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Posts tagged ‘Land of the British Empire’

Snow disrupts road, air travel in England and northern Wales

December 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Snow is causing travel disruptions across central England and northern Wales, grounding flights, shutting down roads and causing traffic accidents. Birmingham and London Stansted Airports suspended flights as runways were cleared. The airports both advised passengers to contact their airlines to check their flight status.

“Please be advised that flight delays and cancellations are expected due to the adverse weather conditions,” Stansted warned. The M1 motorway — the main highway between London and northeast England — was partially closed in Leicestershire.

Police in Wales warned against all but the most essential travel amid persistent snowfall that is forecast to last throughout the day. Strong winds slammed into Welch coast. The Met Office warned of wind and rain for London and southern England, with gusts of up to 70 mph (110 kph) predicted. Parts of the British capital were coated with snow Sunday morning.


Britain, EU in Brexit breakthrough; eye talks on future ties

December 08, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain and the European Union made a significant step forward Friday in Brexit talks, officials said, after a flurry of overnight diplomacy by phone bridged differences over the Irish border.

“I believe that we have now made the breakthrough that we needed,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

But the agreement doesn’t give details of how the thorny border issue will be solved, noting that much depends on the outcome of trade talks between Britain and the EU. Its crucial passages promise that whatever happens, the U.K. will maintain “full regulatory alignment” with the bloc on issues affecting Ireland.

Exactly what that means will be fought over by politicians and negotiators in the months to come. Juncker said that he would recommend to European Union leaders that “sufficient progress has been achieved” on the terms of the divorce to starting talking about issues like future relations and trade.

EU leaders meet in Brussels on Dec. 14 and are likely to endorse the assessment that enough progress has been made on the terms of Britain’s financial settlement, the status of Irish borders and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit.

“I am hopeful, sure, confident, sure, that they will share our appraisal and allow us to move on the next phase of the negotiations,” Juncker said. May said: “I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase, to talk about trade and security and to discuss the positive and ambitious future relationship that is in all of our interests,”

“I hope and expect we will be able to get the endorsement of the 27,” she said, referring to the other EU countries. Juncker repeated that he didn’t want Britain to leave the EU — the first time a member country has ever done so — saying “I will always be sad about this development but now we must start looking for the future.”

Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, but negotiations must be wrapped up within a year to leave time for parliaments to endorse any deal. Business leaders warn further delays will hurt companies as they plan for the future.

Existing rules allow people and goods to pass freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with no border checks. Ireland wants to preserve the current arrangement, which has eased tensions along the border. May is struggling to balance those demands against the concerns of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which she relies on to support her government in Parliament.

May said that Northern Ireland has “a set of unique circumstances” because it has the U.K.’s only land border with an EU country. The border issue has been threatening to derail the divorce talks. Earlier this week, the DUP scuttled a deal between the U.K and the bloc, prompting the frantic diplomacy.

May said Friday that the agreement would maintain an open border while preserving the constitutional and economic integrity of the U.K. DUP leader Arlene Foster appeared satisfied Friday, saying that the agreement gave “very clear confirmation that the entirety of the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.”

May also met with European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair next Thursday’s summit, and Tusk said the EU and London must now start negotiating a transition period to ease Britain’s way out of the bloc during a time of legal uncertainty after in 2019.

Tusk noted that Britain has asked for a two-year bridging period, he laid out conditions for that to happen. “I propose that during this period the U.K. will respect the whole of EU law, including new law, it will respect budget commitments, it will respect judicial oversight and of course all related obligations,” he told reporters.

Tusk also said he has sent guidelines to EU leaders on how he thinks phase two of the Brexit talks should be handled. Meanwhile, British business groups were expressing relief that Brexit talks finally look set to start discussing the future shape of trade and economic relations.

Stephen Martin, who heads U.K. business group the Institute of Directors, said “it went right down to the wire, but businesses will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.” Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that “after the noise and political brinksmanship of recent days, news of a breakthrough in the negotiations will be warmly welcomed by companies across the U.K.”

Jill Lawless reported from London.

Doubts grow over UK government’s preparation for Brexit

December 06, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The U.K. government acknowledged Wednesday that it has made no detailed assessment of the economic impact of leaving the European Union, as its lack of preparation for a momentous break became clear.

David Davis, the official shepherding Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc, said the nation should be prepared for a profound shift in the way the economy operates on a scale similar to that of the 2008 financial crisis.

He told a parliamentary committee that since Britain must prepare for a “paradigm change,” in the economy, any assessment in the automotive, aerospace financial services or other sectors would fail to be “informative.”

