#Brexit: May awaits #EU Brexit extension decision

Theresa May is waiting to hear the decision of the other 27 EU leaders, who are discussing her request for a short delay to Brexit.

Mrs May wants to postpone the UK’s exit date beyond this Friday to 30 June – but EU leaders are expected to offer a longer delay, with conditions.

The prime minister addressed the leaders for about an hour at the summit in Brussels, before leaving the room.

Earlier Mrs May said she “regrets” that the UK has not already left.

She said she had “been clear” with the EU that she is only seeking a short delay to Brexit.

The other EU leaders are discussing her proposal over dinner.

Ahead of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk said that “neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated”, and urged the other 27 leaders to back a flexible extension of up to a year.

Mrs May said that the UK could leave the EU when a deal is ratified by Parliament, and so the exit date could be by 22 May – the day before the European Parliament elections.

Ahead of meeting EU leaders, the UK PM is asked what she will do if they only grant a long extension.

‘Vital night’ for PM

Analysts By Emmanuel Justice, Political Editor.

This is a huge moment, a really vital night for the prime minister, who for so long told us repeatedly she wanted to keep the option of leaving without a deal on the table.

But that has completely changed.

She now believes that would be a huge mistake, that that could be a complete disaster, and therefore tonight she is arguing to avoid that at almost any cost.

Tonight, whatever Theresa May says, the ultimate decision is with the European Union.

It is absolutely clear at the moment what happens next to her – and what happens next at home – is not in British hands tonight.

Presentational grey line
Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk share a laugh over an iPad

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday, 12 April.

If no extension is granted, the default position would be for the UK to leave on Friday without a deal.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year, but the Commons has also voted against leaving in a no-deal scenario.

EU leaders at the summit
EU leaders will discuss Theresa May’s proposal over dinner

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the “only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK” was for Parliament to agree the withdrawal agreement, and any extension “has to be useful and serve a purpose”.

“Our common purpose is to get the ratification of the withdrawal agreement,” he added.

Mrs May said she knew many people would be “frustrated that the summit is taking place at all”, but its purpose was “to agree a deal to enable us to leave the EU in that smooth and orderly way”.

She said the “extra time” to get a deal through Parliament was “in everybody’s interest”.

Asked if she would accept a longer extension than her proposal, she said: “I have asked for an extension to 30 June.

“But what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement, so we could leave on 22 May and start to build our brighter future.”

The PM has previously said she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June”.

Withdrawal agreement

Theresa May has agreed a deal with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure. It does not determine the UK-EU future relationship. It does include how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights. It also covers the so-called “backstop”, which ensures that no hard border exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit even if there’s no deal on the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period. 

No deal

A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK leaving the European Union and cutting ties immediately, with no agreement at all in place. If MPs do not approve Theresa May’s deal, and there is no alternative deal or move to delay or stop Brexit, the UK will leave with no deal on 29 March. The UK would follow World Trade Organization rules to trade with the EU and other countries, while trying to negotiate free-trade deals. 

Customs union

A trade agreement under which two or more countries do not put tariffs (taxes) on goods coming in from other countries in the union. The countries also decide to set the same tariff on goods entering from outside the union. The EU customs union includes EU member states and some small non-EU members and forbids members from negotiating trade agreements separately from the EU. Instead trade agreements are negotiated collectively.

WTO rules

If countries don’t have free-trade agreements, they usually trade with each other under rules set by the World Trade Organization. Each country sets tariffs – or taxes – on goods entering. For example, cars passing from non-EU countries to the EU are charged at 10% of their value. But tariffs on some agricultural products are much higher – dairy averages more than 35%. If the UK chooses to put no tariffs on goods from the EU, it must also have no tariffs on goods from every WTO member.

Backstop plan

Currently, there are no border posts, physical barriers or checks on people or goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The backstop is a measure in the withdrawal agreement designed to ensure that continues after the UK leaves the EU. It comes into effect only if the deal deciding the future relationship between the UK and EU is not agreed by the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). Until the deal on the future relationship is done, the backstop would keep the UK effectively inside the EU’s customs union but with Northern Ireland also conforming to some rules of the single market. Critics say a different status for Northern Ireland could threaten the existence of the United Kingdom and fear that the backstop could become permanent.

Irish border

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After Brexit, it will become the only land border between the UK and the European Union.

EU officials have prepared a draft document for the leaders to discuss at the summit – but the end date of the delay has been left blank for the EU leaders to fill in once deliberations have ended.

BBC Europe Mr Ben Rory said the blank space showed EU leaders were still divided on the issue.

EU draft document
The draft document from EU officials leaves the date of an extension blank

BBC Europe correspondent Mr Ben Rory, said “much has been spelled out in advance”, including the condition that if the UK remains a member of the EU at the end of May it will have to hold elections to the European Parliament or be forced to leave immediately.

He added that, during the delay, the UK would be expected to commit to not disrupting EU business, such as the preparation of the next budget, and its influence “would be sharply reduced and its voice muted”.

‘Maintain unity’

Arriving in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the leaders needed to discuss Mrs May’s request “openly and constructively”, and she had “no doubt” there would be unity over an extension.

She said: “The greatest interest for us is an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU and to maintain the unity of the 27.”

Leo Varadkar
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters he was “very confident” an extension would be agreed

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he did not anticipate that the UK would leave the EU on Friday, and he was “very confident” that an extension will be agreed at the summit.

“What is still open is how long that extension will be and what the conditions will be,” he added.

“I believe the consensus here in Brussels and across the European Union will be to give the United Kingdom a little bit more time for the cross-party talks that are happening to conclude, and we can review the situation then in a few months’ time.”

But French President Emmanuel Macron said “nothing is settled, and in particular no long extension”.

He said he was “impatient” to hear “clear proposals” from Mrs May, and leaders would need “a lot of calm, a lot of determination and a lot of sang-froid”.

President Macron added: “I believe deeply that we are carrying out a European rebirth, and I don’t want the subject of Brexit to get in the way of that.”

Trump urges inquiry into ‘attempted coup’ against him

President Donald Trump says he has spoken to the US attorney general about tracing the origins of the inquiry that cleared him of colluding with Russia.

Mr Trump described the investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller as “an attempted coup”.

Attorney General William Barr meanwhile said he believes US authorities did spy on the Trump campaign.

US intelligence officials have previously said they were spying on the Russians, not the Trump campaign.

Barr told lawmakers on Tuesday that Mueller declined an offered to review his letter

What did Trump say?

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday morning, the Republican president railed against the Department of Justice inquiry into whether the Trump campaign had conspired with the Kremlin to sway the 2016 election.

The investigation cleared him and his aides of collusion, making no determination on whether they had tried to obstruct justice.

Mr Trump said: “This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted take-down of a president. And we beat them. We beat them.

“So the Mueller report, when they talk about obstruction we fight back. And do you know why we fight back?

“Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.

“What I’m most interested in is getting started, hopefully the attorney general, he mentioned it yesterday.

“He’s doing a great job, getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.

“Because this was an illegal witch hunt, and everybody knew it. And they knew it too. And they got caught. And what they did was treason.”

