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Two dinners talked Brexit in Brussels last night. One was private | UK News



It was a busy night for the chefs at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels on Monday night.

The opulent building, sandwiched between the Swiss and American embassies on the Belgian capital’s grand Rue Ducale, was the venue for two separate but simultaneous dinners.

One, we knew about – the other, a curious meeting, we didn’t.

The first of the two dinners was publicly billed. It was Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay’s first meeting with EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

The meeting was the consequence of Theresa May’s return to Brussels last week for her meeting with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

This dinner was significant if only because it constitutes “negotiations” of sorts between two sides who have not really engaged directly since before Christmas.

Remember – the British and EU negotiating teams signed off on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying Political Declaration on the future relationship in December.

Together the documents represent the Brexit divorce treaty. But ever since, the deal has been blocked in Westminster.

Stephen Barclay and Michel Barnier
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (L) met with EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

The guests at this publicised dinner included Steve Barclay MP from the Department for Exiting the EU and Olly Robbins, Mrs May’s Europe adviser from Number 10.

With them were Michel Barnier from the European Commission and his two deputies: Sabine Weyand and Stephanie Riso.

The host was the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow.

It was, judging by the menu, a delicious meal. Pan-fried North Sea sole with Scottish scallops and Welsh samphire followed by roast duck breast, then pear parfait and British cheeses. All washed down with Sancerre and St Emilion.

The key focus of the dinner was to explore ways to get the Withdrawal Agreement through Westminster despite the fact that the EU won’t reopen it or remove the backstop.

Mr Barnier said a Withdrawal Agreement will not be opened

After a couple of hours, Michel Barnier delivered with a familiar message: “We held constructive talks. It’s clear from our side that we are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement but we will continue our discussion in the coming days. That is all.”

The feeling among a critical number of MPs in Westminster, as voiced by Boris Johnson this week, is “of course they’ll say that now. But soon they’ll budge”.

A statement from a UK spokesperson said: “The meeting was constructive and Mr Barclay and Mr Barnier agreed to further talks in the coming days and that their teams would continue to work in the meantime on finding a way forward.”

But in another dining room in the same building (presumably eating from the same menu) was a much more curious gathering.

Just after 7pm, Sky News cameras spotted the former president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, arriving by limo at the residence.

If you don’t remember Mr Van Rompuy, you may remember the extraordinary moment when Nigel Farage called him a “low-grade bank clerk” to his face in the European Parliament chamber in 2011.

“Who are you?!” Mr Farage had jeered. “You have the appearance of a damp rag and the charisma of a low-grade bank clerk.”

Herman van Rompuy
Sky News was told that Herman Van Rompuy attended a private dinner with David Lidington MP

It was a moment that was as embarrassing to British europhiles as it was thrilling to eurosceptics. Anyway – what was Mr Van Rompuy doing at the British residence in Brussels?

Well I’m told he was attending a separate private dinner with Mrs May’s deputy David Lidington MP. And I am told that it was a meeting Mrs May had specifically requested to discuss changes to Irish backstop.

The team at 10 Downing Street see Mr Van Rompuy as an “influencer”, and David Lidington was the man to meet him.

Many on this side of the Channel consider Mr Lidington to be one of the few senior British politicians who really understands.

He was David Cameron’s Europe minister from 2010 to 2016 and is seen as a very capable politician and diplomat – despite being unsuccessful in Mr Cameron’s bid to secure concessions from the EU which would persuade the British public to vote to remain in the EU.

When you mention Mr Lidington’s name in Brussels – at the commission, the council or the parliament – people tend to speak highly of him. That’s more than can be said for pretty much every other senior UK politician.

Mr Lidington and Mr Van Rompuy also know each other. There is an existing rapport.

A few months ago, Mr Van Rompuy told The Observer that a British threat of no deal would not spook the EU side into moving position.

“Those [no deal] threats will not work vis-a-vis the European Union… I cannot imagine that a British prime minister or a responsible British government is even considering seriously a no deal, playing with the economic future of the country and its people,” he said in August last year.

Did he say the same privately at the Monday night dinner? We don’t know how the Lidington/Van Rompuy dinner went.

But I am told that after Mr Van Rompuy left the residence, Mr Lidington switched dining rooms to catch the tail end of the other dinner – the one with Steve Barclay and Michel Barnier. They all had coffee together.

Mrs May is urging MPs to give her a little more time to improve the Brexit deal.

