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Post-Brexit trade talks to continue with 2 sides still ‘far apart,’ U.K. leader says

Throwing overboard Sunday’s self-imposed deadline, the European Union and Britain said they will “go the extra mile” to clinch a post-Brexit trade agreement that would avert New Year’s chaos and cost for cross-border commerce.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had set Sunday as the deadline for a breakthrough or breakdown in negotiations. But they stepped back from the brink because there was too much at stake not to make an ultimate push.

“Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations and despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we both think it is responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile,” von der Leyen said.

The negotiators were continuing to talk in Brussels at EU headquarters.

“I’m afraid we’re still very far apart on some key things, but where there is life, there’s hope, we’re going to keep talking to see what we can do. The U.K. certainly won’t be walking away from the talks,” Johnson told reporters.

EU won’t reach deal ‘at any price’

European Council President Charles Michel immediately welcomed the development and said “we should do everything to make a deal possible,” but warned there could be a deal “at any price, no. What we want is a good deal, a deal that respects these principles of economic fair play and, also, these principles of governance.”

With less than three weeks until the U.K.’s final split from the EU, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.

Progress came after months of tense and often testy negotiations that gradually whittled differences down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights.

It has been four and a half years since Britons voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Disentangling economies that have become closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took even longer.

New year will bring changes

The U.K. has remained part of the single market and customs union during an 11-month post-Brexit transition period. That means so far, many people will have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, it will feel real. New Year’s Day will bring huge changes, even with a deal. No longer will goods and people be able to move between the U.K. and its continental neighbours.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Sunday said he believed a post-Brexit trade deal could be reached and that both sides wanted one, but that negotiations really needed to be finalized in the next few days. (Virginia Mayo/The Associated Press)

Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles. EU nationals will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without a visa — though that doesn’t apply to the more than 3 million already there — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in the EU.

There are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security co-operation between the U.K. and the bloc and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

WTO terms would apply without a deal

Without a deal the U.K. will trade with the bloc on World Trade Organization terms, with all the tariffs and barriers that would bring.

The U.K. government has acknowledged a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foodstuff. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. goods, including 10 per cent on cars and more than 40 per cent on lamb.

Still, Johnson says the U.K. will “prosper mightily” on those terms.

To jumpstart the flagging talks, negotiators have imposed several deadlines, but none have brought the sides closer together on the issues of fair trading standards, legal oversight of any deal and the rights of EU fishermen to go into U.K. waters.

WATCH | Johnson lays out negotiating position ahead of EU trade talks earlier this year:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson lays out negotiating position ahead of EU trade talks 1:21

While both sides want a deal on the terms of a new relationship, they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep, so is demanding strict “level playing field” guarantees in exchange for access to its markets.

The U.K. government claims the EU is trying to bind Britain to the bloc’s rules and regulations indefinitely, rather than treating it as an independent nation.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said a no-deal Brexit would be a “double whammy” for economies already battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is clear when you do a trade deal that you are a sovereign nation; they are made to manage interdependence,” she told Sky News. “The U.K. and the European Union are interdependent so let’s do a deal which reflects the need to manage this interdependence.”

Speculation about patrolling U.K. waters

Britain’s belligerent tabloid press urged Johnson to stand firm, and floated the prospect of Royal Navy vessels patrolling U.K. waters against intruding European vessels.

But others, in Britain and across the EU, urged the two sides to keep talking.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, whose economy is more entwined with Britain’s than any other EU state, said he “fervently” hoped the talks wouldn’t end Sunday.

“It is absolutely imperative that both sides continue to engage and both sides continue to negotiate to avoid a no-deal,” Martin told the BBC. “A no-deal would be very bad for all of us.

“Even at the 11th hour, the capacity in my view exists for the United Kingdom and the European Union to conclude a deal that is in all our interests.”

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Weinstein verdict hailed as significant step in #MeToo movement, but fight ‘far from over’

Montreal actress Erika Rosenbaum, one of the dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct and abuse, had braced for a not guilty verdict, believing his status, power and wealth would help him evade justice.

