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May survives vote, but Britain remains in Brexit deadlock

https://youtu.be/Wx49EPIerTs

Prime minister invites party leaders to discuss alternative deal but sticks to red line

Heather StewartJessica Elgot and Peter Walker

 Theresa May survives no-confidence motion by 19 votes – video

Theresa May has survived as prime minister after weathering a dramatic no-confidence vote in her government, but was left scrambling to strike a Brexit compromise that could secure the backing of parliament.

In a statement in Downing Street on Wednesday night, the prime minister exhorted politicians from all parties to “put aside self-interest”, and promised to consult with MPs with “the widest possible range of views” in the coming days.

She had earlier announced that she would invite Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders for immediate talks on how to secure a Brexit deal, although Labour later said Corbyn would decline the invitation unless no-deal was taken off the table.

A day after overwhelmingly rejecting her Brexit deal, rebel Conservatives and Democratic Unionist party (DUP) MPs swung behind the prime minister to defeat Labour’s motion of no confidence by 325 votes to 306 – a majority of 19.

The prime minister immediately extended her invitation to opposition leaders, having pointedly declined to do so earlier in the day.

“I would like to ask the leaders of the parliamentary parties to meet with me individually, and I would like to start those meetings tonight,” she said. Corbyn responded by urging May to rule out no-deal.

In her late-night statement, the prime minister said: “I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour party has not so far chosen to take part – but our door remains open … It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done.”

The Scottish National party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, met May on Wednesday night, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, also accepted her invitation.

Blackford later wrote to May, urging her to make a “gesture of faith” to show that she was serious. He said that the SNP would take part in cross-party talks if she was able to confirm “that the extension of article 50, a ruling out of a no-deal Brexit and the option of a second EU referendum would form the basis of those discussions”.

With just five days to go before May must make a statement to parliament setting out her Brexit plan B, Downing Street continued to indicate that she was not ready to budge on her red lines, including membership of a customs union.Advertisement

Conservative politicians are deeply divided about how May should adapt her deal to win over hostile MPs.

The South Cambridgeshire Tory MP, Heidi Allen, said: “I thought she was incredibly brave [after the Brexit defeat] and it felt like she got that we need to change. But today it was: ‘I’ll talk to people, but my red lines are still there.’ And that’s not going to work at all.

“Maybe the prime minister needs a little bit longer but she has got to reflect: stop pandering to the hard right of my party and start talking to those of us who have been working across parties for months. We’re a functioning, collaborative body already. She just needs to tap into us.”

Some cabinet ministers clearly indicated the need for flexibility, with the justice secretary, David Gauke, warning that the government should not allow itself to be “boxed in”, and Amber Rudd suggesting a customs union could not be ruled out.

Labour has not ruled out tabling further no confidence votes in the days ahead, in the hope of peeling off exasperated Tory rebels and triggering a general election. But on Wednesday night other opposition parties sent a letter to Corbyn, which said they expected him to honour his promise to back a public vote if Labour failed to get an election.

A Lib Dem source suggested they may not back future no confidence votes if they felt it was a way to evade the issue. “We will support any real opportunity to take down the Tories with relish. We will not be party to Corbyn using spurious means to avoid Labour policy, by pursuing unwinnable no confidence votes,” the source said.

The DUP was quick to stress that without their 10 MPs, the government would have lost the confidence vote, and called on May to focus on tackling their concerns with the Irish backstop.

“Lessons will need to be learned from the vote in parliament. The issue of the backstop needs to be dealt with and we will continue to work to that end,” said Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader at Westminster.

May’s spokesman said a no-deal Brexit could not be ruled out. However, the Daily Telegraph claimed to have got hold of a recording of Philip Hammond speaking to business leaders on Tuesday night in which the chancellor said the threat of a no-deal could be taken “off the table” within days.

May’s spokesman suggested a customs union was not up for discussion: “We want to be able to do our own trade deals, and that is incompatible with either the or a customs union.”

