In a unified Ireland, the north could automatically join the EU

The Guardian reports: European leaders may be preparing to recognise a united Ireland, in a declaration that would pave the way for the north to swiftly rejoin the European Union. At their first Brexit summit on Saturday, the EU’s 27 leaders are expected to discuss a text stating that if Ireland unified, the north would automatically become part of the EU.

The inclusion of the text is a victory for the Irish government, which had pressed for the inclusion of a “GDR clause”, a reference to the integration of the former east German state into the European Community after the fall of the Berlin wall. The declaration is bound to raise fears that Brexit could trigger the unravelling of the UK, although there is no majority in Northern Ireland for unification.

EU diplomats are braced for a fierce reaction from the UK, given the angry tabloid headlines that followed speculation about the status of Gibraltar. After lobbying from Madrid, the EU agreed that the Spanish government would be able to exclude the Rock from any EU-UK trade agreement if it was not satisfied with the status of the territory.

The Irish clause is informed by the Good Friday peace agreement, which states that north and south of Ireland have a right to unify if a majority agree north of the border. Enda Kenny, the taoiseach, has argued that it is important for the north of Ireland to have “ease of access” to rejoin the EU if reunification were to occur. [Continue reading…]

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How Britain’s former Syria envoy went on BBC to defend Assad… after quietly taking a job with dictator’s father-in-law

The Telegraph reports: A former British ambassador to Syria who appeared on the BBC to defend the Assad regime had already become a director of a lobby group run by the dictator’s father in law.

Peter Ford, 59, courted controversy this month by claiming that President Bashar al-Assad would not have carried out the chemical gas attack on his own people.

Now the Telegraph can reveal that just weeks before the April 4 attack Mr Ford had become a director of the controversial British Syrian Society.

This was founded by Fawaz Akhras, a London-based cardiologist whose daughter Asma is married to President Assad, and is closely linked to the regime, frequently accused of acting as its mouthpiece in the west.

According to documents filed at Companies House, Mr Ford – who has been accused of supporting the Syrian regime in the past – was appointed a director of the society on February 28 this year. [Continue reading…]

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EU leader: UK would be welcomed back if voters overturn Brexit

The Guardian reports: The president of the European parliament has said Britain would be welcomed back with open arms if voters changed their minds about Brexit on 8 June, challenging Theresa May’s claim that “there is no turning back” after article 50.

Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case.

“If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”

He also threatened to veto any Brexit deal if it did not guarantee in full the existing rights of EU citizens in Britain and said this protection would forever be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice (ECJ). [Continue reading…]

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The many times Theresa May ruled out an early election

The Guardian reports: Before the surprise announcement that she would be going to the polls on 8 June, Theresa May had repeatedly ruled out calling a snap general election.

Just before she assumed the role of prime minister, she said there would be no early election under her leadership. On 30 June, in the speech that launched her bid, she explicitly ruled it out.

Then in her first major interview after taking office she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last September that the UK needed a period of stability after the shock Brexit vote.

She said: “I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Nicola Sturgeon has accused Theresa May of using the snap general election as a chance to “move the UK to the right” and force through deeper spending cuts.

Sturgeon said the prime minister’s decision was a “huge political miscalculation” because it would give voters a fresh chance to reject Conservative austerity and a hard Brexit, and give the Scottish National party a new mandate for an independence referendum.

“She is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour party,” she said.

“That makes it all the important that Scotland is protected from a Tory party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.

“That means that this will be – more than ever before – an election about standing up for Scotland in the face of a rightwing, austerity-obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland but which now thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it.” [Continue reading…]

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British government realises Brexit is an ‘act of great self-harm,’ says official

The Irish Times reports: The British government is slowly realising Brexit is “an act of great self-harm” and that upcoming EU-UK negotiations must seek to limit the damage, the State’s top Brexit official has said.

The official, John Callinan, said on Thursday: “I see signs in the contacts that we’re having, both at EU level and with the UK, of a gradual realisation that Brexit in many ways is an act of great self-harm, and that the focus now is on minimising that self-harm.”

The remarks by Mr Callinan, the second secretary-general at the Department of the Taoiseach, were delivered at a Brexit seminar organised by the trade unions Impact and Siptu.

