Thursday, 21 February 2019: Three MPs quit Tory party to join independent group, Frontex sees no migration crisis in the EU, Swedbank money laundering plot thickens, Swiss banking giant UBS fined in tax fraud case


Three MPs quit Tory party to join independent group: Three Tory MPs have resigned from the party to join an independent group, set up by former Labour MPs. Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote a joint letter to Theresa May to confirm their departure. The three criticised the government for letting the “hard-line anti-EU awkward squad” take over the party. The trio will join the new Independent Group – made up of eight Labour MPs who resigned from their party over its handling of Brexit and antisemitism. Prime Minister Theresa May said she was saddened, but her party would always offer “decent, moderate and patriotic politics”. Soubry said the ruling Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, anti-EU lawmakers who would force out more moderate colleagues. She said most local Conservative Party associations had been infiltrated by anti-EU activists and that she hoped other Conservative lawmakers would join her in leaving the party.,

Derek Hatton suspended from Labour after two days: Derek Hatton, the controversial former deputy leader of Liverpool council, has been suspended from the Labour party just two days after being allowed back in after 34 years. The ex-deputy leader of Liverpool council’s membership was provisionally approved on Monday, more than 30 years after he was expelled from the party. But senior Labour figures have since complained about the move and comments the ex-Militant man made about Israel. The 71-year-old has been suspended pending an investigation into a tweet he posted in 2012 blaming Jews for Israeli government policy. The tweet resurfaced after he was readmitted to the party.,

Shamima Begum will not be allowed here, says Bangladesh: The Isis bride Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen and will not be allowed into Bangladesh, the country’s ministry of foreign affairs has insisted. The government of Bangladesh was deeply concerned that Begum had been erroneously identified as a holder of dual citizenship, Shahriar Alam, the state minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement issued to the “Guardian”, adding that his government had learned of Britain’s intention to cancel her citizenship rights from media reports. Begum has said she only has “one citizenship” and it was wrong for the UK to revoke it without speaking to her first.,

Sussex: Brighton councillor Anne Meadows quits Labour over antisemitism
Mergers and acquisitions: Sainsbury’s-Asda merger in doubt over extensive competition concerns


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EU countries back copyright reforms: European Union countries have endorsed an overhaul of the bloc’s copyright rules which would force Google and Facebook Inc to pay publishers for news snippets and filter out copyright-protected content on YouTube or Instagram. Negotiators from the EU countries, the EU Parliament, and the EU Commission had sealed a deal last week, two years after the EU executive proposed changes to protect the bloc’s cultural heritage and ensure that publishers, broadcasters and artists are remunerated fairly. The dissenting countries said the proposed changes could hinder innovation and hurt the bloc’s competitiveness in the digital market. The next step in the process is a vote by a committee of lawmakers next week followed by a parliamentary vote either next month or early April before the changes can become law.

May and Juncker plan another meeting: No breakthrough was achieved in Brexit talks between British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday. Both said the discussions had been constructive and that the two leaders would talk again before the end of the month. Speaking in Berlin on Wednesday morning, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the EU had a shared responsibility to prevent a deeply damaging no-deal Brexit for Britain. He said historians of the future would puzzle at how Europe failed to achieve an amicable change in its relationship with Britain. He said the only way through the current situation was for the EU to agree a change to the Irish backstop so that the withdrawal agreement could pass the House of Commons – where it is currently blocked. According to a “Guardian” report, British tourists travelling to continental Europe may need to pay £52 for a visa in a few weeks after Spanish demands over the status of Gibraltar again derailed Brussels’ preparations for Brexit. (May and Juncker), (Hunt), (Tourists)

Swedbank money laundering plot thickens: Estonia is investigating allegations linking Swedbank to suspicious transactions in the country involving Danske Bank, Estonia’s state prosecutor said on Wednesday. A Swedish television programme said it had uncovered documents indicating at least 40 billion Swedish crowns had been transferred between accounts at Swedbank and Danske in the Baltics between 2007 and 2015. Swedbank shares were down 13.6% when the Stockholm Stock Exchange closed, the biggest daily drop for the share since the financial crisis. Danske is being investigated over some 200 billion euros in payments from Russia, ex-Soviet states and elsewhere that were found to have flowed through its Estonian branch in a possible money laundering operation. The Estonian Financial Supervisory Authority said Danske had not operated in isolation in the financial system and that its transactions necessarily involved banks in other EU countries, not all of which were suspect.

