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With days left to reach a trade deal with the European Union, the stakes have never been higher. But talks are once again at risk of collapsing over three sticking points: fishing rights, government aid for companies and how disputes are settled. Johnson will have to decide whether sticking to his guns on national sovereignty in all three areas makes real-world sense given the economic price the United Kingdom will pay if negotiations fail.
Leaving the European Union means higher costs for UK companies under any circumstances, but departing without a new arrangement on trade could be catastrophic. It would leave Britain to trade with its single largest export market on World Trade Organization terms, subjecting the movement of goods and services to tariffs and other barriers.

UK companies, already reeling from the pandemic, would lose tariff-free, quota-free access to a market of 450 million consumers that buys nearly half of Britain’s exports and provides a similar share of its imports.

For the European Union, the United Kingdom is much less important, accounting for just 4% of the bloc’s exports in 2019 and 6% of imports, according to the Ifo Institute, a German research group.

“Brexit means both sides lose, but the United Kingdom loses considerably more,” Lisandra Flach, director of the Ifo Center for International Economics, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The big hit

The 2016 Brexit vote led to huge uncertainty over the terms of future trade with the European Union, reducing investment into the UK economy and damaging growth for years to come.

The UK Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which produces economic forecasts for the government, said in November that even if London and Brussels are able to reach a deal, their new trading relationship is expected to lead to a long-run loss of output of around 4% compared to Britain remaining in the European Union.

But a no-deal Brexit would reduce output by an additional 2% in 2021, or some £40 billion ($53 billion), and consign more than 300,000 people to the unemployment line by the second half of next year, according to the OBR.
This at a time when the United Kingdom is already facing a growing jobs crisis and suffering its worst recession in more than 300 years as a result of the pandemic.

“The long-term effects [of a no-deal Brexit] would be larger than the long-term effect of Covid,” Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey told parliament last month. “It takes a much longer period of time for what I call the real side of the economy to adjust to the change in openness and to the change in profile in trade,” he said.

The grim economic realities of Brexit jar with Johnson’s promises that Britain’s “recaptured sovereignty” would deliver it a “new dawn” for the benefit of the country as a whole — or as he put it, “a new act in our great national drama.”

Automakers and farmers

For businesses, the end of the transition period in a few short weeks could spell huge disruption to their operations and supply chains. The British Retail Consortium said last month that delays in the movement of food shipments at the main border crossing are “inevitable.”

Even with a deal, trade will be subject to burdensome customs checks, costing UK businesses £7.5 billion ($10.5 billion) annually in import and export declarations, according to the UK revenue authority.

Customs checks could also cause delays at border crossings, throwing into chaos food and manufacturing supply chains and hurting thousands of businesses that rely on just-in-time deliveries. To avoid choking off vital supplies, the government decided in June to phase in border checks, but industry groups have nonetheless warned of dire consequences.

Failing to secure a trade deal could make a bad situation worse.

English whisky? A spirits pioneer tries to survive the pandemic and Brexit
Under that scenario, British carmakers would face tariffs of up to 10% on vehicles, which could cost them £47 billion ($62.4 billion) in lost trade over the next five years, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Japanese carmakers including Nissan (NSANF) and Honda (HMC) could rethink their operations in Britain if it’s no longer seen as a launchpad into Europe.

UK food products will face an average tariff of 22%, with lamb producers facing a hefty 40% tax on exports.

The cost of food coming into Britain will also rise, according to Minister for the Environment George Eustice. He told broadcaster LBC in an interview Sunday that tariffs could add nearly 2% to food prices.
About 70% of the United Kingdom’s food and beverage imports by value come from the European Union, according to customs data. Marks & Spencer (MAKSY), one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains, warned last month of a likely increase in food prices in the absence of a deal.

Financial markets brace

The pound is expected to take a drubbing too, making imports even more expensive. Investors have been pricing in a deal, pushing the pound as high as $1.35 last week. But anxiety is creeping in, sending the currency around 1% lower against the dollar Monday.

“Sterling will likely test its all-time low in real effective terms if there is no deal,” Societe General strategist Kit Juckes said in a note to clients on Monday.

The FTSE 250 midcap stocks index lost 1.25% on Monday, a sign that domestically focused British businesses have the most to lose from a no-deal outcome. By comparison, export-oriented companies that benefit from a weaker pound drove the FTSE 100 (UKX) to a small gain.

Border chaos

The logistics companies that make the economy run are bracing for trouble.

Trucking and transportation companies are still in the dark about the new systems that will be in place at the border on January 1, which could mean that goods destined for the United Kingdom simply don’t leave depots in Europe, according to the Road Haulage Association.

“Things might not arrive in factory supply chains in the way they have done in the past, which could mean factories aren’t able to work,” Rod McKenzie head of policy and public affairs at the trade group told CNN Business on Monday. There could also be “gaps on supermarket shelves,” McKenzie added.

“What we’re looking at here is a situation that could range from shambolic at best to catastrophic at worst,” he said.

On Monday, the British Chambers of Commerce said that information is lacking for 24 of the 35 questions most frequently raised by businesses. These range from tariff codes and rules of origin through to the movement of goods.

“With just weeks to go, businesses need answers, and they need them now,” the Chamber’s director general Adam Marshall said in a statement. “Posters and television adverts are no substitute for the clear, detailed and actionable information businesses require to prepare for the end of transition.”

— Charles Riley and Julia Horowitz contributed reporting.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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