4th Budget sets aside $33b more to help workers, businesses

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday announced a $33 billion supplementary Budget aimed primarily at helping workers and businesses pull through the Covid-19 pandemic and the bleak economic outlook ahead.

Called the Fortitude Budget, Singapore’s fourth Budget in less than four months sets aside $2.9 billion to extend job protection and co-pay salaries to help firms retain workers. It also provides for the $3.8 billion that went towards helping Singaporeans tide over the extension of the circuit breaker measures.

Together with the earlier Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, the Government is dedicating close to $100 billion – or nearly 20 per cent of gross domestic product – to support Singaporeans in this battle against Covid-19, said Mr Heng, who called it “a landmark package, and a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis”.

Singapore’s economy has been deeply impacted by the global shocks caused by Covid-19, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, as he introduced the Budget in Parliament.

He noted that the resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, the highest in over a decade. The economy is now expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, potentially Singapore’s worst recession since independence.

Still, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Republic is in a strong position to overcome this crisis and emerge stronger due to the Pioneer Generation’s sacrifices and stewardship, and the fiscal prudence and discipline of successive governments.

“Saving and creating jobs will be our priority,” wrote PM Lee on Facebook yesterday, while stressing that no one will be left behind.

“We will help businesses adapt and transform, create new jobs and provide more training opportunities to workers.”

Mr Heng also underscored the focus on jobs. Payments under the Jobs Support Scheme will be extended by one month to provide more relief to firms as they reopen after the circuit breaker period.

In total, the Government will disburse $23.5 billion to support firms’ wage costs for 10 months, said Mr Heng.

Businesses such as retail outlets, gyms and cinemas that cannot reopen immediately after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1 will continue receiving 75 per cent wage support until August or when they can resume operations, whichever is earlier.

There will also be help for businesses in the construction and offshore and marine sectors which cannot resume operations on-site for now. They will see the foreign worker levy waiver and rebate extended for up to two months.

Business costs will be cut further as the planned increase in Central Provident Fund contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to January 2022.

As a landlord, the Government will lead by example by providing two more months of rental waivers for commercial tenants and hawkers, and one more month of rental waivers for industrial, office and agricultural tenants.

A Bill will be introduced next week mandating that landlords grant a rental waiver to their tenants who are small and medium-sized enterprises and have suffered a significant revenue drop.

Households with at least one Singapore citizen will also get a one-off $100 Solidarity Utilities Credit to offset their utility bills, on top of the U-Save Special Payment that was previously announced.

Mr Heng also launched an SG United Jobs and Skills Package to create close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas – 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 paid skills training places.

This Budget will require a further $31 billion to be drawn from past reserves, which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support for. In all, the Government is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from the reserves this financial year, said Mr Heng.

“While we will try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis, we cannot protect every job,” he said. “However, you have my assurance that the Government will protect every worker.”

“Our promise to workers is this: As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you.”

Parliament will debate the Budget when it next sits on June 4.

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CPF increase for older workers deferred to 2022

The planned increase in Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to Jan 1, 2022.

This is to help employers manage costs amid the Covid-19 pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The increase, initially to take place on Jan 1 next year, will see employers and workers contribute either 0.5 percentage point or 1 percentage point more for workers aged 55 to 70, based on the worker’s age.

CPF contribution rates of those aged 55 to 70 will be gradually raised during this decade until those aged 60 and younger enjoy the full CPF rates. Currently, the rates begin to taper down from 37 per cent after workers turn 55.

The CPF Transition Offset scheme, announced in this year’s first Budget speech in February, will similarly be deferred until the higher contribution rates take effect, Mr Heng told the House. The offset scheme covers half of the increase in employer CPF contribution rates for one year.

Yesterday, Mr Heng thanked the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation for supporting the one-year deferment.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said in a Facebook post after the announcement that the move will help save jobs for more older workers.

“The clear timeline also makes clear to older workers that their longer term interests remain the joint commitment of the tripartite partners,” he said.

