Pressure Grows On UK PM Johnson As Aide Faces More Lockdown Breach Claims

In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas' Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under increased pressure on Sunday to sack top aide Dominic Cummings who was facing allegations that he had breached coronavirus lockdown rules for a second time.

The British government has so far rejected calls to sack Cummings over allegations he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by travelling across the country with his wife while she was suffering from symptoms of the disease, but even MPs from his own party were calling for him to leave on Sunday.

Cummings was seen with his young son close to his parents’ home in Durham, northeastern England, more than 250 miles (400 kilometres) away from his London home on March 31, the day after he himself reported suffering symptoms.

The Observer and Sunday Mirror reported that he had broken lockdown restrictions again and was seen in Durham a second time on April 19, days after he had returned to work in London following his first trip north, quoting anonymous witnesses.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Gives Dubai Chance To Put Tech To Test

Cummings strenuously denies the claims and Downing Street said late Saturday said it “would not waste time” responding to “campaigning newspapers”.

A named witness told the papers Cummings was also spotted in the town of Barnard Castle, 30 kilometres from Durham, on April 12.

– ‘Intolerable’ –

Cummings has been a highly divisive figure in British politics since masterminding the successful 2016 Brexit campaign alongside Johnson, who brought him in as his top adviser after coming to power last year.

Under lockdown rules brought in on March 23, anyone with symptoms must self-isolate in their own homes. And people aged over 70 — as Cummings’ parents are — are not allowed to receive visitors.

Cabinet ministers had defended his actions, with foreign minister Dominic Raab tweeting that “two parents with coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child.

“Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror,” he added.

However, Tory MP Steve Baker, a staunch Brexiteer but critic of Cummings, demanded that he be sacked.

“Enormous political capital is being expended saving someone who has boasted of making decisions beyond his competence and who clearly broke at the very least the guidance which kept mums and dads at home,” he wrote in The Critic.

“It is intolerable that Boris, Boris’s government and Boris’s programme should be harmed in this way.”

His criticism was retweeted by fellow Tory MP William Wragg.

An unnamed minister earlier told the Daily Telegraph: “He’s going to have to go. It’s just arrogance”, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Sunday Cummings would not be resigning.

Labour shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds told the BBC that the claims were “extraordinarily serious” and that Downing Street’s denials created “more questions than answers”.

– Police row –

A spokesman for the prime minister said Saturday that Cummings had acted “in line with coronavirus guidelines.

“Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for” by family, the spokesman said Saturday.

Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries suggested there was some room for manoeuvre if both parents were ill, saying “all guidance has a common sense element to it, which includes safeguarding around adults or children”.

Cummings also denied reports in The Guardian newspaper that police had spoken directly to him or his family about a tip off they received on March 31 that he was in Durham.

The force insists they spoke to Cummings’s father on the telephone, but Shapps said on Sunday that it was the family who had initiated the contact to talk about security arrangements.

Cummings on Saturday told a throng of reporters while leaving his house that it was “a question of doing the right thing, it’s not about what you guys think”, while rebuking the group for not obeying social distancing rules.

Downing Street revealed at the end of March that Cummings was self-isolating with virus symptoms. Johnson was also infected and ended up in intensive care.

AFP

British PM Boris Johnson, Partner Announce Birth Of Baby Boy

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 02, 2019 Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves with his partner Carrie Symonds after delivering his keynote speech to delegates on the final day of the annual Conservative Party conference at the Manchester Central convention complex, in Manchester, north-west England. Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds on Wednesday gave birth to a “healthy baby boy” in a London hospital, a spokesman for the couple said.

The news came as a surprise, as Symonds, 32, was not thought to be due for several weeks, but she was said to be doing “very well”.

The birth comes just days after Johnson, 55, returned to work after being admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including three nights in intensive care.

“The prime minister and Ms Symonds are thrilled to announce the birth of a healthy baby boy at a London hospital earlier this morning,” the spokesman said.

“Both mother and baby are doing very well.

“The prime minister and Ms Symonds would like to thank the fantastic NHS (state-run National Health Service) maternity team.”

