The world woke up on Friday to find out that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union (EU). As the markets tumbled overnight, with the pound plunging to record lows, uncertainty has taken over across the UK as British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he will step down in the fall.
Polling stations opened on 23 June at 7 AM BST and closed at 10 PM BST. While polls indicated shortly after voting ended that the Remain camp was going to be the likely winner, overnight, as the vote count came in, it increasingly became apparent that Brits had voted to leave the EU. While Prime Minister David Cameron had urged the country to vote Remain, he was ultimately defeated by 52% to 48% despite London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all backing staying in. The referendum turnout was 71.8% – with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest turnout at a UK-wide vote since 1992. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has hailed Thursday’s vote as the UK’s “independence day.” Mr Farage, who has over the past twenty years campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, told cheering supporters that “this will be a victory for ordinary people, for decent people.” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated that the EU vote “makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union” after all 32 local authority areas returned majorities for Remain. It is thought that Scotland may seek another referendum on separation from the UK.
The impact of the vote however has already been felt across the UK and on international markets, with the pound falling to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as the markets reacted to the results. Bank of England governor Mark Carney has stated that UK banks’ “substantial capital and huge liquidity” allowed them to continue to lend to businesses and households, adding that the Bank of England is ready to provide an extra £250 billion of support.
PM to Step Aside
Despite MP’s signing a letter overnight urging Prime Minister David Cameron to stay on whatever the result, on Friday morning the Prime Minister announced that he will step down by October after the UK voted to leave the EU. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, he disclosed that he would attempt to “steady the ship” over the coming weeks and months, noting however that “fresh leadership” was needed. Flanked by his wife Samantha, Prime Minister Cameron indicated that he had informed the Queen of his decision to remain in place for the short term and then hand over to a new prime minister by the time of the Conservative conference in October. He has indicated that it will be for the new prime minister to carry out negotiations with the EU and invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would effectively give the UK two years in order to negotiate its withdrawal.
Process to Leave the EU
While Britain is set to be the first country to leave the EU since its formation, the Leave vote does not immediately mean that Britain ceases to be a member of the 28-nation bloc.
That process could take a minimum of two years, with Leave campaigners suggesting during the referendum campaign that it should not be completed until 2020 – the date of the next scheduled general election. Once Article 50 has been triggered, a country cannot re-join the EU without the consent of all member states. Prime Minister Cameron previously indicated that he would trigger Article 50 as soon as possible after a Leave vote. However Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who led the campaign to get Britain out of the EU, have disclosed that the prime minister should not rush into it. They have also indicated that they want to make immediate changes before the UK actually leaves the EU, such as curbing the power of EU judges and limiting the free movement of workers, potentially in breach of the UK’s treaty obligations. The government will also have to negotiate its future trading relationship with the EU and fix trade agreements with non-EU countries.
In Whitehall and Westminster, there will now begin the massive task of unstitching the UK from more than 40 years of EU law, deciding which directives and regulations to keep, amend or ditch.
EU Leaders Call for Stability and Solidarity in Wake of Vote
In the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, shocked EU leaders have called for stability and solidary but also for change and reform. While President of the European Council Donald Tusk has stated that the remaining 27 members are determined to stay united, leaders like Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi have stated that the EU had to change and become “more human and more just.”
The European parliament has called for a special session for Tuesday 28 June to assess the vote, while foreign ministers of the six founding nations of the EU – Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg – will met in Berlin on 25 June. Some leaders of EU member states, such as France’s Francois Hollande, held their own crisis talks on Friday. European parliament president Martin Schulz, president of the European Council Donald Tusk, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also went into emergency talks.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that dozens of British troops will be deployed to Somalia in a bid to help the ongoing peacekeeping efforts to counter Islamist militants operating in the Horn of Africa nation.
Sources have disclosed that up to seventy personnel will join the United Nations contingent, which is supporting African Union (AU) troops who are fighting al-Shabaab. British forces deployed to Somalia will provide combat training as well as medical, logistical and engineering support.
Furthermore, up to 300 personnel could also be deployed in South Sudan over time. The role of those being deployed to South Sudan will include combat training as well as engineer work in order to strengthen vital infrastructure.
The PM, who is due to pledge the support at the upcoming UN General Assembly summit, has disclosed that the approach could help curb migrants coming to Europe. According to Mr Cameron, it is important to “step up” existing British contribution,” adding, “obviously we will want to see all the right force protection arrangements in place but we should be playing a part in this.” The British PM further disclosed that “the outcome in Somalia, if it’s a good outcome, that’s good for Britain…It means less terrorism, les migration, less piracy. Ditto in South Sudan: if we can, as peacekeepers, help to maintain order and peace and see stable development in that country then that is going to be, again, less poverty, less migration, less issues that affect us back at home. Mr Cameron however noted that British troop swill not be involved in combat roles, stating, “its not committing troops to conflict, its committing troops to a UN blue-hatted peacekeeping role – as we’ve done many times in the past, as we will do in the future…And one of the reasons we’re doing it is obviously the expertise that British troops have in training, engineering, and mentoring and we’re raising the standard for peacekeeping troops, which has had some issues and problems in the recent past.”
