European shares sink as Brexit turmoil derails recovery; banks, auto fall

LONDON (Reuters) – European shares reversed early gains, falling into negative territory on Thursday in a broadbased rout as British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was plunged into fresh crisis over Brexit, with autos and banking stocks leading the fallers.

The resignation of two British cabinet ministers including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab triggered a rout in UK housebuilders and banks, while investors continued to fret about Rome’s standoff with Brussels and Washington’s row over trade with Beijing.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.5 percent by 1036 GMT, with German, Spanish and French bourses firmly in negative territory. Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE was flat.

Optimism after China delivered a written response to U.S. demands for wide-ranging trade reforms ahead of an expected meeting between the two countries’ leaders evaporated as worries over a global economic slowdown returned.

With the steady stream of resignations, the UK’s deal with Europe over Brexit may be dead in the water.

“Risk appetite has taken a hit across the board, as this breakdown comes just as Italy ramps up its standoff with Brussels, and investors continue to fret that the great boom in tech earnings has come to an end,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.

Autos .SXAP hit the skids, down 1.4 percent after the Chinese government doused hopes that Beijing was preparing to cut auto purchases taxes in a bid to shore up demand and boost the world’s second-largest economy.

Daimler (DAIGn.DE) was at the bottom of the DAX, also knocked by a Citi downgrade.

The banking sector, the worst performing industry along with autos this year, also dropped 1.8 percent led by UK banks as sterling plunged after the cabinet resignations.

UK housebuilders – Barratt Development (BDEV.L), Persimmon (PSN.L) and Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) – were also hit hard.

Capita Plc sank 7.8 percent to the bottom of the STOXX 600 index after a Financial Times report that the outsourcing group faces the loss of an NHS deal after a blunder over sending letters to women about their cervical screening results.

Basic materials stocks .SXPP were among the few gainers, up 0.3 percent buoyed by higher copper and industrial metals prices and a weaker U.S. dollar.

British asset manager Intermediate Capital Group (ICP.L) jumped 9.4 percent to the top of the STOXX and London’s FTSE midcap index after reporting record net inflows.

French conglomerate Bouygues (BOUY.PA) rose 3.4 percent after delivering better-than-expected nine-month profits.

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Italy Deputy PM says looking to avoid EU sanctions on budget

ROME (Reuters) – Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Thursday the government was looking to avoid EU sanctions over its 2019 budget, but stressed that he did not want Italians to have to make any sacrifices.

Asked if he preferred sanctions from Brussels for infringing European deficit rules rather than debt rules, Di Maio said: “We are working to avoid any (disciplinary) procedure.”

Newspaper reports on Thursday said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was trying to convince Brussels that any sanctions imposed on Rome over the contested budget would be for breaching EU fiscal rules on excessive deficit rather than debt.

Di Maio added that he was disappointed by the uncompromising stance taken by Austria and the Netherlands in regard to Italy’s budget plan. Newspapers said both countries were urging the European Commission to sanction Rome over its fiscal plans.

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Futures rise on trade hope, Walmart inches higher after results

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures rose on Thursday, as signs that the United States and China were working to resolve a bitter trade war eased nerves ahead of retail sales data.

Walmart Inc (WMT.N) shares rose 0.7 percent in premarket trading after the company beat comparable sales estimate for the third quarter, as more shoppers in the U.S. purchased goods at its stores and on its website.

The results come during a big week for retail earnings, with department store operator Macy’s Inc (M.N) raising its annual earnings forecast on Wednesday, signaling a strong holiday shopping season.

Shares in rival J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) slumped more than 11 percent after quarterly comparable-store sales fell short of analysts’ estimates.

Strong results for network gear maker Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) and steadying oil prices also helped early trading as investors cheered the news that Beijing had delivered a written response to U.S. trade demands.

That lifted hopes ahead of an expected meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 summit in Argentina at the end of November.

U.S. stocks have gotten off to a shaky start this month after a sharp selloff in October as investors weigh the prospect of rising interest rates, slowing global economy and trade tensions.

