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EU crumbling: Panic grows over ‘second Brexit in Italy’ – German minister issues warning

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Cash-strapped Italy was one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic and was enraged by what is saw as a lack of support from Brussels. Even pro-EU politicians were left questioning their country’s future within the bloc amid growing calls from nationalist parties to quit.

We must face the reconstruction of Europe in a sustainable way or we risk another Brexit in Italy

Markus Söder

Markus Söder, president of Germany’s Christian Socialist Union and leader of Bavaria, acknowledged the EU’s failings and said things had to change.

He said: “We must face the reconstruction of Europe in a sustainable way or we risk another Brexit in Italy.

“The EU is the best idea that has ever emerged on the European continent but now we have to reinvent it and adapt it to the challenges of our time.

“Not only the coronavirus crisis, but also nationalism is spreading. We therefore need a new spirit of cohesion in Europe.”

He continued: “We must tackle the reconstruction of Europe quickly and sustainably.

“We shouldn’t fall back into old patterns of behaviour and reflexes. Europe needs a new big momentum.”

Mr Soder warned the EU would eventually collapse if richer states failed to help countries particularly affected by the coronavirus.

He said: “When Germany helps Italy and Spain, we help ourselves – not only economically, but also politically and culturally. Because we are all over Europe.

“The disintegration of Europe and therefore of the internal market would be the greatest risk.

“We can already see what economic loss we have because of the coronavirus, just because the logistical chains of southern Europe are not working.

“If we hesitate now or underestimate the psychological impact, there is a risk of a second Brexit in Italy.

“A Europe without Italy or Spain is no longer a Europe as we know it. So the EU would no longer make sense.

“Many did not think Britain was serious but Brexit is now underway.

“I still can’t imagine a strong Europe without Britain. But without Italy, little remains of the original idea.

“The Treaty of Rome was the basis of the EU. Italy is the cultural and historical heart of Europe.”

Mr Soder acknowledged Italy had been deeply affected by the coronavirus crisis.

He said: “We cannot simply leave the country to populists like Matteo Salvini.

“What happens in Italy affects all of us. Therefore, it is better to help them than to walk away and end up contemplating the pieces of Europe.

“Europe faces an important historic crossroads. Therefore, we cannot fail.”

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His comments echo those of billionaire financier George Soros who also warned the future of the EU was in jeopardy.

He said: “I am particularly concerned about Italy. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega party, is agitating for the country to leave the euro and the EU.

“Fortunately, his personal popularity has declined since he left the government, but his advocacy is gaining momentum.

“What would be left of Europe without Italy? Italy used to be the most pro-European country.”

He said splits began to appear when Brussels failed to offer adequate support to Rome at the height of the Meditrannean migrant crisis and then gave it a slap in the face by relaxing state aid rules to the benefit of richer nations such as Germany.

The EU response to the coronavirus pandemic has been the final straw for many Italian voters who see their country being punished by Brussels for a crisis that was not its fault.

Mr Soros said: “Italians trusted Europe more than their own governments, and with good reason.

“But they were badly treated during the refugee crisis of 2015. The EU enforced the so-called Dublin Regulations that put all the burden on the countries where refugees first landed and did not offer any financial burden sharing.

“That is when Italians decide to vote for Salvini’s Lega and the Five Star Movement in a landslide.

“More recently, the relaxation of state aid rules, which favour Germany, has been particularly unfair to Italy, which was already the sick man of Europe and then the hardest hit by COVID-19.”

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China to face ‘ramped up’ economic tension with US in coronavirus crisis aftermath

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China and the United States have engaged in a bitter trade war since US President Donald Trump took over the presidency in 2016. With the hard stance the US leader adopted towards Beijing amid the coronavirus pandemic, investment strategist Meghan Schue warned of trade tensions “ramping up” in the coming months. The Head of Investment Strategy at the Wilmington Trust told CNBC: “We are definitely worried about US-China tensions escalating.

“We’ve seen them bubbling up in recent days and weeks and we think it’s probably going to continue.

“What’s interesting is that, in a very divisive environment in Washington, China, specifically taking a hard stance on China, is one of only a very few issues where there is bipartisan support.

“There’s not much room on the political stage for someone seen being soft on China.

“We think the tension with China is going to continue to ramp up into the election.”

