Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Theresa May at European Council admits for the first time that Brexit negotiations have been in ‘difficulty’ — Angela Merkel says the UK has not done enough

October 20, 2017

PM makes urgent plea to leaders over dinner

By Jon Stone Brussels
The Independent


Theresa May has admitted for the first time that Brexit negotiations have hit “difficulty” as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she can sell to the British people.

The Prime Minister explicitly conceded last night that talks were in trouble ahead of her key intervention in Florence two weeks ago, prompting her to try and get negotiations back on track.

She told Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders that there is now the “urgent” need for progress with the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal looming.

Speaking on Thursday evening at a working dinner with other heads of government in Brussels, Ms May said that at the end of the summer she “recognised the difficulty the process was in”.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying, and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying, and I made a step forward,” she said.

 Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” she said, adding that when the 27 remaining member states convene tomorrow to discuss Brexit in private “the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together”.

The PM and world leaders dined on gnocchi and pheasant supreme at the dinner, followed by fresh pineapple.

European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly said he is “worried” about “deadlock” in negotiations, but the line from the UK government has always been significantly more optimistic, stressing “concrete progress”.

The PM’s intervention comes as the European Council appears set to refuse to allow the UK to move to trade and future relationship talks – which it has said can only start once “sufficient progress” has been made on settling the divorce bill, Northern Ireland border, and EU citizens’ rights.

The 27 remaining EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss Brexit without Ms May, whose address to dinner was not followed by any discussion or debate.

Theresa May: No Brexit breakthrough on the cards

They are expected to tell Britain to come back in December once more progress has been made for another assessment of whether it is ready for trade talks.

Senior UK government officials also admitted that the prime minister was “working against a difficult political backdrop” at home – an apparent reference to Tory MPs who were pushing her for a no deal.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday Angela Merkel said she believed there were “encouraging” signs that sufficient progress could be made in December. Ms May said the summit was a time to take stock of the progress that had been made in talks so far.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte however told reporters in Brussels that Ms May had to “come up with more clarity on what she means by ‘other commitments’ in her Florence speech”.

“I phoned her last week, and tried to encourage her to do that and so far she hasn‘t,” he said.

Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told journalists in Brussels: “The Florence speech intended to create momentum and we achieved that. In all our talks with EU leaders they have been responsive and we hope that will continue.”

Other issues such as forest fires and migration have dominated the first day of European Council discussions, with Britain’s departure not even getting a mention in the first press conference between Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk after hours of talks.

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Theresa May calls for new dynamic for Brexit deal – but Angela Merkel says it’s ‘still not enough’


The Prime Minister has played down hopes of a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations as she arrives at this week’s European Council summit.

On her way into the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels on Thursday the Prime Minister said the summit was an opportunity to “take stock” of progress in talks.

The Independent confirmed yesterday that the PM would have no opportunity for a direct dialogue with EU leaders about leaving the EU at the summit – sticking to the strict framework of negotiations.

The PM said she would be setting out “ambitious plans” for further negotiations in the weeks ahead, and said she wanted to inject a new “urgency” into discussions on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Britons on the continent.

It had previously been hoped that the UK would be judged to have made “sufficient progress” in Brexit talks at the summit, so that negotiations could move to trade and transition. The latest indications are that this next phase has been delayed until at least December, however.

The two-day European Council summit comes as Ms May spoke directly to the estimated three million European Union citizens living in Britain, to tell them that she wants them to be able to stay after Brexit and that a deal on their rights are “in touching distance”

Britain’s hopes of getting the green light for trade talks at the European Council meeting in Brussels were dash after a series of top EU figures came out against them. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament Brexit Chief Guy Verhofstadt, and European Parliament president Antonio Tajani also said talks had not reached a mature enough stage.

But Ms May is hoping to persuade the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to at least agree to begin discussions among themselves on the transition to Brexit and the future trade relationship. She will address them in an after-dinner speech on Thursday evening but there will be no discussion or reply from the leaders, a spokesperson for the European Council presidency confirmed.

