Vaping deaths: 6 people have died from an unknown illness ‘linked to e-cigarettes’ – but no one is sure why

A sixth person has died from an outbreak of lung disease linked to vaping in the United States, as hundreds of cases of the illness have been reported across the country.

The victim, a woman from Kansas over the age of 50, had a series of underlying health issues but became seriously ill after using e-cigarettes, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed on Tuesday. The patient, who has not been named, was hospitalised with symptoms that progressed rapidly.

“She had some underlying medical illnesses, but nothing that would have foretold the fact that within a week after starting using e-cigarettes for the first time, she developed full-blown acute respiratory distress syndrome and died,” Dr Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, told NBC News.

In what is becoming a national issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said 450 possible cases of lung disease related to vaping have been reported across 33 states and the US Virgin Islands. As many as six cases nationwide have ended in death, including the now confirmed Kansas death.

Chemical exposure

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo, a high school principal displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students at the school in Massachusetts. On Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, the Vapor Technology Association filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to delay a review of electronic cigarettes. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes (Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Patients are coming into hospitals with coughs, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and vomiting. Many of the reports involve severe, life-threatening illnesses in previously healthy people, with many patients receiving oxygen, and some needing to be put on breathing machines before they recovered. Antibiotics didn’t work, and it’s not clear yet whether steroid drugs helped those affected.

The CDC says no evidence of infectious diseases have been identified, meaning the illnesses are likely associated with chemical exposure.

It says no specific substance or product has been linked to all cases, though many cases involve people who reported vaping THC, marijuana’s high-inducing chemical. Health officials said they do not have detailed information on what specific e-cigarette products were used by the deceased patient in Kansas.

Public health officials in the US are attempting to understand the developing epidemic, with the CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state health departments making investigations into the illness.

“It is time to stop vaping,” Dr Norman said in a statement. “If you or a loved one is vaping, please stop. The recent deaths across our country, combined with hundreds of reported lung injury cases continue to intensify.”

A US problem?

US government agencies and state officials are investigating the issue (Photo: Getty)

Advice from experts in the US is to avoid vaping until investigations are complete, however Public Health England (PHE) told that users should use UK-regulated e-liquids as, to its knowledge, many of the US-cases were related to homemade or illicit substances.

According to the NHS, an estimated 2.9 million adults in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes and of these, 1.5 million people have completely stopped smoking cigarettes.

The recent wave of illness and deaths has mostly been concentrated in the US, with the other five deaths confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon, with all smoking either nicotine, cannabinoid-based products or a combination of the two.

Last month, a patient death in the US was the first to be linked to vaping, as the CDC said the Illinois-based individual was suffering from pulmonary illness from the use of e-cigarettes.

UK products ‘tightly regulated’

Last year the British Medical Journal reported a woman was hospitalised for respiratory failure related to smoking an e-cigarette.

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E-cigarettes ‘damage lungs and heighten risk of infection’

Regulation around vaping ingredients is fairly strict in the UK. One example of this is the ingredient diacetyl, which gives a buttery-flavour in vaping liquids – very high levels of exposure of the substance has been associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans, but it has been banned in the UK since 2016.

Martin Dockrell, Head of Tobacco Control at PHE told i: “A full investigation is not yet available but we’ve heard reports that most of these [US] cases were linked to people using illicit vaping fluid bought on the streets or homemade, some containing cannabis products, like THC, or synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice.

“Unlike the US, all e-cigarette products in the UK are tightly regulated for quality and safety by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and they operate the Yellow Card Scheme, encouraging vapers to report any bad experiences.

“Our advice remains that e-cigarettes are a fraction of the risk of smoking, and using one makes it much more likely you’ll quit successfully than relying on willpower alone. But it’s important to use UK-regulated e-liquids and never risk vaping home-made or illicit e-liquids or adding substances, any of which could be harmful.”

Investigation into Vitamin E

Advice from PHE is to continue only smoking UK-regulated e-cigarettes (Photo: Getty)

Health officials have no definitive answer as to why these illnesses and deaths are happening and are looking into whether this is a result of heavy usage or harmful ingredients in vaping liquids.

Last week, the New York health state department confirmed that vitamin E was “a key focus of the Department’s investigation of potential causes of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses”. The ingredient, Vitamin E acetate, which recently has been used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges, was shown to be in very high levels in nearly all cannabis vaping samples but not in the nicotine samples during the investigation.

Suppliers say it dilutes vape oils without making them look watery. Vitamin E is not known to cause harm when ingested or applied to skin, but the department is examining its impacts when inhaled.

New York officials are issuing subpoenas to three companies that sell vaping additives made from vitamin E acetate. The state wants to know more about the ingredients, the quality of the raw materials, any safety testing performed, sales of the products during the past three years and what other additives the companies sell.

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Ben Roback: A lesson from Bolton’s departure. With this President, it’s personality, not policy, that counts – his own.