After meeting party leaders, May is expected to extend the invitation to opposition backbenchers over the coming days, as well Tory Eurosceptics.

“We want to find a way forward and we are approaching this in a constructive spirit,” May’s spokesman said. “We’ve set out the principles but clearly there is an overriding aim – to leave the European Union with a good deal – and we are open-minded.”

Civil servants and political staff are likely to attend the meetings, and ministers can direct civil servants to draw up more concrete plans where necessary, but the talks will not have the same formal status as coalition negotiations.

Wednesday’s vote followed an ill-tempered debate in which Corbyn accused May of presiding over a “zombie government”.

“It is clear that this government are not capable of winning support for their core plan on the most vital issue facing this country. The prime minister has lost control and the government have lost the ability to govern.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, wound up the debate for his party by saying May would for ever be known as “the nothing-has-changed prime minister”.

“No one doubts her determination, which is generally of an admirable quality, but, misapplied, it can be toxic,” he said. “And the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary political skills, empathy, ability, and most crucially, the policy, to lead this country any longer.”

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, responded with a robust speech widely regarded at Westminster as a leadership pitch, praising May’s “inspirational leadership” and attacking Corbyn on issues from antisemitism to foreign policy.

“If he cannot protect the proud traditions of the Labour party, how can he possibly protect his country?” he asked.

One former Labour MP, John Woodcock, who resigned from the party after being investigated over sexual harassment claims, abstained from the vote, saying Corbyn was “unfit to lead the country”.

Had the motion passed, MPs would have had 14 days for an alternative government to emerge that could command a majority in the Commons, or a general election would have been triggered.

Corbyn is now likely to come under pressure from party activists to move towards supporting a second referendum. A group of more than 70 Labour MPs announced on Wednesday morning that they were backing the call for a “people’s vote”.

Labour’s formal position, adopted at its conference in Liverpool last year, commits the party to press for a general election. Failing that, all options are on the table, including that of campaigning for a second referendum.

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Theresa May loses vote

Theresa May suffers historic defeat as Tories turn against her

The moment Theresa May loses crucial Brexit deal vote – video

The Guardian
Theresa May has lost the vote on her crucial Brexit deal by 432 votes to 202 in what is the heaviest defeat of any British prime minister in the democratic era.  As a result Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a vote of no confidence, which will be debated in the House on Wednesday

Theresa May has pledged to face down a vote of no confidence in her government, after her Brexit deal was shot down by MPs in the heaviest parliamentary defeat of the democratic era.

On a day of extraordinary drama at Westminster, the House of Commons delivered a devastating verdict on the prime minister’s deal, voting against it by 432 to 202.

The scale of defeat, by a majority of 230, was greater than any seen in the past century, and saw ardent Brexiters such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson walked through a packed division lobby cheek-by-jowl with passionate remainers.

As noisy protesters from both sides of the Brexit divide massed outside in Parliament Square, the prime minister immediately rose to accept the verdict of MPs – and say she would welcome a vote of no confidence in the government.

“The house has spoken and the government will listen,” she said. “It is clear that the house does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.”Advertisement

In a raucous Commons, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, confirmed he had tabled a formal motion of confidence in the government, backed by other opposition leaders, which MPs will vote on on Wednesday.

Corbyn told MPs: “This is a catastrophic defeat. The house has delivered its verdict on her deal. Delay and denial has reached the end of the line.”

The Brexit-backing European Research Group (ERG) and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) later announced that they would support the prime minister, making it unlikely Labour can succeed in triggering a general election.

May said that if she survived the vote on Wednesday, she would hold meetings with senior parliamentarians from all parties to “identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house”.

The prime minister’s spokesman later said May would be contacting Conservative and DUP MPs among others , but declined to say whether or not she would meet with Corbyn or SNP leader Ian Blackford.

He cited the example of May’s meetings with Labour MPs such as Caroline Flint and Gareth Snell about an amendment on workers’ rights, although both of those MPs eventually voted against the government. “We will approach it in a constructive spirit,” the spokesman said.

