UK Commons speaker deals new blow to Johnson’s Brexit plan

Speaker John Bercow speaks at the House of Commons as UK lawmakers debate PM Boris Johnson's legislative agenda in London, Britain, October 21, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. (Reuters)
Updated 21 October 2019

UK Commons speaker deals new blow to Johnson’s Brexit plan

  • John Bercow plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory: grinding parliamentary warfare
  • Johnson’s government was seeking a “straight up-and-down vote” on the agreement he struck with EU nations

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to lead Britain out of the European Union at the end of this month hit another roadblock Monday when the speaker of the House of Commons rejected his attempt to hold a new vote of lawmakers on his Brexit divorce deal.
The ruling by Speaker John Bercow plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory: grinding parliamentary warfare.
With just 10 days to go until the UK is due to leave the bloc on Oct. 31, Johnson’s government was seeking a “straight up-and-down vote” on the agreement he struck last week with the 27 other EU nations.
The request came just two days after lawmakers voted to delay approving the Brexit deal. Bercow refused to allow it because parliamentary rules generally bar the same measure from being considered a second time during the same session of Parliament unless something has changed.
Bercow — whose rulings in favor of backbench lawmakers have stymied government plans more than once before — said the motion proposed by the government was “in substance the same” as the one Parliament dealt with on Saturday. He said it would be “repetitive and disorderly” to allow a new vote Monday.
On Saturday — Parliament’s first weekend sitting since the 1982 Falklands War — lawmakers voted to make support for the Brexit deal conditional on passing the legislation to implement it.
Johnson’s Conservative government will now go to its Plan B: get Parliament’s backing for his Brexit blueprint by passing the legislation, known as the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. The government plans to publish the bill later Monday and hopes to have it become law by Oct. 31.
But it’s unclear whether Johnson has either the time or the numbers to make that happen.
Passing a bill usually takes weeks, but the government wants to get this one done in 10 days. Johnson needs a majority in Parliament to pass it, but his Conservatives hold just 288 of the 650 House of Common seats.
The process also gives lawmakers another chance to scrutinize — and possibly change— the legislation.
Opposition lawmakers plan to seek amendments that could substantially alter the bill, for example by adding a requirement that the Brexit deal be put to voters in a new referendum. The government says such an amendment would wreck its legislation and it will withdraw the bill if it succeeds.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged lawmakers to back the bill and — more than three years after British voters narrowly voted to leave the EU — “enable us to move onto the people’s priorities like health, education and crime.”
“This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on Oct. 31,” he said. “If Parliament wants to respect the referendum, it must back the bill.”
With the Brexit deadline looming and British politicians still squabbling over the country’s departure terms, Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Britain’s departure date.
He did that, grudgingly, to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit. But Johnson accompanied the unsigned letter to the EU late Saturday with a second note saying that he personally opposed delaying the UK’s Oct. 31 exit.
Pro-EU activists, who took the government to court in Scotland to ensure that it complied with the law, said the second letter might amount to an attempt to frustrate the legislation. Scotland’s highest court said Monday it would keep the case open, retaining the power to censure Johnson’s government until its obligations under the law have been complied with “in full.”
The claimants’ lawyer, Elaine Motion, said the ruling meant “the sword of Damocles remains hanging” over the government.
The bloc said the fact Johnson had not signed the letter was irrelevant.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday that European Council President Donald Tusk had acknowledged receiving the Brexit extension request and was now talking with the EU’s other 27 leaders about it.
Those 27 EU leaders are weary of the long-running Brexit saga but also want to avoid a no-deal British exit, which would damage economies on both sides of the Channel.
Germany’s economy minister suggested it could be a few days before the EU decided to respond to the Brexit delay request.
“We will have somewhat more clarity in the coming days, and we will then exercise our responsibility and quickly make a decision,” Germany’s Peter Altmaier said.
He told Deutschlandfunk radio that he wouldn’t have a problem with an extension by “a few days or a few weeks” if that rules out a no-deal Brexit.
But French President Emmanuel Macron, who had a phone call with Johnson over the weekend, called for a quick clarification of the UK’s position. In a statement, he said a delay “would not be in any party’s interest.”
France’s junior minister for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, told French news broadcaster BFM TV there would have to be some reason for the delay, such as a parliamentary election in Britain or a new British referendum on Brexit.


Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”