The other 27 EU leaders will then discuss Brexit in full without Ms May on Friday – sticking to the strict protocol of only conducting negotiations within the framework agreed by the Council.

Arriving in Brussels, Ms May said: “This Council is about taking stock. It is also about looking ahead to how we can tackle the challenges that we all share across Europe.


Brussels overcharging Britain on liabilities by €7billion, say diplomats

October 19, 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017

Brussels spat: a new row over Britain’s financial obligations has blown up as Theresa May prepares to meet EU counterparts CREDIT: GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/ AP

The EU is trying to over-charge Britain for its share of Eurocrats’ pensions to the tune of €7bn (£6.2bn), it has been claimed, even as European capitals continue to squeeze the UK over the so-called European capitals continue to squeeze the UK over the so-called Brexit bill.

British Brexit negotiators are questioning EU calculations over the size of pension liabilities – listed as some €67bn in the EU accounts – of which the UK share would be around €11bn on the point of exit.

However, figures published by The Times argue that the EU is unfairly using the current rock-bottom rate on investment returns of 0.3pc to calculate the total cost of servicing the ultra-generous 70pc final salary EU pension scheme.

Diplomats and pensions experts argue that the fairer rate – based on an average of investment returns over the last 21 years of 3.1pc – would reduce the UK’s liability from €11bn to €3.5bn.

Investment return rates, based on government bond yields, are…

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Corbyn Beats May to Brussels, Getting His Brexit Pitch in First

October 19, 2017


By Thomas Penny and Nikos Chrysoloras

Follow @Brexit for all the latest news, and sign up to our daily Brexit Bulletin newsletter.

Introduced as the next prime minister of the U.K., Jeremy Corbyn received a standing ovation from European Socialists in Brussels, hours before the actual head of government could make her case to fellow leaders.

In a piece of political theater that aims to undermine Theresa May at a key European summit, the leader of the Labour Party hammered away at the theme that she should get out of the way and let him lead talks with the European Union.

Jeremy Corbyn in Brussels on Oct. 19.

Photographer: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

“As the government’s splits and Brexit bungling become ever more damaging, Labour stands ready to take up responsibility for the Brexit negotiations,” Corbyn said. “We are clear in our priorities: a jobs-first Brexit which maintains free access to the single market.”

He went further: “I am unapologetic in taking every opportunity to seek to influence the final Brexit deal in the interests of the many, not just the few.”

Still, when Corbyn said he was going to respect the results of the Brexit referendum, he was met with complete silence.

— With assistance by John Follain


No Brexit Deal Would Be A Disaster


British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Thursday that failing to reach a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for industry, as London’s divorce negotiations with the European Union teeter on the brink.

Corbyn, in Brussels to meet fellow left-wing European politicians on the sidelines of a crucial EU summit focused on Brexit, told Britain’s Sky News he had come to the heart of Europe to “make sure that negotiations get on track”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to plead with the other 27 EU leaders at a dinner on Thursday to unlock the second phase of negotiations about Britain’s future relationship with the bloc — and crucially the issue of trade.

As May fights growing rebellions in her Conservative Party and increasing frustration from Brussels about the lack of progress in Brexit talks, Labour Party leader Corbyn said May had “managed to upset just about everybody”.

“It is up to her to get the negotiations back on track. We cannot countenance the idea that we just rush headlong into no deal with Europe,” Corbyn said.

“It would be catastrophic for manufacturing industry jobs and we would have real problems all through the economy.”

The other EU nations are set to say that not enough progress has been made on divorce issues to move on to the second phase of talks, and the most they can do is to start internal preparations to discuss trade and a transition deal in December.

Five rounds of Brexit negotiations have produced limited results and fears are growing that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement before its formal departure on March 29, 2019.

Brexit: What’s the ‘no deal’ fallout for the UK and EU?

October 19, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has admitted that a “no deal” on Brexit would be better than a bad deal. Apart from being delusional, how damaging will it be for all concerned?

Deutsche Welle

If you thought the scenario of the UK leaving the EU with all that entails was bad enough, think again: If there is no deal at the end of negotiations to formally finalize the UK’s exit in March 2019, many observers believe the apocalypse could be upon us.

