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Archive for August, 2019

Pro-EU party wins, cuts Johnson’s UK Parliament margin to 1

August 02, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit-backing Conservative Party lost a special election Friday to a pro-EU opposition candidate, leaving Johnson with only a one-vote majority in Parliament as the U.K.’s departure from the European Union looms.

In the Conservatives’ first electoral test since Johnson became prime minister last month on a vow to complete Brexit “do or die,” the party was defeated for the seat of Brecon and Radnorshire in Wales by Jane Dodds of the Liberal Democrats. Dodds won 43% of the vote, against 39% for Conservative Chris Davies, who fought to retain the seat after being convicted and fined for expenses fraud.

Dodds urged the prime minister to rule out leaving the EU without a divorce agreement, saying “a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster” for agricultural areas like her constituency some 175 miles (280 kilometers) west of London.

Sheep farmers in Wales worry that, without a Brexit deal, steep tariffs on lamb exports will devastate their business. Johnson won a Conservative Party leadership race by vowing that Britain will leave the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal. But he faces opposition from Parliament, and the by-election result makes it even harder for the government to pass laws and win votes in the 90 days before the Brexit deadline.

The outcome also reflects the seismic effect the U.K.’s decision three years ago to leave the 28-nation EU has had on the country’s politics, with voters increasingly split into pro-Brexit and pro-EU camps.

The centrist Liberal Democrats have seen their support surge because of their call for the U.K. to remain in the bloc. In European Parliament elections in May, the party took 20% of U.K. votes, trouncing both the Conservatives and the main opposition Labor Party, whose leadership is divided over Brexit.

Labor won just 5% of the votes in Brecon. The Liberal Democrats made a pact with two other pro-EU parties, which did not run to give Dodds a better chance. The Conservatives, meanwhile, lost support to the Brexit Party led by longtime euroskeptic figurehead Nigel Farage, which took 10% of the votes.

The Conservatives lack an overall majority in the House of Commons, and rely on an alliance with 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The loss of the Brecon seat leaves the governing alliance with 320 of the 639 voting lawmakers — the bare minimum needed to carry votes.

The loss illustrates the risks of Johnson’s hard-line stance on Brexit. It comes after a week that saw the new prime minister booed by pro-independence protesters in Scotland, criticized by Welsh farmers and accused by Northern Ireland politicians of destabilizing the economy and the peace process with his willingness to opt for a no-deal exit.

Johnson insists that he wants a Brexit deal, but is demanding that the EU make major changes to the divorce agreement it struck with his predecessor Theresa May, which was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. The EU is adamant that it won’t renegotiate.

Johnson argues that a no-deal Brexit will be “vanishingly inexpensive” if Britain prepares properly. This week the government set aside 2 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) for no-deal measures including more border officers and stockpiling essential medicines.

Economists say no amount of preparation can eliminate the shock if Britain crashes out the EU’s single market without a transition period or framework of new trade rules. A slide prepared for the government outlining worst-case scenarios in the day, week and month after a no-deal Brexit mentioned “potential consumer panic and food shortages” and “possible increased risk of serious organized crime including people smuggling and illegal migration.”

The slide was published by Sky News, which said it was drawn up before May left office last month. The government said it would not comment on leaked documents. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said a no-deal Brexit would deliver an “instantaneous shock” to the economy in which the pound would fall, prices would rise, GDP would slow and many businesses could face ruin.

“There are some very big industries in this country where that which is highly profitable becomes not profitable, becomes uneconomic, and very difficult decisions will need to be taken,” Carney told the BBC on Friday.

Meanwhile a volatile political situation has become even more unpredictable. Parliament voted in the past against Britain leaving the EU without an agreement, and is likely to try again in the fall to thwart Johnson’s plans.

Faced with obstructive lawmakers, Johnson could gamble on an early election in hope of winning more seats. The opposition could also call for a no-confidence vote that could topple the government and trigger an early general election.

