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Electoral Commission says new Vote Leave investigation ‘not in public interest’

The Electoral Commission believed it would “not be in the public interest” to investigate whether Vote Leave committed a second breach of referendum spending laws, according to the website OpenDemocracy. Last week Vote Leave dropped its appeal against a £61,000 fine for breaking the EU referendum spending limit by donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the pro-Brexit activist Darren Grimes. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove under fire on Vote Leave’s law-breaking Read more Last year an investigation by the BBC’s Spotlight programme reported that online adverts placed on behalf of the DUP were booked by Vote Leave’s director in Northern Ireland. The commission subsequently announced that it had considered the allegations but would not be launching an investigation because it did not have sufficient evidence. At the time, it said: “After requesting further evidence from BBC Northern Ireland and being told that there was no ‘significant information’ other than what was in the programme, the commission considered whether other sources were available to evidence the allegations made in it. A document unearthed in the course of the case reveals that the commission also believed that even if it had found sufficient evidence of Vote Leave coordinating with the DUP, there would be no public interest in investigating the matter because Vote Leave had already been found to have coordinated with Grimes. “How many other times did the Electoral Commission fail to investigate because it didn’t think it was in the public interest for us to know?” Maugham said. “We are an evidence-based regulator and undertake our work to the highest standards,” the spokesperson said. “We had requested further evidence from BBC Northern Ireland that first aired the allegations. This decision was taken in line with our enforcement policy.”

Brussels confirms return of border checks under no-deal Brexit

The announcement on border checks was revealed days after the British government secured a short extension that shifts the Brexit deadline to 12 April. In an information notice, the commission confirmed that in the event of a no-deal UK nationals would have the right to visa-free travel for short stays in the EU (90 days in any 180-day period), if the UK grants the same arrangement to citizens of all EU member states. In another return to the past, British travellers may be asked by border guards to provide information on the purpose of their visit and means of subsistence during their stay. Luggage would be subject to customs checks. The British government would get a longer extension only if it agreed by that date to take part in European elections on 23 May. European commission officials have visited all 27 member states to check on no-deal plans. Countries that trade heavily with the UK are hiring hundreds of customs officers and are building border inspection posts to restart checks on animal, food and plant products. While preparations were being taken “extremely seriously”, delays could not be avoided: “Disruption will occur and nothing will be smooth … There will be frictions, it’s pretty clear.” According to the EU official, national authorities and businesses wanted no-deal over quickly, if it has to happen. And so they were telling us we want certainly, and if it has to happen so be it.” If the UK crashes out of the EU on 12 April, the government will have six days to decide whether to pay its dues into the 2019 EU budget, so enabling British farmers, researchers and other recipients to receive EU funds. The government could secure short-term participation in such programmes by agreeing to pay into the EU 2019 budget.

‘Political meltdown’ grips UK after Theresa May’s Brexit defeat

The United Kingdom continues to face political turmoil over Brexit, as Prime Minister Theresa May failed to find enough support in Parliament for her amended agreement with the European Union. Read the Full Transcript Judy Woodruff: And we continue our look at today's vote and where the U.K. goes from here with Sir Peter Westmacott. I think at the moment it means that it is less likely that we leave on the 29th of March, as scheduled, because of today's vote, which was resoundingly against Theresa May's package, but also because, tomorrow, parliamentarians are very likely to vote heavily against the idea of leaving with no deal. And a lot of the signs today — this evening — since the vote, are that the European Commission and the European member states are not giving this away for nothing, that they will have their own views as to how long the extension might be. Judy Woodruff: Peter Westmacott, why has this been so messy and so difficult? Peter Westmacott: The core of it, Judy, is that it was always going to be very, very difficult. But once you have scrambled them, unscrambling eggs is really difficult and a hard thing to do. Peter Westmacott: Well, you can point the finger of blame on lots of people. So — and you can probably think of a whole lot of other people who you can blame for it. I don't actually buy that, because it was the British people who asked to leave.

Brexit talks ‘deadlocked’, says Downing Street

Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening to “take stock”, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. “No further meetings at a political level are scheduled but both sides will remain in close contact this week”, a commission spokesman added on Monday. “The commission has made proposals on further assurances that the backstop, if used, will apply temporarily… It is now for the House of commons to make an important set of decisions this week”. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU. Could end with a no-deal Brexit, a second referendum, new ideas or ... MPs vote on May’s deal for a third time No Yes Brexit with May’s deal on 29 March No-deal Brexit on 29 March, or ... EU makes surprise last-minute concessions on the backstop. MPs pass May’s deal Brexit with May’s deal on or shortly after 29 March 12 March MPs vote again on May’s deal Brexit with May’s deal on 29 March Yes No 13 March MPs vote on whether to leave without a deal No-deal Brexit on 29 March Yes No 14 March MPs vote on whether to extend article 50 UK asks for a short extension Yes No 21 March summit EU leaders vote on allowing a short extension Brexit postponed No Yes No to short, but yes to longer extension Brexit postponed MPs vote on offer of a longer extension No Yes Deadlock. Could end with a no-deal Brexit, a second referendum, new ideas or ... Brexit with May’s deal on 29 March MPs vote on May’s deal for a third time Yes No No-deal Brexit on 29 March, or ... Brexit with May’s deal on or shortly after 29 March EU makes surprise last-minute concessions on the backstop. The uncompromising mood among Brexit-minded Conservatives was illustrated on Monday when the Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh suggested May should abandon the meaningful vote and instead have the Commons back a motion outlining support for a deal based on technology-based “alternative arrangements” for the Irish border. Writing in the Guardian, Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister who resigned as a minister to back a people’s vote, warned MPs against voting for the deal under government pressure, suggesting bad policy decisions such as the Iraq war were made under similar circumstances.

