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)

Exclusive: EU to agree new sanctions regime for chemical attacks

FILE PHOTO: Bags containing protective clothing are seen after Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) left after visiting the scene of the nerve agent attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, Britain March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union envoys are set to agree a new mechanism to punish chemical weapons’ attacks by targeting people blamed for using banned munitions regardless of their nationality, diplomats said.

The legal regime, based on a French proposal to combat what Paris and London say is the repeated use of chemical weapons by Russia and Syria, would allow the EU to impose sanctions more quickly on specific individuals anywhere in the world, freezing their assets in the bloc and banning them from entry.

Ambassadors from the EU’s 28 governments are expected to approve the regime at their weekly meeting on Wednesday, without debate.

The EU already has sanctions lists for Syria and Russia, but under the current system individuals must be added to special country lists. These are complex to negotiate and difficult to expand because some EU governments are reluctant to criticize close partners, particularly Moscow.

“This is significant because we will be able to add names without a big, sensitive debate,” said one senior EU diplomat involved in the negotiations. “We can try to uphold certain rights rather than just issuing statements.”

Banned two decades ago under an international treaty, the rising use of nerve agents has alarmed Western governments.

Recent cases include the assassination of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2017 and the attempted murder of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in March.

EU diplomats say the new chemical weapons regime could be followed up by a similar mechanism for human rights violations, similar to the United States’ Global Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington to sanction individuals for abuses or corruption.

The regime, due to be given a final stamp of approval by EU foreign ministers on Oct. 15, will still need the support of all EU governments for names to be added, according to a preparatory paper seen by Reuters.

It was not immediately clear if Britain would propose to add two Russians accused of poisoning Skripal and his daughter.

But diplomats say it is a possibility as Britain has been unable to convince other EU countries to back new sanctions on Russia over the case.

Britain has charged two Russian men, identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with attempting to murder Skripal and his daughter Yulia by spraying a chemical weapon on Skripal’s front door in the English city of Salisbury.

France pushed the EU sanctions regime in part because the United Nations Security Council has been deadlocked over how to set up an independent inquiry for chemical attacks in Syria.

Russia rejected a joint draft resolution by Britain, France and the United States earlier this year.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Ed Osmond)

Bulgaria to propose immediate closure of EU borders to migrants

Bulgarian border policemen stand near the barbed wire fence constructed on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, near Lesovo, Bulgaria September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria will propose the immediate closure of the European Union’s external borders to migrants and the setting up of centers for war refugees outside its territory at the EU’s weekend mini-summit on migration.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said once migrant inflows were stemmed, the EU should deal with the thousands of migrants already in Europe, taking care of people fleeing conflict and sending the rest home.

“I will insist on the immediate closure of the external borders of the whole European Union,” Borissov said in a surprise visit to parliament, following an opposition call for information on Bulgaria’s position on migration.

He said centers should be set up in Libya and Turkey to deal with migrants before they reached Europe.

Bulgaria, which holds the European Union presidency, hopes that by halting migrant inflows the bloc may also ease the concerns of Central European countries that are opposing calls to accept a quota of migrants who have entered the EU since 2015 in order to share the burden around the bloc.

“Their fear is that there are no guarantees that this process will not continue,” Borissov said.

He said he would hold talks again with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over the issue.

On Thursday, leaders of the Visegrad Four countries Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic said they would skip the smaller summit on Sunday ahead of a full 28-member EU summit next week.

On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel downplayed expectations of a major breakthrough being reached at Sunday’s meeting. Borissov said he did not expect that any documents would be signed.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Hungary approves ‘STOP Soros’ law, defying EU, rights groups

Two soldiers stand in front of the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s parliament on Wednesday approved a package of bills that criminalises some help given to illegal immigrants, defying the European Union and human rights groups and narrowing the scope for action by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been a vocal critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migrant policy and has led eastern European opposition to EU quotas that aimed to distribute asylum seekers around the bloc.

Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party tightened its grip on parliament in an April election fought on a fiercely anti-immigration platform that demonised U.S. billionaire George Soros and liberal NGOs he backs. Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration to undermine Europe, a charge Soros denies.

Under the new law, officially called “STOP Soros”, individuals or groups who help migrants not entitled to protection to submit requests for asylum or who help illegal migrants gain status to stay in Hungary will be liable to prison terms.

“The Hungarian people rightfully expects the government to use all means necessary to combat illegal immigration and the activities that aid it,” Interior Minister Sandor Pinter wrote in a justification attached to the draft legislation.

“The STOP Soros package of bills serves that goal, making the organisation of illegal immigration a criminal offence. We want to use the bills to stop Hungary from becoming a country of immigrants,” he said.

Parliament, where Fidesz has a two-thirds majority, also passed on Wednesday a constitutional amendment to state that an “alien population” cannot be settled in Hungary – a swipe at Brussels over its quota plan.

TOUGH STANCE IS VOTE-WINNER

Immigration has become a major concern for voters across the European Union, helping to propel anti-migrant populists to power in Italy and Austria and threatening to fracture Merkel’s three-month-old coalition in Germany.

Orban has drummed up support for his tough measures by exploiting Hungarians’ memories of the large numbers of mostly Muslim migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East who surged into the country in the summer of 2015.

The vast majority of them moved on to wealthier western European countries, but Orban has branded the migrants a threat to Europe’s Christian civilisation and built a border fence along Hungary’s southern borders to deter more from coming.

Hungarian statistics show 3,555 refugees living in Hungary, a country of 10 million, as of April. Only 342 people were registered as asylum seekers in the first four months of this year, mostly from the Middle East, and 279 were approved.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a rights group that often represents migrants, said on Wednesday the narrowing definition of who counts as a refugee essentially means nobody entering Hungary by land would be entitled to such treatment.

“Instead of giving protection against persecution, the Hungarian government has decided to join the ranks of the persecutors,” Helsinki Committee Co-Chair Marta Pardavi said.

The Orban government expects possible legal action by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, over the new law.

Two leading European rights bodies, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have criticised Hungary’s new law as “arbitrary” and vague and said it contravenes European law.

The Venice Commission, an expert body at the Council of Europe, had asked Hungary to refrain from approving the new law until a report it co-authored with the OSCE is published.

Orban has also tightened state control over the media, major business sectors and the courts since taking power in 2010.

In other constitutional changes approved on Wednesday, parliament agreed to set up a new judicial branch for administrative cases that critics say may increase political influence over judges. Another change narrowed the right to free expression and assembly.

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. sees strong shared interests with European Union on Iran concerns

FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Pho

WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States on Sunday said it hopes to use strong shared interests that have emerged with its European Union partners in recent months to move forward on addressing Iran’s nuclear program, missile development and role in regional conflicts.

A State Department official said the shared interests could form a “foundation to continue to work together moving forward.”

Iran said on Sunday that it would join a meeting with diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to exit the 2015 nuclear accord.

It said Washington would not participate in the meeting of the joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying there were also discussions about a possible new pact between Iran and world powers that would cover the same ground as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.

These could include provisions to address U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said.

“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper.

Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said.

The State Department official said Washington hoped the EU would focus “on the central issue here:  Iran’s multiple set of malign behaviors with regard to its nuclear program, missile development, terrorism, regional conflicts, and other issues.”

Three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep Trump from quitting the nuclear deal said Friday’s meeting would address only the implementation of the 2015 deal, but not offer Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi rejected reports of a proposed new agreement as “irrelevant claims”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

“A meeting set for the next few days for the first joint commission without the United States … will only cover issues of the nuclear accord between Iran and the other members,” Qasemi said.

Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television that the “joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal.”

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic roadmap” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Damon Darlin in Washington, Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Dale Hudson, William Maclean)

Maersk latest company to shun Iran as EU scrambles to save nuclear deal

FILE PHOTO: The Maersk ship Adrian Maersk is seen as it departs from New York Harbor in New York City, U.S., June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Phot

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk on Thursday joined a growing list of companies preparing to call a halt to doing business with Iran, casting doubts on whether European leaders can keep alive a nuclear deal with Tehran.

