Category Archives: World

TOP STORIES, World

Australian political parties hit by ‘state actor’ hack, PM says”:


Australia’s parliament was the subject of an attempted hack

Australia’s main political parties and parliament were hit by a “malicious intrusion” on their computer networks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The cyber-attack revealed two weeks ago was carried out by a “sophisticated state actor”, he said.

But he added there was “no evidence of any electoral interference”. The nation will hold an election within months.

The attack being investigated was at first thought to involve only the parliament’s servers.

“During the course of this work, we also became aware that the networks of some political parties – Liberal, Labor and Nationals – have also been affected,” Mr Morrison told the House of Representatives on Monday.

Who might have been behind it?

The Australian prime minister did not say which foreign state was under suspicion, adding he would not provide additional detail on “operational matters”.

The Australian government has faced a number of cyber-attacks in recent years, some of which have been attributed in local media to nations such as China.

Fergus Hanson, cyber security expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, put China “at the top” of the list of suspects but said he “wouldn’t rule out” Russia also being responsible.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the accusations were “groundless” and “made up out of thin air with ulterior motives”.

He urged media organisations to “stop the words and actions” that can harm “China’s bilateral relations with relevant countries”.

How extensive was the hack?

The Australian Cyber Security Centre said that although party systems had been compromised, it was not yet known if information had been stolen.

Mr Morrison, who leads the Liberal-National coalition, said: “We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system.”

He added that security officials had briefed the nation’s electoral bodies and would provide support to all political parties.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the cyber-attack was “of grave concern” following instances of “malicious activity” in other nations.

“We cannot be complacent and, as this most recent activity reported by the prime minister indicates, we are not exempt or immune,” he said.

In 2015 and 2016, there were high-profile attacks on the government’s weather and statistics agencies. In 2011, senior Australian ministers also had their email systems breached.

After the attack on the parliament’s computer network, officials said there was “no evidence” that information had been accessed or stolen.

However, politicians’ passwords had been reset as a precaution.

El Chapo trial: Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán found guilty


El Chapo trial: Five facts about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty on all 10 counts at his drug-trafficking trial at a federal court in New York.

Guzmán, 61, was convicted on numerous counts including the distribution of cocaine and heroin, illegal firearms possession and money laundering.

He has yet to be sentenced, but the verdict could mean life in jail.

Guzmán was arrested in January 2016 after escaping from a Mexican prison through a tunnel five months earlier.

He was extradited to the US in 2017.

The Mexican was accused of being behind the all-powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, which prosecutors say was the biggest supplier of drugs to the US.

What happened in court?

Tuesday’s unanimous verdict by a jury in Brooklyn, which was read out in a packed courtroom, followed an 11-week trial.

Guzmán, wearing a dark suit jacket and tie, showed no visible sign of emotion as the verdict was announced, CBS News reported.

US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard Donoghue, called it “a day of reckoning”

As he was escorted from the courtroom, he exchanged glances with his wife, Emma Coronel, a 29-year-old former beauty queen, before shaking hands with his lawyers.

Judge Brian Cogan, who presided over the trial, thanked the jurors for their dedication at what he described as a complex trial, saying it was “remarkable and it made me very proud to be an American”.

Who is El Chapo?

“El Chapo” (or “Shorty”) ran the Sinaloa cartel in northern Mexico.

Mexico’s drug war: Has it turned the tide?

Over time, it became one of the biggest traffickers of drugs to the US and, in 2009, Guzmán entered Forbes’ list of the world’s richest men at number 701, with an estimated worth of $1bn (£775m).

He was accused of having helped export hundreds of tonnes of cocaine into the US and of conspiring to manufacture and distribute heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

He was also said to have used hitmen to carry out “hundreds” of murders, assaults, kidnappings and acts of torture on rivals.

Key associates, including one former lieutenant, testified against Guzmán.

Emma Coronel, the wife of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, leaves court in New York, 12 February 2019
El Chapo’s wife, Emma Coronel, was in court in New York for Tuesday’s verdict

What was heard during the trial?

It provided shocking revelations about the Mexican drug lord’s life.

Court papers accused him of having girls as young as 13 drugged before raping them.

Guzmán “called the youngest of the girls his ‘vitamins’ because he believed that sexual activity with young girls gave him ‘life'”, former associate Colombian drug trafficker Alex Cifuentes was quoted as saying.

During the trial Cifuentes also alleged that Guzmán gave a $100m (£77m) bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is said to have contacted him after taking office in 2012 and asked for $250m in return for ending a manhunt for him. Mr Pena Nieto has not publicly commented.

Sketch of Alex Cifuentes (L) and Guzmán
Former associate Cifuentes (L) alleged that Guzmán (R) bribed Mexico’s then president

Another witness described seeing Guzmán murder at least three men.

Former bodyguard Isaias Valdez Rios said Guzmán beat two people who had joined a rival cartel until they were “completely like rag dolls”. He then shot them in the head and ordered their bodies be thrown on a fire.

In another incident, he had a member of the rival Arellano Felix cartel burned and imprisoned before taking him to a graveyard, shooting him and having him buried alive.

Guzmán is also alleged to have had his own cousin killed for lying about being out of town, and ordered a hit on the brother of another cartel leader because he did not shake his hand.

When asked by a former cartel lieutenant why he killed people, he is alleged to have said: “Either your mom’s going to cry or their mom’s going to cry.”

Guzmán's wife Emma Coronel attended the trial in New York
Guzmán’s wife Emma Coronel attended the trial

The court heard details of his 2015 escape from Mexico’s maximum-security Altiplano prison. His sons bought a property near the prison and a GPS watch smuggled into the prison gave diggers his exact location.

At one point Guzmán complained that he could hear the digging from his cell. He escaped by riding a specially adapted small motorcycle through the tunnel.

He also used software on his phone to spy on his wife and mistresses, which allowed the FBI to present his text messages in court.

In one set of texts, he recounted to his wife how he had fled a villa during a raid by US and Mexican officials, before asking her to bring him new clothes, shoes and black moustache dye.

Why was this trial significant?

Guzmán is the highest profile Mexican drug cartel boss so far to stand trial in the US.

The drug war in Mexico – pitting the Mexican and US authorities against cartels smuggling drugs into the US and the cartels against each other – has killed about 100,000 people over more than a decade.

A former DEA agent describes capturing Guzmán in 2014 – he later escaped

Guzmán achieved notoriety for twice escaping custody in Mexico as well as avoiding arrest on numerous other occasions.

Among some in his home state, he had the status of a folk hero a popular subject of “narcocorridos” – musical tributes to drugs barons.

In 2016, he gave an interview to Hollywood actor Sean Penn in a Mexican jungle following his escape the previous year and boasted that he was the world’s leading supplier of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

He was later recaptured in the north-western town of Los Mochis. During the raid he fled through a drain but was later caught by troops in a shootout.

The Brooklyn Bridge was closed each time Guzmán was driven across it
New York’s Brooklyn Bridge was closed each time the motorcade containing Guzmán drove across it

The US indictment against him was a consolidation of charges from six federal jurisdictions across the country, including New York, Chicago and Miami.

