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Brexit: Britons warned of ‘thorough’ EU border checks after transition period ends

The European Commission has given a stark warning of the barriers that will go up between the EU and..

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The European Commission has given a stark warning of the barriers that will go up between the EU and the UK when the post-Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year, whatever the outcome of negotiations on future relations.

Britons are told that they will be “subject to thorough checks” at borders when entering EU countries (apart from Ireland) and the Schengen area, as they will be “treated as third-country nationals”.

EU pet passports will no longer be valid for people travelling with animals from the UK to the EU, and UK driving licences will not be automatically recognised but will be subject to the approval of individual countries.

The EU ban on additional mobile roaming charges will no longer be guaranteed for travellers between the UK and the continent, leaving British and EU operators free to slap on extra fees.

UK nationals will not need visas to stay in EU countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, as long as they don’t work and Britain acts likewise for EU visitors. But passengers may no longer be protected by EU consumer rights when travelling between the EU and the UK depending on the mode of transport, the Commission says.

The warnings come in a document published on Thursday, which calls for awareness of “these broad and far-reaching changes, which will arise under any scenario” (in italics in the original text).

The Commission makes it clear that the changes are the consequence of the British government’s choices on future relations, and on the decision not to extend the transition period.

New barriers and red tape

The paper focuses on areas not covered by the talks, which it says it does not want to prejudge. The UK left the EU on January 31 but most arrangements from its membership remain in place throughout the transition period.

Post-Brexit negotiations continued in London this week after both sides agreed to intensify talks. “Regardless of the outcome, there will be inevitable changes on 1/1/21,” tweeted the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Even under “an ambitious partnership”, the future relationship will be very different from the UK’s membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, the document says. Britain’s exit from EU policies will “create barriers” to trade, movement across borders and exchanges.

“These inevitable disruptions will occur as of 1 January 2021 and risk compounding the pressure that businesses are already under due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the paper says.

  • Michel Barnier has responded to an appeal by the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs to respect UK independence. ERG Chairman Mark Francois wrote to the EU’s chief negotiator to demand that a future deal respect “the UK’s sovereignty, integrity and autonomy”, rejecting EU “demands” over competition, fisheries and the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
  • In his reply, Barnier insists on an agreement on fisheries as part of an overall deal. He also points out that the commitment to a “level playing field” and the ECJ’s role in interpreting EU law are part of the Political Declaration, approved by Boris Johnson and the House of Commons — including Francois himself — in ratifying the Brexit divorce deal.

In the EU paper, businesses are urged to prepare for the post-Brexit regime, involving customs formalities which on the EU side will lead to “increased administrative burdens” and “longer delivery times”.

“Rules of origin” regulations will have to be followed, which could result in customs duties being imposed even if a zero-tariff, zero-quota EU-UK trade deal is struck. VAT and excise duties will be due on goods entering the EU from the UK.

The UK’s exit from the Single Market means there will no longer be a single regulatory framework, but two separate legal structures. This means that for imports, companies on both sides will need to take steps to ensure products — which will be subject to checks and controls — comply with potentially different rules and standards.

UK services lose automatic right to operate in EU

UK authorisations for services — in the financial, transport, audiovisual and energy sectors — will no longer be valid in the EU from January. This means that UK service providers and professionals will have to demonstrate they comply with EU conditions imposed on foreign firms or individuals. Professional qualifications will no longer automatically be recognised.

Financial services will no longer benefit from “passports” enabling them to operate across the bloc, and their ability to do so may be subject to the relevant EU nation’s rules on third countries.

The Commission document also outlines the changes to be expected in the transport industry. Outside the Single Market, UK operators of air, rail and road transport services will no longer have automatic access. Instead this will depend on the outcome of post-Brexit negotiations.

There is a repeat of a recent warning that the UK will have to comply with EU rules on data protection in order for transfers of personal data to continue.

Finally, the Commission points out that from the end of the transition period, the UK will no longer benefit from several hundred international agreements struck by the EU with third countries in matters such as trade, mutual recognition, veterinary arrangements or aviation.

