'Sheer madness!' Brexiteer lawyer issues dire ECJ warning – 'Will always rule against us'

Martin Howe QC, chairman of Lawyers for Britain, said it was “sheer madness” to allocate the ECJ a role – and suggested up to now there had been a “complete lack of understanding across the entire political world”. He was speaking as the row over Mr Johnson’s Internal Market Bill rumbled on, with Mr Johnson insisting the legislation, which would override some aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, was necessary to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Mr Howe was the only non-MP in the so-called “Star Chamber” charged with scrutinising Theresa May’s Brexit deal – and specifically the backstop plan for Northern Ireland – last year.

Despite then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s insistence to the contrary, the group concluded the proposals could not be ended without the agreement of the EU, with any disputes certain the end up in the ECJ.

The NI Protocol did away with the backstop but under the current arrangements, the ECJ would retain a central role in disputes over goods being imported from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) to Northern Ireland.

Mr Howe told Express.co.uk: “The whole Northern Ireland protocol is under the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as if we were still a member state.

“But the difference is we have got no judge in the court, and the court owes its loyalty to the EU and has no interest in us as an ex-member.

“You can see them on any issue where supposing we say these steps are not reasonably needed to protect the EU’s single market, they are going to rule against us.

READ MORE: Bye bye Barnier! Chief negotiator on way out says Brexiteer

Mr Howe warned: “With their sacred single market, if there is a 0.1 percent chance of a produce travelling across the border, or getting on an aircraft at Belfast into Germany they will so that has to be stopped, you’ve got to take precautions, you’ve got to have quarantine as they cross the Irish Sea.

“These problems will get worse and worse over time.”

The ECJ – officially known as the Court of Justice of the European Union – is based in Luxembourg, having been established in 1952.

The EU’s website says: “The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all EU countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.

“It can also, in certain circumstances, be used by individuals, companies or organisations to take action against an EU institution, if they feel it has somehow infringed their rights.”

However, it has faced frequent criticisms rooted in the fact that it is an entirely eurocentric body, and therefore under no duty to be impartial when it comes to Brexit.

Writing in 2017 for the Policy Exchange think tank, German MEP Gunnar Beck, an expert in EU law who has taught at London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) since 2005, said: “It is almost totally unprecedented for a State which is a party to an international treaty to accept the jurisdiction of a court of the opposite party in adjudicating treaty provisions.

“Apart from the EU Treaties and the EEA agreement, one would have to go back to the treaties between various European powers and China in the 19th century, under which European citizens were subject to the jurisdiction of extra-territorial courts instead of Chinese jurisdiction.

“China rightly now condemns these arrangements as ‘unequal treaties’ imposed on them by gunboats.”

He added: “The ECJ was established at the same time as the EU (then the European Economic Community) to settle disputes between the EU’s institutions and its member states and to provide authoritative guidance on the interpretation of the EU Treaties and EU legislation.

“It has never discharged that function impartially.”



'Sheer madness!' Brexiteer lawyer issues dire ECJ warning – 'Will always rule against us'

Martin Howe QC, chairman of Lawyers for Britain, said it was “sheer madness” to allocate the ECJ a role – and suggested up to now there had been a “complete lack of understanding across the entire political world”. He was speaking as the row over Mr Johnson’s Internal Market Bill rumbled on, with Mr Johnson insisting the legislation, which would override some aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, was necessary to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Mr Howe was the only non-MP in the so-called “Star Chamber” charged with scrutinising Theresa May’s Brexit deal – and specifically the backstop plan for Northern Ireland – last year.

Despite then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s insistence to the contrary, the group concluded the proposals could not be ended without the agreement of the EU, with any disputes certain the end up in the ECJ.

The NI Protocol did away with the backstop but under the current arrangements, the ECJ would retain a central role in disputes over goods being imported from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) to Northern Ireland.

Mr Howe told Express.co.uk: “The whole Northern Ireland protocol is under the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as if we were still a member state.

“But the difference is we have got no judge in the court, and the court owes its loyalty to the EU and has no interest in us as an ex-member.

“You can see them on any issue where supposing we say these steps are not reasonably needed to protect the EU’s single market, they are going to rule against us.

READ MORE: Bye bye Barnier! Chief negotiator on way out says Brexiteer

Mr Howe warned: “With their sacred single market, if there is a 0.1 percent chance of a produce travelling across the border, or getting on an aircraft at Belfast into Germany they will so that has to be stopped, you’ve got to take precautions, you’ve got to have quarantine as they cross the Irish Sea.

