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Europe World

U.S. Faces Tough ‘Great Game’ Against China in Central Asia and Beyond


KHIVA, Uzbekistan — Inside the ancient walls of the Silk Road oasis town of Khiva, China has put down a marker of its geopolitical ambitions. A sign promotes a Chinese aid project to renovate a once-crumbling mosque and a faded madrasa.

Outside the town’s northern gate, a billboard-size video screen shows clips of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan meeting with world leaders. President Xi Jinping of China features prominently, but there are no shots of President Trump.

That China is advertising its aid efforts so boldly in this remote outpost linking Asia and Europe — where camel caravans once arrived after crossing the Kyzylkum and Karakum Deserts — is the kind of action these days that sets off alarm bells among American officials. The Trump administration is trying with greater force to insert itself into the political and economic life of Central Asia to counter China’s presence. American officials see the countries in the heart of the continent’s vast, arid steppe as critical battlegrounds in the struggle with China over global influence.

“Whenever we speak to countries around the world, we want to make sure that we’re doing what the people of those countries want,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week at a news conference in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbeks want a “good, balanced relationship,” he said.

“They have long borders,” he added. “They sit in a region where China and Russia are both present.”

Leaders of the five Central Asian nations that became independent republics after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — are used to walking a regional tightrope. The area was contested during the so-called Great Game of the 19th century, when the British and Russian empires competed to establish influence and control.

Now a new game is underway. And officials in Central Asia, like many of their counterparts around the world, are hedging their bets when it comes to aligning with Washington or Beijing.

“I’d like to once again note that we want to see Central Asia as a region of stable development, prosperity and cooperation,” said Abdulaziz Kamilov, the foreign minister of Uzbekistan. “And we would really not like to feel on ourselves unfavorable political consequences in relation to some competition in our region between large powers.”

The State Department released a Central Asia strategy document on Feb. 5 that said the top priority was to “support and strengthen the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian states” — a reference to warding off the influence of China and Russia.

It is a tough mission for the United States. The nations are in China’s and Russia’s backyards, and there have been decades of close interactions among them. Mr. Xi has made multiple state visits to the countries since he took power in 2012, most recently last year.

The Trump administration has hit major setbacks in its attempts to build a global coalition against projects by the Chinese government and by Chinese companies. In fact, Britain said on Jan. 28 that it would not ban technology made by Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant, from its high-speed 5G wireless network, despite intense pressure from American officials.

Mr. Pompeo made London his first stop on a recent six-day trip to Europe and Central Asia, and he said there on Jan. 30 that the Chinese Communist Party was “the central threat of our times.” The next day, he spoke about China with leaders in Ukraine.

But words go only so far. The Americans fail to present an economical alternative to Huawei. And the Trump administration is discovering that its belligerent approach toward allies has a cost when it comes to China strategy. Withdrawing from the global Paris climate agreement and the landmark Iran nuclear deal, starting trade conflicts with friendly governments and berating members of NATO make those nations less likely to listen to Washington’s entreaties on China.

A recent policy report on China by the Center for a New American Security said “critical areas of U.S. policy remain inconsistent, uncoordinated, underresourced and — to be blunt — uncompetitive and counterproductive to advancing U.S. values and interests.”

Some analysts say the constant hawkish talk on China by Mr. Pompeo and other American officials paradoxically makes the United States look weak.

“And that last point is just the core of it for me. A central problem of US foreign policy today, not just in Central Asia, is that it feels increasingly reactive to me — back footed and on defense, not least in the face of Chinese initiatives,” Evan A. Feigenbaum, a deputy assistant secretary of state on Central Asia and South Asia in the George W. Bush administration who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on Twitter.

“To wit, the secretary of state just made the first visit by America’s top diplomat to Central Asia in five years — five! — but spent a hefty chunk of it talking about China,” he wrote. “The challenge for the US is to get off its reactive back foot and be proactive and on offense.”

The United States did not pursue serious partnerships in Central Asia until after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Pentagon needed regional bases for the war in Afghanistan.

China has taken a different approach. Beijing says it will help build up the region under what it calls the Silk Road Economic Belt, which is part of the larger Belt and Road Initiative, a blanket term for global infrastructure projects that, according to Beijing, amount to $1 trillion of investment. The Trump administration says the projects are potential debt traps, but many countries have embraced them.

The economic liberalization of Uzbekistan under Mr. Mirziyoyev, who took power in 2016 after the death of a longtime dictator, has resulted in greater trade with China.

China is Uzbekistan’s largest trading partner, and trade totaled almost $6.3 billion in 2018, a nearly 50 percent increase from 2017, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. Chinese goods, including Huawei devices, are everywhere in Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and other Uzbek cities.

Uzbekistan is also committing to being part of rail and road networks that China is building across Central Asia.

Since 2001, China has worked with Central and South Asian nations as well as Russia in a multilateral group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to address security issues.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has gained a new foothold in the region, in the form of a base in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains. For at least three years, Chinese troops have quietly kept watch from two dozen buildings and lookout towers near the Tajik-Chinese border and the remote Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan. The Afghan corridor is a strategic strip of land whose borders were drawn by Britain and Russia during the original Great Game as a buffer zone.

