The UK and the EU are set to thrash out their differences over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Brexit minister Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, will meet on Wednesday after the latter suggested the EU is finding it hard to trust the UK following its departure from the bloc
Mr Sefcovic said there have been “numerous and fundamental gaps in the UK’s implementation” of the two sides’ trade deal and that the EU will act “firmly” if the UK does not agree on deadlines for complying with its obligations.
In turn, Environment Secretary George Eustice claimed the Northern Ireland Protocol, in the way the EU wants to implement it, would make it impossible for UK producers to sell British sausages to Northern Ireland.
Sky News has taken a closer look at the issues.
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?
It is a crucial part of the Internal Markets Bill, which was drawn up to ensure trade between all four UK nations remains barrier-free after the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was put in place to avoid the introduction of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
It states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory – so if the UK signs a free trade deal with another country, Northern Irish goods would be included.
However, Northern Ireland will have to stick to some EU rules to allow goods to move freely into the Republic.
Goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland will not be subject to a tariff unless they are “at risk” of being moved into the EU afterwards.
Mr Eustice said in 2020 there would need to be “some checks on some goods” and “some customs processes but not customs checks” at the border with the Republic.
Goods coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain can have “unfettered” access, the Internal Market Bill says. This means goods sold in Northern Ireland will be accepted everywhere else in the UK, but the reverse may not be true.
What has happened since the Brexit transition period ended?
Products from Great Britain entering Northern Ireland have had to undergo EU import procedures at the ports.
An Irish Sea border has effectively been imposed in an effort to prevent a physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
This has resulted in delays and sometimes sparse supermarket shelves.
What are the UK and EU disagreeing over?
Under the protocol, a ban will come into force if the UK and EU cannot agree on new regulatory standards to cover the sale of some products after a “grace period” allowed under the agreement.
In March, the UK unilaterally extended the grace period for supermarket goods and parcels for another six months, after it was due to finish at the end of that month.
The EU launched legal action against the UK for extending that grace period.
It is understood British ministers are now considering a unilateral extension for chilled meats, including sausages and mince, which is due to end on 30 June.
After the grace period, chilled meats produced in Great Britain will not be allowed to be sold in Northern Ireland as they are not from the EU, which has strict restrictions on food products.
Mr Sefcovic said retaliation by the EU would be so extreme it would ensure the UK “abides by its international law obligations”.
Boris Johnson‘s spokesman said there was “no case whatsoever” for blocking the sale of chilled meats.
Lord Frost claims the EU has been “inflexible” over the protocol, something the EU rejects.
The EU has said the UK could align with its animal health and food safety rules to remove the need for 80% of the current Irish Sea customs checks.
But the UK has rejected this, as it says it will tie Britain’s hands in trade negotiations with other countries.
The UK has also accused the EU of failing to engage with its own proposals, especially with the issues people in Northern Ireland are facing.
COP28: Rishi Sunak to call for ‘pragmatic’ climate action at conference after green U-turns earlier this year
Rishi Sunak will call for “pragmatic” climate action at COP28, as he seeks to reassure international partners following his climate U-turns earlier this year.
Mr Sunak changed a number of plans put in place by his predecessors over the summer – including the phasing out of the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. This now has a 2035 deadline.
Some £4bn of green investment was announced by the chancellor in last week’s autumn statement.
Politics news: Hunt hails ‘one of the great chancellors’ in Darling
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will also be at the UN climate conference in Dubai as he looks to build international bridges ahead of the general election expected next year.
And he has used his trip to Dubai to say Mr Sunak‘s government is “sending the wrong signals” on the move to net zero.
Before his visit, Mr Sunak said “the UK has lead the way in taking pragmatic, long-term decisions at home – and at COP28 we will lead international efforts to protect the world’s forests, turbocharge renewable energy and leverage the full weight of private finance”.
The prime minister will announce £1.6bn of UK financing for climate projects while in Dubai.
This includes £500m for forests and sustainable land, £316m for green energy projects around the world and other schemes which will be announced later on.
