Brexit: Large gaps remain after crucial trade talks in Brussels

A dinner between Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen – aimed at breaking the Brexit trade talks deadlock – has ended without agreement.

A senior No 10 source said “very large gaps remain”, but talks will resume with a “firm decision” on their future by Sunday.

Mrs von der Leyen said in a statement that the two sides were “far apart”.

The meeting, also attended by negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost, lasted about three hours.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said the evening had “plainly gone badly” and the chances of the UK leaving the post-Brexit transition period at the end of the year without a firm arrangement was a “big step closer”.

The UK side said there had been “a frank discussion about the significant obstacles which remain in the negotiations”.

“Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged,” the No 10 source said.

They added the two sides had instructed their respective negotiators to resume their work and that the PM did “not want to leave any route to a possible deal untested”.

Mrs von der Leyen said the discussions had been “lively and interesting”, and the two sides fully “understand each other’s positions” but conceded they “remain far apart”.

Major US lawsuits seek break up of Facebook

US federal regulators and more than 45 state prosecutors have sued Facebook, accusing the social media company of taking illegal actions to buy up rivals and stifle competition.

The lawsuits are one of the most significant legal actions the US government has taken against the firm.

Officials are asking the court to consider breaking up the company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook said the deals under scrutiny were approved by regulators years ago.

“The government now wants a do-over with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day,” it said.

The lawsuits filed by the states and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) focus on Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram, 2014 purchase of WhatsApp and rules governing outside software developers.

Officials accused Facebook of taking a “buy or bury” approach to potential rivals, hurting competitors and users, who have lost control of their own data to support the firm’s advertising revenue.

The legal filings cite internal messages from Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, such as one 2008 email that said it was “better to buy than compete”.

“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading the legal fight by the states.

“No company should have this much unchecked power over our personal interaction and social interactions. That’s why we are taking action today.”

It’s quite hard sometimes to comprehend just how massive Facebook is.

Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram – all owned by Facebook – all have more than a billion monthly users.

WhatsApp and Facebook have more than two billion.

What the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is arguing is that there’s a reason why Facebook came to dominate this highly lucrative sector – it acquired the competition illegally.

In 2012 Instagram was growing rapidly. Facebook was worried.

Zuckerberg has admitted himself previously that Instagram was a competitor to Facebook.

It was bought, for what now seems a ludicrously low figure of $1bn.

WhatsApp too in 2014 was growing at incredible speeds. Was it going to threaten Facebook’s own messenger service?

Facebook bought WhatsApp too.

Both of these acquisitions were previously looked at by the FTC and were approved.

That is Facebook’s argument – that they bought these companies when they were much smaller – that there was nothing pre-ordained about their success. In other words, don’t punish Facebook for building strong American companies.

Whether Instagram and WhatsApp will be cleaved off from Facebook will now be decided in the courts – and these antitrust lawsuits take time.

There will also be ample opportunity for appeals. Don’t expect a breakup of Facebook soon.

But this is yet more indication of where the courts and politicians are now headed.

Big Tech is a little too big in many peoples’ eyes – and it needs to cutting down to size.

The lawsuits come as US regulators are taking a closer look at the power enjoyed by tech companies.

This summer, the bosses of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple were forced to testify before Congress, as part of a bigger investigation of their influence on the market.

In October, the Department of Justice sued Google, accusing the search giant of violating US competition laws to maintain a monopoly on internet searches and online advertising.

More than 2.5 billion people use one of Facebook’s apps each day. The firm, valued at nearly $800bn, employs more than 56,000 people and reported more than $18bn in profit last year.

The Open Markets Institute, a Washington think tank that has been pushing regulators to take a more aggressive stance against tech companies, said the lawsuits were a “critical step” forward.

“There’s still more to do, but this is a big moment,” the organisation wrote on Twitter.

Supermarket Boxing Day closures pressure mounts

Supermarket chain Asda is to close on Boxing Day as part of a thank you to staff who have worked throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Unions have been calling on major supermarkets to give all staff the day off on 26 December.

Asda follows retailers including Marks & Spencer, Pets at Home, and toy store The Entertainer in closing.

Sainsbury’s said it planned to open stores on Boxing Day, but that most staff would have the day off.

Supermarkets have seen huge demand, especially for online services, as well as staying open during lockdowns while other retailers and firms in the food and drinks industry had to close.

As part of a thank you to staff for their work during the pandemic, Asda said that all of its 631 shops would close for two days over the Christmas break.

Frontline staff will also get 100% of their bonus entitlement regardless of whether they have reached sales quotas.

Asda chief executive Roger Burnley said in a message to staff: “This has been a challenging year and you have all done an incredible job, continuing to serve our customers and communities while juggling so many other commitments.

“But it’s also been challenging from a personal perspective as we have not been able to spend time with our families and friends, which has been hard for us all.

“This is of course our busiest time of year but it was important for us to give as many of you as possible the opportunity to spend this time with those loved ones that you may not have not seen for many months so, uniquely for this year, we will not reopen our stores until 27 December.”

The GMB union said it had been “requesting Asda to allow their keyworker heroes family time over the Christmas period, so we are really pleased they have agreed to our calls.”

Roger Jenkins, GMB National Officer, said: “It’s a shame this is not extra holiday – workers will have to book a day of their annual leave entitlement.

“But it’s a step in the right direction and GMB now calls on the rest of the retail sector to follow suit and repay these key workers with a chance to spend Boxing Day with their loved ones.”

The Usdaw union, which represents shop workers, has also been calling on all retailers to close their doors on Boxing Day.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said at the end of November: “With the country facing a crisis unlike any in our lifetime, retail and distribution workers have stepped up and kept food on all of our tables… When others stay safe at home, they go out to work.

“The only way they will be guaranteed a decent break at Christmas is if food retailers close for Boxing Day,” he said.

However, supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, which has a large network of convenience shops as well as larger outlets, said on Wednesday that its supermarkets would remain open, albeit with reduced hours.

“We’re recruiting more colleagues into our business than ever before so that we can give as many people as possible the time off they have asked for. This includes 12,000 temporary colleagues to support us this Christmas,” a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said.

“For colleagues that have requested it, we have made sure they are able to take at least two consecutive days off over Christmas,” the spokesperson added.

Sainsbury’s said that customers expected its stores to be open on Boxing Day so they can top up on fresh food.

It said it had reduced hours on 26 December after requests from staff, and that it had tried to give Boxing Day off when staff members requested it.

In addition, it said it had made two thank you payments to staff this year.

Tesco and Morrison’s had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

A number of retailers are to close for Boxing Day.

Marks & Spencer said in November that it would reverse its decision to open on Boxing Day so staff could spend more time with their families.

Poundland said earlier in the year that it would stay closed on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, while retailers including Wickes, Pets and Home and the Entertainer have also said they would be closed.

John Lewis and Waitrose are normally shut on Boxing Day, and will remain so this year.

Labour politician feared assault by fellow Senedd member Neil McEvoy

A Labour politician has said he feared being assaulted by a fellow Member of the Senedd (MS) after an incident in the Welsh Parliament last year.

On Wednesday night the body voted to ban Neil McEvoy from the Senedd until 21 January after a committee found he had been physically aggressive towards Labour’s Mick Antoniw.

The decision means Mr McEvoy will have his salary cut.

Mr McEvoy claimed he was being punished for something that was not true.

But the Pontypridd MS said he was worried he could be “accosted or assaulted” by Mr McEvoy for months after the incident.

The standards committee of the Senedd found that Mr McEvoy committed a “severe breach” of the code of conduct and showed “contempt” for colleagues when Mr McEvoy remonstrated with Mr Antoniw in May 2019.

Their findings followed an investigation by former Standards Commissioner Sir Roderick Evans into the incident, which took place within and just outside the Senedd’s debating chamber.

Six members of staff had given evidence about the incident.

Mr Antoniw, who had complained to Sir Roderick, said Mr McEvoy had approached him in an “aggressive manner and raised voice”, telling him “You’re a coward in your big group, I will get you”.

One witness said it “looked as though Neil was going to punch Mick”.

In the Senedd on Wednesday Mr Antoniw said: “For months after I will always ensure when walking to the chamber that those in the company of others or alert to the space around me, in the event that I would be accosted or assaulted by the member.

“This is what I expected from a member of this Senedd who told me he would get me – a threat I take very seriously.”

Mr Antoniw accused Mr McEvoy of publicly attacking “the integrity of the report of the committee, the independent witnesses, and also myself”.

“In almost Trumpian style in his social media he suggests the committee is victimising him for being a Welsh-born person of colour.”

He said it was a “false and reprehensible attempt to distract attention”.

He said Mr McEvoy had proven to be a “serial bully and aggressor”, and said his conduct had an “adverse effect on individual employees of this place”.

Mr McEvoy told the Senedd that he was “going to be suspended for something that I’ve not done”.

The Welsh Nation Party MS for South Wales Central claimed CCTV footage of the incident outside the Senedd chamber showed “that statements were either embellished or simply made up”.

“The Standards Committee refused to view the CCTV,” he said.

“If you view the unedited version from the Senedd, there was no finger pointing. I was not in Mick Antoniw’s face. That was untrue.

“Mick Antoniw alleged that I aggressively went towards him in an aggressive manner. Well, the CCTV shows that didn’t happen and I actually held the door open for Mick Antoniw.”

“As a person of colour, and all you guys out there, all you people of colour out there, will know what I’m saying, I’m used to this treatment.,” he added.

The committee, in its report, said it decided not to view the footage on data protection grounds and was “persuaded on the balance of evidence”.

The commissioner, the report said, found enough evidence to support the complaint without needing to rely on CCTV footage.

The motion to exclude Mr McEvoy from the Senedd for 21 days – which with recess runs until midnight on 21 January – passed with 45 Senedd members supporting it, versus six against.

Labour, Plaid Cymru and Conservative members voted for the motion, although Labour’s Rhianon Passmore abstained alongside former UKIP MS Michelle Brown.

The six to vote against were Reform group members Caroline Jones and Mandy Jones, Abolish the Assembly’s Gareth Bennett and Mark Reckless, UKIP’s Neil Hamilton and Neil McEvoy.

