Another Brexit deadline has come and gone. Well, sort of.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had set October 15 as the date for the United Kingdom to reach a trade agreement with the European Union. That self-imposed deadline arrived on Thursday, with both sides still at an impasse over their future relationship.
The October 15 deadline coincided with an EU summit in Brussels, where European leaders said they wanted to continue working toward a deal, but asked the UK to ”make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible.” Member states also acknowledged they should step up preparations for the possibility that no agreement will be reached ahead of the actual deadline, which is the end of the year.
Johnson responded on Friday by accusing the EU of being stubborn, saying it has “refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months.” Because of that, he said, the UK would also, with “high hearts and complete confidence,” prepare for a no-deal scenario.
“And we can do it, because we always knew that there would be change on January 1 whatever type of relationship we had,” Johnson said. “And so now is the time for our businesses to get ready, and for hauliers to get ready, and for travellers to get ready.”
Johnson, however, did not explicitly walk away from the talks — and negotiations are expected to continue in some form. Which is pretty much what a lot of observers expected: more tough talk, but no real drastic action on either side.
But even if Brexit talks are not totally dead, they’re definitely entering a much more precarious phase.
There has been progress in some areas, but both sides remain mired on the major sticking points. The UK’s attempts to try to renege on parts of the original Brexit deal, and the EU’s decision to take them to court over it, has also complicated matters.
And, again, there is a very real and very fixed deadline of December 31 that is getting uncomfortably close. Unlike the first phase of Brexit, this end date can’t be easily delayed.
So both sides really do need to prepare for a future without a deal.
How the EU and UK got here, which feels like a place they’ve been before
The United Kingdom formally left the European Union in January 2020, but it continued to follow the rules of the EU under the terms of the Brexit deal, which allowed for a transition period until the end of 2020.
The point of the transition period was to give both the EU and the UK time to figure out their post-breakup relationship. The two sides need to come up with a trade arrangement, but they also have to deal with a slew of other issues, from fishing to security cooperation.
Those negotiations have not been going well at all, and both sides are at odds on key issues, specifically state aid and fisheries. The latter is as much a symbolic issue for the UK as an economic one, but the state aid — or so-called “level playing field” — is really the crux of the problem.
The EU is insisting that if the UK wants tariff-free access to its single market, it can’t try to undercut the EU by subsidizing industries or businesses, or by lowering standards on things like environmental or labor protections that might give British businesses a boost.
But for the UK, which wanted to Brexit so it could be a rulemaker instead of a rule-taker, adhering to EU standards is the opposite of what Brexit was supposed to deliver as the UK reestablished its own trading regime.
The UK says this can be solved by a regular, old-school-style free trade agreement, like the one Canada has with the EU. But the EU says the UK isn’t Canada, not in terms of proximity and access — plus they cooperate on so many other fronts — so that deal can’t be replicated.
And back and forth it’s been going for months.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also complicated talks, consuming much of the energy in London and other EU capitals earlier this year and forcing negotiators onto videoconferences, where those side discussions that often lead to breakthroughs can’t happen. (Plus, diplomats on both sides got Covid-19.) The two sides have tried to rejuvenate discussions and create target deadlines, including this month, but it didn’t generate all that much progress.
Because everything wasn’t already difficult enough, in September, Johnson’s government introduced legislation called the Internal Market Bill, which would tweak some elements of the withdrawal agreement — a.k.a. the OG Brexit bill — related to Northern Ireland.
Opponents say this breaks international law; the EU has said the same and is mounting a legal challenge over the potential violations. Some experts saw Johnson’s play as “macho brinkmanship” aimed at forcing the EU to budge in the larger negotiations, but the EU has held firm.
And so the two sides got to mid-October with no big movement on the major issues and both sides blaming the other of being uncompromising on their red lines.
At the EU summit this week, European leaders — who’ve continued to display a lot of unity — said they wanted to continue talks, but also said the UK needed to rethink its positions. The UK responded, of course, by saying that, based on the EU summit, Brussels wasn’t willing to give the UK a trade deal that it wanted, and it was prepared to walk away.
But neither side has actually done that, at least not yet. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday that “the EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price.” She said the EU team would still go to London to continue talks next week.
– talks: the EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price.
As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 16, 2020
The top Brexit negotiators — for the EU, Michel Barnier, and for the UK, David Frost — said they would talk early next week, though Frost told Barnier not to come to London unless the EU has a new plan, according to the Guardian. European leaders have also urged Johnson to keep talking.
This mid-October deadline was largely made up, but time really is running short. Barnier has previously said that any agreement needs to be reached by the end of October, so that the European Parliament has time to review and approve this brand new relationship. This is probably a flexible deadline, too, but the deeper talks go into November or December, the more challenging it will be to implement new arrangements by the end of the year.
And though it might feel like we’ve seen this Brexit show before — down-to-the-wire talks with looming deadlines — things really are different this time.
Why the threat of a no-deal Brexit still remains
Unlike the first phase of Brexit, where the deadline kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed, that possibility is a little less likely here. The current December 2020 cutoff is written into the Brexit deal between the UK and EU, which is now an international treaty. The UK could have extended it but had to make that choice by the end of June, and it declined to do so.
And while the possibility of a last-minute fudge can’t entirely be ruled out, that only seems likely if there’s real movement on the major issues in this future relationship. Which is why both sides have brought up, again, that they’re preparing for the possibility of a no-deal.
All the catastrophically disruptive things that could have happened if the UK left the EU without a plan in place before Brexit could still occur if the two sides reach the end of the transition period without agreements in place.
That’s because once the transition period expires, all the trade and regulatory arrangements the UK was following will end. The two sides will trade under World Trade Organization rules, which sets the tariffs and quotas between countries that don’t have free trade agreements in place with each other.
Johnson has taken to calling this an “Australia-style” deal “based on simple principles of global free trade.” Australia does not have a formal free trade agreement with the EU, but it does have a slew of cooperative agreements — which the UK wouldn’t have if it left on January 1 without a deal. Plus, the UK’s trading relationship with the EU far outstrips whatever Australia’s is. So, as some have pointed out, it would actually be more of an “Afghanistan-style” deal or a “Somalia-style” deal or, well, you get the point. It’s nothing.
Which means checks and controls could create massive, disruptive gridlocks at ports of entry. Companies and businesses will face new rules and barriers to trade. It could be a painful adjustment for the EU, but it will be far more damaging to the UK.
In general, a 2020 no-deal could still look a lot like the one experts predicted before Brexit became official — except, of course, businesses are already struggling because of pandemic restrictions, making it harder for them to prepare for the uncertainty. One firm estimated a no-deal Brexit plus Covid-19 could cost the UK economy $174 billion per year, over a decade.
The pandemic-caused economic crisis may give Johnson some political cover to end Brexit talks without a deal — essentially, he can file all economic disruption under the category of Covid-19, rather than Brexit, and hope nobody notices.
But that may not fly, as businesses are already saying they’re not prepared for a no-deal amid the pandemic, and the rest of the UK is starting to wake up to the realities of Brexit, including all this new infrastructure going up to prepare for potential post-Brexit border checks.
Both the UK and the EU want to avoid this no-deal scenario, but as more and more self-imposed deadlines pass, the real one is getting closer — without any clear sign of compromise.
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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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