The announcement explains why Downing Street officials were reluctant to confirm that Johnson would appear at his weekly question and answer session with members of parliament.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who deputised for him during his illness, is expected to take his place later on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Boris Johnson Returns To Work As Criticism Over COVID-19 Response Grows

Johnson is believed to have at least five children, including four with his second wife, Marina Wheeler, from whom he split in 2018.

He has been publicly dating Symonds, a former head of communications for the Conservative party, since early 2019.

They announced in February that they were getting married and expecting a baby “in the early summer”.

On her Instagram page, which is set to private but details of which were reported in the media, Symonds revealed they got engaged at the end of last year.

Johnson only returned to work on Monday, two weeks after being discharged from hospital for an illness that he said “could have gone either way”.

Symonds had moved out of their Downing Street flat before he became ill, but later reported having symptoms of coronavirus herself. She recovered at home.

She has kept a low profile as the “first girlfriend”, largely keeping out of the election campaign last December that saw Johnson win the best result for the Conservatives since the 1980s.

An avid environmental campaigner, after leaving the Conservative party she worked for an ocean conservation charity.

AFP

 

Buhari, British PM Discuss Security, Anti-Corruption War, Others

President Muhammadu Buhari and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, during a meeting in London on January 20, 2020.

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday met with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on the sidelines of the UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020.

During the meeting which held in London, the President brought the British PM up to speed with developments in Nigeria, reeling out gains in different areas of national endeavour.

The Nigerian leader told Mr Johnson about the efforts of his administration in the agricultural sector, saying it has led almost to self-sufficiency in rice and other grains production.

According to him, Nigeria has saved billions of naira in foreign exchange and the efforts are now deployed in other areas of development.

On the war against insurgency, President Buhari said things were a lot better, stressing that the Nigerian government was making efforts to disabuse the minds of the people on the true philosophy of Boko Haram.

He admitted that the main challenge has been in the area of resettling displaced people in the North East, noting that the situation was being tackled frontally.

“We have a long history with the British military, and we are collaborating,” the President was quoted as saying in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina.

He further highlighted the feats recorded in the anti-corruption war, saying the fight was slow but painstaking.

 

President Buhari noted that the cooperation of the National Crime Agency of the UK was needed, particularly in the investigation of fugitives from Nigeria finding accommodation in the European country.

According to him, climate change is a challenge to Nigeria and neighbouring African countries, especially with the shrinkage of the Lake Chad to a minuscule of its original size.

The Nigerian leader stated that his country was focused and making progress on education, particularly that of the girl child.

On his part, the British PM thanked President Buhari for being a regional leader who gave strong encouragement to West Africa and urged him to do more.

He also lauded the President for what he called the “social and economic benefits” that have accrued to Nigeria since he emerged.

Johnson gave an assurance that the necessary hand of fellowship would be extended on the war against corruption, through the National Crime Agency.

He also pledged to cooperate with Nigeria and other African countries in the inter-basin water transfer, which could solve the Lake Chad problem and enhance security in the sub-region.

On the Commonwealth Free Trade Area, the UK Prime Minister applauded the idea and pledged a careful consideration.

He, however, asked the Nigerian leader to keep the national autonomy of his country intact, noting that in the future, Nigeria would not just be a continental but international power.

Boris Johnson Revives Push For Early Election

A handout picture released by the UK Parliament Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesturing during the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons in London on October 23, 2019. 
JESSICA TAYLOR / AFP / UK PARLIAMENT

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday made a fresh push to get lawmakers to back his plan for a pre-Christmas election after a third Brexit delay.

The Conservative leader is trying to lead Britain through a three-year crisis that was meant to end Thursday with the country’s exit from the European Union.

But he was forced to abandon his “do-or-die” pledge to leave the bloc on schedule and begrudgingly accepted another extension from Brussels until the end of January next year.

Britain’s inability to break its half-century bond with the EU has called a halt to costly “no-deal” exit preparations and reportedly seen freshly minted 50-pence commemorative Brexit coins melted down.

Johnson is now trying to secure an early general election in a bid to win a majority that could allow him to push through legislation to enact Brexit.

