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Defence minister Tobias Ellwood 'prepared to resign' over cuts

25 November

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood is prepared to resign if massive cuts to the Army are given the go-ahead, according to a report.

The cuts would see the Army lose 12,000 soldiers, leaving its full-time strength at just 70,000.
Mr Ellwood shared his "deep discomfort" with colleagues about a list of cost-saving options facing the Ministry of Defence, according to a report in The Times.
The newspaper said that he had indicated he would step down if the military was not protected from the proposed cuts.
Mr Ellwood served in the Royal Green Jackets from 1991 to 1996 with tours in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kuwait, Germany, Gibraltar and Bosnia.
The Bournemouth East MP is now in the Army Reserve and bravely tried to save the life of police officer Keith Palmer, who was stabbed by a terrorist outside the Palace of Westminster in March.
The image of Mr Ellwood, face bloodied, fighting to keep PC Palmer alive came to define the day that terror struck at the heart of London.
He was appointed to the Privy Council in recognition of the bravery he showed.
Asked if Mr Ellwood was known to have concerns about the prospect of cuts to the military, a senior defence source told the Press Association: "Absolutely."
The Times also said a source had told them that Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson had been shocked by the "completely awful" proposals.
Other possible cuts were thought to include reducing the order for Ajax armoured vehicles, delaying tank upgrades, axing amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and the loss of 1,000 Royal Marines.
An MoD spokesman said: "We have the biggest defence budget in Europe and are one of very few countries to not only meet but exceed NATO's 2% spending target.
"In the face of intensifying threats, we are contributing to the cross-government review of national security capabilities and looking at how we best spend the rising defence budget to protect our country.
"No decisions have been made and any discussion of the options is pure speculation."

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Oxford Circus alert caused by 'altercation' between two men, say police

25 November

An "altercation" between two men on a Tube platform is thought to be the reason behind a mass evacuation in central London on Friday, police have said.

Several people were injured and nine were taken to hospital after chaos and confusion erupted at the busy Oxford Circus station.
Armed police swooped on the station and along Oxford Street after receiving reports that shots had been fired.
:: 'Screaming and pandemonium' amid Oxford Circus alert
A British Transport Police (BTP) spokesman said: "Armed officers from BTP and MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) were quickly on scene. The area was searched swiftly and the station was re-opened.
"Officers believe an altercation erupted between two men on the platform."
They issued CCTV images of two men they want to speak to and have appealed to anyone with information to come forward.
Chief Superintendent Martin Fry said: "Thank you to everyone for bearing with us this evening and also to colleagues from all the emergency services who helped carry out a swift response.
"I know incidents like these can cause concern, but our officers are highly visible around the network and across the country."
Stuart Crichton, London Ambulance Service assistant director of operations, said paramedics treated several patients who sustained injuries while leaving Oxford Circus.
He said: "We discharged seven patients at the scene and took eight patients to two central London hospitals for minor injuries.
"We also took one patient to a major trauma centre for leg injuries."
Shortly after 4.30pm on Friday police were called to reports of gunshots. Crowds of people poured out of Selfridges department store, all Underground trains in the area were halted, traffic was blocked and officers locked people inside shops.
It was an hour-and-a-half before police gave the all-clear.
Eyewitnesses reported being caught in "stampedes" and said there was "pandemonium" as police treated the incident as if it was terrorist-related.
However, police said they could find no evidence of shots fired.
They added: "Given the nature of the information received, the Met responded in line with our existing operation as if the incident was terrorism, including the deployment of armed officers.
"Officers working with colleagues from British Transport Police carried out an urgent search of the area."
British Transport Police said there was "a significant level of panic", adding that it was "examining the circumstances of the incident which resulted in the station being evacuated".
Pictures and video on social media showed armed officers at Oxford Circus station and people being led away from Oxford Street.
Selfridges later said the evacuation of its shop was a precautionary measure and there were "no reported incidents in store".
Bryce Malcolmson, who works in Soho, said he was in Oxford Circus Tube station when he heard a call over the loudspeaker for a police officer to attend one of the platforms.
He told Sky News: "Suddenly I just heard screaming and people running out of the station. Everybody turned round in sort of pandemonium and started trying to exit the Tube as quickly as possible.
"I got up to the top by the ticket barriers and they were all open. I ran out on to the street but it was almost as if no one knew anything had happened down below.
"Within… a couple of minutes there were armed response units and police cars absolutely everywhere. I think people were so unsure what had happened they were running in all directions."
Tourist Lanna Woodward said she witnessed the aftermath of the panic on Oxford Street.
The 20-year-old from California said: "Before it all I saw about 30 police officers speeding down the street.
"We were in the Kingdom of Sweets and then saw a massive crowd of people running and screaming. People were climbing on top of each other.
"The store we were in was locked down, the manager wouldn't let us leave - they said there had been a shooting at the entrance of the Tube station."
Paying tribute to the "swift response" of emergency services, mayor Sadiq Khan urged Londoners to "remain vigilant and don't panic".
He said: "It is vital that we are not complacent - if in doubt it is always best to err on the side of caution and call the police on 999."
:: Anyone with any information can call BTP on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016 citing reference 405 of 24/11.

