Dutch PM to May: difficult to 'tweak' rejected Brexit deal

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday he had told his British counterpart, Theresa May, he does not see how the current deal on Britain’s exit from the European Union can be “tweaked”.

Rutte said he had conveyed that message in a phone call on Thursday, two days after the deal was resoundingly rejected by the British parliament.

“I said: ‘I don’t see how the current deal can be tweaked’,” he told journalists. “She is really expecting Brexit to go ahead on March 29.”

Rutte said that any form of Brexit, with or without a deal, will damage the Netherlands, a major British trading partner and one of the world’s top five export countries.

“It will cause disruptions and we are trying to minimize those,” he said. “We need to look at the facts and prepare for all scenarios. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Among measures taken by the Dutch government is the hiring of roughly 1,000 customs officials to deal with changes in border checks.

“I appeal to social organizations, companies and institutions, if they have not done so already, to inform themselves about what must be done to be prepared. Time is running out. March 29 is only 10 weeks away.”

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Divided and riven by crisis, Britain searches for Brexit 'plan B'

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May will on Thursday try to break the impasse in Britain’s political elite over how to leave the European Union by searching for a last-minute exit deal though there was so far little sign of compromise.

After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May called for party leaders to put self-interest aside to find a way forward.

If May fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to halt Brexit, possibly even holding a national election or even another referendum.

May has repeatedly refused to countenance another election and has warned that another referendum would be corrosive as it would undermine faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

“I believe it is my duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union. And I intend to do so,” May said outside Downing Street in an attempt to address voters directly.

“I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward,” May said. “This is now the time to put self-interest aside.”

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic move since World War Two, other members of the European Union have offered to talk though they can do little until London decides what it wants out of Brexit.

Yet ever since the UK voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU in June 2016, British politicians have been failed to find agreement on how or even whether to leave the European Union.

In a sign of just how hard May’s task may be, the main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, refused to hold talks unless a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.

His party wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

The chairman of May’s Conservative party, Brandon Lewis, said on Thursday that Britain cannot stay in the current customs union because striking international trade deals after Brexit is a priority.

He said senior ministers would meet colleagues from across the House of Commons, Britain’s lower house of parliament, on Thursday.

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UK PM May says will meet party leaders on Wednesday evening

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May said she had invited parliamentary party leaders to meet her on Wednesday evening to try to break the deadlock over Brexit after her government won a vote of confidence from lawmakers.

“We have a responsibility to identify a way forward that can secure the backing of the House,” she told parliament.

“To that end, I have proposed a series of meetings between senior parliamentarians and representatives of the government over the coming days. And I would like to invite the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with me individually, and I would like to start these meetings tonight.”

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European nations weigh impact of Brexit on drug supplies

FRANKFURT/DUBLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s drug safety regulator has concluded that Brexit will not put its patients at risk of losing access to essential drugs while Ireland has drawn up a watch list of some 24 medicines whose supply would be most vulnerable if Britain crashes out without a divorce deal.

Between 60 and 70 percent of medicines on the Irish market either come from, or transit through the United Kingdom and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a working group of health officials has been meeting weekly for the last two years to examine any potential supply disruptions.

“They have decided against stockpiling, their advice is stockpiling itself may actually cause a break in supply but they are working very closely with the pharmaceutical industry and the main wholesalers to make sure there is an adequate supply,” Varadkar told parliament.

“They have identified a watch list of about 24 medicines that we would be most concerned about.”

For its part, Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) last year ordered the country’s main drug industry associations to gather information on the effect of a no-deal Brexit.

“For BfArm, the analysis has led to the conclusion that no shortages of medicines that are deemed critical are to be expected,” the watchdog said on its website.

More than 2,600 drugs have some stage of manufacture in Britain and 45 million patient packs are supplied from the UK to other European countries each month, while another 37 million flow in the opposite direction, industry figures show.

The British government has asked UK drugmakers to build an additional six weeks of medicine stockpiles to prepare for any no-deal Brexit – a target the industry has said will be challenging.

The EU’s drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said last August that it and national regulators had set up a task force to minimize supply disruptions arising over the next two years, adding that Brexit would likely affect the availability of medicines in the EU.

The Europe-wide drugs watchdog EMA is moving from London to Amsterdam, prompting many drugmakers to prepare duplicate product testing and licensing arrangements.

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Pro-Brexit Conservatives reject ITV report they plan to support PM May's deal

LONDON (Reuters) – An influential pro-Brexit lawmaker rejected a report on Monday by ITV suggesting a eurosceptic group of Conservatives could support Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal on Tuesday.

ITV Political Editor Robert Peston reported that a lawmaker had told him the European Research Group (ERG) would support May’s deal unless an opposition Labour lawmaker withdrew his bid to attempt to block Britain leaving without a deal.

“We plan to vote no to everything: all amendments and the main motion, whether or not amended,” Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker, a member of the ERG, said on Twitter.

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Chemical weapons agency agrees to ban Novichok nerve agents

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The OPCW global chemical weapons watchdog will add Novichok, the Soviet-era nerve agent used in an attack last year in Salisbury, England, to its list of banned toxins after its members adopted a proposal on Monday.