She’s asking them not to tie her hands by forcing her to extend Article 50, thus delaying Brexit. She is using the clock and threat of “no deal” to her favour for now.

When we look back at this Brexit process we may discover that innocuous private dinners, like Monday night’s between Mrs May’s deputy and the former European Council Ppresident, were key moments.

Right now the UK needs all the “influencers” it can get. Herman Van Rompuy is one.

“Every little helps?” I said to a UK source last night.

The anxious nod which came back said it all.

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Outrage as baby T-Rex listed on eBay for £2.3m | World News



A fossil hunter in the US has caused outrage after trying to sell the remains of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex on eBay for £2.3m.

In his listing, Alan Detrich claimed it was “most likely the only baby T-Rex in the world” and said the discovery was made near the town of Jordan, Montana.

A fossil hunter in Kansas is trying to sell the remains of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex that he listed on eBay for £2.3m. Pic: pirategoldcoins/eBay
The fossil hunter is trying to sell the skeleton on eBay for £2.3m. Pic: pirategoldcoins/eBay

He said the dinosaur skeleton has a “15ft-long body and a 21-inch skull with serrated teeth” – and claimed it was a “rare opportunity indeed to ever see a baby Rex”.

Anyone wanting to “buy it now” can at a cost of $2.95m or “make an offer”.

Mr Detrich added: “Histology shows the specimen to be approximately four years old upon death. Reconstruction of the skull has been done by curator of vertebrate paleontology (from Natural History Museum in Florida). “

But the post has faced a backlash on social media with one tweet from Patricia Holroyd saying: “As an alum, I am disappointed to see the state’s most important natural history museum acting as a shill for commercial fossil sales.”

In a reply to Dr Holroyd, the museum said: “We do not sell or mediate the sale of specimens to private individuals.

“The specimen on exhibit-loan has been removed and is being returned to the owner. We have asked the owner to remove any association w/us from his sale listing.”

The listing has had over 3,600 “watchers” and at one point had 91 views per hour.

But anyone thinking about make a bid is being warned that Mr Detrich “does not accept returns”.

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Mueller report: Donald Trump ‘tried to get ex-FBI chief fired’ during Russia investigation | US News



Donald Trump has declared “Game Over” for his “haters” – but a long-awaited report revealed how the US president sought the firing of the man investigating his team’s alleged links to Russia.

A redacted 448-page report of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry, published on Thursday, disclosed how Mr Trump urged an aide to instigate the sacking of Mr Mueller.

Mr Mueller’s 22 month-long work focused on Russian hacking and social media campaigns, possible Russian government links to – and contacts with – the Trump campaign, and potential obstruction of his investigatory efforts.

In June 2017 – a month after Mr Mueller’s appointment to probe possible cooperation between Mr Trump’s campaign and Moscow – the president attempted to remove Mr Mueller from his position, the report said.

The lengthy document described how Mr Trump called White House lawyer Don McGahn and told him to call then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to say Mr Mueller “had conflicts of interest and must be removed”.

“McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” the report added, referencing the firing of key officials during former president Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Other explosive findings in Mr Mueller’s highly-anticipated report included:

:: Mr Trump’s belief that Mr Mueller’s appointment as a special counsel to investigate possible Russia links would “end” his spell in the White House. “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f****d,” Mr Trump said, according to the report.

:: There was “substantial evidence” that Mr Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation”.

:: Written answers from Mr Trump to questions by Mr Mueller’s team were considered “inadequate”, but they decided against trying to compel Mr Trump to give evidence in person due to the likelihood of a long legal battle.

:: Mr Mueller did not exonerate the president on the question of whether he committed an obstruction of justice offence during the course of the investigation.

:: Mr Trump “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the president, while in private, the president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation”, the report said.

To cheers at a White House event following the release of Mr Mueller’s report, Mr Trump said he was having a “good day” and declared “no collusion, no obstruction”.

He added: “There never was, by the way, and there never will be.

“This should never happen to another president again, this hoax.”

The now published Mueller report examines ‘10 episodes’ of potential obstruction by president Trump.

‘This should never happen to a president again’

The president had earlier posted an image, inspired by TV series Game of Thrones, on Twitter with the same “no collusion, no obstruction” message.

His tweet added: “For the haters and the radical left Democrats – Game Over.”

The president’s legal team also hailed a “total victory” and claimed there had been “unprecedented cooperation” by Mr Trump with the special counsel’s work.