“These problems will get worse and worse over time.”

The ECJ – officially known as the Court of Justice of the European Union – is based in Luxembourg, having been established in 1952.

The EU’s website says: “The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all EU countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.

“It can also, in certain circumstances, be used by individuals, companies or organisations to take action against an EU institution, if they feel it has somehow infringed their rights.”

However, it has faced frequent criticisms rooted in the fact that it is an entirely eurocentric body, and therefore under no duty to be impartial when it comes to Brexit.

Writing in 2017 for the Policy Exchange think tank, German MEP Gunnar Beck, an expert in EU law who has taught at London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) since 2005, said: “It is almost totally unprecedented for a State which is a party to an international treaty to accept the jurisdiction of a court of the opposite party in adjudicating treaty provisions.

“Apart from the EU Treaties and the EEA agreement, one would have to go back to the treaties between various European powers and China in the 19th century, under which European citizens were subject to the jurisdiction of extra-territorial courts instead of Chinese jurisdiction.

“China rightly now condemns these arrangements as ‘unequal treaties’ imposed on them by gunboats.”

He added: “The ECJ was established at the same time as the EU (then the European Economic Community) to settle disputes between the EU’s institutions and its member states and to provide authoritative guidance on the interpretation of the EU Treaties and EU legislation.

“It has never discharged that function impartially.”



Nicola Sturgeon crushed: Shetland Islands independence could be dire for SNP

Earlier this month, the Shetland Islands Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of looking into ways of obtaining financial and political independence from Scotland. Councillors voted 18 to two in favour of the motion seeking “financial and political self-determination”. Funding cuts and centralised decision-making by the Scottish National Party (SNP) were argued as reasons to explore independence.

Steven Coutts, the council leader, said “the status quo is not working” as “devolution and the Islands Act have not made any tangible difference to the quality of life”.

He added that the Scottish Parliament also feels “remote” to Shetland, which has a population of 23,000.

Plans intend to look into the option of Shetland being governed as a Crown Dependency, similar to Jersey and the Isle of Man, rather than becoming an independent nation.

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Ronald MacDonald, research professor of macroeconomics and international finance at Glasgow University’s Adam Smith Business School, claimed that their bid for independence would complicate things for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

If independence was obtained, the Shetland Islands would be able to retain the revenue from oil in their waters, negatively impacting Scotland’s finances.

However, Mr MacDonald noted that the economic consequences would not be the most crucial issue.

He said: “Oil is still significant but not as significant as it was 10 years ago, or as it was in 2014.

“It is going to continue to be less important going forward.

JUST IN: Boris Johnson’s solution to ‘level playing field’ impasse exposed

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon continues her own plans for a second Scottish independence referendum in the wake of Brexit.

Earlier this year, she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that she believed the SNP’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had been an example of “show don’t tell” for independence.

She claimed that support for Scotland leaving the UK had increased in recent months.



China FURY: Beijing punishes Australia signalling dire warning over trade – tensions soar

Shock figures from the Australian National University said Chinese investment had plunged from Aus$4.8 billion (£2.7 million) to just Aus$2.5 billion (£1.4 billion) last year. It was the third consecutive year that Chinese investment in Australia dropped since peaking at Aus$15.8 billion in 2016.

The steep fall far outpaced a global decline in China’s overseas ventures of 9.8 percent last year, reflecting the bilateral political tensions.

It comes after China’s state media condemned raids on the homes of Chinese journalists working in Australia.

China News Service said on Saturday that the raids “grossly violated the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media reporters stationed in Australia, and caused serious damage to the physical and mental health of journalists and their families.”

That followed similar comments by state-run Xinhua News Agency, which said late on Friday that the actions taken by Australian authorities were “utterly appalling” and damaged relations between the two countries.

 

At the same time, China’s state-backed tabloid Global Times claimed earlier this week that Australian authorities raided the homes of four Chinese journalists residing in the country in June.

Australia’s trade minister on Friday responded to the reports saying that security agencies had acted in accordance with the law, according to Reuters.

Relations between the two countries have become increasingly fraught over a host of issues ranging from Australian accusations of Chinese meddling in domestic affairs to trade disputes and calls by Canberra for an international enquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Canberra announced tougher measures to block or overturn new foreign investments deemed to compromise national security in June.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson warned Brexit Bill to put UK at risk with rogue states

But this move was widely viewed as an effort to limit growing Chinese influence.

