Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Pension tax relief warning: Relief could be ‘halved overnight’ - what would a cut mean?

The Treasury is understood to have drawn up plans to slash the rate of relief for higher earners from 40 percent to 20 percent. The move would raise £10billion a year.


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Currently, higher earners get 40 percent tax relief on pension contributions, while lower earners are eligible for tax relief at the rate of 20 percent.

However, the proposed changes would mean everyone would instead get 20 percent pension tax relief.

According to a report in the Financial Times, former Chancellor Sajid Javid was not entirely convinced by the plan.

Downing Street has refused to comment on plans for the Budget.

Emma King, a pensions Partner at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “The pensions industry has been asking for the tax relief system to be simplified for some time.

“Cutting higher rate tax relief to 20 per cent for higher earners would simplify the position somewhat and simultaneously boost the Treasury’s coffers, so may be seen as a win/win for the Government.

“However it will not be a popular move amongst high earners who would see their pensions tax relief halved overnight.

“One way to provide some level of compensation for this group would be to change the annual allowance (AA) thresholds – the potential removal of the tapering relief for DC contributions so high earners can pay more into their pension pots, while for DB pension members, the AA could be removed completely – just leaving the lifetime allowance thresholds.”

Steven Cameron, Pensions Director at Aegon, explained what a change in the system could mean.

He said: “Currently individuals receive tax relief at their highest marginal income tax rate on their personal contributions, so moving to a flat rate somewhere between basic and higher income tax rates would be good news for non-taxpayers and basic rate taxpayers, while higher and additional rate taxpayers would see their Government top-ups reduced.

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“In terms of simple appeal, a flat rate relief of 33 percent would see the Government add £1 for every £2 from individuals.

“But if set below 30 percent, higher rate tax payers expecting to pay higher rate tax in retirement might find pension saving unattractive, undermining the success of automatic enrolment which ‘works’ because pension saving is in virtually everyone’s interest.

“Simply removing higher rate relief and granting 20 percent relief to everyone would not affect basic rate pension savers but would severely dent the attractions for higher rate taxpayers many of whom are far from ‘wealthy’.

“While there are benefits in flat rate relief, when the Government considered such changes back in 2015, it found there are many complexities to consider, and unless these are thought through and solved, changes could do more harm than good.


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“The three biggest areas of complexity relate to the tax treatment of employer contributions, how to avoid a ‘salary sacrifice loophole’ and how to apply such an approach to defined benefit schemes.

“Rushing to cut pensions tax relief could do long term damage to UK retirement savings so we urge the Chancellor and his team to avoid going too far, too fast and instead to engage with the industry to resolve issues.

“We also recommend testing any new approach with savers to understand how it might change retirement savings behaviours.”

Amid reports of HM Treasury cutting tax breaks to higher rate tax payers, Kay Ingram, Director of Public Policy at national financial planning firm LEBC, summarised the Group’s view.

Ms Ingram said: “The current system of marginal rate income tax relief on pension savings is fair to all taxpayers, who pay no tax on income paid into a pension, but who pay tax on the pension income they subsequently draw.

“Any change which restricts the rate of relief to a flat rate, or the basic rate, will hit middle aged middle earners hardest; it is likely to result in less being saved for retirement and many people forced to work longer.

“This cohort of 38-55 year olds earning above £50,000 are less well prepared for retirement.

“They did not have the advantage of defined benefit pensions to the same extent as older workers, and unlike younger workers, were not offered auto enrolment at the beginning of their careers.

“Their pensions will be largely dependent on investment returns. Guaranteed rates of return are much lower as a result of low interest rate policies, so a higher level of savings is required to achieve an acceptable retirement income.

“Their state pension age has been raised to 67/68. To remove higher rate tax relief at this stage would make it even harder for them to retire and is a step too far given that the annual and lifetime allowances already restrict the amount of relief any individual may claim.”

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Monday, February 17, 2020

Mackenzie's glitch-free BHP farewell gives successor a clean run

Given Andrew Mackenzie’s obsessive focus on productivity during his six and a half years at the helm of BHP, it is fitting that the results for the final six months unveiled by his successor were the cleanest and most productive of his tenure.

They were clean and productive at both an operational level – probably the most glitch-free of the Mackenzie era – and clean and productive at a financial level.

With both costs and volumes stable during the half, the driver of the 39 per cent increase in underlying earnings to $US5.2 billion ($7.8 billion), and the 15 per cent increase in underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to $US12 billion, was the $US1.5 billion benefits of higher commodity prices.

New BHP chief executive Mike Henry wants to shape BHP’s portfolio around the long-term trend towards decarbonisation of the global economy.Credit:Nine

In an illustration of the disciplines imposed by the capital allocation framework developed by Mackenzie, his chairman Ken MacKenzie and chief financial officer Peter Beaven, BHP was able to top up its base 50 per cent dividend payout ratio, which amounted to $US2.7 billion, with an extra $US1.2 billion to produce the second-biggest ordinary dividend in its history. Almost all of that benefit from the higher prices was passed back to shareholders.

The results were presented by new chief executive Mike Henry, who made it clear the relentless focus on productivity and the discipline around capital usage would continue and intensify. He wants the group to be leaner and its operations more reliable, even higher-performing and safer.

That doesn’t mean BHP will be entirely introspective. Henry wants to shape the BHP portfolio around the long-term trend towards decarbonisation of the global economy.

He wants more copper and nickel in the portfolio, primarily from within the group’s existing resource base but also via exploration and, perhaps, an entry into potash where a decision on the giant Jansen project is due this year. He’s open to offers for the group’s thermal coal assets.

The only material exceptional item in the results –the $US778 million cost of cancelling power contracts at the Escondida copper project in Chile – will both lower ongoing energy costs and dramatically reduce the group’s carbon emissions as a key part of the group’s approach to a decarbonising economy. The impact on the Chilean operations is profound – a 60 per cent reduction in emissions – and the 15 per cent cut to BHP’s overall emissions very material.

