A vote reversed: What is the path back from Brexit?

LONDON (Reuters) – To leave, or not to leave: More than two and a half years since the United Kingdom voted to exit the EU, that is still the question.

The crisis in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over her draft Brexit divorce deal has stirred interest in the possibility that the United Kingdom could change its mind, or ‘regrexit’.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

But ever since, opponents of Brexit have been exploring ways to hold another referendum.

May has repeatedly said there will not be another referendum on membership and the leader of the main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, has indicated he is also not in favor.

So what is the path to a second vote?

1) MAY’S BREXIT PLAN FAILS

The first step, according to campaigners, is that parliament rejects May’s draft divorce deal.

To leave the EU on the terms of her deal, May would need the backing of parliament.

The size of the rebellion inside her Conservative Party and the anger of her allies in the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party indicate she would have trouble passing the deal, even with significant support from Labour Party lawmakers.

“I suspect it will get to parliament and parliament will vote it down and once that happens it will be game on for a People’s Vote,” said Hugo Dixon, deputy chair of the People’s Vote campaign group, which wants another referendum.

“Voting down a deal does not mean we crash out no deal at all; it means we are highly likely to move to a People’s Vote with an option to stay in the EU,” Dixon said. “The no deal scenario is not likely,”

2) UK POLITICAL CRISIS

The collapse of May’s deal would thrust the United Kingdom deeper into crisis.

Three of the four former British prime ministers still alive – John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – have said a second referendum is the way to resolve the crisis.

“I still believe it is possible that Brexit is stopped,” Blair told Reuters last month.

The opposition Labour Party, which is also divided over Brexit, has indicated it would seek to trigger a national election if May failed to get parliamentary approval.

But to secure an election, two thirds of the 650 lawmakers in parliament would have to vote for one.

Another way is if a motion of no confidence in the government is passed. There is then a 14-day grace period in which to pass an act of confidence in a new government.

If there is no vote of confidence in that new government, then a new election must be held within about 17 working days, according to the Institute of Government.

Brexit campaigners think Labour would fail to trigger an election.

3) PARLIAMENT TAKES CHARGE

After what would have been weeks of crisis and the failure of various other options – an election, a new prime minister, attempts to renegotiate with the EU – parliament would finally demand a new referendum.

The exact mechanism is unclear but lawmakers could vote for a motion calling for a new referendum as a way out of the deadlock. That would have to be backed up by legislation calling a referendum.

4) ASKING THE EU FOR TIME

Holding a referendum would take months so the European Union would have to be asked for more time as the United Kingdom is currently on course to leave at 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019.

Key to asking for more time is the question of whether the United Kingdom could withdraw Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon nearly two years after May invoked it.

As the clause has never been used before, lawyers have a diverse range of opinions on its reversibility or not.

But the British diplomat who drafted the clause, John Kerr, has repeatedly argued that it can be reversed.

“The die is not irrevocably cast, there is still time and, until the UK has left the EU, the Article 50 letter can be withdrawn,” Kerr, who was British ambassador to the EU from 1990 to 1995, said in “The Roadmap to a People’s Vote”. here

Judges at the European Union’s highest court will hear a case on the Brexit process on Nov. 27, reviewing whether Britain could unilaterally withdraw its decision to leave the EU.

5) WHAT WOULD THE PEOPLE SAY?

Unclear.

Many supporters of Brexit say that holding such a vote would thrust the United Kingdom into its biggest ever constitutional crisis, and possibly even provoke disorder.

While polls and academic research show that the country remains divided, a survey of 20,000 voters published this month showed it would vote to stay in the EU. here

Many surveys ahead of the vote incorrectly predicted that Britain would vote to stay in the club it joined in 1973. But a vote to leave in a second referendum would surely mean the country would have to leave.

6) WHAT WOULD BE ON THE BALLOT PAPER?

It’s not clear, of course. Jo Johnson, younger brother of Boris, resigned from the government earlier this month, calling for another referendum.

People should be asked “whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all, or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union”, he said.