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Ms Schue added: “From an investor and market perspective, it’s definitely a concern.

“We’re very much, the US and China, intertwined in relation to trade.”

US President Donald Trump took on a harder position over trade with China from the early days of his presidency, insisting unfair competition from Beijing cost American workers their jobs.

Over the past four years, the US issued a series of sanctions against Chinese manufacturers and Republican Senators in May introduced a new bill that would allow the US President to impose new penalties on Beijing over their alleged failure to cooperate during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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President Trump on Saturday announced he had invited Australia, India, South Korea and Russia to a future G7 meeting as he lamented the group had become “very outdated.”

White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah confirmed the President wants China to be a key point of discussion during the summit.

South Korea and Australia are long-standing allies of the United States, with Canberra joining calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The US has also been fostering closer ties with India, which has varying disagreements with China, including border tensions in Ladakh.

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The director of the Institute of American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Ni Feng, suggested President Trump has been trying to mobilise support from US allies in containing China.

Professor Ni said: “The intention is simple: to isolate China.

“It is just the beginning, and more containment measures will follow.”

John Lee, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, also said the US “may be looking to advance an agenda which will consider placing responsibility onto China for the latter’s failures in allowing a pandemic to occur”.

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Oh dear, Brussels! Angela Merkel admits coronavirus pandemic a ‘stress test’ for the EU

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her concern about upcoming hurdles for the bloc in tackling the coronavirus aftermath. Coronavirus’ impact will be long felt in the European Union as key economic member states were struck hardest by the virus. Germany is also expected to take over the position of Presidency of the Council of the European Union in June.

Ms Merkel has insisted, under her presidency, the bloc will take a global responsibility in handling the fallout of coronavirus.

She noted this was particularly important despite tensions between the EU and the US.

While speaking to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung think tank by video link Ms Merkel also explained she was concerned the coronavirus pandemic could strain geopolitical tensions.

She said: “The United States of America is Europe’s most important partner.

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“I am, of course, aware that cooperation is currently more difficult than we would like.

“This is true in the field of climate, in the field of trade, and also currently on the question of the role of international organisations in the fight against the pandemic.

“In many places, the pandemic will intensify existing conflicts and problems.

“This will also become a stress test for the European Union.”

Euronews’ Jessica Saltz also remarked on the feelings in Europe towards Ms Merkel taking over later this year.

Ms Saltz said: “Angela Merkel has acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic is the toughest crisis that the European Union has ever faced.

“Therefore she has very ambitious plans to try and overcome it.”

Ms Saltz also explained the expected reception from the news Ms Merkel will be pushing for ambitious tactics to curve the impact of the virus.

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She continued: “Many in Europe will probably be feeling quite glad that Angela Merkel, the longest-running leader in Europe and known as a figure of stability, will be guiding the way when Germany takes over the European Council Presidency out of this crisis.

“She has ambitious plans to overturn and renew health systems in Europe.

“But she also has plans to spend billions of Euros to help beleaguered nations even if this means, in part, marginalising European debt.

“This is something we would have never heard the Germans agreeing to even a couple of years ago.

“I think Angela Merkel has learned quite a few lessons over the years.”

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‘Biblical plague’ ravages India as unprecedented locust invasion sparks apocalyptic fears

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A locust swarm “of biblical proportion” has sparked apocalyptic fears in India, as millions of the crop-eating insects overwhelm entire cities. Agricultural experts claim that the locust swarms have already destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of cropland across India, and could spark a food crisis across the world. This comes as India also grapples with an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures reaching 50C, as well as soaring coronavirus cases in the country.

Indian health ministry officials have reported 166,000 coronavirus infections and 4,706 deaths

Indians have pointed to the simultaneous crises rocking the country as signs of an impending apocalypse.

Footage from Jaipur earlier this week showed millions of the insects covering entire houses.

One clip showed the sheer number of insects had turned the sky black, after the swarms blocked out the sun.

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The locust attack on Jaipur even stunned experts, as locusts typically stay away from urban centres. 

In response, drones, tractors and cars have been sent out to spray pesticides in a desperate bid to stop the infestation.

The locusts were arriving in India from Iran and Pakistan, where the swarms have already devastated huge agricultural harvests. 