May has no plans to head to Brussels immediately, No 10 said, implying that the prime minister first needed to test what would be acceptable to MPs.

 Parliament Square cheers as Theresa May suffers Brexit deal defeat – video

Downing Street said May would approach the talks wanting to find a solution to deliver a Brexit deal that would honour the result of the referendum – suggesting that she would not countenance talks with those pushing for a second referendum, or even a full customs union, which Labour has backed.

She will then make a statement on Monday, setting out how she intends to proceed. MPs will get the chance to amend the statement, and are likely to take the opportunity to try to demonstrate support for their own favoured alternatives – including a Norway-style soft Brexit, and a second referendum.

Several cabinet ministers, including Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond and Greg Clark, had pressed the prime minister at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting to pursue a cross-party solution if her deal was defeated. But Brexit-backing ministers, including Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, urged her instead to seek revisions to the Irish backstop – and failing that, to pursue a so-called “managed no deal”.

The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the crushing defeat gave the prime minister a “massive mandate” to return to Brussels and seek a better deal.

“We should not only be keeping the good bits of the deal, getting rid of the backstop, but we should also be actively preparing for no-deal with ever more enthusiasm,” he said.

On Tuesday night Johnson was joined by other prominent Brexiter MPs including John Redwood and Bill Cash at a champagne celebration party at Rees-Mogg’s house.

Boris Johnson leaving Jacob Rees-Mogg’s party on Tuesday night
 Boris Johnson leaving Jacob Rees-Mogg’s party on Tuesday night. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Hammond moved quickly after the vote to quell business anger over the failure of May to get her deal ratified. The chancellor expressed his “disappointment” at the result in a conference call at 9pm with main business groups, including the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, as well as dozens of chief executives.

One source on the call said it was constructive and that Hammond’s tone was “realistic” about the damage prolonged uncertainty around Brexit was inflicting on the economy. However, Hammond was hammered by business leaders over parliament’s refusal to take a no-deal off the table. “This was the single biggest question he was asked,” said the source.

May said any plan that emerges from the talks would have to be “negotiable” with the EU27. She earlier rejected an amendment from Tory backbencher Edward Leigh calling for the Irish backstop to be temporary, saying it was not compatible with the UK’s legal obligations.

In Brussels, Donald Tusk, the European council president, appeared to back a second referendum soon after the crushing result for the prime minister was announced, and urged the prime minister to offer a way forward.

The prime minister was expected to return to Brussels within days to consult with Tusk and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Officials said the EU was now in listening mode.

In a statement, Juncker urged the British government to “clarify its intentions as soon as possible”, and warned that “time is almost up”.

“I take note with regret the outcome of the vote in the House of Commonsthis evening”, he said. “On the EU side, the process of ratification of the withdrawal agreement continues”.

In a defence of Brussels’ role in the negotiations, Juncker said that the EU and the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had shown “creativity and flexibility throughout” and “demonstrated goodwill again by offering additional clarifications and reassurances” in recent days.

He said: “The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.”Advertisement

In Westminster earlier, knowing that she faced a heavy defeat, May made a heartfelt plea to MPs to support her, calling it “the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers”.

“Together we can show the people we serve that their voices have been heard, that their trust was not misplaced,” she said.

Earlier in the day, as one Conservative backbencher after another stood up to attack her painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons, it became clear that few had changed their mind.

May herself embarked on a last-ditch charm offensive on Tuesday, holding meetings with MPs including the ERG’s Steve Baker, who said the pair had held a “constructive and substantial conversation about the future”.

Speaking just before the vote Corbyn saidMay had “treated Brexit as a matter for the Conservative party, rather than the good of the whole country”.

He called the government’s efforts to steer Brexit through parliament “one of the most chaotic and extraordinary parliamentary processes” he had experienced in 35 years as an MP. The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, warned his colleagues that if they did not accept the prime minister’s deal, they risked condemning Britain to the chaos of a no-deal Brexit.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility for any legislator to contemplate with equanimity such a situation,” he said.

