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Posts tagged ‘Land of the British Empire’

UK opponents of Brexit mull new centrist political party

August 11, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union are floating the idea of setting up a new anti-Brexit political party. James Chapman, a former top aide to Brexit Secretary David Davis, has become an outspoken critic of Britain’s looming departure from the 28-nation bloc.

He is calling for a new centrist political party because both the governing Conservatives and main opposition Labor parties say they will go through with the decision to leave. Chapman said Friday “there is an enormous gap in the center now of British politics” that could be filled by an anti-Brexit force. He said that two members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet have contacted him to express support.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has also called for pro-EU politicians from all parties to unite. Chapman, a former journalist who was chief of staff to Davis until June, tweeted this week that “Brexit is a catastrophe” and called on “sensible” lawmakers to reverse it.

He has suggested the new party should be called the Democrats. But many politicians say Britons democratically voted to leave the bloc and it would be wrong to override the decision. Britain is currently negotiating its divorce from the EU and is due to leave in March 2019.

Progress has been slow on settling the big early issues, including the status of EU nationals living in the U.K. and the size of the bill Britain must pay to settle its commitments to the bloc. Meanwhile, U.K. economic growth is faltering amid uncertainty about what the country’s future trading relationship with the EU will be.

UK Brexit chief sees EU-UK trade talks starting this fall

July 11, 2017

LONDON (AP) — U.K. and European Union negotiators should be able to move from talks about Britain’s divorce terms to negotiating future relations before the end of the year, the top U.K. Brexit official said Tuesday.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier hoped to “recommend going to the parallel negotiations October-November.” Britain triggered a two-year countdown to its departure from the bloc in March, and Davis and Barnier met for preliminary talks last month. They are due to meet again next week.

The EU insists that major progress must be made on the U.K.’s exit terms — including a hefty divorce bill — before negotiations can start on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU. Britain wants the two strands to run in parallel.

Davis told the House of Lords Brexit committee that Barnier hoped to signal in the fall that sufficient progress had been made. Once that happens, talks could move on to “free-trade issues, customs issues, justice and home affairs issues,” he said.

Davis also struck an optimistic note on settling the status of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, and more than 1 million U.K. nationals residing elsewhere in the bloc. The two sides have sparred over the issue, with EU lawmakers accusing Britain of planning to give Europeans in Britain “second-class status.”

Davis said he wanted the issue to be settled soon, because “I view it bluntly as a moral issue.” “We don’t want anybody to be a bargaining chip,” he said. Davis’ positive tone contrasted with comments earlier in the day made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said the EU could “go whistle” if it tried to impose an “extortionate” exit bill on the U.K.

Estimates of the amount Britain must pay to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments have ranged up to 100 billion euros ($114 billion.) “The sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate,” Johnson said.

“I think ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. Davis, more diplomatically, said Britain’s position on the divorce bill was “not to pay more than we need to.”

Poland 1st: Why Trump visits ex-communist nation before UK

July 02, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Donald Trump is breaking with tradition by visiting Poland, an ex-communist country in central Europe, before making a presidential visit to longtime allies Britain, France or Germany.

The White House has stressed Poland’s importance as a loyal NATO ally and its potential as an energy partner as reasons for the visit, which he will make Thursday just before attending a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. But there are several other reasons that make Poland a logical early destination for the new U.S. president.

POLAND FIRST FOR A POPULIST WELCOME

Trump will be welcomed in Poland by populist leaders who are closely aligned with his worldview and who gained power in 2015 with the same brand of nationalistic, anti-Muslim rhetoric that has put both the new U.S. leader and the Poles in conflict with leaders in Western Europe. Like Trump, Poland’s leaders seek to restore more national sovereignty and weaken international institutions like the European Union. Some political observers worry that the visit could further deepen divisions between Poland and its Western European partners. There is also concern Trump’s visit could embolden the Polish government and encourage what the EU sees as an erosion of the rule of law in Poland.