His third attempt to get parliament to agree to disband early and hold a general election on December 12 ended in failure again on Monday night after he failed to get the required support of two-thirds of MPs.

But he was set to try yet again for the same date on Tuesday using a different parliamentary procedure that would only require a simple majority to get his early polls.

He consulted his cabinet ministers early Tuesday to plot strategy in advance of another gruelling session of the House of Commons that could stretch into the night.

Johnson’s new attempt amends existing laws requiring a two-thirds majority by proposing a simple bill with an election date.

“This house cannot any longer keep this country hostage,” Johnson told lawmakers after they defeated Monday’s election attempt.

Date Debate

Johnson’s election push is piling pressure on the main opposition Labour Party to come out in support.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is being torn by rival camps within his own party and facing poor poll numbers that show the Conservatives in a strong lead.

Corbyn has argued that he cannot back an election until Johnson promises not to take Britain out of the EU without a new trade deal when the post-Brexit transition period ends in December 2020.

Britain would be following EU rules until that time.

“This is a prime minister who cannot be trusted,” Corbyn said Monday.

But some Labour members voted for an early election and others are signalling a general acceptance that one is probably inevitable by this stage.

The main arguments have now boiled down to the actual date of the polls. The last election to be held in December was in 1923.

Johnson insists on December 12. A rival plan proposed by the pro-European Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) proposes December 9.

The second option is also preferred by Labour as it edges toward backing an early poll.

Some in the party say the later date reduces the number of more liberal students voting because it comes after they finish their semesters and return home for the winter break.

Labour’s trade spokesman Barry Gardiner told BBC radio “the first thing” for Johnson to do to get his party’s backing was “to ensure that students are not going to be disenfranchised by an election on December 12”.

The debate appears to be one of principle.

The SNP’s parliamentary leader Ian Blackford urged Labour to not “be the handmaidens to the prime minister’s Brexit” and to fight for the earlier date.

Johnson is mainly concerned about amendments that could be attached to his bill.

One proposed option would extend voting rights to EU citizens — a group that strongly opposed Brexit.

Another would lower the voting age from 18 to 16.

British PM Says ‘No Better Outcome’ Than His Brexit Deal

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking about the government’s proposed Brexit deal in the House of Commons in central London
HO / PRU / AFP

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Friday there was “no better outcome” to the tortuous Brexit process than his divorce deal, as he scrambled to get MPs behind the agreement ahead of a knife-edge vote in parliament.

The day before the House of Commons meets to consider the agreement, Johnson urged lawmakers to back the “fantastic” terms he struck with European Union leaders and let Britain leave the bloc on October 31.

“There’s no better outcome than the one I’m advocating tomorrow,” Johnson told BBC television.

READ ALSO: Pound Drops As Johnson Faces Battle To Pass Brexit Bill

“I want colleagues on all sides of the House to think about a world tomorrow night in which we’ve got this thing done,” he added in a separate interview with ITV.

“I think the nation will heave a great sigh of relief.”

Johnson pulled off a major coup in agreeing to a new divorce deal at a Brussels summit on Thursday, only a fortnight before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.

But the deal’s fortunes — and Britain’s immediate fate — rest in the hands of a few undecided MPs, who will vote in the first Saturday session of the Commons since the 1982 Falklands War.

Political pundits suggest the vote could be exceptionally tight.

Johnson has no majority among MPs, every opposition party has come out against the deal and even his parliamentary ally, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), says it cannot support the terms.

Johnson requires the support of 319 other MPs to guarantee victory — and claims he is confident of getting the numbers, as he spent the day meeting and calling MPs.

He must convince diehard eurosceptics in his own Conservative ranks, former colleagues he expelled from the party for seeking to block a “no deal” departure, and main opposition Labour MPs from Brexit-backing constituencies to have any chance.

Labour is ordering its MPs to vote against the deal but threatening no punishment if they vote in favour.

Several MPs spent Friday wrestling with their consciences as the more than three years of turmoil since the June 2016 EU membership referendum came to a head.

