “protecting thousands of jobs in our member states”.

He said of the impasse: “It’s about workers’ rights, it’s about consumer rights, it’s about health and protecting our environment”.

And he warned a deal now seems “unlikely” as he revealed that the EU will begin a “virtual tour” of member states to get them ready for a no-deal outcome.

Mr Barnier said the UK and EU negotiators have made “no progress whatsoever” on the issue of fisheries, where the bloc is seeking similar access to British waters for its member states’ fishing fleets to the current status quo.

He said: “We hear the British Government’s concern about maintaining its sovereignty and its regulatory autonomy and we respect that, clearly. But no international agreement was ever reached without the parties agreeing to common rules — no international agreement.

“And I can predict, with absolute certainty, this will also be the case of trade agreements between the UK and other partners in the future such as the United States, Japan and Australia.”

Mr Barnier added: “Apart from the question of a level playing field there are still many other areas where progress is needed and for example, obviously fisheries where we have made no progress whatsoever on the issues that matter.”

For the UK side, Mr Frost — who reportedly shared a draft agreement with EU negotiators in a bid to break the deadlock — said Britain was still aiming for a deal.

“Agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal, but it is clear that it will not be easy to achieve,” he said.

And the top British negotiator added: “Substantive work continues to be necessary across a range of different areas of potential UK-EU future cooperation if we are to deliver it

“We have had useful discussions this week but there has been little progress.  

“The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts.  

“This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress…. We have been clear from the outset about the principles underlying the UK approach.”

Mr Frost added: “We are seeking a relationship which ensures we regain sovereign control of our own laws, borders, and waters, and centred upon a trading relationship based on an FTA like those the EU has concluded with a range of other international partners, together with practical arrangements for cooperation in areas such as aviation, scientific programmes, and law enforcement.

“When the EU accepts this reality in all areas of the negotiation, it will be much easier to make progress.”

Mr Barnier meanwhile dismissed the UK’s draft proposals, saying that while it was “always a useful thing for the UK to remind us of their position”, the bloc could “only work on a consolidated text if everyone does it together”.

And the EU diplomat warned: “We can’t have everyone working on a unilateral basis.”

But a senior UK negotiating official hit out at the EU on level playing field talks, saying: “Michel Barnier said in his press conference just now Brexit means Brexit [but] they don’t apply that in this area, where they want to see us continuing arrangements that are very like those that we’re bound by as members of the EU.

“And we think that the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ principle is a good one and should be applied across the board.”

The official added: “It is frustrating now that the EU’s position is that there needs to be a move towards their position on these issues before we can move, before we can begin discussions in depth now on anything else. 

“That’s obviously problematic because there is a lot to do, and this seems to be making the already limited amount of time we’ve got compressed even further.”

But he was still optimistic for a deal next month, saying: “I think this is very doable in September, if we work hard and don’t put unnecessary obstacles in our way.”

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Delhi sees deadliest month amid raging pandemic

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India has the second highest number of Covid cases in the world. November was the deadliest month for the capital Delhi, which has been struggling to contain the virus, with more than 100 deaths on some days.

The death toll has overwhelmed the Indian capital’s crematoriums, where many families say goodbye to their loved ones in ancient rituals.

A lack of social distancing at the city’s markets has been blamed for the recent uptick. Some hospitals have run out of ICU beds – with pollution and cold weather adding to the burden.

Cases are starting to fall, but doctors warn that if people don’t take care, the situation could get worse again, as the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan reports.

Produced by Kunal Sehgal, Shalu Yadav and Greg Brosnan.

Filmed and edited by Varun Nayar.

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India farmers protests: Thousands swarm Delhi against deregulation rules

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Farmers from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh began arriving by tractors and on foot at the outskirts of New Delhi last week, where they blocked roads and set up makeshift camps, according to protest leaders. Some slept on the road or in their tractors, and several places of worship offered protesters food.

Police attempted to block demonstrators from entering the city. They fired tear gas and water cannons Thursday and Friday after protesters pelted police officers with stones and damaged public property, according to Manoj Yadav, a senior police official from Haryana.

The farmers are protesting laws passed in September, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarket chains.

But the move has infuriated India’s farmers, who say that the new rules will leave them worse off by making it easier for corporates to exploit agricultural workers who make up more than half of India’s 480 million-strong workforce, according to India’s most recent Census in 2011.

According to Ashutosh Mishra, the media coordinator of protest organizer All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee, which represents around 200 farming unions, tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered at each of New Delhi’s three borders — a line of protesters at one of the borders stretches for 30 kilometers (19 miles), he said.

Police have put up barriers and dug up roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city center to hold sit-ins. Mishra expects more farmers from around the country to join the protests in the coming days.

That’s despite New Delhi being a hotspot for Covid-19 in a country that has already reported more than 9.4 million reported cases, the most in any country bar the United States.

