Condo resale prices dip 0.4% in October, making for 1% drop since July cooling measures: SRX index

SINGAPORE – Resale prices of private non-landed homes in Singapore declined for the third straight month in October after the latest round of property cooling measures, flash estimates by real estate portal SRX Property on Tuesday showed.

Condominiums and private apartment resale prices weakened by 0.4 per cent last month from September. This follows the 0.5 per cent drop in September, a figure revised up from an earlier estimated decline of 0.2 per cent. Resale prices also dipped 0.2 per cent in August.

Before August, resale prices had an unbroken 12-month run to new highs. Now, year on year, they are still up by 8.7 per cent from October 2017 but have fallen 1.0 per cent in the last three months since hitting their peak in July when the additional property curbs were announced.

Buying activity in the resale market remained lacklustre. While the 703 units that were resold in October was 3.7 per cent more than the 678 units for September, resale volume compared to a year ago was 53 per cent lower than the 1,497 units moved in October 2017.

SRX data also showed that the premium that buyers were prepared to pay over market value continued to inch up in October after tumbling following the July property curbs.

SRX’s overall median transaction over X-value (TOX) rose to $4,000 last month, up from $1,000 in September and zero in August. The TOX had sunk to $4,000 in July from $17,000 in June.

TOX measures how much a buyer is overpaying or underpaying on a property based on SRX Property’s computer-generated market value.

District 4’s Telok Blangah and Harbourfront posted the highest median TOX of $50,000, followed by District 28’s Seletar with $44,000, among districts with more than 10 resale transactions.

District 12’s Balestier, Toa Payoh and Serangoon posted the lowest median TOX of negative $49,000, followed by District 20’s Bishan and Ang Mo Kio at negative $20,000.

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Asian shares sell-off on Wall Street tech rout, oil slides

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares skidded on Tuesday after a rout in tech stocks put Wall Street to the sword, while a sharp drop in oil prices and political risks in Europe pushed the dollar to 16-month highs as

investors dumped riskier assets.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS dropped 1.7 percent to a 1-1/2 week trough, with Australian shares sinking 1.6 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 dived 3.1 percent led by losses in electric machinery makers and suppliers of Apple’s (AAPL.O) iphone parts.

Overnight in Wall Street, major U.S. stock indexes skidded more than 1 percent, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq slumping over 2 percent. Indexes were weighed down by losses in heavyweight Apple after three iPhone parts suppliers issued warning on results.

The grim outlook triggered a steep selloff in Asian tech firms, with shares in Japan Display (6740.T) plummeting over 11 percent while Murata Manufacturing (6981.T) and TDK Corp (6762.T) dived as much as 8.9 percent and 8.4 percent respectively.

South Korea’s KOSPI index .KS11 dropped 2.2 percent with Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) down 2.8 percent.

A toxic mix of negative factors have hammered risk assets in the past several weeks, with the October rout in equities leaving global markets in a state of nervous anxiety. Investors have become increasingly nervous recently about a likely peak in corporate earnings growth, softening global demand, faster rate hikes in the United States and a Sino-U.S. trade war.

The Asia ex-Japan index is now down nearly 17 percent this year, after a solid 33.5 percent gain in 2017, with October the worst month since mid-2015.

Concerns about a slowdown in China and the Asian region more broadly due to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods have spooked investors, sparking the largest monthly foreign outflows from Asia last month since August 2011, said Khoon Goh, Singapore-based head of Asia research for ANZ Banking Group.

Funds returned over the early part of November on hopes that U.S.-China tensions would ease, Goh added, with the focus squarely on a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this month.

“The outcome of the meeting will have an important influence on portfolio flows in Asia into the end of the year,” Goh added.

Worryingly, the Trump administration is broadening its China trade battle beyond tariffs with a plan to use export controls, indictments and other tools to counter the theft of intellectual property, the Wall Street Journal reported citing sources.

Asian markets have also been hammered as risk assets have been hurt by rising U.S. interest rates. The Federal Reserve is expected to tighten policy further in December.

The Fed’s San Francisco President Mary Daly said on Monday the U.S. central bank should continue to raise rates gradually with her “modal” forecast showing two to three rate hikes over the next period of time.

In Europe, fears about a no-deal Brexit and a growing rift over Italy’s budget hit the euro and the pound, pushing the dollar’s index .DXY to 97.693 against a basket of currencies, a level not seen since mid 2017.

It was last at 97.542.

The euro EUR= was last at $1.1225 after breaking below important chart support of $1.13.