The United States had hundreds of troops at an air base in Uzbekistan that it operated with the Uzbeks. But it wants to move the relationship well beyond the military.

“We want private investment, American private investment sector, to flow between our two nations,” Mr. Pompeo said.

He added that the United States had committed $100 million to programs in Uzbekistan last year, and that it would give $1 million to help develop financial markets and another $1 million to increase trade and “connectivity” between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

On his trip, Mr. Pompeo also made a demand regarding human rights in China as he met with officials in Tashkent and Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. He raised the issue of China’s internment camps that hold one million or more Muslims and urged the Central Asian nations, which are predominantly Muslim, to speak out against the camps. In Nur-Sultan, he met with Kazakhs who have had family members detained in the camps.

Yet, as in other predominantly Muslim nations, Central Asian leaders have remained silent on this. (Mr. Trump himself has said nothing, and Mr. Pompeo has been accused of hypocrisy by excluding Taiwan, the democratic island that China threatens, from a religious freedom alliance.)

In December, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, denounced Washington’s prodding of Central Asian nations on the Muslim issue: “If the United States once again tries to get up to its old tricks, it will certainly still be futile for them.”

Trump administration policies perceived as anti-Muslim undermine trust in Washington. On Jan. 31, Mr. Trump added Kyrgyzstan and five other nations, all with substantial Muslim populations, to a list of countries whose citizens are restricted in traveling to the United States. In an interview in Nur-Sultan, a Kazakh television journalist, Lyazzat Shatayeva, asked Mr. Pompeo, “What do you think that signals to the other countries and other governments in Central Asia on why it happened?”

Mr. Pompeo said Kyrgyzstan must “fix” certain things: “passport issues, visa issues, visa overstays.”

“When the country fixes those things,” he said, “we’ll get them right back in where they can come travel to America.”



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Economy

Pound drops sharply against dollar as Boris Johnson talks tough on Brexit trade deal



The pound fell more than 1 per cent against the dollar on Monday after Boris Johnson laid out a hard-line approach to Brexit negotiations with Brussels, prompting renewed fears that Britain will leave the EU without a trade deal in 11 months.

Sterling dropped sharply to $1.307 and was down 0.6 per cent against the euro to €1.181.

The prime minister is to lay out his vision on Monday for a “Canada-style” free-trade deal, vowing to ensure that the UK will not be bound by any EU rules on social protections and the environment.

However, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that Brussels would only offer a “highly ambitious” trade deal with zero tariffs on goods if Britain aligned with EU standards.


Mr Barnier said there needed to be a “level playing field” on regulatory standards over the long term.

The impasse again raises the prospect that Britain could crash out with no deal at the end of 2020 when the transition period finishes.

In a speech to business leaders and ambassadors in London, Mr Johnson will say: “There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules.

“The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas – better, in many respects, than those of the EU – without the compulsion of a treaty and it is vital to stress this now.”

He will add: “We have often been told that we must choose between full access to the EU market, along with accepting its rules and courts on the Norway model, or an ambitious free trade agreement, which opens up markets and avoids the full panoply of EU regulation, on the example of Canada.

“We have made our choice: we want a free trade agreement, similar to Canada’s.”

But EU officials cast doubt over Mr Johnson’s claims. European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen said: “There is no such thing as the right to free access to the single market. It will always be a mix of rights and obligations.”

Sterling’s fall on Monday erased gains made after the Bank of England voted last week not to cut interest rates.

Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at Spreadex, said fears for the pound among currency traders were “not unfounded”.

“They are based on the details of a speech Boris Johnson is set to deliver to businesspeople and ambassadors, one stating that the UK will refuse close alignment with EU rules and reject the jurisdiction of European courts. In other words, exactly the kind of tactic that is going to give sterling palpitations over the coming months.”

The FTSE 100 was given a boost by sterling’s troubles, rising 0.5 per cent as a weaker pound helped boost the prospects of multinationals that generate profits in other currencies.



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Politics

Labour leadership: ‘Tough old bird’ Emily Thornberry says she will make it through to next round



Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said she is confident she will secure enough MPs’ and MEPs’ nominations by Monday’s deadline to secure a place in the contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Ms Thornberry risks being eliminated early from the contest if she fails to add a further 12 nominations by the 2.30pm deadline to her tally of 10, which has left her lagging behind rivals Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips who have already cleared the 22-signature hurdle.

Despite saying that she is not “personally ambitious”, Ms Long-Bailey insisted that she does want to win the leadership, amid Westminster gossip that she may have been pushed by others to put herself forward as the standard-bearer of the left.


The Salford and Eccles MP denied being the “continuity Corbyn” candidate, telling Sky News: “It annoys me when people say that and unfortunately as a woman, it annoys me even more. I’m a person in my own right.”

Ms Long-Bailey’s campaign has been boosted by the decision of the Momentum steering committee to recommend her for leader in a ballot of the Corbyn-backing movement’s membership this week, and she is expected to secure the endorsement of the influential Unite movement.

But there is consternation among the Labour left that her campaign has misfired in the early days, allowing centrist rival Starmer to establish a strong lead in polling and nominations.

Asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday whether she really wanted the leader’s job, the shadow business secretary replied: “Of course I do. I want to lead this party and not only lead the party, I want to be prime minister because I got involved in politics to change the world.”


Rebecca Long-Bailey calls for abolition of the House of Lords

As of Sunday, the shadow Brexit secretary had 68 nominations from MPs and MEPs, against Long-Bailey’s 26, Nandy’s 24 and Phillips’ 22. Mixed-race candidate Clive Lewis, trailing in last place with four, suggested that “structural racism” may be a factor in Labour never having elected a leader from an ethnic minority.

Ms Thornberry brushed off suggestions that her campaign will come to an abrupt end on Monday.

“There is a large number of MPs who haven’t nominated yet,” the shadow foreign secretary told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

“From the conversations I have had this weekend I am fairly confident that, as long as I don’t get any slippage, I will be fine. I am going to get across the line and then we will move on to the next stage.

“It is a long contest and it will have its ups and downs. I have been a slow starter, but I did start from a standing start after the general election.”

Ms Thornberry said it was understandable that Labour MPs and members might initially turn to shadow Brexit secretary Starmer as a “safe pair of hands” in the immediate aftermath of the party’s disastrous defeat in last month’s general election.

But she described herself as a “tough old bird” who would pick up support as the remaining 12 weeks of the campaign play out.

“The contest is not a week long, the contest is many months and when it opens up and people are able to breathe and look at the situation and think to the future, as opposed to their deep grief about the past, then it will open up much more,” said the Islington South & Finsbury MP.

“I come from a long line of tough old birds and there have been lots of tough old birds in the Labour Party. It would be great for there to be one who becomes leader of the Labour Party, but we’ve several months to make a decision.”

Ms Thornberry hit back at allegations of snobbery sparked by a 2014 tweet allegedly poking fun at a house covered with England flags, as well as her own lifestyle as a barrister and the husband of a judge.

“I don’t sneer at people and it’s not fair to say it,” she said. “The truth of the matter is I was brought up on a council estate, in a house that looks very similar to this, my brother was a builder until he had an accident. I’ve got a sister who’s a bus driver.

“I’m a successful woman but I have had a struggle getting here. I’ve been successful and I’m proud of that and actually, if the Labour Party isn’t proud of people who are successful, what are we about?”

From left, Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey (PA/Reuters)

She said that she was ready to stand up to US president Donald Trump if she becomes leader and prime minister.

“I could do a Theresa May and hold his hand or do a Boris Johnson and be a Donald Trump Mini-Me tribute act,” she said.

“But what you do with bullies is stand up to them and say ‘This is wrong, you shouldn’t do this, you are destabilising the world, what you have done in Iran is wrong’.

“We have to be truthful and say it as it is and that’s what I do.”

Any of the six contenders for the succession who obtain the necessary 22 nominations by Monday afternoon must then overcome a second hurdle before securing their place on the ballot paper, by winning the endorsement of 5 per cent of constituency parties or three affiliated organisations – including two trade unions – by 14 February.

Candidates who meet those requirements will go forward to a postal ballot of around 500,000 members, registered supporters and affiliates, beginning on 21 February, with the victor announced at a special conference on 4 April.

Contenders for the deputy leader post vacated before the election by Tom Watson must also go through the same process to the same timetable. By Sunday, shadow education secretary  Angela Rayner was clear front-runner with 72 nominations, with the party’s sole Scottish MP Ian Murray also past the 22-signature milepost with 30. Still needing more endorsements to stay in the race were shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon on 18, Rosena Allin-Khan on 17 and equalities spokeswoman Dawn Butler on 15.

Labour supporters who do not want to join the party can get a vote in the contest by paying a £25 registration fee between Tuesday and Thursday this week. And new members who join before a “freeze date” of 20 January will also be entitled to take part.



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Economy

Boost for retailers as Mark Carney hints at cutting interest rate after tough Christmas



The former Bank of England governor Lord Mervyn King once said the real meaning of Christmas for the economy and interest rates would not be revealed until Easter.

With the 12 days of Christmas only just over, his successor Mark Carney seems to have spotted an early downbeat message emerging from the high street.

In a speech at the bank on Thursday, Mr Carney said household spending growth had slowed as uncertainty about the overall economic outlook had become more entrenched. While he expected this and other negative trends to reverse, this rebound was not assured, he said.


“With the relatively limited space to cut the bank rate, if evidence builds that the weakness in activity could persist, risk management considerations would favour a relatively prompt response,” he said.

“The economy has been sluggish, slack has been growing, and inflation is below target. Much hinges on the speed with which domestic confidence returns.”

He also raised the prospect that the Bank could add further economic stimulus by increasing its purchases of both gilts and corporate bonds. While at 0.75 per cent there is not much room for further rate cuts, Mr Carney said that including further quantitative easing and so-called forward guidance, the Bank had the equivalent of 250 basis points (2.5 percentage points of policy space) to play with.

Whether the Bank will fire any of this arsenal at its next meeting in early February is a moot point. Indeed, Mr Carney said there was a debate within the monetary policy committee (MPC) over the “relative merits of near-term stimulus” to reinforce the expected recovery in UK growth and inflation.

One factor will be whether the end of the protracted political stalemate over Brexit that ended when Boris Johnson won an 80-seat majority on 12 December will translate into a rise in consumer confidence, and thus spending.

The latest data published on Thursday showed there is certainly room for improvement. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said shops suffered their worst annual performance for at least a quarter of a century in December.

The value of retail sales fell 0.1 per cent in 2019, from 1.2 per cent growth in 2018, so making the worst year since comparable data were first gathered in 1995.

This was despite desperate price cutting by retailers in the run-up to the festive season. The BRC said prices were down 0.4 per cent in December thanks to a 1.5 per cent slump in prices for non-food items – otherwise known as Christmas presents.

Howard Archer, chief economist at the EY Item Club, an economic forecaster, said it was more evidence of a “difficult Christmas”, adding that it was a “blow to fourth quarter 2019 growth prospects as [the] data point to weak consumer spending”.

Barclaycard said consumer spending was up just 1 per cent year-on-year in December, while John Lewis reported sales fell 2 per cent year-on-year in the seven weeks to 4 January.

Brexit was clearly a factor. The BRC’s chief executive Helen Dickinson said the public’s confidence in Britain’s trade negotiations with the EU would have a big impact on spending over the coming year.

Last month and in November, two of the nine policymakers on the MPC voted to cut interest rates to 0.5 per cent from 0.75 per cent, although Mr Carney himself backed keeping rates on hold.

With the pound down as much as 0.5 per cent against the dollar after Mr Carney’s remarks, the odds of a very late Christmas present for shoppers and retailers alike have just shortened.



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Europe World

And You Thought Brexit Was Tough …


Mr. Johnson is trying to build bridges to European officials, having seen that his positive relationship with Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, helped him strike a critical deal on Britain’s withdrawal last fall. As is so often the case with Brexit, there is a danger of the two sides talking past each other.

In Brussels, officials are preoccupied by the complexity of the looming trade talks and are pushing the British to be pragmatic. They seem baffled by Mr. Johnson’s insistence on a compressed, time-limited negotiation, which they say could inflict needless damage on Britain’s economy.

Yet, in London, the Brexit project has always been driven by politics rather than economics. After his big election victory, Mr. Johnson is determined not to repeat the experience of his predecessor, Theresa May, whose leadership was destroyed by the crippling debate over withdrawal from the European Union.

Government officials have been told to avoid using the word “Brexit” to underscore the idea that the Jan. 31 departure will settle the issue once and for all. Mr. Johnson wants to resolve future trade ties quickly, so he can shift his government’s focus to less toxic domestic issues like health care.

Analysts also said the prime minister is calculating that if some damage to the British economy from Brexit is inevitable, it would make sense to sustain it early so that his government has four years or so to turn around the election before he faces voters in the next general election.

Mr. Johnson’s main objective on Wednesday was to convince Dr. von der Leyen that there will be no extension to the transition period. But she held out hope that Britain might reconsider in July, the last milestone at which Mr. Johnson could petition for an extension.

In a statement Downing Street described the talks as “positive” and said Britain wanted “a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and cooperation in other areas,” though the British say they want a different type of negotiation to the last one where nothing was agreed until everything was. That would open the way to a series of more limited accords, were Brussels to agree.



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Lifestyle Style

David Haye: ‘Injury gets very lonely, it’s tough when you can see the rest of the world moving on’



For a couple of years, David Haye was on top of the boxing world. He was young, good looking, earning £2m paychecks from his biggest fights and living his lifelong dream as a heavyweight champion. He had toppled the 7ft Russian ‘Frankenstein’, Nikolai Valuev, to claim the WBA belt, and beaten challengers John Ruiz and Audley Harrison to retain it, so when he stepped into a bear pit in July 2011 to take on the great Wladimir Klitschko in an attempt to unify the division, Haye did so brimming with confidence at the peak of his powers.

But from that sweaty night in Hamburg, things began to unravel. Haye lost the fight to a unanimous decision and broke his toe in the process. He pulled out of a subsequent bout with Manuel Charr after suffering a hand injury, postponed a contest against Tyson Fury after sustaining a deep cut to the head, and eventually cancelled the Fury meeting altogether to have shoulder surgery. Fury accused Haye of running scared, but the reality was that the former champion was in danger of never stepping into a ring again.

“My doctor told me it was a career-threatening injury,” Haye tells The Independent. “The press took that as ‘David has retired’. It felt like the media were trying to retire me publicly.” He had gone from the very pinnacle of the sport to near-irrelevance in two years, and it hurt almost as more than his shattered shoulder. “I had some tough, dark moments. That’s life, everybody has dark moments. You can see the athletes who achieve great heights but you don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that goes on behind the scenes when they weren’t able to compete, how they were living, what they were doing, what drive they had. Does your ambition start to dwindle? Do you somehow have to conjure up a mindset that you’ve never had before? I had to ask myself a lot of questions.”


