UK’s Sunak faces key test over Rwanda migrant policy vote

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the COVID Inquiry at Dorland House in London, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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UK’s Sunak faces key test over Rwanda migrant policy vote

  • Sunak has put the plan at the heart of his pledge to stop irregular migration, making the issue a key battleground in a general election expected next year

LONDON: UK leader Rishi Sunak faces the riskiest week of his premiership, with lawmakers gathering Monday to decide whether to back his flagship policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Factions of MPs from across Sunak’s divided Conservatives have convened meetings to consider how to vote when the controversial legislation goes before parliament on Tuesday.
Sunak has put the plan at the heart of his pledge to stop irregular migration, making the issue a key battleground in a general election expected next year.
But opposition to the scheme from both right-wingers and centrists is widening schisms in the ruling party, putting Sunak’s year-and-a-bit leadership in jeopardy.
The government announced a new bill last week after Supreme Court judges ruled in November that the deportation plan was illegal, as Rwanda was not a safe country.
The legislation would compel judges to treat Rwanda as safe and proposes giving UK ministers powers to disregard sections of human rights legislation.
The proposals have sparked fresh concerns from opposition parties, human rights groups and more moderate Tories who oppose any violations of international law by Britain.
However, right-wingers — including Robert Jenrick, who quit as immigration minister last week, and firebrand ex-home secretary Suella Braverman — say the legislation fails to go far enough.
Some on the right have called for Britain to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights and other international treaties, to stop courts blocking removals.
Up to 100 backbench MPs from five different groupings on the Conservatives’ right wing, including the powerful European Research Group (ERG), which advocated a hard-line Brexit.
The ERG called the bill was “the toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by a UK government.”
But it said it only provided a “partial and incomplete solution” to expected legal challenges and would require “very significant amendments.”
The centrist One Nation group, which also has about 100 members, is expected to release its own statement later on Monday.
Tuesday is the first opportunity that MPs will have to vote on the legislation, in what is called a second reading.
A government bill has not been defeated at this stage in the process for almost 40 years.
But several abstentions would also damage Sunak, who was elected unopposed by Tory MPs in October last year following Liz Truss’s calamitous 49-day reign.
If it scrapes through, right-wingers are also expected to try to rewrite the legislation at later stages while the House of Lords upper chamber would have an opportunity to block it.
Sunak has bet his pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel on the Rwanda scheme — which has been stuck in the courts since the first deportees were pulled off a flight at the last minute in June 2022, after an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.
Almost 30,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel from northern France in rudimentary vessels this year.
Tory divisions have worsened since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, largely on a promise to “take back control” of its borders.
Sunak, who has told MPs the Conservatives must “unite or die,” has denied that Tuesday’s vote amounts to a confidence vote on his leadership.
Some Westminster watchers have speculated that he may be tempted to call an early election — which must be held by January 2025 — if he loses the vote.
The Conservatives, in power since 2010, have served up five prime ministers since the 2016 Brexit vote.
They currently lag well behind Labour, the main opposition party, in opinion polls.


Prince Harry loses case against UK government over security

Updated 4 sec ago
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Prince Harry loses case against UK government over security

