Factbox: Where the EU has made concessions in Brexit talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – While some of Prime Minister Theresa May’s critics have denounced her draft Brexit deal with the European Union as betrayal of Britain’s interests, the European Union has also given ground in the unprecedented negotiations.

Several of the 27 member states that will remain in the EU after Brexit are uneasy that some concessions offered to Britain may be going too far. Here are examples:

ALL-UK CUSTOMS UNION UNDER IRISH BACKSTOP

The EU has long objected to allowing the whole of the United Kingdom to remain in a customs union with the bloc under the withdrawal agreement, saying it risked prejudging the two sides’ future trade relations in what is formally just a divorce deal.

Britain sought the all-UK option to prevent a return to extensive border checks on the island of Ireland. The EU had proposed to keep the British province of Northern Ireland – but not the rest of the UK – in the EU’s orbit. This was unacceptable to London, sinking a tentative deal in mid-October.

Brussels has now agreed to an all-UK customs arrangement. But it would also impose more EU rules on Britain, much to the annoyance of Brexiteers. This arrangement will be the fall-back option pending the outcome of negotiations on an EU-British trade deal which have yet to begin.

States such as France and Germany say the additional level-playing field conditions do not go far enough in preventing Britain from offering products on the EU market at a lower price by undercutting standards that apply to member states.

EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE

The EU initially wanted its top court, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ), to be the chief policeman of the divorce deal. For Britain, however, escaping the court’s jurisdiction was a chief objective.

In the end, the draft withdrawal agreement creates a complex matrix of mechanisms for arbitration and dispute settlement in which the ECJ has a big say but is not omnipotent.

“The ECJ’s role will be restricted to the interpretation of EU law and will not be a forum for resolving disputes. The arbitration panel will decide the case based on all the facts before it,” a spokesperson for the UK government said.

FISHERIES

The EU wanted to roll over the current system of mutual access to fishing waters after Brexit. But that often means EU boats fishing in the rich UK waters and London has sought exclusive control of them.

The draft agreement leaves the matter open for more talks. France has led criticism among EU states that this arrangement does not protect the bloc’s interests enough.

CITIZENS’ RIGHTS

To ensure the rights of more than four million Britons living in the EU and Europeans living in the UK, the bloc’s starting point was to keep all their privileges unchanged.

But ending the automatic right of EU citizens to live in Britain – which many people in the UK felt put too much strain on the labor market and public services like schools and hospitals – has been another top priority for London.

The European Parliament, which must sign off on the Brexit deal, is dismayed that EU citizens may now have to pay to confirm their residence in Britain.

EU citizens would also risk losing their status if they left Britain for more than five years, among other examples of how their current rights will be restricted.

DIVORCE BILL

The EU had wanted a specific sum to be agreed for Britain to pay the bloc to cover its outstanding obligations, but in the end the sides agreed on a joint methodology to calculate that later.

Despite the EU seeking to phase out various member states’ rebates, the UK would keep its “mother of all rebates” during the post-Brexit transition period.

FINANCIAL SERVICES

The EU has yielded little on this, refusing to extend “passporting” rights that currently allow Britain’s huge financial sector to sell services to clients anywhere in the bloc.

The EU sees agreeing future access to its financial markets as its chief leverage in the negotiations on the broad new relationship with Britain. “At the moment, the Brits get absolutely nothing,” one national diplomat said.

Britain will move to the EU’s equivalence system after Brexit under which the bloc allows foreign financial firms access case by case.

The EU is, however, committing to try to conclude its equivalence assessments before July 2020, or before Britain leaves a transition after Brexit day in March 2019, a gesture towards London’s vast financial services industry.

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Threshold for calling confidence vote in UK PM May has nearly been met: eurosceptic lawmaker

LONDON (Reuters) – Influential British eurosceptic Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker said on Friday he believed rebels who want to oust Prime Minister Theresa May were close to having enough support to trigger a confidence vote.

“What’s happened is people have been ringing me and telling me that they are putting their letters in … and I think we’re probably not far off,” said Steve Baker, a key figure in the eurosceptic wing of May’s party.

“I think it probably is imminent, yes,” he told the BBC.

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Israeli media reports early elections likely in Israel

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Failure by Israel’s coalition leaders to reach agreement on cabinet positions has increased the likelihood of early elections, Israeli media reported on Friday.

The reports came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with coalition partner Naftali Bennett, who is seeking to fill the soon-to-be vacant defense ministry post. But he is thought to be facing opposition from other partners in the right-wing government, the reports said.

