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Sturgeon tells PM his rejection of referendum will increase support for Scottish independence – live news | Politics



That was Boris Johnson’s first interview of 2020, and his first extensive broadcast interview since the general election. It wasn’t one for the history books, it wasn’t over-forensic, and perhaps the main takeaway is that Johnson has just as prone to using bluster, evasion and hyperbole when faced with difficult questions as he was before he went on his New Year holiday. Still, he was not untruthful in the way that he was yesterday, when talking about post-Brexit GB/NI trade in his press conference in Northern Ireland, and he covered quite a lot of ground, giving sometimes interesting answers.

Here are the main points.

  • Johnson said that he wanted to see county lines drug gangs “totally wound up”. He said:

I want to see crime come down. I want to see the county lines drugs gangs wound up, rolled up. They are reducing the quality of life for people across our country, they are killing young kids. I want to see that thing totally wound up.

This is a fine ambition, but Johnson did not give details of any how this might happen and, as a goal, it may not be realistic. But perhaps people won’t mind if they believe that at least he is trying.

  • He described Brexit as one of his “least favourite subjects”. When the presenter, Dan Walker, turned to Brexit, saying it was one of Johnson’s favourite subjects, Johnson replied:

It is one of my least favourite subjects, because we need to move on.

This is not the first time that Johnson has made this point, but it does reinforce suggestions that the man who led the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 is not convinced that the whole project has been an undiluted triumph.

  • He refused to rule out the UK and the EU failing to reach a trade deal by the end of this year. Asked what the chances were of the two sides achieving a comprehensive trade deal by the end of this year, he replied:

I think it’s very likely. I’m not going to give you a percentage.

When Walker put it to him that in the past he had sounded more confident than this, Johnson revised his language. He said:

Enormously likely, how about that? Epically likely … Obviously you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense. That goes without saying. But I am very, very, very confident – three verys there – that we will get [a deal].

In the past other ministers, like Michael Gove (here), have categorically ruled out the UK and the EU failing to agree a trade deal by the end of 2020. Perhaps Johnson’s relative reticence was explained by Walker’s inclusion of the word “comprehensive” in his question. Most experts think a basic “bare bones” trade deal could be negotiated before the end of this year, but not a comprehensive one. Ursula Von der Leyen, the European commission president, has said there won’t be time to negotiate a full deal before the end of this year.

  • He refused to give a firm commitment to saving the regional airline Flybe, but said the government was strongly committed to regional connectivity. Asked if the government would step in to help the firm, he replied:

Well, it’s not for government to step in and save companies that simply run into trouble. But be in no doubt that we see the importance of Flybe in delivering connectivity across the whole United Kingdom. It’s very important, for instance, where I was yesterday in Northern Ireland.

When pressed on what the government might do, he replied:

I can’t go into commercially confident discussions … We’re working very hard to do what we can. But obviously people will understand that there are limits commercially to what a government can do to rescue any particular firm.

But what we will do is ensure that we have the regional connectivity that this country needs, and that is part of our agenda of uniting and levelling up.

  • He refused to say whether the Chinese company Huawei would be allowed a role in constructing the UK’s 5G infrastructure network. Asked about this, he said:

The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. I’ve talked about infrastructure and technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody.

Now if people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.

On the other hand, let’s be clear. I don’t want as UK prime minister to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to cooperate with five eyes intelligence partners.

The American government has been strongly urging the UK to boycott Huawei, claiming that it would pose a security threat (because in practice Huawei is under the control of the Chinese government). But there are also claims that the US opposition to Huawei is to a large extent driven by commercial considerations, as much as security ones, and the head of MI5 has said that he does not believe the US would cut off security cooperation with the UK, as it threatens to do, if the UK does award contracts to Huawei. It is impossible to tell what the UK will decide on the basis of Johnson’s answer, but he sounded less inclined to boycott Huawei than in previous answers he has given to this question. For example, compare today’s words with what he said on this at the Nato summit in December.

