British PM faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels

British Prime Minister Theresa May expects to get an agreement with Brussels, but warned that any attempt to tie her hands could undermine the ongoing negotiations. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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British PM faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels

  • MPs will vote on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill setting out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019
  • The vote, due on Wednesday afternoon or early evening, could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with her pro-EU MPs on Wednesday over parliament’s role in the final Brexit deal, which could influence her entire negotiation strategy.
MPs will vote on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill setting out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019.
May says she expects to get an agreement with Brussels, but warned that any attempt to tie her hands could undermine the ongoing negotiations.
She averted a rebellion by pro-EU MPs in her Conservative Party on the issue of parliamentary powers last week with a promise of a compromise, but within days they had rejected her proposal as inadequate.
Instead they worked with peers to introduce their own amendment to the unelected upper House of Lords, which agreed it by a landslide on Monday.
The amendment now returns to MPs in the elected lower House of Commons, where Conservative rebels will ally with opposition parties in a bid to finally make it law.
May’s spokesman refused to say if he believes the government has the numbers to win the vote, but made clear that no more concessions would be forthcoming.
“We cannot accept the amendment on a meaningful vote agreed in the Lords,” he said, adding that it “would undermine our ability in the negotiations to get the best deal for the country.”
“We will be retabling our original amendment,” he said, adding: “We hope that all MPs will be able to support the government’s position.”
The vote, due on Wednesday afternoon or early evening, could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament.
May commands only a slim majority in the 650-seat Commons, made possible through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
A victory for the pro-EU rebels would embolden them ahead of debates next month on Britain’s future trading relationship with the European Union, which they are seeking to keep as close as possible.
It would likely anger euroskeptics, who accuse the rebels of seeking to thwart Brexit.
They are also becoming increasingly frustrated with the withdrawal process under May’s leadership.
Leading Conservative rebel Dominic Grieve denied he was trying to undermine the government or stop Brexit, but warned that if parliament rejected the final Brexit deal, there would be a crisis.
“That’s what wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat,” he told Sky News television.
“The very reason I’ve prompted this amendment is to provide a mechanism to make sure that we don’t come to government collapse immediately.”
But euroskeptic Conservative MP Graham Stringer said Grieve and his supporters were only interested in “sabotaging the whole process.”
“The purpose of the latest Grieve ruse is to give parliament the power to delay or stop Brexit,” he said.
Despite agreement on Britain’s financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights, the Brexit talks are progressing slowly, and there are few hopes of a breakthrough at an EU summit later this month.
Both sides are still publicly aiming for an agreement in October, but this is looking more and more difficult.
Negotiations are currently stalled on how to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, and neighboring EU member Ireland when Britain develops its own trade and customs policies.
“Serious divergences” remain over Northern Ireland, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Tuesday after a final round of talks between London and Brussels ahead of the European summit.
The British government has also yet to decide on what it wants from the future economic relationship.
It has been clear about one area, security cooperation — but many of its proposals were on Tuesday knocked back by Barnier.
He said Britain could not stay in the European Arrest Warrant, take part in meetings of policing agency Europol or access EU-only police databases.
“We need more realism about what is and what is not possible,” he said.


Israeli student murdered in Australia while on phone with sister

Updated 7 min 20 sec ago
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Israeli student murdered in Australia while on phone with sister

  • Police appealed to the public for help tracking down the killer of 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe, whose body was found near Melbourne University
  • Police are still investigating the case

SYDNEY: An Israeli student has been killed in a late-night attack in Australia while she was speaking on the phone with her sister, police said Thursday.
Police appealed to the public for help tracking down the killer of 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe, whose body was found early Wednesday near the campus of the Melbourne university where she was studying.
“This was an horrendous, horrific attack inflicted on a completely innocent young woman who was a visitor to our city,” Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper told reporters in Melbourne Thursday.
Maasarwe, who was reportedly five months into a year-long exchange at Melbourne’s LaTrobe University, was riding a tram home from a comedy club to the suburb of Bundoora before she was met by her attacker around midnight.
She was talking on the phone with her sister, who was overseas and raised the alarm after something went awry mid-conversation, police said.
“(Her sister) heard the sound of the phone falling to the ground and heard some voices,” Stamper said.
Her body was found Wednesday morning by passers-by at 7:00am about 50 meters (165 feet) from the stop where she exited the tram.
Stamper said the report from her sister came in at about the same time.
Police would not confirm reports they were investigating a sexual assault but said known sex offenders are an “active line of enquiry.”
Officers retrieved a black baseball cap and a grey t-shirt they believe were worn by the perpetrator from the crime scene, which they described as “very distressing.”
The victim’s family, who are on their way to Australia, described Maasarwe as “happy,” “adventurous” and “smart.”
“I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it... the day before my wife had said to me, ‘We’ll have to go to Australia, Australia’s very safe, very nice’,” the victim’s uncle Rame Maasarwe told national broadcaster ABC from the United States.
“We cannot believe that something like this happened in Australia, we think it’s very safe there.”
Maasarwe was reportedly planning to go to China to work with her father’s business after her studies.
Police said they were “confident” of finding the perpetrator.