President Kovind has accepted the resignation of MJ Akbar from the Union Council of Ministers with immediate effect.
MJ Akbar tendered his resignation on October 17 | Photo from Twitter: MJ Akbar
Akbar tendered his resignation on October 17
President has accepted MJ Akbar’s resignation
Senior journalist Priya Ramani was first to accuse Akbar
President Ram Nath Kovind has accepted the resignation of Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar with immediate effect, according to an ANI report.
Akbar tendered his resignation on October 17 from the cabinet 10 days after senior journalist Priya Ramani accused him of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false allegations levied against me, also in a personal capacity.”
– Akbar, in his resignation
“I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of Minister of State for External Affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and to External Affairs minister Smt Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country,” he added.
He has denied the charges and slapped criminal defamation case against Ramani. Akbar is a former journalist himself. Ramani has called Akbar a “talented a predator”. Akbar has denied the allegations against him and calling it “politically motivated”.
Twenty journalists said that they wish to testify in court against the Union minister.
Akbar filed a case against Priya Ramani which will be heard by a Delhi court tomorrow (October 18).
On October 16, the Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind, demanding the dismissal of MJ Akbar, who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women journalists.
TORONTO/ST JOHN’S, Newfoundland (Reuters) – Canada became the first industrialized nation to legalize recreational cannabis on Wednesday, but a lawful buzz will be hard to come by in its biggest cities like Toronto and Vancouver, where stores are not yet open.
Marijuana enthusiasts in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province, kicked off the first permitted sales at midnight. Over 100 people braved the cold and wind in the provincial capital St. John’s, lining up outside a Tweed-branded store owned by Canopy.
Canopy Chief Executive Office Bruce Linton rang in the first sales to residents Ian Power and Nikki Rose.
“I came out tonight to be the first person in Canada to purchase the first legal gram of recreational cannabis, to help see the end of prohibition in Canada finally,” Power said.
The day was historic for the country as Canadian adults will be able to legally smoke recreational marijuana after nearly a century-long ban.
However, with many provincial governments only approving a small number of shops so far and a shortage of weed supplied to these stores, many Canadians will likely be smoking black-market pot on Wednesday.
“There will be a lot of celebrations on the day, and it will almost all be with illegal cannabis” in some of Canada’s biggest cities, said Brad Poulos, an instructor and cannabis business expert at Ryerson University in Toronto. “Recreational cannabis users in Canada … will just continue with their (existing) sources of supply until the legal system catches up.”
Despite the dearth of stores in Canada’s biggest cities, consumers can buy legal marijuana online from provincial governments or licensed retailers, although delivery will take a few days. (Factbox on marijuana regulations:)
Shares of Canadian cannabis companies retreated on Wednesday after rallying in the run-up to legalization. Canopy Growth Corp and Aurora Cannabis, the world’s two biggest cannabis producers, pulled back as much as 8.6 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively, early Wednesday after touching record intraday highs in the previous session. The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF, which also climbed to a record on Tuesday, slid as much as 8.2 percent.
Countries around the world, many of which are just approving medical marijuana, are watching Canada’s recreational legalization, which combines federal rules with varying provincial regulations.
The move is a political win for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who vowed to legalize cannabis during his 2015 election campaign. The pledge was aimed at taking profits away from organized crime and regulating the production, distribution and consumption of a product that millions of Canadians consume illegally.
“The criminal prohibition that was in effect for a century in this country has failed our kids and our community,” Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction, told reporters. The change will bring “order to every aspect of the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis,” he added.
But provinces and businesses have struggled to prepare, and legalization was pushed back from a July start to enable setting up distribution and sales networks.
The federal government and many provinces have been cautious, starting with limited stores and products, including no edible pot for a year, and tight control over supply.
Ontario, home to Canada’s most populous city, Toronto, will have no stores until April 2019 due to a change in the province’s retail model by a new provincial government.
