United Ireland to be automatic EU member

European Union leaders at a Brexit summit will give a formal undertaking to embrace the British province of Northern Ireland in the EU if a referendum unites the island, diplomats said.


Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has asked fellow members of the bloc to acknowledge that Northern Ireland would, like East Germany in 1990, automatically enter the EU in the event of unification with existing member state, the Irish Republic.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement to end violence in the north foresees the holding of referendums on both sides of the Irish border on uniting the island if London and Dublin see public support for such a change.

EU leaders, who will be meeting in Brussels on Sunday to endorse a negotiating plan for Britain’s withdrawal, will give a political endorsement to what Irish and EU legal experts say is the position in international law of such territorial changes.

“The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means; and, in this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union,” a draft text of the declaration reads.

One EU source said the text, to be entered into the formal minutes of the meeting, was a statement of “the obvious” and, along with Irish officials, he stressed the summit was not taking a view on unification or launching any talks on unity.

“Irish unity is not part of the Brexit negotiations but given the importance of the Good Friday Agreement it will be suitable for that to be acknowledged by the European Council,” a senior Irish official in Brussels said.

“This is not about starting a process but it is important that there be clear acknowledgement that this is the case.”

Brexit talks must settle ‘people, money, Ireland’ first: Tusk

In a letter to the other 27 European Union leaders ahead of a key summit on Saturday, Tusk said that “before discussing our future, we must first sort out our past”.


The EU 27 are set to adopt guidelines for the negotiations on Brexit at the summit, following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s formal triggering of the two-year divorce process last month.

Former Polish premier Tusk said the “only possible approach” was phased talks, in which Britain must make “sufficient progress” on the divorce issues before negotiations on future ties.

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“This is not only a matter of tactics, but – given the limited time frame we have to conclude the talks – it is the only possible approach,” Tusk wrote to the leaders.

“I would like us to unite around this key principle during the upcoming summit, so that it is clear that progress on people, money and Ireland must come first,” he wrote.

“And we have to be ready to defend this logic during the upcoming negotiations.”

May wants to discuss the divorce settlement and a trade deal at the same time ahead of Britain’s exit from the bloc in March 2019.

‘Commitment to unity’

The EU says the key issues are the fate of three million EU citizens living in Britain and one million Britons resident in the EU as well as Britain’s exit bill estimated at around 60 billion euros ($65 million).

Tusk also called for action to avoid a “hard border” between the Republic of Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

A senior EU official said a key part of Saturday’s summit would involve defining what “sufficient progress” means, with some states wanting to move on to the trade talks phase more quickly than others.

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Leaders will also discuss the relocation of two EU agencies currently based in Britain – the European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency – which several EU states are bidding to host.

Tusk’s comments come a day after a war of words between British premier May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the two years of negotiations.

Merkel said Britain should not have any “illusions” about getting favourable treatment. But May hit back by accusing the EU 27 of planning to “line up to oppose us”.

EU officials have repeatedly stressed the 27’s united front on the Brexit issue, after years of divisions over issues ranging from the euro to migration.

May “should not underestimate the commitment to unity,” one European diplomat said.

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This was especially true on the sensitive issue of Britain’s exit bill, the senior EU official said, adding: “I have never seen net payers and net contributors working so closely”.

The leaders are also expected to back automatic membership for Northern Ireland after Brexit if it ever reunifies with Ireland, at Ireland’s request, an EU Council source said.

“The European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union,” says a clause in the draft summit minutes seen by AFP.

“This is speculation,” a British government spokesman said when asked about the plan.

Britons voted to leave the EU in a closely-fought referendum in June 2016.

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Anti-abortion leader given senior position in Trump administration

The White House says President Donald Trump is appointing the former president of a leading anti-abortion organisation to a senior position at the Department of Health and Human Services.


Charmaine Yoest, who actively supported Trump in his campaign, will serve as assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS. From 2008 until February 2016, she was president of Americans United for Life, which campaigned at the federal and state level for tough restrictions on abortion.