Sterling GBP= fell to $1.286 after three straight sessions of losses took it to the lowest since Nov.1 as there were still considerable unresolved issues with the European Union over Brexit, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday.

Oil prices hovered near multi-month lows after declining for a record 11th consecutive session amid softening demand and as Trump said he hoped there would be no oil output reductions.

U.S. crude CLc1 skidded 88 cents to $59.05 a barrel. Brent crude futures LCOc1 stumbled 83 cents to $69.29.

Spot gold was 0.2 percent firmer at $1,202.9 XAU=.

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Trump’s Tax Cut Was Supposed to Change Corporate Behavior. Here’s What Happened.

The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law late last year has already given the American economy a jolt, at least temporarily. It has fattened the paychecks of most American workers, padded the profits of large corporations and sped economic growth.

Those results weren’t a surprise. Economists across the ideological spectrum predicted the new law would fuel consumer spending, in classic fashion: When the government borrows money and dumps it into the economy, growth tends to accelerate. But Republicans did not sell the law as a sugar-high stimulus. They sold it as a refashioning of the incentives in the American economy — one that would unleash more investment, better efficiency and higher wages, along with enough growth to offset any revenue lost to the government from lower tax rates.

Ten months after the law took effect, that promised “supply-side” bump is harder to find than the sugar-high stimulus. It’s still early, but here’s what the numbers tell us so far:

The Investment Bump

Proponents of the tax overhaul said it would supercharge the recent lackluster pace of business spending on long-term investments like buildings, factories, equipment and technology.

Such spending is crucial to keeping economic growth strong. And strong growth is central to Republican claims that the tax cuts would ultimately pay for themselves.

Capital spending did pick up steam earlier this year. For companies in the S&P 500, capital expenditures rose roughly 20 percent in the first half of 2018. Much of that was concentrated: The spending of just five companies — Google’s parent, Alphabet, and Facebook, Intel, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs — accounted for roughly a third of the entire rise. Much of that spending went toward technology, including increased investment in data centers and computing, server and networking capacity.

For the full year, Goldman Sachs analysts expect that capital expenditures for companies in the S&P 500 will be up about 14 percent, to $715 billion. Research and development spending, another component of business investment, was expected to be up 12 percent, to $340 billion.

For the economy as a whole, the surge in business investment was a bit less impressive. It’s true that business spending on fixed investment — such as machinery, buildings and equipment — rose, jumping 11.5 percent and 8.7 percent during the first and second quarters. The first-quarter jump was the fastest for investment since 2011.

But that pace fizzled during the third quarter. Recently data showed third-quarter business investment rose at an annual pace of 0.8 percent. The last quarter of the year — traditionally a big one for capital spending — will fill out the picture, but that data won’t be released until early 2019.

It will likely take years to get a better sense of whether the law fundamentally reshaped American corporate investment. But there’s little clear evidence that it is drastically reshaping the way in which most companies invest and spend.

The results of a survey published in late October by the National Association for Business Economics showed that 81 percent of the 116 companies surveyed said they had not changed plans for investment or hiring because of the tax bill.

The Buyback Binge

Cheerleaders for the tax cut argued that the heart of the law — cutting and restructuring taxes for corporations — would give the economy a positive bump, giving companies incentives to invest more, hire more workers and pay higher wages.

Skeptics said that the money companies saved through tax cuts would merely increase corporate profits, rather than trickling down to workers.

JPMorgan Chase analysts estimate that in the first half of 2018, about $270 billion in corporate profits previously held overseas were repatriated to the United States and spent as a result of changes to the tax code. Some 46 percent of that, JPMorgan Chase analysts said, was spent on $124 billion in stock buybacks.

The flow of repatriated corporate cash is just one tributary in what has become a flood of payouts to shareholders, both as buybacks and dividends. Such payouts are expected to hit almost $1.3 trillion this year, up 28 percent from 2017, according to estimates from Goldman Sachs analysts.

Debts and Deficits

Supporters of the tax cuts repeatedly claimed the bill would increase economic growth enough to offset the decline in tax receipts. “I'm totally convinced this is a revenue-neutral bill,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, when a preliminary version of the bill was approved in the Senate in December 2017.

Despite a remarkably strong economy, the fiscal health of the United States is deteriorating fast, as revenues have declined sharply. The federal budget deficit — the gap between what the government collects in revenues and what it spends — rose to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That was a 17 percent increase from the prior year.

It’s highly unusual for deficits and borrowing needs to grow this much during periods of prosperity. A broad variety of analysts attribute the widening deficit to the tax cuts (along with increased military and other domestic spending ushered in through a bill Mr. Trump signed earlier this year).

