International Insight

Joanna Hampson brings you the latest EN4 international news brief for Tuesday October 23.

Here are today’s top stories.

  • The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was allegedly planned days in advance. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed he has strong evidence to suggest Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the 2nd of October. In his address this Tuesday, to the MP’s of his ruling party, President Erdogan confirmed that 18 people had been arrested in Saudi Arabia over the case, but is yet to release further information regarding the details of the evidence. For live updates from the investment conference in Saudi Arabia head to the Guardian.

 

  • The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge has finally been opened in Zhuhai, China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has officially opened the bridge, which connects Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai, spanning 55km (34 miles) of water. The $20 billion bridge took nine years to build while incurring major delays and cost overruns. To watch the video ‘flying over the world’s longest sea bridge’ head to the BBC.

 

  • Poland’s first openly gay politician has said progressive policies can win in the countries local elections. After the ruling Law and Justice party suffered setbacks in local elections at the weekend, Robert Biedroń who stepped down as mayor of Słupsk to launch his own pro-European, “pro-democratic” movement, has now said that progressives can win. Biedroń’s own political trajectory, as a young, former LGBT activist who was elected to the Sejm in 2011, strides towards a modern Poland, advancing on the common view of the Catholic country. The Guardian report on the advancements of the upcoming elections in more detail on their website.

 

  • Donald Trump has warned that the US will bolster its nuclear arsenal to put pressure on Russia and China. Speaking to reporters, the President repeated his belief that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which he has threatened to leave. Russia continues to deny these allegations.

In Business

 

  • UK based vacuum cleaner manufacturer, Dyson, is set to build its new electric car in Singapore. The factory will break ground in Singapore later this year with the first car scheduled to roll off the production line in 2021. Dyson has said Singapore was chosen for the project based on the availability of engineering talent, regional supply chains and proximity to some key target markets. With a vast budget of £2 billion committed to the plant, Dyson will be focussing largely on research and development and test track facilities.

 

  • Co-founder of the Benetton clothing firm, Gilberto Benetton, has died at the age of 77. Benetton founded United Colors of Benetton in Italy, with brothers Luciano and Carlo and sister Giuliana, in the 1960s. Considered as one of the most powerful families in Italy, Benetton himself is credited with diversifying the clothing company into a multi-billion euro giant. United Colors of Benetton is known for its provocative advertising campaigns which have previously featured images of prisoners sentenced to death in America and, more recently, displayed images of migrants being rescued from the Mediterranean.

Brexit bill powers curbed by MSPs at Holyrood

In a series of meetings held by the Finance Committee at the Scottish Parliament, MSPs have been debating amendments to the Westminster EU Withdrawal Bill amongst dispute over devolved powers in a post-Brexit political landscape.

There is potential that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Theresa May could come to an agreement over powers between the two governments.

The finance committee will meet again at Holyrood tonight. Credit: Wikipedia.

Both the Scottish and Welsh governments are both currently considering measures in case they do not give their consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. Both find themselves in disagreement with the UK Government over how powers will be divided after Brexit.

The issue is that UK ministers wish to have the final say in 24 key areas of power, whilst the devolved governments want a detailed consultation over such changes.

Holyrood has put forward it’s own alternative to the Westminster Bill in order to avoid concerns of a ‘power grab’ by the UK Government.

Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell said the bill “can be improved”, and said he would “consider all suggestions”.

Around 230 possible amendments are being considered, with a majority of them having been rejected so far. It is known that 20 amendments have been voted through, with potentially more this evening as the Finance Committee will meet again tonight at Holyrood.

Leaked Brexit documents could affect UK’s access to single market

A leaked document regarding the UK’s exit from the European Union suggests access to the single market may be restricted.

The obtained leak – in a draft section of the UK and EU’s withdrawal agreement – states that during the post-Brexit phase the EU wants the power to restrict the UK’s market access and suspend “certain benefits”.

Meetings are taking place today to decide the Uk’s future with Brexit. Image: Pixaby

Theresa May will meet with her senior ministers today as she chairs the first of two discussions to clarify the UK’s position.

Nicola Sturgeon – who will not be involved in the meeting at Downing Street – has demanded discussions with the administrators associated with the Brexit negotiations.

Scotland’s First Minister has written personally to Theresa May ahead of the crucial meetings to say the Scottish Government should be able to have a say in the influence of the exit objectives from the EU.

The leaked documents have led to politicians on both leave and remain sides to advise Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, to take a cold hard Brexit deal.

Sturgeon wants the Scottish Government to have a say. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Last month the Scottish Government released in its own analysis that a hard deal could leave the Scottish economy £12.7 billion worse of a year – leaving the SNP leader to take action.

Holyrood’s Brexit minister Michael Russell will meet in Dublin today to discuss the Irish border.

If the EU obtains the power to restrict the UK’s access to the single market during the transition period, it will begin on 29 March 2019, when the UK leaves the EU and will end on 31 December 2020.

Germany’s two largest parties begin to form coalition

Four months of stalemate have resulted in a German coalition Government, according to media reports.

Germany’s September elections proved inconclusive, as a coalition has not been agreed between the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Chancellor Merkel’s Conservatives (CDU/CSU).

Thought to be the last major stumbling block to government, the agreement on distributing ministries comes after intense negotiations since Tuesday.

Whilst healthcare and workers’ rights are points still to be settled upon, the non stop talks are expected to end with a coalition.

Previously the SPD leader Martin Schulz had ruled out entering Government with Merkel’s CDU and its’ sister party CSU.

Whilst a government could be in place by Easter, the SPD’s 460,00 members will have final say on a coalition government in a postal vote in the next few weeks.

Within the SPD a opposition group to coalition are calling themselves NoGroKo (no grand coalition).

Far-right party Alternative for Germany (AFD) became the third biggest political force in the country winning 94 seats in September.

State of the Union 2018

US President Donald Trump has declared a, “new American moment” as he delivered his State of the Union speech to congress.

In his maiden address, the republican leader said he was,” extending an open hand” to democrats in order to move forward. Together.

Trump also stated that he was ordering Guantanamo Bay to be kept open, reversing the Obama-era directive to close the controversial detention camp.

In an upbeat juxtaposition to his “American carnage” inaugural speech just a year ago, Trump has claimed his administration was, “building a safe, strong and proud America”.

“There has never been a better time to start living the American dream,” he told congress. Following up with saying that in the first year of his term, 2.4 million jobs were created. The stock market has soared while unemployment rates in the US are at a 17 year low.

However the average job satisfaction last year was only 38%, the lowest first-year figure for any president in in the history of Gallup- polling service.

In the Democratic rebuttal, Massachusetts congressman Joseph Kennedy III, a great-nephew of President John F Kennedy.

Up and coming Democrat, Joseph Kennedy III. Credit Wikimedia.

Kennedy attempted to seize Trump’s political mantle by claiming to speak for the “American’s who feel forgotten and forsaken.”

He went on to depict Trump’s presidency as “chaos. Leaving the country fractured and with many citizens being left anxious, angry and afraid over the last year.

In a passionate moment, Kennedy spoke of how, “Bullies may land a punch. They may leave a mark…But they have never once in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defence of their future.”

However it was one blatant moment during the speech when the president claimed that African-American unemployment had hit record lows that showed the Democratic Party’s disapproval of Trump’s presidency. The Democratic Congressional Black Caucus sat in silence amid a standing ovation.

There were many Democratic lawmakers who boycotted Trump’s Speech.

Congress meets for The State of Union Address by President Trump. Credit – Good Morning America.

 

UPDATE – Last Minute Talks At Holyrood As SNP Seal Budget Deal With Greens

Just hours before MSPs vote on the SNP budget, a deal has been struck with the Green Party for support of the government’s budget.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay spent earlier today negotiating with opposition parties in a bid to find much needed support for his budget plans, which will include major changes to tax.

Mr Mackay has said his budget would provide, “stability, sustainability and stimulus” for the Scottish economy and services.

The Green Party said they were willing to make a deal if there was, “significant amendments to the budget as it stands”.

As a minority government, the SNP needs at least one opposition party to at least abstain to get its budget plans through Holyrood.

Mr Mackay was quick to dismiss any potential deal with the Scottish Conservatives or Labour, calling Labour’s budget proposals ridiculous and unworthy of consideration.

Meanwhile the Lib Dems are pursuing funding for education and mental health, along with support for ferry services in the northern isles.

Leader Willie Rennie said the budget “needs to do more to meet the long-term needs of the economy”.

Currently Scotland has three income tax bands – a 20p basic rate, a 40p higher rate beginning at £43,001 and a 45p additional rate for earnings over £150,000.

Mr Mackay has suggested redrawing the system by adding a 19p “starter” rate and a 21p intermediate rate, while adding 1p to the higher and additional rates, creating a five-band system which would see many Scots actually pay less tax than they do now.

This would raise an extra £164m. This rising to £366m when combined with threshold changes from previous years.

UPDATE: The SNP have reached a deal with the Scottish Green Party, in exchange for a ”substantial package” of funding towards extra cash for councils and better pay settlements for workers in the public sector.

Mr Mackay will inform MSPs of the details of the deal at Holyrood later today.

Follow the Budget debate at 2.40pm today at Holyrood – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-42858908

Labour call for vote of no confidence in SNP Draft Budget

The Scottish Government’s Draft Budget Bill faces a potential setback in the form of a vote of no confidence by Scottish Labour today.

The party has tabled a motion asking MSPs to agree that “the Parliament believes that the Draft Budget does not protect public services”. It is believed that this wording is designed to make it difficult for the Scottish Green Party – the government’s most likely ally – to disagree.

Labour said the draft budget left councils facing a real terms cut of £700m in the coming year.  They have also referred to analysis from the Fraser of Allander Institute, that has found that the draft budget only generates an additional £28million to invest in public services. The party said current spending plans would “perpetuate unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality”, and council cuts would affect the poorest the most.

James_Kelly_MSP

Secretary for Finance, James Kelly | Image Credit: Wikimedia

Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance, James Kelly (shown), said:

“The SNP has failed to halt austerity in Scotland and this budget will simply perpetuate unacceptable levels of poverty and mean more cuts to lifeline local services.”

Kelly has also argued that the government must make better use of its tax powers:

“Instead of tinkering around the edges we need a budget that delivers real and radical change, protecting services and tackling poverty.”

A spokesperson for Finance Secretary Derek Mackay criticised Labour’s move as a ‘pathetic stunt’, arguing that it would cause more harm than good to the Scottish public. They went on to attack Labour further:

“Looking at the Labour group’s contribution to the budget process so far, you get the impression that the changing of light bulbs within the Labour offices requires a three-line whip.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said Labour were “posturing” on the budget, but agreed that it must go further on improving council services and public sector pay.

“The budget as drafted must go further to improve council funding and public sector pay if it’s to win our support. Labour’s motion stating the obvious won’t achieve the necessary changes.”

The draft budget is currently under scrutiny by the Scottish parliament’s committees. A formal Budget Bill is due to be introduced on January 25, with a final vote in the week beginning February 19.

MSPs must also vote though tax plans setting the new rates, bands and thresholds for income tax in 2018-19 before any Budget can be passed.

 

UK factories enjoy best week for new orders since 1988

British factories received more orders this month than any other in the last three decades, according to an industry survey.

The report from the Confederation of British industry adds to growing evidence that the fall in the value of the pound since last years Brexit vote is helping manufacturers.

Best week for UK factories in 29 years. Source: Google

The CBI’s monthly industry health check showed massive growth in both total and export orders, resulting in higher factory output as firms expect the trend to continue over the next three months.

While manufacturing only makes up 10% of the UK economy, the strength of the CBI report will increase the chances of growth picking up after a slow year so far.

Firms are still dealing with an increase in costs but the CBI said these were improving since the 15% drop in the value of sterling earlier this year pushed up the price of imported materials and fuel.

Anna Leach, the CBIs’ head of economic intelligence, said: “UK manufacturers are once more performing strongly as global growth and the lower level of sterling continue to support demand.

“Output growth has picked up again, and export order books match the highest in more than 20 years.”

“Nonetheless, uncertainty continues to hold back investment and cost pressures remain strong.”

The news comes ahead of tomorrow’s chancellor’s budget and will provide a much needed boost to his position after his widely criticised first budget.

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15% drop in British Pound. Source: Google


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Britain to offer more money in bid to further Brexit talks

In an effort to accelerate talks over a new trade deal with the EU, the UK cabinet has agreed that Britain will offer more money to the EU as Brexit talks continue.

It is believed that such an offer could be as high as £40 billion pounds – double the £20 billion that was offered by the Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence last September.

The European Parliament. Source: Flickr

This was decided yesterday in a meeting of the prime minister’s new Brexit-subcommittee, not long after the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier stated that the EU would not concede over trading laws and regulations.

Whilst the negotiation teams of both the UK and the EU have been meeting each month since March, progress has been slow, with the ‘divorce bill’ proving to be a key point of disagreement for both sides. The EU has been reluctant to begin trade talks without receiving financial assurances by the UK.

One area that the UK Government has found challenging to manage is placating those Conservative MPs that feel offering and giving the EU more money would be undesirable. Some such as Nigel Evans MP feel that it would be like a ‘’ransom payment.’’

Talks on a future trade relationship with the UK will be held by EU leaders on the 14th and 15th of December. One key point that the EU has maintained throughout the negotiations is that the UK must uphold its financial commitments in any final withdrawal bill.

Even the £40 billion offer would still fall short of some estimates of the UK’s financial responsibilities to the EU over the course of its membership. The EU wants the UK to maintain its payments into the EU budget up to 2020, as well as covering its commitments to ongoing EU programs such as aid and pensions.

The UK has until this Friday to potentially increase that offer of £40 billion pounds, suggested Michel Barnier in talks earlier this month. It looks set to determine the success or not of the crunch European Council Summit due to take place in December.


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Trump is ready to destroy North Korea

In his debut speech to the UN General Assembly, Donald Trump warned of the threats from ‘rogue nations’.

The US President singled out Iran and North Korea in his New York speech. On North Korea, he mockingly said its leader, Kim Jong-un, “rocket man is on a suicide mission.” He went on to state that America might have no other choice but to ‘destroy’ North Korea.

On Iran, Mr Trump said that it was a “corrupt dictatorship” which intended on destabilising the Middle East. He again criticised the deal over Iran’s nuclear programme during Barack Obama’s tenure.

 

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