Brexit: France warns to prepare for 'no deal'

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The Brexit accord that has stumbled in the British Parliament is the “only deal possible” and Europe must prepare for London to crash out without an agreement, France warned on Tuesday (Dec 11).

France’s Minister for European Affairs, Ms Nathalie Loiseau, sounded the alarm bells in Brussels as Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on a lightning mini-tour of European Union capitals to beg for support.

“The withdrawal agreement is the only one possible,” she said, echoing previous warnings from EU leaders Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, presidents of the European Commission and European Council respectively.

On Monday, Mrs May abandoned an attempt to push the divorce deal she brokered with EU leaders last month through a hostile House of Commons, triggering dismay in European capitals who fear more chaos ahead.

“Our responsibility is to prepare for a ‘no deal’, because it’s a hypothesis that is not unlikely,” Ms Loiseau said, suggesting that Britain could leave the EU on March 29 without arrangements to keep trade flowing.

“I’m very worried,” she added. “A Brexit without an agreement would be very bad news for the United Kingdom and would have consequences for France.”

Mrs May was due in Brussels later in the day to see Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk, after meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Hague and Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

She has no plans to meet France’s President Emmanuel Macron before Thursday’s EU summit.

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Gardaí investigate claim famous sportsman raped woman in hotel

Gardaí are investigating an allegation that a well-known sportsman raped a young woman in a Dublin city centre hotel in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The man has not yet been arrested but sources have revealed the allegation made by the woman in her 20s is being considered “extremely credible”.

It is understood gardaí are also investigating whether she was the victim of a physical assault in the course of the alleged rape, which happened between midnight and 2am at a premises in the southside of the city centre.

“This is a very sensitive case and gardaí will be working on it all night,” a senior source told the Irish Independent.

The case is being investigated by officers at Pearse Street garda station and the alleged victim is from Dublin.

The exact location of the attack was not clear last night.

The woman had been socialising in Dublin before going on to a hotel in the city centre.

The alleged victim made a complaint to officers at a separate Garda station at around midday yesterday.

However, because of the location of the alleged rape, the investigation was handed over to officers from Pearse Street.

The sportsman has not yet been interviewed by gardaí, but it is understood this could happen as early as today.

It is understood he and the alleged victim are known to each other.

She was treated yesterday at the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit at the Rotunda Hospital.

It comes as the net is closing in on a rapist who brutally attacked a German student in Dublin city centre in a completely separate case last week.

Investigating officers have recovered “excellent quality” CCTV of the suspect who has been described as a stocky man aged in his late 30s or early 40s, with a tight haircut.

A senior source revealed that gardaí plan to distribute the image of the suspect to officers nationwide in the hope it will lead to his arrest.

“The images show the suspect very clearly just after the rape happened,” a senior source told the Irish Independent last night.

The sexual assault took place in the Christchurch area at around 3.30am on Sunday, December 2.

The victim, who is said to be “extremely traumatised” after her ordeal, is aged in her 20s.

She has returned to her native country where she is being comforted by family and friends.

The woman was attacked in a laneway off Winetavern Street after earlier socialising at a pub in the north city.

It is understood that she was attacked as she walked home by a “random stranger” who gardaí suspect is an Irish national.

After being raped, the disorientated woman made her way to the Civic Offices at Wood Quay, and it was from here that she made a panicked 999 call.

Gardaí then arrived at the scene to assist her.

The case is being investigated by Kevin Street gardaí, and there has been no arrest so far or a description of the attacker.

“This was an absolutely horrendous experience for a young woman who is in Ireland as part of her studies,” a source said.

“The allegation is being treated as completely credible and a full investigation is under way.”

Gardaí are continuing to appeal for witnesses or anyone who was in the area at the time to contact them.

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Germany hit by transport chaos as rail staff strike over pay

FRANKFURT • Germany was plunged into transport chaos yesterday as most train services were halted by a workers’ strike over pay, affecting millions of passengers.

Inter-city and regional services as well as many urban commuter trains were cancelled because of the four-hour stoppage from 5am local time (noon Singapore time), railway company Deutsche Bahn said.

The strike halted all high-speed InterCity Express trains and other inter-city services as well as most cargo trains, causing delays that continued well into the afternoon.

In the capital Berlin, where the entire public announcement system broke down too, frustrated commuters were asked to switch from S-Bahn commuter trains operated by Deutsche Bahn to subways, buses or trams.

The strike came after talks broke down on Saturday between Deutsche Bahn and the EVG railworkers’ union, which is demanding a 7.5 per cent salary rise for 160,000 employees.