The Liberal Democrats hope their staunch opposition to Brexit will let them shed their perennial third-party status. Jo Swinson, the 39-year-old Scottish lawmaker who was elected party leader last month, said the Brecon result sent a “really clear message that the country doesn’t have to settle for Boris Johnson or (Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn.”

But political experts advise caution. The Liberal Democrats have surged before, notably in 2010 when the party ended up with 57 seats and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives. A backlash followed after the government slashed public spending and tripled university tuition fees — overturning a key Liberal Democrat campaign pledge. Many Lib Dem voters felt betrayed. At the next election in 2015 they won just eight seats.

Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, said the Brecon result was “unambiguously good news for the Lib Dems,” but Britain’s political volatility made it impossible to say whether it would lead to a breakthrough for the party.

“This a very small straw in a very strong wind,” he said.

Boris Johnson’s government faces test in special election

August 01, 2019

LONDON (AP) — New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was facing his first electoral test on Thursday — a special election that could see the Conservative government’s working majority in Parliament cut to just one vote.

Voters are electing a new lawmaker in a by-election for the seat of Brecon and Radnorshire in Wales after Conservative incumbent Chris Davies was ousted. He was dumped by a petition of local electors after being convicted and fined for expenses fraud.

Davies is running to regain the seat but faces a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats’ Jane Dodds in a vote overshadowed by Brexit. In Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum the Brecon constituency — a hilly, largely rural area about 175 miles (280 kilometers) west of London — voted by 52%-48% to leave the EU, an outcome that exactly matched the national result.

As in the rest of the U.K., voters remain deeply divided over the decision, and over the fact that, three years later, Britain still has not left the EU. Johnson became prime minister last week, vowing to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.

The pro-EU Liberal Democrats are hoping to win support from voters opposed to Brexit. The centrist Lib Dems have just 12 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons but have seen their support surge because of their call for Britain to remain in the EU. In May’s European Parliament election the party took 20% of U.K. votes, trouncing both the Conservatives and the main opposition Labor Party.

Johnson, who visited the area on Tuesday, said “a vote for any party other than Conservatives pushes the Liberal Democrats one step closer to canceling the referendum result.” The Conservatives face a challenge for anti-EU voters from the Brexit Party led by longtime Euroskeptic figurehead Nigel Farage.

The Conservatives lack an overall majority in the House of Commons, and rely on an alliance with 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. If the Conservatives lose the Brecon seat, the governing alliance will have 320 of the 639 voting lawmakers — the bare minimum needed to carry votes.

That will leave the government struggling to pass any legislation and vulnerable to an opposition no-confidence vote that could trigger an early general election. Johnson has just over 90 days to secure and ratify a new divorce deal with the EU, or get Britain ready to leave the 28-nation bloc without one.

Economists say that would severely disrupt trade and plunge the U.K. into recession.

Johnson’s win elevates ‘no-deal’ Brexit risks to UK economy

July 23, 2019

LONDON (AP) — With Boris Johnson confirmed as the next U.K. prime minister, the outlook for the British economy has become murkier — and potentially more perilous. Johnson’s comprehensive victory over Jeremy Hunt in the battle to lead the governing Conservative Party has made it more likely that Britain could leave the European Union on Halloween without a withdrawal agreement, leading to tariffs and broad disruptions to trade.

Most economists think such a “no-deal” Brexit would cause a deep recession. Whether it would be as deep as the one after the global financial crisis — a contraction of more than 6% in the economy — no one knows, but almost all economists agree that jobs will be lost and the pound will slide.

And its impact could sap business confidence more broadly: the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that a “no-deal” Brexit represents one of the key risks to the world economy. A “no-deal” Brexit means that on Nov. 1, tariffs will be slapped on goods traded between the U.K. and the remaining 27 EU countries. Other impediments to trade would be imposed, such as new restrictions on the movement of people and regulatory standards, including on Britain’s crucial financial services sector. Britain would also face the prospect of losing trade deals the EU has struck over the years, including with Canada and Japan — these account for around 11% of U.K. trade.

