Critics ‘chuck rocks from both sides’ at May’s Brexit plans

Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson slammed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit policy in a newspaper column, heightening speculation that he plans to challenge her leadership. (File photo / AP)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Critics ‘chuck rocks from both sides’ at May’s Brexit plans

  • Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph that May’s so-called Chequers plan would leave Britain tethered to the bloc
  • May’s spokesman said Johnson’s opposition to the plan was well known, and there were ‘no new ideas to respond to’

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy means disaster for Britain, her former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said, as critics at home and officials in Brussels stepped up their opposition to her plans for how to leave the European Union.
With under two months before Britain and the EU want to agree a deal to end over 40 years of union, May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to her own party and across a divided country.
The prospect that she could fail to reach a deal that would carry parliament at home, and that Britain could potentially crash out of the EU in March with no deal in place at all, has worried financial markets. The pound weakened by more than 0.7 percent against the euro on Monday to 90.28 pence, notching up its biggest daily loss in more than three months. Against the dollar it fell by a similar margin to $1.2859.
May’s former deputy, Damian Green, described her government as “walking a narrow path with people chucking rocks from both sides” after Johnson, a potential successor to May, and other Conservative lawmakers attacked the so-called Chequers plan.
“In adopting the Chequers proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank. If we continue on this basis we will throw away most of the advantages of Brexit,” Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday. “People can see Chequers means disaster.”
The plan, named for the prime minister’s country residence where it was agreed by the cabinet in July, calls for free trade between Britain and the EU in manufactured and agricultural goods, with Britain accepting regulations over traded goods that align with EU rules.
The government says it is the only way to achieve Brexit without harming the economy. But opponents on both sides of the Brexit debate have criticized it for offering either too sharp a rupture with the EU, or a break that is not clean enough.
Johnson, one of the leading pro-Brexit campaigners during the referendum that secured Britain’s 2016 vote to leave, quit May’s cabinet days after the Chequers plan was approved.
“We will remain in the EU taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination,” he wrote in Monday’s column, criticizing the plan for regulatory alignment.
Nor is the EU itself on board. Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier criticized the proposal in a German newspaper on Sunday as trying to secure advantages of EU membership without taking on its responsibilities.
PICKING THE RAISINS
“If we let the British pick the raisins out of our rules, that would have serious consequences. Then all sorts of other third countries could insist that we offer them the same benefits. That would be the end of the single market and the European project,” he said.
May’s spokesman said the Chequers deal was the only credible and negotiable plan for Brexit and the government believed it could carry the support of parliament.
“There’s no new ideas in (Johnson’s) article to respond to. What we need at this time is serious leadership with a serious plan, and that is exactly what the country has with this Prime Minister and this Brexit plan,” the spokesman told reporters.
The Times newspaper reported 20 Conservative lawmakers were now backing a grassroots ‘StandUp4Brexit’ campaign, committing to opposing the Chequers plan.
Parliament returns from its summer break on Tuesday. May has a working majority of just 13 votes and has pledged to give lawmakers approval of the final deal with Brussels.
Conservative lawmaker and former government minister Nick Boles, who during the referendum backed remaining in the EU and now wants to stay in the single market on an interim basis while negotiating a “Better Brexit” free trade deal, said he didn’t think May had enough support for her proposals.
Asked during an interview on BBC Radio what the chances were of getting her proposals through parliament, he said: “Very, very small, as close to zero as anything in politics.”
British media have reported Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers are preparing to unveil an alternative plan before the party’s annual conference at the end of the month.


Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

Updated 16 min 22 sec ago
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Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

  • More than 27,000 people died and 1.8 million displaced since the start of Boko Haram conflict in 2009
  • Malkohi residents say they will support President Muhammadu Buhari because he helped curtail the extremists’ power

MALKOHI, Nigeria: Idriss Abdullahi was once a successful businessman and a husband to four wives, until the day he fled his home when Boko Haram insurgents advanced across northeastern Nigeria.
Five years on he lives beside dull farmland in a tented camp in Malkohi village, near the Adamawa state capital Yola, and tries to make a living selling firewood.
But the earnings are so meager he has had to divorce one of his wives.
“Even an animal lives better than me,” he told AFP in the camp he shares with 2,800 of his neighbors from the Borno state town of Gwoza, which the insurgents sacked in 2014.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009 and some 1.8 million others are still displaced.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to end the insurgency, which at its peak saw the extremists control an area the size of Belgium.
In Abdullahi’s hometown, the wild-eyed leader of the extremists, Abubakar Shekau, declared an Islamic caliphate.
An offensive involving Nigerian troops and foreign mercenaries pushed them back. But in recent months there have been signs of resurgence.
Despite that, residents of Malkohi say they’re ready to support Buhari at Saturday’s rescheduled vote — even if they can’t return to Gwoza to do so.
“It’s not that we actually love him,” Abdullahi said of the president. “It’s that he saved our lives from Boko Haram.”
Shortly after taking office, Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated,” apparently fulfilling the promise that was seen as a key to his victory.
But in February last year, the group seized 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, in an echo of the 2014 abduction of more than 200 from Chibok that brought world attention to the conflict.
Malkohi itself hasn’t been spared; the group in 2015 bombed a government-organized camp across the road from the informal settlement where the former Gwoza residents stay.
An Islamic State-allied faction has in recent months overrun military bases, seizing equipment and weapons, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
Nigeria’s election commission has been forced to set up special measures for them to vote: in Borno, some 400,000 displaced people will vote at 10 centers.
Several others have been created in Adamawa.
The main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has seized on the insecurity and claimed Buhari has failed in his core duty of keeping Nigerians safe.
But from their homes in Adamawa — Abubakar’s home state — Malkohi residents say they feel more forgotten than under attack.
“Up to now, hospitals have not been provided. Before, [aid groups] gave us drugs, but now we don’t receive any,” said Fanta Ali, a housewife at the camp.
The Malkohi camp today is made up of rows of shacks separated by dirt paths, on which barefoot children and turkeys strut.
The makeshift homes are constructed from tarpaulin donated by aid agencies who also built a water tower for the settlement.
Many Malkohi residents were prosperous in Gwoza but without money to start businesses they now rely on manual labor to get by.
“Seriously, I’m suffering,” said Abdulrahman Hassen, once a merchant and chair of a professional association who now farms for a living.
Returning to Gwoza, where Boko Haram remains strong, is still a distant prospect. Helping people go home will be on the next president’s to-do list.
The displaced say they’re made to feel like outsiders in Adamawa, and local residents call them thieves for farming the land around the camp.
Gwoza was badly damaged when it was retaken in 2015, and cellphone reception is so weak residents climb trees to get a signal, said Yunussa Takda, a youth leader in Malkohi.
Meanwhile, the town’s outlying villages are still unsafe.
“Under Buhari, we’ve seen that a lot of our villages that have been taken by Boko Haram haven’t been recovered,” he said. “Maybe if he’s given a second chance, we can go home.”
Umaru Ibrahim Bakare lost track of his pregnant wife and then three-year-old daughter in the chaos of Boko Haram’s initial attack on the town, and has been looking for them ever since.
He made an unsuccessful trip to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, aiming to find his family.
He remains hopeful after the Red Cross connected a friend with three children he’d lost when fleeing Boko Haram.
“We must vote Muhammadu Buhari to finish what he’s started and defeat the insurgency,” he said.