What did the attorney general say?

While Mr Trump was flying off to Texas, America’s top law official was appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

William Barr was asked whether spying occurred on the Trump campaign during the 2016 White House race.

“I think spying did occur,” said the attorney general. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated.

“I’m not suggesting it was not adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

Mr Barr said he did not understand why intelligence officials chose not to warn the Trump campaign that it could be vulnerable to infiltration.

The attorney general praised the “outstanding” FBI as a whole, but told the panel: “I think there was probably a failure among the group of leaders.”

He added: “I feel I have an obligation to make sure government power is not abused.”

Was the Trump campaign spied on?

President Trump and his conservative allies have repeatedly suggested the Obama administration planted a mole in his presidential campaign to undercut his candidacy.

The former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked on ABC in May last year if the FBI had indeed snooped on the Trump team.

He replied: “No, they were not. They were spying on – a term I don’t particularly like – but on what the Russians were doing.

“Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence which is what they do.”

The same day in an interview with CNN, Mr Clapper said: “The objective here was actually to protect the campaign by determining whether the Russians were infiltrating it and attempting to exert influence.”

According to the New York Times last year, the FBI sent an informant, an unnamed US academic who teaches in the UK, to speak to two low-level Trump aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, after the agency became suspicious of the pair’s Russian contacts.

Switzerland court orders historic referendum re-run

The result of a nationwide referendum has been overturned for the first time in modern Switzerland’s history.

The poll, held in February 2016, asked the country’s voters whether married couples and co-habiting partners should pay the same tax.

Voters rejected the proposal, with 50.8% against and 49.2% in favour.

But the supreme court has now voided the result on the grounds that voters were not given full information, and the vote must be re-run.

The information provided to the electorate was “incomplete” and therefore “violated the freedom of the vote”, the court ruled.

Switzerland’s direct democracy system frequently allows citizens to take part in decision-making.

During the referendum campaign, the Swiss government told voters just 80,000 of married couples were paying more tax than couples living together.

The true figure was almost half a million, the government later said.

Switzerland court orders historic referendum re-run
In 1959 a Swiss referendum denied women the right to vote

“Keeping in mind the close result and the severe nature of the irregularities, it is possible that the outcome of the ballot could have been different,” the court’s statement says.

The Christian Democratic Party lodged an appeal against the result in June 2018, disputing the accuracy of the government’s statistics.

Welcoming the court’s decision, the party said the ruling was a “boost for the political rights of Swiss voters”.

In contrast, those who oppose the ruling argue it could undermine Switzerland’s political system, paving the way for frivolous appeals against referendums.

Under the Swiss system of direct democracy, a proposal needs 100,000 signatures before going to a referendum.

Brexit: Leo Varadkar hints at UK say in future trade deals

The Taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Leo Varadkar, has suggested that the UK would be able to have a say in trade deals if it forms a customs union with the EU.

A customs union is a major focus of Brexit talks between Labour and the Conservatives.

It is Labour policy to form a permanent customs union with the EU.

Many Conservatives oppose that idea saying the UK would be subject to EU trade deals but with no say.

However, the Taoiseach suggested the EU would be able to develop a ‘sui generis’ (unique) arrangement for the UK, and said the proposal for the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit has “real merit”.

“I believe as the EU having the UK in a customs union means we could get the best deals for all of us,” he said.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar arrives for a special EU summit on Brexit in Brussels

“If the UK were to decide to stay in a customs union, we would be able to develop something ‘sui generis’ so that they would have a say around things in terms of future trade deals, and a level playing field around labour rights and environmental rights.”

Mr Varadkar was speaking in Brussels ahead of a crucial EU summit.

Leaders are due to discuss the UK’s request for another extension, to avoid a no-deal Brexit on Friday.

Brexit: Leo Varadkar hints at UK say in future trade deals
Leo Varadkar and Irish Europe minister Helen McEntee at the EU Council summit

Mr Varadkar also said he did not want the EU to grant an extension “that goes on forever and causes the impasse to continue”.

What is a customs union?

Countries in a customs union agree not to impose charges – known as tariffs – or custom checks on each other’s goods.

The rules also mean that any goods coming in from the rest of the world pay the same tariff – irrespective of where in the customs union those goods first enter.

This is known as a common external tariff.

The EU customs union includes the 28 EU member states as well as Monaco.

The EU also has customs union arrangements with non-EU members: Turkey, Andorra and San Marino.

But under (the EU’s) customs union rules, members cannot negotiate their own independent trade deals with countries from the rest of the world.

Instead, free trade deals (ie agreements that reduce or eliminate tariffs between countries) can only be negotiated by the EU as a whole.

What is Labour’s plan?

It would see the UK join a new permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit, and have the power to have a say in future EU trade talks.

The idea that the UK would be allowed such a say has been dismissed by Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary.

He has declared Labour’s position “an unprecedented legal and political novelty of the kind that is rightly called a unicorn”.

Withdrawal agreement

Theresa May has agreed a deal with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure. It does not determine the UK-EU future relationship. It does include how much money the UK must pay to the EU as a settlement, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights. It also covers the so-called “backstop”, which ensures that no hard border exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit even if there’s no deal on the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period.

No deal

A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK leaving the European Union and cutting ties immediately, with no agreement at all in place. If MPs do not approve Theresa May’s deal, and there is no alternative deal or move to delay or stop Brexit, the UK will leave with no deal on 29 March. The UK would follow World Trade Organization rules to trade with the EU and other countries, while trying to negotiate free-trade deals. 

Customs union

A trade agreement under which two or more countries do not put tariffs (taxes) on goods coming in from other countries in the union. The countries also decide to set the same tariff on goods entering from outside the union. The EU customs union includes EU member states and some small non-EU members and forbids members from negotiating trade agreements separately from the EU. Instead trade agreements are negotiated collectively.

WTO rules

If countries don’t have free-trade agreements, they usually trade with each other under rules set by the World Trade Organization. Each country sets tariffs – or taxes – on goods entering. For example, cars passing from non-EU countries to the EU are charged at 10% of their value. But tariffs on some agricultural products are much higher – dairy averages more than 35%. If the UK chooses to put no tariffs on goods from the EU, it must also have no tariffs on goods from every WTO member.

Backstop plan

Currently, there are no border posts, physical barriers or checks on people or goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The backstop is a measure in the withdrawal agreement designed to ensure that continues after the UK leaves the EU. It comes into effect only if the deal deciding the future relationship between the UK and EU is not agreed by the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). Until the deal on the future relationship is done, the backstop would keep the UK effectively inside the EU’s customs union but with Northern Ireland also conforming to some rules of the single market. Critics say a different status for Northern Ireland could threaten the existence of the United Kingdom and fear that the backstop could become permanent.

Irish border

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After Brexit, it will become the only land border between the UK and the European Union.

Brexit: Theresa May ‘clear’ she wants short delay

Theresa May says she has “been clear” with the EU that she is only seeking a short delay to Brexit.