Prosecutors pooled together evidence acquired over more than a decade, including from international partners such as Mexico and Colombia, to build their sweeping case.

The trial jurors were anonymous and were escorted to and from the courthouse in Brooklyn by armed marshals after prosecutors argued that Guzmán had a history of intimidating witnesses and even ordering their murders.

Hammond’s Brexit ‘dividend’ claim rejected as UK economy stalls,”


Philip Hammond’s claim that Britain can reap an economic dividend from Theresa May’s Brexit

deal has been flatly rejected by MPs, as official figures confirmed the UK has suffered its worst year for GDP growth since 2012.

In a highly critical report, the Treasury select committee warned that the chancellor’s claims of a “deal dividend” if Britain avoided a no-deal exit lacked credibility.

The criticism came after data on Monday showed the economy grew by just 0.2% in the final three months of 2018, down from 0.6% in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter figures contained signs of an even sharper slowdown, with the economy posting a decline of 0.4% in December amid signs that Brexit uncertainty is taking hold.

For 2018 as a whole, GDP growth slipped to its lowest since 2012, at 1.4%, down from 1.8% in 2017.

Nicky Morgan MP, the Conservative chair of the committee, said 

Hammond’s “dividend” claim, at the Conservative party conference last year, had already been undermined by the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR had told the committee the dividend was not an economic boost so much as “avoiding something really very bad” in the form of a no-deal departure.

“The OBR already assumes an orderly Brexit, so there won’t be a ‘deal dividend’ beyond the forecast just by avoiding no-deal. Business confidence may improve with increased certainty, but it’s not credible to describe this as a dividend,” said Morgan.

The OBR has made a smooth departure from the EU a key part of its forecasts, which prompted the Treasury committee to state there is no evidence of an economic boost from supporting the deal over and above those central estimates.

Hammond has repeatedly suggested that, should parliament throw its weight behind Theresa May’s Brexit plan, it would generate a dual economic boost for the country by lifting the fog of uncertainty blocking businesses investment, while also allowing him to spend public funds held in reserve for a no-deal scenario.

Reacting to Morgan’s comments, Treasury insiders dismissed the suggestion that Britain would not see a deal dividend from MPs supporting the prime minister’s Brexit plan, as it would give firms more clarity about the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

“The chancellor has been clear that when we agree a good deal we will harvest a deal dividend. This is because businesses will have the certainty they need to invest, grow and create jobs which will improve the public finances,” the source said.

Most economists believe that Britain agreeing a Brexit deal with Brussels would help to give firms clarity for the future, potentially unleashing projects that have been put on hold due to the uncertainty.

Amit Kara, the head of UK macroeconomics research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: “It could be a dividend as all we’re saying is we’re moving from an acute phase of uncertainty to remaining within the EU for at least the next two years.”

He added: “The dividend is just because of the mess at the moment.”

The committee’s intervention undermines one of Theresa May’s key arguments to persuade MPs to back her withdrawal agreement with less than 50 days to go before Brexit. It also comes as the British economy shows increasing signs of stress as the deadline for the article 50 process looms ever closer, causing more business to put their plans to invest in Britain on hold.

Growth figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that business investment in the final three months of 2018 declined sharply. Corporate spending tumbled for the fourth successive quarter – falling by 1.4% in the final quarter of 2018 alone – for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.

Companies have intensified their contingency planning to cope with the possibility of a disruptive Brexit. Car manufacturers are stockpiling parts, banks have moved employees to Ireland and continental Europe and two Japanese electronics firms, Panasonic and Sony, have moved their EU headquarters to mainland Europe.

Labour and trade unions called on the prime minister to remove no-deal Brexit as an option in order to shore up confidence in Britain, something which May has so far refused to do in negotiations with Brussels.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “The prime minister’s failure to rule out a no-deal Brexit is harming confidence in the economy and holding back growth. With our manufacturing sector in recession, the prime minister must act now to remove the threat of crashing out.”

GDP growth in December plunged into reverse, with a broad-based slump across each of the key sectors for the economy. The manufacturing sector, which makes up about a tenth of the economy, fell into recession, with six months of negative growth in the longest negative run since September 2008 to February 2009, the depths of the financial crisis.

The monthly decline GDP of 0.4% helped drag down quarter-on-quarter GDP growth to a rate of 0.2% in the three months to the end of the year, slightly below the Bank of England’s expectations and down from a rate of 0.6% in the third quarter.

While the slowdown mirrors a loss of momentum in the world economy, including a deterioration in the eurozone, most analysts believe that unique challenges from Brexit have further hindered UK growth.

Ben Brettell, a senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “There’s little doubt Brexit uncertainty is responsible for the disappointing numbers, though concerns over global trade will also have played a part.”

The committee also warned that Hammond’s deficit reduction target – to eliminate the gap between government spending and income by the early part of the next decade – now lacked credibility. Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal is expected to come with significant negative consequences for the public finances, with potential for the deficit to widen.

Hammond opted at the last budget to raise public spending, with a £20bn a year increase for the NHS by 2023-24, without making significant tax increases to balance the books.

Referring to that decision, the committee said: “The government’s fiscal objective has no credibility and should be replaced.”

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What is a cosh, and the week’s other most-Googled questions,:


The truth is out there. All you need to do is Google it.

And that’s what plenty of you have done in the past week, if the most-searched questions on Google are any indication.

We decided to answer some of those questions posed by UK users – and they tell us plenty about what happened the news this week.

Where is 21 Savage from?

BBC Radio 1's Nesta McGregor on what we don't know about 21 Savage
BBC Radio 1’s Nesta McGregor on what we don’t know about 21 Savage

Why did this come up?

The US rapper, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested on Sunday and now American immigration officials could deport him.

What’s the answer?

We now know he is definitely from the UK -the big question is whether he should be allowed to stay in the US ,

US officials say he came to America from the UK in July 2005 aged 12 and failed to leave when his visa expired a year later. Reuters news agency obtained a birth certificate showing he was born in Newham, east London.

The rapper’s lawyer says he arrived in the US from the UK in 1999 and that his immigration status expired through no fault of his own.

What is a cosh?

Why did this come up?

In an interview with The Independent published this week, actor Liam Neeson said he once set out to kill an innocent black man after someone close to him was raped.

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody,” said Neeson, who has gone on to face significant criticism and faced calls to apologise.

What’s the answer?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a cosh is “a stout stick, bludgeon or truncheon; a length of metal used as a life-preserver”.

Who won Super Bowl 2019?

New England Patriots linebacker Brandon King (36) lays in the confetti after Super Bowl LIII
The New England Patriots’ Brandon King lies in confetti after his side’s win

Why did this come up?

The Super Bowl, the biggest event in the American football calendar, took place on Sunday (or Monday, in many parts of the world).

What’s the answer?

The New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in a tight, defensive game (the lowest-scoring Super Bowl yet, in fact).

In doing so, the team based just outside Boston equalled the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record of six Super Bowl wins, and their star player Tom Brady won his record sixth title.

Which HMV stores are closing?

Why did this come up?

This week the British record store chain was rescued from collapse for the second time in under 10 years, although 27 shops (including affiliates) will close.