British Columbia, which plans both province-run and private outlets, has only one government store, 350 kilometers (220 miles) from its biggest city, Vancouver. No private store licenses have been issued so far and many municipalities are waiting until after local elections on Oct. 20 to give their approvals for stores, province Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said.
Jonathan Hirsh smokes a joint during a “wake and bake” event on the day Canada legalizes recreational marijuana, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
“October 18th is going to look very much like October 16th, in many ways,” Farnworth said.
Even in provinces with more shops, shelves are empty likely because of a shortage of product. A study by the University of Waterloo and the C.D. Howe Institute economic policy think tank found legal supply will satisfy under 60 percent of demand in the early months, though that will change as production increases.
POLICE ‘NOT CHAMPING AT THE BIT’
Separately, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Wednesday said the government would waive the fee and waiting period when people who have been convicted of possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana apply for pardons, after they’ve served their sentences. The legislation will be introduced by the end of the year, he said.
Law enforcement of those driving under the influence of marijuana could be patchy. In August, Canada approved a device to detect levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in cannabis, in a driver’s oral fluids.
But many large police departments will forego the C$5,000 device, Adam Palmer, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, told reporters on Monday.
Draeger Safety Canada, which makes the device, has shipped some units, but a two-week federal funding delay has put further orders on hold, although it expects demand for between 300 and 500 units through March, Managing Director Rob Clark said.
Canada has invested C$274 million to enforce new laws and some provinces have allocated their own funding, but Palmer said police will not crack down on illegal stores right away.
“When the law changes on the 17th, we’re not going to see a big change overnight,” Palmer said. “Police aren’t … champing at the bit to go out and start raiding stores.”
Slideshow (13 Images)
Reporting by Nichola Saminather in Toronto and Chris Wattie in St. John’s; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon, Rod Nickel and David Ljunggren; Editing by Denny Thomas, Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe
(Reuters) – It was no more Mr. Nice Guy for Beto O’Rourke.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke speaks during a debate with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (not shown), at the KENS- 5 TV studios in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., October 16, 2018. Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News/Pool via REUTERS
Falling behind in the polls and running out of time, the Democratic contender for the U.S. Senate went on the attack against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in a raucous debate in Texas on Tuesday night, calling him dishonest and resurrecting President Donald Trump’s campaign nickname, “Lyin’ Ted.”
Cruz fired back repeatedly, casting O’Rourke as out of touch with the values of Texas voters during a free-swinging debate that turned personal over divisive issues such as healthcare, climate change and the possible impeachment of Trump.
“Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He is going to make up positions and votes that I’ve never held,” O’Rourke said during the debate in San Antonio.
O’Rourke used the nickname that Trump gave Cruz during the 2016 Republican presidential campaign. “He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke said. “It’s why the president called him ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ and why the nickname stuck.”
It was a change in strategy for O’Rourke, who has been hesitant to attack Cruz while portraying himself as a post-partisan, Kennedy-esque figure who could bring Texans together.
But with polls showing him slipping farther behind just three weeks before the Nov. 6 election, and six days before early voting starts in Texas, O’Rourke had to do something.
“You have to paint in bold colors if you want people to remember what you are saying,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “But I don’t think it changes the dynamics of the race.”
Cruz noted the more aggressive stance from O’Rourke and pointed to his fading standing in the polls.
“It’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack,” Cruz said.
Texas is seen as one of the Democrats’ best chances to gain a Republican-held U.S. Senate seat in November. Democrats must pick up two seats nationwide to seize a Senate majority that would allow them to block Trump’s agenda and exercise oversight of his administration.
Trump said he watched the debate, and weighed in on Twitter on Wednesday morning with strong praise of Cruz for securing cuts in taxes and regulations and protecting gun rights. “Beto O’Rourke, who wants higher taxes and far more regulations, is not in the same league with Ted Cruz,” Trump said.
