ANALYSIS: An absurd, fascinating, partisan and remarkably helpful tale on Trudeau and SNC-Lavalin

The Clerk of the Privy Council emerged Thursday from the shadows of the federal bureaucracy he leads to spend more than 90 minutes setting out the clearest account yet of how Jody Wilson-Raybould, while she was attorney general and justice minister, was subjected to all kinds of incredible pressure as she considered how to handle a criminal court case involving a Montreal engineering giant that employs more than 9,000 people.

Global News

The testimony Michael Wernick gave to the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights was, at times, hysterical, absurd, fascinating, boastful, undeniably partisan and most welcome for finally putting some facts on the record where, until now, there had been only so many anonymous whispers.

It began oddly. We learned in the first few minutes of his testimony that “someone’s going to be shot” this election year, a gut feeling Wernick has apparently because of recent inappropriate political discourse. Without naming him, Wernick singled out Senator David Tkachuk, a Conservative from Saskatchewan, who said something inarguably stupid on Parliament Hill this week to a group of protestors, some of whom had juvenile signs accusing the prime minister of treason.

“I worry about my country right now,” Wernick began. “I worry about the rising tide of incitements to violence when people use terms like treason and traitor in open discourse. Those are the words that lead to assassination.”

We can all agree with Wernick that such language is loathsome but it is hardly new and neither is the threat of violence against our politicians or political institutions. We all remember how, in 2014, a gunman entered the halls of Parliament to hunt politicians. And in 2012, we watched in horror as a gunman opened fire at the  Montreal victory party of about-to-become premier Pauline Marois, killing a lighting technician.

In any event, Wernick was invited Thursday to testify about alleged interference in the decisions of an attorney general not to provide a security assessment of our federal electoral process.  It was unprofessional at best, hysterical at worst.

But there would be plenty more moments when this head of the non-partisan, independent civil service would act like a partisan stung that his heroes were not getting the deference he felt they deserved.

“I am deeply hurt on behalf of Minister [Carolyn] Bennett that her reputation had been trolled over the last little while,” Wernick offered at one point, unprompted. “There is no Canadian who has worked harder on Indigenous reconciliation than the honourable Carolyn Bennett.”

Say what?

Can you imagine any deputy minister anywhere saying such a thing before a parliamentary committee about a government politician? If you can’t — if it would not be appropriate for, say, the deputy minister of finance to sing the praises of the minister of national defence, then surely it is not appropriate for the Clerk of the Privy Council to say such a thing. Wernick was setting a terrible example for the independent civil service he leads.

The partisan would then veer to the absurd.

“I’ve worked very, very closely, for three years, on almost a daily basis with the current government, the current cabinet and the current Prime Minister’s Office,” Wernick said. “In my observation, in my experience, they have always, always conducted themselves to the highest standards of integrity.”

Whoa, sunshine, back up just a bit there.

Justin Trudeau is the first and only prime minister in our history to have been found to have broken a federal law while in office and that law was an ethics law. How’s that for “highest standards of integrity”?

Moreover, the current ethics investigation into this whole Wilson-Raybould matter is the fifth ethics investigation of a Trudeau cabinet member since 2015. Now this fifth investigation may come to nothing, but, so far, the office of the ethics commissioner is four-for-four in finding ethics violations.

Later, Wernick got quizzed about the cabinet shuffle that saw Wilson-Raybould moved out of justice, a shuffle provoked by the surprise departure of Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison as Treasury Board president.

“The problem that was presented to the prime minister is to replace the Treasury Board President, maintain the Nova Scotia person in cabinet and maintain gender balance. Those were the deliberations that took place in the first week of January,” Wernick said. Those deliberations included one other imperative. “Solve that problem with the fewest moves possible.”

Well, that’s easy. All the PM needed to do was swear in veteran MP Rodger Cuzner of Cape Breton as Treasury Board President. If not an old veteran like Cuzner, why not swear in a smart, young up-and-coming star like Central Nova’s Sean Fraser, currently impressing all in the House of Commons as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment.