Maersk’s move comes a day after French energy group Total and other European companies signaled they could exit Iran ahead of a reimposition of sanctions following the United States’ decision to pull out of the Iran accord.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that the European Union must protect European Union companies doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions.

But Macron, joining EU leaders for a summit in Bulgaria, also said he recognized that big companies would want to protect their own interests.

“International companies with interests in many countries make their own choices according to their own interests. They should continue to have this freedom,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran means European countries that have since invested in the country will be at risk once new sanctions come into effect.

Maersk Chief Executive Soren Skou said: “With the sanctions the Americans are to impose, you can’t do business in Iran if you also have business in the U.S., and we have that on a large scale.”

“I don’t know the exact timing details, but I am certain that we’re also going to shut down (in Iran),” Skou told Reuters in an interview following Maersk’s first-quarter earnings.

MSC, the world’s second biggest container shipping group after Maersk, said on Wednesday it would stop taking new booking for Iran.

Other companies which have warned they would wind down business in Iran following reinstated sanctions include German insurer Allianz, Siemens and Danish oil product tanker operator Maersk Tankers, previously owned by the Maersk conglomerate.

Maersk’s Skou said higher oil prices which followed the U.S. withdrawal were hitting its container shipping business because of higher bunker fuel prices.

Oil prices hit their highest level since November 2014 on Thursday, with Brent crude creeping ever closer to $80 per barrel. [O/R]

(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Jon Boyle and Jane Merriman)

Remove barriers to membership talks, Turkey tells EU before summit

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik, speaks during a news conference at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul, Turkey March 26, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

By Alissa de Carbonnel and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA/VARNA, Bulgaria (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said he will seek the removal at a summit with the EU on Monday of all obstacles to a stalled membership bid, which the bloc however believes are of Ankara’s own making.

Criticism from European Union governments of what many view as Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism at home and his intervention in Syria’s war has created an uneasy backdrop to the gathering in the Black Sea port of Varna.

Some countries had called for an end to long-stalled accession talks and had hesitated to agree to meet him.

But Erdogan said it was time for the EU to “keep its promises” to Turkey, which started formal membership negotiations in 2005 that stalled five years and have now effectively collapsed.

“EU membership continues to be our strategic goal,” Erdogan told reporters before departing for the summit. “In today’s EU summit, we will convey our expectations about the lifting of the obstacles our country has faced.”

Erdogan, who has alarmed the West with a massive purge since a failed coup attempt in July 2016, remains an important ally in the U.S.-led NATO alliance and the fight against Islamic militants, and the destination for many Syrians fleeing war.

Turkey shares a border with Iraq, Syria and with Russia in the Black Sea, and the EU is its biggest foreign investor and trading partner.

CASH ONLY

EU leaders are likely to provide Erdogan with 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) in fresh cash to extend a 2016 deal on Turkey taking in Syrian refugees.

They will go no further than that, as Brussels considers the EU membership bid a separate process focused on rule of law, press freedoms and economic reforms.

But Erdogan on Monday appeared to conflate the two.

“Our country has fulfilled all responsibilities as part of the 2016 migrant deal, but the EU has not shown the same sincerity in keeping its promises and still does not do so,” Erdogan said.

“In terms of counter-terrorism, we will convey that we expect unconditional support and cooperation from the EU.”

EU officials say Turkey’s post-coup crackdown on civil rights has taken it further from complying with EU membership criteria.

“The differences in views between the EU and Turkey are many,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will represent the bloc along with European Council President Donald Tusk.

“(Varna)…will be a frank and open debate, where we will not hide our differences but will seek to improve our cooperation,” Juncker said after a two-day EU summit that condemned what they said were Turkey’s illegal actions in a standoff over Mediterranean gas with Greece and Cyprus.

DIALOGUE OR CONDEMNATION?

Turkey’s EU membership process is not formally frozen, but talks have not taken place for over a year.