There will also be more emphasis on technology in BHP’s operations and a shift towards a higher proportion of permanent employees to enable cultural change and an enhancement of the group’s capabilities.

Henry’s vision isn’t radical but, given the foundations that he has inherited – and for which he can take significant credit as the former head of BHP’s core Australian operations – it doesn’t need to be.

It’s more a case of doing the things that BHP already does well even better, a continuation of the trend Henry established impressively in the Australian operations where, remarkably, BHP has emerged as the lowest-cost of the major iron ore producers.

In the immediate future BHP, and its peers, will be impacted by the coronavirus. So far commodity prices have generally held up better than expected. While oil prices are down about 13 per cent since the year and copper nearly 6 per cent, iron ore has slipped only about 3 per cent and is still trading significantly above last year’s levels.

The BHP view is that if the virus can be contained by the end of the March quarter there will be a quick snap back in demand for its commodities, one potentially exaggerated by the inevitable stimulatory actions of China’s government. That is, of course, a major "if’’ and a query over what the second half of the financial year might bring.

With its balance sheet in good shape, with net debt of $US12.8 billion at the lower end of its target range of $US12 billion to $US17 billion and solid cash flows – almost $US7.5 billion of net cash flows in the December half and $US3.7 billion of free cash flows – the group is in as good a condition to ride out any challenges as it has been in the past decade.

Henry has a significant number of growth projects already in his pipeline for the first half of this decade so his impact on the nature of the portfolio will be the options he exercises to generate longer-term growth.

He wants to drive more volume from the existing resource bases and an increased exploration effort as well as from buying into early-stage developments, such as BHP’s investment in SolGold to gain exposure to what appears to be a very large copper deposit in Chile.

He’s never going to say never to the possibility of a major acquisition but, separate to the reality that there aren’t obvious targets that fit BHP’s post-South32 criteria of having a few tier one basin assets, he’s also conscious of the pitfalls BHP has experienced with its past acquisitions, most notably its ill-fated foray into the US onshore shale oil and gas sector.

It is also probably the case that a big acquisition at a premium would have difficulty getting through the BHP capital allocation framework that Henry is as enthusiastic about and as committed to as his predecessor.

Source: Read Full Article

Martin Lewis: This one choice you make with a mortgage could save you nearly four grand

One of his first meetings was with a gentleman, aged in his early fifties, who was looking to purchase a home outside of London for around £125,000. Martin Lewis proceeded to ask the man what his income was and he revealed that he earned between £18,000 – £21,000 a year. Mr Lewis detailed that it may be tough for him but: “It’s a good time to look for mortgages”. As he explained, a lot of mortgage providers these days do not work out what they can give based on multiples of salaries.


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Many modern mortgage lenders focus on affordability tests instead. Mr Lewis suggested finding a mortgage broker who would be able to detail what options were available and the choice of what to do should be made from there.

Interestingly, Martin Lewis advised the man to consider buying a home with a friend. He highlighted that mortgages do not need to be bought exclusively by couples.

Buying with a friend is a good way to get on the ladder but Mr Lewis advises making sure a legal contract is set up.

Martin Lewis went on to meet a young woman who was applying for Jobs in Cardiff as her partner is also working in the City.

The couple were aiming to purchase a house together and Martin stressed the concept of merging their ISAs. With Lifetime ISAs specifically, the size of the bonus received is higher when the amount in the pot is high.

Merging two ISAs together makes sense for taking advantage of these bonuses. Affordability also came up again with Mr Lewis detailing that when applying for mortgages being frugal will pay off. Lenders want to see that their funds will be paid back effectively.

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Martin Lewis went on to cover this in much more detail, he specifically pleaded with mortgage applicants to take one specific action.

He detailed that one of the most important aspects of mortgage applications is the “loan to value ratio”.

This ratio effectively means the more equity that a person has on their home, the lower the mortgage repayments will be.

In comparing five percent deposits with 10 percent deposits Mr Lewis had this to say:


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“Now, five percent deposit mortgages have got cheaper in recent years. Here they are, but id still try and push you, urge you to try and get to at least 10 percent because this has the biggest single drop.”

He used a five year fixed rate mortgage and a two year fixed mortgage as an example. On a five year fixed rate mortgage a person would only pay £845 a month and a two year would be £785 with a 10 percent deposit. He continued:

“That’s 60 quid cheaper, over the five years you’d save nearly four grand. So a first timer if you could wait a little bit longer to get over that boundary, great. If you’re remortgaging, if you had savings you could use to get over a boundary, really good stuff.

“Now don’t tell anyone I told you his but I hear rumours from underwriters that if you go exactly to a boundary, say the 85 percent level, it could look as if you’re struggling so you might be less likely to be accepted.

“But if you go 100 pounds beyond it, it eases acceptance. Don’t know how true it is but you might as well try.”

Mr Lewis rounded off his advice by examining remortgaging rates. A middle aged woman asked him if she should remortgage her 10 year fixed mortgage that has a get out clause. He detailed that she could probably get a cheaper mortgage, saving roughly £800 a year.

However, remortgaging will likely mean fees and penalties from the existing mortgage lender for switching early. He detailed that while it is worth remortgaging, these types of fees need to be factored in. He advises always using comparison sites and brokers to find the best deals.

Source: Read Full Article

China Moves to Delay Parliament for First Time in Decades

China is considering delaying its most high-profile annual political meeting for the first time in decades, as the government attempts to contain an outbreak of a deadly new strain of coronavirus.

The Standing Committee of theNational People’s Congress will meet Feb. 24 to consider a delay of the annual meeting of the full parliament planned to convene March 5, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday. The Standing Committee will also consider measures to curb practices that may have contributed to the deadly strain of virus jump to humans, including a ban on the wildlife trade and the consumption of wild game.

Some 3,000 members of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, were expected to convene in Beijing for about two weeks of meetings attended by President Xi Jinping and other top leaders. The annual political pageant also includes meetings by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body made up of around 2,000 representatives from companies, ethnic minorities, cultural organizations and other groups.

