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David Cameron took a veiled dig at Boris Johnson over the EU referendum as the two top Tories came up against one another in the House of Commons for the first time since the London Mayor declared his support for Brexit.
The Prime Minister used a statement to MPs to dismiss the idea – reportedly floated by Mr Johnson – that a Leave vote could be a prelude to securing a better deal in a second referendum.
And, in what seemed a lightly-veiled reference to the Mayor’s apparent ambition to succeed him as PM, Mr Cameron told the Commons that his own pledge to step down at the general election meant he had “no agenda” other than the interests of Britain.
Making clear that a Leave vote would be followed by withdrawal negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Cameron said: “Sadly, I’ve known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings, but I don’t know any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows.”
His comment was greeted by loud laughter from Labour MPs directed at Mr Johnson, whose own first marriage was dissolved in 1993.
Mr Johnson was one of the first backbench MPs to be called to ask Mr Cameron a question, to loud approval from Eurosceptic backbenchers, but opted not to use the opportunity to speak at length on his decisions to back Brexit.
Instead, the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP simply asked Mr Cameron “to explain to the House and to the country in exactly what way this deal returns sovereignty over any field of law-making to these Houses of Parliament”.
Mr Cameron responded: “This deal brings back some welfare powers, it brings back some immigration powers, it brings back some bail-out powers, but more than that, because it carves us forever out of ever-closer union, it means that that ratchet of the European court taking power away from this country cannot happen in future.”
The Prime Minister told MPs: “I won’t dwell on the irony that some people who want to vote to leave apparently want to use a Leave vote to Remain. Such an approach also ignores more profound points about democracy, diplomacy and legality.
“This is a straight democratic decision, staying in or leaving and no Government can ignore that. Having a second negotiation followed by a second referendum is not on the ballot paper. For a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would not just be wrong, it’d be undemocratic.”
Appearing in Parliament for the first time since striking a late night deal to renegotiate the UK’s membership of the EU on Friday, Mr Cameron outlined to MPs the changes to migrant benefits, economic regulation, red tape and national sovereignty which he believes he has secured and warned that a vote to Leave would mean “risk, uncertainty and a leap in the dark”.
Jovial Labour MPs gleefully mocked the PM over splits on the Conservative side of the chamber, where many Eurosceptic MPs sat stony-faced to listen to their leader make the case for continued membership.
In a sign of the way the EU issue has divided Tory opinion, Mr Cameron was flanked on the Government frontbench by Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling, who is campaigning for Brexit, and Home Secretary Theresa May, who disappointed some supporters of Brexit when she declared that she would vote to Remain.
Mr Cameron ended his statement by saying: “I’m not standing for re-election. I have no other agenda than what is best for our country. I’m standing here telling you what I think.
“My responsibility as Prime Minister is to speak plainly about what I believe is right for our country and that’s what I will do every day for the next four months.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was “more than disappointing” that Mr Cameron’s renegotiation had “failed” to address the major challenges facing Europe, including dealing with climate change, making global businesses pay fair taxes and tackling terrorism.
The Labour leader said: “The reality is that this entire negotiation has not been about the challenges facing our continent, neither has it been about facing the issues facing the people of Britain.
“It’s been a theatrical sideshow about trying to appease, or failing to appease, half of the Prime Minister’s own Conservative party.”
Downing Street stressed that the Brexit process would begin “straightaway” if the UK voted to leave.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s comments about not having a wider agenda, a Downing Street source said: “He was just setting out the fact that he announced before the last general election that he was not going to stand for election again, he set out very clearly his focus here is on what is best for the country in his view.
“He was just spelling it out very clearly.”
The source added: “There are clearly differing views within the Conservative Party, within the Labour Party on this issue. The PM was just making the point from his point of view he is taking a decision on what he thinks is best for the country. There is no general election that he is thinking about.”
Asked whether the comment on marriage and divorce was a veiled reference to Mr Johnson, the source said: “It was a reference to some people, who have suggested that the British people could vote to leave the EU and that somehow you might ignore and turn your back on the decision of the British people and go forward and try to secure a second renegotiation.
“The Prime Minister’s view on that, and our manifesto made very clear, is that we will respect the outcome of the referendum come what may. If the British people vote to leave, we will take the appropriate steps and move towards Article 50 straight away.”
Anything else would be “not respecting the will of the British people”, the source said.