Host Bulgaria, which also shares a border with Turkey holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is eager to keep ties as positive as possible.

“The meeting in Varna is likely to be one of the last opportunities to maintain dialogue,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said.

Meanwhile Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, the country the most opposed to Turkey’s EU membership aspirations, called in an interview in Die Welt newspaper for the EU to condemn Ankara for escalating the seven-year-long war in Syria.

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Tulay Karadeniz in Varna; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel @AdeCar and Robin Emmott; editing by John Stonestreet)

Inspectors analyze toxin used on Russian spy, EU backs Britain

A police notice is attached to screening surrounding a restaurant which was visited by former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia before they were found on a park bench after being poisoned in Salisbury, Britain, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nichol

By Alex Fraser and Peter Nicholls

SALISBURY, England (Reuters) – Inspectors from the world’s chemical weapons watchdog on Monday began examining the poison used to strike down a former Russian double agent in England, in an attack that London blames on Moscow.

Britain says Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who are critically ill in hospital, were targeted with the Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent Novichok. It accuses Moscow of stockpiling the toxin and investigating how to use it in assassinations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who easily won another six-year term on Sunday, said the claims were nonsense and that Russia had destroyed all its chemical weapons. While the Kremlin told Britain to back up its assertions or apologize, Britain’s fellow EU members offered it “unqualified solidarity”.

Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain, was found collapsed along with his daughter on a bench in the small southern city of Salisbury two weeks ago.

The identification of Novichok as the weapon has become the central pillar of Britain’s case for Russia’s culpability. Each has expelled 23 of the other’s diplomats as their relations have sunk to a post-Cold War low.

On Monday, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) began running independent tests on samples taken from Salisbury to verify the British analysis, said an OPCW source speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The team from The Hague will meet with officials from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the police to discuss the process for collecting samples, including environmental ones,” Britain’s Foreign Office said.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives at an European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives at an European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

“ABSURD DENIALS”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday, before meeting his European Union counterparts in Brussels, that Russian denials of responsibility were “increasingly absurd”.

“This is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation. They’re not fooling anybody any more,” Johnson told reporters.

“There is scarcely a country around the table here in Brussels that has not been affected in recent years by some kind of malign or disruptive Russian behavior.”

EU diplomats cautioned there was no immediate prospect of fresh economic sanctions on Russia, but the assembled EU foreign ministers did offer strong verbal support.

“The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible,” said their statement.

They said using a nerve agent for the first time on European soil for 70 years would be a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the OPCW safeguards, and that it represented a “security threat to us all”.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Robin Emmott and Alistair MacDonald in Brussels; Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kevin Liffey)

Turkey should again consider criminalizing adultery, Erdogan says

ILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan looks on ahead of a meeting at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey should again consider criminalizing adultery, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, revisiting an issue that caused outrage among secular Turks and warnings from the European Union when his party raised it more than a decade ago.

The Islamist-rooted AK Party floated the idea in 2004, two years after it first came to power, as part of a broad overhaul of the Turkish penal code. But the proposal caused a backlash from the secular opposition and EU officials said it could jeopardize Turkey’s efforts to join the union.

While Turkey is still technically a candidate to join the union, its accession talks were frozen in the wake of a widespread crackdown that followed a failed coup in 2016. In return, Erdogan has been angered by what he sees as EU stalling of the bid and has threatened to walk away from the talks.

“I think it would be very, very well-timed to again discuss the adultery issue, as our society is in a different position with regards to moral values,” Erdogan told reporters following a speech in parliament.

“This is a very old issue, far-reaching. It should be discussed. It was already in our legal proposals (in 2004) in the first place. At that time we took a step in accordance with the EU’s demands, but we made a mistake,” he said.

Erdogan’s comment that by meeting EU standards Turkey made a mistake underscores the growing divide between Ankara and Brussels and may not bode well for a coming summit with the bloc in March.

Turkey decriminalized adultery for women in the late 1990s. It had long been legal for men.

