Parliament’s vote on Syria calls into question what’s so “special” about US-UK relationship

In the wake of Parliament’s vote against military intervention in Syria, talk has turned to Britain’s seemingly less-special relationship with the United States. Britain’s decision marks President Barack Obama’s most recent foreign policy problem – America’s closest ally is unwilling to come to its aid.

On Thursday evening, Britain’s House of Commons rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion to sanction military action in Syria by an opposition majority of 13, or 272 votes to 285. The vote could potentially hinder Obama’s efforts to take Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to task for its suspected use of chemical weapons.

In what has been seen as a damaging blow to his authority, Cameron has been forced to rule out joining any American military action in Syria despite having pledged to support President Obama.

“It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action,” Cameron said Thursday. “I get that and the government will act accordingly.”

After recalling Parliament to seek approval of the motion that missile strikes were necessary in preventing further chemical weapons attacks, Cameron failed to convince lawmakers in his own party to endorse Britain’s involvement. Members of Parliament, who voted against the measure, cited the long war in Iraq as the major deterrent from entering into a conflict with Syria.

Cameron has thus unwittingly become the first British prime minister in decades not to provide troops to a joint military operation with the US, breaking step with years of tradition. While Britain’s support is not indispensable to US military action, the disagreement has exposed a potential rift in Anglo-American relations. Continue reading

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British air force diverts Pakistani plane, 2 passengers arrested, after alleged threat

By Eliza Mackintosh, Published: May 24 

LONDON — Two passengers on board a Pakistan International Airlines flight were arrested Friday on suspicion of endangering an aircraft after Britain scrambled two Royal Air Force Typhoon jets to investigate and escort the plane to safety.Flight PK709 from Lahore, Pakistan, to Manchester, England, was diverted at 1:20 p.m. local time to Stansted Airport, northeast of London. The plane, with 297 passengers on board, landed safely and was being held in an isolated area. Essex police confirmed the arrests of two passengers, who are British nationals, ages 30 and 41. The incident was being treated as a criminal offense and both men were being questioned, officials said. There were no reports of injuries.

Mashood Dajwar, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines, said the incident began when the two passengers in question threatened a flight attendant. The attendant communicated the threat to the pilot, who passed on the concern to air traffic control in Manchester. Dajwar said he could not elaborate on the nature of the alleged threat but said the two men later said they were only making a joke.

After concerns were conveyed to authorities in Manchester, the flight was diverted to Stansted — one of two airports in Britain designated for managing security threats. Continue reading

Report: Income inequality rising in most developed countries

By Eliza Mackintosh

LONDON — The divide between rich and poor is widening in developed nations, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to the new data, economic disparity has risen more from 2007 to 2010 than in the preceding 12 years. Over this period, the OECD has documented increasing income inequality caused by the financial crisis, which it says is “squeezing income and putting pressure on inequality and poverty.”

In 2010, the richest 10 percent of people across 33 OECD member states earned 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent. That factor is up from 9 in 2007. The largest differences among OECD countries were found in Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Israel, while the lowest were in Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Denmark.

Levels of income inequality have worsened across three-quarters of all OECD countries since 2007. This gap rose most rapidly in nations where the euro crisis has hit hardest, coinciding with soaring unemployment. For example, in Spain and Italy, the average income of the top 10 percent stayed relatively stable, but the poor became drastically poorer. Continue reading

Pew poll shows Europeans losing faith in the E.U.

By Eliza Mackintosh

LONDON – Five years after the financial crisis first hit Europe, citizens of European Union member states are growing increasingly wary of the body that was supposed to provide them with economic benefits. Public confidence in the E.U. has dropped to staggering new lows, according to an annual survey conducted by the nonpartisan, Washington-based Pew Research Center.

“The European Union is the new sick man of Europe,” according to Pew’s report of the survey results. “The effort over the past half century to create a more united Europe is now the principal casualty of the euro crisis. The European project now stands in disrepute across much of Europe.”

Support for the EU has taken a huge hit over the past year, falling in five of the eight E.U. countries surveyed by Pew. Overall, the E.U.’s favorability rating has fallen to just 45 percent, compared with 60 percent in 2012. The results of the study, for which Pew polled 7,646 people in March, suggest that many E.U. voters may oppose any further transfer of power to European Union institutions.

Source: Pew

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U.K. lawmakers debate leaving the European Union

By Eliza Mackintosh, Published: May 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm

LONDON — As Prime Minister David Cameron met with President Obama in Washington on Monday to discuss the benefits of a new trade agreement between the United States and Europe, a storm was brewing across the Atlantic over whether Britain should exit the European Union.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, both members of the Conservative Party, escalated tensions in Parliament on Sunday when both said that if a referendum were held now, they would vote for Britain to leave the 27-nation bloc.

Gove, who is one of the most senior Conservatives to speak out in support of Britain exiting the EU, said Sunday that should that happen, “life outside would be perfectly tolerable,” and that there would even be some advantages. Hammond echoed Gove’s remarks saying, he is on Gove’s “side of the argument.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson did not join fellow conservatives in outright advocating the nation’s withdrawal from the EU, but he told the BBC on Friday that Britain must be prepared to pull out, and that an exit would not be as “cataclysmic” to the U.K. economy as some EU supporters claim.

The remarks from senior members of Cameron’s cabinet made for awkward timing as the prime minister pressed Obama for a long-term EU-U.S. trade deal, which he says would bring Britain’s economy more than $15 billion a year.

“We have a special relationship with the U.K. and we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward-looking and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests as well as the world.” Obama said at a news conference with Cameron in Washington on Monday. “And I think that the U.K.’s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world.”

Obama added that Cameron’s, “basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me.” Continue reading

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Britain bids farewell to Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady

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By Eliza Mackintosh and ANTHONY FAIOLA, Published: April 17

LONDON — Britain bade a final farewell to Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday, silencing the bells of Big Ben and mounting a trademark display of sober pageantry for the funeral of a towering leader who, in death as in life, deeply divides the nation.

Although not a state funeral — an honor reserved largely for monarchs — the military honors and pomp unfurled for the event marked the most elaborate goodbye for any elected leader here since Winston Churchill. As the Union Jack flew at half-staff over No. 10 Downing Street, the hearse carrying the flag-covered casket of the Iron Lady wound along a historic two-mile route. For the final leg of the procession, the casket was transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses.

Tens of thousands of mourners and 4,000 police officers lined the route, which stretched from the Gothic spires of the Palace of Westminster, through Trafalgar Square and over to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a service was later attended by more than 2,300 dignitaries and others.

Well-wishers waved flags, both of Britain and the Falkland Islands, the British territory Thatcher went to war to recover after an Argentine invasion. They had come, they said, to honor Britain’s longest-ruling prime minister of the 20th century, a woman whose steely will is credited with rebuilding the country’s global status, accelerating the fall of the Berlin Wall and modernizing the domestic economy.

“She truly was an Iron Lady. She is what made Great Britain great,” said Maureen Mann, 71, whose husband and son fought in the 1982 Falklands War. Mann’s family traveled hours from central England to stand along the procession route. “Thatcher fought fiercely for that little island and the people on it. We feel a great sense of pride in that.”

Margaret Fowler, who, like Thatcher, is a grocer’s daughter, left Oxford for London at 5 a.m. to find a good spot along the route. “She put Britain back on its feet. When you see the people turning out here, you can see the support for her still,” Fowler said.

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic came to pay their respects, with former U.S. secretaries of state George Shultz, James A. Baker III and Henry Kissinger joining British Prime Minister David Cameron and John Major, one of Cameron’s Conservative predecessors. Continue reading

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