Business

UK’s undersea cables ‘at risk of Russian attack’

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Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said a successful attack on the UK’s network would trigger an immediate and “potentially catastrophic” hit to the country’s economy and “our way of life”.

In his annual lecture to the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, the chief of defence staff said international trade and the internet would be crippled if cables were cut or destroyed.

He said: “In response to the threat posed by the modernisation of the Russian navy, both nuclear and conventional submarines and ships, we along with our Atlantic allies have prioritised missions and tasks to protect the sea lines of communication.

“This sounds like a re-run of old missions, actually as I’m about to say, it is very, very important that we understand how important that mission is for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).”

Prime Minister Theresa May and Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach
Image:Prime Minister Theresa May and Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach

In addition to new ships and submarines, he warned Russia “continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare”.

He said: “There is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seabeds.

“Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living if they were disrupted?

“Therefore we must continue to develop our maritime forces with our allies with whom we are working very closely, to match and understand Russian fleet modernisation.”

His warning follows a report by Tory MP Rishi Sunak for right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange, which revealed such an attack would be a “crippling blow” to the country’s security and economy, earlier this month.

The report found that while the greatest threat was posed by submarine warfare, fishing trawlers with deep-sea grappling hooks could also carry out an attack.

“The result would be to damage commerce and disrupt government-to-government communications, potentially leading to economic turmoil and civil disorder,” it warned.

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was highlighted in the report, with it saying Russia was “easily” able to cut all digital communications from the region.

It called on the Government to address the security threat on the UK’s undersea cables in its next Strategic Defence and Security Review.

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Families ‘struggle’ without washing machines

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Washing machineImage copyrightGetty Images

Some households face an “intolerable struggle” as they are living without basic household appliances, a charity has said.

Some did not have the money to buy or replace washing machines, cookers and fridges, the Turn2us charity said.

Others rely on high-cost credit, such as hire purchase, to have these appliances in their home.

But Turn2us said there was little awareness of charitable grants available to help struggling families.

Official figures show that, in 2015-16, the vast majority of households in the UK (97%) owned a washing machine and 93% owned a microwave.

Only 56% of households owned a tumble dryer and 45% owned a dishwasher, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

Households spent an average of £2.40 a week on household appliances.

However, Turn2us said that many people approaching the charity for financial help in general were going without fridges, cookers and washing machines, or were continuing to use old and dangerous ones.

The charity surveyed 2,285 of these visitors to its services and found 15% of respondents did not have a cooker, 16% did not have a fridge, 25% did not have a freezer, and 21% did not have a washing machine.

‘I had to use a cool box’

Clifford Moses had a sudden loss of income when an accident at work meant that he could no longer work as a stonemason. The 47-year-old, from Whitley Bay, eventually had to go bankrupt.

“My fridge went one summer and I did not have a penny to replace it,” he said.

“I had to get a cool box to keep the milk in, and had to shop every day.”

He realised, after doing some research of his own, that grants were available to help those in financial difficulty get hold of environmentally-friendly white goods, allowing him to replace his machine.

“I didn’t have a clue about it, but it was a gift from heaven,” he said.

Simon Hopkins, chief executive of Turn2us, said: “Most of us can imagine how a broken fridge or washing machine would be inconvenient or a financial hiccup. But the reality for many households living without essential appliances is an intolerable struggle that’s leaving people further out of pocket and in some instances physically and mentally unwell.”

The effect also went beyond the financial, the charity said. Cleanliness and the stigma of wearing unclean clothes were concerns frequently raised with the charity.

Others said they felt they were letting their children down and worried about the effect on them over time.

The charity said there was £300m in charitable grants available in the UK to help people in this situation.

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Ryanair makes big offer to avert Christmas strikes

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The low-cost airline’s refusal to recognise unions was at the heart of the model that transformed the small Irish regional airline into Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers.

Its shares were down as much as 5% in Friday trading.

Ryanair’s offer came after the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA) had warned that its members working for the carrier were planning to walk out on Wednesday 20 December.

Such a move would involve half of the company’s pilots – mostly captains – forcing Ryanair to cancel many services.

Ryanair said on Friday it had written to pilot unions in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal in a bid to smooth turbulent industrial relations by offering talks on officially recognising the unions for the first time.

Such a climbdown had been IALPA’s only demand.

Ryanair says it was now demanding the threat of strikes is lifted from its customers – already inconvenienced by the company’s rota blunders this autumn that led to the travel plans of 700,000 people being scrapped.

However, the company cautioned that the unions must establish “committees of Ryanair pilots to deal with Ryanair issues”.