Pointing to how the Ministry of Trade and Industry had downgraded Singapore’s 2020 growth forecast to minus 7 to minus 4 per cent yesterday morning, Mr Heng Chee How said many will find it very difficult to keep their livelihoods in the months ahead.

Workers will also find it harder to maintain their take-home pay because of the poor business environment, he added.

“In this situation, we must strenuously avoid adding cost from a particular segment of workers who are already vulnerable to businesses as it would only increase their risk of retrenchment.

“We must also avoid reducing their take-home pay in this hard time through the increase in employee contribution rates.

“Saving jobs for older workers is the imperative,” he said.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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GOP governors offers states as alternative RNC convention host – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Two GOP governors are offering up their states to host the Republican National Convention — a day after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the convention out of North Carolina if that state’s Democratic governor doesn’t assure him that the August gathering can go forward despite coronavirus fears.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent an open plea to Trump on Tuesday to consider his state as an alternate site for the quadrennial convention, which is set to gather more than 2,500 delegates and thousands more guests, press and security officials. Plans have been underway for more than a year to hold the convention in Charlotte, but Trump and national Republican officials have expressed concerns that local officials may not allow gatherings of that size during the pandemic.

“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,” Kemp tweeted Tuesday. “We hope you will consider the Peach State, ⁦‪@realDonaldTrump⁩!”

Kemp’s offer was followed by one from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who told reporters at a Miami news conference that he “would love” to have the GOP or even the Democratic convention, as either would bring millions of dollars to the state. The Republican governor said if Trump decides to move the GOP convention, it presumably would have to abide by any federal health guidelines and Florida would do its part to uphold them.

“The door is open, we want to have the conversation, whether RNC, DNC, whatever, because I think it will be good for the people of Florida,” DeSantis said. The Democratic convention is scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, and party officials have said they are evaluating contingency options, including a potential virtual convention, as a result of the virus.

Over the weekend, Trump complained that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was “unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the arena.”

He added that Republicans “must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

GOP officials say a determination is needed in the coming weeks in order to begin final preparations for the convention.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president is monitoring virus transmission data and “wants to see this convention take place and sees no reason not to as the nation begins to reopen.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said the president “is right to ask for assurances from North Carolina” about the convention.

“We want to have it in North Carolina, the president wants to have it in North Carolina,” she told Fox News on Tuesday morning. “It’s just the governor. He has to work with us. Every state we talk to says we want to nominate the president here, but this governor is up for reelection and hasn’t given us the reassurances we need. We need to be able to move forward in a concrete way. We are going to have those discussions.”

The Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Georgia’s capital and by far its largest city, said in a statement Tuesday that its reopening plan doesn’t mesh with Kemp’s offer to hold the convention in Georgia.

“Like North Carolina, the City of Atlanta is following a phased, data-driven approach to reopening. That plan does not contemplate hosting a large gathering event in August,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. “In fact, several long-standing City-supported and sponsored events have already been canceled in order to comply with CDC guidelines.”

David Shafer, chairman of Georgia’s state Republican Party, said in a text message that he spoke to Kemp on Tuesday morning. “We have reached out to Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna Romney to let her know that, if North Carolina falls through, Georgia is ready to help,” Shafer told The Associated Press.

“Under Governor Kemp, Georgia has led the nation in safely reopening its economy,” Shafer said. “We have first class facilities, a skilled workforce and a reputation for hospitality second to none. We would be proud to host the Republican National Convention.”

Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce declined to answer questions about the hasty bid and instead referred questions to Shafer.

Georgia became a lightning rod for both criticism and praise when it was one of the first states in the nation to allow businesses including tattoo parlors and bowling alleys to reopen in late April. Trump criticized Kemp’s decision at the time, saying “It’s just too soon,” but later said he was only expressing concern about certain places, like tattoo parlors, being reopened, adding: “I think it’s wonderful.”

As it tried to nail down convention plans, the Trump campaign announced it was promoting two veteran political aides to senior leadership roles. Bill Stepien, the former White House political director, will serve as deputy campaign manager, the campaign said. Stephanie Alexander, a regional political director, will become the campaign’s chief of staff.

