Brexit: EU-UK trade deal expected, as cabinet briefed

The EU and UK appear close to striking a post-Brexit trade deal, with Boris Johnson briefing his cabinet on the progress of talks in Brussels.

Disputes over fishing rights and future business competition rules have been the major hurdles to agreement during months of often fraught talks.

But BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said Downing Street now seemed “very confident” of a deal.

Negotiators are now thought to be thrashing out the final details.

The deal is expected to be around 2,000 pages long, with both sides having until 31 December – when the UK leaves EU trading rules – get it approved by parliamentarians.

A deal would end the prospect of the two sides imposing widespread import taxes – tariffs – on each other’s goods from 1 January, which could have affected prices.

EU sources said the UK prime minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had also been in contact in an attempt to break the deadlock before the expected pause in negotiations for Christmas.

What happens next with Brexit?

The UK has insisted on having control over fishing in its waters from 1 January and retaining a larger share of the catch from them than under the current quota system.

But the EU wanted to phase in a new fishing system over a longer period and retain more of its access to UK waters for boats from France, Spain and other member states.

The sides also disagreed over whether UK firms should continue to follow the same rules as companies within the EU – and on how future trading disputes should be resolved.

UK ministers have repeatedly ruled out any extension to the transition period, under which the UK has continued to follow Brussels’s trade rules since it left the EU on 31 January.

The European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs has promised to reconvene its “star chamber” of lawyers – which was highly critical of previous Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU – to analyse any deal that is reached.

Chairman Mark Francois and deputy chairman David Jones said it would “scrutinise it in detail, to ensure that its provisions genuinely protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom”.

Deepfake queen to deliver Channel 4 Christmas message

This year’s Channel 4 alternative Christmas message will be delivered by a deepfake of the Queen.

While the Queen is delivering her traditional message on the BBC and ITV, her digitally created doppelgänger will be sharing its “thoughts” on Channel 4.

Buckingham Palace told the BBC it had no comment on the broadcast.

Channel 4 said the intention was to give a “stark warning” about fake news in the digital age.

Deepfake technology can be used to create convincing yet entirely fictional video content, and is often used to spread misinformation.

In the message, the deepfake will try its hand at a TikTok viral dance challenge.

The five-minute message will refer to a number of controversial topics, including the decision by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to leave the UK. It will also allude to the Duke of York’s decision to step down from royal duties earlier this year after an interview he gave to the BBC about his relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell was not impressed: “There have been countless imitations of the Queen. This isn’t a particularly good one.

“The voice sounds what it is – a rather poor attempt to impersonate her. What makes it troubling is the use of video technology to attempt to sync her lips to the words being spoken.”

While current technology does allow for voice deepfakes, the voice of this deepfake will be dubbed by British actress Debra Stephenson.

The TV star was previously the voice of a puppet of the monarch in the 2020 revival of satirical sketch show Spitting Image.

Stephenson said: “As an actress it is thrilling but it is also terrifying if you consider how this could be used in other contexts.”

The deepfake has been created by Oscar-winning VFX studio Framestore.

Deepfakes first rose to prominence in early 2018.

At the time, a developer adapted cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques to create software that swapped one person’s face for another.

However, the process has since become much more accessible.

There are now numerous apps that require just a single photo in order to substitute a Hollywood actor for that of the user.

Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled a tool that can spot deepfakes.

The firm said it hoped to help combat disinformation, but experts warned it was at risk of becoming outdated due to advances in technology.

Nina Schick, author of Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse, told the BBC there was growing concern about the other malicious ways deepfake technology could be used.

“While it offers tremendous commercial and creative opportunities, transforming entire industries from entertainment to communication, it is also a technology that will be weaponised.

“Used maliciously, AI-generated synthetic media, or deepfakes, are sophisticated forms of visual disinformation.”

The Alternative Christmas Message will be shown on Channel 4 at 15:25 GMT on 25 December.

Citys cycle lane a complete waste of money

A cycle lane which cost more than £150,000 to install has been branded a “complete waste of money” after a third of it was removed three months later.

Southampton City Council spent £152,419.50 on the cycle lane in The Avenue and Bassett Avenue.

However, traffic problems meant a 2km (1.2-mile) stretch in Bassett Avenue, introduced at the end of May, was gone by early September.

The council said the trial scheme had demonstrated “benefits and challenges”.