As the yellow Sky News ticker flashed up yesterday announcing John Bolton’s departure from the White House, a colleague said something that seemed remarkable: “Donald Trump hasn’t made news in ages”.

t wasn’t a reflection of a period of relative calm in the United States – far from it – but more of a recognition that our own parliamentary shenanigans have overtaken the political theatre usually dominated by Trump. Not that we’re keeping scores, but at least the political chicanery in Westminster has been driven by politics and technical process. In Washington, President Trump caused controversy when he changed the forecast of a hurricane’s impact with a black sharpie (see above)

Bolton’s firing should not have come as a surprise. Trump was reportedly furious with him after he disapproved of the White House’s plans to host the Taliban for peace talks at Camp David. So Trump took to Twitter – naturally – to announce that he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration”.

It has not even been 24 hours since the Bolton departure was announced, but already plenty of ink has been spilled analysing ‘what this means for X’. In truth, it is difficult to assess the implications of Bolton’s departure on US foreign policy. The Times of Israel’s analysis of what the departure means for the country, whilst excellent, begins by saying: ‘while a major change in US policy doesn’t appear to be in the offing’ – reflecting the fact that a change in personnel in this White House does not always result in a significant swing in policy.

Instead, Bolton’s leaving is yet another chapter in the never-ending book of who’s up and who’s down in Trump’s inner circle. It further proves that, when faced with honest disagreement, the President relies on his own self-belief and opinions at the expense of any notion of loyalty or challenge.

From a policy perspective, Bolton was a hawkish foreign policy adviser whose appointment came as a surprise, given his divergence with Trump on the role of the USA on the global stage. It was never clear how Bolton’s gung-ho interventionist approach would play during this ‘America First’ presidency. Bolton pursued a deeply hard-line agenda on Venezuela, North Korea and – most notably – Iran.

In the past he had called for the bombing of the country, hence Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s President, responding to the news by saying the US should put “warmongers aside”. But having pulled out of the Iran deal last year and significantly ratcheted up pressure on Iran with Bolton by his side, there is no suggestion Trump will now preside over a cooling of tensions in the region, even without the advice of Bolton.

Instead, we are more likely to see the president double down on his deeply personal approach to foreign policy. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, described how “the president has unlimited and totally misplaced confidence in summitry and in the power of his personality”.

On high stakes relations with the likes of North Korea, Iran, China and Afghanistan, there will be one less dissenting voice urging the President to put his faith in his negotiating teams as opposed to his own personal relationships with presidents, prime ministers and dictators.

Foreign and defence policy have been the areas with the most churn when it comes to personnel during Trump’s tenure. There is no sign of this stopping any time soon. Trump will announce a new National Security Adviser in the next week, becoming the first president to have four such advisers in his first term. With the presidential election not taking place until November 2020, your columnist bets he will become the first president to have a fifth and sixth too.

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Hairy Bikers Route 66: what time it’s on BBC Two tonight, and where Dave Myers and Si King visit

Si King and Dave Myers are back with another show full of accessible and delicious culinary flavours as they embark on a life-long ambition to ride their bikes on one of the world’s most iconic road trips.
The Hairy Biker duo will take on America’s Routed 66, a 2,000-mile trail of tarmac that travels form Chicago to California.
The pair will explore the different sights, sounds and tastes of America past and present as they go, meeting local cultures and communities as they go and sampling several delicacies.
Here’s everything you need to know about it.

When will the new Hairy Bikers show be on?

The first episode of the new six-part series will air on BBC Two on 12 September at 8pm to 9pm.

The next episodes will follow that format every Thursday at the same time.

Where will they stop off at?

Expect the bikers to park up all along the famous route through the heart of the States. From Chicago to St Louis, from Native American tribes to new immigrant communities, they visit a varied cross-section of cultures.

Si King, Dave Myers Monument Valley, Arizona-Utah Border
The Hairy Bikers in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah Border (Photo: BBC)

They head to Texas to work with cowboys, drive through the prairies of Oklahoma, traverse the 50+ degrees Celsius Mojave Desert and swoop into Monument Valley.

They end in Los Angeles where they come face to face with some of the newer, healthier, and not so healthy food trends in town.

What can we expect from the first episode of the series?

The adventure starts on the road from Chicago, which attracted migrant workers from all over the world to its meatpacking industry.

Read more:

The Hairy Bikers dish the cold, hard truth of living with obesity: ‘They couldn’t see our organs’

Great British classics: Three delicious new recipes from The Hairy Bikers

The Hairy Bikers on going on tour, their love of AC/DC and why Swedish meatballs count as a British classic

As a result, the local dishes of the city are seriously diverse, and the bikers tuck into everything from hickory-smoked BBQ meat to a soggy Italian beef sub that sees the two adopt a position to avoid dropping bits of it onto their clean boots.

They then head down through to a small town part of America where they enjoy some retro entertainment by the side of the road before sampling a championship-winning apple pie.

The pair receive an invitation to cook with the Amish community too and learn about their technology-free way of life.

Finally, the bikers cross the Mississippi river into Missouri, where they head on to the city of St Louis. There they try out a local delicacy, Ted Drewes’ “concrete custard”, a rich, thick slab of pudding that is served upside down.

The end with the tale of the more recent migration of the town’s Bosnian community.

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Walmart to stop selling ammunition for handguns across US following string of mass shootings in stores

American retail giant Walmart has said it will stop selling ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in all its stores across the United States, and called for action on gun safety after a string of mass shootings, including at Walmart stores in Texas and Mississippi.

Walmart also called for a strengthening of background checks for gun buyers and action to take guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk of violence, which was followed by an almost identical message from grocery operator Kroger.

Both Walmart and Kroger, which exited the firearms and ammunition business last year when its Fred Meyer unit stopped such sales, said they are now asking customers not to bring guns into their stores, even when allowed by local laws.

The two retailers are among a growing number of US companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, that are responding to the debate over guns and gun safety as mass shootings have proliferated, risking backlash from powerful gun owners’ groups while elected leaders consider options.

‘No longer comfortable with the status quo’

“It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable,” Walmart‘s chief executive Doug McMillon, said in a letter to employees. “As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same.”

Walmart El Paso shooting
Members of the Soto family embrace beside a makeshift memorial after the shooting that left 22 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall WalMart in El Paso, Texas (Photo: Getty)

Kroger, in a statement from corporate affairs vice president Jessica Adelman, spoke about “the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and who are advocating for concrete and common sense gun reforms”.

Kroger said it was “joining those encouraging our elected leaders to pass laws” on background checks and keeping firearms out of the hands of those at risk for violence.

McMillon said Walmart‘s decision follows his visit to El Paso, Texas, on 6 Aug, three days after a gunman went on a rampage at a Walmart store there, killing 22 people.  

With additional reporting from Reuters

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Ryan Bourne: In America, public spending conservatism is being lost. It could happen in Britain.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Austerity is over. Theresa May told us so after the 2017 election, and again at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Philip Hammond tried restraining her from a blitz of high-profile spending announcements. Yet Team Johnson has now picked up the baton anyway. The spending review due today from Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm significant money injections for schools, hospitals and the police. The Prime Minister said Monday it will be “the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.”

Restraining government spending was always said to be a temporary deficit repair tool, of course. Those “tough choices,” added to net tax hikes, have helped bring down the budget deficit to just 1.3 per cent of GDP, from a gargantuan 9.9 per cent in 2010. Once near-balance, a spending squeeze was never envisaged to continue year after year. Despite Nick Timothy’s fear of libertarians under the bed, no recent Conservative leader has been ideologically committed to shrink the size and scope of government. Absent “thinking the unthinkable,” one eventually must release the spending grip given voter demands for high-quality services.

And yet…the zeal with which the Tories have turned heel on their spending narrative is surprising. Whatever one’s view on the efficacy or composition of “cuts”, they were central to the party’s offer through 2016, including the 2015 election win. Balancing the books was said to be about unburdening the next generation from dumping more debt on top of the iceberg associated with an ageing population. Any intergenerational justice message has now gone the way of the Titanic.

For the Government is not promising gradual targeted spending increases in these areas – a natural uplift from a reset baseline after years of restraint. No, proposed hikes in education funding would virtually reverse any real schools’ spending cuts over the past decade. May’s extra money for the NHS is a big step-change too. The spending review is celebrated as the “biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour,” no less – a far cry from denouncing that era’s profligacy. In one swoop, the Treasury has undercut its long-held opposition to raising borrowing and junked the idea that public service reform trumps showering public services with money.

Javid attempts to thread the needle by arguing that more spending is still consistent with keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio on a shallow downward path. That maybe true. But a stated goal of policy was always to balance the books overall, even if George Osborne and David Cameron continually pushed back the deadline. A former Treasury fiscal policy director now says that borrowing will in fact start rising again, and soon be above two per cent of GDP. Manageable, yes – but a clear change in direction.

The public discourse effects of this reversal should worry fiscal conservatives. Cameron and Osborne’s consistent messaging helped entrench two crucial contours in discussions about government spending. First, that there was no free lunch (every Labour proposal for years was met with the question “how will you pay for it?”) Second, that what you did with the money (the organisation of public services) was as important as spending levels. After years of Tony Blair’s money throwing, the public were receptive to such apparently grown-up thinking. Now, both those claims-cum-restraints that ensnared Labour have been removed.

If large, real increases in education funding are synonymous with better schools, as Tories imply, Labour can coherently ask “why did you cut real funding beforehand?” Such corrective spending hikes look an admission of a past mistake. Doubly so if funded through borrowing that was previously considered intolerable.

