EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier address a joint news conference after the latest round of talks in Brussels on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 10 November 2017
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EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline

BRUSSELS: EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier on Friday handed Britain a two-week ultimatum to make concessions on a divorce agreement if it wants to unlock the next phase of talks in December.
Frenchman Barnier said it was "vital" for Britain to increase its offer on its exit bill — a figure senior EU officials put at up to €60 billion —to open up talks on a future trade deal.
The fate of the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has also thrown an unexpected spanner into the works, with British negotiator David Davis ruling out the EU's preferred solution.
"My answer is yes," Barnier told a press conference at the end of the sixth round of talks in Brussels, when asked if he would need "concessions" from Britain within the next two weeks to move on.
"On the financial settlement, this is absolutely vital if we are to achieve sufficient progress in December. It is just a matter of settling accounts, as with any other separation," the former European commissioner and French foreign minister said.
Barnier added that he was "following attentively" the political situation in Britain where a series of government resignations has further weakened the government of Prime Minister Theresa May.
EU leaders decided at their last summit in October that there was insufficient progress on three main divorce issues — the bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of three million Europeans living in Britain — to move on to the next stage.
They said they hoped to open talks on future relations and a post-Brexit transition period at their next meeting on Dec. 14-15, but officials have warned that could now slip to February or March.
Hopes of a breakthrough at this week's Brussels talks —  the first since mid-October — were so low that they were cut to just one-and-a-half days from the normal four days.
Northern Ireland has reared its head in the discussions, with an internal EU paper for the talks suggesting that it should remain in the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit to prevent a hard border with Ireland.
Davis insisted Friday that any Brexit deal cannot create a frontier between Northern Ireland, where a 1998 peace deal ended decades of sectarian unrest, and the rest of the United Kingdom.
"We recognize the need for specific solutions for the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland," Davis said. "But let me be clear, this cannot amount to creating a new border inside the United Kingdom."
Barnier, meanwhile, welcomed a British proposal on protecting the rights of EU nationals living in Britain after 2019, but said there were still differences on key issues.
There appeared to be little progress on the main sticking points: The rights of EU migrants to bring their families to Britain, their ability to send welfare payments to their home countries, and whether the European Court of Justice would have jurisdiction over those rights.
"On citizens' rights we are making some progress although we need to move further on a number of points," Barnier said.
The Brexit bill has been the main source of deadlock in the talks since they began in June. The EU says it must meet budgetary commitments totalling €50 to 60 billion, but Britain puts the figure nearer 20 billion.
Britain voted to leave the EU in a shock referendum result in June 2016. The government confirmed Thursday that Brexit day will be 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019.


More than 300 distressed Bangladeshis without salary in Qatar for 6 months

In this Nov. 7, 2014, file photo, men talk by the sea overlooking the Qatar skyline in Doha, Qatar. (AP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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More than 300 distressed Bangladeshis without salary in Qatar for 6 months

  • Bangladesh mission officials said around 400,000 Bangladeshi migrants were working in Qatar
  • Around 100 Bangladeshi workers left the camp in the past few days and repatriated to Bangladesh

DHAKA: “We had to face starvation for three days on Sept 8, 9 and 10. Now, every day we are getting two meals from a Qatar charity,” said Kazi Lutfur Rahman, a Bangladeshi migrant who has worked with Doha-based estate agent Hamton International since 2012.
“Around 1,000 migrant workers from Asia and Africa are now living a very miserable life in a camp without electricity and water supply.”
Like Rahman, around 300 Bangladeshi migrants are now living in uncertainty in Qatar since the employer Hamton International has not paid their salary for about six months. The workers are now living in a camp at Al Shahaniya, about 20km from Doha.
“The Qatar charity provides us with diesel to produce electricity during the night only for two hours, and for a shower we rush to a nearby church,” Rahman, 44, told Arab News.
The crisis in Hamton started in April this year when the staff remained unpaid for two months. After the workers’ agitation in June the employer paid them two months’ salary in arrears and promised to pay the due amount on June 20.
But still the workers remained unpaid. Later on Hamton management increased the time to July and promised to pay the due salary on Sept.10.
“Just two days before the payment date the authority closed the operations of the company and we fell into uncertainty about our due payments,” added Rahman, who has worked for Hamton since July 2012 and used to receive around $550 salary per month.
Apart from Bangladeshis, there are 1,000 other migrants from India, Nepal, Ghana and Sri Lanka, Rahman said.
Sirajul Islam, labor secretary of the Bangladesh mission in Qatar, told Arab News: “We are very concerned about the sufferings of our migrants and already we have contacted the Qatar Labor Ministry to resolve the crisis.”
He said that among the 333 Bangladeshis, around 150 workers joined last June/July and all of them spent around $4,300 to get the job.
“We are trying to replace the Bangladeshi workers in some other local companies. Already the Qatar Labor Ministry has initiated the issue and it may take another one or two weeks to place many of them in the new job.”
However, around 100 Bangladeshi workers left the camp in the past few days and repatriated to Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh mission authority, they were compensated by the concerned recruiting agencies in Bangladesh which sent the workers to Qatar and the repatriated migrants have authorized the Bangladesh mission in Doha to receive the money from their company in their absence.
Family members of the distressed Bangladeshi migrants are living in anxiety and have had sleepless nights for the past two months.
Morium Begum, 35, Rahman’s wife, told Arab News: “I want the safe return of my husband and the employer should pay the due amount.”
She added: “We have one son and two daughters. All of them are studying in school and college. Last night I noticed my elder daughter was weeping alone about her father, which was unbearable for me as a mother.”
Repeated attempts were made to reach Hamton International’s top management, but none of the telephone numbers on its official letterhead was in service.
Bangladesh mission officials said around 400,000 Bangladeshi migrants were working in Qatar. Of them, 75 percent are engaged in construction work and around 100,000 are employed as drivers, housemaids and cleaning staff.