So what exactly would a “no deal” mean in practice?

Steve Bullock, who worked at the UK Representation to the EU from 2010-2014 where he negotiated several EU regulations for the UK in EU Council working groups, describes it thus: “People have made the analogy of buying a car, but not coming to an agreement. What Theresa May is about to do is drive a reliable, working car down to the car dealer, set fire to it right there, and then say to him ‘You have to sell me a car, or else I’m walking home.'”


With no deal in place, trading would defer to World Trade Organization rules. Tariffs and customs checks would be slapped on UK exports to the EU and vice versa. And this is where the problems become meaty, if you’ll excuse the pun. Tariffs on agricultural products such as lamb and beef could be as high as 50 percent — effectively putting supply industries out of business. On the upside UK consumers could feast upon cheap, unsaleable Welsh lamb for the foreseeable future.

And it’s far from plain sailing for the fishing industry. On the surface (okay, no more puns) British fishermen could theoretically catch more fish because EU member states would lose their automatic right to fish in UK waters. But here’s the downside: When it came to selling the fish, the fishermen would face tariffs on sales to their largest export market — yes, that would be the EU.

And it doesn’t stop there. A no-deal scenario would be a major blow to the services industry, with businesses losing their passporting rights which currently allow them to sell their services across the EU without having to acquire licenses in each country.

And, says Bullock, the effects and losses “of a no deal in terms of GDP would be much higher on the UK than on EU27 states.”

Infographic of UK exports for the first quarters of 2016 + 2017


The other main bone of contention. With no agreement in place, there would be no legal obligation for the UK to shell out billions of pounds as part of a financial settlement. While that would make the UK treasury happy, it would tear a huge hole in the EU budget and pour more salt on the wound. And let’s not kid ourselves: German and French taxpayers would be asked to plug the hole.

In terms of the financial burden on British households, Steve Bullock says the additional cost, especially on poorer households “is absolutely gigantic. Something in the range of 500 pounds (€560; $660) per year worse off. And there have already been increases in food prices.”

Citizens’ rights:

In a nutshell, a lot of people will be sitting on packed suitcases. Without an agreement on residency, the rights of EU nationals to live in the UK or those of UK nationals to reside in the EU could, technically, disappear overnight. This would affect more than 3 million EU nationals in the UK and over 1 million UK citizens in the EU. To avoid this nightmare scenario, individual EU countries would probably try to strike deals with the UK to guarantee citizens’ rights.

“I mean I am one of them. I’m self-employed, I run a recording studio. And my right to do that would just cease instantly. I would certainly temporarily have to close my business,” says Bullock, who lives in Brussels.

Read more: ‘Talk in the UK is misleading’: ex-ECJ judge


Tariffs on many of the UK’s exports would amount to around 2-3 percent, and as this is a two-way street, those tariffs would also apply to European goods entering the UK market. While that looks good on paper, those 2 or 3 percent would actually go towards financing a new customs operation and an armada of HM Revenue and Customs officers to ensure that trade continues to flow and to avoid congestion and long lorry queues at border ports such as Dover and Calais.

Infographic Brexit timeline

Nuclear energy:

Not top of the “to-do-list” but important all the same. If the UK is no longer a member of Euratom, the body that oversees nuclear energy, it will lose access to crucial safety procedures and systems for operating power plants. Those plants would have to shut, and the UK would have to find alternative energy sources quickly.

The EU certainly has its faults, and its detractors are many. But at the moment any kind of deal seems better than the bleak alternative, which would be detrimental to businesses and consumers on both sides of the Channel. As Steve Bullock says the erosion of trust and the sentiment of “the good will burnt over this, not only in Europe, but the rest of the world” is almost as damaging as the actual impact of Brexit.

ISIS fanatics ‘plotting new 9/11’: Homeland Security chief says jihadists are working on a ‘big explosion’

October 19, 2017

Related image

  • Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, issued a warning
  • She said recent attacks are keeping jihadis engaged ahead of ‘big explosion’
  • Terrorists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties, she says
  • Yesterday, MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned UK was facing biggest terror threat

A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building September 11, 2001 in New York

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned today.