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Dellen Millard, found guilty in father’s death, to have sentencing hearing

TORONTO – A Toronto man found guilty of killing his father is up for a sentencing hearing today.

In September, a judge found Dellen Millard guilty of the first-degree murder of Wayne Millard, whose death was initially ruled a suicide.

It was the third such conviction for Dellen Millard, who was previously found guilty of murdering his former lover Laura Babcock and Hamilton man Tim Bosma, a complete stranger.

Prosecutors have told the judge they will ask for an additional 25 years of parole ineligibility on top of the 50 years Millard must serve in prison without parole for the previous murders.

Wayne Millard, a wealthy 71-year-old businessman, was found dead in his bed with a bullet lodged in his brain on Nov. 29, 2012.

His son pleaded not guilty in the death, but the judge hearing the case found Dellen Millard had shot his father as he slept.

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UK PM May defends Brexit deal as talk of no-confidence vote grows

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of two senior ministers on Friday as she battled to defend her much-criticized draft divorce deal with the European Union as calls grew for a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if it will leave the EU as planned on March 29, 2019.

May, who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 referendum, on Tuesday announced she had agreed a Brexit deal which ensured the United Kingdom left the world’s biggest trading bloc in the smoothest way possible.

But Brexit minister Dominic Raab resigned on Thursday over her deal, sending the pound tumbling, followed by a number of other colleagues. Other mutinous lawmakers in her party have openly spoken of ousting her and said bluntly that the Brexit deal would not pass parliament.

May, who has defiantly vowed to stay on as prime minister, spoke in a radio phone-in show to defend her deal and was asked by a caller on LBC radio to “respectfully stand down”. She did not immediately address that part of the caller’s question.

Influential eurosceptic Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker said rebels in May’s party were close to the threshold which would trigger a confidence vote.

Such a vote must take place when 48 Conservatives submit letters to the party’s so-called 1922 committee.

“What’s happened is people have been ringing me and telling me that they are putting their letters in … and I think we’re probably not far off,” said Baker, a key figure in the Brexit-backing wing of May’s party.

“I think it probably is imminent, yes,” he told BBC TV.

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However in a boost to May, Michael Gove, 51, the most prominent Brexit-supporting minister, gave his backing to her, saying he would stay on in government as environment minister.

Asked if he had confidence in May, Gove, who torpedoed former foreign minister Boris Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016, told reporters: “I absolutely do.”

“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people we can get a good outcome.”

MAY WOULD “DECISIVELY WIN” CONFIDENCE VOTE

Trade minister Liam Fox, another leading Brexit supporter, also backed her, while her de facto deputy David Lidington said she would win a vote of no confidence, in which she would need a simple majority of the total votes cast.

“If those letters were to go in, I think that she would win any such vote decisively, and she’d deserve to do so,” Lidington said in a broadcast clip. “The national interest, I think, says that we should rally in her support.”

Sterling GBP=D3, which has see-sawed on Brexit news since the referendum, was up half a cent against the dollar at $1.2837 on Friday.

Brexit will pitch the world’s fifth largest economy into the unknown. Many fear it will divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

Jo Johnson, who resigned as a minister last week, said the situation marked the worst failure of statesmanship since the 1956 Suez canal crisis, when Britain was forced by the United States to withdraw its troops from Egypt.

Amid the turmoil the ultimate outcome remains uncertain.

Scenarios include May’s deal ultimately winning approval; May losing her job; Britain leaving the bloc with no agreement; or even another referendum.

A snap poll by Survation of 1,070 voters for the Daily Mail newspaper found 49 percent of respondents opposed the deal and just 27 percent backed it.

To leave the EU on the terms of her deal, May would need to get the backing of about 320 of parliament’s 650 lawmakers. The deal is due to be discussed at an EU summit on Nov. 25.

Politicians, officials and diplomats in London openly questioned how long May had left as speculation swirled around London that a leadership challenge could come soon.

By seeking to preserve the closest possible ties with the EU, May has upset her party’s many advocates of a clean break, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the DUP had demanded May be replaced as prime minister.

“They’ve raised some questions with us, they’ve raised some concerns with us and yes we are looking at those,” May said. “We are still working with the DUP.”

NIGHTMARE FOR BUSINESS?

The EU and Britain need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the United Kingdom, home to the biggest international financial center.

May said the threat of a no deal Brexit was personal as she is Type 1 diabetic: “I depend on insulin every day. My insulin is produced by a country elsewhere in the European Union.”