Corbyn will come under intense pressure to throw his weight behind a second Brexit referendum if May wins on Wednesday; but his spokesman said Labour did not rule out tabling another no-confidence motion at a later stage.

Labour MPs were joined by 118 Conservative rebels in voting down the prime minister’s deal, including erstwhile loyalists such as the chair of the backbench 1922 committee, Graham Brady. That was one more than the number who backed a no-confidence vote in May’s leadership of the Conservatives last month. Under party rules, the prime minister’s victory in that vote means she cannot be challenged for party leadership again within the next 12 months.

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Putin and Trump meet as if for the first time mmm

Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration

President Trump greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Helsinki. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

By Greg Miller

January 12 at 6:15 PM

The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”

Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin, and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency. Trump, Putin address Russian interference in U.S. elections

Both President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about Russian interference in U.S. elections at a news conference on July 16 in Helsinki. (The Washington Post)

The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terror plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job,” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.

The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes, and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.

“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.

Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.

“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.

In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.

In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.

Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”

Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.

“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.

“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”

The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.

Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.

There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.

Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”

A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.

But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.

Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.

During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.

Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.

By Greg Miller January 13

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is thought to be in the final stages of an investigation that has focused largely on whether Trump or his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The new details about Trump’s continued secrecy underscore the extent to which little is known about his communications with Putin since becoming president.

After this story was published online, Trump said in an interview late Saturday with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that he did not take particular steps to conceal his private meetings with Putin and attacked The Washington Post and its owner Jeffrey P. Bezos. Trump and Putin had undisclosed meeting at G-20

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 had an undisclosed meeting that followed a first conversation during the G-20 summit in Hamburg. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

He said he talked with Putin about Israel, among other subjects. “Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs,” he said, without offering specifics.

When Pirro asked if he is or has ever been working for Russia, Trump responded, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

[A beefed-up White House legal team prepares for battle with special counsel]

Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.

Trump’s secrecy surrounding Putin “is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution, who participated in more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”

President Trump greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Helsinki. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

A White House spokesman disputed that characterization and said that the Trump administration has sought to “improve the relationship with Russia” after the Obama administration “pursued a flawed ‘reset’ policy that sought engagement for the sake of engagement.”

The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”

Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.

The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terrorism plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.

The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.

“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.

Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.

“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with ­Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.

In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but he declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.

In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President ­Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.

Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”

A White House spokesperson, responding to this detail from the Hamburg meeting, said: “The President has affirmed that he supports the conclusions in the 2017 Intel Community Assessment, and the President also issued a new executive order in September 2018 to ensure a whole of government effort to address any foreign attempts to interfere in US elections.”

Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.

“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.

“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”

The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.

Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.

There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.

Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”

A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.

But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.

Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.

During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and he seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.

Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.

John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration

Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration

By Greg Miller
January 13

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is thought to be in the final stages of an investigation that has focused largely on whether Trump or his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The new details about Trump’s continued secrecy underscore the extent to which little is known about his communications with Putin since becoming president.

After this story was published online, Trump said in an interview late Saturday with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that he did not take particular steps to conceal his private meetings with Putin and attacked The Washington Post and its owner Jeffrey P. Bezos. Trump and Putin had undisclosed meeting at G-20

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 had an undisclosed meeting that followed a first conversation during the G-20 summit in Hamburg. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

He said he talked with Putin about Israel, among other subjects. “Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs,” he said, without offering specifics.

When Pirro asked if he is or has ever been working for Russia, Trump responded, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

[A beefed-up White House legal team prepares for battle with special counsel]

Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.

Trump’s secrecy surrounding Putin “is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution, who participated in more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”

President Trump greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Helsinki. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

A White House spokesman disputed that characterization and said that the Trump administration has sought to “improve the relationship with Russia” after the Obama administration “pursued a flawed ‘reset’ policy that sought engagement for the sake of engagement.”

The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”

Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.

The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terrorism plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.

The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.

“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.

Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.

“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with ­Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.

In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but he declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.

In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President ­Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.

Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”

A White House spokesperson, responding to this detail from the Hamburg meeting, said: “The President has affirmed that he supports the conclusions in the 2017 Intel Community Assessment, and the President also issued a new executive order in September 2018 to ensure a whole of government effort to address any foreign attempts to interfere in US elections.”

Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.

“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.

“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”

The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.

Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.

There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.

Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”

A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.

But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.

Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.

During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and he seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.

Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.

John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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Legal witnesses  testify in parliamentary disqualification trial of opposition leader

Legal witnesses testify in parliamentary disqualification trial of opposition leader

by STAFF WRITER

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Jan. 10, CMC – The case brought against the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Denzil Douglas, continued in court Thursday with three expert witnesses on Dominican law making presentations before  Justice Trevor Ward QC to help him determine whether Douglas, through his use of a diplomatic passport issued by the Commonwealth of Dominica, is under allegiance to a foreign power.

The expert witnesses provided by the Government were  Reginald Armour and Justin Simon, former Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda. 

Dr. Denzil Douglas

Both men, who are are Dominican   attempted to show that   Douglas  demonstrated his allegiance to the Commonwealth of Dominica when he travelled on his Dominican diplomatic passport.

The lone expert provided by the defendant was Attorney-at-Law,   Gerald Burton, also a Dominican.

Douglas, in an affidavit filed in the High Court Registry on February 21, 2018, admitted to holding a diplomatic passport of the Commonwealth of Dominica, which he has used to travel. 

He also admitted to filling out and signing an application form for the diplomatic passport he holds, which is valid until July 29, 2020.

The opposition leader has argued that he has not sworn an allegiance, taken an oath of allegiance, nor become a citizen of Dominica.

However, the Attorney General’s Chamber is arguing that  Douglas is in violation of Section 28 of the Constitution after filling out an application form for a passport of another country, being issued with said passport and using that passport to travel, which are positive acts that constitute adherence, allegiance and obedience to a foreign power.

The St. Kitts-Nevis government, through the Attorney General, Vincent Byron, is seeking a declaration from the High Court that, since the election to the National Assembly on February 16, 2015, Douglas became disqualified from being elected as a member of the National Assembly and was accordingly required to vacate his seat in the National Assembly by reason of his becoming a person who, by virtue of his own act, is in accordance with the law of Dominica, under an acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state, namely, Dominica.

Additionally, the government is also seeking a declaration that Douglas has vacated his seat in the National Assembly; an injunction restraining him from taking his seat in the National Assembly and from performing his functions as a member as well as costs, and other relief as the court may deem just and expedient.

Meanwhile,  Anthony Astaphan, lead counsel for Douglas in the Dominica Diplomatic Passport case said  the legal matter   “is a simple one.” “This Diplomatic Passport was given to Dr. Douglas as a matter of professionalism and personal courtesy (by the Prime Minister of Dominica, Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit). He applied for it as required under the regulations. He did not declare a citizenship of Dominica at no time, even when he travelled on his regular passport or on the Diplomatic Passport. His nationality was always declared as that of St. Kitts and Nevis or a Kittitian,”  Astaphan told reporters.

Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris has described the matter of one of grave constitutional, political and parliamentary significance to the Commonwealth.

Both sides have until January 25 to submit written submissions based on evidence that was presented in court on Thursday, after which the lawyers will have until February 4 to respond, if necessary.

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image

Government and opposition agree to expeditious conclusion of matters surrounding no-confidence vote

In an atmosphere of cordiality, both parties, committed to working together on all matters relating to the protection of Guyana’s sovereingty, regardless of internal political issues

by STAFF WRITER

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jan. 10, CMC –  The Government of Guyana and the Parliamentary Opposition have committed to work towards concluding  matters surrounding the December 21,  vote in the National Assembly, which is currently engaging the attention of the court.

This was disclosed in a joint communique issued by both parties following the meeting on Wednesday.

According to the communique, the two sides met in an atmosphere of cordiality and committed to working together on all matters relating to the protection of Guyana’s sovereignty, regardless of the internal political issues.