The S&P 500 .SPX posted its fifth straight day of declines on Wednesday, as financial stocks were hit by fears of tighter regulations once the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

Banking stocks looked to rebound, with JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) rising 1.6 percent after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) added a $4.02 billion stake in the lender.

The rise in U.S. equity futures came even as European markets were hammered as British Prime Minister Theresa May battled to save a draft divorce deal with the European Union after her Brexit secretary and other ministers quit in protest.

Just over 12 hours after May announced that her team of top ministers had agreed to the terms of the draft agreement, Brexit minister Dominic Raab and work and pensions minister Esther McVey quit, saying they could not support it.

At 7:20 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis 1YMc1 were up 83 points, or 0.33 percent. S&P 500 e-minis ESc1 were up 7.75 points, or 0.29 percent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQc1 were up 39.75 points, or 0.59 percent.

Commerce Department data is expected to show that retail sales rose 0.5 percent in October after rising 0.1 percent in September. The report is due at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Oil prices stabilized, reversing earlier declines, but market sentiment remained cautious over concerns that a supply glut may emerge amid a glum economic outlook.

Cisco rose 4.9 percent after the network gear maker reported better-than-expected quarterly results, benefiting from demand for its routers and switches.

Chipmaker Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O) rose 0.9 percent ahead of its results expected after the closing bell.

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Asean has to work with the world as it is: PM Lee

SINGAPORE – Asean has to work with the world as it is and try to maintain cohesion among its member states, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Nov 15).

Noting that “it is a reality there are tensions between the powers”, Mr Lee said he hoped that the regional grouping would not be put in a position where it would have to take sides.

He was addressing reporters at the end of the 33rd Asean Summit and related summits and said that Asean, by itself, was not big enough to be a bloc.

It tries to be friends with all other countries, he said, and many of them are present at meetings such as the East Asia Summit – which involves 18 countries including China, the United States and Australia – where issues of varying sensitivities are discussed.

“We have to understand where the sensitivities are, where we can cooperate, where different countries may have different positions, and it is not possible for us to go with one or with the other,” he said.

Some matters such as security are more complex than others, such as human resource development, for example, he noted.

While economic cooperation appears to be a positive development, should the global economy pull apart into different blocs, with hindrances to trade and investment among other matters, Asean would be put in a difficult position, Mr Lee added.

“We have to deal with this case by case,” he said.

Later, he added: “It is very desirable for us not to have to take sides, but the circumstances may come where Asean may have to choose one or the other. I hope it does not happen soon.”

On Thursday, Mr Lee was also asked about issues in three areas – the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea and Rakhine State – as well as the progress made in reconciling the differing views of various parties.

He responded that regarding the Korean Peninsula, everyone in the Asean Summit meetings was “on the same side” in hoping for regional stability, a reduction of tensions, as well as denuclearisation.

There are, however, differences when it comes to the South China Sea, although he noted that various countries’ views are well known – along with what is being done.

He was referring to a code of conduct (COC) being discussed, to manage differences in territorial disputes.

Mr Lee said it is likely the negotiating text will undergo a first reading next year, as the Chinese have suggested, although it remains unclear if the code will be settled within the next three years.

“It depends what issues come up… I’m sure all the participants will exercise their best efforts in order to try and bring it to a conclusion,” he said. “But I do not underestimate the complexity and the difficulty of the problems when you come to the substance of the COC.”

On the Rakhine state, Mr Lee noted that there have been some developments in the last few weeks, referring to efforts to repatriate the first groups of refugees primed to return to Myanmar.

“We hope it (can) be brought about, but it is just the start of the process, and I think Myanmar understands the anxieties which other countries feel about this matter,” he said.

He added: “I believe the State Counsellor (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) made an effective pitch explaining the complexity of the situation, and how Myanmar is trying its best in order to make some progress.”