Mrs May wants to postpone the UK’s exit date beyond this Friday until 30 June – but EU leaders are expected to offer a longer delay, with conditions.

Arriving at a summit in Brussels, the PM said she “greatly regrets” that the UK has not already left.

Mrs May is due to address the other 27 EU leaders to make her request for an extension.

The PM will then leave the meeting and the leaders will discuss her proposal over dinner.

Ahead of meeting EU leaders, the UK PM is asked what she will do if they only grant a long extension.

Ahead of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk said that “neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated”, and urged the other 27 leaders to back a flexible extension of up to a year.

Mrs May said that the UK could leave the EU when a deal is ratified by Parliament, and so the exit date could be by 22 May – the day before the European Parliament elections.

Earlier, Mrs May appeared in the Commons for the weekly question session with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions.

That head-to-head followed five days of talks between the government and Labour officials aimed at breaking the Brexit impasse.

Angela Merkel
Other EU leaders have arrived at the summit, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday, 12 April.

If no extension is granted, the default position would be for the UK to leave on Friday without a deal.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year, but the Commons has also voted against leaving in a no-deal scenario.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the “only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK” was for Parliament to agree the withdrawal agreement, and any extension “has to be useful and serve a purpose”.

“Our common purpose is to get the ratification of the withdrawal agreement,” he added.

Mrs May said she knew many people would be “frustrated that the summit is taking place at all”, but its purpose was “to agree a deal to enable us to leave the EU in that smooth and orderly way”.

She said the “extra time” to get a deal through Parliament was “in everybody’s interest”.

Asked if she would accept a longer extension than her proposal, she said: “I have asked for an extension to 30 June.

“But what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement, so we could leave on 22 May and start to build our brighter future.”

The PM has previously said she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June”.

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EU officials have prepared a draft document for the leaders to discuss at the summit – but the end date of the delay has been left blank for the EU leaders to fill in once deliberations have ended.

BBC Europe editor Mr Ben Rory, said the blank space showed EU leaders were still divided on the issue.

EU draft document
The draft document from EU officials leaves the date of an extension blank

BBC Europe correspondent Mr Ben Rory, said “much has been spelled out in advance”, including the condition that if the UK remains a member of the EU at the end of May it will have to hold elections to the European Parliament or be forced to leave immediately.

He added that, during the delay, the UK would be expected to commit to not disrupting EU business, such as the preparation of the next budget, and its influence “would be sharply reduced and its voice muted”.

‘Maintain unity’

Arriving in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the leaders needed to discuss Mrs May’s request “openly and constructively”, and she had “no doubt” there would be unity over an extension.

She said: “The greatest interest for us is an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU and to maintain the unity of the 27.”

Leo Varadkar
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters he was “very confident” an extension would be agreed

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he did not anticipate that the UK would leave the EU on Friday, and he was “very confident” that an extension will be agreed at the summit.

“What is still open is how long that extension will be and what the conditions will be,” he added.

“I believe the consensus here in Brussels and across the European Union will be to give the United Kingdom a little bit more time for the cross-party talks that are happening to conclude, and we can review the situation then in a few months’ time.”

But French President Emmanuel Macron said “nothing is settled, and in particular no long extension”.

He said he was “impatient” to hear “clear proposals” from Mrs May, and leaders would need “a lot of calm, a lot of determination and a lot of sang-froid”.

President Macron added: “I believe deeply that we are carrying out a European rebirth, and I don’t want the subject of Brexit to get in the way of that.”

Bernie Sanders and his plan to overhaul US health system

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is unveiling his vision for a national health care plan that is expected to be adopted by several other leading White House candidates. So what is it?

It’s widely known that the US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and health outcomes vary according to your means.

President Barack Obama tried to overhaul it. But even after his landmark Affordable Care Act, some 27 million Americans remain uninsured.

His successor in the White House has tried to dismantle that legislation, making healthcare a central issue in next year’s presidential election.

Senator Sanders’ plan – called Medicare for All – will play a big part in the debate.

So what’s in it?

Firstly, what’s Medicare?

Medicare is a federally run programme that offers health insurance coverage for Americans aged 65 and older, as well as individuals with certain disabilities or medical conditions. It covers both hospital and medical costs.

The programme is broken up into different plans (called Medicare A, B, C and D) that individuals can select depending on their needs. There are additional private plans available to supplement the basic coverage.

Most still require patients to pay annual premiums as well as deductibles (what patients pay for treatment before insurers step in) and co-payments (fixed cost of a service or prescription) that are set based on rates negotiated by the government with providers. These rates can change year to year.

Many people find they need supplemental insurance coverage even with Medicare, as the programme will only pay for 80% of approved medical costs or for 60 days of hospital care.

As it stands, Medicare is not a single-payer system since private insurers can participate.

What is Sanders proposing?

Medicare for All is a proposal to expand Medicare into a single-payer health system.

That means the federal government would be the sole, nationwide insurance provider for all essential and preventative healthcare.

It is not a universal health care system where the government would own and operate hospitals – instead, the government would pay private providers an agreed upon rate for their services.

Under Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal, first introduced in 2017 and re-introduced in April, Medicare for All would expand Medicare’s coverage to include vision, dental, prescription drugs, nursing home care and reproductive health services.

The 2019 update to the plan also includes a long-term care coverage for patients with disabilities – amending one of the criticisms of his earlier plan.

The change also brings Mr Sanders’ plan more in line with the version of Medicare for All proposed in the House of Representatives by congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

Woman receives dental care

In four years, Mr Sanders’ plan would have the country phase out of private insurance plans so everyone would receive insurance from the federal government.

The Affordable Care Act would also end, as users would be enveloped into the national plan.

Private insurance companies and employers would be banned from selling any manner of duplicate plans for services covered under the government’s programme, though plans for non-essential medical services like cosmetic surgery could remain.

Mr Sanders’ proposal would see an end to the “cost sharing” that makes up the current system: No deductibles, no premiums, no co-payments for care.

The only out-of-pocket expense under Mr Sanders’ plan would be for some non-generic prescription drugs, but any cost to the patient would be capped at $200 annually.

For comparison, US patients in 2016 paid over $535bn for prescription drugs, according to government estimates.

Mr Sanders’ Medicare for All would see a new 6.2% tax paid by employers on all wages; estate tax reforms; more taxes on the wealthy; and a 2.2% income tax on personal income with no credits allowed.

Ms Jayapal’s plan mostly tracks with Mr Sanders’, but also includes provisions to roll out the programme in two years instead of four, offer no out-of-pocket costs at all for prescriptions, and grant the government the ability to issue generic prescription licences to bring down costs if negotiating with companies fails.

Will it succeed?

In 2016, Bernie Sanders put universal healthcare on the map as a Democratic policy objective, even as Hillary Clinton scoffed that it was an unpractical and unachievable goal.

Now Mr Sanders is no longer a lone voice in the party.

Within the burgeoning field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, however, there are variations on the scope and speed of reform. Some would prefer to add a government-run option within the existing system. Others want to put private insurers out of business.

On Wednesday, Mr Sanders made clear once again he’s in the latter camp. The plan the Vermont senator proposes would be more generous than government-run systems in other countries. That may appeal to voters – at least until the price tag is discussed.

