British PM loses majority, faces pressure to resign

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May listens as the declaration at her constituency is made for in the general election in Maidenhead, England. (AP)
Updated 09 June 2017

British PM loses majority, faces pressure to resign

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May faced pressure to resign on Friday after losing her parliamentary majority, plunging the country into uncertainty as Brexit talks loom.

The pound fell sharply amid fears the Conservative leader will be unable to form a government and could even be forced out of office after a troubled campaign overshadowed by two terror attacks.

After being re-elected with an increased majority in the London commuter seat of Maidenhead, May said Britain “needs a period of stability” as it prepares for the complicated process of withdrawing from the European Union.

She said that while the full results had yet to emerge, her party seemed to have won the most seats and “it would be incumbent on us to ensure we have that period of stability.”

But Leftist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour party surged from 20 points behind, urged May to quit, saying she had “lost votes, lost support and lost confidence.”

Former Conservative minister Anna Soubry, who just held onto her seat, said May was “in a very difficult place” following a “dreadful campaign.”

With a handful of seats still to be declared, the Conservatives were predicted to win 319 seats, down from 331 in 2015 — yet another upset in a turbulent year since the EU referendum in June 2016.

They were mathematically unable to reach the 326 mark that would give them a majority, meaning they will have to form an informal or formal alliance to forward their agenda.

Labour are expected to increase their share from 229 to 260 seats, resulting in a hung parliament.

May, a 60-year-old vicar’s daughter, is now facing questions over her judgment in calling the election three years early and risking her party’s slim but stable majority of 17.

“It is exactly the opposite of why she held the election and she then has to go and negotiate Brexit in that weakened position,” said Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics.

Sterling fell nearly two percent against the dollar on the back of the exit poll, as investors questioned who was now going to control the Brexit process.

Early newspaper editions reflected the drama, with headlines such as “Britain on a knife edge,” “Mayhem” and “Hanging by a thread.”

In a night that threatened to redraw the political landscape once again, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which won 12.5 percent of the vote two years ago and was a driving force behind the Brexit vote, was all but wiped out, hovering around two percent.

The pro-European Liberal Democrats, who have campaigned for a second EU referendum, increased their number of seats from nine, but their former leader Nick Clegg lost his seat.

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, which has dominated politics north of the border for a decade and called for a new independence vote after Brexit, was tipped to lose around 21 of its 54 seats.

Deputy leader Angus Robertson, one of the strongest SNP performers in the House of Commons, was an early casualty.

May, who took over after last year’s Brexit referendum, began the formal two-year process of leaving the EU on March 29, promising to take Britain out of the single market and cut immigration.

Seeking to capitalize on sky-high popularity ratings, she called the election a few weeks later, urging voters to give her a stronger mandate to go into Brexit talks that are expected to begin as early as June 19.

Officials in Brussels were hopeful the election would allow her to make compromises, but this has been thrown into question by the prospect of a hung parliament.

“It creates another layer of uncertainty ahead of the Brexit negotiations,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA currency traders.

Despite campaigning against Brexit, Labour has accepted the result but promised to avoid a “hard Brexit,” focusing on maintaining economic ties with the bloc.

Barely a month ago, the center-left party seemed doomed to lose the election, plagued by internal divisions over its direction under veteran socialist Corbyn.

But May’s botched announcement of a reform in funding for elderly care, a strong grassroots campaign by Corbyn and the terror attacks, which increased scrutiny of her time as interior minister, changed the game.

“Even if she manages to get just enough seats it will be seen as a failure and she may indeed be under pressure to resign as leader quite quickly,” said Paula Surridge, senior lecturer at the University of Bristol.


Pakistani pilot who steered first Emirates flight remembers birth of UAE airline

Updated 46 sec ago

Pakistani pilot who steered first Emirates flight remembers birth of UAE airline

  • The historic flight took off from Dubai to Karachi on Oct. 25, 1985
  • Carrier’s success lies in leadership that prioritizes competence, retired captain says

ISLAMABAD: Thirty-five years after he steered the first Emirates flight, retired Capt. Fazal Ghani Mian says the success of the UAE flag carrier was and remains its competence and merit.

The first Emirates flight, EK600, took off from Dubai to Karachi on Oct. 25, 1985.

Recalling the airline’s birth and having observed its operations for more than three decades, the former chief pilot of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), who flew the Emirates Airbus A300 on its maiden trip, says the UAE flag carrier’s success lies in leadership that prioritizes competence.

“Emirates selects people on merit and they give them responsibility with authority,” he told Arab News in an interview this week. “No outside interference in their job. I am proud that I was a part of competent people who played a role in building Emirates airline from scratch.”

His involvement with Emirates was a result of PIA’s contract with Dubai to provide pilots, engineers and two aircraft to help establish the UAE airline.

“I came to Dubai on Oct. 1, 1985 and met Emirates Airline managing director Maurice Flanagan and their teams,” Mian said. “We discussed the tasks ahead related to the arrival of two aircraft to lay the foundation of the Emirates airline.”

“We used to discuss the progress every day and prepare reports, and if there was any problem we found we used to help each other solve it.

“I am grateful to the great leadership of Sheikh Ahmed who was conducting these meetings,” he said, referring to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, the president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and founder of the Emirates Group.

The two aircraft were painted in Emirates colors at a PIA hangar in Karachi, all in secrecy. They were then flown to Dubai.

“On Oct. 18, 1985 a team of engineers, along with two aircraft, arrived at Dubai airport with the Emirates insignia. The aircraft were kept in a hangar at the far corner of the airport away from the public eye,” Mian said.

On Oct. 23, 1985, the Pakistani-Emirati team had to operate five special VIP flights over Dubai.

“On Oct. 22, we received some uniforms very late at night,” the former captain said. “The laundry was closed but a young man working in the hotel took the uniforms and pressed them at his residence and brought it back around midnight.”

An undated archive photo of Capt. Fazal Ghani Mian shows him during his service with Pakistan International Airlines.  (Photo courtesy: Capt. Fazal Ghani Mian)

“I was praying that nothing bad would happen,” Mian said. “The first Airbus flight was around 11 o’clock and Sheikh Mohammed (bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai) and other royal dignitaries were sitting on the aircraft. We flew over Dubai for 45 minutes and we were escorted by Dubai air force fighter pilots.”

Two days later the UAE flag carrier took off on its first official flight.

“On Oct. 25, we operated the first official flight to Karachi with top royal dignitaries of UAE and employees of Emirates airline on board,” Mian said.

The smooth beginning came with a dream landing.

“Landing was so smooth that nobody realized the aircraft had landed,” Mian said. “This was the beginning of Emirates