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

Hong Kong Police Regain Control Of Parliament From Anti-Government Protesters

Police fire tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. 
Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Hong Kong police fired tear gas Tuesday to regain control of the city’s parliament after thousands of protesters occupied and ransacked the assembly in an unprecedented display of defiance on the anniversary of the territory’s handover to China.

The financial hub has been rocked by three weeks of huge demonstrations sparked by an unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, but on Monday that anger reached levels unseen for years.

Masked protesters — mostly young and many wearing yellow hard hats — broke into the legislature after hours of clashes with police.

They ransacked the building, daubing its walls with anti-government graffiti, in an unparalleled challenge to city authorities and Beijing.

In a rare report on the civic action, China’s Xinhua News Agency said the Hong Kong government “strongly condemns and deeply regrets the extremely violent acts committed by some protesters”.

RELATED: Hong Kong Protesters Seize Parliament Chamber, Tie British Colonial Flag

Police had warned of an impending crackdown, and just after midnight officers moved in from several directions, firing tear gas and wielding batons as they charged and sending plumes of smoke drifting across the city.

Huge crowds of democracy activists earlier staged a march calling for Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down and for a reverse of what they see as years of sliding freedoms.

But the atmosphere deteriorated as the day wore on, and a hard-core group of protesters breached parliament after hours of the siege.

Once inside, they tore down portraits of the city’s leaders, hoisted a British colonial-era flag in the main chamber and sprayed the city crest with black paint.

“There are no violent protesters, just tyranny,” read one banner, hoisted above the podium.

“Hong Kong is not China,” read another.

‘We Have No Choice’

Many protesters said they felt compelled to take action because the city’s leaders had ignored public sentiment.

“We have marched, staged sit-ins… but the government has remained unmoved,” Joey, a 26-year-old protester, told AFP as she walked over shattered glass inside the building.

“We have to show the government that we won’t just sit here and do nothing.”

A protester surnamed Cheung, 24 added: “We know that this is breaking the law, but we have no choice”.

The past three weeks of rallies are the sharpest expression of fears over Chinese influence on the territory in decades.

Protesters accuse Beijing of stamping down on the city’s freedoms and culture with the help of unelected leaders.

But the increasingly hard-line tactics from some protesters have alienated some, with a large counter-rally in support of the police taking place on Sunday.

Although Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”.

The city enjoys rights and liberties unseen on the autocratic mainland, but many residents fear Beijing is already reneging on that deal.

Activists have organised a march every handover anniversary, calling for greater democratic freedoms — such as the right to elect the city’s leader.

They have mustered large crowds in recent years — including a two-month occupation of parts of the city centre in 2014 — but have failed to win any concessions from Beijing.

The spark for the current wave of protests was an attempt by chief executive Carrie Lam to pass the Beijing-backed extradition law, which she has now postponed following the public backlash.

But she has resisted calls to permanently shelve the law or step down.

Champagne Toasts & Flags

Lam — who has kept out of the public eye recently and has record low approval ratings — attended a flag-raising ceremony early Monday, marking the moment the city returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago.

Her speech stuck to the conciliatory tone she has used in recent weeks, saying she recognised conflict had broken out.

“It has made me fully understand that as a politician, I need to be aware and accurately grasp the feelings of the people.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his country’s support for Hong Kong and “its freedoms is unwavering” and urged restraint from protesters in comments echoed by the European Union.

But activists have vowed to keep up their civil disobedience campaign.

“Whatever happens we won’t lose heart,” Jason Chan, a 22-year-old accountant added. “Resistance is not a matter of a day or a week, it is long term.”

AFP

South African Parliament Re-Elects Ramaphosa As President

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the crowd gathered at the Miki Yili Stadium, ahead of the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Freedom Day, in Makhanda, Eastern Cape Province on April 27, 2019. Michele Spatari / AFP

 

South African lawmakers on Wednesday re-elected Cyril Ramaphosa as the nation’s president, two weeks after the ruling ANC party returned to power in legislative elections.

Ramaphosa was “duly elected president of the Republic of South Africa,” chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng told parliament after Ramaphosa was the only name nominated by lawmakers in Cape Town.

MPs from the African National Congress, which won 230 out of 400 seats on May 8, choose the head of state in the parliament’s first post-election sitting.

The ANC won the ballot with 57.5 per cent of the vote, its thinnest majority since the end of apartheid.

Ramaphosa will be sworn in on Saturday and is expected to name a deputy president and cabinet at the weekend.

