British MPs vote for Dec. 12 election ahead of Brexit

Boris Johnson arrives back at 10 Downing Street after MPs voted to hold an election in December. (AP)
Updated 30 October 2019

British MPs vote for Dec. 12 election ahead of Brexit

  • Vote came hours after the EU formally agreed to postpone Britain’s departure again
  • Boris Johnson's “do or die” pledge to leave the EU on Oct. 31 risks a backlash among euroskeptic voters

LONDON: British MPs on Tuesday agreed to hold an early election on Dec. 12, backing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call to try to break the crippling political deadlock that has seen Brexit delayed three times.
Hours after the EU formally agreed to postpone Britain’s departure again, up to the end of January, parliament voted for the country’s third election in four years.
It is a gamble for Johnson, who leads a minority Conservative government, but he had nowhere left to turn after MPs rejected the Brexit terms he struck with Brussels less than two weeks ago.
His Conservatives are currently well ahead of the opposition Labour party in opinion polls, and he hopes to win a majority in the lower House of Commons in order to push through his Brexit plan.
But his failure to keep to his “do or die” pledge to leave the EU on Oct. 31 risks a backlash among euroskeptic voters.
The election outcome could have huge implications for Britain’s tortuous Brexit process, which began with the 2016 EU referendum.
Labour is committed to a new “people’s vote,” while two smaller opposition parties want to reverse Brexit.
Many Labour MPs are wary of an election, fearful of defeat under their leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he swung his support behind the poll.
Ahead of the vote in parliament, European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed the formal adoption of Monday’s decision by EU envoys to accept a Brexit delay of up to three months.
“To my British friends, The EU27 has formally adopted the extension. It may be the last one. Please make the best use of this time,” he tweeted.
The election bill will now go to the unelected upper House of Lords for debate on Wednesday, but peers are expected to back the plan, paving the way for parliament to be dissolved early next week.
Johnson took office in July promising to end the wrangling over Brexit which has bitterly divided the country, but a rebellion over his hard-line strategy left him without a majority in parliament.
Unable to win MPs’ support for new divorce terms he struck with Brussels, he was forced by law earlier this month to ask EU leaders for a delay.
After three failed attempts to pass a normal election motion, which requires the support of two-thirds of MPs, Johnson on Tuesday took an alternative path.
He introduced a bill to legislate for an election — a method which required only a simple majority, and passed by 438 votes to 20.
“We are left with no choice but to go to the country to break free from this impasse,” he had told MPs.
A newly elected parliament would have a “new mandate to deliver on the will of people and get Brexit done,” he said.
In a move to unite his Conservative party ahead of the poll — the first in December since 1923 — Johnson readmitted 10 of the 21 MPs he expelled last month for defying his Brexit plan.
Corbyn had sought to amend the government’s bill to hold the election on Dec. 9, but this was defeated by 315 votes to 295.
The veteran socialist had been torn between rival camps within his own party over whether to proceed with the vote.
But the smaller Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats wanted a vote, making it hard for Labour to stand in their way.
Corbyn had publicly argued that he would not allow an election until Johnson’s threat to leave the EU without a divorce deal was removed.
The EU’s decision to delay Brexit meant that “for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met,” he announced.
“We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen.”
Experts warn that British politics remains deeply volatile almost three years after the referendum vote, and say the result could be unpredictable.
There was significant voter switching between the 2015 and 2017 elections.
Election specialist John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow said Johnson is in a strong position to get a majority — but an election remains a gamble.
“Boris has to win. A hung parliament and Boris is out,” he said, warning that a Labour-led coalition would likely take over.

Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

This handout photo taken on June 2, 2018, shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gesturing as he gives his departure speech at the Manila International airport. (AFP)
Updated 23 min 34 sec ago

Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

  • European lawmakers urge Filipino authorities to drop charges against acclaimed journalist, opposition senator

MANILA: Philippine human rights groups on Friday welcomed a European Parliament resolution denouncing extrajudicial killings and abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

The document, adopted on Thursday, called for an “independent international investigation” into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, when Duterte took office.

It urged EU member states to support the resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan described the resolution as a “welcome step toward reckoning and accountability over the Duterte administration’s blatant disregard of its obligation to uphold human rights and civil liberties in the country.”

The group also called on the international community to continue to stand with human rights defenders in the Philippines and the Filipino people “who suffer in this worsening crisis of political repression and state violence under this increasingly tyrannical regime.”

The European Parliament condemned extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations related to Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which according to official figures has led to around 6,000 suspected drug offenders being killed by security forces. Rights groups, however, suggest the death toll may be much higher.

European lawmakers also urged Philippine authorities to renew the broadcast license of the country’s TV giant ABS-CBN and for charges to be dropped against acclaimed journalist and CEO of the Rappler news website, Maria Ressa, and detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

In addition, the European Parliament expressed “serious concern” over the new Anti-Terrorism Act enacted in July, which criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.”

It also granted the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists, allow authorities to make detentions without charge, and wiretapping.

Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said she hoped the EU resolution would “enjoin other governments and the international community at large to continue to take a strong stance in denouncing the Duterte administration’s attacks on human and people’s rights in the Philippines.”

She added: “The sham drug war has continued to kill the poor with impunity while human rights defenders face vilification, violence, and death for their work in exposing these human rights violations even in the middle of a pandemic (COVID-19).

“Domestic mechanisms have been ineffective and there has been outright failure in bringing the perpetrators of these gruesome crimes to justice. These attacks cannot continue, and the European Parliament’s resolution is a strong statement from the international community that there would be consequences for these abuses.”

EU lawmakers also called on the European Commission to suspend the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which provides tariff perks for Filipino goods, if there was no “substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities.”

In response to the resolution, Filipino Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “We are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” adding that the scheme was helping the country address poverty.

The president’s office, Malacanang Palace, said in a statement that the government was in talks with the UN on a framework to support national efforts to “uphold the human rights-based approach in governance.”