The House of Commons’ Brexit committee’s chair, Hilary Benn, described the decision as “rather strange” given the historic decisions at hand and since authorities wish to start renegotiating Britain’s trade relations with the rest of Europe within weeks.

“You have said there are no impact assessments,” Benn said. “You were hoping that, at the October (European) Council, the door would be open to phase two of the negotiations, where the question would be asked ‘What does the U.K. government want?’

“Are you actually telling us that the government hadn’t at that point — and still hasn’t — undertaken the assessment?” Benn asked. Davis told the committee he didn’t need a formal impact assessment. “I’m not a fan of economic models because they have all proven wrong,” Davis said. “When you have a paradigm change — as happened in 2008 with the financial crisis — all the models were wrong.”

But as the day wore on, the government’s last minute-planning became more evident. Treasury chief Philip Hammond revealed that Prime Minister Theresa May’s closest advisers in her Cabinet had not yet had a full discussion of the “end state position,” the status the U.K. would aim to have once it leaves the EU. In testimony before the House of Commons Treasury Committee, Hammond said it was too soon to have such talks.

He said that would happen once the EU accepts to move the Brexit talks on from the divorce issues to the question of future relations, like trade. “We are not yet at that stage and it would have been premature to have that discussion before we reach that stage,” he said.

Britain and the EU on Monday came close to agreeing on key divorce terms, including how to maintain an open Irish border after the U.K. — including Northern Ireland — leaves the EU. But the agreement was scuttled at the last minute when the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, warned it wouldn’t support a deal it saw as undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that a solution to the issue “can only be discovered in the context of discussions on the end state of the U.K.’s relations with the rest of the EU.” “We are going to take back control of our borders, of our laws and of U.K. cash contributions and that’s the way forward,” he added.

May was expected to hold talks with top EU officials later this week. Britain and the EU have only days to clinch a deal on the divorce terms — the Irish border, Britain’s financial exit bill and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit — before a Dec. 14-15 EU summit that will decide whether Brexit talks can move on to future relations and trade.

The lack of progress so far has raised concerns that Britain may not have a deal by the time it officially leaves on March 29, 2019, and heightened fears that May’s government could collapse. Business leaders in particular are expressing alarm at the lack of certainty in the process. The chief executive of manufacturers’ organization EEF, Stephen Phipson, warned that inability to secure a transition deal before Christmas would be costly.

“While international companies appreciate the nuances of complex negotiations, they will assess the situation based on the facts at hand and all they will be able to see is the probability of a cliff edge looming on the horizon,” he said.

UK extradition hearing to start for tycoon sought by India

December 03, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya is set to face an extradition hearing in London that should determine whether he is sent back to India to face money laundering allegations related to the collapse of several of his businesses.

The Westminster Magistrates Court hearing, which begins Monday and is due to last about eight days, will be widely followed in India, where Mallya is known for his flashy lifestyle and lavish parties attended by fashion models and Bollywood stars.

Mallya, who denies the allegations, was once hailed as India’s version of British entrepreneur Richard Branson for his investments in a liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club.

In November, he called the allegations “baseless and fabricated.” Asked by reporters outside the courthouse why he didn’t return to India to answer the charges, he snapped back: “That’s none of your business.”

The 61-year-old was also a politician for six years before resigning from the upper house of India’s parliament last year, a day before an ethics committee was set to recommend his expulsion. Mallya launched Kingfisher Airlines in 2005 and the carrier set new standards for quality and service, forcing competing airlines to improve. But it ran into trouble as it expanded. The Indian government suspended the airline’s license in 2012 after it failed to pay pilots and engineers for months.

That triggered the collapse of several more of Mallya’s businesses. He left India last year after a group of banks demanded he pay back more than $1 billion in loans extended to his airline. He has been living in Britain since March 2016 and has refused to return to India to face trial in the Kingfisher Airlines case. India canceled his passport and began an extradition process.

In May, India’s Supreme Court ruled Mallya had disobeyed its order barring him from transferring $40 million to his children. Gurcharan Das, a New Delhi author and former chief executive of Procter & Gamble India, said Mallya was an excellent salesman who built a great brand that included one of the nation’s favorite beers and a high-performing airline.

He said that Mallya, like many others, tried to expand too quickly, buying a no-frills airline that wasn’t a good fit with his company. He said Mallya’s political connections have made him a national symbol of the perils of crony capitalism.

“I see it as a bit of a tragedy. He is somebody who had quite outstanding talents,” Das said. “What hurt him was his flamboyant lifestyle. He didn’t bother to hide it. He flaunted it. That, too, in the public imagination has made him a villain.”