Corporate tax revenues are down one-third from a year ago. Federal revenues as a whole ran $200 billion behind the Congressional Budget Office’s forecast for the 2018 fiscal year — even though economic growth was faster than the C.B.O. expected. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reports that nominal federal revenues are down by at least 3.6 percent since the tax cuts took effect.

The growing budget gap means the Treasury must borrow more to keep the government running. The Treasury expects to borrow a total of $1.338 trillion from global investors this calendar year. That would be 145 percent higher than the $546 billion the federal government borrowed last year. That would be the highest level of borrowing since 2010, when the American economy was struggling to recover from the great recession.

Bonus Announcements

Shortly after the tax law passed, hundreds of companies — from large multinationals to small manufacturers — announced that they would be using some of their windfall from the law to give one-time bonuses to employees. Others said they would raise minimum wages across the company, or expand worker benefits.

Mr. Trump and Republicans hailed those announcements as evidence that the law’s benefits were flowing substantially to workers. Americans for Tax Reform compiled a list of 750 companies, and growing, that said they would pass tax savings on to workers in some form.

Data from large public companies, however, suggest that most workers received relatively small shares of their employers’ corporate tax savings.

The nonprofit research group Just Capital, which is tracking 1,000 large public companies’ reports of how they are spending their tax cuts, calculates that the typical worker at one of those large companies has received about $225 this year in increased salary, a one-time bonus, or both, attributable to the new law.

Workers for those companies were more likely to see their wages rise if they lived in states where the minimum wage was relatively low — and where companies do not have to pay workers more to compensate for high housing costs. California workers at those companies saw an average benefit of about $160 each, which is less than half the average benefit for workers in Kentucky.

Many companies also said they would use tax savings to create jobs. But the Just Capital research finds that, since the tax cuts were passed, the 1,000 largest public companies have actually reduced employment, on balance. They have announced the elimination of nearly 140,000 jobs — which is almost double the 73,000 jobs they say they have created in that time. About half of those net losses came from companies in the restaurant and leisure industries, the analysis found.

The Wage Story

Nearly a year after the cuts were signed into law, wage growth has yet to pick up when accounting for inflation. In September, the Labor Department reported that inflation-adjusted wages had risen 0.5 percent from the year before. That’s a slower rate of growth than the economy itself experienced in September 2017, when it was 0.6 percent.

Growth has accelerated in nominal terms. Median wage growth was 3.5 percent in September, according to calculations by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, up from 3 percent in January, but still below its recent highs in 2016. Growth in the Employment Cost Index rose from 2.9 percent at the end of 2017 to 3 percent in the third quarter.

By Republicans’ own economic theories, it should take a while for corporate tax cuts to translate into higher worker pay. First, the cuts need to stimulate increased capital investments, which in turn raise worker productivity. More productive workers would then see their wages rise accordingly.

Productivity grew 3 percent in the second quarter of this year and 2.2 percent in the third — healthy numbers, which will need to continue apace to deliver the sort of long-term economic jolt Republicans promised.

Jim Tankersley covers economic and tax policy. Over more than a decade covering politics and economics in Washington, he has written extensively about the stagnation of the American middle class and the decline of economic opportunity. @jimtankersley

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Apple shares drop after iPhone supplier Lumentum cuts forecast

(Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) shares fell to their lowest in more than three months on Monday as the main supplier for its Face ID technology, Lumentum Holdings Inc (LITE.O), slashed revenue and profit forecasts, citing reduced orders from a major customer.

Stoking fears among investors that demand for iPhones is waning, Lumentum said in its statement the customer was “one of our largest… for laser diodes for 3D sensing”, which analysts said could only be Apple.

Shares in the iPhone maker dropped 4 percent, wiping $40 billion off its market value. Those in Lumentum, which gave its original forecast just two weeks ago, fell 27 percent, dragging down shares of other Apple suppliers.

That also followed a separate warning from another Apple supplier, screen maker Japan Display Inc (6740.T), on Monday.

“Many suppliers have lowered numbers because of their unnamed ‘largest customer,’ which is Apple. Apple got cautious in their guidance and it’s hitting their suppliers,” Elazar Capital analyst Chaim Siegel said.

JP Morgan analysts weighed in by cutting their price target for Apple by $4 to $270 pointing to poor orders for the new iPhone XR.

Lumentum now expects net revenue of $335 million to $355 million, compared with its prior range of $405 million to $430 million, and earnings per share of $1.15 to $1.34, down from $1.60 to $1.75 estimated previously.

Three analysts told Reuters that Lumentum’s forecast points to a reduction of 18 million to 20 million iPhones on earlier estimates, based on the average selling price of 3D sensing parts. Apple accounted for 30 percent of the company’s revenue as of June 30.

“Apple could have accumulated too much Lumentum inventory, and needs to work it off, in which case the unit shortfall is less, although it is still indicative of weak iPhone sales.” D.A. Davidson analyst Mark Kelleher said.

Apple warned in its fourth quarter results that sales for the crucial holiday quarter would likely miss Wall Street expectations, blamed by Chief Executive Tim Cook on weakness in emerging markets and foreign exchange costs.

Japan’s Nikkei reported earlier this month that Apple had told its smartphone assemblers Foxconn and Pegatron (4938.TW) to halt plans for additional production lines dedicated to the iPhone XR.

Japan Display Inc (6740.T) on Monday lowered its outlook for the full year, citing weaker demand from smartphone makers.

Longbow Research analysts said spot checks with Apple’s Taiwanese suppliers late last week highlighted 20 percent to 30 percent iPhone order cuts related mainly to iPhone XR and XS Max, and 20 percent to 25 percent order increases for older iPhone models.

Apple started selling iPhone XS and XS Max in September and XR model last month. Lumentum’s chips are not used in phones older than last year’s iPhone X.

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Tobacco giant shares burnt by menthol ban report

Shares in FTSE 100-listed BAT – valued at £76bn prior to Monday trading – fell by more than 9% on the report in the Wall Street Journal.

Rival Imperial Brands, which is worth £26bn and whose brands include Lambert & Butler and John Player Special, was down by more than 3%.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was reported to be planning the ban on menthol cigarettes because they are harder to quit.

It has already announced plans to curb sales of flavoured e-cigarettes, seen as products that lure young people into smoking.

The menthol ban would impact BAT through its ownership of Newport cigarettes – one of the most popular menthol brands.

It acquired Newport as part of its $49bn purchase of RJ Reynolds last year.

Analysts at Barclays estimate that US sales of menthol cigarettes account for around 25% of BAT’s annual underlying earnings and 11% for Imperial.

But it is thought that a ban could take up to two years to come into force.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Along with cigarette volumes shrinking, regulation is the other inevitable fact of the tobacco industry.

“The acquisition of Reynolds gave BAT a dominant position in US menthol.

“That’s a segment that’s been in regulators’ sights for some time – thanks to its perceived status as a gateway for new smokers.

“The FDA are now said to considering banning them altogether.

“While many menthol smokers would likely move over to non-menthol products, it would still be a major blow.”

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Wall Street equity traders to get biggest bonuses in 2018: study

(Reuters) – Equity traders on Wall Street are expected to take home the biggest bonuses this year as a surge in volatility boosted client activity, but 2019 may not be as rosy, compensation firm Johnson Associates Inc said on Monday.

The firm listed a number of challenges, including geopolitical and business challenges, falling fees, and technology disruptions, that could have a major impact on compensation and headcount.

“While financial sector businesses are still inherently healthy, the business challenges are expected to catch-up with them,” Johnson Associates Managing Director Alan Johnson said in a statement.

Top Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs (GS.N) is already looking to cut costs to boost profit and recently promoted the smallest group as partners since the bank went public in 1999, according to an IFR News report.

For the current year, Johnson expects modest increases in incentives across all financial services, with the exception of investment banking advisory, which is expected to see a drop in bonuses.

Investment banking advisory was comparatively lower from a year earlier, which is why the business is not expected to pay out as much as it did (in bonuses) last year, the compensation firm told Reuters.

Bonuses of equity traders are expected to see a bump of as much as 20 percent, a big improvement from a flat to 5 percent fall that was estimated for 2017.

The boost in compensation has been backed by robust results from equity trading at major Wall Street banks, especially in the third quarter, as U.S.-China trade spat spurred volatility in the markets.

Although bond trading remained relatively sluggish, fixed income traders are still expected to get up to 5 percent more in incentives, compared with an estimated 5 to 10 percent drop in 2017.

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Q&A: Key changes to scheme for family businesses and farms now facing lengthy delays –

What is Fair Deal ?

Fair Deal is the shorthand for the ‘The Nursing Homes Support Scheme’, which provides financial help for people who need long-term nursing home care.

It is operated by the HSE. The scheme covers private, voluntary and public nursing homes.

