LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday offered what he said was a ”wholehearted” apology for attending an illegal party during lockdown — but insisted he didn’t knowingly break rules or mislead Parliament, and brushed off calls to resign.
Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons that it simply “did not occur to me” that the birthday gathering, complete with a cake, was a party.
That excuse was greeted with derision by opposition politicians — and some among the governing Conservatives — who have called with increasing frustration for Johnson to quit since stories began to circulate late last year of parties in the prime minister’s office and other government buildings in 2020 and 2021, when millions in the country were barred from meeting with friends and family or even attending funerals for their loved ones.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer branded the apology “half-hearted” and “a joke.”
Last week, Johnson was fined 50 pounds ($66) for attending his own surprise birthday party in 10 Downing St. in June 2020, making him the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.
Speaking as the House of Commons returned from an 11-day Easter break, Johnson acknowledged people’s “hurt and anger,” but added that “it did not occur to me then or subsequently that a gathering in the Cabinet Room, just before a vital meeting on COVID strategy, could amount to a breach of the rules.”
Starmer said that excuse would ring hollow with ordinary people who “understand that the rules apply to all of us,” and he challenged Conservatives to “bring an end to this shameful chapter” and jettison Johnson.
“He knows he’s dishonest and incapable of changing,” Starmer said. “So he drags everybody else down with him.”
Starmer was told off by House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for accusing another member of dishonesty — a breach of parliamentary rules. Minutes later, Labour lawmaker Karl Turner also was chastised by the Speaker after branding Johnson a liar.
“I withdraw the word ‘liar,’ Mr. Speaker,” Turner said. “But the electorate will already have decided.”
Labour has not given up on trying to get lawmakers to censure Johnson over the “partygate” scandal. Speaker Hoyle said he would allow Labour to hold a Commons debate and vote Thursday on whether Johnson should be investigated for allegedly misleading Parliament. Ministers found to have done that knowingly are generally expected to resign.
Johnson is due to be out of the country Thursday on a visit to India, and the big Conservative majority in Parliament means the measure is unlikely to pass. But the vote will force Tory lawmakers uneasy with the prime minister to publicly back him or criticize him.
Johnson insisted Tuesday that he was contrite, but argued it would be wrong to change leaders while Britain faces crises including the war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living squeeze driven by surging energy and goods prices.
Johnson’s grip on power had appeared to be on a knife-edge earlier this year amid police and civil service investigations into the parties, and the departure of several top aides.
Allies feared “partygate” could become a tipping point for a divisive but resilient leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his expenses and his moral judgment. Some Conservative lawmakers were openly calling for a no-confidence vote in Johnson.
But Johnson has hung on, partly because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seized public and political attention.
Johnson’s international image, battered by Britain’s messy exit from the European Union under his leadership, has been revived by his firm military, political and moral support for Ukraine. Johnson traveled to Kyiv earlier this month to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Johnson’s troubles are not over and he could still face more fines. London’s Metropolitan Police force is investigating a dozen events, including “bring your own booze” office parties and “wine time Fridays,” and Johnson is reported to have attended several of them. So far at least 50 tickets have been handed out, including those to Johnson, his wife Carrie and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak.
If Johnson is sanctioned again, calls for a no-confidence vote could grow among Conservatives. For now, many are biding their time, and looking to see whether public anger translates into losses for the party at local elections across the country on May 5.
Conservative lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said his colleagues were “withholding their judgment and waiting to see what happens.”
But fellow Conservative Mark Harper, a former government chief whip, said Johnson “broke the laws that he told the country they had to follow” and “hasn’t been straightforward about it.”
“I’m very sorry to have to say this, but I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds,” Harper said.
US opts to not rebuild renowned Puerto Rico telescope
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The National Science Foundation announced Thursday that it will not rebuild a renowned radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which was one of the world’s largest until it collapsed nearly two years ago.
Instead, the agency issued a solicitation for the creation of a $5 million education center at the site that would promote programs and partnerships related to science, technology, engineering and math. It also seeks the implementation of a research and workforce development program, with the center slated to open next year in the northern mountain town of Arecibo where the telescope was once located.
The solicitation does not include operational support for current infrastructure at the site that is still in use, including a 12-meter radio telescope or the Lidar facility, which is used to study the upper atmosphere and ionosphere to analyze cloud cover and precipitation data.
The reflector dish and the 900-ton platform hanging 450 feet above it previously allowed scientists to track asteroids headed to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable.
“We understand how much the site has meant to the community,” said Sean Jones, assistant director for directorate of mathematical and physical sciences at NSF. “If you’re a radio astronomer, you’ve probably spent some time of your career at Arecibo.”
But all research abruptly ended when an auxiliary cable snapped in August 2020, tearing a 100-foot hole in the dish and damaging the dome above it. A main cable broke three months later, prompting the NSF to announce in November 2020 that it was closing the telescope because the structure was too unstable.
Experts suspect that a possible manufacturing error caused the cable to snap, but NSF officials said Thursday that the investigation is still ongoing.
Jones said in a phone interview that the decision to not rebuild the telescope comes in part because the U.S. government has other radar facilities that can do part of the mission that Arecibo once did. He added that the NSF also envisions a five-year maintenance contract to keep the site open, which would cost at least $1 million a year.
He said by phone that one of the agency’s priorities is to make STEM more accessible and inclusive and that the proposed education center would fill that need.
“It’s a way to augment some of the things that young people are getting in their schools or not getting,” he said.
Judge rules new DACA program can continue temporarily
HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that the current version of a federal policy that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children can continue, at least temporarily.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen — who last year declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal — said that the policy, which is set to proceed under new regulations at the end of the month, can continue with limitations that he previously set. Those limitations say there can be no new applicants for DACA and that those who are already in the program can continue to be in it and renew their application.
Hanen ordered attorneys in the case to provide more information and said he expects additional legal arguments related to the new rule, but there was no timetable set for future hearings. It’s also unclear when Hanen will give his final decision on the case, which is expected to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The current version of DACA, which the Biden administration created to improve its chances of surviving legal scrutiny, is set to take effect Oct. 31.
Before the hearing Friday morning, a group of about 30 community activists gathered in support of DACA at a park next to the federal courthouse. They held up signs that said, “Judge Hanen Do the Right Thing Protect DACA” and “Immigrants Are Welcomed.” They chanted as many of them marched into the courthouse to attend the hearing.
Hanen last year declared DACA illegal after Texas and eight other Republican-leaning states filed a lawsuit claiming they are harmed financially, incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs, when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. They also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide.
“Only Congress has the ability to write our nation’s immigration laws,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Thursday in a statement.
Hanen found DACA had not been subjected to public notice and comment periods required under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. But he left the Obama-era program intact for those already benefiting from it, pending the appeal. There were 611,270 people enrolled in DACA at the end of March.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appeals court upheld Hanen’s initial finding but sent the case back to Hanen so he could review the impact of the federal government’s new DACA regulation.
The new rule’s 453 pages are largely technical and represent little substantive change from the 2012 memo that created DACA, but it was subject to public comments as part of a formal rule-making process.
But even if Hanen were to issue a positive ruling on the new DACA regulation, the judge might still decide the program is illegal because it was not created by Congress, Perales said.
“Which is why so many right now are calling on Congress to act,” she said.
After last week’s appeals court ruling, President Joe Biden and advocacy groups renewed their calls for Congress to pass permanent protections for “Dreamers,” which is what people protected by DACA are commonly called. Congress has failed multiple times to pass proposals called the DREAM Act to protect DACA recipients.
Whatever Hanen decides, DACA is expected to go to the Supreme Court for a third time. In 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over an expanded DACA and a version of the program for parents of DACA recipients. In 2020, the high court ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration improperly ended DACA, allowing it to stay in place.
Proposed UN resolution would sanction top Haitian gang chief
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council is negotiating a resolution that would impose an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on influential Haitian gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, nicknamed “Barbeque.”
It also would target other Haitian individuals and groups who engage in actions that threaten the peace, security or stability of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, according to the text obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
The U.S.-drafted resolution singles out by name Cherizier, a former police officer who leads an alliance of Haitian gangs known as the “G9 Family and Allies.” But it would establish a Security Council committee to designate other Haitians and groups to be put on a blacklist and subjected to sanctions as well.
The draft resolution expresses “grave concern about the extremely high levels of gang violence and other criminal activities, including kidnappings, trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants, and homicides, and sexual and gender-based violence including rape and sexual slavery, as well as ongoing impunity for perpetrators, corruption and recruitment of children by gangs and the implications of Haiti’s situation for the region.”
The Security Council moved up a meeting on Haiti to Monday because of the increasingly dire situation in the country.
Daily life in Haiti began to spin out of control last month just hours after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said fuel subsidies would be eliminated, causing prices to double. Gangs blocked the entrance to the Varreux fuel terminal, leading to a severe shortage of fuel at a time that clean water is also scarce and the country is trying to deal with a deadly cholera outbreak.
The draft resolution says “Cherizier and his G9 gang confederation are actively blocking the free movement of fuel from the Varreux fuel terminal — the largest in Haiti.”
“His actions have directly contributed to the economic paralysis and humanitarian crisis in Haiti,” it says.
In a video posted on Facebook last week, Cherizier called on the government to grant him and G9 members amnesty and to void all arrest warrants against them. He said in Creole that Haiti’s economic and social situation is worsening by the day, so “there is no better time than today to dismantle the system.”
He outlined a transitional plan for restoring order in Haiti. It would include creation of a Council of Sages with one representative from each of Haiti’s 10 departments to govern the country with an interim president until a presidential election could be held in February 2024. It also calls for restructuring Haiti’s National Police and strengthening the army.
“The country is (facing) one crisis after another,” Cherizier said. “During all these crises, the first victim is the population, the people in the ghettos, the peasants.”
Haiti has been in the grips of an inflationary vise that is squeezing its people and exacerbating protests that have brought society to the breaking point. Violence is raging, making parents afraid to send their kids to school. Hospitals, banks and grocery stores are struggling to stay open.
The president of neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, recently described the situation as a “low-intensity civil war.” His government is cracking down on Haitians migrating to the Dominican Republic.
Political instability has simmered ever since last year’s still-unsolved assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who had faced opposition protests calling for his resignation over corruption charges and claims that his five-year term had ended. Moïse dissolved Parliament in January 2020 after legislators failed to hold elections in 2019 amid political gridlock.
Last week, Haiti’s prime minister and 18 high-ranking officials requested “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity” by international partners to stop the “criminal actions” of armed gangs across the country.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to the Security Council on Sunday calling for the deployment of a rapid action force by one or several U.N. member states to help Haiti’s National Police.
That force would “remove the threat posed by armed gangs and provide immediate protection to critical infrastructure and services,” as well as secure the “free movement of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from main ports and airports to communities and health care facilities,” he said.
The draft resolution takes note of Guterres’ letter, welcomes the appeal from Haiti, and encourages “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force” to support the Haitian National Police, as the secretary-general recommends.
U.S. officials said Wednesday the Biden administration will provide security and humanitarian assistance to Haiti and pull visas to current and former government officials involved with gangs.