Dutch PM to May: difficult to 'tweak' rejected Brexit deal

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday he had told his British counterpart, Theresa May, he does not see how the current deal on Britain’s exit from the European Union can be “tweaked”.

Rutte said he had conveyed that message in a phone call on Thursday, two days after the deal was resoundingly rejected by the British parliament.

“I said: ‘I don’t see how the current deal can be tweaked’,” he told journalists. “She is really expecting Brexit to go ahead on March 29.”

Rutte said that any form of Brexit, with or without a deal, will damage the Netherlands, a major British trading partner and one of the world’s top five export countries.

“It will cause disruptions and we are trying to minimize those,” he said. “We need to look at the facts and prepare for all scenarios. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Among measures taken by the Dutch government is the hiring of roughly 1,000 customs officials to deal with changes in border checks.

“I appeal to social organizations, companies and institutions, if they have not done so already, to inform themselves about what must be done to be prepared. Time is running out. March 29 is only 10 weeks away.”

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Divided and riven by crisis, Britain searches for Brexit 'plan B'

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May will on Thursday try to break the impasse in Britain’s political elite over how to leave the European Union by searching for a last-minute exit deal though there was so far little sign of compromise.

After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May called for party leaders to put self-interest aside to find a way forward.

If May fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to halt Brexit, possibly even holding a national election or even another referendum.

May has repeatedly refused to countenance another election and has warned that another referendum would be corrosive as it would undermine faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

“I believe it is my duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union. And I intend to do so,” May said outside Downing Street in an attempt to address voters directly.

“I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward,” May said. “This is now the time to put self-interest aside.”

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic move since World War Two, other members of the European Union have offered to talk though they can do little until London decides what it wants out of Brexit.

Yet ever since the UK voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU in June 2016, British politicians have been failed to find agreement on how or even whether to leave the European Union.

In a sign of just how hard May’s task may be, the main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, refused to hold talks unless a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.

His party wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

The chairman of May’s Conservative party, Brandon Lewis, said on Thursday that Britain cannot stay in the current customs union because striking international trade deals after Brexit is a priority.

He said senior ministers would meet colleagues from across the House of Commons, Britain’s lower house of parliament, on Thursday.

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UK PM May says will meet party leaders on Wednesday evening

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May said she had invited parliamentary party leaders to meet her on Wednesday evening to try to break the deadlock over Brexit after her government won a vote of confidence from lawmakers.

“We have a responsibility to identify a way forward that can secure the backing of the House,” she told parliament.

“To that end, I have proposed a series of meetings between senior parliamentarians and representatives of the government over the coming days. And I would like to invite the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with me individually, and I would like to start these meetings tonight.”

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Why Polish women are rallying for reproductive rights

Latest rallies comes after parliament, including some opposition politicians, rejected bill to liberalise abortion.

    KEY DATES

    • 1993: Abortion banned except in cases of rape, irreparable fetal damage and if woman’s life jeopardised
    • Sept 2016: Protests against citizens’ legal bid proposed by Christian NGO for near-total ban on abortion
    • Oct 2016: Parliament rejects bid for near-total ban
    • Jan 2017: Parliament rejects bill to liberalise abortion, sends proposal to ban abortion of sick fetuses for more work

    Krakow, Poland – On Wednesday, women across Poland plan to protest against attempts to further restrict access to abortion.

    Polish Women’s Strike, the organiser, is a coalition of women’s rights groups, pro-democracy initiatives and individuals mobilising through social media, and expects thousands to join in at least 50 cities. 

    In what has become something of a symbol of such protests in Poland, which is ruled by the anti-abortion Law and Justice party, the women plan to march dressed in black clothing.

    “Deja Vu Polish Women on Strike”, the banner under which the current wave of protests is taking place, is the result of a January 10 vote in the lower chamber of the parliament.

    Then, legislators chose to send a bill, introduced by the Life and Family Foundation group to ban the abortion of sick fetuses, for more work by parliamentary commissions.

    On the same day, parliament rejected a bill titled Save Women, proposed by women’s rights groups, to liberalise abortion.

    That measure advocated legalising abortion until the twelveth week of pregnancy and introducing sex education in schools, access to free contraception and prescription-free emergency contraception. It also included a ban on picket protests by the so-called pro-life movement displaying graphic images of fetuses, near hospitals and schools.

    Abortion in Poland is illegal except in cases of rape, when there is irreparable damage to the fetus and if the pregnancy jeopardises the mother’s life.

    The current law was introduced in 1993 following the fall of communism.

    Some members of the liberal opposition voted against the recent bill to liberalise abortion; nine more votes in favour would have helped the measure enter the committee stage.

    Aleksandra is among the women who will protest on Wednesday.

    “Until recently, I rarely participated in such demonstrations,” she told Al Jazeera. “But the situation has changed, as the discussion about women’s rights has shifted right and the old-fashioned vision of women’s role in society is gaining ground.”

    ‘We have to act’

    Many women feel betrayed by the opposition.

    “We’re showing that we know that a complete abortion ban is on the table in Poland,” Marta Lempart of the Polish Women’s Strike told Al Jazeera. “After the rejection of the Save Women bill, we feel that we are on our own and we have to act.”

    The demonstrations are part of a wider women’s rights movement, which grew out of Black Protest – a series of rallies against a ban on abortion in September 2016 proposed in a bill by the Ordo Iuris foundation, a Christian NGO.

    Then, demonstrators wore black clothes and some carried black umbrellas, metal hangers or red gloves.

    When in 2015, the [right-wing] Law and Justice [party] came to power and began – quickly and brutally – to change the institutional landscape, destroying democracy, a mass grassroots mobilisation began,” said Elzbieta Korolczuk, a Polish sociologist from Sodertorn University in Sweden.

    “From the beginning, it was clear that women constitute a large part of this movement, as they realised that the quality of democracy will have an impact on their rights,” she told Al Jazeera.

    The decision by Law and Justice to cut state subsidies for IVF and the fact that pro-life movements have support among the ruling party have spurred activism.

    In 2016, Ordo Iuris gathered signatures under a citizen initiative for a bill which would ban abortion in all the cases it was currently allowed. The group backed five-year prison sentences for women who decided to end their pregnancy.

    “Importantly, the [Ordo Iuris] bill referred to the ‘murder of an unborn child’ which would have effectively eliminated prenatal diagnosis, as some methods it uses may cause miscarriage,” Korolczuk said.

    “The percentage of such cases is small – between one and three – but the danger exists. Thus, many doctors stated that if the bill is voted through, they would not continue with prenatal tests as they would risk up to three years of imprisonment.”

    The Ordo Iuris bill replicated laws in El Salvador and Nicaragua where women who miscarry often serve prison sentences, charged with murder.

    “This caused a huge outrage of women, including those who were not in favour of legalisation, but felt that the bill violated their dignity and agency,” Korolczuk said.

    Mass mobilisation

    A women’s strike on October 3, 2016, in response to Ordo Iuris’ proposal – which was rejected in the end – was supported by the opposition who saw the bill as part of a wider attack against progressive forces.

    Almost 100,000 people rallied, according to police statistics, with attendance also high in small towns where people are less likely to express their political views due to fear of exclusion.

    Elzbieta Korolczuk, sociologist

    In neighbouring countries, women face fewer constraints in terms of reproductive rights.

    In Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Ukraine and the Baltic states, abortion is legal, although not infrequently politicised.

    “When it comes to the scale of women’s involvement and the power of the movement, Poland is a positive exception,” said Korolczuk, the sociologist. “Maybe because we have something to fight for, the movement is very diverse, strong and capable of large-scale mobilisation.”

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    European nations weigh impact of Brexit on drug supplies

    FRANKFURT/DUBLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s drug safety regulator has concluded that Brexit will not put its patients at risk of losing access to essential drugs while Ireland has drawn up a watch list of some 24 medicines whose supply would be most vulnerable if Britain crashes out without a divorce deal.

    Between 60 and 70 percent of medicines on the Irish market either come from, or transit through the United Kingdom and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a working group of health officials has been meeting weekly for the last two years to examine any potential supply disruptions.

    “They have decided against stockpiling, their advice is stockpiling itself may actually cause a break in supply but they are working very closely with the pharmaceutical industry and the main wholesalers to make sure there is an adequate supply,” Varadkar told parliament.

    “They have identified a watch list of about 24 medicines that we would be most concerned about.”

    For its part, Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) last year ordered the country’s main drug industry associations to gather information on the effect of a no-deal Brexit.

    “For BfArm, the analysis has led to the conclusion that no shortages of medicines that are deemed critical are to be expected,” the watchdog said on its website.

    More than 2,600 drugs have some stage of manufacture in Britain and 45 million patient packs are supplied from the UK to other European countries each month, while another 37 million flow in the opposite direction, industry figures show.

    The British government has asked UK drugmakers to build an additional six weeks of medicine stockpiles to prepare for any no-deal Brexit – a target the industry has said will be challenging.

    The EU’s drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said last August that it and national regulators had set up a task force to minimize supply disruptions arising over the next two years, adding that Brexit would likely affect the availability of medicines in the EU.

    The Europe-wide drugs watchdog EMA is moving from London to Amsterdam, prompting many drugmakers to prepare duplicate product testing and licensing arrangements.

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    Pro-Brexit Conservatives reject ITV report they plan to support PM May's deal

    LONDON (Reuters) – An influential pro-Brexit lawmaker rejected a report on Monday by ITV suggesting a eurosceptic group of Conservatives could support Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal on Tuesday.

    ITV Political Editor Robert Peston reported that a lawmaker had told him the European Research Group (ERG) would support May’s deal unless an opposition Labour lawmaker withdrew his bid to attempt to block Britain leaving without a deal.

    “We plan to vote no to everything: all amendments and the main motion, whether or not amended,” Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker, a member of the ERG, said on Twitter.

