Brexit: US ambassador to UK Johnson warns on trade deal

Woody Johnson with Donald and Melania TrumpImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Woody Johnson with Donald and Melania Trump on their UK visit this summer

Donald Trump’s offer of a “quick, massive bilateral trade deal” won’t be possible if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is backed by Parliament, the US ambassador to the UK has warned.

Woody Johnson told the BBC such a deal with the US could lead to an “exciting future” for the UK.

But that’s only if Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement does not succeed, he said.

President Trump had previously described her offer as a “great deal for the EU”.

“What I’m focusing on here is something the president has also said – that is looking forward to, and hoping, that the environment will lead to the ability for the US to do a quick, very massive bilateral trade deal,” said Mr Johnson.

He added it could be “the precursor of future trade deals with other countries around the world for Great Britain that will really take you way, way into an exciting future”.

“We’re still going through the stages of deciding exactly where the country is going,” said Mr Johnson. “If it goes in a way that allows these kinds of agreements to occur then I think that will be very positive in the president’s eyes.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Johnson said a trade deal with the US would be “positive” in Mr Trump’s eyes

Asked if that would go ahead under the current proposed Brexit deal, he replied: “It doesn’t look like it would be possible.”

He said ministers – and the prime minister – had to “measure the impact of all the other trade offs” and how different trade agreements would benefit the UK.

Mr Trump has said Mrs May’s deal could leave Britain unable to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the US.

Mr Johnson did not give more details about what such a deal would entail.

He also said the country is “in need of leadership” over Brexit and that MPs had been left feeling frustrated.

“You can see the frustration in members of parliament trying to navigate what the people wanted when they voted on the referendum,” he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Trump met the Queen in July – could a state visit be on the cards for 2019?

And he said he had been surprised by the “defeatism” felt in the UK over Brexit.

“All of the reporting looks back and it looks at a very static future, rather than an active British future – about solving problems, entrepreneurialism and taking advantage of opportunities and being very innovative,” said Mr Johnson.

“If you look back and try to project the past into the present and future, it’s going to be bleak.

“But you’re leaving out the great thing that Britain has to offer and that is all of the people and all of their efforts and their ability to solve problems. If you factor that in, I think the future is extremely positive, extremely bright.”

He added that it would be “great” if President Trump’s postponed state visit could take place in May, around the time of World War Two commemorations – if his schedule, and that of the Queen, allowed.

Fitness in your home à la Netflix: On-demand, unlimited subscription classes

Your New Year’s resolution to exercise more often could be easier — but more expensive — than ever if you latch on to the latest fitness trend.

Streaming services à la Netflix are disrupting the fitness industry, offering on-demand, unlimited exercise classes on a subscription basis, in the comfort of your home.

Pay a $49 Cdn monthly fee to Peloton, the New York City company leading the trend — plus $3,000 for its internet-connected stationary bicycle — and you get to join in a live spinning class, streamed via the bike’s HD screen. The subscription also includes a library of recorded classes, with different instructors and types of music.

But will the expensive devices end up gathering dust in your home, like so many other pieces of fitness equipment, leaving you stuck paying the subscription till your contract expires?  

Not according to fans.

“It’s just awesome,” enthuses Sasha Exeter of Toronto, who bought a Peloton bike in October, as soon as the service launched in Canada. With a new baby at home, she says convenience was top of mind. “I probably wouldn’t get half the workouts I get if I didn’t have that bike sitting in my office in my condo.”

Exeter says she did the math before buying. “Anyone that’s a cycling enthusiast and is used to doing indoor classes understands how pricey it is. I mean, you’re looking at $35 to $50 a class. So if you ride the bike two or three times a week you’re easily getting your money’s worth.”

The Mirror fitness device reverts to a regular mirror when you’re not using it to stream fitness classes. (Mirror)

Investors have Peloton valued at $4 billion, thanks to its fast-growing base of users. The company recently opened retail outlets in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. But it’s just one of several companies that have sprung up recently, eager to offer home fitness technology to time-pressed consumers.

A company called Echelon offers a similar service, selling its stationary bicycle for $1,300 Cdn and a monthly subscription for $39. The bike will be available in Canada at Walmart, Best Buy, Costco, Canadian Tire and London Drugs in early 2019, according to a spokesperson, who adds that the company is excited about the Canadian market. “Already Toronto is one of our Top 5 cities for sales and inquiries in North America.”  

