Tag Archives: UK politics

UK won’t trigger EU divorce until country-wide agreement

New British Prime Minister Theresa May meeting First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/James Glossop/Pool

New British Prime Minister Theresa May meeting First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/James Glossop/Pool

By Russell Cheyne
July 15, 2016

EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that Britain would not trigger formal divorce talks with the European Union until a “UK approach” had been agreed, bidding to appease Scots who strongly oppose Brexit.

May made the comment after meeting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, head of the pro-independence Scottish government which says pro-EU Scots should not be dragged out against their will and has been looking at ways to keep Scotland in the bloc.

Scotland voted by 62-38 percent to stay in the European Union in the June 23 referendum while the United Kingdom as a whole voted 52-48 percent to leave, a result which Sturgeon has said made the prospect of another vote on Scottish independence “highly likely”.

“I have already said that I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives for negotiations – I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50,” May said, referring to the procedure through which a country would withdraw from the EU.

May said her decision to visit Sturgeon on her own turf less than 48 hours after taking office underlined her determination to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote had revived the issue of independence, which Scots rejected in a 2014 referendum.

Sturgeon has said she will explore all possibilities for keeping Scotland in the EU and May, who herself had backed the campaign to remain in the bloc, said she wanted the Scottish government to be involved in the Brexit talks.

“I will listen to any options they bring forward. I’ve been very clear with the first minister today that I want the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussions,” May said.

“I want to get the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

While European leaders have urged Britain to start formal discussions over an EU exit quickly, May has said Britain would not trigger Article 50 this year, and needed a clear negotiating stance first.

BLOCKING ARTICLE 50

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Scotland’s position could further delay divorce talks as, under devolution rules, the parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are required to consent to any EU exit, according to a report by the House of Lords.

Sturgeon said last month that Scotland’s parliament would consider blocking such legislation if necessary to protect Scottish interests. She has also repeatedly warned that Scotland could split from the United Kingdom should that be the only way for it to remain in the EU.

Scots rejected independence by 55-45 percent in the referendum two years ago, but since then Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party has gone from strength to strength, winning 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the British parliament in the 2015 election.

Sturgeon, who met several EU leaders in Brussels days after the referendum, said she was pleased May was willing to consider the Scottish government’s options as part of the overall negotiations over the terms of Britain’s exit.

But she said it would be inconceivable for a British prime minister to block a referendum if the Scottish parliament voted to hold one.

“I’ve said previously that if we want to protect our relationship with the European Union then Scotland may have to consider becoming an independent member,” she said after Friday’s meeting.

“If it proves not to be possible to fully protect Scotland’s interests through the UK process then the prime minister knows that a second independence referendum is of course on the table.”

May said the independence issue had been settled:

“As far as I’m concerned the Scottish people had their vote, they voted in 2014 and a very clear message came through, both the United Kingdom and the Scottish government said they would abide by that.”

Polls suggest support for independence has risen since the Brexit vote.

May’s Conservative Party, unpopular in Scotland for decades, holds only one of Scotland’s 59 seats in the Westminster parliament, although it has recently improved its standing, coming second to the SNP in the Scottish parliamentary election in May.

It is now the official opposition to the SNP in Edinburgh, having beaten the once dominant Labour Party into third place.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Robin Pomeroy)

Also on Facts and Opinions:

THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister, by Victoria Honeyman  Report

Some newspapers obsessed over Theresa May’s quirky shoe choices, but she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

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THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a terrorism conference at Chatham House in Dec. 2015 as Home Secretary. Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a terrorism conference at Chatham House in Dec. 2015 as Home Secretary. Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons

By Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds
July 11, 2016

Britain is to have a new prime minister in the form of Theresa May, currently the home secretary. May will take office July 13 after the contest to become Conservative leader was unexpectedly cut short by her rival Andrea Leadsom.

May was always seen as the more likely of the two candidates to prevail but it had been thought that she wouldn’t emerge as the victor until September. Then, after facing a backlash for comments she made implying that being a mother made her the best woman for the job, Leadsom quit the race.

So, who is the new prime minster? Some newspapers obsessed over May’s quirky shoe choices. But she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

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After graduating from Oxford, May spent her early career on a London council and at the Bank of England. She was elected to the House of Commons in 1997 as MP for Maidenhead in Berkshire. Her star rose quickly and she became shadow Secretary of State for Education in June 1999, when the Conservative Party was the party of opposition.

When then leader William Hague departed, his successor Iain Duncan Smith appointed May as shadow Secretary of State for transport. Then in 2002, she became chairman of the Conservative Party.

