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.”


Kenya says Nairobi attack over, all five gunmen killed

Updated 55 min 16 sec ago
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Kenya says Nairobi attack over, all five gunmen killed

  • The attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali group Al-Shabab
  • “There were five terrorists and all of them are no more,” Kenyan police said

NAIROBI: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Wednesday that gunmen who stormed a luxury hotel complex, killing 14 people, had been “eliminated” after an almost 20-hour operation in which hundreds of civilians were rescued.
The attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali group Al-Shabab, which has targeted Kenya since it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the extremist group.
At least one suicide bomber blew himself up and others swapped gunfire with security forces as the assault on DusitD2, a complex which includes a 101-room hotel, spa, restaurant and offices, unfolded on Tuesday.
“There were five terrorists and all of them are no more,” Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet told AFP. “It is a clearing exercise now going on there.”
For many Kenyans, news of the attack revived traumatic memories of a 2013 Shabab raid on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall that left 67 dead — a siege played out over four days that led to sharp criticism of the authorities’ response.
But this time, local media heaped praise on the security forces for their intervention, which Kenyatta said entailed the evacuation of some 700 civilians.
“I can confirm that... the security operation at Dusit complex is over and all the terrorists eliminated,” Kenyatta said in a televised address to the nation.
“As of this moment, we have confirmation that 14 innocent lives were lost to the... terrorists, with others injured.”
George Kinoti, the director of criminal investigations, told AFP that “two principal suspects” had been arrested in connection with the attack.
He said one was arrested in the suburb of Eastleigh, and the other in Ruaka, northwest of Nairobi, where officers carried out a raid on a house where one of the attackers lived.
“One of the men was identified by locals, who called police and they have confirmed that he lived there with his wife,” a police source said on condition of anonymity.
CCTV footage broadcast on local media showed four black-clad, heavily-armed men entering the complex on Tuesday afternoon.
At least one of them blew himself up at the start of the attack.
A police source said two attackers were shot dead Wednesday morning after a prolonged shootout.
“The two have red bandanas tied around their forehead and bullets strapped around their chest with several magazines each,” the senior police officer said.
“Each had an AK47 which has been secured.”
The attack began at about 3pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday, with a loud blast followed by gunfire and rapid calls for help spreading on Twitter.
Boinnet earlier said the attack began with an explosion targeting three cars in the parking lot and a suicide bombing in the hotel foyer.
Police sources and a mortuary official had previously reported 15 dead.
Among the dead was an American citizen, a State Department official said.
The British foreign office confirmed the death of a British-South African dual national and said another British person was injured.
A mortuary official said there were also 11 Kenyan victims, one with no papers, as well as an unidentified torso of a male adult.
It was a tormented night for families of those trapped as they waited outside the hotel while sporadic gunfire rang out.
After dawn, explosions and shooting intensified until the complex was secured mid-morning.
In downtown Nairobi, dozens of people lined up at a memorial for the US Embassy destroyed during an Al-Qaeda attack in 1998 to give blood.
As the first explosion and gunfire rang out in the leafy Westlands suburb, hundreds of terrified office workers barricaded themselves in the complex while others fled.
Distraught family members arrived at a nearby mortuary on Wednesday, where they said they had not been permitted to view the bodies.
“My sister is not in any of the hospitals and the last time we spoke she was a bit calm but suddenly she started crying and shouting and I could hear gunshots and her phone remained on but she wasn’t speaking,” said a woman who gave her name as Njoki.
“We have no doubt her body is here. Let them allow us in,” she said, weeping.
One survivor rescued from the building told a local television station the attackers were “very confident; they were people who knew what they were doing.”
John Maingi said there had been “a flash of lights and a loud bang” at the Secret Garden restaurant where he works.
“When I peeped outside I saw a human leg which has been cut off. We hid in the room and then some police officers rescued us,” he said.
An editorial in the Daily Nation newspaper said the attack was a stark reminder that Kenya’s security challenges were far from over.
The last major attack in the country took place in 2015, when Shabab killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.
Since then sporadic attacks have targeted security forces mostly in the remote northeastern parts of the country.
“Just when we thought that things were calm, the gangs unleashed mayhem. For Kenyans the chilling reality is that the attacks are not ceasing,” read the editorial.