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UK votes to decide the fate of #Brexit, again

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Voters go to the polls today (12 December) in an election that will pave the way for Brexit under Prime Minister Boris Johnson or propel Britain towards another referendum that could ultimately reverse the decision to leave the European Union, write Guy Faulconbridge and Elizabeth Piper.

After failing to deliver Brexit by a 31 October deadline, Johnson called the election to break what he cast as political paralysis that had thwarted Britain’s departure and sapped confidence in the economy.

The face of the 'Leave' campaign in the 2016 referendum, 55-year-old Johnson fought the election under the slogan of 'Get Brexit Done', promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.

His main opponent, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, 70, promised higher public spending, nationalization of key services, taxes on the wealthy and another referendum on Brexit.

All major opinion polls suggest Johnson will win, though pollsters got the 2016 referendum wrong and their models predict outcomes ranging from a hung parliament to the biggest Conservative landslide since the era of Margaret Thatcher.

Seven eve-of-election opinion polls published on Wednesday showed the Conservatives ahead of Labour by an average of nearly 10 points although Labour narrowed the gap in four of them.

“We could have a Conservative majority government which will get Brexit done and unleash Britain’s potential,” Johnson told campaigners. “This election is our chance to end the gridlock but the result is on a knife-edge.”

Corbyn said the Conservatives were the party of “billionaires” while Labour represented the many.

“You can vote for despair and vote for the dishonesty of this government, or you can vote Labour and get a government that can bring hope to the future,” he said.

Polls opened at 7h GMT and will close at 22h GMT when an exit poll will give the first indications of the result. Official results from the bulk of the United Kingdom’s 650 constituencies begin to come in from 2300 GMT to 0500 GMT.

While Brexit framed the United Kingdom’s first December election since 1923, the tortuous exit from the EU has variously fatigued, enthused and enraged voters while eroding loyalties to the two major parties.

BREXIT AND BORIS

A majority would allow Johnson to lead the country out of the club it joined in 1973, but Brexit would be far from over. He must negotiate a trade agreement with the EU in a self-imposed deadline of 11 months.

After Jan. 31, Britain would enter a transition period during which it would negotiate a new relationship with the 27 EU members. He has pledged to do that by the end of 2020.

Sterling markets are pricing in a Johnson win and the pound was up against the dollar and the euro in early trading on Thursday.

But two historic referendums - on Scottish independence in 2014 and Brexit in 2016 - and two national elections in 2015 and 2017 have delivered often unexpected results that ushered in political crises.

The election pitches two of the most unconventional British politicians of recent years against each other. Both have been repeatedly written off by opponents and both offer starkly different visions for the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Johnson’s pitch is Brexit but he shrank from anything more radical in a heavily choreographed campaign. Corbyn pitched what he calls a radical transformation for a country long wedded to free-market liberalism.

Johnson, the New York-born former mayor of London, won the top job in July. His predecessor, Theresa May, resigned after failing to get parliamentary backing for her Brexit deal with the EU and then losing her party’s majority in a snap election.

Johnson defied critics by striking a new deal with the EU but was unable to navigate the maze of a divided British parliament and was defeated by opponents whom he portrayed as subverting the will of the people.

The United Kingdom voted 52%-48% in 2016 to quit the EU. But parliament has been deadlocked since May’s failed bet on a 2017 snap election over how, when and even whether to leave.

Corbyn, once an opponent of the EU, says he would remain neutral if he was a prime minister overseeing another referendum. He pledged to overthrow a “rigged system” he said was run by billionaires and tax dodgers.

Brexit

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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EU's Barnier says trade deal with UK 'within reach'

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The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Wednesday (21 October) that a new trade deal with Britain was “within reach” if both sides work hard to overcome the sticking points in the coming days, write Gabriela Baczynska and Marine Strauss.

“An agreement is within reach if both sides are willing to work constructively, compromise and working to make progress on the basis of legal texts and if we are able in the coming days to resolve the sticking points,” Michel Barnier said.

“Time is of essence... Along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas.”

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EU says Britain has choices to make on Brexit

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Britain has sovereign choices to make on Brexit and they will determine its future access to the EU’s internal market, the chairman of the bloc’s leaders said on Wednesday, stressing it was now up to London to break an impasse in trade negotiations, write and

A frustrated European Union and piqued Britain both exhorted each other on Tuesday to compromise to avoid a fast-approaching disruptive finale to the five-year Brexit drama that would add to economic pain from the coronavirus crisis.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator, however, also said on Wednesday a deal was still possible before the end of the year, when Britain’s current trading terms expire and when commerce free of tariffs and quotas can no longer be guaranteed.

“Time is very short and 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,” European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament.

“Their sovereign answer will determine the level of access to our internal market, this is just common sense.”

Michel said the 27 EU members were equally ready for an abrupt split in trading ties at the end of the year without a new partnership agreement to avoid tariffs or quotas from 2021.

“Brexit means Brexit, as (former British prime minister) Theresa May used to say. But Brexit also means making choices about our future relationship,” said Michel, listing the three sticking points in the trade negotiations: fishing rights, the settlement of disputes and economic fair play.

“We don’t need words, we need guarantees,” he said of the so-called level playing field guarantees for fair competition. “Do our British friends want to regulate state aid and uphold high medical standards? If so, why not commit to them.”

On ways to solve any future trade disputes, Michel pressed for agreeing on a “binding, independent arbitration” that would be able to redress any market distortions swiftly.

Michel said London’s draft new Internal Market Bill - which, if adopted, would undermine Birtain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU - only solidified the bloc’s belief that it needed tight policing of any new deal with the United Kingdom.

“Brexit was not our decision and it was not our fishermen’s decision,” said Michel, adding that losing access to the UK’s waters would inflict “extraordinary damage” on EU industry.

The EU is therefore seeking continued mutual access to UK fishing waters and sharing out catch quotas, just as London wants continued access to the bloc’s market of 450 million consumers for its companies, he said.

“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. You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Michel told EU lawmakers.

With some €900 billion of annual trade at stake in the troubled talks, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the same plenary session an agreement was “within reach” if both sides worked constructively.

“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 on foreign exchange markets.

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