WARSAW CAN PRODUCE CHEERING CROWDS

Trump can probably count on large enthusiastic crowds to greet him in Warsaw, where he is expected to give a major televised address to the nation. In fact, according to Polish media reports, that is exactly what Poland’s government promised the White House in its invitation. To make good on that pledge, ruling party lawmakers and pro-government activists plan to bus in groups from the provinces to hear Trump’s speech. A warm reception would certainly be a plus for Trump after his somewhat awkward debut in Europe in May. He also could get a frosty reception at the G-20 due to his recent decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord and other policies. Some NATO allies have also been annoyed by Trump’s repeated calls for them to increase military spending.

POLAND SEES U.S. BOOTS ON THE GROUND

Poles, on the other hand, can expect only praise from Trump on their defense expenditures. A U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, Poland is one of the five NATO members that spends the expected 2 percent of gross domestic product on its military. The Poland-U.S. security relationship has also gotten a boost this year with the deployment of some 5,000 U.S. troops to Poland as part of two separate American and NATO missions. The deployments are meant to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank that the alliance is serious about protecting them from Russian aggression.

Many across the region hope to hear Trump commit himself to NATO’s Article 5, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all. After months of waffling on that defense pact, Trump finally did so in June standing alongside the Romanian president in the Rose Garden. Still, it would mean a lot to an anxious region to hear those words spoken on soil closer to Russia.

POLISH-AMERICANS VOTE IN U.S. ELECTIONS

The hundreds of thousands of Polish-American voters in the United States represent an important constituency in several battleground states, and last year they helped give Trump the edge he needed in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They will certainly be grateful for Trump’s visit to Warsaw, especially since he has chosen to address Poles at Krasinski Square, a location that symbolizes Polish heroism during World War II. That large square has a memorial to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a courageous but doomed uprising against Nazi Germany that resulted in more than 200,000 Polish deaths and the destruction of Warsaw.

ENERGY TIES

During Trump’s visit to Warsaw, he will also attend a summit devoted to the Three Seas Initiative, an effort to expand and modernize energy and trade links among 12 countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas. One driving purpose of the initiative is to make the region less dependent on Russian energy. Under the project, U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which began arriving in Poland in early June, would have the potential to supply more of the region. The visit coincides with efforts by Trump’s administration to become a net exporter of oil, gas and other resources to boost U.S. revenues and influence.

UK lawmakers face key vote on Conservative govt’s agenda

June 29, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers were set to vote Thursday on whether to approve the Conservative government’s plans for a Brexit-dominated parliamentary session, in a test of Prime Minister Theresa May’s shaky minority administration.

The vote comes at the end of debate on last week’s Queen’s Speech, which set out the government’s proposed legislation for the next two years. The slimmed-down agenda jettisoned several pledges made by the party before Britain’s June 8 election, in which voters stripped May’s Conservative party of its majority in Parliament. Several of the planned new laws relate to Britain’s exit from the European Union, due in 2019.

The election left the Conservatives with 317 of the 650 seats in Parliament, several short of a majority. It also severely undermined the authority of May, who called the early vote in a misjudged attempt to increase her grip on power ahead of Brexit negotiations with the EU.

As May struggles to short up her support, the main opposition Labour Party is seeking to disrupt her plans by putting forward amendments that would reverse Conservative policies on Brexit and spending cuts.

But the government is likely to get its way Thursday thanks to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 lawmakers have agreed to support the Conservatives on key votes. On Wednesday the government, with the help of the DUP, managed to defeat a Labour motion calling for a reversal of public spending cuts. The vote was 323 to 309 — the first of what is likely to be many close calls for May’s administration in Parliament.

The DUP deal — secured with a promise of 1 billion pounds ($1.29 billion) in new spending for Northern Ireland — has dismayed some Conservatives on account of the smaller party’s socially conservative policies on issues including abortion, which is all but outlawed in Northern Ireland.

One amendment up for a vote Thursday will test the unity of Conservative lawmakers. It calls on the government to pay for women from Northern Ireland to travel to England for abortions. Voting down the measure could be hard to stomach for some liberal Tory legislators.