READ ALSO: 26 Killed In Central African Republic – UN

Under South Africa’s 1996 constitution, electors vote for a party, and the party selects individuals who go to the National Assembly, which then chooses the head of state.

Ramaphosa, 66, is a trade unionist who played a prominent part in the struggle against white minority rule before becoming a successful businessman after the end of apartheid.

He will serve his first full five-year term since taking over last year from Jacob Zuma who was forced out over a series of corruption scandals.

Ramaphosa’s first test as he starts his new term will be his choice of a cabinet — a task beset by rival factions within the ANC.

 Shadow of scandals 

Prospects of a major reshuffle were heightened when Deputy President David Mabuza announced he would defer taking his oath as a lawmaker.

An ANC integrity commission report has alleged Mabuza — the party’s No. 2 — “prejudiced the integrity of the ANC and brought the organisation into disrepute”.

Seen as a pro-Zuma figure, his name has repeatedly come up in media reports into corruption and political killings when he was premier of the eastern Mpumalanga province.

He later became the ANC’s vice president in December 2017 when Ramaphosa was elected party leader.

“Ramaphosa will never be more powerful than he is right now,” political analyst Richard Calland told AFP.

“He has to impose his authority. He can’t dispense all of the Zuma faction… but he has to take them out of key positions so that he can govern decisively.”

Another senior ANC official, outgoing environment minister Nomvula Mokonyane, who has been named in the ongoing judicial inquiry into state corruption, has also pulled out of the swearing-in and will not be an MP.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance’s chief whip in parliament, John Steenhuisen, said the last-minute withdrawal by two senior ANC members was “very clearly a sign that something is afoot in the ANC”.

“It is completely bizarre… the divisions that exist within the governing party are continuing to exist and we are seeing manifestations of the various factions now playing out,” said Steenhuisen.

AFP

Egypt Parliament To Vote On Extending President Sisi’s Rule

his file handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on June 2, 2018 shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi giving a speech during his swearing-in ceremony for a second four-year term in office,/ AFP

 

Egypt’s parliament, packed with loyalists of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is to vote Tuesday on changes to the constitution that could keep the former military chief in power until 2030.

The proposed amendments were initially introduced in February by a parliamentary bloc supportive of Sisi and updated this week after several rounds of parliamentary debates.

It includes changing Article 140 of the constitution to allow the Egyptian president to extend his current four-year term, which ends in 2022, by two years.

A further change would permit Sisi to stand for another six-year term and potentially remain president until 2030.

READ ALSO: African Union Threatens To Suspend Sudan Over Coup

Sisi led the army’s overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against the Islamist leader’s rule.

He won his first term as president in 2014 and was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 per cent of the vote, after standing virtually unopposed.

His government has been widely criticised by human rights groups for the repression of political opponents.

But Mohamed Abu-Hamed, one of the members of parliament who pushed for constitutional amendments to keep Sisi in power, is adamant that the changes are a must.

“The constitution in 2014 was written under tough exceptional circumstances,” he told AFP.

He hailed Sisi as a president who “took important political, economic and security measures… (and) must continue with his reforms,” in the face of the unrest gripping neighbouring countries following the toppling of veteran president Omar al-Bashir in Sudan and the escalation of the conflict in Libya.

Keeping Sisi in power, he added, reflects “the will of the people”.

‘Authoritarian rule’ 

Since Sisi overthrew Morsi, Egypt has drawn heavy international criticism for its sweeping crackdown on dissent.

The authorities have jailed thousands of Morsi’s supporters as well as liberal and secular activists, including a popular blogger, actors, singers and journalists.

Last week, Human Rights Watch warned that the amendments, which would also increase the military’s political role and grant Sisi control over the judiciary, would “institutionalise authoritarianism”.

As Sisi visited Washington for talks with President Donald Trump, it urged Congress, to withhold endorsement of the Egyptian president’s bid to extend his rule.

“Congress needs to use its levers to pressure the Egyptian president to reverse course, starting with withdrawing these constitutional amendments set to consolidate authoritarian rule,” said HRW’s Michael Page.

As well as a crackdown on dissent, Sisi has overseen a military campaign against Islamic State group-linked militants based in the Sinai Peninsula

On Tuesday, the 596-seat parliament will also vote on a controversial article which critics fear might allow the military a greater influence in Egyptian political life.

The vote is expected to be swift after the bill passed by an overwhelming majority earlier this year.

If the bill is passed by a majority of two thirds, parliament will then hold a referendum in which Egyptians will vote on the raft of amendments.

Other proposed amendments include a quota for women’s representation of no less than 25 per cent in parliament and forming a second parliamentary chamber.

