UK’s Labour Party poised to change stance on post-Brexit

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech prior to a meeting of European Socialists prior to an EU summit in Brussels. (AP)
Updated 25 February 2018

UK’s Labour Party poised to change stance on post-Brexit

LONDON: Britain’s main opposition party is poised for a significant policy change that could increase pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to deliver a “soft” Brexit that maintains some formal economic ties to Europe.
There were clear indications Sunday that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will change course and advocate remaining in a customs union after Britain’s departure from the EU to cushion the potential economic blow.
Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit adviser, told the BBC that Labour’s leadership now is unanimously in favor of staying in a customs union. Corbyn plans to elaborate on the party’s policy shift Monday, Starmer said.
Remaining in a customs union would greatly ease trade with the EU’s other 27 countries after Brexit, which is expected to take effect at the end of March 2019, Starmer said.
He said it would also ease tensions in Ireland. The prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland has raised concerns about the future of the Good Friday peace accord that ended decades of violence.
Starmer said remaining in a customs union was the only realistic way to get “tariff-free access” to the European market.
“It’s really important for our manufacturing base,” he said. “And nobody can answer the question how you keep your commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland without a customs union.”
A policy shift by Corbyn would be significant because Labour lawmakers could join forces with advocates of a “soft” Brexit in the governing Conservative Party to pressure May, who already faces deep divisions within her own party.
If Corbyn and Labour clearly support a customs union, it would give the party a different approach from the one favored by May, who has said repeatedly that Britain will leave both the customs union and the single market.
Her own Cabinet has been badly divided on how best to pursue Brexit. May plans a major speech Friday to provide further details after a series of Cabinet meetings.
Pressures on Corbyn increased Sunday as more than 80 senior Labour Party figures signed a statement published in The Observer calling for Britain to remain in the EU’s single market and the customs union after Brexit. The letter states that Britain’s economy would be so damaged by leaving the single market and customs union that Labour would be unable to carry out its ambitious reforms if it comes to power.
The letter states that Labour’s position in Parliament means it is in a position to prevent Britain from going too far in severing its economic ties to the other 27 EU members.
It says: “For the sake of building a better Britain and safeguarding those our party was founded to protect, we must grab this chance before it is too late. We will never be forgiven if we fail to do so.”
The letter urges Corbyn to seek to keep Britain in the single market as well — but there are no indications he is ready to take that step.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.