The pair bring additional political experience to the campaign’s upper echelon, which is led by campaign manager Brad Parscale, a relative newcomer to national politics who ran Trump’s digital effort in 2016.

Sourcing & Methodology

Nadler reported from Atlanta. Terry Spencer contributed from Miami.

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Second withdrawal of $31 billion from Singapore's reserves to cushion coronavirus impact

SINGAPORE – Singapore will draw another $31 billion from its reserves in an extraordinary move to fund a fourth package of measures to cushion the people and the economy from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the second draw on the reserves announced in a span of two months, reflecting the profound impact the virus has had on Singapore’s open economy as businesses and industrial activities grind to a halt all over the world.

It brings to $52 billion the amount of past savings tapped this financial year.

Explaining the decision to dip into the savings again, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament on Tuesday (May 26) that it is “necessitated by the very exceptional nature of the Covid-19 crisis.”

To fund the three Budgets already announced this year, the Government had used up almost all of its accumulated surpluses from its current term, he said.

“But what we need to deal effectively with Covid-19 has grown so much that we have no choice but to draw on our past reserves,” he added.

The Government’s current five-year term will end by April 14 next year.

Mr Heng said he had thought long and hard about the move and had gone through rounds and rounds of deliberations and discussions with both the Finance Ministry’s staff and and his Cabinet colleagues before seeking President Halimah Yacob’s approval.

President Halimah, in consultation with the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), has given her in-principle approval.

Already, an unprecedented move was made earlier this year to dip into the past accumulated savings to the tune of $21 billion.

The amount far exceeds the $4.9 billion drawn in 2009 for the global financial crisis, although the final sum used was $4 billion.

Mr Heng said the $21 billion has gone towards saving jobs, keeping the economy going and giving direct aid to Singaporeans during this period.

Since then, the impact of the pandemic has deepened, with the number of coronavirus cases worldwide exceeding five million, and the death toll rising more than 340,000.

The number of cases in Singapore has crossed 30,000, with 23 dead, as the country prepares to lift restrictions on movements and business activities after a circuit breaker period that kicked in 50 days ago.

“Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we are moving to secure our future,” said Mr Heng.

“After a challenging circuit breaker period, we are now preparing to reopen our economy. To do so in a safe and calibrated manner, and to continue to support our people, we are proposing a further draw on our past reserves.”

He added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had met President Halimah to share the Government’s considerations.

Mr Heng, along with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, National Development Lawrence Wong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, who are all part of the multi-ministry task force set up to tackle the virus, had also briefed the CPA.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Madam Halimah had said: “Having deliberated and considered the recommendation of the CPA, I am satisfied that the fourth support package is necessary.”

Over the years, the Government’s strict adherence to the policy of not touching the past reserves has come under some criticism by those who feel more of it should be used to fund current needs.

Reiterating once again the importance of this policy, Mr Heng said the strategic asset, built up through the prudence and hard work of generations of Singaporeans, has been critical in allowing the country to respond comprehensively and robustly in the fight against Covid-19.

He pledged to deploy the money “in a deliberate manner, and at decisive moments”.

“I am grateful that we have the fiscal resources to mount this response, and the unity, resilience and solidarity of our people to battle this together. We have a responsibility to make the best use of these resources, to keep our people safe, to save jobs and transform businesses, and to emerge stronger,” he said.

“Every dollar that we have saved has been saved by careful counting over the years. In spending this national savings now, we must make every dollar spent count.”

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$33b set aside in Fortitude Budget, bringing Singapore's Covid-19 war chest to nearly $100 billion

SINGAPORE – Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (May 26) announced a $33 billion supplementary Budget aimed primarily at helping workers and businesses to tide over the Covid-19 crisis and the bleak economic outlook ahead.

Called the Fortitude Budget, Singapore’s fourth Budget in less than four months sets aside $2.9 billion to extend job protection, including enhancements to the Job Support Scheme (JSS) that co-pays salaries to help firms retain workers. It also provides for the $3.8 billion that went towards measures announced on April 21 to tide Singaporeans over the four-week extension to the circuit breaker.

