May pulls vote on her divorce deal, thrusting Brexit into the unknown

A video grab shows Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May at the House of Commons in London on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 11 December 2018

May pulls vote on her divorce deal, thrusting Brexit into the unknown

  • “We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time,” May said, adding that the United Kingdom would step up planning for a no-deal Brexit

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday abruptly pulled a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, throwing Britain’s plan to leave the European Union into chaos after admitting that she faced a rout.
May’s move on the eve of a crucial parliamentary vote opens up an array of options for the United Kingdom, including a disorderly Brexit with no deal, another referendum on EU membership, or a last minute renegotiation of May’s deal.
Announcing the delay, May was laughed at by some lawmakers when she said there was broad support for the deal and that she had listened carefully to different views to it — the result of 18 months of tortuous negotiations.
“If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,” May told Parliament, adding that she was confident it was the right deal.
“We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time,” May said, adding that the United Kingdom would step up planning for a no-deal Brexit.
May accepted there was concern among lawmakers about the Northern Irish “backstop,” an insurance policy aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between the British province and Ireland that could threaten a 1998 peace accord.
Her critics, both supporters of Brexit and its opponents, have rejected the backstop, which could require Britain to accept EU rules indefinitely, long after it gives up any say in drafting them. She said the broader question was whether Parliament wanted to deliver on the will of the people for Brexit, or open up the divisions in the world’s fifth largest economy with another referendum.
Sterling skidded to its weakest level since June, 2017, falling to $1.2622.
May’s own position is uncertain and she could face a swift challenge. Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the United Kingdom no longer had “a functioning government.”
A small Northern Irish party which props up May’s Conservative minority government called the situation a shambles. Scottish nationalists pledged to support a vote to bring the government down.
The decision to halt the vote came just hours after the EU’s top court ruled that Britain could unilaterally withdraw its decision to leave the bloc on March, 29.


UK PM Boris Johnson urged to be ‘tougher’ on Iran

Updated 25 January 2020

UK PM Boris Johnson urged to be ‘tougher’ on Iran

  • Richard Ratcliffe says his jailed wife is ‘being held hostage’ by Tehran
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman jailed by Tehran over charges of espionage has urged the UK to be “tougher” with the regime.

Richard Ratcliffe made the comments after a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Thursday. 

Ratcliffe said there had been “no breakthrough” in discussions between the two nations to secure her release, and his wife was being used as a “chess piece” by Iran. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison for “plotting to topple the Iranian government.” She and her family maintain that she was in the country to visit relatives.Speaking outside the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, Ratcliffe told reporters that the meeting had been warm in nature, but hinted that the government was not doing enough.

“The prime minister was there, the foreign secretary was there, (we) talked quite openly about having tried a number of different things to get Nazanin home,” he said. 

“We pressed him (Johnson) to be brave. I want him to push forward on improving relations. You need to be imposing a cost on Iran for holding innocent people as leverage, you’ve got to be brave there as well. The government doesn’t always say it, but in my view, Nazanin is being held hostage.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Arab News.

The Downing Street meeting comes ahead of an impending court case over a long-term trade dispute between the UK and Iran, with London accused of owing Tehran debts over an arms deal from the 1970s.

Labour Party MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents the parliamentary seat of Hampstead and Kilburn, where Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family live, called on the government to settle the debt in order to help facilitate her release.

But MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, told the BBC that the issue was “extraordinarily difficult.” 

He suggested that setting a precedent of capitulating on legal disputes in return for the release of UK nationals could entice foreign governments and groups to threaten other UK citizens abroad. “The risk that would pose to British citizens traveling abroad would be very considerable,” he said.

Johnson was blamed by many in 2017, when he was foreign secretary, for having worsened Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation in Iran when, in a statement to the House of Commons, he claimed that he had been briefed that she was in Tehran training journalists. 

Despite claims from other politicians, her family and her employer, the Thompson Reuters Foundation, that he had been misinformed, the statement was subsequently used as evidence against her in court.