Supporters of Brexit say having two options for Brexit and one for remain would be unfair as it would split the vote for Brexit. 

7) LOVE EU AGAIN?

The prospect of the world’s fifth largest economy returning to the fold would surely be welcomed by most EU leaders.

European Council President Donald Tusk said this week that the EU is prepared to cancel Brexit.

French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has suggested Britain could still change its mind.

8) NEVERENDUM?

Opponents of the idea of a second referendum say it would not solve anything even if voters chose to stay in the EU.

Supporters of Brexit would then demand a third, decisive referendum to resolve the question that has haunted the United Kingdom since it lost its empire: Should it go it alone or partner with the European project?

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood

North Korea tests new ‘tactical’ weapon, releases U.S. prisoner

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader witnessed the test of a newly developed high-tech weapon, the country’s state media reported on Friday, while Pyongyang also released a U.S. prisoner, sending conflicting signals at a time of sensitive negotiations.

Kim Jong Un’s visit to the test site of what North Korea’s state media called a “tactical weapon” that could protect North Korea like a “steel wall” threatened to sour the diplomatic atmosphere at a time when negotiations between North Korea and the United States appear to have stalled.

However, the U.S. State Department sought to play down the development, suggesting it would not derail efforts to persuade North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons program that has the potential to threaten the United States.

“We remain confident that the promises made by President Trump and Chairman Kim will be fulfilled,” a spokesman for the U.S. State Department said.

At an unprecedented summit in June, U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore agreed to work toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula and establish new relations. But the agreement was short on specifics, and negotiations have made little headway since.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency did not identify the weapon tested but called the test a success. The only picture released by state media showed Kim standing on a beach surrounded by officials in military uniforms with no weapons visible.

The description of the weapon as “tactical” appeared to rule out larger strategic weapons, such as a ballistic missile or a nuclear bomb, which North Korea demonstrated until last year, raising fears of a new Korean war.

But testing of any new weapon threatens to raise tensions with Washington, which has upset Pyongyang by repeatedly stressing that international sanctions must remain in place until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons.

A source familiar with U.S. assessments said the United States was still evaluating the test, but was not particularly alarmed. The source said the announcement was low key by North Korean standards, suggesting that Kim did not want to stir things up too much, even while delivering a warning.

In an apparently conciliatory gesture, North Korea also announced on Friday it was releasing an American citizen detained since October after he “illegally” entered North Korea from China.

Pyongyang identified the man as Bruce Byron Lowrance.

The State Department declined to identify the citizen and did not provide details about him. But in a statement on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the U.S. negotiating effort with North Korea, thanked North Korea and Sweden for cooperating to secure the release.

North Korea has held previous American detainees for longer, and Washington has accused Pyongyang of using them as bargaining chips.

WARNING TO WASHINGTON

Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists saw the test announcement as a warning to Washington.

“They’re trying to signal that they are willing to walk away from talks and restart weapons testing,” he said. “It is the most explicit in a series of escalating statements designed to send this message.”

Kim this year declared his nuclear force “complete” and said he would focus on economic development. But North Korea has increasingly expressed frustration at Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions and recently threatened to restart development of its nuclear weapons if more concessions were not made.

A meeting in New York planned this month between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, a senior aide to Kim, was postponed.

However, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said Trump planned to meet Kim again in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs.

Choi Kang, of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said Friday’s announcement was more likely aimed at reassuring the North Korean military rather than trying to torpedo diplomatic talks.

“North Korea is trying to show its soldiers that they are becoming high-tech and keeping a certain level of military capability, while trying to eliminate dissatisfaction and worries inside its military,” he said.

The test may also have been a response to recent small-scale military drills by the United States and South Korea, which Pyongyang said violated recent pacts to halt “all hostile acts.” said Yang Uk of the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Kim said the weapons system tested was one that his father, Kim Jong Il, had taken a special interest in during his life, personally leading its development.

International weapons experts noted the officials with Kim included a leader of North Korea’s artillery corps.

Kim’s last publicized military inspection was the launch of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile a year ago, though he engaged in at least eight other military related activities this year, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.

While it has conducted no nuclear or missile tests since last year, North Korea has continued to showcase its conventional military capabilities, including at a large military parade in its capital, Pyongyang, on Sept. 9.

Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim in Seoul, and Matt Spetalnick, David Brunnstrom and Mark Hosenball in WASHINGTON; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish

Russian ambassador to Finland summoned over GPS disruption

(Reuters) – Russia’s Ambassador to Finland Pavel Kuznetsov has been summoned to a meeting on Monday with Finnish state secretary Matti Anttonen over the disruption of Finland’s global positioning system (GPS) signal during recent NATO war games.

“We don’t have anything to hide here. Disruption is a serious matter which disturbs civil aviation. We will act toward Russia, we will discuss this and we expect answers,” Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in a statement to public broadcaster Yle while on a state visit to the United States.

The Finnish foreign ministry said on Thursday that the disruption of Finland’s GPS signal during recent NATO war games came from Russian territory.

The Kremlin on Monday dismissed an earlier allegation from Finland that Russia may have intentionally disrupted the signal during the war games.

Earlier in November, Finland’s air navigation services issued a warning for air traffic due to a large-scale GPS interruption in the north of the country. Russia was also recently accused by Norway, which had posted a similar warning in its own airspace.

Finland is not a NATO member but it took part as an ally in NATO’s largest exercise in decades which ended on Wednesday. Forces from 31 countries participated in the games close to Russia, in an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland.

Finland shares an 833-mile (1,340-km) border and a difficult history with Russia.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler

Colombian coroner says Odebrecht whistleblower died of heart attack

BOGOTA (Reuters) – A Colombian investigation into the death of Jorge Enrique Pizano, a key witness at the center of a corruption probe involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht [ODBES.UL], found that he died of a heart attack, the chief coroner said on Friday.

The attorney general’s office on Tuesday had ordered a probe into Pizano’s Nov. 9 death on fears of foul play after his son, Alejandro Pizano Ponce de Leon, died from cyanide poisoning two days later.

The attorney general said the younger Pizano drank from a bottle of water on his father’s desk and was dead within minutes. The son had arrived the previous day from Barcelona to attend his father’s funeral.

The Pizano deaths are the latest twist in a corruption probe that placed Odebrecht at the center of a massive Latin America graft scandal. The company acknowledged in a 2016 leniency deal that it had bribed officials in a dozen countries.

Jorge Pizano, an auditor for the Ruta del Sol II roadway concession in which Odebrecht was a partner, had been assisting prosecutors investigating allegations that the Brazilian firm paid some $30 million in bribes to secure Colombian infrastructure contracts.

Odebrecht offered its condolences over the deaths in a statement on Friday and said it would continue to collaborate with Colombian judicial authorities.

Tissue samples taken during the elder Pizano’s autopsy were tested by two separate laboratories and no cyanide was found, coroner’s office director Carlos Eduardo Valdes told reporters in Bogota. The coroners concluded that the original medical assessment that Pizano had died of a heart attack was correct.

“The two laboratories independently found no cyanide in the analyzed tissues … in the case of the death of the young man, the blood and bottle were found to contain cyanide,” Valdes said on Friday.

Jorge Pizano had told local television channel Noticias Uno in an August interview broadcast on Monday that he feared for his safety.

The project he audited was a 2010 partnership between Odebrecht and a unit of Colombia’s Grupo Aval, the country’s largest financial firm, to build a 528 kilometer (328 mile) highway to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The contract was worth about $1.7 billion.

Reporting by Helen Murphy, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

CIA has concluded Saudi crown prince ordered journalist’s killing: Washington Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the Washington Post reported on Friday, a finding that contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.

