UK PM mulls backtracking on foreign aid cuts amid backbench rebellion

UK PM mulls backtracking on foreign aid cuts amid backbench rebellion
Boris Johnson is increasingly likely to backtrack and offer MPs a vote on foreign aid cuts. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2021

UK PM mulls backtracking on foreign aid cuts amid backbench rebellion

UK PM mulls backtracking on foreign aid cuts amid backbench rebellion
  • Conservative rebels warn funding drop would damage international reputation
  • Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon among countries set to be hit hardest by policy change

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is increasingly likely to backtrack and offer MPs a vote on foreign aid cuts as warnings mount that the move could damage the reputation of his Conservative Party and the lives of impoverished people in the Arab world.
The Sunday Times reported that Johnson is “actively considering” plans to allow MPs a binding vote on the £4 billion ($5.6 billion) cuts to the overseas aid budget before the parliamentary summer recess, according to its sources.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis is among 50 Conservative rebel MPs — including former Prime Minister Theresa May — who are planning to vote against a proposal to cut the foreign aid budget from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent despite the party committing to maintaining the figure in its 2019 general election manifesto.
Syria, Yemen, Libya and Lebanon are among the countries set to be hit hardest by the policy change.
Downing Street has maintained that the cuts are a temporary measure due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but has offered no timeframe for returning to the 0.7 percent target.
Davis told BBC Radio 4 last month that potentially lifesaving schemes had already been canceled as a result of the move. 
“It’s going to have devastating consequences across the world. Historically I’m a critic of aid spending, but doing it this way is really so harmful,” he said.
“You’ve got massive cuts in clean water which kills more children worldwide than almost anything else — 80 percent cut there,” he added.
“If you’re a small child and suddenly you get dirty water, you get an infection from it and you die, temporary doesn’t mean much.
“If you’re going to kill people with this, which I think is going to be the outcome in many areas, we need to reverse those immediately.”
The 0.7 percent figure is enshrined in law, and reducing it would lead to millions of pounds less being spent on supporting vital humanitarian causes in Yemen, Syria and across the Arab region.
Women’s reproductive health centers and childhood polio vaccination schemes are under fire. 
In June, Johnson avoided a parliamentary defeat after MPs were blocked from voting on an amendment to the proposed cuts, which had been proposed by Conservative rebels.
Parliament Speaker Sir Linsay Hoyle said Johnson had failed to show the House of Commons “the due respect which it deserves,” adding that the government must table an urgent, legally binding vote on the funding cuts.
A senior Whitehall source told the Sunday Times: “The rebels have made it clear that this issue is not going to go away. I think there is now a realization within government that this could become a much longer issue and there is legislation coming up that will require the goodwill of MPs.
“Giving MPs a vote in parliament is now under very active consideration and there is the very real prospect that it will happen before the summer recess.”
Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary and strong critic of foreign aid cuts, said: “The government needs to get off this hook, which is damaging our international reputation and leading to hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths.”
He added: “They do not command a majority in the Commons on this issue. Too many Tory (Conservative) colleagues are deeply concerned and will not support the government’s current position.”
Davis said: “The simple truth is that this policy will lead to the death of women and children. It’s a breach of our manifesto promise, it’s very likely unlawful and has never been put before parliament.”
He added: “Many MPs feel an enormous moral imperative to put this right as soon as possible and much of the public feel the same.”


London exhibition pushes UNESCO to list Palestinian refugee camp as World Heritage Site

The Dheisheh camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba. (UNRWA/File Photo)
The Dheisheh camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba. (UNRWA/File Photo)
Updated 58 min 47 sec ago

London exhibition pushes UNESCO to list Palestinian refugee camp as World Heritage Site

The Dheisheh camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba. (UNRWA/File Photo)
  • ‘Stateless Heritage’ show runs until the end of January
  • Lightboxes capture culture, geography, spirit of camp

LONDON: An immersive exhibition in London presents the heritage and culture of Palestine’s Dheisheh refugee camp and challenges the UN’s top cultural body to list it as a World Heritage Site.

The camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba — the exodus of indigenous Palestinians from their ancestral homeland upon the creation of the state of Israel.

“Stateless Heritage” uses lightboxes to capture the culture, geography, and spirit of the camp, displaying photographs from the local terrain, replete with graffiti and posters from resistance groups.

Elsewhere in the gallery, items donated by the Palestinian diaspora, such as rugs, are displayed on the walls, and photo books are presented on plinths, showcasing pre-Nakba life in the villages that Dheisheh’s many residents were expelled from before coming to the camp.

The exhibition, in London’s Mosaic Rooms, is run by the A. M. Qattan Foundation, a Palestinian charity focusing on culture and education.

The campaign by DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Research) to nominate Dheisheh as a World Heritage Site was, the Mosaic Rooms said, a “provocation” designed to “expose how the definition of heritage is not universal as claimed, but subject to nation-state control and has colonial foundations.”

Flora Bains, press officer at the Mosaic Rooms, told Arab News that the exhibition questioned the “colonial and nation-state origins of what is world heritage and what is a world heritage site. It’s about questioning the idea of heritage; what heritage is viewed as important?”

The exhibition, she said, “particularly looks at UNESCO world heritage as something that is about nation-state history. That is part of the criteria.”

Bains said the exhibition questioned what the “consequences for ideas of heritage” would be if it were suggested that a refugee camp was a World Heritage Site.

The show, which runs until the end of January, also provides a space for local artists and activists to interact with the public, perform their art, and meet and interact with visitors.

This space, said Bains, was “inspired by the living room spaces in Dheisheh camp — this idea that there is a gathering space where people can make connections with each other.”

For years, DAAR has been campaigning to have the camp listed as a site of world heritage, which would see it join the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge as sites of “outstanding universal value.”

Sites chosen by the UN become protected by UNESCO upon designation, and many experience increased tourism and other forms of income as a result of the designation.

The venue said the exhibition was part of a wider movement to use heritage to “resist colonialism and occupation which continues in Palestine, and to expose colonial and imperial legacies more widely. ‘Stateless Heritage’ will raise issues of migrant justice at a time when the right to claim asylum is under threat in the UK and internationally.”


UN chief condemns military coup in Sudan and calls for release of PM

Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following a coup in Sudan. (Reuters)
Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following a coup in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 25 October 2021

UN chief condemns military coup in Sudan and calls for release of PM

Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following a coup in Sudan. (Reuters)
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to return to dialogue and not to undermine the transitional process and nation’s stability
  • The UN stands with people of Sudan ‘as they strive to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future,’ he added

NEW YORK: After the military seized power from the transitional government in Khartoum on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the coup and “all actions that could jeopardize Sudan’s political transition and stability.”

He called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and all others who have been arbitrarily detained, along with “the immediate reconstitution of the governing arrangements provided for under the constitutional document.”

He said: “The unlawful detention of the prime minister, government officials and politicians is unacceptable and contravenes the constitutional document and the partnership critical for the success of Sudan’s transition.”

Guterres urged all stakeholders to swiftly return to dialogue and “engage in good faith to restore the constitutional order and Sudan’s transitional process.”

He added: “The United Nations reiterates its unwavering commitment and support to the realization of Sudan’s political transition. Any attempts to undermine this transition process puts at risk Sudan’s security, stability and development.

“The United Nations will continue to stand with the people of Sudan as they strive to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.”


As Vienna talks falter, Washington is ‘prepared for anything,’ says envoy

Robert Malley, seen in his office in Washington D.C., has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks. (AFP/File Photo)
Robert Malley, seen in his office in Washington D.C., has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 25 October 2021

As Vienna talks falter, Washington is ‘prepared for anything,’ says envoy

Robert Malley, seen in his office in Washington D.C., has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Robert Malley, the US Special Envoy for Iran, said the US wants Tehran to return to the JCPOA but is preparing for all other eventualities
  • ‘Technological, not chronological’ clock is ticking on window of opportunity for successful return to JCPOA

LONDON: Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks over curbs to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but that Washington is making preparations for all other scenarios.

