WAKEFIELD, England (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to kick off what is in effect an election campaign casting parliament as the enemy of Brexit was overshadowed on Thursday when his younger brother quit the government, citing the national interest.
As the United Kingdom spins towards an election, Brexit remains up in the air more than three years after Britons voted to leave the bloc in a 2016 referendum. Options range from a turbulent ‘no-deal’ exit to abandoning the whole endeavour.
Ahead of a speech in Wakefield, northern England, where Johnson effectively began an informal election campaign, his own brother, Jo, resigned as a junior business minister and said he was stepping down as a lawmaker for their Conservative Party.
“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest — it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles,” he tweeted.
The 47-year-old, who campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the European Union in the 2016 referendum while his older brother was the face of Vote Leave, has been in parliament since 2010, serving in several ministerial roles.
The move comes in a frenetic week for the premier, who said his brother had been “a brilliant, talented minister and a fantastic MP”, and that the decision would not have been easy.
After wresting control of the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, an alliance of opposition parties and rebels expelled from the Conservative Party voted to force him to seek a three-month delay to Brexit rather than leaving without a deal on Oct. 31, the date now set in law.
Asked after Thursday’s speech to police cadets in Wakefield whether he would ask for such a delay he said: “I’d rather be dead in a ditch.”
Since taking office in July, Boris Johnson has tried to corral the Conservative Party, which is openly fighting over Brexit, behind his strategy of leaving the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
On Tuesday, he expelled 21 Conservative lawmakers from the party for failing to back his strategy, including Winston Churchill’s grandson and two former finance ministers.
Behind the sound and the fury of the immediate crisis, an election now beckons for a polarised country.
The main choices on offer are Johnson’s insistence on leaving the EU on Oct. 31, come what may, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left socialist vision, coupled with a promise of a fresh referendum with an option to stay in the EU.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who manages government business in the House of Commons, said parliament would be asked again on Monday, after the blocking bill becomes law, to approve a snap election. On Wednesday, lawmakers rejected Johnson’s request for an Oct. 15 poll.
The Brexit crisis has for three years overshadowed European Union affairs, eroded Britain’s reputation as a stable pillar of the West and seen sterling lunge back and forth in line with the probability of a ‘no-deal’ exit.
Asked if Brexit would happen on Oct. 31, Johnson’s belligerent senior adviser Dominic Cummings, a focus of many departing Conservative lawmakers’ grievances, told Reuters: “Trust the people.”
Former prime minister John Major called on Johnson to sack “political anarchist” Cummings, in a speech on Thursday.
Opposition parties say they are in favour of an election in principle, but are debating whether or not to accept Johnson’s proposed date. Johnson has accused Corbyn of cowardice for not facilitating a snap poll.
At a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Downing Street on Thursday, Johnson quipped: “We’re not too keen on your chlorinated chicken – we have a gigantic chlorinated chicken of our own here on the opposition benches.”
The prospect that Britain will have to accept imports of chlorine-washed chicken from the United States in any trade deal between the two has become a symbol of what remainers say will be a weak negotiating position after Brexit.
Pence, who laughed, said the United States supported Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
He said later that Britain should take no lectures on how to conduct its affairs – a nod to U.S. President Barack Obama’s ill-fated warning in 2016 that Britain would go to the “back of the queue” for a trade deal if it left the EU.
The sense that the prospect of a 'no-deal' exit had receded pushed the pound GBP=D3 1.4% higher on Wednesday and it surged to a five-week high on Thursday, ending at $1.2317. UBS Global Wealth Management said sterling could rally to $1.30 if Brexit was delayed until January 2020 and an election was held after October.
An election before Brexit would allow Johnson, if he won, to repeal the blocking bill. The law will pass the upper house, the Lords, by Friday evening.
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Diplomats said an election campaign would halt any Brexit talks with the EU and expressed frustration with the turmoil in British politics at such an important juncture in European history.
