Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

EU supporters, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, participate in the ‘People’s Vote’ march in central London on Saturday, March 23, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 24 March 2019
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Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

  • British politics is at fever pitch and nearly three years since the 2016 Brexit referendum
  • With Theresa May humiliated and weakened, ministers insist she and the British government are still in charge of the country

LONDON: The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union was in disarray on Sunday as Prime Minister Theresa May faced a possible plot by ministers to topple her and parliament prepared to grab control of Brexit from the government.
At one of the most important junctures for the country since World War Two, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years since the 2016 referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will ever take place.
With May humiliated and weakened, ministers insisted she and the British government were still in charge of the country, and that the best option was still for parliament to ratify May’s twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal.
As hundreds of thousands of people marched across central London on Saturday to demand another Brexit referendum, May was the subject of what The Sunday Times said was a “coup” by senior ministers seeking to oust her.
The newspaper cited 11 unidentified senior ministers and said they had agreed that the prime minister should stand down, warning that she has become a toxic and erratic figure whose judgment has “gone haywire.”
When asked by Sky about reports in The Sunday Times and other newspapers of a plot and whether she had run out of road, finance minister Philip Hammond said: “No. I don’t think that is the case at all.”
“Changing prime minister wouldn’t help us,” Hammond said. “To be talking about changing the players on the board, frankly, is self-indulgent at this time.”
Hammond said the best way forward would be for parliament to back May’s deal, although he said that it might not be approved and so parliament should then try to find a way to end the impasse.
“I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister’s (Brexit) deal and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it’s against but what it is for,” he said.
Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured a delay in talks with the EU on Thursday.
Now a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister and she is able to pass her deal. If she fails to do so, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the EU without a treaty.
Some lawmakers have asked May to name her departure date as the price for supporting her deal, though it was unclear when a third vote might take place.
If May’s deal is dead, then parliament will try to find a different option. That opens an array of options including a much softer divorce than May had intended, a referendum, a revocation of the Article 50 divorce papers or even an election.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said May’s deal was the best option and urged people to get behind the prime minister.
“The government and the prime minister are in charge,” Barclay said. May went to her usual church service near her Chequers country residence on Sunday with her husband.
The Sunday Times reported that May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, was one contender to be interim prime minister but others are pushing for Environment Secretary Michael Gove or Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“I don’t think that I have any wish to take over from the PM, I think (she) is doing a fantastic job,” Lidington told reporters outside his house.
“One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” he quipped.
Lawmakers are due on Monday to debate a government motion saying parliament has considered a statement made by May on March 15 which set out the government’s next steps on Brexit, including the plan to seek a delay.
They are likely to propose changes, or amendments, to this motion setting out alternative ways forward on Brexit. These are expected to include a proposal to approve May’s deal only if it is put to a public vote.
While amendments are not legally binding, instead simply exerting political pressure on May to change course, lawmakers could use one to attempt to change the rules of parliament to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.
A British election could be the consequence of parliament seizing control of the Brexit process if lawmakers back proposals contrary to the pledges the government was elected on, Barclay said.


Anjem Choudary: UK TV's favorite hate preacher

Updated 7 min 52 sec ago
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Anjem Choudary: UK TV's favorite hate preacher

  • British lawyer embraced radical Islamism and vigorously defended extremist groups after attacks including the 7/7 London bombings
  • Given 5½ prison term in 2016, Choudary was released last year and is completing the sentence under strict supervision

DUBAI: A UK-trained lawyer by trade, Anjem Choudary knew just how far to take his rhetoric before it went from freedom of expression to hate speech.

In 2005, he appeared on BBC “HardTalk” after the 7/7 London bombings, which left 56 people dead. Instead of condemning the attacks, he said: “As a Muslim, I must support my Muslim brothers and sisters wherever they are in the world. I must have allegiance with them, I must cooperate with them, I must run with them, and similarly on the other hand, I must have hatred towards everything that isn’t Islam.”

He added: “At the end of the day, when we say innocent people, we mean Muslims. As long as non-Muslims are concerned, they haven’t accepted Islam, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s a crime against God.”

Choudary embraced radical Islamism and joined the extremist organization Al-Muhajiroun, working with Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Muhammad.

The organization was banned in 2004 under UK anti-terror legislation. 

Muhammad later left for Lebanon, and Choudary assumed the leadership position.

Al-Muhajiroun’s official disbanding had little real impact on its British supporters, and in the next few years Choudary led various groups that were just rebadged to circumvent anti-terror laws.

These included Al-Ghurabaa, which hosted links on its website to internet chat forums that justified attacks on civilians.

Another group, Islam4UK, campaigned for a hardline Daesh-style global caliphate. 

Its website featured a picture of Buckingham Palace converted to a mosque.

“What Choudary managed to do is to stay very much on the side of the law, until recently. He made sure he wasn’t inciting actual direct acts of violence, but was very offensive in his hate speech,” Haras Rafiq, chief executive of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam International, told Arab News. 

“What he did very cleverly was he talked in broad aspects, he talked about Christian Crusaders, he talked about lots of things in a broad way, very rarely about specific individuals.”

Choudary managed to stay one step ahead of the law, and he knew it. After 9/11 and 7/7, his firebrand style landed him primetime spots on international news talk shows, including on Fox News and CNN.

Pitting him against a moderate, viewership always rose when there was a “good guy vs bad guy” model, as Rafiq put it.

“Like WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), he (Choudary) became the villain, and they always tried to have a good guy with him. Unfortunately, what that causes is access to an audience that in the past he never had,” Rafiq said.

“Anjem has been very good at being this villain … and he liked it, he enjoyed it, he thought it was good for the cause, and he was, from his perspective, very good at it.”

This posed a significant problem as many viewers began to form opinions on Muslims based on his comments.

Choudary’s charismatic preach-ing earned him the label of a top recruiter for Islamist terrorism in the UK and Western Europe. He is thought to be responsible for indoctrinating many of the UK’s Daesh loyalists.

“Just about everybody I know wants to go and live under the caliphate and the Islamic State, because we’ve lived in this country for so long and with all this gambling, pornography, alcohol … the promiscuity and the kind of, like, divorced lifestyle here,” he said in 2014.

“I know people already there, and I know some people, including myself, who’d love to go. I’ve said that openly to the media that I like to go there, give you my passport, and we can have a nice press conference at Heathrow airport where I can wave goodbye to everyone.”

He told the Washington Post that Daesh is “providing the basic needs to the people in terms of food, clothing and shelter. They’re protecting their life, honor and dignity, wealth etc.”

While Choudary has repeatedly voiced his desire to join the terrorist group, he has never done so. “He’s a coward,” Rafiq said.

“He encouraged, empowered, indoctrinated so many people to join Daesh, and he didn’t do it himself.”

But Choudary’s vocal support for Daesh did finally give the UK the opportunity to arrest him. 

On Sept. 6, 2016, he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

The judge told him he had “crossed the line between the legitimate expression of your own views and a criminal act.”

Released in October 2018, Choudary is completing the rest of the sentence under
strict supervision.