Mr Callinan also highlighted the existence of internal divisions on the British side just weeks out from the start of formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU, saying it was clear there was “no single, settled position” on Brexit in London.

“Even within the British government, there are very different views,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Nigel Farage: ‘Whatever Assad’s sins, he is secular’

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U.S., France, Britain propose UN resolution on Syria gas attack

Reuters reports: The United States, Britain and France on Tuesday proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution to condemn a suspected deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria, which diplomats said would likely be put to a vote on Wednesday.

The three countries blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the attack, which killed dozens of people. The Syrian military denied responsibility and said it would never use chemical weapons.

U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura said the “horrific” chemical attack had come from the air.

The draft text, seen by Reuters, says Syria’s government must provide an international investigation with flight plans and logs for Tuesday, the names of all helicopter squadron commanders and provide access to air bases where investigators believe attacks using chemicals may have been launched.

It asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report monthly on whether the Syrian government is cooperating with an international investigation and a fact-finding mission into chemical weapons use in Syria.

The draft resolution “expresses its outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian notes: Tuesday’s strike came days after the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said the Trump administration was no longer prioritising the removal of Assad, and that the Syrian people would ultimately decide his fate.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made similar comments on Monday, affirming a shift in US policy that began under the Obama administration.

Critics of the stance have said that the absence of a credible threat has given the regime licence to commit war crimes with impunity as its backers, Iran and Russia, steadily claw back years of battlefield losses. [Continue reading…]

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British police look at allegations of Saudi war crimes in Yemen

The Guardian reports: Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state.

The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen.

The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week.

The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor. [Continue reading…]

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Spain drops plan to impose veto if Scotland tries to join EU

The Guardian reports: Spain has said it would not veto an attempt by an independent Scotland to join the EU, in a boost to Nicola Sturgeon’s campaign for a second independence referendum and the clearest sign yet that Brexit has softened Madrid’s longstanding opposition.

Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish foreign minister, made it clear that the government would not block an independent Scotland’s EU hopes, although he stressed that Madrid would not welcome the disintegration of the UK.

He also said Edinburgh would have to apply for membership, a process fraught with uncertainty that is likely to take several years. But asked directly whether Spain would veto an independent Scotland joining the EU, Dastis said: “No, we wouldn’t.”

Madrid is keen not to fuel Catalonia’s desire for independence. “We don’t want it [Scottish independence] to happen,” he said. “But if it happens legally and constitutionally, we would not block it. We don’t encourage the breakup of any member states, because we think the future goes in a different direction.”

The change in tone could prove a significant boon to Scotland’s first minister, who has repeatedly demanded the right from Westminster to hold a second independence referendum before Brexit. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU during the referendum last year, but it has been believed Spain would block it from rejoining if independent from the UK. [Continue reading…]

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Unlike a divorce, the terms of Brexit aren’t up for discussion

Joris Luyendijk writes: As Britain formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave it is essential for Brits and Europeans alike to be aware of what is about to start. Both sides tend to speak of a “divorce”, while some British commentators compare the coming negotiations to a “game of chicken”.

These figures of speech are deeply misleading as they feed into a narrative that the UK is still a world power able to shape the circumstances it finds itself in – if not to dictate its terms outright. To see how much this line of thought is still alive, consider how Britain spent the past nine months discussing whether it preferred a “soft” or a “hard” Brexit. The implication was that Britain had a choice – in truth the EU has made it clear from the outset that there are two options only: hard Brexit or no Brexit.

A divorce is between two equal partners. But the UK is to the EU what Belgium, Austria or Portugal are to Germany: an entity eight times as small. If the EU informs the UK that “no soft Brexit means no soft Brexit” then that is what it is.

For the same reason the analogy of a “game of chicken” for the coming negotiations should be cast aside. The UK and the EU may be driving at furious speed into one another, each expecting the other to swerve. But if the UK is a Mini then the EU is a truck.

Except that it is not, because this too is a misleading analogy. Angela Merkel runs the EU’s most important and powerful country but she does not determine what happens in the EU, if only because Germany comprises a mere 20% of the EU economy and only 16% of its population. As much as the Brexiteers like to talk of a European superstate the fact is that no such thing exists. The European commission, the European parliament and the EU member states share power without a single overriding body or office to coordinate events or impose its will. To return to the “game of chicken” analogy: the EU truck has no driver. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May’s empty Brexit promises

John Cassidy writes: Brexit has begun. On Tuesday evening, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, signed a letter formally giving notice that the United Kingdom intends to leave the European Union. On Wednesday, Sir Tim Barrow, the U.K.’s Ambassador to the E.U., delivered the letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. Next up: a long set of talks about the terms of Britain’s exit.