India has seen half a dozen states in the west and central regions of the country blanketed in locust swarms. 

Google Trends suggest that Indians are fearing apocalyptic scenarios, with searches of Biblical passage on locusts sky-rocketing since news of the locust attacks broke.

One Indian social activist Kasturi Shankar remarked on social media: “Death. Disease. Cyclone. Floods. And now Locusts.

“All the biblical plagues. In the Bible, it was because headstrong rulers would not do right.”

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Another user tweeted: “First fires, then disease, then floods, and now locusts. The Bible called it.”

The Indian government’s Locust Warning Organisation’s deputy director K.L. Gurjar said: “Eight to 10 swarms, each measuring around a square kilometre are active in parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.”

Locusts have affected around 64 countries in the past few months, which include Iran, Afghanistan, Africa and India.

Experts fear that the pests will continue to spread across the country well into the summer. 

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China coronavirus panic: City of 2.8m gripped by ‘mysterious’ new outbreak

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Officials in China are working to uncover the source of a new cluster of coronavirus cases in a north-eastern city. The city of Mudanjiang in
Heilongjiang province has recorded a total of 11 domestic infections with no symptoms in the past three days.

The new cases have prompted local authorities to shut down public transport, with railway and coach stations closed yesterday.

Domestic and international flights have all been cancelled.

Now, schools and classes have been suspended with students sent home.

The city government has yet to release an official notice to seal off all residential complexes.

However, online posts from citizens have claimed that their compounds were put under isolation.

Local health authorities reported the cluster’s first two cases on Tuesday.

A local couple contracted the killer bug from an unknown source that officials are still trying to track down.

The residential complex where the couple lived has been sealed off, with no outsider allowed to enter, according to Chinese media.

The city of Mudanjiang is situated in a north-eastern Chinese region of over 100million people, Dongbei, which has been ravaged by the deadly disease after two cities went into Wuhan-style lockdown this month.

On Wednesday, Mudanjiang officials reported five more asymptomatic patients.

Another four new infections were reported by the local authorities yesterday.

The nine infected residents were said to have had close contact with the couple who first contracted the deadly virus, according to official statements.

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Authorities said that the first two patients were detected while local officials were conducting coronavirus screening in the city.

A video released by Pear Video today shows the city’s airport empty with shut doors as a staff member said that all flights had been cancelled with no confirmed dates of when flights will resume.

This comes after the provincial capital of Heilongjiang, Harbin city, adopted draconian quarantine measures in late April.

This was after the are reported more than 70 infections.

The virus was believed to have been brought into the city by a student who had returned from New York.

Growing fears of a second wave have been fuelled in the vast region with 108million residents after two cities from the area went under Wuhan-style lockdown earlier on this month.

Shulan, a city of 700,000 people located in Jilin province, has been under lockdown since May 9 after reporting 12 COVID-19 cases in the space of two days.

Four days later, the city of Jilin, with a population of more than four million, shut its borders and suspended public transport after reporting six new cases, all linked to the infection cluster in Shulan.

The city has reported at least 43 infections, all linked to the same source, a local laundry worker.

But it continues to remain unknown how she first contracted the bug.

According to Jilin officials, a total of twenty COVID-19 patients are being treated at local hospitals.

Two deaths have been reported according to the latest figures.

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Remainers dealt crushing blow: EU expert outlines why Brexit extension ‘really difficult’

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Professor Catherine Barnard told the UK in a Changing Europe that Britain has the option to decide on an extension of the transition period with the EU before July 1. Professor Barnard added that after July 1 it will be really difficult legally for the UK to negotiate an extension to the Brexit transition period if they later decide more time is needed. 

Professor Barnard said: “It is difficult, legally it is really difficult.

“They have got to decide on a single extension of up to one or two years that has got to be done by July 1.

“Let’s assume that nothing happens at that moment and we get to October and more time is required.

“Then how do we secure an extension to the transition?”

She added: “The more ambitious the trade deal is the more likely it is to be classed as a mixed agreement.

“That means it has got to be signed off by the EU, EU Parliament and also all of the national and regional parliaments.

“That is going to take some time and will not be done overnight.”

Earlier this month Michael Gove revealed staying in the European Union for another year could cost the UK between £20billion gross and £10billion net.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster outlined the cost to the UK if the Brexit transition period is extended during the Lords’ European Union committee.