What’s the answer?

Here goes….

Ayr; Bath; Bluewater; Bristol, Cribbs; Chichester; Exeter, Princesshay; Fopp, Bristol; Fopp, Glasgow Byres; Fopp, Manchester; Fopp, Oxford; Glasgow, Braehead; Guernsey; Hereford; Manchester, Trafford; Merry Hill; London Oxford Street; Peterborough, Queensgate; Plymouth, Drake Circus; Reading; Sheffield, Meadowhall; Southport; Thurrock; Tunbridge Wells; Uxbridge; Watford; Westfield; Wimbledon.

The flamingo is the national bird of which country?

American flamingo

Why did this come up?

Most likely it is prompted by the news that the pink flamingo is on the list of emojis officially released for 2019.

What’s the answer?

The Bahamas. Its national bird is the American Flamingo ( Phoenicopterus ruber ), which is common across the island nation and Cuba in particular.

Some American Flamingo facts: they’re surprisingly good swimmers, and mating females lay only one egg a year.

Why do Ireland have two anthems?

Why did this come up?

The clue here is in the word “do” instead of “does” – it refers to the Irish rugby team, who lost at home to England in their first match of the 2019 Six Nations tournament.

Two anthems were played before the match.

What’s the answer?

Before all the Irish rugby team’s matches, the song Ireland’s Call is played.

At home games in Dublin, Amhrán na bhFiann (A Soldier’s Song) – the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland – is also sung.

Ireland’s Call was commissioned by the Irish Rugby Football Union for the 1995 World Cup because many of the IRFU’s members are from Northern Ireland and regarded the use of A Soldier’s Song as inappropriate, as it is the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland.

Hockey Ireland and the Irish Cricket Union have also adopted Ireland’s Call – both are also all-Ireland teams.

Why is Chinese New Year important?

A family pose for a photo in front of a light display in Chinatown on the eve of the Lunar New Year of the Pig

Why did this come up?

This week saw the start of the lunar new year, also known as Chinese New Year. It’s the Year of the Pig!

What’s the answer?

It’s the biggest annual celebration for a sixth of the world’s population, and a time for families to come together. Wherever there is a Chinese community around the world, it is marked.

Where is the Truckers’ Oasis?

Why did this come up?

This is all about the wildly popular online game Fortnite. In the latest round of challenges in the game, users are told to visit “a truckers’ oasis”.

What’s the answer?

If you’re playing Fortnite, you’ve probably already figured this out, but the Truck ‘N’ Oasis is in the bottom left-hand corner of the map.

And if you’re not playing Fortnite, and have no idea what we’re talking about, then this is a good place to start

Bill Clinton acquittal: Echoes of a sex scandal 20 years on,”


The paradox of the Bill Clinton impeachment saga was that it made it easier for Donald Trump to become president and harder for his wife, Hillary. Twenty years after his acquittal, it’s clearer to see how that seismic event shaped American politics and culture today.

In a quarter century of covering US politics, I only have ever got round to framing two newspaper front pages. The first was when President Bill Clinton was impeached in December 1998. The second was when he was acquitted at the conclusion of his Senate trial the following February.

Washington in the late-1990s was my first foreign posting. The Monica Lewinsky scandal, as we inaccurately labelled it, was my first big American story. The picture framing was partly a vanity project to mark this personal milestone. But this also felt like a once-in-a-lifetime story.

Clinton was the first US president to be impeached since 1868, when Andrew Johnson also managed to avoid conviction in the Senate after being indicted by the House. Evidently, more seasoned Washington colleagues shared this view. As I came to discover over the following months, the same framed black and white newsprint, with the same banner headlines “Clinton Impeached” followed by “Clinton Acquitted”, also adorned their study and toilet walls.

New York Times headline on the day President Clinton was acquitted in impeachment trial at US Senate

Veterans of the impeachment saga soon found themselves reporting on an epic tumble of events. The 2000 presidential election, with its disputed Florida recount. The attacks of September 11th. The Iraq war and its troubled aftermath. The financial crash, and the Great Recession that followed. The election of America’s first black president, who handed over power to the country’s first reality TV star president. Once-in-a-lifetime stories seemed to come along every few years.

Two decades on, the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton nonetheless feels like a big bang moment in the American story.

Quadriga: Cryptocurrency exchange founder’s death locks $140m,:

Post-truth politics. The poisoning of the Washington hothouse. The delegitimisation of modern-day presidents. The corrosive impact of the internet. The rise of polarised news. The Jerry Springerisation of national life.

All were evident in that Clinton melodrama, which saw the Washington Post and New York Times ploughing the same furrows as the National Enquirer, and genre-busting news stories in which quotes from constitutional law experts interpreting what the Founding Fathers meant by high crimes and misdemeanours were interspersed with the most salacious and suggestive snippets of the sex scandal – the snap of Monica Lewinsky’s thong, the soiled blue dress, the gift from the president to his intern of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the same anthology of poetry he had once given to Hillary Clinton.

As well as being a constitutional showdown, this was a tabloid scandal for what Vanity Fair had aptly labelled the tabloid decade.

It provided a fitting coda to an era of sensationalism that had already brought us the OJ Simpson trial, Tonya Harding, the William Kennedy Smith trial, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tapes, the arrest of Pee-Wee Herman, the first accusations against Michael Jackson, the Mike Tyson rape conviction, John Wayne Bobbitt and his penis-severing wife Lorena, and the divorce of Donald and Ivana Trump.

Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky brought this luridness to the nation’s capital, where scandal has always been the highest – and often the basest – form of entertainment.

End of shutdown: White House denies Donald Trump ‘caved’ to Democrats

Washington was at fever pitch. So much so that whenever I am asked today whether Donald Trump will survive until the end of his term in office, I find myself recalling the early days of the Bill Clinton scandal when it was by no means certain the president would last until the end of the week.

Events moved at such a hurtling pace, and information came at you with such dizzying speed, it was hard back then to step back and take in the panoramic picture. Hindsight offers some clarity.

The culture wars unleashed

Even before Bill Clinton had laid eyes on the 22-year-old White House intern, his Republican opponents questioned his legitimacy as president and looked for ways to drive him from office.

Not since Woodrow Wilson in 1912 had a candidate reached the White House with such a small share of the national vote, a measly 43%. Republicans also felt aggrieved that the eccentric third party candidacy of Ross Perot had stolen the election from President George Herbert Walker Bush, even though polling data suggests the Texan billionaire syphoned off just as many votes from the Democrats as the GOP.

For conservative cultural warriors, the Clintons personified the worst excesses of the Sixties. In Bill Clinton, they saw a philandering draft dodger. In Hillary Rodham Clinton, they saw a sneering feminist who looked down upon women who had not pursued careers of their own.

Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich share a toast in 1997, the year before the president's impeachment
Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich share a toast in 1997, the year before the president’s impeachment

Political fear also stoked their antipathy. Before 1992, the Republicans had held the presidency for 20 of the previous 24 years. William Jefferson Clinton threatened to end that hegemony.

Here, after all, was an articulate young politician from the south, the region that had produced the last two Democratic presidents, who promised to fuse Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal with Ronald Reagan’s free market ideology.