Nova Scotia for Nova Scotian. Man for man. Problem solved!

Instead, the prime minister shuffled three ministers, created a brand new cabinet portfolio and elevated two backbenchers to the privy council. And created a suite of new political problems for himself in the process. What kind of Clerk of the Privy Council gives his prime minister such advice for such a simple problem? And what kind of clerk would try to insinuate that the solution to the problem of Brison’s exit was, inveitably, a change in justice ministers?

But for all the bizarro qualities of Wernick’s testimony, he provided some tremendously helpful details on the central issue: was there inappropriate pressure on the solicitor general? If so, how did that pressure manifest itself?

We have it on the record now that, on Sept. 17, Wilson-Raybould did, in fact, meet with Trudeau and Wernick, two weeks after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had decided SNC-Lavalin would be ineligible for a remediation agreement as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, thus putting in jeopardy SNC-Lavalin’s access to billions of dollars in federal government contracts.

The more important part of the agenda of the Sept. 17 meeting was to discuss a stalled process to establish an indigenous rights recognition framework. Wilson-Raybould, a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief for B.C., and Carolyn Bennett, the Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations, were at loggerheads. Trudeau was worried his reconciliation agenda would stall because of this impasse and the meeting was part of a plan to move things forward.

But at that meeting, Wilson-Raybould told the PM of the DPP’s decision; that Wilson-Raybould agreed with that assessment; and that Wilson-Raybould had no intention of exercising her lawful discretion to force the DPP to enter into a remediation agreement that could preserve SNC-Lavalin’s access to billions in federal government contracts.

Then, on Dec. 18, Wernick said, “there were some conversations” between unnamed PMO staff and Jessica Prince, then serving was Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, about the SNC-Lavalin court case.

The opposition members of the Justice Committee, it should be noted here, wish to have Prince and key PMO staff members Gerald Butts (the just-resigned principal secretary) and Katie Telford (Trudeau’s chief of staff) testify about that meeting and other matters but that request was blocked by the Liberal majority on the justice committee.

Wernick told the justice committee on Thursday that while he was aware of this Dec. 18 meeting, he could not say what was discussed as he was not there.

Then, the next day, on Dec. 19, Wernick and Wilson-Raybould sat down to talk more about her decision not to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin court case.

“I conveyed to her that a lot of her colleagues and the prime minister were quite anxious about what they were hearing and reading in the business press about the future of the company, the options that were being openly discussed in the business press about the company moving or closing. I can tell you, with complete assurance, that my view of those conversations is that they were within the boundaries of what’s lawful and appropriate,” he said.

In other words: of course, pressure was brought to bear on Wilson-Raybould. No one is denying that.

“There’s pressure to get it right on every decision, to approve, to not approve, to act, to not act. I am quite sure the minister felt pressure to get it right. Part of my conversation with her on December 19th was conveying context that here were a lot of people worried about what would happen, the consequences — not for her — the consequences for the [SNC-Lavalin] workers in the communities and the suppliers.”

Those are the facts, according to Wernick. And his conclusion?

“There was no inappropriate pressure put on the minister at any time.”

Of course, Wilson-Raybould may have something else entirely to say about that conclusion. Indeed, Wernick said he expects her to take a different view and told the committee that he was, frankly, surprised that she has so far gagged herself in this matter by claiming to be bound by “solicitor-client” privilege.

“I do not see where the former attorney general (Wilson-Raybould) was a solicitor,” Wernick said, offered up with the caveat that he is no lawyer, just someone with long experience in governance. “The matter was never discussed at cabinet, never. So she was not giving advice to cabinet. She was not advising the prime minister. The prime minister said at every occasion verbally and in writing, she was the decider. She was not giving legal advice to the prime minister,” Wernick said.

“She was the decider, the full and final decider. She can’t be the fettered solicitor and battered decider in that horrible, vile cartoon, at the same time. It’s one or the other.”

One hopes the MPs on the justice committee mark all this testimony from this voluble clerk for playback to Wilson-Raybould when she is in front of the justice committee next week.