Lord Lamont asked: “Can you be more precisely about what the costs of an extension to the transition period would be?”

Mr Gove replied: “Yes, for every year continued membership the additional cost would be between £20billion gross and £10billion net.

“One additional complicating factor is that the current multi-annual framework of the EU ends at the end of this calendar year.

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“There would be a new MFF.

“It would be decided by the EU 27 and we would not have a voice in that process.

“We would find that even the limited say we had in the setting of the MFF when we were a member of the EU would have gone.

“So, we can’t know preciously what bill we may be saddled with were we to agree to another year of continued transition.”

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‘Pathetic’ Ian Blackford faces backlash after thanking Barnier for his letter -‘We’re OUT’

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This afternoon SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford openly welcomed Michel Barnier’s surprise letter to opposition leaders, which outlined the EU’s plan to extend the negotiating period for up to two more years. Responding to the letter, Mr Blackford thanked the European Commission’s Head of Task Force and urged Boris Johnson to abandon his commitment to the British people and extend talks beyond December 31.

Mr Blackford wrote on Twitter: “Thank you Michel Barnier for your letter today confirming the EU is open to a two-year extension to the Brexit transition period.

“Time is running out. Boris Johnson must put his responsibilities to jobs and the economy first – agree an extension to prevent another crisis.”

The desperate plea from the SNP chief was met with an angry response by many users on Twitter – who in no uncertain terms reminded Mr Blackford what 17.4 million people voted for.

One user said: “This is ant-democratic. It’s been four years since the UK voted to leave.”

A second responded by saying: “We’re out.”

A third told Mr Blackford: “We do NOT want any extension! Keep out of it.

“It’s MPs like yourself that kept casing problems in the UK parliament and dragging Brexit out for so long. Now we want it finished for good.”

A fourth simply said: “No extension, listen to the majority!”

A fifth wrote: “Sad pathetic wee man.”

In the letter to Westminster leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party, Mr Barnier said the EU “remain open” to an extension until 2022 but warned this would come at a financial cost to the UK.

The UK and the EU negotiating teams have just one round of talks to go in June before both sides must decide on any extension before the July 1 deadline – Downing Street has again reiterated a delay is not an option.

In the letter Mr Barnier said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.

“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.

“Any extension decision has to be taken by the Joint Committee before July 1, and must be accompanied by an agreement on a financial contribution by the United Kingdom.”

The Prime Minister has already knocked back any suggestion of a new timetable for talks and insisted the UK will honour the December 31 deadline.

Responding to Mr Barnier, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “No change to the government’s position.

“The transition period will end on December 31.”

Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost, said it was “firm policy” of the Government to honour the current timetable.

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In front on the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, Mr Frost also insisted there remains a “big gap” in negotiations regarding the EU’s insistence on a level playing field with the UK on trade rules and regulations.

He said: “I think it’s fair to say that we have a fundamental disagreement at the moment on most aspects of the level playing field.

“There are one or two areas that are slightly less controversial and problematic but in most of the important areas, there’s a big gap.

“And he obviously is delivering the mandate he was given. Member states regard the level playing field as very important.

“I think, to recall, we are not saying that there can be no level playing field provisions, we’re simply saying that there must be provisions which are appropriate to a free trade agreement.”

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EU’s £670bn power grab: VDL to demand sweeping tax powers to fund COVID19 rescue TODAY

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The European Commission President wants to borrow up to €500 billion to bailout pandemic-stricken regions and industries. In a move towards a full-blown European superstate, the German will propose a series of new EU taxation powers to help fund her spending plans. Brussels would take charge of borrowing cash from international markets before deciding where handouts are made available as grants.

Mrs von der Leyen’s strategy has whipped up controversy with some member states demanding a shift towards low-cost loans and attaching strict political conditions for accessing the fund.

Most of the cash is expected to be directed towards Italy and Spain, the EU’s worst-hit countries during the pandemic.

Under the plans drawn up by the Commission, future green taxes on airlines and shipping companies and an EU-wide plastics tax.

Setting out her blueprint to the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen will say Brussels should also be allowed to tap into revenues from carbon duties on all imports into the Continent.

