Posts Tagged ‘EU’

EU Officials Reach Draft Deal on More North Korea Sanctions

September 21, 2017

BRUSSELS — EU ambassadors have reached an initial agreement to impose more economic sanctions on North Korea, going beyond the latest round of UN measures, officials and diplomats said on Thursday.

“Today the PSC (EU member states’ ambassadors) agreed on a package of new autonomous measures,” an EU official said.

An EU diplomat said around eight new North Korean officials were likely to be added to the EU sanctions list.

The decision is likely to be adopted by EU foreign ministers at their next regular meeting on Oct. 16.

(Reporting By Robin Emmott; editing by John Stonestreet)


Syria’s Kurds poised for vote to cement federal push

September 21, 2017


© AFP/File / by Delil Souleiman with Rouba El Husseini in Beirut | Syrian Kurds take part in a rally in Qamishli on September 15, 2017 in support of a planned independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds

QAMISHLI (SYRIA) (AFP) – Syria’s Kurds are poised to hold their first local elections, a move that has annoyed Damascus and Ankara and comes days before a controversial independence referendum by Iraq’s Kurds.Kurds made up around 15 percent of Syria’s pre-war population and were long oppressed by the central government.

But they largely stayed out of the uprising that erupted in March 2011, instead quietly building local control in Kurdish-majority areas after the withdrawal of most government troops.

They have become the key ground force in Syria partnering with the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group.

In March 2016, the Kurds declared three semi-autonomous regions in the areas under their control, part of their push towards the federal system they have advocated in Syria.

Now they are preparing to hold their first elections in the regions, a vote that has angered Turkey and which Damascus has dismissed as “a joke.”

The unprecedented election will take place in three stages, beginning Friday with a vote for representatives at the neighbourhood or “commune” level.

Elections for executive councils for towns and regions are planned for November 3.

Then, on January 19, a final phase will elect legislative councils for each of the three regions, as well as a single joint legislative assembly.

– Federalism, not secession –

Syrian Kurdish officials insist their goal is not to divide the country, which has been ravaged by a conflict that has killed over 330,000 people.

“These elections are the first step to consolidating the federal system and federal democracy,” said Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, Syria’s most important Kurdish political party.

He distanced Syria’s Kurds from the broader ambitions of Kurds in neighbouring Iraq, who have scheduled a September 25 vote on independence over the objections of allies and the central government in Baghdad.

“We are part of Syria,” he said. “Our demand in Syria is not separation, our demand is federalism.”

Iraq’s Kurdish region has been autonomous since 1991, but authorities have long floated the possibility of full independence.

“In Syria, it’s the first step, in Iraq it may appear to be the last step. In both cases it’s a question of obtaining local and international legitimacy,” said Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute think tank.

Kurdish authorities insist the vote will be inclusive, and banners promoting it in Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac have been hung in cities including Qamishli and Amuda.

But Kurdish opposition parties are not expected to participate in the vote, with competition largely between parts of the current administration.

“These elections will be a simulation of democracy, because there is not a multi-party system and freedom,” said Balanche, noting that all the parties taking part are “members of a coalition led by the PYD.”

“The United States can’t but approve of the elections and close its eyes to their non-democratic nature” because of its close alliance with the Kurds in the fight against IS, he added.

For many Syrian Kurds however, the vote is the realisation of an impossible dream after decades of marginalisation.

“It’s the first time that we’ve seen Kurdish elections,” said 50-year-old Omar Abdi.

“I never believed I would see this day.”

– ‘Illegitimate’ –

Banners across the Kurdish-majority parts of the country known to Kurds as “Rojava” urge citizens to vote.

“The future of Rojava is in your hands,” reads one.

“These elections provide an opportunity for Kurds to start building their institutions for the future,” said Kurdish affairs expert Mutlu Civiroglu.

“It is also important for them to show to (the) regime that in northern Syria things are different now and they run the business, not the regime in Damascus.”

Damascus has remained relatively quiet on the vote.

“The elections are illegitimate,” said Wadah Abed Rabbo, editor-in-chief of Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government.

“Any change to the system in Syria can only be done by changing the constitution, which requires a referendum for all Syrians,” he told AFP.

Neighbouring Turkey considers the PYD and its military wing the YPG to be affiliates of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which Ankara designates a “terrorist” group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fiercely opposes Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence, and has said his country would never allow the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Syria.

For now, Civiroglu said, that is not the plan.