In May, the Department for Transport pledged £225m of emergency funding to help councils introduce measures like pop-up cycle lanes and safer junctions in England to take pressure off roads and public transport networks.

Green City councillor Steve Leggett said the Labour-led authority had been asked by the government to introduce measures “immediately” and to assess them using “real time data, rather than modelling”.

He said a number of “amendments” had been made – including the Bassett Avenue stretch between Winchester Road roundabout and Chilworth Road roundabout – but overall the plan had been “successful in encouraging more Southampton residents to walk and cycle”, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

But Royston Smith, Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, said the cycle lanes “were and are a complete waste of money”.

“They have not, for the most part, increased the take up of cycling and, as far as I am aware, have encouraged not a single driver out of their car,” he said.

Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead, Labour, praised the council’s “bold action” and added: “There was always an expectation that some of [the traffic schemes] would be temporary and some of them would remain.

“Many of the cycle lanes implemented have stayed.”

Doctor Who Christmas special to be offered in 4K HDR on iPlayer

The BBC is to screen Doctor Who’s Christmas special in 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) colour via iPlayer.

When the programme is broadcast, viewers will be prompted to switch to the higher quality streamed version by pressing the red button.

US video platforms including Disney+, Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video commonly offer content in this format.

But it is more rare on the BBC and Sky.

To take advantage of the facility, households will need a compatible TV and a relatively fast internet connection.

Ultra-High Definition (UHD) – the other name given to 4K – delivers four times as many pixels as regular 1080p high-definition (HD) video.

The benefits are that images can appear sharper and more detailed, although this is not always apparent if the screen is not large enough or viewers are sitting too far away.

For many people it is HDR that delivers the most notable difference.

Pictures typically appear to be more vivid and colourful.

It takes advantage of the fact screens can go brighter and/or darker than they used to be able to, providing a greater dynamic range.

As a result, the shadows of an image can be made less murky while the highlights – including sparks from special effects – can have more impact.

The BBC first publicly tested 4K HDR on iPlayer in 2016 when it offered four minutes from its Planet Earth II series.

It has subsequently offered a limited range of full-length programmes including Dynasties; His Dark Materials; and Dracula, as well as sport including Wimbledon and Fifa World Cup 2018 matches.

But despite pioneering related technologies – such as developing the hybrid-log gamma format used to stream live action simultaneously in both HDR and normal TV – it has been resistant to deploy it widely.

This had led to odd situations such as Peaky Blinders being offered in HDR on the UK’s Netflix service but only Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) on iPlayer.

The BBC is, however, also providing further shows in 4K HDR over the coming days including:

A spokesman for the corporation added that there would be further content in the new year.

The announcement comes a month after Sky announced it was boosting its library of 4K HDR movies for Christmas, including adding all the Harry Potter films in the format.

However, at present it is limiting this to its  Sky Q satellite service and not its Now TV streaming platform, which is still broadcast in 1080p.

Stella Tennant: Models life and career in pictures

British model Stella Tennant, who has died at the age of 50, was one of the fashion world’s most familiar faces from the 1990s.

She was a favourite of many of leading designers, and appeared on magazine covers and catwalks for more than 25 years.

Tennant was part of a wave of British models who broke through during the Cool Britannia era of the mid-1990s.

In 2018, The Sunday Times said: “Her pixie cut, lanky frame and formidable bone structure went on to define the 1990s aesthetic.”

Karl Lagerfeld made her the face of Chanel after spotting her on her first cover of Vogue, and she went on to appear in a number of runway and ad campaigns for the German designer.

Tennant is pictured above in a 2001 photo-shoot for Vogue magazine.

Tennant (left) was part of a supergroup of supermodels who represented the fashion industry at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, alongside Lily Cole, Karen Elson, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Jourdon Dunn and David Gandy.

She modelled a design from the Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2014/15 collection by Italian designer Donatella Versace during the Paris Fashion Week in 2014.

She appeared at Italian label Salvatore Ferragamo’s show during Milan Fashion Week in 2018.

Last year, back in Paris, she attended the Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2019 show as part of the city’s Fashion Week.

Brexit: UK and EU haggling, as hopes for trade deal rise

The EU and UK are continuing talks on post-Brexit trade, amid mounting speculation that they are close to agreeing a deal.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said it was looking “very likely” the two sides were “heading towards” an agreement.

But this was “not signed and sealed”, with “haggling” going on, she added.

Disputes over fishing rights and business competition rules remain the key hurdles to reaching a deal.