Fly Anywhere is yet another example — a spinoff from a popular spinning studio in New York City. Its connected bike costs around $2,100 US. The monthly subscription is also $39, although so far, the company has no plan to come to Canada.

Then there’s Mirror, a company offering a variety of at-home exercise classes. Described as a “smart mirror,” the connected device hangs on the wall and shows you more than your own reflection. On screen, an instructor leads you through exercises such as boxing, yoga and strength training. Price tag? $1,495 US plus $39 per month for the subscription.  

No more slogging to the gym

“Fitness traditionally has been a destination activity,” says Tim Shanahan of Peloton. “You packed up your stuff, you went to the gym, you worked out, and then you took a shower and went off to work. It’s hard to do that. The realities of life are such that there are obstacles all the time that get in the way.”

Shanahan says the company chose Canada for its first international expansion after seeing the results of an independent survey it commissioned here. Researchers found that 77 per cent of the participants wanted to work out at home, and over 85 per cent said they wanted to do it on their own schedule.

Peloton’s chief financial officer Tim Shanahan points out the features of the bike’s HD screen. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

“That is exactly the pain we are solving for folks,” says Shanahan. “So it was natural for us to come here.”  

Just another fad?

But critics say these new devices are destined to go the route of so many fitness gadgets before them. Treadmills and exercycles, Bowflexes and stair climbers — it’s impossible to say how many expensive pieces of equipment sit idle in basements or back rooms across the nation, used most often to hang laundry to dry.

“Typically consumers will get bored doing that one thing,” says Mo Hagen, vice-president of program innovation for GoodLife Fitness. “They’ll seek out that live experience whether it’s group fitness or personal training, or just working out in a club where they have so many choices.”

Mo Hagen of GoodLife says the fitness chain is offering virtual, at-home classes to members. She believes the new subscription services may not give consumers enough variety to keep them interested. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

Hagen, who is also a senior executive with Canfitpro, the largest organization to certify fitness instructors in Canada, believes the new streaming fitness companies are “fantastic,” but only when used to complement other activities, ideally done with other people.

“The piece of equipment won’t say, ‘Come work out with me today,'” she insists. “It won’t welcome you and or remind you come.”

An American Facebook group dedicated to buying and selling used Peloton bicycles has over 20,000 members, most of whom are trying to sell their bikes.

Social side of fitness

GoodLife is also tapping into the at-home trend, offering virtual classes to members, but Hagen points to research that shows exercising with a group — in person — boosts endorphin levels higher than exercising on your own.

A phenomenon called rower’s high was documented in 2009 through research with the University of Oxford rowing team. The study’s authors report that “this heightened effect from synchronized activity may explain the sense of euphoria experienced during other social activities, such as laughter, music-making and dancing.”

Research has proven that exercising with a group of people gives participants an extra jolt of energy. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

But Peloton user Exeter believes she’s still getting the benefit of exercising with a group, even if it’s only with a virtual community.

“There are cyclists all over the U.S., so while I’m riding, the technology shows me everyone that’s doing the class with me. People high-five you, people message you, it’s a community. We all root for each other and cheer each other on.”

Neither Peloton nor Echelon is sharing the number of subscribers they have in Canada, but if demand for high-tech fitness ramps up the way they hope, their competitors may also consider a northern invasion.


The Law Was Front And Center In 2018 — Because Trump’s Actions Made It Necessary

Trump tested the limits of the system in many ways.

Posted on December 30, 2018, at 8:05 p.m. ET

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

President Donald Trump answering questions about Michael Cohen.

One of the consistent themes of 2018 was the centrality of the legal system to nearly every major story that took over the news — stories that highlighted the importance of, consequences of, stability of, and fragility of the American legal system and its institutions.

In short: President Donald Trump is testing the limits of the system, and that’s tiring.

The storylines touched a dizzying number of issues: Trump and his efforts to enact harsh immigration policies, even without congressional action; judicial nominations and how Chief Justice John Roberts is dealing with the Trump era; former attorney general Jeff Sessions, his near-constant battle with Trump, and the fallout from his forced departure; and the special counsel’s investigation of Trump and his allies, including the president’s onetime campaign manager and his longtime personal lawyer.

