Johnson builds momentum in UK PM race

Conservative MP Boris Johnson leaves his home in London on June 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2019

Johnson builds momentum in UK PM race

  • The winner, who will become Britain's next prime minister, is due to be announced in late July

LONDON: Boris Johnson solidified his front-runner status in the race to become Britain's next prime minister on Tuesday, gaining backing from leading pro-Brexit lawmakers.
But he faced calls from his rivals to abandon his low-profile campaign strategy and start answering questions from journalists and the public.
Ten candidates are running to succeed Theresa May, who stepped down last week as Conservative Party leader.
Johnson, 54, has won the backing of many Brexiteer Conservatives by promising to lead Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.
Brexit-backing ex-party leader Iain Duncan Smith wrote in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph that Johnson "is the most likely to deliver on the requirement to leave the EU" by that date.
Johnson has also been endorsed by some pro-EU Tories who think the flamboyant, tousle-haired ex-foreign secretary has the skills to energize a demoralized party and win back voters angry at the mess politicians have made of Brexit.
In a straw poll among a right-of-center bloc of Tory lawmakers on Monday, Johnson received almost double the votes of his nearest rival.
Most have given television and radio interviews and held public launch events — things Johnson has so far avoided, in an attempt to reduce the chance of gaffes that could derail his campaign. He also has not said whether he will participate in planned televised debates among leadership candidates.
The right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper said in an editorial that "if he wants to win, this bunker mentality is simply not good enough. Even though he's the favorite, he can't just sit back and hope to win by default."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, another contender, said "everybody who puts their name forward to be prime minister should be open to scrutiny, should be accountable."
"I think everybody should participate in the proposed TV debates and I think we have got to ask the question, why not?" he told the BBC.
May resigned as Conservative leader last week after failing three times to secure Parliament's backing for her divorce deal with the EU. She'll remain caretaker prime minister until the party chooses a replacement.
The candidates to succeed her divide between those, including Johnson, who say the U.K. must leave on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, and others willing to delay departure in order to secure a divorce deal that's acceptable both to the EU and to Parliament.
"It is not going to be possible to leave on the 31st of October," said candidate Mark Harper, who said more time would be needed to secure a reworked deal with the EU and get it through Parliament.
But former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom put herself firmly in the hard Brexit camp, saying that "leaving the EU on October 31 is for me a hard, red line."
In votes starting Thursday, the 313 Conservative lawmakers will narrow the field of 10 candidates down to two, who will be put to a vote of about 160,000 party members nationwide.
The winner, who will become Britain's next prime minister, is due to be announced in late July.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 2 min 30 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.