O’ROURKE NEEDS A COMEBACK
O’Rourke will need a comeback in conservative Texas, which has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. A poll average compiled by Real Clear Politics gives Cruz a lead of 7 percentage points, and a CNN poll published on Tuesday gave Cruz a similar margin.
The Democrat’s uphill campaign has attracted national attention and a flood of financial donations. O’Rourke set a Senate record for a single three-month period with $38 million in third-quarter donations, more than triple the haul for Cruz.
Cruz has made gains in Texas by hammering O’Rourke as out of step with Texas voters because of his liberal stances, including his support for universal healthcare, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and some gun-control measures.
He kept up those attacks during the debate, saying O’Rourke had repeatedly showed his willingness to align himself with the Democrats’ liberal wing over the needs of Texans.
“Every time there is a choice between left-wing national activists and the people of Texas, he goes with left-wing national activists,” Cruz said.
O’Rourke countered that Cruz was ineffective and self-serving in the Senate, more interested in his political career than in helping Texans.
“Ted Cruz is for Ted Cruz,” he said, adding the senator’s re-election campaign was “based on fear.”
Cruz said O’Rourke was eager to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump that would lead to a partisan circus. O’Rourke shot back: “It’s really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the U.S. Senate.”
Cruz will get help next week when Trump will be top billing at a Houston campaign rally for Cruz and other Texas Republicans.
O’Rourke criticized Cruz for his unwillingness to stand up to Trump on a range of issues, and said he had failed to stop the president from pushing trade tariffs that would hurt Texas farmers and businesses.
“You are all talk and no action,” he told Cruz.
Editing by Richard Pullin, Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry
After the telephonic conversation, Sirisena stated that the mischievous and malafide reports were utterly baseless and false.
Maithripala Sirisena, the President of Sri Lanka. Photo: Twitter/@MaithripalaS
Sri Lanka President rejected the media reports that President Maithripala Sirisena accused India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of plotting his assassination.
Sirisena called Prime Minister Modi on the telephone today (October 17). After the telephonic conversation, Sirisena stated that the mischievous and malafide reports were utterly baseless and false, and seemed intended to create misunderstanding between the two leaders as well as damage the cordial relations between the two friendly neighbours.
He apprised PM Modi of the urgent steps taken by him personally and the Government of Sri Lanka to publicly reject these reports. In this context, he also recalled his meeting with the High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka today morning, according to a PTI report.
The media reports came ahead of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speed up India-backed projects, including the East Terminal project, in the island nation.
Sirisena accused his senior coalition partner, the United National Party (UNP), of not taking seriously an alleged conspiracy to kill him and former secretary to the ministry of defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the economynext.com reported quoting a ministerial source after a heated Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
(with PTI inputs)
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(Reuters) – Several public funds with holdings in Facebook Inc on Wednesday backed a proposal to remove Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg as chairman.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to French President Emmanuel Macron after a family picture with guests of the “Tech for Good Summit” at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool
The proposal, originally bought to the table by hedge fund Trillium Asset Management, is now backed by state treasurers from Illinois, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also joined the shareholder proposal.
The proposal is asking Facebook’s board to make the role of board chair an independent position.
Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr
(Reuters) – The three main indexes fell on Wednesday, a day after their strongest rally in seven months, as IBM snapped a run of strong earnings from blue-chip companies and disappointing housing data dragged down shares of Home Depot and homebuilders.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Strong corporate reports drove Wall Street up more than 2 percent on Tuesday, and some traders said Wednesday’s fall could be due to profit booking as investors fret over tariffs, rising interest rates and wages hitting profits.
“It’s too early to tell if Tuesday’s rally was a ‘dead cat bounce’ or the market setting a base,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “We’re coming off an incredible day, so it wouldn’t be unusual to see some profit taking.”