The Post said U.S. officials have expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which is the most definitive to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing and complicates President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve U.S. ties with one of the closest American allies in the region.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann

Bottles, chili paste thrown as Sri Lanka parliament descends into farce

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s parliament descended into chaos for a second day on Friday as lawmakers supporting newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chili paste and water bottles at the speaker to try to disrupt a second no-confidence motion.

The vote went ahead anyway and for a second time lawmakers gave Rajapaksa and his new government the thumbs down, potentially strengthening the hand of Wickremesinghe, who is seeking to return as prime minister.

Wickremesinghe was removed by President Maithripala Sirisena late last month and replaced with Rajapaksa, plunging the island off India’s southeast coast into political turmoil.

Rajapaksa is seen as a close ally of China, though Beijing has denied accusations that it was instrumental in getting him appointed.

Wickremesinghe said “anarchy” could result if the president did not recognize the second non-confidence vote. He was speaking to foreign correspondents at the prime minister’s official residence, which he has refused to vacate.

“We have the majority,” he earlier told reporters. “We can form our government and we will act accordingly.”

Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, from Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, said the president had rejected the second vote . Sirisena’s office did not respond to calls seeking comment.

With parliament scheduled to reconvene on Monday, Sirisena appears faced with the choice of either reappointing Wickremesinghe, whom he has said he will not bring back, or allowing the crisis to fester.

Rajapaksa’s camp demanded an early election.

“We shall continue to agitate till an early election is called. We are thrown into anarchy,” Rajapaksa loyalist Keheliya Rambukwella said, accusing Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of being biased and acting on behalf of Western nations.

Sirisena dissolved parliament last week and called elections, but the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.

BOOKS, BROKEN CHAIRS

Earlier on Friday, Rajapaksa supporters poured on to the floor of parliament, surrounding the speaker’s chair, and demanded the arrest of two lawmakers from Wickremesinghe’s party for allegedly bringing knives into the house on Thursday.

A member of parliament from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna party sat on Jayasuriya’s chair surrounded by more than 20 lawmakers, delaying the start of proceedings. Rajapaksa loyalists then tried to prevent Jayasuriya from sitting on a second chair brought in by police.

One MP then pulled out the cushion of the second chair and hurled both towards policeman guarding the speaker.

When Jayasuriya eventually started calling out names while standing – under a heavy police presence for the first time in parliamentary history – to know whom MPs supported, Rajapaksa supporters bombarded him with books, chili paste and water bottles.

Three lawmakers and at least six police were injured, parliament medical staff said.

The speaker’s office informed Sirisena in a letter that 122 MPs of the 225 lawmakers signed the no-confidence motion, the same margin as in Wednesday’s first vote.

Sirisena had called for the second vote after rejecting the first.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Sources close to the leadership have said Sirisena’s decision to sack Wickremesinghe came after the prime minister’s party rejected the president’s request to back him for second five-year term in 2020. They also split over whether to back Chinese or Indian investors in various projects, the sources said.

India and Western countries have requested Sirisena act in line with the constitution while raising concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China. Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015.

Tourism accounts for nearly 5 percent of the economy and is a key main foreign exchange earner, along with the garment and tea industries, and remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Krishna N. Das and John Stonestreet

EU states offer Britain ‘ambitious’ ties after Brexit, but no frictionless trade

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union states said on Friday that they wanted an “ambitious” future relationship with Britain but that this would not mean frictionless trade, as they met to prepare a text by Nov 25 to accompany the draft Brexit deal.

In London, Prime Minister Theresa May was fighting to save the withdrawal agreement she agreed on with the EU earlier this week, after resignations in her cabinet and with a potential challenge to her Tory party leadership hanging over her.

In Brussels, envoys from the 27 other EU member states met to work on a political declaration on future EU-UK relations that would form a package with the Brexit deal.

EU heads will gather in the Belgian capital on Nov 25 to rubber-stamp both documents, barring British political turmoil sinking the deal – or May herself – by then. Aware of the risks, however, the EU is also not ignoring contingency preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Full-on negotiations on the future ties between the world’s biggest trading bloc and one of its biggest economies will only start after Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019.