While the decision was widely expected, it represented an acknowledgment by the Communist Party that the health crisis that began in the central province of Hubei had disrupted basic mechanisms of government. China has held its so-called Two Sessions in March every year since 1985, when then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping formalized the legislative calendar as part of his reforms after Mao Zedong’s turbulent rule.

Zang Tiewei, spokesperson for the NPC’s legislative affairs commission, was cited as saying the body’s deputies were needed back home, among which a third are local officials. “In order to ensure that people’s attention is focused on the prevention and control of the epidemic and that people’s lives and health are given top priority, the chairman’s council, after careful assessment, considered it necessary to postpone,” Zang said, according to Xinhua.

High Risk

China unveils its annual economic targets, defense spending projections and other key policy decisions during the NPC meetings. The party has also used the occasion to announce major policy changes and personnel reshuffles, like Xi’s 2018 decision to scrap term limits, which paved the way for him to rule indefinitely.

This year the NPC had been expected to deliberate on a draft Civil Code, consisting of sections on property, contracts, personality rights, marriage and family, inheritance and torts. Xinhua also said the Standing Committee would continue to deliberate proposals for appointments and removals, without elaborating — hinting that further personnel reshuffles could be underway despite the cancellation.

Officials faced the risk that some attendees could unintentionally transmit a virus that has already sickened more than 70,000 and killed almost 1,800 in China. And gathering political leaders at great expense in the capital while many Chinese remain cooped at home could also prompt public criticism.

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The municipal government of Beijing has instituted rules requiring 14-day self-quarantines for new arrivals in the capital, meaning deputies would’ve had to arrive by this week to attend the meeting without a special exception.

Xi has ordered “all-out” efforts to contain the crisis, which has already proved more deadly than the SARS epidemic that killed almost 800 people across Asia 17 years ago and led to widespread criticism of China’s response. Beijing has taken unprecedented steps to slow the latest outbreak, including banning travel from the hardest-hit areas in central China.

On Feb. 13, China abruptly replaced the top leaders of Hubei and its capital Wuhan. Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong was named to replace Jiang Chaoliang as provincial party secretary, in a rare political shakeup.

A flurry of municipal legislatures across China had delayed their annual meetings in recent weeks, including the cities of Jinan, Qingdao, Wenzhou and Zhengzhou. The provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan also postponed their legislative meetings.

“Though it’s a rare move, in reality the possible delay of the legislature meeting wouldn’t have much tangible impact on legislative work,” said Yang Dong, a law professor at Renmin University in Beijing. “The main focus of this year’s NPC meeting is to vote on the long-expected Civil Code. But other than that, there are no other urgent issues like major personnel reshuffles that need to be addressed.”

— With assistance by Yinan Zhao, Dandan Li, Peter Martin, and Jon Herskovitz

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bendigo Bank kicks off $300m capital raise, cuts dividend

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has kicked off a $300 million capital raising as it reported a sharp profit drop and announced it was cutting its interim dividend.

Chief executive Marnie Baker blamed low interest rates and rising regulatory pressure at the release of its half-year results on Monday, adding that ongoing technology investment and compliance costs were also impacting the lender.

The bank's statutory net profit was down 28.2 per cent to $145.8 million and the company has trimmed its interim dividend from 35¢ to 31¢. The company also reported a two per cent drop in cash earnings.

Bendigo Bank chief executive Marnie Baker delivers the bank’s half-year results. Credit: Wayne Taylor

"We feel this reduction was required given the capital raising to ensure sustainability of the dividend, retain funds for growth and to enable us to continue to deliver our strategy," Ms Baker said in a release to the ASX.

Ms Baker pointed to the growth in the bank's total lending that was up 2.8 per cent from the same time last year, with losses in agricultural lending caused by drought offset by strong demand for residential lending.

Small business lending was also up by 15.6 per cent with lending applications up by 45 per cent and settlements up by 35 per cent.

“Our Consumer Banking division performed strongly, driven by investment in processing capacity, to support settlement growth, new mobile relationship and business development managers and new and enhanced third party white label partnerships," Ms Baker said.

The bank was put in a trading halt as the capital round kicked off, aimed at institutional clients to raise $300 million to support the growth of its residential mortgage business and beef up the bank's investment in technology.

More to come

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McDonald’s UK: Customers could get £5 off their order - how you can access deal

The fast food giant is offering its customers a £5 discount on orders – however the deal is only available if it’s purchased in a particular way. McDonald’s customers can only access the deal via the McDonald’s app.


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They can then get the £5 discount on spends of £15 or more on one single order.

This is provided the order is made on the My McDonald’s App.

In order to be eligible, customers must be at least 16 years old, ,and they must have downloaded, registered, and signed-in via the My McDonald’s App.

Those looking to access the offer should also be aware that it is only valid when ordered via the “Deals” section of the app.

This can be done by clicking on the offer in that section, and then by placing the order for at least £15 at a participating McDonald’s restaurant.

The save amount of £5 will subsequently be discounted from the purchase price prior to payment.

It’s worth being away that the offer is only available once per person, and it can’t be used alongside any other offer or promotion, McDonald’s says.

Those interested in the deal may want to be aware that the offer will expire in the near future – at the end of February.

This particular offer has been available from January 26, 2020, and lasts until 23:59 on February 29.

The deal is only available for mobile orders, and McDonald’s says the offer “excludes Drive Thru for first time users of the app”.

Latestdeals.co.uk lists this current deal on its website, and states that this is “in-store only”.

This week, McDonald’s announced customers could get hold of its Big Mac “special sauce”.


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The sauce is available in 50ml pots for a price of 50 pence each.

They will be available 24 hours a day, McDonald’s said, with the packs having a seven-day shelf life.

Michelle Graham-Clare, Vice President Food & Marketing, McDonald’s UK & Ireland, said: “For years, customers have been desperate to get their hands on the world-famous Big Mac® Special Sauce, many have attempted to recreate it at home to no avail.

