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Chances of Brexit deal fading every day, EU Commission chief says

The British pound, which moves in line with perceptions of either a chaotic or orderly Brexit, held within striking distance of a two-month low on Wednesday.

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Boris Johnson

London: The head of the European Commission said on Wednesday the chances of reaching a trade deal with Britain were fading by the day as the British government pushes ahead with moves that would breach their divorce treaty.

The British government unveiled draft legislation last week which it acknowledges would violate its international legal obligations and undercut parts of the divorce deal it signed before Britain formally left the European Union in January.

Brussels wants Prime Minister Boris Johnson to scrap what is known as the Internal Market bill, saying it could sink talks on future trade arrangements before Britain leaves the EU’s single market. Britain has remained part of the single market during a status quo transition period that expires at the end of this year.

Johnson has refused.

“With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the EU executive.

In a speech to the European Parliament, she said the divorce agreement “cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied”.

“This is a matter of law, trust and good faith … Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership,” she said.

The British pound, which moves in line with perceptions of either a chaotic or orderly Brexit, held within striking distance of a two-month low on Wednesday.

The EU fears a disorderly Brexit if the terms of the trade relationship are not agreed, and former British prime ministers have said breaking the law is a step too far that undermines the country’s image.

Johnson said it was essential to counter “absurd” threats from Brussels including that London be required to put up trade barriers between Britain and its province of Northern Ireland and that the EU would impose a food blockade. Such steps, he said, would threaten the unity of the United Kingdom.

“WAY THROUGH”

The Internal Market Bill is being debated by the British parliament, where Johnson faces opposition from some members of his governing Conservative Party.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the government sees a ‘way through’ the parliamentary maze, and Johnson has been talking to the party rebels.

Buckland said there had been talks with Bob Neill, a Conservative lawmaker who has proposed amending the bill to ensure that any attempt to use the clauses that breach the Brexit divorce agreement receive prior approval from parliament.

Britain’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis told parliament he stood by remarks he made last week that the bill would “break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

But Scotland’s top law adviser to the British government, Richard Keen, has offered his resignation to Johnson over his plan to break international law, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

EU diplomatic sources told Reuters that if the bill was passed in its current form, Brussels felt it could not deal with London.

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Prachanda faction expels Prime Minister Oli from party

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Discord and division continue inside the Nepal Communist Party, which has not split formally but has virtually fallen apart after Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli unilaterally decided to dissolve the House of Representatives on December 20 without the party’s consent.

Since then, the Nepal Communist Party is acting like two parties — one headed by Oli himself and the other led by former Prime Ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal. Both sides are running separate programmes across the country under the same banner as they await official recognition from the Election Commission.

Amid this row, the Prachanda-Nepal faction has taken disciplinary action against Oli.

A Standing Committee meeting of the faction held on Sunday decided to expel Oli from the party, its spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha told the media.

The dissident faction has alleged Oli breached the party discipline and is liable to expulsion from the party. It had earlier relieved him from the post of party Chairman.

According to Pampha Bhusal, leader of the dissident faction, Sunday’s meeting decided to expel Oli even from the general membership, accusing him of violating the party statutes.

“He (Oli) is not even an ordinary member of the party now,” Bhusal said.

The faction had earlier asked Oli to furnish, within three days, an explanation why not action should be not taken against him for anti-party activities.

The faction had handed over this notice to the Prime Minister’s residence. However, Oli did not respond to the letter. Sunday’s meeting also reviewed the protest programme and discussed a new protest plan.

The faction had taken to the streets against the dissolution of the House of Representatives, terming the move unconstitutional and undemocratic.

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Pak okays Russian vaccine for ’emergency use’

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The Sputnik V has become the third vaccine to be approved for emergency use in the country — the first one being the Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and the second one by Chinese state-owned firm Sinopharm. 

“In a meeting conducted by the registration board of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap), another vaccine has also been given EUA which was developed with the backing of Russian Develop­ment Investment Fund,” Dawn news reported on Sunday citing the official as saying. 
“Russia’s state-owned Sputnik-V has developed a double-dose vaccine, which is administered by syringes,” said the official. 

A local pharmaceutical AGP, he said, had been authorised as the sole importer and distributor of the Russian vaccine. 
The development comes as Pakistan’s overall coronavirus caseload has increased to 532,412 as of Sunday, while the death toll stood at 11,295.

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Twitter locks account of Chinese Embassy in US over Uyghur tweet

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Twitter has locked the official account of China’s Embassy in the US over a controversial post that referred to Muslim Uyghur women as “baby-making machines” prior to government intervention.

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