UK Brexit compromise talks fail

Anti-Brexit placards are seen on the floor outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain. (File/Reuters/Hannah McKay)
Updated 17 May 2019
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UK Brexit compromise talks fail

  • Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the talks with Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government have "gone as far as they can"
  • The two sides have held weeks of negotiations to try to agree on terms for Brexit that can win support in Parliament

LONDON: Talks between Britain's government and opposition aimed at striking a compromise Brexit deal broke down without agreement Friday, plunging the country back into a morass of uncertainty over its departure from the European Union.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the talks with Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government have "gone as far as they can."
In a letter to May released by Labour, Corbyn said "we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us."
And with May set to announce within weeks that she plans to step down, Corbyn said the "increasing weakness and instability" of the government made striking a lasting agreement impossible.
The two sides have held weeks of negotiations to try to agree on terms for Brexit that can win support in Parliament. The talks began after lawmakers rejected May's divorce deal with the EU three times.
But the Conservatives and left-of-center Labour differ on how close an economic relationship to seek with the bloc after the UK leaves. Labour wants to stick close to EU rules in order to guarantee seamless trade, while the government wants a looser relationship that would leave Britain freer to strike new trade deals around the world.
Britain was due to leave the EU on March 29, but the bloc has extended the Brexit deadline until Oct. 31 amid the political impasse in the UK.
That deadlock has deepened this week with the breakdown of the cross-party talks and intensifying pressure on May from within the Conservative Party to quit.
Pro-Brexit Conservatives are furious that Britain hasn't yet left the EU, almost three years after voters backed Brexit in a referendum. Many blame May and want her replaced with a more staunchly pro-Brexit leader such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
On Thursday, May agreed to set out a timetable for her departure early next month, raising the prospect that Britain will get a new prime minister before it leaves the EU.
Her resignation, when it comes, will trigger a party leadership contest in which any Conservative lawmaker can run. The winner will become party leader and prime minister without the need for a general election.
May plans to make a fourth attempt to get lawmakers' backing for Brexit terms by putting a withdrawal agreement bill to a vote during the week of June 3.
She says that if it passes, Britain could leave the EU in July, well before the October deadline set by the bloc.
But it's unclear how the government plans to persuade a majority of lawmakers to back May's EU divorce terms, since few legislators on either side of the Brexit divide seem prepared to change their positions.


Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah speak during a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Friday, May 17, 2019. (AP)
Updated 16 June 2019
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Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

  • The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.
Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.
The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.
Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.
Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.
Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.
In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.
The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.
Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.
Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.
“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR’s founder.
“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.
“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.
In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.
Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.
During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.
The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.
Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.
“They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power,” Qureshi said.
In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.
One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That’s double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.
The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.
Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.
Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.
Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.
“The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?” he said.