The British government has argued that the UK’s ability to strike its own trade deals is one of the advantages of Brexit. Official information updated in late June lists agreements with 20 countries or trading blocs ready to take effect in January 2021.

Changes ‘unavoidable’

All the above changes will happen in any case, regardless of whether an agreement on the future relationship is struck, the EU document says. It describes them as “unavoidable” and simply the consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, its Single Market and Customs Union.

Failure to reach a deal “would lead to disruptions that would be more far-reaching”, it adds, as tariffs would be imposed on imports and exports between the EU and the UK.

After the latest talks in London on the post-Brexit relationship, EU and UK negotiators agreed to continue discussions in Brussels next week ahead of the next formal round later in July.

Both sides remain far apart on matters such as trade, fisheries, governance and fairness in competition.

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Bosnia: Icy struggle for many migrants stuck in freezing tents

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Thousands of refugees and migrants urgently need proper shelter in Bosnia-Herzegovina after weeks outdoors in freezing cold, the UN has warned.

Some 2,500 people are in unheated tents or sleeping rough near the northern town of Bihac. A UN official says some are now being moved to heated tents.

Local authorities have refused to reopen a nearby reception centre.

Instead hundreds have been forced to return to a temporary camp that was ravaged by fire last month.

Peter Van der Auweraert of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has tweeted photos of the basic tents erected at the Lipa camp by the Bosnian army a few days ago.

But his latest post is upbeat. Lipa is carpeted with heavy snow, he says, so the relocation of migrants to heated tents, now under way, is an “important step forward”. The new tents were brought in by the army.

The camp was set up hastily in the summer when the coronavirus pandemic forced crisis measures including border closures.

But aid agencies pulled out of the camp in December, saying it was unsustainable without water and electricity.

Some residents forced to leave the facility looted equipment and set fire to tents, police said.

However, about 900 migrants had to go back there, after local officials refused to let them move to the empty reception centre in Bihac. Another 1,500 are struggling in primitive conditions elsewhere near the town.

The migrants are from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and got stuck in Bosnia while trying to reach Croatia, an EU member state seen as a gateway to the EU.

Some of the migrants have refused to use the tents in Lipa because they lack heating and sanitation. Some also went on hunger strike, angry at the lack of amenities.

But on Tuesday many did receive Red Cross food parcels.

“We want people in proper reception centres where they have access to services, like the 6,000 other people in Bosnia,” Mr Van der Auweraert, the IOM’s head in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told the BBC’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey at Lipa.

The IOM says about 8,500 non-EU migrants are living in Bosnia, still hoping to get to northern Europe.

“Here is too much cold. You know, the weather is rainy and the weather is very cold, and we can’t sleep in here,” one migrant told our correspondent.

In recent years thousands of people, including refugees from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, have entered Bosnia hoping to get asylum in the EU.

Bosnia’s central government ordered the reopening of a reception centre in an old factory on the outskirts of Bihac, but the local authorities refused.

The city’s mayor, Suhret Fazlic, told the BBC: “We are not satisfied with approach of EU – people coming from Greece and Bulgaria want to get to Croatia, but stuck in Bihac.”

The EU has told the Bosnian authorities that they “must assume their responsibilities”. The country of 3.5m has ambitions to join the EU.

On Wednesday the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU had funded the still empty shelter in Bihac, but Bosnian officials had “ignored repeated appeals to provide basic and secure living conditions and humane treatment”.

His spokesman Peter Stano said “over the last two years, we provided over 90m euros (£81m; $110m) for centres, equipment, medical and social care.

“We need them to move – not play political games with people’s lives,” he complained.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55589090

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Covid: Sweden official defends Christmas trip to Canary Islands

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A top Swedish official involved in the coronavirus response has defended a Christmas holiday in the Canary Islands in the face of heavy criticism.

Dan Eliasson is head of the civil contingencies agency, which earlier in December had texted all Swedes urging them to avoid travel.

He was photographed in Las Palmas airport on the island of Gran Canaria.