“Kurds in Syria are not secessionists and they want to remain in a unified, pluralistic, decentralised Syria,” he said.

But “they may consider other alternatives if their demands are not met.”

by Delil Souleiman with Rouba El Husseini in Beirut

Turkey mulls options, rallies support to oppose Kurdish state

September 21, 2017


© AFP/File / by Stuart WILLIAMS | Left without a state of their own when the borders of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey, which staunchly opposes Kurdish statehood, is far from alone in its rejection of an independence referendum in northern Iraq but it remains unclear whether this will translate into concrete action.Ankara’s displeasure over the referendum, which is planned for September 25, is shared not only by the government in Baghdad but also by its sometimes prickly neighbour Iran, not to mention Turkey’s Western allies in NATO.

Turkey has warned the Iraqi Kurds they risk paying a “price”, evoking possible sanctions over the non-binding vote. But it has been notably circumspect over what this might mean.

The idea of a Kurdish state — even one outside Turkey’s borders — is anathema not only to Turkey’s ultra-right nationalists but also to its conservatives as well as its secular opposition.

They fear fully-fledged independence for the Kurds of northern Iraq could embolden Turkey’s own Kurdish minority, which is estimated to make up around a quarter of its population of nearly 80 million.

Left without a state of their own when the borders of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people.

They live in an area spanning Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

By far the biggest population is in Turkey, which since 1984 has waged a campaign to defeat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which initially sought to create a breakaway state in its southeast.

– ‘Deep suspicions’ –

But millions of Kurds also live in Iran — which itself fought sporadic insurgent actions by groups like the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) — and Tehran and Ankara have often cooperated to stem the rise of Kurdish nationalism.

After an unprecedented visit to Ankara earlier this month by Iran’s chief of staff, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sides could launch joint operations against Kurdish militants although this was denied by Tehran.

Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Tehran and Ankara had a shared interest in preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and also enjoyed extensive communication channels.

But while mainly Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey had the capability to jointly pressure the Iraqi Kurds, a regional rivalry dating back to their imperial eras risked getting in the way.

“Though both have attempted to build on common concerns, deep suspicions about the other’s ambitions to benefit from the chaos have stopped them from reaching an arrangement that could lower the region’s flames,” Vaez told AFP.

– ‘Significant damage’ –

Despite Turkey’s anger over the presence of PKK bases in northern Iraq, Ankara has formed a close economic relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in recent years, giving it immense potential leverage over Arbil.

Iraqi Kurdistan has become one of Turkey’s largest export markets, with prominent Turkish consumer goods and furniture brands ubiquitous on the streets of its major cities.

Meanwhile, Turkey provides the sole transit link for crude oil exports from the KRG through a pipeline via its southern port of Ceyhan.

“Turkey is in a position to inflict significant damage to the Iraqi Kurds if it wants to,” said David Romano, professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University.

But he said cutting economic ties with the Iraq Kurds would risk some $10 billion a year in trade, oil and gas imports and transit fees which are crucial to Turkey’s own Kurdish-dominated southeast.

“Turkey makes a lot of noises against the referendum, but it’s mainly to assuage the Turkish nationalist component of the ruling party’s base,” he argued.

With conspicuous timing, Turkey this week launched war games next to its border with the KRG but has made no concrete threat of military intervention.

– ‘Common ground’ with Assad –

The only clear backing for the referendum within the region has come from Israel, a longstanding if low-key backer of Kurdish ambitions as a non-Arab buffer against the Jewish state’s arch enemy Iran.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin noted that not a single country, “other than Israel”, backed the referendum bid.

Gulf kingpin Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged the KRG leadership to scrap the plan, warning it risked sparking further regional crises.

According to some analysts, rising Kurdish nationalism across the region could even prompt Turkey to find common cause with its prime foe of the last half decade, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Both Ankara and Damascus want to head off the prospect of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria neighbouring the KRG and run by the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) — a Kurdish militia Turkey sees as a terror group and a branch of the PKK.

Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, said Ankara had “de-prioritised” the issue of Assad “in favour of efforts to keep Syria united.”

Turkey has now found “common ground” with the Assad regime in countering the YPG, said Gonul Tol, director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.

by Stuart WILLIAMS

UK could get bad Brexit deal as Philip Hammond only sees the negatives, Theresa May’s former right hand man has warns

September 21, 2017
BRITAIN could get a bad Brexit deal if Philip Hammond and the Treasury continue with their reluctance to “mention the positives” of leaving the European Union, Theresa May’s former right hand man has warned.