David Akin is Chief Political Correspondent for Global News.

Source: Read Full Article

Democrats launch resolution to stop Trump border emergency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Tuesday on a resolution aimed at stopping President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the border with Mexico, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.

House Democrats introduced the resolution early on Friday, taking the first step to challenge Republican Trump’s assertion that he could take money Congress had appropriated for other activities and use it to build the wall.

Pelosi predicted the resolution would pass the Democratic-controlled House. Action would then move to the Republican-majority Senate, where the measure’s future is less clear.

In any case, Trump vowed on Friday to veto the measure if it passes both chambers and gets to his desk. Congress would then have to muster the two-thirds majority necessary – a very high hurdle – to override his veto in order for the measure to take effect.

“On the wall? Will I veto it? One-hundred percent. One-hundred percent, and I don’t think it survives a veto. We have too many smart people that want border security, so I can’t imagine that it could survive a veto,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

About 226 House lawmakers have joined the sponsor, Democratic U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, in backing the legislation. The co-sponsors so far include one Republican, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, Castro said.

“What the president is attempting is an unconstitutional power grab,” Castro said in a conference call with reporters. He called on all members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to support the resolution terminating Trump’s emergency declaration, saying it tramples on congressional authority and would set a dangerous precedent.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress decides how taxpayer dollars are spent. The president can, however, veto spending bills.

Trump declared the national emergency last week after Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion this year to help build the wall.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer also plans to introduce such a resolution. The measure needs only a simple majority in both chambers. It will need the votes of at least four Republicans to pass the Senate, assuming all the Democrats and the two independents there back it.

Pelosi rejected Trump’s argument that there is an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. “The president of the United States is declaring a national emergency to honor an applause line in a rally,” she said.

“If the Congress rolls over on this, the president is likely to do it again,” Castro said.

The issue is also in the courts. A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued Trump and top members of his administration on Monday to block his decision to declare the emergency.

The lawsuit said Trump’s declaration was a misuse of presidential power.

Congress this month appropriated $1.37 billion for building border barriers following a long battle with Trump, which included a 35-day partial government shutdown – the longest in U.S. history – when agency funding lapsed on Dec. 22.

Source: Read Full Article

Trump administration bans abortion referrals at U.S.-funded clinics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Friday that taxpayer-funded family planning clinics which primarily serve low-income Americans will no longer be able to refer patients for abortions, a move that critics vowed to challenge in court.

The new regulation was announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of Title X, a government family planning program that serves about 4 million people.

The program currently subsidizes health centers such as those run by the non-profit Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception, health screenings and abortions. Planned Parenthood serves about 41 percent of Title X patients and receives up to $60 million a year in federal funds for family planning services.

To continue receiving taxpayer subsidies under the program, health clinics will have to comply with the new rule. Its key elements include “prohibiting referral for abortion as a method of family planning,” the health department said in a statement, adding that the rule “eliminates the requirement that Title X providers offer abortion counseling and referral.”

The rule would also require “clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning,” the statement said. The law already bans recipients of Title X funds from using those funds to perform abortions.

Conservative groups praised the administration’s move. “We thank President Trump for taking decisive action to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

But officials from the states of New York and California immediately began talking about going to court. “We will take legal action,” New York’s Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “These new rules are dangerous and unnecessary, and will prevent millions of Americans from obtaining the care they need and deserve.”

Planned Parenthood’s president, Leana Wen, called the new rule “unconscionable and unethical.”

“This rule compromises the oath that I took to serve patients and help them with making the best decision for their own health,” Wen said in a statement. “Patients expect their doctors to speak honestly with them, to answer their questions, to help them in their time of need.”

Source: Read Full Article

John Barnes’ heartfelt Question Time speech defending Liam Neeson is a must-see

John Barnes has won widespread praise and a lively debate after he gave a passionate speech on Question Time – DEFENDING Liam Neeson.

The ex-England footballer said people should give the actor "credit" for admitting his "shame" that he once wanted to kill a "black b*****d" after his friend was raped.