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    No-deal Brexit not good for Britain: UK minister Rudd

    LONDON (Reuters) – A no-deal Brexit would not be good for Britain but the government is right to make preparations in case of such an outcome, Britain’s work and pensions minister Amber Rudd said on Friday.

    “I do not think that no deal will be good for this country,” Rudd told BBC radio. “I’m committed to making sure we find an alternative.”

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    Forget fantasy Brexit, UK tells lawmakers as crucial deal debate begins

    LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government cautioned lawmakers on Wednesday that it was a delusion to think that the government would be able to negotiate a new divorce deal with the European Union if parliament voted down her deal next week.

    The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain – with options ranging from a disorderly exit to another referendum – because British lawmakers are expected on Jan. 15 to vote down the deal that May struck with the EU in November.

    May pulled a vote last month on the deal, admitting that it would be defeated. The British parliament on Wednesday resumes debating the deal ahead of next week’s vote. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 at 2300 GMT.

    “I don’t think the British public are served by fantasies about magical, alternative deals that are somehow going to spring out of cupboard in Brussels,” Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said in an interview with BBC radio.

    “This deal on the table has involved some very difficult give and take on both sides.”

    May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, though she has also warned British lawmakers that if they reject her deal then Brexit could be derailed or that the United Kingdom could leave without a deal.

    May’s government suffered a defeat in parliament on Tuesday when lawmakers who oppose leaving without a deal won a vote on creating a new obstacle to a no-deal Brexit.

    The 303 to 296 defeat means that the government needs explicit parliamentary approval to leave the EU without a deal before it can use certain powers relating to taxation law. May’s office had earlier played down the technical impact of defeat.

    The defeat highlights May’s weak position as leader of a minority government, a split party, and a deeply divided country as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the club it joined in 1973.

    Lidington said the vote showed that many lawmakers do not want a no deal but he cautioned that it was not enough to show simply what lawmakers did not want. Without an alternative, he said, the default position would be leaving without a deal.

    “Parliament has to say what it is that they are prepared to vote for,” he said. “This is a deal negotiated by us and 27 other sovereign government around Europe.”

    Some investors and major banks believe May’s deal will be defeated on Tuesday but that eventually it will be approved.

    The ultimate Brexit outcome will shape Britain’s $2.8 trillion economy, have far-reaching consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.

    Business chiefs and investors fear leaving the EU without a deal would silt up the arteries of trade, spook financial markets and dislocate supply chains.

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    Pro-EU campaigners set out roadmap to second British referendum

    LONDON (Reuters) – Pro-European Union campaigners in Britain have set out for the first time their preferred path for how parliament could force the government to call a fresh vote on Brexit, arguing that there is still time for another referendum.

    The future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain – with options ranging from a disorderly exit to another referendum – because British lawmakers are expected on Jan. 15 to vote down the deal that Prime Minister Theresa May struck with the EU in November.

    May has repeatedly rejected the idea of a second referendum on leaving the EU, but the campaign for a so-called “People’s Vote” on the deal that May has agreed, has won support from some in parliament.

    If May’s deal is voted down next week, ministers have to say in a parliamentary motion how they plan to proceed within 21 days.

    The People’s Vote campaign said in a report that lawmakers should amend that motion by calling for another referendum. This would happen around the middle of February.

    Britain would then be forced to ask for an extension to its timetable for leaving the EU to allow enough time for another referendum campaign, which may take around four months.

    “Nobody has come forward with a proposal that could secure a majority in the present circumstances. The blunt reality is that such a proposal does not exist,” the campaign group said in the report. “We believe the only credible way forwards for (lawmakers) will be to hand the decision back to the people.”

    Turning Brexit upside down would mark one of the most extraordinary reversals in modern British history and the hurdles to another referendum remain high. Both major political parties are committed to leaving the EU in accordance with the 2016 referendum.

    The path to a new referendum is reliant on May, who does not have an outright majority in parliament, failing to win over skeptical lawmakers within her own party.

    Extending the divorce beyond March 29 would require the unanimous agreement of EU heads of state and government in the European Council.

    But the People’s Vote says that if the United Kingdom asked to delay Brexit so it could hold another referendum, the other EU countries would be likely to agree.

    It said a new vote should ask a binary question such as whether voters wanted to accept the government’s leaving deal or stay in the EU, or another form of Brexit versus staying in.

    The campaign group said that if there is another referendum, there is a strong case for EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, expatriate citizens who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years and young people aged 16 and 17 to be given a vote.

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    UK Brexit minister denies Telegraph report on delaying Brexit

    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Tuesday denied a Daily Telegraph report that British and European officials are discussing the possibility of extending the formal exit process from the European Union.

    “I’ve had no discussions with the European Union in terms of extension,” Barclay told BBC radio.

    When asked directly by the BBC if he could deny the report, he said: “Yes, because I can be very clear that the government’s policy is to leave on March 29, the prime minister has made that clear on numerous occasions to parliament.”

    The Telegraph cited three unidentified EU sources as saying British officials had been “putting out feelers” and “testing the waters” on an extension of Article 50.

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