Following Mr Cameron’s statement, Employment Minister Priti Patel said: “EU courts and politicians will still be in charge of our borders, our courts and our economy. The deal is not legally binding and can be ripped up by EU judges after our vote.
“Even if it did come into force it would change just 1% of the EU Treaties.”
Arron Banks, the co-chairman of the Leave.EU campaign, said: “The Prime Minister promised British voters half a loaf, begged Brussels for a crust and brought home crumbs. It was absolutely tragic trying to watch him sell this dodgy deal in Parliament.”
The Prime Minister returned overnight from his marathon negotiations in Brussels to brief a rare Saturday meeting of the Cabinet on his reform package and to confirm his promised in/out referendum will be held on June 23.
The meeting was the signal for five Cabinet ministers headed by Justice Secretary Michael Gove – freed from the shackles of collective responsibility – to declare they would be campaigning for an “out” vote.
The group – plus Employment Minister Priti Patel who is not a full Cabinet member but attends meetings – immediately headed out from Downing Street to the Vote Leave campaign headquarters where they posed for photos with a “Let’s take back control” poster.
In No 10, there was relief there were no last minute surprises among the list of “outers” – which also included Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
During a meeting which lasted more than two hours – with every minister present being given the opportunity to speak – potential waverers such as Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Attorney General Jeremy Wright and deputy Conservative chairman Rob Halfon confirmed they would be in the “in” camp.
A No 10 spokesman said the discussion had been conducted in “a good spirit and a dignified manner” with “measured, thought through interventions” from ministers reflecting the way they had each carefully weighed up the choice they were facing.
That left “out” supporters looking to Boris Johnson – who has assiduously kept his options open – as the possible high-profile champion that their campaign clearly craves.
There was speculation that the London mayor could use his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph finally to come off the fence and declare his hand.
Speaking on the steps of No 10, Mr Cameron said that the “special status” that he had secured for the UK meant the country could enjoy the benefits of the EU in terms of trade and security without having to sign up to a European superstate.
He said Britain inside the EU would be “safer, stronger and better off” while leaving would threaten the country’s “economic and national security” creating deep uncertainty for the future.
“Those who want to leave Europe cannot tell you if British businesses would be able to access Europe’s free trade single market, or if working people’s jobs are safe, or how much prices would rise. All they’re offering is a risk at a time of uncertainty – a leap in the dark,” he said.
Mr Gove, one of the Prime Minister’s closest political allies, said it was “the most difficult decision of my political life” to disagree with him, but that he had to be true to his principles.
“My instinct is to support him through good times and bad. But I cannot duck the choice which the Prime Minister has given every one of us,” he said.
“I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU. And if, at this moment of decision, I didn’t say what I believe I would not be true to my convictions or my country.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, while confirming the Opposition would campaign for an “in” vote, said the renegotiation was a “missed opportunity”.
“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,” he said.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage dismissed the “truly pathetic deal” and urged voters to seize the “golden opportunity” to show that Britain would be better off being fully independent of Brussels.
China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and U.S. officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region.
Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo said on Wednesday the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 years but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. A U.S. defense official also confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles.
China’s foreign minister said the reports were created by “certain Western media” that should focus more on China’s building of lighthouses to improve shipping safety in the region. “As for the limited and necessary self-defense facilities that China has built on islands and reefs we have people stationed on, this is consistent with the right to self-protection that China is entitled to under international law so there should be no question about it,” Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year, and has been building runways and other infrastructure on artificial islands to bolster its title.
The United States has said it will continue conducting “freedom of navigation patrols” by ships and aircraft to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the deployment of missiles to the Paracels would not be a surprise but would be a concern, and be contrary to China’s pledge not to militarize the region.
“We will conduct more, and more complex, freedom of navigation operations as time goes on in the South China Sea,” Harris told a briefing in Tokyo. “We have no intention of stopping.”
News of the missile deployment came as Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the South China Sea but did not include specific mention of China’s assertive pursuit of its claims there.
China’s increasing military presence in the disputed sea could effectively lead to a Beijing-controlled air defense zone, analysts
A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels last month, a move China condemned as provocative.
China last month said it would not seek militarization of its South China Sea islands and reefs, but that did not mean it would not set up defenses.
Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said tensions were now higher in the region.
