UK Prime Minister Johnson: don’t expect Brexit breakthrough in New York

Boris Johnson says Britain will leave the European Union by the end of October with or without a deal. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2019

UK Prime Minister Johnson: don’t expect Brexit breakthrough in New York

  • Boris Johnson to hold talks with several European leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York
  • Britain is leaving the European Union at the end of October

NEW YORK: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday cautioned against the likelihood of making a Brexit breakthrough at talks on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Johnson, who has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union at the end of October with or without a deal, is due to hold talks with several European leaders in New York including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
He will also discuss progress on reaching a Brexit deal with European Council President Donald Tusk.
“I would caution you all not to think that this is going to be the moment,” he told reporters on the plane on the way to New York. “I don’t wish to elevate excessively the belief that there will be a New York breakthrough.”
Johnson said that while a “great deal” of progress had been made since he took office in July as EU leaders now acknowledged the Withdrawal Agreement reached with his predecessor needed to be changed, there were “clearly still gaps and still difficulties.”
He wants to remove the so-called backstop, an insurance policy aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland by having Britain follow the bloc’s rules on trade, state aid, labor and environmental standards so no checks are necessary.
Last week Britain shared technical documents with Brussels setting out its ideas for dealing with the contentious issue of the backstop, although these were not the formal legal proposals Brussels has asked for.
Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18, and said “a large number of the important players,” including Britain, Germany, France and Ireland wanted to reach an agreement.
“We have seen interest in the idea of treating the island of Ireland as a single zone for sanitary and phytosanitary purposes that is also encouraging,” he said. “However, there are clearly still gaps and still difficulties.”
Johnson said it was important the United Kingdom “whole and entire” was able to diverge from EU law in future.
“The problem with ... the current backstop is that it would prevent the UK from diverging over a huge range of industrial standards and others,” he said. “We may want to regulate differently but clearly there is also a strong incentive to keep goods moving fluidly and we think we can do both.”


WHO stops hydroxychloroquine trials over safety concerns

Updated 31 min 8 sec ago

WHO stops hydroxychloroquine trials over safety concerns

  • Trump has led the push for hydroxychloroquine as a potential shield or treatment for the virus
  • Brazil’s health ministry said it would keep recommending hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19

GENEVA: The WHO suspended trials of the drug that Donald Trump has promoted as a coronavirus defense, fueling concerns about the US president’s handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.
Trump has led the push for hydroxychloroquine as a potential shield or treatment for the virus, which has infected nearly 5.5 million people and killed 345,000 around the world, saying he took a course of the drug as a preventative measure.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine while the virus has exploded across nation, which this week became the second most infected in the world after the United States.
But the World Health Organization said Monday it was halting testing of the drug for COVID-19 after studies questioned its safety, including one published Friday that found it actually increased the risk of death.
The WHO “has implemented a temporary pause... while the safety data is reviewed,” its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, referring to the hydroxychloroquine arm of a global trial of various possible treatments.
Trump announced last week he was taking the drug, explaining he had decided to take after receiving letters from a doctor and other people advocating it.
“I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories,” Trump told reporters then, as he declared it safe.
Trump dismissed the opinions then of his own government’s experts who had warned of the serious risks associated with hydroxychloroquine, with the Food and Drug Administration highlighting reported poisonings and heart problems.
Trump has been heavily criticized for his handling of the virus, after initially downplaying the threat and then repeatedly rejecting scientific analysis.
The United States has by far the world’s highest coronavirus death toll, reaching 98,218 on Monday, with more than 1.6 million confirmed infections.
Despite the WHO suspension, Brazil’s health ministry said Monday it would keep recommending hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.
“We’re remaining calm and there will be no change,” health ministry official Mayra Pinheiro told a news conference.
Bolsonaro is a staunch opponent of lockdown measures and like Trump has played down the threat of the virus, even as Latin America has emerged as the new global virus hotspot.
Brazil has reported nearly 375,000 cases, widely considered to be far fewer than the real number because of a lack of testing, and more than 23,000 deaths.
Chile also is in the grip of a virus surge, with a record of nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours on Monday.
While South America and parts of Africa and Asia are only just beginning to feel the full force of the pandemic, many European nations are easing lockdowns as their outbreaks are brought under control.
In hard-hit Spain, Madrid and Barcelona on Monday emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with parks and cafe terraces open for the first time in more than two months.
Elsewhere, gyms and swimming pools reopened in Germany, Iceland, Italy and Spain.
And slowing infection rates in Greece allowed restaurants to resume business a week ahead of schedule — but only for outdoor service.
“I’m thrilled to break the isolation of recent months and reconnect with friends,” said pensioner Giorgos Karavatsanis.
“The cafe in Greece has a social dimension, it’s where the heart of the district beats.”
Despite the encouraging numbers, experts have warned that the virus could hit back with a devastating second wave if governments and citizens are careless, especially in the absence of a vaccine.
The latest reminder of the threat came from Sweden, where the COVID-19 death toll crossed 4,000 — a much higher figure than its neighbors.
The Scandinavian nation has gained international attention — and criticism — for not enforcing stay-at-home measures like other European countries.
The extended lockdowns, however, have started to bite globally, with businesses and citizens wearying of confinement and suffering immense economic pain.
Unprecedented emergency stimulus measures have been introduced, as governments try to provide relief to their economies, with the airline and hospitality sectors hit particularly hard because of travel bans.
Lufthansa became the latest major global company to be rescued, as the German government agreed a 9 billion euros ($9.8 billion) bailout for one of the world’s biggest airlines.
But analysts have warned that the pandemic’s economic toll will be even more painful for countries far poorer than Western nations.
In the Maldives, a dream destination for well-heeled honeymooners, tens of thousands of impoverished foreign laborers have been left stranded, jobless and ostracized as the tiny nation shut all resorts to stop the virus.
“We need money to survive. We need our work,” said Zakir Hossain, who managed to send about 80 percent of his $180 a month wage to his wife and four children in Bangladesh before the outbreak.
“I heard that if a Bangladeshi worker dies here, they don’t send his body back and he is buried here,” he said. “I am worried what will happen if I die.”