Couching this as “an end to austerity” brings similar peril. These particular decisions don’t imply “we are going to return to affordable spending increases consistent with a low deficit.” If large spending hikes for education are seen as reversing austerity, then obvious questions arise: what about local authority funding? Prisons? Criminal justice? Have these not suffered more from the pain you admit was damaging?

Of course, Brexit is the important context here. It is sucking oxygen from normal economic debates – one reason why the logjam needs to be broken. A slowing economy, induced in part by uncertainty, means an obsessive near-term public finance focus is probably unwise. The very process of extrication requires budget flexibility, not least because the underlying public finances could look very different when future trade relations crystallise.

But all this would be a case for relaxing or suspending fiscal targets through the choppy Brexit seas, not bold new announcements.

No, it’s difficult not to conclude there’s not something bigger happening here. Much of the party has embraced a simplistic “left behind” narrative of the Brexit vote – that it was a cry for investment in public services. They are egged on by former government advisors, armed with polling, who see an opportunity to steer the party towards a “bigger government” vision for the party they’ve always spoiled for.

Academic evidence in fact shows new Brexit voters affiliating with the Tories quickly adopt traditional Tory views on other issues. There’s no need to pander. Yet when you see John Redwood railing against austerity, you realise how strong this view about the changing party voter base has set.

Whether Johnson shares that interpretation is less clear. Perhaps he sees funding boosts now in three major non-Brexit policy areas as short-term deck clearing before an election. Polling strength from these “good news stories” might even firm up pressure on the EU and rebel MPs on his central task. If it helps finally deliver Brexit, many of us will accept fiscal jam tomorrow.

I want to believe this, but the noises aren’t encouraging. And living in the US, where Republicans have gone from a Tea Party anti-spending force to delivering unprecedented deficits for peacetime, in just a decade, I’ve observed just how easily spending conservatism is lost.

Here, it started with big spending increases on priorities too. Republicans cut taxes, yes, but huge cash increases for defence were delivered, greased by money for some Democrat priorities. Once that dam opened though, the money poured. July’s budget deal threw off the last vestiges of spending caps delivered by the Tea Party Congress. Promises of Republican spending restraint in Donald Trump’s potential second term ring as hollow as claims he’s using tariffs as a path to freer trade.

Here’s the worrying consequence. As US conservatives have learned to love deficits, or at least use them, the left’s spending demands have only gotten more extreme. With constraints stripped away, Democratic Presidential candidates feel liberated to propose mammoth programmes and spending hikes – the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, universal childcare and more. When asked how the country can afford this, they point out to the red ink spilled for Republican priorities. There is no answer.

UK Conservatives are far from the Republican point of no return on spending, as yet. But the mood music has changed dramatically. America shows that when conservatives abandon spending constraint, they legitimise the left’s spending wild demands, to taxpayers’ detriment.

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Hard seltzers: Why everyone’s about to start drinking alcoholic water on the train

Americans have been getting drunk on water for some time. In the US, alcohol-spiked H20 has been fizzing away all summer, with brands such as White Claw, Truly, and Pura capitalising on the appeal of low-calorie drinking.

What’s a hard selzter? Water with alcohol mixed in. That’s it. That’s the recipe. Although there are fruit flavourings too, nearly always “natural”, and most – Pura is a notable exception – come lightly sparkling. The booze might come by way of fermented cane sugar, or it might be derived from malted barley. Either way, expect 4-6 per cent ABV, a subtle taste, and the same sort of drinking experience as a vodka and soda with a generous(ish) squeeze of citrus.

“They go down super easily and then suddenly I’m drunk,” a 30-year-old advertising creative from Brooklyn told W Magazine.

“They’re also great for the beach… I fully acknowledge being basic when I drink them. They’re also good mixers, I like adding tequila to mine.”

Sales boom

Hard seltzers UK
White Claw is the most popular brand in the US (Photo: White Claw/Instagram)

There is clearly money to be made. The Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times are two US newspapers of many which have dubbed hard seltzer – as it is known over there – the beverage of 2019. Sales have grown some 200 per cent in the last 12 months, UBS analysts said, and the market is predicted to be worth $2.5 billion by 2021. Drinks experts have repeatedly said these watery spritzes are absolutely “not a fad”.

With such promising numbers it comes as no surprise that hard seltzers are finally making their way over to the UK. Summer might be drawing to a close in Britain, but that isn’t any real concern: we still have trains to catch and parties to attend.

The first US import is expected to be White Claw, as reported by The Grocer. The brand has established itself as a hard seltzer juggernaut, accounting for 54 per cent of US sales up to 6 July. Importantly, it has Instagram squared off; the hard seltzer is by all accounts a distinctly millennial drink. But drinks expert Daniel Woolfson said any UK launch would be some way off. We really are still in uncharted territory with this boozy water.

While it might take more than a summer of good sales to give an American manufacturer the legs and confidence to enter the UK market, Swedish producer Koppaberg has jumped the gun. It launched Balans “aqua spritz” in Asda this year and is pushing to make a serviceable impact.