May’s spokeswoman said there had been strong business support for her draft deal but British aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce (RR.L) was continuing with its no-deal contingency plans.

The plans include “buffer stocks so that we have all the logistical capacity that we need to carry on running our business,” said Chief Executive Warren East.

Proponents of closer relations with the EU in her own party and the Labour opposition say the deal squanders the advantages of membership for little gain. Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive.

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Malaysia police detain 8 Abu Sayyaf fighters in raids

Suspects include seven Filipinos and the alleged ‘right-hand man’ of a senior commander of the armed group.

    Malaysian police say they’ve arrested eight suspects including a number of alleged members of Abu Sayyaf, after reports the group was planning to carry out a series of kidnappings in the waters off eastern Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.

    The men – one from Malaysia and seven from the Philippines – were picked up in a series of raids over the past two weeks in Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya, as well as the Borneo state of Sabah, Chief of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement on Friday.

    Among those detained was a 30-year-old Filipino who is suspected of being a commander in Abu Sayyaf and the “right-hand man” to senior leader Furuji Indama, Mohamad Fuzi said.

    The man was picked up by counter-terrorism police on November 10 in Kinarut, a town in western Sabah.

    The arrests come two weeks after the commander of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), Hazani Ghazali, told Malaysian media there was a heightened risk of kidnappings in the waters off Sabah.

    Esscom, established after a 2013 raid into Sabah by a group of Filipinos claiming the land as theirs, received information that as many as 10 armed members of Abu Sayyaf planned to target businessmen or the crew of foreign vessels in the seas around Sabah’s east coast.

    Suspected executioners

    Abu Sayyaf is based in the southern Philippines and secured notoriety nearly 20 years ago when it kidnapped 21 people including foreign tourists from Sipadan, an island that attracts diving enthusiasts from across the world, demanding millions of dollars for their release. More recently, some of its leaders have pledged allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    Those detained included a Filipino suspected of being a weapons maker for the group, Malaysian police said.

    Two others – both Filipinos – were allegedly looking to recruit children who could be used as “human shields” in any fighting with the Philippine military. Police say the two were also executioners for Abu Sayyaf and were trying to escape back to the Philippines when they were caught.

    The first arrest was made on October 30 in Putrajaya when the police picked up a 38-year-old Malaysian suspected of channelling funds to Akel Zainal, a Malaysian ISIL fighter in Syria. 

    All eight are being held under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.


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    Is the Philippines winning its war against ISIL?

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    Australia, Malaysia in war of words over Israel embassy shift

    Australian treasurer notes PM Mahathir’s past comments about Jewish people amid escalating confrontation over embassy.

      Australia’s treasurer on Friday said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had a history of anti-Jewish statements in an escalating war of words over the possibility Australia might move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

      Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison first proposed the move during a local election campaign last month, sparking concern from Indonesia and Malaysia.

      Mahathir, 93, raised the potential relocation in a meeting with Morrison in Singapore on Thursday, later telling reporters he feared it could increase the threat of attacks.

      “I pointed out that in dealing with terrorism, one has to know the causes,” Mahathir said. “Adding to the cause for terrorism is not going to be helpful.”

      Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responded saying Canberra would make its own decisions, and pointing out the Malaysian leader’s past comments about Jewish people.

      “He has called Jews ‘hooked-nosed people’. He has questioned the number of people that have been killed in the Holocaust. He banned Schindler’s List as a movie being shown,” Frydenberg, the son of a Holocaust survivor, told reporters in Melbourne.

      Challenging history

      In an interview with the BBC last month, Mahathir said “the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel”, and he defended his description of Jews as “hook-nosed” in his book “The Malay Dilemma.”

      “They are hook-nosed,” he told the BBC. “Many people called the Malays fat-nosed. We didn’t object.”

      Mahathir also challenged historical accounts that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, saying the figure was four million.

      Schindler’s List was banned in 1994 with Malaysia’s film board rejecting it as Zionist propaganda.

      When asked by The Associated Press in an August interview about his past comments about Jewish people, Mahathir said “we should be able to criticise everybody”.

      “Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticising the Jews for doing wrong things,” he said.

      Two-state solution

      The possibility that Australia may follow the United States’ contentious move and relocate its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv has been seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election last month for a Sydney seat that is home to a large number of Jewish people.

      But on Friday, Frydenberg insisted shifting the embassy made sense although it has also inflamed tensions with Indonesia, Australia’s closest neighbour with the world’s largest population of Muslims.