Then expect some Democrats to again say enacting such a programme is unrealistic in the extreme. When it comes to healthcare, many Americans are fearful of disruptive change. The current system may be flawed, but its flaws are known.

Mr Sanders, who preaches “political revolution”, doesn’t do small and incremental, however. He’s again cutting a path to the party’s left. Can he again convince others to follow?

Woman holds sign reading Medicare for All - Healthcare is a right

What are the arguments for Medicare for All?

Everyone is covered

With millions still uninsured – and forgoing care because they cannot afford treatments – Medicare for All would ensure healthcare is a right for all Americans.

Affordability

The government’s bargaining power would drive down healthcare costs, supporters say, pointing out that government health programmes like veterans’ health already receive 50% in discounts on prescriptions.

And unlike the current system, where deductibles can be as high as $10,000 for patients before their insurance plans even kick in, Medicare for All would guarantee everyone could afford any care visits and prescriptions.

System consolidation

Medicare for All would remove health insurance responsibilities from employers and states as private insurance and Medicaid would be rolled into the federal plan.

Providers would not need to navigate a labyrinthine system to file reimbursement claims and it would be easier for patients to understand and use the system.

Reducing healthcare spending

Bringing down rates for services and prescriptions would help lower the overall cost of the health system.

Administrative health costs could also be reduced by $400bn under Medicare for All, according to The Physicians for a National Health Program group.

Other analyses have also found that a single-payer plan would ultimately reduce total national healthcare spending. University of Amherst economist Prof Gerald Friedman estimated savings could be between $5.5tn and $12.5tn in the next decade.

One report by the Citizens for Tax Justice advocacy group found that for all but the highest-earning Americans, Mr Sanders’ plan would result in an increase in post-tax income.

A study by the conservative-leaning Mercatus Center also found that Mr Sanders’ plan would see a $482bn decrease in health spending and $1.5tn in administrative cost reductions, amounting to a $2tn decrease in health spending in a decade compared to current projections.

A patient has blood drawn at the Community Health Center of NE Wetzel County March 22, 2017 in Burton, West Virginia.

And what are the arguments against?

Taxes

A fear of higher taxes is perhaps the biggest reason for pushback against a national health programme.

Under Medicare for All, nearly all residents would see new annual taxes.

Income tax reform would make wealthier Americans pay more: An income between $250,000 to $500,000 would see a 40% tax; an income of over $10m would see a 52% tax.

But some experts worry Mr Sanders’ current tax plan would not adequately finance a Medicare for All programme, and that actual taxes could end up being even higher.

Cost

Mr Sanders in 2016 estimated his plan would cost $1.38tn per year, while opponents say costs could be double that.

Medicare for All would increase government spending in a decade by anywhere from $25tn to $35tn according to US economists and think tanks.

Both Mercatus and the Urban Institute – institutions that lean conservative and liberal respectively – put 10-year costs at around $32tn.

Pay cuts all around

Private insurance companies would essentially be eliminated. In addition, with the government setting prices, both providers and pharmaceutical companies would also face profit losses.

The Mercatus study noted that for the Medicare for All plan’s savings to work, providers must acquiesce to a 40% reduction in reimbursements compared to current private insurance payments.

Decrease in care quality

Tied to profit reductions, opponents say the quality of healthcare could be negatively affected if providers face deficits and disruptions, warning that hospitals could quickly go out of business.

The issue of wait times is also one many Americans are wary of given horror stories of year-long waits for surgeries from the NHS and Canada – opponents say the increased number of patients in the system may overwhelm providers already dealing with budget cuts.

No innovation

Some of those against federal intervention in the health system have cautioned that cutting payments to the health industry would stifle US innovation.

The abortion debate

Under Medicare for All, abortions would be covered by the federal insurance plan – an aspect that will certainly draw criticism from conservative groups who are already outspoken against any federal funding for the controversial procedure.

Protesters for and against abortion outside the supreme court

What’s the public opinion?

Support for a national healthcare system has somewhat increased overall, national polls say, but the divide along political lines has deepened.

A Harvard-Politico poll in January found 68% of Americans said working on a plan like Medicare for All should be a top priority for Congress.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) similarly reported six in 10 Americans are in favour of a national health system. But support for Medicare for All fluctuates based on how it’s described, the March poll found.

Support for single-payer US health system

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Americans are in favour of a system that covers everyone and ends premiums and out-of-pocket payments, but the idea of higher taxes or wait times for care sees support sharply decrease.

Along party lines, 61% of Republicans polled said they strongly opposed Medicare for All, while 54% of Democrats said they strongly favoured it.

An optional Medicare for All plan that would allow people to retain their current insurance garnered more bipartisan support in the KFF poll, with 74% support overall and 47% support from Republicans.

NHS logo on hospital building

How does the US compare to other systems?

Firstly, it’s a lot more expensive in terms of cash spent.

Most government-funded health plans around the world do require individuals to pitch in, making these Medicare for All proposals more generous than anything currently in place.

Total per capita health spending by country in 2017

In USDIncludes government and individual spendingSource: OECD

An important distinction to make when comparing Medicare for All to systems like the NHS is that this is still not socialised care. In the US, the Veterans Health Administration, for example, operates on a socialised medical system like the NHS, with federally run hospitals.

Medicare for All would move the entire US system into a single-payer, social insurance model – very similar to Canada.

Canada’s government funds universal healthcare coverage by reimbursing private providers. Provinces and territories are able to operate their own programmes with varying levels of coverage, so it is not entirely controlled by the federal government.

Under the Canadian system, patients still largely need to pay for their own dental and vision care as well as some prescriptions.

In the UK, in addition to covering the costs of care, the government owns hospitals and employs physicians. Prescriptions in hospital are free and those for outpatients are subsidised, so that patients generally only pay a minimum co-payment – usually around $12 (£9). For some groups, prescriptions are completely free, like those under 16, the elderly or full-time students up to age 18.

Prime Minister’s Questions: The key bits and the verdict

Just hours ahead of her solo pitch to 27 EU leaders for a short delay to Brexit, Theresa May faced Jeremy Corbyn at the dispatch box.

Here is what happened.

While talks continued between the Conservatives and Labour on breaking the parliamentary deadlock on the UK’s exit from the EU, the Labour leader avoided the issue of Brexit.

Mr Corbyn did mark the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland – as did Mrs May and the SNP’s Ian Blackford – and called for it to be maintained post-Brexit.

But he moved on to attack Mrs May over local council funding, claiming nine of the 10 most deprived council areas in the country had seen cuts almost three times the average of any other council.

“We shouldn’t forget communities across the country abandoned by this government,” he said.

The PM defended her record, saying councils have more money available this year; and she said her government “listened to councils”, for example by lifting the borrowing cap at their request to help funding to build new homes.

Mr Corbyn threw more statistics across the dispatch box, saying cuts in Swindon alone amounted to £235 per household and in Stoke-on-Trent it rose to £640, but the affluent county of Surrey was seeing an increase in its funding.

