‘Absolutely not’: PM Johnson denies lying to Queen Elizabeth in Brexit crisis

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the river Thames to mark London International Shipping Week in London, Britain September 12, 2019. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrew MacAskill and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday denied lying to Queen Elizabeth over the reasons for suspending the British parliament after a court ruled his decision was unlawful and opponents called for lawmakers to be recalled to discuss Brexit.

Since Johnson won the top job in July, Britain’s Brexit crisis has spun more furiously, leaving investors and allies bewildered by an array of decisions that have pushed the once stable political system to its limits.

Parliament was prorogued – suspended – on Monday until Oct. 14, a move Johnson’s opponents said was designed to thwart their attempts to scrutinize his plans for leaving the European Union and to allow him to push through Brexit on Oct. 31, with or without an exit deal to smooth the way.

Scotland’s highest court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that the suspension was not lawful and was intended to stymie lawmakers, prompting opponents to question whether Johnson had lied to Elizabeth who must formally order the prorogation.

“Absolutely not,” Johnson said when asked by a TV reporter if he had misled the queen, who is the world’s longest reigning monarch and is widely respected for more than 67 years of dedicated service during which she has stayed above the fray of politics.

Johnson said the current session of parliament was longer than any since the English Civil war in the 17th century, adding that lawmakers would have plenty of time to again discuss Brexit after an EU summit on Oct. 17-18.

He says parliament was suspended to allow the government to present its legislative program.

With less than 50 days until the United Kingdom is due to leave, the government and parliament are locked in conflict over the future of Brexit, with possible outcomes ranging from leaving without a deal to another referendum.

A “no-deal” Brexit could snarl cross-Channel trade routes, disrupting supplies of medicines and fresh food while protests spread across Britain, according to a worst-case scenario reluctantly released by the government on Wednesday.

The “Operation Yellowhammer” assumptions, prepared six weeks ago just days after Johnson became prime minister, form the basis of government no-deal planning.

Britain is unlikely to run out of essentials like toilet paper in the event of a no-deal Brexit but some fresh fruit and vegetables could be in short supply and prices might rise, supermarket bosses warned on Thursday.

‘SIGNIFICANT GAPS’

Johnson has repeatedly said he will seek to strike a deal at the EU summit to remove the Irish border backstop, an insurance agreement to prevent the return of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit.

Opponents of the backstop in the British parliament worry it would lock the United Kingdom into the EU’s orbit for years to come.

The European Union would respond positively if the British government shifts its position in Brexit talks in the coming weeks, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

But Coveney said that there were “significant gaps” between British proposals and what Ireland and the EU would consider. He said the threat of a no-deal Brexit might help make the British debate “more honest”.

Belfast’s High Court dismissed on Thursday a case arguing that a British exit from the European Union without a withdrawal agreement would contravene Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord.

Johnson said the government is waiting to hear an appeal next week against the Scottish court ruling on the suspension of parliament in the Supreme Court, the United Kingdom’s highest judicial body, and he respected the independence of the judges.

Last week, the High Court of England and Wales rejected a similar challenge by campaigners, saying it was a political not a judicial matter.

“Indeed, as I say, the High Court in England plainly agrees with us, but the Supreme Court will have to decide,” Johnson said. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on the ruling, saying it is a matter for the government.

But the publication of the government’s no-deal Brexit scenario prompted calls from Labour and other opposition parties for parliament to be recalled.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Alistair Smout and Michael Holden in London, Amanda Ferguson in Belfast, Conor Humphries in Dublin and Alissa de Carbonnel and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Peter Graff, Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry)

Opponents of ‘no-deal’ Brexit defeat PM Johnson, who promises an election

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks after the announcement of the result of the vote in in the Parliament in London, Britain, Spetember 3, 2019, in this still image taken from Parliament TV footage. Parliament TV via REUTERS

By Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers defeated Boris Johnson in parliament on Tuesday in a bid to prevent him taking Britain out of the EU without a divorce agreement, prompting the prime minister to announce that he would immediately push for a snap election.

