Seven MPs quit UK Labour Party over Brexit, anti-Semitism

MPs Ann Coffey, center left, and Chuka Umunna arrive to speak at a press conference in London where they and colleagues announced their resignation from the Labour Party. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
0

Seven MPs quit UK Labour Party over Brexit, anti-Semitism

  • Many Labour voters, particularly in northern England, chose to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum
  • But a majority of Labour MPs and members supported staying in

LONDON: A group of MPs from Britain’s opposition Labour Party broke away on Monday in protest at leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for Brexit and his failure to stamp out anti-Semitism.
The seven MPs included Chuka Umunna, who has led a campaign for a second referendum that could stop Brexit and was once seen as a potential leader of the center-left party.
Umunna called for a centrist “alternative” in British politics as the rebel MPs complained about the far-left turn the party had taken under veteran socialist Corbyn.
“The bottom line is this — politics is broken, it doesn’t have to be this way, let’s change it,” Umunna said at a hastily-arranged press conference in London.
The seven MPs will form a breakaway independent group in parliament, undermining Corbyn as he attempts to steer the party through the highly divisive issue of Brexit.
Many Labour voters, particularly in northern England, chose to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum — but a majority of Labour MPs and members supported staying in.
The referendum cut across party political allegiances also in the ruling Conservative Party, which is now deeply divided between pro-EU moderates and Brexit hard-liners.
The Labour rebellion is unlikely to make a major difference in crucial upcoming votes on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal but the move was welcomed by pro-EU forces.
Vince Cable, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said he was “open to working with like-minded groups and individuals in order to give the people the final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU.”
Corbyn said he was “disappointed” by his MPs’ decision.
“Now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all,” he said, pointing to the party’s strong result in the last general election in 2017.
Corbyn has come under fire from europhiles for failing to push for a second referendum. He has instead called on May to negotiate a customs union with the European Union to ease trade ties after Brexit.
Corbyn has also been criticized for months for his handling of cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and his own past associations with Palestinian militants.
Another of the seven MPs, Luciana Berger, a victim of anti-Semitic online abuse for years, said: “This has been a very difficult, painful but necessary decision.”
Berger said the Labour Party had become “institutionally anti-Semitic,” adding: “I have become embarrassed and ashamed to represent the Labour Party.
“I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation,” she said.
MP Mike Gapes said one of his main reasons for leaving was because he was “furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit.”
His colleague Chris Leslie said he too was leaving because of “Labour’s betrayal on Europe.”


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
0

Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.