London, Apr 13 (AP/UNB)— As a symbol of the woes of Britain's Brexit-era democracy, it could hardly be bettered. Lawmakers had to be sent home in mid-debate last week when water from a burst pipe began gushing into the House of Commons chamber.
The image perfectly illustrates Parliament's problem as it tries to solve the puzzle that is Brexit. On the outside, the U.K. institution is resplendent, a world-famous symbol of democracy sitting majestically on the River Thames. On the inside, it's decrepit and increasingly unfit for use.
The hidden flaws in Britain's political system have been laid bare — and televised worldwide — since voters chose, almost three years ago, to leave the European Union.
Decision-making has ground to a standstill, even as business leaders and residents alike cry out for certainty. Many Britons feel a mix of frustration, fascination and shame at the ongoing political chaos. So do politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide.
"I am ashamed to be a member of this Parliament," said pro-EU Liberal Democrat lawmaker Norman Lamb after lawmakers once again failed to find a way forward on Brexit.
Bill Cash, a pro-Brexit Conservative, said this week that Britain had been "humiliated" by failing to leave the EU on time.
The last few months in Parliament, as lawmakers repeatedly tried and failed to agree on a roadmap for Britain's departure, have produced close votes, late nights and high drama. It's a political soap opera that has sent the viewership of Parliament's live-streaming website soaring and made an international celebrity of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, with his bellowing cries of "Orderrrrr" and "The ayes have it!"
But all the sound and fury signifies — not much. Britain is no further out the EU door or clearer about its post-Brexit direction than it was at the start of the year.
A divorce agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May's government and EU late in 2018 lays out the terms of an orderly U.K. departure and promising close future ties. Since January, Parliament has rejected it three times. Pro-Brexit lawmakers won't vote for it because they favor a more definitive break with the bloc. Pro-EU politicians reject it because they think it's a poor substitute for EU membership.
Parliament has also voted on other options including leaving without a deal and holding a new referendum on Britain's EU membership. And twice lawmakers have rejected them all.
To avoid a chaotic no-deal departure that could devastate an economy already weighed down by Brexit uncertainty, May has twice gone to the EU asking for more time. Despite the bloc's increasing exasperation at Britain, it has twice agreed, delaying Brexit Day first from March 31 to April 12 and then again until Oct. 31.
British businesses breathed a sigh of relief, but feared the respite would be temporary unless politicians can resolve a political crisis that been building since the surprise result of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Amid widespread mistrust in politicians, a feeling that had been growing for years, voters opted to leave the EU against the advice of the government, most economists and major business groups.
Britain's political system has proven itself ill-equipped to implement the demand.
May's Conservative minority government does not have a majority of seats in Parliament — a rare occurrence in Britain — and struggles to deliver its policies. The country's two main parties, Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party, are both internally divided over Brexit and have begun to fray, with more than a dozen lawmakers quitting in recent months to sit as independents.
Pro-EU backbench lawmakers have gone to war with the government, seizing control of the parliamentary timetable to hold debates and votes on Brexit. Pro-Brexit Conservatives have demanded that May resign for failing to take Britain out of the EU.
In this environment, Parliament's stressed, exhausted politicians and their staff are frankly relieved at the 10-day Easter break that began on Friday. The prime minister has implored them to relax, reflect and come back ready to strike a Brexit compromise. In the meantime, May's government is still holding talks with Labour in hopes of finding common ground.
But there are few signs of any emerging consensus. Brexiteers in the Conservative Party are still plotting to remove May and replace her with a more strongly pro-Brexit leader, such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Pro-EU politicians are still hoping to secure a new referendum on Brexit that could deliver a mandate for Britain to stay in the bloc. Labour craves a national election, despite the risk that voters could decide to punish all politicians amid exasperation over the Brexit debacle.
There is no end in sight to the Brexit drama, which has left observers around the world scratching their heads — and sometimes chuckling — at Britain's plight.
Richard Ashworth, a British member of the European parliament, told EU colleagues that Brexit had had produced "a sad nation, divided like never before, and a House of Commons in crisis."