In the midst of all that, November also brought the midterm elections — and their own legal questions about the stability of our systems.

Here’s a look at the year in legal news through some of BuzzFeed News’ biggest and best coverage of what’s happened.

As always — as it always was? — the president’s tweets have played an outsized role in announcing major policy and personnel changes in his administration. Despite the words he tweeted, we learned in 2018 what we had suspected: Some of his biggest moves take those officials who would be in charge of implementing them — like the transgender military ban — completely by surprise.

Trump’s policies — particularly those affecting immigrant populations — continued to face significant challenges in 2018. The largest issue — the “zero-tolerance” policy that led to children being separated from their parents at the border — caused a rare reversal from Trump, although litigation and the fallout from the policy continue to linger. The Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to include a citizenship question on the Census, and to bar many people crossing the southern border from seeking asylum — all strongly opposed by immigrant groups — also faced challenges throughout the year and across the country. Trump did get some wins: The Supreme Court upheld his third effort at enacting a travel ban, and a judge issued a ruling in December that would end Obamacare if upheld on appeal.

Trump’s lawyers have been a side story of the year, but the message the shifting sets of White House and outside lawyers have sent comes back to the underlying theme: Trump is testing the limits of the system, and that’s tiring — including for the lawyers protecting his interests. Trump isn’t only facing the special counsel’s investigation and challenges to his policies, he’s faced challenges relating to his personal conduct before he took office — the Stormy Daniels saga and its far-reaching fallout — and to the unprecedented question of whether some of the money his company, the Trump Organization, is making now means that Trump is violating the Constitution’s prohibition on the president receiving “emoluments” while in office.

Chief Justice John Roberts took on an outsized role in 2018, as the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy pushed Roberts into the position of being the presumptive middle vote on the court in addition to being its administrative head — and as Trump’s continued lashing out at federal judges who ruled against him led Roberts to issue a rare public statement rebuking the president.

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was expected: He was a former Supreme Court clerk and White House lawyer who had served as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. At the end of his initial confirmation hearing, it appeared his confirmation was on track. Then Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her allegation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party while in high school. The next weeks were a draining period that included the interminably long day of Ford’s emotional morning and Kavanaugh’s angry afternoon of testimony. After it all, though, Kavanaugh was still confirmed — by the closest vote for a successful Supreme Court nominee in more than a century.

Even as the Kavanaugh hearings proceeded, many lower court federal judges were being confirmed — conservative nominees supported, by and large, by the Federalist Society and pushed through the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley. Although Trump has had some bumps along the way, 2018 came to a close with Trump having confirmed as many appeals court nominees as former president Barack Obama had confirmed in his entire first term.

The tenure of former attorney general Jeff Sessions was both remarkably effective and appeared constantly to be moments away from ending. Ultimately, Sessions made it to the midterm elections before being forced out the next day. Trump’s anger at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation never really subsided, but Sessions also was the most adept cabinet member at implementing Trump’s vision for the country. From implementing harsh immigration policies and anti-LGBT moves to advancing religious liberty and tough-on-crime efforts, Sessions pushed the Trump administration forward more aggressively than anyone else in the cabinet. He also advanced his own strain of attacks on federal judges, focused on opposing nationwide injunctions issued against Trump’s policies.

More people know who Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is than likely have ever known who the No. 2 at DOJ is. As the overseer of the Russia investigation during Sessions’ tenure at the helm of the department, Rosenstein has suffered attacks from Trump and impeachment threats from a handful of House Republicans. He’s pushed back at moments and remains in his Senate-confirmed role as the year comes to a close — even as the confirmed people above him and below him at DOJ have left, replaced by “acting” officials serving in their role with no Senate confirmation.

Trump announced that Sessions was leaving the Justice Department by tweeting that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would be taking over as acting attorney general. Whitaker, a former political candidate who had previously expressed skepticism of the special counsel’s investigation, almost immediately faced questions about his new role — including whether the appointment was even constitutional. DOJ has fought back thus far in court, though, and Whitaker remains in the job as acting attorney general — and has decided not to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation — as 2018 comes to a close.

The Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election was a throughline for the year — despite, as many Trump defenders will say, that there have been no charges that anyone involved in the Trump campaign attempted to help Russia’s efforts.