It said it would “not engage with pilots who fly for competitor airlines in Ireland or elsewhere”.

The union in Italy responded by suspending a four-hour walkout that had been due on Friday afternoon.

The Associazione Nazionale Professionale Aviazione Civile described the no-frills carrier’s position as a “very important first step.”

Others were yet to give their response but Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said: “Christmas flights are very important to our customers and we wish to remove any worry or concern that they may be disrupted by pilot industrial action next week.

“If the best way to achieve this is to talk to our pilots through a recognised union process, then we are prepared to do so, and we have written today to these unions inviting them to talks to recognise them and calling on them to cancel the threatened industrial action planned for Christmas week.

“Recognising unions will be a significant change for Ryanair, but we have delivered radical change before, most recently when we launched Ryanair Labs and our highly successful Always Getting Better customer improvement programme in 2013.

“Putting the needs of our customers first, and avoiding disruption to their Christmas flights, is the reason why we will now deal with our pilots through recognised national union structures and we hope and expect that these structures can and will be agreed with our pilots early in the New Year.”

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Minimum price ‘would increase cost of 70% of alcohol’

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Woman shopping for alcoholImage copyrightScience Photo Library

Introducing a minimum price per unit of alcohol would push up the cost to consumers of most alcohol, not just the cheapest strong drinks, according to researchers.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said a floor of 50p per unit would raise the cost of 70% of alcohol bought in shops.

It said there was a “strong case” for reforming alcohol duties instead.

The Scottish government is due to bring in a minimum price for alcohol in May.

It is consulting on its preferred rate of 50p per unit.

A similar policy is being considered by the Welsh National Assembly.

The IFS looked at what the impact on prices would be if a compulsory minimum price of at least 50p per alcohol unit were introduced, meaning that drinks that currently cost less than that would have to go up in price.

It found the average price rise would be about 35%, but low-cost lagers would increase by 44%, while most ciders would cost 90% more.

About 85% of lager and 80% of cider (measured by units of alcohol) are priced below 50p per unit.

The IFS said most wines, fortified wines and spirits also cost less than 50p per unit and would see their prices go up.

For example, a bottle of sherry containing 17.5 units of alcohol and sold for £7.15 by a supermarket would have to be sold for £8.75 if a minimum price of 50p per unit were introduced.

Twenty cans of cider containing 44 units of alcohol, currently available for £11, would double in price to £22.

The researchers concluded that a minimum price of 50p would have a financial impact on heavy drinkers who tend to buy cheaper and stronger alcohol. But it would also affect a large number of moderate drinkers.

‘Dampen competition’

However, the IFS said “it may be better to reform duties and not have a minimum price at all”.

It said minimum unit pricing had a “substantial disadvantage” because the policy was “likely to dampen competition in the retail market, resulting in increases in profits to the alcohol industry.

“In contrast, reform of alcohol duties that act to raise the price of strong products, as well as cider, is likely to raise tax revenue,” it added.

Anomalies in the current UK alcohol duty system made it “chaotic”, it said.

Beer and cider

At the moment, for example, EU rules mean wine and cider have to be taxed per litre, with the result they are taxed less per unit of alcohol than stronger drinks.

Separately, the tax on a litre of 7.5% beer is three times that on a litre of 7.5 % cider.

“A sensible reform that would substantially improve the system of alcohol duties would entail taxing directly the alcohol in wine and cider (a move which exiting the European Union will presumably make legally feasible) and increasing the tax on cider to bring it in line with that levied on beer,” it said.

Any change to the system of alcohol duty would be under the control of government in Westminster.

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Sky and BT agree cross supply of TV channels

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Under the terms of the agreement, BT will market and sell Sky’s Now TV service – including the Sky Atlantic, Sky One, Sky Living, Sky Sports and Sky Cinema channels – to its customers.

BT will wholesale its BT Sport channels to Sky, allowing the firm to sell them directly to Sky customers.

The move is expected to become effective in early 2019 as the UK entertainment market grapples with the challenge posed by the likes of streaming services Amazon and Netflix.

:: Murdoch: Returning to our roots in Disney deal

Sky and BT are fierce competitors in several areas of the entertainment and communications sectors – particularly in the race to secure live TV sports rights.

Sky's CEO Jeremy Darroch explains the company's aims in terms of reducing the amount of plastic entering the world's oceans
Image:Sky’s CEO Jeremy Darroch sees the deal broadening access to his company’s entertainment offering

While Sky holds the majority of Premier League fixtures currently available for broadcast, BT has the Champions League.

Sky’s chief executive, Jeremy Darroch, said: “This is great news for Sky customers who will be able to access all matches on Sky and BT channels from the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and Europa League directly with a single Sky TV subscription and with the great customer service that we provide.