“We urge all parties to work on the situation based on principles of peaceful solution and self-control,” Tsai told reporters.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But in a rare move, the country’s prime minister on Monday pressed Obama for a greater U.S. role in preventing militarization and island-building in the South China Sea.
Images from civilian satellite company ImageSat International show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers on Woody Island, as well as a radar system.
The missiles arrived over the past week and, according to a U.S. official, appeared to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which has a range of 125 miles (200 km) and would pose a threat to any airplanes flying close by, the report said.
In November, two U.S. B52 strategic bombers flew near artificial Chinese-built islands in the Spratly Islands.
Asked about the report, Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “While I cannot comment on matters related to intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely.”
The movement, whose name stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, originated in the eastern German city of Dresden in 2014, with supporters seizing on a surge in asylum seekers to warn that Germany risks being overrun by Muslims.
After almost fizzling out early last year, the movement has regained momentum amid deepening public unease over whether Germany can cope with the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the country during 2015.
The alleged involvement of migrants in assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve has also spurred PEGIDA, which says it is proof that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming stance to refugees is flawed.
“We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe’s external borders as well as its internal borders once again,” PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz told a crowd on the banks of the River Elbe who chanted “Merkel must go!”.
Police in Dresden declined to estimate the number of protesters. German media put the number at up to 8,000, well below the 15,000 originally expected by police.
Hundreds of counter-demonstrators also marched through Dresden under the motto “Solidarity instead of exclusion”, holding up placards saying “No place for Nazis”.
Far-right groups see Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast their anti-immigrant message. There were 208 rallies in Germany in the last quarter of 2015, up from 95 a year earlier, Interior Ministry data showed.
Protests also took place on Saturday in other cities, including Amsterdam, Prague and the English city of Birmingham.
In Calais, in northern France, more than a dozen people were arrested during a protest that was attended by more than a hundred people despite being banned, local authorities said.
Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East camp out in Calais, hoping for a chance to make the short trip across the English Channel to Britain.
In Prague, an estimated 2,200 people including both supporters and opponents of Pegida held a series of rival demonstrations around the Czech capital. Police had to intervene in one march when supporters of the migrants came under attack from around 20 people who threw bottles and stones.
Later, around 20 masked assailants threw Molotov cocktails during an attack on a center that collects donations for refugees, forcing the evacuation of the building and injuring one person who was hit by glass, police said.
In Warsaw, hundreds of people waved Polish flags and chanted “England and France are in tears, that’s how tolerance ends”.
“We’re demonstrating against the Islamisation of Europe, we’re demonstrating against immigration, against an invasion,” Robert Winnicki, leader of Poland’s far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), told demonstrators.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have together taken a tough stance on migration and have been largely opposed to taking in significant numbers of refugees.
“Let us forget the resentment,” Rouhani said, calling for both countries to take advantage of the “positive atmosphere” following the removal of sanctions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
“We are ready to turn the page” and establish a “new relationship between our countries”, Rouhani told a meeting of business leaders.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls responded that “Iran can count on France”.
“France is ready to use its companies, its engineers, its technicians and its many resources to help to modernise your country,” Valls said.
Rouhani was welcomed to Paris with military honours and national anthems on the second leg of a trip signalling Iran’s rapprochement with Europe since sanctions were lifted.
The real business of the visit will come when Rouhani officially signals Iran’s intention to buy more than 100 passenger planes from European aircraft maker Airbus.
French carmaker Peugeot said it will return to the Iranian market in a five-year deal worth 400 million euros ($436 million) that was announced Thursday.
Peugeot will produce 200,000 cars a year in a joint venture with local manufacturer Iran Khodro, according to a statement.
The French carmaker was forced to pull out of Iran in 2012 as sanctions began to bite.
In another potential bonanza for France, the head of French oil giant Total said his firm would sign a deal to buy Iranian crude.
Although the French state is rolling out the red carpet for Rouhani, the Iranian opposition will hold a human rights demonstration and Jewish groups also intend to protest in Paris.
Rouhani is to hold talks with President Francois Hollande which are expected to include discussions on Iran’s role in Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad in a war that has killed 260,000 people.
Talks are due to begin Friday in Geneva to take tentative steps towards ending the conflict.
After arriving from Italy, where he sealed deals for steel and pipelines worth between 15 and 17 billion euros, Rouhani began his Paris visit on Wednesday by unveiling a scheme to guarantee investment by French firms in Iran.
