European countries reach deal to share Aquarius migrants

French aid group SOS Mediterranee managing director Sophie Beau speaks during a joint press conference by SOS Mediterranee and international medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) over the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, chartered by the two groups, on August 14, 2018, in Paris European countries faced pressure on August to resolve a fresh standoff with the operators of the migrant rescue ship Aquarius which is stranded for the second time in the Mediterranean carrying 141 people. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2018
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European countries reach deal to share Aquarius migrants

  • Spain offered to take 60 people and Germany said it would take “up to 50”
  • France said it would accept 60 from the Aquarius as well as a second rescue boat that arrived earlier in Malta

ROME: Five European countries on Tuesday offered to take in the 141 migrants marooned on board the Aquarius rescue vessel after it was given permission to dock in Malta, resolving a new standoff over the charity ship.
Spain offered to take 60 people and Germany said it would take “up to 50.”
France said it would accept 60 from the Aquarius as well as a second rescue boat that arrived earlier in Malta, and Portugal offered to welcome 30 people. Luxembourg was also part of the deal.
The agreement is the fifth of its kind between Western European governments since June when Italy began turning away migrant rescue ships.
EU sources said the five host countries would send immigration officials to Malta to vet their asylum claims and identify possible economic migrants, who would be returned to their countries of origin.
The boat was initially refused entry by Italy and Malta after rescuing the migrants in two separate missions off the Libyan coast on Friday.
The Aquarius first hit the headlines in June after being stranded with 630 migrants on board, causing a major diplomatic row.
Spain’s new Socialist government helped resolve the first standoff by allowing the boat to dock in Valencia and said it was again at the forefront of the solution to the latest one on Tuesday.
“Spain has coordinated a pioneering agreement with six countries to share the hosting of the people on the Aquarius... Spain will take 60 people,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wrote on Twitter.
But Malta and France said the deal to allow the ship disembark its passengers, many of them unaccompanied teens from violence-wracked Somalia and repressive Eritrea, was their initiative.
“Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so,” said a Maltese government statement posted on Twitter.
Thanking Malta for its gesture, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter: “There is no alternative to cooperation.”
But EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that Europe could not rely on “ad-hoc arrangements.”
Calling in a statement for “sustainable solutions,” he said: “It is not the responsibility of one or a few member states only, but of the European Union as a whole.”
After elections in March that brought a populist, anti-immigrant government to power in Italy, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini began turning away rescue ships operated by foreign NGOs.
For years, Italy had pleaded with its EU partners for help with a massive influx of arrivals that has seen 700,000 people land in the country since 2013, most of whom had made the short but treacherous sea crossing from Libya.
On Saturday, Salvini said the Aquarius would “never see an Italian port” again, accusing it of encouraging smugglers and migrants to take to the water in the knowledge that they will be rescued.
The Italian coast guard continues to rescue migrants, however.
Malta’s government initially defended its decision to turn the Aquarius away, saying it was “neither the coordinating nor the competent authority for such a rescue” and had “no legal obligation” to provide a place of safety.
The government of the British territory of Gibraltar also announced late Monday that the ship would no longer be allowed to operate under its maritime flag.
The increasingly hostile stance reflects hardening public opinion in Europe toward migrants — despite arrivals dipping sharply since 2015, when over a million people fleeing war or poverty crossed the Mediterranean.
The Aquarius has become a symbol of the unwillingness of many European countries to accept more newcomers, with Italy siding with conservative governments in eastern Europe intent on keeping out migrants.
At a summit in late June EU leaders agreed to consider setting up migrant processing centers outside the bloc, most likely in North Africa, in a bid to discourage them from boarding smuggler boats.
They also agreed to look at setting up “controlled centers” on European soil to sort refugees in need of protection from economic migrants — but no country has offered to host any such centers.
The proposals are due for discussion at an EU migration summit in Austria in September.