Mr Eliasson insisted the trip was necessary “for family reasons”.

He told Swedish media that he had “given up a lot of trips during this pandemic” but thought this one was necessary because he had a daughter living in the Canaries.

“I celebrated Christmas with her and my family,” he told Expressen newspaper. He also said he had been worked remotely while in the Canaries.

Sweden has had 437,000 confirmed cases and 8,700 deaths – many more than its Scandinavian neighbours. The country has never imposed a full lockdown.

However, alarmed by rising numbers of cases last month, the Swedish government reversed some of its guidance and sent a text message to all Swedes asking them to read updated guidelines.

The guidelines included asking Swedes to avoid unnecessary trips and not to make new contacts during a journey or at the destination.

Mr Eliasson was then photographed several times in Gran Canaria, including at the airport.

There have been calls for Mr Eliasson, an experienced official who has worked at several important departments, to be fired.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other ministers have not yet commented, according to Swedish media.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55523587

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UK regulator approves Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

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UK regulators have approved the use of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals and could in time offer a route out of the pandemic for large parts of the world.

The UK government said it would follow a new immunization strategy for the vaccine, which will prioritize giving the first in a series of two vaccine doses to as many people as possible, before administering a second dose up to 12 weeks later.
This will apply to both the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which is already being administered.
“This is important because it means that we can get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection the first dose gives you,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News on Wednesday.
“The scientists and the regulators have looked at the data and found that you get what they call ‘very effective protection’ from the first dose. The second dose is still important — especially for the long-term protection — but it does mean that we will be able to vaccinate more people more quickly than we previously could.”
The UK is the first country to approve the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be rolled out there from January 4. The news represents a glimmer of hope for the UK at a time when its health services are struggling to cope with soaring infection rateslinked to a new, more contagious variant of the virus.
The approval comes weeks after the country became the first in the world to start inoculating its citizens with the rival Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Margaret Keenan, 91, received her second dose of that vaccine on Wednesday, three weeks after she became the first patient outside of clinical trials to receive it.
The Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine has the potential swiftly to protect millions more people around the world as and when other nations’ regulators grant approval.
AstraZeneca has promised to supply hundreds of millions of doses to low and middle-income countries, and to deliver the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis to those nations in perpetuity.
The vaccine is significantly cheaper than others which have been approved and, crucially, it would be far easier to transport and distribute in developing countries than its rivals since it does not need to be stored at freezing temperatures.
Hancock said Wednesday that the UK had 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on order, which, combined with 30 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, would be enough to vaccinate the entire UK adult population.
The country already has 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine ready to begin inoculations on Monday, he told the House of Commons. “Today’s news means that everyone who wants one can get a vaccine,” Hancock said, adding that AstraZeneca is due to supply millions more doses from the beginning of February.
Earlier, Hancock told Sky News the NHS was “standing ready to deploy, at the sort of pace that is needed to be able to help us to get out of this pandemic by the spring.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that the vaccine’s approval was “truly fantastic news — and a triumph for British science.” He added: “We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”

‘No corners cut’