He told the audience on the BBC’s flagship debate show "we all discriminate" because of how we grew up "and we have to admit it."

Despite the controversial point of view attracting some criticism, the way he explained it in the wider context of society was widely applauded online.

He said: "As much as we all want to say we view people as equal, we don’t.

"And we have to admit it. Because we are influenced by our environment.

"And the environment he [Liam Neeson] came from, albeit from a Catholic and Protestant point of view, is whoever the enemy is we have to kill the enemy.

"The enemy at that time happened to be black. But it equally could have been English and he would have wanted to kill any Englishman.

"But those who are holier than thou and say how terrible it is, it’s a disgrace. What is the truth about the way we all feel about people of different races, different religions.

"We all discriminate and we have to admit it. Why I’m happy to say I discriminate unconsciously is the environment I’ve been brought up in shows me that and it continues to show me that.

"You read newspapers every day and you hear about Muslim terrorists and Nigerian gangs, and that gives you a negative impression not just of terrorists and gangs but of Nigerians and Muslims.

"This is the influence society has on us… And unless we’re going to be able to have the conversation, rather than as soon as we mention something saying ‘you’re racist’, ‘you discriminate’, but we don’t, that’s not the reality.

"Because if I was to ask you now, if you had a choice of who you had to live next to between… anybody, a Muslim, a white person, you would have an opinion based on the way you’ve been brought up.

"But we won’t admit it because we’re afraid of being called racist."

The speech has been shared thousands of times on Twitter , where users had a lively debate and many praised the ex-footballer’s honesty.

James Melville said: "Best ever answer on Question Time goes to John Barnes. This is what we need in politics. Honesty. Politics from the heart."

Author Ian Leslie said: "John Barnes does something amazing with the Liam Neeson controversy here; elevates it to a completely different level of insight into politics, prejudice and human nature."

Oxford politics lecturer Jennifer Cassidy said: "Westminster, I hope you’re taking notes. 

"John Barnes took 90 sec to deconstruct the nature of discrimination in the UK, how it‘s bolstered by the media and fed to us by narratives.

"The fundamental necessity to admit it and confront it together."

TV presenter Gabby Logan said: "The rest of the panel were patronising and very quick to jump in to win over the audience.

"Barnsey was insightful and honest on a range of topics."

And Conor Boyle said: "John Barnes just nailed the liam neeson debate."

Writer Aaron Vallely added: "This is, truly, how society influences us.

"officialbarnesy offers a logical and empathetic take on the Liam Neeson scandal. Whatever your position, it does none of us any use to shut down the conversation through shaming people."

But not all agreed with him.

Maurice Mcleod said: "I love John Barnes but he’s just wrong on this Liam Neeson stuff.

"Not sure why he’s so wedded to making excuses for a his clearly racist action."

And earlier comments that he made, saying Jews were not necessarily a race, provoked a backlash in some quarters.

He said: "You have to be very careful about anti-Semitism because there is a difference between that and anti-Zionism.

"I think it’s getting mixed up because I think you can criticise the state of Israel without being anti-Semitic.

“I think that from the Labour party’s point of view as much as Zionists think it’s the same – it’s a bit like saying all racism is the same because it isn’t.

“Because for example the Jews in my opinion, while it is a religion they aren’t necessarily a separate race of people, so I think they get mixed up in that respect.”

Michael Conway tweeted: "With respect, what does John Barnes know about antisemitism and why does his “opinion” about Jews not being a race mean anything. The quality of debate is painful, misinformed and hurtful."

Mandy Norman added: "Jewish people are considered a race legally and it seems scientifically."

Read More

Latest UK politics news

  • Search to see your 2019 council tax rise
  • DWP owes 30,000 more people ESA benefits
  • Abbott: ISIS bride is a grooming victim
  • MPs form new Independent Group

Source: Read Full Article

Coveney warns no-deal Brexit is a 'lose, lose, lose' scenario as Government publishes emergency legislation

EMERGENCY legislation designed to protect cross-border health services, benefits payments and transport links in the event of a crash-out Brexit has been published by the government this morning.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the omnibus bill is the result of an enormous amount of work to “prepare our country for the worst kind of Brexit”.

The government hope to have it passed in the next three weeks so that it’s in place before Britain is due to leave the EU at the end of March.

There are still hopes that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement between British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and the EU will be passed by the House of Commons.

Mr Coveney said he hopes the legislation published today “proves redundant” and he hopes its provisions are never needed.

He said: “My only desire is to see this legislation sit on the shelf.”

Measures included in the Bill are:

*A provision for cross-border health services including reimbursement arrangements to be maintained

*Giving Enterprise Ireland extra powers to support business through investment, loans and grants

*Protection of the Single Electricity Market

*The continuance of student grant arrangements between the Ireland and the UK

*Modification of income tax, capital tax, corporation tax and stamp duty to ensure continuity for businesses and citizens

*The continuance of benefits payments between both jurisdictions

*Protection of cross-border bus services.

Mr Coveney said that a no-deal Brexit would be a “lose, lose, lose” situation for Ireland, Britain and the EU.

In relation to the new legislation he said: “We cannot offset all of the damage that it will do but we are doing everything we can”.

Mr Coveney also said: “I don’t believe a no-deal will happen but we have to plan for it just in case.”

He acknowledged that the annual St Patrick’s Day international promotional blitz by ministers – including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s visit to the White House – could be hit if issues relating to Brexit arise while they are scattered around the world.

The Irish Independent revealed today that ministers have been put on notice to cut their trips short if they need to return home to attend a special Cabinet meeting or help the legislation get over the line in Leinster House.

Mr Coveney said he believed it was “unlikely” that Mr Varadkar’s meeting with US President Donald Trump would be affected but couldn’t rule it out.

He said: “you can’t rule anything out with Brexit”.

In a statement today in response to the bill, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “Our focus remains on the UK ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement…

“We are doing all we can to avoid a no-deal scenario, but we need to be ready in case it does happen”.

“This special law enables us to mitigate against some of the worst effects of no-deal by protecting citizens’ rights, security, and facilitating extra supports for vulnerable businesses and employers.”

The EU Commission’s move on state aid rules governing the agriculture sector will enable the Government to increase the maximum amount it can use to support farmers without prior Commission approval.

On Friday, the Commission also approved a specific Irish state aid application which will allow a Co Cork cheese company to receive state aid funding to diversify its business away from reliance on the UK market.

Carbery Food Ingredients Ltd, which works with 1,260 farmers, currently produces Cheddar cheese, principally for British consumers.

The €5.75m state aid boost will support the company as it shifts to the production of Mozzarella cheese with the aim of finding new buyers.

The Government’s Omnibus Bill, known as the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill, is made up of 15 parts and was prepared by nine ministers.

The proposed laws cover a wide range of areas and focuses on protecting Irish citizens’ rights, supporting businesses and jobs, healthcare, transport, education and energy.

The Bill will be debated in the Dail next week and then in committees the following week, before being debated in the upper chamber, the Seanad.

President Michael D Higgins will sign it into law if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Source: Read Full Article

Democratic senators urge FTC to act on Facebook 'friendly fraud' practices

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Two Democratic U.S. senators called for the Federal Trade Commission to act on a complaint filed by consumer groups against Facebook on Thursday that alleged the company scammed children into spending money on its platform.

A coalition of consumer groups asked the FTC to investigate whether Facebook had engaged in deceptive practices, claiming the company lured children into making extensive in-game purchases without parental consent.

The social media company settled a class action lawsuit on the issue in 2016, but further details came to light last month after a request by the Center for Investigative Reporting resulted in the unsealing of the court documents.

The documents revealed that Facebook employees referred to the practice as “friendly fraud” and called children who racked up thousands of dollars in charges “whales,” a term commonly used in casinos to describe high-spending gamblers.