He also claimed 500,000 more children had gone into relative poverty and, in Stoke alone, 4,000 food bank parcels had been handed out to children.

The Labour leader asked: “Does she think areas with the highest levels of deprivation deserve facing the largest cuts in their budget?”

The PM said members across the House “should take action to make sure families are getting more money into their pockets”.

Mrs May listed measures taken by her government, from freezing fuel duty to introducing the Living Wage, adding: “He should be backing these measures instead of voting against them.”

She admitted that the government had asked local councils “to take difficult decisions to living with our means”, but only because of the deficit left by Labour.

In their last exchange, Mr Corbyn said it was a “political choice to impose austerity”, which was “vindictive and damaging”.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May on council funding

He concluded: “Far from tackling burning injustices… [she has] pushed councils to the brink and left those ‘just about managing’ not being able to manage at all. That is her legacy.”

Mrs May said she was proud in what her government had achieved, including better schools, more jobs and lower borrowing.

She finished by saying a Labour government led by Mr Corbyn would be about “destroying our defences, abandoning our allies, [seeing] billions more in borrowing, fewer opportunities and higher taxes for everyone. That’s a Labour future and we will never let it happen.”

What else came up?

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, was not afraid to focus on Brexit.

He asked the prime minister outright whether the government had offered a further referendum to Labour during their talks – “yes or no?”

Ian Blackford and Theresa May on new EU referendum

Mrs May reiterated her opposition to another public vote and reminded him the Commons had voted on and rejected such an outcome twice.

But Mr Blackford stayed on topic, saying: “People can’t have faith in a backroom deal cooked up by two leaders who don’t possess the ingredients to hold their parties together, never mind hold these islands together.”

He then asked her whether she would accept a longer extension from the EU if offered at the summit later.

The PM said she had “made her position clear”, but took a jibe at the SNP MP, saying: “It is a little difficult for many of us in this House to hear him week after week stand up and say that the UK should stay within the European Union when Scottish independence would have meant taking Scotland out of the European Union.”

Mr Blackford wasn’t the only one highlighting Brexit either, as Conservative MP Henry Smith warned of the cost of a long extension to the UK.

PMQs: Henry Smith and Theresa May on Brexit extension costs

Police funding came up on both sides of the Commons.

Conservative Theresa Villiers brought up a case of a 15-year-old in her constituency chased by three men with a knife and criticised London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan for closing her local police station.

But Labour’s Wayne David showed the PM a graph on how her government’s choices on funding had affected the police in Wales.

PMQs: Theresa Villiers and Wayne David on police funding

Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas called on the prime minister to speak to more young campaigners about threats to the environment.

Mrs May said it gave her an opportunity to praise the green credentials of a school in her constituency.

Caroline Lucas and Theresa May on Greta Thunberg
House of Commons

You wouldn’t guess from PMQs that the UK is on the eve of an emergency European Council which could see Brexit postponed for perhaps a year.

The elephant in the Chamber sat quietly at the back, emitting the occasional gentle belch, as the main protagonists argued about council spending in the run up to the local elections on 2 May – trading soundbites about Tory austerity and Labour’s record deficits.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford wasn’t playing and, on its 21st anniversary, he opened on the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement.

And he attacked the Conservatives and Labour as “Brexit parties”, as they continue their talks on a possible deal to get some agreed form of Brexit through the Commons.

It was noticeable that the PM did not answer Mr Blackford’s well-targeted question about whether a referendum was on the table in those talks – merely observing that some in the Commons might propose a referendum, but her position had not changed.

A few antennae quivered at that careful formulation.

The PM took some rather diffident Brexit fire from her own side, but not as much as might have been expected the morning after 97 Conservatives defied the party whip and voted against a further postponement.

It was mild rather than bitter. Craig Tracey said Britain had nothing to fear from a no-deal exit. Henry Smith complained about the cost of Brexit payments to the EU, and David Duguid offered an easy hit for the PM about leaving the Commons Fisheries Policy.

Any thought that the PM might be treated to a pre-summit monstering from Brexiteer backbenchers, to demonstrate that she might not be able to deliver whatever she promised EU leaders, was soon dispelled.

The troops were on best behaviour.

Paris attacks: Fake compensation claim ends in prison sentence

The manager of a restaurant caught up in the fatal Paris attacks of 2015 has been sentenced to prison for pretending he was a victim to claim compensation.

Yann Abdelhamid Mohamadi falsely claimed to be at the Casa Nostra restaurant when gunmen opened fire, killing five people outside.

He had already been convicted of selling video of the attack to the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK.

The court sentenced him to a year in prison for the attempt at fraud.

A second year of the sentence was suspended. A second man, Serge Dieujustse, admitted to falsely claiming to being a victim in a separate case. He was also given the same sentence. Both were detained immediately.

Claiming to have been in the restaurant’s cellar during the attack, Mohamadi had attempted to win compensation from the national victim’s guarantee fund, the FGTI.

The fund, however, denied the claim, and found that he had not been at the scene of any of the attacks on 13 November 2015, which left 130 people dead and more than 350 injured.

Prosecutors said his story had been motivated by the potential financial benefit.

Last year, the same court gave Mohamadi a suspended sentence of six months and a fine of thousands of euros for distributing the video of the 2015 attack.

The footage published by the Daily Mail showed a gunman opening fire on the restaurant, sending distressed patrons scrambling for cover, before apparently attempting to kill two women at point-blank range.

However, he seemed to have run out of ammunition, or his gun had jammed, and he left the scene to continue his attacks elsewhere.

Two people walk down the path outside a restaurant, while two more sit on the exterior seating of the cafe / restaurant in Paris
People pass by the Casa Nostra restaurant shortly after its reopening, months after the attack

The leak of the video was accompanied by French media reports that Mohamadi had sold the footage to the British newspaper for some €50,000 (£43,000; £56,000).

The reports resulted in widespread criticism and anger in France, where the alleged sale was seen as a way of financially benefitting from a tragedy.

The Daily Mail defended its acquisition of the footage as “nothing controversial” and “in the public interest”

The impact on the Casa Nostra was severe, with Mohamadi telling French media business had been extremely slow after the restaurant re-opened, and a wave of one-star reviews online urging Parisians to boycott the venue.

Prosecutors said his false claim to have been a victim was a further attempt to take advantage of the tragedy.

Brexit: UK can export animals to EU after no deal

Brexit: UK can export animals to EU after no deal

The UK has been given approval to continue exporting animals and products of animal origin to the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed the move on Wednesday.

Without what is known as third country listing, livestock and other products could not have been sent to the EU.

The UK’s assurances on animal health and biosecurity arrangements were found to be sufficient by the EU.

Defra said exports of animals and their products would need to go through an EU border inspection post and be accompanied by an export health certificate.

On Wednesday, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said it “welcomed” the news from Defra.

‘Nightmare scenario’

BVA president Simon Doherty said he had “made an early call for the government to ensure the UK achieved listed third country status to avoid a nightmare scenario”.

He added: “This announcement will bring some relief to vets and farmers who have been worried about the significant welfare and economic implications of not being able to move animals under a no-deal Brexit.”

