Posts Tagged ‘referendum’

Tony Blair calls for second vote to fix Brexit ‘mess’

July 17, 2018

“It’s a total and complete mess”: Former prime minister Tony Blair does not hold back when asked in an interview with AFP what he makes of the British government’s approach to Brexit.

Blair, who held the office for 10 years, said he sympathises with Prime Minister Theresa May as she seeks to unite her party behind a plan for leaving the European Union, suggesting she has “the least enviable job in Western politics”.

But the former Labour leader warned that with the scheduled date for Brexit approaching in March next year, it is time for her to admit “there’s no way out” and call another referendum — with the option of staying in the EU.

© AFP | Former British prime minister Tony Blair says it’s time for Theresa May to admit “there’s no way out” and call another Brexit referendum

“Once this thing has been started by a referendum it can frankly only be finished by a fresh vote,” he said.

Blair left office in 2007 and spent many of the following years abroad, including as an international envoy to the Middle East.

But these days he is more often found in London, where he has plunged back into British politics.

“I’m passionately opposed to Brexit and I still believe it can be changed,” the 65-year-old told AFP in the offices of his non-profit organisation, the Institute for Global Change.

After two years of wrangling with her Conservative party, May finally presented her plan this month for economic ties with the EU after Brexit, sparking outrage among hardliners in the party for giving too much away to the EU.

– May’s plan is ‘mush’ –

Blair himself said it was a “mush”, an “incomplete half-in half-out” plan that pleased no one — and was unlikely to be accepted by Brussels.

He noted the inherent dilemma in Brexit — stay close to the EU to protect trade but forfeit the opportunities of going it alone, or cut ties altogether and risk damage to the economy.

With parliament “paralysed” on the way forward, “the only way in the end this is going to be resolved is putting it back to the people”, he said.

Blair’s interventions on Brexit have not always been well received in Britain, where his decision to join the United States in invading Iraq in 2003 remains hugely controversial.

But while the prime minister who called the Brexit vote in 2016, David Cameron, has retired from the public eye to write his memoirs, Blair refuses to stay silent.

Some have suggested Blair had a role in Brexit by failing to limit migration from new EU member states from central and eastern Europe when they joined in 2004, leading to a huge influx of workers that sparked public alarm.

He rejected the idea as “ridiculously overhyped”, insisting non-EU migration was a driver of Brexit vote — while acknowledging that if he had stayed in power longer, he might have tried to “tighten things up”.

– Populism risk –

The European Union itself is currently split over how to handle irregular migration and asylum seekers, divisions Blair described as “very dangerous”.

“There is a crisis. The popularism of left and right is, you know, (at) risk of breaking the back of Western politics,” Blair said.

He admitted that “the centre ground of politics is pretty absent at the moment” — but denied suggestions he could help form a new centrist party in Britain.

His own Labour party has moved to the political left since he was in charge, and while many of its MPs are pro-European, its socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn is more sceptical.

Labour backs Brexit but has called for a new customs union with the EU, and has refused to rule out a second vote.

Blair said that for all his hopes of stopping Brexit, it depended on “whether at the top of the Labour party the leader, the people around the leader, still want Brexit to go through”.

But he said he hoped it would “come back to sense”, adding that in the meantime, he would press his case.

AFP

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Thousands join London Pro-EU march to demand Brexit deal referendum

June 23, 2018

Around 100,000 supporters of the European Union marched through central London on Saturday to demand that the British government hold a final public vote on the terms of Brexit, organizers said.

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EU supporters, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, walk through Trafalgar Square in the ‘People’s Vote’ march in central London, Britain June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Protesters packed the main arteries of the capital, waving British, Irish and European flags and colorful banners to call for a “People’s Vote” on the eventual deal in which Britain leaves the world’s biggest trading bloc.

On the second anniversary of the 52 to 48 percent Brexit vote, polls show political divisions are entrenched. Despite some confusion over what Brexit will actually mean there has been no clear change of heart.

The “People’s Vote” campaign, which includes several pro-EU groups, is campaigning for a public ballot “so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off”.

Neither of Britain’s two main political parties back the idea of holding a referendum on the final deal.

“People have seen politicians making a cataclysmic mess of a really bad deal they didn’t vote for, or even a no deal they didn’t vote for,” a spokesman for the campaign told Reuters.

“This is the people telling the political elite that they got it wrong.”

One banner read: “17 million voted for Adolf Hitler. 17 million voted for Brexit. 17 million can be wrong” and another couple carried a placard which read: “We are doing this for our grandchildren.”

A Survation poll earlier this week found that 48 percent of respondents supported a referendum on the final deal, while 25 percent were opposed.

As yet there is no certainty about what the final deal could look like, amid infighting in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government as well as among some of its opponents about what they want from Britain’s new trading ties with the EU after it leaves in March next year.

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‘BOG ROLL BREXIT’

Marking the anniversary, Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson, one of the main proponents of the “Leave” vote, wrote a column in tabloid newspaper the Sun defending Brexit.

Britain had voted for “the freedom to bust out of the corsets of EU regulation and rules” he said, and any softening of the final deal – such as continued membership of the single market and customs union – would be unwelcome.

Those who voted for Brexit had not changed their minds, he said. “They don’t want some bog roll Brexit – soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long” he said, using a British slang term for toilet paper.

Johnson was also quoted in the Telegraph newspaper by two sources as dismissing business leaders’ concerns about the impact of Brexit, using foul language in a meeting with EU diplomats. A spokesperson for the foreign office disputed whether he had used bad language and said he had been attacking business lobbyists.

Speaking on BBC radio, Jurgen Maier, head of German manufacturer Siemens in Britain, said slogans such as “full British Brexit” – used by Johnson – were “incredibly unhelpful”.

“What we need to do now is get closer to our European partners and work out what a realistic, pragmatic Brexit is, which works for both sides,” he said.

On Friday, Airbus (AIR.PA) said that if Britain were to leave the EU without a deal it would be forced to reconsider its long-term position and put UK jobs at risk.

Reporting by Henry Nicholls in London, additional reporting and writing by Elisabeth O’Leary in Edinburgh; Editing by Andrew Bolton

Reuters

Rift appears in Catalan govt as Madrid power takeover begins

October 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Protesters wave Catalan flags during a pro-independence rally in Barcelona, on October 21, 2017

BARCELONA (AFP) – Several members of Catalonia’s separatist government told the region’s leader they want elections to avoid a power takeover by Madrid, a source close to him said Wednesday, as a rift appeared in the regional executive.

Many believe calling early elections would be an alternative to the region declaring independence, and thus a solution out of Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

The crisis was sparked by a divisive independence referendum that went ahead on October 1 despite a court ban.

Several regional government members expressed their support for elections in a meeting on Tuesday with regional president Carles Puigdemont, said the source, who refused to be named.

Spain has vowed to start taking over Catalonia’s political power and finances in the coming days if it does not stop its independence drive.

Puigdemont’s ruling coalition is hugely disparate, with the far-left CUP and left-wing ERC parties that prop up his conservative PDeCAT grouping gunning for him to declare independence.

According to Catalan daily La Vanguardia, the meeting yielded “intense debate” and went on well into the night, with no decision reached.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed that constitutional measures to take over Catalonia’s powers were “the only possible response” to Puigdemont’s independence push.

“I am fulfilling my obligation by implementing (constitutional article) 155, faced with contempt for our laws, the constitution, Catalonia’s status and contempt for millions of Catalan citizens who see that their government has liquidated the law,” he told parliament.

But implementing article 155 could spark unrest in the northeastern region which, though divided on independence, is fiercely protective of its language and autonomy.

On Wednesday, independence supporters were preparing to take to the streets again. Teachers were planning a rally in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, and grassroots organisations dubbed “committees to defend the referendum” were also due to protest.

Related:

Catalans Do Not Declare Independence But Will Seek Independence by Negotiations With Spain

October 10, 2017

BBC News

President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, speaks in his address to the Catalan Parliament at the Palau del Parlament de Catalunya on October 10, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain
Mr Puigdemont said the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid. Getty

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said his people voted for independence from Spain – but that he wants a negotiated solution with Madrid.

He asked the regional parliament in Barcelona to suspend the effect of the vote so talks could begin – rather than breaking away immediately.

A vote on 1 October resulted in almost 90% of voters backing independence, Catalan officials say.

Madrid said it was illegal and Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended it.

No voters largely boycotted the referendum ballot – which had a reported turnout of 43% – and there were several reports of irregularities.

National police were involved in violent scenes as they manhandled voters.

Mr Puigdemont told the regional parliament that the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid, but he also said he wanted to “de-escalate” the tension around the issue .

He hailed the referendum process and condemned the actions of the Spanish government, but acknowledged that people on all sides were worried about what would happen next.

“We are all part of the same community and we need to go forward together. The only way forward is democracy and peace,” he told deputies.

But he also said Catalonia was being denied the right to self-determination, and paying too much in taxes to the central government in Madrid.

Catalan police have been posted outside the parliament in Barcelona, sealing off the grounds to the public. A large pro-independence rally is currently taking place in the area.

People attend a pro-independence rally near the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain October 10, 2017
A pro-independence rally was held near the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona. Reuters
Catalonia's regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, guard the regional assembly parliament building in Barcelona, 10 October 2017
Armed police were deployed outside the parliament. Reuters Photo

Standard & Poors Considers Downgrading Catalonia’s debt rating

October 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Pro-referendum demonstrators gather in front of a building with a banner reading ‘Welcome to the Catalan republic’ during a protest near the Economy headquarters of Catalonia’s regional government in Barcelona, on September 20, 2017

PARIS (AFP) – The international credit rating agency Standard & Poors said it may downgrade the sovereign debt rating of Catalonia in the next three months as tensions with Madrid escalate over the region’s push for independence.

“S&P Global Ratings placed its ratings on the Autonomous Community of Catalonia on CreditWatch with negative implications,” the rating agency said in a statement released late on Wednesday.

“The Catalan government’s political confrontation with Spain’s central government has escalated following a referendum in Catalonia on October 1 on the region’s independence,” the statement said.

“We see a risk that this escalation may damage the coordination and communication between the two governments, which is essential to Catalonia’s ability to service its debt on time and in full.”

As a result, S&P said it would place Catalonia’s ratings — currently “B+/B” — “on CreditWatch with negative implications.”

The agency said it expected to “resolve the CreditWatch within the next three months.”

Image result for Catalan banks, photos

In Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, Catalonia held an independence referendum on Sunday, although the vote was banned by Madrid.

Images of police beating unarmed Catalans taking part in the vote sparked global concern.

Spain’s key IBEX 35 stock index plunged by more than three percent Wednesday in the ongoing turbulence, with some big Catalan banks down more than five percent.

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See also:

Catalan Customers Torn on Who to Bank With on Secession Fear

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-04/catalan-depositors-torn-on-who-to-bank-with-amid-secession-fears

Catalan leader says region will declare independence ‘in matter of days’ — Spain’s King Felipe VI ratcheted up tensions by urging authorities to defend “constitutional order”

October 4, 2017

AFP

© Lluis Gene, AFP | Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont says the region has won the right to break away from Spain after 90% of voters backed independence in a banned referendum on Sunday.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-04

Spain was braced for further political upheaval Wednesday after Catalonia’s leader said the region would declare independence “in a matter of days”, just hours after King Felipe VI urged Spanish authorities to defend “constitutional order”.

Carles Puigdemont said his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next”, the Catalan regional leader told the BBC in an interview Tuesday.

 
Spanish King Felipe VI giving a speech on Catalonian referendum

He spoke after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury over violence by police against voters during a banned referendum on independence for their region on Sunday.

The central government and national courts branded the referendum illegal.

But Catalan leaders claimed the results showed the region had the right to secede and said they may unilaterally declare independence.

“We are going to declare independence 48 hours after all the official results are counted,” Puigdemont said in the interview.

His remarks came hours after Spain’s King Felipe VI ratcheted up tensions by urging authorities to defend “constitutional order”.

Felipe’s dramatic intervention late Tuesday aimed to calm Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades, but risked further fanning resentment in the region.

Felipe, 49, abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia, accusing its leaders of acting outside the law.

“With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order.”

‘Fuel to the fire’

Felipe repeated his earlier calls for harmony between Spaniards.

But after Sunday’s violence it was a delicate balancing act for a Spanish sovereign.

People watching in a bar in Barcelona whistled and booed after the king’s speech.

“It is a real disgrace… Far from solving anything it has added fuel to the fire,” said Domingo Gutierrez, a 61-year-old trucker.

“He did not say a word about the people who were injured… I have never been pro-independence, my parents are from Andalucia. But now I am more for independence than anyone, thanks to people like that.”

Catalans denounce ‘occupation’

Police unions and political experts warned that Spain’s government risks losing control of the north eastern region.

It is considered Spain’s worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981.

That was defused by Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos I, also in a stern television appearance.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Barcelona on Tuesday yelled for national security forces to get out of the region, branding them “occupation forces”.

In Sunday’s disturbances, Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention, though local authorities confirmed a total of 92 injured.

Four were hospitalised, two in serious condition. The national government said more than 400 police officers were hurt.

Government ‘losing control’

Angry protesters rallied outside Catalan hotels where state security forces were lodged, police groups said on Tuesday.

Two hotels said they made police officers who were staying there leave, on the orders of local officials.

Spanish authorities “are losing control, it is clear”, Javier Perez Royo, a constitutional law professor at the University of Seville, told AFP.

‘Inciting rebellion’

A rich industrial region of 7.5 million people, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

It has its own language and cultural traditions.

Its claims for independence date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.

Madrid blames the Catalan regional authorities for the tensions.

“The government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets,” Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Tuesday.

He said his government would take “all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment”.

Catalans split

Puigdemont’s regional government claimed that 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 percent of the electorate — but the vote was held without regular electoral lists or observers.

Puigdemont has said he will present the results to the region’s parliament, where separatist lawmakers hold a majority — a step towards a possible declaration of independence.

The regional government said 90 percent of those who voted backed independence, but polls indicate Catalans are split.

Puigdemont has called for international mediation in the crisis. The European Union’s executive commission has voiced concern.

The European Parliament was scheduled to debate the Catalonia crisis on Wednesday.

(AFP)

‘Occupation forces out’: Tens of thousands protest in Barcelona

October 3, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Protesters joined by firefighters protest during a general strike in Barcelona
BARCELONA (AFP) – Shouting “occupation forces out” and “the streets will always be ours,” tens of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona Tuesday to protest police violence during a banned weekend independence referendum in Catalonia.

Columns of people converged onto the city centre as the region went on general strike, a police helicopter flying overhead, drawing angry whistles as Catalans reel from the violence that marred parts of the Spanish region on Sunday.

“Closed for revolution,” read a sign, while parents and children from a school used as a polling station on Sunday unrolled a giant banner on the street made by students earlier on.

“Navas-Sagrera (a Barcelona neighbourhood) for peace and democracy,” it read, dozens of multi-coloured little handprints above.

“You can’t stop the youth,” said Alfredo Vidal, the 68-year-old owner of a dry-cleaning shop, pointing to the hundreds of students walking slowly by, many draped in blue, yellow and red separatist flags.

Tensions in Catalonia, where separatist leaders are seeking independence, have reached boiling-point after the chaotic referendum on Sunday.

Madrid had repeatedly warned Catalan separatist leaders that the independence referendum was illegal and could not go ahead, but they did so anyway.

So it was that riot police descended onto polling stations, in some cases hitting people with batons and shooting rubber bullets, injuring over 90 people according to regional authorities.

“When you provoke people, when you offend them, then they react against you,” Vidal said.

“I had never seen Catalans putting their hand on their heart during the Catalan hymn, but for about a month now, I’ve seen them do it, especially the young,” he added.

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Related:

Catalans Urged to Strike to Protest Police Crackdown on Poll — Barcelona port could be shut down

October 3, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain — Labor unions and grassroots pro-independence groups are urging workers to hold partial or full-day strikes throughout Catalonia to protest alleged brutality by police during a referendum on the region’s secession from Spain that left hundreds of people injured.

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People held up four fingers representing the four stripes of the Catalan flag while waiting to vote in Barcelona on Sunday. Credit Chris Mcgrath/Getty

The strike call comes as Catalan leaders ponder a possible declaration of independence this week following the referendum that Spain said was illegal and invalid.

Port workers were being called to demonstrate Tuesday outside the regional headquarters of Spain’s ruling Popular Party while firefighters planned a rally outside the Interior Ministry’s regional office in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

Protests were also to be staged outside polling stations where police acted with force to try to prevent Sunday’s poll being held.

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Demonstrators protesting against the Catalonia referendum passed a cafe in Barcelona on Sunday. Credit Jim Hollander/European Pressphoto Agency

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A Look at What Might Happen if Catalonia Goes It Alone — Expelled from EU?