Among the many state bills backed by the group under Yoest’s leadership were measures that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram and impose tough regulations on abortion clinics that could lead to their closure.

Abortion-rights groups hit out at the appointment.

“Charmaine Yoest has spent her whole professional life opposing access to birth control and a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood. “While President Trump claims to empower women, he is appointing government officials who believe just the opposite.”

Anti-abortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised Yoest as “one of the pro-life movement’s most articulate and powerful communicators.”

Dannenfelser also noted that Yoest – in a sign of the ideological shift taking place in Washington – will be replacing Kevin Griffis, who joined Planned Parenthood earlier this month as vice president of communications.

Many anti-abortion leaders, including Yoest, were initially cautious about Trump’s bid for the presidency, but became staunch supporters after he pledged to support several of their key goals. These included a federal 20-week abortion ban, a halt to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and appointment of Supreme Court justices who would be open to overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Iran presidential candidates square off in first TV debate

Televised debates are a relatively new feature of Iranian presidential elections, and are believed to have influenced the results of votes in 2009 and 2013.


Ahead of the May 19 poll, the interior ministry had announced a ban on live television debates, triggering an outcry that prompted a reversal of its decision. Three live debates are now expected to take place.

Rouhani, who is hoping for a second term in office, and conservative rivals Ebrahim Raisi and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf all rejected the ban.

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On Friday, during the first live debate, Ghalibaf hammered Rouhani and his confidant and first vice-president, Eshaq Jahangiri, with both sides trading accusations of “lies” and making “insincere” comments.

Ghalibaf berated Rouhani for failing to make good on a promise “to create four million jobs”, saying unemployment was Iran’s “biggest problem”.

Rouhani riposted by saying: “I never promised to create four million jobs. That’s a lie”.

Unemployment, which stands at 12.4 percent, the lack of social housing and government aid to the underprivileged were the issues that dominated Friday’s debate.

Ghalibaf also accused Rouhani and his government of “bad management” and of “repeatedly saying that the government does not have the means” to solve the Islamic republic’s problems.

He also took a poke at Jahangiri, whose candidacy was a surprise entry at the last minute, saying the vice-president threw his hat in the ring only to back up Rouhani and help him in the debates.

According to several reformists, Jahangiri is expected to pull out of the race after the three live television debates in order to support Rouhani.

Jahangiri dismissed the attacks against himself and accused Ghalibaf of running the capital “with the mentality of a military man”.

A war veteran, Ghalibaf is a former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief. This is his third run at the presidency.

The other three candidates – Raisi, a hardline judge and close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, conservative Mostafa Mirsalim and reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba – kept a low profile during the first debate.

Watch: Trump criticise Iran on nuclear deal

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Congress passes bill to avoid shutdown

The US Congress has passed stopgap legislation to avert a government shutdown and give lawmakers another week to reach a deal on federal spending through the end of the fiscal year, with contentious issues remaining to be resolved.


The Senate passed the measure by voice vote without opposition after the House earlier approved it by a tally of 382-30. The measure now goes to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The bill in the Republican-led Congress provides federal funding until May 5, allowing lawmakers to hammer out legislation over the next few days to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year that ends September 30.

Congress has been tied in knots over $1 trillion in spending priorities for months. Lawmakers were supposed to have taken care of the current fiscal year appropriations bills by last October 1.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the stopgap bill “will carry us through next week so that a bipartisan agreement can be reached.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there were still significant differences with Republicans over elements of the looming longer-term spending bill.

In the bigger spending bill to be negotiated in the coming days, it remained unclear whether Republicans would prevail in their effort to sharply boost defence spending without similar increases for other domestic programs. Trump has proposed a $30 billion spending hike for the Pentagon for the rest of this fiscal year.

House and Senate negotiators also have been struggling over funding to make a healthcare program for coal miners permanent and whether to plug a gap in Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, the government health insurance program for the poor.