Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at ‘disastrous Brexit’

Three MPs, (L-R) Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry, quit Britain's governing Conservatives on Wednesday over Brexit, saying the issue had "re-defined" the party and was "undoing all the efforts to modernise it". (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2019
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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at ‘disastrous Brexit’

  • Three resign to join independent group in parliament
  • Blow to PM May in efforts to clinch deal on exit from EU

LONDON: Three lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.
The lawmakers, who support a second EU referendum and have long said May’s Brexit strategy is being led by Conservative euroskeptics, said they would join a new independent group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.
The resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when both euroskeptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement they say offers the worst of all worlds.
While the three were almost certain to vote against any deal, the hardening of their positions undermines May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she heads later to try to secure an opening for further work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.
“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a letter to May.
Soubry later told a news conference that the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every (Conservative) leader for the last 40 years are now running the ... party from top to toe,” she said.
May said she was saddened by the decision and that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time.”
“But by ... implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country,” she said, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted by a margin of 52-48 percent in favor of leaving the EU.
Asked what May would say to others considering resigning, her spokesman said: “She would, as she always has, ask for the support of her colleagues in delivering (Brexit).”

INDEPENDENT GROUP
The three sat in parliament on Wednesday with a new grouping which broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.
What unites most of the group of 11 is a desire to see a second referendum on any deal May comes back with, now that the terms of Brexit are known in detail — something the prime minister has ruled out.
For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another knock to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
May has faced a difficult balancing act. Euroskeptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far toward Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team will get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.
The “backstop,” an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels fail to agree a deal on future ties, is the main point of contention in talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May’s argument she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker. A government defeat last week showed the euroskeptics’ muscle.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said: “I would find it very difficult to accept a legal document from the same (party) lawyer whose definitive advice four weeks ago was that we could be trapped in the backstop in perpetuity.”


11 people reported killed in gun attack at bar in Brazil

Policemen are seen at a site where, according to local media, an armed group entered and opened fire at a bar, killing and wounding its patrons, in Belem, Para state, Brazil May 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 min 45 sec ago
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11 people reported killed in gun attack at bar in Brazil

  • Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics

RIO DE JANEIRO: A gang of gunmen roared up to a bar in Belem city in Brazil’s northern Pará state and opened fire, killing six women and five men Sunday afternoon, media reports said. State officials would confirm only that “a massacre” occurred but gave no details.
The G1 news website said police reported that seven gunmen were involved in the attack, which also wounded one person. The news outlet said the attackers arrived at the bar on one motorcycle and in three cars.
A Pará state spokeswoman, Natalia Mello, said only: “A massacre is confirmed.” State communications officials stopped answering phone calls. Military and civil police in Pará state also did not answer phone calls or respond to emails.
In late March, the federal government sent National Guard troops to Belém to reinforce security in the city for 90 days.
Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics.
Much of Brazil’s violence is gang related. In January, gangs attacked across Fortaleza, bringing that city to a standstill with as commerce, buses and taxis shut down.
Rio de Janeiro, the country’s second biggest city, experiences daily shootouts between rival gangs and also between police and criminals, battles that often result in the deaths of innocent bystanders. Fogo Cruzado, a group that monitors shootings in the Rio metropolitan area, says there were 2,300 shootings in Rio and its suburbs during the first 100 days of this year.
Killings attributed to police gunfire in Rio de Janeiro state have reached a record high, rising 18% in the first three months, in a spike partly attributed to a campaign of a zero tolerance for criminals being pushed by state leaders.
One of new President Jair Bolsonaro’s main campaign promises was that he would loosen Brazil’s strict gun laws, arguing that because criminals are well-armed with illegally obtained guns, “upstanding citizens” should have the right to defend themselves with legally bought guns. Bolsonaro has made good on that campaign promise with two presidential decrees that make buying guns easier, though federal prosecutors are seeking to get the courts to block that move.