Huge US lawsuits seek break up of Facebook

US federal regulators and more than 45 state prosecutors have sued Facebook, accusing the social media company of taking illegal actions to buy up rivals and stifle competition.

The lawsuits are one of the most significant legal actions the US government has taken against the firm.

Officials are asking the court to consider breaking up the company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook said the deals under scrutiny were approved by regulators years ago.

“The government now wants a do-over with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day,” it said.

The lawsuits filed by the states and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) focus on Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram, 2014 purchase of WhatsApp and rules governing outside software developers.

Officials accused Facebook of taking a “buy or bury” approach to potential rivals, hurting competitors and users, who have lost control of their own data to support the firm’s advertising revenue.

The legal filings cite internal messages from Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, such as one 2008 email that said it was “better to buy than compete”.

“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading the legal fight by the states.

“No company should have this much unchecked power over our personal interaction and social interactions. That’s why we are taking action today.”

It’s quite hard sometimes to comprehend just how massive Facebook is.

Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram – all owned by Facebook – all have more than a billion monthly users.

WhatsApp and Facebook have more than two billion.

What the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is arguing is that there’s a reason why Facebook came to dominate this highly lucrative sector – it acquired the competition illegally.

In 2012 Instagram was growing rapidly. Facebook was worried.

Zuckerberg has admitted himself previously that Instagram was a competitor to Facebook.

It was bought, for what now seems a ludicrously low figure of $1bn.

WhatsApp too in 2014 was growing at incredible speeds. Was it going to threaten Facebook’s own messenger service?

Facebook bought WhatsApp too.

Both of these acquisitions were previously looked at by the FTC and were approved.

That is Facebook’s argument – that they bought these companies when they were much smaller – that there was nothing pre-ordained about their success. In other words, don’t punish Facebook for building strong American companies.

Whether Instagram and WhatsApp will be cleaved off from Facebook will now be decided in the courts – and these antitrust lawsuits take time.

There will also be ample opportunity for appeals. Don’t expect a breakup of Facebook soon.

But this is yet more indication of where the courts and politicians are now headed.

Big Tech is a little too big in many peoples’ eyes – and it needs to cutting down to size.

The lawsuits come as US regulators are taking a closer look at the power enjoyed by tech companies.

This summer, the bosses of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple were forced to testify before Congress, as part of a bigger investigation of their influence on the market.

In October, the Department of Justice sued Google, accusing the search giant of violating US competition laws to maintain a monopoly on internet searches and online advertising.

Mahalia and Nines win big at MOBOs 2020

After a two-year break, the MOBO Awards have returned with a socially-distant show.

The ceremony was hosted by Maya Jama and Chunkz and broadcast on YouTube.

Mahalia and Nines both won two awards, with Mahalia taking home Best R&B/Soul and Best Female and Nines winning Best Album and Best Hip Hop act.

Mahalia told Newsbeat: “As a young black artist at the MOBOs, everything it stands for and holds is really special.”

Young T and Bugsey were awarded Best Song for Don’t Rush.

The Nottingham duo said the viral Don’t Rush challenge helped it become such a staple sound of 2020.

Bugsey said: “Day by day it was just growing and getting bigger and bigger, we had no idea that would happen.

“I was a big wrestling fan as a kid, so when I saw that the whole WWE lot did the challenge I was like ‘yeah, we’re doing something’.”

The pair released their mixtape at the start of the year, with plans for tours and other live performances.

“All artists have had to learn how to manoeuvre through it, hopefully next year shows will be back again.”

Aitch, who picked up Best Newcomer, said the event was a good end to a bad year.

He told Newsbeat: “It’s sick to be recognised for what I’m doing.”

In a year like no other, Aitch says time away from touring and performances has had some advantages.

“Some things have happened that wouldn’t have happened if I was out on the road.”

Although he’s done “way too many Zoom calls”.

Chunkz won Best Media Personality up against names including Clara Amfo, Mo Gilligan and co-host Maya Jama.

With social-distancing measures in place, it might not have been the best year to host such a big event. But, after the MOBOs were cancelled in 2018 and 2019, founder Kanya King said she “felt like she had to” bring them back.

She said: “2020 has been such a unique year and MOBO has always a spotlight for talent to shine.

“Entertainment and activism have always gone hand in hand, and we’re using the power of black culture to empower and uplift people.”

This year’s ceremony also included a one-off category to retrospectively award the best albums released between September 2017 and August 2019, which was won by Ella Mai.

For a lot of artists, the pandemic was a chance to get creative.

Mahalia released her EP Isolation Tapes in May, made up of songs she previously hadn’t found time to finish.

“If isolation hadn’t happened, I might never have seen those songs again,” she says.

Although it’s been a “confusing and stressful” year, Mahalia said ultimately she learned to “be present and full of energy online”.

“I think a lot of us artists in that time realised how important social media platforms are,” she says.

“It’s a gateway to be able to speak to fans. I wasn’t very good at that before so this has been a learning curve for sure.”

Young T and Bugsey agree.

“It made you interact with fans more and people who support you more because you can be connected,” Young T said.

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