The Irish government has insisted it will not build any infrastructure on the border with Northern Ireland for checks on cross-border trade.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) has said exporters should contact the authorities in the Republic of Ireland for advice on how and where livestock and other animal products should cross the border.

Meanwhile Daera has published advice on imports of animals and products of animal origin from the Republic to Northern Ireland.

In most cases the system remains the same, with livestock requiring only existing levels of health checks, documentation and pre-notification of movement.

Products entering Northern Ireland from a listed non-EU country through the Republic of Ireland will have to enter the Republic by an EU border inspection post.

They can then travel to Northern Ireland without any further checks but will have to be accompanied by the proper paperwork and notification.

UK economy grows faster than expected ahead of Brexit

Stockpiling by manufacturers ahead of Brexit helped the UK economy grow by 0.3% in the three months to February.

The Office for National Statistics pointed to manufacturers “changing the timing of their activities” as the UK’s exit from the EU approaches.

Although growth was stronger than the 0.2% many economists forecast, Rob Kent-Smith, head of GDP at the ONS, said growth “remained modest”.

On a monthly measure, the economy grew by 0.2%, faster than the 0% forecast.

The 0.3% rise in the three months to February, was the same as the three months to January, after previous estimate was revised higher.

“Services again drove the economy, with a continued strong performance in IT. Manufacturing also continued to recover after weakness at the end of last year with the often-erratic pharmaceutical industry, chemicals and alcohol performing well in recent months,” said Mr Kent-Smith.

chart

Output in production and manufacturing rose for the second month in a row, with manufacturing at its highest level since April 2008, the ONS said.

The ONS said production industries expanded by 0.2% in the three months to February 2019. This was the first positive three-month growth since October 2018.

Impact of stockpiling

It said there had been external evidence “that some manufacturing businesses have changed the timing of their activity as we approached the original planned date for the UK’s departure from the European Union”.

“Although the ONS does not routinely collect detailed data on the reasons behind the behaviour of businesses, as part of our survey validation we have found some qualitative evidence that supported this view but were unable to quantify its impact,” it added.

The ONS pointed to a closely-watched survey by IHS Markit/CIPS which showed UK factories were stockpiling goods for Brexit.

Presentational grey line
UK economy grows faster than expected ahead of Brexit
Brexit: Cake factory would grind to halt without cream cheese

Lola’s Cupcakes is one company which decided it needed to build up stocks of essential items ahead of Brexit.

In its case, it was cream cheese.

Asher Budwig, managing director, said the company had identified the ingredient as one at risk from Brexit. Others might have been chocolate or butter.

There would be “no cheese cakes, no decorations on cupcakes” if ferries stopped getting through ports, he told BBC.

The company bought £35,000 of stock – that does not include storage costs – through its supplier which obtains the product from Germany.

“They [the supplier] spoke to the factory in Germany, they produced a lot more, ten times what we would normally go through in a given week,” he said.

“It’s being held down in Somerset,” he said.

Presentational grey line

Month-on-month growth in the industrial production sector was 0.6% in February, with manufacturing increasing 0.9%, the ONS said.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the activity in this sector was the main reason the economy had grown more quickly than expected.

He said this might be “due to a temporary boost to production which will unwind” in the second quarter of the year.

Construction output also rose faster than expected, perhaps because of the warmer than usual weather in February, he added.

Ruth Gregory, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, also highlighted these areas as the main surprises in the data.

Rate rises

But she said: “Growth does not appear to have been significantly boosted by stockpiling ahead of Brexit.”

Instead, she said that while businesses have been stockpiling it is because they have been importing more. Imports rose by 5.3% in the three months to February while exports rose just 0.8%, according to the ONS.

She said: “Admittedly, the Brexit chaos may have sapped the economy of its momentum in March, as that is when the Brexit uncertainty has been greatest.

“All told, though, the solid growth rate in the three months to February should ease immediate fears of the economy stalling or contracting in the first quarter and provides support to our view that the economy is well placed to cope with whatever Brexit throws up next,” she said.

Mr Tombs said he was revising up his forecast for growth in the first quarter to 0.4% from 0.3%, which indicates annual growth of between 1.8% and 2%. This could point to a rate rise from the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.

“So the data, together with strong wage growth, put renewed pressure on the MPC to follow through on its commitment to an ‘ongoing tightening of monetary policy’, despite continued Brexit uncertainty,” he said.

Atiku hires US lobbyist to unseat Buhari

Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has employed the services of a United States lobbyist firm to advance his challenge of the outcome of the February 23 presidential poll.

President Muhammadu Buhari defeated Atiku with over three million votes in the election but Atiku rejected the results and had challenged same at the presidential election petition tribunal, alleging that the poll was heavily militarised” and results manipulated.

According to a report by Centre for Responsive Politics, CRP, Bruce Fein, former justice department official and his firm Fein & DelValle PLLC registered on March 24 as foreign agents on behalf of PDP and Atiku.

The firm is expected to “encourage Congress and the Executive to forbear from a final declaration and recognition of Nigeria’s February 23, 2019 presidential election until outstanding legal challenges to the initial government of Nigeria assertion that incumbent Buhari was the victor are impartially and independently resolved by the Supreme Court of Nigeria without political or military influence, intimidation or manipulation”.

According to the firm, parts of its services on behalf of Atiku includes to “Meet and consult with members of Congress and staff in an effort to pass House and Senate resolution(s) to forebear from a final declaration and recognition of a winner of the 2019 Nigeria presidential election pending legal challenges to the initial assertion that incumbent Buhari was the victor are impartially and independently resolved by the Nigerian judiciary in accordance with the rule of law and due process, free from military or political influence.

“Draft articles and op-ed pieces to spotlight the issues in Nigeria post-2019 presidential election and to promote the rule of law and due process in resolving electoral disputes in Nigeria.

“Make television and other media appearances to engage in public advocacy discussions of these issues.”

In a letter replying Atiku’s request for their services, the firm said a “Nigerian barrister and trusted confidant of Your-Excellency Dr. Lloyd Ukwu, will assist in the operations of the U.S. Situation Room.”

The firm said its lobbying effort will demonstrate that an Atiku presidency is “the will of the people.”

It added that its services will convince the United States that an “Abubakar presidency” will open a fresh and new chapter in Nigerian politics, while “highlighting the declining rule of law, democracy and clue process in Nigeria under the APC and the current administration.”

#Reps probe #Nigerian bulk electricity trading over N90bn loss

The House of Representatives yesterday mandated its Committees on Procurement and Power to jointly investigate the allegations of gross statutory breaches including violation of the public procurement Act 2007 by the management of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading, NBET,  Plc.

This was sequel to a resolution of the House after carefully debating a motion promoted by Muhammed Soba (All Progressives Congress, APC, Kaduna) the lawmakers expressed concerns over series of breaches against the provisions of Public Procurement Act, 2007, statutory guidelines and regulations by the Managing Director and management of the electricity company and resolved to investigate the firm.

