UK Parliament Approves Historic Brexit Deal

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) reacting after his Government won the vote on the third reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, in the House of Commons in London on January 9, 2020.  HO / PRU / AFP

 

Britain’s parliament finally approved Brexit on Thursday, allowing it to become the first country to leave the European Union later this month, ending years of arguments that toppled two governments and splintered society.

The House of Commons erupted in cheers after MPs ratified Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s divorce deal with Brussels by 330 votes to 231, turning the page on an extraordinary era of political drama and chaos.

For much of the time since the 2016 Brexit referendum, lawmakers have been at each others’ throats over how, when or even if Britain should leave its closest trading partners after nearly 50 years.

Some view Brexit with horror, fearing it will strip them of their European identities and turn Britain into an insular, less important nation.

Others embraced it with fervour, viewing it as a chance to “take back control” from officials in Brussels and see Britain regain some of its past might.

Businesses and governments in Europe, puzzled by Britain’s struggles over what they viewed as a self-inflicted wound, hoped that Brexit could still somehow be undone.

 A smile and a nod 

But Johnson’s comprehensive victory in last month’s general election brought an abrupt end to the turmoil, giving his Conservatives a parliamentary majority with which to push it through.

MPs gave their initial blessing to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Christmas, and the government set aside just three days this week for detailed scrutiny of the complex text.

But few even bothered to turn up on Tuesday and Wednesday, with both sessions ending early.

The momentous day on which Johnson effectively won permission to abandon the European integration project was all but ignored in Thursday’s media.

Instead, it became a footnote to Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to quit royal front-line duties — christened “Megxit” and shaping up to be equally complicated and divisive.

“We will be leaving the EU on January 31. We will have delivered on the PM’s commitment to get Brexit done,” a government spokesman said, echoing Johnson’s election mantra.

Britain’s main opposition Labour party, bruised by its worst beating at the polls since 1935, voted against Brexit on Thursday knowing the battle had been lost.

We “may not win many votes in parliament just now, but we can win the moral argument”, said Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, a potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Johnson attended the session but did not speak, savouring his victory from the front bench, where he smiled and nodded before the historic but all-but ceremonial vote.

The Brexit bill must still be passed by the unelected House of Lords and the European Parliament, which is seen as a formality.

 Turning to trade 

All eyes are now on another major challenge: the negotiation of a new relationship between Britain and the remaining 27 EU nations, which form the world’s largest single market.

The Brexit deal covers separation issues such as EU citizens’ rights and Britain’s financial settlement, and sets out an 11-month transition period in which to agree a wider partnership.

Brussels warns the current deadline of December 31 this year is extremely tight, and has given London the option to ask for more time.

But Johnson insists there will be no extension of the transition period, saying that Britain must be free of EU rules as soon as possible.

Ahead of talks with Johnson on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would be “basically impossible” to agree everything within London’s timeframe.

“We will have to prioritise,” she said in a speech to the London School of Economics university, warning of “tough talks ahead”.

In response, Johnson’s office indicated that it could accept a partial trade deal.

London does not want the EU’s long-standing policy that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” — intended to stop one side cherry-picking bits of a deal they like — to define the coming negotiations, a spokesman said.

“We are very clear we want to get on in terms of negotiating a deal,” he said.

AFP

Re-Elected Venezuela Opposition Leader Guaido Calls For Protests

Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guaido declares himself the country’s “acting president” during a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolas Maduro, on the anniversary of a 1958 uprising that overthrew the military dictatorship in Caracas on January 23, 2019. Federico PARRA / AFP

 

 

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido called Tuesday for three days of protests against President Nicolas Maduro, hours after he was sworn in for another term as National Assembly speaker following a standoff with the armed forces.

Guaido was barred from entering the assembly by the National Guard for around half an hour in dramatic and chaotic scenes, while a rival claimant to the speaker’s post occupied the chair.

“It’s time to stand up and to stand up with force,” Guaido said later during a press conference.

“We will mobilize for street protests on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday we will all be in the streets.”