He set his sights on not only recovering from injury but returning to the heart of the heavyweight scene, but all the while the sport continued without him. “It gets very lonely, it’s tough when you can see the rest of the world moving on. Big fights keep happening and you’re not in them. You know you have the ability but there’s an injury that’s stopping you from being able to perform.”

Slowly Haye built back his fitness. He stuck meticulously to a holistic rehab regime which worked every facet in tandem with his shoulder, as well as his back after he underwent spinal surgery. “I couldn’t use one of my arms for eight months. I had to use every other part of my body – I didn’t want to let the remainder of my body diminish. So finally when my arm did get better, I didn’t have to build everything back up. It was all about trying to live the best way you can. You need to just have in mind where you want to get to. You’ve got to focus on that, so you know everything you do daily is getting you that bit closer.”

At the age of 35, more than three years after his last fight, Haye returned, drawing a worldwide audience to see him knockout the world’s No10 ranked heavyweight, Mark de Mori. Haye beat Swiss fighter Arnold Gjergjaj too, before setting up a showdown with fellow Briton Tony Bellew, where an Achilles injury left him tottering to an epic points defeat, one described in some quarters as his greatest performance despite the loss. “I tried as hard as I could,” Haye reflects. “You can’t rewind the clock on your body. I was able to get back and perform. I had four more fights, two victorious. Even walking to the ring to fight Tony Bellew, I still thought ‘I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world’. I think that sort of mindset is what sets people apart.”

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Lifestyle Style

Coming from a fractured family means I find Christmas tough, even though I don’t celebrate it



One morning, I woke up and started hyperventilating. I wasn’t unwell, nobody had been in an accident and it wasn’t the anniversary of a relative’s death. It was Christmas Day and I was having a panic attack.

I’ve never liked Christmas. But it’s not because I think tinsel is garish and find mince pies sickeningly sweet, nor is it because I’m Jewish – many Jews actually celebrate it, but that’s besides the point. Let me explain.

Romantic comedies, supermarket adverts and earnest Instagram posts paint a hyper-idealised picture of Christmas, one that’s characterised by bustling dinner tables, idiosyncratic traditions, and families coming together. This is great if your life is a Richard Curtis film. If it isn’t, Christmas can seem like an exclusive, glitter-covered, party that everyone but you is invited to.


This representation ignores the fact that homelessness, bereavement and mental health issues make Christmas the toughest time of year for some people. It neglects to acknowledge that not everyone’s Christmas is, or could possibly be, defined by excess, indulgence and materialism. And it conditions us to think we need copious amounts of presents, a gluttonous five-course meal and a harmonious family in order to participate in the celebrations.

For many, Christmas serves only to highlight all that they don’t have. For me, it’s the family thing.

As an only child with divorced parents who live halfway across the world from one another, I, like a lot of people, don’t fit the nuclear family mould that is most visible at this time of year. While I’m quite used to my situation – my parents split when I was four years old – over the years several things have contributed to an underlying sadness that strangely comes to the fore at Christmas, even though I’ve never celebrated it.

In my family – and by that I mean my mum and her boyfriend – we don’t have traditions, we don’t get each other presents and we certainly aren’t five mince pies down by 11am: we just don’t do Christmas. In fact, we often don’t spend the day together. Sometimes this is because one of us has gone to the cinema in search of some escapism. Occasionally it’s because mum has gone on a long walk alone. But more often than not, it’s because there has been a row. Of course, lots of families argue over Christmas, but there’s something unifying about it when a big group is involved, when everything can feel resolved after a quick gossip with your sibling over a mug of mulled wine.

When you’re an only child, you’re a one-man show: nobody else has your mum for a mum, or your dad for a dad, so nobody can truly empathise with your experience. I realised this five years ago on Christmas Eve, when a family dispute resulted in me being told to get out of the house. It was 11pm and, in an apt instance of pathetic fallacy, pouring with rain.

Like most people who make a dramatic, door-slamming exit from their own home, I had nowhere to go – ‘twas the night before Christmas after all, which meant all of my friends were tucked up with their families while I was trying to figure out why I didn’t quite fit in mine. So I walked up and down my road for 45 minutes until I stopped sobbing. When I went back inside, the dust had settled. But walking past my mum in silence and retreating to my bedroom to send desperate texts to friends, which obviously went unanswered, wasn’t exactly the ideal precursor to a day that everyone tells you is about family time. The next morning, I woke up feeling more emotionally drained than ever, like I was being suffocated by some dark mental cloud. Then I stopped breathing, ergo, the hyperventilating, which has returned viciously every year since.

I’ve tried to avoid this situation on occasion by flying to the US to be with my dad, which can feel like the most indulgent of breaks. When I’m there over Christmas, we go to the cinema, walk around the local town and order greasy Chinese takeaway. But no matter what the activity is, I often wind up feeling even more isolated there than I would at home in the UK. With two young children, a wife and a dog, my dad has established his own family unit. Everything and everyone is in place – it is stable. People fit. When I visit, as the older daughter from a failed marriage, it’s almost impossible not to feel slightly out of sorts.