In the matter brought under urgent national importance, Soba disclosed that   the firm’s Managing Director and his management executed power purchase agreements without following due process leading to the loss of not less than N90 billion

Besides the financial infraction, the lawmakers wondered why NBET management would also design a performance and implementation chart for its terms in the agreement against extant provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007, Guidelines and Regulations from the Bureau of Public Procurements.

While leading the debate, Soba, accused, NBET of engaging  consultants without recourse to laid down financial rules, saying “They acted in  breach of the Act and extant Guidelines, Rules, Circulars and other Subsidiary Legislation.”

#Reps probe Nigerian bulk electricity trading over N90bn loss
House of Representatives, Nigeria

According to him, two law firms, Messrs AELEX, Azinge & Azinge, were engaged even where they lacked basic bidding documents.

He lamented that while the least responsive bidder was not awarded the contract, the necessary authorization from the Attorney General of the Federation was not secured before the two legal firms were signed on Soba said: “Most contractors and vendors engaged by NBET are not registered with the Bureau of Public Procurement, neither are they registered on the National Database of Federal Contractors, Consultants and Service Providers which is a gross violation of the provisions of the Acts. The Managing Director and Management of NBET are  also suspected of awarding contracts arbitrarily, resulting to colossal loses, while undermining the lowest evaluated responsive bidder as provided   by Section 16(17) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.”

He warned that if Parliament, did not intervene quickly by probing all alleged infractions and address the situation, a systemic institutional method of cheating in procurement process would have been put in place leading to further monumental losses.

Only 4% of Nigerians covered by health insurance — Minister

Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has lamented the poor state of Nigeria’s healthcare system, saying only four per cent of Nigerians are covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

The Minister, who stated this while fielding questions from journalists in Abuja, however, disclosed that the federal government had put in place measures to reverse the appalling situation.

He said, “Part of the challenges we face is the near collapse of the healthcare system. But one of the unique things this government has done is to put money in the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund, BHCPF.

Prof. Isaac Adewole, Health Minister

“Fifty per cent of the money will flow to NHIS to take care of medical expenses of our people so that they will not have to pay out of their pocket for treatment. We will also use this measure to grow NHIS enrollment. As of today, only four per cent of Nigerians is covered by the scheme.

“We are encouraging the states and the FCT to set up their own health insurance systems. No state will benefit from the BHCPF if they don’t have functional health insurance and contributory scheme.”

With respect to medical tourism vis-à-vis the concern of the Buhari administration, Adewole said: “We’re focusing on three main reasons Nigerians go out of the country for medical treatment. They are cancer, kidney problems, and cardiac issues.

“We’re investing in cancer now so that we can develop the capacity. At the National Hospital, we have two cancer treatment machines. Any moment from now the second machine will start working. The two machines will be able to treat 200 persons daily. We’re also supporting Sokoto, Enugu, and Edo. We will do this all over the country.’’

Fulham FC fan in California sues over ‘racist’ number plate row

A Fulham FC fan living in California is suing a state department after he was banned from having the letters COYW on a personalised car number plate, as officials feared the slogan “Come on you whites” had racist connotations.

University professor Jonathan Kotler said he was “shocked” at the decision.

Launching his legal case, he claimed the decision by the California Department of Motor Vehicles violated his right to freedom of speech.

“It’s just a shirt colour,” he said.

“The people at the DMV are either extra thick or very PC.”

Professor Kotler applied for a plate that would read COY-W – an abbreviation of the slogan commonly used by Fulham football fans – and a hashtag seen every weekend on many Twitter posts about the club.

The 73-year-old, who was born in New Jersey and now lives in Calabasas, California, has been a fan of Fulham FC for decades, after watching a match “by happenchance” during a visit to London.

He was originally a fan of both Manchester United and Fulham, but chose his current allegiance in 2006 when both teams were in the Premier League.

Jonathan Kotler's car as it is at the moment, with its number plate which reads FFC SW6 standing for Fulham Football Club and Craven Cottage's old postcode of SW6.
Professor Kotler’s plate currently reads FFC SW6 for the club’s initials and stadium postcode

Professor Kotler, who teaches media law at the University of Southern California, put in his application for the number plate last year and had to include the reasons for his choice of letters, but it was turned down.

The Department of Motor Vehicles said the COYW slogan could be considered hostile, insulting, or racially degrading, according to the US federal legal case.

“I sent them tons of material,” Professor Kotler told the BBC. “Press releases, stories from the British media, letters from the chairman who uses ‘come on you whites’.

“I pointed out that many clubs in Britain are known by their colour – the blues, the clarets. Nobody thought the Liverpool reds were communists.”

He added: “Even when I did it, it was the furthest thing from my mind that anyone would object to it. I was shocked, absolutely.”

‘This is crazy’

He said the club’s owner, Shahid Khan, “uses the phrase all the time”.

“Half of the team are non-white. And it’s just a shirt colour. It’s got nothing to do with anything other than that.

“I decided this is crazy, this is enough. I can take it up to a point but this became personal.”

Professor Kotler said he travels to watch Fulham play in Britain on average around eight to 10 times a season, often taking the 11 hour flight on a Thursday and returning back in the US by Tuesday ready to teach his students.

In his legal complaint, he is asking the court to declare the DMV’s criteria for personalised licence plates unconstitutional. He claims he has been deprived of his right to freedom of speech.

The Department of Motor Vehicles says it does not comment on pending legal cases.

Brexit: Theresa May to make plea for 30 June delay at EU summit

EU leaders are to meet for an emergency summit in Brussels to decide whether to offer the UK another delay to Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May wants to postpone the date the UK leaves the EU beyond this Friday, until 30 June.

But the EU is expected to offer a longer delay, after European Council President Donald Tusk urged the other 27 leaders to back a flexible extension of up to a year – and with conditions.

Every EU member state needs to agree before a delay can be granted.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday, 12 April.

So far, UK MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year, so she is now asking for the leaving date to be extended. If no extension is granted, the default position would be to leave on Friday without a deal.

Mrs May will head to Belgium this afternoon, after her weekly clash with Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

That head-to-head follows five days of talks between the government and Labour officials aimed at breaking the Brexit impasse.

At the summit – which begins at around 18:00 local time (17:00 BST) on Wednesday evening – Mrs May will formally present her case for a short delay until 30 June, with the option for the UK to leave earlier if her Brexit deal is ratified.

The other EU leaders will then have dinner without her and discuss how to respond.

‘Don’t humiliate either side’

In a formal letter to the leaders on the eve of the summit, Mr Tusk proposed a longer, flexible extension – although “no longer than one year” – to avoid creating more cliff-edge extensions or emergency summits in the future.

Any delay should have conditions attached, he said – including that there would be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement talks. And the UK would have the option to leave earlier if a Brexit deal was ratified.

French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Donald Tusk gesture for Theresa May to join a photo of EU leaders at the European Council Summit in Brussels, Belgium in March 2019
France’s Emmanuel Macron and the EU’s Donald Tusk gesture for Mrs May to join a group photo at the EU summit last month

Referring to Mrs May’s proposal for an extension until the end of June, he added there was “little reason to believe” that Mrs May’s deal could be ratified by then.