“The employer made offers which did not correspond to the demands of our members,” said EVG negotiator Regina Rusch-Ziemba.

Deutsche Bahn described the strike as a “completely unnecessary escalation”, insisting that its offer was “attractive and met the main demands” of employees. The railway company had offered a pay rise of 5.1 per cent in two phases, with an option for staff to take extra time off instead, and a one-off payment of €500 (S$783), the DPA national news agency reported.

Deutsche Bahn in a tweet also denied it had broken off negotiations, charging that “the EVG left the talks and went on strike”. The train operator said it was ready to restart talks at any time. “(Deutsche Bahn) remains ready to continue the negotiations at any time.”

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman added: “Parties that negotiate must be prepared to make concessions.”

The union responded by saying it was considering returning to the table this afternoon.

The strike also impacted Deutsche Bahn customer services offices, meaning that at many stations, passengers were left without information over loudspeakers or display boards.

Deutsche Bahn said purchased tickets would remain valid until next Sunday or could be refunded. It urged passengers to delay travel where possible.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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Macron offers sweeteners in bid to bring end to 'yellow vest' protests

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, decreed a “state of social and economic emergency” last night, offering a string of generous sweeteners he hopes will quell a month-long gilets jaunes (“yellow vests”) revolt that has left his presidency on the ropes.

In a pre-recorded national address, Mr Macron said France was at a “historic juncture”, and issued a mea culpa, saying: “I know that I have managed to wound some of you through my comments.”

Acceding to several key demands of the “yellow vests”, the president pledged to raise the minimum wage by €100 per month from 2019 without cost to employers.

Overtime would be free of tax and charges, he said, while businesses that gave end-of-year bonuses would pay no extra tax or charges.

Mr Macron also announced that he would reverse a new levy for pensioners with incomes of less than €2,000 a month.

“The effort asked of them was too great and not fair,” he said.

However, many gilets jaunes protesters around France appeared unconvinced.

The 40-year-old centrist was under intense pressure to avoid fresh damage and bloodshed after successive weekends of violent riots in Paris and other cities that have resulted in 4,523 arrests and already stripped France of 0.1pc of GDP growth, according to its finance minister.

Meanwhile, thousands of gilets jaunes have been blocking roads and roundabouts for almost a month in an outpouring of anger over perceived high taxes for the poor and overwhelming accusations that Mr Macron is an arrogant, out-of-touch “president of the rich”.

Last night, he stood firm on his controversial decision to partially scrap France’s totemic wealth tax. To change that, he said, would “weaken us”.

The president, who has become the least popular leader in modern French history after a dream start, said that the anger of peaceful protesters was “fair and can be our opportunity”.

However, he slammed the “unacceptable outpouring of violence” of vandals.

“No anger justifies attacking a police officer or public property,” he said. Mr Macron also made it clear he intended to push on with planned reforms of social security and pensions.

Despite a string of concessions before his speech, including scrapping the green tax on diesel and petrol that sparked the unrest, many protesters had already taken to social media to call for an “Act 5” of radical action.

Jeremy Clement, one “yellow vest” spokesman, said the proposals were a start and “coherent” but remained “crumbs”. “We can’t be content with a €100 rise,” he said.

In one hall in Galargues, southern France, some pensioners applauded at the tax breaks but many said they would continue the protests.

Karl Toquard, yellow vest spokesman at a roundabout in Gaillon, Normandy, was adamant. He said: “There was nothing for us. We’re staying put.”

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Record number of inspirational young people honoured with Gaisce gold by the President

Completing a version of the Rubik’s Cube in 10 seconds and doing the camino four months after tearing a tendon off your knee – that’s the level expected to take home a Gaisce gold award.

Throw in some taekwondo and you’ve got the work of Cathal Seabrook (18), from Clarehall, Dublin.

A record 78 inspirational young people were honoured with their prestigious Gaisce gold awards at Dublin Castle by President Michael D Higgins.

The President’s Award was founded in 1985 and this year’s awardees hail from 26 counties and 52 Gaisce award partners.

Cathal said the award was his “proudest achievement”.

The teenager had begun with the bronze award in transition year in school. He said he was able to fully solve the Rubik’s Cube by then.

“So for Gaisce Gold I decided to learn the variations of the Rubik’s Cube,” he said.

“I figured out how to solve it completely by myself. It took me about a month and a half.”

Cathal also completed the camino in Sarria, Spain, which was even more of a challenge.

The camino was undertaken in March this year, four months after he tore his patella tendon in his knee.