In an online press briefing attended by Arab News, Malley explained that Iran has two paths ahead of it: Returning to diplomacy and re-engaging with negotiations, or a total breakdown of negotiations by Iran delaying talks in perpetuity or making demands that exceed the parameters of the negotiations.

“Countries, whether they are in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) or E3 (France, Germany, Italy) see two paths clearly laid out ahead,” said Malley.

“One in which Iran, the United States and other parties in the P5+1 take their responsibilities seriously to find solutions to the remaining issues that were left open after the sixth round of talks in Vienna … so that Iran would live by the constraints on its nuclear program that it agreed to in Vienna in 2016.” He said that on this path the US would lift economic sanctions that are “inconsistent” with the 2016 agreement.

“Then there’s the other path,” Malley said, “that we need to at least be prepared for, which is that Iran chooses a different direction, and continues to either delay the resumption of talks or comes back with demands that clearly exceed the parameters of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We are increasingly concerned that is the path Iran is on.

“It is in Iran’s hands to choose which one it wants to take.”

“If it chooses the second path President Biden and Secretary Blinken have both said if diplomacy fails we have other tools, and we will use other tools, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” said Malley.

The envoy remained tight-lipped on the exact actions that Washington would take if Iran refused to return in earnest to negotations but said: “We have to be prepared for anything.”

He explained that the US would always be open to diplomacy with Iran to resolve the long-running diplomatic fissure between the two states.

However, he said, “the window for negotiations on a return to the JCPOA will not be open forever, but this is not a chronological clock — it’s a technological clock. At some point, the JCPOA will have been so eroded, because Iran will have made advances that cannot be reversed, in which case you can’t revive a dead corpse. But we’re not there yet.”


Assange looks ‘very unwell’ ahead of US appeal hearings: Fiancee

Assange looks ‘very unwell’ ahead of US appeal hearings: Fiancee
Updated 25 October 2021

Assange looks ‘very unwell’ ahead of US appeal hearings: Fiancee

Assange looks ‘very unwell’ ahead of US appeal hearings: Fiancee
  • Stella Moris said, Assange was wearing a T-shirt exposing his arms for the first time in a long while and ‘I was quite taken aback how thin he was’
  • Assange is wanted in Washington to face 18 charges relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns

LONDON: The fiancee of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday he was looking thin and unwell as the US appeals against a UK ruling blocking his extradition.
Stella Moris, who has two children with Assange, told a news conference that she last saw Assange on Saturday in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison.
She said Assange was wearing a T-shirt exposing his arms for the first time in a long while and “I was quite taken aback how thin he was.”
“He was looking very unwell.”
The 50-year-old Australian was arrested in Britain in 2019 for jumping bail, after spending seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to evade extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault, which were later dropped.
The US government is seeking his extradition to face trial for publishing military secrets.
A UK judge in January blocked the US extradition request on the grounds that Assange was a suicide risk.
The US is seeking to overturn the British judge’s ruling, arguing that other expert evidence indicated that Assange was not at risk of taking his own life.
Instead, it claimed the judge was “misled” by relying on evidence presented by Assange’s psychiatric expert Michael Kopelman.
“We hope that this will be the end of it,” Moris said of the two-day hearing starting Wednesday.
“The point was that Julian would not survive extradition, that was the conclusion of the judge.”
Moris said that being in prison was “an ongoing struggle” for Assange and “a person can only take so much.”
Rebecca Vincent, director of international programs at Reporters Without Borders, said that US President Joe Biden had missed an opportunity “to distance himself from his predecessors” on the case, urging the US to drop it.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said “it is unthinkable that the High Court will come to any conclusion other than to uphold” the original UK ruling.
Assange is wanted in Washington to face 18 charges relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If convicted in the United States, he faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in jail.