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said jihadists were using crude knife and van attacks to keep their members engaged and their finances flowing as they plot another ‘big explosion’ similar to the September 2001 atrocities.

Speaking at the US embassy in London, she said intelligence is pointing to extremists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties.

Mrs Duke said ISIS is currently in an ‘interim’ period focusing on a much bigger endgame.

The security chief, who has served three US presidents, said: ‘The terrorist organisations, be it ISIS or others, want to have the big explosion like they did on 9/11. They want to take down aircraft, the intelligence is clear on that.

‘However, in the interim they need to keep their finances flowing and they need to keep their visibility high and they need to keep their members engaged, so they are using small plots and they are happy to have small plots.’

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned

She added: ‘Creating terror is their goal and so a van attack, a bladed weapon attack, causes terror and continues to disrupt the world – but does not mean they’ve given up on a major aviation plot.’

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Yesterday Mrs Duke said the prospect of a terrorist blowing up an airline using a laptop was just one of the threats facing airlines worldwide.

She said the free movement of goods and people means security has to be tightened in individual countries around the world.

She said: ‘The laptop is one of the many aviation threats, we will never be comfortable and we will always be evolving.

‘What we believe is that because of the movement of goods and people, we have to raise the baseline worldwide, we can’t only consider our borders.’ Mrs Duke went on: ‘We think the level of terrorist threat against the United States too is extremely high.

‘I think that it is challenging for you because you have the proximities to other countries, the ease of movement from some of the terrorist safe havens is a little easier for you, but we feel the terrorist threat is very high in the United States.’

Asked how the US is tackling the threat of another 9/11-style atrocity, she said: ‘We have worked on some strong measures that we can’t talk about. We are trying to play the away game and that is working against them in their terrorist safe havens and homes.

‘We do have some terrorist groups on the move, you just saw the take-over of Raqqa and so if we can keep them declining and moving they have less time to sit and prepare.’

They want to take down aircraft
Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Mrs Duke warned that the number of home-grown violent extremists, mostly inspired by terrorist organisations, is increasing in the US. She said the ability of IS militants to put terrorist propaganda on the internet will appeal more and more to extremists as they are pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Mrs Duke said web giants need to do more to detect extremist content online, and one way of doing this could be using the same technology used to identify people in passenger lists.

‘Terrorists are strong, they are adaptable and the terrorist threat is the highest it has been since pre-9/11. We have got to have every tool that’s possible,’ she added.

A total of 2,996 people were killed during the September 11 attacks, when al-Qaeda suicide attackers hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Earlier in the day she met the British interior minister Amber Rudd to discuss how to force internet giants to do more to tackle terrorism ahead of the G7 summit.

Following the recent wave of attacks in Manchester and London, police chiefs have said the threat facing the UK is a ‘new norm’ that will not change.

Her chilling remarks came 24 hours after MI5 director general Andrew Parker warned Britain is facing its worst-ever terrorist threat in his first major speech since the UK was hit by a wave of attacks.

The British spy chief said it was taking terrorists just days to hatch plots as violent extremists exploit ‘safe spaces online’ to evade detection.

It is harder for the UK to protect itself because of its proximity to other countries and the ease of movement from terrorist safe havens, she suggested.

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Brexit: EU leaders refuse face-to-face talks with Theresa May in latest rebuff

October 19, 2017

Prime Minister wants ‘a discussion’ with her counterparts to try to break the deadlock – will be listened to in silence

By Rob MerrickJon Stone

The Independent

theresa-may-eu-dinner.jpgTheresa May will make her pitch to EU leaders over coffee PA

EU heads of government will deliver another rebuff to the Prime Minister today by refusing face-to-face discussions to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks.

Theresa May will try to bypass the stalled negotiating process by appealing directly to her counterparts in the other 27 countries, at a summit dinner in Brussels.

She will hope to engage them “in a discussion” to end the impasse, a senior UK government official said, ahead of the EU leaders’ own Brexit talks in Britain’s absence.