The 41 members of the decision-making body within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) adopted a joint proposal by the United States, the Netherlands and Canada, member states said.

They agreed “to add two families of highly toxic chemicals (incl. the agent used in Salisbury),” Canada’s ambassador to the agency, Sabine Nolke, said on Twitter.

“Russia dissociated itself from consensus but did not break,” she wrote.

Western allies ordered the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War in response to the attack on former Russian secret service agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March.

Britain says Russian GRU military intelligence agents poisoned the Skripals with Novichok. Moscow denies involvement.

Monday’s OPCW decision was confidential and no other details were released.

It was the first such change to the organization’s so-called scheduled chemicals list, which includes deadly toxins VX, sarin and mustard gas, since it was established under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

The OPCW’s 193 member countries have 90 days to lodge any objections to Monday’s decision.

The OPCW, once a technical organization operating by consensus, broke along political lines over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which Russia supports militarily.

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Darts: Japan's 'Miracle' Suzuki becomes first Asian to win world title

LONDON (AFP) – Japanese qualifier Mikuru Suzuki became the first Asian player to win a world darts championship title on Saturday (Jan 12) with victory in the women’s BDO final at the Lakeside Country Club.

The 36-year-old tournament debutant completed a stunning success with a comprehensive 3-0 win over English world number one Lorraine Winstanley.

Suzuki dropped only two legs in the final as she clinched the trophy and the £12,000 (S$20,000) top prize without losing a single set in her four matches.

“It was my best darts in this tournament, and probably my best this year too,” Suzuki – dubbed ‘The Miracle’ – said.

Having caused a massive shock by knocking out four-time champion Lisa Ashton in the first round, Suzuki capped a memorable fortnight with a record three-dart average for a women’s final of 90.12.

She becomes only the fifth winner of the BDO women’s world championship since the inaugural edition in 2001.

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No-deal Brexit not good for Britain: UK minister Rudd

LONDON (Reuters) – A no-deal Brexit would not be good for Britain but the government is right to make preparations in case of such an outcome, Britain’s work and pensions minister Amber Rudd said on Friday.

“I do not think that no deal will be good for this country,” Rudd told BBC radio. “I’m committed to making sure we find an alternative.”

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Meghan takes royal roles at UK charities for women and animals

LONDON (Reuters) – Meghan Markle, wife of Britain’s Prince Harry, announced on Thursday she would become patron of four organizations to champion causes close to her heart, including the National Theater and charities supporting women and animal welfare.

Queen Elizabeth, 92, has passed on her patronages of the National Theater and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which she has held for decades, to Meghan, who married the queen’s grandson last year.

Known as the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan will also become the patron of Smart Works, a charity helping long-term unemployed women, and animal welfare charity Mayhew.

“The Duchess is delighted to become Patron of both national and grassroots organizations that are part of the fabric of the UK, and is very much looking forward to working with them to bring wider public attention to their causes,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.

The National Theater said it was a privilege to welcome Meghan, an American former actress who starred in television drama Suits before she married Harry.

“The Duchess shares our deeply-held conviction that theater has the power to bring together people from all communities and walks of life. I very much look forward to working closely with Her Royal Highness in the years to come,” Rufus Norris, the director of the National Theater, said.

Meghan, who is pregnant with her first child, will visit Smart Works on Thursday.

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Forget fantasy Brexit, UK tells lawmakers as crucial deal debate begins

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government cautioned lawmakers on Wednesday that it was a delusion to think that the government would be able to negotiate a new divorce deal with the European Union if parliament voted down her deal next week.

The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain – with options ranging from a disorderly exit to another referendum – because British lawmakers are expected on Jan. 15 to vote down the deal that May struck with the EU in November.

May pulled a vote last month on the deal, admitting that it would be defeated. The British parliament on Wednesday resumes debating the deal ahead of next week’s vote. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 at 2300 GMT.

“I don’t think the British public are served by fantasies about magical, alternative deals that are somehow going to spring out of cupboard in Brussels,” Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said in an interview with BBC radio.

“This deal on the table has involved some very difficult give and take on both sides.”

May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, though she has also warned British lawmakers that if they reject her deal then Brexit could be derailed or that the United Kingdom could leave without a deal.

May’s government suffered a defeat in parliament on Tuesday when lawmakers who oppose leaving without a deal won a vote on creating a new obstacle to a no-deal Brexit.

The 303 to 296 defeat means that the government needs explicit parliamentary approval to leave the EU without a deal before it can use certain powers relating to taxation law. May’s office had earlier played down the technical impact of defeat.

The defeat highlights May’s weak position as leader of a minority government, a split party, and a deeply divided country as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the club it joined in 1973.

Lidington said the vote showed that many lawmakers do not want a no deal but he cautioned that it was not enough to show simply what lawmakers did not want. Without an alternative, he said, the default position would be leaving without a deal.

“Parliament has to say what it is that they are prepared to vote for,” he said. “This is a deal negotiated by us and 27 other sovereign government around Europe.”

Some investors and major banks believe May’s deal will be defeated on Tuesday but that eventually it will be approved.

The ultimate Brexit outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.

Business chiefs and investors fear leaving the EU without a deal would silt up the arteries of trade, spook financial markets and dislocate supply chains.

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