“So we are delighted to finally bring these dipping pots to the UK and Ireland.

“We are looking forward to seeing the imaginative ways our customers attempt to ‘Mac It Better’ in kitchens across the UK, by adding our iconic Special Sauce to their breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Elsewhere on the topic of money saving this week, Martin Lewis revealed where savers should look in a bid to get the best interest rates on a joint account.

The Money Saving Expert founder appeared on Good Morning Britain, revealing the “top” easy-access joint savings account was currently an offer from Marcus by Goldman Sachs.

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Virus crisis could mean $7b drop in airline revenue: ICAO

MONTREAL • The coronavirus outbreak could mean a reduction of US$4 billion to US$5 billion (S$7 billion) in global airline revenue, said the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Thursday.

The United Nations agency reported that 70 airlines have cancelled all international flights in and out of China and 50 others have reduced their operations.

Preliminary estimates show this has meant a reduction of nearly 20 million passengers compared with expectations for the first quarter of this year. That figure equates to potential lost revenue of up to US$5 billion, the agency said.

In China, the virus has killed more than 1,300 people and infected over 64,000. Overseas, nearly 600 cases have emerged in around 30 locations.

“Prior to the outbreak, airlines had planned to increase capacity by 9 per cent on international routes to/from China for the first quarter of 2020 compared with 2019,” the ICAO said in a statement.

The reality has been a reduction in foreign airline traveller capacity of 80 per cent.

Japan looks to be the hardest hit from a reduction in Chinese air travellers in the first quarter, the ICAO said. The country could lose US$1.29 billion in tourism revenue, with Thailand not far behind at a US$1.15 billion loss potential.

The ICAO said the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the airline industry are expected to be larger than in the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic as flight cancellations are more widespread this time.

In addition, China’s international air traffic has doubled and its domestic air traffic increased fivefold in the last 17 years.

The Chinese authorities have locked down Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, and restricted movements in several cities in an effort to contain the virus.


Have a question on the coronavirus outbreak? E-mail us at askst@sph.com.sg

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Cruise Ship Passengers Bumped From KLM Flight in Malaysia

In this article

A number of passengers, including two Dutch citizens, were denied boarding for an Amsterdam-bound KLM flight departing from Kuala Lumpur, the Dutch foreign ministry said.

The travelers had been among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the Holland America Line’s Westerdam cruise ship, which was turned away by five ports before disembarking in Cambodia. An 83-year-old American passenger wasdiagnosed with the coronavirus a day after she left the ship.

The tourists who were kept from boarding KLM flight 810 are still in Malaysia, along with another group of Dutch citizens suspected to have had contact with the infected American woman. The Dutch RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment estimated that 11 people weren’t allowed on the plane.

Holland America Line said in a statement late Saturday that the results of the test were preliminary and it was awaiting secondary testing for confirmation. The company said it was working with officials in Malaysia, Cambodia and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It said that all 2,257 passengers and crew aboard the Westerdam had been temperature-tested on Feb. 10 and that no one had an elevated temperature, disembarking passengers completed a written health questionnaire, and the passports of everyone aboard were reviewed to ensure they hadn’t traveled through mainland China in the previous 14 days.

It said there was “no indication” of the coronavirus during the voyage.

Testing for coronavirus was conducted on 20 passengers who had either self-reported symptoms like coughing or gastrointestinal issues — and those came back negative, according to Cambodia’s health ministry.

‘Definite Risk’

The testing on those passengers followed established protocols for testing the virus, said Li Ailan, the World Health Organization’s representative in Cambodia. The WHO provided guidance to the Cambodian health ministry to help deal with the clearing of passengers.

“These passengers have been on the ship for almost 14 days — they’re at the end of the two-week incubation period,” said Li, speaking Friday before news of the Malaysian infected case broke. “The health declarations are a good way to screen.”

Some passengers reported that the ship also took people’s temperatures upon disembarking — though it was unclear if there was a procedure in place had they reported a spike.

The infected passenger now elevates the risk for those on the ship who are returning to their homes.

No One Wants to Be Stuck on the Next Virus-Hit Cruise Ship

“There’s a possibility that anyone who is infected and asymptomatic could start a chain of infection wherever they return to,” said Stanley Deresinski, a Stanford University professor of infectious disease and a specialist at the university hospital. “That’s a definite risk.”

The latest case raised the question of whether the virus’s incubation period is longer than the two-week period that’s been the guideline since it emerged in China’s Hubei province in recent weeks, he said.

“We really just don’t know for sure,” he said.

A number of Dutch citizens who were aboard the Westerdam have already returned to the Netherlands, where they will be monitored daily by local health authorities.

Ninety-one Dutch citizens were aboard the cruise liner, a spokesman for the RIVM said by phone. He couldn’t confirm the number of Dutch passengers who had already returned to the Netherlands.

Source: Read Full Article

Friday, February 14, 2020

Eerie wall made from HUMAN bones and shattered skulls found under cathedral

GRUESOME walls made entirely of humans bones have been uncovered at a cathedral in Belgium.

Experts say the grisly structures were built in the 17th Century using remains that were 200 years old at the time.

They were made entirely of the thigh and shin bones of various adults. Between the walls, spaces were filled with skulls, many of them shattered.

Archaeologists from Ruben Willaert bvba in Bruges said the find was unique to Belgium, the Brussels Times reported.

"This is a phenomenon we’ve not yet come across here," said project leader Janiek De Gryse.

The discovery was made at Saint-Bavo’s cathedral in the city of Ghent. The building has been in use for more than a thousand years.

Similar structures made using human remains have been found at ancient sites across Europe, including the catacombs of Paris.

Researchers said the Saint-Bravo bones appeared to date to the late 15th Century.

"For the moment we would place the actual construction in the 17th and 18th century," De Gryse said, "although there’s a great deal of research still to be done."