But The Independent has learned that the EU will stick to its strict rule that negotiations must be carried out only with Michel Barnier – the European Commission’s chosen representative.

The Prime Minister would be invited to raise her offer on Brexit, but there would be no discussion afterwards, a spokesman for the European Council’s presidency said.

Furthermore, the dinner will be short, after the evacuation of the main European Council building – because of problems in the kitchen – forced it to be moved to an older building.

It is likely to be “cold service” only, one Brussels source said, with Ms May’s speaking slot limited to the coffee at the end.

The set-up raises the prospect of a repeat of what happened at last October’s summit, when the Prime Minister was given just five minutes to speak – with no debate – at 1am on that occasion.

It comes after Brexit preparations were plunged into further chaos after the key legislation was shelved for up to a month, because of Commons revolts.

The EU Withdrawal Bill is unlikely to go back before MPs until mid-November, after an avalanche of amendments – some signed by Tory backbenchers – threatened the Government with defeat.

The Prime Minister will attempt to change the conversation, by promising the 3.2 million EU citizens in Britain a closer involvement in a “streamlined” process to obtain “settled status” to stay after Brexit.

In an open letter, sent directly to 100,000 citizens who have asked to receive updates, Ms May said an agreement with the EU on their future rights was within “touching distance”.

And she announced a new “user group” would be set up with officials, to give EU nationals a direct say over how the processworks, to ease their “anxiety”.

In a message also posted on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page, she wrote: “With flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.”

However, the official confirmed Ms May did not plan any policy change, after criticism that EU citizens will lose some rights – particularly over family reunions – after Brexit.

And, crucially, there is still no unilateral guarantee of future rights should the withdrawal talks collapse and Britain leaves with “no deal”.

In Brussels, Ms May is not expected to budge on the key dispute of money, refusing to go beyond her offer to pay “subs” of around £9bn a year, if a transition period of “about two years” is agreed.

The EU has demanded the UK also set out the “liabilities” it agrees it must pay, prompting the president of the European Parliament to brand Britain’s offer “peanuts”.

On Friday, the heads of government will confirm that “sufficient progress” has not been made on divorce terms, dashing Ms May’s hopes of moving on to talks about a future trade deal.

Leaked versions of the draft council motion are highly unlikely to be changed, after they were toughened up against Britain’s interests by France and Germany.

The motion does allow for preparatory work on the next phase of talks to begin behind closed doors in Brussels, potentially allowing trade talks to begin in January, if the “sufficient progress” test is passed in December.

Despite that, the Government official set a high bar for a “successful” summit, saying Britain was seeking a clear commitment to “swift progress” on reaching an agreement.

By the time EU leaders deliver their “not yet” verdict, Ms May will be back in London. She was said to have an “incredibly busy diary”.

Before she leaves, the summit will also discuss the migration crisis in the Mediterranean and defence, with Britain pledging to “always stand alongside the EU”.


LONDON — With less than 18 months to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, and with British businesses growing increasingly concerned about the future, this was the moment Prime Minister Theresa May hoped for a breakthrough in the paralyzed negotiations on the process known as Brexit.

Instead, she is fighting a tense battle to stop the talks from collapsing.

After phone calls to Berlin and Paris, and the first of two visits to Brussels in three days, the most Mrs. May accomplished on Tuesday was a promise to keep talking. However, this dialogue does not yet include the subjects Mrs. May wants to discuss: a transition deal to prevent an economically damaging “cliff edge” Brexit and future trade relations.

This week, she is to make her pitch to European Union leaders at a summit meeting in Brussels, but the main discussion of Britain’s departure from the bloc will happen after Mrs. May has left the room.

Both at home and abroad, Britain’s prime minister is hamstrung by her political fragility. She is constantly forced to mediate between warring factions in her cabinet, some of whom want a quick, clean break with the bloc, while others fret about protecting the economy. She must also fend off doubts on the Continent about her ability to deliver a deal, even if one is agreed to.

“Britain is not seen as a credible negotiating partner,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute. “Continental Europeans read Britain’s newspapers and watch its TV news, and it seems very confused. They don’t know who is in charge, and who speaks for the government.”