An EU official close to the talks said: “It is crunch time. But talk of a deal announcement is premature.”

The two sides have until 31 December – when the UK leaves EU trading rules – to reach and ratify an agreement.

If one is not in place by then, they could place import taxes on each other’s goods, potentially affecting prices.

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost and Stephanie Riso, a senior member of the EU team, are understood still to be in discussions in Brussels.

EU sources said the UK Prime minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had also been in direct contact in an attempt to break the deadlock before the expected pause in negotiations for Christmas.

Earlier, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said a deal was close “in totality”, but there was “still some way further to go” on the EU’s part.

The UK insists on having control of its waters from 1 January and retaining a larger share of the catch from them than it does under the current quota system.

But the EU wants to phase in a new fishing system over a longer period and retain significant access to UK waters for boats from France, Spain and other member states.

What happens next with Brexit?

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday that a “final push” was taking place, amid reports the EU had made a last offer on fishing which would see it accept a 25% reduction in its access to the UK’s market.

Ireland’s Taoiseach (PM) Micheál Martin said the UK was pushing for 35% reduction instead, adding that negotiations were “all down to fish, it would appear right now”.

He also raised the prospect of UK and EU officials working on Christmas Day, adding that he and other leaders were on “standby” to give their backing to any deal that might emerge.

The UK has said it is prepared to keep talking until 31 December but is prepared for any outcome, while EU diplomats have suggested the bloc would be willing to continue negotiations into 2021 if necessary.

Ministers have repeatedly ruled out any extension to the transition period – under which the UK has continued to follow EU trade rules – which was part of the withdrawal deal which saw the UK leave the EU on 31 January.

Stella Tennant: Model dies days after 50th birthday

British model Stella Tennant has died at the age of 50, her family has said.

“It is with great sadness we announce the sudden death of Stella Tennant on 22nd December 2020,” they said in a statement to the PA news agency.

“Stella was a wonderful woman and an inspiration to us all. She will be greatly missed.”

A police spokesman said there were “no suspicious circumstances” around her death, which came five days after her 50th birthday.

The Scot made her name in the early 1990s, appearing in photoshoots for publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

She appeared on runways for designers including Versace and Alexander McQueen; and in advertising campaigns for fashion brands including Calvin Klein, Jean Paul Gautier and Burberry.

She also starred in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games alongside fellow British models like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

Tennant was known for her androgynous sultry looks and aristocratic heritage, being the granddaughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Andrew Cavendish, and Deborah Mitford.

Before becoming a model, she studied at Winchester School of Art and embarked upon a career in sculpting, which she described as “my first love”.

Her plans soon changed after she was spotted by Vogue photographer Steven Meisel.

In the late 90s, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld unveiled her as the new face of Chanel, noting her resemblance to Coco Chanel.

Away from the catwalk, she worked on campaigns to promote using less energy and to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.

“It’s going to take us a long time to change our habits, but I think that this is so obviously a step in the right direction,” she told The Guardian last year.

She said at the time that she was reusing clothes she has had since the 90s and only buying about five new items a year.

“At my age I think it’s probably quite normal you’re not that interested in consuming, [and not] loving shopping as much as when you’re much younger. We all need to think a little bit harder.”

In 2012, she was inducted into the Scottish Fashion Awards Hall of Fame.

Tennant retired from the world of fashion in 1998 as she was pregnant with her first child, but later returned on a part-time basis.

She married French-born photographer David Lasnet in the small parish church of Oxnam in the Scottish Borders in 1999. They had four children together in total.

Wednesday’s statement added: “Her family ask for their privacy to be respected. Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.”

UK terror plots: Durham teenager asks to remain anonymous

The youngest person to be convicted of planning terrorist attack in the UK is bidding to keep his identity secret.

The 17-year-old, from Durham, was detained in January after his conviction for several a neo-Nazi terror offences.

He has not been publicly named due to his age and his legal team has applied for him to remain anonymous when he turns 18.

Only a small number of criminals have ever been granted ongoing anonymity.

Manchester Crown Court was told that a hearing in early January would deal with the boy’s application.

The County Durham teenager’s trial heard he was an adherent of “occult neo-Nazism” and had described himself as a “natural sadist”.

His attack preparations included researching explosives, listing potential targets, and trying to obtain a bomb-making chemical.

He is currently serving a sentence of six years and eight months.

