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UK Parliament overwhelmingly rejects May’s Brexit deal

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LONDON — British lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the European Union, plunging the Brexit process into chaos.

The 432-202 vote in the House of Commons was widely expected but still devastating for May, whose fragile leadership is now under siege.

Lawmakers finally got their chance to say yes or no to May’s deal after more than two years of political upheaval — and said no. It was the biggest defeat for a government in the House of Commons in more than a century.

The vote means further turmoil for British politics only 10 weeks before the country is due to leave the EU on March 29. It is not clear if it will push the government toward an abrupt “no-deal” break with the EU, nudge it toward a softer departure, trigger a new election or pave the way for a second referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave.

May, who leads a fragile Conservative minority government, has made delivering Brexit her main task since taking office in 2016 after the country’s decision to leave the EU.

“This is the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers,” she told lawmakers as debate ended. “The time has now come for all of is in this House to make a decision, … a decision that each of us will have to justify and live with for many years to come.”

But the deal was doomed by deep opposition from both sides of the divide over U.K.’s place in the bloc. 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 Europe.

The government and opposition parties ordered lawmakers to cancel all other plans to be on hand for the crucial vote. Labour legislator Tulip Siddiq delayed the scheduled cesarean birth of her son so she could attend, arriving in a wheelchair.

As lawmakers debated in the House of Commons chamber, outside there was a cacophony of chants, drums and music from rival bands of pro-EU and pro-Brexit protesters. One group waved blue-and-yellow EU flags, the other brandished “Leave Means Leave” placards.

May postponed a vote on the deal in December to avoid certain defeat, and there were few signs ahead of Tuesday’s vote that sentiment had changed significantly since then.

The most contentious section of the deal is an insurance policy known as the “backstop” that is designed to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Assurances from EU leaders that the backstop is intended as a temporary measure of last resort completely failed to win over many British skeptics, and the EU is adamant that it will not renegotiate the 585-page withdrawal agreement.

Arlene Foster, who leads Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party — May’s parliamentary ally — said her party voted against the deal because of the backstop.

“We want the PM to go back to the EU and say ‘the backstop must go,'” Foster said.

Parliament has given May until Monday to come up with a new proposal. So far, May has refused publicly to speculate on a possible “Plan B.”

Some Conservatives expect her to seek further talks with EU leaders on changes before bringing a tweaked version of the bill back to Parliament, even though EU leaders insist the agreement cannot be renegotiated.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker returned Tuesday to Brussels to deal with Brexit issues arising from the vote, amid signals May might be heading back to EU headquarters on Wednesday.

An EU official, who asked not to be identified because of the developing situation, said that it was “Important that he is available and working in Brussels during the coming hours.”

May had argued that rejecting the agreement would lead either to a reversal of Brexit — overturning voters’ decision in the 2016 referendum — or to Britain leaving the bloc without a deal. Economists warn that an abrupt break from the EU could batter the British economy and bring chaotic scenes at borders, ports and airports.

Business groups had appealed for lawmakers to back the deal to provide certainty about the future.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said parliamentarians “hold the future of the British automotive industry — and the hundreds and thousands of jobs it supports — in their hands.”

“Brexit is already causing us damage in output, costs and jobs, but this does not compare with the catastrophic consequences of being cut adrift from our biggest trading partner overnight,” he said.

The defeat leaves May’s position precarious. The Labour Party says it will call a no-confidence vote in the government if the deal is defeated in an attempt to trigger a general election.

The party has not disclosed the timing of such a motion, which could come as early as Tuesday night, triggering a vote on Wednesday.

Amid the uncertainty, some members of Parliament from both government and opposition parties are exploring ways to use parliamentary procedures to wrest control of the Brexit process away from the government, so that lawmakers by majority vote could specify a new plan for Britain’s EU exit.

But with no clear majority in Parliament for any single alternate course, there is a growing chance that Britain may seek to postpone its departure date while politicians work on a new plan.

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Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

Jill Lawless, Danica Kirka And Gregory Katz, The Associated Press



































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Theatre star Nick Cordero dies at 41 after months of complications from COVID-19

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TORONTO — Hamilton-raised theatre star Nick Cordero, who had legions of supporters rallying for him on social media during his harrowing health battle with COVID-19, has died in Los Angeles.

His wife, dancer-turned-celebrity personal trainer Amanda Kloots, said Cordero died on Sunday morning, “surrounded in love by his family.”

He was 41.

“My heart is broken as I cannot imagine our lives without him,” Kloots wrote on Instagram. “Nick was such a bright light. He was everyone’s friend, loved to listen, help and especially talk. He was an incredible actor and musician. He loved his family and loved being a father and husband.”

The Tony Award-nominated actor, singer and musician first entered hospital in L.A. at the beginning of April with what was seemingly a case of pneumonia, said Kloots.

Doctors suspected it was the novel coronavirus and administered three tests for it.

The first two tests came back negative and the third was positive for COVID-19.

The disease ravaged his body, according to Kloots, who kept the world updated on his situation daily with posts on her Instagram account.

She said doctors described his lungs as being riddled with holes and looking as if he’d been smoking for 50 years, even though he wasn’t a smoker.

He had a lingering lung infection and major complications from the disease, including blood pressure problems and clotting issues that led to the amputation of his right leg.