A new digital tax could see an “operations” rate slapped on companies with a turnover larger than €752 million.

Member states will also be expected to drastically increase their budget contributions to pay for the EU’s new tax and spend ambitions.

Before the plans can be rolled out, they must receive unanimous backing from European capitals.

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‘We are doomed!’ Biblical plague of locust engulfs city in horrifying footage -VIDEO

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Hordes of locusts have overrun areas in India and Pakistan over recent weeks with the latest footage showing large groups of the pests descend on Indian city Jaipur. The influx of the pests and the havoc of the coronavirus disease has sparked fears of the end of the world. On Monday, the swarms of locusts descended on Jaipur, a city of an estimated three million people, with many documenting the unbelievable footage and posting it to social media.

One stunned local posted a video of the swarm with the hashtag: “LocustAttack in Jaipur.

She added: “We are doomed, food shortage incoming.”

Another added: “Locust attack in Jaipur.

“That’s it, 2020 is the last year for humankind.”

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Others drew a comparison between this plague and that of the bible.

The Twitter user sarcastically wrote: “A swarm of locusts was one of the biblical plagues right?

“So we are in the apocalypse, right now?”

While another simply added: “This is the beginning of the end.”

The rapid infestation of locusts has lead many to fear for their food security.

Senior locust forecasting officer at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned the impact there could be long term complications from the swarms across the globe.

He said: “The current locust outbreak is the biggest in 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia, 26 years in India and 70 years in Kenya.”

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Climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology also explained how climate change played a key role in the severity of the swarms.

He said: “The outbreak started after heavy amounts of rains over east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

“Heavy rain triggers the growth of vegetation in arid areas where desert locusts can then grow and breed.

“On top of that, the rising temperature due to global warming made the Western Indian Ocean particularly warm.”

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Lockdown POLL: Should Dominic Cummings resign after claims he broke lockdown rules? VOTE

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The No10 adviser was spotted at his parents’ home in Durham, 260 miles from London, in early April after he developed coronavirus symptoms. A joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian found that he made the journey from London to Durham during the height of the lockdown shortly after he was seen running out of Downing Street when Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus in late March. Mr Johnson had told people they “must stay at home” in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Police are understood to have been notified of Mr Cummings presence at the Durham property by a member of the public.

Durham Constabulary have confirmed officers contacted the homeowners about the matter, but Downing Street has said neither Mr Cummings nor his parents were spoken to by police.

A spokesman for the force told the Guardian: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said the aide’s position was “completely untenable”.

He said: “He must resign or be sacked.”

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for Mr Cummings to quit over the allegations.

A spokesman for Labour said: “The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings.”

As the news broke on Saturday morning, Downing Street issued a statement vehemently denying Mr Cummings had flouted lockdown rules.

They said the No10 adviser had travelled up north with his child but had not stayed with his parents’.

The statement read: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.

“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.

“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.

“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines.

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“Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”

The development will not doubt irritate the public who have been in lockdown for two months.

Millions are facing their ninth weekend under strict measures and some will have no choice but to spend the bank holiday weekend apart from family members.

The Guardian reported that Mr Cummings, 48, was spotted near the gate of his parents’ home with a young child – believed to be his son – at around 5.45pm on Sunday April 5.

The sighting is said to have happened five days after police received a report about Mr Cummings in Durham.

Hours after he was allegedly seen on April 5, Mr Johnson was admitted to hospital suffering from coronavirus.

An unnamed neighbour said they saw Mr Cummings in the garden of his parents’ home five days after police are believed to have contacted the family on March 31.

They said Abba’s Dancing Queen was playing loudly.

They said: “I got the shock of my life, as I looked over to the gates and saw him.

“I recognised Dominic Cummings, he’s a very distinctive figure.”

Mr Johnson is being pressured to sack Mr Cummings over the matter.

Downing Street previously confirmed that Mr Cummings had started displaying coronavirus symptoms “over the weekend” of March 28 and 29.

Even before the lockdown, Mr Johnson set out a stark warning to the nation, saying on March 16 that “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact and to stop all non-essential travel”.

Lockdown questions continue to bombard the Government with the Prime Minister facing pressure to sack his closest aide after it emerged that he travelled to his parents’ home despite coronavirus-related restrictions.

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