Coffeeshop: The politics of halloumification

THE HALLOUMI application was put on hold by the Commission because of four new demands made by our foreign ministry after the common understanding was reached in Nicosia. We demanded that the six-monthly report by the foreign company that would certify the standards of hellim produced in the north should be submitted to the Cyprus government which would then send these to the Commission, because this was the sovereign right of the Republic. HOW COULD Prez Nik have reached such a halloumi deal with Juncker that would open the way to Taiwanification of the north, the halloumification of bicommunal relations and the downgrading of the Republic? Nik had been waiting to get his own back on Juncker, feeling that the Commission president had stitched him, having “secured the common understanding on halloumi, between wine and hiccups, when he came to Nicosia in 2015.” This theory is not without merit. Some at the presidential palace and Disy “link the success of the euro-elections and the future of the government, but also the legacy of Healthy (nickname for Nik) with the rescue of halloumi.” WHAT A PITY, that our foreign minister failed to persuade his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, whom he met in Moscow on Friday, to extend Russia’ stand on principle on the Cyprob to halloumi as well. OUR PRIESTS, who finally decided to meet and take a stand on the Orthodox Church dispute caused by the rift between the Russian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos over the latter’s recognition of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. Elam called on the government to “immediately stop negotiations and report to all international forums, including the EU and the UN, the aggressive actions of Turkey.” The Lillikas Alliance urged the government to “immediately make strong representations to the UN and in parallel the president of the Republic must report events to international and European organs.” The Perdikis party called on the “foreign ministry to make representations to the UN, at a time when more than ever before the President of the Republic must report the events to European and international organs.” It makes you wonder if the parties employ the same person to write their announcements for them. Apart from Strovilia, the Turkish army had move forward a guard post in Astromeritis, set up machine-gun positions Dherynia and had army officers visit Pyla. I hope Prez Nik will remember to mention the moving forward of the Astromeritis guard post when he is reporting Turkey’s provocations to European and international forums. It is a Turkish reprisal for Prez Nik going back on the halloumi agreement of July 2015.

Politics taint fisheries win

The nation was removed from the EU illegal fishing warning list, but there is a long way to go BRUSSELS: The European Commission's decision to free Thailand from countries it has formally warned over illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has underlined the military-led government's achievement in tackling the EU's concern on illegal fishing. However, the country is still being questioned over its ability to maintain fisheries sustainability. To get the EU's approval for delisting the so-called yellow card, the government issued 138 laws and regulations to control IUU fishing. Any government has a right to do so, but it must be done based on sustainable fishery principles with better results," he said. Last week, the EU declared Thailand was free of concerns over IUU fishing activities, which follows the Philippines in shedding its yellow card warning status in 2015, the same year that Thailand was given the yellow card. Meanwhile, marine shipment imports to the EU have are still banned from Cambodia, and Vietnam is also conducting strong efforts to get free from the yellow card status. All marine shipments are now legal," he said. Mr Miller said the country has regained its positive image on marine food products, making its products more acceptable in international markets, which will help increase sales volume to meet demand. He also expressed his appreciation to the Thai navy team for maintaining a key role in combatting IUU in Thai territorial waters and the government's desire to recognise the issue's importance and make all seafood product shipments legal. Later, the EU issued its warning on IUU fishing, resulting in negative impacts on marine product exports from Thailand.

Irish Brexit backstop goes on indefinitely, says attorney general

The UK is “indefinitely committed” to the Irish backstop if it comes into force, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, has told MPs as he explained to them the legal advice he gave the government on the planned Brexit deal. “There is no point in my trying or the government trying to disguise that fact.” Cox said that the main calculation was the “political imperative” of either entering into the agreement or not. He dismissed suggestions that no other similar treaty existed that would endure so permanently. “There are hundreds throughout the world ... The whole Vienna convention has entire sections on permanent treaties,” he said. But Cox told MPs there was no legal basis in article 50 for the backstop to be permanent and it would be “vulnerable to legal challenge” if it ever came to pass that Northern Ireland remained in both the EU and the UK. In his statement, Cox urged MPs to have patience, saying that untangling 45 years of entangled legal arrangements “will take time to work out”. “The divorce and separation of nations from long and intimate unions, just as of human beings, stirs high emotions and calls for wisdom and forbearance,” he said. He said: “This is not a question of the lawfulness of the government’s action, but of the prudence as a matter of policy and political judgment of entering into an international agreement on the terms proposed.” Responding to demands that the government should publish the advice in full, Cox said that he was offering MPs more than just the text of the legal advice, saying he was giving “a full frank and through opportunity” for him to give his direct legal opinion on MPs’ questions. Ministers earlier released a summary of the advice, which spelled out that the backstop would continue indefinitely “unless and until” the UK and the EU were able to agree alternative customs arrangements.

