Brussels, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May came under attack from across Britain's political spectrum Thursday after saying she's considering a European Union proposal that would keep the U.K. bound to the bloc's rules for more than two years after it leaves in March.
Seeking to unblock Britain's stalled divorce talks with the EU, May said a proposed 21-month transition period for the U.K. after Brexit could be extended by "a matter of months."
At present, the two sides say Britain will remain inside the EU single market, and subject to the bloc's regulations, from the day it leaves on March 29 until December 2020, to give time for new trade relations to be set up.
But with Brexit talks at an impasse, the bloc has suggested extending that period, to give more time to strike a trade deal that ensures the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains friction-free — the main sticking point to a Brexit deal.
May said the U.K. was considering an extension of several months. But she said the extra time was merely an insurance policy and was unlikely to be needed.
"We are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020," May said as she arrived Thursday at EU headquarters in Brussels for meetings on migration, security and other issues.
The extension idea angered pro-Brexit U.K. politicians, who saw it as an attempt to bind Britain to the bloc indefinitely.
In an open letter Thursday to May, leading Brexiteers accused the EU of "bullying" and said the border issue was being used as "a trap" by the bloc. The letter signed by former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis and other pro-Brexit Conservatives warned May not to "engage in a show of resistance and a choreographed argument followed by surrender" to the EU.
Pro-EU politicians, meanwhile, said the proposal was another sign of May's weak bargaining hand and an attempt to stall for time. Liberal Democrat lawmaker Tom Brake said May was merely "kicking the can further down the road."
Divorce talks between Britain and the bloc have stalled on the issue of the Irish border, which will be the U.K's only land frontier with the EU after Brexit. Both sides agree there must be no hard border that could disrupt businesses and residents on both sides and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace process. But each has rejected the other side's solution.
The EU says the solution is to keep Northern Ireland inside a customs union with the bloc, but Britain rejects that because it would mean customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
Britain has proposed instead that all of the U.K. could stay in a customs union — but only temporarily. The EU insists there can be no time limit.
The two sides remain deadlocked, and this week's summit, which had been billed as a make-or-break moment, turned simply into a chance for Britain and the EU to give themselves more time — perhaps until the end of the year — to break the logjam.
May urged both parties to show "courage, trust and leadership," but came to Brussels without the concrete new proposals the EU has asked for. Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said "we need much time, much more time, and we continue to work in the next weeks."
The lack of progress means a special EU summit on Brexit that had been penciled in for next month has been scrapped, though EU leaders said they would assess the situation later.
The next official EU summit is scheduled for December, just over 3 1/2 months before Britain ceases to be an EU member. Any deal that is struck needs time to be approved by the British and European Parliaments.
Conservative lawmaker Nick Boles said there was a growing worry among many U.K. legislators that Britain and the EU are "trying to run out the clock" in order to stymie opposition to their plans.
"They are trying to leave this so late that they can credibly say there is no alternative but a 'no-deal' Brexit, and most people agree that would be chaos," Boles told the BBC.
London, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — The uncertainty over Brexit that's hobbling the British economy is set to go on for longer than expected, leaving companies and households in a limbo.
When Britain triggered the two-year timetable to leave the European Union, October's summit of EU leaders was supposed to be the moment a Brexit deal would be agreed on to give parliaments the time to pass it into law ahead of March's departure.
A deal at Wednesday's summit would have lifted some of the pall that's hung over the British economy since the Brexit vote of June 2016. Instead, British Prime Minister Theresa May wasn't able to secure an agreement and EU leaders cancelled a Brexit summit in November. That suggests there won't be any deal until December — at the earliest. Even if May does secure one, there is no certainty she can get it approved by her own, divided parliament.
The worry is Britain could crash out without a pact on future relations with the EU or without even a transition period to ease its exit — what has become known as a "hard Brexit." Tariffs would be placed on exports, border checks would be reinstalled, and restrictions could hit travelers and workers. Some are warning of shortages in markets like medicines and even sperm donations.
"For the economy, this could see growth momentum slow again over the winter as uncertainty rises," said James Smith, developed markets economist at ING. "With businesses becoming more vocal about the impact 'no deal' would have on operations, households may begin to take a more cautious stance if they gradually become more wary about their job security."
Consumers have become cautious, cutting down on spending as a fall in the pound after the Brexit vote pushed up prices for imports. The housing market has cooled, particularly in parts of London. And companies have become more hesitant to invest. From being the fastest-growing Group of Seven industrial economy prior to the Brexit vote, Britain is now one of the slowest.
According to the International Monetary Fund, U.K. growth this year is expected to be a muted 1.4 percent. After Wednesday's summit, the risk is it could be even lower if firms become more cautious.
"Business' patience was already threadbare and is nearing an end," said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, a lobby group that represents mainly big firms.