Jens Geier, who leads Social Democratic lawmakers from Germany in the European Parliament, has a similar perspective. “Looking at the never-ending internal divisions within the Conservative Party, we in Brussels are wondering how much leeway Theresa May has at all,” he said, “and if she is actually able to deliver, or whether she will be undermined by other members of her cabinet.”

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G7 to focus on foreign fighter fallout from rout of IS

October 19, 2017


© AFP / by Ella IDE | A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks through a heavily damaged a street in Raqa, Syria on October 18, 2017

ISCHIA (ITALY) (AFP) – The threat of fresh attacks on the West by foreign fighters fleeing the fallen Islamic State stronghold of Raqa is set to dominate a G7 meeting of interior ministers in Italy.The two-day gathering, which kicks off Thursday on the Italian island of Ischia, comes just days after US-backed forces took full control of the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital.

Most foreign fighters are believed to have fled over the past few months. Experts say those who stayed are now likely to head for Turkey in the hope of travelling on to Europe to seek revenge for the destruction of the “caliphate”.

Tens of thousands of citizens from Western countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the group between 2014 and 2016, including extremists who then returned home and staged attacks that claimed dozens of lives.

France, whose some 1,000 nationals were among the biggest contingent of overseas recruits to join IS, stated frankly this weekend that it would be “for the best” if jihadists die fighting.

While border crossings have since tightened making it more difficult for fighters to return, security experts have warned of renewed possibilities of strikes as the pressure on IS intensifies.

“With an Islamic military defeat in Iraq and Syria we could find ourselves facing a return diaspora of foreign fighters,” Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti told a parliamentary committee last week.

“There are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries. Some of them have been killed of course, but… it’s possible some of the others will try to return home, to northern Africa and Europe,” he said.

– Catching boats to Europe –

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said a group of 130-150 foreign fighters, including Europeans, had turned themselves in before the end of the battle in Raqa.

Other reports suggested a convoy of foreign fighters had been able to escape the city towards IS-held territory, a claim denied categorically by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officials.

The SDF is expected to contact the home countries of any foreign fighters it holds, to discuss the possibility of turning them over to face prosecution.

But captured fighters could prove a legal headache, with questions raised over what evidence, collected by whom, would be used in a domestic court. Jihadists also become security risks in jails for their potential to radicalise.

French European lawmaker Arnaud Danjean said Wednesday there would be “negotiations with the countries concerned” over what to do with returners.

Minniti warned fighters could take advantage of the confusion and “use the human trafficking routes” to return home — raising the spectre of extremists embarking on the migrant boats which regularly head to Italy.

It meant controversial efforts currently spearheaded by Italy to close the land and sea trafficking routes which cross Africa into Libya and on across the central Mediterranean sea to Europe were “essential”, he added.

– Intelligence war –

The Seven, from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, will also tackle the hot issue of terrorism online, with analysts warning IS’s loss of territory will turn street-to-street fighting into an intelligence war.

The ministers are due to arrive Thursday afternoon at a medieval castle on the volcanic island off Naples, before retiring for an informal dinner and knuckling down to working sessions on Friday.

They are set to be joined by the EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, European safety commissioner Julian King, and Juergen Stock, secretary general of the international police body Interpol.

In a G7 first, representatives from Internet giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter will also be taking part.

by Ella IDE

MI5 boss Andrew Parker warns of ‘intense’ terror threat

October 19, 2017

BBC News

MI5 chief Andrew Parker: ‘Over 3,000 extremists in the UK’

The UK’s intelligence services are facing an “intense” challenge from terrorism, the head of MI5 has warned.

Andrew Parker said there was currently “more terrorist activity coming at us, more quickly” and that it can also be “harder to detect”.

The UK has suffered five terror attacks this year, and he said MI5 staff had been “deeply affected” by them.

He added that more than 130 Britons who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with so-called Islamic State had died.

MI5 was running 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals involved in extremist activity in some way, he said.

Speaking in London, Mr Parker said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at MI5.

