British PM accepts key amendments from hard-line Brexiteers

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2018
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British PM accepts key amendments from hard-line Brexiteers

  • Lawmakers in the House of Commons voted 305 to 302 to approve the amendment to the customs legislation, known as the Taxation
  • May’s authority has been weakened with the resignations of major figures Boris Johnson and David Davis and a series of lesser officials who disagree with her Brexit plan

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accepted amendments to a customs bill put forward by Brexit hard-liners who oppose her plan for a “common rule book” with the European Union after the country leaves the bloc.
Even with those unwanted concessions, the government only barely won a Monday night vote, gaining 305 votes in favor and 302 against. The bill would prevent Britain from collecting tariffs on behalf of EU nations unless the EU does the same for the UK
The government avoided what would have been an embarrassing defeat, but the razor-thin margin reveals the fragility of May’s support as she tries to find a way to move the complex Brexit process forward.
A Downing Street spokesman said the government accepted the amendments because it sees them as consistent with the prime minister’s plan as set out in a formal white paper last week.
However, critics said May had caved in to pressure from Brexit supporters who want a complete break with Europe. They said the changes would greatly limit May’s ability to move forward with the plan that prompted two hard-liners in her Cabinet to resign in protest last week — and fresh resignations of lesser figures Monday.
The amendments seek to limit the government’s ability to set up the customs arrangements May has advocated, which would keep close ties to Europe. They were proposed by the European Research Group, the research arm of May’s Conservative Party which is headed by lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Another Conservative Party legislator, Anna Soubry, who opposes the “hard” Brexit that would see Britain leave the EU without a trade deal in place, said the government’s acceptance of the four amendments mean that Rees-Mogg is now effectively “running Britain.”
May also came under fire Monday from a former Cabinet minister who called for a new Brexit referendum, an idea immediately rejected by the prime minister’s team.
Former Education Secretary Justine Greening, also a Conservative, said the UK Parliament was “gridlocked” over the divisive issue. She said she and other senior Tory lawmakers favor a new vote.
Greening said she would campaign to keep Britain in the EU, if a new referendum were held.
The day’s developments heaped additional pressure on the beleaguered May, whose party is deeply split and does not enjoy majority control in Parliament.
Her recent white paper outlining plans for a common rule book with the EU over trade in goods has infuriated those who favor a complete break even if it risks causing an economic shock.
May defended her plan as she opened the Farnborough International Airshow. She said it would safeguard vital jobs in the aviation industry and keep Britain’s tradition as a nation in the forefront of the aviation industry.
The issue is sensitive because Airbus signaled in June that it would have to consider its long-term plans for Britain if there is no Brexit deal.
May said the plan outlined in the white paper honors the wishes of British voters — who in June 2016 backed Brexit with 52 percent of the vote — while protecting industry and national security.
May’s authority has been weakened with the resignations of major figures Boris Johnson and David Davis and a series of lesser officials who disagree with her Brexit plan.
The skirmishes are expected to continue Tuesday when a different trade bill is debated. There is also a move for Parliament to begin its summer recess several days early in a bid to curtail the chaos of recent weeks.


Italy’s Salvini lays down law for migrant rescue ships

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini takes a picture with a supporter, as he leaves the Senate upper house parliament building after a news conference in Rome, Italy March 8, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 2 min 11 sec ago
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Italy’s Salvini lays down law for migrant rescue ships

  • Salvini, whose anti-migrant rhetoric has boosted him in the polls, has repeatedly vowed to find a way to ban all ships with rescued migrants from entering Italian waters
ROME: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Monday launched a fresh crackdown on charity ships which rescue migrants off Libya and bring them to Italy.
“The ports have been, and remain, CLOSED,” Salvini said on Twitter, as his office released an eight-page directive on the laws regarding rescue operations — laws it said some aid vessels had been breaking.
The minister, who also heads up the anti-immigrant League party, has repeatedly declared Italian waters closed to NGO rescue vessels, leaving several of them stranded at sea in the past in a bid to force Europe to take its share of asylum seekers.
While he acknowledged in his directive that helping those who lives are in danger was a “priority,” he warned that there must be “sanctions” for those who “explicitly violate international, European and national rescue regulations.”
“Nor must the real risks that the group of migrants may conceal individuals involved in terrorist activities... be overlooked.”
The “passage of rescue ships in Italian territorial waters” was “detrimental to the order and security of the Italian State,” he said.
The directive was issued just hours after an Italian charity ship rescued 49 people off the coast of Libya, under the nose of the Libyan coast guard, before requesting permission to disembark the migrants in Italy.
NGO ships have drawn fire from Rome by attempting on occasion to stop migrants being taken back to crisis-hit Libya, which human rights organizations insist cannot be considered safe for repatriations.

“It has happened that ships... have come to the aid of migrants in non-Italian SRRs (Search and Rescue Regions) and have disregarded the orders of the competent SAR (Search and Rescue) authorities,” Salvini said in the directive.
Ships rescuing migrants in areas of the Mediterranean that fall under Libyan responsibility, during operations not coordinated by the command center in Rome, have no right to seek Italy as a port of safety, he said.
He accused the ships in question of “carrying out the rescue on their own initiative and then heading toward European maritime borders... in violation of international maritime law.”
Salvini also took issue with charity ships that set sail for Italy rather than other ports.
“Nor are the Italian coasts the only possible landing places in the event of rescue events, given that the Libyan, Tunisian and Maltese ports can offer adequate logistical and health assistance... (and) are closer in terms of nautical miles.”
Salvini, whose anti-migrant rhetoric has boosted him in the polls, has repeatedly vowed to find a way to ban all ships with rescued migrants from entering Italian waters.
He also insists Europe must do much more to help house asylum seekers.
Europe has been wrestling with divisions over how to handle the problem since the migration crisis of 2015 when more than one million people arrived on its shores, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East.