Shares of IBM slid 6.6 percent after the company’s quarterly revenue fell more than expected, pointing to a bumpy recovery for the member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Home Depot dropped 4.7 percent and Lowe’s Cos fell 3.5 percent after Credit Suisse downgraded the shares of the two home improvement retailers due, in part, to a softening sentiment in the housing market, which has been a weak spot in a robust economy.
Data on the day showed U.S. homebuilding dropped more than expected in September, while rising borrowing costs knocked mortgage activity last week to its lowest since 2014.
That hit homebuilders and construction material makers, with the PHLX housing index sliding 2.46 percent.
All 11 S&P sectors were lower, with the technology and consumer discretionary indexes falling 1 percent.
“People are a lot more on edge than they were a few weeks ago since we had the pullback. Every time there’s weakness people start to get nervous and feel we might be heading into a second pullback and that very well might be the case,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.
At 11:40 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 178.17 points, or 0.69 percent, at 25,620.25, the S&P 500 was down 14.71 points, or 0.52 percent, at 2,795.21 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 49.24 points, or 0.64 percent, at 7,596.25.
The minutes of the Federal Reserve’s September policy meeting is due at 2:00 p.m. ET (1800 GMT), but as Fed policymakers have been saying they expect to continue a rate-hike cycle, little new information is expected.
Among the brighter spots was Netflix, which rose 5.3 percent, though it had pared some early gains, after reporting blowout subscriber addition numbers.
United Airlines shares climbed 4.3 percent after a solid third-quarter profit and again raising it 2018 outlook. That also lifted other airline stocks.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 3.15-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 2.91-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded two new 52-week highs and 11 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded nine new highs and 57 new lows.
Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva
ANKARA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he does not want to walk away from Saudi Arabia despite concerns about a missing Saudi journalist, as pressure mounted on the kingdom to answer Turkish allegations he was killed in Istanbul.
“I do not want to do that,” Trump said in an interview on Fox Business Network when asked if the United States would walk away from its Gulf ally, reiterating his hopes that Saudi leaders were not involved in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump’s top diplomat Mike Pompeo meanwhile said Riyadh should be given a few more days to complete a probe into the disappearance of the veteran journalist, a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and his body removed. Turkish sources have told Reuters the authorities have an audio recording indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.
The Saudis have strongly denied those allegations, but U.S. media outlets have reported they will acknowledge he was killed in a botched interrogation. Trump has speculated without providing evidence that “rogue killers” could be responsible.
How the crown prince emerges from the crisis is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future. At issue will be to what extent the West believes responsibility for Khashoggi lies with the powerful young ruler.
Pompeo met Turkey’s president and foreign minister to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance, a day after Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt while U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership.
“They’re going to do an investigation, and when the investigation comes out we’ll evaluate it. It’s not about benefit of the doubt,” Pompeo told reporters traveling with him in Brussels, hours after his visit to Turkey.
“It’s reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it so they get it right, so that it’s thorough and complete and that’s what they’ve indicated they need, and then we’ll get to see it, we’ll evaluate it on a factual, straight-up basis.”
Dispatched by Trump to address the crisis, Pompeo visited Riyadh on Tuesday for talks with Saudi King Salman and his Crown Prince on a visit to Riyadh. A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that Pompeo had not heard any audio recording purporting to indicate Khashoggi was killed.
A U.S. resident, Khashoggi vanished during a visit to the consulate on Oct. 2 to collect marriage documents. A team of Turkish investigators entered the Saudi consul’s residence on Wednesday after delays. Their search included the roof and garage, and employed a drone to surveil the premises.
The consul general left Turkey for Riyadh on Tuesday.
TEST FOR CROWN PRINCE
“Yesterday evening, unfortunately, police could not search the Saudi consul’s residence. The Saudis claimed that the consul’s family was inside,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.
“We have said before that Saudi Arabia must cooperate with us in every aspect without delay.”
An 11-member Saudi investigation team arrived at the consul’s Istanbul residence, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
A pro-government Turkish daily published preliminary evidence last week from investigators who it said had identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team that arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Khashoggi disappeared.