The country has also barred Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from being a major player in its 5G rollout owing to concerns about its relationship with state security agencies, a decision that riled Beijing.

China, which is Australia’s biggest trade partner, has since imposed tariffs on Australian products from beef to barley and has discouraged Chinese students and tourists from heading down under.

Professor Peter Drysdale, who led the University economic research, said: “In the last few years, clearly Chinese investors have found the investment environment in Australia less certain and have been more cautious about undertaking investment in Australia.”

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The academic said structural changes were also partly to blame, with Chinese investors retreating from mining and resources as the commodity boom weakened.

Investment in Australian real estate and agriculture also fell in 2019 but “modest gains” were made in the construction, education and finance sectors.

Professor Drysdale said it was important for Australia to consider how to reverse the “continuing downward trend” due to the key role of foreign investment in supporting economic growth and trade.

He added: “Whether that can be changed quickly or not is another question altogether because it very much depends on how purposeful approach there is to mending the relationship between the two countries.”



Coronavirus map LIVE: New UK restrictions TODAY – Israel gives dire hint of what's next

People face fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the new measure, which applies to both indoor and outdoor settings and follows a rapid increase in the number of daily positive cases.

Regulations enabling the enforcement of the rule were published late on Sunday night, around 30 minutes before they came into effect.

More than 3,000 Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK for the third day in a row on Sunday – the first time since May that cases were above 3,000 on three consecutive days.

The new law comes amid concerns about an increase in cases in care homes and growing criticism of the NHS Test and Trace system.

Meanwhile, Israel will enter a three-week nationwide lockdown starting on Friday to contain the spread of the coronavirus after a second- wave surge of new cases.

During the lockdown, which comes during the Jewish high-holiday season, Israelis will have to stay within 500 metres of their houses, but can travel to workplaces that will be allowed to operate on a limited basis.

Schools and shopping malls will be closed but supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday: “I know those measures will exact a heavy price on us all, this is not the kind of holiday we are used to. And we certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families.”

FOLLOW BELOW FOR LIVE UPDATES:

7:45am update: Mass redundancies feared at end of Furlough scheme, Union warns

A trade union boss has warned that the end of the job retention scheme could trigger mass redundancies.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unemployment isn’t just miserable for families, it will hold back the economy, just at the time when if we are facing further spikes and lockdowns we need more support.

“We’ve put forward proposals to the Government for a job retention and upskilling scheme and I’m really appealing to the Chancellor to stand by working families and keep people at work.”

She described the furlough scheme as a success, stating it is “too soon to pull the plug”.

“The problem is if the Government doesn’t act now we could be facing mass unemployment and we know how much harm that does to the economy and how much more expensive it is in the long run.”



Falklands ticking time bomb: UK sent dire warning as political plot erupts in Argentina

Mrs Kirchner served two terms as the country’s President, from 2007 to 2011, and 2011 to 2015, having succeeded her husband, Nestor Kirchner, Argentina’s President from 2003 to 2007. A Peronist with a left-wing agenda, Mrs Kirchner has made no secret of her belief that the Falkland Islands, which Argentina refers to as the Malvinas, rightfully belong to her country. In 2012 she proclaimed: “I am a Malvinist president.

“It is an injustice that a colonialist enclave still exists a few hundred kilometres from our shores in the 21st century.

“It is absurd to pretend dominion 8,000 miles overseas.”

A source with knowledge of the situation told Express.co.uk it was “entirely reasonable” to conclude that Mrs Kirchner was probably more powerful than Mr Fernandez, who was elected, with her at his side, last year.

Boris Johnson Cristina Kirchner

Boris Johnson and Argentinian Vice-President – and former President – Cristina Kirchner (Image: GETTY)

Alberto Fernandez Cristina Kirchner

Cristina Kirchner is more powerful than Alberto Fernandez, the source suggested (Image: GETTY)

The source added: “It’s true that she and her branch of the Peronist movement are particularly hard line over the Falklands issue too.

“The governor of the province of Tierra del Fuego, Gustavo Melella, is also a ‘Kirchnerist’, and very hard line over the Falklands – and in Tierra Del Fuego they claim the absurdity that the Falklands are part of their province.”

Considering the reasons why Mrs Kirchner, whose husband died in 2010, and whose son Maximo is also a member of the Argentinian Congress, remained so influential, the source explained: “Unlike most vice-presidents she brought a huge number of votes to their joint campaign in the presidential elections.