Twenty attacks had been foiled in the last four years, including seven in the last seven months, he said – all related to what he called Islamist extremism.

The five attacks that got through this year included a suicide bomb attack after an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in May, killing 22.

Five people were also killed in April during an attack near the Houses of Parliament, while eight people were killed when three attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and launched a knife attack in Borough Market.

A man then drove a van into a crowd of worshippers near a mosque in north London in June, while a homemade bomb partially exploded in tube train at Parsons Green station last month, injuring 30 people.

In some cases, individuals like Khuram Butt – who was behind the London Bridge attack – were well known to MI5 and had been under investigation by the security services.

People leaving flowers in Manchester city centre one week after the Manchester Arena attack
People left flowers in Manchester city centre after the Manchester Arena attack. PA photo

Mr Parker was asked what was the point of MI5 surveillance when someone who had made “no secret of his affiliations with jihadist extremism” had then been allowed to go on to launch a deadly attack.

He said the risk from each individual was assessed on a “daily and weekly basis” and then prioritised “accordingly”.

“One of the main challenges we’ve got is that we only ever have fragments of information, and we have to try to assemble a picture of what might happen, based on those fragments.”

He said the likelihood was that when an attacked happened, it would be carried out by someone “that we know or have known” – otherwise it would mean they had been looking “in completely the wrong place”.

And he said staff at MI5 were deeply affected on a “personal and professional” level when they did happen.

“They are constantly making tough professional judgements based on fragments of intelligence; pinpricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas.”

‘Not the enemy’

Mr Parker said they were trying to “squeeze every drop of learning” from recent incidents.

In the wake of attacks in the UK, there had been some, including some in the Home Office, who questioned whether the counter-terrorist machine – featuring all three intelligence agencies and the police, and with MI5 at its heart – was functioning as effectively as previously thought.

However, there was no indication of a fundamental change in direction in his remarks, with a focus on the scale of the threat making stopping all plots impossible.

“We have to be careful that we do not find ourselves held to some kind of perfect standard of 100%, because that is not achievable,” he said.

“Attacks can sometimes accelerate from inception through planning to action in just a handful of days.

“This pace, together with the way extremists can exploit safe spaces online, can make threats harder to detect and give us a smaller window to intervene.”

Troops from the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) marching past a ruined building in Raqqa, Syria
Many Britons still fighting in Syria and Iraq may not now return, Andrew Parker said. Reuters photo

He renewed the call for more co-operation from technology companies.

Technology was “not the enemy,” he added, but said companies had a responsibility to deal with the side effects and “dark edges” created by the products they produced.

In particular, he pointed to online purchasing of goods – such as chemicals – as well as the presence of extremist content on social media and encrypted communications.

Assassination risk

He said more than 800 individuals had left the UK for Syria and Iraq.

Some had then returned, often many years ago, and had been subject to risk assessment. Mr Parker revealed at least 130 had been killed in conflict.

Fewer than expected had returned recently, he said, adding that those who were still in Syria and Iraq may not now attempt to come back because they knew they might be arrested.

Mr Parker stressed that international co-operation remained vital and revealed there was a joint operational centre for counter-terrorism based in the Netherlands, where security service officers from a range of countries worked together and shared data.

This had led to 12 arrests in Europe, he added.

In terms of state threats, Mr Parker said the range of clandestine activity conducted by foreign states – including Russia – went from aggressive cyber-attack, through to traditional espionage and the risk of assassination of individuals.

However, he said the UK had strong defences against such activity.


Four British missionaries kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

October 18, 2017
A militant group pictured in the Niger Delta in 2010. Kidnapping is not uncommon in the area CREDIT:AFP/GETTY
  • Police are trying to rescue the four people, who were taken by gunmen last week
  • They were providing ‘medical care and religious activities’ in Burutu, Delta state
  • Chief Theo Fakama said locals were ‘saddened’ by the kidnapping as the victims
  • Kidnapping for ransom is a common problem in parts of Nigeria 

Four Britons have been kidnapped in Nigeria‘s southern Delta state, a police official said on Wednesday.