“We urge the FTC to review in detail the complaint that was filed today on this issue. It shouldn’t take another settlement for Facebook to meet its ethical obligation to protect kids and families on its platform,” Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.

They said Facebook dodged their questions on the issue, posed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a letter last month after the documents were unsealed.

“Facebook’s answers to our reasonable questions were inadequate and do not inspire trust,” they said.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

In its prior response to the lawmakers, Facebook did not explain why it did not act on widespread complaints before the case went to court and declined to answer specifically when Zuckerberg became aware of the issue, the senators said.

Facebook is facing a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over its record on privacy, security and the use of its platform by groups spreading disinformation.

The FTC is already investigating revelations that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Source: Read Full Article

Roger Stone Placed Under Gag Order by Federal Judge

WASHINGTON — A federal judge placed Roger J. Stone Jr. under a gag order on Thursday, ruling that his Instagram post of a photograph of her with cross hairs in the corner showed that he needed to be restrained from speaking and writing about his criminal case in interest of public safety.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington angrily rejected Mr. Stone’s repeated apologies to her, saying that his explanations for his post were not credible. “Mr. Stone could not even keep his story straight on the stand, much less from one day to another,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

She warned Mr. Stone that any violation of the order would be grounds for her to revoke his bail.

Mr. Stone faces felony charges of obstruction of justice, witness tampering and making false statements in a case brought by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Stone deceived the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election and that he tried to pressure another witness to lie to the committee.

The committee had been questioning Mr. Stone, a former Trump campaign adviser and longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, about his efforts in late 2016 to find out what information WikiLeaks possessed that could prove damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. WikiLeaks ultimately released tens of thousands of emails that Russian operatives had stolen from Democratic computers.

On Monday, Mr. Stone posted a photograph of the judge on Instagram with what appeared to be the cross hairs of a gun near her head. He suggested that the judge, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, could not fairly preside over his case.

Mr. Stone’s post came days after Judge Jackson had imposed a narrow gag order that barred Mr. Stone from making public statements on the courthouse steps that “pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.” She had noted in that order that public pronouncements by those involved in Mr. Stone’s case could inflame crowds that have gathered outside the courthouse.

Mr. Stone’s Instagram post was deleted, but screenshots of it circulated rapidly on social media. In a hastily prepared court filing, Mr. Stone told the judge that the Instagram post was “improper.” He added, “I had no intention of disrespecting the Court and humbly apologize to the Court for the transgression.”

Publicly, Mr. Stone gave various explanations of why he posted an image of cross hairs. On Instagram, he said it was simply the logo of the website where he had found the photograph of the judge. He told The Washington Post that it was a “Celtic symbol.” To the conspiracy site Infowars, he described it as an “occult symbol.”

Source: Read Full Article

Row over Watt delays examination of Brexit funding for Revenue

A ROW over who gets to grill public expenditure boss Robert Watt over cost overruns at the Children’s Hospital delayed an examination of Brexit funding for Revenue.

The Oireachtas finance committee was suspended as its members sought to resolve the situation with public expenditure minister Paschal Donohoe.

Mr Donohoe was due to be quizzed on revised funding estimates for State agencies under his remit including Revenue which is making preparations for Brexit.

However, members of the finance committee sought a commitment that Department of Public Expenditure Secretary General Mr Watt will appear before them to answer questions on the Chidlren’s Hospial controversy.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the health committee also want to haul Mr Watt in.

Mr Watt has written to the PAC chairman Seán Fleming indicating he will appear before a committee but suggested that he discuss the matter with other committee chairpersons.

At the finance committee Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty suggested that today’s business including the funding of Revenue would be deferred until the matter is resolved.

Mr Donohoe gave a commitment to find a solution but said that the committee is due to discuss funding for the Revenue for the “extraordinary event” that will be taking place next month, a reference to Brexit.

He said he hopes the revised estimates would be passed this morning.

Finance committee chairman John McGuinness said he felt Mr Watt was “playing games” and insisted it was his committee’s remit to question him.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy accused Mr McGuinness and Mr Doherty of “playing games” in demanding the issue is resolved before today’s debate could begin.