US Supreme Court allows Trump military transgender ban

Clinton sought to shatter the Nixon and Reagan coalitions that had enabled the Republicans to dominate presidential elections and was well placed to forge a new winning Democratic coalition, incorporating white working class voters who had become “Reagan Democrats”. Their fears were well placed. Since 1992, Democrats have won the popular vote in five out of six presidential elections.

So after the Whitewater investigation, the Troopergate affair and Travelgate scandal failed to produce evidence of potentially impeachable offences, Clinton’s enemies, abetted by the independent counsel Kenneth Starr, seized upon the affair with Monica Lewinsky as their gotcha moment.

Clinton’s recklessness, and his mendacious efforts to cover it up, handed his opponents a pretext to demonstrate his unworthiness to occupy the White House. Not even Richard Nixon, whose crimes and abuses of power were far more egregious, had been stalked so aggressively.

Monica Lewinsky after her relationship with President Clinton became public
White House intern Monica Lewinsky was thrust into the spotlight when the affair became public

The pursuit of Bill Clinton marked a paradigm shift in presidential politics. Since then, it has become routine for every occupant of the White House to be assailed as illegitimate by zealous adversaries.

George W. Bush for the assist he received from the conservative-leaning US Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in his favour to end the Florida recount. Barack Obama, for the untruthful claim he was born in Kenya, which, if factual, would have disqualified him from the presidency. Donald Trump for losing the popular vote by more than three million votes.

US politics has reached such a nadir that many Americans no longer accept the outcome of presidential elections, and thus deny the winners any electoral mandate. Not since the election of George Herbert Walker Bush thirty years ago has a president entered the Oval Office without his right of occupancy being brought into question.

A corollary of the delegitimisation of modern-day presidents has been the legitimisation of the politics of no, an oppositional approach whereby constitutional checks and balances have come to be used as vetoes and blockades.

This again can be traced back to the Clinton years. Bob Dole, the Republican’s leader in the Senate, deployed the filibuster more frequently than his predecessors to stymie Bill Clinton’s legislative agenda. Newt Gingrich, the first Republican House speaker since the early-1950s, used government shutdowns as a political weapon.

Bill Clinton might never have spent time alone with Monica Lewinsky had it not been for the 1995 government shutdown, which meant this inexperienced intern was granted more West Wing access because of the absence of furloughed staff.

The Clinton scandal heightened political tensions by unleashing a cultural war in the heart of Washington. Here was another opportunity to litigate the Sixties, one that pitted the modern-day puritans of the right against the permissive peaceniks of the left.

Anti-abortion activists protest outside the US Supreme Court in 1993, the first year of Clinton's presidency
Anti-abortion activists protest outside the US Supreme Court in 1993, the first year of Clinton’s presidency

For the religious right especially, whose grip on the Republican Party tightened under Ronald Reagan, here was the chance to mount a moral crusade and increase its hold on the GOP. More moderate Republicans, the sort of business-oriented pragmatists who had once dominated the party, were already becoming an endangered breed.

Certainly, the partisan mood in Washington in the late-Nineties was wholly different from the early-Seventies, when Congress started impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, albeit for more serious felonies.

Back then some of Nixon’s most dogged tormentors came from within his own party. It was Howard Baker, a Republican Senator from Tennessee, who posed that legendary Watergate question: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

It was Republican elders, such as the party’s former presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, who journeyed from Capitol Hill to the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House to urge Nixon to resign. When the House decided to start an impeachment inquiry against the president, the vote in February 1974 received near unanimous bipartisan vote, with 410 in favour and just four against.

‘The lie saved me’

Post-truth politics also received a boost from the Clinton scandal. His early lies, including his finger-jabbing falsehood “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” worked to his advantage.

In the explosive first days of the scandal, when senior White House correspondents such as ABC’s legendary Sam Donaldson predicted he might be forced to resign “perhaps this week”, the lies bought Clinton time. They helped him weather the initial squall, shore up Democratic support and push back against his accusers.

Bill Clinton wags his finger as he denies having "sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" in a January 1998 press conference
President Clinton responds to the allegations in January 1998

“The lie saved me”, the president confided to a close friend, according to the journalist John Harris’s book The Survivor, the finest book on the Clinton presidency.

The Clintons also sought to alter the question at the heart of the national debate from “Who do you believe?” to “Whose side are you on?” Was that not the rationale behind Hillary Clinton’s famed interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, in which she accused investigators of being part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”?

From early on, the White House framed this as a partisan battle rather than a moment of personal reckoning. “We just have to win,” Clinton told his political strategist Dick Morris, who cynically had conducted secret polling to test whether Clinton should lie or tell the truth.

As the journalist Susan Glasser told a Politico roundtable marking the 20th anniversary of the scandal: “It was political genius how he handled it by lying. Lying was proven to work in some way that has enabled further the cynical and divisive political culture of Washington.”

The Clintons, with daughter Chelsea, take a walk in the White House grounds in 1999
The Clintons, with daughter Chelsea, take a walk in the White House grounds

Not until the summer of 1998, when we learnt Monica Lewinsky had preserved the famed blue dress, did he grudgingly concede the truth.

After his lies were exposed, Clinton requested airtime from the networks for a televised confessional. “Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate”, he admitted. But then he carpet-bombed his accusers for mounting a “politically-inspired” investigation led by Kenneth Starr: “This has gone on too long, cost too much, and hurt too many innocent people.”

This time, the strategy backfired, with senior Democrats such as Senator Dianne Feinstein expressing dismay. Senator Joe Lieberman, an orthodox Jew who had long seen himself as a moral elder, condemned him on the floor of the Senate. Many were appalled by Clinton’s behaviour.

In the House, 31 Democrats voted to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. Yet no senior Democrat publicly called for the president to resign, partly because they did not want to hand victory to the Republicans. Even Lieberman, Clinton’s most prominent Democratic critic, said impeachment would be “unjust and unwise”.

So strong was party loyalty that in the immediate aftermath of being impeached by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Bill Clinton even held a pep rally on the South Lawn of the White House, with Democratic lawmakers ranked behind him. That partisan tableau featured on the front page of the Washington Post hanging on my wall.

Hillary, the long-term loser

Partly because Clinton was so adept at portraying his Republican opponents as over-reaching zealots, and partly because they did not regard his sins as impeachable, Democratic voters also remained loyal. After his acquittal in 1999, his approval rating amongst Democrats hit 92 per cent. When he left office, he enjoyed the highest approval among all voters of any departing president.

Clinton had outsmarted his opponents, and the only politicians to lose their jobs during the impeachment crisis were Republicans.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the first casualty. Clinton’s Baby Boomer nemesis resigned after the GOP lost seats in the 1998 congressional mid-terms, which Gingrich had turned into a national referendum on the president’s behaviour.

His successor Bob Livingstone also had to fall on his sword. On the very morning of Clinton’s impeachment, the Louisianan was forced to resign after Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine exposed his own extramarital affair. (A ghastly irony is that the Speakership passed to Dennis Hastert, a former teacher and wrestling coach, who was then seen as an irreproachable figure. In 2016, Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison following a hush money case that revealed he had been accused of abusing young boys during his years as a teacher).

