British PM fights rebellion over Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May dismissed calls to quit, saying: ‘Am I going to see this through? Yes!’ (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2018
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British PM fights rebellion over Brexit deal

  • Members of parliament on all sides warned her there was no way the plan could win their approval
  • The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May battled to salvage a draft Brexit deal and her political future on Thursday, as ministers resigned and members of her own party plotted to oust her.
The Conservative leader said she believed with “every fiber of my being” in the Brexit course she had set, hours after facing a hostile parliament and seeing four ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, quit the government.
Members of parliament on all sides warned her there was no way the plan could win their approval, but she dismissed calls to quit, saying: “Am I going to see this through? Yes!”
The Daily Telegraph newspaper said Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 MPs help May command a slim majority, would vote against the deal.
Their alliance with the Tories is over unless the prime minister is replaced, the paper said, citing sources close to DUP leader Arlene Foster.
The prime minister admitted “concerns about the backstop” solution to the Irish border question within the deal, which Brexit supporters fear would keep Britain tied indefinitely into a customs union.
Critics also believe May has conceded too much to Brussels in other key areas, while EU supporters are calling for a second referendum on a final deal.
May, however, said there would be no second vote “as far as I’m concerned.”
The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.
Key provisions seek to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, protect citizens’ rights and settle Britain’s last bill.
Amid the political turmoil, the pound dropped by 2 percent against the dollar to a one-month low and a similar amount against the euro.
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Brexit hardline European Research Group, submitted a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister saying: “It would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside.”
At least 48 letters from Conservative MPs are required to trigger a vote of no-confidence in the party leader, but a majority of the party’s 315 lawmakers would have to vote against May in order for her to be ousted.
Although other MPs have already sent letters, all eyes were on Rees-Mogg given his influence over Brexit supporting MPs.
The MP told reporters that a challenge could be launched within weeks.
But veteran MP Kenneth Clarke, an arch-europhile, told Sky News that May would win any confidence vote, saying “there isn’t an alternative.”
EU leaders will hold an extraordinary Brexit summit on November 25.
If they approve the agreement, the British parliament is scheduled to vote on it in early December.
Raab said there would be a devastating impact on public trust in the government unless it changed course on Brexit.
“I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto,” he said in his resignation letter.
Brexit hard-liner Esther McVey also quit her work and pensions secretary post.
Suella Braverman resigned as a junior Brexit minister and Shailesh Vara quit as a junior Northern Ireland minister.
In parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, told May: “The government must now withdraw this half-baked deal.
“This is not the deal the country was promised.”
Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, later led a rally in Parliament Square over the “botched deal,” with protesters carrying placards reading “Brexit is failing” and “We need a people’s vote.”
“It’s total chaos. She’s never going to get anything through parliament. The whole house of cards is collapsing,” said writer Emma Roper-Evans, 53.
May had secured her cabinet’s “collective” approval for the agreement during a stormy five-hour meeting on Wednesday and European leaders hailed the tentative deal.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “very happy” that the EU and Britain had reached a draft agreement but French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the prospect of Britain crashing out without a deal was “still on the table.”
In Brussels, EU President Donald Tusk said member states would have until Tuesday to examine the deal and to agree the wording of a parallel political statement setting out goals for the bloc’s future relations with London.
The agreement was also welcomed along the Irish border.
“If Theresa May has got any sort of a deal I think it’s a miracle,” said businessman Patrick Hughes, owner of an animal feed business in the border village of Jonesborough.
“I think she was fed to the lions a bit,” he said.


French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

Updated 14 December 2018
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French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

PARIS: France will deploy tens of thousands of police nationwide and around 8,000 in Paris on Saturday to handle a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests, although the movement appears to be losing steam after concessions by President Emmanuel Macron.
The chief of police in Paris said concerns remained about violent groups infiltrating the protests. Anti-riot officers will protect landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and prevent people getting close to the presidential palace.
“We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” police chief Michel Delpuech told RTL radio.
He expected businesses in the capital to be less affected this weekend after heavy disruption over the past three weeks when major stores shut, hotels suffered cancelations and tourists stayed away during the usually busy run-up to Christmas.
Nicknamed “Acte V” of the protests, the yellow vest demonstrators will take to the streets this weekend as France recovers from an unrelated attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, when a gunman shot and killed three people and wounded several others.
Hundreds of police officers were redeployed to Strasbourg to search for the gunman, who was shot dead in an exchange of fire on Thursday evening.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was time for the yellow vests to scale down their protests and accept they had achieved their aims. Police officers also deserved a break, he added.
“I’d rather have the police force doing their real job, chasing criminals and combating the terrorism threat, instead of securing roundabouts where a few thousand people keep a lot of police busy,” he said.
TOLL ON THE ECONOMY
Attractions such as the Louvre museum and Opera Garnier will be open this weekend, as will luxury department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Last Saturday they were closed as thousands of sometimes violent protesters tore through the city. The previous weekend the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, cars were overturned and torched and businesses smashed up.
The protests have taken a toll on the economy, with output in the last quarter of the year set to be half initial projections, while Macron’s concessions are likely to push the budget deficit above an EU agreed limit.
The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.
However, many people wearing the high-visibility motorists’ safety jackets which are the symbol of the protests were manning barricades outside cities on Friday.
After heavy criticism for not being seen to respond to the protesters’ complaints, Macron made a TV address this week during which he said he understood their concerns and acknowledged the need for a different approach.
As well canceling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.
Since the first yellow vest protests on Nov. 17, supporters have kept up a steady stream of dissent, although the numbers joining marches have steadily fallen. ($1 = 0.8857 euros)