Asked how the further opening of China will affect Asean member states, Mr Lee expressed hope that Singapore can continue participating in Chinese development, adding that the superpower’s growth is also a positive move on the global stage.

But he said given China’s current influence, arrangements made previously are harder to wear politically and need to be updated.

Multilateral institutions also need to be updated to reflect the shifting balance in the world economy, and new forms in which economic exchange is taking place, he said.

While he believes China’s preoccupation, when it comes to its own development, is domestic, he added that its huge population means its moves have a considerable impact on the rest of the world.

“Increasingly, it will become necessary for China to take into account its impact on the rest of the world… in formulating its policies and in pacing out and structuring its reforms,” he said..

Go to our Asean microsite for more stories and commentaries

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NTU receives $4 million for teacher training from philanthropic couple

SINGAPORE – The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) received a $4 million gift on Thursday (Nov 15) to support trainee teachers and innovations in teaching.

The donation from the estate of the late Irene Tan Liang Kheng is being matched by the Government.

The funds will go towards new master’s degree scholarships and grants at the National Institute of Education (NIE). The scholarships will be named after Mr Ong Tiong Tat and Madam Irene Tan Liang Kheng, in honour of the late philanthropic couple.

This is the second gift from the Estate to NTU, with the first being an $11 million donation to the university’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in August.

At a ceremony at NIE on Thursday, Mr Tan Hsuan Heng, the nephew of Madam Tan and the trustee of her estate, shared how his late aunt and uncle had been influenced to give towards different causes such as education and healthcare.

Mr Ong, who was an investment trader, had been close friends with the philanthropist Koh Choon Joo, a lawyer better known as CJ Koh, who had also donated to the National University of Singapore and NTU.

Mr Tan said that Mr Koh and Mr Ong shared a common heart for social reform through giving towards education. After Mr Koh’s death, Mr Ong became his estate executor and continued his friend’s legacy.

“They both gave generously during their lifetime and when their time came to an end, Irene Tan, continued their legacy by extending their giving towards law, healthcare, charity, and sciences,” he said.

Mr Ong died in 2013 when he was 74, and his wife, who had done some accounting work, continued giving until she died in 2016 at the age of 73. Like Mr Koh, the Ongs had no children.

“A great teacher can change a student’s life,” added Mr Tan. “Teachers need to keep learning and growing. It is my hope that through this gift to NIE, we can nurture inspiring role models who in turn will develop students with the means to create positive change in their lives as well as make meaningful contributions to society.”

“It is also my hope that the gift will inspire others to step forward to contribute to this worthy cause of nurturing great teachers.”

The scholarships will support students in five master’s programmes: the Master of Arts (Applied Psychology), Master of Arts (Counselling and Guidance), Master of Arts in Humanities Education, Master of Arts (Leadership and Educational Change) and Master of Education (Early Childhood) programmes.

Up to eight scholarships will be given out annually, each worth $10,000 to $20,000. In addition, several grants worth a total of $290,000 over two years will go towards supporting teachers in training, and areas like service learning projects, conference participation and innovations in teaching and learning.

The Estate is also contributing $85,000 for a new showcase of books in the CJ Koh Collection at the NIE Library and Information Services Centre. The showcase will have an interactive panel for visitors to use.

Professor Christina Goh, NIE director, was heartened by the couple’s support.

“Their friendship has further strengthened NIE’s mission through the launching of two new scholarships, four grants and a student aid fund,” she said.

According to Madam Tan’s will, the couple’s two-storey King Albert Park bungalow, which they inherited from Mr Koh, was sold last year.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times that so far, about 70 per cent of the $41 million from the proceeds has been handed out to different institutions and organisations.

These include the NUS, the Singapore University of Social Sciences, NTU and Nanyang Polytechnic. The funds will also go towards bursaries to help needy students at Raffles Institution, Hwa Chong Institution and CHIJ Toa Payoh (Secondary).

About $300,000 and $400,000 have also been given to the primary and secondary sections of Geylang Methodist School, which Madam Tan attended in the 1960s.