The government was defeated by 328 to 301 on a motion put forward by opposition parties and rebel lawmakers in Johnson’s party – who had been warned they would be kicked out of the Conservative Party if they defied the government.

More than three years after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, the defeat leaves the course of Brexit unresolved, with possible outcomes still ranging from a turbulent ‘no-deal’ exit to abandoning the whole endeavor.

Tuesday’s victory is only the first hurdle for lawmakers, enabling them to take control of parliamentary business.

On Wednesday they will seek to pass a law forcing Johnson to ask the EU to delay Brexit – for a third time – until Jan. 31 unless he has a deal approved by parliament beforehand on the terms and manner of the exit.

It puts Johnson in a similar bind to that faced by his predecessor Theresa May, who failed three times to get the backing of lawmakers for the Withdrawal Agreement that she had negotiated with the EU. Johnson took over from her six weeks ago with a promise that his more robust approach would force a better deal out of the EU that would satisfy parliament.

The 21 Conservative rebels who now face expulsion from the party include Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Britain’s World War Two leader Winston Churchill, and two former finance ministers – Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke.

“I don’t want an election, but if MPs vote tomorrow to stop negotiations and compel another pointless delay to Brexit, potentially for years, then that would be the only way to resolve this,” Johnson told parliament after the vote.

“I can confirm that we are tonight tabling a motion under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.”

 

ECONOMIC DISRUPTION

In a historic showdown between prime minister and parliament, Johnson’s opponents said they wanted to prevent him playing Russian roulette with a country once touted as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability.

They argue that nothing can justify the risk of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit that would cut economic ties overnight with Britain’s biggest export market and inevitably bring huge economic dislocation.

Johnson cast the challenge as an attempt to force Britain to surrender to the EU just as he hopes to secure concessions on the terms of the divorce, helped by the threat to walk out without one. Ahead of the vote, he said would never accept another delay to Brexit beyond Oct. 31.

“Parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal we might be able to strike in Brussels,” Johnson said. “Because tomorrow’s bill would hand control of the negotiations to the EU.”

Johnson’s government will now seek to hold a vote on Wednesday to approve an early election, most likely on Oct. 14. This would pit the avowed Brexiteer against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist.

In the Brexit maelstrom, though, it was unclear whether opposition parties would support such a move – which requires the support of two-thirds of the 650-seat House of Commons.

Corbyn has long demanded an election as the best way out of the crisis, but many of those seeking to prevent a ‘no-deal’ Brexit say Johnson could time the poll to ensure that parliament cannot prevent an Oct. 31 departure – with or without a deal.

After the vote, Corbyn told Johnson that he must get the Brexit delay bill that will be discussed on Wednesday passed before trying to call an election.

DIVIDED KINGDOM

The 2016 Brexit referendum showed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the European Union, and has fueled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and modern Britishness.

It has also triggered civil war inside both of Britain’s main political parties as dozens of lawmakers put what they see as the United Kingdom’s fate above that of party loyalty.

Just as Johnson began speaking, he lost his working majority in parliament when one of his own Conservative lawmakers, Phillip Lee, crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

The pound, which has gyrated to the twists and turns of Brexit since the 2016 referendum and is highly sensitive to the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ exit, had briefly dipped as low as $1.1959 <GBP=D3> before the vote in parliament. Barring a minutes-long “flash crash” in October 2016, sterling has not regularly traded at such low levels since 1985.

Fears of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit were rising elsewhere.

The European Commission said such a scenario was a “very distinct possibility” and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was the most likely scenario.

In a document seen by Reuters, the European Commission set out proposals to be published on Wednesday to provide financial help for EU businesses, workers and farmers if Britain crashes out of the bloc without any agreement.

It restated its view that a ‘no-deal’ divorce would hit the British economy much harder than that of the EU.

The U.N. trade agency UNCTAD said it would cost Britain at least $16 billion in lost exports to the EU, plus a further substantial sum in indirect costs.

