‘Absolutely gutted’: demise of Thomas Cook wrecks travelers’ plans

By Alistair Smout

CORFU, Greece (Reuters) – Holidaymakers hit by the collapse of Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest tourist firm, desperately scrambled for information on Monday on how to get home, as Britain mounted its largest repatriation effort since World War Two.

From job losses to canceled honeymoons, the demise of the package tour pioneer has brought a heavy human cost and left an estimated 600,000 people stranded worldwide.

Travelers scoured mobile phones or quizzed officials for travel updates as they waited in long queues beneath flight boards showing flights delayed or canceled.

“From Thomas Cook we didn’t get anything. I feel sorry for the reps because I don’t think they knew anything either. It was the hotel which kept us up to date,” said Ricky Houston, who said his flight to the northern English city of Newcastle from the Greek island of Corfu had been delayed by nine hours.

“Everyone in the hotel here is shocked, and everyone in this hotel has come with Thomas Cook… (But) for us, it’s an inconvenience, for them (the reps) it’s their livelihoods,” added Houston, who is from Dunfermline in Scotland.

David Midson, from Kent in southeast England, was trying to find information at the front desk of his hotel in Roda, Corfu.

“There’s a sign saying that Thomas Cook customers should get in touch with their agency, but you don’t get through to anybody because it doesn’t exist,” he said.

“I wish I had brought a driving license, because I can’t get a taxi (to the airport).”

The British government has pledged to get an estimated 150,000 stranded British holidaymakers home in the biggest such repatriation operation since World War Two, but that is no consolation for many others whose holiday plans lie in ruins.

“We’re absolutely gutted, we’ve looked forward to this for a long time, had the wedding in July so it’s been another couple of months waiting for this,” said Simon, who had been due to go on honeymoon with his wife Polly from London’s Gatwick Airport.

He said he felt very sorry for the staff at his local Thomas Cook travel agency who he said had been helpful.

“Must be awful for them as well, coming up to Christmas as well… I wish the government had maybe stepped in… It could have been done I think, but there’s nothing we can do now. Just have to go home and make the most of it.”

“NIGHTMARE, NIGHTMARE”

Steve Tarrant, who had planned to fly to the Mexican resort of Cancun from Manchester, said he had given up trying to get information about rescheduled flights.

“So we just took it upon ourselves to book another flight,” he said, at an extra cost of 1,200 pounds ($1,490).

In Palma airport on the Spanish island of Mallorca, the mood was similarly grim.

“Nightmare, nightmare, stressed,” said British holidaymaker Nick, who had two young children – an 18-month-old and 12-year-old – in tow.

“Not what we wanted really before going home. But what can you do? Other people have lost their jobs, so we’re not as bad (off) as some other people.”

Scottish tourists hoping to fly back to Glasgow from Mallorca said they now expected to head to the central English city of Birmingham, 400 km (250 miles) away, and then perhaps to be ferried home by coach.

“I’m very anxious because I have sore legs so I don’t know how… I’m going to get to Glasgow if they take us to Birmingham or somewhere else. So it’s going to be very difficult and a long day and I’m very tired,” said one woman in a wheelchair.

(Additional reporting by Reuters TV in Spain; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

With British government, parliament and people divided, a disorderly Brexit looms

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May attends a Serious Youth Violence Summit in Downing Street, London, Britain April 1, 2019. Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS

By Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan and Gabriela Baczynska

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union said on Tuesday that Britain could be heading for a potentially disorderly exit in just 10 days time as Prime Minister Theresa May met with ministers to thrash out ways to break the Brexit deadlock.

Nearly three years since the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in a shock referendum result, May’s exit strategy is up in the air as her government and party are still squabbling over how, when or even if Brexit should happen.

May’s divorce deal has been defeated three times by the lower house of the British parliament, which failed on Monday to find a majority of its own for any alternatives. She is expected to try to put her deal to a fourth vote this week.

The deadlock has already delayed Brexit for at least two weeks beyond the planned departure date to 2200 GMT on April 12.

“Over the last days a no-deal scenario has become more likely, but we can still hope to avoid it,” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said in Brussels.

May chaired several hours of cabinet meetings in Downing Street in a bid to find a way out of the crisis. It was unclear what, if anything, had been agreed.

European Central Bank policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau said markets needed to price in the growing risk of a no-deal.

The cacophony of warnings over a disorderly Brexit ratchet up the pressure on British lawmakers as some try to grab control of parliament to prevent a no-deal.

If May cannot get her deal ratified by parliament then she has a choice between leaving without a deal, trying to trigger an election, or asking the EU for a long delay to negotiate a Brexit agreement with a much closer relationship with the bloc.

UP TO BRITAIN

At least half of her Conservative Party wants to leave the EU without a deal, though some lawmakers and ministers are telling her she must keep the United Kingdom firmly within the bloc’s economic orbit.

The defeat of May’s deal after pledging to quit if it was passed has left the weakest British leader in a generation facing a spiraling crisis.

