UK race to succeed Theresa May heats up with focus on Brexit

A combination of pictures created in London on May 17, 2019 shows declared and potential contenders in any upcoming Conservative Party leadership contest. (AFP)
Updated 25 May 2019
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UK race to succeed Theresa May heats up with focus on Brexit

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Saturday he is seeking to replace May
  • The best-known contestant for the Conservative leadership post is former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

LONDON: The race to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May is heating up, the field of Conservative contenders is quickly growing and the focus is squarely on how to handle Brexit.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Saturday he is seeking to replace May, joining several others who have announced they will run to become the Conservative party’s next leader, and by default, Britain’s new prime minister.
May announced Friday she plans to step down as Conservative Party leader on June 7 and remain as a caretaker prime minister while the party chooses a new leader in a contest that officially kicks off the following week.
She plans to remain as party leader through US President Donald Trump’s upcoming state visit and the 75th D-Day anniversary celebrations on June 6.
Her successor will have to try to complete Brexit — a task that May failed to deliver during her three years in office. While she succeeded in striking a divorce deal with the European Union, the plan was defeated three times in Parliament by British lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
The EU extended Britain’s departure date to Oct. 31 but there still is no consensus among British lawmakers about how or even if the country should leave the bloc.
Even before a new leader is chosen, the Conservative Party is expected to fare poorly when the results of the European Parliament election in Britain are announced Sunday night.
The best-known contestant for the Conservative leadership post is former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has said he will take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 even if no deal has been reached with EU leaders.
Johnson’s willingness to back a no-deal Brexit is already causing some ripples.
Another Conservative contender, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, said Saturday that he could not serve in a Cabinet under Johnson if Johnson wins. Stewart says he could not work for a leader who is comfortable with the idea of a no-deal Brexit.
Stewart complained that Johnson said in a private meeting several weeks ago that he would not push for a no-deal departure but appears to have changed course completely.
Many economists and business leaders have warned that a no-deal departure would have a drastically negative impact on Britain’s economy and also hurt its European neighbors.
The field is likely to grow to about a dozen candidates, with a winner expected to be chosen by mid or late July. Senior Conservatives including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom are among those considering a leadership run.
The Conservative Party chooses its leaders in a two-step process. First there’s a series of votes among the party’s legislators to establish two top contenders, then those names are submitted to a nationwide vote by about 120,000 party members.
The winner becomes party leader and prime minister, although the opposition Labour Party is warning of an immediate challenge to the new leader with an eye toward forcing an early general election.
John McDonnell, Labour’s economic spokesman, told the BBC on Saturday the party would push a no-confidence vote against the new prime minister right away.
“We believe any incoming prime minister in these circumstances should go to the country anyway and seek a mandate,” McDonnell said.
An earlier Labour Party attempt to force an early election failed in January when May’s government survived a no-confidence vote.
The UK’s next general election is set for 2022 unless there is a government collapse.


Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

Updated 50 min 13 sec ago
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Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

  • The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances

BEIJING: A Belgian diplomat was expected to travel to China’s restive Xinjiang region on Tuesday to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.
The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.
“I am worried about their safety,” he told AFP. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”
Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.
“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he told AFP.
China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The mother, Horiyat Abula, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of May to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.
According to Tursun, his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.
They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he explained.
“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”
The embassy offered to accompany Abula and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
In an interview published Tuesday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.
An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.
In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
A few days later, Abula and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.
Reynders told the Belga news agency on Monday that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.
“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he told Belga.
On Monday the foreign ministry did not have confirmation that they were at home.
The case highlights the barriers Uighurs face in attempting to leave China.
According to human rights groups, authorities in Xinjiang have confiscated passports of Uighurs, making it difficult for them to join their relatives overseas.
Abula and her children too have struggled to obtain passports — an issue that Belgium’s ambassador will take up with China’s director of consular affairs, Reynders told Belga.
Abula applied for a passport in 2017, but never received one, according to receipts seen by AFP.
Tursun believes that the family “took a risk” by traveling outside Xinjiang in the first place.
“If my family then returns to (Xinjiang’s capital) Urumqi, it’s very likely that they will be sent to a concentration camp,” he wrote in March in an email to a non-profit helping the family with their visa application.