Johnson is expected to deliver a speech to parliament from 0830 GMT on Saturday, kicking off a day of debate that could last well into the evening.

– Macron turns the screw –
If the Commons rejects the deal, Johnson will be forced by law to ask the EU to delay Brexit, for what would be the third time. He has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch”.

French President Emmanuel Macron piled the pressure on MPs, saying he did not want a new delay now a deal was struck.

“The October 31 date should be respected. I don’t think that new deadlines should be given,” he said at the EU summit in Brussels.

“We need to end these negotiations and get on negotiating the future relationship.”

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel added: “There is no choice between Brexit or no Brexit: it’s a choice between deal or no deal.”

Johnson took office in July vowing to keep to the October 31 Brexit deadline, deal or no deal.

He pledged to renegotiate the most contentious elements of a divorce text agreed by his predecessor Theresa May with Brussels last year, which MPs rejected three times.

The compromise deal that was finally struck on Thursday has a new arrangement for keeping open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The DUP has said it cannot support the plans, as efforts to avoid checks on the Irish land border would lead to new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

– Former PMs wade in –
Former Conservative prime minister John Major (1990-1997) and his Labour successor Tony Blair (1997-2007) pleaded with MPs to back a second referendum, ahead of a major rally by the “People’s Vote” campaign outside parliament on Saturday.

“Whatever is the outcome, no deal or bad deal, it should not pass without the final say resting with the people,” said Blair.

Major said Brexit was a “thoroughly bad idea” that risked breaking up the UK.

Sterling steadied around $1.29 Friday as dealers took a breather at the end of a dizzying week.

ETX Capital analyst Michael Baker said the market was “really gambling” on the vote and had “not priced in fully all scenarios — so expect big moves”.

Theresa May Resigns As British PM

Britain’s outgoing prime minister Theresa May gives a speech outside 10 Downing street in London on July 24, 2019 before formally tendering her resignation at Buckingham Palace.  Tolga AKMEN / AFP

 

Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May formally tendered her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday as her successor Boris Johnson prepares to take over.

May arrived at the palace after earlier urging Johnson to deliver Brexit “in a way that works for the whole United Kingdom” — an allusion to the deep divisions that the issue has caused in the country.

READ ALSO: British Finance Minister Hammond Resigns

More Defections Trail British Cabinet Over Johnson’s Brexit Plan

Conservative MP Boris Johnson speaks during his Conservative Party leadership campaign launch in London on June 12, 2019/ AFP

 

Britain’s leadership contest entered its finale Monday with the favourite Boris Johnson facing more defections from ministers over his Brexit plan.

The month-long contest between former London mayor Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is being decided by fewer than 200,000 grassroots members of the governing Conservative Party.

The winner will have three months to resolve a three-year Brexit crisis that could damage economies on both sides of the Channel and determine the fate of generations of Britons.

The voting window shuts at 5 pm (1600 GMT). The new party leader will be announced on Tuesday and take over as prime minister on Wednesday.

Rocky road 

Both candidates have had a rocky end to a campaign whose closing stages are being waged against a backdrop of a high-stakes standoff with Iran in the Gulf.

READ ALSO: India Successfully Launches Spacecraft For Moon-Landing Mission

Finance Secretary Philip Hammond announced Sunday that he would make a point of resigning before Johnson becomes prime minister because of his threat to take Britain out of the EU by an October 31 deadline without a deal.

Pro-EU Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan announced Monday that he was also quitting “in anticipation of the change on Wednesday”.

“It is tragic that just when we could have been the dominant intellectual and political force throughout Europe, and beyond, we have to spend every day working beneath the dark cloud of Brexit,” he wrote in his resignation letter to outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May.

London newspapers were filled with speculation that at least a half-dozen lower-ranking ministers may also jump ship over the coming days.

But Johnson doubled-down on his pledge to take Britain safely out of the EU with the help of a new technological fix for avoiding a hard border with EU member Ireland.

“They went to the Moon 50 years ago. Surely today we can solve the logistical issues of the Irish border,” Johnson wrote in his weekly column for The Daily Telegraph.

Hunt has also faced criticism over his handling of Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf on Friday.

