EU leaders meeting to endorse Brexit divorce deal

EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier, left, hands over to European Council President Donald Tusk the draft Brexit agreement on Thursday, November 15. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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EU leaders meeting to endorse Brexit divorce deal

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal was the best the world’s fifth-largest economy could hope for

BRUSSELS/LONDON: European Union leaders will meet on Nov. 25 to endorse a Brexit divorce deal but British Prime Minister Theresa May was mauled by opponents, allies and mutinous members of her party who warned the agreement could sink her premiership.
May won the backing of her senior ministers after a five-hour meeting on Wednesday though she now faces the much more perilous struggle of getting parliament, which has the final say, to approve the agreement.
It is unclear when that vote might happen.
“If nothing extraordinary happens, we will hold a European Council meeting in order to finalize and formalize the Brexit agreement,” European Council President Donald Tusk said after meeting EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
More than two years after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the EU, May said the deal was the best the world’s fifth-largest economy could hope for and that the other options were leaving with no deal or thwarting Brexit.
But in a sign of just how hard the vote in the British parliament might be, Shailesh Vara, who backed EU membership in the 2016 referendum, quit on Thursday as a junior minister in May’s government.
“I cannot support the Withdrawal Agreement that has been agreed with the European Union,” Vara said as he resigned as a Northern Ireland minister.
“We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown they do not have our best interests at heart. We can and must do better than this.”
Nick Timothy, one of May’s former chiefs of staff, said her deal was a capitulation that parliament would reject.
“When parliament rejects the prime minister’s proposal, as surely it will, there will still be time for ministers to negotiate something better,” Timothy wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Timothy, who resigned after May’s botched gamble on a snap election that lost her party its majority in parliament, said Britain should use its security contribution as a bargaining chip to get a better deal.
May will give a statement to parliament on Thursday on the deal which she hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.
The ultimate outcome for the United Kingdom remains uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to rejection of May’s deal, potentially sinking her premiership and leaving the bloc with no agreement, or another referendum.
Getting a deal through parliament will be difficult. She will need the votes of about 320 of the 650 lawmakers.
“The parliamentary arithmetic has looked tight for some time,” Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients. “It now looks tighter, given signs of greater unity among those who object to the draft Agreement.”
“We’re in the Brexs**t — Theresa May’s soft Brexit deal blasted by ALL sides,” read the headline in The Sun, Britain’s best-read newspaper.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up May’s government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.


’Pyongyang not the enemy’: South Koreans fed up with military service

Updated 19 min 22 sec ago
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’Pyongyang not the enemy’: South Koreans fed up with military service

  • US President Donald Trump is due to meet the North’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi for a high-profile summit
  • The bulk of South Korea’s 600,000-strong military are conscripts, who are required to serve for some 20 months

SEOUL: Namgung Jin is anxious as he awaits the start of his military service in South Korea — almost two years in uniform guarding against the nuclear-armed neighbor to the north, with the two countries technically still at war.
But by the time the 19-year-old college student enlists on March 5, just five days after the upcoming US-North Korea summit, some analysts say the Korean War may have been officially declared over.
US President Donald Trump is due to meet the North’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi for a high-profile summit to make progress on denuclearization of the peninsula, and a possible peace treaty.
If that happens, the future of the South’s controversial conscription system — which forces recruits to serve for months in often remote locations along the militarised border — will likely be up for debate.
For many young South Koreans like Namgung, it will be long overdue.
“I would definitely not want to serve if I were given an option,” he said, describing military service as a “waste of his youth” that delays him securing a job in South Korea’s hyper-competitive society.
Namgung, who was born in 1999 — almost 50 years after the Korean War ended with an armistice — said he rarely associated his service with the threat from the North.
“I’ve never considered North Korea as an enemy,” said Namgung, who studies computer science in Seoul. “I have no harsh feelings against the North. I just think life must be hard for those who live there.”
The bulk of South Korea’s 600,000-strong military are conscripts, who are required to serve for some 20 months.
Almost all able-bodied South Korean men are obliged to fulfil sentry duties, often in remote locations along the heavily militarised border.
Like Namgung, Han Sang-kyu — an 18-year-old who is scheduled to start his military service next year — said he was not hostile to Pyongyang.
“I’ve always considered North and South Koreans one people — I hope the two countries can unify one day,” he said.
Lim Tae-hoon, the director of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea in Seoul, said the Korean War and its legacy are still very much present in the South’s repressive military culture.
“The Korean War started on a Sunday, and a lot of (South) Korean soldiers were off base when the North’s tanks crossed the 38th parallel — the result was traumatic,” Lim told AFP.
“This is inseparable from why today’s soldiers in the South are confined to their bases all the time.”
Until this year conscripts were banned from using mobile phones for security reasons.
A rule that no more than 25 percent of troops can take holiday at the same time means recruits spend long periods of time cooped up together, which has contributed to bullying.
Some 60,000 South Korean recruits are thought to have died since 1953 from a range of causes including suicide, firearm accidents and medical malpractice.
None of them died on the battlefield.
Song Jun-seo, a 18-year-old student who will enlist this year or next, said he wants “some kind of compensation” should the conscription system be abolished after he finishes his service.
“I would be very angry. I don’t want to be the last one to suffer in the system,” he said.
But Kim Dong-yup, an analyst at Kyungnam University, said it was too early to talk about abolishing conscription — and that it will probably take a long time for the country to turn to a volunteer military system, even if the rapprochement with the North progresses.
“North Korea is not the only security threat to the Korean peninsula,” Kim told AFP, citing other neighboring countries and environmental disasters as potential problems.
Some men have taken extreme measures to avoid conscription, including 12 music students who stuffed themselves with protein powder before their medical exam, hoping to be declared too heavy for service.
Others have undergone unnecessary surgery and given themselves broken bones.
Song said he was disappointed by the result of his medical exam earlier this month — he was put in the top category, meaning he will have to serve in the armed forces without question.
“I have a chronic skin condition, so I’d been hoping to be placed in less physically taxing jobs, such as in local government,” Song told AFP.
He said he is scared to join the army because of what has happened to some soldiers while serving.
Song was horrified when he read about a soldier badly injured in 2016 after stepping on a land mine, another relic of the Korean war.
“At least if I were able do the service in local government, I wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of losing my leg,” he said.