Top story: May faces crucial week in Brexit talks


Hello, good morning and welcome to the Guardian briefing. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories this Monday.

A critical week in the Brexit drama starts today as Theresa May and David Davis make a surprise visit to Brussels tonight for a private dinner with the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, ahead of a summit of leaders on Thursday. The delegation will try to convince their dining companions to open up the discussions about Britain’s future relationship with Europe, which are on hold amid increasingly fractious talks about Britain’s divorce from the 28-nation pact. May and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, spent the weekend conducting a furious diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading European leaders to cut Britain some slack. But the prime minister is being wedged from both sides at home with hardline Tory backbenchers suggesting she should withdraw from talks and opt for a “hard Brexit”, while a cross-party group threatens revolt against such a plan for fear it could be catastrophic for the economy.

And if that wasn’t enough trouble, the Scottish and Welsh governments have warned the EU withdrawal bill must be amended in order to prevent powers being ceded to Westminster.

Storm warning – Ex-hurricane Ophelia threatens to batter the UK and Ireland today with gusts of up to 100mph, bringing travel disruption and potentially life-threatening conditions. Schools in Ireland will be closed along with many government buildings and courts after the country’s forecasters issued a red warning. Southern and western coasts are set to bear the initial brunt in the morning before it moves north. An amber warning is in place for Northern Ireland as well and the Met Office has warned of potential power cuts, and disruption to transport and mobile phone reception. Flying debris such as roof tiles could be a danger to life, it said. The storm is set to arrive 30 years after the Great Storm – no proper names in those days – raged across southern Britain on the night of 15 October 1987, killing 18 people.

Clashes in Kirkuk – Iraqi forces have reportedly begun moving towards the oil-rich Kurdish city of Kirkuk as the government in Baghdad promised to “impose security”. Kurdish and Iraqi officials said forces began moving at midnight on Sunday towards oil fields and an air base held by Kurdish forces near the city. Iraqi TV said its forces had taken control of “vast areas” of the region but the claim was denied by Kurdish officials. However, both sides confirmed that there was an exchange of artillery fire between forces south of Kirkuk. Tension has been rising in the region since Iraq’s Kurds voted for independence in a referendum last month.

Met’s Weinstein inquiry – Scotland Yard is investigating five allegations of sexual assault by three women against the film producer Harvey Weinstein. Detectives will look at cases in London from 1992, 2010, 2011 and 2015, and a fifth allegation passed to the Met by Merseyside police which dates back to the late 1980s. Weinstein, who has been accused of assault and rape by a number of female actors, was expelled from Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Saturday.

Somalia attack – The death toll for the huge truck bomb attack in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Saturday could rise to more than 300 as more casualties are dug from the rubble today. Our Africa correspondent, Jason Burke, says the atrocity was almost certainly the work of the Somalian terror group al-Shabaab and could trigger a US commitment to playing a greater role in the country. The US military withdrew from the strife-torn nation after the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993.

Beware the ‘chipocalypse’ – To New Zealand, where heavy rains have caused a severe shortage of potatoes, especially the ones used by food producers to make crisps or, as they call them in the antipodes, chips. But amid much concern about the possible role of climate change in this so-called “chipocalypse”, the prospect that many people might be denied their favourite snack at Christmas time is dominating the national narrative.

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