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FirstFT: Today’s top stories

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Boris Johnson is set to win a majority in Thursday’s election, according to a survey that found the Conservative party’s polling lead had shrunk and did not rule out a hung parliament.

The YouGov survey forecasts the Tories, who are up 10 points in the FT’s poll tracker, to win 339 seats, Labour 231, the Lib Dems 15 and the Scottish National Party 41. That result would give the PM a Commons majority of 28, down from 68 in an earlier projection.

The latest model follows a rocky stretch for Mr Johnson, who faced two recent setbacks: accusations of trying to “score” political points over the London Bridge terror attack and a National Health Service controversy in Leeds. But Labour isn’t optimistic, with a spokesman forecasting an “abysmal defeat” in an explosive undercover recording released on Tuesday.

The Tories are confident of breaking Labour’s northern “red wall”, while the SNP is under threat in Scotland. Lawyers fear the Conservatives are planning “revenge” against the Supreme Court for overturning the prorogation of parliament in September. Sterling slipped in Wednesday Asia trading.

Tens of thousands of political ads vanished from Facebook’s public archive less than 48 hours before the poll, raising fresh transparency concerns. Robert Shrimsley and Miranda Green draw up a political Christmas card — but who will top the tree? Don’t miss this FT Politics podcast, which examines the campaign’s final lap. (FT, YouGov, Sky)

Read more FT election coverage with our daily Brexit Election Briefing newsletter — including a Saturday edition this weekend. Sign up here.

Do you think Mr Johnson will win a majority? Have your say in our latest poll.

We’ve made our daily UK election live updates free to read so everyone — not only FT subscribers — can keep up with all the news in the countdown to polling day. Simply visit ft.com/ukelection.

In the news

Saudi Aramco trades
Saudi Arabia is making a last-ditch attempt to persuade its institutions and wealthiest families to buy shares in Saudi Aramco, which floats in the domestic Tadawul exchange on Wednesday, part of a plan to drive up the state oil giant’s stock price towards a long coveted $2tn valuation. (FT)

Impeachment charges announced
House Democrats outlined two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump on Tuesday, accusing him of abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and of obstructing Congress’s inquiry (read the annotated articles, and an explanation of the charges). Mr Trump will probably be formally impeached by a House vote next week, leading to a trial in the Senate, which can remove him from office by a two-thirds vote. (FT, WaPo, Reuters)

USMCA trade pact signed
But Democrats also gave Donald Trump a breakthrough on Tuesday, agreeing to ratify the USMCA trade pact with Canada and Mexico. Here are the deal’s crucial provisions, including free flow of data. Edward Luce writes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a political bet pursuing impeachment and the trade deal simultaneously. (FT, WSJ)

ExxonMobil wins, Chevon writedown
ExxonMobil has won a court fight with New York state over its vulnerability to climate change disclosures, in a ruling that could affect similar challenges. The fraud claims centred on Exxon’s use of a proxy cost to incorporate future emissions curbs in planning. Oil major rival Chevron has put US shale gasfields up for sale as it plans to write down more than $10bn on low natural gas prices. (FT)

US-China tariff delay expected
China expects the US will delay a threatened tariff increase on Sunday to continue negotiations on a “phase-one” trade deal, which could include reducing rather than removing levies already in effect. US stocks closed slightly lower on Wednesday, but Wall Street is predicting the record-setting rally will continue in 2020. (Bloomberg, FT)

HSBC fined, HBOS payouts reviewed
HSBC’s private bank will pay $192m in penalties and admit to helping US customers hide more than $1bn from tax authorities. Victims of the HBOS Reading banking fraud could be entitled to higher payouts after an independent review set up by Lloyds Banking Group ruled that the compensation scheme was not “fair and reasonable”. (FT)