In particular, they said London had yet to make any meaningful proposals to address Johnson’s complaints about the divorce settlement that his predecessor Theresa May agreed with the EU but failed to get through parliament at home.
“The UK side continues to produce chaos and it is very hard to predict anything,” said one EU diplomat.
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LONDON (Reuters) – “Have a great day!” was not the way Gavin Rennick expected ‘Zlatan’, an agent for his bank, Revolut, to end their instant messaging chat about the 46,000 pounds scammers had stolen from his account in just 24 hours.
Fraudsters posing as Revolut staff had called him, warned him of “suspicious activity” on his account and persuaded him to log in to the app to take various steps to avert it — thereby enabling them to empty his account.
Their action had left the 32-year-old from Belfast stranded in Australia and penniless. Turning in his panic to Revolut’s in-app chat-based support, he was confronted with a gauche messaging bot ‘Rita’, who passes more serious complaints on to humans.
“It made me think where is the human side of banking, you need to realise you’re dealing with human beings who’ve lost a lot of money and are scared,” Rennick said.
Revolut said that the security lapses stemmed from phone numbers which can be faked or ‘spoofed’ by fraudsters, rather than due to its app, adding it was rectifying shortcomings in its response to fraud.
Digital banks like Revolut, which has racked up 7 million customers worldwide since it was set up four years ago with the backing of venture capital, are growing at lightning speed, luring new, mostly younger customers with snazzy apps, cheap access to cash abroad and low rates on foreign exchange.
Revolut and peers such as Monzo and Starling are set to treble their total customer base from 13 million to 35 million in the next year, consulting group Accenture predicts.
However, if things go wrong, fraud victims at Revolut can find themselves without the support infrastructure offered by traditional banks.
Rennick said he was refunded ten weeks after his money was stolen following a stressful battle with the help system.
Four Revolut customers, including Rennick, who lost at least $150,000 (£122,179) in total, said the chat was slow, written in poor English and unhelpful. All were eventually refunded, simply finding the funds back in their accounts.
The attacks on Revolut are part of a growing problem facing banks, with some 1.2 billion pounds stolen in 2018 from lenders in Britain alone according to industry body UK Finance.
The Financial Ombudsman Service said complaints about frauds and scams rose to over 12,000 in the 2018/19 financial year, an all time record and up 43 percent on the previous year.
Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority has said banks need to focus on fraud prevention, not just reimbursement, to restore customers’ faith.
For customers like Rennick, a key part of restoring that trust is the way fraud is handled.
Revolut acknowledges some problems in how it handled fraud cases and in how its in-App chat works, due to a lack of resources and adequate response systems.
The company on Sept. 2 said it has opened a new customer service centre in Portugal and will hire up to 400 staff there for handling enquiries from customers worldwide.
Revolut has meanwhile diverted staff from other tasks to manage fraud attacks.
“It is incredibly expensive to have people answering the phones for fraud cases because there are clear peaks in demand, but it’s really important for resolving a case quickly and being able to explain to a customer what’s happened,” said Richard Emery, an independent expert who specialises in helping bank fraud victims.
“The online chats just felt so incompetent, they had no idea what’s going on, it gave me no confidence I’d get my money back,” said Victoria Frost, an airline cabin crew worker and scam victim, who said many of her colleagues use the app.
Soups Ranjan, San Francisco-based head of financial crime risk at Revolut, told Reuters his unit was hiring aggressively to reach an eventual total of around 140 anti-fraud workers.
In many cases Revolut is adding features now that would have helped the recent victims, he said.
Frost was deceived by a text message that appeared to come from a Revolut phone number, asking her to click on a link to what appeared to be a legitimate company website.
Scammers in these SMS-message or ‘smishing’ attacks use security holes in the text messaging system to ‘spoof’ or impersonate a company’s phone number.
Revolut said all its customer interactions are done by in-App chat and it never calls users or invites them to log into websites in this way.
Revolut acknowledged that the names such as Mila and Zlatan that customers see when talking to in-App help are pseudonyms, designed to prevent service staff from being identified.
“I have a serious concern with organisations like Revolut where you cannot talk to someone and they have no facility for phoning you,” bank fraud expert Emery said.
Ranjan said Revolut has improved the tone and professionalism of its help staff and is looking at adding phone support in the near future.
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LONDON (Reuters) – The British parliament voted on Wednesday to prevent Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking Britain out of the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31, but rejected his first bid to call a snap election two weeks before the scheduled exit.
After wresting control of the day’s parliamentary agenda from Johnson, the House of Commons backed a bill that would force the government to request a three-month Brexit delay rather than leave without a divorce agreement.
Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would agree to hold an early election once the bill passed the upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, and became law, something that could happen on Monday. He did not, however, say whether he agreed with Johnson’s choice of date.
The current parliament’s bid to tie Johnson’s hands leaves Brexit up in the air, with possible outcomes ranging from a no-deal exit from the EU to abandoning the whole endeavour – both outcomes that would be unacceptable to swathes of the United Kingdom’s voters.
An alliance of opposition lawmakers and rebels from Johnson’s Conservative Party voted 329-300 and then 327-299 for the bill in the second and third readings.
Johnson said the bill had scuppered his Brexit negotiations with the EU and was designed to overturn the 2016 referendum on leaving the bloc.
“It’s therefore a bill without precedent in the history of this house, seeking as it does to force the prime minister with a pre-drafted letter to surrender in international negotiations,” Johnson told parliament. “I refuse to do this.”
“This house has left no other option than letting the public decide who they want as prime minister.”
ELECTION STILL LOOMS
Johnson’s proposal for an election on Oct. 15 – a date that would allow him, if he won, to repeal the blocking bill – secured 298 votes to 56, far short of the 434 needed, as Labour abstained.
Sterling had earlier jumped above $1.22 for the first time since Aug. 30 as investors became slightly more optimistic that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could be avoided. [GBP/]
Beyond the frantic political manoeuvring, the United Kingdom could still at some point leave the EU with a deal to smooth the transition, leave without a deal, or cancel Brexit.
A prospective election would offer three likely alternatives: a Brexiteer government under Johnson; a Labour government led by veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, who has promised a fresh referendum with staying in the EU as an option; and a ‘hung’ parliament with a coalition or minority government.
“If I am still prime minister after Tuesday the 15th of October, then we will leave on the 31st of October with, I hope, a much better deal,” he told parliament.
Johnson said he hoped to get a new deal at an EU summit scheduled for Oct. 17-18, but his opponents doubt he can achieve a better deal than the one his predecessor Theresa May negotiated but failed to get through parliament.
Opponents of Brexit say an acrimonious ‘no-deal’ departure would be a disaster for what was one of the West’s most stable democracies, shattering supply chains, damaging global growth, and weakening Britain’s standing in the world.
Many supporters of Brexit, though, say those fears are overblown and that, while there may be short-term disruption, it would provide a clean break from the struggling bloc and allow the United Kingdom to thrive.
In a sign of how far Brexit has distorted British politics, Johnson’s Conservatives said on Tuesday they were expelling 21 rebels – including the grandson of Britain’s World War Two leader Winston Churchill and two former finance ministers – from the party for seeking to block any ‘no-deal’ exit.
Yet despite Johnson’s efforts to up the ante, the EU has refused to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement reached with May.
In Brussels, British and EU diplomats made clear there was no immediate prospect of substantive negotiations on a divorce deal as Britain’s new negotiator arrived for talks.
And Ireland said Johnson had not yet presented any solutions to address the backstop – the toughest part of the Brexit impasse, concerning checks on the land border between the Irish Republic and the British province of Northern Ireland.
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There were reports in British newspapers that Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings had described negotiations as a sham.
Asked on Wednesday if that was how he saw the Brexit negotiations with the EU, Cummings told Reuters: “No. I never said that.”
In one piece of good news for Johnson, a Scottish court ruled on Wednesday that his decision to suspend parliament later this month was lawful.
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