A source involved in the deal to buy Airbus planes said that only letters of intention will be signed at this stage, because some sanctions are still in place.
However, Iran is keen to bring its ageing fleet of mid- and long-haul aircraft up to date, so the deal is widely expected to go ahead soon, giving a huge boost to the European aviation industry.
Rouhani’s meeting with Hollande is also expected to touch on Iran’s bitter feud with regional rival Saudi Arabia.
In a reference to Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president told an audience in Paris that “some countries had wanted to use terrorism for their own means”.
“But this is a hand grenade with the pin removed,” he added.
During his visit to Rome, Rouhani dismissed suggestions that Iran should apologise to the Saudis for an attack on its embassy by demonstrators furious over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.
“Why should we apologise, because Nimr al-Nimr was executed? We are the ones to apologise because they are killing the people of Yemen? Apologise to them because they are helping terrorists?” he asked.
In the Italian capital, Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met at the Capitoline Museum where nude statues were covered up out of respect for the Islamic Republic’s strict laws governing propriety.
But Rouhani denied he had asked his Italian hosts to cover up the statues and Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who accompanied Rouhani on the museum trip, called the move “incomprehensible”.
Rouhani also visited the Vatican for the first time and met Pope Francis.
After months of ferocious fighting, Afghan army units battling the Taliban in southern Helmand province are facing major restructuring and leadership changes, with several key commanders being replaced, a U.S. military official said.
Helmand has been a fierce battleground since last Autumn, with fighting taking place in 10 districts. At times, the insurgents have laid siege on army bases and threatened to overrun large chunks of territory. Local officials have called for help from central authorities and complained publicly over corruption that includes syphoning off salaries, food, fuel and equipment.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the head of public affairs for the U.S.-NATO mission, said that the Afghan army corps in Helmand is now being “rebuilt” and that senior officers are being replaced.
The reasons for the changes in the Afghan army’s 215 Maiwand Corps “are a combination of incompetence, corruption and ineffectiveness,” Shoffner said. The corps’ commander has been replaced, along with “some brigade commanders and some key corps staff up to full colonel level,” he said.
Helmand is a strategic region for the Taliban, as it as it shares a border of more than 250 kilometers (155 miles) with Pakistan. It grows large quantities of opium, used to produce most of the world’s heroin. The harvest is worth up to $3 billion a year, and helps fund the insurgency.
The Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed the changes in Helmand. It said veteran army Gen. Moheen Faqiri was appointed to lead the corps and took over two months ago.
Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the ministry’s spokesman, said brigade commanders have also been rotated out and replaced.
“Soon, other army units will have new commanders there,” Waziri said.
In October, a meeting of the National Security Council discussed the worsening situation on the ground. In the presence of President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Army Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the NSC heard that Afghan security forces were badly led, poorly equipped and in the previous three months had suffered 900 casualties, including 300 dead.
Minutes of the Oct. 29 meeting, show that Helmand was described by the former head of the intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil, as “the biggest recruiting pool for the Taliban” and the insurgents’ “primary source of revenue” from poppy for heroin and marble smuggling.
Another concern is the Afghan police who are fighting on the front-lines across Helmand, often without the equipment and backup of the army, which means casualties are higher.
Last Wednesday, Gen. Abdul Rahman Sarjang, the Helmand provincial police chief, said the Afghan security forces were “exhausted” and in dire need of reinforcements. He also said that a lack of coordination between the army and police was hampering progress in the fight.
The Taliban have made serious stands in seven Helmand districts Sangin, Gereshk, Khanashin, Musa Qala, Nawzad, Washer and Marjah and at least three districts of Lashkar Gah are also under threat, Sarjang said.
The changes in Helmand reflect that Afghanistan’s civilian and military leaders are learning the limitations of the security forces as they take on the Taliban alone following the drawdown of the international combat mission at the end of 2014. The U.S. and NATO maintain 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in an advisory and training capacity.
In a most serious illustration of the dire battlefield situation in Helmand, the district of Sangin was besieged for weeks and in late December fears escalated that it would completely fall to the insurgents. The United States conducted airstrikes on Taliban positions, the British rushed special forces advisers to the area, and the Afghan military dropped food and ammunition to soldiers and police who were surrounded in their base.
Nabil told the NSC meeting there were about 12,000 Taliban fighters in Helmand, up to 60 percent of them from other parts of the country, evidence the insurgents had reinforced their numbers for the fight. Nabil also said Afghan forces’ morale was “extremely low” and discipline had broken down with “junior commanders openly defying their superiors.”
“Helmand is in a crisis,” Nabil told the meeting.
Shoffner, the U.S. general, said troops had been moved from other parts of the country to reinforce Helmand and that strategies have to change.
The notion that there is a “fighting season is outdated,” he said, as the Taliban offensives which in the past occurred in the warmer, summer months have escalated even in colder weather.
Afghan authorities do not release the casualty tolls for their combat forces. In 2014 that figure was estimated to have been about 5,000.
Egypt’s president, speaking ahead of next week’s anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, vowed on Saturday to unleash a firm response to any unrest and to press ahead with the fight against the country’s Islamic militants.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi spoke at a ceremony marking Police Day, which falls on Jan. 25, the day the uprising began five years ago.
He posthumously decorated nearly 40 policemen killed in militant attacks, including eight generals and three colonels. Most of the widows who received the medals were accompanied by their children, including infants. El-Sissi, his eyes frequently welling up, carried the infants, hugged and kissed older children and posed with them for photos. He allowed several family members, including a boy no older than 12, to briefly address the large gathering.
Addressing the nation, el-Sissi said of those killed in terror attacks: “Don’t let their blood go in vain and, by the way, we will not allow that ourselves, and I am saying that so everyone listens and takes note,” he said.
“The security and stability of nations are not to be toyed with,” he said, adding that the security of Egypt was the responsibility of all Egyptians, not just the police and the army. El-Sissi delivered his 30-minute address standing in the middle of the families of the policemen killed in terror attacks, with the sound of crying babies occasionally heard in the background.
El-Sissi, who as military chief overthrew in 2013 Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Islamists and scores of secular, pro-democracy activists who fuelled the 2011 uprising. He was elected to office in 2014 with a landslide.
El-Sissi made no mention of the January 2011 uprising in his comments. He has in the past paid tribute to the uprising, just as he has done to the so-called “June 30 revolution,” the day in 2013 when millions of Egyptians demonstrated on the streets against the rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. However, some of el-Sissi’s supporters in the media and in politics have taken to publicly vilifying the 2011 uprising as an attempt by foreign powers to weaken Egypt through local saboteurs.
The nearly two-hour ceremony, with its many emotional moments and high praise for police, confirmed the president’s panache for populism, but also appeared to send a multitude of political messages. Foremost among these is that el-Sissi has endorsed the nation’s highly militarized police force, paying no heed to growing complaints by rights activists that it has gone back to Mubarak-era practices like torture, random arrests and the use of excessive force.
The high praise of the police for their role in the fight against the militants and securing stability also signal the complete return of respectability to a force that melted away in the face of the 2011 uprising’s protesters and took at least two years to fully shoulder its responsibilities again.
The posthumous decorations also offered a rare insight into the heavy toll endured by the police in the fight against the militants. Hundreds of army soldiers have been killed by the militants too, but the military has been secretive recently about its losses.
Egypt has been battling Islamic militants in Sinai for years, but attacks against security forces have significantly increased in frequency after Morsi’s ouster and later spread to the mainland, with assassinations and bombings. The latest of these came Thursday when a bomb killed six people, including three policemen, in Cairo’s twin city of Giza. The Egyptian affiliate of the extremist Islamic Group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The president spoke a day after the army said it would beef up security measures to safeguard vital installations and “confront any attempt to violate the law, impact the nation’s security and stability.” The announcement came amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent ahead of Monday’s anniversary. Authorities have visited and searched as many as 5,000 apartments in the past 10 days, primarily in central Cairo, seeking to prevent protests. The administrators of several Facebook pages suspected of links to the Brotherhood have been detained and accused of using social media to call for protests.
Most secular and liberal pro-democracy activists are not expected to take to the streets on Monday to mark the anniversary, with many saying that doing so would only add to the number of protesters killed or detained by police. Morsi supporters, however, have been calling for protests, but these are likely to be restricted to neighborhoods where they maintain a heavy presence, not landmark squares or main streets.
Police have shown zero tolerance for anti-government street demonstrations since Morsi’s ouster and, in view of el-Sissi’s comments Saturday, are not likely to change that policy on Monday. However, there are fears that militants might take advantage of the anniversary to stage attacks against security forces.