Her style was calm, collected and, as the “nasty party” reference suggests, not afraid to point out uncomfortable truths in order to help her party win power. Under Duncan Smith’s successor, Michael Howard, May returned to the transport portfolio, before moving to culture, finally becoming shadow leader of the House of Commons in 2005 when David Cameron rose to the leadership.

After a short stint as shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, May took up her more permanent position as HOme Secretary after the Conservative Party came to power as the lead partner in the 2010-2015 coalition government. She held that position right up until now – an exceptionally long stint in one of the government’s toughest jobs.

Traditionally in British politics, it was anticipated that Prime Ministers would occupy two of the three large governmental positions before becoming Prime Minister, those positions being Home Secretary Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, many Prime Ministers have not held more than one of those positions, and some have held none.

Tony Blair had famously never held a government position before becoming Prime Minister, as the Labour Party had been out of power for the entire duration of his career as an MP. Cameron, too, had never held a Cabinet position before becoming Prime Minister, although he had been a special adviser to Norman Lamont while he had been Chancellor. In modern times, only Jim Callaghan (1976-1979) and John Major (1990-1997) had fulfilled the traditional apprenticeship of government.

Waiting for the vision

For May, there will be no “third way” or “Liberal Conservatism”. She is seen as being to the right of Cameron, who represents the more centre-right element of the party.

We can expect May’s leadership to be defined by the Brexit talks. May has cast herself, not just since the referendum vote, but since her arrival in parliament, as a steady pair of hands. She will need to live up to that reputation in a political environment which is unpredictable and tumultuous.

The lack of a longer leadership campaign means that May has not been pressured on any of her policies, nor has she had the opportunity to explain and justify them to the party and the public.

It seems likely that Britain’s new PM will attempt to “steady the ship”, securing Britain’s relationship with the EU. She said as much in a speech outside parliament when her leadership was confirmed. Brexit, she said, means Brexit, and securing a good deal must be the top priority.

But she will also have to heal her party’s nasty wounds. And even if she didn’t say as much, this problem will have to come first – at least chronologically. The Conservatives have been bitterly divided over the European issue for many years and the referendum has only deepened the rift.

So, before starting protracted negotiations with the EU and various other key trading nations, May will need to bring peace to her own team. And while her first cabinet may give us a hint as to her intentions, it may be some time before her vision for Britain becomes clear.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Links:

We can make Britain a country that works for everyone: Theresa May’s speech launching her campaign, on her campaign site: http://www.theresa2016.co.uk/we_can_make_britain_a_country_that_works_for_everyone

Europe looks forward to dealing with pragmatist, by Duncan Robinson & Stefan Wagstyl, Financial Times

Der Spiegel reporting on Theresa May (mostly in German)

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Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs    Analysis

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.

‘Explosive shock’ as Britain votes to leave EU, Cameron quits, by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton  Report

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In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

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An American “Brexit” revolt? Not likely, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda columnist

Immediately after the Brexit vote, to take Britain out of the European Union, the hyperventilating United States  media found umpteen different ways to say “It could happen here.” This American media chorus is wrong.

 

Victoria-HoneymanVictoria Honeyman is a Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Leeds. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Iraq Inquiry: a catalogue of political failure

A British army armoured vehicle convoy rolls into southern Iraq March 22, 2003. REUTERS/Oleg Popov/File Photo

A British army armoured vehicle convoy rolls into southern Iraq March 22, 2003. REUTERS/Oleg Popov/File Photo

By Michael Holden and William James 
July, 2016

LONDON (Reuters) – Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded July 6 in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.

Eight months before the 2003 invasion, Blair told U.S. President George W. Bush “I will be with you, whatever”, eventually sending 45,000 British troops into battle when peace options had not been exhausted, the long-awaited British public inquiry said.

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

 

More than 13 years since the invasion, Iraq remains in chaos, with large areas under the control of Islamic State militants who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Western cities.

Many Britons want Blair to face criminal action over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.

Critics also say it fuelled a deep distrust in politicians and the ruling establishment. The report was issued 13 days after Britons delivered a stunning blow to their political leaders by voting to leave the European Union.

The inquiry, which was given unprecedented access to confidential government documents and took longer to complete than British military involvement in the conflict itself, said Blair had relied on flawed intelligence and determined the way the war was legally authorised was unsatisfactory.

The threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction – the original justification for war – had been over-hyped and the planning for the aftermath of war had been inadequate, it found.

“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the inquiry chairman, former civil servant John Chilcot.