Frontex sees no migration crisis in the EU: The European Union faces no burning crisis right now over migrant arrivals, the head of the EU’s border and coast guard agency Frontex said Wednesday. Fabrice Leggeri said that despite the drop in arrivals, the agency was still beefing up its border control measures through more staff and technology. The number of illegal migrants repatriated from the EU by Frontex edged down to 13,700 in 2018 from around 14,200 in 2017. The number of people coming across the central Mediterranean sea has dropped to the lowest since 2012 due to the danger of such crossings. However, unauthorised migrant entries into Spain rose by 160% last year.,

US trade dispute: Trump threatens tariffs on European cars if no trade deal
Legal framework: Increased transparency in doing business through online platforms


Swiss banking giant UBS fined in tax fraud case: UBS faces a massive financial penalty in France after a court ruled that the Swiss bank helped its wealthy clients avoid taxes. The court in Paris found that the bank had illegally helped French clients hide billions of euros from French tax authorities between 2004 and 2012. French prosecutors had previously told the court UBS was systematic in its support of tax-evading customers and that the laundering of proceeds from the tax fraud was done on an industrial scale. Prosecutors said the bank sent Swiss bankers to sports events and concerts to solicit clients. UBS denied any criminal wrongdoing and said it would appeal against the verdict. Meanwhile, French senators have urged an investigation into three top aides to President Emmanuel Macron, saying there was reason to believe they had withheld information from an official inquiry into a scandal involving Macron’s former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla., (UBS); (Benalla)

Several judges and lawyers arrested in Lithuania: Lithuania arrested 26 people including eight top judges and five lawyers in an anti-corruption probe on Wednesday. Prosecutor General Edvinas Pasilis told reporters that the authorities had uncovered a system of corruption. He intends to review verdicts issued by the eight judges. Anti-corruption agency head Zydrunas Bartkus said the agency had evidence of bribes, ranging from 1,000 euros to 100,000 euros, given to influence verdicts in a range of administrative, civil and criminal court cases. In one instance, a bribe was given to influence a prosecution for corruption.,

Sweden summons Hungarian ambassador: Hungary’s ambassador to Sweden was summoned to the foreign ministry Wednesday morning in an attempt to defuse a diplomatic row over Budapest’s new family policy. The ambassador was called in after Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen called a Swedish minister a “poor, sick creature” on television over the weekend following her criticism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Annika Strandhäll, Sweden’s social affairs minister, had tweeted last week that Orban’s seven-point family planning policy reeked of the 1930s, and that this kind of policy would harm the autonomy for which women had struggled for decades.

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Germany and France close to deal on new eurozone budget: Berlin and Paris have broadly agreed a proposal for a new eurozone budget and will present their final joint position in the coming days, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday. A Franco-German accord would pave the way for a breakthrough in the wider group of eurozone finance ministers who will discuss the set-up of the new but disputed tool next month. Germany wants the budget to be part of the broader, seven-year EU budget with disbursement of funds strictly linked to the implementation of structural reforms. France would like the money to be available to stabilise the eurozone economy against shocks and to boost its competitiveness.

Belgium: Green MEPs held after anti-nuclear protest at military base
Germany: Government rebuffs British pressure to sell arms to Saudi Arabia
New survey: French people have subtler view of EU than their politicians

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Microsoft warns hackers attacked European think tanks: Microsoft warned in a blog post on Wednesday that hackers attempted to breach accounts at several prominent European think tanks and non-profit organisations in late 2018. The tech giant said it had detected attacks targeting 104 staff accounts at the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of Aspen Institute and the German Marshall Fund. These groups largely focus on trans-Atlantic policy issues, democracy and electoral integrity, and are seen as valuable for hackers as they often have close contact with government officials. European leaders have voiced concerns about the threat of cyber attacks in the lead-up to European parliamentary elections in May.,


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