The U.S. investment bank JPMorgan said an election would make a no-deal Brexit more likely.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Costas Pitas, Andrew MacAskill, Paul Sandle, Alistair Smout and Michael Holden in London; Richard Lough in Paris, Padraic Halpin in Dublin, and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich)

British Prime Minister Johnson vows Brexit with “no ifs or buts”

Queen Elizabeth II welcomes Boris Johnson during an audience in Buckingham Palace, where she will officially recognise him as the new Prime Minister, in London, Britain July 24, 2019. Victoria Jones/Pool via REUTERS

By William James and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson used his first speech as prime minister to vow to lead Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 “no ifs or buts”, warning that if the European Union refused to negotiate then there would be a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson, who has been hailed by U.S. President Donald Trump as Britain’s Trump, is sending the strongest message yet to the EU that he will be taking a distinctly tougher approach to negotiating the Brexit divorce deal.

He enters Downing Street at one of the most perilous junctures in post-World War Two British history – the United Kingdom is divided over Brexit and weakened by the three-year political crisis that has gripped it since the 2016 referendum.

“We are going to fulfill the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31, no ifs or buts,” Johnson, 55, said after arriving at his new residence, No.10 Downing Street.

“We can do a deal without checks at the Irish border,” Johnson said, watched by his girlfriend Carrie Symonds and his staff. “It is of course vital at the same time that we prepare for the remote possibility that Brussels refuses any further to negotiate and we are forced to come out with no deal.”

One of Britain’s most prominent Brexit campaigners, Johnson has repeatedly pledged to leave the EU by Oct. 31 – “do or die” – and to inject a new optimism and energy into the divorce, which he argues will bring a host of opportunities.

But his strategy sets the United Kingdom up for a showdown with the EU and thrusts it toward a potential constitutional crisis, or an election, at home.

“NEVER MIND THE BACKSTOP”

One of the issues that prevented his predecessor Theresa May getting a divorce deal through parliament was the Irish “backstop” – a provision that would maintain a customs union with the EU if no better solution was found.

Johnson was bullish, however. “Never mind the backstop. The buck stops here,” he said.

He said he would ensure “the people” were his boss and that he would accelerate preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit – a threat he intends to use to force a reluctant EU to renegotiate the exit deal it agreed with May but which parliament has rejected three times.

To implement Brexit, Johnson will appoint Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official Brexit Vote Leave campaign, as a senior adviser in Downing Street.

Earlier May, who had formally tendered her resignation to Queen Elizabeth, left Downing Street after a three-year premiership marred by crises over Brexit.

She appeared to be fighting back tears as she was applauded out of the House of Commons chamber.

Johnson had a possible foretaste of turmoil ahead when, as he drove to his audience with the queen, Greenpeace protesters tried – but failed – to block the path of his car as his chauffeur drove around them.

Now formally “Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury”, Johnson’ first task will be to appoint key members of the government – names that will give a hint of how he will handle Brexit, Britain’s most significant decision in decades.

BREXIT GOVERNMENT?

But ‘Prime Minister Johnson’ – a man known for his ambition, blond hair, flowery oratory and cursory command of detail – must solve a series of riddles if he is to succeed where May failed.

The 2016 Brexit referendum showed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the EU, and has fueled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, the legacy of empire and modern Britishness.

The pound is weak, the economy at risk of recession, allies are in despair at the Brexit crisis and foes are testing Britain’s vulnerability.

Johnson’s Conservatives have no majority in parliament and so can only govern with the support of 10 lawmakers from the Brexit-backing Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

While Johnson has said he does not want an early election, some lawmakers have vowed to thwart any attempt to leave the EU without a divorce deal. Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party trounced the Conservatives in May’s EU elections, said he was open to an electoral pact with Johnson.

The appointment of Cummings, known for his campaign skills but also for a combative style that challenges the consensus, indicates Johnson is serious about going in hard on Brexit and wants a first-class political campaigner close.

Interior minister Sajid Javid is widely tipped to stay in a top job – possibly as finance minister – and was spotted flanking Johnson as he arrived to meet lawmakers.

A record number of ethnic minority politicians are expected to serve as ministers including Priti Patel, the former aid minister who resigned in 2017 over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, and current employment minister Alok Sharma.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s rival for the leadership, was offered the job of defense minister but turned it down, Sky News TV reported.

