PM accuses Russia of aggression
May embarks on parliamentary Brexit clash
LONDON, Nov 14, (Agencies): British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday the government would maintain its commitment to protecting Europe after Brexit as she accused Russia of military aggression and meddling in elections.
The prime minister said Britain would continue to provide assistance to states that were victims of aggression.
“The UK will remain unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security,” May said in a speech at the Guildhall in London’s financial district.
“The comprehensive new economic partnership we seek will underpin our shared commitment to open economies and free societies in the face of those who seek to undermine them.”
The British government is playing one its strongest cards in the Brexit negotiations by offering to put its defence and security assets at the disposal of the EU in the hope of winning concessions on future trading and economic relations.
The country has bigger defence budgets than any other EU member state and its diplomatic and intelligence services are among the most extensive in Europe.
Its government also argues it is one of the leading EU contributors to a range of security measures, such as data and evidence sharing, extradition measures and to the EU’s police agency Europol.
May on Monday accused Russia of fomenting violence in eastern Ukraine, of repeatedly violating the national airspace of several European countries, and mounting a campaign of cyber attacks.
She also accused Russia of meddling in elections and hacking the Danish defence ministry, the German parliament and its state-media of planting fake stories and photoshopped images in an attempt to undermine Western institutions.
May said the government is working to reform NATO so it is better placed to counter Russian hostility and has stepped up military and economic support to Ukraine.
“We will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity,” she said.
May also said she wanted better relations with Russia if it worked to promote peace.
“Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path,” she said. “But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May begins a major parliamentary battle over Brexit on Tuesday, facing competing demands by MPs to change her strategy as tensions rise among her scandal-hit ministers.
MPs will have their first chance to scrutinise the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would formally end Britain’s membership of the European Union and transfer four decades of EU legislation into UK law.
The government faces potential defeat on key amendments to the bill if rebel Conservative MPs ally with the main opposition Labour Party, increasing the risks for May’s perilously weak minority government.
The government said it would ensure legal certainty when Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.
But critics warn the EU Withdrawal Bill — also known as the Repeal Bill — represents a power-grab by ministers, while others see the legislation as a chance to shape May’s Brexit policy.
Lawmakers — including members of May’s own Conservative party — have tabled 188 pages of amendments to the bill, which will be debated in groups over eight days spread over the coming weeks.
The showdown comes as the prime minister, weakened by a June election in which she lost her parliamentary majority, struggles to assert her authority even over her own cabinet.
Two ministers have quit in the past fortnight — one over sleaze, the other accused of effectively running her own foreign policy — while two others stand accused of instructing May how to run Brexit.
The premier is also under increasing pressure from Brussels to come up with a financial offer to keep negotiations on track, with a crunch summit of EU leaders looming in mid-December.
Lawmakers in Britain voted to impose a budget on Northern Ireland on Monday, in a move seen as a step towards taking direct rule of the semi-autonomous province, which has been deadlocked for months by a dispute between nationalists and unionists.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire introduced the budget with “the utmost reluctance” and said there was “no other choice” after the failure of months of efforts to bring the two sides in Belfast’s power-sharing assembly together.
“My strong preference would be for a restored executive in Northern Ireland to take forward its own budget,” he told MPs during a debate.
Northern Ireland has been without an executive for more than 10 months.
Its two largest parties — the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), currently in a coalition with his ruling Conservative Party, and the nationalists Sinn Fein — have failed to agree on a power-sharing executive, wrangling over several issues including an Irish language law.
Brokenshire, who has warned for weeks that Westminster would be forced to step in, said the budget was needed to keep public services running.
Opposition political parties in Westminster supported the budget bill but voiced concerns.
“If this is not direct rule, this is getting perilously close to it,” Owen Smith, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary, told MPs.
Baltic and Nordic countries will join Ireland in becoming more vocal on the benefits of trade once market-friendly Britain leaves the bloc, Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said on Monday.
While Ireland is most worried about the damage Brexit may do to its economy and border with the British province of Northern Ireland, the loss of a major pro-business country that has a big influence on financial regulation and trade is also a concern.
Dublin is responding by boosting other alliances. Donohoe joined a dinner of his Nordic and Baltic counterparts at last week’s EU finance ministers’ meeting while Prime Minister Leo Varadkar held a meeting with a similar group, plus the prime minister of the Netherlands, at a recent EU leaders’ summit.