Guaido, self-appointed acting president of Venezuela, leads the opposition to leftist Maduro, who remains in power despite Guaido’s year-long effort to oust the man he calls a “usurper.”

The National Assembly legislature is the only branch of government in the opposition’s hands, and Guaido’s holding of the speaker’s post is important for the continuation of his struggle with Maduro.

Guaido is backed by the United States and more than 50 other countries but, despite Venezuela’s economic collapse, Maduro appears entrenched with crucial support from the armed forces. He is also backed by China, Russia, and Cuba.

“Here we are, showing our face,” Guaido said, taking his seat in the assembly after rival claimant Luis Parra and pro-government lawmakers left.

Blocked by troops

Lawmakers sang the national anthem but electricity to the chamber was cut off, leaving deputies to use flashlights on their mobile phones.

Guaido then raised his right hand and took the oath of office for another term as leader of the assembly.

Earlier, dozens of National Guard troops wearing helmets and carrying riot shields blocked Guaido from entering the building.

“These are not barracks!” Guaido shouted.

Some of his allies and members of the press were also blocked from getting inside.

The opposition said on Twitter that four lawmakers were injured by “regime minions.”

Parra, an opposition legislator accused of corruption, had declared himself speaker on Sunday after the armed forces had prevented Guaido from entering the building.

Guaido had declared Sunday that he was re-elected to his post after holding a legislative session alongside loyal deputies at the offices of a pro-opposition newspaper.

Crisis-hit Venezuela has been in political turmoil since last January when Guaido used his position as speaker to declare himself acting president in a direct challenge to the authority of Maduro.

The United States warned on Tuesday it could ramp up sanctions against Venezuela, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Guaido on his re-election.

“The Maduro regime’s campaign of arrests, intimidation, and bribery could not derail Venezuelan democracy, nor could its use of military forces to physically bar the National Assembly from accessing the parliament building,” said Pompeo.

Speaking Tuesday on state broadcaster VTV, Maduro called Pompeo a “failed clown” for supporting Guaido, whose swearing-in as speaker was “a show.”

“The United States assumes it has the right to name the world’s legislatures with (their) threats,” he said.

And Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted that the US must “now assume that its strategy against Venezuela failed. They have not shown any skills as puppeteers and they lost their main puppet.”

Parra was kicked out of his opposition party last month after an online news site accused him of corruption linked to the over-pricing of food imported for the Maduro government.

He remains a deputy and Maduro recognized Parra’s election in a television address on Sunday. But even Maduro’s left-wing allies Argentina and Uruguay have denounced the move.

Assembly sidelined

Before Sunday’s vote, Guaido said the Maduro government had bribed some opposition deputies to vote against him.

The opposition holds 112 of the 167 seats in the assembly.

As well as two claimants to the presidency and the position of assembly speaker, Venezuela has two legislatures.

The National Assembly has been effectively sidelined since 2017, when the Supreme Court, made up of Maduro loyalists, declared it in contempt. The court has since annulled its every decision.

Maduro then controversially set up a Constituent Assembly — also made up exclusively of loyalists — with power to legislate in its place.

Britain’s New Parliament Votes On Johnson’s Brexit Deal

A handout photograph taken and released by the UK Parliament on December 19, 2019, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons in London after the State Opening Of Parliament.  JESSICA TAYLOR / AFP / UK PARLIAMENT

 

Britain’s freshly-elected parliament prepared on Friday to move past years of partisan wrangling and initially approve Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s divorce deal with the EU.

The all-but-certain outcome in the lower House of Commons will help Johnson on his way towards meeting his winning campaign promise to “get Brexit done” on January 31.

But it will also push London and Brussels closer to another cliff edge at the end of 2020 that might disrupt decades of unfettered trade.

A snap election last week put Johnson’s Conservatives in control of parliament and dispelled doubts over whether Britain would become the first nation to leave the European Union.

A final vote on Johnson’s separation terms will come when lawmakers return from their Christmas break early next month.