“UK consumers will have even more ways to watch great Sky entertainment content with our leading portfolio of channels – Sky Atlantic, Sky One and Sky Living – available on all major Pay-TV platforms for the first time.

“This is all part of our stated strategy to enhance our customer offering, to broaden our appeal and to open up new revenue streams for our business.”

His counterpart at BT, Gavin Patterson, said: “This is an important day for BT and for our customers, who will be able to enjoy a whole range of Sky’s sport and entertainment programming on their BT TV boxes.

“This is the next logical step for our TV and content strategy. Having built up an outstanding portfolio of exclusive sports rights and a loyal base of customers, we feel that now is the right time to broaden the ways in which we distribute BT Sport.

“This agreement fits with our strategic goal of being the best provider in the UK of converged network services, and adding NOW TV boosts our growing roster of outstanding content from the likes of Netflix, great pay channels like AMC and all the major catch-up services.”

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Unions target Branson as rail strike begins

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Members of the RMT and TSSA unions are walking out for 24-hours in a dispute over pay and staffing.

There are five further stoppages planned – with action on Friday 22 December threatening Christmas travel plans.

Virgin said it was expecting to run a majority of services as planned today – with trains between Glasgow and London and London and Liverpool running as normal.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Sir Richard Branson participates in a SiriusXM 'Town Hall' Event hosted by Dan Rather on October 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Image:Sir Richard Branson

However, there will be no trains to Edinburgh while Chester and North Wales also face a hit to normal timetables.

Phil Whittingham, managing director for Virgin Trains on the west coast, said: “The RMT leadership is attempting to cause disruption when many will want to travel by train to spend time with loved ones.

“We have explored a generous 3.6% pay increase, however the unions’ leaderships are insisting on 4%, double the 2% average increase seen across the UK this year.

“We know how important it is for friends and families to get together over the festive season, so whilst we’re sorry for the disruption we will keep the majority of our trains running with fully-trained staff onboard and at stations.

“We remain open to talks with the RMT and TSSA, and urge them to call off these strikes which will cost their members pay for no gain.”

Both unions targeted Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson’s Caribbean island retreat, Necker – recently devastated by Hurricane Irma – while insisting the company award equal pay rises to drivers.

preview image

Video:Sam Branson calls for hurricane aid

Its leader, Manuel Cortes, apologised for disruption to passengers adding: “We’re obviously happy for the drivers that they have had a decent settlement, but our members believe that they too should deserve a little more than a stand

still inflation pay rise.

“Passengers and staff are keeping Richard Branson up to his Necker Island in luxury, while they pay more for fares and work harder for less.”

His counterpart at the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “All our members are demanding is a suitable and equal offer to that given to drivers to buy out their claim for a reduction in the base working week.

“We have made it clear to the company that the inequality and underhanded approach of Virgin will be fought tooth and nail.

“The message needs to get through to Sir Richard Branson on his luxury island retreat in the sunshine that those who are financing his lifestyle through their hard graft have had enough and are prepared to fight for justice in their

workplaces.”

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Unions attack Branson as Virgin Trains strike begins

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Members of the RMT and TSSA unions are walking out for 24-hours in a dispute over pay and staffing.

There are five further stoppages planned – with action on Friday 22 December threatening Christmas travel plans.

Virgin said it was expecting to run a majority of services as planned today – with trains between Glasgow and London and London and Liverpool running as normal.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Sir Richard Branson participates in a SiriusXM 'Town Hall' Event hosted by Dan Rather on October 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Image:Sir Richard Branson

However, there will be no trains to Edinburgh while Chester and North Wales also face a hit to normal timetables.

Phil Whittingham, managing director for Virgin Trains on the west coast, said: “The RMT leadership is attempting to cause disruption when many will want to travel by train to spend time with loved ones.

“We have explored a generous 3.6% pay increase, however the unions’ leaderships are insisting on 4%, double the 2% average increase seen across the UK this year.

“We know how important it is for friends and families to get together over the festive season, so whilst we’re sorry for the disruption we will keep the majority of our trains running with fully-trained staff onboard and at stations.

“We remain open to talks with the RMT and TSSA, and urge them to call off these strikes which will cost their members pay for no gain.”

Both unions targeted Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson’s Caribbean island retreat, Necker – recently devastated by Hurricane Irma – while insisting the company award equal pay rises to drivers.

preview image

Video:Sam Branson calls for hurricane aid

Its leader, Manuel Cortes, apologised for disruption to passengers adding: “We’re obviously happy for the drivers that they have had a decent settlement, but our members believe that they too should deserve a little more than a stand

still inflation pay rise.

