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Westminster council is home to Oxford Street and Regent street which attract millions of visitors a year (PA)


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The leaders of two central London councils have written to the chancellor warning that plans to axe tax-free shopping could cause “irreversible damage” to their economies.

Earlier this week, the Treasury quietly announced that the UK was withdrawing from the VAT Retail Export Scheme at the end of 2020, meaning overseas visitors will no longer be able to reclaim VAT on items such as clothes, handbags and jewellery.

The decision has attracted anger from many luxury retailers, who warned that the move could cost the UK economy more than £5.6 billion and 70,000 jobs as international shoppers go elsewhere.

And in a letter seen by PoliticsHome, Cllr Rachael Robathan, head of Kensington and Chelsea council, and Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, head of Westminster City council, have said the chancellor must reconsider his decision “before it is too late for our already struggling retail and hospitality industries”.

The two councils are home to luxury shopping and tourist destinations such as Oxford Street, the West End, the museums, and department stores Harrods and Selfridges.

Westminster attracted 24 million visitors in 2017 and generates around £3.6 billion of gross value added per year, while Kensington and Chelsea can see as many as 55,000 visitors a day in peak times.

The letter warns that the proposal to end tax-free shopping could be “magnified” in Central London as it “relies on tourism for much of its economic activity.”

“As a result of this decision, Britain will now be the only country in Europe not to offer tax-free shopping to international visitors,” it continues. 

“It will undoubtedly have massive negative implications for our tourism industry, hitting hotels, restaurants and cultural attractions across the whole of the UK as high-spending tourists instead choose to go to other European capitals.”

Such a move would also “undermine” British competitiveness, hinder the countries economic renewal and see spending in the UK redirected elsewhere, the councillors add.

And, though international visitors can still ship goods home from the UK tax-free, they argue this is not a ”satisfactory substitute” as it “takes away from the attraction that spontaneous shopping

brings”.

“We would therefore urge you to review this decision as a matter of urgency before irreversible damage to our hospitality and retail industries is done,” the letter concludes.

The Treasury has been contacted for comment.

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‘We asked Trump to stop playing YMCA’ – Village People singer Victor Willis

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The Village People classic, YMCA, is regularly played at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies – with the US president often seen dancing to it.

But the disco group’s lead singer, Victor Willis, told BBC World News America that he does not endorse Mr Trump – and has even asked him to stop playing their music.

Read more:

How Trump and Biden’s playlists pump up the fans

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Operation Fox Hunt: China sent fugitive’s elderly father to America to coerce him into going home, US claims

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The case is believed to be part of the ruling Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives — often former officials or rich individuals suspected of economic crimes.

The US Department of Justice said Wednesday the charges included “conspiring to act in the US as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China.” Five people have been arrested, while three are believed to be at large in China.

In 2016, the group — which includes an American-licensed private investigator — is alleged to have embarked on an illegal campaign targeting a former Chinese government official, who has lived in the US since 2010. They are accused of recording and harassing his daughter, taping a threatening note to his front door and flying his elderly father from China — allegedly against his will — in 2017 to pressure his son to return to China.

The note on the target’s New Jersey home said in Chinese: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, US Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said the arrests sent a message that the US “will not tolerate this type of flagrant conduct on our shores.”

“Without coordination with our government, China’s repatriation squads enter the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives, and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Chinese law enforcement agencies “conduct foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international law, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty.”

“The United States ignores the basic facts and uses ulterior motives to smear China’s work in pursuit of escaped and stolen goods. China firmly opposes this. We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes,” he said.

Operation Fox Hunt

The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens who were accused of corruption and had fled the country with large amounts of money.

Beijing authorities said at least 150 corrupt officials had fled to the US, and provided American counterparts with a list of “priority cases.”

Demers said such operations — regardless of whether the targets were guilty or not — were “a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms.”

“Rather than work with US authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extralegal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement activity,” he said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a news conference Wednesday that in a different Operation Fox Hunt case, the Chinese government had sent an “emissary” to the target’s US-based family warning that the person should “return to China promptly or commit suicide.”

Wray said that when Operation Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China, family members in their home country “have even been arrested for leverage.”

“These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead they’re more like something we would expect from an organized criminal syndicate,” Wray said.

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Van Drew’s defection to GOP haunts him in tight race

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Van Drew, like many of his Republican colleagues, now finds himself having to answer for an unpopular president, whose shaky handling of the coronavirus and inflammatory rhetoric has damaged the GOP’s standing nationwide, especially in the suburbs.

Van Drew currently trails in the polls to a well-funded Democratic challenger in Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher who married into the Kennedy political dynasty. Kennedy is leading Van Drew by five points among registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll from earlier this month, though it’s within the survey’s margin of error. POLITICO’s election forecasters rate the race as a “toss up.”

Democrats have tried to use Van Drew’s party change and sudden embrace of Trump as a cudgel, branding him as “switcheroo Van Drew” and accusing him of betraying his constituents for his own self interests. In one ad, Democrats even ribbed Van Drew for his taste for flashy suits in a bid to portray him as superficial and inauthentic.