The walls of bones appears to have been built during a time when the graveyard was being cleared.

It's possible that the structures were pieced together while workers dug up old graves to make way for new ones.

"When clearing a churchyard, the skeletons cannot just be thrown away," De Gryse explained.

"Given that the faithful believed in a resurrection of the body, the bones were considered the most important part.

"That is why stone houses were sometimes built against the walls of city graveyards: to house skulls and the long bones in what is called an ossuary."

In other archaeology news, a fossil hunter has found pieces of Jurassic history encased in golden-snitch-like spheres.

Hitler's secret vegetable garden has been uncovered at a bunker in Poland.

And, the face of a 1,000-year-old Viking warrior woman with a gruesome battle wound across her skull has been revealed.

Why do you think the bone wall was built? Let us know in the comments…

Source: Read Full Article

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Trump's Remaining GOP Challenger Fails To Clear Delegate Threshold In New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Donald Trump’s sole remaining Republican challenger appeared to fail to hit the vote threshold required to win any delegates in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

With 79% of the precincts tallied, Trump was leading former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld 86% to 9%.

Candidates in the GOP primary had to win 10% to get a proportional share of the 22 delegates at stake.

During a gathering of his supporters at a restaurant beside the Merrimack River, Weld and his top campaign staff remained defiant.

“We are here to reclaim the Republican Party,” said Betty Tamposi, who was a State Department official in the President George H.W. Bush administration. “Mr. Trump does not own this party.”

Weld told the several dozen staff, volunteers and supporters that former White House aide Steve Bannon — whom Weld called Trump’s “Svengali and Robespierre” — had recently pointed out that Trump could not be reelected if he lost more than 3% or 4% of Republicans.

“So looking at these numbers, he can’t be reelected,” Weld said. “On to Super Tuesday!”

For a short period last autumn, there were three Republicans hoping to take the party’s nomination away from Trump. But the Republican National Committee, as well as the state parties, worked hard to keep their members in line behind Trump’s reelection. A handful of states canceled primaries and caucuses outright, while some others rigged the rules to make it all but impossible for challengers to make the ballot.

Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and congressman, dropped out in November after only two months in the race. And former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh ended his campaign last week, days after winning just 348 votes in the Iowa caucuses, despite having campaigned there nearly nonstop for weeks.

“Weld is a good man. But Trump can’t be beat in the Republican Party. Because the party is Trump’s Party. And it’s a cult,” Walsh said Tuesday, not long after television networks had called the Republican primary for Trump based on exit polls and the first returns. “Which is what I realized a while ago. Which is why I’m focused on stopping Trump in the general.”

Weld did only slightly better than Walsh in Iowa, winning 424 votes to Trump’s 31,422. But the second-place finish was enough to win a single delegate to this summer’s nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Weld had hoped to pick up more in New Hampshire on Tuesday, but needed a minimum of 10% of the vote to qualify for any delegates. Because he did not, Trump wins all 22 delegates the state had in play.

Both Nevada and South Carolina canceled their contests this month, so the next opportunity for Weld to pick up delegates is on Super Tuesday on March 3. However, rather than awarding delegates proportionally to the share of the statewide vote, as in New Hampshire, most of the coming contests are either winner-take-all or winner-take-all by congressional district. Both methods make it difficult for Weld to earn more delegates.

“He may be done winning delegates,” said Joshua Putnam, a political scientist who closely follows the parties’ nomination schemes. “It gets much, much tougher after today.”

Winning a number of delegates could give Weld the ability to criticize Trump or ask for platform changes at the Republication nominating convention this summer. However, the party formally adopts the rules for the convention as one of its first tasks — meaning the GOP could quash any possible voice Weld might be hoping for.

Weld was a top Justice Department official under President Ronald Reagan before winning two terms as governor of Massachusetts. That background, however, holds little sway in a party now in the firm control of a man best known for hosting a reality game show prior to running for president, his first attempt at elected office.

“It’s been a hostile takeover,” said Fergus Cullen, a former state party chairman in New Hampshire and a vocal Trump critic. “I don’t think many thought Weld would get double digits. Especially with the Democratic race attracting the independents.”

Source: Read Full Article

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Huawei maintains secret 'back door' mobile network access: Report

Trump, Boris Johnson battling over 5G and Huawei

5G Action Now Chairman Mike Rogers discusses the tension between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Trump over Huawei.

Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co. has secretly been able to access mobile phone networks around the world for more than a decade, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

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The company can use “back doors” built into network hardware for law enforcement that equipment makers should be unable to access, U.S. officials told the Journal.

In this May 29, 2019, file photo, a man uses his smartphone outside of a shop selling Huawei products at a shopping mall in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)


A Huawei spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment. The company told the Journal that the allegations were not true.

Huawei "has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients," the company told the Journal. "We emphatically reject these latest allegations. Again, groundless accusations are being repeated without providing any kind of concrete evidence."


President Donald Trump and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, speak to the media before a working breakfast meeting at the Hotel du Palais on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times, Pool, File)


U.S. officials had kept the intelligence they said shows Huawei’s back door capability classified until late last year, when they provided some information to allies, including the U.K. and Germany, according to the report. U.K. officials recently decided to give Huawei access to build parts of its new high-speed mobile network despite repeated objections from the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials haven’t decided whether to use Huawei technology. But the results of an Angus Reid Institute survey released Tuesday show that 56 percent of Canadians favor completely banning Huawei and 34 percent said a limited arrangement like the one approved in the U.K. would be acceptable.


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Monday, February 10, 2020

Clamour for masks can't save Asian plastic makers from coronavirus

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) – Demand for face masks and surgical gloves may be surging as China battles the coronavirus, but that’s scant relief for plastics makers as they struggle with absent workers and plunging consumption of other products.

In a sign of how critical the mask shortage is getting, state oil giant PetroChina last week directed overseas employees from Houston to Lagos to buy them up and send as many as two million back to headquarters.

