Copenhagen, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — Three Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who has become a prominent voice in campaigns against climate change, for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Freddy Andre Oevstegaard and two other members of the Socialist Left Party said they believe "the massive movement Greta has set in motion is a very important peace contribution."
Thunberg, 16, has encouraged students to skip school to join protests demanding faster action on climate change, a movement that has spread beyond Sweden to other European nations.
Oevstegaard told the VG newspaper Wednesday that "climate threats are perhaps one of the most important contributions to war and conflict."
Any national lawmaker can nominate somebody for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee doesn't publicly comment on nominations, which for 2019 had to be submitted by Feb. 1.
London, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29.
Parliament is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to put the brakes on Brexit, a vote set up after lawmakers dealt yet another defeat to Prime Minister Theresa May amid a crisis over Britain's departure from the EU.
The lawmakers' 321-278 vote has political but not legal force, and does not entirely rule out a chaotic no-deal departure for Britain. But it might ease jitters spreading across the EU after lawmakers resoundingly rejected May's divorce deal on Tuesday. Exiting the EU without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries.
In chaotic scenes that revealed how May's authority has been eroded by Brexit battles, more than a dozen pro-EU government ministers abstained rather than vote with her against ruling out no-deal.
Speaking with a raspy voice after weeks of relentless pressure, May hinted that she plans to make a third attempt to get lawmakers to support her Brexit deal, which they have already rejected twice.
She said Parliament faced a "fundamental choice" — a "short, technical extension" if lawmakers approve a divorce deal with the EU in the next week, or a much longer delay to Brexit if they don't.
The EU warned that voting against no-deal Brexit wasn't enough to stop it. By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.
"There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal," a European Commission official said. "The EU is prepared for both. To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal - you have to agree to a deal."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the unresolved situation.
Earlier, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned that "the risk of a no-deal has never been higher."
As Britain teeters ever closer to the edge of the Brexit cliff, lawmakers are trying to seize control from the divided and squabbling government, although it's far from clear if they can agree on a way forward. There are competing factions that support May's deal, a "softer" deal that would keep close ties with the EU, a no-deal Brexit, or even a new referendum on Britain's EU membership.
Parliament likely will agree to delay Brexit, but it would need EU approval. The bloc — openly exasperated by Britain's continuing Brexit crisis — warned that the U.K. would need to present a strong reason for any extension.
"I am against every extension — whether an extension of one day, one week, even 24 hours — if it's not based on a clear opinion of the House of Commons for something," said the European Parliament's chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt. "Please make up your minds in London, because this uncertainty cannot continue."
The bloc is also reluctant to consider a delay that goes beyond elections to the European Parliament in late May, because it would mean Britain would have to participate in the polls even as it prepares to leave.
Both Britain and the EU have ramped up planning for a no-deal Brexit, which would rip up decades of rules for travel and trade between Britain and the bloc. Economists say it could cause huge upheaval, with customs checks causing gridlock at U.K. ports, new tariffs triggering sudden price increases and red tape for everyone from truckers to tourists.
The U.K. government announced its plans for the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, saying it wouldn't impose new checks, duties or controls on goods coming from EU member Ireland into Northern Ireland. It also said it wouldn't slap tariffs on 87 percent of goods coming into Britain from the EU — though there would be new levies on imports of some items including meat and cars.
The tariffs, intended to be temporary, wouldn't apply to goods crossing from Ireland to Northern Ireland, raising fears the plan would spark a rise in smuggling.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said under the proposals, "Northern Ireland will become a backdoor to the European single market and I think that in a matter of months that will lead to the need for checks at Northern Ireland's ports."
"I don't think the U.K.'s proposals will be workable for very long," he said during a visit to Washington.
In Irish border communities and U.K. ports, no-deal anxiety was mounting.
"Potentially it is going to be a nightmare," said Michael Eddy, a district councilor who lives in the aptly named town of Deal, a few miles from the major Channel port of Dover on England's south coast.
He says local authorities have modeled potential disruptions and believe that even "a two-minute delay for every truck going through the port of Dover" would lead to a 50-mile (80-kilometer) traffic jam.
"What then happens with local people wanting to go about their business, wanting to get to hospitals, wanting to get their kids to school, all of that kind of stuff?" he said.
The European Parliament approved measures Wednesday to ameliorate the immediate hardships of a no-deal Brexit. It backed emergency plans to provide continuity for everything from air, port and road traffic to foreign students to the fishing industry.
