BRUSSELS, July 11, 2018 (News Wires) -- Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is to commit 440 additional British troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan amid pressure from Donald Trump for European allies to contribute more to their collective defence.
The US president set the tone for his attendance at the two-day alliance summit starting on Wednesday in Brussels with a typically combative tweet reminding the Europeans that the US spent “many times more” on their defence than any other alliance member.
“Not fair to the US taxpayer,” he wrote, “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!” His intervention is likely to increase nervousness among European and Canadian leaders about Mr Trump’s commitment to the alliance and the wider international following the acrimonious break-up of the G7 summit in Quebec in June.
Ahead of the gathering, Mrs May was keen to emphasise that as well as supplying additional troops for Afghanistan, the UK was one of just five alliance members to meet the target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
“The alliance can rely on the UK to lead by example, not just in meeting the 2 per cent pledge but by contributing our cutting edge capabilities to operations around the world,” she said as quoted by Scotland's national newspaper of Scotsman.
“In committing additional troops to the Train Advise Assist operation in Afghanistan we have underlined once again that when NATO calls, the UK is among the first to answer.”
The extra troops, from the Welsh Guards, will bolster the UK-led Kabul Security Force which provides protection for NATO civilian staff engaged in capacity-building programmes in Afghanistan, as well as mentoring Afghan forces in the capital.
They will begin deploying in August with a second contingent to follow in February taking the total UK military presence in the country to 1,100. In a momentous week for Anglo-US relations, Mr Trump will follow his attendance at the NATO summit with his first visit as president to Britain before going on to hold talks with Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital Helsinki.
His willingness to meet the Russian president unnerved some in the diplomatic community at a time when Mrs May has been seeking to isolate Moscow over the Salisbury nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, which has since claimed the life of 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess.
The president also ruffled feathers with decidedly undiplomatic remarks before leaving Washington, saying Britain was in “turmoil” and that it was “up to the people” whether they wanted to keep Mrs May as Prime Minister.
He also suggested he could find time to talk to his “friend” Boris Johnson, who has just rocked the Government with his bombshell resignation over Mrs May’s Brexit plans, and that he would find it easier dealing with Mr Putin than America’s European allies.
“So I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of all”, as he and his wife Melania prepared to board the Marine One presidential helicopter on the White House lawn. Mrs May, for her part, insisted that she was looking forward to meeting the president, both in Brussels and when she hosts him in the UK.
“There’s much for us to discuss. “As you know, the special relationship we have to the United States is our longest and deepest defence and security relationship, so we will be talking about those issues but also talking about trade issues,” she told a press conference to mark the end of the Western Balkans summit in London.
“There are particular issues between the EU and the United States because of the trade tariff issue at the moment, when he imposed those tariffs on steel and aluminium and the EU responded.
“We will be talking positively about how we can continue to work together in our special relationship for the good of people living in the UK and the United States and, actually, for the wider good.”
LONDON, July 10, 2018 (News Wires) - Queen Elizabeth and senior members of her family were attending celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of Britain's Royal Air Force on Tuesday, ahead of a flypast of almost 100 aircraft over Buckingham Palace in central London.
World War Two Spitfires will be joined by the country's newest stealth fighter, the Lightning F-35, along with helicopters and spy planes in London's skies at 12:00 GMT.
The tribute to the RAF, which became the world's first independent air force when it was founded as a separate entity from the British Army and Royal Navy in 1918, began with a service at Westminster Abbey.
Some 1,300 serving RAF men and women were then due to parade down The Mall, the main approach to Buckingham Palace, before the Queen and heir to the throne Prince Charles host a ceremony to present the RAF with a new Queen's Colour.
The flypast planes were gathering off the coast of eastern England. After cruising towards London and flying over the Olympic Park and the capital's financial centre, they will roar past the royal family, who will be watching from the palace balcony.
Prince Charles and his elder son Prince William both served as RAF pilots.
Later on Tuesday, Charles, his wife Camilla, William, and brother Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, will host a reception at Buckingham Palace for RAF servicemen and women.
LONDON, July 10, 2018 (News Wires) - British environment minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday he would not resign after the government was thrown into turmoil when two senior ministers quit in protest at plans for close trade ties with the European Union after Brexit.
When asked if he was also planning to resign, Gove, who was a prominent campaigner for leaving the European Union during the 2016 referendum, told ITV news: "Absolutely not."
AMESBURY, England, July 4, 2018 (News Wires) - British police declared a “major incident” Wednesday after two people were left in critical condition from exposure to an unknown substance a few miles from where a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent.
The Wiltshire Police force said a man and a woman in their 40s were hospitalised after being found in Amesbury, eight miles (13 kilometres) from Salisbury, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned on March 4.
Police cordoned off a residential building in Amesbury and other places the two people visited before falling ill, but health officials said there was not believed to be a wider risk to the public.
The man and woman were hospitalised Saturday at Salisbury District Hospital, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal spent weeks in critical condition after being poisoned in March.
Authorities at first believed the latest victims might have taken a contaminated batch of heroin or crack cocaine.
“Further testing is now ongoing to establish the substance which led to these patients becoming ill and we are keeping an open mind as to the circumstances surrounding this incident,” police said. “At this stage, it is not yet clear if a crime has been committed.”