That raises the stakes for companies like the operator of the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France, which warned Tuesday that a no-deal Brexit is now “very likely.” British business associations quickly issued statements after Johnson’s election urging him to secure a deal.

Richard Branson, the Virgin Group founder whose has gone from owning a record label to planning flights to space, is among the high-profile business leaders who have also spoken out publicly against a no-deal Brexit. He believes the pound will slump in value to be worth just a dollar for the first time ever.

The currency has borne the brunt of Brexit uncertainty, falling more than 10% from $1.50 on the day after the June 2016 referendum. It’s near two-year lows at $1.2450. Though both sides of the English Channel will suffer in a “no-deal” scenario, Britain would suffer more. British exports to the EU account for around 13% of the country’s annual GDP, against around 3% of the GDP of the other 27 EU nations.

Planning for a no-deal Brexit, which Johnson is expected to accelerate in his first days in 10 Downing Street, will help marginally. Measures such as stockpiling medicines, sourcing more products from outside the EU, or modifying road links in southeast England to manage freight traffic can help, but only up to a point.

“Planning is unlikely to do much to mitigate the short-term disruption of ‘no deal’,” said John Springford, deputy director at the Centre for European Reform. For one, he said, there is too little time to build new border and road infrastructure to reduce congestion at the Channel Tunnel and ferry crossings and on the highways that bring trucks up toward London.

In his pitch to become prime minister, Johnson said he wants an agreement but that he would make sure Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31. The U.K. Parliament is seemingly opposed to a “no-deal.” Many Brexiteers have suggested that Johnson suspend parliament to allow Brexit to happen anyway. The implications of that would be unpredictable. Johnson has said he doesn’t want to go down that path but hasn’t ruled it out.

Given these uncertainties, business executives are unsure how to plan and have reined in investment over the past two years. That’s one of the main reasons why Britain’s economy, which by some estimates is second only to Germany in Europe, has stuttered and talk of a recession has grown.

“With economic growth already faltering, a disorderly ‘no-deal’ Brexit could cause widespread disruption to trade, a sharply lower exchange rate, higher inflation and lower living standards,” said Arno Hantzsche and Garry Young of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

Johnson could push for a general election in the fall if he fails, as expected, to renegotiate May’s agreement. With opinion polls showing Britain’s electorate splintered, several outcomes are possible, including one whereby a new government backs another referendum to reverse the initial result.

Johnson could equally opt to ditch his “do-or-die” pledge and seek another extension, giving him time to put a crowd-pleasing tax-cutting budget in place for an election next year. Whatever happens — and given this is Brexit, anything can — the British economy is set to remain stuck in the mud for months. How it pans out will hinge on the decisions Johnson makes in his first weeks in power.

Boris Johnson’s chaotic path to power finally pays off

July 23, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Boris Johnson aspires to be a modern-day Winston Churchill. Critics fear he’s a British Donald Trump. Johnson won the contest to lead the governing Conservative Party on Tuesday, and is set to become Britain’s prime minister on Wednesday.

Like revered World War II leader Churchill, Johnson aims to turn a national crisis — in this case Brexit — into a triumph. Like Trump, he gained his country’s top political office by deploying celebrity, clowning, provocation and a loose relationship with the truth.

“He’s a different kind of a guy, but they say I’m a different kind of a guy, too,” Trump said approvingly last week. “We get along well.” Maintaining strong relations with the volatile Trump will be one of the new leader’s major challenges. So will negotiating Britain’s stalled exit from the European Union, the conundrum that brought down predecessor Theresa May.

It’s hard to say whether he will rise to the occasion or fail dismally. Blond, buoyant and buffoonish, the 55-year-old Johnson may be one of Britain’s most famous politicians, but in many ways he is a mystery.

His beliefs? Johnson is now a strong believer of Brexit, but he famously agonized over the decision, writing two newspaper columns — one in favor of quitting the EU , one against — before throwing himself behind the “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 referendum over whether it should remain in the bloc.

His plan for Brexit? Johnson says he will lead Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal. He says Britain should prepare intensely for leaving without an agreement, but insists the chances of it happening are “a million-to-one against.”