Together with the earlier Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, the Government is dedicating close to $100 billion – or nearly 20 per cent of GDP – to support Singaporeans in this battle against Covid-19, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who called it “a landmark package, and a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis”.

This Budget requires a draw of $31 billion from past reserves, for which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle approval. Altogether, the Government is looking at drawing up to a total of $52 billion from past reserves this financial year to enable Singaporeans to tide over this crisis and emerge stronger, said Mr Heng.

Singapore’s economy has been deeply impacted by the global shocks caused by Covid-19, Mr Heng said as he introduced the Budget in Parliament.

He noted that the resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, the highest in over a decade. The Ministry of Trade and Industry on Tuesday also further downgraded Singapore’s GDP growth forecast this year from -4 per cent to -1 per cent to between -7 per cent and -4 per cent.

But Mr Heng assured Singaporeans that the Government will protect every worker and try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis.

To do this, JSS payouts will be extended by one month to provide additional relief for firms as they safely reopen after the circuit breaker period, said Mr Heng, who is also finance minister. This means JSS payments will now be for 10 months, with firms receiving this additional support in October.

In total, the Government will disburse $23.5 billion to firms to support wage costs for 10 months, he said.

Businesses such as retail outlets, gyms and cinemas that cannot resume operations immediately after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1 will continue receiving 75 per cent wage support until August or when they are allowed to reopen, whichever is the earlier.

Firms, such as those in aerospace maintenance, will also be reclassified to a higher tier of JSS support following feedback from industry associations and businesses. Eligible firms will get back payments in July to top-up their previous JSS payouts.

The foreign worker levy waiver and rebate will also be extended for up to two months for businesses not allowed to resume operations on-site immediately after the circuit breaker is lifted on. This includes all firms in the construction, marine and offshore, and process sectors.

Beyond this, the Government will defer the planned increase in CPF contribution rates for senior workers by one year to January 2022, while extending rental relief for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through a cash grant to be disbursed through property owners.

Mr Heng said the Ministry of Law will introduce a Bill next week mandating that landlords contribute by granting a rental waiver to their SME tenants who have suffered a significant revenue drop in the past few months

As a landlord, the Government will also lead by example by providing two more months of rental waivers for commercial tenants and hawkers, and one more month of rental waiver for industrial, office and agricultural tenants, he added.

Households with at least one Singapore citizen will also get a one-off $100 Solidarity Credit to offset their utility bills, which is on top of the U-Save Special Payment that was previously announced.

Mr Heng also launched an SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package to create close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas: 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 paid skills training places.

“While we will try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis, we cannot protect every job,” he said. “However, you have my assurance that the Government will protect every worker.”

“Our promise to workers is this: As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you,” he said.

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Dominic Cummings: Has the master of messaging misread the public?

Dominic Cummings began his highly unusual press conference by saying that it had been many years since he’d said anything on television.

Indeed, when I asked him for interviews in recent years, I’ve had blunt refusals.

But a few months after his successful referendum campaign in 2016, he agreed to be interviewed for a book I was writing about Brexit.

I spoke with him at his home in Islington for over an hour and a half, and to my knowledge he’s not given an interview like it since.

From what I learned of him in that meeting, I would conclude that in the last 48 hours, Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser has made a calculation. Wrongly or rightly, he thinks people outside of the Westminster bubble, outside the media, will see this whole thing a bit differently and be less judgemental.

Several times during the 2016 referendum campaign his back was against the wall, and each time he told his team not to panic. I imagine he’s said the same to Boris Johnson over his apparent breach of the lockdown rules.

Dominic Cummings has a firm belief that he is more in tune with people’s thinking than most politicians, journalists and columnists.

Certainly, when it came to EU campaigning, he is probably right about that. For example, when President Obama told the British public that they would be “at the back of the queue” for a trade deal if they chose to leave the EU, it was considered a dark day for the Vote Leave campaign.