While that’s prompted many of China’s plastics converters – who process raw polymers into everything from plastic spoons to car interiors – to scale up their mask-making operations, it’s not enough to offset plummeting demand for other products, according to SCI99. In addition, some of the producers remain shut due to the extended holidays or can’t make deliveries because of canceled flights and blocked roads, the Chinese industry consultant said.

“The amount of polyester found in each mask is no more than 1-2 grams, mainly in the elastic band,” said Salmon Lee, principal consultant at Wood Mackenzie in Singapore. “This is minuscule when talking about any demand spike, and immaterial in mitigating the economic impact of the epidemic on the polyester chain.”

Manufacturing of face masks accounted for just 0.1 per cent of polypropylene demand in China last year, Horace Chan, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a note. Durable plastics – which are used in automobiles and home appliances, could take the biggest hit from the outbreak, he said.

Polypropylene futures for April settlement have fallen 9.5 per cent since Jan. 21, when markets began taking notice of the coronavirus, according to prices on the Dalian Commodity Exchange. Inventories at state refiners Sinopec and PetroChina jumped by 530,000 tons over the Lunar New Year holidays, more than three times the average increase over the holidays in the last five years, SCI99 said.

As companies like Toyota Motor delay production and China’s massive food delivery network is disrupted, the impact from the virus is spreading across Asia. Weak Chinese demand will compress margins further for South Korean refiners and petrochemical companies, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Sean Hwang said in a Feb. 6 note.

Chinese buyers of polypropylene from the Middle East are trying to re-export it to India and South-east Asia, potentially causing a glut in those markets, said Ashish Chitalia, the head of global polyolefins at Wood Mackenzie in Houston.

“The petrochemical sector was beginning to come back after the easing of trade tariffs,” he said. The coronavirus will extend the low-margin period for petrochemical companies globally, and particularly in east Asia, Chitalia said.

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

Coronavirus may steal limelight from earnings results

With the spread of the coronavirus showing little sign of abating, investor sentiment will continue to be dictated by developments on this front despite a slew of earnings releases from Singapore’s largest corporates.

Asian equities have been sold off since late last month on fears of contagion, though they staged a short-lived recovery in the middle of last week after the Chinese central bank provided a stimulus injection to calm fears of a sharp slowdown in its economy.

But by last Friday, anxiety had returned to the markets as Singapore’s Straits Times Index slid 50.07 points, or 1.6 per cent, to close the week at 3,181.48 on fears that the Government would raise its risk assessment of the virus situation.

After the markets closed, the Government raised the risk posture to orange, which means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, has been in lockdown since Jan 23, and Beijing has curbed travel for individuals in over 10 other Chinese cities since.

The severity of the measures imposed by China to contain the virus has already dented growth prospects, noted Standard Chartered Bank economists.

As a result, the economists have downgraded the 2020 forecast for China’s growth from 6.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent.

With China playing a larger role in the global economy than during the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, epidemic in 2003, economists have cautioned that the spillover effects are likely to hit trade-reliant economies like Singapore the most.

United Overseas Bank (UOB) projects the Singapore economy to grow 1.5 per cent this year. But if the outbreak of the virus lasts six months, the negative effect on growth would be in the region of 0.5 to 1 percentage point.

UOB Group head of research Suan Teck Kin said: “However, if the outbreak stretches further than six months, the second-order effects from trade, production and supply chain disruptions would further weigh on the growth outlook of regional economies.”

Last Friday, DBS Group Research lowered its growth forecast for Singapore’s 2020 real gross domestic product to 0.9 per cent, from 1.4 per cent previously.

With the Singapore Government announcing its Budget for 2020/21 on Feb 18, some relief measures for businesses and various sectors could be expected.

In the local market, the corporate earnings season for the October-December quarter continues to hot up.


If the outbreak stretches further than six months, the second-order effects from trade, production and supply chain disruptions would further weigh on the growth outlook of regional economies.

UOB GROUP HEAD OF RESEARCH SUAN TECK KIN, on the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on economies.

Among property trusts, Lendlease Reit, which has been listed since last October, will report its results for the first half of financial year 2020 today.

Fourth-quarter earnings for Prime US Reit and Far East Hospitality Trust are due on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

Some of the city state’s big names will be reporting results towards the end of the week. These include Genting Singapore on Wednesday; DBS Group Holdings and Sats on Thursday; and ComfortDelGro and Singapore Airlines on Friday.

The local economic data docket is light, with just retail sales data for December due on Wednesday.

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BHP tries to delay China shipments due to virus

BHP Group is starting to feel the impact of the coronavirus on its business with the mining giant in talks with its Chinese customers to delay shipments of copper concentrate as plants are shutdown around the nation.

BHP confirmed on Sunday that it is working with its customers in China to stem the impact of the virus on its exports after importers in China were offered force majeure certificates by the country's international trade promotion agency.

BHP Billiton is working hard to offset any impacts of the deadly coronavirus after China granted its importers certificates to declare a force majeure. Credit:Reuters

In response, suppliers are considering giving buyers in China flexibility on deliveries to discourage them from declaring force majeure, offering them a way out of contractual obligations.

BHP declined to confirm it was offering side agreements with its customers when contacted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday. A company spokeswoman said: "We are working closely with our copper customers as they return from Chinese new year". The company does not comment on individual customer arrangements and sources close the company said at this stage, there’s been no impact to our production and product flows.

In Chile, miners are already working with clients to defer cargoes, Bloomberg reported.

Fears that China's efforts to curb the fast-spreading coronavirus could disrupt supply chains and hurt demand for Australian resource commodities have driven falls in the share prices of the nation's heavily China-reliant miners including BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue.

BHP's shares closed out Friday down 1.95 per cent, or 77 cents, to $38.77.

Ports in China's biggest steel production region, Hubei province, a major destination for Australian shipments of the steelmaking material iron ore, have been shut in a bid to contain the virus.

Guangxi Nanguo Copper, a smelter in Southwest China, on Friday declared force majeure on copper concentrate shipments, according to reports.