“Passengers and staff are keeping Richard Branson up to his Necker Island in luxury, while they pay more for fares and work harder for less.”

His counterpart at the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “All our members are demanding is a suitable and equal offer to that given to drivers to buy out their claim for a reduction in the base working week.

“We have made it clear to the company that the inequality and underhanded approach of Virgin will be fought tooth and nail.

“The message needs to get through to Sir Richard Branson on his luxury island retreat in the sunshine that those who are financing his lifestyle through their hard graft have had enough and are prepared to fight for justice in their

workplaces.”

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Japan expands unilateral sanctions against North Korea

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North Korean flagImage copyrightGetty Images

Japan has imposed fresh sanctions against North Korea as it seeks to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the assets of another 19 entities and individuals would be frozen.

More than 210 organisations and people from countries including China and Russia will now be targeted.

Businesses on the blacklist include banks, coal and minerals traders, and transport firms.

The widening of sanctions comes ahead of a meeting of the UN Security Council to be held on Friday.

Japan said it is facing a “pressing threat unseen before” after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) across its territory in September.

“North Korea launched an ICBM ballistic missile that landed in our exclusive economic zone and continues to repeat provocative commentaries”, Mr Suga told reporters on Friday.

Mr Suga said it would freeze more assets to “further increase pressure” on Pyongyang.

Japan already imposes strict restrictions on North Korea, including a blanket ban on trade and port calls.

South Korea and the US also impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea, in addition to sanctions enforced by the UN.

The UN Security Council meeting on Friday is aimed at finding peaceful ways to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

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PM ‘urges EU27 to agree swift Brexit transition’

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The applause arose partly because Theresa May will not be at the summit today when the formal decision to approve “sufficient progress” in the Brexit process will be taken by the EU27.

Mrs May used the dinner opportunity to implore other EU leaders to agree a quick transition period, as well as complete the formality of “sufficient progress”.

She made “no secret of wanting to move on to the next phase and to approach it with ambition and creativity”, said one official.

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The dinner came on Theresa May's last day at the Brussels summit
Image:The dinner came on Theresa May’s last day at the EU summit

She told leaders over a dinner of roast langoustine: “I believe this is in the best interests of the UK and the European Union. A particular priority should be agreement on the implementation period so we can bring greater certainty to businesses in the UK and across the 27.”

But Sky News understands there have been some differences at this EU summit about just how quickly the transition talks can take place.

Firstly, they depend on whether the Government wishes to accept the “full acquis” under European Court of Justice jurisdiction, or wishes to use negotiation time on something bespoke.

More pertinently, one EU source suggested to Sky News that progress to quick transition talks would be contingent upon the establishment of a legally watertight drafting of the phase one agreement reached last week, but over which UK Cabinet ministers raised questions on legal enforceability.

It is possible that proper talks on transition may be agreed internally by the EU27 at the end of January, and not signed off until March, and then made a legal reality until the withdrawal agreement is fully signed off in October.

Theresa May

Video:PM claims claims she is ‘on course to deliver Brexit’

Sky News has seen the EU27 draft guidelines. The timing might disappoint some UK business groups which have told the Government that a watertight transition is required to avoid large corporates activating ‘no deal’ contingency plans.

In an exclusive interview, the Irish PM Leo Varadkar told Sky News: “The next step now is to turn that into a legally binding international agreement, which will be the UK withdrawal agreement.

“After that, we’ll then move on to talking about the transition phases and then after that we’ll talk about trade, discussing which British companies will be allowed to trade with Europe, which services and producers will have access to the signal market.

“And certainly from my point of view, we’d like to see the UK having as much access as possible.”

He added: “We’ll spend the next three months talking about the withdrawal agreement and putting into legal international agreement what was agreed last week.”

:: Theresa May ‘desperate for good news’ at EU Council summit after Commons blow

 Leo Varadkar
Image:Leo Varadkar said Ireland would remain ‘close’ friends with the UK

When asked if Ireland having been tough in phase one would now be the UK’s best friend, Mr Varadkar said Ireland would remain a “close” friend.

“Ireland is a member of the European Union so our best friends are going to be the other 27 member states. But after that of course we’ll be Britain’s closest friend but as a remaining member,” he said.

“Obviously our very closest relations have to be with other members of the EU just as they were our best friends in the weeks gone by.”

It is understood that the EU27 guidelines will not refer a great deal to talks on a future trade deal. Multiple sources from EU nations said Mrs May had yet to outline a specific vision for the end state of negotiations, and that was a prerequisite for such talks.

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