“We are trying to be weary of Covid but we don’t have an option — it is a question of life and death,” said Mukut Singh, the president of a farmers union in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who is leading thousands in protest in his home state, and says he will join the protesters in Delhi later this week.

“We are the ones who have provided food, milk, vegetables when the whole country was in lockdown — we were still toiling in the fields,” he said. “It is the government who has put us at risk by introducing these laws during Covid.”

What the protests are about

For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle.

Under the previous laws, farmers had to sell their goods at auction at their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to get at least the government-agreed minimum price. There were restrictions on who could purchase at auction and prices were capped for essential commodities.

Modi’s new laws dismantle the committee structure, allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price. Farmers have more freedom to do things such as sell direct to buyers and sell to other states.

Modi said increasing market competition would be a good thing as it fulfills farmers’ demands for higher income and gives them new rights and opportunities.

“The farmers should get the advantage of a big and comprehensive market which opens our country to global markets,” Modi said on Monday, as farmers protested in the capital. He hopes it will attract private investment into the agricultural industry, which has lagged as other parts of the country’s economy have modernized.

But farmers argue that the rules could help big companies drive down prices. While farmers could sell crops at elevated prices if the demand is there, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply in the market.

Singh, the Uttar Pradesh farmer, said that removing the price guarantees will make life tougher for farmers.

“There is a lot of anger among farmers,” he said. “We don’t get even the minimum support price that is presently declared — removing these protections and making it easier for corporates to enter will completely buy us out.”

Why it’s such a hot political issues

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion population, meaning farmers are the biggest voter block in the country.

That’s made farming a central political issue, with farmers arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased.

Security personnel deployed to stop farmers from entering the national capital during a protest against the Centre's new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi, India on November 30, 2020.
In a bid to win over farmers, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in its 2014 general election manifesto that all crop prices should be fixed at a minimum of 50% higher than the production costs. In 2016, Modi promised to boost the country’s agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022.

Modi and his government continue to insist that they are supporting farmers.

He hailed the new laws as a “watershed moment” which will ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector. But besides calling the move long overdue, Modi has not said why he opted to introduce these measures during the pandemic, which has caused India to suffer its first recession in decades.

“The Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has always stood in full commitment to resolving the problems faced by farmers and will continue to stand by them,” said Narendra Singh Tomar, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare.

Tomar urged farmers to abandon their protests and instead discuss their issues with the government — although so far, Modi has shown no sign of capitulating to protesters’ demands.



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House steering panel backs DeLauro for Appropriations chair

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While the full caucus typically backs the Steering Committee’s pick, an upset has occurred as recently as 2014.

Lawmakers and aides watching the race expect it will be decided on a second round of voting for DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz, with allies of the Florida Democrat hopeful she can eke out a win with the help of Kaptur supporters forced to throw their support behind another candidate. The Ohio Democrat is not expected to secure enough support on the first ballot.

Kaptur, 74, the most senior Democrat on the spending panel and the longest-serving woman in Congress, has won support from many members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a powerful bloc that typically respects seniority in leadership elections. Supporters of Wasserman Schultz say she could win if she can secure even some of those votes.

DeLauro’s supporters, however, are confident that the close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and long-time champion of the public health and education communities will be confirmed as chair.

Pelosi typically doesn’t get involved in steering races after she publicly backed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in 2014, who won the steering panel’s nod to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2014, only to lose the spot in a stunning caucus-wide vote. The caucus instead chose Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who went on to become Energy and Commerce chair.

DeLauro — the second-most senior contender for the gavel who controls the largest chunk of nondefense spending as the head of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee — has long been expected to lead the appropriations panel and has a reputation for working with senior Republican appropriators like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

DeLauro, 77, is a “work horse” and a “force of nature,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who’s pushing her colleagues to vote for the Connecticut Democrat, in an interview last month. “Her appeal is that she has integrity, that she has wisdom, that she’s such a hard worker and a strong fighter for the issues that she cares about.“

Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Military Construction-VA spending panel, has been expected to pick up support from freshmen, moderates and some members of the CBC. Supporters point to her robust fundraising for Democrats — particularly for vulnerable members that will be crucial to keeping the House majority in 2022.

Some Democrats said a disappointing Election Day that cost the party more than a half-dozen House seats underscores the need for change, including a more moderate candidate that could bring generational diversity to the leadership ranks.

“I think that in the aftermath of the election, it makes clear that the old ways of doing things just aren’t going to work anymore,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who supports Wasserman Schultz, said last month.

The three Democrats are vying to succeed retiring Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the first woman ever to lead the spending panel. All three have vowed to make the appropriations process more transparent and accessible to members, while supporting the return of earmarked spending to help Democrats secure cash for pet projects at home.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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