British MPs vote for bigger role in Brexit process

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement in the House of Commons on Monday, March 25, 2019 outlining the next steps that parliament will take in the Brexit process. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019

British MPs vote for bigger role in Brexit process

  • Monday’s vote sets up a potentially crucial clash between government and parliament on the best way to end a bitter political crisis
  • But even if MPs decide a majority course of action, the government is not legally bound to follow their instructions

LONDON: British MPs have voted to play a bigger role in Brexit, giving themselves the power to express their preference for different options in an unprecedented move that the government called “dangerous.”
On Monday evening MPs won a vote that will allow them to seize control of parliamentary business on Wednesday by 329 to 302, with three junior ministers quitting after voting against the government.
British pro-Brexit tabloid The Sun said Tuesday that May had “lost control of the Brexit process to MPs in a humiliating defeat.”
The Times also said the prime minister had been “humiliated by Tory rebellion” as the cabinet “prepares for (a) snap election.”
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt and health minister Steve Brine resigned, a government source said, while business minister Richard Harrington announced his decision to leave government on Twitter.
In his resignation letter, Harrington said the government’s approach was “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country.”
But the Brexit ministry said in a statement it was “disappointed” by the vote, adding that it “upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent.”
Three years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Monday’s vote sets up a potentially crucial clash between government and parliament on the best way to end a bitter political crisis.
MPs will now have the chance to vote on various options, such as revoking Article 50 and canceling Brexit, holding another referendum, a deal including a customs union and single market membership or leaving the EU without a deal.
But even if MPs decide a majority course of action, the government is not legally bound to follow their instructions.
“The government will continue to call for realism — any options considered must be deliverable in negotiations with the EU,” the Brexit ministry said.
The prime minister said she was “skeptical” about the process and that similar efforts in the past “produced contradictory outcomes or no outcomes at all.”
May admitted Monday she had still not secured the votes needed to get her own, twice-rejected Brexit deal through parliament, raising again the prospect that Britain could crash out of the European Union in just over two weeks’ time.
Anxious at the deepening crisis in London, EU leaders last week agreed to postpone Brexit to avoid a potentially catastrophic “no deal” divorce on March 29, when 46 years of ties were formally scheduled to end.
But they warned that unless May can persuade MPs this week to support her withdrawal deal, Britain must come up with a new plan by April 12 — or leave its closest trading partner with no deal at all.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government was a “national embarrassment,” adding: “We will still face the prospect of a disastrous no-deal Brexit.”
The EU had earlier ramped up the pressure by announcing its full readiness to deal with the “increasingly likely” event of a no-deal Brexit in three weeks’ time.
Parliament remains deeply divided over Brexit, reflecting the sharp divisions in the country.
MPs have already voted against a “no deal” Brexit but this remains the default legal position unless they agree an alternative.
May went over her own Brexit scenarios at an emergency cabinet meeting earlier Monday.
It followed a weekend of media reports that her own ministers were trying to oust her.
Most of the alleged plotters are Brexit backers who fear the terms of Britain’s departure will be watered down or even reversed.
“Theresa May is the chicken who bottled Brexit,” former foreign minister Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph.
“It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels — LET MY PEOPLE GO,” he wrote, leaving some room however for possibly supporting her deal.
What happens to her premiership if parliament favors a more EU-friendly Brexit that contradicts her policies is unclear.
Parliament is thought most likely to rally around the idea of keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU or its single market.
Both of those policies contradict May’s position.
A customs union would keep Britain from striking its own trade agreements with non-EU countries.
A single market would require the government to go back on May’s promise to regain control of Britain’s borders and migration policy.


Tight security as 16 million Sri Lankans prepare to vote

Updated 16 November 2019

Tight security as 16 million Sri Lankans prepare to vote

  • Police, civil defense deployed with warning to crack down on protests 

COLOMBO: More than 16 million Sri Lankans will go to the polls to elect the country’s president on Saturday amid heightened security.

About 60,000 policemen and 8,000 civil defense personnel have been deployed across the island while voting takes place, police media spokesperson SSP Ruwan Gunasekara told Arab News.

More than 200,000 government officials have been deployed on election duty as the counting of votes takes place at 43 centers, while more than 125 foreign observers representing the EU and Commonwealth will also monitor the poll.

The government has spent $42 million to implement a secret ballot system for the 35 candidates at 12,845 polling centers, according to Sri Lanka’s Election Commission.

The winning candidate needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to assume office. Counting will start soon after the poll ends.

The ballot paper also lets voters pick their three top choices to help determine the winner if no candidate secures the first place by mark.  

“The first results of the presidential election 2019 can be expected by midnight on Saturday,” Mahinda Deshapriya, the Election Commission chairman, said on Friday.

Authorities have also told police to thwart protests during the election silence period that began on Wednesday.

“The commission has no intention to obstruct freedom of expression by blocking any social media, but it might be compelled to do so if the situation becomes worse or uncontrollable,” Deshapriya said.

He said that the commission had written to Facebook asking the platform to remove any paid or sponsored advertisements for candidates.

The Sri Lanka Transport Board will deploy 5,800 buses for election duties, including transporting ballot boxes and officials.

Special bus services will operate from Friday to cater to people traveling to their villages to cast votes.

Al-Sheikh A.C. Agar Mohamed, deputy chairman of All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told Arab News that it was mandatory for voters to prove their identity when entering a polling booth.

Muslim women who wear the veil have been asked to cooperate with officers by revealing their face to confirm their identity,
he said.

Print and electronic media have been barred from taking pictures of political leaders entering polling stations, Information Director-General Nalaka Kaluwewa said.

However, pictures of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya will be taken while casting their vote by official photographers, he said.

The two top candidates are former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa.