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Tension, apprehension builds with Brexit-deal vote just a week away

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: the Brexit-deal vote is just a week away, and the government is making dire warnings for 'Leave' hardliners; an attack at a Beijing primary school by a hammer-wielding man is part of a bloody trend in China.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray, left, and a pro-Brexit protester argue as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday in London. MPs in Parliament are to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal next week after last month's vote was called off. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • With the vote on the Brexit deal just a week away, the warnings for "Leave" hardliners were dire at the year's first cabinet meeting in London this morning.
  • An attack at a Beijing primary school by a hammer-wielding man, which injured 20 young students, is part of a bloody trend in China, where such violent incidents seem to be spreading.
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Brexit

A make-or-break vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal will take place on Jan. 15, but it's still not clear if the British Prime Minister has enough support among her own MPs to carry the day.

At the year's first cabinet meeting in London this morning, the warnings for "Leave" hardliners were dire.

"History will take a dim view of a Cabinet that presses ahead with no deal," Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, reportedly told her colleagues. "We have to face the world as we find it, not as we wish it to be, and we have to deal with the facts as we find them."

Britain's Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd leaves after attending the weekly meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in central London on Tuesday. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

And the attempts at humour were even grimmer, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove  comparing those pressing for a better agreement with the EU to "middle-aged swingers" holding out for Scarlett Johansson.

May has spent most of the post-Christmas break begging her European counterparts for some sort of further concession on the most controversial part of her deal — the "backstop" provisions that will prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to its south, but perhaps keep Britain indefinitely tied to European Union regulations.

But it doesn't appear that anyone is in the giving mood.

France's Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau, told reporters today that there is "nothing more we can do.

"The backstop is just a last resort," she said. "The Withdrawal Agreement is indeed a good agreement both for [the] U.K. and EU, and we should stick to it."

And Heiko Maas, Germany's foreign minister, made an appearance in Dublin to reiterate that his country won't accept any deal that would again see Ireland divided.

"Some people call us stubborn, but the truth is, avoiding a hard border in Ireland is a fundamental concern for the EU, a union that more than anything else serves one purpose — to build and maintain peace in Europe," Maas said.

The possibility remains that the U.K. could ask for an extension on the looming March 29 divorce date. The EU is open to the idea, but May's spokesman today said that her government has no such plans.

British Prime Minister Theresa May departs Downing Street for Parliament in London on Tuesday. (Andy Rain/EPA-EFE)

And so, with just 80 days remaining, the prospect of a "No-Deal" exit is getting very real indeed.

Today, radio stations across the country began airing a series of ads directing citizens to a website that will answer their basic Brexit apocalypse questions, like changes to mobile roaming charges and driving documentation.

Some 3,500 army troops have been put on standby in case of disruptions or civil unrest. Food and medicine have been stockpiled, and extra space has been booked on ferries and flights for other emergency supplies.

However, not all such preparations are going smoothly.

Yesterday, the government staged Operation Brock, an exercise that was supposed to test procedures to hold and re-route transport trucks to avoid traffic snarls along the highways leading to the Port of Dover.

Despite offering £550 ($930 Cdn) payments to drivers, organizers only managed to entice 89 trucks to take part in the runs between a disused airport and the English Channel, fewer than the 150 they had hoped for, and a fair bit off the 10,000 heavy vehicles that ply the route each day.

Trucks are parked at Manston Airfield during a test on Monday of the potential effects of a 'no-deal' Brexit on border crossings. The former airfield at Manston could be used as part of the government plan to park up to 6,000 trucks at a time to alleviate expected congestion that would be caused by border checks at the channel ports, located about 40 kilometres away. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)

One no-deal scenario envisions reimposed customs checks taking as much as 45 minutes per truck.

Meanwhile, a new study from University College London suggests that inspection delays of as little as 80 seconds each could result in an almost permanent traffic jam.

Hardly the freedom that Leave voters were promised in the 2016 referendum.


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China school attacks

A hammer-wielding man went on a rampage at a Beijing primary school this morning, injuring 20 young students — three of them seriously.

Chinese authorities say the 49-year-old suspect, who was arrested at the scene, was a temporary caretaker at the school and was unhappy that his contract had not been renewed.

Police watch as a woman and a child leave a primary school that was the scene of a hammer attack in Beijing, China, on Tuesday. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Whatever the motivation, the attack is part of a bloody trend in China, where such violent incidents seem to be spreading.

In late November, a car crashed into a crowd of students outside an elementary school in the northeastern coastal city of Huludao, killing five and injuring 18 others.

Last October, a woman with a knife attacked a kindergarten class in the southwestern city of Chongqing, injuring 14 children.

In June, a man in Shanghai attacked two boys outside an elementary school, stabbing them to death with a kitchen knife.

And in April, a knife rampage at a middle school in northwest Shaanxi province left seven dead and 12 others wounded.

Police guard the primary school in Beijing that was the scene of Tuesday's hammer attack. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

While mass shootings are rare in China, where gun control measures are strict, attacks with cars, knives, axes and other weapons have become commonplace.

And the targets are frequently children.

Between March 2010 and December 2012, for example, 10 school attacks left 25 children dead and injured 110 others.

Police tend to provide a set of pat explanations for the violence — attributing them to disturbed individuals or people acting on personal grudges. Others suggest they are indicative of a broken health care system that provides little support or treatment for the mentally ill.  

Regardless, today's attack means that China has now experienced an act of mass violence at a school at least once every year since 2004.


A few words on ... 

A lifelong legacy of giving.


Quote of the moment

"If you keep just one new year's resolution this year, let it be to not pour fats, oil or grease down the drain, or flush wet-wipes down the loo."

- Andrew Roantree of South West Water on the discovery of a 64-metre-long "fatberg" beneath the streets of the English seaside resort town of Sidmouth.

This photo, released Tuesday by Britain's South West Water company, shows part of a 'fatberg' - a mass of hardened fat, oil and baby wipes, measuring some 64 metres long - in the town of Sidmouth, England. The fatberg is blocking a sewer, and will take a disposal team around eight weeks to remove. (South West Water via AP)

What The National is reading

  • Canada can afford new fighters or new frigates, but not both: report (CBC)
  • Afghan Taliban cancel peace talks (Al Jazeera)
  • France plans tougher laws to counter yellow vest protests (Deutsche Welle)
  • More people are going broke in Canada as interest rates rise (Financial Post)
  • NYC will begin guaranteeing comprehensive health care for residents, mayor says (The Hill)
  • Dutch foreign minister: Iran behind two political killings (Reuters)
  • Erdogan calls on U.S. to hand over Syria bases (Guardian)
  • Hyundai shows off 'walking car' (BBC)

Today in history

Jan. 8, 1969: Cooking with Rod Coneybeare, the Friendly Giant puppeteer

The voice — and hands — behind Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster makes fondue with Madame Benoît on CBC's Take 30,  eschewing the apron in favour of a turtleneck and leather jacket.

Friendly Giant puppeteer and TV host Rod Coneybeare makes fondue with Take 30’s Madame Benoît, and then discusses his new children’s show The Bananas. 20:42

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.