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Trump: I took a pass at Person of the Year title

25 November

Donald Trump has been stirring up trouble on Twitter again, taking aim at Time magazine and its Person Of The Year.

The US President tweeted that he had turned down the chance to be given the coveted title after the magazine asked him for an interview and photo shoot without confirming he would be chosen.
He tweeted: "Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named 'Man (Person) of the Year,' like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot.
"I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"
Time was not impressed and tweeted on its own account: "The President is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year.
"Time does not comment on our choice until publication, which is December 6."
A former editor of the magazine Richard Stengel had more to say: "Hate to tell you but that PROBABLY means you're NOT Person of the Year.
"They just wanted a photo shoot. But I'm sure you still have that fake TIME cover somewhere in storage."
He was referring to a Washington Post report In June, which revealed that several of Mr Trump's golf clubs display a made-up version of the Person of the Year cover, with positive headlines gracing his portrait.
British tennis player Andy Murray was among those who made a joke of Mr Trump's tweet, sarcastically writing: "BBC just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named sports personality of the year but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot.
"I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"
Actor David Schneider joined in: "Hollywood just called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named the next James Bond but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot.
"I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"
Mr Trump's professed indifference to the award contrasts a little with previous years, where he has paid close attention to the judges' decision.
In 2012, 2014 and 2015, he even complained about not being picked - on Twitter, of course.
But the real estate tycoon came up trumps last year, when the magazine gave him the title, describing him as the "President of the Divided States of America".
At the time, explaining their decision, the judges wrote: "It's hard to measure the scale of his disruption.
"This real estate baron and casino owner turned reality-TV star and provocateur-never a day spent in public office, never a debt owed to any interest besides his own-now surveys the smoking ruin of a vast political edifice that once housed parties, pundits, donors, pollsters, all those who did not see him coming or take him seriously."

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Rainbow Laces: Ref Ryan Atkin on being gay in football

25 November

Football referee Ryan Atkin is the sport's first openly gay professional official in the UK.

He writes about his experience and his support for this weekend's Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, which is raising awareness across sport of anti-LGBT language and behaviour that makes gay, bi and trans people feel unwelcome and unsafe.
I'll wear rainbow laces this weekend because being the first openly gay referee operating in professional football, I believe it's important to visibly support LGBT inclusion, and tackle homophobia within sport.
Within men's football particularly, it's still considered taboo by many to discuss homosexuality, while those involved in the sport often don't feel comfortable speaking up and challenging homophobia.
It would be a simple gesture for big football names - the opinion changers - to state "homophobia is not part of the game, nor is it acceptable".
But to date, the reality is, they haven't done so.
So many people idolise these stars, and they are the role models for the sport.
I'd like players to challenge homophobic abuse on social media, and educate themselves on language that can be discriminatory or offensive. We continue to see high-profile people let themselves down with tweets where they have used inappropriate language and words.
In the past, I've officiated games where homophobic language has been used. "Get up you f****t", "you're so gay", "f**k off you bender" - all phrases I've heard used by players or spectators.
As a young and inexperienced referee, I didn't truly understand the impact of that language and I didn't know how to deal with it.
I was probably distancing myself deliberately and doing what the other guys did - just ignoring it or pretending I didn't hear it.
Looking back, I feel ashamed. That's why, now more than ever, it's important for me to campaign for acceptance, education and drive the change necessary for all in football.
I hit the headlines last summer for being the first openly gay referee operating in professional football, but I didn't come out to my mum until 2014.
She was visiting Brighton to see family and over dinner, I thought "it's now or never".
I felt she was missing out on so much that I wanted to share - I was basically lying to her by omission and she deserved better.
I took a large gulp of wine and told her - it didn't go as I imagined at first, as she had a lot of questions, but she seemed fine with it.
I then threw her in at the deep end as I was meeting friends in a gay bar on the seafront - they had a drag queen on stage and she didn't hold back with my mum! I haven't been brave enough to take her out with me again...
There are those who would argue that it's almost a gimmick to have a week-long campaign like this in November, but there's so much work happening within football governing bodies, all backed by Stonewall - the charity that runs Rainbow Laces - and also TeamPride, which is a group of businesses and organisations such as Sky Sports which supports the campaign.
This year has seen further developments from the football world, such as a large increase in the number of LGBT fan groups at clubs, rainbow corner flags at EFL matches, the Premier League signing up to a three-year partnership with Stonewall, and more companies joining TeamPride.
Moving forward, I'd like to see an announcement before kick-off at all grounds which states that racist or homophobic abuse is not acceptable, and that any offenders will face police action.
Football is the only sport in the world that truly touches all four corners of the globe - it's played in the street, the local park, and stadiums - it impacts on us all.
Football has an obligation to ensure that it reflects the diversity of its players, fans, administrators - whoever.
I truly believe that education is the catalyst - when you change your mind, you will change the game.
I can now be me, within the beautiful game. Will you help others be themselves too?

