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Wednesday briefing: US trade deal hopes fade

·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

Top story: ‘We’re going as fast as we can’

Good morning. I’m Virginia Harrison and these are the top stories today.

Britain’s hopes of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US faded after Boris Johnson held face-to-face talks with president Joe Biden in the White House, prompting the UK to search for other avenues to boost economic ties with America. Johnson once regarded a bilateral free trade agreement with the US as a key Brexit win. But government insiders concede that they see little prospect towards a deal, with the Biden administration focused on other priorities. Asked whether he still hoped to strike a free-trade agreement by the time of the next general election, Johnson said “we’re going as fast as we can”. It means the “special relationship” still faces new challenges despite signs of healing.

As the prospect of an imminent deal with Washington dimmed, Downing Street appeared push other alternatives. The UK is understood to be considering joining an existing trade pact, namely the US-Canada-Mexico agreement. Biden also told Johnson that trade tensions involving the Irish border should not threaten peace in Northern Ireland.

* * *

Energy crisis – Ministers are looking at ways to cut energy bills for the poorest households amid soaring gas prices, with measures that could include raising existing discounts or payments. Analysis seen by the Guardian suggests a typical low-income UK family will be £1,750 worse off by next April, as power bills and other factors combine into a cost of living crisis. Pressure is growing on the government to address the squeeze on household incomes driven in part by the spike in gas prices. The government will provide “limited financial support” to help fertiliser factories resume production of CO2 and keep supplies going to the food industry.

* * *

China coal pledge – China will stop funding coal projects overseas, cutting the flow of public aid for the dirty energy contributing to the climate crisis. It’s a significant move – China is the main backer of coal projects in developing countries – but concerns remain over the country’s domestic emissions. President Xi Jinping made the announcement at the UN general assembly, where Joe Biden had promised to double Washington’s contribution to countries hardest hit by climate change. In the UK, ministers are trying to ban environmental protesters from targeting motorways after five days of tailbacks and damaging headlines for the government.

* * *

‘We heard this rumble’ – Australia’s south-east has been hit by a major earthquake that damaged buildings in Melbourne and caused tremors to be felt in Sydney, hundreds of miles north of the epicentre. Geoscience Australia said the magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Mansfield, two hours north-east of Melbourne, at about 9.15am. “We heard this rumble, like a big truck coming through the building,” said Mansfield cafe owner Rebecca Douglas.

* * *

Pills ‘overprescribed’ – One in 10 drugs dispensed by GPs and pharmacists in England are pointless and potentially harmful, a review has found, prompting a crackdown by ministers on overprescribing. Doctors will be told to boost the use of social prescribing, such as gardening, walking or volunteering, and call millions of patients in for reviews to see whether there are any pills they can stop taking. More than one in six of people take five or more medicines a day, increasing the risk of adverse effects, the review found. One in 14 (7%) are on eight drugs or more.

* * *

‘Just leave it alone’ – The designer of British Rail’s famous “double-arrow” logo has warned against government plans to give it a green makeover as a “load of old bollocks”. Gerry Barney, now 82, came up with the logo when he was a 24-year-old lettering artist. But the updated version for a “green railway” has met with his contempt. “I don’t know if it can be updated, it’s so simple,” he said. “They should just leave it well alone – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Today in Focus podcast

German voters will elect a new chancellor for the first time in 16 years on Sunday, as the Angela Merkel era ends. Our Berlin correspondent, Kate Connolly, talks to Nosheen Iqbal about the end of an era.

Lunchtime read: Gen X, booze and the quest for oblivion

Generation X-ers are heavy, risky drinkers thanks in part to the example of parents, the liberalisation of drinking laws and what Zoe Williams calls “the quest for oblivion” as people came of drinking age amid the nihilism of the 80s and 90s. But per capita drinking has peaked in the UK as younger people drink less. So will X-ers ever stop?


Eddie Jones has ushered in the “last chapter” of his England tenure, after revealing his intention to leave the role after the 2023 World Cup by culling four senior players and urging Owen Farrell to “stoke the fires” if he is to resume the captaincy this autumn. Europe’s Ryder Cup players have expressed gratitude towards Pádraig Harrington after the captain made a point of emphasising their place in history. Having gathered in Wisconsin on Monday evening, the European team were shown a video, later released to the public, which depicted their role as part of an elite sporting group. Manchester City’s tilt at a record fifth successive League Cup triumph took flight with a victory that impressed because of how Pep Guardiola’s much-changed side responded to conceding first. Seny Dieng thought that he had given QPR the edge, as did the majority inside a stadium that pulsed to the raucous beat of an enthralling Carabao Cup tie, including a pitch invader who made it as far as the centre circle, despite looking a little unsteady on his feet. Despite eve-of-game nerves surrounding a potential security threat, the third one-day international at Leicester between England and New Zealand took place without a single hiccup. Unless, that is, the home side’s batting counts: for the second time in as many matches, England’s top-order looked shot, as they stumbled to 78 for 7 after 23 overs.


The embattled Chinese property group Evergrande has allayed some fears of an imminent collapse by saying it can repay a local debt payment of $35m tomorrow. Although markets picked up on the news, Evergrande did not say whether it would also be able to meet a $83m interest payment on a US dollar debt also due tomorrow. The FTSE100 is set to lift 0.2% on the news, while the pound is on $1.365 and €1.165. Ladbrokes is the latest UK business to be targeted for takeover by a US rival, with Draft Kings offering £13bn for the company.

The papers

The Guardian leads with “No deal: PM’s hopes of securing trade pact with Biden in disarray”, and Boris Johnson’s trip to the US is also the lead in several other papers. The i says “No deal with US on trade, admits PM”, but the Times takes a more upbeat line with “Britain lines up to join American free-trade pact”, as does the Express: “Britain pushes for mega trade deal with US”. The Telegraph has the story on its front but splashes with “Macron may offer up UN seat in push for EU army”. The Mirror reports on “A perfect storm” coming on the cost of living, energy and food shortages, and the FT has “Energy watchdog presses Russia to ramp up European gas supply”. The Mail leads with “Priti: I’ll lock up the eco mob”. In Scotland, the Record splashes on “Gang war at killer’s funeral”.

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