Exclusive: UK faces ‘massive shortage’ of ventilators – Swiss manufacturer

By John Miller

EMS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus, after it failed to invest enough in intensive care equipment, a leading ventilator manufacturer said on Wednesday.

“England is very poorly equipped,” said Andreas Wieland, chief executive of Hamilton Medical in Switzerland, which says it is the world’s largest ventilator maker.

“They’re going to have a massive shortage, once the virus really arrives there,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Ventilators, running in the thousands of dollars per unit, are used to help people with respiratory difficulties to breathe. They are high-tech versions of the “iron lungs” that kept people alive into the 1950s during fierce polio epidemics.

Worldwide, the devices have become shorthand for the rapid advance of the disease — and the desperation of officials who fear their stocks are inadequate. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the 3,000 devices in his state where 20 people have died are a fraction of what he’d like to have.

“The entire world is trying to buy ventilators,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript published on Wednesday, adding he is hoping to tap a U.S. federal government stockpile.

Germany’s Draegerwerk  last week got a government order for 10,000, equal to a typical year’s production.

Wieland’s company in the Swiss Alps has boosted normal production of some 15,000 ventilators annually by 30-40% and now can produce about 80 ventilators daily.

He has shifted his 1,400 employees to seven-day work weeks as well as borrowed workers from other companies in the Rhine River valley where his two-year-old ventilator plant is located.

Last week, Hamilton Medical shipped 400 ventilators to Italy, whose intensive care units have been overwhelmed by more than 35,000 cases of the rapidly spreading virus and almost 3,000 deaths.

About 50% of those with coronavirus in Italy accepted into intensive care units are dying, compared with typical mortality rates of 12% to 16% in such units.

Wieland said a similar outbreak in Britain, now with more than 2,600 cases and about 100 deaths, would swamp the system there, too.

“They are not well equipped with ventilators and intensive care stations,” he said. “They invested very little, and I think now they will pay the price.”

UK health minister Matt Hancock has acknowledged the existing stock of 5,000 ventilators is inadequate.

“NO NUMBER TOO HIGH”

“We think we need many times more than that and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it,” he said earlier this week. “No number is too high.”

Wieland said he was in “close contact” with UK medical leaders and aimed to prioritize shipments there soon, though for now Italy was taking precedence.

But he also has orders from the United States, Turkey, France and China, where in January he stocked up on components in anticipation of rising demand as the virus spread from its origins in Wuhan.

The UK’s Intensive Care Society, an organization of medical professionals, did not immediately return emails and phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on the nation’s readiness for a possible explosion of coronavirus cases.

“We are likely to need more,” a National Health Service spokesman told Reuters. “Engineers have already been tasked with developing plans to produce more ventilators in the UK, at speed.”

Hamilton CEO Wieland is skeptical, however, of the British government’s recent call for manufacturers from other industries including Ford, Honda and Rolls Royce to help make equipment including ventilators.

“I wish them the best of luck,” Wieland said. “I do not believe anything will come of it. These devices are very complex. It takes us four to five years” to develop a new product.

(Reporting by John Miller in Ems, Andrew MacAskill in London; Editing by Mark Potter and Chizu Nomiyama)

UK police under fire over children trafficked into drug trade

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Police efforts to crack down on drug gangs that traffic children in Britain are being hampered by a lack of coordination and inconsistent treatment of victims, a watchdog said on Friday.

Thousands of children in Britain are estimated to be used by gangs to carry drugs from cities to rural areas, according to police who consider the crime a growing form of modern slavery.

Yet investigations into the drug trade are disjointed and often “less effective than they should be” due to limited police cooperation and competing priorities, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.

The number of suspected British child slaves referred to the government in 2018 for support more than doubled to 1,421 from 676 in 2017, with many feared to be victims of the so-called county lines trade. Such data for last year was not available.

“Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending,” Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said in a statement.

Children caught with drugs who are arrested then released from policy custody often do not have ready access to support services, and in some cases are put on train journeys home unsupervised after their release, according to the report.

Responding to the watchdog, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines Graham McNulty said there was room to improve, but the police could not solve the issue alone.

“Schools, health and social care services, charities and others have a critical role in ending this evil practice and we will continue to work closely with them,” McNulty said.