Cummings told me “there were a lot of glum faces” in the office that day but he told his team: “This only matters to the Westminster bubble.

“What people on the media are saying and what you are seeing on TV is not the same as what people think, so don’t get psyched out. We’ll go off to focus groups and we will find out next week what the true picture is, but don’t worry about it.”

From the focus groups Cummings concluded that Obama had gone in too hard. He told me: “If Obama had said ‘look this is not going to be good for you guys’ in a much gentler way people would have heard him and thought, ‘oh that’s not good’, but the ‘back of the queue’ people’s reaction then wasn’t ‘were going to suffer’ it was ‘who is this guy coming over here and what deal have they done behind the scenes to help Cameron?'”

As someone who has never considered himself an establishment figure Cummings couldn’t bear the thought that people might now be wondering what’s going on behind the scenes with him and what backroom deals have allowed him to keep his job.

“I’m not a party person. I get involved in things I think are worthwhile,” he said back in 2016 as we sat in his front room. He’s never considered himself a Conservative or indeed a member of any establishment group. For many years he stood outside and looked in, mostly with a critical eye.

Which is why even when David Cameron was at the height of his popularity in the Tory camp, having unexpectedly won the 2015 election with a majority, Cummings was plotting how to defeat him in the referendum. He told me people didn’t appreciate that “I’d happily chop David Cameron’s head off every day in order to win”.

Cummings had fostered a contempt for politicians ever since he’d joined Business for Sterling in December 1998 – the campaign to keep the pound. The lesson he says he learned from this first dabbling in politics was that “99% of MPs are dreadful characters and if you want anything professionally organised you’ve got to exclude them”.

He added, the EU issue in particular attracted “a particularly unbalanced set of people.

“The Eurosceptic world is a very odd world populated by very odd people,” he said.

“Generally, not always but generally, the longer they have been involved in it, the higher the probability that they will be odd.”

His efforts to push many traditional Eurosceptic politicians to the sidelines during the Vote Leave campaign didn’t win him many friends and there had been an attempt in January 2016 to get him sacked, which he’d managed to survive.

Interestingly one MP who’d stood by him at that time, Steve Baker, was one of the first to come out and say he should be sacked over the alleged lockdown breach.

Cummings had written in the Spectator in January 2017: “Steve Baker often disagreed with me, sometimes very strongly, but he was a rare person in the campaign – an honest man.”

This time Mr Baker didn’t have his back, but it seems Johnson still does. It was clear from talking to Cummings that Johnson was to him, a rare thing – a politician he respected, along with Michael Gove, who he had worked for in the Department of Education. The bond of mutual respect between the two grew stronger in that extraordinary campaign.

Cummings is of course credited with the hugely successful slogan Take Back Control and it’s true to an extent that he created it. But he did so – not by musing for hours or writing slogans on a wall as conveyed in the C4 film where he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. No, he came up with it by trudging through focus groups and listening to people. His slogans are so potent because they come from the mouths of the British public.

In 2014 he conducted focus groups to assess attitudes to the EU renegotiation and a possible In / Out referendum. In a 19-page report he produced in June that year for the Eurosceptic movement the phrase Take Back Control is mentioned numerous times and Cummings comes to a very telling conclusion.

In it, two years before the referendum, he writes: “In a referendum it would be important for the OUT campaign not to take specific positions on any issues as this would only split the campaign.

“Instead the OUT campaign should simply say ‘whether you think X or Y about Z, the most important thing is that we take back control of Z.”

For example, keep it vague on whether you think immigration is a good or a bad thing and just talk about having control of it.

The slogan of the 2019 General election campaign Get Brexit Done was equally vague – allowing anyone to project their own desires as to what getting it done might look like.

The problem with vague and aspirational is it doesn’t work for pandemic messaging. With the easing of the lockdown came the message Stay Alert and people were suddenly asking themselves what they didn’t ask about Take Back Control or Get Brexit Done – what does it actually mean?

Stay At Home was a clear message, people thought – but now Mr Cummings has suggested that due to exceptional circumstances he was right to not stay at home.