Brexit: May gives way over Gibraltar after Spain’s ‘veto’ threat

Theresa May has given way to Madrid’s demands over the future of Gibraltar after the Spanish prime minister threatened to “veto” the Brexit deal due to be signed off by EU leaders on Sunday. Sánchez said: “Once the UK has left the EU, Gibraltar’s political, legal and even geographic relationship with the EU will go through Spain … “Spain will be a fundamental pillar of the relationship between Gibraltar and the EU as a whole. “We have negotiated on behalf of Gibraltar, they are covered by the whole withdrawal agreement and by the implementation period. Donald Tusk, the European council president, sent a letter of invitation to Sunday’s summit to all the leaders on Saturday afternoon. Quick guide The European Union withdrawal agreement bill What is the withdrawal and implementation bill? A white paper published on Tuesday mainly takes in areas already dealt with by the initial agreement with the EU – reciprocal citizens’ rights, the transition period, and the divorce bill. Spain does not have a formal veto over the 585-page withdrawal agreement and the 26-page joint declaration by the leaders, but the EU would have been unlikely to go ahead with the summit without Madrid’s support. Spain has always insisted that Gibraltar could only be covered by any agreements struck between the EU and the UK with Madrid’s consent. Spain was furious when an article in the withdrawal agreement appeared to suggest that any future trade deal would cover Gibraltar. This is the same position as for the first phase of the negotiations.

EU embalming fluid ban ‘to change funerals’

That is the fear of Britain's funeral directors after MEPs voted to restrict the use of formaldehyde. And - in a concession secured by a Conservative MEP - it has delayed the ban on the substance for three years to allow the industry to adjust. UK funeral prices to be probed Funerals 'rushed' amid lack of crematoria The Health and Safety Executive said it would welcome any measures to help controls but is trying to get more time for the funeral industry to adjust. The European Commission has proposed formalising exposure limits. Formaldehyde, which can cause irritation and has been linked to nasopharyngeal cancer, is one of five industrial chemicals to be added to the European Commission's list of restricted carcinogens and mutagens. The UK funeral industry says it recognises that formaldehyde, which is also used in hospitals and in a wide variety of industrial processes, has been linked to serious illnesses. And if an alternative to formalin cannot be found, then the "culture" around Christian burials and cremations in the UK, will have to change, with funeral directors advising more families against seeing their loved one in the coffin, although ultimately it is the family's choice whether to do so. The funeral industry estimates between 50% and 55% of cadavers in the UK undergo some form of embalming so they can be viewed by relatives. The embalming process Bodies have been preserved after death since at least 4,000 BC Embalming using formaldehyde and other chemicals began in the late 1800s to preserve bodies for scientific study It involves the draining of the deceased's fluids and the injection of chemical solutions into the arteries, tissues and sometimes organs The process takes about an hour and embalmers are required to wear protective clothing and respirators "Visiting a loved one in the chapel of rest can be both a distressing and comforting experience for families, and it is also proven to be an important part of the grieving process," says Jon Levett, chief executive of the National Association of Funeral Directors. "For funeral directors, embalming offers the only realistic solution that will delay deterioration and present the deceased person at peace and as close to their appearance before death as possible; particularly where there has been a post mortem, examination, traumatic death - or to accommodate the increasing gap between death and a funeral which is now often two or three weeks.

Di Maio says EU election will shake up politics, help Italy

ROME: European parliamentary elections in May will shake up the political landscape and help Italy in its budget battles with Brussels, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday. The European Commission last month rejected Italy's 2019 budget, saying it flouted a commitment to lower the deficit and did not guarantee a reduction in the debt, the second highest in the euro zone as a proportion of GDP. Advertisement Italy's coalition, comprising the anti-establishment 5-Star-Movement and far-right League, has refused to change the main points of the budget, saying it will boost the economy via tax cuts, a lower retirement age and higher welfare spending. Di Maio told Corriere della Sera daily he was confident that Rome and Brussels could avoid a collision, predicting that the Commission would take a different approach after May's elections which might boost anti-austerity parties. "...citizens will vote in the European elections and will cause a big shake up," said Di Maio, who is also leader of the 5-Star. "We are ready to discuss things around a table, but they cannot ask us to massacre Italians." Di Maio reiterated that the government was willing to sell real estate assets, reduce waste and introduce safeguard clauses to ensure the deficit will not exceed the target of 2.4 percent of output in 2019. But he said: "The main reforms of the budget must remain in place". Advertisement The European Commission is expected to start disciplinary steps against Rome next Wednesday, a procedure which could eventually end in unprecedented fines for Italy. (Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Janet Lawrence)