And if the European Council did not agree on an extension at all, “there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit”, he said.

Mr Tusk also warned that “neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated at any stage in this difficult process”.

EU officials have prepared a draft document for the leaders to discuss at the summit – with the end date of the delay left blank for them to fill in once deliberations have ended.

BBC Europe editor Mr Ben Rory, said the fact the length of delay had been left blank in the conclusions showed EU leaders were still divided on the issue.

The BBC’s Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly said “much has been spelled out in advance”, including the condition that if the UK remains a member of the EU at the end of May it will have to hold elections to the European Parliament or be forced to leave immediately.

He added that, during the delay, the UK would be expected to commit to not disrupting EU business, such as the preparation of the next budget, and its influence “would be sharply reduced and its voice muted”.

On Tuesday, Mrs May travelled to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and then Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a bid to seek their support for her shorter delay.

There was no-one to greet the PM as she arrived to meet the German chancellor for Brexit talks in Berlin

Afterwards, Ms Merkel said a delay that ran until the end of this year or the start of 2020 was a possibility.

In a statement, Downing Street said the prime minister and Chancellor Merkel agreed on the importance of ensuring Britain’s orderly withdrawal.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) accompanies out British Prime Minister Theresa May after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday
Mrs May told Mr Macron the government was working hard to avoid the need to hold EU Parliamentary elections

Meanwhile, talks between Labour and the Conservatives are scheduled to resume after Mrs May returns from the summit.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the talks had been “open and constructive” but the sides differed on a “number of areas”. Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said they were “hopeful progress will be made”.

Israel election: Netanyahu set for record fifth term

PM Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to secure a record fifth term after almost complete results from Israel’s election suggest a new right-wing coalition.

His Likud party is expected to finish with a similar number of seats as ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance.

But Likud and right-wing allies are set to be the largest bloc with 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, local media said.

The 69-year-old premier is facing corruption allegations.

However, the election result means he could become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister later this year, overtaking Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion.

Exit polls had predicted a tight race with no clear winner, prompting both Mr Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to claim victory on Tuesday night.

“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all,” Mr Netanyahu told cheering supporters.

“I’m very touched that the people of Israel gave me their vote of confidence for the fifth time, and an even bigger vote of confidence than previous elections.

“I intend to be the prime minister of all citizens of Israel. Right, left, Jews, non-Jews. All of Israel’s citizens.”

No party has ever won a majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament and it has always had coalition governments.

What’s the background?

Mr Netanyahu, 69, put forward tough messages on security ahead of the vote and it soon became one of the election’s key issues.

He also made a significant announcement in the final days of the campaign, suggesting a new government would annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Mr Netanyahu denied the allegations of corruption against him, saying he was a victim of a political “witch hunt” designed to influence the election.

In a separate controversy on Tuesday, Israeli Arab politicians condemned his Likud party for sending 1,200 observers equipped with hidden body cameras to polling stations in Arab communities.

The Arab alliance, Hadash-Taal, said it was an “illegal” action that sought to intimidate Arabs. Likud said it wanted to ensure only “valid votes” were cast.

Mr Netanyahu’s main challenger, Mr Gantz, is a retired lieutenant-general who formed the Blue and White in February, promising to unite a country that had “lost its way”.

The 59-year-old former chief of staff of the Israeli military rivalled Mr Netanyahu’s tough stance on security and promised cleaner politics.

Mr Gantz’s campaign platform referred to “separation” from the Palestinians but did not specifically mention them having an independent state. It also called for continued control over the Jordan Valley and retaining West Bank settlement blocs.

Dutch prostitution debate in parliament forced by youth petition

A petition is to be handed into the Dutch parliament demanding that visiting a prostitute be made illegal.

Some 42,000 young people have added their signatures, which means the issue will be debated by politicians in a country that has some of the most relaxed laws around paying for sex.

“I am priceless” is the name of the Christian-inspired campaign.

Campaigners want buyers to be penalised, under the so-called Nordic model.

They have posted Instagram photos showing supporters clasping boards with words in black and white bearing the message “Ik ben onbetaalbaar” (I’m priceless) along with “what if it was your sister?” and “prostitution is both a cause and consequence of inequality”.

However, in response to the image, one person wrote: “I’m a voluntary sex worker. There’s many people like me. This campaign will make my job much, much more dangerous.”

Presentational grey line

Prostitution and the law

In the Netherlands, buying and selling sex is legal as long as it involves “sex between consenting adults”.

Under the Nordic model, adopted by Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland and France, buyers are penalised.

What do campaigners say?

The young activists argue more should be done to protect vulnerable women.

According to the “I am priceless” petition, the Netherlands’ facilitation of the sex industry is outdated, exploitative and the Dutch should look to countries like Sweden for inspiration.

They say countries in which the model has been introduced have seen:

  • fewer people going to buy sex
  • the country becoming less attractive for human traffickers
  • fewer people being exploited by prostitution.

Among the founders of the Exxpose movement behind the petition is social worker Sara Lous, who used to work in rehabilitation centre with former sex workers.

“We are feminists and Christians and some of us are neutral,” she says.

Campaign image from Exxpose.nl website
The “I am priceless” campaigners say their proposal would stop people buying sex legally

“The idea is of course that the Netherlands has a safer policy, that decriminalising is safer and it’s a freedom to sell sex. But so much is going wrong. we have so much human trafficking and Amsterdam is most vulnerable because of the high demand for cheap sex.”

She argues that women are given a signal that prostitution is an easy way to make money, whereas they need to have other options.

“There are only a few who are incapable of finding another job. They should have help to find other skills,” she says.

How have prostitutes reacted?

Amsterdam’s Red Light Zone is one of the capital’s most popular attractions, in a country where prostitution has been traditionally framed as a reflection of the value placed on freedom of choice.

“If a women wants to sell her body then that’s her choice,” is an argument pushed by politicians and public alike.

A woman in a window in Amsterdam
The Dutch coalition government has pledged to provide more funds to help women seeking to leave prostitution

Women working behind the red light windows have told me it is their free choice – but deeper conversations reveal it’s often based on circumstances which they felt left them with no alternative.

They include single mothers struggling to ensure that their children in Romania receive a decent education, and young women who have experienced abuse and left them with low self-esteem.

But Foxxy, a board member on the sex-workers’ collective, Proud, warns that any attempt to criminalise clients would harm the prostitutes themselves.

“This petition is not in the sex workers’ interest. It’s people who read the Bible who are trying to stop us,” she argues.

“If this happens sex workers will work illegally. Then we’re more likely to be victims of violence. Clients will know we can’t go to the police. We will be much more at risk, clients will try to take condoms off, we’re more at risk of being exposed to HIV. It happened in France when they started this Nordic model.”

In response to the petition, a justice ministry spokesman told the BBC that the government had plans to step up measures against human trafficking as well as provide funds to help sex workers trying to leave prostitution. The plans were going into consultation and would be put to parliament later this year, he said.

But any drastic overturn of the Netherlands’ current liberal laws will face opposition from those in politics and society who see prostitution as a symbol of freedom rather than repression.