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Tuesday's Business and Politics round-up

13 Aug 2019

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Good morning!

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled in Hong Kong in a dramatic response to demonstrations by leader Carrie Lam after she warned violence will “push Hong Kong down a path of no return”.  

Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific confirmed it had grounded more than 200 flights from the airport – one of the world’s busiest – on Tuesday, although some outlets estimate the figure is closer to 300. 

World leaders including Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Australia’s Scott Morrison have expressed their concerns at the handling of the Hong Kong political crisis. 

Hong Kong protests are now into their tenth week, with confrontations between demonstrators and police becoming increasingly violent. 

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Trumping the queue

A senior Trump aide has said that Britain is “first in line” for a trade deal with the US. The comments contrast with former President Obama’s remark during the referendum campaign that the UK would be “at the back of the queue” for a US trade agreement. 
John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, made the observation after a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street. Bolton said that the US supports a no-deal Brexit and that “both President Trump and I were leavers before there were leavers”. 
Bolton explained that a bilateral agreement, or series of agreements, could be struck “very quickly, very straight-forwardly”. He said that the deals could be agreed on a “sector-by-sector” basis, with a deal on manufacturing first. 
On security matters, Bolton referenced Johnson’s willingness to take part in Operation Sentinel, which seeks to bolster military presence in the Gulf amid tensions between Iran and the West. Bolton said this attitude “reflects a change from the prior government”. 
Johnson is expected to have his first in-person meeting with Trump at the end of this month at the G7 summit in Biarritz. 

At all costs 

A new public poll suggests most of the British public would support Boris Johnson getting Brexit over the line by any means, including suspending Parliament. 
The survey, conducted by ComRes for the Telegraph, shows 54% of UK adults support the prorogation of Parliament to stop MPs preventing a no-deal exit. The results imply that Johnson’s promise to leave on October 31 “do or die” resonates with the public. 
The poll also shows that nine in ten Britons think Parliament is out of touch with the British public, while the same proportion believe the majority of MPs are ignoring the interests of the electorate by pursuing their personal agendas on Brexit. 
On Johnson’s prospects in a potential general election, ComRes said “If Boris Johnson can deliver Brexit, without too much collateral damage to the economy, he stands to win big. He is within touching distance of an overall majority”. 
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, MPs have 14 days to attempt to form an alternative government if Johnson were to lose a vote of no confidence, otherwise a general election would be triggered.

High street lows

More than 50 UK retailers signed a letter calling for the Government to reform the ‘broken business rates system’. 
Companies including Boots and Asda have written to the Chancellor arguing that a change in tax rules could help to boost the British high street. The group noted that the tax had risen by 50% since the 1990s and had prompted some retailers to stop trading. 
It follows after the Treasury announced a £3.6 billion fund last month “to support our high streets and town centres”. It added Chancellor Sajid Javid would give more details on the programme over the coming weeks and months. 
The letter, co-ordinated by the British Retail Consortium, explained that retail constitutes 5% of the British economy but the sector pays 25% of all business rates. It said this “disparity” is detrimental to high streets and “harming the communities they support”. 
Other proposals outlined in the letter includes businesses in London and the South East paying more in business rates in order to take the pressure off companies in the North and the Midlands. 

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