‘Brexit talks at risk over Ireland issue’
LONDON, April 30, (Agencies): British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a new interior minister on Monday charged with clearing up a scandal over moves to deport elderly legal immigrants that has rocked her government. May named Sajid Javid to replace Amber Rudd, who quit the key ministerial post of home secretary late Sunday for having misled lawmakers over deportation targets for illegal immigrants.
The government is facing anger over the so-called Windrush scandal — wrongful moves to deport legal but undocumented elderly immigrants from the Caribbean. A rapid riser in the government, Javid’s first task will be to answer an urgent question in parliament as he tries to take the heat out of the situation.
“Making sure that we have an immigration policy that is fair, treats people with respect and with decency — that will be one of my most urgent tasks,” he told reporters. Rudd told lawmakers last week that there were no targets for the removal of people deemed to be in the country illegally. But she felt it “necessary” to tender her resignation after the emergence of documents, addressed to her office, showing those goals were in place.
“I should have been aware of this, and I take full responsibility for the fact that I was not,” she said in her resignation letter to May, conceding that she “inadvertently misled” MPs. Javid is the son of a Pakistani bus driver who arrived in Britain in 1961 with one pound in his pocket. Javid, 48, was a senior investment banker at Deutsche Bank before becoming a member of parliament in 2010.
He became a Treasury minister in 2013 and joined the Cabinet in 2014 as culture secretary before switching to business secretary in 2015 and communities secretary the following year. He backed the losing Remain campaign in Britain’s 2016 referendum on its European Union membership, but his pro- EU position was lukewarm. Explaining the thinking behind Javid’s appointment, May’s spokesman said he was “one of the most experienced ministers” in Cabinet who had “proved his drive, his ambition and his determination to get to grips with difficult subjects”.
Rudd was seen as a moderate on the EU and a balancing force in a cabinet containing several heavyweight pro-Brexit figures. Rudd was the fifth person to quit the cabinet since the June 2017 snap general election, called by May but which cost the Conservatives their majority in parliament. James Brokenshire, who stepped down as Northern Ireland secretary in January to undergo lung operation, returned to cabinet to replace Javid in the housing, communities and local government brief.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt adds to her duties Rudd’s other brief as minister for women and equalities. Rudd had run the Home Office interior ministry since July 2016. Meanwhile, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned Monday that the talks were at “risk” due to disagreements over the future of the Irish border after Britain leaves the EU.
At a press conference during his visit to Ireland, Barnier called for a “clear and operational solution for Ireland” to be included in the Brexit deal, adding: “Until we reach this agreement, there is a risk”. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned that Britain’s “approach to negotiations will need to change in some way” if there is to be agreement over the issue.
“Without a solution to the Irish border question, there can be no EU withdrawal agreement,” he added. London has committed to avoid a “hard border” with checkpoints between Northern Ireland, part of the UK, and EU-member Ireland, which all sides agree is vital to maintaining the 1998 Good Friday peace accords. However, Britain has also said it will not enter into a customs union with the EU post-Brexit, and has been urged to find a solution to reconcile the two positions.
The EU has suggested a “backstop” proposal, in which only Northern Ireland would stay in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit. “The backstop we put in the draft treaty, is not there to change the UK red lines, it is there because of the UK red lines… on the customs union and single market,” said Barnier. “Only Northern Ireland-specific solutions will work,” he added. “We need to agree rapidly by June on several new points, on the scope of alignment, customs and regulations.” Britain wants to be free of the EU customs union in order to be able to strike trade deals with the rest of the world post- Brexit.
In related news, Britain’s parliament should not be given powers to overturn the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, May’s spokesman said on Monday as opponents seek a greater say on the Brexit deal. Britain’s upper house of parliament is expected to defeat May’s government later on Monday for the seventh time in two weeks by voting in favour of changes to legislation that will end Britain’s EU membership in March next year.