Some £40m will be contributed to a new global scheme aiming to address loss and damage – Germany and hosts UAE will give around £79m, while the US and Japan will give less than the UK.
As well as his climate U-turns, the prime minister has also been criticised for his government’s continuing issuing of oil and gas licences in the North Sea.
Mr Sunak said: “The world made ambitious pledges at previous COP summits to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. But the time for pledges is now over – this is the era for action.
“We know that the technologies and innovations we need to protect the planet are at our fingertips, from the mighty offshore wind farms powering the UK to the solar energy transforming electricity in Africa.
“The transition to net zero should make us all safer and better off. It must benefit, not burden ordinary families.”
Mr Sunak will also use the summit to speak with world leaders about the conflict in the Middle East.
Sir Keir, meanwhile, will use the summit to further his plans to encourage green investment and business in the UK should he become prime minister.
But Labour recently had to deny he was watering down his promise to invest £28bn a year in green initiatives.
This is said to be a target – and will be subject to “fiscal rules” imposed by a Labour chancellor if they are in power.
Speaking ahead of his trip, Sir Keir said he wanted to “set the agenda” on green finance – and this will be done by “partnering with business”.
Labour says it would force FTSE 100 companies to publish their carbon footprint and adhere to “credible” plans to limit climate change to an increase of 1.5C.
Coinbase tracks 6% rise in info requests from law, government agencies
Crypto exchange Coinbase says it had recorded a 6% rise in requests from law enforcement and government agencies compared to 2022, with the number of jurisdictions issuing requests jumping by 19, according to the exchange’s annual Transparency Report.
Four countries — the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain — made up nearly three-quarters (73%) of the 13,079 agency requests to Coinbase for information between Q4 202
The United States made 5,686 requests to Coinbase, up from 5,304 last year, with 90.4% of those from criminal enforcement agencies. That number dwarfed Germany’s 1,906 requests, which ranked second. Germany traded places with the U.K. compared to last year, with the country seeing a small decline in requests over the year, down to 1,401 requests. This still far exceeded fourth-place Spain’s 732.
Meanwhile, Australia sent 262% more requests to Coinbase compared to the previous year, placing it sixth place at 453. Ukraine’s requests more than tripled, and Portugal’s more than doubled, but those countries still did not register in the top 15.
The report covered the final quarter of 2022 and the first three of 2023. The requests Coinbase counted included subpoenas, court orders, search warrants and other formal legal processes. Coinbase provided “customer information, such as name, recent login/logout IP address, and payment information” in response to requests, but may push back at times:
“Our obligation is to respond to these requests if they are valid under financial regulations and other applicable laws. […] Under certain circumstances, we may ask the government or law enforcement agency to narrow their request.”
Coinbase said in a blog post in September that 83% of “G20 members and major financial hubs” have crypto regulations in force or passed legislation on crypto. These regulations include the European Union’s Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) regulation, passed in April, and other initiatives.
Coinbase itself was the object of enforcement action in June of this year in the form of a suit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleging the sale of unregistered securities. It contested the SEC’s authority in the case in a court filing in October.
Coinbase is proud to present our fifth annual Transparency Report. By openly sharing this information on government data requests, we reaffirm our commitment to earning the trust of our customers, partners, and the communities we serve. 1/3 https://t.co/xjntkVPIqd
— paulgrewal.eth (@iampaulgrewal) November 30, 2023
Coinbase is active in over 100 countries. In September, announced plans to focus on expansion in the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Singapore and Australia. Those jurisdictions are “enacting clear rules,” the exchange said.
Another $18.9M Hong Kong exchange scandal, HTX ‘sorry’ airdrop: Asia Express
Our weekly roundup of news from East Asia curates the industry’s most important developments.
Yet another crypto scandal in Hong Kong
Scammers posing as investment experts allegedly enticed 145 victims to tip $18.9 million into the unlicensed Hong Kong crypto exchange Hounax.