“I hope that we can still find a solution. The British parliament has said itself that it doesn’t want a disorderly Brexit,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

May will set out next steps ahead of an emergency EU summit on April 10, her spokesman said. May remained opposed to another referendum, he added.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said that if nearly three years after the referendum the United Kingdom was incapable of coming up with a solution, “it would have effectively chosen a no-deal exit on its own”.

Speaking at the Elysee palace alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Macron said it was for Britain to decide whether the plan involved new elections, a referendum or a customs union.

“It’s up to London to say it, and to say it now,” he said.

With the British electorate, its two major parties and the cabinet are all divided over Brexit, May risks ripping her party apart whichever way she tilts.

BREXIT CHAOS?

Such is the volatility of Brexit news from London that some traders have stepped away from sterling – which has seesawed on Brexit news since the 2016 referendum.

Sterling fell toward $1.30. The EU said a no-deal would disrupt financial markets and have an impact on liquidity.

Auto-maker Ford also sounded the alarm bells, saying it would have to consider what actions to take to protect its business in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

No-deal means there would be no transition so the exit would be abrupt. Britain is a member of the WTO so tariffs and other terms governing its trade with the EU would be set under WTO rules.

A group of lawmakers said on Tuesday they would try to pass a law which would force May to seek a delay Brexit and thus prevent a no-deal exit on April 12.

For now, May’s deal is back in focus, though she must find a way to get around a ban on repeatedly bringing the same matter to a vote in parliament.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski in Brussels, Andreas Rinke and Michelle Martin in Berlin, William James and Ritvik Carvalho in London and Tom Miles in Geneva, Richard Lough, Michel Rose and John Irish in Paris; editing by Michael Holden and Angus MacSwan)

Britain strips citizenship from teenager who joined Islamic State in Syria

FILE PHOTO: Renu Begum, sister of teenage British girl Shamima Begum, holds a photo of her sister as she makes an appeal for her to return home at Scotland Yard, in London, Britain February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Laura Lean/Pool/File Photo

By Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain stripped a teenager who traveled to join Islamic State of her citizenship on security grounds, triggering a row over the ramifications of leaving a 19-year-old mother with a jihadist fighter’s child to fend for herself in a war zone.

The fate of Shamima Begum, who was found in a detention camp in Syria last week, has illustrated the ethical, legal and security conundrum that governments face when dealing with the families of militants who swore to destroy the West.

With Islamic State depleted and Kurdish-led militia poised to seize the group’s last holdout in eastern Syria, Western capitals are trying to work out what to do with battle-hardened foreign jihadist fighters, and their wives and children.

Begum, who gave birth to a son at the weekend, prompted a public backlash in Britain by appearing unrepentant about seeing severed heads and even claiming the 2017 Manchester suicide attack – that killed 22 people – was justified.

She had pleaded to be repatriated back to her family in London and said that she was not a threat.

But ITV News published a Feb. 19 letter from the interior ministry to her mother that said Home Secretary Sajid Javid had taken the decision to deprive Begum of her British citizenship.

“In light of the circumstances of your daughter, the notice of the Home Secretary’s decision has been served of file today, and the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made,” the letter said.

The letter asked Begum’s mother to inform her daughter of the decision and set out the appeal process.

When asked about the decision, a spokesman said Javid’s priority was “the safety and security of Britain and the people who live here”.

Begum was one of three outwardly studious schoolgirls who slipped away from their lives in London’s Bethnal Green area in February 2015 to fly to Turkey and then over the border into the cauldron of the Syrian civil war.

LONDON TO SYRIA

Islamic State propaganda videos enticed her to swap London for Raqqa, a step she still says she does not regret. She fled the self-styled caliphate because she wanted to give birth away from the fighting.

“When I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam,” she told The Times which first discovered her in the camp in Syria.

She was equally harsh when describing the videos she had seen of the beheaded Western hostages, The Times said.

Begum has named her newborn, Jerah, in accordance with the wishes of her jihadist husband, Yago Riedijk, a Dutch convert from Arnhem. He was tortured on suspicion of spying by Islamic State but later released.

Another son, also called Jerah, died at eight months old. A daughter, Sarayah, also died aged one year and nine months, The Times said.

Her family’s lawyer said he could seek to challenge the British government’s decision to deprive her of citizenship.

“We are considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” said lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee.

British law does allow the interior minister to deprive a person of British citizenship when conducive to the public good, though such decisions should not render the person stateless if they were born as British citizens.

Police in Bangladesh said they were checking whether Begum was a Bangladeshi citizen, and Britain’s opposition Labour Party said the government’s decision was wrong.

“If the government is proposing to make Shamima Begum stateless it is not just a breach of international human rights law but is a failure to meet our security obligations to the international community,” Diane Abbott, Labour spokeswoman on home issues.

Ken Clarke, a former Conservative minister, said he was surprised that Javid’s lawyers had given him such advice.

“What you can’t do is leave them in a camp in Syria being even more radicalised… until they disperse themselves through the world and make their way back here,” he said.

“I think the Germans, the French and ourselves have got to work out how to deal with this difficult and, I accept, dangerous problem,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan)