Prime Minister David Cameron said he’ll hold a long-pledged referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union on June 23, signaling the start of a four-month campaign that immediately exposed rifts in his Conservative Party.
“Leaving Europe would threaten our economic and our national security,” Cameron said outside his official Downing Street residence in London Saturday. “The choice is in your hands, but my recommendation is clear. I believe that Britain will be safer, stronger, and better off in a reformed European Union.”
Cameron’s announcement, made after what the BBC described as the first cabinet meeting held on a Saturday since the Falklands War in 1982, follows intense negotiations in Brussels over the past two days to finalize a deal with EU leaders resetting Britain’s relationship with the 28-nation bloc. Now, attention turns to the stance of ministers who have been given a free hand by Cameron to campaign against the government’s position. They were asked not to announce their intentions until after the cabinet meeting.
Divisions among the Tories were immediately in evidence when several ministers were pictured at a rally by Vote Leave, one of several groups campaigning for an exit from the EU. They included Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, the leader of the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Employment Minister Priti Patel. Late Friday, several rank-and-file Tory lawmakers addressed a rally by Grassroots Out, another group campaigning for an exit.
The vote, on the same day as an EU summit, will revisit the question of the U.K.’s membership of the EU that was last put to voters in 1975, two years after Britain joined the bloc, then known as the European Economic Community. The bookmaker Ladbrokes on Saturday put the odds of Britons voting to remain at 69 percent.
“There will be many passionate arguments over the months ahead and individual cabinet ministers will have the freedom to campaign in a personal capacity as they wish,” Cameron said. In January, he told lawmakers he was dispensing with traditional cabinet guidelines of “collective responsibility,” saying ministers would not be disciplined for opposing the official line on the referendum.
The prime minister was given a fillip on Saturday when Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Home Secretary Theresa May, both seen as wavering over which way to vote, threw their support behind the campaign to remain.
Javid’s stance was reported earlier by The Spectator magazine and confirmed by his office after the cabinet meeting, while May, who’s expressed Euro-skeptic views in the past, said in a statement she’ll support the government position.
“For reasons of security, protection against crime and terrorism, trade with Europe, and access to markets around the world, it is in the national interest to remain a member of the European Union,” she said.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Justine Greening also issued early statements supporting the campaign to stay in the bloc.
Earlier, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who’s helped spearhead the U.K.-EU discussions, told the BBC the U.K. will be “safer” staying in the European Union.
“The alternative is a huge leap in the dark, with the risks that that entails for our country, for its economy and for our security,” he said.
The views of London Mayor Boris Johnson will be the most closely watched, after an Ipsos Mori poll on Feb. 17 found he’s second to only Cameron when it comes to influencing whether voters choose to stay or go.
Unlike the “bitterly divided” Tories, the opposition Labour Party is largely united on the issue of Europe, its foreign affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, said Saturday in a BBC radio interview. “The vast majority of Labour MPs, the Labour movement, the Labour Party conference, the trade union movement supports our continued membership.”
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who’s held ambiguous views on the issue in the past, also threw his weight behind the campaign to stay.
“We will be campaigning to keep Britain in Europe in the coming referendum, regardless of David Cameron’s tinkering, because it brings investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers,” Corbyn said Saturday in an e-mailed statement.
The U.K. won a seven-year “emergency-brake” period in which it can impose welfare curbs on other EU citizens arriving to work in Britain, as well as provisions for its financial services industry and agreement that the EU goal of “ever closer union” doesn’t apply to Britain.
Cameron “only ever asked for minor changes,” Vote Leave Chief Executive Officer Matthew Elliott said in a statement.“He will now declare victory but it is an entirely hollow one.”
Grassroots Out’s rally late Friday included speeches by Conservative lawmakers David Davis, Tom Pursglove and Peter Bone, Labour’s Kate Hoey, and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, whose pressure before last year’s general election fed into Cameron’s decision to call a referendum.
“The great thing about the campaign is it’s absolutely cross-party, cross-union,” Bone said in an interview. There are people “from across all the political spectrum — and most of them, I don’t agree with on anything. But on this one issue we’re all coming together.”
It wasn’t all unity at the rally, which gathered more than 1,000 people a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament. More than 100 people walked out when guest speaker and Respect Party leader George Galloway was brought on at the end, some of them calling him an anti-Semite, because of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“There is an exit door, and I suggest we take it,” Farage said in a reference to the EU, rather than Galloway.
2023 Voter’s Registration Will Be Online, Biometric To Be Captured Physically- INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday unfolded plans to allow online filing during the continuous voter registration for the 2023 general election.
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye, however, said only the biometric would be captured physically by INEC officials.
But the commission suffered another setback yesterday as arsonists torched its office in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State.
Okoye, during a stakeholders’ meeting on expanding voter access to polling units in Kano yesterday, said: “On June 28, the voter registration exercise for those above 18 years and those who have not registered before will commence with two new innovations. Those versatile with computer can register online and only visit a registration centre to capture their biometrics.”