Former president Bill Clinton speaks at the Democratic national convention in 2016
The former president speaks at the Democratic national convention in 2016

Though Clinton suffered the ignominy of becoming only the second president to be impeached, by far the biggest Democratic casualty was his wife, Hillary, because of its collateral impact on her presidential run in 2016.

When the email imbroglio broke, voters questioned whether they wanted to live through another scandal-prone presidency, fuelling Clinton fatigue. The lies from that era embroidered the narrative the Clintons were evasive and untrustworthy.

Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Donald Trump’s misogyny, and her ability to capitalise on the notorious Access Hollywood tape, were also compromised by her husband’s affairs.

She was accused of enabling his behaviour and of showing little sympathy towards his female accusers. Tellingly, one of Donald Trump’s first lines of defence was to claim he had heard Bill Clinton say worse things about women on the golf course, an accusation which, even if not true, seemed plausible.

The billionaire even paraded some of Clinton’s accusers, including Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick ahead of the first presidential debate, a stunt that many commentators considered exploitative but for others raised entirely legitimate questions about her husband’s sexual history.

Hillary Clinton, in her 2017 campaign memoir What Happened?, slammed Donald Trump’s pre-debate press conference. “He was just using them,” she wrote. But those women were accusing her husband of far worse. Juanita Broaddrick claimed Clinton had raped her in 1978, an allegation he has long denied. Trump ended up winning a higher share of white female voters than Hillary Clinton, a key factor in her defeat.

In performing this act of political jujitsu, the billionaire adopted the Clinton playbook. Like Bill Clinton, he turned his grudging televised confessional after the Access Hollywood tape emerged into a partisan rallying cry: “Whose side are you on?” As with Clinton, it won him time, mobilised his base and preserved his political viability.

Here, Trump also benefited from another part of Bill Clinton’s legacy: the redefinition of what behaviour was disqualifying for presidential candidates.

In 1988, the Democratic frontrunner Gary Hart was forced from the race after the Miami Herald published details about his affair with Donna Rice. Four years later Clinton survived the Gennifer Flowers scandal, and also allegations of draft dodging – two accusations, among scores of others, that Donald Trump survived. Clinton normalised errant behaviour and helped desensitise the electorate to philandering politicians.

The paradox of the Clinton impeachment saga, then, was that it made it easier for Donald Trump to become president and harder for his wife. Hillary Clinton became a repeat victim of his infidelities.

The first internet moment

Though those framed front pages, now slightly yellowed with age, captured the historical moment, they hardly depicted the media zeitgeist.

For the Clinton scandal completely changed the metabolism of news, speeding the shift from print to digital, and fuelling the growth of talk radio and cable news channels. Public reality, which traditionally had been shaped by the major TV networks and prominent newspapers, now was also being moulded by new media start-ups. The internet started to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of information.

This was the all-caps headline in the fledgling Drudge Report on January 17th, 1998, an obscure website relatively few people had heard of in what the BBC called at the time “the wilds of cyberspace.”

Drudge Report headline from 1998 reads: Newsweek kills story on White House intern; Blockbuster report: 23-year-old, sex relationship with president

Matt Drudge, its iconoclastic founder, became the first journalist to publish the name Monica Lewinsky, after catching wind that Newsweek, which had explosive details of her affair with the president, had hesitated before publishing.

Hurrying to play catch up, respected White House reporters, such as Peter Baker who was then with the Washington Post, raced to put out the first online stories, even though many of their newsroom colleagues did not at the time have permission to access the internet. Newsweek posted a piece by its investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, the author of the suppressed scope, on its America Online site, rather than wait for its next magazine issue to hit the newsstands.

When the Starr Report was published on the fateful date of September 11th 1998, it became America’s first internet moment.

Downloads of its lurid details that day accounted for a quarter of all America’s internet traffic. With CNN getting 300,000 clicks a minute, which in those days seemed unimaginable, it became a ‘clickbait’ sensation. Not only was the digital version easier to obtain than printed copies, but the 445-page report doubled as porn. It mentioned oral sex 85 times.

The story was endlessly riveting. So perhaps we should look upon the Clinton saga as the gateway drug to our modern-day real-time information addiction, and the outbreak of the screen-time epidemic for news junkies especially. It was just that the delivery systems back then were not particularly efficient – dial-up internet, PCs and bulky laptops – and the most powerful stimulants, Twitter and Facebook, were not yet on the market.

Fox v MSNBC: How the news divides America
Fox v MSNBC: How the news divides America

Just as the early online news sites experienced a surge in traffic, cable news channels enjoyed a ratings bonanza.

Before the Clinton scandal, Fox News, which launched two years earlier, was something of a niche broadcaster available in just 10 million homes. By 2000, partly because of its blanket coverage of the impeachment saga, that figure had mushroomed to 56 million homes. MSNBC, which also launched in 1996, also became a significant player, not least as a progressive counterpoint to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.

To sustain their 24/7 blanket coverage of the scandal, continuous news channels smudged the lines between reporting on events and commenting on them. Partisan pundits trading in shrill sound-bites helped fill airtime, and quickly realised the more outspoken their comments, the more they would be invited back. The disagreement culture of modern-day cable news, which tended to generate more heat than light, was born.

Talk radio relied on a more one-sided formula: polemical monologues delivered by presenters whose views were usually affirmed and amplified by listeners calling in.

The repeal during the Reagan years of the Fairness Doctrine, a regulation enforced by the Federal Communications Commission demanding the airing of both sides of an argument, had already fuelled the rise of right-wing talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh. The impeachment drama elevated their status as tribunes of the right, and underscored how local radio stations especially came to be a conservative echo chamber.

This had a circular effect on politics, and heightened the doctrinaire streak among Republicans especially. Polls suggested the push for impeachment was damaging the GOP. The 1998 mid-term elections offered incontrovertible proof of this self-sabotage. Yet despite various exit ramps being available to Republican leaders, they kept on pressing on down the road even though it was unlikely to end in Clinton’s dethronement.

Impeachment was not just a transformational moment. For contemporary politicians it has become a teachable one.

What the Senate trial of Bill Clinton underscored was the difficulty in removing a sitting president. Procedurally speaking, impeachment itself is relatively straightforward – a simple majority of the House of Representatives is required to approve an article of impeachment, which serves in effect as an indictment.

Achieving a guilty verdict in the upper chamber, by contrast, is challenging. Deliberately, the framers of the Constitution set the bar high, requiring two-thirds of the Senate to vote for removal. Today, that would require 67 Senators, a fiendishly difficult number to attain.

Back in 1998, not even all 55 Republican Senators delivered guilty verdicts at the end of the trial presided over the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist. Nor did a single Democrat break ranks. In the present Senate, 22 Republican Senators would have to turn on Donald Trump to remove him from office, assuming all the Democrats voted guilty.

What does it take to impeach a president?
What does it take to impeach a president?

Aside from giving us a tutorial in constitutional mechanics, the impeachment saga offered a political lesson: that the pursuit of a president, through this seldom-used process, comes with enormous risks. Certainly it boomeranged for Newt Gingrich.