READ MORE: Brexit gamble – Boris taking massive risk with deadline, warns Curtice

Alberto Fernandez

Alberto Fernandez (Image: GETTY)

“So she was always going to be influential.

“And it’s no secret that she would like to be president again – and she will be if Fernandez gives up.

“But I think people are surprised at the way she has already become so powerful.”

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Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, pictured outside Downing Street in 1982 during the Falklands War (Image: GETTY)

Daniel Filmus

Daniel Filmus, Argentina’s Secretary of Malvinas, Antarctica and South Atlantic (Image: GETTY)

By contrast, Mr Fernandez is under pressure, with his slump in the polls fuelled by a stagnant economy made worse by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The source said: “In the meantime Vice-president Cristina de Kirchner is calling many of the shots – but keeping a low profile.

“So Fernandez gets the blame rather than her. There are cartoons of him as her pet dog.

“If Alberto Fernandez gives up, Cristina de Kirchner will become president – and there is a rumour that this might have been planned from the moment when those two agreed to run together in the presidential election year.

“Then the Kirchners will be in charge again. That would mean extreme left-wing policies, endless problems in Argentina – and heavy pressure on the Falklands.”

Mr Fernandez’s election has resulted in a renewed sovereignty push from Argentina in respect of the remote archipelago, which lies 400 miles off the South American country’s eastern coast.

Falklands factfile

Falklands factfile (Image: Express)

In July, Argentina’s Senate backed two bills sent by President Alberto Fernandez reasserting its claim to the British overseas territory in a move widely regarded as testing the UK’s resolve.

The first bill created a body entitled the National Council of Affairs Relating to the Malvinas, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime spaces.

The second aimed to establish definitive outer limits of the continental shelf, beyond 200 miles, a precursor to likely oil exploration projects.

Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are a British overseas territory (Image: GETTY)

Daniel Filmus, Argentina’s Secretary of Malvinas, Antarctica and South Atlantic, himself a close ally of Mrs Kirchner, and an admirer of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said: “It is of enormous importance that all parliamentary blocks agree that it is necessary that the Malvinas issue becomes a true State policy.”

The Falkland Islands are a British overseas territory.

Argentina launched an invasion in 1982, prompting then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sending a task force to the South Atlantic, where they fought a successful 10-week war of liberation.



Scotland economy crisis: Scots face council tax rises of upto 50% – dire warning to SNP

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has urged Holyrood to give more powers to local councils to set taxes. It also asks to remove the cap for the rate of council tax which councils can set – this currently sits at three percent.

The demands are part of a new Blueprint for Local Government document launched by COSLA today.

The organisation highlighted the role of local authorities in response to the coronavirus pandemic and warned without “proper resourcing” cuts to council services are inevitable, risking the country’s recovery from the virus.

It also calls for a commitment to “fair funding” including funding for health and social care which “accounts for our new financial realities” and reversing ring-fencing of cash for children’s services and education.

COSLA said £500m of additional funding would be needed to help prop up Scottish councils as authorities warn they face “devastating” financial black holes.

The blueprint document added the lack of funding has “immediate and long-term implications for Local Government’s ability to both manage the financial impacts of COVID-19 and continue to deliver essential services.”

“That is why fair funding for Local Government must be a central priority for Scotland,” it added.

Councillor Graham Houston, Vice President of COSLA, said: “Scottish local government must be further empowered to bring about the change we now need.

“The financial impacts of COVID-19 have been severe and have placed extreme pressure on already strained council budgets and on our workforce.

READ MORE: EU shuts down Nicola Sturgeon plot after SNP Brexit alarm bells ring

“Council tax legislation…should be amended to allow a financial deficit, attributed to COVID-19, to be repaid over a period of time significantly in excess of one year,” it added.

Government figures also suggested Scottish Councils had suffered a decade of underfunding with as much as £898.8m cut from non-ring fenced revenue budgets in real terms since 2013/2014 alone. 

Scottish Labour local government spokesperson Sarah Boyack said the Scottish Government should open cross-party talks on how to empower Scotland’s councils with “immediate effect”.

The MSP said: “The reality is that we’ve seen the damaging impact of increasing centralisation and underfunding of local government by the Scottish Government during the SNP’s time in power.

“Local government needs to be empowered not micro-managed.

“The Blueprint presented by COSLA offers the chance for a cross-party agreement that our councils need to be empowered with fair funding, long term certainty and more powers to make the decisions our communities need.

“It is time for the SNP to enter into dialogue with COSLA and other parties to ensure that the micro-managing and cuts to councils end.”