British businesses are particularly open to foreign markets, investing heavily abroad, hiring foreigners and exporting to other markets, particularly the EU, the biggest destination for British goods.
Research published Thursday by the British Chambers of Commerce and DHL Express U.K. showed the extent to which Brexit is making life difficult for firms.
In a survey of 2,530 small and medium-sized companies conducted in August, the BCC found that 49 percent of firms have Brexit "front of mind" when deciding whether to trade internationally and that highlights "the economic cost of the persistent lack of political clarity." A similar number are also concerned about the pound's volatility — the currency fell sharply after the Brexit vote and it has continued to swing sharply.
"Firms have been dealing with uncertainty over the future relationship with the EU since the referendum vote over two years ago," said BCC director-general Adam Marshall. "This survey shows that, as we get closer to the crunch, the lack of precision is starting to have a material impact on their decision-making."
If and when a deal is struck, the detail will have a big impact on business decisions.
Any deal that sees Britain remain closely aligned to the EU's regulations may mean firms won't be able to tap other markets around the world, as Britain could be bound by EU trade deals and regulations.
Some prominent Brexit proponents — including James Dyson, the founder of the eponymous vacuum cleaner, and Tim Martin, the chairman of pub chain Weatherspoon's — say Britain should agree on only loose ties with the EU to have the freedom to make new trade deals.
Some big companies are becoming increasingly vexed by the impasse. This week, ahead of the summit in Brussels, pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca and carmaker Ford issued statements raising doubts about their investments in Britain.
They're worried about supply chains being clogged up, and about their ability to use Britain as a base to access the rest of the European Union. Steven Armstrong, Ford's group vice president, said a so-called "hard Brexit" is a "red line" for his company.
"It could severely damage the U.K.'s competitiveness and result in a significant threat to much of the auto industry, including our own U.K. manufacturing operations," he said.
"We will take whatever action is necessary to protect our business in the event of a hard Brexit."
New Delhi, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — M.J. Akbar, India's junior external affairs minister, resigned Wednesday amid accusations by 20 women of sexual harassment during his previous career as one of the country's most prominent news editors, becoming the most powerful man to fall in India's burgeoning #MeToo movement.
Akbar said in a statement that he would "challenge false accusations" in a personal capacity, referring to a criminal defamation case he filed Monday against the first woman to accuse him.
Akbar, 67, first served as a lawmaker for India's then-ruling India National Congress party between 1989 and 1991. He then edited The Telegraph, The Asian Age and other newspapers and wrote several books of nonfiction, becoming one of the most influential people in the Indian news media.
He returned to public life in March 2014, when he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and was appointed national spokesman during the 2014 election that brought the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power.
Akbar maintained a low profile after joining India's Ministry of External Affairs in July 2016 as its junior minister, representing India overseas at multinational conferences.
On Wednesday he thanked Modi, who had remained silent about the allegations, for the opportunity to serve in public office.
In India's deeply conservative society, the #MeToo movement began belatedly but has picked up steam in recent weeks. Since September, Indian actresses and writers have flooded social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by their superiors and colleagues.
The string of accusations against Akbar began when journalist Priya Ramani identified him on Twitter on Oct. 8 as the unnamed editor that she had described in a story about newsroom sexual harassment published in Vogue last year.
Other women in media have alleged that Akbar interviewed job candidates in hotel rooms at night; groped, massaged and forcibly kissed young interns and employees; and offered young women choice out-of-town postings so that he could go visit them there.
On Sunday, returning from an official visit to West Africa, Akbar denied the allegations as "false, baseless and wild."
The following day, dozens of members of the Congress Party's youth wing clashed with police outside Akbar's New Delhi home, demanding his resignation.
Akbar then filed a defamation case against Ramani and released a statement in which he questioned his accusers' motives.
"Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election?" he asked.
Modi is hoping to remain in power in elections due early next year.
On Tuesday, 20 women signed a statement asking the court hearing Akbar's defamation case against Ramani to allow them to give their own testimonies against him.
Ramini wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: "As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #MeToo"
The case was filed in a New Delhi court, which is expected to hold a hearing on it Thursday. If convicted of criminal defamation, she could be jailed up to two years.
Arti Jerath, a journalist and political commentator who is not among Akbar's accusers, said his resignation should have come earlier.
"The fact that he chose to brazen it out, he became an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to the government," she said. "I am glad that he is finally gone."
Washington, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — The Washington Post has published a new column by missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in which he warns that governments in the Middle East "have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate."
The Post published the column Wednesday, more than two weeks after Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and only hours after a gruesome account in Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper alleged that Saudi officials cut off Khashoggi's fingers and then decapitated him inside the consulate while his fiancee waited outside. The Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has denied any involvement.
In a note affixed to the top of the column, Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah said she received the essay from Khashoggi's translator and assistant a day after he was reported missing. Khashoggi first began writing for the Post's opinion section in September 2017, and his columns criticized the prince and the direction of the Saudi kingdom.