Diplomats and officials involved in the Brussels meeting told Reuters that the EU states took turns listing their opinions of what the outline they are now working on should include.

“In the future, everybody wants to have a close partnership with the UK, but there cannot be frictionless trade,” one person said after the closed-door meeting.

“You can strive towards as little friction as possible and everybody is willing to abolish unnecessary hurdles. But at the same time there must be a difference between a third country and a member state.”

While countries like Germany, Ireland and Portugal wanted the text to ring positive, France, Belgium and Spain wanted to stress the EU’s single market integrity.

“There was discussion on how to get the wording right between offering an ambitious relationship but making clear frictionless trade was impossible,” another person said.

Paris leads a group of EU states seeking stronger guarantees that they can get access to Britain’s rich fishing waters after Brexit.

EU envoys stressed the need to ensure a level-playing field in future trade and sought to include articles on coordination with Britain after Brexit on issues ranging from social security to aviation to development.

On areas where they do not agree, they plan to leave things open until the actual negotiations with Britain begin, EU officials said, stressing that the 27 states were on track to agree a joint approach for Nov 25.

“The tone of the meeting was that they want it done, (to) get the ball over the line,” the first diplomat said.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Gabriela Baczynska, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Hugh Lawson

Loved ones mourn Khashoggi after Riyadh seeks to execute five suspects

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Family and friends of Jamal Khashoggi said funeral prayers in Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Friday for the Saudi journalist killed by agents of his own government, in a case that has sparked a global outcry and mired the kingdom in crisis.

The Saudi public prosecutor said on Thursday it would seek the death penalty for five suspects in the murder inside the country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2. They did not provide names but at least two are senior officials closely associated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In an unusual measure against an important security and economic partner, the U.S. Treasury imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudis, including Saud al-Qahtani, the crown prince’s former top adviser.

Riyadh maintains that Prince Mohammed had nothing to do with the murder, even as Turkey and some Western allies, including U.S. President Donald Trump, have said ultimate responsibility lies with him as the country’s de facto ruler. Changing Saudi accounts of the murder, including initial denials, have been met with scepticism abroad.

Tens of thousands of worshippers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Khashoggi’s hometown, joined in prayers for the deceased, though the imams did not name him.

In Istanbul, mourners raised their hands in prayer outside Fatih Mosque. An imam recited Koranic verses under a tent set up to protect against the rain, and Khashoggi’s friends eulogized him.

“What we heard yesterday from the Saudi public prosecutor is not the justice we were expecting or waiting for, but represents injustice itself,” said Ayman Nour, a liberal Egyptian politician.

An adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for Prince Mohammed to distance himself from the legal proceedings.

“There is no chance to have a court proceeding that is independent from the crown prince in Saudi Arabia,” said Yasin Aktay.

For weeks, Khashoggi’s family has urged Saudi and Turkish authorities to find his remains and hand them over for burial, but the Saudi prosecutor said their whereabouts are unknown.

Islamic tradition places immense importance on the proper handling of the dead, mandating quick burial. The revelation that the body was dismembered has thus been particularly disturbing.

The decision to hold prayer services in the absence of a body suggests the family does not expect it to be recovered.

Khashoggi’s son, Salah, met the king and crown prince in Riyadh last month to receive condolences along with other relatives. He then departed for Washington after a travel ban was lifted and told CNN on Nov. 5 that he wanted to bury his father in Medina with the rest of the family.

“We just need to make sure that he rests in peace,” Salah said. “Until now, I still can’t believe that he’s dead. It’s not sinking in with me emotionally.”

NEW LIFE

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish researcher who had waited outside the Istanbul consulate for hours on the day he was killed and alerted the authorities and the media when he never left the building, called last week for Muslims around the world to perform the funeral prayer for him.

On Thursday, she tweeted a selfie of Khashoggi outside the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina mosque, writing: “Dear Jamal.. rest in peace. We will meet in heaven inshallah (God willing)..!”