Human rights groups and opposition parties say the government has intensified its crackdown on dissent with a wave of arrests ahead of the vote.

AFP

Sudan Opposition Leader Calls On President Bashir To Resign

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses parliament in the capital Khartoum on April 1, 2019. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

 

Sudan’s top opposition leader on Friday urged President Omar al-Bashir to end a state of emergency and resign, calling for widespread rallies the next day against Bashir’s 30-year rule.

Sadiq al-Mahdi, former prime minister and chief of Sudan’s main opposition National Umma Party, called on Bashir to dissolve all constitutional institutions and set up a 25-member council to govern Sudan.

“I call on all our people to participate in widespread rallies tomorrow, on April 6, to meet the call of their homeland,” Mahdi told worshippers during the weekly Muslim prayers, according to a statement issued by his party.

“I call on President Bashir to resign, dissolve all consitutional institutions and form a council of 25 people to govern the country,” he said.

Mahdi also told scores of worshippers at a mosque in Omdurman, the twin city of capital Khartoum, that Bashir should end a state of emergency the president imposed in February in a bid to end protests that have rocked the country since December.

Witnesses said worshippers then staged a small demonstration outside the mosque but were quickly dispersed by police who fired teargas.

Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that toppled Mahdi’s civilian government.

Mahdi has since spent several periods in exile, but returned to Sudan in December on the same day the protests began.

Angry demonstrators have accused Bashir’s government of mismanaging the country’s economy.

Anger had been mounting for years over soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.

It spilt onto the streets on December 19 following a government decision to triple the price of bread, quickly sparking nationwide rallies against Bashir’s rule.

On February 22 Bashir imposed a state of emergency after an initial crackdown on protests failed to quell the demonstrations.

In recent weeks the protests have shrunk in scale and intensity, but organisers have called for nationwide rallies on Saturday.

Protest organisers chose April 6 for nationwide rallies as it was the day of 1985 uprising that toppled the regime of president Jaafar Nimeiri.

The current protest movement was initially led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, but in late January Mahdi threw his support behind it.

Analysts say the movement has emerged as the biggest challenge faced by Bashir as yet.

The veteran leader has remained defiant however, imposing emergency rule and other tough measures that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest related violence so far, but Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51 including children and medics.

AFP

 

UK Lawmakers Hold Crucial Vote On Brexit Deal

MP’s waiting for the result of the second meaningful vote on the government’s Brexit deal, in the House of Commons in London on March 12, 2019. PRU / AFP

 

MPs were holding a momentous third vote Friday on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal, which could end a months-long crisis or risk Britain crashing out of the EU in two weeks.

Parliament has twice rejected May’s withdrawal agreement, both times by large margins, but has been unable to agree any alternative — and time is running out.

The pivotal vote is taking place on the day Britain was supposed to leave the European Union until May asked the bloc’s leaders last week for more time.

“This is the last opportunity to guarantee Brexit,” May told parliament as she closed several hours of debate.

“It avoids a long extension which would at least delay and could destroy Brexit.”

But Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would oppose the deal.

“The Labour Party will not play roulette with this country’s future,” he said.

In a last-ditch bid to garner the support of discontented Conservative colleagues, May dramatically promised Wednesday to resign if the deal passed.

She appealed to Brexit supporters to back her, saying that under the postponement plan agreed with Brussels, approval on Friday could see Britain out of the bloc on May 22.

 ‘Painful vote’ 

But if the deal falls again, she must set out a new plan to EU leaders — with the options including a potentially catastrophic “no deal” Brexit as early as April 12, or a lengthy delay.

Her sacrifice swayed some of her critics, including former foreign minister Boris Johnson, a potential leadership contender.

He had objected in particular to the deal’s “backstop” provisions to keep the Irish border free-flowing after Brexit.

“It is very painful to vote for this deal. But I hope we can now work together to remedy its defects, avoid the backstop trap and strive to deliver the Brexit people voted for,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who in November resigned in opposition to the agreement and is also eyeing a leadership bid, said he also would now back it.

“I cannot countenance an even longer extension and I cannot countenance having European elections in May,” he told MPs.

But more than a dozen Conservative lawmakers still publicly oppose May’s deal.

Her Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), also continue to insist its arrangements for the Irish border are unacceptable.

 ‘National emergency’ 

Britain is leaving the EU after 46 years of membership following a divisive 2016 referendum in which voters decided 52 to 48 percent for Brexit.

But MPs are gridlocked on how to implement the result, reflecting the nationwide divisions that persist on the issue.