Cordero was in an intensive care unit on various machines to help support his heart, lungs and kidneys.

He was in a medically-induced coma but had come out of it before his death.

Kloots put on a brave face on her Instagram account, posting positive messages and often appearing with their son, Elvis, who just had his first birthday.

She encouraged everyone to play Cordero’s song “Live Your Life” to help send positive vibes for him into the universe.

Her plea spurred countless Instagram users, including some celebrities and Broadway stars, to post videos of themselves dancing to “Live Your Life” and performing various incarnations of it.

Kloots said that on Sunday, she sang the song to him in person, holding his hands.

As I sang the last line to him, ‘they’ll give you hell but don’t you (let) them kill your light not without a fight. Live your life,’ I smiled because he definitely put up a fight,” she wrote.

Along with her daily “Nick update” on her account, Kloots also often told heartwarming stories of their relationship and life together.

She said they struck up a relationship while they were performing on the Great White Way in “Bullets Over Broadway,” which earned him the Tony nomination.

Cordero grew up in Hamilton’s west end and attended Ryerson University for acting.

He was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his role in the musical “A Bronx Tale.” His other stage credits included “Rock of Ages.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press


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Tories, NDP at odds over federal spending as Liberals prepare fiscal snapshot

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OTTAWA — Opposition parties have laid out their demands for the federal Liberal government as Ottawa prepares to update Canadians on the country’s finances after four months of COVID-19 — and where it expects the economy to head for the rest of the year.

Wednesday’s fiscal snapshot will be the first public assessment of the country’s economic and financial situation since the pandemic started in earnest in March, forcing provinces into lockdown and the Liberal government to start doling out billions in aid in lieu of a federal budget.

The snapshot is expected to give an idea of how the government sees the rest of the fiscal year playing out, including figures for a potential deficit.

But the Conservatives and NDP made clear Sunday that they want more than just numbers: they want action. That includes additions, changes and expansions to federal COVID-19 support programs along with more accountability and transparency.

Yet while the Conservatives also called for the Liberals to produce a plan to get government spending under control, the NDP warned against any premature efforts to cut federal assistance.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre on Sunday blasted the Liberals’ handling of the economy while small business critic James Cumming underscored the importance of accurate fiscal projections and planning from the government for Canadian business.

“What business needs as they start to open up is some level of certainty,” Cumming said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

“They need to understand what the government’s finances are to understand how long these programs are going to last to assist them and when they will be starting to phase out. And a lot of that has a lot to do with the financial health of the government.”

Federal figures last week showed direct government spending on COVID-19 supports at just over $174 billion, which included another increase to the budget for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. That is now expected to cost $80 billion as eligibility increased to 24 from 16 weeks.

At the same time, Statistics Canada last week reported that the Canadian economy shrank 11.6 per cent in April — the largest monthly drop on record. That follows a 7.5 contraction in gross domestic product in March. Both are expected to hit Ottawa’s bottom line through lost tax revenue.

Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux has previously predicted that the increased spending and lost revenue could combine to see the federal deficit top $250 million this year.

With COVID-19 in retreat across most of the country — at least for the moment — Poilievre said it was time for the Liberals to produce a plan to start getting what he described as Ottawa’s “fiscal mess” under control.

That includes weaning Canadians off the CERB and getting them back to work by phasing out the $2,000-per-month benefit based on how much they earn rather than simply cutting off anyone who earns more than $1,000 in a month.

“The government is punishing Canadians for working,” Poilievre said. “We think that people on it should be rewarded when they make the courageous decision to go back to work and make a wage.”

Poilievre, who also demanded more money for the federal auditor general’s office to better scrutinize government spending during the pandemic, dismissed suggestions that Ottawa needs to keep the taps wide open to stimulate the economy as it starts to reopen.

He instead took aim at various Liberal policies and regulations around natural-resource development, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as having stunted economic growth and prosperity in Canada.

“Removing these government obstacles is the way you unleash growth and create a cornucopia of opportunity for our workers and businesses that will generate the wealth,” he said. “More deficit spending does not create jobs and growth.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also called last week for the CERB to be phased out to encourage Canadians to return to work. He made an exception for seasonal workers in the arts, hospitality and agricultural industries who will not earn a full income until next summer.

Yet NDP finance critic Peter Julian warned against any early cut to COVID-19 benefits and support and instead repeated longstanding calls from his party for the federal government to crack down on tax havens and tax wealthy Canadians and businesses to pay for the federal aid.

“There’s been a call for … dealing with the economic and financial fallout of the pandemic through cutting services,” Julian said in an interview.

“We actually believe that now is the time to handle the pandemic from the revenue side. We believe in tackling the tax haven problem, which is more acute in Canada than any other country. And to put in place a wealth tax.”

The NDP is also pressing for the Liberals to ease the criteria for businesses to access the federal wage subsidy, which covers up to 75 per cent of employees’ salaries, to encourage more hiring. And it wants the government to provide promised support for Canadians living with disabilities.

While the fiscal update will be presented in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Julian said the report itself will not require a vote. However, he suggested NDP support for future legislative proposals from the government could be contingent on the Liberals accepting the NDP’s requests.

The Liberals have leaned heavily on the NDP since being elected to a minority government in October. That included securing NDP support for several confidence motions in the winter and spring that, if defeated, could have triggered a federal election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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