That’s why the new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is doing her damnedest to tamp down talk of impeachment now that the Democrats once again command a majority in the lower chamber. Understandably, she fears a voter backlash, and also handing Donald Trump the kind of martyrdom that would help him win a second term.

So here is the double paradox of the Bill Clinton scandal and the impeachment proceedings it set in motion. Not only did it end up easing Donald Trump’s path to the White House, it diminishes the chances of Congress trying to remove him from office.

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Brexit: Theresa May to meet Leo Varadkar for Brexit talks,”


Theresa May will meet Leo Varadkar to update him on her ongoing efforts to get changes to the Brexit withdrawal deal.

The prime minister and taoiseach (Irish prime minister) will have dinner in Dublin on Friday night.

The EU has said it will hold more talks with the UK to help the prime minister get a Brexit deal through the Commons

The meeting will take place after Mr Varadkar meets Northern Ireland’s main political parties in Belfast.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will also travel to Dublin for talks with his Irish counterpart.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr Varadkar said it was “not a day for negotiations” but that it was an opportunity to “share perspectives”.

Several cabinet ministers have told the BBC a no-deal Brexit could lead to a vote on Irish unification.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster poured cold water on the prospect, saying that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement sets out “criteria for a border poll, and it hasn’t been met – therefore it will not be called”.

What emerged from the PM’s Brussels trip?

On Thursday, Mrs May met EU leaders in Brussels in a bid to secure changes to the Irish border backstop in the Brexit agreement.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out legally-binding changes to the backstop clause  in the 585-page withdrawal document.

But he said the EU would be open to adding words to the non-binding future relations document that goes with the withdrawal agreement.

Other officials, including European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, have said the backstop is “non-negotiable”.

What is the Irish government’s view?

On Wednesday, Mr Varadkar held meetings with top EU officials about the backstop and Ireland’s plans for a no-deal outcome.

He said that while he was “open to further discussions” with the UK government about post-Brexit relations, the legally-binding withdrawal agreement remained “the best deal possible”.

The backstop was needed “as a legal guarantee to ensure that there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland”, he added.

Speaking in Belfast on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said “time is running out” to agree a deal, but that work needed to continue in order to ensure agreement was reached.

“When it comes to Brexit this is a negotiation that has the UK on one side and EU on the other,” he said.

“Any negotiation can only happen with Ireland and the EU working together.”

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Analysis: Diplomacy over dinner in Dublin?

By Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI Political Reporter

Today the focus shifts from Brussels back to Belfast.

Theresa May left her EU meetings with a promise of more talks, but was told there can be no re-negotiation of the withdrawal agreement.

It’s a message that has been reinforced repeatedly in Dublin.

That’s where Mrs May will go tonight for dinner with the taoiseach, although no-one is expecting a diplomatic breakthrough from it.

It will take place just hours after Leo Varadkar meets the main Stormont parties including the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The Irish government insists any talk of Brexit is a matter for the EU, but it’s impossible for the backstop and the deadlock over Brexit not to dominate today’s conversations in Belfast.

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Where are we with the backstop?

It is the insurance policy to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless and until another solution is found.

The UK and EU made a commitment to avoid physical barriers or checks on the border, if no UK-EU trade deal is agreed before the Brexit transition period ends.

Many people are concerned that the return of such checks would put the peace process at risk.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

But there has been opposition to the backstop from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Brexiteer MPs, who believe its terms could keep the UK tied to EU rules in the long term.

Last month, MPs backed an amendment in Parliament calling for “alternative arrangements” to replace the backstop.

A group of Conservative MPs has held talks aimed at finding other Brexit options that would avoid a hard border.

On Wednesday, it emerged that they had scrapped a planned visit to Northern Ireland to meet business representatives, however the invite has since been re-issued.

Business leaders in Northern Ireland are due to attend a meeting at Stormont on Friday with the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) border delivery group to discuss post-Brexit border arrangements.

The meeting had been cancelled three times.

Why has Leo Varadkar travelled to Belfast?

The Irish government said Mr Varadkar’s talks in Belfast would provide him with an opportunity to discuss the “ongoing political impasse” in Northern Ireland, which has been without a devolved executive and assembly for more than two years.

He said he had travelled north to “hear the perspective of the main parties”.

“We share common objectives to make sure that there is a deal in relation to Brexit, to avoid a hard border, and to maintain frictionless trade.”

Mr Varadkar’s trip comes days after Theresa May met the parties at Stormont to discuss her bid to make changes to the withdrawal agreement .

How have the Northern Ireland parties reacted?

The DUP were the first party to meet Mr Varadkar, with others due to have talks with the taoiseach later on Friday.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party had a “wide-ranging” discussion.

Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster dismissed calls for a border poll, saying the criteria for one had “not been met”

Mrs Foster also said some people were engaging in “project fear” with the Brexit negotiations.

The party’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said the backstop “is the problem”, but would not specify which possible alternative to it that his party is fully backing.

Sinn Féin’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill said her party would “hold the taoiseach’s feet to the fire” when it comes to defending the backstop.

She said he had given her an assurance he would remain firm with his stance.

The party also said they have been calling repeatedly for a border poll, and that they had urged the Mr Varadkar to begin planning for one.

The UUP’s Brexit spokesperson Steve Aiken said there needed to be “level-headed conversations” and that the UUP had told the taoiseach how concerned they are by the terms of the Irish border backstop.

The UUP said it is working on a number of alternative proposals it wants the UK and EU to consider.

What happens next?

Theresa May in Brussels
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker said their meeting was “robust but constructive”

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier will hold talks in Strasbourg on Monday, as the EU and UK Brexit negotiating teams discuss proposed changes to the deal.

British sources say the talks will include discussion of the legally-binding withdrawal agreement, the BBC’s Brussels reporter Adam Fleming said.

An EU source said the further talks are an opportunity to listen to the UK’s ideas.

Mrs May and Mr Juncker will meet again before the end of February, to review progress.

The prime minister is expected to put the deal to a vote in the Commons towards the end of February.

She said the plan must change if it is to win the support of MPs who urged her to seek “alternative arrangements” to the backstop when rejecting the deal last month.

Contact Email (BBCNEWS.CO.UK@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (emmanueljustice@post.com)

Recent Posts

Gas wars: The problem with Nord Stream 2


Nord Stream 2 is the name of the undersea pipeline that should soon pump more Russian gas into Europe.

It is a divisive project within Europe and has infuriated the US, which fears that more Russian gas means more Russian influence and less share of the lucrative European gas market for American liquefied natural gas.

BBC’s Berlin correspondent Jenny Hill has been looking at the issue.

Theresa May arrived at Farmleigh House in Dublin on Friday evening.


The prime minister has met Leo Varadkar in Dublin for talks focused on Brexit and the political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May has now returned to the UK after having dinner with the taoiseach (Irish prime minister).

The talks in Farmleigh House lasted about two hours.

The meeting took place after Mr Varadkar met Northern Ireland’s main political parties in Belfast on Friday.

Mrs May was accompanied in Dublin by the UK’s Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins and her chief of staff Gavin Barwell.