The result is a strange kind of imposter syndrome, only the circumstance I feel I’m imposing on – Christmas with your family – should be the most welcoming of all, at least, that’s what we’ve all been told.

My anxieties about Christmas start building in November, which is when a lot of people are already getting excited about the various festivities. The conversations about what kind of Christmas food people will be eating, whose home they’ll be at and what time Love Actually will be screened in the living room aren’t just common, they’re expected, which makes it all the more awkward when you feel like you’ve got nothing to contribute.

I was once asked in a job interview to describe my perfect Christmas day. Surprisingly, my many “erms” and “ers” did not paint me as the most articulate of individuals. I ended up telling the truth, which spiralled into me offering up my family history and confessing everything I’ve spoken about here. I did not get the job.

As a 25-year-old who no longer needs their parents in the same way they once did, I’m optimistic that this year, my Christmas experience might be different. I will be with my cousins, one of whom just got engaged and has invited some fellow non-believers over for lunch. There will be turkey, there might be crackers and there could also be Christmas presents. For the first time ever, I think I will buy some. Although I have left it to the last minute (I hear that’s common), I rather like the idea of spending time thinking about what someone else might want or need at this time of year, when I find it all too easy to get caught up in my own thoughts. And it’s not just about buying gifts. On the day itself, I will send messages to the friends who have lost people they loved and check in with those who I know suffer from depression. I will also make a donation to Crisis, the charity working to help homeless people at Christmas.

I’m never going to be someone who reels off Elf quotes, wears tinsel as a scarf and starts singing along to Michael Bublé on my commute. But perhaps my family tensions will dissipate this year, the dark clouds will clear and I’ll wake up on 25 December not from a panic attack, but with a sigh of relief. I’d really like to think so.

If you have been affected by any issues mentioned in this article, you can contact The Samaritans for free on 116 123 or any of the following mental health organisations:

mind.org.uk

nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth

mentalhealth.org.uk

samaritans.org

anxietyuk.org.uk



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Business Energy & Environment

As Climate Risk Grows, Cities Test a Tough Strategy: Saying ‘No’ to Developers


VIRGINIA BEACH — Glimpsed from a kayak on West Neck Creek, this swampy piece of land, a pocket of red maple and loblolly pine tucked behind growing subdivisions, doesn’t look like the stuff of existential debate.

But this is where Virginia Beach, squeezed between the clamor for new housing and the relentlessness of flooding worsened by climate change, decided to draw its line in the mud.

The city last year became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to developers — despite their political and economic clout — when it rejected a proposal to build a few dozen homes on this soggy parcel of 50 acres, arguing that those homes would be unsafe. The developers sued, accusing officials of making their project a scapegoat as voters clamored for action after disastrous flooding.

This past May, a judge ruled that Virginia Beach was within its rights to stop the development. The city’s experience could become a harbinger for others nationwide.

“It’s a confrontation with reality,” Bobby Dyer, Virginia Beach’s mayor, said in an interview in his office. “Not everybody’s going to be happy.”

As the Trump administration reverses efforts to fight global warming, local officials around the country are forced to grapple with more intense flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. That pressure is colliding with development, which provides jobs, homes and taxes but which also can increase the future risk of disaster as construction spreads into floodplains or forests that are prone to calamity.

The outcome of that battle will shape Americans’ vulnerability to climate change for generations — and so far, development seems to be prevailing. In many coastal states, homes are going up at the fastest rate in the most flood-prone areas. The number of new houses in what experts call the wildland-urban interface, where the wildfire threat tends to be greatest, increased 41 percent nationwide between 1990 and 2010.

But as the financial and emotional costs of disasters increase, so does the evidence of a shifting mind-set.

On Tuesday, the Pew Charitable Trusts, a research and advocacy group, released a report describing how a few cities and states have successfully reduced flooding vulnerability. Their actions are “a recipe for success” for others, said Laura Lightbody, director of Pew’s flood-prepared communities initiative.

The examples include Norfolk, Va., which last year imposed new rules on developers, including a requirement that every new home be elevated. Some home builders resisted, saying the rules would be too costly, said Andria P. McClellan, a city councilor. “There was definitely some pushback,” Ms. McClellan said. “Change is difficult.”

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Pew also highlighted Vermont. After Tropical Storm Irene damaged or destroyed some 2,400 roads, 300 bridges and 800 homes in 2011, the state looked for ways to encourage towns to protect against flooding.

A main tool was the state’s Emergency Relief and Assistance Fund, which rewards communities that cut their climate risk by picking up more of the tab for the work. To get the most funding, communities had to take more difficult steps like coming up with a plan for limiting development along flood- and erosion-prone riverbanks.

It’s a high bar, and only about a third of the state’s communities have met it, said Lauren Oates, the state’s hazard mitigation officer. That’s partly because they fear the loss of future tax revenues if they limit building. “Often it doesn’t go over well,” Ms. Oates said.

