‘Brexit continues to mean Brexit’: Theresa May defiant despite Westminster resistance

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May as she speaks during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 18, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/PRU)
Updated 19 July 2018

‘Brexit continues to mean Brexit’: Theresa May defiant despite Westminster resistance

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday her government had begun negotiations with the European Union
  • May also said talks had already started with Brussels based on the proposal set down in a white paper policy document last week

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday her government had begun negotiations with the European Union based on her hard-won Brexit plan, pressing on with a proposal criticized by both wings of her Conservative Party.
After narrowly escaping defeat in parliament over her plans for leaving the EU, May signalled she would not drop a proposal on Britain’s future relationship with bloc — the biggest shift in its foreign and trade policy for almost half a century.
But by sticking to her plan for a “business-friendly” departure, May has thrown down the gauntlet to Brexit supporters and pro-EU lawmakers in her party who are at war with each other, and — for some — with the prime minister herself.
Boris Johnson, her former foreign minister who quit over what is called the Chequers plan, was one of the first to renew his call for government to rethink its strategy, saying “it is not too late to save Brexit.”
But at an earlier session of parliament, May stood firm after being challenged by one pro-Brexit lawmaker in her party to explain when she had decided to change her catchphrase from “Brexit means Brexit,” to “Brexit means Remain.”
“Brexit continues to mean Brexit,” May said to cheers from her Conservative supporters.
May also said talks had already started with Brussels based on the proposal set down in a white paper policy document last week after her divided government had thrashed out a deal at her Chequers country residence.
The prime minister insisted she was confident Britain had enough time to negotiate a deal with the EU before leaving in March next year.
While May’s party is in disarray over the plan, EU member Ireland also said it was focusing on the white paper, unwilling to be diverted over the changes to her Brexit plans forced through in parliament this week.
“If we get distracted by individual amendments to individual pieces of legislation ... then I think we get dragged into an unnecessary debate that wastes a lot of time and energy,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE.

"WE CAN CHANGE"
May’s vulnerability in parliament, where she lost her majority in an ill-judged election last year, was laid bare on Monday and Tuesday when she faced rebellions from both the pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings of her party.
She won the votes on a customs and a trade bill, but suffered an unexpected defeat on a separate amendment, which means her government must now seek continued participation in the European medicines regulatory framework.
But the government’s approach to securing victory in parliament has not only deepened divisions in her party, but also raised the issue of trust.
One Conservative lawmaker told Reuters the party whips, whose job it is to enforce discipline in parliament, had threatened to call a confidence vote in May if she lost — a move that could bring down the government.
Johnson, figurehead of the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, led those calls in his resignation speech to parliament. He criticized the government for handing an advantage to the EU by agreeing in the talks to a divorce bill before agreeing a future relationship.
“We have time in these negotiations, we have changed tack once and we can change again,” he said. “It is as though a fog of self-doubt has descended,” Johnson said. “We should not and need not be stampeded by anyone.”


Australia’s daily coronavirus tally falls to lowest in more than 3 months

Updated 15 min 29 sec ago

Australia’s daily coronavirus tally falls to lowest in more than 3 months

  • 16 new infections are Australia’s smallest daily jump since June 14
  • Bulk of the new cases once again came from southeastern Victoria state

SYDNEY: Australia reported on Monday its smallest daily increase in new coronavirus infections in more than three months, but authorities in the nation’s virus hotspot of Victoria said they could not hasten the easing of curbs.
The 16 new infections are Australia’s smallest daily jump since June 14, while two additional deaths were reported.
“This light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer every day,” Nick Coatsworth, the chief deputy medical officer told reporters in Canberra, the capital.
The bulk of the new cases once again came from southeastern Victoria state, the epicenter of Australia’s second wave of infections, where 11 people tested positive over the last day, down from a daily record of 725 in early August.
However, it was too soon to hasten the timetable for removing curbs, the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said.
“If circumstances change, if we find ourselves ahead of schedule, not for one day, but in a manifest sense, common sense always guides us,” Andrews told reporters in the state capital of Melbourne.
Nightly curfews are among the measures clamped on the city in one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, but state officials have said building sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities can reopen on Sept. 28 if the two-week average keeps below 50. Now it is below 35.
The bulk of Victoria’s restrictions could be lifted in late October if its two-week average stays below five, a target Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticized as too punitive and costly to the national economy.
Australia is battling its first recession in 30 years, while unemployment in July hit a 22-year high as virus curbs paralyzed businesses.
The Victoria outbreak has also closed off prospects for travel between Australia and New Zealand to resume soon.
Australia barred international travelers in March, except for citizens and permanent residents, but had said after a dent in the first virus outbreak that it would look to resume travel to New Zealand this year.
However, the chief executive of flag carrier Air New Zealand said quarantine-free travel between the neighbors was unlikely to resume for at least six months more.
The Victoria curbs have prevented a second wave of national infection, however.
Victoria has contributed almost 75 percent of Australia’s tally of nearly 27,000 infections and roughly 90 percent of its 851 deaths.
The most populous state of New South Wales reported four new cases in the past 24 hours, three of them already in hotel quarantine after returning from overseas.
Northeastern Queensland state also reported one new infection in hotel quarantine.