The Irish government said the two leaders discussed “the latest Brexit developments” as well as the “ongoing political impasse in Northern Ireland”.

The meeting comes after the EU said it will hold more talks with the UK to help the prime minister get a Brexit deal through the Commons.

Earlier, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met his Irish counterpart after travelling to Dublin for talks.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr Varadkar said it was “not a day for negotiations” but it was an opportunity to “share perspectives”.

He added that he was looking to restore confidence and trust with the prime minister during their meeting on Friday night.

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Analysis: Diplomacy over dauphinoise potatoes

By Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI political reporter

A Friday night in Dublin for Theresa May as she continues trying to find a way through for her Brexit deal.

The prime minister came face-to-face with her Irish counterpart over a fillet of beef with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans.

It’s been a diplomatic whirlwind of a week as Mr Varadkar and Mrs May have bounced from Belfast to Brussels, both seeking backing for their respective positions.

It seems certain that the House of Commons will not pass any Brexit deal that includes the current backstop.

But the Irish government again today insisted it has to stay, with Mr Varadkar adding that he and the EU speak with one voice on this.

On Monday, UK-EU talks begin (again) in Brussels – but there’s no sign of a compromise coming down the tracks.

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Several cabinet ministers have told the BBC a no-deal Brexit could lead to a vote on Irish unification.

But Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster poured cold water on the prospect, saying that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement sets out “criteria for a border poll, and it hasn’t been met – therefore it will not be called”.

What is the current Brexit state-of-play?

On Thursday, Mrs May met EU leaders in Brussels in a bid to secure changes to the Irish border backstop in the Brexit agreement.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out legally-binding changes to the backstop clause in the 585-page withdrawal document.

But he said the EU would be open to adding words to the non-binding future relations document that goes with the withdrawal agreement.

Other officials, including European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, have said the backstop is “non-negotiable”.

On Wednesday, Mr Varadkar held meetings with top EU officials about the backstop and Ireland’s plans for a no-deal outcome.

He said that while he was “open to further discussions” with the UK government about post-Brexit relations, the legally-binding withdrawal agreement remained “the best deal possible”.

Speaking in Belfast, Mr Varadkar said “time is running out” to agree a deal, but that work needed to continue in order to ensure agreement was reached.

“When it comes to Brexit this is a negotiation that has the UK on one side and EU on the other,” he said.

“Any negotiation can only happen with Ireland and the EU working together.”

Where are we with the backstop?

It is the insurance policy to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless and until another solution is found.

The UK and EU made a commitment to avoid physical barriers or checks on the border, if no UK-EU trade deal is agreed before the Brexit transition period ends.

Many people are concerned that the return of such checks would put the peace process at risk.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

But there has been opposition to the backstop from the DUP and Brexiteer MPs, who believe its terms could keep the UK tied to EU rules in the long term.

Last month, MPs backed an amendment in Parliament calling for “alternative arrangements” to replace the backstop.

A group of Conservative MPs has held talks aimed at finding other Brexit options that would avoid a hard border.

How did Northern Ireland parties react to Leo Varadkar’s visit?

The taoiseach travelled to Belfast to discuss the “ongoing political impasse”, the Irish government said.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for more than two years.

Mr Varadkar, whose trip came days after Theresa May met the parties at Stormont to discuss her bid to make changes to the withdrawal agreement said he travelled north to “hear the perspective of the main parties”.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party had a “wide-ranging” discussion with the taoiseach.

Mrs Foster also said some people were engaging in “project fear” with the Brexit negotiations.

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking after meeting Leo Varadkar in Belfast
DUP leader Arlene Foster (centre) speaking after meeting Leo Varadkar in Belfast

The party’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said the backstop “is the problem”, but would not specify which possible alternative his party is supporting.

Sinn Féin’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill said her party would “hold the taoiseach’s feet to the fire” when it comes to defending the backstop.

She said he had given her an assurance he would remain firm with his stance.

The party also said they have been calling repeatedly for a border poll, and that they had urged Mr Varadkar to begin planning for one.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s (UUP) Brexit spokesperson Steve Aiken said there needed to be “level-headed conversations” and that the UUP had told the taoiseach how concerned they are by the terms of the Irish border backstop.

Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he had been watching recent events in Westminster “with dismay”

The UUP said it is working on a number of alternative proposals it wants the UK and EU to consider.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said they had a very constructive and wide-ranging discussion with Mr Varadkar.

“It’s fairly clear those this week suggesting there is some chance of the UK and Irish government doing a side deal without the EU are chasing after a no-way scenario,” she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that it had been a “good meeting” and added that he and the taoiseach are “on the same side of this argument”.

“We have been watching with some dismay what has been going on in Westminster over the last couple of months,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody within the Irish government or the European Commission sees any opportunity for diluting the protection of citizens in Northern Ireland.”

What happens next?

Theresa May in Brussels
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker said their meeting was “robust but constructive”

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier will hold talks in Strasbourg on Monday, as the EU and UK Brexit negotiating teams discuss proposed changes to the deal.

British sources say the talks will include discussion of the legally-binding withdrawal agreement, the BBC’s Brussels reporter Adam Fleming said.

An EU source said the further talks are an opportunity to listen to the UK’s ideas.

Mrs May and Mr Juncker will meet again before the end of February, to review progress.

The prime minister is expected to put the deal to a vote in the Commons towards the end of February.

She said the plan must change if it is to win the support of MPs who urged her to seek “alternative arrangements” to the backstop when rejecting the deal last month.

Contact Email (BBCNEWS.CO.UK@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (emmanueljustice@post.com)

Families and fighters flee IS’s last village’ Syria war:


Islamic State group (IS) members and their families have been fleeing the group’s last sliver of territory in eastern Syria, as US-backed militia advance towards them.

Men, women and children, some with serious injuries, others describing running out of food, have been leaving the group’s rapidly shrinking enclave, which the US military on Tuesday said amounted to about 50 sq km (20 sq miles).

They have been arriving at the village of Baghuz to surrender to the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

On Wednesday US President Donald Trump said said territory held by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could be “100%” liberated as early as next week

Saudi Prince al-Faisal warns against US Syria pullout.

Syria’s Kurds say Trump US troop pullout harms anti-IS fight

People fleeing from IS-held territory in Baghuz
AFP

Many of those arriving in Baghuz have injuries, including those sustained from incoming strikes by the array of forces battling IS.

SDF commanders were negotiating with IS over a possible deal to free several SDF members held captive by IS and possibly give the militants safe passage to the province of Idlib in north-western Syria, which is not under Syrian government control, the New York Times reported.

Woman and children arrive in Baghuz

A woman waits to be screened by members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces

Most of those emerging from the desert over the past two weeks have been IS militants’ wives and children, reports say. Once they have arrived they wait to be screened by the SDF before being told they will be taken to detention camps in northern Syria.

Germans Sabine and Leonora arrived in Baghuz on 31 January

However, fighters themselves have also been fleeing. Germans Sabina (L) aged 34 and Leonora (R), 19 are two of the three wives of German jihadist Martin Lemke, who also fled and was detained by the SDF, his wives said. They arrived in Baghuz at the end of last month.

