Boris Johnson wins race to become Britain’s next PM

New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Boris Johnson. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Boris Johnson wins race to become Britain’s next PM

  • The former London mayor easily beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt
  • He is expected to be confirmed as prime minister on Wednesday

LONDON: Boris Johnson won the race to become Britain’s next prime minister on Tuesday, heading straight into a confrontation over Brexit with Brussels and parliament, as well as a tense diplomatic standoff with Iran.
The former London mayor easily beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a vote of members of the governing Conservative Party.
He is expected to be confirmed as prime minister on Wednesday, when his predecessor Theresa May formally tenders her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.
US President Donald Trump was the first world leader to offer his congratulations, saying: “He will be great!“
It is a triumph for a man who has always wanted the top job, but Johnson, known for his jokes and bluster, is taking over at a time of immense political upheaval.
Three years after the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Britain remains a member amid continued wrangling in a divided parliament on how to proceed.
Johnson led the 2016 Brexit campaign and — after May delayed Brexit twice — insists the latest deadline must be kept, with or without a divorce agreement with the EU.
“We’re going to get Brexit done on October 31,” he declared after winning 66 percent of almost 160,000 votes cast.
However, Brussels says it will not renegotiate the deal it struck with May to ease the end of a 46-year partnership — even after MPs rejected it three times.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he wanted to work with Johnson “to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and achieve an orderly #Brexit.”
But he said he was ready to “rework” an accompanying declaration on future UK-EU ties.
Although parliament dislikes May’s deal, Johnson faces significant opposition from MPs to his threat to leaving with no deal, including from Conservative colleagues.
Several ministers said they will not serve under Johnson, warning that severing ties with Britain’s closest trading partner with no new arrangements is deeply irresponsible.
But addressing Conservative members after his win, Johnson insisted with his trademark optimism that he would find a way through the deadlock.
“Like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity,” he said.
Johnson promised to “work flat out from now on,” saying he would announce his top team in the coming days.
But Westminster is watching for any early challenge which could stop him automatically becoming prime minister.
May’s government has a majority of just two in the 650-seat House of Commons, made possible through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The main opposition Labour party is not expected to force a confidence vote this week — but some in his own party have already tried.
Junior foreign minister Alan Duncan, who quit this week, revealed he had sought to force a vote on Tuesday but was blocked by Commons Speaker John Bercow.
However, other colleagues who do not agree with Johnson are still willing to give him a chance.
“I think he needs to be given an opportunity to go out there to engage with the European Commission,” outgoing justice minister David Gauke told BBC radio.
MPs are expected to go on their summer holidays on Friday, giving Johnson some breathing room over the summer to try to get a new Brexit deal.
But when he returns, if “no deal” looks likely, many MPs have vowed to stop him — a move that could trigger an early election.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn challenged Johnson on Tuesday to call a vote, although both his party and the Tories are struggling amid a splintering of support among a public deeply divided over Brexit.
They face a challenge from Nigel Farage’s euroskeptic Brexit Party on one side, and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats on the other.
Outside parliament, where pro- and anti-Brexit protesters gather daily, reaction to Johnson’s win was mixed.
“What a disaster!” said Janet Ellis, 68, who opposes Brexit. But euroskeptic Michelle Pearce, 64, said: “It’s the most we can hope for.”
“He’ll be brilliant or a disaster,” Pearce said.
Johnson’s domestic battles might have to take a backseat during his first days in office as he manages tensions with Iran.
The Islamic republic seized a UK-flagged tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz last Friday — two weeks after UK authorities detained an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.
The standoff comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States over the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted his congratulations to Johnson, saying: “Iran does not seek confrontation.
“But we have 1500 miles of Arabian Gulf coastline. These are our waters & we will protect them.”


No Rohingya turn up for repatriation to Myanmar

Updated 22 August 2019

No Rohingya turn up for repatriation to Myanmar

  • Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017
  • The refugees asked Myanmar authorities to guarantee their safety and citizenship
TEKNAF, Bangladesh: A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared Thursday to fall flat, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh.
“We have been waiting since 9:00 am (0300 GMT) to take any willing refugees for repatriation,” Khaled Hossain, a Bangladesh official in charge of the Teknaf refugee camp, told AFP after over an hour of waiting.
“Nobody has yet turned up.”
Some 740,000 of the long-oppressed mostly Muslim Rohingya minority fled a military offensive in 2017 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing, joining 200,000 already in Bangladesh.
Demanding that Buddhist-majority Myanmar guarantee their safety and citizenship, only a handful have returned from the vast camps in southeast Bangladesh where they have now lived for two years.
The latest repatriation attempt — a previous push failed in November — follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for “return.”
But on Wednesday, several Rohingya refugees whose names were listed told AFP that said they did not want to return unless their safety was ensured and they were granted citizenship.
“It is not safe to return to Myanmar,” one of them, Nur Islam, told AFP.
Officials from the UN and Bangladesh’s refugee commission have also been interviewing Rohingya families in the settlements to find out if they wanted to return.
“We have yet to get consent from any refugee family,” a UN official said Wednesday.
Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam told AFP the refugees had been gripped by fear since authorities announced the fresh repatriation process.
They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people (IDP) if they went back to Myanmar.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said they were “fully prepared” for the repatriation with security being tightened across the refugee settlements to prevent any violence or protests.
Officials said they would wait for a few more hours before deciding whether to postpone the repatriation move.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that repatriations had to be “voluntary.”
“Any return should be voluntary and sustainable and in safety and in dignity to their place of origin and choice,” Dujarric told reporters.
The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on the issue on Wednesday.
Sunday will mark the second anniversary of the crackdown that sparked the mass exodus to the Bangladesh camps.
The Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in Rakhine for generations.