‘Brexit continues to mean Brexit’: Theresa May defiant despite Westminster resistance

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May as she speaks during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 18, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/PRU)
Updated 19 July 2018
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‘Brexit continues to mean Brexit’: Theresa May defiant despite Westminster resistance

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday her government had begun negotiations with the European Union
  • May also said talks had already started with Brussels based on the proposal set down in a white paper policy document last week

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday her government had begun negotiations with the European Union based on her hard-won Brexit plan, pressing on with a proposal criticized by both wings of her Conservative Party.
After narrowly escaping defeat in parliament over her plans for leaving the EU, May signalled she would not drop a proposal on Britain’s future relationship with bloc — the biggest shift in its foreign and trade policy for almost half a century.
But by sticking to her plan for a “business-friendly” departure, May has thrown down the gauntlet to Brexit supporters and pro-EU lawmakers in her party who are at war with each other, and — for some — with the prime minister herself.
Boris Johnson, her former foreign minister who quit over what is called the Chequers plan, was one of the first to renew his call for government to rethink its strategy, saying “it is not too late to save Brexit.”
But at an earlier session of parliament, May stood firm after being challenged by one pro-Brexit lawmaker in her party to explain when she had decided to change her catchphrase from “Brexit means Brexit,” to “Brexit means Remain.”
“Brexit continues to mean Brexit,” May said to cheers from her Conservative supporters.
May also said talks had already started with Brussels based on the proposal set down in a white paper policy document last week after her divided government had thrashed out a deal at her Chequers country residence.
The prime minister insisted she was confident Britain had enough time to negotiate a deal with the EU before leaving in March next year.
While May’s party is in disarray over the plan, EU member Ireland also said it was focusing on the white paper, unwilling to be diverted over the changes to her Brexit plans forced through in parliament this week.
“If we get distracted by individual amendments to individual pieces of legislation ... then I think we get dragged into an unnecessary debate that wastes a lot of time and energy,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE.

"WE CAN CHANGE"
May’s vulnerability in parliament, where she lost her majority in an ill-judged election last year, was laid bare on Monday and Tuesday when she faced rebellions from both the pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings of her party.
She won the votes on a customs and a trade bill, but suffered an unexpected defeat on a separate amendment, which means her government must now seek continued participation in the European medicines regulatory framework.
But the government’s approach to securing victory in parliament has not only deepened divisions in her party, but also raised the issue of trust.
One Conservative lawmaker told Reuters the party whips, whose job it is to enforce discipline in parliament, had threatened to call a confidence vote in May if she lost — a move that could bring down the government.
Johnson, figurehead of the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, led those calls in his resignation speech to parliament. He criticized the government for handing an advantage to the EU by agreeing in the talks to a divorce bill before agreeing a future relationship.
“We have time in these negotiations, we have changed tack once and we can change again,” he said. “It is as though a fog of self-doubt has descended,” Johnson said. “We should not and need not be stampeded by anyone.”


Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

Updated 10 min 29 sec ago
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Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

  • An estimated 800,000 people have taken shelter in some 4,000 relief camps across Kerala
  • 800,000 people have been displaced and over 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century

KOCHI, India: Torrential rain finally let up in India’s flood-hit Kerala state on Sunday, giving some respite for thousands of marooned families, but authorities feared an outbreak of disease among around 725,000 people crammed into relief camps.
Incessant downpours since Aug. 8 have caused the worst floods in a century in the southwestern state, and close to 200 people have perished in the rising waters and landslides.
The India Meteorological Department forecast heavy rainfall in only one or two parts of Kerala on Sunday and withdrew a red alert in several districts.
Using boats and helicopters, India’s military led rescue efforts to reach people in communities cut off for days, with many trapped on roofs and upper floors, in desperate need of food and clean water.
A Reuters photographer on a naval helicopter said water levels had receded in villages around the city of Kochi.
Rescue teams were focused on the town of Chengannur on the banks of the Pamba River, where about 5,000 people are feared to be trapped, officials said.
Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said the total number of people taking refuge at the 5,645 relief camps had risen to 725,000.
Thirteen deaths were reported on Sunday, he added, taking the total number confirmed to nearly 200.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at Kerala’s health department, said authorities had isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, nearly 250 km (155 miles) from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
He said the department was preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps.

DESTROYED
Kerala, which usually receives high rainfall, has seen more than 250 percent more rain than normal between Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. State authorities have had to release water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into the main river.
As the rain abated on Sunday morning, 60-year-old T P Johnny visited his home in Cheranelloor — a suburb of Kochi situated on the banks of the Periyar river — to see when he and his family could return.
“The entire house is covered with mud. It will take days to clean to make it liveable. All our household articles, including the TV and fridge have been destroyed,” he told Reuters.
The beaches and backwaters of Kerala are top destinations for domestic and international tourists, but far fewer visit during the monsoon season.
Kochi’s airport is closed due to waterlogging, and Jet Airways has arranged additional flights from Thiruvananthapuram for passengers holding confirmed tickets from Kochi.
India’s national carrier, Air India, will operate ATR flights from the naval airport in Kochi to Bangalore and Coimbatore, starting Monday.
Late on Saturday, the chief minister had said that there was no shortage of food in the state as traders had stocked up before a local festival.
“The only problem is transporting it,” he told reporters. “The central government and public have cooperated well in this effort to fight this disaster.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, where many Keralites work, has also offered assistance to the state. Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani has also announced $5 million aid.
($1 = 70.09 Indian rupees)