'Comrades!': UK Labour Charts Radical Election Course By Dmitry Zaks
As Britain gears up for a possible early election, the main opposition Labour Party has outlined a radical platform that would fundamentally alter the country for decades to come.
The policies envisioned by 70-year-old socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn would transfer assets from companies to employees and crack down on elite private schools.
They impose state control over medicine and promise equal pay for fewer hours spent on the job."Comrades! We stand with you and support you all the way in standing up to the bullies," Labour's finance spokesman John McDonnell told this week's annual gathering, which wrapped up on Wednesday.
AFP picks through some of the more eye-catching proposals and the challenges they could face.
- Brexit light -
Everything in Britain currently revolves around Brexit and the October 31 deadline to leave the EU.
Labour's focus is on making sure Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not follow through on his threat to take Britain out even if he fails to reach new exit terms with Brussels covering trade.
Corbyn wants to trigger an early election after the deadline is extended that lets him become premier.
He then promises to negotiate new divorce terms with Brussels within the first three months.
These would be based on "a new customs union and close single market relationship" with the remaining 27 member states.
It also supports free movement rights for EU nationals and giving all foreigners living in Britain the right to vote.
Labour would then stage a second referendum with two options: Corbyn's deal or no Brexit at all.
The party plans to decide whether to campaign for its own agreement -- or back remain as many of its supporters want -- at a special one-day conference.
This would all happen within the first six months.
- 'Abolish Eton' -
Labour grabbed the most headlines by taking aim at Eton -- the historic private school attended by 20 prime ministers and royals such as Princes William and Harry.
It pledges to "integrate all private schools into the state sector" and withdraw their tax privileges.
Universities would be required to "admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population (currently 7 percent)".
The HMS independent schools association said the plan is "based on myths, misinformation in misunderstandings".
The legislation would almost certainly face a legal challenge and be overturned by a future Conservative government.
- Generic drugs -
Labour wants to reduce the cost of healthcare by creating a state-owed generic drugs maker for the NHS national health service.
It would also make research funding contingent on pharmaceutical companies making medicine "affordable to all".
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said that handing its licenses to the state amounted to "the seizure of new research".
The proposal would be welcomed by consumers but could further complicate Britain's ability to strike post-Brexit trade agreements with research-dependent countries such as the United States.
- Work and pay -
Labour goes heavy on jobs -- the issue around which it was formed 119 years ago.
It wants to hand 10 percent of large company shares to workers over the coming decade and hike taxes on transactions conducted in the City of London business hub.
The average work week would be cut to 32 hours from an estimated 37 within a decade by handing more powers to unions to negotiate better terms.
The plan is to keep wages stable by letting the state mandate longer leave and vacation time.
Labour would also eliminate "zero-hour" contracts and guarantee a minimum work week.
A new £10 ($12.38) minimum hourly rage would be extended to those under 18.
The Financial Times estimated that the entire package of social measures would require Labour to find £26 billion in new taxes a year to stay within budget.
- 2030 -
Labour endorsed the 2030 net-zero carbon emissions neutrality target backed by clean climate groups.
But one of the big unions covering the manufacturing industry fought against it and the deadline was not mentioned in Corbyn's keynote address.
The date remains largely aspirational because it relies heavily on technologies that do not yet exist.
Torn by Brexit, Labour Votes on Way Out of EU Crisis By Dmitry Zaks
Britain's main opposition Labour Party was set Monday to decide on a new Brexit strategy at a fractious conference that has piled pressure on leader Jeremy Corbyn to openly campaign to remain in the European Union.
Labour's identity crisis is being played out as Britain speeds toward a potentially chaotic "no-deal" departure from the EU on October 31 and a likely general election.
Opinion polls show Corbyn's efforts to unite both the pro- and anti-Brexit wings of his party by either delaying a decision on departure or leaving it in voters' hands have led to a dramatic drop in support.
Two surveys published over the weekend put Labour 15 percentage points behind Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives and in danger of losing second place to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.
Grass roots activists spent hours deep into Sunday night trying to come up with a single Brexit motion that could be put up for a vote at the conference on Monday.
They ended up with three.
One motion backed by regional party branches says Labour "must reflect the overwhelming view of its members and voters, who want to stay in the EU.
"Labour will therefore campaign energetically for a public vote and to stay in the EU in the referendum, while recognising the rights of those who want to argue another view."
A dissenting proposal backed by the big unions offers "a public vote on a deal agreed with the EU giving people a final say between a credible leave option and remain".
It would not see Labour officially campaign for either option and instead try to "build maximum consensus".
The third motion, proposed by Corbyn himself and backed by the executive, would see the party come to some sort of decision "through a special one-day conference, following the election of a Labour government".
