No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (C) during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) question and answer session in the House of Commons in London. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019

No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

  • Many lawmakers, business community fear dire economic outcome
  • A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit

LONDON: The battle to become Britain's next prime minister enters the home straight on Wednesday with both candidates hardening their positions on Brexit, putting the future government on a collision course with Brussels.
Ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace Theresa May, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are now both referring to Britain's departure with no overall deal in place as a realistic prospect.
The business community and many lawmakers fear dire economic consequences from a no-deal Brexit, which would lead to immediate trade tariffs for some sectors including the automotive industry.
Johnson and Hunt are taking part in a final question-and-answer session later on Wednesday before the result of the vote by Conservative Party members is announced next Tuesday.
The new party leader will be confirmed as prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on the following day.
Britain has twice delayed its scheduled departure from the European Union after 46 years of membership as May tried and failed to get her deal with Brussels through parliament.
The two candidates vying to replace her have vowed to scrap a "backstop" provision in the agreement that Brussels insisted upon to keep the Irish border open.
Their latest attacks on the measure during a debate on Monday prompted a plunge in the value of the British pound.
The currency fell again Wednesday to its lowest level against the US dollar in over two years.
"The tougher stance from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in terms of their rhetoric on Brexit is clearly weighing on the pound," said market analyst Neil Wilson.
"Make no mistake, this decline in the pound is down to traders pricing in a higher chance of a no-deal exit."
The backstop has proved a key stumbling block in the Brexit process.
The measure would keep open the post-Brexit border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland whatever the outcome of negotiations over the future relationship between London and Brussels.
Johnson announced early in his campaign that he would not sign up to it and would pursue a no-deal Brexit if required, leading his opponent to follow suit.
However, European leaders have been adamant that the backstop must remain a part of any divorce deal, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who will become European Commission president in November, said the draft withdrawal agreement provided "certainty".
She also broached a possible further delay to Britain's departure, saying: "I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason."
Johnson has pledged that under his leadership, Britain will leave "do or die" on the current deadline of October 31.
A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit, but attempts to pass legislation blocking the scenario have failed.
Reports this week suggested Johnson is considering plans to end the current session of parliament in early October, leaving MPs powerless.
Finance Minister Philip Hammond said Wednesday it was "terrifying" that some Brexit supporters thought that no deal would leave Britain better off.
And in a speech in London, May said the "best route" for Britain was to leave with a deal.
Delivering her last major address, she railed against the trend towards "absolutism" in Britain and abroad, and urged her successor to compromise.
"Whatever path we take must be sustainable for the long term, so that delivering Brexit brings our country back together. That has to mean some kind of compromise," she said.


Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

Updated 11 min 47 sec ago

Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

  • The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election
  • The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday he would resign, lashing out at far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for pursuing his own interests by pulling the plug on the government coalition.
The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election after talks with parties in the coming days.
“I’m ending this government experience here... I will go to the president of the republic to inform him of my resignation,” Conte said after an almost hour-long speech to the Senate.
“It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis,” Conte said after Salvini began his efforts to bring down the government in the hope of snap elections he believes will make him premier.
Conte was speaking following a week of fallout from Salvini’s decision to back out of the alliance between his League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement on August 8, plunging Italy into political turmoil.
After Conte announced his intention to resign, Senate speaker Elisabette Casellati told Salvini to leave the government bench and join his party’s senators, where Salvini said: “Thank you, finally, I would do it all again.”
“The Italians vote with their heads and hearts,” Salvini said, invoking the Virgin Mary to “protect the Italian people” and repeating his call for snap elections while also making a final appeal to M5S.
Caught on the back foot, Salvini last week made the surprise offer to back a key M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.
“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte said as League senators booed and hissed.
“I heard you calling for ‘full powers’ and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me,” Conte said.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 assumed so-called full powers to govern the country at his whim.
The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available.
A snap election, the forming of a new coalition without holding a new vote, and, although unlikely, the continuation of the current government would all be considered.
As leader of the far-right League, Salvini has proudly promoted his nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda and his blunt attacks against migrants, gay marriage and Islam have helped his party soar in opinion polls.
The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio at 132 percent of gross domestic product is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.
Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra five billion euros ($5.54 billion) in interest on its debt.
Salvini’s plan for a snap election — more than three years early — had envisioned a vote in October followed by him being crowned as prime minister.
According to opinion polls, the League could form a coalition with the anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Brothers of Italy, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia.
But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s plan, with a coalition between M5S and the opposition center-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.
While there is bad blood between the two parties, M5S is languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.
A PD-M5S coalition could lead to the opposite of what Salvini intended — with him out of government altogether instead of being its sole leader.
Former PD premier Matteo Renzi on Tuesday said that he “would not be part” of a PD-M5S alliance, as many in the anti-establishment party resent him as part of the old elite.
According to some analysts, Conte could also stay on as premier while trying to form an alliance with PD.
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio sent an open letter on Tuesday calling for Conte to take this option, describing him as a “rare pearl, a servant of the nation that Italy cannot lose.”
Salvini has been furious at the idea of being squeezed out by a M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about, although he made no mention of this call in the Senate.
But M5S founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor.”