The funds have also been distributed to healthcare and social causes – Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, Community Chest, Wicare Support Group for widows, Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore and the Singapore Scout Association.

“Some of these organisations are specified in my auntie’s will. I also chose organisations whose causes I find meaningful and really need help,” said Mr Tan, who now spends his time liaising with different organisations.

With the help of students, the 66-year-old plans to come up with a book and an exhibition on the Ong couple and CJ Koh, and how their generosity have helped others.

He also hopes to bring together people who have benefited through the scholarships and grants to form an association in the future.

“This could give them a sense of belonging and help them understand their benefactors, and inspire them to pay back to society,” he said.

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Fraser Institute suggests ICBC charges more to young drivers to cover financial loss

The Fraser Institute has released a report suggesting there are multiple areas where ICBC could make policy changes to address growing losses at the public insurer.

The report, authored by John Chant, points to increasing rates for young drivers as one of the ways the insurer can cut into $1.3 billion in losses last year.

“It is ICBC’s policy to charge drivers the same rates regardless of their age. Yet, much evidence shows that the incidence of accidents differs markedly among drivers of different ages. The costs of personal injury and property damage caused by drivers from 16 to 20 years old are estimated to be $900 more than for average drivers,” reads the report.

“The costs for drivers between 21 and 34 are also higher. This rate structure requires safer drivers to pay higher premiums to subsidize riskier drivers. ICBC’s plans to add $100 to its premiums for inexperienced drivers will reduce only a small portion of the differences in costs.”

The provincial government is in the midst of overhauling rates and insurance payouts.

Attorney General David Eby signed off on regulation changes last week that will come into effect April 1, 2019, that caps payouts for minor injuries.

The B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) is expected to approve a rate increase for all drivers next year but it is still unclear how much.

As part of the regulation changes, the province also announced that concussions and brain injuries would be classified as minor injuries. But there would be no $5,500 annual cap on payouts if a psychological injury persists for more than four months.

“Through consultation with the medical community and looking at the experiences of other jurisdictions, it became clear B.C.’s minor injury definition should include mild concussions,” reads an information document for the attorney general.

The province is also changing the rate structure so that high-risk drivers pay more and low-risk drivers pay less. But the Fraser Institute analysis shows that young drivers are not covering the share of the cost they put into the system.

“With the announced changes to its rates, ICBC now plans to add $100 to the annual cost of insurance premiums for drivers with less than 10 years of experience. This measure will reduce only a small share of the differences in costs incurred by higher-risk drivers,” reads the report.

The major changes proposed by the province include greater rate increases for drivers that are found at-fault in crashes, a move towards a driver-based model and increasing insurance discounts for drivers with up to 40 years of driving experience, up from the current nine years of experience limit.

The B.C. government has also announced new discounts available for vehicles with original, manufacturer-installed automatic braking technology and for vehicles driven less than 5,000 kilometres per year.

WATCH HERE: Province releases details of ICBC overhaul

But the province has not changed its policy around no-fault insurance. The Fraser Institute found that forcing drivers to pay no-fault has unnecessarily driven up the costs in some cases.

“At present, many motorists are forced to pay for no-fault coverage from which they do not benefit. Homemakers, students, and retirees do not need wage loss protection,” reads the report.

“Drivers who already have medical insurance will not value this feature of ICBC’s basic insurance. The no-fault coverages cost $71 for each personal policy, or more than eight per cent of ICBC’s average premium.”

WATCH HERE: New concerns about ICBC fee for lending vehicles

The final argument from the Fraser Institute is the cost associated with non-insurance products ICBC offers.

The report says ICBC does not charge the province anything to conduct road-safety programs. ICBC is also responsible for conducting driver testing, driver and vehicle licensing, and collection of fines.

Manitoba conducts similar programs for the province but receives government money to defray the costs.

“ICBC also carries out non-insurance activities on behalf of the provincial government at no cost. These activities include programs for improving road safety together with testing and licensing for both vehicles and drivers,” reads the report.