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is coming under increasing pressure as Covid-19 cases soar in many regions. The UK recorded a further 53,135 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, breaking its daily record since the pandemic began for a second day in a row.
More areas of England were move into the toughest level of restrictions from Thursday, amid attempts to limit the spread of the new, more infectious variant. Three-quarters of England’s population will be under the strict rules, which mandate the closure of all non-essential retail, gyms, close-contact services such as hair salons, and all hospitality venues.
Hancock told the House of Commons that more than 21,000 people were currently in hospital with coronavirus in England. “Unfortunately this new variant is spreading across most of England,” he warned.
Some scientists have called on the government to impose even tougher restrictions to rein in the virus’ spread, such as delaying children’s return to in-person teaching in schools next year or imposing a full national lockdown.
Authorities declared a major incident Wednesday in the county of Essex, northeast of London, in response to “significant growing demand” on local hospitals after a surge in coronavirus cases there.
Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) — the UK regulatory body — told a televised Downing Street briefing Wednesday that the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could save “tens of thousands” of lives.
And she insisted that the public could have every confidence in its safety, effectiveness and quality.
“Our teams of scientists and clinicians have very carefully, methodically and rigorously reviewed all the data on safety, on effectiveness and on quality as soon as they have become available, and have done so around the clock, looking at all the tests and trials … no corners, whatsoever, have been cut,” she said.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told the briefing that “we can expect that the amount of vaccine available for use in the UK will substantially increase, very very soon. This increase in the vaccine supply will in turn allow a much higher rate of vaccine deployment across the UK, to all parts of the country.”
He added that the second vaccine dose was still important “because it may impact on the duration of protection.”
Both approved vaccines will be used across the UK, Lim said. “To facilitate rapid deployment within a mass vaccination program, and to avoid substantial vaccine wastage, it may be that in certain settings, one vaccine is offered in preference over another,” he said, adding that the deployment of both vaccines would allow for “rapid and high levels of vaccine uptake” across the country.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be kept at refrigerator temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months.
Moderna’s vaccine has to be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) — or at refrigerator temperatures for up to 30 days — and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at minus 75 degrees Celsius (minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit), and used within five days once refrigerated at higher temperatures.
The vaccines are based on different technology. AstraZeneca’s offering — like Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V — uses an adenovirus to carry genetic fragments of coronavirus into the body.

Updated advice

Previously, the team developing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine said it had an “an average efficacy of 70%,” with one dosing regimen showing an efficacy of 90%.
But the experts who gave Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing said a full analysis of the trial data had not borne out the team’s finding that that regimen — in which a half dose was followed by a full dose — was more effective. The MHRA approved the vaccine at two full doses, which has an efficacy of 62%.
Prof. Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines’ Expert Working Group, said the trial data had led scientists to recommend giving as many people as possible their first dose of vaccine with a second dose following within 12 weeks.
“Because of the design of the trial, some people got second doses at different time intervals. This allowed for an analysis of the effectiveness of the vaccine if you were to be able to delay between 4-12 weeks,” he said. “This showed that the effectiveness was high, up to 80% when there was a three month interval between first and second doses, which is the reason for our recommendation.”
Pirmohamed noted that partial immunity only kicked in 22 days after the first dose and urged people to continue to follow social distancing guidelines even once they have had their first jab.
UK government scientific adviser Professor Calum Semple welcomed what he called a new, “sophisticated approach,” telling Sky News that a “one-dose approach to start with will protect a great many people.” According to Semple, evidence from vaccine trials has shown that a single dose has not only prevented people from getting severe disease, but also has prompted a “very good immune response” in frail and elderly people.
However, some scientists called for greater clarity over the data underpinning the latest vaccine approval and the country’s new immunization strategy.
Dr. Jonathan Stoye, of the Francis Crick Institute, told the UK’s Science Media Centre that important questions remained unanswered, including the real efficacy of the vaccine, how well it worked in older people and whether it prevented transmission between people.
“It remains unclear exactly how much protection is offered, and the regulators are using unpublished data to come to their judgment,” said Dr. Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading.
“When questioned, the regulators floated an efficacy of 70% between 22 days and 12 weeks, but it seems likely that this is a fleeting maximum rather than a consistent level of protection. The vaccine’s efficacy after two doses is 62%, so it looks likely that the higher number would only be very short-lived.
“At a time of increasing rates of infection, hospitalization and death from Covid-19, greater clarity is urgently needed over any risks associated with extending the second dose window to 12 weeks.”
The UK also updated its advice on administration of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine Wednesday.
It now recommends an interval of at least 21 days between the first and second dose, rather than requiring the second dose to be 21 days after the first.
The vaccine can now be considered for use in pregnancy when the potential benefits outweigh the risks, following an individual discussion with every woman, Raine said. Woman who are breastfeeding can now also be given the vaccine, subject to that individual discussion.
The vaccine can also now be given to people with allergies, provided they are not allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, she said.

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