First UK brand

Hard seltzers UK
Balans launched in the UK in January (Photo: Balans)

The cans retail at £1.70 each (although at the time of writing, the Asda website lists them at an enticingly low £1 a pop; buy them before I do) and come in lime or mandarin. Both are light and refreshing and, thanks to a relatively low 4 per cent ABV, just 58 calories per 250ml. They are essentially a convenient vodka and soda (the least fattening drink going) but with flavourless, nondescript alcohol and a punch of citrus fruit. The brand’s Instagram feed looks every bit an American imitation: colour, happiness and sunglasses.

Low cost, low calories, and sleek little tins together make up a Holy Trinity of marketability. First, convenience. Britain knows all too well about the practicality and ease of such vehicles. Then there’s the price. Balans, at £1.70 for 250ml, might be a bargain. £1 for 250ml definitely is. US brands might prove a little more expensive if and when they arrive, but they won’t be any higher in price than M&S’ much-loved pre-mixed cocktails. If people aren’t turning up to festivals with tins of Smirnoff “spiked” next year, tweet me your complaints.

Luxury drinking

Hard seltzers UK
The drinks are ‘aspirational’ (Photo: Truly/Instagram)
Hard seltzers UK
Drinkable on a boat or in the woods (Photo: Pura/Instagram)

Finally, health. The aforementioned Smirnoff variety, which comes in cranberry and lime, watermelon, and orange and mango, is 4.5 per cent ABV and 90 calories per 350ml. It’s also “crafted to remove gluten”. Elsewhere on the board is Pura, which is still, not sparkling, and looks like something you might buy from a vending machine after 30 minutes on the treadmill; and Truly, which, largely down to its Sicilian blood orange and grapefruit and pomelo flavours, is upmarket, no question. It is 5 per cent ABV and yet only 100 calories a bottle.

Drinks writer Kate Hawkings said that she was intrigued by what is probably an emerging trend. She told i: “People are watching calories in drinks more and more. I haven’t come across these yet, but I can see them working here.

“Cans are convenient and popular, so if they taste alright, I’m sure there’ll be a market. They won’t be for everyone, but then no drink is.”

It might be premature to also delve beyond hard seltzer’s commercial credentials in the UK. But, impressionable as we are, there’s also been plenty of talk about the drink’s gender neutrality, even macho aesthetic; that it is sold as a lifestyle more than a way to get that summertime buzz.

Eater argued the beverage is designed to be enjoyed at concerts, beaches, and while boating. “The fact that it’s considered more upscale than other malt liquor offerings (you can buy it at Whole Foods, for instance) helps sell it as aspirational,” said Amy McCarthy.

We in Britain may not greet the stuff with such a degree of nuance. It would be interesting to discover what the hangover’s like, how well it goes down at Ascot, and if it mixes well with Aperol and prosecco. Some sort of turbo spritz might be rewarding.

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Brexit, Johnson, Merkel, Macron – and 30 days in the wilderness

“We were also over-reliant on Angela Merkel, even after she showed us that she wasn’t as dependable a supporter as we might have wished,” wrote Daniel Korski, in his account of how David Cameron lost the EU referendum.  “She certainly seemed to take much more of a back seat during the final, crucial weeks of negotiations, giving advice, offering support and laying out red lines, but not getting too involved.”

An entire library could be assembled of stories claiming that Merkel would, at one time or another, come to the aid of a British Government during its to-and-fros with the European Union.  The claim is that Germany – as another pro-free trade, pro-American, pro-market economy country – is a natural UK ally.  But when push comes to shove, Merkel has stuck with France and the EU Commission.

Korski reminds his readers that she deserted Cameron over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the Commission’s President, to which she was originally opposed.   As with Cameron, so with Theresa May: as recently as February, the German Chancellor called for “creative” thinking on…yes, the Northern Ireland backstop.  “We can still use the time to perhaps reach an agreement if everyone shows good will,” she said.

And as with May so, now, with Boris Johnson.  Once again, Merkel has said that there is time to agree a deal – 30 days, to be precise.  “The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved,” she said on Wednesday, during a join press conference with the Prime Minister.  “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?”

Some have put that remark alongside Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that “the framework that has been negotiated by Michel Barnier that can be adapted,” and concluded that the EU is preparing to blink at the last moment, climb down on the backstop, and present Johnson with an amended Withdrawal Agreement – which will then at last pass through Parliament, thus bringing this chapter of the Brexit story to a close.

According to one version of events, the Prime Minister himself believes that such an outcome is still possible, while others in his top team don’t.  If so, the balance of the argument strongly suggests that they are right, for four main reasons.  First, the EU collectively takes its ideology seriously, and this demands sticking with the Withdrawal Agreement, or an agreement so like it as to make no difference.