“The $170-million expenses for these activities are borne entirely by ICBC and add $50 per policy, or over six per cent, to the costs of basic coverage.”

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May defiant as senior Tories resign over her Brexit agreement

Dominic Raab quit as Brexit secretary on Thursday morning – delivering a significant blow to the prime minister’s chances of getting her agreement with Brussels approved by parliament.

His departure was followed by the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey – with two junior ministers and several ministerial aides also quitting their roles in protest.

Speculation of further resignations has been swirling around Westminster since, as doubts grow about Mrs May’s future in 10 Downing Street.

Other cabinet Brexiteers gave no public comment on the draft deal, which had been discussed at a five-hour meeting on Wednesday.

The turbulent developments shook financial markets, with the pound falling sharply and banking and housebuilding stocks also under pressure in early-day trading.

Despite the series of resignations from her government on Thursday, Mrs May attempted to face down criticism of her plans in a statement to the Commons – and subsequently answered dozens of questions from backbenchers.

She told MPs that her 585-page draft deal “delivers the Brexit the British people voted for”, adding: “I choose to deliver for the British people. I choose to do what is in our national interest.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the prime minister that the document on the UK’s withdrawal represents “a huge and damaging failure”.

With his party having confirmed they will not support the draft agreement in a Commons vote, Mr Corbyn told Mrs May to “withdraw this half-baked deal”.

:: We quit – Read each minister’s resignation letter in full

A more serious blow to the prime minister’s chances of successfully securing MPs’ backing for her draft agreement came as the DUP’s Nigel Dodds delivered a scathing attack on Mrs May.

The Westminster leader of the Northern Irish party, which props up the Conservative minority government, said: “I could today stand here and take the prime minister through the list of promises and pledges she made to this House and to us, privately, about the future of Northern Ireland in the future relationship with the EU.

“But I fear it would be a waste of time since she clearly doesn’t listen.”

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker told Mrs May her plans will be “ferociously opposed” by MPs as he urged the prime minister to trigger the government’s “no-deal” Brexit plans he was previously responsible for.

Mrs May also faced a direct threat on her premiership, with Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – who leads a faction of Conservative Brexiteers – set to submit a letter of no confidence in her leadership.

A spokesman for the prime minister has said Mrs May would fight a confidence vote should it be triggered by 48 Tory MPs submitting letters to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

Anger at Mrs May’s draft deal centred on its provisions for a backstop arrangement, which is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland in the absence of an agreement on the future EU-UK relationship being ready by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020.

This would see the UK remain in a customs union with the EU and abide by some EU rules, while Northern Ireland would follow a different regulatory regime.

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Mr Raab told Mrs May he “cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement” over which “the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit”.

He wrote: “No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied.”

:: Aston Martin boss backs May’s Brexit plan

Mr Raab also expressed fears that the draft Brexit deal “presents a very real threat to the integrity of the UK” over its provisions for Northern Ireland, while he added the backstop arrangement would now be taken as the starting point for negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.

Ms McVey echoed Mr Raab’s criticisms of Mrs May’s plans, while Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara and Brexit minister Suella Braverman also rejected the draft deal as they resigned their government roles.

Anne Marie Trevelyan quit as a parliamentary private secretary, claiming the negotiations have seen the “UK trying to appease the EU”, while fellow PPS Ranil Jayawardena also resigned his role.

Despite the mounting criticism of her draft deal, Mrs May appeared determined to push on with her plans.

She was boosted earlier on Thursday when European Council president Donald Tusk confirmed EU leaders will gather for an emergency summit on 25 November in order to sign off on a Brexit deal.

However, he added the proviso the meeting, which will follow member states’ analysis of the draft agreement, would only occur “if nothing extraordinary happens.”

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Canadian ‘agreed to join’ husband in ISIS capital, alleged fighter says

An alleged Islamic State fighter has told a military tribunal in Lebanon his Canadian wife “agreed to join him” in Syria, where she was paid a monthly stipend.

