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While most individuals on both sides of the Atlantic spent last week focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the build-up to the Christmas holidays, or both, a small group of individuals worked on events of a different sort. On Christmas Eve, negotiators for the government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union announced they had reached an agreement in principle on a trade deal.

While the UK officially left the European Union on Jan. 31, a “transition agreement” in place through Dec. 31 meant that, for most practical purposes, UK citizens saw little change in their status vis-à-vis the EU during 2020. The EU had insisted on the UK first leaving the organization before negotiating an agreement defining their future trading relationship—somewhat akin to a couple physically separating before finalizing their divorce.

But with the transition agreement days away from expiring—a deadline Johnson’s government insisted it would not extend—negotiators frantically raced to reach agreement before Dec. 31. After several instances of “will they or won’t they?” when it seemed likely the two sides would not finalize a deal, the trade teams arrived at an agreement one week before the deadline.

What It Doesn’t Do

In many ways, both opponents and proponents of the trade deal will fixate on what the agreement does not do, rather than what it does. Proponents of the agreement will trumpet the fact that it avoids a “no deal” Brexit, a fact that has obsessed both pundits and the public in Britain for the last year-plus.

The recent lines of trucks queuing for miles and miles in southeast England provided some foretaste of what a “no deal” Brexit might have entailed. In this case, the queues occurred over the past week because the French government temporarily closed the border and imposed new restrictions upon its reopening, to contain a purportedly more infectious strain of COVID spreading in Britain. But the checks related to COVID presaged what the French government and other EU countries could have imposed had the UK not reached agreement on a trade deal.

Johnson said for months he preferred a “no deal” Brexit to an agreement that did not respect the UK’s sovereignty. But with both the UK and EU economies struggling from coronavirus-related lockdowns, neither wanted to inflict the damage that would come from an abrupt, and relatively chaotic, change to their trading relationship. While finalizing an agreement only a week before the deadline means businesses will still face much uncertainty after December 31, that level of uncertainty pales in comparison to a British crash-out from the EU.

‘Hard’ Brexit

While proponents of the agreement will applaud the fact that the UK avoided a “no deal” scenario, opponents of Johnson’s Conservative government have focused on the relatively “hard” nature of the Brexit agreement. It will see the UK outside the EU common market and customs union.

While the agreement preserves tariff-free access for British goods and some services, those goods will face additional customs paperwork and the potential for non-tariff barriers come Jan. 1. The agreement also largely leaves unanswered the question of whether the UK’s lucrative financial services industry will have continued easy access to EU markets.

In laymen’s terms, the agreement allows some divergence between the UK and EU regulatory models. Because the UK embarked on Brexit to take back its sovereignty, the Conservatives in Johnson’s government did not want to have to conform to EU laws and regulations that it no longer has any say in developing, or abide by rulings of the European Court of Justice.

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While the agreement gives the UK back that sovereignty, it also means EU regulators could deny access to goods that no longer comply with, for instance, EU food safety laws. However, no longer having to conform to EU laws and regulations means an independent UK could strengthen its ties with the United States, or other nations with whom it wishes to grow its trade links.

Ramifications within the UK

Even as the agreement gives the UK the opportunity to redefine its global relationships—whether with the EU, the United States, or others—it could also affect the internal affairs of the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has used the agreement’s version of a “hard Brexit” to make the case for Scotland to declare its independence from the UK.

In 2014, Scotland voted to reject independence, in what the SNP at the time called a “once-in-a-generation” referendum. But two years later, Scotland gave 62 percent of its votes to remain in the EU, even as the UK as a whole voted by a 52-48 percent margin to exit the European Union in the 2016 plebiscite.

The SNP has raised the prospect of “Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will” to argue for a second referendum on independence. Johnson to date has rejected calls for another independence vote, citing the generational nature of the 2016 referendum. But if the SNP wins an outright majority in next May’s elections to the Scottish Parliament—a likely outcome based on most polling since Johnson won a big majority in UK elections last December—the calls for another independence vote may prove too big to ignore.

‘Got Brexit Done’

For the time being, however, Johnson can celebrate achieving his promise made during last December’s election campaign to “Get Brexit Done.” He took office last summer knowing that the issue of the UK’s relationship with the EU had played a major role in the departure of the last four Conservative prime ministers—Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron, and Theresa May.

By reaching an agreement with the EU to exit the bloc, Johnson has potentially seen off the issue that so flummoxed his predecessors. But how the UK adapts to its new relationships with Europe and other countries—and how the constituent nations of the UK respond to those changes—will do much to define the remainder of his premiership, and Britain’s role in a changing world.