- 'Honest debate' -
Top members of Corbyn's shadow government insist that they are members of a fundamentally European party with an obligation to get the 2016 Brexit referendum results reversed.
"We must not just campaign to remain but we must lead the campaign to remain," Labour's foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry said on the sidelines of the conference in the south coast resort of Brighton.
But unions and a powerful leftist lobby that helped Corbyn become Labour leader in 2015 want the party to embrace its working-class base which backs Britain charting its own course.
Unite union boss Len McCluskey said dissenting voices such as Thornberry's meant Labour was facing "a tough fight against those without and those within our party".
"Only division can derail us now," McCluskey said to huge cheers.
Labour's finance spokesman John McDonnell -- a Corbyn ally who now backs a campaign to remain in the bloc -- rejected speculation that the party was in disarray.
"Do not mistake democracy for division. It isn't," he told BBC radio. "What we're seeing is an honest debate."
He also warned that the Liberal Democrats' vow to get Brexit cancelled by recalling the withdrawal notice London has sent to Brussels threatened "to undermine faith in democracy in all its forms".
"I will campaign for remain," McDonnell told the congress. "But let me make it clear that I profoundly respect those who support a genuine alternative."
Corbyn has persevered with efforts to look past Brexit and campaign in a general election on bread and butter issues such as healthcare and jobs.
UK Labour Seeks Brexit Plan to Reverse Poll Slump By Dmitry Zaks
Britain's main opposition Labour Party was torn by infighting Sunday as it tried to forge a coherent Brexit strategy that could reverse polls indicating a likely election drubbing.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's moment of truth at the annual party conference comes with Britain facing the grim prospect of ending its 46-year involvement in the European Union on October 31 without a plan for future trade.
Yet the same bitter disagreements over Europe that saw Boris Johnson's right-wing Conservatives lose their working majority -- and make a general election appear inevitable -- are also fraying Labour on the left.
The 119-year-old party's support base consists of cosmopolitan city-dwelling europhiles and traditional working-class communities that rejected Brussels in the 2016 referendum.
Polls show these views have become even more entrenched today -- a polarisation that further complicates Corbyn's bid to find a unifying stance.
The strongly anti-European Brexit Party and the unapologetically pro-EU Liberal Democrats are eroding Labour's support on both flanks.
Two polls published over the weekend showed Labour losing to Johnson's party by between seven and 15 percentage points. One put it in an effective dead heat with the Liberal Democrats for second place.
- Decision delay -
Senior Labour officials reportedly approved a draft Brexit policy on Sunday that would see Britain remain in a much closer economic alliance with Europe than provided by former prime minister Theresa May's now-discarded deal.
Labour would then stage a second referendum in which voters would be given the choice of either backing the new agreement or staying in the EU.
The text reported by UK television was expected to be voted on at the full conference meeting on Monday evening.
Corbyn had earlier given every indication that Labour will stay neutral on the defining issue of British politics.
The draft text said the party would decide whether to campaign for its own Brexit agreement only after it takes power in general elections.
"It is right that the party shall only campaign in such a referendum through a one-day special conference, following the election of a Labour government," the reported text said.
- 'Stop messing around' -
Efforts to keep the peace by appeasing both wings of his party are not sitting well with voters ahead of an early election that most expect to happen within months.
An Ipsos MORI analysis found Corbyn's net satisfaction rating at -60. No opposition leader has fared worse in more than 40 years.
"This strategy of being all things to all people on Brexit -- it paid off partly in 2017 (elections), but it's not clear that it's going to pay off again," said London School of Economics analyst Sara Hobolt.
"We have got to campaign to remain," Labour's foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry agreed. "We have got to stop messing around."
The push for Labour to reject Brexit is being resisted by a eurosceptic core of socialist Corbyn supporters who include his closest aides.
A group called Momentum that helped Corbyn become leader in 2015 unsuccessfully tried to abolish the post of the party's pro-European deputy leader Tom Watson.
"I knew there were discussions going on about the role of deputy leader, I did not know that that particular motion was going to be put forward," Corbyn admitted on BBC television.
"There was a move that didn't happen, that didn't work and I intervened."
But Momentum boss Jon Lansman said it was time to instill party discipline and for everyone to adopt Corbyn's neutrality on Europe.
"We need to make sure the deputy leader role is properly accountable to the membership," he said.
- 'Radical transformation' -
Corbyn has sought to move past Brexit and campaign on a more traditionally Labour agenda of workers' rights and clean climate policies.
Some of the proposals that could come up for a vote at the conference include a plan to give 10 percent of UK companies' shares to workers over the next 10 years.
The Financial Times called this "one of the biggest state expropriations of assets seen in a Western democracy".
Momentum also wants Labour to commit to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2030 and to "abolish private schools" in a "radical and transformational" election platform.
The various motions will be put to a vote before Corbyn concludes the conference with a keynote address Wednesday.