Qasim Al-Muzaqzaq testified he met his Canadian bride online and they were married in Lebanon. When she returned to Canada to give birth to their first child, he went to the ISIS capital, Raqqah.

“The accused revealed that he had contacted her from Raqqah and asked her to leave Canada and travel to Turkey and from there to Raqqah,” the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported in Arabic.

“The wife never hesitated.”

A report on Al-Muzaqzaq’s testimony released by the Middle East Media Research Institute raised new questions about the role of Canadian women in the so-called Islamic State.

Neither the report nor the Arabic newspaper account upon which it was based named the Canadian, but they said she was of Somali origin and in the custody of U.S.-backed forces in Syria.

Last month, Global News interviewed a Somali-Canadian woman detained with her three children at a camp for the families of ISIS fighters who said her husband had been deported to Lebanon.

She said the husband she met online tricked her into going to ISIS territory. After she arrived in Turkey, a smuggler he hired brought her to Syria, although she said she thought she was going to Lebanon.

Al-Muzaqzaq testified he had tried to accompany his wife to Canada but was denied a visa. He then travelled to Turkey to apply from there but met an ISIS recruiter who convinced him to go to Syria.

He said he only went because he heard there were jobs and the cost of living was cheap. He claimed he had only worked as an ISIS mechanic and had not participated in fighting.

He was among eight Lebanese men captured in Syria and scheduled for trial in January.

“He said that his wife had agreed to join him in Raqqah, where she stayed with him for two years, during which time she had two more children,” according to the MEMRI report.

ISIS paid them both, he said. He received $50 a month. “He also said that his wife received a monthly salary of $35, and a similar amount for each of their children,” MEMRI wrote.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led fighters battling the remnants of ISIS, are holding hundreds of captured foreign fighters as well as their wives and children.

More than a dozen are Canadians. Kurdish authorities want Canada to take them back but the federal government has not yet done so and there are concerns they might not face arrest in Canada.

On Oct. 23, the House of Commons passed an opposition motion tabled by the Conservatives giving the government 45 days to put forward a plan to bring former ISIS members to justice.

Meanwhile, an organization representing the families of the captured Canadians called on the government to help bring them home, saying at least 10 were children housed at detention camps.

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Aston Martin boss backs May's Brexit plan

Andy Palmer told Reuters news agency that crashing out of Europe without a deal would mean tariffs, delays at the border and a depressed market.

He became the latest business figure to back Mrs May as she faces intense political opposition over the agreement hammered out between UK and EU officials.

Business bodies including the CBI and the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have lined up to give the agreement a cautious welcome.

Mr Palmer said the deal “appears to be good enough” but the company would not halt contingency plans, which could see parts flown in through airports rather than shipped to Dover, while doubts remained over whether it would receive parliamentary backing.

He added: “No-deal Brexit is a disaster… because you’re into tariffs at the borders, you’re into essentially logjams at the border, you’re into discussions about your labour.”

On Wednesday, Siemens UK chief executive Juergen Maier told Sky News the agreement was not ideal but would mean “much lower friction” than a no-deal scenario, adding: “As a business we can make it work so let’s get on with it.”

Meanwhile, Sky News revealed that Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark urged dozens of business leaders, in a hastily-arranged conference call, to back the draft and avoid the “chaos” of a no-deal.

They addressed bosses including representatives from Airbus, Aviva, Barclays, Grant Thornton and Standard Life Aberdeen.

Mr Palmer made his comments as Aston Martin reported its first quarterly results since its stock market float in August.

Profits rose to £3.1m in the third quarter compared to just £300,000 in the same period last year, as sales volumes doubled to 1,776 vehicles and revenues rose 81% to £282.4m.

It was helped by sales nearly tripling in the Americas and nearly doubling in Far East markets, and the company said full-year sales were on course to come in at the top end of expectations.

