Brexit: Pound recovers ground as Johnson sets talks in Brussels

The pound has fallen against the euro and the dollar, as traders reacted to the growing prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

But news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels, in a last-ditch effort to salvage a trade deal with the EU, caused sterling to recover some losses.

Earlier the pound was trading at €1.10, down 0.4% on the day.

It also recovered ground against the dollar, to trade at $1.34, down 0.49%.

In late afternoon trading in London, sterling had fallen about 1% against the single European currency at €1.098, its lowest level in more than six weeks.

But traders’ hopes were raised when it was announced Mr Johnson will meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen later this week.

UK and EU negotiators have been locked in talks to secure a post-Brexit deal before 31 December, when the UK’s transition period ends.

Disputes over fishing and business rules remain, with the UK government saying discussions in Brussels have reached “a critical moment”.

The EU mood was described as “gloomy” as chief negotiator Michel Barnier met UK counterpart Lord Frost.

The pair will continue talks on Tuesday, drawing up a list of the differences that remain between the two sides.

Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt told the House of Commons: “We are all working to get a deal, but the only way that’s possible is if it’s compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our country’s trade and waters.”

Asked when the cut-off point for a deal was, a European Commission spokesman said: “We are not going to speculate on a last-chance date.

“We are fully committed to substantial negotiations. We’ve always said and continue to say it’s the substance that prevails over timing.”

Earlier, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney described the EU negotiating team’s frame of mind as “gloomy” and “downbeat”.

The FTSE 100 share index drifted in and out of positive territory during the day, and finished virtually flat at 6,555 points.

Investors are also awaiting an EU summit starting on Thursday to break an impasse over a 1.8 trillion-euro coronavirus aid package, as well as the last European Central Bank policy meeting of the year on the same day.

Covid forces Davos forum to move to Singapore

The World Economic Forum, which usually hosts a glitzy annual meeting for political and business leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, has moved next year’s event to Singapore.

The forum says it’s making the change to safeguard health and safety.

“In light of the current situation with regards to Covid-19 cases, it was decided that Singapore was best placed to hold the meeting,” it said.

Singapore has largely been seen as managing the crisis successfully.

Its health ministry says there are currently 28 people being treated in hospital for the coronavirus, but none are in intensive care, and there are no cases in the community. Singapore’s death toll for Covid-19 stands at 29.

But the country remains under “phase two” restrictions, which means gatherings are capped at five people and working from home is still the default for most companies.

Singapore’s Trade Minister Chan Chun Sing said the Forum’s decision to hold the meeting in the country was “an affirmation of Singapore’s ability to provide a safe, neutral and conducive venue for global leaders to meet”.

Safety measures could include tests on arrival and contact tracing of attendees, the government said.

The in-person World Economic Forum annual meeting is planned to take place in Singapore from 13-16 May, before returning to Switzerland in 2022.

It will be only the second time the event has been held outside Davos in its history.

Klaus Schwab, who founded the forum in the 1970s, said a global leadership summit will be crucial to address the global recovery from the pandemic.

“Public-private co-operation is needed more than ever to rebuild trust and address the fault lines that emerged in 2020,” he said.

US Supreme Court hears dispute over Nazi treasure trove

The US Supreme Court has heard arguments over a collection of medieval artworks that Nazi Germany acquired from Jewish art dealers.

US descendants of the dealers allege the treasure trove, once owned by German royalty, was coerced out of their possession in a “forced sale”.

With Germany’s backing, the foundation that owns the pieces has called for the suit to be dismissed.

The collection is said to be worth at least $250m (£187m).

It has been on display in a Berlin art museum since 1963 and is now owned by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation – the governmental entity that houses the collection.

The high court’s ruling could open the door for foreigners to use US courts to litigate alleged injustices in their own countries.

The case centres on the Guelph Treasure, or Welfenschatz in German, a collection of 42 church art works – including altars, crosses and other Christian relics – made between the 11th and 15th centuries and passed down from one of Europe’s oldest princely houses.