Both Mr McGuinness and Mr Doherty rejected this claim.

Mr Donohoe said the finance committee is the one he and Mr Watt is accountable to and he again promised to find a way to resolve the issue.

The committee was suspended and when it resumed Mr McGuinness outlined a number of possible date when Mr Watt would be asked to appear.

Work on the revised estimates began after that.

Source: Read Full Article

PM’s ‘constructive’ talks with Jean-Claude Juncker after EU official’s close shave

Theresa May held a “constructive meeting” with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as she seeks to win changes to her Brexit agreement.

The prime minister travelled to Brussels on Wednesday to meet the top EU official, with just 37 days left until the UK’s scheduled departure from the bloc.

Mrs May is hoping to win “legally-binding changes” to the backstop arrangement within her EU withdrawal agreement, which was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs last month.

The backstop is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland, in the event such a scenario is not averted by a future EU-UK trade relationship.

But many MPs fear it could leave the UK permanently trapped in a customs union with the EU.

Ahead of their meeting, Mr Juncker sported a bandage on his cheek, which he revealed was as a result of cutting himself shaving.

He joked: “I’m telling you so that you don’t think it was Mrs May who gave me this injury.”

Speaking after their talks, Mrs May revealed she had “underlined the need for us to see legally-binding changes to the backstop which ensure it cannot be indefinite”.

“That’s what is required if a deal is going to pass the House of Commons,” Mrs May added.

“We’ve agreed that work to find a solution will continue at pace, time is of the essence and it’s in both our interests that when the UK leaves the EU it does so in an orderly way.

“And so we’ve made progress and the secretary of state for exiting the EU, the Brexit secretary, and the attorney general will be in Brussels tomorrow for further talks.”

In a joint statement, it was revealed Mrs May and Mr Juncker discussed what guarantees could be given to assure MPs of the intended temporary nature of the backstop.

They also held talks on the role “alternative arrangements” could play in replacing the backstop in future.

In addition, the pair were said to have explored whether the political declaration on a hoped-for UK-EU trade deal could be altered to “increase confidence in the focus and ambition of both sides in delivering the future partnership envisaged as soon as possible”.

Mrs May and Mr Juncker agreed to talk again before the end of the month.

Following the defeat of her Brexit deal in the Commons, Mrs May promised “changes” to her withdrawal agreement.

But the EU have repeatedly ruled out reopening the terms of the document and played down suggestions of a substantial renegotiation of the backstop.

Brussels has also stuck to its opposition to a time limit or UK exit mechanism being added to the backstop arrangement.

Mrs May travelled to Brussels following the dramatic resignation of three MPs from the Conservative Party in protest at her handling of Brexit.

Asked whether she would now do anything differently to try and prevent further possible resignations, Mrs May said: “The question of our membership of the EU has been a matter of disagreement in our party for many years now and it was never going to be easy for the UK to leave the EU after over 40 years of membership.

“But I believe that by delivering on the result of the referendum, which was our manifesto commitment, we’re doing the right thing by the country and we’re ensuring that by doing that we can actually then move forward together to a brighter future.

“But for the Conservative Party, under my leadership, I’m determined that we will offer the decent, the moderate, the patriotic politics that I believe people in the UK want to see and that people in the UK deserve.”

Source: Read Full Article

Democrats ready a resolution to block Donald Trump’s emergency declaration

House Democrats are preparing to take a defiant stance against President Donald Trump‘s national emergency declaration seeking to fund his Southwest border wall without congressional approval.

A resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration is expected to be filed on Friday, and the measure will put some House Republicans from swing districts and states on the spot.

A vote isn’t likely until mid-March because of a timeline set by law.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told colleagues in a letter Wednesday that the House will “move swiftly” to pass the resolution and that it will be referred to the Senate and then sent to Trump.

Passage in the GOP-controlled Senate is not certain, but a veto by Trump is – one unlikely to be overridden by Congress.

Global News
Source: Read Full Article