Erdogan, who is accused by critics of crushing democratic freedoms with tens of thousands of arrests and a clampdown on the media since the failed coup, has previously spoken of his desire to raise a “pious generation”.

He has spent his career fighting to bring religion back into public life in constitutionally secular Turkey and has cast himself as the liberator of millions of pious Turks whose rights and welfare were neglected by a secular elite.

Last year, the government announced a new school curriculum that excluded Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, feeding opposition fears that Erdogan was subverting the republic’s secular foundations.

A Reuters investigation last month showed that while students at religious schools make up only 11 percent of the total upper school population, they receive 23 percent of funding, double the spending per pupil at mainstream schools.

While European leaders have robustly criticized Turkey for what they see as rapid backsliding on democracy and human rights, especially the crackdown, Europe still relies on Turkey as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank.

Perhaps more immediately, European countries need Turkey to hold up its end of a deal to halt the mass influx of Syrian refugees into the bloc.

(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan and Hugh Lawson)

Soros donation to halt Brexit causes storm in Britain

Business magnate George Soros arrives to speak at the Open Russia Club in London, Britain June 20, 2016.

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – News that billionaire financier George Soros is a backer of a campaign group seeking to keep Britain in the EU added fire to Britain’s Brexit debate on Thursday, with supporters of quitting the bloc accusing opponents of plotting a “coup”.

The Best of Britain campaign group confirmed it had received 400,000 pounds from Soros. Soros, best known in Britain for earning billions betting against the pound in the early 1990s, is the target of a hostile media campaign by the nationalist government in his native Hungary and a hate figure for rightwing campaigners in eastern Europe and the United States.

Best of Britain said it had obeyed all rules on political funding in accepting the donation from Soros.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office repeated its long-standing position that the decision to leave the EU in 2019 after a vote in 2016 was final and would not be reversed. It also defended the right of campaign groups to accept donations.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which first reported Soros’s involvement, said the 87-year-old former hedge fund manager was backing a “secret plot” to stop Brexit. The article was written by Nick Timothy, a former chief of staff to May.

Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who is chair of the Best for Britain campaign group, said the group had never hidden its aims, which include staying in the EU.

“George Soros’s foundations have along with a number of other major donors also made significant contributions to our work,” Malloch-Brown said in a statement, confirming Soros had contributed 400,000 pounds through his charitable foundations.

May’s spokesman said: “There are many political and campaign groups in this country, that’s entirely right and as you would expect in a democracy.”

“The prime minister’s position on this matter is clear, the country voted to leave the European Union, that’s what we are going to deliver and there won’t be a second referendum.”

BREXIT REVERSED?

In the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum, 51.9 percent, or 17.4 million people, voted to leave the EU while 48.1 percent, or 16.1 million people, voted to stay. Both sides accepted large donations from wealthy individuals.

Ever since the shock vote, supporters of EU membership have been exploring an array of different legal and political methods to prevent what they see as the biggest mistake in post-World War Two British history.

Brexiteers say such efforts threaten political stability as they go against the democratic will of 17.4 million people. They have vowed to fight any attempt to stop Brexit.

“The new Soros-led coalition is planning a coup in Britain, against the democratic will of the people,” Richard Tice, who chairs the Leave Means Leave campaign group, told Reuters. “They have been outed and will be defeated.”

May, whose government and party is divided over Brexit, has just eight months to strike a deal with the EU on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

Opponents of Brexit hope to focus their efforts on blocking British parliamentary approval for the exit deal, a step that if successful could sink May’s premiership. There is, though, little sign so far of a change in opinion among voters, and the supporters of EU membership lack a popular leader who could unite the disparate groups opposed to Brexit.

Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage say public opposition to Brexit from the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein are unlikely to sway British public opinion.

With no deal, Britain would face a disorderly Brexit that many investors fear would imperil Britain’s $2.7 trillion economy, disrupt trade across the world’s biggest trading bloc and undermine London’s position as the only financial centre to rival New York.

($1 = 0.7209 pounds)

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff)