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UK’s Boris Johnson warns world leaders as climate summit begins

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has opened a global climate summit, saying the world is strapped to a “doomsday device.”

Johnson likened the Earth’s position to that of fictional secret agent James Bond — strapped to a bomb that will destroy the planet and trying to work out how to defuse it.

He told leaders Monday that “we are in roughly the same position” — only now the “ticking doomsday device” is real and not fiction.

He was kicking off the world leaders’ summit portion of a UN climate conference, which is aimed at getting agreement to curb carbon emissions fast enough to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) below pre-industrial levels.

Britain‘s leader struck a gloomy note on the eve of the conference, after Group of 20 leaders made only modest climate commitments at their summit in Rome.

UK’s Queen Elizabeth will not attend COP26 following advice to rest

Britain‘s Queen Elizabeth will not attend the COP26 summit in Glasgow next week after she was advised to rest, Buckingham Palace said on Tuesday.

“Following advice to rest, The Queen has been undertaking light duties at Windsor Castle,” Buckingham Palace said.

“Her Majesty has regretfully decided that she will no longer travel to Glasgow to attend the Evening Reception of COP26 on Monday, 1st November.”

The queen will deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded message, the palace added.

The 95-year-old queen, the world’s oldest and longest-reigning monarch, stayed overnight in hospital last Wednesday after undergoing “preliminary investigations” for an unspecified but not COVID-19 related ailment.

AstraZeneca will have 200 million COVID vaccine doses by year-end

AstraZeneca

will have 200 million doses of its candidate vaccine developed by the University of Oxford by the end of 2020, with 700 million doses ready globally by the end of the first quarter of 2021, operations executive Pam Cheng said on Monday.

Cheng told a briefing that there would be 20 million doses in Britain by the end of the year, with 70 million doses for the UK by the end of Q1 2021.

FCA to ride in Rubicon next month, to assemble 2-3 new Jeep models from 2021

Mumbai: FCA India, which has made a mark with Jeep Compass, is bringing in the iconic Wrangler Rubicon by the end of March even as it is working on rolling out two-three more Jeep models from its Ranjangaon facility in Pune next year. Since the launch in July 2017, FCA has sold more than 50,000 units of Jeep Compass in the domestic market, and exported over 17,000 units to key right-hand drive markets globally.

“We have received huge bookings for the Rubicon. In fact, we are already sold out for a few months. We are bringing in the iconic car to the country by the end of March as we see a good market,” FCA India President and Managing Director Partha Datta told in an interview.

Apart from Compass, Wrangler Unlimited is the most successful model for the company, accounting for almost 67 per cent of the CBU (completely built unit or imported) volume here since launch in August 2016, he said.

The other CBUs sold by the company here are Wrangler and Grand Cherokee.

Rubicon, which will carry a price tag of above Rs 72 lakh, will be BS-VI complaint and sport a Trailhawk engine. The fully automatic Rubicon will also be available in diesel, he said.

FCA has invested USD 280 million (about Rs 2,000 crore) in the country so far and the success of Jeep Compass in the initial years has ensured that it has recovered its entire investment within the first 10 months of launching Compass — a first for any foreign auto brand here, especially for American brands as both GM and Ford have failed miserably twice.

The runaway success of Compass was primarily because of the low price tag, starting at Rs 14.95 lakh.

Today, over 50,000 Jeep Compass are plying on Indian roads, while the company has also shipped as many as 17,000 units to around 15 key right-hand drive markets, including Britain, Japan and Australia, among others.

“We are very serious with our operations here. We consider the current fall in the volume as a blip and we are very sure it will pass. The headquarters is also very happy with us. We’ve had a huge success and are sure to repeat it again here,” Datta, who has spent over two decades with the group, said.

On the need for more models, he said, “We fully understand, to be more successful we need more models which so far we could not have. So, beginning next year, we will have more than two Jeep models being rolled out from the Ranjangaon facility.”

FCA has seen its volume plunge by around 30 per cent from its 2018 peak as consumers have been in a wait-and-watch mode for almost two years due to regulatory changes, and banks and NBFCs have been reluctant to lend.

The domestic auto industry, which is primarily driven by entry models as a whole, has seen volume plunging 8 per cent so far this year.

Despite this, FCA is still selling 900-1,000 units per month and also exporting about the same number of units, Datta added.

“We are committed to stay in India for long and we are looking at every spoke in the wheel to ensure we are successful again and the headquarters is willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars more to build our business here,” Datta, who took over India operations in September, succeeding Kevin Flynn, said.

The company has 80 sales and service touch-points across 70 cities, of which 12 are smaller touch-points called Jeep Connect, he said.

