EU hopeful UK vote will smooth Brexit path

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 April 2017
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EU hopeful UK vote will smooth Brexit path

BRUSSELS: Britain’s snap election has sparked hopes in Europe that Brexit negotiations could run more smoothly with a leader who has a big mandate, analysts and diplomats say.
In Brussels, the belief is that if Prime Minister Theresa May wins a large majority as expected on June 8, she will no longer have to worry so much about upsetting hard-liners in her Conservative Party.
That would give her space to consider options that are anathema to core Brexiteers, such as a transitional deal until 2022 in which free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could continue.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said as much when he visited May in London on Thursday, adding that a new government before talks start later in June is “good not only for the UK but for us.”
That view is widely shared. A European source close to the negotiations said that a May victory would give a “a strong leader in London who could negotiate with us, with the strong support of her electorate.”
The current mood is more promising than when May formally triggered the two-year Brexit process last month, a step that saw both sides taking tough positions on the talks ahead.
London and Brussels have been at odds on whether talks on the divorce arrangements, including costs, should take place at the same time as negotiations for a trade deal between post-Brexit Britain and the EU.
“She would be less at risk of being taken hostage by supporters of a ‘hard Brexit.’ We will see what she really wants to do,” said Ignacio Molina, of the Elcano Royal Institute think tank in Madrid.
He said May would have the “political capital” to take her own decisions if she increases her center-right party’s current slim majority.
The Conservatives won that in 2015 under David Cameron, who resigned after last June’s shock Brexit referendum result. May is not only keen to win her own mandate but also to be less at the mercy of her party’s anti-EU right-wing when it comes to parliamentary votes.
“The good news, from a European point of view, is that she would be less fragile for all the concessions that she is going to have to make,” another European diplomatic source said.
Since her election announcement May has adopted a new and softer mantra on a possible Brexit deal, said Giles Merritt of Friends of Europe, another think tank.
Whereas earlier this year May said Britain was ready to walk away and that no deal was better than a bad deal, she is now talking in terms of the “the best deal possible.”
“Instead (she will) be open to the sort of arrangements with the EU that hard-liners in her Conservative Party have been condemning as a ‘soft Brexit’,” Merritt said in a commentary.
Simon Tilford of the Center for European Reform predicted that, despite the divisive nature of the Brexit referendum, May would win a massive majority of 130-150 seats because of the opposition Labour party’s weakness.
If so the “positive scenario is that she wants that (a majority) so she’s not vulnerable to attacks from the euroskeptic right,” said Tilford.
“She has in recent weeks sounded much more flexible about freedom of movement, much more flexible about the European Court of Justice and she now seems to understand that a transition agreement between Britain and the EU will require Britain to abide by ECJ rulings and continue freedom of movement,” he said.
May has so far insisted that Brexit means tougher immigration rules, including ending free movement of EU citizens, and of a complete break from any kind of power of the EU’s Luxembourg-based top court.
But Britain should not hope for any favors from the other 27 EU countries just because May has a stronger mandate, Tilford said.
“I don’t think May having a bigger parliamentary majority, having a mandate to pursue Brexit as she puts it, will make the EU side more accommodating or more flexible toward Britain,” he said.


Russian police arrest man who vandalised Ivan the Terrible painting

A painting by Russian painter Ilya Repin titled Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581. (Courtesy photo)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Russian police arrest man who vandalised Ivan the Terrible painting

  • In 1913, a man stabbed the work with a knife, ripping the canvas in three places
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the story was a "legend" used by the West against Russia

MOSCOW: Russian police on Saturday said they arrested a man for vandalising one of the best known works of 19th century painter Ilya Repin, depicting Ivan the Terrible killing his son, at a gallery in Moscow.
Police said the man used a metal pole to break the glass covering Repin's world famous painting of the 16th century Russian Tsar, titled "Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on November 16, 1581."
The Tretyakov Gallery said the work was "seriously damaged" as a result.
"The canvas has been ripped in three place in the central part of the Tsar's son. The original frame suffered from the breaking of the glass," the gallery said in a statement.
"Thankfully the most valuable part was not damaged," it added, referring to the face and hands of the Tsar and his son, the Tsarevich.
The statement added that the incident took place late on Friday, just before the museum closed.
"The man entered the already empty Ilya Repin room. He bypassed staff who were scanning the rooms before the closing, and hit the glass of the painting several times with a metal pole," the gallery said.
Russian state news agency TASS reported the man, a 37 year-old from the central city of Voronezh, did so for "historical reasons."
Police later released a video of the man, who said he acted under the influence of alcohol.
"I came to look at it (the painting). I went to the buffet in the evening, I wanted to leave. Then I drank 100 grams of vodka. I don't drink vodka and something hit me," the man said.

Ultra patriotic groups have protested against the painting before, notably in 2013 when monarchists demanded for it to be removed from the gallery.
The gallery refused to remove it and reinforced security around the work.
It is not the first time the painting has suffered an attack. In 1913, a man stabbed the work with a knife, ripping the canvas in three places. Ilya Repin was then still alive and participated in the restoration of his painting.
Since 1913, the painting has been protected by glass.
Russian state officials have lobbied for the rehabilitation of the medieval ruler's image, who led Russia from 1547 to 1583 and earned the moniker "Terrible" due to his brutal policy of oprichnina, which included the creation of a secret police that spread mass terror and executed thousands of people.
He also killed his own son, most likely by accident during a violent rage.
In June 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the story was a "legend" used by the West against Russia.
"Did he kill his son? Did he not? Many experts say he did not and that this was invented by the Pope's Nuncio who came to Russia for talks and tried to turn Orthodox Rus to a Catholic Rus," Putin said.
In October 2016, Russia inaugurated a controversial monument, the first of its kind, to the 16th century tyrant in Oryol, a city some 335 kilometres south of Moscow.