But Britain will enter the holiday season closer to legal and economic independence from Brussels than it has been at any point since the 2016 Brexit referendum on Britain’s near half-century EU membership.

Johnson has the freedom and power to shape Britain’s future that his predecessor Theresa May never had during her troubled three-year term.

“Today we will deliver on the promise we made to the people and get the Brexit vote wrapped up for Christmas,” Johnson said.

“Now MPs will start the process of passing the bill. Then, at the beginning of the new decade, at the beginning of a new dawn for our country, our parliamentarians will return to Westminster to immediately finish the job, take us out of the EU on January 31 and move this country forward.

“After years of delay and rancour in parliament, we will deliver certainty and hard-working businesses and people across this country will have a firm foundation on which to plan for the future.”

 Another cliff edge 

Britain’s nervous financial market rejoiced when Johnson’s governing Conservatives secured an comprehensive majority in the 650-member House of Commons.

The healthy margin appeared to remove the possibility of more months of political uncertainty and chaos — and of Britain crashing out of the bloc without any arrangements for what comes next.

But the pound fell back to its pre-election levels when Johnson introduced a series of small but potentially consequential changes into the official Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

Britain’s formal departure on January 31 had been due to be followed by an 11-month transition period during which things would stay pretty much as they are now.

The sides are supposed to use the time to negotiate a comprehensive new agreement covering everything from trade to security and data protection.

EU officials warn that such deals usually take years to hammer out.

But Johnson ruled out the possibility of asking for a deadline extension in the version of the bill before parliament on Friday.

“A Minister of the Crown may not agree… to an extension of the implementation period,” the bill now says.

Analysts note that little prevents Johnson from pushing a new law through parliament removing that firm deadline should negotiations veer dangerously off track.

It also puts psychological pressure on European officials to back off some of their stiffer demands on London and seek a limited deal that leaves some big issues unresolved.

“The UK could get a (free trade agreement) done with the EU by end of 2020,” May’s former Brexit adviser Raoul Ruparel said.

“But it would be a narrow and shallow one.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday that the bloc “will do the maximum” to meet the end-of-2020 deadline.

AFP

Lawmaker Takes Lie Detector Test Over Corruption Claims

Davyd Arakhamia (C), leader of the parliamentary faction of the Ukrainian president’s Servant of the People speaks with Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinsky (L) prior to a test with a lie detector in Kiev on October 23, 2019. GENYA SAVILOV / AFP

 

A lawmaker from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party took a lie detector test on Wednesday after the president called for a group of MPs to be tested over corruption allegations.

Oleksandr Dubinsky, from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, streamed the test live on the internet.

Earlier, Davyd Arakhamia, leader of the parliamentary faction of the president’s party, had told reporters “we will go on a lie detector”.

All MPs from the president’s party who are also members of a special committee that examines draft legislation will be subjected to the test.

According to reports, MPs on the committee have allegedly taken bribes to block an anti-corruption law aimed at regulating the property market. The bill has not yet gone before parliament.

Zelensky on Wednesday called for the ten MPs involved to take the lie detector test.

READ ALSO: Thai King Sacks Six Palace Officials For ‘Evil Actions’

So far, the lawmakers are not facing any charges but investigators have launched a probe after journalists and bloggers reported a possible crime.

If these checks find “even the slightest possibility that the lawmakers took the money… then the anti-corruption authorities should deal with these lawmakers,” Zelensky wrote on Facebook.

Later Dubinsky, a member of the committee in question, was as good as his word and aired his lie detector test live on the internet.

“Did you personally vote against this bill in exchange for a bribe?” he was asked by an expert carrying out the test.

“Did anyone promise to pay you for a vote against this bill?” the expert continued, after the MP replied “no” to the first question.

It was not clear when all the deputies involved would take the lie detector test.

Zelensky, a former comedian, won presidential elections in spring on a programme promising to eradicate corruption.