Then again, he also once said he had as much chance of becoming Britain’s prime minister as of finding Elvis on Mars. Johnson statements are best taken with a grain of salt, it seems. Historian Max Hastings, Johnson’s former boss at the Daily Telegraph newspaper, has called him “a man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience, principle or scruple.”

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in 1964, the eldest child of a close-knit, extroverted and fiercely competitive upper middle-class British family. His forebears include Turkish journalist and government minister Ali Kemal, one of Johnson’s great-grandfathers. His sister Rachel has said Johnson’s childhood ambition was to be “world king.”

Johnson attended elite boarding school Eton College, where he began to use his middle name, Boris — his family called him Al — and cultivated the still-familiar image of a quick-witted, slightly shambolic entertainer able to succeed without visibly trying very hard.

At Oxford University, he was president of the Oxford Union debating society, and a member of the Bullingdon Club, a raucous drinking-and-dining society notorious for drunken vandalism. After university, Johnson became a journalist. He survived being fired from The Times newspaper for making up a quote to become Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. He specialized in exaggerated yarns about the EU’s dastardly plans to truss Britain in red tape. The Brussels officials who now have to deal with Prime Minister Johnson have not forgotten his role in demonizing the EU.

Johnson biographer Sonia Purnell, who worked with him at the Telegraph, said he had “a talent for self-promotion and an obsession with power that marked him out.” Then came a stint as editor of conservative-leaning news-magazine The Spectator, frequent television appearances and, simultaneously, election as a member of Parliament.

Stumbles and setbacks were frequent, but quickly overcome. In the 1990s, Johnson shrugged off a leaked recording in which he promised to give a friend, Darius Guppy, the name of a journalist that Guppy wanted beaten up. Later he was fired from a senior Conservative post for lying about an extramarital affair.

He bounced back, just as he has done when called out for offensive words and phrases. Johnson has called Papua New Guineans cannibals, claimed that “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama had an ancestral dislike of Britain and last year compared Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.” Johnson has dismissed such comments as jokes or plain-speaking, or accused journalists of distorting his words.

In 2008, he was elected mayor of London, becoming a cheerful global ambassador for the city — an image exemplified when he got stuck on a zip wire during the 2012 London Olympics, waving Union Jacks as he dangled in mid-air.

Critics blasted his backing for vanity projects including a little-used cable car, an unrealized “Boris Island” airport and a never-built “garden bridge” over the River Thames. In 2016, his energy, and popularity — and, critics say, mendacity — played a key role in the EU referendum campaign. Opponents have never forgiven him for the claim that Britain sends the EU 350 million pounds ($440 million) a week, money that could instead be spent on the U.K.’s health service. It was untrue — Britain’s net contribution was about half that much.

After the country’s surprise vote to leave toppled Prime Minister David Cameron, Johnson looked set to succeed him. But he dropped out of the race after a key ally, Michael Gove, decided to run against him.

May won the contest and made Johnson foreign secretary. His two years in the job were studded with missteps. He was recorded saying that a violence-torn Libyan city could become a tourism hub once authorities “clear the dead bodies away,” and worsened the plight of a British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran by repeating an incorrect Iranian allegation that she was a journalist.

In July 2018, Johnson quit the government over his opposition to May’s Brexit blueprint, and became Britain’s Brexiteer-in-chief, arguing that leaving the EU would be easy if the country just showed more “can-do spirit.”

Many Conservative Party members have chosen to believe him. They see Johnson as a politician who can deliver Brexit, win over floating voters and defeat rival parties on both the left and the right. Critics say he is a Trump-like populist, who uses phrases — like the “letter boxes” slight — designed to push buttons among bigoted supporters.

A recent documentary about former Trump adviser Steve Bannon shows Bannon saying he had spoken and texted with Johnson about a key speech, though Johnson denies Bannon gave him campaign advice. In policies and style, Trump and Johnson have plenty of differences. Johnson’s championing of “global Britain” contrasts with Trump’s “America First” stance, and the British leader is self-deprecating where Trump is bombastic.