Courts can ban the publication of a child defendant’s identity but such orders cease to apply once they reach 18.

In 2019, a boy from Blackburn, who had admitted inciting a terrorist attack in Australia when he was 14, was allowed to remain anonymous after the High Court ruled that naming him was likely to cause “serious harm”.

Lifelong anonymity has also been granted after release to the Newcastle child killer Mary Bell; Maxine Carr, who obstructed police investigating the 2002 Soham murders by her partner Ian Huntley; and Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who murdered Liverpool toddler James Bulger.

Brexit: How do voters now feel about it?

The UK’s departure from the European Union single market at the end of December marks the final stage of the Brexit process, triggered by the majority vote to leave in the 2016 referendum.

However, this does not mean that the debate about Brexit is over. Polls suggest voters remain as divided on the issue as they were at the beginning of 2020.

YouGov has regularly asked people the question: “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to leave the European Union?”

During the last three months, on average, 39% have said that the decision was right while 49% have stated it was wrong.

These figures are similar to those recorded by YouGov in the three months leading up to the UK’s formal withdrawal from the EU at the end of January. At that point, 40% said that the decision was right and 49% wrong.

The divide looks even sharper when voters are asked how they would vote now in response to the question that appeared on the 2016 referendum ballot paper: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the EU or leave the EU?”

In recent months, a handful of polls by ComRes, Deltapoll and YouGov have posed that question again. On average, they have found that 53% would vote Remain and 47% Leave – the same as at the end of January.

Of course, given that the UK has now left the EU, “Remain” is no longer an option. The question now is whether the UK should stay out of the EU or apply to re-join.

In a couple of their recent polls, Kantar asked people to choose between these two options – 51% backed staying out and 49% backed applying to re-join. This points to a country that is still divided down the middle on Europe.

Few voters have changed their minds since the referendum. As many as 86% of those who voted Remain in 2016 say they would vote the same way again, while 81% of those who backed Leave say they would vote for Brexit once more.

Similarly, 89% of Remain voters believe the decision was wrong and 81% of Leave voters that it was right.

Equally, according to Kantar, only one in eight (12%) Remain supporters say the UK should stay out of the EU, while just 8% of Leave supporters believe the UK should now apply to re-join.

Of course, the most immediate issue about Brexit has been whether the UK will agree a future relationship with the EU, or exit the EU single market without a deal.

The polls have suggested that most voters would prefer to leave with a deal than without one – but not at any price. Meanwhile, Remain and Leave supporters regard the choice very differently.

YouGov found people preferred a deal to no deal by 66% to 15%. Kantar, by contrast, put support for a deal at a more modest 44%, but still found only 21% backing no deal. The rest did not know which was better.

Other polls have presented respondents with a more complex set of choices, but largely found the same picture.

ComRes has on average found that 37% would prefer a deal compared with 21% who would prefer no deal, while 19% preferred an extension of the transition period until a deal had been struck.

Meanwhile Opinium reported that just 16% preferred no deal, while 26% backed a deal that would represent a “clean break” with the EU. Another 18% wanted a deal that left the UK closely aligned with the EU, while 26% felt re-joining would be the best option.

However, support for leaving without a deal is much higher among Leave voters – and indeed may be as popular as leaving with a deal.

Kantar suggested 35% of Leave voters would prefer to leave without a deal, while 34% back having a deal. ComRes put support for the two options among Leave voters at 38% apiece.

However, while most voters would prefer to be leaving with a deal, it does not necessarily mean that they are opposed to leaving without a deal whatever the circumstances.

When YouGov simply asked people whether they supported or opposed leaving without a deal, as many as 32% said they were in favour – much closer to the 44% who were opposed. Among Leave voters, as many as 67% said they supported no deal.

Meanwhile, when Opinium asked what should happen if the UK and the EU were to fail to reach an agreement by the end of 2020, as many as 35% of all voters – and 69% of Leave supporters – said the UK should leave without a deal.

For some voters, the better course of action depends on the price to be paid.

According to Deltapoll, 38% of all voters think that the UK should be willing to compromise in order to strike a deal, but rather more – 41% – say the UK should not make any more compromises. Among Leave voters, no less than 57% are opposed to making compromises.

Doubtless it is that mood among Leave voters that helps explain why the UK government has been willing to take the negotiations to the wire.

John Curtice is professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, and senior research fellow at NatCen Social Research and UK in a Changing Europe.