According to Transparency International Ukraine is ranked 120th out of 180 on the NGO’s corruption perception index, faring better than Russia (in 138th place) but still falling far behind its European Union neighbours.

Brexit: UK Parliament Speaker Blocks Holding Of New Vote

Britain’s speaker of the House of Commons makes a statement relating to the speaks in the House of Commons in London on October 21, 2019. HO / AFP / PRU

 

UK Parliament Speaker John Bercow blocked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from holding a vote Monday on his new Brexit divorce deal after MPs failed to back it on Saturday.

“The motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so,” Bercow told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

AFP

Brexit: British Supreme Court To Issue Parliament Ruling Next Week

The logo for the Supreme court at the entrance to the court in central London on the third and final day of the hearing into the decision by the government to prorogue parliament on September 19, 2019. Tolga Akmen / AFP

 

Supreme Court judges will rule early next week on whether British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to Brexit was lawful, the court’s president said Thursday.

“We know that this case must be resolved as quickly as possible, and we hope to be able to publish our decision early next week,” judge Brenda Hale said as the third and final day of hearings wrapped up.

Johnson has suspended parliament for five weeks, with MPs only allowed to return on October 14 — a fortnight before Britain’s planned exit from the European Union on October 31.

The Conservative leader, who took office in July, insists it was a routine move to allow his government to launch a new legislative programme next month.

But critics accuse him of trying to silence critical MPs at a crucial time, with Britain’s exit terms — and departure date — still uncertain.

“I must repeat that this case is not about when and on what terms the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. The result of this case will not determine that,” Hale said in brief closing remarks.

“We are solely concerned with the lawfulness of the prime minister’s decision to advise her majesty (Queen Elizabeth II) to prorogue parliament on the dates in question.

“As we have heard, it is not a simple question and we will now consider carefully all the arguments which have been presented to us.”

Eleven of the Supreme Court’s 12 judges heard appeals against two conflicting lower court decisions on Johnson’s move, involving multiple plaintiffs.

Scotland’s highest civil court found the suspension was unlawful, but the High Court in England said it was not a matter for judges to intervene in.

Johnson insists Britain must leave the EU with or without a divorce deal with Brussels, but MPs have legislated to force him to delay Brexit if he has not reached an agreement in time.

AFP

UK Parliament’s Suspension To Begin Today

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures toward the opposition benches as he stands a the dispatch box and speaks in the House of Commons in London on September 3, 2019.
AFP / PRU

 

Britain’s parliament will be suspended for five weeks on Monday following another expected defeat by MPs for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he battles to salvage his hardline Brexit strategy amid fierce opposition in Westminster.

The controversial suspension will begin shortly after MPs are set to vote again against Johnson’s bid to hold a snap election next month — two weeks before the country is due to leave the European Union.

“Parliament will be prorogued at close of business today,” Johnson’s spokesman said at a daily briefing, using the parliamentary term for the suspension.

He added it would happen regardless of the outcome of the vote on the October 15 poll.

Johnson held talks with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin before returning to the parliamentary turmoil later Monday.

He ordered the shutdown in an apparent bid to stymie a cross-party block of MPs opposed to a possible no-deal Brexit.

The British leader has vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the latest October 31 deadline with or without a formal divorce deal — despite warnings that the latter scenario would entail economic chaos.

However, the planned suspension has provoked uproar from opposition MPs and Conservative critics, who have labelled the move a constitutional outrage.

It appeared to backfire by galvanising them into passing legislation last week — expected to receive royal assent on Monday — that forces Johnson to seek a Brexit delay if he fails to reach a deal at an October 17-18 EU summit.

Johnson responded to the proposed law by trying to force the early general election, but fell short in a vote last week of the necessary support of two-thirds of MPs.

He will try again later Monday in another vote widely expected to fail.

Opposition party leaders, who met Monday, have vowed to keep blocking the snap poll until Brexit has been extended beyond October 31.

“He has got to ask for an extension,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News.

“We will do everything we can to prevent us crashing out on October 31 and will support an election when it is clear we will avoid that crashing out.”

