Britain’s May urges EU leaders to move on with Brexit talks

Above, a cab driver shouts at anti-Brexit protesters demonstrating outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain on Thursday, December 13. (Reuters)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Britain’s May urges EU leaders to move on with Brexit talks

LONDON/BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May will urge EU leaders to approve an agreement to move Brexit talks on to a second phase on Thursday, describing it as a fair deal that offers a good base for a discussion of future ties.
At the beginning of a dinner in Brussels, 24 hours after an embarrassing parliamentary defeat at home, May will repeat her case for unlocking talks to unravel more than 40 years of union to allow for the discussion of future trade, which she sees as crucial to offering certainty for businesses.
The 27 other EU leaders are all but certain to approve the deal to move to ‘phase two’ on Friday, after May has left Brussels, launching a new stage of talks that could be hampered by divisions at home and differences with the EU.
“The prime minister will say that reaching the agreement on phase one has required give and take on both sides but a fair outcome has been achieved,” a senior government official told reporters.
After days of often fraught diplomacy, May rescued the initial deal last Friday, easing the concerns of her Northern Irish allies over the wording to protect a free border with EU member Ireland without separating the province from the UK.
Then, EU negotiators said the talks had made “sufficient progress,” a recommendation that will, barring accidents, be blessed by the leaders of the other member states.
Her success has won her some respite at home from political infighting between enthusiasts and skeptics of Brexit in her ruling party, and has reduced the prospect of a disorderly departure from the bloc.
But there are hurdles still to come. May and her cabinet are due next Tuesday to hold a discussion of the senior ministers’ competing views on Britain’s future outside the EU — to remain close to the bloc or forge a new path.
The EU is willing to start talks next month on a roughly two-year transition period to ease Britain out after March 2019 but wants more detail from London on what it wants before it will open trade negotiations from March.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers are concerned by a fall-back promise in the initial deal to have “full regulatory alignment” with the EU if there is no overall agreement on future ties, and fear that their desire for an independent Britain is being undermined.
In a blow to May, already weakened after losing her Conservative Party’s majority in a June election, parliament voted on Wednesday in favor of an amendment that requires a meaningful future parliamentary vote on any final Brexit deal.
Up until the last minute of an often bitter debate, May’s team tried to convince lawmakers in her party to block the measure, which the government fears will weaken its hand in Brexit negotiations. But enough conservatives rebelled to carry it narrowly by 309 votes to 305 in the 650-seat lower house.
“This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the government on the eve of the European Council meeting,” opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement.
“Theresa May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept Parliament taking back control,” he said, co-opting a Brexit slogan.
Divisions have split not only the governing Conservatives but Labour and the wider country — which voted narrowly for Brexit 18 months ago.
Before dinner on Thursday, May and her EU peers will discuss the bloc’s plan for closer defense cooperation with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Long blocked by London, the plan now has backing from Britain, which as one of Europe’s main military powers, wants to keep ties with the EU on defense.
Over dinner, leaders will discuss their response to the migration crisis from Africa and the Middle East, and lingering deep divisions over how to share the load.
They will confirm a rollover of sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis and are likely to reaffirm their opposition to US President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


Taliban rejects pleas by Afghan elders for a cease-fire extension

Updated 18 min 47 sec ago
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Taliban rejects pleas by Afghan elders for a cease-fire extension

  • Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the peace “slogans”
  • The success of such local initiatives is mixed and may stand little chance as military operations pick up

KABUL: The Taliban on Monday rejected pleas by Afghan elders and activists for an extension of this month’s cease-fire and said they amounted to a call for surrender to foreign forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the peace “slogans” and urged civil society activists and others not to join movements he said played into the hands of US and international forces the Taliban wants to force from the country.
“They are not speaking about the occupation or the withdrawal of foreigners. Their objective is that we lay down our weapons and accept the regime imposed by the invaders,” he said in a statement.
A truce over the three day Eid Al-Fitr festival this month, during which unarmed Taliban fighters mingled with soldiers and civilians in the capital Kabul and other cities has given fresh impetus to the calls for peace, although many also dismiss the cease-fire as a Taliban trick.
A small group of peace marchers who came to Kabul on foot from the southern province of Helmand this month have also gained prominence, with pleas to all sides to end a conflict which has now lasted for 40 years.
“Tribal elders may not be able to bring about peace and create a cease-fire to the whole country but they can for their own districts and they will,” said Dawlat Wazir, an elder in Jani Khil district in the eastern province of Paktia.
In Jani Khil, elders held a meeting that drew hundreds of people at the weekend, calling on the government and Taliban forces to refrain from fighting in their area.
“We are so fed up with operations by government forces in our areas that trigger fighting for days,” said Malek Sakhto, one of the elders behind the meeting. “We’re pleading with the government and the Taliban to agree on a cease-fire and stop killing each other and civilians.”
The success of such local initiatives is mixed and may stand little chance as military operations pick up.
President Ashraf Ghani ordered government forces to stop offensive operations against the Taliban for another 10 days after the end of the cease-fire but there has since been fierce fighting in several areas.
In Logar, to the south of the capital Kabul, local elders and religious scholars have been trying to arrange a cease-fire in Azra district, according to Abdul Wali, a member of the Logar provincial council.
He said an informal accord had been reached but local people were still waiting for an official announcement from the Taliban shadow governor for Logar, Muallah Ismail Akhondzada.
In Kunar province, on the border with Pakistan, another group of walkers is making its way to Kabul, a statement from the governor’s office said.