Visiting Israel, Virgin’s Branson calls Brexit ‘saddest’ event for UK since WWII
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Visiting Israel, Virgin’s Branson calls Brexit ‘saddest’ event for UK since WWII

Flamboyant Virgin Group founder kisses the ground after landing in Tel Aviv to inaugurate new flight and vacation packages

Richard Branson kiss the ground as he arrive to Ben Gurion airport to inaugurate the start of Virgin Atlantic airline in Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel.  (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Richard Branson kiss the ground as he arrive to Ben Gurion airport to inaugurate the start of Virgin Atlantic airline in Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said Wednesday that Brexit is the “saddest thing” that’s happened to Britain and Europe since World War II.

Speaking in Israel, where he was inaugurating new Virgin Atlantic services, Branson said British voters were “misled” before the 2016 referendum and if given another chance would vote to stay in Europe.

He added: “I would certainly recommend that that’s how they should vote.”

Branson, dramatically kissed the ground after landing at Ben Gurion airport, apparently after being told by a local reporter that this was the custom upon arriving in the Holy Land.

British lawmakers blocked Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt Tuesday to fast-track his Brexit bill through Parliament so that the UK can leave the bloc as scheduled on Oct. 31.

Britain is now awaiting a decision from Brussels about whether the bloc will delay the UK’s scheduled departure to prevent a chaotic no-deal exit in just eight days.

Johnson on Tuesday won Parliament’s backing for the substance of his exit deal but lost a key vote on its timing, a result that inches him closer to his goal of leading his country out of the European Union — but effectively guarantees it won’t happen on the scheduled date of Oct. 31.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that because of the vote he would recommend that the other 27 EU nations grant Britain a delay in its departure to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit in just nine days.

Richard Branson waves as he arrives to Ben Gurion airport to inaugurate the start of Virgin Atlantic airline in Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The good news for the prime minister was that lawmakers — for the first time since Britons chose in 2016 to leave the EU — voted in principle for a Brexit plan, backing by 329-299 a bill to implement the agreement Johnson struck with the EU last week.

But minutes later, legislators rejected his fast-track timetable to pass the bill, saying they needed more time to scrutinize it. The vote went 322-308 against the government.

Tuesday’s votes plunge the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory: acrimonious uncertainty.

Without speedy passage of the bill, Britain won’t be able to make an orderly exit from the bloc on Oct. 31, the central vow of Johnson’s three-month-old administration.

Looking on the bright side, Johnson hailed the fact that “for the first time in this long saga this House has actually accepted its responsibilities together, come together, and embraced a deal.”

“One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent,” he said — though he also said the government would “accelerate” preparations for a no-deal outcome because of the uncertainty.

Johnson had hoped to push the legislation through the House of Commons by Thursday. But he said after the defeat that he would “pause” the bill until the EU had decided whether to agree to delay Britain’s departure.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons in London during the debate for the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, on Oct. 22, 2019. (Jessica Taylor, UK Parliament via AP)

On Tuesday night, Tusk tweeted that he would recommend that the bloc grant Britain’s request for an extension to the Oct. 31 deadline. He did not say how long a delay he would recommend, although the U.K.’s request was to postpone exit until Jan. 31.

That request came grudgingly from Johnson last week to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit.

Any delay will still require the agreement of all of the other 27 EU member states, and they are deeply weary of the long-running Brexit saga. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French lawmakers Tuesday that he sees “no justification” at this stage for a further delay.

But they also want to avoid the economic pain on both sides of the Channel that would come from a chaotic British exit.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

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