"Let Brexit stand as a cautionary tale to the people of Europe," he warned.
But some observers feel sympathy as Britain so publicly struggles with deep, divisive questions about its values and place in the world — questions that are not confined to the U.K.
"Parliament is representing the divisions in our county," said Anand Menon, director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe think-tank. "It's brutal. It's horrible. It's inconclusive. It's democratic politics at its most visceral.
"Among international observers I speak to, there is a sense of, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'"
London, Apr 13 (AP/UNB) — British standup comedian Ian Cognito has died on stage during a gig.
South Central Ambulance Service said Friday that medics were called to a club in Bicester, southern England, Thursday night, and "sadly one patient passed away at the scene." Police said the death was not suspicious.
Show organizer Andrew Bird told the BBC that when Cognito sat down and fell silent, "everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking."
Cognito, whose real name was Paul Barbieri, never achieved wide fame but was highly respected among fellow comedians.
Entertainer Jimmy Carr tweeted of Cognito's onstage death: "That's commitment to comedy."
"Little Britain" star Matt Lucas tweeted: "He was always kind to me when I started out, and brilliant and provocative and entirely original onstage. What a loss."
London, Apr 11 (AP/UNB) — Police in London say they've arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy on a court warrant dating back to 2012.
In a statement Thursday, police said Assange has been taken into "custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible."
Assange hasn't left the embassy since August 2012 for fear that if he steps off Ecuador's diplomatic soil he will be arrested and extradited to the U.S. for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.
Wellington, Apr 11 (AP/UNB) — New Zealand's governor general on Thursday formally signed into effect sweeping gun laws outlawing military style weapons, less than a month after a man used such guns to kill 50 people and wound dozens at two mosques in Christchurch.
Governor General Patsy Reddy signed the bill as police said a gun buyback program will be announced to collect the now-banned weapons. The weapons will be illegal starting at midnight, but police said a brief amnesty program will be in effect until details of the buyback are announced.
"For people who find themselves now in possession of a prohibited firearm, we ask you to please notify us," Police Deputy Commissioner Michael Clement said. "The collection of firearms will occur at a later stage. "
He added that "for now, there is an amnesty in place and we ask people to please notify us," he added.
Anyone who retains such a weapon now faces a penalty of up to five years in prison. Exemptions allow heirloom weapons held by collectors or weapons used for professional pest control.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed by a final vote of 119 to 1 legislation banning the weapons after an accelerated process of debate and public submission.
"The Government acted quickly to change New Zealand's firearms laws and Police is now responsible for implementing and enforcing these new laws," Clement said.
Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, was charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder. The royal commission set up to investigate issues surrounding the massacre is examining how he obtained a gun license in New Zealand and purchased weapons and ammunition.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke emotionally during the bill's final reading of the traumatic injuries suffered by victims of the March 15 attack, whom she visited in Christchurch Hospital after the shootings.
"I struggle to recall any single gunshot wounds," Ardern said. "In every case they spoke of multiple injuries, multiple debilitating injuries that deemed it impossible for them to recover in days, let alone weeks. They will carry disabilities for a lifetime, and that's before you consider the psychological impact. We are here for them."
"I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could be obtained legally in this country," she said.
Ardern, who has won international praise for her compassion and leadership since the shootings, was able to win rare bipartisan support for a bill that makes it illegal to own a military-style semi-automatic rifle. The only dissent was from the libertarian ACT Party's lone lawmaker in Parliament.
Brussels, Apr 11 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May says the European Union has granted her "key request" to add an early exit clause to its agreement to a six-month Brexit extension.
The U.K. and the EU agreed early Thursday to delay Brexit until Oct. 31, but May says she wants to leave "as soon as possible."
She says that if U.K. lawmakers back her Brexit deal, her country can still leave before June 30 — the Brexit deadline that she had requested from the bloc.
May says Britain faces "stark" choices "and the timetable is clear."