Britain’s interior ministry said it was investing 20 million pounds ($26 million) to tackle the crime, and that a national coordination centre established in 2018 had made at least 2,500 arrests and protected more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Phil Brewer, the ex-head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-slavery squad, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in October that police faced a challenge in trying to judge whether a child found dealing drugs should be treated as a suspect or a victim. [L5N26O4PA]

Gangs are luring some children into selling drugs by telling them they will not be punished if they say they were coerced, citing a defence intended for trafficking victims in Britain’s 2015 anti-slavery law, prosecutors told lawmakers last year.

The HMICFRS report said the government should launch a review into the legal defence and establish whether the legislation should be amended, a recommendation supported by Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton.

“It is essential that police and prosecutors recognise county lines offenders who force their victims to carry drugs – often under the threat of extreme violence and intimidation – as perpetrators of modern slavery,” Thornton said in a statement.

($1 = 0.7652 pounds)

(Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Wanted: Weirdos and misfits – aide to UK’s Johnson is hiring

LONDON (Reuters) – The senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who plotted Brexit and steered his boss to last month’s election triumph, is on the lookout for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.

“We want to improve performance and make me much less important — and within a year largely redundant,” Dominic Cummings said in a post on his blog on Thursday.

“We do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed. This must change fast so we can properly serve the public.”

Cummings, who has made no secret of his disdain for much of the way Britain’s civil service operates, said he had been lucky to have worked with some fantastic officials in recent months.

“But there are also some profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions,” he said.

Cummings was one of the senior campaigners behind the Vote Leave victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum and was described by former Prime Minister John Major as “political anarchist.”

In his blog, Cummings said rapid progress could now be made on long-term problems thanks to the combination of policy upheaval after Brexit, an appetite for risk among some officials in the new government and Johnson’s big majority in parliament.

The government was looking to hire data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts and junior researchers as well as “weirdos and misfits with odd skills,” he said.

“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole,” Cummings said.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

UK prosecutors to charge U.S. diplomat’s wife over fatal car crash

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) – British prosecutors said on Friday they had decided to charge the wife of a U.S. diplomat over a fatal car crash in England and to seek her extradition, a decision that “disappointed” Washington.

Harry Dunn, 19, died after his motorcycle was in a collision with a car driven by Anne Sacoolas near RAF Croughton, an air force base in the English county of Northamptonshire that is used by the U.S. military.

Sacoolas, 42, was given diplomatic immunity and left Britain shortly after the accident, setting off a dispute between London and Washington over whether she should return to face investigation.

She said she would not return voluntarily to face a potential jail sentence.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Friday it would charge Sacoolas with causing death by dangerous driving and had started legal proceedings.

But it said it was up to the Home Office (interior ministry) to decide whether to seek Sacoolas’ extradition formally through diplomatic channels.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab welcomed the charging decision, adding in a statement: “I hope that Anne Sacoolas will now realize the right thing to do is to come back to the UK and cooperate with the criminal justice process.”

The U.S. State department expressed disappointment.

“We are disappointed by today’s announcement and fear that it will not bring a resolution closer,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“The United States has been clear that, at the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the driver in this case had status that conferred diplomatic immunities.”

Sacoolas’ lawyer Amy Jeffress said her would not be going back to Britain to face trial.

“Anne will not return voluntarily to the United Kingdom to face a potential jail sentence for what was a terrible but unintentional accident,” Jeffress said in a statement.

‘BEAUTIFUL’ BUT ‘SAD’

Dunn’s case gained international prominence when his parents met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in October, an occasion he described as “beautiful” but “sad”.

Trump hoped to persuade them meet Sacoolas, who was in the building at the same time, but they declined.

Sacoolas initially cooperated with local police after the crash, but later said she had diplomatic immunity.

The White House and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The maximum jail sentence in Britain for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, broke down in tears after finding out charges had been brought, saying it meant she had kept a promise to her son to get him justice.

“We had no idea it was going to be this hard and it would take this long, but we really do feel it is a huge step towards that promise to Harry,” she told reporters.

Edward Grange, a partner at the criminal law firm Corker Binning, said Sacoolas could voluntarily attend a hearing in Britain and that if she failed to appear, it could lead to an extradition request.