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EU: UK has 10 days to sort divorce settlement

25 November

The President of the European Council has given the UK 10 days to meet EU demands on the Brexit divorce settlement.

After an hour-long private meeting with Theresa May in Brussels, Donald Tusk said he would not be able to allow the Brexit negotiations to move to the crucial trade and transition phase unless the UK meets his deadline.
In the clearest signal yet that the EU side sees itself as the driver in the Brexit negotiations, Mr Tusk said: "Sufficient progress in Brexit talks at December European Council (summit) is possible.
"But still a huge challenge.
"We need to see progress from UK within 10 days on all issues, including on Ireland."
An EU source, who was at the meeting, added: "Prime Minister May agreed to this timeframe.
"If no progress within next 10 days, it will not be possible for Mr Tusk to propose draft guidelines for the second phase of the talks on the transition and the future relationship."
Mrs May's assessment of the same meeting was more upbeat, insisting the "atmosphere was positive".
"There are still issues across the various matters that we are negotiating on to be resolved but there's been a very positive atmosphere in the talks and a genuine feeling that we want to move forward together," she said.
Mrs May held a flurry of other bilateral meetings on the sidelines of a summit called to discuss ways of supporting counties on the EU's eastern flank, threatened by Russian aggression.
The meetings, with the Lithuanian, Belgian, Danish and German leaders are being presented by the UK as useful, constructive engagements.
A Belgian government source told Sky News that Mrs May and Belgian PM Charles Michel had very comprehensive discussions about how to progress on all the Brexit divorce issues.
Belgium is among a group of EU states with a huge trade relationship with the UK and therefore keen on a good trade deal.
The meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was hastily organised and an important moment of engagement. "Very constructive," a Downing Street source said.
Mrs Merkel is a key EU player which the UK wants on side. But she is distracted from Brexit by her own fragile domestic politics as she tries to form a collation government.
Assessing his meeting with Mrs May, the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, told Sky News: "It was very constructive. It wasn't a negotiating meeting. She informed me; briefed me about how she looks at things. And from my perspective it seems that there is progress. So I've decided to be optimistic about this and I really hope that we can move forward in December."
It's not clear if Mrs May privately committed to parting with more money as part of the so-called Brexit bill.
At a meeting with Cabinet colleagues at the start of the week it's thought she sought agreement to increase the amount the Government is prepared to pay.
In her Florence speech in September she pledged to honour the UK's financial commitments - thought to amount to about £20bn.
However the EU has said that if the UK is to "settle its accounts" as it leaves the EU, it should pay a much higher figure, thought to be about £40-50bn.
The question of money is one of three divorce issues which the EU wants agreed before negotiations can move to transition and trade talks.
On the second issue - citizens rights - there remain disagreements over the role of the European Court of Justice.
But it is the third divorce issue - the Irish border question - which is now proving to be the most intractable.
The Irish government says talks cannot move to phase two until the UK gives Dublin a written and tangible assurance that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic or Ireland after Brexit.
The British government has been unable to do this because, by insisting that the the UK is leaving the single market and customs union, a physical border of some form appears inevitable.
Asked by Sky News if his country would be willing and able to veto talks moving to the trade phase, and if he has the support of the rest of the EU, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney was firm.
"Yes, absolutely... and we have seen no suggestion of other countries moving away from that position of solidarity. We want to work with Britain.
"We want to be fair but firm in protecting what are really important Irish issues for the future and I think the British government understand that now."
An EU source added that particular attention was now being paid to the Irish issue.
"The UK will need to give credible assurances as to how to avoid a hard border before 4 December, as it is still unclear how this can be done," the EU source said.
Mrs May is due back in Brussels on the 4 December deadline for a key Brexit dinner with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

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