UK govt downplays suggestion it will seek Brexit delay

Anti-Brexit pro-EU demonstrators stand wrapped in EU and Union Flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Feb. 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2019

UK govt downplays suggestion it will seek Brexit delay

  • Barclay said the government wants to secure a deal, but is also preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit

LONDON: The British government on Wednesday downplayed a report that its chief Brexit negotiator said lawmakers will have to choose between backing Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular divorce deal and a delay to the UK’s exit from the EU.

An ITV News correspondent, Angus Walker, said he overheard negotiator Olly Robbins in Brussels saying the government would ask Parliament in late March to back her agreement, rejected by lawmakers last month, or seek an extension to the Brexit deadline.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay insisted the government was not planning a delay, saying: “The prime minister has been very clear that we are committed to leaving on March 29.”

Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected May’s Brexit deal with the EU last month, and she is now trying to secure changes before bringing it back for another vote. The EU insists it will not renegotiate the legally binding withdrawal agreement.

If a deal is not approved by the British and European parliaments before March 29, the UK faces a messy sudden Brexit that could cause severe economic disruption.

Barclay said the government wants to secure a deal, but is also preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit.

Opposition politicians have accused May of trying to fritter away time as the clock ticks down, in order to leave lawmakers with a last-minute choice between her deal and no deal.

On Tuesday, May urged lawmakers to give her more time, promising Parliament a series of votes on the next steps in the Brexit process on Feb. 27 if she has not secured changes to the Brexit deal by then.

“What the prime minister is up to is obvious,” Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Wednesday. She’s coming to Parliament every other week, pretending there’s progress and trying to buy another two weeks, edging her way toward March 21, when the next EU summit is, to try to put her deal up against no-deal in those final few weeks.

“Parliament needs to say ‘That’s not on.’”

Ethiopia’s leader urges calm as key referendum begins

Updated 10 min 7 sec ago

Ethiopia’s leader urges calm as key referendum begins

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister urged calm on Wednesday as millions of citizens hold a referendum on whether to create a new regional state along ethnic lines.
The Sidama referendum “is an expression of the democratization path Ethiopia has set out on,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement. The vote could inspire others to seek their own regional states.
Abiy’s sweeping political reforms since he took office last year have opened the way for some of the country’s more than 80 ethnic groups to push for more autonomy.
Sometimes deadly unrest has followed, and tensions could rise ahead of national elections in May. Observers say this poses Abiy’s greatest challenge.
The Sidama population make up about four percent of the population of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.
Deadly clashes followed when the referendum was postponed in July. No official toll was announced.
In a statement ahead of the vote, Amnesty International urged authorities to prevent any use of excessive force.
“The referendum comes at an especially tense time when violence based on ethnic differences is breaking out all over the country and people are being killed simply for expressing their opinions,” Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, Seif Magango, said.