Brexit: Differences remain over trade deal, say UK and EU

The UK and EU have said serious differences remain over a post-Brexit trade deal, as the latest talks came to an end in Brussels.

UK negotiator Lord David Frost said “wide divergences” remained in some areas, despite progress being made.

His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, said there were “serious divergences” over fishing and competition rules.

Negotiation resumed last month, after a week-long standoff in the wake of an EU leaders’ summit.

The two sides are seeking an agreement to govern their trading relationship once the UK’s post-Brexit transition period ends in January 2021.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said talks were likely to continue in London next week, as the time remaining to strike a deal runs out.

After briefing MEPs and EU diplomats, Mr Barnier said the lack of agreement in key areas came “despite EU efforts to find solutions”.

He added that fishing rights, competition rules and agreement over how a deal would be enforced remained “essential conditions”.

Lord Frost said: “I agree with Michel Barnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues.

“We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty.”

Manchester Arena Inquiry: Risk assessment was box ticking

Risk assessments carried out by the Manchester Arena operators were “flawed” and “pretty much box ticking”, an inquiry has heard.

Miriam Stone, SMG’s head of events, told the inquiry into the attack there was no specific assessment done for the Ariana Grande concert or consideration given to the terrorism risk.

She said while there were flaws with the written documentation, “we did assess the risk”.

The 2017 suicide bomb killed 22 people.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the public inquiry, asked Ms Stone, who was one of the duty managers on the night of the attack, if the assessments were done to ensure a “box was ticked”.

She replied: “I think we had got to the point where that is pretty much how it got used.”

She also told the inquiry suspicions raised about bomber Salman Abedi should have been passed to the control room.

She said it would have taken “a minute or two” to shut the exit doors leading to where the bomb was detonated.

Abedi hid in the mezzanine area, which was a CCTV blindspot, for nearly an hour before the bombing.

Arena security provider Showsec earlier told the inquiry staff did not believe they were expected to check the raised mezzanine level of the City Room, although check sheets listed the “entire City Room area”.

Ms Stone said: “It had never occurred to me until the evidence that anybody would read it any other way.

“It’s all one room. I would expect all of it to be checked.”

Mr Greaney QC asked Ms Stone if the venue did enough at the time to prevent someone doing harm getting into the City Room.

She replied: “Well somebody did, so no.”

Speaking about steward Mohammed Agha, who was told about a suspicious looking man with a rucksack but did not pass this on to his supervisor, she said: “I don’t want to cast any aspersions on him but I don’t think it would have been difficult to contact someone from that position.”

When asked about steward Kyle Lawler, who was told by Mr Agha about the man but said the radio was too busy to contact control, she said it did not accord with her own experience.

She said “the radios are really quite quiet” at the end of concerts.

The inquiry heard Ms Stone was concerned about terrorism and helped devise a training exercise in December 2014 which rehearsed for an attack inside the arena’s City Room, where the attack took place.

The inquiry continues.

Markets rise despite US election uncertainty

European stock markets are volatile as uncertainty continues over the outcome of the US election.

Indexes in London, Paris and Frankfurt opened sharply lower after incumbent President Donald Trump vowed to launch a Supreme Court challenge.

However, they had recovered by mid-morning, trading higher on the day before zigzagging again.

All three were in positive territory by lunchtime, with the dollar up against the pound but down against the euro.

On Tuesday, the three major US indexes closed higher, with the Dow up more than 2%.

The wider S&P 500 rose 1.7%, while the Nasdaq climbed almost 1.9%.

Asian markets mostly closed higher on Wednesday, but that came before Mr Trump’s intervention.

Forget the politics, what investors globally are interested in is which man is most likely to splash the cash, how likely are we to see a generous stimulus package. While that would cushion the extreme blow to the US economy, it would also ripple across the globe: American shoppers account for more than 10% of global GDP.

Joe Biden, economists reckon, is the most likely to deliver that boost.

So as it became clear that the chances of a “blue wave” were receding, and President Trump signalled that this may not only be a tight and protracted result but perhaps a contested one, the markets adjusted. Even if Biden triumphs, he might struggle to get his ideal package through Congress.

Hence the early drops in stocks in Europe – and a fall in bond yields, the interest rate the US government pays to borrow (as the smaller the stimulus package, the less debt it is likely to take on).

But after that, calm descended. Like the rest of us, the markets can only watch, wait, and attend to life elsewhere. But lurking in the background is that result that will impact investors and livelihoods far beyond America.

With millions of votes still to be counted, Mr Trump and his Democrat challenger, Joe Biden, are neck and neck in key swing states.

Early predictions of a possible landslide win for Mr Biden failed to materialise as the contest proved tighter than many had expected.

“With Donald Trump already claiming victory even though millions of votes are still uncounted, investors may have to belt up and brace themselves for some volatile sessions of trading ahead,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The final outcome of the US presidential election and control of the Senate remain in the balance, but the widely-anticipated ‘Blue Wave’ appears to have floundered, with betting markets now making Donald Trump the favourite to win a second term,” said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics.

“Hopes of large-scale [economic] stimulus under a blue wave now appear to be off the table.”

Uber and Lyft win battle over driver status in California

Voters in California have passed a measure that will see freelance workers continue to be classified as independent contractors, in a victory for companies such as Uber and Lyft.

It overturns a landmark labour law passed last year that ruled gig-economy workers should have employee status and the protections that go with it.

The new measure, Proposition 22, was backed by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash.

Their campaign cost $205m (£157m), the most expensive in state history.

The two ride-hailing firms’ shares soared in extended trade – Uber was trading 13% up on Tuesday’s closing price, while Lyft rose 17%.

Some drivers had backed Proposition 22 – but labour groups opposed it, pointing out all the benefits of being classed as employees, including rights to:

And the California Labour Federation had accused supporters of Prop 22, as it was colloquially known, of “attempting to buy their own law through the ballot measure process”.

Labour groups raised about $20m to oppose Prop 22 – but the far wealthier pro-campaign from Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, was able to buy TV advertising, as as well as putting ads in their taxi-hailing apps.

And both Uber and Lyft had threatened to withdraw services from California entirely or severely cut back on drivers if they had to start treating workers as employees.

Declaring the success of the vote, which formed part of the wider presidential election, Uber said: “Today, California voters agreed that instead of eliminating independent work, we should make it better.”

The win came with some concessions though and companies must now offer workers:

Other tech-related votes passed overnight included:

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