He said Mallya kept up to a dozen homes with full staff as well as buying private jets and yachts, all in a poor country where most rich people tend to hide their wealth. But Das said Mallya’s biggest mistake was to leave India.

“He should have just toughed it out here,” Das said. “There are a number of other businessmen who owe far more money to the banks than he does. He just got scared and skipped out.” Mallya has argued that Britain has long been a second home for him.

India’s government this month rejected Mallya’s argument that he wouldn’t be safe in an Indian jail if he was sent back, and was planning to tell that to the London court, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Nick Perry reported from New Delhi.

Spring wedding at Windsor Castle for Prince Harry and Markle

November 28, 2017

LONDON (AP) — It will be a spring wedding on the glorious grounds of Windsor Castle for love-struck Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Royal officials — thrilled with the international response to news of the couple’s engagement, and the positive reaction to their first ever TV appearance — revealed a few key details Tuesday but kept mum on others, such as who will be Harry’s best man?

The wedding will be in May, but the date has not been chosen, Harry’s communications secretary, Jason Knauf, told a packed briefing at Buckingham Palace. “In a happy moment in their lives, it means a great deal to them that so many people throughout the UK, the Commonwealth and around the world are celebrating with them,” he said before fielding questions about things like how many of Markle’s rescue dogs would move to Britain with her.

Knauf said Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, had given permission for the couple to wed at St. George’s Chapel, the historic church on the Windsor Castle grounds that has long been a touchstone for royal rites of passage. He said the 91-year-old monarch will attend the wedding.

Windsor Castle, west of London, is one of the queen’s favorite residences. St. George’s, the 15th-century chapel where the couple will wed, is more intimate than Westminster Abbey, where Harry’s older brother, William, married Kate Middleton in 2011.

Knauf said Windsor “is a very special place for Prince Harry,” and that he and Markle have regularly spent time there since they began dating about a year and a half ago. He said the wedding “will be a moment of fun and joy that will reflect the characters of the bride and groom.”

The image-conscious royals also made clear in a statement that the royal family, not British taxpayers, will foot the bill for what is expected to be a grand extravaganza. The family will pay for the church service, the music, the flowers, the decorations and the reception that follows.

Harry’s press team is keeping some details private for the moment — perhaps because final decisions have not been made. It’s also not clear who will be Harry’s best man, though older brother William would seem to be a strong contender.

Knauf also would not say whether Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will preside over the service. And as for what titles will be given to Harry and Markle, that will be decided by the queen and revealed at a later date.

The palace was ready to answer some delicate questions about the 36-year-old Markle’s move to Britain and her taking up a senior role in the royal family, sometimes called “the firm.” Knauf said she will comply with all immigration requirements and will become a British citizen, a process that may take several years, and will retain her U.S. citizenship throughout the process.

He did not say whether she would drop her U.S. citizenship at some point. Asked about her religion, Knauf said Markle is a Protestant who will be baptized in the Church of England, which is headed by the queen in a largely ceremonial role.

Markle’s personal belongings are being shipped from Canada, where she has lived for seven years while performing in the TV legal drama “Suits,” to Nottingham Cottage, where she and Harry will live. The cottage is located on the grounds of Kensington Palace in central London.

She has already brought one of her two rescue pups, Guy, but the other — Bogart — is being left behind and will reside permanently with “good friends,” Knauf said. The union of the 33-year-old prince and Markle, an accomplished TV actress in her own right, represents a blending of Hollywood and royalty that is expected to draw an international audience — officials said it is a safe assumption that the service will be televised.

The couple will carry out their first official engagement on Friday, visiting a youth charity and a World AIDS Day event in Nottingham in central England. For Markle, it will be a first taste of life as a working royal.

Markle’s divorced status would once have barred her from marrying the prince in church. Harry’s father Prince Charles, who is heir to the British throne, married his wife Camilla in a low-key civil ceremony in 2005 because both bride and groom were divorced.

Camilla said Tuesday she was “delighted” her stepson was marrying the U.S. actress. “America’s loss is our gain,” she said. Newspapers hailed news of the engagement as a breath of fresh air and symbol of a modernizing monarchy.

The Daily Telegraph said in an editorial: “A divorced, mixed-race Hollywood actress who attended a Roman Catholic school is to marry the son of the next king. Such a sentence could simply not have been written a generation ago.”

American actress Meghan Markle to be a new kind of royal

November 28, 2017

LONDON (AP) — She is an entertainment figure in her own right, and an outspoken woman comfortable talking about her background and her passions. American actress Meghan Markle will be a new type of royal when she weds Prince Harry in the spring.