Several ministers accused him Sunday of devoting too much time to his leadership challenge and not enough on his diplomatic duties.

May was due to chair a meeting of Britain’s COBRA emergencies committee to prepare a response to the standoff in what will be one of her final acts in office.

Hunt is expected to update parliament on the situation in the Gulf at around 1430 GMT.

 Commanding lead 

An online poll of 1,199 Conservative Party members conducted Friday and Saturday by the Conservative Home website put Johnson on 73 per cent.

Bookmakers give Hunt around a one in 20 chance of winning.

The Conservatives command a razor-thin majority in parliament’s lower House of Commons and Johnson’s opponents — both within and outside the party — are keen to scupper his leadership.

Johnson’s pledge to take Britain out of the EU with our without a deal has upset pro-EU government ministers and frightened the markets.

The pound is trading near a two-year low against the dollar and the euro, and parliamentarians are plotting for ways to stop Johnson from taking Britain out of the EU without a strategy for unwinding 46 years of intricate ties.

Conservatives MPs like Hammond have hinted they are prepared to bring down their own government rather than accept leaving the EU without an agreement.

“I cannot accept the idea of leaving with no deal on October 31,” Hammond said on Sunday.

Justice Secretary David Gauke also said Sunday he would quit the government if Johnson became prime minister.

May’s tumultuous three years in office will end once she appears in parliament on Wednesday for her weekly question-and-answer sessions.

She will head from their to Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.

The head of state will then invite the new Conservative leader to form an administration.

AFP

British PM Race: Boris Johnson Under Pressure After Police Visit

Conservative MP Boris Johnson gestures as he takes part in a Conservative Party leadership hustings event in Birmingham, central England on June 22, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Boris Johnson, the strong favourite to become Britain’s next prime minister, came under pressure from figures in his own party on Sunday to explain reports of a domestic ‘row’ that led to a police visit.

Although still heavily backed to beat Jeremy Hunt to become Conservative Party leader, and therefore prime minister, a snap poll published in the Mail on Sunday suggested that the incident had cut his support.

The Guardian reported that police were alerted early on Friday after a neighbour heard a loud altercation involving screams, shouts and bangs at the south London property, shortly after Johnson had secured his place in the final run-off to become prime minister.

READ ALSO: Eight Killed As Boko Haram Attacks Chad

The paper said Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds could be heard telling the former London mayor to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

The former foreign secretary refused to answer questions about the incident on the first day of the month-long contest to win over Conservative grassroots members, saying “I don’t think people want to hear about that kind of thing.”

He instead tried to focus on his policies, saying “we need to get Brexit done” and promising to prepare Britain for a no deal exit from the EU if a deal cannot be reached.

 ‘Lack of discipline’ 

Tory grandee Malcolm Rifkind criticised the response, saying “the fact is there was a police visit. You don’t just say ‘no comment’.

“That implies you may have something you don’t want to disclose,” he told BBC Radio 5.

Former Tory foreign office minister Alan Duncan told the Guardian his former boss now had a “big question mark over his head”, adding Johnson had shown a “lack of discipline” throughout his career.

Among all voters, Hunt is now the preferred candidate to become prime minister, according to the Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday, as Johnson saw a seven per cent decline in support.

He also saw his lead over Hunt with Tory voters slashed from 27 per cent to nine per cent since Friday.

But it is the party’s 160,000 members who will have the final say, and their support appeared undimmed during the first day of “hustings” — internal party debates to decide the new leader — in Birmingham, central England, on Saturday.

The crowd gave Johnson a standing ovation and loudly heckled interviewer Iain Dale as he quizzed the former London mayor over Friday’s domestic incident.

Bannon claims 

“Stuff happens at home all the time… someone spills the wine, we can’t really be making headlines out of that,” supporter Hasnain Ahmed, 23, told AFP.

“What’s important is what’s this guy going to be delivering for you in Brexit.”

With Sunday marking the three-year anniversary of the vote to leave the EU, the issue still dominates British politics.

Hunt also received a warm reception, promising that if he couldn’t strike a Brexit deal with the EU, “then I will leave without a deal”.