The U.K. Parliament has twice rejected the withdrawal agreement that May spent two years negotiating with the EU, and the bloc insists there will be no more talks.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned British lawmakers that "whoever rejects the (Brexit) agreement plays with the welfare of their citizens and the economy in a reckless way."
Yet May has not given up on a third attempt to get her deal through Parliament again.
U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond said he was "confident that we will do a deal" in the next few weeks.
Many Britons wish they could share his optimism.
"I think that a bit of unity would be helpful now," said Katharine Beaugie, an artist in Dover. "It would be much better if we could have found some sort of decision."
Strasbourg, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — European Union officials on Wednesday criticized the U.K. Parliament for rejecting a Brexit deal for a second time as the bloc prepared for a chaotic, cliff-edge departure.
In London, Britain's government said it wouldn't impose new checks and controls on goods at the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border if the U.K. leaves the European Union without an agreement on future relations.
The policy is part of a temporary tariff regime unveiled Wednesday. It will last for up to 12 months.
As part of the plan, the government says there would be no tariffs on 87 percent of imports by value, a "modest liberalization" compared with current trade rules. A mixture of tariffs and quotas will apply to beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy "to support farmers and producers who have historically been protected through high EU tariffs."
British lawmakers rejected May's Brexit deal in a 391-242 vote on Tuesday night. Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to leave the EU without a deal.
With the March 29 deadline little more than two weeks ago and U.K. politics in a total state of flux, the EU was speeding up its preparations to deal with a cliff-edge departure of Britain from the bloc and increased its criticism of the political disarray in London.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday it was time for Westminster to change tack, after the U.K. parliament handed Prime Minister Theresa May another huge defeat on her freshly renegotiated Brexit deal.
Barnier said that "again the House of Commons says what it does not want. Now this impasse can only be solved in the U.K."
The EU parliament's Brexit group was meeting to assess the situation in Strasbourg, France before a plenary debate on the impasse.
"No deal is going to be very disruptive for the economy," acknowledged U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on the BBC.
EU Economic Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Tuesday's vote increases chances of a British departure that is "disorderly, brutal, like a cliff," including sudden new customs rules and trade chaos that multinationals have warned about for months.
EU member states were equally scathing, led be Germany, the economic powerhouse of the 28-nation EU.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that "whoever rejects the (Brexit) agreement plays with the welfare of their citizens and the economy in a reckless way."
The U.K. parliament has now twice rejected the withdrawal agreement that May spent the best part of two years negotiating with the EU.
The EU insisted there would be another time of renegotiating everything for the sake of a hopelessly divided UK parliament.
Moscovici said "the train has passed two times" and the EU will not renegotiate the deal before the scheduled Brexit date of March 29.
The European Parliament was poised to approve measures later Wednesday to deal the best it could with the immediate hardship of a cliff-edge departure at the end of the month.
It was set to back emergency rules to ease the immediate burdens on roads and airports if suddenly lorries would have to be checked and Britain would become a third country.
Moscow, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller has yet to release his report about Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but the Kremlin has been rehearsing its response for months.
The narrative, shared by President Vladimir Putin, his top lieutenants and state television, is strikingly similar to U.S. President Donald Trump's description of the investigation as a "witch hunt:" They say the whole process is about the Democrats' stubborn refusal to admit that they lost the election.
"They don't want to acknowledge his victory and do everything to delegitimize the president," Putin said at his annual news conference in December.
Mueller has been looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation.
Trump has been widely criticized for failing to publicly denounce Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election and appearing to accept Putin's denials of such activity. Trump's relationship with Putin has long been the source of intrigue, both at home and in world capitals. He has repeatedly praised his authoritarian peer while straining ties with many of Washington's closest allies.
In one indictment, Mueller has accused Russia's military intelligence agency GRU of hacking into the Democratic campaign and releasing the stolen emails through WikiLeaks. Another has charged employees of a Russian troll farm allegedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman dubbed "Putin's chef" for his ties to the Kremlin, with spreading disinformation on social media in a bid to bolster support for Trump and disparage his rival, Hillary Clinton.
The Kremlin has rejected those charges.
Last week, Russian state television stations jumped at the relatively mild sentence handed to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as proof that Mueller's investigations have failed to hit their target.
"The mountain gave birth to a mouse," the state-controlled Rossiya television snapped while reporting on Manafort, who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for tax and bank fraud related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians — much less than what was called for under sentencing guidelines.
Another state-controlled nationwide channel, NTV, described the sentence as a blow to Mueller. "It was a slap in the face for special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Russian collusion that has found no collusion whatsoever," it said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has also described the Russia investigation as "an exclusively domestic political story for the United States."