“It felt like he was willing to do or say anything to keep his job,” said Kennedy, who decided to run for office after hearing Van Drew promise his unwavering loyalty to Trump. “There are a lot of people in the district who really respect someone who can be independent-minded, but that’s not what that felt like to them.”

In an interview, Van Drew defended his decision to abandon the Democratic Party, which caught his colleagues off guard and stunned Washington. Van Drew, a dentist who served in the state Legislature for over a decade, noted he was always a conservative-leaning Democrat. But Van Drew argued that the party abandoned its “big tent” principles and was no longer a good fit for him.

Yet despite pledging his fealty to Trump in an Oval Office sit-down, Van Drew now says he is not beholden to any leader — including the president. And Van Drew maintains that voters respect independent-minded politicians, especially in his south Jersey district just outside of Philadelphia, which went for Trump in 2016 but backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“You vote for the person,” said Van Drew, who won his seat by eight points in 2018. “It’s not your job to vote for me, if you were in my district, because I’m a Republican. It’s your job to think about the two candidates and which candidate would do a better job for the district.”

“I didn’t betray anybody,” he added. “When people call me up and they need help, whatever party they are, I help them.”

The match-up between Van Drew and Kennedy — which has become one of the most hotly-contested races in the country — has drawn national attention, with outside resources pouring in. Democrats are not only eager to win back a seat they thought they had already seized in 2018, but also seek revenge for Van Drew’s high-profile defection.

Kennedy, who has notched endorsements from Obama and Joe Biden, has outraised and outspent Van Drew. Kennedy has spent $1.2 million on the airwaves, compared to Van Drew’s $367,000, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. But Van Drew had roughly $600,000 more in the bank than Kennedy as of mid-October, according to the latest FEC reports.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to reward Van Drew for joining their ranks while also preventing the GOP from slipping further into the House minority. Since joining the party, Van Drew got a rally from Trump, desirable committee assignments from GOP leaders and a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

Notably, Van Drew’s campaign message has focused on calls for bipartisanship and putting country over party. He talks more about American exceptionalism on the campaign trail than he does about Trump, though Van Drew confirmed he plans to vote for the president, despite endorsing home-state colleague Sen. Cory. Booker (D-N.J.) in the Democratic presidential primary.

Van Drew has also tried to label his opponent as a liberal Democrat who supports sanctuary cities, open borders and defunding the police.

“I believe the future of the country depends upon not just my election — of course, I’m not an egomaniac — but on the direction that we take,” Van Drew said. “And the direction that my opponent would want to take is significantly different than the direction I would want to take.”

Switching parties has yielded mixed results in the past, so it was always going to be an electoral gamble for Van Drew, strategists say. He risks infuriating the Democrats who backed him in 2018, while there’s no guarantee Republican voters will trust him. And independents might be turned off by his tight embrace of Trump.

Nearly half of registered voters said they were bothered by Van Drew now running for Congress as a Republican, according to the Monmouth University poll.

Crossing the aisle may have looked like a safer bet for Van Drew during the height of impeachment, when there was widespread concern that swing-district Democrats could suffer at the polls because of the party’s efforts to oust the president.

Had he remained in the Democratic Party and maintained his opposition to impeachment, Van Drew would have likely faced a primary challenge from the left. Before he became a Republican, polling commissioned by Van Drew’s campaign showed just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters believed the congressman deserved to be reelected.

But the political landscape has changed vastly since then. Trump’s approval ratings have slumped both nationally and in Van Drew’s district. The sagging economy is further clouding the outlook for Republicans up and down the ballot. The Monmouth University poll has Joe Biden with a narrow, three-point lead over Trump in a “high turnout” election in the district.

“The president’s popularity has gone down. That hurts someone who pledged undying allegiance to Trump,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican operative and former adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, many frontline Democrats are actually well-positioned heading into November, defying expectations and fueling hopes that their party could actually pad their majority even further. And the election has largely been dominated by the coronavirus — not impeachment.

“No one cares about impeachment anymore. It seems like 10 years ago, not 10 months ago.” DuHaime added.

On the coronavirus, Van Drew has echoed Trump’s rhetoric. He railed against health restrictions dampening the economy, highlighted how Trump overcame the virus, criticized D.C. residents for wearing masks even alone in their cars and called on Washington to “go big” on a stimulus package.

“You know what makes people upset where I am in my district? The people that went out of business, the people that lost everything they own, the people that can’t even keep their homes, the people who work for the casinos,” he said.

Van Drew also said he has worked tirelessly on constituent services during the pandemic, which could help boost him in the race. And GOP strategists say Van Drew will likely once again attract some crossover voters — but it may not be enough.

“He has always won because people transcended party to vote for him. But is that enough in a year where Trump is so dominant on the ballot and affecting how everyone views everything?” DuHaime asked. “Now, just so many people this year are voting party-line to send a message to Trump.”

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