According to reports earlier this week, the police said investors were allegedly promised up to 40% return per annum with “no risk” in its advertisements. After users deposited their funds, they were unable to withdraw them. On November 1, the Securities & Futures Exchange (SFC) of Hong Kong listed Hounax on its billboard of suspicious crypto exchanges but clarified that because Hounax was unlicensed at the time of incident, it was not subjected to the regulatory’s enforcement actions.
This was the second scandal involving a crypto exchange in Hong Kong in recent months. In September, another unlicensed exchange JPEX collapsed after allegations of a Ponzi scheme unsurfaced, leading to 66 arrests and an estimated $205 million in investors’ losses.
Despite the scandals, Hong Kong regulators appear to remain steadfast in their commitment to transforming the city into a major Web3 hub. On November 27, SFC CEO Julia Leung, explained that “even if the grace period ends tomorrow, fraud will still occur, so there is no intention to modify the grace period and other measures for the time being.”
Under current regulations, a grace period for crypto exchanges to operate without registration will end in June 2024. On November 30, the SFC stated that it seeks to legitimize initial coin offerings in the city to create more revenue for the national budget.
In other Hong Kong crypto news, the financial institutions, Interactive Brokers and Victory Securities, this week announced they had secured crypto licenses, with the former partnering with licensed crypto exchange OSL to immediately provide Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) trading services to its Hong Kong clients.
And on November 29, Darryl Chan, deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, announced a multinational effort to create a cross-chain bridge for China’s digital yuan central bank digital currency (e-CNY CBDC). Dubbed “mBridge,” the protocol seeks to reduce transaction fees and improve speeds for cross-border uses of the e-CNY CBDC. The first pilot tests will begin in Mainland China and Hong Kong.
Foreign banks join e-CNY pilot testing
Standard Chartered, HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, and Taiwan-based Fubon Bank have begun testing of the digital yuan in cross-border transactions.
According to local news reports on November 28, the four foreign banks will also integrate e-CNY transfer services for their clients and enable them to deposit and withdraw e-CNY. Personal banking accounts will also support the official e-CNY app and self-custody wallet. Yuesheng Song, president and vice-chairman of Hang Seng China, commented:
“The central bank’s launch of the digital RMB, a legal currency in digital form, is an important step for China to explore the development of digital currency and promote the internationalization of the RMB. Hang Seng China follows the national financial development policy advocacy and actively supports the application and development of the central bank’s digital currency.”
In the first three quarters of 2023, the use of the digital yuan in transactions was up 35% year-on-year, reaching $1.39 trillion, China Daily reported. On November 29, the first-ever e-CNY student loans were issued in the province of Suzhou with $26,230 worth of loans being issued directly into the digital wallets of 13 recipients.
HTX back to normal
HTX exchange (formerly Huobi Global) has reopened deposits and withdrawals after a devastating hot wallet hack that drained the exchange of $30 million on November 22.
According to the November 26 announcement, the exchange has since resumed deposits and withdrawals on the Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tron networks.
“Huobi HTX once again promises to fully compensate for the losses caused by this attack and 100% guarantee the safety of user funds. The amount of funds lost by Huobi HTX this time accounts for a very small amount of the total funds of the platform,” the exchange said.
The firm has also announced that a special airdrop will take place in December designed to reward its “loyal users.” Airdrop tokens will reportedly come from an “upcoming high-quality projects,” and the amount to be received will be determined by a users’ average net assets on the HTX exchange denominated in Tether (USDT).
Immediately after the incident, Justin Sun, founder of the Tron ecosystem and de-facto owner of the HTX exchange, commented “we will cover the loss and all assets are SAFE.” Despite assurances, however, this was the fourth exploit involving the HTX ecosystem within the past two months. Around the same time as the HTX exploit, the HTX Ecosystem Chain (HECO) bridge was hacked for $87 million.
On November 10, Poloniex, an exchange acquired by Sun in 2018, was hacked for $100 million due to allegedly compromised private keys. The exchange resumed withdrawals on November 30. On September 25, HTX was drained of $8 million in a security incident. The exchange has since clawed back $8 million in stolen funds and issued a 250 Ether bounty to the hacker.
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