But there are exceptions. In Northfield, where many houses were destroyed during Irene, officials bought out some 18 homes and built a park that serves as an absorbent buffer when waters overflow the Dog River.

“There were people who were not happy,” said Michele Braun, a former zoning administrator for the town, since it meant the loss of about $2.7 million in property value for tax revenue. She recalled telling them: “The buyout didn’t destroy $3 million worth of real estate. It was the flood.”

In parts of the West, cities and counties are imposing restrictions on building at the forest’s edge, despite resistance from developers.

In 2015, the Sleepy Hollow fire burned 28 homes in Wenatchee, Wash., a city less than 100 miles east of Seattle. In response, officials are pushing fire safety measures that include requiring houses to be built farther apart in the neighborhoods at the edge of the Cascade Range.

Spacing out homes reduces the chance that fire will jump from one to the next. However, from a developer’s perspective, it makes the property “less financially viable,” said Steve King, the city’s director of economic development.

Builders have pushed back, but Mr. King said the city had no choice. “There will be another fire,” he said. “Hopefully, next time we won’t lose a bunch of homes.”

But perhaps nowhere in the country better demonstrates the trend than Virginia Beach, where some residents delight in listing the myriad ways their city can flood: Southeastern winds can push water inland from Back Bay. Nor’easters can drop rainwater from the Atlantic. Heavy rains can overwhelm the shallow water table, pushing water up from the earth itself.

But even for a city accustomed to flooding, the storms in the fall of 2016 that culminated in Hurricane Matthew were shocking, damaging some 2,000 buildings and leaving entire neighborhoods underwater for days.

“It was scary,” Rebecca Levitt said in front of her home in Ashville Park, a new development built on what used to be wetlands. She recounted how knee-deep water covered her lawn and driveway and made roads impassable. “We could not get out.”

The inundation of Ashville Park became emblematic of the city’s perceived failure to deal with the risks of climate change. Faced with irate residents, officials began looking more closely at development applications like the proposal for the 50 acres along West Neck Creek.

Six months before Matthew, a company called Argos Properties II, controlled by three brothers, Paul, Steve and Tasos Galiotos, filed an application to rezone land their father had bought decades earlier, enabling them to build some 30 homes on the highest 15 acres.

After Matthew, the application languished, as officials asked the developers for more information, according to a timeline later submitted as part of the Galiotoses’ lawsuit against the city. In April 2018, the City Council voted unanimously to reject it.

The reason for that rejection depends on whom you ask. Officials said that the single road in and out of the subdivision would be subject to flooding, raising the risk that emergency vehicles would be unable to reach the homes during a storm.

If that happens, “you have 30 homes sitting truly on an island,” said Gerald Harris, an attorney for Virginia Beach.

That the area floods is not in dispute. John Rice, who last year bought the house across the road from what would have been the entrance to the new development, said his property is under water constantly, “and we haven’t had a bad storm yet.” His front yard features a small berm to blunt the wake caused by cars as they drive along the often-flooded road.

The Galiotos brothers declined to comment. Their lawyer, Robert McFarland, said the decision had more to do with political pressure from residents wanting their representatives to take flood risk more seriously. He noted that a similar development right next to the Galiotos property was approved just before Matthew struck.

“I think Hurricane Matthew crystallized for some folks the issue of flooding and sea level rise, and that no further development of any kind should take place in this area,” Mr. McFarland said. His clients, he added, “were made an example of.”

Other developers noticed, as did residents. After Matthew, a group of developers that included the local state senator, Bill DeSteph, sought permission to build more than 100 homes next to Ashville Park. Nearby residents objected, saying that turning more wetlands into homes would worsen their flood problem.

The residents prevailed. Last November, city staff recommended against approving the construction. The developers, while saying that their project wouldn’t increase the flood risk, nonetheless withdrew their application. “With the flooding in the area, the Council wasn’t going to approve anything,” Senator DeSteph said in an interview.

“Step one is stop the development until we have a solution,” said Melani Moreno, a nearby farmer who started a petition to stop the project. She spoke at her kitchen table, where she laid out photographs of recent flooding.

Developers reject that argument. “If we shut everything down, prices are going up, and it’s going to make home buying unaffordable,” said Patrick L. Reynolds, president of the Tidewater Builders Association, the trade group for local home builders.

Virginia Beach’s new position has generated mixed praise from environmentalists. Jared Brandwein, executive director of the Back Bay Restoration Foundation, which works to protect the local watershed, said the city should go further, buying land from developers in vulnerable areas so that more homes don’t go up.

Others are more positive. Skip Stiles, head of Wetlands Watch, a regional environmental advocacy group, said officials deserve praise for responding to public pressure since Hurricane Matthew, rather than hoping it subsides.

“The entire City Council was going: ‘Darn right we’ve got to fix this. I’ve got a bunch of angry, wet people,’” Mr. Stiles said. The most basic step, he said, is straightforward: “Don’t build in stupid places.”