During the upcoming UN General Assembly summit, Prime Minister Cameron will hold face-to-face talks with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Muhamoud, along with several other world leaders.
On Monday 7 September, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that two British Islamic State (IS) fighters were killed by an RAF drone strike in Syria in an “act of self-defense.”
Speaking to MP’s Prime Minister Cameron disclosed that Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan, 21, was targeted in Raqa on 21 August and died alongside Ruhul Amin, another fighter who was from Aberdeen. The British Prime Minister disclosed that Khan had been plotting “barbaric” attacks at UK public events. Despite MP’s previously ruling out UK military action in Syria, Cameron indicated that the strike was lawful and necessary.
On Monday, the Prime Minister reported that Khan was killed in a precision strike by a remotely piloted aircraft, “after meticulous planning,” while he was travelling in a vehicle, adding that the legality of the strike had been approved by the attorney general. In his statement to the Commons, Cameron disclosed “my first duty as Prime Minister is to keep the British people safe… There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him. This government does not for one moment take these decisions lightly…But I am not prepared to stand here in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on our streets and have to explain to the House why I did not take the chance to prevent it when I could have done.” Shortly after his comments, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman urged the government to publish the legal advice, stating, “why didn’t the Attorney general authorize this special action rather than merely ‘confirming there was a legal basis for it’?”
While two years ago, MP’s rejected possible UK military action in Syria, in September 2014, they approved British participation in air strikes against IS targets in Iraq only. However, officials indicated at the time that the UK would “act immediately (in Syria) and explain to Parliament afterwards” if there was “a critical British national interest at stake.”
Pro-Russian activists have taken control of the headquarters of Ukraine’s navy in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Reports in Crimea have indicated that pro-Russian forces appear to have taken control of the Ukrainian base in Sevastopol, the port city which houses Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Television footage depicted around 200 people, some armed, breaking down the gates and going in to negotiate with senior Ukrainian personnel. On the ground sources have indicated that no shots were fired during the take over however Ukrainian Navy Chief Serhiy Hayduk has reportedly been detained and the Russian flag is now flying over the base. Although officials in Kiev ordered its troops to stay in place, a number of Ukrainian servicemen were later seen leaving the base carrying their belongings. Others are believed to still be inside, refusing to surrender.
The reported takeover of the Ukrainian base came one day after Ukraine’s army indicated that a soldier had been killed in an attack on a base in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol. Russia also indicated that one member of the pro-Russian “self-defence” force in Crimea had also been killed. The reports however have not been independently confirmed. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned Tuesday that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.”
The latest developments in the on going crisis come one day after Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow, effectively absorbing the peninsula into Russia. Russia’s constitutional court has approved the accession treaty, and there is minimal doubt that parliament will also give its full backing. The move on Tuesday followed Sunday’s referendum, which approved Crimea’s split from Ukraine. The vote, which showed 97% of voters in favour of joining Russia, has been widely condemned by the West. The West and the Ukrainian government in Kiev have indicated that the hastily organized referendum was illegal and will not be recognized. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that the EU must send “a clear warning” to Russia, adding that the G8 group should discuss whether to expel Russia “if further steps are taken.”
The US and the EU are amongst those who have already imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine who have been accused of being involved in Moscow’s actions in Crimea. Brussels and the White House have stated that the sanctions will be expanded, with Moscow warning that this move was “unacceptable and will not remain without consequences.”
Amidst the growing tensions, Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema travelled to Crimea on Wednesday to try to defuse the tensions however they wee prevented from entering. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is heading to the region, and will meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday and with Ukraine’s interim leaders in Kiev on Friday.
Days after the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, where global leaders remained divided on the Syrian crisis, Russia has urged Syria to put its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control in an attempt to avoid US military strikes. Meanwhile the United States has warned that this recent diplomatic initiative made by Russia may be a form of stalling US air strikes. The announcement of a proposed destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons comes one day after two foreign hostages were freed after being held captive for five months in Syria.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has announced that an offer to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles was made during talks with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, who welcomed the initiative. During talks that were held in Moscow, Mr. Lavrov stated that he had urged Mr. Muallem to “not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on their subsequent destruction.” He also indicated that once this plan is approved and completed, Syria should fully join the Chemical Weapons Conventions. In response to the proposal, Mr. Muallem indicated that Syria has welcomed Russia’s initiative and has praised its officials for “attempting to prevent American aggression against our people.”