The secret behind Operation Blue Star: Britain’s dilemma explained

For a long time, the British government has kept files related to Operation Blue Star secret. But now they could be out in the open, having serious ramifications for India-UK relations and the British Sikh community. The military operation to flush out militants from Golden Temple in 1984 has once again hit the headlines with a British court ordering declassification of the controversial files.

What is the latest?
A judge, who presided over a three-day hearing of an information rights tribunal in London in March, ruled yesterday that a majority of the files relating to the period must be made public. He rejected the UK government’s argument that declassifying the Downing Street papers would damage diplomatic ties with India. A Freedom of Information appeal was filed by freelance journalist Phil Miller. The UK Cabinet Office has been given time until July 11 to appeal against the decision or it must make the relevant documents available to Miller for his research by July 12

How it all started
Miller has been investigating the then Margaret Thatcher-led government’s assistance to the Indian Army operation. In 2014 he had spotted declassified letters that showed the UK had sent an SAS officer to help Indian Army plan Operation Blue Star. The UK government had declassified these documents under a 30-year rule to make such material public.

Another controversial declassified document was Thatcher’s letter to then indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in which she gave Gandhi full support after Operation Blue Star and said Britain supported India’s unity in the face of demands for a separate Sikh homeland. Then British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review into this discovery, named as the Heywood Review, which led to a statement in Parliament declaring that the UK government did send one military officer to provide military advice but it was a one-off. It said there was no other UK military assistance, such as training or equipment, for Operation Blue Star. According to the statement, the military advice from the UK officer had limited impact in practice and the actual operation implemented by the Indian Army differed significantly from the approach suggested by the UK military.

A quid pro quo between India and UK?
A report, ‘Sacrificing Sikhs’, written by Miller and published by the Sikh Federation UK last year, termed the Heywood Review a “whitewash”. According to Miller’s report, the UK helped India with Operation Blue Star because it wanted to sell defence equipment to India. The Heywood Review had, however, ruled out any quid pro quo between the two governments.

What do the secret files contain?
The files that must now be released in full include papers on UK-India relations from 1983 to 1985 — covering a meeting between Thatcher and Indira Gandhi’s advisor, L.K. Jha, the situation in Punjab, Sikh activities and the assassination of Gandhi in October 1984.

Why are they so sensitive?
The UK has a sizable Sikh population and a large number of them would not like the fact that the UK government had helped Indian Army prepare for Operation Bluestar. The declassification of files can even lead to demands for an apology from the UK government. The issue coming to centrestage would mobilise Khalistanis in the western countries against India. The details of communications involving Indira Gandhi can embarrass the Congress party.

UK scientists worried vaccines may not work on South African coronavirus variant

LONDON: Scientists are not fully confident that COVID-19 vaccines will work on a new variant of the coronavirus found in South Africa, ITV’s political editor said on Monday, citing an unidentified scientific adviser to the British government.

Both Britain and South Africa have discovered new, more infectious variants in the coronavirus in recent weeks that have driven a surge in cases. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday he was now very worried about the strand found in South Africa.

Scientists including BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin and John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, have said they are testing the vaccines on the new variants and say they could make any required tweaks in around six weeks.

“According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock’s ‘incredible worry’ about the South African COVID-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK‘s variant,” ITV political editor Robert Peston said.

Public Health England said there was currently no evidence to suggest that vaccines will not be effective against the new strain. The health ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

The world’s richest countries have started vaccinating their populations to safeguard against a virus that has killed 1.8 million people and crushed the global economy.

There are currently 60 vaccine candidates in trials, including those that are already being rolled out from

AstraZeneca

and Oxford,

Pfizer

and BioNTech , Moderna, Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm.

That has helped to lift global financial markets, but the discovery of the new variants has raised fresh alarm.

Scientists say the new South African variant has multiple mutations in the important “spike” protein that the virus uses to infect human cells.

It has also been associated with a higher viral load, meaning a higher concentration of virus particles in patients’ bodies, possibly contributing to higher levels of transmission.

Oxford’s Bell, who advises the government’s vaccine task force, said on Sunday he thought vaccines would work on the British variant but said there was a “big question mark” as to whether they would work on the South African variant.

He told Times Radio that the shots could be adapted and “it might take a month or six weeks to get a new vaccine”.

BioNTech’s Sahin told Spiegel in an interview published on Friday that their vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the coronavirus, should be able to cope with the variant first detected in Britain.

“We are testing whether our vaccine can also neutralise this variant and will soon know more,” he said.

Asked about coping with a strong mutation, he said it would be possible to tweak the vaccine as required within six weeks – though it might require additional regulatory approvals.

UK’s Rishi Sunak warns economy will get worse before it gets better

LONDON: Finance minister Rishi Sunak warned on Monday that Britain‘s economy will get worse before it gets better, with the country now in its third national lockdown and struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Sunak said the new health restrictions were necessary but added that they would have a “significant” economic impact.

“We should expect the economy to get worse before it gets better,” Sunak told parliament.

Earlier on Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain was in “a race against time” to roll out COVID-19 vaccines as deaths hit record highs and hospitals run out of oxygen, with his top medical adviser saying the pandemic’s worst weeks were imminent.

Last week Sunak launched a 4.6 billion pound ($6.2 billion) support package for businesses on Tuesday to soften the economic hit of the renewed lockdowns.

Sunak has previously announced emergency help for the economy worth 280 billion pounds, including a massive job protection scheme that will run until the end of April.

Britain’s economy looks likely to tip back into recession – shrinking in the final quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 – following a record 25% fall in output in the first two months of lockdown last year.

Liberty Steel is an important asset, need to distinguish from ownership: UK minister

Britain needs to distinguish between Liberty Steel, which is an important national asset, and the company which sits above it and has been caught up in the Greensill Capital collapse, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Tuesday.

“I think it’s a really important national asset and what we have to do is to distinguish between Liberty Steel and the company that sits above it,” Kwarteng told BBC radio.

“All options at the moment are on the table. We think the steel industry has a future in the UK.”

Liberty Steel UK, owned by businessman Sanjeev Gupta, said on Monday it planned to restart steelmaking next week and it was continuing to seek new funding after its main financial backer Greensill Capital went into insolvency.

TikTok faces UK lawsuit over alleged kids’ data breach

TikTok was hit with a legal claim in Britain on Wednesday accusing the video-sharing app of illegally collecting personal data from millions of children in Europe.

The former children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, and law firm Scott + Scott have brought the case against the firm and its Chinese parent group ByteDance on behalf of children aged under 13 in the UK and under 16 in the European Economic Area, a statement said.

TikTok said separately that it would “vigorously defend” itself, noting that privacy and safety were “top priorities” for the platform.

The claim “alleges that TikTok and ByteDance have violated UK and EU children’s data protection law (GDPR), and deceived parents about how exposed their children’s private information is when they use the app”.

The case affects potentially more than 3.5 million children in the UK alone, the statement added.

“TikTok is a hugely popular social media platform that has helped children keep in touch with their friends during an incredibly difficult year,” Longfield noted.

“However, behind the fun songs, dance challenges and lip-sync trends lies something far more sinister.”

She added that “parents and children have a right to know that private information, including phone numbers, physical location, and videos of their children are being illegally collected”.

The claim seeks to “put a stop to TikTok’s shadowy data collection practices”, Longfield said, as she demanded that the platform deletes all private information “illegally processed” when the app is used by children.

The case aims to win compensation that could run into billions of pounds, the statement added.

TikTok in response maintained it has “robust policies, processes and technologies in place to help protect all users, and our teenage users in particular.

“We believe the claims lack merit and intend to vigorously defend the action,” it added in a statement.

The claim stated that every child that has used TikTok since May 2018, regardless of whether they have an account or the nature of their privacy settings, may have had their private personal information illegally collected by ByteDance through TikTok for the benefit of unknown third parties.

The claim also referred to recent hefty fines handed down to TikTok in the United States and South Korea following child data cases.

EU says it will act ‘firmly’ if UK doesn’t honour Brexit deal

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator says the bloc is ready to act “firmly and resolutely” if the UK fails to honour its commitments under the porce deal that was supposed to keep trade flowing after Britain left the EU.

Maros Sefcovic’s comments, published Tuesday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, came a day before he holds talks with his U.K. counterpart on implementing the deal.

The relationship between the two sides has grown tense amid concerns over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, which was designed to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland while preserving economic links with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

The protocol has sparked anger in Northern Ireland because it creates a customs border between the region and the rest of the UK, but the EU says the provisions are needed to protect the bloc’s single market.

The UK angered Brussels earlier this year when it unilaterally extended a grace period delaying the inspection of many supermarket items shipped to Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales. The Telegraph reported that the UK may extend this action to include chilled meats such as sausages and ground beef.

Sefcovic cautioned against such action, saying negotiators should strive to achieve “mutually agreed compliance paths.”

“If this does not happen, and if the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations.”

While Sefcovic didn’t specify what those actions might be, the Times of London quoted an unidentified EU official as saying the bloc was ready to impose trade sanctions and retaliatory tariffs.