Okoye stated that the online registration would be introduced to reduce crowd at registration centres in line with COVID-19 protocols.
The commission called on citizens, especially those willing to contest elections, whose voter cards have been defaced, whose names were wrongly spelt or addresses and locations wrongly captured to present themselves for authentication or correction.
INEC also called for valid data of all those with disabilities or physical challenges to be captured during the continuous registration for proper projections ahead of the 2023 general election.
INEC also warned political parties and politicians who have started campaigning to desist from doing so.
Okoye said: “There is a ban on political campaigns which has not been lifted yet. And I find it necessary to draw your attention for you to understand the legal implication of violating this ban.
“I have listened to comments on radio stations, which are capable of heating the polity. Media organisations should avoid providing platforms for such comments. The media should try to curtail such tensions.
“Political parties, politicians and their supporters should understand there is a legal framework for campaigns and it has not commenced yet.”
No Plans To Relocate AFRICOM HQ To Nigeria Or Any Part Of Africa- U.S. Replies Buhari
The United States has said there is no plan to relocate its Africa Command from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any other part of Africa despite the worsening state of insecurity in the region.
The US gave the response barely two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to the US government to consider relocating AFRICOM to Africa to assist Nigeria and other adjoining countries to combat worsening terrorism, banditry and other security crises.
The President made the plea in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on April 27.
Germany-based Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the US military headquarters that oversees its operations in Africa.
Buhari’s request followed a series of recent military casualties in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against Boko Haram terrorists, fresh expansion of the insurgents’ bases to Niger and Nasarawa States, and heavy waves of abductions and killings by bandits in the North.
Buhari said, “The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively, by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region.
“Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing them and addressing their root causes.
“The support of important and strategic partners like the United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.
“In this connection, and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation.”
However, the US government on Thursday ruled out any plan to relocate AFRICOM from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any part of Africa.
According to the United States Department of Defence’ Pentagon, previous studies have shown that the cost of relocating AFRICOM from Germany to Africa is very huge.
In an emailed response to The PUNCH, the Pentagon said although it would continue to value Nigeria and other countries in Africa as important partners, the American government would not consider relocating AFRICOM to any part of the African continent at the moment.
This newspaper had asked if the US would consider Nigeria’s request to relocate AFRICOM to the continent.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate on any future actions. However, at this time, moving this headquarters (AFRICOM HQ) to Africa is not part of any plans, but USAFRICOM’s commitment to their mission, our African and other partners, remains as strong today as when we launched this command more than a decade ago,” US Pentagon spokesperson, Ms. Cindi King, said.
King also ruled out any plan to consider Buhari’s request in an ongoing global US defence review.
She said, “Although there is an ongoing Global Posture Review, the relocation of Combatant Command headquarters is outside the scope of its assessment. In the case of AFRICOM, previous studies have concluded that the cost associated with the relocation of this headquarters is significant and likely to incur the expense of other engagement opportunities and activities that more directly benefit our valued African partners.
“We greatly value the partnership with Nigeria and appreciate President Buhari’s recognition of the United States’ positive contribution to African peace and security, as well as other regional partners that have made similar past pronouncements. The United States remains committed to continuing our close partnership with African countries and organisations to promote security and stability.”
It’s ‘near impossible’ for America to accept Buhari’s invitation –Campbell, ex-US ambassador
Meanwhile, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has listed reasons why it is “unlikely or near impossible” for the US government to relocate AFRICOM from Stuttgart in Germany to Nigeria or any part of the continent.
He said aside from the fact that the cost of doing so is very huge, the Nigerian military had proved to be a difficult partner for the US over the years.
China Urges U.N. States Not to Attend Xinjiang Event Next Week
China has urged United Nations member states not to attend an event planned next week by Germany, the United States and Britain on the repression of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, according to a note seen by Reuters on Friday.
“It is a politically-motivated event,” China’s U.N. mission wrote in the note, dated Thursday. “We request your mission NOT to participate in this anti-China event.”
China charged that the organizers of the event, which also include several other European states along with Australia and Canada, use “human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development.”
“They are obsessed with provoking confrontation with China,” the note said, adding that “the provocative event can only lead to more confrontation.”
The Chinese mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ambassadors of the United States, Germany and Britain are due to address the virtual U.N. event on Wednesday, along with Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth and Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard.
The aim of the event is to “discuss how the U.N. system, member states and civil society can support and advocate for the human rights of members of ethnic Turkic communities in Xinjiang,” according to an invitation.
Western states and rights groups have accused authorities in Xinjiang of detaining and torturing Uyghurs in camps, which the United States has described as genocide. In January, Washington banned the import of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor.
Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training centers to combat religious extremism.
“Beijing has been trying for years to bully governments into silence but that strategy has failed miserably, as more and states step forward to voice horror and revulsion at China’s crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” Human Rights Watch U.N. director Louis Charbonneau said on Friday.
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