But, like Trump, Johnson is loved by supporters for what they regard as his authenticity — whether or not it is genuine. They forgive his missteps and his messy personal life. Johnson and his second wife, Marina Wheeler, announced in September they were splitting up after 25 years of marriage that produced four children. Johnson has fathered at least one other child outside his marriages.

Last month police were called to a noisy argument between Johnson and his new partner, Carrie Symonds, at their London home. The fracas dominated headlines for days, but failed to dent his campaign. This week Johnson is due to achieve the dream of a lifetime by moving in to 10 Downing St. Observers warn that it may be a shock.

“Working a crowd is very different from working a government,” historian Peter Hennessy told the BBC. “He’s a remarkable attack journalist, he’s a kind of written version of a shock jock, I’ve always thought. And you can’t govern that way.”

UK Tory contenders trade blows; Labor backs new Brexit vote

July 09, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The two men vying to be Britain’s next leader traded verbal blows in a televised debate Tuesday about who is more likely to break the country’s Brexit deadlock and lead the U.K. out of the European Union.

About 160,000 Conservative Party members are voting for a successor to Prime Minister Theresa May, who announced her resignation last month after failing repeatedly to get Parliament to back her divorce deal with the EU.

The two finalists, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, both used their only televised debate to argue that they were best placed to negotiate Britain’s twice-postponed exit, currently scheduled for Oct. 31.

Johnson, a populist former mayor of London whom polls suggest is the strong front-runner, argued that Britain leaving on schedule, with or without a divorce deal, is a “do or die” issue. “Delay does not deliver a deal. A deadline will deliver a deal,” Johnson said, adding that his “energy and optimism” would help Britain “get back our mojo.”

Hunt, a long-serving but lusterless senior minister who is currently foreign secretary, said he offered experience, realism and a broader appeal than the divisive Johnson. “I’ll be your prime minister whoever you vote for,” he said.

Unlike Johnson, Hunt said he would be prepared to delay Brexit for a short time in order to strike a deal with the EU. That led Johnson to call Hunt “defeatist.” Hunt accused Johnson of setting a “fake deadline” and asked whether he would resign if he failed to deliver on his promise to leave by Oct 31.

Johnson did not answer. “It’s not do or die is it?” Hunt snapped back. “It’s Boris in No. 10 (Downing St.) that matters.” Hunt and Johnson have both vowed to succeed where May failed and take Britain out of the EU — even if that means leaving without an agreement on divorce terms and future relations.

Most businesses and economists think a no-deal Brexit would plunge Britain into recession as customs checks take effect at U.K. ports and tariffs are imposed on trade between the U.K. and the EU. But many Conservatives think embracing a no-deal Brexit may be the only way to win back voters from the upstart Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage.

Growing concern about the chance of a no-deal Brexit and signs that the British economy could be heading toward recession have weakened the pound, which fell Tuesday to $1.2440, near a two-year low. For underdog Hunt, Tuesday’s showdown offered a chance to turn the contest around, though it may be too late. Ballot papers have already gone out, and many Conservatives have made their choice.

The two candidates also faced questions about a fierce row over leaked cables from Britain’s ambassador in Washington offering unflattering assessments of President Donald Trump’s administration. In the memos, Ambassador Kim Darroch called Trump’s White House dysfunctional, inept and chaotic. The president let rip with tweets branding Darroch “very stupid” and “a pompous fool,” and saying the administration would no longer deal with him.

Trump also renewed criticism of May’s handling of Brexit. In contrast, he has spoken warmly of both Johnson and Hunt. Hunt reprimanded Trump, saying he should not meddle in Britain’s choice of ambassador.

“I have made it clear that if I am the next prime minister our ambassador in Washington stays,” Hunt said. Johnson would not commit to keeping Darroch in his post. “I have a very good relationship with the White House,” he said. “I think it’s very important we should have a close partnership, a close friendship with the United States.”

