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UK Parliament Approves Historic Brexit Deal

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Britain’s parliament finally approved Brexit on Thursday, allowing it to become the first country to leave the European Union later this month, ending years of arguments that toppled two governments and splintered society.

The House of Commons erupted in cheers after MPs ratified Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s divorce deal with Brussels by 330 votes to 231, turning the page on an extraordinary era of political drama and chaos.

For much of the time since the 2016 Brexit referendum, lawmakers have been at each others’ throats over how, when or even if Britain should leave its closest trading partners after nearly 50 years.

Some view Brexit with horror, fearing it will strip them of their European identities and turn Britain into an insular, less important nation.

Others embraced it with fervour, viewing it as a chance to “take back control” from officials in Brussels and see Britain regain some of its past might.

Businesses and governments in Europe, puzzled by Britain’s struggles over what they viewed as a self-inflicted wound, hoped that Brexit could still somehow be undone.

 A smile and a nod 

But Johnson’s comprehensive victory in last month’s general election brought an abrupt end to the turmoil, giving his Conservatives a parliamentary majority with which to push it through.

MPs gave their initial blessing to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Christmas, and the government set aside just three days this week for detailed scrutiny of the complex text.

But few even bothered to turn up on Tuesday and Wednesday, with both sessions ending early.

The momentous day on which Johnson effectively won permission to abandon the European integration project was all but ignored in Thursday’s media.

Instead, it became a footnote to Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to quit royal front-line duties — christened “Megxit” and shaping up to be equally complicated and divisive.

“We will be leaving the EU on January 31. We will have delivered on the PM’s commitment to get Brexit done,” a government spokesman said, echoing Johnson’s election mantra.

Britain’s main opposition Labour party, bruised by its worst beating at the polls since 1935, voted against Brexit on Thursday knowing the battle had been lost.

We “may not win many votes in parliament just now, but we can win the moral argument”, said Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, a potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Johnson attended the session but did not speak, savouring his victory from the front bench, where he smiled and nodded before the historic but all-but ceremonial vote.

The Brexit bill must still be passed by the unelected House of Lords and the European Parliament, which is seen as a formality.

 Turning to trade 

All eyes are now on another major challenge: the negotiation of a new relationship between Britain and the remaining 27 EU nations, which form the world’s largest single market.

The Brexit deal covers separation issues such as EU citizens’ rights and Britain’s financial settlement, and sets out an 11-month transition period in which to agree a wider partnership.

Brussels warns the current deadline of December 31 this year is extremely tight, and has given London the option to ask for more time.

But Johnson insists there will be no extension of the transition period, saying that Britain must be free of EU rules as soon as possible.

Ahead of talks with Johnson on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would be “basically impossible” to agree everything within London’s timeframe.

“We will have to prioritise,” she said in a speech to the London School of Economics university, warning of “tough talks ahead”.

In response, Johnson’s office indicated that it could accept a partial trade deal.

London does not want the EU’s long-standing policy that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” — intended to stop one side cherry-picking bits of a deal they like — to define the coming negotiations, a spokesman said.

“We are very clear we want to get on in terms of negotiating a deal,” he said.

AFP

Foreign

China Launches Powerful Rocket Ahead Of Planned Mission To Mars

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China Friday launched one of the world’s most powerful rockets in a major step forward for its planned mission to Mars in 2020.

The heavy lift Long March 5 rocket carrying a test satellite payload blasted off from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan at 8:45 pm (1245 GMT), a livestream from state broadcaster CCTV showed.

“After more than 2,000 seconds, the Shijian 20 satellite was sent into its predetermined orbit,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The rocket launch “tests key technologies related to future space missions,” Xinhua said.

The successful launch is a key part of China’s ambitious plans for a mission to the Red Planet next year and hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022.

“The Long March 5 rocket is tasked with important missions,” Wu Yanhua, the deputy head of China’s National Space Administration, said in a video released by CCTV last week.

“It will be tasked with a series of key missions including launching China’s first Mars probe, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe and a core module for the manned space station.”

The rocket is carrying a Shijian 20 test satellite, according to space news site NASASpaceFlight.com.

Friday’s success comes after a previous attempt in July 2017 failed mid-launch.

The Long March 5 Y2 was supposed to put the Shijian 18 experimental communications satellite into orbit and its failure delayed plans to use the rocket in a planned mission to collect lunar samples in the second half of 2017.

China successfully launched the first Long March 5 in November 2016, which it said at the time was the most powerful launcher it had yet developed.

The Long March 5, which is capable of carrying up to 25 tonnes, is comparable in capacity to the US-made Delta IV Heavy and Russia’s Proton-M, some of the most powerful launchers in existence, according to NASASpaceFlight.com.

By contrast the US’s Saturn V, which delivered astronauts to the Moon in 1969, was designed to deliver some 140 tonnes of payload into low Earth orbit.

Space ambitions

Beijing has invested billions of dollars in its space programme in an effort to catch up with its rival the United States and affirm its status as a major world power.

In 2003, the Asian giant, which now spends more than Russia and Japan on its civil and military space programmes, became only the third nation to put a human into orbit.

In January 2019, China became the first nation to land a probe on the far side of the Moon.

The Chang’e-4 lander — named after the Moon goddess in Chinese mythology — released a rover in the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin shortly after New Year.

In November China completed a test of its Mars exploration lander, ahead of its first mission to the Red Planet slated for 2020 which is planned to deploy a rover to explore the Martian surface.

China also aims to have a manned space station in orbit in 2022.

The Tiangong — or “Heavenly Palace” — is set to replace the International Space Station, which is due to be retired in 2024.

China will also seek to build an international lunar base, possibly using 3D printing technology, in the future, Wu said in January.

China’s space programme has alarmed the US, which fears that Beijing will threaten its dominance in space.

The White House announced the creation of a new military arm called the Space Force earlier this month, with President Donald Trump calling space “the world’s newest warfighting domain.”

 

AFP

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