NO DEAL?

A no-deal Brexit could also prompt Scottish nationalists, who want the UK to remain inside the EU, to seek a fresh referendum on Scottish independence.

Many investors say a no-deal Brexit would send shock waves through the world economy and tip the world’s fifth-largest economic power into recession, roil financial markets and potentially weaken London&rsquo;s position as the pre-eminent international financial center, they say.

Brexit supporters say those fears are overblown and the United Kingdom will thrive if cut loose from the European project, which they cast as a German-dominated bloc that is falling far behind its global competitors such as the United States and China.

“If he really wants a ‘no-deal’, he will get it. We will never push an EU member out, but we can&rsquo;t stop him,” one EU diplomat said. “More likely, his own parliament would.”

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Andy Bruce, Kate Holton, William Schomberg, David Milliken and Paul Sandle in London and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Kevin Liffey)

Tearful Theresa May resigns, paving way for Brexit confrontation with EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May reacts as she delivers a statement in London, Britain, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Elizabeth Piper, William James and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – Fighting back tears, Theresa May said on Friday she would quit, setting up a contest that will install a new British prime minister who could pursue a cleaner break with the European Union.

May’s departure deepens the Brexit crisis as a new leader, who should be in place by the end of July, is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the EU and potentially a snap parliamentary election.

Her voice cracking with emotion, May, who endured crises and humiliation in her failed effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, said she would resign on Friday, June 7 with a leadership contest beginning the following week.

“I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold,” May said outside her Downing Street official residence with her husband, Philip, looking on. “The second female prime minister, but certainly not the last.

“I do so with no ill will but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love,” said the usually reserved May as she fought back tears.

May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum, steps down with her central pledge – to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions – unfulfilled.

“It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” May said, adding that her successor would have to find a consensus to honor the 2016 referendum result.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said the new prime minister must hold an election to “let the people decide our country’s future”.

PM BORIS JOHNSON?

May bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU. The latest deadline for Britain’s departure is Oct. 31.

Most of the leading contenders to succeed May want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement it sealed with Britain in November.

Spain said it now seemed almost impossible to avoid a so-called hard Brexit, or clean break from the EU, and the bloc signaled there would be no change on the agreement despite European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker learning of May’s resignation “without personal joy”.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney underlined the bloc’s stance that there would be no better Brexit deal.

“This idea that a new prime minister will be a tougher negotiator and will put it up to the EU and get a much better deal for Britain? That’s not how the EU works,” Coveney told Ireland’s Newstalk radio station.

Sterling swung back and forth on May’s resignation, trading slightly higher on the day, and British government bond yields edged off near-two-year lows struck first thing on Friday. Boris Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in 2016, is the favorite to succeed May and he thanked her for her “stoical service”. Betting markets put a 40% implied probability on Johnson winning the top job.

Others tipped are Dominic Raab, a Brexit supporter and former Brexit secretary, with a 14% implied probability on his chances. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt each have a 7% probability, according to betting markets.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart each have a 4% chance of the top job while Home Secretary Sajid Javid has a 3% chance.

For many Conservative lawmakers, speed is of the essence to install a new leader to try to break the Brexit impasse.

The governing party said it would move quickly to try to end the leadership contest before parliament breaks for a summer holiday, a so-called recess which usually falls in late July.

“The fight for the heart and soul of the Conservative Party officially starts now,” said Andrew Bridgen, a pro-Brexit lawmaker. “We need a new PM as soon as possible and who that is will decide the future of our democracy, our country and the Conservative Party.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

EU gives May till October for Brexit, seeking clarity

European Council President Donald Tusk, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa look at a tablet ahead of a European Council meeting on Brexit at the Europa Building at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 10, 2019. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

By Elizabeth Piper, Gabriela Baczynska and Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders gave Britain six more months to leave the bloc, more than Prime Minister Theresa May says she needs but less than many in the bloc wanted, thanks to fierce resistance from France.

The summit deal in Brussels in the early hours of Thursday meant Britain will not crash out on Friday without a treaty to smooth its passage. But it offers little clarity on when, how or even if Brexit will happen, as May struggles to build support in parliament for withdrawal terms agreed with the EU last year.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisting that Britain would not be forced out and that a chaotic no-deal departure must be avoided if at all possible, there was never any real doubt that May would get an extension.

The drama was about its length and conditions.

French President Emmanuel Macron, reprising a role he took last month when May got a first, two-week delay, pushed leaders into hours of debate over dinner as he fought a largely solo campaign to persuade them not to give the British up to another year.

Summit chair Donald Tusk and others argued that obliging May to accept a much longer deadline than the June 30 date she had sought could help swing pro-Brexit hardliners within her own Conservative party behind her deal, fearing a long delay could see the British public turning against a withdrawal altogether.

But Macron, while irritating some peers who saw his stance as Gallic grandstanding, insisted that letting Britain stay in the Union any longer risked undermining the project of European integration that is one of his main policy goals.

The result was a compromise on the date, with a deadline of Oct. 31, for Britain to leave, deal or no deal — on condition that May holds an election on May 23 to return British members to a new European Parliament that convenes in July, and that it pledge not to disrupt key EU decision-making before it leaves.

If May fails to win over lawmakers on the treaty or fails to hold an election, Britain will leave with no deal on June 1.

MAY EYES BREXIT SOON

The prime minister was keen to stress that the extension to Oct. 31 — and several leaders refused to rule out further delays — did not mean she would not deliver Brexit sooner and before, as she promised her rebellious party, she steps down.

“I know that there is huge frustration from many people that I had to request this extension,” she told reporters, as her team prepared for another round of talks on Thursday with the Labour opposition, to whom May turned for help last week.

“But the choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear. So we must now press on at pace with our efforts to reach consensus on a deal that is in the national interest,” she added, acknowledging the coming weeks would not be easy.

Tusk, a former Polish premier who has long tried to keep a door open for Britons to change their minds and stay, said the delay until Halloween gave time for London to ratify May’s deal, tweak elements of the future EU-UK relationship to Labour’s liking — or give it a chance to “cancel Brexit altogether”.

Merkel, who eased tension at the start of the talks by sharing a joke with May over photographs of them both wearing very similar jackets, stressed a need for calm and order: “We want an orderly exit by Britain,” she said. “And an orderly exit by Britain can be best ensured if we give it some time.”

FRENCH RESISTANCE

Macron defended his resistance to giving Britain nine months or a year more, saying it was for the “common good”. French officials, pointing to threats by some of May’s pro-Brexit potential successors, spoke of the EU facing “blackmail” by a future British government blocking decisions in Brussels.

“It’s true that the majority was more in favor of a very long extension. But it was not logical in my view, and above all, it was neither good for us, nor for the UK,” said Macron.

French pressure also tightened clauses referring to Britain not disrupting EU affairs if it stays in longer and a reference to a June 20-21 EU summit taking stock of the position again.

May addressed the other 27 for an hour at the start of the summit and failed to convince many, notably Macron, that she truly had a new strategy for securing ratification.

Leaders are exasperated with May’s handling of a tortuous and costly divorce that is a distraction from ensuring the bloc can hold its own against global economic challenges.

Across from the summit venue, the EU executive celebrated its part in funding a global project that produced the first picture of a black hole, prompting no shortage of ironic comments on social media about the juxtaposition.

Blogger Eliot Higgins tweeted: “We’re now more certain about what black holes look like than what Brexit looks like.”

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Thomas Escritt in Berlin and Gabriela Baczynska, Jan Strupczewski, Elizabeth Piper, Bart Meijer, Alissa de Carbonnel, Philip Blenkinsop, Robin Emmott, Alastair Macdonald, Francesco Guarascio, Clare Roth, Peter Maushagen, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Michel Rose in Brussels; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by James Dalgleish and Michael Perry)

AI must be accountable, EU says as it sets ethical guidelines

FILE PHOTO: An activist from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of non-governmental organisations opposing lethal autonomous weapons or so-called 'killer robots', protests at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, March, 21, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Companies working with artificial intelligence need to install accountability mechanisms to prevent its being misused, the European Commission said on Monday, under new ethical guidelines for a technology open to abuse.

AI projects should be transparent, have human oversight and secure and reliable algorithms, and they must be subject to privacy and data protection rules, the commission said, among other recommendations.

The European Union initiative taps in to a global debate about when or whether companies should put ethical concerns before business interests, and how tough a line regulators can afford to take on new projects without risking killing off innovation.

“The ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on. It is only with trust that our society can fully benefit from technologies,” the Commission digital chief, Andrus Ansip, said in a statement.

AI can help detect fraud and cybersecurity threats, improve healthcare and financial risk management and cope with climate change. But it can also be used to support unscrupulous business practices and authoritarian governments.

The EU executive last year enlisted the help of 52 experts from academia, industry bodies and companies including Google, SAP, Santander and Bayer to help it draft the principles.

Companies and organizations can sign up to a pilot phase in June, after which the experts will review the results and the Commission decide on the next steps.

IBM Europe Chairman Martin Jetter, who was part of the group of experts, said guidelines “set a global standard for efforts to advance AI that is ethical and responsible.”

The guidelines should not hold Europe back, said Achim Berg, president of BITKOM, Germany’s Federal Association of Information Technology, Telecommunications, and New Media.

“We must ensure in Germany and Europe that we do not only discuss AI but also make AI,” he said.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in London; editing by John Stonestreet, Larry King)

Brexit delayed? PM May requests three-month extension, EU pushes back

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions in the Parliament in London, Britain, March 20, 2019 in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

By Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May asked for a three-month delay to Brexit on Wednesday to buy time to get her twice-rejected departure deal though parliament, but the request faced immediate resistance from the European Commission.

May’s initiative came just nine days before Britain is formally due to leave the European Union and marked the latest twist in more than two years of negotiations that have left British politics in chaos and the prime minister’s authority in tatters.

After the defeats in parliament opened up the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal and a smooth transition, May said she remained committed to leaving “in an orderly manner” and wanted to postpone Brexit until June 30.

Her announcement prompted uproar in parliament, where the opposition Labour Party accused her of “blackmail, bullying and bribery” in her attempts to push her deal through, and one prominent pro-Brexit supporter in her own Conservative Party said seeking a delay was “betraying the British people”.

Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU by 52 to 48 percent, but the decision has split the country, opening up divisive debates over the future of the economy, the nation’s place in the world and the nature of Britishness itself.

Some European capitals have welcomed May’s extension plan, with Germany saying a disorderly British departure would be in nobody’s interest.

But a European Commission document seen by Reuters said the delay should either be several weeks shorter, to avoid a clash with European elections in May, or extend at least until the end of the year, which would oblige Britain to take part in the elections.

The pound fell sharply as May requested her extension. [GBP=D3]

BREXIT CRISIS

Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, British politicians are still arguing over how, when or even if the world’s fifth largest economy should leave the bloc it first joined in 1973.

When May set the March 29 exit date two years ago by serving the formal Article 50 divorce papers, she declared there would be “no turning back” but parliament’s refusal to ratify the withdrawal deal she agreed with the EU has thrust her government into crisis.

On Wednesday, May wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk to ask for a delay.

“As prime minister I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than the 30th of June,” May told a rowdy session of parliament.

“I have therefore this morning written to President Tusk, the president of the European Council, informing him that the UK seeks an extension to the Article 50 period until the 30th June,” she said.

She said she planned to ask parliament to vote a third time on her departure deal, which lawmakers have voted down twice. She did not say when the vote would happen.

But May did say delaying Brexit did not rule out the possibility that Britain could leave without a deal.

The Labour Party said by choosing a short delay May was forcing British lawmakers to decide between accepting a deal they have already rejected or leaving without a deal.

Many pro-Brexit members of May’s Conservative Party are opposed to a longer delay because they fear it could mean Brexit might never happen. They argue Britain can do well outside the European Union even though an abrupt departure would cause short-term pain.

EU PUSHES BACK

“Any extension offered to the United Kingdom should either last until 23 May 2019 or should be significantly longer and require European elections,” the EU document said.

“This is the only way of protecting the functioning of the EU institutions and their ability to take decisions.”

May said it was not in Britain’s interests to take part in European elections.

Britain must decide by April 11 if it will participate in the May 23 European election, creating an effective deadline for parliament to pass May’s deal for an orderly Brexit.

The document also said the EU should offer Britain just one extension as multiple delays would leave the bloc in limbo.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had warned May against requesting a Brexit delay beyond the European elections, unless Britain takes part, an EU spokeswoman said.

While the United Kingdom remains divided over Brexit, most agree it will shape the economic future of generations to come and, if it goes badly, could undermine the West and threaten London’s position as the dominant global financial capital.

The loss of Britain for the EU is the biggest blow yet to more than 60 years of effort to forge European unity after two world wars, though the 27 other members of the bloc have shown surprising unity during the tortuous negotiations.

EU leaders are expected to decide on May’s request for a Brexit delay at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. But some diplomats said the final decision could be pushed into next week.

(Additional reporting by by Kate Holton and Alistair Smout in London and Alastair MacDonald in Brussels; Writing by by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Too little too late? No-deal Brexit planning shakes service suppliers

FILE PHOTO: Protesters demonstrate against the possible stockpiling of medicines and food in the event of a no-deal Brexit in London, Britain. Aug 22, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

y Elisabeth O’Leary

LONDON (Reuters) – From Britain’s hospitals and schools to its prisons and armed forces, firms supplying essential public services have been asked by the government to outline plans for a no-deal Brexit.

But with exit day set for March 29, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to strike a deal to leave the European Union which is acceptable to parliament, leaving the companies worried that the government is doing too little too late.

“The government has written to some of us asking us ‘what are you doing in preparation for a no-deal?’ – which is timely, at eight weeks to go,” one industry source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I have never been in such an unknowing place in all of my corporate life,” the source added.

Private firms including Babcock, Capita, Serco, G4S, Mitie and Compass play a central role in providing Britain’s public services, which means they have to procure medicines, toiletries, food, spare parts and labor, much of which come from the EU.

Britain began outsourcing in the 1980s and private firms now carry out work with contracts valued at 250 billion pounds ($324 billion) for the government each year.

But their role has come under scrutiny since the collapse of Carillion last year, sparking a debate about how much public work should be done by private contractors.

Britain’s government has allocated 2 billion pounds funding to support Brexit preparations for 2019/20 which reaches across 25 government and arms-length bodies for both “deal” and “no-deal” scenarios.&nbsp;

NO-DEAL NERVES

While the government says it is confident it will strike a deal with the EU, companies worry that may not be the case. If Britain exits abruptly, new customs checks could lead to major delays at ports with a knock-on effect on the supplies needed for them to provide day-to-day services.

“Companies are getting more and more nervous (about a no-deal Brexit),” a second industry source said, echoing fears raised by Serco’s CEO Rupert Soames who in December described the British business climate as “bad and getting worse”.

“I am increasingly worried we are now in a place where people are talking about supply chains and trying to guarantee them. But beyond stockpiling, nobody actually knows what no-deal might mean,” another source in the sector told Reuters.

A survey last week showed that factories had stockpiled goods in January at the fastest rate since records began in the early 1990s in case of a chaotic Brexit.

“Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority – but in December, we took the decision to step up no deal planning to ensure we are fully prepared,” a government spokesperson said of its plans.

Providers of services for the defense sector are among those who have been asked to share contingency plans.

Three sources said they had received a letter from the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Forzani last week asking about their efforts.

“As part of our no deal preparations, we are talking to suppliers to ensure any potential challenges or impacts are addressed. This is routine contingency planning,” an MoD spokesperson said.

($1 = 0.7710 pounds)

(Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Alexander Smith)

A matter of life and death? UK stockpiles drugs as no-deal Brexit feared

Jo Elgarf is seen with her daughter Nora and the child's prescription medicine at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Edward Baran

LONDON (Reuters) – With just 56 days until Britain leaves the EU, Jo Elgarf has begun stockpiling food in case politicians fail to strike an exit deal, but she says she cannot do the same with vital drugs her disabled daughter needs.