As July came to a close, Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign manager and a longtime Republican DC lobbyist, faced the first trial of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Although the charges themselves — and conviction on several of those charges — didn’t relate to the 2016 campaign, later fallout from other charges faced by Manafort and allegations that he continued to lie to federal prosecutors even after agreeing to cooperate with them has raised questions about where this strand of the Mueller investigation is headed going into 2019. (Manafort’s longtime business partner, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to multiple charges and has been cooperating with prosecutors most of the year.)

Trump’s longtime, but now former, personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is not formally cooperating with federal prosecutors — and has been sentenced to three years in prison — but Mueller has made clear in court filings that Cohen has provided substantive information to the special counsel’s office in multiple areas of its investigation. The turnaround from Cohen, who has admitted to arranging payments to women to keep their allegations of affairs with Trump hidden from the public during the campaign, could be significant — given his knowledge of and connection to Trump’s Russia ties and acknowledgement that he lied about them.

But there was much more. Early in the year, there was the indictment of Russian individuals and entities allegedly involved in the “troll farm” effort to influence the 2016 election through social media. In the summer, Mueller’s office went after those who allegedly hacked the emails of Democrats, including the Hillary Clinton campaign. There was George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, who spent two weeks in prison after pleading guilty to lying to federal agents about his Russian contacts. Michael Flynn, Trump’s onetime national security adviser who also pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his Russian contacts, remains in a cooperation agreement with the federal government and — after an unusual day in court — is yet to be sentenced.

And, outside of Mueller’s investigation, there was Maria Butina. Allegedly connected to Russian intelligence, Butina infiltrated the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups and was charged by DC prosecutors. By December, Butina had pleaded guilty — although it remains to be seen what the effect of that plea will be and whether her case will connect to Mueller’s efforts.

The 2018 election did not end on Election Day, with disputed outcomes in several states — but primarily Florida — leading to recounts and litigation. Lawsuits raised questions about how older people and those with disabilities fare under rules passed by lawmakers claiming an aim of stopping voter fraud — and, in a particularly Florida twist, counting continued long after the results were decided.

In North Carolina, a close congressional race took on added focus when allegations were made that voter fraud involving the handling of absentee ballots might have handed the race to the Republican. Come 2019, the race — and who comes to Congress — could turn into a legal question courts need to face.

Despite all of the complications and litigation of the past two years, Trump was operating in an environment where his party had control of all of the political branches of government. That will change in the new year when Democrats take over the House majority and Rep. Nancy Pelosi retakes the speakership, and some of the tools Democrats are likely to use will be the very ones Republicans fought for and then used when Obama was president.

Fishing: New EU rules could have ‘grave’ impact on UK industry

A fisherman on a trawler off the coast of ScotlandImage copyright Getty Images

New EU rules on fishing quotas could have a “grave” impact on the UK’s fishing industry, a House of Lords committee has said – just a day before the new policy is introduced.

Under previous rules, crews often discarded, into the sea, fish that took them over their quota for that species.

But under the new policy, fishers must bring the full haul back to shore. This change is to stop fish being wasted.

The legislation has been called “badly designed” by UK industry bodies.

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee heard evidence that the legislation could mean fishermen hitting their annual quotas much earlier in the year and have to stop fishing.

The committee was told this would be particularly problematic in “mixed fisheries” where it would be hard for boats to avoid catching a fish species for which they have a very low quota.

Once they reached their quota for a particular species, fishers would be forced to choose between halting operations for the rest of the year or breaking the law by continuing to fish for other species and discarding anything over quota.

Image copyright PA
Image caption There are fears that enforcement agencies do not have the capability to police the new rules

The committee also said it had worries about how the rules – which come into effect in full after a four-year phasing-in period – would be enforced.

It said patrol vessels would only be able to cover a small percentage of boats, creating a temptation for fishers to break the rules.

Committee member Lord Krebs said: “It is deeply concerning that so many people – fishers, environmental groups, even the enforcement agencies themselves – do not think these new rules can be implemented from January 1.”

He added: “Most people we spoke to thought nothing would change – fishers will continue to discard, knowing the chances of being caught are slim to none and that to comply with the law could bankrupt them.”

Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said the rules were “badly designed” and would result in boats having to stop fishing for long stretches after reaching quotas on specific species.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was working with the industry to address the challenges posed by the new sustainable fishing policy.

The committee is due to publish its report on the implementation and enforcement of the EU “landing obligation” in February.

A Woman Facing Deportation Says She Was Denied Justice Because She Speaks An Indigenous Language

A 27-year-old Guatemalan woman who suffered years of sexual assaults because of her light skin is facing her final hearing at winning her asylum case and staying in the country with her US-citizen daughters.

The woman, who asked to be identified only by her initials, JGCA, said she’s faced an uphill and unfair battle in the nation’s immigration court system since she entered the country in 2007 when she was 16. She fears going back because of the years of sexual assaults she endured at the hands of family members in Guatemala.

The woman grew up speaking Popti, an indigenous language common in the small town of Concepcion Huista in the department of Huehuetenango in Guatemala. Today she speaks rudimentary Spanish and is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.

“It’s difficult being locked up and speaking with my daughters who always ask me the same question ‘When are you coming back home?'” JGCA told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know what to say to them.”

Her attorney, Allison Boyle, said that at multiple points in her client’s case she was denied translations in the language she was fluent in, was denied due process rights, and when she had an attorney, they proved to be ineffective, making it so JGCA never had a chance.

“It’s an extreme case and a perfect example of an unjust system,” Boyle told BuzzFeed News.

Official census figures estimate that 45% of Guatemala’s population is indigenous, but other studies put the figure at 60% or close to 6 million people. Despite their large numbers, indigenous people face discrimination and violence that only worsens for women in rural areas.

JGCA said that if she had to pinpoint the moment where her case took a turn it was September 2008. She was 17 years old, pregnant by her husband, and didn’t understand Spanish or English.

She’d been caught trying to enter the US illegally the year before and was released into the custody of her sister, who lived in Georgia. JGCA walked into her first court hearing alone because her brother-in-law, who took her there, feared going into the building because he lacked legal status.

JGCA said she didn’t understand what was happening around her because the entire hearing was conducted in Spanish, not Popti. She only understood when someone asked her what her name was or where she lived. Beyond that, nothing made sense.

According to a court document Boyle filed on JGCA’s behalf, attorneys for the Department of Homeland Security told her to “sign here” on a document that was written in Spanish.

JGCA did, not knowing that she had just signed a voluntary deportation order. The immigration judge in Georgia told her she had 120 days to leave the US. She also didn’t understand that.

She remained in the United States past the 120 days, unaware that her voluntary removal had turned into a deportation order.

Some 10 years later, she had two US-citizen daughters and was living in Alabama. That was when she was arrested by ICE agents in July of 2017 and sent to a detention center in Jena, Louisiana.

Boyle said JGCA hired an attorney, but the lawyer failed to ask the government to give JGCA an asylum interview after her arrest. JGCA was deported on Aug. 23, 2017, back to the town she left behind as a teenager, where she hardly knew anyone outside her family or the area outside her town.

She also was now living in the place where she’d endured years of sexual assaults that started when she was seven. Her assailants were two cousins who would undress her and penetrate her with their fingers. During the assaults, the cousins, who were adults, complimented her light skin and eyes.

Rape attempts, threats, and assaults at the hands of family would continue for years. Boyle said her light skin was the reason that she was sexually assaulted. In 2014, Planned Parenthood Federation reported that in four out of five cases of the more than 5,000 pregnancies of girls under 14 In Guatemala, the father was a close relative.

In court documents, JGCA said she never told her siblings, mother, or the police about the sexual assaults out of fear that her father would find out and not believe her. JGCA said she couldn’t stay in her country because of continued harassment and tried to cross the border near Laredo, Texas, in May.

She was apprehended by border agents and was eventually sent to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. She told immigration authorities she feared returning to Guatemala. Nearly two months later, the Houston asylum office conducted two credible fear interviews.

Both interviews were conducted in Spanish, which she still does not speak fluently. JGCA said she was too intimidated to request the credible fear interview be conducted in Popti.

“I speak Spanish but there are things I can’t say,” JGCA said. “When I speak in my dialect to say words I can’t say in Spanish, there are things other people don’t understand.”