Philip HammondGETTY

Philip Hammond’s reluctance to mention Brexit positives could hurt UK, says Nick Timothy

Nick Timothy, the  former chief of staff, said the Chancellor was putting negotiations at risk by failing to recognise the “opportunities of Brexit”.

Mr Timothy also accused Mr  of being on “manoeuvres” over the Treasury’s silence on the potential boost  could provide to the UK economy.

The former chief of staff also hit out at  over his own unauthorised 4,200-word Brexit plan ahead of Mrs May’s crucial speech in Florence on Friday.

Mr Timothy called on the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary to “stop their games” or risk leaving the UK unable to strike a Brexit deal.

Writing for The Telegraph, the former chief of staff said: “Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond… must understand that the surest route to a bad deal, or no deal at all, is to go on behaving as they are. They must stop their games now, because the stakes for Britain are too high.”

Mrs May is said to have struck a truce with Mr Johnson, who reports had suggested was prepared to resign over the possibility of a soft Brexit, ahead of her keynote address in Florence.

Theresa May insists ‘the UK government is driven from the front’

Mr Hammond and the Foreign Secretary will appear along side Mrs May in Italy as the Cabinet presents a united front to Europe.

It is hoped the Prime Minister’s speech will outline a Brexit strategy and break the negotiations deadlock.

The plan presented is thought to include a deal to pay Brussels €20 billion over a transition period taking us up to 2020.

Boris JohnsonGETTY

Boris Johnson was accused of undermining the Prime Minister with his Brexit proposal

Despite the expectation of this substantial financial offer EU officials are thought to be preparing to demand even more from the UK in a divorce bill.

An EU diplomat told The Telegraph: “Goodwill gestures are not enough – it is very doubtful that EU member states would consider that offer to be sufficient progress on its own.”

Mr Timothy implored the Prime Minister to avoid setting out an “exact solution” in her speech and instead suggested laying out a broad outline for the relationship between the UK and EU post Brexit.

He said: “The Prime Minister does not need to set out the exact solution tomorrow, but she can set out the Government’s parameters. These details are important but they are inherently technical.”

Mr Hammond and Mr Johnson clashed over the UK’s approach to Brexit talks during the summer.

The Chancellor favours a “business-first” exit that would see the UK paying into EU coffers to secure access to the single market.

Nick TimothyGETTY

Mr Timothy called on Leavers and Remainers in the Cabinet to support Theresa May

While the Foreign Secretary has called for Britain adopt a Canada model, where tariffs would be slashed but the UK would not be require to make budget contributions.

Mr Timothy demanded the pair cease hostilities saying: “[The Prime Minister] deserves the full support of her ministers, Leavers and Remainers alike.

Theresa May Brexit speech in Florence Thursday to be ‘open and generous offer’ to EU

September 21, 2017

BBC News

Boris Johnson and Theresa MayREUTERS photo

Theresa May’s speech on Brexit in Italy on Friday will represent an “open and generous offer” to the rest of the EU, a cabinet minister has told the BBC.

It is thought that might include a guarantee that no EU country would lose out from changes to the EU’s current budget as a result of the UK leaving.

But another minister warned against offering too much on the money, saying “it’s our only leverage”.

Mrs May is briefing her cabinet on Thursday morning about the the speech.

The event in Florence is being seen as an attempt to break the deadlock on the negotiations, with the EU unhappy at the lack of progress on agreeing the UK’s “divorce bill” from Brussels.


By BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg

We are one of the biggest contributors to the EU pot, so leaving dents the planned financial arrangements if we just go and take our cheque book with us.

If that is the promise that is roughly to the tune of £20bn, although it would be surprising if Theresa May named a figure herself – it’s not her style and any actual numbers will be subject to far-off negotiations.

But in terms of the bill, that could just be the start of it. Plugging the hole in the current budget doesn’t deal with what the EU sees as our long-term obligations – whether that’s diplomats’ pensions or our share of money that’s been loaned to other countries.

Read Laura’s full blog

The cabinet meeting comes amid reports of ministerial splits over Brexit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was accused of undermining the PM with a 4,000-word article about Brexit.

He subsequently denied reports he planned to resign if his blueprint was not followed and described the government as “a nest of singing birds”.

The foreign secretary and prime minister were due to travel back from the United Nations in New York together on Wednesday night.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Development Secretary Priti Patel were among those watching the PM's speech
Boris Johnson watched the PM’s address to the UN general assembly in New York on Wednesday. Getty Images

Debate ahead of the speech has focused on the detail of the time-limited transition period after Brexit, how much the UK will pay as it leaves, and whether it will continue contributing to EU budgets in years to come.

So far, the government has said the UK will honour its commitments but that the days of “giving huge sums of money” are over.

Why Florence?

Downing Street has also described as “speculation” a Financial Times report that chief Brexit “sherpa” Olly Robbins, who reports directly to Mrs May, had told Germany she will offer to pay £20bn in the period up to 2020 to cover gaps in the budget left by the UK’s departure.

The fourth round of Brexit negotiations begins on 25 September, with the UK due to leave the EU in March 2019.

The UK is keen to intensify their pace and open discussions on the country’s future relationship with the EU, including trade, as soon as possible.

Theresa May asked about Johnson’s intervention on Brexit

But this cannot happen until the EU deems sufficient progress has been made on the initial subjects being discussed, including the UK’s financial settlement.

The two sides are also trying to reach agreement on the status of UK and EU expats after Brexit, and the impact of Brexit on the Northern Ireland border.

BBC political correspondent Leila Nathoo said Mrs May’s challenge is to make enough of a gesture to Brussels to kickstart negotiations, while reconciling both Remainers and Brexiteers in Cabinet to her position.

On the detail of a proposed transition period, the Brexit bill and any payments to the EU after we leave, the prime minister’s speech will be closely watched for points of compromise, said our correspondent.

Britain’s Theresa May hopes to end cabinet disquiet with Brexit speech

September 20, 2017


© AFP/File / by Alice RITCHIE | Britain and the EU are to restart Brexit negotiations on September 25, but Prime Minister Theresa May is yet to reveal much about what she wants from a deal

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will make an eagerly anticipated Brexit speech in Florence on Friday, seeking to unlock stalled negotiations with Brussels as well as quell divisions in her own cabinet.Six months after beginning the two-year process of withdrawing Britain from the European Union, the Conservative leader has yet to set out in detail what she wants from the divorce.

A fourth round of talks with the European Commission are due to begin on September 25 and the question of Britain’s financial settlement remains a significant stumbling block.

The lack of clarity was reinforced when May’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, laid out his own vision for Brexit in a newspaper article widely viewed as an attempt to force his premier’s hand.

A senior official in Brussels said there were “high expectations” for May’s speech, both on the money and another blocked issue — the rights of EU nationals living in Britain after Brexit.

Businesses are also watching closely. The head of the CBI lobby group of business leaders, Carolyn Fairbairn, warned the risks of leaving the EU without a deal felt “all too real”.

– ‘Say what she wants’ –

Without progress in next week’s talks, EU leaders are unlikely to accept Britain’s request to move the negotiations on to the future trading relationship at their next summit in October.

“The onus is on the British to come up with a serious offer to move the talks forward,” Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform (CER), told AFP.

“Theresa May needs to make a serious offer on the money that she hasn’t made so far. And on the transition, she needs to say what she wants.”

The Financial Times reported that May would offer to meet Britain’s commitments under the current EU budget, which runs to 2020, worth 20 billion euros (£18 billion, $24 billion).

This would mean continued payments during a transition deal that Britain wants to bridge the gap between Brexit in March 2019 and the implementation of a new trading arrangement.

A major problem for May is that her ministers still disagree on the future shape of Brexit — highlighted by Johnson’s 4,000-word article in the Daily Telegraph last weekend.

Johnson, a leading voice for Brexit in last year’s referendum campaign who has long had leadership ambitions, argued for a clean break with the EU, including on financial matters.

He subsequently denied reports he had threatened to resign, and insisted the cabinet was as united as a “nest of singing birds”.

– Home of Machiavelli –

Johnson’s intervention highlighted the fragility of May’s position, after her Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority in June’s snap election.

The prime minister chose Florence to deliver her speech because it is the “historical heart” of Europe.

But some commentators have noted that the Italian city was also home to Machiavelli, the Renaissance philosopher and author of “The Prince” who has become a byword for slippery politicians.

A cartoon in the Daily Telegraph had Johnson and members of the cabinet grappling with each other and snakes subbed “Brexitus”, an apparent reference to a sculpture in the Uffizi Gallery.

The Times, meanwhile, had Johnson as King Kong, holding May in one hand as he swung on the famous dome of Florence’s cathedral.

The prime minister has insisted she is in control, saying on Monday: “The UK government is driven from the front and we all have the same destination in our sights.”

May has called a special cabinet meeting for Thursday morning, when she is expected to brief ministers about what she will say in Florence — and ensure they fall in line.

Former Conservative leader William Hague said it was “about time” that ministers rallied around.

“The period of negotiating publicly with each other is over, and .. the time for negotiating in earnest with the EU has begun,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

by Alice RITCHIE

‘Ludicrous’ or ‘bold’? Boris Johnson becomes symbol of a nation divided

September 19, 2017
Media reactions to Boris Johnson’s Brexit vision give the impression the UK only has one of two destinies. While the Tory Telegraph sees a chance for “national renewal and deliverance,” the liberal Guardian acts like he’s invited the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Days before UK Prime Minister Theresa May will make a major and much heralded Brexit speech in Florence, her foreign secretary grabbed all the headlines. Writing a 4,200-word article in the Telegraph on the“glorious” future that awaits Britain, Boris Johnson claimed the country would “succeed mightily” in its great post-Brexit enterprise.

Tensions are growing between the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary as @theresa_may hits back at @BorisJohnson’s #Brexit challenge.

— RT UK (@RTUKnews) September 19, 2017Downing Street didn’t like it of course, and sent out Home Secretary Amber Rudd to accuse Johnson of “backseat driving” – a move which itself didn’t look good considering May faces accusations of being a weak leader.

But the real state of the political landscape is vividly obvious, as always, in the press. For the liberal, Pro-Europe Guardian, this was a “masterpiece of doublespeak and smarm.” For the Telegraph, the Brexiteers’ right-leaning newspaper of choice, it was a “fearless blueprint for a brighter future.” Of course, the pro-Tory Telegraph has Boris on the payroll, so you wouldn’t expect much different.

A closer look at how these two institutions of the press choose to represent the Brexit debate, as typified by blonde bombshell Boris, suggest there is currently little middle ground to be found.

Fiercely on the Remain side, the Guardian believes “conman” Johnson is making claims that are “palpably false” and based on “ludicrous fantasy.”

Much of its criticism focuses on Johnson’s revival of the widely disproved claim that the UK would have £350 million ($472 million) extra per week post-Brexit. The left-wing newspaper blames “Tory lies and scheming”for the “Brexit mess.” Boris has known the figure was a lie, it claims.

It also accuses Johnson of misleading the public by presenting what he calls “obvious opportunities” from Brexit, but failing to mention any.

Pro-Brexit articles by the Guardian are few and far between, so its refusal to agree with anything Johnson is saying on the benefits of Brexit is hardly unsurprising.

The right-wing Telegraph, which published Johnson’s article, was delighted with Johnson’s take on Brexit – hailing it as “at last, a positive and bold vision.” It even urged the PM to take note of the “inspiring” article, claiming he’d done voters a “public service” for penning the piece.

The Eurosceptic newspaper claimed it was finally a chance for the Leave side to have a voice, with “no shortage of negativity in the media.”

Remember, this is just the debate Britain is having with itself about what Brexit actually means and what it should look like. The negotiations with the immovable eurocrats waiting in Brussels have yet to really begin, and the clock is ticking.

Now the rumor is… Boris may quit anyway.

Ken Clarke: Boris Johnson exploiting May’s weakness — A Stronger PM Would Have Fired Him

September 19, 2017

BBC News

Kenneth Clarke calls Boris Johnson’s Brexit article an “irrelevant nuisance” on Radio 4’s Today

Veteran pro-EU Conservative MP Ken Clarke has accused Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson of “exploiting” Theresa May’s weak position as prime minister.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “in normal circumstances” Mr Johnson would have been sacked after his 4,000 word article on his Brexit vision.

He accused Mr Johnson of making a pitch for a future Tory leadership election.

Mr Johnson has said his article was “sketching out” the “exciting landscape of the destination ahead” on Brexit.

The continuing fallout from the article led, on Monday, to Mrs May having to rebut claims that Mr Johnson was trying to become a “back-seat driver” in her cabinet.

The prime minister, who is due to set out her vision for Brexit in a speech in Florence on Friday, declared: “This government is driven from the front.”