Shortly after Russia’s announcement, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in internationally supervised safe zones. During a brief meeting with journalists on Monday, Mr. Ban told reporters that he may propose the zones to the UN Security Council if UN inspectors confirm that such banned weapons were in fact used. He further noted that such a decision may also aid the Security Council’s “embarrassing paralysis” over the Syrian crisis. While the UN’s leader has welcomed Russia’s proposal, and has urged Syria to “agree to these proposals,” adding that there would be “very swift action” by the international community to ensure that the stocks are destroyed, he warned that “first and foremost Syria must agree positively to this.” In turn, Mr. Ban stipulated that if UN inspectors confirm the use of sarin gas in an August 21 attack, the Security Council would have no choice but to act.
Currently a UN team, which is led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, is working on a report on whether chemical arms, which are banned under international law, were used in the August 21 attack that occurred near Damascus. If the use is confirmed by the team, then according to Mr. Ban, “this would be an abominable crime, and the international community would certainly have to do something about it.” Officials in Britain, France and the United States have already stated that Assad’s forces carried out the attack in which more than 1,400 people died.
Meanwhile the United States on Monday indicated that while it would take a “hard look” at Russia’s plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, US officials expressed skepticism over the credibility of the initiative. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stated that “we’ll look at this new development, we’ll take a hard look at it,” cautioning that “clearly we don’t want this as I said, to be another stalling tactic. The Russians for months and years have stood up for the Syrian regime at the UN and in the international community.” In turn, Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security advisor, indicated that despite Russia’s proposal, Washington would not ease pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. During an interview, he stipulated that the US “will just have to follow up with them and with other countries going forward to assess the seriousness of this proposal,” adding that “at the same time, it is going to be very important that we don’t take the pressure off.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has also stated that a destruction of the weapons would be a “huge step forward,” however he warned that such a proposition should not be used as a “distraction tactic.”
Assad’s Warning to US
Meanwhile Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad recently gave an interview to US network PBS in which he warned the US against any military intervention, cautioning that the Middle East was “on the bring of explosion,” and that the US would “…pay the price if you’re not wise with dealing with terrorists. There are going to be repercussions.” During the interview, Mr. Assad also stated that the US “should expect everything. The government is not the only player in this region. You have different parties, different factions, different ideologies. You have everything in this decision now.” The Syrian leader however did not specify whether or not his comments were a threat that Syrian backed groups, such as Hezbollah, would launch retaliation attacks, or whether the comments were a warning that such strikes would bolster al-Qaeda-linked groups. He also denied that he was responsible for the chemical weapons attack, adding that there was “no evidence” to hold his government responsible for the 21 August attack.
Hostages Freed From Syria
On Monday, freed Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and Belgian teacher Pierre Piccinin spoke about the “very tough” conditions they lived through while being held hostage for five months in Syria. The two men, who were released on Sunday, stated that during the five-month kidnap ordeal, they had been subjected to violence, humiliation and mock executions. While both men indicated that they had overheard their captors discussing a possible rebel involvement in a poison-gas attack near Damascus, Mr. Quirico stated that they had no way of verifying the information. Although minimal details have emerged in regards to the circumstances of the ordeal, reports indicate that Italy’s secret services had stepped up its efforts in order to secure their freedom ahead of the possible US military strikes.
A gaunt and tired Quirico and a heavily bearded Piccinin were first seen late on Sunday after stepping off an Italian government plane in Rome. They later stated that “we are okay despite the torture suffered,” adding that “there was sometimes real violence…humiliation, bullying mock executions, Domenico faced two mock executions, with a revolver.”
According to a statement made by Mr. Quirico, he and Mr. Piccinin were initially picked up in April by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army who then handed them over to the Abu Ammar brigade. The veteran reporter further noted that “the first days we were blindfolded. There were maybe three groups that handled us…the conditions in which we were held were very tough from the start. We were given food at best once a day.” Although the two men tried to escape twice, once while their captors were at prayer, the were tracked down after two days and “seriously punished.”
Mr. Quirico has also been quoted as casting doubts on claims made by Mr. Piccinin relating to an alleged conversation they overheard about the alleged rebel role in the use of chemical weapons. Mr. Quirico has stated that “from a room where we were being held and through a half-open door one day we overheard a conversation in English via Skype involving three people whose identities I do not know,” further stating that “in the conversation, they were saying that the gas operations in two suburbs of Damascus was carried out by rebels as a provocation to force the West to intervene military.” He has since indicated that he is not able to say whether or not this conversation was based on real facts or on hearsay. In turn, a source close to the Belgian government has indicated that Mr. Piccinin’s comments “engage only him personally.”
Concerns on the part of Italian authorities had mounted as the possibility of US-led air strikes on Syria increased. However in the wake of the release of these two men, media rights watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has stated that thirteen journalists are still missing in Syria. Amongst the kidnapped are two French journalists, Didier Francois and Edouard Elias, and US journalist James Foley. Italy is also still attempting to free another one of its nationals who has been missing in Syria since July. Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for a number of years.