In response to the concerns, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have taken exceptional measures in every area of government as we deal with the challenges of COVID-19 and that is particularly clear in our support for local services.

“To date, the Scottish Government has committed £379 million of additional funding to local government for COVID-19 measures, on top of the local government finance settlement of £11.4 billion from this year’s budget.”

She said the government will continue to work with COSLA and councils, as well as pressing the UK Government for additional funding.

She added: “Both the level and the distribution of funding to local authorities is the subject of continuous discussion between the Scottish Government and COSLA.

“Local authorities are autonomous bodies, and it is the responsibility of individual councils to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities, having first fulfilled their statutory obligations and the jointly agreed set of national and local priorities.”



EU coronavirus crisis: Brussels WAY behind UK in vaccine race – dire figures released

Scientists believe approval of COVID-19 vaccines is getting closer and governments are already buying up millions of doses from manufacturers. But an investigation by German newspaper Welt am Sonntag found Germany and the EU were significantly behind Britain and the US in securing sufficient supplies.

It said the US had secured 800 million vaccine doses from six different manufacturers under preliminary contracts with an option for a further 1.4 billion at a later date.

The UK has also signed contracts with six manufacturers for 340 million doses of vaccine to give it a higher per capita quota than any other industrial nation.

In contrast, the European Commission has so far only signed a framework agreement with the British-Swedish group Astra Zeneca for 300 million vaccine doses, with an option for a further 100 million for the EU’s 446 million citizens across the 27 member states.

A Commission spokesman said: “We have already signed an agreement with Astra Zeneca and are working on all fronts to achieve the same with other companies with whom we have already concluded exploratory talks.”

The number of vaccine doses each EU country can buy under these contracts is based on a population key so Germany should have contractually guaranteed access to around 56 million of the doses already promised by Astra Zeneca.

But Berlin has admitted it still remains unclear how the vaccine will be distributed in Germany.

A spokesman for the country’s ministry of health said: “The approval of a vaccine does not yet mean that it will immediately be available for the entire population.”

READ MORE:Coronavirus map LIVE: Huge crowds gather as China shows off vaccine 

Berlin’s Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) said it was working on a recommendation as the basis for a nationwide vaccination programme but according to the Robert Koch Institute there is no specific schedule for the release.

The global scramble to secure enough of the planned vaccines comes as World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned “vaccine nationalism” would slow the effort to end the coronavirus pandemic and called for vaccines to be used fairly and effectively.

Dr Tedros said 78 high-income countries had now joined the “COVAX” global vaccine allocation plan, bringing the total to 170 countries, and the “number is growing”.

He urged others to join by the September 18 deadline for binding commitments.

Dr Tedros said: “Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it.

“If and when we have an effective vaccine, we must also use it effectively.

“In other words, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries.”

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said: “Certainly by the middle of 2021 we should start to see some vaccines actually moving into countries and populations.”

More than 27.19 million people have been reported to be infected by coronavirus around the world with the global death toll standing at 888,326.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)



China threat: MP's dire warning as he fears showdown 'The gloves are off'

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of Parliament’s Defence Select Committee, was speaking the day after Beijing ordered the United States to cease all communications with Taiwan, further raising tensions in the region still further. He told Express.co.uk: “I think the gloves have come off.

“I think it is very clear now that China is not maturing into this responsible, global stakeholder that we hoped they would be.”

Mr Ellwood, who is also a member of Parliament’s China Research Group, added: “They are now an economic powerhouse following their own rules.

“What we saw in Hong Kong is just a wake-up call for what we should anticipate happening in Taiwan if we ignore their advances.”

Earlier this week, the United States said it was establishing a new bilateral economic dialogue with Taiwan aimed at strengthening ties with Taipei and supporting it in the face of increasing pressure from Beijing.

Washington said it had also declassified six Reagan-era security assurances given to Taiwan, a move widely interpreted as being aimed at demonstrating solidarity with the island.

The announcements come at a time of increasingly belligerent Chinese rhetoric in relation to Taiwan, with relations between Washington and Beijing at a low ebb.

JUST IN: ‘Always Britain bad, Brussels good’ Tory’s savage attack on Sturgeon

She also urged US President Donald Trump to abide by the one-China principle, referring to the doctrine than Taiwan and Hong Kong are part of China’s territory.

She told reporters yesterday: “The one-China principle is the political basis and fundamental precondition for the establishment and development of China-US diplomatic ties.