Cengiz and Khashoggi met at a conference in Istanbul in May and soon decided to wed. He had entered the consulate that day to obtain documents proving an earlier marriage had ended.

The pair purchased an apartment in Istanbul and Khashoggi was planning to live between there and Washington, where he moved 18 months earlier fearing reprisals for his views. He obtained U.S. residency and wrote for the Washington Post, becoming familiar to many American policymakers.

“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison,” he wrote in Sept. 2017, referring to intellectuals, activists and clerics arrested under Prince Mohammed.

Slideshow (15 Images)

His murder has provoked the biggest political crisis in a generation for Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a supporter of Washington’s plans to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.

It has also tarnished the image of Prince Mohammed, who has pushed social and economic reforms while cracking down on dissent, upending the delicate balance inside the ruling family, and leading the country into messy conflicts in Yemen and Qatar.

Additional Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean

U.S. prepares criminal case against Wikileaks’ Assange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors are preparing to pursue a criminal case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, escalating a long battle targeting his anti-secrecy group even as he remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Assange, something that emerged in a Thursday filing in an unrelated criminal case in a Virginia federal court. Because the indictment was sealed, the nature of any charges against Assange has not been made public at this point.

Thursday’s filing had also been sealed, but it was made public for reasons that were unclear, according to a person familiar with the matter. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, said the filing was made in error.

Wikileaks said in a Twitter post it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”

Criminal charges in the United States could pressure Britain to extradite Assange, an Australian national. U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors have been conducting a lengthy criminal probe into Assange and Wikileaks.

Assange could not be reached for comment.

Wikileaks became known over the last decade for publishing documents that were not previously public. In a recent high profile instance, during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign the group published some of a trove of Democratic emails that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded were hacked by Russia.

Intelligence agencies said Russia used hacking and other tactics to try to tilt the election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump. Moscow has denied this.

Lawyers for Assange and others have said his work with Wikileaks was critical to a free press and was protected speech.

“The notion that federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set,” Barry Pollack, a U.S. lawyer for Assange, said in a statement.

Wikileaks said in a statement on Friday that Assange was willing to work with British officials as long he was not extradited to the United States.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape, which he has denied.

Sweden dropped its investigation of Assange, but Britain has said that if he left the embassy he would be arrested for violating his bail terms.

Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer advising Assange, said in a statement it was “no surprise” that the United States was seeking to charge Assange, and Australian officials should allow Assange to return there.

Ecuadorean officials had no immediate comment on Friday.

‘KEEP CONFIDENTIAL’

Thursday’s filing mentioning Assange related to a criminal case involving a 29-year-old man charged with enticing a 15-year-old girl.

The judge wrote in a detention memo that the defendant, Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, “has had a substantial interest in terrorist acts.” Reuters was unable to locate Kokayi.

A source familiar with the matter said the Koyaki case was totally unrelated to investigations of Assange or Wikileaks.

It was not clear why the filing referred to Assange, but it said that any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant, and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Wikileaks gained prominence in 2010 after publishing a classified video showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

It has also released thousands of classified U.S. military documents, among other disclosures.

In April last year, when he was head of the CIA, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service.”

Trump praised Wikileaks during his 2016 campaign.

Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Michael Holden in London; Additional writing by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry

UK PM May defends Brexit deal as opponents plot no-confidence vote

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of the most prominent Brexiteer in her government on Friday as she fought to save a draft European Union divorce deal that has stirred up a plot to force her out of her job.

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if the world’s fifth largest economy will leave the bloc as planned on March 29, 2019.

Just hours after announcing that her senior ministers had collectively backed her divorce deal, May’s premiership was thrust into its most perilous crisis to date when her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned on Thursday in opposition to the agreement.

Other mutinous lawmakers in her party have openly spoken of ousting her and said bluntly that the Brexit deal would not pass parliament.

But May, who has defiantly vowed to stay on as prime minister, got a rare boost on Friday when Michael Gove, the most prominent Brexit-supporting minister, gave his backing to her, saying he would stay on as environment minister.

Asked if he had confidence in May, Gove, who is famous for sinking former foreign minister Boris Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016, told reporters: “I absolutely do.”

“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people we can get a good outcome,” said Gove, 51, a potential successor to May.

  • EU states offer Britain ‘ambitious’ ties after Brexit, but no frictionless trade
  • Irish PM says hard border highly likely without Brexit deal
  • Bemused EU eyes options for British Brexit meltdown

Trade minister Liam Fox, another leading Brexit supporter, also joined Gove in backing May – but her future remains uncertain.

The first question she faced on a LBC radio phone-in show to defend her deal was from a caller who asked her to “respectfully stand down”. She did not immediately address that part of the caller’s question.

Stephen Barclay, a little-known junior health minister, was appointed as the new Brexit secretary, although the status of the role was downgraded from chief negotiator with May leading the completion of talks with the EU.

“He will be doing the domestic role. The PM will be completing the last 10 days of negotiations,” May’s spokesman said.

Sterling GBP=D3, which has see-sawed on Brexit news since the referendum, was up half a cent against the dollar at $1.2834 on Friday.

PLOTTERS

Politicians, officials and diplomats in London openly questioned how long May had left as speculation swirled that a leadership challenge could come soon.

Under Conservative Party rules, a vote must take place when 48 of her lawmakers submit letters to the party’s so-called 1922 committee, chaired by a senior lawmaker, Graham Brady.

Influential Brexit-supporting lawmaker Steve Baker said rebels in May’s party were close to the threshold which would trigger a confidence vote. So far, at least 21 lawmakers have publicly said they have submitted letters.

“I think we’re probably not far off,” said Baker, a key figure in the Brexit-backing wing of May’s party. “I think it probably is imminent, yes,” he told BBC TV.

British political correspondents also reported that Gove, Fox and other pro-Brexit ministers would meet this weekend to amend May’s deal. However, both the Irish and Dutch prime ministers said there was little scope to change the proposals.

Since winning the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 referendum, May’s tumultuous premiership has been characterised by an obdurate flair for survival despite frequent crises.

CONFIDENCE VOTE

May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, said she would win a vote of no confidence, in which she would need a simple majority of the total votes cast by her lawmakers.

“If those letters were to go in, I think that she would win any such vote decisively, and she’d deserve to do so,” Lidington said in a broadcast clip.

Slideshow (3 Images)

If May stayed on in power without a divorce deal that could be approved, the ultimate outcome of Brexit would be uncertain.

Other possible scenarios for the United Kingdom include May’s deal ultimately winning approval; May losing her job; Britain leaving the bloc with no agreement; or even another referendum.

A snap poll by Survation of 1,070 voters for the Daily Mail newspaper found 49 percent of respondents opposed the deal and just 27 percent backed it.

To leave the EU on the terms of her deal, May would need to get the backing of about 320 of parliament’s 650 lawmakers. The deal is due to be discussed at an EU summit on Nov. 25.

By seeking to preserve the closest possible ties with the EU, May has upset her party’s many advocates of a clean break, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

“They’ve raised some questions with us, they’ve raised some concerns with us and yes we are looking at those,” May said. “We are still working with the DUP.”

NIGHTMARE FOR BUSINESS?

The EU and Britain need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the United Kingdom, home to the biggest international financial centre.

Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive.

May told LBC radio the threat of a no deal Brexit was personal as she is Type 1 diabetic: “I depend on insulin every day. My insulin is produced by a country elsewhere in the European Union.”

May’s spokeswoman said there had been strong business support for her draft deal but British aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce (RR.L) was continuing with its no-deal contingency plans.

The plans include “buffer stocks so that we have all the logistical capacity that we need to carry on running our business,” said Chief Executive Warren East.

Proponents of closer relations with the EU in her own party and the Labour opposition say the deal squanders the advantages of membership for little gain.

Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Andy Bruce, Elizabeth Piper and William James; writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge. Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, William Maclean and Andrew Heavens