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Britain’s hopes of launching trade talks as it simultaneously negotiates its exit from the European Union have been dashed by Germany and Italy. The two influential EU members are backing Brussels in insisting that progress be made on the terms of the UK’s divorce from the bloc before trade talks begin. EU leaders suggested last summer that they were open to the idea of parallel trade talks in discussions with Theresa May, the UK prime minister. Since then Mrs May has increasingly favoured a hard Brexit, with no UK membership of the single market.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Electoral Commission has opened an investigation into the spending of the official Leave and Remain campaigns in the run-up to the referendum last June. The electoral watchdog said it would also look into the returns of more than half a dozen other organisations amid concerns over whether they had fully reported their campaign spending. (FT, Guardian)

In the news

Malaysia murder twist VX, the most toxic known chemical warfare agent, was used in the killing of the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Malaysian police said swabs taken from the eye and the face of Kim Jong Nam revealed the presence of the deadly substance. VX was developed in the mid-1950s by a chemist working for the British company Imperial Chemical Industries and works by fatally disrupting the nervous system. (FT, Guardian)

Labour’s loss For the first time in 35 years, a UK governing party has taken a seat from a rival at a by-election. The Labour party lost out to the Conservatives, which clocked their first electoral victory in the Cumbrian constituency of Copeland for more than 80 years. The wins adds to pressure on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His party defeated the UK Independence Party in another by-election in its traditional heartland in northern England, but only narrowly. The humiliating result strengthens the ruling Conservative party, as it navigates Britain’s exit from the EU. (FT, Independent)

No baby boom for China The elimination of China’s strict one-child policy has failed to boost birth rates significantly, prompting local governments to call for additional measures to encourage childbearing and stave off demographic decline. China’s population aged 15 to 64 peaked in 2013, and the ratio of children and elderly to working-age Chinese began rising in 2011. (FT)

Chart showing births per 1000 people in selected countries, 1960 and 2014

Uber’s bad week gets worse Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo is suing the US ride-hailing company, alleging theft of trade secrets, patent infringement of its sensor technology and unfair competition. The allegations are another blow to Uber during a torrid week defending its internal policies and culture after a former employee accused its executives of ignoring her sexual harassment complaint. (FT)

Extremists take over Syrian stronghold Hardliners have closed ranks and turned against US-backed rebels in Idlib, putting the al-Qaeda-linked groups with whom the moderates once uneasily coexisted effectively in charge of key swaths of the most important stronghold from which the rebels could have hoped to sustain a challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (WaPo)

It’s a big day for

Philippine politics Senator Leila de Lima, who has led opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, has been arrested, in a case she claims has been trumped up to silence her. (FT)

Food for thought

Life after Ghosn Nissan Motor is speeding into the unknown now longtime leader Carlos Ghosn has announced his resignation as chief executive. Ghosn joined the carmaker in 1999 when it was on the brink of collapse, and engineered a dramatic turnround. Although he will stay on as chairman, his departure this April is a prelude to a bigger transition for Nissan. (NAR)

Russia’s elite band of cyber warriors Since the 2015 hack of France’s TV5Monde, the Kremlin-backed APT 28 has become bolder in its choice of targets, including hacking Democratic National Committee files, which damaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. More than a dozen leading professionals with close knowledge of APT 28’s activities — including senior intelligence and military officials — explain why many fear the group’s activities are far from over. (FT)

Cyber warrior? Russian leaders such as Vladimir Putin, above, have often talked in terms of a broader information war © FT montage / AFP

A new kind of economics? Does public suspicion of economics and economists mean we need a new kind of economics? The FT’s Martin Sandbu examines the debate. (FT)

Code rouge Big Beauty, the cosmetics group, is reluctant to talk about its counterfeiting problems, preferring not to advertise that its brands have been hijacked. But a raid on a modest home in the US state of New Jersey shows how easy it is to establish a sophisticated counterfeiting business with global reach. (Bloomberg)

Fasting to cure diabetes The pancreas can be triggered to regenerate itself through a type of fasting diet, according to researchers in the US. Restoring the function of the organ — which helps control blood sugar levels — reversed symptoms of diabetes in animal experiments. Scientists caution more research is needed before the diet can be used as a treatment for diabetes. (BBC)

Video of the day

Can you learn how to become a pop star? The FT’s David Cheal visits the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, a music college in north-west London, to see if its songwriters have learnt how to succeed from their three-year course. (FT)

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