Map showing last IS-held territory in Syria (7 February 2019)

The fighters include Syrians, Iraqis who had earlier moved to IS strongholds in Syria as the US-backed Iraqi army retook IS-held territory in Iraq, and foreign fighters from European countries and elsewhere who travelled to the region to join the group.

Some are taken to detention camps, others to prison, the New York Times reported.

SDF fighters in an IS prison in Hajin

In the nearby town of Hajin, SDF fighters have found evidence of how IS administered it. Here they are seen examining an IS prison.

Hajin's mayor shows an IS document

The town’s mayor Ali Jaber has found documents including this one urging residents to review their accounts with the local alms tax centre.

Syrians return to their homes in Hajin

Some displaced Syrians have already begun returning to their homes in Hajin after it was retaken by the SDF last month, but much of the town was destroyed in the fighting.

Syria map

All pictures copyright

Contact Email (BBCNEWS.CO.UK@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (emmanueljustice@post.com)

Trump announces second North Korea summit, State of the Union:


Media captionWhat happened at Trump’s State of the Union address?

US President Donald Trump has announced in his State of the Union speech that he will hold a second nuclear summit with North Korea’s leader this month.

In an address to the nation with the theme “Choosing Greatness”, he vowed once again to build a border wall.

While appealing for political unity, the Republican president also said “ridiculous partisan investigations” could damage US prosperity.

In a rebuttal, Democrats accused Mr Trump of abandoning US values.

His primetime address came less than a fortnight after he backed down to end the longest ever US government shutdown when Democrats refused to fund a US-Mexico border wall.

Federal agencies could close again if no spending plan is agreed by the end of next week.

What did he say about North Korea?

The president said in his 82-minute speech on Tuesday night that he would meet Kim Jong-un in Vietnam from 27-28 February.

“Much work remains to be done,” Mr Trump said, “but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one.”

Plans for a second summit have been in the works since the two leaders’ historic talks last year.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim’s meeting last June in Singapore was the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

While Pyongyang has not conducted any atomic or ballistic missile tests since last summer, it has yet to agree to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.

The US envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is in Pyongyang for talks, paving the way for the second leadership summit.

The nuclear word Trump and Kim can’t agree on

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What might a second summit achieve?

Analysis by Laura Bicker, BBC News, Seoul

Mr Trump’s goal will be to extract pledges from Kim Jong-un without giving too much ground. The Trump administration has said it is not willing to lift sanctions, but it has mentioned helping out the North’s economy.

However, handing over such aid to a secretive state which has yet to declare a list of its weapons facilities or allow in independent inspectors is bound to raise more than eyebrows.

So Mr Trump has to extract a written pledge from Mr Kim. Otherwise these summits will be seen as all show, and very little substance.

As for Mr Kim’s bargaining chips, we have been told he could be prepared to give up his nuclear production site known as Yongbyon.

I’ve also been told by some sources close to Pyongyang that Mr Kim does want to achieve something his father and grandfather never did. A peace treaty.

The prospect of becoming the US president who ended the 68-year long Korean War is bound to be a tantalising one for Mr Trump.

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What did he say about unity?

After two years of rancorous partisanship, Mr Trump on Tuesday night repeated calls for political unity that he has made in his last two annual speeches to Congress.

“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate,” he said. “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions.”

Mr Trump raised potential areas of agreement, such as infrastructure improvements, lowering prescription drug costs and fighting childhood cancer.

But he added: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”

Democrats have launched a flurry of inquiries into the Trump administration since they took over the US House of Representatives last month.

“You weren’t supposed to do that!” – Trump and Democratic women share an unexpected moment of unity

A special prosecutor is still investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which the president and Moscow deny.

As Mr Trump delivered his nationally televised speech, his chief congressional antagonist was sitting at the rostrum over his shoulder.

The Democratic leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeted afterwards: “It will take days to fact-check all the misrepresentations that the president made tonight.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi clapping
A photo of Nancy Pelosi clapping after Mr Trump’s address has gone viral

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A message to his base

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

It was a speech that was billed as bipartisan, but beneath the flowery language were the same sharp divides and disagreements.

Mr Trump has never really acknowledged his party’s ballot-box defeat in the mid-term elections last November.

By instigating the recently concluded government shutdown, he acted like he still had the political upper hand – even when it was clear to almost everyone that this was not the case.

So this State of the Union address presented a quandary. How can a president reconcile himself to divided government while still asserting that everything is going great for him?

For this president, the answer was to effectively shrug at the setbacks. To focus his message, where it counted, towards his political base.

And to stick with the message that won him the presidency in 2016 and, he appears to believe, will keep him in the White House for another term next year.

How did Democrats respond?

Stacey Abrams delivered the Democratic response to President Trump

Stacey Abrams, who lost her race last year to be governor of Georgia, delivered the Democrats’ response to Mr Trump.

She was the first African-American woman to give the party’s rebuttal.

Ms Abrams said: “The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people – but our values.”

She also said that while she is “disappointed” with Mr Trump, “I still don’t want him to fail.”

Democratic female lawmakers who attended Mr Trump’s speech wore white to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote.

They sat stony-faced as their Republican counterparts rose for the applause lines.

But Democrats surprised Mr Trump with a standing ovation when he said there were more women in the workforce and in Congress than ever before.

“That’s great!” said the president, delighted by their reaction. “Really great.”

US First Lady Melania Trump (R) waves, flanked by senior adviser to the president, Ivanka Trump (L)
US First Lady Melania Trump (R) waves as Ivanka Trump (L) looks on

What did he say about foreign wars?

Mr Trump said his administration was holding “constructive talks” with the Taliban to find a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

“The hour has come to at least try for peace,” he added.

The president also said “virtually all” of the territory once occupied in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State group had been liberated from “these bloodthirsty monsters”.

“It is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home,” he told the chamber.

He said 7,000 US troops had died and more than $7tn (£5.4tn) had been spent by America on nearly two decades of war in the Middle East.

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” said the president, who campaigned on an ‘America First’ platform.

What did Trump say on border security?

The president devoted much of his speech to border security, vowing once again to build a US-Mexico barrier and calling illegal immigration “an urgent national crisis”.

But he refrained from declaring a national emergency that might allow him to bypass Congress for wall funding.

With another government shutdown deadline impending on 15 February, the president has few options to deliver his signature campaign promise.

Mr Trump told his audience that working-class Americans pay the price for illegal immigration.

Presentational grey line

The mood in the chamber

At the scene – By Tara McKelvey, BBC News

Despite the president’s call for unity, the reception from Democrats was frosty for most of the evening.

Meanwhile, Republicans shouted their approval – especially when Mr Trump talked about the wall along the southern border.

When the president said: “The state of our union is strong”, members of his party stood and chanted: “USA!”

The Democrats stayed seated. But then the mood changed.

As the president noted the record number of women in Congress, Democrats gave a standing ovation – and they began shouting: “USA!”

Republicans joined in – they all chanted together.

Bitter adversaries experienced a rare, happy moment of togetherness. And the president was right in the middle of it.

US President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress

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