Brexit happens by end-October despite unsigned delay request: UK government

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s defeat in parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his deal exposed him to a law passed by his opponents demanding he request a delay until Jan. 31. (Reuters)
Updated 20 October 2019

Brexit happens by end-October despite unsigned delay request: UK government

  • The Brexit maelstrom has spun wildly in the past week
  • The EU, which has grappled with more than three years of tortuous Brexit crisis, was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London

LONDON: Britain will leave the European Union on Oct. 31 despite an unsigned letter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced by his opponents to send to the bloc requesting a Brexit delay, the government said on Sunday.
The Brexit maelstrom has spun wildly in the past week between the possibility of an orderly exit on Oct. 31 with a deal that Johnson struck on Thursday and a delay after he was forced to ask for an extension late on Saturday.
Johnson’s defeat in the British parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his deal exposed the prime minister to a law passed by his opponents demanding he request a delay until Jan. 31.
Johnson insisted he did not want what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay to Brexit beyond the Halloween deadline. One of his most senior ministers said Britain would still leave the bloc on Oct. 31.
“We are going to leave by October 31. We have the means and the ability to do so,” Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, told Sky News.
“That letter was sent because parliament required it to be sent ... but parliament can’t change the prime minister’s mind, parliament can’t change the government’s policy or determination.”
In an extraordinary step that indicates the extent of the Brexit fever gripping the United Kingdom, Johnson sent three letters to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
First, a brief cover note from Britain’s EU envoy explaining that the government was simply complying with the law; second, an unsigned photocopy of the text that the law, known as the Benn Act, forced him to write; and a third letter in which Johnson said he did not want an extension.
“I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister and made clear to parliament again today, my view, and the Government’s position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson said in the third letter, signed “Boris Johnson.”
The EU, which has grappled with more than three years of tortuous Brexit crisis, was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London.
Tusk said he had received the request from Johnson.
“I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react,” he said on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Johnson that Paris needed swift clarification on the situation after Saturday’s vote, an official at the French presidency told Reuters.
“He (Macron) signaled a delay would be in no one’s interest,” the official said.
It was unlikely that the EU’s 27 remaining member states would refuse Britain’s delay request. Diplomats said on Sunday the bloc would play for time rather than rush to decide, waiting to see how things developed in London next week.
Johnson won the top job by staking his career on getting Brexit done by the latest deadline of Oct. 31 after his predecessor, Theresa May, was forced to delay the departure date. Parliament rejected her deal three times, by margins of between 58 and 230 votes earlier this year.
He had hoped to pass his own newly struck deal at an extraordinary sitting of parliament on Saturday but that was derailed by a legislative booby trap set by a rebel lawmaker concerned that Britain might still drop out without a deal.
Lawmakers voted 322 to 306 in favor of an amendment that turned Johnson’s planned finale on its head by obliging him to ask the EU for a delay, and increasing the opportunity for opponents to frustrate Brexit.
In his own signed letter to Tusk, Johnson said he was confident that the process of getting the Brexit legislation through Britain’s parliament would be completed before Oct. 31.
But the opposition Labour Party accused Johnson of acting as if he was above the law, and warned that the prime minister could end up in court.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the party would put forward amendments to Johnson’s Brexit legislation, particularly aimed at closing the “trap door” to no-deal Brexit at the end of a transition period in December 2020.
Starmer also said an election was inevitable.
“He is being childlike. The law is very clear he should have signed one letter ... If we crash out, because of what he has done with the letters, in 11 days’ time without a deal he bears personal responsibility for that,” Starmer told BBC television.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.