As the two Conservatives battled over who was the bigger champion of Brexit, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn shifted his party’s position, calling on May’s successor to call a new referendum on Britain’s EU membership, in which Labor would campaign to stay in the EU.

In a letter to party members, Corbyn said that the new prime minister “should have the confidence to put their deal, or no-deal, back to the people in a public vote.” “In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labor would campaign for Remain against either no-deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs,” he said.

Labor’s opponents — and many supporters — have accused the party of dithering over Brexit for fear of alienating voters on either side of the national divide over Europe. Until now, Corbyn, a longtime critic of the EU, had resisted calls for a second referendum, saying Labor must respect voters’ 2016 decision to leave.

The left-of-center party has previously rejected May’s deal but also ruled out leaving the EU without an agreement and called for an election that the party hopes will bring a Labor government to power.

But the party’s poor showing in recent local and European elections suggests Labor is losing support to parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens that advocate remaining in the EU. Corbyn’s letter clarified the party’s position — up to a point. It’s still unclear what Labor would do about Brexit if it formed a government.

Labor lawmaker Hilary Benn, who heads Parliament’s Brexit Committee, said “this is a very significant moment.” “We saw what a lack of clarity did to Labor in the European elections. We got 14% of the vote,” he said.

But John Mann, a Labor legislator who backs Brexit, said the shift would cost the party support in areas of the country that voted strongly to leave the EU. “There’s no indication whatsoever that voters in my area … have changed their mind,” he said.

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Pan Pylas contributed to this report.

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt in runoff for UK prime minister

June 20, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s next prime minister will be a man in his 50s who went to Oxford University — either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two finalists selected Thursday in a race to lead the governing Conservative Party.

Johnson, a flamboyant former foreign secretary and ex-mayor of London, topped a ballot of 313 Conservative lawmakers with 160 votes and is runaway favorite to become the party’s next leader. He has led in all five voting rounds of a contest that began last week with 10 contenders.

Hunt, Britain’s current foreign secretary, came a distant second with 77 votes and will join Johnson in a runoff decided by 160,000 party members across Britain. Johnson tweeted that he was honored to have gotten more than half the votes cast by party lawmakers. He said “I look forward to getting out across the U.K. and to set out my plan to deliver Brexit, unite our country, and create a brighter future for all of us.”

Hunt said on Twitter that he knew he was the underdog “but in politics surprises happen.” The winner of the runoff, due to be announced the week of July 22, will become the new Conservative leader and the country’s next prime minister, replacing Theresa May.

Hunt edged out Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who got 75 votes, after Home Secretary Sajid Javid was eliminated earlier Thursday. The result spares Johnson a showdown with Gove, his former ally-turned-archrival. The two men jointly led the “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, but Gove scuttled Johnson’s subsequent bid to become prime minister by deciding to run for the job himself, in a race ultimately won by May.

This time around, many in the party doubt that anyone can beat 55-year-old Johnson, a quick-witted, Latin-spouting extrovert admired for his ability to connect with voters, but mistrusted for his erratic performance in high office and his long record of inaccurate, misleading and sometimes offensive comments.

“Boris will say absolutely anything in order to please an audience,” historian Max Hastings told the BBC on Thursday. “Boris would have told the passengers on the Titanic that rescue was imminent.” Hunt, who has been culture secretary and health secretary, is considered an experienced, competent minister, but unexciting. The 52-year-old politician bills himself as the “serious” candidate, in an implicit contrast to Johnson. He will try to halt Johnson’s momentum by picking away at his rival’s plans for Brexit as the two speak to party members at meetings across the country over the next few weeks.

Both Johnson and Hunt vow they will lead Britain out of the European Union, a challenge that defeated May. She quit as Conservative leader earlier this month after failing to win Parliament’s backing for her Brexit deal.

Brexit, originally scheduled to take place on March 29, has been postponed twice amid political deadlock in London. Johnson has won backing from the party’s die-hard Brexiteers by insisting the U.K. must leave the bloc on the rescheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way.