“We urge the United States to abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US joint communiques, to stop lifting its substantial relationship with Taiwan and to cease any forms of official contact with Taiwan, so as not stray further down an erroneous path.”

Milos Vystrcil, speaker of the Czech Republic’s Senate, further riled Beijing yesterday during his visit to Taiwan by invoking the spirit of former US President John Kennedy, who famously declared: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Addressing Taiwan’s parliament, Mr Vystrcil, who is leading a delegation of about 90 politicians and business executives, said: “Please let me also express in person my support to Taiwan and the ultimate value of freedom and conclude today’s speech with perhaps a more humble, but equally strong statement: ‘I am a Taiwanese’.”

Meanwhile, a Pentagon report yesterday suggested China would double its arsenal of nuclear weapons by the end of the decade.

Analysts also believe Beijing is close to completing the nuclear triad, whereby it will be able to launch nuclear weapons by land, air and sea.

Up to now, the nation has only been able to deploy the latter two methods – but it is now developing a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile.

Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, told reporters: “We’re certainly concerned about the numbers but also just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large.”



Task force reports show dire reality despite Trump's positive messaging


The House Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus on Monday published eight weeks’ worth of state reports compiled by the White House task force.

The task force releases these reports each week to governors’ offices for their respective states, and has previously declined to make them publicly available or confirm the authenticity of any of the data reported. There had been some discussion on a call with governors earlier this month, audio of which was obtained by CNN, about making some of the data publicly accessible in real time, but that has yet to happen.

“Rather than being straight with the American people and creating a national plan to fix the problem, the President and his enablers kept these alarming reports private while publicly downplaying the threat to millions of Americans,” subcommittee Chairman James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said in a statement.

The most recent of the eight reports released by the subcommittee is dated August 9. Since then, the course of the pandemic has changed, improving in some places and getting worse in others.

The 459-page August 9 report has a section for each state, which includes extensive data on the state’s cases down to a county level, as well as detailed, private recommendations to state and local officials to slow the spread, including promoting social distancing and face coverings, implementing contact tracing, and closing bars and nightclubs in “red zone” states.

The “red zone” indicates there are more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population and/or test positivity is above 10%, per the task force’s definition. There were 20 states in the task force’s “red zone” as of August 9.

The “yellow zone” indicates between 10 and 100 new cases per 100,000 population and/or test positivity between 5 and 10%, per the task force’s definition. There were 28 states plus the District of Columbia in the “yellow zone.”

Just two states, Maine and Vermont, were in the green zones for test positivity and cases.

On the same day that report was released, Trump claimed that coronavirus cases were rising due to increased testing, which is disproven by the many states in the report with rising test positivity rates — meaning the proportion of people who test positive compared to negative, which can signal a burgeoning outbreak.

“Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!” he tweeted, going on to advocate for the reopening of schools in press conferences that week.

The more granular data in the report show how Trump has sought to spin good news and cherry-pick positive data.

“If you look at some of the states that had a flare up recently, they’re all doing very well. Florida is going down rapidly. I want to give a lot of credit to the governors. Florida is going down, and Arizona is going down, way down. They’ve done a fantastic job,” Trump said during an August 12 briefing.

It is true that Florida and Arizona had seen a decrease in new cases and test positivity that week. But both states were still experiencing significant spread and were in the “red zone” for cases and test positivity in the August 9 report. The report recommended measures in Florida such as “consider a statewide mask mandate for counties with 50 or more active cases,” “ensure messaging to all citizens to limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people even within families,” and “expand testing capacity in public health labs… to reduce turnaround times.”

“Many locations are really in fantastic shape, some with very little, if any, problem. Large portions of the United States,” Trump said at that August 12 briefing.

Just one of the previous reports had been made public, the July 14 report, which was obtained by journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity. That report showed 18 states in the “red zone” and called for the rolling back of reopenings, including the closing of bars and gyms in many places.

The White House is lambasting the subcommittee’s decision to release the reports.

“In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, some members of Congress have chosen to irresponsibly issue a partisan report completely for the purpose of falsely distorting the President’s record to protect the health and safety of the American people and save millions of lives,” deputy press secretary Judd Deere told CNN in a statement.

“The Coronavirus Task Force has been providing tailored recommendations to individual states for months encouraging Governors and local health officials to act immediately while at the same time President Trump and the entire administration has reminded Americans to follow CDC recommendations and best practices to slow the spread as we work to reopen,” Deere added.

This story has been updated with response from the White House.

CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.