A New York Times report, citing witnesses and other records, linked four suspects to Prince Mohammed’s security detail.
One name matches a LinkedIn profile for a forensic expert who has worked at the interior ministry for 20 years. Another is identified in a diplomatic directory from 2007 as a first secretary at the Saudi Embassy in London. Others resemble officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force.
Slideshow (17 Images)
After his meetings with the King and Crown Prince on Tuesday, Pompeo said Saudi Arabia has committed to conducting a full investigation.
Asked whether they said Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: “They didn’t talk about any of the facts.”
Earlier, Trump tweeted that Prince Mohammed had denied knowing what happened in the Saudi consulate.
“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.”
Prince Mohammed, who has enjoyed a close relationship with the Trump administration, has painted himself as the face of a new, vibrant Saudi Arabia, diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil and making some social changes.
But there has been mounting criticism of some of the prince’s moves, including Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war, the arrest of women activists, and a diplomatic row with Canada.
Members of the U.S. Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, are among the loudest voices in the United States demanding answers and action on Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who moved to Washington last year fearing retribution for his critical views.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican close to Trump, has called Prince Mohammed “a wrecking ball” and accused him of ordering Khashoggi’s murder.
Despite concerns about Saudi human rights, Trump still says he is unwilling to pull out of arms sales accords with Riyadh.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to attend an investment conference in Riyadh next week, even as IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and top executives from Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) and Glencore joined a growing list of executives who have pulled out.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and a partner in U.S. efforts to combat Iranian influence in the region, has said it would retaliate against any pressure or economic sanctions.
Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Ali Kucukgocmen and Gulsen Solaker in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler, Stephen Kalin and David Dolan; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean
MOSCOW (Reuters) – A second explosive device found among the personal possessions of the chief suspect in a deadly attack on a college in Crimea that left at least 17 dead on Wednesday has been disarmed, the RIA news agency cited officials as saying.
Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS
Vladislav Roslyakov, 18, turned up at the college in the city of Kerch and went through the building shooting at fellow pupils before killing himself.
Officials said earlier on Wednesday that an explosive device had gone off in the school’s cafeteria during the attack.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A gauge of stocks across the world edged lower on Wednesday following its largest daily run-up in over two years, as the outlook on earnings soured after a warning on the European auto sector and a revenue miss from IBM.
FILE PHOTO: The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London, Britain, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
Crude futures fell for the first session in four after U.S. government data showed a much larger-than-expected build in crude inventories.
The U.S. dollar rose as the market awaited the minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting. Lower-than-expected UK inflation data weighed on sterling, which gave up the previous day’s gains.
On Wall Street, IBM fell 7.4 percent, dragging blue-chips lower a day after the company missed revenue expectations. On Tuesday, the S&P 500 posted the biggest daily gain since late March.
Stocks extended losses when oil prices fell further.
“The (stock) indices are pulling back after yesterday’s blockbuster earnings rally that is likely to be challenged by the Fed’s FOMC minutes,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 266.91 points, or 1.03 percent, to 25,531.51, the S&P 500 lost 25.22 points, or 0.90 percent, to 2,784.7 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 76.18 points, or 1 percent, to 7,569.31.
European stocks hit a one-week high in early trade, but then were pulled lower by a 2.5 percent fall in an index of auto stocks. Goldman Sachs said slow demand in China could hit earnings in the sector.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index lost 0.71 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 1.71 percent.
Emerging market stocks rose 1.34 percent. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.64 percent higher, while Japan’s Nikkei rose 1.29 percent.
CRUDE SLIDES, DOLLAR INCHES UP
Oil traders took profits after a three day run-up in prices, with losses extending after data showed U.S. crude inventories rose more than expected.
U.S. crude fell 2.74 percent to $69.95 per barrel and Brent was last at $79.55, down 2.28 percent on the day.