Meanwhile, Abbie Moloney, from Killashee, Co Longford, was awarded for her endeavours in woodwork, swimming and volunteering with young people with special needs.

She also undertook a 60km canoeing expedition from the Royal Canal Mullingar Harbour to the 46th Lock Clondra Harbour.

Abbie (19) – whose dad is a carpenter – said the items she built were practical for use at home.

Among those were a work bench, a foot stool and a small chair for her dog.

When asked about the volunteering Abbie said it’s something she’ll be keeping up.

Launching the awards, President Michael D Higgins spoke about engagement and inclusiveness in communities.

He said he was struck by the adventure groups that travelled from Malin Head to Mizen Head.

Mr Higgins said he was pleased the Gaisce award could be spread to prisons. He also spoke of families in direct provision.

“In our direct provision services this year we will have families and children who maybe are there far too long,” he said.

This year’s gold awardees have successfully completed five challenge areas for 52 weeks or more – volunteering with a charity or community group; developing an existing skill or learning something new; becoming more active through sport or exercise; taking part in a four-day adventure while discovering the great outdoors; and broadening their horizons on a five-day residential stay.

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'Slap in the face' if Welsh leader made lord, says family of dead politician Carl Sargeant

Jack Sargeant said there “has been talk” that Carwyn Jones has been recommended by Jeremy Corbyn to become a lord when he resigns on Tuesday.

Carl Sargeant, 49, was found dead in his north Wales home after leaving a note for his family and friends in November 2017 – just days after being dismissed as secretary for communities and children.

It followed a number of alleged incidents of sexual harassment. He maintained he had not been given the full disclosure of the allegations.

His death came the day after first minister Mr Jones was interviewed on TV about the reshuffle, and at the time there were calls for the leader’s resignation over the matter.

Leighton Andrews, a close friend and Labour Party colleague of Carl Sargeant, said the interviews immediately made him concerned for his mental health and they “fuelled his despair”.

An inquest into Mr Sargeant’s death started in November and has been adjourned.

Jack Sargeant, who won his father’s seat after his death, said: “There has been talk that the first minister will leave office and be given a peerage.

“Nothing could be more distressing for the family and friends of Carl to know that such an accolade could be bestowed when there are so many unanswered questions regarding the First Minister’s conduct.

“It would be a real slap in the face to those of us already suffering Carl’s loss. If Jeremy Corbyn gives the nod to Carwyn Jones to go into the House of Lords, we will be distraught.”

Giving evidence at Carl Sargeant’s inquest, Mr Jones expressed his annoyance at the politician revealing he had been sacked when he was told not to “go public” and it would be “handled by others”.

He admitted there was no support from the Welsh government for ministers who had been sacked.

Jack Sargeant also said he was hoping the new first minister, Mark Drakeford, will bring a “kinder politics” to Cardiff.

“As a serving AM, I hope the arrival of a new first minister will start the process of the kinder politics that I have called for since Dad died,” he said.

“With a new first minister taking up the post there’s a real opportunity to change the current toxic political culture in the assembly. I am looking forward to serving under a new leader.

“I’d encourage politicians and civil servants to think about their own working environments.

“Together we can create lasting change and a political environment that is more supportive of those working in it.”

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Macron addresses the nation; announces rise in minimum wage

In his first comments since deadly protests erupted over social inequality, Emmanuel Macron offers an olive branch.

    French President Emmanuel Macron announced a range of conciliatory measures aimed at appeasing “yellow vest” protesters, including increasing the minimum wage and cancelling a planned social security tax hike for pensioners earning less than 2,000 euros.

    While acknowledging on Monday he may have “hurt” people with some of his statements, Macron refused to reinstate a wealth tax and to back down on his reform agenda, which he said would proceed in 2019 with overhauls of pensions, unemployment benefits and public expenditures.

    “We will respond to the economic and social urgency with strong measures, by cutting taxes more rapidly, by keeping our spending under control, but not with U-turns,” he said in a televised address.

    “The salary of a worker on basic income will increase by 100 euros per month starting in 2019,” said Macron. “We want a France where we can live with dignity.”

    The 40-year-old leader said his government will also ask private employers to pay their workers year-end bonuses if they’re able to. 

    Demonstrators held a fourth round of protests on Saturday to press for further concessions on reducing inequality.

    The month-long campaign of nationwide road blockades and weekend protests in Paris, three of which degenerated into destruction and looting, have taken a toll on the French economy with an estimated $1.5bn in losses.

    Political opponents, who have largely failed so far to tap into the discontent from the leaderless “yellow vest”, criticised Macron’s response on Monday as insufficient.