  • Lawyers for the government rejected claims that Harry was ‘singled out’ and treated ‘less favorably’
LONDON: Prince Harry lost a court challenge against the UK government on Wednesday over a decision to change the level of his personal security when he visits the country.
The youngest son of King Charles III launched legal action against the government after being told in February 2020 that he would no longer be given the “same degree” of publicly-funded protection when in Britain.
“The ‘bespoke’ process devised for the claimant in the decision of 28 February 2020 was, and is, legally sound,” High Court judge Peter Lane said in his 52-page judgment.
Harry sensationally left Britain in 2020 with his wife Meghan, eventually settling in California in the United States.
The prince told a hearing at London’s High Court in December that security concerns were preventing visits back to the United Kingdom.
“The UK is my home. The UK is central to the heritage of my children,” he told court in a written statement read out by his lawyers.
“That cannot happen if it’s not possible to keep them safe.
“I cannot put my wife in danger like that and, given my experiences in life, I am reluctant to unnecessarily put myself in harm’s way too,” he added.
Harry’s mother Princess Diana was killed in a high-speed car crash in Paris in 1997 as she tried to escape paparazzi photographers.
Lawyers for the government rejected claims that Harry was “singled out” and treated “less favorably” or that a proper risk analysis was not carried out.
James Eadie, for the interior ministry, told the court that it was decided Harry would not be provided the same level of protection as before because he had left life as a working royal and mostly lived abroad.
In May 2023, Harry lost a bid for a legal review of another government decision refusing him permission to pay for specialist UK police protection himself.
The interior ministry argued then that it was “not appropriate” for wealthy people to “buy” protective security when it had decided that it was not in the public interest for such taxpayer-funded protection.
London’s Metropolitan Police also opposed Harry’s offer on the grounds that it would be wrong to “place officers in harm’s way upon payment of a fee by a private individual.”
It is one of many legal cases launched by Harry.
Earlier this month, he settled a long-running lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), whose journalists he accused of being linked to deceptive and unlawful methods, but vowed to continue his legal battles with several other UK media outlets.
Harry is one of seven high-profile people, including Elton John, bringing legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail over allegations of unlawful information gathering.
He and actor Hugh Grant are also suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), part of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire and publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World tabloids, over similar claims.
However, Harry last month dropped his libel case against UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday over an article on his legal battles with the UK government.

UAE engages with south Indian exporters to boost Gulf trade

Updated 34 min 57 sec ago
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UAE engages with south Indian exporters to boost Gulf trade

  • UAE-India CEPA Council promotes business ties under the preferential trade pact
  • Roundtable in Chennai involved businesses in the logistics, automotive, agriculture sectors

NEW DELHI: Representatives of the top UAE and Indian business bodies met with exporters in Chennai on Wednesday to boost trade between the Gulf region and India’s south.

Commercial relations between the two countries have reached historic highs since the implementation of the UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in May 2022.

The economic partnership under CEPA is expected by both sides to increase the total value of bilateral trade in non-petroleum products to more than $100 billion and trade in services to $15 billion by 2030.

The meeting with exporters based in the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu was held by the UAE-India CEPA Council in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry and the UAE Embassy.

“Featuring over 20 participants from diverse sectors such as logistics, automotives, agriculture and healthcare, the roundtable provided a valuable platform for business owners to discuss opportunities to benefit from the UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, and the bilateral strategic partnership more broadly,” the UAE Embassy said in a statement.

Tamil Nadu, India’s second-largest exporter of software, after Karnataka, is also famous for its automobile and engineering industries. Manufacturing contributes 33 percent and agriculture 13 percent to its state gross domestic product.

“Among the various economic, trade and investment matters discussed at the roundtable, Col. Shubhransh Srivastav, vice president, corporate affairs, DP World, provided participants with an overview of the recently launched Bharat Mart, which is set to boost Indian SME exports to the UAE and the greater MENA region,” the UAE Embassy said.

Bharat Mart, a warehousing facility enabling Indian micro, small and medium enterprises to trade in Dubai, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to the UAE earlier this month, and is expected to become operational by next year.

Ahmed Aljneibi, director of the UAE-India CEPA Council, told the Chennai audience that the CEPA was offering expansion due to preferential market access.

The access provided under the deal by the UAE on more than 97 percent of its tariff lines accounts for 99 percent of Indian exports to the UAE in value terms, mainly from labor-intensive sectors.

“The significant benefits afforded by the CEPA, including preferential market access and the facilitation of MSME expansion, underscore its role in catalyzing cooperation and strengthening cultural, political and economic ties between our nations,” Aljneibi said.

“We look forward to building upon this momentum and continuing to drive impactful initiatives that will further deepen the UAE-India economic partnership.”