Brexit in turmoil as May postpones Parliament vote on it

The pound, already foundering Monday amid rumors that the vote would be postponed, sank further on the news, hitting a 20-month low against the dollar of $1.2550 (AFP)
Updated 16 min 53 sec ago
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Brexit in turmoil as May postpones Parliament vote on it

  • May said she would seek “assurances” from the EU and bring the Brexit deal back to Parliament
  • May insisted that her Brexit deal was still “the best deal that is negotiable,” and said rejecting it raised the chances of Britain crashing out of the EU with no agreement

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday postponed Parliament’s vote on her Brexit divorce deal with the European Union, acknowledging that lawmakers would have rejected it by a “significant margin.”
The move averted a humiliating defeat for the government in a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday. But it throws Britain’s Brexit plans into disarray, with the country’s departure from the EU just over three months away on March 29.
In an emergency statement to the House of Commons, May accepted that British lawmakers had “widespread and deep concern” about some aspects of the divorce deal agreed upon last month between May and EU leaders.
“As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,” she said. “We will therefore defer the vote.”
May said she would seek “assurances” from the EU and bring the Brexit deal back to Parliament, but did not set a new date for the vote.
Many lawmakers were scathing in their comments about both May’s actions and the Brexit deal, and derisive laughter erupted when May claimed there was “broad support” for many aspects of the plan.
“The government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray,” said opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The pound, already foundering Monday amid rumors that the vote would be postponed, sank further on the news, hitting a 20-month low against the dollar of $1.2550.
May insisted that her Brexit deal was still “the best deal that is negotiable,” and said rejecting it raised the chances of Britain crashing out of the EU with no agreement. That could bring logjams to British ports and plunge the country possibly into its deepest recession in decades, according to reports by the government and the Bank of England.
“For as long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental ‘no deal’ increases,” May said, adding that her government would step preparations for such an outcome so as to mitigate its worst effects.
Delaying the Brexit vote is a bracing new blow for May, who became prime minister after Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the EU. She has been battling ever since — first to strike a divorce deal with the bloc, then to sell it to skeptical British lawmakers.
May’s Conservative government does not have a majority in the House of Commons, and opposition parties — as well as dozens of Conservative lawmakers — said they would not back the divorce deal. The Brexit disarray leaves both her and her government on shaky ground.
“Why has it taken the prime minister this long to face up to the reality?” SNP deputy leader Kirsty Blackman asked Monday.
May said she would hold talks with EU leaders ahead of a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, seeking “further reassurances” over the backstop.
“Nothing should be off the table,” she said.
The Labour Party has said previously that it may call for a no-confidence motion in the government. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her Scottish National Party would support an attempt to topple the government and trigger a new election.
“This shambles can’t go on — so how about it?” Sturgeon tweeted at Corbyn.
Corbyn stopped short of calling a no-confidence vote Monday, but said if May could not renegotiate with the EU, “then she must make way.”
Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal keeps Britain bound too closely to the EU, while pro-EU politicians say it erects barriers between the UK and its biggest trading partner and leaves many details of the future relationship undecided.
The main sticking point is a “backstop” provision that aims to guarantee an open border between EU member Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland after Brexit. The measure would keep Britain under EU customs rules, and is supposed to last until it is superseded by permanent new trade arrangements.
Critics say it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers said they wouldn’t support May’s agreement unless she renegotiated it to remove the Irish backstop. Steve Baker, a leading Conservative Brexiteer, said Monday that May should “go back to Brussels and demand a better deal.”
But EU leaders insist the Brexit withdrawal agreement can’t be changed.
“The deal is the deal,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Monday. “It’s taken two years to put together. It’s a fair deal for both sides.”
In the EU, there was exasperation at Britain’s indecision.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, tweeted : “I can’t follow anymore. After two years of negotiations, the Tory government wants to delay the vote. Just keep in mind that we will never let the Irish down.”
In another twist in the Brexit tale, the EU’s top court ruled Monday that Britain can change its mind over Brexit, boosting the hopes of British people who want to stay in the EU that the process can be reversed.
The European Court of Justice ruled that when an EU member country has notified the bloc of its intent to leave, “that member state is free to revoke unilaterally that notification.”
Britain invoked Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, triggering a two-year exit process. But Scottish legislators had asked the ECJ to rule on whether the UK could pull out of the withdrawal procedure on its own.
The Luxembourg-based ECJ said that, given the absence of any exit provision in Article 50, countries are able to change their mind in line with their own constitutional arrangements.
May has repeatedly said the government will not seek to delay or reverse Brexit. She said Monday that Parliament had a duty to “get Brexit done and get it done right. “
“Does this House want to deliver Brexit?” May asked. “If the answer is yes, and I believe that is the answer of the majority of this House, then we all have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to make a compromise.”