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UK Parliament overwhelmingly rejects May’s Brexit deal

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LONDON — British lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the European Union, plunging the Brexit process into chaos.

The 432-202 vote in the House of Commons was widely expected but still devastating for May, whose fragile leadership is now under siege.

Lawmakers finally got their chance to say yes or no to May’s deal after more than two years of political upheaval — and said no. It was the biggest defeat for a government in the House of Commons in more than a century.

The vote means further turmoil for British politics only 10 weeks before the country is due to leave the EU on March 29. It is not clear if it will push the government toward an abrupt “no-deal” break with the EU, nudge it toward a softer departure, trigger a new election or pave the way for a second referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave.

May, who leads a fragile Conservative minority government, has made delivering Brexit her main task since taking office in 2016 after the country’s decision to leave the EU.

“This is the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers,” she told lawmakers as debate ended. “The time has now come for all of is in this House to make a decision, … a decision that each of us will have to justify and live with for many years to come.”

But the deal was doomed by deep opposition from both sides of the divide over U.K.’s place in the bloc. Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal will leave Britain bound indefinitely to EU rules, while pro-EU politicians favour an even closer economic relationship with Europe.

The government and opposition parties ordered lawmakers to cancel all other plans to be on hand for the crucial vote. Labour legislator Tulip Siddiq delayed the scheduled cesarean birth of her son so she could attend, arriving in a wheelchair.

As lawmakers debated in the House of Commons chamber, outside there was a cacophony of chants, drums and music from rival bands of pro-EU and pro-Brexit protesters. One group waved blue-and-yellow EU flags, the other brandished “Leave Means Leave” placards.

May postponed a vote on the deal in December to avoid certain defeat, and there were few signs ahead of Tuesday’s vote that sentiment had changed significantly since then.

The most contentious section of the deal is an insurance policy known as the “backstop” that is designed to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Assurances from EU leaders that the backstop is intended as a temporary measure of last resort completely failed to win over many British skeptics, and the EU is adamant that it will not renegotiate the 585-page withdrawal agreement.

Arlene Foster, who leads Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party — May’s parliamentary ally — said her party voted against the deal because of the backstop.

“We want the PM to go back to the EU and say ‘the backstop must go,'” Foster said.

Parliament has given May until Monday to come up with a new proposal. So far, May has refused publicly to speculate on a possible “Plan B.”

Some Conservatives expect her to seek further talks with EU leaders on changes before bringing a tweaked version of the bill back to Parliament, even though EU leaders insist the agreement cannot be renegotiated.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker returned Tuesday to Brussels to deal with Brexit issues arising from the vote, amid signals May might be heading back to EU headquarters on Wednesday.

An EU official, who asked not to be identified because of the developing situation, said that it was “Important that he is available and working in Brussels during the coming hours.”

May had argued that rejecting the agreement would lead either to a reversal of Brexit — overturning voters’ decision in the 2016 referendum — or to Britain leaving the bloc without a deal. Economists warn that an abrupt break from the EU could batter the British economy and bring chaotic scenes at borders, ports and airports.

Business groups had appealed for lawmakers to back the deal to provide certainty about the future.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said parliamentarians “hold the future of the British automotive industry — and the hundreds and thousands of jobs it supports — in their hands.”

“Brexit is already causing us damage in output, costs and jobs, but this does not compare with the catastrophic consequences of being cut adrift from our biggest trading partner overnight,” he said.

The defeat leaves May’s position precarious. The Labour Party says it will call a no-confidence vote in the government if the deal is defeated in an attempt to trigger a general election.

The party has not disclosed the timing of such a motion, which could come as early as Tuesday night, triggering a vote on Wednesday.

Amid the uncertainty, some members of Parliament from both government and opposition parties are exploring ways to use parliamentary procedures to wrest control of the Brexit process away from the government, so that lawmakers by majority vote could specify a new plan for Britain’s EU exit.