Mr Clarke said that in her speech Mrs May had to set out “for the first time, really” what the UK can “can realistically achieve in negotiations”.

That must include “free access to the European market and no new barriers for our trade,” he argued, and how best “to avoid economic damage to the country”.

“Alongside that, personal publicity and campaigning by the foreign secretary is actually just an irrelevant nuisance.”

Theresa May is making a big Brexit speech in Florence. But why do it there?

Mr Clarke said: “Sounding off personally in this way is totally unhelpful and he shouldn’t exploit the fact she hasn’t got a majority in Parliament.

“He knows perfectly well that normally the foreign secretary would be sacked for doing that – and she, unfortunately, after the general election, is not in the position easily to sack him – which he should stop exploiting.”

He also attacked Mr Johnson for repeating “one of the more simplistic and dishonest arguments of the hardline Leavers” in his article – a reference to “taking back control” of £350m a week after Brexit.

“They use money because it appeals to the public, who don’t, I think, follow very closely the details,” he told Today.

“You tell people we are giving money to foreigners and quite a lot of the public are against it.”

He said that if there are genuine disagreements in cabinet over Brexit, then it was in the “national interest” to “compromise” and abide by collective responsibility.

Mr Johnson used his Telegraph article to insist that Britain should pay nothing to access the EU single market, amid reports Mrs May will use her Florence speech to say the UK will carrying on paying for access during a three year transition period after Brexit.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson met US President Donald Trump at the UN on Monday. Reuters

The foreign secretary, who made much of the savings the UK would make when it left the EU during last year’s referendum campaign, said his article was meant to be an “opening drum roll” for the PM’s speech.

“Because I was involved in that Brexit campaign, people want to know where we are going,” he added.

Mrs May attempted to avoid a public row with her foreign secretary, telling reporters travelling with her on a trade mission to Canada: “Boris is Boris.”

The prime minister and Mr Johnson are due at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday, where the PM will hold a series of meetings with fellow leaders, including US President Donald Trump. There will be talks on fighting online extremism and on modern slavery.

No formal meeting is planned between Mrs May and Mr Johnson.

Lord Hague
Lord Hague is concerned about cabinet disunity over Brexit

Former foreign secretary, Lord Hague, writing in the Daily Telegraph, warned that disunity over Brexit could hand power to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Lord Hague wrote: “It is putting it a bit too politely to say, in the wake of Boris Johnson’s article in this newspaper on Saturday, that the approach of senior ministers to the Brexit negotiations appears to lack co-ordination.

“More bluntly, it is now 15 months since the referendum, and high time that all members of the government were able to express themselves on this subject in the same way as each other, putting forward the same points, as part of an agreed plan.

“Hopefully, that happy circumstance will follow the speech the prime minister is due to give on the subject in Florence on Friday.

“If not, there will be no point Conservatives discussing who is going to be the foreign secretary, chancellor or prime minister in the coming years, because Jeremy Corbyn will be prime minister, sitting in Number 10 with John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, completely ruining this country.”


Boris Johnson would normally be sacked by now, says Ken Clarke

Senior Tory accuses foreign secretary of exploiting parliamentary minority to make ‘dishonest’ claims in apparent leadership bid

Boris Johnson
 Boris Johnson ‘should make some more serious contributions on wider foreign policy’, Ken Clarke said. Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Reuters 

Boris Johnson would have been sacked from the cabinet by now if the Conservatives had a parliamentary majority, a senior Tory has said.

Ken Clarke warned Johnson to stop taking advantage of the party’s situation after the foreign secretary wrote a newspaper article that some have interpreted as a leadership bid. He used the article to repeat his discredited claim that Britain will claw back £350m a week after leaving the EU.

“Sounding off personally in this way is totally unhelpful and he shouldn’t exploit the fact that [Theresa May] hasn’t got a majority in parliament,” Clarke said on Tuesday. “And he knows perfectly well that, normally, a foreign secretary would be sacked instantly for doing that.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the prime minister was not in a position to sack Johnson, but said the foreign secretary should keep his views on the Brexit negotiations to the confines of private discussions with cabinet colleagues, rather than airing them in public.

Johnson, a prominent figure in the leave campaign during the referendum, set off a fresh row over the government’s approach to Brexit by claiming at the weekend that, “once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week”.

Vote Leave made the claim central to its campaign last year, despite it being discredited then and since.

Read the rest:

Kurds: one stateless people across four countries

September 18, 2017


© AFP/File | Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 16, 2017

ARBIL (IRAQ) (AFP) – The Kurds, a non-Arab ethnic group, number between 25 and 35 million people who are spread across four countries but without a state of their own.

Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq, is to hold a non-binding independence referendum on September 25 that has stirred concern of separatist aspirations in neighbouring states.

– Mountain people –

The Kurds inhabit mainly mountainous regions that cover almost half a million square kilometres (200,000 square miles), spanning from southeast Turkey through northern Syria and Iraq to central Iran.

They number around 12 to 15 million in Turkey, (about 20 percent of the overall population), six million in Iran (less than 10 percent), 4.7 million in Iraq (15-20 percent), and more than two million in Syria (15 percent).

The Kurds have preserved their culture, dialects and clan-based social structures. Large expatriate communities exist in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Germany and Lebanon.

Although predominantly independence referendum, some are Christians and their political structures are often non-denominational.

– Tense ties with host states –

Kurdish ambitions of a unified nation are seen as a threat to the main host countries.

– In Turkey, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the European Union and United States. More than 30 years of fighting with Turkish forces has killed more than 40,000 people.

– In Syria, the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are one of the most effective forces against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. They control more than 10 percent of the country in the north and northeast, and three quarters of the border region with Turkey.

– In Iraq, Kurds are an important US ally, and after having resisted the army of dictator Saddam Hussein for decades, now lead the fight against IS.

They control roughly 40,600 square kilometres (15,600 square miles) of territory, including many of northern Iraq’s oilfields and the cities of Arbil and Kirkuk.

– In Iran, where the army crushed a fledgling Kurdish republic in 1946, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) is pushing for autonomy in three provinces.

– Anti-IS spearhead –

Kurdish peshmerga fighters are considered to be experienced warriors and Western countries have provided them with air cover, sophisticated weapons and training to combat IS.

Notable Kurdish victories include the YPG’s four-month assault against IS fighters in Kobane on Syria’s border with Turkey and peshmerga gains in Iraq.

Turkey has regularly attacked YPG positions in Syria since mid-2015.

– Internal divisions –

The Kurds have never lived under a single, centralised power and are split among a myriad of parties and factions.

While some of these groups straddle borders, others are in conflict with each other because of alliances with the governments where they live.

Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), were locked in a 1994-1998 conflict that left 3,000 people dead. They reconciled in 2003.

Boris Johnson Shakes Up Brexit Plan of Theresa May’s Government — Foreign Secretary to tell PM £30bn ‘divorce’ bill is not acceptable — Prelude to a leadership challenge?

September 18, 2017

BBC News

Brexit: Boris Johnson and stats chief in row over £350m figure

Boris Johnson during the referendum campaignGETTY IMAGES

The UK’s statistics watchdog has stood by its criticism of Boris Johnson in a growing row over the possible financial windfall the NHS may get from Brexit.

Sir David Norgrove said he was “disappointed” the foreign secretary had revived Vote Leave’s pledge of £350m a week extra for the NHS.

Mr Johnson hit back at “a wilful distortion of the text of my article”, asking for the claim to be withdrawn.

The mention of £350m came in a Daily Telegraph piece by Mr Johnson.

In it, he wrote: “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week.

“It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

The article, in which he also said he opposed paying the EU to secure temporary access to the single market during a transitional phase after the UK’s departure, divided Tory MPs.

Some claimed it undermined Theresa May’s leadership ahead of a crucial speech later this week and amounted to a leadership challenge.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd accused her cabinet colleague of being a Brexit “back-seat driver”, telling the BBC that while it was fine for Mr Johnson to show his enthusiasm for Brexit, he should remember he was not “driving the car”.

The chair of the UK Statistics Authority wrote on Sunday to Mr Johnson setting out his concerns about the £350m figure.

The authority, which is an independent statutory body, previously criticised use of the figure – which was displayed on the side of a campaign bus – during the 2016 referendum campaign.

Analysis: ‘Public slanging match’

By Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

This is an extraordinary row.

A senior cabinet minister and the most senior civil servant responsible for official statistics, engaged in a public slanging match on a Sunday afternoon.

At lunchtime, Sir David’s letter, accusing the foreign secretary of “a clear misuse of official statistics.”

Then the first counter attack: a spokesman for Mr Johnson claimed that Sir David was actually complaining about the headlines provoked by the foreign secretary’s article.

