Brexit talks close in on tentative deal before summit

Boris Johnson leaves from the rear of 10 Downing Street where he briefed his ministers on details of a Brexit deal taking shape in Brussels, while warning an agreement was still ‘shrouded in mist’. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2019

Brexit talks close in on tentative deal before summit

  • Hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details hammered out later
  • Even if a provisional deal is inked this week, moves in the British parliament could still mean another delay to Britain’s departure, currently due to take place on Oct. 31

BRUSSELS: French President Emmanuel Macron said he hopes the European Union and Britain were on the cusp of concluding a tentative Brexit deal that leaders would seek to complete at a summit Thursday.
The French leader said Wednesday that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized and that we can approve it tomorrow,” when EU leaders are meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Brussels.
Hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details hammered out later. Negotiators were locked in EU headquarters with few details leaking out. Wild movements in the British pound on Wednesday underscored the uncertainty over what, if anything, might be decided.
Meetings between EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and key EU legislators as well as with ambassadors of the member nations were rescheduled for the evening — an indication there was still momentum in the ongoing talks among technical teams from both sides.
“It looks like things are moving,” said an EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because talks were still ongoing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, echoed that, saying there is still “a chance of securing a good deal” at the summit, even though a number of issues remain.
The thorniest among them is how goods and people will flow across the land border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK
But Northern Ireland is not the only issue. An eventual withdrawal agreement would be a legal treaty laying out the terms of Britain’s departure and setting up a transition period in which relations would remain as they are now at least until the end of 2020, to give people and businesses time to adjust to new rules. It will guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain, and British nationals living elsewhere in the EU, to continue with their lives.
But it leaves many questions about the future unanswered, and Britain’s departure is sure to be followed by years of negotiations on trade and other issues.
Even if a provisional deal is inked this week, moves in the British parliament could still mean another delay to Britain’s departure, currently due to take place on Oct. 31. It also raises the prospect that the EU needs to hold another Brexit summit before the end of the month.
“The 31st of October is still a few weeks away, and there is a possibility of another summit before that if we need one,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in Dublin.
Adding to the pressure and uncertainty is that any deal must be approved by the British Parliament, which has already rejected agreements three times and has also issued an order that Johnson’s government must seek to delay the departure if a deal isn’t in place by Saturday.
The British government continues to insist the UK will leave on Oct. 31 — but also promises to obey Parliament’s order.
With the need to get Parliament’s approval looming over negotiations, EU leaders are seeking reassurances from Johnson during this week’s summit that he has the political weight to push any new deal through the House of Commons, which is due to meet on Saturday for its first weekend session in almost 40 years. 
The Brexit talks plodded ahead Wednesday, further delaying preparations for the EU summit. Since the weekend, negotiators have been locked in long sessions on how to deal with detailed customs, value-added tax and regulatory issues under British proposals to keep goods and people flowing freely across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“Talks have been constructive, but there still remains a number of significant issues to resolve,” EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after being briefed by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Johnson is eager to strike a deal at Thursday’s summit that will let the UK leave the bloc in good order on Oct. 31, fulfilling his promise to get Brexit done. But he has also vowed to leave the bloc deal or no deal.
UK lawmakers, however, are determined to push for another Brexit delay rather than risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit that economists say could hurt the economies of both the UK and the E.U.
Beyond the questions of disrupting to daily life, an open Irish border underpins both the local economy and the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland. But once Britain exits, that border will turn into an external EU frontier that the bloc wants to keep secure.
The big question is how far Johnson’s government is prepared to budge on its insistence that the UK, including Northern Ireland, must leave the EU’s customs union — something that would require checks on goods passing between the UK and the EU.
The alternative is to have checks in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, the party that props up Johnson’s minority Conservative government, strongly opposes any measures that could loosen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Pro-Brexit Conservative British lawmaker David Davis says success in passing a Brexit deal rests on the stance of the DUP.
“If the DUP says ‘This is intolerable to us’ that will be quite important,” he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party had not yet consented to a deal. She tweeted: “Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support.”


UK to trial 5 new drugs in coronavirus fight

Updated 1 min 47 sec ago

UK to trial 5 new drugs in coronavirus fight

LONDON: British scientists are set to trial five new drugs in 30 hospitals across the country in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The scientists are seeking hundreds of volunteers to take part in the trials for the new drugs, which they hope will reduce the need for intensive care treatment and the use of ventilators.

The new drugs include Heparin, which is used for blood thinning, and new medicines in clinical trials for conditions including muscular, lung and blood disorders, which have been shown to hold other antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.

The tests will include the new medicine Medi3506, an anti-inflammatory injection developed for skin disorders and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has also been used in trials for asthma by its producer AstraZeneca.

The studies are part of the Accord (accelerating COVID-19 research and development) program, which includes large swathes of Britain’s scientific research and development community, including workers from the National Health Service (NHS), the National Institute for Health Research (NHIR) and the UK Research and Innovation body.

“We are looking for a signal of both safety and efficacy, something that could reduce the severity of the disease, shorten its duration and prevent patients going into the intensive care environment,” said Tom Wilkinson, a respiratory medicine professor and consultant and the Accord academic lead, from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.

He added that the program is still searching for patients to join the trial, with few people currently signed up.

“These are small, rapidly deliverable studies if we get patients in, so we’re looking only to achieve around 60 patients for each arm of the trial to receive one of the drugs compared to usual standard of care,” he said.

The hospitals taking part in the trial include St. Thomas’ in London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was treated.

Other major hospitals in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Leicester and Glasgow are also involved.

Coastal hospitals such as Southend are also participating amid concerns of new spikes emerging following crowded gatherings on beaches in recent weeks.