  • Johnson said he expected the intelligence and security committee’s report on Russian interference in UK politics to be published within weeks, but claimed that it would not be as sensational as critics assumed. He said:

I happen to have to read it, and I think that after all that awful clamour in the election campaign people are going to be disappointed. But, anyway, it will appear.

As for when it would be published, he said that he thought that would be within weeks. But he admitted he did not know for sure. The report won’t be published until a new ISC has been set up, and that is not happening quickly.

  • Johnson said he would announce a plan for reforming social care this year, and implement it during this parliament. Asked why he had not done this already, he said:

We will bring forward a plan this year and we will get it done within this parliament. This is a big, big thing. I mean, this is a potentially massive change in the way we fund social care, and we’ve got to get it right.

We have got to think very carefully about how we do it because there are lots of quite important moral and social issues contained in it.

You know, should taxpayers be paying for people who might be able to afford it? What is the relationship you want to encourage, should families be looking after their own, their elderly relatives [and] to what extent?

All these are very complex questions. The key thing is that everybody must have safety and security in their old age, nobody should sell their home to pay for the cost of that care. We will do that.

Johnson was unable to explain to Walker why he was taking so long to publish his plan when he claimed in July last year, on the day be became PM, to already had a plan. In his first speech from No 10 Johnson said: “I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”

  • He said the chances of the Americans extraditing Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an intelligence official accused of killing Harry Dunn in a road accident, were “very low”. Asked about this case, he said:

I think that it’s right that we made the appeal for extradition … I think the chances of America actually responding by sending Anne Sacoolas to this country are very low. That’s not what they do.

  • He rejected claims that he should have ended his New Year holiday early to return to deal with the Iran crisis. Asked about this, he said:

I was not in this country but I worked very hard, as you can imagine, in making sure there was a European response.

  • He praised the Iranians for taking responsibility for shooting down the Ukrainian passenger airliner. He said

I’m glad the Iranians have accepted responsibility and identified it as an appalling mistake and it does appear that it was a mistake.

It is very important that the bodies are repatriated in a dignified way and that the families are allowed to grieve and to have closure.

Clearly, as President Rouhani has said, Iran made a terrible mistake. It is good they have apologised.

The most important thing now is that tensions in the region calm down.

  • Johnson urged President Trump to come up with a replacement for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal with Iran that ensured it abandoned work on acquiring a nuclear bomb. He said:

If we are going to get rid of it then we need a replacement.

The problem with the JCPOA – this is the crucial thing, it’s why there is this tension – the problem with the agreement is that from the American perspective it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama. From their point of view it has many, many faults.

If we are going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal. That’s what we need to see. I think that would be a great way forward. President Trump is a great deal-maker – by his own account and many others. Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.

  • Johnson played down reports that he intends to keep a relatively low media profile as PM. At the weekend there were reports that he decision to let Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, take the lead in briefing MPs on the Iran crisis was part of a plan not to hog the limelight on all issues facing government. Asked if this meant he would be a “submarine” PM, he replied:

In terms of the submarine, the submarine is crashing through the ice flows … the conning tower is emerging through the ice floes right now. Here I am talking to you. I gave two press conferences yesterday. I want to be as available as I possibly can.

But I do believe in cabinet government. I do believe in the strength of our cabinet, they’re a fantastically able bunch of people. I want them to be leading … I want people who who are excited about their work and want to deliver for the people of this country.

Since the general election Johnson has kept a relatively low media profile. It remains to be seen whether this will continue, but this probably is a deliberate strategy. Prime ministers often define themselves in contrast to their predecessors, and Johnson may well be keen to show that he is not like David Cameron, who was very keen on recording short clips for broadcasters giving his views on the story of the day.

  • Johnson said he was confident that the royal family would resolve the Harry/Meghan crisis. But he refused to comment on the story in detail, saying it was best for politicians not to interfere. He said:

My view on this is very straightforward: I am a massive fan, like most of our viewers, of the Queen and the royal family as a fantastic asset for our country. I’m absolutely confident that they are going to sort this out.

But they are going to sort it out much more easily without a running commentary from politicians.

