May tours Europe in desperate bid to save Brexit deal

Merkel told lawmakers of her CDU/CSU bloc that she saw “no way to change” the agreement. (Reuters)
Updated 11 December 2018
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May tours Europe in desperate bid to save Brexit deal

  • May faced criticism from all sides in parliament over provisions in the EU withdrawal agreement concerning Northern Ireland
  • Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now facing calls to table a no-confidence vote

BRUSSELS: Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May was met with sympathy but firm refusals on a desperate tour of European capitals on Tuesday, with EU leaders ruling out any renegotiation of the Brexit deal.
A day after she postponed a crucial vote on the deal in the British parliament, May said she was meeting EU counterparts in an attempt to receive “reassurances.”
May had breakfast with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague before heading to Berlin for lunch with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then traveled on to Brussels.
After meeting May, Merkel told lawmakers of her CDU/CSU bloc that she saw “no way to change” the agreement, said sources at the MPs’ meeting.
May faced criticism from all sides in parliament over provisions in the EU withdrawal agreement concerning Northern Ireland, which she hopes could persuade her rebellious Conservative party to support it.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said ahead of meeting May that he was “surprised” at being asked for more talks since EU leaders had given their approval to the deal at an extraordinary summit on November 25.
“The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible, it’s the only deal possible,” he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation but of course there is room, if used intelligently, to give further clarification and further interpretations.”
MPs in the House of Commons were due to vote on the deal on Tuesday night, but May deferred it on Monday, admitting she expected to lose by a “significant margin.”
Her spokesman said Tuesday the vote would be rescheduled before January 21 — just months before Britain leaves the EU on March 29.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now facing calls to table a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, but is holding off as the party believes May is likely to win.
This hesitation has caused tensions with the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has said it wants Labour to table a no-confidence motion on Tuesday.
Euroskeptic MPs in May’s Conservative party have also repeated calls for her to be replaced, with one warning it was time to “govern or quit.”
EU President Donald Tusk, who met May in Brussels, has called a meeting of the other 27 EU leaders on Thursday to discuss the latest Brexit developments.
They were already due to attend a European Council summit with May on Thursday and Friday, which the British prime minister is expected to use to further press her case.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said his government ruled out changes to the wording of the withdrawal agreement, but said there could be “a political declaration coming from a European Council.”
“The Irish government doesn’t have an issue with providing reassurance if that’s helpful,” he told national broadcaster RTE.
May faces strong opposition over a clause in the Brexit deal designed to keep open the border with Ireland.
The so-called backstop risks tying Britain into a customs union with the EU for years after it leaves the bloc — far from the clean break that euroskeptics want.
But it is far from clear what she can achieve.
One of her ministers, Martin Callanan, said in Brussels on Tuesday that Britain is seeking “additional legal reassurances that UK cannot be permanently trapped in the Irish backstop.”
Many Britons have been left scratching their heads after the latest political developments.
In Keighley, a town in Yorkshire in northern England that voted in favor of Brexit in a 2016 referendum, residents expressed skepticism about May’s latest moves.
“Ridiculous, absolutely,” one resident, Tony Finney, said when asked about the delay, calling it a “fiasco.”
Mary Wilson said: “I believe that we should come out. I think she’s just wasting her time running backwards and forward to Europe because she’ll not get what she wants.”
Even if no deal is secured, Britain is still on course to leave the EU on March 29 — a scenario the government has warned will be hugely damaging to the economy.
The decision to defer the vote sent the pound plunging.
Tusk said Thursday’s EU meeting would cover no-deal plans, while May’s cabinet was also due to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
France’s minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, said the possibility of no deal was “not unlikely,” adding: “I’m very worried.”


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.