    “Emmanuel Macron thought he could hand out some cash to calm the citizen’s insurrection that has erupted,” Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left La France Insoumise, said.

    “I believe that Act V [of the protests] will play out on Saturday,” he said referring to a new round of protests planned this weekend.

    One of the faces of the “yellow vest” movement appeared unconvinced as well.

    “In terms of substance, these are half measures. We can feel that Macron has got a lot more to give,” Benjamin Cauchy, who met the French leader last week, told France 2 television.

    In an attempt to quell the revolt, the government agreed last week to cancel a planned increase in anti-pollution fuel taxes – the spark behind the protests in car-dependent rural and suburban France.

    But the move was seen as too little, too late.

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    Theresa May delays Brexit deal vote: What's next

    LONDON (AFP) – What happens now after Prime Minister Theresa May threw the Brexit process into fresh disarray after deferring a vote on her deal in parliament?

    The embattled leader said she would seek assurances from EU leaders to assuage British lawmakers’ concerns, but faces seemingly implacable opposition to the plan.

    She indicated the vote will now take place before Jan 21 – the legal deadline before parliament can take control of the Brexit process if the government has failed to negotiate a viable deal with the European Union.

    The fate of May, her deal and her government appears highly uncertain, with hardliners from her own Conservative Party threatening a leadership challenge, and a no-confidence vote in her government also possible.

    Here are some of the most probable scenarios:

    Tweaks to the deal 

    May vowed to “go to see” her European counterparts to discuss MPs concerns ahead of a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, seeking “further assurances” over the so-called “backstop plan” for the Irish border.

    But Brexiteers are demanding she entirely overhaul this contentious element of the proposal before trying again to put the deal to a vote in the House of Commons.

    In any case EU leaders have already rejected the prospect of renegotiating any part of the backstop, which is contained within the legally-binding withdrawal agreement.

    European sources privately say only tweaks in the accompanying declaration on post-Brexit ties might be possible, which are not legally enforceable.

    Norway option

    With MPs having more of a say in the process, it is possible they could push for a “plan B”, which would see Britain adopt a softer Brexit, such as staying in the EU’s satellite trading bloc the European Economic Area – the so-called Norway option.

    Although being in the single market would require maintaining freedom of movement of EU citizens into Britain – a contentious issue for May and many pro-Brexit voters – this approach is considered more likely to command a majority in parliament and potentially pass a vote.

    Another potential obstacle, however, is that Britain would have to continue paying large amounts of money into the EU budget which would prove hugely unpopular.

    EU figures are said to be in any case discussing how the bloc could extend Article 50 to allow for a tweaked deal or other scenarios such as a second referendum.

    No-deal Brexit 

    Britain has legislated to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019, after triggering Article 50 – the treaty mechanism used to exit the bloc – two years prior.

    May has warned that if MPs vote down her plan the country risks crashing out on this date with no agreement.

    That would sever ties overnight with its closest trading partner, amid fears of grounded flights, medicine shortages and gridlocked ports and motorways.

    The Bank of England has warned of a financial crisis, slashing house prices and crashing the pound.

    Second referendum 

    Calls for a new referendum now attract significant cross-party support from dozens of MPs.

    May has repeatedly ruled out another vote but could face pressure to call one if Britain slips into political paralysis.

    Supporters of a second referendum received a boost from the European Court of Justice on Monday, which ruled that Britain does have the unilateral right to revoke its Brexit decision.

    Election or leadership challenge 

    The prime minister could try to break the parliamentary deadlock by calling a general election – but would need the backing of two-thirds of all MPs.

    A simple majority of all lawmakers could also topple her government with a vote of no confidence, with some opposition MPs calling for such a move in parliament Monday.

    But a Labour spokesperson said after that the party would only submit such a motion “when we judge it most likely to be successful”.

    It could lead to the formation of a new government – possibly a coalition of parties – if MPs agreed on that within two weeks.

    Otherwise, a general election would be called.

    May could also be ousted by MPs from within her own Conservative Party and British media are full of speculation on potential contenders.

    A minimum of 48 letters of no-confidence are required to trigger a vote of no confidence.

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    Evidence by DPP employee accused of breaking official secrets act must not be 'out and about' – judge

    AN EMPLOYEE of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is to face a three-day trial accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act in connection with the Peter Butterly murder trial.

    Jonathan Lennon, aged 34, from Clonee, Dublin 15 was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act in relation to criminal proceedings resulting from the murder of Butterly, a dissident republican.

    Butterly was shot dead outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath, in 2013.