In a lengthy and passionate defence lasting almost two hours, Blair explained his decision to back Bush and go to war alongside the United States in March 2003, at a time when the inquiry said Saddam posed no imminent threat.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

“I did not mislead this country. There were no lies, there was no deceit, there was no deception,” the former prime minister told reporters, looking gaunt and strained but growing animated as he responded to questions.

“But there was a decision, and it was a controversial decision … to remove Saddam and to be with America. I believe I made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it.”

The only Labour prime minister to win three general elections, Blair was in office for 10 years until 2007 and was hugely popular in his heyday, but Iraq has severely tarnished his reputation and legacy.

A statement issued by Bush’s spokesman Freddy Ford said the former president had not had a chance to read the report but defended the war’s goal of ousting Saddam.

“Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power,” the statement said.

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President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast April 8, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast April 8, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

“I WILL BE WITH YOU”

The inquiry report, running to 2.6 million words, or more than four times the length of “War and Peace”, shed light on the interaction between Blair and Bush in the months leading up to the invasion, which has long been the subject of speculation about secret deals and pledges.

In a memo dated July 28, 2002, eight months before the invasion, Blair told Bush: “I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties.”

Outside the building where Chilcot delivered his findings, protesters chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal”. But the report itself stopped short of saying the war was illegal.

“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory,” Chilcot said.

Reg Keys, whose son, 20-year-old Lance Corporal Thomas Keys, was killed in Iraq, said: “We all know who the key players are … who took part in this most shambolic episode in British politics. We would like to see all those key players face some form of accountability.”

He added: “If that’s through the legal channels, then we will look at that and see what’s viable and appropriate. It has been passed over to lawyers.”

Former British Prime Minister, Tony  Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016.    REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

BLAIR’S SORROW

Blair said he would take the same decisions again, and that he did not see the action as the cause of terrorism today, blaming outside forces for continuing sectarian violence in Iraq and the legacy of the Arab Spring for the emergence of Islamic State militants.

However, he acknowledged mistakes had been made.

“The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong. The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined,” he said.

“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”

Chilcot said there was no imminent threat from Saddam at the time of the invasion and the chaos in Iraq and the region which followed should have been foreseen.

Britain had joined the invasion without exhausting peaceful options, and thereby undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged and they should have been,” Chilcot said.

He also said that Blair’s government’s judgements about the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “presented with unjustified certainty”.

No such weapons were discovered after the war.

Throughout its report, the inquiry, which cost 10 million pounds, criticised Blair’s leadership, saying he over-estimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq and took major decisions without consulting his cabinet.

Youths hurls rock at British Army Warrior armoured vehicles during a violent protest by job seekers, who say they were promised employment in the security services, in the southern Iraq city of Basra March 22, 2004. REUTERS/Atef Hassan/File Photo

Youths hurls rock at British Army Warrior armoured vehicles during a violent protest by job seekers, who say they were promised employment in the security services, in the southern Iraq city of Basra March 22, 2004. REUTERS/Atef Hassan/File Photo

NO STRATEGIC SUCCESS

The report listed a catalogue of mistakes, saying the war was poorly-resourced, badly-planned and in the turmoil that followed the invasion, there was a total failure to conduct a reappraisal of policies with the only strategic objective to cut troop deployment numbers.

“It fell far short of strategic success,” the report said.

Chilcot said Britain did not have the capacity to engage in campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and said it was humiliating that the military in 2007 had had to make a deal with a militia that had become dominant in the southern Iraqi city of Basra which Britain was supposed to control.

Iraq is still struggling with the widespread violence unleashed by the war. On Saturday, 250 people were killed in Baghdad’s worst car bombing since the U.S.-led invasion.

“I wish Saddam would return; he executed many of my family but he is still better than these politicians and clerics who got Iraq to the way it is,” said Kadhim Hassan al-Jabouri, an Iraqi who was filmed attacking Saddam’s statue with a sledgehammer after the invasion.

Others said they were grateful to Washington and London for ending his dictatorship.

The purpose of the inquiry was not to point fingers but for the British government to learn lessons from the invasion and occupation that followed.

“We cannot turn the clock back but we can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on,” Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.

“It is crucial to good decision-making that a prime minister establishes a climate in which it’s safe for officials and other experts to challenge existing policy and question the views of ministers and the prime minister without fear or favour.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Blair’s Labour Party and a fervent pacifist, told parliament that the war was an act of aggression based on a false pretext that had fuelled and spread terrorism across the Middle East.

“I now apologise sincerely on behalf of my party for the disastrous decision to go to war,” he said in a later speech.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Alistair Smout and Stephen Addison, and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Mark Trevelyan, Philippa Fletcher, Toni Reinhold)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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