Barnier warns next 36 hours crucial in Brexit talks

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has warned that the next 36 hours of trade talks with the UK will be crucial as he told ambassadors and members of the European parliament the two sides had not yet overcome their divisions.
Brussels and London need to assess by the end of this week whether there is a possibility to reach agreement in the future-relationship discussions, Mr Barnier said in separate closed-door meetings with parliamentarians and diplomats on Wednesday, according to people present.
He warned that key sticking points remained in the areas of “level playing field” conditions for business, EU fishing rights in UK waters and how any trade deal might be implemented.

Mr Barnier gave an indication in the meetings of how both sides were exploring possible compromises, even if breakthroughs had not been achieved, participants said.
According to one person, Mr Barnier said the two sides were exploring a transitional arrangement for fishing rights, with the idea that a renegotiation at the end of the period would be linked to the two sides’ overall economic agreement.
He said this would allow the EU and UK to have annual negotiations on fish but within a stable system that would protect the EU sector.
As issues stand, it was not possible to say if a deal would be there, Mr Barnier cautioned.
Member states have in recent days expressed concern about the risk that the EU might give too much away in the final days of the talks. One EU diplomat said national governments were “nervous” about the state of play.
“France will not accept an agreement that does not respect our long-term interests,” President Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday. “An agreement must allow a balanced future relationship.”

EU diplomats said Mr Barnier was given a clear message by governments on Wednesday to stick to the terms of the negotiating mandate that they gave him earlier this year.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong sentenced to prison over protests

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has been sentenced to 13 and a half months in prison after pleading guilty to charges linked to last year’s pro-democracy protests.
Wong, 24, was convicted of organising, participating in and inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly when protesters surrounded police headquarters last year.
Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, two former leaders of Wong’s disbanded political group Demosisto, were also convicted in connection with the demonstration after pleading guilty to some charges against them. Chow was sentenced to 10 months and Lam for seven months.

The high-profile convictions came against the backdrop of a broader crackdown in recent weeks, following the imposition of a sweeping national security law in June.
The charges against Wong, Chow and Law relate to an incident that predated the new measures. But critics said the vaguely worded and wide-ranging law has eroded the high degree of autonomy granted to the territory following its handover from the UK to China in 1997 and been used by authorities to crack down on the opposition.
This has included disqualifying pro-democracy lawmakers from the city’s legislative assembly citing national security, leaving the de facto parliament effectively devoid of opposition.
Authorities have also acted against teachers for allegedly discussing sensitive topics with students, such as Hong Kong independence. An education official resigned in a separate case under political pressure over a test question that asked students to discuss Japan’s role in Chinese history, according to local media.
A journalist at RTHK, the public broadcaster, was arrested after alleging that police had failed to protect civilians under attack from a mob in July last year.
Wong and Lam appeared upbeat ahead of the sentencing, waving to supporters as they entered the court, while Chow kept her head down.

Magistrate Wong Sze-lai said it was “necessary to emphasise deterrence and punishment” in handing down the sentences, accusing Wong of challenging the authority of the police in demonstrating outside its headquarters. 
Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, criticised the judgments and called on “Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to bring an end to their campaign to stifle opposition”.
“Prosecution decisions must be fair and impartial, and the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong must be upheld,” he added.
The national security law, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, has largely neutralised public protest in the city, although police said petrol bombs were thrown at a sports and recreation club for officers in Kowloon on Tuesday.
Wong had been briefly placed in solitary confinement following his arrest after prison officers claimed a “foreign object” was detected in his stomach in an X-ray, according to his Facebook page.