Lawmakers say UK should consider postponing Brexit

An airplane takes off at London City Airport. UK lawmakers said the government should consider postponing Brexit to have time to secure a deal with the EU. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Lawmakers say UK should consider postponing Brexit

LONDON: Britain should consider postponing Brexit because there may not be enough time to strike a deal with the European Union before the UK leaves the bloc a year from now, a key committee of British lawmakers said Sunday.
The House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee said if major aspects of the future relationship with the EU remain unsettled by October, Britain should seek a “limited extension” of its EU membership.
Britain and the EU want a deal on future relations settled by the fall so national parliaments can approve it before Britain officially leaves the 28-nation bloc on March 29, 2019.
In a report published Sunday, the lawmakers said a proposed transition period of about two years should also be able to be extended if needed. The two sides have agreed in principle that Britain will continue to remain part of the bloc’s structures and rules until the end of 2020.
Seven pro-Brexit members of the 21-member all-party committee refused to back the report, preparing an alternative version that took a more uncompromising tone toward the EU.
The majority-backed report said it is worrying that there has been “little progress” in solving the key issue of how to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs posts or other infrastructure along the all-but-invisible border, but the committee said Britain has yet to put forward credible proposals for how this could work.
“We know of no international border, other than the internal borders of the EU, that operates without checks and physical infrastructure,” said the committee’s chairman, Labour lawmaker Hilary Benn.
The pro-Brexit dissenters filed an alternative document, accusing the EU of taking an unhelpful approach to the border issue. They suggested that new technology and “streamlined” customs arrangements can deliver a frictionless border.
Rather having Britain seek to extend its EU membership, the minority group said the U.K should walk away without a deal if talks bog down.


Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

A passenger takes a selfie next to the first train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Linkas after it arrived in Shenzhen on September 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

  • Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s controversial bullet train got off to a smooth start on Sunday, as hundreds of passengers whistled north across the border at speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph), deepening integration of the former British colony with mainland China.
While the $11 billion rail project has raised fears for some over Beijing’s encroachment on the Chinese-ruled city’s cherished freedoms, passengers at the sleek harborfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.
“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was traveling with his parents on the first train leaving for Shenzhen at 7 a.m.
“The train is great. It’s very smooth when it hits speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.”
Mainland Chinese immigration officers are stationed in one part of the modernist station that is subject to Chinese law, an unprecedented move that some critics say further erodes the city’s autonomy.
The project is part of a broader effort by Beijing to fuse the city into a vast hinterland of the Pearl River Delta including nine Chinese cities dubbed the Greater Bay Area.
Beijing wants the Greater Bay Area, home to some 68 million people with a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion, to foster economic integration and better meld people, goods and sectors across the region.
Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
But at a ceremony on Saturday ahead of the public opening, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam praised the so-called “co-location” arrangement with Beijing which the government has said is necessary to streamline immigration.
Scores of excited passengers straddled a yellow strip across black tiles that highlighted the demarcation line between Hong Kong and mainland China, while others passed through turnstiles surrounded by red, orange and white balloons.
“I’m excited to experience the high-speed train, even more excited than when I take a plane,” said a 71-year-old retiree surnamed Leung.
While there have been questions over whether Hong Kong residents would be able to access foreign social media, largely banned in mainland China, in zones subject to Chinese law, some passengers arriving in Shenzhen, on the mainland side, were able to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.
The rail link provides direct access to China’s massive 25,000-km national high-speed rail network and authorities on both sides have hailed it as a breakthrough that will bring economic benefits, including increased tourism.
“No matter what you think about the new line, high-speed rail is extremely convenient,” said Feng Yan, assistant professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing who took the bullet train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
“Even if it takes some time for people to realize how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”