Discussions focused on two broad areas as set out in an agenda put forward by President David Granger. These included the Constitutional and Legal situation, which involves the functioning of the National Assembly and Regional and General Elections.

The President indicated that the Government and the Opposition, by agreement in the National Assembly, can enlarge the time for the hosting of the elections beyond the 90 days contemplated by Article 106 (7) of the Constitution.

Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo   called for the National Assembly to only meet to deal with issues connected with the provision of essential services by the State and all matters related to the preparation of General and Regional elections.

However, Granger stated that it is lawful for the Government to engage the Court, to bring clarity to the provisions of Article 106 (6) and 106 (7) of the Constitution. Pending the conclusion of the legal proceedings, Parliament, he said, remains functional.

The Head of State emphasised that the Government is legal and that it must govern without any limitations on its authority. He further stated that there is no provision in the Constitution which imposes a limitation on the Government to perform its lawful functions.

The parties then identified Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally and Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira to enquire into the readiness of GECOM.

Both parties expressed their willingness to meet to ensure the management of the various issues facing the nation.

 Granger, in an address immediately following Wednesday’s meeting, said the two sides will examine the hosting of the elections within the administrative capabilities of GECOM and deemed the meeting “fruitful.”

I would say in conclusion, that we have had a successful engagement, both the leader of the Opposition and the President are concerned about the situation. We would like to assure the public of Guyana that we are working to a solution which they will be satisfied with, the public interest is our paramount concern.”

US group welcomes agreement between president, opposition in Guyana

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn, New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) that wrote to the Speaker of the Guyana Parliament, Dr. Bartland Scotland, requesting that he considers annulling the vote of no confidence that brought down the in the David Grange coalition government. has welcomed the agreement between Guyana’s President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo “to create a climate of détente in Guyana”.

This came after, as reported above, Granger and a ministerial delegation met Wednesday with Jagdeo and a delegation from the opposition People Progressive Party (PPP) to discuss current political developments in Guyana. 

In keeping with Article 106 (7) of the Guyana constitution, they also agreed to remain in consultative engagement on the continued functioning of government and the Parliament.  

Article 106 (7) of the constitution states that “Notwithstanding its defeat, the government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.” 

CGID said on Wednesday that it “hopes that the opposition will also adhere to this provision as prescribed.

“CGID welcomes this development,” said Richford Burke, CGID president.

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Jamaica - marijuana - lovely as the green

Jamaica’s small farmers to begin benefitting from marijuana industry

Marijuana plants – now a ‘legal’ crop in some Caribbean islands

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jan 8, CMC – Prime Minister Andrew Holness says that the Alternative Development Programme (ADP), which will provide an avenue for small farmers to benefit from the marijuana industry, will start by March. The programme is intended to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of marijuana and channel the process through legal system.

Jamaica Prime Ministe Andrew Holness

The pilot, which will begin in Accompong, St. Elizabeth, south west of here and Orange Hill in Westmoreland, west of the capital, will involve the farming of marijuana to provide raw material for processors. “It is a real fear that as that (marijuana) industry emerges to become more corporatised, that the original ganja man, the original farmer, could very well be left out of the gains and the benefits, when you were the ones singing the praises and the benefits from how long,” Holness said.

“So this programme is of significant importance to ensure that small farmers, and, in fact, communities like Accompong, where there is certain discipline, a certain order, a certain social system that will ensure that it is not used in illicit ways, will benefit,” he added.

Speaking at a ceremony in commemoration of the 281 anniversary of the peace treaty signed by the Accompong Maroons with the British and to commemorate the birthday of legendary leader Cudjoe, Holness said he has received the commitment of the Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw, that the programme will begin within the first quarter of this year. “I know that you have actually started your part of the programme, but you are now awaiting the Government’s part of the programme to commence. I had a word with him (Shaw) and he gave me a commitment that the Alternative Development Programme for the small ganja farmers to produce for the legal trade will start,” he said.

