British PM, Corbyn trade blows in final pre-election clash

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking during the weekly Prime Ministers Questions session in the House of Commons in London. (AFP/PRU)
Updated 27 April 2017

British PM, Corbyn trade blows in final pre-election clash

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn clashed over Brexit, the economy and security Wednesday in their final parliamentary exchange before June’s general election.
In a raucous session of prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, the two leaders eyeballed each other while outlining competing visions as MPs behind them cheered and jeered.
May repeated her campaign mantra that only she can provide “strong and stable leadership” to guide Britain through its potentially tortuous exit from the European Union, and said her rival was “not fit to run this country.”
But Labour leader Corbyn went on the offensive over the government’s record on austerity and public services, saying May’s Conservatives “only look after the richest.”
May called the snap vote for June 8 to seek a mandate for Brexit and is expecting to win an increased Commons majority for her party.
The prime minister, however, has ruled out a television debate during the campaign, making Wednesday the last time she will go head-to-head against Corbyn before voters make their choice.
“Every vote for him is a vote for a chaotic Brexit. Every vote for me is a vote to strengthen our hand in negotiating the best deal for Britain,” she said.
Labour trail the Conservatives by more than 20 points in opinion polls, and the party is also divided over Corbyn’s left-wing leadership and strategy on Brexit.
“Even his supporters know he’s not fit to run this country,” May said, accusing him of uncosted spending plans and saying he was weak on defense.
Corbyn has pitched himself as the anti-establishment candidate and attacked the government’s record on the funding of schools and hospitals, as well as citing housing shortages and wage stagnation.
He said many Britons were “held back” by the government and “many people feel the system is rigged against them.”
“Strong leadership is about standing up for the many, not the few. But when it comes to the prime minister and the Conservatives they only look after the richest, not the rest,” he said.
Britain will not seek to take a divide and rule approach with the other 27 member states of the EU in upcoming Brexit negotiations, Brexit Minister David Davis said on Wednesday.
The remaining member states are due to meet at a summit on April 29 to endorse a common position, before negotiations begin in earnest after Britain’s June 8 election.
“There have been some suggestions that the UK might now seek to take a divide and rule approach to the union in the upcoming negotiations, far from it,” Davis told an audience of business people at a conference in London.
“We want the negotiations to be swift and effective ... Given the subject matter is complex and time is tight, the unity of the European Union will therefore be important for both sides.”
Davis said Britain should be under no illusions about the scale of the task ahead within the two-year negotiating time frame set out under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
“We are re-shaping Britain’s place in the world. Securing an agreement with the EU within the two-year period about our withdrawal and the shape of our future relationship will be challenging. We will have difficult issues to confront, compromise will be necessary on both sides,” he said.
He also said Britain was seeking to ensure a smooth and stable transition as it leaves the EU, but would need to take an “intelligent approach” to regulation in the years ahead.
“We must avoid unnecessary burdens on business, but we also want to make sure that our approach maintains or ensures new access to markets from Croatia to California, the regulations must have that in mind,” he said.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday held her first talks with key EU Brexit negotiators, as the bloc hardens its position ahead of a summit to lay down its “red lines.”
May hosted European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier at Downing Street for the first face-to-face talks since she triggered the two-year process of withdrawing from the European Union.
The latest draft negotiating guidelines, agreed on Monday by Barnier and European diplomats, point to months of difficult talks ahead as the EU seeks to ensure Britain does not get a better deal outside the bloc than inside.
According to the document, seen by AFP, the other 27 EU countries will seek to hold Britain liable for the bloc’s costs for at least a year after it leaves in 2019 — longer than was previously proposed.
Britain will also be required to give EU citizens permanent residency after living there for five years, in a challenge for May’s Conservative government, which has vowed to limit immigration.
And the guidelines recommend that Britain’s dominant finance industry will not necessarily be tied to any future trade deal with the EU and that it must also stick to the bloc’s rules if it wants easy access to EU markets.
May has committed to pulling Britain out of Europe’s single market to end free movement of EU citizens into Britain, but says she wants to form a new partnership with the bloc.
“We will have difficult issues to confront. Compromises will be necessary on both sides. We know all this,” Brexit minister David Davis said in a speech in London on Wednesday.
But he added: “The UK has a very good reason to feel optimistic.”
After starting the Article 50 process of leaving the EU last month, May is seeking to shore up her mandate for the Brexit talks in a snap election on June 8, with polls suggesting her Conservatives will return with an increased majority.
In recent weeks, she has held talks with senior EU figures, including European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and European Council chief Donald Tusk, who visited Downing Street on April 6.
Her spokesman said the visits show that Britain “will be approaching the negotiations in a constructive manner and with great goodwill.”
But EU Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska warned in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper that Britain “can’t have everything in the end. They can’t have their cake and eat it.”
Nina Schick, associate director at advisory firm Hanbury Strategy, told AFP there was in a sense in Britain of “at best optimism, at worst just not understanding where the EU side is coming from.”
Schick, who works with the Open Europe initiative, said that the tougher guidelines “are not really a surprise” and that both sides were likely to “reiterate their positions” at the Downing Street talks.


Northeast Nigeria attack claimed at least 110 lives: UN

Updated 29 November 2020

Northeast Nigeria attack claimed at least 110 lives: UN

  • The massacre took place on Saturday in the village of Koshobe near the city of Maiduguri
  • "At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack," Kallon said

ABUJA: A weekend attack on a village in northeast Nigeria blamed on the Boko Haram militant group left at least 110 dead, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the country said Sunday.
"At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack," Edward Kallon said in a statement after initial tolls indicated 43 and then at least 70 dead from Saturday's massacre by suspected Boko Haram fighters.
"The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year," Kallon said, adding: "I call for the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice."
The bloodletting took place in the village of Koshobe near the main city of Maiduguri, with assailants targeting farmers on rice fields.
Borno Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum attended the burial Sunday in the nearby village of Zabarmari of 43 bodies recovered on Saturday, saying the toll could rise after search operations resumed.
The assailants tied up the agricultural workers and slit their throats, according to a pro-government anti-extremist militia.
The victims were among labourers from Sokoto state in northwestern Nigeria, roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away, who had travelled to the northeast to find work, it said.
Six were wounded in the attack and eight remained missing as of Saturday.
Kallon, citing "reports that several women may have been kidnapped", called for their immediate release and return to safety.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack, saying: "The entire country has been wounded by these senseless killings."
The attack took place as voters went to the polls in long-delayed local elections in Borno State.
The polls had been repeatedly postponed because of an increase in attacks by Boko Haram and a rival dissident faction, ISWAP.
The two groups have been blamed for increasing attacks on loggers, farmers and fishermen whom they accuse of spying for the army and pro-government militias.