Four-year-old Nora has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and relies on imported Epilim and Keppra daily to stop her suffering seizures. Elgarf wants to stock up on the drugs in case supplies are hit but she can’t because they are only available on a monthly prescription.

For Nora, “this could be matter of life and death,” Elgarf told Reuters at her home in southwest London.

“It could mean being sent off in an ambulance to hospital with a massive seizure that lasts five minutes plus. She cannot miss those medicines. There’s no ifs and buts about it and we cannot use alternatives either.”

With the clock ticking, British lawmakers are still struggling to agree a withdrawal treaty with the European Union, having comprehensively rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s agreement last month.

The default position means Britain will leave on March 29 without a deal in place unless something can be agreed beforehand. That has led to fears that supply chains will be severely disrupted leading to shortages of food and medicines.

According to the British government, about three-quarters of medicines used by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) come via the EU. May, a Type 1 diabetic, has said she herself relies on insulin produced in another EU country.

WORLD’S BIGGEST FRIDGE BUYER

Last August, Health Secretary Matt Hancock outlined plans to ensure Britain had an extra six weeks of supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

In January, he said Britain had bought 5,000 fridges to hold medicines, making him the biggest buyer of fridges in the world, and secured warehouse space.

Jo Elgarf sits with her daughter Nora at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Jo Elgarf sits with her daughter Nora at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

“Making sure patients continue to have access to the medicines they need is paramount…,” said health minister responsible for Brexit planning Stephen Hammond.

“We are working extremely closely with industry to make sure there are significant supplies of these drugs in the UK,” Hammond wrote in an article last week.

But some Britons do not share that confidence, and anecdotal evidence from newspaper readers suggests people are stockpiling everything from children’s painkillers to medicines for serious conditions.

For Elgarf, a member of anti-Brexit Facebook group “48 percent Preppers” – a reference to the percentage that voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum – that is not an option, and that has left her fearful.

“It doesn’t matter even if I had all the money in the world, I can’t go and buy these medicines because they are prescription-only. I have no way of securing my child’s future,” she said.

It is not just patients and their families who are concerned.

The chief executive of a body running hospitals in Birmingham, England’s second-biggest city, warned last week there was a risk operations could be canceled because of a drug shortage.

“In the event of a chaotic, no-deal exit, many NHS trusts could quickly run out of vital medical supplies,” Dr Dave Rosser wrote in a memo to his board of directors.

He said “well-informed and non-political NHS sources” had estimated goods from Europe across the English Channel “could be reduced to between one-third and one-fifth of current daily volumes for a period of at least some months.”

According to the Brexit Health Alliance, an industry body, 45 million patient packs go to the EU from the UK every month, and 37 million packs go the other way.

“Any divergence from these harmonized standards by the UK in the future, and a lack of agreement on cooperation with the EU on medicines and medical devices, would mean that supply chains are at risk,” it said.

One unintended consequence of the concern is that patients stocking up on medicines might bring about problems themselves.

“Hospitals, pharmacies, (family doctor) surgeries and patients should not stockpile medicines at any point during this process,” health minister Hammond said.

“Doing so risks shortages for other patients. If everyone does what they are supposed to, we are confident the supply of medicines will continue uninterrupted whatever the Brexit outcome.”

(Writing by Michael Holden; editing by John Stonestreet)

Migrants on rescue ship to be taken to Malta, sent to four EU states

FILE PHOTO: The humanitarian ship Aquarius is seen at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

VALLETTA (Reuters) – Migrants aboard the charity rescue ship Aquarius will be transferred to a patrol boat in international waters and taken to Malta, which will then send them to four other European Union states, the Maltese government said on Tuesday.

“Malta and France again step up to solve migrant impasse,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter. “With (French President) Emmanuel Macron and other leaders we want to show multilateral approach possible.”

The 58 migrants on the Aquarius “will be transferred onto a Malta armed forces asset in international waters” and brought to Malta before being sent onto four EU states, Muscat’s spokesman Kurt Farrugia tweeted.

(Reporting by Chris Scicluna, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Crispian Balmer)