The 1998 Action Plan, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, provides for the inclusion of a programme, such as the ADP, through specifically designed rural development measures consistent with sustained national economic growth.

The programme will be administered by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries with oversight from the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

Among the stipulations are the tagging of plants under a track and trace mechanism; sale of products through licensed processors; farmers’ alignment to community-based associations/organisations; accommodating specThe ial groups, such as the Maroons and Rastafarians; and that maximum cultivation should not exceed half an acre per farmer.

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President Granger describes talks as “successful engagement”

President Granger describes talks as “successful engagement”

by staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jan 9, CMC – President David Granger Wednesday described his 75-minute discussion with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo as “a successful engagement” and has sought to re-assure the population that they are working towards a solution “which they will be satisfied with”.

Granger’s coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) collapsed on December 21 after a government back bencher, Charrandass Persaud sided with the motion of no confidence against the government by Jagdeo, to give the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) a 33-32 victory in the 65-member National Assembly.

President David Granger speaking after meeting
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo (CMC Photo)

The PPP has since called on the government to name the date for fresh general elections which it says must be held before March this year.

In a brief statement, following the discussions, Granger said he would describe the deliberations as ‘ a successful engagement” adding “both the Leader of the Opposition and the president are concerned about the situation.

“We would like to assure the public in Guyana that we are working to a solution which they will be satisfied with. The public interest is our paramount concern,” he said.

Granger said that the meeting had discussed two main issues, namely the function of the National Assembly and the function of the government.

“Neither of these two important institutions, the legislative branch and the executive branch, could be allowed to fail. Public services have to be delivered…and therefore the two sides reach broad agreement on how these two institutions…will continue to function,” Granger said.

He said regarding general and regional elections, the government has had legal recourse to the courts in order to determine the validity of the votes cast in the National assembly during the motion of no confidence.

“This is quite legitimate and there is no intention on the part of the two parties to derail the constitutional or legislative process. We have agreed that the two sides will continue to work together, to engage GECOM (Guyana Elections Commission) to ensure that elections are held within the administrative capabilities of the Guyana Elections Commission”.

As he emerged from the meeting Jagdeo told reporters that “it was a good meeting so far” and Attorney General Carl; Greenidge told reporters that the meeting was a win for everybody without elaborating.

A joint communique is expected to be issued later and Jagdeo and members of his delegation are expected to host a news conference at 2.00 pm (local time) on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the Opposition Leader maintains call for fresh general elections

Jan 9, CMC – Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo Wednesday maintained his call for fresh regional and general elections in Guyana following talks with President David Granger on the way forward for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country following last December’s successful motion of no confidence that toppled the three and a half year old coalition.

Jagdeo, speaking at a news conference following the talks said that his People’s progressive Party (PPP) which lost the 2015 polls, had not changed its position and called for the elections to be held in keeping with the country’s constitution.

Bharrat Jagdeo

On December 21, then government backbencher,  Charrandass Persaud sided with the motion of no confidence against the government filed by Jagdeo, giving the opposition a 33-32 victory in the 65-member National Assembly.

The PPP has since called on the government to name the date for fresh general elections which it says must be held before March this year.

Jagdeo told reporters that the PPP believes that the legislative arm of the Government has spoken definitively and he believes that immediately the Constitutional provisions should be applied.

“The fact that you go to Court now to seek a remedy does not change that”, Jagdeo said, in reference to the moves by the government to seek a High Court ruling declaring that Persad’s vote was null and void.

Jagdeo did not provide details on agreements reached with President Granger but said that elections have to be held before April 30 this year otherwise the government would be illegitimate.

He told the news conference that during the talks, the two sides agreed that to meet with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) regarding its readiness for the elections.

He said that the teams to the meeting will be headed by the two Chief Whips in the National Assembly, but gave no indication when the talks will take place.

In a statement following the talks, President Granger said the meeting with GECOM is ‘to ensure that elections are held within the administrative capabilities of the Guyana Elections Commission”.

Jagdeo said the coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) government, cannot behave as if it was business as usual with the regular work of the National Assembly and said he expressed that position to Granger.

