UK, EU to hold more Brexit talks as May woos opposition

An anti-Brexit protester draped in a composite if the EU and Union flag walks past more flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London on March 4, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2019

UK, EU to hold more Brexit talks as May woos opposition

  • Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but Parliament has rejected May's deal
  • May is being accused of trying to bribe opposition politicians into voting for it

LONDON: Senior EU and British officials were set to hold more Brexit talks less than a month before the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the bloc, as UK officials denied Monday that attempts to seal a divorce deal are deadlocked.
EU and UK officials said the bloc's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, will meet UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman, James Slack, said the two sides have "definitely been making progress" over the past few weeks and negotiations are at a "critical point."
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but Parliament has rejected May's deal, raising the prospect of a chaotic, economically damaging departure from the bloc.
British lawmakers' objections center on a provision to guarantee there are no customs posts or other barriers along the currently invisible border between the UK's Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.
Brexit-supporting lawmakers in the UK fear the backstop could be used to bind Britain to EU regulations indefinitely, and May wants to revise the deal to reassure opponents that it would only apply temporarily.
EU leaders insist that the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement can't be reopened, and talks are focusing on drafting an addendum or other additional words.
"We are happy to offer further clarifications and further assurances if that can help the UK government get the agreement over the line," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Monday.
"But from day one we have been very straight about a few things and among those is that Brexit cannot lead, under any circumstances, to the emergence of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland."
Tweaks and clarifications, however, are unlikely to satisfy Britain's most ardent pro-Brexit lawmakers.
Cox, Britain's attorney general, dismissed media reports that he had given up on securing significant changes from the EU. He tweeted that much of the reporting had been inaccurate, and "complex and detailed negotiations cannot be conducted in public. "
As May tries to build support for her deal before bringing it back to Parliament next week, she is being accused of trying to bribe opposition politicians into voting for it.
The government has announced a 1.6 billion-pound ($2.1 billion) package of funding over six years to help regenerate run-down communities.
Many are towns in areas of central and northern England represented by the opposition Labour Party, and the move is being seen as a bid to win support from their lawmakers for May's withdrawal agreement with the EU.
But Labour lawmakers reacted coolly to the announcement. Chris Bryant called the money "corrupt, patronizing, pathetic" and "all to appease the Brexit monster."
Labour legislator Gareth Snell said the allocation for his area of central England was "less than the total value of cuts faced by Stoke-on-Trent City Council alone over the same period" because of the Conservative government's austerity measures.
May's spokesman denied the money was a bribe, saying it was not conditional on support for May's Brexit deal.
As the stalemate continues, pressure is growing for a delay to Brexit, or a new referendum on Britain's EU membership.
Rajesh Agrawal, London's deputy mayor for business czar, told The Associated Press that with just 25 days left to go, "we need to take the pressure off."
He said this could be done by revoking Article 50, which formally triggered the Brexit process, "and then we go back to the people for confirmation. Because it's only right and democratic to let the people have the final say."

Bin Laden anthrax scientist under house arrest after jail

Updated 22 November 2019

Bin Laden anthrax scientist under house arrest after jail

  • Sufaat, 55, recruited militants, tried making biological weapon agent near Afghan airport

KUALA LUMPUR: A US-educated biochemist with links to Al-Qaeda and Daesh was on Wednesday released from prison by Malaysian authorities.

Yazid Sufaat, who recruited militants for the terror groups and tried to help Osama bin Laden develop anthrax for use as a biological weapon, will remain under heavy police watch.

The 55-year-old walked free from the Simpang Renggam penitentiary in Johor and was sent to his home in Bandar Baru Ampang in Selangor, on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

He has been placed under house arrest and will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device, said Royal Malaysia Police counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay. In addition, Sufaat would not be allowed to leave his home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. and had been barred from using the internet.

The scientist, who trained militants for the late terror group leader Bin Laden and spent several months trying to produce anthrax in a laboratory near Kandahar airport in Afghanistan, has been jailed three times in the past 17 years on various terrorism-related charges.

He was first arrested in December 2001 and sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2013, the former military officer was convicted of recruiting members for Daesh and received a four-year jail term, and in 2017 he was arrested again for Al-Qaeda recruitment among fellow inmates.

In the 1990s, Sufaat joined Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian extremist group led by Indonesian militants. In 2000, he acquired four tons of ammonium nitrate for a series of foiled bomb attacks in Singapore.

Months before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, he hosted meetings for senior Al-Qaeda members, during which they “spoke about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

Dr. Danial Yusof, who leads a research unit on extremism at the International Islamic University Malaysia, told Arab News that the decision by the Prevention of Terrorism Board (POTB) to release Sufaat came after an evaluation process that included agencies such as the Royal Malaysia Police, prisons department and the Ministry of Home Affairs, and which put “national security as primary consideration for release.”

Sufaat will be required to report to local police twice a week and can only leave the vicinity of his house with written permission from the Selangor police chief.

According to Yusof, the measures were aimed at preventing Sufaat from reoffending and carrying out further recruitment.

Meanwhile, he said a major challenge for Malaysia’s deradicalization and rehabilitation program, would be the repatriation of around 140 former Malaysian followers of Daesh who are expected to return from Syria and Iraq.

With many of them being women and children, it would be a “test for Malaysia’s compassionate approach in counterviolence and extremism,” he added.

Yusof noted that Sufaat’s case could serve as a “reference point” for deradicalization of the individuals and their reintegration
into society.

However, Nasir Abbas, a former senior member of JI who is now involved in the Indonesian government’s deradicalization program, told Arab News on Thursday that rehabilitation efforts had so far failed to change Sufaat. 

“He still wants to engage in violent jihad. I am sure that once he is free, he will still campaign his cause to ordinary people,” he said.