A simple guide: All you need to know about MPs’ Brexit amendments

Britain’s parliament is buzzing with frenzied campaigning as MPs build support for rival plans to end the deadlock over Theresa May‘s Brexit deal.

In a statement on Monday, the prime minister dashed hopes that she would unveil a plan B that modifies a deal she forged with Brussels which parliament rejected last week. Critics have said it was a case of “plan A all over again”.

May stuck to her script, doggedly signalling that she would not change course as the March 29 deadline for Britain to leave loomed – deal or no deal.

What did May say? 

May’s statement set out three “changes” to her Brexit strategy. 

First, she threw an olive branch to parliament, promising to be more “flexible, open and inclusive”.

Second, she promised to embed protections on workers’ rights and the environment in any deal – in a sop to the main opposition Labour Party.

Third, she pledged to win concessions that would overcome the main hurdle to her plans – the divisive “backstop” demanded by the EU to avoid creating a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In short, the prime minister offered nothing new – while restating her opposition to a second Brexit referendum and rubbishing talk of extending Article 50, the European Union mechanism setting the March deadline.

Many MPs believe extending Article 50 is the only way to avoid leaving without a deal – which economists warn would be disastrous.

What happens now?

In a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt reportedly questioned May’s approach, suggesting EU concessions on the backstop would not win over sceptical Conservatives.

Meanwhile, May’s lukewarm efforts to consult opposition parties have floundered.

A formal vote on the strategy outlined in her statement will take place on January 29 – giving MPs a week in which to thrash out game-changing amendments to alter the Brexit outcome.

How many amendments are being tabled?

MPs have until Monday night to table amendments, making it too soon to say how many there will be.

These could be merged by the powerful Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, who will select which go forward.

Diverse options are now taking shape and their champions are parading them in a parliamentary beauty contest before next week.

Who are the big hitters – and what chance do they have?

Some amendments are turning heads.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was quick off the mark with a call to let MPs vote on different options to avoid a no-deal Brexit – including a second referendum.

The party is divided on this issue and the move marks a step towards accepting it – but is unlikely to win support from sympathetic Conservatives who say it does not get straight to the point.

A cross-party amendment designed to block a no-deal Brexit by the Labour chair of the home affairs select committee Yvette Cooper and former Conservative minister Nick Boles has raised eyebrows.

They want to extend Article 50 if there is no deal by the end of February – and seem to be gathering steam.

Pro-European Conservative Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general, is calling for parliament to wrestle control of the Brexit timetable from the government – enabling MPs to then do whatever they like.

Grieve has form and has already drawn blood against May.

A general view of parliament after the vote on May’s Brexit deal, in London, January 15, 2019 [Reuters TV via Reuters]

The Labour chair of the Commons Brexit committee, Hilary Benn, is calling for “indicative” votes to gauge support among MPs on a suite of Brexit options – but there are fears this may not end the deadlock.

Labour MP Stella Creasy wants Brexit to be delayed for a “citizens’ assembly” to determine what the country at large wants. This has some heavyweight backing – but takes parliament into uncharted waters.

Pro-Brexit MPs also want their say.

An amendment by Andrew Murrison, chair of the Northern Ireland affairs committee, to curtail the backstop in 2022 throws down the gauntlet to the EU – but Labour will never back it.

And there is a strong expectation that at least one MP will press the “nuclear” button – with a no-nonsense motion formally demanding a second referendum or “People’s Vote”.

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Lachlan Murdoch, Andrew Forrest pimp their rides

Out west, Kerry Packer‘s old Sikorsky S-76 helicopter has changed hands again, with Roberts selling it to iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest. The Fortescue chair (through his entity Minderoo Marine Ecology) took ownership of the 12-seater in September. The storied chopper (whose pilot donated his kidney to KP) is 32 years old but is in mint condition, and has spent most of its life ferrying the Packers between Sydney and their family estate, Ellerston. It had been sold to Roberts by James Packer‘s Consolidated Press Holdings last year (Gretel Packer now owns Ellerston). CPH was initially selling it to Lang Walker for use by the property developer’s Fiji resort, Kokomo, but the transaction fell over.