However, Mr Trump did not repeat his claim – made last month when Mr Mueller disclosed in a summary of his report that the president nor his team conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election – that he had been granted a “complete and total exoneration”.

Mr Trump’s political rivals urged the US public to ignore the “spin” over Mr Mueller’s report.

Invitations also flew in for Mr Mueller to testify before various US Congress committees on the results of his investigation.

The bullishness of Mr Trump in asserting “no obstruction” came despite US attorney general William Barr revealing Mr Mueller’s report recounted “10 episodes” involving the president and discussed “potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offence”.

However, Mr Barr himself used a news conference before the report’s publication to reveal his own conclusion that “the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offence”.

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller spent 22 months on his inquiry

The attorney general, the replacement for Mr Sessions who was sacked by Mr Trump last year, also claimed the “unprecedented situation” faced by the president should be taken into account when assessing his actions.

Mr Barr said: “As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinising his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates.

“At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a senior Democrat, branded Mr Barr’s news conference “a complete farce and an embarrassing display of propaganda on behalf of President Trump”.

Democrat Senate leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement: “The differences are stark between what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what Special Counsel Mueller said on obstruction.

“As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.”

They both also called for Mr Mueller to provide public testimony to both houses of US Congress “as soon as possible”.

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Semenya ruling may bring death of women’s sport, warns Paula Radcliffe | World News



Paula Radcliffe believes the verdict of a landmark legal case involving Olympic champion Caster Semenya could open the door for transgender athletes to compete in women’s categories without lowering their testosterone levels. 

The decision of a battle between Semenya and the IAAF athletics world governing body is expected next week.

Double Olympic champion Semenya has differences in sexual development, or DSD, which means she has elevated naturally occurring levels of testosterone.

The IAAF want her to take hormone suppressing medication in order to continue competing but Semenya, supported by Athletics South Africa and the South African government, says she just wants to “run free”.

Paula Radcliffe said the decision could impact women's sport
Paula Radcliffe says the Semenya verdict will have a profound impact on women’s sport

Marathon world record holder Radcliffe thinks that if the verdict falls in Semenya’s favour it will embolden the case of transgender athletes to compete freely in women’s categories.

She told Sky News: “The IAAF has come in for a lot of vilification but there are probably a lot of other sporting federations, particularly where its contact and a physical strength sport, who are really watching this.

“They want to see what it means for the future of female sport and also what it will do in terms of the whole transgender question.

“Will it open the door up there to transgender athletes actually being able to say: ‘You know what, we don’t need to bring our [testosterone] levels down either, we don’t need to have any surgery, we can just identity how we feel and we can come in and compete in women’s sport?’

Francine Niyonsaba is Semenya's greatest rival - and has the same condition
Francine Niyonsaba is Semenya’s greatest rival – and has the same condition

“That would be the death of women’s sport.”

The ruling will also directly affect Semenya’s closest rival Francine Niyonsaba. The Burundi runner won silver behind Semenya at the Rio Olympics but revealed this week that she also has the same condition.

Some would argue that Semenya simply has a physiological advantage in the same way Usain Bolt does with his height combined with fast twitch fibre muscles, or swimmer Michael Phelps’ wingspan.

But Radcliffe says: “If it was one athlete with a one off raised level of testosterone, I don’t think we’d be in this situation but it’s a number of athletes and it could be a growing number who have those elevated levels of testosterone.

“It’s not just about that either, it’s the fact that essentially you have a body that has almost gone through male puberty and is stronger, physiological differences, the bone mass, the strength, not having to deal with periods, not having to worry about managing with your menstrual cycle around competitions.

“Those are all things that female athletes have to deal with and have to work around and you just do because you have to but if you’re competing against somebody that isn’t doing that, that isn’t fair either.”

Radcliffe says she has received abuse online since making her feelings known about transgender women competing without lowering their testosterone levels.

It follows similar abusive message sent to other former athletes such as Sharron Davies, Martina Navratilova and Kelly Holmes.

“A lot of these people that are attacking me wouldn’t stand in front of me and say those things to me,” Radcliffe said.

“It’s very dangerous because there are vulnerable athletes out there who can’t make the distinction between what’s reality and what’s not and what somebody truthfully stands by and someone just being a troll.

“That can have a huge impact and that isn’t understood enough in this world and as a mum, that worries me about my children growing up.”

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