There have also been concerns of China's state-owned gas importers could invoke force majeure on contracts for liquefied natural gas imports as demand deteriorates due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the weekend, French oil major Total rejected a force majeure notice from an LNG buyer in China, making it the first global energy supplier to push back publicly against a firm trying to back out of a contract amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Copper prices have fallen over the past two weeks in London as concerns rage the coronavirus will slow economic growth. On Friday the metal that is used in car manufacturing, construction and technological devices was trading at $US5652.50 ($8,444.59) a tonne, a fall of 1.07 per cent, or $US60.85.

The coronavirus has killed at least 805 people, according to fresh figures released on the weekend. The toll from coronavirus now exceeds the global outbreak of SARS that started in China almost two decades ago.

Separately, Cyclone Damian brought heavy rains to the iron ore rich Pilbara region on Sunday, potentialy impacted mining production. The destructive storm was downgraded after lashing past of the Western Australian coast.

— with Wires.

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

The 2020 Audi S3 is a phenomenal motor that will do all the hard work for you – The Sun

AUDI really is the brand that can make anything look good.

As you know, when most manufacturers test unfinished cars on public roads they cover them in “camouflage”.

They end up making them look like a Vietnam veteran’s acid flashback, all psychedelic swirls and squiggles.

But not Audi. No. When they disguise a test mule, instead of leaving gawping passers-by with a headache and sore eyes, it has them reaching for their wallets.

Seriously, look at this prototype of the 2020 Audi S3, which I’ve just driven ahead of the A3’s reveal at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

The 18-year-old in me would option it in a heartbeat. It’s not the first time, either.

When Audi revealed a camouflaged version of the e-tron electric SUV, its black and orange colour scheme won armies of admirers wondering if they could buy it then and there, as is.

Funky camouflage aside, I can’t really talk much about how the final version will look.

I had a good butcher’s at the finished A3 Sportback after driving the S3 prototype, but I can’t say any more until Geneva. Watch this space. I can tell you about how the new S3 drives, though.

Sitting below the monstrously fast RS3, the S3 is a more understated premium hot hatch, rivalling cars like the Mercedes-AMG A35 and VW Golf R.

Endless driving fun

That said, it’s still packing 306bhp — a figure which currently remains unchanged from the old to new model, thanks to WLTP rules making life difficult.

So what’s new if there’s no more power on tap for now? Well, quite a lot, but it’s all underneath the skin.

The S3 is endowed with the most advanced version the Quattro all-wheel drive system, which is now better integrated with things like the suspension dampers, drive modes and progressive steering.

I’m resisting using the cliche “it drives like it’s on rails,” so let’s just say it’s become a foolproof high-speed cornering tool.

The multi-plate clutch controls the amount of torque sent to the front and rear axles, and is in constant communication with the suspension dampers, which are telling it what’s going on with the road surface, whether traction is slipping, and even how the driver likes to, well, drive.

With this information it knows exactly how much power should go where. But that’s not all. In a high-speed corner, the electronic stabilisation control will gently bite the wheels on the inside of the bend with the brakes, pulling the car into the corner, as well as stiffen up the dampers on the outside wheels to further settle things.

As speed increases, so does the weight of the steering, thanks to the progressive steering system, which finds the optimal feedback so at no point do you have to correct your line mid-corner.

It’s all extremely clever stuff, but for a purist driver, it might not be the car to go for. A straight-line 0-62mph time of around 4.7 seconds and an unflappable approach to even the gnarliest of twisty roads is all well and good, but for me the car is doing too much.

Rather than challenging you to adapt your driving style to the conditions, the S3 will do the hard work for you, making you look like Lewis, while you’re actually doing — and learning — very little.

In fairness, Audi should be applauded for taming a very fast car to the point that anyone could jump in it and have endless driving fun.

And if I can have it in that black and white colour scheme, I won’t grumble about a thing.


Key facts: AUDI S3Price: £37,000 (est)
Engine: 2-litre turbo petrol
0-62mph: 4.7 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 40mpg
CO2: 160g/km

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Here are the 5 biggest moments from Friday's Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire

  • On February 7, seven Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Manchester, New Hampshire for a spirited debate ahead of the state's February 11 primary. 
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, and businessman Tom Steyer qualified for the February New Hampshire debate.
  • Currently, Sanders leads the most recent polls of New Hampshire followed by Buttigieg, with Biden and Warren tied for third.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

On February 7, seven Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Manchester, New Hampshire for a spirited debate ahead of the state's February 11 primary. 

ABC News and WMUR-TV in partnership with Apple News hosted the eighth debate of the 2020 Democratic primaries at St. Anslem's College in Manchester, New Hampshire. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, and businessman Tom Steyer qualified for the February New Hampshire debate.

ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, ABC World News Tonight Anchor David Muir, ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis, WMUR Political Director Adam Sexton, and WMUR anchor Monica Hernandez moderated. 

The debate came four days after the February 3 Iowa caucuses, which traditionally have set the tone for the rest of the field.

But after a series of meltdowns and errors in the reporting of the results that kept snowballing over the course of the week, the Iowa caucuses ended up being one of the most disastrous elections in recent political history.

The results of the Iowa Democratic caucuses with 100% of precincts reporting showed Sen. Bernie Sanders narrowly leading Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the popular vote and statistically tied in state-delegate equivalents (SDEs), the metric usually used to determine the winner.

But the days of chaos and confusion surrounding the Iowa caucuses resulting in no clear winner being declared have thrown the entire race into a state of uncertainty, making this debate a crucial opportunity for candidates to shape the narrative they want ahead of Tuesday's primary. 

In Real Clear Politics' average of New Hampshire polls, Sanders leads the field with 26% support on average compared to 22% for Buttigieg, 13% each for Biden and Warren, 8% for Klobuchar, 3.3% for Yang, and 3% for Steyer. 