And going the full circle, the man CPH sold its stake in Hollywood producer and financier RatPac Entertainment to, Len Blavatnik, spent New Year’s Eve in Sydney. Or at least his plane did (though it repositioned to Terry Snow‘s Canberra air strip for cheaper parking)! And the Murdochs and the Lowys can eat their hearts out: Blavatnik has his own Boeing 777-200ER. For context, airlines like British Airways and Singapore Airlines carry/carried 300 passengers on this plane, which gulps fuel like a cruise ship. Yep, that’s so Russian it’s almost Saudi.

James Packer walks to the family S-76 chopper four days after the death of his father in 2005. Andrew Forrest bought the helicopter in September. 2005

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Carmelo Anthony Odds: Lakers Favorites for Star After Expected Bulls Release

Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in New York. The Rockets won 119-111. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Carmelo Anthony continues to bounce around the league, but he is still looking for a destination for the rest of the 2018-19 season.

OddsShark provided odds for his possible landing spots by the time of the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline:

While the Chicago Bulls announced a trade for Anthony on Tuesday, he is expected to be dealt again or waived, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

However, the 34-year-old doesn’t have to sign with anyone, as Bobby Marks of ESPN noted:

Still, Anthony can help a team. The 10-time All-Star isn’t the player he once was, but he averaged 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder and 13.4 points over 10 contests with the Houston Rockets

Even though his time with the Rockets was brief, both former teammate James Harden and coach Mike D’Antoni think he can provide value, per Ian Begley of ESPN.com. 

“He’s a great player,” D’Antoni added. “Why wouldn’t he be able to?”

The Los Angeles Lakers remain an obvious landing spot, as he would unite with friend LeBron James, and the team reportedly has interest, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Though L.A. doesn’t have a roster spot available, he would be a top option if one opens.

The Portland Trail Blazers could also be an intriguing fit as they try to add more scoring in the frontcourt to balance guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

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Labor’s ironic franking sugar hit

“There’s just a level of uncertainty about where the Labor party is going to land and it may just be prudent for companies to address that,” Millner says.

BHP is already locked into a $5.2 billion special dividend to be paid on January 30 following the sale of its US shale assets. Other special dividend candidates with big franking balances including Woolworths (which could pass the $1.7 billon from its petrol business sale back to investors) and Commonwealth Bank (which will reap billions from the sale of its global asset management business).

Retailers Nick Scali and Premier Investments, and miner Oz Minerals, are other candidates that have been mentioned in dispatches.

This possible sugar hit will add to what has been a big year in capital returns.

Don Hamson, managing director of Plato Investment Management, says dividends increased 8 per cent in dollar terms in 2008.

 Michele Mossop

Don Hamson, managing director of Plato Investment Management, says dividends increased 8 per cent in dollar terms in 2008.

While the market ructions in the December quarter weighed on the returns of many fund managers, Plato’s Australian Shares Income Fund had a record year for income distributions, with gross income distributions – cash plus franking credits after fees – in excess of 12 per cent.

That’s well above the longer-term average of 9 per cent, and Hamson sees the figure hitting at least 14 per cent for the 2018-19 financial year, given BHP’s monster payout.

If the special dividends flow – and Hamson is also confident they will – then distributions will climb again.

Still, Hamson is no fan of the Labor proposal. He says around 10 per cent of his investor base would be affected, but the best case study he has to argue against the proposal is his late mother, who passed away last year.

Her annual income of $30,000 was high enough to mean she didn’t qualify for the pension, but not so high that she could afford the $8000 hit that Hamson estimates she would have faced under the Labor policy.

“She would have lost 28 per cent of her income, and she wasn’t a wealthy woman,” Hamson says.

He also points out that the case study shows the policy may hit women harder than men, given they tend to live longer.