The police are attempting to rescue the four people, who were taken by unidentified gunmen on October 13, said Andrew Aniamaka, a spokesman for Delta state police.

He says they include a doctor, his wife and two other men who were involved in preaching and providing medical services to residents.

The four had been providing ‘free medical care and religious activities’ in the Burutu area of Delta state, said Chief Theo Fakama, from the local Enukorowa community.

Four Britons have been kidnapped in Nigeria 's southern Delta state, a police official said on Wednesday. Pictured, Nigerian soldier on patrol (file photo)

Four Britons have been kidnapped in Nigeria ‘s southern Delta state, a police official said on Wednesday. Pictured, Nigerian soldier on patrol (file photo)

Fakama said locals were ‘saddened’ by the kidnapping as the victims had ‘brought succour to residents of the community for the past three years’.

Kidnapping for ransom is a common problem in parts of Nigeria. A number of foreigners have, in the last few years, been kidnapped in the Niger Delta region, which holds most of the country’s crude oil – the country’s economic mainstay.

‘The abductors have not made any contact but we are doing our investigations to know the motive and have them rescued without jeopardising their lives,’ said Aniamaka.

‘Information available to us shows they are missionaries giving free medical services.

‘The victims are of British nationality, two of whom are a couple, and have been rendering humanitarian services in the area for a while.

‘But unfortunately, they didn’t let the authorities know of their presence in the area all this while.

There is a militant group that has been operating in the area and we believe they are the ones behind the abduction 

‘Immediately the militants struck, they whisked the victims to the interior regions of the creek where we believe they are being held for the past five days.’

There was an increase in crime in the southern region last year that coincided with a series of attacks on energy facilities. However, there have been no militant attacks on energy installations so far this year.

On October 14, the Vatican said an Italian priest was kidnapped by gunman just outside Benin City, which is the capital of Edo state and neighbours Delta state to the north.

Delta state commissioner of police Zanna Ibrahim told reporters in the state capital, Asaba, on Tuesday: ‘An anti-kidnapping team is already on the trail of the suspects.’

He suggested the abduction could be linked to a recent military operation against violent crime, which has seen an increase in troops in southern Nigeria.

Nigeria also saw the infamous kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in 2014.

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No Brexit breakthrough coming at summit: EU’s Tusk — “We need more concrete proposals from the British side to be honest”

October 18, 2017


© AFP | EU President Donald Tusk said he does not expect a breakthrough on Brexit at the European summit

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU President Donald Tusk on Wednesday warned Britain not to expect any breakthrough in Brexit negotiations at a European summit this week, saying London needed to come up with more concrete proposals.

Leaders of the other 27 EU members meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday are set to postpone until at least December a decision on whether enough progress has been made in talks to move on to discussing Britain and the EU’s future relationship.

Fears are growing that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement before its formal departure on March 29, 2019 and London had hoped the summit — where Prime Minister Theresa May will plead her case at a working dinner — might clear the logjam.

“I don’t expect any kind of breakthrough tomorrow — we have to work really hard in between October and December to finalise this so-called first phase and to start our negotiations on our future relations with the UK,” Tusk said.

Five rounds of talks have made some progress but major differences remain on the key issues of citizens’ rights, the future of the Irish border after Brexit and in particular how much Britain will pay in to EU budgets as it leaves the bloc.

Britain wants Brussels to acknowledge the progress made in talks, particularly since May’s speech in Florence last month in which she pledged that no other country would have to pay more into the EU or receive less from it as a result of Brexit.

But EU leaders and officials insist that London needs to translate the goodwill into detailed commitments.

“I am absolutely sure that it’s still possible to achieve this final of first phase in December but for this we need more concrete proposals from the British side to be honest,” Tusk said.

Underlining the increasingly tense atmosphere around the talks, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani ignited a fresh row late on Tuesday when derided Britain’s 20 billion euro offer on the financial settlement as “peanuts”.

“I have never seen 20 billion peanuts in my life,” Tusk joked when asked about Tajani’s comment.

His comments came on the same day that the British and EU chief negotiators clashed over a claim by London that Brussels is deliberately stalling the divorce haggling to extract more cash.