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‘Beyond audacious!’ UK accused of ‘fanciful demands’ in EU talks – trade deal at risk

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Boris Johnson successfully signed a withdrawal agreement with the European Union towards the end of last year, with the inclusion of small amendments to the Irish backstop, an issue that was a thorn in the attempts of predecessor Theresa May to get her deal voted through the UK parliament. But the Prime Minister had no such problems, using the Conservative Party’s huge 80-seat majority gained when crushing political rivals in December’s general election to get his amended withdrawal agreement voted through by MPs and deliver on his promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31. The UK and EU quickly got trade talks underway, with Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost taking a team to Brussels to meet one led by Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier.

But already both sides have traded vicious insults over each other’s respective negotiating stances in talks, with huge cracks widening from bitter disagreements over a number of crucial demands being made in the post-Brexit agreement.

Alistair Jones, Associate Politics Professor, De Montfort University in Leicester, said the EU has offered no surprises with its negotiating strategy in trade talks, adding “there was never going to be much room for improvement”.

But he is critical of the UK’s approach in expecting the EU to bow down to a number of its demands, some of which he describes as “beyond audacious”.

Mr Jones told Express.co.uk: “The EU has been its usual legalistic self. Noting the need to aggregate the position of 27 countries into a common negotiating position, there was never going to be much room for flexibility.

“The UK’s position has been the typical British exceptionalism, where Frost has adopted the Johnson approach of expecting the EU to bow down to the UK demands.

“As an example, the UK wants to have input into any future application by a third party to join the EU, and for the EU to take into consideration UK interests in any such negotiations. This goes beyond audacious.

“The UK has refused point blank to let the ECJ (European Court of Justice) have any role in the UK post-Brexit, but expects the EU to bow down to such fanciful demands.”

Mr Johnson’s insistence on a trade deal being signed with the EU before the end of the transition period on December 31 and his refusal to ask for an extension to this deadline appears to be adding increasing tension to proceedings.

The move has infuriated the EU, with Brussels warning the tight deadline leaves no time to get a comprehensive deal in place.

Following the latest round of negotiations, Mr Frost warned the EU and his counterpart Mr Barnier to change their stance in a number of areas before the next round of talks on June 1.

But Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, has issued a chilling warning to the Prime Minister and his negotiating team.

He told this website: “Will the EU change its current position? This presupposes that both sides have equal bargaining power. They don’t.

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“The UK is a middle-sized economy with about 65 million people. The EU is a trade bloc with a population of about 450 million. So no, I don’t expect the EU to change their stance.

“If we look at the key areas of disagreement; fisheries and so-called ‘level playing field’ provisions.

“Fishing (whilst a totemic issue for the UK, despite its trivial economic contribution at about 0.01 percent of our GDP) is also equally totemic for EU countries with equally strong maritime traditions; the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, for example.

“Regarding the EU insisting on the UK abiding by level playing field provisions around, for example, labour laws, state aid, and environmental standards etc.

“This is an existential issue for the EU in that an ex-member state cannot be seen to extract favourable concessions on Single Market access, least other EU countries such as Poland and Hungary kick-off and start demanding similar treatment.

“At that point, the whole Single Market really could unravel.”

Tim Bale, Deputy Director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank and Professor of Politics at the Queen Mary University of London, said the EU could relent on some aspects of the post-Brexit trade deal, but warned it will not start handing out favourable terms to a country that is no longer one of the bloc’s member states.

He said: “This is a negotiation – the EU will make concessions in some areas, maybe even on something contentious like fishing.

“But what it won’t compromise on is the principle that you don’t get to enjoy most of the benefits of belonging to the EU once you’re no longer a member state.”

Mr Jones added: “The EU have been very clear that they are sticking to the documentation, such as the political declaration, signed off by the UK and the EU.

“That cannot be changed, despite British requests to do so.”

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Claims that Dominic Cummings broke lockdown twice are ‘not true’, Grant Shapps says

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told Sky News claims Boris Johnson’s top adviser broke the lockdown twice are “not true”.

The prime minister’s right-hand man had already admitted that he drove 260 miles from London to Durham with his wife and young son in late March to self-isolate at a family property despite strict restrictions against long-distance journeys.

Now, the Sunday Mirror and The Observer claim he made a second trip to Durham and was seen there on 19 April – five days after being photographed in Downing Street on his return to Westminster.

Asked about the fresh allegations, Mr Shapps told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I certainly know that the first one you mention, of travelling back up (to Durham), I know that is not true.

“I’m afraid I don’t know (about Barnard Castle) but if that date was true that would have been outside the 14-day period. But I’m afraid I don’t have the information on that.

“But I do know it is not the case that he has travelled backwards and forwards, which seemed to be a major part of the stories I saw in the paper today.”

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Factbox: New top U.S. spy Ratcliffe known for fierce loyalty to Trump

(Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate confirmed U.S. Representative John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence on Thursday over Democratic objections, the second time President Donald Trump tapped him for the position.

Here are some facts about the divisive nomination:

RESUME

Ratcliffe, a Republican, was a U.S. attorney and then mayor of Heath, Texas, before he came to the House in 2015. Now 54, Ratcliffe was the most junior member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee – with just six months on the panel – when Trump announced on July 28, 2019, that he wanted him to be the top official in charge of the U.S. intelligence community.

Trump abruptly abandoned the plan – blaming the media on Twitter – five days later after members of Congress worried Ratcliffe was too inexperienced, too partisan and amid reports that he had padded his resume by overstating his role in prosecuting terrorism cases.

Trump nominated Ratcliffe again on Feb. 28, after the country had gone since mid-August without a Senate-confirmed Director of National Intelligence, by far the longest period without one since the position was created.

‘BLIND LOYALTY’

Ratcliffe is known as one of Trump’s most loyal and vocal supporters in Congress. He was a major defender of the Republican president throughout last year’s impeachment proceedings. He also lashed out at former special counsel Robert Mueller, who had investigated Trump, when Mueller testified in the House in July.

According to media reports, Trump initially picked Ratcliffe to be DNI because he had liked his aggressive questioning of Mueller during that hearing.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said last summer Ratcliffe had been selected because he had shown “blind loyalty” to Trump.

SINGLE-PARTY SUPPORT

The DNI position was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in an effort to unify the intelligence community and better protect the country.

The Senate Intelligence Committee backed Ratcliffe’s nomination by an unusually close 8-7, with no Democratic support. He passed the full chamber in a largely party-line vote, 49 to 44, more “no” votes than for any previous DNI.

Trump’s first DNI, former Republican Senator and U.S. ambassador to Germany Dan Coats, was confirmed by 85-12 in March 2017. The Senate had confirmed James Clapper, a former lieutenant general and intelligence community veteran who served under Democratic President Barack Obama, unanimously in 2010.

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'So much I want to say,' Trump's ex-lawyer Cohen says as he exits prison early

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, returned to his New York home on Thursday after being released early from a federal prison due to concerns of possible coronavirus exposure.

“There is so much I want to say and intend to say. But now is not the right time. Soon,” Cohen said on Twitter after walking into his Manhattan apartment building, wearing a white surgical mask, blue jeans and a dark blazer.

Cohen, 53, had completed about a year of a three-year sentence for his role paying hush money to two women – pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal – who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, as well as for financial crimes and lying to Congress.

Trump has denied relationships with either woman.

He is expected to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement, two sources familiar with the case said on condition of anonymity. Cohen had been eligible for release from prison in November 2021.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released from a federal prison in Pennsylvania last week to finish his sentence at home due to similar concerns.

A Cohen lawyer in March said the federal Bureau of Prisons has been “demonstrably incapable of safeguarding and treating BOP inmates who are obliged to live in close quarters and are at an enhanced risk of catching coronavirus.”

Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, later turned on his former boss and cooperated with Democratic-led congressional inquiries. Trump has called Cohen a “rat.” Cohen has called Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and “a cheat.”

Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges that led to his imprisonment. They also included lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

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