N Ireland party signs deals to support UK Conservative gov’t

June 26, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The leader of a Northern Ireland-based party struck a 1.5 billion pound ($1.9 billion) deal with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives on Monday to support her minority government in a crucial vote on her legislative package later this week.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said the funding would “address the unique circumstances” of Northern Ireland. As part of the deal, funds will be provided to boost Northern Ireland’s economy and offer investment in new infrastructure, health and education.

May said that the two parties “share many values.” “We also share the desire to ensure a strong government, able to put through its program and provide for issues like the Brexit negotiations, but also national security issues,” May said. “So the agreement we have come to is a very, very good one.”

But the figure is certain to raise questions at a time of funding pressure to support police and security services following several extremist attacks as well as a national housing crisis following a devastating fire in a London high-rise that killed at least 79 people. The other parts of the United Kingdom are also certain to object to special consideration for Northern Ireland.

Foster’s party had demanded tangible benefits for Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and investment in order to offer its support for May, who lost her majority in the House of Commons in a snap election earlier this month. The prime minister needs the DUP’s 10 lawmakers to back her legislative program in order to stay in power.

As part of the deal, money will be earmarked to address a bottleneck between three busy roads in Northern Ireland, and to open up “new opportunities for growth and connectivity” in digital infrastructure.

In an annex outlining the deal, the government said it “recognizes that Northern Ireland has unique circumstances within the United Kingdom, not least as a consequence of responding to challenges of the past,” and would therefore allocate 50 million pounds a year for two years “to address immediate pressures in health and education.”

But critics, including members of May’s Conservatives, have objected to any kind of alliance with the DUP because of some of its views, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. Northern Ireland’s other political parties have also objected to any kind of alliance with the DUP, as it jeopardizes the government’s pledge to be a neutral arbiter as part of the Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian strife.

UK police: Mosque attack suspect held on terror charges

June 20, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The family of the suspect arrested in a van attack on a London mosque says they are “massively shocked” and that “their hearts go out to the injured.” British media identified the suspect as Darren Osborne from the Welsh city of Cardiff. He was arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder.

Relatives and acquaintances have described him as “complex” or “troubled” in comments to the British media. Witnesses said Osborne claimed he wanted to “kill all Muslims” after he drove into a crowd leaving a mosque early Monday morning. One man who was receiving first aid at the time of the attack died; it’s unclear if his death was a result of the attack or from a previous condition.

Nine people were hospitalized after the attack and one person has since been discharged. Two others were treated for minor injuries at the scene. In a statement on behalf of the family, Osborne’s nephew Ellis Osborne said they were devastated for the families of the victims but said that his uncle was not a racist.

Darren Osborne’s sister Nicola said her brother had been “troubled for a long time.” His mother, Christine, described him as a “complex” person. “I’m not going to defend him, but he’s my son and it’s a terrible, terrible shock,” she told ITV.

“It’s not just robbing a bank, it’s an atrocity. And at this moment in time, I can’t cope with it, I can’t. I don’t want to say anything more.” Police were searching an address where Osborne was said to be living before the attack. British media reported that there was no evidence Osborne belonged to any far-right organization and said he was not known to the security services.

One of Osborne’s neighbors in Cardiff, Khadijh Sherazi, told the Guardian newspaper she had never had any problems with Osborne or his family until this weekend. Sherazi said her son, Nadeem, 12, said Osborne came up to him while he was on his bike and called him an “inbred.”

“At this stage in the investigation, it is believed that the suspect acted alone but we are of course investigating all the circumstances leading up to the attack,” the Metropolitan police said in a statement. “All the victims were from the Muslim community and we will be deploying extra police patrols to reassure the public, especially those observing Ramadan.”

As Brexit talks begin, Europe sees economic upswing over UK

June 20, 2017

LONDON (AP) — When Britain voted to leave the European Union a year ago, proponents argued Britain’s economy was being held back by the slow-growing, dysfunctional bloc. A year on, and with the Brexit divorce talks finally starting, the situation is radically different.

Britain’s economy is growing more slowly than Greece’s, its households are getting poorer as inflation rises and the government is struggling to stay in power. The remaining 27 members of the EU, meanwhile, appear to have pushed into a higher gear and found renewed vigor from the election of pro-EU governments like that of France.