Hamson doesn’t expect Labor to back away from the policy – a fair bet given Bowen’s declaration that Labor would see victory in the federal poll as giving it a mandate for its tax changes.

But he’s more confident that cross bench senators will oppose the changes given the level of anger, particularly among older voters.

“A lot of the cross bench senators understand this now. This is a pretty contentious issue.”

But Hamson also suggests a middle ground might be possible in the form of a cap on the amount of refunds that an individual could claim. He suggests a $10,000 or $15,000 limit might go some way to cooling the concern around the policy.

“If people begrudge that for someone like my mother, then they need to get a life. That makes a huge difference for these people.”

Millner and Culbert believe the cap would need to be higher than that, but they also see a Labor backdown as unlikely.

The Coalition isn’t going to let the issue fade. On Wednesday, Liberal MP Tim Wilson announced the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics will hold another round of public hearings into the Labor policy next month.

The hearings in Merimbula, Bondi and Chatswood will take the number of public sessions held to 11, with further sessions almost certain.

The inquiry is starting to look like Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, which would share a similar grey-haired audience.

James Thomson

j.thomson@afr.com

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Bryan Singer fires back after sexual misconduct expose: It’s a ‘homophobic smear piece’

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Bryan Singer has been fired from directing the Freddie Mercury biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’
USA TODAY

A day after the Bryan Singer-directed Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” earned four Oscar nominations, four new accusers came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct in a newly published article in The Atlantic.

On Wednesday, the magazine published the results of a year-long investigation into allegations against Singer, the product of interviews with more than 50 sources, including four accusers whose stories have not been told publicly until now. Two said Singer knew they were underage when he had sex with them but asked that their names not be published, citing fear of retaliation and privacy concerns.

In a statement provided to USA TODAY by one of his attorneys, Andrew Brettler, Singer said the article was “written by a homophobic journalist who has a bizarre obsession with me dating back to 1997.

“After careful fact-checking and, in consideration of the lack of credible sources, Esquire chose not to publish this piece of vendetta journalism. That didn’t stop this writer from selling it to The Atlantic.”  

He added, “It’s sad that The Atlantic would stoop to this low standard of journalistic integrity. Again, I am forced to reiterate that this story rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention. And it is no surprise that, with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ being an award-winning hit, this homophobic smear piece has been conveniently timed to take advantage of its success.”

In a Twitter statement released by The Atlantic, reporters Maximillian Potter and Alex French said that the Singer story had been cleared for publication by an attorney for Hearst, Esquire’s parent company, but then later killed by executives. They added that before it ran in The Atlantic, the piece underwent “another rigorous fact-check and robust legal vetting.”

 

The article includes detailed accusations from several accusers. One story comes from Victor Valdovinos, who said he met Singer in a restroom as a 13-year-old when his school was used as a location in the director’s second major film, 1998’s “Apt Pupil.”

He said the director later molested him in the school’s locker room, which was being used for a shower-room scene in the movie.

“He came back to where I was in the locker room throughout the day to molest me,” said Valdovinos, who said the encounter left him “frozen.”

Singer’s attorney, in a statement to The Atlantic, denied Singer knew Valdovinos and said no such encounter occurred. 

Another accuser, who asked that his real name not be used, said he was 17 or 18 when he made out and had oral sex with Singer during a party at the director’s home, whose address and layout he could still remember.

“He was predatory in that he would ply people with alcohol and drugs and then have sex with them,” the man, identified in the story as Ben, recalled. “It wasn’t a hold-you-down-and-rape-you situation.”

A third man, who was called Andy in the Atlantic story, said he was 15 when he first had sex with Singer, who would have been around 31, at a party at the home of two friends, Marc Collins-Rector and Chad Shackley. 

Andy said after that fell on hard times, prostituting himself and developing a meth addiction, leading to his expulsion from school and jail time. He told the magazine that Singer gave him money a few times but eventually stopped taking his calls. 