October 3, 2017

MADRID — The northeastern region of Catalonia, one of Spain’s autonomous regions, is threatening to declare its independence from Spain following a disputed referendum that, it says, gave it a mandate to break away.

Spain, which declared the referendum illegal and invalid, says it will do all to maintain the country’s unity and keep hold of the region of 7.5 million people centered around the port city of Barcelona.

The two would seem to be about to enter uncharted waters. Here’s a look at how Spain got to this point and what may happen next.

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DECLARING INDEPENDENCE

Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont says he will keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally following a claimed win for the “Yes” side in Sunday’s disputed referendum.

The pro-independence leader says that under a Catalan law a win with more than 50 percent of “Yes” votes triggers a declaration of independence within 48 hours of the vote, regardless of the fact that the vote was held in extremely precarious circumstances and that turnout — even if true —was less than half of the electorate. That law was suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court, but Puigdemont and his government seem set to ignore this.

The independence declaration could happen as early as Wednesday or Thursday when the regional parliament meets.

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WOULD CATALONIA BE RECOGNIZED AS A SEPARATE COUNTRY?

So far no country or international body has expressed any support for the Catalan government’s independence drive, so any declaration of independence is likely to be rejected, at the beginning at least. The European Union is standing solidly behind Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and says Catalonia would be expelled from the bloc and the shared euro currency.

Economically it is impossible to predict if it could survive. Catalonia has an annual gross domestic product of about 215 billion euros ($257 billion) — the largest of the Spanish regions and greater than Greece’s — but many of its goods are supplied by the Spanish state.

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WHAT IMMEDIATE CHANGES MIGHT BE EXPECTED?

Besides the removal of Spanish flags from official buildings, it(asterisk)s hard to see what else Catalan authorities could do. The feeling is that the declaration would be a symbolic one. Catalonia does not have security forces sufficient to set up borders and key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs, defense, ports, airports and trains are in the hands of the Spanish government in Madrid. Spain also recently took virtually full control of Catalonia’s spending.

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SPAIN’S OPTIONS

Spain has two main options and both would be painful. The constitution’s Article 155 allows the government to suspend, totally or partially, any region’ self-government if it disobeys its constitutional obligations or attacks the general interests of Spain. Catalonia would first be warned and if it didn’t rectify, the measures decided upon would be put to the Senate for approval, a simple matter for Rajoy as his party has a majority.

Possible measures could include placing the region’s police under Spanish control. If necessary, Spanish police could enforce the measures.

The other, more extreme alternative would be to declare a state of siege, should Spain’s sovereignty be considered under attack — which a declaration of independence might constitute — and this could allow for the suspension of civil rights and imposition of martial law. It would need to be debated and approved by the lower house of parliament, a difficult matter as Rajoy lacks a majority there.

Neither option is likely to happen overnight.

“The situation is really serious in Spain now,” said constitutional law professor Fernando Simon of Spain’s University of Navarra, who said Catalonia was basically already in a state of rebellion. He said either option would mean Spain would enter unknown territory.

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A COMPROMISE

Given the current state of affairs this is the most desirable for all, but with neither side backing down, the least likely to happen.

Both sides say they are open to dialogue but both put up conditions unacceptable to the other. Rajoy had insisted he couldn’t discuss a referendum unless the constitution was changed, and invited Catalonia to work on changing it. The Catalan government said its right to self-determination must be respected first before talks could proceed. Catalonia now wants the EU to intervene, an unlikely prospect, and calls for international mediation, something Spain is not likely to agree to.

Catalan Commission to Investigate Claims of Abuse During Banned Referendum

October 2, 2017

MADRID — Catalonia will create a special commission to investigate claims of abuse by Spanish police during a banned referendum on independence on Sunday after more than 800 people were left injured, leader of region Carles Puigdemont said on Monday.

Thousands of Spanish police were shipped in to the region to prevent the vote on secession though scenes of violence due to heavy-handed tactics by armoured, baton-carrying riot units have received international condemnation.

The vote which the constitutional court banned and Madrid said was illegal, yet still attracted millions of defiant voters, was valid and binding, Puigdemont said during a conference.

The Catalan leader said he had had no contact with Spain’s central government and called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say whether he was in favour of mediation in talks over the region’s future, which should be overseen by the European Union.

(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Sonya Dowsett)