French President Emmanuel Macron says a last-ditch six-month extension for Brexit is the "best possible compromise" to protect the rest of the European Union.
Macron was the main holdout among EU leaders at an emergency summit in Brussels against a long extension of Britain's already-delayed departure from the EU. But he agreed early Thursday with other EU leaders to extend Brexit until Oct. 31.
He told reporters later that he did this "to preserve the unity" of the remaining 27 member states and to give Britain "more time to deliver a deal" that would prevent chaos in trade and travel when it leaves the EU.
Macron said it's now "up to Britons to be clear with themselves and their people" about whether they want to participate in the European Parliament elections next month even though they would have to abandon the legislature a few months later.
EU Council chief Donald Tusk is pleading with the United Kingdom to use the special six-month Brexit extension it has been granted to the fullest of its ability.
After the agreement was announced early Thursday, Tusk said, "Let me finish with the message to our British friends: Please do not waste this time."
And even though the decision also includes a June review of progress, Tusk says the new date will not amount to a cliff-edge cutoff of UK membership as March 29 had done for so long.
Tusk says that "our intention is to finalize the whole process in October."
European Union leaders and Britain have agreed to allow Britain to extend Brexit until Oct. 31.
EU Council president Donald Tusk says "this means additional six months for the UK to find the best possible solution."
Tusk said early Thursday that it is a flexible extension, referring to his earlier offer that Britain could leave before if it accepted the withdrawal deal with the EU.
May came to the summit in Brussels requesting a delay until June 30 but acknowledged she would be willing to extend the date. The British Parliament has repeatedly rejected a withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU, leading to a deadlock over Britain's long-awaited departure.
Two European officials say EU leaders are offering to allow Britain to extend Brexit until Oct. 31 and are awaiting the U.K.'s response.
The officials said that the European leaders agreed at an emergency Brexit summit early Thursday in Brussels that part of the offer is that the EU would assess the situation June.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to meet with EU Council President Donald Tusk to discuss the offer.
May had come to the summit requesting a delay until June 30 but had acknowledged she would be willing to extend that date. The British Parliament has repeatedly rejected a withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU, leading to today's deadlock over Britain's long-awaited departure.
France is still playing hardball in the European Union's negotiations over whether to grant British Prime Minister Theresa May another Brexit extension.
An official in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said May hadn't given "sufficient guarantees" at an emergency Brexit summit "to justify a long extension."
May has asked the leaders of the EU's 27 remaining nations to delay Britain's departure until June 30. Some of those at Wednesday's summit in Brussels favor an even longer extension.
The French official said all options remain on the table, including one May's government and the EU worked to avoid: the U.K. falling out of the bloc Friday without a divorce deal in place. Huge trade and travel headaches are expected from a no-deal Brexit.
The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named according to presidential policy, said: "The no-deal situation is a real option."
The official says other EU leaders expressed concerns with a long extension, but acknowledged Macron is playing "bad cop" to pressure the British government into clarifying what it wants.
-By Angela Charlton.
Forget about the date the U.K. will leave possibly leave the European Union. The real question gripping the EU summit: What was on Angela Merkel's tablet?
Just as the meeting was about to kick off, the German chancellor walked over to her U.K. counterpart Theresa May, her tablet at the ready.
They both intently looked at the screen before sharing a hearty laugh. Then Merkel walked over to summit chair Donald Tusk, who joined in the merriment.
Doors soon closed on the cameramen and photographers at the Europa building, with apparently no one getting a peek at what was on her tablet.
Jokes soon followed. Were they comparing prices of their suits, which looked identical Europe-blue? One EU official said Merkel must have claimed she got it at half the price.
News conferences were still hours away, leaving the world waiting with bated breath.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says he wants to know how British leader Theresa May plans to get a Brexit agreement through Parliament and assurances the U.K. will remain a loyal European Union member until it leaves the bloc.
Rutte said after arriving for an emergency summit where the heads of remaining member countries are discussing May's latest request to postpone Britain's departure that Brexit has tested his patience "for some time now."
The conservative leader of the Netherlands is pro-European and has close ties to Britain. He says the debate in Brussels on Wednesday is focusing on how long Brexit should be postponed, what conditions the EU should attach if it agrees to a delay, and "how we can get guarantees that in the meantime, the United Kingdom will stay as a loyal partner."
Some European leaders say they are inclined to grant British Prime Minister Theresa May's request to push back the U.K.'s deadline for leaving the European Union.
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas says the EU "must do all that we can" to prevent the U.K. being out of the EU without a withdrawal deal or transition period, which could happen Friday if Brexit is not postponed.
Ratas says "of course" Estonia will support an extension.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins says if Britain is asking for more time, "I think we should consider giving them time."
May has asked to push Brexit back until June 30, but many in the EU favor a delay of up to a year to give British politicians more time to break the country's political impasse on Brexit.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said that "for me, the proposal to last until the end of March next year is fine."
But French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that "nothing is decided."
French President Emmanuel Macron says "nothing is yet decided" on whether and how long of a Brexit delay to offer Britain.
Macron is seen as the European leader most strongly opposed to British Prime Minister Theresa May's request for another delay to the U.K.'s exit from the European Union.
While others expressed their willingness to grant an extension until June 30 or even next year, Macron said Wednesday at a Brexit summit in Brussels that "nothing is decided."
Upon arriving at the summit, Macron insisted on "clarity" from May about what Britain wants, and said "nothing should compromise the European project."
British Prime Minister Theresa May has signaled she is ready to accept a long delay to Brexit if other European Union leaders insist, as long as the U.K. has the option of leaving earlier if lawmakers ratify an EU divorce deal.
Arriving at an emergency Brexit summit in Brussels on Wednesday, May said she "greatly regrets" the U.K. hasn't left the EU yet. Other European leaders at the summit are discussing her request to push back the departure date to June 30 to give Britain's feuding politicians more time to approve divorce terms.
But the bloc favors a longer extension.
May said: "What is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement."
She says she's hopeful that could be by May 22.
The Czech Republic's prime minister says he supports European Council President Donald Tusk's proposal to grant Britain a longer delay than it has requested for its departure from the European Union.
British Prime Minister Theresa May travels to Brussels to attend an EU summit Wednesday seeking for another extension to Britain's departure, until June 30. Britain is currently scheduled to leave the EU on Friday.
Tusk has suggested a delay of up to a year, with conditions attached to ensure Britain does not stymie EU decision-making while it remains a member.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis says that Tusk's plan would "calm down the situation" and also give Britain time enough to decide what it wants to do.
Babis says: "It's a good proposal."
EU countries have become increasingly exasperated with the political division and uncertainty in Britain.
French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye is warning that the risk of a no-deal Brexit still exists ahead of a European Union summit.
Ndiaye said the issue has been brought up during the weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday at the Elysee palace, as President Emmanuel Macron was about to head to Brussels for the summit.
"The no-deal option is obviously the one we would least want ... there's actually a risk and France is prepared", she said.
Ndiaye said that France is open to granting an extension to the Brexit deadline but "this is not automatic." France wants a "clear and credible prospect" from Britain and commitments not to endanger the EU institutions, she said.
She declined to provide details on what kind of extension France considers acceptable.
Britain is currently scheduled to leave the EU on Friday, with or without a deal.
Britain's pro-Brexit political parties are getting ready to do something they have long argued against — running in European Union elections.
Anti-EU figurehead Nigel Farage says his newly formed Brexit Party will run in the elections. He says the contest will bring "a rebirth of active Euroscepticism," driven by Britons' anger at the failure to leave the EU.
Farage's former party, UKIP, also says it will run candidates in all parts of the U.K.
Brexiteers have condemned Prime Minister Theresa May for seeking to postpone the U.K.'s departure because she has failed to get Parliament's approval for her EU withdrawal agreement.
May is asking for a delay until June 30, though the EU could offer longer. That means Britain would have to participate in late-May elections for the European Parliament — almost three years after the country voted to leave the bloc.