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U.K. government faces no-confidence vote after Brexit defeat

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Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless, The Associated Press


Published Wednesday, January 16, 2019 4:17AM EST


Last Updated Wednesday, January 16, 2019 6:29AM EST

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a no-confidence vote Wednesday, a day after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal by a historic margin.

May is battling to save her job after staking her political reputation on a last-ditch effort to win support for the divorce agreement she negotiated with the European Union over the last two years. Though defeat was widely expected, the scale of the rout — 432-202 — was devastating for May’s leadership.

Immediately after the vote, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no-confidence motion, saying it would give Parliament a chance to give its verdict “on the sheer incompetence of this government.”

Still, most analysts predict May will survive because lawmakers from her Conservative Party are unlikely to vote against her, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which supports the government, has said it will continue to back the prime minister. If the government were to lose, it would have 14 days to overturn the result or face a national election.

After the biggest defeat for any British government in well over a century, May promised to consult with senior lawmakers on future moves, but gave little indication of what she plans to do next. Parliament has given the government until Monday to come up with a new plan for leaving the EU.

“The House has spoken and the government will listen,” May said after the vote, which leaves her Brexit plan on life support just 10 weeks before Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29.

May faces a stark choice: Steer the country toward an abrupt break without a deal on future relations with the EU, or try to nudge it toward a softer departure. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both government and opposition parties are trying to wrest control of the Brexit process from a paralyzed government, so that lawmakers can direct planning for Britain’s departure from the EU.

But with no clear majority in Parliament for any single alternative, there is a growing chance that Britain may seek to postpone its departure date while politicians work on a new plan — or even hand the decision back to voters in a new referendum on EU membership.

Political analyst Anand Menon, from UK in a Changing Europe, said history is being made week after week in the Brexit saga, with government being held in contempt even as May soldiers on in Downing Street.

“She seems content with bringing something back to Parliament to vote on again,” Menon said. “The thing about Theresa May is that nothing seems to phase her. She just keeps on going.”

European leaders are now preparing for the worst — even though German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was still time for further talks. She told reporters in Berlin that “we are now waiting to see what the British prime minister proposes.”

But her measured remarks contrasted with the blunt message from French President Emmanuel Macron, who told Britons to “figure it out yourselves.” He said Britain needed to get realistic about what was possible.

“Good luck to the representatives of the nation who have to implement something that doesn’t exist,” Macron said.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc is stepping up preparations for a chaotic “no-deal” departure after Parliament’s actions left the bloc “fearing more than ever that there is a risk” of a cliff-edge departure.

Economists warn that an abrupt break with the EU could batter the British economy and bring chaotic scenes at borders, ports and airports. Business groups expressed alarm at the prospect of a no-deal exit.

“Every business will feel ‘no-deal’ is hurtling closer,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry. “A new plan is needed immediately.”

But investors have so far shrugged off the rejection of May’s deal. The pound was up 0.1 per cent at $1.2869 in early morning trading in London, and the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.1 per cent at 6,888.

While the uncertainty surrounding Brexit remains elevated, many investors think Tuesday night’s vote makes it less likely Britain will crash out of the bloc with no deal.

James Smith, an economist at ING, says the “calm market response” suggests investors think at the very least that the government will end up having to seek an extension to the Brexit timetable.

May, who postponed a vote on the deal in December to avoid certain defeat, had implored lawmakers to back her deal and deliver on voters’ decision in 2016 to leave the EU.

But the deal was doomed by deep opposition from both sides of the divide over the U.K.’s place in Europe. Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal will leave Britain bound indefinitely to EU rules, while pro-EU politicians favour an even closer economic relationship with the bloc.

The most contentious section of the deal was an insurance policy known as the “backstop” designed to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. Assurances from EU leaders that the backstop is intended as a temporary measure of last resort failed to win over many British skeptics.

European Council President Donald Tusk highlighted the quagmire the U.K. had sunk into, and hinted that the best solution might be for Britain not to leave.

“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” he tweeted.

——

Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France, and Pan Pylas in London, contributed to this report.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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