What sort of financial help does it provide?

An assessment of all your income and assets is carried out in order to work out what your contribution to your care will be.

There are two elements to your contribution. You will pay 80pc of your income (eg, a pension) and 7.5pc of the value of your assets every year towards your care.

Is the family home included in my assets under Fair Deal?

A person’s principle residence will be counted as an asset, but only for the first three years. This is known as the 22.5pc, or ‘three-year’ cap.

Why are changes planned for farms and small businesses?

The Government has been aware for some time that the way Fair Deal is applied to family businesses is a serious impediment when it comes to passing it to the next generation.

Because the three-year cap does not apply, the 7.5pc charge on assets is applied annually for as long as the person stays in a nursing home. This means that if somebody were to stay in care for 10 years, three-quarters of the business’s value would be owed to the State.

What changes are being proposed?

Minister Jim Daly has already secured Cabinet backing to apply the three-year cap to farms and businesses if they continue to be operated by a close relative.

So what’s the problem?

The minister’s officials are in the process of drafting the relevant legislation but are concerned it may need to be more technical than previously believed.

They have identified a number of ‘what if’ scenarios. These focus on how a succession works. The assumption that the relative working in the business or on the farm will actually be left all of the assets may not always prove accurate. As a result there are fears that disputes between family members could need to be resolved in court.

What is being done to resolve the issue?

The minister is looking at a number of safeguards. There may be strong succession rules put in place in order for a person to qualify for the Fair Deal Scheme.

How long will the overhaul be delayed?

It was expected there would be a formal announcement last month. Sources told the Irish Independent the delays mean legislation is unlikely to be debated in the Dáil this year. However, they remained confident the issues can be resolved so the Heads of Bill can go to Cabinet by the end of the year. There is broad political support for some form of change.

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Asia stocks lower amid growth worries; oil rebounds

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian shares drifted lower on Monday as signs of softening demand in China rekindled anxiety about the outlook for world growth, but Saudi Arabia’s plans to cut production helped to halt a slide in oil prices.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.07 percent, trimming earlier losses on a bounce in Chinese shares, but struggling to break into positive territory.Australian shares added 0.13 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index gained 0.11 percent.

A combination of weak factory-gate inflation data in China and low oil prices weighed on global stocks on Friday, dragging MSCI’s gauge of global stocks to its worst day in two weeks. The index was last 0.09 percent lower.

Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets, said there were genuine concerns from an equity market perspective about China’s economic growth in general and its significant debt burden in particular.

“There’s no way the economy can really can get back on a nice recovery path unless they can seriously compress the debt significantly … all this deleveraging we’ve been talking about hasn’t really delivered any results,” he said.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd added to the uncertain outlook in China, recording the slowest-ever annual growth in sales for its annual “Singles’ Day” event,.

Its sales outlook has weakened amid rising trade tensions between China and the United States that have taken a bite out of China’s economy.

An index tracking consumer staples firms in China was 0.95 percent lower, even as the blue-chip CSI300 index rebounded from last week’s string of losses to gain 0.68 percent.

Risk asset markets have been under intense pressure of late as fears of a peak in earnings growth added to anxiety about slowing global trade and investment.

A spike in U.S. bond yields, driven by the Federal Reserve’s commitment to keep raising borrowing costs, has also shaken emerging markets as investors poured money into U.S. dollar assets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.77 percent on Friday, the S&P 500 lost 0.92 percent and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.65 percent.

The yield on benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury bonds closed at 3.189 percent on Friday.

The Wall Street losses came after the Fed held rates steady earlier in the week but stayed on track to tighten policy next month.

The Fed’s stance disappointed some investors who had hoped that October’s rout in equities might have prompted policy makers to take a more cautious approach on interest rates.

“Markets are pricing in a 25bp hike in December, with data flow suggesting pipeline inflation pressures are building,” analysts at ANZ said in a morning note.


Taking some pressure off a sharp drop in oil prices last week, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Sunday that Riyadh plans to reduce its oil supply to world markets by 500,000 barrels per day in December, a global reduction of about 0.5 percent.

That helped to lift oil prices on Monday, with U.S. crude rising 1.08 percent to $60.84 a barrel and Brent crude gaining 1.34 percent to $71.12 per barrel.

However, Saudi Arabia’s supply cut may prove to be a temporary solution to falling prices as global growth slows, with two of the world’s biggest economies – Germany and Japan – expected to report a contraction in output in coming days.

“Supply-side surprises appear to be the main culprit, but concern that global demand is slowing may also be creeping into markets and weighing on risk appetite,” the ANZ analysts said.