India’s digital divide
Indian payments start-up Paytm announced $2bn in fundraising last month from stakeholders including Alibaba-backed Ant Financial and SoftBank. But the company is burning through cash to cling on to its market share. India is also poised to pass its first data protection law, which would place new restrictions on how corporations collect information about its 1.3bn people — but exempts the government. (FT, NYT)

The days ahead

Central banks meet
The US Federal Reserve is expected to hold rates on Wednesday, ending this year’s easing. Brazil’s central bank is expected to reduce the Selic rate by 50 basis points for a fourth consecutive meeting to 4.5 per cent, a new low. The European Central Bank holds its first monetary policy meeting under Christine Lagarde on Thursday. (FT)

India’s citizenship bill
A contentious bill, which offers a pathway to citizenship to South Asian migrants fleeing religious persecution, apart from Muslims, will go before India’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday. The bill sailed through the lower chamber on Monday. (FT, BBC)

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Last week, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, made his first trip to South Korea in five years. The senior statesman’s meetings with his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, and South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in put the spotlight on China’s use of trade to bolster or batter the economies of its closest neighbours. More in Trade Secrets, our must-read daily briefing for the latest on international trade and globalisation. Sign up here.

What else we’re reading

Paul Volcker’s legacy
Paul Volcker is the greatest man I have known and his virtues are eternal, writes Martin Wolf. It is impossible to enjoy a stable polity without public servants of his quality and, as important, without a public who know they need public servants of this quality. (FT)

Peloton’s bigger problem
The US fitness equipment maker’s advert provoked a cascade of criticism, evoking postwar era advertising that portrayed wives as submissive rather than independent. The reassuring news for Peloton is that errors tend to fade — the bad news is that its marketing mistake drew attention to a product weakness, John Gapper writes. (FT)

EU green policy stumbles
For Europe, halting global warming has been elevated to a moral imperative. Yet for some developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia, translating those ideals into trade policy, to be outlined in the “Green New Deal” on Wednesday, evokes protectionism and has been described as “colonialism”. Read more in the FT Series: Europe First. (FT)

Russia’s banking shakedown
At a time when regulators are shutting down lenders over allegations of fraud or money laundering, Moscow’s security apparatus has used the banking sector as a gold mine. Don’t miss these images of the first Chechen war, which 25 years ago humbled post-Soviet Russia and tilted power towards Vladimir Putin. (Bloomberg, NYT)

New Zealand’s eruption
When cool water meets boiling magma, the result can be explosive. This is what is thought to have happened on Whakaari, which killed six people this week and left another eight missing. Predicting eruptions should be possible — but the challenge is to transform data into real-world judgments, Anjana Ahuja writes. (CNN, FT)

BlackRock’s ethics, Glencore’s ‘billionaire boys club’
Mark Wiseman’s firing last week, the second recent departure from BlackRock’s global executive committee, speaks to the corporate culture chief executive Larry Fink has built since 1988. A fraud investigation over “suspicions of bribery” puts pressure on Glencore for rare change at the top. (FT)

FT wins press awards

The Financial Times took home three prizes at the 2019 Press Gazette British Journalism Awards in London on Wednesday, including a second consecutive News Provider of the Year award.

Mehul Srivastava was recognised for his investigation into Israeli hacking firm NSO Group, whose spyware has infiltrated WhatsApp and Big Tech cloud providers. It was used to track journalists and dissidents.

The team of Jim Pickard, Robert Shrimsley, Jonathan Ford, Chris Giles, Delphine Strauss and Sebastian Payne won the political journalism award for The Corbyn Revolution, an FT Series on Labour’s agenda to transform Britain’s economy. Playwright Clare Dwyer Hogg was highly commended for her commentary on Northern Ireland. Watch her short film “Hard Border”, performed by Stephen Rea.

Podcast of the day

Tensions at the heart of Europe
Gideon Rachman talks to Franziska Brantner, a rising star of Germany’s Green party, about the tense relationship between France and Germany as discussions on Russia, China and deregulation take centre stage. (FT)

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