He also is supported — somewhat paradoxically — by some Tory moderates who claim Johnson has the skills to unite the party and win back voters from rival parties on both the left and the right. Boris-backer Robert Buckland said Johnson was “a moderate, open-minded” Conservative.

“The essence of Boris Johnson is a unifier,” he said. Hunt backed the losing “remain” side in the referendum, a disadvantage in a party whose rank-and-file members are overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. Hunt now insists he is determined to go through with Brexit and says his past in business, running an educational publishing firm, gives him the experience to negotiate with the EU.

Hunt says he would seek another postponement of Brexit if that is needed to secure a deal, but only for a short time. Critics say neither candidate has a realistic plan. The EU is adamant that it won’t reopen the Brexit agreement it struck with May’s government, which has been rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Thursday that “the withdrawal agreement is not going to be reopened.” He also said there was “enormous hostility to any further extension” of the Brexit deadline among the other 27 EU leaders.

Many economists and businesses warn that leaving the EU without a deal on divorce terms and future relations would cause economic turmoil as tariffs and other disruptions are imposed on trade between Britain and the EU.

U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond warned that a no-deal Brexit would put Britain’s prosperity at risk and leave the economy “permanently smaller.” “The question to the candidates is not ‘What is your plan?’ but ‘What is your Plan B?'” Hammond said in extracts from a speech he was giving Thursday night.

Gambia’s 1st president, Dawda Jawara, dies at 95

August 28, 2019

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia’s government says the country’s first democratically elected president, Dawda Kairaba Jawara, has died at the age of 95. The Gambian presidency said Tuesday that Jawara died in the capital, Banjul, and called him a “champion of international peace, justice and humanity.”

Jawara was known as the father of the nation. He spearheaded the talks that led to Gambia’s independence from Britain in 1965. He served as prime minister while Queen Elizabeth II was head of state before he succeeded her in 1970 with his election as president.

Jawara remained in office until a 1994 coup. The soldiers who overthrew him were led by Yahya Jammeh, who also would lead Gambia for more than two decades. Jawara went to the U.K. after the coup and returned to Gambia in 2002.

Japan’s move to lower South Korea trade status takes effect

August 28, 2019

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s downgrading of South Korea’s trade status took effect Wednesday, a decision that has already set off a series of reactions hurting bilateral relations. Japanese manufacturers now must apply for approval for each technology-related contract for South Korean export, rather than the simpler checks granted a preferential trade partner, which is still the status of the U.S. and others.

Since Japan announced the decision about two months ago, South Korea decided to similarly downgrade Tokyo’s trade status, which will take effect next month. Seoul has also canceled a deal to share military intelligence with Japan.

South Korea has accused Japan of weaponizing trade because of a separate dispute linked to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Japan denies retaliating and says wartime compensation issues were already settled.

“Relations between Japan and South Korea continue to be in an extremely serious situation because of South Korea’s repeated negative and irrational actions, including the most critical issue of laborers from the Korean Peninsula,” Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Suga was referring to South Korea’s Supreme Court ruling last year that said the wartime compensation deal, signed in 1965, did not cover individual rights to seek reparations and ordered Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor.

Suga said Japan will continue to try to talk to South Korea. The wrangling has dented what had been a thriving tourism and cultural exchange between the neighboring nations, including Japanese becoming fans of Korean pop music and movies. Some South Koreas are boycotting Japanese goods or joining street protests to denounce Japan.

Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, said earlier this week that the trade status review was needed for proper checks on exports because of concerns about what could be used for military purposes.

Japan has never specified the security concerns further, or how they originated. Seko also denounced South Korea’s scrapping the military intelligence agreement, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, arguing the trade decision was not directly related to military cooperation.

The intelligence-sharing agreement remains in effect until November. Japan and South Korea have shared information about North Korea’s missile launches, the latest of which happened Saturday.

Duterte in China amid expectation he’ll raise sea disputes

August 29, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was in Beijing on Thursday for a meeting with counterpart Xi Jinping in which the Southeast Asian leader is expected to discuss a ruling on the disputed South China Sea.

