May heads to EU to push for Brexit breakthrough

British Prime Minister Theresa May to meet with EU top official Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 February 2019
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May heads to EU to push for Brexit breakthrough

  • May has until Feb. 27 to secure EU concessions on the backstop or face another series of Brexit votes in the House of Commons where lawmakers want changes to the withdrawal deal
  • Meetings seek to break impasse in the London Parliament

BRUSSELS: Prime Minister Theresa May will meet top EU official Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday, pressing on with efforts to find a way to get their Brexit deal through Britain's Parliament.
A raft of meetings between EU and British officials in recent days has yet to produce a breakthrough after May's Parliament resoundingly defeated the divorce deal she had agreed with the bloc in November.
While May's spokesman said the meeting was a “significant” part of a process of engagement with the EU, sources said it was far from certain that this week's meetings would come up with a concrete way to break the impasse in the London Parliament.
The main sticking point is the so-called backstop, an insurance policy to prevent the return of extensive checks on the sensitive border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
“The EU 27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement, we cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause,” said Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for the EU's executive European Commission.
“Further talks will be held this week to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council,” he told a regular news briefing.
“We are listening and working with the UK government ... for an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU on March 29.” May's spokesman again said it was the prime minister's intention to persuade the EU to reopen the divorce deal.
“There is a process of engagement going on. Tomorrow is obviously a significant meeting between the prime minister and President Juncker as part of that process,” the spokesman told reporters.
Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Monday evening and were due back in the EU's political hub again mid-week.
The EU says the backstop is essential for peace on the island of Ireland. Should no better way be found, it would keep the UK in a basic customs union with the bloc to prevent Irish border checks on goods.
But Cox's legal advice that Britain could find itself trapped in the backstop indefinitely fuelled fears among some eurosceptics as that would undercut a key Brexit promise of pursuing an independent global trade policy.
In her phone call last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, May stressed the central role of Cox in unlocking parliamentary ratification of the Brexit deal, EU sources said.
Barclay and Cox want to discuss “legal text” with Barnier later this week that would give Britain enough assurances over the backstop, according to British sources.
May has until Feb. 27 to secure EU concessions on the backstop or face another series of Brexit votes in the House of Commons where lawmakers want changes to the withdrawal deal.
The bloc refuses to reopen the already-negotiated legal withdrawal treaty for Britain. EU and UK sources said London could accept other guarantees on the backstop.
The EU has offered to change the accompanying political declaration on new EU-UK ties after Brexit or to produce separate legal assurances or clarifications over the backstop.
But it does not want another effort to sink in Britain's lower house of Parliament and so, 38 days to go, it is still not clear what shape Brexit would take, or whether it would be delayed.
Juncker on Monday gave the EU's clearest signal yet that London could seek a long delay of its exit date of March 29.
But that would require Britain to organize European Parliament elections on its soil in May, a prospect ruled out on Tuesday by a junior Brexit minister.
The protracted Brexit uncertainty raises the risk of the most-damaging, abrupt split, triggering contingency plans increasingly from governments on both sides, as well as businesses.


Journey home begins for Christchurch’s foreign victims

The body of Ansi Alibava, who was killed during the New Zealand mosque attacks, is carried upon arrival at Cochin International Airport in Kochi on March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Journey home begins for Christchurch’s foreign victims

  • The bodies of foreigners killed by an Australian white supremacist gunman in the South Island city on March 15 are only now beginning to arrive back home

WELLINGTON: The bodies of two Christchurch shooting victims arrived in India as the repatriation process gets underway for foreign nationals killed in the mosque massacre that claimed 50 lives, officials said Monday.
The Indian High Commission in Wellington said the bodies of the two had arrived in their homeland and a third was expected later Monday.
The relatives of another two Indian victims opted to have their loved ones buried in New Zealand, a consulate spokesman said.
The bodies of foreigners killed by an Australian white supremacist gunman in the South Island city on March 15 are only now beginning to arrive back home after delays stemming from the police investigation into the massacre.
The victims, who came from across the Muslim world, were gathered for Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques when the killing spree took place.
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old motivated by the white extremist belief that Muslims were “invading” Western countries, was arrested within minutes of the massacre and has been charged with murder.
The bodies of the Indian victims are believed to be among the first to be repatriated.
“I’m not sure about the status of bodies from other nationalities but I can say we went through the process as quickly as possible,” a spokesman for the Indian High Commission in Wellington said.
“We completed the procedure within a couple of days of the bodies being released.”
The two repatriated Indian victims are Ansi Karippakulam Alibava, 23, a masters student from Kerala, and Ozair Kadir, 24, an aspiring commercial pilot from Hyderabad city.
The remains of Mahboob Khokhar, a 65-year-old retiree who was visiting his son in Christchurch when he was killed, are en route to India and should arrive about 10:00 p.m. (0300 Tuesday GMT).
The Indians buried in New Zealand are father and son Asif and Ramiz Vora, originally from Gujarat, who had celebrated the birth of Ramiz’s daughter just days before the attack.