Now 36 and clean, Andy wonders “if I’d never met Marc and then Bryan, if I would have ever got into the drugs.”

A fourth accuser, identified as Eric, said he met Singer at a party thrown by the director at his home. 

While flirting in the hot tub, Singer, reportedly told Eric he was 31. “Just so you know, I’m 17,” Eric says he responded before the two had sex. He said they continued to do so occasionally until Eric was in his 20s.

“I never want people to think of me as a victim, so I always put up the front of ‘I’m good. I was in charge,’ ” he explained. “But I spent a decade in therapy trying to figure out if what happened was bad or not bad. And if it was bad, was it my fault? What I’ve decided is that adults are supposed to look out for kids.”

Eric says that he’s since met other alleged victims of Singer through Alcoholics Anonymous. 

“There’s a bunch of us,” he told the magazine. “It’s like, ‘You were one of Singer’s boys? Me too.’ ”

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Dirk Nowitzki Reportedly Invited to 2019 NBA 3-Point Contest

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 16: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after being called for a foul against the San Antonio Spurs in the second half at American Airlines Center on January 16, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The NBA has extended an invitation for the 2019 Three-Point Contest to Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, the New York TimesMarc Stein reported.

Nowitzki was the three-point champion during All-Star Weekend in 2006, defeating Ray Allen and Gilbert Arenas in the final round.

Nowitzki has appeared in 16 games this year and is shooting just 26.1 percent from beyond the arc. He had ankle surgery last April, which not only kept him out for Dallas’ first 26 games but is also clearly impacting his performance.

Nowitzki was a 40.9 percent three-point shooter in 2017-18 before his ankle injury forced him out of action.

His invitation is almost certainly a way for the league to honor the 40-year-old before he retires. Nowitzki is 11th all-time in made threes (1,930) and will be remembered as the best shooting big man in NBA history.

Given both his age and desire to avoid a yearlong farewell tour, the 2018-19 season could be Nowitzki’s last in the NBA. Should that be the case, All-Star Weekend would provide fans with one more chance to enjoy Nowitzki on a big stage.

Since Nowitzki can still receive consideration for the Three-Point Contest into his 21st season, maybe the door isn’t completely closed on LeBron James finally getting into the Slam Dunk Contest.

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President Trump plans to give State of the Union speech — but no one knows where

WASHINGTON – In the latest salvo over the State of the Union, President Donald Trump told Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday he would show up and deliver the speech as scheduled on Tuesday, despite her objections about security and the government shutdown.

“There are no security concerns regarding the State of the Union address,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi. “Therefore, I will be honoring your invitation and fulfilling my constitutional duty to deliver important information to the people and Congress.”

It remained unclear, however, whether Pelosi would allow the speech to go on – the House, controlled by Democrats, must pass a resolution formally inviting the president to the chamber.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters on Wednesday that the House could pass the resolution on the same day as the speech. The U.S. Capitol Police will be prepared, he said.

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Last month, Pelosi invited Trump to give the annual address on Jan. 29. But last week, she suggested that Trump postpone, cancel or submit the address in writing because of the ongoing partial government shutdown, though she had not formally rescinded the invitation.

The White House said it was moving forward with speech plans anyway, and is looking at alternatives in case Pelosi formally cancels her invitation.

“The president will talk to the American people on January 29th as he does nearly every single day,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Fox News Wednesday. “And we’re going to continue moving forward with the State of the Union and we’ll see what happens.”

While planning to speak in the House chamber – the administration has requested a formal walk-through before the ceremony – Trump and aides have explored alternative venues, including cities around the country.

Republican officials in Michigan and North Carolina have invited Trump to give his speech in their states.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have suggested that Trump look at speaking in the Senate chamber, which is controlled by a GOP majority.

The White House itself is another option.

“We always like to have a Plan B, but the president should be able to address the American people,” Sanders told Fox, “whether he does that from the halls of Congress or whether he does that in another location.”

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