 ‘Significant gaps remain’ 

Johnson met Varadkar on Monday hoping to lay the groundwork for new divorce terms as he finds himself increasingly cornered just six weeks after taking over from his predecessor Theresa May.

The British leader wants the bloc to scrap a special provision in the deal agreed by May to keep the Northern Irish border open in all circumstances after Brexit, arguing “alternative arrangements” exist.

But Brussels and Dublin have insisted the so-called backstop mechanism must remain in place to guarantee no return to a hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland, which suffered decades of deadly sectarian violence.

They say Johnson is also yet to propose the details of any workable alternatives.

“While they agreed that the discussions are at an early stage, common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain,” the two leaders said in a joint statement following an hour of talks.

Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament until October 14 and his promise to do Brexit come what may have rattled his ruling Conservative Party.

Twenty-one Conservative MPs including Winston Churchill’s grandson were sacked last week for voting in favour of the law aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit.

The dismissals and the defection of one MP to the Liberal Democrats left him without a working majority.

Several members of his government have also quit, including his own brother.

 ‘We have a plan’ 

A government minister rejected speculation Sunday that Johnson had no real option but to resign.

But he could not say clearly how he intended to keep all his Brexit promises without somehow bending UK law.

“Of course he is not going to break the law,” Foreign Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.

He added Johnson would “test to the limit” of the law in court.

Rebel Conservative MPs insist their strategy to stop Johnson will prevail, however.

“I remain very, very confident we can stop no-deal because in the end parliament is sovereign,” said Rory Stewart, a former Tory lawmaker now forced to sit as an independent after rebelling against the government last week.

AFP

UK Tories In Disarray Over Brexit

Britain’s ruling Conservative Party is imploding this week as a result of a no-holds-barred battle over Brexit that has seen the expulsion of 21 moderate MPs, including Winston Churchill’s grandson, experts said.

In a culmination of decades of infighting over Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday axed the lawmakers, some of them former ministers, after they voted against the government’s hardline Brexit strategy.

Among those targeted were Philip Hammond, finance minister for three years until July, and Ken Clarke, parliament’s longest-serving MP dubbed “the Father of the House”.

Nicholas Soames, the grandson of wartime prime minister Churchill — widely considered the greatest Conservative leader — was also told he must now sit as an independent.

The cull, which could bar them from standing as Conservatives at the next election, came hours after Phillip Lee resigned to join the Liberal Democrats — the fifth ruling party MP to quit this year.

“Sadly, the Brexit process has helped to transform this once great party into something more akin to a narrow faction,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

He said the party was no longer the “broad political church” he joined as a young man.

“It has increasingly become infected with the twin diseases of populism and English nationalism,” Lee said.

 ‘Like something out of N Korea’ 

The Conservatives, one of the world’s oldest and most successful political parties which has ruled Britain for much of the last century, have long been dominated by divisions over the country’s relationship with Europe.

The issue contributed to Margaret Thatcher’s 1990 resignation after 11 years in power, while directly causing ex-premiers David Cameron and Theresa May to step down in the past four years.

But political historians say the current fractures — and the response to them — are different.

“(It’s) unprecedented historically, both in terms of the scale… and the threat of deselection coming directly from the leadership,” said Nick Crowson, professor of contemporary British history at the University of Birmingham.

The sacking of such prominent Conservatives by Johnson, who had himself voted against the previous government twice earlier this year, has reportedly shocked even those working in Downing Street.

“It’s like something out of North Korea,” one aide told the Politico website.

“I honestly think they’ve completely overreached.”

 Wedge issue 

It was not supposed to be this way.

Cameron called the 2016 referendum in a bid to unify his party behind continued EU membership, with Nigel Farage, then leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), ascendant in the polls.

But when Cameron lost the vote — with 52 percent of Britons favouring Leave — and he was forced to resign, Brexit became the defining issue driving an ever bigger wedge through the party.