“I was probably leaning towards Boris but I was very impressed with what Jeremy Hunt said today,” Tory councillor Karen Shakespeare, told AFP.

“He surprised me with his directness and honesty so I have to say I am now leaning very heavily towards Jeremy Hunt.”

Johnson also came under scrutiny on Sunday for his relationship with Steve Bannon, the controversial former adviser to US President Donald Trump.

Footage published by the Observer showed Bannon claiming that he had helped craft Johnson’s resignation speech as foreign minister last year.

The pair got to know each other professionally when both were in office and were reported to have met again in an unofficial capacity last summer.

Johnson said at the time that “the so-called relationship” with Bannon was a “lefty delusion” and his office dismissed the latest claims of a working relationship as “totally preposterous to the point of a conspiracy”.

AFP

British PM Rejects Calls For Resignation Deadline

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May
HO / PRU / AFP

 

Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday resisted demands from within her party to give a clear timetable for stepping down, with her spokesman insisting she would stay until Britain’s exit from the EU is finalised.

“She is here to deliver Brexit in phase one and then she will leave to make way for new leadership for phase two,” the Downing Street spokesman said.

The Conservative leader is under increasing pressure from MPs and activists unhappy over her handling of Brexit, which was meant to have taken place on March 29 but has been delayed twice.

In March, May promised that after taking Britain out of the European Union, she would let another leader negotiate future bilateral ties with the bloc.

With Brexit now delayed to October 31, however, her critics fear she might stay in office for many more months and are pressing for clarity on her departure.

She is immune from a leadership contest until December after surviving one last year.

Anger has flared up after dismal local election results last week, and senior lawmaker Graham Brady met May on Tuesday to relay his colleagues’ concerns.

Brady, the chairman of the so-called 1922 committee of Tory MPs, said she agreed to address its executive members next week on the question of her future.

He also said she hoped to hold another vote on her EU divorce deal before European elections take place in Britain on May 23, by bringing forward a bill to implement the text.

The prime minister agreed a Brexit deal with the EU last November, but MPs had rejected it three times.

– ‘Not an issue about me’ –
Earlier, Brexit-backing Conservative Andrea Jenkyns confronted May in the House of Commons, saying “the public no longer trust her to run Brexit negotiations.”

May replied: “This is not an issue about me and it’s not an issue about her. If it were an issue about me and the way I vote, we would already have left the EU.”

The government has for several weeks been in talks with the main opposition Labour party to find a compromise deal, but there is no sign of progress yet.

A Labour spokesman said the party hoped to establish “in the next few days” whether a deal was possible.

If their talks fail, May has pledged to allow the parliament to decide on a new strategy in a series of votes.

The EU agreed to delay Brexit to allow British politicians to try to agree a way to leave that minimises the impact of the split.

May on Tuesday reluctantly accepted that Britain will take part in European elections, almost three years after voting to leave the EU.

But she still hopes a divorce deal can be agreed to allow Brexit by June 30, which would mean British MEPs would never have to take their seats.

British PM Scrambles To Avoid Chaotic Brexit Finale

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May 
PRU / AFP

 

Britain’s government redoubled its efforts Thursday to win over the main opposition party in a last-gasp bid to avoid a chaotic exit from the European Union next week.

The latest round of talks came after lawmakers tried to safeguard against a doomsday ending to the 46-year partnership by fast-tracking a bill Wednesday night seeking to delay Brexit.

May is racing against the clock in a desperate search for votes that could push her ill-loved divorce deal with the other 27 EU leaders through parliament on the fourth attempt.

READ ALSOAlgerians Cheer As Bouteflika Resigns

May’s spokesman said there would be “intensive discussions over the course of today”, noting the “urgency” of the situation.

Britain’s latest deadline is April 12 and resistance to May’s plan remains passionately strong.

But increasingly weary EU leaders — tired of Britain’s political drama and eager to focus on Europe’s own problems — want to see either a done deal or a new way forward from May before they all meet in Brussels on Wednesday.

Her European counterparts will decide whether to grant May’s request to push back Brexit until May 22 — the day before nations begin electing a new European Parliament.