  • He suggested that the government was working on a plan to allow people to contribute to the cost of allowing Ben Ben to chime on 31 January to mark Brexit. The Commons authorities have ruled this out because interfering with the Big Ben restoration project to allow the bell to be rung at the end of the month would cost £500,000. Asked about this, Johnson said:

The bongs cost £500,000 but we’re working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong because there are some people who want to.

Because Big Ben is being refurbished, they seem to have taken the clapper away, so we need to restore the clapper in order to bong Big Ben on Brexit night.

And that is expensive, so we’re looking at whether the public can fund it.

It was not clear whether or not Johnson was joking.

  • He said that he had considered doing veganuary, but he said that giving up cheese was “just a crime”. But he did also say that he hoped to lose some weight in 2020.

Boris Johnson being interviewed by Dan Walker (right).

Boris Johnson being interviewed by Dan Walker (right). Photograph: BBC Breakfast/PA



Brazil’s Traveling Judges: A Floating Courtroom Brings Justice to the Jungle



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The ship's journey takes it through many smaller canals in the Amazon delta. Navigating can be complicated, and many villages aren't accessible during low tide.

The ship’s journey takes it through many smaller canals in the Amazon delta. Navigating can be complicated, and many villages aren’t accessible during low tide.

Andrzej Rybak

Judge Jose Luciano Assis disembarks in Vila Progresso.

Judge Jose Luciano Assis disembarks in Vila Progresso.

Andrzej Rybak

Shortly after the ship docks, a number of smaller boats begin to show up as local residents seek to make appointments for hearings.

Shortly after the ship docks, a number of smaller boats begin to show up as local residents seek to make appointments for hearings.

Andrzej Rybak

Part of the crew that travels with judge Assis welcomes local residents on board the Joao Bruno II.

Part of the crew that travels with judge Assis welcomes local residents on board the Joao Bruno II.

Andrzej Rybak

The main source of nutrition and income in this part of the Bailique archipelago is fish. There are dozens of different types that can only be found here.

The main source of nutrition and income in this part of the Bailique archipelago is fish. There are dozens of different types that can only be found here.

Andrzej Rybak

A shop in Vila Progresso: Most people here depend primarily on fishing and hunting for their livelihoods.

A shop in Vila Progresso: Most people here depend primarily on fishing and hunting for their livelihoods.

Andrzej Rybak

In the small town of Maranata, applications for IDs are processed outside. Most young people can't afford the cost of a ticket to Macapa.

In the small town of Maranata, applications for IDs are processed outside. Most young people can’t afford the cost of a ticket to Macapa.

Andrzej Rybak

A team hands out IDs that were applied for on the previous judiciary expedition. The team also ensures that children are properly registered.

A team hands out IDs that were applied for on the previous judiciary expedition. The team also ensures that children are properly registered.

Andrzej Rybak

Judge Assis and his colleagues also take part in village assemblies and listen to residents' complaints.

Judge Assis and his colleagues also take part in village assemblies and listen to residents’ complaints.

Andrzej Rybak

This piece is part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Coca-Cola expects coronavirus could hit first-quarter earnings by up to 2 cents



Coca-Cola said Friday that the COVID-19 outbreak could drag down its first-quarter earnings by as much as 2 cents.

The global beverage giant is forecasting that the virus will hit its quarterly earnings by 1 cent to 2 cents, unit case volume by 2% to 3% and organic revenue by 1% to 2%.

Despite the hit to its first-quarter financial results, the company still expects to meet its full-year targets. Coke estimates 2020 organic revenue will grow by 5% and adjusted earnings per share will increase by 7% to $2.25. In 2019, the company  reported net sales of $37.3 billion and earnings per share of $2.07.

Shares of the company are down less than 1% in premarket trading. The stock, which has a market value of $256 billion, is up 30% over the last 12 months.

Coke executives told analysts on its fourth-quarter earnings call in late January that China accounts for about 10% of its global volume but less of its profits and revenue. The company expects to provide more information about the outbreak’s impact on its business during its first-quarter earnings call in April.