So she was “floored” when she learned on Monday that a New York jury had found the former film producer guilty of rape and sexual assault.

“It really is the system changing. It really was a criminal system saying, ‘We believe you,'” said Rosenbaum, who is part of the the Silence Breakers group, individuals who went public with their allegations of sexual harassment and assault and helped inspire the #MeToo movement.

The jury of seven men and five women took five days to find Weinstein guilty of raping an aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haley at his apartment in 2006 by forcibly performing oral sex on her.

He was acquitted on the most serious charges, two counts of predatory sexual assault, each of which carried a sentence of up to life in prison. Both of those counts hinged on the testimony of Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein barged into her apartment, raped her and forcibly performed oral sex on her in the mid-1990s. 

The jury also acquitted Weinstein of first-degree rape, which requires the use of force or the threat of it.

Actress Erika Rosenbaum is one of the nearly 100 women who came forward and accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. She tells us CBC News that Weinstein’s guilty verdict is a win for survivors but also the #MeToo movement. 4:52

“I know it wasn’t perfect,” Rosenbaum told CBC News. “He wasn’t convicted on all five charges, but it really was a new day for survivors. And I think everybody watching feels like this was a win in a big way for the #MeToo movement and survivors everywhere.”

‘A powerful message’

Indeed, many activists hailed the verdict as a significant achievement for the movement, which began in 2006 but became a viral hashtag in October 2017 after the New York Times published its bombshell report on Weinstein.

It’s a “watershed moment, a historic leap for the #MeToo movement,” said actress Rosanna Arquette, one of a group of Silence Breakers who held a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

“Now we know that if we dare to speak, there is a far greater chance that we will be heard and our abusers will be punished,” said Arquette, who has also accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Several women who spoke up against Harvey Weinstein said his guilty verdict was a ‘triumph’ and a sign of changing attitudes. 0:53

Tina Tchen, president and CEO of the Time’s Up Foundation, said the verdict is an “historic moment” and “marks a new era of justice.”

“The jury’s verdict sends a powerful message to the world of just how much progress has been made since the Weinstein Silence Breakers ignited an unstoppable movement,” she said.

Rosenbaum said it should also help other women come forward, knowing that their voice matters, and that no amount of money or power will erase that.

“I think it does send a powerful message that men who sexually assault women or harass women in the workplace, regardless of how powerful or wealthy they are, are going to be held accountable,” said Laura Noble, a North Carolina-based employment lawyer.

Jessica Mann, left, and Miriam Haley, are among Weinstein’s accusers. (Getty Images; The Associated Press)

“That’s a very positive change that we’ve seen as a result of the advocates and victims of the #MeToo movement.”

Lingering disappointment

While hailing the verdict, some people have expressed regret that Weinstein was not convicted on all charges. The Silence Breakers put out a statement on Monday noting that while Weinstein will forever be known as a “convicted sexual predator,” “it was disappointing that today’s outcome does not deliver the true, full justice that so many women deserve.”

They said the process also exposed the difficulties women face in coming forward to tell the truth. “Our fight is far from over,” the statement said. 

Halifax legal scholar Wayne MacKay told the Canadian Press that the “mixed verdict” may come as a disappointment to some #MeToo supporters, because it doesn’t account for the full breadth of Weinstein’s alleged pattern of predatory behaviour.

“I think the predatory sexual assault [charges] best captured that kind of problem,” said MacKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s law school. “The fact that they did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that he engaged in that is what’s disappointing.”

Weinstein will be sentenced in March. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber, who followed the trial from the beginning and who writes about the #MeToo movement, told CBC’s Front Burner podcast that the verdict reflected a broader feeling “of ‘Yes, we believe the women, but not fully.'”

Others said it was a mistake to put too much emphasis on one verdict.

“This is not a signal that our systems and institutions are magically transformed,” said Sonia Ossorio, the president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women. “This is one case, one man. We’ve got to keep it in perspective.”

Tchen said the fight to “fix the broken system that has allowed serial abusers like Harvey Weinstein to abuse women in the first place continues.”

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