“The tables have turned somewhat,” said James Nixon, chief European economist at Oxford Economics. “The European economy is now enjoying a solid upswing and sentiment, especially towards the EU, is improving.”

The situation could embolden the EU negotiators in the Brexit talks and weaken the British side, though it is still far from certain how the talks, which are due to last two years, will play out. For Britain, it’s a role reversal, having been buoyed by strong growth in recent times — even after the momentous vote on June 23, 2016 to leave the EU.

Rather than fall into recession in the wake of the Brexit vote, as many economists had predicted, Britain last year was one of the fastest-growing economy among the Group of Seven industrial nations. That was largely due to the sharp fall in the value of the pound in the wake of the Brexit vote, which made British exports cheaper in international markets.

The EU, and the 19-country eurozone in particular, was still reeling from a debt crisis that raised questions over the future of its euro currency and was struggling to cope with a flow of refugees seeking sanctuary from the war in Syria. The Brexit vote had raised questions about the future of the EU and its detractors, including many political parties, were looking to deliver it blows in key elections in France and elsewhere.

For Britain, things have clearly gotten worse this year. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May failed spectacularly to achieve a majority for her Conservative Party in the general election she called for earlier this month, undermining confidence in her ability to remain in the top job. And the economy started showing clear signs of worsening.

A 15 percent drop in the pound against the dollar has pushed up inflation as it makes imports more expensive, causing living standards to fall as wage increases fail to keep up pace. The consequence of that is households are spending less — retail sales are growing at their slowest rate in four years.

Uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the Brexit talks — such as the possibility that Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal — is also likely to make consumers cautious. As will the prospect of higher interest rates from the Bank of England. Last week’s policy meeting showed that three of eight rate-setters surprisingly backed the first increase in nearly a decade.

The pound’s fall has helped exporters by making their goods cheaper around the world. But the impact of the depreciation doesn’t last long and credit ratings agency DBRS says that whatever the shape of the Brexit deal, uncertainty “is likely to adversely impact the economy and the fiscal accounts.”

The upshot is that Britain is now at the bottom of the G-7 growth table. Even Greece, which is just coming out of an economic depression and is operating under an international bailout, is doing better, with quarterly growth of 0.4 percent, double Britain’s.

Philip Hammond, reappointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer by May after the election, is increasingly arguing for the need for business to be front and center in the Brexit discussions, over and above any other consideration, such as reclaiming sovereignty or clamping down on immigration.

“When the British people voted last June, they did not vote to become poorer, or less secure,” Hammond said Tuesday. “They did vote to leave the EU. And we will leave the EU. But it must be done in a way that works for Britain. In a way that prioritizes British jobs, and underpins Britain’s prosperity.”

While the situation in Britain has clearly worsened, it has gotten brighter in the rest of the EU. Populist, Euroskeptic politicians in Austria, the Netherlands and France failed to make the headway they may have anticipated in recent elections, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely expected to win again in elections this autumn. Meanwhile, the region’s debt crisis doesn’t look like it’s going to flare up again anytime soon as Greece got the money it needed to meet a big summer repayment hump.

“The second half of the year now looks far less threatening,” said Simon Derrick, chief markets strategist at BNY Mellon. Perhaps the most important development for the economy has been the election of Macron as France’s new president, and his party’s big success in legislative elections on Sunday.

Macron was elected on a mandate to deeply reform France’s economy, such as making it easier to hire and fire workers. The French economy is performing better than at any time in years, which could make it more palatable for people to accept the changes.

All the signs are that the French economy, for years a laggard in Europe, has pushed into a higher gear. The same can be said for the wider eurozone economy, which grew by 0.6 percent in the first three months of the year.

Investors are getting more confident about its prospects, with some funds, including Blackrock and Morgan Stanley, recommending clients to go “overweight” on European stocks. It’s still unclear how this divergence in performance between the two sides of the Brexit negotiating table will play out. The worry for Britain is that the EU will be able to tough it out a bit more than it could have done a year ago.

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