British PM accepts key amendments from hard-line Brexiteers

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2018
0

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.


Top Indian court says it will not probe French fighter jet deal

Updated 14 December 2018
0

Top Indian court says it will not probe French fighter jet deal

  • Congress party accused Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense as a domestic partner
  • India’s Supreme Court ruled there was no evidence of commercial favoritism

DELHI: India’s Supreme Court said Friday it would not probe the government’s multi-billion dollar decision to buy French fighter jets.
The opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense, owned by billionaire Anil Ambani, as a domestic partner.
Reliance has no aeronautical expertise and was chosen ahead of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which does, triggering allegations of a scam.
But the court said there was no evidence of commercial favoritism.
“Having heard the matter in detail, we find no reason for any intervention by this court on the sensitive issue. Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of fishing and roving enquiry by this court, especially in such matters,” the 32-page verdict said.
“We can’t compel the government to purchase 126 aircraft and it’s not proper for the court to examine each aspect of this case. It isn’t a job of the court to compare pricing details. The country cannot afford to be unprepared or underprepared in a situation where our adversaries are stated to have acquired not only fourth generation, but even fifth generation aircrafts, of which we have none,” the court added.
Indian defense procurement rules state that a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean it off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale jets, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip it was Reliance Defense that got the contract.
“In our opinion, the Supreme Court judgment is totally wrong. The campaign will certainly not drop and we will decide if we will file a review petition,” one of the main petitioners Prashant Bhushan said after the verdict.
“This isn’t the first time when the Apex court has failed us in ordering a probe in cases of high-level corruption,” he told reporters.
Congress said the Supreme Court was not the forum to rule on such a sensitive defense contract.
“The verdict of the Supreme Court is a validation of what the Congress party has stated months ago. Only forum is a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which can probe the entire corruption in Rafale deal,” said the party’s chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala.
Ambani denied there had been a scam, saying the allegations were politically motivated, while the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded an apology from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
“Truth always triumphs. Court’s judgment on the Rafale deal exposes the campaign of misinformation spearheaded by Congress president for political gains,” president of the BJP Amit Shah said.
Dr. Satish Mishra, from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank, said that the court verdict did not mean that the Rafale deal was beyond reproach.
“It only means that the court does not have enough evidence to order a probe into the deal,” he told Arab News. “If the government does not have anything to hide then it should order an independent inquiry or set up a joint parliamentary team to clear the doubts raised by the opposition, otherwise the charges will remain in the public domain. The BJP is in a defensive mode after the defeat in the regional elections. Allegations of corruptions have sullied the image of Modi, the only asset that the party has. I don’t think the verdict in any way vindicates the PM or the BJP.”