Business voices ‘horror’ as Brexit countdown reaches 100 days

Business voices

Continued uncertainty over Brexit has pushed companies in the United Kingdom to the “point of no return” and forced many to trigger expensive contingency plans.

Five leading UK business groups chastised the country’s politicians on Wednesday, warning that the lack of progress on Brexit had harmed companies and hiked the risk of Britain crashing out of the European Union.

“Businesses have been watching in horror as politicians have focused on factional disputes rather than practical steps that business needs to move forward,” the groups said in a rare joint statement. The statement warned that many firms are “now putting in place contingency plans that are a significant drain of time and money.” It said that hundreds of thousands of other companies remain unprepared for a messy Brexit.

“This is not where we should be,” said the groups, which include the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses.

There are only 100 days to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union. Prime Minister Theresa May survived a confidence vote last week, but the divorce deal she negotiated with the European Union still faces long odds in parliament after more than a third of her party rebelled in the vote.

The government — and many businesses — have stepped up their preparations for a disorderly Brexit as a result. The business groups warned that crashing out of the European Union would mean “massive” new customs costs and tariffs, as well as disruptions at ports that would “destroy carefully built supply chains.”

Fears over ‘no deal’

Aerospace giant Airbus (EADSY) has said it could be forced to quit the country if there’s no deal on EU trading arrangements. Airplane engine maker Rolls-Royce (RYCEY) is stockpiling parts to help minimize the damage. Carmakers such as Nissan (NSANY), BMW (BMWYY) and Jaguar Land Rover are also heavily exposed.

Business voices

The European Commission published its own contingency plans for a disorderly Brexit on Wednesday. It said it would seek to minimize damage to financial markets by allowing EU banks use derivatives clearinghouses in the United Kingdom for a year after Brexit. It will also allow some UK flights to access European airspace to safeguard “basic connectivity.” British citizens living in the bloc will continue to be considered legal residents.

Nowhere to hide

Crashing out without a deal would sink the UK economy into recession. But the UK government’s own analysis shows the economy will take a hit from any kind of Brexit. Big banks including Deutsche Bank (DB), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Citi (C) have already moved parts of their business out of the United Kingdom.

Panasonic (PCRFY) said in August that it would move its European headquarters to Amsterdam. Other firms have opened offices in the European Union to ensure they can continue to do business. German engineering group Schaeffler (SCFLF) said it was going to close two plants in the United Kingdom because of the uncertainty.

K-Pop band member quits as label denies sexual misconduct accusations

K-Pop band

A K-Pop band has broken ties with one of its members after accusations of sexual misconduct were made against him online.

In a statement Wednesday, FNC Entertainment said Kwon Kwang-jin, known as Kwangjin, “has decided to voluntarily leave N.Flying.”

The move came after accusations were posted online against Kwangjin, accusing him of inappropriate behavior with fans, leading some to mobilize around a Twitter hashtag that translates as “leave the band Kwangjin.”

“After meeting face to face with the individuals who were involved in the currently spreading online rumors related to Kwangjin, we’ve confirmed that elements of the rumors including Kwangjin’s dating scandal with fans, sexual harassment claims, and more are not true,” the FNC statement said. However, it added that Kwangjin had held “personal meetings with fans outside of official promotional activities.”

“Seeking personal relationships with fans no matter what the reason is, is improper behavior for a member of a band,” the label said. “Until we are able to discover the full truth regarding the ongoing rumors, Kwangjin will halt all broadcast and promotional activities and partake in a time of reflection.” It added that it would be taking “strict legal action should some online posts prove to be false and of malicious nature.”

South Korean music labels are notoriously strict about controlling the behavior of their artists, even limiting who they can date. Stars who defy these restrictions can face censure or dismissal.

While prominent South Korean politicians and entertainment stars have been accused of sexual misconduct, the #MeToo reckoning in the country has been more muted than in some nations, especially when it comes to the outwardly squeaky clean K-Pop scene.

In recent months however, women have been increasingly active in organizing against pervasive issues of sexual harassment, with tens of thousands protesting regularly against spy cams under the slogan “My Life is Not Your Porn.”

Senate passes stop-gap funding bill in effort to avert government shutdown

Senate passes1

The Senate passed a stop-gap spending bill on Wednesday night in an effort to keep the government funded and prevent a partial shutdown at the end of the week.

A shutdown hasn’t been averted just yet: The measure will still need to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Donald Trump before it can take effect.

But the Senate’s passage of the short-term measure brings Washington one step closer to staving off a shutdown of some key federal agencies, set to expire at midnight on Friday, just days before Christmas.

The Senate worked late into the night on Wednesday evening to pass the measure, which had appeared to have hit an impasse earlier in the day over a push to advance public lands legislation. Earlier on Wednesday, McConnell introduced the measure which would fund the remaining parts of the government through February 8, 2019.

McConnell’s proposal has the backing of the top congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and top congressional Republicans have indicated they are optimistic that the President would sign the measure.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the current no. 2 highest-ranking Senate Republican, predicted on Wednesday that Trump would sign it.

Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who is poised to reclaim the speaker’s gavel in the new Congress, said Wednesday afternoon that she supported the measure.

“This is a missed opportunity to pass full-year funding bills now,” Pelosi said in a statement. “However, Democrats will be ready to fully, responsibly fund our government in January, and we will support this continuing resolution.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said during a speech on the Senate floor, “Thankfully, President Trump appears to have backed down from his position for billions in direct appropriations for a border wall.”

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have made clear they don’t want a shutdown, but had been at an impasse over the President’s demand for $5 billion in funding for his long-promised wall at the US-Mexico border.

Democrats have made clear that figure is a non-starter for them and any spending bill would need at least some Democratic votes to pass in the Senate. Of course, no spending measure is final until the President signs it.

But on Tuesday, the White House appeared to step away from the brink of a shutdown. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday morning during an interview with Fox News that, “We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion (for a border wall).”

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and other conservative allies of the President plan to give brief speeches on the House floor Wednesday night, however, urging Trump not to abandon his quest for border wall funding.

They include: Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, Jody Hice of Georgia, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Morgan Griffith of Virginia.

Senate passes1

Despite opposition from the Freedom Caucus, however, the House should still have the votes to still pass the continuing resolution, assuming most, if not all, Democrats support it, since it has Pelosi’s blessing.

But even as members of the Freedom Caucus are poised to urge Trump not to abandon his quest for border wall funding, White House officials say it’s likely the President will do just that — and sign a short-term spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown.

The President has been unusually quiet about the issue on Wednesday, holding his tongue as some conservative commentators and lawmakers blast him for abandoning his commitment.

But two White House aides said the President likely has no choice but to sign a temporary funding measure to keep the government open until February 8. The aides say the White House is intentionally not signaling what Trump will do, but there does not appear to be talk inside the West Wing of blocking it.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway hinted earlier that Trump is leaning this way when she told reporters at the White House the President will “take a look at” the continuing resolution, though she attempted to frame any punt as something other than a concession from the White House.

All this comes a week after the President said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government, so delaying the funding fight until Democrats retake the House next year is a fairly clear concession — and a risky one. Although Republicans clearly don’t have the votes to support his request.

‘Mary Poppins Returns’ falls short of practically perfect

Mary Poppins Returns

“Mary Poppins Returns” could just as easily be titled “Mary Poppins Remade.” That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but a movie that descends from the clouds with a huge gust of nostalgia behind it only sporadically conjures magic between the title character’s arrival and departure. The result is thus perfectly passable, but well short of practically perfect.

Disney, notably, is behaving as if it thinks otherwise, aggressively pushing the film for awards consideration — a strategy already validated by its Golden Globe nominations, exploiting that group’s traditional fondness for musicals. (Emily Blunt is also nominated for a SAG Award for her performance as Poppins.)

The sense of anticipation surrounding this 54-years-later sequel to a beloved family classic should pay off handsomely — spooning out the box-office sugar — while showcasing the considerable talents of Emily Blunt in the title role, and “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Nevertheless, once you get past the basic outline — Mary Poppins does indeed return, now that the Banks children, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer), have grown up — the allure of the exercise comes down to the quality of the songs and visual wonder. The former, alas, are generally lacking, and the latter tends to overplay its hand, including an extended animated sequence — with clever callbacks to the original — that seems to waddle around too long.

The story’s emotional hook comes from Michael, who is raising three children of his own, while wrestling with the pain of having lost his wife. As if that weren’t enough, the story unfolds during “the Great Slump,” a financial downturn that has put the Banks in danger of losing the family home unless they can locate their late father’s stock certificates to satisfy the lender.
“I can’t lose our home, Jane,” Michael frets.

That thread, however, is dangled and then dropped for long stretches, as Mary goes about bringing her special brand of nanny magic to her young charges. Like Julie Andrews before her (and not incidentally, even closer to the slightly darker stage version), her Mary is both mysterious and frequently exasperated, bringing an elfish charm to the festivities, and a fine voice to the music.

Mary Poppins Returns

Miranda, similarly, is no slouch, occupying what amounts to the Dick Van Dyke role as Mary’s cheerful sidekick in the kids’ fantastic adventures. That said, when the real Van Dyke shows up in what feels like a too-brief cameo, it provides the movie with an enormous jolt of energy that had been conspicuously lacking — so much so that you wish the actor and his fellow nonagenarian, Angela Lansbury, would hang around a bit longer.

Director Rob Marshall’s credits include the Oscar-winning “Chicago” and “Into the Woods,” so he’s no stranger to bringing musicals to the screen. In that regard, there’s something decidedly old-fashioned about “Mary Poppins Returns” and its unapologetic approach to the genre that many will find at the least comforting, and at best thrilling, if only to re-experience such entertainment with new generations on a big screen.

Disney, of course, has already unearthed plenty of gold from its vaults, reviving and remaking various family properties, which has included transforming animated classics into live-action extravaganzas.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is well worth seeing. But the live-action movies pose a somewhat more complicated challenge, one that even the title character — with all the tricks up her sleeve — can’t entirely pull off.