Here are the five biggest moments from Friday's debate: 

Joe Biden conceded he may lose the New Hampshire primary to Bernie Sanders

Right at the outset of the debate, Biden acknowledged that he is likely to lose New Hampshire's primary, likely to Sanders and Warren.

In Iowa, Biden had a disappointing fourth-place finish. He trailed three of his opponents, earning just 13.7% of the statewide vote and 16% of state delegate equivalents, and coming in seven percentage points behind the third-place finisher Warren. 

As several analysts pointed out, Iowa was never expected to be a prime pickup opportunity for Biden, given that the state's Democratic primary electorate is considerably whiter, more college-educated, and left-leaning than his base and the Democratic primary electorate. 

But still, earning just 13% of the statewide vote is a troubling sign for his future prospects — and a major blow to his core argument that he is most electable. 


Amy Klobuchar took direct aim at Mayor Pete Buttigieg's argument that a "Washington outsider" should be president


Biden got the debate hall to rise to a standing ovation for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Counsel official who testified in Trump's impeachment inquiry

On Friday, Trump fired Vindman, an Army foreign area officer detailed to the White House, who gave powerful testimony in Trump's impeachment hearings last month. 

As Insider reported earlier today, both Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny were abruptly dismissed and escorted off the premises of the White House. 

"Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman, a senior lawyer and ethics official at the National Security Council, and a decorated Iraq war veteran, was escorted off of the grounds of the White House, suddenly and with no explanation, despite over two decades of loyal service to this country," Vindman's attorney David Pressman said in a statement to Insider.


Sanders took the extraordinary step of calling Saudi Arabia's powerful leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) a "murderer"

While Bernie Sanders himself is a long-time critic of US military and economic support for Saudi Arabia, it's rare for major elected officials — and unprecedented for a major presidential candidate — to describe key Saudi leaders in such stark terms. 

On the debate stage, Sanders took aim at Saudi Arabia's human rights record and specifically the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post opinion writer Jamal Khashoggi, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Saudi agents in Instanbul in November 2018.   

In discussing Saudi Arabia, Sanders called the crown prince "a terrible murderer" over the Khashoggi murder.  


Pete Buttigieg was put on the spot over the rise in marijuana possession arrests in South Bend, and was called out by Elizabeth Warren for his answer

Despite his skill as fundraiser and campaigner, Buttigieg has consistently struggled among African-American and Latino voters, continuing to poll at or close to 0% among black voters. 

In an effort to improve his standing among black voters, Buttigieg has rolled out economic empowerment and criminal justice plans but has had to contend with his own controversial record on those issues. 

At the debate, ABC correspondent Linsey Davis challenged Buttigieg over the rise in marijuana possession arrests under his tenure in South Bend, Indiana, where he served as mayor for eight years.

After Buttigieg's somewhat evasive answer, Warren directly said "no" when Davis asked if Buttigieg's response was substantial, winning applause from the audience. 

Read more:

Joe Biden begins the Democratic debate by conceding he'll probably do poorly in the New Hampshire primary

The Iowa caucuses were one of the most disastrous elections in political memory — and dragged several campaigns down with them

LIVE RESULTS: Buttigieg and Sanders are nearly tied as the final votes from controversial Iowa caucus come in

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Tories express concern over Huawei role in UK 5G network

A group of senior Conservatives has written to Tory MPs expressing concern over the government’s decision to allow the China tech giant Huawei to have a role in building the UK’s 5G network.

Iain Duncan Smith, who is among the four cabinet ministers who have written the letter, said there was cross-party concern about the issue.

The letter, from Duncan Smith and others including Owen Paterson, David Davis and Damian Green, said some MPs were working to find a better solution to the 5G issue. The senior Tories want “high-risk” vendors to be ruled out immediately, or phased out over time.

The letter states: “We are seeking to identify a means by which we ensure that only trusted vendors are allowed as primary contractors into our critical national infrastructure. Trusted vendors would be companies from countries that have fair market competition, rule of law, respect human rights, data privacy and non-coercive government agencies.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on Saturday, Duncan Smith said the UK risked isolating itself if it pushed ahead with plans to go forward with Huawei, adding that Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US were all against the move.

He told the programme: “The foreign secretary said at the dispatch box that China is considered to be an aggressor in these matters, constantly attacking our systems alongside Russia. They claim Russia is an aggressor and they won’t have anything to do with Russian technology – then surely the same principle must apply to China.”

The UK government said it would allow Huawei to be involved in building peripheral parts of the 5G and full-fibre network, despite describing it as a high-risk vendor. It will also introduce a new regulatory framework aimed at ensuring the Chinese firm’s share of the 5G market cannot exceed 35% – and can be reduced over time.

In response, Duncan Smith said: “I think therefore we need to get the government to look to get the involvement of Huawei not to 35% but to 0%.”

He said there was a lot of disquiet over the government plans. “There is real concern across the floor of the house,” he said.

“We’ve got no friends out there any longer on this issue. Australia I’m told had a go at the foreign secretary about this decision when he went out there, New Zealand is against it, Canada is against it, America is against it. The ‘Five Eyes’ are all against it.

“The truth is security and the protection of the UK is the absolute number one priority for any government.”

The intervention comes as US vice-president Mike Pence indicated the decision by Boris Johnson to allow Huawei a limited role in 5G rollout could jeopardise a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the US.

Pence told the US broadcaster CNBC: “The United States is very disappointed that the United Kingdom has decided to go forward with Huawei.

“We are profoundly disappointed … When I went at the president’s direction in September I met with prime minister Johnson and I told him the moment the UK was out of Brexit we were willing to begin to negotiate a free-trade arrangement with the UK.”

Asked whether the decision could prove a deal-breaker, he said: “We’ll see. But we just don’t believe that utilising the assets, the technology of Huawei is consistent with the security or privacy interests of the UK, of the United States, and it remains a real issue between our two countries.”

The remarks came after it was reported that Donald Trump blasted Johnson with “apoplectic” rage during a phone call regarding the 5G move.

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