The International Encyclopedia of Linguistics said there are about 77,700 Popti speakers in Guatemala. The problem of indigenous languages extend beyond JGCA’s case. The fathers of two children who died recently in Customs and Border Protection also speak indigenous languages.

The process has also been difficult for her two US-citizen daughters, who speak to their mother in Popti. In a letter intended for the court, her oldest daughter, Nuria Ramirez, writes in English that she feels empty inside and thinks about committing suicide.

“Sometimes I feel like killing myself,” the 10-year-old said. “I know it’s not right but that’s what I feel like doing. I feel that because I don’t want to live like this.”

JGCA said it’s also been hard not being able to tell her daughters when, if ever, she will be reunited with them. She recently sent two large envelopes with drawings she made to her daughters.

“When you’re locked up, people on the outside tell you to be patient but they don’t know what it’s like,” JGCA said. “Knowing that my daughter’s are not okay has taken a toll on me.”

Katy Murdza, advocacy coordinator for the Dilley Pro Bono Project which works with immigrants at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, said they’ve seen a lot of people who speak indigenous languages not get their credible fear interviews, a crucial first step in the asylum process, in their first language.

About 10% of the people they work with speak an indigenous language, generally a Mayan one from Guatemala, Murdoza said. Sergio Romero, a linguist at University of Texas at Austin, told the Huffington Post, that in Guatemala alone, Mayans speak at least 23 different languages.

In some cases, the interviews are done in Spanish because the asylum seeker understands a little and doesn’t feel empowered enough to demand it be done in their preferred language, Murdza said. In order to pass their credible fear interviews and move ahead in the process, immigrants need to show a “significant possibility” that they will be able to convince an immigration judge they’ve been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” if they return home.

Asylum seekers in these situations fear that asking for more can negatively affect their immigration cases, Murdza said.

“We have seen people receive negative credible fear determinations when they did qualify for asylum because of poor interpretation,” Murdza told BuzzFeed News. “This can be a life or death mistake.”

People are also frequently asked to sign paperwork in a language they don’t understand, either English or Spanish, Murdza said, adding that they’ve seen immigration officials many times sign the paperwork saying they had read the document to the person in a Mayan language when they had not done so.

Boyle, JGCA’s attorney, said she’s hoping that by filing court documents pointing out all the procedural defects in her client’s immigration case, she will now have a fair shot at staying in the US under withholding of removal, a type of asylum, or protection under the Convention Against Torture. Her final hearing on both forms of relief is slated for Jan. 10.

Still, Boyle admits that it will be a difficult case to win because the standards of persecution JGCA has to meet to stay in the US are now much higher as a result of her previous deportation.

“It’s important because my greatest desire as an attorney is for everybody to be given a fair process, at least a chance to fight,” Boyle said. “And if they lose, that they at least lose with dignity, and in this case, that never happened and it blows my mind that our system allowed this sort of thing to happen.”

The hottest business stories of 2018

Elon MuskImage copyright Reuters

Kylie Jenner, Donald Trump, Elon Musk. Snow, heatwaves, hugging and the collapsing UK High Street. There were no dull moments in business over the past 12 months.

Here are the most-read business stories of 2018.


A grim start to the year with news that one of the biggest providers of UK public services was foundering. It wasn’t a household name.

Carillion ran into trouble after losing money on big contracts and running up debts of around £1.5bn. If we had been in the dark about the company’s importance before this, we were soon enlightened.

Not content with hoovering up increasing amounts of our retail spend online, internet behemoth Amazon made one of its increasing ventures into the physical retail environment when it opened supermarket without checkouts. With three million hits Amazon proved it draws the clicks for readers as well as shoppers.

Meanwhile, Christmas trading updates revealed the losers as Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Debenhams. Spoiler alert: they ended the year in that camp, too.

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Media captionFinancial Times journalist Madison Marriage: “I was groped several times”

And after running unremarked for 30 years the Presidents Club charity fundraising dinner, suddenly went beyond the pale. Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage went undercover as a waitress at the event and said she was groped “several times”, which led to the organiser of the dinner quitting his post on the Department for Education board.

This was an early sign of one of the key themes of the year as the #MeToo movement really got going.