      “Australia already recognises Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem,” Frydenberg said. “It’s where the Israeli parliament is. It’s where the Australian ambassador presents his or her credentials. It will be the capital of Israel under any two-state solution.”

      Morrison said a decision on the embassy would be made by Christmas, but rejected fears the plan had caused collateral damage by placing in jeopardy a proposed free trade agreement with Indonesia.

      “I do not conflate the issues,” Morrison told ABC radio in Australia.

      “What we need to understand is that Australia has to set its own foreign policy, and all I have said is that we would consider this question if we believed that it would advance the issues of the two-state solution.”

      Indonesian opposition politician Dian Islamiati Fatwa also warned this week that Australia moving its embassy may provoke attacks in his country.


      The Listening Post

      The angry Arab: Covering Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move

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      U.S. prosecutors get indictment against Wikileaks' Assange: court document

      WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose website published thousands of classified U.S. government documents, a U.S. federal court document showed on Thursday.

      The document, which prosecutors say was filed by mistake, asks a judge to seal documents in a criminal case unrelated to Assange, and carries markings indicating it was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia in August.

      A source familiar with the matter said the document was initially sealed but unsealed this week for reasons that are unclear at the moment.

      On social network Twitter, Wikileaks said it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”

      U.S. officials had no comment on the disclosure in the document about a sealed indictment of Assange. It is unclear what charges Assange faces.

      But Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office which filed the document that was unsealed, told Reuters, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”

      Reuters was unable to immediately reach Assange or his lawyers to seek comment.

      Prosecutors sought to keep the charges confidential until after Assange’s arrest, the document shows, saying the move was essential to ensure he did not evade or avoid arrest and extradition in the case.

      Any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant, and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” the document reads.

      It adds, “The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

      U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that federal prosecutors based in Alexandria have been conducting a lengthy criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder.

      Representatives of the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have publicly called for Assange to be aggressively prosecuted. 

      Assange and his supporters have periodically said U.S. authorities had filed secret criminal charges against him, an assertion against which some U.S. officials pushed back until recently. 

      Facing extradition from Britain to Sweden to be questioned in a sexual molestation case, Assange six years ago took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy, where initially he was treated as a welcome guest.

      But following a change in the government of the south American nation, Ecuadorean authorities last March began to crack down on his access to outsiders and for a time cut off his internet access. 

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      Over 100 suspected Rohingya Muslims arrested aboard boat in Yangon, official says

      YANGON (Reuters) – More than 100 suspected Rohingya Muslims were arrested aboard a boat in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, officials said, raising fears of a fresh wave of dangerous voyages after a 2015 crackdown on people smugglers.

      The boat carrying 106 people was stopped some 30 km (20 miles) south of the Yangon port in Kyauktan township and senior police officials were on the way to investigate them, Kyaw Htay, an immigration officer from the township, told Reuters by phone.

      “It’s possible that they are from Rakhine. Like in previous years, it is possible they are Bengali from Rakhine,” Kyaw Htay said. Many people in Myanmar refer to the Rohingya as “Bengali”, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

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      Decision to eliminate overnight firefighters in Gananoque a concern to retired chief

      A Gananoque resident and well known career firefighter is speaking out about the town council’s decision to eliminate overnight firefighter staffing.

      Harold Tulk has served as fire chief in both Brockville and Kingston. He questions the outgoing council decision that was made in the dying days of the term.

      Tulk ran unsuccessfully for council in the last municipal election, an election that finished with a complete turnover of councillors and the mayor.

      Tulk says seven new councillors and a new mayor should be an obvious indicator to the lame duck council.

      “This community objected to the way they were behaving because they obviously moved everybody right out.”

      Tulk says he’s concerned about the lack of consultation in the decision making process by the departing mayor and council.

      “The evaluating agencies like the insurance underwriters, the Ontario Fire Marshals Office, and the Ontario Professional Firefighters ought to be consulted and the public should be consulted.”

      The move is expected to save town coffers $140,000, but it’s the new council that will have to deal with the impact of the decision.

      Tulk says the decision may constitute a change in the level of service in the community and may impact insurance rates.

      “They have an obligation to disclose to the community exactly what’s happening so that householders and businesses and industries can check with their insurers.”

      For his part, Tulk says he doesn’t understand the decision or councils desire to rush it through at the end of their term.

      “I think that they had a good balanced approach to fire protection. The staff seemed to be quite happy, I think the community was happy with their fire department. Why didn’t they just leave it alone and get on with life?”

      These may just be some of the questions council members face when they next meet on Nov. 20.

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