In some ways, Markle — a mixed-race American raised in California, and a divorcee — makes a surprising addition to Britain’s monarchy. But the institution has moved on with the times, and the romance between Markle and Harry has a decidedly unstuffy, modern feel to it.

Markle, best known for her role as an ambitious paralegal in the hit U.S. legal drama “Suits,” surprised many when she shared her feelings for Harry in a September cover story for Vanity Fair. Asked about the media frenzy surrounding their courtship, the 36-year-old said: “At the end of the day I think it’s really simple … we’re two people who are really happy and in love.”

Describing Harry as her “boyfriend,” Markle said that while she expected that she and Harry would have to “come forward” about their relationship at some point, the two were just a couple enjoying time spent with each other.

“Personally, I love a great love story,” she said. It is unusual for a royal love interest to speak so publicly — and candidly — before becoming engaged. Harry’s past reported girlfriends all shied away from the media limelight, and his sister-in-law, formerly known as Kate Middleton, stayed silent until she and Prince William gave a formal televised interview at Buckingham Palace after their engagement became public.

But then, unlike some other “commoners” romantically linked to Britain’s royals, Markle is no stranger to media exposure and the world of show business. The actress’s most successful role is the feisty Rachel Zane in the TV legal show “Suits,” now in its seventh season. Her career has also included small parts on TV series including “Fringe,” ”CSI: Miami,” ”Knight Rider” and “Castle,” as well as movies including “Horrible Bosses.”

Outside of acting, Markle founded a lifestyle blog called (which closed down in April without explanation), and has lent her celebrity status to humanitarian causes. She has campaigned for women’s equality for UN Women as an “Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership.” At a 2015 star-studded event for the U.N. women’s agency, she said: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”

UN Women said in a statement late Monday that it “trusts and hopes that in her new and important public role she will continue to use her visibility and voice to support the advancement of gender equality.”

Markle has written in Time magazine about girls’ education and the stigma surrounding menstruation, and has traveled to Rwanda as global ambassador for the charity World Vision Canada. She has described how her mother took her to the slums of Jamaica to witness poverty first-hand, saying experiences like that shaped her social consciousness and charity work.

She has campaigned with the United Nations on gender equality, written in Time magazine about girls’ education and the stigma surrounding menstruation, and has traveled to Rwanda as global ambassador for the charity World Vision Canada. She has described how her mother took her to the slums of Jamaica to witness poverty first-hand, saying experiences like that shaped her social consciousness and charity work.

Harry and Markle held hands for their first official appearance together in September in Toronto at the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded service personnel that Harry spearheaded. Both were dressed casually in jeans, smiling and chatting as they arrived for a tennis match. Several days later, Harry was photographed kissing Markle on the cheek as he joined the actress and her mother in a luxury box to watch the event’s closing ceremony.

Markle said she met Harry through friends in London in July 2016, and that they had been dating quietly for several months before the romance hit the headlines. The media attention then became so intense that Harry took the unusual step of officially confirming the romance in order to warn the media off. In a strongly-worded statement issued through the palace, the prince pleaded for reporters to stop intruding on his girlfriend’s privacy. He condemned “outright sexism and racism” in some online comments, and said some articles with “racial undertones” had crossed the line.

Some tabloids had alluded to Markle’s mixed-race heritage, pointing out she has an African-American mother and a white father. Markle herself has spoken out about coming to terms with being biracial — both growing up, and in her Hollywood career.

In a March interview with Allure magazine, she said studying race at college was “the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community and too mixed in the white community. “For castings, I was labeled ‘ethnically ambiguous’,” she said.

Markle was born Aug. 4, 1981, to a clinical therapist mother and television lighting director father. She grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in Toronto. She studied at a girls’ Roman Catholic high school before attending Northwestern University in Illinois, where she studied theater and international relations.

Markle married film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011, but the pair divorced two years later. It wouldn’t be first time that a British royal has married an American — or a divorcee. In 1936, Edward VIII famously abdicated after he was forced to choose between the monarchy and his relationship with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

In her Vanity Fair interview, Markle made clear the world’s attention on her romance did not faze her. “I’m still the same person that I am, and I’ve never defined myself by my relationship,” she said. “The people who are close to me anchor me in knowing who I am. The rest is noise.”

Royal romance: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle to wed next year

November 27, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Newly engaged Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Monday lifted the secrecy that had shrouded their 18-month romance, revealing they met on a blind date, bonded during a camping trip under the stars in Botswana and that Harry proposed over a roast chicken dinner at their London home, getting down on one knee to pop the question.