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Media caption“Angry, sad, disappointed and hungry”: We talk to KFC customers

KFC caused “chicken chaos” for four million readers when it closed more than half of its 900 UK outlets after delivery problems meant the chain ran out of chicken. It had recently switched to using DHL for its deliveries. DHL blamed “operational issues” for the supply disruption. Rather a literal statement.

Image copyright Getty Images

A real poser here: Should everybody get £10,000? This intriguing idea came courtesy of the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). Is it enough to live on? Will it encourage laziness? Where can I get £10,000 – all reasons to click on this tale.

Image copyright Getty Images

The power of the influencer. If there was anyone left who doubted the influence of the Kardashian family they were in doubt no longer. A tweet from Kylie Jenner hammered Snapchat’s shares, wiping $1.3bn (£1bn) off developer Snap’s stock market value when she said she no longer used its messaging app.


Image copyright PA

Time for a weather story. Enter the Beast from the East. Which prompted this thought: it’s snowing – can I refuse to go to work? No. Well, sometimes. Oh, it DEPENDS! So many questions and not the answer you might have wanted. You did ask…

It took a few months before President Trump seriously caught the eye of our readers, but his move to put tariffs on $60bn in Chinese goods certainly did. And it continued to cause real setbacks to the Chinese and global economy as the war of the tariffs ramped up over the year.

Image copyright Getty Images

Perhaps someone should have tried earlier to curb Lego’s production.

Too many Lego bricks is a problem many parents will sympathise with, but the toy firm itself had to admit it had made too many. Or mined too many. You decide.


The biggest retail story of the month was the surprising news that two leading supermarkets, Sainsbury’s and Asda, were in merger talks. One analyst called it a “game changer in the UK grocery market of epic proportions”. It still needs regulatory approval. That’s expected in late January.

Image copyright Home Office/PA

Enter Brexit. Very late into the year. One suspects there were so many stories that eyeballs were spread thinly across them.

Passports concentrated the mind. British company De La Rue – which had lost the £490m contract to print the new British post-Brexit passports to French-Dutch Gemalto in March – had requested a “standstill period” to try to regain the contract. This was granted. It still didn’t win it.


Image copyright John Keeble

DIY disaster as Homebase sold for £1! We’ve all been here with a DIY project. Starts off promisingly then you realise there’s a bit more work than was anticipated.

The optimists here were the Australian firm Wesfarmers. It paid £340m for the retailer two years ago, but losses and other costs ended up giving it a total bill of about £1bn. One analyst called the takeover an “unbelievable disaster”.

Image copyright PA

Retail’s epic dreadful year saw bad news for some small towns, too. Marks & Spencer said it would close 100 stores by 2022, leaving some High Streets without a flagship store.

This theme continued into the year when Debenhams said it would close about a third of its stores and House of Fraser about half of its outlets.

And this story caused sinking feelings for parents everywhere. Wet wipes, used for cleaning sticky fingers and just about anything else, could themselves face wipeout as the government declared war on single-use plastic.

The wipes contain non-biodegradable plastic and are the overwhelmingly main component of sewer-blocking fatbergs. Lovely.


Image copyright British Leafy Salad Growers Association

Back to the weather. The summer brought some frightening news: the heatwave that had blazed for weeks prompted lettuce growers to warn of an imminent shortage.

We became friends with the trade body the British Leafy Salad Growers Association (BLSGA) who warned the heat was causing “havoc” for growers. Broccoli and cauliflower were also having a hard time of it.

Our next story could hardly be further (in tone, in origin?) from the farmers’ field. The cash payments system Visa went down in June and was the second best-read story of the month.

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President Trump’s tariffs on European products also caught the eye of the reader. The US is playing a “dangerous game” by slapping tariffs on European steel and aluminium, said the EU’s trade commissioner.

The EU issued a 10-page list of tariffs on US goods ranging from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to bourbon.


And as the heatwave continued: peas were now under threat of shortage.

More startling facts: the UK, it turns out, is the biggest consumer of peas per head in Europe, and it is also the biggest producer of peas for freezing. But, things were looking up elsewhere: we learnt that by then life for the lettuce had begun to improve.

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One of the other biggest hits with our readers was the news that Burberry had burned luxury goods worth millions. It appalled the growing taste for cutting down on waste, though Burberry did say that the energy generated from burning its products was captured, making it environmentally friendly.