Coke will be presenting at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference in Boca Raton, Florida, later on Friday morning.


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Buffett watchers eager for big acqusition in Berkshire Hathaway letter



Warren Buffett

David A. Grogan | CNBC

Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett on Saturday will publish his much-awaited shareholder letter.

The annual missives, which are logged here on Berkshire’s website going back to 1977, are considered required reading for investors large and small.

And this year, investors will be eager to see whether Berkshire has gotten any closer to the “elephant-sized” acquisition that has eluded Buffett over the last several years.

The “Oracle of Omaha” told CNBC this time last year that despite Berkshire’s lackluster performance of late, he was keen to make an eye-popping acquisition for the portfolio.

There was only one problem, according to Buffett: prices were too high to justify a big purchase.

“That disappointing reality means that 2019 will likely see us again expanding our holdings of marketable equities,” Buffett said 12 months ago. “We continue, nevertheless, to hope for an elephant-sized acquisition. Even at our ages of 88 and 95 – I’m the young one – that prospect is what causes my heart and Charlie’s to beat faster.”

But since Buffett’s 2019 comments, the S&P 500 has climbed even higher, buoying price multiples and generating more than 23% in returns.

Typically profuse with investment advice and folksy anecdotes, Buffett’s letter gives Wall Street a glimpse into how he and partner Charlie Munger view the stock market — expensive or cheap, pessimistic or optimistic.

That type of commentary, in particular, has been of greater importance to Berkshire investors in recent years as some grow impatient for Buffett to deploy his $120 billion cash hoard and stun investors with a glossy new takeover bid.

Few would dare challenge Buffett’s ability to gauge market prices after a lifetime of savvy value stock picking.

His hallmark and lifelong quest for outcast, but cash-rich companies has led Berkshire to compounded annual gains in per-share book value of a robust 18.7% since 1965, according to Buffett’s most recent letter, double that of the S&P 500 and the envy of anyone hoping to retire early.

But investors have grown antsy in recent years as the S&P 500 continues to lap Berkshire equity. The S&P 500 has outperformed Berkshire on a one-year, three-year, five-year and 10-year basis as pricey, high-growth tech stocks led (and continue to lead) to stock market records.

“I’m a patient guy, but when you underperform one, three, five, 10, 15 years versus the index and you’re sitting on all this cash, it’s frustrating,” said Trip Miller, founder of Gullane Capital and a current Berkshire investor. “I’d pay us shareholders a nice $50 billion special dividend and restock the elephant over the next 24 months. It doesn’t seem like you can find something that size anyway.”

“I’m just really frustrated by it because that’s dragging down the returns,” he added.

To be sure, Buffett’s investment lieutenants, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, have expanded the classic, cash-generating Berkshire into new sectors, including a big stake in Apple four years ago.

That stake has been one of Berkshire’s best performers since then. Apple’s 193% return since the start of 2017 is well ahead of peer Berkshire names like Coca-Cola (up 59%) or Bank of America (up 66%). All of those are far ahead of Kraft Heinz — a rare big miss for Berkshire — which has posted a negative return of 64% over the same period.

“Berkshire’s underperformance mostly reflects three things: 1) Kraft Heinz worked out much, much worse than expected; 2) Berkshire’s long-term investing skill is less obviously useful when capital is cheap and acquisition prices are high; and 3) bad-and-deteriorating disclosure makes investors even more reliant on the Buffett persona (which is regrettably finite) than on fundamentals,” KBW analyst Meyer Shields told CNBC.

Where some, like Miller, see Berkshire’s hesitation and underperformance, others like Shields note that Buffett’s patience has served him well in the past.

“I think one of Buffett’s strengths is not going along with the crowds when acquisitions are over-priced,” he wrote in an email. “We saw the same underperformance during the tech bubble (which also featured irrational exuberance that subsequently became even more irrational before correcting), and the right thing – then and now – is to do nothing rather than to confuse relative and absolute returns.”

CNBC’s Fred Imbert contributed reporting.

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