He said PPP legislators would only attend sittings of the National Assembly when issues related to the elections are being discussed.

Jagdeo said that the PPP had requested the government withdraw its court challenges but received a blanket no from the President.

The two parties are expected to issue a joint communique later on Wednesday.

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President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo end talks

President Granger and Opposition Leader Jagdeo end talks

by staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jan 9, CMC – President David Granger said Wednesday that agreement had been reached with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo that regional and general elections will be held within the administrative capability of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Granger, speaking following the 75-mnute talks with Jagdeo on the way forward following the December 21 motion of no confidence that led to the downfall of his coalition A Partnership for National Unity (PNU) said he has also assured the opposition that there is no intention by his administration to derail the Constitution of Guyana.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo (left) and President David Granger (Right) greet each other prior to the talks (DPI Photo)

“He is assuring the public that both sides are working towards a solution and that public interest remains paramount for the Coalition Government,” according to a government statement issued follow the meeting.

The talks were held at the Ministry of the Presidency and follows the decision of former government back bencher, Charrandass Persaud, who sided with the motion by Jagdeo, to give the People Progressive Party (PPP) a 33-32 victory in the 65-member National Assembly.

The PPP has since called on the government to name the date for fresh general elections which it says must be held before March this year.

As he emerged from the meeting Jagdeo told reporters that “it was a good meeting so far”.

Granger was accompanied by a delegation that includes Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan and Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge while Jagdeo’s J six-member delegation includes Juan Edghill, Anil Nandlall, Odinga Lumumba and Dr. Frank Anthony.

Greenidge  told reporters that the meeting was a win for everybody without elaborating.

A joint communique is  expected to be issued later and Jagdeo and members of his delegation are expected to host a news conference at 2.00 pm (local time) on Wednesday.

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Opposition Leader confirms senator no longer a legislator

Opposition Leader confirms senator no longer a legislator

by staff writer

ROSEAU, Dominica, Jan 9, CMC – Opposition Leader Lennox Linton Wednesday confirmed that an opposition legislator, Dr. Thompson Fontaine, was no longer a parliamentarian after Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced on Tuesday night that he had missed three consecutive meetings of the legislative chamber.

“Mr. Thomson Fontaine, as we speak, is no longer a senator in Dominica because he missed three consecutive sittings without the expressed authority of the Speaker,” Skerrit told television viewers.

Opposition Leader Lennox Linton

Linton, speaking on a private radio station here, acknowledged that Fontaine, an economist who is reported to be employed as the Senior Economic and International Policy Adviser on the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, overseeing implementation of Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, had written to the Speaker Alix Boyd-Knights about his unavailability to attend Parliament.

“Thompson Fontaine is under pressure because the Speaker will not accept his notification or his word to the Speaker that he can’t attend parliament. She decides what she wants and since is sole judge of that under the rules of the parliament…so she decides what she accepts and what she doesn’t accept.

“But Thompson had already decided that it would be better for him to move on and he was going to resign the Senate position anyway, “said Linton who had named him as a senator following the 2014 general elections.

He said the decision by the economist “had nothing to do with leadership or this sort” and that Prime Minister Skerrit “is trying to make a deal about it” even as he, Skerrit has not informed the nation about the position regarding a parliamentary secretary Ivor Stephenson, who was appointed in April last year and is yet to make an appearance in Parliament.

“When you put the Thompson Fontaine situation side by side with what has happened with Ivor Stephenson and how he as prime minister has managed it…with an elected member incapable of going to Parliament …and he is happy that through the machinations of the Speaker they have declared the Thompson Fontaine seat in the Senate vacant”.

Skerrit had told television viewers that Linton had shown poor leadership by allowing Fontaine to miss the three consecutive sitting of the parliament “to the point where the Speaker would write to the President informing the President that a senator has missed three sittings and therefore, he has vacated his seat in the “Parliament.

“I can tell the country that this would never happen to me as prime minister with an elected member of parliament, far more, for a senator,” he added.

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