UK’s May rejects pivot toward Brexit customs union compromise

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the press after a meeting with the President of the European Council at the European Council in Brussels on February 7, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 February 2019
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UK’s May rejects pivot toward Brexit customs union compromise

  • May welcomed the prospect of future talks with Corbyn to try and find a compromise, the letter gave no ground on their central point of disagreement

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected the idea of targeting a customs union with the European Union, pouring cold water on hopes from some that she could shift her Brexit policy to win over the opposition Labour Party.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but has yet to find a deal which is acceptable to both Brussels and lawmakers at home, raising the prospect of a disorderly exit that could damage the world’s fifth largest economy.
Brexit has divided Britain at every level from voters to cabinet, and raised fears internationally that it will weaken the West. Brexit supporters hail it as casting off a failing German-led project.
Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn set out the conditions under which he would instruct his party to support an exit deal in parliament. Foremost was a demand that May seek a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union.”
The EU has urged May to grasp Labour’s compromise offer rather than press ahead with her preferred option of getting her own divided party onside by renegotiating a clause in the exit agreement relating to the Northern Irish border.
But May’s office published her reply to Corbyn late on Sunday, showing little appetite for a U-turn which would risk splitting her fractious party by ruling out the scope for Britain to strike its own trade deals around the world.
“I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deal?” May wrote in a three-page letter.
May and her government have repeatedly said membership of a customs union would prevent it having an independent trade policy — something they have promoted as one of the main economic benefits of leaving the EU.
Although May welcomed the prospect of future talks with Corbyn to try and find a compromise, the letter gave no ground on their central point of disagreement.
That leaves May battling to persuade a reluctant EU to look again at the Irish backstop — a fallback policy designed to prevent the resurrection of a hard border in Ireland if talks to find a long-term trade arrangement fail.
Brexit minister Stephen Barclay will meet EU negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday ahead of a crunch moment in parliament on Thursday, when lawmakers will try to force May to change course or give up control of the exit process.
May will promise lawmakers a second opportunity to influence the Brexit talks later in the month in a bid to stave off any rebellion from within her own party by those who fear Britain could end up leaving without a deal.


Afghans react angrily to Trump’s boast that the US could ‘wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth’

Updated 32 min 42 sec ago
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Afghans react angrily to Trump’s boast that the US could ‘wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth’

  • Trump made his remarks at the White House ahead of a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
  • “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump tells Pakistani PM

KABUL: The Afghan government demanded clarification from Washington on Tuesday after President Donald Trump said that the country “would be wiped off the face of the Earth” if he decided to win the conflict there.

Trump made his remarks at the White House ahead of a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday in which he sought to mend ties with Islamabad and seek its help to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest and most unpopular conflict in US history.

“I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump said, referring to what he claimed were prepared military plans in Afghanistan.

“If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth, it would be gone, it would be over in literally 10 days.”

The US leader’s comments could be a blow for President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which signed a security pact with Washington in late 2014 allowing US-led troops to stay in Afghanistan and, in 2017, hailed the US after it dropped the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb in the east of the country.

Trump’s remarks come amid rising violence in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of Taliban, government troops and civilians in recent months. Many Afghans are asking why the world’s leading superpower has failed to defeat the insurgents 18 years after the ouster of the Taliban regime.

"Trump’s comments highlight Washington’s failure to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan” 

Political analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail

The Afghan government, which relies heavily on US troops and funding in the war against the Taliban, has sought official clarification over Trump’s comments.

“Our partnership and cooperation with the world, and in particular with the US, is based on mutual interest and respect,” a statement issued by the presidential palace said on Tuesday.  

“The Afghan nation has never allowed and will not permit any foreign power to choose its destiny,” it added.

Many Afghans, including former government officials, reacted angrily to Trump’s comments.

Rahmatullah Nabil, a presidential candidate who served as Afghanistan’s spy chief, said in a tweet that Trump’s comments should prompt Afghan leaders to set aside their differences.

“In reply to the insults of #Afg by @realDonalTrump, all Afg politicians, including Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leaders, should drop their selfishness and announce that we will make peace among ourselves & there is no need for mediation for US/Pak,” he said.

Modaser Islami, a leading Afghan religious scholar, said that Trump’s remarks showed “hostility toward Afghans” and questioned if Trump was “fighting the Taliban, as terrorists or as Afghans? His recent remarks show he is enemy of latter.”

Veteran journalist Bilal Sarwary described the comments as “offensive, stupid and arrogant,” while another senior journalist called the remarks an “insult to the entire Afghan nation.”

Political analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail told Arab News that Trump’s comments “highlight Washington’s failure to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.” 

“Obviously, the US wants to strike a deal with the Taliban and Pakistan’s role is key in the peace process,” he said.