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Biden’s Interior nominee failed to report casino income on congressional ethics report

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The Democratic congresswoman named by President Biden to be the next interior secretary failed to disclose on her House ethics report $16,000 in casino salary that made up more than a  third of her income in 2018 when she first won her congressional seat, according to an amended report she filed as her nomination was being vetted.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who would be America’s first Native American cabinet secretary if her nomination is approved, faces a confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Republicans such as Sen. Steve Daines of Montana are expected to grill Haaland about her relative lack of management experience and her views on the environment and energy, which they have labeled as radical.

The change that Haaland made on her 2018 congressional ethics form last month may open another avenue of inquiry for Republicans.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation in New Mexico, has been one of the most modestly earning members in Congress since she joined in January 2019.

The financial disclosure form she filed for interior secretary shows she had no income in 2020 beyond her congressional salary and a $175 distribution payment from her tribe. She also reported owning no assets, and carrying up to $50,000 in student loan debts, a balance sheet dwarfed by those of the preponderance of members of Congress, the majority of whom are millionaires

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.File NomineeDisclosure-Haaland.pdf

After she joined Congress in 2019, Haaland reported on her House ethics form dated May 13, 2019 that her only source of income in 2018 was $30,550 as an independent contractor for her tribe’s Laguna Development Corp. She also listed no liabilities on the form.

But on Jan. 5 of this year, she quietly filed an amendment to the 2019 form adding $16,000 in “salary” from the San Felipe Casino, a gambling outlet near Santa Fe run by the San Felipe Pueblo. The casino recently changed its name to Black Mesa Casino.

The amendment also listed student loan debts of between $15,001 and $50,000 that were not on her 2019 form.

Spokespeople for Haaland, Daines and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the committee, did not immediately return emails or calls seeking comment .

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Convicted fundraiser who tried to work his way into Biden’s inner circle sentenced to prison

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Amajor Democratic bundler, who raised large sums for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and consorted with Joe Biden, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for what prosecutors said was a “mercenary” political influence scheme.

Imaad Zuberi, a Californian businessman was sentenced Thursday for schemes to funnel foreign money into U.S. political campaigns, then take millions of dollars for himself.

The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Assistant Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien said Zuberi was “purely a mercenary, funneling money to whomever he believed would do his bidding.”

Among the many unsealed court records, Zuberi was seen photographed with Joe Biden and Barack Obama when they were Vice President and President. He was also pictured with former President Bill Clinton and former presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. He took pictures with former Republican Rep. Paul Ryan when he was speaker of the House as well as the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Also included in the Times report was a hacked email chain released on WikiLeaks. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook messaged colleagues saying, “I’m OK taking the money and dealing with any attacks.” Jennifer Palmieri responded saying, “Take the money!”

He also attended Hillary Clinton’s election night party in New York City in 2016 as well as serving as a co-chair of The Trump Presidential Inauguration Committee.

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Zuberi made more than $950,000 in unlawful donations to the political committees of Obama, Clinton, McCain and others. Zuberi’s activities extended as far as a recent attempt to work his way into the Biden circle, according to Politico.  

In addition to the money he made, Zuberi also raised $270,000 for Hillary Clinton and $1.3 million for President Obama.

Zuberi, 50, pleaded guilty to a “three-count information charging with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)” for making false statements on a FARA filing as well as tax evasion and illegal contributions to political campaigns. He also pleaded guilty in a separate case earlier in June 2020 to a count of obstruction of justice.

“Zuberi turned acting as an unregistered foreign agent into a business enterprise,” Assistant Attorney General for National Secretary John C. Demers said in a Department of Justice news release.

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Cruz responds to pictures of him on Mexico flight, with Texas struggling from deadly winter storm

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Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz confirmed Thursday that he flew earlier this week to Mexico with family members, following the emergence of pictures appearing to show him in an airplane cabin and at a check-in counter, as fellow residents to recover from a deadly winter storm.

Cruz said in a statement that he accompanied his daughters on a flight Wednesday night to Mexico because they had the week off with school canceled.

“Wanting to be a good dad,” said Cruz, who also stated he is returning to Texas on Thursday afternoon.

The storms has been connected to at least seven deaths in Texas and knocked out power to as many as 2.5 million residents. The number of residents without electricity as of Thursday morning was down to less than 1 million, officials said.  

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“My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas,” Cruz also said. “We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm.”

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