UN peacekeepers begin withdrawing from east DR Congo

Updated 28 February 2024
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UN peacekeepers begin withdrawing from east DR Congo

  • The DR Congo demanded the withdrawal despite UN concerns about rampant violence in the east of the country

KAMANYOLA, DR Congo:  The United Nations kicked off Wednesday the withdrawal of MONUSCO peacekeeping forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo by handing over a first UN base to national police, an AFP team saw.

During an official ceremony at the Kamanyola base, close to the Rwandan and Burundian borders, the flags of the United Nations and Pakistan, the countries of origin of the peacekeepers in charge, were replaced by those of the DRC.

The DR Congo demanded the withdrawal despite UN concerns about rampant violence in the east of the country.

Kinshasa considers the UN force to be ineffective in protecting civilians from the armed groups and militias that have plagued the east of the vast country for three decades.

The UN Security Council voted in December to accede to Kinshasa’s demand for a gradual pullout by the MONUSCO mission, which arrived in 1999.

The UN force currently fields around 13,500 soldiers and 2,000 police across the three eastern provinces of Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu.

The “disengagement plan” is due to take place in three phases with completion depending on regular assessments.

The first base to be handed over is at Kamanyola, on the border with Burundi.

Phase one is to see the departure of military peacekeepers from South Kivu by the end of April and civilian staff by June 30.

Before May, the UN force is to leave its 14 bases in the province and hand them over to DRC security forces.

In Kamanyola, with a population of about 100,000, opinions appeared divided on the eve of the first step in the pullout.

Ombeni Ntaboba, head of a local youth council, said he was not too concerned.

Every evening, he said, “we see them out in their armored vehicles around the Ruzizi plain,” where armed groups operate along the border.

“But the level of insecurity is still the same, with armed robberies and kidnappings.”

“We salute the Congolese government’s decision,” said Mibonda Shingire, a rights activist, who admitted fearing the impact on the local economy because of the many people employed by MONUSCO.

Others, like Joe Wendo, said they were worried about a “security vacuum” once the Pakistani troops deployed to Kamanyola have gone.

“Their presence at least protected us from the Rwandan invaders,” he said.

The withdrawal comes with North Kivu facing the resurgent Tutsi-led M23 rebels who have seized swathes of territory.

Intense fighting resumed last month around the city of Goma, North Kivu’s capital.

But local people shout down the UN troops more than they praise them.

And MONUSCO has recently felt the need to point out that it “supports Congo’s armed forces... defends its positions... facilitates secure passage for civilians.”

“The departure of the MONUSCO blue helmets concerns us, at a time when the country is at war with the rebels backed by our Rwandan neighbors,” said Beatrice Tubatunziye, who leads a development association in Kamanyola.

She said she wanted to believe that Congolese forces “will quickly be able to fill the void.”

Kinshasa, the United Nations and Western countries say Rwanda supports M23 in a bid to control vast mineral resources in the region, an allegation Kigali denies.

The United Nations has insisted the DRC security forces must be reinforced and take care of civilians at the same time as MONUSCO pulls out.

Around six million people have been displaced by the fighting in DRC.

After South Kivu, the second and third pullout phases will cover Ituri and North Kivu, with regular assessments of progress.

DRC Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula has made it clear he wants the withdrawal completed by the end of this year, though the UN Security Council has not fixed a date.


Pope Francis taken to Rome hospital, ANSA reports

Updated 41 min 21 sec ago
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Pope Francis taken to Rome hospital, ANSA reports

  • The 87-year-old pontiff, who has had a number of health issues recently, canceled appointments on Saturday and Monday

