An uneasy Christmas truce has been called over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, even as the EU said it would not negotiate over a key British demand in the rancorous talks.
Maroš Šefčovič, the EU Brexit commissioner, said there was “momentum” behind discussions after a major British U-turn, but refused to offer quid pro quo concessions.
Downing Street has conceded in recent weeks that it will prioritise removing barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland over other constitutional issues that have bedevilled the talks. Talks will be suspended until after Christmas.
But in a blow to the British government, the commissioner on Friday refused even to engage with its demand for any renegotiation over the role of the European court of justice (ECJ) in the enforcement of EU law in Northern Ireland, despite a UK concession that the court could retain a role in the protocol.
“It was not disputed at all until the summer of this year and therefore the topic we are not ready to include in our discussions,” said Šefčovič, the EU commissioner in charge of UK relations.
Under a protocol of the withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland in effect remains within the EU’s single market and the bloc’s customs border is drawn down the Irish sea. The EU court is the final arbiter of disputes.
The British government, however, wants an independent arbitration system rather than giving the ECJ the last say, although in recent days it has accepted the court in Luxembourg will resolve questions about EU law if issues come to arbitration.
A potential solution exists in the post-Brexit trade agreement and the EU’s deal with Switzerland. But the European Commission said on Friday that this model was not feasible – yet.
A senior EU official said the protocol was “completely different” to the EU trade agreement with Switzerland, because the Northern Ireland agreement was based on “the direct application of reams of EU legislation”, rather than “elements of EU law, which are referred to or paraphrased” as in the deal with Berne. “It was judged that this arbitral solution was not sufficient, and that you needed the full powers of the court of justice,” the official said.
Another barrier is that the commission refuses to reopen an agreement that was signed by Boris Johnson little more than two years ago.
There is agreement to extend a standstill arrangement beyond 1 January to avoid the full implementation of customs on meat and agricultural imports.
But Brussels remains mistrustful of the British government. “The fundamental stumbling block is that we need the UK to move back into a logic of the implementation of an agreement that it negotiated, signed and ratified,” said a senior official.
The two sides are also at odds over the process of the talks. While British officials have spoken of “a staged approach”, where issues are agreed one by one, the EU would like a single agreement.
Customs and health checks remain a major stumbling block in the talks. While the EU considers it has made a generous offer to cut red tape, the UK argues that its claims to remove 50% of customs checks and 80% of health checks do not stand up.
The EU announced on Friday it would rewrite its rules on medicines to ensure life-saving treatments and everyday drugs remained available in Northern Ireland, after threats to supply emerged. Without a change to the rules or grace period, medicine manufacturers based in Great Britain had warned they could cease supplying products to Northern Ireland, because of the extra costs imposed by red tape.
Hundreds of medicines used by the NHS in Northern Ireland were at risk. The commission has now proposed that new medicines for Northern Ireland can be authorised by the UK, even if they have yet to be approved by the EU regulator.
Under the proposals, quality control checks, so called “batch testing”, would not need to be repeated in Northern Ireland, if they had already been carried out in Great Britain or the EU. The proposals have to be agreed by EU lawmakers and ministers before coming into force.
Meanwhile, the French EU minister Clément Beaune said Paris would “in the coming days” begin proceedings against the UK over fishing licences it said Britain still owed a small number of French boats to allow them to operate in British waters.
“The next step will be to ask the commission in the coming days to convene the partnership council, as provided for under the Brexit trade deal to settle a problem,” Beaune said, adding that the procedure would target “the most urgent” cases.
French President Macron’s Marriage Hit By Gay Claim
French first lady Brigitte Macron received an anonymous telephone call alleging that her president husband Emmanuel Macron was with a gay lover, it has emerged.
Despite top-level security checks on all her devices, a tormentor got through to the 68-year-old and said: ‘I know your husband is right now with a man in such and such a place.’
Political commentator Nicolas Prisette makes the claim in a new documentary called ‘In the Hell of the Presidential Campaigns’ on BFM – France’s most popular TV news channel.
It follows frequent scandalous rumours about the couple’s personal life, including claims that Ms Macron was in fact born a man.
The pair first met in 1993, when President Macron, then 15, walked into 39-year-old Brigitte’s high-school literature class in Amiens, France.
Brigitte later divorced her husband, with whom she shares three children, in favour of Mr Macron, a man 24 years her junior.
Senator François Patriat, a member of Mr Macron’s En Marche (On The Move) party, confirmed that Ms Macron was left devastated by the telephone call alleging her 44-year-old husband was with a lover.
Mr Patriat said Ms Macron told friends afterwards: ‘Do you realise what they dare to say? We won’t be spared anything. I was sad and shocked to hear that, but we will push on.’
The 24-year age gap between the Macrons has always caused problems, especially as they began a relationship when Emmanuel Macron was still a schoolboy in their home city of Amiens, northern France.
His affair with the future Ms Macron, then a married teacher and mother-of-three, caused a scandal, but the couple have remained together ever since.
In his book and political manifesto Revolution, President Macron described the affair as ‘a love often clandestine, often hidden, misunderstood by many before imposing itself.’
The Macrons ended up getting married in the Channel beach resort of Le Touquet in 2007, but not before causing extreme angst among those closest to them.
George Floyd’s 4-Year-Old Niece Shot In Houston On New Year’s Day
George Floyd’s 4-year-old niece, Arianna, was shot while sleeping in her bed Saturday after a gunman opened fire on her home, Houston police said.
The girl was shot in torso and is in stable condition after an emergency surgery, police said. The bullet punctured her lung and liver and also broke three ribs, ABC 13 Houston said. Her family identified her as Floyd’s niece.
Arianna was one of four adults and two kids who were in the Houston apartment around 3 a.m. when it was bombarded with bullets.
Police said in a statement they do not know if was one person or multiple people firing the shots. Cops currently have no suspects and don’t know a possible motive.
Arianna was asleep in her bed when she was shot, according to ABC 13 Houston. Her family often brought her along to marches and rallies calling for justice for her late uncle.
Ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for murdering Floyd after he held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds in May 2020.
British Court Orders Dubai Ruler To Pay Ex-Wife £500 Million In Divorce Settlement
A UK court has ordered Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, to pay his ex-wife, Princess Haya, and their two children a record £500 million as a divorce settlement.
During the ruling held on Tuesday, the court said the amount is essential to protect them from the threat the ruler allegedly poses to them, Guardian UK reports.
The Judge, Philip Moor, said the family needed “water-tight security,” and that “absolutely uniquely,” the main threat to them came from Sheikh Mohammed, rather than outside sources.
Moor ordered that the sheikh should pay over £250 million upfront to Haya and provide a bank guarantee of £290 million for annual payments.
The judge said: “I am entirely satisfied that this means that, although HRH (her royal highness Haya) and the children would require security provision in any event, given their status and the general threats of terrorism and kidnap faced in such circumstances, they are particularly vulnerable and need water-tight security to ensure their continued safety and security in this country.
“Most importantly in this regard, and absolutely uniquely, the main threat they face is from HH (his highness the sheikh) himself not from outside sources. This is compounded by the full weight of the state that he has available to him as seen by his ability to make use of the Pegasus software, which is only available to governments.”
During the ruling, the high court judge also ordered that the costs of security for Haya’s lifetime should be paid upfront rather than annually.
Haya was also given £83 million a year for her household spending plus an allowance of £9 million per annum and ad hoc gifts while in Dubai.
Haya, 47, fled to the UK in 2019 and sought custody of her two children through the British courts.
The princess, who is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, said she was “terrified” of her husband, who is alleged to have ordered the forced return to the Gulf emirate of two of his daughters.
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