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By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Every passing day reduces chances for sealing a new trade deal with Britain, the European Union's chief executive said on Wednesday, warning London that there was "very little time" left to put an agreement in place by the end of the year.

In her major annual policy speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dedicated just a few sentences to Brexit, mostly focusing on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic as well as digital and climate investments.

"With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade," von der Leyen told the European Parliament in a "state of the (European) Union" speech styled on the ones U.S. presidents deliver.

Von der Leyen also stressed both the EU and Britain negotiated and ratified their Brexit divorce deal and warned London the agreement "cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied".

"This is a matter of law, trust and good faith... Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership," she said.

Von der Leyen said the bloc would "never backtrack" on UK's divorce deal, which took three years to negotiate, as it was protecting the delicate peace on the island of Ireland from the consequences of Brexit.

Brexit talks are now in crisis yet again as Prime Minister Boris Johnson put forward a new Internal Market Bill to the UK parliament that would undercut Britain's EU divorce treaty.

That increased the risk of the most damaging, no-deal economic split precipitating at the end of the year when Britain's standstill post-Brexit transition ends.

Reuters reported exclusively on Tuesday, however, that Britain had quietly offered concessions on fisheries in trade talks with the European Union last week, leaving the bloc thinking London might still be open to clinching an agreement.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Jan Strupczewski)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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This Democratic senator is *already* hedging his stance on getting rid of the legislative filibuster

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Trump Signs US Healthcare Executive Orders That May Have Little Impact

Reuters September 24, 2020 0 Comments

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday signed two executive orders on healthcare for Americans that lawyers said will carry little weight, as the president seeks to boost his flagging credibility with voters on the hot-button issue ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump signed the twin orders implementing his “America First Healthcare Plan” in an airport hangar in Charlotte, North Carolina, amid an audience that included medical professionals seated socially distanced and many wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Under my plan 33 million Medicare beneficiaries will soon receive a card in the mail containing $200 that they can use to help pay for prescription drugs,” Trump said in describing part of his program.

One of the executive orders is aimed at ensuring Americans with pre-existing conditions retain healthcare coverage, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Thursday, even as his own administration seeks to strike down the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which protects the same right.

Azar also said Trump was directing him via the second executive order to work with Congress to pass legislation banning surprise healthcare bills by the beginning of next year, and explore executive action to address the goal if the legislative bid fails.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, labeled it a “bogus order,” as she called on the president to “drop his lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic.”

While Trump heralded his actions, some lawyers expressed skepticism that he had the authority to make the move via executive order.

Nicholas Bagley, a professor at University of Michigan’s law school, said: “Unless there’s a law that prohibits the conduct in question, or unless the president is exercising a power that’s been delegated to him by Congress, his statements have no more legal weight than a tweet.”

“It’s as if I was walking around with a memo that was titled ‘Executive Order,’ and claimed that the policy of the United States is that everybody gets a cheeseburger on Tuesdays,” he added.

Trump lags Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in national opinion polls, especially on the question of who would better handle healthcare.

The president’s action, unveiled less than six weeks before Election Day on Nov. 3, also comes amid long-standing criticisms that he has failed to follow through on promises to propose an alternative to Obamacare even as he works to dismantle that program.

Trump also has drawn fire for his administration’s response to the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans.

In June, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Obamacare law that added millions to the healthcare safety net.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, prohibited health insurers from denying coverage to Americans with known health conditions.

Surprise bills occur when patients visit a hospital they believe is in their health insurance network but then are seen by a doctor or specialist who is out of network. Trump previously called on Congress to address the issue in 2019.

“What the president is saying is that all the relevant players – hospitals, doctors, insurance companies – had better get their act together, and get legislation passed through Congress that protects patients against surprise medical bills,” Azar said.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington, Michael Erman in New York and Steve Holland in Charlotte; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

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