One alternative is to force her to accept a much longer extension that could give Britain time to rethink Brexit and possibly reverse its decision to leave.

The other is to let Britain go without a deal on April 12 in the hope that the economic disruption is short-lived and worth the price of eliminating long-term Brexit uncertainties.

– ‘Sense of resignation’ –
May dramatically ended her courtship of her own party’s holdouts and resistant Northern Irish allies by turning to the main opposition Labour Party this week.

The premier met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday for a reported 100 minutes of talks both sides described as “cordial” but inconclusive.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday welcomed the cross-party effort to resolved the deadlock.

“It’s time for decisions,” he tweeted.

But May’s decision to hear out Corbyn’s demands for a closer post-Brexit alliance with the bloc that includes membership in its customs union has enraged Britain’s right-wing and seen two junior ministers resign.

One senior minister said May had no other choice.

“It’s very simple — there’s nowhere else to go,” the unnamed cabinet minister told the news website Politico.

“There’s a sense of resignation about her that ‘we get this through and I take the flak’.”

Pro-European members of May’s team also insisted that it was time to compromise on long-standing political beliefs for the benefit of safe resolution of Britain’s biggest crisis in decades.

“Both parties have to give something up,” finance minister Philip Hammond told ITV.

“There is going to be pain on both sides.”

– Competing visions –
May and Corbyn have competing visions of Britain’s place in Europe and neither has shown much willingness to compromise in the past.

Corbyn said late Wednesday that he did not see “as much change as I expected” from May.

The Times newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying that May’s office thought it more likely than not that the negotiations would fail.

May has resisted the customs union idea because it bars Britain from striking its own independent trade agreements with nations such as China and the United States.

And Corbyn is under pressure from Labour’s pro-EU wing to push for a second referendum that would pit May’s final deal against the option of staying in the bloc.

Corbyn has shied away from backing another vote due in part to his own sceptical view of Brussels.

The Labour-backing Mirror newspaper said May and Corbyn would let their teams negotiate Thursday before deciding on whether to meet again face to face Friday.

Rage As Theresa May Postpones Vote On Brexit Deal

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May/ AFP

 

Prime Minister Theresa May sparked outrage Sunday by suggesting parliament may not be able to vote on her Brexit deal until March 12, just days before Britain leaves the EU.

The decision increases the chances that MPs will move next week to delay Brexit beyond March 29, to avoid a potentially disastrous situation where Britain exits with no agreement at all.

May had held out the possibility of a vote this week but said Sunday she was still discussing with the EU possible amendments to the deal’s arrangements for the Irish border.

“As we’re continuing with those talks, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week,” she told reporters as she arrived at a summit of European and Arab leaders in Egypt.

“But that will happen by March 12. And we still have it within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29.”

READ ALSO: Indian Toxic Alcohol Death Toll Rises To 143

Since MPs rejected her withdrawal deal last month, May has sought to address their concerns about the text’s “backstop” arrangement, which is designed to keep the border with Ireland free flowing.

She is meeting with European Council chief Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the two-day summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, and her team will also return to Brussels on Tuesday.

But opposition politicians and pro-European MPs in London reacted with fury at what they believe is a deliberate strategy of delay.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said her move not to hold a vote this week was “the height of irresponsibility and an admission of failure”.

“Theresa May is recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal,” he said.

“Parliament cannot stand by and allow this to happen.”

‘Run out of road’ 

May has refused to rule out leaving the EU with no deal, despite the risk of huge economic disruption on both sides of the Channel.

She says the only way to avoid this scenario is to support her deal — but growing numbers of MPs believe that Brexit should instead be delayed.

Three of her cabinet ministers on Saturday warned in a newspaper article that if there was no breakthrough this week then the House of Commons would vote for a delay.

“Beyond the next few days, there simply will not be time to agree with a deal and complete all the necessary legislation before March 29,” they wrote.

May has promised to make a statement in the Commons on Tuesday and allow MPs on Wednesday to debate their own ideas for the way forward.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper urged lawmakers to support her cross-party proposal to delay Brexit, saying: “How are businesses, public services and families supposed to plan in this chaos?”

