Blair urges pro-EU Britons to ‘rise up’ against Brexit

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (AFP)
Updated 17 February 2017
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Blair urges pro-EU Britons to ‘rise up’ against Brexit

LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Friday urged Britons who support the European Union to “rise up” and persuade Brexit voters to change their mind about leaving the bloc in a high-profile speech.
“This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair but the time to rise up in defense of what we believe,” he said at an event organized by Open Britain, a campaign group lobbying for Britain to retain close ties with the EU.
“I don’t know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try,” he said.
“We have to build a movement that will stretch across party lines,” he said, announcing that he was creating an institute that would also develop arguments against Brexit and keep ties with the EU.
Britain voted to leave the European Union last year and Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, starting a two-year exit process.
Experts are divided on whether the government could change its mind about leaving the EU at some point in the future, even after invoking Article 50.
Blair came to power in 1997 at the head of the moderate leftist “New Labour” movement and won three general elections but his role in leading Britain into the Iraq War has badly damaged his legacy.
Brexit supporters quickly criticized Blair’s comments.
“The EU referendum was democratic, fair and free and the British people voted for Brexit,” said Richard Tice, co-chair of the Leave Means Leave group.
“Tony Blair is now trying to do everything he can to halt Brexit,” he said.
Former Conservative minister Iain Duncan Smith said the speech was “arrogant” and “undemocratic.”
Nigel Farage, former head of the UK Independence Party, tweeted: “Tony Blair is yesterday’s man.”
In the speech, which was shown live in full on BBC and Sky News, Blair launched a stinging attack on government policy saying the EU departure process was being led by proponents of hard Brexit.
“Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge,” he said, adding: “How hideously, in this debate, is the mantle of patriotism abused.”
Blair also warned that Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, now had a “much more credible” case for independence.
He said Brexit could have a “destabilising impact” on Northern Ireland, which also voted to stay.
Blair made the speech at the offices of Bloomberg news agency, the same place where former prime minister David Cameron announced in January 2013 that Britain would hold an EU membership referendum.


North Korea preps nuclear site demolition despite US summit doubts

Updated 56 min 4 sec ago
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North Korea preps nuclear site demolition despite US summit doubts

SEOUL: Invited foreign journalists gathered in North Korea Wednesday to witness the slated destruction of the reclusive regime’s nuclear test site, a high profile gesture on the road to a summit with the US that Donald Trump now says might not happen.
In a surprise announcement Pyongyang said earlier this month that it planned to “completely” destroy the Punggye-ri facility in the country’s northeast, a move welcomed by Washington and Seoul.
Punggye-ri has been the site of all six of the North’s nuclear tests, the latest and by far the most powerful in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb.
The demolition is due to take place sometime between Wednesday and Friday, depending on the weather.
The North has portrayed the destruction on the test site as a goodwill gesture ahead of planned June 12 summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore.
But doubts have since been cast by both sides on whether that potentially historic meeting will take place.
Last week Pyongyang threatened to pull out if Washington pressed for its unilateral nuclear disarmament. Trump also said the meeting could be delayed as he met with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday.
“There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting,” he told reporters, without elaborating on what those conditions might be.

Politically, Trump has invested heavily in the success of his meeting with Kim, and so privately most US officials, as well as outside observers, believe it will go ahead.
But as the date draws near, Trump’s divergence from his top aides, the differences between the two sides and the high stakes are coming into sharp relief.
Washington has made it clear it wants to see the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the North.
Pyongyang has vowed it will never give up its nuclear deterrence until it feels safe from what is sees as US aggression.
“Everything is on thin ice,” Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.
“Trump wants a swift denuclearization, something that will be done within his first term in office. In that case, he has to provide North Korea with a corresponding, swift security guarantee.”
Observers will be watching the nuclear test site destruction ceremony closely for any clues to the North’s mood.
Experts are divided over whether the demolition will render the site useless. Sceptics say the site has already outlived its usefulness with six successful nuclear tests in the bag and can quickly be rebuilt if needed.
Previous similar gestures by the North have been rapidly reversed when the international mood soured.
But others say the fact that North Korea agreed to destroy the site without preconditions or asking for something in return from Washington is significant.

Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said both sides were playing “a game of chicken” in the run up to the summit “to gain an upper hand in negotiations.”
He said the destruction of the Punggye-ri test site would win Pyongyang international sympathy even if the summit collapses.
“North Korea can say to the international community that it did its best to achieve denuclearization through negotiations but was pressured by the United States and couldn’t do it,” he said.
A handful of foreign journalists, including from South Korea, were invited to attend the demolition ceremony.
Reporters from China, the US and Russia departed on a charter flight from Beijing on Tuesday for the North Korean city of Wonsan.
From there they are expected to travel for some 20 hours up the east coast by train and bus to the remote test site — a vivid illustration of the impoverished country’s notoriously decrepit transport infrastructure.
South Korean journalists were initially left off the flight because they were not granted permission by Pyongyang.
But on Wednesday Seoul’s Unification Ministry said they had been allowed to attend at the last minute.
The ministry said it planned to arrange a rare direct flight on Wednesday between the two countries, who remain technically at war, to ferry the journalists to Wonsan.
Agence France-Presse is one of a number of major media organizations not invited to cover the demolition.