But with no clear majority in Parliament for any single alternate course, there is a growing chance that Britain may seek to postpone its departure date while politicians work on a new plan.

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Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

Jill Lawless, Danica Kirka And Gregory Katz, The Associated Press



































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How proceedings in the House of Commons during pandemic differ from normal

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OTTAWA — Canadians who tune in to watch proceedings in the House of Commons during the COVID-19 crisis may wonder why Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs continue to accuse the Liberal government of shutting down Parliament.

At a glance, it looks very much like regular proceedings in the Commons, although most MPs are participating virtually, their faces beamed onto large screens on either side of the Speaker’s chair. Other than that, it may look relatively normal. Opposition MPs are grilling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers four days a week — and get twice as much time to do it.

Although the proceedings are taking place in the Commons, it is actually a special COVID-19 committee, in which all 338 MPs are members, that is meeting for several hours Monday to Thursday. It operates under very different rules.

No votes (at least for now)

There are no votes on legislation or motions. Among other things, that means no chance for an opposition party to move a motion of non-confidence that could bring down Trudeau’s minority government.

When the government has needed to pass legislation to allow billions in emergency aid to flow, it has recalled a skeleton House of Commons for a brief sitting. It has negotiated details of each bill with opposition parties in advance to secure unanimous consent to pass it within a matter of hours. That skips the normal, lengthy three stages of debate, committee study, amendments and votes. The government has not so far attempted to use this expedited process to pass any legislation unrelated to the COVID-19 crisis.

The unresolved issue of how to allow MPs to vote electronically from remote locations was cited by Liberals and New Democrats in rejecting calls for a full return to normal House of Commons business, with a reduced number of MPs in the chamber. They opted instead to expand the special committee meetings, that have become the routine over the past month.

However, Speaker Anthony Rota told a Commons committee Tuesday he’s confident there are now several secure options for electronic voting which could be adopted as soon as MPs choose which one they want. Under the current agreement with the NDP, that could be in place to have the Commons return to business as usual, using the hybrid model, on Sept. 21.

Fewer tools for MPs

There are no opposition days, in which an opposition party can trigger debate on a subject of its choosing and force a vote on motions that could embarrass the government or even defeat it. The Conservatives, for instance, used an opposition day late last year that forced the creation of a Commons committee to examine Canada’s fraught relationship with China.

Opposition MPs cannot table written “order paper” questions, to which the government is required to give detailed, written answers within 45 days.

There is also no opportunity for MPs to introduce private members’ bills. These bills, without government backing, have a much lower chance of getting through the multiple stages of debate and voting to become law, but they can be a way for an opposition MP — or a Liberal backbencher — to raise awareness of an issue.

Fewer committees

While nine Commons standing committees, including health, finance and procedure and House affairs, are meeting virtually, 15 other standing committees, plus several joint and special committees, are not meeting at all. Speaker Rota said last month that the Commons does not have the technical resources to get any more committees up and running virtually. The committees that are meeting have focused largely on the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis but the agreement the Liberals reached with the NDP last week means they can now delve into any topics they choose.

Fewer tactics

The special committee proceedings are tightly focused on giving opposition MPs a chance to hold the government to account. Other than raising points of order or points of privilege, there is no opportunity for MPs to use procedural tricks to hold up proceedings or make a point. For instance, they cannot force multiple standing votes with bells ringing for 30 minutes between each one, or move concurrence in a Commons committee report, a tactic often used to force several hours of debate and disrupt the government’s legislative timetable.

Summer meetings

The House of Commons does not usually meet during the summer. This year, under the agreement struck with the NDP, the Commons will meet in “committee of the whole” — essentially the same format as the special COVID-19 committee — twice in July and twice in August. That will give opposition MPs a chance to question the Liberals about any developments in the pandemic and the government’s response to it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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Running for Conservative leadership not about ticking boxes: Leslyn Lewis

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OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis is the only woman in the race, the only immigrant, the only visible minority.

