New era for divided Britain as it leaves EU

A gathering of jubilant Brexit supporters have outside Parliament Square are celebrating the UK's exit from the EU on Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 February 2020

New era for divided Britain as it leaves EU

  • UK will slip away from bloc an hour before midnight from club it joined in 1973
  • At a stroke, the EU will be deprived of 15 percent of its economy, its biggest military spender and the world’s international financial capital of London

LONDON: Britain on Friday ended almost half a century of European Union membership, making a historic exit after years of bitter arguments to chart its own uncertain path in the world.
There were celebrations and tears across the country as the EU’s often reluctant member became the first to leave an organization set up to forge unity among nations after the horrors of World War II.
Thousands of people waving Union Jack flags packed London’s Parliament Square to mark the moment of Brexit at 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) — midnight in Brussels.
“We did it!” declared Nigel Farage, the former member of the European Parliament who has campaigned for Brexit for years, before the crowd began singing the national anthem.
It was a largely good-natured gathering, aside from one Brexit supporter who earlier set an EU flag alight.
But Brexit has exposed deep divisions in British society, and many fear the consequences of ending 47 years of ties with their nearest neighbors.
Some pro-Europeans, including many of the 3.6 million EU citizens who made their lives in Britain, marked the occasion with solemn candlelit vigils.
Brexit has also provoked soul-searching in the EU about its own future after losing 66 million people, a global diplomatic big-hitter and the clout of the City of London financial center.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — a figurehead in the seismic 2016 referendum vote for Brexit — acknowledged there might be “bumps in the road ahead.”
But he said Britain could make it a “stunning success.”
As he held a private party in his Downing Street office, a clock projected on the walls outside counted down the minutes until Brexit.
Johnson predicted a “new era of friendly cooperation” with the EU while Britain takes a greater role on the world stage.
“The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” he said in a televised address.
EU institutions earlier began removing Britain’s red, white and blue flags in Brussels ahead of a divorce that German Chancellor Angela Merkel called a “sea-change” for the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron described it as a “historic warning sign” that should force the EU and its remaining nations of more than 440 million people to stop and reflect.
Britain’s departure was sealed in an emotional vote in the EU parliament this week that ended with MEPs singing “Auld Lang Syne,” a traditional Scottish song of farewell.
Almost nothing will change straight away, because of an 11-month transition period negotiated as part of the exit deal.
Britons will be able to work in and trade freely with EU nations until December 31, and vice versa, although the UK will no longer be represented in the bloc’s institutions.
But legally, Britain is out.
And while the divorce terms have been agreed, Britain must still strike a deal on future relations with the EU, its largest trading partner.
Both will set out their negotiating positions Monday.
“We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom, but it will never be as good as membership,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.
Getting this far has been a traumatic process.
Britain resisted many EU projects over the years, refusing to join the single currency or the Schengen open travel area, and euroskeptics have long complained about Brussels bureaucracy.
Worries about mass migration added further fuel to the Brexit campaign while for some, the 2016 vote was a chance to punish the government for years of cuts to public spending.
But the result was still a huge shock.
It unleashed political chaos, sparking years of toxic arguments that paralyzed parliament and forced the resignations of prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
Johnson brought an end to the turmoil a decisive election victory in December which gave him the parliamentary majority he needed to ratify his Brexit deal.
But Britons remain as divided as they were nearly four years ago, when 52 percent voted to leave and 48 percent voted to remain in the EU.
“Rise and shine... It’s a glorious new Britain” said the Brexit-supporting Daily Express. The i newspaper, in contrast, headlined: “What next?“
In Scotland, where a majority voted to stay in 2016, Brexit has revived calls for independence.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Scotland will return to the heart of Europe as an independent country — #LeaveALightOnForScotland.”
In Northern Ireland — soon to be the new EU frontier — there are fears Brexit could destabilize a hard-won peace after decades of conflict over British rule.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted: “Goodbye & good luck.”
Johnson, a polarizing figure accused of glossing over the complexity of leaving the EU, made no public appearance on Friday and avoided any official celebrations that might exacerbate divisions.
He hosted a special cabinet meeting in the northeastern city of Sunderland, which was the first to declare for Brexit in 2016, while Downing Street was lit up in the colors of the Union Jack flag.
Millions of commemorative 50 pence coins have also been issued.
It was a different story in nearby Parliament Square, where the moment of Brexit was met with cheers, the lighting of flares and balloons let off into the night sky.
“What happens now marks the point of no return. Once we have left, we are never, ever going back,” Farage told the crowd of cheering supporters.
At a “Big Brexit Bash” in Morley, northern England, Raymond Stott described the four years since the referendum as “a right cock-up.”
“I am just glad it’s all over. We will look after ourselves. We don’t need Europe,” said the 66-year-old.
Some British expatriates in southern Spain celebrated in bars but for many pro-Europeans, Friday marks a day they hoped would never come.
“Today is a day of mourning,” said Katrina Graham, 31, an Irish women’s rights activist who lives in Brussels, at a protest in central London.
At Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, a flashmob sang the EU anthem “Ode to Joy,” from Beethoven’s ninth symphony and waved flags.
From Saturday, Britain will be free to strike trade deals around the world, including with the United States.
Johnson has given himself just 11 months to negotiate a new partnership with the EU, covering everything from trade to security cooperation — despite warnings this is not enough time.
He also discussed with his ministers on Friday an aim to get 80 percent of Britain’s commerce covered by free trade agreements within three years, a spokesman said.
US President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic supporter of Brexit, and one of his top envoys on Friday hailed an “exciting new era.”
“We will continue building upon our strong, productive, and prosperous relationship with the UK as they enter this next chapter,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.


Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sexual assault, rape

Updated 35 min 51 sec ago

Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sexual assault, rape

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape by a New York jury
  • He was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013

NEW YORK: Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday of sexual assault and rape but cleared of the most serious predatory sexual assault charges, a partial victory for the #MeToo movement that sparked a cascade of allegations against the disgraced Hollywood mogul.
The jury of seven men and five women found the producer guilty of criminal sexual acts in the first degree and rape in the third degree, a measure of vindication for the dozens of women who came out against the one-time all-powerful filmmaker.
However, the 67-year-old Oscar-winner who produced films including "Shakespeare In Love" was found not guilty of first-degree rape and predatory sexual assault charges that could have seen him jailed for life.
The Time's Up foundation, formed in the wake of the Weinstein case, hailed the verdict as marking "a new era of justice."
"Abusers everywhere and the powerful forces that protect them should be on notice: There's no going back," it said in a statement.
The limited win for #MeToo presents the most high-profile sex assault conviction in the United States since Bill Cosby was found guilty in 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 15 years ago.
The decision was announced in a packed New York courtroom where some 100 people had gathered. The defendant, who attended the trial hunched over a walker, was shielded from view by police officers.
More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since allegations against him ignited the #MeToo global reckoning against men abusing positions of power in October 2017.
But the jury considered charges related to just two: ex-actress Jessica Mann and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, with many claims too old to prosecute.
One of the predatory sexual assault charges also included testimony from "The Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment in the winter of 1993-94.
Six women took the stand from the opening of testimony on January 22, to say they had been sexually assaulted by Weinstein.
Weinstein's team subjected the women to ferocious cross-examination, as they argued that his relationships were consensual and transactional.
The prosecution cast Weinstein as a conniving predator who demanded sex in exchange for access to a film universe where he was king, but presented no forensic evidence or witness accounts.
The state's case instead rested on asking the jury to believe the women.
Weinstein, who has always said his sexual relations were consensual, was charged with raping former actress Mann in the DoubleTree hotel in midtown Manhattan in 2013.
He was also charged with forcing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his New York apartment in July 2006 while she was on her period.
Mann and Young both testified that Weinstein's genitals appeared deformed, during graphic and at times uncomfortable testimony, as the prosecution showed jurors nude photos of Weinstein to corroborate their accounts.
The charges of predatory sexual assault, a serious sex crime committed against more than one person, were the most serious and carried a sentence of life in prison.
For the jury to convict Weinstein of that they would have had to believe either Mann or Haleyi plus Sciorra.
Sciorra's allegation was too old to be prosecuted as an individual crime but she was included in the indictment to bolster the predatory sexual assault charge.
Ex-model Lauren Young also told the court that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the bathroom of a Beverly Hills hotel room in 2013 when she was a 22-year-old aspiring actress.
Judge Burke dismissed the jury just after noon Monday, thanking them for their "care" and "attention."
Eyes now turn to Los Angeles, where Young's allegations form part of a separate sex crimes investigation against Weinstein being carried out by prosecutors in the California city.
Los Angeles prosecutors accuse him of raping an Italian model in February 2013 and of assaulting Young the following night.