The euro fell 0.38 percent to $1.1529 and Sterling was last trading at $1.3134, down 0.38 percent on the day.
The Japanese yen strengthened 0.15 percent versus the greenback at 112.09 per dollar. The dollar index rose 0.34 percent.
Minutes of the last Fed meeting, due Wednesday, should feed expectations of further tightening.
The Brazilian real rose against the dollar after data showed economic activity rose more than expected in August.
U.S. Treasury yields continued to trade range-bound after a massive runup last week.
Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 1/32 in price to yield 3.1539 percent, from 3.156 percent late on Tuesday.
The 30-year bond last rose 2/32 in price to yield 3.3278 percent, from 3.33 percent late on Tuesday.
Reporting by Rrigo Campos, Karen Brettell and Richard Leog in New York; additional reporting by Meda Singh in Bengaluru and Christopher Johnson in London; Editing by David Gregorio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will address European Union counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday but there is little hope on either side of a quick breakthrough after Brexit talks stalled at the weekend.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed a hardening tone among the 27 other governments, whose leaders will gather over dinner after a presentation by May to discuss stepping up preparations for Britain dropping out of the EU with no deal in March.
All member states, she said before flying to the summit, must prepare for all outcomes: “That includes the possibility that Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.”
With wrangling over how to keep Northern Ireland’s land border with the EU open after Britain leaves the EU’s customs and regulatory space, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it was unlikely the 27 leaders would set a date for a special summit to seal a deal – as was the hope before talks stalled.
Summit chair Donald Tusk called on May to come to Brussels with “creative” new ideas to unblock the process, but British officials have given little indication she has much new to say as she battles deep opposition among her own allies to the kind of agreement which Brussels says is pretty much its final offer.
May told parliament in London she wanted any treaty that includes the Irish border issue linked to a separate declaration the two sides intend to issue on their intentions for a close EU-UK trade pact to be negotiated after Brexit.
EU negotiators agree that a close customs and regulatory relationship could avert the kind of border disruption that could revive sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, but they still want a “backstop” guarantee that if that is not in place, then the EU would keep the province in a special economic zone.
May and her Northern Irish allies reject that as posing a risk of breaking up the United Kingdom.
EU diplomats told Reuters on Monday that EU negotiator Michel Barnier offered to help defuse the issue by extending a status-quo transition period for Britain by an extra year to the end of 2021 to give time for a trade deal that would avert the need to trigger a backstop for Northern Ireland.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, whose chamber needs to see a treaty this year to have time to ratify it by March, told reporters that he would support Barnier’s proposal to lengthen the transition period to three years from two.
Many continental officials involved in the process have long said a longer transition may be needed to conclude a free trade deal anyway. However, May is also under pressure from Brexit supporters to cut ties to the bloc as soon as possible.
May is due to address her peers at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). There is unlikely to be much dialogue around the table, with EU leaders insisting London negotiate exclusively through Barnier.
The 27 will move to a dinner without May to hear reports from Barnier and from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. He will brief them on how the EU executive is stepping up planning and guidance for governments on what must be done to cope with Britain leaving on March 29 with no treaty in place.
Both sides are coming under pressure from business to reach agreement soon to avoid firms running up needless costs.
A joint pre-summit plea from the European auto and car parts sector warned disruption to cross-Channel supply chains would be “catastrophic” and wipe out much of a quarter-century of recovery in England’s car industry.
May will rejoin her counterparts for a regular EU summit on Thursday, to be followed in the evening and on Friday by a summit with Asian leaders, including China’s Premier Li Keqiang and the prime ministers of Japan, South Korea and Russia.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Robin Emmott, Philip Blenkinsop, Jan Strupczewski, Peter Maushagen, Andreas Rinke, Francesco Guarascio, Daphne Psaledakis, Foo Yun Chee, Alissa de Carbonnel, Michel Rose, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Janet Lawrence