UK finance minister’s future questioned

British Finance Minister Philip Hammond tries to find his place to stand on the stage for the G-20 finance ministers group photo at the IMF headquarters in Washington last week. He now finds himselfat the center of a fraught debate over Brexit. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2017
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UK finance minister’s future questioned

LONDON: Britain’s Finance Minister Philip Hammond on Sunday faced mounting questions over his future weeks ahead of a budget announcement, finding himself at the center of an increasingly fraught debate over Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The EU last week declared a “disturbing deadlock” in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on arrangements to leave the bloc, raising the chances of Britain quitting without a negotiated deal and increasing criticism of the government’s handling of Brexit.
On Sunday an unnamed source from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said May must warn Hammond he faces the sack unless he changes his approach to Brexit, the Sunday Telegraph reported. The DUP is a small Northern Irish political party which is keeping May’s minority government in power.
“We are very concerned about Philip Hammond’s behavior,” the senior parliamentary DUP source told the newspaper.
“It is evident to us that he is winding people up and causing unnecessary division within the Conservative Party at a crucial time in the Brexit negotiations.”
A DUP spokesman later said the party did not recognize the “inaccurate” comments.
Hammond, 61, who is seen by many as May’s most pro-EU minister, has become a focal point of criticism for Brexiteers, who say he is overly pessimistic about the impact of leaving the bloc and is damaging Britain’s negotiating stance.
Last week Hammond warned Brexit was causing a “cloud of uncertainty” over the British economy that needed to be cleared as quick as possible. He has previously angered euroskeptics by calling for a lengthy transition out of the EU, during which there will be little change to rules on issues like immigration.
In a botched attempt on Friday to calm speculation over his future and play down the party’s divisions Hammond described the EU as the “enemy” in negotiations. He later said he regretted his choice of words.
He had been expected to lose his job if May had won an increased majority at a June snap election, but the vote instead saw the Conservatives lose their majority and Hammond retain his position as May fought to maintain unity between pro-EU and pro-Brexit factions.
The June election also transformed the DUP, which only has 10 lawmakers in the 650-seat parliament, into an influential voice. May struck a deal with the party and is reliant on their support to pass legislation.
— Reuters


Air France says new strikes put airline’s situation ‘even more at risk’

Updated 48 min 20 sec ago
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Air France says new strikes put airline’s situation ‘even more at risk’

PARIS: The French prime minister and Air France both issued warnings on Thursday over the damage caused to the airline by workers striking over pay, in a dispute that has so far cost Air France some €300 million.
Air France is balloting staff over its offer of a 7 percent pay rise over four years, after unions rejected the proposal as too modest.
Three pilot unions on Thursday called for more strikes over the May 3-8 period — a move condemned by the airline as putting its economic situation “even more at risk.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Air France faced significant “turbulence” if it lost its battle with unions. The French state holds 17.6 percent of the Air France KLM group.
Air France KLM Chairman and Chief Executive Jean-Marc Janaillac has said it would be hard for him to stay if staff voted against the offer, and he issued an apology to the airline’s customers in a statement on Thursday.
“I have complete faith in the desire of Air France staff to put an end to this destructive situation for our airline,” added Janaillac in his statement.
Philippe said Janaillac had shown “courage” by putting his job on the line but warned that a negative vote could further harm the company.
“If the consultation did not produce the results he hoped for and he took the consequences, everyone should fasten their seat belts because the turbulence will not be minor,” he told Europe 1 radio. “A company that loses its boss in these conditions is not well placed to face the future.”
The industrial action, affecting about 30 percent of Air France flights, has coincided with French railway strikes over the last month, resulting in widespread travel disruption.
SNCF workers have launched a series of protests against reform plans by President Emmanuel Macron’s government, designed to stem the state-owned railway’s losses and cut debt.