In the op-ed, titled "Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression," Khashoggi recounted the imprisonment of a prominent writer who spoke against the Saudi establishment, and cited an incident in which the Egyptian government seized control of a newspaper.
"These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence," he wrote.
"As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate," Khashoggi wrote.
President Donald Trump, who initially came out hard on the Saudis over the disappearance but since has backed off, said Wednesday that the U.S. wanted Turkey to turn over any audio or video recording it had of Khashoggi's alleged killing "if it exists." He has recently suggested that the global community had jumped to conclusions that Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi's disappearance.
In the column, Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who went into self-imposed exile in the U.S. over the rise of the crown prince, also discussed the practice of Middle Eastern governments blocking internet access to control tightly the information their citizens can see.
"The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power," Khashoggi wrote.
He praised the Post for translating many of his columns from English into Arabic and said it's important for Middle Easterners to be able to read about democracy in the West. He also said it's critical that Arab voices have a platform on which to be heard.
"We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education," Khashoggi wrote. "Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face."
The Post initially held off on publishing the column amid hope for Khashoggi's return, Attiah said. But, she wrote, "Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen."
She ended her note: "This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together."
Washington, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — The U.S. has asked Turkey for a recording that could reveal gruesome details of what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump said Wednesday. But he's not confirming there is any such recording, as reported by Turkish media, and he's continuing to urge patience while Saudi Arabia says it's investigating.
Asked about a recording described by the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, Trump said, "We've asked for it, if it exists." At another point, he said, "I'm not sure yet that it exists."
Trump, who threatened punishment for Saudi Arabia when Khashoggi's disappearance first came to light two weeks ago, has repeatedly noted Saudi leaders' denials since then and insisted the U.S. must know the facts before taking action.
But when asked if he was "giving cover" to the Saudi leaders, he said Wednesday that he was not.
"No, not at all," he declared.
Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Mideast, is under pressure to explain what happened to Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor living in the U.S. who had been critical of the crown prince. Turkish officials have said he was murdered, and the Turkish newspaper's report said an audio recording revealed gory details about Khashoggi's demise inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Trump has repeated denials by the Saudi king and crown prince that they knew anything about Khashoggi's fate, and he has warned of a rush to judgment.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, dispatched by Trump to the region, said the U.S. takes Khashoggi's disappearance seriously.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Trump compared the case of Khashoggi to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. Kavanaugh denied the allegations and was confirmed to the court.
"I think we have to find out what happened first," Trump said. "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."
Trump's remarks were his most robust defense yet of the Saudis. They put the president at odds with other key allies and with some leaders in his Republican Party who have condemned the Saudi leadership for what they say is an obvious role in the case. Trump appeared willing to resist the pressure to follow suit, accepting Saudi denials and their pledge to investigate.
The AP's Oval Office interview came not long after Trump spoke Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke by phone a day earlier with King Salman, and he said both deny any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
After speaking with the king, Trump floated the idea that "rogue killers" may have been responsible for the disappearance. The president told the AP on Tuesday that that description was informed by his "feeling" from his conversation with Salman and that the king did not use the term.
In Turkey on Tuesday, a high-level Turkish official told the AP that police investigators searching the Saudi Consulate had found evidence that Khashoggi was killed there.
Pompeo met with the king and crown prince in Riyadh and said the Saudis had already started a "serious and credible investigation" and seemed to suggest it could lead to people within the kingdom. The secretary of state noted that the Saudi leaders, while denying knowledge of anything that occurred inside the consulate, had committed to accountability "including for Saudi Arabia's senior leaders or senior officials."
Trump said he hoped the Saudis' own investigation of Khashoggi's disappearance would be concluded in "less than a week."
In the meantime, there were signs at home that Trump's party was growing uncomfortable with his willingness to defend the Saudis.
In an interview with Fox News, a prominent Trump ally in the Senate called on Saudi Arabia to reject the crown prince, known as MBS, who rose to power last year and has aggressively sought to soften the kingdom's image abroad and attract foreign investment.
"This guy has got to go," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, turning to speak to the camera. "Saudi Arabia, if you're listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself."
International leaders and business executives are severing or rethinking ties to the Saudi government after Khashoggi's high-profile disappearance. Trump has resisted any action, pointing to huge U.S. weapons deals pending with Saudi Arabia and saying that sanctions could end up hurting the American economy.
He said it was too early to say whether he endorsed other countries' actions. "I have to find out what happened," he said. But his complaint about "guilty until proven innocent" and comparison to the Kavanaugh situation suggested he was giving the Saudis more leeway than other allies.
Khashoggi went to the consulate on Oct. 2 to get documents for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman while his fiancee waited outside. She and Turkish authorities say he never emerged and he has not been heard from since.