Category Archives: London

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


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

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


Britain, Argentina sparring again over the Falklands

By Eliza Mackintosh, Published: January 4

LONDON — More than 30 years after Argentina’s unsuccessful invasion of the Falkland Islands, a fresh war of words has broken out over the sovereignty of the British territory, a rocky archipelago about 8,000 miles from London but harboring outsize importance to both countries.

The latest bout of controversy erupted after Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner issued a scathing letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, which also ran as an open note to the British public Thursday in London’s Guardian newspaper. She demanded negotiations to hand over the islands, insisting that Britain was in violation of a 1960 U.N. resolution seeking to “end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations.”

The letter sparked immediate indignation in Britain’s halls of power, with the notoriously zealous British tabloids joining the fray Friday. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun tabloid took out an advertisement in the Buenos Aires Herald, warning Argentines to keep their “hands off” the islands.

The latest exchanges underscore the extent to which the sparsely populated islands, which cost the lives of more than 900 people in the 1982 Falklands War, remain a hot-button issue on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The future of the Falkland Islands should be determined by the Falkland Islanders themselves,” Cameron said in a statement on British television. “Whenever they’ve been asked their opinion, they’ve said they want to maintain their current status with the United Kingdom. They’re holding a referendum this year, and I hope the president of Argentina will listen to that referendum and recognize it’s for the Falkland Islanders to choose their future.”

London’s efforts to preserve the Falklands, one of the last outposts of the British Empire, have long been viewed, at least in part, as an attempt to maintain a vestige of its glorious past. But over the past 18 months, the issue of ownership has also become a question of economic gain, with the discovery of potential vast stores of oil. Rockhopper Exploration, a British oil firm, thinks that it has found a cache of 450  million barrels, with the potential for more.

Equally central to Britain’s position is the fundamental belief that the Falkland Islanders should have the right to self-determination. Residents of the English-speaking islands have long stated a desire to remain British. In the face of mounting political pressures from Argentina, the residents of the Falkland Islands have scheduled a referendum for March in order to reaffirm their standing as a British overseas territory.

The evolving struggle over the islands has, over the past few months, resulted in another kind of war — an economic attack on the cruise ship industry. Tensions have risen as Argentina has begun prohibiting ships flying United Kingdom or Falkland Island flags from docking in Argentine ports.

These escalated measures have resulted in several cruise lines canceling trips to the Falklands altogether.Among them, Holland America’s Veendam, German liner AIDAcara, and Prestige Cruise Holdings’ Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises have scrapped visits, blaming pressure from Argentina. Eighty-one cruise ships and 60,000 passengers were scheduled to visit Stanley, the capital, this season, which lasts until April, but that number has already been drastically reduced.

In what might be considered a patriotic stand, major British cruise line P&O Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival U.K., has canceled all scheduled visits to Argentine ports in 2013. The news came after Britain summoned Argentina’s ambassador to London, Alicia Castro, to protest what the British government considers to be “increasingly aggressive actions against the people of the Falklands Islands.” Among these was an attack led by masked men who tore apart a shipping services company in Buenos Aires. The British government alleges that the assault was made in an effort to deter vessels from visiting the Falklands. After the incident on Nov. 19, the cruise company associated with the shipping agents decided to cancel a trip to the islands.

Attempts to squash the Falklands’ tourism industry have taken a toll on Stanley, where about a quarter of the working population is involved in cruise ship tourism.

Small-business owners Kevin and Hattie Kilmartin run Bluff Cove Lagoon Penguin Tours near Stanley.

“We had a war here 30 years ago; we’re not unused to the fact that Argentina has certain issues with us,” Kevin Kilmartin said. “But recently they’ve been cranking up the economic warfare.”