“When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the United Kingdom—young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country, and all the villages and hamlets in between,” May told the House of Commons on Wednesday. “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country. For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests, and ambitions can—and must—bring us together.”

“We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today,” she added. “We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world.”

May’s speech was filled with so many false claims, so much cant, and so many examples of wishful thinking that it is hard to know where to begin. Her vow to represent “every person” in the U.K. is blatantly false. Last year’s referendum, in which 51.9 per cent of the people who voted signalled a preference to leave the E.U., represented a victory for the old, the less-educated, and the xenophobic. The young, the college-educated, and the outward-looking all rejected, and still reject, Brexit. Many of them regard it as a willful act of self-destruction, and future historians will surely agree with them. [Continue reading…]

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Divorce settlement must come before talks about future UK-EU relationship, says Angela Merkel

The Guardian reports: Angela Merkel has rejected one of Theresa May’s key Brexit demands, insisting negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union cannot run in parallel with talks on the future UK-EU relationship.

“The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship,” the German chancellor said in Berlin. “Only when this question is dealt with can we – hopefully soon after – begin talking about our future relationship.”

In her six-page letter triggering article 50 and formally launching the process of leaving the EU, the prime minister said she believed it was “necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”.

The EU institutions and 27 remaining member states, however, have long said they were determined the divorce settlement, such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the continent and the size of Britain’s exit bill, must first be agreed before substantive talks on a future relationship could begin.

On a day of some drama in Brussels, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, warned after receiving May’s letter that there would be “no winners” from Brexit, and the next two years would be a matter of “damage control”. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May triggers Brexit with warning of consequences for UK

The Guardian reports: Theresa May has told parliament that she accepts Brexit will carry consequences for the United Kingdom, as a letter delivered to Brussels began a two-year countdown to Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The prime minister took to her feet minutes after the European council president, Donald Tusk, confirmed that he had received notification, declaring that “the UK has delivered Brexit” nine months after a bruising referendum campaign.

“We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that,” she said. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Britain will not be given a free trade deal by the EU in the next two years, and a transition arrangement to cushion the UK’s exit after 2019 can last no longer than three years, a European parliament resolution has vowed, in the first official response by the EU institutions to the triggering of article 50 by Theresa May.

A leaked copy of the resolution, on which the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been a close conspirator, lays bare the tough path ahead for Britain as the historic process of withdrawing from the trade bloc begins.

Across 11 pages of clauses, May is warned that the EU will stridently protect its political, financial and social interests, and that the position for the UK even during the transition period will not be as positive as it is today. [Continue reading…]

Siobhan Fenton writes: While much of Britain’s attention has been on the latest twists, turns and turmoil over Brexit, Northern Ireland has been quietly self-immolating in the corner. The country’s power-sharing parliament collapsed in January after Sinn Féin refused to partner the Democratic Unionists any longer. The deadline for the parties to reach a resolution and save Stormont was Monday – but it came and went without a deal being reached.

Just 48 hours before Theresa May was due to trigger article 50, her Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, took to the steps at Stormont House to announce that Northern Ireland no longer had a government. Almost two decades after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, in 1998, the peace process lies in tatters.

The breakdown of power-sharing in Northern Ireland would always have been gravely serious, but the clash with article 50 means the timing could hardly be worse. As of this week, either a new election will have to be called in Northern Ireland (its third in 12 months), or it may have to be ruled directly from London, in what would be a major step back in the peace process.

Regardless of the option taken, the people of Northern Ireland – who, like the Scottish, voted to remain in the EU – will be left without a government for much of the Brexit negotiations. This will cause considerable frustration locally, where many already resent what they see as London’s decision to drag Northern Ireland and Scotland kicking and screaming out of the EU against their will. [Continue reading…]

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Brexit: Article 50 triggered — here’s what happens now

By David Phinnemore, Queen’s University Belfast

Now that Theresa May, the British prime minister, has triggered Article 50, the process of formally negotiating Brexit can begin. Here’s what to expect in the next two years. The Conversation

First, the EU-27 will acknowledge the notification. The EU-27 will then focus on adopting “guidelines” for the negotiations. Determining these will be the responsibility of the European Council, so the leaders of the EU-27 member states, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the European Council president, Donald Tusk.

Preparing the EU 27 for negotiations

To adopt the guidelines, the European Council will meet – minus the UK – in extraordinary session on 29 April 2017.

The guidelines are expected to set out some basic principles, including the need to accept the free movement of goods, services, capital and people for access to the single market. They will also set out the issues that the EU 27 will insist are covered in the withdrawal agreement. That will include: the UK’s financial liabilities, so money it owes, for example, to cover the pensions of EU officials; the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK; transitional funding arrangements; and the nature of the new EU-UK frontiers – particularly the land border in Ireland.

The guidelines will also confirm who will be negotiating on behalf of the EU-27 – which means they will make formal the role of Michel Barnier as the European Commission’s chief negotiator. They will set out where negotiations will take place (Brussels); and the sequence of negotiations.

Once the guidelines have been adopted, attention will shift to the EU-27 in the Council and the adoption of the formal mandate for negotiations. This will provide Barnier and his taskforce with the detailed instructions they need to carry out negotiations with the UK.

[Read more…]

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The alt-right populists who collaborate with terrorists

John Harris writes: As proved by Paris, Berlin, Brussels, and now Westminster, it is increasingly as much a part of the awful theatre of terrorism as the acts themselves: inside an hour or two of the news starting to break, figureheads of the so-called alt-right either reaching for their smartphones or sprinting to the nearest TV studio, and dispensing messages that chime perfectly with the intentions of the killers. They want rage, uncontrollable tension and intimations of the apocalypse to begin to embed in the societies they seek to attack. And guess what? The people who brought us Brexit, Trump and a thousand verbose radio spots and newspaper columns are only too happy to oblige.

With grinding inevitability, Nigel Farage appeared on Fox News on Wednesday night, and made his case with all the manic insistence of a Dalek, assisted by a large helping of what we now know as Alternative Facts. So, from the top: “What these politicians have done in the space of just 15 years may well affect the way we live in this country over the next 100 years … We’ve made some terrible mistakes in this country, and it really started with the election of Tony Blair back in 1997, who said he wanted to build a multicultural Britain. His government even said they sent out search parties to find immigrants from all over the world to come into Britain … The problem with multiculturalism is that it leads to divided communities. It’s quite different to multiracialism … I’m sorry to say that we have now a fifth column living inside these European countries.”

The same network also included a quickfire contribution from one Walid Phares – “Fox News national security and foreign policy expert” – who reckoned that the attack had proved that “one man can stop a city”, before Katie Hopkins went even further. “Great Britain is absolutely divided, more than at any time than in its past,” she said. “We are in fact a nation of ghettoes. I think liberals think multiculturalism means we all die together.” Not long after, the Ukip donor (or ex-donor – it is never quite clear) Arron Banks weighed in on Twitter, first associating the acts of a terrorist who would soon turn out to be British-born with “illegals”, and then carrying on regardless: “We have a huge Islamic problem courtesy of mass immigration … It’s a failed policy of mass immigration without integration that has destroyed communities … we have communities who hate our country and way of life.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump aide says London attack by UK-born man justifies travel ban

The Guardian reports: A Trump administration official seized on the Westminster terror attack to justify the president’s blocked travel ban, which targets refugees and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, despite confirmation that the attacker was neither an immigrant nor a refugee.

Sebastian Gorka, a national security aide to the president and a former editor for the far-right news site Breitbart, told Fox News’s conservative talk show host Sean Hannity on Wednesday evening that the attack in Westminster, that left three people and the attacker dead, “should be a surprise to nobody”.

“The war is real and that’s why executive orders like president Trump’s travel moratorium are so important,” Gorka said.

Despite the official’s remarks it is almost certain that the British-born attacker, 52 year-old Khalid Masood, would not have been affected by Trump’s ban, which targets immigrants and refugees from a handful of countries. Further, the US would have already been entitled to block Masood from the country, given his extensive criminal record. [Continue reading…]

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