The 2016 Hague arbitration mostly invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and found that it violated the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The row over the waters — a major global shipping route thought to be rich in oil and gas reserves — has for years marred China’s relationship with the Philippines and other neighboring countries with territorial claims over the disputed area, where Beijing has transformed a string of disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases.

Duterte, however, has largely avoided the subject in favor of seeking warmer ties with Beijing. Philippine nationalists and left-wing groups have criticized the president for not immediately demanding Chinese compliance with the arbitration ruling, which came the same year Duterte took office.

The Philippine leader briefly mentioned the issue to Xi on the sidelines of an April conference for China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo indicated Duterte will raise the matter in a more direct way during this visit.

It’s unlikely that Duterte’s move will have any effect on China, said Jay Batongbacal, a maritime affairs scholar at the University of the Philippines. “China’s position will not change just because Duterte changes tune,” Batongbacal said. “At best, Duterte might be seen as using the arbitration discussion as a move to leverage other concessions. At worst, it may be just for show.”

China refused to participate in the arbitration case initiated by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, and has ignored the ruling. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said last week that the country’s stance has not changed.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asked Beijing this month to explain the activities of Chinese research vessels and warships in what the Philippines claims as its waters, and accused China of “bullying.”

Lorenzana said that China did not ask for permission to send several warships through the Sibutu Strait at the southern tip of the Philippine archipelago on four occasions between February and July. He said two Chinese research ships have also been operating in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Meanwhile, Philippine military spokesman Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo accused China of “duplicity,” claiming the Chinese warships shut off their identification transponders while passing through Philippine waters to avoid radar detection.

China has said it is ready to work with the Philippines to jointly safeguard maritime security and order. In an apparent attempt to ease tensions ahead of Thursday’s meeting, a fishery association in southern Guangdong province apologized this week for colliding with a Philippine fishing boat in June.

The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest after the fisherman said a Chinese vessel rammed their anchored boat and abandoned them as it sank in the Reed Bank. “I feel deep regret that this accident had to happen and I would like to express my deep sympathy to the Filipino fishermen,” the president of the Guangdong Fishery Mutual Insurance Association said in a letter sent to the Philippine Embassy in Beijing.

Gomez reported from Manila, Philippines.

245 rescued from burning ferry in Philippine waters; 3 dead

August 28, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Fishing boats and passing ships rescued 245 people from a burning ferry overnight in southern Philippine waters, and the coast guard was still searching Wednesday though it wasn’t clear if anyone was missing. A 1-year-old girl and two other people died.

The ship’s manifest had 36 crewmembers and 136 passengers, 28 of them children, and the coast guard said investigators would ask the ferry owner and skipper to explain the discrepancy between the listed occupants and the number rescued.

Photos showed passengers wearing orange life vests waiting to be rescued at the loading bay of the ferry, which also carried some vehicles. Local news reports quoted some passengers as saying they jumped into the choppy waters in panic and were rescued by passing cargo and fishing vessels.

“We did not have any patrol ship in the area, so we alerted nearby ships and boats to render assistance because it was an emergency,” coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said by phone. “It’s good that a number of ships immediately responded. We have to recognize what they did.”

The fire apparently started in the engine room. Orange flames and smoke consumed almost the entire vessel but the M/V Lite Ferry 16 stayed afloat, about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off a port in Dapitan city of Zamboanga del Norte province, where it was heading after departing Santander town in central Cebu province Tuesday.

Search and rescue efforts were continuing, Balilo said around midday. It was unclear whether there were still people missing but no relatives have approached authorities to report any, and an ongoing search will continue, Balilo said.

A 1-year-old girl, a 60-year-old male passenger and a third person died, Balilo said. He did not have more details on the identity of the third person and the causes of their deaths. Meanwhile, in the northern Philippines, ferries were warned not to go to sea after a fast-moving storm blew across the main island of Luzon overnight. Heavy rains fell in northern provinces, but no casualties or major damage was reported, and the storm has weakened into a tropical depression.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

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