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Britain’s Prime Minister Battles to Keep Brexit

Barnier said Thursday that “getting an agreement is in everybody's interest” and that “something has to change” to secure a divorce deal.

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DUP Party leader Arlene Foster and Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds, left, make a statement to the media after exiting 10 Downing Street. London, Jan. 17, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May is reaching out to opposition parties and other lawmakers to put Brexit back on track. (VOA)

British Prime Minister Theresa May was consulting opposition parties and other lawmakers Thursday in a battle to put Brexit back on track after surviving a no-confidence vote, though there was little immediate sign of a breakthrough from talks branded a “stunt” by the main opposition leader.

European Union countries were stepping up preparations for a disorderly British exit on March 29 after the U.K. Parliament rejected May’s Brexit withdrawal deal with the bloc.

Lawmakers threw out the deal Tuesday, in a crushing defeat for May, who suffered the worst parliamentary defeat in modern British history.

The drubbing was followed by a no-confidence vote in the government, but May’s minority Conservative government survived it on Wednesday night with backing from its Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party.

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Prime Minister Theresa May sits down in Parliament after the vote on May’s Brexit deal, in London, Britain, Jan. 15, 2019 in this image taken from video. VOA

May said she would hold talks “in a constructive spirit” with leaders of opposition parties and other lawmakers in a bid to find a way forward for Britain’s EU exit.

The government confirmed that May will meet a Monday deadline to publish a Plan B, and that lawmakers will have a full day to debate it – and, crucially, amend it – on Jan. 29.

There was little sign of a breakthrough in uniting Parliament’s feuding Brexit factions, whose conflicting demands range from a postponement of Britain’s departure date to a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he wouldn’t meet with May until she took a no-deal Brexit “off the table.”

“To get a deal that can command a majority in Parliament, Theresa May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future,” Corbyn said during a speech to supporters in the English seaside town of Hastings.

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Anti-Brexit demonstrators react after the results of the vote on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal were announced in Parliament square in London, Jan. 15, 2019.VOA

“Last night’s offer of talks with party leaders turned out to be simply a stunt, not the serious attempt to engage with the new reality that’s needed,” he said.

Green Party lawmaker Caroline Lucas, who met with May on Thursday morning, said the prime minister was “in a fantasy world” if she thought the deal could be transformed by Monday.
“Parliament is gridlocked,” she said.

May so far has showed little inclination to make major changes to her deal or lift her insistence that Brexit means leaving the EU’s single market and customs union. Many lawmakers think a softer departure that retained single market or customs union membership is the only plan capable of winning a majority in Parliament. They fear the alternative is an abrupt “no-deal” withdrawal from the bloc, which businesses and economists fear would cause turmoil.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a longtime Labour Party leader, told the BBC on Thursday that it would be “sensible” for Corbyn to meet with May to better define the type of Brexit that Britain wants. He warned that a “no-deal” Brexit would do substantial harm to Britain’s economy.

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Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 16, 2019. VOA

As Britain flounders, the 27 other EU countries have stood firm, saying they won’t renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and insisting the British government and its lawmakers to decide what they want to do.

Some British lawmakers want May to call for an extension of negotiations with the EU and postpone the March 29 deadline to leave the bloc, while others are lobbying for a second Brexit referendum.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a special government meeting Thursday on planning to cope with a “no-deal” Brexit.

The French parliament adopted a law Wednesday allowing emergency measures after March 30 in the event Britain leaves without a deal.

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Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labor Party, talks during a no-confidence debate after Parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal, in London, Jan. 16, 2019. VOA

Such measures could aim to reduce problems in cross-border trade and transport, notably through the Eurotunnel beneath the English Channel, and allow British workers and retirees based in France temporary permission to stay until a longer-term deal is worked out.

Throughout the Brexit negotiations, EU leaders accused Britain of trying to “cherry pick” benefits of membership in the bloc, seeking to retain access to the EU’s single market while ending the free movement of European citizens into Britain and breaching other EU guiding principles.

Also Read: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May Survives Through Vote Of No-Confidence

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who said Wednesday that he was more concerned than ever that Britain could crash out of the EU without an agreement, said the red lines set out by Britain’s negotiators had “shut doors.”

Barnier said Thursday that “getting an agreement is in everybody’s interest” and that “something has to change” to secure a divorce deal.

“If (the red lines) change, we’ll change,” Barnier said after meeting Portuguese officials in Lisbon. (VOA)

Next Story

Burundi Blocks Broadcasts from VOA, BBC and Expand Restrictions on their Operations

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, said the news organizations were banned for spreading falsehoods

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Television director of Burundi's National Radio and Television, Nestor Bankumukunzi, poses in the studio in Bujumbura on May 15,2015. VOA

Burundi will continue to block broadcasts from two international media organizations and expand restrictions on their operations, the government announced Friday.

At a meeting in Bujumbura, the president of the National Council of Communication, Nestor Bankumukunzi, said the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Voice of America are no longer allowed to broadcast, effective immediately. The ban is indefinite and extends to journalists, both foreign and domestic, who provide information to either broadcaster.

“We are alarmed that reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA and believe these continuing threats to our journalists undermine press freedom in the country,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said. “We stand with the people of Burundi against those who are restricting their access to accurate and reliable news and information.”

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The BBC condemned the decision, calling it “a serious blow against media freedom.” VOA

The BBC condemned the decision, calling it “a serious blow against media freedom.”

Last May, the Burundi government suspended both news organizations for six months, a week before holding a referendum on a new constitution. The outlets have been off the air since.

Rachel Nicholson, a researcher for Amnesty International, said Burundi’s government is angry at the broadcasters for different reasons.

The government was upset by a documentary the BBC broadcast last year, she said, about members of Burundi’s intelligence service operating secret sites where dissidents are detained and tortured.

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Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks after signing for a new constitution adopted by a referendum in Bugendana, Burundi, on June 7, 2018. The change will allow Nkurunziza to run for office twice more in seven-year terms from 2020. VOA

Burundi has accused VOA of employing a journalist who opposes the government, Nicholson added. Patrick Nduwimana, the former director of Bonesha FM Radio in Burundi, is “wanted for participating in deadly violence that preceded the May attempted coup,” the National Council of Communications wrote in Friday’s statement.

“I think it’s really worrying to see the government personalize attacks on radio stations. They have such an important role to play, particularly BBC and VOA, particularly in the absence of independent Burundian radio stations operating from within the country,” Amnesty’s Nicholson said. “The BBC and VOA have such an important role to play in sharing information with people in Burundi.”

In a phone interview with VOA, Willy Nyamitwe, senior adviser to Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, said the news organizations were banned for spreading falsehoods.

 

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“We are alarmed that reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA and believe these continuing threats to our journalists undermine press freedom in the country,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said. VOA

“Some international media are biased. Everybody knows some reports were fake reports, fake news,” Nyamitwe said. “So if people cannot even try to speak the truth, but if some people are using some media outlets only to spread lies, what other comments do I have to do?”

Nyamitwe also said that Burundi has an open media landscape and that all countries have the right to ban news organizations that spread lies. “There are thousands of journalists in the country. There are tens of media houses, radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, media online.

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“So I think people are exaggerating thinking that there’s no media houses in the country,” he said. “I do know that even in the United States there are some media houses that have been called biased or fake news media houses.”

In its 2018 press freedom report, Reporters Without Borders ranked Burundi 159th out of 180 countries worldwide. It said security forces routinely harass journalists and pointed to the unsolved 2016 disappearance of journalist Jean Bigirimana as evidence of intimidation and violence against reporters. (VOA)