Second, it must show Donald Trump, and the rest of the world, that if it takes a position on a major strategic issue, such as Brexit, it will hold to it.  Third, Germany and France must ultimately be sensitive to the concerns of smaller EU countries, of which one is in the Brexit front line: Ireland.  Fourth, they have reason to wait, along with the rest of the EU, to see if the Commons, when it returns in September, blocks Brexit yet again.

Finally, it is worth remembering that Merkel’s position is not as dominant as it was during the Cameron years; and even then, to quote Korski once again, she was prone to “not getting too involved”.  Seen in this light, Merkel and Macron’s words – which in any event must be considered in the context of everything else they said – look more like more gambits in a blame game than a genuine change of heart.

Johnson wants to signal that he’s up for a deal: that was the point of his visits before this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz.  Macron and Merkel do, too: hence their hints of flexibility.  But the sum of the evidence is that “nothing has changed”.  In any event, it is far from certain that even a revised Withdrawal Agreement would get through Parliament.  That would require a Bill, which would of course be amendable, and time is very short.

If the EU had prized mutual gain over protecting its project, it wouldn’t have insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement precede trade talks.  Perhaps there will be a last minute shift after all, if Johnson can demonstrate that Parliament cannot stop the No Deal Brexit that his Government is actively preparing for: the European Council will meet on October 17.  But it appears that all concerned are now bracing for No Deal.

Some in Number Ten are hopeful that, if it happens, the EU will go for mass mini-deals – and so oil the wheels of economic co-operation.  That would be a rational response to the threat of recession in Germany and elsewhere, and the hard border in Ireland that a No Deal Brexit would bring.  But the EU’s clinging to the backstop, despite its commitment to seek alternative arrangements by December next year, suggests that rationality is in short supply.

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Richard Short: Don’t fall for the scare stories. Chlorinated chicken would be good for you. It’s time to tuck in.

Richard Short is the Deputy Director of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists, and was Parliamentary Candidate for Warrington North in 2015.

So you think chlorinated food is going to ruin your health? If you have been to a restaurant and eaten the salad, then it’s too late, I’m afraid.

For EU Food safety rules demand that salads must be disinfected: this almost always means using chlorine and, trust me, even the highest-end restaurants do it. Quite right, too: it’s safe, very effective and it’s cheap. So if the EU is so demanding of our salads, why such a flap about giving the same treatment to chicken?

Chlorinated chicken has become the symbol of everything bad about trade with the United States – or indeed, any other country that treats chicken in this way, the reasons for which are many and varied. The anti-chlorine narrative is centred around food safety, with some commentators claiming the chlorine itself is harmful, which is simply untrue.

A more intelligent argument is that US welfare and abattoir standards for poultry are less strict, allowing higher density flocks which in turn, it is argued, leads to spread of pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella. The EU banned the use of chlorine in 1997, preferring a ‘farm to fork” approach to improve food safety. This approach places regulations on husbandry, feedstuffs, abattoir hygiene and food production – with more and more regulation creeping in over the years.

The US places its reliance on voluntary industry standards for husbandry, but has equally strict regulations for abattoirs. And it has food business standards which eclipse those of the EU – as anyone who has been in cross hairs of a United States Public Health Inspector will testify.

So who is doing better by the consumer? The clear winner is the United States – and we only need to look at the infection rate from one food poisoning bug to understand why. The most common worldwide pathogen present in chicken is the campylobacter bacteria. It exists in, on and around chicken and, while it causes the chicken no harm, it is the single highest cause of bacterial gastro-enteritis in the EU.

In the UK alone there has been a steady 50-60,000 cases annually reported. In the entire United States, by comparison, there were just over 6000 cases reported. In both countries, there are many unreported cases but, as both jurisdictions have well established and highly advanced public surveillance, the officially reported cases are an equivalent benchmark.

The EU’s intransigence on not allowing the chlorination of chicken is economically significant. Not only does it create an impasse in any trade negotiations with the US but, closer to home, it has a direct cost to the British economy in working days lost due to illness, with the associated costs to the NHS and social care.

The narrative of the Brexit debate has led to the chlorination of chicken becoming the antithesis of food safety. The irony is that, as well as the positive impact on food safety, the EU itself has publicly declared there are no food safety grounds to ban the process.

Yet it has been barred since the late twentieth century and, in doing so, the EU has banned the production of a safe, cheap source of meat for EU consumers. The sooner we start using chlorine, the faster we will see infection rates fall – and the sooner we’ll see hard pressed consumers more able to buy high quality, good value protein.

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James Arnell: The conventional wisdom about a trade deal with America is wrong. Trump will want a fair one. Here’s why.

James Arnell is a partner at Charterhouse. He writes in a personal capacity.

I disagree with most commentators who believe that the UK will get a raw deal in any US-UK trade negotiations after Brexit.

I do not underestimate the fickleness of Trump, nor the Irish-American lobby in Congress. I recognise the overwhelming weight of the US relative to the UK.  I know that the US looks after its interests and does no one any favours.

But I don’t think any of that will stop us agreeing a decent trade deal. I believe that the US has major strategic interests in a trade deal with the UK, and that it will decide not to use all the undeniable leverage it has to strike the toughest possible terms.  It will want to strike a fair deal.

The US is in “America First” mode.  Contrary to what most people seem to believe, I believe that means Trump, and the American people, wish to see a global trading system which it sees as fair from its perspective.  There are many senior American business people who believe that the renegotiation of NAFTA was long overdue, and who are throughly fed up with the uneven playing field between the US and China.

Yes, they worry about the effects of the US-China trade war on the US economy, but many of them believe that some fights just have to be had.  There is more patriotism in American business and much more business support for Trump’s China line than the media presents.

The opportunity to strike a trade deal with a long-term ally like the UK is timely.  Agreeing an even-handed trade deal sends a strong message: this is about fairness, not American economic bullying.  I am optimistic that the US, across the political spectrum, will support a fair deal with the UK, because I think that it has a very strong interest in sending that message.

And that is not all.

 

A thriving UK, in a comprehensive free trade relationship with the US, right on the periphery of the EU, will put massive pressure on it.  Other EU countries, fed up with the federal agenda of the EU, will look at the UK and wonder whether they too might be better free and able to strike their own trade relationships.  This threat to the EU will be eyed by the US as great leverage to force the EU into what the US would see as a fair trade deal.  They will want the UK to succeed in its deal with the US.  They won’t want to screw us – because that would make it far too easy for the EU to keep its trade barriers up.

The US’ leverage is greater if any UK-US trade deal is designed to be as close as possible to something the EU could, should and, ultimately, would accept.  There is no leverage in agreeing a deal which does not work for the UK and which certainly would not work for the EU, and the smart money in the US will know it.

Aside from its desire to show an openness to trade with partners who do not play the US for fools, and its desire to pressurise the EU, the US will also welcome a committed ally in the global struggle for a new trade order, binding the three big blocs (US, China, Europe) into a more open, more level world trade regime or, at least, binding the rest of the world into a trading system around an unreformed China.  That is the best chance of America remaining “First”.

At present, we are in the phase of pulling down the old system, which the US sees as rotten and against its own interests.  We should not confuse that with isolationism.  My firm belief is that the US will relish the opportunity to show the world what its new order should look like, by agreeing a sensible deal with the UK.

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A UK-US trade deal. Never mind the economics (at least for a moment). Feel the politics.

“While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit,” Dominic Walsh of Open Europe wrote recently on this site, “their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise.” This is the place to start when considering a possible UK-US agreement on trade.  Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for one is as much political as economic: a successful deal would show Britain, as it moves a bit further from the EU, also moving a bit closer to America.

Such a rebalancing is a strategic consequence of Brexit, at least in the eyes of many backers of leaving the EU.  Future trade deals were a Vote Leave EU referendum priority – though it may be significant that the United States was not one of the headline countries named.  Perhaps the reason was a wariness of anti-American sentiment among a section of the voting public.  None the less, the prospect of a trade agreement with the United States was mooted during the 2016 campaign: hence Barack Obama’s line, written for him by Team Cameron, of Britain being “at the back of the queue” for such a deal.

The obstacles to one are formidable.  For while the Prime Minister is bound to view it through the lens of politics, Donald Trump is more likely to do through that of economics – though the one admittedly tends to blur into the other.  America’s approach to such matters as food safety and animal welfare, environmental protection and intellectual property rights is different from ours in any event.  Never mind the red herring of chlorinated chickens – so to speak – or autopilot claims from Corbynistas about NHS selloffs. The real action is elsewhere.  The United States has long had a protectionist streak, and is resistant to opening up its financial services markets, for example.

The conventional view is that Trump is the biggest America Firster of all; that he would drive a hard bargain, that he has the muscle to do so – and that he wouldn’t be in control of an agreement anyway.  Congress could block one if it wished, and might well do so in the event of No Deal, since the Irish-American lobby is as well-entrenched as ever.  It has been a headache for British governments over Ireland-linked matters before: remember the McBride principles.  A different take is that politics may win out in the end, because both Trump and Congress will want a UK trade deal in order to put economic and political pressure on the EU: we will publish more about that later this week.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is visiting Britain.  He said yesterday that the UK will be “first in line” for a trade agreement post-Brexit – a deliberate counter to Obama’s line.  Bolton will be dangling the prospect as an inducement.  He will want Johnson to take a more resistant line to Huawei than Theresa May did, and for the UK to move closer to America’s position on Iran.  But the possibility of early sector deals – or at least the exclusion of Britain from new pro-protection moves – seems to be real enough.  As with the NHS, policing, immigration and stop and search, so with trade.  Johnson wants progress towards a quick win as a possible election looms.

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Dominic Walsh: What would No Deal mean for trade beyond the EU?

Dominic Walsh is a policy analyst for Open Europe.

At present, the UK and the EU are on course for a No Deal Brexit. Yesterday morning, EU negotiators said there was no basis for any “meaningful discussions” about a potential deal. Meanwhile, in Westminster, it is far from clear that Parliament will be able to stop No Deal, which remains the legal default on October 31.

There has rightly been a lot of focus on what No Deal would mean for the UK’s trade with the EU. However, No Deal also has significant implications for the UK’s trade with the rest of the world – bringing both threats (some trade deals the UK enjoys through the EU will be lost and haven’t been replaced), and potential opportunities (the UK will be able to exercise an independent trade policy from day one).

The UK will set its own tariffs on all imports

In the immediate event of a No Deal exit, the UK’s ability to unilaterally set its own tariff regime on imports is likely to be a more significant plank of UK trade policy than trade deals. The Government’s current approach, which removes tariffs on 87 per cent of goods imports to the UK, has advantages and disadvantages, but correctly errs towards the interests of the UK consumer, while protecting some sensitive producers such as in the farming sector. At present, this regime is only due to last for a year – with uncertainty over what comes next.

The Government has several options for the long-term and, as ever with Brexit, there are trade-offs to confront. Continuing with a liberal approach to tariffs could have benefits for consumers and would increase competition in the UK economy.

However, there is an argument that unilateral liberalisation undermines the UK’s leverage with potential trade partners (who may think there is little point in doing a deal if they are already getting zero-tariff access for free). Raising tariffs, on the other hand, could restore some of this leverage, but at the cost of increasing trade barriers and imposing a regressive tax on consumers. The Government will need to decide swiftly after No Deal which approach is the best way forward.

Preserving EU trade deals 

As an EU member, the UK benefits from around 40 trade deals the EU has negotiated with around 70 third countries. The importance of these deals to the UK economy varies considerably. While trade with these 70 countries makes up approximately 15 per cent of the UK’s total trade, two thirds of this is with just six countries – Canada, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Switzerland, and Norway. Many of the other countries covered by EU agreements make up less than 0.05 per cent of UK trade. When it comes to rolling over trade deals, quality beats quantity.

Under Liam Fox, the Department of International Trade made better progress in “rolling over” existing EU agreements than some have given it credit, though significant gaps remain. Of the six major partners above, it has secured continuity agreements with Switzerland, Norway, and South Korea.

However, Japan has refused to roll over its existing deal with the EU, as it thinks it can get better terms through a bespoke bilateral deal. The UK’s current trading arrangements with Turkey rely on the latter’s customs union with the EU, and therefore cannot be preserved in a No Deal context. And negotiations with Canada have stalled because the UK’s low No Deal tariffs give competitor countries without a trade deal the same levels of access as Canada (known as “preference erosion”).

In addition, the “rollovers” that the UK has secured do not all provide full trade continuity. For example, the deals with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland provide for tariff-free trade in goods, but do not cover services or regulatory alignment in product standards.

The consequences of failing to preserve EU trade deals in a No Deal will affect exporters more than importers, thanks to the UK’s relatively liberal No Deal tariff regime. For example, businesses exporting cheese to Canada face eye-watering tariffs of 245 per cent, whereas Canadian pearls and precious stones (73 per cent of UK imports from Canada) would continue to enter the UK tariff-free.

New avenues for global trade

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, it makes sense for the UK to diversify its trade beyond the EU. Brexiteers are right to point out that the EU’s portion of the UK’s trade has already been gradually declining for the last 20 years; the question is how best to harness this. A No Deal outcome would be likely to accelerate this trend, and open up the UK to non-EU trade much more quickly.

However, a sharp change will not be an easy or painless transition for sectors highly integrated into EU supply chains. Geography still matters to many traders – particularly those involved in perishable or time-sensitive goods, such as fresh food.

Both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss are committed to pursuing new trade deals after Brexit. However, expectations of dozens of ‘quick wins’ in a No Deal scenario should be tempered. Some countries may adopt the “wait and see” strategy adopted by Canada and Japan – partly due to the ongoing lack of certainty over the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, and partly because it is unclear that any deal negotiated by the UK would be ratified by this Parliament.

Just like the EU, potential trading partners have their own interests which will not always be aligned with those of the UK. The primary example is the US, which Truss has said she wants to deliver “as soon as possible.”

Yet there are a number of obstacles to a UK-US trade deal, which will take time to overcome – such as food standards (think chlorinated chicken), drug procurement, and digital services. There are also political obstacles to ratification on both sides. In the Commons, a deal with Trump’s US would be just as controversial as a deal with the EU, while the Democrat-controlled Congress cannot be relied upon either.

While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit, their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise. As Fox found on the job, there are many ways to promote UK trade interests other than trade deals, such as exploiting soft power assets and prioritising services trade (where the UK is a world leader).

The trade debate in the UK is still beset by simplistic soundbites. While this might be expected after 40 years of outsourcing trade policy to Brussels, the UK needs to grapple with the realities of global trade quickly in order to make a success of Brexit.

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