May heading to Brussels amid scramble to finalise Brexit deal
Theresa May will meet EU officials later as the two sides scramble to finalise a Brexit deal in time for Sunday's summit of European leaders.
The EU missed its deadline on Tuesday to complete the text of its declaration on future relations with the UK, amid concerns from several member states.
Stumbling blocks remain over UK access to the EU single market, access to UK waters for EU boats and Gibraltar.
The PM is under pressure from her own MPs not to give any further ground.
She appears to have faced down the threat of a challenge to her position from Brexiteer critics of the deal, for the time being at least.
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However, Tory MPs unhappy with Mrs May's handling of Brexit negotiations want much more clarity on the terms of the UK's future co-operation with the EU if they are to back the final deal – which will be put before European leaders this weekend.
All sides in the Commons have warned of a "blind Brexit" in which the UK signs up to a series of legally-binding commitments in the draft withdrawal agreement, without similar guarantees over future trading arrangements.
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The withdrawal deal was agreed in principal by both Mrs May and the EU last week. It includes a £39bn "divorce bill" and the controversial customs "backstop" which keeps the UK temporarily in the EU customs union as a way of preventing the return of manned customs posts at the Irish border.
However, the joint political declaration on future relations – still being drafted – would only set out the shape of the UK's trading relationship with the remaining 27-nation bloc, without any legal commitments.
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Any binding trade deal would still have to be thrashed out in the 21-month transition period after Britain leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.
The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg said some UK ministers still believed there was time for a few "nips and tucks" to the withdrawal agreement reached in principle last week.
During a flying visit to Brussels designed to prepare the ground for this weekend's summit of EU leaders, Mrs May will hold talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
The prime minister departs for Brussels with her position seeming more secure, despite a week of cabinet resignations and political plotting to remove her from post.
On Tuesday one of Mrs May's most ardent critics, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said the time "is now" for fellow backbenchers to either force a confidence vote in Mrs May or have her lead the party into the next election.
But he accepted it could be next month before the required threshold of 48 letters needed to trigger a contest was reached.
The prime minister's allies insist she would win any confidence vote, with party rules meaning she would then be immune from a challenge for 12 months.
And a YouGov poll commissioned by the Times suggests that 46% of voters backed Mrs May staying in post, against just 33% a week ago.
Why is May rushing to Brussels?
By Katya Adler, BBC Europe editor
Could this all be more about optics than nitty-gritty politics?
Grumbling aside, no-one in European circles seriously thinks any EU country will refuse to sign up to the Brexit deal by end of play this weekend.
They're all keen to avoid a no-deal scenario and they want to help Theresa May get the Brexit texts through a vote in the House of Commons.
Engaging in last-minute political fisticuffs with the EU is arguably advantageous for Mrs May.
A high-drama, climactic Brexit summit ending in a (presumably planned) late night/early morning bleary-eyed but triumphant resolution with EU leaders would allow the prime minister to claim that the final text of the deal was hard fought and hard won… in the fervent hope that will soften the stance of some of her many critics at home.
- Read Katya's blog in full
Discussions in Brussels focus on the political declaration outlining relations from the scheduled end of the transition period in 2021. Currently running to 20 pages, it will sit alongside the withdrawal agreement.
The BBC understands the intention is still to present a completed text to leaders at Sunday's summit but opinions differ over how easy it would be to solve the outstanding issues.
Spain has warned it will reject the draft Brexit withdrawal deal without a clarification of the text on future talks on the status of Gibraltar.
Spain maintains a claim to the peninsula, ceded to the British crown under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and it wants to ensure that future EU talks with the UK do not cover Gibraltar.
Ambassadors from the EU's 27 remaining countries had been due to be briefed on the final text on Tuesday but the meeting has been re-scheduled for later this week.
US judge blocks Mississippi 15-week abortion ban
A US judge in the state of Mississippi has overturned an abortion ban that would have prevented women from getting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Republican Governor Phil Bryant enacted the ban in March, but the law was temporarily blocked in a lawsuit filed by the state's last abortion clinic.
On Tuesday Judge Carlton Reeves ruled the ban "unequivocally" violated women's constitutional rights.
Under current state law, women are allowed abortions until 20 weeks.
In his decision, Judge Reeves criticised the state for seeking a legal battle with abortion rights advocates in an effort to revisit Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion nationwide, in federal court.
"The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fuelled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade," he wrote.
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"This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature."
The judge also pointed to medical consensus about when the foetus becomes vital, which typically begins at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The ruling means a similar 15-week ban will not be allowed to pass in neighbouring Louisiana, as that law was dependent on the outcome of Mississippi's ruling, the Clarion Ledger newspaper reported.
What's the background?
Governor Bryant signed The Gestational Age Act into law on 19 March, after which the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, the Jackson Women's Health Organization.
He said at the time he wanted the state to be "the safest place in America for an unborn child".
Judge Reeves temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the ban the next day.
The bill banned most abortions after 15 weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest, which made it the most restrictive abortion ban in the US.
The only exemptions were in cases where there was a foetal abnormality that is "incompatible with life", or the mother's life is in danger. Doctors would have been stripped of their license or faced fines if they performed the procedure after 15 weeks.
In 2014 federal judges ruled that attempts for six- and 12-week bans in North Dakota and Arkansas were unconstitutional, and struck them down.
In a statement on Tuesday, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the ruling a "wake-up call for state lawmakers who are continuously trying to chip away at abortion access. Such bans will not stand in a court of law".
It was not immediately clear if Governor Bryant or the Mississippi attorney general's office planned to appeal against the ruling.
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Big dog Bopper the Whopper is ‘too fat for a kennel’
An animal shelter which rescued "Britain's fattest dog" has an even bigger problem on its hands.
Bopper, an 11-year-old collie, shocked staff at Gables Farm Dogs and Cats Home in Plymouth when he waddled in weighing almost 50kg (8st).
He is 10kg (1.5st) heavier than "Hattie the Fatty", who made headlines for her hefty frame earlier this year.
"Bopper the Whopper" is living with the shelter's owners as he is too big to fit comfortably in his kennel.
"I could not believe what I saw when he walked in," manager Ruth Rickard said. "I could not believe how huge he was."
"We thought Hattie was the fattest dog we'd ever get here, but Bopper makes her look tiny!"
Staff said Bopper, who was rescued by the RSPCA when his owners became too ill to look after him, was twice the size he should be.
The colossal canine has now been put on a special diet to trim him down to about 27kg (4st).
His exercise routine is also being slowly and safely increased.
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Ms Rickard said: "We've started him on the road to recovery, but he's so fat he still finds it a struggle to get up and get around."
She said big dogs like Bopper often had a host of health problems, which can make it harder for them to be rehomed.
They believe Bopper may need a lot of treatment, including dental work and check-ups for diabetes and cataracts, which is a common problem for larger dogs.
The charity has now set up a fundraising campaign to help cover Bopper's vet bills.
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