EU leaders to sign off historic Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May said her Brexit deal will deliver her country a “brighter future.” (AP)
Updated 26 November 2018
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EU leaders to sign off historic Brexit deal

  • The deal covers financial matters, citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and a transition phase, and sets out hopes for future security and trade ties
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk said “no-one will have reasons to be happy” when Brexit happens

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders meet Sunday to approve a historic Brexit deal, which British Prime Minister Theresa May said would deliver her country a “brighter future.”
At a special summit in Brussels that was almost derailed by a row over Gibraltar, the other 27 leaders will gather to sign off the agreement before May joins them to mark the milestone.
Forged during 17 months of tough negotiations, the deal covers financial matters, citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and a transition phase, and sets out hopes for future security and trade ties.
But it is not the final stage, as the House of Commons in London must still approve the deal before Brexit day on March 29, 2019 — and many MPs have warned they will not back it.
Until the agreement is approved, all sides are still planning for the potentially disastrous possibility that Britain ends its four-decade EU membership with no new arrangements in place.
EU Council President Donald Tusk, who has always said he would prefer Britain not to leave, said on the eve of the summit that “no-one will have reasons to be happy” when Brexit happens.
But he said terms had been agreed that would “reduce the risks and losses,” and recommended that EU leaders sign off on the deal.
Euroskeptics in May’s Conservative party and their Northern Irish allies warn they will not support the agreement when MPs vote as expected next month.
But in an open “letter to the nation” on Sunday, May said it delivered on the 2016 referendum vote to leave, and was a “deal for a brighter future.”
Britain remains deeply divided over the decision, but the prime minister said that finally leaving could be “a moment of renewal and reconciliation.”
“To do that we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal,” she said.
May arrived on the eve of the summit for final talks with Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, after which Tusk’s spokesman tweeted: “We are on track for tomorrow.”
But nothing in the negotiations has gone smoothly and the summit risked being derailed by a late objection to the deal by Spain over the British territory of Gibraltar.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez threatened to reject it unless his country kept a veto over future changes to EU ties with “The Rock,” which borders Spain and which it has long claimed.
The impasse was resolved when Britain promised to continue bilateral talks with Madrid after Brexit — although that itself caused further tensions.
Sanchez claimed that discussions would cover the “co-sovereignty” of Gibraltar, something residents overwhelmingly rejected in a 2002 referendum.
May was quick to correct her Spanish counterpart, saying: “The UK’s position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar has not changed and will not change.”
In legal terms, Spain’s disapproval would not have halted the divorce settlement.
But it would have been an embarrassing split for EU leaders who have proved remarkably united in the painful negotiation.
British MPs are most concerned about an arrangement in the withdrawal agreement to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and Ireland, which could see the province follow EU rules for years.
But there are also concerns in EU capitals about fishing rights and commercial rules Britain must follow to maintain access to the bloc’s markets.
A diplomatic source said the minutes of Sunday’s summit meeting of the 27 leaders would record those concerns, although it was not clear if they would be made public.


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.