Johnson, Juncker to Meet in Brexit Breakthrough Bid
By Gregory Katz
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will hold face-to-face talks next week in a bid to break the Brexit impasse.
European and British officials say the meeting will take place Monday in Luxembourg. No further details were provided. It comes as lower-level Brexit negotiations have produced few signs of progress as the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain's departure from the European Union nears.
The key stumbling block remains the so-called Irish backstop, a manoeuvr to prevent both sides from putting in a hard border between Ireland, which is in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. British officials fear the backstop could keep Britain tied to EU rules and regulations even after it withdraws from the bloc.
With concerns about the social and economic costs of a ``no-deal'' Brexit rising, Britain's Parliament has passed a law saying the prime minister must seek an extension to the Brexit deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. Johnson has indicated he will not do so, insisting Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31 even without a divorce deal.
John Bercow, the retiring speaker of Britain's lower house of parliament, says Parliament is willing to take forceful actions to make sure the law designed to block a ``no-deal'' Brexit is followed. The influential speaker says he will allow ``procedural creativity'' in making sure Johnson does not violate the new law, which took effect this week.
Johnson has declared he would rather be ``dead in a ditch'' than delay Brexit again. Britain voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum but has not reached consensus on how to do so.
Bercow said in a speech Thursday night that the prime minister must obey the law and that it is ``astonishing'' that any other course is being contemplated.
``It would be the most terrible example to set to the rest of society,'' he said.
Bercow plans to step down by the end of October but it is clear he will use his final weeks to make sure Parliament's will is respected on the crucial question of a possible ``no-deal'' departure from the EU bloc.
The British government's own assessment suggests an abrupt departure from the EU's single market without an agreement risks severe economic problems and possible food and medicine shortages in Britain.
Parliament is currently suspended, or prorogued, for five weeks. Johnson's decision to suspend the legislative branch for such an extended period, however, has been ruled unlawful by a Scottish court and will be taken up by the U.K. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Court documents released Thursday night show that Court of Session judges did not believe Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was routine, as the prime minister claimed, but was actually made for the ``unlawful'' purpose of avoiding scrutiny during the run-up to Brexit.
``The effect of the prorogation under consideration, in particular its length, is that proper parliamentary scrutiny is rendered all but impossible,'' wrote James Drummond Young, part of the three-judge panel that concluded Johnson's decision was illegal.
The Scottish court did not order Parliament to be recalled, but an adverse decision for Johnson at Britain's Supreme Court would likely bring its feisty lawmakers back into session earlier than he had intended.
It would also raise questions about whether Johnson's government misled Queen Elizabeth II when it requested her approval for the five-week suspension of parliament, which she gave.
Johnson was heckled Friday about his suspension of Parliament while trying to give a speech in Morley in northern England. The heckler said the prime minister should be in Parliament working with lawmakers to clean up the Brexit ``mess.''
Associated Press writer Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
UK Parliament Orders Release of Brexit Documents
Britain's House of Commons has demanded the government hand over communications among officials about its decision to suspend Parliament and its plans for a no-deal Brexit.
Lawmakers passed a motion calling on the government to release, by Wednesday, ``formal or informal'' emails and text messages between aides and officials relating to the suspension, as well as to the impact of leaving the European Union without a deal.
Under parliamentary rules, the government is obliged to release the documents.
Lawmaker Dominic Grieve, who proposed the motion, said there were suspicions that Parliament was being suspended to stop the legislature from debating the risks of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.
Johnson says he is cutting short the parliamentary term so he can outline his domestic agenda at a new session of Parliament in October.
U.K. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow says he will step down by the end of next month after a decade in the job.
Bercow told lawmakers that if Parliament votes Monday in favour of an early election, he will quit before the campaign. If they don't he will quit Oct. 31 _ the day Britain is due to leave the European Union.
He says he will quit both as speaker and as a member of Parliament.
Bercow has angered the Conservative government by repeatedly allowing lawmakers to seize control of Parliament's agenda to steer the course of Brexit. He says he is simply fulfilling his role of letting Parliament have its say.
The Conservatives had said they would run against Bercow in the next national election, breaking a convention that the speaker be elected unopposed.
A bill that would force British Prime Minister to seek a delay to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if no deal is reached has become law with approval by Queen Elizabeth II.
The royal approval was announced Monday by Norman Fowler, the speaker of the House of Lords.
The queen's approval was seen as a formality after the bill was approved by Parliament. It is opposed by the government.
It is designed to prevent Prime Minister Boris Johnson from taking Britain out of the European Union without an agreement with the other 27 nations in the bloc.
Johnson has said he will not seek a delay to the deadline.
France's prime minister has asked his government to be ready to handle ``a certain level of disturbances'' that would result from a possible no-deal Brexit.
Edouard Philippe said in a statement after a special meeting of ministers closely involved with Brexit that France is ``preparing for all scenarios'' in close co-operation with its European partners.
He said France has hired 600 extra customs agents to handle cross-border trade and security and 200 veterinaries.
Philippe said ``tests in real conditions'' will be performed in the coming weeks to ensure that new border-check facilities at French ports, train stations and airports are operational.
Britain is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31.
There have been no breakthroughs at the meeting between British and Irish leaders on the Brexit impasse.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar said in a joint statement that their Monday meeting in Dublin was ``positive and constructive.''
They met privately over breakfast and then joined their delegations for more talks about how to deal with the difficult question of how to deal with the Irish border once Britain leaves the European Union.
The statement says ``common ground was established'' but that important gaps remain. No details were provided. The statement says they plan to meet again in the near future.
The Irish border has emerged as a main stumbling block in the stalled negotiations.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has confirmed it will suspend the U.K. Parliament later Monday until Oct. 14.
Spokesman James Slack says Parliament will be prorogued, or suspended, at the close of the day's business.
Johnson has previously said he would send British lawmakers home sometime this week. The suspension limits Parliament's ability to block Johnson's plans for Brexit.
Johnson says the UK must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce agreement.
Lawmakers are trying to stop a no-deal Brexit, and some have branded the suspension a ``coup.''
Worries that Britain is set to fall into recession soon as a result of Brexit uncertainty have eased after official figures show that it expanded by a monthly 0.3% in July.
The increase reported by the Office for National Statistics follows a 0.2% contraction in the second quarter which stoked talk of a recession, widely defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
Most analysts also expect output in August to rise, too, as car manufacturers will be at work having brought forward their annual maintenance shutdowns to earlier in the year to deal with the initial Brexit date of March 29.
Though the economy looks set to grow in the third quarter of the year, it remains hobbled by Brexit. Business investment has been particularly weak as firms put off investment decisions while awaiting clarity over Britain's departure from the European Union, now scheduled for Oct. 31.
The Dutch government's statistics office says that British investment in the Netherlands has soared since the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, while Dutch investment in Britain has shrunk.
The Central Bureau for Statistics says Monday that the data confirm perceptions ``that British companies are moving their activities to the Netherlands because of uncertainty about Brexit.''
The bureau says that U.K. investment in the Netherlands was 14 billion euros ($15.4 billion) in 2016. It more than doubled in 2017 and rose to 80 billion euros in 2018.
Meanwhile, Dutch investments in Britain _ worth 50 billion euros in 2016 _ fell to less than half that total in 2017 and the statistics office says that last year there was a Dutch ``disinvestment'' of 11 billion euros - meaning that businesses were withdrawing their investments from Britain.
Germany's foreign minister says he would like Britain's exit from the European Union to be as orderly as possible but that requires London to make clear proposals.
Heiko Maas noted in Berlin that the British Parliament has decided it wants to prevent a ``no-deal'' Brexit.
He added that ``we remain in principle ready to talk, and we have to be in order to make possible as orderly a withdrawal as possible, but that ultimately requires clear decisions and proposals from London.''
Maas reiterated that Britain will remain an ``important strategic partner'' with ``extraordinarily close relations'' to Germany after Brexit. But he didn't address the possibility of a delay to Britain's withdrawal beyond the current Oct. 31 deadline, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson's opponents want to force.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Ireland's leader that a Brexit deal can be reached so Britain leaves the European Union by Oct. 31.
Johnson told Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar that he believes a deal on the Irish border question can be secured in time to enable a smooth British departure from the EU by the scheduled Brexit date.
He said a ``no-deal'' departure from the European Union would represent a ``failure of statecraft.''
Varadkar also said at a joint appearance before the start of a meeting in Dublin that Britain has not produced any realistic alternatives to the controversial ``backstop'' agreement reached by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May.
Opposition to the backstop was a key reason why Britain's Parliament rejected May's Brexit deal with the EU on three occasions earlier this year.
The backstop is intended to make sure that no hard border is put up between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
The Irish leader says more negotiations are needed and that the Good Friday peace agreement, which states that no hard border is re-imposed on the island of Ireland, must be respected.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to meet with Irish leader Leo Varadkar in search of a compromise on the simmering Brexit crisis.
The two are to meet in Dublin Monday morning for the first time since Johnson took power in July.
Varadkar has said he does not expect a breakthrough in the impasse over how the Irish border will be handled once Britain leaves the European Union.
Johnson plans to press a rebellious Parliament later Monday to back his plan for an early election, but opposition parties have said they will vote the measure down.
A new bill that seeks to force Johnson to seek a Brexit delay before the Oct. 31 deadline is set to become law on Monday.
Johnson has said he will not seek a delay.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.