Sam Gyimah, who quit as a junior minister in May’s government over her approach to Brexit, said her latest decision was “shocking”.

“We’ve run out of the road. The meaningful vote can is now being kicked against the wall,” he tweeted.

 ‘Addition to the treaty’ 

After rejecting the EU withdrawal deal that May spent almost two years negotiating, MPs demanded she return seek changes to the Irish backstop.

This plan would keep Britain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit if and until another way — for example, a free trade deal — were found to keep open the border with Ireland.

The EU has said it will not reopen the text but is looking at what “guarantees” could be given to reassure MPs that the backstop would be temporary.

Earlier, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the government was still discussing various options.

“It could be a time limit, it could be a unilateral exit mechanism,” he told the BBC — citing two options Brussels has publicly rejected.

He added: “And it could be another legally powerful protocol or addition to the treaty that makes it clear that we would not be bound in the backstop indefinitely against our will.”

AFP

British Mps Brand Facebook ‘Digital Gangsters’ Who Spread Fake News

Facebook Overhaul Favours Friends Over News, Adverts
File Photo

 

A scathing British parliamentary report on Monday branded Facebook “digital gangsters” who failed to fight the spread of fake news and violated data privacy.

Lawmakers’ 18-month investigation into technology companies and disinformation also accused the world’s largest social media platform of trying to hide the extent of Russian interference in foreign elections.

Facebook is coming under attack over its response to Russia’s suspected use of misleading stories and targeted ads to sway the 2016 US presidential election and a series of European votes.

Its executives have further been accused of trying to either hide or suppress emerging evidence of foreign meddling flagged by its engineers.

Parliamentary committee chair Damian Collins said Facebook “deliberately sought to frustrate our work by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions”.

Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg turned down three requests to appear before the committee.

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the 108-page report said.

Liable for content

The committee urged a compulsory code of ethics for all tech companies that would be overseen by an independent UK regulator.

Collins told AFP he hoped “that before the end of the year, there could be a firm proposal for legislation” establishing how such an oversight body would work.

“This ends the idea that tech companies are just platforms, that they are independent and that the responsibility for the content lies solely on the person who posted it,” Collins said in a phone interview.

“They have limited liability for the content that has been posted there. They are not neutral. They curate the space, they promote content toward users.”

Facebook spokesman Karim Palant said executives at the California-based company “share the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity.”

“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform,” Palant said in a statement.

But Collins said Facebook has only adopted incremental policy changes that were mostly aimed at fending off regulation making it liable for the spread of malicious stories.

“They have taken a step, largely I think, to offset legislation,” said Collins.

“It shouldn’t be down to Mark Zuckerberg to determine what the code is for election advertising in the UK through Facebook.”

‘No longer good enough’

The committee earlier found that Facebook’s engineers had flagged potentially malicious Russian activity as early as 2014 — long before it became public.

Monday’s report said the two Facebook officials who did testify “deliberately misled the committee or they were deliberately not briefed by senior executives at Facebook about the extent of Russian interference in foreign elections”.

UK officials have been probing the role Russian misinformation campaigns may have played in swaying Britons toward voting in favour of leaving the European Union in 2016.

Russia has denied either backing Britain’s decision or covertly backing pro-Brexit leaders during the divisive campaign.

The committee further accused Facebook of offering Netflix and other popular apps preferential access to people’s data even after it had tightened its privacy rules.

“They are acting in an aggressive way against other companies that could be considered a commercial threat to Facebook,” Collins told AFP.

The British government has eight weeks to respond to the parliamentary report.

Britain is coming under pressure to follow the example set by Germany and France of introducing rules governing how Facebook collects user data and fights fake news.

Germany’s competition authority said this month it will impose limits to how Facebook hoovers up data from its WhatsApp and Instagram subsidiaries.

And France has introduced laws requiring social media giants to take down malicious stories during election campaigns.

Collins said it would be up to parliament to determine what rules and punishments to impose.

“We feel that it’s no longer good enough just to ask the tech companies to get better,” he said.