Zakharova went on to say that Russia-U.S. relations have fallen hostage to the U.S. political infighting, and contributed to sanctions against Moscow and "incinerated" bilateral ties.
The U.S. and the EU sanctions have slapped an array of sanctions on Russia ever since the country's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, its subsequent support for separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine as well as the perceived meddling in the U.S. election. The sanctions have spooked investors and weighed on growth.
Some lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are pushing for more punishing sanctions, including those targeting Russia's top state banks.
Putin has denounced the sanctions as an attempt by the U.S. and its allies to weaken and punish Russia for its independent stance and vowed that the pressure wouldn't force Moscow to change its course. While the Kremlin has sought to put on a brave face while talking about the sanctions, it has recognized that further restrictions would raise new challenges.
Russian media have pointed at the growing number of congressional investigations into Trump's campaign as part of a multi-pronged attack by the Democrats.
The Rossiya station said a new probe launched by the House Judiciary Committee into possible obstruction, corruption and abuse of power by Trump, is a partisan effort by the newly empowered Democrats, who have won back control of the House of Representatives. A report on the channel carried Trump's statement denouncing the probes as "a disgrace for our country."
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took a familiar jaded tone.
"There have been a great number of such probes, helping erode their significance," he said. "It has nothing to do with us. It's entirely the business of the U.S."
Strasbourg, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — Britain and the European Union emerged from last-minute talks late Monday to announce they had finally removed the biggest roadblock to their Brexit divorce deal, only hours before the U.K. Parliament was due to decide the fate of Prime Minister Theresa May's hard-won plan to leave the EU.
On the eve of Tuesday's vote in London, May flew to Strasbourg, France, to seek revisions, guarantees or other changes from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that would persuade reluctant British legislators to back her withdrawal agreement with the EU, which they resoundingly rejected in January.
At a joint news conference, May and Juncker claimed to have succeeded.
May said new documents to be added to the deal provided "legally binding changes" to the part relating to the Irish border. The legal 585-page withdrawal agreement itself though was left intact.
"In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what you do with this second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance," Juncker warned the legislators who will vote late Tuesday.
"Let's be crystal clear about the choice: it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all," he said.
May said the changes should overcome lawmakers' qualms about a mechanism in the deal designed to keep an open border between Britain's Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.
Brexit-supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely.
May said the new wording "will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely."
"Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people," she said.
But the changes appear to fall well short of Brexiteers' demands for a unilateral British exit mechanism from the backstop.
Pro-Brexit U.K. lawmakers said they would read the fine print and wait for the judgment of Britain's attorney general before deciding how to vote on Tuesday.
Announcing the breakthrough in Britain's House of Commons, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said lawmakers faced "a fundamental choice ... to vote for the improved deal or to plunge this country into a political crisis."
And Juncker warned Britain "there will be no new negotiations" if lawmakers rejected the deal again.
Britain is due to pull out of the EU in less than three weeks, on March 29, but the government has not been able to win parliamentary approval for its agreement with the bloc on withdrawal terms and future relations. The impasse has raised fears of a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit that could mean major disruption for businesses and people in Britain and the 27 remaining EU countries.
"This is a government in chaos, with a country in chaos because of this mess," Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
May has staked her political reputation on securing an exit deal with the EU and is under mounting pressure to quit if it is defeated again. She survived a bid to oust her through a no-confidence vote in December. As a result, she cannot be forced from office for a year.
The EU is frustrated at what it sees as the inability of Britain's weak and divided government to lay out a clear vision for Brexit. It is irritated, too, that Britain is seeking changes to an agreement that May herself helped negotiate and approve.
May has been working frantically to save her deal, speaking by phone to eight EU national leaders since Friday, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
If Parliament throws out May's deal again on Tuesday, lawmakers will vote over the following two days on whether to leave the EU without an agreement — an idea likely to be rejected — or to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 departure date.
Conservative lawmaker Nicky Morgan said May's position will become "less and less tenable" if she suffers more defeats in Parliament this week.
"It would be very difficult for the prime minister to stay in office for very much longer," Morgan told the BBC.
Alan Wager, a Brexit expert at the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, said Parliament this week could decisively rule out both May's deal and a no-deal departure.
That, in turn, would make such options as a new Brexit referendum or a "softer" withdrawal from the EU lot more likely, he said.
"Finally, the House of Commons is going to have to make a final judgment on what it wants in terms of Brexit," he said.