Tension, apprehension builds with Brexit-deal vote just a week away
Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories
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- 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.
- Missed The National last night? Watch it here.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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