UK leader delays Brexit vote, risks further Cabinet discord

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 24 February 2019

UK leader delays Brexit vote, risks further Cabinet discord

  • The move has the potential to further sow discord within May's Cabinet
  • May told reporters as she traveled to Egypt that her negotiating team would return to Brussels on Tuesday for negotiations

SHARM EL-SHEIKH: British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Sunday that she is delaying a vote on her Brexit deal in Parliament, saying it should now take place by March 12, a little more than two weeks before the UK is due to leave the European Union.
The move has the potential to further sow discord within her Cabinet. Three senior Cabinet members already had suggested Saturday that they may break ranks with her and back amendments to delay Britain’s departure unless a deal is agreed upon by Parliament over the next week.
But May told reporters as she traveled to Egypt for an EU-Arab League summit and talks with European Council President Donald Tusk that her negotiating team would return to Brussels on Tuesday for negotiations aimed at wringing concessions out of her reluctant EU partners.
“As a result of that we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week. But we will ensure that that happens by March 12,” she said.
Britain is due to leave the EU in just over a month on March 29. The UK would be the first country to leave the bloc and the move is full of deep economic and political consequences. But May has been unable to convince the UK Parliament to endorse the draft Brexit deal she agreed with the Europeans in November. Any deal must also be endorsed by the European Parliament before the deadline.
“It is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29,” May said.
An EU official said there had been “no tensions” between May and Tusk during their half-hour meeting.
The official, who isn’t permitted to speak publicly while the negotiations are ongoing, said that May informed Tusk about the “work and timeline to find a way forward on Brexit. In particular, the prime minister’s plans in relation to the meaningful vote” meant to take place by March 12.
Tusk, who chairs summits of EU leaders and acts on their behalf, recalled that Britain’s 27 partners insist on “clarity that a proposal for the way forward can command a majority in the UK” before the leaders take the issue up again.
British lawmakers will consider various Brexit options this week as May continues to seek concessions from her EU counterparts. No visible signs of progress have emerged in recent weeks as the 27 other member countries continue to insist that they will not renegotiate the legally-binding divorce deal.


Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Updated 3 min 6 sec ago

Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.
With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda and pledging that delegates would hammer out “concrete measures” to tackle them.
Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a “colonialist mentality,” prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming.
“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit” in June, a French presidential official said.
As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.
Moves to prioritize the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were “heartbreaking” and offering help to put them out.
But in a sign of EU disagreement, Germany said Macron’s proposal to block the Mercosur deal was “not the right response.”
“Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil,” a German government spokesman told AFP.
So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil — the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.
“The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted late on Thursday, suggesting it be high on the summit agenda.
But Bolsonaro blasted the move to make it a G7 item without any participation by Brazil, saying it reflected a “colonialist mentality.”
The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.
Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy” for exiting the 2015 deal.
“President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet,” Zarif told AFP in an interview.
He said he had a “good discussion” with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals” in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.
But Trump appears to be the outlier among America’s G7 partners on Iran, despite speculation that Johnson, who claims a close personal rapport with the US leader, might be more amenable to endorsing his stance.
On Friday, a British diplomatic source said the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal, which it helped broker, as the “best way” of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran is just one of a host of issues over which G7 members are at loggerheads, upending a formerly cosy club of rich nations.
Trump will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.
Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.
But in a sign of the summit’s lowered ambitions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a joint declaration at the end, breaking a longstanding G7 tradition.