May tried to promote consensus between the two rival camps, balancing her cabinet between Leavers like Johnson and previous Remainers such as Hammond.

However, her strategy failed as a string of Brexit hardliners resigned from the cabinet while moderates also left the government in disagreement.

In February, three Conservative MPs quit the party to join a breakaway group of pro-EU lawmakers from the Labour party, while another left to sit as an independent in April.

But with Brexit stalled amid opposition to the divorce deal that May struck with Brussels, voters deserted the Conservatives for Farage’s new Brexit Party in European Parliament elections this year.

The party came a humiliating fifth in the vote, setting the stage for hardliners seized the initiative.

 ‘Defend my party’ 

Boris Johnson became leader vowing to leave the bloc “do or die” on the delayed deadline of October 31, installing key figures in the victorious 2016 Vote Leave team in government.

This has left the moderates opposed to a no-deal Brexit in what Hammond called Tuesday “the fight of a lifetime”.

“I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists… people who are at the heart of this government who care nothing about the future of the Conservative party,” he told the BBC.

Some political analysts believe predictions of the party’s demise are premature — but the Brexit-fuelled divisions will be tough to repair.

Oliver Patel, of University College London’s European Institute said: “Whichever option (they) choose, a large part of the party will be against it, whether it’s a deal, no deal or no Brexit.”

AFP

Boris Johnson Loses Majority In UK Parliament

The British pound hit multi-year lows against the dollar on Tuesday amid fears of a no-deal Brexit but rebounded after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his working parliamentary majority ahead of a crucial Brexit vote.

“For all the uncertainty that lies ahead, markets see a Boris Johnson led no-deal Brexit as the worst-case scenario and thus treat anything that undermines that as pound positive,” said Joshua Mahony at IG.

Sterling struck $1.1959 in early European business, its worst trading level since 1985 with the exception of a 2016 “flash crash” which took it even lower for a very short moment.

But then a Conservative lawmaker joined the opposition ahead of a showdown with rebel MPs over Brexit that could lead to a snap election within weeks.

 ‘Plenty of pain’ 

“Though there is no doubt plenty of pain on the horizon, sterling managed to shake off the excesses of its Tuesday’s slide as the session went on,” said Connor Campbell at Spreadex.

The UK leader insists that Britain will leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

Markets fear that a no-deal Brexit could be disastrous for the British economy, at least in the short term, and could plunge the country into recession.

While the pound’s weakness makes imports into Britain more expensive, for example oil which is traded in dollars, it cheapens exports.

However, a general election could see the main opposition Labour party win power, led by Jeremy Corbyn whose policies are widely regarded as being unfriendly towards business.

Analysts acknowledged they could not see much upside for sterling in any likely scenario.

“It seems there is no good near-term outcome. We either have an increased risk of no-deal, the possibility of a Corbyn government or more uncertainty,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda trading group, told AFP on Tuesday.

“It would appear traders don’t view any of these options as being particularly favourable for the pound,” Erlam added.

In commodities trading, oil prices extended losses on concerns about data showing a lift in output from OPEC and Russia, despite a pledge from them to reduce production.

 Key figures around 1550 GMT 

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2087 from $1.2062 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.74 pence from 90.94 pence

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0961 from $1.0965

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 106.24 yen from 106.26 yen

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,268.19 points (close)

Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 0.4 percent at 11,910.86 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.0.5 percent at 5,466.07 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,422.56

New York: Dow: DOWN 1.4 percent at 26,044.11

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: FLAT at 20,625.16 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 25,527.85 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 2,930.15 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN $1.22 at $57.44 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN $2.06 at $53.04 per barrel

Boris Johnson Faces Parliament Showdown Over Brexit

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a statement in the House of Commons in London on July 25, 2019.

 

The fate of Brexit hung in the balance on Tuesday as parliament prepared for an explosive showdown with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that could end in a snap election.

Members of Johnson’s own Conservative party are preparing to join opposition lawmakers in a vote to try to force a delay to Britain’s exit from the European Union if he cannot secure a divorce deal with Brussels in the next few weeks.