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Startling news from personal care giant, Johnson & Johnson, which was ordered to pay $4.7bn (£3.6bn) in damages to 22 women who alleged that its talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

The women’s lawyers alleged the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.

J&J said it was “deeply disappointed” and planned to appeal.


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Stories about the “world’s best places” always score very highly in readership numbers. This year’s offering from the Economist Intelligence Unit was no exception, attracting more than a million views. Vienna was named the winner – the first time a European city topped the rankings of the annual survey.

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Meanwhile, retail entrepreneur and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley was big news. His Sports Direct business bought troubled House of Fraser. He said he would make it “the Harrods of the High Street”, curiously symmetrical as Harrods was once itself the flagship of the House of Fraser chain.

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And the heatwave was still going. This time it was potatoes that saw prices rising thanks to a shortage caused by an unusually cold winter, followed by that scorching summer.


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Another Trump trade development as China hit back at the US with fresh tariffs on $60bn of US goods in retaliation against US duties on $200bn of Chinese imports.

China this time targeted goods such as liquefied natural gas, produced in states loyal to the US president.

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Media captionWho is Elon Musk?

Elon Musk paid the price for an ill-considered tweet, losing his position as Tesla chair.

A tweet stating he was considering taking the electric carmaker off the stock market and into private ownership and had funding secured at a price of $420 per share was the culprit.

Investor regulator the SEC said those claims were “false and misleading” and launched a fraud investigation. But Mr Musk stepping down as chair and paying a fine put things right as far as the SEC was concerned.

The economic impact of Brexit also hit the headlines this month. It was the mention of property that stirred the senses as Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned that house prices could plunge in the event of a no-deal Brexit.


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An alarming tale of a collapsed airline caught the attention of millions of readers. Even though Primera was hardly a household name. Not surprising as it has only 14 planes and is based in Denmark with most of its business serving Scandinavian passengers. But BBC website readers love a bit of aviation. And why not?

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Here’s a definitive household name and a firecracker of a story. Sir Philip Green was named over harassment claims. This followed days of guesswork after the Daily Telegraph said “a leading businessman” was being accused of acting wrongly. Sir Philip denies the allegations.

Readership numbers for the annual set piece that is the Budget are always high. And so it was this year with the main headline being: Chancellor turns on the cash taps.


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Planes again. A Ryanair plane was seized by French authorities in a row over money.

The dispute was caused by French subsidies paid to Ryanair for flights from Angoulême regional airport between 2008 and 2009, which the European Commission later deemed illegal.

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Meanwhile, in Japan the car industry was hit by a bombshell: the Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn was arrested over claims of financial misconduct. Mr Ghosn, a “towering figure” in car manufacturing, was at the helm of the three-headed Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi partnership.

Nissan and Mitsubishi both later sacked him as chairman. Mr Ghosn has denied the accusations against him.

And… Brexit again. This time new government analysis suggested the UK economy could be up to 3.9% smaller after 15 years under Theresa May’s Brexit plan, compared with staying in the EU. But, it said, a no-deal Brexit could deliver a 9.3% hit.

Mrs May’s response? She said her deal was the best one available for jobs and the economy.


When the O2 network crashed the country was all but stopped in its tracks. Well, the 25 million O2 users were. People were unable to use mobile payments, SatNavs, call or email contacts, and countless other things that we were barely aware had made our mobiles the centre of our lives.

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One of the best-read stories of December was about a seven-year-old making $22m on YouTube. Little Ryan’s toy reviewing business (set up by his parents) has made him very rich.

Happy for you, Ryan.

And back to the beginning. Employees complaining of unwanted physical contact. Staff at Ted Baker alleged there was a culture of “forced hugging” by the firm’s founder and boss, which they are now demanding be ended.

The fashion group said hugs were part of Ted Baker’s culture, but were absolutely not insisted upon. An independent investigation is being carried out.

Happy New Year.

Susanna Dinnage changes mind on Premier League chief executive role

Dinnage wants to stay in broadcasting at Discovery

The Premier League says its prospective new chief executive, Susanna Dinnage, has told the organisation she will not be taking up the position.

She was named as Richard Scudamore’s replacement in November and was due to take up the role early in 2019.

“The committee has reconvened its search and is talking to candidates,” said a Premier League statement.