Speaking just hours after the couple’s engagement was announced by palace officials acting on behalf of Prince Charles, Harry said he was thrilled when she said yes, and he placed an engagement ring of his own design on her finger that included two diamonds that had belonged to his mother, Princess Diana, set alongside a large central diamond from Botswana.

“Just an amazing surprise,” said the 36-year-old Markle, an American actress known for her role in the TV legal drama “Suits.” ”It was so sweet and natural and very romantic.” Did she hesitate? Not if Harry can be trusted.

“She didn’t even let me finish,” the 33-year-old prince said of his betrothed. “She said ‘Can I say yes, can I say yes?’ And then there were hugs and I had the ring in my finger and I was like ‘Can I, can I give you the ring?’ She goes, ‘Oh yes, the ring.'”

The couple said they plan to marry in the spring, and Harry —fifth in line for the British throne — said he hopes to start a family. They seemed very much aglow as they sat on a sofa during their first ever joint interview and described their long-distance courtship, with Markle busy filming in Canada and Harry fulfilling royal duties in Britain. They said they saw each other every two weeks, despite the pressure and put their relationship first.

Markle, whose mother is African-American and whose father is white, said she had been “disheartened” when early press coverage about their relationship focused on her mixed-race background. But she seemed thrilled to be joining the royal family and spoke glowingly about Harry’s brother Prince William, his wife Kate and other senior royals.

They will live in Nottingham Cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace, where Harry proposed and where they will be neighbors with William and Kate. Markle has already brought one of her rescue dogs from Canada, while the other is staying with a friend for now.

In many ways, their story mirrors those of engaged couples everywhere — with some crucial differences. When they first went on vacation together, it was a five-day camping trip in the wilderness of Botswana — where one hopes the royal protection officers gave them some space. And when Markle met Harry’s grandmother for tea, she was sitting down with Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Markle said they managed to date for five or six months before the media found out, giving them an “amazing” amount of privacy as they got to know each other. She said she knew very little about the royal family when a mutual friend suggested a blind date with Harry. Markle had only one question: “Is he nice?”

Their first date, for a drink, went well and they quickly decided to meet again. Harry said it took three or four weeks to persuade Markle to join him in Botswana. For his part, Harry said he had never watched the TV show “Suits” and hadn’t heard of Markle. But when he met her, he said he quickly realized he would have to “up my game” if he was to have a chance.

“Taking that huge leap of only two dates and then going effectively on holiday together in the middle of nowhere and, you know, sharing a tent together and all that kind of stuff. It was … fantastic. It was absolutely amazing to get to know her as quickly as I did,” Harry said.

The rugged red-headed prince, an army veteran whose one-time bad-boy image has been superseded by his tireless devotion to wounded veterans and his embrace of charitable causes, has said for several years that he wants to start a family, and rumors of his engagement to Markle had been flying for months, fueled by reports she was leaving her television show.

The marriage represents a first-ever blending of Hollywood glamor with the once-stuffy royal family, which has of late seemed less fixed in its ways, and brings a divorced American woman into a highly visible role.

Prince William and his pregnant wife Kate enthusiastically welcomed Markle to the royal family. “We are very excited for Harry and Meghan,” they said in a statement. “It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together.”

Prince Charles told reporters he was “thrilled” with the engagement. “They’ll be very happy indeed,” he said. Monday’s announcement said the couple had informed Harry’s grandmother, the queen, whose consent is needed for him to marry. Markle described having met the queen as an amazing experience.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the couple would have a church wedding. No date has been announced. Congratulations also came in from the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, and from Prime Minister Theresa May.

Markle’s parents also welcomed the news. Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland, who are divorced, said their daughter “has always been a kind and loving person. To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents.”

Markle was raised in the Los Angeles area. Her father is a Hollywood lighting director, her mother a yoga instructor and psychotherapist. The announcement means another grand royal wedding may be in the offing — the first since William and Kate married in 2011 — though the couple may choose a slimmed-down ceremony.

Harry, once known for his dicey antics, including being photographed playing strip billiards in Las Vegas, has largely charmed the British public with his winning smile, his military career and his devotion to charities aimed at helping disabled veterans and other causes.

Harry recently won praise with his work campaigning for more openness about mental health issues. Speaking candidly about his personal struggle to cope with the loss of his mother when he was only 12, he encouraged others to talk about their own problems rather than keeping them bottled up inside.

It won’t be the first time that a British royal has married an American, or a divorced person. In 1936, Edward VIII famously abdicated after he was forced to choose between the monarchy and his relationship with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

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