No he wasn’t, responded a spokeswoman for the UK Statistics Authority.

And then Mr Johnson’s formal written reply to Sir David accusing him of “a complete misrepresentation of what I said” and asking him “to withdraw it.”

Who will people trust the most? The civil servant or the politician?

That is your call.

Sir David wrote in the letter: “I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350 million per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union”.

The watchdog said the article “confused” the size of the UK’s annual gross and net contributions to the EU’s budget.

His letter continued: “It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave. It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

In Mr Johnson’s reply, he wrote: “I must say that I was surprised and disappointed by your letter of today, since it was based on what appeared to be a wilful distortion of the text of my article.

“You say that I claim that there would be £350 million that ‘might be available for extra public spending’ when we leave the EU.

“This is a complete misrepresentation of what I said and I would like you to withdraw it.”

He continued: “Once we leave the EU we will take back control of all such UK-funded spending, and, although of course I have no doubt that we will continue to spend significantly on UK priorities such as agriculture and research, that spending will be done under UK control.

“As for the rebate – whose value you did not know – it only forms part of the EU’s financing arrangements with the agreement of all other EU member states.

“We do not control it ourselves.”


By Liz Corbin, Reality Check Editor

The claim that the UK sent £350m per week to the EU is wrong.

There are three things to consider:

  1. The UK’s gross contribution to the EU
  2. The UK’s rebate, negotiated by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
  3. The amount of money the EU gives to the UK

Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners claimed that in the calendar year 2014, the UK gave £350m per week to the EU.

The UK’s gross contribution was actually £361m, but – crucially – the rebate is removed before any money is sent to the EU. So the amount sent to the EU in 2014 was £276m per week, after the rebate.

The Vote Leave campaign’s claim argued that the money could be spent on the NHS.

Well, it could, but that would mean cutting all the money the EU sends back to the UK, for example on farming subsidies and grants for community projects.

That was in 2014. The amount the UK sends the EU has been falling. In 2016 it sent £252m per week to the EU after the rebate, the lowest since 2012.

Reality Check

Labour MP Yvette Cooper said Mr Johnson “just thinks it’s OK to repeatedly lie”.

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said the foreign secretary’s credibility was “shot to pieces”.

Several Tory MPs have praised Mr Johnson’s vision of what can be achieved after the UK leaves and said his objectives are largely in tune with those of the government.

Writing in the Telegraph, backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg said the article was “tremendous” and had “magnificently rejected” the “depressing view” that Britain could not cope without the protection of the European Union.

Amber Rudd told the BBC’s Andrew Marr “you could call it back-seat driving (by Boris Johnson)”

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Ms Rudd said she did not believe it was a prelude to a leadership challenge.

“I know what an irrepressible enthusiast (Johnson) is about Brexit, and what he’s done is set it out there, I think it’s absolutely fine, I would expect nothing less from Boris,” she said.

But she added: “I don’t want him managing the Brexit process, what we have got is Theresa May managing the process, driving the car.

“I am going to make sure, as far as I and the rest of the cabinet is concerned, we help her do that.”

Several prominent Leave campaigners have distanced themselves from the £350m figure in the wake of the referendum result although others have continued to insist it is legitimate.

The prime minister is due to make a major speech on Brexit in Florence, amid speculation she is prepared to announce some kind of deal on transitional trade payments.

First she is due to meet Mr Johnson in New York, where the foreign secretary is expected to be in the audience when she addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.


Boris Johnson and Theresa May in Brexit showdown: Foreign Secretary to tell PM £30bn ‘divorce’ bill is not acceptable

Boris Johnson is to demand Britain only pays ‘what is due’ to exit the EU

Gordon Rayner will be replying to comments on this article from 11.30am today. Log in to your Telegraph account or register to join in the debate.

Boris Johnson will use a showdown meeting with Theresa May this week to demand reassurances that the Prime Minister will not agree to make substantial payments to the EU after Brexit.

The Foreign Secretary is concerned by reports that Mrs May is preparing to announce that she will carry on paying up to £10 billion per year to the EU during a transition period, which could be as long as three years.

He used a Telegraph article on Friday to insist that Britain should only pay “what is due” and should pay nothing to access the single market.

Mr Johnson has been told he will not be sacked over the article, which had not been authorised by Downing Street and was regarded by some as a deliberate attempt to undermine Mrs May.

However, there are fears…

Read the rest: