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."
Athens, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias resigned Wednesday following a disagreement with the defense minister over the handling of a recent deal which would change Macedonia's name in exchange for Greece dropping its objections to the country joining NATO.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced he had accepted Kotzias' resignation and said he would take over the foreign ministry himself in order "to help with all his powers in the successful completion" of the name change deal, his office said.
Kotzias's move came a day after a cabinet meeting during which he reportedly had a heated argument with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos over the name deal and felt he didn't receive sufficient support from his colleagues and the prime minister in return.
"The PM and a series of ministers made their choices in yesterday's (cabinet) meeting, and then I made mine," Kotzias said in a tweet. His resignation letter was not immediately made public.
Kammenos, who heads the governing coalition's junior party, has long objected to the deal and threatened to leave the coalition if the agreement comes to parliament for ratification.
Greece has long argued that use of the term Macedonia by its northern neighbor harbored territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name. Under the agreement, the country would change its name to North Macedonia in return for NATO membership.
But Kammenos' small right-wing Independent Greeks had vowed to oppose the deal and vote against it in parliament, which would leave the government dependent on the support of opposition parties to see it approved.
Kotzias had been angered by statements made by Kammenos during a recent trip to the United States, where the defense minister had raised the possibility of an alternate plan to the name deal — something which would go counter to current Greek and U.S. policy.
Asked earlier Wednesday during an interview on Alpha TV about reports Kotzias was deeply annoyed with Kammenos, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said: "I can't believe that. Because the government's policy . on (the name deal) is the policy that Mr. Kotzias agrees with. So there is no reason for discontent."
Without directly referring to Kotzias, Tzanakopoulos had previously said that "the government train is carrying on."
"Whoever doesn't want to reach the destination, or feels discontent during the journey, can get off the train," he added.
Tzanakopoulos said Tuesday's cabinet meeting involved "an open political discussion" on Kammenos' disagreement with the name deal.
"Of course we know there is a specific political disagreement that Mr. Kammenos has expressed ten months ago," he added.
Moscow, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — A Russian official said a student attacked a vocational college Wednesday in Crimea, a rampage that killed 17 other students and left more than 40 people wounded, before killing himself.
The comments by Sergei Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, were the latest in a series of shifting explanations by Russian officials as to what exactly happened at Kerch Polytechnic College in the Black Sea city of Kerch.
Russian officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device ripped through the college canteen about lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack. But witnesses, however, reported that at least some of the victims were killed in an attack by a gunman or gunmen.
Aksyonov said on television that the student, a local man acting alone, killed himself after the attack.
The Investigative Committee identified the attacker as Vladislav Roslyakov, 18. It said he was caught on security cameras entering the college with a rifle and firing at students. The committee said all the victims have died of gunshot wounds, contrasting with previous statements by other officials saying they had wounds resulting from an explosion.
After the attack, local officials declared a state of emergency on the Black Sea peninsula that they had annexed from Ukraine in 2014. They also beefed up security at a new 19-kilometer (11.8-mile) bridge that links the peninsula with Russia that opened earlier this year.
Military units were deployed around the college.
Earlier, Russia's Investigative Committee, the nation's top investigative agency, said an explosive device that went off at the college's canteen was rigged with shrapnel. It was not immediately clear if the alleged attacker had detonated the explosive device.
Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said the explosive device was homemade. Explosives experts were inspecting the college building for other possible bombs, according to Anti-Terrorism Committee spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky.
Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that officials are looking into a possible terrorist attack. He did not elaborate. Peskov said Putin has instructed investigators and intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough probe and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
Witnesses did not speak of an explosion but said one or more armed men attacked the school.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted student Semyon Gavrilov, who said he fell asleep during a lecture and woke up to the sound of shooting. He said he looked out and saw a young man with a rifle shooting at people.
"I locked the door, hoping he wouldn't hear me," the paper quoted Gavrilov as saying.
He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people from the college and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls, presumably from some fire or explosion.
Another student, Yuri Kerpek, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the shooting went on for about 15 minutes.
Olga Grebennikova, director of the vocational college, told KerchNet TV that men armed with automatic rifles burst into the college and "killed everyone they saw." Grebennikova, who said she had left the grounds shortly before the attack occurred, said students and staff were among victims.
Russia's Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova headed to the area to help coordinate assistance to the wounded and helicopters carrying emergency medical teams flew to the area.
Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine triggered Western sanctions. Russia has also supported separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014.
Over the past few years, Russian security agencies have arrested several Ukrainians accused of plotting terror attacks in Crimea, but no attacks have occurred.
Dubbo, Oct 17 (AP/UB) — The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were jokingly thanked for bringing England's notoriously inclement weather to a drought-stricken Outback town on Wednesday in a rain-drenched visit to Dubbo during their Australian royal tour.
The former Meghan Markle brought banana bread that she baked in Sydney on Tuesday as a gift to a farming family outside Dubbo who were struggling to feed their cattle and sheep through two years of below-average rain.
"When she heard she was coming to a family home, she had to bring a plate, so it was lovely," farmer Elaine Woodley said, referring to a dish to be shared.
The pregnant American former actress and her husband, Prince Harry, got their hands dirty throwing cotton seed onto hay used to feed the cows because of a lack of pasture.
Heavy rain started falling when the royal couple arrived later at a Dubbo park for a community picnic, but thousands of cheering well-wishers remained enthusiastic.
"As your royal highnesses are aware, our region has been hit by a terrible drought," Mayor Ben Shields told the drenched crowd draped with waterproof ponchos and holding umbrellas, who erupted in laughter.
"So we're very pleased that you can bring some of that English weather with you today, and hopefully it will bring some relief to the farming families," Shields added.
While rain in recent weeks has been welcome, much more is needed to repair the economic and environmental ravages of the extended dry spell.
Drought conditions in New South Wales state this year have been the most widespread since 1965.
Meghan held an umbrella over Harry as he gave a speech, acknowledging the hardships the drought brought to the rural community and urging drought victims not to suffer in silence.
The crowd applauded when Harry touched on his own mental health struggles following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997. He was 12 at the time. Harry, now 34, revealed in an interview last year that he did not seek counseling until he was in his late 20s.
"You are all in this together and, if I may speak personally, we are all in this together," Harry said. "Because asking for help was one of the best decisions that I ever made. You will be continually amazed how life changes for the better."
The prince ended by thanking Dubbo for its invitation and for sharing its stories, adding, "And the rain was a gift."
Drought relief charity Drought Angels director Natasha Johnston commended the couple for their empathy.
"To have them recognize that our farmers are hurting, and show up here, it's an honor," Johnston said.
"It's been unbelievably tough. We've had families who can't put food on the table, who can't afford everyday basics, who can't afford water to fill their tanks," she added.
On arrival at Dubbo airport, the couple appeared delighted when 5-year-old Luke Vincent, who has Down Syndrome, hugged them both and ruffled Harry's hair and beard.
Luke's school principal Anne van Dartel said she had told the students that they were not to reach out to the royals. She suspected Harry's beard reminded Luke of his favorite celebrity, Santa Claus.
"I was very concerned once he started rubbing Prince Harry's face and his hair, but Prince Harry was completely gracious and was so polite and realized what was happening and (Luke's) infatuation with his beard," van Dartel told Seven Network television.
Luke told later told Nine Network television that Harry had surpassed Santa in his estimation.
Harry and Meghan are on a 16-day tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.
The main focus of the tour is the Invictus Games, which start in Sydney on Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.