LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May will not “trap” Britain in an endless customs union with the European Union after Brexit, her office insisted Friday amid growing unease in her cabinet and party that this might be the price of a divorce deal.
Negotiations in Brussels have stepped up in recent days ahead of a high-stakes EU summit next week, with both sides seeking a breakthrough less than six months before Brexit in March 2019.
May briefed selected members of her cabinet late Thursday on the talks, at which several ministers reportedly expressed deep unease at a plan to avoid frontier checks with EU member Ireland.
Some eurosceptics, notably House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, are said to be considering quitting. Britain has proposed that it continue to follow EU customs rules after Brexit as a fall-back option to keep open the land border with Ireland until a wider trade deal is agreed that avoids the need for frontier checks.
May says this will only be temporary, but her spokeswoman was forced to clarify the point after media reports that the final “backstop” arrangement will have no legal end date.
“The prime minister would never agree to a deal which could trap the UK in a backstop permanently,” she said. The Downing Street spokeswoman repeated that Britain wanted a new trade deal by the end of December 2021 at the latest, although she declined to confirm the backstop would be “time-limited”.
Her careful words only fuelled speculation of a compromise with Brussels, although Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab later said the backstop would have to be “finite”, “short” and “time-limited”.
High Comm. starts Online Appointment System for Attestation
LONDON: Pakistan High Commission London has decided to launch Online Appointment System from December 17 for the smooth functioning of the attestation process of the general public.
According to a statement of the High Commission issued here Friday, this step has been taken to facilitate the Pakistani community.
The PHC statement said that It has been observed that there is a long queue for Attestation at the Pakistan High Commission London every day.
” Resultantly, this makes hard for staff members to facilitate the public in scheduled time and proper manner.”, it added. Initially, the High Commission will accommodate applicants without any prior appointment till December 31 but priority will be given to those applicants who have booked their appointments online.
After the deadline, no applicant will be served without an online appointment at the High Commission. Appointments can be booked on the below-mentioned website:
“Our Diaspora in London is requested to please cooperate in this regard with High Commission enabling us to provide better Attestation Service”, PHC statement concluded.
Bs. worries for France ahead of new ‘yellow vest’ protests
PARIS: Fears grew about the economic impact of France’s month-long “yellow vest” protests on Friday ahead of a decisive weekend for the grassroots opposition movement and President Emmanuel Macron.
The survey of businesses released by the IHS Market research group on Friday showed a surprising dip in activity in December linked to the disruption caused by the nation-wide demonstrations.
“The latest flash data pointed to an outright contraction in France’s private sector for the first time in two-and-a-half years,” IHS Market economist Eliot Kerr warned.
Macron’s centrist government is hoping that concessions announced on Monday, a terror attack in Strasbourg on Tuesday and freezing weather this weekend will deter demonstrators from taking to the streets again.
France “needs calm, order and to go back to its normal functioning,” President Emmanuel Macron said in Brussels in Friday.
But many of the “yellow vest” figureheads, so called because of the fluorescent high visibility vests they wear, have called for a fifth round of protests on Saturday, sparking fears of more clashes.
“It’s really the time to keep going,” a senior figure in the movement, Eric Drouet, said in a video posted on Facebook. “What Macron did on Monday, was a call to carry on because he has started to give ground, which is unusual for him,” he added.
Drouet was referring to Macron’s address to the nation on Monday, billed as the most important speech of his presidency, in which he offered a range of concessions to the demonstrators.
The “yellow vest” protests began on November 17 in opposition to hikes in fuel taxes, but have since snowballed into broad resistance to Macron’s pro-business agenda and his style of governing.
The 40-year-old head of state, who had already canceled planned fuel tax hikes, offered a rise in the minimum wage, tax relief for pensioners and tax-free overtime work for workers in 2019.
The total package has been estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion), which is expected to be financed mostly by government borrowing.
A fall in economic growth, which would hit tax receipts, would exacerbate the government’s budget problems.
“The more the movement continues, the more it will be a loss for the French economy,” the governor of the French central bank, Francois Villeroy de Galhau said in an interview with Les Echos newspaper on Thursday.
The central bank has lowered its growth forecast for 2018 to 1.5 percent, saying expansion in the current quarter would be 0.2 percent, instead of 0.4 percent as previously forecast.
Six people have died since the “yellow vests” movement began and more than 1,400 have been injured in the protests by mostly low-income people from small-town and rural France.
Scenes of blockages, massive traffic jams and mobs rampaging through the streets of Paris have dented France’s image, as well as Macron’s hopes of forcing through more business-friendly reforms.
The numbers of “yellow vest” protesters in the streets have been relatively small by French standards — only 136,000 last weekend — but until now they have benefited from overwhelming public support.
The impact of Macron’s concessions, plus a terror attack in the city of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening, could be crucial in determining whether the movement peters out this weekend or continues.
Two polls published on Tuesday showed that the country was split broadly 50-50 on whether the “yellow vests” should continue protesting, a fall of around 20 percentage points.
On Tuesday night, a 29-year-old jihadist from Strasbourg in eastern France attacked the city’s Christmas market, killing four and injuring 12 in a gun and knife rampage.
He was shot dead by police on Thursday night after 48 hours on the run, leading to praise for France’s highly stretched security forces which have been repeatedly targeted during the protests.
“I find it inadmissible that today we are applauding our police and then tomorrow some people think it’s ok to go and throw stones at them,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Friday in Strasbourg.
Around 8,000 police will be on duty in Paris on Saturday, around the same number as last weekend, backed up with 14 armored vehicles, water cannon, and horses.
Around 90,000 security forces were mobilized last Saturday across France when 2,000 people were detained, around half of them in Paris.
On Thursday, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called on “yellow vests” to stay at home.
“It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again,” he said.
French tourists choosing Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: More and more French and European tourists are choosing Pakistan as a preferred destination for tourism.
This was stated by the representatives of the top tour operators of France who met the Ambassador of Pakistan to France Moin ul Haque in Paris on Friday. According to a message received here from Paris, the tour operators who visited Pakistan in September this year in their separate presentations briefed the Ambassador about their visit which gave them first-hand experience of tourism potential of Pakistan. Consequently, they have introduced new tour packages for Pakistan and have also created separate web pages on their websites dedicated to Pakistan.
In response to this promotional drive, tour packages offered by famous French Clio Travels for 2019 were already sold out. Roots Travel will offer a special package for a trip to Gilgit Baltistan, while Nomad Adventure was promoting mountaineering expeditions from Pakistan. Similarly, Guide Petit Fute has decided to issue a new edition of its tourist guidebook on Pakistan in March 2019 and will also organize a special exhibition of photographs of their visit to Pakistan.
The Ambassador thanked the French tour operators for being a valuable partner in promoting Pakistan as a tourist destination. He briefed them about Embassy’s cultural and tourism diplomacy initiatives which included setting a Tourism Desk at the Embassy, launching of a tourism website in the French language, holding of International Conference on Mountain of Pakistan in Paris, publication of special dossiers on Pakistan in local tourism magazines, and airing of documentaries on Pakistan on local TV channels. The Ambassador informed the tour operators that a dedicated Tourism Office will be opened in the Embassy to further promote cooperation in the tourism sector between Pakistan and France.
A relevant piece published earlier: