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PM Johnson heads for #Brexit election win in tightening race

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on course to win Thursday’s (12 December) election though the race has tightened markedly and he can no longer be sure of a majority, according to opinion polls published on the eve of the vote, write Andy Bruce and Kylie MacLellan.

The election has been described by all parties as Britain’s most important in memory, with Johnson calling for a big majority so he can swiftly pull Britain out of the European Union next month.

The main opposition Labour Party promises a new referendum on Brexit as well as a renationalization of utilities and railroads in its most left-wing platform for decades.

YouGov, which accurately predicted the outcome of the last election two years ago with an elaborate survey that estimates the outcome in individual constituencies, cut its forecast for Johnson’s likely parliamentary majority by more than half to 28 seats. Two weeks ago it had forecast a majority of 68.

Possible outcomes range from a landslide victory for Johnson to a hung parliament with no party in control, YouGov said, given the possibility of “tactical voting” in dozens of closely fought constituencies to deny a Conservative victory.

“It could not be tighter,” Johnson, the face of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, said on Wednesday when asked about the opinion polls showing a tighter race. He delivered milk to voters before sunrise.

In a last-minute pitch for votes, both Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn went on whistlestop tours of the country.

Corbyn called on voters to reject the politics of despair and division he said the Conservatives had sown and urged Britons to vote for justice and equality.

The YouGov model indicated Johnson’s Conservatives were on course to win 339 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons with 43% of the vote, versus Labour’s 231 seats with 34% of the vote.

While that would be the Conservatives’ best performance in seat terms since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 victory, YouGov said the Conservatives’ tally could fall anywhere from 311 to 367.

Sterling fell sharply immediately after the poll, hitting as low as $1.3107, a drop of more than half a cent in Asian trading. In London it was last at $1.3117, down 0.3% on the day. Half a dozen opinion polls were due on Wednesday.

An Opinium poll showed Johnson’s lead over Labour had narrowed to 12 percentage points from 15.

Johnson called the snap election to break what he said was the paralysis of Britain’s political system after more than three years of crisis over how, when or even if to quit the EU.

He has promised to “get Brexit done” by 31 January if he wins a majority. Corbyn has said he will negotiate a new Brexit deal maintaining closer trade and financial ties with the EU, and then grant a new EU referendum.

Polls open at 7h GMT on Thursday and close at 22h when an exit poll will give the first indication of who has won.

While there have been countless polls in the run-up to the election, YouGov’s Multilevel Regression and Post-Stratification Model is seen as the most meaningful, offering a prediction of seats, rather than just vote share.

It crunched data from more than 100,000 interviews over seven days, using demographics, the specific circumstances in individual constituencies, and national statistics to come up with a projection.

“We absolutely cannot rule out the 2019 election producing a hung parliament - nor can we rule out a larger Conservative majority,” said Anthony Wells, YouGov’s director of political research.

The polling showed that Johnson’s main strategy to secure victory is to break down the so-called Red Wall of long-held, Labour seats across the Brexit-backing Midlands and northern England.

“Most of the Conservative gains are expected to be in the north, in urban West Midlands and former mining areas in the East Midlands and County Durham - concentrated in areas that voted to leave the EU,” Wells said.

Labour are forecast to lose 31 seats, taking them to the worst performance since 1983 when Labour leader Michael Foot lost to Thatcher.

The Scottish National Party are forecast to make gains to 41 seats. The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats are forecast to win 15 seats and the Brexit Party none, YouGov said.

In late May 2017, just over a week before the June 8 election, YouGov’s model correctly projected Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May would lose the Conservative majority, even though she had been ahead in most polls.

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President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again

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President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

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EU negotiators expect to resume trade talks with UK, EU sources say

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Negotiators from the European Union travelled to London on Thursday (22 October) to resume talks with Britain, two EU sources said, a move that could mark a new push to protect billions of dollars worth of trade, write and

Both the EU and Britain have spent days calling on the other side to offer more concessions in talks, which have been all but deadlocked since the summer, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson walked away from the negotiations last week.

A no-deal finale to Britain’s five-year Brexit drama would disrupt the operations of manufacturers, retailers, farmers and nearly every other sector - just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Earlier, European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament that time was “very short”.

“We stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, on legal texts. The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice,” Michel said.

He said Britain’s answer would determine its level of access to the EU’s internal market of 450 million consumers. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the parliament an agreement was still “within reach”.

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“Time is of the essence...along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas,” Barnier said in comments that pushed sterling higher.

London has this week refused to continue full negotiations, saying the EU must “fundamentally change” its stance.

The EU sees this as bluff by Prime Minister Boris Johnson but has also extended an olive branch by talking up UK sovereignty, as well as the EU’s readiness to discuss intensively, across the board and on specific legal texts.

A UK spokesman said London noted “with interest” Barnier’s comments that touch “in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks”.

Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost had been due to speak on the phone at 14h GMT on Wednesday (21 October).

Michel stressed the 27 EU members were ready for an abrupt split without a new agreement to avoid tariffs or quotas with three main sticking points in the negotiations: fishing rights, economic fair play and settling disputes.

“We don’t need words, we need guarantees,” he said of fair competition safeguards.

Michel called for a “binding, independent arbitration” to redress market distortions swiftly, adding that London’s draft Internal Market Bill - which would undermine Britain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU - only strengthened the bloc’s resolve to ensure tight policing of any new deal.

The EU’s executive Commission said London must respect its Brexit settlement regardless of the trade talks.

Michel said losing access to British waters would damage the EU’s fishing industry, and the EU therefore wanted to prolong the status-quo just as London sought to keep the EU market open for UK companies.

“But the UK wants access to the single market while at the same time being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them,” Michel said.

Following Brexit last January, Britain’s current EU trading terms expire in 10 weeks and unfettered commerce will end without a new treaty.

Keen to avoid any blame, the bloc is ready to negotiate until mid-November but must then ratify any deal in the European Parliament before time is up.

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EU says Britain must respect withdrawal pact, deal or no deal

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Inter-institutional Relations and Foresight Commissioner Maros Sefcovic addresses lawmakers during a plenary session of Work Programme 2021 at the European Parliament in Brussels. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Britain must implement the Withdrawal Agreement on its exit from the European Union, regardless of the outcome of ongoing trade talks between the two sides, a senior European commissioner said on Wednesday (21 October), writes Kate Abnett.

“Deal or no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (pictured) told the European Parliament.

Sefcovic said the EU is committed to reaching a deal on the trade agreement and other aspects of their future relationship, but that the two sides remain “far apart” on the issues of fisheries and the so-called level playing field of fair competition.

“Our objective is still to reach an agreement that will pave the way for a new fruitful relationship between the EU and UK. We will continue to work for such an agreement, but not at any price,” he said.

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