Anger at UK minister’s Qatar trip amid rail fare row

British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling came under fire over his ‘globetrotting’ visit to Qatar. (Reuters) 
Updated 03 January 2018
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Anger at UK minister’s Qatar trip amid rail fare row

LONDON: Union bosses have slammed Britain’s transport minister for visiting Qatar amid an ongoing row over steep hikes to UK rail fares. 

As millions of Britons bemoan the country’s largest rail fare increase in five years, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been criticized for fleeing the fray with a trip to Doha.

The purpose is to drum up business for Britain as it looks to exit the EU — but unions criticized the timing after protests at 40 UK train stations over ticket-price increases. Fares rose by an average of 3.4 percent, with season tickets increasing by 3.6 percent at the start of the year.

A spokesperson for ASLEF, a trade union for train drivers, told Arab News it was “typical” of Grayling to be absent on the day the train fares went up. 

“It’s interesting that he doesn’t want to be around when there’s a lot of justified anger that the privatized train operating companies in this country are profiting yet again at the expense of the passengers that they are meant to serve.”

Carmel Nolan, head of communications at the TSSA, an independent trade union for the transport and travel trade industries, said Grayling was “missing in action” and “doing anything but helping the British rail industry.”

“His job is to be the secretary of state for transport and rail fares have seen the biggest hike in five years,” Nolan said. 

“Effectively there’s an extra penalty on workers to go to work and he’s not here addressing a crisis in transport, he’s in Qatar, avoiding journalists, avoiding accountability, no doubt trying to drum up new trading relationships and partnerships because he’s such a hard Brexiteer.” 

Bobby Morton, Unite national officer for the rail industry, said: “Chris Grayling’s sudden trip to Qatar smacks of running scared as millions of commuters faced unacceptable rail fare increases for 2018, including his constituents. The transport secretary should have had the guts to have faced the media in the UK, so he could explain what he is going to do to curb such draconian increases in the future.”

The Labour party accused Grayling of trying to escape the outcry over the price hike, which will see passengers paying up to £2,500 ($3,378) more for their annual season tickets than they did in 2010.

“Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has gone into hiding, unable to defend today’s 3.6 percent fares hike and refusing to explain the £2 billion taxpayer bailout of Virgin East Coast. Passengers deserve better than this,” said Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald.

Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “Rail passengers are shivering on platforms angered by the biggest fare increase in years while Chris Grayling is off globetrotting.”
Speaking on LBC radio, Grayling said he was in Qatar to “win a couple of big contracts” for UK businesses. 

"I don’t think I’ve shirked the issue, but I think it’s really important we get out and try and win business for Britain."

Responding to questions raised about the timing of Grayling’s two-day trip to Qatar, after which he will head to Turkey, the Department for Transport released a statement saying he was on “a pre-planned visit to promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries.”  

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: "There are ministers visiting a whole host of countries spreading the message that Britain is a very good place to invest and to do business in. Chris Grayling obviously plays an important part in that.”

Transport unions in the UK criticized the rail price hikes and called for a return to public ownership of Britain's railways, which were privatized in the mid-1990s. Many feel that regular price increases have not been reflected in improved services, with delays and cancelations common across the country’s rail networks.

Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that Britons spend up to six times more of their salaries on rail fares than commuters in other European countries.  

“Another year, another price increase. Many commuters will look with envy to their continental cousins, who enjoy reasonably-priced journeys to work,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

Grayling’s absence during the UK’s latest rail fare furore has added to speculation that his job may be on the line in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Grayling, who served as justice minister from 2012 to 2015, was also behind a controversial decision to restrict prisoners’ access to books, which was subsequently declared unlawful and revoked.


US security chief in Moscow as nuclear treaty hangs in balance

Updated 22 October 2018
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US security chief in Moscow as nuclear treaty hangs in balance

  • John Bolton is expected to discuss Trump’s plan to jettison the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Putin
  • “It is the United States that is eroding the foundations and main elements of this pact” said Putin’s spokesman

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Monday that Washington’s withdrawal from a key Cold War-era nuclear treaty would make the world more dangerous, as Donald Trump’s national security adviser met senior Russian officials in Moscow.
John Bolton is expected to discuss Trump’s plan to jettison the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
On Monday, Bolton discussed the fate of the treaty with Russian Security Council Chief Nikolai Patrushev and was expected to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later in the day.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that ditching the treaty “will make the world more dangerous” and rejected US claims that Moscow has violated the pact, instead accusing Washington of doing so.
“It is the United States that is eroding the foundations and main elements of this pact” with its missile defense capabilities and drones, he said.
Lavrov said he was waiting to hear Bolton’s “official explanation” regarding Trump’s intentions, adding that for the moment the US side has not initiated the official procedure for exiting the treaty.
Trump on Saturday claimed that Russia had long violated the treaty, known as the INF.
“We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” he told reporters.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” he said.
“And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to.”
Trump’s announcement raised global concerns, with the European Commission urging the US and Russia to pursue talks to preserve the treaty and China calling on Washington to “think twice.”
The Commission, the 28-nation European Union executive, stressed that the INF has been a mainstay of European defense for the last three decades.
“The US and the Russian Federation need to remain in a constructive dialogue to preserve this treaty and ensure it is fully and verifiably implemented,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters.
She said the agreement was important for both European and global security.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said a unilateral withdrawal from the treaty “will have a multitude of negative effects.”
Trump argued that the treaty does nothing to hold non-signatory China back from developing missiles, but Hua said that “it is completely wrong to bring up China when talking about withdrawal from the treaty.”
The treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.
Gorbachev on Sunday said that “dropping these agreements... shows a lack of wisdom” and was a “mistake.”
The INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.
The latest row between Russia and the United States comes ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between Trump and Putin this year.
Analysts have warned that the latest rift could have lamentable consequences and drag Russia into a new arms race.
The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty’s ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometers).
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said that Bolton himself is pressuring Trump to leave the INF and had blocked talks to extend the New Start treaty on strategic missiles set to expire in 2021.
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The two countries are also at odds over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday, the US Justice Department indicted the finance chief of Russia’s leading Internet troll farm for allegedly interfering with US congressional elections to be held in November.
Russia accused the United States of fabricating the charges.
Putin and Trump will both be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking 100 years since the end of World War I.