West braces for Turkey’s possible expulsion of 10 envoys

West braces for Turkey’s possible expulsion of 10 envoys
Updated 25 October 2021

West braces for Turkey’s possible expulsion of 10 envoys

West braces for Turkey’s possible expulsion of 10 envoys
  • The expulsions are a response to a joint statement calling on Erdogan to release a detained philanthropist
  • Erdogan’s rule has been punctuated by a series of crises and then rapprochements with the West

ANKARA: Turkey’s relations with Western allies edged Monday toward their deepest crisis of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 19-year rule, as world capitals braced for Ankara’s possible expulsion of ambassadors from the US and nine other countries.
The lira broke through historic lows ahead of a cabinet meeting that could prove fateful to Turkey’s economic and diplomatic standing for the coming months — and some analysts fear years.
The cabinet session will address Erdogan’s decision Saturday to declare the Western envoys “persona non grata” for their joint statement in support of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala.
Expulsion orders are officially issued by foreign ministries and none of the Western capitals had reported receiving any by Monday.
Some analysts said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and a few other cabinet members were still trying to talk Erdogan out of following through on his threat and to change his mind.
But the Turkish lira — a gauge of both investor confidence and political stability — lost more than one percent in value on fears of an effective break in Ankara’s relations with its main allies and most important trading partners.
“Typically, the countries whose ambassadors have been kicked out retaliate with tit-for-tat expulsions, potentially in a coordinated manner,” Eurasia Group’s Europe director Emre Peker said.
“Restoring high-level diplomatic relations after such a spat would prove challenging.”
The crisis started when the embassies of the United States, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden issued a highly unusual statement last Monday calling for Kavala’s release.
The 64-year-old civil society leader and businessman has been in jail without a conviction for four years.
Supporters view Kavala as an innocent symbol of the growing intolerance of political dissent Erdogan developed after surviving a failed military putsch in 2016.
But Erdogan accuses Kavala of financing a wave of 2013 anti-government protests and then playing a role in the coup attempt.
The diplomatic escalation comes as Erdogan faces falling domestic approval numbers and a brewing economic crisis that has seen life turn more painful for ordinary Turks.
Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of trying to artificially deflect attention from Turkey’s economic woes ahead of a general election due by June 2023.
“These actions are not to protect the national interests, it’s an attempt to create false justifications for the economy that he has destroyed,” Kilicdaroglu tweeted on Saturday.
Erdogan’s rule as prime minister and president has been punctuated by a series of crises and then rapprochements with the West.
But analysts believe his latest actions could open up the deepest and most lasting rift to date.
They could also cast a pall over a G20 meeting in Rome this weekend at which Erdogan had expected to discuss with US President Joe Biden his hopes of buying a large batch of US fighter planes.
Erdogan this month further threatened to launch a new military campaign in Syria and orchestrated changes at the central bank that infuriated investors and saw the lira accelerate its record slide.
A dollar now buys about 9.75 liras. The exchange rate stood at less than 7.4 liras at the start of the year — and at 3.5 liras in 2017.
“I am really sad for my country,” Istanbul law office worker Gulseren Pilat said as the country awaited Erdogan’s next move.
“I really hope that it will not be as bad as we fear,” said Pilat. “But I am convinced that even more difficult days await us.”


Turkey’s financial problems have been accompanied by an unusual spike in dissent from the country’s business community.
The Turkish Industry and Business Association issued a veiled swipe at Erdogan last week by urging the government to focus on stabilising the lira and bring the annual inflation rate — now at almost 20 percent — under control.
But some analysts pointed out that some European powers — including fellow NATO member Britain — refrained from joining the Western call for Kavala’s release.
“The conspicuous absence of the UK, Spain, and Italy... is telling, pointing at the emergence of a sub-group within the Western family of nations adept at skipping confrontation with Ankara,” political analyst Soner Cagaptay wrote.