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis, who has been suffering from influenza, has been taken to a hospital in Rome for a check-up, Italian news agency ANSA reported on Wednesday.
The 87-year-old pontiff had earlier skipped a reading at his Wednesday weekly audience, delegating the task to an aide and telling the faithful he was still not well.
The pope, who has had a number of health issues recently, had cancelled appointments on Saturday and on Monday due to what the Vatican called a mild flu.
On Sunday, he addressed crowds in St Peter's Square as normal, to deliver his Angelus message.
"Dear brothers and sisters, I still have a bit of a cold", Francis said at the audience on Wednesday, announcing that someone else would read his catechesis on envy and vainglory, two of the seven deadly sins.
The reading was about one page long.
The pope did speak at the end of his audience, his voice sounding hoarse and coughing a bit, to greet some of the faithful and issue calls for peace, as is customary.
In December, the pope was forced to cancel a planned trip to a COP28 climate meeting in Dubai because of the effects of influenza and lung inflammation.
In January, he was unable to complete a speech owing to "a touch of bronchitis". Later in the month he said he was doing better despite "some aches and pains".
As a young man in his native Argentina, Francis had part of a lung removed.
The pope also has difficulty walking, and regularly uses a wheelchair or a cane. On Wednesday, he arrived at his indoor audience in a wheelchair. 


Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

Updated 28 February 2024
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Extremism is US voters’ greatest worry, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

  • Marginally higher than those who picked the economy – 19 percent – and immigration – 18 percent

WASHINGTON: Worries about political extremism or threats to democracy have emerged as a top concern for US voters and an issue where President Joe Biden has a slight advantage over Donald Trump ahead of the November election, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

Some 21 percent of respondents in the three-day poll, which closed on Sunday, said “political extremism or threats to democracy” was the biggest problem facing the US, a share that was marginally higher than those who picked the economy — 19 percent — and immigration — 18 percent.

Biden’s Democrats considered extremism by far the No. 1 issue while Trump’s Republicans overwhelmingly chose immigration.

Extremism was independents’ top concern, cited by almost a third of independent respondents, followed by immigration, cited by about one in five. The economy ranked third.

During and since his presidency, Trump has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of US institutions, claiming the four criminal prosecutions he faces are politically motivated and holding to his false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

That rhetoric was central to his message to supporters ahead of their Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol.

Overall, 34 percent of respondents said Biden had a better approach for handling extremism, compared to 31 percent who said Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

The poll helps show the extent to which Biden’s re-election bid could rely on voters being motivated by their opposition to Trump rather than enthusiasm over Biden’s candidacy.

BIDEN APPROVAL DIPS

Biden’s approval rating in the poll, 37 percent, was close to the lowest level of his presidency and down a percentage point from a month earlier. Nine-out-of-ten Democrats approved of his performance and the same share of Republicans disapproved, while independents were slightly skewed toward disapproval.

But 44 percent of Democrats said extremism was their top issue, compared to 10 percent who said the economy, their second most-picked concern. Prior Reuters/Ipsos polls did not include political extremism as an option for respondents to select as the country’s biggest problem.

Biden’s re-election campaign has focused its messaging on the dangers to democracy posed by Trump, whose many legal problems include criminal charges tied to his efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Other Reuters/Ipsos polls have shown Biden’s supporters are more motivated by their opposition to Trump than by their support for  the president.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all the charges he faces, which he claims are part a conspiracy by Democrats to derail his return to the White House.

Trump has regularly launched verbal attacks against the prosecutors and judges handling his civil and criminal cases, and a Reuters review earlier this month found that serious threats to US federal judges have more than doubled over the past three years.

While 38 percent of Republicans in the poll cited immigration as the top issue for the country, a significant proportion — 13 percent — picked extremism, a sign that Trump’s own claims about the danger to the nation posed by “far left” Democrats also resonate with his base.

The economy, which has suffered under high inflation for most of Biden’s presidency, was the second biggest issue among Republicans, with 22 percent saying it weighed the most.

The economy has long been a sore spot for Biden. Thirty-nine percent of poll respondents said Trump had a better approach to the economy, compared to 33 percent who said Biden did.

Trump led Biden 36 percent to 30 percent when it came to having a better approach to foreign conflicts, though few Democrats or Republicans considered those issues to be top national priorities.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll gathered responses online from 1,020 adults, using a nationally representative sample, and had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.