Johnson — who took office less than six weeks ago — has said he wants Britain to leave on October 31 with or without an agreement on how to end almost half a century of EU membership.

His decision to suspend parliament for over a month starting next week so that MPs do not try to hinder his progress has stirred outrage and is being challenged in three separate courts.

The pound is trading at its lowest level since 2016 on fears of the unknown that a “no-deal Brexit” can bring.

And the crisis might end up splintering Britain’s two main parties.

“If ultimately the prime minister and leader of my party is doing something which I think is so fundamentally wrong, then I can’t continue supporting it,” Dominic Grieve, a rebel Conservative MP, told BBC television.

“I simply do not see the Conservative party surviving in its current form if we continue behaving like this towards each other.”

 Jeering chants 

The technicalities over how parliament intends to stop Johnson — and how the premier can trigger an early general election if it does — are as complex as the entire Brexit saga.

Lawmakers will first try on Tuesday to take over the government’s power to determine what legislation is put up for a vote.

They will then hope to get a chance to vote on Wednesday on a bill forcing Johnson to seek a Brexit extension until January 31 if no new deal emerges at a October 17-18 EU summit.

They have even drafted the letter Johnson is supposed to present to EU Council president Donald Tusk in Brussels.

“There will be enough people for us to get this over the line,” Conservative former finance minister Philip Hammond predicted on Tuesday.

The big battle is expected to kick off with a parliamentary address by Johnson scheduled for 1430 GMT.

But he made clear on Monday that he will not let parliament tell him what to do.

“I want everybody to know — there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay,” he defiantly said over the jeering chants of protesters outside Downing Street.

Johnson has said the chances of striking a deal have grown since the G7 summit last month but his opponents say there are no negotiations with Brussels and the most likely scenario is a no-deal Brexit.

 ‘Don’t want an election’ 

Opinion polls suggest that Johnson’s decisive approach to Brexit is popular with voters — and that an election could help him increase his wafer-thin majority in parliament.

Johnson insisted in his address to the nation that he was not seeking to disband parliament.

“I don’t want an election. You don’t want an election,” he said.

But his aides later made clear that a national poll was being pencilled in for October 14 if parliament managed to seize the initiative on Tuesday.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed on Tuesday to “take the fight to the Tories” in a vote that might be held with his leftist party treading as low as fifth in the polls.

Johnson is also being challenged by the anti-establishment Brexit Party of anti-EU populist Nigal Farage.

Farage’s new political vehicle won the May European elections in Britain and is still enjoying mass support.

Farage on Monday demanded that Johnson back a “clean break” with Europe.

“No deal is the best deal,” he said.

Boris Johnson To Suspend UK Parliament

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that the suspension of parliament would be extended until October 14 — just two weeks before the UK is set to leave the EU — enraging anti-Brexit MPs.

MPs will return to London later than in recent years, giving pro-EU lawmakers less time than expected to thwart Johnson’s Brexit plans before Britain is due to leave the European Union on October 31.

“We’re going to do it on October 14,” Johnson told reporters.

READ ALSO: Trump Hails Johnson For Parliament Suspension Move

He is due to attend one last European Union summit three days later.

“There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 summit, ample time in parliament for MPs to debate,” Johnson said.

The pound slumped almost one percent against the dollar and euro on the news, sliding 0.94 percent to $1.2179, while the euro bought 91.09 pence.

A source in Johnson’s Downing Street office insisted that only around four sitting days in the lower House of Commons would be lost as a result.

Parliament returns from its summer break on September 3.

By convention it is suspended for the annual conferences of the three main parties.

The first, that of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, starts on September 14. The final one, that of Johnson’s governing Conservatives, ends on October 2.

Johnson wants parliament to return 12 days later on October 14.

Last year’s party conference recess was from September 13 to October 9, six days after the end of the party conferences.

The 2017 break was from September 14 to October 9, five days after the last conference concluded.

The move enraged opposition MPs involved in trying to stop Brexit.

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said: “This action is an utterly scandalous affront to our democracy. We cannot let this happen.”

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake tweeted: “The mother of all parliaments will not allow him to shut the people’s parliament out of the biggest decision facing our country. His declaration of war will be met with an iron fist.”

The Green MP Caroline Lucas called it a “constitutional outrage”.

Sarah Wollaston said Johnson was “behaving like a tinpot dictator”, while fellow former Conservative MP Anna Soubry said British democracy was “under threat from a ruthless PM”.

Johnson insists Britain must leave the EU on the October 31 deadline — already twice-delayed — with or without a divorce deal from Brussels.

Six opposition parties on Tuesday pledged to seek legislative changes to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

AFP

New EU Chief Faces Battle For Stable Majority In Parliament

Newly elected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gestures as she attends a news conference after a vote on her election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on July 16, 2019.  FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

 

EU president-elect Ursula von der Leyen may have won a narrow majority in the European Parliament, but to lead the divided bloc she must build a stable support base.

The outgoing German defence minister will not take office until November, but she already faces a clamour of demands from the factions she will need to unite behind her.

“She gave a very good speech, very pro-European, but the result was disappointing, and the majority very small,” former Italian premier Enrico Letta told AFP after Tuesday’s vote.

Von der Leyen was nominated to become the first female president of the European Commission by the bloc’s 28 national leaders, but backed by only 383 MEPs, a 51 per cent majority.

A win, certainly, but far short of the 422 votes her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker won five years ago, and a weak foundation from which to unite an increasingly fragmented Europe.

Worse, von der Leyen failed to unite the pro-integration centre-ground — Greens boycotted her, along with around a third of the centre-left and many mainstream conservatives.

The parliamentary vote was a secret ballot, but her majority appears to have included eurosceptic Poles, populist Italians and many British MEPs who are due to leave the chamber.

“It could hang over the whole parliamentary mandate. She needs to win over the Greens and the rest of the socialists,” said Letta, now president of the Institut Jacques Delors.

Tough Greens 

Von der Leyen addressed it in the immediate aftermath of her narrow victory, admitting that many in parliament had been annoyed to see her foisted on them by national leaders.

“There was a great deal of resentment, and I understand it,” she said, referring to the manner in which the parliamentary groups’ candidates for president were rejected.

But she continued: “I’m very pleased that after just two weeks — not even two weeks, 13 days — that we’ve been able to find a pro-European majority.

“It’s a good base to start from, I want to work constructively with this parliament. We need to find answers to overcome the divisions between east and west, north and south.”

In her immediate camp, aides were clear-eyed about the chances of expanding her support base. “It’s going to be difficult, the Greens are playing hard,” one told AFP.

Green group co-president MEP Philippe Lamberts confirmed this, demanding that no less than four members of the commission that von der Leyen will form must come from his party.

“I have reason to think she’ll come round to us, it’s an untenable situation, there’s no majority without the Greens,” he said. “If she wants to negotiate, we won’t be cheap.”

The team forming around von der Leyen knew the vote wold be close, but — aides said — they decided to forge ahead “by force” rather than entertain more demands for policy concessions.

On paper, the conservative EPP, socialist S&D and liberal Renew Europe groups could field a comfortable pro-European majority of 444 between them, but on the night many withheld their support.

Von der Leyen will next need their support in October when her team of 27 commissioners — one from each member state — is presented to the Strasbourg parliament for approval.

“If she can expand her majority, she’ll win,” a senior European diplomat told AFP.

But, as another senior envoy added: “If she doesn’t secure a stable majority in parliament, we’ll have a tough five years.”

Other observers are less pessimistic, arguing that resistance to von der Leyen’s appointment was mainly due to the way she was chosen and that once in the office her agenda would find support.

“A lot of the negatives had nothing to do with her personality or her programme,” said Eric Maurice of the Schuman Foundation.

“The election vote isn’t automatically indicative of how parliament is going to work.”

AFP