Though she could seize on those qualities to differentiate herself from her three white male opponents, or to hammer home a point about the party being a big blue tent, she isn’t.

For her, the campaign is not about ticking boxes.

“My presence alone sends a very strong message,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

“I don’t think I need to articulate the obvious.”

The Canadian Press asked for a follow-up interview this week, to discuss the protests and violence linked to the death of a black man in police custody in the U.S. last week.

But Lewis declined the request, saying she had no more to add to an email she’d sent to supporters on Friday.

In it, she wrote about how she’s been unable to watch the video of George Floyd’s treatment, as it makes her physically ill.

“The riots, the anger and fear, it’s all brutal,” she wrote. 

Lewis linked his death to that of a young black woman in Toronto who died after falling from a balcony while police were at her apartment, an incident currently under investigation. She said dealing with hatred, racism and mental health requires speaking about them plainly.

Lewis, who turns 50 this year, moved to Canada from Jamaica as a child.

She’s the first black woman to run to lead the Conservative party, creating a controversy last month when a relatively new group called the Association of Black Conservatives endorsed her rival Erin O’Toole.

In a subsequent email to supporters far longer than the her traditional policy pitch, Lewis railed against them, accusing them of being a Liberal-lite organization testing out tactics to bring her down if she wins the leadership.

Among the things she pointed out: a candidate questionnaire from the group that included questions like “What steps have you taken to address the under-representation of the black population in national politics?”

If they were true conservatives, Lewis argued, they’d know identity politics is a dangerous game for the party.

“To focus on what makes us different, whether that’s race, gender or religion, rather than what we have in common, has never served to bring people together,” she said. 

Some black leaders spoke out against the endorsement, and eventually O’Toole walked away.

“Engaging the black community and other communities in Canada that have largely not traditionally supported our party is going to be key to our path towards electoral victory,” he said on social media. 

Winning a leadership race, though, is also about courting traditionally supportive groups within a party. For Lewis, there have been some easy links and others harder to forge.

As a suburban mother of two, she’s not personally close to the debate around guns.

But firearms associations are among the best-organized groups in the conservative landscape.

Lewis, who says she sleeps somewhere between four and five hours a night, put her academic training to work. She has three postgraduate degrees and works as a lawyer.

“Because I understand the Constitution, I understand democratic ideals and our parliamentary system, it’s an easy transition to then say ‘OK, what are the principles that tie into these ideals?’ and that’s basically how I approach my policy,” she said.

Socially conservative groups in Canada — a faction whose political clout is also significant — have had her back from the beginning.

Lewis is part of a huge evangelical church group, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

In a rare personal glimpse into her life, she sent an email last month reflecting on her decision not to terminate a pregnancy while she was in law school, despite significant pressure to do so.

Questions about her positions on social issues have followed her throughout the campaign, given how spectacularly current leader Andrew Scheer was hammered for his, and whether in turn she could win a general election.

Lewis said her beliefs aren’t the problem, but that the propensity of many Conservatives not to clearly articulate their own views makes opponents’ claims that they have a “hidden agenda” too plausible for voters.

By making her plans clear — include banning sex-selection abortions and increasing funding for centres that counsel women against terminating pregnancies — she said she hopes she can convince Canadians to accept them and move on.

Lewis pointed to her past legal work advocating on behalf of gay HIV-positive inmates as proof she can — and will — fight for everyone’s rights if she’s elected.

“That’s what Canadians want to see in a leader,” she said.

Whether or how that would extend to women’s rights to access abortions, or the expansion of LGBTQ rights, she wouldn’t say.

Breaking into the club of elected Conservatives has been another challenge for her:  Lewis has never held elected office, and yet is trying to vault straight to the top.

She has secured endorsements from several social-conservative MPs, despite one of their own also running in the race — Ontario MP Derek Sloan.

Even if she loses the leadership race, she said, she intends to run for a seat as an MP in the next election.

“I think that I have a very unique role in the party to play.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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