A major incident is a designation allowing British authorities to mobilise more than one emergency agency.
Residents of the area, a quiet neighbourhood of newly built houses and apartments, said they had received little information from authorities.
“Amesbury’s a lovely place - it’s very quiet, uneventful,” said Rosemary Northing, who lives a couple of hundred yards (metres) away from the cordoned-off building. “So for this to happen, and the media response and the uncertainty, it’s unsettling.”
Britain accuses Russia of poisoning the Skripals with a Novichok nerve agent, a group of chemical weapons developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Moscow denies the allegation. The poisoning sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides.
Counter-terrorism teams from London’s Metropolitan Police were called in to help local forces in Wiltshire at the time of the Skripal poisoning. On Wednesday, however, Scotland Yard referred media calls to the Wiltshire police.
The statement from Wiltshire Police came only a month after police from 40 departments in England and Wales returned home after months of working on the Skripals’ poisoning. Wiltshire Police spent about 7.5 million pounds ($10 million) dealing with the aftermath of the Skripals’ poisoning and believe that his front door was contaminated with the nerve agent.
Sergei Skripal, 66, is a former Russian intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain before coming to the UK as part of a 2010 prisoner swap. He had been living quietly in Salisbury, a cathedral city 90 miles (145 kilometres) southwest of London, when he was struck down along with his 33-year-old daughter Yulia.
After being found unconscious in the street, the two spent weeks in critical condition at the hospital. Doctors who treated them say they have made a remarkable recovery but they still don’t know what the Skirpals’ long-term prognosis is.
The Skripals have been taken to an undisclosed location for their protection.
LONDON, July 1, 2018 (News Wires) - Britain’s public health service has started “significant planning” to ensure medicines are still supplied to patients if the government fails to negotiate a Brexit deal with the European Union, it head said on Sunday.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of the National Health Service (NHS), said Britain’s health department was working with pharmaceutical companies to make sure there will be no breakdown in supply if there is no deal with the EU.
“There is now significant planning going on around all the scenarios including these medicines supply scenarios,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“There’s extensive work under way now between the department of health, other parts of government, the life sciences industry, the pharma companies. Nobody is pretending this is a desirable situation but if that’s what we get to then it will not have been unforeseen.”
The EU warned Britain again last week that time was running out for Prime Minister Theresa May to negotiate a deal and stop the country from crashing out of the bloc.
May has promised to thrash out an agreement with her top team of ministers at a meeting this week and intends to present a policy document, or white paper, setting out the government’s aims for a future partnership after that.
LONDON, June 11, 2018 (News Wires) — Prime Minister Theresa May will urge her Conservative Party Monday to show unity when parliament votes on changes to her Brexit blueprint, a potential showdown that could reshape her approach to Britain’s departure from the EU.
Lawmakers will vote Tuesday and Wednesday this week on amendments to the EU withdrawal bill, legislation to sever ties with the bloc by essentially copying and pasting the bloc’s laws so that Britain’s legal system can function after March next year.
Her government is most vulnerable over an amendment, introduced by the upper house of parliament, to change the so-called “meaningful vote” on any final Brexit deal by handing the lower house more power to set the “direction” of the government if it rejects the agreement.
She will also be tested by rebels in her own party over her commitment to leave the EU’s single market and customs union, which will transform Britain’s future trading relationship for many years to come.
May is expected to address a meeting of Conservative members called the 1922 Committee later on Monday and will repeat her stance that the EU withdrawal bill is purely technical “to ensure a smooth and orderly transition as we leave”.
“The message we send to the country through our votes this week is important. We must be clear that we are united as a party in our determination to deliver on the decision made by the British people,” she is expected to say.
“They want us to deliver on Brexit and build a brighter future for Britain as we take back control of our money, our laws and our borders.”
May is struggling to unite not only her party but her top team of ministers over how to leave the EU, particularly over the future customs arrangements which have pitted those wanting closer ties with the EU against others who demand a clean break.
She got backing over the weekend, when two Conservative lawmakers from either side of the debate—Amber Rudd, a former pro-EU campaigner and interior minister, and Iain Duncan Smith, a leading eurosceptic, joined forces to urge members to “march in lockstep behind the prime minister as she delivers on the vote”.
But with only 10 months left before Britain is due to leave, her government is under pressure from EU negotiators, businesses wanting clarity, and from many in the country to start taking decisions on its preferred future trading ties.
May’s decision to leave the customs union, which sets tariffs for goods imported into the EU, has also been criticised for raising the prospect of a “hard” border on the island of Ireland, which some fear could reignite sectarian violence.
She was forced into crisis meetings with her pro-Brexit ministers last week over fall back measures that would ensure no return to a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is in the EU.
The opposition Labour Party wants Britain to negotiate a new customs union with the EU and there are several Conservative lawmakers who want the close ties the, or a, customs union offers to offer certainty to businesses.
The government is trying to overturn 14 amendments handed down by the House of Lords, but may swallow a defeat on the customs union because of the vague wording which only requires ministers to report what efforts they had made to secure a customs union by the end of October.