    Mr Lennon faced his third hearing at Blanchardstown District Court today.

    Judge Gerard Jones ruled that sensitive prosecution evidence must not be given directly to the accused and he can only look at it in his lawyer’s office.

    An order for disclosure of prosecution evidence had been made at an earlier stage.

    The father-of-three is accused of four offences contrary to Section Four and 13 of the Official Secrets Act 1963, as amended by Section 48 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997.

    It is alleged that on Sept. 7, 2017 and the following day, at a place unknown in Dublin, without authorisation, he communicated with another person official information within the possession, custody or control of the DPP, a holder of public office, relating to the prosecution of individuals arising from the murder of Peter Butterly on March 6, 2013.

    Judge Jones heard that the prosecution has furnished disclosure to Mr Lennon’s solicitor.

    However, a State solicitor explained, the evidence was to be released to Mr Lennon’s lawyer only.

    Counsel for Mr Lennon made an application for the material to be released to the accused. The barrister submitted that the defence was unable to take instructions and his client was entitled to view and analyse the evidence by himself.

    However, the prosecution objected and said that due to its sensitivity it was released with certain conditions. But it certainly did not prevent the defence from taking instructions from Mr Lennon, it was contended.

    The State solicitor said 80 to 90 per cent of the material could be handed to the defendant directly but not the remaining evidence, which was referred to by the judge as “precious”.

    Judge Jones ruled Mr Lennon can go to his solicitor’s office and “spend morning ‘till night viewing this material”, however, he added that he did not want the evidence “out and about”.

    The court heard it will be a three-day trial and senior counsel are to be retained by  both sides.

    The case will be listed again for mention in January.

    Mr Lennon, dressed in jeans and an anorak, did not address the court.

    Earlier the court had heard his solicitor Anne FitzGibbon had said she has received CCTV footage, memos of interviews and telephone records.

    The court has heard the case involved alleged communications over two days.

    At Mr Lennon’s previous hearing he had been granted legal aid after the court heard he worked for the DPP but has been suspended from his job and was getting €400 a week.

    He had a family and a mortgage, the solicitor submitted.

    It is alleged that on Sept. 7, 2017 and the following day, at a place unknown in Dublin, without authorisation, he communicated with another person official information within the possession, custody or control of the DPP, a holder of public office, relating to the prosecution of individuals arising from the murder of Peter Butterly on March 6, 2013.

    In July, at the Special Criminal Court, Dean Evans, 27, of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin, was given a mandatory life sentence for the murder of 35-year-old father of three Peter Butterly who was from Dunleer, Co. Louth.

    Evans was extradited from Spain earlier this year after he spent 18 months on the run.

    Two other men are already serving life sentences for the murder, after being found guilty in March this year. Edward McGrath, 35, of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght and Sharif Kelly, 47, of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan had both denied the murder.

    Two other men are awaiting trial later this year on the same murder charge.

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    Iona Institute academic suing Twitter for defamation

    An academic and part-time researcher with the Roman Catholic advocacy group, the Iona Institute, has brought defamation proceedings against Twitter over tweets which he claims defamed him.

    The action has been brought by Dr Angelo Bottone, over several tweets which he says are untrue and defamatory of him made in October 2017 and which he claims he asked Twitter to remove.

    The allegedly defamatory tweets were not taken down, resulting in Dr Bottone, of Chanel Road, Artane, Dublin, suing the social media platform.

    Twitter denies it is responsible for any tweets that are allegedly defamatory.

    Rossa Fanning SC, for Twitter, said his client is surprised it is being sued by Dr Bottone over the tweets, and it intends to rely on the defence of innocent publication.

    Declan Doyle SC, for Dr Bottone, says Twitter cannot rely on that defence because of its refusal to remove the tweets following repeated complaints by his client.

    The case was briefly mentioned before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds on Monday when Dr Bottone secured an order directing Twitter International Company to disclose to him details of the account holder, @ElodieBurke who he alleges defamed him.

    The orders compel Twitter to provide Dr Bottone information disclosing the identity of the account user’s name address, telephone number, e-mail address, IP addresses used to access that twitter account and other information Twitter holds relating to the user of the account @ElodieBurke. 

    Dr Bottone says that he does not know the identity of that account holder, who he also intends to take defamation proceedings against. 

    Twitter neither consented nor objected to the order being made, and Mr Fanning told the court that the information will be provided by January 11th next.

    Counsel said that Twitter could not provide that information unless directed to do so by order of the court.

    After making the order the Judge reserved the issue of costs to the hearing of the action.

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