A consortium of Jewish art dealers purchased the entire collection a few months prior to the stock market crash of 1929, but sold most of the works at a reduced price in 1935 to the former German state of Prussia.

Prussian leader Hermann Göring – founder of the Gestapo secret police – may have then presented the Guelph Treasure to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as a gift, but the two sides of the lawsuit dispute this claim.

In their 12-year legal battle, the plaintiffs have alleged the sale was coerced – at one third of the collection’s value, they estimate – as part of Nazi Germany’s campaign to persecute its Jewish population and confiscate their possessions.

US law bars civil suits against foreign governments, except in the rare case of violations of international law, and the heirs’ attorneys have successfully argued in lower courts that “if such a coerced sale is not a taking in violation of international law, then nothing is”.

The case, heard by the the Supreme Court on Monday, will decide whether they can keep fighting in US courts for either the return of the treasure or for its value in damages.

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation underscored that it takes the claims seriously, but said the sale was made voluntarily and at fair market value. It cited the recommendation of an independent expert commission on Nazi-looted art to keep the treasure in Berlin.

Calling for the suit to be dismissed, the foundation’s president Hermann Parzinger said: “Our view is that Germany is the proper jurisdiction for a case which involves a sale of a collection of medieval German art by German art dealers to a German state.”

The German government – previously a co-defendant in the lower court cases – has supported calls for the suit’s dismissal, as does the US government.

The Supreme Court is expected to make its ruling by June 2021.

Legal experts say the case may result in many other international disputes coming before US courts, dramatically expanding their jurisdiction.

One lower court judge noted a ruling against the Germans “would likely place an enormous strain not only upon our courts but, more to the immediate point, upon our country’s diplomatic relations with any number of foreign nations”.

The search and return of artwork confiscated or stolen by the Nazis is a lengthy process, often made longer by arduous court battles. Last year, a woman in Europe lost her 14-year fight to wrestle her Jewish ancestor’s art back from a Spanish museum.

Ella Kissi-Debrah death: Family didnt know about toxic air

The mother of a nine-year-old girl who died following an asthma attack says she “would have moved” if she had known how dangerous local air pollution was.

Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, died in 2013.

A 2018 report found unlawful levels of pollution likely contributed to a fatal asthma attack.

At a new inquest into Ella’s death Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah said her daughter was “the centre of our world”.

Ms Kissi-Debrah said “moving would have been the first thing” the family would have done if they had known the risks air pollution posed to Ella.

She told the inquest she knew about car fumes but had never heard of nitrogen oxides (NOx) – one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.As they did not know of the risks posed by air pollution Ms Kissi-Debrah said she never spoke to doctors about moving.

Ms Kissi-Debrah branded air pollution “a public health emergency”, and called for more education about its dangers.

Ella was first taken to hospital in 2010 after a coughing fit and subsequently admitted to hospital 27 times.

Ms Kissi-Debrah said that by the summer of 2012, Ella was classified as disabled. She often had to carry Ella by piggyback to get her around.

Ella was seen by consultants at six different hospitals in the years before her death.

On the day before Ella died Ms Kissi-Debrah described her daughter “screaming” as she left her with paramedics.

“When I saw her in the ambulance I knew she was going to have a seizure, she was so bad,” Ms Kissi-Debrah said.

Describing the efforts of doctors to resuscitate Ella on the night of her death, she said: “They tried and they tried and they tried.”

Ella died at 03:27 on 15 February 2013.

An inquest in 2014, which focused on Ella’s medical care, concluded her death was caused by acute respiratory failure and severe asthma.But a 2018 report said it was likely unlawful levels of pollution, which were detected at a monitoring station one mile from Ella’s home, contributed to her fatal asthma attack.

Ella may become the first person in the UK for whom air pollution is listed as the cause of death.

The hearing continues.

Brexit: PM to meet EU chief in bid to save trade deal

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels this week to meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a last ditch effort to salvage a post-Brexit trade deal.

It comes after a 90 minute phone call between the two leaders failed to produce a breakthrough.

In a joint statement, they said the conditions for a deal were “not there”.

“Significant differences” remained on fishing, business competition rules and governance of any deal, they added.

“We asked our chief negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days,” the leaders said in their statement.

A senior UK government source has warned that a deal may not be possible, after the phone call between the PM and the European Commission president.

“Talks are in the same position now as they were on Friday. We have made no tangible progress,” the source added.

“It’s clear this must now continue politically. Whilst we do not consider this process to be closed, things are looking very tricky and there’s every chance we are not going to get there.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord Frost have been locked in intensive talks for the past week, as the deadline for a deal looms.

The two negotiators will meet on Tuesday to draw up a list of the outstanding differences between the two sides. EU leaders are meeting for a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

If an agreement is not reached and ratified by 31 December, the UK and EU could introduce import charges on each other’s goods.

What happens next with Brexit?

The UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility has said leaving the EU customs union and single market without a trade deal could lead to a 2% reduction in national income next year.

Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said: “Securing a deal is critical to the British national interest for jobs and security.

“Even at this 11th hour, we urge both sides to get on with reaching an agreement. We can then focus on the job at hand which is securing the economy and rebuilding our country from the pandemic.”

Covid vaccine: First batch arrives in Wales

The first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has arrived in Wales ahead of Tuesday’s much-anticipated rollout.

The vaccine arrived at Wrexham Maelor Hospital in a brown carboard box on Monday afternoon.

Frontline NHS staff and over-80s will be the first to get the jab.

There will be nearly 40,000 doses of the vaccine available initially, enough to vaccinate nearly 20,000 people, the Welsh Government has said.

Dr Matt Morgan, an intensive care consultant at University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, will be among the first to get the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

He said the vaccinations had brought “hope for the first time in a long time”.

On Sunday, Health Minister Vaughan Gething warned it would take months before some people were able to receive the vaccine.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, Dr Morgan said: “I’m feeling kind of proud, in a way, that science and medicine and humanity has made this vaccine in less than a duration of a pregnancy.

“From when the first patient was admitted to intensive care in Cardiff with Covid, it will be 38 weeks to the day, and it is pretty remarkable that in that time, the vaccine is here.

“Because of that, I am feeling hopeful, for the first time in a long time.

“But also, I am realistic – this isn’t going to make things better overnight and all of the other things that society and the public have been doing, sadly, remain more important than ever.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to be approved for use by UK regulators last week, and requires two separate injections, a few weeks apart.

Ahead of the vaccination programme beginning on Tuesday, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “It is expected nearly 1,000 doses will be administered in the first phase by each of the seven health boards in Wales by the end of the weekend.

“This will take place at one vaccination centre in each of the seven health boards, mostly in hospitals.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been trialled on more than 40,000 people, with only mild side-effects reported.

Dr Morgan said the biggest risk in getting the vaccine was driving to the test centre to have it done, while the benefits of the injections were “huge”.

“This vaccine has risks which are tiny. Absolutely tiny. It has been tested on 40,000 people.

“The benefits, to me, are not getting sick, hopefully my patients not getting sick, my colleagues not getting sick, my family not getting sick and all those other downstream benefits.”

Once vaccinated, people will be issued with a card with details of the vaccine name, date of vaccination and the batch numbers of each of the dose.

It will also act as a reminder for a second appointment, as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires two doses, but the cards will not hold any personal information.

The Welsh Government said: “We have no plans to produce vaccine passports or ID cards but everyone who receives a Covid-19 vaccination will be given an NHS Wales immunisation card with the vaccine name, date of vaccination and the batch numbers of each of the dose.

“This is designed to be a reminder about when the second dose is due and will help people report any side effects.”

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