In currency markets, the dollar rose 0.18 percent against the yen to 114.03, and the euro was down 0.11 percent on the day at $1.1322.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was up 0.12 percent at 97.022.

The British pound was off 0.35 percent to fetch $1.2929. Sterling has been under pressure over the past few weeks as investors worried over whether an orderly Brexit deal would be achieved.

Spot gold gained 0.07 percent to $1,210.09 per ounce.

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Attorney General on Brussels mission to examine legal pitfalls of Brexit deal

Ireland’s Attorney General travelled to Brussels last week to discuss the legal implications of a potential Brexit deal.

Séamus Woulfe met with a series of senior officials, as the Brexit talks entered the “last-chance saloon”, the Irish Independent understands.

One source insisted the move “wouldn’t be out of course”, but a Cabinet minister observed that Mr Woulfe can play no role in the negotiations.

“He wouldn’t be going to get involved in the negotiations but he can provide advice on the implications of what is being proposed,” the minister said.

The move will heighten expectations that the ingredients for a legally operable ‘Irish backstop’, which will prevent a hard Border under any circumstances, are now in place.

Sources say there are now a number of options on the table for what the final withdrawal agreement will look like.

However, EU leaders remain steadfast in their view that the next move must come from London.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will once again broach the question of the Border with her divided Cabinet tomorrow.

One source said this would be a “last-chance saloon” if she is to have any hope of a special EU summit of leaders being called before the end of the month.

“The deal is not done, but there are options there to close this out,” said one official.

The view in Dublin is that Mrs May needs to give a “signal” tomorrow as to whether she wants to proceed or not.

There is an expectation that if the prime minister doesn’t push a deal with her own ministers in the next 48 hours then the EU may remove the option on a November summit altogether.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said progress is being made towards a definitive Brexit deal, but that it is slow.

“I have the impression that we are moving slowly but surely towards a definitive Brexit deal which should be concluded in the weeks to come,” Mr Juncker told France 24 in an interview yesterday.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will brief foreign ministers on developments this morning.

Afterwards he will have a private meeting with Tánaiste Simon Coveney to discuss the blockages still linked to the so-called ‘Irish backstop’.

Speaking on his departure to Brussels, Mr Coveney said the negotiations were at a “very critical and sensitive stage”.

“Clear and focused thinking is now required if a satisfactory agreement is to be reached,” he said.

“We want an agreement to be reached as soon as possible but urgency is required.

“The EU and Ireland’s position remains clear and consistent.

“The withdrawal agreement must include a legally operable backstop for avoiding a hard Border that must be in place unless and until another solution is found. Any review mechanism must be in line with this.

“All sides agree that this is essential in order to protect the Good Friday Agreement and our peace process.”

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May urged to change tack or face defeat in key parliament vote on UK's agreement with EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May came under growing pressure yesterday to change her plan for Britain to leave the European Union to avoid defeat in a parliamentary vote.

With both Britain and the EU suggesting an agreement is close, Eurosceptic Tories and a leading member of the Democratic Unionist Party made new threats to vote against the terms of the deal she is working on with Brussels.

The vote in parliament, most likely to come later this year, is gearing up to be the biggest showdown in the lengthy negotiations to leave the EU.

Mrs May, who was attending a ceremony to mark 100 years since the end of World War I, found some support from ministers in her cabinet, but it would be hard for her to ignore the growing calls to change tack after a minister resigned and the DUP threatened to rebel.

“If the government makes the historic mistake of prioritising placating the EU over establishing an independent and whole UK, then regrettably we must vote against the deal,” Steve Baker, a leading Eurosceptic and former minister, wrote alongside the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’.

The main battleground is over the so-called backstop to prevent the return of a hard border, something that would only come into force if a deal on future ties cannot guarantee the type of frictionless trade needed to keep it open.

Fears that proposals would mean keeping Britain inside the EU’s customs union indefinitely or that Northern Ireland would have to accept different rules and regulations to the rest of the UK have focused opposition to May’s deal.

The resignation on Friday last of Jo Johnson, the remain-voting younger brother to Brexit campaign leader Boris Johnson, highlighted the depth of anger over her plans.

Many say Mrs May’s desire to prioritise free-flowing trade of goods with Europe will make Britain little more than a “rule taker”, unable to break free of Brussels’ decisions. But Mrs May did find some support.

Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom said: “I urge colleagues to support the prime minister. We are at a difficult stage – we have to hold our nerve and keep negotiating.”

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