But Aston Martin, in common with other car makers, also faces the challenge of having to make contingency plans to counter supply chain disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

It has previously said that it would consider flying in car components and moving parts through UK ports other than Dover to avoid border delays in such a scenario.

Mr Palmer told Reuters on Wednesday that Aston Martin could not stand down its contingency planning yet, with the draft Brexit agreement still needing to be passed by MPs.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said that for the car industry, Brexit was about “damage limitation”.

He said: “The outline agreement is a positive step in avoiding the devastating consequences of ‘no deal’ and securing a transition period.”

Earlier, CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn, said the draft deal represented “progress”.

“It moves the UK one step away from the nightmare precipice of no deal and the harm it would cause to communities across the country.”

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Why Navalny and protesters rattle Kremlin

Alexei Navalny is in custody after an unsanctioned protest; social media is full of photos of peaceful demonstrators being dragged off by police, or even beaten; the Kremlin says Sunday’s rally was a provocation and the whole fuss has been studiously ignored by state television.

So far, so relatively normal for Russia. Or maybe not.

Why protesters across Russia defied the law

There were several striking things about the protests that swept Russia this weekend.

First of all was the fact that people defied direct orders by the police to stay off the streets.

Russia has harsh anti-protest laws and even those staging peaceful, one-person pickets are regularly detained. But on Sunday, tens of thousands came out to show their anger at high-level corruption.

That will worry the Kremlin.

The laws were tightened after the last mass rallies in 2011-12 sparked by allegations of vote-rigging. Those largely unsanctioned protests started small and morphed into a mass wave of anger against President Putin. Tougher penalties were meant to prevent a repeat of that.

Then there’s the geographical spread of the rallies, covering more than 80 cities across Russia’s vast landmass. They varied in size and scope but the anti-corruption cause is proving a popular one.

Who are the protesters?

Perhaps most striking of all, though, was the make-up of the crowd which included significant numbers of young people, even schoolchildren.

The Kremlin’s spokesman has criticised organisers for luring them on to the streets, claiming they were paid to turn out. Silent until he spoke, state TV channels have picked up that suggestion and run with it.

But these were young Russians who have grown up under Vladimir Putin on a diet of patriotism. On Sunday, they joined a crowd chanting “Putin – thief” and “Russia will be free!”

Their presence is proof of how effectively Alexei Navalny and his team use social media.

How Navalny harnessed the internet

He is a prolific blogger and tweeter himself and his team of young activists produce slick videos at his anti-corruption fund that drive their message home. Every protest and every court hearing is streamed on the internet.

That skill helps the activist reach large audiences as well as young ones. He is banned from state television but his team’s latest film detailing corruption allegations about Russia’s prime minister has been viewed around 13 million times on YouTube.

By contrast, Sunday’s rally was ignored by all the main TV channels in a move that can only have been deliberate and co-ordinated.

Today, President Putin’s spokesman faced a barrage of journalists’ questions about the protests. He insisted that the Kremlin doesn’t feel threatened, and that the rallies were illegal and irresponsible.

But the authorities don’t seem sure how to deal with Alexei Navalny.

Why Navalny worries the Kremlin

Unlike other opposition challengers, his cause is not democracy – a dirty term for many here, after the criminal 1990s – or any vague concept like human rights. It’s very concrete: corruption.

As many Russians feel the squeeze from sanctions and the falling oil price, the idea of an elite enjoying designer watches, luxury yachts and vast estates is likely to anger them even more.

Sentenced to 15 days behind bars, Alexei Navalny has temporarily been removed from the picture. More than a dozen staff at his anti-corruption fund have also been detained, and on Sunday the office was closed.

But the activist has vowed to fight on.

In court, Alexei Navalny said the fact that tens of thousands had protested on Sunday despite the risk meant that many more Russians agreed with them.

“There are millions of us,” the activist told journalists in court, “and we’re not going anywhere”.

Admit it or not, the Kremlin will have taken note.

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