Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on Monday to discuss a possible Brexit deal with just six weeks to go before departure day. (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2019

Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.


Indian government ends Internet blackout in restive Kashmir

Updated 25 January 2020

Indian government ends Internet blackout in restive Kashmir

  • Social media sites remain blocked, with only 301 government approved websites accessible
  • Indian- administered Kashmir’s 7 million inhabitants have been affected by web blackout since August last year

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities on Saturday restored Internet in Indian-administered Kashmir after a five-and-a half-month blackout but maintained a block on social media sites.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed a communications blackout in early August when it stripped the portion of Kashmir it controls — the country’s only Muslim-majority region — of its partial autonomy.
India also imposed a curfew, sent in tens of thousands of extra troops and detained dozens of Kashmiri political leaders and others, many of whom remain in detention, drawing criticism abroad.
Internet access was restored Saturday but only to 301 government-approved websites that include international news publications and platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.
Mobile phone data access was also restored, although it was limited to slower second-generation (2G) connections.
“It’s good some Internet access has been restored but it’s so slow I’m hardly able to access anything and social media is also off-limits,” Raashid Ahmad, a university student, told AFP.
Azhar Hussain, a local businessman, also complained about the Internet speed being “painfully slow.”
India is the world leader in cutting Internet services, activists say, and access was also temporarily suspended in other parts of the country during recent protests against a new citizenship law.
Since August, freedom of movement in heavily-militarized Kashmir has been gradually restored as has cellphone coverage, but apart from at a handful of locations, there has been no regular Internet access.
This made life even harder for the region’s seven million inhabitants and hit the local economy hard.
Modi’s government said that the blackout was for security reasons, aimed at restricting the ability of armed militants — who it says are backed by arch-rival Pakistan — to communicate.
However, the Supreme Court criticized the government earlier this month for the move, calling it an “arbitrary exercise of power.”
The court also stated that having access to the Internet “is integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947, and has been the spark of two wars and numerous flare-ups between the two nuclear-armed foes.
A bloody insurgency against Indian rule that has raged in the scenic Himalayan region for decades has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.