“The prospect of an extradition request succeeding remains to be seen, particularly in light of comment from the Trump Administration that it is very reluctant to allow its citizens to be tried abroad,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Sarah Young; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

UK truck deaths cast spotlight on global trade in humans

UK truck deaths cast spotlight on global trade in humans
By K. Sophie Will

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The discovery of 39 bodies in a truck in London last week cast a spotlight on the global trade in human beings and sparked debate about Britain’s approach to tackling smugglers and traffickers.

A British court heard on Monday that a global crime ring had been involved in smuggling the dead – many of whom appear to have come from Vietnam – as the driver of the truck faced charges of manslaughter and human trafficking.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Saturday told authorities to establish whether Vietnamese citizens were among the dead, and to probe allegations of trafficking.

Unlike trafficking, which is control over a person for the purpose of exploitation, smuggling is merely illegal entry into another country – although the latter can turn into the former.

About 10% of the suspected 7,000 slavery victims found in Britain last year were Vietnamese. Most are trafficked for labour such as cannabis cultivation and work in nail salons.

Globally, more than 40 million people are estimated by the United Nations to be trapped in modern slavery as poverty, conflict and climate change fuel the $150-billion-a-year trade.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked six anti-slavery experts about how to prevent such deaths from happening again.

SARA THORNTON, BRITAIN’S INDEPENDENT ANTI-SLAVERY COMMISSIONER

“This is a shocking illustration of the cruel and complex issue that is human trafficking in Britain today.

“Whilst we do not yet know the full details of the journeys that these individuals made, this case bears all the hallmarks of human trafficking.

“As we rethink our migration policies, it is essential that the needs of vulnerable migrants are front and centre.

“We need to ensure that new migration policies are stress-tested to ensure that they do not provide opportunities for the traffickers to exploit very vulnerable people.”

MIMI VU, INDEPENDENT ANTI-TRAFFICKING EXPERT IN VIETNAM

“The government and businesses must look at what the root causes are, realising that people that are less educated are more likely to take these risks because they are poor.

“All the work on this has to be done before anyone leaves, as this all has to be done in-country.

“When you address the root causes, you will convince the Vietnamese that this is not worth the risk.

“They have to believe in very concrete meaningful ways that they have a future in Vietnam.

“But we are losing our people to trafficking and slavery.”

LUCILA GRANADA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF FOCUS ON LABOUR EXPLOITATION

“We must, of course, investigate and punish those who profit from the desperation of people, but to effectively prevent this from happening again we must recognise the role of Britain in driving people into these dangerous routes.

“It is important to recognise that British immigration policies and border control approach have played a key part in restricting their options.

“With no available regular immigration pathways and the constant threat of detention and deportation in transit and upon arrival, those seeking survival in Britain become easy prey.

“This tragedy exposed one more time that prosecuting individual traffickers is not enough. We need to open safe routes of regular migration and end the hostile environment.”

JUSTINE CURRELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNSEEN

“Whether people get into the back of a lorry through their own volition or from having been forced or coerced, the ultimate penalty is death.

“Even when trafficking and exploitation is not the primary factor of movement, those entering the country illegally and who lack status become increasingly vulnerable and susceptible to abuse and exploitation.

“Awareness-raising in communities and specific source countries to deter people from putting their lives at risk would help to highlight the pitfalls of taking this dangerous course of action.

“Increased targeted checks at the border may also help to root out such movement and any intervention subsequently made before another disaster occurs.”

PHILIPPA SOUTHWELL, LAWYER AT BIRDS SOLICITORS

“Solving this is not simple, but obviously it’s down to the manning of ports. I know it’s difficult to check each vehicle, and it really is impossible to do one-to-one checking on these vehicles, but we can improve the manning of particular ports.

“Particularly in Asia, people living in poverty are promised a better life and are coming to Britain to work and send money back to their families.

“We need to be looking to build better relationships with these countries, realising what the root problems are there and what can be done.”

NAZIR AFZAL, FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR IN NORTHERN ENGLAND

“Human trafficking is organised crime from which criminals benefit.

“Demand has to be reduced through deterrence, the closing down of businesses that engage trafficked people. Simultaneously, authorities need to follow the money and identify it, confiscate it, whilst punishing the offenders.

“Trafficked people need to be seen as victims first and last. They need to be supported to give their best evidence against the traffickers, not threatened with deportation.”

(Reporting by K. Sophie Will, Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

From archaeologists to vets, UK widens list of desired immigrants

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain needs a wider range of immigrants to tackle shortages of workers ranging from archaeologists and architects to vets and web developers, government advisors said on Wednesday, just days after figures showed immigration had fallen to a five-year low.

Britain is reviewing its immigration system as it prepares to leave the European Union, which allows almost unrestricted free movement of workers between its 28 member states.

More than 3 million foreigners have moved permanently to Britain since 2009, despite the government’s aim to reduce net migration to 100,000 a year, and this was a top worry for voters at the time of 2016’s referendum to leave the EU.

However, in its first full review of job shortages in five years, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said shortages of workers in Britain’s economy had increased since 2013, as unemployment had fallen to its lowest since 1975.

The body, made up mostly of academic labor market economists, recommended that jobs similar to those done by 9% of workers in Britain should be put on an immigration shortage list, up from less than 1% in 2013.

“The expansion comes mainly from the wider set of health and IT sector jobs included,” the report said.

The MAC’s recommendations are not binding, but the government has generally followed previous suggestions.

Inclusion on the ‘shortage occupation list’ would mean employers no longer needed to prove they were unable to hire a British worker to do the job, and shortage workers would have priority over some other immigrants if quotas applied.

Businesses welcomed the recommendation from the body, which has already urged the government to lift a cap on high-skilled immigrants, but had upset some firms by opposing a new category of post-Brexit visa for low-skilled EU workers.

“Our research shows that three-quarters of firms are currently unable to find the talent they need, and vacancies are being left unfilled,” the British Chambers of Commerce said.

However Migration Watch UK, a body that wants less immigration, called the new job shortage list “astonishing”.

“The MAC seems to have turned 180 degrees from its previous emphasis on encouraging employers to recruit domestically through improved wages, better conditions and boosted training,” Migration Watch’s vice-chairman, Alp Mehmet, said.

Stricter border controls were Britons’ top concern at the time of the 2016 referendum, but this has now fallen to third place, behind funding public healthcare and education, according to recent polling by market research company Kantar.

Nonetheless, some 42% of Britons still want to restrict EU citizens’ future rights to live in Britain after Brexit, while only 33% wanted to preserve them.

(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)

Britain removes word ‘unlikely’ from no-deal Brexit guidance

FILE PHOTO: EU and Union flags overlap during an anti-Brexit protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government has removed the word “unlikely” from its official Brexit guidance telling companies and citizens how to prepare for a disorderly exit where the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

Theresa May’s government has issued a string of technical notices in recent months with advice on what needs to be done before the country leaves the world’s largest trading bloc on March 29. They cover everything from the movement of organs, blood and sperm to nuclear regulation and organic food.

The notices had originally referred to the “unlikely” chance that Britain leaves the EU without a deal. The documents now refer to simply a “no deal scenario”.

“Delivering the deal negotiated with the EU remains the government’s top priority. This has not changed,” one notice on aviation rules says.

“However, the government must prepare for every eventuality, including a no-deal scenario.”

With just under 100 days until Britain is due to leave the EU, deep divisions in parliament have raised the chances of leaving without a deal.

May has struck an agreement with Brussels on the terms of the divorce but she was forced to pull a parliamentary vote on the proposal last week after admitting it would be defeated.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Brexit department said the language had been updated after the government started to step up its plans for a no-deal exit.

“We fully expect to get a deal and believe that is the most likely outcome – that is what we are focused on delivering,” she said.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

UK PM May doing ‘fantastic’ job on Brexit, says Trump, promising trade deal

British Prime Minster Theresa May and her husband Philip stand together with U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the entrance to Blenheim Palace, where they are attending a dinner with specially invited guests and business leaders, near Oxford, Britain, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Jeff Mason and William James

CHEQUERS, England (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he looked forward to finalizing a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, marking an abrupt change from a newspaper interview when he said Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy would kill such an agreement.

In an interview published just hours before the two leaders held talks, Trump chided the “very unfortunate” results of the prime minister’s proposals for Brexit and her negotiating tactics as Britain prepares to leaves the European Union in March next year.

However, Trump later said May was doing a “fantastic job”.

“Once the Brexit process is concluded and perhaps the UK has left the EU, I don’t know what they’re going to do but whatever you do is OK with me, that’s your decision,” Trump told a press conference with May in the garden of her official country residence Chequers.

“Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together, that’s all that matters. This is an incredible opportunity for our two countries and we will seize it fully.”

Last week at the same location, May finally won agreement for her Brexit plans from her cabinet but within days two senior ministers had quit, departures which Trump said earlier in the week had left Britain in turmoil.

Hours after those proposals were formally published, Trump cast further doubt on the strategy, delivering a withering verdict in an interview with the Sun newspaper.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump said. “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

Asked about that interview, Trump said he did not criticize the prime minister and was gushing in his praise of his host, saying she was tough and capable.

“This incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job, a great job,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was a story that was done which was generally fine but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister and I said a tremendous thing. It’s called fake news.”

“HIGHEST LEVEL OF SPECIAL”

May, likewise, glossed over the comments.

“We agreed today that as the UK leaves the European Union we will pursue an ambitious U.S.-UK free trade agreement,” she said. “The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to pursue an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies.”

May and Trump both spoke of the importance of the “special relationship” between their two countries, something that Brexit supporters hope will reap benefits when Britain leaves the EU, allowing it to forge closer trade ties with the world’s biggest economy.

“I would say I would give our relationship in terms of grade the highest level of special,” Trump said.

However, many have cast May’s “business-friendly” plan as a betrayal that would leave Britain too close to the EU, including lawmakers in her deeply divided Conservative Party who have warned that she might face a leadership challenge.

During the press conference, May also thanked Trump for his support over Russia which Britain has blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in southwest England in March.

Trump is due to meet Putin, who has rejected the nerve agent claims, at a summit when he finishes his four-day visit to Britain, and said he would raise the issue of reducing nuclear weapons.

“It will certainly be something that we bring up and talk about,” the U.S. president said.

As Trump and May spoke, thousands of protesters marched against the president through central London, one of more than 100 demonstrations planned against the president during his stay.

While Trump’s trip was not a full state visit, he has been given red carpet treatment and is scheduled to have tea later with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, where her grandson Prince Harry married U.S. actress Meghan Markle in May.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden, editing by Larry King, Kevin Liffey and David Stamp)

Britain’s Prince William, in Jerusalem, honors Holocaust victims, meets Netanyahu

Britain's Prince William pays his respects during a ceremony commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prince William honoured Holocaust victims and met descendants of Jews hidden from the Nazis by his great-grandmother, in a somber start on Tuesday to the first official British royal visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Wearing a black skullcap, William laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where an eternal flame flickers and the names of extermination and concentration camps are engraved in the floor.

“Terrifying,” William said, viewing a display at the memorial’s museum of shoes taken by the Nazis from Jews at Majdanek death camp. “(I’m) trying to comprehend the scale.”

Britain's Prince William speaks with officials as he arrives to the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Britain’s Prince William speaks with officials as he arrives to the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Tens of thousands of Jews and other victims were killed at the camp, near Lublin in what is now Poland.

After the tour, the prince – second in line to the British throne – was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at their official residence in Jerusalem against the backdrop of British and Israeli flags.

At the residence, the prince met relatives of the late Rachel Cohen, who was hidden from the Gestapo, along with two of her five children, by Princess Alice, the mother of Britain’s 97-year-old Prince Philip, in her palace in Greece.

The Greek royal family – Princess Alice was married to Prince Andrew of Greece – had been acquainted with Cohen’s late husband, Haimaki, a former member of Greece’s parliament.

“You must be very proud of your great-grandmother, who saved defenseless Jews,” Netanyahu told William.

Princess Alice was recognized as one of the “righteous among nations”, gentiles who rescued Jews, by Yad Vashem in 1993. A devout Christian, she is buried on the slopes of Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. William is due to visit her tomb on Thursday.

At a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, the prince, on a visit described by Britain as non-political, said he hoped “peace in the area can be achieved”. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

During the four-day visit, William is also scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian youngsters in the occupied West Bank.

“I had a very moving tour around Yad Vashem this morning, which really taught me quite a lot more than I thought I already knew about the true horrors of what happened to the Jews

over the war,” William said at the meeting with Rivlin.

The prince also spoke at Yad Vashem with two men who survived the Nazi genocide through British intervention.

Henry Foner, 86, and Paul Alexander, 80, were among thousands of Jewish children taken in by Britain as part of the 1930s “Kindertransport” from a continental Europe that was falling to German conquest.

“I said to his Royal Highness that this is a unique opportunity for me to express my thanks to the British people for opening their homes to me and to the other 10,000 children who came,” Alexander said.

Later in the day, William, sporting sunglasses, strolled along the Tel Aviv shore, chatting with beach-goers and quipping, “I should have brought my swimming trunks”. At a youth soccer event in nearby Jaffa, he admonished journalists crowding around the youngsters to move back.

“Guys, will you give us some space, there are children here,” said the prince, who from his earliest years experienced crowds of journalists and photographs hounding his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales. She died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 as paparazzi chased her vehicle.

William’s trip is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal visit until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved. British officials have given no detailed explanation for the change in policy.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

UK, allies: empower chemical arms watchdog to assign blame for attacks

British Minister of State for Defence Frederick Richard addresses a special session of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague, Netherlands June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

By Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called on Tuesday for all nations to vote to bolster the powers of the chemical weapons watchdog, saying it should be able to assign blame for attacks with banned poison munitions.

The United States and European Union said they would support a draft proposal made by the British delegation at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), while Russia and several of its allies opposed it.

“At present the OPCW’s experts can say where and when an attack happened, but not who was responsible,” Johnson told representatives of more than a hundred countries at a meeting in The Hague. “If we are serious about upholding the ban on chemical weapons that gap must be filled.”

A vote will be held on Wednesday. Decisions must win two-thirds of votes cast to be passed.

The British are seeking to re-galvanize support for an international ban on chemical weapons, which have been used repeatedly in the Syrian civil war. Banned chemicals have also been used by militants on the battlefield in Iraq in recent years, and are suspected in the poisoning of a half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year in Malaysia and of a former KGB spy and his daughter in England this year.

Russia, Iran and Syria objected to the move and accused the British of breaking OPCW rules. The conference chairman said the British call for a vote was in line with procedures.

Western countries blame Syria’s government for using banned nerve gas in several attacks that killed large numbers of civilians. Russia and Iran are Syria’s main battlefield allies.

Russian representative Georgy Kalamanov called the British proposal “a clear attempt here to manipulate the mandate of the OPCW and to undermine the legal basis on which it stands, with which we fully disagree.”

“We should reflect very seriously on this proposal, and not allow it to undermine the fate of the OPCW,” he said.

The 20-year-old OPCW, which oversees a 1997 treaty banning the use of toxins as weapons, is a technical, scientific body which determines whether chemical weapons were used. It does not have the authority to identify perpetrators.

The British-led proposal was to be debated by roughly 140 countries at a special session of the OPCW that started on Tuesday. The draft proposal, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, could thrust the OPCW to the front of a diplomatic confrontation between the West and Moscow which has seen relations deteriorate to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Russia and Indonesia submitted rival proposals, but Western diplomats said they were not believed to have strong political backing. Johnson called for other countries to reject them.

DOZENS KILLED

The meeting comes as OPCW inspectors prepare a report on an alleged poison attack in the Douma enclave near Damascus, Syria, in April that killed dozens and triggered retaliatory air strikes by the United States, France and Britain.

From 2015-2017 a joint United Nations-OPCW team known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) had been empowered to identify individuals or institutions behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The JIM confirmed that Syrian government troops used the nerve agent sarin and chorine barrel bombs on several occasions, while Islamic State militants were found to have used sulfur mustard.

But at a deadlocked U.N. Security Council, the JIM was disbanded last year, after Moscow used its veto to block several resolutions seeking to renew its mandate beyond November 2017.

“The widespread use of chemical weapons by Syria in particular threatens to undermine the treaty and the OPCW,” said Gregory Koblentz, a non-proliferation expert at George Mason University, in the United States. “Empowering the OPCW to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks is necessary to restoring the taboo against chemical weapons and the integrity of the chemical weapons disarmament regime.”

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Richard Balmforth, William Maclean)