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Ex-Liverpool midfielder Emre Can keen to take on board the lessons from ‘tough time’ on the sidelines at Juventus



Emre Can hasn’t been able to force his way into the Juventus lineup this season, leading to suggestions he might be on his way out in January. Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Manchester United have all been linked with him.

The German midfielder was left out of the Champions League squad for his team this season, with Maurizio Sarri making it clear he is not in his plans.

With Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and new arrivals such as Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey all ahead of Can in the order of preference, game time remains at a premium for the former Liverpool man.

It’s a far cry from last season, when Can played well over 2,000 minutes for the Turin club, as a regular member of the squad.

Speaking to Kicker, though, Can said that he is remaining open-minded about his future and simply wants to be prepared for when his next chance comes along.

“I’m just an ambitious guy who always wants to compete at the highest level, but I’m also learning from this tough time when things are not going the way I was hoping,” he said.

“I’m not playing games from the start, so I’m not happy, but I will stay strong and keep working on myself.

“I’m often in the gym before or after training, doing extra shifts. I want to be ready.

“A lot can always happen in football.”

Aside from his first-team frustrations, Can has taken aim at the attitude he perceives from younger players at the club.

Juventus celebrate (AFP via Getty Images)

He feels that they are not sufficiently driven to learn from the experienced personnel at the club, and are thus missing out on a chance to progress their own careers.

“They have the chance of a lifetime if they are allowed to practice with the professionals.

“However, some of them sometimes have a body language that almost makes me angry

“I often go to these players at Juventus, talk to them, try to show them what they can do when they try hard and show themselves. But some don’t understand it.” 



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Gareth Southgate explains why England are a ‘tough game’ for anyone



Gareth Southgate believes England have shown to themselves and the rest of Europe that they can threaten the best at Euro 2020 – which is lucky as the top seeds could get a nasty draw for next summer’s finals.

Thursday’s 7-0 drubbing of Montenegro sealed top spot in Group A and automatic qualification for next summer’s finals, when the Three Lions’ pool matches will be played at Wembley.

England were not as convincing three days later at improving Kosovo yet emerged 4-0 victors in Pristina, thanks to efforts from Harry Winks, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount.

That win in the Balkans means they are guaranteed to be among the top six seeds in the Euro 2020 draw later this month, which in theory should provide a kinder draw.

But the likes of World Cup winners France, Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia and reigning European champions Portugal are among those that could be drawn against Southgate’s side in Romania.

“Well, the reality is we don’t know how important (it will be),” the England manager said of their place as top seeds. “But, for sure, if we’d finished second and got a stinker of a draw, then we would be getting pelters!

“So, better to win the group and control as much of our destiny as we can, and we wanted to keep winning football matches. So, yeah, let’s see.

“I think the good thing is that whoever comes to play us knows they are in for a tough game, so we’ve got to have some confidence about what we’re doing as well. That said, we’ve got a lot to keep improving on, and we know that.

“So, none of us are complacent in any way, we keep pushing the players for the fine details of the game all the time, and they want that, they are hungry for that, which is a really good sign for us.”

Last year’s World Cup semi-finalists have every right to be confident, even if Southgate knows there are some defensive and midfield gremlins to iron out.

Gomez and Southgate on the sideline for England (Action)

England’s dynamic, potent attack provides the most excitement, with the Three Lions boss previously admitting Raheem Sterling, Rashford and Kane are among the best trios in the world.

“Raheem, Harry and Marcus are so exciting to work with,” Southgate said. “Then, with the younger ones that are supporting that.

“So, it’s clearly an area of the team that they thrive from each other, they create for each other, they are all scoring goals – which wasn’t the case 18 months ago, particularly for Marcus and Raheem, in the numbers that they’ve been getting.

“But they work so hard for the team, you know. That is, for me, the biggest thing.

Rashford looks a starter for England (AP)

“Nobody in our squad can ever shirk the hard work because when your forward three create the way they do, score the way they do, but press and work for the team the way they do, it’s brilliant for the culture of how we want, and how we need, to play.”

The cutting edge shown was certainly among the positives in Pristina on a largely underwhelming evening, albeit one that completed a solid international week that threatened to be thrown off kilter by Sterling’s skirmish with team-mate Joe Gomez.

Tottenham midfielder Winks’ man-of-the-match display in Kosovo on the back of a promising performance against Kosovo was a big plus, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was another big winner from this meet-up.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is pushing to be first choice again for club and country (REUTERS)

Left out of last month’s England squad as the Liverpool midfielder continued to rebuild fitness following a nasty knee injury, the 26-year-old has impressed across two starts in November.

“I think tonight was physically challenging for him,” Southgate said.

“We know that he’s tended to come off 75-80 (minutes) into his matches for Liverpool, so we didn’t want to overload him, so the 55 on Thursday hopefully was a good bridge into today and I think that was a bit more of a challenge for him, but I think it will help him.

“And in terms of the attributes for the position, perfect because you need guys that can defend, and it’s obvious the attacking talent that he has and the forward runs that he made at Wembley the other night and a couple of times today.

“But against the top teams and against the opposition tonight, we needed people who could do both sides of the game and he really fits that profile brilliantly.”

PA



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