Protesters from both sides of the divide massed under clear blue skies in Westminster on Friday, with flags, banners and Scottish pipe bands creating a colourful scene.

Around 1,000 ardent Leave supporters on a two-week, 270-mile (435-kilometre) march from northeast England were also set to arrive outside parliament.

“There is a democratic mandate to leave on the 29th of March,” marcher Kate Abley, a 53-year-old former teacher, told AFP as the group neared their final destination.

Outside the British parliament, the political chaos has led business leaders and trade unions to warn of a “national emergency”.

May admits her agreement, reached last November during more than 18 months of negotiations, is a compromise but insists it is the best available.

It covers citizens’ rights, Britain’s financial settlement, plans for the Irish border and a transition period to the end of 2020.

 ‘Completely blind’ 

MPs were not originally due to sit on Friday but the government called an emergency session.

Lacking DUP support, May will have to rely on opposition Labour votes to get her deal through, but leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to vote against her.

The government has decided to put only one part of the Brexit package to MPs Friday, separating out the withdrawal terms from an accompanying political declaration on future ties.

Another vote on the political declaration, which is not legally binding, will be required for Brexit to happen.

The government said Friday that would happen “within the next few days”.

AFP

British MPs Take Control Of Brexit Amid Calls For May’s Resignation

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May/ AFP

 

Britain’s parliament on Wednesday holds a series of votes to seek an alternative Brexit solution as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Theresa May to resign if she wants her own unpopular plan approved.

Three years after Britons voted to break the country’s near half-century bond with the European Union, this week was supposed to see the endgame — but no clear end is in sight.

Parliament has already twice rejected the deal forged by the EU and May — who personally favoured staying in the bloc before becoming head of a government tasked with steering Britain out of it.

READ ALSO: 500 Evacuated As Fire Hits Hotel In Singapore, No Injuries

But House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said on Wednesday “there’s a real possibility” that May will try again to get her deal passed on Thursday or Friday.

The price of failure could be high.

May is still desperately short of votes and a third successive defeat would weaken her further.

EU leaders have given Britain a new extended deadline of April 12 to get May’s deal ratified or find a new way out.

Failure to do either could result in a no-deal divorce that could disrupt trade on both sides of the Channel and send the British pound plunging.

Alternatively, Britain could seek an even longer extension, putting it in the bizarre situation of having to take part in European Parliament elections nearly two months after it was supposed to have left.

 16 proposals 

The UK parliament decided to break the deadlock by giving itself the right to choose from a variety of alternatives to May’s plan.

It will vote at 1900 GMT on options that range from holding a second referendum to recalling the EU withdrawal notice and maintaining ties with the bloc.

May’s own deal is not one of the 16 proposals submitted for debate to parliament speaker John Bercow. He will announce the ones that will be on the agenda at around 1530 GMT.

Time has been set aside on Monday for MPs to try and whittle down the most popular options to a final plan.

“It is very unlikely that today’s votes will reveal a majority for anything,” said Oliver Letwin, a Conservative MP who is spearheading the initiative.

 ‘Better than not leaving’ 

May will hope that none of the alternatives get majority support and that her own agreement ends up looking like the best option.

Her government is banking on rebels who oppose the EU getting frightened by the prospect of Brexit being either overturned or watered down.

She has already won the backing of Jacob Rees-Mogg — the ultra-conservative who heads the European Research Group (ERG) wing of her party that twice voted against the deal.

“I think we’ve got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all,” he told BBC radio on Wednesday.

“Half a loaf is better than no bread.”

But the Northern Irish coalition partners on whom May relies for support in parliament made clear that they would rather see Brexit extended by a year than vote for her plan.

Other holdouts are making their votes contingent on May’s promise to step down after Brexit, so another leader would negotiate the next stage of the process.

“If the prime minister announces a timetable of departure, I think that’s going to swing a lot of people behind her deal, we could get it over the line,” said Conservative MP Nigel Evans.

May is due to meet with an influential group of Conservative party members in parliament at 1700 GMT.

 Rethink Brexit? 

European leaders are watching the entire process with concern.

European Council President Donald Tusk urged EU lawmakers on Wednesday to remain open to a long postponement while Britain rethinks its stance.

“I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would, of course, mean the UK’s participation in the European Parliament elections,” Tusk said.

He also pointed to the nearly six million signatures on an online petition in the past week asking the government to cancel Brexit.

“They may not feel sufficiently represented by UK Parliament but they must feel represented by you,” he told European Parliament members in a tweet.

AFP